It was October 16, 1999. After a morning game of tennis, Jim Bradford headed to Mrs. Winner’s Chicken & Biscuits in Brentwood, Tennessee, on a whim instead of his usual coffee route. Then, as he paid for his 25-cent, seniors-discounted coffee, he noticed a boy sitting by the window. The nine-year-old seemed to be sitting at the table alone. Feeling compelled to talk to him, Bradford could not have known what effect this chance meeting would subsequently have on both their lives.
Bradford asked a diner employee about the kid, who was sat at the table listening to an old boombox that had been fixed up with bits of tape. His white T-shirt bore the remnants of breakfast. His cargo shorts exposed braces around his legs and his right arm was bent at an odd angle.
Bradford learned that the kid spent a lot of time there. The boy’s grandmother, Pearl, was working at the diner. Because she was unable to afford a child minder, the boy – named H.K. Derryberry – would sit in the same spot until her shift was over. Bradford learned that Pearl was in fact the child’s legal guardian. He wouldn’t learn why, however, until some time later.