1

The building that served as Derry's junior high school was big, bleak, and grayer than the overcast on this particular afternoon. To Bobby McFadden, it had always reminded him of a prison, a place his father would be spending his remaining days.

Gerald McFadden was doing time for holding up a $av-A-Lot! in Bangor about a month or so before his son was born. All in all, Bobby's old man got away with an impressive sum of forty-nine dollars and sixty-two cents, about three dozen packs of Camels (Bob himself preferred Marlboros ) and a couple packs of Budweiser. Security camera footage led the elder McFadden's arrest barely a week later.

Nobody, including Bobby, had heard from him since. He often wondered why he never wrote his family, how life was in the big house, and if he ever dropped the soap. Bobby supposed he felt some sort of affection for his father, but since he had actually never loved anything, he couldn't say for sure. McFadden and Camp, as Marc Campton was referred to by what little companions he had, had been waiting for that little scug Charlie Patterson for over an hour now. He was an eighth grader, scrawny and gawky, with one eye that didn't jibe.

McFadden glanced at his watch, despite the fact that he couldn't quite read it. He guessed it was two-forty-five, when it was only one-seventeen, and signalled for Camp to get his rear in gear and get in the alleyway behind Bergen's Clothing Store. Charlie passed Bergen's everyday on his way home from school. The plan was to ambush the scroungy little fuck and beat him till he hollered uncle.

"Go on," Bobby instructed.

"It's not even close to two-o'-clock yet," Camp protested in that annoying whining voice that was so common with Derry's upper-class tweens-and-teens. He folded his arms over his considerable chest, which had earned him the nickname 'Tits'.

"It is so, now get your fat ass in the alley."

Why argue?

Bobby was about to give Tits a good kick in the bum for walking too slow, when he noticed something out of the corner of his eye.

Something small. And round.

Red.

A ball?

He pulled a trash-can aside, crouched for a better look at whatever lay between a stack of yellowed newspapers and a beer bottle, and gasped so quietly he himself did not hear it.

A red button?

Like the ones on those fruity suits clowns wore.

Suddenly, he remembered what had happened to him last March, but just as soon as the thought came shooting up from his subsonscious, Tits cried, "Is that a cop car?"

Bobby glanced over his shoulder. Just a white Caddy with the windows down.

He turned and gave Tits a good whack. "Even if it was, we ain't doing anything illegal."

"Loitering is illegal."

Bobby didn't care. He knew how to handle cops. He would just

(lie em up)

feed them some phony story and get away with whatever he'd done, without so much as a smack on the wrist.

(who lied em up, daddy?)

Which is why he thought that he'd be able to get away with what he really planned to do to Charlie Patterson.

He looked back down at the button, or whatever it was, and kicked it aside.

2

As Mrs. Lutz droned on about some nameless battle in some nameless point in time, Charlie stared at the back of Willow Marsten's head. He watched with a fascination one could consider either adorable or just plain odd with every bob of her ponytail, being sure to glance at the paper on his desk had she turned in his direction. It wasn't likely; she'd never so much as smiled at him in the three years they'd had classes together.

Charlie didn't mind.

He guessed he liked her, but he didn't consider it a crush. He felt that he was genuinely in love with her. He didn't know a whole lot about her, other than that she was reputed to be loose. Charlie guessed that this was only because she was more physically developed than the rest of the girls in her class. I'm guessing you know how nasty girls can be. One rumor gets started, and your reputation goes to Shit City. One loudmouth named Kurt Bordeaux told a tale nothing short of unflattering describing how Willow gave ten-dollar blowjobs in the boy's bathroom after school. "Only on Fridays, though," Kurt had been sure to point out.

Had he been a foot taller and fifty pounds heavier, Charlie would've socked that trash-mouthed geek right then and there. But he wasn't, so nobody spent the rest of their afternoon picking up their had been at lunch, about a month ago. Kurt had gotten a good share of beatings since then; he never knew when to shut up. Just last week he had run afoul of that big galoot Bobby McFadden. As much as he disliked Kurt (who oddly reminded Charlie of somebody from a long time ago, a really long time ago), he couldn't help but feel bad for him. He'd gone home with a busted nose, a black eye, and three chipped teeth.

But then again, there wasn't much Charlie could have done.

Bobby was NOT somebody you picked a fight with. Ever.

It was Kurt's own damned fault. Shoulda just kept his trap shut. But he couldn't, as I've already said, and took his lumps like a little pansy.

Hardy-har-har.

Charlie had been absently goggling the way lovesick saps do when within poking distance of the center of their affection when the bell sounded, annoucning the end of another "fun-filled day", as Principal Marsh was fond of saying. Children flooded out almost immediately, while Charlie, embarrassed and ashamed that he'd developed a hard-on, slowly gathered his books and rose to his feet and waited for the room to . Lutz, a middle-aged woman who looked neither pretty nor pleasant, gave the boy a glance, and before she could ask him to leave, Charlie scurried out, unaware that he was scurrying into the worst afternoon of his life.