Skywriting at Night

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Chapter 11

     Jet was walking into his English class when Rubber Boots came running up behind him. "Did you hear about the Food House?"

     "Yeah, they sell food there, why?"

     "Not that. The robbery!" Rubber Boots said impatiently. "You know, when that guy broke in and stole all the bags?"

     "When did this happen?"

     "The other night. Didn't you hear?"

     "Don’t think so."

     "God, it's been all over the place," Rubber Boots said. "Some guy broke into the Food House a couple of nights ago, but instead of taking the money he stole all the paper bags in the place."

     "What for?" Jet asked innocently.

     "I don't know. It doesn't make much sense, but it was kinda cool."

     "You're shittin' me," Jet said.

     "No, it was in the paper and on TV and everybody's been talking about it, I mean..." Rubber Boots stopped and looked curiously at Jet. "You're pulling my leg, aren't you?"

     Jet held his hands towards Rubber Boots with his palms outstretched. "At no time did my hands leave my arms."

     "Damn," Rubber Boots said, feeling foolish at being taken by Jet, "When will I learn?"

     "I don’t know, but as I see it you’ve got two choices: you can either live and learn, or die and forget," Jet said.

     "Ya know what was really cool about it?"

     "What?"

     Rubber Boots looked around to make sure no one was listening. "It happened the same night we went to the library."

     "So?"

     "So if the cops find out they'll probably wanna question us."

     "For what?"

     "As suspects," Rubber Boots said, then dropping his voice half an octave to where he hoped it would remain once it finally decided to change, "Where were you on the night of the robbery? Come clean, boys, we know you don't have an alibi." Jet shook his head slowly. "At the library, huh? That's a likely story. Were there any witnesses?  Can you prove what time you left? Did you see anyone suspicious on your way home?" Rubber Boots' eyes lit up and his voice reverted to its usual soprano range. "Wait a minute! We did see someone on our way home, remember?"

     "So?"

     "So I bet Johnny and the Turk did it!"

     Jet clapped his hand over his friend's mouth. "Sh-h-h-h! You wanna really get us in trouble?"

     Rubber Boots pulled Jet's hand off his mouth. "You don’t think they really did it, do you?" he asked in quiet awe.

     "I don't know," Jet said, "but I sure wouldn't say things like that too loud if I were you."

     Jet left Rubber Boots standing with his eyes wide and his jaw hanging. He walked into the classroom and took his seat. Hanner was holding a compact in her hand, trying to brush her hair to an even density in front of her eyes while futilely peeking through the strands to view the results in the small mirror.

     Jose Rosenbloom was napping in his chair, his huge head lolling backwards over Jet's desktop, obliterating the surface in a full cranial eclipse which forced Jet to hold his books on his lap. Neckless was sitting stock upright as if his mother had given him a broomstick suppository after breakfast, his turtleneck pulled completely over his head. Johnny had yet to show up.

     "Neckless," Jet whispered. "Hey! Neckless."

     "Wha?" came the muffled answer.

     "What's with the new look?"

     "You like it?"

     "It’s an improvement," Jet said.

     "That's what I figured, but it's hard to tell from in here."

     Jet turned to Hanner, who was now rearranging her hair in front of her eyes strand by strand. "Can I borrow that for a second?"

     Hanner tried to look at Jet out of the corner of her eye so as not to disturb her hair as he reached over and took the compact. "I'll give it right back."

     He turned and held the mirror in front of the headless wonder.  "Check it out in the mirror," Jet said. "What do you think?"

     Neckless turned his body towards Jet, then tilted his head first one way, then the other. "I can't see a thing," he said.

     "And?" Jet asked.

     "I like it."

     Jet held the compact out to Hanner. "Thanks," he said. Hanner turned her eyes towards Jet, trying to see through her hair as her hand impotently groped the air. Jet took her hand, held it palm up, and placed the compact in her hand.  Hanner nodded her head ever so slightly, her well-placed bangs barely budging.

     Miss Hellstrom walked into the room and sat on the front edge of her desk.  "Good morning, class."

     "Good morning, Miss Hellstrom," they said with no semblance of unity.

     "Mr. Rosenbloom, we're ready to begin."

     Jose sat motionless, his head thrown back, his Adam's apple jutting obscenely from his neck. His mouth hung wide open, spittle forming a jagged, slippery trail to his chin. Poses like this can make bachelorhood a forgone conclusion.

     "Jose! Wake up," Jet whispered.

     "Mr. Rosenbloom," the teacher said, "desks are for learning, beds are for sleeping. If you're really that tired I suggest you go see the nurse and get excused from school. Then you can come back tomorrow well rested and be an active participant in this class."

     Jet kicked the bottom of Jose’s chair.

     "I'd like to think you're exhausted from spending inordinate amounts of time doing your homework for this class," Miss Hellstrom continued, "but judging by your grade history and class participation, I tend to discount that theory."

     "Dammit, Jose! Wake...."

     CRASH! Everyone jumped in their seats as the classroom door slammed shut.  Everyone except Jose. Johnny Kasouska sauntered into the room with all the urgency of a Sunday stroll in the park.

     "You're late, Mr. Kasouska," the teacher said.

     "Duh."

     "Do you have a note?"

     Four people in the class hummed a note. The teacher glared, instantly silencing the drone. Johnny handed her a crumpled piece of paper, then stood silently, shifting from foot to foot as she unfolded and read the note. She looked at him questioningly. He shrugged his shoulders.

     Johnny strolled past the teacher and spotted Jose, still lost to the world. He leaned down and put his mouth near Jose's ear.

     "Federales!" he yelled. Jose remained motionless.

     "Remember the Alamo!" Still no response.

     Johnny looked up at Miss Hellstrom, "Maybe he's croaked, Teach."

     He put his mouth right next to Jose's ear. "Oh Jose," he softly murmured, "you must take me again, you over-sized specimen of manhood. Only more forcefully this time."  Jose began to stir, first his crotch, then his head. "I've never had a man who could make me feel the way you do." Jose moaned gently. "Take me, Jose. Take me like you've never taken a woman before."

     Jose jerked his eyes open.

     "Take me home for tacos," Johnny said as he stood up and walked to his seat.

     "Well, good morning, Mr. Rosenbloom. I'm glad you could join us," Miss Hellstrom said as she turned and walked to the blackboard. "Now let's begin, class."

* * * * * *

     Ten minutes later, a jiggling motion caught Jet's eye. It was Rubber Boots waving a small piece of paper from his seat two rows away . Jet raised his eyebrows questioningly. Rubber Boots pointed to the paper, then at Jet.  Universal School Sign Language for: "This note's for you." Jet pointed at the paper and then at himself: "That note's for me?" Rubber Boots nodded furiously: "Yes".  Jet waved his hand beckoningly: "Well, bring it on."

     Rubber Boots waited until the teacher turned toward the blackboard. He thrust his hand out, holding the note in front of Neckless. As the teacher turned back to the class, Rubber Boots yanked his arm back, slapping the note loudly on his desk and covering it with both hands. Miss Hellstrom picked up a book and began to read aloud. Rubber Boots looked at Jet, who beckoned with his hand. Rubber Boots again jabbed the note in front of Neckless.

     "Pssst," he whispered. "Pass this to Jet."

     Neckless, who couldn't see the note through his turtleneck mask, turned towards Rubber Boots. "What?" he said loudly.

     "Shhh. Pass this to Jet, will ya?"

     "Pass what to Jet?"

     "This note."

     "What note?"

     "This note."

     Neckless blindly put his hand out for the note, smacking Elise Baum—the blonde who sat in front of him and was unaffectionately known as the Blonde Bomber—in the side of the face.

     "Hey!" she barked in surprise, "what the hell you doin'?"

     "Sorry."

     "You're gonna be sorry if you do that again."

     "I said I'm sorry."

     "What's going on over there?" the teacher said, looking up from her book.

     "Nothing, Miss Hellstrom," Elise said ever so sweetly.

     The teacher went back to reading aloud as Rubber Boots put the note on Neckless’ desk. "It's right in front of you," he whispered. "Now give it to Jet."

     Neckless put both of his hands on his desk, blindly groping the desktop until he knocked the note to the floor.  Hearing it fall, he leaned over to the left just as Jet bent down towards his right, each grabbing for the fallen note. Their heads hit, making a loud cracking noise like two wet woodblocks.

     "What is going on back there?"

     "Nothing," Jet said as he scooped up the note. He and Neckless were each rubbing their heads.

     "I'll take that," Miss Hellstrom said as she strode quickly towards Jet.

     "I wish you could," Jet said, "but I think the bump's gonna be all mine."

     "The note, Mr. Banker."

     "What note?"

     "The one you have in your hand," she said, now hovering over Jet's desk.

     "That's not a note."

     Johnny leaned over Jet's shoulder to take a look. "Looks like a note to me," he said. Jet turned and glared at Johnny. "Of course I could be mistaken," Johnny continued, "it might be your death certificate."

     "Mr. Banker?" the teacher said, holding her hand out.

     "Miss Hellstrom?" Jet said.

     "The note, please."

     Jet looked at her pleadingly, hoping that if he delayed long enough she might change her mind and go back to teaching the class. Johnny kicked the underside of Jet's seat.

     "She said please," he told Jet.

     Jet slowly handed the note, now damp and crumpled from his tight sweaty grasp, to his teacher. She walked to the front of the class and leaned against the edge of her desk.

     "I should read this aloud to the class," she said. "Would you like that?"

     "Yeah!" the class yelled enthusiastically.

     "I was talking to Mr. Banker."

     "I don't think so," Jet said.

     "You don't think so?"

     "Well, I don't know what it says, so I really can't say for sure."

     "Then why don’t we all find out together?"

     Rubber Boots was frantically looking at Jet, his eyes wide with fear, his mouth silently screaming "No!".

     "On second thought, maybe that's not such a hot idea," Jet added quickly.

     Miss Hellstrom looked at Rubber Boots, his face frozen, eyes gaping, mouth wide open. She looked back at Jet, who was trying to look as repentant as possible. This still-life tableaux lasted entirely too long.

     Finally, she dropped the note on her desk. "You may pick this up after class, Mr. Banker."

     Rubber Boots went limp, dripping in his seat. Jet leaned forward, taking refuge behind Jose's head. Neckless rubbed the swelling knot on his forehead through the fabric of his turtleneck. Johnny leaned forward and whispered at the back of Jet's head.

     "Aren't you the lucky one."

     "There's no such thing as luck," Jet said.

     "Don't I know it," Johnny said knowingly.

* * * * * *

     The bell rang. The sound of books slamming, desks shuffling, and feet hitting the floor was deafening. Jet was almost through the door when he heard his name.

     "Mr. Banker, didn't you forget something?

     Stopping abruptly in his tracks, Jet caused a twelve person pile-up that rammed into his back. He turned and fought his way against the exiting tide of students.

     "In the future, Mr. Banker, I hope you'll send your notes by mail and not pass them in my class," Miss Hellstrom told him.

     "I wasn't passing it," Jet said. "I was the passee."

     "You're still guilty," she told him. "Of being the recipient as well as making up words that aren't in the dictionary."

     "But you told us English is an evolving language."

     She picked up the note from her desk and handed it to Jet. "I strongly suspect the English language will evolve very nicely without your help, thank you."

     Jet jammed the note in his pants pocket and headed out the door. Johnny sauntered up to the teacher's desk and stood there, both hands thrust in his pockets.

     "What can I do for you, Mr. Kasouska?"

     "My excuse?" he said.

     "And what is your excuse?"

     "That excuse," he said, nodding toward the folded piece of paper on her desk.

     "What do you want it for?"

     "My scrapbook."

     She picked up the note and handed it to Johnny, who stuffed it in his shirt pocket next to his cigarettes.

     "Don't even think about trying to use it again," she told him.

     "Would I do something like that?" he asked innocently.

     The teacher shook her head. "Don't push your luck, Mr. Kasouska."

     "Luck?" Johnny said laughing. "If it wasn't for bad luck I'd have no luck at all."

* * * * * *

     Just as Jet reached the bottom of the stairs, Rubber Boots grabbed his arm and pulled him under the stairwell.

     "What'd she say?" he asked anxiously.

     "She wanted to know who the note was from."

     "Did you tell her?"

     "She said she'd fail me if I didn't."

     "Oh shit," Rubber Boots said in panic. "My parents'll kill me."

     "Can't say I'd blame 'em."

     "Man, what am I gonna do?"

     "About what?" Jet asked.

     "About this. They'll kill me when they find out."

     "They'd kill you over a lousy note?"

     "You don't know my parents."

     "Probably a good thing," Jet said. "But I wouldn't worry about it if I were you. They'll never find out."

     "How do you know?"

     "'Cause I didn't tell her a thing."

     "But she said she'd fail you," Rubber Boots said in astonishment. "You mean you'd take the rap for me?"

     "You have a lot to learn," Jet said as he put his arm around Rubber Boots' shoulders. "To me, friendship is not only sacred, it's the very foundation upon which life is based. You see, friendship is the greatest bond two people can have.  It's the strongest motivator there is—other than money, maybe." Rubber Boots smiled at Jet admiringly. "And the longer you know me, the easier it'll be for you to tell when I'm bullshitting you and when I'm not."

     Rubber Boots’ smile melted as he realized what he'd heard. He threw Jet's arm off his shoulders and pulled away.

     "Damn you!"

     Jet grinned as he pulled the note from his pocket. "Now let's see what you had to say that was so damned important you got me in trouble."

     As Jet read the note, his smile slowly changed, first to bewilderment, then to understanding, then to ironic realization. He handed the note to his friend.

     "I don't want it," Rubber Boots said. "Just trash it."

     "Read it," Jet said.

     "I don't wanna read it. I wrote it."

     "Read it," Jet said emphatically.

     Rubber Boots took the note and scrunched up his face as he read it.

To whom it may concern:
Please excuse John Kasouska's tardiness. He was detained due to official business relating to an ongoing police investigation.
Your cooperation is greatly appreciated.
Sincerely,
(signed) Officer Milo Jenkins

* * * * * *

     The Turk was standing at his locker when Johnny quietly sneaked up behind him and threw his arm around his throat in a choke hold. The Turk tried to spin around but felt the arm tighten around his neck. He grabbed Johnny's arm and futilely tried to wriggle out of the hold, flopping around like a dying fish at a weigh-in station.

     "Hey, it's only me," Johnny said as he let go.

     "It's a good thing," the Turk said as he rubbed his throat. "I was about to pulverize you with a Korean Death Flip."

     "You and how many Marines?"

     "Just me, myself and I," the Turk said.

     "Yeah, three to one and I still would've kicked your ass."

     "Hey," the Turk said, "where were you this morning anyway?"

     "I had an appointment."

     "The doctor?"

     "Nah."

     "Juvie counselor?"

     "Not even close."

     "Well, what?"

     "I had a very special meeting with some of our fine men in uniform," Johnny told him.

     "You enlisting?"

     "Wrong uniforms, dickface."

     "What, then?"

     "Guess."

     "What's this, twenty questions?" the Turk asked. "Just tell me where you were already."

     Johnny reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out the crumpled piece of paper with a flourish. The Turk took the paper and opened it. He read it once and looked at Johnny questioningly.

     "Read it again," Johnny said. "I know you can figure it out."

     The Turk read it again slowly. He looked at Johnny, then at the note, then back at Johnny. "I don't wanna sound like an idiot," the Turk said, "but I still don't get it."

     "Well you do sound like an idiot," Johnny said, then as if talking to a three year-old. "Read...it...out...loud...slowly...and...I'll...explain...it...to...you...sentence...by...sentence. Okay?"

     The Turk hated it when Johnny used that patronizing tone of voice. "You don't have to treat me like..."

     "Just read the fuckin’ thing."

     "‘Well, was I right or what?’" the Turk read aloud. "‘Did you see the look on Hellstormtrooper's face when he walked in? I thought she was going to shit a brick. What do you think? FBI? Secret Service? CIA? I'll bet you a zillion dollars they were all questioning him. If Johnny didn't knock over the Food House the other night my name isn't Rubber Boots.’"

     Johnny snatched the note from the Turk's hand. He stared at it in disbelief, giving way to understanding, then back to disbelief.

     "His name ain't Rubber Boots," Johnny said menacingly, "his name is shit."

 

Chapter 12 ]



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  Skywriting at Night - a novel by Mad Dog

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