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He had a grin on his bloody face, a broken mop handle in one hand, and the tall black pompadour of an Elvis impersonator. He and Dubois stared silently at each other. The light buzzed erratically overhead, and Carl smelled clean linen, a scent strangely out of place in this tense moment. Dubois began pacing back and forth, slapping the stick in the palm of his hand. Considering the damage the kid had done outside, Carl had expected someone bigger.

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Dubois strutted, eyeing Carl. Carl had to give him that much. What he looked like, Carl thought—the guy rugged but short, maybe five-five—was a fighting rooster. He even had the comb, all that tall black hair piled on top of his head. Rivera hooah-ed, and the door rattled down. When Carl turned back around, Dubois had closed half the distance and stood there grinning. From a gash in his hairline, blood streamed down the middle of his forehead and forked at the bridge of his nose, drawing twin lines of crimson to his jaw.

Between the hair, the grin, and the oddly symmetrical blood, he looked like a psychotic clown.

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Dubois rolled his head atop his shoulders, a classic prefight gesture. You look like a breaker. Now he was six foot two and I heard that one before. Stark told him to check on the kid, not crush him. What was so special about Dubois, anyway? So far, he seemed like one more pound knuckle-tosser, fearless, sure, but the streets were full of kids with big mouths and bad haircuts.

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Devil's Pocket

Whatever potential Stark saw in the kid, this hair-trigger temper would likely ruin it. You ever hear of anybody named Washington before, genius? Someone with beautiful gray eyes and a streak of white in her hair. Texarkana Reginald Dubois ran a hand over his pompadour, seeming to relax again.

Hey, you got a cigarette? Probably all out of beer, too. Tex shifted the mop handle to one hand, leaned on it like a cane, and nodded toward the door.

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Tex with his funny hair and his strut, not even five and a half feet tall, and with that country twang—exactly the type of guy some big, mean kid would push and push. He remembered his own start on the island—Davis, Decker, Parker. I knew what I had to do. Not the greatest technique, but fast, and he shifted his weight with it.

Against all odds, he actually liked the kid. His guts, his sense of humor. They shoved me in here and locked the door, so I picked up this mop, broke off the handle, and here we are.

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You come to dance or fight? Stark would be pleased that he had defused the situation.

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Let the kid talk, he thought. It was a church thing, back in the mountains. Gospel of Mark and all that. The kid fourteen years old, leading the congregation, standing up there on this little, old, nailed-together stage, handling rattlesnakes as big as your leg and speaking in tongues. I see the way the bulls act around you.

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Might as well get the lingo straight. No sweatbox, and a fresh start. Rage leapt up in Carl as hot and fast as a flame, and then he was smelling ashes again. Tex raised his fists. I do love to fight! Rage roared, demanding retribution. Control it, he cautioned himself. Tex backpedaled to the far wall and picked up the broken mop handle. Carl walked toward him, arms loose at his sides. For Carl, the world decelerated as the chip worked its magic.

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  5. Tex swung the stick in slo-mo. Tex dropped to the floor, gasping. The broken handle clattered away. Seeing the traitor crumpled at his feet, Carl braced himself for the red wave. For the chip had done more than make him faster. His eyes found the sharp end of the broken handle a few short strides away, and the beast within him demanded he drive the pointed end into the exposed neck of the sucker-punching thug lying helpless as a sacrifice before him. No, he told himself, fighting the rage that lived within him now like a dark twin.

    What Dexter also found was the sense to appropriate Devils Pocket for the setting of his near-death experience. We can forgive the artistic license. Devils Pocket has resonance; it always did. At a place near the houses shown in your photograph, I was spotted by a group of a dozen or so children, boys and girls all under the age of ten. When they saw me riding down the street they ran to a pile of stones from a street repair job and pelted me with a shower of rocks with remarkable power and accuracy for little kids.

    That was how they had been taught to welcome strangers to that neighborhood.

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