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Chapter 6: Scene 22: This is where the big guys sit


       Tony comes back when all the work's done. He gives Mom Trent a charm-boy smile and a pat on the shoulder. He sure knows how to work the crowd . He points out the middle table. "Sit over there, next to Pat and me."

       "Not enough room."

ThinkLink: Did you ever avoid a fight in the lunchroom? Were you successful?

       "Those wimps'll move." He leans over and pokes a small kid's chair. "Go over there with the weenies, little boy. This is where the big guys sit." I'm not surprised when the kid gets up and skitters across the floor to another table. Tony calls him back. "Bring me some butter, kid." The small guy opens his mouth, like he's going to argue, but he snaps it shut and goes over to the counter. He brings the butter back, sits it in front of Tony, and skitters off again.

       "Demitri's in Howard," Pat says.

       "What's Howard?" I ask.

       "They didn't tell you about Howard?" Tony says. "That's where I go for a little vacation when I want to get away from the weirdoes and soak up some quiet."

       "It's the jail cottage," Pat explains. "Call it lockup . Cells and everything. They strip your tags, though, if you go there. Have to start all over."

       Another new kid, Hi-Lo, tall and lanky, with shiny black-walnut skin bangs up against the back of Tony's chair. "Hey, bro, this dude your new man? He's the right bro for you. I bet your daddy was a white john ." He laughs and goes to sit down next to Randy at the next table. But not before giving Tony a jab in the back.

       Tony jumps up, whirls around and puts his fists up. His cereal dish slides down, the tray milk spilling out. He sweeps his eyes around the room. Mr. Ferguson is across to us in two steps. Mom Trent moves over to the phone on the kitchen wall.

       "That's it, Hi-Lo. You lose your first tag." Ferguson uses his shoulder to steer Tony away from Hi-Lo without getting between them. He edges Hi-Lo back toward Randy. "It took you nine months to get into a low security cottage. It won't take nine seconds to get you busted out of here, doing stuff like this. Hear?"

       "Sure, Mr. Ferguson, I hear you." Hi-Lo's voice turns low and has a singsong sound to it, like he's soothing a little kid, but there's no smile on his face. He aims his eyes like black bullets at Ferguson.

       I look at Tony. He's got sweat on his upper lip. So maybe he's not top boss in Taylor and somebody's out to get him, too. Tony turns and slaps himself back down in his chair and pushes his tray away from him.

       "What did he mean? Your dad named John, too?"

       Tony groans. "I can't believe you're so dumb, country or not. A john's a trick a hooker pulls off the street."

       I stare at him.

       "You know what a prostitute is, or don't you know nothing"

       "Yeah, I heard."

       "Her customer, her trick , is the john , as in John Doe, the nameless man. So I guess you could say my dad's name's John. John Doe." He mops at the milk on the table with a paper napkin.

       "Hey, I'm sorry. I mean, I didn't..."

       "Just shut up about it. Here, you're Cowboy. And remember to do what I do when some ape tries to start something. Look around. Make sure staff is watching." Tony's voice rattles on faster and faster. "Don't throw the first punch. Don't never throw the first punch. Don't let them think you're backing down, neither." He taps his spoon against his bowl and jabs at what's left of his cereal. "And watch your back. Sometimes there's more than one."

       I push my tray away. It happened so fast. I didn't even see Hi-Lo go for Tony. How'll I stay out of their way if I can't even see them coming?

       Ferguson whistles. "Time to clean up."

       I line up with my tray.

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 Updated on 5/13/04

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