The East End
Alfred climbed out of the ZipTrip and paid for the fare with his phone. The driver mumbled his thanks before speeding off. Alfred didn’t blame the man for his quick retreat. This particular part of the East End had a reputation as the worst of the worst. It reminded Alfred of Dutch Hill’s notoriety before he and Phillip moved into the brownstone, before gentrification turned the gutted neighborhood into an upper middle class bastion.
He started down the sidewalk with his hands in his pockets and his eyes watchful. Row houses made up every home on this block. A few were abandoned with boarded up windows and doors while most were dilapidated on the point of being declared condemned. Only a few were well maintained by owners or renters who still had civic pride. Each step down the block took Alfred back in time to Brixton. The East End and even Dutch Hill twenty years ago couldn’t hold a bloody candle to the Brixton of Alfred’s childhood.
The type of boys and men who ran with the Brixton mobs were animals. They could smell weakness, they sought out those that were different and punished them for it. They knew something was different about Alfred, the same way he knew for years that something was different, something he couldn't pinpoint until he finally did. They would chase him down and call him ponce and poofter as they beat him bloody. He learned to fight back, but he was always outnumbered. He would get his licks in and win a battle or two, but they would always win the war. For Alfred joining the Royal Marines was as much about escape from Brixton as it was any career or patriotic calling.
Alfred blinked when he heard the voice. It brought him back to reality. Lost in thought, he had walked down the block on autopilot and ended up in front of two kids standing on the street corner. Drug dealers, he assumed, with clothing too nice and expensive for kids on this side of tome. Neither of the boys looked older than fifteen.
“Yo,” the boy’s friend repeated. “You up, unc?”
“‘Fraid not, gents,” he said sheepishly.
The sound of his voice sent the two boys into fits of laughter.
“Yoooo, check this nigga out. This motherfucker on some shake-a-spear shit.”
“Just passing through is all,” said Alfred, his hands out. “Not looking for trouble.”
“Well too fucking bad, my nigga,” one of the boys hissed. He pulled up his shirt to reveal a gun tucked into the waistband of his jeans. “Because you sure as fuck found trouble.”
It would be very easy, Alfred surmised. He was older than them by nearly forty years but they were soft. They were children play acting in a gangster farce. It would almost be comical if not for the gun. The boy with the weapon had probably never fired the thing. And even if he had the very idea of proper firearm handling and form would be foreign to him. He could disarm him in as few as two moves, disable both him and his friend in another three, and go about his business.
“Hey,” a voice called out.
Another boy emerged from the bodega across the street and walked over with a sub and soda in hand. He looked to be about the same age as the other two, but there was a difference. He had the quiet confidence of command. The other boys were playing a part, a part he seemed to actually be living. If it was indeed an act, thought Alfred, then it was a fine performance.
“Tree, Mac, the fuck is you doing?”
“Tre, We’re just--” one of the boy started sheepishly.
Tre held his free hand up to silence the boy. “I gave you two jobs: serve customers and keep the count straight. This old nigga look like a fiend to you, Mac?”
The one called Mac shrugged and looked at his feet.
“Guess not,” said Tre. He turned his attention to Alfred and gave the older man a cold look. “If you ain’t coping get the fuck on before something bad happen to you.”
Alfred walked away without another word. He could feel the eyes of the kids on him as he walked. He finally found the house he was searching for at the end of the block. It was one of the few row houses still in good condition. It looked to him as if it had been maintained regularly, but whoever was responsible for the work had fallen off and a decline was in progress. He rapped softly at the door and waited before it opened just a crack.
“In the flesh.”
The door opened wider. Alfred smiled at the sight of the old woman with the wide grin.
“Didi,” said Alfred.
The two shared a warm embraced before Alfred followed her into the house.
“I heard years ago that you moved to America,” Didi said with a thick African accent. “But I had no idea you were so close. Why in the world would someone choose to live in Gotham?”
“Same reason you did, Didi,” said Alfred. “Family. Phillip was born and raised here and we were both tired of dreary old Europe.”
Alfred noticed the walls of the house were a testament of a life well-lived. Pictures of a much younger Didi Walde, a group photo of her with the Ethiopian delegation to the United Nations, a few with the heads of state of various countries. Her and her husband, her and her son, a young boy Alfred assumed was a grandson. There was one photo that stopped him in his tracks: Didi with a much younger and slimmer Captain Pennyworth one one side, and Petty Officer Wayne on the other.
“How is Phillip?” asked Didi.
“He passed,” said Alfred. He shook his head and flashed a smile when he saw the look on Didi’s face. “It's okay. It happened quite some time ago. It was very peaceful. And Samson?”
“Heart attack five years ago this July.”
Didi sank into a chintz armchair while Alfred found the sofa next to her.
"I miss him every day."
Alfred reached out and took Didi's hand into his. “I didn’t know Samson very well. He was a quiet fellow, but he seemed to be a good man.”
“He was,” mumbled Didi. “If he wasn't we wouldn't have been together for forty years. As for Phillip, I knew
he was a good man. If I may ask… is there anyone else?”
“Heavens no,” said Alfred. “After his death I focused on helping to raise his -- our -- nephew, Bruce. I just… never had a desire to seek someone else.”
“You’re still young." Didi raised an eyebrow when she saw Alfred was about to protest. "Younger than me, at least.”
“I know.” A small smile formed on Alfred’s lips. “But what I had with Phillip was so right, I couldn’t hope to duplicate it.”
“And you never will,” said Didi. “But you can try.”
Alfred chuckled. “Surely you didn’t look me up out of the blue after thirty years to inquire about my love life?”
“No,” Didi said softly. She pulled her hand away from Alfred and started to clench and unclench her fists while she spoke. “No, I did not. As I said, Samson is dead. As is David, two years before Samson. When Samson died it left just me and Elijah, David's son. The boy’s mother we lost to the streets. She may still be out there, but we have no way of finding her. He’s only sixteen, Alfie, and I haven’t seen him in almost a week.”
"What happened?" asked Alfred.
“The last time we spoke,” she said. “We had a fight. I had received a phone call from his school. He hadn’t shown up in weeks. I asked him where was he going, what was he doing, and who with. We had a fight and he left. I said some terrible things as he walked out the door. He hasn’t answered his phone. I put in a missing persons report with the police, but--”
“He’s the gender, wrong color, living in the wrong neighborhood,” said Alfred.
“Exactly. Can you help me find him?”
Alfred nodded slowly.
“I’ll do what I can, Didi. But what if he doesn’t want to come back home?”
She closed her eyes and sighed. “Just… make sure he’s alright and he knows that he can come home anytime he wants.”
Alfred stood and looked down at Didi. She looked up at him with tears in her eyes.
“With you and your nephew, do you know what it’s like to see him leave and always wonder if he’ll come back alive? The possibility that you'll never see him again? You’ll ever get to tell him that you love him?"
“Yes,” said Alfred. “I do.”
“Then you know why this is important then.”
---Kane Terrace Housing Projects
Eli Wolde sat behind the wheel of the junky stolen car. It took him all of two minutes to break into the shitbox with a slim jim and hotwire it up. After that he cruised to the spot to pick up O and the other two. After that Eli cruised to the entrance of the Terrace and put the car in park. That had been almost twelve hours ago. The four of them kept their eyes peeled on the comings and going of the high rise housing project. Eli looked up into the rearview mirror. O sat in the back with an unlit cigarette in his mouth. O’s eyes never stopped watching and observing. TT in the front passenger seat stretched and yawned.
“Yo, O, can we get some food or something? I’m about to bug the fuck out out.”
“Go ahead,” said O. “But you gotta walk. I’m staying here.”
TT and Roc got out the car and started down the street. Eli looked back up into the rearview mirror saw O looking at him.
“Why you staying, youngin'?”
“It ain’t a stakeout if we go get something to eat in the middle of it, now is it?.”
O grinned, the cigarette still between his lips. When he spoke the tip of it bounced up and down.
“Well, what you seeing since you acting like some hardcore Semper Fi motherfucker?”
Eli ran his hands along the steering wheel and spoke. “KT Crew works around the clock. Product comes in twice a day. When they bring the reup, they also move the money out. The slingers look like punks, but the guys who are the couriers look like soldiers. Not fuck with me types.”
“So, you being a ambitious stick-up boy like you is, how you gonna separate them fools from their product?”
“Fuck the drugs,” said Eli. “Let the courier go in with the dope. We follow him as he leaves with the cash and hit him up then. Money splits easier and spends a whole lot quicker. They can always buy more dope and coke.”
“Okay, okay,” said O. “I see you. You out here watching and thinking. More than the other two knuckleheads. And when would you try to stick up the courier?”
“The late shift. Less police presence around when it gets to be about three or four AM and less people out in the Terrace. The courier won’t have much backup if shit goes bad.”
“My nigga,’ O said proudly. “We gonna make a soldier out of you yet.”
“This is crazy.”
Jim shook his head and started to stand up. Akins placed a gentle hand on his shoulder and gave a subtle headshake. The Deputy Commissioner had more political savvy than Jim could ever hope to muster. On matters like this Jim knew he could trust his judgement.
“Just hear him out,” whispered Akins.
The conference room meeting had Mayor Hamilton Hill, the group of sycophants he called a staff, GCPD brass, and this ridiculous third party. A group of high-end lawyers flanked the big man with the shaved head and the suit that cost more money than Jim made in a month. The big man stood and flashed an oily smile.
“I understand your concerns, Commissioner,” he said. “May I call you Jim?”
“Commissioner Gordon’s fine,” Jim bristled. “And I will not willingly cede protection of this city over to mercenaries, Mr. Bolton.”
Jim saw a slight twitch just above Bolton’s right eyebrow. The annoyance on his face disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. He put the charm back on and smiled. “The Thornguard Group is among the largest and most professional privatized security and corrections companies in America. We are publicly traded and our oversight is impeccable. Our current administration deal with Blackgate entitles us to a franchise exploration into Gotham City.”
Jim stabbed his finger down on to the table surface. “When it comes to policing, the last thing we should be thinking about are franchise and shareholders. Your business is keeping people locked up, and if you cut out the middleman you’ll also be responsible for arresting the people that keep your business going. Not only that but the city of Gotham will be paying you for it.”
“Commissioner,” one of Bolton’s lawyers spoke up. “Look at the data. Crime in both the Finger Homes and Kane Terrace are through the roof. And it’s gotten worse since you took over as commissioner. Let the private sector do what the police department can’t: keep people safe.”
“By giving guns to a bunch of men who couldn’t become cops or got kicked out of the army--”
“Our men are the best money can buy,” said Bolton. ”They are thoroughly vetted, have extensive training and know--”
“What does it even matter?” asked Gordon. “This is a done deal, right Mr. Mayor?”
Hill coughed and adjusted his tie. He spoke without making eye contact.
“As Mr. Bolton said, Thornguard does have a franchise right that they are exercising. And it will just be concentrated at the two housing projects, as previously stated. A test run, if you will.”
“We expect all GCPD personnel to discontinue patrols into the Finger and Kane Terrace Homes effective at midnight tonight.”
Jim stood, shrugging off Akins’ hand. He squared his glasses on his face and looked at Bolton before turning around.
“I’ll let Chief O’Hara know. Deputy Akins here will be available for any questions going forward.”
He stormed out the room, ignoring both Akins and Hill and their attempts to get him to come back in. Jim fished through his pocket and pulled out his phone, lighter, and pack of cigarettes. He lit up a cigarette in the hall, not really giving a damn about non-smoking laws, and typed out a quick text to a number listed in his phone as Pteropodidae
GOTHAM CENTRAL ROOF