Raheem was on fire. Outta all the mothafuckahs they coulda played with, they picked him. He had nutted up like a crazy man in the admin office. Them mothafuckas shoulda known better!

“Y’all put my little brother in a cell with Dirtbag? Who the fuck made that goddamn decision?”

The young C.O. on duty raised his hands. “It wasn’t me, man. I don’t even think nobody knew he was your family, man. If we woulda known, you know we woulda looked out, bruh.”

Raheem had tossed the whole damn office ufl Slinging chairs, throwing manuals and logs and daring some fuckin’ body to try to stop him.

“I’m gone down there to get my brother outta that goddamn cell, you hear? Y’all better put him in Adult Segregation right now. Lock him down and get him away from them fuckin’ animals, right now. Call whoever you gotta call. I don’t care what you gotta do to make that shit happen, but you better do it.”

He stormed down the halls heading toward Dirtbag’s cell. Even the guards stayed outta that joint. The cat was harmless, but he was pure slime. He couldn’t even let his mind imagine what his brother must have faced going up in there.

But as Raheem rounded a corner he saw two C.O.s standing outside of Dirtbag’s cell.

“Yo!” he called out, making his presence known. “Bring my brother outta there right the fuck now!”

But when he got up closer on the cell he saw that some sort of investigation was under way.

“I’m sorry, man,” an officer named Joplin said. He was a cool cat from Tilden Houses and had gone to Jeff High too. His mom had died young and he’d spent a lot of time in the Davis house with Raheem and Kadir.

He reached out and grabbed both of Raheem’s broad shoulders and hugged him. “Zab is gone, Rah. Shit got all fucked up in the kitchen. Somebody turned they fuckin’ head and played possum. I’m sorry, man.”

“What you saying, Jop?” Raheem pushed away and searched his friend’s eyes, praying he was interpreting shit wrong. “What you mean, man?”

“They caught Baby Brother on kitchen duty, Rah. Buck-fiffed.”

The blood froze in Raheem’s veins. He staggered and went down to one knee, all six feet five inches of brawn and muscle now a big blob of grief-stricken jelly.

His brother was dead and he felt responsible. If he hadn’t switched shifts he woulda been there when they brought Baby Brother in. He could have protected him. Got him in Adult Segregation and kept him safe. Raheem cried. He didn’t give a fuck about the inmates who watched through the bars as he grieved on the floor. His baby brother was dead. The hope of his family was gone. How was he gonna go home and tell his other brothers some shit like that?

“Where is he?” he demanded, rising to his feet and looking around wildly. “Where the fuck they took my brother, man?” he demanded from Joplin and the other guards. “Some fuckin’ body better show me where the fuck my baby brother is right the fuck now!”

They saw the craziness in him and ten minutes later Raheem was standing in the prison morgue. He didn’t know the cat who worked down there, but his Corrections ID and the rage in his eyes was enough to convince the dude that Baby Brother was his family member.

“You know I’m supposed to wait until the family is officially notified, then do the whole identification process with a photo. You sure you up for this?”

Raheem had nodded yes, but when the morgue tech pulled the sheet back and he saw the brutality that had been inflicted on his younger brother, his knees sagged and he nearly stopped breathing as he grasped the cold metal gurney for support.

“Oh shit,” he cried, reaching out for Baby Brother’s cool body. Raheem slid his arm under his brother’s head and pulled him close, hot tears falling from his eyes as he moaned out loud, rocking the corpse and consumed with grief.

The tech stood by silently for a moment, then turned away, allowing his fellow officer a moment of grief. But Raheem was oblivious to everything except the fact that his brother was gone and that he hadn’t been there to save him.

Mama! he cried inside, his soul filled with shame. We was supposed to watch him, Mama! You begged us to look out for him. To take care of him! I’m sorry, Mama. Please…forgive me…I’m so sorry!


Two days later the Davis boys were mourning the murder of their beloved brother and plotting their revenge. The Santos family had already buried Sari, and Tony had gone off the deep end, terrorizing fools in broad daylight. Promising to rearrange some faces, his goonies were wreaking havoc in East New York and tossing anybody he even thought mighta been holding out on information into the Gowanus Canal.

Farad and Finesse had their crew out there too. Baby Brother had been murdered on The Rock, but they knew the streets still demanded a reckoning and they were both ready to get shit popping.

“It’s go to muthafuckin’ war time,” Finesse announced. Rage was in the air as they sat at their mother’s dining room table. “Somebody gotta pay for this shit, yo. The blade mighta been pulled from inside the joint, but the order came from outside the walls. My cats are out the streets with their ears close to the ground. A name is gonna fall outta somebody’s mouth before you know it. And when it does, we gone light these mothafuckin streets up with bullets and blood!”

Farad agreed. “Yeah. Any minute now,” he said, then nodded toward his brother Raheem, who sat with his elbows on the table and his face in his hands. “You still got them snitches behind the walls, right?”

Raheem looked ufl “Yeah. I’m leaning hard on Baby Brother’s cellie. That dirty bastard knows something and he’s gonna tell it. I think it mighta been that niggah whose nose I cracked last year. The one who tried to bite me.”

“Could be, but I been hearing noise about that fool Borne,” Finesse said. “He was breakin’ some of his new boys in the night Sari got popped. They was in the right area, son. And one of them cats dry-snitched and wrote a letter to his girl telling her somebody took down a Puerto Rican chick.”

Malik shook his head and crossed his arms. As a police officer he’d seen all kinds of shit on the streets. Black-on-black crime was ridiculous. It was the cheapest and most efficient method available for the white man to get rid of his problems. “I know for a fact Borne’s kids gotta slump somebody before they can get a tat and roll with him. And most of them be real young heads too. We’ve brought him in for contributing to the delinquency of a minor quite a few times, but he always manages to beat that shit.”

“But where was the fuckin’ C.O. who shoulda been holding down the kitchen!” Kadir demanded. He had made it in from A.C. and had been planning to ride with Antwan to visit Baby Brother as soon as Raheem gave them the word.

“Oh,” Raheem said quietly as a dark cloud came across his face, “don’t worry about that niggah. I’ma handle that. When I’m finished with that slime his bitch and kids ain’t even gonna recognize him.”

Priest sat at the head of the table with his hands clasped in front of him, praying quietly. He’d had to chase their dun-duns away from the front door, off of the stoofl They didn’t need no security, he explained. Baby Brother was gone, and now all they needed was the love of God and the strength to make it through.

He’d come inside and sat listening while his brothers vented, letting them talk their grief out. All of them had bloody hands. Farad and Finesse sold drugs, but they’d killed whenever the need arose.

And Malik. As happy as that cat was, he was still a black man with a gun. A couple of years back there’d been an Internal Affairs investigation that implicated him in some dirty business involving one of the top detectives in his precinct. Somebody had shot a young white man who was supposedly slumming through Brownsville to purchase drugs. The murder weapon was never found, but witnesses put Malik and the detective on the scene, although both of them denied any involvement.

Kadir was wild, like their father. He lived a dangerous life down in Atlantic City and probably had more bodies floating in the ocean than he’d ever admit. But Raheem…Antwan knew his brother like the back of his own hand. He walked a straight line when he could, but he was the most ruthless of them all when crossed.

“Leave it alone, Raheem. We gonna leave the retribution for the Lord, remember?”

Raheem snorted. “You the one preachin’, Antwan. Not me. I ain’t worried about my fuckin’ soul. All I’m worried about is not getting mines.”

“That’s what’s real,” Farad said, staring coldly at his oldest brother. “I can’t believe you so stuck on that Jesus shit that you would let a niggah murk your fuckin’ brother and tell us to leave the get-back for the Lord. You soft as fuck these days, man.”

Priest held up his hand. “Don’t roll out on me too far,” he warned sternly. “Everybody just chill out and let’s concentrate on getting Baby Brother in the ground. He didn’t live no life of crime, and we ain’t gonna blacken his memory with none either. All this payback and getback y’all talking ain’t gonna do nothing to bring him back. This thing could get bigger and uglier and the only thing that’ll accomplish is the spilling of more blood. Besides”—he glared at Farad and Finesse—“both of y’all out on parole as it is. You wanna go back upstate and get tossed in the bing like I did? Didn’t I do enough hard time for all of us?” He shook his head and glared at each of his brothers, letting them know that despite the priest’s collar he wore around his neck, he was still large and in charge.

“Now I said what I said, and I meant it. It’s final. Let the cops handle it. That’s what they get paid to do. Malik’s gonna have his boys all over it. They’ll make sure justice gets served.”

Raheem spoke quietly. His eyes were red and full of tears. “Those slime-bags banged him, Antwan! They stuck their dicks up his ass, then cut his fuckin’ throat. Now you might be able to close your eyes and not see that shit. You might be able to search your soul and not feel it too. But I can’t.”

Priest tightened his muscles, absorbing his brother’s wrath deep in his soul. He knew all about prison rapes. He had groveled around like a dog behind those bars before God took mercy and spoke to him. He’d participated in acts so grimy that no amount of baptism could wash the stink of his deeds from his spirit. There’s no such thing as a MONSTER. There’s no such thing as a MONSTER. There’s no such thing as a MONSTER. But still. He’d been blind then. Just a snake crawling around on its belly in the darkness. He was trying to live a redeemed life now, and the retaliation his brothers were suggesting was sinful.

“I said, leave it be. All of us need to take a page outta Baby Brother’s book. The way he lived his life should be an example to us. Let’s not use his death as an excuse to do even more wrong in our lives. As hard as it might be, and bad as it might hurt, we gonna do this the right way. Leave Borne and his crew alone. Whatever them fools got coming, they’ll get it. Now leave it alone.”


Five nights later Priest was feeling low. Baby Brother had been buried, and the stress of going through the emotional, jam-packed funeral and keeping his younger brothers in check at the same time had taken a physical toll on him, and his body was in turmoil.

“I’m going out to get some juice,” he told Farad, rubbing his throat. Finesse was upstairs in bed with a girl, Kadir was on the road back to Atlantic City, and Malik and Raheem had just gone back to the house they shared in Crown Heights.

Sitting at the table, Farad looked up as his brother dragged out the door. Antwan looked bad. Worn. The funeral had hit them all hard, especially since Baby Brother’s coffin had been closed, a telltale sign of his brutal and disfiguring death. But Priest had taken it hardest. He was the oldest and used to be the baddest and the meanest. He was the protector of his clan. Mother and father to his younger brothers, and he took it as if their failure to protect Baby Brother rested squarely on his shoulders.

Priest ambled down the streets of Brooklyn with his mother on his mind. She had been such a beautiful woman. Tall, well-shaped, with the most amazing dark-chocolate skin and a dazzling smile. Their father had been muscular and very light-skinned, with amber eyes, which was the only physical attribute he had passed on to any of his sons.

It was late, but his throat was sore and he needed relief, as well as a little solitude. He walked through the doors of the Key Foods supermarket and headed straight for the refrigerated section along the back row of the store. He selected a quart of Tropicana in a smooth glass jar, then stopped in the medicine aisle and picked up a box of Sucrets.

There was only one cashier open, but the line was pretty short. Priest stood behind a group of young thugs who were cutting up. Their whole demeanor reflected drug involvement, hood life, and street culture. They were loud and abrasive. Profanity-laced tirades spilled from their mouths and echoed throughout the store.

Priest stared at them. At their clothing, their jewelry, and the cases of beer and bottles of alcohol they carried in each hand. They were a reflection of his younger self. A milder reflection, true, but if they committed enough crimes and crawled in the gutters long enough, they might be able to get half as grimy as he’d been.

“Man, I’m ’bout to get me some pussy!” one of the young heads said, balancing his case of brew against the counter and rubbing his dick with his free hand. He was tall and light, solidly built with a shiny bald head. “I ain’t had a bitch since I got outta Rikers!”

His boy looked at him and laughed. “Niggah, you been on the streets for two days and you ain’t got a piece of ass yet?”

One of the others, a short yellow kid with a long ponytail laughed even louder. “He said pussy, niggah! He got him a piece of ass in the joint, man!”

The bald-headed cat shrugged. “Yeah. I had to grin a niggah last week, yo. I’on’t be playing with dudes, ya know?”

“Oh, man! Y’all shoulda seen that cat!” the short kid hollered. “That motherfuckah fought like hell! Stabbed my man Rant in the neck with a fuckin’ fork! Took him out! That was Borne’s lil cousin, yo! We ended up dragging that fool in the meat locker. I slammed him over the head with a frying pan, then Qui put that niggah in a throat-lock and dicked him!”

Shorty with the lemon face laughed hysterically.

“Y’all shoulda seen how that niggah bucked Qui off! My niggah had to deep smiley him to get him to lay down. Blood was running all outta that black fool. From his throat and his ass!”

Priest staggered, losing his grip on the orange juice. The bottle hit the floor and exploded, sending yellow liquid mixed with glass shards all across the dirty linoleum.

“What the fuck!” a brown-skinned youth in a red-and-yellow shirt turned around and hollered as the liquid splashed the back of his pant legs and his Ice Cream sneakers by Pharrell.

“Yo, you stupid mothafuckah! What the hell is wrong with you, man?” He stepped up on Priest, embarrassed and swollen with anger. “Preacher or no preacher, I oughta fuck yo ass up!”

Baby Brother, Priest raged inside, the graphic description of his brother’s murder ringing in his ears. They talked about it like his baby brother wasn’t shit. Like he didn’t have no purpose in this world, like didn’t nobody love him. No longer were his brother’s killers just some random inmates in a depraved criminal justice system. They had faces. Bodies. Their confession was in the air burning his ears. The brutal pictures Priest had tried so hard not to see were now permanently etched in his mind. His blood was full of ice as the young cat beefed in his face. There’s no such thing as a MONSTER. There’s no such thing as a MONSTER. There’s no such thing…

Priest just stood there as the youngster based and his boys yeasted him up, encouraging him to action. He took the threats in silence. He was battling for his soul and he couldn’t even speak. There was a time when he would have bitten every last one of them. Bitten all of them at the same time. Buried their punk asses where they stood. Sent their mamas scurrying downtown to make funeral arrangements. But all he could do now was stare into their faces as he slammed his grief down and fought the monster-sized fury that was trying to take its place.

He got a good look at them. At all of them. But especially at the tall dude they’d called “Qui.” This young niggah had bought and paid for whatever retribution ended up coming to him. He’d earned his wrath, cash and carry. Priest dropped his Sucrets to the ground and began walking away, his eyes recording their features like a video camera. That dude Acqui was in trouble.

Storming back down the wet streets with deliberate purpose, Priest went into criminal-minded mode as Antwan “Monster” Davis, that brutal killer he had convinced himself was dead, emerged and took over the show, bigger and badder than ever. There was work to be done. Retribution to be exacted. Bodies to be buried. By the time he burst through his front door he was fully transformed, with nothing but crushing bone and spilling blood on his mind.

“Whattup?” Farad asked as the front door flung open, then slammed violently shut. He whirled around in his chair and was shocked by what he saw. Damn. Whattup, stranger? It had been a long time since this cat had menaced the streets of Brooklyn. For the longest time Farad had wondered if he would ever see him again.

“Uh-oh,” he said as the familiar stranger moved toward their mother’s kitchen table. Deadly. Brutal. Swollen with fury.

“Monster’s back.”