A high school student finds a grimoire that shows how to make magical disguises.
|Previously: "Buying More Than Bargained For"
You seriously doubt the student council president can do anything about the school's drug dealer. But when Caleb mentions that Kim has a study hall third period, you decide maybe it is worth saying something to her. It's the hour before you're supposed to go looking for Chen. Better still, it's the period when you have Career Planning, one of your least favorite classes, and it gives you an excuse to skip.
* * * * *
Kim takes her study hall inside the main office, which is a little scary, but you square your shoulders and march in while it's still the break period between second and third, so it's not like you're tardy. You glance around, then slip up to the front counter to ask one of the administrative assistants if she's seen Kim Walsh around. The assistant—one of three, each of them shaped like a melted marshmallow that's been sewn up inside a too-small pantsuit—dimples at you and points down the hallway to the principal's office. You swallow and nod your thanks. "The conference room on the left," she calls after you.
That would be the first doorway you come to, and you peep in. The room is very beige under soft fluorescent lights, and is just big enough to hold a medium-sized conference table and ten chairs. Kim Walsh is hunched inside one of these with her school books spread out in front of her.
Kim is a small girl with strawberry-colored hair and a very pale skin. She has a pert nose, a pert mouth, and large eyes. You don't know her that well—she hangs out with a crowd several tiers above your own in the school hierarchy—but you've always had the impression that she is very gentle and kind-hearted. Full of responsibility, too. She would have to be, to want to become student council president.
Her head is lowered and she is staring at something in her lap when you tap at the door. When she doesn't react, you knock harder, and she shoots her head up with a stricken expression. "Hey, Kim," you say. "You got a minute?"
She stares at you, her eyes hard and her mouth haggard. Then she composes herself and tightens her jaw into a grim line. "Yeah, sure, whatever," she says, and takes her phone from her lap to set it on the table by her books. "What's up?" She seems to flinch as you enter the room.
"I've got kind of a problem," you tell her. "Not a big one and not, uh, one you can probably do anything about." Kim's expression turns hooded as you settle into a chair, and you get the impression she's silently cussing you out. "But it's something that, uh, you probably need to know about. Or the administration needs to know about. Should know about."
"Can you come to the—?" She interrupts herself with a swallow. "Point? I've got homework I need to get done."
"Yeah, sure. You know about Gary Chen, right?" you say. "I mean, you know who he is," you stammer as Kim's eyes suddenly sharpen. "And you know how he, um ... deals?"
Kim stares at you like she's only now seen you for the first time. "Yeah, I know all about that," she says when the silence has become awkward.
"Does the administration know?"
A pink spot shows in the middle of her snow-white forehead. "I don't know, uh, Will," she says in a very cold tone. "Why don't you ask them?"
You squirm. "Well, I thought I'd ask you first. 'Cos he, uh, threatened me yesterday. Chen, I mean."
"Threatened you?" Kim repeats.
"Yeah, I was—"
"What were you even talking to him for?" she demands.
"Okay, confession time, I was buying from him. Not for myself, but for someone else."
You sigh. "It's a long story."
"Who?" she repeats in a harder tone.
"I was buying for Keith Tilley, who was buying for Carson Ioeger. It was a stupid bet. Carson bet Keith that he didn't have the stick to buy something off Chen. That's all. And Keith gave the job to me."
Kim's eyes narrow. "So do you come squealing to me?" She leans forward with a glittering eye. "What did Chen say to you?"
You squirm some more. "He wants to see me next period. He's shaking me down for some extra money, and he's talking, like, he wants me to sub-deal for him. That's what he said," you hastily add, "though I wasn't! He accused me of trying to sub-deal at the school, and he said he'd set me up if—"
You falter as a nasty smile spreads across Kim's face.
"If you start dealing marijuana at the school, Will," she says in a very cold, very prim voice, "I will have to talk to Mr. Sagansky about it."
"Well, I don't want to! That's why I—! So why don't we go talk to Mr. Sagansky about it now?" You half-rise from your seat.
But Kim doesn't move, and only measures you with a very long look. "When are you supposed to meet Chen to talk about it?" she asks.
"Well," she says, and she turns away to straighten out her books and rearrange her writing implements, "how about you go keep that appointment with him, then come tell me what he said. Do you have my cell number?" She gives it to you when you shake your head. "Text me what he said, and then I'll text you back, and we'll proceed from there." She folds her hands on the table and gives you a kind of gloating smile.
You can't help shuddering all over—her grin gives you a feeling like cold seaweed sliding down your bare back. "Yeah, okay," you mumble. "I mean, I don't mean to be a narc here—"
"It's okay, Will," she says. "I'm actually really glad you came to see me about this." Her smile flips over into a small frown, and her eyebrows peak over eyes that have suddenly turned liquid with concern. "I do worry about you. You don't have a lot of friends, do you?"
"Uh, no, I do have—"
"That's probably why Gary singled you out. He's very good, I've noticed, at picking out people who are vulnerable and can be manipulated." She leans forward. "I was so sorry to hear about you and Lisa," she says.
A hard blush creeps up your scalp, putting your hair on end.
"Thanks for talking, Kim," you mumble. "I'll, uh—"
"You'll need to get a tardy slip before returning to class," she adds. "From the front desk. You are going back to class, aren't you? I'd hate to hear that you're skipping."
"I'll do that," you tell her through gritted teeth, and she smiles and gives you a curt nod of dismissal.
* * * * *
You've a burning lump in your stomach when you exit your third period class and turn toward the music annex. For now, in addition to having Chen to worry about, you've got Kim on your mind.
You didn't really expect any help from her—only some wet, drippy words of concern and sympathy—but you weren't expecting her to send you to talk to Chen, with orders to report back what he says. It leaves you feeling like an FBI informant.
Contra to what he promised you yesterday, Chen isn't by the music annex when you go looking, and he doesn't show up by the time the bell for fourth period rings. You should return to class and take your tardy, but you make the mistake of asking some kids who are hunched out front of the portables if they've seen Chen. "He's back there," one of them says, jerking his chin at the cluster of portables. "And he's in a bad mood," he adds with a sharkish grin. "You better be lookin' to buy a fuckload of ganja, or I wouldn' go lookin' to talk to him if I was you." The rest of the kids laugh in an unfeeling way.
You nod, swallow, and trudge off in the indicated direction. You dread it, but if he's in a bad mood, it seems best to meet him, as you had promised.
You find him at the very back, sitting cross-legged on the grass and gazing out across the open fields west of the school. He starts a little when he catches you out of the corner his eye, but he doesn't snarl. Then looks surprised by the cigarette he's balancing between his fingers and takes a tentative sip off it before grinding it into the grass. "Hey," he greets you in a quiet voice. "What's up?"
"I, uh, came looking for you," you stammer. "You weren't out at the music building, like, uh, you said you'd be yesterday." Chen gives you a blank look. "You, uh, did want to talk to me today. Didn't you?"
Chen stares at you, then shakes himself. "Oh, yeah," he says, and feels at a pocket. He takes out a pack of cigarettes, looks at it, then puts it back. "Well, forget about it."
You blink. You'd love to "forget about it," but your instincts tell you not to take him up on the offer immediately. "You want that extra twenty? That you wanted me to bring you?"
He gives you a dirty look, then sighs. "No."
"Okay." You edge back a step. "Um, sorry I bothered you."
"No bother," he replies, and goes back to staring out across the fields.
Then he turns to look up at you. "You never bought from me before," he says. "Keith neither. Why'd you try buying yesterday?" His glance is very keen.
"It was a bet," you stammer. "Uh, we have a friend who bet Keith he wouldn't, uh, try to buy off you. You wouldn't sell to Keith, but he didn't want to lose the bet, so he asked me to come see you."
"Who's your friend? The one who—"
Chen's brow darkens, and he takes his cigarettes out again. "Ioeger, huh?" he says as he lights one. "Well, tell Ioeger I'm not selling to him, okay? Not to him, not to you, not to anyone." He turns away. "I'm closing up shop."
Next: "Motel Hell"