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This story contains scenes of violence and coarse language.

When David and Virgil arrive back at the police station, they go to report themselves to Chief Markham. Upon walking into the office, David says, “Chief, you’ll never guess what happened at the dance this afternoon. Something wonderful has just happened to me.”

Markham glowers a little bit and says, “I was wondering what was up. I know that you two failed to report back here immediately after the dance. Just where have you two been?”

“David made me wait in the car, while he went into Kieran Camp’s house and chatted it up with him and his mother,” Virgil complains.

Markham turns to David. “Kieran Camp?” he asks. “Who’s he?”

“Kieran Camp is this kid whom I met at the dance,” David explains. “He just turned thirteen. At first, he was dancing all by himself, as he didn’t really show up with anyone. Then, I saw him trying to dance with some people, but they weren’t interested in him, so he spent some of the time just sitting in the chairs. He was looking all depressed and lonely. Then, a slow song came on, and he looked like he needed someone to dance with. So, I went up to him and danced with him while the song played. When it was over, though, a couple of thugs who knew him came, broke us up and began to berate him. And, oh boy, you wouldn’t believe the shock I received, for I learned that Kieran was one of the Fire Soldiers....”

Shocked and infuriated, Markham slams his hands on his desk, stands up, and gives David a hard glare. He looks at Virgil and says, “Virgil McBain, why don’t you step out for a few minutes, all right? I want to speak to your little brother – your disobedient and irresponsible little brother – in private!”

“Yes, sir,” Virgil says. He turns to his brother and rests his hand on his shoulder. “Good luck, David.” He leaves the office, closing the door behind him.

Markham frowns and shakes his head at David, and orders him to sit down. David does as he’s told, looking quite nervous. Then, Markham gives him a lecture he hopes David will never forget.

“McBain, I have a very good mind to take your badge and gun right here, right now,” he gruffles. “Are you telling me that you hooked up with a dangerous gang member, when you supposed to be looking out for troublemakers and party-crashers?!”

David takes a silent breath and says, “Actually, he was neither a party-crasher, nor a troublemaker. Kieran’s really nice and kind, and he actually paid to get into the dance. I know that sounds irrelevant, but it’s true. He says he was forced into the gang by his older brother, who actually became a Soldier long before he did.”

“That’s ridiculous, McBain!” Markham bellows. “People don’t get forced into gangs! They join gangs because they’re bad kids who don’t give a damn about themselves or anyone else! My God, even you know that!”

“Kieran was forced into this gang!” David insists. “And let me tell you something, he isn’t exactly enjoying this kind of lifestyle. In fact, it’s been hell on Earth for him. Do you want to know what he told me in the parking lot?”

Markham folds his arms and pouts. “What?”

“He told me that these Fire Soldiers are making him do all the gang activity, and that he’s embarrassed by it all! He wants to leave the gang, go back to school, get his education, and make something of his life! But all the other Soldiers won’t let him leave, because they forced him to take some oath!” David’s voice is sounding incredibly sharp.

“And you believed that?”

“Yes.” His voice is calmer this time.

Markham shakes his head in disgust and disbelief. “What other lies did he tell you, McBain?”

“Did you know that Kieran has been running from the gang, and hiding in a secure place every time we officers show up?” David asks. “He does that because he’s afraid of getting arrested and doing time in jail! And I know that for a fact, because I never see him in the crowd when I show up to confront them! Did you know that?!”

Markham looks at David as if he’s crazy. “He’s afraid of doing time in jail,” he repeats. He pauses to shake his head. David rolls his eyes.

“I tell you, McBain,” Markham says. “You may be obsessed with the idea that all juveniles can make good of themselves. But this time, I’m sure you’ve gone too far! You’re obviously so spineless around this boy, it’s not even funny. You believe a gang member who says he wants out! How can you be so sure of that? Where is this boy now?”

“Virgil and I took him back to his house in our car,” David answers. “Kieran left his gang jacket in the back seat. Excuse me while I go get it.” He stands up and starts for his car, but Markham stops him.

“You hold it right there, McBain!”

David stops halfway to the door, and turns to face the chief. Markham continues speaking, “My boy, you are a fool if you think you can turn a gang member’s life around! Tell me, are you acting as some sort of Big Brother toward this Kieran Camp kid?”

“Yes.” David walks back to the chair and sits back down.

Markham bangs his head on his desk once and mutters, “Oh my God, McBain.” He brings his head back up and gives a very disapproving glare. “Do you have any idea what the hell you’re doing by being friendly with this boy? You are playing Russian roulette with your reputation as a police officer! What do you think would happen if I reported this to the mayor, and to the administrative staff at City Hall? They would give me the right to really strip you of your badge and guns, and you could just kiss your law enforcement career goodbye!”

“Oh, stop it, Chief! They wouldn’t do that! They’d probably just praise me for helping somebody – which is what I'm supposed to do as a policeman. Now, if you could just put your prejudiced views toward youth aside, and just listen to me for a few moments…”

“Save it, McBain!” Markham retrieves a bottle of Pepto-Bismol from his desk drawer and takes a few gulps of it. He does this whenever he feels too much stress. He tells David in a softer, yet firm tone, “Surely, both you and I know that what you’re doing is very unprofessional behaviour. I can’t ever imagine becoming a Big Brother to a gang member. I just know I wouldn’t expect this nonsense from Virgil, or any other one of my men and women. I used to work with your father and a couple of your uncles, back when I was a policeman in Brandon. You remember that, don’t you? Tell me, would any of them approve of what you’re doing right now?”

“Maybe if they listened while I explained about Kieran, yeah,” David answers. He is showing little patience. “Look, just because you’re the chief of police in this department…”

“Enough, McBain,” Markham says.

“…does not give you the right to tell me whom I can and cannot help,” David continues. “Law enforcement is not just about making arrests on criminal felons. I know that, and you know that. I am entitled to help anyone who needs it!”

Markham stands up and screams, “ENOUGH, McBAIN!!!” He takes a few sharp breaths and sits back down. He speaks in a rational, yet sharp tone. “You don’t know who you’re messing with, boy. This is not your average Joe we’re talking about here! This is some rebellious punk kid! Is your acting as his Big Brother worth risking your reputation as a cop?”

David is fed up with Markham’s prejudiced attitude towards his new friend, so he says to him, “You’re obviously not hearing me out, so I’m going to bring Kieran here tomorrow morning. Perhaps you’ll listen to him!” He stands up and leaves Markham’s office, slamming the door behind him.

Virgil notices David’s unhappy look and asks, “How’d things go for you?”

“Not so hot,” David replies. “Chief Markham says I’m on the verge of getting fired and losing my career. Do you think I deserve that?”

“Any cop who gets chummy with the bad guys does deserve something like that.”

“Look, Virgil, we’re talking about a kid who’s been stripped of his innocence here.” David stresses. “He wants to be a role model for society, but there are certain people who won’t let him. He’s desperate to get out of this nightmare of his. And it is a nightmare for him. But Markham can’t see that. He thinks this is the kind of life Kieran wants.” He pauses to take deep breaths, fighting any urge to get emotional. “He thinks that Kieran is a bad guy who, like the other criminal teens in this city, doesn’t give a damn about what he wants in life. And even I know that’s not true. I know, just by looking at the unhappiness on his face, that he wants to leave these mean streets.”

“I don’t think you understand what teenagers are really like,” Virgil says. “You say that Kieran’s been acting like a criminal, and regretting every minute of it. The only reason why teens act like criminals is because they want to be criminals. It’s the way things are around here, and even you can’t change that, David. You know what I think your problem is?”

“Like I need to know.”

“Your problem is you put so much faith – too much faith – in young people, thinking that they’ll stay on the straight-and-narrow with your words of wisdom. You can’t do that when you’re a cop, David. Remember, a good cop trusts no one. So, you can’t put any faith into any one person, no matter who they are. You have to be...”

“Forget it, Virgil! I’m bringing Kieran to my shift tomorrow to talk to Markham, regardless.”

Virgil looks like he wants to shake David violently, but he folds his arms instead. “What makes you think he’ll listen to him? Kieran’s just a criminal teen in his eyes.”

“If Markham doesn’t listen to Kieran, then it won’t matter, big brother,” David argues. “I’m going to see to it that Kieran leaves the Fire Soldiers, no matter what it takes! I don’t care if it’s not in my place! And right now, I don’t even care if it costs me my job!”

David walks away from Virgil, looking frustrated. Virgil feels like he’s completely out of ideas.

~~~~~~~~~~

Jasper, Brock, and the other Fire Soldiers are loitering in the alley, waiting for Kieran to return. Jasper looks frustrated and angry. He’s constantly checking his watch. The time reads five-thirty. He is sighing over and over. “Stupid little shit prick, where is he?” he mutters.

Elizabeth goes to him and puts her hand on his shoulder. She says, “Don’t worry. I’m sure Kieran is here somewhere. He’s probably just coming back from robbing an entire mall, or something.”

“Liz, I told Kieran to come back here when he’s made a decision,” Jasper says. “It’s very simple. It’s either us or that little cop friend of his. It shouldn’t take him this long to decide.”

“No way would he betray us, Jasper,” Brock says. “He’s not like that with his friends. And he certainly wouldn’t go back home to our Mom. She’s such a fucking whore.”

“Well, I’ve got a plan in mind,” Jasper declares. “If Kieran’s not back here by eight the next morning, we all go out and look for him.” All the other Fire Soldiers are cheering, as if that’s the best idea ever.

Then, another Soldier named Tony pulls out a marijuana cigarette and shows it to everyone. “I’ve got a treat for all of us here, you guys,” he says.

Elizabeth takes a lighter out of her jacket pocket, while Tony puts the marijuana in between his lips. She lights the marijuana and he takes a puff. Tony gives the marijuana to Elizabeth, and she takes a puff. She passes it to Jasper, who puffs, then passes it on to Brock. Brock puffs on it, then passes it on to the person standing next to him, and so on.

“Man, Kieran sure doesn’t know what he’s missing out on,” Brock says. “Great times, great friends, freedom. I don’t know why he’s resisting it all.”

“Oh, you know him, Brock,” Tony says. “We all do. He’d rather be a good boy than a party boy.” He starts to mimic Kieran. “Oh, I don’t want to steal. I don’t want to do drugs. I don’t want to sell myself for cash. I want to go back to school, and get a good job to make money, and have a real future.”

Everybody laughs, and Travis, standing beside him, says, “Oh yeah, who needs that?! Only wussies and squares. Not us, and certainly not Kieran.”

“Yeah, he needs to be cooler than that,” Brock agrees. “That’s the only reason why I made him join this gang in the first place.”

The marijuana has gone all the way around when there’s no more left. Soon afterwards, two more Soldiers named Marcus and Zania come back to the alley with brand-new bottles of rum, tequila and vodka. They had stolen them from a liquor store a few blocks away.

“Hey, we brought back some beverages,” Marcus calls.

“And we did it all without Jasper telling us,” Zania adds.

“Very thoughtful, you guys,” Jasper comments. He quickly opens all three bottles and takes a drink from each one. He gives the rum to Brock, and the vodka to Elizabeth, and they drink from each bottle.

“So, let’s go over the plan again, people,” Jasper says. “If we don’t see Kieran here tomorrow morning, we all go out and look for him. We look in every place possible and leave no stone unturned. Once he is found, we decide on something severe and punish him together. This is what he’ll get for not coming back when I tell him to. Is everyone cool with that?” Everyone cheers loud enough to have people come out and stare. The Soldiers give them all filthy, scary looks, and the people go back inside.

“He’s gonna to be in so much trouble, that fucking bastard,” says another Fire Soldier named Ricky. Jasper offers him the bottle of tequila, and Ricky takes a drink from it. He hands the bottle back to Zania.

When the bottles are half-empty, the gang starts to hear sirens. The police have come to arrest Marcus and Zania for theft. Jasper collects the bottles and throws them to the ground, smashing them. “Prepare to fight!” he calls. Jasper retrieves a loaded gun, and the rest of the Soldiers prepare their weapons – guns, knives, bombs, grenades, broken bottles, even their fists. The ones with guns run up front with Jasper.

Immediately, the officers get out of their cars and get their own guns ready. “Freeze!” one officer yells. “Drop your weapons and get down on the ground! Do it now!”

Instead, Jasper and the other Fire Soldiers with guns fire at everyone. They break from shooting and duck when the officers start firing back. Three Soldiers throw their grenades, and all of them hit various police cars, exploding them. All the officers quickly move out of the way to avoid being blown up.

Jasper and the gang then lead the officers on a chase. They run through three crossings and two stoplights, causing several cars to come to sudden stops, before police catch up with them. The officers grab several members’ arms and try to arrest them, but they quickly release themselves from them. No words are exchanged as the Fire Soldiers begin to beat on them, and attack them with their knives and bottle chards. Gang members take turns with the broken bottles.

Several other police cars, and several off-duty officers see the fight, and run to stop it. Backup officers are called, and when they arrive, the fight soon ends as the officers push and shove the gang onto the pavement. They’re wrestling around as the officers try to place the Fire Soldiers under arrest. But the officers are successful, and as Jasper is led to a police car, an officer asks him curtly, “What made you and your little posse go and attack us all like that?! We’d just gotten a call reporting two thefts, and we were just going to make those arrests!”

“We were just having a little party after we made up our plan to get one of our own back from your kind!” Jasper sneers. “But you fucking cops had to go and spoil it for us!”

“Well, now, you’re under arrest not only for theft, but also for resisting arrest and assault on officers! Maybe you guys will finally learn.” He puts Jasper in the backseat of the car and slams the door closed. Moments later, Marcus and Zania are placed with Jasper.

As the arresting officer drives off, Jasper spits at him, “Yeah, take us all to jail if you want! But we’ll be busted out by six tomorrow morning! And we’re going out to look for our stray then, let me tell you!!”

~~~~~~~~~~

That evening, as Kieran finishes washing the dinner dishes, the phone rings. He puts the last of the serving dishes in the drying rack and answers the phone. “Hello?”

“May I speak with Kieran, please?” says the voice on the other end of the line. “This is David McBain calling.”

“This is Kieran,” he says. “So, how did things go for you today?”

“Hi, Kieran,” David says. “I’ve had a rotten shift today.”

“What happened?” Kieran asks.

“I told the chief about us, Kieran,” David replies. “He’s not too happy about it. You won’t believe what he said to me.”

“What?”

“He said that I’m risking both my reputation and police career, all because of the fact that I’m being your Big Brother.”

“Holy moley!” Kieran places his hand on his forehead and shakes his head, feeling a little frustrated. “He must have some really strong views about me.”

“Oh, he does. He says that you don’t really want your problem solved. He thinks you’re just like every other good little kid gone bad. He says that you don’t care about your life or future, and that you don’t really want to leave the Fire Soldiers.”

“This is just because I became one of them against my will, isn’t it?”

“Oh, I doubt he believes that. He also says that kids don’t get forced into gangs. He thinks that you became a Fire Soldier because you’re an out-of-control teenager who doesn’t give a flying hoot about anything – not yourself, or anyone else, or anything else. Now, is that shocking to you?”

“Oh my God!” Kieran is sounding more frustrated. “I can’t believe he said that about me, David. I just can’t imagine him labelling me as some bad boy! That’s the last thing I need, is labels.” He pauses to think of what else Markham may have said. “David, did your chief actually tell you that you can’t be my Big Brother?”

“No. He didn’t exactly forbid this, but I think he might tell me to stop seeing you one of these days. I’d bet everything on it.”

“Then my mission is clear. I have to go down to the station with you, and convince this man that I’m worthy of change. He has to realise this. Somehow, some way.”

“I’m sceptical, Kieran. There’s just no way that he’ll listen to you. You may have taken off the gang gear in the car when we took you home, but you’re not out of the woods yet. Not by a long shot. You’re still a Fire Soldier, and I think that’s because you haven’t told any of your gang members that you officially quit.”

"You’re right, I haven’t. But, like I’ve said before, with you as my Big Brother – my mentor – I’ll have the courage I need.”

“Still, you are a bad guy in the eyes of Chief Tom Markham.” David is speaking in a stressed tone. “He’ll have all the available personnel lock you up the moment he lays eyes on you, I guarantee you that. He won’t even give you one chance.”

Kieran rolls his eyes. “This chief of yours must really love his job, doesn’t he?”

“You’re damned straight! Just so you know, this man has been in law enforcement for over thirty years. He takes pride in every single day of his career. Let me warn you, Kieran, he is one tough cookie.”

“Well, I don’t care what this man is like, David. I’ll make him listen to me. This Tom Markham guy can be as tough as he wants to be. But I can be as tough as I have to be! Trust me, David, there’s a huge difference.”

“If you say so.”

Kieran decides to talk about something else. “So, what happened to you guys after you took me home?”

“About a couple of hours after we reported back to the station,” David says, “we got this backup call about a police shootout and chase involving your alleged gang friends. Apparently, we’d gotten a call about some liquor thefts, and they had gone on this chase to resist arrests. They were putting active officers and themselves in danger, running through busy traffic. Talk about defiance. But what Virgil and I saw was worse than what was anticipated. The gang was using the liquor bottles they’d stolen as weapons against the officers. I guess they’d smashed them and decided to use the broken pieces. They also used knives they had, as well as their own bare knuckles! It was mayhemic!”

Kieran can’t believe this. “Are you okay? I mean, did you get hurt?”

“Oh, yeah. One of the Soldiers tried to get at me with a knife, but I knocked it out of his hand before he could. I also punched out two other gang members who had punched me in my stomach and chest. I was able to arrest all of them.”

“Well, thank God I was safe at home.” Kieran then clears his throat. “Your shift begins at nine o’clock, right? Refresh my memory, please.”

“That it does.”

“Shall I be ready for eight-thirty then, like we planned?”

“Let’s make it twenty to nine. I can get you there a few minutes early. This can get you enough time to talk to Markham before I go on duty.”

“Excellent! So, I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”

“See you,” David says, and hangs up.

Kieran hangs up his phone and starts to think. He tries to picture Chief Tom Markham as the tough law enforcer that David says he is. It’s very easy, considering what David told him, and the things Markham said about him. How will Kieran get him to listen? Will he have to resort to screaming at the man, just to get his full attention? No, he could never do that. He could never shout at adults and authority in such a defiant manner. Kieran certainly hasn’t shouted at his own mother in his whole life.

Kieran knows he has to get forceful with this man, Chief Markham. If he doesn’t, Markham will surely put him in jail without hearing what he has to say. This is the farthest thing he wants. He wants to convince Markham that leaving the Fire Soldiers is his primary wish. But how can he do that without making himself and David look idiotic? Kieran rubs the sides of his head with his fingertips. He hasn’t a simple idea what to do.

All of a sudden, the answer starts to come to him. He remembers the advice his mother gave him when he was nine years old. Back then, he had been tortured by classmates who asked personal questions about his late father. Mrs. Camp told him, “Confront these people in a rational, yet firm manner. Tell them exactly how you feel about them asking questions you don’t want to answer, and that they should stop it. Ignoring the problem won't make it go away.”

Kieran decides to take that advice. Yes, he will walk right up to Chief Markham, and tell him to hear his side of things before making any judgements towards him. He plans to tell him exactly what he thinks of the gang life, and that he wants to leave forever. And he vows to be rational, yet firm about it. He knows he’ll have David by his side. David will act as his guide, his rock, the Big Brother he promised he’d be. Of course, some emotional support would be good. No way will Kieran be able to handle this by himself.

Kieran goes back to the dishes. He picks up the dish towel and dries off the last of the cutlery. As he puts it away, some terrible thoughts begin to bother him. He remembers Jasper and Brock, and their private confrontation with him in the washrooms during the dance. He remembers Jasper telling him, “We want you to stay here and think about what we said. When you come to a decision, come back to our alley.”

He realises that he went against their orders completely. He becomes frightened. He knows Jasper and Brock, and the rest of the Soldiers, aren’t out looking for him right now, but what if they break out and come for him during the night? He knows that Jasper and the others do not stay in jail for long once they’re arrested. What if they’re even breaking out as he is thinking this?

Kieran quickly slams the drawer shut. He runs over to the front and back doors and locks them. He goes over to the living room window and closes both the curtains and drapes. Then he starts going all over the house, doing the same thing to all the other windows. He even locks all the windows that have locks.

Mrs. Camp meets up with Kieran and asks what he’s up to. He tells her, “Mom, don’t unlock any doors or open any windows, whatever you do! What if Brock and the other Fire Soldiers are combing the city, looking for me as we speak? They can’t find me here.”

“I don’t think Brock will come back here for you,” Mrs. Camp tells him. “Not unless he’s willing to change.”

“I doubt that, Mom” Kieran replies. “Brock and the others will find me. Then, they’ll take me back to their alley, maybe beat me half to death, and make me do more of their dirty work. I can’t afford that!”

Kieran runs into his bedroom and closes the door behind him. He turns on the light above his bed. He turns on his ghetto blaster to a soft rock music station, setting the volume to a soft level. He stacks his bed pillows and lays his head down. Surely, this will calm him down.

He feels it working. After about fifteen minutes, Kieran no longer worries about the Fire Soldiers looking for him. He knows he’s safe for now.

He stares at the ceiling and thinks about David. He fantasises about all the things they’ll do together when Kieran leaves the gang, just the two of them. On David’s nights off, maybe they’ll go to the theatre or the movies, or even a sporting event. Maybe they’ll attend the fireworks display together on Canada Day. And in the summer, when David has some vacation time, they’ll probably leave Winnipeg for a week and go on a camping trip somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. Kieran knows he’ll have some good times with David. He’s looking forward to them.


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