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Chapter 5: Scene 18: Let's see what you can do, Cowboy


ThinkLink: Did you ever have to decide whether to tell on somebody for doing something bad? What did you do?


The next morning Kelly walks me over to Taylor Cottage. He stays right behind me, close as my shadow, ready to pounce on me if I take a wrong step. The sun's warm on my head and I feel like a prairie dog that's come up out of his hole. We walk past old two-story cottages toward low brown buildings that look like one-story houses, only bigger.

       Kelly drops me off and I stand by Davis, the cottage manager, at the front door of Taylor while he answers an intercom on the wall. "OK on this end," he says. He opens the front door waves at a man standing at the door of the building Davis says is the school. The man waves back and herds a line of kids toward the cottage. I see Tony and Pat and two other guys I recognize. "Always stay in line and always stay with staff," Davis says.

       "Hey, Cowboy!" Tony says as he comes in, slapping at my arm like we was buddies. Pat looks wide-awake for a change. He grins and sticks his hands out for a slap as he goes by.

       "Watch that," Davis calls after them. "You've got thirty minutes recreation out in the yard. Basketballs are out in the bin on the walkway."

       "How about the Ping-Pong stuff?" a kid asks.

       Davis hands him a canvas bag. "Look out how you use those paddles. Mr. Ferguson is outside with B-wing kids. I'm watching you A-wings."

       I follow out the door and around the corner to the concrete that goes all around the cottage. I lean back against the wall, and Pat comes and squats down beside me. "I got my first-level privs today," he says. "My mom and brother get to visit Sunday. I sure want to see my bro." Pat smiles big. "Him and me got a deal."

       Tony's leaning up against the wall on the other side of Pat. "Some deal," he says. "Last time he came he was going to bring a whole carton. All he brought was some rolling paper and a baggy of dried-out tobacco . And they took that off him at the Ad building."

       "Wait," Pat says. "You'll see."

       Tony leans over me. "Fetch me a basketball, Cow Manure." He cackles. "You get it? Bull Shit. Cow Manure. He spits off to the side, but the spray catches me.

       I pull a ball out of the box and toss it to Tony, who runs off toward the basket. "What's wrong with him?" I ask Pat.

       "He gets pissed when guys talk family. He ain't got one and he don't want to know about anybody else's."

       "At least I got my Mom," I say. "You got a dad?"

       "Three," he says, "but I ain't seen any of ‘em for a couple of years." He smiles, looking like Momma's little angel. "Good thing for them. I'm big enough to take 'em on now."

       Tony comes back over, slams the basketball right in my gut and runs back to the basket. "Over here, one-on-one," he calls back. I look around at Davis. He nods, so I trot down under the hoop. "Let's see what you can do, Cowboy," Tony says, back to his usual self. He arches the ball up and it falls through the net, clean and clear. I catch it on the rebound, and go back a step to get my balance. Something slams into my back.

       "Get outta my way!" someone yells. I look over my shoulder at short, squat Randy. He pokes me in the ribs. "You're so good at Assault . Show me how good you are. Come on, come on. I'll take you out in nothing flat."

       I whip around to face him. I been waiting for this to happen. I stick my face into his and say something dumb: "You and who else?" Randy clenches his fists but he keeps them down by his sides. He presses in closer so his face is right up to my chin. His sharp nose and little eyes he squints up into slits make him look like a weasel . I look for Davis, but he's facing the other way. I put my fists up. I don't know if I can beat him, but he's not going to let up on me 'til I try.

       Ferguson comes up from the other side. "What's going on here?"

       Randy steps back. "Nothing, Mr. Ferguson. This new guy just ran into me, shooting baskets, you know. Everything's cool."

       What a phony . I take a step toward Ferguson to tell him what happened, but Tony gives me a hard look and mouths "no."

       I use Randy's words. "Everything's cool."

       Ferguson walks away and Randy whirls around and snarls at me. "Hey, country boy, you was going to snitch on me. That's not smart. I go down, you go down. I ain't afraid of lockup , and I'd be crazy about taking you with me." He pulls his face away from mine and runs back toward the basket.

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 Updated on 5/13/04

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