‘Okay, Sammy my lad, give me your lunch money,’ demanded Bobby Clarke grabbing the boy by the front of his shirt, lifting him off his feet and pushing him up against the lockers, which lined the school corridor.
Samuel Jakobson reached into the back pocket of his jeans and removed a ten-dollar note, which he handed over to the bigger boy.
‘That’s a good geek,’ said Bobby slapping him lightly across the cheeks. ‘Now, here’s my homework,’ he added shoving some papers into Sam’s shirt pocket. ‘Make sure you have it for me, before the bell goes in the morning.’
Sam nodded his acquiescence to the demand, not wanting to talk and further aggravate Bobby, the biggest, meanest, and toughest kid in Year-ten. He was also captain of the school football team and as dumb a jock as had ever walked the hallways of Grafton high school.
Bobby lowered Sam back down onto his feet and mockingly straightened out his shirt. ‘Now, you just make sure you have that homework done and I’ll meet you out front of the school in the morning. You got that?’
‘Sure,’ replied Sam. ‘I’ll be there.’
‘Oh, and one more thing,’ said the bigger boy as he started to walk off, ‘make sure you double check it, this time. I got one of the maths problems wrong the other day, which was a bit of a let down, because usually I get everything right.’
‘Okay, no problem,’ said Sam, ‘I’ll make sure.’
‘By the way, Sammy,’ said Bobby with a laugh, ‘you do a good job of forging my handwriting. The teacher in my maths class hasn’t suspected a thing since the start of the year.’
‘Thanks,’ said Sam as he watched Bobby walk off down the corridor laughing with his jock friends at their leader’s powers of persuasion.
Sam stood still for a moment and calmed himself. He considered taking a puff of his asthma pump, but thought he could probably go without it. He took Bobby’s homework from his shirt pocket, folded it and placed it in his backpack.
‘Hey, buddy,’ said a familiar voice, which caused the red haired, bespectacled boy to turn around and greet his friend, Matthew, with a smile.
‘Hi, Matt. Have you got my five-dollars on you?’
‘As always,’ replied Matthew taking the money from his pocket and passing it over to his friend.
‘Jesus,’ said Sam placing the note into his pocket, ‘that arsehole is really starting to piss me off. If it weren’t for the money I earn tutoring, I’d starve at lunchtime. The pocket money my mum gives me, all goes to the Bobby Clarke intimidation fund.’
‘So what are we going to do?’ Matt asked with shy smile and a shrug of his shoulders. ‘Let’s face it, we’re geeks. You do his maths and I do his English homework. I look at it this way though; one day he’ll be a washed up has-been, working in some menial labouring job and you and me will the CEO’s of fortune five hundred companies.’
‘You know what I’m going to do when that happens, Matthew my friend?’
‘No, what’s that?’
‘I’m going to buy the company he works for, just so I can fire his dumb, muscle-bound arse.’
The two boys burst into laughter and headed for the school canteen in order to purchase some lunch and a sugar rush that would see them through to the end of the school day.
As soon as Sam arrived home that afternoon, he went straight to his room and started on his two sets of homework. Normally, it would have taken no more than an hour to complete his own homework, but having to do Bobby’s as well, copying his almost illegible handwriting, took a little over two. Once he was done, he doubled-checked the maths figures and when he was satisfied, he went downstairs and ate dinner with his mother and his little brother.
He missed his father, especially at the dinner table, when he used to tell him all about his day and then later, after dinner, get him to help with his homework, even if he was a little slow on the uptake when it came to modern maths theory. Divorce sure had a way of making your world seem smaller.
After dinner, he packed his bag, jumped on his bike and headed off to tutor James, a new student who had arrived from Gabon, Africa, only a month before. James’ and his mother had met at the supermarket where they both worked and she had recommended Sam as a maths tutor, bragging that he was the top of the class when it came to numbers, calculations and mathematical formula. After some negotiation with James’ mother, they arrived at a remuneration of seven dollars an hour, which suited Sam fine.
Sam rode his bike on the concrete bike path that ran alongside Clarence River, looking at the bright reflection of light on the water as the sun went down.
He liked Grafton, although he wasn’t sure at first that he would fit in at a country school, but after six months, he found that most people were okay. He certainly got better treatment than a red haired nerd with glasses could expect from the students in the large Sydney school he had attended for three years prior to moving, with their hierarchy and exclusive, moronic cliques. Grafton was only seven hours drive from Sydney, but it could just as well have been a world away.
Most of the popular kids at Grafton high just ignored him and didn’t proactively intimidate him or deliberately set out to embarrass him in front of everyone. Bobby Clarke was unfortunately, the exception to that rule and he had gone out of his way to make both his and Matt’s life a misery, whenever he got the opportunity.
Sam arrived at James’ house just as it got dark. He parked his bike against the fence on the front lawn and knocked on the door, removing his backpack from around his shoulders while he waited.
A short while later, the deadlock unlatched and the door opened. A pair of brown eyes looked at him, followed by bright smile, the whiteness of which contrasted with the dark skin that surrounded it. ‘Ah, hello Samuel,’ said James’ mother, Emmanuel. ‘James is up in his room. You know the way by now, don’t you?’
Sam laughed. ‘Yes, of course Mrs. Leon, I should, I’ve been up there quite a few times.’
‘How is James going with his maths? I should hate to think that I was wasting my money.’
‘Yeah, he’s improving a lot,’ replied Sam with a smile as he made for the stairs, ‘with a bit of luck, I’ll be out of a job in a couple of months.’
‘You are a funny boy, Samuel,’ said Emmanuel with a laugh. ‘Now be off with you, my soap is coming on television and I don’t wish to be disturbed. I’ll bring you both up a snack in about half an hour.’
‘Thanks, Mrs. Leon, I’d appreciate that,’ said Sam as he disappeared up the staircase.
Sam knocked lightly on the bedroom door and waited for James to say come in before entering. He opened the door to find him sitting on his bed and writing something on a notepad.
‘Hey, James, what are you up to?’ Sam asked as he dropped his bag onto the floor and flopped down onto the bed beside his friend.
‘I am just writing a thank you letter to a friend back in Gabon, who has sent me a package.’
‘Oh, really, so what did you get?’
‘What I have received,’ replied James, putting down the pad and reaching under his bed, from where he pulled a plain brown paper package, ‘is perhaps the answer to yours and Matthew’s problem.’
‘What problem is that?’
‘Your Bobby Clarke problem,’ said James putting his hand inside the package and retrieving another smaller package which he started to unwrap.
‘Please don’t tell me you’ve got a poisonous snake in there, or some toxic scorpion,’ said Sam backing away slightly, but curious all the same.
James laughed loudly. ‘No, it is nothing like that, my friend.’
‘So, what the hell is it?’
‘Before I open this package, I must explain to you that in my homeland, which is an ancient place, we have certain mystical practices to deal with troublesome, annoying people.’
‘Sorry, James, I just don’t get you, I guess you’re just going to have to show me.’
James opened the package and pulled out a small, faceless clay statue, which he handed to Sam. It felt moist, as if just removed from the ground. ‘Are you telling me, James, that this is some sort of voodoo doll?’
‘There are many names for the practices which occur in my homeland, voodoo is just one of them.’
‘Does it really work?’
‘I can tell you that it does, but the truth is you need to find out for yourself.’
‘What do I have to do?’
‘You need to find a small picture of the person’s face that you wish to affect and place it at the front of the head. After that, whatever you do to the effigy will happen to the person you have selected.’
Sam laughed. ‘Look, I don’t mean to offend you or your culture and it’s good of you to try and help me and Matt, but I somehow don’t think that this is really going to work. It seems a little too good to be true and in my limited experience, things that seem too good to be true usually are.’
James smiled knowingly. ‘Like I said, you have to see for yourself. Here, take it and keep it somewhere safe, where no one will find it and use it for themselves.’
Sam took the wrapped idol and placed it in the rear of his backpack and then he and the dark-skinned African boy set about completing James’ homework and answering any of his math queries. They stopped for a little while, when Emmanuel arrived with some milkshakes and cookies and then continued for another hour, before finally closing the books for the night, at promptly eight o’ clock.
‘Okay, I’m going to take off now, it’s getting a bit late,’ said Sam putting on his backpack, ‘and I don’t want my mum to worry.’
‘Very well, my friend,’ said James giving Sam a hug. ‘Thank you for all your help. Before you go though, I need to tell you two things about the effigy. I know you will use it, because the temptation is too great for anyone to resist.’
‘Oh, yeah and what are they?’
‘The first thing is that the effigy must be handled with great care, while it has an identity. The second is to know, the taste of revenge is not always sweet.’
‘Yeah, okay, I’ll keep that in mind.’
Sam rode about a block from the James’ house and stopped his bike to look out at the river. The water was beautiful at this time of the night, with the moon shining down, reflecting on the dark surface. He sat took off his backpack, sat down on a soft patch of grass, pulled out the effigy and held it in his hand, examining it closely. It certainly didn’t look particularly powerful; just a handful of moulded clay, like something he had created in a typical grade-school art class.
He thought a moment about what he was going to do and then pulled his mobile phone from out of his backpack and dialled Matt’s number. He told him it was a long story, but asked if he had last year’s class photo handy.
‘Yeah, sure, it’s in my album.’
‘Could you bring it, a pair of scissors, your binoculars and a safety pin and I’ll meet you down by the river, near the boathouse. I’ll tell you why when you get here.’
‘Yeah, okay,’ replied Matt, ‘I can’t wait to hear this. See you in about ten minutes.’
‘Thanks, Matt, see you then,’ said Sam as he hung up his phone and returned it to his backpack.
Matt lived up to his word and arrived at the boathouse ten minutes later, puffing from riding his bike. He showed Sam that he had brought all the requested articles and then asked for an explanation.
‘Sit down, catch your breath and I’ll tell you.’
Matt sat down with his friend and Sam explained to him about the effigy, told him how it worked and what James had said to him.
‘Can I see it?’ Matt asked.
‘Sure,’ replied Sam, who un-wrapped the little idol and handed it over to his friend. ‘Be careful with it though.’
Matt took the effigy in his hand and looked it over. ‘It’s like something I made when I was in kindergarten.’
‘I was just thinking the same thing myself,’ laughed Sam as he took taking the effigy, re-wrapped it, and placed it in his backpack. ‘I guess great minds think alike.’
Sam asked Matt for the class photo and then proceeded to cut into the section where Bobby Clarke stood. He cut further into the photo and singled out Bobby’s face, which he excised from the rest and dropped onto the grass. ‘Okay, let’s go and see if this thing is actually real.’
The two boys jumped onto their bikes and rode quickly to the other side of Grafton. They locked their bikes to a telegraph pole about a half block away and stole quietly onto the lawn of the house opposite the Clarke residence. They hid themselves amongst the bushes in the garden, Matt taking up a position with the binoculars, while Sam readied the effigy, placing Bobby’s face onto the clay head.
‘What can you see, Matt?’
‘It looks like they’re all in the there, the whole family, sitting in the living room and watching TV.’
‘Okay, tell me what you see, when I stick the pin in the idol’s arse.’
Sam didn’t have to see through the binoculars to know that Bobby had just been stuck deeply in the arse with the pin. His sudden cry of pain would have been audible from a block away.
‘Oh, boy, he must have jumped six feet in the air,’ whispered Matt hardly able to control his laughter.
‘Here, let me see,’ said Sam handing over the effigy and taking the idol.
‘All right,’ said Matt quietly chuckling, ‘on the count of three, I’ll stick him.’
Sam kept the binoculars aimed at the living room and the alarmed family gathered around Bobby, who had dropped his jeans and boxer shorts, to let his parents inspect his place of injury. Sam saw the look on Mr. Clarke’s face, and knew that he was somewhat sceptical of his son’s complaint, seeing that there was no discernible injury to his backside.
Sam exploded with laughter and had to place his hand over his mouth, after Matt pushed the pin into the other butt cheek of the effigy, causing Bobby to jump onto the dining room table and howl like a wounded animal.
‘All right, that’s enough…for now,’ said Sam, ‘let’s get out of here.’
The two of them made their way back to their bicycles, laughing all the way down the street. ‘I can’t believe it works,’ said Matt as he hopped onto his bike.
‘Yeah, I can’t either, said Sam, ‘but we’ve got to keep it a secret between us and James. No one else, okay?’
‘Shake on it,’ said Matt offering his hand to his friend.
The pair of them shook hands, swearing to keep the power of the effigy a secret and then rode off into the night, making excited plans for the next day.
The following morning, Sam stood opposite the school. He appeared to be waiting for Bobby Clarke, in order to deliver his completed maths homework. Much to Sam’s constant dismay and embarrassment, he knew that everybody else knew too, the forced arrangement being the worst kept secret amongst the whole student body. Several of the more popular kids passed him by, barely glancing at him and sneering quietly at his geeky weakness.
About fifty metres up the street, concealed between two parked cars, stood Matthew, who held the effigy in his hand and watched Sam through the windscreen of one of the stationary vehicles, just waiting for Bobby to show up, so that they could put their plan into action. It was going to be a wonderful way to start the day and every day after, thought Matt, once that dumb-arse piece of shit, finally left them in peace.
Bobby came riding along the street on his ten-speed racing bike looking as smug and overly confident usual. He stopped beside Sam, put down his bike and walked over to the smaller boy. ‘You got my homework?’
‘Yeah,’ replied Sam taking the papers from out of his bag, ‘but you want to know something? You can kiss my arse, Clarke,’ he said tearing the homework up in front of Bobby, ‘because I’m not doing this or any other homework of yours, from now on.’
‘Why you little shit!’ Bobby shouted as he grabbed Sam by the front of the shirt, ‘I’m going to beat you senseless.’
Matt was watching the interaction from up the street, and just as Sam said let me go and placed his hand on Bobby’s arm, he jabbed the arm of the effigy deeply with the pin, causing Bobby to cry out in pain and cradle his arm.
Right at that moment, Sam reared back and slapped Bobby hard across the face, while Matt stood the effigy on his palm and pushed it over, sending Bobby crashing to the ground. Matt then rolled the figure along his palm, which made it appear as though Sam’s slap sent Bobby tumbling about ten feet along the street.
Sam walked slowly over to where Bobby lay prostrate in the street, a look of stunned disbelief on his face. ‘If you want to get up and try again,’ said Sam smiling and rubbing his hands together, ‘there’s plenty more where that came from. I was just getting started.’
‘No,’ replied Bobby, ‘I won’t hassle you no more.’
‘There’s something else I want you to do for me, too,’ said Sam reaching into his back pocket and retrieving his lunch money, which he stuck in Bobby’s mouth. ‘At lunchtime, I want you to go and get me a ham and salad roll, chocolate milk and a cinnamon bun from the canteen. I want you to bring them to me at my locker. You got that?’
‘Yeah, okay,’ replied Bobby nervously, ‘I got it.’
‘I’ll have the same, too,’ added Matt, walking over and dropping his money onto the bully’s chest, ‘and make sure you bring us the right change, or you’ll pay for it in ways you can’t even imagine. Are we clear?’
‘Yeah, we’re clear,’ replied Bobby who seemed almost on the verge of tears.
When the two boys turned around to leave, they saw that almost half the student body had gathered to watch the spectacle of big, tough Bobby Clarke unbelievably defeated by the little, red haired bespectacled geek. They noticed too, that several of the prettier girls, who had not paid them the slightest heed in the past, now seemed to be looking at them in a very different manner, as if the two boys had suddenly appeared from out of nowhere and their presence had just been noticed in that moment.
‘I think I could get used to this,’ said Matt with a smile.
‘Yeah, me too,’ said Sam, ‘Come on, we’ve got to get to class.’
They turned and began heading for the school, when a thought suddenly struck Sam. He walked back over to Bobby, who was now sitting up on the footpath, removing the money from his mouth. ‘Bobby, don’t let me find you standing over anybody else to do your homework. Just because Matt and I won’t, doesn’t mean that anybody else has to either. You do your own work from now on and remember arsehole; I’ll be keeping a careful eye on you.’
Sam turned, ran back to join Matt and the pair of them entered the school grounds with smiles spread right across their faces.
When lunchtime arrived, Bobby presented with the boys’ lunch in a most subservient manner. He even provided them with receipt to show them he hadn’t swindled them out of any of their change. ‘Is that all?’
‘Yeah, for now,’ replied Sam who took his food without a thank you and dismissed Bobby by turning his back and walking off.
Matt and Sam sat on a hill overlooking the school football oval, eating their food, watching, while Bobby and his friends practiced with the football, opposing each other with driving, physical tackles.
Each time Bobby took possession of the ball; either Sam or Matt pushed over the effigy and cracked up with laughter as Bobby fell flat on his face, for no apparent reason.
They looked over when Mr. Hutchins, one of the English teachers came striding up the hill, as he usually did at lunchtime, trying to catch the kids who smoked cigarettes away from the main school buildings.
‘Quick, hide the idol,’ said Sam to his friend.
Matt grabbed the effigy and stashed it in his pencil case, closing the lid tightly and returning it to his bag before the teacher arrived.
‘You boys aren’t smoking up here, are you?’ Mr. Hutchins asked sniffing the air for signs of tobacco smoke.
‘No, sir,’ replied Sam, ‘we don’t smoke.’
‘Disgusting habit,’ added Matt with a smile.
Suddenly there was a loud commotion from the bottom of the hill. When the three of them looked, they saw that Bobby had collapsed to the ground and was fighting for breath.
‘Jesus,’ said Mr. Hutchins who immediately realised the gravity of the situation and rushed down the hill.
‘Oh shit!’ Sam exclaimed, ‘it’s the idol; we didn’t take the face off before we hid it. Quick, get it out!’
Matt grabbed his pencil case from out of his bag, lifted the lid and retrieved the effigy. The two of them waited for a moment, but it didn’t seem as if Bobby was recovering. Mr. Hutchins knelt beside the boy and performed CPR, assisted by another of the students.
Matt and Sam waited anxiously and then breathed a sigh of relief, when Bobby finally took a huge, convulsive gulp of air into his lungs.
‘Jesus, that was close,’ said Matt falling onto his back into the grass.
‘Yeah, way too close,’ agreed Sam. ‘We almost killed him. He’s an arsehole, but he doesn’t deserve to die.’
‘No, if he dies, you’ll never get the chance to fire him, when you’re a CEO.’
The pair of them laughed uneasily as they headed back to class.
After school, Sam asked Matt to come with him and the two of them headed for James’ house and asked him to accompany them too, which he did without explanation.
All three of them rode their bikes to the Grafton Bridge. They continued until they reached the halfway point across and then stopped, putting their bikes against the guardrail.
Sam proceeded to tell James about what had happened at school and about Bobby’s near-death experience.
The African boy nodded his head sagely. ‘It is as I told you; you need to be very careful of what you do with the effigy when it has an identity.’
‘You said something else too, about the taste of revenge not always being sweet.’
‘Yes, that is right,’ replied James. ‘Sometimes the taste of revenge is bitter and sour.’
‘You got that right,’ said Matt. ‘I don’t feel real good about what happened.’
‘Me either,’ said Sam looking down at the water.
James smiled knowingly at both of his friends. ‘The magic in the effigy is made to deal with troublesome and annoying people. If you abuse that magic and become the thing, you are trying to rid yourself of; it has a way of turning on you.’
‘I guess we did kind of turn into bullies,’ admitted Matt. ‘There wasn’t much point in screwing with Bobby on the football field. We did it just for fun.’
‘Yeah, you’re right,’ said Sam taking the faceless effigy in his hand. ‘What do you think we should do with it, James?’
‘I think you already know the answer to that question.’
Sam turned and dropped the effigy off the bridge. The three of them watched as it hit the river, sank beneath the brown-coloured water and disappeared. ‘Come on, you two geeks, let’s go home.’