“You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another, without it was Aunt Polly, or the widow, or maybe Mary. Aunt Polly – Tom’s Aunt Polly, she is – and Mary and the Widow Douglas is all told about in that book, which is mostly a true book, with some stretchers, as I said before.”
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
The first paragraph.
If people found out you were from Trinity Lane High School, before all this happened, they were certain to ask about Billy B.
What’s he like in person? A real down-to-earth guy, right?
Not true, but I can’t really tell you why.
Trinity Lane always has great basketball teams. That must be pretty exciting.
For some people, maybe. For most of us most of the time, not really.
I guess you’re proud to be a graduate of Trinity Lane.
Actually, I didn’t graduate. I finished, but I left before graduation. I had other things to do.
The year was 1967, and it was mid-January. Lyndon Johnson was president of the United States, and Buford Ellington was governor of Tennessee. Ed Chapman was principal of Trinity Lane High School in Nashville.
The war in Vietnam was raging.
Study hall loomed like it always did for me during third period. A long, narrow, hollow room, dull to the point of sadness – except for the maroon and white posters on the walls telling us how great it was to be at Trinity Lane High School. The room seemed older than the school building itself. I’ll bet Methuselah or Darwin or somebody had study hall in this room when he was a teenager.
The students were in their seats and mostly quiet. I was late, as usual. I went up to Coach Hardeman and pronounced my name.
He checked it off with a flourish and a glare.
I worked my way through the desks to a part of the room where I thought that, just maybe, I might be alone. Not that I was that popular. I wasn’t. I had friends and probably wasn’t considered any weirder than normal, but nobody was trying to draft me to run for class president. That was fine. I didn’t want to me class president.
I was managing editor of the student newspaper, the Panther Paw. It was the most that a girl could be. The editor was a football lug who rarely came to class. “Coach says I gotta go,” he would tell Miss Flowers, and he would disappear. The work of putting out the paper each month then fell to me and a couple of others.
But on this particular morning, I wasn’t thinking about that. I was thinking about something else.
Second period, the class that just ended, was my journalism class, and the teacher, Constance Flowers, had just told us that the local chapter of Sigma Delta Chi, the professional journalist’s society – all male, of course – was offering a scholarship to a promising high school senior. The amount was $2,500. The way I figured it, that would get me well into the second year of college.
“I guess you have to be a boy to win that?” I asked her when class was over.
She looked at the announcement sheet and shook her head.
“It doesn’t say that.”
I started to leave the room. “Maxine, if you’re really interested in this, I have a tip for you.”
“I’m really interested.”
“They like to give it to a student who writes good stories,” she said. “You know, the kind of stories that you really have to dig for. Come up with something like that for the next issue of the Paw, and I think you’ve got a shot at it.”
There aren’t many things in life that I wanted, I told myself. I was lying, of course. There were lots of things I wanted. But if you’re a teenager, you have to put a little drama in your life, so you say things like, “There aren’t many things I want in life, but I really want . . .”
But the fact was, I really wanted to get that scholarship.
It would be the first step into a life as a journalist. I could see that pretty clearly even from my rickety desk in third-period study hall. I could see me at a big university as editor of the daily newspaper. After that would be a job at a big newspaper. Then I would spend a few months helping the paper break a big political scandal. As a reward for my good work, the paper would transfer me to the foreign desk where I would be assigned to cover the war in Vietnam. My dispatches from the front would be written while I was with a platoon from the 101st Airborne and we were taking fire from the Cong.
But before any of that happened, I needed a story for the next issue of the Panther Paw. And it had to be a good one.
“So, Max, what’s your story?”
She wasn’t asking for my life history. She wanted to know what I was going to cover for the next edition of the Panther Paw.
While deep in the sanctuary of my own thoughts, Bobbi Foster had plopped down in the desk beside me. Bobbi’s long blonde hair gleamed. Her perfect white teeth gleamed. Her high cheekbones gleamed. Her clothes gleamed. Everything about her gleamed.
I hated Bobbi Foster. Actually, that’s not quite true. I tried to spend most of my time not thinking about her. What I hated was that my strategy for ignoring her was mostly unsuccessful. You couldn’t ignore Bobbi Foster and be part of life at Trinity Lane High School. She was the captain of the cheerleaders, the president of the Honor Society, and the girlfriend of Billy Byers, current star and greatest player in the history of TLHS basketball. She was also on the staff of the Paw.
“Well, I’m considering a couple of ideas, but I haven’t settled on anything yet.” I was lying. She knew I was lying.
Journalism is one area where I didn’t feel competitive with Bobbi. I was better than she was, hands down. She couldn’t write her way out of a left turn lane on a one-way street.
“Whoa, gotta go.” She wasn’t even looking at me when she said it. She had her eye on the door to the study hall, and Billy B. had just entered the room. Bobbi had to get to him before he started talking to any of the other girls.
Coming up with a good story shouldn’t have been all that difficult. I probably knew something about every junior and senior at TLHS, and everybody, they say, has a story. The problem is that most of their stories were not worth telling.
And it was not just the students I knew something about. I made it a special mission to know things about the administrators and most of the teachers – things other people didn’t know. For instance, I knew that our principal, Ed Chapman, had been kicked out of college years ago. He was, apparently, quite a bounder in his day. He then went into the Army, got himself straightened out, went back to college and starred on the football team. He came into the Davidson County school system as a coach and then at some point became a principal. That was the standard route to becoming a high school principal in those days.
How did I find these things out? In the journalism business, it’s called “sources.” I had ways of finding out information. I knew people who knew things. I could get them to talk. It’s always been one of my talents.
One of my ways of finding out things was that I had a part-time job – well, nearly a full-time job – at Miller’s drugstore on Dickerson Pike. Old Doc Miller left me in charge of his little place just about every night after about six o’clock. It was just a two-shelf-and-soda-fountain place, so it didn’t require much work. Lots of people were in and out of there. And I had no trouble getting them to talk if I wanted them to. In fact, people love to talk. They love to tell you what they know. Sometimes it’s hard to get them to shut up.
People must have thought I was just a kid, or just a girl, and there would be no harm in telling me stuff. I had developed this wide-eyed, you-don’t-mean-it look that sometimes kept people blabbering until long after they should have been home and into their third beer.
And I knew stuff that would make good stories. I knew that the city school board was planning to build a new baseball diamond, with stands for 500 people, at TLHS in the next year. Only the principal and a couple of the coaches knew about that. I knew that the board was planning to redraw school district lines later this year that would send a lot of TLHS students to a new high school they’re building farther out on Gallatin Pike. None of that had been publicly announced yet, but I knew about it.
So I guessed I wasn’t lying to Bobbi Foster after all when I said I was considering a couple of ideas.
But I didn’t want to write about any of those things. I wanted something bigger, something that would make everybody take notice.
I just didn’t know what it was yet.
Oddly enough, I didn’t know much about Bobbi Foster.
Bobbi had transferred to TLHS at the beginning of last school year and had swept everyone away with her good looks, confidence, and charm. She said she had been a cheerleader at whatever school she had come from, and when one of the spots on the varsity cheerleading squad opened up, the teacher in charge filled it with Bobbi. No tryouts or anything. One day Bobbi wasn’t a cheerleader, and the next day she was.
She signed up for the journalism class during the second half of the year, and by the end of the term, she was the gossip column editor. I did not care about any of that too much, but the column was read by everybody, and it gave her even more prominence.
One thing I was beginning to realize was that Bobbi had a purpose in mind for everything she did.
I had never made any serious effort to check up on Bobbi.
Maybe now was the time to do that.
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