Tommy was sitting in the bleachers enjoying what was left of the basketball game when Mr. Ferguson climbed up the seats and sat down beside him. It was unusual for the track coach to do such a thing and Tommy knew it. It couldn’t mean good news.“I got to ask,” the coach started, “did you give out any free tickets tonight?” He was talking about the fact that Tommy had been part of the group that had worked the ticket window collecting ticket receipts for tonight’s varsity basketball game.
Tommy frowned at the older man and answered, “No!”
“Okay then, did you accidentally on purpose put any money in your pockets?” Mr. Ferguson asked.
Again Tommy answered him, “No!” Then he asked, “Why, is money missing?”
“Yes,” responded Mr. Ferguson, “About two-hundred dollars.” With that the coach got up and left the bleachers. He walked out of the stands, never looking back at Tommy. The young man looked over at his girlfriend, Debbie who shook her head sideways.
The following Monday, word had spread throughout Del Norte High that Tommy had stolen money from the sales of the basketball tickets. This made him a sudden target of every athlete in the school. It was a constant barrage of words that soon escalated into a pushing match in Senior Hall.
This was between Tommy and Steve who had confronted Tommy in the locker room just prior to lunchtime. The war of word continued until it grew into an all out argument. Finally the argument became a shoving match in the hallway just as the lunch bell rang.
“You’re a thief,” Steve said.
“Prove it,” replied Tommy, “I wasn’t the only one working the booth and there were two teachers there too.”
Steve stood there for a few seconds. It was obvious to Tommy that he hadn’t thought of that and the revelation that a teacher could be just as guilty as a student was even more provoking. Steve put his fists up as if he were prepared to fight.
“My girlfriend was in that booth last night,” he finally said, “are you saying she’s a thief.”
Tommy smiled, “You should go ask her yourself.”
Suddenly he found himself side stepping a fist. Steve was bigger and he telegraphed his punches. Tommy just pushed him onto the ground and stepped away.
Then he said, “You don’t want to do this, Steve.”
Steve slowly got to his feet. He looked at Tommy and ordered, “Yeah, after school behind the dugout.” With that he walked away, an entire group of kids following behind him.
It was at that moment that Tommy felt very alone. He knew that he couldn’t go to any of the school administrators or teachers. He felt certain that they too must all think he stole the money as well. And he found he didn’t have anyone backing him up in the way of students or friends as they had seemed to have disappeared.
The clock moved slower than ever from lunchtime until school let out. Tommy walked down to the locker room and changed into his gym clothes. “No sense in trashing my regular clothes,” he told himself. Then he walked down to the dugout.
He was surprised to see the number of people milling about, waiting to see if the two contestants would show up and if they did, would they really fight. Tommy was there just seconds ahead of Steve. They met in the middle of a circle formed by the crowd of onlookers.
The two combatants moved slowly around, sizing the other up. Steve had a taste of what Tommy was capable of and did not want to fall victim to another embarrassing event such as the one in the hallway. He waited for Tommy to stop and then he would strike.
Tommy halted intending to pivot. He discovered that he had miscalculated Steve’s reach, when he found himself sprawled on the ground with a blood nose. He scrambled to get to his feet but his head was hazy and he found his body heavy. Steve was on him, kicking and stomping him without mercy.
Tommy rolled away from him as far as the crowd would allow him. He was able to get to his feet, but just barely as Steve rushed him with both fists. They slammed into his head and face with brutal force nearly knocking him off his feet again.
These blows though were not half as bad as the first one, which laid him flat on his back and cause his nose to bleed. He had regained his composure amid the hail of punches enough to start blocking and then counter-punching. His first shot surprised Steve so much that the senior had to back up 3 or 4 steps from the freshman.
Tommy moved forward and sideways, throwing punches at the older kid’s body. They landed solidly and they were causing pain as Steve let out gasps for air each time he was struck. Then without warning Tommy decided it was time to use his secret weapon.
He spun around from his right to his left, unleashing a back-fist punch that struck Steve on the side of his head so hard that even the crowd heard his jaw snap shut. Tommy continued to attack the stunned fighter. He struck with a swift kick to the other side of Steve’s head.
This blow sent him crashing to the ground. Tommy jumped on him and struck the older boy in the face with both fists several times until his eyes were swollen, his nose bled and his lips were cut open. Only then did Tommy stop beating on him.
Steve lay on the ground unmoving as Tommy rose up and backed away. The crowd that had gathered around to see the fight had become quiet. Tommy remained still, waiting for Steve to move and get up.
It was only a few seconds, but Steve did sit up. He looked around and then at Tommy. Tommy had his fists raised. “Do you want more?” he asked.
Steve mumbled through his swelled up lips, “No.”
“Good.” Tommy turned and started to walk back towards the school. He paused and added, “And by the way Steve, I didn’t steal anything!” He said it loud enough so everyone could hear him.
The following day of school as Tommy was walking down the hallway, Steve stepped in front of him. He had a large group of kids with him and Tommy figured there was a good chance that he was about to get jumped. Instead Steve handed him two one-hundred dollar bills. “It was my girlfriend,” he said.
Tommy handed them back. “I don’t want them,” he said, “take them to the office.” With that Tommy continued walking down the hallway, turning into the library. It was the last he ever wanted to hear about the money and he never volunteered to work the ticket booth again.