Charles Feggans opens his novel “Miller Homes” as follows: “In this story, Miller Homes (in Trenton) is a community housing development known for warehousing low income people. This is where trouble seems to brew from gangs fighting over territorial rights and residents calling on City Hall to take action in bringing peace to the community.”

Charles Feggans.jpg

Charles Feggans

The inspiration for focusing on the book was Feggans’ belief “that there are some people who look down on people who live in warehousing conditions. But the fact still remains that they are people just like the average person in a different situation in life.”

A Ewing resident, Feggans grew up in Philadelphia and Trenton. After serving in the U.S. Marines Corps for 10 years, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Thomas Edison State University, worked at Trenton State Prison as a baker, and began another career working for the New Jersey Office of Highway Traffic Safety.

The author of the books “Unpleasant Pastures,” inspired by his service during the Vietnam War, and “Trapped By Impulsion,” inspired when he returned to Trenton, he hopes that after people read “Miller Homes,” “they will get a better understanding of the people who reside in government -controlled units and housing.”

And while the homes in the story no longer stand, Feggans writes “the story you are about to read takes place in many cities across the United States. It is not new to some people but can be to others.”

The three main characters: Bertha, a woman economically trapped in the homes but trying to clean up the area from drug dealers and gangs; Breeze, a 14-year-old who idolizes a local drug kingpin; and Flash, “a self-proclaimed gang leader who demands on having his own way.”

Here is a moment from the book:

Butch managed to get his hands on a pistol. Now, he wanted to find Flash and get his money back. Flash was known for hanging around Miller Homes after dark. That would be the best place to find him. This is where a lot of weekend partygoers would come for their drugs, and Flash would do anything for money. He’d rip off a few partygoers and some tenants if his timing was right.

It was dark when Butch arrived at Miller Homes. He would be brave this evening by taking Flash on, one on one. This way he could show the gang members he had heart. The area he selected was dark, away from overhead hanging light, but near the parking lot leading to the courtyard. This is where Flash would pass if he showed up this evening.

Flash was one of those bad guys who thought he couldn’t be stopped. He led his people to believe he was immortal. This was the right time for Butch to strike to make Flash feel he could die like anyone else by putting two or three bullet holes in him. It might start him thinking about dying and straighten his life up.

Butch took out the .38 Special he had bought. Not knowing anything about pistols, he asked the seller to load it and explain a couple of things he should know about the pistol. Butch was able to locate and press a side button which allowed the cylinder to roll out of place in the poorly lit area. Looking over the rear part of the pistol, he began to get scared. What if he pulled the trigger and nothing happened? “No,” he said as she shook his head. Talking to himself, “No one would even think about selling a pistol that didn’t work.” He pushed the barrel back into place, raised it to aim at an imaginary figure. Slowly he lowered it and put it back into his pocket.

Two hours passed. The sound of voices could be heard coming toward him. At first he couldn’t make them out, but as the voices grew nearer, he was able to identify one of them as Flash’s voice in the crowd. When the voices grew within shooting distance, Butch stepped out far enough so his outline could be seen.

“Hello Flash. I see you’re returning to the scene of the crime.” The chattering stopped. The bodies kept coming forward.

“Who’s there?” asked Flash.

“Stop or I’ll shoot your head off.”

Flash and his posse stopped. They stood motionless in the dark.

“I said, Who’s there? Is that you Butch?” Flash’s voice didn’t change. It was calm.

“Yeah,” he answered in a scared voice. The posse started laughing.

“What you gonna shoot us with, your finger?” asked Flash.

Butch stepped out into the small lighted area. Coming from one side of the building, he exposed the pistol so it was slightly visible to Flash and his posse.

“Oh, you got a gun,” Flash said in a joking manner. “What we supposed to do, shake? All right boys, shake a little for the big guy with the gun.”

“Hey man,” Butch’s voice grew intense. “This ain’t no game.”

“Talk to me. Don’t you know you can hurt somebody with that thing? Put it down and let’s talk. What’s up with you anyway?”

“You damn skippy know what’s up. I want the money your posse took from me when you guys jumped me.”

“What if we ain’t got it?”

“Then you’ll get what this pistol has to offer in return. I’m here to kill if that’s what the end results call for.”

“You’re a tough dude. I like your style. Did you get that way from watching television? One of those John Wayne flicks?” The posse started to laugh.

Butch’s gun hand started to shake. His mouth quivered. Words poured out with a sign of fear. “Cut the B.S. Give me my money. I’m going to count to five. If you don’t have it out by then, I ain’t gonna stop shooting until this gun is empty. All these bullets are for you. If some of your posse wants to share them with you, let them act stupid. I’m counting, one – two.”

Flash reached inside his shirt.

Butch straightened his arm as he raised the pistol chest high.

Flash shifted his hand to his back pocket.

“Don’t be acting stupid,” said Butch.

Flash’s voice became more serious. “I’m getting the money.”

“Three.”

Flashed pulled out something.

Butch stared into the darkness trying to identify anything Flash might be holding, but couldn’t.

Flash started moving in the direction of Butch. His posse stood motionless.

Butch stopped counting, anticipating to see sight of money. His hand continued to shake. He had lost most of his nerve to pull the trigger, but in spite of it all, he kept the pistol pointed. His urge to move in closer drew fear from fear of the posse’s willingness to attack, pistol or no pistol.

Finally, Flash stopped, held something out in front of him. “Here it is,” he called out. “Where do you want me to put it?”

“Lay it on the ground and back off.”

“Anything you say, tough guy.” Flash bent one knee to the ground.

Echoes of shots rang out.

Butch dropped his pistol. It produced a short flash of light as a single bullet rocketed into the dark of night. Seconds later, Butch fell to the ground on top of it.

Flash and his posse moved in closer to where Butch lay. Flash could see Butch moving his arms. When Flash was standing directly over Butch, he pointed his pistol straight down, firing one shot into Butch’s head. He raised the pistol to his mouth and blew away the smoke coming from the mouth of the barrel.

Flash had the look of a savage on his face. His posse began to scatter in different directions. Flash recomposed himself, then, he too, ran off.

Miller Homes by Charles Faggans, 254 pages, $20.99, iUniverse.

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