Chapter 14: Warrior Red
June 25, 1980
Death can be a handsome reward. A message spelled out in the blood one spills, whether it be their own or otherwise, can heavily effect the value of this reward. With so many Warriors dead, it was clear that their message of devotion shined on after their passing. To die like a bopper means to go out swinging and survive until the final round. Even in death, the opponent can be devastated by one's drive, and haunted by the fact that they cannot erase that fear planted in their hearts.
I had none of the fear, or a message to convey when I died. I merely faded away, flabbergasted by the results of a fight well won. My last thoughts were of futility, not just for my own life, but all of those lost in the fight. I tried to tell myself that it was how I would have wanted it, but I cannot help having a conscience. Perhaps it was what let my friends die. But perhaps it was also what kept me alive.
As I awoke from my hospital bed, I felt the ringing in my ears start to wane a little, and I rubbed my head trying to sort out the situation. My eyeballs stung as I arose, and my temples were throbbing. I could see little squiggly lines (for lack of better term) traveling in and out of my field of vision against the yellow backdrop of the hospital wallpaper.
"Have a rough night?" a familiar voice asked from my left side. I saw Henry the bum sitting up, looking at me with a smile and one eye open slightly more than the other.
"You have no idea," I protested, rubbing my pounding head again and closing my eyes.
"You wanna' bet Warrior?" I heard him reply, "Now you know what war's like."
I shut my eyes even harder, trying to fight back the overall image of seeing all of my friends fade away, one by one. I looked to the squiggly lines for advice, but they gave me nothing.
"I don't wanna' talk about it," I grumbled and sank back into my bed. I thought perhaps I could fall back asleep and at least escape the pain in my head. It was so irritating that I began to forget the aches and pains of the fight. All I felt was the BPM of my nerves pounding out another truckload of pure headache.
"It's gonna' be okay, Warrior," Henry told me, "Believe me, I've been down your road. Sure it was against my will in a lot a' ways, but war's war. Am I right?"
My eyes suddenly widened and I stared straight up at the ceiling in a bolt of realization, "They're dead! They're all dead!"
I could not say why I was hit with the pain so suddenly, or why I was even letting myself open up to the old man again, but my heart was the next thing to be cast into a pool of stinging discontent.
"Settle down sonny," Henry said, "You're gonna' go down again."
"Well fucked if I care!" I exclaimed to him, blood rushing in my searing head, "I wish I was dead right now! I'd rather go down than see everything I ever cared about ruined! Oh God!" I shook my head violently and felt tears fill my eyes, "They took Snow! He was like a brother to me! Vermin! Cowboy! All of 'em! Dead!"
"Hey!" Henry rose up to try and calm me down, "Now you go relax and count to ten Warrior. Have some water while you at it."
I looked at him and grit my teeth. But rather than yelling again, I wiped my eyes with my finger tips and poured myself some water from a pitcher beside me. I let the icy liquid fill my hot throat, and was able to breath a little more easily for a time.
"Sorry, man," I apologized softly.
"Don't worry about it boy," he smiled again, "You got the right ta' let out some steam."
I smiled a little bit to and looked out the window at the afternoon clouds. I let out a sigh and then turned to Henry.
"So what are you in for?" I asked in a calmer tone.
He chuckled softly, "I'm old Warrior. This is the right scene for me."
"Don't say it like that boy. You make it sound so final."
"Look, I'm not gonna' say you're in any better condition than me. I'm just a little off balance for now."
"I hear ya'," I said, doubting how sound his condition truly was.
I decided to get some rest and try to piece together what had happened. It was as though my entire body shut down. Perhaps it was all the hits I had taken, or maybe I was poisoned at some point, or even a chance that I fainted seeing my life torn to shreds. All of which seemed plausible, but I decided to repress it for the time being.
Eventually, a doctor showed up before me and gave me the news as he read off of a clipboard.
"Umm, you are Taj Abichak?" he asked me (ok, in actuality he butchered my real name's pronunciation, but I did not really care at that point. He was a white guy, so I expected no less).
I nodded my head in a half-awake stupor, "So what's wrong with me, man?"
He chuckled a little, "Well the bad news is that you've got a lot of stuff messed up with you."
"Then what's the good news?" I asked, trying not to sound too curious.
"I never said there was good news," he smiled (just what I needed, a funny guy), "No, no, no. Our tests show that you have a fractured shoulder, four broken ribs and two broken fingers, a sprained knee, spine and jaw, a broken nose, mild head trauma and lacerations, and gonorrhea."
I almost cracked up at the last one (thank you Mercy), but nodded my head for the rest as if it was no big deal. In essence, it was not, as I ended up surviving the endeavor.
"So if you don't mind me asking," I finally said, "How the hell did I end up here anyway?"
"Apparently your friends rushed you to the ER, but didn't stick around long enough to say what happened to you. By the looks of your bed pan, I'd say it was a combination of dehydration and exhaustion, but all those hits to the head'll keep you down too."
"Tell me something I don't know," I rubbed my bandaged nose, "So when can I leave?"
"Well from a professional standpoint, I'd like to keep you here for another three days at least," he flipped through his clipboard, "However, you don't seem to have any insurance on you, so I'm afraid I had to call the police."
"What?" I asked flabbergasted.
"I had no other choice," he shrugged his shoulders like it was no big deal, "It's policy. They'll deal with you."
"Fuck no, they won't!" I exclaimed and rose from my bed. I was sort of embarrassed at wearing such a queer looking hospital gown, but I meant business with this guy.
"Get me security please," the doctor signaled to one of the nurses in the hallway, but I was not going to let him get away. I picked up a nearby chair and chucked it at him with all my might. The wooden seat broke on impact and pressed the doctor against the wall before he fell to the floor in unconsciousness. I heard screaming from the nurse as he fell, and I ran for the door in a confused state. Everything was sore on my body, and I was running on pure adrenaline at that point. But even that was starting to run thin. I snatched a leg of the broken chair and was about to leave. But I was suddenly stopped as I looked back at Henry, the old black bum who would not stop staring at me.
"What?" I asked, still enraged.
"Put it down, son," he commanded in a gentle voice, "I know you don't wanna' be like this."
"I'll come visit you," I promised, "But only if I can get the fuck outta' here."
"I'd rather see you turn ya'self in. Why ya' think I keep tellin' you to stop all this?"
"I don't have time to chat," I told him, and ran for the stairs.
Apparently I was stationed on the fifth floor, and had to run down many flights before I reached the ground level (luckily I did not overdo it and end up in the morgue). From there, I ignored the screams and jeers from the people in the waiting room as I continued my march for freedom. I did not care what they thought of me, nor what they would say to one another at such a strange sight. I just needed to get the fuck out!
But as I reached the parking lot, I realized that I was all the way in Washington Heights, well away from Coney. Plus, I had cops on my ass for all I knew (although I may have figured pretty much every cop was already swarming Coney at this point in an examination of the previous night). I had no idea what to do, but I had to keep moving. Suddenly, I felt a warm drop on my bare foot. I touched my face to realize that my nose was beginning to bleed again. I felt as though nothing else could go wrong that would thrust me into a worse situation.
I rushed to the subway station, but in the crowded underground of the afternoon transit, I would need to pay to get through. I groaned in a bout of defeat.
"Are you alright," asked a woman in a gray business suit and high heels.
"I need to get home," I told her hopelessly, as if she was my mother.
"You poor thing," she had an unnerved look on her face, "There's a hospital not too far from here. Do you know where it is?"
I wanted to respond to that ridiculously stupid comment (considering the fact I was already in a hospital gown) with an overly sarcastic one, but I decided to keep my motive, "I need to get home first," I reiterated.
"Oh dear," she had another concerned look on her face as she searched through her purse, "Here honey," she dropped two dollars into my hand, "I really hope you can get home."
"Me too," I smiled, "Thanks sweetheart."
I was overjoyed inside. It was especially difficult to find somebody so generous in this city. If I could stop to thank all the little people that kept me through each day in the city, I would. But unfortunately, I tend to take more than a "thank you's" worth and owe more than an apology.
I rode the subway for a good twenty minutes, standing near the door. Try as I might, I felt self conscious no matter where I stood. It was then that I realized that my vest was nowhere to be found. Of course it was not, for it was most likely confiscated by the hospital, never to be claimed again. I was filled with pain and unrest at that point, but only comforted myself by repeating over and over that I needed to get home. Perhaps then, I could sort everything out.
When I finally arrived back in Coney, I stepped out to the streets on the partly cloudy day and shivered a little as my bare feet continued on along the cold pavement. I felt so out of place on the train, but the usually cynical populous of New York tended to ignore me. How fortunate that I caught the right eye at the right time back in the station.
I climbed the stairs to my apartment and felt a cold chill trying to remember if I locked the door or not, as I had no key to show. Much to my delight, I did forget to lock it, and the door slid open as my soar hands twisted the knob. I stripped out of my hospital gown and bandages. I then located a towel and hopped into the shower. The warm water stung me, but in a sort of tender way. I saw some blood fill the drain, and I looked to see gashes on my legs were leaking slightly. But I figured they were better off clean, even if I was not entirely sure how sanitary the water I was receiving was.
After my shower, I dried off and grabbed my first aid kit again. I used the remaining bandages to stitch up my wounds and went to my dresser for some clothing. Without a vest, I instead grabbed a black t-shirt and brown pants. I then looked at my stove, but was surprisingly not as hungry as I thought I would be. So I decided to rest on the couch and listen to the radio. I needed time to sort out everything in my head, and I was not happy when I reflected. I felt the guilt of knocking out my doctor and the embarrassment of running across the city barely dressed. I felt the sadness toward Henry and all of my fallen comrades. I thought to myself that perhaps I would get tracked down by the police. After all, they had my name, and it was only a matter of time before they caught up to me. But then again, all of the police had to have had their hands full with the massacre in the park. At least I did not have to hear the clamoring din of crowds filling the streets. With that in mind, I let myself go to my overall tiredness and fell asleep on the couch.
I was rudely awakened by pounding on my door as I rubbed my eyes, not wanting to actually arise from my slumber. The pounding was not pleasant, and it made me jump a little after every rap.
"Police!" came a voice from outside, "Open up now!"
I was terrified that they made it this far and would not let all my fleeing be in vain. I slipped on my shoes quickly and retreated out the window to my fire escape. I closed the window behind me and ran for the only place I knew I could seek refuge.
At the hangout, I busted through the first floor door, panting after running a few blocks. My legs felt like they were on fire, and I moved at a much slower pace ascending the stairs to the main floor.
There, I spotted Swan smoking a cigarette and staring out the window. He was bandaged on his arms and face, but still managed to sport his famous Warriors vest.
"Swan," I called his name softly.
"Hey, Turk" he turned to me and smiled, "We didn't think you'd show for a couple days."
"Bullshit, they were gonna' bust me if I stayed there," I pointed out, slightly irritated.
"Well what was I supposed to do? Let you rot like the rest of those miserable fucks?"
"It was nothing, man."
"Right. I'll bet you woulda' been fine then."
I smiled a little and looked out the window with him. He offered me a smoke, and I kindly accepted after getting my breath back.
"Been one helluva' day, eh?" I pointed out.
"It's hard to believe what happened."
We did not exchange too many words, but we knew what each other was thinking. How we lost almost every lieutenant, and how the Riffs lost their leader. How the police knew us a little more personally, and that they were dangerously closer to busting us than ever before. We could sense that we were each thinking about the future of the gang, and what all the fighting did for us. We thought about how so many gangs bit the dust in one night, while we held steadfast for as long as possible. But the whole image was rather jarring, and I took in a big drag on the cigarette, rubbing my head in anxiety.
"So now the pigs know where I live," I told him after a few minutes, "And they wanna' see me busted."
"Shit," Swan said slightly concerned for me, "Hey, you can stay here 'til that dies down."
"That's what I hoped you'd say," I smiled again and inhaled once more. I decided I had nothing better to do but to keep a conversation going. After all, Swan and I had a jagged past, and it was at least worth trying to mend. Especially since we were few in numbers at this point, "Anybody else showin' tonight?"
"Nah," he shook his head, "Told them they could sit this one out. You surprised?"
"Nah. We all got a lota' shit to handle right now."
I waited another five minutes or so, enjoying the quiet delight of my tobacco. It helped me relax for the time being, and it was really all I could hope for. And in that frame of mind, I felt as though I needed to say something to my warchief.
"You remember when I said I used to go out with Mercy?"
"Yeah," he had a look on his face as if he were saying, 'Do we really have to talk about this?'
"Well I think you should hear the whole story on that."
"'Cause it happened a few weeks back."
"Remember when you first got back from Vegas?"
"You piece a' shit!" Swan dropped his cigarette and marched at me angrily. I took an uneasy step backwards and almost fell over. I prepared myself for an attack, but my arms were tensed up and soar, so I could only look ready. I was not in the mood or frame of mind to duke it out with Swan again. But just as he was about to cock his hand back, he stopped and let out a sigh, "Sorry, man. She just drives me nuts sometimes."
"Yeah, I can tell," I said, peeved at his threat.
"Don't push it. Look, I shoulda' known better than to think that bitch could be faithful to me, or anyone else. Am I right?"
"And she screwed you over too?"
I thought back to that one night stand we had and how much fun it was until it was all over and I was reluctant to believe it all to be legitimate. Perhaps I was just one of those sore old-fashioned people who believed in relationships.
"I told you, man. She fucked with all of us. She had me thinkin' we had something going, only to stab me between the eyes, then go after you guys."
"So we're both over her then?"
"I don't know. I really don't."
"What do ya' mean you don't know?"
"Swan, I made a bad choice, alright? I admit that. And just because it got my motor runnin', doesn't mean I should just forget about it."
He turned around put his hands on the wall, "I don't wanna' talk about this. Alright? Just drop it! That's an order young blood!"
I felt like I needed to make a stand, but he was my warchief and I did owe him something for getting me out of harm's way. But the words came anyway.
"I fucked her Swan."
He had had it. Swan pushed me over and I toppled to the ground. My legs buckled in pain, and my side burned up. He then stood over me and held me up by my shirt.
"Gimme' one good reason why I oughtn't snap your skinny neck right now?" he threatened me.
"Swan! Swan!" I frantically tried to calm him down, "This ain't like you, man! I'm tellin' you this 'cause I want to set it all straight, you know? There's nobody left to trust here! I want you to trust me from now on! You're a warchief! You're my warchief! I'd take a bullet for you, man! You led us to victory, and you're the only reason I'm still alive! You're a lifesaver, man! Don't take that away from me! Don't take that away from yourself!"
I was frightened for my life for the thousandth time that day, but I just said what I really felt about the situation. Swan gave me a stern look with teeth gritted, but he let me back down to the ground gently and even helped me back up to my feet.
"I'm sorry, man," he lowered his head, "I really have been a bitch about all this. Mercy... fuckin' Mercy... it's all because of her, man. I didn't know what I had backing me this whole time. Turk, what am I doin'?"
"Dude, it's all this shit we've had," I approached him, "It was all out there, and now it all looks like it's gone. But it's not. We can rebuild the gang and we can rebuild Coney. But we can't afford to let all that slip through our fingers over some bitch."
"You're right," Swan nodded and looked out the window, "It just seems impossible."
We stood there staring out the window at the brisk New York evening. I leaned against the edge of the large windowsill and lit a cigarette. It seemed like hours passed as we just looked out into nothing. At least it seemed like nothing to us.
"Where'd it all go?" Swan said, "Why now? We barely knew those fucks. Man, Cowboy joined up with me..."
"What about Rembrandt, man?" I asked concerned, "He was just a kid."
"Man... and he had so much talent goin' for him..."
"And Vermin... he was my warchief before I met you."
"He died like he lived. Fast, but carelessly. That's Vermin for ya'. And Ajax finally took the fall. Bet he gave 'em one helluva' show."
"Hell yeah he did. And Snow..."
"He was there one minute, then bam," I snapped my left fingers, "Gone in a shot. Un-fuckin'-believable..."
"He really knew how to rumble, didn't he?"
"Man... he was like a brother to me. Went down like Rex did..."
I looked up at him asking me this question, but I turned away, "Nevermind, man..."
"It's whatever, man..."
There was a long pause of silence as I tried not to shed any tears. Everything I once believed and fought for was gone in a night. My gang was my family and my friends. I felt like it should have been me. But I did not know what to feel. I just tried to repress the memories in hopes that they would burn up and fly away.
June 26, 1980
Swan was on his way out the door, and told me I could crash on the training mats if I wanted. It seemed like a better idea than sleeping on the floor, or God forbid in a prison cell.
"Hey, man," Swan said before he took off, "I'm really sorry about all that shit back then."
"No problem," I told him, even though I was more than a little stressed about it.
"I'll find you here tomorrow?"
"Yeah, I'll be here."
"Okay," he paused on his way out, "Hey Turk," he turned and walked behind the TV. Then he brought up a red vest and tossed it toward me, "Thought you might of missed it."
I could not believe it, but my vest was back in my hands in one piece (well it was a little wrinkly, but who gives a shit).
"Oh my God dude," I exclaimed, "Thanks."
"No problem, man."
He turned and left, and once again, I was all alone with my thoughts. I wanted to sleep, but I had far too much on my mind to do so. I walked over to the window, gazing out dumbly, as I always did. I saw the bums rummaging through the trash as usual, but it did not make me laugh this time. It just filled me with sympathy and discontent. I could not understand why we always seem to turn down those different from us, but sympathize with those we think we understand. Perhaps it was all too philosophical to think about, but I could think of nothing else. Were my fellow Warriors really quite like me? Only a handful of them seemed to even actually feel like friends to me. Of course the whole idea of having the gang wiped out was a crying shame, but should the sympathy be spent on those I rather disliked this whole time? I did not want an answer; I just wanted to remember the good times.
I remembered how Vermin always brought over weed on Saturdays, and how Snow had a sweet tattoo of a wolf on his lower back. I remembered how Cowboy used to break out his harmonica, until it got stolen by some street bums that pick pocketed him. Rex and I used to throw eggs in front of the police station at 3 in the morning until we either got chased away, ran out of ammo, or got too freaked out to continue. I remembered how I once walked into Cochise with two white chicks in a car, and he told me to get lost. There was that one time where Ajax got drunk and kept saying he was in good enough shape to go get some more beer from the store. In a tragic effort to show he was not too woozy, he set up bottles on the floor and decided that knocking them down with his feet would prove his sobriety better than avoiding them as he walked. Then there was the time when Rembrandt swiped the hat off of a cop and spray painted it bright pink before cramming it right back on the fed's head. And who could forget the time when Cody nearly burned down the hideout when he tried lighting a cigarette after he was covered in oil from fixing his car. Hell, and that was when he had just joined.
I realized that Swan probably had many more memories with his comrades, and for that matter it was all the more tragic. I did not want to let them go, but like my conscious mind, it was out of my reach sooner than I had expected.
I awoke with an uncomfortable pain in my neck and throat with a salty taste in my mouth. As I got to my feet, the pain in my legs started to fill once again, and I attempted to get up the stairs so I could rest in one of the chairs. I was starving and felt unsure if I should leave the building or not. Obviously, the whole area was a hot commodity for the police, and I did not want to bump into the wrong person at the wrong time.
Even though it did not seem entirely necessary, I decided that I might want to wear a disguise of some kind, or at least some sunglasses. After all, they did know what I looked like. I grabbed an old white and green baseball cap from under the pinball machine and stuffed my longish hair into it as best as I could. Then put on my jacket pulled out a pair of sunglasses, which I slipped on quickly. Before I left, I snagged a fist full of cash from a stash we had on one of the tables, admitting to myself that my need was greater than Swan's at the moment.
I made my way out into the June afternoon, which was refreshingly warm, despite the weather we had been confronted with previously. Coney was the perfect place for food on the go, and I was in high hopes of snagging a plate of friend chicken with a tall cola to wash it down. But when I got to where the concession stands normally are, they were all closed. In fact, there was almost nobody to be found except for several police officers. With my broken nose clearly evident, I decided that it would be best to not spend too much more time there.
So I hit the subway and headed north to Midtown. The underground was just as busy as ever, and I tried not to draw too much attention as I anonymously paid to get through and took hold of the hand restraint.
When I got there, I ascended the stairs to the streets, spotting the first street vendor I could find. At that point, I was so hungry I would have paid the hundred dollars in my pocket just for a combo meal. But I scrapped that thought and ordered a foot long hot dog with the works, an order of fries, and a can of root beer with about a dozen ketchup packets. Balancing all the items was a bit taxing, and the fact that I had cavalcades of people walking toward and away from me every second did not help.
I found a nice shady bench to rest on near a planter tree and happily laid out my soda and fries on the opposite side of the bench while clutching the hot dog firmly and taking a big salty bite of it. The sweet crunch of the sauerkraut and relish filled my mouth and stomach with glee, a feeling I had yet to have had over the past few days. I decided to break out the ketchup packets to make the meal perfect. Two were enough to cover it, and I scarffed it down far too quickly. I then cracked open the root beer and filled my mouth with the sweet drink. From there, I relaxed in the bench, staring out at the streets while sipping and occasionally choosing a fry to be consumed. It was a good time to relax and unwind, even if the sounds of the city represented another busy day. What did it matter to me? The peace of mind I had knowing that my only responsibility was in which fry to eat next was an unimaginable relief.
After the quite satisfying lunch, I decided that I had enough time to take care of some unfinished business. It was not something I wanted to do willingly, but I knew I would regret not doing it later. Besides, it was not like I had anything better to do in Coney.
The train got off in Washington Heights, just like the day before and my only hope was that I would not get recognized, especially here of all places. But I made a promise that I was not at liberty to break.
I entered the hospital and gazed upon a charter on the wall at the patients on each floor. My eyes rolled over the fifth floor (if my memory served me correctly) looking for a "Henry".
Finally, I spotted him as "Henry P. Emerson" near where my name was crossed out. With this knowledge in mind, I walked right up to the front desk and asked to visit the bum.
"Hold on a moment," said the modestly attractive, blonde receptionist in a light blue top, "Let me check his visiting hours."
"Alright," I said, a little impatient at the circumstances.
She talked on the phone with another staff member, responding with a lot of lines like, "Really?" or "Ok". Then she hung up the phone and told me what I wanted to know.
"Did you say Henry Emerson?" she asked me.
"Oh, he passed away this morning," she said rather business like with a slight hint of sympathy. But it was not sympathy like how one would show it toward somebody who experienced a loss. It was more like sympathy for a person in a restaurant who got pickles on their burger when they asked for none. I did not want to claim blondes to be dumb, but she was not helping her cause.
"Oh," I took a step back and rubbed my chin, "Well thanks anyway," I awkwardly turned and left the hospital.
There was a irritating itchy sensation under my arms, and I scratched it realizing that it must have been produced from my overall discomfort. It all seemed sort of surreal to think that somebody so unfortunate and so rarely visited had the potential to, and very well did make me really stop and think about my life. Which was not to say that his advice was enough to make me change my ways, but it was really one of those things that makes you stare down at the sidewalk and whisper "God dammit," to the concrete. It was a shame, just not a crying shame as far as I was concerned.
I took the train back to Coney soon after trying to at least take comfort in the fact that I was never recognized. But it all just felt like a shallow victory, and I crashed on the training mat in the hangout.
Time passed rather slowly in my seclusion, as I did no more than lay awake staring up at the ceiling. After spending far too much of that time familiarizing myself with the topography of the foam ceiling tiles and layout of the rafters, I took several moments to get up and stretch out, assuring myself that the guys would be here any minute.
There was just this stinging aura about like I would have to live in a world of loneliness, simply because life turned out to be too short for some. And at what benefit did this cost pay, besides survival? It all did not click for me, and quite honestly, I was feeling fed up. It just made me feel angry all of a sudden, and I wanted to break something. Luckily, I released most of it onto the punching bag and wore myself down as my side began aching. I held it and felt my face get hot. For some reason, I started crying. It was not something I did often, nor was it something I was very proud of when it happened.
I ascended the stairs and looked out into the night, hoping that nobody would show up too soon and see me like this. But at the same time, I just wanted someone to comfort me. I was just a broken mess, and it only made the tears come faster. But my sorrow was now a more reserved, miserable feeling that only made me lean against the wall and sink to the ground. I curled up with my arms burying my face. I sobbed softly, trying to gather any sort of happy thoughts. I guess it had only just occurred to me that everything that had happened to me in the past few days was all a big shock. A shock that only broke through every so often unto me. But I had to accept it all at this point. I don't cry for any other reason. The war, the fighting, the punches, the kicks, the blood, the friends, the enemies, the grudges, the rivalry, the youngbloods, the death, the gang, the city, all seemed to be gone. All tossed into a bottomless pit of paranoia and aggression.
Who was I? How could I have let all this happen? I knew it was not my fault, but who else would rise up and take responsibility at this point? Did my parents raise this monster? Did this city raise these armies or the night? Can a monster cry? Can he weep for his hardened comrade, let alone his ruthless enemy?
I had enough loneliness and dead quiet to last a lifetime, but from what I've experienced, that lifetime isn't as long as one would think. Loneliness: my greatest enemy. I craved a woman's touch once again and unreluctantly, but unproudly, thought of Mercy. She felt like the closest thing to heaven that I would ever hold in my arms. She awakened a young, teenage schoolboy who only wanted one sweet kiss. A kiss in the sunset boulevards of a romantic movie. And it was not like she was acting as a substitute to Rex because she gave me something he obviously couldn't, and I loved her for it. But the truth hurts sometimes. Even when you think somebody understands you, you realize that you can never understand them.
A goddess with a venomous kiss, lord have Mercy.
Just as I wiped my tears and stood up, Swan walked through the front door. He had two six packs of beer in his hands and dropped them on one of the tables. He then walked up to me, as I leaned against the wall acting as casual as possible.
"Hey," Swan greeted me, "This place good for ya'?"
"Training mat's a really bitch on the back," I laughed rubbing my spine.
"Ha ha," Swan smiled, "I'll bet."
"So what's goin' down tonight," I asked, cutting to the chase.
"Funeral at eleven," Swan sighed, "We ain't got no bodies, but we can at least make a showing."
"I hear ya'," I sounded a little melancholy, but tried to crack a smile, "We'll need a goddamn whole pigeon."
He laughed a little and went to get a beer, as did I.
When we all piled onto the sands hoping to God our ceremony would not be interrupted by police, we built a small fire and let Swan take the stage, so to speak. Only a handful of us were there anyway, and we knew only too well that we were remembering more people than spending the moment with. But eventually, such is the case with a cemetery. This time, there was no Ajax obnoxiously waiting for it to be over, nor Cowboy twanging his guitar. No Vermin carving names, nor Rembrandt making memorable graffiti. It was just cold and quiet with the familiar sound of waves crashing.
"Warriors," Swan stepped forward, "I don't need to tell you that we've lost a lot of men in this war. Some were ours, but most were our enemies. And to see these crazy bastards of ours finally bite the dust really gets to me. But remember why they went down. It's the same reason you guys fought. We did it to defend our name, and our gang. I know it didn't feel like a victory, but it was. And any of you dudes standing here tonight are official lieutenants. We gotta' stick together, and you youngbloods deserve it."
There was a small clamor of happiness from Leos and Dozer, as well as other youngbloods happy at their promotion. Crash was unmoved, as was I.
"There're too many faces to remember, so we're gonna' cut this whole thing a little short. But I want you guys to take some time to remember the Warriors that died for you."
Swan decided to end it there and took out a knife, where he proceeded to carve some names into the list of fallen Warriors. I watched him put Cowboy, Vermin, Snow and Ajax on the list before I went with the other Warriors back to the hangout. Swan did not seem to mind.
June 27, 1980
"Well here are the results, babies. It's been a crisscrossin' story with no real word, but I'm here tonight to say what I've heard. I don't care what you heard, and I don't care what they said, cause the NYC Grudge can't beat Warrior red. Well I'll be. Didn't think those boys could pull out another miracle. This next track goes out to you, Warriors. Hope you keep on boppin'. I'm out."
The radio DJ then played Joe Walsh's cover for "In the City" (yes I know it was originally by The Eagles, but they made two versions).
It was June 27th at last and I could not believe it came so quickly. I was so preoccupied that I did not even realize that it was my birthday. It was official. My teenage years were over as I turned 20 on this day. It was a somewhat surreal, and altogether overlookable thought, as age is only a number. But to see one's years as a teenager move into the history books is kind of upsetting. Again, the feelings of regret were crawling up my back, but I had a beer in my hand and cheers from my friends to help me forget about it. Let us celebrate our victory for this moment at least, and leave all the angst and regret behind.
The Warriors and I were cheering happily when we heard the news of our victory over the radio, since it was normally the official word on the street, and no gang was going to mess with us again from that point on. But on reflection, there were not too many more gangs left standing in the city. It was at least nice, however, to not be so unhappy about the situation, especially compared to the wreck I was earlier. Like many nights before, all I needed was a beer and good friends to get me through the night. Throw in a clear win fight, or a beautiful girl, and I can consider myself really living.
After about an hour or so had passed since we left Swan out on his own, he finally returned with a rather distressed look on his face. It was rightfully so as he had the closest ties to his fallen comrades. He was the last of the original four, and it was clear that he did not want to be. Whether he sulked or not was not up to me to decide, but I knew he had a lot on his mind, as he always did. He entered the hangout and grabbed a beer. He then took a seat next to me and we began talking.
"You alright, man?" I asked him.
"Yeah," he assured me, "Just gotta' let go sometimes."
"I know what you mean."
"I hope you do," Swan looked out the window and opened his drink, "So where do we go from here?"
"You're the warchief," I pointed out, "You tell me."
"Well you're my second now," Swan replied, "So you gotta' gimme' something."
"Really? You want me as your second?"
"Yeah, you earned it. Better you than Ajax anyway, right?"
"Right," I laughed, "Damn, and I thought I was hot shit when I moved up to lieutenant."
"Don't get cocky Turk," Swan said in a non-serious manner.
We talked for the rest of the night and planned out when and where we would be able to get our new members. This being New York City, there were new candidates every night willing to prove their worth, like lone wolves looking to join a pack. We decided where we would invest the rest of our money, and the rest of the time we just babbled about stories we had, and some of the guys we wrecked the other night. For the first time, I really felt like Swan accepted me, and it felt great.
The night was over, and dawn was breaking. The beer was gone, and the stories were told. The bags were punched, and the radio tuned out. It was time for the Warriors to get back home. Well, all but me that was. As I bid farewell to all of my comrades, Swan stopped by.
"You gonna' be alright here, man?" he asked.
"Did it before," I replied, reluctant as I might have been.
"Alright," he turned to leave, but stopped again, "You wanna' hang out later today? We can put this whole Mercy thing behind us and find some nice broads."
"Sounds good, man," I smiled, "You know any good clubs?"
"Well I'm no Cochise, but word has it there's a sweet place in Midtown that just opened. Hey, wool is wool, know what I'm sayin'?"
"Yeah, we should hit it later."
"Cool," Swan finally went to leave, "I'll catch ya' later."
But just as he went out the door, he shuffled right back in with a grim look on his face.
"Shit," he whispered, "We got cops."
"What?" I was incredulous, but looked out the window and found my fears met. There were about six police officers, and three cop cars outside the hangout. I started to shiver a little, "Did they get our boys?"
"I don't think so," he looked out the window as well, "They had at least twenty minutes to get ahead a' them. Besides, I don't see anybody gettin' busted."
"So they just figured out this is where we meet?"
"What do we do?"
"I've got an idea," he rubbed his chin, "But we gotta' get past them first."
"I meant how do we get by them?" I protested.
"We run for it," he scanned the number of cops outside carefully with his eyes, "Can you do that?"
"Depends how far."
"Not too far," he assured me, "Just follow my lead."
"Alright," I looked back at our hangout, "We ever gonna' come back?"
"We'll get a chance," he said, "Just need some time."
"Ok, man," I nodded my head, "Let's go for it."
We opened the second story door and decended the stairs. The cool summer's morning was pretty dark, but the sun was slowly rising near the ocean's horizon. It was a little hard to see, but I did not need to know where I was. I only needed to see where Swan was going.
"C'mon," he whispered and took me on the other side of the building to where the other fire escape to the rooftop was. I felt odd descending one set of stairs, and going up another right after. But as long as I could keep up on my weak feet, I was good to go.
On the rooftop, we scrambled to take off the tarp of the helicopter and climbed in swiftly. Swan turned it on and worked the engine to get the blades moving. After about ten second of idle waiting, I was getting nervous.
"Can't this thing go any faster?" I screamed over the loud spinning.
"We'll make it!" he screamed back, "Just hold on!"
"Those cops are comin'!" I looked out and saw police running up the stairs. My heart was pounding, and I feared we would not make it. One of the officers ran for the helicopter, and I was panicking. Then he opened the helicopter door and grabbed me first. He had me by the shirt, and I tried to fight him off. But in all honesty, he was overpowering me. He yanked me out of the helicopter as more officers came. He then began cuffing me, and all I could think about was that I was so close to getting away. Perhaps it was my time to get carried away. But as soon as that thought filled my mind, Swan left his seat and began wrestling the cop off of me. The other two tried to stop him too, and I got up and looked to see a fire extinguisher in the helicopter. I snatched it and ran to Swan's aid as I bashed one cop over the head as hard as I could with the device. I then sprayed another in the face as he went for me and gave him a whack across the face. Swan finally got the cop off of him and threw him off of the roof. He only fell three stories, so there was a chance he would come back for us. With this in mind, we ran for the chopper, which was already prepared for takeoff. My heart was racing, but at least we made a clean getaway.
"You alright, man?" Swan yelled a concern.
"Yeah, I'm good!" I replied just as loudly, "You?"
"Good enough to fly this thing!" he smiled, "You won't nag at me if I make a wrong turn like Mercy did, will ya'?"
"I hope not!"
"So where to?"
"Let's go get some breakfast somewhere!"
"Sounds good! I'm in the mood for eggs!"
I stared out at the city from above. It was a magnificent sight as the sun began to rise. Building tops were getting bright along Manhattan, and I watched them sort of turn on like light bulbs. Then I noticed something interesting about some of the buildings. There seemed to be something distinct about the tops of a choice few of them. As the altitude climbed, I was beginning to see some sort of pattern, and when I finally did, I gasped.
"Hey Swan!" I called his attention, "You might wanna' look at this!"
"Look down there!" I pointed at the building tops.
He hovered the helicopter for a few seconds, then saw what I saw and dropped his jaw.
"That explains where Rembrandt's been all this time!"
Below us, spanning about 30 blocks, were buildings with their tops covered in red. When I first saw this, I thought nothing of it. Then I saw that all of them were lined up to form a diagonal line. But later still it all made sense as the building were lined up with painted rooftops to form a gigantic red "W" along the buildings. It must have been the biggest burner Rembrandt had ever completed, and I was amazed to see it. I quickly wondered how long it would be there, but for the moment, it meant a lot to me. After all the fighting and aggression and sacrifice, it all made sense to me. This was my home, and this was my family. This was everything I held dear, and everything that held purpose to me. It was what I fought for, and what we stood for. To see that red letter sent a chill down my spine. A good chill. And no matter how much rep another gang gets, we would always have our calling card smack in the middle of the city. This was Coney, my home, and my life. And if the summers are hot, and the streets still ice cold in this big city, the Warriors will be back for more.