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This story contains scenes with violence and coarse language.
Kieran wakes up the next morning with looks of both confidence and dread. He is confidant because this is his important day. Today, he will persuade Chief Tom Markham that he wants out of his dreaded gang. On the other hand, Kieran also feels apprehensive, worried and nervous. He knows what Markham is like, attitude-wise, but he has no idea what the man looks like. For all he knows, Markham could be a three hundred-pound sumo wrestler with ape-like hands, who could take Kieran out before he could even speak.
Kieran shakes his head, putting those thoughts aside. He has to stay confident and strong. Convincing a police chief that he wants to leave a hardcore gang is the first major step for him. He doesn’t want to embarrass himself today. He can’t afford that.
Kieran gets out of bed and walks to his closet. He wants to look presentable for his visit. He decides on a white turtleneck, a khaki vest, and a pair of cinnamon brown dress pants. He changes into his outfit, then looking for a pair of suitable dress shoes. He finds some in an old shoebox next to his bookshelf. He dumps them out of the box and puts them on. He goes to examine his look in the mirror.
Perfect, he thinks, doing a spin-around. If this doesn't arouse Markham’s interest in me, I don’t know what will.
Kieran goes upstairs to make breakfast. A bowl of cereal, a couple of slices of toast, and a glass of milk and orange juice each will be enough for him. He puts two slices of bread into the toaster, then goes to the cupboards for a bowl and two glasses. Kieran soon scrambles around to prepare the cereal and beverages. He looks over his shoulder to check the time. It’s exactly eight o’clock. He has forty minutes to eat before David comes to pick him up. Kieran decides to slow down a bit.
Kieran puts the toast on a small plate when it was ready. He takes it over to the dining table, and puts it down with the rest of his food. He looks at his big breakfast and smiles with satisfaction. Just the energy that I need, he thinks.
Mrs. Camp walks into the kitchen to see her son’s meal. She asks, “What’s all this about, Kieran? You don't normally eat this much in the morning. Usually, it’s just a bowl of cereal and a glass of milk.”
“I have a big day ahead of me, Mom,” Kieran explains. “You remember David McBain, don’t you? He’s taking me to the police station where he works. I have to convince his boss that I’m worthy of leaving of the Fire Soldiers. Right now, from what David told me, this guy thinks it’s not true.”
“I thought you were out of the gang already,” Mrs. Camp says.
“Oh, Mom, I’m so far from out,” Kieran says. “See, I may have come home to you yesterday, but that was only a minor step. Today, I take a major step – explaining my goal to a respected authority figure.” He eats some more cereal and swallows.
“Well, that should be easy. I’m sure this boss of David’s is very nice and understanding.” She starts to make a pot of coffee for herself.
“Wrong, Mom. This man is very biased towards people like me. He’s the type of cop who believes people like me join gangs on their own, and don’t want to get out.”
Mrs. Camp starts having flashbacks from her meeting with David the day before. She begins to relive some of the things he said to them.
“I believe that there’s no such thing as a rotten kid.”
“Even the kids at risk – you know, kids who smoke, drink, do drugs, don’t go to school, commit crimes, and so on – have the potential to do things to make the world better.”
“Nobody on the force will support me in this, not even my own brother, Virgil. They all say that I’m wrong.”
“They say that once a juvenile is headed for a life of crime, there’s no turning back. They say that you can’t change a juvenile delinquent, because he’ll show no sign of wanting to change.”
Mrs. Camp lowers her head in sheer disappointment. “Oh my heavens,” she mutters.
“Yes, Mom, I have a challenge before me today,” Kieran says. “I need my energy.” He finishes up his cereal and drinks some more milk.
By the time he finishes his breakfast, it’s twenty-five minutes after eight. Fifteen minutes before David comes to pick him up. Kieran disposes his dirty dishes in the sink, and fills it with hot, soapy water. He rushes into the bathroom to brush his teeth, comb his hair and use deodorant.
At eight-thirty, Kieran steps out of the bathroom, well-groomed and smelling nice. He looks at his mother and says, “I’m just going outside to wait for David. He’s going to be here soon.” He steps out of the house and walks to the end of the walkway, looking out for David.
After waiting for a few minutes, Kieran sees the police car pull up in the driveway. David has arrived early. Kieran walks to the front and sits in the passenger’s seat. He notices his jacket in the back seat and sighs. He had hoped that David threw it away when he got off shift the day before.
“Good morning, David,” Kieran says as he buckles up his seat belt.
“Morning, Kieran,” David replies as he backs out of the driveway. He starts driving down the street as he continues, “I noticed the outfit you’re wearing. You look very nice today. Is that new?”
“Thanks,” Kieran says. “It’s for that chief you work for. If I want to convince him that I need to leave Jasper and the other Soldiers, I need to make a good first impression. And, no, it’s not new. I got this for my eleventh birthday. Normally, I wear clothes like these to school. I only wear them as leisure on special occasions.”
“That’s a very nice idea. So, how have you been lately?”
“Oh, swell.” He hasn’t told David about the previous evening, after he finished talking with him, when he shut all the doors and windows to keep the Soldiers from finding him. David doesn’t know that Kieran was supposed to go back to the gang alley, after making his decision at the dance. Kieran doesn’t know how he would react to that.
“Do you know if Virgil’s already at the station?” Kieran asks instead.
“He should be,” David says. “I spoke to him just before I left. He said something about a drug dealing sting that we have planned today. He got word that some other gang’s involved with this, not yours. We’ll have to make this quick, okay? I really can’t miss role call.”
Kieran gasps silently. He realises that his own gang is still out for him. He leans forward so he can look out for Fire Soldiers through the windshield. The second Kieran spots a certain punk kid in a black, orange and green-striped jacket with a matching bandanna, he’ll duck his head down. David isn’t driving downtown yet, so there are no Fire Soldiers around. Good, Kieran thinks. He estimates that they will be starting to look for him right now, so they will still be in the downtown area.
David, however, somehow knows that the Soldiers would be out for Kieran. He says, “Kieran, we’re approaching downtown now. I expect the Fire Soldiers might be looking for you here. Duck down now, and stay that way until we get to the station, okay? I don’t want them to see you.”
Kieran ducks down as far as he can. When David turns on the street corner, he sees a troubling sight. The street he is now driving on is littered with Fire Soldiers.
“Oh, for Christmas sake,” David mutters as he looks around through the windshield.
“The street’s packed with my posse, isn’t it?” Kieran guesses.
“At least ten or fifteen,” David estimates. “Keep your head down, Kieran.”
About several minutes later, David and Kieran arrive at the police station. David parks the car in front of the building, steps out and looks around for any more Soldiers lurking about. There are none, so he turns to Kieran.
“The coast is clear, Kieran,” David says. “Now, I want you to get out of the car and run inside as fast as you can, before anyone familiar sees you.”
Immediately and quickly, Kieran brings his head up and unfastens his seat belt. He jumps out of the car and runs into the station like an Olympic sprinter. David does another quick check around for any Soldiers, then hurries directly inside.
Kieran is waiting for David. When he sees him, he asks, “Did anyone see me?”
“No,” David answers. “You made it in all right.”
Kieran slides the back of his hand across his forehead and says, “Now, before you introduce me to this chief of yours, you have to tell me what he looks like. I woke up this morning thinking about some three hundred-pound man who could finish me off with one wallop!”
David laughs loudly and replies, “No, Kieran. Tom Markham looks pretty good for a guy who’s had a long career in law enforcement. He’s fifty-nine years old, has greying brown hair and an average build. He may have a sharp way of thinking and speaking, but he’s not physically violent. He won’t hurt you, I promise.”
“I believe you, David,” Kieran says.
David takes Kieran to Tom Markham’s office and knocks on the door. They hear Markham’s voice say, “Come in.” David opens the door, and he and Kieran walk in.
Markham looks up from his paperwork to see David and Kieran. Kieran is trying to keep a straight, serious face. David brings him forward and says, “Chief Markham, this is Kieran Camp. You remember me telling about him, don't you? I met him yesterday at the spring dance.”
“Ah, yes, I remember,” Markham says. “The Fire Soldier who’s desperate to lose his colours, right?”
“Yes,” David answers.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir,” Kieran says as he holds his hand out. He seems relieved that Markham looks exactly as David described, instead of the large, muscular man he imagined.
Markham hesitates for only a few seconds before shaking Kieran’s hand, then invites both him and David to sit down. Kieran takes this as a good sign. No immediate dismissals or apprehensive actions.
Markham turns to Kieran and asks him some questions. “Kieran, I understand that you were forced to join the Fire Soldiers against your will. Is this true?”
“Very true,” Kieran answers. “I was forced into this gang by my bad older brother, Brock, and every day from then on was sheer hell for me. Brock and all the rest of them, they make me do all the bad stuff. I’ve looked back on everything and thought, ‘What have I done?’ Every assault, all the arson, all the times I’ve robbed, all the drugging – you name it, they’ve made me do it, I swear to God. And I can’t take any more of this, sir.”
“Why do you want to leave the Fire Soldiers?”
“My personal goal is to leave this gang and go back to school. I want to get good grades again, hopefully go to university one day, and actually make something of my life, unlike these losers I’m with now. I want to get back on course.”
“And how were you doing in school before all this happened?”
“Excellent. I was getting A’s and B’s in the eighth grade.”
“What?!” Markham is surprised to hear this. He sits straight up and stares at Kieran with wonder. “Are you sure you just turned thirteen? When was this? Not that long ago, I’m guessing. What would you be doing in the eighth grade?”
“You’re right, it wasn’t that long ago,” Kieran says. “Actually, I turned thirteen at the beginning of February, just before I joined the Fire Soldiers. I skipped one grade in elementary school, that’s why I’m in eighth.”
“Why would your brother force you into the Fire Soldiers?” Markham asks. “How is this remotely possible? That really doesn’t go over well with me.”
Kieran takes a deep breath, psyching himself up, and starts explaining, “Brock forced me to join just so I could be like him. See, my mother disowned Brock when he was about fifteen, because of his bad behaviour. He dropped out of school, got into drugs and alcohol, talked fresh to Mom – and probably you guys, picked fights with me and so on. He even went so far as to beat Mom. This led to her kicking him out.”
Markham leans back in his chair. “And this really led Brock to become a Soldier?”
“Yes it did.”
“And what about you?”
“I was a model child at home, the exact opposite of Brock. I was doing my homework, always respecting Mom, and I’d never missed one day of school. You know me, always doing my best to stay out of trouble.”
Markham leans in closer to Kieran. “When do you think your brother was kicked out the first time? Around what month?”
“It was definitely mid-March of last year, because I hadn’t seen or spoken to Brock in ten-and-a-half months before he came and took me, after Mom threw him out again.”
“Was it always like this in your home? How long would you say this has been going on?”
“Four years, ever since our father died. Well, five years as of this August.”
“Is this a reason why one of my best officers is your Big Brother?” Markham looks up at David, somewhat dismayed. “Because you and your brother have no father?”
“Partly, yes.” Kieran hacks a little bit. “My father passed away of an illness, and my mother hadn’t thought of remarriage. I know that’s why Brock acted the way he did at home, because he lost the only person he ever loved, and now he has no one to spend time with, or teach him the facts of life. I didn’t really have a problem with that, because I was much more closer to my mother. Don’t get me wrong; I loved my Dad, too. But I think my Mom was the more special one in my life. Or, maybe it was because I was Mom’s favourite, and Brock was Dad’s favourite. Take your pick.”
“Still, I thought it would be good for Kieran to have a father figure in his life,” David adds. “I figured that if he really needed to get out of the gang, and get his life back on track, he would need a male role model to boost his confidence.”
Markham says to Kieran, “One last question: what’s this I hear about you being afraid of jail? That’s not the typical attitude of a gang member.”
“I don’t want to go to jail because that would lessen my chances of any career,” Kieran answers. “I took a lifestyles class in the seventh grade. One of the things I learned is that even one hour of real jail time, not the time you spend there to see what it’s like, can lead to a major flaw on your record. I learned that it could lessen your chances for a really good job when you’re twenty-five or thirty, even when you’re my age.”
“I see,” Markham says, clearing his throat. “Kieran, why don’t you step outside my office for a few moments?” He looks at David again. “I want to speak to your Big Brother alone.”
“Sure,” says Kieran. He leaves his seat and walks out, closing the door behind him.
“Well, what did you think of him, Chief?” David asks with a hint of confidence. “Now, do you believe me? Do you understand that this kid needs my help?”
“No,” answers Markham.
David starts to frown. “Why not?”
“Come on, McBain.” Markham gives him a stern look. “Do you honestly think I’m naive enough to fall for that crap? I found certain parts of his story a little hard to swallow.”
“Like the part about being forced into the gang, and being desperate enough to get out, right?” David is very sarcastic, and looks very displeased.
“Damn straight! I’ve spent the last three decades enforcing the law, McBain! I think I know better than to believe that kind of malarkey coming from a thirteen-year-old!”
“I’ll bet!” David retorts. “You just don’t like me being Kieran’s Big Brother. You want me to part with him, just so he could serve thirty years for some major crime he wouldn’t even think of committing!” He scowls at Markham for a few moments. “Well, I won’t have that, sir. Kieran sure as hell does not want that in his life, and I’m going to see that he doesn’t get it!”
“Don’t talk to me in that tone, all right?!” Markham orders. “When you’re working as a cop, you can’t afford to be marshmallow soft to certain people, and you know it!”
“You can’t afford to be a damn stone to any type of person, either!” David stresses. “You can say what you want about the young offenders in this city, but you can’t drill that into my way of thinking!”
He closes his eyes and breathes through his nose, then speaks more rationally. “Part of the reason why I’m a cop is because I love to help people. You understand that, right? But, what I really love to do is help young people. I make them see that there is hope for them. And you can’t take that away from me. How many times do I have to say it before I get through to you? Now, if you’re a real police chief, you’d find some place in your heart to understand that, and you’d also allow me to help Kieran out!”
“Don't tell me how to do my fucking job, McBain! If anything, I should be telling you how to do your job!”
Markham notices the angry look on David’s face. It’s as if he wants to slap him for that outburst. He speaks in a quieter voice and selects his words carefully. "Look, it’s just like what I tried telling you yesterday. You can’t change a gang member by being his buddy. Cops aren’t allowed to do that. If they do, they get in trouble.”
David is not convinced, so Markham comes up with a perfect example. “It’s just like a cop who falls for a beautiful woman in a fake fur coat, living on the streets, whom he thinks can’t find her way home. He finds out later that she’s a prostitute, and he promises to help her get off the streets and into a good job, if she agrees to pledge his love. Sorry, McBain, but it doesn’t work that way. The cop who fell in love with the prostitute would cause a city-wide scandal if his colleagues and the public found out. In the end, he would be fired, lose his badge, and be warned about to other departments, not just in the city and province, but all over the country.”
“Are you saying that I shouldn’t be Kieran’s Big Brother?” David asks.
“Not unless you want to be fired, and warned about nation-wide,” Markham says. “Because I’ll do that! I’ll e-mail all the other departments in Canada. I’ll tell them that you, Constable David Jebediah McBain, got yourself involved with a member of Winnipeg’s most vicious gang. They’ll never hire you because of what you’ve done, and they won’t even listen to your stories about how this kid was forced into the gang! Nor will they be interested in what you have to say about how bad kids can change themselves! They won’t believe you for a nanosecond! They’ll think you’re making an ass of yourself!”
Now David is really upset. He bangs his fist on Markham’s desk and yells, “Goddammit, Markham, I am NOT having this conversation! Don’t bother dismissing me, because I’m going to dismiss myself!” He walks hurriedly out of the office, slamming the door.
Kieran notices David’s unhappy look, and becomes worried. He says, “I could hear your argument, David. Are you going to stop being my Big Brother?”
“Oh, no,” David replies. “Remember when I said that I’d be your Big Brother so you could leave the gang? I meant that, and I'm going to stick by it until you're out.” He sighs regrettably. “There’s something I want you to know, Kieran. My big sister and I both grew up wanting to help young people. Diana became a teacher, and I had to become a cop. Over and over, she kept telling me to be a teacher like her. But I didn’t, I just had to stick with the family business. Why didn’t I take her advice? I should just take my gun and shoot myself right now.”
“Hey, if you lose your job because of me, you can always become a school counsellor,” Kieran suggests. “You’d be a natural, David.”
“I guess,” David says. “So, what do you want to do while you’re here?”
“Don’t you have a job to do right now?”
“Right,” he says. “I have role call to attend to. Virgil’s going to wonder where I am.” They arrive at the meeting room, and David says to Kieran, “Stay outside and wait for me, all right? I’ll be right out.”
Minutes later, David and some other officers come out. As they leave, David tells Kieran, “I’ve talked to Virgil about you, and we’re going to have you act as bait. I need to keep you occupied; it’ll help keep you away from those Soldiers. The sting’s at the back of the Unicity Mall, over by The Bay. I’ll explain what you have to do on the way there.” Then, he stops and places his cap on Kieran’s head. “Here you go. I’ll bet those Soldiers won’t notice you in that.”
As David and Kieran start to leave the station, they hear another officer say, “Guys, we’ve got trouble.” They rush outside, push their way ahead of the other officers, and receive a surprise. They are confronted by the Fire Soldiers, standing in their way. They’re all glaring at Kieran.
Brock turns to Jasper and says, “See, Jasper? I told you he’d be here.”
Jasper walks up to Kieran and says, “Well, well, well, if it isn’t Constable Kieran Camp, all out of uniform, and associated by his little partner here. What are you supposed to be, a plainclothes officer?” He takes David’s cap off Kieran’s head and throws it on the ground, then crushes it in one stomp.
David is infuriated. “Hey, that cap cost fifty bucks!” he yells.
“Shut up, you gang-wrecker!” Jasper yells at him. The other officers start to get involved, but David stops them.
“Everybody stay behind me, all right?” he orders them. “I’ll handle this.” He turns back to Jasper. “Don’t you dare talk to me like that! How would you like me to haul your rear into the station right now?” But Jasper doesn’t answer him.
“I’ve made a disturbing discovery,” Elizabeth says as she walks up to Kieran. “I went through my purse last night and counted fourteen dollars missing. You wouldn’t happen to know where it went to, would you, Kieran?”
“I spent it all at the Big Brothers/Big Sisters Spring Dance yesterday, for your big, fat information,” Kieran says with a smirky look.
“Well, in that case, I know someone who’s gonna be prostituting in order to pay me back,” she replies.
“He won’t be prostituting for any money tonight, you guys,” David says. “He's going to be spending the day with me, then he’ll be going back home to his mother.”
Brock is shocked, horrified, looks sick and ready to faint. He looks at Kieran and asks, “Did you go back to our Mom, little brother?”
“As a matter of fact, I did,” Kieran answers.
“Why?” Brock demands. “Why’d you go home to that fucking whore? She didn’t want nothing to do with us, Kieran!”
“Wrong,” Kieran says. “She didn’t want anything to do with you! She was, however, delighted to have me back at home.”
“Oh, is that where you got that tacky outfit?” Brock stares at Kieran’s clothes in disgust. “I never did like that.”
Jasper takes a second look at the outfit, and puts on a horrific look. “Where the fuck’s your jacket and bandanna, Kieran?!” he demands.
“I left it in David’s police car when he took me home from the dance yesterday,” Kieran says. “I’m never going to wear either one again, because it’s like I’ve told you, I want out of the Fire Soldiers! By the way, Jasper, you must be totally drugged up, if you didn’t notice I wasn’t wearing my jacket the first time!”
Jasper grabs Kieran’s vest and yells, “Listen, man, I’m fucking tired of your smart remarks! And you ain’t quitting the gang for shit, you hear me?!!! You took an oath to be faithful! You, Brock, Liz – all of you took an oath to be faithful towards the Fire Soldiers! Everyone else is living by that oath! Why don’t you try it sometime?”
David pries Kieran away from Jasper. He steps in front of him and addressed the Soldiers. He pulls out his gun and says, “Look, you guys, I don’t want to cause any trouble. So why don’t you all just go away and leave Kieran alone for now?” Then, David has a thought. He puts his gun away. “Hey, maybe when I get Kieran out of the gang, I can try my mentoring skills on some of you boys. You need to be out of the gang and into productive lives, too.” He looks at the female officers behind him. And maybe I can get some of these female cops to be Big Sisters to the girls, too. None of you need this life.” The female officers give him strange looks, but he says softly to them, “Just go along with it, girls.”
“Oh, please!” Brock scoffs. “I’m too old to have a Big Brother! The only Big Brother I want is my Dad, but I can’t have that ’cuz he’s dead!”
“Yes, I know, and you must feel terrible,” David says. “But you don’t need to...”
Just then, Jasper and about twelve others grab Kieran, pick him up, and carry him back to the alley on their shoulders. The others scramble to the parking lot, searching the police cars for Kieran’s jacket and bandanna. They find both in David’s car.
As the Soldiers are searching, they have brutal confrontations with David and the other officers. But they prove themselves to be tougher than the police, as they slam officer’s heads against the car hoods, kick and beat them hard, anything to keep them from getting Kieran. They run away as fast as they can, so nobody can catch them. When the Fire Soldiers are all gone, David hangs his head and looks like he wants to cry. There is no way Kieran will be out of the gang now.