BY DAVID MOORES
Copyright is held by the author.
NO SCHOOL bus ride for Lyle today, kicked out early for attitude. Again.
Fourteen-year-old Lyle Prince walked the road that led from school into town and in due course, by way of the railroad crossing, to the lane that would take him home.
His boots made a crunching, squelching sound on the slush swept to the roadside by the morning’s plough. A low dark overcast crawled above and occasional flakes of wet snow spiralled down.
“I’m not going to frickin’ gym class,” he’d said to Ms Wynne. “I told you before, my Mom said I can skip gym any time ‘cos of my bad leg, so you can shove it.” Lyle did not have a bad leg and everybody knew it. Too bad, no way was he stripping for gym in the underpants he’d had on for a week. Mom’s laundry habits were no better than her catering.
Now he found himself headed home after a mercifully brief visit to the Principal’s office, not his first by a long ways.
“Come back tomorrow with a better attitude,” the Principal told him, or there will be real consequences.”
Lyle despised the Principal and his empty threats about as much as he despised the school. He coughed deep in his chest and horked a greener into the slush. He paused to admire it.
A row of dingy cottages marked the beginning of town. The inhabitants weren’t much for clearing sidewalks so Lyle kept to the road. He came up on the final cottage, next to the Sunoco.
“Hey Lyle, thrown out early, were ya?” Lyle’s buddy Garth was hanging out in the gas station forecourt, one of his habitual spots, chosen for no reason Lyle could fathom. Garth, who never went to school, was supposedly home-schooled. What a crock.
“Hey, what’s up you little turd?” said Lyle.
“Nuthin’, you sad-lookin’ half-tard,” replied Garth. He fell in beside Lyle and the two of them progressed into the one-block downtown with its weathered brick storefronts, more than a few displaying “For Lease” signs. In the middle distance, beyond the town’s meagre limits, the snow-covered wastes of Bruce County stretched in every direction, and the only thing moving was the sails of the wind turbines, turning slowly, as if signalling to someone or something very far away.
“So where’ ya headed?” asked Garth.
“Home, dipshit, where else? But I gotta go by the Mini-Mart for a can of mushroom soup. Mom’s gonna do her crappy grey chicken again tonight, if she’s even home.”
Downtown was quiet. The dreary afternoon had street lights coming on early. A final pulse of commercial activity would not begin for another couple of hours as homeward bound workers stopped to pick up dry-cleaning or something for supper.
Garth grabbed Lyle’s arm. “Holy shit, look, it’s Laura.”
Lyle’s stomach went tight. Laura McDonald was the foremost object of worship for every young male in the town from Grade Six upwards. Her heart-shaped face with its cornflower blue eyes and pouty lips was exquisitely framed by the fur trim of her hood. She had the belt of her puffy jacket cinched tight above the swell of her hips.
Laura paused outside Van Beek’s Hardware and started poking at her phone. The boys approached. Lyle was seized by her unattainable awesomeness, but managed a reasonably casual, “Hi Laura, lookin’ good today.”
Laura raised her eyes as if startled, though she had to have seen them coming. A snowflake caught on her cheek and Lyle, responding to a crazy impulse, reached out to brush it away.
Laura recoiled. “What are you doing? Get off!”
“You had that thingy on your cheek there,” murmured Lyle.
“Don’t touch me, okay? Sheesh!” she said, and took a step back. “So why are you out of school, Lyle, as if I couldn’t guess? Sent home again for attitude?”
“And how come you aren’t in school yourself?” Lyle replied, attack being the best form of defence.
“None of your business, you wouldn’t understand.”
Garth gave Lyle a sharp elbow in the ribs and whispered in his ear, “Monthly cramps probably, dumbass.”
Lyle recovered fast. “So Laura, you want to go for pizza?” he noticed a sprinkling of freckles across the bridge of her exquisite little nose.
Mom’s cash for the can of soup, plus some toonies Lyle had liberated from her purse, ought to cover a pizza, and an opportunity like this was worth the shit he’d get.
Laura switched attention back to her phone. The whistle and rumble of the CN freight sounded from the tracks.
Laura came back. “What did you say?”
“Ew no, all that yukky melted cheese.”
Lyle nodded as if this made sense, though he’d watched her inhaling a slice of pepperoni pizza in the school cafeteria only last week.
A strand of red-gold hair fell across Laura’s left eye and she pushed it back. “Gotta go, guys.”
“See you in school tomorrow?” asked Garth.
“Ha ha, funny man,” she said. She turned to cross the street towards the PharmaPlus and Lyle caught a waft of warmth and fragrance like the flowers in Grandma’s garden. He felt a tug that came close to physical pain.
Their eyes followed Laura until she disappeared into the store. A pickup truck swished by on the wet pavement.
For no particular reason, Lyle remembered his dad, incarcerated in Milton these past two years. He didn’t really miss Dad, and Mom had no bruises and black eyes anymore, but there were one or two things Dad had taught him, young as Lyle had been back then.
Smarting from Laura’s rejection, Lyle was gripped by an urge to do something truly scary and, in his mind, spectacular. Shoplifting the occasional pack of gum was one of the few diversions the town had to offer but he had bigger ideas today. He grabbed Garth’s arm and propelled him into the laneway that separated the Mini-Mart from Van Beek’s.
“Screw lifting a few crummy Reece’s Pieces, I bet Mini Mart’s side door’s unlocked. There’s gotta be cigarettes in there and other stuff we can get real money for.” Garth looked startled. Lyle shot him a contemptuous grin. “Come on, you little chicken shit,” he said, “let’s go.”
The door opened with a turn of the knob. A smell of cleaning fluid. Racks of cartons labelled Raisin Bran, Tide, Campbell’s Mushroom Soup — yay Mom — and, jackpot, cigarettes of many brands.
Lyle knew he was deep in it now and he was high on it, a buzz and a tension across his chest like he’d only felt once before. That time, out of audacity or pity, he was never sure, he’d bashed in the skull of a rabbit he’d found half dead in a trap and never told a soul.
“Oh crap,” whispered Garth, “how we gonna carry this stuff?”
“Garbage bags, find garbage bags, quick!” hissed Lyle, “and we’ll sneak out by the back lane in case Wowchuk comes by in his cruiser.”
A door slammed somewhere close.
Garth’s voice came out shaky. “I’m outta here, let’s go.”
They heard a thump and shouting from the front of the store. “On the fuckin’ floor, now! Don’t move!”
Garth’s eyes went wide. He grabbed a carton of smokes and took off, but something made Lyle pause.
The swing door that led to the front of the store had a small window. Lyle crept to peer through it. A tall skinny guy in a hoodie was by the cash drawer, his back to Lyle. An accomplice stood over the proprietor, Mr Park, who lay beside the magazine display with blood around his mouth.
The two bozos were giggling and laughing to each other, on something by the looks of them, out of their stupid minds. Lyle experienced a hot throb of indignation. How dare a couple of losers from out of town muscle their way into his very own local convenience store and mess up his adventure? No eff’n way. Observant and no stranger to the place, Lyle knew what he was going to do.
He darted to the back door, opened and slammed it twice, loud, propped it open and snuck behind a rack of cartons. Either the Losers would hear the noise and clear off, or one of them would come looking. Lyle hoped it would be the latter.
Sure enough, Loser Number 1 burst in, spotted the open back door and made for it. Lyle moved quickly, not caring now if the guy heard or saw him, dashed into the store and went for the top left drawer beside the cash.
Yes! He found what he was looking for.
It was only a little .22, a toy compared to Dad’s Glock .357, but they all worked the same way. Lyle took hold of the gun and felt the weight of it. He skittered to the far end of the counter as Number 2 spun around with a look of surprise on his unshaven face. The look turned to a Halloween skeleton’s grin, missing teeth and all.
“Don’t mess with that thing, little boy. Put it down before you hurt yourself.”
From his position at the counter’s end Lyle had a clear field of fire across the store. He raised the gun, pointed at the guy’s face and cycled the slide with his left hand to chamber a round, the way Dad had taught him.
The metallic clack of the slide wiped the grin off Number 2’s face.
“Hey, hey hey!” he shouted, “Billy, get back in here for Christ’s sake!” Number 1, alias Billy, reappeared.
“All right assholes,” Lyle said, his voice high but not frantic. “On the floor now.”
Neither one moved. Billy opened his mouth. “Jesus Brad, what the . . .”
“SHUT UP,” yelled Lyle. “On the floor or I swear one of you gets it. Who’s gonna be first? Mr Park, go outside and get us some help here.”
As the proprietor was rising unsteadily to his feet, red and blue flashes lit up the store. Seconds later, enter Officer Wowchuk, armed and belligerent. Right behind him, Laura.
“Stay down you two. Don’t move. Okay Lyle,” said the cop, “drop the gun.” Lyle complied.
“What in God’s name have you gotten into, you dumb kid? Like father, like son, I guess. How did you get mixed up with these two?”
“Officer,” pleaded Laura, “he’s not with them, honest. We were talking on the street outside just a minute ago.”
Mr Park spoke up. “She right. He save me, he hero!”
Wowchuk was silent for several seconds. Then, “Get over here Lyle, and stand by the wall,” he said. He pulled out his phone, called for backup and started cuffing the Losers.
That done, the cop gave an exasperated shake of the head. “All right, I guess I have to revise my assessment, kid. These gotta be the same two clowns that knocked over the corner store in Howick last week. And as for you, young lady, didn’t I tell you to stay outside?”
Laura didn’t answer. She came to stand beside Lyle and regarded him with an expression altogether different than before. He got lost in her amazing eyes, the flush of winter cold was on her cheeks and there was that aroma of flowers again. Her lips — oh those lips, were parted in awe, or was it, could it be, admiration?
She sighed, put her hand on his arm, and gave it a companionable squeeze. “I saw these guys go in and I heard shouting, so I called the station.”
Lyle had always pictured himself as a badass but the perks of law enforcement were looking good right now. “Laura,” he said. “I owe you. Sure you won’t change your mind and come for that Pizza?”
There was mischief in her smile. It made his knees go weak. “Well, I guess I could,” she said. “But omigod, Lyle, this is soo cool! How did you do it?”
“Oh, you know,” he said. “Attitude. Attitude and a gun.”