When I get back from the barber the next day, she doesn’t even recognize me. The long, shoulder length wavy hair is gone. High and tight now. No more mustache or goatee. Face is as smooth as a baby’s bottom. B.D had pierced my left ear with an ice pick when I first got jumped in. The earring is the last to go. Shawna tells me I look ten years younger. That she wouldn’t have known me if she hadn’t seen it. Hopefully I won’t bump into any of my homies on the job, but… I figure if she wouldn’t know me, they sure as shit won’t.
Monday morning, O’dark thirty. First day of the Academy. I’m in the parking lot alone. Getting my mind right. I thought I was scared when I went down in the hood for the first time. That was nothing compared to the fear I feel now. The thought of running on my bad leg…fuck me. Have to make it. I just have to. I make up my mind right then and there that the only way I’m leaving is in a body bag. No quit. Taaei Doo Da. No turning back. I start to sing a song I remember from Sunday school. Shi Kad Jesus Bikee Yishaat doo. I have decided to follow Jesus. I wonder just how hard God must be laughing. Pretty funny to be turning to Him now. I light another smoke. A car pulls up. Black guy gets out. Tall and lean. Sits on the hood of his car. Lights a cigarette. Long drink from the short dog in his other hand. I’m guessing it’s Hennessey, maybe Courvoisier. Too old to be a cadet. He walks like a big cat. Saunters toward the offices. The other cadets start showing up a half hour later.
First class “A” formation. We’re divided into platoons. All of the DIs are storming through their platoons. Yelling. Screaming. Right in their cadets’ faces. No sign of our DI yet. Can’t look anywhere but straight ahead. Out of the corner of my eye I see him. This can’t be good. It’s the Hen drinking Brother from the parking lot. This is my DI? This guy’s got HOOD written all over him. Comes up to the first cadet. Leans in close. Whispers. I hear the cadet bellow, “Sir yes sir.” The DI whispers again and the cadet is down doing push ups. This repeats with every cadet in our platoon. Now it’s my turn. He leans in. Whispers.
“Do you like me boy?”
I know where this is going.
“Sir, no sir.”
“Wha'...you don'...well, why not?”
“Sir, because liking leads to loving, and loving leads to fucking, and I have no desire to fuck you, Sir.”
“Smart boys don' last wid me...you on borrowed time, Norris. Now, drop and give me fifty anyway.”
If this is the guy the captain has out for me, I’m in deep shit.
Later in the day. First PT. The run is only going to be three and a half miles. In formation. Cadets are dropping like flies. The pain in my knee is beyond describing. Gritting my teeth. My DI suddenly appears at my side. The name’s Mahoney. Staring right at me as we run.. It’s right of manhood time again. Not for the weak. I go someplace else in my head. The grimace disappears. So does he.
End of the first day. They let us go. I get a couple of Squirt sodas from the machine. Chug the first one. Head back to my car. Get inside. Wait till everyone leaves. Light a smoke and open the soda. I’m sure no one can see me now. I let the pain in. Embrace it like a lover. Realize I’m going to repeat this ritual every day for eighteen weeks. Cry. Shawna and the girls are waiting for me when I get home. Her little boy Tony is with his grandma. I put a big ass smile on my face. The girls buy it. They’re young. Shawna doesn’t. Not for a minute. Get the girls to bed. Shawna stole some stuff from the clinic she works at. Gets out a needle. Looks like you could use it to crotchet with. Pushes into the joint. Screws a syringe on. Draws the fluid out of my knee. Puts ice on it. Starts stroking what little hair I’ve got. Sings softly. “Nature Boy”. Another ritual that will be repeated for eighteen weeks.
I can still hear her singing that damn song. I miss her.
End of the second week now. We started with over two hundred cadets. Already lost sixty-five. I’m hangin’. No thanks to Mahoney. Third day of the Academy, he makes me first platoon sergeant. So, besides being responsible for my platoon, I’m responsible for the whole class if the class sergeant isn’t there…and the men and women they make class sergeant in the first ten weeks all quit from the stress. That’s why they put them there. To get them to quit. The platoon sergeants of the other platoons get replaced every few days. Not me. Thanks Mahoney, you fucking prick. That’s what I think at the time anyway.
Four weeks in. Still making it. Somehow. Mahoney has decided on a new approach to fuck with me. We start PT with a run. Finish with stress-recovery-stress in the gym. Every run starts off going up the “Bitch”. That’s what we call it. The Academy back then was at Biscaluz Center in East LA. There was a road that ran from it to Sibyl Brand, the women’s jail, on the other side of a hill. That road went up at a forty-five degree angle for about a hundred and fifty yards, leveled off somewhat for ten, then went up at a steeper angle for the last one-fifty. There was a gate at the top. Locked. It was supposed to be relocked after we went through. They would finish every run with a cool down walk before we hit the gym. You needed it just so you wouldn’t drop dead doing stress-recovery-stress. Mahoney decided someone needed to go back up to that gate and make sure it was locked during the cool down walk. Every day. Guess who? Fuck me.
Start of the fifth week. Still making it somehow. I get called into the DI’s office. Only one DI in there. Not Mahoney. This guy’s big, blonde, blue eyes. Looks like a poster boy for the Aryan nation. Wants to chat. Not any real choice, so I listen.
“Sir, Cadet Norris reporting as ordered, Sir.”
“At ease, Norris...Mahoney's got a real hard-on for you...you know why?”
I think I do, but I’m not talking.
“Sir, no Sir.”
“I said, at ease...top academics in the class... he knows you'll climb the ladder fast...drives him crazy... he's been here four and a half years trying to make Sergeant ...never will...he'd love to break you...get you to quit...I'm gonna try and get you transferred to my platoon...see what I can do...that'll be all.”
Maybe there’s hope after all. That night the girls want me to say prayers with them before bed. On my knees. I can’t tell them no. Next morning I’m back in the DI’s office. They’re all there. Mahoney looks like someone just fucked his wife and kicked his dog to death. Great. He waves a piece of paper in my face. Screaming at me. I’ve never heard him raise his voice before.
“I'm the ramrod of this staff...I approve all transfers, or they don' fly...”
He crumbles the paper into a tight ball. Throws it in my face.
“Tha's the only way yo' transfer'll ever fly...now get the fuck outta my office...”
I hear him yell at the DI who tried to get me transferred as I’m going out the door.
“Don' you ever fuck with one o' my men...'less you wanna fuck with me... you got that, Wonder Bread?”
Thank you mister DJ. The hits just keep on coming.
I get to the Academy before anyone the next morning. I don’t see Mahoney’s ride. Maybe this other DI can figure out a way to help me. I go into the office quiet, praying Mahoney isn’t hiding out in there somewhere. I hear a voice. Someone talking on the phone. I get close. It’s the DI that wants to “help” me. He has his back to me. Doesn’t know that I’m there. It’s on speaker. I know the voice on the other end. The captain. My fucking captain.
“Well, how’d it go?”
“Better'n if the transfer had worked...Yes, I'm sure... pissed?... Mahoney'll never let'm make it now... then I told'm that you wanted Norris to make it...fuckin' kiss of death...”
That’s all I need to hear. I resist my first impulse to go over and blow his fucking brains out. Knowledge is power. I sneak back out. Mahoney may be fucking with me, but not for the captain. This piece of shit is working for him. I need time to think. My world has turned inside out in a heartbeat. I don’t know whether to scratch my watch or wind my balls. I can deal with this asshole later. Later, however, winds up being that afternoon. At the Academy. In the gym. In front of the whole class and all of the DIs. Me and my temper. Should have been the end for me. Thank God for Mahoney.
Defensive tactics in the gym. Practicing weapon take away. Guess which DI is leading…that’s right, Hitler’s wet dream boy. None of the cadets have been able to take the gun away from him. They haven’t been taught yet. I learned on the street from one of my bois. They practice this shit in the joint. It’s how I killed that young Blood at the warehouse. He asks for one more volunteer. Big mistake. I get up. Stand in front of him. Hands up. Fingers wiggling. Fucker winks at me. Starts talking to the class.
“The object of this demonstration…”
First thing I learned was to get the guy with the gun talking. People can’t seem to pull the trigger when their mouth is moving. Even if they can, they’re too slow. I turn my body sideways. Forward with my right foot. Right hand closes over the cylinder, left grabbing the underside of the barrel. Down on the cylinder, up on the barrel. I feel the bones in his wrist and fingers snap from the sudden pressure. Forward with my left foot, left elbow in a tight arc at his head. My elbow connects with his nose. Blood spurts on my uniform as I rip the gun from his hand. He drops to his knees, clutching his broken limb to his chest. His head is bowed. The blood from his nose flows freely. I grab a handful of his hair. Yank his head back. Level the revolver at the side of his face. Begin to squeeze the trigger. Just as the hammer starts to go forward, Mahoney is there. He and I face each other, both holding the gun. I don’t blink. Neither does he.
“Everybody in the showers...now!”
The class hesitates for a second between "showers" and "now". Then they rush toward the locker room. Mahoney and I are still locked eye to eye. The other DIs have gone over to the dirt bag. Try to get him to his feet, and out of the gym. Mahoney whispers in my ear.
I slowly release my grip on the gun. Mahoney lets it fall to his side. I begin the long walk to the locker room. I look back over my shoulder. The only reason the gun didn’t go off was Mahoney got the web of his hand between the hammer and the firing pin on it’s way down. Other wise, that DI is dead. Blanks at that range, to the head, will still kill you. I see Mahoney pull the hammer back with his free hand. He hasn’t taken his eyes off of me.
I hit the showers. The other cadets avoid me like I’m a leper at a hot tub party. Don’t blame them. It’s over for me.
I wait through my shower to get called in to the office and fired. Nothing. In the classroom. Nothing. EOW formation. Released for the day. Still nothing. I figure I’ll get the call at home. Nope. Must want to do it in front of the class the next day. Make an example out of me. Shawna tells me we’ll make it somehow. I don’t know how to tell her she’s wrong.
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