Matt turned around, and there was Bobby Nagel. He wasn't on top of us, but he was within sprinting distance. The cavalry, I thought, or something like that.
“What are you doin’, Nagel?” Stefano growled. “Did you throw that rock at me?”
“Naw, I just threw the rock,” Bobby said evenly. “If I’d have wanted to hit you, I’d have hit you.”
I was more than a little amazed—and more than a little admiring—of the way Bobby stood there, staring down Matt Stefano. Bobby was only an inch taller than me, but he was a scrapper with a fair share of fisticuffs on his adolescent resume. Like Matt Stefano, Bobby came from what was then called “a broken home”. Although Bobby and I were friends, I had met his father perhaps once or twice; and Bobby claimed to see the man only rarely.
“Come on, Matt,” Bobby said. “Let him go. He ain’t bothering you.”
Matt now held me by the collar with one hand. He punctuated his next question by pointing his finger at Bobby.
“Or what, Nagel? Are you going to make me?”
Bobby paused to contemplate this. He was a lot tougher than I was; but he was no match for Matt Stefano.
“A teacher’s headed this way, you know,” Bobby said, dodging the direct challenge.
“Bullshit! You’re bluffing!”
“But what if I’m not, Matt? How many more demerits for you before you get suspended, huh? How many before they throw your ass out of here, and you’re off to Youngman Elementary with the other criminals?”
“You son of a bitch!” Matt yelled. “I’ll kill you!”
The subtext of Bobby’s insult had not gone unnoticed. When he called Matt a criminal, he did not mean the term in its generic sense. Everyone at school knew that Matt Stefano’s father, Tony Stefano, had recently been arrested and charged with burglary in Cincinnati. The elder Stefano was presently doing time at Lebanon Correctional Institute, about fifty miles north of Cincinnati. Bobby’s reference, however oblique it may have been, had touched a raw nerve.
I was sure that Matt was going to charge Bobby, or perhaps take out this new wave of anger on me. Then Mr. Malinowski came into view. Bobby had not been bluffing about the teacher, after all.
I hadn’t seen Mr. Malinowski approach. That wasn't really surprising, though, given that Matt Stefano had me pressed up against the side of the building.
“What’s going on here?” Mr. Malinowski asked. That much was fairly obvious, wasn't it?
“Nothin’!” Matt said, instantly releasing me. Though Matt Stefano was easily the toughest and most feared kid at St. Patrick’s, he wouldn't directly challenge a teacher. That simply wasn't done. A hoodlum like Stefano might get by with thinly veiled sarcasm and the occasional lie; but had he physically confronted a teacher, he would have been out of the school and off to Youngman—or maybe even reform school. Just as Bobby had said.
Serial be continued....
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