THE THOMPSON KID
By J. T. Seate
“Well, are we going to do it this time?”
“Don’t be a dunce. TCB. Take care of business.”
Darren never got right to the point. Instead, he would string Bo along paying out information like it was fishing line, a little bit at a time. Bo flipped through his memory looking for the right page. He shrugged his shoulders.
“Take care of the Thompson kid, dumb-dumb.”
Bo had been listening to Darren’s threats to beat the shit out of Jimmy Thompson ever since the school year started. Darren wanted to provide the new kid something besides the usual lame treatment given to ninth-graders. Jimmy had suffered the embarrassments of being tripped, getting books knocked from his hands, having his backpack thrown down the stairs. He’d endured these humiliations and never offered a word or action of resistance. In other words, he was seen as a real pussy.
Darren, seeing an easy mark, hadn’t thought the harassment to be enough. Many times, he told Bo how they were going the get Jimmy Thompson good. “Today’s the day, ole buddy. The Thompson kid gets it.” Darren’s usual smirk spread across his face. “None of this school prank horseshit, either. He walks home along that wooded path. He goes the same way as those little kids did when we hid and scared the shit out of them last summer.”
Questioning Darren was risky, but Bo had become bored with harassing other students, especially Jimmy Thompson. It got old in a hurry when there was no response.
“We’ll catch the shit-bird off school grounds. Make him squeal a little.” The conspiratorial gleam was in Darren’s eyes.
“Whatever,” Bo answered. “You da man, big D.”
Jimmy had no illusions about his appearance. His mother told him people always judged others for good or ill. Something about the way Jimmy was built, the way he walked and talked. There were plenty of bullies to go around and he was a natural born target, the kind of kid some just liked to fuck with. A lot of inconsequential kids in school weren’t dorky enough to actually be picked on. They were just background props, jittering denizens in an environment that merely tolerated them. Jimmy sometimes wondered if being the brunt of ridicule was any worse than being totally ignored. His mom or dad occasionally asked if he’d made friends at school, but they didn’t push it. Because of what happened to his brother, his parents allowed Jimmy to be a loner.
Jimmy spent a lot of time in his room watching DVDs. His favorites were the teen comedies where the nerdy school kids got the better of the popular assholes. Sometimes they even got the girl. But there was nothing remotely real in those flicks. No way. That wasn’t the way it worked in a real libido and testosterone world of teenage angst. He’d never had to worry about harassment as long as Richard had been there, but his brother got in with the wrong crowd. It started with petty theft for drug money and led all the way to the death of a store clerk. Richard would be locked up for a long time and his parents couldn’t deal with the shame. Even though they moved to another town, the family dynamic became as fragile as spun glass. The light had gone out in his parents’ eyes and nothing Jimmy could do would rekindle it.
At school, Jimmy had been called into the counselor’s office a couple of times on suspicion of covert activities like peeing on the boy’s restroom floor, or spitting on lockers. The woman always took the same tact asking him to express his feelings, share personal experiences, or come to terms with inner conflicts. He always said as little as possible and acted ignorant toward any mischievousness.
He didn’t care for most of his teachers either. Their altruism for some of the downtrodden seemed phony. While girls passed notes in class and boys drew, Jimmy sometimes felt he was the only one listening. But he did enjoy learning. He’d thought about entering a science fair, but it would have only served to create additional ridicule for a kid like him. Better to keep his brainy proclivities to himself.
What bothered him most was lunchtime when he had no one to sit with. There were enough nerds to go around, but he didn’t want them to be in harm’s way because of their association with him. He considered it merciful to keep to himself. Better yet, to be as invisible as possible.
One day, Jimmy found a piece of paper resting on top of his math book inside his locker. It must have been slipped through the metal louvers. A crudely scribbled note read:
You’re time is running out, Dufus. You’re going to get yours.
That had been on a Monday and nothing out of the ordinary had happened during the week, just the usual trips or shoves. The note seemed no more than a stupid attempt to keep him on edge.
Friday afternoon arrived with a weekend of refuge ahead. But something felt different from all the previous Fridays. The inseparable Darren and Bo usually gave Jimmy a hard time before a weekend, but they’d been unusually non-threatening during the week. They were up to something, he felt sure.
Threatening clouds loomed as class was dismissed. A girl classmate’s mother offered to give Jimmy a lift, but he declined, preferring his normal routine. In this school, that simple act could have caused the girl some grief. Jimmy knew it and the girl knew it. The relief on her face with Jimmy’s decline was obvious.
Jimmy listened to the leaves and small sticks crunch beneath the soles of his shoes as he trudged along a wooded path that had existed since before anyone could remember. Going home this way was a little farther, but he liked its seclusion for he almost always had it to himself. But on this day, around the half-way point, he sensed a presence. It felt like danger, and it was nearby.
Was this what he’d been waiting for, hoping for? He slowed his pace so he could attune to the surroundings and not be caught off-guard. A low tree limb rustled. He took a few more steps. A twig snapped beside the path. He turned and faced the sound just as Darren and Bo emerged from their hiding place. They walked toward Jimmy quickly. Jimmy knew he wasn’t in immediate danger. These two would want to badger and taunt him awhile before doing something worse.
Darren bore his usual shit-eating grin. “Time to beat all the candy-ass crap out of you.” He grabbed the V of Jimmy’s shirt and ripped it open sending a couple of buttons flying. “Look, Bo. The big sissy’s wearing a Spiderman T-shirt,” he said with a sneer. “Must be loaded with powers beyond those of mortal men.”
“That’s Superman,” you idiot, Jimmy wanted to add.
Bo shoved him, and Darren punched Jimmy’s arm, knuckle out so it dug deep into the muscle.
“Maybe we outta cut the wussie’s dick off to make him even more like one of the girls.”
Pocket knives weren’t allowed in school, but it didn’t mean Darren didn’t have one.
“Talkin’ time’s over, Dick-wad,” Darren added with finality.
The two ruffians took a moment to look at one another as if to decide what humiliation should come next. The two boys somehow looked meaner than usual like professional bullies, which they were. The disdain for rules or regulations oozed from their grinning faces.
Jimmy had read that for every action, there was an opposite reaction. He’d waited long enough to test the dictum. Their threats awoke something in him – a ruthless survivalism. Out of nowhere came an act, not of angst, but of actual teenage brio. Jimmy’s hand flew through the air and landed a chop to Darren’s neck, followed by a swift kick to Bo’s solar plexus. Both boys fell to the ground not knowing exactly what had hit them, caught off-guard by this courageous defiance. Bobby found the biggest rock he could lift along the path and lifted it over his head next to Bo who was trying to scramble to his feet. The rock dropped onto his head making a squishing sound.
Darren lay nearby holding his neck, trying to get a breath. Again, Jimmy picked up the bloody rock and glanced at Bo’s ruined face. Darren’s eyes bulged like egg-yokes as Bobby moved his way.
“I learned karate from by older brother before he went to prison. My brother’s why we moved here, in case you’re interested.”
Darren rolled on his side, away from his attacker, but to no advantage. Bobby lifted the rock as high as he could and dropped it squarely on the side of Darren’s head. This time he heard a crack to accompany the squish sound.
“There, you fucker.” Jimmy spat the words with a vehemence that surprised even him. The sight of the fresh kills, arms and legs splayed in lifelessness, was gross, but not nearly as much as in movies and on TV. He felt a twinge of nervousness, hardly able to believe what had happened, but that feeling was overridden by a sense of accomplishment.
As if on cue to mark the moment, a rolling rumble of thunder sounded. Jimmy looked up and down the trail to make sure no one else was in sight. He looked down and studied his handiwork more closely; two fresh kills amid a haphazard spray of rotting leaves. This had been the opportunity he’d been waiting and hoping for – for one of his tormentors to try something away from the school grounds. He checked for footprints that might tie him to the action. Chances were it would rain soon and wash away anything incriminating anyway. He knew he was too young to be placed inside prison walls topped with guard towers and loops of concertina wire, but it didn’t really matter because he felt certain he’d never be accused of the murders, not a wimpy kid like himself.
The fresh knowledge of what he was capable of had changed him, emboldened him. He started walking toward home, a smile creasing his face and tickling the corners of his mouth threatening to become sardonic as he thought about all those students whose psyches might be damaged as a result of the horrific event so near their school, poor little angels. He started to whistle a tune as he continued on his way before stopping abruptly. He turned and briskly trotted back toward the scene of his encounter. He looked around in the leaves, dirt, and gravel until he spotted what he was looking for, the two buttons that had been torn from his shirt.
“Have to be more careful,” he said to his Superman T-shirt, and then turned toward home again, already forgetting about Darren and Bo and thinking instead about the future.
The look on other classmate’s faces might have been worth the risk. And now, he might be capable of almost anything. Maybe he was reincarnated from some ancient warrior, his true mission to meat out punishment to those who deserved it. But that idea was kind of foolish, he decided. If he needed to direct blame for his actions, he needed to look no further than his own weird family.
There had been Uncle Victor whose wife disappeared when Jimmy was just a little kid. Jimmy’s mother told the men in the family she believed his dad’s brother had shoved his wife’s body into their furnace, most of her going up in smoke and ash. Jimmy often wondered if his dad hadn’t harbored similar thoughts when his mom was pestering him to do one thing or another, except their house didn’t have a big basement furnace like Uncle Victor’s. Then there was the oddball cousin who…. Well, no use continuing down memory lane on his family tree as interesting as it was.
On Saturday, Jimmy woke up feeling good about himself and remembering to put on a shirt with sleeves long enough to hid the fresh bruise. Two dead classmates would be the buzz for awhile. He might even make it for a week before someone at school rained on his parade. There were plenty of cretins who deserved a similar fate, even something slower and more painful. Maybe next time he would hide in wait for Alice or even Teddy. He could do it because he was smarter than they were. His brother might even be proud of him, if he ever knew.
* * *
“The horrible things people do. It eats at them and they can’t escape the memories, especially later in life,” Detective Jonathan Barnes had said to his partner upon the conclusion of a rather grizzly case.
“Unless they’re a fucking psycho and don’t give a diddly-squat,” his partner retorted.
Although nothing in life was ever black or white, Barnes knew both premises were true. He pondered the question of, What is the world coming to? as he’d done often in the past. Last year, a coed was murdered on the local college campus, and now, two high school youths were found with their brains bashed in. Although Barnes held a masters in psychology to go with years of dealing with the human psyche, he often found this pile of experience to be of no more use than just that – a pile. A true sociopath could sometimes outsmart attempts to make sense of insensible acts. He felt the same way about profiling. Sometimes they were dead-on, but often they led away from the guilty. Barnes preferred to follow his unprofessional hunches when possible.
Talking to the staff of the school the dead boys attended had been a start. Child psychologists were on hand to serve as grief counselors while interviews with students took place, but the intrusion into any number of family’s lives was the toughest task of all.
Every town has its urban legends; haunted houses, devil worshipers, killer clowns, etc. Society never becomes too sophisticated for such nonsense to blossom whenever a human does something heinous enough to wake the echoes of superstition. As always, Barnes hoped these murders would be solved before townspeople took to the torches and pitchforks, metaphorically speaking. The interviews revealed that the two dead boys were notorious bullies. They also provided a clear picture of their favorite target – Jimmy Thompson. Barnes unhappily recalled what bullying was like during his childhood. He hadn’t been the brunt of it, but had seen it happen and, to this day, regretted not interceding. Now he had the authority to help make things right, even if it turned out that some troubled kid had to pay the price for taking out his tormentors.
Barnes began with a home visit to the Thompson residence. Questions were asked as delicately as possible. If Jimmy Thompson was lying, he played it perfectly. Barnes was impressed with the intelligence of the fifteen-year-old. None of the other home visits provided any useful information. As a result, Barnes suggested a seldom used police tactic be employed.
* * *
Jimmy was no dummy.
Within a week after Darren and Bo’s remains had been planted on the wrong side
of grass, two young guys came to work at the school. One of them was introduced
as an assistant PE coach and the other was a janitor. Jimmy sensed there would
be a “plant.” It wasn’t exactly
He knew kids would be watched and he was prepared. His vulnerable, shy personality was now an act. That person had disappeared along the trail. He could still play the part, but inside, he declared never to go back. He’d proved himself to himself. The bullying at school had enjoyed a brief respite. Kids looked at their classmates with wary eyes for awhile, but some of the old taunting had already begun just a week after the deaths.
Jimmy had seen enough TV to know he had to exercise patience before taking care of anyone else. “Wait till the heat’s off,” as the bad guys liked to say in old movies. Still, he’d already begun to think about another kid, Ben Driscall, who could have just as easily been with Darren as Bo on that day in the trees. But then something totally unexpected happened to divert Jimmy’s attention, at least temporarily.
A girl his age started being nice to him. Her name was Suzy Bosworth. She’d asked to sit next to Jimmy at lunch a few times and once even walked with him after school to the edge of the trail that took them in different directions. He’d never had anything approaching a girlfriend; never had really paid attention to them, figuring doing so would result in immediate and automatic rejection. His history with classmates made him suspicious. Was she genuinely interested in him, or was she some kind of teenage spy working with the new PE teacher or the new janitor?
This concern didn’t curb his enthusiasm, however, when Suzy asked him to meet her in front of the girl’s locker room after school. Usually he departed the grounds quickly, but he’d sometimes seen a few hot-to-trot teens making out in the halls at the end of the day when no adults were around. He waited until most everyone had departed. He also checked for any sign of the new teacher or janitor, alert to some kind of sting operation even though he didn’t believe he’d been singled out as a suspect. Still….
Suzy was waiting for him at the entrance to the girl’s athletic dressing room. She was holding some books in one hand while twisting a chain around her neck between a thumb and forefinger. Jimmy stood in front of her in silence thinking she looked nervous. She looked around to make sure they were alone and pulled him around the edge of a patrician. Jimmy got goose bumps being just a swinging door away from where the girls took their clothes off.
“I really like you, Jimmy,” Suzy said in a whispery voice that implied secrecy, “but something is really bugging me. I know those two guys liked to pick on you, and I think you know something about what happened to them. Please tell me. It’ll stay between us. I don’t care at all what happened. I just need to know so I can understand you better.”
Jimmy looked into the classmate’s upturned face. She seemed sincere, and he wanted to be her friend…even more than a friend. He would like to be able to touch her someday, maybe even kiss her.
“Just between you and me,” she said again. “Please tell me if you know anything about those two jerks.”
Jimmy sighed and hung his head. “Walk with me along the trail. I’ll tell you about it there.”
* * *
Suzy slid into a lunchroom seat next to Jimmy. “I’m sorry for what I did, that set-up thing so they could see if you’d killed Darren and Bo.”
“Did they think I was so stupid that I’d just confess something because a girl was nice to me?”
“It wasn’t like that. See, my dad’s a cop, so he and this detective thought you might say something, like brag or something. But I really do like you, Jimmy, and I feel terrible about what I was asked to do.”
Jimmy shrugged his shoulders, but said nothing.
“Look how it turned out. You’re a big hero now. You admitted to what you saw and Ben can’t account for his time when Darren and Bo bit the big one. That’s what my dad told me, anyway.”
Jimmy looked at Suzy for the first time. “I might be in trouble for not telling sooner.”
“I bet not much. Nobody else got hurt and Ben’s mean anyway, just like Darren and Bo are…were.”
A pregnant pause occurred between the two young people until Suzy said, “My dad and mom asked me to invite you for supper this weekend. I think he feels a little bad for suspecting you and using me…” she trailed off.
“Do you want me to come over?”
“Sure,” Suzy answered with eyes wide. “Why wouldn’t I? I told you I liked you.”
Was this the truth, Jimmy wondered? Did she really like him or was this another ruse of some kind. If it was, he could find a way to get even. A girl would be easier to take down than a couple of assholes. He studied Suzy’s eyes. They were the color of storm clouds over the horizon.
Jimmy was silent so long that Suzy was about to get up. Then he said, “I’m thinking about entering the science fair next month. I’ll tell you about what I want to build this weekend.”
Capable of almost anything.
* * *
Under the right conditions, anyone will spill, especially a
he just didn’t give a diddly-squat. Que sera
Barnes wasn’t particularly happy about the correctness of his hunch and sighed
over what must be done next. He wondered how the parents would react to the
questions that would now be directed at their younger son. The older one was
already in the clink. Maybe they suspected something else was rotten in
Barnes contacted his superiors to call off the two undercover cops at the school, and told his partner it was time to make a repeat house call.
As the two men approached the Thompson home, Barnes noticed a blue jay robbing a bird feeder dangling from a tree limb. The bird was a flurry of aggression. Seeds flew as he pillaged the feeder before flying away. A sparrow then landed on the feeding perch and calmly pecked seeds. The actions of the two birds could have been the two parts of a kid like Jimmy. A momentary exhilaration brought on by an overdue urge to demonstrate forcefulness against the forces of evil, something along the lines to what a defense attorney would come up with.
In the first interview, the Thompson kid had given off an air of boredom and maybe even private amusement, but the eyes had revealed little. Maybe Jimmy’s eyes would reveal something to Barnes this time around. They sometimes conveyed what a person’s mouths wouldn’t. He was only fifteen. The drop of DNA would be questioned and the causes of the crime would be debated. If Jimmy was smart enough to play dumb, he might not be prosecuted at all. He might get away with it. If so, Barnes wouldn’t want to be the next bully to cross Jimmy Thompson’s path.
J. T. Seate is author of the popular Inspector Basham stories. Six Inspector Basham stories have been published online at omdb! — “Turn About” (November, 2012), “Letting Off Some Steam” (June, 2013), “The Case of the Open Grave” (October, 2013), “Basham's Theory” (April, 2014), “St. Andrew’s Cross” (August, 2014), and “Cat and Mouse” (December, 2014). Four non-series stories have also been published here on omdb! — “The Songbird” (August, 2014), “The Constant Reader” (April, 2013), “Mask” (March, 2013), and “Montezuma's Revenge” (January, 2013).
The author’s other publishing credits include six novels/novellas, a dozen one-author anthologies, and more than two hundred short stories and memoirs.Recent publications can be found at www.melange-books.com and www.museituppublishing.com for those who like their tales intertwined with the paranormal. See it all at www.troyseateauthor.webs.com and on amazon.com. You may also wish to visit the author's blog.
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