Ash tore another leaf off the bush and ripped it to tiny pieces. The shrapnel floated to the other green bits scattered at his feet. Ash looked down at it and decided this was the worst thing about his time with the White Knights so far.
There was nothing to do but watch the protestors. When the marching troops started getting listless, one of their axe-grinding leaders would start up a chant. They’d do that for fifteen minutes or so, singing songs and pacing in a circle, like hamsters on a wheel.
Nobody came remotely close to making trouble. The most anyone had done was accost someone entering the library, grabbing him by the shoulder and saying “Sir, do you know this library is peddling child pornography?” He shrugged her off and went on in.
Five hours later, he was wondering how high a pile he could make if he tore every leaf off this bush. At first he only picked off the ones that were dead or dying. Then he moved on to whatever was nearest. It was just a plant. It wouldn’t miss a few.
“When is this protest supposed to be over?” he asked Ivan.
“When it’s over,” Ivan said. “We’ve been paid for the day, so we stay here for the day.” Ash had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from screaming.
The knights shifted from inside conversations, to group conversations, to standing around and looking tough. They reveled in the fact that they were getting paid for doing nothing. Ash didn’t blame them, but he couldn’t be as glib as them.
He’d tried people-watching, but all the girls reminded him of Ivy. Whenever he thought about setting every picket sign ablaze, he thought about their date tonight. He had to show he wasn’t a deadbeat. Where did she get off calling him that anyway?
Ash jumped at the car horn. Again. That stupid guy on the corner had a sign that said “HONK IF YOU HATE LIBRARY PORN”. Every five minutes, a car beeped, and Ash jumped each time. He felt like he was getting a stress disorder. “Can’t we do something about that? Isn’t that disturbing the peace?” he asked Ivan.
“Part of their right to protest. It’s not them honking, it’s the cars.”
For all Ivan talked about the criminal element, he sure didn’t like dealing with it. God, he would love to take the reins, just for one day, and see how much they could do. The city would give him a medal.
The protestors started up a chant again. The honking car must have gotten them fired up. Anfernee, Jamal, and Squirrel didn’t even notice. They were having a conversation with Ivan about bad laws, which had turned into a lecture.
“It’s a slippery slope,” he said. “All those kinds of laws are slippery slopes. If they legalize marijuana, then it’s going to be cocaine next, then meth, right? I’ve busted so many meth addicts, it’s not even funny. I’m not gonna see our kids raised in that sort of society. They’ll be smoking weed on the playground.”
“Yeah,” Anfernee said, “It’ll be one thing, then another, then another.”
“Exactly,” Ivan said. “Gun control? Same thing. Someone said, ‘if you take away the assault rifles, you gotta take away the handguns’. And then ‘if you take away the handguns, you gotta take away all guns’. No one respects cops anymore. All the false arrests and corruption. And the new laws make it almost impossible to arrest someone. And now we gotta clean up the mess the politicians left behind. That’s the slippery slope. Right, Ash?”
Ash did not look up from his leaf. “If a tree falls in the forest, do all the trees next to it fall?”
Ivan sneered and moved so that he stood between Ash and the others.
Ash turned to the protestors. All these people, skipping their jobs, dodging household tasks, taking time away from their kids, for what? To stop people from reading a book? A book that was available at any other library or book store? He couldn’t imagine what these people were like in real life. Were any of them making a valid contribution to society?
Another horn startled him, nearly making him fall off the planter. “Goddamn cars,” he muttered to himself.
A middle-aged woman with glasses and graying hair came out of the library, holding a styrofoam cup of coffee. “Excuse me,” she said, “Are you one of the White Knights?”
Ash stayed on guard, in case this was some protestor ready to throw coffee in his face. “Yes, I am.”
“Here, I brought you some coffee. Just a thanks from us in the library.”
Surprised, Ash took the cup, not knowing whether he liked coffee. “Oh, you’re welcome. Thanks for hiring us.”
She shook her head. “Actually, that wasn’t us. That was the city council. No offense,” she whispered, “But we didn’t really want you here. Didn’t want the attention.” “Oh, that’s all right,” Ash said. “If it’s any consolation, we’re not doing much.”
“That’s fine. The less that happens, the better,” she smiled.
Ash took a test sip. Still too hot. “If I could ask, what’s all this about anyway?”
“They didn’t tell you?”
“No. Our instructions were ‘show up and act tough.'”
“Well, there’s a book that came out–Garden of the Moon I Tend–that’s got a part about a kid who’s abused and photographed by a lesbian. It’s partly autobiographical. Anyway, people started checking out the books and not returning them.”
“Exactly. But people do that all the time, even if they’re not protesting something.
But somehow that got on the local news. Then that alerted the Christian Coalition, who got everyone in the city organized. So now we got this going on.”
“Is this the first day?”
“Yes, but they sent us a bunch of threatening letters first. Some of us were really scared. Some of us were afraid we were gonna lose our jobs, because there’s a tax levy that’s trying to pass. That’s another reason for all the hoopla.”
“They’re trying to prevent you from getting that levy?”
“Yeah. Once they heard we were stocking the book, it was all chaos.”
“So instead of protesting the publishing company, or the author, or even a book store, they’re protesting… the library.”
“Yeah, pretty much. The publisher’s in New York, and the author lives in New England, I think. They’re here just because someone organized them. I don’t think many of them have even read it.”
“They haven’t. I asked. Although I don’t think the kids are at that reading level yet.” He gestured to one little boy holding a sign that said ‘UNSAFE FOR KIDS’ in crayon.
“You know, some of them sent their kids into the children’s department for us to baby-sit, while they picket.”
“Are you serious?” She nodded. “Well, when does it end? I mean, do you know what you’re going to do about it?”
She shrugged. “What can we do? Freedom of speech protects their right to protest. They’ve got someone handling the paperwork for them, so all they need to do is show up and call the media. Even if we filed an injunction, it would take days to go through the system.”
“Damn bureaucracy again.”
“But I’m not worried,” she said. “I think the whole thing will burn itself out. They’ll move onto some other flavor of the week, something on the Internet or a video game.”
“Meanwhile, you don’t get your tax levy,” Ash said.
The librarian looked away and didn’t say anything.
Now Ash felt bad. “Well, at least you didn’t cave in though.”
“That’s true. I didn’t trade in my ideas for something easy. Just wish I knew what was going to happen.” She sighed, “Well, I better get back inside.”
“Thanks for the coffee.” Ash raised his styrofoam cup to her, as she pulled open the glass doors. He downed the rest of the black stuff and crushed the cup in his hand.
He walked over to the leader of the picketers. She was standing on the edge of the steps, both hands on her tagboard. She saw him and lowered her sign.
Ash said, “I’d just like to say that I think you all are losers. And I hope you all get hit by a bus on your way home.” Before she had a chance to respond, he threw the crumpled cup in her face. It bounced off harmlessly.
She erupted into a fit of swears and rhetoric–words Ash was sure the Christian Coalition wouldn’t approve of. The others gathered around her like sheep, threatening to beat him up, saying he was a pig. But Ash was already walking away, down the steps and along the street.
He couldn’t do this anymore, not this panhandling to corrupt systems, to protect people who didn’t deserve to be protected, and forgetting the ones who did. Instead of smashing these people in the face, he was supposed to be helping them. If he kept this up, he was going to end snapping and burning the whole city to the ground.
He walked for several blocks, thinking how he was going to explain to Ivan. Maybe he could say he went to do some patrolling. Maybe he could catch someone to get back in his good graces.
If only Ivan could realize the potential of the White Knights. But he was too wrapped up in himself. There were plenty of other jobs in the city, but none that felt as fit for him as this. There was no other job where he could hand out justice where it was needed.
As he was about to cross the street, he saw a teenager putting a brown-paper cigarette to his mouth. But it looked too long, and wrinkled, much like a joint. Ash had to keep from squealing with glee. He was actually going to bust someone. Too bad Ivan wouldn’t be around to see it.
As soon as the cars were clear, he walked across the street and approached. As he smelled the burning plant, he thought that he should do this by the book–he was entering into a situation with a potentially dangerous individual.
“Excuse me, sir,” he said to the user. “Please destroy the joint. That’s an illegal substance.”
The man glared at Ash for a second, then realized he wasn’t a cop. “Beat it,” he said. “It’s just a cigarillo.”
Ash wanted to snatch the joint out of his hands, but that was against procedures. Next step, repeat the command. “Sir, I can smell the marijuana. Destroy the joint.”
“I said, beat it. Or I’ll kick your ass.” He turned to the wall, and took another puff.
Ash rolled his eyes. Ivan’s tactics were working as well as he expected them to. Time for step three. Ash pulled the cell phone out and smacked seven numbers. “Hello? Yes, police? I have a guy here with a lit joint. It’s on…” he checked the street sign, “Freemont Street… you’ll be here right away?”
Ash glanced at the stoner. He wasn’t buying it. Ash said, “Description? Uh, looks like a giant penis. Yeah… all shit-stained from the gay sex. Yep, that’s right.”
The man turned to him. “What, you think you’re funny?”
Ash gave him a big shit-eating grin.
“Fuck you.” He moved to shove Ash, but Ash dodged. This was getting amusing. He could set him on fire with a wave of his hand, but watching this poor drug-addled man try and attack was hilarious.
Ash danced back a few steps, “Ooh, I’m gonna go to the cops. Ooh, hoo, hoo. Come get me.”
The stoner sprinted after him, dropping his joint. Ash didn’t expect a druggie to be so fast and started running for real.
A cop car pulled around the corner. Ash grinned. Time to capture his prey.
He stopped, crouched, and held out his leg. The stoner tripped and his inertia carried him forward into the jaw-cracking pavement.
Ash yanked him up by the shoulders and waved down the police car. A sickly, low tweet sounded as it pulled up. Two cops came out.
“What’s going on here?” the officer said pleasantly, his hands on his utility belt.
Ash held up his trophy buck. “Got him. A marijuana addict. Public drug use. You can see the joint over there.” He pointed behind. “And a drug test should confirm usage. You can book him on assault charges too, if you want. Although I’d barely call it an assault.”
“Okay, sir, can you release him for me?”
Ash did. The stoner didn’t try to run as the officer recited some codes into his shoulder-pouched radio. “Okay, sir, stay put, and don’t make any trouble.”
His partner walked down the street and came back with the smashed joint. The cop talked to the user. The stoner stuttered, made up excuses, said Ash attacked him. Ash just let him dig his own hole.
His partner asked Ash’s name. “Can you explain the situation here?” he asked.
Ash did, reciting as complete a report as he could. He had every speech and action memorized.
The other cop asked the stoner to place his hands on the hood of the car and said, “All right, I’m putting you under arrest. Anything you say can and will be used…”
Ash did a little dance inside his head. Maybe he could become a cop. At least they had some power.
As the officer placed him in the car, his partner said, “Well, he’s going to jail now for possession. We appreciate your help on this one, but it’s dangerous to attack an assailant like that. He could have had a gun.”
Ash resisted rolling his eyes. Like a gun could stop him.
The cop said, “You’ll need to make a statement sometime in the next week. You can make an appointment if you call the station.”
“Could I do it right now? Can I come with you to the station? I just want to help as much as I can.”
The cop looked perplexed. “Well, sure if you want too.”
Ash grinned like a child at Christmas.