Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
March 17, 1987
Ingersoll actually went to school the next day with good intentions of talking to the Riley kid and getting to the bottom of this, to try to see why he'd gotten some kids that pissed off with him. If he could chill things out for a couple days, there was a good chance this would blow over. But as soon as he walked into the office, the phone was ringing -- Dr. Morris still bitching about the budget. As he was on the phone, the regional representative from the teacher's union walked in the door and began throwing her weight around about the teacher grievances that had been filed yesterday, so it was almost lunch hour before he even thought of the Riley kid. It would be nice to grab a bite, he thought, but maybe he ought to put an appearance in the halls and lunchroom, get a feeling for what was happening among the students.
He stepped outside the office door just as the bell went off for lunch. Instantly, the halls filled with kids, mostly heading for the lunchroom. He glanced down the hall and noticed the Kirkendahl kid coming his way, standing head and shoulders above everyone else, of course -- she was easy to pick out of a crowd. He made a mental note that he was still going to have to jump on her case for calling the fire department, but there were other things to do first. He glanced the other way down the hall, and then back -- to notice that the Kirkendahl kid was walking hand and hand with the Riley kid. It was actually a little funny, sort of a Mutt-and-Jeff thing. The Riley kid was just a little over five feet tall, and she was a foot and a half or so taller, so he was having to hold his hand up above waist level to keep it in hers. He couldn't help but snicker. Teenage romances blew hot and cold all through the school in an unending storm, but a big, popular jock like her and a sniveling little twerp like him? Boy, that took the prize!
This would be a good chance to talk with both of them, he could call them into the office and informally get to the bottom of what was going around -- but then Ginny stuck her head out the door and said, "John, Dr. Morris is on the line for you again."
Oh, crap, some other time, he thought.
It was twenty minutes later when he finally made it to the lunchroom. The place was buzzing with kids and noise; he noted the Riley kid and the Kirkendahl kid were sitting off in a corner by themselves, but didn't pay them any attention yet; it was just a good time to talk with the kids informally, see what was happening. He was looking the other way when he heard the hubbub in the cafeteria rise, and a chorus of "Oooooh's" began to be heard. He turned around, to see Denis Riley standing on a chair, his arms around Shae Kirkendahl -- and hers around him -- and they were having a serious mouth-to-mouth kiss.
Holding hands was one thing but this was beyond the limits. He swung around and headed over to the two kids, still in a clench, and obviously a deep kiss. "All right, Shae, Denis," he said, "In my office. Now!"
He watched the girl reach up under the Riley kid's armpits, pick him up and set him on the floor, unwarranted grins on their faces. Well, he'd damn well wipe those off, right quick. That Riley kid was nothing but a trouble maker, and now he'd gotten a decent kid like Shae involved, too.
They followed him down through the hall and into the office, where he closed the door. "Come on, you two. That was an inappropriate display of affections, and both of you should know it. What am I supposed to do with you?"
"Verbal warning, just like the student handbook says," Shae answered.
"You don't have to get smart with me, young lady. What do you have to say for yourself?"
"Look, Mr. Ingersoll, believe it or not, we're on your side in this," she replied. "We both agree that it would be a major hassle around the school to have a uniformed security guard following Denis around, and it would be a pain in the butt for him, too."
"What does that have to do with the two of you kissing in the lunchroom?" he snorted.
"We have to have some reason to be hanging around together all the time," Denis said. "We figured it would be the quickest way to let the rumor get out that the two of us are having a hot romance."
"You mean you're watching over him?" Ingersoll frowned.
"Dad or Shae or me, none of us thought you were going to do anything about those guys last night," Denis said. "I guess we were right. We had to do something to keep anything like last night from happening again while you had the chance to work on it. This will get us through the day, anyway, and tonight I can tell Dad he'll have to call Hollister."
"The company that provides security guards out at the plant."
"Do you think that's really necessary?"
"Actually, I don't think so, but what matters is what my dad thinks, not what I think," Denis replied. "Shae and I, well, we think it doesn't have to go that far. Right, Shae?"
"Pretty much," she agreed. "I mean, I can keep an eye on him in the halls almost all the time. I might not be able to stop something, but I can be a witness. Those assholes don't like witnesses. Now, if you can give them the idea that you're watching them too, it might be enough. We think it's worth a try. If it doesn't work, there's always Hollister."
"Shae, are you threatening me?"
"No sir," she said respectfully. "Like I said, we're sort of on your side. We don't think it would be good to have a security guard following Denis around either, much less some of the other ideas Mr. Riley came up with last night, after we listened in on the speaker phone when he called you."
"Other ideas?" he replied dubiously. "What kind of other ideas?"
"Oh, nothing much," Shae said. "Like he said there's some check that General was going to make as a donation to the library fund, but it hasn't been cut yet. Some other stuff, too."
Oh, shit, he thought. Whether Denis was in the right or the wrong last night, that was $25,000 hanging -- and a lot of his discussions with Dr. Morris over the last two days were over ways to get the library fund donations to their goal. He was struggling for something to say when the phone went off. Oh Christ, probably Dr. Morris again. This was going to go over real big!
"John," Ginny said. "Bert Mansfield is on the phone for you."
"I haven't got time right now," he replied. "Tell him I'll call him right back."
"I think you better talk to him," Ginny said. "He's pretty upset."
Oh crap, what now? And the Mansfield twins were supposed to be involved with that deal with the Riley kid last night! Was Denis' dad making things worse? "All right, give me a minute, I'll slide over to your office and take it," he said, and hung up the phone. "Kids, this won't wait," he said as he got up. "I'll be back in a couple minutes."
He hurried out of his office and over to Ginny's, shutting the door on the way. Mansfield was one of those people he had to pay attention to. He ran one of the big dairy farms outside of town, a thousand or two cows; he was arrogant and stupid, but he was on the school board so couldn't just be brushed off. "Hi, Bert," he said into the phone. "What's happening?"
"What is this shit with Bill Riley calling me up and threatening me over something my kids did to his kid?" he almost shouted. "Jesus, can't you keep that little bastard under control?"
"There was an incident yesterday, but I haven't gotten to the bottom of it," John replied honestly.
"I mean, so my kids were involved in shoving him into a locker, so what? Can't he take a joke? Shit, it was just in fun, can't he see that?"
Oh, shit. This changes everything. Not only did they do it, they bragged about it to their dad, figuring he'd get them out of it. "Honestly, Bert," he said, "The Denis Riley can take a joke. In fact, he's taken a lot of them, but it's gotten to the point where his dad can't take a joke any longer. Believe me, this isn't the first pissed off phone call I've had over what happened last night. What did he threaten you with?"
"He said that all it would take would be one word to the right person out in his plant and his buddy in the INS would be in the area checking green cards, and I'd have a lot of cows that wouldn't get milked."
Yeah, that was a serious threat, John thought. He milked three shifts a day out there, every day, and it was no secret that a lot of his milkers were illegal aliens. He and Dr. Morris had talked more than once about there being kids out there who should have been in school, but weren't -- but with Mansfield on the school board, there wasn't a lot that they could say above ground. "Yeah, and I understand that's not all that's been said," John confirmed. "And what's really bad about it is that he's pissed enough to make good on them. What's more, the more I find out the more I think he's got every right to be pissed. Did your boys say why they stuffed Denis in the locker?"
"No, not really," Bert grumped. "They said they just saw him and it seemed like a good idea at the time. It was just in fun, John. You can't blame kids for having a little fun."
"It may have been fun for them, but it wasn't fun for the Riley kid," John replied. "It was dangerous, and it was downright inappropriate behavior. We can't have that. Now, I suggest you have a word or two with your kids to lay off Denis, or you're going to have a hell of a lot of milking to do."
"You're saying that you aren't going to do anything about this bullshit? I mean, can't he take a joke? Jesus!"
"I'm saying that I'm going to do what needs to be done, and I'm hoping to keep the police out of it. It may have been fun for your kids, but Riley's got a case."
"Yeah, but can't you settle him down?"
"I'm trying to," John said. "But in this case, if what your kids told you is true, then they were clearly in the wrong."
"Well, fuck," Mansfield snorted. "Shit, I guess we'll have to see about this. I mean, god damn, it doesn't mean anything." The phone went dead in his ear.
Well, shit, he thought. In about five minutes I'm going to have a phone call from Dr. Morris about this, unless Riley has something on him, too. The hell of it was that Mansfield had just confirmed everything Riley and his kid and Shae had charged. Something was going to have to be done, and right at the moment a security guard didn't seem like such a bad idea.
He got up and headed out of his office, to be greeted by Skip Apling -- one of his boys was involved in the deal last night, too. "What's this shit about my kid beating up on Bill Riley's kid last night?" he asked.
"It happened," John nodded. "If people would quit getting in my face about it, I'll get to the bottom of it."
"Look, if my kid did wrong, kick his ass," Skip said. "Let me know and I'll kick it, too. God, I can't have Bill Riley on my ass, of all people."
"What happened?" he asked, wondering what the threat was here.
"Bill called me into his office this morning," Skip reported. "He asked me what the worst job in the plant was, and what the worst shift was. I told him the appliance dock on thirds. He said, 'All right, good to know that. Now, apparently your kid beat up on my kid last night, it wasn't the first time, and I'd like you to make sure that it doesn't happen again.' Shit, he didn't exactly threaten me with thirds on the appliance dock, but hell, I know what he meant."
That man has been kicking some serious ass this morning, John thought. "Give me a chance to call these kids in and get to the bottom of it," he said. "I'll get back with you this evening. But, in any case, tell Gary to lay off Denis Riley till this blows over. I know he was involved, but I don't know how bad."
"I'll kick his young ass," he snorted. "Jesus, I don't need to be working thirds on the appliance dock."
"I'll tell Bill that you're cooperating fully," John offered, thinking that this was a hell of a lot more healthy reaction than he got from Mansfield. "If what I understand is true, it's going to mean some discipline throughout the school."
"If it's true, it's going to mean a pot load more at home," Skip replied furiously. "Let me know."
"Sure will." John said, and headed back to his office, where Shae and Denis were waiting. "All right," he told them, "Something will be started by the end of the day. I don't know how long it's going to take to end it, but I'm going to land on some people, and we'll try it your way. Is that good enough?"
"I'll tell Dad," Denis agreed.
"When you see him, give him a message for me. Tell him I mean this in the utmost respect, but he sure plays with a hard ball."
"Only when he has to, Mr. Ingersoll," Denis smiled. "Last night he said, 'You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar, but there are times when vinegar works better.'"
"He may have a point," John smiled.
The phone went off again. He picked it up. "Dr. Morris on two," Ginny said.
Oh, boy, here we go again, he thought. "Give me a second." He put his hand over the phone and said, "OK kids, out of here. Just for the record, no more kissing in the lunchroom, all right?"
"Not unless we need to," Shae said as the two of them got up.
"In case we need to get the message across again."
"Try to not let me see it," he sighed. "Catch you around, and close the door, would you?"
In a few seconds they were gone. He picked up the phone. "Yes, Dr. Morris?"
"I just had a call from Bert Mansfield. He seems to think that you're landing on his kids for no good reason."
"As soon as I can get a minute without people being in my face about it, I intend to land on them," he replied. "They're in the wrong this time, and they've gotten away with this stuff for much too long, from having their dad get them out of it."
"I don't know the details," Dr. Morris replied, "But isn't this something that we can overlook? Jesus, we don't need Mansfield pissed with us."
"Unfortunately, someone else is pissed about this," he sighed. "And they're pissing with a fire hose."
"Bill Riley, out at General."
"Oh, shit! How bad?
"Among other things -- and it's only the tip of the iceberg -- if we don't land on the Mansfield kids, we lose the General Hardware donation to the library fund. And it gets worse. Lots worse. I don't know how much worse. And frankly, he has every right to be pissed."
"Put the fire out," Dr. Morris said. "We'll deal with Mansfield if we have to, but try to keep him from getting too pissed off. What do you plan on doing?"
"The first thing is to pull these kids in and talk to them," he replied. "Then we'll have to see from there."
"Maybe I'd better sit in on this," Dr. Morris offered. "I mean, just so I know what's happening when Mansfield gets on my ass again."
"Then come on over," John said. "I'm going to pull these kids in right now, talk to them one at a time until their stories crack. And I know the questions to ask, now."
• • •
Denis' dad was already home from work when he and Shae pulled up in her Monza; his parents were waiting as soon as they walked into the living room. "So, how did it go?" his father asked.
"Just about like we planned," Denis reported. "If he did anything before noon, we didn't see any sign of it, but after we got called into his office, things started to happen."
"I guess we read it about right," he smiled. "Not surprising. So, what happened?"
"Right after we left, he called the Mansfields, Apling, Tyler, and Shaffer into the office," Shae smiled. "Dr. Morris was there. We don't know what happened, but we took a swing by the office on the way out, and they're still there, so there's been something happening."
"More than I expected, anyway," Denis snorted.
"How did it go otherwise? I mean, the two of you?"
"Pretty good," Shae smiled. "I mean, we both got teased about it, but we expected that. I told a couple of girls that, sure, Denis is short, but he's real sweet and kind, and he kisses real well. We're going to continue to get teased, I'm sure, but I think the message got across."
There had been a lot more to that kiss than just the cover story. In fact, it had been Shae's idea, a second cover story: the "romance" would go a long way to deflect all the old teasing about Denis being gay -- and after what had been said last night, he may not have been gay but was something indefinably close to it. Shae may not have been the most popular girl in the school, but she was one of the more respected, what with her basketball reputation. They'd thought of a few more things that she could say, and that he could say, that would add to the deception.
And, it was a deception. While she and Denis had been friends of a sort for a long time, they had never been really close friends -- at least until last night. The actions of the afternoon, along with the revelations of the evening, being brought into his deepest secret -- well, they weren't boyfriend and girlfriend, and if his dreams held true could never be -- but they could act the part.
"Well, all right," Mr. Riley said. "I think we've done about what we can do in that department for a while. Now, we'll have to sit back and see what happens. After this settles out, it may have done the job. If it has, fine. If not, we'll have to bare our teeth again. But we have options, now, so long as we work together and don't cover anything up from each other."
"We should know a lot more tomorrow," Denis said. "I mean, there's a lot riding on what Mr. Ingersoll actually does."
"Not really," his father smiled. "So long as he puts some people on notice and the word gets around, it may do the job. We don't know, and we won't know for a while. But it should give us a little breathing space."
"I hope so," Denis agreed. "Even with Shae next to me it was hard to walk in there today. But it worked out pretty well. Thanks, Shae."
"And we thank you too, Shae," Mr. Riley smiled. "I hope we didn't put you out, and that keeping this up for a while won't be a problem."
"Actually, now that I've had a chance to think about it, it may even help me out a little," she shrugged. "I get hit on a lot, and usually it's by people I don't want to get hit on by. Having what people see as a boyfriend may slow a little of that down, especially if we're spending a fair amount of time together. So, no, it's not a problem."
"I don't know," Arlene said. "It seems so unfair to you."
"I'm like the rest of us here," Shae shrugged. "I don't want to spend the rest of my life in Bradford, either. I don't even want to think about getting hooked up with someone who wants to stay here. Denis is safe, especially like that."
"You sure are a General kid, aren't you?" Bill smiled. "It shows."
"I guess I am," Shae grinned.
"Well, all right," he laughed. "I'll bet you wind up with a career in the General Hardware headquarters, since you've been brought up to it."
"Well, I hope not," Shae laughed. "But I can think of worse things, like being a housewife in Bradford and running a fork truck at the plant."
"It's all right, and there are people who have a satisfying life out of it," he nodded. "But I wouldn't be one of them, either. That's neither here nor there. What I'm thinking is now we might have the school problem pushed back for a while, we need to do some thinking about the more serious issue that was brought up last night. Now, Denis, I don't know what I'm trying to say, but has dealing with this problem changed your view on that any?"
"Not at all," he said. "In fact, there was one thing that happened that made me even more sure that I'm right."
"What's that?" his mother asked.
"When Shae and I kissed," he said. "That was, well, funny. It made me feel funny. Don't get me wrong, Shae, it was a nice kiss and I liked it, but, well, something was wrong, and I don't know how to say it."
"Try saying it anyway," she smiled.
"You're going to laugh at me," he shook his head. "But, I kept thinking we shouldn't be doing it, not because of the school rules, but because it made me feel like a lesbian."
"I don't think it's funny," Shae grinned. "Mostly because I got a little taste of that myself. I mean, after what we talked about last night." She shook her head. "I guess I do have to laugh about it, a little. I mean, jeez, what is the world coming to when I have a lesbian for a boyfriend?"
"Well," he laughed, "When you put it that way, it does sound funny." He let out a sigh. "But that's the point. I don't think I'm a lesbian, and that's why it felt wrong. I'm straight, I mean, if I was a girl I'd be straight."
"So you haven't changed your mind?" his father asked.
"No. If anything, I can think about it more clearly now that it's out in the open, at least among the four of us. I mean, I don't have to worry about keeping it a secret from you."
"I have to admit, I have done very little about researching this today," his father said. "Mostly, because I've been landing on people about this school business and trying to deal with some stuff at the plant. But, I did have one idea. Since you think you may be a girl, why don't you and Shae do something girl-like and go shopping for some girl clothes?"
"But Dad," he protested. "I don't want to dress like a girl; I want to be a girl."
"It doesn't come all at once," his father laughed. "If you're going to be a girl, you have to dress like one, after all. One step at a time. What I'm suggesting is, try acting the part. You may learn something."
"Well, yeah," he said thoughtfully. "You may have an idea, there. I don't have any money, though."
"I'll stake you two," he said. "I'd say, don't go for something top of the line, just K-Mart or Penney's or something like that. I mean, you just want to get the feel of it, not go to the prom, after all. Shae, are you up for it?"
"Yeah, sure," she smiled. "I didn't really want to go to softball practice tonight, at least after that scene in the lunch room today. In fact, I'm just about ready to dump softball, anyway."
"Shae, I really hate to have to ask you this," he replied. "But the simple fact of the matter is that you know more than the rest of us about what teenage girls wear."
"Might be," Denis smiled. "On the other hand, I've spent a lot of time watching and wishing."
"He has a point," Shae nodded. "I'm not much of a clothes horse, either. As far as asking me, I don't mind. I've thought about it a little bit, and it strikes me as interesting. I'm glad to help."
"Again, I'll point out that there has to be absolute secrecy about this," Bill said. "It has to stay just among the four of us, at least in Bradford."
"I know I don't dare tell my folks about it," Shae agreed. "I mean, my mom spends half her time gossiping on the phone; she'd never be able to keep her mouth shut."
"My thoughts exactly," Arlene nodded. "And probably my biggest worry about this, at least in the short run. There would be some people very upset that this was even being thought about. On the other hand, you have a valuable perspective, and I hope we can make use of it."
"Like I said, I'm not going to tell," Shae nodded. "But if we're going shopping, I think we'd better not go to Hawthorne. We need to go farther off, where we're not as likely to be recognized. Like, say, Providence."
"Sounds good to me," Bill nodded. "Don't get everything in one place, either."
"You might say that you're buying gifts for a cousin or something," Arlene suggested. "Let's get some measurements now, so you'll have sizes to work with."