by Dave Lager

Ro’s Rage – Chapter Six: With Principal Collier Thursday, May 12, 1995

An African-American, Driscoll Collier was a bull of a man, reflecting his days as a championship wrestler. Everyone at Kennedy knew his story: He’d been a kid with a chip on his shoulder at this very school soon after it had opened and had more than a few times visited this very office, only then on the “bad boy” side of the desk.

But Coach Forester talked him into joining the wrestling team and had taught him how to constructively channel his aggression; Dris had eventually won a state high school championship in his weight class and gone to college on a wrestling scholarship, where he’d also won several championships.

He was seated behind his desk with his hands folded in front of him. His face was impassive; only a raised eyebrow suggesting concern and maybe even disappointment, but no obvious anger.

“Be seated,” he said to Ro, with a nod toward one of the chairs in front of his desk, then added, “Please tell me what happened out there on the playground, Miss Delahanty.”

Ro described the altercation, leaving nothing out except how enraged she’d been. She tried to tell the story in as precise detail and as objectively as she could. She imagined herself as a cop on the witness stand in a courtroom being asked to describe some situation.

“So, you were fighting?” Driscoll asked.

“Yes, sir,” she said. Ro didn’t see any point in trying to deny it or blame someone else.

“Why?”

The question kind of confused Ro, as she thought the answer was obvious. “My friend was being bullied. I had to protect her.”

“It didn’t occur to you to look for a teacher to stop the boys?” They had once had an assembly about bullying and there were posters around the school, both of which emphasized that if you witnessed bullying the first thing you should do is find a teacher.

“I…” She almost said, “I didn’t see one around,” but knew that, in fact, she hadn’t even looked. “No, sir,” she said, then added as a small measure of justification, “My friend was being hurt.”

“Were you mad at the boys, Miss Delahanty?”

The question really threw Ro for a loop, as it hit too close to home; she wondered how he knew. “Yes, I was mad,” she said, then added with more force than she’d wanted to, “I had to do something!”

“Regardless of the consequences?”

At first Ro thought he was talking about the consequence of her getting into trouble, but then he surprised her by adding, “There were three of them, all bigger than you, Miss Delahanty. Didn’t it ever occur to you to be afraid? What if they’d turned on you? They might well have beaten you up…”

Ro stared at the principal for a moment, perplexed by both the unexpected direction their conversation had taken and by the specific question.

Finally, with a brief shrug she admitted, “I guess I didn’t think about that.”

Collier stared back at Ro for a moment; she thought she almost caught the hint of a smile in his eyes.

“Are your parents here?”

When she nodded, he said, “Please ask them to come in.”

When Ro, Mike and Kate – Kate did not acknowledge in any way that she had known Dris Collier for years, as they were both members of the Illowa Community Chorus – had sat down in front of Collier’s desk, he said, “As I’m sure you know, the school has very strict rules about fighting, even if it might seem justified.”

They nodded.

“Tomorrow is Friday. Miss Delahanty will report to this office at the beginning of the day and will spend it in the detention hall serving an in-school suspension. I would suggest that she bring plenty of material to read or study, as there is no talking or socializing in detention. I will ask that at least one of you return with her first thing Monday morning and we will talk about what happens next.”

Next: Ro is a hero around school

(C) 2018 Dave Lager

Revelations

“The events in our lives happen in a sequence in time, but in their significance to ourselves they find their own order, a timetable not necessarily — perhaps not possibly — chronological. The time as we know it subjectively is often the chronology that stories and novels follow: it is the continuous thread of revelation.”

Eudora Welty (1909-2001)

I constantly ask myself as I write: What will this chapter or this anecdote I’m about to share reveal about Ro Delahanty and her world?

Ro’s Rage – Chapter Four: Outside the principal’s office Thursday, May 12, 1995

When they got to the principal’s office, Coach Forester directed them to take seats in the waiting room, Ro and Atti on one side, the three bullies on the opposite side.

“I suggest you call your parents and ask at least one of them to come down here. If you have a cell phone, you can use that. If not, you can use the one on the counter there,” he said, pointing to the long counter behind which sat several administrative workers. They barely glanced up from their tasks, rather used to seeing miscreants waiting to go before the principal.

“I’ll be right back,” he said, disappearing into Collier’s office.

Atti first called her mother at work, who promised to come down to the school. Then Ro, using Atti’s phone, called Mike, who she knew would be home by now, probably starting preparations for dinner.

When Mike answered she barely got out, “Hi, Dad…,” before he interrupted her, “What’s wrong, honey?” Not only was it unusual for her to call him at this time of day, but there must have been something telltale in her voice…

Not quite sure what to say next, she paused for a second, then just blurted out, “I got in some trouble at school today.”

“Oh?” He didn’t actually have to say, “What kind?” as the question was clearly implied.

Ro took a breath to buy some time and to work up the nerve to just say it, “Uh, I was in a fight.”

While she hadn’t consciously thought of how Mike might react – surprised, mad, worried? – what he did say was rather unexpected, “That’s kind of serious. I’m pretty sure the school frowns on fighting.” Except he said it calmly, like it was neither a surprise nor a big deal. Then added, “Who did you have a fight with?”

She briefly explained about Atti being bullied and that she’d gone to her friend’s defense.

“Three boys…,” he said; it was more of a statement than a question, but then added with some concern, “But you’re okay?”

“Yea, Atti and I are fine.”

“I expect they want me to come down to the school, right?”

“Yes. I’m waiting to see Mr. Collier now.”

“Okay. I’ll call your mom and we’ll be right over.”

After about ten minutes Coach Forester emerged from the principal’s office, and, pointing at Atti, said, “Mr. Collier would like to see you now.”

Atti glanced at Ro, then rose and went into the office followed by Coach Forester. She was in the office for another ten minutes. When she emerged, Coach Forester pointed at one of the bullies that had been holding Atti, “You’re next.”

Sitting down next to Ro, Atti took her friend’s hand. “I told him exactly what happened. I can’t believe they’ll do anything to you,” she said.

Ro smiled, but it was a something of a rueful smile, because she knew the truth. “They have to, Atti. I was fighting; it doesn’t matter why.”

A few minutes later, Coach Forester called in the second boy that had been holding Atti.

It was while that kid was in the principal’s office that Mike arrived, followed soon after by Atti’s mother, and then Kate. Of course, there was a big huddle of adults and children, with Atti and Ro trying to tell their story to their respective parents, but half the time talking over one another.

While this was going on, the big kid, the one Coach Forester had called Fencik, was called into Mr. Collier’s office.

When he left a few minutes later Coach Forester said simply, “Miss Delahanty, your turn.”

Next: In front of the principal

(C) 2018 Dave Lager

Please join me tomorrow at READ LOCAL

I’ll be sharing some insights about my Ro Delahanty novel characters and reading a chapter from my new Ro novel, “The Berlin Riddle”

This event is sponsored by the Bettendorf Public Library and Midwest Writing Center.

It is scheduled for 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Bettendorf Public Library, 2950 Learning Campus Dr.

Apprentices

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”

Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)

Every book I read teaches me something new about writing, even if it’s what I don’t want to emulate.

Please join me next Wednesday for Read Local at the BPL

This is a short excerpt from a chapter in “The Berlin Riddle” that I’m planning to share at the Read Local event next Wednesday evening (Aug. 8, 7 p.m.) at the Bettendorf Public Library. I hope you’ll come and join me, it should be fun.

“Jee-sus Christ, investigate shots fired?” Corporal Mel Schreiber, Armstrong Two-Three, snarled to himself. “It’s a goddam war zone!” Frowning, he added, “And what the fuck are those idiots shooting at?”

An “investigate shots fired” call usually meant one round someone had discharged by accident, or maybe several usually fruitless attempts to kill a raccoon invading somebody’s backyard.

But what he saw as he crested a small rise on County Road T was insane! They had parked a big pickup across the road’s shoulder, its brights illuminating a narrow strip of pasture, maybe seventy yards wide, and a stand of timber beyond.

There were four of them literally blasting away at the wall of woods. Even from not quite a hundred yards away he could tell two of the shooters were firing stubby, AR-style weapons, the rapid muzzle flashes a dead giveaway. Another seemed to have a more conventional rifle; slower muzzle flashes. And one, the closest to him, was using a large-frame, semi-automatic handgun, like a .45.

“Shots fired earlier…” Schreiber reasoned to himself. “What I’m seeing now… Damn, these guys have gotta already put dozens of rounds into those woods.”

Closing the distance to the shooters, he glanced to his left at the woods several times, trying to spot any visible targets, or worse yet, muzzle flashes from return fire – a firefight; a really scary thought! Nothing.

Reaching for his mic to report he was “on scene” and investigating, a flash off to his right caught his attention. Vaguely aware he’d been passing a farmhouse, he now saw two small lights too close together to be a car coming down a long drive toward him.

“Just what I need, some farmer on a four-wheeler coming to investigate,” but then he understood, “Uh, it’s probably this guy’s pasture they’re shooting up.”

Dousing his siren, he figured he was now close enough to the shooters they should have heard him, although they did not seem to have noticed, he made his call-in. He also asked about his back-up and was told One-Nine was en route, ETA two minutes.

Delahanty, good! he thought. Although he wouldn’t admit it out loud, he’d been among the deputies skeptical about female cops. However, after taking down four perps single-handed and saving a fellow deputy’s life in the process a few weeks ago, he figured she had “big brass ones,” again something he couldn’t dare articulate because it wouldn’t be PC… But, she did have his full respect as a cop.

Who does Ro look like?

I suspect most authors probably visualize a real person, generally, although not always, a well-known actor or actress when they are describing a character in their books. I know I do.

Ro Delahanty is a combination of faces. For example, when I talk about her “no nonsense cop face,” the look I see is Daisy Ridley’s stern frown in “The Force Awakens.”

To find out what other faces I think of for Ro, as well as for some of the other major characters in my Ro novels – her father, Big Mike; her mother, Kate; her boyfriend, Frank Reyner – come to the Read Local event next Wednesday, Aug. 8, at 7 p.m. at the Bettendorf Public Library.

I’ll be talking about how the idea for the Ro novels got started and be reading some chapters from the first Ro novel, “Ro’s Handle,” as well as the upcoming second novel, tentatively titled “The Berlin Riddle.”

(C) 2018 Dave Lager

Ro’s Rage – Chapter Four: Coach Forester intervenes, Monday, May 15, 1995

Ro glanced around to find Atti, who was just scrambling to her feet.

“You alright?” she asked.

Atti nodded she was. The red Bindi had been partially smeared across Atti’s forehead and down over her right eyebrow; it looked ridiculous and Ro almost smiled, until she saw the bruise on her friend’s left cheek.

Her wrath re-stoked, she spun around looking for the big boy, ready to kick him, stomp him, smash him, make him pay in pain for harming her friend!

But instead found herself staring at a familiar yellow windbreaker with the Eisenhower Eagle logo over the left breast and a whistle hanging from a lanyard.

Coach Forester had stepped into the middle of the fight.

“Let’s just…” he’d started to say in a calming tone, as if he was addressing everyone, but then paused with a look of shock when he saw the burning fury in Ro’s eyes. Recovering, he said quietly, but with an edge of authority, “Easy, Miss Delahanty, the fracas is over!”

Coach Forester was an institution at Kennedy Middle School; he was the only one of the original faculty members left from when it had first opened in 1968. Where other faculty members were always addressed as Mr., Mrs., or Ms., he was simply “Coach,” and it was always said with the utmost respect. Besides teaching PE classes, he coached eighth and ninth grade football in the fall, wrestling in the winter and track in the spring.

At an imposing six-four, he was at least a head taller than even the big kid.

That he seemed to know who she was took all the fight out of Ro and she stepped back to stand next to Atti, still keeping a wary eye on the big kid.

Jumping in front of Coach Forester, the big kid started to say, “Coach, she started…”

But quickly clammed-up when the coach leaned down and got nose-to-nose with him, like a drill sergeant, and said with exasperation, “Oh, shut-up, Fencik! I saw what was going on from way over on the track,” he jerked his head in the opposite direction from which Ro had come.

“I just couldn’t get here in time to keep this little girl,” he glanced at Ro and clearly was having a hard time suppressing a smile, as if he was telling her he didn’t mean to insult her, but rather wanted to put the three bullies in their place, “from plunking the three of your butts on the ground in less than five seconds. I really don’t think you want to be calling too much attention to that.”

The big kid backed up to stand with his two friends, but couldn’t resist a hateful glance at Ro, who returned his glare.

Definitely her father’s daughter, ordinarily everything about Ro’s face said “Irish,” from the strawberry blond brows to the big blue eyes, from the pushed-up nose and high cheekbones to the bow mouth and sharp chin. But when she glowered back at the leader of the bullies, she’d clenched her teeth so that her mouth was pressed into a thin and foreboding straight line and her narrowed eyes had a fearsome frown. The effect was so formidable that even the big kid’s eyes widened in surprise.

“The six of us are now going to Mr. Collier’s office, where you can all explain to him what happened here,” Coach Forester said.

Next: Waiting outside the principal’s office

(C) 2018 Dave Lager

Fools with typewriters

“I’m all in favor of keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of fools. Let’s start with typewriters.”

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959)

Given the nastiness of much of today’s political discourse, unfortunately, I’m inclined to agree with him…

Ro’s Rage – Chapter Three: The bullies Thursday, May 12, 1995

But then Ro saw two of the boys were roughly pinning Atti’s arms behind her as she struggled, while the third one was doing something to her face, although Ro couldn’t tell exactly what. While she recognized all three in that she’d seen them around school, she didn’t know any of their names.

But that her friend was being brutally manhandled by three bullies was all she needed to know: A searing rage exploded inside of Ro!

Quickly shucking off the school bag she’d been carrying over one shoulder, she charged across the school yard. As she ran she could make out shouts and curses and an all too familiar slur that enraged her even more − “dot head!”

It never crossed her mind to look for help; to maybe find a teacher to tell. Nor did it register that she was out-numbered three to one, let alone that all three of the boys were bigger, although not so much by height as by weight. Her single overriding thought was to protect her friend, no matter what.

The biggest of the three – Ro was pretty sure he was the football player − the one who was in front of Atti, was on Ro’s left, the two holding Atti were on her right. While she didn’t think about exactly what she would do once she got to the trio − except attack! – she understood it was the big one she had to take out first.

When she was just a few feet away she could see he was trying to hold Atti’s head still with his left hand, which was on the opposite side, had some kind handkerchief in his right, closest to Ro, and was trying to wipe the Bindi from Atti’s forehead.

Atti had been wearing the red dot to school for the last few days not because she was a practicing Hindu – far from it! – but because one of her favorite female rock stars had recently worn one as a fashion statement; Atti always liked being edgy.

Acting on instinct alone, Ro charged up beside the big kid – he was only an inch or so taller but outweighed her by at least twenty pounds − and hooked her right arm under and then back over his right, then placing her right foot beside his right foot she twisted clockwise. Caught completely off-guard, the big kid did the worst thing he could and tried to yank his army away from Ro, thus giving her the leverage she needed to roll him up and over her right hip. Landing on his hands and knees, he cursed as they scraped painfully across the gravelly pavement.

The bully who had been holding Atti’s right arm let go and made a move toward Ro, except it was hesitant, like he couldn’t decide if wanted to forcibly push Ro away or grab her. Ro easily dodged the gesture, stepped in and with an open palm slapped him on the forehead. Although she didn’t hit him that hard, the move was so startling he was briefly stunned and stumbled backward, plopping down on his butt with a dazed look.

The third bully literally threw Atti to the ground, which, if it was at all possible ratcheted Ro’s fury up a notch, and grabbed Ro in a bear hug, jamming her body against his, pinning her arms to her sides.

With only her legs free, Ro did the first thing that came to mind; she leaned into her attacker and, pushing off her right foot, used the side of her left foot to rake down his left shin, finishing the move by stomping on his instep. Howling in pain, he skipped backwards on one foot, trying unsteadily to rub the injured leg.

Next: Coach Forester intervenes

(C) 2018 Dave Lager

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