Mac drives by the Junior High on Lexington, a route not traveled overfrequently--kind of residential, full of weird-named churches and cemeteries. He has never had any business here. It draws a blank, so he parks and investigates public property.
The building, of 1920s issue, isn't up to noteworthy for Mac. It's routinely rectangular, dull brown brick and a raised wooden floor. He suspects it has an interior courtyard, like the elementary down on Lee Avenue. The yard, occupying the space of a residential block, is virtually treeless and foottrodden into gray dirt. A hurricane fence outlines the premises and the playground equipment befits rather a kindergarten. But it seems used, anyway.
He's squatting on the seesaw awaiting some revelation to the city's particular choice of site for a school when a voice surprises him from behind, asking if he's Jimmy.
She's around eighteen, dressed in huge flowered baggy clothing. Mac, thrown, searches interior recesses: "Jimmy Lee?"
This momentarily distracts her, then she asks if he has the stuff. When he doesn't answer she looks around nervously and begins to walk off.
"Wait--" he calls.
She turns around. "I thought you were the new guy."
"But I guess you would have to be careful, you know."
"Yeah, I got you. Like, when Lance got caught, we all freaked." She comes back close. "You bring it with you?" Her left hand tugs paper from a front pocket.
Mac is slow, guessing. "I didn't get the order."
"Piss! I knew the dork would screw it up." She reads the list for him slowly, as if deciphering code. A handful of friends she's collecting for. "You can remember that?"
Mac smells perfume that makes him think of purple and sees that she's made up heavily, with sharply drawn lines. Her proximity registers a mild shock to his system.
"Better give me the list." She hands it over shyly. "Like--do you know how much it's going to be?"
He shrugs. "You know."
"Yeah. Well here's this--Caroline probably won't be able to get the money. I guess you don't have to bring hers." Mac slides the list into his pocket: "That's all right."
"Oh. Okay. You mean, like, work it out. I'll tell her."
"Lance did that once or twice. For Katie."
"Uh, I'm not sure? What you mean, I mean---"
"You know what I mean, man--" her hand rolling over repeatedly as if to speed up a slow joke --"work it out... like a favor."
"C'mon, you just want to hear me say it, head hold, mad rush, rim-tickle. OK. Blow job. How's that?"
A wash of dismay takes over Mac; he's not reacting the way he thought he would react. He asks her to sit down on the seesaw.
"Look, man, I'm late already. Clint has to take the car back by 8:30."
"Where do you live?" She answers that and other questions without hesitation, as if a requirement. It doesn't really seem she's running late. He's surprised to hear that she's actually fourteen. Her father runs an overhead door company. "Whatever that is," she rejoins. Mac says he knows where the warehouse is, on the interstate access road.
She returns to the matter of Caroline.
"What I meant was--" Mac begins.
"Hey--like I'd be dead if Clint found out, you know, but could I do that too? Like, instead of money?"
She's serious. He can't believe her face. How girls got their faces to look so clean he didn't know.
Mac knows nothing other than to shrug.
"Hey. Great," she says. They arrange the pickup for a place other than the schoolyard--the hook in the levee near the intersection of Cherry and McKinley--and she is leaving across the bare playground.
Fourteen is a number.
The countless times he's played out such an encounter in trying to sleep at night, it never came up like this. The feeling is the same as when he's bought something and promised to pay for it and has to return it when the first installment is due.
Clint's car cranks up across the playground, a nondescript Chevy sedan.
Mac comes to realize there's no one he knows that he would want to tell all this to.