Wingin' It

Fledgling Guardian Angels get the call from gang-riddled Lake Worth

"That shuts him right up," Head says.

"He was pissed," Siew continues. "I smashed his drugs into the ground and everything. We can't do that stuff here. But if you see anyone with drugs, go ahead, take it away. Just make sure it's not a cigarette."

We begin to march toward Bryant Park. At every stop, the Fort Myers guys circle up and cover one another's backs. If one Angel leaves the group to talk to somebody, a Fort Myers Angel will follow. (No Angel should ever be alone.)

When we arrive at the festival, we gather around Head for a pep talk. Head is an ex-Marine who owns a home repair business and looks like a stout Jon Voight. Before going out on patrol, he always listens to Guns N' Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle" to get pumped.

"Today, our mission is to steal the hearts and minds of everybody," Head says. "Go out there. Shake hands. Kiss babies. Pet puppies. Whatever we have to do. Make them love us. And if I may quote John Wayne, 'Grab 'em by the balls, because if you grab 'em by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.' Angels on three."

We all put our hand in a circle, like a high school basketball team. "1,2,3, Angels!" everybody shouts, except Ryan, who looks perplexed.

"I've seen every John Wayne movie, and he's never said that," he says.

After a quick patrol around the park, with numerous handshakes and nods of appreciation, it's time for a cigarette break.

The entire group of Angels retreats behind a garbage dump; most light up. Siew instructs us to take off our berets, as the smoking sets a bad example. But whatever we do, don't let the beret hit the ground, Martinez adds.

The weather has dampened the evening, and nowhere near 25,000 people show. The event winds up as just another opportunity to demonstrate our presence. At the request of Ramiccio, the former mayor, Guardian Angel, and current president of the Chamber of Commerce, the Angels land a cupcake assignment — manning the VIP entrance.

Guard duty. Siew says this won't happen again.

The leader is aware that his chapter is flailing.

On our most recent patrol, we meet behind the Chamber of Commerce on a Friday night. Siew has brought with him a list of rules that we've been breaking. It's time to get serious here.

First of all, there will be no more smoking on patrols. There needs to be a higher level of commitment. We must keep talking to a minimum and keep our eyes and ears open. We must circle up every time we stop. We must know our position on a "takedown" before the patrol starts and work as a team. And of course, we must maintain professional attitudes and appearances. That means showering. Looking presentable. Remembering we are representing the Angels at every minute on patrol.

Unfortunately, only two recruits are present to receive the rebuke: Wood and myself. Ryan has gone to Costa Rica. Guthrie is out of town. Other recruits that Siew has spoken of — Steve and Carl — have not shown up. For the record, the Lake Worth Angels have nine members; the truth is, we have six: Siew, Head, Wood, Guthrie, Ryan, and me.

In his downcast eyes, Siew's disappointment is clear. But he's not about to give up. We will go on patrol tonight, he says.

Wood's not so sure about that. He twisted his knee the other day. He's in pain.

No problem. We will do a drive-around.

We jump into Head's Buick, which is equipped with Taz floor mats.

We cruise up Lake Worth Avenue and over to South C Terrace, where the Razz family lives. We cut through neighborhoods dominated by Mexicans and South and Central Americans. Their music blares. On the outside of one house, the word Salvador has been spelled out with Christmas lights. Groups of men sit on porches, drinking Mexican beer beneath a pink and purple sunset. All seems well until Wood notices something suspicious.

This could be the moment we've been waiting for.

"That house had a 'for sale' sign," Wood says, turning around in his seat. "Why were they going in there?" Head circles the car around, and the four of us jump out. Quietly, we approach the house.

When we reach the front sidewalk, it becomes clear that the men live here. There's plenty of furniture and a giant television in the living room. Through the window, we can see what's on the screen, and Siew is the first to crack up laughing.

We are watching a large black woman have sex with a small white man.

"At least they're open-minded," Wood says as we retreat.

But the night is still young. We cruise further south along the train tracks and enter predominantly Haitian neighborhoods. Some kids on the street give funny looks at four bereted heads in the Buick. One mouths the word fuck to his friend. Wood notices a man on top of a car across the street; maybe he's waiting for drugs. But Siew says we will not get out here — as usual, we'd be outnumbered. Head turns the corner and decides to do another drive-by. When we get back to the scene, almost everyone has cleared out.

"I'd like to think we were responsible for that," Head says.

But Siew is preoccupied.

"I need more guys," he whispers. "I need more guys. I need more guys."

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