Giving the Hook
by Margaret Karmazin
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
We only have one more week of regular rehearsal, then Hell Week. I’m making up a test in the French teacher’s office she shares with the Psychology teacher. Madame Corot — she makes us call her that — is the language department head, so she has an office. I missed the test due to a one-day relapse of the flu thing. I’m over it now finally.
So anyway, I’m in there alone for a bit while Madame Corot steps out for a smoke. She pretends people don’t know she smokes, but you can smell it from across the room. And all of a sudden, I think I hear Sara’s voice.
I scrunch around in my seat to figure out where it’s coming from. May Madame’s toke be extra long! The voice is coming through a crack in the wall where it bends a little. We’re in a “temporary” building right outside a school entrance between the auditorium and the gym.
They needed more classrooms a few years back when the population was higher, but now the buildings are used for offices. They put up a movable wall like the ones they have in gyms, to separate this particular unit into two offices. Sara and — I now hear his voice — Mr. Barlow are on the other side of this wall.
For some reason, my heart starts pounding really loud. Later I think about this and decide either I’m kind of psychic or that I was picking up subconscious clues from their voices, a kind of head-start warning as to what was going on.
No sign of Madame Corot, so I get up and press my head against the crack.
The conversation on the other side of the wall is going like this:
Mr. Barlow: Sometimes people are just meant to be together. It’s just meant to happen.
Mr. Barlow: I wouldn’t choose it, I mean the last thing I want is to hurt my wife or anyone else. But Sara, history is full of romances that overcome opposing forces, that are just too strong to resist.
Sara: I don’t know. (her voice sounds wavery)
Mr. Barlow: There’s a place we can go. My sister’s in England for a while; she’s working over there three months at least, so we can use her apartment. I have the key and have to go there anyway to water the plants. We’ll have privacy there.
Sara (long silence): What if somebody finds out?
Mr. Barlow: We’ll make sure they don’t. If you don’t tell anyone, how will they? The important part is that you don’t tell your friends, not even one. (His voice rises.) I mean it, Sara, not even one. I certainly am not going to tell anyone, so it all depends on you.
Sara (her voice real low; I have to really strain to hear it): What about your wife?
Mr. Barlow: I told you, we don’t do anything together anymore. We’re like sister and brother. The reason I stay is for the girls, just for them, nothing else. And when they’re eighteen, I’ll be out of there.
Sara: I don’t know, I guess so.
Madame Corot chooses that moment to return. I hear her clomping just in time to jump back in my chair, but she looks suspicious when she comes in the door.
“Were you out of your seat, Eric?” she says super sternly.
I decide to use the pseudo-honest technique. “Yes,” I say firmly. “I was looking for a tissue. My nose is threatening to run all over—”
She cuts me off. “I’ll get you one,” she snaps and slams an entire box onto my desk.
I yank out a couple and noisily blow my nose. Fortunately, I have some snot in there, so it sounds real.
By the time I finish the test and get out of there, I’m fuming in an intense, cold way. I honestly don’t remember ever feeling more pissed off in my entire life, and I’m not referring to weird Madame Corot and her picky ways. What I mean is Mr. Barlow. I feel toward him like some sinister main character in a revenge, vigilante movie.
I have to do something. Sara is innocent. You may believe that that nobody is holding a gun to her head to make her do anything with Mr. Barlow, but think of her as your sister. Okay, I admit I don’t really think of her that way, but I want you to think of her that way. She’s probably still a virgin. Maybe not, but possibly. If she’s done anything much, it was probably a blow job. But I’d bet at least half of the $2280 I’ve saved that she’s still a technical virgin. And this man old enough to be her father, and not even a nice man but one who cheats on his wife, is going to do dirty, illegal things to her alone in his sister’s apartment. Someone has to stop it from happening.
A few days pass and of course, I don’t know if Sara has yet gone with him to this place of seduction. Maybe she has, as they used to describe it, been deflowered by now. I don’t care. That isn’t going to stop me. There are other girls in the future that Mr. Barlow will likely do the same to.
* * *
Hell Week starts. There are rehearsals Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, skip Sunday, then Monday through Wednesday. No rehearsal that Thursday; then the play is to run Friday and Saturday nights. I figure I’ll wait till Tuesday. I plan things carefully; that is my nature, so my mom says.
First thing I need to do is program another remote, which I check to see if it works and it does. I then need a disguise just in case somebody actually sees me, which if I do things right, no one will. But you always need a plan B.
My hair is dark brown. but up in our attic is a box with some stuff my grandmother used before she died. She lived with us while she was having chemotherapy and there are two wigs she used in that box, both blonde.
While my mother’s still at work and my sister at her friend’s house, I cut one of the wigs into a reasonable looking male haircut, at least under a hoodie. Someone will just see the blond bangs sticking out. That with a pair of sunglasses and a drawn on tuft of hair under my lip and in the dark, I won’t look like me.
Wednesday turns out to be better, as there is less going on in the school; fewer people to see me enter and leave. I fake sick that day and miss school. At five o’clock, I call Mr. Barlow’s office and leave a message that I won’t be able to make it to rehearsal. The other guys in the stage crew have the original remote, so nothing looks weird on that account.
My mother takes my sister out shopping, so it’s no problem for me to go out. They leave believing I’m still “sick” but working on my computer. The school is only a five-minute bike ride away. I’m dressed in dark clothes and the hood is up.
It’s convenient to know all the ins and outs of the school. I sneak in through the metal shop back door, which the janitors leave unlocked when they’re working as they like to park there. With only one close call — some girl running past, possibly crying — I slip into the back of the auditorium and crouch between the seats in one of the side rows in back.
It’s really dark where I am. The stage is fully lit and they’re doing the scene where Hook wants a knife fight with Peter without Peter being allowed to use his flying powers. Actually, a good scene for my purpose, since Mr. Barlow can never resist getting into the action. He does it every scene.
Sure enough, though it looks like Hook and Peter are doing a fine routine. Jane Peters, a quiet and very businesslike senior, is good at working out the choreography and does not need Mr. Barlow’s input on that. Barlow blows his whistle and puts a stop to the action. He strolls to center stage.
“Okay, guys,” he says in that tone male teachers so often use in their attempt to appear hip: droll, ironic, world-weary. “We need to make this look natural, not like third-rate dancers from a pseudo-arty, backwoods college play.” He shoots a glance at Jane. “No offense, Jane, but sword fighting is a manly pursuit. Can’t make it look effeminate here.”
I start to sweat everywhere. Under my arms, on my chest, in my hair, my feet, and of course on my palms. I hope it won’t short out the remote and madly wipe my right hand on my pants. Once more I grip the remote, my finger on the button, ready.
Barlow is moving about on the stage, doing what he imagines are athletic leaps and sword thrusts, though Peter is using a knife, not a sword. I realize the jig is up, that this is it for me, the fatal moment. It’s like all thought stops then and I am one with the remote, like a good hunter with his rifle. Everything that I am is one laser beam focused on Mr. Barlow and where he moves on that stage.
Suddenly, he steps into place, right under Sky Hook which is holding the cage up high, behind the top curtain. Though I can’t see it, I know exactly where it is. My finger hesitates a split second, then presses.
After that, all is chaos. During the frenzy, while girls scream and people rush to the stage, I slip out in the dark. No one is in the hall, and I dash into the metal shop and out the back of the school.
The sliver of moon is covered by clouds, so there is little chance of my being seen as I race to the wooded area where I left my bike. I’m home within five minutes, bike in the garage. Mom and Jolie are still out.
First I return the blonde wig to Grandma’s box in the attic, then get the hammer from the kitchen junk drawer and smash the remote to smithereens on a rock in the backyard. Collecting what’s left of it, I stash it in a shoe box in the back of my closet. The next day I’ll get rid of it by dumping the parts in various places, including the river. It’s unrecognizable as it is now anyway.
When Mom returns, I’m in bed supposedly sound asleep. She whispers my name from the doorway, but I don’t answer.
It’s on the news next evening, how Greg Barlow died instantly. As I hoped, things turn out well for the stage crew. At the time of the “accident,” the remote was high on a shelf. The two crew guys had both seen it there, and they were sitting in plain view in the front row seats without it, stuffing their faces with cookies someone had brought.
“A malfunction in the hook” is the general resulting speculation. “A dangerous mechanism.”
Naturally, the police get around to me, but my mother is so emphatic that I was home sick while the death occurred, and being confused as she often is, insists the time she returned home was earlier than it actually was.
Fortunately, the neighbors on one side were away and on the other, old and in bed. No one has come forward to say they saw a boy in a hoodie riding a bike. The night was very dark. Somehow it’s never occurred to anyone that I could have made more than one remote to work the sky hook.
You might imagine that my sleep is now troubled, that my conscience is unrelenting, but you’d be wrong. I rest easy knowing that I have protected sweet Sara from years of therapy, Mr. Barlow’s wife from eventual embarrassment and pain should his activities come to light, and possibly his daughters from abuse. Who knows how many future high school girls I saved from his perv clutches?
I guess my designing such a “dangerous mechanism” won’t look good on my resumé for college, so possibly I’ll need to reconsider my major. Criminal Law is in the running.
Copyright © 2011 by Margaret Karmazin