THE KNIGHTS OF BRETON COURT VOL. II
To Sally, Reese, and Malcolm, as well as the kids and staff at Outreach Inc.THE PLAYERS
Breton Crew Folks
Mulysa (Rondell Cheldric)
Phoenix Apartment People
Rellik (Gavain Orkney)
Bo "The Boars" Little
Lamont "Rok" Walters
Preston "Prez" Wilcox
Isabel "Iz" Cornwall
Capt. Octavia Burke
Det. Lee McCarrell
Det. Cantrell Williams
King James White
Lady G (Vere)
The ebon hole of the storm drain some called Cat's Eye Tunnel. A thin stream of water trickled down the center of the concrete tube, its sides not quite dry to the touch. Ignoring the faint smells of algae and waste, the boys crawled for what felt like quite a ways in the damp, dark pipe. Their ears strained against the shadows, past the faraway
of water dripping somewhere further down the line. Nor was there any mistaking the skritching sounds.
"Rats!" a voice yelled in the dark.
"Oh, snap!" another called out.
Gavain and his younger brothers scrambled on all fours, sloshing through the brackish water, rushing towards the light of the opening until they tumbled out of the pipe. Piling onto one another, they formed a twelve-limbed beast that writhed in its own laughter. Gary and Rath were practically twins: the way their momma raised them. It was easier on the budget and it simplified fights if they both wore the same outfits. Gary, six, bright-eyed and innocent, idolized Gavain. Though a little bigger than Gary and only five years old, Rath had a potty mouth that sailors envied. Both had the scrawny physique of angry twigs. Their youngest brother, Wayne, stayed home with their mother. Sick again.
"Get your butt out my face." Gary shoved Rath.
"Who yelled 'rats'?" Gavain asked.
"Get that bad boy," Gavain said, knowing full well that it was actually he who had made the scratching sound. "Let's kick his li'l butt."
Gavain scooped Gary up and tossed him easily over his shoulder. He smacked his little brother's butt a couple of times, over Gary's playful squeals of "no" and "stop", before letting Rath get a piece. Gavain, nine and a half, felt a generation older than the other two. Tallest in his class, with the same weedy thinness of his brothers, Gavain loved both of them, but – in his heart of hearts, in that shadowed place where all secrets lay fallow – he admitted to being partial to Gary. The boy's unquestioning, unflinching idolization helped, but it was more the simple, no, innocent way that Gary approached the world. Gavain envied him his purity and wished just for a moment he could reclaim any sense of his own.
After letting Gary tumble from his grasp, Gavain leaned back against the grassy creek embankment to stare at the clouds. The thin creek divided their housing complex, Breton Court, from the rest of the neighborhood. Some days, it was the same sad stretch of trilling water serving as a receptacle for collecting trash. Other days the creek seemed to stretch out into infinity, an event horizon of adventure and mystery. Today it was both.
They laid on the grass of the sloping hill. The rear fences of houses caged Dobermans and Rottweilers, who barked incessantly at their presence. From their hillside vantage point, they could see all of Breton Court. Gavain liked this spot, the wide creek separating Breton Court from the residential neighborhood. He'd been chased by bullies through the court, his rare black face in the area too tempting a target for the white thugs. His speed kept him out of harm's way for a long time. Then, nearly cornered, he turned and dashed toward the creek. He leapt its breadth, landing flush on the other side. It was as if he crossed a border check and the bullies didn't have their papers in order. A natural dividing line.
"Look what I found." Rath held up a bent piece of discarded metal pipe.
"Here's another piece." Gary first held his pipe to his eye, scanning the neighborhood like it was a telescope before mounting it on his shoulder, like a bazooka. "Boom."
"Yeah, c'mon, we've got to kill our enemies," Rath declared.
Gavain watched the two of them scamper toward the overpass the creek ran under. Stifling heat thickened the air, making it akin to breathing steam. His brothers pantomimed shooting at the unsuspecting cars as they drove past. He meandered after them, just in time to break up the inevitable. No matter how much or how little money they had, no matter what school they attended, no matter which doors opened and closed for them in the maze of opportunities life afforded, boys would be boys.
"I said I was going to blow that one up." Rath swung his pipe at Gary.
Gavain separated them. Forgetting who he was for a moment, they turned at him with a feral grimace. "Don't hit me with that," Gavain said in an unmistakable, no longer playing, tone. "F'real. I ain't playing with you."
The sternness of Gavain's voice shocked them back to their senses. Rath slunk a short distance away, pouting, before contenting himself to shoot at more unsuspecting cars, unhindered by his distracted brother. The dreamy, distant stare – which so often filled Gary's eyes – signaled him drifting into his imagination. Whatever thoughts occupied his mind in that moment would find their way back to his little stack of "his papers" at home. Not quite a journal, more like a collection of stories and daydreams that he chronicled, such as his comic strips with doodles in each corner that depicted two super-heroes fighting when he flipped the pages.
"'Mother, may I go out to swim?'/'Yes my darling daughter./Hang your clothes on an alder limb/And don't go near the water.'" Gary sang, dragging the length of pipe behind him.
"You little bitch!" Rath chased after him, in his halfstalking lope which indicated a mood to bully or get into mischief. He knew he was the tougher of the two. He hated the softness his brother had and hoped to toughen him up. It was either that or spend the bulk of his days as his brother's shadow protector. Which, all told, he didn't mind too much.
"Watch your mouth!" Gavain yelled.
"All right… preacher."
The word spat at him with the venom of an ill-considered epithet. Gavain loved going to church, especially Sunday School. His class was small, so the teacher lavished extra attention on him; easy to do with an eager student. So, at his instigation, the brothers often played church, building blanket cathedrals in the living room. Gavain recited his favorite Old Testament stories (Noah, Moses, Jonah) and led songs while his brothers amened and sang along, happy just to be playing any variation of forts with him. They all knew it would only be a matter of time before his friends claimed him and he spent his days running around with them instead of spending time with his little brothers. At nine, the call of the streets beckoned with its siren song.
"Momma used to sing that to me," Gary said.
"Cause she thinks you're a girl. She still tucks you in too," Rath said. Gary lowered his head, with a splash of shame as if hit with too close a truth, obviously too sensitive to play insult games with Rath. He always took them too personally and hated the idea of hurting people for amusement.
"I know where we can go." Gavain changed topics, speaking more under his breath than to anyone in particular.
"Shut up." Gary had pretty much exhausted his comebacks in one shot.
"No, you shut up," Rath retorted.
Gavain stage-sighed. "Forget it. I'm going without either of you. I don't have time to babysit, no how."
It didn't matter who said what, the apologies rang with the same cheery melody, a chorus of "Wait up, Gavain" and "Yeah, we're sorry." Whenever they turned on him, or even got too out of line, the simple threat of abandoning them was usually enough to straighten things out. Gavain reveled in the adulation that bordered on respect and the power that accompanied it. He smiled a wan, yet victorious, smile.
"Where we going?" Gary asked.
"To the lake," Gavain said.
"But that's so far."
"We're almost there already." Gavain's tone didn't invite debate.
"Quit whinin', you can't come anyway. You too little," Rath said.
"Momma said I could go with you," Gary whispered.
Their momma's parting words slowed Gavain's steps.
Look after your little brothers.
"Fine. C'mon then."
The trio followed a trail known only to Gavain. This marked the first time he had taken them to his special spot. He retreated there to read, and think, be by himself, away from his brothers and the responsibilities of them. Though they only lived two miles from the park, Gavain had deemed his brothers too young to make the trip before; now they walked along the creek bed, its low flow revealed slippery rocks under the late afternoon sun.
Across from the Indianapolis Colts training facility, Eagle Creek Park, a national reserve spread out in open invitation. A brief traipse through the woods allowed the boys to bypass both the main gate (with its honor box: fifty cents for walk-in visitors to the park) and the ranger stations along the main roads (police, even wanna-be police, was still police). When they reached the old rusted-out fence, he knew that they neared their final destination. Long gashes, wounds of age and curious teenagers, marred the evenness of the links. Gavain pushed back the torn bit of fence barring their path. Flecks of rust painted his hand orange as he pushed through the low-lying branches occluding the dirt-worn and matted grass that served as their walkway.
His spot was a natural alcove of shore and trees, as if a giant mouth had taken a bite out of the park forest and backwashed sand. Dark sand, far from sunbleached, lined the small inlet as waves lapped against it. The tree line dropped off sharply at the water, skeins of roots revealed by erosion. A tire on a rope hung in forlorn innocence from an old tree whose branches shaded a good chunk of their spot. Constructed to launch canoes before it dawned on the bureaucrats running the park to do so near the main beach and charge people for the privilege, the rickety boat launch bobbed on tires. Testing its mildewed boards, Gavain imagined himself walking the plank of a dilapidated pirate ship. The sun glinted from the water, its shards of light held Gary and Rath in rapt attention.