The butt pinch happened when I bent over to pick up the quarter I'd dropped on the gym floor. I shot up, looking for the guilty party as a bunch of guys, high on hormones, drifted by. Oh, they were good ... no fist bumps ... no high fives. Nothing but smirks and sneaky, sidelong glances. What else could one expect from a group including Cory Philpott, official school bully and my number one suspect?
Someone had pinched my ass. It wasn't the first time, and I wasn't the only one. And it wasn't a gentle pinch followed up with a tender little pat signaling, Wow! You're hot. Maybe we can hook up later. No, it was nothing like that. It felt like a vicious Chihuahua had latched onto my right bun with razor-sharp teeth.
Yes, it's true. A serial ass pincher roamed the halls and gymnasium of John J. Peacock High School of Peacock Flats, Washington. But, not to worry. I, Alfrieda Carlotta Emerson Purdy, aka Allie, was determined to discover the identity of the perpetrator and make him accountable for his deeds. I had to. I am the fighter of evil, the girl with the star on her palm and the magic moonstone around her neck. And I was in a nasty mood these days, talking tough and snappin at my friends and family. Not like me at all..I was scared, and worried. But hadn't I vanquished two nasty Trimarks single-handed? Well, almost single-handed. Never mind that my supernatural powers were acting up at the moment. With time, I'd sort it out.
It was Halloween night. I straightened, rubbing my offended butt cheek and checking out the crowd at the Halloween party our school hosted each year in an effort to keep roving bands of teenagers off the highways and byways of Peacock Flats. Its purpose was to cut down on egg-coated cars, bottle rockets whizzing into hay fields and sacks of burning dog poop placed on Welcome mats. In that last scenario, the prankster rings the doorbell, hides in the bushes and tries to stifle his/her laughter as the homeowner stomps on the burning paper sack, only to end up with a shoe caked with smelly, brown stuff. Don't ask me how I know this.
"Allie! What's wrong?" Kizzy, the star attraction at our fortune-telling booth, peered at me over the top of the murky crystal ball resting on the table in front of her. Kizzy and I shared a secret. We were bound together by the moonstone she'd given me. She said it was my destiny and, oh yeah, that destiny had almost gotten both of us killed. Even though I'd assured her I was fine, she continued to worry about me, just as I worried about her, even though she'd recovered fully from the beating the Trimarks gave her. Bottom line: we both knew the supernatural wasn't about cloudy crystal balls and party tricks. Right now, despite the comical tilt of her turban and smile, she was in full mother hen mode.
I agonized over my answer. Kizzy was an elderly woman, at least fifty or sixty. I struggled to find the appropriate term to describe what had happened to me just now. What did people from her era call that part of their anatomy? Buttocks? Bottom? Rear?
I needn't have worried.
"Did one of those boys pinch your ass?" Kizzy asked, one corner of her mouth curled down in disgust.
I hid my smile and nodded.
"If there's one thing I hate, it's an ass pincher!" Kizzy declared.
My friend and neighbor, Mercedes Trujillo, giggled in agreement. Mercedes is a huge daytime drama fan and hopeless romantic. Swear to God, she sees love in all the wrong places.
She and I were dressed in long, colorful skirts, white, scoop-necked peasant blouses and lots and lots of beads. Mine, of course, included the above-mentioned moonstone. We were Kizzy's assistants, manning the most popular booth in the gym. Kizzy, also known as the town witch, was the head fortune teller. She's not really a witch. She's the descendant of a Romany gypsy. At least that's what she claimed. Me? Not sure I really believe that. More than once, she'd looked at me and known exactly what I was thinking.
But, tonight, she wasn't really telling fortunes. At least, not truthfully.
Our act went something like this:
Kizzy (staring into the crystal ball and speaking with a cheesy gypsy accent): "Ah, yes. Now I see vhat lies ahead. Something vonderful, I believe."
Her beautifully manicured fingernails would flutter over the crystal ball like pale, pink butterflies before she paused and gazed up at Mercedes and me with sparkling turquoise eyes. "Vhat do you think, my ladies?"
I could always count on Mercedes to clasp her hands over her heart, beam happily and say, "Love. I see love in your future. All your romantic dreams will come true."
That left me as the bearer of bad news. I'm sorry, but most of our teenage clients needed a reality check. I'd say something like, "If you don't study harder, I see a D in geometry." Or ... "You'd better quit screwing around in class or you'll be in trouble with Mr. Hostetler."
Before I could say, "Next!" the kids at our booth suddenly turned as one and stampeded to door leading into the foyer. Curious to discover who had spirited away potential customers, Mercedes and I trailed behind. An unruly mob of guys--the very group I suspected of harboring the ass pincher--were now lined up at a dunking booth which had been placed on the vinyl floor of the foyer. Mr. Hostetler, our principal, sat high above the water. He was dressed in navy blue gym shorts and a Green Bay Packers tee shirt. Originally from Wisconsin, Mr. Hostetler was a huge Packer fan. He had, wisely, removed his glasses and watch. Blinking nervously at the gathering crowd, he managed a weak smile. "Now boys, be nice."
They weren't, of course. They could hardly wait to hand over their money to get even with the guy who stood between them and their atrociously bad behavior. (Atrocious was this week's vocabulary word. I tried to use it as much as possible.) Mr. Hostetler had a lot of enemies, and they were elbowing each other for the opportunity to be the first. They only got to throw the baseball three times. Three must be a lucky number, because the third guy in line was the winner.
Bam! The ball hit the magic spot and down went our principal, a look of sad resignation on his face. As he hit the water, a geyser shot up and a great cheer rang through the foyer. It made me feel a little sad. Poor Mr. Hostetler. Apparently, Mercedes felt the same way.
As we meandered back into the gym, she said, "I really hope this doesn't affect his relationship with Miss Yeager."
"Are you talking about the new school counselor? That Miss Yeager?" I said.
"Yeah." Mercedes shook her head sadly. "Hostetler just got divorced. I've seen the way he looks at her, that counselor woman. He's definitely got the hots for her. Haven't you noticed?"
I waved my hand dismissively as we approached our fortune telling booth. "You're nuts, Mercedes. Mr. Hostetler is nice to everybody."
"No, no," she insisted. "He looks at her exactly like Junior looked at you. Remember, I was the first one to notice Junior liked you. But, did you believe me? No! And, who was right?"
A stocky fake blond, standing at our booth, whirled at the sound of Junior's name. She raked me with a murderous glare. "What about Junior? Don't think I've forgotten you took him away from me, Emerson!"
I'd failed to notice that the person awaiting Kizzy's fictional fortune was Sonja Ortega, one of the toughest girls in Peacock Flats. Not that I recognized her. She was decked out in the blond wig, fishnet stockings and four inch heels, Sonja's version of an appropriate Halloween costume. The hostility in her voice communicated her real meaning. Come on, give me an excuse so I can beat the crap out of you.
"Oh hi, Sonja," I said as Mercedes and I slipped behind Kizzy. "Cool costume," I added. Yeah, I was being a total suck-up, but I liked the shape of my nose and didn't want it flattened. I bumped Mercedes with my hip, hoping she could somehow distract Sonja with her usual rapid-fire dialog.
"Oh yeah, Junior," Mercedes said. "I was just saying ... Sonya, you know how he'd give you that look, and you could tell he was interested? Kinda like this..." With her eyes half-shut in her version of lustful longing, Mercedes leaned toward Sonja and allowed her sleepy brown gaze to wander over Sonja's ample form. "Then he'd wink and say, 'Oooo, girl, you are so hot!'"
A dreamy smile appeared on Sonja's face. She murmured, "Yeah, that Junior Martinez was something else."
Sensing we could use some help, Kizzy jumped in. She examined Sonja's costume and waved a hand over the crystal ball. "Ah, yes, I believe I see you standing in front of an audience. They're on their feet, clapping, calling your name. Tell me, darling, do you sing?"
Apparently, Kizzy was interpreting Sonya's outfit as "rock star" not "hooker."
"Yeah," Sonja said. "And I can bust a move, too."
"That's nice, dear," Kizzy said. She turned to look at Mercedes and me. "Vhat do my lovely assistants see?"
Mercedes quickly said, "Someone far away is thinking of you, Sonya."
Before I could open my mouth to add my bit, Sonja stabbed a long, black fingernail toward my heart and jeered, "Yeah, he's thinking about me, not you, Allie."
Sonja stomped away, her spike heels torturing the wooden gym floor. Kizzy turned to me, a look of consternation furrowing her brow. "Is Junior gone?"
Mercedes and I exchanged a glance. Last May, Kizzy had been attacked and left for dead. She'd mostly recovered from her injuries but her memory faded in and out like an out of range radio station. I hadn't yet told her about Junior.
"He's in Mexico, Kizzy," I replied.
Mercedes, of course, had to embellish it. She stood and rolled her eyes heavenward.
"It was sooo sad," she said. "Allie and I were working at her uncle's fruit stand. Let's see ... we were sorting peaches. Right, Allie?"
"Whatever," I mumbled. I knew there was no stopping her.
"Well, anyway," she continued breathlessly, "Junior drove up, and he looked hot, you know, all that and then some. Allie looked good too, dressed in her Daisy Dukes. Junior said his Tia Rosa's daughter was getting married in Mexico City, and he had to drive his mama there.
"Couldn't she fly?" Kizzy asked. She was caught up in the story.
"Exactly what Allie said. But Junior's mama is afraid of airplanes, so he had to drive her. He promised he'd be back by the end of September but ... guess what?"
I looked into the distance like I didn't give a rip, even though Mercedes' dramatic rendition of my last moments with Junior was painful to relive.
"He's still not back, and it's the end of October," she finished.
"Oh my, what a shame," Kizzy declared.