Friday June 18th, 2010.
The hallways in the basement of Dr. Martin Luther King High were cement and linoleum caves lit by artificial light. Wilfredo turned the key in the auditorium wall that brought up the halogen lights. There was something hanging from the flies over the centerstage. Maybe it was the dummy from the school’s production of Three Penny Opera. Maybe it was Lucas Howard. Wearing his gang colors.
Twelve hours later there were still six squad cars parked on the Amsterdam Ave side of the building, and two that had driven up the handicap access ramp onto the plaza in front of the building. The Principal, a formidable, African American woman in a stylish black dress, was talking to two detectives. Both men wore dark suits and colorful pastel shirts with matching ties that stood out against the wet dark gray of the cement plaza.
“I tell you detective, there is no doubt in my mind that this senseless death could have been avoided if the Police had warned us earlier about the gang activity of these students.”
Her hands shook and her eyes shone with tears. “Now it’s too late for Lucas, too late for his mother, too late for his little sister to see him grow up and have children of his own.”
Detective Scott wiped his eyes with the back of his sleeve. “These new privacy laws are killing us , M’am.” He said in a tired voice. “None of the city agencies can disclose that type of information to the school, unless it’s asked for specifically and there is reason to believe the child may be a threat to himself or others. Which usually means there’s already been a dangerous incident”.
Lieutenant Wallace produced a handkerchief and passed it to his partner. “We’ve been watching Lucas and his gang for sometime, but so far, they’ve managed to avoid arrests for anything other than small amounts of pot, which are just desk warrants. We’ve seen plenty of cars broken into, some right after school lets out, but there have been no eye witnesses and only one police report filed.”
“This is a life or death crisis. ”, Principal Johnson intoned. “That’s why we have to open the way for new, young lead teachers, especially minority teachers to guide our youth. Until we Principals have the power to fire bad teachers, they’ll keep on clogging our educational system and keeping our students down.”
Detective Scott sniffed. “I thought I read about your school just last week in the paper. Said your graduation rate had improved by 30 percent and that your test scores were up an average of fifteen points from previous years.”
“Yes, that did make last week’s paper, but this tragedy shows that it isn’t enough.
The cycle of poverty, crime, and discrimination overwhelms even our best efforts to make a difference.”
“Well, M’am, we’ll continue our investigation in the neighborhood and check to see if anyone’s had any conversations with Lucas that might have indicated he was about to… You know”.
Principal Johnson did know. “Last year when little Jericho slit her wrists in the girl’s bathroom, we figured everyone would move on and there’d be no more. But this is like the copycat murders you read about. It’s a tragedy..”
April 25, 2010 5AM
“Shit, Mike, this is so easy. How much are they paying us?”
“A hundred bucks Louie. Each. So shut up and don’t screw it up okay?”
Mike took a heavy ring of keys out of the pocket of his windbreaker and fit the biggest one with the black plastic head into the steel lock on the freight entrance door.
The two boys shuffled into the delivery room and Mike slammed the door bar behind them. The room seemed dark in spite of the bright fluorescent lights. “How’d you get the key this time?” Lucas asked him.
“It was a snap. He was sleepin.” Mike laughed softly to himself thinking of how the janitor’s eyes glowed when Mike offered him the little bag of smack, all yellow and clumpy. He had waited around, smoking a joint and looking at a girly magazine, while the middle aged man cooked up his fix.
“It’s really cool of you to hang around man” Gordie had said. “Eat anything you want. My casa is your whatever.” Gordie smirked.
After he passed out, Mike had taken the keys and left.
“I hope the asshole called in sick” he said to Lucas as they swung up the stairs. “It’ll give us some cover if anything happens”.
“What could happen?” Lucas said. “We are gonna erase these papers, write in the answers they gave us and then show up for period one. We’ll get paid by Mr. P before lunch”.
“Shut up faggot. I shouldn’t have told you it was Mr. P. “ Mike jiggled the lock on Room 106 with the classroom master key and they flicked on the lights.
The boys took out the pencils and started in on a stack of test booklets in the middle of the black rectangular table. Mike took a thick sheaf of papers out of his bag. He handed Lucas about ten pages.
“Here’s how you gotta do it. You gotta print the first one, then write the next one with handwriting. Keep going like that and be careful not to skip words and stuff when you copy. “
The boys worked solid for an hour before Lucas said “Hey, I gotta get me some coffee. You got any quarters?”.
“Here ya go stupid.” Mike threw him a small plastic bottle.
Lucas tore off the plastic wrapper with his teeth. Mike took another one out of his pocket and the two boys sipped the thick bitter sweet liquid energy drink.
“Alright, you think of everything,”, he said. “But what about when we hafta pee?”.
Mike fished a Styrofoam cup out of the waste paper basket. “Use this”, he said. Lucas could see he wasn’t joking.
Alexander Bass got to work at 7:30. He was early, and he enjoyed the feeling of being prepared for what promised to be an easy day. He passed through the heavy industrial school doors that always reminded him of the skating rink he frequented as a teen. His shoes squeeked faintly on the beige linoleum where the scanning machines were not yet set up for students who would take the geometry Regent’s Exam later on in the day. Ms. Cunningham, otherwise known as Security was behind the large walnut desk in the lobby, eating an egg and cheese sandwich and enjoying a large coffee.
“Morning”, he waved his paper at the guard.
“Good morning” she said. “Let me unlock the elevator for you”.
“Thanks” said Alexander Bass. He was on his way to the third floor cafeteria. He’d decided to skip the line at Starbuck’s and the coffee machine in the teacher’s lounge was his last chance for caffeine. He also knew they had Hershey’s bars in the candy machine, and he had promised himself one as a reward for squeezing an extra lap around the reservoir into his pre-dawn jog.
He opened the orange safety doors that led into the vast, empty cafeteria with rows of open folding tables and a brightly lit wall of vending machines at the opposite end. Empty except for one student, saggin’ his jeans to reveal polka dot boxers and wearing a pristine regulation Yankee’s baseball hat and long dirty blonde braids.
“Mike”, said Mr. Bass, “It’s so early. How’d you get in here?”.
Mike wandered over, opening the Twix he’d scored from the machine.
“Oh”, he said simply. “Gordie.”
“Yeah” said Mr. Bass. “You out to get him to pay you, if you’re going to set up tables.”
Mike laughed and offered Mr. Bass a Twix.
“Listen,” said Mr. Bass. “You gotta get out of here. Grading starts at 9:00. Come on, I’ll walk you past security.”
They walked wordlessly down the hallway and took the elevator down to the lobby.
“Alright,” said Mr. Bass. “See you tomorrow.”
“Yeah”, said Mike.
“And get here on time.” said Mr.Bass.
“What was he here for?” asked Ms. Cunningham.
“He had the schedule mixed up. He wants to graduate” said Mr. Bass.