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Out of the Cage
Wes Boyd
©2010, ©2016

Chapter 4

Friday, March 11, 2011

There really wasn’t a hell of a lot to do after that but head up to his room so he didn’t have to listen to his father rage, not that there was anything to do up there. Frenchy sat down on his bed and thought about the day. None of it was good, and even getting out of jail hadn’t turned out as nice as he thought it would.

Add it all up, and it pretty well sucked. His car, gone. There was no hope of replacing it anytime soon, either. No money – well, eight bucks and change, which counted for about as much as nothing. His business, such as it was, gone, and no hope of getting it back. Really up to his ass in shit at home, if he still had a home, and it looked like he could get his ass thrown out without warning at any time. His best buddies, well, one had turned and stabbed him in the back, and the other was still a friend, but useless for anything he needed done, like helping to even things up a little. A possible friend not looking very possible anymore, and most likely having turned queer anyway. His girlfriend had turned into a carpet muncher. A lot of asses that needed kicking, and nobody around to support him – and kicking some of those asses was going to get him in even more shit. No beer. No fucking beer! How in the hell was he supposed to survive without any fucking beer? Nothing to do – not even the little TV in the cell across the hall to divert his attention and make the time pass a little. Back in August he and his buddies had been riding on top of the world, and now just fucking everything had turned to shit. What in hell else could go wrong?

There wasn’t a hell of a lot else he could do but flop down on the bed and go to sleep. That was one thing about being in jail – he’d learned to do that pretty well. Maybe tomorrow would go better, and maybe he could catch a break some way or another.

At least the house was empty when he got up the next morning. That was good; he didn’t want another confrontation with his father right away, and hoped to avoid his mother since it was pretty clear that she had about the same attitude as his father.

Of course, there wasn’t anything decent to eat in the house – just a few cans of this and that. A can of cold string beans was about the best thing he could find for breakfast, and it made the venison road-kill shit-on-shingle they usually served at the jail taste pretty good. There was some instant coffee that seemed like it would be pretty stale, but at least it would be some warmth inside him.

As he sat at the kitchen table trying to eat the detestable beans and drink the foul coffee that was even worse than what they served at the jail, Frenchy thought about what he was going to do today. As much as he hated the idea, heading over to the school to see about getting back in classes seemed like the best idea. At least it would put that shit about paying room and board on the back burner for a while, and it might get forgotten about. Finding a job seemed like it was next to impossible anyway, and bullshit like shoveling walks was hardly going to be able to make the fifty bucks a week, let alone have anything left over for important things, like getting wheels under him again. Besides, it would be cold as hell and he’d had enough cold yesterday to hold him for a while, even though he was going to have to go out in it and walk again today to get where he needed to go.

Still, getting some money was starting to turn into an issue. He still had the eight bucks and whatever he’d had in his pockets when he was arrested the summer before. So far he hadn’t spent any of it, but at least if he’d had more, or at least the prospect of more coming in, he could have swung by someplace like Rick’s Café and had a cup of decent coffee, instead of this shit.

The money was really the issue. As mad as his folks were he had little doubt that he’d have to come up with it in another week if he wasn’t going to school, but he had no idea where it was going to come from. In the old days, he’d have been able to sell the beer he got from Lame Badger for enough money to cover that expense, but the hope of doing it was gone, after what Matt had said the night before. Besides, it would take a car and more than eight bucks to get the beer to sell in the first place, even if he could. There had to be some place he could score a few bucks to get his folks off his ass for a while, but try as he might he couldn’t think what it might be.

Again, in the old days, he could have asked Matt or Larry for help if he’d been in a pinch this tight. After all he’d done for Larry, to have him turn his back on him like he did. That really burned his ass! He might be able to get some money from Matt if things really got tough, but then, he might not too. From what he’d been able to find out Matt only had a few bucks stuck back to fix his car and not much hope of getting more anytime soon. He might be able to get a few bucks from him, but it most likely would clean him out and there wouldn’t be any more where that came from. If it came down to that, it might buy him a week, but it wouldn’t solve the problem.

As much as he hated the thought of living with his folks and putting up with their shit, there didn’t seem to be any cheaper alternative of a warm place to stay besides the jail. He’d have to stick it out for at least a couple months until the weather warmed up enough that he could find a place to stay outside if he had to. The thought of that sucked, but there didn’t seem to be another alternative, other than going to school to keep them off his ass.

Finally, the coffee was gone and he’d managed to swallow the last of the cold beans. There was nothing left to do but to go and do it. God, he didn’t want to go out in that fucking cold and walk all the way over to the school, but there didn’t seem to be any other choices. At least today he could wear two pair of long johns, and that might help a little. He went back up to his room, pulled on the second pair of long underwear and a second pair of heavy socks, then came back down and pulled on his coat, hat and gloves. Maybe things might go well at the school, he thought. After all, he and his buddies had been the next things to kings over there a year ago; while things might have changed some, people would still remember that he was nobody to fuck with.

He headed out the door, and was just a little surprised to discover that things weren’t quite as bad as they had been the day before. It was still cold, even colder than when he’d walked back from Mary Lou’s the night before, but the wind was down. There was hardly a breath of air moving, which was a hell of an improvement from the chill wind blowing through his clothes as he’d walked those long, lonely blocks.

It was a long way across town to the school. At least it hadn’t snowed in several days, so mostly the sidewalks were clear, although there were some that weren’t and he had to detour out into the street to get past them. As he walked, some positive thoughts about the school began to cross his mind. He could probably see Matt there, maybe talk to him – he couldn’t be avoided around the place, of course.

Even better, he could see some other kids, and see if maybe he could develop a buddy or two who could help him out with what needed to be done. Don Johansen might be a possibility, he thought. He’d been sort of a wannabe, and had a tendency to talk a good fight but not carry through, but maybe he could be stiffened up a little. Maybe Shane Caldwell or Kyle Ralston too. Shane never seemed to have problems getting beer, and good beer at that. He’d never been a customer, but then he’d never spread it around much, either – he preferred to try to drink it all himself. Ralston, well, maybe he was a little upper-class to want to hang around with him; as far as Frenchy knew he had been talking about going to college. That might not work out too well.

On top of that, there might be a girl or two who remembered who he was. He’d never had much problem with girls, at least the kind of girls he liked, which is to say girls who liked to put out. So what if Mary Lou had turned into a carpet muncher? There were other girls around there, girls he’d had before, girls who might be willing to go another round – especially younger girls who might think it was cool to be hanging out with a senior. Thinking about that made things seem brighter in the light of a new day.

Even though he wasn’t hurrying, he was walking fairly fast in the hopes of staying warm. It really wasn’t all that cold for Spearfish Lake, although it seemed so since he hadn’t had any chance to get used to it. The familiar blocks passed quickly, and soon he was at the school.

He walked in the front door and headed for the principal’s office. There weren’t any kids in the hall, so classes were obviously on. He stopped at the sliding glass window of the office, where Mrs. Foxbender was sitting. The kids called her “The Dragon Lady,” but she didn’t seem all that mean, just an old and cranky sourpuss who it seemed never had any fun in her life. Once he got her attention, he said, “Hi! Is there any chance I could see . . .” he almost said “Mr. Payne,” but he remembered Matt telling him last night that Pansy Payne was no longer there. Matt hadn’t mentioned who the new principal was but got the impression that he wasn’t all that thrilled. “. . . the principal?” he finished.

“Hi, Frenchy,” Mrs. Foxbender said unenthusiastically. “I didn’t know they’d turned you loose.”

“Yesterday,” he said. “I came to see about getting back in school.”

“It’ll be a minute,” she shook her head. “She’s on the phone.”

That didn’t tell him anything, other than that the principal was a woman. Somehow, that didn’t sound good, but there was nothing he could do but stand back from the window and wait to be called. Fuck, if he’d wanted to see Payne, the old principal would have dumped the phone call to see him as quick as anything. Payne had respected the football players, and had always been willing to help. Having him gone was really going to suck.

After a few minutes he could see Mrs. Foxbender on the phone, although he couldn’t hear what she was saying – probably warning the principal about him, he thought. Finally, she put down the phone and said, “All right, Frenchy, you can go back now.”

Frenchy walked through the side doorway of the office, and down the back hall to what he knew was the principal’s office. He turned the corner, and saw a sight that wasn’t very promising – Mrs. Wine was sitting behind the desk.

“Hi, Frenchy,” Mrs. Wine said, not very warmly. “What can I do for you today?”

Oh, fuck, he thought. “You’re the principal now?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said with an evil-looking grin on her face. “Since Mr. Payne resigned last summer.”

This wasn’t good news, not good news at all. Mrs. Wine had been a math teacher, and the coach of the girls’ basketball team. She had the reputation of being a serious hard ass, and even though he knew she was married she had always come across to him as being something of a bull-dyke. Thank God he’d never had any classes with her – she’d have flunked him in a minute, just on general principles, Payne or no. She sure as hell wasn’t going to cut him any slack. “How’s it going?” he asked, just to try to be friendly.

“On the whole, better than I expected,” she replied, still with no warmth in her voice. “So what can I do for you today?”

“Well, I come to see about getting back in school,” he replied, not as enthusiastic about the idea as he had been a couple minutes ago.

“No reason you can’t,” she replied, “but I probably ought to warn you that if you do, there’s no way you’re going to be graduating in June. You’ve missed too much school this year. If you’d bothered to ask for course work you might have been able to keep up with your classes while you were in jail, but it’s way too late for that now.”

Well, shit, he thought. He remembered the fat old deputy saying something about that, but he’d brushed it off. Hell, Payne would have let him come back to school without losing anything, so why bother wasting the time? He hadn’t realized that Payne would be gone. “I guess I heard something about that,” he shrugged. “But I guess it wasn’t made real clear to me. That means I have to go to school for another full year, right?”

“Pretty much,” Mrs. Wine said. “This late in the year, going to school would be pretty pointless. Well, it could give you a head start for late next year, but you’d be struggling to keep up in your classes.”

“Well, going to school another year might not be all bad,” he said. “At least I’d get to play football next fall.”

“Afraid not,” Mrs. Wine shook her head. “You’d have a year of technical eligibility left, but the state athletic association rules are that you can’t play any sport if you’re nineteen anytime in that school year. I don’t know when your birthday is without looking at your record, but since you were tried as an adult last summer you pretty well had to be at least eighteen then. I’d guess that you’d be nineteen before school starts, so there’s no way you could play.”

Jesus, no football! That was the thing he’d really missed last fall, the feeling of crashing into people, hurting them. As a lineman he managed to do that a lot, sending a few opponents limping off the field, sometimes for weeks, for daring to fuck with him. And now, this stupid rule was saying no football, not ever again! A lot of his reputation around the school had been built on the football field, and his friends had all been football players . . . and most of them seniors, like him, who would be gone in the fall anyway. Fuck!

“You’re sure about that?” he asked hopelessly.

“Oh, yes,” she said. “I had the question come up with a basketball player of mine a few years ago. She’d had to take a year off for health reasons. There’s just no wiggle room in it, so it’s a done deal. I’m not sure Coach Kulwicki would have been all that glad to have you on the team, anyway. You’re a known troublemaker, especially on the field, and he doesn’t tolerate that kind of thing.”

“Coach Kulwicki? Who’s he?”

“He’s the guy who was brought on board to be the coach after Coach Weilfahrt left,” Mrs. Wine explained. “He’s a former Packer lineman and really knows his stuff. It was just going to be temporary, for last year, but he decided he likes it so well that I think we’ve got a coach for the next few years.”

Damn, Will-Fart gone too! He remembered Matt saying something about that but it hadn’t really hit him. The old coach had cut him a lot of slack, and let him have some fun. There was something in the tone of Mrs. Wine’s voice that told him that maybe he was just as glad he wasn’t going to be playing for this Kulwicki guy.

“I’d heard they did pretty good,” he said lamely, wondering if coming back to school was such a great idea after all. At least it would keep his parents off his ass until he got his feet back on the ground and it warmed up a little.

“They did better than anyone expected,” Mrs. Wine smiled for an instant, but the smile turned to a frown. “Frenchy, I have to be honest. I said you’re a known troublemaker, and off the field as much as on it. While I’m willing to let you be re-admitted to school, things aren’t what they used to be. If you come back and start that old bully stuff you used to pull, you’re going to be out the door so fast it won’t be funny. If that happens, there’s no coming back. You’re over eighteen now and are technically a dropout. That means we don’t have to keep you, and we won’t if you start throwing your weight around. Did I make myself clear?”

“Yeah, I guess,” he replied softly, thinking hard. With Mrs. Wine as principal, he was in deep shit. She’d be looking for the opportunity to bounce his ass out the door, just like his folks seemed to be looking for the same thing. If she wanted him gone there was no doubt that she’d find it. Worse, people would know that his ass was in a crack and would be looking to start trouble just so they’d have the satisfaction of seeing him kicked out.

“Considering the fact that you’re a dropout and that trouble follows you around like a puppy dog, I’d suggest that you consider not coming back, at least this spring. Maybe in the fall, when some of your troublemaking buddies are gone you might stand a better chance of keeping your nose clean. Alternatively, there’s a GED program downtown at the Community Improvement Agency that meets three nights a week. You’re eligible for that, and you wouldn’t run the risk of getting thrown out of here. If you really knuckle down and bust your butt, you stand a chance of getting a GED, oh, maybe by the end of the year. I really don’t know much about the program; you’d have to go and ask them yourself. Maybe your probation officer would know more about it.”

*   *   *

The idea of going back to school seemed pretty damn pointless to Frenchy as he walked out the front door. Really, the only reason he’d considered it at all was to get his parents off his back for a while. Now that he thought about it, things didn’t seem that appealing. He wasn’t going to be king of the hill, he was going to be a walking target for a lot of kids he’d put down or had to beat on a little over the years, kids who would be looking for a chance to get back at him. There wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it but put up with it. That would really suck. He hated, absolutely hated, being laughed at, and every fucking kid in the school was going to be laughing at him, and not just behind his back, either – and he couldn’t do much about it, not at school, anyway.

Maybe in the fall – and maybe not, either. He’d had more than his fill of the place, and it was clear that it just wasn’t going to be anything like as much fun as when Pansy Payne had been principal. If he were still there, he probably could get through all right – some of those kids would have to walk pretty lightly around him. Hell, he might have even been able to graduate this spring, and that would have at least put the place behind him. Hanging around the place just for a piece of paper didn’t sound like it was worth putting up with all the pain-in-the-ass shit it would mean.

Mrs. Wine had said one thing that seemed to offer possibilities, the GED program at the Community Improvement Agency. He had no idea if his folks would count that as going to school. It seemed doubtful, but maybe they would. If they wouldn’t, maybe he could go back to school after all and hope that trouble would stay away from him long enough for the weather to improve a little, when it might not be so bad living on the streets.

What the hell, he thought as he walked up the street. It wasn’t that far out of the way to take a swing by the probation office in the courthouse. He had to check in there anyway, and at least that would be one thing done. Maybe he could find out a little more about this GED program – it might be a better deal than going to school after all, since he wouldn’t have Mrs. Wine looking to kick his ass out every chance she got. It might even buy him some time to crack some of the other problems he faced – money, a car, finding some buddies, getting some ass, and kicking a lot of ass. Right at the moment there didn’t seem to be much chance of any of that happening soon.

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To be continued . . .

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