For The Crusaders

Six black kids and four white. Marching. Half of them are carrying brooms, held aloft like lances so they looked like miniature Crusaders embarking to war. Comrades, friends, dressed in tracksuits and vests. Driving past, he wants to know exactly where they are going. He can conclude only one reason for this sight: community service. No older than fifteen and in trouble already.

He'd bet a week's wages not one of them has a parent who gives a toss.

- - -

At Trevor Castinella's house, Leon's colleague Margaret was beaten up while he took a leak. Her front teeth were caved in with a chair--a metal dining room chair that did not break, enabling her assailant to strike again and again until Leon could intervene. But in this case, the assailant was not some screwed-in-the-head single father, angry at the world for his lifestyle; Trevor Castinella's twelve year-old daughter Kylie had attacked Margaret.

Leon took the chair from the girl and wrapped his arms around her until she ceased thrashing, and once Trevor's laughter subsided, Leon called an ambulance. Trevor called the police. Leon's supervisor suspended him pending an investigation into his assault on the child.

Now he drives by the tracksuit-clad children with their brooms in hand, imagining each one in a prison cell three or four years from now, tattooed, beaten, finished. One black kid is bigger, taller than the others. He'll be an alpha male inside. A younger kid--maybe his little brother--looks like he'll be mincemeat within an hour. And a blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy: he'll be popular, but for reasons he'll spend the rest of his life trying to forget.

Leon shakes the images away and tries to think about dinner.

- - -

Now he lies in the bath, a finger or three of scotch on the side, the water clinging to him, muscle-relaxing salts doing their best to chase the ache from his body. Tonight the salts need some help. Lately, it seems, they need more and more. He necks the whiskey in one, waits, then nearly coughs it straight back up, splashing water across the bathroom. He forces himself to relax, to concentrate on the Sting CD. His eyes close and he feels himself sinking. Margaret's bloody mouth is located exactly two feet outside the door, alongside Trevor's proud smile as his daughter beats a woman senseless. But these things are not part of Leon's world right now. These things stay away.

On the outside.

That sinking again, like the moments before sleep, though Leon knows he will not sleep. His bathroom retreats, fades away and he is floating above a field of gold, and softly he descends, his bare feet crunching on the ground. The sun glares and he looks directly at it. It does not hurt. Spots do not form. Somewhere in the distance, somewhere in this vast golden field that occupies his entire world, people are walking. He hears them at first and then sees the brooms, sticking out above the golden crop.


And as they near he suddenly longs for the bathroom, the thought of meeting those wretched criminal children here, in his own place, the only untainted place he knows, they have started him running. But they speed up also. Their brooms bob above the corn, gaining on him, gaining all the time, his feet slipping on broken stems, and he tumbles. He can see the brooms, on him, above him, a child about to break through the golden curtain--

He awakes underwater. He breaths in, gagging, grabs the side of the bath, sinking, no not sinking, turning, slams his head on the bottom. His foot cracks into a tap. He breaks the surface and howls, grasping his foot. His breathing is fast--too fast--and he has to cough hard to rid his lungs of muscle-relaxing bath water.

Too much. Too much today.

Too much always.

Margaret's bloodied, battered body inches its way back inside, sneaking past Sting and the shape of his heart, dragging Trevor and Kylie behind her, until the whole event is clear in his head once more.

He is slumped over the side now, half in, half out of the bath.

Everyone knows Trevor Castinella beats his daughter, sometimes to the point of hospitalisation. But this act alone, Leon believes, is sometimes fixable. Sometimes a mental illness is diagnosed, treated, and although they have to constantly visit the family for months after, a normal life is achievable. Hell, even if the parent is just a nasty bastard who takes their frustrations out on their offspring, even this is possible to fix--police action, further visits, which is not ideal, but it's something.

Trevor is something else, though. He is training his daughter, conditioning Kylie to be just like him--savage, unfeeling. Indoctrinating her into his own paranoid fantasies of oppression and conspiracies.

And there isn't a damned thing anyone can do.

- - -

It is dark when Leon pulls into Trevor's neighbourhood. He knows it well. It seems that the poorest communities are always the ones with the most need for Leon and his colleagues. On a corner near where the children with brooms were marching earlier now stands a gang of men. A gang. Not a bunch of guys hanging out and smoking, bullshitting, talking about women and politics. But a real-life gang. They know his face. Know he isn't a copper or anything.

He stops the car, tells them what he needs. They ask him if he is sure. Sadly, he says yes. Three hundred quid. One of them disappears into a van and brings him the bundle. He pays the money, drives away.

And Leon sits outside Trevor and Kylie's house with the heavy flannel parcel in his lap. He is not crying, though he wants to. Someone, perhaps Margaret, is whispering not to do it, but he is not listening. Not this time. Usually it is children that deter him, a small, high-pitched but clear voice pleading him not to hurt their mother or father; It isn't their fault, they say. They can't help it, or, They need help as much as I do.

He has never been this close before, so maybe that is the reason for the adult this time. Kylie will be dead or in jail before her eighteenth birthday. Living here, with those people on the corner running the neighbourhood, how long before she is leaning into car windows, asking what you need, poppin' a cap in yo' ass if you don't pay up? Or getting her pimp to do it. Not long before she'll be doing community service, like most of the kids round here start with.

Leon and Margaret come around here three times a week to various families. Each one he just wants to scoop up the kids and either give them a good home or drown them so they won't have to face growing up in this awful fucking place.

Of everyone he's met, even here, Leon knows that Trevor is the worst. Leon has been pushed and pushed, tempted so many times to do what he has to do, but at last, finally, he has found the courage.

He takes the bundle--heavy, so much heavier than he expects--and fastens it in his belt, then climbs out of the car. He closes the door and locks it, turns to the house. A dull noise has started in his ears.

Thud. Thud. Thud-thud.

His heartbeat? Funny, since the man who lives opposite clearly has no heart at all. A melodramatic sentiment? Maybe, but fuck you, he doesn't care. He is finally about to do some good, something permanent, something that will mean no more impotent visits to a deranged parent. A solution.

A final solution.

As he crosses the street, briskly but casually, that thumping persists, not growing louder, but irregular. Then its note changes. It becomes hollow. Just for one beat, but it is there, then reverts to the dull thud, thud-thud, thud.

He pushes open the gate, knowing he is doing the right thing. Knowing it is his duty, like the knights on their Crusade, knowing his actions are just, that he is going to make that difference. He touches the heavy package in his belt, reassuring himself it is still there. The thumping in his head stops. He pauses.

A voice. Behind him, not too far. Two voices. Children's voices. Arguing. No thudding of his heart.

Leon looks once at the door he is about to knock on and use his ID to gain entry, but instead trots over the road in the direction of the children's voices. Behind a wall and wooden fence. He pulls himself up and looks down at a basketball court. One of many round here. American culture now not just inflicting itself through drugs and guns and language, but sport too.

Ten kids--six black and four white--are playing a game. It has broken up for the moment but is about to resume following a discussion over a foul or something. Two cars at either end use their headlights to illuminate the court, an adult perched on each bonnet, observing. The floodlights are smashed out, the glass swept into neat piles at the side of the playing area, brooms lying next to them. One of the adults calls out, "Ten more minutes, guys, then you gotta go!"

Leon climbs down.

The bundle in his waist gnaws into his flesh. The pain he'd felt while Sting crooned at him is washing away again, and he longs for that field of gold to embrace him one last time before he can write that letter to his supervisor, the one he has drafted so many times but never presented. He knows if he retreats tonight it will take so much more to push him to this again. He knows that the evil he will have to witness will be more than Trevor's manipulation of little Kylie.

Worst of all, he knows it is out there.

He climbs slowly back into his car, places the flannel bundle in the glove compartment. He vows it will stay there. He vows it will stay at least until he finds that person that will make him take it out again.

About the author:

Antony Davies is a writer working in England. Currently, he is a mature student, working on a creative writing degree. He has been published a number of times on the Web and a few in print, most recently winning third prize in the Cadenza Magazine competition. In the future, he hopes to write a novel--this year ornext--and to perfect his snowboarding technique.