The Boys of McKinley House

Chapter Nine—Badlands


At eight fifty-seven in the evening, while Izzy Higgins was in her bedroom watching a PBS documentary about Crick and Watson as she affixed a glow-in-the-dark mobile of the solar system to her ceiling, Specs worked on his paper for Kloppman's AP US history class, Kid Blink flirted with Professor Salt in the physics lab, Snitch and Skittery sat together in the front row of the Columbia Theatre watching Flash Gordon, Carrie, the voice of KUKE, played an Albinoni record before signing off the air, Sylvy Golino tried on her coat of armor, Mush talked to his mother on the telephone, Spot Conlon held Rexanne Krakowski in his skinny arms and listened to her wildly beating heart, and Jack and David lay next to each other inside the hard-boiled egg factory, passing a Thermos of grape juice back and forth, Racetrack Higgins was sitting in the Ironside Café, halfway through his fourth slice of lemon meringue pie as he wondered how to start a conversation with the most beautiful girl in the world.

It wasn't that she didn't seem interested. She did. She had smiled at him and made conversation and even, when she had first brought him his menu, stepped on his foot a little, in a manner that he had to perceive as very flirtatious. She was sitting at the counter now, reading a movie magazine and glancing up at him occasionally, eyelids lowered, smiling. What she wanted—it was obvious—was him. And Race, of course, could only stare down at his pie.

She was interested, she knew that—and sweet—and clever—and maybe, he thought, God help him, maybe she might even be tender—but Race's simplest problem was this: how does one start a conversation with the most beautiful girl in the world?

The only avenue open to him seemed to be ordering a fifth slice of lemon meringue pie.

The most beautiful girl in the world walked—it was more like glided—over and set down a fifth plate in front of Racetrack. She was about to walk away; she paused, for just a moment, as Race struggled with all the words that seemed to be stuck in his throat like his mother's vermicelli…say something, he thought, say something funny, say something seductive, say something poetic, say something cool.

So Racetrack tried.

What came out was this:

"You're looking very yellow tonight, Rachel."

You're looking very yellow tonight, Rachel?

Racetrack could have killed himself.

Rachel laughed a little uneasily, the most beautiful laugh in the world, and Race knew he had very little time to make sense of something even he didn't really understand, somehow turn it into a compliment, and then—oh, then, if he could, could he?—ask the most beautiful girl in the world to go with him to the Halloween dance.

"Yellow?" Rachel said.

"Well—" stammered Race, "I mean—yellow. Your uniform is mustard yellow. I remember the first time I saw you, I wondered how anyone could look pretty in such an ugly color."

"You don't like my uniform?"

"No—no, I love your uniform. I do. And it's yellow."

"Yes, it is."

"And you're holding a piece of lemon pie…and your hair is the color of lemon pie too, I think…and the fluorescent light's shining on you, and it's yellow, too. So you are very yellow tonight."

"I guess I am."

"…And very beautiful."

And here the most beautiful girl in the world blushed in a very pink way, all the way down to the tops of her lovely arms, and she started to turn and walk away and Racetrack knew that this was his very last chance—because he could manage to eat five pieces of lemon meringue pie in one night but six was his limit and he knew that not just in his heart but in his stomach—and so he called out, his last opportunity to save the most beautiful girl in the world—


She turned. "…Yes?"

Racetrack took a deep breath. "WouldyouliketogototheHalloweendancewithme?"

And Rachel's face fell, and Race knew he had made an enormous mistake, because of course she didn't like him, of course she had never been flirting with him—why had he ever thought such a thing?—she knew about Sylvy just like everybody knew about Sylvy, and of course she didn't want anything to do with him, not that she ever would have, anyway. Racetrack stared at his pie and hoped that the most beautiful girl in the world would walk away very quickly.

But when she spoke, her voice was full of softness and regret.

"Oh, Race…I wish I could go with you."

"You do?"

"Yes…but…well, I already promised I'd go with someone else."

Now Racetrack was the one who was surprised. "You are? Really? Who?"

Rachel stared down at her shoes. "Oh, no one," she mumbled.

"No, who? Tell me."

"…Kid Blink."


In the library the next day, while he was re-reading Franny and Zooey for Denton's class, hoping against hope but somehow feeling very sure that there was a pop quiz looming in his near future, David was startled by a book the size of an encyclopedia being slammed down in front of him and a voice behind him saying, "Spit it out: how many people have you killed?"

The encyclopedia was The Mammoth Book of Serial Killers, Mass Murderers, Rapists, and Bad Seeds; the first words David read from it, as he picked it up off his face, were "many people think it is tacky to upholster furniture in human flesh but Ed Gein begged to differ," and the voice belonged to (who else?) Jack—David knew this soon enough because it was the face he saw when he looked up after he had fallen over backwards and out of his chair. Although it was about fifty degrees out, Jack was for some reason wearing a white polo shirt, a white sweater vest, white shorts, and white Keds, and had a white sling on his arm.

"Hi," said Jack. "I'm Ted Bundy."

"Who?" said David.

Jack sighed the sigh he tended to use a lot when David was around, and carefully helped him up. David gathered his books and began to check for broken bones, and Jack said, "Hey, Davey—will you carry my books for me? I would, but I have this darned sling on my arm, and…"

Of course David did. Then he hurried to join Jack on the way back to McKinley.

"Davey," said Jack, "let me ask you something—what do you usually do on Halloween?"

"Well, most years I take my little brother trick or treating around the neighborhood, but last Halloween I went with my sister and a bunch of her friends from Communism Now!, and they gathered up all the homeless people they could find and then took them on a field trip to the Museum of Natural History."

Jack seemed to falter a little at this. "Oh."


"Well, I was going to say that Halloween at Caldwell tops whatever you've done in the past, but that actually sounds kind of cool."

"It wasn't that great," David said helpfully. (It had been amazing, of course. Lucky and Irma still called him sometimes to ask him questions about dinosaurs.)

"Well, anyway," said Jack, "as you probably know, McKinley gets to hose the Halloween party every year. We've been doing it since they stopped letting us do bacchanal. And the senior prefects always vote on what theme the party will be—last year it was old Hollywood—and as you know I am a senior prefect, and, as you may also know, so is Skittery, and both of us are loudmouthed and opinionated enough to pretty much get our way. So this year, the Halloween party's theme is…"

"The food pyramid?" David asked hopefully.

"Serial killers," said Jack. "Honestly, Dave."


They were passing behind the Theodore Kelly boathouse, one of the many buildings on the Caldwell campus that Jack bore relation to. It cast a long shadow in the late afternoon light, and firs and pines blocking planted on the other side of the pathway blocked out most of the sun. David was struck, suddenly, by the smell of the rain, the darkness this early in the day, and the fact that he was actually standing behind a boathouse—and he was just about to tell Jack all this when he turned around to see the other boy holding a crowbar aloft, staring at him with a manic look in his eyes.

"This is how he did it," said Jack, and seeing the look of fear on David's face he slowly lowered the crowbar, slipping it into his sling like a violinist putting away his bow.

"Jack, what are you doing? What the—"

"Ted Bundy," Jack said, as if that explained everything.

David looked at him blankly.

"The most famous serial killer in America? He was on TV every day a few years ago."

"Well, I don't really watch much TV." They were walking again, out of the shadows, and soon they would be in the living room of McKinley; Jack was as happy and genial as usual, but David still felt troubled. There had been something about the look in Jack's eyes when he held the crowbar. It only made things even more complicated than they had been before, if that were somehow possible.

"Well," Jack said, a little apologetically, "Ted Bundy was famous because his victims disappeared from public places—like universities and city streets—places with people all around, but no one ever saw any kind of struggle. They never left a trace. Well, what he did was, he would charm them into coming with him—he'd put on a fake cast and ask them to help him with his books. And then, when they were walking through a dark passage, or while the girl was getting into his car, he'd take out a crowbar, and—"

They were standing outside the front door of McKinley as David stared at Jack, horrified.

"What?" said Jack.

"I just…how do you know all this?"

"The newspaper," Jack said, as if he was talking to a very small child, or possibly Racetrack.

David was still at a loss. "But why…why do you want to be a serial killer?"

And this was something Jack didn't have an answer for.


"Well—" Jack said awkwardly, and David realized that it might be the first time he had ever seen Jack awkwardly do anything. "I mean, Dave—well, come on. What do you want to be?"

"A tenured professor at Columbia University. Preferably in one of the graduate schools."

"I mean—what did you want to be when you were eleven?"

"A museum curator."


"A certified public accountant."


"A podiatrist."

Jack scratched at the back of his neck in apparent dismay. "…What about when you were in kindergarten?"

"Between the ages of seven and two and a half, it was my greatest aspiration to become a United States postal worker." David looked up at Jack only to see his friend's face frozen in what seemed to be horror.

"What?" David said defensively. "What did you want to be when you were in kindergarten?"

"A…cowboy," Jack said, as if asking what someone wanted to do when they were five was like asking what the atomic weight of boron was: a simple question that everyone knew the answer to. Or everyone except David, apparently.

"A cowboy?" David asked.

"What's wrong with that?"

"There aren't any cowboys in New York City, Jack," David said pityingly.

"I know that!" Jack almost shouted. "I mean I—oh, Jesus, I'm sorry, Dave, just—never mind. I don't want to talk about it. Let's go inside."

Jack followed David into McKinley house, shrugging off his raincoat as he came into the entryway. Raindrops splattered out of the creases of his slicker and onto the hardwood floor, and he breathed in deeply of the smoke from the wood ire crackling in the common room. But behind his calm exterior, he was somewhat terrified—because now was the moment when Jack might invite him up to his room so they could study and maybe crack open a couple of beers (although David, of course, always stuck to cream soda), or maybe he would suggest that they go into town to catch a movie before rehearsal, or go to the radio station to annoy Racetrack for a little while, or collect the cans and bottles and scrap from all the bins in each house and take them to the recycling center in town (part of Jack's academic probation ever since the Saturday morning in the beginning of September when he had been discovered sunbathing in the nude on the roof of the Theodore Kelly boathouse)—they could do these or any number of other things that David would never have had any interest in doing at all, if it wasn't for the fact that Jack had asked him to. Or—and this was the more likely option—he and Jack could go their separate ways, and David might go the next ten or twelve or twenty-four hours without seeing him. The prospect was almost too much for him to bear.

David cleared his throat. "So, uh—Jack," he said. "What are your plans for the night?"

"Well, Snitch wants everyone to go to that Charlie Chaplin festival at the Columbia—"

"Oh, I love Charlie Chaplin!"

"But I was thinking of maybe going out to the reservoir tonight with Spot and Rex, you know, listen to some music, smoke a little bud. To be honest, things are getting a little to out of hand right—"

"Smoke a little what?" David asked.


"Jack, do you mean…drugs? As in "mary jane," "dope," or "the reefer"? Jack, do you mean…marijuana?"

Jack smiled his crooked smile. "I suppose I do."

"Jack, did you know that marijuana is a gateway drug that can lead to life-threatening amphetamine and narcotics addictions? Do you?"



"Do you want to come or not?"


Jack looked a little disappointed, David was astonished to note. "Oh," he said. "Okay."

"I mean—" David faltered. "Yes. But—I'm not doing any drugs."

"Okay," Jack said.

"You can't peer pressure me."

"I won't."



"And we'll be back for curfew?"


"Okay, then. Yes, Jack. I will accept your invitation." David thought he had handled himself rather well.


Four hours later, David was sprawled across the backseat of Spot Conlon's Buick, his head sheltered under his arm. There was a huge rip at the shoulder of his blazer, which was now balled up under his head and smelling very strongly of malt liquor. A song from the new Bruce Springsteen album was playing on the car stereo, both the front doors were open, and Spot and Rexanne were kissing on the muddy ground. Jack, the last time that David had seen him, had been walking in knee-deep in water, his pants soaked, his shirtsleeves rolled up to the elbow. He was on his fifth or sixth straight bottle of Milwaukee's Best and still was showing no signs of intoxication; Spot had been right when he said that Jack never got drunk. He would just keep drinking like this until he passed out, and he wouldn't be hung over in the morning. David, on the other hand, had had half a bottle of beer and was now completely unable to walk, which was how he had come to by lying in the backseat of Spot's Buick, listening to the radio and trying to ignore the sound of Spot and Rexanne doing whatever they were doing outside his window.

He had thought that maybe if he drank he would stop thinking; that maybe he would stop thinking the thoughts that had been plaguing him for the last few weeks, ever since he had watched Jack up onstage during Cabaret auditions, ever since life seemed to have suddenly gotten very, very complicated. But the thoughts didn't go away. Every one of them was there—the only difference was that they came to him much, much slower, so a thought that would have taken him half a second sober now took him half a minute, or maybe it was half an hour. He didn't know if he liked this feeling or not. He wished he could find something where he didn't have to think at all.

The backdoor clicked open and Jack crawled in beside him, trying to be quiet so as not to wake David, who he must have thought was asleep. Spot's car was a huge old fifties model, and the backseat was wide enough for two people to stretch out in, if they pressed close together. Now Jack was stretching out next to David; now Jack was propping his head up, reaching out and brushing some of David's hair behind his ear in a way that almost verged on tenderness; now Jack was leaning over; now Jack was kissing David, messily, drunkenly, on the ear. Jack kissed David's cheek, his forehead, his neck. All through this David pretended to be asleep. Now Jack was resting his head beside David's, leaning forward, and kissing David on the mouth; and now David was thinking, clearly, plainly, I am in love with Jack Kelly, and there's nothing in the world I can do about it.

And then Jack threw an arm around David's waist and pressed in close, and finally, David Jacobs thought about nothing at all.


Author's Note

Well, I finally updated.

DALTON: Did you DIE?

Close. I went to college.


Life has gotten very hectic since the last update. But I assure you, the perfect love of Jack and David still has a very important place in my heart.

DALTON: …ahem.

As does Charlie. And I hope to have the NEXT update—full of serial killers and Halloween parties and romantic interludes and bad dancing and slashy fun—up in the very near future. I'm going to have to, because I promised Dalton that if I don't update within a month I have to buy him the first season of "Fame" on DVD.

DALTON: ((pirouettes by)) FAME! I'm gonna live forever! I'm gonna learn how to fly!

All reviewers get to be exempt from seeing him do that ever again.

DALTON: ((sings)) FAME! People will see me and cry!

…Yes, they certainly will.