Welcome to my public writing journal, and Thank you to our Veterans! I’m glad you stopped by; I have a special treat for you today. Over the past three days, I’ve been working on a sketch for a Middle-Grade short story. The first day, I spent several hours on story structure and development. Day two, I wrote the first draft. Day three, I finished and revised that draft. This is the most time I have dedicated to a single sketch on this blog, and it took considerably longer than the normal one-day prompts and sketches you’re used to reading.
This sketch is nearly seven thousand words long, and while I try my best to keep errors to a minimum for your enjoyment; everything on this site is meant to be completed in a timely manner, and are primarily for practice; so mistakes may appear.
This story is safe for anyone ages 9+. The targeted ages are 9-13, but I try to write so my stories can be enjoyed by everyone.
CAUTION: I do use the words heck quite a bit, and the word damn just once. And it is important. Trust me. So, if that is a problem, please do not let your young one read this, or, if you print it out for them, feel free to edit out those words!
I really enjoyed developing and writing this story sketch, and I hope you enjoy reading it! Thanks again for reading; I write for you!
Veterans Day Brawl: A Middle-Grade Mystery
Burgundy doors clanked open, flooding the cool hall with the din of a middle school campus on break. Two boys strolled into the cool hall. The shorter, darker of the two boys thumbing at the device in his palm, peering from under his flat-billed baseball cap, shaking his head and clicking his tongue against his teeth. His over-dressed companion, complete with sports coat and tan suede shoes, busied himself with a soggy log of cafeteria pizza, trying very hard to ignore the pepperoni’s resemblance to the spiteful acne boils that plagued his face.
“I swear Shaun,” the boy with the pizza said, “I’m gonna punch Tate right in those stupid yellow shutter shades; make me miss all the non-pimply food…”
“Shut it, Michael. Something’s wrong. Tate didn’t meet us after first period, he didn’t meet up for break, and now he’s not answering his phone? Tate’s always online. Here’s his locker up here. Where there heck is this fool?”
“He’s probably working on his new hit album,” said Michael, dropping a piece of cheesy flesh into his mouth and chewing with a laugh, “‘Hardcore Hits From the White Suburbs of Ingberg County’.” Shaun stopped walking and removed his dark sunglasses, looking Michael in the eyes.
“How many times do I need to tell you this? We’re not in elementary anymore. People aren’t all hanky-panky here, okay?—Don’t laugh, I’m serious—don’t laugh. You’re lucky that you got Tate. And Benny. And me. You wouldn’t do good in middle school all on your own. My brother had to do that, and he knows, Michael, you know he had a heck of a time. You know that Michael. But the only way you keep friends is upkeep; do you get me? Upkeep.”
Michael lowered his eyes. He held his mouth tight, a lone pepperoni hanging from the left corner. “Sorry,” he said. “We better get to his locker then. To make sure he hasn’t lost his groove or anything.” He grinned. Shaun did not.
When the boys reached Tate’s locker, Shaun spotted a black backpack, wide-open on the floor, its contents strewn across the hall. “Oh snap,” he said, “that’s Tate’s gear.”
The boy’s collected their friend’s belongings into the backpack and searched the hall, checking each corner where the lockers broke for classroom entrances, but they found no Tate. When they had returned to Tate’s locker, they heard a faint moaning sound coming from inside. The boy’s tried the latch, but someone had already clapped on a lock. They banged on the flimsy door and called to Tate. What returned was a rattling moan.
Shaun shook the lock. “Tate! Tate, is that you? You in there dude?” A sickening gurgle echoed in response. Michael stared with is mouth agape. Shaun banged and banged and shook. “Hold on man, hold on! Michael!” He turned on the other boy. “Get help, now! Go to the office; bring—uh—the nurse, the principle; someone with a key—”
“Start banging on doors!—whatever, just go, now.” Shaun turned back to his coffined friend, laying his brown hand against the steel locker. “Dang it Tate, who’s toes did your goofy butt step on this time?” Shaun remembered something and shouted after Michael, “And get a hold of Benny! He needs to know what’s going on.”
The twelve-year-old boy on the Mongoose bicycle raced down Washington Avenue. His forearms were lean and well-muscled under the sleeves of his red jersey—number 03—the name “B. Alvarez” spanning its broad shoulders, and just below it, written in permanent black marker, the young man’s nickname “El Toro”.
Benny peddled hard, but the Thompson Middle School bell sounded, marking the end of break, and beginning of second period, which meant he was too late; he would miss biology and algebra… again; the fourth time in a month. Not only did this mean he was treading on thin ice for a three day suspension if he was caught without a note, but any in class work or tests that were missed, couldn’t be made up. And failing grades meant no football. And no football, meant no life for Benny Alvarez. He thanked God that his only test that day, in social studies, wasn’t until forth period, after lunch.
The dentist was behind that morning, making the wait even more painful, as Benny imagined it should for any rational person with a healthy sense of fear for the cruel and unusual. The sadist dentist had also requested that, because of the nature of the “procedure” (i.e. because he didn’t like kids) Benny not be allowed to eat for twelve hours prior to the delicate teeth cleansing. For a football player that consumes on average a breakfast of four eggs, two pieces of bacon, and four slices of buttered toast, this was concentrated starvation.
Regardless if he had a legitimate excuse for his absence this time, Benny understood that a boy could only cry wolf so many times, and that one boy could only go to the dentist so many times in so many days, and lately he had needed to be excused for far too many check ups; these, by the way, would be news to his dentist. And hard to explain to his mother. But none of that mattered now. It was useless; he would have to hide out until third period, or risk being written up. Benny slowed his peddling to a comfortable cruise and looked for a place to lay low.
As Benny neared the middle school, he heard music, a beat, like hip-hop, but new, and vibrant; something alive. It excited him. After a minute of searching for the source of the beat, he guided his bicycle into a cement water ditch that bordered the school parking lot, careful to avoid campus security, where he spied a lone boy, sitting with his lunch set out on his lap, one hand held over his mouth and nose, his body swaying left and right and bobbing with the beat, and the beat itself, seeming to emanate from the boy’s mouth. It looked like Benny wasn’t the only sixth grader missing in action.
After he was satisfied listening for a moment or two, Benny said, “I’ll be darned. Now that’s cool. What do you call that?”
The boy started, and looked wide-eyed at Benny. Seeing who he was, or wasn’t, the boy calmed, and asked, “What’s that, who are you?”
“Said you’re really good at,” Benny shaped the word with his hands, “those beats. Mind if I hang out for a minute? I need a place to avoid faculty until the bell. You go here right? You must be new. How long you been doing that for?”
“Well,” stammered the boy, “I mean you can hang out—sure, I don’t mind—” the boy stood, spilling his sandwich into the dust, “no, dang it! Oh, I mean, I don’t mind at all…” He blushed and Benny tried not to notice. “Jeez. I—hey, I got some other food stuff here you know. My name’s Jameson. Trevor Jameson. You aren’t hungry, are you?”
Benny started shaking his head. Normally Benny did not take food from anyone but his mother; it just didn’t seem like something that you did anymore. People had plenty of food. The days of boney children and soup kitchens were over, weren’t they? And something about taking food, even offered food, made Benny feel like a beggar.
“I have plenty,” Jameson insisted, “Really, my dad’s not much of a cook, and he says the prices of school food are ridiculous, but…” he lifted the butt of his backpack, letting loose not book, nor pen, nor scrap of paper; rather, a trove of salty, sweet snacks that fell at Benny’s feet, displaying themselves in kisses of sunlight that twinkled in through the maple leaves above. “He buys these in bulk from base.” Jameson smiled.
When his stomach saw the pile of potato chips and bars of chocolate wafers, Benny’s will was overcome. “You know what,” he said, “I haven’t eaten in days.” And after leaning his bike against the chain link fence, the two boys sat, cross-legged, facing each other, tearing into there treats and talking excitedly.
“Well, heck yeah I heard of you,” said Jameson. “You should of told me who you were right off. Isn’t that something. Benny Alvarez, at my school. And here I am sitting with him: ‘El Toro’! You know, my school played you in the first quarter before I transferred here; I saw you run down three of our biggest blockers to get to that ball—you were a beast!”
“Sure,” Benny turned and pointed at the marker on his back, “that was the game that earned me this. I’m starting line tonight for the Veterans Day Bowl . It’s a big deal I guess; I’m one of the youngest they’ve had. They mostly use their all-stars I guess. The coach tells me as long as I perform like I have been, I’ll have a long career in ball.”
“I’ll be darned.”
“Yeah, well, I didn’t mean to interrupt your practice or anything. I just heard while I was passing by. That’s real cool stuff.”
“Oh, that’s—it’s nothing really. I do it sometimes when I’m by myself, or think I’m by myself anyway. But, most people find it annoying I guess, so I usually take to doing it where I won’t bother anybody.” He held his face and palms to the sky, then back to Benny. “It’s stupid, but it’s kind of fun to do when you can’t afford real entertainment, you know? ”
Jameson’s eyes fixed on Benny’s. They were a light green, shades lighter than his brand less trucker’s cap, the sea-foam green of Benny’s mother’s eyes; but no, they were his mother’s eyes; hurt eyes, tired from salty sorrow and aching from heart break and want; but, then they were Jameson’s eyes again, and Benny stuffed a handful of chips into his mouth. “I don’t think it’s stupid,” he said. “You got a good thing there. A real good talent. I would try and take it as far as I could.”
“You think so?”
“Sure,” said Benny. “In fact, I’m pretty sure they have a hip-hop music and dance club at our school.”
“Really?” Jameson studied Benny’s face.
“I believe so. I would ask the front office, or a teacher. That is, if you ever end up going back to class.” Jameson smiled and picked at the dirt with a twig. “You know. If the hip-hop club thing doesn’t work out,” Benny hesitated, “well, middle school can be rough without friends and—you seem like a decent kid and—I’m just trying to say, I kind of have this group of friends and we look out for each other. Anyway, if the hip-hop club doesn’t work out, you might hang out some time. I think they might agree with me.”
“That sounds awesome!” His excitement embarrassed him, so he once again looked to the floor; then back to Benny, “Hey, what do you play?”
“Me?” Asked Benny.
“Yeah, what instrument?”
“I don’t play a thing—I play football; tight end.”
“It just seemed like you knew what you were talking about. Have you ever tried beat-boxing?”
“Is that what you call it?”
Jameson’s voice broke as he spoke, “You want to try it?”
“No, no. Not me. I couldn’t do that.”
Jameson ignored Benny and slid closer. He pursed his lips and pointed. “You see?” He positioned his mouth and repositioned until the action was clear to Benny. “Put your mouth like this, see?” Benny offered a little protest, but eventually went along with the entire lesson. After several minutes of spitting, popping, coughing and laughing, both master and pupil had had enough. “Well,” said Jameson, wiping spittle from his chin and tears from his eyes, “I guess it really isn’t as easy at it looks.”
“I told you, I don’t have a musical bone in my body. I find them in the other team; then I break them.” Jameson spurts the partially chewed wafer from his mouth in a honking laugh, and this made Benny laugh in response. “I think that will be the end of my beat-boxing career for a while. I’ll stick to the pigskin.”
“If you say so,” chuckled Jameson. “But seriously, I think you could make a heck of a beat-boxer. Mexicans make really good beat-boxers. What? I’m not being racist! You got the lips for it. What?” Then the pair were off laughing again.
Benny and Jameson reached the middle school just in time; the bell marking the end of second period rang as the two boys finished locking up Benny’s bike and slipped into the campus’s West entrance. They managed to wade into the students flowing out of their classrooms without being spotted, and parted ways once they were sure they were safe. Benny couldn’t stop thinking about Jameson as he shouldered his way through the crowds. He kept replaying the visceral beats through his head and wanting to hear them again. It really was something, and Benny was eager, stepping into his third period English class, where he could tell the group all about it.
“Has everyone in this group forgotten how to use their phones?” Asked Shaun when Benny had taken his seat at his usual desk near Michael and Nicholson.
“Keep your undies on Shaun,” said Benny. “I had a doctor’s appointment this morning, my phone was on silent. Where’s Tate at?”
Shaun threw his sunglasses on his desk and rubbed his eyes. He held out his phone. Benny leaned forward to squint and read the tiny notification that read, ‘Outgoing Calls: Benny (El Toro): 8.’
Benny checked his phone and saw that Shaun was right. “I’m sorry, I guess I didn’t hear it over the beat-boxing.”
“Beat-boxing? Beat-boxing? Benny, this is serious. While you were out playing Middle School Musical, Tate was being beat-boxed in the face by some maniac. Me and Michael found him this morning after break. It looked like he made the wrong person mad this time Benny. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. Where the heck were you last class?”
Michael sat with a dazed look on his face, staring at his hands. “How can someone hurt a person that much? I couldn’t even hit a dude in the face.”
“It was one of Shiever’s little bros if you ask me,” said Nicholson. He was a huge sixth grader, his bulk mostly due to his being held back. He hunched over his desk, slowly grounding a banana in his cheek. He was a part of the group through Benny; a heck of a halfback, but not yet a full member. “They’ve never liked Tate,” Nicholson continued, “and they talk a lot of smack. They’ve been wanting to tune up Tate since they heard he was coming here last year.”
Benny cursed. “That’s all we know?” His fingers were bulged in fists and the desks nearby scooted closer. “What—how bad did they mess him up? Tate’s just a little guy, I mean, why would they mess him up so bad? Why wouldn’t he know who it was?”
Shaun shrugged out a sigh. “Tate didn’t know the kid. All he could tell us was that he didn’t know him, that he was medium height, medium build; but you know Tate, he might not be giving us the whole story, so I don’t know. Nicholson claims some kids saw Tate in the hall working on homework, listening to his iPod when he got into it with some other kid in a green hat over music or something; that’s what got us thinking it was Shiever.”
“What kind of music, Nicholson?” Asked Benny.
“Well it wasn’t really music, music. It was a kind of rapping, they said. More like, he was saying some stuff, but he was making the music too, you know? Like a trick with his mouth or something. They said it wasn’t anything like they’ve heard. I don’t know, maybe the guy was messing with Tate? Does this make any sense to you Benny? Benny?”
Benny sat, looking at the eraser head of his pencil, remembering Jameson in his mind. “When did you say Tate was attacked, Shaun?”
“It had to be sometime before break today.”
“And no one has seen this kid since? And you say he was making those noises with his mouth? In a green hat?”
“What is it Benny?” Asked Michael, “What are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking I might have just hung out with the kid that beat up one of my best friends.”
Benny and Nicholson crossed the courtyard towards the gymnasium, a bustle of students weaving by them. Their eyes fixed on the posting of events beside the doors. When they were close enough, they began flipping through a shredded nest of club advertisements posted on a large cork board.
Nicholson found the flyer first. He tore it from its pin and jammed his half-eaten protein bar at the front photo. “Look Benny, this the tip-top club thing?”
“Hip-hop,” said Benny. “It’s called hip-hop.” Benny took the flyer from Nicholson’s large hand. He recognized the intimidating kid in the photo, holding the microphone, to be Quinton Hardknoll. He was surrounded by four other boys and one girl, all doing their best to sell their attitudes to the camera. Hardknoll’s younger brother played second string for Benny, and he knew him well. He heard that Quinton was actually a pretty sweet guy when he wasn’t rapping about shooting and stealing. And all the lyrics about violence and drugs? They were just part of the art. At least that’s what his brother had told Benny. Below the photo were three lines of text in large type:
TMS Dance + Hip-Hop Crew
1st Schedule Lunch – Room 901
Bring Talent or Stay Home
“Looks like this is it,” said Benny. “If he’s not here, then I don’t know what to do. This kid seemed to disappear. I don’t get why no one can give a straight answer around here.”
“Maybe because he didn’t tell you where he was really going?”
“What do you want to do about this, Nicholson?”
“I don’t know El Toro, bro. You didn’t tell me there was a club of these bead-boxer-dudes at school. It’s seeming less and less likely. I don’t want to ruin some random kid’s day.”
Benny’s mind had been lapsing between confidence and panic, like water spilling out of a full glass, when you’re trying to sneak it back to bed, ever since he thought Jameson could be the one who beat up Tate. He was usually sure about things. His father’s absence left a gap he filled for his mother with a juvenile capability that he prided in himself. He fostered it in himself. Until this moment, Benny had never come across a situation that challenged his cool, rational detachment. But something about Jameson. Something about this one; didn’t seem right.
“I’m not saying that I’m sure it’s Jameson,” he said. “I’ve never seen him before, he’s medium build, and that before today, I don’t think I’ve ever seen another kid beat-box in person. We don’t have any other idea of who did this to Tate, so Jameson’s our best bet. We have rules. We can’t let something like this happen without consequences, right? If it does, what’s the point of our group?”
“I-I know, I know. I still don’t think it’s much to go on. From what you told us, he kind of seems like a nice kid. So what if he wasn’t in the classroom he told you he would be? If he’s here, then it means he took your advice doesn’t it? That doesn’t seem like a wacko to me. And whoever did that to Tate had to be a wacka-doodle, don’t you agree? I just don’t know Benny. I kind of feel bad rushing in there and dragging the kid out of his club. Especially a new kid? Man that’s cold. Going to be rough on his social status. That’s the kind of things kids will talk about around here. It will be funny as heck. Sure will. But what if we got the wrong guy?”
“I don’t know. Maybe you’re right, I can’t treat him like this. We can’t just rush in and humiliate him. But we need to take care of this now. We can’t let whoever did this to Tate get away with it.”
Nicholson screwed up his face, widened his eyes, then sighed. He seemed to give up. He picked at his ear, and flicked something into the air and said almost to himself, “Let’s just take him to Tate.”
“Take Jameson to Tate? You mean so Tate can tell us if it was Jameson who attacked him?”
Nicholson stopped rolling his fingers together and looked excitedly at Benny. “Sure,” he said. “Seems to me that would clear it up. And that way, none of us have to be too accusing about it either way.”
“Nicholson, I think that’s the smartest thing you’ve ever said.”
The boys crossed the basketball court, through the doors to the back halls that housed the nine-hundred classrooms. When Benny knocked on the door to room nine-o’-one. The boy who answered, a bulky upperclassmen, glared down on them with bared teeth. Nicholson noticeably shifted position behind Benny, who stood a full foot shorter than himself. Benny and Nicholson recognized the boy as Quinton Hardknoll. To their relief, Hardknoll’s glower softened at the sight of the boys’ jerseys. “My brother plays ball. You better not mess with him. What do you all want?”
Nicholson chewed helplessly—shrugging—and pointed to Benny. Benny asked, “Is there a kid named Trevor Jameson in this room? He’ll be new.”
Hardknoll looked over their shoulders. They turned to see what was there; but Quinton seemed to stare at nothing. He shook his head slowly. “He a little white kid?”
Nicholson nodded eagerly. “In a green hat? That’s him!”
Quinton still wouldn’t look at us. “That kid’s got talent. Real talent. The kind that comes from being hungry. Do you kids know what it means to be hungry?” He waited. Benny and Nicholson said nothing. “He’s got problems too, you know?”
“What kind of problems?” Asked Benny.
“I don’t know. I can just tell. He’s got talent though. Hey, what they heck do you want with him anyway?”
Benny felt the surge of primal fear leap up his back, closely followed by adrenaline, and readiness. Behind Hardknoll, Benny was suddenly aware of the tens of hulking and slinking bodies, all confidently laughing and interacting. “Listen Quinton,” he said, “we just want to talk with Jameson; take him up to the nurse.”
“That’s right,” said Nicholson, sensing the urgency of his help, syphoning out his courage, “it’s life or death bro—I mean, sir—we got a friend laid up bad. If we don’t find him soon, Benny’s gonna miss the Veterans Day Bowl ; and he’s starting!”
Quinton started closing the door and Benny said, “It’s Tate Russet. We think he beat up Tate Russet.”
Quinton cursed then looked Benny in the eyes and said, “They got a sixth grader starting at the Veterans Day Bowl now, huh?” He widened the door. “You really think this Jameson kid beat up a Russet?” He shook his hand. “Forget it. Tell me when you know. I don’t want to hear until you know. I’ll get him for you. Just do me a favor. If he didn’t do it; if you’re boy says he wasn’t the dude; send him on back here all right?”
“Sure,” said Benny, “all right Quinton, I’ll do that.” Quinton turned to leave, then Benny added, “And what if he did do it?”
Quinton turned slowly and looked Benny in the eyes for several seconds. “If he did do it, you should probably take care of business. If you don’t, the Russet’s will. That Tate kid’s something else.”
Benny and Nicholson nodded together. “Yes he is,” said Benny.
When Jameson had been ushered out and the door was closed behind him, Benny positively beamed at us. “Hello, Benny! Hello, Benny’s friend. Hey Benny, thanks so much for telling me about this club. I really mean it. They really love me in here. They really think I’m good at something. They think I’m good at something. I mean, there’s a lot that I don’t know, I mean, I can’t afford all the CDs they can, but they said they will have me in shape in time for the school talent show! They say we’re going to perform, and—heck!—I’m going to be their featured performer!”
Benny rubbed the warm spot at the back of his neck. “Is that right? Well, that sounds great Jameson. But me and Nicholson didn’t come here to talk about the club.”
“Nope.” Benny couldn’t look Jameson in his mother’s eyes. But, was there a different way of doing things? He looked to Nicholson; gave a nod.
Nicholson wrapped a great arm around Jameson’s shoulders. “You see, our friend was tuned up pretty bad by some unknown goober bean, so me and Benny here are trying to weasel out who said goob might be.”
“Oh my gosh. That sounds terrible. Who was hurt?”
“His name is Tate,” said Benny. “Tate Russet.”
Jameson searched his memory with his eyes, but nothing came. “No, I don’t know him. I’m new here, but I’ll make sure I keep an ear out.”
“We appreciate that,” continued Benny, “But there’s something else. Tate said that the boy who attacked him; well, he’s never seen him before. That means he’s most likely a new student. Like you.”
Jameson laughed. “I can’t be the only new student at Thompson can I?”
“No,” said Nicholson, “you can’t but then there’s your little beat-boppin’ too.”
“What? What does that have to do with it? Benny told me just this morning how much he liked it. Now I’m being accused for it?”
Benny said, “No one’s accusing you of anything. But, some witnesses claim the person who fought with Tate was a beat-boxer. Not only that, but they were dressed like you.”
“It seems like you two have already made up your minds. I’m telling you, I didn’t have anything to do with it.”
Benny frowned and held up his hands. “We’re just making sure we aren’t missing anything. It would make it a lot easier if you just helped us out.”
“Do you have an iPod?” Nicholson pulled Benny’s ear to his mouth and whispered, “Now we’ll see if he has Tate’s iPod!” Benny grinned.
“Sure I have an iPod,” said Jameson, “everybody has one now, don’t they?”
“Sure they do,” said Nicholson, “sure they do. Let’s see it.”
“They all look the same don’t they?” Chuckled Jameson. Benny and Nicholson stared, lips pressed together. “Okay, okay.” Jameson produced a shining white iPod from his dirty front jean pocket and held it out for them to inspect.
Nicholson laughed triumphantly and Benny cursed and kicked the painted mascot on the wall. Jameson jumped and held out his hands, his eyes darting between the two bulls. Benny pulled Nicholson into private council and whispered, “So… Is this it? Is this Tate’s iPod?”
Nicholson ground his teeth and spat. He held his fists on his waist. He gave Benny a confused look and his face drooped. “I don’t know,” he whispered, “I thought you would know.” The two turned the iPod over in their hands; on the back was a small engraving that read:
“Turn it on,” Nicholson demanded.
“Can’t, it died last period.”
“What’s RDMC mean?” Asked Benny.
“Ruth. Diane. Marie. Corinth.” Jameson finished and there were tears in his eyes. “My ma’. She gave it to me before she… Before she…” He could not finish.
“Oh,” said Benny. Benny and Nicholson exchanged shameful glances and Nicholson returned the iPod.
“Sorry bro,” said Nicholson. “You see, Tate had his iPod stolen after the attack. I had to check.”
“It’s all right,” said Jameson. “So you just want me to go see your friend—Tate?—and have him confirm it wasn’t me who hit him? Then we’ll be cool?”
Benny shifted his feet, feeling suddenly that he was in a very foolish position. “Yes,” he said, “that sounds like the gist of it.”
Jameson sighed and shouldered his backpack. “Well then,” he said. “as soon as I’m done here, we can go.”
“I think we better go now,” said Benny. “Lunch is almost over. And I don’t know how long they’ll keep Tate at the nurse.”
Jameson shot a look down the cement corridor to the sunlit track beyond, then back. “Well… If you’re sure… Okay then, Benny,” he said. “Okay.”
On the way to the nurse, Benny kept a close eye on Jameson to make sure he didn’t try to run, but that time never came. He couldn’t figure the boy out. Either he was completely innocent, or he was one heck of a lying manipulator. He even let out with a few beats along the way. Benny couldn’t help but casting raised brows at Nicholson every few feet on the way to the main office, but Nicholson never failed to take the gesture as an invitation to a dirty joke, so eventually, Benny quit.
But just before they reached the office, Shaun came running to meet them, waving his hands out in front of him. “Hold up, hold up, fools,” he breathed. “Is this the guy?”
“Yeah,” said Benny, “this is Jameson. But we’re just taking him to see Tate so he can make sure he’s the right guy.”
Shaun whipped his arms in a circle and power-kicked the nearest trash can with a hollow thud. “Why did Edison invent the cell phone? Why do we live in the twenty-first century people? Check you dang phones people!”
Benny and Nicholson both search their pockets and focus too long on the home screens of their phones. “They sent him home,” Nicholson said finally.
“Yes,” said Shaun. “They had to send him to emergency!”
“No way,” said Benny. “Christ…”
“Gosh,” said Jameson, “I’m really, really sorry about your friend Benny.”
“I don’t want to be rude. But, there is some lunch time left, and if I can get back to the club and catch up on the routine for the talent show; I’m really excited.”
Benny, Shaun, and Nicholson exchanged looks. Benny sighed. “Go ahead Jameson, we don’t need anything from you. We’re sorry we pulled you out like that.”
“Oh, totally bro,” said Nicholson, “and good luck on the be-bop.”
They watched Jameson go, and just before he disappeared behind the corner, Benny called after him, “Jameson!” and Jameson stopped and turned to listen. “Tate won’t be in the hospital forever. And when he gets out. If it’s all the same, why don’t we do this again. Because I got to tell you. I don’t know if you had anything to do with it, but something in me doesn’t feel right. If you did hurt my friend though; if you did him like that; well, I just want you to think about that between now and then. Because me and my friends don’t let that kind of stuff happen to each other you understand?”
Jameson stood in silence for a minute. “Is that all, Benny?”
“That’s all,” said Benny.
“All right,” said Jameson. “Let me know when your friend is better. Maybe I can play him a beat? See you boys around.” Then he was gone.
Nicholson picked at his nose. “What do you think Benny? I got this funny feeling inside. Do you think it was him, or do you think we’re just going crazy here?”
Benny clicked his front teeth together. “I don’t know Nicholson. I just don’t know. But no matter what, I know we don’t have the full story. Shaun, did you get anything else from Tate?”
“Naw man. Nothing.”
Just then, Michael came trotting to the group, carrying a large red tray covered in small paper boats filled to overflowing with tater-tots. “Yo dudes, what’s up. Did you catch the kid?”
“We don’t know,” said Benny.
“That wasn’t him was it? Trevor Jameson?”
“You know Jameson?” Asked Benny.
“No, not really,” said Michael, “I was just going to say, it made sense.”
“Jameson. He’s poor enough. It makes sense for him to steal Tate’s iPod like that.”
“He wouldn’t steal it,” said Nicholson, “he has one. Me and Benny saw it ourselves, didn’t we El Toro?”
Michael popped a tot and raised his brow, “That’s news to me. How do you know it was his?”
“We checked it out. It was dead, but it was customized with his mom’s initials and everything.”
“His mom’s initials? What were they?”
“RDMC,” said Benny.
“RDMC?” Asked Michael. “Are you sure?”
“RDMC,” said Nicholson, “Yep, that’s what it was for sure.”
“Benny,” said Michael, “RDMC is what Tate has engraved on the back of his iPod. Haven’t you ever seen it?”
“Yeah right, Tate doesn’t let’s people touch his stuff.”
“Yeah, well I touch anyway. The point is, RDMC isn’t somebody’s mom’s initials, it stands for frickin’ Run DMC! His dad wouldn’t let him get it spelled out because he said it was stupid. His dad was right if you ask me.” He popped another tot.
“Wait a minute,” said Benny. “Are you telling me that Tate’s iPod is white, and has the initials RDMC engraved on the back of it? So Jameson was… Stay here you guys, I have to go take care of this.”
“Woo-hoo!” Cheered Nicholson. “Get him El Toro!”
“Turn that weirdo up,” said Shaun. “Do it for Tate man. You saw what he did to him.”
“No!” Michael choked his protest through a mouthful of potato. “Shaun, your test! You can’t! The bell’s going to ring any minute. You can’t miss the test. If you miss the Veterans Day Bowl, if you get kicked off the team; you won’t be a jock! If your not a jock, then we don’t have a jock! And if we don’t have a jock—”
“Chill out Michael,” said Benny. “I’m not going to miss the test. And you got Nicholson anyway. I can’t let Jameson get away with this. I bet the little mongrel will never show his face at school again; then we’ll never have a chance to make things right. He probably goes from school to school like this!”
“You sure El Toro?” Nicholson called after Benny. “I can take care of it.”
Michael shook his head furiously. Shaun shrugged.
Benny licked his lips and said, “No. No, this is something I’ve got to do myself.”
Benny raced after Jameson’s bobbing head in the crowd of students as the fourth period bell sounded through campus. He nearly lost him once or twice, and he saw immediately he was not headed towards the gymnasium. The chase had taken them to the opposite end of school from Benny’s fourth period social studies class, far from his passing grade, from the glory of the Veterans Day Bowl , and a promising middle school football career; nevertheless, Benny would not let Jameson get away this time.
Benny finally caught up to Jameson as they reached an area nearby where they first met in the ditch behind the faculty parking. Benny called out in a condemning tone, “I thought you couldn’t afford real entertainment.”
Both sneakers came to a scuffling, breathless halt. Jameson turned. “What do you want now, Benny?”
“Where are you going, Jameson?” Asked Benny. “Gym’s the other way.”
“I’m not going to the gym,” said Jameson.
“Why the heck did you do him so bad? There’s been time’s I’ve wanted to lay one on him myself, but the way I hear it, you smashed him up. I just don’t get it.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about Benny.”
“Cut it out man. The iPod, the initials, RDMC, they’re not your mom’s. Tate has those initials engraved on the back of his iPod. That’s his iPod in your pocket. You lied to us.”
Jameson opened his mouth; dropped his head. “Sure. Sure. What are you going to do to me? Hm? El Toro? You going to beat me up? You gonna make fun of me too?”
“So it was you?”
“I was in the three hundred buildings, keeping to myself, practicing some new beats, whatever. Then out of no where, this ridiculous looking kid in a jump suit and yellow glasses—”
“That’d be Tate—“
“He steps up to me and starts making fun of me, calling me names, telling me to buy a real MP3 player, all the time his giant red hair waggling right in my nose… I don’t know what to tell you, Benny… I just lost it. I can’t help it sometimes. I know I have a problem with my anger. My dad has a problem with his anger. He tells me I have to find ways to direct it like he did; go into the military; the Marines. But I can’t do it. I can’t do that. I wan’t to make music, but I can’t control it. I want to control it. I try to be nice, like with you, that’s really me, I promise, it’s just… Kids are mean, Benny; Kids are damn mean.”
Benny shook his head and paced left to right. “Do you still have that iPod?” He asked.
Jameson put his hand in his pocket, but Benny waved him off. “No. Keep it. Listen to me. You want to know what I’m going to do to you? I’m going to give you advice. Now, it’s your choice to take it or not, but I’m going to give it to you, and that’s the price you’ll pay for all this, you understand? Good. My guys want me to tear your head off. They want blood. But I don’t think that’s going to get anybody anywhere. You want to run away with that stolen iPod and transfer to another school and get into another fight and do this all over again, and that won’t get anybody anywhere either. So I’ll tell you what I think you should do. I think you need to leave Ingberg County. What you did to Tate won’t go unanswered. I can’t protect you. Your dad won’t be able to protect you. Unfortunately, he has soft skin and his parents have a deep wallet. But if they get a hold of you, you’re going to juvie, and that’s the same path my dad went down, and that’s just going to end in jail and prison. You need to go somewhere else; I don’t know where, somewhere better. I don’t know, I don’t have the answers. From what I’ve seen and heard, you’ve got a heck of a lot of talent. You’ve got potential and I don’t want you to throw it away.”
Why not? Such a simple question. Why not? So simple, but Benny couldn’t think of a reasonable answer. “I don’t know, but you need to get out of here, and go somewhere far away. This isn’t the place for people like you—us; people like us. It’s important you hear me. Most kids don’t listen, but you need to listen.”
“But won’t they still look for me?”
“No,” said Benny. “I’m going to tell them I came after you. I’m going to tell them I caught up to you and checked the iPod and; well, it was a mistake, it was your mom’s initials you see, we got it wrong, and you even had it charged up so I could see.”
“Why would you do that for me Benny? I lied to you. I hurt your friend. No one’s ever been nice to me, not even my own dad. Why the heck would you care? Why would you care about what I do with my stupid hobby, huh?”
Benny thought for a long time, rubbing his mouth and forehead. Then he laughed and bit his lip. “Because you shared your food with me. And I was hungry.” This was all the answer he could give. The two boys stood together in the ditch, seeing each other fully under the high afternoon sun. Then Jameson turned, and head up the waterway.
The boy in the red jersey with the nickname “El Toro” written in permanent marker over the number 03 on the back knelt down in the dirt and the dried up grass of fall, watching Trevor Jameson bound right to left over the slender stream, small and divided by the delicate branches of bushes and untrimmed trees, until he had dissolved, and gone, forever.
Later that week, Jameson returned home from the hospital. He had a few bruised ribs, a fractured cheek; he would live. The boys chose to believe Benny’s story about Jameson and the mix up, and they all set to planning the capture of the true assailant. But Benny and his friends never found him. Missing his first four periods did not result in Benny’s suspension; however, it did result in a failing grade on a certain social studies test, and a temporary suspension from football, meaning Benny had to watch Nicholson crush the Bronson Bears, 12-0. But, as Benny sat with his small group—Shaun, Michael, Tate, Nicholson—thinking about Jameson, imagining he was getting on better somewhere, gentler somewhere, with people who would accept him for who he was; before they ostracized him for who he wanted to be; he did not feel his life had ended with missing the Veterans Day Bowl; rather, something old had been uprooted, and a new, exciting energy had taken deep seed in its place.