Chapters:

The Worm Turns

The Young Entrepreneur’s Club

Matthew Minson

The Young Entrepreneur’s Club

So I was just sitting here, cleaning my Walther PPK .22 caliber pistol. Not the new version, the old one with the silencer modification. You know, the one that featured the real craftsman class, smoother chambered, absolutely no-jam round feed? For up close, purely offensive weaponry, that is about the only one you are ever going to want to use. It’s real German quality. I mean, say what you like, master race or no, those fuckers really know how to make a gun.

Anyway, like I said, I’m cleaning it with the television running in the background when this political show comes on talking about the upsurge of killings in American society. This caught my attention, because, well, this is something I know a little about. I’ve got to tell you, though, I knew the second I started watching the people on that show, they were going to get it all wrong. First, they had this panel of “experts” that looked like they would be better suited to discouraging billy goats from crossing a bridge than talking about social issues. Second, not a one of the people they dredged up for an interview - on a Superbowl Sunday no less - had a clue about killing or the mindset of a killer.

I do.

In fact, that is my claim to fame. To cut to the chase, I killed someone and everybody loved me for it. You might remember reading about it. This messed up kid named Randy Bundt showed up at our high school graduation and started shooting people until I jumped in and put a bullet from his own gun through the top of his head.

I’ll get into that more a little bit later.

Anyway, since I know a little about killing and I heard those morons droning on and getting it all wrong, I decided I had to write this.

And so, the disclaimers….

My name is John Smith and not a single word of what I am about to tell you is true.

Now before we really get started, let me just say that I think everybody has a talent, something they do best. The dictionary calls it, aptitude, that one thing that just comes more naturally than anything else. In a few cases, in certain people, it even approaches genius, “an exceptional capacity without preparation or study” like Webster’s Dictionary says.

For me, it’s killing people. Take the incident I was talking about earlier, the one where I made Randy Bundt’s head go off like an anatomical party favor. Of course, nobody knows I did that on purpose. They think it was an incidental discharge during the struggle over the gun.

People… what are you going to do?

And the way the press covered it was so stupid. “School shooter.” I mean really, what a ridiculous term. It sounds like you are referring to one of those semi-bald guys that come out and take your picture for the yearbook every spring. The fact is those indiscriminate shooters really make me sick. As real killer’s go, they’re pathetic. I mean by doing what they do, they might just as well be yelling, “I’m completely socially impotent and this is all I can come up with because I’m an unoriginal asshole, a real whiny bitch.”

If you want to know the real truth, that’s why I shot him.

I mean think about it. What he did, that sort of thing, is totally derivative, some idea he got from somebody else, or worse yet, television. I hate people like that. I could even see someone trying to cite what I’m telling you right now as an inspiration for something equally dumb-assed.

So let me say this right up front. Don’t. Because A, that’s copyright infringement, and B, it’s as dumb as when some stupid kid recites lines from some show he watched and instead of it sounding funny or cool, he just comes off like a dick.

What I guess I am really saying is they’re not as good at this as I am. You see, as of that fateful June, when I murdered Randy Bundt and became a “hero”, my own my body count was at ten, and not one person knew.

Right about now, I can guess that some of you are discounting my earlier disclaimer and you’re thinking, “Oh my God. This crazy bastard has admitted to killing ten people. I should do something.”

Well, like I said, this isn’t true, but even if it were, I’d have to warn you that before you went off and started trying to reach out to my publisher to discover who I am or tried some other good citizen nonsense… well, I’d emphasize that you’d be making a really bad decision for one of us. Those ten people I mentioned, they aren’t dead because of some voice in my head bullshit, or because a big Labrador Retriever told me I had to kill. They were cold, calculated and – especially the last few - professional assassinations. So lighten up, all you good citizens. You’ll live longer.

That’s right. I’m a professional assassin and not some Boys in the Hood, gangbanger type. I’m a start-up, venture capital caliber killer, the kind you’d probably like if you just met me at the young entrepreneur’s club awards dinner. In fact, that’s how this all came about, really. You see, despite what everyone might like to think, I’m not some monster. I just want that on record. And come to think of it that reminds me of something else I think is important. It always seems like right after there is some outrageous killing and the pundits on TV can’t assign a quick motivation, like “his wife was cheating” or “he got fired” or “voices told him to” they immediately go into “how could this happen?” mode or if they are really pressed for a deadline, “what were the telltale signs?” Of course this leads to the inevitable “how to tell if you are raising a killer” soundbites, which usually offers nothing remotely reliable in my humble opinion.

And I suppose more than those bloodless talking heads on TV, I should know.

I also think all that kind of journalism really does, is get some poor, shy, harmless schlub sent to a shrink or branded as a killer when all he really wants to do is be left in peace to surf porn online.

So, I’m going to offer my thoughts on how I got to this point and let you draw your own conclusions about how it relates to greater social commentary. I think, and again I’m speaking from experience, the better way of thinking about this is not what makes a killer. I think we are all killers. All of us.

What might get to you about me is that I’m what you might think of as self-made, although that isn’t accurate either. As I think about it, I’m more self-assembled. And you know where the social and intellectual components came from?

You’ll love this.

The New Orleans Public School System.  

It’s true. Everything that made me what I am today, I got from public school. I learned about poisons in chemistry class. I learned about explosives from - again chemistry - and I suppose physics too. I got the mechanics of how to snuff out a life - that started way early actually, but we can list biology here. I learned the physical preparations necessary to kill well and about turning it all into a business and even about weaponry all from scholastic extra-curriculars, which I qualified for by being such a good student. So you see? I’m really not made as much as I am assembled from the various pieces, classes, and benefits provided by the greater N.O.P.S.S.

Your tax dollars at work.

Sounds like a really psychotic PBS fundraising campaign, doesn’t it?

As I’m going back through this, it dawns on me that I even met my two most influential mentors in the N.O.P.S.S. - the fathers of my assassination persona, if you will. One was a disabled Master Gunnery Sergeant named Caleb “Cal” Yarbew who was our school’s JROTC director and the other was a well-intended if unfulfilled psychologist named Fredrick Volkman… Ph.D.

Dr. Volkman was the guidance counselor that told me I needed the extra-curriculars in the first place and then loaded me up with material that included a pamphlet for the “Young Entrepreneurs’ Club.”

As I remember that day, it strikes me as kind of funny, so I’ll tell you about it. Now remember, this anecdote was in Junior High and by that point I had already killed a whole bunch of people. No one knew that of course, but many other people, just like the ones that spout off on television, were concerned that because I had been exposed to so much tragedy, I better go see “someone”. So, there I was, sitting in the cramped little office of Dr. Volkman. He was actually a pretty harmless looking guy. He had a severely receding hairline and maybe because of that his head looked a little too large for the rest of him. Not that his head was hydrocephalus big or African waterborne parasite big, but it was pretty good sized, enough that you’d notice. Add to that, he had this really thin neck under his huge gourd, and a sort of formless body made even more so by the short-sleeved, white dress shirts he wore, and you get an idea of what I was facing that day. Now I’ll admit I’m pretty nondescript myself. I’m of average build, but super strong. I have straight hair that I can comb almost any way I want and I have a face most people seem to forget the second I am gone, and still, I’m super lethal when I need to be, so I didn’t take Volkman’s looks as a sign of non-threat. In fact, I had already learned that from experiences with a whole butt-load of grief counselors and other do-gooders that they are the types that can fuck you up bigtime. I had also learned that anytime someone started pilfering around the old brain bank, it was time to enact a personality version of DEFCON 4.

So there I am, seated in a really uncomfortable chair on the opposite side of Dr. Volkman’s fake wood desk in the tiny cluttered office.

“John, have you ever heard of the term Emotional Quotient?”

On the wall behind him were a bunch of certificates, including one that proclaimed him a recognized expert in “interventions”, whatever that was. What he also had, was a book on a shelf entitled, “Emotional Quotient- The Emotional Aptitude and the Genius of Feeling.”

My first thought was, “What an idiot.”

Instead I said, “It’s like an IQ? Only about feelings?”

I don’t have much of an emotional quotient, but I have a high intellectual one and that was really all I needed. Well, that and basic literacy.

Instantly his face changed and he looked like he had found a brand new best friend. He smiled and relaxed.

“That’s right!” he said delightedly.

I quickly glanced past him at some other stuff on the wall. I saw the doctorate in psychological studies from Tulane.

“Are you really a doctor,” I asked.

I already knew the answer and had a pretty good idea what the question was going to do, and sure enough in just that small batch of words, I had turned the entire conversation around to him.

“Why yes… yes I am” he said.

His smile broadened and a strange benevolent look took over his face.

 “You know, I talk to a lot of young people,” said Mr. Volkman, “and I think you are quite remarkable. I did my dissertation on verbal and non-verbal emotional indicators and I think you have an exceptional gift just by looking.”

He was right about that.

He thumbed through some papers.

“I know you’ve recently suffered a loss, but you seem to be handling it remarkably well.”

It was true. I had recently added to my body count, so technically there had been a “loss”.

He paused and looked up from the pile of papers and forms on his desk.

“Maybe what we really should do is see how we can address your abilities so that useful activity can be part of your emotional support and survival.”

I had no idea what the hell he was talking about, but I smiled and nodded because I suddenly saw something that looked promising right in the middle of his cluttered desk. It was a folder entitled, “Extra-curriculars For the College Bound Candidate.”

“I see you are in advanced placement for a number of science and mathematics tracts.”

That was true. In fact, I had even been advanced a full year and was still in the advanced placement group of my new peerage.

He looked at my scholastic record with an intensity that must have meant he thought he was on the verge of some academic insight into the greater impenetrable “me”.

“Chemistry, Biology, Algebra… wow!” he said.

Then he sort of frowned a little.

Now, like I said, I don’t have that great an emotional quotient, but I knew that a frown indicated that he had found something of concern.

He looked at me in a way that said, “Okay now, here comes a test.”

“So, what do you do for you, John?”

“I mostly kill people that bully or irritate or that I otherwise think need to die,” I said.

No, I didn’t really say that. I just wanted to see if you were paying attention.

Instead I just shrugged my shoulders and mumbled, “I dunno” or something equally gifted.

It was perfect actually. Volkman sat back like he had found that thing he needed in our exchange and scooped up the pile of pamphlets for the college bound and handed them to me.

 “You know,” he said happily, “I always start these relationships by telling promising young people like yourself that if they want to be a success they just need to find out the one thing they enjoy and do best and then figure out how to get paid for it.”

And that is how this all really got started.

What’s the point of telling you? Well, it shows that it’s better to have an intellectual quotient going for you than an emotional one every time. To seem like a relatable person – and more importantly to get what you really want – you just need to get people hung up on some thing that matters to them. Then they’ll do whatever you want, which in my case was to be left alone.

But I’ve gotten way ahead of things.

The truth? I was seven years old, the first time I killed someone. It was a difficult time for me, not because of the killing, but rather the circumstances surrounding it. I already told you I kind of have two professional “fathers” in the assemblage of me, but my real father, my biological father had just taken a new job as a salesman and was away from home most of the time. I don’t really have much of a memory of him, not because it was so long ago or that I was so young, it’s just that even when he was briefly around, there wasn’t much of him to latch onto from a mental standpoint. That probably sounds harsh, but it’s a fact.

It was different for my mom obviously, what with him being gone so much. She really missed him. My mom was one of those good New Orleans Catholics, very Southern, wedded to tradition, really obligated to all that smoky Latin ritual and magic-men-in-dresses priestly stuff.

Wait hang on. This sounds like I’m judging her. I’m not.  

And for the record because I know you won’t be able to stop yourself from some junior varsity psychiatry here, I don’t have issues with my mom. Really, I don’t. I’m going to make this point again, because I just know that somewhere out there, somebody is going to go off on a Freudian tangent that is just a waste of time.

So… again, I like my mom.

I don’t want to fuck her or kill her or anything like that. In fact there was only ever one thing wrong with my mother and it isn’t really even anything I think of as wrong. She was born with a birth defect. One leg was slightly shorter than the other and there was a slight clubbing of that foot on that same side. Now this has some bearing because we lived in an old house, right on the edge of the Garden District, which - if you know New Orleans – was once the biggest, richest part of the city. My mom’s great, great grand somethings had been fairly rich back in the day, due in part to some horrific industrial age exploitations of the working class, and had built the place as a monument to capitalism when the Victorian style was in its heyday. Of course by the time my mom inherited it, a few generations of good old Catholic alcoholism had wrecked the family fortune and maintenance on the place was decades in arrears.  Left to the seasonal mercies of tropical rains followed by brutal Gulf Coast sun, the house had become a creaking groaning victim of the crescent city.

Anyway, on those nights that my father was on the road, my mom would go up on the roof to the widow’s walk right above my bedroom and pace for hours like the man had gone off to sea instead of on a sales trip for the Farmers Life Insurance Company. I’m not really that into human emotions, as you have probably already figured out. It’s not that I don’t relate. I recognize feelings and all, but I just don’t really share them all that much. Still, I could tell that those slow prolonged circular walks above my head were therapeutic for her in some way. Of course as she did it, the worn out wood in the roof would pop and moan with her peculiar gate in a way that was as unique and, honestly, comforting to me as a wild mother’s familiar scent is to her calf or cub.

There now, isn’t that lovely? You see, she’s not the issue.

The fact is that more than once I fell into a calm sleep purely under the influence of her little constitutionals. It was a good thing, I think, having something soothing in my life, because right about that time I was starting public school, which as anybody that ever attended public school knows, is nothing but a chiaroscuro of confusion, cruelty and brutality.

Now here’s something weird and funny. You want to know the name of my first elementary school? It’s pretty crazy. It was Edgar Allen Poe elementary.

I mean come on. I couldn’t make that up. Seriously I’m just not that creative. And I mean, really, could there be anything more fitting? I’m not generally into that sort of thing but if I were I’d say it was kind of artistically perfect?

First, Poe was an acknowledged pedophile who was in love with his 13 year-old cousin – which most people don’t know - and he was obsessed with the darker aspects of human nature – which most do. So there’s that. I mean what genius didn’t at least look the guy up on Wikipedia before submitting this gem to the school district for dedication? Not to mention, half the stuff he wrote about had to do with killing. Now I don’t think what ultimately happened with me has anything to do with any of that. And I sure didn’t know any of that Poe stuff when I walked onto the sad little tiny-foot-worn grassy surface of the grounds that first day. But still, you have to admit, it’s all pretty weirdly ironic and one hell of a namesake for the children’s school that gave rise to me, and when you hear what occurred there, I think you’ll agree even more so.

For the first time in my life, I was going to be away from the familiarity and security of the big old dry-rotting house. I was out among people with no idea of what my relationship with them would be.

I mean, I didn’t even know I was a killer yet. I don’t think anyone could have guessed. I seriously doubt, anyone looks at a baby tiger and thinks, “Oh man that thing is going to be dangerous?”

Or how about a grizzly bear? All most people want to do is cuddle the damn things. Hell, I bet even a baby shark looks kind of cute… by comparable oceanic standards. So I was like that, kind of small and quiet and as a result, I was an instant target for your standard bullies.

Now, on that note I always find it kind of strange when people talk about the innocence of children. People who say stuff like that obviously haven’t ever seen them at recess. I’m serious. Just watch them when no one is looking. It’s like somebody mashed up a caveman esthete with Torquemada’s playbook and turned it loose on the monkey bars. There’s a raw and natural genius of cruelty at play out there, and the peculiarly instinctual way that children come by it so easily is something somebody ought to study. We’re a pretty crazy species, when you think about it objectively, I mean the way we are all contradictory in nature and whatnot. We carry on about mercy and brotherly love one second and then we’re watching mixed martial arts wanting some poor schmuck to suffer permanent brain damage the next. Humans come with a natural capacity to kill the second they pop out of the egg.

At least that is what I think, and I should know, because killing is what I do. Even if it’s not just that simple, we sure seem to get off to the brutalities. In my case, the personage of “torture” was about to come shuffling into my life in the form of a mentally inferior, but physically oversized boy named Jesse Dunavin.

        Jesse Dunavin was a big hulking, sloped foreheaded, brute of a boy who seemed tailor-made for a career in criminal justice or reality television. He’d already been held back a year in school, and by the time he became part of my social dynamic, he was full of the venom that comes from a combination of intellectual failure and the strength advantage of an extra year of muscle development.

Of course, I can’t say it was all bad.

My teacher was a wholesome young woman named Miss Hampton. I liked her right off the bat. She had a bright smile and an aroma like cookies and Dove soap. In fact, she was just about perfect, or at least I thought so that first day as I walked into Poe elementary. She was young, idealistic and eager, but as I would soon learn, she was also a little stupid about the malevolence of people, especially children.

She honestly believed we were all special and gifted. She even went so far as to say it. It’s crazy, don’t you think? I mean, come on. Common sense would tell you that the laws of averages dictate just the opposite.

Here’s what I think. Somebody a long time back concocted this ridiculous mantra so that the ordinariness of life doesn’t become too depressing for the average guy on the street. And from there, like all good lies, it just took off. If there’s any truth to the bell curve at all then maybe the truth is that “special” only applies to a few people like superstar athletes or Stephen Hawking or that guy, Ron Popeil. Plain old common sense would tell you it’s got to be pretty rare, like my special gift is with me. To put it better, someone brilliant - I think it was either Shakespeare of Captain Kirk – once said, “If everyone one is special, then no one is.” And even then, for those people that have that special “it”, they probably don’t realize what they have, so it’s the extra lucky individual who discovers their special something.  

Anyway, had it not been for the thing with Jesse Dunavin, Miss Hampton probably would have made my transition from home to school life kind of nurturing and painless. Who knows, it might have changed everything. Maybe I would have never discovered my gift.

Maybe.

Of course, as Master Gunnery Sergeant Yarbew liked to say, “What might have happened, did.”

It was a math question, as I recall, that really set the whole awful thing in motion. I don’t remember the actual equation. It was elementary school so it couldn’t have been too tough,

Miss Hampton had called on Jesse Dunavin first and, as you can guess, he got it wrong. She then asked me and I just did what I was supposed to do. I answered it right. Maybe it was because she praised my answer so much, I don’t know, but chance, proximity, and the cosmic significance of the thing all collided in a circumstantial and devastating fashion.

        Jesse Dunavin was humiliated. A big ugly sneer, like a traumatic tear in the flesh where his mouth used to be, pulled back exposing his teeth, and he stared at me hard with his little pig eyes. He couldn’t direct his rage and frustration at Miss Hampton, so I was where it went. The benefit of hindsight would tell you I should have been ready for what was coming, but I was just a little kid and didn’t really know about people yet, so I wasn’t.

He caught me that afternoon on the playground during recess. I was on the swings trying to make my toes reach the sky, lost in the thought that if I could part the blue with the tip of my shoe, I might see something, like the face of that God my mother put so much faith in.

I was just on the upswing, preparing to extend very end of my shoe toward the clouds when a solid thump and a sharp pain shot up from my tail bone and jarred me all the way through to my core. The force of it unseated me, and before I knew it, I was sent hurtling through the air in an alternating jumble of blue and brown. Then I hit the ground.

For an instant I was sure I had died.

At first I opened my mouth and tried to take a breath, but nothing would come. Then an immediate panic set in. Sounds and colors were instantly gone. The world went grey and started closing in silently, irising down to the confines of my head. It stayed that way for a few seconds until the shock and paralysis of my diaphragm started to ease up. Finally I took a desperate choking breath and the world enlarged again. The sky was back above me, though it had taken on a peculiarly yellowish tinge. As I looked up and my eyes focused, I didn’t see the face of God.

I saw Jesse Dunavin’s.          

 “Hey smart kid, not so smart now, are you?” he said. “Can’t even stay on a swing.”            

I realized then that he had kicked me out of the swing. It was the “why” I couldn’t seem get to right then. The unexpected attack would have been terribly confusing even if I had been in full possession of my faculties, and with the sudden onset of anoxia from the wind being knocked out of me, I was not.

Jesse loomed over me. He coughed, snarled, and scrunched up his lips. Then I saw it. A considerable glob of mucus trailed in a viscous stream from his open mouth and a second later struck my forehead. Whether it was the pain or the insult or something of both I don’t know, but tears began to involuntarily pour down my face.

“Oh look,” said Jesse. “The little baby is going to cry.”

From somewhere around me, the taunting was answered by a chorus of children’s laughter. I closed my eyes hard to stop the humiliating tears and tried to push myself up, but Jesse’s heavy knee caught me in the chest and pressed me back. There was more laughter, louder now than before.

“Give me some money.”

Economics, I was about to learn, was always the hardest course to master.

Even at the elementary school level.

I reached into my pocket and pulled out the money my mother had given me for lunch. Jesse reached down and ripped it out of my hand. For some reason I thought that would be the end of it, but nothing else had followed logic in predicting the behavior of the bully, and once again, my inclination was wrong. His knee remained heavily against my chest, pinning me to the moist New Orleans ground.

“Now say I’m a little baby,” he said.

“You’re a little baby,” I said.

 I couldn’t help myself. It was like a reflex, but even as I said it I knew there would be retribution, and that it would be something horrible. And painful.

Jesse stood up suddenly, raised his foot and stomped down with violent force. The world closed in again, only this time the spell of pain did not last as long.

“Say it,” Jesse Dunavin panted.

He was big, even for his age, but he was also fat and the basic exertion of bullying constituted a strain on his system.

My eyes bugged and I could barely breathe. Eventually I kind of managed to cough out the words.

“I’m a little baby.”

“Okay, little baby,” said Jesse, “today after school I’m going to be out here waiting for you. ‘Cause you were so smart, I’m going to make you give me some more money.”

“I don’t have any more money,” I coughed.

It seemed to me - even in my distressed state - that Jesse Dunavin could have guessed that.

“Then I’ll just have to make you do something.”

“Make him eat spit,” said a helpful voice from the periphery. I remembered something from watching game shows about the warning that there wasn’t supposed to be any helpful hints from the studio audience. Even there on the playground, the gallery didn’t seem to heed the warning.

        Jesse performed the guttural noise that preceded the emergence of that ugly little product of his lung.

“Open your mouth,” he mumbled around a very thick tongue.

I turned my face away and took another kick to the ribs. The pain was overwhelming and went right through me. I’m not too proud to admit that it hurt bad enough that I was considering complying when the bell rang, signaling the end of recess and saving me from the certain, disgusting fate. I looked over and saw the other children running for the building. Jesse Dunavin did the same and seemed to realize that any further debasement of me would have to wait. It frustrated his tiny pig-like brain, and he let the spittle drop onto the side of my face. That was bad, but not as bad, I knew, as it could have been or still could be.

He took his foot away and ran for the building.

“I’ll get you after school,” he yelled over his shoulder. “And you better not try to run either.”

I sat up and looked at the huge boy, half-plodding away. One thing I was sure of, running was exactly what I intended to do later.

Even so, while I had to pay respect to his size and strength, I seemed to somehow realize something about him.

Jesse Dunavin might be big, but he was no real killer. Don’t get me wrong. I knew he could kill me, but he wasn’t a killer. He was slow, in all categories. Even then maybe I sensed that he was working strictly from a temporary advantage of mass and meanness.

You see, the way I figure it, the whole of mankind is divided into two subspecies — the herd and the carnivores. That sounds like cannibalism maybe, but it’s not. I’m talking about a subtle, critical difference in organisms and their capacity to kill with deliberate intent.

To my way of thinking, there are very few real carnivores, although nearly every man I’ve encountered clearly considers himself to be one, especially the jocks or those successful white collar types who have climbed to the corporate pinnacle by genuflecting and fellating in the course of duty. The irony of them is that despite their delusions, they are the most herd-oriented of all.

The real carnivores, the real ones, stand alone in the world and they aren’t always immediately apparent. I mean just watch a nature show about the innocuous looking coral snake or sea anemones or the human immunodeficiency virus and you’ll know what I’m talking about. The real predators are almost never fierce-looking at first glance and they certainly aren’t always the winners in life. Maybe it was because they don’t always get to feed. After all, there is always grass for the herd and more than one lion has been kicked in the head by a frightened zebra, right?

And though I wasn’t thinking that all at the time, I sort of understood it as I watched Jesse Dunavin padding away toward the building.

Once back in class, I had to deal with the caring inquisition from Miss Hampton. She meant well, but when it came to childhood brutality and the issues of retribution that are accompanied with “telling” she was pretty daft. I knew. Even without being taught, and something even more basic than the dirty look from Jesse Dunavin I knew I shouldn’t disclose anything. So I took my seat and for the rest of the afternoon waited tensely for the end of the day and the final bell.

It was all I thought about as I sat there. I calculated the jump I would need so that I would get to the door before some absent-minded stroller innocently blocked my path. I thought about which direction I would go in the hall and how far it was to the big doors at the end that led out to the playground. Not even the nurturing persona of the young and beautiful Miss Hampton, distracted me from it. You might call that “survival instinct”, something a real carnivore has in spades.

I sure had it. As I looked around at my classmates, I saw that all of them did not. Miss Hampton did not. More even than the threat of pain and humiliation at the hands of Jesse Dunavin, I found that realization more than a little disappointing.

So I waited and gathered my books together and pulled them close to my chest. The clock was an enemy and the second hand an unforgiving and indifferent thing, like an executioner with his axe at the block. It wasn’t personal. Finally it swung upward toward 12.

When the bell finally rang, I was already leaning out from the edge of my seat. Before it had even stopped, I was already to the door of the classroom.

As predicted, Jesse Dunavin, with his sadistic aides-de-camp in tow, was just clearing the door of the school building by the time I was already approaching the far edge of the playground at a dead run. They gave chase immediately, but before they had reached full speed, I was at the chain link fence that surrounded the school ground. I lost some of my advantage due to the handicap of climbing with one arm, but it was not enough to make any real difference, and I hit the ground on the other side on the balls of my feet ready to sprint up the street as hard as I could. In short order I was off the school property, past the park and heading up Ballatore Avenue as if the hounds of hell were in pursuit, which as I think about it now, wasn’t that far off. Jesse Dunavin and the Hitler youth were still a good hundred meters behind, offering in threats, what they could not in stride by the time I made it to my house. A second later, I was at the wooden fence, surrounding my backyard and I dropped down, and slid on one knee like I was coming in to second base. I kicked up a line of dry grass and soft dirt until I came to a stop, directly in front of the one loose fence board in the series around our back yard and scrambled through. The rotten climate of New Orleans had done me a favor there, I knew.

Even before the plank fell back in place, I was up and headed for the back porch stairs. I knew my mom kept a key to the back door under a small toad statue in the garden, but I didn’t have enough time for that to be an option. If you know New Orleans at all, you know that in the humidity, the ancient wood often swells over the course of a day, almost like some congestive heart failure patient’s feet after eating a big, salty bag of potato chips. There was a good bet that the back door would be snugged up against the jamb and even if I got the key, and got to the door it would be stuck and, besides that, my mother, who was always at the Winn-Dixie that time of day, would have also locked the inside bolt against all those robbers, rapists and perverts, she believed, were just hanging around waiting to break in at the slightest sign of vulnerability.

So I went for the stairs.

I was already halfway up when I looked down and saw Jesse Dunavin and the other boys running around the outside of the fence to the front gate, which I knew was not locked.

They hit the latch and stormed into the yard about the time I was grabbing an old trellis that had not grown anything but moss for the last ten years, and began a rickety climb up the fragile ladder to the roof.

The pursuing mob was just taking the stairs when I pulled myself over the rain gutter and clambered onto the roof. From there I stood up and began gingerly walking along the thin, slick tiles that formed the peak of the house. I have never really liked heights and I struggled with the fear of them back then, but the potential for punishment at Jesse’s hands was more than enough to overcome my reservation about the risk of a fall. I learned something in that moment that I still use when I need a high perspective to do a “job.”

If you stare right at the micro-task in front of you and can ignore the greater context of height or threat or whatever, you can get through nearly anything. That’s what I did then. I just stared at the path along the peak in front of my shoes and didn’t look beyond the roof’s edge. When I finally reached the safety of the widow’s walk I glanced back. I didn’t see anything, but I could “feel” them still there. I guess the best way to describe it is that it’s kind of like when an Indian in the movies listens to the ground for a better perspective on an objective or enemy’s location and states to the cowboy’s amazement, “They are nearby now.”

Well, it was like that.

Of course all that really demonstrates is that the Comanches apparently understood acoustics and physics, or at least the physical properties of sound, a lot better than cowboys did. Which always led me to wonder what would have happened if the Indians had possessed a better understanding of other physical sciences, like say explosives or thermodynamics. It certainly would make the modern Western different.

Anyway, I could tell from the sound and vibration of the violent boys’ stomping ascent that my doom was coming.

The Young Entrepreneur’s Club  Copyright 2017 Matthew MinsonPage