© 1997 Robert M. (Bob) Leahy
2110 E Crosby Road
Carrollton, TX 75006
(972) 416 - 6098
Approximately 2040 words
Todd Huffmann barked the signals to the left and then to the right. He could see the blitz coming from the two outside linebackers, and knew he would only have a few seconds to get the ball to the wing cutting across the middle of the field. Just as the center hiked the ball, Todd saw Cool Breeze make an adjustment in the lean of his body. He knew his receiver would be there. Turning back toward the line after his three-step drop, Todd barely had time to arch the ball over the on-rush of would-be tacklers. Only the cheers from the fans told him Cool Breeze had snared the football as he was buried under the crush of opposing linemen.
The newspaper reported Todd's bravery, standing up against the blitz that put him on the ground play after play throughout the game. "Few high-school quarterbacks have the seasoning it takes to throw repeatedly in the face of such constant pressure. There is no doubt that Todd Huffmann will be able to face down any dangers he encounters down the road."
With success came certain rewards. His math teacher, Mr. Crenshaw, delayed a test two days to give his students time to study, since he knew they had been too busy celebrating--savoring, he said--the big win. The only person who seemed unimpressed with Todd ' s performance was Mrs. Montrose, his speech teacher, who still made him get up in front of the class and deliver his speech on his personal hero. She had to know he wasn't ready, but she called his name anyway. He made a grand approach to the podium, all swagger and bluff. And when the class finally quieted down, he told them his speech would be about who else but Todd Huffmann. The laughter was deafening. Mrs. Montrose's blank expression, however, did not encourage Todd to continue. He sat down after two and a half minutes.
"What did old Montrose think of the speech?" someone asked him later that day.
"Not much," Todd replied. "She wants me to do it again."
"That figures," someone else said. "She ain't got a sense of humor.
* * *
Nearly a month later, Todd Huffmann stood nervously before his speech class to redo his speech on his personal hero. He placed his sweat-curled note card on the podium, then put his hands straight down at his sides. He took several deep breaths before managing a quick glance toward his teacher, Mrs. Montrose, who gave no hint of encouragement from the back of the room.
Todd cleared his throat, tried to swallow but couldn't, then cleared his throat once more. "I've always been seen as a hero," he said softly. "Ever since the sixth grade. And all because I was the quarterback on some football team." Again, Todd looked to the back of the room. Mrs. Montrose was writing a note of some kind. He cleared his throat again.
"But I don't feel much like a hero today," he continued, his voice trailing off into nothing.
Todd stopped talking when he noticed Mrs. Montrose lean forward in her desk. She was looking at him now--looking intently. Everyone in the room was looking at him. His face flushed, took a defensive step backwards. He braced himself by putting his hands on the edge of the podium, cleared his throat and swallowed before trying to continue.
"Heroes are people who face danger--who, when they face danger, are able to overcome it somehow." As he finished the sentence, Todd told himself to calm down, to breathe in and out several times, and to slow down. “People think I've faced danger because I play quarterback. But playing quarterback--but being a successful quarterback doesn't make me a hero. I haven't really faced danger as a quarterback. My life was never threatened. And nothing meaningful would have been lost if I couldn't make a play."
Todd took a peek up from his notecard. There were several quizzical expressions on the faces of his classmates.
"Let me tell you about someone I met but barely knew who is truly a hero. His name was Terrell Digby. I say was because he died the night I met him." Todd stopped, interrupted by several muffled "ohs" and "oh nos."
"I was in Allentown two weeks ago for my Grandmother's funeral. I needed to get away from the crush of people who came to my Grandmother's house after the service, so I just left and started walking. Before I knew it, I was outside some pool hall on the south end of town. I was dressed in the suit I had gone to the funeral in, and that made me real noticeable down there. When I recognized where I was, I decided I needed to get out of there and back to my Grandmother’s."
Todd could feel the same shortness of breath now that he had when he was first confronted by three thugs.
"Lookie what we got here, Darvel," said the biggest boy to the accomplice on his right wearing a black cap with a big, silver 'X' on it.
"I sees him, Snake. Benny, he sees him too. Don't you, Benny?"
"Course I sees him. How could I miss him?" Benny asked, shifting his large frame around to look at Darvel. Todd could see the butt of a .45 just above Benny's belt buckle.
"That's right, Benny, you couldn't miss this dude, not dress the way he be. What you 'spose he be doin' down here on our street?"
"I am just taking a walk," Todd said. "I don't want any trouble."
"Trouble?" Snake asked. "Why should there be trouble?"
"He might not cooperate," Benny said.
"Oh, I’m sure he be cooperatin’," Snake said, pulling a silver .22 out of his belt and rubbing it gently. "'Specially when he see my cooperater here."
Benny took a step toward Todd, and Darvel moved behind him, cutting off his first steps of escape.
By the time Todd turned back around and focused on Snake, Snake had the gun trained on Todd's head. "I don't want any trouble," Todd said meekly.
"But you tried to run away," Darvel said.
"That's true," Snake said. "You did try to run away. Maybe you think that's not trouble. But it is. That's not cooperatin'. And if you try running again, then I'll shoot you," Snake said, a slight smile playing at the corner of his lips while he said it. "You think I be lyin' 'bout shootin' you?" Snaked asked, suddenly upset, although Todd had not said a word, had not moved, had barely breathed.
Todd raised his hands. "Look, I believe you. I don't want any trouble."
Snake brought the gun down. "Okay, Benny, see what he gots on him."
"Can I take his jacket?" Benny asked.
"Course you can," Snake said.
Benny took the jacket off Todd's back, nearly tearing it in his haste to get it from the other boy. Before he tried it on, he went through the pockets. "There ain't nothin' in here. Snake, there ain't nothin' in here."
"Where's your wallet?" Snake asked Todd.
"I don't know...probably back at my Grandmother's--"
"Boy," Snake said, cutting him off, "how could you go out without your wallet? Didn't you know you gots fees to pay when you walk on my street?"
"I just went for a walk, all right. There's no crime in that."
"No crime unless you can't pay the fees."
Todd started to reach inside his pants pocket when Darvel grabbed his upper arm, nearly wrenching it out of his shoulder. "What the hell you think you doin', man?"
"I was just seeing if I had any money in my pocket."
"Relax, Darvel," Snake said. "Let the boy see do he have some money in his pocket."
Darvel let go, but not without a little jerk of the arm first.
Todd was relieved to feel some money in his pocket, but when he saw that he had but one wrinkled dollar, a nickel and three pennies, his spirits dropped.
"You call that money, Boy?"
"It's all I have," Todd said lamely.
"He got a watch, too," Darvel said. "I felt it when I grabbed his arm."
"Do you want the watch, Darvel?" Snake asked.
"If he ain't got no money."
"Give Darvel the watch," Snake ordered Todd.
"Now Darvel, he gots a watch. And Benny, he gots a jacket. But me, all you have for me is a buck? You think that covers your fees?
"I don't have nothin’ else," Todd said.
"I gots to get more than a buck if I'm going to let you go, Boy."
"But I don't have anything else."
"It ain't enough," Snake said, anger edging his rising voice. "I got to get some pleasure out of letting you go. Don't you see that?"
Darvel and Benny looked at Snake, and as he began to smile, they began to smile, too.
"I know how you can get some pleasure," Benny said.
"Do you?" Snake asked.
"Yes, Snake, I do," Benny said proudly. "You could shoot him. First you could shoot him in the leg, and watch him squirm along the ground, and then you could shoot him in the arm, so he can't even pulls himself away no more, and then you could shoot him in the head until his brains be splattered all across the sidewalk. That would give you pleasure, Snake. Wouldn't it?"
"I think you right," Snake said, caressing the barrel of his silver .22.
"No, please," Todd started to plead. But he could already see it was too late to reason with Snake. Todd tried to size things up as Snake began to aim the gun toward the left ankle. Benny was to one side, and Darvel was to the other. Snake stood in front of him, with the pool hall behind him. There was a black Caddie behind Snake, the bumper just close enough Todd might be able to jump behind it before Snake shot him.
When the shot was fired, Todd had already jumped for the Caddie's bumper.
It took Todd a moment to clear his head and figure out what was happening. By the time he focused on the action on the sidewalk, three other shots had been fired.
Snake was limping away, cursing. Darvel was farther away, running in the opposite direction.
Of his attackers, only Benny was still there, standing over an older Black man's body, looking dumbly down at him. A moment later, and Benny was running, too.
It was quiet, except for the labored breathing of the man lying on the sidewalk. Todd slowly edged out from around the Caddie. Cautiously, he crawled closer to the man on lying on the concrete. He could hear a gurgle in the man's breath.
Todd knelt down beside the man. "Can I do something for you, mister?" he asked.
“Jus’ stay with me,” the man rasped. He took a hold of Todd’s hand and squeezed it. “Jus’ stay.”
Todd remained with him, holding his hand, all the way to the hospital. They made Todd stay in the waiting room at the hospital. Todd told the police what happened. He said he didn’t know where the man came from. He didn’t know what the man did--except save his life.
The cops agreed. He was lucky to be alive.
Todd looked out at his classmates. “I learned something on that ambulance ride to the hospital,” he told them. “Terrell Digby told me that some things just weren't right. He risked his life to stop someone from killing me for no reason. That's what bravery is all about. And I hope I have that kind of courage if I ever see something happening to anyone else. I wouldn't have even thought about helping before Terrell Digby gave up his life for me. Now I owe that much to him. That's what being a hero is all about."
Todd finished the speech and walked back to his seat, not looking at anyone in the room. He knew they would never look at him the same way again. But it was all right. He didn't look at himself the same way either. And the new way was better.