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You may remember Larry’s earlier story, Binnacue, Pennsylvania which was posted on March 4. This story is a sequel. You can find the first story here: https://bit.ly/2JlYLeA
Binnacue, Pennsylvania: Jamal
By Larry Stephens
Sheriff Gerry Harp, aka ‘Harpo’ to his friends and just about everybody else in Binnacue, sipped from a plastic cup of boiling hot coffee that smelled far better than it tasted. Rain pattered the roof of his service vehicle — the only police car in Binnacue, and it showed because it seemed like it was patched together with spit and duct tape.
But the engine — all eight cylinders — throbbed and purred with pleasantly masked muscle that felt absolutely wonderful beneath Harpo’s butt. Rain, snow, sun, sleet, tornados, freaking hurricanes be damned, Harpo’s ‘Horse’ was a fun buggy and there wasn’t a single ride within 300 miles of Binnacue that could pace her.
Not only was Harpo the lone law enforcement in Binnacue, he was a gifted mechanic, which is often a much more valuable talent to have.
Harpo scowled at the coffee. He was not a fan, by any stretch. Horton’s was certainly welcome in Binnacue — Lord knows new businesses sprouting up in town were few and far between — but their product was, in Harpo’s esteemed opinion, unmitigated crapola. He powered down the window of his cruiser and dumped the coffee onto the glistening blacktop.
Mid-May in Binnacue; raining like a double-peckered bull pissing on a flat rock. What else is new? Harpo sighed, slipped the Horse into drive and eased off the curb, gliding forward through the shower like a shroud, determined to get back to his little cop-shop for some real coffee! Nothing much else going on anyway.
Harpo thumbed the mic on his radio. “Harpo, heading in. ETA in 7.”
The response was immediate. “Roger, Harpo. I’ll have a pot on for ya.”
God love that woman!
Jamal darted into a stall in the boy’s bathroom, one of two such facilities in the cinder-block bomb shelter otherwise known as Binnacue High, Home of the Fighting Binnacue Bears. He slammed the stall door, threw the bolt and jumped up on the open seat of the commode, effectively hiding his feet.
Jamal had problems. Fourteen, a freshman, skinny, with a big mouth and a wry, biting bit of snark to him, but that wasn’t what drew all the negative attention in his crappy existence.
Jamal was different. His last name was Schmidt. Jamal Schmidt, and he was as much a mixed breed as a mongrel nosing around trash cans for scraps of food, although Jamal did not pick through trash.
Being DIFFERENT made him a target for every bully in existence; being a skinny little runt didn’t help, and being a skinny little runt with a sassy tongue just made things at Binnacue High an absolute living hell for Jamal.
Every day, and the abuse came from anywhere and everywhere. On today’s list of festivities were the Vittman brothers — sophomore twins who were probably eighteen years old and sporting outrageous mullets in hot pursuit, and for the life of Jamal, he couldn’t figure out what he did to earn this good time today.
Jamal was angry, furious at himself, furious at his fear of getting the bejeebers beaten out of him again. And so here he hid, hoping unreasonably that the sloping-foreheaded Vittmans would not have the intelligence to look in like the most obvious place in the world for Jamal to hide.
The door to the boy’s bathroom suddenly slammed open, hammering the tiled wall, and Jamal tried to shrink further into himself while holding his breath so as not to be heard.
The rains finally let up for the moment, though clouds gathered in the northwest as though a horde awaiting a final command to resume their moist onslaught on the little town. Harpo stared out the smeared front window of the Binnacue cop-shop distantly, taking in the colliding vista of sparkling blue skies to the east and bulbous clouds threatening to take over from the west. Temperatures plummeted a good twenty degrees in the last ninety minutes, not uncommon in the Appalachias. Regardless, Harpo was glad to be inside rather than out.
“More coffee?” Harpo spun his chair around to face Bev Wainwright, Binnacue’s fire, police, EMT dispatcher and 9-1-1 operator, standing in front of his heavily-papered desk, stained glass-like pot dangling from her hand. The contents didn’t really look like coffee. More like hoisin sauce. Harpo shook his head and stood.
He grabbed his jacket and moved to the door. “I should do another round.”
“Well, yeah you should, bub! You ain’t bein’ paid to sit around on your skinny keester.”
Harpo opened the door, paused. “You gonna be okay here for a bit, Bev?”
“Go on now,” she said over her shoulder as she moved to the coffee station, and Harpo was suddenly out in the gusty afternoon, replete with tiny spits of moisture. He sped to the Horse and buckled himself in, cranking the ignition and flipping on the power switch for the radio. The car surged to life, vibrating sexily. Harpo loved to listen to that engine!
He eased down Mistletoe, noting that Jack’s of All Trades was doing pretty good business this afternoon — likely because of the weather that was kicking up. Harpo spun a left and eased up Clause Street, slowly passing The Wood and giving the entrance a watchful eye.
Ever since Mabel was found dead in there, The Wood freaked Harpo out. ‘Freaked’ might be too strong of a word, but it did illicit a chill and caused him to be more watchful. Harpo’s guts told him something was a little ‘off’ about that expanse of forest plopped down right in the middle of Binnacue, and if Harpo ever learned anything about being in law enforcement, it was to listen to his guts (except after eating spicy Italian sausage!).
He shrugged and moved up to Pine Way, which circled The Wood, leading to the shire on the other side of The Wood. Where Mabel and her husband Carl lived. Had lived. Carl was putting the place up for sale.
Harpo shook his head unconsciously at the memory of Carl at his wife’s funeral, smashed out of his mind. After the few attendees left, Carl decided to just lay his drunken tukas down on top of the fresh dirt of his wife’s new grave and pass out. Harpo left him there.
The snap and crackle of the radio jolted Harpo out of his reverie; he yanked the mic to his face. “Yeah Bev, what’s up?”
“Got a 201 Harpo. Just got a call from Leesha Schmidt. She sez Jamal is missing. Over.”
Jamal Schmidt… The name rung a bell. Then the memory burst in his mind, the memory of a call some three months back, before Mabel died in The Wood.
Small kid, about fourteen, mixed race, was seriously terrorized by a bunch of older kids at the high school, and one day it went too far. It was the bus driver that made the call to Bev, and Harpo raced to where the school bus was parked on a side street.
The driver, Tan Ngh, threw open the door at Harpo’s approach, rifling out rapid-fire Vietnamese just before he pushed himself off the bus in apparent rage. Harpo stepped inside the bus, eyes scanning.
Several kids — most he recognized (small-town life), and most eyes looking at their shoes or the floor. Harpo heard sobbing and his eyes followed his ears to land on Jamal Schmidt near the back of the bus, shoulders quaking; Harpo’s heart leapt at the boy’s apparent distress. Harpo went to him, glancing at the two rows of big guys taking up the back two seats of the bus. They met his glance, some with a sneer, some with a smirk. Harpo took a seat next to the sobbing boy.
“Hey hey, what’s going on, Jamal?” Harpo tried to wrap his arm around the boy’s shoulders, but he quailed and flinched away. Harpo settled on taking his hand. Jamal looked at him, eyes wet and leaking. His voice was soft and shaking. “Them…” His gaze darted to the seats behind him.
Suddenly the incident bloomed in Harpo’s mind; this kid had been bullied something fierce. Harpo stood, glared at the back seat. “I’ll be back to deal with you dopes shortly. And don’t think of running off; I know who you are and where you live.” With that he led Jamal off the bus.
Harpo remembered being appalled at how those guys abused Jamal. On this fine feckless day, they decided to use his head, neck and shoulders as a drum, and took to him viciously with their sticks in a crap attempt to play “WipeOut.” Harpo recalled having to bite back a major case of rage.
Those six guys were all charged with battery, and a few other charges as well and, even though they were technically minors, Harpo got a few good pokes in as well, making the Resisting Arrest charge have credence. Don’t tell anyone.
They spent a night in the pen and were tried two weeks later in District Juvie Court, and their families were all levied with big fat fines, and the boys were hit with hundreds of hours of community service.
Harpo thumbed the mic again. “Where is Leesha, Bev. I need to see her.”
“Last I saw him was yesterday morning. I was at my mom’s last night. She’s sick and can’t take care of herself.”
Harpo nodded. “What about Mr. Schmidt?”
She was in a frantic rush, barely able to contain her panic. “What if those boys—”
“Let’s not jump to conclusions.”
“Edwin said he had some kind of emergency at the Clinic.”
“Did he leave a note for Jamal or you?”
“No,” she snapped. “We need to get to the school.”
“Fair enough, Mrs. Schmidt; that’s as good a place to start as any.”
Jamal ran. His feet fairly flew over the cinders and logs on the path that sliced through The Wood; backpack jostling crazily; breathing rasping in and out of his bloodied nose as he struggled mightily to be quiet.
He battled tears. What those Vittman bastards did… Fury, rage, blinding pain and frustration blew whatever rational thought Jamal was capable of to oblivion. He was reaching his end; couldn’t take any more of this…
He staggered and the cinders betrayed his footing and he fell headlong, hands outstretched; being raked mercilessly by those very same cinders until his slide came to a painful end. He laid his face down, exhausted, not caring if dirt, cinders or bugs crawled on his broken and wounded mouth and nose. He poked his tongue at where there recently were teeth to feel sharp, broken stubs.
My God, they beat him like a pro beats a ping-pong ball during practice, and his mind spun in momentary confusion. When his thoughts cleared, sheer, utter, absolute depression washed over him and through him, stealing any and all power to just get… to… his… feet. He cried loudly and miserably. Then…
“There ya are, mutt.”
Terror exploded in Jamal and he rolled to his back, sitting up to stare at the Vittman brothers strolling along the path, getting closer to him. A wave of dizziness caused him to lean, but he caught himself and sat up straight.
“I don’t care what you do anymore. You can’t make me hurt any worse than I do now, so piss off.”
The two stopped, glanced at each other. “Little punk’s got a mouth on him, yeah?”
“Hells ya. Wanna fix it?”
“Sounds like a plan.” And the two advanced. Then…
“You two just stop right where you are! Down on your knees, NOW!” Jamal turned to see the sheriff and his mom fifteen feet away. Hope bloomed, until another wave of dizziness slammed Jamal, causing him to teeter over and slump to the cinders.
His hand landed on something smooth, cool; a wooden handle that just seemed to fit right into the palm of his hand as if it was meant to be there all his life. Jamal had no awareness of the passage of time or of any of the drama that was playing out as he opened his battered and bruised eyes to see a sharp glitter of sunlight reflected from a shiny blade; a blade that was stubby, curved into a kind of hook shape that came to a wicked point, and Jamal was fascinated by that blade. A blade that sang to his battered, confused, and weary mind.
He pushed himself to his knees, facing the sheriff and his mom. He swayed, he may have smiled, but he felt suddenly free; completely liberated, and he whipped that sparkling blade across his throat in one smooth motion.
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