© 1998 Robert M. (Bob) Leahy
2110 E. Crosby Road
Carrollton, TX 75006
(972) 416 - 6098
Approximate Word Count: 29,760 (total document)
Against the Wall
The following story is a work of fiction.
Beyond the setting's superficial resemblance to Coppell, TX,
and the Dallas metroplex, the locales are imaginary.
The characters and events portrayed in this story
are also wholly imaginary.
Kevin Nolan parked in the lot behind the gym at Coppell's Parkview High School. He preferred the back parking lot, even though he would have to climb stairs to get into the three-year-old building. The back lot was still nearly empty, except for the row of cars close to the red brick building. Nolan backed his car into a space facing the treeless slope above the school's playa lake. Before killing the engine, he checked his wavy, brown hair in the rearview mirror and rubbed his nose and forehead with an acne pad. The 20-to news was on.
The unexplained wave of vandalism in Coppell continues. The owner of a '97 Bronco reported that all four of the vehicle's tires were slashed, and that someone had spray-painted graffiti down the sides of the vehicle, as well as on its hood, roof and trunk. The car was parked in the owner's locked garage. The owner told policemen sent to investigate the scene that he and his wife had heard nothing suspicious during the night. Authorities declined further comment. In other news, state auditorsÖ.
Nolan switched off the radio before opening the door and spitting his gum under the car park next to him. He looked around for Tim Welch's rusting, yellow Chevy, but didn't see it in anywhere in the lot. He got out of his uncle's blue, í75 Beetle, pulling his backpack from the back seat, slammed the door shut and locked the car. As he sat down on the hood, Nolan watched Butch Kramer's red Z round the corner of the building. It turned into the first lane and headed for the only empty space near the concrete steps leading to the gymnasium lobby.
After the red Z came to a stop, Nolan noticed Tim Welch pull into the spot next to him. The rusting hulk looked out of place next to the newly detailed Beetle.
As his short, blonde-haired friend got out of the car, Nolan said, "I should make you move that heap."
"What?" Welch asked.
"I should make you move that heap," Nolan repeated. "That rust will rub off on my uncleís car, and thenÖthenÖwell, the Beetle will fall apart, just like yours has."
"Hey. It runs," Welch said, pulling a filtered cigarette out and slipping it into the corner of his mouth. The small flame of his butane lighter quickly turned the tobacco end red.
The two sophomores watched Butch Kramer climb out of the red Z and dart around to the passenger side to open the door.
"You would think he was in love," Welch said.
"Maybe he isówith life," Nolan replied.
Steve Hargrove, easily the biggest, strongest and meanest person at Parkview, stepped out of the car. At six eight, Hargroveís three hundred and ninety pounds seemed too much for Kramerís Z. His dark hair, cut in a burr, looked like it covered not only the top of his head, but his chin and cheeks as well. Hargrove spit into a coke can, surveyed the parking lot, eyes resting on Nolan and Welch, before stepping away from the car. Kramer closed the door.
"You Ďspose he shaves in the morning?" Welch wondered.
"Doubt it," Nolan answered. "Not unless he just trims it down in the morning."
"I canít believe anybodyís that hairy," Welch said.
"My cousin, Bob, says Hargrove's a throwback."
"A what?" Welch asked.
"A throwback," Nolan repeated. "You know, sort of like some prehistoric kind of manÖape. Just kind of a missing link."
"I believe it," Welch said, crushing the end of his cigarette under his foot. "We better get inside."
Nolan nodded, and the two headed across the lot toward the stairs leading to the gym entrance. A few minutes later, they had made their way down to the cafeteria, looking for Mike Burns and Becky Fergusson. The lovebirds were sitting in the far corner of the room.
As Nolan and Welch bumped and jostled their way across the cafeteria, the conversations of their schoolmates centered on last week's loss to Grand Prairie or the up-coming football game with undefeated Arlington Central: "I still say we should've beat them. We would have if Hargrove played. You know we would." "We ainít got a chance against Central if McAfee doesn't reinstate Hargrove." "I canít believe the coach kicked him off the team." "What was he supposed to do after Hargrove spiked those Garland tackles?" "It wasn't that big a deal." "It's the way the game is played." "I heard someone spiked Hargrove first." "I don't believe it. Hargrove would have killed the sorry motherÖ."
"Hi, guys," Burns said. "You have a good weekend?"
Both smiled and said great as they slid into seats across from Burns and his girl friend. "Becky and me, we saw that new Bruce Willis movie."
"Any good?" Welch asked.
"No," Becky said.
"Oh, it was, too," Burns cut in. "Lots of great effects. Exploding planes and tanks."
Burns continued describing the film. Becky rolled her eyes. Welch seemed to listen, but Nolan lost interest and pulled out his math book.
After lunch, Nolan was trapped in first floor lavatory. He was backed up against the trashcan, head stretching backward, staring into the gray steel of Steve Hargrove's eyes.
The senior studied Nolan for a moment before saying, "Iíve been lookin' for you," stabbing his finger into the younger boyís chest.
Nolanís glasses slid forward on his sweaty nose. He peered over the rims at the taller, muscular senior.
"You driviní to school now?" Hargrove asked.
Nolanís head dipped in reply.
"Good. I need you to take me somewhere after school." Hargrove spun on his heel and walked toward the door. "Meet me at the gym after the last bell," he said before he pulled the door open and stepped into the hall.
When the door closed, Kevin Nolan gulped for air, slid around the trashcan and braced himself against the cool green tile. He stared at the door.
Tim Welch stood near the row of urinals, watching his friend. Two other sophomores eyed Nolan, shook their heads and left without a word.
Nolan pushed his glasses back onto the bridge of his nose. Then he looked at his watch. It was 12:50. He had two hours and twenty minutes to worry about where Steve Hargrove wanted to go. When he tried to swallow, bile rose in his throat. He ducked into the nearest stall and heaved his just eaten lunch, barely catching his glasses before they fell into the bowl. His entire body chilled with sweat.
Nolan turned to see Tim Welch standing behind him.
"I...I guess so," Nolan managed.
"Whyís Hargrove want you to drive?"
Nolan could only shake his head.
"Better wash up," Welch told him. "We gotta get to English."
Nolan rinsed his glasses in the sink and gave them to Welch to dry off while he doused his face in the cold water. After he dried off, he took the glasses back. "Thanks."
"Come on," Welch said, heading toward the door. "Weíll be late."
As the two boys darted into the room, Mr. Hanson was just starting to give their English class a pop-quiz question over their homework assignment. "Ah, Masters Welch and Nolan, so good of you to join us," the teacher said, rising from his perch on the table in the front of the room. "As soon as these two gentlemen have a sheet of paper out, Iíll give everyone the question for today."
Kevin Nolan and Tim Welch took their seats toward the middle of the two rows closest to the windows. Nolan felt another wave of nausea as he leaned down from his seat and fumbled through his backpack for his notebook and a pen.
"Hurry up, will you," Tim hissed under his desk. "Hansonís staring at you."
Nolan flipped his notebook open on the desk and took out a sheet of paper without responding to his friend.
"I see you are ready to join us Mr. Nolan," Hanson said, adjusting his glasses. "Okay, class," he continued, glancing around the room. "Todayís question. ĎOut, Out--í was chosen by Robert Frost for the poem you were assigned to read as an allusion to another work of literature. What was the other literary work, and who wrote it? How does the allusion work in this poem? And, just a reminder for those of you who read the footnote, don't use it as your explanation for how the allusion works."
Almost everyone in the class groaned. Nolan was too busy trying to write the question down. As usual, Mr. Hanson told them they had ten minutes to work on the answer, and then he repeated the question for the class.
Shakespeareís MacBeth, Nolan knew, was the source of the title. The footnote in the book had told him that. But as he tried to decide how the allusion worked in the poem, all he could think about was Steve Hargroveís asking him to drive him somewhere. Why me, Nolan wondered. After all, almost everyone who was a senior--except Steve Hargrove--had a car. And Hargrove already had a driver. Why would he want a sophomore to drive him anywhere? And of all the sophomores, why would he want me? Iím a nobody. Nobody ever wants me for anything.
Nolan shivered. Hargrove was vicious. Everyone knew he kicked opposing linemen and raked them with his cleats. He had been so blatant a few weeks ago that McAfee finally threw him off the football team.
What was the point of his bullying me? Nobody would care, Nolan concluded. But the more he thought about the situation, the more his stomach contracted and soured.
When Mr. Hanson called for the pop question, Nolan had only managed to answer the first part of it.
A few moments later, he was startled to hear his name called.
He stood, "Yes, Sir?"
"Would you tell us how you answered the question?"
"I said it was an allusion to MacBeth by Shakespeare."
"And?" Mr. Hanson asked when Nolan said no more.
"And I donít know how the allusion worked." Nolan again fell silent. Hanson continued to stare at him. So did everyone else in the room. "I didnít write anything. I never read MacBeth and I didnít understand what it said in the book about the mad queen wandering around in the castle."
"Okay," Mr. Hanson said, pushing at his glasses. "You may sit down, Mr. Nolan."
To Nolanís surprise, Mr. Hanson asked for a show of hands of students who had read the Shakespeare play. Only two hands went up.
"For the moment," Hanson said, "I want you two to be quiet. I want the rest of you--those who havenít read the play--to tell me what you thought about the allusion...."
Relief flooded over Nolan once he realized he was not going to be the brunt of some lecture, but Nolan found himself sweating in renewed anxiety over his upcoming meeting with Hargrove. He was half-tempted to raise his hand and asked to be excused, to be sent to the nurse and, if he were lucky, to be sent home. But he didnít want to call any more attention to himself.
As Nolan and Welch walked to algebra, several of their classmates commented on Nolanís luck.
"I thought for sure you were a goner," one girl smiled.
"I just wrote down what the book said. I never would have admitted I didnít understand it. But Iím glad you did," another girl said.
Most of the guys in the class just slapped Nolan on the back.
"Youíre kind of a hero," Tim Welch told him.
"It wonít last," Nolan replied.
The algebra period dragged by. Nolan seemed to be checking his watch every thirty seconds--ninety-nine times when the bell sounded.
"You goiní?" Welch asked him as they stepped into the hallway.
"I got a choice?"
Welch gave his friend a sad smile. "See yaí."
"Yeah," Nolan said, turning the opposite direction. He didn't take a step for a long moment. Then, with a shrug of his shoulders, he headed toward the gym.
Hargrove stood near the doors to the parking lot. His red, Parkview High jacket stretched across his broad shoulders. The shadow of Hargroveís dark whiskers made him seem more than a few years older than Nolan. Two of Hargroveís gang stood with him. Nolan swallowed hard, worrying that all three of them would try to get into his car.
When he stepped into the gym lobby, Nolan saw Hargrove pointing at him. One of the others, Butch Kramer, laughed. And the third, Derrick Springer, gave Hargrove thumbs up, before pushing Kramer through the parking lot doors.
"I see you didnít disappoint me," Hargrove said, waving Nolan closer. "I told the guys you would show. Why wouldnít you?"
Nolanís stomach tightened. "I gotta be at work at five," Nolan said, stopping about five feet from the big upper classman.
"Hey, no problem. I just need a ride."
"Why didnít you go with your friends?"
"Hey," Hargrove growled, stepping forward.
Nolan backed away.
"I mean," Hargrove softened, "look, maybe I want you to be my friend."
"Why?" Nolan asked, noting that there were few people within ten feet of either of them.
"Letís just say I like your car."
"Itís my uncleís," Nolan said.
"Okay, so itís your uncleís. Itís still the coolest car in the parking lot. And if people know I like it and I like you, theyíll leave it alone. But if you arenít going to be my friend...." Hargroveís voice trailed off.
Nolanís stomach completed the knot. At lunchtime, everyone was talking about the car vandalized the night before. Nolan heard it was the football coachís car. Someone said a blowtorch was used to burn graffiti all over the vehicle. Everyone knew the tires were slashed, and that it was in a locked garage. Coach McAfee's garage. And even though there were no witnesses, some of the Parkview students thought Hargrove did it.
I wonder what Uncle Jerry would do to me if something happened to that car? Nolan thought. "Well, letís go," he said, walking straight to the door, not looking at the older boy. "I donít have much time before I gotta go to work."
By the time the two headed down the steps, the fully restored, Ď75 blue beetle was easy to see across the nearly empty lot behind the gym.
There were only two other cars like it in Coppell. Nolanís uncle drove a red Ď72, and his cousin, Bob Trout, drove a yellow Ď69. The two cousins drove deliveries for their uncleís restaurant, Beetleís Diner, on MacArthur. Nolan got the car and the job the day after he got his license, a week after he turned sixteen. Bob had already been driving for his uncle for over two years by then. His cousin was a freshman at the junior college.
"Itís a great looking car," Hargrove said, catching up to Nolan.
The younger boy didnít reply.
"Maybe, after you get used to me being with you, youíll let me drive it some?"
Nolan stared at Hargrove.
"Hey, I ainít sayiní you have to. Iím sayingí you might want to--someday."
"I still donít understand why you want me to drive you anywhere."
"I just do."
Nolan unlocked the car and got in behind the wheel. I ought to just drive off, he thought. But Hargrove grabbed the handle and pounded on the window before he could even get the key in the ignition.
"Donít let him cut off my hand," came the line from the Frost poem he read for English class. Man, do I wish I could cut his off, he thought, as he reached across and unlocked the door, picturing a chainsaw falling across the hirsute senior's wrist.
Hargrove didnít fit into the seat very well. Even after adjusting it backward as far as it would go, the seat was so small that Hargrove's chin rested on his knees.
"Not much room, is there."
"I never have any problem," Nolan replied, pulling out his pack of cinnamon gum. He gunned the engine. "Where to?" Nolan unwrapped two pieces waiting for Hargrove's reply. "You know where they're building Crest View Mall in Lewisville?"
Nolan nodded, offered his rider the gum.
"No. Thanks. Mind if I dip?"
Nolan tried not to make a face as he reluctantly shook his head. "Crest View Mall?" It wasn't that far away. Just down MacArthur, beyond the Coppell city limits.
"Yeah. Head over there. Iíll tell you where I want to go when we hit the mall."
Nolan put the car in gear and pulled out of the parking lot, heading north toward the edge of town and the mall.
Hargrove fiddled with the radio until he found the all-country station.
Nolan hated country music. But it was worse when Hargrove sang along with the radio. By the third song after the news and weather, Nolan asked, "Can I turn it off?"
"I have a headache."
"This kind of music always makes me feel better," Hargrove said.
But the pain on Nolanís face was real, even if its source was not inside his head.
Hargrove switched the music off.
"Thanks," Nolan said. "Now, where do you want to go out here?"
"Drive on past the mall, to the second light."
"Where are you going?"
Nolan slowed his car as he pulled around the construction site. Crest View mall was going to be huge. The cinderblock walls already defined the Dillards store at the southwest corner of the complex. The brick facing along the south wall was already installed. It looked like horizontal rows of brown dominos to Nolan. I wonder who thought that was a good idea he asked himself as he eased the car to a stop at the traffic signal.
A moment later, Hargrove ordered, "Turn right at the next block. Then turn into Larryís Beer and Wine."
Nolan saw the sign for the liquor store as he pulled around the corner.
"If all you wanted was beer, we could have gone some place a whole lot closer than here," Nolan said, bringing the car to a stop.
"I know the guy who owns this place," Hargrove said with a wink. "Now wait here."
Nolan shrugged his shoulders.
The older boy was coming back out of the store before Nolan even thought of driving away and just leaving him. But what would he do to me? What would he do to Uncle Jerryís car? What would Uncle Jerry do to me if something happened to his car because I left Hargrove out here?
"Pop the hood," Hargrove yelled, carrying two cases of beer toward the vehicle.
Nolan complied without thinking. Only after the hood was slammed down did Nolan notice the older man standing next to Hargrove.
"Donít let that kid drink and drive," the man laughed, slapping Hargrove on the shoulder.
"Donít worry, Dad. Itís mostly for me."
"Nice car, kid," the man said, showing thumbs up. "Had one when I was in college." The man said something else to Hargrove before retreating into the store.
"I told you this was a cool car, didnít I, Dad?" Hargrove asked, getting back in.
Nolan stared at Hargrove for a moment, then slipped the car into reverse to pull out of the lot.
"I wanted him to see your car. Itís something I know heíll remember."
"Now where?" Nolan asked a moment later.
"Take me home."
"Where do you live?"
Hargrove told him, and Nolan drove the rest of the way in silence. He looked at Hargrove in the rearview mirror. There was an odd smirk on the older boyís face. Probably just thinking about getting drunk, Nolan told himself. Hope I donít have to drive him anywhere else.
Just about the time that thought crossed his mind, Hargrove asked, "What time do you get off work?"
"I usually make my last delivery about eight. My mom expects me to come home right after that."
"No problem," Hargrove said. He continued to smile.
When he got out of the car in front of his house, Hargrove said. "Just leave the beer for now. Iíll get it later."
"When?" Nolan asked. "I donít want to be driviní around with that beer in there."
"You ainít gonna drink it, are you?"
"No. Of course not."
"Then whoís gonna know itís there?"
"I will," Nolan said.
"And whatís the problem with that?"
"What if something happens? What if I have an accident?"
"Youíre a good driver. Iím not worried. See yaí."
Nolan watched the older boy go into the white, brick two-story without looking back. The younger boy sat in front of the house a few minutes before heading off to the diner.
"You donít look so good, Kev," his cousin, Bob Trout, said when Nolan entered the kitchen of the diner.
"Got sick at school. Tossed my lunch. Iíll be okay after I get something to eat."
"Gus has made meat loaf for the special."
Nolan looked away.
The two boys sat down at the back of the kitchen to eat. Bob talked about the sociology class he was taking at the junior college. He was in love with his teacher, even though he said she was a man-hater. "She was talking about the schoolís administration today. How theyíre a bunch of gray suits. There are only two ladies in administration--One does secretarial, the other does counseling. Now, I ain't a feminist, but I think sheís right in sayiní thereís prejudice against women at that school and just about everywhere else. Sheís really made me think about the way things are and whether theyíre fair or not to women, to African Americans, to all the other minorities...."
Nolan picked at his food while his cousin rambled on.
"Youíre not eating, Kevin?" Jerry Barber asked, coming up behind his nephews.
"I got sick at school. I donít want to eat too much. Might not be able to keep it down."
"Are you going to be able to make your deliveries?"
"Sure. No problem."
"Okay, if youíre sure," his uncle said, studying his younger nephew.
"Iíll be okay."
"Sure he will," Bob said. "He already looks better than when he came in here."
"Okay. When you finish, you can start making your runs. Mostly regulars on this first round. Only one new person, and heíll be with your orders, Bob."
"No problem," both boys replied.
"I got all the orders ready," Gus said, coming up behind the owner of the diner. "You boys be quick now. Donít want none of that food to get cold. If I hear one complaint, Iíll...." His voice trailed off. Gus Perkins was an old navy cook. He shaved his head and wore a red bandana around the diner. When Uncle Jerry wasnít around, he threatened the boys with castration and other tortures, which he could describe in gruesome detail. If he had a peg leg and an eye patch, he would have looked the pirate he pretended to be.
"Yeah. Yeah. We know," Bob laughed.
Uncle Jerry pretended not to know the joke as he left the kitchen.
Both boys loaded up their cars with the first orders of the evening. And for the next two and a half-hours, the routine of the deliveries kept Nolan sufficiently busy that he didnít think about Hargrove or the beer under the hood of his Beetle.
"Got one last order for you to run on your way home tonight," Uncle Jerry said when Nolan returned to the diner a little after eight. "Just came in." It wasnít unusual for either of the cousins to do one last delivery on the way home. Uncle Jerry trusted the boys to bring in the money the next day when they returned to work. "Itís not too far from your house. Want to call your Mom and tell her youíre on your way home?"
"No," Nolan said, glancing at the address. "Iíll get home before she has a chance to worry about me."
It wasnít until Nolan pulled up in front of the white, brick house that the address registered. Had Steve Hargrove phoned in an order? He checked the slip. Well, at least he can get his beer now, Nolan thought.
Before he reached the porch, Hargrove came out to meet him.
"Pretty neat, huh?"
"Yeah. Whatever," Nolan replied.
"Help me with the beer," Hargrove said, walking to the hood of the car.
"Look, I gotta pick up the money for this order and get home."
"No problem. Help me get the beer to the garage, and Iíll pay you for it."
Nolan reached down and popped the hood.
Hargrove grabbed the two cases and headed around the house. "Come on," the older boy said. "Iíll pay you in the garage."
Nolan hesitated, then climbed out of the car with the order and followed the older boy. He slammed the hood as he rounded the car.
"The name on the order is Phillips, not Hargrove," Nolan said.
"Itís for my mom," Hargrove replied,
Nolan didnít say anything.
Hargrove bumped the side door to the garage open with his shoulder, and walked in. Nolan waited outside until Hargrove got the lights on.
"Itís ten fifty-six with tax and delivery."
"Okay," Hargrove replied. "You cominí in or what?"
"Weíre not supposed to go inside."
"Well, itís not like you donít know me." When the younger boy hesitated, Hargrove said, "Come on, Nolan. Iím not going to attack you or nothiní. You want a beer?"
"No. I got homework to do when I get home."
"Just one wouldnít hurt you none."
"My mom would know."
"You gonna pay me or what?"
"Yeah. I got my momís check here. I just gotta write in the amount."
"Yeah," Hargrove said. "I heard you." He wrote in the amount.
"Thanks," Nolan said, taking the check from Hargrove. "Thanks a lot."
"Hey," Hargrove replied, "no problem. And thanks for taking me to get the beer."
"I still donít know why you picked me to take you."
"I told yaí. I like your car."
"Still, it seems strange you would want to be seen with me."
"What? Because youíre a sophomore?"
"I wouldnít care if you were a dork-weed freshman--not in that car."
"What makes the car so special?"
"Are you kidding? Itís a classic," Hargrove said. "And even though theyíre bringing out a new one, those seventies Beetles are the coolest."
"Itís my uncleís car."
"Yeah. I know. You told me that all ready."
"Heíd kill me if anything happened to it."
"I ainít going to let nothiní happen to your car."
Nolan was quiet for a moment. "Well, I guess I better get home. My mom will be wonderiní where I am."
"Yeah. Well, okay. Thanks for bringing the food. And thanks for taking me for a ride."
"No problem," Nolan said, turning to go.
"Hey, maybe after work on Friday, you can come by and have a beer?"
"Yeah. Maybe," Nolan said over his shoulder. He walked back to the car quickly and headed for home.
A few minutes later, he pulled under the carport at the rear of the apartments where he lived with his mother and younger sister.
"Kevin? Is that you?" his mother asked as he entered the apartment through the kitchen door.
"Yeah. Itís me," he replied, setting his backpack on the table.
"Yeah," he replied, getting a glass of water. "Uncle Jerry gave me one more delivery before I came home. Turned out to be the house of a kid I know from school. I got to talking to him. I guess I lost track of time."
"As long as there wasnít a problem."
"No problem, Mom."
"Iím going to bed, then, Honey."
"Okay, Mom. Do you need any help with your chair?"
"No. I can manage," his mother replied. "Make sure Molly goes to bed at nine."
"Okay." Nolan looked at the clock. It was eight forty. He pulled out his algebra book and started to work. But as he tried to make sense of his notes and work the first problem, he knew he was in trouble with the assignment.
"Hi, Tim," Nolan said into the receiver about ten minutes after sitting down to start his homework. "Itís Kevin."
"You started the algebra yet?"
"I canít seem to remember how to set the problems up."
Tim walked him through the first problem. Then, Nolan explained what he thought he should do on the second to see if he were following the steps correctly.
"I think youíve got it," Welch said.
"Thanks," Nolan said. "I guess I was kind of distracted during class today."
"Yeah. Hey, howíd it go."
"It was okay. He asked me to make a beer run with him.
"Is that all?"
"Whyíd he pick on you?"
"Guess he likes the car. Thatís what he said."
"Still, seems strange to me."
"Me, too. But he seems all right."
"Gotta go," Welch said.
"Okay. Thanks for the help."
A moment later, Nolan walked into the living room where his younger sister Molly was curled up in the corner of the couch.
Nolan smiled when he walked around and saw his pig-tailed sister sleeping. No matter how tired she was, ten-year-old Molly wasnít going to bed until nine oíclock. He took the remote out of her lap and clicked the set off.
"Hey, Squirt," Nolan said, gently rocking his sisterís shoulder. "Why donít you just go to bed when you get sleepy?"
"I was watching my show."
"Which one was that?"
Molly stared at him for a moment. Nolan started to laugh.
"Well, I was watching it."
"Okay. Okay, I believe you. Even if you canít tell me what it was."