Authors: Caleb Alexander
“Tech and Quentin was gonna smoke this lil dude, can you believe that shit?” Anthony asked.
Driving, Dejuan glanced back over his shoulder at Travon. “Man, I don't know what's wrong with them.” He smacked his lips and shook his head slowly. “They are the homies, but man, they be trippin' sometimes.”
Brooke Army Medical Center
Fort Sam Houston Army Post
Three Days Later
“Yes, Dr. Bailey?” Elmira Robinson rose from her chair in the hospital waiting room, along with Vera and Regina, two of her sisters.
“I thought that you would like to know that I just came from Travon's room and he's awake now.”
“Awake!” Elmira exclaimed. “We just stepped out about twenty minutes ago!”
Dr. Bailey smiled his signature sunshine smile and extended his hands in a calming motion. “Well, that's how these things work. He's asking for you and Too-Low.”
Elmira lifted her petite hands to her face and began sobbing. “Too-Low was his brother, my other son. He was killed a few months ago.”
Dr. Bailey nodded his head solemnly. “I know, I remember you and your sisters. I worked ER that night.” He clasped Elmira's hands gently. “How have you been?”
Elmira shook her head slightly. “Trying to make it, Doctor, but it's so hard. It's just so hard.”
She began crying heavily again. Vera and Regina began to comfort their sister. Regina wrapped her arms around Elmira and pulled her close.
“Elmira, girl, Tre is gonna be okay,” Vera told her. “I done told you that the Lord don't put no more on you, than you can bear.”
Elmira shook her head. “I know, girl. I know.” She shifted her gaze toward the doctor. “Thank you again, Dr. Bailey. Thank you.”
Slowly, the sisters filtered out of the waiting room, and made their way down the hospital's halls toward Travon's room. They stood at the door for several moments gathering themselves, clearing away their tears. They did not want Travon to know that they had been crying.
Elmira lifted her hand to the white hospital door and slowly pushed it open. Travon reclined on his hospital bed, with a bandage wrapped around his head. He was awake.
Upon seeing his mother and aunts, Travon smiled. “I'm hungry and thirsty,” he told them, swallowing hard.
Elmira laughed and began sobbing. Vera did the same. Both sisters rushed to Travon's bedside, leaned over the bed's metal railing, and embraced him tightly.
“Travon, I'm gonna kill you when you get home,” Elmira told him. “You scared the shit out of me!”
Regina, who had stayed at the door, now walked to his bed and hugged her nephew tightly for several moments, before releasing him, leaning back, and staring at him.
“If something would have happened to you, I don't know what I would have done!” Regina told him. “Boy, are you trying to give me gray hair?”
The four of them shared a laugh. Their revelry was interrupted by a nurse entering into the room.
“The doctor wanted me to let you know that it'll still be a while before we can release him. He wants to keep Travon here for at least a few more days for testing and evaluation.” She removed Travon's medical chart from the end of his hospital bed, examining it silently for several moments. “The tests we've run so far have all come back good.”
The nurse flipped several pages of Travon's medical chart. “No broken bones, no brain damage or expected memory loss, so all of that is good.”
Travon shifted in his bed so that he could get a good look at the nurse. She looked like one of his aunts. In fact, his mother, and his Aunt Vera were identical twins. The nurse reminded him more of his Aunt Chicken, though. Her long silky hair and shapely figure, as well as her high-yellow complexion, high cheekbones, and slanted eyes, made her the mirror image of his aunt. All the nurse needed was that wide, perky little Robinson nose, and she could have easily passed for a long-lost aunt.
“Say, Nurse Lady, where did I get shot at?” Travon asked.
“Shot?” Vera, Regina, and Elmira cried out in unison.
“Well, Mr. Robinson, my name is Virginia. You may call me Nurse Virginia, or even just Nurse. But I will not answer to, Nurse Lady.”
Vera and Elmira threw their heads back in laughter.
“By the way, Mr. Robinson, you did not get shot,” Nurse Virginia told him. “You almost had your brains beat out of you, but you did not get shot.”
Vera clasped her hands together. “Thank you, Lord!”
The nurse made some notations on Travon's medical chart, replaced it at the foot of his hospital bed, and exited the room. Regina turned to her sisters.
“El, girl, I got to get home and get some dinner started. You call me as soon as you get home.” She hugged her sister tightly. Then she leaned over the bed railing and hugged Travon. “You stay your ass out of trouble, you hear me?”
Regina strolled out of the room and stopped in the hall just in front of the door. She turned back toward her sisters. “I'll see y'all later.”
“All right, girl,” Elmira replied. “I'll call you as soon as I get home. Thank you so much, Gina.”
Regina placed her hands on her hips. “Now, El! You know that if anything happens to any one of these kids, I'm there!” Regina waved her hand through the air, dismissing her sister. “So you can go on with all of that âthank you' stuff.”
“I know, girl.” Elmira nodded. “I'll call you.”
“I'll call you tonight too!” Vera shouted. She and Elmira turned and continued their visit with a bandaged and bruised Travon.
As the sisters walked through the hospital lobby after visiting hours, Elmira gently clasped Vera's elbow.
“Vera, there's something that I want to ask you.”
Vera lifted an eyebrow. “What's the matter, El?”
“Now, I got this new job. Girl, I'm barely in the door. I can't take off and spend the time with Tre that he is gonna need. But what I'm really concerned about is his being there at night all by himself.” Elmira clasped her sister's arms, and gave them a slight squeeze. “Vera, what if they try to get after him again? I'm scared.” Elmira lifted her hands to her face and began sobbing.
Vera grabbed her sister's hands and caressed them gently. “I can look in after Tre, or he can come and stay with me. You know I'd love to take him, and I have plenty of room.”
“That's what I'm asking, Vera. Please take my baby.” Elmira began crying heavily. “I don't want them to get my baby. He's all I got left now.”
Vera pulled her sister close, and they embraced each other tightly. “Elmira, you know that I would do anything for you. Anything!”
“Thank you, V. Thank you!” Elmira released her sister, lifted her wrinkled hand to her face and wiped away the tears that were cascading down her soft, buttery cheeks. “I'll tell him when he gets ready to get out. I want him to go straight to your house from the hospital. I don't want him back in those damn Courts for one minute!”
Vera placed her arm around her sister's shoulders and they started for her car. “Come on, girl. I'll take you home and help you pack his stuff.”
On the way home from the hospital, Elmira and Vera drove through The Courts, and as usual, there were several large groups of boys hanging out in the streets. Elmira's eyes locked on to one particular group, and she began to tap her sister's arm.
“Stop the car, V!”
Vera turned and stared at her sister. “What?”
“Girl, stop the damn car!” Elmira shouted.
Vera pulled over to the side of the road, and watched in shock as her sister leapt from the vehicle and charged toward a group of boys standing on a nearby corner.
As she approached them, Elmira was greeted with several indistinguishable “Hello, Mrs. Robinsons.” The group that she had singled out included Tech Nine, Snuff Dog, T-Stew, Baby T, J Roc, and Lil Texas. Elmira steadied her legs, dug in her heels, and cleared her throat in such a way as to make sure that all of the boys could hear her. She then placed one hand on her hip and pointed a work-weary, wrinkled finger at the boys.
“Let me tell you all something,” she told them. “I welcomed all of you into my home. You were all friends of my son, Too-Low. I never judged you, or asked what any of you were doing. I tried to be a mother to you all. I knew the kind of shit you boys were into, and at first I didn't want Too-Low around any of you. But you were his friends, and I had to let my baby grow up and make his own choices. He chose to be friends with you, so I accepted it, and I accepted all of you. I know that you all loved Too-Low, and that he loved all of you. I let him become a part of you and this life that you live.”
Elmira spat her words out at the group of boys like they were poison. “I gave you Too-Low, but I'll be God damned if I let you have Travon! Leave my son alone! If you ever cared anything about Too-Low, anything for him, please leave his brother alone! You asked me at Too-Low's funeral if there was anything you could do for me. Well, yes, there is! Please leave my other child alone! My son Too-Low was down for this hood, as you call it. He was a soldier, as you say. He died right here in this hood, loving this hood, and loving all of you!”
She pointed to a patch of green grass near a stop sign. “He died right there on that corner, and his blood is forever in the grass. I gave you one; now please let me have my other son. Pleaseâ¦”
Elmira lifted her hands to her face and began crying heavily. Vera, now out of the car and standing just behind her sister, wrapped her arms around her and slowly guided her back to the car.
Elmira looked over her shoulder toward the silent crowd of boys. “Pleaseâ¦”
Vera opened the passenger side door and helped her sister inside. Then she walked around to the driver's side and climbed inside, and they slowly drove away.
The Denver Heights
Aunt Vera's House
Four Days Later
Travon bounded down the stairs and into the living room, where his cousins LaTonya, Marcus, and Darius were seated.
“Aunt V, me and Marcus are gonna go to the store, and then to the park and kick it for a while.”
Darius turned off the television and stood. “Hold up, T. I'm going with y'all.”
Aunt Vera walked into the living room from the kitchen, where the boys were about to go out of the front door. “Y'all be back before it gets dark. Darius, you're just trying to get out of here because it's your turn to wash dishes. I ain't crazy.”
Darius shook his head. “Naw, Momma, I did 'em last night. It's LaTonya's turn to do 'em tonight.”
LaTonya lowered her book, placing it on the coffee table. “Boy, that's just 'cause I paid you to do 'em for me. Last night was my night, tonight is your night, so you can stop trying to run game!”
Darius balled his hands into tight fists and frowned. “Girl, what I tell you about using that word around me? It's Because, not that ol' crab shit! Don't make me put hands on you!”
LaTonya rolled her neck as she answered him. “You do that, and that'll be the last time you put hands on anybody!”
Darius walked quickly to where his sister was seated, scooped her up into his arms, and then lifted her high into the air. She screamed.
“Quit playing!” LaTonya thrust forward her hands and clasped her brother's neck so that he would not drop her. “Momma, look at Darius!”
Vera, who had seated herself on the sofa and started to watch television, shifted her gaze toward her children. “Boy, put your sister down, and watch your damn mouth too!”
Darius placed LaTonya back onto solid ground, and then walked to his mother and gave her a kiss on her cheek. “We'll be back in a little while.”
“The dishes will be waiting for you too,” Vera said calmly. Travon, Marcus, and Darius walked out of the front door, down the front porch steps, and started down the walkway. Their trip was cut short when Vera peered out the front door.
“Tre, come here real quick, baby,” she called.
“What's up, Aunt V?” Travon asked.
Vera extended her right hand and caressed the front of Travon's shirt. “You can't wear that shirt out here, baby.”
Darius turned and examined Travon's shirt. “Oh, shit! I forgot what he was wearing!”
Vera stepped aside, allowing the boys to walk back into the house. Travon inquisitively shifted his gaze from one person to the next.
“What's wrong with what I'm wearing?” he asked, tugging at the front of his shirt. “It's my North Carolina jersey. I'm just representing for my boy Mike.”
Vera smiled and nodded. “It's a nice shirt, baby. But things are little bit different out here than in the Courts.” Different, but not a hell of a lot better, she told herself. She turned to Marcus. “Go and get Tre one of your shirts to put on.”
Marcus quickly disappeared up the stairs, only to return moments later with a red-and-black Chicago Bulls T-shirt. He tossed the shirt to Travon. Vera smiled sadly at her nephew, then strolled into the kitchen with her head down.
“Hurry up and change so we can bail,” Marcus told Travon.
Travon pulled off his North Carolina jersey and tossed it onto the couch. He quickly put on the red-and-black shirt, and then examined his cousins. For the first time, he noticed that Marcus, Darius, and LaTonya were all wearing different variations of Chicago Bulls shirts. He then recalled how his Aunt Vera had changed into a Forty-Niners jersey just to go to the neighborhood grocery store.
“Let's bail,” Darius told them.
The three boys headed out of the door and quickly made their way up the street. Travon was no stranger to his Aunt Vera's house, or neighborhood for that matter, but now he noticed things that he had never paid attention to before.
Red graffiti was spray painted on all of the buildings, the street signs, and in the middle of the streets as well. Silently, Travon began to read the graffiti on some of the abandoned houses in the neighborhood:
DHE, DHM, DHT, DHB, DLB, MCs, PURO OCHO, PIRU, BOUNTY HUNTERS, WSV, WSB, LSB, STIX, SLB, SLP, BGF, TREES, UNLV, RCGs, RCT, KP, BTP, BCGs, SGs, BRIMS, THE JUNGLE, OPE.
But the marking he saw the most was BSV. It was the tag of the notorious Blood Stone Villains. Unbeknownst to him or his mother, Travon had moved into the epicenter of violence.
Though the neighborhood was officially the Denver Heights on real estate maps, it was more commonly known as
. The Jungle was base camp to every Blood gang in South Central Texas, whether they had their own neighborhoods or not. The Jungle was their assembly area, safe haven, drug and weapon depot, their
, their home, their
, and a lot of times, their war zone.
Travon pointed at one of the houses. “What does all of that mean?”
Darius exhaled loudly. He had known that he would eventually have to explain to Travon the way things worked, but he hadn't expected the moment to arrive so soon.
“Everything with a D in front of it is from the Denver Heights. The DHGs are the Denver Heights Gangsters, DHM stands for Denver Heights Mafia, and DHT is Denver Heights Texas; that's where we are.”
“If you see somebody wearing a red Texas Tech jersey, especially the ones with the big double
s on the front, it means that they are from Denver Heights Texas,” Marcus added. “The DLBs are the Denver Lane Bloods, and the DHBs are the Denver Heights Bloods. LSB stands for Lime Street Bloods, BTP stands for Big Time Players, and BCG stands for Blood Crazy Gangstas. You will rarely see them crazy muthafuckas out here in the Heights. They keep their crazy asses on the Westside, where they belong.”
“The Stix is the name of those projects over by where Aunt Chicken's house is,” Darius continued. “That's where the Stix and Treetop Bloods come from. The UNLV stands for Untouchable New Lite Village, and it also means Untouchable Niggaz Livin' Violently.”
“The RCGs are from the Rigsby Courts, and SB stands for Second Baptist,” Marcus explained. “That's those projects over there off of East Houston Street. The SLBs are the Skyline Bloods, and KP stands for Kirby Posse. BGF stands for Black Guerilla Family. Those dudes are from Converse, Universal City, Schertz, Selma, Cibolo, Windcrest, and Kirby, Texas.”
“The Puro Ochos and the MCs, which stands for Midnight Colors, are Mexican Bloods from out here in the Heights,” Darius told him. “The LCGs are the Lincoln Court Gangstas, and the WSBs are the West Side Bloods, and the WSV are the West Side Villains. Those are all of the Blood sets that we allow out here in the hood.”
“But we really don't fuck with the BCGs, or the RCGs,” Marcus added. “Tre, you're gonna have to learn all of this stuff, now that you are living out here.”
“The Jungle is where we are now, it's where we live,” Darius explained. “It's The Heights and the hood right across East Houston Street. It goes all the way past OPE, which is Olive Park East, another Blood hood.”
“Camelot is another major Blood hood out on the Northeast side,” Marcus added. “Camelot, The Heights, and Rigsby Courts are all the big Blood spots that are competing to be
main Blood hood.”
“Camelot, Converse, Kirby, Universal City, Seguin, Shertz, Selma, The Glens, and Sunrise all ride together, and they all call Camelot and Camelot Two their home,” Darius told him. “They are deeper than a muthafucka, really about half our strength. Now, BSV is a little bit harder to explain. It's
set. Sometimes, it's like everybody put together. All of the Bloods who I just told you about, plus a whole lot of others.”
“But, BSV is also its own set,” Marcus added. “Like us, we're BSVs through and through. The muthafuckin'' real McCoys.”
“Shit,” Travon muttered, as he contemplated the numbers.
The boys turned the corner onto Palmetto Street, and continued on their journey to the neighborhood store.
“It must be a million of y'all,” Travon told Darius.
Then they heard the music. The thumping bass notes grew progressively louder as the boys approached the next street. A street named Cactus. A street that was the hub of the neighborhood's activity. The words to
emanated throughout the neighborhood.
“How far is the park from here?” Travon asked.
“Not that far,” Marcus told him. “It's about a mile down the road. It's the hood park. You know where Pitman Sullivan Park is, Tre.”
Still confused, Tre shook his head.
Darius pointed. “Right there where they have âTake Pride in the East Side,' and the Martin Luther King celebration after the MLK March.”
Travon shook his head again.
Marcus smacked his lips and folded his arms. “Right there where they have Midnight Basketball.”
“Oh,” Travon nodded. He remembered those games. The last one he had gone to had been with his brother.
The boys approached Cactus Street, and Travon was totally unprepared for what he saw. As they passed the corner house and Travon was able to look down the street toward the music, he stopped cold. There appeared to be a wall of red.
“Oh, fuck,” slipped out of his mouth.
Red T-shirts, bandannas, shorts, shoes, shirts, pants, berets, cars, hats, graffiti, and what appeared to be at least one hundred people were scattered up and down the street. A boy wearing a red baseball cap turned backward, cupped his hands around his mouth, and called to them. Another boy waved his hands, beckoning for them to come over.
“What's up, Blood?” Darius shouted as they started toward the massive conglomeration of red.
Travon watched silently as his cousin pulled a red bandanna from his back pocket and allowed it to hang freely.
“It's all about that BSV!” Darius shouted. He twisted his fingers into a gang sign. He placed the gang sign over his heart.
Travon turned toward Marcus, who was spelling out the word
across his chest.
“You know it!” replied the boy with the red hat.
Marcus, Darius, and Travon approached one of the groups. Smiling broadly, Darius glided up to a tall, lanky boy who wore his hair in a gigantic Afro.
“Say, Fro Dog, I can hear your shit all the way down Palmetto!” Darius told him.
“When did you get your shit out?” Marcus asked.
Fro Dog walked to his vehicle and stood proudly in front of it. Darius, Marcus, and Travon followed closely behind. Fro Dog turned toward Darius and crossed his arms.
“Check it out, Blood,” he said.
Darius walked slowly around the perimeter of the car, examining it carefully. Fro Dog turned his attention to a group of girls seated on the hood of his freshly painted car.
“Y'all hoes wanna get the fuck up off my shit?” he asked them.
“Fuck you, nigga, I aint no ho!” one of the girls protested.
Fro Dog placed his hand over his stomach and bowed. “Oh, I'm sorry. Y'all tricks get y'all asses off my shit!”
Laughter broke out amongst the crowd of boys.
“Fuck you, you black bastard!” another girl told him. “If I'm a trick, then yo woman's a trick! And the next time that nappy-headed bitch calls, I'ma tell her that you fuckin'' Wanda!”
The girls slid off the car and walked into the yard.
“You do, and I'ma put some hot lead in yo ass!” Fro Dog told her. He shifted his gaze to a boy seated in the driver's seat of his car. “Say, Lil Fade, hit the switches.”
An albino with cold, penetrating, pale blue eyes leaned forward and flicked one of the numerous switches that were scattered across the car's chrome-and-leather dashboard. The red convertible '64 Chevrolet Impala's front end leapt up off the ground. The albino's hat flew off, and a monstrous, sandy-colored Afro popped out.
Travon began to examine Lil Fade. There was something about him that made goose bumps appear on Travon's arm. Lil Fade was grotesquely pale, with numerous tattoos on the parts of his skin that were exposed. His crystal blue, almost white eyes made it seem as though he was looking through you instead of at you. Travon was scared of Lil Fade.
Another switch was hit, and the rear end of the car bounced up. Lil Fade flicked another switch, and the right side of the car dropped down. Another, and the left side plopped down.
“That shit is hitting!” one of the boys shouted.
Marcus turned and shifted his gaze toward the boy. “Say, Lil Bling, when are you getting your shit out?”
“Them muthafuckin' Mexicans be bullshittin'!” Lil Bling told him.
It was easy for Travon to see why they called him Lil Bling. Every tooth inside of his mouth, top and bottom, was capped in gold. It was a perfect match for his golden skin and jewelry-adorned body.
“I went down there to check on my shit today,” Lil Bling continued. “And them muthafuckas was talkin' about another two weeks!”