4. Concourse Parkway
Norwood Park was like every other park in the city during the day, a collection of baseball diamonds and children running as fast as they can. At night though, Norwood Park belonged to the gangs.
It hadn’t always been this way. There was even a time when Norwood Park and the Teddy were considered sister parks, and in 2003, the two were connected by a shiny sidewalk marketplace filled with book stores and vintage record shops. The area became a magnet for moneyed tourists, a garden of possibilities for pickpockets and stick-up-men, so gangs were permanently struggling to gain control of it.
Two of the city’s biggest gangs, the Vikings and the Gents, spent the entire year of 2005 at war over this stretch of real estate, and on September 26th, two combatants were stabbed to death in the alley behind the Bombay Noodle Hut. As a result of this and several other violent departures from normalcy, consumers avoided the area. As the years stretched on and the gangs went nowhere, Concourse Parkway became a retail graveyard, and thus, it was no longer an area of contention between any gangs.
Businesses began to fail and get boarded up, creating the skeletal remains of commerce. These corpses continued to serve a purpose at least for the gangs, as empty space to cover with spray paint signatures. Roly, upon seeing all the tags, called out, “Do we have a sprayer?”
“No,” Max said, “We didn’t bring one.”
“Fuckin of course not,” Roly stepped away from the others, casting his hands frustrated to the sky.
Mason, having been handed a can of red spray paint by one of his soldiers, tossed it up to Roly. “Here ya go.”
Roly began to shake it vigorously, making that familiar rattle loud enough for all to hear. Simon asked, “What is that red?” but it was more statement than question. He knew that the can was red, Red was the Heaters signifying color, while the Treetops’ was green.
“You’re right,” said Roly as he flipped the can back to Mason, “Can’t use it.”
Mason shrugged, took the can and tossed it to another Heater as he signaled toward a blank patch of brick over a dumpster with a closed lid. The Heater, a pudgy boy with thick glasses, started struggling to pull himself up and tag the space with a red H.
Seeing this, Simon made himself known, calling out loudly, “Right, I’ma just keep goin, anyone can join me.”
Art jogged over to Simon, beckoning Max to join them, which he did. Roly stood at the mouth of the alley holding his hands in front of him attempting to bar anyone from leaving, “Wait we’re almost done.”
“Na, just catch up,” Big D said as he joined Max Art and Simon. The Treetops stepped into the street, posting up next to a jeep.
After a short time the Jeep’s doors opened, and out stepped a young couple. The man, Zachary wore a purple handkerchief around his neck, and the woman, Angelica, had a purple doo-rag on her head. Max knew who they were. He was head of the Gents and she was head of the Rosie’s, two gangs with a history of interbreeding so deep that they’d long ago been considered in effect the same gang.
The Rosie spoke first, “Who’re you?”
Simon introduced them, “The Treetops, from Evergreen.”
“Tourists,” said a heavily tattooed man holding a cedar cane and wearing shined wingtips as he too stepped out of the Jeep, “Get the fuck outta here.”
Max dug in his pocket, looking for the invitation he’d received that morning, but Simon spoke before he could find it. “Or what?”
The Gent seemed stunned, clearly unused to defiance. “Or we fuck you up, what you think?” He took the cane, held it up vertically as its tip planted onto the cement directly in front of him.
Max found the invitation and held it out. “Here’s our pass to the summit, it’s cool.”
Angelica stepped forward and grabbed the invitation. “What the fuck is this?” As she read the pass she chuckled, “oh my god you stupid fucks, where’d you get this?”
Just then, Roly, Mason and the Heaters arrived huffing and gasping, having run half the way down the block. “These are the Treetops, from one a the south suburbs, Evergreen, they’re cool though.”
Angelica shook her head laughing. “They’re cool?” She turned and walked directly to Mason, staring at him in the eyes as she did. “They don’t look cool.”
Art, who’d previously been silent, offered what he felt was a helpful suggestion. “We could just throw down.” Everyone who’d heard was stunned, and rendered quiet by their surprise. “I mean, if ya just wanna know if we’re for real, there’s an easy way to find out right?” He stared down each Gent in turn, finally stopping in front of the biggest one, Zachary.
He looked around, watching Art’s eyes and the eyes of his fellow gang members, and he knew what was expected of him. He swung hard, landing his knuckles in Art’s cheek with a moist wallop.
After having the position of his head suddenly and violently altered, he slowly brought it back to standard position. The Rosies and the Gents both shot into action, creating semi-circles behind their members
“Is that it?” Art said grinning ear to ear. He hadn’t moved at all, and did not appear to have been struck. Zachary was bolstered then, and pulled his fist back farther than before, but Art interjected with an elbow to the gut. Zachary hadn’t seen it coming, so it knocked the wind out of him, and he collapsed gasping for air.
None of the Gents or the Rosies made a move, and all held silent. Mason stepped forward, “These are the Treetops, from Evergreen, they’re coming in to the summit, ‘kay?”
As the Treetops crossed the street from the concourse to Norwood Park, Max jogged ahead of them again and called out, “Simon, Roly, D, Art, powow.” He flipped an open palm above his head and used it to signal that the Treetops should come together.
Mason raised his arm and opened his mouth as if to offer protest, then thought better of it, and stuck his hands in his pockets. He hurried across the street to the park and disappeared in the shadows.
When he was certain Mason was out of earshot, Max spoke sounding nervous. “I don’t trust Mason, I think those invitations were fake, I think he planted them.” As he made his suspicions known, he became aware that though Big D’s face wore its standard blank expression, he detected what he thought was a nervous tension in Roly’s knit eyebrows.
“Yeah well that’s real interesting,” Simon spoke, his voice filled with what could be described as an aggressive boredom. “I’m not goin’ back to Evergreen. Mason’s suspicious, okay, so what?”
“Yeah I’m not missing this,” said Art, “I can handle myself.”
Max was frustrated by what he felt was brash overconfidence displayed by his fellow Treetops. Didn’t they realize the danger of their situation? Could he really trust Roly and Big D? The Treetops were a gang, not a family, so every member was a potential traitor.
After a time of silent consideration, Roly interjected. “Don’t worry about Mason. Mason’s solid–well, he’s not solid, but he’s not, ya know, not, ambitious, I guess.”
“What?” Max blared, as he’d not expected Roly to use that word. The wheels in his head rolled over the word again and again. “Ambitious? What’s that supposed to mean? What the fuck does Mason have to be ambitious about? Why’d you pick that word?”
“I don’t know, uh, I just said it, it felt right I don’t know.”
Max grabbed Roly’s collar and forced him backwards until his back met the cold jagged brick of the alley wall. “Are you working with Mason? What’s the plan?”
Big D grabbed Max’s arm and wrenched it away, holding it against his own chest. “Come on, guys, let’s just go to the speech.”
Roly dropped onto his ass, folding his arms around his knees. “I don’t know why I said ambitious, I guess cause it sounded cool, I don’t know.”
Across the street, Simon and Art already stood, motioning with their hands for the others to join them. Max yelled, “are you ladies done? It’s not safe for young ladies to wander at night, look.”
The gangs were heading into the park, and in the distance was heard the squeal of a PA system turning on. The speech was just about to take place, so Simon and Art turned and walked toward the noise, with Max Roly and Big D in tow. Max was still extremely nervous, but there was no time to deal with fears, however justified.