The second day of the new White Knights went as well as the first. There was little they did wrong, because there was little to get wrong.
In the morning Ash briefed his men on how to cover the second half of downtown. There was more complaining today. Jamal said his feet hurt. Squirrel said he was tired because he had bad dreams. It was clear no one wanted to repeat the dull and prolonged walking of yesterday.
Ash wanted to chew them out for being so lazy, but he explained that some things weren’t going to change. If they were going to be the eyes and ears of the cops, they needed to be everywhere. Anfernee rolled his eyes and Ash had to resist giving him a hotfoot to teach him a lesson.
Despite that, he was satisfied that they’d established themselves. People watched them pass by, hopefully inspired by their presence. His men laughed and told stories as they patrolled, acting like freed slaves.
However, once again, there were no crimes to stop. Well, that wasn’t true. There was crime, but nothing worth stopping. A lot of dogs not being curbed. A lot of people crossing the street on red lights. All victimless. To an outsider, it might look like he was being as neglectful as Ivan. But his reasons were different.
However, he did take his men on a tour through the worst neighborhood in the city. Ash had done the research–high murder rates, vacant storefronts, even a few resident sex offenders.
Again, as they approached the block full of broken windows, abandoned cars, and messy yards, there was complaining. No one wanted to venture into potential gangland, even with a pyrokinetic on their side.
Finally, Ash told them “Look, either you’re going in with me or you’re out. You’re not a White Knight unless you’re willing to face danger. That’s the whole reason we’re here–the cops won’t do anything, so we have to.”
In the end, nothing happened. Not that he expected it to, he just wanted his men to get used to the bad neighborhoods. New environments were scary–he should know. So Ash led the team back into the office district to finish the day.
Stopped at a street corner, one old lady asked them what they were up to. She must have been afraid they were a gang. He explained who they were, that they were here to clean up the city, and they were making an even bigger commitment to stopping offenses than before. She then responded, if that was so, why were they doing it in broad daylight?
That grinded Ash’s gears. He wanted to tell her off–to ask her what would a senile old broad know about stopping delinquency–but that was unbecoming of a civil officer. Smarmy bitch. Some people didn’t seem worth saving.
But she was right. If they were going to stop real crime, they had to do it when the drive-bys and drug deals went down. All they needed was one big crime, one big message to send. Maybe his men weren’t ready, but dammit, when would they be?
At the end of the day, the White Knights reconvened at headquarters for the wrap-up.
Ash stood in front of the whiteboard. “Pretty good job today, although I could do without the lip service. You guys go on your merry way. I need to clean this place up and plan out a night patrol.”
“You need any help?” Squirrel said.
“Not really, no. Why?”
“We usually hang out here after patrol. At least Ivan let us,” Squirrel shrugged. “Beats my apartment.”
“You want to hang out here? Sure, I guess,” Ash shrugged. “But make yourself useful. There’s still a lot of cleaning that needs to be done.”
“No problem,” Squirrel said. “Always willing to help.”
“I ain’t got nothing else to do,” Jamal said.
Ash chuckled. Out in the field, they did nothing but gripe, but then they wanted to hang out after hours. “There’s plenty to do in the storage room.” Ash pointed to the back rooms. “Someone could do an inventory list. Look for things we can pawn and things that could be useful. Get me?”
“Yep,” Jamal said.
“Sure do, boss,” Squirrel said.
Ash arched his eyebrow at him. Squirrel seemed unusually eager to please today. “All right, go to it,” he said.
While the guys banged boxes and chattered in the back, he sat down at the desk and took out a sheet of paper. He had to concoct a strategy for a night patrol, so he wouldn’t feel like he was sending his men to their deaths.
Ten minutes in, he realized he had no idea how. What routes should he take? He didn’t know the city at all. Did they need weapons? Armor? What would they do in potential situations?
He pulled out the day’s newspaper, hoping it would give him ideas, but all he found were politicians with no power, puppies caught in the gutter, and high school bands.
Ash glanced back. Anfernee sat on some stereo equipment, talking to Jamal. Squirrel was kneeling in front of a box, pulling out items he found interesting.
Ash really didn’t care if they were working or not. If they wanted to hang out, that was fine with him–they were off-duty.
So he turned to the television, hoping for something on the news to guide him. He could strategize during commercials.
Hours later, Anfernee and Jamal were playing catch with a small football. Squirrel was brandishing a cheap katana, pretending he was a samurai. Ash was watching a hockey game.
He needed to give his mind a rest. Getting everything back in order had taxed him. Inspiration would come to him some time.
“Hey, boss, hey,” Squirrel said as he popped into Ash’s view. “Hey, Ash.”
“Wait, wait.” He held up his hand and kept his eyes on the screen.
A player on a red team slammed a player in brown into the baseboards. He collapsed as the camera cut away to the puck.
“This game is fascinating,” Ash said.
“Yeah. There’s so much more to it than scoring goals. There’s an underlying game of vengeance and retribution here. See that guy? That’s the team’s ‘enforcer’. He’s the biggest player on the team. He doesn’t play well, but he’s there in case the other team starts getting out of line. It’s the enforcer’s job to let them know they can’t bend the rules without consequences.”
“But then a fight breaks out, right?”
“Not as often as you’d think, all things considered. It’s like they know the judges perform badly, so the enforcers exist to compensate. This has got to be the only sport like this. When the judges fail, the players take over.”
“Why don’t they get better judges?”
Ash shrugged. “Ooh, ooh, look.”
The brown goalie fell on the puck, and two other brown players took the opportunity to sandwich the red enforcer.
“Here he goes again,” Ash said. The two teams crowded together, pushing and shoving. “Yeah, you deserved that. Sit down,” Ash said as three referees separated them. The game went to commercial. “Anyway, what’d you want?” Ash said to Squirrel.
“Oh, well, I was wondering how we’re going to do our night patrol thing?”
“I’m still working that out,” Ash said.
“I was just wondering, you know, how that’s going to work. Because, I don’t know, I’m just curious.”
“You’ll all know about it in detail when I’m finished.” He turned back to the game.
“So, like, do you know when it’s gonna be, or like, what we’ll have to use or something?”
“What?” He turned to Squirrel. “Quit spitting gibberish. I have no idea what you’re saying.”
The TV emitted a great crowd roar as the announcers. “Aw, Jesus,” he said, realizing he’d missed something important. “Are you taking too much of those drugs? Is that why you’re not making sense?”
“What? No, no, I mean, yeah, kinda, the regular stuff. My Blindside and stuff.”
“That’s it. No more ‘Blindside’ for you. It’s messing you up.”
“What?” Squirrel turned into a sad puppy. “But I need that.”
“What, so you don’t have to remember bad things? Well, too bad. If I have to remember it, you do too. You can’t go on patrol unless you got a clear head.”
“But my head is clear.”
“Yeah, right. You just won’t admit you’re scared. That’s why you’re asking about the night patrol.”
“No, no, no. I’m not scared. I’m just… I’ve never done this before. I mean, I volunteered. We always did kinda light stuff… when Ivan was here.”
Ash looked Squirrel in the eyes. “When Ivan was here? When Ivan was here you weren’t anything but mewling spawn. Do you want to go back to that?”
“No, no, sorry. I didn’t mean that I was scared.”
“Don’t lie to me. I know when people are scared. I see it all the time.” Ash looked up at Jamal and Anfernee, who were looking at him with wide eyes. “How about you? You guys scared?”
“No, no,” Jamal said.
“No, course not,” Anfernee said. Both of them looked at each other. “But, I mean, if we’re going down there… can we, like, get a gun… or something?”
“A gun? You want guns?”
Squirrel said, “Man, everyone’s got a gun. Anywhere there’s something happening, they’ve got a gun.”
“What, isn’t your taser good enough for you?” Ash said.
“I just don’t want to get shot,” Squirrel mumbled.
“What is it about having a gun that’s going to prevent you from getting shot?”
“Well, I don’t know,” Squirrel stammered.
“You want to dress up and play soldier? Right? That’s what you want?”
“Jeez, Ash, lay off,” Jamal said.
Ash yelled, “Stay out of this.”
Squirrel said, “Dude, I don’t want a gun. I’m-“
“You’re scared right?” Ash said. “Are you scared of this?” He pointed to Squirrel’s left, and the carpet erupted in a pillar of flame. Squirrel squeaked and dropped to the floor.
“Oh, god, oh god, I’m sorry,” he said.
“Sorry that you’re a coward? You should be. I don’t have room for cowards here. You want to play with the big boys, you get behind me. But we’re not playing their game. We’re not going down to their level. We’re gonna take this fight to them, until we get every last mother fucking one of them. And the last thing I need is a bunch of gun-happy motorheads shooting themselves in the foot.”
“Jeez, Ash, that’s not what I meant,” Squirrel said, his hand in front of his face like he was preparing to be struck.
“Don’t tell me what you meant or not. Look at you, quivering on the floor. Pumped full of meds, just to stay normal. You disgust me. Is this how you’re gonna act on the street?”
“Ash, come on, ease up,” Anfernee said.
“I said stay out of this, Anfernee,” Ash pointed at him. “You think you’re off the hook? You couldn’t even catch a spindly little carjacker, you fat fuck. Can’t even spell your name right. From now on, I’m calling you Anthony. It’s not my fault your mom was illiterate.”
“Whoa, Ash, that’s not cool,” Jamal said.
“You all disgust me. But that’s fine. I’m gonna whip you into shape. I’m gonna push you harder than Ivan ever did.”
“Ash, we’re just volunteers,” Squirrel said.
“So’s the army,” Ash said. “They knew what they were doing when they signed up. So did you.”
“But… they get guns,” Squirrel uttered as if he couldn’t stop himself.
Ash’s upper lip curled. He slammed his hands down and two blazing geysers sprang up, one on each side of Squirrel. He cried out again, flames licking at his body.
Ash didn’t want to burn him, but he had to get them to realize this wasn’t a game. He dropped his arms and the geysers disappeared.
Returning to a calm but commanding voice, Ash said, “I don’t know if you noticed, but there’s a new sheriff in town. And he’s not taking shit anymore. Got that?”
No one spoke. Jamal and Anfernee stood frozen. Squirrel panted like a dog, sweat on his brow.
“Tomorrow, we start night patrol,” Ash said. “7:30 PM sharp. You be here, got that? If not, I will find you. And I will not be pleasant. Understood?”
At first, nothing. Then they nodded.
“Good.” Ash walked towards the door. “I need to get out of here for a while. When I get back, all this better be done. Or there will be consequences.” Again, they nodded.
Ash let out his breath. It would be done, he had no fear of that.
He still had to plan out the night patrol, but not now. He was too riled to concentrate on planning. And the sight of his men disgusted him. He needed to find a sanctuary.