This poem contains some intense and controversial topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It includes poverty, organized crime, teen parenting, past child abuse, running away, homelessness, suspicion, traumatic stress, tactile defensiveness, shyness, low sense of self-worth, and other angst. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before moving onward.
[Saturday, October 3, 2015]
Faster Blaster strolled through
the seedy neighborhood where
he had turned a vacant lot
into a quiet little park.
So far, he had claimed
this neighborhood and
the one around his lair
as his home turf.
Beyond that, he had
made himself known to
other gangs in the city,
some of whom welcomed
a promising boss and others
proved more reluctant.
Faster Blaster simply
let the reluctant ones
watch everyone else
get the sweet deals.
Either their own jealousy
would turn them around, or
someone would oust them
in hopes of a better deal.
As long as they didn't
cause too much trouble,
he was smooth with that.
Lincoln was starting
to calm down, though.
The gangs had gone
without central leadership
since Boss Batir had gotten
arrested in the spring.
Faster Blaster smiled.
Shiv had done good by
pinning him to that wall.
By the time Faster Blaster
moved into town, most of
the gangs were ready
for a new leader.
He wasn't the only
soup in town, but he was
the most experienced, and
from what he could see,
there were no contenders
among the naries either.
So Faster Blaster made it
a point to walk around town,
observing the people and
getting to know the places.
He had two gang members
already, and he was keeping
an eye out for other possibilities.
One he'd noticed coming around
the park before was there when
Faster Blaster strolled into it.
The boy was probably in
his late teens, tall and lanky,
with a short ruff of blond hair.
Big hands and feet suggested he
had another growth spurt in him.
He was skittish, too, looking up
every few minutes from the book
he was reading at the picnic table.
Faster Blaster smiled, reminded
of Shiv despite the difference
in their respective heights.
Now was a good time to see if
the boy was interested in joining.
Faster Blaster walked over
and said, "Mind if I sit down?"
"Go ahead," the boy said.
"Everything in the park is
free to use, as long as
you don't wreck anything."
Faster Blaster gave him
a nod of approval. "I'm
glad to see people enjoying
the new amenities -- and
showing respect for them."
"Oh," the boy breathed.
"You're the new boss."
"Yes. I'm Faster Blaster."
He held out his hand.
The teen put his book in
his lap, looked him in the eye,
and said, "Then thank you
for the showerhouse and
the bunkhouse. They've
been a real blessing."
His handshake was firm but
not rough, another good sign.
"You are very welcome,
Mister ...?" said Faster Blaster.
"I'm Cassiel Hansen, Cas
for short," the boy said. "Sorry
that I forgot my manners."
"No worries," said Faster Blaster.
"I don't stand on ceremony, I
just expect basic decency."
"From a gang?" Cas whispered.
He was soft where Shiv was sharp,
Faster Blaster realized -- hadn't been
looking out for himself as long, hadn't
been roughed quite as bad, or both.
"I came from the Ebonies & Ivories
over in Omaha," said Faster Blaster.
"Boss White expects us to act like
businessmen, not hooligans. We just
happen to like the kind of business
that isn't always strictly legal."
"You do what you have to,"
Cas said. "It must be nice
to have a gang that's not awful."
"That's the idea," said Faster Blaster.
"Would you care to give it a try?"
"Me?" Cas squeaked. "Why?"
"I've been watching you,"
Faster Blaster said. "You're
a skilled pickpocket, but you don't
steal from people worse off than
yourself. You take care not to hurt
anyone. I like that, and I think
you would fit into my plans.
So what do you think?"
"I have to be careful,"
Cas said. He looked
away -- no, looked toward
the dusty spot that had become
the loose parts play area.
Faster Blaster had been
delighted when folks began
making their own amendments
to the pocket park he started.
Children had gathered pinecones
and pretty stones into a pile
for everyone to play with.
Faster Blaster turned to look
and saw a toddler crouched in
the dust, playing with the rocks.
When she stood up, he saw the wings.
"Well now, isn't that something,"
Faster Blaster said, smiling.
"Are you babysitting her?"
Cas shook his head, and then
placed his book on the picnic table:
Positive Discipline in Everyday Parenting.
The little girl toddled over to them.
"Daddy!" she said, stretching her arms.
Cas picked her up and put her on
his lap. "This is my daughter
Pahalia, or Hali for short."
"Pleased to meet you, Hali,"
said Faster Blaster.
She threw herself
at him in a full-body hug.
"Hieee!" she squealed.
Cas relaxed. "She likes you,"
he said. "You must be okay."
"Well, I try," Faster Blaster said,
handing Hali back to him.
From the new angle, he
could see that her left wing
slumped below the right.
"We were in foster care,"
Cas said. "The other kids
jumped on her wings."
"Did they get in trouble?"
Faster Blaster said. He'd
heard way too much from
Shiv about how badly things
could go in foster families.
Cas shook his head. "They
were too little to know what
they were doing," he said.
"Other toddlers, or preschoolers?"
Faster Blaster said, and Cas nodded.
"All right, what happened after that?"
"I just ... I didn't feel safe," Cas said.
"Nobody knew how to take care of her
or anything. As soon as the cast
came off, I grabbed her and split."
"Look at me," Faster Blaster said.
"This is important, so I need you to tell
me the truth. How old are you now?"
"I'm almost eighteen," Cas said.
"How close?" Faster Blaster pressed.
"I need to know so I can account for
that when assigning you work."
"January 20," Cas said. "Please
don't call Family Services!"
"I wouldn't dream of it,"
Faster Blaster assured him.
"Less than four months, that's
not so bad. If we could keep
Shiv clean for six, this ought
to be a cakewalk in comparison."
"So ... what are you suggesting?"
Cas said, tilting his head.
"That depends on what
you want and what you need,"
said Faster Blaster. "I already
have some idea what you can do,
and we can discuss other tasks
that would keep you out of sight
for the next few months."
"Hali comes first," Cas said.
"I can't make any promises
because I never know if I can
get someone to watch her for me."
"I already have two other members,
so I'm sure we can work it out
among us," Faster Blaster said.
Cas narrowed his eyes. "Oh, and
you have experience with babysitting?"
"Yep," Faster Blaster said cheerfully.
"One of my old gangmates has a kid
who's underfoot half the time. I
can chip in if necessary."
"Wow, that's ... more than
I expected," Cas said.
"A good gang is like a family,"
Faster Blaster said. "What else?"
"What we really need is a place
to stay, but ..." Cas shrugged,
his voice fading away.
"I can make that happen,"
Faster Blaster said. "My lair
is still in progress, but it has
a basement apartment -- no
separate entry, though. If you
help fix it up, it's yours for a month.
After that we'll know how well we
fit together, and we'll discuss options."
"That -- that's really great," Cas said.
"All right then," Faster Blaster said,
clapping his hands. "Time to go,
little miss. Tidy your wings and
wash your hands. We're
going on an adventure!"
Instantly Hali scrambled
off her father's lap, putting him
between her and Faster Blaster.
"Don't try to touch her wings,"
Cas said. "She won't let anyone
near them after what happened."
Faster Blaster frowned. "You
haven't been preening them at all?"
he said. "She's too little to do it herself,
and wings need regular attention."
"Preening?" Cas echoed.
"That thing birds do when
they nibble on their feathers,"
Faster Blaster explained. "That's
how they stay clean and smooth.
It's like combing your hair."
"How do you know that?"
Cas said, trying to wrangle
Hali back onto his lap.
"Back when I was little,
my grandmother used to keep
parakeets," said Faster Blaster.
"Some were green-and-yellow,
others blue-and-white. They were
pretty birds, and they sang to us.
I learned a bit about caring for them."
"Like what?" Cas said. "I've never
had a parakeet or anything like that."
"We clipped a little bathhouse to
the cage and filled it with water or dust,"
Faster Blaster said. "They loved that thing."
"I wish," Cas said, rolling his eyes. "I have
a hard enough time washing her human parts!"
"It takes time," Faster Blaster said. "People
naturally get defensive after they've been
hurt. Fortunately, I have contacts who
can suggest some solutions."
"You don't tell anyone about her!"
Cas said, hugging her close.
"I don't need to," Faster Blaster said.
"They work with all kinds of soups.
If I ask about wing care or how to cope
with a traumatized toddler, they'll
give me ideas without prying."
"That'd be nice," Cas admitted.
"I love Hali to bits, but sometimes
I don't know what the heck I'm doing."
"We'll figure it out," Faster Blaster said.
"Come on, let's grab lunch and then go
home. You can check out the basement
and see how well it suits your needs."
"Lunch?" Cas said, leaning forward.
"What did you have in mind for that?"
"The BBQ Shack," said Faster Blaster.
"I love me some soul food. You?"
"Yeah, their lunch specials will
feed both of us if I get something
Hali can eat," Cas agreed.
"Finger foods or mushy stuff?"
Faster Blaster asked him.
"Either, both," Cas said.
"She likes the pulled pork
and the fried okra there."
"Done," Faster Blaster said,
and led the way to the BBQ Shack.
The little building was just big enough
to fit two picnic tables on the porch,
and it had more tables inside.
"We'd like a bucket of pulled pork,
a bag of hamburger buns, a carton
of fried okra, and an apple pie,
please," said Faster Blaster.
There were eight kinds of sauce,
and you got four free with a bucket.
He turned to Cas and said, "BeerBQ,
Caffeine Blast, Ghost Story, HoneybeeBQ,
Peachy Keen, See Red, Whiteout,
and Yellow Belly. Pick two."
"We want HoneybeeBQ and
Peachy Keen, please," said Cas.
"Caffeine Blast and See Red,"
Faster Blaster added.
It only took a few minutes
for their order to arrive, and
then they went back to the lair.
Bobbie and Kato thundered up
the stairs, drawn by the smell of food.
Then they caught sight of Hali.
"Oh, isn't she the cutest --
holeee smoke," Bobbie said
when she spotted the wings.
"Look, don't touch," Cas said quietly
as Hali hid herself behind his legs.
"Aww, she's shy," Kato said.
"That's okay, dumpling, you can
take your time getting to know us."
"Thank you," Cas said. "Sometimes
people can be ... really mean about it."
"Don't worry, we got niblings her age,"
Bobbie said. "You ever need a sitter?"
"Cas and Hali are joining us, so yes,
that would be helpful," said Faster Blaster.
"We can discuss plans over lunch."
The twins set the table while
Faster Blaster found phonebooks
to make an improvised booster seat.
Cas set up a plate for Hali with
half a bun, some fried okra,
a spoonful of pulled pork,
and the two sweet sauces.
"So, boss says that there's
an apartment downstairs?"
Cas said, looking at the twins.
"Well, sort of," Bobbie said.
"The laundry room's done,
patch room and gym started.
We got a futon and some shelves
for the family room. Everything is
cleaned and painted, but we haven't
done any more with the apartment yet."
"I figured we could show it to Cas,
then take a shopping trip after lunch,"
Faster Blaster said. "We will need
more furniture on the main floor, too."
"Yeah, so far we got this dining room set
and a corner couch in the living room,
but not much else," Kato added.
"Upstairs is done, though."
"No no no that's not fingerpaint!"
Cas yelped, lifting Hali onto his lap.
"Sorry, boss, she's only little, she doesn't --"
"It'll wash," Faster Blaster said, looking
at the swirls of sauce on the table. "Besides,
look at the table. We got it at a thrift store. It's
already got all kinds of scars and stains on it."
"Bet this table could tell some stories,"
Kato said. "We'll make new ones, too."
Cas smiled. "I like thrift stores. You
can find all kinds of bargains there,
and yeah, everything has a story."
Faster Blaster shoved the last of
his sandwich in his mouth. "Ready
to see what you're starting with here?"
"As soon as I clean off Michaelangelina,"
Cas said ruefully, grabbing some napkins.
"You can use the powder room here or
the common bathroom upstairs, whichever
you prefer," Faster Blaster offered.
It didn't take long to get Hali
cleaned up, and then they all
went downstairs to look around.
"Laundry room's a plus," Cas said
as he peeked inside. "Wait,
what the heck is that?"
"That's the patch room
for taking care of injuries,"
said Faster Blaster. "I got
the exam bed and furniture from
a clinic that sold off its old stuff
when they upgraded theirs."
Cas backed away. "Um, yeah.
Where's the apartment?"
"It's on the other side,"
Faster Blaster said as
he led them through
the family room.
The kitchen was
a tiny U-shape with
"Ignore the junk, that's
all coming out later,"
Faster Blaster said.
The bathroom and
bedroom were both
"We'd have to buy
everything," Cas said.
"Don't worry about that,"
Faster Blaster said, waving
a hand. "I have a good budget,
and we would've had to furnish
this part of the basement anyhow.
This just means that you get
to pick out things you like."
"Okay, that's true," Cas said.
"The main drawback for this as
a family apartment is that it only has
one bedroom," said Faster Blaster.
Cas waved it off. "No problem. We've
been sharing, and I don't really want Hali
in her own room until she's old enough
to behave without constant supervision."
"There's nothing wrong with that,"
Faster Blaster said as he opened
the bedroom door. "This room
should be big enough for two."
"I don't know what I could
possibly do to deserve this,"
Cas said, clutching his daughter.
Hali squeaked, and he put her down.
She ran around the bedroom,
flapping her little wings.
"You're good with kids,"
said Faster Blaster. "Are you
any good with household skills?"
"Yeah, when I have a place,"
Cas said. "I don't always."
"Well, there you have it,"
said Faster Blaster. "I'm good
with cars and guns. The twins
are odd jobbers, but think of that
more as heavy lifting and yardwork
than housekeeping. See what I mean?"
Cas nodded. "You want a team with
different skills, not all the same."
"Exactly," Faster Blaster said.
"Now take some measurements
so we'll know what would fit in here.
Then we'll visit The Gift Must Move."
"I know that place," Cas said with
a smile. "Sometimes they give me work,
good work, and they don't yell at me.
I can even take it in cash or trade."
"Then it'll be easier to talk them
into a deal for buying a bunch of stuff
at the same time," Faster Blaster said.
"They're still treating me like the new guy
in town, which admittedly I am. See,
you're being useful to us already."
Cas shuffled his feet. "Is Hali
coming with us?" he asked.
"Well, that's up to you,"
said Faster Blaster. "Does
Hali like shopping?"
"She loves it, or would if
I could afford to buy more of
the stuff she picks out," Cas said.
"Remember, I'm buying today,"
Faster Blaster said. "Bring her
along, and if we have to quit early,
it's not the end of the world."
"Then we should prioritize
the most important things first,"
Cas said. "What's on the list?"
"Bedroom furniture for sure.
Bedclothes and bath linens.
Clothes and toys for Hali if she
needs them," Faster Blaster said.
"Plus anything else you think
you need for the apartment."
"Yeah, we ... don't have much,"
Cas said, looking at his feet.
"That's a fixable problem,"
Faster Blaster said. "Let's see,
what else are we still looking for?"
"Living room furniture, both upstairs
and down here," Bobbie said.
"More gym equipment would
be nice too," Kato added.
"Okay, furniture first, then
all the linens. Don't forget
bath stuff like soap and
toilet paper," Cas said.
"Can we split up? It'd go
faster, and I don't care
what towels you get."
"That's an excellent idea,"
said Faster Blaster. "You can
concentrate on the bedroom
and we'll split up to look for
other things -- or I can stick
with you if you'd rather."
"Yeah, I don't want to blow
the budget," Cas said.
"All right, that's a plan,"
said Faster Blaster. "Let's go."
Fortunately he had bought a van
that had floor channels to hold
seats or other fixtures, so that it
could carry passengers or cargo.
"Kato, chuck out the extra seats
and leave us one triple row."
said Faster Blaster. "Bobbie,
you're driving. I'll ride in back
with Cas and Hali this time."
Hali would never fit into
a standard car seat due to
her wings, but she managed
in a full-size seat with
only a little fussing.
Faster Blaster didn't have
the fancy cargo nets and
customizable straps yet.
Once he got better rigging,
he could see about finding
a more suitable arrangement.
The Gift Must Move was
a plain brick building with
subdivided space inside.
The front held clothes and
books, with a fitting room
made from old doors.
Other sections held crafts,
shoes, and children's toys.
In the back was a large area
for furniture and a smaller one
of tribal goods like handicrafts,
jewelry, and craft supplies.
"Bobbie, Kato, start by
stocking the bathroom,"
said Faster Blaster. "Grab
anything else that looks good
after that. Cas, Hali, and I
will handle the bedroom."
"On it, boss," they chorused.
"Okay, Cas, look around,"
said Faster Blaster. "What do
you need for the bedroom?"
"Beds for me and for Hali,
storage of some kind, maybe
an end table or lamp?" Cas said.
"You need a lamp, because there's
no overhead light," said Faster Blaster.
They turned slowly in the big room.
Some of the furniture was sturdy
and elegant, some of it cheap.
Cas looked at a queen-size bed
with a dark, scrolled headboard
but when he reached for the tag,
Faster Blaster said, "Don't worry
about prices. Remember I have
to furnish the room anyway, and
everything here's a bargain."
So Cas took a deep breath
and said, "I'd like this bed, please."
Faster Blaster took off the tag
that would tell the cashier what
items they had chosen. "Next?"
The only crib looked rickety,
and both men shook their heads.
Then Hali let out a squeal.
They turned to see her jumping
on the mattress of a toddler bed.
Cas picked her up, saying,
"Beds are for sleeping,
and not for jumping."
It was a cheap thing
of pale pressed wood,
but Hali liked it and there
wasn't anything better.
"Get that one for now,"
Faster Blaster said. "She'll
outgrow it in a year or two anyway,
and we can get something nicer then."
"That works," Cas said, nodding.
There wasn't much for children,
but he found three stacking bins that
would do for holding her clothes.
It was easier to find a dresser
and an end table for himself,
along with a decent floor lamp.
The cedar chest was battered
but still red and fragrant inside.
Another piece of furniture
made Cas pause, running
his hand over it. The wood
was a dark reddish-brown,
right between the colors of
the bed and the cedar chest.
"A valet stand?" said Faster Blaster.
"That's an interesting selection."
"I don't need it," Cas said.
"Nonsense, you need something
to personalize the room, and you
like it. Get it," said Faster Blaster.
"Okay," Cas said. "Hey, here's
another nice dresser, but I
don't need two of them."
"We can put that one in
the family room instead,"
said Faster Blaster. "We
need more storage space."
"This looks sturdy too," Cas said,
pointing out a dining room set. It
had probably been assembled from
unfinished parts and then stained,
but the end result was handsome.
"Definitely take that," Faster Blaster said.
"If you don't mind sharing both kitchens,
that'll make it easier to eat downstairs."
"Whatever you want," Cas said.
"I'm flexible. I can cook, but I'd
rather not carry it on the stairs."
"Do you play ping-pong?"
Faster Blaster asked him,
eyeing a wide green table.
"Yeah, I can," Cas said.
"Great, we'll get this too,"
Faster Blaster said. "Folks
will need ways to relax."
They even found an end table
and an old steamer trunk of
rich golden wood that should
work in the living room upstairs.
"Will all this stuff even fit?"
Cas said, staring at it.
"Measure and make sure,"
Faster Blaster told him.
So they measured, and
talked about possible layouts,
and figured out good solutions.
Then Faster Blaster went to
the tribal section to pick up
a smudge stick. He liked
the sharp, clean smell of
sage, and the house could
use a good cleansing.
"Incense?" Cas wondered.
"This is a smudge stick with sage,
but it works a lot like incense does,"
Faster Blaster explained. "Tribal folks
use it for spiritual cleaning. If you have
superpowers around, you want to keep
the energy of a place in good order."
"That makes sense," Cas said.
"Some places ... don't feel good."
"Let's go see how the others
are doing," said Faster Blaster,
patting Cas on the shoulder.
Bobbie had collected everything
they would need for the bathroom,
along with craft supplies for herself.
Kato had found a weight bench
and a box-jumping frame to put
in the gym with the free weights
that they had bought earlier.
"The toy section has great stuff,"
Bobbie said, pointing the way.
"We didn't know what she'd like."
"Stuffed animals, and maybe
a baby doll," Cas said. "Also
a toybox would be helpful."
They didn't find a toybox,
but there was a wooden rack
that would do nicely instead.
They also found plenty of dolls
and bears, including a stroller.
"That's good walking practice,"
Bobbie said, watching Hali
toddle around pushing it.
"Does Hali need clothes?"
Faster Blaster asked.
Cas hesitated, then said,
"Yeah, everything she has
is for warm weather. She
outgrew the winter stuff."
"Kids grow like weeds,"
said Faster Blaster.
"Hali likes light colors,"
Cas said, picking up
a long-sleeved blouse.
"You're dressing her all in
pink?" Faster Blaster said,
looking at the stack.
Cas just laughed.
"Hali likes pink," he said.
"Her summer clothes are
mostly pink or white, with
a little denim and yellow."
"Okay," said Faster Blaster.
"It's easier to match, I guess, if
you don't have too many colors."
"Watch this," Cas said as he
added an orange blouse
for a bit of fall color.
"Which one, Hali?"
"Pink!" she crowed,
pointing to the first one.
"As long as I keep it to
just two things, she can
tell me what she wants,"
Cas said. "It's great."
So they played the game
with tops and bottoms and
several pairs of shoes.
Sadly the only coat that
fit Hali was a dull sage green.
"Yucky," she said, frowning.
"Yes, but look," Cas said.
"It sets off the pink nicely,
like leaves around a flower."
"Huhhh," Hali said as she
put her fingers in her mouth.
"What about this blouse?"
Faster Blaster said. It was
white with fall flowers of
dark yellow and pink, and
black birds swooping across it.
"Oh, that's perfect," Cas said.
"I found black pants and pink ones,
and she already has yellow."
In the housewares section,
Cas picked out a few things,
including a nice set of knives
that latched into the holder.
Then he spotted a wall quote of
vinyl that made him catch his breath:
Take these broken wings and learn to fly.
Faster Blaster simply picked it up.
Bobbie spotted some throw pillows
that would more-or-less match
the living room couch upstairs.
Kato found a couple of books
from the children's section.
It was Cas who noticed
the old piano with lamps and
centerpiece of stained glass.
As he bent over to look at it,
Hali banged on the keyboard,
the notes badly out of tune.
"Gently, please," Cas said
as he straightened up.
Faster Blaster shouldered
past him, his fingers testing
the keys. It felt ... sweet to him.
"I think this could be salvaged
with a tuneup," he mused.
"Do you play?" Cas said. "I do,
or I did, a little bit, but I haven't had
a chance to touch a piano in years."
"I'm a keyboardist," Faster Blaster said.
"Usually I play electric, but I like piano too."
Cas smiled at him. "I love music."
"All right, let's end the trip on
a high note," Faster Blaster said
as he took the tag from the piano.
"We can take the smaller stuff
with us and have them deliver
the larger pieces of furniture."
The van was big, but it wouldn't
fit a piano, let alone the bed.
They managed to fit a lot of
the odds and ends, though,
and all the personal items.
Faster Blaster smiled. There
was still a lot of work to do, but
his gang was taking shape.
When they got back home,
the first thing they did was
to install the wall decal in
the family room downstairs.
"I like it," Bobbie declared.
"It makes me feel at home."
"Yeah, you fit right in with
the rest of us broken angels,"
Cas said, watching Hali play
with her new toy rack.
said Faster Blaster. "I think
you've just named our gang.
Welcome to the Broken Angels."
Cas looked at the decal with
birds swooping along it.
"Yeah," he said. "That fits."
* * *
This poem is long, so the location and content notes appear elsewhere.