Treetops (volume 4)

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.

Volume 3

Volume 2

Volume 1

Treetops (volume 4)

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)