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Authors: April Lurie

The Less-Dead (8 page)

BOOK: The Less-Dead
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No answer.

“Will?” I push the door open. “Will?” I look around. He’s gone. There’s a note on the pillow. I pick it up. Scrawled on the page is the first sentence of Tupac’s poem.

{eight}

THE NEXT
day I’m in PE, bouncing a basketball on the outdoor courts. It’s a game of one-on-one against myself. The rest of the class is playing softball, but I’m not in the mood for team sports. Not today. Each time my ball hits the ground, inside my head I hear
God. Hates. Fags. Bounce, bounce. Fags. Hate. God. Bounce, bounce
. I want to scream. I lift the ball, and just as I’m about to shoot, someone calls, “Noah!”

I turn and see Will. He’s hiding behind the rear wall of the school, waving me over. I glance around. Coach Cameron is pitching softballs, his back toward me. I toss the basketball and run over to Will.

“Dude, what’s going on?” I say. “Why’d you leave last night?”

“Don’t worry about that, Noah. It’s not a big deal. I had stuff to do.”

“Stuff? Like what? Will, the body they found near Town Lake? That could have been
you.”

He takes a deep breath. “Yeah, I know. Look, I don’t want you to get involved in this, Noah. I had to split last night because I knew your parents would try to force me to stay. And, well, I couldn’t.”

“I wish you had. My dad might be an asshole, but he was going to find you a home. He wouldn’t have given up until he’d known you were safe.”

“I know. But right now, I just … I need a friend. Someone to talk to. This whole thing is freaking me out. I’m scared.”

“Me too.” I glance back at my PE class. Coach Cameron is still pitching softballs. As far as I can tell, no one knows I’m missing. “I’ve got about twenty minutes. But what about you? Shouldn’t you be in class?”

“I called in sick. I’m planning to be sick all week. Last night, after I left your house, I went to talk to the undercover detective I used to work with. He thinks it’s best for me to disappear for a while. He’s gonna help me out.”

“Disappear? But where will you go?”

“Don’t worry, I have a place. Anyway, I won’t be around for a while, so I wanted to say goodbye. Also, I wanted to give you something.”

Will reaches inside his coat, pulls out a leather notebook, and hands it to me. It resembles his book of poetry, but it’s newer, less worn. “You can write your songs in there,” he says.

I open the book. The pages are blank, except for the inside cover.

“Nordstrom! What the hell are you doing over there?” It’s Coach Cameron. The snitch beside him is TJ Dumont.

“You’d better go,” Will says.

“But—”

“Hurry.” Will takes off.

I shove the book into my back pocket and head toward Coach.

“Who was with you?” he says.

“No one.”

“Right. Spread your arms and legs.”

TJ smirks while Coach pats me down. When Coach gets to my back pocket, he pulls out the book. “What’s this?”

“Um, a book,” I say.

“Don’t be a wiseguy, Nordstrom. I can see it’s a book. Why’s it in your back pocket during PE?”

I shrug. “Thought I’d take some notes.”

“Very funny.” He flips through the pages, looking for drugs or razor blades or god knows what, and hands it back to me. “All right. Get back to the courts. Fifty pushups and a hundred sit-ups. Now!”

When I’m on push-up number twenty-three, TJ Dumont
strolls up behind me and whips the book out of my pocket. I jump up and try to grab it, but it’s too late.

“‘Dear Noah …’” He reads the inscription aloud. The moron pronounces
facets
like
faucets
. “‘Your friend,
Will.’”
A grin spreads across his face. “Whoa! Guys! Get a load of this! Nordstrom’s a queer! Some
dude
is writing him poetry!”

“Shut up, Dumont. Give me the book.”

He holds up a limp wrist, grabs his crotch with his other hand, and makes an obscene gesture. “What were you two faggots doing behind the wall, Nordstrom? Sticking it where the sun don’t shine?”

Without even thinking I punch Dumont in the stomach. He falls to the ground. I grab the book.

“Nordstrom!” Coach calls. “All right, that’s it! Get your ass to the office! Now!”

While the class looks on in amusement, some clapping, some whistling, I shove the book into my pocket and head toward the door. As I’m walking through the hallway to the main office, I stop in front of a trash can. I hesitate for a moment, then pop the lid, drop in the book, and listen to the quiet thud.

{nine}

MY PUNISHMENT
for punching TJ Dumont in the gut is one week of ISS—In-School Suspension, a term the Rock uses to mean torturing students until they succumb to a mental breakdown. Basically you go to a room filled with other offenders and do your work silently, and if you speak one word—even during lunch, when you’re trying to gag down a prison soy burger—they give you an extra day of ISS. I’ve heard that some kids never get out.

Anyway, it’s my first day. I’m halfway through my math assignment when someone taps me on the shoulder. I turn around. It’s Hawk. He slips into the seat behind me. It’s the first time I’ve seen him since the police handcuffed him in the hallway, since he leaned over and whispered, “Noah, take care of Will.”

Beneath the desk he hands me a crumpled, dirtstained sheet of paper, folded in half. I open it and read:

I look at Hawk and mouth,
Where is he? Have you seen him?

Hawk shakes his head and motions to the front of the room. Slowly, I turn around.

Mr. Briggs is glaring at me. “Is there a problem, Mr. Nordstrom?”

“No, sir. No problem.”

“And, Mr. Smith,” he says to Hawk, “what are you doing here? I don’t have you on the ISS list.”

Hawk stands, walks to the front of the room, and hands Briggs a referral paper. Briggs studies it. “Fine, have a seat. You know the rules.”

Hawk looks straight ahead when he passes my desk. He takes a seat. I try to concentrate on my math, but I can’t. I look at the clock on the wall, ticking away the minutes. I wait for Mr. Briggs to answer a phone call, pour a cup of coffee, scratch an itch—anything. Finally he reaches into his bag and shuffles through some papers. I turn around.

Hawk is gone.

After school, while Carson and I are waiting for the bus, I show him the note.

“I don’t know, man,” he says. “I mean, I definitely want to rock out at the Red Room and all, but this is weird. Hawk delivers the note, and then he disappears? Briggs has security search for him and he doesn’t show up. I mean, what’s going on?”

“I don’t know. I wish Will had told me where he’d be hiding. I just want to talk to him, make sure he’s all right.”

“Hey, Noah?” Carson says. “Are you going to show that note to your father? Let him know Will’s been in touch?”

I think this over. “No. Why should I? What good would it do?”

After Will left our house Monday night, my father called Child Protective Services. They told him they would contact Will’s social worker and, after twenty-four hours, file a missing persons report. Whether they did, I don’t know; I haven’t spoken a word to my dad since Will left.

A minute later our bus pulls in. “Hey, Carson, I have an idea about how we might find Will. Do you still have the spare key to the DPCP’s old Lexus?”

Carson’s got his driver’s license, but since he’s been such a screwup lately, his dad took his keys away and hasn’t let him drive. Luckily Carson made a spare in case of an emergency Like this one. He grins. “Yeah. It’s in my room. Why?”

“Let’s take it down to the Drag. We need some answers.”

Carson parks the Lexus on Twentieth and Guadalupe, and together we head to the old Methodist church.
Doomsday is propped up against one of the carved wooden doors, hunched over a tattered book, his lips moving. I peer at the book’s cover, expecting a Bible, but it’s Walt Whitman’s
Leaves of Grass
. Quindlan is lying beside Doomsday on his bedroll, eyes closed, petting his mangy dog and taking in the sun. As we climb the stairs, I hear Doomsday reading aloud to Quindlan.

“Scented herbage of my breast,
Leaves from you I glean …”

Suddenly the dog’s ears perk up. He lets out a yap. Quindlan sits up; Doomsday stops reading. “Well, well, what do you know?” Quindlan says. “We’ve got company, Dooms. It’s Rasta Man and the Bible Answer Boy.”

Doomsday blinks a few times and scratches his beard. The guy’s ancient. He gazes at me like he’s Moses and I’m the burning bush.

Carson leans over and whispers, “Did that guy just call me
Rasta Man
?”

“Yeah. I guess it’s your dreads.”

Quindlan stands and holds out a hand to me. He looks to be in his midthirties, and if you didn’t know he was homeless, you might think he was a grad student living in one of those hippie co-ops. He’s pretty grungy, though, and his dog’s got some nasty-looking bald patches. I hesitate for a moment, wondering which communicable disease I’m going to catch if I shake his hand. He chuckles. “Don’t worry, Bible Boy, I don’t bite. Besides”—he pats the dog’s head and grins—“Hercules and I both got our rabies shots last week.”

BOOK: The Less-Dead
12.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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