38 (rough draft)
The usual oh’s and ah’s came from the kids when the note for October to report to the office came just as class began. “Oh, boy,” she said aloud, “Main office,” and not the guidance office. She returned to her desk, stowed her books in her Rucksack, slinging it over her shoulder. Apple was afraid I would be some kind of collateral damage.
The classroom door closed behind her, leaving her alone in the hall with Principal Markus, Markus almost giddy.
“Surprised to see me, I bet,” he said, bending close, breathing her in.
October swallowed her shock. “You’re the principal of the school. Why should I be surprised to see you?”
He straightened. “Don’t play poker. We need to have a conversation. My office.” He reached for her hand.
October stepped back, the lockers stopping her. “We can talk here. Principal Markus, you make me really, really uncomfortable,” she said, looking up into his much too happy face.
“I wanted to tell you that I did not send that photo. I’d never do anything like that. That would be silly and stupid.”
“Apple had said that.”
“That you may be many things, but stupid isn’t one of them.”
“She’s right! She’s right! Come on back to the office. I have donuts –”
“Principal Markus, I do not want your donuts. I do not want your attention and I certainly don’t wish to be your friend.”
“How about I tell you that the authorities, with their techno magic, have determined who created the photo. It would seem that the software is embedded with all sorts of information. I did not know that. Did you know that?”
“No, I did not know that.”
“She’ll be arrested by this afternoon, I’m told. Her fate will be determined by what I decide. So, come back to the office. We can talk about – things.” He leaned down again, licking his lips.
“Principal Markus, unlike some other people around school, I do not see you as an evil person. I can’t imagine what it would be like to want something with all your heart that you cannot have.”
“You cannot have me.”
“What is it you think I want?”
“I think that’s obvious.”
“Tell me anyway.”
“You wish to have a personal, likely a physical relationship with me. Both are not appropriate.”
“Maybe you don’t understand what’s going on here.”
“There’s nothing going on here.”
“Do you believe in soul mates?”
“I only want some time to convince you, show you what you do not know.”
“I know enough, Principal Markus.”
“If not for me, then how about your friend? You have no concern for the person who created that photo?”
October produced her mother’s phone, worked on the buttons and then turned the screen to Markus. “I could send this photo of a unicorn to you. The techno geeks could determine who made it by the embedded data. What does me sending it to you have to do with who created it?” She shrugged. “You could have just as easily downloaded a photo off the ‘net and sent it to me.”
“Why would I do that?”
“I don’t believe you’re evil, which doesn’t mean I don’t believe you’re a creeper. Creepers do creepy things.” She poked at the phone again: ROOM 201 911+.
“I have always been nice to you,” he argued.
“Over nice, Principal Markus. Being nice would be to respect my desire to be left alone.”
Markus took October by the elbow, pulling her away from the lockers, Markus three times her size. “You will come to the office with me, now.” He turned, dragging October toward the stairwell at the end of the hall forty feet away.
The stairwell door burst open, slamming, Amaretto entering the hallway at full stride, eyes fixed on Markus, flipping dark Hello Kitty bag from her shoulder, producing her Taser with her right hand, tossing the backpack aside, holding the Taser out to her side, lighting it up. “By the god you believe in, mother fucker, in the next sixty seconds I’m going to make you wish they kept you in jail.”
Markus released October, October unable to keep her feet, stumbled to the floor, Markus backpedaling slowly, hands extended in front of him.
Amaretto marched, gnashing her teeth, eyes ablaze. On Markus, she high-kicked into his groin, Markus doubling over releasing an inhuman scream. Amaretto applied the Taser to the side of Markus’ neck, taking the huge man to the hallway floor.
“You okay?” Amaretto asked, bodily pulling October to her feet, October twisting around to see Markus on the floor.
“Is he dead?” October asked, Amaretto pushing her toward the stairway, snatching up her backpack on the way, students filling the hall, gathering around Markus.
“I wish. You did give me the plus on the 9-11.”
Amaretto opened the stairway door.
“We have to see he’s all right,” October said.
With a fistful of elbow, Amaretto shoved October into the stairwell. “I’m going to have to go dark. I did that on camera. I’ll be lucky if only the cops come for me.” She rolled her eyes. “To protect Morgan, I should go right down the police station now.”
October pulled free. “I have to go back.”
As the door ate October, Amaretto took the steps four at a time. She glanced her phone, then put it to her ear. “Not a good time, John.”
“I think I’m in love. You’re a fucking superhero,” he whispered.
She stopped, looking back up the stairs. “Huh?”
“I’m watching. I’m in AV, working on service hours. You’ll learn about service hours next month.”
“I’ll be in jail next month.”
“Not from taking that elephant down.”
“Are you mocking elephants now?”
“Sorry.” John McIntyre’s fingers danced over the keyboard. “Seems the surveillance cameras have had a malfunction,” he whispered again.
Amaretto sat to the steps. “Really?”
“I think I’m in love.”
“You, too?” again, the whisper. “Does this mean I get a second date?”
“I think that was a given when you walked me home last night, ran your foot on the ground and asked if you could kiss me goodnight.”
“I better go, look over the other video. I cut you out back to your rushing out of the classroom.”
“You’re my new hero.”
“But, you’re a fucking superhero. I thumbed it so we can share it with our grandchildren.”
“Thumb Markus hitting on Ockie, too.”
“I’ll try. The system is huge. I only had you because, well, maybe I shouldn’t say anything.”
“I was watching you.”
“That’s flattering and creepy at the same time.”
“Imagine, I get service hours for this.”
“You sure I’m in the clear?”
“You’re going to have your eyewitnesses, but no one likes Markus. Besides, all anyone saw was you running away. By noon tomorrow, you’ll be the school hero.”
“Half day. Meet me at Ribs? I’ll buy.”
“You’d better get in the classroom. Cops pulling up.”
“Okay, going dark.”
“I have shit to do at home right after school. I’ll cook on the grill. Want to do that?”
“It’s a date.” Closing the connection, Amaretto said aloud, “It’s nice to have some wagons of my own.”
Amaretto hit another number. “Hey, Fishy. How’s it feel to almost get to sit in the big chair?”
“Amaretto,” he snarled.
“I thought Markus was busted for sending dirty pictures to a kid.”
“He was busted for drugs.”
“Huh? How’s he even back in school today?”
“Turns out it was baking powder.”
“Well, you might get to be acting-big-chair. Markus went face down on the second floor.”
“I gather he was sniffing at October’s panties again, his dick filled with blood and he had a heart attack.”
“Were you there? What did you see?”
“I wasn’t. October called me with a report. I’m sure it’s all on video. I’m calling to tell you I’m taking the rest of the day off. If it blows back on me, I’m just going to say to see you.”
“You really must –”
She cut the connection, exiting the school for the parking lot, fishing in her backpack. “I think I liked it too much,” she said to herself, Candice appearing from another door.
“Hey,” Candice greeted.
“You can get in trouble cutting class.”
“Free period. I was hoping to catch you.”
“The dream of many.” Amaretto lit a cigarette. “How are you feeling about the gang rape?” Toward the back of the parking lot, Amaretto leaned against a convenient car, Candice facing her inappropriately close.
“I’m processing. The links you sent me helped a lot. I didn’t wake up screaming.”
“Anytime we’re violated in any way –”
“That’s the thing, Apple. I don’t really feel violated.”
“Anytime anyone takes something from you that you willingly don’t give it’s a violation.”
Candice ran the back of her hand down Amaretto’s cheek. “I’m not sure anyone can understand this. I know Brig won’t, Ockie maybe. You always amaze me.”
“Pot?” Amaretto fished in her bag again.
“Not here. I have a reputation, though I’d like to buy some.” She nodded, looking to her feet. “I’ve given this a lot of thought. I try to back the clock up, imagine Christian telling me what was going to happen. I can’t say I would have said no.”
Amaretto shrugged. “Jesus gave himself over willingly.”
“In the story. Jesus gave himself over to become something greater than he was.”
“I’m sure Christian will teach me that story.”
“Don’t count on it. Not everyone sees the story the same way. It does make sense to me that you would willingly give yourself over to be part of a group that is greater than yourself. That’s what Brig’s sick fuck of a father did taking Brig out in the woods and that’s what Christian and his merry band of rapists did when they raped you.”
Candice nodded, taking Amaretto’s hand, running her fingers over the blister scarring. “That’s what you did for me?”
“The trauma is a factor in the experience, and you took that away from me.”
“I think the fear as much as the pain.”
“Fear and pain are both trauma.”
“Do you have a link?”
“Or two. However, understand that knowing how the magic works can diminish the religious experience.” Amaretto produced her phone, working the buttons.
“I’ll take that chance.”
“You two should get a room,” a new voice entered the conversation.
Candice tried to step back, held in place by Amaretto’s palm in the small of her back. “We’re not –” Candice stated.
“Abby’s smoking hot. The most beautiful human being I know. I’m flattered that you would even think Abby would make out with me.”
“I was kidding.”
Amaretto released Candice. “Candice Abbott, Jill Lauferty.”
Candice offered a hand. “They call me Abby.”
Jill took her hand. “Not Candy?”
Candice shivered. “I resist that with every fiber of my being.”
“I agree with Apple. You have some looks going on.”
Candice rolled her eyes. “How do you know Apple?”
“Punched her in the face, she Tased me.”
Amaretto lit a joint. “We bonded.”
Candice giggled. “Oh, that dry wit just like Apple.” She narrowed her eyes. “Huh? You’re not kidding?”
Amaretto and Jill shrugged.
“It was the best of times,” Amaretto said.
“It was the worst of times,” Jill added.
Candice stepped back slowly. “You guys are freaking me out.”
Jill accepted the lit joint. “Shouldn’t smoke this stuff in the parking lot,” she said, drawing hard.
“I know, I know,” she replied, turning to Candice. “Check out those links. We’ll talk later.”
Candice nodded, stopping. “I was only kidding about being freaked out.”
“Little matter, Abby. I often freak me out,” Jill said.
“Nice meeting you.”
Jill crooked a smile. “Nice being met,” she answered, drawing deep again, watching Candice move off. “Smoking fucking hot, Apple.”
“Indeed. We shared a sandbox, recently played in it, matter-of-fact. She’s at a crossroads and doesn’t even know it.”
“You two aren’t –”
“I wish. No.” Amaretto took a long hit. “She’s torn between the light and the dark, Satan and God.”
“Which is the light and which is the dark?”
“Confirmation bias. We always see our self as the good, the light, doing the right thing.”
“Well played, Apple. Well played.”
“Did you want anything in particular?”
“I don’t understand the question.”
“I know from the punch in the nose you know I hang out here. I’ve never seen you out here before, I assume you came looking for me.”
“All true. I did wander out here in the hopes of finding you.”
“Did you want anything in particular?”
“No.” She shrugged. “I like you.”
“Your brother didn’t send you?”
Jill laughed. “No.”
“I have this whole hating humanity thing going on.”
“Believe it or nuts. You and John are making it hard for me to hold onto that.”
Jill eyed the nub. “Why do you say your pot is better than any other?”
“Marketing. I don’t sell pot –”
“You provide an experience, sure.”
“AppleBright verse Ratweed. It’s all just in the name.”
“Brian’s never named his pot.”
“Happy to help.”
“But, there’s no difference.”
“It’s all about the story.”
“Everything. To the true believer, AppleBright provides an experience, not just a petty high like other pot. To the outside observer, that’ll sound like so much bullshit. To the adherent, it’s the truth.” Amaretto shrugged. “After you punched me in the nose and Salvador Norton ripped me off, some twelve minutes later –”
“Sal did what?”
“He said he wanted to buy an ounce. What he wanted was to just take it from me.”
“He is that kind of asshole, which is why you shouldn’t operate alone.”
“Maybe I need a pimp, an enforcer, like Rat has you.”
“It just so happens I’m free.”
Amaretto rolled her eyes. “So, after you punched me in the nose and Norton ripped me off, I gave it some thought. I decided if I went head-to-head with Brian, all we could do is undercut each other, and both of us could get hurt. Instead of going head-to-head, I decided to sell something completely different.”
“You want to get high, see Brian,” Jill said. “But, if you want an experience, see you.”
“At a much higher price.”
“Because it’s worth it.” Jill smiled. “I could tell the kids you’re full of shit and just made up the story.”
“You could walk into any church on Sunday and tell them the same thing. How many true believers do you suppose will leave?”
“Fuck, girl, I don’t know whether you’re Satan or God.”
“That’s the choice Abby faces. I like to think she woke up one morning and decided she wanted to learn about God, but I’m betting that’s been gnawing at her since we clawed around in the sandbox.”
“I think that’s a question that gnaws at the back of all our brains.”
“Inherent or learned?”
Jill leaned away, narrowing her eyes. “What the fuck?”
“I’m a genius that’s well read.”
“You’re dangerous. I’m surprised no one has tried to put you down.”
“All part of my innate charm.”
“Anyway, there’s a locker inspection this afternoon. I thought I’d give you a heads up.”
“You’d have to be pretty stupid to keep anything in your locker, huh?”
“Kids do, believe it or not.”
“If Markus’ brain wasn’t scrambled, I bet he’ll be leading the inspection.”
“What do you mean?”
“Markus keeps a list, like a hit list, kids he’s targeted. Those are the lockers he searches. Does this same thing every year. Rarely finds anything.”
“Maybe just the idea that we have random locker inspections keeps kids from bringing shit to school.”
“I don’t know if you’re doing anything, eh, but do you want to come over my house?”
“I’m a little concerned about Mason.”
“I’m going to tell him you remembered his name!”
Amaretto rolled her eyes. “Oh, please, don’t.”
“He told me what happened.”
“When that kid knocked him down. Of everyone that was around, you’re the only one that cared enough to see if he was okay.”
“I’ve got that whole hating all of humanity thing going on.”
“Well, you don’t. I see right through it.”
“You need glasses. I really, really don’t like people.”
“But for a few special ones.”
“That’s about it.”
Amaretto narrowed her eyes at her new friend. “Well played, Jill. Well played. I have good reason to hate some people. Good reason. I do cast that to the general, assuming people I don’t know are advisories and work back from there.”
“Well, when you’re minding your own business, for example, selling a little pot, and a cute redhead walks up, smiles at you and punches you in the nose, it’s going to make you a bit leery of people smiling at you.”
“I do understand what you’re saying.”
“What’s Mason want from me?”
“Well, he really –”
“It’s a rhetorical question, Jill. He wants to hump my leg, dominate me, win me, pound his chest and then dump me.”
“He’s eleven years old!”
“Which is why I’ve not Maced his ass. I may not be exactly correct in the details, but I know this for a fact: He doesn’t want to be my friend.”
“Maybe all that is his idea of being a friend.”
“I’m so fucking tired of people making excuses for bad behavior.”
“Confirmation bias,” Jill said. “He’s my brother. Since I want to be your friend, and that you called me cute, allow me to think about what you’ve said, trying to see things through your eyes. We can pick up the topic another time.”
Amaretto twisted a smile. “Fuck you, Jill. You just now said that we’re going to get together again and just that gave me a good feeling.”
“Friends should make it difficult for us to hate humanity. Come over the house?”
“I’m going to John’s, that’s John not-the-apple.”
Jill rolled her eyes. “I spend another thirty minutes on the ‘net last night trying to prove myself right.”
“Beliefs we drag behind us for years are difficult to get rid of.”
“You want to come with me?”
“To John’s. I got the hit in the mall that you were friends.”
“I was fucking Rat, John kissing Rat’s ass, so we had that in common. How did John frame this you-going-to-his-house?”
“Oh, it’s our second date.”
“I think it best I bow out, then.”
“If he wishes to demonstrate ownership on our second date, I’m going to run for the door before he marks his territory by peeing on me.”
Jill smiled softly. “I think you’re cute, too.”
“I’d blush if I did such things. All things taken as a whole, I’m glad you punched me in the nose.”
As Jill walked away, Amaretto worked her phone again, pulling up Casey’s schedule, checking the time. “Perfect.”
Amaretto casually wandered the halls, coming to a classroom, opening the door, stepping in. “Hey, Mr. Collings-like-all-the-other-children. They want to see Casey Little in the office, now.”
Mr. Collings, in front of the class, book open, dropped his chin, considering Amaretto over his glasses. “That’s getting a little old.”
“Personality never gets old.”
He offered a wink. “Casey, office.”
As Casey packed his backpack, Amaretto backed from the room and waited.
“What did you do?” Amaretto shot at Casey as he entered the hall, the door closing behind him.
“I don’t know what you mean.”
With her right hand, she shoved his shoulder. “What the fuck did you do? Details. Tell me everything. It’s all coming apart.”
“What are you talking about?”
She shoved him again. “Markus is back in school. What’s this about drugs?”
“That’s really not possible.”
“He was up in Ockie’s face. Tell me. What exactly did you do. All of it. I’ve got some wagons I can circle, but I have to know what I’m dealing with.”
“I sent that picture from his computer.”
A half a head shorter, Amaretto gathered fists full of Casey’s shirt, pushing him against the lockers, hard. “Mother fucking circus act! Tell me!”
Casey blubbered, holding back tears. “Went to Philly. Dropped my life savings on coke, stashed it in Markus’ desk when I sent the picture.”
“Why the fuck did you do that?”
“I figured he’d dodge the photo.”
“Agreed. They watch out for each own.”
“With the photo, the cops would have access to Markus’ place.”
“And, find the drugs.”
“The first cop I dimed to just walked off with the drugs.”
“I saw him in Philly when I bought the drugs, figured as much.”
“Dammit, Case. He’s going to know you dropped the drugs, then. That’ll connect to Ockie.”
“He knows because I told him.”
“I like making him squirm.”
Amaretto released the shirt, stepping back. “You are one stupid fuck, asshole. I can’t imagine how this is going to blow back on Ockie.”
Casey’s hands twisted in fists, he leaned forward and snarled. “Keep it up, Apple. Keep it up and I’ll have to kick your ass.”
“Dream on, tough guy. I’m not a little kid you can push to the ground. The cop. His name.” Oh, let it be Kyle Penrose.
“Robert Banner. He’s a detective.”
“Those drugs you dropped your life saving on?”
“Baking powder, asshole. They’ve got nothing on Markus now.”
“What? Oh, I’m going to so kick Jack’s ass. They still have the photo he sent.”
“That’ll come apart, too, with the fake drugs. Howell will sell it all as one big prank. All you’ve done with all your efforts is put Ockie in their crosshairs.”
“I just wanted to protect her.”
“Stick to humping her leg. Leave the rest to the adults,” Amaretto snarled.
“You’re really pissing me the fuck off,” he snarled back, menacing.
Taking fists full of shirt again, she tossed Casey into the lockers. “I think I need to decompress,” she whispered to herself, turning, leaving Casey blubbering apologies for no one to hear. “A quiet afternoon watching John working up enough nerve to kiss me again will be amusing enough.” Come the night, Amaretto reasoned she could have a long discussion with October, choices, decisions, one of which could include throwing Casey under the bus.