12 June 2021 - The small, wiry boy took aim and fired a smoke bomb. The window shattered, and smoke billowed out into the setting-sun-drenched sky. Arthur sent a text to his splinter team, and skilled archers on the opposite side began their assault. Hast thou any idea where to look. He needed time with Lance first. Probably the smartest kid in the class, when he chose to show up, that is. Lance looked at her, a bit startled, but immediately regained his aplomb.
Sighing again, she set about taking roll and calming the class so she could begin her required lesson plan for the day. He wore a pair of baggy overalls with the straps hanging down and a gray hoodie flipped up to obscure his face, clothes given to him by one of his friends. Lance would come to no harm if she had anything to say about it. It was the afternoon following the knighting ceremony, and the excitement level amongst the throng within The Hub was palpable. They filled the chamber and tunnels with exuberant chatter, brimming with energy.
They watched as women, obviously prostitutes, strutted seductively up and down the street in their short skirts and stiletto heels, signaling to passing cars. Young men and teen boys lurked in the shadows here and there, waiting. Maybe that would make things better between them. He trembled, and a chill ran up his back. They laughed and playfully punched each other every time. There he was to wait out the years, to return one day when Britain needed him most. Jenny gazed after him in consternation. The whole plan sounded nutty, yeah, but there was something so unusual about Arthur, something so rare that Lance felt, against all his street-born instincts, compelled to trust him.
Arthur clapped Lance solidly on the shoulder and smiled in approval. The crouching police officers waved the reporters down, and Helen ducked calmly behind a sagging black and white. She waved at her cameraman to film the arrow sticking out of the front tire. If you surrender yourself, these children will not be hurt or arrested. The man practically leapt from the car. Lance stood his ground as the man came around the car and virtually drooled at the sight of him, undressing every inch of him with his eyes.
Raising Excalibur high over his head to signal order, Arthur gradually quelled the chants, and they awaited his response. The window shattered, and smoke billowed out into the setting-sun-drenched sky. Teachers at this school were left pretty much to their own devices when it came to discipline. There was a dean, but unless a kid committed murder on camera, suspensions were kept to a minimum. On display were several movie posters depicting King Arthur, most too old for her students to have ever seen except on television.
I did it for you, son, and your generation. I gotta be strong and be in charge, and I gotta get everything right. Yet he found his gaze drifting over to the sleeping bundle that was his First Knight.
Arthur never asked for his help or advice anymore, never seemed to want leadership from the boy. He spotted Esteban up near the front, dropped his bike, and pushed his way through the throng. Hast thou any idea where to look. He needed time with Lance first. Jack had never seen him this way.
The dripping water was continuously gathered into large tubs and then heated by a charcoal fire pit beneath them. Arthur and Lance had bought a supply of charcoal for the purpose, as well as water-purifying tablets to clean the water and kill germs, and it worked sufficiently well to avoid a cold bathing experience. Boys old enough to shave, like Jack, could use these same tubs for that purpose, too. These cast-off youth, whom your authorities seek not to aid, have become my new Round Table, dedicated to the cause of justice and the use of might for right. How do you plan to change their behavior. Measure my success not on what these youths have done in the past, but on what they do now and in the future. Mark nodded, locks of unkempt hair drifting across his forehead, those pools of blue filling slowly with gloom. Just tired from, you know, the withdrawal. Mark smiled warmly, looking like the Mark of old, the one before Arthur.
The knight reached out and grabbed one side of the grill, backing up his horse to ease it open. The dark, gaping orifice threatened to envelope him, and his stomach pulled up into his throat. Lance squinted in the dark as the knight extended a gloved hand to grasp an old, weathered torch from a small alcove. Everything seemed to stop, as though time itself stood still. Every gaze fixed on Arthur as he dropped down from Llamrei, and Jenny alighted beside him. Instead, his gaze fixed on the rapidly growing pool of blood spreading out from beneath his son. True, their learned tendencies toward arrogance and domination over the weak were traits that might never fully disappear, but in their willingness to accept a new way of thinking, the boys were becoming more adept at controlling those tendencies.
Arthur observed a moment as the fire took hold. Lance looked up again at Arthur, and the king nodded. Both Arthur and Jack were convinced that something had happened to him.
That was the piece of the puzzle that eluded her. Those detectives handling the case had put their contact info in the paper. Cursing, he recovered his footing and turned just as Lance swung downward with his weapon. It felt like he might be losing Mark after all, but not to Lance. After lunch, the hundreds of kids of varying ages and backgrounds, including the few girls who usually clung to Reyna, gathered in The Hub and packed it so tightly it was a miracle anyone could even breathe.
Anyways, I guess things was okay when I was little, but then when I was thirteen my folks caught me kissing another boy out in the pool house, and they freaked something crazy. Mark grimaced and shook his head, those huge blue eyes pooling with pain. By thine own definition, this makes what he said right. I have merely shown thee the truth. His musings were interrupted by groans from Mark. The moaning awoke Jack, who stretched his muscular arms and shook the sleep out of his eyes.
Across from City Hall, the eleven-story sheet still covered the Mural Project. A system had been set up utilizing a long pull cord attached to the top of the sheet and connecting to both upper corners. Arthur blinked back the tears forming just behind his eyes. The other kids cheered excitedly, quickly forming a circle around the combatants. Oh, how he hated and loved this invention all at once. He wished to be with her face to face, holding her in their mutual grief, but alas, time was of the essence. He needed her to go to the skate park, and he would meet her.
A generous benefactor had given Arthur a sizable generator for when he needed power along his various journeys. Mostly he kept it here in The Hub and used it to power electric lights and electronics like cellular phones. I love you, Arthur, with all my heart. Arthur dropped into his throne in shock. He so desperately yearned to tell Mark he loved him for keeping his secret, for not even telling Jack when he easily could have. He felt Mark deserved those words, maybe even needed them to help with his sadness, except Lance had never spoken those words in his entire life. So he just let Mark be, the words unsaid, and would later come to hate himself for that decision.
Then he stood, feeling sorrow and defeat. Oddly, he found his gaze momentarily drawn to the middle-aged paramedic who had tended to Lance. They laughed and playfully punched each other every time. Arthur sat on his throne wearily watching Enrique put the finishing touches on a large banner. It depicted the A symbol with a dragon brandishing Excalibur in the background. It all reeked of temptation and pleasure and greed.
Another cheer arose from the knights and the locals, and Lance began to march. Arthur followed, then Jack, Mark, Chris, Reyna, Esteban, Darnell, Lavern, Luis and the others on foot, the bicyclists and skaters, and lastly the vehicles. These gangbangers were nothing if not predictable. When the buff guy and the other shot callers turned from the panicked confusion behind them, Reyna and Lavern and Luis had arrows cocked and aimed at their hearts. Angrily, Dwayne reached for his fallen gun, but Buff Guy kicked it aside.
Jack placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. When Reyna arrives, she shall direct the archers. In all of their eyes Arthur read uncertainty, sadness, fear, expectancy, and love.
From beginning to end, the plot is complex, the characters three dimensional, the writing powerful and elegant. Indeed, Michael J Bowler is a powerful writer with a gift unparalleled. It was interesting to see the fantasy mixed up with the real. Ryan shook his head sadly, patted Arthur gently on the shoulder, and stood to get out of the way. The younger paramedic removed the stethoscope and turned to Arthur. His face revealed the same report. Did her heart go out to them, as well, or was her teaching job nothing more than that-a job. Theirs had been an arranged marriage, after all, part of a treaty agreement.
Such lavish lifestyles were beyond his ability to comprehend. The Asian, the Samoan, and the other Latino exchanged looks, but none of them budged. Hopefully, they would find the note Justin attached to the padlock and arrest them all. But that decision would be theirs to make.
Esteban had always been smart in school, maybe too smart. No, the lure of the streets was more compelling. He glanced at Lance, who met his gaze without fear. Arthur nodded, and the boy returned it. He grew up in San Rafael, California, and majored in English and Theatre at Santa Clara University. He has been a volunteer Big Brother to eight different boys with the Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters program, and a decades-long volunteer within the juvenile justice system in Los Angeles.
The two officers watched them escape with a mixture of anger and wonder. The pedestrians with their cell phones ceased filming and jumped into the air with glee, high-fiving one another. All the children slept soundly within the dank underbelly of the city. But now, talking and laughing in Spanish with these nice, sweet moms who loved their children and fawned over Reyna and her crew, offering them food for their efforts, her eyes were opened to reality, one hidden from her by her parents. Poor people were no different than rich-some were jerks, but most were very cool. These ladies in one day felt more like moms to her than her own had in seventeen years. His voice rang out clear and unruffled. Why do thy people have so little to show for all of thy pride. Lance noted the forearm tattoo of Our Lady of Guadalupe, but kept his gaze fixed on the gun, his sword at the ready.
At other times, they rode the Metrolink train or hopped onto a city bus. When Lance finally convinced him that the city was too vast to see by horseback or by walking, only then did Arthur gingerly agree. Knowing that his adversaries on Saturday night would possess these weapons, Arthur ordered every archer to be part of the campaign. A sword was no match for a gun, he realized. He, of course, would carry Excalibur, and other swordsmen, Lance included, would flank him to add a greater sense of strength to his presence. Arthur was stunned, his stomach knotting. Oh, Sir Jack, did I truly give that impression, that I would hate one of mine own. He was mad at you for saying something about carrying the banner.
Jaime slapped Esteban on the back. There was silence as he hefted several large swords, testing their weight and the feel of each hilt in his grip. The question blindsided him, and he took a moment before answering, to steady his uncertain voice. Jenny was astonished to see Reyna and her girls teaching teenaged boys how to shoot a bow.
Each team would be comprised of six members for a total of six hundred kids mobilized at once, the teams scattered throughout the main parts of the city. Because Arthur wanted all of his knights to rendezvous at City Hall to meet with the mayor, this initial operation would only focus on the downtown metro area and surrounding communities. All teams would remain in contact with Arthur via cell phone. Mark smiled warmly, looking like the Mark of old, the one before Arthur. The next day, residual excitement from the night before percolated through the tunnels as everyone prepared for the new arrivals. Lance, as always, slept with Chris beside him and dutifully got the youngster bathed and fed as soon as they awoke. Lance went rigid, his breath hitching in his throat, his heart pounding anew.
Within the dry riverbed, Arthur sat atop Llamrei, with Chris in front and Jenny behind, gazing out upon his knights. They shuffled restlessly, anxious to be underway. Ours is the most dangerous quest of all, for we seek to destroy the man who controls so much of these drugs. Mark shook his head, untamed bangs flopping against his forehead. The small boy, clothed in a billowy tunic three sizes too big and equally large leather pants tied around his waist with a leather drawstring, now had his blond hair washed and combed, and he was clean and comfortable. He sneezed, and Lance handed the boy some tissue.
Lance looked up shyly, hesitantly, his heart suddenly uneven. My knights have accomplished what you and yours could not or would not do, and the whole of this city has benefited. Mayor, but a mere fraction of the drugs you have allowed to infest your city, drugs which destroy the lives of children first and foremost, and which took from me one of my most beloved knights. Suddenly, mom snapped her eyes open, looking around in fear, realizing she had slept through the night. As the two women stared in disbelief, the girl stirred beneath the oxygen tent, a tiny, barely audible moan escaping her lips. Arthur lifted his head, as did Lance and the others.
Helen gushed over Lance, as did all the other adults, praising his poise and his impassioned speech, clapping him on the back. He gazed at it questioningly, and a laughing Lance took it from him. In what seemed like minutes, all the news vehicles were packed up and pulling away. Now tell me, how many lost ones have we recruited, including those who merely join us by day. Lance had been teaching him Spanish, and Arthur was a quick learner. He sighed, his voice filled with sadness. Neighborhoods declined to slum-like conditions. The Los Angeles school system stumbled headlong toward total Armageddon. And the most victimized segment of the populace.
Surrounding the police in a perimeter were angry-looking local residents, armed with kitchen knives, baseball bats, broom handles, metal poles, and tools. This standoff had now become three layers deep. Ryan grabbed the bullhorn from Gibson and turned it toward the newcomers. In placing former gang members as leaders of each team Arthur had ensured that his knights knew how to deal with gunfire, just as Esteban and his old homies had done. Jaime, Darnell, Duc, Tai, and all the others had achieved great success, considering the odds against them. However, like all adults, they greatly underestimated the power of young people when those young people wanted something badly enough. A number of the drug-house owners were wounded, like those in Boyle Heights, but none were killed. Bullets had grazed some of his knights, but none were badly hurt.
Most of the parents, especially those of former gang members, expressed nothing but gratitude toward Arthur. Since he be small he never wanted to go. Several people had stopped to gawk, but hurried away when they saw he had noticed them. The nurse shook her head and glowered until all the boys had donned their masks. Only then did she allow them to proceed. Arthur, Esteban, Jaime, Darnell, Lance, Mark, and Jack strode down the hall in the indicated direction, ignoring the odd stares from other nurses and orderlies.
Other lanterns had been hung from scattered tree branches, casting yellowish glowing pools of light upon the proceedings. Arthur stood regally atop the platform holding Excalibur before him, decked out in his finest tunic and pants, his hauberk and crown, his hair smooth and brushed, his beard trimmed and clean. The reception in every neighborhood gratified the king. Camera crews followed them everywhere, always led by Helen Schaeffer. Arthur liked her and felt comfortable speaking with her, so Helen tended to get far more face time than any other reporter with the biggest newsmaker of the moment. While it seems a popular word in this era, our code of chivalry requires respect for one another. Arthur placed Excalibur in front of him, point to the ground, his hands resting atop the jeweled hilt.
What would Chris think if Lance turned out to be… that way. Mark shook his head, untamed bangs flopping against his forehead. Then he eyed Lance with a lopsided grin that enlightened his soft features. The drip of water, an almost living presence within these dank, damp tunnels, was the only sound except their own breathing. The face was covered by a plastic bag that had probably fallen from the overfull dumpster.
The painting crew, led by Enrique and Lavern and Luis looked like walking rainbows with splashes of myriad color splattered all over them. Should she call, at least tell them her suspicions, alert them about Lance. The address MTS had on file for him had been bogus and his social worker had no new information. At times like this she so wished her father were still alive. Esteban took a wild swing at Lance. Lance easily ducked, and the blade sailed harmlessly over his head. Each time Lance scored a victory, the original group cheered.
Despite his fear, he felt pride in his fellow knights. Most of them had been trained by him, which gave him a fleeting sense of accomplishment, something so rare it caught up in his throat like a wad of gum. He, too, looked up through the open rectangular hole. Arthur pulled back, dropping his arms to his sides, feeling like a nervous teenaged boy again. When the buff guy and the other shot callers turned from the panicked confusion behind them, Reyna and Lavern and Luis had arrows cocked and aimed at their hearts. Angrily, Dwayne reached for his fallen gun, but Buff Guy kicked it aside.
Lance took Chris back over to their corner and resumed their lessons. After a while, Reyna blew in with her accustomed bluster. Now Jack stopped and looked sheepishly at Lance. He raised his right arm and flexed the massive biceps. Still enveloped within a haze of shock, Lance finally asked Ryan to stop at a deserted spot that he knew was close to the LA River. Lance turned his devastated eyes on the weathered face peering out at him. Lance led Jack down the embankment and along the dry riverbed to the storm drain entrance, but balked at going in.
I would not condemn him for feeling love. The needs of the whole company, remember. But at times like these, it be a difficult precept to hold fast to. Chewing absently on a pencil, he and Gibson sat watching a flat screen TV mounted on the wall above them. Other cops bustled past, a few stopping to glance at the broadcast before moving on. She spoke directly to the camera, the last of the police mop-up going on behind her. You served your own interests first and theirs second. You allowed them to learn from immoral examples, and then cast them aside when they did follow those examples.
Lance observed his brooding friend standing at the corner, brushing back dark, untamed curls, anxious eyes roaming. Would the next thing really be a reality TV show about them. Lance observed his brooding friend standing at the corner, brushing back dark, untamed curls, anxious eyes roaming. So big and strong, so toweringly beautiful, so capable and athletic, and yet so sad. There was silence as he hefted several large swords, testing their weight and the feel of each hilt in his grip.
The homies explained to Arthur that street gangs were about brotherhood too, just mixed in with criminal activity and running the streets. A deep, harsh voice echoed from behind the three boys. From the shadows, confidently approaching, rode a man on horseback. The three youths merely gaped in astonishment. Some of the bigger lads like Enrique and Luis wielded the two-handed broadsword with deadly accuracy and power.