6 (rough draft)
Richard Bly liked his new haircut. Morgan thought I was out of school! Examining himself in the mirror, getting ready for school, he realized he was an adult, nineteen years old. “Rat’s really going to like my haircut.”
Standing tall, walking tall, he also realized few students were taller than him. Scanning, he saw Rat to the side of the main entrance, students flowing through the doors. Less than nimble, he hurried around kids, all younger than him. A misstep had him pushing hard into the back of a girl, the girl sprawling belly first to the concrete.
“Ockie!” Candice called, dropping to a knee.
“I’m okay. I’m okay! Brig! No!” October yelled into the sidewalk, not needing to see what was happening. “Apple! Stop her!”
Brigantine, almost half Richard’s size, had Richard by the collar, pushing him back. She stopped, looking over her shoulder.
“Hey! It was an accident!” Richard whined.
“Brig!” Amaretto yelled, Candice and Amaretto lifting October to her feet.
Brigantine released Richard, snarled, pushed him in the chest and warned, “Watch where you’re going before you get hurt.”
“Brig,” October’s soft voice pierced the anger, October’s hand on Brigantine’s elbow. “Let’s go to class.”
Brigantine, October, Candice and Amaretto moved off toward the school as a unit.
“Brig,” Candice said. “He’s twice your size.”
“Almost a fair fight, Apple.”
“It was an accident,” October repeated.
“Which is why he’s still on his feet,” Brigantine said.
Richard stood a pillar, frozen as if trapped in learned helplessness. It wasn’t the girl half his size pushing him off, or her threat of a beat down. He’d taken a beating often over the years from his mother and his father. No big deal. He figured if he decided to swing back, he’d win the fight, weight and height on his side.
He watched the four heads, one in particular, bob away, appearing and disappearing. “Apple,” he said. “Apple.”
She had to be Morgan’s sister.
“You really should watch where you’re going,” Rat greeted, much too amused.
“I thought that little girl was going to take your head off,” Jill said with the same subtle amusement.
“I thought she was a boy,” Rat said
“Forget that! How about the haircut?”
Jill punched Rat’s upper arm with a solid fist. “Your new haircut is very nice, eh –”
“His name is Richard.”
“Morgan cut it! Morgan cut it!”
Jill gave Richard dismissive wide eyes. “Okay.”
“She said you were her favorite customer and she really likes me!”
Jill took a half step behind Rat. “You’re not going to get this back in the tube.”
Rat chuckled. “Like a baby escaping the crib.” He narrowed his eyes. “It’s a very fine haircut, my good man.”
“Who were they?” Richard pointed toward the school.
“They, who?” Rat puzzled.
“Kids,” Jill said. “7th graders. I’ve thought it a terrible idea putting kids in with adults.”
“Yes, Rat, half-adults. That’s the half little girls are going to have trouble dealing with. Half-adults trolling for kids.”
“I want some pot!”
Again, Rat shared a chuckle. “You should keep your voice down. It is illegal, you know.”
He put his hand over his mouth, whispering, “I want some pot.”
“Another joint? An ounce?”
“I don’t know.”
“An ounce will get you fifty-five to sixty-five joints.”
“I want that!”
Rat paused, watching eager eyes. “$400.00.”
Jill gave Rat another fist to the arm.
“Just for you, a special price. $300.00.”
Jill punched again.
“Anytime, pal. See me outside Ribs about seven tonight.”
“Baby Huey. Baby fricking Huey,” Jill said, watching the young man bounce happily among other students.
“Smoke some of that pot and watch old cartoons on TV Saturday morning sometime.”
“What dreams are made of.”
“You shouldn’t take advantage of people like that.”
“Why not? No one is forcing him to buy pot.”
“At least don’t be so cavalier about it.”
“I really feel bad making fists full of money off that stupid guy.” He put his arm around her. “Better?”
“No. He’s the kind that gets caught.”
“He’ll roll on you.”
“He said, he said. Mom’s a detective in town, remember? I have no record, straight A’s. I might have a mind to get someone to report Richard for shoving that kid to the ground.”
“It was an accident.”
“So what? Who’s going to believe what a guy who pushes kids to the sidewalk for no reason says about pot?” He snickered. “Besides, he’ll bring the ounce to school and wave it in girl’s faces, looking to get laid.”
“Markus will fuck him.”
“With a phone pole. Richard is nineteen.”
“He can smell pot at one-hundred yards.”
“I know for a fact that’s not true. Want a buzz before class?”
“Should have asked me ten minutes ago.”
October turned, leaning against the wall next to the classroom door, looking up, her right foot going flat to the pale green cinderblock. “You really need to stop, Brig.”
Brigantine came over October, right palm to the wall. “It’s the switch in my head. I didn’t know what I was doing until I had that asshole stepped back six feet.”
October bit her lip, a palm to Brigantine’s cheek.
“Hey! None of that in school!” an adult voice called. October did not hear.
“You really need to find a way to get your finger off that trigger.”
“I will, Ockie, because you ask.”
Brigantine nodded, turned and entered the classroom.
“Young lady,” the adult voice intruded again.
October’s foot found the floor. She knew she’d be late for class. She knew she had to run hard at Brigantine. The elementary school was manageable, everything a known quantity, those willful students and those prone to bullying aware of consequences. Now, in the Region, a mega-school hosting four suburban towns and grades seven through twelve, Brigantine felt overwhelmed and strung tight.
“Yes,” she answered the man, the man looming big like a freight train and twice as loud as if volume was validation.
“Do you know who I am?”
“You are an authority, sir. I am to do as you say.”
“I said there is to be none of that in this school.”
October counseled her good friend not to do violence to others. She knew the man was not referring to that. October also knew explaining would sound like making excuses, which would not be acceptable. “I do apologize for my actions, sir. I will never do it again. Thank you for your coaching.”
He narrowed his eyes, making judgments, producing a pad and pencil. “Your name.”
October thought it odd he would have a pencil and not a pen. “October Ferguson.” She did not add that her friends called her Ockie, because she didn’t see this man ever being her friend.
“Who are you?”
October closed her eyes slowly, giving a soft nod, then opened her eyes, watching his dark eyes. “I will not allow anyone to give me a Q and A without knowing who they are. For all I know, you’re some pervert who strolled in here looking for a date.”
He bit his lip, returned the nod, his mouth curling in a bitter smile. His head went back as he looked down his nose. “I am Principal Paul Markus.”
“May I see some I.D., please?”
He provided a school I.D. and a driver license, both pictured.
“Thank you, Principal Markus. I’ve thought, for the benefit of the new students like me, teachers and school officials should display their I.D.”
He nodded sharply. “That’s not a bad idea, Miss Ferguson. Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to see yours.”
October dug her student card from her backpack, glad Brigantine had missed the encounter.
Randi Sconce, just turned forty, a hard forty, in August. A brittle woman with angular features, dark hair slicked back into a perfect ball on the top-back of her head, the way her mother wore her hair, and her mother before her. She wore straight dresses to the knee, always solid primary colors, four-inch square-toed heels to match contrasted by two-inch gold earrings. With no makeup, her eyes seemed colorless, lifeless, a pale brown on cream. Her smile appeared a grimace.
Principal Markus entered the room without announcement, out of breath, filling the chair in front of Sconce’s desk, pad and pencil at the ready. “I think I met one.”
Recoiling at the intrusion, she looked over her horn-rimed glasses. “One, what?”
“What we talked about last year. A nymph.”
She raised an eyebrow. “My dear Paul, that was a literary discussion.”
He paused, taking a breath, frozen like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. “Of course, it was. What did you think I meant?”
Narrowing her eyes, she said, “There are those magical creatures that walk among us, who are not human, but rather demons appearing to be human, who are revealed to the enchanted traveler? You met one of these demons?”
“That’s not what I meant –”
“You, this enchanted traveler?”
“No,” he insisted. “That’s not what I meant at all.”
She put her elbows on her desk. “I’ve had my concerns about you.”
“It was a literary discussion!”
“Try to walk it back all you wish. It’s not just this nymph nonsense. Really, a demon in a child’s body? I’ve done sexual assault counseling and that’s one of the popular excuses, though worded differently.” She hushed him with a traffic cop hand. “It’s not just this. Other things. You’re concerned that we, as a society, as a culture, how did you put it? Don’t know God enough.”
“Attend church, I said.”
“I’ve not attended church since I was eight years old.”
“Maybe you should.”
Her fist bounced off the desk. She glared. “You’re sitting there claiming we have a demon in a child’s body in this school and you tell me I should attend church?” She sat back. “Okay. Let’s look at this. A demon in a child’s body.” She sat straight, glaring again. “A demon? I can’t even get my mind around it. Let’s call the AMA and the CDC and tell them what we have, get some help.”
“It’s not like that at all.”
“You bet. Give me that notebook.”
With an extended hand, she snapped her fingers. He complied. Flipping pages, she read: “October Ferguson.” Her eyes came over her glasses. “You even have her home address here.”
Again, the traffic cop hand. “If you ever, for any reason, go near this child again, so help me your-god, I’ll have you arrested.” She flipped through the notebook, satisfied he only had the one name.
When the door closed behind Markus, taking the stench of mythology away, Sconce picked up the phone. “Randi Sconce, over at Edgewood.”
“Yes, Miss Sconce.”
“Can you send over Paul Markus’ background check?”
“I could, but why?”
“I have concerns.”
“Anything we should be aware of?”
“I’ll let you know.”
Next, Sconce took a stroll to the main office, pulling October Ferguson’s file and record, scheduling an appointment for the afternoon. “I want to see the child a grown man is willing to throw away his career for.”
Soon after lunch, a knock came on Sconce’s door. “Yes?”
“Lindsay Fowler,” the woman announced.
“I know who you are, Detective. What can I do for you?”
Fowler dropped a folder on the desk. “You can tell me why you asked for this.”
“You have a spy?”
“Probably nothing.” Sconce opened the folder. “We work with children.”
“How about I do an assembly? General keep yourself safe stuff. Guidance counselor is your friend. Cops are here to listen. If you do have a problem, find someone to talk to. I have a really fun PowerPoint presentation.”
“Send over the outline and the PowerPoint.”
Fowler fished in her jacket pocket. A folded paper and thumb drive found a home next to the file folder.
“Why would someone leave Texas after living there his whole life and come all this distance to a lazy burg like Edgewood?” Fowler posed rhetorically.
“Many reasons. His salary, for one. He was headhunted, not the other way around. I find him a bit too aggressive, a bit too aggressively religious, but that’s his style.”
I know the type. “My partner’s a transplant. New York City. He was headhunted, too. I’d have liked to see us draw from the locals, maybe promote from within.”
“That’s what I hear.”
Sconce nodded. “I’ll go over this. If I find anything I feel needs a hard look, I’ll let you know, Detective.”
Sconce nodded again. “Lindsay. Randi.”
“Let me know about the assembly.”
“I’m sure it will be okay.”
Lindsay turned back from the door. “Randi, I’m going to find an excuse to interview him, get my take.”
Sconce smiled her grimace. “Sit on that. He likes to do locker searches. I’ll suggest we get an official police presence to make things legal, on the up-and-up.”
“Never did like locker searches. It’s an ambiguous legal area.”
“I agree, but the occasional random search keeps contraband out of the lockers.” She rolled her eyes. “Last year, Markus came up with a list, never citing his sources.”
“Did he walk around the halls smelling kids?”
Sconce snickered. “I think so.”
October looked up from her work. “Mr. T?” she answered her English teacher.
He held a note forward, proof of his claim. “It would seem your presence is requested in the office.”
A collective oh rose from the class.
Glancing the clock, October packed her bag. “I’ll take my things. This may take awhile.”
“You know what this is about?”
“Not a clue, but it is the office.” She gave a smile and nod to Candice’s worried face. Before she hit the door, she already decided Markus would not get her alone, nor would she be in a room with him with the door closed. He’s got that feel about him. The summons to the office was inappropriate. She knew the assistant principal would handle discipline, not the principal.
As she approached the general office with all the worry and speculation, she finally read the slip. “Guidance office,” she said aloud. “Deep breath, October, shake it out.”
Still, being called from class was inappropriate and unexpected. The door with RANDI SCONCE on it was half open. October entered a step, smiled and said, “October Ferguson. I’m expected.” She showed the note as proof.
Sconce stood, waving a gaunt hand. “October, nice to meet you. Come in, come in, do sit down. Randi Sconce.”
October did not sit, coming to the desk, tethering eyes, extending a hand.
Sconce took the hand without hesitation.
“October Ferguson,” she repeated. “My friends call me Ockie. That’s what I’d like you to call me.”
Sconce took her hand back, blinking three times. “Please, sit.”
October and Sconce sat, October showing a traffic stop hand, fishing in her bag with the other. “I’m a little confused.”
“Hold on, here it is.” October fanned through a stack of papers. “Jenny Ryder is my guidance counselor. I have an appointment next week.”
Sconce glanced her desk. “Yes, that’s right.”
“So, what am I doing here?”
“Relax, you’re not in trouble.”
October nodded, eyes closed, smiling softly, waiting.
“October, Ockie, there was an incident this morning.” Sconce opened Markus’ notebook.
“Principal Markus was mistaken.”
“There was no PDA, though I was having a private conversation.”
“You told Principal Markus this?”
“No. I didn’t think he’d believe me.”
Sconce raised an eyebrow.
“Principal Markus seems the type of man that’s sure of what he thinks he knows. If I had contradicted what he thought, he’d have just dug in deeper, I’d have been dragged to the office and maybe get a detention or two.” She shrugged. “Easier to just apologize and promise never to do it again.”
“I agreed with Principal Markus’ truth.”
Sconce narrowed her eyes. “You tell me all this, why?”
“Because it’s not the incident this morning or even me you’re looking into.” She dropped her eyes to the notebook. “Besides, even if Miss Ryder is my guidance counselor, I get the feeling you and I are going to be friends, maybe even good friends.”
“The same way you could tell the type of man –”