Friday, February 25, 2011

Ted Stories: Patterns (Part 3 of 5)

© 2011 by Henry Melton

From his early morning lookout from the second-story window in the library, he watched a red pickup pull into the circle and drop Martha.  The driver's face was hard to make out, but he looked roughly the same hair and skin color as Martha.  It could be Edgar, but it wasn't a positive ID.
Isis was also dropped off by parents.  She was in another yellow outfit and Bob walked up to greet her before she was half-way to the steps.  They chatted animatedly as they dropped out of his view.
"Hello, Ted."
He didn't look back.  "Hello, Ms. Calvin."
"I had heard that you spent the morning before first period up here in the library.  It's pretty quiet this time of day."
"Yes."  He normally would have ignored her.  Silence put up many effective barriers, but with the Martha issue, he had to be careful to keep his options open.
"I just wanted you to know that I'm holding the advance placement tests in a couple of weeks.  It would be possible for someone with your abilities to get college credit without having to take the normal classes.  Even a freshman could jump ahead to more challenging material. Would you be interested in something like that?"
This was all old news.  He'd researched it all years ago. He turned to watch her face.
"Sometimes," he said, "other things take priority."
She nodded, puzzled and then frowned.  "Are you talking about your things, or someone else's?"
"Ignore me for a month."
She hesitated.  "If you're sure, I can do that."
He nodded.  Giving her a fixed time span gave her conscience a way out.  And in a month, he'd have to have a plan to deal with her.
She turned and left.  He looked back out the window.  There were still several people on his list he needed to see.
The phrase he dreaded flickered past in the hallway.  Two girls were whispering, heads together near their lockers.  " post notes..."  He kept walking, but emptied his pocket of string and poster putty before he reached the next class.  He knew he'd left a pattern others could detect, if they compared notes.  The blue note pad joined a collection of others on a teacher's desk.
It would have been useful to use the blue notes to converse with Martha, but he wasn't ready to be identified.  His little notes had affected the lives of half a dozen girls and a couple of guys.  It was bad enough that two of them were comparing stories.  If it got around, and he had to deal with more people watching for someone leaving notes at lockers, the side effects were unknowable.  Let the blue note mystery stay contained, and not connected to him.
Computer class was a minefield, where teachers expected students to get off the lesson plan and hack the system.  That's why the computers were all on a special firewalled network, where 99 percent of the Internet was off limits.  But he had made sure that the rules had exceptions.  The classroom computers had addresses ending in .2 through .63, all given out by a server.  Since teachers also had to use the network, they were assigned addresses ending in .64 through .127, with the firewall restricting the lower numbers but not the upper range.  One early morning, a few months back, he'd gotten on the librarian's computer and accessed the server that handed out the student computer's addresses and added an exception that allowed a computer to reassign its address to the higher range if it made multiple requests in short order. By clicking the Renew DHCP Lease button at a certain pace, the address would flip up into the unrestricted range.  This gave him full access to the Internet, but it also made the school administration computers visible.
His requests were quick and to the point.  Martha's requests to skip gym class were signed by her mother, but no one had followed up on the phone.  It was possible the names were forgeries.  The requests were for a week each, and had occurred three times, the most recent being yesterday.  Just time to heal, but not enough to cause raise too many flags.
There was also a parent/teacher conference note that listed Edgar and Sue Lister in attendance from five months ago.  It was Edgar.  While the abusive parent could be the mother, the statistics and the stolen red pickup pointed at Edgar.
Using the student chat system, he queued up a message for Martha:
Login to as ANNAJ with password HoneyBee9$ and leave honest reviews on the last three books you checked out at the school library.  I have to know what you think.
Using a Gmail account he had established months back, he left an email to Sarah Miller:
Hi Sarah,
It's me again.  I just had an idea.  Wouldn't it be great to look around you and discover someone dark, vulnerable, and in need of simple friendship.  You could invite them for a sleepover, and just give them an evening of safety and welcome openness.
Sarah was a nice person.  It was her defining personality trait--wanting to help people.  Z was a fictitious, like-minded person that she'd only met online.  As a result, since he couldn't reach out and be warm and fuzzy when his projects demanded that, Sarah had become his proxy.  He had to be careful that he didn't drain the goodness out of her, since there was always the risk that a hand of friendship would be slapped away.  Long term, he wanted to hook her up with someone like Bill Monty.  Good people should find each other.  Unfortunately, Bill was two grades older than she was, and he suspected that would be a problem.
He had a cell phone, supposedly for the sole purpose of calling his father if there was an emergency, but it had a limited web browser.  It was just enough to allow him to check for new reviews by AnnaJ.  Anna was also fictitious, the name deliberately chosen to avoid any accidental association with another student at school. He had checked the library records, and Martha had three books checked out recently. For privacy reasons, the titles weren't logged, but the dates were, and check-in dates of books were also recorded to keep track of which were popular and might need replacing. A couple of loose matches gave him titles.  A quick look at the shelves showed stories of girls in stressful home situations. 
It was a perfect opportunity for Martha to speak out, wearing AnnaJ's mask, if she took it.
Gym class was between sport seasons, and so Coach Gleason was random about his activities.  Organized days were better for Ted.  He could do exactly what was expected of a weakling freshman with no sports skills and get by.  Random games outdoors just get some fresh air were more dangerous.
"Hey Ted!"  It was Hank Waer, from the Junior class.  He was twice his size, and he knew it.  Ted ignored him.  Play autistic.  It worked more often than not.
"Come on.  Let's see you run."  
Coach was off on the other side of the field, talking to his more promising athletes.  Maybe he'd come to the rescue, but that wasn't the way to bet.  Hank and his buddies circled around Ted, now that he'd been cut out of the herd.  He avoided eye contact and stared at a spot on the ground about ten feet ahead of him. 
"Ted?  You hear me?"   They were in street clothes.  Coach hadn't thought anyone would likely get sweaty today.  Hank snagged his collar and lifted him off his feet.
"Hey, you don't weigh a thing do you?"  There were laughs from others in the class.  It was all good natured fun.  He grabbed him by the ankle and dangled him upside down.  "Nothing to say?"  He didn't.
"Psst.  Hank."  There was a warning that Coach was looking their way.  Hank lowered him enough so he could put out his hands and cushion the drop, but not before loose change and his cell phone fell out of his pockets. 
Crunch.  "Oops."  Hank had put his mass to use before walking away.  As Ted ignored him still, concentrating on picking up everything that had fallen out of his pockets.  The cell phone had a smashed screen and the buttons were misaligned.  It was useless. 
There was nothing to be done about it.  Fighting would be counterproductive.  He had no reputation to defend and passive prey were no fun.  Complaints to a Coach weren't likely to be well received either.  Tugging at a few invisible threads and making Hank suffer might feel good, but what was the point?  He had played his autistic card, and it worked with no permanent damage.
Unfortunately, the phone was dead, and getting computer access to check on Martha would be difficult.
There were no after effects of the Hank incident.  No one commented on it, nor tried to followup on it.  It was like it had never happened.  They were in different classes and had no interaction other than mixed grade gym classes like that one.
Lunch showed Martha and Sarah sitting together.  Sarah always talked with her hands gesturing wildly, which made it easier to decode the conversation from across the room.  Sarah was inviting her, and making her case about how much fun it would be.  Martha kept her eyes on her food and shrugged a lot.  She said little, but there was no outright rejection.  He would just have to see how it played out.  At least Sarah had made overtures of friendship, and that could be useful in the future.
In the hallway, he passed Bob and Isis chatting with his friends.  
"...she was just standing there like a golden trophy herself.  I'd be an idiot not to ..." 
So it had worked out like he'd planned.  The clock was ticking.  He'd given Isis her heart's desire, but what she did with him was going to be up to her.  He would monitor it from a distance.  People were too complex for him to make more than a few little adjustments.  Real changes came from within, as a result of trauma or self-realization.  Staging something like that was beyond his capabilities.  Which is why punishing people like Hank would be a futile exercise.
Ted walked off the school campus as soon as he could.  Home was an hour and a half walk, but he needed a new phone.
Across the highway from the Best Buy was a gas station and convenience store.  He walked in and looked around, checking out the people as well as the racks behind the cash register.  After a few minutes he walked up to a man who was standing on the curb, scratching off the numbers on his lottery ticket.
"Pardon me, sir.  But if you could buy one of those tickets, I'll share the winnings with you."  He held out a two dollars. He was clearly under age to make the purchase on his own.
He frowned down at the little kid, but he had little to lose.  "Get the bingo ticket and let me scratch off the numbers."
A minute later the man was back.  Ted stared at the numbers, just to make sure it was the same one he had examined a few moments before.  Using the frequency of the exposed numbers on the 'bingo' cards, he chose the concealed numbers to scratch off, and the card proved to be a $20 dollar winner.
"You're a lucky little guy."
"Not luck.  I can do it again."
"For real?"
He nodded.
They went in together and bought five more cards.  Ted looked them over.  "This one is trash.  But this one..."  He revealed it to be another $20 dollar winner.  As were two more.  With two duds and three winners, the man pocketed his  $30 cut and was ready to try another round.
"The clerk is looking at us funny.  Let's go across to the Shell station."  The man knew a hot streak when he was on it, and was happy to let the little kid call the shots, as long as they were still winning.
After his adult purchaser was trained to watch for Ted’s signal--choosing only winning tickets, letting other people get in line ahead of them when a dud was showing in the display, they quickly made more progress.  When Ted had enough, he took his share of the winnings and said, "Thank you.  I have to meet my dad now."
"We're done?"
Ted nodded. 
The man counted his gains.  "Come by any time.  We can do business again.  I'm here every day."
With the cash, Ted played on the Best Buy lady's sympathies, pleading that it was a present for his mother, and let her use her own driver's license number to fill in the form.  "Your mom will have to buy top-up cards on her own, you understand?"  He nodded.  The starter card he'd purchased ought to last him a couple of months of careful use.
Now, for the first time, he had an untraceable cell phone with a thousand texts available to use.  He hid it carefully in his backpack and started on the hike home.
Martha's book reviews, as AnnaJ, were revealing.  She was scathing in her review of the characters in the first book, kinder in her assessment of the second, and ridiculed the last.  Making the translation, it was plain that she was on the road to hating her father, but her mother was emotionally dependent on him and if he left her again, her mother would have a hard time recovering.  Probably the mother was unaware of the beatings.  Considering the way AnnaJ talked about one of the book characters, Martha's abuse was likely bruises only, and not sexual.
Well, then, it was up to Sarah.
When Ted's father walked in the door and saw the smashed phone by the door where he set his keys every day, he was lectured about how expensive phones were.  His defense that another student had stepped on it made little difference.
"I just can't afford a replacement right now.  Now go do your homework."
Sarah had emailed Z about her attempt to invite "this cute little goth girl who can't smile to save her life" to her house.  She was optimistic about her chances.
Z emailed back her encouragement. 
A little research while his father went out to the grocery store produced a cell phone number for Martha Lister.  Confirming his own cell number was suitably anonymous, he sent her a text:
M. Accept the overnight.  It will be good for you.
There was an immediate response.
Who are U?
He considered possible responses.  Finally settling for:
I'm here if you need help.
She didn't reply to that. 

No comments:

Post a Comment