Sarah was the girl I would snuggle next to in the school theater when we would watch documentaries on the big screen Friday mornings during the weekly assembly. After we became good friends, Sarah let me in on one of her very private secrets: she was terrified of fire. I consoled her and even held her hand, assuring her no fire would come to the theater while we watched the documentaries.
I didn’t think much of it at the time, but as I was telling my brother Billy about her little secret, he had a much different view other than holding her hand and consoling her. Sarah lived in the 2140 building across from our building, facing the three mountains. I didn’t know what extortion was then, but I was about to find out. I was told to follow him because “We are about to make some money.” I didn’t ask questions but just followed Billy over to 2140 as we stood in the grass below Sarah’s fourth-floor apartment window.
Billy yelled at the top of his lungs for Sarah to come to the window, and after about five minutes of loud screaming, she raised the window and stuck out her head. Billy said, “Bring any money you can find in your house and throw it out the window to me.”
Her answer was a nervous “NO.”
Billy shouted back, “Sarah, don’t test me!” But she still insisted, “NO.” Billy then whispered to me, on his cue, to run toward the other side of the building where Sarah would not be able to see me. He then said in a serious voice, “Sarah, unless you throw money out of the window, we will burn down your house.” Sarah was now in a panic but refused to throw money out of the window. Billy whispered for me to run to the other side of the building out of sight. Billy then looked in my direction and shouted, “Light it up!”
Crying hysterically, Sarah then shouted, “Okay! Okay!” She disappeared into her window and minutes later she began throwing change down to us. This extortion became a monthly ritual until she moved out of the projects shortly afterward, and our “cash cow” quickly disappeared.