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Fiction Crime

Gossip. What a delicious word, a fulfilling word; perfect for a habit or a goal. 

For me, it started in second grade. Tom Evans, poor kid, had crossed eyes, buck teeth, and bad breath. I asked Marcie Smith if it was true that he ate mice for breakfast before coming to school. Was that why he had buck teeth like a mouse and why his breath was so nasty? Was it rotting mice flesh? I laughed to watch her point at Tom from across the playground and shock her friends with tales of the nastiness in which Tom partook.   

I did not like Tom or Marcie and this seemed the least harmful thing I could do to them. Remember, I was only seven and not too sophisticated in my methods or desires.

Fast forward to seventh grade and the beginnings of puberty. Scrumptious thoughts began whirling in my mind that would lead to fascinating stories about people and what I imagined they could be doing with and to each other. 

Joey Wether was one of those eighth-grade precocious kids who deigned to speak to us lower class kids if we got in his path as he sauntered the halls off to his ever-so-important next whatever. The teachers all thought he was a good kid who would go far.   

Junior high is vicious. Joey in his lofty, socially correct cohort; me, in my Goth-wannabe lifestyle unseen by his cohort. I chose not to like him and to let him enrage me. I was precise in my incisive cuts to psyches.

Alas, Marcie Smith was long gone. Her nasty gossiping about poor mistreated and misunderstood Tom back in second grade got her a free pass to therapy and transferred to a special school. So she could not assist me.

I had to find another one to share black information. Mark the Narc. Of course, he was not an official narcotics informant. He was a sycophant who tattled to keep teachers interested in what he had to say. That interest led to action against perpetrators of the junior high school shenanigans he reported on.

Mark Garcia was widely disrespected by other students, but widely listened to by the school administration. Perfect.

In casual conversation with Mark in the lunchroom, I asked him if it was true that Joey Wether spent hours at Mr. Jones’ house alone. Mr. Jones was the teacher who gave me a low grade on my mid-term exam in social studies. Everyone knew he was a bachelor who lived above his parents’ garage. Mark, being Mark, started his usual campaign of concerned student letting teachers know that there was something going on between Mr. Jones and a student that was way out of the bounds.

A two-fer, you might say. Joey’s cohort picked up on the conversation and by the end of a fortnight, Joey was shunned by all the rich kids for being some kind of pervert with a teacher. After the police investigation, Mr. Jones was allowed to resign and move on.

An interesting factoid about gossip. I found that I did not have to state anything. I just had to ask the right question or questions of the right people. That way I stayed uninvolved and uncatchable. No one dared explain I had asked a question and that they went on to make up a wild story based on that query. I do not know why. 

Gossip. Such a delicious tool.

High school brought on a much broader spectrum of mischief.

My junior and senior years at good old Catalina High were profitable. By now, I had shed the Goth look and attitude and became milquetoast, unseen by most students and unremarkable to the teachers. Unremarkable grades, quiet demeanor, polite and occasionally speaking up in class to test how far I could go and still be unrecognizable. 

I came up with an idea to make thousands of dollars at a whack; not exactly blackmail, but it had some similarities that I found amusing.

I needed partners. 

Alan Tipton became an accomplice. He was not real bright, but he was likable across a wide swath of the high school crowd. He had a routine of getting to school about fifteen minutes early, parking at the far end of the parking lot, enjoying some kind of scented vapor and sauntering on to homeroom.

Once I figured out how to remain anonymous and still control the situation, I met up with him one Tuesday morning as he got out of his old green Prius.

I asked him if he would be interested in making some legal extra cash without working. It was kind of a sales job and he had to swear to keep it between us and do as I said when I said. I made sure he understood no one would get physically hurt, he could remain anonymous and that I had to stay anonymous.

“How much?” was all he asked. When I told him $400 a month, he got excited. “What do I have to do?”

I explained that essentially all he had to do was spread a little gossip and stop it as soon as I told him to quit. And he could never tell anyone about our arrangement. “My lips are sealed,” was his very appropriate response. 

Next, I needed a go-between, a girl who could be trusted to be mean and forceful and willing to earn a few hundred dollars a month delivering messages to people I pointed out and to keep her mouth absolutely shut about me. 

Marge Schneider transferred from someplace in California at the first of the year. I noticed the other girls gave her a wide berth and learned that she had a reputation of wanting to be left alone or else someone got hurt.

She was in my Woodworking class that semester. She was working on a rustic slatted bench to be a porch glider. Who knew? I quietly commented on it, she glared at me and I very quietly asked her if she would like to make $500 a month just delivering messages for me. 

She looked at me like I was a bug she was going to step on as soon as she figured out if I was worth the mess on the bottom of her shoe. That lasted an interminable three or four seconds and then, “Meet me after school at Pat’s Hot Dogs at five.” Pat’s was a mile from school and the timing would give any other students plenty of time to clear out so we could talk unnoticed. She did not want to be associated with me.

Perfect.

“This isn’t some weird or even unweird sex thing, is it?” she asked as soon as I sat across from her in the booth at Pat’s. 

I ordered a dog and cola and as soon as the waitress walked away, I told her no. It was much more interesting. I know, any teenage boy thinking anything is more interesting than sex is absurd, but I like subtle torture and quietly destroying lives more than anything.

“I need someone to deliver messages for me. I will tell you what to say, when to say it and have you collect money. It is not blackmail, but rather a service fee in exchange for removing a threat to a person. It is vitally important that at no time do you talk to me other than in Woodworking as needed. Everyone knows you don’t get along with people and we need to keep that up. I will drop a tool by your workbench if I need to talk with you and we can meet here after school like today.”

“Let me get this straight,” she snorted as if I was the idiot. “For five hundred dollars a month, I deliver messages for you to a target of your choosing using the words you script and collect money from your target. I bring that money to you, get paid and no one has to know I talk with you?”

“Correct.”

For some reason, her next words chilled me. “My lips are sealed,” she echoed Alan.

Another factoid. Funeral homes use glue to seal a corpse’s lips before a viewing.

Ms. Wilson was our student teacher for our Dramatic Speech class. Young, pretty, always in appropriate casual business attire, she was the desire of every boy (and maybe girl, for all I knew). Notwithstanding my penchant for subtle torture, etc., I lusted after her. She, being a well-behaved adult, did not recognize my amorous attempts. That embarrassed me and angered me.

So, I asked Alan if it was true that Ms. Wilson had sex with students in the janitor's closet between classes. Alan started talking around and before she knew it, Ms. Wilson was being grilled by school officials. A fellow student working in the principal’s office told me (after appropriate questioning) about Ms. Wilson’s predicament and that the principal was considering calling in the police.

I dropped a screwdriver next to Marge’s desk, met her at Pat’s that afternoon and lined out the conversation.

“Go to Ms. Wilson and let her know that you know someone who said he started the rumor. Tell her you are scared of this person, but for $5000 you will confront him and get him to recant the rumor. You need the money to bribe the scum and to cover medical expenses if he hurts you.”

She got to Ms. Wilson in the teacher’s lounge before school the next morning and told her. Ms. Wilson had the money for Marge by fourth period right after lunch.

Marge sauntered by my workbench in fifth period and nodded to me. I knew to meet her at five at Pat’s.

On schedule, I got to Pat’s and spotted Marge sitting in a booth at the back of the restaurant. She was facing the door and it looked like Alan was sitting across from her. 

I got to the booth, slid in next to Alan who should not have been there. I said hi and looked at Marge. She slid an envelope to me, and I asked her if this was our money.

She smiled, said it was. I picked it up, opened it and counted it in the envelope. Five thousand dollars.

Then, I turned to Alan and asked, “What the hell are you doing here?” He just smiled and glanced behind me to the aisle next to our booth.

“Mr. Thomas, you are under arrest for enough felonies that we will make sure they try you as an adult. I expect five to ten years. You have been doing this for a while and we can prove it is a pattern with you.” Even with a badge, a gun and threatening my freedom, Ms. Wilson was pretty.

It turns out, there are laws against defamation of character, blackmail masquerading as assistance and several other bad habits of mine. And those who deliberately hurt others always get their comeuppance.

June 03, 2023 00:17

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