Before the Shooting: five portraits

For three decades Paul Lewellan taught creative writing and debate at Bettendorf High School.  For the last twelve years he has taught communication studies at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. His latest novel, Twenty-one Humiliating Demands, chronicles an aging assassin who retires to teach Atrocity Studies as small Mid-Western college.

Before the Shooting: five portraits

Trio of High School Seniors Kill 27
Associated Press Release
Dateline Mount Union, Iowa
In a startling series of events on the anniversary of
Columbine, three high school students took Nixon
High School by siege and held it hostage for several
hours before finally turning the guns on themselves.

#1.  Bob Bader

It had been a long weekend for Vice Principal Bob Baader.  Friday after school he’d worked the track meet until dark, and then gone out for beers with some of the younger coaches.  After the bars closed, Shameka Junker, the women’s tennis coach, gave him a lift back to his apartment and spent the night.  That was a mistake.

Saturday morning he showered and slipped out without waking Shemeka.  He took a cab to Hidden Hills Country Club for his 7 a.m. tee time.  He played 9 holes of golf with two River Forge School Board members, and Delwood “Woody” Norton, the President-Elect of the Band Boosters Club.  Woody had won the Booster Club election by promising new uniforms for the 2016 school year.  To that end Woody paid for the round of golf and brought a cooler of Bud Light and Subway breakfast sandwiches.  After golf, Woody took Bob to get his car from the Rock Island Brewing Company parking lot.
By the time Bob got back to the apartment for a quick shower and a nap, Shemeka was gone. She left a note. Maybe supper Sunday night?  Call me. 355-3146.

Bob grabbed a pack of breath mints, swung by the school gym as the Student Council put the finishing touches on the prom decoration, and still caught the last three numbers of the Swing Choir’s Salute to Broadway Musicals at the Edison Village Assisted Living Complex.

He ate a half-rack of ribs, a pile of fries, and a Diet Coke at Jim’s Rib Haven before chaperoning the Senior Prom. He didn’t call Shemeka.

Bob manned the main doors with a hand held metal detector. He was the administration’s version of the bad cop, a role he was quite comfortable with.  The tight security at the dance did little to calm the tension between the Jocks and the Tie Guys, or the A-Listers and the Dirties.  Actually, the metal detector and two River Forge police officers were more to set the teachers and parents at ease.

After the dance Bob handled an assault compliant about a jealous ex-boyfriend bullying his ex-girlfriend’s Prom date. He stopped by A.P.E.—the After Prom Event at South Park Mall—and helped the Guidance counselors serve the sunrise pancake breakfast.  He made it to church in time to sit with his kids and ex-wife, but fell asleep during the sermon.
Bob Junior asked him to drive him to his Sunday afternoon soccer game.  Evelyn agreed, but made him promise to have him back in time for supper.  Later when ex-wife invited him to join the family for supper, she made it clear that there was no alcohol in the house, and that he would not be spending the night.

Bob told her he was six months sober, but she knew he was lying.  Evelyn told him she had no interest in reconciling.  He believed her.  Bob Junior made Bob promise to take him fishing in July in Canada.  The girls were vey quiet.  They knew it was their fault that Daddy had left.

When Bob got back to his apartment, he realized he’d forgotten to call Shemeka.  She’d left four messages on the answering machine, each more insulting than the last. Bob was in bed by 8:30.  He took two Tylenol PM and chased them down with a Bitter Woman IPA.

When the phone rang at 3:12 a.m. he almost didn’t pick it up, but the caller I.D. said it was his administrative assistant, Melissa Daniels.

“I hate to disturb you, Mr. Baader,” Melissa said, “but something has come up.”  Baader shook off the fatigue and the drugs.  He couldn’t imagine why this couldn’t wait.  “I was checking the messages on the switchboard voice mail….”
Baader looked at the clock again.  “Melissa, it’s three in the morning….”

“My daughter still isn’t sleeping through the night.  I was giving her a bottle and I had a minute.  I called in to the machine and checked the messages.”  She lowered her voice.  “Bob,” she said, “someone’s threatening to shoot people at the school.  The caller said everyone should stay away today, out of respect for Kleibold and Harris.  Apparently Monday is the anniversary of Columbine.”

“Of course it is,” Bob said, pulling himself out of bed.

“I could….”

“No, Melissa,” he said, “you take care of that baby of yours, I’ll handle the bad guys.”  After he hung up the phone he looked at the clock.  It was 3:18.  He decided to call the police before he showered.  He’d make the other calls once he got to school and checked the messages himself.  He looked at the table by the side of the bed.  There was a half-empty bottle of beer and two day-old chocolate frosted doughnuts.  He finished the beer and doughnuts after he called the police station.  Breakfast in bed, he told himself as he headed for the shower, just like the old days.


#2.  Ryan Turik

Ryan hadn’t slept. He wanted to recheck the weapons, but they were already at school—hidden—waiting.  He had wanted to go in with guns blazing, but Deanna and the others convinced him they would have a bigger body count if they were more intentional.  Body count was important to Ryan.

He’d written notes to his mother, his little sister Laurie, and his Uncle Peter.  They won’t understand.  He’d put the letters in the bottom of his sock drawer where they would be found after it was all over.  He’d also blogged an entry on his computer.  He hoped Laurie would find it before the police and post it.  Maybe it would be reprinted in The Times.

He cleaned his room, his parting gift to his mother.  He’d arranged his books neatly on the shelves next to his bed:  Harlan Ellison’s Love Ain’t Nothing But Sex Misspelled; C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters; Jose Saramago’s Blindness; Uncle Fester’s Home Workshop Explosives; the Defense Department’s Improvised Munitions Handbook; and The Turner Diaries.  His book collection disturbed his mother.  She was more comfortable with the porn collection hidden under his bed.  “That’s at least normal for a boy your age.”  

Ryan pulled out his scrapbook.  This, too, bothered his mother.  There were the photos with his friends from their paintball competitions.  She didn’t mind those.  But there were also photos from the shooting range with their neighbor, Mr. Story.

Ryan had clippings from Columbine, of course, Sandy Hook, and Virginia Tech, but he’d also done his research.  He had clippings about Robert Steinhaeuser, a nineteen-year-old student in Erfurt, Germany, who’d killed a policewoman, a school secretary, twelve teachers, and two other students using a 9 mm Glock and a 20-gauge shotgun.  And clippings from Santee, California, where fifteen-year-old Charles “Andy” Williams got tired of being bullied and killed two and wounded thirteen others with his father’s .22 caliber Arminus revolver.

Ryan knew about them all:  Jason Hoffman, Seth Trickney, T. J. Solomon, Shawn Cooper, Kip Kinkel, Andrew Jerome Wurst, Andrew Golden (only eleven), Mitch Johnson, Micheal Carneal, Luke Woodham, Evan Ramsey, Jamie Rouse, Toby Sincino, Scott Pennington, Wayne Lo, Eric Houston, David Lawler, and dozen of others.  All brothers in arms against the system. Today he’d join them in the scrapbook.

#3.  Tina Smith

Tina took one more look in the mirror on her long violet vanity.  She adjusted the silk scarf that hid the scar from last summer’s operation.  She didn’t care about the scar any more, not after Saturday night.  Not after going to prom with Matt Houseman.  Now everything was perfect.

The school dress code mandated that girls wear a white cotton blouse, khaki skirt or slacks, and shoes or sandals, not flip-flops.  For four years she’d followed that ridiculous code, but not today.  She didn’t care what they said on the television about staying home.  It was her birthday.  She was eighteen and Matt Houseman loved her. Just for him she was going to wear her special present—a Ralph Lauren Black Label Silk Floral Blouse.

The blouse was obscenely sheer with a woven floral design, but she’d placated her father by wearing a white silk Victoria’s Secret camisole underneath. Her mother lied about the price.  “It was on sale for $125,” she said.  “Half price.”  Actually her mother paid five times that amount, hiding the cost with her other charges.

Tina feared that Mr. Baader would make her change, but she had a spare blouse in her locker.  After school, at Matt’s house, she could model it for him.  If he was nice, she might model it without the camisole.


#4. Deanna Metz

Deanna Metz hated fixing eggs for her father.  She hated cracking them; hated smelling them; hated even looking at them.  When he was done eating, she always showered to wash away all traces of breakfast. Her mother had been gone since last week.  Deanna worried that this time she wouldn’t come back.

Deanna watched the steam rising from the eggs.  They were almost done.  She flipped on the kitchen fan so the smoke detector wouldn’t go off.  She knew better than to wake her father before breakfast was ready.  She’d learned that the first time her mother had left on a business trip, back when Deanna was twelve. “You’re mother’s not here,” he’d told her, “so you’ll have to do.”

Deanna picked up the small Lucite pepper grinder her mother kept on the stove and lightly seasoned the two eggs she was cooking in the large cast iron skillet along with four strips of bacon.  She was careful with the pepper.  Last time she’d put on too much.  Her father screamed at her and threw the plate.  He wouldn’t let her clean herself until she’d cooked him a new breakfast.  She’d been late for school and gotten a detention.

This morning she couldn’t be late.  Not today.  She needed to be careful.  She had big plans for the morning.  She was going to meet Ryan after second period. She placed paper towels on a plate and spread the bacon on them to absorb the grease.  She turned off the heat.

Deanna wondered why her mother had stayed with her father so long. He was a creature of habit.  She had cooked the same breakfast every morning for nineteen years. When her mother started traveling for work, her father told Deanna that she would have to assume her mother’s duties.  One of those duties was breakfast.

Deanna shook off the memory and turned the eggs one last time. This morning when her father had rolled over on the bed and shaken her, Deanna was already awake.  How could she sleep, knowing what today was? “Fix my eggs,” he murmured, “while I catch twenty winks.” She’d gotten up, wearing only her Nixon Warbirds nightshirt and went to prepare breakfast.
Deanna shut off the gas burner.  She removed the paper towels from the bacon and plated the eggs.  They were perfect.  She’d done everything he’d asked.  Now she could wake him.

When she got back to her bedroom, she heard him snoring.  She eased open the door and stepped in, the cast iron fry pan was still in her hand.  She realized she’d left the plate with the bacon and eggs back in the kitchen.

“Daddy,” she said softly, “you need to wake up.”

As he roused, she stepped over to him.  He noticed the empty pan in her hand.  “Where’s my breakfast?”

“I have it right here.”  She grabbed the black handle with both hands and lifted the iron pan high above her head and brought it down with all her weight. She heard the bones crack in his nose and forehead and jaw.  She slammed the fry pan down three more times before the gurgling sound in the back of his throat fell silent.

She put her hand in front of what was left of his mouth.  He wasn’t breathing. The front of her nightshirt was covered with grease spots, blood, flesh, teeth, and bone fragments.

Deanna walked back to the kitchen.  She threw out the eggs and bacon, choosing to eat a toasted bagel and peanut butter instead.  She put the dishes in the dishwasher even though she knew the cast iron pan shouldn’t go there and started the dishwasher.  It would be clean if her mother ever came back.  Then she took a quick shower and hurriedly put on her makeup.  “I don’t want to be late for World History.”


#5.  Inez Martinez

Inez Martinez heard her brother, Eduardo, honking in the driveway.  He was early.  It was barely 7:00 a.m.  Classes started at 8:00.  They lived two miles from school.  But then she would want to go early, too, if she had a beautiful girlfriend like Eduardo did.  Or if she ran with the popular crowd.  Or if she wasn’t terrified every time she stepped out of her bedroom.  Inez, though, wasn’t like her brother.

Inez stretched out on her bed, in her school clothes, unable to move.  What will they do today to make my life more miserable?  “They” could be anyone—Vice Principal Bader, Brad Wilson (the wrestler who was stalking her), the Christians who gathered by the flag pole every Monday morning and asked her if she was saved, the girls in her gym class that sensed her weakness and stole her street clothes, her brother’s friends on the soccer team who made bets on who would be the first to bed her.  Her only friends were the Tie Guys, Ryan Turik and the others.  Ryan made such a show of defying the social order, but he wasn’t that different from her.  He was scared, too.

Dr. Corger, the psychiatrist hired by her parents, asked why she was afraid to leave her bedroom.  It was a silly question.  Her bedroom was her sanctuary.

Eduardo honked the car horn again.  She knew he would wait a little longer.  Father would make him.

The walls of her room had been painted a soothing mist green.  The color didn’t matter to Inez because she had filled every available space with her sketches—drawing of her friends from her last school, faces of people in her Advanced Drawing class who didn’t suck.  Her dogs were on the wall, of course, and one drawing of her mother.

Fully half of the drawings, though, were of Deanna Metz, a senior girl in her Design class.  Deanna was the most beautiful woman Inez had ever seen.  Inez had drawn Deanna in the school musical, Deanna at her locker whispering with Ryan Turik, Deanna alone in the cafeteria lost in thought. In that drawing Deanna’s brow was furrowed, her lips were pursed.  Inez wondered at the time what she had been thinking.  Inez also wondered what it would feel like to press her lips to Deanna’s.  The thought still took her breath away.

Eduardo blasted his car horn a third time—two short blasts.  He would leave her in a minute.

Inez rose from her bed.  She glanced at herself in the mirror, adjusted the scarf around her neck, and closed the door behind her, careful to lock it.  It would be nine hours before she would be back.  Each minute would be painful.




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4 Responses to “Before the Shooting: five portraits”

  1. Michael Liebbe Says:

    Pretty amazing. I was impressed by the various characters developed individually and then coalesce into one group

  2. Jacque Mccoy Says:

    This left me wanting more!

  3. Kristi Crafton Says:

    Loved it. Felt like I knew each character and now I want to know the rest of the story!

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