The number was passed on to Pearson. At 3:46 p.m. on July 2, 2007, he used his personal cell phone to call it.

On a drug run
A woman answered the phone at Lackl's home and talked to a young man for four minutes about the car for sale. Carl was handling it, so she said to call back after he got home from work, around 6 p.m.

Lackl, 38, had left near dawn that day, as usual, for his job with Dundalk's Olympic Fence Company. He'd been there almost 20 years, working six or seven days a week, despite struggling with a heroin addiction.

Soon he was scheduled to testify in State of Maryland v. Patrick Albert Byers Jr. - all because he'd gone on a drug run more than a year earlier, looking to buy crack for himself and heroin for a friend who was with him.

They'd stopped in an East Baltimore alley, and Lackl heard shots close by. A man ran in his direction with a gun, tossing it on a garage roof and looking into Lackl's face as he sped past, a street width between them. Up the road, at the corner of Jefferson and North Montford, a man lay bleeding.

Lackl approached the dying man, loosened his hood strings and took off. Later, his conscience forced him to call police, and he identified Byers from a photo lineup as the guy "that threw the gun on the roof of the garage."

His family had been concerned when he stepped forward to volunteer information in the slaying, worried that there would be some kind of payback.

But as time passed and nothing happened, they settled into their daily routines and other matters rose to the forefront - like the old, tan Cadillac his girlfriend wanted to unload. They'd put it up for sale, asking about $2,000, and were waiting for a buyer.

Lackl's mind was also focused on the coming July Fourth holiday and plans to take the girls to see the fireworks. He and his longtime girlfriend had three children between them, her two girls and their shared 18-month-old daughter, who was named after Lackl's grandmother. She has her dad's bright blue eyes and his blond hair.

He got home from work that July evening and spent some time with the family. It was a gorgeous day, sunny and pleasantly warm, but not too hot. A rarity.

There'd been a few calls about the car that day, but nothing definite. Around 8 p.m., another call came in. Some young men wanted to take a look, and Lackl said sure. A half-hour passed, and they called again. They couldn't find the house, they said.

Could he come out to meet them?

Lackl grabbed his iced tea and sat on the steps outside his door, his girlfriend's 10-year-old daughter playing nearby with the baby.

A Baby Gangsta
A few miles west of Lackl's Philadephia Road rental, Pearson was headed toward the county in a Honda Accord driven by his girlfriend. A green Camaro followed close behind, with 15-year-old Johnathan Ryan Cornish - known as "Brazy" in the Bloods - in the passenger seat, a .44-caliber Smith & Wesson Anaconda revolver within his reach.

Cornish was a 10th-grader at Walbrook High School. He lived with his sister and parents on North Monroe Street in West Baltimore, and Pearson described him like this: "He not no smart killer, he a young, dumbass killer."

But at that moment in the Camaro, he was just a kid who had never handled a gun, except for the BB kind, much less fired one.

Cornish started selling crack on Fayette Street in 2006 and took up with the Bloods a few months later, initiated in a beating by five people for five minutes. He got a couple of bruises on his forehead from the whole thing, and was proud of his performance. But he couldn't really say why he joined, or why it was important to impress gang members, though. It was just what people around him did, so he did it, too.

When he got a call asking him to go on a Blood mission, he didn't hesitate, even after he found out the mission was murder. He wanted to prove he wasn't scared, and he wanted to move up from his position as a Baby Gangsta. He tied a red bandanna around his head and set off with a friend who asked to tag along.

Pearson and his girlfriend picked up the boys and drove them to Normal Avenue to retrieve a gun hidden in some rowhouse steps. Then the boys got into a car with a driver and followed Pearson and his girlfriend, who knew the Baltimore County area.

They're all over the road back there, acting like fools, Pearson thought, glancing behind him as they headed toward Rosedale. He called the Camaro and told them to cut out all that swerving. They might get pulled over and caught carrying the Anaconda.