Bullied excerpt

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                by Jonathan McKee

                               PART I:

                           You Hate Me

“Death is more universal than life; everyone dies but not everyone lives.”
                                        -A. Sachs
                           Brett, Wednesday, 10:37 a.m., April 9th

The lanky teenager felt lightheaded as he navigated his dad’s freshly waxed Chevy Tahoe over
the solitary gravel fire road. He checked his mirrors for the third time in a minute, glanced at his
watch, then used the inside of his sleeve to wipe the sweat from his pale forehead.

In 40 minutes it would begin.

Brett Colton had traveled this road overlooking Cabrillo Park countless times, but never in this
vehicle, and never with such poise. The dusty gravel road bordered a field adjacent to the quaint
little park just nine minutes from his school. He had timed it repeatedly.

The adolescent carefully pulled the Navy Blue SUV to a stop in the shadows of a cluster of
twisted oaks. He put the vehicle in park, but didn’t yet kill the engine. He closed his eyes for a
moment. These speakers had never experienced music like this before or emitted any sound at
this volume—his dad barely ever listened to the stereo. But Brett liked the noise. It helped numb
the reality of what he was about to do. And he couldn’t allow fear to get the best of him.

Fear was for the weak.

Fear was for the ignorant.

He hummed along with the words of one of his favorite songs. Old school? Yes, but definitely a
good one. “Du Hast…Du Hast…Du Hast Mich..”

You hate me!

He had to stay calm, calculated and think clearly.

The truth of what was about to happen was resting on his chest like a Buick. He pretended it
wasn’t there, trying to maintain his confident facade. He attempted to convince himself that he
was a sociopath—that he wouldn’t feel the pain or guilt of the atrocity about to take place. But
Brett Colton wasn’t a sociopath. He was being tormented by the truth and it nauseated him.

He stepped from the SUV, head spinning. He leaned over grabbing his stomach and lost what
remained of his dinner from the night before. Brett hadn’t bothered with breakfast. He couldn’t
eat. He reminded himself to eat one of his mom’s Power Bars when he got back into the car. He
would need the strength. But he’d have to eat on the run. Gotta keep on schedule.

Brett looked at his watch. 10:38. Two minutes ahead of schedule.

Regaining composure, Brett went to the rear of the car and opened the hatch. He admired the
arsenal laid out before him. He reached for his Socom M24—HK assault rifle, careful not to jar
the scope. He had calibrated it perfectly, shooting watermelons in the desolation wilderness just
outside of town.

Setting down the HK, he picked up the shotgun and checked the chamber. All loaded. It would
take two hands to fire this beast, but that was okay, because he would have the Glock tucked
away, and carry the HK over his shoulder. There was no hiding what was about to be done.

He reached for the Glock, letting his hand slide around the grip smoothly and comfortably. He
admired the fit of the weapon in his hand before tucking it into his belt. Then he fastened the
homemade strap around his shoulder with its custom pockets for extra magazines and shotgun

He glanced at his watch before unzipping the duffel bag to check its contents. On schedule. He
inventoried the bag, its contents organized perfectly. Everything was accounted for. The recheck
was unnecessary. The bag had been checked and rechecked a dozen times in the last eight hours.
But everything must be perfect.

Brett walked over to the barricade up on the hill overlooking the serene little park. His gaze
swept across the children playing on the swings below. Must be too young for school. What a

Taking a deep breath, he reached into his pocket for his lighter. This was the point of no return.
                    PART II:

           . . . two days before

           Monday, April 7th

“As men, we are all equal in the presence of death.”
                              -Publilius Syrus
                           Michael, Monday Morning, April 7th

Those who claim life is fair usually say so from a comfortable chair.

Life doesn’t divvy up anything equal as far as I can see. Some have and some have not. The have
nots are usually ignored. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t paying attention.

A voice. “Come on Michael, get up!”

Was I dreaming? It felt real. Something tugged on my leg.

“How many times do I have to tell you? Get up!”

I opened my eyes in time to see my mom yank back my covers. I curled into a ball and
shuttered. Mom clicked on my desk lamp. I rubbed my eyes, trying to avoid the light.

Mom always has trouble waking me up in the morning. She says that she has to come in five or
six times every morning. I guess I shouldn’t stay up late each night. That’s what I tell myself,
but I never change.

My mom continued to march around my room, busily opening drawers, putting three day old
stacks of clean t-shirts and socks away in their appropriate place. I cracked one eye open enough
to watch her finish cleaning up my mess. She glided across the room and opened my blinds. The
white glare forced my eye closed again.

“Okay—okay! I’m up already!” I finally managed to verbalize, sitting up in my bed.

“If you were up, your crusty eyes wouldn’t still be closed—would they!” She snapped, standing
with her hand awkwardly perched on her hip like Simon Cowell. “Now get up!” She marched
out of the room—her victory march—just like every morning.

I’m not disrespecting her. She’d done good for me and Tisha since my father walked out.

My dad’s not much worth talking about. I was three when he left. Tisha was seven and
remembers him more than me. She says I’m the lucky one for that.

Tish is now in college, her acceptance alone being a huge accomplishment for my family. Mom
dropped out of high school but then went back for her GED. She never says why she dropped
out—but we can do the math. Tisha’s 19 now and my mom is only 35. She had Tish when she
was 16. She didn’t marry my dad until she was 18.

Basically, mom can’t stop praising Tish for going to college, even if it was A.R., the local
community college. You don’t quit no matter what, she’d say. You gonna make something for
yourself. You gonna be everything I wasn’t. If Tish grows up half the woman that Mom is, she’ll
be all right.
My left leg started tingling. My pocket was vibrating. I quickly grabbed my phone to see who it

       Marcel: u up nigga?

My thumbs responded habitually.

       Me: yep. c u soon.

I went to the kitchen and poured myself a bowl of Cocoa Puffs. I live for Cocoa Puffs.

Mom came in and gave me a kiss as she grabbed her bank keys. Mom works at a local bank
called The Bank of Fair Oaks. It’s not a big chain, no stagecoach or anything like that, just three
local branches. Mom is one of their merchant tellers. She counts all the big money from the local

I always ask her everything about the bank. I want all the details. She asks me why I’m so
curious. I just tell her because I’m going to rob it. She knows I’m just messing with her. I just
like hearing all her stories from over the years. Bank robberies are fascinating. And most bank
robbers are incredibly stupid. Stupid people are even more fascinating to me.

Mom’s worked at the bank for about 8 years now. She’s always had to work full time. Never
seen a dime from my dad. He lives in Oakland with some skanky girl. I’ve never seen him. My
cousin Marlin just told me.

John—that’s the president of the bank—has always been real cool to us. He even has given us
Kings tickets a couple times when Lebron comes to town. Lebron’s still the man, and John
knows I think so. My mom wishes I’d like someone else because Lebron didn’t do college—he
went straight to the NBA. He, Garnett, Kobe . . . to name a few. But I guess I’ll just have to be
that good. College is cool and all. But if the NBA wants me at 18, I won’t whine.

Mom kissed me on the cheek and said, “You be good now,” raising her eyebrows, waiting for
confirmation from my eyes.

“It’s all good,” I offered smoothly, followed by another spoonful of Cocoa Puffs.

She hit me in the arm with a quick right, keeping her left blocking her side and cracking a sly
smile. Mom always is a lot of fun, and a good hitter too. Dr. Phil would say she’s making up for
an absent dad.

“Damn,” I whined, clutching my arm, showing her my best pout.

“Yeah right,” she sighed. She dropped her fists, winked, and headed for the door.

I saw the clock click to 7:30 when mom closed the door behind her. Just like every morning.
And then home at 6:40. After 7:00 on Fridays. Gotta have ends to pay the bills.
I love Mom. Maybe I should tell her more.

I put on some Jay Z and cranked up the sub. I always get ready to music. It’s the way a morning
should be.
                         Nancy Allison, Monday Morning, April 7th

Nancy pulled the car seat from the back seat of the mini-van and set it on the floor of the garage.
Dairek would be dropping Gage at daycare today and needed the seat. Closing the sliding door,
she looked at her watch then stared at the car seat for a moment. No time to load it in Dairek’s
car, she thought. Maybe I’ll just put it on his hood where he couldn’t miss it.

She twirled the corner of her brunette hair while pondering. Her 5’6”, thin, chiseled figure had
softened a little since the birth of Gage, but her beauty was undeniable. She had no idea how
many heads turned in a crowd to watch her walk by each day.

Nancy sighed and finally lifted Gage’s seat to the hood of Dairek’s Civic. A handful of suicidal
Cheerios cascaded to the garage floor, nestling themselves in one of many large cracks in the

I’ll probably hear about this later, Nancy thought, moving quickly back to the minivan, hoping
to slip out of the garage before Dairek poked his head from the house.

Nancy loved Dairek, so she told herself. She would describe her marriage of five years as
“happy” and “fulfilling.” That wasn’t too far from the truth. She felt that way at times. It’s just
that Dairek always wanted things done a certain way.

Don’t put the leftovers in a Cool Whip container without labeling them or I won’t eat it.

Leave your cell phone on so I can get a hold of you.

Don’t put my sunglasses in the drawer when I leave them on my dresser, because then I can’t
find them.

Nancy bit her lip even thinking about that one. “Then don’t leave your freaking sunglasses on the
dining room table every day!” She mumbled to herself, cornering her Honda Odyssey a little too
fast for the residential street.

Nancy had met Dairek at age 20 at California State University Sacramento, or “Sac State” as the
locals called it. She was an English Lit major and he was a Communication major. They sat next
to each other in their “Film as Communication” class. Dairek had taken the class because it was
in his major. Nancy signed up for the class because she loved film and simply needed the four

Nancy took notice of Dairek when he spoke out against Peter Bogdanovich’s 1971 classic, The
Last Picture Show. Dairek called Bogdanovich a pervert. Nancy can still clearly hear the sighs
from around the classroom and a handful of vocal students accosting him for casting stones at the
“artist.” Nancy was quiet, but secretly couldn’t help but agree with Dairek. She didn’t understand
the attraction to the film-maker or the film. Sure this particular film was shot well and the retro
black-and-white look was kind of aesthetic. But overall, the film was pretty boring to Nancy.
And honestly, the nudity did seem forced.

Bogdanovich probably was a pervert

Two days after the class she saw Dairek sitting by himself in the Student Union highlighting
passages from what looked like a Philosophy textbook.

“Planning on talking trash about Citizen Kane tomorrow?” Nancy jested.

The rest was history.

The first three years of marriage were the hardest: broke, over-worked, and both a little too
immature and stubborn to back down in an argument. But by year-four it seemed that both of
them had learned to pick their battles. Some complaints were better just left unsaid.

The pendulum swung in year five and the two of them found themselves repressing their feelings
and communicating less, until finally the day arrived where one of them would just explode.

Last night for example.

The phone vibrated from its place in the cupholder, rattling the loose change that it shared space
with. Nancy fetched the phone with her right hand and hit two buttons routinely with her thumb,
unlocking it without even taking her eyes off the road. Lifting the phone to her field of view she
read the text.

       D: luv u kiddo!

She hit one button, and dropped the phone back in its slot.

Nancy wasn’t in the mood for “sorry” right now. She was in the middle of a metamorphosis. In
these 12 minute trips, she entered the car ‘Nancy the wife,’ but exited ‘Mrs. Allison the teacher.’
Right now her mind was on the Of Mice and Men test she was going to be giving 1st period. She
would deal with Dairek later.

Time would heal everything.

It always had.
                                Kari, Monday Morning, April 7th

My alarm went off at 6:30 a.m. I hit the snooze three times, not crawling out of bed until a few
minutes after 7:00. Kristen hates it when I do that. Kari, that’s stupid! If you’re going to sleep
until seven, you might as well just set the alarm for seven. Then you can sleep another 30

She’s got a point, but I wouldn’t tell her that.

Kristen is a senior and thinks she’s the most beautiful creature God ever created. She is
beautiful—I wouldn’t tell her that either—but I know that she’s really more “creature” than most
people realize. I consistently get to bear witness to the lies she tells to her best friends and the
games she plays with guys. I’ve made it a point to never be like her.

If only I looked like her.

She is 5'8" and has a perfect body. I’m 5'3" and have the body of a 7th grader. My mom says I’m
still growing, but I’m a sophomore and I figure if I was going to have boobs I’d have them by
now. So I’m trying to prepare myself mentally for going through life without them. Although, I
guess there are some benefits. Like in track—I run the mile—I don’t have to deal with mine
bouncing all over and beating me up like Charlotte Bently’s do.

This must have been a good day because the bathroom was open. Kristen and I share a bathroom
and the morning battle is usually over the one sink. I quickly moved in and took over the sink.
We aren’t allowed to lock the door, a stupid rule my dad came up with one day when Kristen
almost put her foot through the door when I was “taking too long” getting ready. I was taking too
long. But she had used all the hot water the night before, and I always took my shower at night.
Thanks to her I couldn’t even shave my legs. So I had locked the door for payback. Anyway, no
locked door from that day on unless we’re actually “using the toilet.”

I threw water on my face. I am lucky to not have bad skin. That is the one thing Kristen was
always complaining about. She doesn’t have a lot of zits, but she always has one, and it is
usually a big one. Jordan calls them tumors. Jordan is my 4th grade brother.

In a way I wish I could be more like Jordan. He’s the sweetest person I know. I know sisters
aren’t supposed to like their little brothers. Little brothers should be bothersome—a pain in the
butt. And Jordan definitely had his moments. But everyone likes Jordan. Even Kristen. There
isn’t much about Jordan not to like.

Jordan cared for everyone. If you were having a bad day . . . he somehow knew it. A couple
years ago when he was in just second grade I came home from school crying. Long story—I was
in eighth grade and the boy who I liked ended up liking Sierra Blake. Such a ho. Regardless, it
was a bad day. Jordan didn’t say a word. He just went to his room. Twenty minutes later he
knocked on the door to my room.

I remember it like it was yesterday—his voice on the other side of the door. “Sissa?” That’s what
he has always called me since he was three.

I didn’t feel much like talking that day, so I didn’t answer. But Jordan persisted. “Sissa?”

“What!” I finally responded, tilting my head sideways as if that would help me hear him more

“Can I come in?” he asked.


He paused. Long enough for me to wonder if he had gone away. I remember it clearly. Finally he
spoke through the door again. “I have something for you.”

I didn’t want company that day. I was in the midst of deep jr. high tragedy. “Give it to me later,”
I finally replied.

There was another pause. Then I heard his tiny voice near the bottom of the door. “I’ll just slide
it under the door.”

“Jordan, can’t you just . . .” It was too late. A piece of white paper was emerging from under my
door like I was receiving a fax. I could see from where I was sitting that it was one of my dad’s
old work papers that had made it to the scrap paper pile in Jordan’s room. My mom didn’t like to
waste anything so all of Jordan’s art projects ended up on the back of old data printouts from HP.
This was one of those.

I reluctantly got up and picked up the paper that was folded in half, bearing the all too familiar
HP logo. I unfolded it to see Jordan’s latest masterpiece. It was a picture of a girl with short
brown hair. She had blue eyes with huge eyelashes—he hadn’t got proportions down yet. The
girl had red cheeks and a huge smile on her face. She was wearing blue and standing in a grassy
field with a big tree with what looked like a bird in it. Under the girl was written, SISSA. Then

He didn’t know how to spell please and pretty, but, at times, he could accomplish what almost no
one else could do—make me feel loved. Anyway, I’ll never forget that moment. I still have that
drawing in my memory box, a wooden box that my dad made me when I was a little girl.

Now as I finished washing my face I could hear the sounds of Jordan from downstairs. It was the
sound of Mario or Sonic or some video game character jumping around a land of walking
mushrooms or wobbling turtles. I never paid much attention—but Jordan loved it. So I had to
know enough about it to get him the characters when they came to Burger King or Wendy’s. It’s
amazing what buying the right $2 toy would do for a nine year old.

Fifteen minutes later as I was finishing my Cocoa Puffs, my mom gave me my good morning
kiss. “Good morning sweetheart,” she said.
“Morning mom.” I replied, between bites of cocoa balls and a slurp of chocolate milk.

“Do you have practice today?” she asked.

“Yeah. Just through Thursday. We have Friday off, probably because of Easter Break next

I love running, but track practice every day after school got tiring. I was looking forward to
vacation next week.

“That’s right,” she said as she picked up yesterday’s Sacramento Bee. “Wow. I can’t believe
Easter’s already here. Seems like Christmas was yesterday.”

She started shuffling through the newspaper, scanning for coupons. My mom is the coupon
queen. She’d spend twice the time in the grocery store to save five bucks.

My spoon began buzzing in my bowl. I grabbed my phone from the table and flipped it open.

       NIK: Wassup?

Niki. I typed with my left thumb while chasing the last cocoa ball with my spoon.
       Me: nmu?

Niki and I usually checked in with each other in the morning. I don’t know if I would call her my
best friend, but she and I are usually the first to text each other in the morning.

New message.

       NIK: u gng 2 uth grp 2nite?

       Me: yep. after track.

       NIK: cool. c u n a few. gtg.

Mom peeked over the newspaper. “Don’t forget we’re going to be at your Aunt Margie’s
Tuesday and Wednesday next week while you’re in Mexico,” she added. “Grandpa’s not doing
very well. We don’t know how much longer he has.”

Kristen walked in, barely missing a stride to grab a rice cake out of the cupboard. “You’ve been
saying that for two years,” she interjected. Kristen never likes to talk about the fact that Grandpa
was dying. She just gave me her usual 30 second warning, walking out of the kitchen without
stopping. “Let’s go.”

I grabbed a last bite, set my bowl in the sink, and kissed my mom on the cheek. “I love you.”

“I love you too Sweetheart,” she replied, returning the kiss with an added quick hug before
releasing me to what the day had in store.
I grabbed my backpack and headed for the car. Kristen drives us to school every morning. She
resents the fact that she has to let me ride with her, figuring I should just take the bus so she can
just go with her friends. But my dad has set the record straight. No Kari, no car. It kind of has a
nice ring to it.

My mom and dad are so cool.
                              Brett, Monday Morning, April 7th

By the time Brett Colton’s clock turned to 7:00AM, he was already up, dressed and logged onto
his computer. “Crystal Violet” had replied to him again. Crystal is supposedly 18, gorgeous, and
on the pill. Brett figures that Crystal is really a 200 pound 15 year old girl named Wanda who
never leaves her bedroom, or a hairy 36 year old man from Rio Linda who likes little boys.
Either way, “Crystal” probably isn’t who she said. That was the beauty of this web site. He also
met three people claiming they were Tupac on the same site that week.

Brett sent “Crystal” another anonymous message baiting her for more details of their escape
together, an escape Brett knew would never happen. But it was entertaining, and if he was being
honest with himself, he didn’t have many real friends to correspond with.

Brett scanned for the message he really was looking for. As he scrolled down the screen he found
it: Leonard Lawrence. Brett double clicked on the name.

Brett’s eyes darted across the screen eagerly, taking in every word with pleasure. This contact
had met his expectations and then some. He finished the email and read it once again to commit
the details to memory before discarding any trace of the message.

As Brett was habitually deleting his browsing history and temporary internet files, he heard the
voices of his parents arguing down the hall. He couldn’t help but cringe when the sound hit his
ears. This wasn’t an uncommon occurrence in the Colton household. Luckily, he was the only
child that had to endure it—although he wouldn’t have to endure it much longer.

Molly wiggled her muzzle under Brett’s left hand hoping for a good scratch behind the ears.
Molly was Brett’s golden retriever, and currently, his only friend. Brett had saved Molly’s life,
and Molly just might have saved his. After a particularly hard day in junior high, Brett was
riding his dad’s bike across the old red footbridge in Fair Oaks. Brett wove past a few fisherman
and started to shift into a higher gear when a little girl holding a puppy stopped him.

“Do you want a puppy?” She had pleaded, holding out the puppy as he rode by.

Brett slammed on his breaks, which squealed loud enough to scare away all the fish for miles.
The little girl handed him the puppy, immediately telling him a sad story of how she was going
to have to throw the puppy over the bridge if she couldn’t find someone to take it. Brett listened
to the tale, not knowing how true it was, and not really caring. The furry little panting face
seemed relaxed with Brett—safe.

Before giving it another thought, Brett had agreed to take the puppy. He tucked it away in his
father’s front handlebar bag which he zipped almost completely closed, except a small hole that
the puppy poked her small head out in no time at all. Once home, Brett relayed the story to his
parents, who immediately insisted he get rid of it. After days and eventually weeks of threatening
to take the puppy to the pound, his parents soon tired of the daily battle and let him keep the dog.
“But it’s your responsibility!” they asserted. “You feed it. You clean up its mess. You do
everything. And the moment it tears anything up, it’s history!”

It. They always called her “it.”

Brett agreed to their demands—anything to keep her. Brett would have agreed to cutting off his
arm if that’s what it took. And the friendship emerged—him and Molly.

He scratched her behind the ears in her favorite spot. She closed her eyes in sheer bliss.
Companionship and a good scratch. What more could a dog want?

Brett grabbed his remote and turned on his T.V. The channel was still on Showtime from when
he turned it off late the night before. If only his parents knew what late night Showtime offered.

The programming had taken a turn for the innocent in the morning. Danny Devito was teaching a
class of military misfits. Brett recognized the 90’s film Renaissance Man, earning the ever so
popular 6:30 a.m. slot for Showtime that morning. Too bad we all can’t have teachers as
entertaining as Danny Devito and classmates like Mark Wahlburg, thought Brett.

Brett watched a ton of movies. In a friendless world, the media have become Brett’s friend.

He clicked off the TV, grabbed his skateboard and left for school. School was a painful place for
Brett. It was the place that was slowly chipping away at his sanity and pounding him with one
painful experience after another. Brett never responded to any of these events. He simply
collected them, buried them down deep . . . and planned.

Brett can’t remember a certain experience that started it, but he definitely remembered
difficulties early in his freshman year. A lot of it came from the skating. Skaters were never a
popular crowd at his school, a school where the ruling class was made up of rich jocks. But that
wasn’t surprising. Skaters didn’t seek out popularity. They knew the way they dressed wouldn’t
harness any attention from the cheerleaders. Skaters at Mesa Rosa didn’t care what people
thought, at least that’s what they told themselves.

Skaters were one of many social groups at the high school. The largest of these clusters was
comprised of rich brats that would inherit daddy’s company some day. Then there were the rich
jocks who Brett was pretty sure had been bred in a Petri dish. Smaller sects existed, but they
were mostly ignored. These groups included emos, Goths… and a couple of creepy kids from the
math club, to name just a few.

But these clusters of students weren’t so easily categorized to the average adult. The lines
dividing them were blurry. Groups existed within each group, or even of entirely different ones,
comprised of individuals from several different groups that would unite racially or even socio-
economically for a cause. For example, in jr. high there were a couple incidents with the skaters
and the small group of black students at the school. One of the guys on the football team didn’t
like this skater named Blake. Blake never started trouble with anyone—he kept to himself. But
this guy Anton on the football team didn’t like Blake so he started picking on him. One day,
everybody in the school was saying that Blake called Anton the “N” word. That’s what the
administration called it: the “N” word. So next thing you know, about 15-20 black students from
the school—pretty much every single one at the school—were waiting at the back of the school
where Blake usually walks home. Brett remembers it well—his friend Nick was in the crowd.

The yard duty caught wind of it and started running to the back of the school to break up the
mob. But before they got back there, someone started yelling, He’s on Rathbone! He’s on
Rathbone! Rathbone Ave. is the street parallel to the back of the school.

Next thing you know, these 40 to 50 students were running down St. James street toward Blake.
Blake ran, but this kid named Justin caught him and knocked him off his skateboard. Before you
knew it, a whole crowd gathered around this kid and 7 guys started kicking him while he was on
the ground.

He got rushed to the hospital, had his spleen removed and lost about a quart of blood. Five guys
were arrested, two got convicted and went to juvi for 14 months.

Blake lived but didn’t come back to that school. He transferred to Lincoln Creek, another rich
brat school in Sacramento.

Rivalry between skaters and black students was really bad for a while. But then an influx of
Russians came to the area. Only a few came to Mesa Rosa—but enough to tick off both the black
students and the skaters. It’s ironic, but it’s the first time anyone saw the black students and the
skaters actually join together for something: to mess with the Russians.

It’s funny how it worked. Brett figured if the Russians can hang on, everyone will find a new
group to pick on in a couple of years and then the Russians will be accepted too.

Brett didn’t care about a person’s color or the way they talk. Brett pretty much hated everybody.

There were a few that didn’t join in the teasing. They just observed. But they were guilty by
association. They would die too.

A smile crept across his face as he coasted down the sidewalk. There will be no prejudice on
D.O.R. (a little nickname Brett had come up with for his big day)

On the Day of Reckoning, all of you will get the same thing!
                  Investigator John Grove, Monday Morning, April 7th

Investigator John Grove of Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department made his way down the
flickering fluorescent hallway that lead to his office. He managed a smile and gave a nod as he
passed Ann from the DA’s office, but didn’t say anything—his mind was elsewhere.

His investigation of a recent outbreak of gang activity in Citrus Heights had lead him to a
disturbing discovery of drug dealings and weapons sales emerging from a small neighborhood
called Cranhaven. Cranhaven was merely a horseshoe shaped street with a bunch of cul-de-sacs
and bisecting streets branching off of it. But students living in the area had become territorial
over the years and actually referred to the area as if it was a city. The predominate amount of
gang activity in the area is from a group that called themselves CHC, the “Cran Haven Crips.”
CHC started in the late 80's, years ago, with a few punks stealing cigarettes and starting small
skirmishes in the streets. But this quickly escalated, especially with the growth of gangster rap.

John, now 42 years old, remembers the music he listened to in his first years of college. It was
then, in 1987, that the music industry underwent a change. A young drug dealer out of Compton
named Eric Wright was a leading influence in a group of young rappers. The world awoke to a
new era when his first creation hit the record stores, an album called N.W.A. and the Posse,
N.W.A being an acronym for Niggaz With Attitudes. Eric, who went by the name “Easy E”,
became one of the boldest and loudest voices for young black men. A voice that made many
black people proud, but probably would have made Dr. King shudder.

Despite what some might say, N.W.A. and the Posse was the dawn of the gangster rap era.

Cops remember these days well, especially 1989 when the album “Straight Outta Compton”
came out. Stores never sold so many Raiders jackets, parkas, and beanies. When John would go
home from school to visit his brother, he and all his little friends were wearing Raiders apparel,
walking and talking like gangsters. After all, that’s what Easy E, Ice Cube, and Dr. Dre wore.

Then the movie “Colors” came out. “A true depiction of street life.” Yeah right, John thought.
Cops still talk about that film. It had served more as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Gangs exploded in
LA after its release. All of a sudden the “colors” you wore became a big deal to most kids across
the states who didn’t know any better.

As the 90's rolled on, John saw teenagers, white, black, Mexican, Asian . . . it didn’t matter, all
trying to be a gangsta. In his early police years on the streets, John and his partner Andy arrived
on the scene numerous times to find a dead kid, who had been shot by some “wanna-be,” trying
to prove that he was a gangster. The wanna-be’s began to become more dangerous. They
claimed O.G. (original gangsta), but took risks that no O.G. would take. The wanna-bes were
either becoming very gutsy, or very, very dumb. Either way, dead kids were lying in the streets
with either red shoelaces, or blue ones.

John threw his jacket on the back of his chair and glanced at the sticky notes on his phone as he
sat down. He leafed through a pile of folders on his desk. What had started with a phone call
from an older lady living in Cranhaven (even the police had adapted that label) had exploded into
a gargantuan investigation now involving narcotics and homicide.

John’s fingers stopped on a manila envelope near the top of his pile.

He sipped his coffee and wiggled the envelope from the pile, careful not to spill coffee on his
shirt. John, 6 foot 3 and built like a linebacker, was a sharp dresser. His wife Manda always
pressed his shirts and affirmed him that he looked like Denzel on Steroids.

The envelope bore the words Brett Colton written in red Sharpie. John worked open the envelope
with one hand and removed a folder from Glenn Hicks, another investigator in his office. As
John leafed through the folder, he quickly realized that Hicks had merely passed the buck with
this one, a phenomena not too unfamiliar in the department. Every investigator has a workload
far exceeding the necessary time to complete it, so they had each learned early on to delegate or
“pass the buck” when any opportunity to do so arrived.

John saw why the pass was allowed—this sophomore at Mesa Rosa had been accused of giving a
death threat back in January. Upon investigating the student, they found him interacting with a
group of probable drug dealers in Cranhaven.

John fingered through the pages, stopping on the first page of a report where a 4x3 picture of a
boy with a dog was attached with a paper clip. The boy was sitting on the grass with what looked
like some kind of a Labrador mix. The boy, probably 15 or 16, was small and pale with sandy
blonde hair and wearing black loose clothing. His eyes were small and dark with a determined
look in them.

John always noticed eyes. He had toyed with art in college and often sketched faces. The shapes
of eyes always fascinated him. Manda’s eyes, for example, were large and round with dark
lashes. John had sketched her eyes many times. He knew them by heart. He could get lost in
those eyes.

His brother had eyes where the top eyelid looked like the roof of a small chalet, almost giving
him a worried or sympathetic look. Those were also fun to sketch. They had many more folds
and creases and formed more of a triangular shape compared to the rounded shape of Manda’s.

The boy in the picture was gazing slightly downward as if he was shy . . . but his eyes were on
full alert, as if they were catching every movement in the yard around him. His pupils were
dilated, almost blending in with the dark brown color surrounding them. The whites of his eyes,
barely visible. The folds on his eyelids bowed under the force of his clenched brow, as if it was
holding an enormous weight like the weary Atlas with the earth on his back.

John’s own eyes wandered off the picture down to one of Investigator Hick’s reports. Now this
was funny. Investigator Hicks stopped to see this Brett Colton at his house. On the way to the
house, Hicks almost runs a teenager over with his car as “a juvenile wearing a black t-shirt,” the
report read, “darted in front of him on his skateboard.”
Hicks probably was looking down at his map book, the careless idiot.

The report continued, “Upon knocking on the door, the mother verified that her son just left . . .
wearing a black t-shirt.”

John chuckled. You almost killed the kid you were supposed to question. This is where it got
funny. Hicks asked the mother for a picture. She obliged. Probably this very picture. According
to the report, Hicks popped in his car and turned toward the direction he saw Colton heading. He
actually saw him skateboarding in the K-mart shopping center . . . towards Cranhaven. So Hicks
clicked into surveillance mode and followed him. He watched him go to the house of one Brad
Dewmore. Hicks had recognized the house as it was under investigation by Narcotics and
Robbery/Homicide division because both weapons and drugs, mostly pot, had been traced back
to that house. And get this, he saw Colton hand someone at the house an envelope. Probably
buying a dime.

Small world, John thought. The house was the same one that John’s attention had been focused
on for the last few weeks. John’s entire investigation had led him to that house. He and his boys
had big plans for that house on Wednesday.

John kept reading. Apparently Colton got on his board and headed out of Cranhaven through
another street. Hicks tried to follow, but got stuck waiting for a lady trying to get her kids outta
the street. Hicks honked at the lady who then, “verbally attacked” him and pounded on his hood.
Hicks eventually arrested her for 148 p.c (interfering with a police officer). John glanced at the
arrest report and booking picture for Gina Jackson. He leaned back in his chair laughing. John
knew the neighborhood well and could picture the situation clearly. Hicks probably tried to get
an attitude with Jackson for getting in the way. John just shook his head smiling. Hicks, you
stupid whiteboy. Don’t you know not to honk at a black woman!

John figured that by the time Hicks had put all this information in a report, he knew he had
nothing. Brett Colton was small potatoes compared to Dewmore. The file must have set on his
desk for a couple of months before he thought of passing it to me, John concluded.

John stared at the picture once again. The boy’s pale arm was resting on the dog, his hand
scratching the dog’s ear. The dog was in sheer bliss. But the boy seemed . . . removed, absent.
Physically present, but mentally somewhere else.

John stared into the boy’s eyes. What are you so mad at?

John blinked twice as if to clear his mind, and shut the folder. Another case for my “to do” pile.
John stuffed the folder in the envelope and threw it in his pile. He made a mental note to check
into it after Wednesday’s bust.

His mobile chimed from the desk. John flipped it open.

       Manda: hey sexy

John chuckled and typed with both thumbs.
         Me: u r the light of my day!

John slid three paperclips off his desk into his drawer.


         Manda: J

John smiled, tucked the phone in his pocket and grabbed his jacket.

I shoveled another bite of Cocoa Puffs into my mouth, keeping beat with Jay Z with every chew.

I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the microwave across the kitchen. My hair was looking a
little long. I’ll have to get Marcel to trim it again. He’s real good at cutting hair. During the
season he puts all the team’s numbers on the back of their heads. He says he’s going to have his
own hair place some day. We don’t tease him—about wanting to do hair and all—because
Marcel is HUGE! No one messes with Marcel. And since I’m his best friend, no one messes
with me.

Tisha emerged from the bathroom in a cloud of perfume. “Better not be late again or mom’s
going to whip you again!”

“Good morning Tish,” I answered with a fake smile.

Tish squirted some lotion into her palm, snapped the cap closed with her chin and started
smoothing the lotion across her arms. “Michael, you know if she gets one more call from the
school she’s going to come down, yank you out of class and whip you right there in front of your

She was right. But this was our game. She lectures, and I ignore her. “Care for some nutritious
breakfast?” I offered, holding up the Cocoa Puffs.

She stared one of her hard looks for a minute. No one can mad dog like Tisha. She had mastered
the evil eye. I stared right back and stuffed my face with Cocoa Puffs at the same time. That did
it. A smile crept on her face and she finally broke her stare.

Her phone began playing Beyonce. She flipped it open, cracked a smile, punched four keys and
slid it back in her pocket faster than a gunslinger. She was the good, the bad, and the ugly!

“I gotta go,” she said, heading towards the door.

When I finally left our apartment complex on San Juan Blvd., I had to walk fast. Tish was right.
If I was late one more time Mom would kill me. Tish and I both know not to mess with Mom.

I texted while I walked.

       Me: u coming nga

       Marcel: nt yet

       Me: im almost @ ur house

I got to Marcel’s house a few minutes later. We were late. I knew it because the sprinklers were
off. Marcel’s grandpa’s got the best looking lawn on the block. His final watering cycle ends at
7:55. We knew that because the first bell rings at 8:03, and we learned early in the year that if the
sprinklers were done already, then we were pushing it.

Marcel opened the door before I even got to it. He was talkin’ to Nana as he walked out. “I
know Nana, he’s right here. We’re going to be on time.”

Nana followed him out the door. “Don’t you talk back to me boy. When I say you better get
going, I only want to hear two words from you.”

The almost 300 pound Marcel acted like a 70 pound little kid around his grandma. “Yes ma’am,”
he answered cautiously.

I entered the conversation. “Morning Nana.”

“Don’t ‘morning’ me with your late tongue,” she snapped, giving me a hard look. “You and
Marcel use those legs that God gave you and get to school on time!”

“Yes Nana.” I responded feebly. I didn’t dare argue with someone that scared Marcel. Even if
she was only about 100 pounds herself.

Marcel and I hurried off toward the campus. His house was only two minutes from the back

Marcel lives with his grandpa and grandma. His momma lives in L.A. and Marcel never talks
much about his dad. And if Marcel doesn’t want to talk about it … I avoid the subject. His mom
wasn’t much better—dealing drugs out of South Central. Sounds like she should hook up with
my dad.

Once Nana got custody of Marcel, she raised him real proper. Makes him keep his grades up, and
even makes him go to church every weekend.

When we were out of range of his grandma’s house, he finally spoke. “I don’t know who rides
my case more. Coach Reed, or Nana.”

“My vote is Coach Reed. Especially yesterday.” I said, picking up my pace to keep up with
Marcel’s gargantuan strides.

Marcel waved his head in disgust. “Coach was trippin.’ He said I don’t pass. I always pass.”
He hesitated for a second. “I shouldn’t pass, but I do.”

There was no question Marcel was the best on our team. He proved that in the season last Fall.
Problem was: he knew it. Coach was right—he did need to pass. Sometimes Marcel played one
on five while the rest of us just watched. Fortunately for him, he actually got away with it. He is
that good. But coach Reed won’t have none of it. Especially yesterday. Coach Reed always runs
a spring basketball “bootcamp of sorts” for anyone interested in playing the next year. Yesterday
he made Marcel run 10 laps every time he didn’t pass at least twice before shooting a basket.
One time Marcel stole the ball and went down and slammed it. It was a great play. Marcel knew
it, we knew it, and coach knew it. But coach got right in his face and said, 10 laps! Marcel knew
better than talking back.

As we almost reached the school I noticed Marcel’s whole forehead was wrinkled in thought. I
messed with him and did my best coach’s voice. “10 laps!”

Marcel laughed and hit me in the arm, same spot that Mom nailed me. “I better not be hearin’
that from you too,” he barked with half a grin.

I saw him stop and stare over my shoulder. When I turned around I saw what he was looking at.
Nicole and Sierra were walking across the back parking lot. Marcel knew I was sprung on Sierra.
I didn’t know Sierra well, but I had talked to her a few times in the hallway or after school.
Once I was lucky enough to walk home next to her. It seemed like we hit it off. I got her number
anyway, and we’ve texted since.

I watched her as she gently tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear. Marcel finally broke the
silence, talking into his hands like an intercom. “Michael. Please refrain from drooling while
staring at Sierra!”

“Awe naw,” I responded without taking my eyes off her. “You know that’s impossible.”

We were lucky enough to be heading the same direction as Sierra and Nicole, and I got to watch
them for almost 2 more minutes before Marcel distracted me once again.

“Oh snap!” Marcel gasped, putting his hand to his mouth in disbelief. “Is that Courtney’s Civic?”

I pried my eyes off of Sierra to see what Marcel was babbling about now. A crowd of people
were gathered in the upper parking lot looking at a wreck that looked like Luke Perrin’s Camero
and Courtney Veth’s Civic. I loved that Civic. It had tinted windows, ground effects and a
bumpin’ stereo.

“That is,” I finally responded. “… and Luke’s Camero!”

We strode over there, not looking too curious. Rule number one on campus: don’t look excited
for nothing. Just play it cool no matter what comes at you. It’s part of the image. Our friend Ryan
was hanging by the flagpole checking out the wreck. He saw us coming and wandered over and
held out a hammered fist in a greeting.

“Pound it.” He said to Marcel, who greeted him with a tap of the hammer, which was returned by
Ryan. “Can you believe this? Luke was peeling out trying to be Jimmy Johnson . . . he wasn’t
even looking in front of him and, WHAM! He smacks into the back of Courtney—boo-yah!”

I’d never seen Courtney so mad. Her face was as red as her Civic. She was yelling at Luke who
was trying to defend himself, with no luck. It was kinda funny watching someone yell at Luke.
If it was a guy doing the yelling, Luke would have probably dropped him by now. But I think
even Luke knew not to hit a girl, even one yelling in his face.

Luke isn’t too bright; I actually have him in a few classes like Geometry and P.E. He is your
typical letterman jacket wearing, stupid, swole up football player. One step behind everyone else
mentally, so he has to beat every one up to try to earn a few points.

No one messes with him. No one can, except Marcel. But the two of them never had a reason to
go at it. If they did, it would be one hell of a fight. Luke went to state with wrestling the last two
years. He lets everyone know it too—wears his wrestling shoes every day. But I think I’d put my
money on Marcel. Marcel is not only my friend . . . he grew up in the hood before he moved in
with his grandma. Got beat up almost every day by his dad. When you get beat up by an adult
every day, high school kids just aren’t that much of a threat.

Once I saw Marcel get in the fight with this guy at Oakview High after a basketball game. This
fool was trying to condescend him in front of a bunch of people. Marcel just set down his bag,
walked right up to the guy and said, “Are you gonna keep talkin’ or man up and do somethin?”

The trash-talker surprised us all and hit Marcel in the forehead. Yeah, just above the right eye in
the eyebrow. I’m not sure if he was aiming for his eye or what, but the punch landed in his
forehead. I didn’t know what happened for a second; it’s like time froze. Marcel just stood there
lookin’ at the guy. Finally he leaned forward and said, “You through?”

The guy started to say something, but Marcel grabbed him by the jacket, picked him up over his
head and threw him through a window in the portables by the pool. I grabbed Marcel’s bag and
started running. Marcel walked away with a trickle blood rolling down from his right eyebrow.
Never even wiped the blood off the whole way home.

Marcel would probably deliver the one fight that Luke might not just walk away from.

Mr. Sanders, our Vice Principal, was out in the parking lot by Luke’s accident already and so
was Large Marge. Large Marge was the campus officer that tried to bust people sneaking on or
off campus. She attained the name Large Marge because she made Courtney’s Civic look like a
hot wheel.

The first bell rang. I didn’t see Sierra anymore so I told Marcel I’d see him later and slipped
away to Geometry.

No hurry for that class. After all, it looked like Luke was going to be later than me.
                                           Mrs. Allison

Nancy steered her Odyssey into the school parking lot, quickly finding an open spot in the shade
of the faculty parking lot. She peeked into the mirror on the visor, checking her lipstick, then
poked the button to open the automatic sliding doors.

She grabbed her bag from the back seat and hit the button on her remote to close the automatic
sliding door. She stood back and watched it close. Dairek always teased her for doing this.
“What? Do you think it’s going to open back up again?” he’d say. Nancy now wanted to watch it
close even more, maybe just to spite his attempt at controlling her.

Dairek wasn’t such a bad guy. He was actually very charming. But outside of those charming
moments, he had a system for everything. Some might call him meticulous. Some would call it
Sleeping With the Enemy.

As the door closed, she began walking toward the sidewalk. A male voice greeted her from
behind, a voice she recognized all too well. “Good morning Nancy.”

Nancy turned with a smile. “Good morning Matt.”

Matt was the AP History teacher. He was six feet tall, at least 200 pounds—none of it fat, with
dark eyes, wavy brown hair and a defined jaw. Nancy was a married woman and she never
wanted to look around at anyone else. She loved Dairek, and despite their differences, they were
married. But Nancy wasn’t blind. Matt was something straight out of a daytime soap, with a cleft
chin like Kirk Douglas and a sandy voice like Mark Ruffalo.

“I see you drove the family wagon again today,” Matt commented, keeping stride with Nancy,
and nodding back toward the Odyssey.

“Yes,” Nancy replied. “The Porsche is in the shop and the Hummer just doesn’t get the gas
mileage that the ol’ mini-van does.”

“Ah, yes.” Matt quipped. “My Hummers all seem to gobble it up too. Especially the yellow and
the blue one. I’m not sure why.”

Nancy smiled, not quite sure if it was a genuine response or a courtesy smile. She was torn. She
definitely enjoyed her little conversations and jesting with Matt, but she often sensed that there
was something under the surface of their joking. That thought scared her. She wouldn’t allow
herself to flirt with the possibility of looking at another man with interest. She felt guilty even
noticing that Matt made her feel warm and relaxed.

Another voice called from across the parking lot as Nancy and Matt stepped onto the sidewalk
toward campus. “Nancy. Hold on for a minute.”

This voice was far from warm and relaxing. Nancy did all she could do to not shudder when she
heard the scratchy beckoning. The voice belonged to Janet Hippo. Yeah, that was really her
name. She was one of the vice principals, and seemed to actually enjoy making others suffer. She
was unorganized and a micromanager, a lousy combination.

“Nancy,” Janet barked from across the parking lot. “I need to talk with you about the star testing
scores.” Nancy couldn’t figure out if Janet was a closet chain smoker or if she was just
desperately trying to impersonate one of Marge Simpson’s sister’s voices.

Nancy turned to Matt. “I guess this is my cue.”

“Enjoy!” Matt offered, tucking his tail and doubling his pace, hoping his name wouldn’t be
called next.

Part of Nancy was relieved to have an excuse to end the conversation with Matt. If only for any
other reason than Janet.

Nancy watched as Janet waddled toward her. Her subconscious recalled a commercial from her
childhood, an ad for a childrens’ board game. Voices singing, “Hungry Hungry Hippos…”
Nancy covered her mouth, doing all she could to not snicker.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a deafening crash from the upper parking lot, not 100 yards
away. Nancy and Janet both turned to see a grey Camero grafted into the back of a little red
Honda Civic, both rolling forward to a stop.

Janet exhaled loudly. “What now!” and marched off toward the accident.

Nancy stood on the sidewalk for a second, watching from a distance. A young girl got out of the
Civic and began yelling at a boy she recognized as Luke Perrin. No one seemed hurt.

Janet continued waddling toward the cars with purpose.

“Janet to the rescue.” Nancy sighed with a smirk. She adjusted her purse on her shoulder and
headed toward first period.

I shut my eyes, exhaling through my nose as the breeze blew my hair. My hair frolicked to the
rhythm of the wind dancing through my sister’s little white jeep. The whistle of the air was
numbing, almost hypnotizing.

I didn’t mind riding to school with Kristen and her friends. Megan, who lives a block down from
us, was really nice. She usually sat in the back seat with me asking me about track and stuff.
She actually talked to me in the hallways at school also, which didn’t hurt my popularity points
since she is one of the prettiest cheerleaders in the school.

Then there was Taylor Withers. Taylor was . . . well, she was a word that’s not in my
vocabulary. She always rides shotgun and does her make-up the entire way to school,
complaining nonstop about her mom, guys, teachers, and homework . . . you name it, she
complains about it.

Regardless, the trips to school weren’t that bad. And all the guys got to see me getting out of the
car with three senior cheerleaders. Granted, they were always looking at them, not me. No one
ever looked at me. This morning was no different. We arrived in the parking lot a good 15
minutes before the first bell. Plenty of time for Kristen and Taylor to be able to catch up on the
latest gossip and flirt with Ryan Ratner, Austin Blank, and the rest of the football team.

Our school is what kids called a brat school. Mesa Rosa High School in Carmichael, California,
near Sacramento. A school with mostly rich kids—rich brats.

But not all rich kids. There is an apartment complex on San Juan Blvd. that fed into the school.
Most of those kids walked or came on a bus, so the parking lot still reflected the incomes of the
rich brats. Beamers, convertibles, new S.U.V.s, and even my sister’s little white Jeep.

As we were getting out of the car we heard the screeching of wheels followed by the loud echo
of metal crunching. Everyone ran toward the upper parking lot.

It wasn’t long until we found where the sound came from. Luke Perrin’s grey Camero had
slammed into Courtney Veth’s little red Civic. I loved that Civic…before it had a Camero
surgically implanted in its back end!

Courtney was standing next to her car screaming at Luke. Luke was looking over her car and
trying to explain something to her. My sister and Taylor ran up to Luke and asked him if he was
okay. Luke loves their attention. He lives for attention. He feeds off it.

Luke was the biggest jerk at our school. He was like the bully in every stupid teen film. You’d
think that when he saw any of those movies he would realize that! You’d think he’d stop and
say, Dang—I’m that guy. I’m a big jerk. But instead, he lives his life picking on everyone
smaller than him—which was most the school—and parading around in his stupid letterman’s
jacket and wrestling shoes.
You would think that my sister and Taylor would realize it too. But I guess an unwritten code
existed between football player and cheerleader, a code that swore loyalty, regardless of
personality. I didn’t waste any more time thinking about it. I started heading to my first period
class, not that I was excited to go to it.

My pocket buzzed. It was Niki.

       NIK: did u c courtneys car?!!!

       Me: yeah. OMG.

       NIK: gtg. late.

       Me: c u ltr

As I slid my phone back in my jeans I heard my name being yelled across the quad. Luckily I
didn’t have one of those names that everyone else had, one of those names that when you yell,
half the school turns. If my name was Carrie, I probably would not have even looked if I heard
someone yelling it. But since my name was Kari, pronounced like the car that you drive with eee
on the end, I knew someone was actually calling me. The only person with a name close to mine
was Star, a girl who always hung out with the potheads. She and her sister Jasmine had serious

I turned to see my friend Rebecca coming toward me.

“Kari, did you see Luke’s car?” she asked, tossing her overstuffed backpack over her shoulder.

“Yeah. Did you see what he did to Courtney’s little red Civic?”

“Oh. I know,” she answered, scrunching up her nose. “I loved that car.”

She switched subjects without even breathing. She had a gift with transitions. “Are you going to
youth group tomorrow?”

I had missed last week’s Tuesday night youth group at my church. That was rare—I never
missed church. But track had run long and I had a ton of homework thanks to my English
teacher’s love for interpreting sonnets. So I had missed it.

“Yeah, I’m going,” I answered.

Rebecca loved it when I came to youth group so she could sit by me and talk about Zach
Atkinson all night. Rebecca was completely goo goo over Zach. She couldn’t have a single
conversation with me without bringing up Zach. I figured she was two sentences away from
bringing up Zach.

“Zach will be there tomorrow,” she said with a toothy grin.
I was wrong. One sentence.

She continued. “Everyone who’s going on the Mexico trip has to be there tomorrow for the
meeting before youth group.”

“Aaugh! I forgot about that meeting,” nodding my head in frustration. “I’ll barely have time to
get home from track, clean up, turn around and go again.”

The Mexico trip was something our church did every Easter break. The high school group went
down to a small village in Mexico, doing construction projects for a small church and leading a
program for the children all week. I went last year. It was one of the best times I ever had. My
sister thinks I’m crazy for saying that. She never has gone. She didn’t understand why I would
want to give up my vacation to “roll in the dirt with dirty little kids” she always said. But I loved

The bell rang. I told Rebecca I’d see her later and I headed for Geometry.

I hate Geometry.

Brett noticed the store clerk watching him through the camera.

Brett had stopped by the quickie mart on Winding Way. The store clerk had not moved his eyes
off of Brett the entire time he had been in the store. This made it a much more interesting

Brett opened one of the clear glass doors and grabbed a Sobe. He walked to the counter,
watching the attendant try to pretend he was straightening up the counter as if he was not
watching Brett. Setting the Sobe on the counter, Brett pulled out his money and looked into the
eyes of the attendant. His eyes betrayed his thoughts. I’d kill you too if I just had the time.

He dropped the money on the counter, giving a quarter a slight spin as it left his hand. The
quarter rolled off the counter by the attendant’s foot. Brett apologized, and as the man bent down
to reach for the quarter, Brett stealthly stuffed two 100 Grand bars in his baggy pants pocket.

The wind filled Brett’s hair as he coasted down San Juan Blvd heading toward the school. Brett
was used to the vibration on the bottom of his feet by now from his board gliding back and forth
in the bike lane, against traffic. He unwrapped one of his recently acquired prizes and enjoyed a
bit of the chocolate treasure. Stolen candy always tastes better.

Brett was enjoying the moment so much that he didn’t notice the grey Camero pass him and do a
U-turn 200 yards down the street. The Camero caught Brett’s eye when it started drifting in the
bike lane about 50 yards in front of him. His downhill speed made it hard to stop. After weighing
the difference between the ditch to the left and the traffic to the right, Brett took his chances and
tried to slow down with his foot. The momentum forced him off his board, and he lunged
forward, taking 5 weighted strides, catching himself from falling, but losing his board into the
street. The Camero skidded to a stop right next to Brett just in time for him to see his board
shoot under the back wheels of a utility trailer being pulled behind a 4 door pickup that didn’t
even feel a bump. The board splintered before landing in two pieces in the median strip.

Catching his breath, Brett looked back toward the Camero where Luke Perrin, Tyler Copeland
and Chris Frazier were laughing hysterically. Luke regained his composure, rolled down the
window and leaned across Todd in the front seat.

“I’m sorry.” He offered dryly. “Was that yours?”

Brett didn’t move his stare which was fixed on Luke Perrin. Brett fed off hate, and right now he
was having a feast. He told himself Luke couldn’t take anything away from him. Brett was out of
reach, because he was already mentally gone. Untouchable. Brett was already living two days
from now, and that kept him ticking.

If only you knew.
Chris leaned between the front two bucket seats. “We saw you on the side of the road and
thought to our selves, ‘Self, we should pick up our friend Brett.’ So we turned around to come
give you a ride.”

Luke interjected, “But it looks like you need some more practice with your skateboard—
especially in the area of control!”

They all laughed and the car peeled out down San Juan. Brett had hoped to show them that he
wasn’t afraid. He wanted them to know. They would be afraid if they knew, but the fantasies he
created in his mind never had happened. The moments of confrontation where students were
paralyzed with fear never happened. Soon enough it will happen.

50 feet down the road, the car made another U-turn and headed back toward the school, slowing
down as they passed Brett again.

Luke yelled out the window as they rolled by, “You better hurry up. Do you know what time it
is?” And the Camero peeled out in 3rd gear, heading toward the school.

As the Camero disappeared down the road, Brett answered the question in his mind. Yes Luke, I
do know what time it is. It’s almost Wednesday, at 11:17!
                              Luke, Monday Morning, April 7th

“Hey, that was third gear scratch!” Luke said as he sped down San Juan toward the school.

“Yeah!” Tyler agreed. “You left half your tire back there!”

“And two pieces of a skateboard!” Chris added.

They all laughed as Luke hit 70 through the yellow light on Madison. 45 seconds later they
pulled into the school’s upper parking lot.

“Hey! There’s Matt in his Yukon.” Luke said, pulling up next to the shiny White SUV and
rolling down his window. “Hey Matt! Wanna race?!”

Matt leaned over and flashed a big smile at Luke and rev’d up his engine. Luke kept looking
directly at Matt as he floored it, squealing tires for the 4th time that morning.

Luke barely had time to touch the brakes when he heard Chris scream from behind and felt
Tyler’s grip on his leg. Luke only saw the little red Civic in front of him for half a second before
he locked up and slid into it full force, moving it a good 15 to 20 feet forward with the Camero’s
bumper locked underneath.
                                     Michael, First Period

Marcel and I must have made pretty good time because I actually got to geometry in plenty of
time —it was only half full.

I grabbed my seat in the back. Mr. Colfax, our esteemed teacher, has a seating chart. I lucked out
at the beginning of the year and got a back row seat. I didn’t feel like pulling my homework out,
so I just sat there and watched people come inside.

I like watching people—you learn a lot. People don’t realize how much you can learn about them
by just observing them for a little while. You can tell which girls are insecure, worrying about
what guys think about them. Little clues like seeing them cast quick glances around to see if
anyone is watching. Or you see them pull out mirrors, checking their make up again and again,
or checking their hair multiple times in a five minute period.

Guys aren’t much better. You can see them sucking in their guts as they walk in the classroom,
adding a little bounce to their gait. Then you see them trying to be the playa with the girls around
them. Some of them have no game. It’s almost embarrassing to watch sometimes.

I watched this freshman named Brandon King scurry in and take his seat. He’s one of the smart
kids in the class and he never seems too worried about what others think. He wasted no time
pulling out his homework and immediately organizing it.

Then this girl Kari came in. She’s a rich little church girl who doesn’t have a clue about life.
She’s smart, she just doesn’t know nothing.

She took her seat right away and started talking with a girl next to her named Misty. I didn’t
catch what they were talking about at first but then I realized it was about a guy in our class
named Brett.

I looked over to Brett’s seat. He wasn’t there, and I can’t say I missed him. He was one of the
most interesting ones to watch. Every day when he walked in the classroom, he never looked at
anyone—at least until he sat down. He just went straight to his seat and dropped back into an
immediate slouch. His head always stayed real low, with his chin in his chest. I didn’t catch it at
first, but he watches people too. He never moves his head, but his eyes—his small black eyes—
are always looking to the left and the right, watching people’s every move.

He’s not a bad guy, or, at least, he used to not be so bad. My friend Nick actually hung out with
him in jr. high. They both were really into video games. Games never did it for me. But Nick and
him would play Xbox Live together and battle each other all the time.

But Brett didn’t hang out with anyone now. I used to see him working at Papa K’s Pizza, but I
don’t see him there anymore. I always see him by himself. Seems like he almost likes it that way
People mess with Brett around campus—especially in P.E. Once I saw Luke Perrin and John
McCormick slapping the back of his neck as they walked by in the locker room. Brett just looked
at them like a tiger pacing in his cage at the zoo, waiting for someone to accidentally leave the
gate open. Creeped me out.

Misty laughed and said something to Kari about Brett’s attendance.

Kari said, “Maybe he should try coming to class.”

I don’t think she understands that we all don’t live in her perfect little world.

This class kills me.
                                    Mrs. Allison, First Period

Even though her mind was thinking about home and the argument with Dairek, the freshman in
first period A.P. English only saw Nancy’s poker face.

“All of the questions are essay. Don’t worry. No surprises. It’s what we discussed in class. But
this is your chance to put your thoughts on paper.”

Groans were heard around the classroom. Funny. No matter how much the students are prepared,
no one likes exam day.

“Come on people.” Nancy quickly responded. “This is easy stuff. You’re all gonna do great! Get
to work.”

Pacing the front of the room, Nancy watched as the students read through the three essay
questions. One by one around the room, pens began to fill the blank pages.

Returning to her desk, Nancy reached for her purse. She kept her phone out of site behind the

       3 text messages have arrived. Select “Go to”

Dairek, she thought to herself.


       D: im so sorry baby. i was dumb. I love you so much.

       D: im at a break at work. call me if you get a chance.

       D: r u there?

Nancy stared at the buttons on her phone for a moment.

She looked around the room. Most the students were engrossed in their essays. Tiffani, a petite
little girl who looked not a day older than 12, was staring at the ceiling and tapping her pen
between her teeth. Two isles over, Craig was gripping his hair with both hands as if massaging
his scalp would help him write. Sheesh. It’s not that bad Craig. Craig, a handsome kid with dark
eyebrows, perfect teeth, and a carefully styled “unkempt” mop on his head, usually had a
minimum of five freshmen girls in his entourage in the school hallways at any given moment.
Nancy didn’t see the attraction.

It was strange having the classroom so silent. The sounds of pens frantically moving across the
paper were barely audible above the air blowing through the rusted vent in the middle of the
ceiling. Distant voices were heard talking in the hallway.
Nancy returned her attention to her phone. She typed with her thumbs.

       Me: in class. cant talk now.

She hesitated for a second.

       Me: luv u 2
                                        Kari, First Period

When I arrived at geometry, a freshmen darted through the doorway in front of me, eager to get
to his seat. Geez. It’s just freaking Geometry! Relax.

There are three freshman in this class. It kind of makes the rest of us feel dumb, but not as dumb
as Kenny Baker. Kenny was the guy with the long curly hair that sat in front of me. He was a
junior and was taking this for the second time. If he loved geometry one tenth of what he loved
his drum set, then he would probably pass.

I took my seat and got out my homework that my dad had helped me with. My dad is great with
any kind of math. My mom’s like me—she’s better at English and anything to do with writing. I
was glad to have my dad’s help. I don’t think I’d have made it this far without it. It was kind of a
good feeling to pull out my finished homework. It made me feel accomplished, at least for the
next few minutes before Mr. Colfax would confuse me with today’s lesson.

I loathed this class.

My friend Misty Tucker leaned over and whispered, “I guess Brett isn’t going to be joining us

I looked and Brett’s chair was empty. Brett was a kid no one liked. He wears dark clothes, even
paints his nails sometimes. And he rides his skateboard everywhere. He sat in front of Misty, and
she was always glad when he was gone, which wasn’t a rare occurrence.

I offered my sarcastic condolences, “I’m sorry. I know you’ll miss him.”

Misty laughed and joined in. “Yeah. I’m really worried about his attendance grade.”

“Maybe he should try coming to class,” I added, opening my math book.

Mr. Colfax started class the same as every morning, writing an impossible problem on the board.
Kenny Baker turned around, chewing his gum louder than most human beings—louder than most
horses— could chew. “Don’t you just live for 8:10 Geometry class?”

I smiled my best fake smile. “I think I’d rather die.”
                              Michael, Monday Lunch, April 7th

Lunch was same as always. Kickin’ it with the team mostly, then Marcel and I would get bored
at about the same time and roll. We usually started lunch at the student center.

The student center is a pretty good sized room . . . well, you can’t even call it a room. It’s really
just a place where the hallway is really wide in this zig zag area upstairs in the Drake building.

Years ago, Tish’s senior class had decided that our school didn’t have a cool place to hang out at
lunch or after school. The campus lacks a large quad area outside like most schools in our area.
Aside from the gym, the cafeteria and two small administration buildings, the campus mainly
consisted of the Drake building which was a big two story building containing all of the major
classrooms. So this group of seniors did a fund raiser, carpeting this area in the Drake building.
They collected half a dozen old couches, added a few tables and chairs, and labeled it The
Student Center.

Everyone likes it because it’s a cool place to just chill. That’s where most the cheerleaders hang
out. I wasn’t interested in cheerleaders today. I was looking for Sierra.

Marcel must have noticed my lack of interest in the immediate surroundings. “What you thinkin’
bout?” He asked. “You’re all quiet.”

“Nuttin.” I didn’t look at him at first. But then a sly grin gave me away and I peeked over at

“Oh,” he grinned. “I see. I ain’t seen her neither.”

“Saw Nicole over by the snack bar a while back—wasn’t with her.”

“Let’s dip out and go over to the cafeteria,” he offered. It was nice of him to sympathize with
me. Marcel was my boy! “Maybe she’s in there and we missed her.”

We slowly strutted up to the cafeteria.

Most of the people were done eating and were just kickin’ it at the tables. Lunch was 45 minutes.
It was 11 fifty-something right now and the bell would ring soon. Never could remember the
times. I don’t know who figured out the school times, but they don’t make sense. Why start
school at 8:03? Why not 8:00? Why not 8:30? No… 8:03. And what time should we have lunch?
11:08 or something like that. Why not 11:30? How about noon?

A white person must have planned this schedule!

A bunch of the drama students were sitting on one of the back tables laughing real loud. Trevor
Pribble was imitating someone or performing a sketch that had everyone’s attention. He was
grabbing his shirt and dragging himself around like someone else was beating him up. Pretty
funny actually. Funny guy. I had him in Algebra the year before. He isn’t scared to say anything
in front of the teacher. He would just start talking about throwing up or anything nasty
…anything, in the middle of class. The teacher would always just shake her head and say,
“Enough Trevor!” I think she was secretly entertained as well.

A bunch of the AP kids encompassed another table laughing about something. AP stood for
advanced placement—basically honor students. I knew they were AP kids because I’m in their
English classes every year. I was always good in English, writing papers, and interpreting poetry.
I also did really good in vocabulary. I liked words. I just didn’t want to use em’ in front of my

Being in AP English makes Mamma proud. She has high hopes that I’ll be a writer some day.
I’ve convinced her now to at least say “sports writer.”

But I have to give credit to Mrs. Allison. She is the freshman A.P. English teacher. Not only was
she hot, she somehow made the study of literature fun. I never liked English until Mrs. Allison.
She’s amazing. Best teacher I ever had.

I wish I could say the same about my AP History teacher, Mr. Shaw, but this guy was literally
the worst teacher I ever had. I wasn’t alone in my opinion. Girls thought this guy was straight up

The only thing I liked about that history class was the debates. We got to act out debates, taking
sides on the issues we were studying. I don’t know why—but I always was good at debating. I
analyzed what people said and dissected it piece by piece. This was a good thing in AP
History—a bad habit in my personal life. People don’t like their words being used against them.
Like Mr. Shaw for instance. I lasted about a quarter in that class before talking Mom into letting
me take normal history. She finally caved and let me switch.

I think Mr. Shaw went out and partied the night he got the note I was switching. No worries. I
think he’ll think twice before ever trying to tell Custard’s story his way again.

Everyone in the cafeteria was in their own little group. Everyone but …Brett. Brett was sitting by
himself again. Probably because Luke was down at the student center—Brett kept his distance
from Luke.

Marcel was talking with some junior girls sitting at a table next to us so I pretended to be in the
conversation, but I was watching Brett. He was just sitting there in one of the overstuffed chairs
in the lounge area by the lobby. He had his backpack and a notebook on his lap and was just
staring across the room. Something wasn’t right. I don’t know what, but he wasn’t right in the

Bell rang and we headed to PE. Marcel and I have weights together. It was cool. This was the
first year I lifted so I was able to really increase my max. I started benching 120 at the beginning
of the year. I tried not to advertise that, especially when the football players who had been in
weights all four years were benching 200 or 300 plus. But I was excited because I weighed 140
and now my bench was up to 165. Pretty good for a sophomore. I figure I’d break 200 next year.

When I got to the locker room I did the normal routine. Dress down and listen to the Andre and
T.J. pimp show. Andre and T.J. are just two guys that think they’re playas. Every day they
provide us with detailed antidotes about every shorty they’d ever tapped, who was given out the
most candy, and their most recent tale of hittin’ it again and again. They are funny, but I did
worry about stepping on the same tiles these guys did. I might just need a penicillin shot.

Luke Perrin actually showed up for P.E. class, even though he had missed Geometry. Probably
getting his car towed. Usually he was loud, joking with Chris and some of the other fellas. But
today he was quiet . . . and everyone knew why. Everyone was staying clear of him. I figured, let
the guy suffer in peace.

This class is the easiest class of the day. Do a few exercises and then hang out with my boys.
Maybe even lift a few weights. Since Nick and Marcel are both in this class with me, we always
have a good time.

Fifteen minutes later, having finished role call and stretching, we started our laps around the
lower field. Coach always has us running. We came upon two other P.E. classes running around
the field. The girls were running the opposite way. That was cool because we got to see each one
of them in their little shorts when they passed.

Marcel looked at me with a big grin on his face. Between breaths, he said, “Not bad.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, stretching my stride to keep up with Marcel’s, “but not what I’m looking for.”

Nick turned around and started running backwards, looking at me all confused. “What? You into
guys now?”

Marcel laughed loud, making a spectacle, covering his mouth and pointing to me like he always
does. I hit Nick hard in the arm.

Coach, who can beat any of us in any run, yelled as we were stepping out of the pack. “You guys
need more running time to make up for all this horse play?”

We didn’t respond, we just picked up the pace, resuming our spot with the group.

Finally, I responded to Nick’s accusation. “No fool! I mean . . . the girl that I’m lookin’ for
wasn’t in that pack of girls.”

Marcel started smiling real big again and giggling.

“Shutup Marcel.” I snapped, hiding my grin.

The other guys’ P.E. class was running the same laps we were. Our class usually makes fun of
that class because… well, that’s the way it works. Most of the guys in our class were bigger than
them. That’s what it always came down to—who was bigger than who. No worries. If it came
down to anything, I was with Marcel, that’s all that mattered.

Coach did his daily routine, dropping off after one lap to head toward the weight room ahead of
us. We had one lap to go, then we’d join him.

Before long, Luke, Chris and John were messing with kids from the other P.E. class. Their P.E.
teacher, Mr. Steel, was probably in the P.E. office reading the paper. That man was the laziest
man I have ever seen. I don’t think anyone’s actually seen him walk. He was always on his butt.
I had him last year. When you get to class he was always sitting there, feet up on the little
wobbly table in the front of the gym. When we ran, he was nowhere to be found. When we
played flag football, basketball . . . you name it, he somehow was transported to his office, sitting
on his butt, reading his paper. No one ever has seen him move. He somehow rolls from place to

The man don’t walk!

“Uh oh. Here it goes.” Nick mumbled, nodding his head toward Luke.

Luke, Chris and John had come up behind Brett, their favorite punching bag. Brett was always
by himself. And by yourself means dead meat in P.E. class.

Homie needs a friend.

“Apparently the girls P.E. class is still out here,” Luke offered, slowing his pace to match the
nominal stride of Brett.

“You’re right,” John added. “They’ve got a straggler here.” John flipped around, running
backwards in front of Brett, grilling him, trying to start something. “Ain’t that right . . . bee-

Brett didn’t even look at John. He just turned, looking at Luke with his little beady eyes for a
long time. I think Luke might have even been a little leery of that look. It kinda freaked me out
and I was 10 feet away. Then Brett spoke as calm as his breath would allow him between strides.
“My condolences on your Camero. It’s a real pity.”

Marcel let out a chuckle. Luke shot a look toward Marcel, who just stared right back, resuming
his chuckle. Luke was big . . . but he wasn’t stupid.

The rest of the group was silent, aside from their heavy breathing. Half a second later, John, still
running backwards, pounded Brett in the chest with a push so hard that Brett almost got airborne
flying backwards. Luke’s foot was just as quick behind Brett’s ankle and Brett went down hard
in the muddy grass with a splat.

All of us jumped to the side, running around him, even his old friend Nick. None of us liked
what we saw, but it wasn’t our fight. Brett knows that if he talks that way, he’s going to get
dropped. His choice.

Just another day at Mesa.

Now it was time to lift weights.
                                 Brett, Monday P.E., April 7th

Brett debated whether to even attend today. But he didn’t want to jeopardize D.O.R. He’d
worked too hard to blow it now with an outburst of anger. Losing one’s temper was just a loss of
control. Brett knew that. And in 48 hours there would be one person on campus with ALL the

So long he had waited.

Only two more days. Only two more days until total control.

He actually went by the office that morning to get a late slip.

Gotta be by the book for just two more days.

His run in with Luke and his little sidekicks before school had made him 20 minutes late. But it
was worth it. Because Brett was one of the only ones who got to see a tow truck pulling up in
front of a wrecked Camero and one very upset Luke Perrin. It was actually as if there was some
force at work that had stepped in and helped Brett, at least that’s what Brett told himself.

Fate’s helping hand also freed him from having to endure first period with Luke. But the worst
was still to come—P.E. class with Mr. Steel, who surely wouldn’t be there in the locker room
and out on the field, the two places that Luke and the other targets always seemed to find him
and torment him.

But today there was something helping Brett. Brett wasn’t worried about “the temporary” today.
Brett was looking at the big picture. Luke could not hurt Brett. Physical pain was nothing. And
as long as Brett was alive, then Luke would soon be dead. Luke and all his little friends were
nothing but targets. Images in the crosshairs.

Brett was in control.

Nothing could stop him.

Changing clothes was uneventful today. Usually Brett feared this time of day in the locker room,
a particularly vulnerable time for Brett. No adults. No large crowd to blend into. No baggy
clothes to hide behind.

Brett saw no sign of Luke roaming the locker room looking for trouble. A few voices from
potential threats, but no one seemed interested in picking on Brett today.

Too bad. You can’t hurt me today, Brett thought, closing his P.E. locker.

I’m not here. I’m in two days from now.

Running was tiring, as normal. But Brett didn’t want to do anything out of the ordinary. He was
too close to D.O.R. He could get through just two more days of this. Only the weak would give
up now. The weak would call it quits.


The predators had arrived. Today they were predators. Soon they would be prey. How quickly
things would change.

Weak people surrounded Brett. People whose strength was gathered from the attention of others.
They balked insults, looking to gather strength. But Brett couldn’t hear. Brett wasn’t here now.
Brett was setting a detonator to four digits he knew all to well in his mind. Brett was looking
through the scope of his HK, exhaling slowly, preparing to slowly squeeze the trigger.

More yelling.

Brett blinked twice. The images in the crosshairs disappeared.

The run was nearing the end. Brett noticed the faces around him. John . . . Luke. Prey
surrounded him. His targets surrounded him.

Brett smiled. Not only was Luke going to die in two days, he had also just lost his prized
possession. Brett almost pitied Luke. Pitied his weakness.

“My condolences on your Camero,” Brett said calmly. “It’s a real pity.”

Luke’s face tightened up. He turned to see who was watching.

Go ahead, Brett thought. Try to gather strength. You need it. That’s what weak people always
do. They care more about how they appear in a given event than how they actually perform.
They always look to see who is watching.

Pathetic. Weak and pathetic.

Brett didn’t even see the push coming, but it didn’t surprise him. He fell to the ground like a sack
of grain. The grass was wet and his body slid for a few feet in the mud. The mud was cold. But it
didn’t matter. It would be over soon.

Nothing could hurt him.

A smile emerged on Brett’s lips as he wiped mud off his left cheek.

Weakness partied after small victories. But true power and control would wait for the right time.
Power was patient. Power allowed such moments. This kind of treatment used to bother Brett,
but now he was immune to it. Besides, the time had almost arrived. Brett had waited for over a
year. His wait was almost over.
                                 Kari, Monday 5th period, April 7th

As much as I liked English, I hated vocabulary. Why do you have to memorize a bunch of

Mr. Hunt sat in the corner with his head buried in a stack of essays —last night’s homework. I’d
spent almost two hours on mine. I hope he’s in an A-giving mood.

I looked back down at my vocabulary test. Dictum. What the heck was dictum? All I can
remember is the joke that Trevor Pribble kept making.

From the desk next to me, the sound of Ashley’s pencil furiously filling in her Scantron bubbles
was piercing my ears. Ashley aced every one of these tests. I tried to, but it just took a ton of
time to study the words for that long. At the beginning of the year my mom used to quiz me on
my list the night before. But when track practice started, I began hurrying a little more with my
homework. I found that I could actually still get it done . . . just not always as good as I used to.
Vocab is definitely an area that suffered. If I don’t study the words, I don’t know them. Period.

I stared at my test. Number seven. Dictum. It could be any of these.

That pencil sound again.

I know Ashley is done with number seven by now.

I glanced over.

Yep. She’s almost done. Looks like . . . she’s on number 15.

I glanced at the teacher.

My muscles tightened. I knew what I was about to do, but I really didn’t want to acknowledge it.
If I acknowledged it, then I’d feel guilty. So I tried not to acknowledge it. But my whole body
felt it. I knew what I was doing.

I looked over at Ashley’s paper again.

Seven, eight, nine . . . C, A, C . . .

I filled in the small bubbles, careful not to leave any part of the little circle empty.

But how bad was it really? I mean, Ashley has all the time in the world. She isn’t in track, and
she sure isn’t going to Mexico next week to help the poor.

It all came down to time. I had to choose where to spend it. And I had made good choices so far.
This was one of the . . . enough with that. Ashley’s almost done. I had better hurry.
I leaned on my hand, glancing over at Mr. Hunt with my eyes, keeping my head down. He was
still concentrating on essays.

I turned toward Ashley’s paper. Ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen. B, C, A, D.

Three minutes before the bell rang, class might as well be dismissed, because everyone was
talking. Mr. Hunt didn’t even care at this point. We’d finished going over Dostoevsky, a dreary
discussion, and he was back to his grading. He told us all to do silent reading, but we had learned
long ago that a dull murmur was allowed within a few minutes of the bell. So everyone was
talking quietly. Not loud enough to disturb Mr. Hunt —by now we all knew the unspoken line
that we shouldn’t cross if we wanted the freedom to talk in the last few minutes. No one wanted
to rock that boat.

Ashley continued inquiring about my spring break trip. “So this is for the whole week?”

“Yeah. It’s great,” I answered. “We ride the bus down on Friday and stay at this college in L.A.
Then Saturday morning we cross the border and arrive in the tent village.”

“Tent village?”

“Yeah. It’s like a thousand tents set up in a corn field —one with no corn —and then an eating
area. It’s really cool.”

Ashley’s eyes got really big when I said a thousand tents. “A thousand? You have a thousand
people in your church that go to Mexico?”

I laughed. “No. We meet other churches down there who want to do the same thing. Then each
church goes out to a different village to help the kids.”

“How do you help them? Do you like, tutor them and give them clothes and stuff?”

“No,” I chuckled. “We tell them about God and run sort of a VBS.”

She looked at me confused. “VBS?”

“Vacation Bible School.”

“Oh.” She responded, packing up her things.

“It’s really a fun experience.” I added. “It’s hard to explain. It’s just so . . . cool.”

The bell rang.

On the way out of class Ashley noticed Brett ahead of us.
“Oh my God.” Ashley whispered quietly, covering her mouth with her hand. “What does Brett
have all over his ear?”

I looked up to see Brett walking out the door ahead of us. The back of his neck was covered with
something brown . . . it looked like grease or mud or something. It was in his hair and all over his
ears. Sick.

Some of the guys behind him were pointing at it too. Brady Edwards leaned toward him and
started sniffing, then pulled away quickly, waving his hand past his nose. “Whew!”

Everyone started laughing.

Ashley turned to me giggling. “What is that?”

I looked at Ashley’s face and held back a laugh. “I don’t even want to speculate.”

Ashley covered her mouth and started laughing more.

I started laughing too, a little more relaxed since everyone else was laughing. “Bathing would be
a good idea,” I added.

Ashley and I said our goodbyes and went on our way to sixth period.
                            Michael, Monday, 5th period, April 7th

Vocabulary was not my favorite subject. But it was an easy ‘A’ because if I studied the words
for about 20 minutes the night before, then I’d ace the test. I could handle 20 minutes. Unlike
math, which I could stare at for an hour and still do lousy on the test.

Besides, Tish always said that the reason she didn’t do good on her SAT’s was because of vocab.
I could really care less about my SAT’s, but I figured if I beat Tish’s score, Mom would be real
proud. Not to mention I’d have something to throw back in Tish’s face when she tries to tell me
what’s up.

I finished my test easily and then sat back in my seat. I never like to turn in the test right away...
don’t want to look like a know it all. Only one other kid had turned it in so far. Brianna Arthur.
Deezam that girl was smart. In every class too.

My eyes wandered over to another group of guys on the left side of the classroom. Brady, Tyler
and a couple others. They were all looking off this girl Haley’s paper. Idiots. Haley doesn’t even
get good grades. If they were smart, they’d be looking at Danielle’s paper to their left.

My eyes wandered to the group in front of me. Ashley was almost done with her test and . . .
figures. That church girl Kari was cheating off her. I guess she missed the “Thou shalt not cheat”
week in church.

A few more people turned in their tests. Then the masses started getting up and placing their tests
on Mr. Hunt’s desk. Now it was time to turn in mine.

Fifteen minutes later we were in the middle of studying Dostoevsky, the author I couldn’t
pronounce. No worries. The book, Crime and Punishment, was actually pretty cool. It was about
this guy named Raskolnikov, a character who ends up murdering his whiny, money-grubbin’
landlady with an ax. Pretty funny. Then he feels guilty about it and ends up confessing at the
end. We weren’t at the end yet, but I read ahead.

Mr. Hunt was talking about the “torment” that Raskolnikov was going through. This was one of
those class discussions that we were supposed to be prepared for. One third of our grade is what
Mr. Hunt calls “class participation.” That is one of the “benefits,” as he always calls it, of being
in an advanced placement English class. He wants to “stimulate us to think and express our

Back in Mrs. Allison’s class I actually enjoyed these kind of discussions. We weren’t forced to
participate. She made it interesting and real. I actually wanted to participate. But with Mr. Hunt,
it was all a game.

I learned quickly to find at least one opportunity to add a comment during each discussion,
watching his pencil carefully. He would literally put a little check mark in his book for that day
when we contributed to the discussion. My friend Lance was his T.A. in 6th period. Lance would
tally all the checkmarks for Mr. Hunt, who would then figure out the percentage of marks per
possible days. If someone had only 70 marks out of 100 days, then they got a C in participation.

Mr. Hunt continued on, stroking his chin and pacing the floor. “Raskolnikov was plagued with
guilt. His dreams haunt him, such as the dream in the end of part three where he repeatedly
strikes the pawnbroker with his ax but she only laughs at him and doesn’t die. How is he to be
delivered from this bondage? What is the ticket to freedom here?”

I raised my hand halfway. I need my checkmark.

“Yes, Michael.”

I cleared my throat. “Um . . . I think that he believes that confession is the only way out. I mean,
he had practically made up his mind to do it before he got distracted by saving the guy hit by the
carriage. But confession is his ‘ticket.’”

Mr. Hunt looked down at his book and made a little checkmark.

Aw yeah!

“Thank you Michael. Anyone agree with that? Disagree? Anyone?”

Brett spoke up. As weird as he was, he was real smart. He always was reading philosophy books
and quoting famous people. And who knows, maybe he wanted his checkmark too.

“I think that’s where Raskolnikov shows weakness. His Christian convictions are just a crutch
for the weak who can't handle reality.” Brett pulled a piece of paper from his notebook. “I think
Nietzsche said it well.” He paused for a moment, looking at one of the papers he pulled out.
“Nietzsche didn’t like Dostoevsky’s Christian stand and his moral convictions either. He said
that Raskolnikov was ‘sinning to enjoy the luxury of confession,’ He also said, ‘Dostoevsky was
one of the victims of the conscience-vivisection and self-crucifixion of two thousand years of

Tyler turned and spoke just loud enough for half the class to hear. “Sounds like someone doesn’t
get out much!”

The class chuckled.

Ignoring the disturbance, Mr. Hunt ran to his desk and retrieved his own piece of paper. Battle of
the geeks had begun. “Yet, Nietzsche also described Dostoevsky as “the only psychologist from
whom he had anything to learn.”

The class tuned out as Mr. Hunt continued on. Me too. Entertaining as it was, I already had my

As the end of class finally approached, I gathered my books and threw them in my backpack. I
could hear Kari saying something about helping poor kids and some Bible school. Ironic. Does
Church Girl cheat in Bible school too?

As we exited the class, people started making fun of Brett because of the mud on the back of his
neck. I was one of the few people who knew how it got there.

He didn’t respond to any of their teasing. I guess if you can handle Luke and John hitting you
and pushing you in the mud, you can probably handle a couple of jokes. Even the church girl was
laughing and making comments about him.

People were always baggin’ on him. I felt kinda bad for him.

But what are ya gonna do?
                             Brett, Monday, 5th period, April 7th

Brett tried not to think about P.E. It was hard to remove oneself from surrounding events, but
English class served as a nice distraction.He was fascinated with the psychology in the literature
they had been studying this year. Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment was a nice relief from
the Cro-Magnon intellect of those in P.E. class.

Mr. Hunt was discussing the moral struggle of Raskolnikov. Interesting, but Brett passed time
thumbing through some of his favorite parts of the book.He stopped on the page where
Raskolnikov plans how he would retrieve the ax for the murder. The Russian thinks about every
thing that could go wrong. “What if Nastasya walked in?”

Brett laughed to himself, identifying with Raskolnikov’s line of thinking. Brett was also
obsessive about his preparations. No mistakes, he told himself.

Brett’s mind drifted to what he saw just last night on a CNN special about school violence,
footage from the Columbine killers and Jeff Weise from Red Lake. Idiots, he thought to himself.
They thought they were gods. Yet they didn’t even think through the most simple problems.
Maybe they should have read this book, Brett thought.

Eric Harris blew it three times with Columbine. First, he gave his real phone number when he
ordered ammo. His dad answers the phone to hear that his “gun clips” are in. Lucky for Eric, his
dad dismissed the call as a wrong number.

Then his parents find a pipe bomb in his room. Just a hand slap. Good thing they didn’t search
his room for more. And good thing they hadn’t heard about the police report that his buddy’s
parents had filed, along with hundreds of pages from Eric’s web site talking about the bombs
he’d made. Any real D.A. would have turned that warrant in and searched Eric’s place. But they
didn’t. Ooops!

And then his mom caught him walking out the door with a shotgun barrel sticking out of his
duffel bag. Eric told her it was a b.b. gun—and she bought it. Hilarious.

Three close calls. Never caught.

Then, to put icing on the cake, their bombs didn’t go off on the big day. Where was your backup
plan for that one! Brett thought. Eric had spent days in the cafeteria planning the perfect time to
blow it up and then he screws up the fuses on the bombs. They tried for 500+ and they get 13.
Brett nodded slightly and clicked his tongue. Two percent of their goal. Pretty lame.

And Wiese wasn’t much better. Only capped nine others before capping himself. The sexually
frustrated Carl Roberts IV did the same thing after opening fire on a bunch of Amish girls. They
always shoot themselves. It’s almost assumed.

He flipped a few pages further in his book. This was one of his favorite parts:
       “ . . . At first—long before indeed—he had been much occupied with one question; why
       almost all crimes are so badly concealed and so easily detected, and why almost all
       criminals leave such obvious traces? He had come gradually to many different and
       curious conclusions, and in his opinion the chief reason lay not so much in the material
       impossibility of concealing the crime, as in the criminal himself. Almost every criminal is
       subject to a failure of will and reasoning power by a childish and phenomenal
       heedlessness, at the very instant when prudence and caution are most essential. It was his
       conviction that this eclipse of reason and failure of will power attacked a man like a
       disease . . .”

Brett scanned down through the paragraph. Ah, his favorite quote:

       "When reason fails, the devil helps!"

Brett didn’t even notice the grin forming on his lips.

His thoughts were interrupted by something mentioned in the class discussion. His grin
disappeared as he shifted his focus to what was being said. Mr. Hunt was entertaining mindless
comments about how confession was good for the soul.

Brett shifted in his chair, waiting to see if anyone else was going to venture into this discussion, a
subject Brett spent numerous nights thinking about.

Mr. Hunt was looking for a response. “ . . . anyone? Disagree? Anyone?”

Brett was in his element. A philosophy debate on murder and death, no doubt —his favorite
subject. It wasn’t fair. No one else had a chance against him. He glanced down at his brown,
home-made book cover, littered with famous quotes about death. Brett couldn’t hold back any

“I think that’s where Raskolnikov shows weakness.” Brett argued. “His Christian convictions
are just a crutch for the weak who can’t handle reality,” a statement Brett had told himself
hundreds of times.

Brett thought about stopping there. But he remembered something from Nietzsche about
Dostoevsky —something he printed out the other night when he was browsing the web. “I think
Nietzsche said it well . . .” Brett said, stalling, while he quickly pulled out the stapled pages from
his folder, scanning the printout quickly, then stopping on the highlighted quote. “ Nietzsche
didn’t like Dostoevsky’s Christian stand and his moral convictions either. He said that
Raskolnikov was ‘sinning to enjoy the luxury of confession,’ He also said, ‘Dostoyevsky was
one of the victims of the conscience-vivisection and self-crucifixion of two thousand years of

Mr. Hunt seemed to enjoy the interchange. He quickly walked to his desk and shuffled through
some papers, retrieving a similar printout. Scanning the paper with his finger, he stopped,
removed his glasses and looked up at Brett. “Yet, Nietzsche also described Dostoevsky as ‘the
only psychologist from whom he had anything to learn,’” he replied, putting his glasses back on
in triumph.

Someone mumbled something in the back of the room. Giggles.

Mr. Hunt continued. “I think Dostoevsky was merely pointing out that Raskolnikov’s plans
didn’t turn out like he planned, simply in the fact that he underestimated guilt.” Mr. Hunt
pivoted in his wing tips, looking up as if accessing his memory banks. “I believe it was Wilson
Mizner who said, ‘Those who welcome death have only tried it from the ears up.’”

Brett didn’t skip a beat. “Yes, but Marcus Aurelius Antoninus said,

       “Think not disdainfully of death, but look on it with favor;
       for even death is one of the things that Nature wills.”


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