Art Pact 112

In between tossing the books onto the fire, we took drinks from the bar that the science club had set out. They were mainly rum, but diluted to a greater or lesser degree with pineapple juice. The mousy bespectacled young man behind the counter must have been at his produce, because the counter-top was covered in spills and the ratio of rum to pineapple juice varied wildly between health drink and pure alcohol. When Brad found a glass with no juice in it he took it close to the flames, taking mouthfuls and then blowing them out in a mist so that clouds of blue fire burst at the edges of the clearing, and Sissy shrieked with laughter.

I could tell that Mr. Dodgeness was getting pretty pissed with Brad, but the burning was going speedily enough, so he kept his mouth shut and made do with pursed lips and a disapproving expression, the sort of look he'd have given us back in school if we'd been taking too long to get the right answer. I didn't feel threatened, though - I knew that if he gave us any trouble we could just bring the whole thing to the attention of the committee and he'd be through in an instant. There was no way anyone would take Mr. Dodgeness's word over Brad's, not nowadays. Mr. Dodgeness just had that kind of a voice about him, and he didn't like drinking alcohol, and even in the old days there'd been a general air of the intellectual about him that made him unpopular amongst the average townsfolk. My mom had liked him - or respected him, anyway, he wasn't the sort of person anyone liked - and my own rule of thumb was that anyone other than me or pop that mom liked was sure to come under suspicion sooner or later. Maybe including me and pop, on account of there being no smoke without fire, or - no, that's not quite it, but it's probably safer if I don't try to think of a better analogy.

Mr. Russell, from the town council, had decided the order that things went into the fire - although some people had argued that it would be better to have written down all the titles and selected with a bunch of dice. Pop was at that meeting, and he said there was an almighty dust-up between the guys on one side who were Russell's supporters and the guys on the other side who didn't fancy that it was a great idea to give so much power to one person when they might turn out to be susceptible themselves. Pop's idea was that it would be much simpler to just dump all the books that were due for the fire in one great heap in the plaza outside the school and let everyone go at it like mad, in a big idiot mob. No chance of anyone displaying a vulnerable intelligence then, he'd said. That was about the time that Mr. Downey from the grocery store punched him in the eye, which was good for Pop because he came out of it with a black eye whereas Downey broke two fingers. Downey had sprained the other wrist a week earlier trying to wrestle a shoplifter to the ground, and between the two injuries he was forced into the indignity of having to get his wife to wipe his ass every time he went to the men's room (probably - I have this only on the authority of Barb Leverson, who works in the store too and reported it to me with disgusted glee).

Eventually we went with Russell's suggestion, simply because people were used to doing what the council said and he was the only one left who hadn't been taken by one of them or killed by one of us. But the fiasco underlined the worst of our problems - that we needed clever ideas to help us out of the crisis, but anyone who was clever enough to have an idea of the sort was automatically at risk. So most of us flailed away at the problem like berserks while the rest of us tried to chip away intelligently but disguise our intelligence as idiocy (or at least mediocrity).

Mom, I knew, had taken a big risk, and it hadn't worked out for her. Officer Sherbet had found her stash of biology books and there'd been a posse waiting for her when she went back. I hated Sherbet, but I had to admit that if it hadn't been him, it might well have been one of the drainers that got mom. She was certainly one of the smartest people in the town, the idea that they wouldn't have been interested in controlling her is ridiculous.

Still, it didn't stop me from spitting on the ground in Sherbet's path whenever I met him, and it certainly didn't stop Pop from scheming to get him on the watch list. What stopped that was me, because when you've already had one parent taken because she was too smart, you get very good at persuading the other one not to risk himself. A scheme can backfire, and a clever scheme could backfire two ways in our town, both of them fatal. My childish response to Sherbet was safe - no-one could accuse me of using my brain in insulting our most respected senior policeman in broad daylight, and because a monkey could have thrown flaming toilet paper at his house, that was beyond suspicion too.

Sherbet was at the burning, but I kept to the other side of the huge blaze from him, making sure that I was just one of the pack of high-school kids dumb on booze and hormones and the joy of destroying the things that a mere three months ago would have been used to torture us with boredom - the things that would have made us better people, that would have helped us grow, that would have made us wise and clever and useful. To us, and to our enemies.


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