The squeegee kid says he was was washing car windshields the other day when a man approached and asked if he wanted to make some "big money."
The boy, 12, who lives in a West Baltimore public-housing development, had seen the man before in the courtyard of the project and knew what the offer involved -- joining a drug organization.
"I knew it had something to do with drugs," the boy says. "He was just watching me, right. I said, 'How you doing?' He said, 'Pretty fair for a square.' Then he asked me if I wanted to make some big money."
In talks with several boys in parts of East and West Baltimore, The Evening Sun found that drug trafficking is viewed as an easy way to earn a lot of money in a short period of time. And many boys under age 15 seem to have little fear of the court system, or the dangers of the illegal drug trade.
The squeegee kid says he knows that "people get in trouble or killed from drugs." Last fall, he says, a relative was shot in the leg during an argument with a drug dealer who mistakenly thought the relative was trying to take away some customers.
Nonetheless, the boy is tempted by the offer to join a drug organization.
"I didn't say yes and I ain't say no. It's something that I was thinking about anyway. I still am.
"I'm making money now, but not that much money."
The boy works three or four days a week and takes in about $10 on a very good day of windshield washing along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. But he says he knows other boys his age who earn $50 a day in the drug trade.
The squeegee kid admits he is tempted by such "big money." So far he has resisted.
But other boys, who are barely into their teens, do not.
On the east side of town, near Johnston Square, a boy described as "a normal kid" sometimes makes $100 a night delivering drugs, his 20-year-old brother says.
The older brother describes the routine:
The boy stays out past 9 p.m. and frequents other neighborhoods, where he is well known and many people congregate. Beneath a pair of sweat pants, he wears athletic shorts with deep pockets.
He shakes hands with many people he sees. Sometimes when he shakes hands a small packet is exchanged. The packet contains drugs.
"He does not use drugs. I know that for a fact," the brother says. "I know that and I make sure of that as a fact. I think it's bad enough what he does now. If I even think he starts using them, it's over."
The boy has been involved in the drug trade for nearly a year and has made a good deal of money -- often more than $100 at a time, the brother says. Most of the money goes toward clothes and sporting goods.
Their mother doesn't know what's going on, the 20-year-old says, but other relatives do.
The boy "doesn't stay out late on weekends or weekdays and he doesn't do it every day," the brother says. "Aside from the clothes, what he buys he don't keep at home. He keeps them at friends' houses. And it's not as though he's buying clothes all of the time."
The boy is only a small cog in a drug organization. Often his sole duty is to hold packaged drugs, the brother says. The boy never touches the profits and seldom possesses more than three packets of drugs.
The brother has tried unsuccessfully to talk the boy out of drug trafficking -- and has thought of beating some sense into him about the dangers of drug dealing.
"If [the mother] knew she'd whip his a--. No question. I ought to whip his a--," the brother says angrily. "If it ain't putting up with getting shot, it should be about maybe going to jail.
"I know this might sound a little strange, but he's a normal kid. There's things he could better put his interests in. He's good at basketball."
The boy does not lack for recreational opportunities. For example, there's a community center not far from his home that has numerous offerings for youths. And it is open until 10 p.m.
MONEY IS THE LURE
But the lure of "big money" is hard for any 12-, 13- or 14-year-old to resist.
Drug dealers use boys in their organizations because the penalties are a lot less severe if the child is arrested, and because the boys aren't savvy enough to cheat the dealers out of the profits or drugs.
"It's easier to have a juvenile hold the drugs and if something were to happen you don't have to bail them out," says Agent Arlene K. Jenkins, a spokesperson for the city police department.
"They're also willing to work for a lot less money. The adults are the ones running the drugs. The kids are just holding them."
Last year, city police arrested more than 1,400 youths age 18 or younger for drug violations ranging from possession to the sale and manufacturing of drugs. Of that number, 204 were age 14 years and under, and 35 were age 12 or younger, according to police statistics.
Wednesday afternoon, a 10-year-old boy was arrested on an East Baltimore playground while playing on a swing and was charged as a juvenile with possession of cocaine. Police said the youth had four $10 vials of cocaine, and some cash, stuffed in his sock.