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Other titles in the Alex Delaware Novels series:
Bones: An Alex Delaware Novelby Jonathan Kellerman
Everyone does it is not a defense!
If everyone did it, that made it normal, right? And after Chance did the research he knew he did nothing wrong.
Googling high school cheating because writing an essay was part of the punishment.
Finding out four out of five high school students—thats eighty frickin percent—did it.
Majority rules. Just like that thing on his Social Action study sheet...social norms.
Social norms are the cement that holds societies together.
There you go, he was being a big help to society!
When he tried to joke about that with the parental units, they didnt laugh.
Same as when he told them it was civil rights, no way could the school force him to do community service outside the school property. That was against the Constitution. Time to call the ACLU.
That got Dads eyes all squinty. Chance turned to Mom but she made sure not to give him any eye contact.
“The ACLU?” Big wet Dad throat clear, like after too many cigars. “Because we make a significant monetary contribution to the ACLU?” Starting to breathe hard. “Every goddamn year. Thats what youre saying?”
Chance didnt answer.
“Cute, extremely cute. Thats your point? Well let me tell you something: You cheated. Period. That is not the kind of thing the ACLU gives half a shit about.”
“Language, Steve—” Mom broke in.
“Dont start, Susan. Weve got a goddamn fucking serious problem here and I seem to be the only one who fucking gets it.”
Mom got all tight- mouthed, started plucking at her nails. Turned her back on both of them and did something with dishes on the kitchen counter.
“Its his problem, Susan, not ours and unless he owns up to it, we can kiss Occidental—or any other halfway decent college—fucking good- bye.”
Chance said, “Ill own up to it, Dad.” Working on what Sarabeth called his Mr. Sincere look.
Laughing as she undid her bra. Everyone buys Mr. Sincere but me, Chancy. I know its Mr. Bogus.
Dad stared at him.
“Hey,” said Chance, “at least give me credit for hand-eye coordination.”
Dad let out a stream of curses and stomped out of the kitchen.
Mom said, “Hell get over it,” but she left, too.
Chance waited to make sure neither of them was coming back before he smiled.
Feeling good because his hand-eye had been cool.
Setting his Razr on vibrate and positioning it perfectly in a side pocket of his loosest cargo pants, the phone resting on a bunch of shit hed stuffed in there to make kind of a little table.
Sarabeth three rows up, texting him the answers to the test. Chance being cool about it, knowing hed never get caught because Shapiro was a nearsighted loser who stayed at his desk and missed everything.
Whod figure Barclay would come in to tell Shapiro something, look clear to the back of the room, and spot Chance peeking into his pocket?
The whole class doing the same exact thing, everyones pockets vibing. Everyone cracking up the moment the test started because Shapiro was such a clueless loser, the whole semester had been like this, the asshole wouldve missed Paris Hilton walking in nude and spreading.
Everyone does it is not a defense!
Rumley looking down his big nose and talking all sad like at a funeral. What Chance wanted to say was, Then it frickin should be, dude.
Instead, he sat in Rumleys office, squeezed between his parents, his head all down, trying to look all sorry and thinking about the shape of Sarabeths ass in her thong while Rumley went on forever about honor and ethics and the history of Windward Prep and how if the school so chose they had the option of informing the Occidental admissions office and causing dire consequences for his college career.
That made Mom burst into tears.
Dad just sat there, looking angry at the world, didnt make a move to even give her a tissue from the box on Rumleys desk so Rumley had to do it, standing up and handing it to Mom and looking pissed at Dad for making him stretch.
Rumley sat back down and moved his mouth some more.
Chance pretended to listen, Mom sniffled, Dad looked ready to hit someone. When Rumley finally finished, Dad started talking about the familys “contributions to Windward,” mentioning Chances performance on the basketball team, bringing up his own time on the football team.
In the end the adults reached an agreement and wore small, satisfied smiles. Chance felt like a puppet but he made sure he looked all serious, being happy would be a ba- ad move.
Punishment 1: Hed have to take another version of the test— Shapiro would make one up.
Punishment 2: No more cell phone at school.
“Maybe this unfortunate event will have positive ramifications, young man,” said Rumley. “Weve been thinking about a schoolwide ban.”
There you go, thought Chance. I did you guys a favor, not only shouldnt you punish me, you should be payin me, like some sort of consulting deal.
So far, so good, for a second Chance thought hed got off real easy. Then:
Punishment 3: The essay. Chance hated to write, usually Sarabeth did his essays, but she couldnt do this one because he had to do it at school, in Rumleys office.
Still, no big deal.
Then came Punishment 4. “Because substantive accountability has to be part of the package, Master Brandt.”
Mom and Dad agreeing. The three of them going all al- Qaida on him.
Chance pretended to agree.
Yes, sir, I need to pay my debt and I will do so with industrious alacrity.
Throwing in some SAT vocab words. Dad staring at him, like who are you kidding, dude, but Mom and Rumley looked really impressed.
Rumley moved his mouth.
Community service. Oh, shit.
And here the frick he was.
Sitting in the Save the Marsh office on night eleven of his thirty- night sentence. Shitty little puke- colored room with pictures of ducks and bugs, whatever, on the wall. One dirty window looking out to a parking lot where no one but him and Duboff parked. Stacks of bumper stickers in the corner he was supposed to hand out to anyone who walked in.
No one walked in and Duboff left him by himself so he could run off to investigate how global warming got up a ducks butt, what made birds hurl, did bugs have big dicks, whatever.
Thirty frickin nights of this, nuking his summer vacation.
Five to ten p.m., instead of hanging after school with Sarabeth and his friends, all because of a social norm four out of five people did.
When the phone did ring, he mostly ignored it. When he did answer, it was always some loser wanting directions to the marsh.
Go on the frickin website or use MapQuest, Rainman!
He wasnt allowed to make outgoing calls but since yesterday hed started to hook up with Sarabeth for cell phone sex. She was loving him even more for not ratting her to Rumley.
He sat there. Drank from his can of Jolt, now warm. Felt the Baggie in his pants pocket and thought Later.
Nineteen more nights of supermax confinement, he was starting to feel like one of those Aryan Brotherhood dudes.
Two and a half more frickin weeks until he was free at last, doing his Luther King thing. He checked his TAG Heuer. Nine twenty- four. Thirty- six minutes and hed be good to go.
The phone rang.
He ignored it.
It kept going, ten times.
He let it die a natural death.
A minute later, it rang again and he figured maybe he should answer it, what if it was Rumley testing him?
Clearing his throat and getting Mr. Sincere ready, he picked up. “Save the Marsh.”
Silence on the other end made him smile.
One of his friends pranking him, probably Ethan. Or Ben or Jared.
“Dude,” he said. “Whats up?”
A weird kind of hissy voice said, “Up?” Weird laughter. “Somethings down. As in buried in your marsh.”
“Shut up and listen.”
Being talked to like that made Chances face go all hot, like when he was ready to sneak a flagrant in on some loser on the opposing team, then get all innocent when the dude wailed about being nut- jammed.
He said, “Fuck off, dude.”
The hissy voice said, “East side of the marsh. Look and youll find it.”
“Like I give a—”
“Dead,” said Hissy. “Something real real dead.” Laughter. “Dude.”
Hanging up before Chance could tell him to shove dead up his...
A voice from the door said, “Hey, man, hows it shaking?”
Chances face was still hot, but he put on Mr. Sincere and looked over.
There in the doorway was Duboff, wearing his Save the Marsh T- shirt, geek shorts showing too much skinny white thigh, plastic sandals, that stupid gray beard.
“Hey, Mr. Duboff,” said Chance.
“Hey, man.” Duboff gave a clenched- fist salute. “Did you have a chance to check out the herons before you got here?”
“Not yet, sir.”
“Theyre incredible animals, man. Magnificent. Wingspread like this.” Unfolding scrawny arms to the max.
Youve obviously mistaken me for someone who gives half a shit.
Duboff came closer, smelling gross, that organic deodorant hed tried to convince Chance to use. “Like pterodactyls, man. Master fishers.”
Chance had thought a heron was a fish until Duboff told him different.
Duboff edged near the desk, showed those gross teeth of his. “Rich folk in Beverly Hills dont like when the herons swoop in during hatching season and eat their rich- folk koi. Koi are aberrations. Mutations, people messing with brown carp, screwing up the DNA to get those colors. Herons are Nature, brilliant predators. They feed their young and restore nature to true balance. Screw those Beverly Hillbillies, huh?”
Maybe it wasnt a big enough smile because Duboff suddenly looked nervous. “You dont live there, do I recall correctly?”
“You live in...”
“Brentwood,” said Duboff, as if trying to figure out what that meant. “Your parents dont keep koi, do they?”
“Nope. We dont even have a dog.”
“Good for you guys,” said Duboff, patting Chances shoulder. “Its all servitude. Pets, I mean. The whole concept is like slavery.”
Keeping his hand on the shoulder. Was the guy a fag?
“Yeah,” said Chance, inching away.
Duboff scratched his knee. Frowned and rubbed a pink bump. “Stopped by the marsh to check for trash. Musta got bit by something.”
“Providing food for the little guys,” said Chance. “Thats a good thing, sir.”
Duboff stared at him, trying to figure out if Chance was messing with his head.
Chance brought out Mr. Sincere and Duboff decided Chance was being righteous and smiled. “Guess youre right...anyway, I just thought Id stop in, see how youre doing before your shift ends.”
“Im fine, sir.”
“Okay, check you out later, man.”
Chance said, “Uh, sir, its kinda close to the end.”
Duboff smiled. “So it is. At ten, you can lock up. Ill be by later.” Walking to the door, he stopped, looked back. “Its a noble thing youre doing, Chance. Whatever the circumstances.”
“Call me Sil.”
“You got it, Sil.”
Duboff said, “Anything I should know about?”
“Like what, sir?”
Chance grinned, flashing perfect white chompers, courtesy five years of Dr. Wasserman.
“Nothing, Sil,” he said, with utter confidence.
From the Hardcover edition.
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