Sunday, November 15, 2015

Chapter 7

"You heard Barnes!  They saw us!  They recognized us!  We're gonna be expelled!"

"Chill out, Jim.  They gave us the option of coming forward on our own.  If we do that we'll just get into a little trouble."  Eddie assured him.

"A little trouble?"  Jim interjected.  "Suspended?  Detention?  A visit to the Cobra?  You call that a little trouble?!"

"Hey, they only said they recognized a bunch of us.  It's probably just a scare tactic!  I bet ya they didn't see nothin',“ Charlie said, uncertainly.

"No way, man.  The Cobra was lookin' right at me when Barnes gave his speech. They know!  We're dead meat!  And when Barnes and Cobrane get done with me, the 'rents'll gimme what for once I'm home.  If I'm expelled... man, I'll never see the light of day 'til I'm thirty!" Jim griped.

"Barnes said we'll be suspended if we don't come forward on our own.  We'll be expelled if we don't tell 'em what we saw.  And after we all just stood there and let that kid get beat on like that... well, we deserve whatever Cobrane dishes out."  Charlie said with a sad look.  He'd been feeling guilty ever since that morning and he stood with his arms crossed, and his shoulders hunched.

Eddie looked at him with amazement.  "Have you ever been in Cobra's office?"

Charlie nodded warily.  "Yeah, once.  For cuttin' up in Spanish class."

"How many'd you get?" Eddie asked.

Charlie blushed slightly.  "Three."

"Well, I can guarantee you that we'll get more than that for standing around and watching that kid get pounded into the dirt!"

"Yeah, well I know for sure that if Brice and Freddie hear we dropped the dime on 'em we'll be next!  Not only that but we'll get reps as rat finks.  That is if we live after those two greasers or their friends get done with us.  I don't know about you guys but I don't want to be labeled 'Rat' or get the chill for the next two years,"  Jim snarled.

"I get the feeling that if we're gonna get the chill it's gonna be because we didn’t help, not because we ratted out Brice and Freddie,"  Dennis said quietly. "There was enough of us we coulda taken 'em on!  Least we can do is stand up and tell 'em what happened even if it means a paddling and detentions."

"Guys, what it comes down to is this.  If we don't tell, then Brice and Freddie get away with it again, cuz you know one of 'em'll lie and the other one'll swear to it. They've been doin' it since the first grade and getting away with it cuz everyone's afraid to say anything against 'em,"  Charlie said.

An argument broke out then between the four boys, each shouting to be heard over the other, each listing their reasons why they should or shouldn't go to Barnes's office and say their piece.

"Guys!  Guys!  Cool your chops a minute!  Cool it!  Listen to me!"  Dennis shouted.

The other boys were red-faced and breathing heavily but they quieted down and looked at their friend.

"Ok, look, there's a pay phone down at Grammarcy's, we can go down there and call Barnes, right?  Then we can ask him to meet us somewhere safe.  Wait!" He said when he saw Eddie and Jim open their mouths to argue. "We ask him to meet us somewhere safe, one of our houses, or... I dunno... a church maybe..."

"What the heck you thinkin', Clyde!  If he meets us at one of our houses our 'rent's'll know!  And I can tell you right now if any of us walk into a church before Sunday everyone in town's gonna notice it!  Not only that but five'll getcha ten that Father Kelly'll say somethin' to my folks.  Uh uh, man.  Count me out.  I don't really believe they saw me.  They have no proof.  I'll just deny it was me they saw," Jim maintained, trying to look braver than he felt.  He failed miserably.

"That's up to you I guess.  Me, I'm all for calling and asking if we can meet somewhere, cuz sure as dogs bark if we're seen walking into Barnes's office people'll know what it's about,"  Charlie said, looking for support from Eddie and Dennis, putting his arm straight out, palm down.

"I'm with you, man,"  Eddie said, placing his hand over Charlie's.

Dennis sighed and added his hand to the pile, “Me too.  Last chance, Jim.  All for one and one for all."

Jim gritted his teeth and nodded curtly before slapping his hand down on top of the others.  "I friggin' hate you guys.  Let's go if we're gonna go."

They arrived at Grammarcy's in record time, and they all fumbled around in their pockets for the right change.  Dennis finally found a dime and Charlie dialed the number.  Despite the gravity of the situation, it was all the other three boys could do not to bust out laughing as they heard Charlie's voice go unnaturally deep as he asked to speak to Mr. Barnes.

Eddie, who had his ear pressed close to Charlie's was sure he heard the amusement in Mrs. Jenning's voice as she asked him to please hold.

"Vice Principal Cobrane speaking." 

Charlie covered the mouthpiece quickly.  "Chit!  It's Cobra!  Whuddo I say?!"

Eddie made a shooing motion.  "Just talk, numbskull!"

Charlie cleared his throat and tried to deepen his voice again, but it came out nearer a squeak.  "M-Mr. Co-Cob-brane..." he tried to clear his throat again, but that too came out sounding strangled and Charlie began coughing uncontrollably.

Eddie grabbed the phone.  "M-Mr. Cobrane..." he hated the quaver he heard in his own voice.  "We... we want to... I mean... we'd like to... that is..." he took a deep breath and spoke on the exhale. "Wereafraidsirweknowyousawsomeofusandwewannacomestraightbutwereafraid

"Hush," the man said in a strangely gentle voice.  "Take a slow, deep breath and let it out slowly, do it now, young man."

Eddie took a deep breath and let it out as directed.

"Again. Slowly."

Eddie took another measured breath and let it out.

"One more time now,"  he said, pausing as he listened to the upset young man do as he'd been told. "Better now?" He asked, still in that same gentle voice.

"Yes, sir,"  Eddie said, faintly.

"May I know who I am speaking with?"

"Eddie, sir.  Eddie Parker."

"Very well, Mr. Parker.  Start from the beginning, if you would."

"We know you saw some of us, sir.  An' we want to tell you what happened, but we're afraid, see?"

"I understand, Mr. Parker."

"If we go into the office, the other kids'll, you know, they'll know why we're there, you know?  An' if word gets out that we dropped the dime on 'em..."

"Pardon?  Dropped..."

"Um, finked.  Told on 'em?"  Eddie clarified.

"Ah, I understand, continue."

"If word gets around that we finked on Brice and Freddie then 'em or some of their friends'll come after us next.  That's why we were afraid to jump in when that kid was gettin' demolished.  And then, even if they don't come after us, the other students'll see us and they'll know we're rattin' 'em out and they'll give us the chill and..."

"I understand, Mr. Parker.  What do you propose?"

"Is there... like, somewhere... I dunno, safe we can meet up?  Somewhere no one knows us?  Then we can tell you everything."

"Hold on, please, Mr. Parker.  I'll be back directly."

Cobrane was gone for only a few minutes before he picked the phone back up. "Very well, Mr. Parker.  I'm not sure who else is with you but I'd like you to meet us; myself and Mr. Barnes as well as Officer Delaney..."

"Officer!  You didn't say nothin' bout talkin' to the fu... cops!"  Eddie said, alarmed.

"Oh that's it, I'm outta here!"  Jim said as he turned on his heel.

"Don't be dense!"  Charlie grated, grabbing the other boy by the sleeve.  "What did you think was gonna happen?  You can't chicken out now!  Hang tough!"

"Mr. Parker... Eddie, don't be afraid.  How many others are with you?"

"There's four of us, sir."

"All right then, there is nothing to be afraid of.  Officers Delaney and Shelton informed us that the identities of anyone who came forward would be protected. No one will know who you are. Tell your friends that, please. I'll wait."

Eddie repeated the vice principal's words. 

Jim grabbed the phone.  "Promise, man... I mean... Mr. Cobrane.  Promise us. No one knows, okay?  Our names never get mentioned?"

"Your names will be in the official police records, and Mr. Crighton's and Mr. Argus's attorneys will have your sworn statements on file, but they will not be allowed to tell anyone your names.  It's already been arranged that if you and your friends are required to give statements in person, it will be done away from Mr’s Crighton and Argus, with your attorneys and the attorneys for the defense present."

"Will Brice and Freddie ever be able to get the records?"

"No, they'll be sealed.  I assure you, Mr..."

"Barkis,"  Jim said reluctantly.

"I assure you, Mr. Barkis, you will be completely safe.  Now, if you and the others are still willing to come forward then I'd like you to meet with myself, Mr. Barnes and Officer Delaney at 325 Astrid Circle, it's at the outskirts of town and should be quite safe.  Do you agree?"

Jim repeated the address to the others who all nodded.  "Yes, sir."

"Very well then, we'll expect you after dark, say, 7:00?  Bring your parents also."

"Oh, God," Jim breathed, "this just keeps getting worse and worse!  He wants us to bring our folks."

Charlie and Dennis looked close to tears.  Eddie, already pale, went a shade whiter.

Again, in that gentle voice, Cobrane said, "If you'd like, I'll call your parents ahead of time and explain the situation to them, and let them know that their presence is only requested as support and security for you boys. Understood?"

"Yes, sir,"  Jim said weakly before turning to the others and repeating Cobrane's message.

"Very well then, Mr. Barkis, we'll expect you and your parents at 7:00 this evening.  And tomorrow morning we'll discuss why the four of you are off campus during school hours."

Jim could have sworn he heard a hint of amusement in the man's voice before he hung up.

Later that afternoon when Charlie arrived home his mother rushed to him, gave him a hug and then turned him to the side and gave him several sharp swats, after which she turned him back and hugged him again.  His father stood silently by, leaning against the door jamb watching the interchange with a look of combined amusement at his wife's actions, and disapproval of his son.

Blushing partly from the display of affection and partly from the smacks, Charlie hugged his mother back with one arm and reached back to rub the sting with the other hand.  He looked up apprehensively at his father.  "Co... Mr. Cobrane called then?"

"Yep."  His father answered shortly, the look of amusement disappeared quickly.

His mother took him by the shoulders, even though he was taller than her by several inches and shook him a little.  "You just stood by and watched, Charlie? You just stood by and watched!?" she asked, dismay and disappointment clear on her face.

Charlie, who was only a couple of inches taller than Angelo and only weighed a few pounds more, felt like crying when he saw the expression on his father's face and the disappointment on his mothers.  He would never have stood a chance against the two older boys but he knew he could have at least run for help.  

"I'm sorry, ma!  I was scared.  We all were.  I know now that that's no excuse but... at least for me, I was scared.  If they'd seen me leave they'da thought it was me that ratted 'em out and then they'da come after me next and they'da pulverized me."  He was near tears.  "I'm sorry, ma, pop.  I'm sorry I didn't do nothin’ to stop it but I was scared!"  Despite his efforts, his feelings of guilt and shame, and the stress and shock of the day caught up with him and he began to cry.  He covered his face.  Big boys weren't supposed to cry.  Only babies cried he berated himself.

The next thing he knew he was sandwiched between his parents.  His father held his son's head against his chest while his mother rubbed his back.

Jim got a slightly different reception when he arrived at his house.  His father immediately began to yell at his son while his mother stood between them, worriedly trying to keep things from escalating.

The boy stood silently, taking the berating with his head hanging in shame. He'd known his father would have something to say about what had happened and he knew that whatever happened, he deserved it.

"What I don't get is you're just about the same size as the guy who jumped in to help... what's his name again?  David?"

" 'Deo... Amadeo."

Mr. Barkis' eyebrows raised slightly at that, who on earth would saddle their kid with a moniker like that?  "He's that kid from the wrestling team, right?" Jim nodded and his father continued,  "You're nearly as tall as him and you probably outweigh him by ten, fifteen pounds.  Why didn't you help him?"

Keeping his gaze on the floor, Jim shook his head slightly.  He took a breath to answer but only exhaled and shook his head again.

"Do you have anything to say for yourself?" his father demanded.

"No, sir," Jim answered quietly. He knew what came next and was mentally prepared for it.

Mr. Barkis, Mule to his friends, slipped his belt out of the loops and doubled it. "Hands on the wall."

Jim swallowed nervously, turned toward the wall and got into position.  He closed his eyes and tried to steel himself for what was coming.

Mule laid six stripes across the backs of his son's thighs and stopped.  "Go on upstairs, now.  Do your homework.  We'll call you down for dinner. After that you go back upstairs, finish your homework and take a shower.  Your mother laid out some clean clothes for you for tonight, we'll call you when it's time to leave."

"Yes, sir,"  Jim whispered.  He turned toward the stairs and felt a firm but gentle grip on his shoulder.  The hand squeezed slightly before letting go, and Jim continued his journey toward his room.

Mule stood at the bottom of the stairs and watched his son until the boy reached his room and softly closed the door before he slipped his belt back on.

He turned to see Caroline, his wife, looking at him with approval.

"What?"  he asked.

"You went real easy on him.  I'm glad,"  she said, simply.

Mule cleared his throat and shrugged.  "He did wrong, he came forward, he owned up to what he did, he didn't make excuses, he didn't try to beg out of his punishment. I'm proud of him."

Caroline approached her husband and slipped her arms around his waist.  "Make sure you tell him that,"  she said, looking up at her husband with a hint of a smile in her eyes before giving him a light kiss on the cheek and returning to tend to that night's dinner.

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