Episode 1: Firsts (6)
If they’re this bad with me, Dirk thought, what’s it like if a Wolf and Dirtbag are in the same class? If whoever wrote the schedules in this place had any sense, Dirk thought, they’d make sure that never happened. There’d been two weeny gangs in his middle school, back in the city, and while their rivalry was nothing like this one (for one thing, none of them could turn into a walking, furry chainsaw, at least not as far as Dirk knew), there had been a concerted effort among the teachers to keep the Future Gangstas of America separated, lest they stab each other with ballpoints.
Still. There was only so much grownups could do, and most of what they did was trying to convince kids that they could do more. Dirk could see the fault lines, the dynamite cables running through this school. Either the other kids just couldn’t see it or, more likely he thought, they’d been dealing with it plenty for however long this had been going on, that they just weren’t bothered by it anymore, like veteran soldiers in a warzone.
The block went by fast enough, particularly fast for the requisite intro to class bullshit, reiterating school policy for the fourth time that day for Dirk, handing out syllabi (which Dirk, for some reason, always thought of as a vampiric sort of word), and going over the list of materials and books they would need. The last ten minutes of the ninety-minute block – that was another thing Dirk would have to get used to, as he’d always done forty-minute periods – were ‘waste time until the bell rings’ time.
“Hey,” said the guy Dirk was sharing the cold black plastic table with.
“Hey,” Dirk said.
“You new? Don’t think I recognize you.”
“Yeah, I’m fresh fish. Dirk. San Francisco.”
“San Fran, huh? Cool.”
“Eh, it’s alright.” Dirk decided not to wince at the awful nickname the city had somehow acquired however long ago. “It’s different.”
“I bet. James Hartford.”
“So, did you piss on Dwayne’s lawn, or something?” James cocked one double-ringed eyebrow, and nodded towards the Wolf.
“Ah, it’s kind of a long story.”
James shrugged. “Non’a my beeswax. Just wondering why he keeps looking over at you like…”
“Like a bull that sees red?” Dirk resisted the urge to look over his shoulder to see if Dwayne’s gaze was focused on him again.
“I hope not, my friend,” James said. “That particular bull has some nass-tee horns. I tell you, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near him if I were carrying a football.”
“You a football aficionado, James?”
“Nah, just your average documenter of atrocities, brother.” He grinned, and Dirk saw that the boy’s teeth were a strange color – not one of rot or plaque, but with a pink tip on the sharp chompers, his gums bluer than anyone’s Dirk had ever seen outside of a horror movie drowning victim. “I run the student paper. Social condor, that’s me.”
“A gentleman journalist,” Dirk nodded. “Your, uh, your teeth?”
“Oh, that,” James said, clacking his teeth together thrice. “That’s nothing. You know your boyfriend Dwayne, there, he-”
“Yeah,” Dirk nodded. “I know. I’ve, uh, seen.”
James’ eyebrows both went up, and he gave Dirk a nod of appreciation. “Man, you don’t waste any time, do you Dirk?”
“Would if I could.”
The bell rang, and the kids started packing up to head for their fourth and final block class. James scribbled something in his notebook, tore off a jagged strip, and handed it to Dirk. It was a phone number, with the town’s area code. “You ever feel like doing a ‘hi, I’m the new guy in town and I piss off Wolves for fun’ interview, gimme a call, right?”
“Gotcha,” Dirk said, and slipped the paper into his shirt pocket.
“Stay breathin’,” James said, slung his backpack onto one shoulder, and headed for the door.
“Workin’ on it,” Dirk said under his breath, as he went for the door himself.
He noticed Dwayne was staying behind, and had moved up to the front row of desks. He and Mr. Lugosi were having a silent starting contest, even unbroken as it was by students passing by on their way out the door.
That might have been the last Dirk thought of the Wolves and their coach for that day, but as he left, he noticed something.
Mr. Lugosi’s phone light was blinking, indicating a text or a missed call. Dirk, like almost all 21st Century Americans, was well-attuned to such stimuli, and his eyes ticked over to the phone for just a second, as instant and involuntary a compulsion as following the course of a cute girl or a cool car. He almost looked away, but then he saw the keychain sitting next to the phone. Wouldn’t have left that there, if it were mine, Dirk thought. Way too easy for someone to reach out and…
The keys were all on a single ring, and the ring had a little blue and silver ornament on it. Etched into a cobalt disk was a stylized set of Texas longhorns, the word “Maverick” stenciled around the horns.
Maverick. As in Ford Maverick. As in the car that had tried to run Dirk and Pheruna off the road the first night he’d spent in this town. He’d almost forgotten.
Dirk didn’t trust himself to stay a second longer. He grabbed the straps of his backpack in both hands, pushed forward into the crowded hallway, almost trampling a fat girl who looked lost in her own little world, and hoped that Brit Lit was on the complete opposite end of the Truman High.