THE SENTENCER: DETROIT DEATHTRAP

Detroit, Michigan

Evening

The incident was going to get ugly.

Claudia Jefferson could tell.

Every passenger watching the three young thugs verbally abuse the bus driver could tell. They wanted to get in without paying. When the driver said "no", the young men all lost it and became aggressive.

They bus driver seemed like a regular guy, a Black man in his fifties. Fat. A beard with some salt and pepper. Same for his hair. The tough youngsters bullying the bus driver were Black, in their late teens, early 20s.

Claudia was scared. All she wanted was to go home to her husband and two kids in one piece. Go back to routine. Homework with the kids. Dinner. Arguing with kids about chores. Arguing with the husband about her late hours and long shifts. All those annoying things seemed wonderful at that moment. Like paradise. She just wanted to live.

And then, her mind filled itself with self recriminations. This bus line had been targeted by violent street gangs. There had been beatings and shootings around this line over the past months. Some drivers had been shot. Some passengers as well. She should have taken another bus line. She should have taken a cab. Should have accepted a lift from her colleague.

One of the bullies lifted his jacket and showed a pistol. There were screams among the passengers. Claudia felt a knot tighten in her stomach. She hoped, she prayed it wouldn't go that far. Too late. The guy took out the pistol and was waving it in the driver's face.

The driver hadn't said a word after refusing to let them ride for free until he said: "Put that gun down."

"What? What, you wrinkled ass motherfucker, what the fuck did you just say?"

"Put that gun down."

The thug laughed. So did his two friends.

A woman behind Claudia screamed: "Stop! Let us go!"

One of the other two was reaching under his shirt and was about to pull out his own gun.

"Bitch, you better shut the fuck-"

And then something happened. Fast. Too fast for Claudia to understand. The first armed thug went down, coughing. Unarmed. Then, more fast movement. Soon, the other two were down as well. One seemed to be sleeping. The other had a nose bleed. Then gunshots were heard. The passengers were startled and screamed and shouted. Claudia somehow kept herself in a state close to calm.

The bus driving was standing. He was holding the pistol. The first thug was still trying to breathe. The other two had been shot in the kneecaps.

The driver then looked at the passengers. He said one word:

"Leave."

Nobody argued. The dozen or so people left through the back door. And the bus drove away.

Claudia started shaking and she sat down. She didn't cry, but she did realize that something terrible happened. And could have been a lot worse if not for that bus driver.

She listened to the reactions from some of the other passengers. Fear. Relief. Some admired the driver. Some criticized him. Some called the police.

Claudia was grateful. That bus driver stood up to the punks. Possibly saved lives. But, who was he really? A police officer working undercover would have called for backup, no? So who was that man?

She put those questions aside and called home with her cellular phone. Her husband picked up.

"Claudia, where the hell..."

"Oh, baby...I'm so glad to hear your voice..."

And she told him and cried with fatigue and relief. He promised to pick her up as soon as possible.

Abandoned warehouse

When the blindfold was taken off his eyes, Raheem saw that he was in a bad place.

Raheem and his two partners from the bus incident were hoisted by their wrists. Their arms were above their heads bound by plastic cuffs and tied into steel chains. There were about a foot off the ground.

Raheem saw the bus driver stand in front of all of them.

"Man," Raheem said, "You dead. You got idea who you fuckin' with. We gonna hunt yo' black ass down and fuck you up. You and everyone that gives a fuck about you, man."

The bus driver looked at Raheem for a second. And said:

"You have no idea how many times I heard that. Hundreds. Maybe, thousands. Nobody that said that to me ever stopped to think about one thing: if I didn't who you are, you wouldn't be where you are."

"What?"

"You think I was on that bus by chance? Coincidence?"

"Fuck you!" Raheem heard his cousin, Keyshawn say, "Fuck you! Nigga, you dead and don't even know it."

"I was going to tell you the same thing," the bus driver said, "But first..."

The bus driver started taking off his clothes.

"What the fuck!" Leonard, the third man, said.

When the bus driver had removed his clothes, they saw some weird padding underneath. Raheem understood. That nigga had been wearing a fat suit or some shit.

"This some Halloween shit?" Raheem said, "The fuck's goin' on?"

The man took off the fat suit. He was wearing regular clothes underneath. A black t-shirt, black pants. The, he took off his beard and glasses. And wig. He changed the way he stood.

Raheem saw a nigga- the nigga was a nigga that much wasn't bullshit- that was younger than the disguise let on. Late 30s, maybe. Muscular. Built like a fuckin' wall actually. Tall, like 6 and a half feet almost.

"Who the fuck are you, man?" Keyshawn said.

The man had a large duffel back. He dug in it and pulled out...what looked like holsters. A shoulder rig which held what looked like them fancy special ops pistols. A .45 HK. The pistol went under the man's left armpit. The hip holster held a big ass Desert Eagle. He strapped a long knife his right thigh. Real long, more like a short sword like they had in ninja movies.

"Oh, shit," Raheem said.

"What, you know this nigga?" Leonard said.

"Everybody know this nigga," Raheem said.

The big man pulled out the pistol from the shoulder holster. He dug something else out of the bag. A silencer. He attached it to his pistol.

"You tryin' to scare us, motherfucker?" Keyshawn said.

"Not exactly," the man answered simply.

He then raised the gun and shot Keyhsawn in the forehead. Blood, bits of skull and brain matter flew into Raheem's face. Wet, warm, sticky and sudden. He couldn't hold back the scream of shock and terror. Leonard did the same.

"Fuck! Motherfucker!" Raheem said.

They screamed and cussed for a few seconds.

"Where's the rest of your gang hangouts?" The man with the silenced pistol said.

"Crazy motherfucker, you dead, you fuckin' dead as a motherfucker, you fuckin'-"Raheem started.

A bullet grazed his thigh. The pain surprised him and he yelled out some more.

"Kneecaps and genitals are next. Talk," the armed man said.

"You...you can't do this shit! You can't...This ain't right..." Leonard said, crying.

Something happened in the big man's eyes and Raheem understood that Leonard said the wrong fuckin' thing. He caught a glimpse of Keyshawn's half decapitated corpse hanging limply. Then his eyes went back to the big man.

"Really," the man said, "You think you're in a position to tell anyone about right and wrong? You? You rape, rob and murder commuters. Deal dope. Pimp. Car jack. Intimidate or kill whoever's in your way. But somehow, you think you don't have this coming?"

The big man fired twice. Raheem felt incredible pain in his right kneecap. He screamed. He swore. He cried. He begged. The pain was...was...He almost passed out. Somehow, he didn't.

"I haven't even started hurting you, scum," the man said. The voice was cold. Calm. Despite his pain, Raheem could hear the anger in it.

"Fuck...Mother...fuck..." Raheem said.

"I'm gonna give you more mercy than you deserve. Tell me everything about your gang and all this will stop."

Raheem broke down and told the crazy motherfucker everything. Names. Addresses. He gave up his gang.

"Good," the man said.

"It's...it's over?" Raheem asked.

"We...we free?" Leonard asked.

"Yes," the man said, "You're free."

Raheem could only watch as Leonard was shot in the head with the silenced pistol.

"No! Please, I-"

And then Raheem saw the gun aimed at him. And then nothing.

Luther Jones felt nothing as he watched the three men he just executed.

He put the HK SOCOM Pistol back under his armpit. He put on a trench coat that was on the back of a chair, he grabbed his duffel bag and left. He went to a black SUV. He put the bag on the backseat. He then went behind the wheel and drove away.

The Sentencer had been in Motor City less than a week. Always moving from city to city. Ever since the beginning of his war in New York City. His hometown. A town he'd been gone from for years, while he was in the Army, Special Forces. Waging wars all over the world. He'd taken his leave from the Army to get away from violence. But violence had been there all of his life.

As a young man, he'd seen his Uncle Marcus, the man who'd raised him, murdered. He's seen also Jamie Hernandez, his girlfriend, murdered. By loan sharks. Just because Marcus had said "no" to being squeezed by them. He'd joined the army after that, hoping to be strong enough to fight for those who couldn't fight for themselves. He'd trained fanatically to be the best of the best. Better than the best. Not for pride. Not for bragging rights. Just to be the best possible. When the other guys went out, got drunk, picked up girls, Luther used all of his down time to train harder. Martial arts, specifically. The katas helped him control his anger. His survivor's guilt after Marcus and Jamie...

After leaving the army, he was even more lost. He had been driven by rage all of his adult life. He needed to find his center. He found a teacher. A monk and martial artist in Japan that helped him find his center. He learned to harness his emotions. He needed to do that before going home. After years and years of solitude, training and meditation, he wanted to go home. His teacher told him: "You still haven't found peace. You haven't found a purpose. You need to face your past." So Luther Jones did just that.

He thought that by leaving the army behind, he'd let bloodshed and misery. When Jones got to New York, things had gone differently. He saw good people get hurt. In his home town. People being cut down because they wanted to stand up to violence and corruption. Innocent bystanders killed as collateral damage during gang wars. He decided to do something about it. He decided to do what he did best. Wage war.

He became a murderer. A fugitive. But he was at peace what he'd become. Despite the good hard work done by police, he saw that the law wasn't enough. He ran across many criminal organizations in many cities. He killed many men. Sooner or later, his time would come and he'd accept it.

And the war took him to Detroit.

Usually, cities were besieged by gang wars shooting each other over turf. This was different. This the opposite. According to Intel he'd managed to gather the old fashioned way-breaking the right heads-he'd learned something troubling. Someone was solidifying all of the gangs. A gang of thousands. Enough to outnumber local police.

That had to be stopped. Maybe Jones couldn't stop it on his own, but he'd go all the way. Or die.

Business as usual.

As he was driving, something caught his eye. Running. A group of grown men chasing a boy. They all went into an alley.

The cold, angry thing in Jones's gut stirred. A child. He'd seen this too many times. They would either try to hurt the boy or recruit him into something bad. He let his anger rise. It was his weapon. His fuel. Unlike before, his controlled it. Kept it cold and sharp, like a sword.

The vigilante stopped. He got out of his car and went in after them. He started running. He could hear the taunts and threats:

"You tryin' to run, punk ass?"

"Ain't no motherfuckin' place you can hide, nigga!"

"You join our crew or we kill yo' moms!"

"That's after we done fucked her!"

He could see them. Six of them. Their backs to him. He slowed down. The boy had his back against a wall. His eyes were filled with tears. He was no more than 12. None of them could see Death coming for them.

This had to be more than violence. This had to be a message. A manifesto. A declaration of intent.

The Sentencer grabbed the one nearest to him and with the longest hair, braids, with both hands. He then threw him with every ounce of strength he had in his arms against the wall on his right. The punk's skull collided against the brick with a very ugly sound, like a coconut being split open.

Two turned around, hands on pistol grips in their belts. Too slow. A thunderous spinning heel kick whipped the air.

The first one's neck snapped as Jones' size 15 boot connected with his chin and his head nearly did a 180 degree spin.

Jones' heel went in the second one's throat, crushing the larynx and vertebrae.

The Sentencer immediately went spinning into a round house kick that connected with another thug's breastbone. He felt the sternum and ribs as the man was knocked back bowling one of the remaining two.

Another one had his gun out. A Glock. Jones spun again and disarmed the gang member. The Sentencer then pistol whipped the gangster on the nose. Then the mouth. And then, the right temple. The left temple. Then an uppercut blow under the chin that shattered the jaw and snapped the neck. He then disassembled the pistol and tossed the pieces all around him.

The one who'd been bowled over by one of his colleagues recovered and managed to pull his gun at Jones. The vigilante was on the would-be shooter. Moments later, the failed trigger man had a broken wrist, arm and dislocated shoulder. Then Jones grabbed his adversary and yanked his head down while throwing his right knee up. Bone and cartilage broke and tore. Blood flew. He did it again. Then in the ribs. Once. Twice. Three times. Jones then threw the man headfirst into the corner of a dumpster. And the man fell limply to the ground.

Finally, Jones turned towards the boy. Like many inner city youths, the youngster was scared, but didn't seem traumatized by the explosion of violence he'd witnessed. Jones was thankful for that and saddened by that in equal measures.

He crouched, so he 6'5", 260 pound frame would seem less intimidating. He put his genie back in the bottle. All the violence, the threat, the menace was erased from his body language, his face.

"It's all right, kid," Jones said, "I'm not going to hurt you."

The kid tentatively backed away from the wall. He looked at the bloodied gang members on the ground.

"You killed them?" the boy asked.

"They're not gonna hurt anyone anymore."

"But their friends...They're gonna find you."

Jones smiled. Briefly.

"Thanks for the concern. I can take care of myself," Jones said.

The boy nodded.

"Is there someone you want to call? Anywhere I can take you?" Jones said.

"My mom's place is just a few blocks from here."

"I can drive you."

"I shouldn't get in cars with strangers."

"Smart. My name's Luther. What's yours?"

"George."

"Pleased to meet you, George."

George looked around again at the fallen would-be assailants. And back at Luther.

"I guess we ain't strangers no more," George said.

A moment later, George was on the passenger seat.

"You're not police," George said.

"No, I'm not police, George," Jones said.

"You're not in the gangs either."

"Right again."

"What are you?"

"I'm just...a guy trying to stop people like those who tried to hurt you."

"Who hired you?"

"Nobody hired me. I just...do it."

"Just like that? For free?"

"Yeah."

"Why?"

Luther hesitated for a second.

"It needs to be done," he said.

"Huh. So...is it workin'?"

"Sorry?"

"What you're doing? Does it help people? Does it stop bad people from doing bad things?"

Jones glanced over at George. The boy was young, but was an old soul, like Uncle Marcus used to say. Wise beyond his years.

"I do my best, George. Sometimes, it works, sometimes, it doesn't."

"Hm."

There was a pause. Then George said:

"You helped me tonight," George said, "Thanks."

"You're welcome."

George looked over at Jones. He noticed the weapons underneath the coat.

"You were mad at those guys," George said.

"What makes you say that?"

"You could have just shot 'em. Instead, you hurt 'em."

Sharp kid, Jones thought.

"Maybe you're right," Jones said.

"You were mad because they were gonna hurt a kid?"

"Could be."

"Someone hurt you when you was a kid?"

Jones paused. George was quicker:

"Someone hurt someone you cared about when you were a kid."

Jones looked at George. Had a fleeting smile.

"You're too smart for your own good, kid."

"Not really. You see it all the time around here. People get hurt, people get killed. Whoever's left is either scared, sad or mad. Back there you were mad. Now, you're sad."

Jones didn't answer.

"I'm sorry," George said.

"Why?"

"I'm sorry you lost people you cared about."

"It was a long time ago."

"You still hurtin'."

It wasn't a question. Jones paused for a second. And then: "Yeah."

"It's here," George said.

Jones parked in front of an apartment block.

"Take care, George," Jones said.

"You too, Luther."

And George stepped out of the SUV and went to his home. Jones then drove away.

FBI profilers and shrinks on TV hadn't figured out Jones as fast at that boy. Very clever kid. That renewed Jones' resolve to carry on with the war. For people like George and his mom.

Those kinds of people were well worth it.