The Treetops (2nd draft) Chapter 1

“Caius said no weapons right?”  Big D croaked as he lifted himself over the seats of the M train, pressing his hands and feet on the stabilizing rails.  He was watching Max balance a chef’s knife on his knee with the point down and the tip of the handle resting against his forehead.  The very tall, stick-thin gangster hoisted himself over Max, staring daggers down.  D’s question might have seemed like a threat, given their relative sizes and positions in the train car, but Max, the far smaller of the two, held all the power.

Max was annoyed,  “Yeah,” he began, taking the knife by its handle and casually tossing it from his right to his left hand and back again.  “I’m a stash it.”  He silenced Big D’s concern with a flick of the wrist.

Overpowered, Big D ignored the slight Max had given with his somewhat cavalier response.  He knew that he had no power, because he wasn’t even an official Treetop yet.

Both Big D and his brother Roly had joined the Treetops only two years previous.  Every member of the Treetops had to procure their own uniform, and Big D’s uniform wasn’t even finished.  D still had to find and steal shoes, but size 24’s were few and far between.

The Treetop’s uniform was cheap, that was its operative characteristic.  The Treetops came from the far Southeast suburbs, a place where incomes were very often subsidized by nickels earned recycling cans.  Their uniform was just a dark T shirt and jeans, often sheared at the knees with a knife or a broken bottle.  These uniforms were scavenged from fences and clotheslines, stolen from citizens and fished out of dumpsters, as they could not be paid for.

Big D had yet to find and steal shoes gigantic enough for his feet, so he’d had to buy them.  Since he wasn’t able to steal his shoes, he was technically a prospective Treetop, and on a lower social rung than the others.

Simon, one of the founders of the Treetops on the same train, saw that Big D needed to be reminded of his station.  “Fresh kicks, D, you rollin’ large, moneybags?” Simon purred with a sick grin on his face.  This was, for Big D, a joke he’d heard since he’d begun initiation proceedings, and he was growing tired of it.  His eyes flared and his lips spread apart showing his teeth.

Noticing the aggression growing, Max held a bare palm up above everyone, said “Not now,” and that was the end of it.  Max was the most senior members of The Treetops, and also quite smart, so he held a position of expertise and authority.  Max knew it was pointless to squabble, as the gang needed to stay calm.  He knew rash action could lead to disastrous consequences.  The Treetops’ destination was possibly now already drowned in bloodshed.  They were heading to a speech, the audience of which was to be made up of representative groups from gangs all over the city.  They all knew that this would create a tinder box of blades and egos.

It seemed that the impossible had happened.  It seemed that Caius really had brought everyone together.  It was rumored that he was very near to granting an immediate and retroactive amnesty to all on behalf of all.  As he put it in his weekly radio hour, which was broadcast on a low frequency unknown to the police, “All beef will be squashed and put to bed.”  It was fantasy, it was a fever dream.  Many including Max wanted to believe that Caius could usher in an era of peace, but considered it a virtual impossibility.

This speech was meant to be some sort of coronation, or state-of-the union, or list of commands.  If it was a coronation or a state of the union, many gangs would chaff under any kind of leadership.  The Nomads, for one, didn’t even have an official territory, they lived by their wits wherever they found themselves, and would surely refuse bearing allegiance to anyone.

If the speech became a list of commands, there was no telling how many would die.  Whatever happened, Caius would be killed, Max reasoned, very likely.

Max considered himself a student of human moves, of the way people at all times kept their eyes open for ways to gain personal advantage.  Just as it was in the straight world, in gangster society war was big business, and economics seemed to demand boodshed. Max knew that the peace Caius promised was a dream.  Beyond this pessimism Max reserved for the obsession with money, everyone knew the danger of the event they were nearing.

Bad blood ran too deep and too many gang leaders were agents of chaos to make a lasting peace feasible.  Threats had flown freely for many years, and gang backlogs were full of debts to collect and wrongs to revenge.

Despite all the bad blood, the speech was happening.  The morning of Caius’ speech, Max, Art, and Simon had all received messages in letters slid under their front doors inviting them to a “rebel summit.”  By that time, the grapevine had been alive with talk of Caius for months, and these invitations told everyone where and when they could see him; midnight, Norwood Park.

After much debate, the Treetops had decided to send a small running crew.  The running crew consisted of Max, Art and Simon, the most senior of the Treetops, as well as Roly and Big D, brothers who seemed like they were from a fairy tale.  Big D was tall and skinny, Roly was short and fat.  Big D was dumb and trusting, Roly was clever and spiteful.  Both of them could fight, and in defense of one another they were unstoppable.

The fact was that the Treetops’ crew was minuscule compared to some of the others.  Many of the other gangs certainly would come in force, and likely outnumber The Treetops by five or six times.  To reach Norwood Park, The Treetops needed to take the subway all the way from Evergreen, the southeastern suburb they called their ‘hood.  This meant that if they had a crew of twenty or thirty, they would very likely draw stares from the Pigs, so they kept the crew as small as they could.

Every gang and every gang member had the same mortal enemy, the Pigs.  They were all the same; liars and cheats, thieves and pushers, same as they said of the gangs.  The thing the gangs really hated about the Pigs was not the deception in their words or the evil in their deeds, it was their self-righteous swagger.  They walked their beats as if the neighborhoods belonged to them, but Caius had foretold of the day fast approaching when the Pigs would know what true power is and find themselves wanting.

Caius had risen to be a prominent figure in the world of the criminal underground through “The Bulletin,” his weekly radio show on 123.7 AM, a low-wattage independent radio station he ran out of his headquarters.  All the gangs including The Treetops were avid listeners, as Caius’s brash anti-authoritarian take on lifestyle and philosophy appealed to them.  “We must lay low on a day-to-day basis,” Caius said regularly, “but our time will come.”

Within each neighborhood, every gang had created a unique network of alleys, shortcuts, side streets and backdoors to avoid the Pigs.  Caius had told them, if every gang’s network were connected, the Pigs could never find them.  Caius sketched a plan with his words, that if a member of a gang had too much heat on him anywhere in the city, there could be a stash house on every block, and they would all be communal.  He encouraged all to imagine a future war, one where the gangs could unite, recognizing that they all had the same true enemy.

Caius called it paradise, utopia, and more than anyone else had before, he made people believe in it.  Caius, the revered one, he could make everything like it should be.

Roly sat across from Max and shrank his voice to a low growl.  His eyes were still and locked in to Max’s, holding them tight.  “So what do you think?  I’ve never met Caius, I don’t even know what he looks like, so why am I gonna listen to this guy?”  Roly’d heard the same rhetoric everyone had, and he knew that many were praying for the dawning of a new era, with some even counting on it.

“Everyone I’ve talked to who’s heard him speak in person says it’s like nothin’ else.”  Max rolled his eyes and opened his mouth wide, as if the top part of his head was falling away from his face.  “I don’t know, he might just be smooth, all I know is everybody’s gonna be there, and whatta you wanna be left behind?”  As he finished his question, Max closed his mouth and looked into Roly’s eyes.

“All I’m saying is we’re leaving our territory, that’s all.”  Roly’s face quivered.  He looked scared, which made Max nervous, as Roly wasn’t the type to be easily shook.

Simon giggled, “You scared?”

Roly’s eyes narrowed and and he tightened his lips, “No.”

Max interrupted, “Everybody listen up.  I know this isn’t ideal, we’re gonna be exposed.  But I think we can smash anyone, and if we can’t they’ll know us when we’re gone, and they’ll know where we come from.”  He looked over the Treetops as he spoke, and it gave him no confidence.

Simon blew contempt through his lips, “Yeah our names will be on official documents at the morgue.”

Max normally enjoyed Simon’s gallows humor, but he wasn’t in the mood.  “The morgue?”  Max stared at Simon, trying to show him rage, but it came across like terror.  At Simon’s jape, Art guffawed, but it was more in agreement than mirth.

Spurred on by the show of support, Simon continued.  “Yeah this is about to get blown up, man.  Caius said no weapons, but whatta they gonna do, check?  Fuckin’ forget it, this’ll be a free-for-all, I ain’t scared though.”

“So it’s agreed, we pack blades at least,” Max raised the point of his butcher knife to be parallel with his line of sight.  “Got mine,” Max grinned.

Big D seemed to be getting frustrated, but he wouldn’t dare try to tell Max anything, he’d learned his lesson.  He just tried to change the topic and shift focus from Max, “None of us have heard Caius in person, though.  So what—what if they’re right and he is the one?”D finished his statement with a trailing off voice, as if attempting to seem mystic, or like he knew some securet the others didn’t.  However, Simon was listening, and he couldn’t stand for what seemed like soupy-eyed optimism.

“What if who’s right?  The one!?”  Simon spoke quick and loud, loud enough so that everyone could hear his voice break.  “Caius’s head of the Eastside Forty-Niners, what if he wants everyone to be a Forty-Niner?  I’m not a fuckin Forty-Niner, I’m a Treetop.”  Simon hadn’t put his fear of the summit in such stark terms before, and he he put a colloquial capper on it for good measure: “I’m-a stay a Treetop, too.”

As Simon spoke, Max eyed him suspiciously.  His chin dropped, leaving him slack-jawed, portraying a knowing gloom.  “You holdin’ anything that shoots, Simon?”

Big D rushed Simon and held him by the collar, “I swear to god, if you fuck this up I’m gonna kill you.”

Simon laughed as he slid a snub-nosed .38 out of his pocket and threw it on the ground.  He sat back as far as he could and held his hands in the air.  “Fuck me man, fine, I’m not carryin’ anything.  I was gonna stash it before we got there, jesus.”

Roly looked at the gun for a few seconds considering, then pulled out his own and put it on the ground next to Simon’s.  “I believe in Caius, I think there’s too much money at stake for anyone to fuck this up.  So, we don’t wanna get caught with nuthin’.  Stash all pistols in the same place.”

“Money?”  Art said, his voice laced with a mocking suspicion, “There’s money?”  At the mention of money, Art’s ears picked up and his tail wagged.  Art had been standing on a seat near the door between train cars, but as he spoke he lowered himself to the floor and stood in front of the others.

Roly knew that Art’s blood ran green, “Well if Caius brings us together, the way everybody’s saying, we can make real money.”

Big D hated when gang members talked about money.  “This is fuck all all about money, this is about finding a way to live.”

Art rolled his eyes and stretched over a couple of seats on the train, laying still as he pretended to snore.  Max seemed to shrink in his seat, pulling his feet close to him and wrapping his arms around his knees.

They were all frightened, this was new, heading to a speech.  Workers and administrators and servants went to speeches; gangsters didn’t go to speeches.

The Treetops (2nd draft) Chapter 1

Sylvester (Volume 6)

I walked behind Sonia all the way to her house, and my eyes traced the lines of her back.  She chattered idly about this or that, as I responded drunkenly to every point she raised.  “Do you know any constellations?” she asked.

“No,” I said, because I’d barely seen the stars in my city-boy life.  “Why, do you?”

“No, I’m like you,” she paused, craning her neck as she inspected the sky.  “I’m a city girl, but I just kind of like the idea of it.”

I watched Sonia while she paused, with her hands in her lap, staring up into the sky.  “The idea of it?”

“I like the idea that the cave people were looking up at the sky,” she raised her hand above her head, pointing to a plot of imaginary dots in the sky.  “And they told each other, like, ooh, that’s a bear, that’s a deer.”

“I think people told ‘em to each other,” I paused for effect, “like a around the campfire and, I bet there were a lot of dirty ones.”

She laughed explosively, and I could feel my penis respond as it rubbed up against the inside of my underpants.  I knew she liked jokes, and the jokes I told especially, but I couldn’t believe that I really turned her on.  She slapped her own thighs as she nodded up and down like a metronome.  “Yup!” she said, patting herself lightly on the chest, “I bet there are a lot of dick constellations.”

We laughed and laughed, picking imaginary constellations out of the starless sky, pretending we saw vulgar forms.  Sonia pointed up at nothing above, “Look, there’s a constellation of a prostitute pleasing a man orally.”

“That one’s called Vicensia the Whore,” I said, keeping our game of dirty constellations going.

Sonia smiled and giggled as she continued the joke.  “Over there is Trompo, or man with anal beads.”

Her line caught me, as many of her previous lines had, just right, and I guffawed powerfully slapping myself on the knees.  “I see it!”  I pointed my finger up at the sky, tracing an imaginary figure.  “That’s where the legs come together, and then there’s a line going down the middle.”  I stood with her head next to mine, pointing up at nothing above us as our eyes followed my finger.  When our cheeks touched, I turned my head, waited for Sonia to look into my eyes, and planted another kiss on her lips.

She pushed me away, ending our kiss and holding me at arms length.  “I don’t know,” Sonia glanced at the ground.  “Don’t you have work tomorrow?”

She enfolded her left wrist in her right hand, waiting for me to answer.

Is this moving too fast for her now?  I didn’t know if I could interpret romantic signals, and I thought I might have skipped a step.  Is she worrying about whether I’m gonna spend the night?  Would she like me too?  “Do I have work tomorrow?  I don’t know.”  I trailed off, raising my knuckle to my chin in consideration.  “Whatta you think?”

It was the best thing I could think of, leaving it up to her.  Sonia clapped, and brightened with a smile that showed her teeth.  “I think you can call in sick tomorrow, that’s what I think.”

She folded her arms over her chest and mimicked a schoolmarm stalking the grounds during curfew-check.  Her pace quickened and she kept her eyes forward, anxious, I assumed, to get me back to her place and have her way with me.   All my sexual fantasies of powerful women leapt into my mind at once, from the hot teacher to the stepmom and the babysitter.  I searched the catalog of masturbatory tableaus in my mind, and selected one of my favorites: the hot nurse.

I imagined Sonia, wearing a wispy paper apron, stopping by my room, saying it was time for a sponge bath.  It was only a moment before my penis was fully erect.

I guess it had been a while since I’d had an accidental erection because when I first felt my penis stiffen I had the thought that something was wrong with my pants.  It’s an odd sensation, the feel of a boner on the inside of a pair of jeans.  At first this sensation made me reflexively nervous, but then I beamed with pride and excitement.  I could still get an incidental boner, and I was about to use this one for its intended purpose.

“Okay,” Sonia said, clapping her hands together as if to clean her hands of chalk.  “Well after we fuck, you can go, but I’ll ask you to be quiet, my tenants get pissy if you wake them up.”  I grinned

Sonia turned up the sidewalk heading to her front door, but before she reached her front step I reached my hand out and grabbed at her left shoulder.  “Listen, I. . .” I don’t know exactly what it had been my intention to say.  I was going to say that I could call in sick the next day, and that her face had awakened in me a passion that had long been dormant, but instead I just pulled her in and gave her a long kiss.  I believe my point came across.

This kiss was not nervous, as the peck I’d given her in the bar had been.  I closed my eyes and attempted to feel her heartbeat through the skin on her cheeks.  My right hand felt the coarseness of her hair as my palm rotated around the back of her head.  I remembered all the romantic stories I’d known, and thought that this was the start of our own narrative.

I held the kiss for as long as I could, forcing her to bring it to a stop, which she did.

When I gradually opened my eyelids, I could see that Sonia’s eyes were already wide open, and the expression on her face was one of bemused curiosity.  “Well, okay,” she grinned and chuckled briefly.  “Okay fine you don’t have to go after you’re done, I was just saying—“  I kissed her again, I might even have opened my mouth a little towards the end of it.  In response to this expression of passion, I felt her hands press on my shoulders and push me to an arms length away from her.  “Okay now, let’s save it till we get inside yeah?”

She seemed to respond positively to the attention I was giving her, so I kept at her as she opened the door, kissing her neck and pawing at her limbs.  She chuckled, half heartedly keeping me at a distance until she entered her home.  I followed, pursuing her and kissing her deeply.  It is no mystery what came over me, but still I was surprised by its insistent power.

We worked our way up the stairs and into bed, wasting no time getting to it.  We had sex, and it was in a word awesome.  I mean awesome not in the sense that it was simply fantastic, but in the sense that it inspired awe in me.  I marveled at every sensation, enthralled at the way I could feel myself lost.

This was the first time I’d had sex in several years, so as it began, though I was rapturous, I was also extremely nervous.  What if any of the myriad things that could go wrong went wrong?  I thought about all these terrible things that could happen, from premature ejaculation to erectile disfunction, and when none of them did happen, I lost myself in pleasure.

Sex had always appeared in my life thus far as an unpleasant memory.  I could not relive any of the times I’d had sex without also remembering the pain it had brought with it.  I couldn’t remember my first time, a fumbling piece of ecstatic excitement I’d experienced with Lee-Ha, the Korean exchange student I’d known in college, without also remembering the moment in front of her dorm just two days later when she told me she’d prefer to stay friends.

I cursed myself all the way home after that.  Raging against myself and the entire world.  But all that pain was forgotten the instant I could feel Sonia’s skin, energized with life as we surged together into an active bliss.

In the middle of it, the part of my brain that constantly chirps at me with all-consuming criticism shut off.  Immediately afterwards, I was blissful as I lay next to Sonia, closing my eyes and drifting away on wings of gratification.

 

It wasn’t until long afterwards, when we were lying next to each other, that she spoke to me again.  “You gonna call in sick?”

“Oh, yeah I should,” I groaned, coughing through the end of my sentence.  “But I haven’t missed a day in a couple years, it should be fine.”  As I said the word “fine,” an enormous grin broke over my lips, and I felt truly happy.

“Yeah me too,” Sonia said, “I don’t have any pressing appointments this morning.”  She beamed at me.

“Good,” I said, stretching my arm over her chest and letting it lay.  Something about the way Sonia said “morning,” caught me, and I sat up like lightning.  I suddenly realized that my mother might be dead.  “Oh shit, I gotta make a call.”

“What?  Why?”  Sonia asked these questions in a way that seemed aggressive rather than inquisitive.  Though I might have been offended by the brusk directness of her questions, but I wasn’t.

This was excellent, or at least I considered it such, as this meant that Sonia had forgotten I live with my mother.  I realized that this fact would allow me to construct whatever reality I wanted for myself.  I thought about what would be most endearing and least pathetic.  “I gotta walk my dog.”  It wasn’t until I said this that I realized it made no sense.

“Dogs can’t answer phones,” Sonia said, cocking her eyebrow up suspiciously.  “You’re married, aren’t you?  I won’t be mad.”  The look on her face was disappointed, and as I looked on it I recalled from my own past what it had felt like to carry such an expression.

“No, I just, um—“

“I remember, you live with your mother, I’m just asking’ why you need to make a call.”  Sonia cackled at me, and it warmed my heart.  That she remembered such a piddling detail from our prior conversation boded well, I thought, and it further indicated she didn’t mind my living situation.

She’d asked why I wanted to call my mother, and the truth was that I didn’t, but I felt like it was something I should do.  “I don’t know, I guess I was worried.”

She beamed very slightly.  “Worried about your mom?”  She looked up at me, stunning me with her eyes as a full smile plastered on her lips.  “That’s sweet, wanna go home?”

I didn’t want to go home, at least not yet.  I looked around Sonia’s bedroom thinking about where I was and how I’d gotten there.  I pulled the phone out of my pocket and held it up to my ear.  As I selected “Home” from the contacts list and pressed call, raising the phone to my ear.  I heard three monotonous, long, chiming tones before I heard the answering machine message.

“This is the Forsyte residence, leave your name and number.”  Hearing my mother’s voice, recorded in the machine’s database, made me wish that she didn’t drink as much as she did.  I had forgotten how she could sound.  “Hey mom, I spent the night at Sonia’s and I think I’ll call in sick today, so I’ll see you in the early afternoon.  Love you, maybe we can play Scrabble later like old times.”

Sonia chortled, mockingly.  “Gonna play Scrabble with your mommy later?”

“Yeah, yeah I might.”  The moment I spoke this, I realized what a laughable concept it was.  To think that my mom would be cogent enough to play a game of Scrabble, and willing to play a game of Scrabble, was a laughable presumption.  “Ever since I was a little kid, we’ve always liked Scrabble.”

Sonia lay her hand over my shoulder, “Aww, that’s sweet.”  This judgement of Sonia’s, for once, did not seem mocking.  It seemed like she actually thought it was touchingly adorable, which may have made her envious of my relationship with my mom.  This prediction that the two of us would join in a game of Scrabble was a lie, as I assumed she would likely be passed out.

I don’t know why I lied in this way.  I had nothing to gain by convincing Sonia that my relationship with my mother was healthy, but still I attempted to do just that.  I scanned her bedroom with a cursory glance, and could not find a picture of either of her parents.  “How is your relationship with your parents?”

Immediately after I had asked this question I regretted it.  Her eyebrows were knit hard above her eyes as they stared at me.  “Why?”

I stumbled, struggling to quickly decide what I would say.  “Uh—um,” Sonia seemed annoyed.  “I don’t know, curious I guess.”

“Bullshit,” she said, leaving her mouth hanging open after she did.  “That’s a weird question to ask, you gotta know.”  She sat up on the bed, swung her legs over the side, and wordlessly stepped from her bedroom into her kitchen.  I followed her with my eyes, and I could watch from my position on the bed as she opened the fridge and took out a bottle of clear liquid.  She poured a bit of the clear liquid into a glass and then coupled it with the best part of a can of RC Cola.

“Hey could you make me one too?”  She looked back through the doorway at me on the bed and flashed me a grin.  As she poured my drink, I called Harvest Time and told Guadeloupe I wouldn’t make it to work that day.  As I hung up the phone and slid it back into my pocket.  Sonia walked back into the room and handed me a glass of black liquid.

“Calling in sick?”

“Yeah,” I said, pausing as I sipped my very strong drink.  It only took a second for the drink to give me the courage I needed to dig deeper into my inquiries.  “So what’s up with you and your parents?”

“I don’t know, fuck, they’re dead.”  After she spoke, Sonia pulled deeply from her own glass, gulping as she did.  After she pulled the glass until it was empty, then lifted it from her lips and placed it on the kitchen table.  She stood leaning against the table with both her palms, then looked at me and changed the subject.  “So you wanna fuck again, or not?”

I was shocked, as I thought I’d been at least annoying her, and may have been insulting her, but before I even realized what she asked I responded: “Sure I do.”

Though perhaps not as entrancing as the first, the second time I fucked Sonia was at least as rapturous as the first.  Twice in one day?  I was amazed by my own sexual prowess, and after a time both of us drifted back to sleep.

Sylvester (Volume 6)

Treetops (Volume 2)

2. Mason and the Heaters

The Treetops all stayed silent as the train pulled into the Grayson Street station, where they had planned to get off.  As the train slowed to a stop, the metallic click of its trucks sounded like gunshots to some, and they all had flashes of the bloody dawn this evening could bring.  Would the morning sun fall on a field peppered with bodies, or discarded weapons.  Would the summit be symbolized by a fully felt handshake, or a knife in the stomach?  Nothing makes you dread things going wrong more than considering what could be if things went right.

Big D was chuffed, or full of a forced positivity.  His head bobbed and his grin widened.  He stretched his lips as tight as he could, imagining his cheeks caught by fishhooks.  This was a habit of his, and he performed it whether or not he was undergoing any emotional strain, but his expression was girded with intensity.

Max would just as well have stayed on the train, he didn’t want to attend the speech; he didn’t want to see such a beautiful dream melt.  It was spelled out in his mind’s eye, the headline splattered in blood on the asphalt: “NORWOOD PARK MASSACRE, FULL STORY ON PAGE 13.”  It would be the lead story, he knew, for at least one day.

They all would be forgotten, Art knew, in the grand scheme of things.  Though legends and memorials did exist in the gangster world, the world they occupied, he didn’t take them seriously.  Everything was legend in the gangster world; vague, confusing, ludicrous legend.  Did the founders of Hi Rize, which held a tenuous truce with War Helmet, the Gents, and the Rosies over the entire Southern half of the city, really all spend their entire childhoods on the 68th floor of the Spencer-Hasting’s homes Southwestern Campus?  No, but that’s what everyone said.

Simon was scared just like Max, but he told himself he wasn’t.  Smiling wide, he hopped the turnstile on his way to the exit stairs, he turned his body sideways and rolled over the top of it.  On the other side, he landed on his heels facing Art.  “Do you feel the air?  It’s electric.”

“Shut up,” as Art pushed past Simon, rolling his eyes.

“Let’s put our war faces on,” Max bellowed as bellicose as he could, acting the leader again.  He jogged a few yards ahead of the others, turning in his last steps to look the Treetops in the eyes.  “This isn’t a fucking joke.  We gotta realize, um, this is dangerous.  This isn’t a thing we’re just gonna walk away from, um, unchanged, I mean, this is gonna change everything.”

Simon could tell that Max wanted silence, and he obliged at least for the moment.  His pure human instinct was to push back and show Max that authority in any form was the enemy.  What mattered most to Simon was freedom, and he believed that whatever the cost, all people should be free all the time.  He realized however that open rebellion would not help at the moment, so he let Max say his piece.

Max’s voice was sober and serious.  “I see them say in movies to keep your head on a swivel, and I think that describes it well.  Just be aware.  Don’t get snuck up on.”

After a pause, Simon interjected again, sputtering with laughter.  “Everybody heard Max, stay frosty and don’t get captured.”

Max laughed, looking at the ground, “Fuck you Simon.”

“If you are captured the agency will disavow—“

Max grabbed a fistful of Simon’s hair and pulled down.  “Shut up,” Max hissed into Simon’s ear, in no mood for nonsense.

Simon relented, lowering his head and raising his hand in the air as a sign of conciliation.

Chuckling and glad-handing, the Treetops struck out on to the sidewalk, claiming the staircase leading up into the station as their own.  Max, Art and Simon sat on the bottom stair, watching Big D and Roly jut out to look for Mason, whom they’d known since they were little, and who was meant to be the Treetops’ guide.

Mason was head of a mid-sized city gang, the Heaters, and he’d proposed squiring the Treetops to the summit.  At first, this had made Max and Simon nervous, they didn’t trust Mason.  “Why do we need a guide?”  Simon had asked aggressively, furrowing his brow.

“We don’t need a guide,” Roly submitted aggressively.  “But me and D grew up with Mason, we know him, he gives us an in, we won’t have to prove ourselves.”

“Maybe I wanna prove myself,” said Simon, staring out the window at a fixed point.

They both looked at Max, indicating that he would break the tie.  Opening his mouth, keeping silent, Max considered the problem, what should they do?

Before Max could come up with an answer, Art, who normally stayed silent as decisions were being made, proffered his analysis.  “We don’t need to prove ourselves.  If someone steps to us we’ll smash ’em and take what’s theirs.”

The Treetops waited for Mason at the bottom of the Grayson Street station stairs.  Simon clicked his tongue and whistled, trying to seem bored.  He raised up and started to wander, looping around, swinging his legs and sighing.  His eyes drifted upwards into the starless night. “”So-oo-ooo,” he inhaled sharply before smoothly resuming his speech, “Which of us isn’t gonna make it?”

Art and Max glared in response, being sure not to make a sound and remaining as still as possible.

Just as it had countless times previously, this tactic fell short, and Simon continued.  “I won’t make it, the funny one never survives.”

Max quivered silently with anger, and probably would have said something, but Art beat him to it.  ”You’re not the funny one,” Art was annoyed, he sneered and spat on the sidewalk.  “You’re the annoying one, the crowd cheers when you catch it in the face.”

Simon was energized that he’d drawn a mocking spirit from Art, “Five bucks says you die first.”

A loud, strong, steady voice cut the air.  “If you’re right it’s worth way more than five bucks,” Mason clucked and came out of the alley just as the Treetops walked by, Mason and twenty or thirty mute soldiers trailing behind him emerged from an alley.  “If he dies first you can take his shoes.”

“No one’s gonna die,” Max spoke quick and angry.  “I’m sick of this shit, no one’s gonna die.”  Max’s skin, or the fluid under his skin, boiled and gas was released as steam seeping from his ears.

Mason, feeling the strength of having a large, silent servant class en masse behind him, cackled as he spoke.  “His shoes are worth at least five bucks.”

Max was famous for his anger, but like a clown, or a stupid pet trick.  He erupted in blustery profanities on a regular basis.  Many of his eruptions were saved on VHS tapes and tucked away behind rotting drywall, only occasionally to be unearthed by Max when he was drunk and at a viewing party.  All of the Treetops had attended these viewing parties, where people would cheer and throw things.

Many of the other gang’s leaders, particularly Mason, often looked at the Treetops as a joke, though they could fight, everyone knew.  There was no organized authority that stood watch over these fights, fights just happened, and seeped into the topsoil.  Many upstart gangs big and small had stuck their toes in Evergreen, and been penalized.

If you deal in Evergreen, a Treetop’s gonna spot ya and flip a dove, which was only their way of calling Simon, Max or Art.  At that point, whichever leader of the Treetops would make a call and get the rest of SAC in after them, which is what they called throwing bricks and rocks at any interlopers.  These colorful sayings and turns-of-phrase had become street speak in the Treetop’s section of Evergreen Estates, and were exemplary of the Treetops’ attitude.

They fought a lot, ran some light protection schemes, small-to-mid level larceny, but gambling was the sweetest plum.  They stayed away from drugs, even beating up gang members for selling anything without permission in a neighborhood they occupied.  They’d once attempted to eliminate the drug dealers completely, but now they simply taxed and regulated the drug trade in the areas they control.  Drugs were like a tidal wave, they ruined neighborhoods from the inside out, and there was no fighting against them.  The Treetops ran Evergreen with a stiff tax on any dealers they came across, which was the Treetops’ chief source of income.

As soon as Mason made himself known by stepping into the streetlight, Big D emerged from the darkness and gripped his forearms.  Big D and Mason touched foreheads before falling into riotous laughter, slapping each other on the shoulder and swearing.  They hugged and cackled, speaking of that one time last year when Mason had run into that one girl they remembered from back in the day, the one with the huge titties, and she was wearing like a business outfit or some shit, and she acted like she didn’t even see him, but who cares cause she was a bitch anyway.  When they’d been in the same grade school back in Evergreen, they’d been very close, running in the same crew and always having each other’s back.

“Mason!  This is the guy I told you about, he runs the Heaters.”  Big D held his arm out towards Mason, giving him a formal introduction.

Big D jogged up and clasped Mason’s hand, holding it to his breast and gripping it tightly.  “Mason, these are the Treetops.”  He then introduced every member in attendance, indicating them by holding his hand out towards each in turn.  “Max, Art, and Simon.”

The Treetops’ leadership remained seated, each holding out their hands for Mason to shake, which he did.  After Mason shook their hands, Max, Art and Simon each stood up, putting themselves at his eye level and nodding slightly.

The most notable thing about Mason was his hat; a huge, ostentatious neon orange top hat, speckled with a green felt boa wrapped around its brim.  Behind him were four lieutenants of the Heaters, wearing plainly colored stetsons, each of which had with him two soldiers wearing bowlers.  Simon blurted an observation: “You guys should be the Hatters.”

Roly yanked on Simon’s hand and lowered his voice to rasp out a whisper.  “shut up, they know, they don’t like to talk about it.”

“I know, I’m just sayin, they’re all wearing hats, and hatters is pretty close to,–”

Roly pushed Simon’s shoulders, “they know, they know, shut up.”

Art and Max could both see the writing on the wall, and they each tried to grab Simon before he could do it, but they were too late.  Simon laughed loudly, coughing as he spoke his observation.  “Oh shit!  The name of your gang is a typo!”

It took both Roly and Big D to hold Mason back.  “Our name is not a typo!  It was a typo, but it’s ours now.”

Simon could see the situation was more serious than he’d considered and tried to backtrack.  “Okay, it’s your name now, begging your pardon, I meant no offense, sorry.”

Mason sighed and threw his right hand out in front of him, indicating that he let the insult roll off his back.  As he turned to walk away, Roly whispered something to him, causing him to nod.

Simon, never one to leave well enough alone, continued.  “Level with me, though, the name’s a typo, right?”

Mason flared once again, but this time Roly was right next to him and whispered something to him, calming him instantly.  Mason finally admitted it, “Yes, the Heaters were supposed to be the Hatters.”

Art guffawed and slapped Mason’s right shoulder with his left hand, causing Mason to sneer.

After a few silent, calming breaths, Mason called out, “Right, let’s go!”  The Heaters and the Treetops began to make their way across the Teddy.

Volume 1:

https://andrewhalteromniblog.wordpress.com/2016/02/05/the-treetops-volume-1/

Treetops (Volume 2)