Pale-skinned, blonde-haired, blue-eyed Vinnie Crupolla had, by an impossible series of genetic transformations, metamorphoses, and mutations, inherited all of his physical traits from the purely Scandinavian, maternal side of the family, without any paternal Mediterranean swarthiness whatsoever. However, by way of an absurd Lamarckian atavism, he possessed the gestural and speech patterns from past generations of Crupollas who had lived in the metropolitan areas of the northeastern United States. It was as if Jay North had been raised in the house of Tony Soprano. This was quite unlike his best friend, Jose O'Houlihan, or as he was known to most of his associates, the Freckled (sometimes "Speckled") Mexican.
"FUHGEDDABOUDIT!" exclaimed Vinnie as the boys stood at the urinals in one of the hallway restrooms of Oliver Wendell Hardy Middle School. Vinnie, or course, meant nothing specific by this; it was more an instinctive linguistic eruption than actual conversation.
At this point, Assistant Principal Dink Spfinkler sauntered in. Unzipping at one of the short urinals used by the smaller boys, AP Spfinkler looked over at the two young men just then finishing up and said, "I have to use one of these. Don't want to get the end of my dick wet."
While this may have been a shocking statement coming from most school administrators, Vinnie and Jose shrugged it off. Rumor had it that Mr. Spfinkler had bedded half the eighth grade girls, and if some reports are to be believed, not a few of the boys as well. Among many of the students, AP stood for "Ass Pounder, -Pumper, or -Poker", depending on one's preference, or, to the more worldly and sophisticated eighth graders, "Anal Penetrator."
"Top of the morning to you, Senor Spfinkler."
And the boys were out the door.
The two boys skittered and elbowed their way through the between-class congestion. Suddenly, the sea of bodies parted in a wave emanating from the far end of the hallway. Recollected at random moments in years still in the distant future, the memory will perhaps unwind in slow motion, a power pop soundtrack playing in time to the gently bouncing hair of the group of girls approaching them. The boys gazed in confused rapture, felt a pang whose satisfaction they only vaguely understood, gleaned as it was from fragmentary remembrances of dreams with damp, embarrassing consequences and faded, moisture-wrinkled pictures in certain magazines found in clubhouses, attics, and sock drawers scattered about town.
Veronica Thales was what adolescent poets would call "a vision". Taller than most of the teachers, her waist-length blonde hair, perfectly straight and without a tangle or split, presented an example unmatched by any but the most flawless shampoo commercial specimens. She had curves and bumps in places that most of her peers would not develop for at least another six months to a year, and in proportions that few would ever achieve. She could easily pass for eighteen, though it was not that she looked old, not exactly. There was something in her eyes, the set of her jaw, the erect bearing, that hinted at a destiny, a life of accomplishment already fulfilled, a future of honor societies, student presidencies, prom queen coronations, debate team captaincies, star quarterback boyfriends, charity event organizings, valedictory speeches, all foregone conclusions. Whatever might become of her later, life through high school was already encoded in her every feature.
Around Veronica, several lesser satellites orbited. Katie Scrimshaw and Cynthia Goobe were what are known as "popular girls", a tag which one would hardly assign to Veronica, who would more accurately be defined as the limit which popularity, merely a single term in a more complex social function, only approached. Katie and Cynthia were thus the available playthings of Fate, a fact which lent them a metaphysical nervousness that manifested itself in the well-known need of teenage girls to chatter incessantly about the glittering surfaces, the brightly colored, crunchy candy coating of their lives. On the quieter end of the spectrum, and to Veronica's left, fluttered Francine Spentweiler, who covered, quite completely, all her self-doubt and natural beauty under make-up that, though excessive, was so expertly applied that it went largely unnoticed. There was, however, the story, possibly apocryphal, that once, in fourth grade, she had sneezed so hard in class that she instantly created a remarkable likeness of the Shroud of Turin on the back of a classmate's sweater. It was further rumored that said classmate's mother, a homemaker of a decidedly entrepreneurial bent, later made a killing by selling, through an online auction site, the sweater in question, where it was listed with an array of root vegetables, stained diapers, and weathered garage doors under the "Religious Relics" category.
The boys gazed, until the memory of previous assignations pressed its way into consciousness. Snapping back suddenly to the more quotidian aspects of adolescent life, the boys hurried off down a hall perpendicular, knowing in their very bones they would always be running parallel to the stuff of their dreams.
As the boys gathered around Vinnie's locker, in the waning moments of freedom before the tardy bell, Skeeter McGee, the very picture of befuddlement, came walking slowly down the hall toward them.
"And what might you be doing getting here so late and all, amigo?" asked Jose.
"Weirdest thing, my fine freckled friend," Skeeter, stroking his chin, "Queenie asked me if I would be willing to help tutor her in English."
"Ay, caramba and begorrah!"
Other registrations of astonishment hinted at the complex wonder of this revelation. Kiwi "Queenie" Quevil was quickly becoming a regional celebrity and local legend. Her middle school basketball and volleyball exploits had every high school in the district courting her. There were even rumors of forthcoming shoe endorsements. The only student in Oliver Wendell Hardy Middle School taller than Veronica Thales, she was as dark as Veronica was fair, though her face still seemed to exude a certain radiance. Whether or not this was the result of some inner spiritual light or just natural teenage glandular activity is, unfortunately, beyond the scope of the present investigation. Whatever the case may be, she had always struck the boys as aloof; not unfriendly, really, so much as completely unaware of their existence. The fact that she would even know who Skeeter McGee was was curious enough. The idea of asking for his assistance in some kind of academic capacity was nothing short of astonishing, given Skeeter's flair for general classroom delinquency.
"You... tutor?" asked Josh Vedonya, incredulous and smarmy.
"Yeah... me," replied Skeeter, eyes still glazed with confusion. "Apparently, Mrs. Scranton told her I'm some kind of, I don't know, whiz with the English language. Told Queenie I have a real untapped talent for it or something. Like maybe by working with her I reach my own potential. Some crap like that."
"Aw baloney!" erupted Vinnie at a higher decibel level than the circumstances probably warranted.
"And the really strange thing," Skeeter continued, "she offered to help me with math."
As this confounded group of young men attempted to digest this information, they were confronted by a visibly excited and somewhat out of breath Scooter McGoo. Scooter was an ideal student from the perspective of the public school system: perfect attendance, willing to do as much extra credit work as necessary to pass, able to be coached to success on standardized tests, all the while possessing the attention span and knowledge retention of a retarded goldfish. "Guys! Guys!" Scooter breathed heavily, "Substitute!"
The psychic muscle responsible for adolescent rebellion had so atrophied in Scooter, that the most reckless behavior he could muster up was to inform his friends of the substitute's presence, and follow along in the wake of those whose actions might best be characterized as "spirited."
"Who do we got today?" asked Skeeter, the light of mischief coming on behind his eyes as the drool of anticipation found in predatory beasts began to gather at the corners of his mouth.
"Old Mrs. Kornflugel!" crowed Scooter. The name was barely out of his mouth before extensive plans for war were being hatched. Rubber bands appeared in every hand; strips of paper were folded into V-shaped missiles, hard enough to put an eye out; paper airplanes were being constructed in numbers that could enact in detail the Battle of Britain over the desks in Room 208.
"You know what we could do?" The question came in a voice measured, calculating, and cold. The boys paused and turned to face the acknowledged prince of all things furtive and truant, the dark specter of Paul Harvey Oswald. "You know that janitor's closet in the upstairs hallway? Did you know it sits right over the girls' locker room? And did you further know that there is a pipe leak in said closet, causing a rotten floorboard that allows, after some discrete handiwork on the ceiling beneath it, direct visual access to that locker room?"
All parties present, with the possible exception of Scooter, instantly understood the implications thereof, as well as certain practical applications. New plans were formulated, and much imagination brought to bear on the various logistical problems, viz. 1) when would their surreptitious excursion take place? and 2) how would they escape detection on the way to the appointed place?
"This is perfect," opined Skeeter. "We have second lunch, right? So we go to class, then to lunch, then peel off from the main group on our way back to class."
"Yeah," said Josh, "and if we can cause enough trouble the first half of class, either it keeps going after lunch and old Mrs. Kornflugel doesn't even notice we're gone, or she'll be so relieved there are fewer kids that she won't care."
"An ongoing diversion," mused Paul, "I like that, Vedonya. That's genius."
"All right, then," continued Skeeter, "let's say we cut out at the middle set of stairs, where traffic is going to be busiest at that time of day. Where to then, Paul?"
A broad smile, filled with malevolent glee, came to the master tactician's face. "Only two rooms to get by: the band hall and the science lab. Band class will be in full swing, and get this: word on the street is that today Mr. Iago's class will be in the lab." His low Shadow-chuckle slowly unfolded into a full-fledged Wicked-Witch-of-the-West-cackle. Mr. Oscar "Oz" Iago was an immensely popular teacher whose classes bore a decidedly carnivalesque aspect, not least because he somehow managed to teach science while speaking exclusively in lyrics taken from the recordings of Elvis Presley. "Speaking the King's English" he called it.
One final question remained, upon which hinged whether or not this day would be remembered as just another juvenile lark, or a watershed moment in the lives of the future leaders of America. It was left to Scooter McGoo to articulate what was only partially formulated in every mind. "Which gym class is going on then?"
Had Paul Harvey Oswald inhabited the pages of a cheap sword and sorcery novel, this would have been the moment he gradually rose in splendor to transform into some majestic, serpentine thing, eyes ablaze in evil glory, wings spreading in dread magnificence, slowly swallowing all light from the day. He drew out the moment, grandly, even theatrically, replying, "Eighth grade girls."
Almost breathless for once, Vinnie asked the rare for him unfinished question, "You mean...?"
"Francine Spentweiler," said Paul, heightening the drama, as he saw it, by going down the list of names one by one.
"Nice piece," grunted Vinnie.
"Babe," said Josh Vedonya.
"Super babe," quipped Jose.
Paul hesitated, pushing to almost unbearable levels the anticipation of what all were sure, were hoping, would follow. Paul slowly, lavishly dwelled on each syllable, "Ve-ro-ni-ca Tha-les."
"Ultimate babe," sighed Scooter, once again speaking on behalf of the group as a whole. The warning bell sounded its assent.
It started slowly, as Mrs. Kornflugel took roll. By the time she reached the Day twins, Annie and Esther, operations had commenced. Slowly becoming unable to curtail the various displays of unbridled creativity, Mrs. K soldiered on bravely, finally calling the last name, "Josh Vedonya, III."
"Here," chirped Josh, all syrup and soft light amid the chaos.
"Josh the Third? Is 'Deuce' Vedonya your father?"
This was always a question that brought annoyance and pride in equal measure to young Josh's heart and mind. Josh 'Deuce' Vedonya, Jr. was a high school football legend in Holmes County and environs, and his son, to whom the nickname 'Trey' never stuck, would spend an inordinate amount of his adolescent time sorting out all the emotional consequences of his paternity. This day his conflicted feelings would manifest themselves in that surreptitious misbehavior that subconsciously longs to come to light and thereby become acknowledged. He thus threw himself into the task at hand, as he, Scooter, Paul, and Vinnie began passing notes back and forth, allowing the supposedly secret contents to fall "accidentally" into the hands of carefully selected girls. Nasty rumors of who had been seen speaking to whom while wearing what soon had the entire female population of the class, sans Mrs. Kornflugel, at one another's throats at top volume. Jose O'Houlihan, raised on a diet heavy on boiled cabbage and refried beans, was uniquely equipped to handle any lapses in mayhem with well-placed prompts to conversation and merriment. Execution of the plan was as flawless as its conception. The bell for lunch was barely audible above the din.
As the boys made their way to the cafeteria with the rest of their classmates, Kiwi "Queenie" Quevil, standing outside the library door, motioned Skeeter over. Shrugging to his mates, Skeeter wandered over to her, and the two quickly disappeared into the quiet, far too quiet for the Skeeters of the world it is supposed, confines of the library.
"I wonder what she's up to," said Paul. "I mean, she already has a ton of cash from those upcoming radio spots. What the hell does she care about grades?"
Further confusion was to befall the lads before lunch was finished. As they were going through the lunch line, another class was making its way toward the exit.
"Sonofabitch!" yelled Vinnie Crupolla, as goggle-eyed Josh Vedonya, staring fixedly at Veronica Thales, dumped his whole tray of tuna skroodle, chocolate milk, and fruit cup on Vinnie, who had himself stopped suddenly in order to dwell on Miss Thales' heavenly aspect. Soon, Jose, Scooter, and Paul were all covered, in whole or part, by what the Thomas-Sherlock School District charitably referred to as "lunch."
"Crupolla!" thundered Assistant Principle Dink Spfinkler, himself dabbing at a bit of spittle occasioned by the presence of Veronica and her cohorts. Mrs. Scranton, presently on cafeteria duty, looked on in disapproval, disapproval that seemed to be directed more at Mr. Spfinkler than anyone else, her innate dislike for the amiable AP having been fueled recently upon hearing the story, which was in a transitional phase between rumor and urban myth, that he had once played bass in a band called NAMBLA Panda, which combined some of the less appealing characteristics of prog rock and pedophilia.
What might have otherwise become a lengthy and rancorous melee became merely a truncated inconvenience for those involved; they had more pressing matters than recrimination and retribution, those two staples of middle school life. No, these young men were on a mission not to be gainsaid, and much to their credit they were able to overlook the various insults, injuries, and food stains each had sustained. They had become a team. When it came time to split off from the group returning to 208, the boys acted almost as one (0.8333... to be precise).
As the boys made their way up the stairs, they spotted the stealthy advance through the jammed hallway of Skeeter McGee. A quick calculation by Paul Harvey Oswald determined that the group had just enough time to wait and let him catch up, with a few seconds to spare for a quick interrogation concerning his, Skeeter's, recent movements.
"And where might you have been all this time, my bonnie amigo?" asked Jose.
"I was doing a quick consultation with Queenie in the library," replied Skeeter. "We were going over our schedules and agendas and such."
"You had a quick consultation... with Queenie Quevil?" asked the rather suspicious by nature Vinnie.
"Yes I did," Skeeter replied, in a manner more formal than was his wont. "In fact, I have ascertained that her decidedly aloof manner toward us is in fact due to an inability to express herself adequately, an inability which has affected her course work as well. My task, as I understand it, is to assist her in becoming more proficient in her use of the English language, as both a spoken and written medium."
"What the hell are you talking about?" asked Josh. "Everybody knows Queenie has a full ride scholarship to any school in the country. That's assuming she doesn't turn pro at the end of eighth grade. Why does she care about freakin' expressing herself?"
"Listen Josh," Skeeter replied, "none of that stuff is true. Queenie's just a kid, like us. She doesn't speak well and she's shy about it. She doesn't write well and it affects her grades and her self-confidence. But do you know what I found out? She's not stupid, she just doesn't use words well. But give her a page of math problems and it's like she's found her long lost home. Math is her first language. Whatever help I may be to her in English is nothing compared to what she can do for my math grades. She starts speaking in equations and it's like a fog lifts and the whole world, math and all, makes perfect sense. She's practically Pythagorean I tell you. I'll bet she may never play pro ball, but she'll end up winning a Nobel Prize."
"All noble prizes aside," said an impatient Paul Harvey Oswald, "we need to get going before Mrs. Scranton is off lunch duty and rounds that hallway corner in about eight seconds."
With all due haste and a generous portion of stealth, the group ascended the stairs and took a left down the hall. They passed by the band room, their passage covered by the sound of sixth graders performing "Mary Had a Little Lamb" in their own version of the Mixolydian mode. They had no trouble skirting the science lab, where Mr. Iago's class was performing scientific investigations with all the volume and physical exertion for which his students were known. Barely audible above the general clamor, "Oz" Iago was exercising his own brand of pedagogy. "Make some noise with them pots and pans... A little less conversation, a little more action... Thank you, thank you very much."
Presently, their goal was before them. The boys stood in front of the utility closet, unmoving, dealing with the realization that what had once been nothing more than an abstract ideal had finally materialized as an actual door. It was at this moment, which should have been one for savoring, that a practical consideration, one that in retrospect seems so obvious, presented itself: what would be the proper viewing order? The logical follow-up question, concerning the allotted viewing time, would never get asked, for the discussion would prove so rancorous, that, when combined with certain unforeseen events, all issues at hand would neatly resolve themselves.
The central point on which the debate hinged was the relative merit of each member's contribution to the enterprise. Though the entire dialogue lasted only seconds, it soon escalated to heights of Socratic sophistication that strain credulity.
"Mucilaginous anal discharge!"
"La ranita go holc!"
"Ignorant leniting mick beaner with an improper understanding of adjectival construction following a feminine noun!"
"Jeez, McGee... what the hell?"
It soon became apparent that little could be resolved with this approach. The situation called for, and was answered with, bold physical action, gumption in motion, if you will. As the various bodies involved jumped to ever higher energy states, critical mass was soon reached.
"Stop shoving, goddammit!" yelled Vinnie Crupolla, in a rare instance of volume syncing up perfectly with occasion, as he tried to hold back the crowd that was moving him with implacable force against the door. Hinges groaned and locks gave way, and Vinnie, tumbling into the small room, brooms, mops, solvents, and cleansers raining down around him, loosed upon his co-conspirators, piling in after and atop him, a largely rhetorical question with his customary gusto.
As indirect middle school hall light flooded the room, there, startled of mien and awkward of pose, lurking above the rotted floor, was Assistant Principal Dink Spfinkler, pants around his ankles and hands hidden from view. Vinnie Crupolla's question echoed, amplified and modulating, wavering between a recognizably Vinnie-esque exclamation born of limitedly articulate frustration, and the accusatory howl of a desert prophet rebuking the stubborn tribes of a sinning nation.
Inc. Rep. No. 04-011-03211
21 Apr. 20
RO 742 and RO 661 arrived O. W. Hardy MS 1408h. Proceeded to Room 17A (Girls' locker). ROs found S1 under control of W1 and W21. They stated they arrived on scene after summoned by W32. W3, W4, W5, W6, W7, W8, W9 stated that while dressing after gym, S1 fell through ceiling of 17A, landed in place and condition noted by ROs. They further state that W10, W11, W12, W13, W14, W15 fell into room immediately after S1, apparently in 'heroic' (per W33) attempt to subdue/apprehend S1. ROs observed S1 semi-conscious, bleeding from mouth and nose, minor cuts/abrasions on arms, legs, rib cage. Unable to ascertain extent of internal injuries; S1 remained unmoved throughout. S1 had pants around ankles. Extent of exposure unclear, as S1 was wearing boxer type shorts and no witnesses could make definitive statement. W10, W11, W12, W13, W14, W15 concur in statements: returning to class after lunch, heard 'suspicious' noises from utility room.4 Upon entering, observed S1, pants down, appearing to look through hole in floor. Note: utility room located directly above 17A (Girls' Locker).5 W10 addressed S1 "What are you doing?" They entered room en masse6 to assess situation. Upon entry floor gave way as W10, W11, W12, W13, W14, W15, attempted to apprehend S1. S1 taken into custody, mirandized by RO 742. Ambulance arrived on scene 1417h. S1 taken to Holmes County General under control and custody of ROs.
1 Almost certainly campus SRO Frank Jaxport and Coach Kimberly "Tank" van Chankl (Ed.)
2 Presumably Veronica Thales. In addition to physical maturity, Veronica was advanced beyond her peers in matters of crisis management. (Ed.)
3 The statement must have involved effusiveness of a very high order to merit note. (Ed.)
4 Some have seen in this a rush to judgment on the part of law enforcement. Apologists for the accused have pointed to the fact that the main witnesses against him were never questioned on two salient (as they view it) points: 1) why were said witnesses upstairs in the first place? The contention is that the entire returning-from-lunch explanation is shaky at best; and 2) what exactly constitutes 'suspicious' vis a vis noise? (Ed.)
5 Goes directly to intent. (Ed.)
6 Uncommon usage given genre. (Ed.)