Toxo

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chapter-1

drop-cap-mrs. Bradshaw touched Caleb on the shoulder. He looked up at her through the fringe of brown hair that hung in his face. Mrs. Bradshaw spoke, but Caleb’s sound processor clicked and buzzed. He tapped it, frowning and focusing on her face to try to understand what she was saying. She wore very red lipstick and made a weird fish-face when she was trying to make it easier for him to read her. It didn’t help.

She asked him something. Caleb tapped on his sound processor, trying to make it work properly. The battery shouldn’t have been dying already. His school day was not even over. Mrs. Bradshaw touched Caleb’s hand lightly to make him be still and spoke again. He thought she was talking to him about catching the bus.

“Bus?” Caleb repeated. “Catch the bus after school?”

She nodded, making a motion toward the bus loading zone and repeating her instructions to catch the bus.

Caleb nodded impatiently. He tapped his sound processor again, trying to make sense of the bursts of noise. Mrs. Bradshaw nodded and moved on, walking down the aisle between the desks, toward the back of the room. Caleb put his head back down to puzzle through his math questions.

He heard the buzzing in his ear when the school bell rang, felt it through his fingers on the desk, and saw the other students moving to put away their books and pack up to go. Caleb closed his book, stacked everything up, and headed for the door. Mrs. Bradshaw made a motion to get his attention. He waved his acknowledgment and went to his locker to pack his backpack.

When he got out to the bus loading zone, the crowds of students were already thinning, the earlier buses having already loaded up and left. Caleb looked for his bus, scanning the window placards for bus D. He couldn’t see it in the line. Had it already left without him? He’d taken longer than he’d intended to at his locker, the noise of the students around him buzzing angrily in his head, making it impossible to concentrate on sorting out his books. He’d eventually turned the sound processor off to silence it, but then Jenny C had tapped him on the shoulder and tried to talk to him about the English essay they had been assigned. Caleb had turned it back on, tried to listen to her, turned it off again, and had done his best to read her speech and answer her questions. Eventually, Jenny C had shaken her head, thrown up her hands in disgust, and walked away from him without even saying goodbye.

But Caleb didn’t think the bus would have left without him. Usually, even if he were late, Mrs. Mills still waited. There were not that many kids on his bus, and she knew to wait. Caleb paced up and down the street, looking for bus D, until most of the buses had pulled out.

It was obvious that Bus D wasn’t there. Maybe there was a substitute driver and she didn’t know to stay and wait for Caleb if he took too long like Mrs. Mills did. Caleb headed back to the school to go to the office and tell them that he’d missed the bus, but when he reached the doors, they were all locked.

Caleb bit the side of his hand, trying to decide what to do. His bus wasn’t there and he couldn’t get back into the school. He would have to walk home. It would take longer, but he knew the way. He’d walked that far before. Not by himself, usually. But he knew the way. He would just walk.

He swung his backpack up over both shoulders and snugged the straps so that it was properly balanced on his back. If he’d known he was going to be walking, he would not have taken so many books. The backpack was heavy, weighing on him even after the few minutes he’d been looking for the bus. Mom said sometimes his backpack weighed as much as he did, but that’s because he was skinny.

Caleb started walking down the street.

His brain was whirling with thoughts and worries. Mom would be worried when he didn’t get off the bus. She always said to go back in the school and call her, but he couldn’t. She would be mad.

He snapped his fingers beside his head. Even though he couldn’t hear the sound with his processor turned off, it was still calming. He rubbed his eyebrow with the other hand and shaded his eye from the direct sun. Some of the anxiety eased, but he was still worried. Mom would call Dad. Dad would be mad. They would both want to know where he was and why he’d missed the bus and why he hadn’t called. If he hurried, maybe he wouldn’t be too late. He picked up his pace, but in doing so, tripped over a crack in the sidewalk, and the heavy backpack prevented him from regaining his balance. He fell down, smashing his chin on the pavement and getting the wind knocked out of him by thirty pounds of books landing in the middle of his back.

Caleb groaned. He rolled over and picked himself up slowly, his whole body vibrating with the impact. He swiped at his chin to see if it was bleeding, but his fingers were dry. He readjusted the backpack and started to walk again, his regular pace, not trying to hurry. Caleb knew he was going to take longer getting home, and anxiety flooded through his whole body, making his stomach hurt and his muscles move jerkily like he was a robot that hadn’t been programmed properly.

He snapped his fingers rapidly. He pulled his hood up over his head so that it blocked some of the sun from his eyes. He smoothed his eyebrow. He started to count. He snapped his fingers as fast as he could beside his face.

He covered one block at a time, focused on his goal of getting home. He tried to structure a script in his head to explain to Mom what had happened and why he was late getting home.

Someone grabbed Caleb’s shoulder and he tried to jerk away, startled by the contact. With his hood up and his hands by his face, his peripheral vision was cut off and he hadn’t seen anyone approaching. He tried to jerk away a second time, dropping his left hand to widen his field of vision.

It was a big, blue-uniformed policeman. Caleb knew he could go to a policeman if he needed help. But he didn’t need help. He was just walking home and he knew the way.

“No,” he told the man. “Go home.”

The policeman’s grip on Caleb’s shoulder tightened and he gave Caleb a hard shake. Caleb watched his face and read, “Where are you going?”

“Go home,” he insisted. “Caleb go home.”

He tried to pull away and the officer pushed him hard into a big tree with deep, craggy, rough bark. Caleb was walking on the pathway through the park. That was the way home. That was the way Mom always took him home if they were walking. Caleb stopped snapping his fingers and flapped his hand beside his face.

“Let go!” He struggled to pull away. He didn’t need help. He knew the way home.

Purnell took the tweaker to the ground, tripping himself in the process and landing hard on top of the boy. The boy struggled to get away, shouting incoherently in his cracking adolescent voice.

“Hold still!” Purnell shouted, trying to get control of him. “Give me your hands! Stop fighting!”

But the boy kept thrashing wildly, too far gone to understand a word Purnell was saying. The heavy backpack was in the way, and Purnell fought to jerk it off of him. He had his billy out and smacked the addict several times in the arms and shoulders to subdue him.

“Just hold still. Stay down and quit fighting me! You want to get tased?”

The boy kept shouting. Purnell was aware that they were attracting the attention of the park users. The kid could have friends and Purnell was there alone. He succeeded in getting the backpack off the boy and pinned him down. He fumbled with his radio, calling for backup while the boy bucked and screamed incoherent curses, completely off his head. Purnell grabbed one of the wildly flapping hands and twisted it up behind the boy’s back. He shoved his baton back into his belt and managed to grab the other hand.

Like other tweakers Purnell had dealt with, the boy was surprisingly strong for his slight frame, immune to any pain while high. On amphetamines, a skinny man could fight off several cops with seeming inhuman strength, breaking his own bones in the process without even noticing. Purnell twisted the boy’s second arm hard, hoping that he wouldn’t break anything, but knowing that he had to get the boy under control before he could hurt Purnell and before any of his friends decided to help out. Purnell finally managed to get both hands close enough together to ratchet the handcuffs into place.

The boy howled and bucked, still trying to escape. Purnell did his best to pat down the thrashing junkie and search his pockets for more drugs. He didn’t have anything on him. He must have taken his whole buy at once.

Two more units rolled up and, with the help of the other officers, Purnell managed to get the kid locked up in the back of his car for transport. He wiped his forehead with the back of his hand, sweating in spite of the chilly temperature. Officer Jacobs, in one of the backup units, laughed. “Quite a workout, hey?”

“Stupid tweakers. It doesn’t seem like it matters how many times we tell them to stay out of the park, they just gotta come here to shoot up.”

“This one’s pretty young.” Jacobs peered through the window at the boy, howling and crying in the back seat, trying to tell the whole world his woes. “Probably not shooting yet.”

“Well, whether he’s popping or shooting, he’s high as a kite. Gonna take some time before he comes down.”

I hope you enjoyed this sample of

Toxo

By P.D. Workman

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