Word Gets Around

“The Brewer’s Backstory” – Episode 6

May 2001

The Brewer's Justice cover

Coming January 2016!

As the ringing bell signaled the end of another day at Belmar High, students poured into the halls, giddy with the warm weather and the last days of school. At his locker, Brad twirled the combination, now so familiar that he could have dialed the numbers in his sleep.

“He-e-e-y, Brad, how’s it going?”

He turned to find Barry Soules sauntering toward him, a hand held out. As the school year progressed, senior guys, aware that they would soon be expected to function in a more mature world, increasingly took to shaking hands. At six two, Barry stood out, even in a crowded hallway. He played tennis in the fall, basketball in winter and ran track in the spring. Barry the senior and Brad the sophomore hadn’t exactly become friends on the tennis team, but they had gotten to know each other.

“Hey, what’s up?” Brad asked as Barry pumped his hand in a firm grip.

“I heard about the plaque Mr. E gave you. Everybody knows that should have been you, instead of Mary Beth Larsen, up on the stage last week with Mr. E putting the Golden Googles on your head.”

“Naw, Mary Beth deserved the Golden Goggles. Besides, they’re just old lab goggles that Mr. E spray paints every year. My plaque is one of a kind.”

Brad had been telling himself that ever since Awards Night. During the three months after his failed experiment and resulting suspension, he had secretly clung to a slim hope of still winning. It had hurt like hell to hear Mr. E announce Mary Beth’s name into the microphone and watch her walk down the center aisle of the auditorium to accept the annual award to the most outstanding chemistry student. The next day, Mr. E had called Brad up in front of the class and awarded him the first and only ever This-Day-Is-The-Next-Day-Of-Your-Life Award. The over-worked cliché was elegantly written across the plaque above an ocean-at-sunrise scene. Mr E had retrieved the chunk of glass that the explosion had slammed into the ceiling panel and hot-glued it onto the plaque between the words and the ocean waves.

“So,” Brad asked, “How does it feel to know you’ve only got one more week at Belmar High?”

Barry pumped a fist in the air. “F-ing awesome. I don’t know a single senior who’s studying for finals.”

“It’s going to be strange around here next week without you guys,” Brad said, telling the truth. “Thanks for all your help with my backhand last fall.”

“Glad I could be of service, buddy.” Barry took Brad’s elbow and turned him toward the lockers before dropping his voice. “I was thinking maybe you could help me out in return.”

If the help involved cheating on a final, the answer was going to be no. “How so?”

“First off, word gets around. You are not to talk about this with anybody else, got it?” Brad nodded, increasingly uneasy. “The Saturday after graduation, Chet Torkelson and Dave Ingman and I throwing the most awesome party of the entire class of 2001. It’s going to be at Chet’s house up in the mountains. The thing is, Chet’s parents don’t know about it. And we want to keep it that way, you know?”

Brad nodded again and waited. “His parents fly to Cancun that morning. The house is practically a freaking mansion with no neighbors close by.”

“So, what do you want from me?”

“Beer,” Barry whispered.

“No way! I already got one suspension this semester. If I got caught, they’d expel me.”

Barry flashed a smirk. “Who the hell’s going to know, choir boy?”

“I’d miss the entire tennis season.”

“Jesus, you worry more than my grandmother. The word around school is that you make beer every weekend. Lots of it. All I‘m asking for is a a couple of cases, although if you can get more, that’d be great. We’ll pay whatever you want.”

“First of all, even if I started today, you can’t have a batch ready in,” Brad paused to count, “eleven days. Besides, I don’t brew every weekend, and it’s not all that much. I brew with my dad, who knows exactly how much we make. If ‘a couple of cases’ disappeared, the school wouldn’t have to worry about expelling me because I’d already be disowned or dead.”

“Okay, grandma, chill,” Barry said in an impatient tone. “If you should find that you could supply us, you’ve got my phone number. Meantime, you never heard a word about the party at Chet’s.”

“What party?”

“Spoken like a true underclassman,” Barry said before slamming Brad’s locker closed and walking off.

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