Violence had calmed around 33rd Street and Benton Boulevard during the months that Anthony "Fat Tone" Watkins ruled Kansas City's rap scene.
While his record sales rose over the past two years, Tone rapped about killing his enemies for glory and power, about ordering hits on rival gangs and about his new influence over younger members of the gangs that dominated 51st Street from Swope Parkway to the Paseo.
I'm the nigga, like I told ya/A 51st Street young soldier/And I'll fold you like a dollar bill/'cause I'm so for real niggas get the chills.
Gangsters who knew Fat Tone say he was a joke, but teens welcomed him when he arrived to pass out CDs in what had historically been rival territory. In the blocks from 30th Street to 39th Street between Prospect and Jackson avenues, gang members called themselves the Third Wall in honor of all the 3s in their addresses.
The corner of 33rd and Benton was the heart of that territory, and Cheri Clark knew it too well. Her sons had defended it for the Third Wall before they went to prison on drug convictions in 2003.
Late this May, four days after police in Las Vegas discovered Fat Tone's body in a Jeep at a construction site, Clark walked up to a dozen teens on 33rd Street and College Avenue, a block from Benton Boulevard. It looked as if the summer would be a bloody one, and Clark was worried.
The teens surrounded her as she stood in front of a small, white house, the home of Dominique Henderson. Clark was there to deliver a warning that the boys should be somewhere other than the streets. She asked how many thought they would live past 20, and they lowered their eyes to the pavement. Clark told them about the killings on those same streets four years earlier. Some of the boys said they remembered her nephew Alex, but otherwise they remained silent.
Seeing skinny Dominique among the bigger boys, Clark sternly asked how old he was. He told her he was 12. Was he still in school? "I go to Central," he said. Like many kids in the neighborhood, Dominique wore red and spent his afternoons hanging out on Third Wall corners.
Three weeks later, on June 15, Dominique's mother, 30-year-old Charlese Henderson, arrived home from her job at the state building downtown and took off her shoes. Then she heard gunshots coming from behind her house.
Charlese ran outside and saw men shooting into her backyard from the windows of a black Lincoln. Dominique didn't make a sound as he lay on the grass suffocating. A bullet had torn through his body, shattering a rib that punctured his lung.
"I said his name, and he looked at me," she says. "Then his eyes rolled back into his head."
In the weeks after Fat Tone died, shootings and murders spiked in the Third Wall and 51st Street neighborhoods. Some people have heard that Dominique's killers were from the 43rd Street neighborhood, gangsters who are trying to take over now that Fat Tone is gone.