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Authors: Andy Behrens

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BOOK: Beauty and the Bully
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“And he's a new kid,” said Duncan. “So he has no attachment to anyone in school—none whatsoever. This is key. He's the ideal candidate to terrorize me. Can you just imagine Carly's reaction if Freddie were to, like, cram me in a locker? That'd be awesome.”
“Dude, she'd crawl in there and give you mouth-to-mouth, ” said Jessie. She and Duncan high-fived.
“How the hell are you going to get the universe's preeminent bully to work with you?” asked Stew. “Seems tricky.”
“It does,” agreed Duncan.
“Everybody wants somethin'” said Jessie matter-of-factly. “I'll bet Freddie is no different.”
“Except for Sloth,” said Duncan. “He wanted nothing.”
“Nothing we could give him,” countered Jessie. “That's all. But a third-shift worker living alone in that cat-poop-box of an apartment probably wants
something
.”
“Fair point,” said Duncan. “So what do we think Freddie wants?”
“Hell if I know,” she said. “You've gotta ask.”
“You're the one who has a way with people,” said Duncan. “You ask.”
“But I am
not
the one trying to score with Carly Garfield.” She wagged a finger. “And anyway, Freddie ain't people. He's scarier.” She grabbed another handful of fries.
From a far corner of the cafeteria they heard a male voice scream, then breaking glass, and then the clatter of multiple trays against the floor. Soon after they heard cackling—the same cackling they'd heard during gym class.
“Ooh, that's our boy!”
Jessie stood and stared in the direction of the noises.
“Looks like he somehow took down half the boys' golf team,” she said.
“It's okay,” said Duncan. “They were expendable.”
“Kenny Miessler got ketchup—wait, no, it's barbecue sauce—on his V-neck sweater.”
“Is nothing sacred to Freddie?” said Duncan, smiling.
He and Stew were standing, too. They watched Freddie saunter toward a circular table in the corner of the cafeteria where the Goth kids and German exchange students sat. Freddie stood over them for a moment, his tray clutched in his right hand. He bent low, getting in the face of a black-haired nose-ring boy named Clint Chesbro.
“Boo!”
yelled Freddie in a thunderous voice.
Clint fell back into his food. He and his friends abandoned the table. Freddie sat down, alone.
“That guy is freakin'
scary
,” said Stew.
“Uh-huh,” said Duncan. “We weren't kidding. We don't kid about important stuff like that.”
“Think Clint's gonna go cast a level-four spell against Freddie?” asked Jessie.
“I don't think even the darkest Goth magic works against someone like that,” said Stew. “Wow.”
“Impressive,” Duncan said. “I know.”
“So go over there and ask him to help you, dude,” said Stew. “Now's your chance. He's alone.”
“Well, I can't just walk up to him in the cafeteria,” said Duncan. “It's too public. He'd kill me with his spoon.”
“Normally when you avoid confrontation, Duncan, I think you're wussing out,” said Jessie. “But here you have a valid point. You've only got one shot with Freddie. If he turns you down cold, it's over. Period. Over. No more bully. And yeah, then he probably kills you with a blunt tool.”
“So when are you gonna ask him for help?” asked Stew.
“You have to catch him alone,” said Jessie. “This is imperative. Remember what a pushover Sloth was when no one was watching?”
“But Sloth really
is
a pushover,” said Duncan. “Remember the lesson you learned? Judging books by their fur? Or something like that.”
“Funny,” she said. “But I bet that if we'd gone to talk to Sloth in the Maple North cafeteria, he would've behaved differently. There would've been no polite conversation over curry, no shy admission of his nonthreateningness.”
“True,” said Duncan. “I can see that. So we approach Freddie when he's alone.”
“There you go with the
we
again,” said Jessie. She'd finished her fries and had begun to lick ketchup from her fingers.
"C'mon,” said Duncan, looking at her skeptically. “I'll do the talking—or at least I'll try—but you can't honestly expect me to approach him by myself. Seriously? That seems an unnecessary risk. Sure, he might be a bit more tame when he's alone. But the operative word there is
might
. He could also rip my torso from my legs, like Cage in Mortal Kombat.”
“Freddie's a big dude,” said Jessie, “but I don't think he has a Mortal Kombat-style signature fatality. He might be working on it, though. So fine, we'll go with you.”
Carly briskly walked past Duncan's table. She looked at him, smiled, and waved with a quick twist of her wrist.
After she'd walked a few more feet, Stew slapped Duncan's back. “That was touching. Honestly, man. As someone who's known you for many years—someone who's seen more than a few pathetic displays from you regarding that chick—to see her acknowledge you directly”—Stew pretended to wipe a tear from his cheek—“maybe not with actual speech, but with eye contact . . . well, it's just really beautiful.” He sniffed mockingly.
Jess reached a hand across the table as if to console Stew. “Thank you,” said Duncan, playing along. “I couldn't have come so far so fast without the support of my BFFs.” He teased his green beans with a plastic fork. “In a few days I won't even get eye contact—not unless I can stir up a little more sympathy affection.”
“Then we need to make the move on Freddie soon,” said Jess.
“We don't know anything about him yet,” said Duncan. “We've performed no research. No recon. We need to know his likes, his dislikes, his habits, his weakne—”
“He's on the move!” said an excited Stew.
Freddie was walking toward an exit. He'd left his tray at the lunch table. A cafeteria monitor began to approach him, then clearly thought better of it. Freddie threw open a set of double doors and left the lunchroom.
“We should follow him,” said Duncan.
“We'll never catch up,” said Jess. “And if we did, what would we do? The bell's about to go off, kids will flood the hallway, and then there's no talking to him. Because he really would rip you apart at the waist.”
“Right. So how do we corner him?”
“Outside,” she said. “Parking lot. After school. We'll locate his locker before the end of the day, then tail him.”
“What if he takes the bus?” asked Duncan.
“Then today we take the bus.” She thought for a moment. “No, actually
you
take the bus, Duncan. Stew and I will follow in my car. We maintain contact via cell. When Freddie gets off, you get off.”
“What if the bus loses you?” asked Duncan.
“You think a school bus is going to try to
shake
me?”
“No, right, I guess not.”
“Don't you have detention today, Jess?” asked Stew.
“Why, thank you, Stewart. Nice to know you're monitoring my disciplinary obligations. Yes, I do have detention penciled into the planner today. But I'm gonna go ahead and miss it, I think.”
The bell rang. After lunch, Jessie quickly located Freddie 's locker, then relayed its coordinates to Duncan and Stew. Classes came and went. Duncan exchanged pleasantries with Carly. She had the kindest smile, the most emotive eyes, the least insincere “How're you feeling, Duncan?” he'd ever heard. It wasn't quite the same as Friday's outflow of compassion, but it was good. Immediately following eighth period, Duncan, Stew, and Jess met at a predetermined location near—but not too near—Freddie's locker. Duncan felt like a small weapon-less hunter stalking some enormous six-headed dragon.
They followed Freddie outside, maintaining a safe distance, so it was unlikely they would be noticed by their target. Much to Duncan's relief, Freddie walked past the row of buses and toward the student lot. He had a slow, ominous gait. Unhurried yet untiring, like the preternaturally evil killers in eighties slasher movies. The plodding pace actually made it difficult for them to follow Freddie sneakily. Stew and Jessie broke away from Duncan, circling around to the opposite side of the lot. They had decided not to approach Freddie as a group—“If he sees us come at him,” said Jessie, “he's more likely to blow.”
When he reached the asphalt of the student lot, Freddie slowed further. He scanned the parking area, seemed to identify his car, then walked toward it. Stew and Jessie crept along the tree line that bordered the lot. Duncan had moved himself to within twenty feet of Freddie, close enough to feel—or to imagine feeling—an aura of pure mean. They were heading toward an old, partially rusted black Monte Carlo that appeared to have a person waiting at the wheel. Duncan sped up.
“Hey, um . . . hello!” he called tentatively. “Freddie? Hello? I was wondering if I could have just a quick second.”
Freddie turned slowly. His eyes were narrowed, his expression menacing. He balled his beefy hands into fists. Duncan stepped back to make sure he wasn't standing within arm's length. He'd lost sight of Stew and Jess.
“Oh, hi,” Duncan said. “Welcome to Elm Forest, Freddie. You're new, right? I'm Duncan.” He nervously cleared his throat. “Duncan Boone. I'm a junior here. We're in gym class together. Man, that Coach Chambliss sure is a bast—”
Turns out Duncan had underestimated the length of Freddie 's arms.
In a swift, almost effortless motion, Freddie grabbed Duncan 's shirt and flung him onto the trunk of the Monte Carlo. Duncan made a faint
“ooooohh”
sound as he twisted through the air, then landed with a thud. Freddie pinned him against the car with his left forearm—which felt like an anvil—and kept his right hand available for pummeling.
“No time to chat, dweeb.”
11
“Wow,” said Jess, emerging from behind a yellow SUV. “That was just spectacular.”
“Dude is good,” said Stew, his head popping out from behind a shrub.
Freddie eyed them suspiciously. He grinned at Duncan, pressing him a bit harder against the hot metal of the Monte Carlo's trunk.
“Friends of yours, loser?”
"Y-yes,” said Duncan. “We're a band. The Blow—whoops, no. We've changed our name. We're called Fat Barbie. We've been playing together for—”
“That's way more information than I need, dork.”
Freddie shoved Duncan higher up onto the car and pressed his face against the rear windshield. Out of the corner of his eye, Duncan could see a small blond girl sitting in the front, watching the confrontation. She looked a little irritated.
Jess crept gingerly along the front end of the SUV.
“So,” she said, “Duncan was just wondering if he could ask you something, Freddie. It's more of an offer, really—a good one.”
Freddie loosened his grip slightly. “What a friendly school this is turning out to be,” he said. He stared intently at Duncan 's face. “Looks like you get yourself beat up from time to time. Maybe you shouldn't sneak up on people so much.”
“You're absolutely correct,” said Duncan. “There's no question. It was foolish. I regret my sneaking. Won't happen again.” He paused. “The black eye is actually from a band-related garage accident, though. A speaker fell and—”
“Don't care, dingleberry. Not even a little.”
The tiny blond girl's head poked out of the driver's-side window. “What the hell, Fred? Get in the car.”
“Hold on,” called Freddie. “This dorkball is trying to ask me something. I've gotta say no, and then I have to make him regret asking. So I'll be a minute.”
“Oh, no,” said Duncan. “No, don't say no until you've heard the pitch. Really. It's nothing too difficult. Minimal effort on your part. My friends and I, we have the greatest respect for your talent. You're the man.”
“An artist,” said Jessie.
“A natural,” added Stew.
“We know,” said Duncan. “We've been investigating the local bully population, and you're really off the map. What we saw today in gym? Let's just say we were impressed, Freddie—and you've impressed the right people.”
Freddie, perplexed, loosened his grip a bit more, allowing Duncan to sit forward.
“I'll tell you what I'm looking for,” he continued. “I need—for reasons that I can't really disclose—a bully. A personal bully. It's not like you'd be on my private staff or anything. I have no staff. I'm not made of money. But I'm looking to pay for à la carte bullying services.”
Freddie stared.
“And I'm not looking for someone to bully
other
people on my behalf, just so you know,” said Duncan. “Nothing like that. No, I need someone to bully
me
. Preferably around school, and at times that are mutually convenient. Starting, like, as soon as possible. All you really have to do is subject me to some prearranged abuse, and I'll give you, say, forty bucks?”
Freddie kept staring.
“Fifty?” asked Duncan. “Really, I have very limited resources, and most of it goes toward sound equip—”
“That's totally deranged, freak.”
“But you'll consider it?”
“Look,” said Freddie, “like you said, I'm a bully. We have a tradition of taking lunch money, property, valuables. Whatever we need, we take. There are income streams available to me. I don't need your cash.”
“Fred!” yelled the blond girl, again sticking her head out the window. “I think it's great that you're trying to make new friends and all, but let's go.”
BOOK: Beauty and the Bully
9.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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