The chubby kid sporting a hall monitor sash was Troy Morris. He was acting as a lookout for the larger boy in the yellow shirt, Victor Prentice. The two fifth graders exchanged fist bumps as they met in front of the boys’ room door.
“He’s still inside,” said Troy, quietly. “Either he’s taking a very long dump, or he knows you’re looking for him and he’s hiding.”
“Thanks,” said Victor, smiling. Bracing both palms on the solid, wooden door, the larger fifth-grader pushed it open gently, stepping carefully to keep his sneakers from squeaking. These precautions proved moot when the hiss of the pneumatic door-closer heralded his entrance. On the spot, he reversed tactics, striding forward and whistling with noisy nonchalance.
Only one toilet stall was closed. Stooping to peek as he approached, he observed that there were no feet on the floor. “Hey punk, are you in here?” he challenged.
Someone shifted inside the stall, thumping against the partition, and then a single, sneakered foot descended into view, accompanied by a gust of exhalation that sounded very much like a stifled curse.
“Leave me alone,” said Danny from inside the stall. This was followed by a long, wet, sniff.
“Hey, are you crying?”
The hidden voice was strained, angry. “Everything’s your fault, Vick. It’s because you’re a cheater I’m in this mess.”
“Aw, detention’s not so bad, Danny, and I should know. Anyway, you’re a cheater too, right? You didn’t have to let me copy your test.”
“You threatened to beat me up!”
“You got me in trouble, you got to pay the price.”
“Well, I’m not afraid of you anymore, motherfucker.”
“What did you just call me, punk?” Victor put his hand on top of the stall door and rattled it menacingly.
“I said motherfucker, motherfucker!” Danny shouted.
“You shut up! My mother—.” Victor leaned his forehead against the door and ground his teeth. “My mother what? The protector? The defender? The drunk?” He took a deep breath to shout at Danny and heard him sobbing on the other side of the door. He let his breath out slowly. “Shit Danny, calm the fuck down. Calm down. Calm down.”
The boys’ room door squeaked open as the hall monitor poked his head inside. “Shhhh! Keep it down,” he warned. “Also, you’ve only got five minutes before the bell.” He disappeared, and the door hissed closed behind him.
Victor faced the toilet stall. Blue paint had been layered over a crude penis drawn in magic marker, but the outline could still be made out. The rest of the school wasn’t much better.
“I’m not afraid of you anymore, Vick. I’m not afraid of Los Ciclones either.”
“Los Ciclones? Did you piss them off, too?” He stepped back from the stall as though Danny were toxic. “Man, I’m fucking afraid of Los Ciclones. Those bastards take that gang shit seriously. I think they must like detention.”
“I’m not afraid of those motherfuckers, either.”
“Well, good for you. Did they threaten you, or something?”
“Jorge and Rodrigo plan to beat me up after school.”
“Shit, dude! Who told you that? Why?”
“Jorge said they know it was me who ratted on them for breaking into Mr. Vermont’s desk.”
“Well, how do they know it wasn’t me? We were all in the same room. Oh, never mind.” He sighed. “I guess you poked a snake. Can’t you just avoid them?”
“I managed it yesterday, but not again. Not forever. Now they know where I live.”
Danny responded acidly, “So, now you may as well fuck off and leave me alone. I’m kind of busy, here.”
Immediately, the sounds of a zipper and the shuffle of fabric were followed by a stumble against the stall door, and Danny’s hands both landed on the floor. Announcing itself with a heavy metallic thud and clatter, a black, .22 handgun tumbled out from under the stall and spun a few inches across the tiles.
Victor swept down nimbly, and, wary of gripping it by either its barrel or handle, grabbed the gun at its midpoint.
“Holy shit, Danny. You brought a gun to school? Are you going to shoot Jorge and Rodrigo?”
“Give that back,” said Danny, desperately, reaching under the stall door.
“No fucking way, tard. You’re in really deep shit, now.” Victor reflexively held the gun at arm’s length as if it were a dangerous animal.
The stall lock bolt came unlocked with a clunk, and then the door swung part-way open. Standing again, Danny leaned part way out, keeping the door between him and Victor, like a shield. “I need that, Vick! Give it here,” he said. “Please.” His eyes, visibly red, were pleading.
“Don’t be stupid,” Victor said. “Detention is a picnic compared to prison. Anyway, if you shot a Los Ciclone, the rest of the gang would come after you.”
Danny retreated into the toilet stall, re-latching the door behind him. “Fuck you, then. Keep it!” he said, “It’s not even loaded.”
Victor examined the gun, skeptically, holding it up to the light.
At that moment, Troy pushed open the boys’ room door again and peeked inside.
Victor tried to quickly hide the gun, but realized it was too late. He motioned instead for Troy to come inside. He did.
“Two minutes until the bell rings,” said the hall monitor.
“Come on out of there, Danny. We’re short on time, and I have a proposition for you.”
Victor slapped the stall door with his palm. “I’m serious. We need to talk.”
“I can’t. I wet my pants.”
“Damn,” said Troy.
Victor exhaled sharply. “Never mind that. You’re among friends. Troy, take this gun and hide it in your locker until after school.”
“No way! Are you fucking kidding—?”
“Take it, Troy, or Danny’s life is ruined. We’re going to smuggle it back out of school so that no one gets into trouble.”
“It’s not loaded,” declared Danny, through the door.
“Oh, give it to me then,” said Troy, and holding it to his chest, covered it with a book and hurried towards the exit.
“And bring Danny your gym shorts.”
Troy halted at the door, looked back, and then nodded. “You owe me double,” he said, and then vanished.
“Troy’s a decent guy. Now here’s what I need from you, punk. Go home tonight and write an essay on the Civil War that looks like I wrote it.”
“I’ll be in a hospital or dead tonight, Vick, so you’re shit out of luck.”
“No, I’ll handle Los Ciclones.”
“I’ll say it was me who turned ‘em in, and I’ll ask them, so what are they going to do about it?”
The lock bolt clunked again, and the stall door cracked open. Danny’s head emerged, tilted.
“You’d do that?”
“I’d do that if you’ll write me that paper. It doesn’t have to be great, I just have to pass this grade.”
“You’re big, Victor, but so are they, and there are two of them. Even if you got the upper hand, they’d probably fight dirty. Pull a knife, or something.”
Victor took a deep breath. “I don’t plan to fight back—or anyway, I’ll fight only enough so that they feel they’ve humiliated me.”
“Why would you do that?”
“Look, if I pass, I can get out of this lousy school and go live with my dad, in Nevada. Anything’s worth that to me. Do we have a deal?”
“What’s wrong with your mom?”
“Nothing. It’s my stepdad I hate. So, do we have a deal?” Victor stretched out his hand impatiently. Danny reached for it and shook it vigorously.
“Thank you, Vick. I’ll write you the best paper ever.”
“Don’t be stupid. Write the worst paper you can, so that they’ll actually believe it came from me. I just need to pass.”
The final bell rang, and not long after, the boys’ room door swung open again and two, heavy-set, serious-looking Latino boys sauntered in. Jorge and Rodrigo both greeted Victor with a quick chin jut, and then Jorge said, “Hey, you seen that pendejo, Danny in here?”
Victor began unbuttoning his yellow shirt.
“Never mind Danny,” he said. “I’m the one who ratted you out to the principal about Mr. Vermont’s desk.”
“You?” Said Jorge and clenched his fists. Rodrigo followed suit. “You must have a death wish, ese,” he said.
“You can have one punch each, and I won’t fight back,” said Victor, tossing his shirt onto the sink counter. His bare back, visible in the mirrors above the counter, was conspicuously marked with bruises and belt stripes. “Do your worst,” he said.
Shawn M. Klimek is a former military journalist with a BA in Interdisciplinary Arts. His stories and poems have been published in dozens of e-zines and anthologies. His winning comedy short story, "Pregenesis", is featured in Gold: The Best of Clarendon House Anthologies, Volume One, 2017/2018. Find out about current projects on his writing blog - A Jot In The Dark.