Chapter I  •  Chapter IV


Excerpt from Chapter II: Karter Goes to School Today Milwaukee, Wisconsin, April 1996

Karter Johnson tugged at the collar of his jacket, pulling it tight around his neck and his hunched-up shoulders as he scurried down the street past the crack house and the storefront church. There ain’t gonna be nobody on the streets today. Might just as well go to school, he thought. He ducked in the doorway of the Kwik-Mart, glanced at the familiar sign in the window: No Students Allowed. He pulled a cigarette from the pack in his pocket and lit up, took a long drag. When he saw the clerk inside close the register and move toward the door, Karter scowled, tossed the cigarette on the sidewalk, and looked at his watch.

Damn, I’m late. I’ll have to stand outside and wait until that witch decides to get off her fat black ass and let me in. She’ll pretend she doesn’t hear the buzzer, or that it’s broken, or that she’s deep in thought, while she pores over some Mickey Mouse thing on her desk. Then when she’s damn good and ready, she’ll look toward the door and squint her eyes. She’ll make believe she doesn’t know me. She’s a mean S.O.B. People like her shouldn’t be in charge of others. Whatever—I gotta get in out of this frickin rain.

The lightning flashed, and the thunder boomed loud enough to make Karter jittery. Even so, he hesitated as he contemplated the building across the street.

The school was built in the 1930s with depression monies—red-orange brick with boring gray mortar, mimicking the European architecture of a century past. Instead of being flanked with formal gardens like its continental predecessor, the building’s grounds were smothered with asphalt and concrete. The playgrounds and the parking lots were fenced with eight-foot-high chain links and locked—inaccessible without the requisite pass.

He’d have used a different entrance if he could, but there was no other way in. The wind blew fiercely, and Karter shivered as he darted up the steps to the door.

Buzz, buzz, buzz. Bang, bang. “Dammit, let me in. It’s cold out here,” he shouted.

The hall monitor, a heavy-set woman in jeans and a “Woman Power” sweatshirt, ambled to the entrance. She peered out the window before unlocking the door. “Oh, it’s you, Karter. You’re late again.”

Karter pushed her aside. “Just let me in and mind your own business.”

As Karter strode to the familiar desk at the end of the hall, the monitor followed. She shoved a pencil and a clipboard at him. “Any weapons besides your bad mouth, your bad breath, and your ‘my-farts-don’t-stink’ attitude?”

Karter signed in and threw the clipboard down on the desk. “Just give me my pass.”

She waved the pass in the air. “This will only get you as far as the office, jerk.” -

“Witch.” -

“What’s that you say, Karter?”

“Just gimme my pass.”

Karter and his buddies had no stake in Mr. Beemer’s agenda. They sat in the back of the room whispering about Maria Guliano. They took bets on whether she would put out. Eddie said she’d be a pushover, Demon thought she’d put up a fight, and Karter was convinced she’d like the attention.

Tashina Jones stomped over to where the boys were sitting and shouted at them. “You boys leave dat girl alone. She ain’t no ho! You watch how you be talkin bout her.” Her nostrils flared as she glared at them.

Eddie pointed a finger at her and snickered mischievously. “Look at you, Tashina. You jealous we ain’t talking about you? You want some too?”

Karter’s eyes sparkled as he laughed. “Meet you later, little chocolate girl.”

Tashina stood her ground with her hands on her hips and her feet firmly planted; she raised one eyebrow as she dared them. “You boys know better than to mess wit Tashina Jones. You mess wit me, and I bite you balls.”

Maria turned around from her seat in front of them. She tugged at Tashina’s jeans and whispered, “Never mind, Tashina. They don’t mean any harm. They’re just talking.” -

Mr. Beemers walked to the back of the room. “All right, all right, break it up. What’s going on here?” -

Maria stood up. “It’s OK, Mr. Beemers; just a little misunderstanding.”

The others kept their mouths shut and their eyes averted.

Mr. Beemers was instructing them to separate when the bell rang. They all made a dash for the door.