Prologue from "Borderline"

Henry “AK” Dekalb had earned his nickname two decades earlier, when he was 13-years old and sprayed a rival gang member's car with an AK-47. Since then he'd been a suspect in a dozen killings involving disputes over drugs and territory. He was a striking figure, with a small gold star in a front tooth that he bared in a predatory smile. Weightlifting during frequent prison stints had given him Popeye-esque forearms. The hedonistic life when not imprisoned had resulted in a generous pot belly.

AK had moved to Portland in 1989 when his independent crack-dealing operation in Oakland was facing police scrutiny and, more scarily, intrusions by both Crips and Bloods. In Oregon , being unaffiliated was not a problem. He built his network and hired enough independent muscle to enforce his operations. His sloppy hits were characterized by gunmen spraying the area with Tec-9s, Uzis, or MAC 10s. In his most recent execution, a 7-year-old girl in the house next door to his target had been killed.

Wolf knew his violent history as he followed AK through the Lloyd Center, Oregon's biggest mall, with four major anchor stores, close to 200 smaller businesses, and an ice skating rink that briefly hosted Tonya Harding. Walking a quarter-mile long promenade was running the gauntlet of franchised America --Gap, Victoria 's Secret, Radio Shack, Lady Foot Locker, and on and on.

AK sauntered through a half-dozen mall stores, a young woman on either arm, taking great pleasure in buying them clothing and accessories. The women had tight skirts and bare midriffs, looking a bit flashier than the typical mall rats.

Even with the women hanging on to him, AK took the time to flirt and banter with numerous other girls in the mall. He also had whispered conversations with several tough-looking young men. Some walked with him for a while, then dropped off and began talking into their cell phones.

Wolf watched the transactions from less than a dozen yards away. AK was a merchant king doing business with no sense of shame or fear of legal retribution. The mall was crowded with shoppers who scarcely noticed—the few who did more than glance in his direction were quickly intimidated into looking away. Wolf carried a Sears shopping bag that made him look like just another happy shopper. He had an Emenim-like wool cap pulled low, hiding his hair and ears, with clothes made him look like a middle-aged guy trying to be cool.

Wolf had initially planned a quick hit-and-run with a stolen car. But during a week of following AK, the gangster was never alone. There were bodyguards, bimbos, family members, or part of the large posse that clung to him like remoras on a shark.

AK led his entourage to the third floor food court. At McDonald's he paid for $50 worth of Big Macs, McNuggets, and assorted side orders and beverages for the two women and three beefy young men who had joined him. At one point, AK threw pieces of food down the on the ice skaters below. His followers laughed and the girls fed him French fries.

After about a half hour he strutted, by himself, down the corridor to the men's room. Inside the bathroom, a couple of teenage dudes preened in front of the mirror. Wolf entered and used the urinal next to AK. Wolf nodded to him—AK gave his gold-toothed smile. “If you a fag, better go look elsewhere or I'll kick your motherfucking ass,” AK said. “This ain't the showers at San Quentin.”

The preening teens left. Wolf looked away, seemingly embarrassed. He reached into his pocket and took out a thumb-sized black aerosol container labeled “Security Pepper Spray.”

AK deliberately bumped into Wolf and said, “Get outta my way.”

“Sorry,” Wolf said, driving a quick palm heel strike to AK's forehead. While the dealer was momentarily stunned, Wolf grabbed him in a headlock and sprayed the aerosol up his nose. The synthesized crack, four times a recreational dose, overstimulated AK's heart. The dealer's eyes grew wide and he reached to grab Wolf but crashed to the floor.

Wolf dragged AK's thrashing body into a stall. The drug dealer was still conscious, his saliva-frothing mouth pressed against the toilet.

“Didn't think it would end like this, did you, pretty boy?” Wolf whispered. Using toilet paper, Wolf pulled a dime bag of crack from his pocket and dropped it on the floor, half open.

As Wolf stepped out of the stall, a couple of young men were coming in. Their casual chatter about the movie they'd just seen stopped instantly when they saw AK's legs sprawled across the floor.

“Call security!” Wolf said. “This guy just OD'ed.”

The young men exchanged looks as if trying to decide what to. Finally, they nodded their heads and hurried out.

They rushed to one of the food counters, trying to get the attention of a young cashier who was more interested in serving slushies. Eventually, she made the call to security.

Wolf left as attention focused on the men's room. The posse seemed to realize their king was dead, abandoning the table to race toward the bathroom. Mall security rent-a-cops tried to establish a perimeter and keep the crowd back.

As he passed by the table, Wolf picked up an unopened Big Mac, fries, and a Coke, and headed to the parking lot.