in a bathroom stall
don’t reach the eyes
Perfect stoic face
set upon a crumbling base
Stare’s a blank
hiding whirlwind thoughts & emotions
every step she takes
hammers through her heart like a stake
An empty drive
makes an empty life
and slowly she dies
“Mr. Wilcox, I can see you now.” Jakes’ father waved and smiled at the boys before entering the Principal’s office. The door closed with a snap.
Jerry and Austin rounded on Jake. Austin poked Jake’s shoulder. “You’re okay! What happened? How did you escape?”
Jake’s brow furrowed. “What are you talking about?”
“Stop playing!” Jerry grabbed Jake by the shoulders shaking him. “How did you get away?”
“Hey! Let me go! I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
Jerry’s voice rose as he shook Jake harder. “I heard what happened! I saw it! Stop messing around!” Jake stared wide eyed at Jerry.
“Are you that mad I didn’t meet with you guys last night?”
Jerry’s face reddened. “YOU WERE THERE! DON’T LIE TO US!”
“Jerry! Lower your voice!” The secretary spoke firmly, eyeing them over her gold rimmed glasses.
“Jerry, calm down man.” Austin tugged on Jerry’s arm.
Jake’s face hardened. “Let go of me Jerry and stop being a jerk just because I didn’t go and you were probably too chicken to go in.”
A furious cry rose from Jerry as he wrapped his arms around Jake’s neck. Austin lunged forward prying at his arms to let Jake loose.
The secretary stood yanking the phone to her ear. “Jerry! Let him go or I am calling Principal Edgar out again!” Her threat was unheard as it was drowned out by Jerry’s shouts. His face turned bright red, his eyes bulged and his nose began to bleed again.
“Stop messing around! You’re a liar! You’re nothing but a wuss!” Principal Edgar and Mr. Wilcox emerged from the office rushing over to the struggling boys. They were finally able to push them apart. Jake sputtered and coughed as Mr. Wilcox placed a protective arm around his son. Principal Edgar attempted to calm Jerry but he and Austin struggled to keep Jerry from trying to attack Jake. Jake looked on with disgust. In a raspy voice he breathed “You coward.” Jerry roared in anger.
“Call the police!” Principal Edgar bellowed to the secretary.
Within 20 minutes the police arrived to detain Jerry. Austin could still hear him screaming inaudibly as they forced him into the squad car.
Austin collapsed into one of the chairs in the front office, his head buried in his hands. He replayed the night’s events over and over. He couldn’t make sense of what happened. Did he just dream it all up? Were he and Jerry going crazy? What really happened?
He jumped when he felt someone tap him on the shoulder. Principal Edgar’s face hovered above him. Through pursed lips he said “Austin your father is here. He is waiting outside.” Austin slung his backpack over his shoulder and slumped down the hall. He reached for the door when Jake appeared next to him, his face void of emotion.
Austin tried to read Jake’s facial expression but couldn’t figure out what he was thinking.
“Hey.” Austin grumbled.
They stood staring at the ground shifting from foot to foot. Austin broke the silence.
“Yea, just confused and freaked out. My dad’s pissed though. He’s taking me home.”
“Yea my dad’s here too.” Austin took a deep breath, leveling his eyes with Jake. “So…what happened to you last night?”
Jake chuckled, rubbing a hand behind his head. “Man it’s embarrassing. I just laid around studying and reading, then fell asleep watching TV around like, 9 pm.” His hand dropped limply to his side. “How lame is that right?”
Austin snorted. “So you knew we were meeting last night to go to Old Winterview’s and…you didn’t go?”
Jake nodded his head sheepishly. “Sorry man, I know I should’ve called instead of bailing on you guys like that. I just couldn’t take you guys giving me a hard time. I didn’t know Jerry would freak like that.” He glanced out the window as if Jerry would reappear.
“Right.” Austin smirked turning his back on Jake. “So when did your dad get a security job at the Old Winterview place? That’s a sweet gig.”
“Yea it is, he likes it a lot. We can actually buy food now while still keeping the lights on.” Jake’s broad smile was covered by his hand that he clapped over his mouth.
Austin spun around grinning. “I knew you were there!”
Jake’s blush deepened a dark red.
Austin’s smile faded. “Why did you play us like that? We-I was really worried. I thought something horrible happened to you.”
Jake shoved his hands in his jeans’ pockets. “You guys were making fun of me, calling my dad a loser because he was laid off.” He blurted.
“I didn’t make fun of you.”
Jake’s eyes levelled with Austin. “No but you sure didn’t stick up for me either. You’re supposed to be my friend and you let Jerry and Steve talk like that about my family and me. I was so mad I didn’t want to go to school anymore. I tried to get my parents to move. Then my dad finally got this job and I couldn’t even be happy for him. I knew once everyone found out they would make fun of me even more, or worse, they would go to his job to mess with me and get him fired. I had to teach Jerry a lesson.”
“And your dad helped you. That was him in the maintenance jumpsuit.”
Jake lowered his gaze. “Yea. He didn’t want me to get bullied anymore.”
Austin dropped his head. “I’m sorry man. I never wanted to make you feel bad.” He lifted his head to see Jake watching him carefully. “You’re my friend. I should have stood up for you. That’s my bad and I deserve everything that happened to me.”
Jake’s face broke into a big smile. “You didn’t let me go when my dad was pulling me back. That kinda made up for it. You are a good friend. I guess I can forgive you ‘cause of that. I didn’t think you’d do that.” He punched Austin in the arm. Austin shoved him back. The bell rang and a flood of students broke their comraderie.
“Awww, look at the lovers!” Steve called across the hall. Austin rolled his eyes. Steve swaggered up to Jake bumping into him roughly. “Where were you little Jakey? Did you get too scared to go to the haunted park last night? Or did you have to go cash in your piggy bank so your family could eat? I’m sure daddy appreciated it.” Steve howled in laughter.
Austin clenched his fists.
“Shut up Steve! I bet you wouldn’t set your ugly face in that place!”
Steve grinned maliciously, stepping up to Austin.
“You’re on pretty boy!”
“I hope you don’t go insane like Jerry did.” Jake replied smugly.
Steve’s grin broadened. “That wussy, his whole family’s crazy.” He walked backward pointing two fingers at Austin. “Bet’s on man. Be prepared to eat your words punk.” He spun around sauntering down the hall. Austin shook his head.
“Moron. Don’t let him get to you Jake. I gotta go, my dad’s going to kill me as it is. I better not keep him waiting.”
Jake caught Austin’s arm as he turned to leave.
“Hey. Want to help me get Steve, like I got Jerry?” His eyes gleamed.
Austin’s face broke into a wide grin.
“Tell me when and where and I’m there.”
Elaine pressed against the brick wall behind the magazine stand. She closed her eyes praying that he didn’t spot her. She heard footsteps crunch on the gravel nearby.
“Excuse me sir.” Jose’s deep voice carried on the wind. Elaine peeked through the slats of the stand. Jose motioned toward the elderly man who was rearranging the magazines and newspapers. The man looked up expectantly at Jose. “Hello there, my name is Officer Jose Sanchez and I am looking for someone in the area who might have come by this way. Do you think you can help me?” Jose held out a picture of Elaine that he must have gotten from the case file on Nick. The elderly man leaned in squinting his eyes at the picture. “I am looking for a woman in her late 20’s about 5 foot 5, dark curly hair, light eyes and olive skin. Have you happened to see anyone fitting this description?”
“I’m sorry Officer; I would remember a pretty girl like her if I saw her but so many folks pass by it’s hard for an old man like myself to keep track of who walks by. I wish I could help you but I don’t recognize that woman.” He hunched his shoulders in regret and Jose gave him a stiff smile.
“I understand but thank you for your help anyway. If you happen to see her could you please give me a call immediately? She could be in danger and need our help.” Jose handed over his card and the man took it and nodded his head, placing the card in his back pocket.
“I will keep an eye out sir, you have a good evening.” Jose tipped his head toward the man and made his way across the street. He rapped on the back door of the building and when it opened he slid inside with one last backward glance.
“Miss?” Elaine jumped as she came face to face with elderly man. He was hunched over, making him slightly shorter than herself but his eyes twinkled behind his bushy grey eyebrows. “It’s ok miss, he’s gone.”
Elaine nervously stood to her full height. “I’m not sure what you mean.” She faltered.
The man’s wrinkled face broke into a knowing grin. “I saw you hide behind my stand and I watched you stare at him from behind here. I figured there was a reason for a pretty girl like you to be hiding. Are you trying to get away from your boyfriend?”
Elaine laughed. “No he’s not my boyfriend.” The man’s bushy eyebrows rose into his ruffled grey hair. “No, no I’m not in any trouble, it’s just…well…it’s complicated.” The man continued to give her a look that made her feel like he was reading her mind. “Look, it’s just he thinks he can help me but he can’t so he is just being unnecessarily overprotective and I just needed some air…ya know what I mean?”
The man took Elaine’s hand in his leathery one and patted it. “Don’t worry miss, I won’t rat you out to your boyfriend.” Before Elaine could protest, he handed her the day’s newspaper. “This will help you out if you need another place to hide and my stand isn’t around to help.” He chuckled to himself before shuffling back to his stand.
Elaine smiled, amused by the old man. She looked at the paper and flipped through it. She noticed an article with the name of a familiar building on it, Scorpion Tower. She looked across the street at the back of Scorpion Tower. She couldn’t believe her luck. A charity gala was being held there tomorrow night. If she could score a ticket she could sneak around and find where Nick’s hideout was. It was her best chance to get as close to Nick as possible without blowing her cover. But how would she get in? Elaine smiled to herself as a plan formed in her mind.
To Be Continued…
Elaine crept out the back door of her apartment adjusting the baseball cap lower to hide her face better. The early morning darkness made for an easy escape although the bitter cold morning made her walk stiffly across the street. She planned to walk several blocks before she hitched a ride on the city bus to avoid it riding by Jose’s parked car. Her plan was in motion and she hoped to have answers today; without Jose’s help.
Sunlight filtered through grey clouds when Elaine finally arrived at her destination, a wad of cash safely tucked in her jeans (thanks to the Durnstram’s for the last minute cash flow). She squinted at the building numbers looking for building number 523. She made her way through the downtown morning rush crowd and entered a tall brick building.
“May I help you?” The man behind the front desk tapped away on a computer, not even glancing at Elaine.
“Yes I am checking in. Reservation is under Josefina Mendez.” No one would find her under her mother’s maiden name.
“Ah yes, here you are. Staying with us for a few days I see. Can I have a credit card that we can put on file please Ms. Mendez.”
Elaine produced the required cards, grateful to her mother for insisting she take the credit card in case she needed anything. Then all she needed was to contact an associate of hers who was able to use her mother’s id and adjust her birth date as well as the picture to pass it off as Elaine’s. She smiled sweetly at the clerk. He tapped away and handed her a room key.
“Room 543, elevators straight back and to the right.” He motioned behind her and smiled stiffly. “Will you be needing help with your bags?”
“No I’m ok thank you.” Elaine spun on her heel and walked briskly to the elevators, her small suitcase rolling in her wake.
The standard room was a good size for one person. Elaine made herself comfortable then opened the curtains to the large windows overlooking the city. From this vantage point she had the perfect view of the back exit of a large building across the street where Jose’s Intel had said Nick was residing. Elaine looped a pair of binoculars around her neck and looked around. Her phone began to buzz, she immediately blocked the call. It was Jose again looking for her. She turned it off.
After a couple hours and an empty chips bag later Elaine decided to take a break and go for a walk. She needed some real food along with fresh air and she noticed an electronics store down the street where she could buy a cheap laptop to do some online investigating. She walked out into the cold early evening, the sun already low in the sky; she lost herself in the post work crowd. As she weaved around she noticed a familiar black sedan speeding down the street. How did Jose find her?
She glanced around and ducked behind a magazine stand. She peeked through the racks to see him park near the exit of the building she had been monitoring all day. Her breath caught in her throat as his muscular frame jumped out, his jaw firmly set as his eyes swept the area. Even though the throng of people and the stand hid her well, Elaine squatted to avoid his gaze.
Jose whipped his cell phone from his pocket. He began shaking his head and motioning angrily with his hands at whoever he was speaking to. Then he looked toward her direction. She gasped as he headed straight for her.
To Be Continued…