Hub Parks here. Signing in, as they say. I’m not sure I should be doing this, but I kind of had to get some things into the open and in my family, with two older and two younger siblings, it’s kind of hard to get a word in edgewise, let alone hold the floor long enough to get something important said, so writing things down is the only way to get this stuff on the record. North of me there are two brothers: Kyle and Kevin. I call them The Brotherhood. South of me are two sisters: Michelle and Megan, The Sisterhood. I’ve got nothing against any of them. In fact, because of my brothers, who star on the football and basketball teams and even captain the baseball and lacrosse teams in the spring, nobody messes with ol’ Hub, which is short for Hubble. My name has caused me some trouble. It’s a family name and I’m the only one with a family name as a first name, though why my parents couldn’t have picked some other family name, like Chance or Wickham, is something of a mystery. But then parents seem to spend a lot of time doing things that make no sense to kids. You’d think sometimes they’d never been kids, though they never miss a chance to tell you they once were so they know everything there is to know about being a kid. If you believe that, you’re gonna love the story about the snake that swallowed an elephant. The trouble with my name is nicknames. Scope is the one currently in use, because of the telescope in space, but there have been others a lot worse. Rubble, for example. I was a lot younger then and I got the name because Rubble rhymes with Hubble. The worst one, though, was Bubbles but it didn’t last beyond one bloody lip and a bad nose bleed. The other guys did the bleeding but only because I attacked before they were ready and also because I got lucky both times. Now, I have to live with Scope. Nobody at home calls me that, just the jerks in school, and they get away with it because my older brothers, who pretty much made sure that I didn’t get bullied when I was in grammar school, decided that a guy in high school had to deal with stuff like that himself. I was developing an array of wild plans to sabotage those guys, but when Danny Klotts started in on me, I still hadn’t firmed anything up, as they say. I did the only thing I could. I laughed and walked away, which left him standing there trying to look cool and knowing that the only way out of his predicament was to fight, but not even Klotts was dumb enough to start a fight in school, so he wound up with everyone laughing at him. I’m still not sure what made me do that, which is really strange because I am not an impulsive guy. I plan things. Before I get into any of that, let me tell you more about the family. Kyle graduates in June, Kevin is a year behind, and I’m a year behind Kevin, which means I’ve already started driving lessons. The girls are a lot younger. Michelle is in fifth grade and Megan is in third. Of course they think Kyle and Kevin are the absolute epitome of what it means to be cool. I’m not sure they know my name. Sometimes I’m not even sure my mother knows my name. But Kyle and Kevin know it. They know it because they don’t have any choice. I know too much. Not that I would ever have ratted them out, but because they weren’t completely sure of that, I got included. I got to ride to school with them and now and then they let me sit at their lunch table. They’re even cool with the fact that this year I did a lot of growing and passed them both, which puts me at almost six-two. They call me the tall, rangy guy, but skinny would be more like it. Both Kyle and Kevin are six feet tall and absolutely jacked, which is why my extra inch or so doesn’t mean much. Now, I gotta say this right up front. My parents, apart from giving me a dumb name, are okay. I’ve never once been punished for something I didn’t deserve, and as long as I pull my weight around the house, get my chores done and keep my grades up, I pretty much get to do what I want. And I also have a kind of special relationship with my dad. I’m the only one who’s ever been down to the company he founded and seen what goes on there. It is awesome stuff. Dad’s a computer engineer and most of the time he works with electronic stuff, all of it cutting edge. The neatest thing he showed me was a device his company has been working on that will project holographic images. They’re not the only company doing that, but they’re working on a pocket-sized unit that can project perfect three dimensional images in thin air wherever you want them. They haven’t perfected it yet, because they’re still debugging the software so I didn’t get to see a demonstration, but I gotta tell you, this is definitely gonna be a better mousetrap! Old Emerson couldn’t have been more right. I’m thinking now that I might like to be an engineer. It helps that I’m good at math and I like knowing how things work. But I’m only a sophomore, so who knows what else might turn up. Here’s the deal. Half of my life has worked out just fine but the other half, the school half, was like a car stuck to the frame in thick mud, fifty miles from nowhere, and the thing was, I didn’t know why. So I made a list of what I didn’t do. Sports. I’m just not an athlete, at least not like my brothers. They are awesome. I’m not all that bad on the golf course and I’m learning to play squash, which I like a lot but we don’t have a team so I play up at the Y, when I can get someone to drive me. Not easy. We have pick-up basketball games at home and Dad is pretty awesome, just like The Brotherhood. Me? I prefer playing horse because then I don’t have to dribble and I can stand in one place and drain three-pointers. Nobody beats me at horse when it’s one-on-one. It gets iffy with three or four players because I have to make somebody else’s shot and usually I miss. I’ve never been much on school activities, mostly because I don’t like clubs and gatherings. As a result I don’t belong to any particular clique. Almost everyone hangs out with someone, but I don’t. I spend my free time alone, playing my guitars. I’ve got two, an old Les Paul electric and a Martin D-45, both of which came from my grandfather. On the electric I play jazz and on the D-45 I fingerpick a lot of old blues tunes. I can sing okay too, though my voice is kind of husky. I know you’ve never heard of Les Paul because he was famous a long time ago, back in the Dark Ages, which as near as I can tell is when my parents grew up. But Les Paul was a great guitar player who even made recordings with guys like Chet Atkins, who was an absolute legend. Les Paul also made records with a singer named Mary Ford and he invented the reverb for the guitar and he made the first solid body guitar out of an old Epiphone. He also pioneered multitrack recording. Do you care about this? Does anyone care about this? Yeah. Me. I’m pretty sure that if you ever listened to that music you’d probably think it was pretty dull stuff. But before you write me off as a total freak, you ought to know that because of all the guitar practice my fingers are really quick, so no matter how hard they try, my jock brothers never beat me at video games. I love it! You oughta hear ’em moan and groan when I wipe ’em out before they hardly get started. What that says about me, I have no idea, but at least you know I’m up to date on some things. We live in a big old house with a lot of bedrooms, out in the rural part of town where there are still a lot of farms. Old houses can be kind of spooky at times and this house was built just after the Revolutionary War by a man named Simon Chandler. The house sits on a pretty big piece of land, about fifty acres. We’ve got two English setters and we raise our own pheasants and stock our land all through the fall. We also have our own skeet range because that’s Dad’s favorite thing to do, and along with hunting, is something we share. There might be others though we haven’t discovered them just yet. But heck, I’m only sixteen, so there’s lots of time for him to learn. We hunt and we shoot and it kind of came as a surprise to everyone in the family that the non-athlete is a better shot than the athletes. Go figure. I mean, shooting is all a matter of eye-hand coordination and the jocks have pretty much cornered the market on that stuff, except that shooting is also a matter of total concentration and that turns out to be my strong suit. When I concentrate, I shut out everything around me. Dad says I’m the only natural wing-shot he ever saw, and to tell you the truth, I don’t hardly ever miss a clay target on the skeet range and I have never missed on a bird. We even shoot right through the winter and we reload all our own shells. So, as you can see, all the stuff I’m good at nobody knows about. Except my grades. I’m a very good student. A’s. I get A’s, all A’s. I don’t know whether that means I’m smart, but I do know I work a lot. I like getting things done and done well. I write awesome papers, long and complicated, not to impress anyone, but because it’s more fun and it blows teachers away. I have one major failing that I have to admit to, much as I hate having to acknowledge that anything I do can be criticized. I’m absent minded. It doesn’t help that I’m built like the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz. And then too, there’s the matter of my hair. Some people have bad hair days. I never have a good hair day. It grows wild and about the only way I can keep it pegged down is to wear a hat. But if I don’t put that hat on right after I get out of the shower and keep it there ‘til my hair dries it ends up sticking out at strange angles, making it look as if I’d stuck my finger into a light socket or something. I’ve used all kinds of gels and hair goo, but short of axle grease it’s pretty much hopeless, except for the hat. I’ve been thinking of getting a buzz cut and maybe one of these days I will. Some things you either have to work up to slowly or go on an impulse. I don’t trust impulse. My weird hair is kind of sandy brown and my eyes are big and green. If you put all that together you get a guy who stumbles up steps and walks into doors. My nose has two bumps where I broke it walking into doors before I learned to use the straight-arm technique common among running backs. That worked pretty well until a few days ago when I lost track of where I was, turned too soon, and managed to plunge on through the glass panel by the side of the door, shattering it into about a billion pieces. I made the best of it though. I leaped on into the foyer, shouting, “DOWN! EVERYBODY GET DOWN!” In the confusion I managed to crouch low and duck off down the hall to my locker. And then later, someone, most likely while having their fingernails pulled out one at a time, told Mr. Hickey I was there when the door exploded. He’s the assistant principal (also known as the Ass. Principal because the guy who painted his name and title on the door to his office didn’t know that assistant is abbreviated Asst. What makes that really weird is that no one changed it. Did they not know the difference?). Hickey is also the chief of interrogation, so when I got called down to his office I felt like I’d been collared by the Russian Secret Police. “Well, then, Mr. Parks,” Hickey said as I walked into his office. “Let’s hear what you’ve got to say.” I stood in front of his desk, looking down at his bald head which showed an almost perfect reflection of the tree outside his window, a particularly fine sugar maple clad in the reds and golds of early November. I gave him my puzzled look. “About what?” “The door.” “Which door?” “Okay, Parks, let’s you and me get something straight.” “Something’s crooked?” I asked. He leaned back in his chair, crossed his arms over his bulging stomach, and stared up at me through narrowed eyes, trying to decide whether I was being a wise guy or whether I was just stupid. I gave him neutral: my face blank, my body relaxed. I’m really good at neutral. I can be as unexciting as a beige wall. He raised one hand to his mouth, a finger resting on his lower lip. “I’m talking about the incident this morning when one of the front doors got smashed.” “Oh,” I said, “the one hit by the sniper. Did they catch him yet?” He popped up out of his chair like someone who’d just sat down on a bunch of eggs. “Sniper? There was a sniper? Why the hel..., I mean, why didn’t you report that?” “I was too busy running for cover. All I wanted was to keep from getting shot!” “Did you hear the shot?” I shook my head. “What else could it have been?” “So, you didn’t hear a shot.” “Everybody knows those guys use silencers,” I said. “Silencers?” “Absolutely. It’s a well-known fact. You hear about it all the time. Even the fifty caliber rifles come with silencers, though that doesn’t do much for the sonic boom when the bullet breaks the sound barrier.” “The sound barrier?” “Oh, yeah. Absolutely.” “I never knew anything about this stuff.” “Wow! I thought what with all the school shootings, you guys got some kind of special ballistics training.” He shook his head. “I’m gonna need to talk to somebody about that.” He looked up. “You’re sure about this?” I nodded. “One way to tell if it was a sniper is to look for the bullet. It had to have hit something solid. If you can’t find a bullet then maybe you’ll have to look for another explanation. But it’d be a relief to know there wasn’t someone shooting at me. A thing like that can be kind of upsetting.” “Okay, good idea. Good idea. Uh, you can go, Parks. You’ve been very helpful.” So, I left. Later, at home, I was upstairs practicing some of the blues fingerings of Mississippi John Hurt, one of the great guitarists who came out of the Mississippi Delta, when Kevin popped into my room with a grin on his face like he’d just finished eating a bowl full of forbidden fruit. Both he and Kyle are good looking guys, with brown eyes and sandy hair and they are under constant ogle and giggle pressure from the girls. “So, Dude, tell me about the sniper.” I grinned and kept on picking. “Did you know that Hickey called in the cops and they spent the rest of the day looking for a bullet hole?” I stopped playing. “I never said there was a sniper.” “Of course you didn’t. But somehow that’s what Hickey thought. And because it’s tempered glass it blew into a billion tiny bits so there was no bullet hole to find in the glass. Which means that you walked into another door, only this time you got away with it.” “Who me? Walk into a door? Hey, Kev, I haven’t walked into a door for at least six months.” He laughed. “And you didn’t even cut your hands.” “I wear heavy gloves whenever I’m around glass doors.” I tapped the guitar. “Can’t afford to mess up any fingers.” “Like always, Hub, you cover the bases.” I looked up at him. “I’ve been hearing a rumor about some people in town wanting to cut out football, wrestling, and lacrosse. Have you heard that?” He shook his head. “No. But what kind of goofballs would try that? Do they have any idea what they’re up against?” “Probably not.” He stood up and headed for the door. “You play a mean guitar, you know.” I nodded. “Yeah,” I said. “I know.” “Then how come nobody but me and Kyle know this?” “I got a plan.” He laughed. “Hub, you’ve been saying that since you learned to talk. You’ve always got a plan.” “It’s important to be ready.” “Have any of those plans ever worked?” “Every one.” “Get outta here! No way, dude!” “It’s true, Kev. I‘ve never had a plan fail.” I was grinning at him and he got it. “Yeah, and you never told anyone beforehand what your plan was.” I played a quick riff and sang, “John Henry was a steel driving man, and he went down, oh he went down...” Give me Mississippi John Hurt every time.