Today we're excited to chat with Brock Heasley author of Paper Bag Mask.
Read on for more about Brock and his book, an interview, an excerpt, plus an giveaway!
Meet Brock Heasley!
A member of such prestigious high school organizations as "The Nerd Herd," "Last Picked for Teams," and "They Who Eat Alone," Brock Heasley is a graduate California State University of Fresno with a degree in Graphic Design. In 2007, he created the online comic The SuperFogeys, which was quickly picked up and published by Th3rd World Studios. His writing has appeared on the Independent Journal Review and at ForEveryMom.com [foreverymom.com], and his comics work has been featured in the San Francisco Cartoon Art Museum. Brock is a writer, producer, and director on both feature films and shorts, including the award-winning short, The Shift. Paper Bag Mask, his first novel, is published by Pen Name Publishing.
Brock lives with his wife and three daughters in California where they enjoy Pixar movies, dancing in the living room to good music, and eating breakfast for dinner.
Meet Paper Bag Mask!
At the same moment he catches his teacher giving illegal drugs to a student, Redmond Fairweather loses his friggin’ mind and steals Mr. Street’s prized possession—a stupid wooden sword with round edges that will never, ever cut through anything—“The Whomper.”
Redmond has no idea why he stole the Whomper. He guesses his extreme dislike (okay, hate… so much hate) of the school’s most popular teacher probably has something to do with it. To his surprise and delight, the hottest girl in school, Elodia Cruz, hates him too.
Soon, Redmond’s small band of misfit friends joins up with Elodia and the most popular kids on campus to hold the Whomper for ransom, pull off an elaborate, broad daylight heist to steal something even bigger from Mr. Street, and expose their teacher for the scumbag he really is.
~ Author Chat ~
YABC: What gave you the inspiration to write this book?
Paper Bag Mask is about a high school nobody who steals his teacher's most precious possession--a wooden sword with rounded edges that will never, ever cut through anything called The Whomper. He recruits the popular kids to make ransome videos and conduct an elaborate revenge scheme against the teacher and expose him for the scumbag he really is. The story takes its inspiration from the real life Whomper which some friends and I stole from our history teacher back in high school and really did hold for ransom. It was a prank that blew up bigger than any of us intended. I like to say about 40% of Paper Bag Mask is true, but probably not the parts anyone expects. We made ransom videos, the police got involved, and I’ll never forget the day at the height of the whole mess when my math teacher came up to me, shook her head, and said, mournfully, “I just never thought you would do something like that.” About broke my heart.
YABC: Who is your favorite character in the book?
The unfortunately named main protagonist, Redmond Fairweather. We share a mutual hatred of our names (though my hatred has mellowed quite a bit with age), and it's not a huge leap to say he's a lot like I was back in high school. Redmond feels invisible, like no one sees him or even wants to, and that insecurity causes a lot of the conflict in the story. He's an incredibly active protagonist in that way, and downright unlikable in spots as he muddles his way through getting the attention and popularity he's always wanted, but in a way and at a cost he's not prepared for.
YABC: Which came first, the title or the novel?
The novel. I stress about titles so much! In fact, every new draft of the book carried with it a different title. For a long time, it was The Whomper, but my wife HATED that and finally convinced me to change it. One of my favorites was Dungeon. Switch. Princess., but that made it sound like a fantasy novel or something. Other titles I considered were: Masks, All the Right Friends, Redmond Fairweather, Popular, and, in a case of desperation, Draft 4 carried the elevator pitch title, Heist in a John Hughes High School. I settled on Paper Bag Mask because it evokes clear imagery, is a little mysterious, and is the perfect metaphor for one of the big themes of the story.
YABC: What scene in the book are you most proud of, and why?
At the end of book, the teacher and Redmond have a face-to-face, cards-on-the-table moment that brings just about everything I'm trying to say with this book together. It was a tricky scene to write, a nakedly emotional scene, and contains probably my favorite dialog in the whole thing. The ideal audience for this book is someone who will never read it—my 16 year old self. If I could, I would go back in time, hand Paper Bag Mask off to him, and insist he read at least that one scene.
YABC: What do you like most about the cover of the book?
I love that it sticks out like crazy from anything else that's on the shelf. When I put it together, I really wanted to go with something that both was good enough for the current marketplace, but that also set itself apart. The two things I think just about every book cover in any genre have in common are lack of negative space and clear utilization of Photoshop. Photoshop was easy to get rid of--the concept works best as something crafted with actual materials anyway. Negative space can be scary because it can make things look "empty," but when used well it's intriguing and inviting. By eschewing a central image and using the book itself as that image--it reads especially great in IRL--I think there's a certain mass appeal the cover takes on. It's hard to pin it to any one age group, and yet I'd argue it still reads easily as YA. I was tempted to put some drawing or doodles on the cover, but they just cluttered things up and started swinging the intended age group toward a less universal direction.
YABC: What’s up next for you?
I'm a filmmaker as well as a writer, and right now I'm wrapping up post-production on my second short film, The Two Hundred Fifth, with an eye toward beginning work on my first feature film. That's in the immediate future. I've also got a graphic novel collection of my comic, The SuperFogeys, hitting stores in the early part of 2019. If I can clear the decks enough, I'd love to begin work on my novel, a YA sci-fi that would be the first in a series.
YABC: Is there anything that you would like to add?
Because I just LOVE to make more work for myself, I put illustrations at the top of every chapter in Paper Bag Mask, and illustrated the ransom videos the kids send to their teacher (just like my friends and I did) as sequential art (comics) instead of describing them in the text. It was the best way to tell those parts of the story, though I knew it was very much an off-the-beaten path thing to do. Taking two aspects of storytelling I love—prose and comics—and slamming them together has actually been far more rewarding than I expected. People seem to really like the combo.
YABC: Which was the most difficult or emotional scene to narrate?
The absolute most difficult scene was the final scene between Redmond and his father. Mr. Fairweather is a real ladies' man, and someone who is overly critical of his son's physical appearance. Their relationship is complicated and, actually, almost totally unlike the one I had with my own father, so figuring out where and how to leave that relationship at the end of the book was tricky. Redmond's dad just isn't like me or anyone I really know. I found a way in, as you usually do, through his humanity. There's a reason he is the way he is, and keying in on that gave me the "out" I needed. It's now one of my favorite scenes in the book. (All my favorite scenes are at the end, actually!)
YABC: Which part of the writing process do you enjoy more: Drafting or Revising?
Revising, hands down. I'm a structure guy--everything has to be planned out in an outline before I jump into a first draft, but then that draft can go this way and that, causing a restructuring and rethinking. That leads to stressful moments of doubt and panic. I feel like the whole book could fall apart at any moment in the first draft. Because I work it so, so much, my first drafts tend to be pretty strong. I don't believe in the vomit draft. If I say a draft is complete, then it's because I believe in it. The revising is when he language is honed and I really get to see what I've done and add the extra spice and character moments that make it all just that much better. It's fun and stress free in a way my first drafts just are not. I could revise endlessly.
~ Excerpt ~
PAPER BAG MASK
First Three Chapters
by Brock Heasley
At the end of his sixth hour waiting in line, Redmond hung his head in utter frustration, stared at the cold, unfeeling checkout counter, and insisted one more time: he’d paid for the game months ago and he wasn't leaving without it. The uncaring man in the J.J. Abrams glasses and faded Batman logo t-shirt at the register just shook his head as he looked over the printout of the reserve list, again. Nope. No one named Redmond on there. If only he had the receipt.
“I told you,” Redmond said. His teeth locked tight with a nails-on-chalkboard scrape. “I lost the receipt last week when my dad cleaned out the car and threw it away. It had fallen— ”
“You could be making that up,” Abrams said.
“How do I know that?”
“I'm in here all the time.”
“Never seen you before.”
“Like, every week. We've had multiple—multiple conversations.”
“Sorry, bro.” He motioned to the next person in line. “Next.”
Redmond sighed a heavy sigh and once again lamented his unfortunate superpower: invisibility. It wasn't just Abrams; generally speaking, no one bothered much to notice Redmond, ever. When his classmates considered him at all, it was to ask him to switch seats so they could be close to their friends. This was fine. It was fine. Redmond also had friends. In fact, he had two: wannabe lothario Deep Singh and the beautiful-but-deadly Alice Koppel. Unlike everyone else in the known universe, they knew Redmond’s name and made a point of attaching that name to his flat, boring face.
“Can you check again?” Redmond stood his ground and ignored the groaning of the fedora-sporting gentleman behind him trying to step forward with bated, through-the-mouth breath.
“Nah, man. Try Walmart . . . . NEXT!” Abrams set the reserve list down and motioned again to Fedora. Redmond snatched the printout off the counter and spun it around so he could read the names on the list himself. Three years! Three years he'd been waiting for Legend of Castle Destiny 4! Abrams leaned over as far as he could to grab the reserve list back, but his beer belly halted his reach. “C’mon,” he whined. “Don't do that. It's too friggin’ late for this.”
Redmond frantically read through the sheets while Fedora moved in to, what, take him out? No way. Three years! He spun, dodging and knocking over a display of Avengers action figures.
“There!” Triumphant! “Right there!”
“Let me see!” Abrams (or Danny, as Redmond finally noticed his nametag insisted he be called) made another lunge for the printout and this time Redmond let him have it back.
“Second page, in the middle. Redmond Fairweather.”
Abrams (screw “Danny”) scanned and found Redmond’s unfortunate designation. “Your first name is Redmond?”
“Yeah. Wait…you thought—you thought my first name was Fairweather?”
“Dude.” Abrams pulled out a fresh, shrink-wrapped copy of pure video game crack and placed it on the counter. “Why would I think your first name is Redmond? Not my fault your parents hate you.”
At 12:10 AM on the same day he stole the Whomper, Redmond cleaned up the scattered action figures and then exited GameStop with quite possibly the greatest game of all time in his hot, itching-to-play hands. At 12:30 AM, Deep, Redmond’s best friend, knocked on the front door eager to give the game a spin. Instead of playing immediately, they were forced to endure the long wait for the download of the 2GB day one patch to enhance what was supposed to be the best reflective lighting system yet achieved on a home console. The boredom and his heavy eyes defeated Deep at 1:30 AM and he headed home. A sane person would have followed suit, gotten into bed, gone to school the next day alert and refreshed, and played the game later that afternoon. Instead, Redmond knocked back a few Red Bulls and finally cracked into the prologue level at 1:55 AM. At 3 AM, Redmond’s father, drunk, rolled in after breaking the heart of his latest conquest and yelled at Redmond to turn the damn game off and get some sleep. Redmond told his father that of course he would, then put on headphones. His bloodshot eyes, his only true friends at that late hour, held up magnificently as Redmond executed combos and downed healing potions all the way to 7 AM, the first time he bothered to look at the clock. In a panic, he dropped his controller (after hitting “Save”), rushed to change his overripe clothes, inhaled a not-delicious piece of burnt toast, and ran out the front door exhausted, spent, and—he knew even then—not totally in his right mind. He arrived at school looking like the lost extra from a zombie movie, shuffling more than walking. He was alive, but only just. He fell asleep in both Bio and English.
What part Redmond’s compromised state played in the domino-tumbling transgression he committed later that afternoon in Mr. Street’s 6th period AP History Class is hard to say. What is known for sure (and the only thing that would matter to anyone later), is that Redmond Fairweather, of his own free will and choice, swiped Mr. Street’s most prized possession straight off the lectern and started the whole mess all by himself.
It was Redmond Fairweather, alone, who stole the Whomper.
Hamilton High’s resident walking dead made it to Mr. Street’s class by sheer force of inertia and with the added boost of a cafeteria cheeseburger and Coke. He barely even noticed when the same dunderheaded trio of jocks used him once again as a prop for their amusement by kicking at the backs of his knees to make them buckle as he walked. All Redmond cared about was getting into his seat in class so he could check out and drift into a video game dream world of dungeons, switches, and lost princesses. Which, about three seconds after letting his head find rest on the top of his desk, is exactly what he did.
With a concussive, inconsiderate rap rap rap! of the Whomper on the chalkboard, Mr. Street, Hamilton High’s most obnoxious and popular teacher, woke a gently snoozing Redmond and called his class to order. “Alright, alright. Sit in your chairs. Now, people. José, I’m lookin’ at you. Tattoo your girlfriend with a Bic pen later.”
Through barely parted eyelids, Redmond spied the hulking José Morales looking up from his latest masterpiece on Hayley White’s arm to begin his protest: “She’s not my girlfr—”
“Don’t care,” Mr. Street said with a wave of the Whomper towards José’s and Hayley’s respective seats. “You’re too cute a couple and I’ve made up my mind. Sit!”
The Whomper was just a stupid wooden sword; a stupid wooden sword with rounded edges that could never, ever cut through anything. And it wasn’t very long. In fact, it could successfully be argued the Whomper was nothing more than an oversized, ineffective dagger. Sometimes, Mr. Street—a selfish man who spoke stupid, loud words while some people were trying to sleep—wielded the Whomper as a prop during the performances he passed off as teaching, turning it into a rifle or a cane or a gear shift or a trumpet sounding war. What the Whomper always was—what it never ceased to be—was an object of vital importance to Mr. Street. Once, the Whomper went missing for a whole half period and he was so upset you’d have thought someone had killed his mother. And his dog. When the world’s tallest butter knife was finally found propped up against the cabinet at the back of the classroom, Redmond swore he saw a grateful, embarrassing tear in his teacher’s eye.
Now, at the end of his Junior year, Redmond was glad to be nearly rid of both the Whomper and Mr. Street. He shut his eyes tight to block the sight of his teacher turning the physical manifestation of his need to compensate for possible shortcomings into a gavel as he droned on and on about the Civil Rights Movement and some dude named Jim Crow. Deep and Alice poked and prodded and stuck with the business end of a pencil to try to rouse their friend fully awake, but Redmond refused their every effort. Not because he was trying to be a butt, but because he had finally fallen into a deep, deep sleep.
At 1:51 PM, a dreaming Redmond woke up with a start after unsuccessfully facing down a dragon with three voluptuous breasts and a hunger for young, high school meat. A quick wipe of his slimy mouth later, he looked around the room. Did anyone notice? Of course not. Even Deep and Alice ignored him, having given up.
No one would believe this later, but on that day, in those moments before class ended, Redmond had no grand plan. No forethought at all, really. He sleepily watched the clock as it tick tick ticked so, so slowly towards another Legend of Castle Destiny 4 play session and quietly began packing up his history book and tablet, just like everyone else. As the second hand moved past :52 and into :53, and Mr. Street made the dreaded and wholly unfair announcement about the Final, Redmond had on his mind the same thought as every other student in the classroom that afternoon: Please, God, no.
“Oh, yes,” Mr. Street said as book bag zippers were dropped and cries of pain rang out. “This is the big one, folks. The Final will be worth 50% of your grade. Fifty honkin’ percent. Fail this one and you and I will see each other this summer as you try to rescue your academic career from the happy fun land of second chances we call Summer School.”
Elodia Cruz, the hottest—and thus most popular—girl in school, let out an exasperated sigh. “Mr. Street, that’s so not fair.”
“What is fair?” Mr. Street asked as he began to prance his way towards Elodia in the middle of the rows of desks. The man was actually prancing. “‘Fair’ is an accurate assessment of your accumulated knowledge from attending this class—which is what this Final will be.” To punctuate his point, Street rapped the Whomper three times again, on Elodia Cruz’s desk.
Rap rap rap!
The Whomper was a ridiculous name, that much everyone agreed on. Even the moony-eyed girls who jockeyed every afternoon for the desks at the front of the classroom (to, what, better stare up at Mr. Street’s nose hairs?) thought so.
“Personally,” Mr. Street continued. “I hope you all fail. I don’t want to imagine a summer without your smiling, shining faces looking back at me.”
“Ha. Ha.” Elodia Cruz gave Mr. Street a world-class eye roll. “Even me?”
“Elodia, give it up; you can’t have me.” Street turned towards the class for a reaction. “Ours is a love that can never be.”
Everyone laughed as their teacher basked in the cheaply won approval of his adoring students—even the members of small world, the school’s (in)famous, four-person pop metal band led by Hayley White, let out chuckles and pointed fingers at Elodia Cruz’s cheeks as they flushed dynamite red with angry embarrassment. She sunk low into her seat and discreetly flipped them all the bird. If possible, she looked even hotter.
At the bell, chairs screeched and every desk shook out a student as bags were lifted up onto shoulders.
“Quiz tomorrow!” Mr. Street shouted over the foot pedaled calamity of everyone hurrying for the door at once. “And we begin our review for the Final. Miss it and regret it!”
Redmond never thought he would end up disliking Mr. Street as much as he did. He’d heard about what a great teacher he was and had wanted to be in his class since Freshman year, but once Redmond was actually in the class, he found the man wanting. Street was a showboat, a charlatan, and a narcissistic, unshaven flirt in hipster glasses and a horrible tweed jacket with elbow patches. And yet, still the girls swooned and melted at his perpetually patchy jaw line. Why was that? Did they really not see? Did Mr. Street’s Star-Lord-esque facial hair and few, obvious charms blind them to the truth? The wit, the nerdy good looks, the always clean Vans sneakers with the white soles—seeing through Mr. Street required more than a cursory glance at these things.
Redmond saw through him. Mr. Street was an attention whore who didn’t give a crap about his students.
Three weeks into the first semester, despite his protests, Mr. Street called Redmond to the front of the class to roleplay the Alexander Hamilton-Aaron Burr duel. Redmond may have, for once, been less than invisible in the moment, but he was conspicuous in all the wrong ways as he endured the laughter and multiple calls to “Speak up!” while he stammered his way through the short script. When Mr. Street finally felled him by Whomper-as-gun, it was a relief unlike any he’d ever experienced. For the next three days, he feigned illness just so he wouldn’t have to return to class. It was Alice who finally coaxed him back to school with the reminder that if he didn’t return, then he’d be a dropout and live with his dad for the rest of his life. That, as Alice well knew, was the exact right button to push.
“Duuuude, this suuuuucks.”
Alice, school bag dragging on the stained, cheaply carpeted classroom floor, held up Redmond’s history book and whacked it with her hand. Behind her ghost pale form, a mass of cattle shuffled through the classroom door and off to seventh period. “When my dad finds out how much this final is worth, I’m not gonna see daylight until I’ve got this book memorized.”
Redmond managed to open one eye and turn it towards her. “And that’s different how, exactly? Didn’t a deer once freeze at the sight of your exposed wrist?”
“What?” Alice dropped Redmond’s book on his desk with a hard thud, sending his posture skyward with a start. “What does that even mean?”
“Uh, just that—y’know—” Redmond rubbed his eyes. He turned to his friend Deep, who stood nearby, waiting. Help?
Deep didn’t hesitate. “What our friend and sometimes gentleman is trying to say, dear sweet Alice, is that your super white, lightly freckled skin is like unto the brightness of headlights. He is comparing you to a car and the fear it inspires in friendly woodland creatures.”
“Eloquently put, Deep,” Alice said. “Call me ‘dear sweet’ again and I’ll put you through a wall.” Alice, slight as she was, wasn’t about to do any such thing, but Deep turned tail and ran out for the safety of the hallway anyway, knocking Redmond’s History book to the ground in the process. Alice quickly followed to issue some additional—and no doubt increasingly profane—threats against Deep.
Redmond was left alone, searching the floor for his book. It had skidded under a desk two seats back. He was way too tired for this.
After scraping some gum off the book, Redmond started to stand up, raising his head back up above desk level. There, he was greeted with a sight that made him freeze where he half-stood. At first, he thought he was looking at an empty classroom. But no, there on the other side was Mr. Street in close (really close) conference with Jasmine Hill in the corner.
Jasmine Hill. Best friend/crony to Elodia Cruz. Also hot.
Far off as they were, Redmond couldn’t hear them. Whatever they were saying, it looked serious. Jasmine, if Redmond remembered correctly, was on the Varsity Girls’ Basketball Team, which Mr. Street coached. Neither of them regarded him at all. They had no idea he was there.
Of course they didn’t.
That’s when Redmond saw it. There, sitting near him within arm’s reach on the lectern, was the Whomper. Typically, at the end of class, it was in Mr. Street’s hand, but not this time. He had forgotten all about it.
Later, Redmond would swear he heard a voice in that moment. A real, actual voice. It said, simply:
Redmond didn’t. He didn’t want to take the Whomper. He hated the thing. What was he supposed to do with a wooden sword that couldn’t cut anything?
Doesn’t matter. Take it.
The impulse was as startling as it was difficult to resist.
Redmond looked back over at Mr. Street and Jasmine. They were huddled even closer now, ignoring him more than ever. It would only take an instant to swipe the Whomper and they’d never see it happen. Not so long as Redmond had the power of invisibility and they were like that. Not so long as they were…
…making a drug deal?
They were making a drug deal.
A few plastic bags of suspicious-looking white powder passed from Mr. Street to Jasmine and Redmond saw it, clear as day.
Now fully awake, he began to shake and sweat. What was happening? What was even happening?? Mr. Street, drug dealer; Jasmine Hill, drug user? And at school, right in front of Redmond, the invisible.
It’s what he deserves.
Redmond silently lunged for the Whomper, took it off the lectern, and ran out the door.
The Photo to Prove It
Everyone said Jasmine Hill was a . . . well, a word Redmond preferred not to use. There were two guys in his P.E. class alone who claimed to have slept with her. Redmond always thought she was pretty, and, yeah, maybe a bit overly flirtatious (if you had muscles, i.e. were not invisible), but also very nice. Polite. He preferred not to dwell on her reputation, deserved or not, but nothing about that reputation (disreputable as it was) ever suggested she was a burnout. Or a pothead. Or a stoner. Or whatever you call a person who partakes in such things when you’re cool enough to know what to call them. Instead, Redmond chose to call her “Jasmine.” He chose to believe her to be, solely and entirely, the girl in class with the cute short hair, wide smile, slightly outrageous fashion sense, and a pencil to spare whenever he came asking.
And yet that was the girl he saw taking drugs from Mr. Street.
Or, maybe he didn’t. As Redmond replayed the scene in his mind, he saw the little plastic bags over and over again. They had a little white symbol stamped on them, something that looked kind of a like a fish. Who puts fish symbols on . . . sugar? Maybe Jasmine was borrowing sugar. That made sense on some level, Redmond just had to figure out which.
His brain popped. It couldn’t handle both the revelation of a school drug ring (Were any cartels involved? Where was Big Pharma in all this?) and the fact that he’d just become a thief. No, not a thief, he told himself for the first and certainly not the last time, a prankster. A prankster is mischievous and well-meaning. A thief is just a jerk.
Redmond stood in the empty hallway just outside Room 216 on the second floor of the Science Building, using the wall for support. He tried to stuff the Whomper in his book bag. It was too long and stuck out at the top. That was better than nothing, but was it better than . . . his pants? He pulled at his waistband and stuffed the Whomper down his left thigh. It was cold and not super comfortable. Thankfully, the little bit of girth he was packing held the Whomper in place, the handle just barely sticking up above his belt. His shirt would cover that. If he could just make it to P.E. class without it slipping, he could stow the stupid thing in his locker for the last period of the day, and then . . .
. . . what? Then what? What was Redmond supposed to do with the Whomper?
He didn’t know.
He thought maybe could just put the dumb sword back. Maybe the drug deal was done now and it was safe. He should probably just put it back. What was he even doing this for? Redmond could—should—slip in, place the Whomper back on the lectern, and slip back out without anyone noticing. That was, after all, his gift. His superpower.
Redmond made up his mind and reached for the door to go back inside Rm. 216, but was stopped cold when it flew open towards him, nearly smacking him in the face. Jasmine Hill rushed out, head down and crying. She slammed right into him, knocking herself backwards. The Whomper thief stumbled a couple of steps, too, but otherwise held his ground. Without looking up, Jasmine muttered “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, excuse me . . . ” then resumed her flight and ran, book bag flapping at her side as she rounded the corner at the end of the hallway leading to the indoor stairs and disappeared out of sight. Redmond thought she was pretty swift, for a drug fiend.
With more pressing matters to attend to, Redmond willed himself to not think about a strung out Jasmine face down in the gutter and Mr. Street, the Walter White of Hamilton High, giving instruction to his minions (surely the man had minions) on how to dispose of the body. Instead, Redmond refocused. He had his own problems to deal with. He had seconds, if that, before the 7th period History students were right on top of him. Even now, muffled voices and hundreds of foot stomps echoed off the hallway walls from the direction of the stairs.
He hurriedly did one last check to make sure the Whomper was still secure. Just as he made contact with the cold, hard wood under his waistband, the first group of students arrived from around the same corner Jasmine had just left and saw Redmond in full view with his hand down into his crotch.
One of them, a member of the dunderheaded jock trio, took one, disgusted look at Redmond and said, “Gross, dude,” before heading past him and into Mr. Street’s classroom. The hallway erupted with giggles and laughter. Redmond scolded his stupid, fake superpower for turning off at the worst possible moment, pulled his hand out of his pants, and speed-walked as carefully and quickly as he could toward his gym locker on the other side of campus with the Whomper safely tucked away.
At this exact moment, Elodia Cruz rushed to make it to her next class in the outer portables. She was almost certainly going to be tardy (first time all semester, thank you very much), but she didn’t care about that. She was distracted and had a lot on her mind. She was worried about Jasmine, of course, just like she was every day, but she’d also just spent the past few minutes behind a slightly ajar custodial closet door watching Redmond What’s-His-Name trying to stuff Mr. Street’s Whomper down his pants.
And she had the photo to prove it.
Redmond Fairweather, Criminal
Deep Singh remembered the last time Redmond did something wrong on purpose. It was during 3rd Grade, the one year Redmond deigned to grace organized sports with his clumsy presence.
Deep was the team’s goalie (and an effective one at that, despite the fact that 3rd Grade was his “fat year” before he grew into the trim, strong-jawed, delectable hunk of Indian boy toy he would become later). Redmond was the left wing. It was the last few minutes of the last game of the season, the score was tied, and the ball got away from Jackson Robbins, the team’s superstar. It wasn’t so much a pass to Redmond as the ball went wild in a coincidental direction. Redmond moved to intercept, stars somehow aligned, and he took his shot and scored the one and only goal of his soccer-playing career. A game-winning goal.
Everyone—parents, grandparents, kids, aunts, uncles, old biddies out for a walk—cheered, but not Redmond. He looked stunned. When Deep caught up with him, his friend spilled his secret. He saw the ball hit the side of the net near the goal opening, but not actually go in. He didn’t score.
No one else saw it that way. Not Deep, not the other team, not their coach—not even the Ref Deep overheard talking about how the ball went in and then popped back out again under the net. A goal on a cheap net is still a goal. Who won the game was not in dispute. Deep had a heavy conscience even at that young age and would never encourage Redmond to lie, but the ball did go in!
Redmond wasn’t convinced. “Do you think I should say something?”
“Nooooo,” Deep remembered saying as he pulled Redmond away from anyone who might be listening. They’d won the game. That meant pizza at Mountain Mike’s. “No, no, no. Are you crazy?” Mountain Mike’s! Case closed, matter settled.
“But,” Redmond insisted. “It didn’t go in.”
It required a bit of pizza guilt-tripping, but Deep got Redmond to agree to keep his mouth shut, and the team got their victory feast. Within a week, he regretted the ill use of his persuasive powers. He’d injured Redmond’s soul. A fun-sucking black hole of sadness replaced his best friend, and for a while Redmond didn’t want to do anything at recess but sit against the wall near the restrooms and read. After a few weeks of this, he started venturing out onto the blacktop again, but his interest in sports completely disappeared and never came back.
So when Deep saw Redmond stealthily pull the Whomper—The Whomper!—out of his pants in the middle of the locker room, he didn’t know what to think at first, but it didn’t even begin to enter into his mind that his friend had stolen it.
Then, Redmond told him he’d stolen it.
“WHAT?” Deep said. “You’ve snapped. Are you broken? I think you might be broken. What are you even thinking with that thing—in here!?”
“Shh, shh, shh! I didn’t mean to do it!” Redmond looked all around their crowded row of dented blue, abused lockers and at the other boys changing out for P.E. Deep followed his eyes to see precisely no one looking at them. Looking all kinds of sketchy, Redmond hurriedly shoved the Whomper into his locker, took off his shirt, and covered it up. “It just happened.”
“Did you take the Whomper back after you realized what you’d done?”
“Then it didn’t just happen. You meant to do this.”
“Maybe. I don’t know!”
Deep looked at the panic and delight in Redmond’s eyes and, for the first time in a long time, saw a fire there. “Dude,” he said. “This is by far the coolest thing you’ve ever done.”
Redmond didn’t tell Deep about Jasmine Hill. He wasn’t sure himself what to do about what he saw or if he should say anything to anyone. Who would believe him? Maybe it was all a mirage anyway. That can happen outside of deserts, right? Besides, Deep got weird at the mere mention of Jasmine’s name. Even weirder and all drooly when she so much as walked by.
After school, Redmond and Deep met up with Alice to walk her home. Like always. He felt physically ill when she emerged from between the Math Building and the cafeteria to join them at their usual spot at the edge of parking lot. He would have liked to not tell Alice about the Whomper at all, but since Deep still had a mouth attached to his face, Alice not finding out was not an option. He had to tell her himself, straight out.
“You did WHAT?”
Redmond hadn’t said anything yet. Alice, her hair all brown and wild, and her clothes all brown and boring, like usual, marched toward him with anger and shock and yelling, and he hadn’t even said a thing. He noticed her phone was out of the ratty school bag she’d had since 6th Grade. He turned around to face Deep, who was texting.
“Sorry, man,” Deep said. “You had your fun. This is mine!”
Redmond felt a punch on his upper back. He turned back around to see Alice—little Alice—staring him down with all the Disapproving Mom she could muster. She was really good at it.
“You have to give it back!”
“I’m going to, I’m going to,” Redmond said, as though he’d already thought about it and decided. A total lie by tonal implication.
“Let me see it,” Alice demanded.
“Now?” Redmond checked the parking lot for onlookers. “Here?”
“Don’t be an idiot and pull it out. Just open the bag.”
Deep kept a gym bag in his locker full of, among other things, half-used deodorant sticks, cologne, and shin guards. It was just the right size for smuggling something long and pointy. Alice peered inside. Her lovely brown orbs went wide and the corners of her mouth turned down. She had the disappointed look of someone who had held out hope right up until the moment the hard evidence presented itself.
“When?” she asked.
“When are you going to give it back?”
Redmond thought about it for a half second. Impulse drove him to one, what seemed at the time, sane conclusion: “After we have some fun.”
“What does that mean?”
Redmond didn’t know. He’d said it, but he didn’t know. What was he supposed to do with the Whomper now? Giving it back right away didn’t feel right. That would be like saying what he saw Mr. Street do with Jasmine Hill didn’t matter. But, it did matter. He didn’t know how it mattered—yet—but he knew Mr. Street didn’t deserve to just get the Whomper back with no hassle. Not immediately. Wasn’t that what the voice had been trying to tell him? Mr. Street deserved this. He deserved a hassle, at the very least.
“You want to know what it means, Alice? I’ll tell you what it means.” Redmond zipped up the bag, sealing the Whomper inside. “It means we’re going hold the Whomper for ransom.”
Paper Bag Mask
By: Brock Heasley
Publisher: Pen Name Publishing
Release Date: October 23rd, 2018
Two winners will each receive a signed copy of Paper Bag Mask (Brock Heasley) ~ (US Only)
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