There’s a fine caste system in place in every big city, from the peasant workers to the nobles in the city hall. But of course, every kingdom needs a king. Now, the king doesn’t have to be open and public to hold the reins of power in a kingdom. In fact, most of the time, the city’s mayor isn’t the royalty at all. Sometimes it’s a delegate who gets things done. Sometimes it’s the businessman who owns so much of the area. And in some cases, it’s the person behind the scenes. The one pulling all the strings from the background. For a while, that was me. I had the entire underground of the city in the palm of my hand. What I’m about to tell you is the story of my reign as the king of the Miami underground- and what I saw that ended it.
I’m not going to lie and say that I was abused or came from a broken home or anything like that; the truth is I came from a relatively well-off lot in life. My parents divorced, but I got to see both on a weekly basis. Honestly, my life was good up until the point I began to enter middle school. Of course, as many scrawny kids were, I was the subject of much bullying by the other students. Being powerless to defend against these people, and with the school’s officials not being much lasting help (I think I spent more time in the office then I spent in class), I took many beatings and taunts. Noticing my lack of ability to outmuscle the bullies, and the ineffectiveness of the staff, I decided to find another way to deal with them. There was no pride in it, sure, but it was certainly effective.
Relax. I didn’t hurt them. In fact, I never harmed anybody. I had people to do that for me. It turns out that even some of the larger kids have moral codes. And some of them are happy to help stop bullies, having been picked on themselves- for the right price, of course.
No up-and-coming king is without his conscripts. Loyal knights who pledge their loyalty to the supreme power for the measly cost of a few golden coins. For me, it was five dollars or some candy that I gave up to some of the larger kids in exchange for doing my dirty work. It was the perfect scheme: nobody would see anything suspicious if two bigger boys decided to pick on someone else who seemed to be stealing their bullying grounds, and the first two were so used to being in trouble that the school couldn’t bother to care anymore. I had my first loyal subjects, and I loved it. I generally didn’t care what they had to do to get my message across, so long as it was heard.
After some time, my small empire grew into somewhat of a business. It came to the point where other bullied kids would seek me out to handle their problems for them, and other large kids who stayed out of the conflict at first wanted their share of the profits. I obliged, of course, and helped stop the bullying the only way I knew how. I became a voice of judgement, so to speak, fueled by the money of others (my bullying problem had since disappeared, but the two always had my back) and their desires for vengeance. But some people don’t know how to take a hint.
Despite the number of people who beat on me, I mainly bore no ill will- there was no point in attacking them once I got my message across. There was only one I ever really felt hatred for - one who refused everything I tried. He wouldn’t listen to reason, and would constantly beat me even after several visits from my knights. And so, for the first time in my calm life, I began to feel rage. And Logan was the cause of it all.
I had one problem in the form of Logan, who was one of the main causes of my crusade. He was a normal-sized 8th grader, with brown short hair and freckles dotting his commonly smug face. His favorite pastime was kicking and pushing me down flights of stairs. Normally I would just take the blows - until one day I had enough. Rather than have my conscripted friends (we had actually grown to like and trust one another after all our business) repay the favor in kind, I decided to have them drag him to an impromptu counseling session I had called for. I wanted to ask him why exactly he continued bullying me after the multiple times it has punished him. I decided to give him one final chance to justify his actions. His response has stuck with me to this day.
“He just looks like someone you should bully.”
As you could probably expect, that didn't go over well. Generally, it’s not an excellent idea to make statements like that in front of a guy with burly henchmen.
Logan was gone the next day, off to who knows where. When I asked my conscripts about what happened, they just winked at me. I don’t think I want to know what they did. But you can’t fault the results. Those who go against the king are sent to the gallows.
I never felt bad for the kid. What he said…I was still thinking about it. I still think about how I reacted to it to this day. Watching him get his comeuppance felt…. right. I wanted to continue feeling this way, and so pushed on with my campaign of intimidation under the guise of justice. I guess you could say that was where my rise to the top began. I became determined to not be that kind of person - the one who looks like someone to bully. I wanted to be feared. It was that desire that carried me through High School.
Once I entered High School, I was shocked to find out that my reputation had preceded me, and that got me the attention of some of the more dangerous gangs in the school. Specifically, as competition for the ‘bully protection’ game. Of course, the best way to dethrone a king is through regicide. So they got to it.
I remember the day when they attacked me. I was walking home from classes and my afterschool programs when they ambushed me in the alleyway. Seniors from the school, beating me with tire irons and baseball bats. One had a bike lock on a chain and was swinging it around like a flail. They beat me down and left me to die in the back alleys of Miami, dropping a cinderblock on my legs for good measure. Bleeding and dizzy, I crawled my way to the hospital - the only place I knew they couldn’t get me - spitting blood all the way. I told my mom that I fell down the stairs. She didn't need to know.
My conscripts, of course, didn’t believe it. They urged me to continue finding recruits for our 'cause', whether for the money or the sake of people who would be hurt and killed by these gang-bangers. And, for the time, it worked: they were driven off by my large group and ran away. But the damage was done: the seniors nearly got away with murder, and nobody was doing anything about it. That was the trigger, so to say, that led to the formation of The Monarchs. A gang based on what I thought was justice. And justice had to be done, one way or another.
I would spend the rest of my sophomore year skipping school (even after my injuries had somewhat healed), and growing my empire. . We were a strange sort of gang - going around beating and stealing from only the lowest kind of person. Drug dealers were beaten and looted from, wannabee muggers were knocked out, and all without harming an innocent. After all, they’re not the problem. The royalty has to secure its place somehow. Even if it means showing the peasants that we weren’t going to stand for violence towards the innocent.
Peasants, that was the best way to describe them.
Despite being willing to do anything to ensure that justice was done, I still made my partners swear to a moral code. We never robbed innocents, never hurt women (justice is no excuse for poor chivalry), and most importantly, we didn’t kill. We let the druggies and morons do that themselves.
I’m sure everyone has heard the ‘Florida Man’ stories in one situation or another - those wacky news headlines about bizarre situations that could only happen in the strange state. From bringing a live shark onto public transit (yes, that happened) or going on drunken Wal-Mart scooter rides, there’s always been something about Florida that seems to attract the strangest people to the state. Aside from the obvious comedic value, there’s even a role for them in the little kingdom. Every king needs his fools.
As it turns out, all the craziness of the city makes it difficult to figure out the difference between what’s really a crime and what was just a product of idiocy. And due to the nature of my work, the two tended to overlap in the idea that the people who made the poor choices to sell drugs or threaten innocent people also made other poor choices - some that led to their own deaths. Some call it ‘accidental suicide’. We always called it ‘a problem resolving itself’.
We had our gang wars, sure. My knights died, of course, but at that point it was just part of the business. I kept my friends close and protected, though, and they rewarded me. My group would give me shares of the loot, and I would sell it for pocket money or add it to our group stash. We’d use the money we got off pawning anything valuable to treat everyone to lunch at the local fast food joints. All in the name of justice, or so I kept telling myself. A king needs to pamper himself and his subjects, right?
It was in my senior year that everything went downhill. I learned that I was moving to be closer to my family in Washington D.C. I would have to part with everything I had created with my bare hands. I had to abdicate my golden throne. So, as I informed my partners about this, they looked on with sadness and disbelief that the brains behind the organization would have to leave. Then they said they would have a surprise for me before I had to go.
Well, actually, there were two surprises.
I was only really happy with one.
The day before I left was the last day of school. After some tearful goodbyes and final acts, the group presented me with a large brown bag that they said contained my surprises. which they believed represented everything I stood for. One was a large knife made of fine steel with a golden handle, one they said was perfect for a king. Apparently they had such a haul from a big drug dealer they found that each of them was able to pool the money to buy it for me. While I was moved by this gesture, they presented me with another present. This one was a small key for a nearby warehouse, where they said they had prepared my final present. Hoping for another bittersweet goodbye gift, I pushed open the heavy door.
I really wish I hadn't. The sight still gives me nightmares.
It turns out that the founding members of The Monarchs never forgot my story about being attacked by a few seniors from a rival gang. And they never forgave them for it either. I discovered their bodies, hanging in the warehouse by chains, beaten by the tire irons and bike locks that I had been hurt with so long ago. One was even laying on the ground, mouth open in a final look of terror and pleading, with a cinderblock dropped on his chest, shards of bone and dried blood littering the floor while the sounds of buzzing flies littered the area. Apparently the bodies had been there for a while.
I confronted my friends about what happened. It turns out that they spotted the group in a nearby alley, and took the now adult gang by surprise, knocking them out and dragging them to the warehouse, all to please me and give me the revenge I wanted for so long. They all said it was all in the name of justice. Justice for the man who never asked for it.
It's all true. I wanted revenge, and I wanted justice. But not like this. Never like this. There's a difference between justice and cruelty, and I had never asked anybody to kill. But in their own sense of justice, they decided that the only way to counter an attempt to kill is with a murder of our own. The realization suddenly hit me that I was the one responsible for their deaths, albeit indirectly. Their blood was on my hands because of my devotion to doing what I felt was right. I didn't know what to say.
It's a strange feeling, going from the top to the bottom. On one hand, it does bring one back to reality, but on the other it makes them question everything they knew. Up until then, my kingdom was just a fantasy land where life was good. That was until I actually got onto the battlefield and saw just what it was the knights I put so much trust in do to enforce justice. Could it be that my bizarre obsession with justice and punishing those who do wrong is what drove them to kill those they deemed irredeemable? Was I really the one pulling the strings here, or was it all just an excuse for these men to kill for the sake of some random person's idea of judgement? I ponder this every night, and somehow I still don't know - or want to know - the answer. I feel like either way would hurt.
I ran away and moved the very next day. I couldn't bear to face the world after what my friends had done. I vomited when we passed that warehouse in the car.
They still try to get in touch with me. They send me updates from time to time, but I never respond. A good king knows when to leave his people.
I'm still thinking of what my judgement is going to be like, knowing that the deaths of three people - and perhaps more - were on my hands. When I stand before the creator, if he does exist, I hope he takes mercy.
But then again, it's all down what he calls justice for a sinner. If it's the same thing I did, then I know exactly where I'm going.... and I deserve it.
Written by FilmCriticFrog