Of Bullies and Men - Daniel Tomazic - ebook
Opis

George, a boy in 8th grade, is an underdog. He comes from a poor family, is constantly running low on cash and what little he has, he invests into books and other less-than-cool hobbies. In light of this, it may come as a surprise that his academic achievements still leave something to be desired. Maybe because he does not really try. There is one thing he is serious about, though. Not only does he come up with the most daring of pranks but he puts them into action. He has spent many a night sneaking onto school grounds, often in the company of his friends. That is where he makes his magic happen. One night, during the execution of one of his trickier pranks, think gradual flooding of the teachers’ lounge, however, he witnesses an altercation between a student and a drug dealer. It is the school bully and personal thorn in his side, Philip, who appears to have fallen in with a bad crowd. Determined to get to the bottom of things, George and his friends get involved in a dangerous game and it seems to be centered around the most popular girl at school.

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Boyle's law

Chapter 2: Aunt July and the sofas

Chapter 3: Old F's new sorrows

Chapter 4: Wrong on all accounts

Chapter 5: Jingle-Bell Rock

Chapter 6: Walls

Chapter 7: Vanishing stag

Chapter 8: Jumping Geraniums

Chapter 9: The Frenchman

Chapter 10: Going out with a bang

Chapter 1: Boyle's law

1977

”Thomson, what's the second binomial formula?“

”Well, err, A minus B-squared equals A-squared minus two X, um... two X...“ ”My dear boy! May I suggest you spend a little less time daydreaming? Binomial Formulas are an integral part of elemental algebra and are a means to depicting and solving square-binomials. They are supposed to make it simpler for you to remember things! And you can't even remember that!“

George dejectedly stared at his desk. Why did Mister Brightman always have to catch him spacing out? It wasn't that he was a terrible teacher, per se, but he had this weird talent for knowing when someone didn't know something, and a terrible habit of rubbing it in in front of everyone, to go with it. Now everybody was staring at him. Some were laughing. George, Georgy, to his friends, felt like his stomach was doing somersaults and his ears were on fire. He was pretty convinced that the warmth they emitted alone would have been enough to heat the entire room.

”Tombstone, ya dweeb, been too busy drawing those dumb ship-doodles to pay attention again?“ Said a fat boy with a mean, bloated face and a malicious sparkle in his eyes. His name was Philip and Georgy hated his guts. The feeling was mutual, it seemed. For a few seconds, they glared at each other across the room. ‘You moron‘, Georgy thought, directing all his mental energy at Philip, trying to make him drop dead on the spot ‘If your old man weren't some important toppa top, bribing the school whenever your dumb-butt is about to get suspended, you'd be long gone! How can one person suck so much? But then again, with a last name like Shytles, I guess it makes sense.‘

The bell rang and Georgy gave a relieved sigh. School was finally over. While he was practically sprinting out of the classroom, he heard Mister Brightman say: ”Homework for tomorrow: Pages 56 and 57 in your books, memorize the third binomial formula and do the exercises on the second one, which you will find on the worksheet I just handed out.“ And Philip tripped him on his way out the door, so he bumped his leg on a table. It hurt. Georgy spent the entire way home imagining how he'd make that turd pay. Like by filling his schoolbag with foam rubber, or covering the inside of his motorcycle helmet with black shoe polish, for instance. See how he'd like that.

Philip was a year older than him and was allowed to drive Mopeds. Unsurprisingly, his dad had gotten him one and he used it to try and impress girls. It was freezingly cold out.

It was the end of January, winter had returned with a vengeance and it had been snowing all night. Georgy made a face at the snow. Although his mom always gave him the money for his monthly bus tickets, he usually chose riding his bike instead. He lived one village over and it took half an hour tops, plus he preferred using the money for other things, mostly books. His allowance wasn't all that and his parents weren't exactly rich, so he needed every cent to buy new things to read. He loved everything to do with ships and seafaring, but those books weren't cheap and he was a fast reader. The ticket cost 5 dollar and he got another 4.25 in allowance. Put them together and he could make do for the better part of the month.

On days like that one, however, he did regret it a bit – a quick bus ride sounding far more appealing than being whipped around by icy winds on a frozen street for thirty minutes – but water under the bridge and all that and Georgy lazily strolled over to his bike. His stepdad had given it to him as a Christmas present. It wasn't new, someone had picked it up off a dump, but his Stepdad was a car mechanic and had rebuilt it from the ground up. He had replaced the bottom bracket, polished the chrome parts, changed the tires, fixed the gear-switch and given it a fresh coat of paint. He knew that it was a pretty neat gift, considering how little his stepdad made. Granted, it wasn't the Bonanza-bike with the curved saddle and drum-breaks he'd asked for, but he still liked it. Georgy ignored the weird, cold feeling in his gut and hopped on.

He had a bit of a hard time getting on with his parents. He'd been born out of wedlock and then his dad had wandered off somewhere. He didn't know where to, exactly. He’d stayed lots of places as a kid, mostly orphanages and then his grandma’s for two years. She lived in another state. Even after he had started school, he had spent most of his afternoons at a childcare center. Eight years ago, his mom had met his Stepdad and six years ago, his baby brother had been born. Home had only felt like home since around fifth grade and even now he still had that lingering feeling that he was the odd-one out, like he was second best, somehow. And he was different, he thought, with a tinge of defiance. Different than the rest of his family. His real father, the one he didn't know, had been the child of some rich-doctor type up city-ways, according to his mother. It wasn't like he wanted him around, he wasn't paying child support or anything, but it made Georgy wonder sometimes.

Georgy had different interests than the rest of his family – he cared little for sports or gossip. Sure, things that did interest him were pretty specific and not everybody's cup of tea, but he couldn't even talk to his family about stuff he learned at school. It was embarrassing; they always looked at him like they thought he had something to prove, so he had eventually decided to just shut up about it. It wasn't like they were stupid. He was the first member of his family to attempt a higher education and although they were proud of him for that, he felt like it was

creating more of a gap between them somehow, a gap that had already been difficult to bridge. In reality, he knew he could have done far better in school than he did; but not only was he a bit of a slacker but he also felt like it didn't really matter. Nobody seemed to care if he did well. In a weird way, he even felt closer to his parents when he failed. Whatever the reason for the current state of affairs, Georgy made a point of sticking to the sidelines whenever the family came together. In his heart of hearts, he knew that he probably wasn't helping the situation.

He usually distracted himself by coming up with all kinds of pranks, both simple ones and those on a larger, less legal scale. Unlike Philip, however, he was clever about it, he thought defiantly. Philip just liked breaking things. Still, Georgy had to admit that he usually got a laugh out of what the lard-head tried to pass off as pranks, mostly because they ended with the guy getting caught. Nobody had ever caught him. Well, except for that one time when they had pulled the trashcans onto the roof of the gymnasium. He'd spent the entire summer doing community service. Beginner's folly, Georgy thought when he laid down on his bed after lunch, armed with pen, paper and his physics textbook to try and take on homework.

Adhesion, he read, (lat. adhaerere ”to stick“), is the state of a surface-layer which develops between two touching, surfaces if certain conditions are met.

‘Great‘, thought Georgy, ‘and this is relevant to me how exactly?’ He flipped through the pages. The textbook provided several depictions of how adhesive forces worked. There were close-ups of a cobweb and a hibiscus-flower covered in a myriad of water-droplets. At least it looked cool.

Next there was a page dealing with the surface tension of water, then a paragraph further it said something about air pressure.

Georgy quietly cursed the garbage that curricula kept forcing on hapless students and went to the next page. ”Boyle's law“, it said in bold letters and he was just about to slam the book shut in exasperation, when a photograph caught his attention. It showed an upside-down glass, suspended in mid-air, which seemed to have a postcard stuck to its rim. What surprised Georgy most was that the glass somehow appeared to be filled with water. When he looked at the description it turned out that the card only stuck to the rim because of a combination of the forces of adhesion, the surface tension of the water, the surrounding air-pressure and Boyle's law, whatever it was.

He didn't really care how it all worked but he had to admit the idea had a strange appeal. Georgy got up, went to his desk, and began digging around the drawers for a postcard. Once he had found one, he snuck into the kitchen and took a glass from the shelf.

The next morning proved surprising in so far, that the teachers' lounge was apparently being renovated. Walter, the janitor's son and Georgy's best friend told him that they were going to redo the flooring. The old carpet was to be replaced by polished stone tiles.

Just before the first lesson of the day, Georgy went to the restroom. The cocoa he had had that morning wasn't agreeing with him. Just when he had closed the stall's door behind himself, two boys came crashing into the restroom. ”Hurry.“, one of them hissed at the other. ”Come on, move it! Gotta get all the paper into the toilet-bowls.“ And judging by the scraping, tearing and squishing that followed, the boys did just that, snorting and giggling like maniacs. Georgy barely managed to contain a snort of his own. ”Look at how it absorbs the water. My monster, it lives!“ One of the boys said and Georgy immediately recognized his voice. It was Philip. Just then, the door was thrown open again and suddenly everyone was screaming. ”You darned kids! “He also recognized that voice. ”You better start running, 'cause if I get my hands on you, you won't be running no mo- Oh, but of course it's you, Shyttles. Been missin' the principal's office, I see. Well don't worry, he's gonna be right thrilled to see ya again, I'm sure.“ ”Whatever.“, Philip shot back snootily. ”Like that geezer can touch me.“ Georgy silently agreed. Nobody could stand the principal. The old coot seemed to exist only to dole out detention, make an appearance at the culture fare that everyone knew had only been conceptualized to support his brothers catering business and play golf in his office. When their voices began to grow distant and the door fell shut, Georgy hurried out of the bathroom and after the janitor and the two boys he was likely dragging along like two unusually unattractive sacks of potatoes. That wasn't a view he was going to miss. Seeing how he wasn't lugging the weight of two slightly overweight, slightly overgrown bullies around with him, he managed to catch up to them in a matter of seconds. The janitor, Mister Woodman, framed by a boy on each side, hauling them along by their earlobes. Georgy shuffled past them, biting back a smile and trying to look natural, as he turned around to watch them go. He knew that it would probably come back to bite him, but he just couldn't not shoot Philip the most indulgent smile he could muster. When Philip noticed, his face twisted into something ugly. ”Are you laughing at me, Tombstone? You think this is funny?“ He hissed, only to have Mister Woodman non-verbally signal him to be quiet by yanking on his ear. ”I don't know what you're talking about.“ Georgy said innocently. ”Don't people usually start laughing when they see your face?“ Philip looked like he was ready to pound Georgy into the ground right there and then, his cheeks a rosy pink but Mister Woodman would have none of it. ”Get out of here, Thomson.“ He said tersely. ”No loitering in the hallways once class starts.“ ”Uh, yes, Sir.“ Georgy mumbled and started walking into the direction he'd just come from. ”When I get my hands on you...“, Philip muttered as they passed each other. ”I'm gonna make you sorry.“ Georgy raised his brows at that, his grin broadening before he put on his best clueless face. He could have sworn that Philip's ears turned even more red at that and tried very hard to hold on to the feeling of triumph, although he knew that he was probably gonna get it later.

The revenge came sooner than he would have liked. When Georgy left school that day, Philip and his gang were already waiting for him. ”You got me four weeks of detention, you jackass.“, Philip began unceremoniously, ”The geezer immediately called up my dad.“ ”What, only four weeks?“, Georgy shot back, throwing caution to the wind. He probably wasn't going to get out of that one alive anyway. ”Scum like you should be in solitary confinement for the sake of public security. And I'm not sure what I got to do with it, anyway. If you're dumb enough to get caught.“ ”You better shut the hell up before I break your teeth. “, said Philip, the eerie calm of his voice sent a shiver down Georgy's spine but he tried hard not to let it show. Philip was marching toward him, clenched fists by his sides. ”Gonna make Tombstone need a tombstone.“ He whispered, as if to himself. He swung back and punched Georgy in the stomach with enough force to immediately knock the wind out of him. A second fist hit him square in the jaw. Just as he was trying to steel himself for a third blow, his face and torso throbbing in unison with his racing heart, a quiet voice came from behind him. ”Just can't keep your hands off George, can you Philip?“ The voice belonged to Georgy's friend Walter, the janitor's son. Even though he liked to joke around and always had a snide remark at the ready, he was a good friend who almost never lost his cool. ”Oh, look who it is. Am I s'possed to be scared now?“ Philip said disdainfully, sneering at Wally over his shoulder. ”What you gonna do, Woodchuck? Swing your mop at me?“ ”I could go get my dad, for instance. Fancy another trip to the principal's office, Shyttles?“ Concern suddenly visible on his face, Philip took a step back. ”You wouldn't dare.“ He hissed. Wally just shrugged. ”And why not? What, you gonna beat me up, too? “Before Philip had a chance to react to that – and, luckily for them, since it looked like he was about to disregard everything that had just been said and launch himself at Wally anyway, the front gate was thrown open and students began to flood the courtyard. Philip pointed a finger at them: ”Oh, look at that. Lucky you, I guess. Just so you know, if we were alone right now, I'd totally pound ya. “ ”Noted.“, Georgy said, wiped at his busted lip with one hand and dismissively waved in Philip's general direction with the other. ”C'mon. “, Wally said. ”You can clean yourself up at my place. “He shot a cool glare at Philip and his gang. ”You better lay low for a while.“ He called over the hustle and bustle of kids' chatter and footsteps. ”Or I might let something slip to my dad about how you're too dumb to control your mouth and fists at the same time.“ Philip clenched his fists again, when one of his cronies grabbed his sleeve. ”Those losers aren't worth it.“ He said. ”Come on, let's just get out of here. “

A little later, both boys were seated at the dining table at the Woodman residence and Wally's mother served them some casserole. ”I hope that piece of trash gets what is coming to him one day.“ Wally said after they had been eating quietly for a while, the scarping of their spoons against their plates the only sound in the room. ”Patience, my friend.“, Georgy said. ”This casserole is great, by the way. You know, at my place, there's always just pre-cooked food for lunch, 'cause my mom works late.“ ”No sweat.“ Wally said with a grin. ”Dig in. You wanna stick around for a while? “

And stick around Georgy did – not like there was anyone waiting for him at home, anyway. Wally and he even did their homework. Once they were done – Georgy usually just did homework at school before class, copied it off a friend or skipped it entirely – they just sat there and talked. Georgy didn't feel guilty for once without the unfinished schoolwork hanging over his head and was in high-spirits. ”Man, your dad busting that Shyttles-turd just completely made my day.“ He said. ”Yeah, pretty good of him, that.“ Wally agreed. ”Though stuff like that kinda makes me wish he had a different job sometimes.“ ”What? Why? And where's your dad anyway? Doesn't he usually eat lunch with you?“ ”Well.“ Wally said, making a roundabout gesture with his hands. ”He spoils everyone's fun. It’s not like he only busts jackasses like Philip.“ ”Yeah, but you gotta admit that it’s mostly Philip these days. Can't imagine anyone giving a damn about that.“ ”True, most people don't – Philip and his hooligans do.“ ”Oh.“ Georgy was quiet for a moment. Wally didn't usually talk about stuff like this, so it had to really have been bothering him. ”Yeah, I get it.“ He said, giving Wally a sympathetic look. They fell silent until Wally cleared his throat. ”Well, anyway...“ He said. ”Dad's overseeing the renovation of the teacher's lounge, or something. You know, with the new tiles.“ ”Yeah, I saw them this morning.“ Georgy responded, ”They do look pretty neat. Real fancy.“ ”Fancy-shmancy.“ Wally snorted indignantly, rolling his eyes. ”Dad says it’s polished 'rose porphyry' or something and that he isn't looking forward to mopping it 'cause water makes it super slippery. Says his only consolation is that maybe all the chalk pushers fall and break their powdered noses.“ Snickering, they got up from the table and wandered over to Wally's room.

When Georgy looked up, it was obvious he was thinking about something. ”You know what?“, he said turning to Wally, ”I think I've got an idea.“ ”Yeah? What?“, Wally asked, flipping through a comic book. Georgy couldn't fight back a grin. ”Well, I may have figured out a way we could make our teachers 'slip-up', as it were.“ Wally slapped the comic shut and tossed it aside, swinging his legs over the side of his bed. ”Yeah? So? Spill.“ Georgy's grin broadened. ”That's exactly the plan.“

Georgy picked up his bag and took out the physics textbook. ”Lookey here.“, he said, pointing at the photograph of the upside-down glass of water. Wally stared at it. ”So...“, he began lamely. ”You finally figured out how to open a book by yourself. Proudest day of my life.“ Georgy snorted, only slightly offended. ”Yeah, wonders never cease. Anyway, listen to this. If you flip a filled glass of water around and place it on a smooth surface, no liquid can escape.“ Wally still wasn't getting it. ”So you learned to read, too.“, he dead-panned, half-jokingly, as he pointed at the description underneath the picture. Georgy punched him in the thigh. ”Aren't you funny today.“, he grumbled. ”Plus, I didn't need to read it, we went over that in physics, remember genius? Force of adhesion, surface tension and stuff.“ ”Oh yeah, now I remember. Especially the stuff.“ ”Shut-up, will you? Imagine someone, say, covered the entire brand-new stone floor in the teacher's lounge with upside down glasses of water, nothing would happen at first, right? If you tried to pick them up though, say, because you were trying to clean up the mess, you'd basically flood the entire room. Instant slip'n'slide.“ Wally's face lit up in understanding, but his brows furrowed almost instantly. ”All right, I'm with you. Just... Where'd you get the glasses? And how'd you get the water into them?“ ”Already thought of that.“ Georgy said, nodding dreamily. ”Saw that Walmart had a sale on paper cups that didn't get bought during the Super Bowl – 50 cups for a dollar, 50 cents. To get 400 cups, I'll need 8 packs, would run me five bucks, which is exactly the amount I get to buy my bus ticket each month. I'm just gonna take the bike.“, Georgy said, grinning at Wally. ”So, how'll you fill the cups?“, Wally asked, not missing a beat. ”With a syringe.“, Georgy shot back just as quick. ”You know that ranch next door to where I live? I once watched a doctor give a cow a shot with, like, the biggest syringe I've ever seen. He threw the thing away after and I just dug it out of the garbage. I mean, you never know, right?“

”Oh, sure.“, Wally said, now grinning as well, ”Stuff like that might definitely come in handy.“ They both laughed. ”Still...“, Wally added after a moment's silence. ”Where's the air go? You know, when the water starts to fill up the insides, it needs to escape somewhere.“ ”Easy.“, Georgy said. ”I'm just gonna poke another hole into the top, formerly the bottom of the cup.“.

”Now picture this: 400 cups, all half-full, which means about three ounces per cup makes about nine gallons of water total-Even if they manage to get some of the water back out of there, this is gonna make for an impressive mess. What'd you think?“ ”Pretty clever. Man, why don’t you do better at school? I mean you usually do rather poorly across the board there, don't you?“ Georgy shrugged. ”No clue. School's different than just... thinking up something. But anyway, there is one more thing...“ ”Yeah?“, asked Wally, suddenly suspicious. Georgy mentally steeled himself. ”I'd need the, uh, key to the teachers' lounge.“ ”So you want me to...No, no chance in hell.“ Wally said, suddenly very pale. ”Oh, come on.“, Georgy whined, folding his hands in a pleading gesture. ”You said yourself that it was a good plan, wouldn't that be worth al little risk?“ Wally gave a deep sigh and considered for a moment. ”The spare key.“ He said. ”I'll just, uh... take it from the key box. Dad usually uses the one on his keychain.“ ”Yeah.“, Georgy said eagerly. ”Betya he's not even gonna notice. And I'll give it back to you the next morning, honest. Please?“ ”Alright, okay. I'll do it. I mean, if my dad catches on, I probably won't get to leave this house until I get married.“ They gave each other a short nod and burst into laughter.

A few days later the time had come. Georgy had bought the cups. Buying all at the same store would likely have aroused suspicion. Why would a kid need 400 paper cups?

On Friday, after school had ended, Georgy had rigged the window in the ground-floor boys' restroom, to not close properly. The mechanism kept jamming and that way, he only had to push against it from the outside to get it to open. That way he had managed to break into the school after dark on several occasions. If nobody suddenly decided to fix it, it should work this time again. And it worked. Georgy had waited until everyone had been asleep and had slipped out the front door. He'd arranged his pillow and blanket in such a way that it looked like somebody was asleep under them. The night was cold and the streets were filled with enough fog that seeing would have been difficult, had it not been dark and when Georgy dragged his bike out of the shed, he felt strangely on edge. It was like being an actor in a thriller movie. Just before nightfall, he had put the syringe, the cups and a flashlight into his bag pack, had rifled through his mother's cleaning supplies and secured one of her buckets on the handlebars.

Now, with the backpack safely on his back, he was riding over to the neighboring town. It took little more than half an hour until he reached his destination, cautious as he was in the darkness. Just before the clock struck one, he arrived at the school. He had parked his bike behind a corner store two minutes off campus and absentmindedly wondered whether someone would come along and steal it as he crept toward the main building. Getting in through the window proved slightly more challenging than usual, with the cumbersome bucket all but immobilizing his left arm, pressing it uncomfortably against his ribcage.

At first, he just sat in absolute silence, listening with bated breath for the sound of footfalls, of anything to indicated he had given himself away – then, he got to work.

Georgy had decided to only use the flashlight in the case of emergency, because he feared someone would be able to see the light through a window. Besides, he knew the school like the back of his hand, had even been there after dark once or twice before and would be able to make do with the dim glow of the many escape signs. Quietly, he snuck into the boys’ restroom and filled it with as much water as he dared so it wouldn't spill, then carried it over to the teacher's lounge. He knew that the girls' restroom would have been closer, his arms already aching dully as he made it up the stairs but going in there just seemed wrong, somehow. And gross. He unlocked the door to the teachers' lounge with the key Walter had given him and suddenly stood there enveloped by complete darkness. 'Damn. It's like a monkey-butt in here.'‚ he thought. The blends had been let down and what little light made it through the gaps didn't help much. Georgy turned on his flashlight and dropped to the floor, quietly hoping that no one would notice from the outside.

The floor really was clean, he noted absentmindedly, his nose mere inches from the polished tiles, it shouldn't be much of a hassle putting up the cups. His plan was to set them up in rows and work his way toward the door, so he wouldn’t ruin all his hard work on the way out.

First, he poked a hole into the bottom of each cup, and then he individually dipped their rims into the bucket, so they would stick to the floor. Filling them with the syringe was another matter entirely, though, because it required a lot of sitting still and his hands to be steady.

Soon his eyes were stinging from squinting around the room and his knees were aching something fierce. The cushion he had lifted off one of the teacher's chairs, almost knocking over several cups in the processes, made it at least bearable. He had to go back down to the boys' restroom four times to refill the bucket, his arms tired and his knees protesting but then, it was done. Tired but content and with the knowledge that he'd be able to sleep in on Saturday, he gathered his affects, turned off his flashlight and legged it out of the teachers' lounge.

He was just about to turn the key in the lock, when he heard something. It sounded like footsteps and whispering coming from an adjacent corridor. Suddenly, his heart was hammering in his chest. Holding his breath, he slipped back into the teachers' lounge. What if they caught him? Had somebody noticed something? Walter was the only one who had known, so... No. No, he forced himself to take a deep breath. Walter wouldn't rat on him. Not in a million years. And Mister Woodman wasn’t the type to patrol the premises at 4:30 am in the morning. No, it was far more likely that there were others like him. Somebody else who had broken in. He lay on the floor and pressed his ear against the bottom of the door. There they were, two voices, he was sure of it. Two people talking. He couldn't make out what they were talking about and so he got up, quietly opened the door and snuck out onto the hallway. His mouth felt strangely dry, there was a tingling sensation in his fingertips. It felt like his body was moving on its own accord. He reached the end of the hallway in the near darkness and peered around the corner. One of the voices he recognized immediately. It belonged to Philip. 'What's he doing here?', Georgy thought in agitation, pushing himself closer to the wall. ”How much of the stuff'd you sell?“, the other voice asked. Georgy was sure he had heard it before, but he didn't know where. ”Not that much.“ That was Philip again. ”'ts that s'pposed to mean? What, you want me to believe you just been carting it around in your backpack for two weeks? Hand over the dough? “ A brief silence, broken only by the crinkling of paper. ”What?!“ The sudden anger in the strange man's voice made Georgy flinch. ”Are you shitting me? You only sold one lid in two weeks?“ ”No, honest. That's all I sold.“ ”Are you god-damn ripping me off?!“ There was a resounding smacking noise and Georgy was sure Philip had just eaten a fist. ”Get away from me, you dill hole! I'll...!“ ”What? You'll what?“, The man interrupted him. ”You better god-damn watch your mouth or I'll make you wish you were never born!“ ”I ain't scared of you!“ Philip yelled, but the tremor in his voice betrayed his fear. That moment, there was another audible punch, followed by a grunt from Philip. ”There you go, you little shit. Plenty more where that came from!“ Georgy, torn between fear and the need to do something – anything, quickly poked his head around the corner before thinking better of it. Very briefly, he saw the silhouette of the strange man, towering over Philip. His hair was long and slicked back against his skull and he wore a strange, thin moustache. When he swung back for another punch, something in his hand caught the light from a streetlamp outside the window. Suddenly Georgy was overcome by a feeling of all-encompassing panic and he would have liked to just run for it. Instead, he clenched his fists, digging his nails into his palms and crept away in the opposite direction, forcing himself to move very slowly until he reached the door to the boys' restroom. He ducked in and within seconds, had slipped out the window. As soon as his feet hit solid ground, he began to run. Only a few minutes later he was racing back home, paddling as fast as his shaking legs would let him.

Chapter 2 Aunt July and the sofas

With a start, Georgy woke from a bad dream. Soaked in sweat, he glanced at his old alarm clock. It read a quarter to ten. Nobody had noticed his absence the night before. He had climbed back in through the window, had gotten out of his cold, sweaty clothes and had hidden under the covers.

Falling asleep had taken forever. Exhausted as he had been, he had lain awake for hours to come, images of what had happened in that dark corridor flashing through his mind. So, he had scrunched his eyes shut and tossed and turned until he had slipped into a restless slumber.

Climbing out of bed, his head felt heavy and that dull feeling of dread he had had the night before, resettled in his gut. In the vague hope of scrounging up something to eat, he went into the kitchen. Maybe his mother had even cooked something. ”Oh, so the clever Sir has finally seen fit to grace us with his presence. If ya hafta spend so much time in yer room, I hope ya at least found it in ya ta clean it, ya hear?“ ”Yeah, I'll do it in a minute.“, he replied tiredly. Apparently satisfied, she gave a curt nod and scurried out of the kitchen. ”I'm going grocery shopping.“, she announced from somewhere in the hallway. He could hear her zip up his brother's jacket and the front door falling shut. His dad often worked on Saturdays, which meant he was alone at home, as per usual.

He got milk, butter and jam from the fridge and plopped down on a chair by the kitchen table with a sigh.

He had to get back to school, he thought, he needed to know what had happened. If anything had happened at all. Chances were, nobody would be in until Monday and if Philip had really been... He shook his head and took a deep breath. And he had to return the key to Wally before Mr. Woodman noticed it was gone. With all that had happened, he had almost forgotten about the water-cup prank, but he couldn't help but grin when he thought of it. Too bad he couldn't also install a camera in the teachers’ lounge, to snap a picture of the teachers' faces when they began lifting the cups.

He wolfed down his food, shot gunned his milk and left the house in a hurry. That feeling of dread that hadn't let him go all morning had morphed into an outright panic by the time he reached school. There were police cars blocking access to the parking lot and someone had cordoned off the area where the older kids went for smokes. A few gawkers had gathered around the scene and were whispering amongst themselves.

Wally was one of them. Georgy was just about to call out to him, when Wally turned around, his eyes lighting up in recognition and he jogged toward him. ”Is it because of Philip?“, Georgy asked under his breath without missing a beat. ”And how do you know that?“, Wally asked in bug-eyed surprise. ”You didn't-“ Georgy briskly shook his head. ”Of course not and I'll tell you later. Now, what happened exactly?“ Wally only took a moment to collect himself. ”Well, the long and short of it is that dad found him in the bushes over there.“, he said, indicating the direction with his thumb. ”He looked pretty bad, apparently. Like he took a beating. Half frozen to death, dad said, and the medic told us that he had some cracked ribs and that the hip joint’s busted.“ ”What busted? Busted how?“, Georgy asked, his voice coming out higher than usual. Wally was good with stuff like this, with blood and broken bones. Georgy wasn't. Wally made a non-committal hand motion. ”Well, broken. You know.“ Georgy was at a loss for words, staring over Wally's shoulder at the crime scene. There was a conspicuous reddish-brown spot on the concrete. His mouth felt dry. Wally touched his arm and motioned for to go stand behind the cycle rack. ”Your turn.“ He said. ”How did it go last night and what happened to Philip?“ Georgy described what he had seen and done in short sentences. ”And it’s not like I could have gone to the coppers.“ He finished miserably. ”They would have kept me at the station for breaking and entering and general mischief.“ Wally tipped back his head in thought. ”So, what now?“ He asked. “No clue.“, Georgy said dejectedly. ”Anyway, I gotta get home before my mom gets back from the store so I can clean my room, or I'll be in trouble. Here's your key.“ Georgy looked around to make sure they weren't being watched and when he was sure that no eyes were on them, he slipped the key into Wally's out-stretched hand.

While he was cleaning his room, he was again going over what had happened the previous night.

Who was that strange man and what was it that Philip had been meant to sell? What was a lid? Well, he knew what a lid was, generally but he couldn't imagine that someone would get so upset over the top of a pot or something. No, it must have been something illegal, otherwise, they wouldn't have met at school at that hour and on a weekend to boot. Philip had been tasked with keeping the classroom tidy and stocked with chalk and the like, so he had had a key. Well, it was likely dope or something. That stuff was being sold all over high- and middle schools in the entire country. That's what he had heard, at least. That would make the other guy Philip's supplier or whatever you called it. The way it had sounded, Philip was supposed to hand over the profit he had made and because the other guy thought it was too little, he had beaten him into a pulp.