Rated: PG (I guess) - Reference to multiple killings
Standard disclaimer applies. Early Edition and its characters are owned
by people with bigger wallets than me, which will remain the case since
this story is for fun only and not for financial gain.
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by David Simms
Gary Hobson let out a sigh of exhaustion, his head propped up on one hand and a beer in the other. Eight headlines had already been changed by his timely intervention and it was only lunch time. Fortunately, all that remained was a hit and run at 2:00 and then nothing before the final save for the day.
“Gar, good buddy.” Chuck slid onto the barstool beside Gary and smiled a Cheshire-like grin.
“No,” Gary responded without looking up.
“What?” Chuck put his hand to his chest and frowned in mock disappointment. “I’m hurt. I wish only to greet my good friend hello and you assume I want something.”
“That’s because you always do.”
“Is that so wrong, to wish my best friend in the world would once in a while repay me for all I do for him?”
“Like what? Giving me headaches?” Gary retorted in frustration. “The answer is still no.”
“Pleaaase,” Chuck begged, his hands clasped together. “Don’t make me get on my knees and beg. That could look embarrassing for the both of us.”
“Come on, pal. The Bulls game.”
“No,” Gary responded emphatically.
“Anything. A high school basketball game. Bowling, horseshoes, anything.”
“Why do you ask? You know I’m going to say no.”
Chuck furrowed his brows. “Fine, see if I do anything for you the next time you ask.”
“You want something?” Gary removed the paper from his jacket and flipped it open. “It’s going to snow an inch and a half tonight. There.”
“Oh ha ha. I can’t bet on the weather… or can I?”
Gary ignored his friend as his attention was drawn to the front page headline and a look of horror washed over him. “W-What did you do?”
“What? I didn’t do anything,” Chuck protested defensively. “What are you talking about?”
“This.” Gary held the paper up for Chuck to see. “This wasn’t there the last time I looked.”
A photo showed chalk outlines of six bodies, apparent victims in a gang fight. The names printed beneath revealed all but one was under the age of 18, and two were only 13.
“Maybe one of your earlier saves did this. It’s happened before.”
“I know,” Gary said sadly. It was his way of apologizing for blaming his friend without actually apologizing. Chuck understood. Best friends often said a lot without saying anything. That’s just the way best friends were.
“What are you going to do?”
“What do you mean what am I going to do? I’m going to try and stop this.”
“Gar, are you nuts? You’re only going to get yourself killed as well. You need to call the police on this one.”
“And tell them what? Six kids are going to be killed tonight in a gang fight? How will I explain how I know this? They already think I’m crazy.”
“You own a bar. You hear things.”
“Look around, Chuck. How many customers here look like they belong to a gang?”
“I don’t care, Gary.” He put his hand on his friend’s shoulder and looked him in the eye. “If you go out there by yourself, it will be suicide, plain and simple. You think those little hoodlums are going to listen to you?”
“I have to try.”
“Try what?” Marissa asked as she approached the two.
“N-Nothing,” Gary stated with a stern look to Chuck to not tell her. “We were talking about trying a few menu changes.”
“I may be blind, but I’m not deaf.” Marissa folded her arms and stared absently at Gary. “You weren’t talking about a menu change. Now what’s going on?”
“Gary is going to try and stop a gang fight,” Chuck said, not looking at the glare he knew he was probably getting.
“Don’t they just do drive-by shootings now?”
“Well, apparently not,” Gary said. “And if I don’t go, six kids are going to end up dead.”
Marissa mirrored the shock Gary had had when he saw the article. “Kids? Six of them?”
Chuck shook his head sadly. “They start them off young these days.”
“Gary, you can’t do this one alone. You’ve got to call the police.”
“I know, but what if they don’t believe me? I can’t just sit back and hope they decide to check it out. Besides, if these gangs see the police, they’ll just take off and finish the fight somewhere else. Someone has to talk some sense into them.”
“Someone has to talk some sense into you.”
“Chuck’s right,” Marissa sighed, “and I don’t say that that often.” She forced a thin smile from her lips.
“I’ll be fine. Don’t worry. I could use your help though,” he said, turning to Chuck.
“Me? Oh no. If you want to go on a suicide mission, that’s your business, but don’t ask me to join you. I’m not letting some punk kid with their daddy’s revolver put a bullet in my butt.”
“I’m not asking you to. There’s a purse snatching on the other side of town at the same time and I need you to cover that.”
“Is she good-looking?”
“The woman with the purse.”
“What difference does that make?” Gary said, smacking Chuck in the arm with the paper.
“None. I was just curious.”
“I don’t know. The paper tends to leave out details like that,” Gary said sarcastically.
“Okay, I’ll do it, but you owe me one.” Chuck reached for the newspaper.
Gary smacked him with the paper again and put it in his jacket. “Bet on the weather.” Taking one last gulp, he finished his beer, set the glass down, and walked away.
Chuck shook his head and leaned against the counter whispering to Marissa conspiratorially. “Can you actually bet on the weather?”
“You know Gar, it’s not too late to change your mind,” Chuck Fishman stated while Gary Hobson paced nervously.
“I can’t do that.” Gary retrieved the Sun-Times paper from inside his coat and set it on the counter, checking the headline for the umpteenth time. His expectations were met and hopes denied as the results remained the same. 8:00 pm, two gangs, six deaths, zero chance of disappearing on its own.
“Gary,” Marissa sighed, putting a hand on his. “Please.”
“I’ll be fine,” Gary reassured her. “They’re just kids.”
“Yeah, kids with guns,” Chuck reminded.
Gary shot a warning look at Chuck. Marissa was scared enough for him without Chuck adding to it. Truth be told, he was scared himself, but despite all the headaches the paper had caused him, it almost always provided at least a semi-happy ending. Why shouldn’t he believe this would be one of those times? Snow did this job for more than 50 years. Surely the paper had a way of protecting its messengers. Everything was going to be okay. No worries. “Look, I-I’ve got to go.” Gary returned the newspaper to his coat and put on a pair of gloves. “Promise me you’ll stop that purse-snatching.”
“No milking the hero routine and asking her for her number.”
“Come on, Gar. What do I look like?” Chuck stared at Gary innocently then sighed and shrugged. “Fine, I promise.”
Chuck leaned against the counter and folded his arms. “You take all the fun out of being a hero, you know.”
“Being a hero isn’t always fun, trust me. I-I’ll see you two later.” Sufficiently bundled against the cold weather, Gary ventured out into the streets of Chicago.
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Gary stood in the doorway of an abandoned building off the alley where the fight was to take place, but there was no hiding from the chilling wind which had just blown in. He turned his collar up to help protect his ears, checked his watch, then shoved his hands in his coat pockets. Two minutes till…
“J-Dawg, where are they?” A young kid wearing a blue flannel shirt three sizes too big, baggy jeans, black hat turned backward, and sunglasses emerged from a dark corner of the alley. “They were supposed to be here by now.
“Shh,” another voice warned in hushed tones from somewhere else that Gary couldn’t see. “You tryin’ to get us killed?”
Gary cringed at the irony. J-Dawg was most likely 13-year old Jacob, one of the six that would end up dead if he didn’t do something. He stood flush with the door to remain hidden, pondering his options, when another half dozen entered the alley.
“J-Dawg, Shorty, get ready! They’re coming!” The new arrivals hurried down the alley to the awaiting twosome and prepared.
Panic swept over Gary as he fumbled for his newspaper. This was crazy. What had he been thinking? He was going to die. That’s all there was to it. Gary Hobson was going to die. Okay, so the police thought he was a nutcase. Surely they would have believed him given all the times he’d been right. But now it was too late. It was either let six young kids die at each other’s hands or die himself trying to stop them. Just then, another group entered the alley running at full speed and his decision was made.
“Wait!” Gary stepped out from the cover of darkness with his hands outstretched like a police officer directing traffic. “Please, don’t do this.” He gulped hard as he found himself the target of a dozen guns. “Y-You don’t have to do this,” he said, a slight quiver in his voice.
“Are you crazy?” one of the gang members yelled out.
“Yeah, I think I probably am, but I couldn’t let you all just kill each other.” Gary slowly dropped his arms and took a deep breath, turning to face the kid who had been hidden from sight earlier. “Jacob?”
“Yo, J-Dawg, how does this fool know you?” An older teen and perhaps the leader of the gang stepped forward and raised his gun eye level with Gary. “I don’t know who you are, but you’re at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“Michael, please hear me out.”
Michael lowered his weapon a tad and stepped backward, his expression stunned. “How do you know our names? You a cop?”
“No, I’m not, but I do know that several of you won’t leave this alley alive if you don’t put your guns down and walk away.”
19-year old Michael raised his gun again, taking slow, sure steps towards Gary. Forgetting about the rival gang who seemed to be equally perplexed by the whole situation, he hit Gary in the side of the face with his gun sending him to the ground. “You’ve got five seconds to tell me who you are and how you know who we are before I put a bullet in your brain.”
“I-I just know,” Gary stammered nervously. “I know that Jacob has a five-year old sister who will be an only child if this fight happens.” He turned towards the other gang. “I know Rolando’s mother will kill herself if her son dies tonight.” He returned his attention to Michael. “I know that your girlfriend will have to raise your baby alone if you don’t walk away from this fight.” Gary wiped away the blood that trickled from his lip. “I just know. Don’t ask, just trust me.”
Michael lowered his gun and turned his stare from Gary to the other gang. “What do you say? Should we hear him out or do we get this party started?”
Rolando put his gun away and waved for the others to do the same, memories of the last time his mother had attempted suicide almost bringing him to tears. “Whitey here was crazy enough to try and stop us. I say we hear what he has to say.”
“Th-Thank you.” Gary tugged at his collar, suddenly feeling quite warm despite the dropping temperature. Not wanting to make anyone nervous, he remained seated on the ground. “I won’t pretend to understand why you all are wanting to kill each other, but I can tell you that it won’t be worth it. It’ll only make things worse.”
“How would you know?” one of the younger kids asked. “You don’t know what it’s like out here. I bet you have a fancy home and a nice car and everything.”
“I bet you have a lot more than what we’ve got,” Michael said. “It’s a war out here, and we have to fight for everything we get.”
“So you’re all like street soldiers, is that it?” Gary said.
“Yeah, something like that. They come into our ‘hood, they go out the hard way.”
“But this isn’t your neighborhood. It belongs to the city.”
“No man, you’re wrong. This IS our neighborhood.”
“You live here, you hang out here, b-but you don’t own it.”
Michael raised his gun again. “Man, why you gotta be like that? Where’s this all going anyway? You’re wasting our time.”
Gary threw up his hands in defense. “I’m sorry. I’m just trying to show all of you that this is no reason for any of you to die.”
“Gary!” Chuck rounded the corner into the alley then stopped short when he saw his friend on the ground and a dozen weapons suddenly aimed at himself. “Woah!” He threw his hands up as well. “Uh, look, I just came by to get my friend.”
Gary looked at Chuck in surprise. “How’d you know where to find me?”
“You guys psychic or something?” Jacob looked from Chuck to Gary, then back to Chuck again.
“No, just well informed,” Chuck responded. “Listen, I don’t care if you all want to turn each other into swiss cheese, but I’d appreciate it if you let my friend go first.”
“Sit down,” Michael ordered with a wave of his gun.
“Sitting,” Chuck responded, quickly dropping next to Gary. “How’s this?”
“Are all you white folks crazy or something? None of this concerns you.”
“But it does,” Gary replied calmly. “It concerns us because we care.”
“Aw man, don’t give me that ‘because we care’ crap.” Michael shook his head.
“But they do,” a woman’s voice said from the entrance of the alley.
“Marissa?” Gary called turning to Chuck, his expression a mixture of confusion and anger.
Chuck simply shrugged. “Sorry, pal. She wouldn’t take no for an answer.”
“Now who’s this?” Michael asked, irritation evident in his voice.
Marissa walked slowly towards the group allowing her dog to guide her. “I’m someone who cares too.”
“How many more are coming? I suppose you’re going to want us to build a fire and sing songs now,” Michael said sarcastically.
“Shut up and sit down,” Marissa ordered. “All of you.”
Michael, Rolando, Jacob, and all the others exchanged looks of shock and confusion. Michael decided to amuse Marissa and smirked before sitting on the cold ground. Slowly, all the others joined.
“How dare you,” she began. “Do you know what month this is?”
“February,” Chuck answered, then stared at the ground suddenly feeling foolish.
“It’s February,” Marissa repeated, “which means it’s Black History month. The black people went through more than you’ll ever know to have equal rights in this country, to have the freedom that you take for granted, and instead of embracing this history and coming together, you try and kill each other. What’s wrong with you?”
“You don’t know what it’s like to have to live in the streets,” Michael retaliated. “It’s a war out here.”
“Look at me.” Marissa pointed to her eyes. “I’m blind. Does it look like I’ve had it easy? Does it look like life has been particularly kind to me?”
“What’s your name?”
“Like Michael Jordan?”
“Yeah, like MJ,” he smirked.
“Do you think he was born with endorsements? He grew up in a neighborhood
just like yours. He worked hard to get where he is. He didn’t whine about
his environment. He rose above it. You said it was a war living in the streets.
Do you know what makes a good soldier? A good soldier chooses his battles
carefully. He fights for a good cause. He goes into battle thinking
he can win. You fight over colors, over a street corner. What sense does that make? And it’s a battle that you can never win, because nobody survives it. You might live one more day, but how long before it catches up with you?” All the gang members began looking at each other. “Gary came here because he cares. And we came here because we care too and to stand by our
friend. That’s what friends do. Friends support each other. They don’t send them to their deaths, which is exactly what each of you does every time you go to fight. If you’re truly friends with the others in your gang, then you’ll want what’s best for them, which means keeping them out of trouble, keeping them out of stupid situations like this where someone is going to die.”
“Lady, you’re crazy,” Rolando laughed.
“No,” Marissa said, wiping a stray tear from her cheek, “I’m a woman, no different than your mother, who doesn’t want to see you die over something so stupid.” She sniffled and choked back the tears that she wasn’t expecting. “You don’t have to listen to these men, but I beg you to listen to me. You’re all just kids, with so much to look forward to, but you have to make it happen, and this isn’t the way to do it. If you want to compete, compete in the classrooms where it counts. Compete on the court with a ball, not in an alley with guns. There’s always the opportunity for a rematch in basketball, but there’re no second chances once you’re dead.”
“The lady makes sense,” Jacob said. “And this guy was right about my sister. I’m all she has. We don’t have a dad, and mom always works. I can’t go out like this. She needs me too much.”
Michael looked at Jacob for a moment, then over to Marissa, then finally at Gary. “I don’t know how you knew, but I do have a little girl. I suppose I owe it to her to stay alive.”
Rolando turned to his gang, then looked at Michael and his. “I don’t even remember why we were going to fight, to be honest with you. I guess it doesn’t matter now. Come on guys.” Dropping his gun at Marissa’s feet, Rolando walked out of the alley and towards home.
One by one, everyone laid his weapon at her feet and left. The last one to go, Jacob stopped a few feet past Marissa, then walked back and kissed her on the cheek. “My little sister’s name is Marissa too,” he whispered.
Gary and Chuck waited patiently on the ground till all of the gang members were gone. “Woah,” Chuck said with a smile. “That was impressive, that whole Black History month speech and everything.”
“Chuck,” Gary warned.
“Shutting up,” Chuck responded.
Gary wiped a tear from Marissa’s cheek and pulled her into his arms. For all he wanted to tell her never to do that again, never to risk her life, he was glad to have her as a friend. And Chuck, crazy Chuck. He always came through when it counted. Putting his arm out, he motioned for Chuck to join in the hug. Their heads rested against each other, Gary smiled and whispered “Thank you” to his friends as the snow began to fall.
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