ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICAChildren of the Knight V
With Lance leading the way, the Knights of the Round Table have set out to convince the American people that amending the Constitution to protect children is right and just and long overdue. As the team travels from state to state, they are met with acceptance, indifference, and even hostility. But Lance’s popularity and mystique as The Boy Who Came Back, coupled with his innate charm, gradually sway more and more of the populace, not to mention state legislators, to their cause.
The journey becomes a rite of passage that propels the young people into adulthood, and solidifies Lance’s status as an iconic and influential figure.
But he’s uneasy. He knows Arthur is hiding something from him, something that will bring him great sadness. After The Excalibur Incident in Las Vegas, Lance becomes more and more certain that the future is one he won’t like, despite his stunning success at winning over some of the most intractable states.
Then comes the attack, sudden and brutal.
Now the Round Table is in disarray, and Lance must confront a cold-blooded killer who’s luring him into an obvious trap. But if he refuses the challenge, more loved ones will die, and everything he’s fought for will die with them. Surrounded by the diverse young knights who have become his family, Lance sets out to battle his enemy with the knowledge deep in his heart that only one of them will survive. Is this the end of the Round Table?
The Knight Cycle concludes…
Excerpt from Chapter One:
Because I Had A Choice
Once upon a time in the City of Angels, a boy led the way, and the people followed.
Passing through Los Angeles in the large school bus, painted myriad colors and scrawled with hundreds of signatures, Lance and the young people, except Kai and Dakota, felt on secure, familiar ground. Once the bus passed San Bernardino, however, there was not a tall building or paved street in sight. That both fascinated and freaked them out in equal measure.
Helen had her own ABC News van driven by her cameraman, Charlie, and there were also two black unmarked Secret Service sedans accompanying the bus, one leading and the other bringing up the rear. Agents Brooks and Andrews remained aboard the bus in
case of attacks along the way. Andrews also doubled as bus driver if evasive maneuvers were required.
New Camelot was operating on a skeleton crew. Sir Enrique and Sir Luis were in nominal command. They’d given Lance boxes of stickers to pass out to kids along the way, as well as t-shirts and New Camelot bobble heads for special giveaways.
Seventeen-year-old Sir Khom had been given the key to the armory and had taken charge of the Training Centre; sixteen-year- old Sir Charley had been placed in charge of security for gatherings; and fifteen-year-old Sir Phillip took command of the Computer Lab.
Mayor Soto was living at the venue while the main body traveled the country, so there would be an adult presence amongst the youth, an arrangement that eased Arthur’s mind.
By the time the bus passed through Palm Springs and Indio, there was nothing much to see but pure flat scruffy desert, all dirt and stubby little plants and rocks and low hills. At first, the kids sat and gazed out at the sheer emptiness of it all. For Lance, the peaceful beauty lulled him into a calm he normally didn’t feel. Holding Ricky’s hand and pointing to this cactus or that faraway hill, he felt freer than he ever had in the city.
After about three hours of travel, most of it through empty desert, the caravan rattled into Blythe, the last bit of civilization before entering Arizona. They decided to stop for lunch and chose an easily spotted Denny’s on Donlon Street. Everyone piled happily from the old bus to stretch and walk and shake off the long ride, and then
gasped at the one hundred ten degree heat slapping them in the face and practically sucking the air from their lungs. The bus was air- conditioned, so the sudden change in temperature hit hard.
Blythe was a tiny little desert town whose biggest claim to fame seemed to be the two state prisons located nearby in the desert. As they entered the crowded restaurant and mercifully left the staggering heat behind, Lance wistfully wondered how many youngsters were in those prisons, convicted under Prop 21 before his own Prop 51 had done away with that law.
Being such an instantly recognizable group, Arthur’s entourage drew the eye of everyone in the place. Most people looked curious, and some kids excitedly grabbed their parents and pointed, but no one spoke to them or approached. Lance surmised the towering and scary-looking Brooks, as well as the other three dark-suited agents, instantly put off any autograph hounds.
When everyone had eaten and Arthur paid the bill with his debit card, they all circulated amongst the patrons shaking hands–– especially the children––and handing out stickers. The Denny’s diners expressed excited joy at the gesture, and many wished them well on their journey.
Then it was back into the bus for the final two-hour ride into Phoenix. The interior had been remodeled, with the addition of softer upholstery, and even seat belts. Lance had often wondered as a kid why every vehicle in America was required to have seat belts
except the ones carrying what should be considered America’s greatest treasure––her children.
Ah well, he decided as they pulled out of Blythe and into the steaming hot desert, more evidence of America’s “children are property” philosophy.
Lance knew they were nearing civilization when he spotted an obvious cell phone tower masquerading as a giant palm tree. He pointed it out to Ricky and they both got a laugh. However, they quickly logged onto their iPads and sent updates to Sir Phillip and tweeted their progress before pulling into Phoenix itself.
The odd-looking caravan passed through the outskirts into downtown and pulled into the parking lot of their hotel. The manager greeted the group as they spilled from the bus and trudged into the lobby carrying their bags. Since they would likely stay in each city only a few days, they’d attempted to travel light. Everyone but Reyna, who just had to have everything she owned. The boys pulled the “You’re such a girl” routine on her again as she made Esteban carry her three bags along with his one, and she flashed that nasty smile she’d perfected. Even Sylvia, the only other girl, had packed a single bag and laughed along with the boys.
Sleeping arrangements for the entire journey had already been decided before departure. Reyna had arranged rooms with multiple beds for all but Arthur and Jenny. She and Sylvia would share a room, Kai, Dakota, and Techie would be together, Lance, Ricky, and Chris, Esteban, Darnell, and Justin, and lastly Ryan, Gibson, and Merlin. The Secret Service made its own arrangements, as did ABC News for Helen and Charlie.
After everyone showered and cleaned up, they headed out for dinner. As in Blythe, the group elected to eat at a regular restaurant so they could interact with ordinary people and their families. This time they chose Sizzler, and the sight of twenty-two people entering the line to order food turned many a head in the establishment, especially when it became evident who was in that group.
Since the temperature in Phoenix hit the hundreds by day and was still ninety-one at six p.m. when they entered the Sizzler, Arthur allowed the group to forgo the usual New Camelot attire for more casual clothes.
The boys all wore tank tops of varying styles, while Reyna and Sylvia sported sleeveless shirts, and everyone wore shorts, even Arthur and Merlin. Lance and Ricky couldn’t help but laugh at the sight of these two men wearing shorts and t-shirts. Jenny wore shorts and a light shirt and looked as relaxed and happy as Lance had ever seen her.
The Secret Service agents always wore their standard dark suits, and Lance figured they must be dying from the heat. Brooks kept
joking with the Native Knights, as he’d taken to calling his four long-haired charges, that they were trying to get as buff as him. “You just want to show me up with those tank tops.” The boys laughed.
Helen was dressed casual, but still looked well-coiffed and professional. Charlie carried a small HD camera that could go live on ABC at a moment’s notice.
Dinner was loud and fun and lively, and many of the patrons dropped by their table to say hello or get an autograph. Most of the children in the restaurant begged their parents to let them say “hi,” and all of the knights greeted each of them with a smile, passing out stickers, inviting them to their public Town Hall meetings. Lance and Ricky found it amusing when teen girls flirted shamelessly as they asked for autographs.
Later that night, the Native Knights sat in their hotel room discussing strategy for the legislative appearance the following day. Lance wanted both Kai and Dakota up front with him. They’d been given information from Native sources within the state to pass on to the legislature, and Kai’s personal expertise, being a Navajo Nation resident, would be invaluable. Once the Indians left, Lance asked Ricky if he still wanted to attend mass with him on Sundays whenever they had the chance.
“Of course,” Ricky replied at once, taking Lance’s hand in his. “I like sharing you with Jesus.”
Lance smiled. “Fool.”
In the room next door, Techie sat on his bed texting Ariel, while simultaneously updating Sir Phillip on their progress. He glanced up when Kai and Dakota entered the room after their meeting with Lance and Ricky. The two young men held hands as they stepped inside and closed the door, and Techie’s eyes immediately dropped to those clasped hands.
Both Indians noted his look and quickly let go. They approached the Vietnamese boy and Kai asked uncertainly, “Does it make you uncomfortable, Techie, to room with us?”
Techie looked mortified and quickly slid his falling glasses back up onto his nose. “Uh, no, not really.” Then he turned red and looked back down at his computer. “Well, um, I mean, well, we’re going to be rooming together for a lot of months and, well, if you guys want time alone just let me know.” He looked more embarrassed than either Kai or Dakota had ever seen. “But I’m not real comfortable if you guys, like, start making out in front of me.” Then his face turned even redder, if such a thing was possible. “It’s just my background, you know. I don’t even make out with Ariel in front of anyone else and––”
The laugher from Kai, and even Dakota, cut Techie off and he gazed uncertainly at them. “What?”
Kai grinned. “It’s okay, Techie, we’re much more hung up about stuff like that than you are, man. Cultural and all. No worries.”
He raised a fist as he’d so often seen Lance do, and Techie raised his. They bumped, and Techie grinned. “Cool.”
In the next room over, Esteban chatted with Justin and Darnell, the three of them sharing war stories from their former lives as gangsters on the streets. They laughed and joked and tried to one-up each other with outrageous or crazy things each had done, and Esteban couldn’t help once again marveling at how life had changed in just a few years. Here they were, three former enemies who would’ve killed each other had there been a turf war, sitting around yucking it up as a team. Amazing!
Reyna and Sylvia readied for bed, and Reyna noted the independent streak in the younger girl that seemed so much like her at fourteen. Independent, smart, and incredibly capable, she thought. She felt proud of her protégé and Sylvia seemed grateful for the older girl’s attentions.
Merlin had brought along his iPod and a small Bluetooth speaker so he could listen to music while shaving or getting dressed. As the wizard brushed his teeth and the strains of a country song wafted out of the bathroom, Gibson, already changed and lounging in his bed texting Sandra, glanced over at Ryan, who likewise sat up in bed with a book, rather than a phone, in his lap.
“What?” Ryan asked, apparently oblivious to the problem he saw in his partner’s hard brown eyes.
At that moment, the door to the bathroom opened and the music got louder. Merlin stepped out wearing his Sons of Anarchy robe and carrying the speaker and iPod.
Gibson turned his glare from Ryan to Merlin, causing the wizard to eye him with amusement.
“You did bring your ear buds, I trust, Merlin?” Gibson asked, his voice authoritative.
Merlin’s eyes seemed to twinkle with amusement. “Naturally, Sergeant.”
“Then please use them, at all times,” Gibson insisted. “Please.”
Merlin looked even more amused, but Ryan looked over at his partner. “Hey, Gib, I like that music.”
Now Gibson gave his partner such a “look” that Ryan laughed. “Then you can do what the kids do, partner,” Gibson shot back.
“Use one ear bud while he uses the other. I’m with Lance and Ricky
on this one.”
Ryan and Merlin exchanged a look, and then grinned.
Catching their expressions and realizing he’d been played, Gibson snatched up a pillow and tossed it across at Ryan. The older man easily ducked and then all three of them laughed.
Jenny adjusted the room air conditioner before slipping into the queen-sized bed beside her husband. Arthur was looking over their itinerary on her iPad and gave her a warm smile as she snuggled up close to rest her head on his shoulder. He set the iPad onto the night table and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her in.
Jenny sighed. “I think this is what they call a working vacation, Arthur.”
He chuckled. “A lengthy working vacation, to be sure.”
She fell silent and he instantly noted her shift in mood. “What?” She tilted her head up and fixed her light blue eyes onto his.
“Lance is growing up.”
His face clouded. “I know.”
She rested her head against his chest, uncertain and filled with dread. Nothing more was said.