CONTENT WARNING: Like most of my stories this one is fairly long and plot-heavy (though to be fair, it's plenty smutty, too). It contains occasional racial epithets and some rough kink content that some may find uncomfortable, so reader caution is advised. Anything that might be construed as depiction of a real-life person, or subculture of persons, is fictionalized and not meant to reflect on anyone real. All characters depicted in sexual scenes or contexts are over the age of 18.
for another generation and another street fight.
Got no future, sure got a right... I got a right to live."
All I want is a running riot.
I can't stand the peace and quiet,
Because all I want is a running riot!"
The footage was grainy, a low-quality cell phone video shot on the sly. A young brown-skinned man climbing out of a Chevy sedan. His hands raised. Lacing fingers behind his head. Sirens flashing. A cop walking toward him from back and to the left, gun raised, yelling at him. The young man turning, fingers still laced, shouting the words "I'm trying to--"
A flash from the pistol's muzzle, a pop. Next thing you knew he was down. The video cut off abruptly. It was seventeen seconds long all told: more than enough to set a city on the boil.
The slain man's name was, in a weird coincidence given the time of year, Valentine. Tito Valentine. He was twenty-nine, no soap opera star but good looking, a proud CaliRican and resident of Maywood Beach. An aspiring rapper in a city hip-hop had mostly left behind, he made mixtapes under the handle Hard Nox and relentlessly promoted them on street corners and YouTube alike. He loved his grandmother, loved his kids by his estranged wife, loved his dog, was well-liked in the neighbourhood. The words "loved" and "liked" kept turning up in descriptions of him on NBC and CNN.
The game was afoot. Conservative networks searched for some visual evidence of his being a gang-banger. Nothing. But they did finally find report of a three-years-past domestic dispute in which his wife accused him of slapping her. And they turned up a picture of him smoking a spliff and flashing a peace sign during a backyard barbecue. Close enough: at that point the campaign to stick the terms drug addict and thug and wife beater to Tito's corpse swung into high gear.
It was the hottest February on record in Los Angeles, an effect of California's withering Great Drought. Quoting an old song, some wit tagged it "The Winter of the Long Hot Summer." In the week between Tito's death and the holiday of his sainted namesake it was never cooler than fifty-one degrees. During the days the mercury climbed to eighty-two, eighty-five, eighty-six. It hit eighty-eight the day after Tito was shot.
That was the first day of the protests which set off a week of duelling slogans and hashtags: #ImTryin versus #TryHarderTito, #BlackAndBrownLivesMatter versus #AllLivesMatter (or the franker #WhiteLivesMatter), #ValentinePeaceProject versus #ValentineAintNoSaint. There were rallies and counter-rallies and candlelit vigils and tense police-protester standoffs. The Reverend Al Sharpton was supposedly on his way to lead a march. Davis O'Dell, the famous Florida attorney, was coming to take on the defence of Valentine's shooter. The L.A. Times memorialized Tito as a "young man with a checkered past" alongside the weed-smoking photo.
The 'hood simmered, the pressure building. And come Sunday -- Valentine's Day -- the mercury would hit eighty-eight degrees again.
Still, even come the Saturday night prior, it wasn't uncommon to hear people say what Vinnie, the bartender of Famous Ferd's down in Maywood Beach, told a certain out-of-towner: "Trust me, it isn't gonna happen."
Vinnie was grinning brightly and handing over a PBR as she said it, her voice pitched above the noise of the packed pub and the Desmond Dekker track on the speakers. She was the kind of unattainably gorgeous staff any would-be hub of counterculture nightlife needed: an olive-skinned beauty rocking a black Fred Perry polo, a tight black mini-skirt and a pair of black Samoa trainers, bright tattoos ranging over her exposed skin and her classic Chelsea fringe dyed a vivid shade of pink.
With a nod and a good-humoured answering smile, the punter in question -- a guy named Lex -- said: "If you say so, Vin."
It was a handsome smile on a ruggedly handsome face, delivered with an easy charisma of the kind that made a lot of girls go weak in the knees. But it was also a gently skeptical one.
Vinnie arched a pierced eyebrow at him: "You don't believe me, huh?" When Lex just shrugged, she said: "But for real, man, it's not the Nineties anymore. It's a different city now. Just look around." Her gesture took in the ambit of Ferd's cramped interior, from the pool tables at the rear to the rollicking dance floor and the DJ on the stage. "Can you see any of these people lighting the burg on fire?"
Lex shrugged. "You never know until it happens," he said simply. "Nobody saw King or Watts coming, either. Do a shot with me?"
"Does a Pope shit in the woods?" Vinnie laughed, rolling with the subject change. "Usual?"
He was looking around as she went off to pour, and to see to other customers. Ferd's was a seedy dive-bar epicentre of the West Coast's thriving multicultural new wave skinhead scene; it was reasonably packed on almost any given night, but clearly its ska and reggae Rub-a-Dub Saturdays were especially popular. Nine-thirty and it was already close to standing-room-only.
Many of the faces were new to him, but he reciprocated when a few recognized him and toasted him with their beers. As far as anyone on the scene knew, Lex had hit town a few days ago and had been in Ferd's every night since he'd arrived. He was a big light-skinned black guy in classic skinhead uniform, jeans and a plaid shirt with steel-toed Doc Martens and black braces and laces, an ANC flag on the shoulder of his black bomber jacket. His hard-muscled frame was clearly in prime shape, no doubt one of the reasons Vinnie had taken such a shine to him, and he could almost have passed for one of the scene's Young Turks if it weren't for the salt-and-pepper in his well-trimmed goatee and in the stubble on his scalp.
Just how old Lex was, nobody had managed to get out of him yet -- there were some rumours going around that he'd been part of the legendary Chicago scene back in the Eighties -- but the mere fact of silver hair on a guy still plainly dedicated to the lifestyle seemed to win respect in more than a few quarters. People kept a certain distance from him, though. His eyes were at once hard and melancholy under the surface shine of bonhomie, and had clearly Seen Some Shit in their day. His hands sported the sunken knuckles of the more-than-occasional pugilist. More than a few furtive looks of fascination passed his way, but good-natured though he was, Lex clearly preferred to keep his own counsel and had clearly earned the right to do so. So he was mostly free to lean against the bar and observe.
It's a different kind of scene for certain, he thought. A lot more comfortably multicultural than the days of yore. There were Latinos and whites in equal numbers, more than a few Asians, a big crew of black skins clustered around the pool tables at the rear. Everything peaceful to the naked eye, and he'd noticed that skins here rarely seemed to feel the need to defensively reassure you up-front that they were non-racist, as if it were just a background assumption. When the cultural media noticed the scene from time to time they always marvelled at how non-violent it supposedly was. The kind of scene that could make you a believer in the much-ballyhooed creed of skinhead solidarity.
But the old curses of his much-beloved rudie subculture were still here, even if curiously transformed. Taking a pull of his beer, the out-of-towner could feel them thrumming under the surface, see them written in body language, in who spoke to whom.
The room was multicultural, true, but there were invisible borders, each ethnicity seeming to mix freely on the dance floor but on balance, as if pulled by simple gravity, noticeably keeping mostly to its own: molecules colliding in the room's heat but re-forming, unaffected, into familiar compounds. And there were little clusters here and there of skins and 'byrds in red or white braces and laces who gave off a none-too-subtle vibe that everyone else pretended not to notice. (Not all of those where white, either: his first night here, Lex had run into a Chinese guy named Lee in red braces with a swastika tattooed on his neck, who'd chatted him up about the supposed virtues of Hitler as if he were recommending a brand of soap.) There was a charge in the air, the accumulated static of words carefully-not-said and provocative gestures pointedly ignored.
As for non-violence... well, there was a part of this scene who were clearly here for the music, the fashion and the 'byrds. But that had always been true. Nevertheless, more than a few of the men in the room had a macho swagger meant to advertise them as not-to-be-fucked-with. Vinnie had pointed out to him on nights past the various crews, like the raucous dudes from BDFM -- "Beer-Drinking Fighting Machine" -- who seemed to have their own designated table near the speakers, or the "Los Brillantes" crew whose 'byrds were almost all as hard-eyed as the men. When Lex had asked her how often the tough-guy posturing boiled over into actual fights, the answer had been revealing: "Almost never," she'd said breezily. "Like, once or twice a week, tops."
The ones he noticed most were the quieter ones, though, who had a kind of coiled-spring readiness that he recognized. He saw one of those looking at him now, watching him watch the room. A mahogany-skinned Yardie, not a big man but one who clearly knew how to handle himself, who Vinnie had told him was called Barrington, or just Barry. Barry's droogs all had the air of men who did instead of talked, and who you really didn't want to ask exactly what it was they did. They were called the R-n-R crew: "Run 'n Riot."
Barry raised a glass. Lex saluted him back. They drank and looked away from each other again. How easily could this room go the way the wider city was going? Could he see any of these people lighting the burg on fire? When Lex asked himself the question, he wasn't comforted by the answer.
Then he caught sight of someone who riveted his attention. A pair of someones, in fact, walking into the bar, and his were far from the only eyes that followed them. As Vinnie returned with their shots, he gestured with a mute look of inquiry she knew well by now. The bartender grinned: "I'd say they're out of even your league, you dirty old rudie, you."
He clasped hands over heart in a you-wound-me gesture. "Vin! My intentions are strictly honorable."
"Uh-huh." She clinked shot glasses with him: "Slainte."
They knocked back their bourbons, pulled the rueful faces typically associated with knocking back bourbon, and Vinnie was clearing their glasses as she finally told him: "The brunette's Phaedra, and the blonde's Jonni. Fresh face. They call her Jonni Too-Bad." And she gave him a playfully warning parting look as she said: "And hey, no falling in love with her, you hear me? I saw you first."
"Only got eyes for you, Vin," Lex reassured her... but his eyes were locked on the gorgeous blonde 'byrd newcomer as he said it.
"You still up for this, Jonni?"
Phaedra's question was sotto voce as the pair of skinbyrd scene queens made their entry to a Rub-a-Dub night in full swing, navigating a familiar blur of lustful and envious looks from guys and 'byrds alike.
The two sexy it-girls were fire and ice. Phaedra was the ice, petite and porcelain-doll pretty, standing five-foot-nothing: her skin made up of flawless alabaster and ink-free, her smile alluringly feminine and her adorable retrousse nose as kissable as every other inch of her, her taut young tiny-titted curves on display in a slutty little zebra-print mini-dress that barely covered her delectably firm ass, her black hair styled in a long feather-cut Chelsea fringe. Her Docs sported the white laces that announced White Pride, notwithstanding her supposed status as a Skinhead Against Racial Prejudice; she was the kind of 'byrd who could move among the scene's various sub-tribes with ease, racist or anti-racist as they might each profess to be, her dark eyes flashing as she pursued every possible angle.
If she was the ice, then of course Jonni Too-Bad was the fire: the dangerous gleam that truly riveted every eye in the room, made them watch to see what her next step might be.
When she'd first set eyes on her, Jonni had moved Phaedra's heart -- and every other part of her -- to consuming desire. Only after they'd come out to the coast had she realized that her new-found bae also moved her to envy. Jonni was five-and-a-half feet of wet-dream Aryan blonde skingirl beauty: her perfectly-sculpted heart-shaped face was vivacious, her infectious smile adorned with twin lower-lip piercings, big black plugs in her earlobes and a Fred Perry wreath framing the word "Oi!" in Gothic lettering on her hard right bicep. Her fringe was styled like Phaedra's, but in a shade of gloriously artificial dyed platinum-blonde that perfectly complemented skin with the albedo of freshly-fallen snow, her blue eyes flashing as she took in the room like a warrior queen surveying her realm.
You wouldn't know it to look at her but Jonni was barely eighteen, technically too young to be in a bar but a thousand times too cool to be either carded or denied. Right about now she carried herself with an easy confidence in her black Kiss "Destroyer" tee and tiny denim short-shorts accessorized with fishnet stockings and black high-heeled pumps. Her curves were at once athletic and enticingly feminine, hard muscles playing under her firm flesh and a Lonsdale purse -- matched to the one slung over Phaedra's left shoulder -- dangling saucily from one hand.
She'd been on the L.A. scene for barely a month -- trailing in on Phaedra's coat-tails after the two gorgeous 'byrds had happened across one another on the Minneapolis scene and fallen for each other in a whirlwind of wild Sapphic lust -- but hers was the name on everyone's lips, now. And her rep as "Too-Bad" was all too well-earned, as the bruised testicles of a skin who'd gotten a bit too fresh her first night here could attest. They were a double act, but there was no questioning that ever since her arrival, Jonni was the headliner. Just like Phaedra had always used to be.
Used to be.
The brunette's smile was a little fixed as it always was, and as Jonni'd never yet noticed, with the effort of concealing the hot-burning resentment that flared a little higher every time they went out, every time the collective skins' eyes had seemed to follow one of them more than the other. Little did her gorgeous runaway lover know that tonight's little scheme was going to do a whole lot more than set their fucked-up finances to rights. It was going to restore the natural order of things, and how.
And so, as they swanned into the swirling scene of skinhead glory that was Famous Ferd's, Phaedra's eyes caught Barrington's over by the pool tables, and a silent understanding passed between them. His R'n'R boys seemed to grow subtly more alert; as well they might. Their eyes gleamed like hyenas stalking a kill, and Phaedra felt a flutter of anticipation in her belly.
"Up for it?" Jonni replied meanwhile, oblivious as she always was of the undercurrents swirling around her. "Babe, I was born ready."
Not for what's coming, Phaedra thought gleefully, her tight pussy tingling and moistening at the thought of things to come, but aloud she just said: "Right-right. Then let's get a drink and pick a fucking fight."
They strewed saucy smiles and casual greetings around them as they made their way over to the bar and ordered a pair of gin and tonics. Guys paid court to them, laughing and joking and awkwardly flirting, as they leaned against the bar and waited for Vinnie -- cool 'byrd, but not the sharpest tool in the shed, Phaedra thought -- to pour their drinks. They traded jibes and flirtations with this guy and that, deftly staying aloof from all of them while playing out the line.
At one point, Phaedra caught the eye of a good-looking light-skinned black skinhead further along the bar, someone she'd thought she heard about from a friend. She was feeling intrigued despite herself and trying to remember what his name was supposed until she realized that no, she hadn't caught his eye at all, he was looking past her at Jonni... at which point she turned away and dismissed the thought of him.
By the time their drinks came, a classic Ken Boothe track was booming from the speakers. Phaedra slipped a couple of arousal pills into her bae's drink so smoothly that nobody noticed -- having her extra-horny would make her extra-submissive in bed later on, it was a trick she'd discovered early in their relationship -- and the pair of hotties ground and wound their lissome young bodies close together as the reggae beats thudded through the bar.
As they circled each other, Phaedra caught Barrington's eyes again and gave him the subtle pre-arranged signal. The hard-eyed Yardie took a measured pull of his PBR and a moment later he was on the move, stalking in on a slow approach that in time was designed to bring him in close behind Jonni. He was going to become the second-ever skin to get a little too fresh with her. Jonni was in on the scripting of the scene they'd play out after that... though she wouldn't guess at what the real goal was.
Meantime, Phaedra lost herself in those vivid blue eyes, said: "Come here and tell me something, you sexy bitch." And as they melted into a hot kiss and she luxuriated in the feeling of that gorgeous faux-blonde teen's hands caressing her, sliding down to grab her luscious ass as their agile tongues danced a sweet and ancient dance to the reggae beat, the brunette's insides glowed with the satisfaction of a plan well-laid.
They kept dancing and grinding as that passionate kiss went on... and at one point Phaedra's eyes flickered open to catch that nameless black skin down the bar watching Jonni with the fervour of a man possessed. She could see the flecks of silver in his beard now.
Eat your heart out, you old fucking perv, she thought with a twinge of satisfaction. This ain't your 'byrd and this ain't your scene. They're mine... all mine.
"You've got to help me, Lex. I'm going out of my mind, here."
Five days earlier. It was the eighth of February, and a very different Alex Coleman was sitting in a coffee shop in Chicago's Uptown, across from an old friend.
This Alex Coleman -- only his friends from the old scene days knew him as Lex -- was a handsome and well-maintained middle-aged man in a conservative grey suit and tie. He sported a short Afro and a full beard, both carefully manicured, and a pork pie hat accompanied the thick twill coat and scarf he'd hung on the hook beside their table: Chicago was not experiencing its hottest February on record. His vintage Italian boots, meanwhile, looked more expensive than they were. Alex had never had a fat bankroll but at no point in his life had he ever failed to dress the part, and these days the part was that of the President, CEO and sole employee of Recon Investigations, Incorporated.