“Sammy Harlowe cuttin it up with Delilah Diamond, now I’ve heard everything,” Seth said with a chuckle as we passed under the sign bidding us farewell to Highland Elementary.
“I’m impressed, really Sam,” he continued.
“No, no. Mr. Big Shot, Sammy Harlowe.”
“Jiving with the beautiful…”
“Are ya done?”
“Delilah Diamond!” he said like a practiced radio announcer. “You better not be lyin to me. You can have a pretty active imagination sometimes my friend.”
I replied with a smile, knowing full well my best friend wasn’t going to let me off easy. “It was nothing, really, she ain’t all that different than any of these other hens.”
“Now I know you’re lyin. ‘Ain’t no different’. C’mon man, we both know you’ve been in love with this broad since like kindergarten,” I didn’t protest. “So let me guess; She is on the playground, leaning up against the wall and looking cool, her hair’s perfect, those eyes a flutter, the sun is shinin, birds singin, and in walks the cool, calm, collected Sammy Harlowe, ready to woo his love.”
“Who are you wooing Sammy?” said a voice from behind, a voice we both knew belonged to Tony Del Vecchio, AKA Tag-Along-Tony. He’s one of those kids who is a part of every little group. Part jock, part nerd, part artsy type, part everything except, of course, part cool. He was annoying and nosy and said the wrong thing whenever given the opportunity to open that trap of his. He walked home with us every day.
“What’d ya wear, Sammy? Not this I hope,” said Seth as he looked me up and down. “No, no that will not do my friend.”
“I said cut it.”
“I think you look nice,” Tony chimed in. He was always chiming in.
“Nice? Nice? You think nice is gonna win over this chick, you must be crazy,” said Seth.
“If you would let me speak you’d know this had nothing to do with winning her over,” I shot back. “Did I charm her? Maybe, but it wasn’t my intention. You see, I’ve learned some…”
“What chick is this Sammy?”
“Shut up, Tony,” Seth said, slapping him on the arm.
“Some things have come to light. You asked me who? And I intend to find out who, but first, I have to find the why” I said. “Surely, you had to know that I would get to the bottom…”
“Shirley?” Tony said from behind. “Shirley is in third grade Sammy, that’s a little young don’t you think?”
“So you finally get the nerve to talk the girl you’ve been in love with for years and it’s only ’cause she’s a source?” Seth said with a chuckle. “You’re a strange cat there Sam.”
“Where’s this love thing coming from? You’re the only one dropping love into this,” I didn’t know which of my walking companions were getting on my nerves more. “Like I said, this was pure curiosity. You see, it has come to my attention this item stolen from Chandler was no doubt acquired from the fine young woman you claim I am in love with.”
“Claim? Oh come on Sam, admit it. It’s no big deal,” said Seth.
“Wait so are you in love with Shirley or Ms. Chandler, I’m confused?” asked Tony.
“Shut up Tony.”
“A slingshot,” I said, eager to get to the point. “Don’t ask me how I know, but I know.”
“…okay, okay, big guy, change the subject, we’ll get back to Delilah in no…a slingshot?” Seth stopped walking and looked hard back at me, I finally won his attention. “But who would want a slingshot now? All that’s been over for months.”
“That’s exactly what I thought. I mean, sure, these things make a comeback from time to time. Who knows, we could be in for the second round of Slingshot Wars, but still, why would you steal one back from Chandler when you could just as easily get a new one.”
Finally, Seth had nothing smart to say. He looked interested now, all ears and no mouth. The floor was mine.
“And why wait so long? I have to assume this is probably one of those slings from back in November. You remember, when they checked everyone’s lockers and desks, came up with something like two dozen of those things,” Seth nodded, his eyes on the crossing guard ushering us across Woodland Rd. “Why now? Why the sudden interest?”
“You tryna get your hands on a slingshot there Sam?” said Tony.
“In a way, yeah,” I said. “Or at least find out what might have made this one so darn important.”
“You know who you should ask?” said Tony, just now pulling even with Seth and I. “Delilah Diamond. She knows everything there is to know about slingshots.”
“You goddamn moron,” said Seth. “So what she say?”
“Not much,” I said. “It’s not like I had a description of this particular sling. I was told it was the best you’ve ever seen, but that doesn’t really say much. At the end of the day, they all kind of look the same, right? I guess I just wanted to see if there’d been someone poking around. You know, test out if there is a market for these slings again. Maybe they came to her first and she didn’t have anything, so they took matters into their own hands.”
“Makes sense,” said Seth. “and?’
“You can just order them online too, ya know?” said Tony, breaking the silence that followed my admission. “I can get my hands on my mom’s card no problem.”
I grabbed Seth’s arm before he could say anything. “Thanks Tony, but I’ll be alright.”
“Alright guys, later,” said Tony as he bounded up Cumberland Ave. where lived with his mother and younger sister.
“Bye, Tony,” we said in unison.
“So, where do you go from here?”
“I don’t know,” I replied. “Delilah said she’d keep an eye out. I think I kind of worried her. Said she half expects the principal to call her in or somethin, now that she knows they stole a slingshot.”
“You don’t think it could have…”
“Her? No, I don’t think so.”
“Now, Sammy,” he looked at me again with that smirk of his. “Don’t let your heart get in the way of that big ole melon. She might be a pretty face but ya never know.”
“What do you take me for?” I was faking annoyed. I could never really get all that angry at Seth, which made him infuriating during serious times as these. “I chewed that over, sure. But why would she steal a sling when she is the only one who can definitely get more if she needs them. Anyway, she was never actually a part of any of the battles. Merely an arms dealer, never a fighter. No, that doesn’t add up.”
“So what does add up?” he shot back.
“Nothing,” I had to admit. “Nothing yet.”
“Well, well, well we don’t often see the great Sammy Harlowe stumped do we?” Seth said. “Look at it this way, bud, worse case is this little mystery gave you a chance to cut it up with Diamond.”
I caught his eye with an annoyed stare, warning him against starting up again.
“Alright, alright cool it,” he laughed, putting him his hands up in mock innocence. “But for real, I know I was givin ya trouble back there but be honest, you’ve always held a candle for that broad.”
I didn’t protest, but I didn’t admit nothing either.
“Personally. I don’t see it. Little cold that one. I mean, I get it, she’s a looker but I need someone with a little more, you know, personality. But to each their own, really. I’m not judgin here Sammy, I swear it.”
Seth was a kid with a lot of opinions and right now I wish he’d keep them to himself. Even if I was in love with Delilah, there were bigger fish to fry. I knew the best way to get him to shut up was to ignore his jabs and move on.
“I don’t know, Seth,” I said. “The more I think about it, the more I’m thinking this might not have anything to do with that slingshot business at all.”
“What do you mean?”
“I can’t say really, just instinct. Something ain’t sitting right, don’t add up. It could be the best damn sling in the world but still, why steal it back? There are other ways.”
“Don’t get too caught in your own head,” said Seth slapping me on the shoulder as we approached his block. “Kids are stupid. I mean, you know that. Me and you, we think logically. Yeah, why steal back a slingshot, risk getting suspended and all that? But we got a head on our shoulders, some of these kids aren’t all that smart.”
“I guess you might be right.”
“I know I’m right Sam,” he said with that smirk. “But either way, I think you better just wait and see.”
“Wait and see what?” I asked.
“Well, if someone really did steal back the sling they must have a reason right? And there’s only one real reason to get a fine piece of craftsmanship like that and that’s to use it. I don’t think it will be long till someone gets popped and then you’ll know for sure.”
“Hmm,” I replied, admitting begrudgingly that he might just be onto something.
“Hmm is right Sammy,” he said as we shook hands. “I’ll see you tomorrow buddy.”
The lunchroom was a buzz. I couldn’t remember ever seeing it like this. It was all your usual groups, sure, tabled up together and chatting away, but there was an energy. It was on everybody’s lips. Everyone saw it or heard it. Everyone had a theory.
“Right in the eye!”
“I swear he gotta be concussed.”
“It was Rizzo, no doubt”
“What about that Diamond chick?”
“It just flew outta nowhere.”
“My money’s on Billy.”
“I’m no novice, I’ve had some pretty good hits of my own, but this was ridiculous.”
“I’m bettin it was Angel, he always had the best shot.”
“And while we were in class!”
“That Diamond chick always does have the best slings.”
“Right in front of the teacher too.”
“You see anythin Sammy?”
I didn’t see anything, I’m embarrassed to say. Here I am, on the lookout for some wiseguy with a new sling and I seem to be the only one who didn’t see a thing. Or they’re all full of it, which was more than likely. Still, I pride myself on being observant. Whoever did it was slick, that’s for sure.
They were right about one thing, though, it all went down during class. Chandler was at the chalkboard going over fraction conversion or what have you and suddenly, whack! the whole class spins to see Henry Mitchum doubled over his desk. I can still hear the noise, like metal on concrete. Whoever it was didn’t hold anything back. Henry did his best, but we all saw the tears bursting out of those big blue eyes of his. No one could blame him, we could already see the welt growing under his left eye.
Chandler was up like a shot. Never saw that kind of panic on a teacher. Looked like she was gonna cry herself, practically shoving kids out of the way to get to the back of the class. Her face was flush, her eyes darting back and forth as she quickly ushered Henry out of the class and down the hall. The hush that followed was something alright. For all the noise bouncing around the lunchroom now, nobody had a thing to say then. Funny how that is.
Everybody had an opinion, each more insightful than the last. Here I was, thinking this slingshot business was gonna fall by the wayside. Now nothing mattered more now than that damn “WHO?”. This was gonna muddy up my search, no doubt. No one much cared before. Now it was all anyone could think of, which meant a lot of hairbrained theories and wild conjecture flying faster than the quarter-sized rock that popped Henry Mitchum in the eye. I was going to have to ask questions, figure out what people actually saw, but for now, I was content just listening, sussing out the initial reactions for something I could use.
To think, on top of everything my main confidant had to stay home sick on the most exciting day since poor Dominique Lazuli wet herself during gym back in 3rd grade. Seth never missed school and today of all days he chooses to break his impeccable attendance. Not that he would have had much of a chance to see anything either. But still, another set of eyes and ears can never hurt, especially on a hot case like this.
All morning the question toyed with me, stuck in my throat. Henry was a quiet boy, tall and thin with a sandy-colored head of floppy hair. He was good-looking but not one of those popular, ladies-man types. He liked to keep to himself, an attribute I could appreciate. His biggest claim to fame was his ability on the basketball court, a place he dominated during every recess game.
He wasn’t the tallest or the strongest but by far the most comfortable in his frame, moving fluently where the other kids plodded around on legs two sizes too big. When other kids would talk trash or make fun of the younger players trying to shoehorn themselves into the fifth-grade game, Henry stayed silent. He didn’t need to prove he was the best player because we all knew it. He could just sit in the corner and let his smooth jump shot speak for itself. Often he would do his best to get the smaller, clumsier teammates involved, making them look good even if it meant they took the L on this particular recess battle.
In short, he was someone with very few enemies and, more importantly, someone who always avoided the Slingshot Wars in favor of the basketball court. There was no vendetta that made sense, no motive anyone could muster for why Henry would be the one to take a rock in the eye during an algebra lesson.
The only thing that did make sense was his location. While me and Seth sat more toward the front of the class Henry’s desk sat in the far corner. It was actually quite a coveted seat, or was, for how removed you were from Chandler’s desk up front. If you sat back there you needn’t worry about getting caught passing notes or whispering to a neighbor, heck, you could probably get away with cheating on a quiz if you had the guts – though I never pegged Henry as the type.
The point is, the seat Henry was assigned was the least visible in the class. He was in the back row closest to the window, so most of the time no one, aside from possibly Chandler from the front, had eyes on him. He was the perfect prey for a random attack, but that’s still no motive. You’d have to be a little sick in the head to take someone out like that for no reason. I’m not saying we don’t have our fair share of sickos here in Highland Elementary, just dwindles the list of suspects a little bit.
I was behind one such sicko now as I waited in line for the snack bar. I wasn’t hungry. The whole business was sapping my appetite. A good kid like Henry getting popped for no reason wasn’t sitting right. Information was the only thing to satisfy my hunger. I was in line because of who else was in line, namely Cindy Steele. There was mean and then there was cruel and then there was Cindy Steele, occupying a special place hanging from the lowest rung of Highland Elementary punks.
Remember that pants pisser Dominique? Well, we all did, thanks in large part to Cindy. I’m not going to pretend we all didn’t get a snicker or two out of a wet set of gym shorts but Cindy was the one to take it too far. Cindy was cruel, which was a problem, but the real issue was her popularity. You talk shit on everybody and somehow you rise to the top of the grade school pecking order, go figure. We were all ready to move on from Dominique’s accident, everyone a little relieved it happened to someone else, but not Cindy. She sunk her teeth in. “Leaky Niquie, Leaky Niquie.” Everyday day, all day. Singing it in the hall when she walked by, sketching it in crayon on her desk and locker, writing it next to her picture in people’s yearbook. We laughed, then we cringed, then we wished it would stop, all the while remaining thankful it was Dominique and not us. This is its own kind of passive cruelty, one Cindy brought out in all of us.
“And then, ‘whack’, this fool goes down like a sack of flour,” she said from in front of me in line, tears bulging from her eyes as she threw her head back in a flood of laughter. “Oh my god, I wish you’d seen it.”
She was talking to Rachel Jasper, one of her loyal, pathetic cronies. The kind of person who sucks up before she can end up like Dominique Lazuli.
“They literally had to come mop up his tears. Janitor came in and everything,” she was doubled over in laughter now. “He asked if someone spilled water or something. HAH. Nope, just some pansy getting drilled in the face.”
“Wow,” said Rachel, clearly not as entertained by the story as she was pretending. “I wonder who could’ve done it.”
“Wonder? Wonder?” Cindy said incredulously. “I don’t have to wonder, I like know for a fact who did it.”
“Come on, Rachel, you’ve known me a long time. Don’t I always know? Aren’t I literally the first one to know anything in this whole freakin’ school?”
“Well, um, yeah I guess.”
“You guess? You’re really being a b-i-c-h lately Rachel. You guess? I know plenty about you, don’t I?”
“That’s what I said. I said ‘T’ and what I also said was, don’t I know a whole lot about you, Rachel? A whole bunch you wouldn’t want me, say, telling that table over there?” said Cindy pointing over to a sixth-grade table, chalk full of jocks and wise guys.
“Okay, okay,” Rachel said as her face flushed and her hands fidgeted. “I get it. You know everything, alright. So who did it?”
“Oh, yeah. It was that Diamond girl, no doubt,” she said as they approached the front of the line. “That weirdo is like always by herself, probably planning how to get back at everyone else just cause they’re not so weird. Anyways, she went to the bathroom like literally right before it happened. I’m not going to say anything cause I’m no snitch and anyway, it was pretty funny to watch Henry cry and run away like a little baby, but it was her, you can bet on that.”
I was furious. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt but it’s floozies like Cindy that make me think this whole school is a sewer, each rat looking out for number one. How dare she throw Delilah’s name around like that. She doesn’t know a damn thing about her. And all that baloney about the janitor and Henry. Someone ought to take Cindy down a peg. Why couldn’t it have been her catching a rock between the eyes? She didn’t know anything, it was all a crock of bull, she’s nothing but a gossip who can’t even spell. Waste of time listening to her ramblings, that’s what it…
But wait. No, she was right. Delilah did go to the bathroom. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it till now. I watched her get up, those long legs meandering up to Chandler’s desk, those pretty eyes looking down at the bathroom sign-out sheet. But that was well before the incident right? Hours? At least one hour? Or a half hour?
I tried to organize the morning in my mind, tried to make it do what I wanted, but I couldn’t ignore the facts. It was right before it happened. She walked in, handed Chandler back the pass, walked over to her seat and sat down. A couple of minutes later it was done, Henry writhing in pain and the whole class spinning around to see the damage.
I couldn’t believe it, I didn’t want to, but suddenly Delilah was my main suspect, she had to be. I’m a man of facts. Personality is a thing of opinion. You can’t ever really know anyone, but facts are facts. They don’t charm or offend, they don’t attract or disgust, they just are, plain as day. It didn’t matter what I thought of Delilah Diamond, the facts pointed to her, even if I wished they’d point just about anywhere else.
It was just as I got to the snack bar, still in a daze from the rush of realization slapping me in the face moments earlier that the loudspeaker kicked on. Principal Kramer, with her harsh cutting consonance.
“Attention students, would Miss Delilah Diamond please report to the principal’s office immediately.”
My heart sunk.
“Mr. Harlowe, listen, we’re trying to work with you.”
Work with me. That’s rich. Now I’ve heard it all, Dr. Kramer trying to work with me. She ain’t workin for anybody but herself and that raise to superintendent. Even Chandler looks skeptical. Of course, she looks skeptical from Kramer’s side of the desk, so take that as you will.
“Sammy, really, we just want to know why?”
Chandler, the good cop. Of course, you want to know why. Then you want to know who and how and where and what, but you’re not getting it out of me. Not out of Sammy Harlowe. What good would that do? This whole thing would be for nothing if I went singing like a canary after the first principal sit-down.
I never should have listened to that broad, that’s for sure. A sweet face and nice legs will be the death of me, I swear. Seth was right, I was looking right past her. I didn’t want to believe it, even after the loudspeaker announcement and all the snickers and points. I guess I believed it less because of all that. Screw those gossips, they didn’t know any better than me who did what, they were just happy it wasn’t them heading to Kramer’s office.
So I didn’t believe then and I sure didn’t believe when she showed up at my front door. ‘Sammy, a little girlfriend is here to see you’. Thanks, Ma, real smooth. You can imagine my surprise though. I never dreamed for a second Delilah knew where I lived, let alone would be strolling up to my front door and asking my Mom if I could come out. I should have known she needed something. Girls, strike that, women like Delilah Diamond don’t come without a price tag and the bill I’m fitting is sitting right across from me with a stern ‘we know what’s best’ look.
“We are giving you a chance to tell your side of the story here Sam.”
My side, who gives a hoot about my side. My side is the patsy, the fall guy, the chump. I fell for the pretty girl with the sandy blonde hair and the eyes that make you feel ten feet tall. She said she was in trouble, what was I supposed to do? She didn’t do it, she was set up. What did she want with a slingshot?
“You know that’s not my racket Sam.”
Sam. She knew how well that worked on me. Silly putty in her damn hand. Sam. She might as well have called me a big, handsome, hunk, her sweet, beautiful Sam. She must have seen the sucker in me busting at the seems. She had me wrapped around her pretty little finger and she knew it.
“Let’s go for a walk and I’ll explain it all.”
Explain she did, about Kramer and Chandler and how they all had it wrong. It might have been her sling, yeah, but it wasn’t her crime. She didn’t have anything to do with it. She was being set up. The quiet girl with the weird parents. The girl with no clique to back her up. The sorest thumb this side of Rockwell Junior High. Who better to pin it on Sam, who better?
It all checked out. Of course it did. Delilah’s a lot of things, things I wouldn’t dare say in front of Kramer and Chandler, but she ain’t no dummy. She knew I’d look for holes, and the moment it clicked into place she’d have me hook, line, and sinker. So we walked and talked and each block had me more and more in love with the sandy-haired girl of my dreams. I would have done anything to defend her honor. Principals, coppers, wiseguys, evil-doers of any shape or size, I would take them all out if she so much as hinted.
“I think I know who did it.”
Who, who? Let me at ‘em and they’ll be nothing but gum on the bottom of your shoe. She wasn’t telling the whole truth there. So she exaggerated a little, who could fault her in such perilous times? Not me, that’s for sure. Didn’t know who did it, per say, but had a theory of how to find out. Something that happened during her meeting with Kramer, something that didn’t quite sit right with the beautiful Miss Diamond.
A box. A little homemade bit of craftsmanship. It was when Kramer and Chandler were giving her the runaround, trying to get her to confess, just like they were doing to me now. They knew about her little side business, about her trips into the Appalachian on weekends with her parents and those perfectly crafted slingshots. They had a source, and I could take a stab as to the identity of the honeybun-gobbling rat. I wonder what it took for Rizzo to blab, probably not much; a few recesses or bathroom passes and he’d be spinning any tale to make them happy.
Regardless, they knew she was the one to go to for slingshots, so it only made sense to ask her a few questions about the incident. That’s what they were going to do too. Bring her in, not as a suspect necessarily, but as someone who might know a thing or two about who might need a slingshot. That is, until the business with Henry and the rock to the gourd. Didn’t take long for them to realize Delilah left class only minutes before it went down. No one had eyes on her during at the time of the assault, sure, but that only meant they couldn’t prove she didn’t do it. Innocent till proven guilty didn’t necessarily fly in the world of Highland Elementary. There was no jury or special counsel, no lawyers or arguments, Kramer was judge, jury, and executioner and her gavel was about to come down hard on the dreamgirl begging me for help outside the Rita’s Water Ice.
“But then they showed me where the slingshot was, they showed me the box.”
The box. That’s where her case rested. It was a throwaway for Kramer really, just a visual aid to show how obvious it was to them that Delilah committed the crime. The sling was there one night and the next morning it was gone. Two days later and boys are going down in class, the only reasonable suspect being the ‘young lady’ from the ‘questionable family’.
But the box caught Delilah’s attention. It was a small, book-sized rectangle made of what she assessed as some kind of Maple. It was almost like the kind her mother used to make and sell at the many craft sales and fundraisers at the school, but with far shoddier woodwork. It wasn’t even a perfect rectangle, the sides jutting out at haphazard angles as if resisting their chosen shape. On top of the box sat a thin lid slopped with a layer of deep red paint, the brushstrokes heavy and random. The lid slid on and off through the whittled out tracks cut into the sides. There was a design along either side, a blend of lines, sharp and contoured, rolling and diving over one another like strands of hair. It seemed random at first glance, but further inspection betrayed an artistic touch, a specificity that comes only from care. It was beautiful in its own rough shot way. Harmonized chaos.
Delilah didn’t tell me all this of course. No, this was from my own observation. This was from when I broke into the class late last night during the yearly book fair.
It was the perfect cover. I was in school, an airtight alibi since my parents could attest to my attendance with no issue. I made sure to show my face plenty, asked about a few books, bought a few comics with some extra pocket money, made a big show of asking for the bathroom. I needed to be quick, in and out and I’d be fine. Check out the box, see if there’s anything fishy and get back to the book fair before anyone knew what was up. Even had Seth there to cover for me if anything happened. He would scope the area, distract any teachers who might happen down the hall toward Chandler’s class.
Plans. Plans are fantastic things, they click so perfectly into place in your mind only to snap like an overworked band on your favorite slingshot. I didn’t get a long look at the box, but it was enough. I saw what I needed to see by the faint glow of the flashlight clenched hard between my teeth before that same light was rendered useless by the overhead glow of detection sprang on me in a flash.
I’ve never hated my name more than the way it hissed out of Chandler’s pursed lips in that moment. She was just so damn disappointed. I wasn’t her favorite student but I wasn’t in the bottom half either. Never in her life did she think…just so disappointed. I was disappointed too. No, that isn’t even the right word. Disappointed doesn’t begin to cover it. I was pissed, writhing, shaking in my Nike’s with pure, unadulterated anger. I’m not an emotional guy. Emotions get you wrapped up in stuff you got no business getting into, emotions block the mind, a guy like me ain’t got time for them. I couldn’t help myself, though, I was mad.
It wasn’t even about getting caught. Sure, I was going to have some explaining to do. Kramer would surely be called and my mother would be alerted, there was no doubt. But that was nothing to the seething embers of betrayal stoking in my stomach. I saw the box alright, I saw it and the moment I did I knew why I was there. Here I was, playing the hero, the big guy here to save the day, my damsel was distressing and I was her only hope. The Obi-wan to her Princess Leia, a class-A sucker. I was right where she wanted me, under Chandler’s desk with my hands redder than Rizzo’s mop of curly hair, poised to take the fall.
“We didn’t think anything of it at the time, Mr. Harlowe,” said Kramer as she walked me through the thickness of the crap in which I was now standing. “But now it all seems to make sense.”
What she’s referring to is what was on the underside of the box, an engraving chiseled with care. I saw it only seconds before the lights flicked on, but seconds were all I needed. My goose was cooked. It was almost too perfect. SH. In deep, rough lettering. SH. Sam Halowe. Case closed.
“Our only question is, why?”
Yeah, right there with you Kramer, right there with you.