Ash traveled all night to the beach until exhaustion had pushed him to the point of agony.
At the beach, he found a ceramic restroom gazebo, and changed into his uniform. He looked like security at a gay health club.
He filled up on water to alleviate the hunger, then went back out. He fell asleep sitting up on a bench under the overhang of the gazebo.
He woke to a car horn beeping at pedestrians crossing the boardwalk. It was morning and people were laying out beach towels and walking the boardwalk, patronizing the trendy stores that catered to teens.
The rain had stopped, and no one had noticed or bothered him. Ash stood up, stretched his stiff joints and start walking. This was a good opportunity to scope out the environment he had been assigned to protect.
The heat and his tracksuit were making him sweat. He found a shady spot against a fence near the street and balled up his top and sash, leaving his white shirt on. He could wait for the rest of his team from here.
Between the girls in bikinis licking ice cream cones, guys playing volleyball, and the crashing surf, the beach looked crime-free. Everyone was behaving themselves. No one was disturbing the peace, unless you didn’t like the boom boxes blasting reggae and hip-hop.
What were they supposed to patrol for? No one had guns or drugs. He knew bad things must happen in this city. They just weren’t here. Maybe Ivan would know what to look for.
In the middle of the road, two white birds picked at a piece of gum stuck to the asphalt. Every time a car passed by, they would bop out of the way, hang out at the side of the road with a puzzled look, then bop back in.
Until a black minivan sped along. One bird perked its head up and fluttered to the shoulder. The other was face down in the goo. When it looked up, it was inches from the chrome bumper.
The bird fluttered up and collided with the grill of the van, rolled along the hood, and plopped into the center of the road. It sat there like a stuffed toy–no blood, no guts–as a few white feathers drifted in the wind.
The bird’s partner darted its head left and right. It looked like it was trying to dodge suspicion. ‘Did anyone see that?’ ‘Did anyone think it was me?” It did not go back into the street. Maybe it could smell the death of his friend, warning it away. Or maybe it had no idea what happened. Why was his friend sleeping in the road?
After a few minutes, it flew off down the beach. Ash muttered to himself, “Today’s lesson, kids–never get so engrossed in something that you don’t look up.”
After the sun was high in the sky, Ash saw three people in white gym suits and red bandoliers heading toward him–Squirrel, Anfernee, and Jamal–all with sunglasses on. Ivan was not with them.
“Yo, yo, yo, whaddup, dawg?” Squirrel danced around, then held up his hand, waiting for a high five.
Ash, still leaning against the fence with his arms crossed, looked them up and down.
“You do know only one of you gets to be Peter Pan, right?”
“Where’s your uniform?” Jamal said.
Ash held up the crumpled ball of clothes.
“Yer supposed to wear it when you’re on duty.”
“Are we on duty?” Ash said.
He looked at Anfernee, who shrugged. “Not till Ivan get’s here, I guess.”
“Then we’re good,” Ash said. “Where is he anyway? Isn’t he supposed to be leading us?”
“He drives separate. We all car pool,” Anfernee said. “Had to park way over there, by the music store.”
“Where’d you park?” Squirrel asked Ash.
“I took the bus.” You know, that magic bus that you have to push with your feet.
“Bus don’t come here,” Jamal said.
“It comes over there,” he waved vaguely down the street. “Walked the rest of the way.”
“Ahhhhh,” Squirrel said, “Saving the environment, trying to use the public T. Good man.”
“We usually meet at the HQ in the morning before a patrol,” Anfernee said. “Think Ivan forgot to tell you that.”
“You always spend a lot of time there?” Ash asked.
Jamal shrugged. “Beats my apartment. Less cockroaches.”
“How long have you been with the White Knights?”
“Me? A few months.”
“Me too,” Anfernee said.
Squirrel hesitated, his head askew. “Hmm, oh, six months,” he said. “Dude, I love beach duty. There’s a reason God invented sunglasses.”
“Are we supposed to wait until he gets here or start patrolling now?” Ash asked.
“Cool off, man,” said Jamal. “Don’t need to start working until we hafta. Sheeeyit.” He turned to Anfernee. “We got Squirrel and Squirrel Junior here.”
“My name’s Ash,” he said, scowling. “Let’s not make an issue of it.”
“Whoa, chill, kid. Didn’t mean anything by it.”
“Hey, enjoy the view,” Squirrel said. “I tell you, you need chilling. After this, got a surprise. Hoo boy,” he laughed like he had a secret. “It’ll be something. You’ll see.”
“Gentlemen,” Ivan’s booming voice came from behind Ash. “Post up!”
Anfernee, Jamal, and Squirrel trodded against the fence. Ivan approached them, hands clasped behind his back. “Good.” To Ash, he said, “‘Post up’ means line up in formation. Get your uniform on.”
Ash unfurled his top, put it on, and got in line.
“Assume search positions,” Ivan barked.
The other three spread their legs and held up their arms while Ivan patted them down. Ivan touched something jingly in Anfernee’s pocket and looked up. “Keys,” he said, and Ivan continued searching.
What the hell? Again with the manhandling, as if he had bought an Uzi in the middle of the night? But he bit down hard, and submitted to the groping. This job felt perfect for him, and he didn’t want to lose his chance.
“You guys, you know the drill,” Ivan said as he pulled out a plastic bag. “Diamond formation. Up and down this boardwalk, and then back through the beach. Got any questions?”
Ash did. A bunch. But first and foremost, “What are we doing?”
Ivan said, “We walk the beat, keep our eye out for the criminal element. Patrol ends at about five. Sound like a plan?”
“Am I going to get any training on this?”
“Don’t need training for handing out flyers.” Ivan pulled out a bundle of red paper from the bag.
“Huh? Flyers?” Ivan handed him a pile. “What’s this?”
Ash read the flyer. It requested members to patrol the streets and keep their neighborhoods clean, encouraged people to either join or make donations toward their cause, and implied that if they didn’t, they were apathetic cowards.
“Wait, I’m confused,” Ash said.
“Prick up your ears, Ash. I’m not in the habit of repeating myself. We’ll walk in diamond formation–that’s one in front, three in the middle, and one in back. We hand out these flyers to everyone, let them ask questions, talk to them, and let them know what we’re about. We’re letting them know the White Knights are here.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Ash throttled his stack of paper. “How the hell is handing out flyers going to defend the neighborhood?”
“Don’t get smart, Ash. I’ve been doing this longer than you have. I know what works. Let’s go.” He waved his arm. Ivan took the lead. Anfernee, Jamal, and Squirrel walked in a line in the middle, and Ash tailed in the back.
The diamond formation was ideal for handing out the flyers. No one could get by without having a red piece of paper shoved in their face. They could annoy everyone this way.
Boy, I can feel the crime stopping with each step, Ash thought.
For the few people who somehow got by the four in front of him, Ash put out his arm and offered them a flyer. Most took it to be polite. Some ignored him. Some tried to hand them back. He felt like a clown, part of a circus troupe.
At a stoplight, he looked back to see how people were reacting. A self-incriminating river of red flyers trailed after them. They weren’t informing people, they were irritating them. And littering–which was a crime, as far as he knew. After crossing the street, Ash found a recycle bin and dumped the rest of his pile.
The five of them walked to the end of the boardwalk, where the beach area started becoming the city again, then wrapped around the fence onto a paved walkway in the sand.
“How you doing, Ash?” Ivan called back.
“Just fine,” he responded.
Ivan turned around. “Where’s your flyers?”
“I gave them all away already.” To the garbage man.
“Oh. Good job.” Ivan continued pushing his half-depleted stack without another question.
For two more hours, Ash watched his companions hand out paper airplane material, then turn around and repeat the process. During this time, the worst crime Ash stopped was nudging away two yippy dogs with his foot.
When they came back to the point they started, Ivan commanded, “Halt.”
This was met with sighs of relief. Anfernee bent down and muttered, “Ohhhhh, my feet.”
“See what I said about good shoes?” Ivan said to Ash. Then to the group, “All right, take a fifteen minute break, then get to your respected positions, like I showed you on the map. Anfernee, take post 8, bravo line. Jamal, watch the alpha line. Squirrel, beach duty.”
“Yeeeeesir,” he said, all too pleased.
“I’m gonna be checking so make sure you’re there. Fifteen minutes. Or I’ll bust your ass. Move.”
Ash was about to find somewhere to sit when Ivan said, “Ash, you’re with me. I’ll give you the rundown on how this works.”
“Don’t I get a break?”
“Aw, you’re tough, you don’t need one. Right?”
Ivan laughed. “Come on, got a lot of shit to cover. You’re a trainee, so you’d better get used to it. I’m even giving you the express package so you can get on the force quicker.”
Ash shrugged. What would he do with a break anyway? He had no money for food.
“So basically, we’re looking out for illegal behavior. What’s illegal behavior, you ask?” Ash didn’t, but Ivan continued, “You don’t have the laws and statutes of this city memorized, do ya? So listen. See this here?”
He pointed at a sign listing beach rules and regulations. Basic stuff like ‘always wear clothing’, ‘don’t go out too far’, and ‘listen to the lifeguards’. “Any violations of these rules equals a violation to us. You keep on watch for these.”
“What happens when we see something?”
“I’m getting to that. Other things are common sense. No drugs, no fighting, no inappropriate dress.”
“On a beach? How do you tell?”
Ivan looked pissed. “Stop… interrupting me. Now, when you’re enforcing these, keep in mind that we’re not cops. That works both ways for us. It means we’re not as restricted with what we can do, but at the same time we are. So don’t go bringing your handcuffs from home, trying to bust a perp. This ain’t the movies. Our first defense is our presence.”
“That’s great, but what do we do when our presence isn’t enough?”
“Hold on, son. That’s what I’m telling you. Jesus H. Christ, no patience in kids. The system works, all right? People don’t do shit when someone’s watching them. You’re not going to snatch a purse if you’ve got some five-year-old licking his lolly in front of you, right?”
Ash shrugged. “Okay.”
“So, say you see someone take out a joint. First ask the person to stop and destroy the joint. Those exact words. ‘Destroy the joint’. Got it?”
“Destroy the joint, got it.” Ash was expecting flash cards to come out.
“If that doesn’t work, ask again. ‘Destroy the joint’. Twice.” Ivan held up two fingers. “Got it?”
Ash said he did. “There’s more, right?”
“Sure. If that doesn’t work, pretend to call the police on your cell phone.”
“Won’t he know I’m not talking to someone?”
“Just pretend. Fake-dial the numbers.”
“But wouldn’t he be able to hear there’s no voice on the other line?”
“How many questions you want to ask, kid? You wanna be here all night?”
“Well, what should I say? I’m not an actor.”
“Usually, calling the police has the desired effect, no matter what you say. Just dial the phone and say your name. Say that you’ve got someone violating whatever ordinance. Have a pretend conversation. Mention things like ‘code blue’, to make them think you talk to the police on a regular basis. They should get scared once they think real cops might be coming.”
“And if that doesn’t work?” Ash asked, anticipating some kind of citizen’s arrest procedure.
“If it doesn’t work, ask them to destroy the joint again.”
Ash frowned. “If it didn’t work the first two times, and you’ve already ‘called the police’,” he made quote marks with his fingers, “What makes you think it’ll work the third? That’s like guessing the same thing in Pictionary over and over.”
“That’s the procedure. That’s how the White Knights operate. You don’t like it-“
“Why don’t you call the cops for real? Like you’re supposed to when you see someone smoking a joint?”
“Don’t bother. It’s a misdemeanor offense. Cops won’t arrest them.”
“But it’s a crime.”
“If they arrest the guy, it means an hour in jail for him, and two hours of paperwork for the cops. Believe me, this is the voice of experience.”
“Well, what if he’s not smoking a joint? What if he’s selling it? What if he’s beating someone in the head with a baseball bat? Do I ‘fake call’ the cops then?”
Ivan sighed. “Just do what you have to do.”
“With what? My sidearm? My taser? Tackle him?”
“You getting smart again, boy?”
“Nope, already there.”
Ivan pointed his sausage-like finger at him. “Ash, I can make this easy for you or difficult for you. Your choice.”
Ash gave him a smarmy look, but said nothing. He suddenly became aware of his body heat increasing degree by degree.
“If you expect to have a future here, watch your mouth. It runs.”
Ash took a deep breath to calm down. “All right, can we try a patrol now? A real one?”
“Sure.” They started walking down the beach. “You know, I admire your eagerness to help, but this is how I’ve run the White Knights since it started. It’s the procedure when dealing with the criminal element. When you’ve had a little time to see how it works, then you can start criticizing.”
“All right,” Ash said, then another question occurred to him. “What do I do if they attack me?”
“A good tactic is to scream real loud. That startles them, and gives you time to react.”
“What if they have a gun? Is there a plan for that?”
“If you’re alone, walk away slowly. You don’t need to get shot. We don’t need to be in the news that way.”
“Has that ever happened?” Ash asked. “Has anyone ever died in the line of duty?”
“Jeez, don’t be so morbid. That’s the fear talking. That’s the whole point of the White Knights, to stop fear. You can’t be Knight if you’re afraid of every little thing that could happen.”
“If that’s true, then why are we running away if someone pulls out a gun?”
“You take the risks when you wear the sash. You want to know the truth? I’ve been beaten with a baseball bat, shot twice, had three broken ribs. Yes, it’s a risk.” He stopped at the entry to the beach and faced Ash. “For right now, I’ll always pair you with someone. But I teach all the guys basic self-defense. So if I do this…” He reached out a beefy hand to shove Ash hard.
Ash sprang forward, grabbed Ivan’s forearm, and pushed it into his chest. He felt the heat surge rise, like a reactor core ready to burst. It flowed from his chest to his fingertips. But he managed to pull back before it ‘leaked’.
“Good. Nice and strong,” Ivan said. “Most people shrink back when I do that. You responded defensively, not aggressively. There’s even better ways of avoiding that that I can teach you. We’ll get into that next time.”
Ivan walked through the beach gate. Ash followed, trying to figure out what happened. He’d felt the fire coming, but stopped it. Which meant, with some practice, he could control it.
Maybe it would have been better if he’d let it go, to show Ivan what he was capable of. He didn’t need this training nonsense, this beach patrol. They’d have better luck finding crime at Disneyland.
Ivan surveyed the beach like a conquistador. “All right, we’re ready to try a patrol. Take your boots to it.”
They marched like tin soldiers in the sand. Every so often, Ivan pointed at something inconsequential–a screech that turned out to be a kid, a solitary curse word spoken too loud–he watched for a moment, then walked right by.
After ten minutes, Ivan said, “Ten o’clock. Alcoholic beverage in the open.”
A teen with a lean, muscular figure and long swim trunks leaned against a fence post with a can of MGD.
“Watch and learn, Ash,” Ivan said, and approached the teen. “Excuse me, sir. It’s illegal to have open cans of alcohol on this beach. I’m gonna have to ask you to throw it in the trash.”
The teen gave him a sidelong gaze–this wasn’t worth turning his head all the way. Then he crushed the empty can in his fist and tossed it at Ivan, who fumbled it against his chest. A splash of beer trickled onto his shirt.
The teen walked away as Ivan brushed the beer off the nylon tracksuit.
“You see that sometimes. Some people have a thing about defying adults, or ‘the man’. Same thing happens to the cops. Don’t get discouraged. We got him to stop drinking the beer–that’s the important thing.” Ash followed him to a plastic lined garbage barrel. “Believe me, the cops got it worse.”
“The cops have guns.”
“Well, we don’t. So we have to use what we’ve got.”
“Were you ever a cop?”
“No, never. I’m a regular joe like you. Just wanted to make a difference.”
“Then how’d you get into it?”
“I got the idea a year back. Someone had done something like this in New York, and I thought ‘that’s what this city needs’. But the city council turned it down, said it was too close to vigilantism. People on the Internet said they would come and help, but they didn’t. That’s when I said, ‘Ivan, no one’s going to help you. Quit whining, and just take your boots to it’.”
In the distance, Squirrel ran towards them, like a kid running for his mommy. “Ivan. Ivan… Got a problem… There’s two… two…” he struggled to catch his breath from running in the sand. “We got two people… loud music… above… how do I…”
Ivan rolled his eyes. “Aw, Jesus. Squirrel. Music is not a crime. There’s no noise regulations on the beach. Therefore, it’s not an enforceable law. Got it?”
“But I got a complaint… from someone, who said-“
“We don’t take requests. If there’s nothing on the rule board about loud music, there’s nothing to do. We’re not hired guns. Look at you, all gangly, all out of breath. Don’t come up to me like this. You’re a disgrace.”
Squirrel looked like a good puppy in front of Mr. Owner’s rolled-up newspaper.
“You’re a White Knight. Remember? Show some initiative,” Ivan said. “Now get back to your patrol area. I’ve got business with Ash here still. Hup, hup, hup.”
“Sir, yes, sir.” Squirrel clicked his heels together in the sand and headed off.
Ivan said, “That Squirrel. Means well, but he’s a screwball. They’re all screwballs. Treat them like brothers, watch them like hawks. Got it?”
Ash nodded and the two headed back down the boardwalk.