“Dean, I’ve got things straightened out with the store’s manager. But we now need to see to it that the boys are effectively disciplined.”
“Oh, yes, sir,” Belwish stammered. “I can call their parents, I’ve already called Senator Marley. She’s on her way. The other parents are not available at the moment.”
“How about this? Looking at the store’s video and having heard about some other issues from one of Matt’s friends, it appears that we have a case of bullying going on here.”
“Oh no, sir. We would never tolerate that here at St. Ignatius.”
“Then let’s prove it. If you’re okay with it, I’ll talk to the three boys who are here, then you and I can work out some appropriate disciplinary measures. Would that work for you?”
“And the parents?”
“If you feel you need to call them…” Mark smiled, pretty sure that calling Duffy’s and Rob’s fathers was the last thing Belwish wanted to do.
“I- I think we can avoid that,” Belwish said with a flushed smile. Small beads of sweat clung to the few hairs on top of his head.
“So where are the boys?”
“In the hearing room. Right here. We usually use the room to work out discipline problems.”
“Excellent. If you’ll excuse me. I think this would work better if you didn’t have to know what was said.”
“Oh. Good idea. Thank you, sir.” Belwish scuttled out of the way.
As Mark entered the hearing room, only Paul stood. The other two boys lounged in the black leather conference chairs. All three were situated along the long edge of a mahogany table that all but filled the room, further hemmed in by the green paint on the walls and the dour landscapes hanging there. The window at the end of the room let in very little light, thus the room was bathed in the blue haze of industrial fluorescent lighting on the ceiling.
Mark found a chair on the opposite side of the table from the boys. Of the two larger boys, one had red hair, closely cropped. The other had very full brown hair, cut to his jawbone and brushed up in front. Both wore burgundy school hoodies and bored frowns. Paul remained standing. Mark sat down and nodded at Paul, pleased that at least Paul had some sense of correct protocol. Paul sat down and began fidgeting with a pen, his face a blank.
Mark waited in silence. The brown-haired kid broke fist.
“Are you going to arrest us?” he asked, trying to look defiant and still coming off as scared.
Mark glared at the boy, but out of the corner of his eye, he saw Paul’s eyes roll.
“Let me guess,” Mark said slowly and pointed at the brown-haired boy. “You are Rob Ayres. And you are Duffy McIntyre.”
Duffy, the redhead, lifted his chin. “Yeah. So?”
“I like to know to whom I am speaking, Mr. McIntyre. As for you, Mr. Ayres, no, I am not going to arrest you. I don’t have powers of arrest. I can, like any other citizen, press charges, however.”
“Won’t do you any good,” Duffy snarled. “My dad can see to it that you never get elected again.”
Mark glared at him but chuckled. “Well, Mr. McIntyre, given that your father has not donated one red cent to any of my campaigns and has been quite vocal in his opposition to me, and that I still got elected, I don’t think I’m that worried about it. You, on the other hand, might want to get a little smarter about what threats you make. Not to mention, setting up a fall game works a lot better when your target is somebody who might actually be up to something. Or that folks will believe is up to something.”
“It was Paul’s idea,” Duffy muttered.
Paul’s face remained blank, but Mark was pretty sure the stunt hadn’t been Paul’s idea.
“Hm,” Mark said. “All right, Mr. McIntyre, you and Mr. Ayres go find Dean Belwish and tell him I will deal with you two later. I want to talk some more with Mr. Marley.”
Duffy and Rob left the room quickly. Paul continued silently fidgeting with his pen. Mark looked him over thoughtfully.
“I’m guessing that Duffy or Rob came up with the idea of setting Matt up using your sleight of hand skills,” Mark said finally. “My question is why did you go along with it?”
“I spotted you in the security video. You looked right at the camera. You knew you were caught and you were happy about it. I’ve also heard rumors that you weren’t too happy about playing on the football team this year and were pretty mad at Matt when he left the team.”
Paul remained silent.
“Look, if you want off the team, I can arrange that,” Mark said.
Paul’s eyes flickered up. “Why?”
“Like Matt, I know a thing or two about family pressure to play,” Mark said, leaning back in his seat. “So if I’m going to help, I’d like to know who’s pressuring you and why.”
“Oh.” Paul thought it over. “It’s my dad. He’s a coach back home in Georgia. He expects me to play. I tried to tell him this summer I didn’t want to, but he just told me to man up and get out there.”
Mark smiled. “So getting caught hazing someone is a manly way to get out of playing, huh?”
“It would have been better if Matt was on the team. He really is a better player than me.”
“So your dad wouldn’t get upset if you were benched?”
“He would, but he wouldn’t have been able to do anything about it. He’s in Georgia.”
“If he’s not here, then why worry about playing? He wouldn’t have to know you weren’t.” Mark put his hands up as Paul gave him the obvious look. “Ah. I get it. It’s your dad. Point taken. I’m just curious though, were you going to let Matt get arrested?”
Paul winced. “Duffy and Rob wanted to. I figured we’d get caught before then. ‘Cause of the cameras and all.”
“They didn’t think of that?”
Paul sighed. “They’re not exactly the brightest bulbs in the lamp.”
“Yeah. I noticed that.” Mark paused. “Where’d you learn the sleight of hand?”
“I taught myself,” Paul said, finally smiling. “I started learning card tricks out of a book when I was in fourth grade. Then I saw a guy on TV doing the pickpocket thing and that was funny. I mean, I don’t believe in stealing.” He looked at Mark. “I wouldn’t have let Matt leave the store with the stuff. Even if I was still pissed at him. It’s just not right. You’re not too mad at me, are you?”
“Well, I’m not thrilled that you were picking on my nephew. But Matt, more than most, understands making a mistake out of desperation. I will expect you to apologize to him.”
“He probably hates me.”
“I don’t know about that. He liked you before. Said you were pretty smart, compared to the other garden-variety idiots.”
Paul’s lips quirked into a rueful smile.
Mark looked him over. “I’m going to have to make this look good. Mind taking the blame as ringleader? Promise to get you off the team.”
“Sure.” Paul sat up straight. “Thank you, sir.”
“You’ll be on your own with Matt. But I think you’ll be okay. I will, however, attempt to nudge him toward forgiveness. In the meantime, you stay put and I’ll talk with Dean Belwish.”