“I don’t know.”
She stood up a little at a time. Her hands dangled strangely, as if she didn’t know exactly what to do with them.
“I think you do. ”
“You’ll feel better when it’s off your chest, Irma, ” Tanis Gannon said. “I always do. ”
“Leave her alone, fa Chrissake,” Dick Keene said from the back of the room.
“I don’t want to be let alone,” Irma said suddenly. “I want to say it.” She brushed back her hair defiantly.
Her hands were not dove-like at all. “I’m not pretty. No one likes me. I never had a date. Everything she said is true. There.” The words rushed out very fast, and she screwed up her face while she was saying them, as if she were taking nasty medicine.
“Take a little care of yourself, ” Tanis said. Then, looking embarrassed but still determined: “You know, wash, shave your legs and, uh, armpits. Look nice. I’m no raving beauty, but I don’t stay home every weekend. You could do it.”
“I don’t know how!”
Some of the boys were beginning to look uneasy, but the girls were leaning for-ward. They looked sympathetic now, all of them. They had that confessions-at–the-pajama-party look that every male seems to know and dread.
“Well . . . ” Tanis began. Then she stopped and shook her head. “Come back here and sit down. ”
Pat Fitzgerald snickered. “Trade secrets?”
“Some trade,” Corky Herald said. That got laughs. Irma Bates shuttled to the back of the room, where she, Tanis, Anne Lasky, and Susan Brooks started some sort of confabulation. Sylvia was talking softly with Grace, and Pig Pen’s eyes were crawl-ing avidly over both of them. Ted Jones was frowning at the air. George Yannick was carving something on the top of his desk and smoking a cigarette-he looked
like any busy carpenter. Most of the other; were looking out the windows at the cops directing traffic and conferring in desperate-looking little huddles. I could pick out Don Grace, good old Tom Denver, and Jerry Kesserling, the traffic cop.
A bell went off suddenly with a loud bray, making all of us jump. It made the cops outside jump, too. A couple of them pulled their guns.
“Change-of-classes bell,” Harmon said.
I looked at the wall clock. It was 9:50. At 9:05 I had been sitting in my seat by the window, watching the squirrel. Now the squirrel was gone, good old Tom Denver was gone, and Mrs. Underwood was really gone. I thought it over and decided I was gone, too.
Three more state-police cars came, and also a number of citizens from town. The cops tried to shoo them away, with greater or lesser degrees of success. Mr. Fran-kel, owner and proprietor of Frankel’s Jewelry Store & Camera Shop, drove up in his new Pontiac Firebird and jawed for quite a while with Jerry Kesserling. He pushed his horn-rimmed glasses up on his nose constantly as he talked. Jerry was trying to get rid of him, but Mr. Frankel wasn’t having any of it. He was also Placerville’s second selectman and a crony of Norman Jones, Ted’s father.
“My mother got me a ring in his store,” Sarah Pasterne said, looking at Ted from the corner of her eye.
“It greened my finger the first day.”
“My mother says he’s a gyp,” Tanis said.
“Hey!” Pig Pen gulped. “There’s my mother!”
We all looked. Sure enough, there was Mrs. Dano talking with one of the state troopers, her slip hanging a quarter of an inch below the hem of her dress. She was one of those ladies who do fifty percent of their talking with their hands. They fluttered and whipped like flags, and it made me think of autumn Saturdays on the gridiron, somehow: holding . . . clipping . . . illegal tackle. I guess in this case you’d have to say it was illegal holding.
We all knew her by sight as well as by reputation; she headed up a lot of PTA functions and was a member in good standing of the Mothers Club. Go out to a baked-bean supper to benefit the class trip, or to the Sadie Hawkins dance in the gym, or to the senior outing, and you’d be apt to find Mrs. Dano at the door, ready with the old glad hand, grinning like there was no tomorrow, and collecting bits of information the way frogs catch flies.
Pig Pen shifted nervously in his seat, as if he might have to go to the bathroom.
“Hey, Pen, your mudda’s callin’,” Jack Goldman intoned from the back of the room.
“Let her call,” Pig Pen muttered.
The Pen had an older sister, Lilly Dano, who was a senior when we were all freshmen. She had a face that looked a lot like Pig Pen’s, which made her nobody’s candidate for Teen Queen. A hook-nosed junior named LaFollet St. Armand be-gan squiring her about, and then knocked her up higher than a kite.
LaFollet joined the Marines, where they presumably taught him the difference between his rifle and his gun-which was for shooting and which was for fun. Mrs. Dano appeared at no PTA functions for the next two months. Lilly was packed off to an aunt in Boxford, Massachusetts. Shortly after that, Mrs.
Dano returned to the same old stand, grinning harder than ever. It’s a small-town classic, friends.
“She must be really worried about you,” Carol Granger said.
“Who cares?” Pig Pen asked indifferently. Sylvia Ragan smiled at him. Pig Pen blushed.
Nobody said anything for a while. We watched the townspeople mill around beyond the bright yellow crash barricades that were going up. I saw some other mums and dads among them. I didn’t see Sandra’s mother and father, and I didn’t see big Joe McKennedy. Hey, I didn’t really expect he’d show up, anyway. Cir-cuses have never been our style.
A newsmobile from WGAN-TV pulled up. One of the guys got out, patting his process neatly into place, and jawed with a cop. The cop pointed across the road. The guy with the process went back to the newsmobile, and two more guys got out and started unloading camera equipment.
“Anybody here got a transistor radio?” I asked.
Three of them raised hands. Corky’s was the biggest, a Sony twelve transistor that he carried in his briefcase. It got six bands, including TV, shortwave, and CB. He put it on his desk and turned it on. We were just in time for the ten-o’clock report:
“Topping the headlines, a Placerville High School senior, Charles Everett Decker . . . ”
“Everett!” Somebody snickered.
“Shut up,” Ted said curtly.
Pat Fitzgerald stuck out his tongue.
” . . . apparently went berserk early this morning and is now holding twenty–four classmates hostage in a classroom of that high school. One person, Peter Vance, thirty-seven, a history teacher at Placerville, is known dead. Another teacher, Mrs. Jean Underwood, also thirty-seven, is feared dead. Decker has com-mandeered the intercom system and has communicated twice with school author-ities. The list of hostages is as follows . . . ”
He read down the class list as I had given it to Tom Denver. “I’m on the radio! ” Nancy Caskin exclaimed when they reached her name. She blinked and smiled tentatively. Melvin Thomas whistled.
Nancy colored and told him to shut up.
” . . . and George Yannick. Frank Philbrick, head of the Maine State Police, has asked that all friends and family stay away from the scene. Decker is presumed dangerous, and Philbrick emphasized that nobody knows at this time what might set him off. ‘We have to assume that the boy is still on a hair trigger,’ Philbrick said.”
“Want to pull my trigger?” I asked Sylvia.
“Is your safety on?” she asked right back, and the class roared. Anne Lasky laughed with her hands over her mouth, blushing a deep bright red. Ted Jones, our practicing party poop, scowled.
” . . . Grace, Placerville’s psychiatrist and guidance counselor, talked to Decker over the intercom system only minutes ago. Grace told reporters that Decker threatened to kill someone in the classroom if Grace did not leave the up-stairs office immediately.”
“Liar!” Grace Stanner said musically. Irma jumped a little.
“Who does he think he is?” Melvin asked angrily. “Does he think he can get away with that shit?”
” . also said that he considers Decker to be a schizophrenic personality, possibly past the point of anything other than borderline rationality. Grace con-cluded his hurried remarks by saying: ‘At this point, Charles Decker might con-ceivably do anything.’ Police from the surrounding towns of . . . ”
“Whatta crocka shit!” Sylvia blared. “I’m gonna tell those guys what really went down with that guy when we get outta here! I’m gonna-”
“Shut up and listen!” Dick Keene snapped at her.
” . and Lewiston have been summoned to the scene. At this moment, ac-cording to Captain Philbrick, the situation is at an impasse. Decker has sworn to kill if tear gas is used, and with the lives of twenty-four children at stake . . . “