Laith Jarbo struts along a desolate, dirty avenue, eyeing the burned down and boarded up houses and storefronts as he passes by. Bricks, old tires, ten foot tall weeds, filthy mattresses, and broken glass decorate the earth around him like confetti. Twisted and bent street lamps shining nothing but darknessare the only reminder that this war zone was once a major metropolitan city. The Motor City. A badass blue collar destination and an industrial, innovative hub of everything auto, music, arts, and sports. His city. The only city Laith has ever called home. Used to be a tough old town full of rebirth and promise, but that was all before the city went broke and corrupt politicians ran it into the ground. Now Laith is running his city his way and he will never leave. Others have been forced out of Detroit, but not Laith and definitely not the Bishops.
No longer afraid to walk these streets alone, Laith slides into what was once Pershing High School on the east side of Detroit, but now serves as 8 Mile High Headquarters. He’s just one of the thousands of members of the Bishops, a group of wanna-be orphans and thugs that keep the city free of adult-life and activity. Here in Precinct 9, what used to be known as the east side of Detroit, no Transparents are allowed. So far, Laith has the highest score for snuffing the most Transparents. A Bishop can get ten points per kill. Points are less if you just hit a Trans somewhere that just kind of bounces off the body and doesn't cause any burns or injuries. You get six points for shooting a Trans in the head and five points for the chest. Only extremities count as a point a piece, like if your bullet lodges in a hand, or grazes a foot. Some Transparents like to think they can outrun a bullet.
He knows how to hold his torcherjust right so he aims straight for the head. If a shooter can hit the target of the head or face, it only takes a split second for the skin and hair to start melting off and spreading to the rest of the body. Usually the victims getting torched are screaming so loud in agony, they probably die first from shock. Laith shudders at the mere thought of getting torched alive. Gotta be the worst, most miserable way to die. It's a tough job, but it's his job and he's the best at it. Laith only missed his target once. The Trans caught the flaming bullet right in the back and was never heard from or seen again. Probably stumbled right on over to the west side of the city. Minock territory. Precinct 6.
The Bishops have a goal for their city. Get all the Transparents out of Detroit. Keep it a grown-up free zone. All the old fogies did anyway was screw up the city with all their crooked and thieving ways. Decades and decades of political corruption by people who claimed to be trying to make Detroit a better place. All the evilness and greed then to the downfall of the city and eventually led straight to their civil war. That's when then the Bishops decided to anarchy up on their territory and take back their hood. But it's not big enough for the Bishops. They strive to claim all of it, not just the east side, but the west side too. Word on the streets is that whatever Transparents are left wandering around, they try to make it to Precinct 6 on the west side to hide out with the Minocks. The Minocks are just a bunch of weakling punks and cowards who can’t fend for themselves. At least this is what the Bishops think.Laith snickers. He has been taking care of himself since he was barely out of diapers.
The Minocks like to call themselves a gang, but all they really are is just a bunch of scared kids afraid to lose any more of the messed up grown-ups that might still be around in their lives. The Bishops know that all Minocks are traitors trying to save the Transparents from dying a horrible, hell fire death. Being torched to death and feeling your skin melting off your body is a horrible way to die. The Minocks need to let go of all their feelings, trying to save their loved ones, like any of it matters anymore. The city has been fighting its own World War 3 for too long now. And The Bishops refuse to give up the battle. They will win this war.
Since the Blight Removal Project and bankruptcy plan failed some years back, the kids took back the streets. Hell, so many of the adults were already locked up, dead, or MIA, it didn’t really take much effort for the Children of Detroit (C.O.D.)to control the near vacant, disheveled, abandoned, and deteriorating city of Detroit. Forget the white flight from way, way back in the day. This was the flight of all mankind. Nobody lived in the city of Detroit anymore. Forget the abandoned houses. Forget the abandoned blocks. Forget the bordered up, abandoned businesses and schools. Forget the overgrown weeded landscapes and busted out, broken streetlights. Forget the darkness and desolation that smashed its fist into the face of humanity. Laith's city is the new Ghost Town of the Midwest. The most invisible, empty city left in the Rust Belt.
Back then all the C.O.D. ran the streets whenever they wanted anyhow. No mama who’s working three dead-end jobs and taking care of babies could keep track of everything, especially with no baby daddy around to help her out. It’s almost like the Transparents wanted to be forced out, or better yet, dead. Most of the Trans knew they’d be better off dead.
That’s just how it was. For decades. Until the Bishops came in to clean things up.
Getting rid of the single, poor and tired moms or old folks who have been cemented to their homes since the riots Laith used to read about in his History books was no big deal. They didn’t have to be forced out of the city, just scared out. It only becomes a big deal when those messed up Minocks come through trying to ruin everything for the Bishops. It’s like the Minocks and Trans are trying to old school gang up together. The Minocks plan is save all the Trans they can from a Bishop torching by “underground railroading” them to a secret hiding spot somewhere in the western suburbs of the city. They call this protective zone Precinct 734. Bishops don’t know exactly where it is and they don’t care a whole hell of a lot. They just want all Trans out of the city they now control and by any means necessary. The means just for their amusement, happens to be human torching. Why? Why not? It's just for sport. And bragging rights, of course. Laith's favorite television show when he was younger was "So I Killed a Child Molester." It was super cool to him with all the action shots and stabbings and shootings they showed on live reality TV. Nobody ever should hurt a kid. Kids rule the world. Laith is one of those kids, making his way and ruling his world.
Laith exhales deeply as he jogs by his old English classroom. He smirks as memories of Mrs. Tarrentoncome rushing back to him. Man, he loved that old little white lady. She actually believed in him. Actually encouraged him to continue writing and maybe even go to college. Yeah, like that would’ve ever happened. Not many kids like Laith thought they would ever really be able to do anything with their lives. It’s been three years since he was a ninthgrader at this high school. The class of 2025 that never was. That year was the birth of the Bishops. A renaissance for the Motor City. An uprising. A resurrection. And LaithJarbo was its Jesus.
“Man, where you been at?” Crimson asked Laith.
Laith could tell Crim wasn’t playing and was in another one of his pissed off moods. Crimson Heyden is the president of the Bishops and if anyone ever crosses, double crosses or betrays Crim, that person will no longer exist in this world. Crim is known for turning in many an enemy into ghosts. Disappearing and fading away like an evil magic trick. Some people say, Only God can judge you. Well, in Crim’s universe, only Crim can judge you.
“Man, you better not be foolin’ around with them hood rats, again.”
“Easy, Crim. I had more important business to take care of.”Laith clutches at the large, silver crucifix around his neck. It’s all he has left from his Pops. All he has left in the world.
“Yeah, what kind of business?” Crim pushed himself up off the top of an old wooden student desk, and pressed his face close to Laith’s. “Your business is my business. Especially if it’s Bishopbusiness.”
“Back off Crim,” Laith says, taking two steps back from Crim’s burning red eyes. “See what happened was it ain’t got nothing to do with you or the Bishops.”
“Boy, what are you even running your mouth about?” Crimgrabs his torcher out of the back of his pants and jabs it into Laith’s throat. “Bishop business should be the only business you have. I own you. Don’t ever forget that. Out of all my boys you are the only one who loves giving me trouble. With all your feelings and shit.”
LaithpushesCrim’s arm away and slides his hand over his neck, feeling the warm spot that the torcher left on his skin. “No, I don’t and you don’t own me, Crim. Sometimes I still think about my mama, that’s all.”Laith’s jaw clenches as he struggles to erase any emotion from his face.
“Your mama! Your mama!" Crim raises his voice and slaps his hands on top of his thighs. "Boy, your mama ain’t here no more. She’s better off dead than alive now, Laith. She's probably lucky she died during the War and not this battle we got going on around here right now." Crim sighs and springs out of his seat, shaking his head with disappointment. “You will owe me for the rest of your life for letting that old ladygrandmamalive. I only did you a solid cuz you didn’t have your full training yet.”
“Well, I’m fully trained now,” Laith smiled, as he folded his arms across his chest.
Crim studied Laith’s face intently, searching his eyes for truth. “Nah, man, nah. I don’t believe that for one second. You’re still wearing that, right there,” Crim said, poking a long finger into Laith’s arm.
“Wearing what, man?”
“Your heart. Your heart on your sleeve, son. Can’t have any emotions up in here in Bishop territory. That shit will get you killed. What’s that I’m always telling you? You didn’t learn nothing about what the Bishops stand for? Tell me what I told you so you don’t forget, or get yourself torched.”
“I remember, Crim. Bishops stand for self. Do not care for anybody but yourself, or other Bishops.”
“Yeah, yeah, and what else?”
“No feelings. No caring about another human being, but yourself. Blank canvas on my face. No emotions.”
“Okay, now you’re getting it, bro,” Crim nods his head and smiles. “And why is this so important?”
“Take back our city. Detroit belongs only to the Bishops. Not the Minocks, not the Transparents, the Trolls or anyone. Bishops is not a gang. We’re family.”
“That’s right. That’s right,”Crim nods his head in approval. “Don’t ever ever forget it. Oh, and speaking of Trolls…I need you to go underground today.”
“Why? You know I can’t stand going down there. It stinks in the underground and it’s dark and nasty.”Laith clutches again at his silver cross. “Can’t you just send another Bishop, Crim?”
“Laith, are you a grown ass man or some crying little baby boy afraid of the dark?” Crim laughs. “I don’t know how you can be such a sharp shooter when you act like a chicken most days.” Crim grabs a large backpack off the floor and hands it to Laith. “Take this to the Trolls in exchange for a twenty-five new torchers and three boxes of ammo.”
“Ask for Jesse again?”
“Nah, man. That crackhead got torched. Came up from the underground to buy some weed or something, and that brother is so dirty and hairy, a Bishop thought he was some old, homeless Trans bumming around. So he’s torched. Poof!” Crim waves his hand in the air like a magician and smiles. “Up in flames. Nothing left but bones and teeth. Now the wild packs of dogs have something to eat. It’s so great to be able to give back to the city.” Crim presses back into his chair and kicks his feet up onto an old, rusty file cabinet. “No dead bodies rotting and smelling up the streets. Just ashes. Ashes and bones. Taking care of humanity and helping out the animals too. Such a win-win for all.” Crim chuckles and rubs at his one gold tooth before tying his long, black braid back into a ponytail.
Laith frowns as he unzips the backpack and peeks inside. Bottles of vodka and plastic baggies full of some type of prescription meds surround cartons of cigarettes. He quickly zippens it back up. “Too bad about Jesse. He was only sixteen.”
“Well, the dude looked fifty. That’s what drugs will do to ya.” Crim playfully shakes a finger in Laith’s direction. “Just say no, young man.”
“It’s kinda ironic, isn’t it?” Laith exhales deeply, staring down into the box of goodies for the Trolls.
“Whatcha mean? Ironic? Speak English, bro.”
“I mean that here I go delivering a bunch of stuff that contributed to the guy’s death, in exchange for the very thing that killed him. Things that he actually used to create is what ended his life. That’s the irony.”
“Yeah, that dude could make one mean ass torcher. But lucky for us there’s a new kid in town. In the underground world of Trolls, that is. He goes by the name of Trumbull. Like where the old Tiger Stadium used to be? Who knows? Who cares. All I care about is you delivering the goods to the Trolls and bringing back some much needed Bishop supplies.” Crim holds up his torcher and examines the inside of the barrel. “I’m almost out of ammo.”
Laith shifts the box from his left hip to his right. “Sure, you can’t find another Bishop to do this job?”
“Yallah, man. Get your Chaldean ass up out of 8 Mile High and go down to the pits of hell where those Trolls stay. Get our shit and hurry back. And if you happen to see any Minocks down there trying to high tail it with some runaway Trans to the 734, make sure you torch those sons-of-bitches.”
Laith slowly climbs back down the steps of the crumbling building and like a snake slithers down the grimy streets dodging the stench of the steam slowly seeping through the manhole covers which lead to the underground. The underground. Neutral ground. Almost a safe zone in a forgotten battle ground. A literal underground railroad for Trans trying to get to the 734 before they get flamed like some backyard bonfire by a Bishop. A breeding ground for runaways, the homeless, and the addicted. A perfect underground world of escapism.
Laith thought maybe he should just become a Troll. An underground dweller skilled in making torchers. They have it easy. Stay stoned all day, avoid all conflicts and outside battles. Once he gets underground maybe he’ll just never come back up.