Robert Cormier

Beyond the Chocolate War

Part One

Ray Bannister started to build the guillotine the day Jerry Renault returned to Monument.

There was no connection between the two events. In fact, Ray Bannister didn't even know Jerry Renault existed. The truth of the matter is that Ray began to construct the guillotine out of sheer boredom. More than boredom: loneliness, restlessness. He was a newcomer to Monument and to Trinity High. He hated both — well, maybe hate was too strong a word, but he had found Monument to be a dull and ugly mill town of drab tenement houses and grim factories, with no class at all, a terrible contrast to Caleb, the resort village on Cape Cod where he'd grown up with beach sand between his toes and salt spray stinging his cheeks. Trinity was a suffocatingly small school, filled with guys who were suspicious of strangers or, at the very least, unfriendly. The Headmaster and the teachers were brothers, those strange people who wore stiff white collars but weren't quite priests and yet weren't quite like ordinary men. Ray's father insisted that brothers made the ideal teachers, dedicated and loyal to education. They have nothing to distract them, his father said. They don't have to worry about earning a big salary — the Order takes care of all their needs — and they don't have wives or children to support, except maybe a girl friend or two in these crazy, liberal times. That last remark was supposed to pass for wit: Ray Bannister's father was renowned for his wit at cocktail parties, but Ray, frankly, didn't find him amusing at all. Particularly since he'd accepted the company promotion that meant a transfer from the Cape to this rotten city in the middle of New England.

Ray had always been a loner, even on the Gape, where he had spent long hours roaming the beaches and dunes or sailing his beloved skiff in the warm waters south of Caleb. In a fit of disgust and disillusionment, he'd practically given his boat away, sold it for a quarter of its worth to Joe Scerra, his best friend in Caleb. Ray had built the boat himself, lovingly, knew every section and area of its surface just as he knew the tone and texture of his own body.

Monument looked as if sailing weather didn't exist Snow melted on the Cape as soon as it kissed the land; Ray was dismayed to find Monument covered with the dirty rags of old snow when he arrived in February. The landscape of city streets was bleak and forbidding, like a movie set from one of those old late-night films about the Depression. Lonely, unable to make friends at Trinity and not really trying very hard, Ray pursued his interest in magic. His rather, who had been an amateur magician years ago, had given him a magic kit for Christmas as a kind of bribe to compensate for the transfer to Monument. At first Ray had only gone through the motions of showing interest. But, bored and restless, he began to fool around with the kit and found, to his surprise, that the tricks were not merely kid stuff but sophisticated and challenging, almost professional. He discovered the Stripper Deck and the Cups and Balls and the Silk Scarves and soon found himself adept at sleight of hand. With no one to entertain, he performed before the mirror in his bedroom.

As winter changed into spring or, rather, as the grayness of February and March yielded to the soft yellow of April, Ray grew bored with the simple finger tricks. He rummaged around the cellar, remembering that his father had all kinds of paraphernalia left over from his days as an entertainer at club and organization parties when Ray himself was just a kid. His father had carefully packed the stuff away when they had moved to Monument. During his search, Ray came across an old cardboard box that contained complicated tricks and effects he couldn't do anything with because there were no directions. Then he discovered an old leather-bound book, copyright 1922, that provided instructions for hundreds of magic effects. The book included plans and illustrations for various stage illusions, like levitation and disappearances. Ray was disappointed to learn the secrets of the illusions, how mechanical they were. He thought: There's no magic, really, anywhere in the world. It was like finding out there was no Santa Claus.

The plans for the guillotine attracted his immediate attention, however. The secret was so simple and yet so effective. He imagined himself on the stage in the Trinity auditorium, performing for the student body—'May I have a volunteer from the audience?' — and hearing the guys gasp with astonishment as the blade fell, seeming to penetrate the volunteer's neck Ray's hands itched to build the guillotine, just as they had itched to build his skiff. He'd always been clever with his hands. In fact, his father had said that he bated the idea of squandering money on Ray's college education when he'd probably do better as a carpenter — and a carpenter didn't need a college degree.

At any rate, lonely, indifferent to both Monument and Trinity, tired of the perennial gray clouds that haunted the early days of spring, wistful for those bikini girls who would be emerging on Caleb's beaches any day now, Ray Bannister assembled his tools and the lumber required to build the guillotine. He bought the blade at a magic store in Worcester. And, as he told Obie later: Honest, he'd never heard of Jerry Renault or Archie Costello or any of the others.

Obie was in love. Wildly, improbably, and wonderfully in love. The kind of thing he thought happened only in the movies. Can't eat, can't sleep love. Daydream in class love. Can't concentrate an your studies love. The hell with doing homework love. Her name was Laurie Gundarson and she was beautiful. Obie's legs dissolved at the sight of her, and he felt as though he would sink into the earth and disappear. He had never known such happiness or such sweet torture. He lived his days and nights in a rosy haze and went around with a stunned and radiant expression on his face. Which disgusted Archie Costello, of course.

Like at this moment when the Vigils had gathered to put the finishing touches on the new assignment. The other members, plus the three sophomores, awaited in tense and silent anticipation, a little nervous about what was going to happen. Archie always kept them on edge, springing his small surprises now and then to keep them alert and on their toes. But Obie sat there with that stupid expression on his face. That's why Archie turned to Bunting, the sophomore.

'Okay, Bunting,' Archie said, 'bring us up to date.'

The selection of Bunting to present the report didn't immediately register on Obie. Obie wasn't actually here in the stupid storage room near the gym where the Vigils held their meetings. He was off somewhere with Laurie Gundarson. They were driving on the freeway toward Mount Wachusum. They were climbing the mountain on a sparkling spring day. He assisted her over the rough terrain, allowing his hands to roam across the marvelous geography of her body. He couldn't get enough of touching her, caressing her, although she kept that kind of stuff down to a minimum. Only on special occasions would she allow those intimate caresses for which Obie lived, to which he had dedicated his every waking moment.

'Are you with us, Obie?' Archie asked, his voice cool as always, never allowing an emotion to show, making it seem as if he was doing you a favor by using your name.

'I'm here, Archie,' Obie said, reluctant to leave the warmth and softness of Laurie's flesh.

'Go on, Bunting,' Archie said.

At that moment Obie saw the notebook in Bunting's hands. Startled, he checked his jacket pocket to make certain that his current notebook was safe and intact. Obie's notebooks were legend on the Trinity campus. Not only did they contain the assignments Archie dreamed up, but they had information about every student at Trinity, stuff that didn't show up in the school's official records. Observing Bunting now with his own notebook, Obie felt some surprise, but he wasn't as disturbed as he might have been if this had occurred before he'd met Laurie Gundarson. Laurie made all the difference: let Bunting have his notebook.

Bunting stood there with the cheerful insolence that was the hallmark of being a sophomore. Obie hated sophomores; most seniors did. Sophomores had lost the timidity of freshmen and hadn't attained the casualness of the juniors or the coolness of the seniors. Sophomores were feeling the first stirrings of arrogance, and believed that the school — and the world — existed for them alone. They barged into places nobody in his right mind would go. One example: Bunting now throwing a glance of triumph and superiority at Obie, smirking maliciously. Obie summoned a small smile to his own lips, a smile that was supposed to communicate to Bunting that he didn't give a damn who gave the report. But despite the sweetness of Laurie's presence in his life, he felt a flicker of jealousy. Not jealousy, exactly. Who could be jealous of a sophomore, for crying out loud? Hate, maybe. But not really for

Вы читаете Beyond the Chocolate War
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату