Wingin' It

Downtown Lake Worth is doing fine. East of Federal Highway near the beach, life is splendid. But walk down South N Street and things get a lot grittier. There's Adrianne, the neighborhood prostitute. And those gangbangers over there are getting ready to offer you crack cocaine.

Don't walk close to the railroad tracks. You may get mugged, particularly if you're an illegal immigrant (and if you're walking in Lake Worth, you probably are). In the predominantly Haitian neighborhood, in the southwestern corner of the city, it doesn't matter who you are. You're in danger, bro.

Over the past five years, Lake Worth has seen an alarming increase in incidents of gang violence, drug dealing, and prostitution. Lifetime residents, once laid-back Old Florida folks, have come to fear for their lives, as do the newest residents, freshly arrived from Mexico, Guatemala, or Haiti. When gunshots pierce the hot summer nights, people hit the floor. Sometimes, as a precaution, they just sleep right there.

It's bad for the people. It's bad for the city. It's bad for business.

That's why, three months ago, Tom Ramiccio, Lake Worth's former mayor and current president of its Chamber of Commerce, made a few phone calls. He talked to the mayor, Jeff Clemens. He talked to the police chief, William Smith. The three of them agreed it was time to take action, and they made a Gotham City-like decision. No, not the Bat Signal. They made a conference call to the Guardian Angels.

The Angels — a Bronx-born citizen patrol group known for their spiffy red berets — agreed in April to resurrect their Lake Worth unit, which has been shut down since the late '80s. The announcement has been met mostly with enthusiasm from police, residents, and city commissioners.

But would the Guardian Angels be able to swoop in like comic-book heroes and save the city? Would they have any effect at all?

On a recent, sweltering Sunday afternoon at the Havana Hideout in Lake Worth, Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa is hard to miss. He's the imposing man with the deep-set eyes and the unmistakable look of the fearless do-gooder. He's the guy giving an interview to an attractive female television news reporter. He's the head hero, no question about it.

"It's such an honor to meet you," says an unkempt man with a starstruck expression.

Sliwa is at ease in the spotlight, not complaining about the sauna-like conditions, though sweat has beaded in his hair just below his signature red beret. It's a militaristic cap, composed of red wool atop a black silk liner, with a drawstring threaded through black vinyl trim and two eyelets at the back.

The beret is identical to those worn by the 20 men from all around Florida who have flocked in to show solidarity at this fundraiser for the revived Lake Worth unit of the volunteer group.

The difference is in how Sliwa wears it. Some of the Angels' berets don't fit quite right, bulging awkwardly at either side or appearing too tight or loose on the forehead. Sliwa's is flawless. It slopes gently from the left and looks secure without being restricting.

Since Sliwa founded the Angels, he and this beret have seldom been spotted apart. It all started in 1979, when he was a night manager at a McDonald's restaurant in the Bronx. Sliwa had tired of subway derelicts and thieves and the lawless atmosphere in pre-Giuliani New York. He started a band of citizen crime fighters, the Magnificent 13, to thwart crime on the subway by intimidation and citizen's arrests.

The group, armed with only handcuffs and flashlights, got little attention until Sliwa made some clever, eye-catching changes. The red berets gave them a hint of military discipline. He renamed the group the Guardian Angels. He also began training his recruits at the McDonald's. Years later, he revealed that the training involved more than just crime-fighting techniques. Sliwa was also teaching how to use the media as a resource.

At first, it was sheer manipulation. In 1979 and 1980, Sliwa's "angels" invented at least six incidents, catapulting themselves into the public eye.

They rescued a purse containing $300 and belonging to "Miss Kelly," a church-going elderly woman. They fought off six would-be rapists, and Sliwa tackled one resembling a "6-foot-6 gorilla." They thwarted an assault on a subway platform and became victims of hate vandalism when racist graffiti appeared on the walls of their headquarters. All dutifully reported by journalists, all fabricated by Sliwa.

For the capstone finale, Sliwa said he was kidnapped in 1980 by four Transit Authority police officers and threatened for four hours.

Never happened, he admitted 12 years later. This was right after he was kidnapped and shot five times — really — before jumping out of the window of a stolen taxi. Sliwa says the culprits were hired by John Gotti Jr. (whose father Sliwa had insulted on his radio show). Gotti Jr. was tried three times, each trial ending in a deadlocked jury; then the charges were dropped.

Sliwa told the New York Times that media coverage was like a narcotic. "It was intoxicating," Sliwa said. "Suddenly, reporters were calling me, quoting me, asking my opinion. When it first hits you and you get recognition, it's a jolt."

Through the years, as some cities have welcomed them and others have regarded them as attention-craving vigilantes, Sliwa and the Angels have remained newsworthy. They made headlines in 1982 when a 27-year-old Angel was shot and killed in Newark, New Jersey, by a police officer who said he mistook the Angel for a criminal. In 1983, a 16-year-old who had been an Angel for four days was shot by a gang member in the Bronx, and he died six months later. Sliwa claims that four more Angels have died on duty.

As the Angels expanded to 86 cities internationally and added youth and cyber programs, they received endorsements and awards from Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Rudy Giuliani, and George W. Bush.

Six Guardian Angels chapters currently exist in Florida — Broward/Miami-Dade County, Palm Beach County, Orlando, Tampa/St. Petersburg, Fort Pierce/Port St. Lucie, and Fort Myers. Sliwa says he hopes the Lake Worth Angels will become a blueprint for future units in surrounding cities, like Boynton Beach and Riviera Beach, where gang crime is also on the rise. Other chapters have been reactivated in New Orleans and Boston.

In April, somebody noticed that a Boston-based Angel, Erich "Pit Bull" Kennedy, was a registered sex offender. Five years ago, he pleaded guilty to indecent assault and battery on a child under 14 whom he knew through a youth group. Sliwa promptly dismissed Kennedy.

If the citizens of Lake Worth are aware of the Angels' checkered past, they don't care. They want protection.

It sounds like fireworks, but everybody on South D Street knows this is no celebration. This is a massacre.

It's late March, and the sun has sunk below Lake Worth's boxy, pastel-colored homes and giant coconut palms. The signs of spring have started creeping up on this historic suburb of West Palm Beach, which refers to itself as "where the tropics begin." New buds of African tulip trees tremble in a breeze that, depending on the block, carries the aromas of Haitian, Mexican, or Guatemalan specialties. Neighborhood cats venture through extensive backyard alleyways lined by graffiti-stained fences.

When the shooting begins, two sisters in their Wednesday best are departing for church. One, who has already ventured out to the sandy driveway, hits the ground and covers her face. The other, still inside and worried for her sister's safety, runs to the front door. Down the block, a mother forces her 13-year-old son to lie on the floor in his bedroom. Holding their collective breath, the inhabitants of South D Street listen as what sounds like 20 rounds are unloaded from assault rifles. Even after the shots subside and a quiet settles over the block, the couple that lives across the street refuses to look out the window.

Soon, the block is flooded with police, media, friends of the victims, and curious strangers. The yellow tape goes up. A few men are screaming, and one punches inanimate objects. During the backyard bloodbath and the chaos that follows, nobody at 1409 S. D St. thinks to turn off the television.

In the backyard, police find three men injured and three dead. These are the unluckier of about a dozen Haitian men who had been passing an evening with card games and dominoes when a black Dodge with tinted windows parked out front. Three men in black masks got out and shot the place up. Behind them, they left a trail of bodies, blood, and scattered dominoes.

One of the alleged masked gunmen, Patrick Thompkins, got hit in the fracas. Thompkins claims he was the victim, but he's been charged in all of the shootings. Police also linked all who were shot but Thompkins to the Haitian street gang Top 6, and they believe this was a retaliation killing. It's hard for investigators to nail down. The witnesses and the injured men all seem to have forgotten any information that might help police.

That's where the Guardian Angels come in. One of their jobs is to collect information about local gangs.

Outside the new headquarters, three homes behind white picket fences on South N Street, the Angels are preparing in the driveway for one of the first patrols. Like a wire-service reporter doing duty in Fallujah, a New Times writer has embedded herself with this crew.

The leader is Dar Siew, 33, an original Guardian Angel. His street name is "Bad Karma"; in real life, he's an auto mechanic and has a problem with authority. That pretty much explains why he's the leader. Although he has a relatively small frame, Siew says he is practiced in a number of martial arts, including Kenpo karate, tae kwon do, and judo. He grew up in Lake Worth, and many residents go way back with the Siew family.

A quick scan of court records reveals that Siew hasn't always been a perfect angel. In 1997, in the wee hours after Super Bowl Sunday, Siew had picked up a couple of girls at a bar called Flirts, then got pulled over because his brake lights and taillights were out. The cop soon found out that Siew's license had been suspended three times for failing to pay a traffic fine. When the cop asked him if he had weapons or illegal substances in the car, Siew admitted he had gamma-hydroxybutyric acid, commonly known as GHB. When the cop asked what was in Siew's black fanny pack, he said he had three and a half Rohypnols, or "roofies." Both GHB and Rohypnol are known as date-rape drugs. GHB became a Schedule 1 drug only in 2000, but Rohypnol was, and remains, illegal. The cop took Siew to jail.

He's paid his fines, done a year on probation, and behaved himself since then, other than issues with paying his traffic tickets and a small problem controlling his dog.

"It was something I did when I was 22 years old. I am 33 now. Enough said," Siew says. "Since then, I have never been in trouble. I got a good life. I help the community. I don't have to defend myself."

Although Sliwa wasn't aware of Siew's criminal history (veteran Angels are not subjected to background checks), he says that perfection is not required.

"We will accept people who have had problems with the law," he says. "Obviously, if you've been responsible for arson, armed assault, armed robbery, sexual assault, pedophilia... phew. You don't qualify."

Sliwa says the Angels will give felons a chance to serve the community as long as they can operate in a structured and disciplined environment.

Before we can embark on our neighborhood patrol, Siew must pat down each member to make sure we aren't carrying any weapons.

First up is Carl Wood Jr., who lives in Palm Springs and asks us to call him C.J. He chooses "Handsome Joe" as his street name. Because he's so hefty, patting him down takes longer than most. The 32-year-old redhead with a freckly complexion, a gargoyle tattoo, and a Tennessee patois is too big to fit in an Angels' T-shirt, so he wears his own, which displays a confusing slogan: "Don't think twice the first second time."

"Whenever I get into a conversation with someone and they look at the shirt, it completely wrecks their train of thought," he says with pride.

When asked what he does for a living, C.J. pauses, then says he contributes to his family's income with disability checks. "It appears I might have a few mental problems," he says. "Major depression. Dysthymia. Obsessive-compulsive disorder."

Being part of the group works for him because "if I'm not having a good day and I don't want to go on patrol, I don't have to," he says. "It's not like a job where they'll fire me if I don't." So far, though, C.J. has been the most loyal Angel. He's used to sitting at the computer a lot, playing solitaire, and downloading music, so the patrols have been a good way to get him out of the house. That pleases his wife, he says. He also really likes the idea of cleaning up the streets and making a difference.

Is he afraid of confronting criminals? Well, depends when you ask. "Half the time, I'm suicidal anyway," he says, half-joking.

Next up for a frisk is Gary Ryan, a 55-year-old with ice-blue eyes who also lives off disability checks. His chosen street name: "Wolf."

An avid reader, Ryan can pontificate on any given subject, and he would probably stun any criminal with his encyclopedic knowledge of Costa Rica. He receives the disability checks because of back problems. His constant pain, due to his many years of weightlifting, is apparent in the careful stiffness of his gait. He's also a black belt in karate, and he likes to sell rare books on eBay. He joined the Angels, he says, as a favor to friend Sean Kelley, a karate instructor who's also the South Florida coordinator of the Guardian Angels.

Then there's Kelley's nephew, Ray Guthrie. He's a stocky, blond surveyor who has also joined the Angels as a favor to Kelley. He's the youngest recruit and slightly shy, but he's not afraid to fight crime on the streets, he says.

It's doubtful we'll start with anybody tonight, though. We'd be outnumbered and undertrained, Siew explains. Still, he gives orders like a combat-hardened master sergeant.

"All right, let's fall in, guys," he says.

We head south on South N Street, single file. We're dressed alike, all in some variation of the traditional Angels ensemble — black boots, black cargo pants with handcuffs on the belt loops (for making citizen's arrests), flashlights in the back pockets, white T-shirts with the angel emblem — an eye inside a red, winged triangle — on the front. Atop our heads are the signature red berets, puffed up on the left and sloping down over the right ear. Many of the Angels adorn their berets with various war pins and buttons that say things like "I Heart Guardian Angels" or "Just Say No."

Bad Karma explains that, should we encounter bad guys, we all need to know our roles in a takedown. The leader takes out the biggest guy. The rest of the gang is up to us. No matter what, we always need to have each other's backs. Another thing — no cowboys. We are a unit.

Right off the bat, Siew points out a broken window at a vacant house. Probably a drug house, he says. That's the most suspicious thing we encounter. The runner-up is a woman walking her cat.

An ice cream truck makes the rounds as we jump in our cars and head out to Lantana Cascades, a trailer-park community in Lantana. There, we find just one example of graffiti. In red letters, someone has scrawled "Southside 13" on the side of an empty trailer. Siew snaps a picture on his cell phone, and we march on.

Although we do not meet any drug dealers or gangbangers, Siew assures us that our presence here has been noted. Sooner than we think, we will see action, he says.

You never know when the Razz family — which has reportedly "declared war" on the Angels and threatened the life of Curtis Sliwa — will strike.

The Razz family home on South C Terrace is fenced in with a "No Trespassing" sign at the entrance. It's meant to keep everybody out: the neighborhood's drug dealers; the police who seem to have it in for the family; and now, the Guardian Angels.

Inside the rusting fence, a boy scampers clumsily around the yard, his braids flying in every direction. Another speeds in circles on a motorized tricycle. As I approach the house, a boisterous woman in gold hoop earrings and tight, all-brown clothing rushes out and playfully scolds them.

This is the children's grandmother, Louise Razz, unofficial matriarch of the Razz family who was born in Lake Worth 39 years ago. Her father, Charlie Razz, had 17 children and recently retired after 25 years as a crane operator for the City of Lake Worth. Some of Charlie's children, including Louise, have had problems with drugs and the law. Some of their children have also had problems.

Five Razzes are incarcerated at the moment, Louise Razz explains at the dining-room table as chicken simmers in the kitchen. That includes two nephews, who were arrested on drug charges last year. But for the most part, the family members have cleaned up their act, she says. Gone to school. Gotten jobs. Played college basketball. Lord knows, Louise hasn't touched drugs in 20 years. She's seen what drugs do to people. The delinquent members of her family are either dead or locked up.

Members were appalled to find themselves referred to in the Palm Beach Post last month as a "drug gang" accused of declaring war on the Angels and threatening Curtis Sliwa. Before the story, Louise Razz insists, they had never even heard of Curtis Sliwa.

Peaches Razz, Louise's 26-year-old daughter and the mother of the children in the yard, reads the paper every morning at the leasing company where she works as a receptionist. She was the first to see the story.

"I just wanted to cry," she says, remembering her first reaction and shaking her head. Immediately, she called her mother, who didn't believe her.

Later that day — June 5 — the Guardian Angels showed up at the family's doorstep. Louise Razz says she went out and shook the hand of an Angel. "I said, 'Hi, my name is Miss Razz," she says. " 'I'm not a gang member. I don't sell drugs. And I would appreciate if you would keep off my property and away from my home.' "

Instead, the Angels took pictures of the pink house and placed fliers on Razz vehicles.

"We gotta walk right into the belly of the beast and run our patrols and deal specifically with this family that is, well, infamous for all kinds of criminal activity and drug-dealing activity," Sliwa explains at the Havana Hideout. "In fact, we were there again today."

Whether they had the right house, the Angels were at least in the general vicinity of some major problems. South C Terrace is two blocks from the site of the triple homicide in March, and Louise Razz knows the block has issues. She accompanies me around the neighborhood at 9 p.m., and it doesn't take long to meet the beast. Three of them.

Idling on the sidewalk are three men who look about 20 years old and will not identify themselves. Their hands are in their pockets, and they nervously scan the block. When they hear I'm a reporter, they back away and shake their heads. No interviews.

But what do they think of the Guardian Angels?

"They're disturbing the neighborhood," one says. Glancing down the street, he notices a police car is creeping up the block. In a flash, the men scatter in separate directions, disappearing into dark, grassy alleys behind homes on either side of the street.

Louise Razz knows everybody who comes to the neighborhood. Many of the drug dealers don't live here, she says. The violence, she says, is out of control. Just last night, a 20-year-old man she's known for years was shot three times at a Chevron station just blocks away, which is confirmed by Sgt. Rick Ponce of the Lake Worth Police Department. Another young man got shot nearby, and police are investigating whether the shootings were related or gang-affiliated.

Louise Razz says that when her nephews are released from jail, she will move away from Lake Worth. In the meantime, she says, neither the Lake Worth police nor the Guardian Angels will solve the problem of gang violence.

"I think they're too aggressive," Louise Razz says of the Angels. "They made me so afraid. I don't know who to fear: the gang members, the police, or the Guardian Angels."

Whether the Guardian Angels should be feared is a complicated question.

Some who remember the first chapter in the Bronx say they were a force to be reckoned with. "They were bad­asses. Vigilantes. They patrolled the streets six deep," says a tattooed 30-something woman at Igot's Martini Bar who asks to be identified as "D".

In the Bronx at that time, D. found this to be the correct approach. Since the Angels have never carried weapons, they've had to rely on their attitudes for intimidation. There now seems to be a consensus that the local Angels chapter, which started patrolling in 1986, was effective in driving the drug dealers out of town, but news stories from the early '90s show that not everybody was impressed.

"They were on the radio, people donated money, they started local recruiting, and they got a lot of media attention," a police official told a Sun-Sentinel reporter. "We worked with them for a little while, but when Sliwa went back to New York, it sort of faded fast. I don't think they lived up to the media hype. The concept is good, don't get me wrong, but I don't remember much more happening here than a couple of marches."

So far, the Lake Worth Angels haven't been able to establish much of a presence.

"Haven't seen 'em," D. says, "except on the news." And from what she's seen, they appear to be a bunch of shabby-looking guys with beer guts. For police officers, it's one thing to be out of shape. They carry guns. But for an unarmed, out-of-shape volunteer...?

A man drinking at the Havana Hideout echoes that sentiment.

"I can outrun every one of them," said Mike Asaro, a mustached carpenter with a parrot named Bogie on his shoulder.

He has no problem with the Angels, except that he's been spotting them a lot in the downtown area, where there isn't a crime problem. There's good reason for this — the Angels still need more recruits.

City Commissioner Jo-Ann Golden fears that the Angels are ill-equipped to deal with Lake Worth's issues and that the police, who are already short-staffed, may be called upon to defend the Angels.

"These are armed gangs," she says exasperatedly of the city's drug dealers. Only after they were invited to the city and Golden complained did the Angels present themselves to the City Commission to state their goals.

The Lake Worth Police Department, on the other hand, supports the Angels. Sgt.Ponce and Chief Smith say they are clear on the group's goals — to rally the community and to assist police in any way they can. They don't expect the Angels to interfere in gang warfare that involves AK-47s. But they do have specialized training to deal with street crime.

"These aren't just people standing around on a corner," Ponce says. "They know what they're doing."

At the businesses on Lake Worth Avenue, particularly the bars, the Angels are greeted on recruiting missions with friendly handshakes, gushing "thank yous," and a flurry of dollar bills. One man at Igot's Martini Bar empties $23 from his wallet and hands it over. From across the street, a man with a mullet catches sight of the Angels, jumps to his feet, and pumps his fist in the air.

"All right!" he shouts. "Good to see you! Excellent!"

Before confronting a single villain, the Lake Worth Angels seem to have achieved hero status in the minds of many.

Our mission is to patrol Bryant Park during the city's Independence Day celebration. It includes a slew of food stands, some jumbo trampolines, a Grateful Dead cover band, a Kiss cover band, and a lot of drunken townies. Only four Lake Worth Angels have shown up for the occasion — Siew, Ryan, myself, and Richard Head, an original Lake Worth Angel and our patrol leader.

We've got three guys from Fort Myers to help out. One of these is the chapter leader, Juan Martinez. Street name: "Contact." He has brought along two recruits: "Rocky" and "Cali."

The Fort Myers Angels started up around the same time as Lake Worth's. But their nine recruits have been training for a solid three months and are ready to graduate in a couple of weeks, Martinez says. Smiling, he asks Siew when his recruits will graduate.

Siew doesn't answer. There is in fact no date set for our graduation. Most of our recruits have attended only a handful of patrols and just one martial arts class. "There's no way it's been three months," Siew says.

"Yesss," Martinez says, teasing Siew.

"Well, I have to do more speeches, and I have to do more press" is Siew's explanation. Then he refocuses the conversation on the mission at hand.

"We're going to be hit up with this rain, guys," Siew says, surveying the overcast sky and questioning whether the estimated turnout — 25,000 — might be optimistic. Head places a blue whistle over my head. If things get hectic, my job is to blow the whistle, call 911, then take off running to find help.

"If we see somebody smoking pot, what do we do?" somebody asks.

"Smack their face," Siew says. "I did that one time... We were down off of Lake Worth Road... This guy is dealing right in front of me... talking all kinds of smack... I went 'WHAM' and pushed him. He goes flying. I said, 'Oh, that was assault, wasn't it?' You want me to call 911 for you?"

"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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