He seemed like most 10-year-olds. He was shirtless and wearing sandals. His skinny, 4-foot-10 frame sank in a kitchen chair as he frantically tapped the controls of his Nintendo.
That was yesterday. But a day earlier, with tears in his eyes and handcuffs on his wrists, the boy had sat in the Northwestern District's narcotics unit. Police charged that he was carrying seven vials of cocaine in his pocket.
"I was saying, 'You're so young,' " the boy's mother, 34, said yesterday. "What in the world happened? It's so sad."
Was her son one of the so-called "walking stashes" -- children who hold drugs for dealers trying to outfox the police or rival pushers? Or was he simply in the wrong place at the wrong time?
The answer depends on whom you talk to. But everyone seems to agree that more and more youngsters, lured by the prospect of making a fast buck, are taking "summer jobs" as dealers, lookouts or walking stashes.
"We're seeing it now more than ever," said Sgt. James Cappuccino, of Northwestern's narcotics unit.
The sergeant pulled out a district record book and counted. "Thirty-two juveniles arrested for drugs in June and July," he said. "Half of them on felony distribution charges."
The 10-year-old, whose name is being withheld because he is a juvenile, was arrested Monday afternoon in the 3200 block of Woodland Ave. Charged as a juvenile with one count of cocaine possession, the boy was released to the custody of his parents.
A 20-year-old man, already on probation for a felony drug conviction, allegedly handed the boy the cocaine moments before officers moved in, investigators said.
Darrell McCain, of 3400 block of St. Ambrose Ave., was charged with cocaine possession and using a minor to sell drugs, police said. McCain had received a 10-year suspended sentence for selling cocaine in 1990 and was placed on five years' probation. Today, he is being held on $25,000 bail.
The 10-year-old lives in a well-kept, two-story rowhouse on Virginia Avenue in Pimlico. He has two brothers.
Singer Stevie Wonder's voice blared from the stereo speakers yesterday as the boys played with their Nintendo.
The 10-year-old said he was playing outside Monday when he met up with McCain, who once had lived in his home. McCain asked the boy to come with him.
"He said, 'We gonna make some money,' " the youngster said. "I said I'm gonna find out how 'cause I always make money from going to the store for people."
But the boy said he didn't know the man had drugs on him until a woman asked him for a "test" -- a free hit -- of cocaine. "She didn't have no money," the boy said.
"Darrell told me he was making about $1,000, no lower, every day," he added with a slight stutter. "He told me he would buy me anything I wanted."
The boy said he soon decided to go home, to have no part in this "easy money" scheme, but it was too late. The police moved in and arrested McCain and the 10-year-old. "Darrell gave me the drugs when he saw the 'knockers' coming," he said.
The boy's mother also saw McCain outside a neighbor's house that afternoon. She said she left to make supper and told the 10-year-old to come home soon. Moments later, a neighbor told her that her son had been "locked up."
At the police station, the boy first said he found the drugs, then said they had been given to him. Police said the boy stuffed the drugs into his pocket and tried to walk away.
"I was scared," he said yesterday.
His mother said, "He was in the wrong place at the wrong time."
McCain is an old friend of the family, the boy's mother said. Six years ago, McCain lived with them for nine months after McCain's mother threw him out of her house.
"The same people you try to help stab you in the back," the boy's mother said.
Her sons, she said, were impressed with McCain, who traveled around in a moped with gold jewelry on his fingers or dangling from his neck.
"They looked at him like a big brother," she said.
On the block, the boys' mother is known affectionately as the "Kool-Aid mom." She sells homemade ices -- frozen Kool-Aid in a cup -- all flavors, for 30 cents each. "The lady down the street sells them for 35 cents," she said. "All the kids around here know me."
She said she works as a teacher's aide in the city school system. "I have little but I have enough to feed the boys and keep their clothes clean."
Cappuccino and officers in Northwestern's Tactical Narcotics Task Force said the use of children and teen-agers in the drug trade has become more fashionable than ever.
The dealers prey on vulnerable youngsters, many from broken homes. They don't have to post bail for the minors, who are usually released to the custody of their parents.
"It's economics," Sgt. Crawford Blackmon said.