“See ya round, preacher.”
I shook hands with Dan Mayne as we left the diner. “Next week again?” He nodded. “Keep up with those readings.”
He held up the small pamphlet with his small bible and smiled. “You bet.”
I smiled as we parted ways. Our encounter two weeks back which started with my opportune arrival as he was praying to find us had firmly planted the seeds of faith within him, and I’d been doing my best to nurture it. I’d provided him with a bible study for bikers that I’d found (check it out – Christian Motorcyclists Association), and we’d met a couple of times for lunch to talk about it. I let him drive most of it based on his readings, and we’d trade questions as I attempted to nurture that fragile seed. Of course, our conversation also tended to include the “bumpy” side of life as well, but I tried not to take those tangents very often. All in all, he was making progress, and I couldn’t be unhappy about that.
However, it was time to move on. Despite the chaos, Oak Cliff was open to me again without the Orcs in control. All the gangs were back on even footing after the OCT was gutted, and I was still trying to get a handle on the balance of power there, who the players were, etc.
I hopped on my Harley and headed that direction, wondering who else the Lord would put in my path today.
I parked my Harley at the IHOP just outside of Oak Cliff. A regular haunt of the Scooby Squad, I knew the manager and that it was a safe place to leave my bike, and the manager also knew I’d come through and purchase something before the day was over, even if it was just a cup of coffee and food to go.
I grabbed my pack and headed into Oak Cliff on foot – still the most reliable way for me to stay connected to these neighborhoods. It wasn’t too long before hit the first neighborhood. It looked… well, it didn’t look much different, at least. The homes were still older, with some in disrepair, some having signs of group activity, some shot up, and some well-kept and maintained. Those categories weren’t mutually exclusive, of course. The main change was that the OCT’s colors were much less prominent, and had been replaced by a mix of Crips, Bloods, MS-13, and a few other smaller gangs.
I’d had a few conversations over the last couple of months, but really hadn’t gotten anything solid. I needed an in to get more substantial information. I was a few blocks in when a ran into a high-school age black kid shooting a basketball at a rusted backboard in front of his house, and I recognized him from one of the churches that I frequented.
He grabbed his ball and spun to face me, a bit apprehensive – until he recognized me. “Hey, 23! Haven’t seen you around lately.”
I nodded. “Events kept me away for a while, but I’m back.”
He grinned, relaxing somewhat. “S’good to see you. Mom and the church ladies have been wondering where you disappeared to.”
I smiled back. “I bet. Things holding up there?”
He shrugged. “More or less. There’s been a lot more shootings around here since the spring.”
“Oh?” I feigned surprise as I held up my hands, and he passed me the ball. I took a shot, but it bounced off the rusty rim.
“Yeah. Lot of the OCT heavies disappeared, and everyone’s moving back in.” He retrieved the ball just before it hit the street, spun, and launched a hanging shot that swished through the remnants of the net.
“I noticed the extra colors around.” I caught the ball. “You want to head over to the park and shoot?”
He shrugged. “Why not?”
We made our way over to a park a couple of streets over, chatting the whole way, and Shaun and I traded shots for a while as we talked. When I first started my ministry in Oak Cliff, I was pretty bad at street ball, but it didn’t matter – I got out, played, learned, and earned a modicum of respect from the OCT toughs that I played with back then. Now, with a couple of years of fighting the supernatural behind me, combined with fighting lessons and semi-regular workouts, I found that I was much lighter on my feet. It didn’t hurt that we were just messing around…
“Ay, gringo! Clear the court – La Emme is here to play!”
I wasn’t completely surprised by the interruption – the Latin Rap music they were playing had steadily gotten louder for a few minutes – but I let my last shot go wide as I turned to face the newcomers. They were relatively young, wearing low slung shorts and basketball jerseys. Of course, I didn’t need to see the prominent 13 on their jerseys to know they were part of the MS-13 gang – “La Emme” clued me in to that.
I put on my clueless-white-guy act to start with. “Hey guys – plenty of room on the court for all of us.”
One of them turned from where he was messing with his music player and speaker. “I guess chu din’t hear me – gringo.” He tried so hard to be menacing when he said it. He really tried. “When La Emme plays, we get the court.”
His buddy circled around Shaun and I, checking us both out. “Hey, check it, vato! He’s that gringo loco, 23!” He walked up and roughly spun me around, revealing the back of my own Mavericks jersey, with the number 23 and “PSALMS” where the name usually goes.
The first looked me over as I turned back around. “Tha’chu? The street preacher?”
He smugly thrust his chin at me. “Don’ matter. Get off the court.”
I pondered for a minute. “Why don’t we play for it?”
“Play a game of 2-on-2. You two against my friend and me. You win, we walk away.”
“And if you win?”
“We stay and share the court – maybe have a conversation over some food?”
“$#!). You trying to convert us?”
“Nope – just want to talk. I spent a lot of time in Oak Cliff when the OCT was still big. I’d like to know how things have changed in the last few months.”
The two spoke quickly to each other in Spanish. Although I caught most of the conversation (and that their names were Jorge and Diego), I just played dumb and waited for them to finish deciding that it couldn’t hurt to rough up a white guy and a black kid (not the terms they used) while they schooled us in a game. Jorge looked back at me and grinned toothily, “OK, gringo. You got a deal.”
I stuck out my hand to shake on it, but he just slapped it away and went to fix their music. I suppressed the urge to hex the little MP3 player. Something about street ball just demands a rap soundtrack.
Shaun looked at me with a little grin on his face as we returned to the hoop to retrieve his ball. “You up to this?”
I grinned back. “Yeah. Fair warning – they’re planning to get a little rough.”
His grin widened. “Oh, snap – you speak Spanish?”
I put a finger to my lips and nodded once. He barked out a laugh as we headed back to meet our opponents.
We decided to go to 21 – apparently they thought 15 points wouldn’t be enough of a trouncing.
The early exchanges were just normal back and forth, feeling each other out. The MS-13 guys were pretty good, but they weren’t quite up to Shaun’s standard, and I was pretty confident I could outplay them too. I missed a couple of my early shots (some on purpose, some not), and they got off to an early 7-2 lead. Shaun was giving me some pretty ugly looks, and the two gangers were laughing their heads off.
I got my hands on the ball again, shot a pass to Shaun, and ran for the basket. I got in behind Jorge, and started trying to get clear so that Shaun could get a pass to me. The kid wasn’t too rough, and I managed to get clear on the left side, so Shaun passed the ball to me. Before it got halfway to me, Jorge threw his elbow at my sternum, and I saw it coming with just enough time to relax and roll with the blow, fulfilling his intent without the pain that could have come with taking the thrown elbow unaware.
Shaun was immediately up in his face, crying foul. Jorge backed off, conceding the foul even as he got a feral grin on his face looking down at me. Shaun helped me to my feet. “You ok, 23?”
I let a grin flicker through my pained expression and gave him a quick wink. “I’ll survive.” I looked over at Jorge, my frown in place. “That how we’re playing, cabrón?”
“Chu got it, gringo.”
I nodded, accepting the ball back. “Ok. Let’s play.”
I took the ball myself this time. A quick back and forth bounce set up Jorge, and then with a reverse spin I was around him with a clear run to the net. Before Diego could fully disengage from Shaun, I was in the air, slamming the ball through the net with a one-armed slam-dunk. There were hoots and hollers from the crowd that had started to gather, and the grin disappeared from Jorge’s face. I caught the ball and passed it back to him, and set up to block. He tried a similar move on me, but I read it, and as he made his run for the net, I slapped it away…
…right into Shaun’s hands. He turned before Diego could react and let a hanging jump shot sail through the basket. I jogged over and we high-fived as the crowd hooted again. Jorge and Diego were a little unnerved by our sudden resurgence, and they were whispering madly as they got set up. I kept things moving. “7-4, your ball.”
They sneered at us, and the game rolled on. Shaun and I caught up in short order, and before they knew it, we were up 15-10. The crowd had grown around us, and I realized that one side was MS-13, and the other was OCT. I didn’t see any evidence of weapons, and I knew it wouldn’t take much to incite these guys, but for now – it was just a friendly game of street ball.
As I’d predicted, when Shaun and I both got serious about the game, we outclassed our opponents. Don’t get me wrong, they were good players, but Shaun was better, and I was more experienced. Getting more and more frustrated, Jorge & Diego started trying to play rougher, but telegraphed their intent so much that we had no problem avoiding them. I let Shaun take a few solo runs to satisfy the OCT crowd, and my runs had both sides giving Jorge & Diego grief. I mentally congratulated myself for maintaining my “white bread” persona as the game went on, which kept the two sides from focusing too much on each other.
The game wrapped up with Shaun and I working together to sink a final basket, with me setting him up for a slam dunk. The final score was 21-17, so it wasn’t a trouncing, and everyone filtered away from the field in a fairly good mood. Jorge & Diego started packing up their stuff, but I caught them before they got too far.
“So guys – where’s a good place to eat around here?”
Diego just shrugged. “Who cares, man? Go eat where chu want!”
I somewhat expected this, and began gathering a bit of energy. “You telling me you’re not going to honor our agreement?”
“Vete al infierno, gringo – we ain’t gonna talk to you.”
I snapped my fingers, allowing a flash of light to catch their attention even in the late afternoon sun, and my eyes starting glowing. I dropped the tone of my voice, with even volume but additional intensity. “So you lied to a man of God?”
That got their attention. Ganger punks they might be, but my bet on their Hispanic Catholic background paid off. “No, man, no… it’s just…”
I let the glow fade. “Just what? In exchange for winning, I offered you a free meal with some conversation. I don’t need or want to details of how La Emme operates – I just want to know what’s happening on the ground in Oak Cliff.”
The two looked at each other and had a quick conversation in Spanish, then turned back to me. “Ok, gringo. There’s a good place a couple blocks from here.” They grinned. “Hope you like it spicy.”
I smiled, and replied in Spanish. “The hotter the better.”
The looks on their faces were almost worth the price of the meal.
Today’s trip into Oak Cliff bore more fruit than I expected. My spur-of-the-moment ball game with Jorge and Diego of MS-13 ended up giving me a good insight into the shifting dynamics of gang life in the OC.
The Marchioness’ slaying of the OCT Orcs almost completely took them out of the game in Oak Cliff, and MS-13, the Crips, Bloods, and a few other small gangs were fighting over the now undefended territory. The only real new information I learned was the OCT was trying to pull itself together under the leadership of 10-Gauge, a formal high-level member who everyone thought had been put in a hold by Hell-T a couple of years back. That tidbit will bear some following up…
This was inspired by this video that went around a few months back:
When the GM points it out and says “Look, it’s Matthew!” – it bears following up. :)