By Brandon D. Fuller
Copyright © 2016 by Innovative Arts Media
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
PART 4: CALLOWAY & CARMICHAEL
The distance from Langston to Kaleb’s house seems to have grown by at least three miles the next time Kenny and Kaleb finally decide to journey there by foot. Really there wasn’t much of a choice in the matter. Just days after Ms. Blackman decided to switch her work shift, another employee was dissatisfied enough with the scheduling changes that they immediately quit in response. With no one else available to cover the shift, she was given no other alternative beyond returning to her former position and work time. Not that she did so without calling the Knox household and arranging for Kenny to join Kaleb, only after agreeing to drop him off at home after she was off of work. Things were changing all over New Mecca, and fast.
“So what you gonna do bro?” Kaleb figures it must be a nightmare all over again, to have such weight thrown on his conscience. The big game against the Mustangs is exactly two days away, and Kenny was once again anything but himself for the third practice in a row. Save for Kaleb’s electrifying playmaking ability, the Pioneers were looking like they could be in for a long Saturday afternoon. How were they expected to focus against the only other undefeated team this season while grieving the death of one their most instrumental players? That goes without even mentioning how the city’s entire populous was now more racially divided than ever, subsequently transferring all of those negative implications and energy onto a game between completely oblivious middle school children. Life sometimes can be absolutely as ridiculous as it sounds.
“I can understand if you didn’t feel up to it, you know with Kedric gone. It’s just a game against ponies(jokingly).” Kaleb says. Kenny responds rather coldly, “I’m fine, he’s not coming back,” referring to his deceased brother. Kaleb asks, “what about your dad, is he gonna be good for the game?” Coach Knox has yet to return to practice, instead opting to stay at home bedside next to his wife in mourning. “I’m not sure,” Kenny answers. Kaleb can tell that his friend isn’t trying to be rude at all by keeping his answers painfully minimal. He knows that Kenny too is filled with uncertainty, as any young adolescent would be. He proceeds to change the subject entirely. He asks, “you know what else is all messed up about this entire situation bro?” They exchange looks, but the question is rhetorical. Kaleb continues, “after the season ended, I was supposed to be working my first job.” Sometimes Kaleb forgets that although he attends Langston Reigns, Kenny lives on the Northside of Groveland, which definitely explains his response. “Like committing a robbery?” he asks, sounding somewhere between shocked and slightly appalled. Kaleb responds sarcastically, “relax bro, just imagine everybody on the eastside wasn’t a criminal.” Even Kenny catches himself being a little overly tense and gives a slight chuckle, his first in weeks. “My bad bro,” he concedes. Kaleb of course isn’t offended by his friend’s words, instead revealing, “I meant down at the old car wash on Pinedale. It belongs to a friend of my mom. I think he use to be her boyfriend or something.” The statement seems a bit odd to Kenny whose parents have been married since before he was born, but this time Kaleb feels the offense coming. “My father walked out on us after I was born,” he quickly explains.
The next day the boys are brought in to give statements as part of the ongoing investigation of the case. The boys weren’t even allowed to change out of their practice uniforms before being brought to the station for questioning, to the chagrin of Ms. Blackman of course. She asks, “these are young boys that have been through a lot, don’t you think that they’ve been put through enough?” One of the investigators retorts, “mam and our job is to find out what provoked our officers to act in such a manner.” She maintains her dignity while questioning his, “in what world do you live in that any reason is good enough to kill unarmed children?” “We live in the same world mam, no one said anything about it being ok,” he snaps back. She instantly sneers at him, now almost twice as hard as before, but she doesn’t completely lose her cool. Instead, before leaving Kenny and her son to be investigated, she stops at the door to speak one last time. “Actions speak louder than words, sir.”
“First off, I know that you guys are going through a tough time right now and things are kind of crazy to say the least, but try to relax, we’re just here to help. This(pointing) is officer Carmichael and my name is officer Calloway.” Both of the boys carry with them a heavy level of disinterest and neither would even look in the officers direction. Officer Carmichael was a female investigator that looked fairly new, almost as if it was one a training session for her, but she was deliberately warm to the boys when speaking. She pleads, “c’mon guys, we can’t help if you won’t talk to us. Ok how about this(reaching for her pocket), candy, everybody loves candy.” Kenny immediately becomes a bit snarky responding, “what do we look like, some two year olds?” If there was one thing about Kenny that could be used against him at this point, it was his psyche which had grown frail and bordered on completely broken, often shifting between intense despondency and being highly reactive and worse easily triggered. Officer Carmichael responds, “of course not. I just figured everyone had a sweet tooth, that’s all.” Another thing that Kenny hated was to be belittled or talked to like a small child. His maturity is was made him the quarterback and captain of the team. Well, consider that trigger pulled. Kenny gets up from his seat and walks toward the door, “I don’t want to talk to any of you! You killed my brother!” he yells. “Hey! Sit down!” commands Officer Calloway. Officer Carmichael detains him, bringing him back to his seat. Kaleb attempts to calm his friend by suggesting, “chill bro, we’ll be out of here soon.” Officer Calloway begins, “so, you can start by telling us everything you know about ‘GSG.’” Surprisingly though, this time the prodding forces Kenny into silence. Minutes go by as he and Officer Calloway engage in a staring contest, seemingly of will, with neither participant daring to blink first. Kenny is obviously the younger of the two, but his nerve can be altogether stunning sometimes. Once, after begging his father to sit out of practice for nearly thirty minutes as he demanded Kenny to warm up his throwing arm, he defiantly stopped throwing and walked over to have a seat on the bench. This of course infuriated Coach Knox who stormed over at once to chastise his son. After only a couple of swipes with from his belt Kenny begrudgingly agreed to return to the field and his father relented. This time Kenny threw for the next two and a half hours of practice, waving off every call from the team’s assistant coach to discontinue and allow the second string to get reps. Eventually Coach Knox would intervene, again having to address his quarterback’s defiance. When he stepped to his son in the huddle before the next play was to be ran, what he found startled him. The other players had their eyes wide open, on figurative pins and needles. More or less they seemed like players stuck in the middle of a frozen lake filled with cracks, all wary of taking even a single wrong step. The chilling feel came from Kenny who stood there looking possessed with tears flowing down his youthful face. Indeed he was not sad or crestfallen, as they were tears of pain and fury. That day was the first time that Coach Knox saw his son’s rebellion as fire. It was also the day in which Kenny completed all but one passes, a dropped ball, while throwing with a partially torn muscle in his shoulder. He didn’t even miss the next game either, a 38-17 Langston win. Now was different though, Officer Calloway wanted answers, and fast.
“Who is ‘GSG’!” yells Officer Callaway. When he pounds his fist down onto the table, the thunderous sound seems to shake the entire room. It also breaks Kenny’s rebel attitude in two. “I don’t know any g’s sir I promise! My father is the coach, I just play football. They all just sound like letters to me(sobbing),” he responds. While Kenny’s responses have shifted between solemn and erratic, Kaleb has sat in silence for most of the interrogation, save for trying to help calm down his friend. Officer Carmichael sits in front of him, studying him relentlessly. “And what about you?” she asks. Kaleb doesn’t project a venomous attitude about him, in fact, it’s the exact opposite, because he knows who they are. Growing up on the Northside would rarely call for crossing paths with the local street gang ‘GSG,’ or the Groveland Street Gangsters. Their reign extended to different locations across the entire Eastside of Groveland, but specifically the lower east. He’s never actually encountered them firsthand, aside from a few of their younger siblings that went about his school halls like full replicas of their brothers. Unfortunately Christian wasn’t as lucky on a foggy fall evening during his sophomore year at Langston. Coming home from the after school program, he was jumped and accordingly had his new pair of Jordan sneakers stolen. He had begged to get them all year long, when his mother had finally gave in. That day though he would enter the house sporting only a blackened eye and a busted lip, but not his new shoes. Ms. Blackman, not to be outdone, retrieved the shoes almost as fast as he had lost them, and right from the feet of the GSG perpetrator, who just so happened to be wearing them as the gang stood positioned out in front of the local grocery store. Of course they had added the gang’s letters to the bottom of them, but having them back was what was important. Despite his knowledge of the gang Kaleb responds, “they just sound like a bunch of letters to me.” Officer Carmichael almost looks disheartened by Kaleb’s answer, like she had lost grasp of something. “Sometimes in life(pausing)…sometimes in life, you’ll feel like your silence is the right thing; times when you want to protect the ones you love, to protect yourself. But your voice is all you have(crying softly).” Her words catch everyone’s attention in the room. Officer Calloway quickly shifts his focus away from Kenny and to his weeping partner. “Carmichael you may leave the room,” he says. She rises to her feet and leaves the room at once.
“What did you say to her?” Officer Calloway’s intensity seems to have weakened at the sight of his partner like that. “I didn’t do nothing,” replies Kaleb. Kenny chimes in asking, “yeah what’s wrong with her?” Officer Calloway takes a moment but explains, “this isn’t just another case for her. The only reason she joined the force at the beginning of last year was for revenge. I’m the only one that she’s ever told that to, if anybody else would’ve found out there’s absolutely zero chance that she would’ve even made it past the evaluation period.” The mood continues to shift as he has began to delve into his partner’s personal history. Kenny asks, “what did she want revenge for?” Officer Calloway places both of his hands together on the table, taking a deep breath before revealing, “last year, right after her graduation, her and her grandfather were riding home when they were held at gun point sitting at a red light. What made it strange was they didn’t take anything.” “So what did they do?” asks Kenny who now even speaks with a tinge of excitement. Officer Calloway responds solemnly, “they shot her grandfather and left her covered in his blood.” The revelation drops Kenny back into his seat, nobody daring to speak. At a moments notice, Ms. Blackman intercedes, storming into the room to retrieve her son and his friend. “Ok that’s it, time to wrap it up!” she proclaims. Officer Calloway jumps to his feet and orders, “mam that’s not how we do things around here!” At this point Ms. Blackman refuses to hear anything but being with her son. She replies, “I started to come in when your little partner ran herself out of here crying her eyes out! Me and these boys are leaving, now!” “Mam!” he yells before moving around the table and grabbing her wrist. She starts to screams out, “you get your moth—,” but it’s Kenny who jumps in between them. “Angelo told me that the only way I wouldn’t get jumped for not going to Cleverdale was if I joined GSG!” Kaleb joins in, “there, you got what you wanted, now let us go.” Surprisingly Officer Calloway grants them their request. However suspicious, he signals toward the door and says, “as you wish.”
As Ms. Blackman and the boys make their way to the exit, they spot Officer Carmichael in the main office area of the station. She sees them almost instantly as well, but for some reason keeps her head down as they pass by, offering no goodbyes to the boys. Kaleb, who didn’t speak through much of the process, was actually moved by her story and her loss. He lets her know as much when he walks by and acknowledges, “I’ll try to be better about being silent, and I’m sorry about your granddad, I’m sure he was a great dude.” She looks at him, how sincere he could be at such a young age, and only offers a smile. During his final step out of the door of the station, he looks back and sees the two officers embracing together. Officer Carmichael can faintly be heard asking, “what was he talking about(laughing)?”
On Friday, the day before game day, the practice is the lightest of the entire week. It’s also the first day that Kenny actually looked ready or even capable of leading the team to a dramatic victory in less than 24 hours. For the first time in a long time, his defiance looked real, and Saturday’s championship would be dedicated to the memory of his deceased sibling. Kaleb was extra quiet, but flying around the field even more so than normal. Everyone could tell that he wanted to let his play do the talking, like he always wanted it. After practice he was informed by his mother to walk over to McGriffin’s Grocery Store where he was to grab a few ingredients for her championship party. Just when it seemed like things might be falling back into place for Saturday, sometimes it’s easy to forget how fast news travels through the Groveland neighborhoods. Practice was over for at least an hour before Kaleb made it to the last strip of parking lot that marked the end of GSG territory. The letters of the gang are spray painted on an old fallen billboard that was ripped down during the riots. Below the sign is a body that lies in a pool of what looks like blood. Kaleb of course walks over to check it out, and it’s Kenny.
Kaleb Blackman and the Knox Twins are big time, the best that Langston Reigns Middle School has to offer. Like most boys, they love the spotlight, totally ambitious, yet unaware of the many vices that often come with it. In what has become a way of life all too familiar where the three boys have grown up, their story will determine if their loss was in vein. If they are indeed destined to overcome the stereotypes, the peer pressures, and the trials determined to rip them apart, it’ll be because they stuck to their principles and by each other’s side. This is the journey of a friend, a son, and ultimately of a survivor. This is to remembering a life before everything became only a synthesis of color, before everything had a price, and when each child was truly a blank slate of potential. This is remembering a life, Before I Black.