My Bodyguard: Anxieties
"Go! Go! Go! Go! Yeeah!" The students cheered and chanted to the final couple on the dance floor. They were spectacular, doing a combo of jitterbugging and twisting. Mr. G was already coming around to hand them the huge trophy with a gold-painted dancing couple on top. Ricky and Evie cheered from the sidelines too. As Ricky clapped, his gaze caught Shelly standing at the rear of the gym peeking through the back doors. She nervously bit her lip and nails. Ricky whispered to Evie he'd be right back and strode over to her.
"Hey, Shell, what's the matter? You okay?"
"Ricky, I'm glad you're here. I'm worried about Clifford. He said he was going to the bathroom and he went through here, but that was almost fifteen minutes ago. He hasn't come back. I was kinda afraid to go inside, it's dark and stuff, ya know?" She glanced up at him with pleading eyes. Ricky smiled reassuringly.
"Shelly, You go stay with Evie. I'll get him. Don't worry. Maybe he ate something that didn't agree with him."
"Thanks, Ricky! I don't know, I just think something's wrong."
Ricky pushed in the door to the locker room. "Well I'll find out."
He went inside and without turning on the lights rushed to the boy's bathroom. Once in there he flicked on the light, but it was empty. He noticed one of the sinks dripping, as if had recently been in use. Ricky scratched his head. It was possible Clifford had used the bathrooms in the hall outside the gym, but even he had seen him come in this direction. He rushed out and started searching through the aisles. He listened carefully, all of a sudden getting a vision of Clifford banging on the locker door in his swimsuit–trapped, drenched and shuddering. It nearly made him laugh as it almost did the first time around. He was about to leave when he noticed the door leading up to the gym balcony was ajar.
'That's funny, they always have that locked, and it's still under construction.' He thought. The bad feeling that attacked Shelly hit him too and he went through it.
Clifford sat very still, huddled between Koontz and Dubrow while Moody kept fiddling with the piping and his lighter. His five-minute guess was wrong and the sprinkler system hadn't turned on.
"You really think it's gonna go off from a little lighter heat?" Clifford dared to speak. "Give it up!"
Moody swung around threateningly. "Ya know, you're probably right, I should just light your head on fire and hold it up there!" He snarled. "Be quiet."
"Yo Moody, I got an idea, take his jacket and burn it, that outta do the trick." Koontz said lazily and flicked his cigarette.
Moody grinned. "Yeah, I like that." He snapped his finger at Clifford. "Gimme the coat."
Clifford glared at him. He was no longer afraid of Melvin. "What? No way. This is a rental!"
"Gimme the damn jacket. Take it from him guys." Moody ordered. Dubrow and Koontz shoved Clifford to a standing position and practically tore it off him.
"Stop! Are you crazy starting a fire up here? There are paint buckets and rags and everything!" Clifford warned him. You'll trap us!"
Moody paid him no attention. His plan had to work. This would finally get him kicked out of school and then he could start looking for a real job working with his older brother at the boxing gym in New York. That was his master plan–To get suspended and finally run away. His father wouldn't care, he'd only be sorry he lost his second punching bag. He would miss his mother though, and her great Italian cooking. But sometimes when she drank she was as nasty as his dad and he had the scars to prove it.
The sleeve of the jacket caught the flame and it lit up Moody's dark eyes eerily. He waved it around near the pipes and the sprinkler valve. Smoke was quickly filling up the balcony, blocked from escaping by the blue tarp that covered over it. Clifford shrugged out of Koontz and Dubrow's grip. They were getting afraid and had backed towards the doorway.
"Hey, Moody man, I think you can put that out now! You're gonna burn your hand or something." Dubrow said anxiously.
"Yeah, dude, just drop it and let's go."
"No, I'm gonna finish what I started!" Moody insisted, coughing. The pipe was starting to melt. "Jeeze! What the heck? Do we all have to burn alive before this damn sprinkler goes…" The alarms started ringing shrilly. "YES! That did it!"
Clifford raced to the edge of the balcony and peeked out the tarp, watching everyone stop his or her activities and look around confused. The teachers and chaperons were trying to get them in line like they did on Fire Drills. Suddenly, it happened. The sprinklers roared to life showering them all below. All the girls started screaming and everyone tried to race out of the gym. Mr. G grabbed any tablecloths he could find to cover his prize record collections and stereo.
Moody was still holding the burning jacket when the fire licked near his fingers, he cursed and flung it. The jacket landed on a drop cloth and it immediately caught the flames. It then partially ignited the wooden bleachers. Clifford backed up terrified. He had been standing behind the drop cloth and the flames were starting to trap him. Dubrow and Koontz shook their heads.
"Oh no! We are outta here, there's no sprinklers workin' up here!" They ran down the stairwell, crashing into Ricky.
Ricky stopped Koontz forcefully and shoved him against the wall. "Where's Clifford?" He demanded.
"He's up there man! Hurry, there's a fire! Moody's with him and he's friggin' nuts!" Ricky dropped his collar and the two ran out of the locker room.
Ricky ran up faster. He gasped, seeing black smoke waft from the balcony. He heard Clifford calling for help.
"Cliff!" He shouted and bounded onto the tier.
Moody had dragged Clifford away from the fire and started pummeling him. Smoke was overcoming Clifford. He was still hurt from the last two punches. Ricky skidded near them and waved the smoke from his line of sight. The fire was getting out of control. He had to make judgment call. Moody had Clifford on the floor in a weak headlock; the smoke was affecting him too.
Ricky ran to the edge and with one large swoop, ripped the tarp off. He turned to the fire and without hesitation forced the tarp down on it. He stomped around and then pulled off his jacket and tossed that down too. Clifford elbowed Moody in the jaw and crawled to Ricky, attempting to help. The fire was finally getting under control. Moody rose up and rubbed his scraped chin. He was about to lunge for Clifford and the sprinklers went off on all of them. Ricky slumped onto the bleachers, breathless and watching gratefully as the water snuffed out the last of the flames. He bent down and pulled Clifford to his feet.
"Rick, thanks, man. Thanks." Clifford shook his hand vigorously. Ricky patted his back as he choked. "That was so close!"
"What the heck happened? Moody, why did you do this?"
Moody was enraged. He tugged on Clifford and tried to take a swing.
Moody missed, but then suddenly did an uncontrollable spin on the growing puddle soaking the wooden floor. Ricky jumped up as Moody skidded backwards.
"Help me!" Moody screamed.
Ricky and Clifford made a rapid lunge for him just as he toppled over the railing. Ricky leaned down far and grasped his arm while Clifford clung to his leg.
"Man, come on, please!"
"Ease him up gently!" Ricky shouted. "Moody, go limp, we got you!"
A few teachers and some fire men gazed up at them from the ground floor.
"Hey! What's going on up there! Get down from there!"
Two firemen raced through the locker room, seeing how precarious the situation was. Ricky, nearly halfway off the ledge himself, grabbed Moody's other arm and tugged him back over the railing. Moody sank to the floor, he looked about to cry. He couldn't look at his rescuers.
"You guys…after all I did…ya saved my life."
"Moody! You freak! You tried to kill me!" Clifford was furious and went to attack, but Ricky stopped him.
"No, Cliff! Don't." He said seriously.
He knelt down next to Moody and forced his gaze. "That's right, Melvin, we saved you because it was the right thing to do and we're not killers. I am not a killer. We're sick of all this fighting back and forth. Look, man, we're not asking to be best friends, we just…" Ricky suddenly felt pity on Moody. He looked like a helpless, shivering child. Tears flowed from his eyes. Ricky held his shoulder and gently brought him to his feet. He put Moody's hand in his and shook it.
"No more, Moody. Let it go. Whatever it is, let it go. We're not your enemies."
Moody nodded with his arms folded, he kept wiping his eyes. "I'm sorry, man. I'm sorry for everything I did. You gunna let me go or you gonna kick my ass?"
"I'm severely tempted, but naww, I don't want to hurt you. Just get outta here, and leave Clifford and everyone else alone for good this time."
Moody gazed at Clifford as he walked by defeated. "Are we cool, bro?"
Clifford hesitated and stared at Ricky. Ricky gave a slight nod and shrug. Clifford begrudgingly shook Moody's hand. "Yeah, we're cool, Melvin. See ya on Monday."
"No you won't. I ain't never coming back here again. I'm sick of this school. I'm sick of Chicago, I'm sick of everyone, man! I'm sorry I picked on ya. I guess it's easy when someone's a runt, but you fought back, you got real guts. I admire that. Just like me and my dad, I don't let him push me around anymore."
Moody was breaking down. With a last glimpse at them he raced out of the balcony. However he didn't get far, and was stopped by a slew of teachers and the firemen.
Clifford hung back, swallowing some guilt. He was profoundly touched by Ricky's gentle disposition toward this bully. The towering tough who supposedly broke cop's legs had to stop him from nearly strangling Moody. Ricky was one of a kind. The sprinkler system finally shut down and Clifford picked up the burnt remains of his jacket.
"My dad is gonna freak out when he sees the bill for this."
"I'm gonna be working heavy over-time at the garage." Ricky said, wringing out the jacket. "Ready to face the music, Cliff? They're gonna bust us, you know that."
"Yeah, but maybe Moody will tell them the truth for once. My father could help us."
"We can only hope. A few twenties might make the principal look the other way. But come on, seriously, none of this was our fault."
"They'll believe us. They're on to Moody's pranks for years I've heard."
Ricky grinned. "They'll believe you, maybe. Are you okay, Clifford?"
Clifford smiled and nodded, but then grabbed his stomach, wincing from a sharp pain. "Moody got me twice here. He might have ruptured something."
"Just walk slow and take it easy. Don't let Shelly jump ya."
"Yeah, she does like to do that." Clifford chuckled. "The girls are gonna be shocked. But man, Rick, we're gonna be heroes! Shelly will get our mugs right on the front of the school paper, hey, this might even get on the TV news, and in the real newspapers across the city. Won't that be great?"
Ricky cringed. He hoped never to be in the papers again. They would only dig up his past and make comparisons. There was always the fear that his brother's case could be re-opened. "Yeah, sure. I don't really care. Even if it does clear my rep. I did what needed to be done. That's not being a hero, that's being a human."
Clifford kept silent. Ricky was always bringing him down to earth him with his maturity.
They started toward the stairwell, hearing the commotion below. Moody was elaborating the story, and he actually took all the blame.
"I get the feeling he's desperate for suspension. Did you hear what he said about his father?" Clifford remarked.
Ricky looked down stonily. "Yeah, I did. Moody's an abused kid. That sucks. No wonder he's the way he is. Just goes to show you everyone's got demons, Cliff. Moody just needs to realize his potential as a person." Ricky found himself telling him what Evie said earlier. He grinned and patted his back. He didn't want to alienate Clifford with all his moralizing.
"Look, how many times have I told you, Cliff. When I'm not around to get your back, be like Clint Eastwood!"
Clifford laughed. "I'm not walking around school all day with an iron plate on my chest, okay, Ricky? You and your westerns!"