"Marko got into a scuffle with Ben Ritchie in the hall yesterday," Jan says carefully. "He called Ben's girlfriend a slut."
"Not smart," Bill Sims murmurs.
Marko Bakic is six-foot-two and lean as a sapling; Ben Ritchie is five-foot-six and built like a cast-iron stove, just like his father, who played football with Drew and me more than twenty years ago.
Jan says, "Ben shoved Marko into the wall and told him to apologize. Marko told Ben to kiss his ass."
"So what happened?" asks Sims, his eyes shining. This is a lot more interesting than routine school board business.
Clearly put off by the juvenile relish in Bill's face, Jan says, "Ben put Marko in a choke hold and mashed his head against the floor until he apologized. Ben embarrassed Marko in front of a lot of people."
"Sounds like our Croatian hippie got what he deserved."
"Be that as it may," Jan says icily, "after Ben let Marko up, Marko told Ben he was going to kill him. Two other students heard it."
"Macho bullshit," says Sims. "Bakic trying to save face."
"Was it?" asks Jan. "When Ben asked Marko how he was going to do that, Marko said he had a gun in his car."
Sims sighs heavily. "Did he? Have a gun, I mean."
"No one knows. I didn't hear about this until after school. Frankly, I think the students were too afraid to tell me about it."
"Afraid of what you'd do?"
"No. Afraid of Marko. Several students say he does carry a gun sometimes. But no one would admit to seeing it on school property."
"Did you talk to the Wilsons?" Holden Smith asks from the doorway.
Bill Sims snorts in contempt. "What for?"
The Wilsons are the family that agreed to feed and house Marko for two semesters. Jack Wilson is a retired academic, and Marko seems to have him completely snowed.
Jan Chancellor watches Holden expectantly. She's a good headmistress, although she dislikes direct confrontations, which can't be avoided in a job like hers. Her face looks pale beneath her sleek, black bob, and her nerves seem stretched to the breaking point. They must be, to bring her to this point of insistence.
"I move that we enter executive session," she says, meaning that no minutes will be taken from this point forward.
"Second," I agree.
Jan gives me a quick look of gratitude. "As you all know, this is merely the latest in a long line of disruptive incidents. There's a clear pattern here, and I'm worried that something irreparable is going to happen. If it does -- and if it can be demonstrated that we were aware of this pattern -- then St. Stephen's and every member of the board will be exposed to massive lawsuits."
Holden sighs wearily from the door. "Jan, this was a serious incident, no doubt. And sorting it out is going to be a pain in the ass. But Kate Townsend's death is going to be a major shock to every student and family at this school. I can call a special meeting later in the week to deal with Marko, but Kate is the priority right now."
Copyright © 2005 by Greg Iles.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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