King Maker: The Knights of Breton Court, Vol. 1 : The Knights of Breton Court, volume 1
FROM THE DRUG GANGS OF DOWNTOWN INDIANAPOLIS, THE ONE TRUE KING WILL ARISE. The King Arthur myth gets dramatically replayed through the destiny of street hustler King, as he tries to unite the crack dealers, gangbangers, and the very real monsters lurking amongst them, to do the right thing. This is an edgy, fantastical debut, genuinely unlike anything you've ever read before.
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September 27, 2010
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Excerpt from King Maker: The Knights of Breton Court, Vol. 1 by Maurice Broaddus
KING MAKER, by MAURICE BROADDUS
Volume I of The Knights of Breton Court
Prelude: The Fall of Luther
Indianapolis, Indiana. Back in the Day.
The streets have their own legends, their own magic, and for a brief moment, Luther White was the heir apparent to both.
"Listen here, keep that motor running." Staid snorts of smoke poured from Luther's nose and mouth like a dragon's exhalations as he puffed on a cigarette. Cutting his eyes at CashMoney's rayon shirt as if he were ashamed to know him, Luther slid along the gray vinyl car seat with the coolness of shadow. His twin Caliburns glinted in the moonlight as he tucked them into his waistband.
Everyone knew there was a street tax to be paid if they wished to operate in Luther's neighborhood. If rent wasn't paid, he came a-calling with his Caliburns. Costing a fortune, the 9mm Springfield Armory custom-ported stack autos - with the frames, slides, and some other parts plated in 24K gold, with gold dragons rearing up along the contrasting black grips - were his trademark. He rarely had to do more than brandish them for his point to be made. Tonight a stronger counter argument was called for.
CashMoney drummed his fingers along the steering wheel of his Chevy Nova. He wore what barbershops called the Perfecto cut, his hair like sculpted topiary with its precise parts and molded crown. His drawn face held an air of sadness, his brim pulled low on his head to shade his dull brown eyes. The car's cassette player was broken so he rolled the dial on the dash, getting mostly static. As if there were any other choice for music other than WTLC, unless you wanted some of that easy listening rock garbage.
Luther ground the cigarette out with his heel, the sparks skittering into the slight breeze. Little set the rundown four bedroom house apart from the other rundown homes in the neighborhood, yet Luther strode toward it with determination and purpose. His brown leather jacket remained opened enough to reveal the gold chain along his black turtleneck. Life was all about fa?ades and impressions and Luther took extra care to make sure his appearance remained slick. His brown eyes brimmed with ambition. Sideburns, thick but tight, framed his wistful sneer. He could almost see his reflection in his polished knobs.
Fall Creek was a natural ley line that helped carve up Indianapolis, one of those tracks your mother warned you about that people crossed at their own peril. On one side were large historic homes, one-time summer houses for those who lived in downtown Indianapolis; the playground for old money. On the other, around 30th and Fall Creek Parkway, a neighborhood spiraled downward with streets which ought to be named after local reverends and civil rights activists. Luther knew nothing about ancestral memory, his imagination not given to neither fancy nor spiritual stirrings. The idea of ley lines or connecting high places of power or sacredness was the stuff of superstition. It definitely wasn't part of his world at all. His world was gray and concrete and real as the dollars that fueled it. Light from the open door of the old house swathed him and he disappeared inside.
Barely old enough to drive, though rumor had it that he was one of the best getaway drivers for rent, CashMoney viewed himself as half an apprentice to Luther. Truth be told, his admiring eye transparently masked a covetous gleam. Barely in his twenties, Luther had already earned the rep and done crowned himself king of the streets. He lacked the ruthlessness and deep hatred for women that made career pimps, but he loved the street hustle. His resume stretched back to his early teens when he ran numbers, setting up a string of pea shake gambling houses using his uncle's reputation for muscle.
CashMoney's less-than-ambitious thoughts idled around trying to figure out how to get Yolanda Jenkins to give it up. He squirmed uncomfortably in his seat, regretting his last three beers. Fishing a joint from his pocket, CashMoney kissed it and hoped they could stop off at Burger Chef later. A hot minute later, he butted the remainder as shots touted a break in the evening's festivities.
Luther backed out the doorway with as casual a stride as possible for a man as cautious as he. A high yella, stone-cold fox flickered into his peripheral vision. Her large breasts pushed her shirt straight out, exposing her flat belly over her tight jeans. With Asian eyes and long black hair, she would have stood out anywhere; however, here, she almost made Luther trip over himself. Their eyes locked on one another, her haunting beauty captured him in its spell. He shook himself to stay focused on business. Luther clutched the bag full of money and tumbled into the passenger's seat. Maybe he didn't have to push up on Green's people, but a message had to be sent.
"Floor this motherfucker."
Luther banged on the front door of the rowhouse apartment then stepped back. Cupping his hand, he blew into it to check for any telltale smoke or drink on his breath. Getting with one of these church girls required some effort; still, it was worth it to have the proper woman to raise his future. He'd changed clothes twice before coming over, because Anyay's mom was no joke. A serious Christian woman - in church every time the doors were open and was known for falling out with the Holy Spirit every Sunday morning - she wasn't about to put up with a trifling fool showing up on her doorstep. Her massive forearm shoved open the storm door, but she kept her other hand on the knob of the house door. A florid woman with a body more brick wall than brick house stood between him and the fresh face of Anyay who peeped from over her shoulder.
"Hello, Mrs Watkins. I was wondering if Anyay was in."
"She is." Mrs Watkins pulled the door closer behind her, further shielding her daughter from his gaze.
"Would it be possible to speak to her for a minute?" His voice strained with politeness, not used to asking for anything, much less the added tone of deference. He hoped the gesture would be noticed.
Tilting her jowly face at him, her expression locked in stony inscrutability, Mrs Watkins weighed her options. She had dropped her guard once around him before and Anyay had a newborn to show for it. The situation twisted her heart since she knew it wasn't right to keep a daddy from his own son. Too many men simply ran at the prospect of fatherhood and at least this boy seemed to want to put in the effort. Not that she'd give him an inch. Even the rakish angle of his cap screamed that this man-child was too cocky for his own good. When he relaxed, he favored his father, not that he'd know since he never knew the man. However, Mrs Watkins came up with the boy's grandma. He was four years old when he went to her, and even then she knew he had an anger in him only soothed by running wild. The poison of the streets sopped up into him like gravy into a biscuit.
"You ain't coming in my house and Anyay ain't leaving the porch. The baby's asleep and you got ten minutes."
"Thank you, Mrs-" he said to her back, the slamming porch door cutting him off.
Anyay lowered her head as her momma passed, hiding her excitement while appearing properly repentant for past indiscretions. The stairs creaked in protest as Mrs Watkins climbed them. "Ten minutes," a dismembered voice reiterated.
Anyay opened the door and slipped out.
"Girl, check you out. Your momma ever going to give you a break?"
"Not as long as we're living under her roof." Anyay leaned against the porch door. Her thin arms crossed in faux impatience. Her face caught the moonlight, rekindling her freshness, as if unsullied by his, or any, hands. Reddish-brown braids cascaded down to her shoulders, a T-shirt draped along her lithe body. Though longer than most dresses, she still had to wear pants around the house, much less to come to the door. Momma's rules.
"I'm working on that."
"I'm serious, Luther. We need a proper home. You need a proper job, not all this rippin' and runnin' you call a life."
"You knew I was in the game when you got with me, baby." Luther trotted out his tired defense. Tonight, with her looking as beautiful as she was, searching him for more, he knew she was right.
"I know, but still... we got responsibilities now." The glint in her voice matched her no-nonsense eyes. Anyay dared to dream of a better life for them, her words a fine razor of guilt. She had no interest in changing him, she only wanted for them to be a family. And get away from the streets.
"How's he doing?"
"King is great. Misses his daddy."
"Can I see him?" Luther's face lit up despite his cloak of cool nonchalance. Even the idea of the boy broke him down in ways he couldn't explain - not to CashMoney, not to his boys, and barely to himself. Good ways.
"Can you be quiet?"
"Ain't that how we came up with him in the first place? Your mom's at her prayer meeting, but decides to come home early."
"Guess the Holy Spirit was whispering to her that night," Anyay said, her large eyes glancing up at him as her head nodded down. It was a look, a meaningful gaze, reserved only for Luther. She was his in ways she couldn't explain - not to her momma, not to her girls, and barely to herself. Good ways.
"Yeah, the Holy Spirit's got a mouth on Him. But I wasn't 'bout to leave before I got done. Man puts in the work, he expects his paycheck."
"Luther..." she said in her "you're terrible" voice.
"Where is little man?"
Luther trailed Anyay into the house. Around her, the bravado he wore as armor melted into meaninglessness. The desperate gasp his life so often became reduced to a measured breathing. He could relax. Even a king had to rest his head some time.
His mouth open, head turned to the side while drool leaked from him like an
untightened faucet, King James White slept blissfully unaware on the couch. A coordinated outfit of a light green set of pajamas - matched down to his socks. Luther couldn't have his son crawling about in hand-me-downs. The infant had a purity about him that swelled Luther's heart with the knowledge that he was a part of making him. King was his legacy and he had to do right by him.
"I was about to take him upstairs. We expected you earlier."
"Yeah, I had some unexpected business that needed straightening out." He stuffed a handful of yards into her palm. If he couldn't be present in their lives the way either of them wanted, the hundred dollar bills would make sure they wanted for nothing.
"How much longer will you have... business?" Despite the sad, disapproving quality to her voice, Anyay folded the bills and slipped them into her purse. In the end, she was a practical woman with bills to pay, but she hated herself for accepting the money. Luther came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her.
"One more matter to settle and I'm out, I swear. If I can't hand things off in the proper way, everything will fall apart. I'm trying to put together something that will last."
"I know, baby. I know. The important thing is that you're here now."
"I gotta book."
"But you just got here." She pulled from his embrace, facing him but backing away. Only when she pouted like this did her young age reveal itself.
"My ten minutes are almost up."
"Go then, you'd rather be with the streets than with me, anyway."
Luther rolled his eyes then sighed to himself. "Come here." True, his duty was to the game. There was magic in its call, a magic he had long ago embraced. It was as if his Indianapolis had two sides to it: the day-to-day world only the squares knew and the magical underbelly, the world of wonder he knew. She may never share in his world, but he could one day join her in hers.
Anyay turned around. "What?"
"Come here." He folded her into his arms and kissed her. "I'll be back, you hear?"
In front of the shopping strip which housed Preston Safeway, the Crown Room, and Nell's Beauty Salon, Antwan X, with his militant Afro and corduroy bell bottoms, passed out flyers to the next meeting for those interested in the ever-in-the-offing revolution. Sure, he'd done a stick-up or two in his day - hell, last week - however, always with The Cause in mind. Like the griots of ancient Africa, he knew the history of the neighborhood.
The rivalry between Luther and Green was the topic of many a corner conversation. Luther ran wild with robberies and number running, setting up pea shakes in the neighborhood. Green's trade leaned toward whores and drugs, leaving the occasional body in his wake (but only of those in the game, such was his code). How the two came to cross each other, no one was quite sure since their respective business interests rarely intersected. Probably little more than professional jealousy, the battle of street reps. The latest reports were not found in any paper, not even the Indianapolis Recorder, the city's black newspaper. No, for the discerning ear, word of their exploits traveled the vine from barbershop to barstool.
"Now, Speedbump was the craziest brother I ever knew." Antwan X ironed the freshly pressed stack of flyers with his hand.
"Speedbump? I never heard of no Speedbump." CashMoney, still sporting his red Chuck Taylors, was all about getting some of that herb. He had been a legend on the ball court - the tales of his athletic exploits grew in the retelling - until he messed up his knee over some nonsense after a game. Money. A woman. Drugs. One of the usual suspects.
"Old school cat. Used to run the streets with Bird and Green."
"Hard to believe Green's still around."
"Green always around. He eternal," Antwan X reassured him.
"So why'd they call him Speedbump?"
"Cause the fool would run into the middle of the street every time he got chased. Always get hit, bounce off people's windshields. Get up like it was nothing."
"What about Bama?"
"Now he was country crazy. He'd walk straight up to a fool and pop him. Did that shit on some police once. Folks kept their distance from him cause they never knew what he was going to do next or what would set him off." Antwan X smiled at the memory of the story. The roll-call of street kings; their exploits burned brightly but briefly. The smile curdled on his lips as he recalled their all-too-eventual fates.
"It's a small neighborhood." CashMoney offered a hit off his joint to Antwan X, who waved him off. A sadness fastened itself to the times that begged a drug-induced numbing to get through. Anyway, if he was to get to philosophizing, he preferred to do it in the throes of a high.
"What you mean?"
"I mean, we got Luther and we got Green." He leaned his head back and released a puff of smoke against the backdrop of the moon and away from Antwan X. "These two are running wild and the streets ain't big enough for 'em both."
"Green's no joke."
"Neither's his girl." CashMoney flicked his tongue along his teeth then spat.
"Fine. Ass. Sister. If I'm lying, I'm dying."
"I don't see how you can work for Green," Antwan X said.
"Baddest mother this side of Nasty Mike. Even Bama don't cross him."
"Bama ain't Luther." Antwan X nodded over CashMoney's shoulder. "Speak of the devil..."
"Be straight, baby." CashMoney booked inside without turning around, as if a student not wanting to be caught smoking by the principal.
The confidence of Luther's gait suggested that if he stopped, the neighborhood's orbit would have spun off its axis. Every day brought changes to the neighborhood he loved so much. Neto's Bar closed up, another bit of his childhood devoured as shop owners who'd built up a life moved out. Woolworth's, Roselyn Bakery, Meadows Music - they were here now, but for how much longer as working people left the area? No one owned anything in the neighborhood anymore. No ownership, no stake. But his name rang out and everyone beckoned occasion from him. So fuck everyone else, he had to go for his.
"All right now, brother, all right now." Antwan X clasped Luther's hands.
"Brother, Antwan." He crossed some Panthers because he had no interest in their revolution. Antwan X was neither a Panther nor Nation of Islam, choosing to call himself an independent intelligencer. He read a lot, spoke a lot, and spread a lot of the same "power to the people" bullshit. However, Luther still stepped lightly - nuff respect due and all that. Luther's rueful eyes followed the back of a man crossing the street. "Who was that?"
"One of Green's people. You been making a lot of noise with them. Here you go, brother." Antwan handed him a flyer. "Check us out when you get tired of having the man's boot on your neck. Can you dig it?"
"Right on. How's your boy?"
Antwan X raised his gloved hand. "Live righteous."
Luther returned the clenched fist and disappeared behind the black-tinted windows of the Crown Room. The darkened back room of the Crown Room was Luther's home away from home. A lone light hovered over the pool table and created an optical illusion. Until their faces or hands leaned into its protective glow, they were shadows in the darkness, voices from the spirit world for all any other knew. It was the way he preferred to conduct business. CashMoney chalked his cue stick, cocky but already high. Merle, already full of drink, shifted his eyes from the scene to the barkeep. Luther knew his days running the streets were coming to a soon end if this were the class of consigliere left to him.
"Damn." Luther's ball pulled up short.
A mild smirk on his face, CashMoney always took Luther's money on the table but never talked crazy about it out of respect. A cigarette dangled from his lip, the last inch of which was ash waiting to drop off. How CashMoney managed to smoke so much of his cigarette yet keep his ashes from falling remained a mystery. Everyone had their own gift. CashMoney leaned in for his shot. "Couple o' cats in here looking for you."
"You know them?"
"What'd they look like?"
"They had heat on them."
"Green's boys. Green like Spring. Green like dollars. Dollar bills. Cash money." Merle folded his arms and laid his head down next to his drink. He drooled into his craggily auburn beard. A black raincoat draped about him like a cloak and his huge bald spot reflected like a chrome cap.
"So what you think?" Luther asked CashMoney.
"Maybe sit him down for a parlay."
"Parlez. It's French," Merle interjected.
"Why you even let him in here?" CashMoney hated the crazy-ass white boy, yet Luther listened to him more than any other member of his crew. "He smells like piss."
"That's cause I had to pee. And my gentlemen's gentleman is shy. My drawers are like his... home court advantage."
Luther stumbled across Merle during one of his Thanksgiving turkey giveaways. Every so often, Luther gave back to the neighborhood he called home. It bought him a measure of goodwill - positive PR never hurt - but it was also his responsibility. Part of the code he lived by. Hundreds of hands reached up to the back of the truck - anxious, desperate, and greedy - then a ragamuffin of a white dude hops in to help hand out the frozen birds.
"They won't fly, you know. Even if you drop them from a helicopter."
"Get the fuck out of here, old man. We got this."
"Green's penumbra falls even on the Pendragon. And a squirrel's always got to get his nut."
CashMoney was ready to lay a beat down on him then and there, but Luther stayed his hand. In some way he couldn't explain, he was drawn to the homeless man. Like they were meant to be together, Merle always having advised him. Luther suspected the man knew more than he let on, the mystical gleam in the man's eye dancing with delight in its secrets.
Plus, Merle made him laugh.
"So what you think, Merle?"
"When you put the toast in the toaster who pops up? Jeeeeeeeeesus." CashMoney slammed his cue stick into the table, his patience nearing its end. Merle didn't acknowledge his outburst. "I think you can have a truce if you play things right. Too much noise on the streets brings the man down on all of us." Merle turned to CashMoney. "Makes it hard for Sir Rupert to find his nuts."
"Why you listen to this Hee Haw lookin' motherfucka? He better not be still talking about his-"
"Sir Rupert's his squirrel," Luther insisted.
"That's not any better."
"That's all." Merle leaned out of the ruinous light. "You want the streets calm, call for the parlez. That's the best play."
Luther, too, stepped out of the light. The image of the vaguely Asian-looking black lady crept into his mind, unbidden, like a spell of enchantment. Passion stirred in his loins at the idea of her, pushing aside stray thoughts of Anyay and King. "His girl's awful fine."
"Who? Morgana?" CashMoney asked.
"Morgana." Luther repeated the name in little more than a whisper, savored the sound of it, caught up in the spell of her.
"Best to not think too hard on her," Merle said.
"She's always had a thing for you," CashMoney said.
"It's what I heard."
"What about Anyay?" Merle sat up, lucid eyes fraught with concern.
"What about her? I'm not saying I'm trying to lay the broad, just rap with her for a minute. See where her head's at. Get in Green's head a bit. Where she stay?"
Merle sighed with resignation. "You have the Pendragon spirit, true, true. Betrayed by yourself or those closest to you, such is your curse. Father, son. Son, father. The path is unclear."
"There he go with that crazy talk again," CashMoney said.
"I'll tell you this plain enough: if you get with her, there will be no truce."
"You tell me where she stay and won't be no need for a truce. I'll book," Luther said.
"She stay on Sussex Avenue, over by the Meadows Apartments." Merle cocked his ear as if listening to a voice on an unfelt breeze. "Hmm, that might not have been in my best interest."
"I dunno. Maybe I will sit down for a parlay."
"Not the right man," Merle muttered. "Not the right man, indeed. He falls before his own nature. Perchance the son." Merle staggered into the light then back into the shadows before departing the room entirely. "Coming, Sir Rupert."
The lure of the city was that there was always something new to conquer. One last score, then he was out, Luther swore. His weakness was that he had a way of making things fall apart, of never being strong enough to hold things together. The spade King Midas, but whose touch turned everything to shit.
CashMoney, his spirits raised with the departure of the drunken would-be soothsayer, exchanged skin with Luther then chalked up his cue stick. "My man. Always finding yourself in situations, usually involving some tail. You got your hands full there, boy."
"What's up on the score?" Luther had been planning the bank heist for a while. True, it was a neighborhood bank, but money was money.
"They pick up the money once a week."
"Like my name."