WHEN CHET KIMBALL WAS THE SHERIFF OF CROCKETT COUNTY, he liked to stay involved in the community as a "civilian," and having been a track and field athlete in his youth, decided to start Crockett High's first serious 4x400 relay team.

There were three boys he had watched since elementary school--Horace King, AJ Crockett, and Charlie Hawk--who just so happened to be best friends and the fastest runners in their age group. In the summer before the eighth grade they added a fourth member to their little "tribe," a refugee from New York City named Cooper Benjamin. Coop's family had arrived in Crockett County by accident when their car broke down on their way to Florida, having fled the violence and bullying their boy had suffered in the big city.

"Coach Kimball" took a special pride in molding these boys into a formidable relay team, in part because of their fierce determination and competitiveness, but more so because of what he thought they could represent to the world: Four boys of quintessentially diverse American backgrounds--black, white, Indian, and Jew--with a natural friendship who could work together to achieve greatness. Four kids, from Alabama, no less, who would show the world how to overcome the 400 years of oppression and injustice with laughter in their hearts rather than chips on their shoulders.

As they went into their senior year, the team was aiming high: the state championship. But it wasn't until two radical lawyers moved to town that they realized their hope could be a reality. Abner Cole the third and Suzette Langtree were social justice warriors of the first rank, and they brought with them a troubled young man they were fostering from south Alabama named D'Mon Brown.

The "Trippentrees," as the boys called the lawyers, pressed Coach Kimball to give D'Mon a chance to make the team. He left it up to the boys, and so they decided to have a race. D'Mon won. In fact, without a shred of experience or training, D'Mon Brown was the fastest runner any of them had ever known. He would replace Coop, who, only by a step, was the slowest.

With D'Mon on board, the team was not only winning, it was breaking division records. But no one could have guessed the intensity of evil that smouldered in the heart of D'Mon Brown. Coach Kimball's dream of their being a symbol of reconciliation and redemption turned into a nightmare of sudden, unimaginable violence and a slow, tragic unraveling of the most beautiful friendship he had ever known.

And all because the boys told D'Mon the story of a local boogeyman named Rufus.


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