It was the last Tuesday before Christmas, and the halls were peppered with art projects full of trees, presents and snow, which was funny to Luther since it never snowed in San Francisco.
That’s what he thought of to distract himself as he ran onto the first floor of Miraloma Elementary School.
When he reached the first floor, Luther nearly slammed into two of his teachers. There was his English teacher, a strange man named Mr. Webb. Mr. Webb always wore his hair long and often came to school in tie-dye shirts. Mom said he was something called a ‘hippie.’ There was also Mr. Culpepper, his math teacher, who was short, fat, wore thick glasses and spoke with a bad stutter.
“Hey, Luther. What’s the hurry, man?” Mr. Webb asked.
“Is ev-ev-everything ok-kay?” Cullpepper called.
But Luther didn’t stop to talk. He couldn’t.
They were coming.
A few seconds ago, he’d gotten into it with Phil and Johnny again. They were mad about what he’d said that last time. Really mad.
“So I’m piss and he’s shit, huh? How about we show you what real piss and shit looks like?”
Phil and Johnny tried to shove his face in a toilet smeared with both.
In a panic, Luther made the ultimate mistake. He threw a punch. Johnny’s nose broke against his knuckle. He fell back more from surprise than the force of the blow. When the stream of red ran down Johnny’s shirt, Luther knew he was going to get it, so he ran. He ran down the hallway lined with pictures of trees and snow, and past his two teachers.
He couldn’t get help from a teacher. Mr. Webb was fun, but Luther had always gone to him for help and people started calling him a teacher’s pet. Culpepper was even worse. Students constantly made fun of him for his stutter. Luther even heard him sobbing in the teacher’s lounge after a bad day. What good was he at stopping Phil and Johnny if he couldn’t even protect himself?
Luther ran into the commons. Johnny’s shoes screeched behind him as he slipped in his own blood. Luther heard Phil trip over him and fall himself.
“Ah shit!” Phil whined.
The only hope now was to reach the gymnasium. There were lots of places to hide there. Perhaps he could give them the slip. He gained some ground on them after they tripped. With the gym’s doors safely in sight, he looked back to see if the two were still there.
They were. Phil looked horrible like always, but Johnny. Johnny looked like a monster. His shirt was splattered in bright red. He looked like one of Mr. Webb’s tie-dye shirts. His teeth had soaked up enough blood to turn them all pink, like he’d just chewed someone’s throat out.
Luther couldn’t help himself. He screamed. He screamed loud as he ran into the gym and slammed the doors behind him.
It was too early in the day for phys-ed. There were no students, no teachers, and with Phil and Johnny closing in, no way to escape. Luther dove under the bleachers just as the two burst in.
“Robot Boy! You can’t get away!” Phil shouted.
“You’re gonna get it now, you shit!”
The two shut the doors behind them and then made for the showers. A cacophony came out from the locker room as the two proceeded to throw open any unlocked door and kick open the rest. They were busy, they were loud, and they’d left the gym doors unattended. If he just went up to them and opened them, he’d be home free.
But he was afraid.
Though every sense told him he had to run, his legs wouldn’t listen. Through the openings in the bleachers, Luther saw the trail of blood leaking from Johnny’s nose. Any predator would have found them appetizing. To a hunter, nothing was more enticing than wounded prey. But the sight and smell of Johnny’s blood only frightened Luther that much more, frightened him because even this wounded predator didn’t stop moving.
Luther’s opportunity to escape passed by as the pair exited the locker room.
“He’s got to be in here,” Phil said. added.
“What if he got out?”
“Door’s still shut, dingus. Come on.”
They crept about the gym, searching every patch of shadow and every odd bench, working closer and closer to the bleachers until Johnny looked his way.
“Hey. I thought I saw something.”
His eyes. Luther hadn’t thought about his eyes. He clenched them shut and waited, hoping somehow the dark would shield him. In the dark he heard their footsteps. Johnny’s nose continued to bleed like a leaking faucet. They kept getting close and closer, until the sounds stopped.
Luther opened his eyes.
At first, he thought the gym was empty. It seemed so much darker. Maybe Phil and Johnny had left.
Then he realized he wasn’t looking at the gym. Through the cracks in the bleachers, he was looking straight into Johnny Drake’s eyes. Phil grabbed his ankles and pulled him out.
Dirk Webb and Randy Culpepper lead Jordan down to the nurse’s office.
They’d been worried when Luther went running past, so they followed him. They’d found Johnny holding Luther still while Phil threw the punches. They intervened, and Culpepper got his glasses broken for his trouble. He’d taped them together before fetching her out of her second period class.
“The injuries aren’t b-b-bad,” Culpepper tried to say. “A few s-s-scrapes and b-b-bruises.”
“Hasn’t anyone talked to the parents?” Jordan asked.
“Doesn’t do any good, man,” Webb added. “You know how parents of kids like that are. They think they’re just perfect little angels.”
“I’d like to make them angels,” Jordan growled.
“I un-n-nderstand you’re an-ngry, M-m-Miss Childs, but t-t-alk like that is in-n-nappropriate.” Culpepper said.
Jordan threw open the door to the nurse’s office. Phil Kyle and Johnny Drake were already there. She glared at them as she walked past. The two ducked, lest they get burned by her fabled laser eyes.
What she saw in the nurse’s office broke her heart. Culpepper was right. Luther’s injuries weren’t bad, but those were only the ones you could see. The ones you couldn’t see were so much worse. Luther stared at the wall, motionless like a statue. He didn’t even turn to her when she sat down beside him.
“We could stop for pizza and ice cream on the way back. Would you like that?”
Jordan sighed and took Luther by the hand.
“Come on, pup.”
Luther was so limp, Jordan half expected him to fall to pieces as she helped him off the bench. Jordan wished she could wipe away whatever pain they’d inflicted on him. She wanted him to stand tall with her because he had nothing to be ashamed of. They were apex predators. The city was theirs. He walked without pride when he, more than anyone else in this city, deserved to.
In the lobby, Webb and Culpepper were trying to exert some authority over Phil and Johnny.
“He hit Johnny first,” Phil whined.
“Was that before or after you tried to shove him in the can?” Webb said.
Johnny started laughing, but stopped when he saw Jordan glaring at him. She’d heard the laser eyes myth so often, sometimes she believed it. Johnny sure acted like it was true.
“Get in the nurse’s office and get that nose looked at,” Webb ordered Johnny.
Johnny didn’t move.
“Hustle! Go!” Webb shouted.
Webb’s shout broke the trance, and Johnny darted to the back as fast as he could. With his accomplice gone, Culpepper stuck his finger in Phil Kyle’s face.
“Now young man, th-th-this behavior is una-a-acceptable. You’d better get your a-a-act together or there will be c-c-consequences.”
Phil trembled with fear, but not at Culpepper.
As they left, Jordan’s head spun with fantasies of just what she’d like to do with those two boys. She didn’t want to kill them, but putting a scare in them? Wouldn’t it be so fitting if they woke up to a tapping on their windows and saw her staring back at them? Would they recognize her? She hoped they would. What if they told someone? Let them. One word, and they’d see what it was like to be ridiculed.
Hindle’s van was parked outside. He’d left work early when Jordan called. She resented that she had to call him, but a ride was a ride. Jordan and Luther hopped in the back, and they were on the way back to Mount Davidson.
“Kids are assholes,” Hindle said.
“Any luck on the video store?” she asked.
Hindle shrugged. “I think we’ve got everything.”
“We can’t go forward on ‘thinking,’ Art.”
“Jordan, have I ever let you down?” Hindle asked, which made his point well enough.
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