Broken Wing
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1st Chapters

Chapter 1 of
Mr. Clean and the Barrio

Jacobo

 The boys had come in just as he was going to wash his hands. There were three of them with bald heads and baggy pants. One was fat and tall, one was his own height, 5’9”, and the last one was chaparro with big shoulders and hands like frying pans.

            He walked toward a sink, but the big one stepped in the way.

            “Excuse me,” Jacob said.

            “Nah Homes, there’s no excuse for you,” the torta replied.

            He was fat. So fat that the extra skin on his face weighed down his forehead and made it look like his eyes were half closed. He looked like a fat Asian guy. He looked at the small one with his disproportioned hands and small head. Then his eyes met the one that was his own height.

            “These are our sinks. Each time you turn on the water it costs a dollar fool. Pay up or stay dirty,” he said to Jacob with his hand out.

            Jacob had been in fights before back on the Westside of L.A. He fought mostly black kids who didn’t think he was down because he wasn’t black. He wasn’t a typical Mexican kid and the black kids picked on him. This was different. He didn’t know why they were doing this. To them he just looked like an easy target, a school boy.

            “Why are you guys messing with me?” Jacob asked.

            “Because we can, ése. Now pay up or get out,” the one that was his own height said.

Jacob tried to reach around the fat one to get to the sink but he screamed, “Pay attention,” so loud that it made Jacob jump back.

“What’s wrong with you? Don’t you listen? Pay or leave,” the fat one said angrily. He walked up on him and now Jacob’s back was against one of the stall doors.

“Fine. I’ll just leave,” he said while keeping eye contact.

He knew that when his back was turned they’d jump him. He took a step to the side and saw that Little Big Hands was now by the napkins. He walked towards the door and swung at the little buff one.

Before he knew what had happened he felt a soft hand push him from behind. His head hit the metal napkin box and he got socked hard on the side of his head a few times. He was dazed. Two hands grabbed his short sleeved plaid button-up shirt and swung him to the ground.

Jacob screamed, “Get off! You don’t know me!”

“We don’t need to know you, Homes,” he heard one of them say as he felt a giant foot slam into his stomach.

He folded over and turned on his side in pain. Then he felt them kick him in the back. The hits didn’t hurt because his adrenaline had kicked in, but he felt them moving his body and he got angry. He swung his fists and felt someone’s face. He got stomped out harder. He swung at the legs kicking him. He couldn’t tell if it was doing any good.

He tried to get up. He felt the weight of the Fat One throw him back down like a child. Now the Fat One was sitting on his chest and slapping him while the other two laughed. His hands were buried at his sides. He struggled and squirmed, but the torta weighed too much. He felt his face getting red. He felt like he was going to cry, but he hadn’t cried since he was ten years old.

When Jacob was ten he tried to shank his uncle with a kitchen knife. They were playing “operation”. Tío Juan put his hand over Jacob’s mouth and told him it was the anesthetic that would help numb the pain for his operation. It was fun, but that day Tío held his hand over Jacob’s mouth and nose too long. His lungs were going to pop, his eyes were turning red, and he tried to scream but nothing could get Tío off of him. Tío laughed.

            Finally Jacob’s mother came in and playfully slapped her brother Juan on the shoulder and said, “Dejalo en paz Juanito.”

He got up and Jacob ran to the kitchen passed the shocked adults. He came back an instant later. He ran toward Tío with Abuela’s pollo knife and Tío ran.

            He ran around the living room table and they both stopped and stared at each other. When Jacob tried to jump over the table Tío ran for the bathroom. It was his only hope. Jacob was right behind him. He paused in a frightened way when his mother screamed, “Jacobo!” but he saw Tío closing the bathroom door and he threw the knife inside the bathroom just before the door closed.

            Tears started falling from his eyes from frustration and anger, not from fear or sadness. He banged on the door screaming, “I’m going to kill you! I hate you!” He could hear Tío laughing behind the door and it only made him madder. That is how Jacob felt right now.

Jacob looked over and saw that the white metal napkin box was busted. The lid was on the ground, a weapon. He thought of Tío and how he tried to stab him. He thought of how the knife made a difference, made him afraid. He wished his mother would tap the Fat One on the shoulder.

“Get the hell off of him, Cesar! Now!” he heard a grown man say.

The Fat One jumped up. Jacob heard walkie-talkie static.

“I need some back-up in the boy’s restroom by the gym. We’ve got another fight. Over,” the man said into his walkie-talkie.

Jacob didn’t move he just stared at the metal lid.

“Are you alright son?” the man asked.

“I’m okay,” he said while taking the buff black guy’s hand to help him up.

“You all must think you’re pretty tough, huh?” he asked them.

“Look at me boy, pay attention!” he screamed at the Fat One who seemed afraid now. “Three on one? Does that make you a man? It makes you a damn coward if you ask me. When are you going to learn this isn’t going to get you anywhere in life. Jumping boys in the restroom doesn’t make you a man. You need to get to class and stop all of this nonsense. You need to focus on the future. This is some bull!” he finished as another man came into the restroom.

“You alright in here?” the new man asked.

The black guard walked past Jacob and just as he did Jacob pretended to be tying his shoe. With the two men talking, Cesar and the other two laughed for a second and made a joke at Jacob’s expense.

He had the lid behind his back now and before they knew it Jacob was beating Cesar bloody near the urinals. The first blow struck his nose sideways. Then he hit the top of his head with a corner. He got three good hits in with the metal lid before the big black fool pulled him off of Cesar.

“God damnit son! Take it easy!” Jacob was pulled up into the air with a bear hug from behind and found himself in the hallway outside of the restroom.

            “If I let you go are you going to behave yourself?” the man asked.

            “Yes sir,” Jacob replied trying to take a breath.

            The guard released Jacob from his lion’s grip and chuckled. He looked at Jacob and smiled. He said, “I’ve been waiting for someone to do that to Cesar for three years.”

            Jacob didn’t know what to say. He was confused. Was he in trouble or not? Then he wondered what would happen after school. The boys were obviously in a gang. Would they do a drive-by on him. He saw Melody walk by with a pass in her hand. He tried to fix his shirt and his hair but she hardly looked at him. He was embarrassed that he looked so bad in front of the girl that he liked.

            “What’s your name, son?”

            “Jacob.”

            “I’m Dean Waterton. You can just call me Waterton, everybody does.”

            “Nice to meet you...Waterton.”

            “The pleasure is all mine, all mine,” Waterton said and he let out another laugh.

            Jacob smiled.

            After they got down, Waterton made all of the boys shake hands like they make kids do after little league. Cesar was okay. His nose was busted, but he was too embarrassed to make a big deal about it. He suspended all of them for two days. They waited in the Dean’s Office until their mothers came to pick them up or until the bell rang to end school, whichever came first.

            Jacob tried to fix his pant leg to make it hang just right over his shoes, until Jose, the one that was his own height, decided to quietly sneak over and sit next to him. This made Jacob nervous, but he was pretty sure that Jose wouldn’t do anything to him in the Dean’s Office.

            “Where you from, Homes?” Jose asked him.

            “Nowhere. I’m not in a gang,” Jacob replied.

            “I know you don’t bang, fool,” he said and his two buddies laughed. “I mean, where did you go to school before this?”

           “L.A. High.”

           “You know Little Spooky?”

           “Nah.”

“Mousy?”

“Nah.”

“Big Loco?”

“Nope.”

“What did you do there Homes?”

“Mostly just played ball and kept to myself.”

            Jacob still couldn’t tell if Jose was being cool now or just questioning an enemy.

He leans in and says, “We didn’t really mean nothin’ by it, Homes. We were just messing around. Now that you broke the homie’s nose we’re going to have to cap you ése,” he says while pointing his finger at him like it’s a gun and pulling the trigger. Then he calmly sat back with his crew.

 

 

Chapter 1 of
Mr. Clean's Familia

Family Reunion

 

            Jacob was on Facebook when he heard the doorbell ring. He minimized the screen and went to see who was at the door of the small apartment he shared with his mother.

Through the peephole of the door he saw Tío Juan. He hadn’t seen his Tío since he went to la pinta seven years ago. Jacob didn’t know what to do. Tío was wearing a white t-shirt. He had gotten bigger since the last time Jacob saw him.

            Tío rang the doorbell again. Jacob opened the door.

            “Tío!” he said with excitement. His Tío looked surprised and confused that it was him.

            “Jacobo?”

            Jacob was already giving him a big hug. Tío hugged him back. He knew in his heart that Jacob loved him even though the last time they saw each other Jacob had lost his temper and tried to shank him.

            “Jacobo it’s good to see you, man. You look good. You got big, foo!” Tío said and gave him another hug. He messed up his hair and turned his hug into a headlock. Jacob tried to fight him off, but Tío was strong.

            “When did you get out?” Jacob asked.

            “Today.”

            “And you came right over to see us?”

            Tío didn’t know what to say. He was here on business. He didn’t even know that his sister lived here with her son Jacobo.

            “Wait, mom said she never wrote you,” Jacob said, realizing that Tío couldn’t have known where they lived.

            “Did she say why?”

            “Yeah.” Jacob answered sadly.

            Porque mijo?” Tío asked.

            “She said that when you got out you’d be different. She said that everyone that goes in for that long changes.”

            Tío thought about the past seven years. He was different. He was a soldier now and before he went inside he was just a Mexican that loved having Coronas on the weekend and tried to get as much work as he could laying bricks. He didn’t think about the things that he never thought about, those things that happened to him his first few months inside, those things were buried inside of him and he never dug them up.

            “That’s okay. No hard feelings ey? You’re mamà is a smart woman.”

            Jacob looked at Tío. Tío looked at Jacob. They were both different. Tío could see something in Jacob’s eyes that was too familiar to him. A piece of his little nephew was dead. His innocence was crumbling like an old brick wall.

            “Is your mamà home?”

            “No. She went to the store.”   

“Can I come in and talk to you for a minute?” Tío looked like he was really happy to be out and Jacob couldn’t say no. He knew his mamà would be mad, but Jacob did a lot of things that she would be mad about.

            “Sure Tío. Come on in. Let me show you our new pad.” Jacob walked in and Tío followed him. “This is the living room. Over here is the kitchen. This is my room and that’s mamà’s room. And that’s the bathroom.”

            “Can I use it?”

            “Yeah, go ‘head,” Jacob said. He went to sit on the couch and turn on the TV, but he couldn’t. He wanted to have a serious talk with Tío about what happened the last time he saw him. He wanted to apologize for chasing him around the house with a knife. He wanted to tell him that he loved him and that he was sorry.

            He didn’t want to tell him about the gang he joined last year. He didn’t want to tell him that he killed Lil’ Crazy and framed Trigger, an OG, so that he could be out of it. He just wanted his uncle back, but he could tell by the tattoos on his neck that Tío would never be the same again.

            In the bathroom Tío looked at himself in the mirror without fear for the first time in seven years. He also thought about the night Jacob tried to stab him and how stupid he was to be playing so rough with him. He wanted to apologize to him and to tell him that he loved him.

            He remembered why he was in this building in the first place. He tucked his shirt back into his pants and stood up straight. He opened the door and Jacob was sitting there on the couch with the TV off.

            “Tío I’m sorry about that night.”

            “You don’t have anything to be sorry about carnalito. I don’t want you to ever say that to me again.”

            Jacob didn’t understand. He put his head down. If he didn’t want to talk about that, what did he want to talk about.

            “You’re a big boy now and I can tell that you’ve had a taste of the street life homes. I’m gonna give it to you straight. I was sent to this building because a veterano used to live here. Do you know who I’m talking about?”

            “Trigger,” Jacob whispered and he realized that Tío might be there to kill him. He looked around and thought that the lamp might make a good weapon. After all Jacob planted the guns that made the “popo” look for Trigger in the first place, even though Trigger went crazy a couple of days later and actually died blasting his cahuete at some cops.

            “Yes, Trigger. He reported to some veteranos inside the pinta where I was locked up. He told them that there was a kid that was next in line. He just needed to be trained. He had a strong spirit and he fought like a dragon, not like a tiger. Do you know the difference Jacobo?”

            “No.”

            “A tiger is dangerous because he doesn’t know what he can do. A dragon is dangerous because he does. It’s very rare that a gangster would say this about a chavala, a punk kid that never been through nothing so the veteranos inside wanted to make sure that this kid was taught how to be a real gangster, entiendes?”

            “Yeah, you’re looking for the kid. The old guys in jail told you that Trigger said he lived in this building?”

            Orale, you’re a smart Chicano Jacobo,” Tío said smiling.

            “So why did you knock on my door?”

            “The veteranos had Trigger’s address. I knocked on his door and asked his old lady if there were any teenagers living in the building that Trigger used to bang with. She tried to shut the door in my face, but I put my foot in it and asked her again. She said there was one, and he lived next door.”

            Tío was looking at him very carefully now, very suspiciously. Jacob couldn’t look him in the eyes. He was out. He had gotten out of the gang when Trigger died. He was free and had been for almost a year…at least that’s what he thought.

            “Jacobo. I have to ask you something. You have to tell me the truth homes.” Tío took a deep breath and asked, “Are you Mr. Clean?”

            Jacob looked at his Tío. He stood up and looked at him dead in the eyes and said, “Yeah Tío. I am Mr. Clean, and what?”

 

   

Chapter 1 of
I Wasn't Born a Teacher

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Burning Stars

 

Here I am sitting on a park bench like I’ve been a thousand times before. The starlight kisses my eyes as I look upon love and decide I want our dim souls to bring each other light. Her life hasn’t been easy and my private hell began in an alley full of electricity and gunpowder more than ten years ago.

            I used to hold a cold beer as I sat on a wooden bench with the green paint peeling and exposing the sad tree it used to be. Now I’m holding her and we keep each other from being sad.

            “What do you think happens when we die?” I ask.

            “I don’t know. If you’re bad you go to hell and if you’re good you go to heaven?” she says asking for approval.

            “Do you worship a god who would ever send a human soul to suffer in eternal torture? The god I pray to wouldn’t do that. He let us find each other, right?” I whisper as I nuzzle her from behind.

            “Hell could just be a place where people have sex and watch cable all day. That doesn’t sound so bad,” she says jokingly.

“Seriously? You think that if we commit a hundred crimes we get sent to a hooker house with Tivo?”

“Okay. What happens to us baby? I want to know,” she replies finally playing my game.

            “Well, you know how they say energy never dies it only transforms? I think the human soul is energy and our soul is pure like a singer’s voice coming out of a microphone. Our body is initially dead without our soul like the microphone is silent when no voice is entering it.”

            “So what does that have to do with dying?”

            “Just because there’s no voice coming from a mic doesn’t mean that the voice disappeared. I think our energy is confused when we die like a lyric trapped in a mic cord that never finds a speaker. It searches and searches for anything to project itself from and eventually goes so far from earth that it becomes the one thing that can survive for millions and millions of years without searching for anything, a star.”

            “You think that when we die we become stars?”

            “Exactly.”

            “Stars having sex?” she asks.

            “In some cosmic way, I guess,” I say trying to move on with this.

            “We become hot balls of gas alone in space. That sucks,” she says smiling as my nose finds her neck.

            “If we’re lucky we get to have another star to keep us company, another voice spewing light down on other souls trying to find their way. We get to have one star burn with us for millennia. And when it’s time to burn out we shoot through the sky in one last blaze of glory before becoming a quasar or something else.” I reach into my pocket and pull out the little box and show her the ring inside. “Will you burn with me forever?”

            Tears fall like fat angels with broken wings and I start crying too. She says yes, jumps on me, and hugs me. She doesn’t let go. Our slippery faces slide against one another and I feel like everything is going to be all right. Then I hear music.

            It’s loud and the car that’s playing it stops at the bottom of the grassy hill that we’re sitting on top of. I can tell that Sherry is uncomfortable as three guys get out and start smoking cigarettes. I’m not; they just look like some assholes looking for a place to smoke.

            One of them is skinny with his Dodger hat turned to the back. A pubescent moustache forming, he can’t be more than fifteen. The second one is wearing a Raiders beanie. He’s fat and short. He might be the oldest one with a full goatee outlining his mouth. The third one is in between. He might workout. His blue fitted cap is low over his forehead covering his eyes.

            “Oh no, we’re not alone anymore. And I was gonna lay you on the grass and take you right here,” I say. She giggles and hugs me tighter than before. She gets off of me and sits down next to me. With our backs to the car of teens we hold hands and she stares at her ring.

            “Am I supposed to put it on you?”

            “Yes!”

            I take it from the box and slip it on her finger. “Do you like it?”

            “It’s perfect. I love it and I love you. Thank you, baby.”

            “I didn’t know really what to get you. You had mentioned princess cut and I just rolled with that. It’s white gold not silver, I know you don’t like yellow gold.” I’m rambling and the guys are getting really quiet now. My hair is a little longer than it used to be. My eyes are calm and sane. I admit my jeans aren’t as baggy as they used to be and my short sleeved plaid shirt isn’t as menacing as an oversized hoodie, so I can’t really blame them for thinking they can take me.  

I used to be a wolf in a pack, now I’m just a lone tiger. I’ll show no fear and I’ll attack if I sense danger. I’m a warrior now, not a drunken brawler. They don’t know what they’re getting their selves into.

Sherry knows most of my stories and I know hers, but she’s never seen me bring a man within an inch of his life. I don’t think I want her to.

            “It’s kind of cold baby. Let’s go back home so you can take me on the bed instead of on the wet grass,” she says sensing my apprehension.

            “Okay, let’s roll. Here, take my jacket.” We get up and I hear them growl.

            “The lovebirds are leaving guys. She wants some chorizo con huevos,” one of them says loud enough for us to hear and I look at her. Her eyes are fearful. She’s nervous and I don’t like it at all, but I keep walking. Culver City looks like a nice place to raise a family, but don’t be fooled. A cop got killed here in January. No one is safe anywhere.

            “Hey puto, I’m talking to you,” one of them says.

            “Sounded like you were talking at me,” I yell back at them without realizing what I’m doing.

            “You going to get some from your lady Holmes? Sharing is caring,” he says and they all laugh.

            Here in America we make our own justice. No judge is going to sentence these juveniles to a caning. If we run, they’ll get to the car before we can pull off. If we stay, Sherry’s in danger, not to mention the ring I just put on her finger that’s worth more than my car. It’s an ’89 Dodge Shadow, but it’s mine.

            “Baby, take my keys and pull the car out. Circle the block slowly and stop back where it was parked.”

            “Baby, no.”

            And her look of sadness and worry hurts me, but letting these guys disrespect her would kill me. I hear the crushing grass getting closer.

            “Go!” I push her and she starts running.

            “Aw, what happened no pussy tonight?” they say as they approach.

            “Nope, looks like I’m gonna have to fuck one of you bitches,” I say turning and taking off my shirt to expose my tattoos: a burning city, a red-eyed bald eagle, and a shooting star. They stop. Their courage has been slighted, but their stupidity is tenacious. My head is low to my chest and I tuck my shirt into the back of my pants so that it hangs out. The younger one was talking, but he shuts up.

            “Pinche gringo wannabe, you got some balls but that’s not gonna save your ass tonight.”

            “I’m no wannabe. I am what I am. What the fuck are you supposed to be?”

            “Chicano, Homes. Puro raza.”

I shouldn’t have asked. They say that with pride that pumps up their hearts.

“You look puro stupid to me. You disgrace la raza.” I should be telling them that we are all one people, that I’m a teacher and that I teach children English so that they can have hope. I know they don’t care. I know they are hopeless and that no matter what their machismo won’t let me walk away peacefully.

“Fuck you, Homes,” he wittingly replies and his drunken young partner’s fist comes so slowly that I can catch it if I wanted to.

I start turning with it before it ever lands like a bad night of pro-wrestling. I act like it hurt me and I stumble into the guy that crept behind me, Hat-Covering-Eyes. I grab his white shirt and kick his balls into his throat. Our heads meet as he hunches over and his hat clumsily falls. He bends over, right into my knee and his nose explodes onto my blue jeans. Hits come from behind. Skinny. I duck and turn to grab his belt with both hands. I strafe and use my momentum to swing him into and over the bench. Arms around my arms, squeezing. I get one free and send an elbow behind me. It meets Fat-Skull and I keep throwing it. His hands unclasp and free me. He’s dazed and drunk and my flurry of punches rains down like winter hail swelling his face and closing his eyes.

I pull his beanie over his eyes and close my hands around his neck pushing his face into my already bloody knee again and again until he goes limp. Hits. More hits. Skinny again. I turn into his punches, but he’s so young and small I run through them and grab his body, charging him back into the bench. His back arches. He stops swinging, turns over, and slides to the ground. I grab his head and bang it into the back of the bench, and bang it, and bang it, and bang it.

I’m on my back getting hit in the face. Everything is happening so fast, my hands don’t react in time. His friends have fallen around me and his fists seek revenge. Is this where it all ends? His hands are around my throat. I think of Sherry. His hands are squeezing with the hate in his heart for his own life.

I see my life.

 

 

 

 

 

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