For my little brother/Discovery
|For my little brother by Enoch Leung
"I can't see this group working out at all."
"Well, if we don't give them a go on their own out there, how the hell are we supposed to know for sure?"
"You're getting the youngest member of the group — heck, probably the whole gang for all I know — who's barely been here for over a day to lead two boys who are at least two, three years older than he is!"
"You saw what the Cobras did, didn't you? Best way we can pull ahead is to crown someone younger. This kid's our best chance, and I won't let a bleeding pessimist like you hold us back!"
"I can feel this leading up to failure, Reyes!"
"I can lead you up to failure if you don't shut up!"
A Styrofoam container filled with steamed rice was pushed over to me. "Eat it," a voice ordered. "Don't matter what you're doing or what you're thinkin', but you gotta eat."
I was so hungry, I needed no encouragement to dig in. Marcos glanced at Lewis and asked, "It's not poisoned, is it?"
"Do we have a reason for killing the three of you?" came the response.
"Yet." The thug got up and left the room without further comment.
The door opened. The man who had been critiquing Dodger last night while I was being given the Wingz Treatment emerged, his face spelling utter defeat. Behind him came Reyes, who was grinning slightly to himself. "I like to keep my options open. Dunno about you, Dix Cent, but my best bet is on that ten-year-old boy; from what I've seen so far, he's top notch and cream of the crop, at least for a young recruit. You should be flattered that he chose us instead of the Cobras."
I felt immensely pleased on the inside. I had a feeling he deliberately said that in front of me so I could feel some pride in myself.
The man was quiet. "What about the other two?" he asked when he found his voice again.
Reyes looked at Marcos and Lewis. Marcos had taken a few bites of the rice and was trying to entice Lewis to eat. "They'll grow up eventually. Besides, they seem comfortable with the ten-year-old."
I felt pleased again.
Reyes laughed. "Suit yourself, but I have final say around here."
The man shrugged, expressing clear disapproval, but he didn't press his boss on.
The elite gangster came up to me. I felt nervous, not because of his background, but because I feared screwing up after the praise he had lavished on me. "I spoke with Dodger yesterday," he began. "Apparently you have yourself a lil' brother?"
"Yeah." I glanced over at Marcos, but he was too busy eating. "I do."
"How old is he?"
For a moment, I feared telling him, wanting only to protect Evan, but I decided otherwise. There are lots of six year olds on Smokey Mountain. How is he going to know which one? "He's six."
"You take care of him like a bigger brother would?"
He turned to Dix Cent. "See? That's a man right there. I know because I was an older brother myself. Had to raise him myself on these very streets, and look at where I'm at now." He looked at me again. "I like what I see, and I can see this kid ten years down the road."
I felt pleased again.
Dix Cent waved it off. "Alright, alright, you've made your goddamn point." He looked around. "You still need me?"
Reyes was talking to me, though, completing ignoring his question. "You good with these two over there?"
"Yeah... I'm fine."
"No quarrels or anything that'll fuck you all over?"
He laughed. "You know what? People are usually tough and unwilling to listen when they first join. It's like dealing with screaming, crying children at a daycare, but worse." He turned to Dix Cent. "Don't think you'll be having any problems with this guy. If he's a problem, then I can just chastise Dodger myself. Speaking of Dodger... bring him to me. I'm not quite done with him just yet."
Dix Cent nodded. He gave me one final sinister glance before departing.
The crime lord turned to us. "You three stay here and eat your fill. I'm gonna assign Dodger to look after you, and when he gets back he'll have something for you to do. Yesterday was just the start; it's going to go uphill from here." He gave us a nod. "Keep yourself together; this is a new beginning, not an ending." And with that, he left.
I looked back. Lewis was poking and prodding the rice in front of him with his spoon. "Why do you trust these people?" he said to me and Marcos. "Who knows what sort of surprises they put into this rice that'll kill us flat in an hour? I'd die sooner eating this than if I just starved myself."
"It's a risk worth taking," Marcos commented. "And anyway, they gave the rice to us and Garrett. They love Garrett, I know it. Why would they want to kill him all of a sudden?"
"It's a trap."
"A trap that'll accomplish what, exactly?"
Before Lewis could answer, I interrupted their conversation with: "If Lewis doesn't want the rice, I'll take it. I'm hungry."
"When you're on the streets," Dodger said, "keep your eyes open, cause if you don't, anyone can catch you by surprise. See a cop? Walk by 'im and act normal, cause it's people like us that he'll keep a suspicious eye on. Don't try anything funny, don't look at him funny, don't try to be funny. He won't raise his eyebrows."
Almost by coincidence, a police officer appeared from a crowded intersection. Dodger didn't even blink. I tried to act normal, walk normal, pretend like everything wasn't out of the ordinary, but I couldn't help but eye the equipment on his belt. He had a gun, securely nested in its holster, and a nightstick. Marcos and Lewis must've noticed too, but I couldn't turn to look at the expression on their faces.
When the cop was a good distance away, Dodger commended us: "You three did good so far. That was just one cop, though, and it looked like he was goin' somewhere, not just wandering around looking for trouble. And it's not just the cops you need to worry about." He pulled us aside and pointed. Crouched behind a sign was a sturdily-built fellow, six feet tall and wearing plain clothes. His eyes were concealed behind a pair of sunglasses, and there was a slight but noticeable bulge in his inner jacket pocket. It took me a while to realize that it was a hidden gun.
"Some people here don't mind squealing to the police," Dodger cautioned, "so keep your eye out for them and make sure they don't recognize you."
"Who are they?" I asked.
"The cops'll give money to those who rat out people they disagree with. People are so poor, they'll do anything to buy their next meal." When the sinister figure turned his head to look the other way, Dodger quickly led us across the street and we scurried past him. "Sometimes they'll just kill you, no questions asked. Easier and faster to just shoot you than to run after you if you make a break for it."
"Isn't that illegal?" Marcos asked.
"You really think they'll get arrested?" He laughed. "Hell, the cops themselves do some of the killing. They sure as hell don't mind having some of their work done for them."
Lewis kept glancing over his shoulder repeatedly. "Is he coming after us?"
"Dude, you're the one looking behind your back. Do you see him coming after us?"
"Then he probably isn't." He stopped and made eye-contact with the owner of an electronic scrap store. The two nodded in acknowledgement of each other's presence, and Dodger gestured for us to follow him down the alley. "This way."
"Where are we headed?" I asked.
"You'll see." He stopped at a door, almost completely camouflaged by the matching colours of the wall it was on, and knocked loudly on it. "Who's there?" a rough voice demanded.
"It's me, Dodger," he replied. "Don't be too hard, bud; I got young company with me."
The door cracked open, slightly ajar. The two conversed quietly through the gap for a few seconds before opening the door fully. "Boys," Dodger said, gesturing towards a dark, hooded figure. "This is Francis, one of our founding members."
"Been a while since we chatted, huh Dodger?" The two did the Wingz handshake. "See you've grown since then." He looked at the three of us. "Well, well, who've you got here?"
"And you got all of 'em?"
"Nah, Israel got two of the three, but I got the youngest — the one over there, his name's Garrett. Got a lot to say about him."
"Oh?" He made his way over to where I was. I tried to straighten my back and look tough; I couldn't look bad in front of him!
"How old are you?" he asked me.
"Where you from?"
He laughed. "Well, Dodger, I'm sure you know April Fools was—"
"It's not a joke!" Dodger was adamant. "Look, I found him just a day ago, and already he's proven himself to be a skillful young lad. He may be small and he may be weak, but he shows determination like nobody else. Don't think Reyes was this good when he joined his first gang."
"What'd he do to get you all excited, sprinkle fairy dust over you?"
"He bailed me out when I got cornered in an alley by three armed men."
"He's got a little brother, and he's bringing his earnings home to send the little one back to school."
Francis perked up. He was interested. "You doing all of this for him?"
Dodger slapped him on the back. "See? Knew you'd like him. Y'know, Reyes was an older brother too. Last night everyone was callin' him a 'Miracle Kid' after he downed an entire glass of ale and took the Wingz Treatment with an iron skin! They say he's the answer to the end of our war with the Cobras and the Red Cults."
"You introduced these three to the gang?"
"I brought Garrett in. Israel took care of the other two."
Francis turned to us. "Welcome to the Wingz," he said. "No doubt you've already got a taste of our family over at our main hideout. We're all into protecting one another, alright? If you see a fellow Wingz in trouble, you better step in and help them, cause we're not buccaneers here. If you want a more selfish gang, you're in the wrong place. You three understand?"
"Come with me," he said, leading us through a small, miserable tenement, populated with winding corridors lit by aged fluorescent lamps and packs of bodies crammed into narrow living spaces. A few of them were smoking; others had drinks in their hands. Many were trying to cook, bathe, and sleep amidst the lack of free space. The air was hot, humid, almost stagnant, as if I were trapped in a box with no breathing holes. The polluted city air was almost a godsend to me when we stepped out into the courtyard. It was still packed, with more people and clotheslines draped with a rainbow of fabric occupying the picture, but it was no longer a bog, where bodies sank in to rest indefinitely, unable to rot.
"The Cobras and Red Cults used to use this building, but they later abandoned it. They did leave some of their symbols behind." He pointed to a concrete wall, covered in graffiti. "See the two in the center? One green and one red. Green one with the snake is, obviously, the cobras. The one with the red, bloody cross is the Red Cults."
"Why are the gang symbols placed side-by-side?" Marcos asked.
"The Cobras and Red Cults have an alliance. They used to be fierce competitors, until we entered the picture. That's how powerful we got."
"What about now?" I asked.
He sighed. "They managed to knife Juan and Antonio, two of our most affluent members, but we're still keeping our heads above the waterline." He looked at me. "That's why everyone was excited to see you, I suppose."
"Fast track him," Dodger advised.
"That ain't up for me to decide."
While they were talking, I was looking closely at the symbol for the Cobras. It seemed so... familiar. I thought back to the few times my older brother came home, for reasons unknown. He sported tattoos along his arms, an array of them stretching from his shoulders to his wrists, overlapping skin that covered his muscles and veins. One of them was a green snake — a cobra, to be precise — its neck expanded and its tongue hissing at me menacingly.
If I put my finger on it correctly...
"We've been on a steady decline," Francis continued. "The Cobras — man, they sure do take things without asking. They showed up in a block that we claimed as ours and declared themselves to be the new owners. A year ago they got a new member that quickly rose their ranks, and boy, do they never shut up about him. He's been heavily involved with their shabu and weed trade, and he's made them richer than ever. He's not even 16... I would say 13, judging by his appearance. Guess it's their version of a 'Miracle Kid'."
I was still looking at the Cobras' symbol. I felt my hand beginning to shake. "What's his name?" I asked, my voice barely above a whisper.
"His name," I repeated. "What is it?"
He inhaled, deep in thought. "If my memory serves me correctly... I think his name was Julio. Unlike most people, he didn't select a pseudonym for himself. Everyone refers to him by his real name."
Julio. Julio. The name of my older brother. The green cobra seemed to jump out at me, stinging my neck, my cheeks, my eyes. My brother is part of the Cobras.... my brother is part of the Cobras.
The pieces of the puzzle fell into place before me.
My older brother is part of the Cobras.
I am part of the Diablo Wingz.
The Diablo Wingz and the Cobras hate each other.
I shook my head. So what? My mother threw him out of the house; he's there to serve the gang. I'm here to serve my younger brother, who still matters to me. Julio doesn't care about me, or anyone else in his family. This doesn't concern me. This shouldn't concern me.
"Garrett, you alright?" Marcos asked, tugging at my shoulder. I looked up. Francis and Dodger had moved on, and I had been left behind. "You seem lost."
"Lost in thought."
"Something about that cobra that's got you captivated?"
I wondered if I should tell him about Julio, but decided not to at the last moment. "Nah, I'm good. Nothing special about it." I took a glance towards the direction the group had gone. "Let's run before we really get lost around here."
"What's up with you?"
My hazy doze was abruptly ended by Dodger's voice. "C'mon Garrett, get something to eat. You've been half-starved for your entire life; the gang's happy to feed its hungry members."
I nodded weakly, but the aroma of food did little to lift my spirits. The thought and shock about the gang my older brother was in still had me pinned like a wrestler pinning his opponent down on the mat. I had left home and was on my own, still firmly attached to Evan, though for how much longer, I could not tell. The sights I had seen, the suffering I had endured, the situation I was in... now exacerbated by the dreadful thought that I was pulling more threads apart, seeing things I wished I had never seen, knowing things I wished I had never known. My older brother was in a rival gang, and though we may be family, our gangs could pull us apart even more so than we already were. What if I had to kill my older brother? What if he had... to kill me?
"Hey Garrett! Cheer up, man; you've been great so far! What's been keeping you in the doghouse lately?"
I shook my head, but he was expecting a verbal response. "Nothing."
"Well if nothing's up, why are you so depressed?"
I remained silent.
"Actually... yeah, don't answer that question. Just grab something to eat. Better than anything you'll find on your own, trust me. Look, even Lewis is eating it!" He slapped his thigh in laughter. "First he seemed like he was too scared to pee in the corner, now he's practically fighting over the juiciest pieces of pork!" He looked at me. "C'mon, Garrett. Join in."
I nodded again, but stayed inert.
"I know you're hungry. Maybe you'll lighten up a bit after a bite."
I still didn't move.
"You want me to get you something?"
"I'm fine... I can manage."
He patted me on the back. "You're strong, Garrett. I know you are." He turned around and went back for another plate.
Slowly I gritted my teeth and clenched my fists. So what if my brother and I were technically enemies now? Julio was never a big part of my life; he spent most of his time with his father. When he left, so did Julio, who seemed to have otherwise forgotten about his other two siblings. I almost never saw him while I worked on the mountain; he could've easily been smoking cigarettes by the dozen while the rest of us pawed through the trash. When he left, I was slightly disappointed to see him go, but otherwise I never felt emotionally distressed, for I still had and was taking care of Evan. He felt like a sheet of perforated paper attached loosely to my life, and it was only a matter of time before he was folded and then ripped off cleanly.
So why should I care? Why do I feel like he still has bits of himself still clinging onto me like glue?
I shook my head vigorously, trying to force the thought out of my head. It didn't work. I tried again and again, but the more I fought it, the more it wanted to stay. Finally, my stomach rang the bell; its growling set my mind's course on food, for I hadn't eaten in hours. The image of the cobra, however, remained in the foreground of my mind. It stared at me, almost ready to strike, ready to sting me with its venomous fangs. Behind the cobra was my older brother, who stared me down with a face that consisted of a mixture of disdain and shock. I had no way of fighting him; no flying creature could hope to live once it had the clutches of a snake wrapped around its wings. The cobra and my brother seemed to recede away into the distance, as if I were falling from the perch I was on towards my inevitable death, getting farther and farther away until they disappeared from view.
|For my little brother by Enoch Leung