From what they can piece together, five men attacked him, three from the front and two that he probably never saw behind him. One of the men behind him grabbed his arms and one of the three in front brandished a knife.
Kenneth kicked the man behind him hard enough to let go, then fought for all he was worth. No, he fought for his wife, his unborn child. He fought for his neighborhood. He was beaten to a pulp and then stabbed in twenty-nine different places. Twenty-nine. Once probably would have been enough, but they had to make certain he was dead, had to make sure no one else would ever be as courageous and stupid and brave and loving as my Kenneth. They could not stand in the burning light of his passion; they could not measure up to his love.
The police had to identify him by his teeth. They even stole his wallet and cleaned out our accounts, and to add insult to injury, tried to make it look like Kenneth had been at a strip club and paid for some unmentionable things.
But even after all of that, he wasn’t dead. After twenty-nine stab wounds, he dragged himself for half a block, on his hands and knees, till he got to the street we lived on, the street our son group up on, the street our dreams were built on. And there he wrote words of defiance. With his own hands and in his own blood he wrote, “I love you.”
For years I thought he wrote that to little Kenny and me, but that too was naïve. He wrote that to his neighborhood. He’d already told me over the phone. He didn’t need to make sure we knew, but he did have to tell the neighborhood. He had to let it know that this was all for them, that his death and his life were for a purpose higher than ice cream. He loved this neighborhood, and whatever the cost, he was going to make it better than he found it.
And he did.
The last fool with the knife chucked it in the bushes a few blocks away. There was enough fingerprints and DNA to link the knife-in-the-bushes kid to Kenneth’s murder. When they got him in the station he gave up everything. Dan and twelve other members of The Duke’s gang went down. The Duke had planned well and they couldn’t pin anything on him. Even when Dan turned state’s evidence they couldn’t pin enough directly on The Duke to get more than a six-month sentence.
The Duke tried to retain his empire, but with heightened police focus and without Dan and most of his thugs to enforce his law, he was all pomp and circumstance. He couldn’t entice neighborhood kids or even low wage thugs without the promise of riches, and the police had seized all his assets. He packed up shop and headed to a different part of town. Last I heard he was running a numbers game north of Fifth Street.
The shopkeepers felt safer than before and took more risks to bring in customers. They also wouldn’t settle for anyone picking up where the Duke left off.
Elderly Mr. Yamamoto, who owns the electronic store on forty-second, beat off four hoodlums with a broomstick then showed us the security tapes just to prove it. Mr. Ginarski, the grocer, has seen shoplifting drop by a factor of five. He used to lose more apples from the street side displays than he’d sell. Oscar’s aunt found opening her hair salon on Saturdays profitable again, since she didn’t have to pay the Duke or give free haircuts to his cronies. There’s a park now where a street full of brothels used to stand and the community center is actually a community center instead of a drug dealer hang out.
And things are kind of like that gaudy ice cream scoop window. The Duke may have destroyed our original plan, he may have even made us want to give up and go home, but out of that blow, out of being cut down, we came back stronger, better and more beautiful.
Oscar became a full partner in Scoops once he got back from college. His marketing and business whiz let us open a second shop about six blocks over, 2 Scoops. I came up with that name. The original Scoops is still run out of the same building with that same gaudy stained glass window vigilantly watching the neighborhood.
And then there’s little Kenny, born the same night his father died, a stab of the knife with every contraction. He barely waited till the ambulance got us to the hospital before he popped out to see everyone. He’s like looking at a photograph of his father, and as honest as the day is long. He has kids of his own now and they play in that park I mentioned. He runs our second branch and he and Oscar are like brothers. I have the best sons any woman could ask for.
I miss Kenneth more than I can say. I never remarried, never even really dated. When you lose your soul mate, every eligible bachelor looks the same: not Kenneth. I still live in the apartment above Scoops and I still make pancakes once a week for dinner.
After all these years, a lot of thought and a lot more prayer, I’ve finally figured out the truth about Kenneth. He was a fool and an idiot, but he’s exactly the kind of foolish idiot this world needs.