Read High School 2 - Diversity - The Clash Online

Authors: Paul Swearingen

Tags: #relationships, #el dia de los muertos, #corvette, #day of the dead, #mexican american, #car chase, #hispanic, #mustang

High School 2 - Diversity - The Clash (6 page)

She waited until the teacher was explaining
Thoreau’s motivation to live in the boonies next to a pond and then
tore a half-page from the notebook and wrote on it: “Got to meet
with you. Maybe Buck, too. Lunch. It’s about T. J.” She stuck it
down the back of Justin’s shirt and giggled when he slapped it like
a flea. He read it, turned, rolled his eyes, and nodded.

* * *

The pizza roll at least was still warm, but
it had the consistency of a well-worn shoe. Carla gnawed off one
corner of it and chewed. It made her teeth ache.

She spotted Justin and Buck weaving their
way through the crowd, took a swig of her chocolate milk, and
swallowed. The lump of pizza roll carved its way to her stomach and
landed with an almost audible plop. She shuddered.

“All right, tiny one, what’s up this time?”
Justin eyed his plate and thumped his pizza roll. It sounded like a
dead animal; Carla almost expected it to explode if he tapped it
once more. Buck plopped his plate onto the table and immediately
dug into his chicken-and-noodles-over-mashed-potatoes, a
mildly-blissful look on his face. Apparently being the son of the
superintendent and having to eat school food every day wasn’t a
problem for him, she thought.

“Listen. I just saw T. J. and his brother
Jace in the hallway, just before algebra class. And you know what?
Jace gave T. J. a packet of something that looked like drugs.”

Buck eyed her. “And you would know what
drugs look like, how?”

“Everyone knows what drugs look like. I
mean, in the package. Don’t they?”

Justin chuckled. “You’ve been watching too
much TV, Carla. Hello! Wake up! Real life here!”

“What do you mean? You don’t think that Jace
…”

Buck swallowed and wiped his lips delicately
with a paper napkin. “Okay, Carla, I’m not saying that it couldn’t
happen, Jace being from big bad La-La-Land and all, but I do know …
do NOT ask me how … that he’s trying to keep his brother away from
drugs and bad stuff, not get him hooked on them. You probably saw
him giving him an allowance. T. J. gets one now every week so he
can eat lunch and stuff. Or it could even be something from his
relatives in LA. Who knows? But I’d be willing to bet that it
wasn’t drugs. You gotta be careful with that kind of talk, you
know.”

Carla looked from Buck to Justin and back to
Buck again. “Okay, how can you tell that someone’s on drugs? Part
two of this story is that Jace asked me to tutor T. J. for American
History class. So Mr. T. J. is going to be right in front of me a
couple of days a week, and I do not want to be around a druggie.
Period.”

Justin stopped gnawing on his pizza roll and
dropped it onto his tray. “Trust me, little one, you’ll know if
he’s on drugs if you’re that close to him for that much time. He’ll
act … you know … dopey, and his eyes won’t look normal.”

Buck finished his last forkful of noodles.
“Carla, seriously, I don’t think you’ll have to worry about T. J.
turning into a druggie. His brother could tell instantly and that
would pretty much be the end of him. And my dad checked out Jace’s
background pretty carefully before he put him on a contract. He
doesn’t hire anyone to work in this district before checking out
things pretty carefully. Okay?”

Carla sighed. “Okay, guys. I guess I’ll have
to trust you on this one. But I’m going to keep an eye on both of
them.” She picked up her pizza roll, stared at it for a second, and
dropped it on her plate. It bounced.

Justin’s eyes focused on something behind
Carla, and he raised his eyebrows. Someone pulled out the chair
next to her, and she turned and looked up at a very tall girl in a
cheerleader outfit.

“Hey.” The greeting was to no one in
particular and everyone there.

“Hey, Kerry,” Buck grinned. “What’s going
on?”

“Listen, are you guys going to be at the
Dairy Spot after practice tonight?”

“I suppose so,” Justin grunted. “Why?”

Kerry looked at Carla. “Congrats on your new
job as American History tutor, Carla.”

“Damn! Does everyone know everything about
my life two seconds after it happens?” Carla poked at her pizza
roll.

“Around Mayberry here? Pretty much,” Kerry
chuckled. She then looked around her and dropped her voice.
“Anyway, I tracked down some information about his brother. Walls
around here have ears, so you’ll have to wait until we are at the
Dairy Spot before I can share it with you. And you’re not gonna
like it, either.”

 

Chapter Ten

Carla could barely keep her mind on
recording a pair of 30-second spots for Herbert West Chevrolet, and
she had to start the second one over three times before she managed
to stuff the copy into a 28-second period, short enough to let the
music bed fade up and out. Bob had told her just to record the
voice part and that he’d add the music bed later, and maybe when he
thought she was ready, he’d show her how to mix the two together.
Her mouth was dry, and her lips and tongue felt as if they’d been
through Olympic exercises when she finished, so she slipped some
coins into the station pop dispenser and got back a can of Dr
Pepper in return.

Nothing else had been waiting for her on her
hook, other than a note from Bob to record the two spots and then
to sit in the studio and watch Marv run the controls so that she’d
get an idea of how to time things. She kept her distance and sipped
her soda, but Marv barely gave her a wave when she slipped into the
torn chair behind the console, and she refrained from asking any
questions and just watched. Marv kept his conversation to a
minimum, only pointing out the differences between the control room
mike volume control, or pot, and the other controls on the board.
He barely noticed when she slipped out of the studio. She filled
out her time slip, put on her coat, and walked to the bus stop.

Luckily for her, the bus ran right past the
Dairy Spot, and she waved a good-bye at the driver and almost ran
into the restaurant.

Justin, Buck, Kerry, several other athletes
and cheerleaders whose names she couldn’t quite remember, and
another tall girl whom she realized was probably a relative to
Kerry were all in their usual circular booth. Eric was on the
outside, and he got up, let her sit next to Justin, and then
good-naturedly squashed against her when he sat down.

“Hey, you big oaf! What are you trying to
do, flatten me like a pancake?”

“Hardly – you’re already about hotcake size,
anyway!”

She dug her elbow into his side.

“Oh, my, do I feel that pizza roll I had for
lunch kicking me again?” The others chuckled, and he scooted over
an inch or two so that she could breathe again.

“Anyways,” Kerry said, “I’m glad you could
make it, Carla.”

“Just got off work. What’s up?”

“Here’s the deal. My cousin, Kelly, here, is
visiting from LA, and she hears things and passes them on to me.
She says that Mr. Jace Watkins seems to have been involved in gang
activity in La-La land. Right, cuz?”

“Involved and active,” Kelly said with a
wave of her well-manicured nails. “I remember reading about him
being involved in some trial involving gang members, but he wasn’t
convicted or anything like that. And shortly afterwards, according
to my dear cuz Kerry here, he showed up in your fair city.”

Buck leaned forward. “I can’t say that my
dad tells me everything that goes on, but I do know that the school
board did a thorough investigation of Jace; you know they don’t
want gang scum among our impressionable youth here. And they didn’t
turn up anything that would seem to make him ineligible to be a
Rule 10 coach. I guess he apparently was an assistant coach for
some private school in LA County.”

Kerry took a sip of her drink. “So there you
have it, Carla. We just want you to watch yourself when you’re
dealing with Jace – and of course his brother T. J., the budding
young basketball star.”

Justin rolled his eyes. “Other than being
able to dunk, I haven’t seen anything special yet. His defense is
full of holes, and you should hear him wheeze after those wind
sprints. Okay, we need a solid offense, but I’d say that it won’t
make much difference to the team whether or not Mr. T. J. is able
to cut it or not, so whatever Shorty here does in the Weener’s
Circle may not make any difference.

Carla applied her other elbow to Justin’s
side, and he leaned an elbow on her head for a few seconds.

“Hey, watch the bouf! Okay, guys, I
appreciate your watching out for me, but I can take care of myself.
I think. Except when someone like the walking sofa on my right sits
on me. Ow!”

Eric removed a ponderous elbow from her
shoulder. “Well, you’re not the only thing I can choose to sit on,
you know, so show a little respect here!”

“Always good to know whom I have to respect
around here. Might turn out useful some day. Hey, can someone give
me a ride home?”

The group broke up, and Carla found her self
in the front seat of Eric’s car. Neither said anything until he
pulled into her driveway, behind her dad’s pickup.

“Hey, thanks, big guy.”

“No problem, little girl. We meant what we
said about taking care of you, too. We’ve seen T. J. in action a
time or two before, and we don’t believe in that stuff.”

“I appreciate it, but you know, he’s like
anyone else; he has his problems, too.”

Eric snorted. “Baloney. T. J. is NOT like
anyone else around here.”

Carla nodded her head slowly. “I just hope
that he’s a little more like his brother, who at least seems to be
a gentleman.”

“Whatever. Look, I gotta get home before my
dad creams me. I still have chores to do.”

“All right. Thanks again!” She barely got
the door shut before the car started moving, and she watched it as
it disappeared down the street.

* * *

Something smelled good as soon as she opened
the door, and her dad leaned through the kitchen door.

“Hope you like pot roast, Carla. I got off
early today and decided to fix up something decent for a change
instead of bringing home bagged burgers.”

“Mmm! You bet!”

She had forgotten what a great cook her
father could be when he wanted to, and the good food seemed to
loosen both of them up at dinner so that the conversation flowed.
Afterwards, she washed the dishes, and he dried.

“Pop, you remember Alaina? She’s my old
babysitter who lived down the street and got married and moved to
LA a couple of years ago? She used to fix pot roast just like you
did.”

“Well, there aren’t too many different ways
to fix pot roast, you know. With onions, without – that’s about
it.” He dried the last plate, put it in the cupboard, and pushed
the door closed and draped the towel over a kitchen chair.

Carla suddenly remembered. Alaina now lived
in LA, where she worked for an information retrieval service. She’d
be the perfect one to check on the Watkins brothers!

“Um … you know, I haven’t talked to her
since last Christmas. Do you mind if I call her tonight? I promise
to keep it under an hour. Okay, a half-hour.”

“Well. Twenty minutes or less would be
better. But, okay. I’m going to watch a little TV, so keep it
down.”

“No problem, Pop.” Carla dried her hands and
practically skipped up the stairs to her room. Her father would be
snoozing within a few minutes of turning on the tube and would hear
nothing, and he wouldn’t holler too much about the phone bill. As
long as she kept it under a hundred bucks for the month. Okay,
thirty.

With the two-hour time difference between
Kansas and California, she knew that Alaina would still be at work.
She heard the receiver click after the second ring.

“LA Information Retrieval. This is Alaina.
How may I help you?”

“Hey, Alaina. This is Carla. Cross. Back in
corny Kansas. You busy?”

She heard a low chuckle on the other end.
“Like a coon caught in a crossfire in a catalpa tree. What’s up,
kid?”

“Listen, Alaina. I know you’re busy, but I
need to know if you can help me out with a little four-one-one. LA
stuff.”

“That’s our specialty here, and it’s a
little slow right now. Sure. What do you need?”

“I need to know about a Jace, J-A-C-E
Watkins, and his brother T. J.; that’s …”

“Okay, okay, I got it.”

“Duh. Sorry.” Carla could hear the clicking
of long fingernails on a keyboard through the receiver. She
waited.

“Bingo. It looks as if Mr. First Initial “T”
Second Initial “J” has had a rap sheet which has been expunged, so
he may have been in trouble, maybe did some public service work,
but this Jace Watkins … Carla, are you in some kind of
trouble?”

Carla giggled. “Not yet, anyway. Jace is an
assistant coach here, and he’s asked me to tutor his brother so he
can stay eligible for sports, and … well, I just wanted to know
what I’m dealing with.”

“Well, you’re dealing with someone who was
in a gang, Carla. And you know what they say … once in, always in.
Says here, though, that he turned state’s witness in a murder trial
and that all charges against him were dropped. Apparently he was a
good witness, because the defendant was convicted.”

Carla took a deep breath. Murder?

“Um … Alaina … does it say what he’d been
charged with?”

“Accessory. But that could mean anything; I
see that when they just want to hold someone until they can squeeze
info out of them or convert that charge to something more serious.
Carla, be careful, will you?”

“You got it, sister. But I have a lot of
friends here, and Niotaka is a small town. My business is their
business. You dig?”

“How could I forget? They knew that I was
pregnant almost before I did!”

They chatted for a few minutes more; Carla
thanked her and hung up. Twelve minutes. That would hardly be a
blip on the old phone bill. And wait until she told the others
tomorrow.

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