Linda left anyway, and minutes later a stranger named Sergio Velez attacked her as she entered her apartment. Velez repeatedly stabbed her, and when she wouldn't die, he slammed a hammer into her head. Ejay was in a baby carriage in the apartment as his mother fought for her life, leaving clouds of blood on the walls as she struggled from room to room. Somebody from the building came to get Barbara, and she and Jayson ran over and found blood puddled in the elevator and on the floor leading to Linda's apartment.
It was just as Barbara had dreamed. Every detail. She and Jayson found Linda lying in the bathtub in a shallow pool of blood. Wild with rage, 12-year-old Jayson went to the kitchen and got a knife and ran into a nearby park looking for somebody, anybody with blood on his shoes.
Linda needed several pints of blood to replenish what she had lost. And as ironies go, this one couldn't have been more brutal: the transfusions that the family says led her from death's door also escorted her back through it. Linda's blood would then infect her sister Laura, who in turn would pass the virus on to her husband, Augustin Rodriguez, who himself would lose a battle with AIDS in 1994. And all for two lousy bucks.
For his role in the tragedy, Velez received a sentence of three-to-six years in jail. "Everywhere Sergio beat Linda and cut her open, she started to scar," Jayson recalls. "She never recovered her beauty, but she was still beautiful to me."
Less than a year after the mugging Linda complained to Jayson about stomach pains. "I thought she had kidney stones," he says. "I took her to the hospital and asked the doctor if she was going to be all right. I expected him to say, 'Of course, she'll be fine.' But instead he said, 'If she makes it through the night, it'll be a miracle.' "
Linda survived the scare, only to awaken to two more years of pain, loneliness and humiliation brought on by her disease and drug abuse. These years coincided with the height of hysteria over AIDS transmission. "When you went to see her, they made you put on this apron," Williams says. "The apron, and then plastic covers over your shoes, a face mask. It was like a spacesuit. And I went in the room where she was and I ripped it all off. They had a guard watching the door. They would give her food and step back, scared to get too close, and then I'd go in and feed her. And she'd look at me with such unbelievable helplessness."
Linda's hair fell out in clumps and her teeth began to rot. When she left for home, the hospital made her take the service elevator down, a trip she shared with garbage. Back at her apartment, Barbara had hidden all the mirrors so Linda, who now weighed 70 pounds, wouldn't have to see herself.
After Linda died, it seemed to Jayson that nothing would ever hurt him like that again, but then Laura, whom Jayson called Sissy, got sick. Concerned that Jayson wasn't strong enough to withstand another death, Barbara and E.J. had chosen not to tell him that Laura, too, had AIDS. All along Jayson thought Laura was stricken with a liver disease. He didn't learn the truth until she was gone.
"I was so mad at Jesus," Williams says. I said, 'Why in the f—are you doing this to my family?' I never rejected God, but I could never understand why He would do that to me and my family."
Even with all the turmoil in his life, Williams was developing into one of the city's best high school basketball players. Ron Rutledge, a St. John's assistant, first saw him in 1985, the summer before his senior year at Christ the King, in Queens. "He was like a young colt," Rutledge recalls. "He was about 6'7", 185. And he had this relentless energy that was always trying to bust out."