Volume I: Fury
Funerals mark the end of a life. It is the final farewell, not for the deceased, who is beyond caring any more, but for those who have loved them. It is a closing of a door, a way for the bereaved to have one last moment before the earth swallows the dead. It is definitely not known for being a beginning. But for me and my brother, it was a beginning.
I grew up in the ghetto of Detroit, a few blocks from Gratiot Ave, in the infamous “Red Zone.” My earliest memories were of crawling around a filthy room, my half-brother Ax crying in his high chair, looking for food. Our mother was on the couch, a needle sticking out of her arm and not moving. I must have been four at the time. That was when Kabiri came into our life.
Kabiri was an ex-banger, a reformed gang member who went to prison, got a degree in social work, and hit the streets. He was the one who called the police when my mother stopped coming out of the house for more drugs, and he was the one who offered to foster us when none of her relatives came to claim either us or her body. Without him, we would have grown up to make the same mistakes that he had made, thinking we had no other options.
And despite all the hell we gave him, from wanting to join the gang-of-the-week to stealing his car to go joyriding, at the end of the day, he was our father. Ax and I used to go with him down to Manning Street during the day, and watch him talk to the gangsters. He wore jeans and a button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up, so that all his gang tattoos were showing. But he never wore any color other than white. He didn’t want to be mistaken for a gangbanger, or anything other than what he was. Kabiri was an evangelist.
Every day, he talked to people. He spoke about the present and what was happening between the gangs, and how hard life was. He talked to worried mothers about their sons, he talked to girls about their boyfriends, and boys about their girlfriends. He talked to clergy and he talked to the police, social workers and parole officers. But more than anything, he talked about the future. Kabiri wanted every gang member to know that they could have a future, one that didn’t rely on the whims of gang leaders or a lifetime in prison. Kabiri didn’t care if it was the Seven Mile Bloods, the Hustle Boys or the Maxout 220. He didn’t care about race, color, ethnicity or gender. Kabiri was a humanist in the truest sense of the word, and he was respected for it. He was untouchable.
So when Ax called me, shock literally took me to my knees.
“Bro, I got…” Ax’s voice broke for a moment. “I got bad news. Kabiri is dead. They killed him. Some sick fuck killed him.”
I couldn’t even fathom the news. Who would touch Kabiri?
“Wha…. I mean, what happened?”
“I dunno. Got the call from the precinct, Officer Stevens. You remember him?”
“Yeah, Ax,” I said through a tight throat. “I remember him.”
“We gotta claim the body.”
“I know.” Kabiri’s mother had disowned him and cut off all contact when he went to prison. She refused to believe he could reform himself. She had moved here from Lebanon with nothing, working as a maid and dishwasher to keep Kabiri fed and a roof over his head. She was a hard, stubborn woman. Her unyielding ways had cost her a son, but had taught him how to persevere.
I left my apartment in a rush. I had just moved to a nice two-bedroom in a new complex, my first real place after starting my job as a high school history teacher. Ax was working at the docks as a welder, so his place was closer to Kabiri’s than mine was. I drove to the precinct and parked behind Ax’s new truck.
Ax climbed out from the driver’s seat. We were half-brothers, with no idea who our fathers were. Ax was stocky and muscular, from long hours in the gym in high school, and from heavy lifting in his job. He wore a company polo shirt and jeans, his hair cut neatly. He contrasted against my slimmer build, because no matter how many hours I lifted with him, I could never bulk up.
I nodded, seeing his red-rimmed eyes matching my own. We walked into the precinct and after only a few minutes, were met by Officer Stevens. He was older and fatter than I remembered, probably nearing retirement age. His eyes had the look of someone who had spent decades on the streets of the most dangerous zip code in Detroit.
“Ax, Karson, good to see you again. Sorry it had to be like this, though,” said Stevens.
“It’s fine,” I said gruffly. “Do we have to, you know, identify him or anything?”
“No, we used fingerprints. It’s him. You don’t want to see him like this, anyway.”
“Like what?” asked Ax.
“Come on, let’s go somewhere private.”
I expected he was going to take us to an interview room, like they have on television. But instead, he took us to what looked like a break room. Lockers lined one wall, and a counter on the back had dozen of radios being charged, another dozen chargers laying empty. Two small break room tables with chairs scattered around them occupied the center of the room, one of them with a coffee cup still sitting in front of a seat, forgotten. The room smelled vaguely like a locker room, with the scent of stale coffee on top.
“Sit down. We should have a few minutes before next shift starts arriving.”
We took seats, and Officer Stevens sat across from us with a sigh.
“Well?” asked Ax impatiently.
“A few weeks back, Kabiri stopped me on patrol, flagged me down. Word on the street was that people were going missing. Junkies, mostly. Maybe a few low-level bangers. No word on what was happening, or why. Not a gang thing, as far as he could tell. After the Red Zone raids a few years back, the gangs are keeping a low profile. I kicked it up the chain, but you know how it is.”
I nodded. “Yeah, they’re not white or rich, and no one is screaming in the press. Just another dead junkie, so who cares?”
“Yeah, well,” said Officer Stevens uncomfortably. “I let the other patrols know too, so they could keep an eye out. But if no one up high says anything? Not much we can do.”
“But Kabiri kept looking into it?” asked Ax.
“That’s what I hear. A few informants have mentioned it, but that’s, you know, Kabiri being Kabiri. He’s gotta help everyone, whether they want it or not. Then this afternoon, get the call. Some high school kid found Kabiri’s body in an alley off Linnhurst. I asked a few folks I know, but everyone is clammed up tight.”
“They all respected him, why didn’t they say anything?” fumed Ax.
Stevens cleared his throat. “That isn’t all. He was, ummm, he was tortured. A lot. Didn’t even recognize him at first. It was a message to the gangs, I think. Mysterious group that no one knows, and the only person asking about them turns up tortured and dead?”
“Those bastards,” said Ax angrily. “You guys are looking into this, right?”
I put a hand on Ax’s arm to calm him, but I was every bit as furious. But now was not the time or the place.
“Yeah, detectives assigned and everything,” said Stevens. “So, umm, we arranged transport to McCleary’s Funeral Home. I just need a few signatures, you know.”
After we left the precinct, Ax stalked ahead of me to his truck. I ran to catch up.
“Hey, Ax, slow down a minute.”
“Karson, this shit can’t stand,” he said, whirling on me. “Those fuckers are going to poke around for a day or two, then give up.”
“I know it,” I replied. “And you know it. But what they don’t know is that we still know everyone in the neighborhood. We can ask questions, too, and we’ll find those assholes.”
“Alright,” he said with a huff. “Alright. After the funeral.”
The funeral itself was surreal. The church was packed to the rafters with people. I saw Hustle Boys and Seven Mile Bloods sharing the same pews, police officers seated next to 6 Mile Chedda Grove bangers. I saw crying old ladies in their Sunday’s best being comforted by ex-bangers in their nicest t-shirts and hats. I saw ministers and social workers in the mix, too. It was a truce of sorts, and all sides abided by it. Today was to bury Sayid Kabiri, and nothing else.
At the graveyard, the crowd was much smaller. It was mostly police and social services that worked most with Kabiri, but some of the older gangsters were there too. I knew that more than a few had managed to move out from “the life” with Kabiri’s help. The graveside service was mercifully short, and the crowd began to break up at the end. Ax and I stood unmoving as the priest said a few meaningless words of comfort to us, watching as the cemetery workers began to lower the coffin into the earth.
“Hey, yo, Ax, Karson,” said a voice behind us. I turned to see a young banger I didn’t recognize.
“Deon? Is that you?” asked Ax.
“Yeah, man, listen, so sorry about your boy Kabiri. I was talking to him, you know, about finding a real job, you know, maybe going back to school.”
I nodded encouragingly. Deon seemed a little skittish.
“I just lost a lot, you know, and don’t want to..” he trailed off for a minute. “Anyway, I wanted to tell you, I saw him. That morning, I mean.”
“Yeah?” asked Ax. “What happened?”
“He been asking ‘bout a purple cargo van with tinted windows. I told him I saw it. Said they’ve been jacking junkies right off the street. I told him where I saw it. He said ‘don’t you go back there, they are doing bad shit’. Anyways, that was the morning. I thought he’d go tell the cops, you know? I didn’t think he’d go himself.”
“Where did he go?”
“Man, you ain’t gonna go like he did, right?”
“No, not like him,” said Ax confidently. Kabiri wouldn’t have gone armed. Ax and I had no such qualms. We were out for blood.
It was near midnight, and we were sitting in Ax’s truck a block away from an old, abandoned warehouse. We’d seen a few people sneak into it while we watched, but none of them were coming back out. Finally, we saw a purple cargo van pull up. Someone jumped out, pulled open a big bay door, and let the van drove in. The door closed again, but the person stepped back into the shadows to act as sentry.
I looked at Ax. “I think it’s time. Let’s do this.”
“Like we did at Burnside?”
“Yeah.” We’d pulled a few things that Kabiri hadn’t known about, and definitely wouldn’t have approved of, when we were younger and stupider. We both put on gloves, and Ax fitted a pair of brass knuckles onto his right hand. Technically, I guess they were iron or steel, since they were black and silver, but hey, names have staying power. I pulled out two new hunting knives and handed one to him. I tucked a Glock into my belt, which got me a look.
“What? It’s backup. In case things get noisy. No worries, it’s clean.”
“Don’t shoot your dick off.”
We slipped out of the truck, pressing the doors quietly to close them, and Ax left his keys on a magnet under his wheel well. No sound. We slipped into an alley, and crept around to the warehouse. From here we could see the sentry watching the road, but he wasn’t looking our way. I tapped Ax, pointed at him, then pointed at the sentry. Ax nodded and swept forward.
The sentry didn’t notice Ax until it was too late. He turned and started to reach for his belt, but Ax clocked him in the head with his brass knuckles. The sentry was down without a sound. I got there just as Ax stomped on his head. I gave him a look, not sure he could see it in the dark.
“What?” he whispered. “Just making sure he doesn’t get back up again.”
I bent over and plucked a handgun from the body and handed it to Ax. “Not after that he won’t.”
The door behind the sentry was unlocked, so we slipped in. We could hear weird chanting from the back. There were old boxes piled around, letting us sneak closer to the chanting. The back of the warehouse was lit, but it was an odd, flickering light.
“Who are you?” said a voice to my left. Without hesitation, I leapt toward it, and stabbed with my knife. A hand grabbed my wrist, forcing it away, so I swung my head forward in a vicious headbutt. By now, Ax had jumped in and grabbed him from behind. My knife hand was free. I stabbed forward again, and was rewarded by the feel of it sinking into flesh. Again and again I stabbed, until the man collapsed, and Ax released his grip.
Ax clapped me on the shoulder, and I shuddered. I had just stabbed someone. It had been a long time since I’d dealt in violence. Blood begets blood, whispered Kabiri’s words in my head. But my desire for vengeance was stronger than Kabiri’s words. We stalked forward, and could finally see what was happening.
Nine men in purple robes stood in a circle. Their hoods were up, and the robes were tied with gold ropes. Candles gave the area an uncertain light, but it looked as though they were standing around a well of some sort, with eerie purple light pulsing from inside. Above the well was a young man, tied by his ankles and dangling over the well. He was stripped naked, and they had carved something into his chest. I couldn’t make out the symbol through all the blood. His mouth was gagged, but he was struggling for all his worth to try and get his hands free.
Behind them was the man who was clearly the mastermind. He stood outside the circle, on the far side of the well, and he was in a shirt and tie. His sleeves were rolled up to the elbows, and his hands were bloody. The man’s gaze was gleeful as he watched the strange ritual, a curvy dagger dangling casually from one hand.
“I think things are going to get noisy,” said Ax.
“I think you’re right,” I said as I shifted my knife to my left hand and pulled the Glock from my belt. I turned off the safety. “I’ll take left. Let’s go!”
As plans go, this one was a little light on the planning and heavy on the ‘dive in without thinking’. In hindsight, and I had plenty of time for hindsight, we should have taken more time for planning.
In the time it took us to pull out our handguns and get ready, they’d had time to slit the throat of the poor bastard hanging over the well. The chants rose to a crescendo, as we rushed forward. A dozen paces back, we stopped and took a shooter’s stance and opened fire. The chanting stopped abruptly as the first few cultists were struck and fell. Several ran away, and three of them ducked behind the well.
Bereft of other targets, Ax and I turned our guns on the man in the tie. Here is where things got even weirder. The bullets bounced away, as if he had some sort of invisible shield. Then we were out of bullets, and we were outnumbered. I dropped my gun and readied my knife as Ax charged in. I followed a half-step behind him.
A cultist tackled me from the shadows, and I stabbed blindly. I shoved the cultist off me, to see my brother smashing a cultist in the face before turning to stab another. The man in the tie didn’t look gleeful anymore. Now he looked angry, and he was running straight toward Ax’s back. I raced to intercept, but didn’t quite make it in time. Ax tumbled forward and over the edge of the well.
I dove after him, grabbing blindly before grasping his forearm. Ax grabbed my arm with both hands, but the sudden weight pulled me completely off balance. I flailed with my other hand, trying to grab something, anything. The well below was was a swirl of dull, purple light.
I grasped cloth; it was thin, like a rope, so I clutched it tight.
“Release me! Kronos will not be denied!” rasped a voice, and I realized I had grabbed tie-man by his tie. I held tight, balanced precariously on the edge of the well. If tie-man pulled himself free, we would both fall. The tie-man clawed and scratched at my hand. I glanced back and saw him turning purple. Then I saw the fanatical gleam in his eyes as he started to lose consciousness. He stopped fighting, and leaned over the well. He was willing to fall with us.
I saw the light in his eyes die, and the purple well of light below us shattered at the same time. We fell into a mass of color and chaos, and I felt true agony for the first, and possibly last, time in my life.
Bio: I live on the coast of Virginia with my wife and daughter, where we enjoy hiking and camping. I am a lifelong reader and occasional writer who has decided to start sharing my work. Writing for me is recreation, what I do instead of watching endlessly repetitive reality tv or derivative shows. I joined RoyalRoad so that I can have a place for feedback to improve my writing, and in return I will be posting something every week.