My buddy Gavin had always tried to be a superhero. Yes. You read that right. Not he always loved superheroes – not even that he always wanted to be a superhero. He made a costume and mask when we were in middle school and had been crusading around the neighborhood to “stop crime” all the way till I was a sophomore in high school. I’m sure you’ve heard about people like this in the news – like the people in that movie Kick Ass. Gavin and I lived in the projects and, even though I doubt he helped in anyway, there was a lot of crime and drug dealing to go around.
The most difficult thing for Gavin, I think, was that we lived in Minnesota, a state, which at the time, didn’t allow wearing masks in public. (I know, how things have changed.) While most beat cops that came around our neighborhood laughed at Gavin and his masked antics, there was one cop that would have none of it: Officer Mitchell. He had a real hard-on for Gavin, or The Depths as he called his alter ego, and would always demand he take the mask off and not go around disguised in public. More on him later.
In truth, Gavin’s outfit was pretty sweet. It was all black, the fabric was flowing but not too baggy, and the mask was made of this tough black plastic. It looked kinda like a skull, and the eye lenses were a piercing silver tint. He’d actually been working on it for a year. Every night after school, instead of hanging out or doing his homework, he’d go into the basement and sew up his costume. I kept telling him he could just buy a Halloween getup from K-Mart, which would be a lot less traceable, but he insisted on making his own.
As you can probably gather, he was big into Batman and, just like the character, would only “work” at night. This helped him avoid Officer Mitchell a few times when being chased down so he wouldn’t be unmasked. The outfit was perfect camouflage for the dark alleyways.
A lot of people, including teachers and most of the grownups in the projects, had figured that Gavin was mentally unstable or retarded. I never thought that was accurate though. If I’m being totally fair, Gavin was an averagely smart kid who was just preoccupied with things that took away from him ever getting good grades or learning anything that would get him a job. And he wasn’t crazy, he’d…just been through a lot.
His parents divorced when he was five. Before you dismiss this experience as just another typical 21st century reality, you should know that his father was in deep gambling debt and his mother was hooked on crack from the Minneapolis Crips. I’ll let you imagine how this all played out for young Gavin when the three of them were living under the same roof. They didn’t so much divorce as they separated and really neither of them was fit to raise Gavin, so he went to live with his grandfather. When his grandpa croaked, he went into foster homes, getting passed along seven times in four years. He eventually landed back in our neighborhood with his older third cousin Howie, twice removed. Howie did shift work at a supermarket warehouse and didn’t have much time or patience for Gavin so you can imagine what their relationship was like.
I actually remember going along with Gavin, or The Depths, a few times when he scoured the streets at night for trouble. I don’t know why but for some reason he was never bothered with me knowing his ‘secret identity.’ In truth, when you live in the ghetto, there’s little your neighbors don’t know about you. Anyway, I remember one night I tagged along with The Depths after we’d heard news of a serial rapist in the area. I wasn’t in costume but he was, as well as Durwood, his sidekick. Now, trying to be a superhero in real life is pretty pathetic but being the sidekick to a faux-superhero? That’s got to be the shits.
We mostly drank coffee and soda, freezing our balls off on a street corner and spying on the opposite side, looking for anything suspicious. Now, Durwood and I after an hour and a half had had enough. There was nothing there except a few drunks, ranting crazies, and maybe a hooker in a long trench coat. The Depths, however, refused to call it a night, insisting we’d find the rapist. Not long after, we saw this tall man wearing baggy, layered clothing, who kept circling the block, over and over again.
“That guy keeps circling back,” Gavin hissed through his mask. Durwood and I looked at each other and, even though we weren’t friends, we could read the concerned panic in the other’s eyes. I think we both knew the shit was about to hit the fan when we heard Gavin’s paper cup hit the sidewalk. Gavin, like a shadow crossing your room when a car goes by at night, lurched forward and ran to the other side. He got right up and grabbed the guy by the lapels of his coat, yelling at him, demanding to know his whereabouts on such and such a date. A struggle ensued. I watched from the other side, paralyzed. Durwood stood next to me like a statue.
A fist flew from the man and he shouted, “The fuck’s with you freak? Get the fuck off!” Gavin then retaliated with one of those karate punches he’d taught himself from online videos and it did rock the guy back a few steps. Then the next thing I saw brought a swell of feverish heat bubbling to my otherwise shivering body. From out of the guy’s steep pocket he brought out a gleaming silver, snub-nosed revolver. He pointed it, titled to the side at Gavin’s head. “Get the fuck off me, bruh!”
Gavin didn’t move and I thought then that it was over, but he suddenly reached up and grabbed the guy by the wrist. The wrist of the hand holding the gun. I sunk back into the shadows and heaved, watching the grey barrel teeter and sway in several directions as the two of them grappled for it. Without a word, Durwood ran forward to the scene. I watched in abject horror, as he got closer to the point of the flaying firearm. I sunk deeper into the darkness. I then leapt and waxed cold upon the thunder of the gun’s shot.
The bullet ricocheted across the concrete and the weapon fell from the man’s hand as both Gavin and Durwood pushed him to the ground. I don’t know if it was the second person or the gun firing but the man scrambled to his feet and scampered away. I watched the two of them panting, Gavin much more than Durwood. Then, before they walked back across the road, Durwood stooped down and picked something up from off the sidewalk. When they brought it over, we saw that it was a small plastic packet of meth. The guy had been a drug dealer, which would explain why he’d been circling the block over and over. The allusive serial rapist was never caught.
Durwood seemed the most embarrassed about the debacle. Gavin figured he had still stopped injustice. Me? I stopped tagging along. But I know that most of his crusades ended up in street fights, some he lost some he won. Sometimes he’d get unmasked but, that was okay; they didn’t know who he was anyway.
I stopped paying much attention. Around this time, I was starting to think ahead a little bit. I was going into high school and wasn’t too glad to be put into the lowest set class in one of the worst schools in the city. Gavin wasn’t going to high school. He was instead focusing on his crime-fighting career. Truth is, he was terribly behaved and was probably suffering from undiagnosed ADHD. In retrospect, our school just couldn’t support him.
The worst came about when Gavin collected up his paper route money and Christmas cash (and some pilfered dollars from Howie’s wallet, I suspect) to buy a police scanner. Like the karate moves he’d taught himself, he soon figured out what each of the coded numbers stood for.
Three days after this purchase, our projects got introduced to Officer Mitchell. He went door to door of the rowhouse Gavin and I lived in with a sketch of the mask that Gavin wore as The Depths. Luckily for Gavin, no one in the projects talks to cops, especially when it’s about someone who lives there. This usually applies to drug dealers and gangsters, but they didn’t make an exception for a mildly disturbed would-be superhero.
Officer Mitchell came to my door last. My mother, who was home, told him she’d never seen anyone wearing that mask before, but called me over to take a look. Mitchell had told her that he believed the suspect was a child. I took a look and immediately recognized the skeletal quality of the mask. Regardless, I shook my head no. The officer then knelt down and looked into my eyes. He smelled of stale coffee and fresh sweat, and his face was puffy, his eyes cold. “Are you sure about that, son? No idea who this character could be?”
Again, I shook my head no. He then stood up and adjusted his uniform then thanked my mother. He left, but I knew he knew I was lying. I felt a chill go up my spine and it lingered there long after he’d left.
After that, and with much prodding from me and Durwood, Gavin finally decided to stop going out at night. “Alright,” he told us. “I’ll wait for something big over the scanner.” This wasn’t exactly reassuring but was enough to settle my nerves for the time being.
One night, the three of us were hanging out in Howie’s cramped basement, playing X-box and sipping on some of the canned beer from the fridge, the police scanner occasionally buzzing in the background.
After we’d got to the second-to-last level of the game, the scanner buzzed rather loudly with: “Car 64 be advised, 261 and possible 217 in progress on Yonge and Lexington. Neighbors said that they heard screaming – likely female. Over.” Durwood and I heard it but neither of us paid it any mind. Gavin, though, he sat right up, dropping his controller to the floor. “10-4, this is Car 64, on pursuit to location, over.”
Gavin leapt to his feet, rushing toward the scanner and putting his ear right next to the speaker. Durwood and I were still sitting on the carpet. “What’s up, Gavin?” I asked.
“Shhh!” he hissed then promptly put his ear back to the radio. “There’s a woman being attacked ten blocks from us.” At that moment I felt a chill wash over me. I paused the game and listened with him. Several minutes crawled by of nothing, just the low frizzle of the static. Then we heard the officer’s voice return: “Dispatch, this is Car 64, we have a 217, requesting medical, over.”
From the officer’s defeated tone, I didn’t need to know the codes to figure out what happened. The woman was dead.
“Roger, Car 64. Is the suspect in the area? Over.”
“Negative, dispatch. Suspect is reported to be a number 1 male, possibly local. Witnesses say he fled scene going west off Burlington. Notify all cars of situation.”
Durwood’s hand was then clasped on Gavin’s shoulder and I could see that Gavin was writhing.
“Maybe they’ll catch him,” I said pathetically.
“He’s right,” Durwood jumped in. “No point in going over there. Come on, calm down.”
It took a few minutes of restraining him, but Gavin agreed to stay with us. We turned on the TV and channel surfed for a bit, mostly watching cartoons. Durwood and I each popped open a new beer. Gavin didn’t even finish his already opened one. Didn’t even touch it. He just sat there, next to the police scanner, his eyes staring lifeless into nothing.
The next day, I saw the front cover of the newspaper: HIDEOUS RAPE-MURDER ON YONGE AND LEXINGTON! Police Officers are in hot pursuit of evasive culprit.
This wasn’t good. I didn’t see Gavin for two weeks straight. I went over to his house a couple times but each time there was no answer. Or I’d see his cousin, telling me Gavin was out and that he didn’t know where he was. I was scared then. This was bad.
All I knew was the detail of the suspect as they were relayed on the radio: Number One male. It didn’t take me long to find out that Number One meant black. I didn’t want to know how The Depths was going about finding the guy.
By the third week, on a Wednesday afternoon after school, I heard heavy tires crunching over the ragged pavement of our block. From living in the projects for as long as I had, I had developed a sixth sense for cops. I looked out a second story window to see a squad car had pulled up on our curb, right in front of Howie’s stoop. My mind filled with fears of the worst and I dashed down the steps and flew out to our front steps. I watched Officer Mitchell emerge, his face rigid, his movements stiff and sudden. He then jerked open the passenger door and there was Gavin, his face exposed, bloodied, one eye blackened and swollen shut, his hands cuffed behind him.
Mitchell dragged Gavin toward the door, Gavin giving little resistance and showing even less mental presence. The policeman wrapped his knuckles hard on the plywood door, but no one ever came. Howie was working double shifts that week and hadn’t been home, spending his nights working a barstool. I looked around and saw everybody on our block watching out their windows or over chain linked fences.
“Where the fuck is your parental unit?” Mitchell spat, shaking Gavin’s bound form violently. Gavin shrugged. Mitchell gave him another shake and shouted in his face. I could feel the eyes of our block peering harder on both of them.
Officer Mitchell must have felt it too because after taking a long glance at the scene around him, he went behind Gavin and took off the cuffs. Gavin was about to unlock his door and go in, but not before Officer Mitchell clasped his hand against the plywood and brandished Mitchell’s mask in front of his face in a squelching grasp.
“Listen to me, you little shit,” he said in a low voice, but it carried in an echo so I could hear it. “Do yourself a favor and throw this and that faggotty outfit in the trash. I see you wearing it again anywhere and I will arrest you for suspicion of mischief. And we’ll see if we can even get a hate crime charge tied to you, eh?” He then threw the mask hard at Gavin’s feet. Hate crime. Oh Jesus, I thought. Had Gavin actually been going around the neighborhood harassing random black guys because of what he’d heard on the radio?
Officer Mitchell grabbed his heavy belt under his paunch and adjusted his trousers. “Your guardian or parent will be called later this week to inform them of the situation. Have a nice day.”
The eyes of the projects faded back into the houses as Mitchell’s prowler peeled off and Gavin’s door slammed shut. I was glad to know Gavin was okay and thought at the time the whole thing was over. Looking back, I now know how wrong I was.
The next day, I invited Gavin over and the two of us hung out in my room. We were there to play cards but, mostly, I needed to know what had happened. The first thing I asked was about the shiner on his left eye. “Did that prick Mitchell do that to you?” He shook his head, almost smiling. “Nah, this was from one of the rapists.”
I must have looked at Gavin then with complete confusion. He relayed to me how there had been more than one rapist-murderer – that there had in fact been five – maybe ten who were involved in killing that girl over two weeks ago. “Gang rape,” is the term he kept using. “I swear to you, Corey, there’s literally hundreds of them.”
“What do you mean?”
His eyes shifted to my door, perhaps checking that it was closed before he leaned in close and said. “The blacks.”
My heart started pounding in my chest. Was I really hearing this?
He then told me how, John Dyke, at whose house he had stayed on his two-week hunt, had told him about the uncontrollable lust that apparently all blacks have for raping white women. This theory wasn’t surprising. John Dyke had grown up, just a few years before us, in our projects, and was now an active Neo-Nazi. What shocked me was that Gavin had bought this crap. For Christ sake, the girl who’d been killed hadn’t even been white!
“I’m not even going to bother fighting street crime anymore,” he lectured on. “The real criminals that are sucking our community dry are being protected by the government: the immigrants taking our jobs, the blacks and Spanish spreading drugs, the queers and lesbians poisoning our families.”
I had to stop him right there. Both my parents are Ukrainian Jews so you can imagine how pissed I was getting. Also, Gavin, Durwood and I were from three of only five white families in a majority Hispanic ghetto. How the fuck could he believe all this peckerwood bullshit?
“You’re being an asshole,” I told him, and I could feel myself shaking, not used to standing up for myself, and especially for other people. “John Dyke is a fucking Nazi, everything you’re saying now is wrong. And what you’re doing around the city is worse. It’s harassment, it’s assault. It-it’s racist, dude!”
He then told me in a cold, automatic monotone that racism doesn’t exist. He then asked me, why I cared. After all, these people were animals, not real human beings. I lost it at that point. We both got into a huge shouting match and by the end, Gavin called me a Commie Kike and stormed out of my room. I couldn’t get his words out of my head the whole night and I kept shaking and grinding my teeth together.
In the week that followed, I mostly stayed in my room after school. When I checked my email account, I saw there was a message from Durwood. Oh great, the sidekick, I thought. Figuring it was Gavin’s attempt to make recompense, without apologizing, by proxy, I deleted the message without reading it and got on with my homework.
The next day there was another message from Durwood. Again, I dumped it without reading. On the third day I had calmed down a bit over the whole thing and was legitimately curious. To my surprise, the message had nothing to do with Gavin. Durwood’s message was a simple Hey, how’s it going. He even asked me about what homework was like in freshman year. Nothing to do with what had transpired between me and Gavin at all. Pleased with the friendly hello, I responded in kind, asking him how he was doing. Fifteen minutes later there was a reply and we ended up chatting online into the late evening until about midnight. We continued doing this over the next couple nights and actually started hanging out after school. It was kind of nice since we only knew each other through Gavin, who seemed to be no longer in the picture. It was great that I had a new friend without completely separating myself from my past circle.
Over the next month I found out he and I had a lot in common. We liked the same video games, the same bands, the same movies, even the same foods. One Friday night when we were munching on nachos and cheese at the local arcade, he confided in me what it was like being Gavin’s sidekick.
“It was fucking horrible, man,” he commiserated, shaking his head, which was hanging very low. “Everything he wanted to do since he was five and I was three I had to go along with. He wanted to play Lone Ranger: I was Tonto. And any bullshit adventure he wanted to do, I got stuck tagging along.” He interrupted himself with a joyless scoff. “Did he ever tell you about the time when he was nine and he wanted to live out in the wilderness, so he made me go with him to camp out in woods at Barrette Park? Shit, by the time they found us, I had poison ivy all over my legs and had eaten a goddamn grub. Yuck!”
“Well, why did you go along with him?” I asked. “How did you two even end up as friends?”
“Because,” he said with emphasis. “His mother went to school with my mom. I guess she felt obligated after what happened to her.”
I nodded my head for a bit. That did make sense for the initial relationship. But…
“I mean,” I began again. “Why did you just do whatever he said? You don’t have to do what he wants just because he’s your friend or your mom wants you to. You’re your own person.”
He then hid his eyes behind his hands. I soon realized he was holding his head, looking as if he was about to be sick. I then heard him say, in a weak, trembling voice, “There’s more. There’s more, he…he just had – has this power over me. I just…just can’t get loose of him. Fuck!”
Not knowing what to do and feeling very uncomfortable, I patted him on the shoulder and told him it’d be all right. I suppose there was more he could have told me, but, honestly, I didn’t want to know.
Life was much easier for the next couple of months. No more craziness, no more bullshit. For the first time in my life, I was actually friends with someone who wasn’t toxic and wasn’t so demanding of my time. I was actually doing well in school and there were talks of putting me in a higher set class for next fall.
After Easter weekend, however, I got back in touch with Gavin. It was early in the morning – I mean 5 AM early. I could hear my phone vibrate on my makeshift bedside table – a spare floor tile on top of two milk cartons. I picked it up without looking at the caller ID and answered.
“Hello?” I said, rubbing my eyes.
“Corey!” I heard Gavin’s voice blare. “You-you gotta let me come over. Jesus, I need your help!”
Hearing the panic in his voice jolted me awake. I pressed the phone closer to my ear. “Calm down, what’s happening?”
“There’s a news story out about me. They’re saying I killed Officer Mitchell!”
My nerves locked. My body completely froze. No…
“Listen,” I heard him beg over the phone. “I’m about ten minutes away. I’ll sneak in through your front stoop when the coast is clear. Your parents should still be asleep, right?”
“Yeah,” I muttered, just audible, hoping he wouldn’t hear.
“Great!” he exclaimed, and I bit my lip hard. “I’ll be there soon.”
“Wait!” I shouted, and to my relief the call was still in progress. “Why can’t you hide at Dyke’s? He’s farther away from your house.”
I could hear him suck his teeth through the receiver. “John’s gone. He’s been outta town for a while now. I got nowhere else to hide, man!”
“Well, why would you hide here? I mean, we live in the same building, dude. The cops will find you here.”
I felt a heavy exhale waft through the receiver onto my eardrum.
“I don’t think they’ve put two and two together yet, but they will soon. I’ll explain when I get there. Just please, help me out.”
Put two and two together? What did that mean?
“Alright, you can stay in my room for the day until I get back from school. Then we’ll have to figure something out for you.”
He thanked me and I heard the short quiet chime of my phone, indicating the call had ended.
Having all this time to wait, my mind whirling from this sudden revelation, I searched the Internet on my phone. Not long after, I found a news article titled CITY COP SLAIN BY MASKED MAN, which was complete with a video. Apparently, Officer Mitchell had responded to a robbery that took place at a convenience store. I watched the video. The video was from a security camera videotaping the outside storefront. I could see, even in the grainy quality and the microscopic screen of my phone, one of the windows had been broken. Just then, as Officer Mitchell was walking out of the front door, I saw it – a shadow, moving fast right toward him. He turned his head just before the figure ran into him, but not fast enough. He fell to the ground clutching his side. The article said he had been stabbed. I then watched in absolute horror as the cop reached for his gun holster and the darkly veiled figure grabbed at it too, the two of them struggling until there was a sudden flash and the officer lay motionless on the ground, a spray of dark fluid staining the concrete behind his head. The figure then shot his lifeless body twice more before dropping the pistol and turning to leave. As it turned, I paused the video. The face was covered in a black skeletal mask, with piercing silver tinted eyes. The same from Gavin’s costume.
Gavin had still not arrived. Unsure how many knew the costume was his, I quickly dialed 9-1-1.
When Gavin got to my house, he was out of breath, panting and soaked with sweat. I got him a glass of tap water and sat him down on my bed. He then told me the story in his own words:
“Listen, last night I was at home, okay? I – I had been out on patrol for a long, long while and had caught a cold. For the last few days I’ve been in bed.”
I observed Gavin closely. I could tell he wasn’t sick.
“You said you weren’t going on patrol anymore,” I said, punctuating each word.
“Yeah, yeah!” he snapped, hastily. “But they’re two fugitives reported in the news who were suspected of being in town!”
I had heard nothing of this.
“I saw the video,” I told him. “The guy was wearing your costume.”
“That’s the thing!” Gavin begged, reaching up at me and grabbing my shirt. “I haven’t worn that costume in months now. I swear to God, I threw it in the trash. I told you: John and I were focusing on organizing strikes against immigrants and stuff. I wasn’t going out and bustin’ heads no more! And here’s the other crazy thing. There’s no way I could have known that a robbery had taken place.”
I listened, analyzing each word. He had mentioned details about the attack that I knew from the news report. But, of course, he would; he probably saw the news story, which was why he was panicked. Still….
“That’s the thing,” he rambled on, his eyes wide, pulling harder on my shirt. “Three days ago, the police scanner went missing. I don’t know where it is.” I put my hands on his arms and tried to ease them off of me. Just then there came a loud, echoing knock from the front door. “Police! Open up.”
Gavin swiveled his head in the direction of the sound. He turned to look at me and seemed to search my face before springing up to look out the window.
“Police…” he muttered, and his voice carried just enough for me to hear it. “But how…?” He then turned. I stood up. I was ready to dash out the room but, for some reason, I couldn’t. “You!” he yelled, pointing his finger accusingly at me. “You called the cops.”
I just stood there, stupid and silent, holding my arms up to try to gesture for him to be calm. Without another second of hesitation, he sprang on me and began hitting me in the side with his knees and fists. My life flashed before my eyes, as did the thought that I was alone with a killer.
“Help!” I screamed, hoping the police outside would hear me. “Help!” I wailed and was soon cut off by a blow to the jaw. I raised my hands defensively over my head and curled up, trying to block his blows that were striking down hard all over my body. I didn’t hear the front door getting broken down, or even my bedroom door being wrenched open, but I did hear Gavin scream as he was pulled off by two police officers. They then proceeded to pin him to the floor and cuff his hands. My skin was throbbing from the speed of my pulse and I didn’t feel any pain, though in truth I was badly beaten up. They hauled Gavin off kicking and screaming, explaining he was under arrest for the murder of Police Officer, Sergeant Jerome Fergus Mitchell.
It didn’t take long for a jury to find Gavin guilty. The police had found the costume in the trash in front of his house, although he swore he had gotten rid of it well before the murder took place. Beyond that, they had motive: everyone in the projects had seen Gavin berated by Mitchell and knew what being a costumed crusader meant to him. Still, it was like pulling teeth to get people to testify. Only thing was, they never found his police scanner. Gavin’s court appointed lawyer tried using this fact to raise doubt, since the prosecution kept arguing that Gavin had been known to have a police scanner, which would explain how he knew the robbery took place and how he knew Officer Mitchell would be there since he knew his car number.
They ended up trying him as an adult and gave him 25 to life. I couldn’t believe this had happened to him even with what he had done. Christ, he wasn’t even sixteen.
By the time I was nearly done high school, the entire neighborhood had forgotten about Gavin. It was pretty much taboo to talk about him and even Durwood and I avoided the subject. But honestly, with time we didn’t care. We had both turned things around.
When Durwood finished middle school, he went to the same high school I did, which made school so much better since I had my best friend to hang out with. By the time I was in my senior year, we had both joined a few school clubs – no teams I’m afraid – and started a games club of our own. And after moving up to some college prep classes, my grades were finally improving. I had attended a careers workshop and had made up my mind to go into an apprenticeship program to become an electrician. Durwood asked me about it and later told me that he had decided to do the same thing when he graduated.
The summer after my senior year, Durwood and his mother were moving out to Minneapolis. I was sad to see him go but I could understand that maybe it was best for him to leave all the bitter memories behind. The day he was going to move I helped him pack.
Around lunchtime, we were in his room, all of his things in tiny cardboard cubes around us. We took a break as we were both beat. His mother called him for something, and he asked me to wait for him. After a few minutes I got bored and tried to lift a few more boxes. Now all of the boxes had been light up until now, mostly filled with clothes. This box I lifted was unexpectedly heavy and when I eased it off the stack, it fell from my grip and crashed to the floor. The sealed top opened up on impact and all the items inside spilled out onto the carpet. I rushed to get everything back in the box and that’s when I saw what had given it so much weight – a black metallic radio. It was a police scanner. Gavin’s police scanner. The same he swore had gone missing three days before the murder took place. I sat there, staring at it. I then heard footsteps outside the room, and the door creaking open…
Credit : Malcolm MacDonald
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