He couldn't stand to be a victim.
When he was younger, Michael Anthony Street had been too much the victim, teased and challenged by children who saw a slightly retarded classmate as an easy mark.
His mother had to move him out of one school because of the abuse.
Once, when he was older, four or five kids tried to take his new radio, but Michael refused to give it up. He fought hard, then broke his own radio into pieces so it wouldn't be taken.
"He was kind-hearted," says his mother,Marjorie Williams. "He wouldn't let someone hurt him, and he could never stand to see anyone else hurt."
In the early hours of the day after Good Friday, three weeks ago, an East Baltimore teen-ager put a gun to the head of Michael Street's best friend.
"All your money," said the teen-ager.
Marvin Horton froze. He could feel the metal on his temple.
"I think it was like gray or black," remembers Mr. Horton, a 21-year-old with the same quiet innocence that marked Michael Street. "I was afraid to turn my head."
Without a word, Michael Street stepped between Mr. Horton and his assailant. He shoved the teen-age gunman back. The bullet caught him in the center of the chest.
There's no second act to this morality play. The crew that shot Michael Street to death at East North Avenue and Hope Street are still on the street, and Eastern District officers believe they are tied to a string of stickups along North Avenue.
City homicide detectives think that the four teen-agers responsible live in the neighborhood. "I've gotten one call and some names," said Detective Daniel Boone. "But we need someone who was there that night and can identify them."
But those someones didn't do all that much after the bullet went through Michael Street.
Running west down North Avenue toward Greenmount, a terrified Marvin Horton raced past more than a dozen people still out on their steps in the early morning.
"They were saying, 'Are they shooting again?' " says Mr. Horton. "I remember someone saying that out loud when I was running past."
So Michael Street's slaying on April 18 -- number 93 in this year's city murder count -- remains unsolved. His name is in red ink between the names of two other murder victims on a crowded caseboard in the homicide unit's coffee room.
A $1,000 reward for information has been offered, but the phone isn't ringing. And the people who knew the 25-year-old Pimlico man are angry, confused and desperate for a reason.
"He had a child's mind," says Clara Huddles, his girlfriend. "He was the kind of person that you couldn't stay mad at because he was always clowning. I don't think he would have seen them coming, or known what was going to happen. He wouldn't have expected it."
Michael Street went to the Cornerstone Church of Christ every Sunday and played the drums in a church ensemble. He liked making dinner for his parents, he loved every kind of music and he lived to dance. He worked in the laundry at Sinai Hospital and spent almost every Friday and Saturday night down at the Elks Club at Harford Road and North Avenue, drinking Pepsis and dancing with any girl who said yes.
"Oh, he liked the girls," says his mother, smiling.
He was living with a brother in a rowhouse on Oakfield Avenue, but he had just bought himself a new bedroom set.
Michael Street was a slow learner, but he was fully functional, happily independent.
"He was getting ready to get his own place," his mother says.
When Marvin Horton last saw his friend, Michael was standing at the corner of North and Hope with his arms in the air. The sound of the gunshots was still like thunder in his ears.
"He was standing there like this," says Mr. Horton, demonstrating in his kitchen, arms up, palms open -- a questioning pose. "He looked like he was asking why they did it."
As they did almost every Friday, they went as a trio to the Elks Club -- Michael and Marvin and other young friend, also a slow learner, whom Marvin would know on sight. But try as he might, he can't remember the young man's name.
They were dressed up nice. Ties, dance shoes, everything just so.
"I don't go clubbing a lot," says Mr. Horton. "But the Elks Club is the kind of place where you can get up to dance and leave your pocketbook on the table and it's there when you get back. You have to dress right."
They danced through the night and into the morning.
Michael knew a lot of girls at the club, and they all liked him.
"I don't do that well meeting girls," says Mr. Horton, smiling. "But Mike was something else."
They left at 4 a.m., the three of them walking west on North, looking back over their shoulders for a late bus.
They saw the four teen-agers cross the avenue toward them but thought nothing of it.
"We only had our bus passes," says Mr. Horton. "Nothing else."
With the gun to his head, Mr. Horton felt a sudden rush of panic, but he had told himself that if anything like this ever happened, he would surrender any possession willingly.
He never got a word out. Michael Street was a big kid, and he was protective of Marvin Horton, who is rail thin.
"Michael just stepped between me and him," says Mr. Horton. "He saved my life."
Bystanders heard as many as six shots.
"It happened so fast," says Mr. Horton."
As he ran toward Greenmount Avenue, Marvin Horton saw his friend still standing, saw the teen-agers running away. The third young man, Michael's friend, was running down the avenue as well, racing toward a cab that stopped to pick him up.
Marvin stopped at Greenmount Avenue and looked back up the street.
He couldn't see Michael, but he saw the red lights of the ambulance and the blue lights of the police cars. He was afraid to go back. He stood there watching for a long while, then stepped onto a No. 8 bus.
He went to Michael's house, thinking that Michael would show up there. He couldn't believe that Michael would die.
He tried to tell Michael's brother what happened, but the story came out strange and confused. He was still waiting for Michael when the detectives showed up to notify the next of kin at half-past 6 in the morning.
"I ran because I was scared and because I didn't know then what had happened," says Mr. Horton, who works at a local cafeteria. "I feel guilty. Like I should have done something."
The third young man remains unidentified. Police are hoping he will come forward.
The robbery crew ran without taking anything. After the shooting, no one stopped to turn out the dying man's pockets. The neighborhood residents provided no information. The bartender at the club couldn't remember three dancers who ordered only sodas.
"It's frustrating, because this is really tragic," says Detective Robert McAllister. "Michael was a genuinely innocent victim, a retarded man who tried to protect his friend and was killed as a result."
For Mr. Horton, there is the loss not only of a friend, but an end to his own unworldliness. The city where he once went dancing has suddenly become a sinister place.
"The only time I go into the city now is to see my Mom and Pop," says Mr. Horton, who lives in a suburban apartment. "The people who shot Michael ought to know that they took an innocent life. We didn't have much, but they shot him anyway and there's a lot of people who miss him." Mr. Horton pauses, thinking.
"Instead of taking money, they took a life," he says finally. "But I guess the people with guns don't think like that."