An Overheard Conversation

by Ivor Slipper

Chapter 10

During the following week Wayne told me that he had spoken to the janitor. On his first approach the man had simply told him that he would have to consider what Wayne wanted him to do and suggested they speak again in a couple of days time. When Wayne saw him again he had still been reluctant to take the camera, pointing out that it was theft and if he was caught not only would he lose his job, but also go to prison. Wayne had then told him he'd asked him to get the camera because it was being used to film boys being paddled. It was hoped that there might be film in the camera to prove that. He'd also pointed out because of what was on the camera Mr Jackson would be unable to report it had been taken. The janitor had become very angry when Wayne had told him what was on the film and agreed to try and take it on the night of the game. He'd also told Wayne that he'd never noticed it on the shelf, so he wasn't sure if Mr Jackson left it there or took it home with him.

However, we thought the night of the big football game was our best chance of the camera being left there. Whether or not it had any film of anyone being paddled we'd not know until we could see it. We knew that only if there was actual film would we have any proof. Without that there would be nothing to stop Jackson buying another camera and carrying on as before, although I did think he would probably be scared by what had happened and not take that risk.

We told Jerry and Willy what was going to happen. We agreed that it would be a good idea for all of us to attend the game together. We couldn't see any real reason why suspicion would fall on us. My father had raised a complaint about my paddling, but that had been all. Even so we decided it was a sensible precaution.

My parents drove us down in the evening and then left us to find our friends while they took a seat in the bleachers. It had been an unusually cold day as a result of which we were both wrapped up warm. Indeed both Wayne and I had worn jeans to school as had a lot of the other kids who normally just wore shorts.

Willy was waiting for us, but Jerry wasn't there. We'd got to the point where we were wondering if the was going to come when I saw him coming towards us, but he didn't seem to be walking properly.

"What's wrong with you? Can't you walk properly?" Willy asked as he came up to us.

"Not really. It still hurts quite a bit."

"What does? What did you do, trip over?" I asked.

"No," he said with a look that was a cross between a smile and a grimace, "I got paddled this afternoon."

There were exclamations of surprise and concern from the three of us. I was amazed as Jerry was one kid who I was sure was never going to have his butt busted.

"What did you do for that to happen?"

He sighed, "It's a bit complicated. Guess I'd better start before what I actually did to get sent to Jackson."

"Go on then, we're all listening," Willy said. "Hope it wasn't just to get even with me because of what I said the other week."

Jerry managed a little grin in response.

"Nope, not that. It was because for the last few days I'd been thinking there wasn't much point in taking Jackson's camera, unless it had something on film."

I had a feeling I knew what was coming, but I couldn't really believe Jerry of all kids would have the balls to do it.

"So I was trying to pluck up the guts to do something that would get me paddled today, but at the same time I was too scared to do anything."

"Jerry, getting paddled isn't something you go looking for, unless you're a crazy breed like me," Wayne said putting an arm round his shoulder.

Jerry gave out a little laugh. "You're not kidding. I almost certainly wouldn't have done it but wearing jeans today instead of shorts made me think it wouldn't hurt too much."

The three of us gave snorts of derision.

"Yeah, my bad, as I was to find out," Jerry continued. "Anyway, in calculus this afternoon Miss Timpson said something that was evidently wrong and I shouted out 'that's wrong you stupid old bitch'. She looked shocked at first and then asked me if I'd really said what she thought she'd heard, so I repeated it to gasps from her and the class. She called me out to the front and wrote me a note to take to Mr Jackson. She did say she couldn't understand what had possessed me, but she couldn't overlook such language."

"Boy, you were really digging your own grave," I said.

"So, you got paddled, but that still doesn't mean there's anything on film," Wayne commented.

"That's where you're wrong. I knocked on his door and he said to come in. He had some papers on his desk, looked up, saw me and asked why I was there. I handed him the note which he read and then he asked me to go and wait outside in the corridor while he finished dealing with his paperwork."

"So that's when you think he switched the camera on?" I asked.

"I'm sure of it because when he called me to come in I could hear that radio you mentioned and I'm sure it wasn't on when I'd gone in before. And think about it, the swim team's vice captain's little nerd brother getting his first paddling – that has to be captured on film. It'd be a major hit with the audience."

"Yeah, same thing happened with me," said Willy, "but I'd not thought of it until you mentioned it Jerry."

"Yep and he made us wait out in the corridor while he dealt with Derrin," I said.

"Perhaps he's got Derrin's paddling on film too," said Wayne.

"I doubt if that was part of their arrangements," I replied with a laugh.

"How many licks did you get and how's the butt now? Gonna be able to sit on the bleachers?" Willy asked.

"Three, hurting like hell and guess I'll have to, in that order," replied Jerry with a little laugh. "You were right about the final one though and I was really crying after that."

"Don't feel bad about that, Jerry. So was I," I told him.

We went to the concession stand and got ourselves sodas and hot dogs before taking our seats for the game. Red River High won which pleased all of us, although we couldn't show it.

I wasn't at my best at school the following day. Good enough to avoid getting into any trouble though. The jocks table at lunch was very subdued and I noticed everyone was trying to stay well away from them in case they were looking for someone to take their anger out on. Losing to the local rivals evidently hurt, but I was sure not as much as my butt did after that paddling!

After school finished Wayne told me as we were collecting our bikes, that he was going to ride over to see the janitor. I thought of saying I'd come with him, but decided it was best if this was simply between him and the janitor who might be concerned if another person turned up with Wayne. Instead I rode home on my own. Mom was surprised to see just me as it was one of the nights when Wayne normally stayed, but I told her he'd had to go to his apartment to collect something. Well, that was almost the truth I told myself. She asked if I wanted my snack now, but I told her I'd wait until Wayne arrived. We talked for a couple of minutes before I went up and changed.

Wayne arrived about a quarter of an hour later. I dashed downstairs as soon as I heard him which was a bit stupid really because we couldn't talk about it in front of mom. He did though give me a big smile which made me think he'd been successful. That he confirmed after we had our snack and gone upstairs. I locked the door and he pulled the camera from out of his backpack. It was indeed quite small and I could see that it would easily fit on one of Jackson's shelves without being seen. I picked it up gingerly, handling it as if it was a hot potato.

"Did he have any problems getting it?" I asked.

"No – he said it was where I'd told him to look. He'll only know tonight though when he goes to work if Jackson has reported it missing."

"Still don't see how he can, especially if there are pictures on it."

"And we won't know that until we see it."

"Yes, and that means I have to tell my father of our suspicions and what we've done," I said sounding worried at the prospect.

I picked it up again and examined it more closely. "Wayne, I think we might be in luck."

"How come?"

"From pictures of cameras I've seen when he's been looking at them I think this is probably a video camera rather than a movie one."

"What difference does that make?"

"If it's a video camera it will have a cassette in it and I think it should be possible to view that on a TV. But if it's a movie camera it would have film which would need to be developed."

"And how we would get that done round here?" Wayne said completing my thoughts for me."

"Best keep our fingers crossed."

"Not right now though," said Wayne with a sly grin. We'd been sitting next to each other on the bed. Wayne put an arm round my shoulder and pulled me into a hug before kissing me. Soon we both had our shirts off so the kissing could get more serious, but neither of us felt like taking things further.

"Ethan, he might start off being a bit annoyed at what we've done, but once we tell him why..."

"I just hope there are pictures, although I'd hate seeing Jerry getting licks. He's proved to be a really good friend."

"Yeah, that would suck. I couldn't believe he'd done that."

"Nor me. Wish I'd been there to see it," Wayne gave me a puzzled look. "No, doofus. Not the paddling – when he called Miss Timpson a stupid old bitch."

Wayne laughed. "I don't know her. Don't do calculus."

"She is pretty ancient and she can be bitchy with some of the things she says when you make a stupid error."

We both had some homework to do, so decided to try and get that finished before dinner. I guessed neither of us would be in the mood to do it afterwards. Wayne had an essay to write and also a piece of prose to précis. He'd never done that before so I was able to demonstrate what was involved and help him with his own effort. One thing I had noticed in the time we'd been together was an improvement in his spelling and I'd seen that if he wasn't sure how to spell a word he'd either ask me or look it up in the dictionary. His handwriting was quite bad, but I had no real idea what could be done about that. Perhaps I'd ask my dad and see if he had any suggestions.

Rather like the rest of the day, dinner seemed to last for ever, even though it was only chilli with some ice cream to follow. When everyone had finished and Wayne and I had cleared the table I said that I was calling a family meeting. Both my parents looked surprised on hearing that, but we all got some drinks, moved in there and found ourselves a seat. Wayne and I were together on the settee, holding hands.

Once everyone was comfortable, my father looked at me and said, "Over to you, Ethan."

I took a deep breath before saying, "I'm in possession of stolen property."

I heard my mother gasp and out of the corner of my eye saw her put a hand to her mouth.

"I'm sure there is an explanation for that, Ethan," my father said with a half smile. "Hopefully it will be a good one."

"I think it is," I replied before proceeding to tell him initially of our suspicions that our paddlings had been engineered. How because of what Jerry had told us we'd been able to avoid the swim team initiation, but then Mathers running into me in the corridor and Mr Reynolds just happening to be on hand to witness it, seemed more than just coincidence.

"But you've never mentioned this?" my father asked when I'd got that far.

"No, Wayne and I talked about it, but we couldn't prove anything. Then, something else happened. Jerry overheard a phone call to his brother, who is the swim team vice captain, during which he was invited to a film show at Mr Jackson's house on a Saturday night with the other guests being Mathers, the football team vice captain and Mr Reynolds."

"Strangely interesting guest list," my father commented.

"Yes, particularly so as he then heard the film was going to be of our paddlings."

"What!" my dad exclaimed, looking thunderstruck. "But why didn't you tell us when you were told that?"

"Dad, we did think about it and discuss it Wayne and I, but we had no proof. To say anything would land Jerry in the sh1t."

"I'll forgive you the use of that expression. I can sort of see your problem there. But we still haven't got to why you are in possession of stolen property...unless you are going to tell me you have either the film or the camera."

"We have the camera, but we don't know for sure what is on it. Wayne and I worked out where it had to be situated in his office as Jerry had said butt shots were mentioned. We were still stuck about how to get it, but had the idea Jackson would be going to the big football game that evening and might just leave the camera in his office."

"So you broke in and took it?"

"No, Dad. I said I was in possession, but I'm not going to tell you how it came to me or who took it."

"Alright, I can go along with that for the time being."

"We think there should be film of a paddling that happened today."

"How come?"

"Jerry contrived to earn himself one. I think he wanted to try and ensure there was some real evidence on film. From what he told us about how Jackson sent him back out into the corridor for a couple of minutes before doing it, it does seem likely he was using that time to set up the camera."

"I guess we'd better see if this is a movie or video camera," my father said. "I presume you have it upstairs."

"I do, but can you make it work?"

"If it's a video camera that's easy. I can just plug it into the TV and it will play on screen the same as a shop bought video does, but if it's a movie type it will have film which would need to be developed."

I went up and fetched it, handed it to him. He took one look, said we were in luck and did the necessary. Immediately it started to play both Wayne and I knew we were seeing Jackson's office. After a short while a boy came into shot and we could hear Jackson telling him what he had to do to prepare himself. The boy half turned to the camera and we recognised Jerry before he moved forward to bend across the desk.

"Shit," said Wayne, half under his breath, "we've got pay dirt."

"I don't think I can watch this," Mom said, getting up to leave the room, "it'll be too much like watching Ethan being paddled."

I wasn't at all sure I wanted to watch, especially as it was Jerry, but somehow I forced myself to watch. My grip on Wayne's hand tightened as Jackson, paddle in hand, moved into position to the side of Jerry.

Once the first lick had landed, Dad stopped the playback. "I don't think we need to see any more of this, do we boys? What we, and I do mean 'we' rather than I, have to decide is what we do with this."

"What do you mean, Dad? Aren't you going to take it to the Principal and demand to see the School Board?"

"That's one possibility, or we could go legal. I'm sure there are several laws being broken here, plus what happened to you two. Do you have any views Wayne? You've been victimised more than most."

I felt him stiffen. I guessed he was surprised at being asked for his views. It took him a minute to gather his thoughts.

"Err, Mr Berenson, I'm not sure what to say. I guess laws have been broken but round here people like me don't get much protection from the law. Not saying keep me out of this, but you've got more chance if anything you do is about Ethan and maybe Jerry."

My father thought on that himself before he said anything. "You make a valid point Wayne, even if it shouldn't be how things are. I do have to wonder what sort of response I'd get from an attorney if I took this film to one here. Since we've been here I've learned that things I took for granted in California don't seem to apply in Texas, or at least this part of it."

"Dad, do we tell the others what's on the film?"

"How many 'others 'are there, Ethan?"

"Just Jerry and Willy. We've kept all our suspicions and everything else just between us."

"Hmm... well, I'm sure Jerry will want to know seeing he sacrificed his butt in the hope of it being filmed, and if you tell him you can't not tell Willy. Also, if it get to the point of me showing this to anyone, he'll need to give his permission."

There was silence for a few minutes while we all sat with our thoughts. It was broken when mom came back into the room with some refreshments.

"I heard it had all gone quiet, so thought it was safe to come back. Have you decided what you are going to do, Henry?"

Dad proceeded to tell her our thoughts and she agreed it seemed to be the best course of action. He then disconnected the camera from the TV and said he was going to put it in the safe, adding that he would also investigate if it was possible to make a copy. Both of those surprised and somewhat worried me.

"Why do want to get a copy, Dad?"

"Don't worry Ethan, I'm not going to sell it," he replied laughing. I knew he was trying to lighten the mood. "From what I've read these things can be somewhat unreliable. The tape can get jammed or sometimes break. I simply think it'd be wise to have a copy just in case that happened."

After a while Wayne and I went up to bed. Tonight we just needed to hug and cuddle each other. Dad had asked me when we were at the prison if I loved Wayne. I didn't answer him then, but I was growing more and more certain with each day that passed that I wouldn't want to live without him.

No doubt there would be another family meeting the following night I thought as I lay there spooned to him with his strong arm across my chest. For now I felt both happy and safe. I was wondering what tomorrow might bring when I must have dropped off to sleep.

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