“So yer the one they calls ‘The Preacher’,” The King said in his deep, bass voice as he sized Winkler up. “Ya got religion or somethin?”
This was the first time they’d met since Winkler’d become Boss of the Roslyn Crew, the local chapter of the larger Mayfair Gang. After checking his staff and colours with the bouncer at the door, Winkler’d been shown into his club, to the booth near the stage where The King often conducted his business.
“Fraid not,” Winkler chuckled. “To tell ya the truth, I figures The Book’s just a ’tempt by the Lords to maintain cultural hegemony ’mong the workin’ classes, so as to keep us all in line durin’ the Enclosure. The other two testaments, well, they’re just a matter of faith, ain’t they, and I ain’t got none of that, neither.”
The King just laughed and nodded. It was a slow, deep rumble. He was Fallen himself. He’d done some time as a polfacter for dealing drugs or something. But he’d been born Chosen, so the prep lingo wasn’t lost on him.
“Good.” The King’s face wore a wry smile. “Some of the old timers still sez The Book’s all a pack of lies, that it was all made up. Yer pretty smart for a crewboy. But then yer mom was Chosen too, weren’t she?”
The crewmen all assumed the lingo was something he’d learned from his mom too. They all knew Somerset’d been born on the Island herself; just like The King. Until she was down-and-outed as a young woman. But she’d brought her books with her when she was exiled to the Mainland, carrying Winkler along in her belly, so as he could have a proper education when he was old enough. It was the prep lingo and his outspoken attitude when it come to religion that’d resulted in his nickname.
“So how can The King help ya today?”
“Well, I was hopin’ ya might be able to resolve a little problem we’ve been havin’ with the Straddy Boys.” Winkler began to briefly recount the story.
’Course a lot of it was familiar to the King anyhow. His place was right in the middle of the greyland between their two neighboring terries, an area into which the feud ’tween the two rival crews often spilled.
Winkler himself remembered vividly the day the feud’d started. It was the same day he’d first learned he’d become Boss after Jonesie ’bout two years previous, back when he himself was still just a crewboy. That was also the same night Richard, Jonesie’s second at the time’d been killed by the Straddy Boys.
About two weeks previous to that, a bunch of the crewmen’d come home from a raid against the Straddy Boys terry, bragging about how they’d happened on one of the bangers who hung with them being shown home by two of their crewmen. They’d bled the crewmen and laid them out in a trace, then taken turns having a go with the banger.
“It wasn’t till after Richard’s death that we learned the truth, though,” Winkler said. “Crazy Boy’d been screamin’ ’bout it as he held up his sharpie after slittin’ Richard’s throat. That’d been no banger, that’d been Crazy Boy’s girl, the one he was gonna marry. He called feud in revenge for us havin’ raped ’er.”
The King nodded grimly.
When Winkler got to the part about the set-up leading up to Richard’s murder, though, he could see that The King hadn’t been aware that it was a contact from his own club who’d betrayed them. And while Winkler himself never said as much, he could also see from his reaction that The King realized that his club’d become directly embroiled in the feud.
“’Course, there was nothin’ I could do ’bout the feud so long as Jonesie and Crazy Boy remained as Bosses, ’coz there was far too much bad blood ’tween ’em. So I never even suggested the idea of a truce to Jonesie while I was his second. But both of ’em retired only ’bout a month previous, as ya know, without ’nother death on either side since. So it’s the Straddy Boys who still owes us blood. Ya know that leaves me an openin’ to try to resolve things with their new Boss, ’cordin’ to code.”
The King nodded slowly and thoughtfully as he considered all he’d just heard. He was familiar with the code from his frequent dealings with the crews. So when Winkler mentioned his plan to make peace with the Straddy Boys, The King seemed agreeable.
“I could use yer influence on my side,” Winkler concluded. “Yer word carries weight with both crews.”
“Awright,” The King seemed to appreciate Winkler’s gesture of respect. “Well, peace in the streets won’t hurt my club none, like ya sez.”
Nor would it affect his trade in weapons, as both crews’d always need those. Winkler himself’d be ordering another batch of staffs soon as they recruited some more crewboys the following summer.
“So then ya wants me to broker it, contact Robbie and get ’em and his boys down here for a meetin’. What ya do then? They still owes ya blood, like ya sez.”
“I’ll offer ’em peace, like I sez. But if Robbie won’t give us what’s owed, we’ll take it from ’em, one way or ’nother.”
The King just laughed again. “I like yer style, kid. I’ll see what I can do.”
* * *
One of The King’s men brought word to The Black Hole, the booze can he and his crew ran in their clubhouse, only a couple days later. He said the Straddy Boys’d meet them out front of the King James the following weekend. Saturday night, 10 pm.
Winkler and his full crew arrived five minutes early. He stationed himself in the centre of the street, with all of those with staffs spacing themselves from sidewalk to sidewalk on either side. They limbered up, and gave themselves plenty of room to maneuver if they should be forced to defend themselves. Less than half of the crew could cover the entire street. The rest spread out behind as backup, sharpies and bashers at the ready. Two crewboys placed a case of corp whiskey on the street behind Winkler, before retreating back to the safety of their own terry.
A crowd assembled on the sidewalk on both sides of the entrance to the King James as they waited. No doubt taking a break from their drinks inside, waiting to witness the show in the dimly lit street.
About a dozen of The King’s men, all wearing dark suits, appeared momentarily. They took up positions in a semicircle around the steps leading up to the King James.
Then, just before ten, the Straddy Boys rounded the corner at the far end of the street, approaching cautiously from the opposite direction. They stopped about ten yards away, spreading themselves out in a group behind Robbie, all wearing the blood-red vests and headbands of their gang.
The two crews faced one another uneasily, with The King’s men between them, their weapons not drawn, but no doubt well armed, as everyone knew. The King kept the best weapons, such as real pol guns and zappers, for his own men.
The King himself appeared at the top of the steps a moment later, also wearing a dark suit, as well as his stylish black fedora. The King was a large, bald, black man with a full beard and multiple piercings in both ears. He was middle-aged, but still a solid block of muscle; well over 200 pounds, even though not much taller than Winkler’s six feet. He stood quietly for a long moment, his large hands clasped together before him. He slowly surveyed the crowd to either side, and the assembled crews, who all waited expectantly. Finally he spoke, his voice booming out over the street.
“The Roslyn Crew’s asked for this meeting, and for me to arrange and broker it.” He used prep lingo to emphasize the formality of the situation. “Robbie, you’ve agreed. There will be no violence here today, whatever the result, or else you will all have to answer to me.”
He paused for a moment to let his words sink into both crews. Sensing their unease, Winkler thought before he continued.
“All these people,” he gestured with both hands towards the assembled crowd, “will witness what happens here today, as well as any agreements or oaths made.”
“The Preacher,” The King gestured towards where Winkler stood, his staff in one hand, “has a proposition for the Stradbrook Crew to consider.”
The King nodded in Winkler’s direction.
Winkler took two paces forwards before stopping, facing Robbie and what appeared to be his two seconds, who stood at his shoulders to either side. He looked all three of them in the eyes in turn, his gaze finally settling on Robbie, letting the expectant silence lengthen for a moment.
Then he spoke, loudly, so as all assembled could hear. “There’s blood ’tween us, we all knows that. But that’s in the past, ’tween Crazy Boy and Jonesie. There ain’t nothin’ yet ’tween Robbie and me, which is why I’ve ranged for this meetin’.”
He paused to let everyone consider what he’d said before continuing.
“I’m here to offer the Stradbrook Crew peace on behalf of the Roslyn Crew. I’m here to end the feud.” He paused again, briefly, waiting for the crowd’s murmurs to subside.
“Now there’s two ways this can end. On the one hand, Robbie there can swear an oath on behalf of his entire crew to keep the peace that I offers, payin’ with his own blood what’s owed us, as the code requires. In that case,” he gestured with his staff, “I’ve a case of corp whiskey here to share with my friends.”
“On the other hand,” he continued, his eyes staring coldly into Robbie’s, “you can refuse my offer of a truce, and leave the debt unpaid. In that case I bring you a warnin’ and a promise. The next Straddy Boy who steps into our terry will pay the debt with his life.”
The crowd murmured again, after hearing him threaten to call feud, then fell silent, awaiting Winkler’s next words.
“The choice is yours.” He stared icily at Robbie for a long, tense moment.
Then, suddenly, following his silent cue, he and all of his other crewmen moved as one, advancing another two paces towards the Straddy Boys. Winkler and the rest of the crewmen with staffs moved as though they were a single menacing creature, their staffs a blur before them as they advanced, followed by all of the others. They also stopped as one, a pace behind him, capping their display of what the Straddy Boys faced if their offer were refused, by slamming the base of their staffs to the broken pavement, so as they made a single, solid thump.
Perfect synchronization, Winkler thought, proudly, and the Straddy Boys line had even wavered slightly.
It was also now clear to everyone, that while the two crews were relatively equal in terms of numbers, he and his crew held a distinct advantage in terms of both weapons and discipline. What he’d said to the Straddy Boys’d been no idle threat, and everyone knew it, even the Straddy Boys themselves.
Winkler gave Robbie a final icy stare, then turned to look up at The King, giving him a slow nod.
There was the ghost of a smile on his lips, Winkler could see. He held up his hands for a long moment, finally silencing the crowd, which’d been abuzz after their display.
“You have all heard what The Preacher has said,” the King finally boomed out. “A truce has been offered, and the offer honourably made.” Then, after a short pause, and a brief glance in Winkler’s direction, “I would also like to see peace in my streets.”
“After all,” he continued, playing to the crowd by quoting a well known passage from The Book, “charity is like the pure love of Christ; ain’t that right, Preacher?”
The crowd outside the King James laughed, while Winkler himself simply smiled grimly, appreciating the irony, his eyes never leaving Robbie’s.
“What is the Stradbrook Crew’s reply?”
Robbie turned back towards his seconds, after shooting Winkler a final intense glance, and the three of them conversed momentarily in hushed whispers. The two crews stood silently, expectantly, as they awaited the outcome. The crowd was equally silent.
Then, finally, Robbie turned, drawing his sharpie and stepping forward, his eyes settling on Winkler, where he stood with his staff in one hand, at the ready.
Robbie stopped half way between the two crews, raised both of his hands and turned so as the crowd could see them. His sharpie flashed in the light as he cut his left palm, then, holding it high so as all could see, clenched his fist until blood dripped to the pavement.
“The Stradbrook Crew recognizes the debt,” he shouted. “We owed ya blood and we’ve given it to ya. But the debt is paid. The oath is honourably made. All is done ’cordin’ to code.”
“Then there will be peace,” The King’s voice boomed out, to the cheers of both crews and the assembled crowd. He then stepped forward, descending the steps with dignity, his men moving aside to allow him to pass.
Winkler nodded towards Robbie as he bound his hand with the piece of cloth one of his seconds’d handed him, and received a cautious nod in return. Then he turned to the nearest crewman behind him. He motioned for Johnson, his own second, to bring the case of whiskey forward. Johnson placed the case on the street at Winkler’s feet, between him and Robbie, just as The King arrived. Winkler opened the case. He passed bottles to both Robbie and The King, and took one himself.
The three of them stood facing one another for a moment, then raised the open bottles above themselves formally, until their necks finally clinked in the centre. They then drank deeply, before holding the bottles up again, displaying them to the crowd.
“It is done,” The King shouted to all. He held the bottle high above his head. ”We have shared the whiskey as friends, just as The Preacher promised. The peace is made.”
Then, as he lifted the case of whiskey with his free hand and passed it to one of his men, he shouted, “Drinks are on the Roslyn Boys.”
Everyone cheered again, the crowd beginning to mill bout as The King’s man began passing the rest of the bottles out to be shared among both crews, as well as the spectators.
“Nice show, kid,” The King said with a wink a moment later, before he returned to his club.
Both crews drank late into the night, the celebration continuing both inside the King James, and when it was filled to capacity, spilling into the dreary streets of the greyland outside.
* * *
The Straddy Boys’d been true to their word since, too, Winkler thought, with satisfaction. He and Robbie’d even become friends of a sort over the last while. Leastwise they’d sit and have a drink together if they met at the King James.
The truce’d also allowed the crew as a whole to focus on what was really their primary responsibility, leastwise far as Winkler was concerned: to provide security for their own turf, ’coz the pols couldn’t be bothered. Ending the Straddy Boys’ raids’d certainly pleased the shopkeepers along the strip, Winkler knew, who treated all of the crewmen with new respect now, especially himself.
The Straddy Boys were still wary of coming into their terry, though. After all, peace didn’t make you allies, according to code, and he had threatened to call feud on them.
Author’s note: An earlier version of this tale was previously published by www.silverthought.com on April 3, 2007.
Copyright © 2007 by Dudgeon