Wednesday 24 April 2024

Scientific Attraction Chapter 11 Osmium by Jim Bates , mocha



By Jim Bates



The story so far:

In Chapter One, Gadolinium, we were introduced to Sherry a sixteen-year-old girl who has withdrawn due to the loss of her father in a tragic car accident. Chapter Two, Terbium, we were introduced to Zeke who has been in the child welfare system for six years and is having mental health issues. They both like science a lot. In Chapter Three, Dysprosium, we are introduced to Mary who is one of the mental health professionals caring for Zeke. We are also introduced to her boyfriend Len. In Chapter Four, Holmium, Len, and Mary meet Leroy a homeless person, and befriend him. In Chapter Five, Erbium, Leroy and his pal Riley attempt to rob a store, and the result is better than they could have ever expected. In Chapter Six, Thulium, Leroy and Riley end up going home to Leroy’s parents' farm and are welcomed with open arms. In Chapter Seven, Ytterbium, Riley has returned to Minneapolis and is working at Café Enya where he has an interesting encounter with one of the regular patrons. In Chapter Eight, Lutetium, after leaving the coffee show, Sherry and Zeke are hassled by Zeke’s former drug dealer and later on open up with each other about their past lives. In Chapter Nine, Hafnium, Len is in an accident and while recovering in the hospital, Mary asks him to attend a meeting where Sherry and Zeke are going to present a science report. He agrees to attend. In Chapter Ten, Refractory Metals. Sherry and Zeke spend part of the morning in their favorite café Mud Bound while Sherry’s mother Kari is at home dealing with personal issues. Sherry brings Zeke home to meet her mom.


Spring, 2022

The Upper Midwest Science Fair was held in the Minneapolis Convention Center, a huge round building located six blocks from the heart of downtown. Every spring it was filled with winning science exhibits from regional competitions in North and South Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota. Middle Schools and High Schools from all over the area were represented. You could see exhibits ranging from growing cost-effective organic soybeans to a robot waxing a floor, and everything in between.

After being canceled the year before due to Covid, this year there were nearly two-hundred and fifty entrants with their exhibits set up all across the 10,000 square foot floor filling every available inch of space. The highlight of the two-day gathering was the Saturday night award ceremony that came after a sit-down dinner. During the meal there was a speaker, chosen with care; someone interesting, perhaps well-known, and, for sure, able to command the attention of a large, and often restless audience of young people.

This year there were two speakers, two emerging seventeen-year-old scientists, Sherry Kingman and Zeke Reynolds. Less than half an hour before they were scheduled to go on, they were sequestered in a small office one level below the stage reviewing their notes. To say they were fired up was putting it mildly.

            “Okay,” Zeke said, flipping through his worn spiral-bound notebook. He was dressed in his signature black jeans, black tee-shirt, and black hoodie. On his feet were his scuffed black work boots. On his head, he wore his green and gold baseball hat with a star on in, chosen, not for the hockey team it represented, but because he liked stargazing. “The whole idea is to give a brief a brief overview of the periodic chart.”

            “Right,” Sherry chimed in. While Zeke was thin, Sherry was big-boned and proud of it. She was dressed in a floral red print dress covered with yellow and white flowers. She also wore black tights. “To compliment your outfit,” she’d playfully told Zeke earlier. Her short hair was streaked with lavender and she wore white high-top tennis shoes. “We’ve only got ten minutes to talk, so time is short. We’ll have to move it along.”

“No kidding.” Zeke grinned at her. “Man, we could spend an hour just on the Inert Gases alone.”

“Right,” Sherry said, returning his smile. “But we don’t have that much time. We’ll just give a brief overview of the ten categories.”

            Zeke grinned and counted off on his fingers. “The Metalloids and the other nonmetals.”

            Sherry picked up on their game. “The Halogens and Noble Gases.”

            “Alkali Metals and Alkaline Earth Metals.”



            “Transition Metals.”

            “And…” Zeke performed a drum rolled on his knees.

            “Post-transition metals,” Sherry said.

            Next to her Sherry’s imaginary friend Leslie clapped. Yea! You guys are great.

After being a little hesitant in the beginning about Sherry’s involvement with Zeke, Leslie was now fully on board with the skinny science geek. Especially after last fall, when Zeke had stepped up and began helping Sherry and her mom, Kari, with chores around their house as well as their yard. And he kept at it, too, sticking to task during the winter and into the spring, proving to them that he was not only smart when came to chemistry, but also a willing and hard worker when it came to physical labor.

During the winter, Zeke diligently kept the front sidewalk and driveway back by the alley shoveled. During the spring he’d raked the lawn and was now keeping it cut and nicely trimmed. He’d even planted some cheerful annuals in two pots by the front door. “To brighten the place up,” he’d told them with they’d complimented him. “Plus, you know. I’ve got the money.”

            He’d recently started working at a neighbor restaurant Café Enya as a dishwasher. He worked three nights a week after school at Monroe High School where he and Sherry were finishing up their senior year. His friend, Riley, was on the waitstaff.

            “Okay. To recap.” Zeke grinned at Sherry. “We’ll touch on the lanthanides, like lanthanum and cesium.”

            “All the way to erbium, thulium and ytterbium”

            “And the refractory metals.”

            “Like tantalum, tungsten and rhenium.”

            “Right. Then we’ll hit osmium.”

            “Yep. It’s the densest metal. The rarest metal.”

“Right. We’ll mention that when it’s combined with iridium and other platinum metals, it’s used to make fountain pen tips, electrical contacts, and any other applications that require extreme hardness.”

“Right.” Sherry looked at her notes. “I’ve got that osmium was discovered in London in 1803 by Smithson Tennant and Willian Hyde Wollaston.”         

“Yep,” Zeke added. “It’s now obtained by processing platinum and nickel ores.”

“And was used in early record needles during the 78 and 45 rpm record era between 1945 and 1955. But they wore out faster than diamond tips and were eventually discontinued.”

“For iridium, we’ll say that it’s the second densest naturally occurring metal after osmium.” 

“And it was discovered in 1803 by Smithson Tennant. Named after the Greek goddess Iris.

Zeke grinned and held up a hand. Sherry gave him a high-five and said, “I’d say we were all set.”

“I agree,” Sherry smiled at him. “As ready as we’ll ever be.”


While Sherry and Zeke were going through their final preparations, security guard Rad Lanchowsky had to admit that his normally pissed-off mood was actually pretty sunny. At least for him. At six feet, two inches of muscle born of two hours a day lifting weights at the Hog’s Breath Gym in Northeast Minneapolis, not to mention a healthy dose of steroids, he was looking forward to the next couple of hours. He’d finally have his chance to get back at those two friggin’ nerds who’d wrecked his bothers life.

Rad had worked for NorthStar Security for ten years. He had a shaved head, a thick beard, and multiple tattoos, the most prominent being a skull on the right side of his neck and a pair of crossed bones on the left. He rarely took off his mirrored aviator shades and when he did his intense, piercing black eyes were troubling to look at. If people didn’t fear him, they at least respected him. Like his boss and the other employees he worked with. And especially anyone who tried to give him a hard time.

Just try it, his look said anytime anyone tried to go up against him. See what happens. No one ever did. Except once, early on in his career. A guy had tried to break through the security line at a Metallica concert and Rad had put him in a choke hold. He enjoyed the feeling of watching the heavy-set biker dude slowly lose consciousness and sag like a sack of sand in his arms. It took the guy four hours to come back to life. In fact, he’d almost died, and Rad’s boss had admonished him to, “Be careful, there, big fella. Don’t need any lawsuits.” Then he’d smiled and slapped Rad on the back. “You did good, though, buddy. Real good.” The next week there was an extra hundred-dollar bill in his pay envelope. Rad had smiled as he pocketed the cash, thinking, yeah. Real good.

His brother Spike was ten years younger than Rad and was a bad egg if there ever was one. He and his two no-good buddies had spent most of their young lives either doing drugs or selling drugs. Or both. And when they were all three killed last fall on a rainy afternoon fleeing from a purse snatching, Rad had mourned the of loss his only sibling.

When he learned that Spike also had a run-in with two high schoolers a few months before his death, Rad had figured out who they were. It was the same two nerds who were going to be giving the talk tonight. The guy was a skinny nothing, but his bitch of a girlfriend had nailed his brother in the eyes with pepper spray just because he and his two buddies had tried to rob them. Damn. It still him mad.

So tonight, he’d get even. Tonight, he’d show those two geeks who was boss. Tonight, they were both going down.


While Rad was psyching himself up to take down Sherry and Zeke, the dining area was filling up. People were streaming in mostly parents with their kids who were exhibiting in the fair, but there was also a smattering of grandparents, teachers, and special guests, usually people from the tech industry. In the background hip-hop music was playing over the loudspeaker, a nod to the young audience.

Doctor Sylvester Gannon was a psychologist. He was a tall, well-built man with curly, light brown hair and a neatly trimmed beard. He wore tan dress slacks, a light blue button-down shirt, and a dark blue blazer. He sipped his water and chatted amiably with Sherry and Zeke’s former chemistry teacher, Mr. Jordan, or Joel as his friends called him.

“Quite the night,” Sylvester said, shifting in his chair and looking around. “I could do without the music though.”

Joel grinned. “Hey, it’s what the kids like.” He smiled. “Got to go with the flow, you know.”

Sylvester laughed and pulled out a pair of earplugs. “I’ve got back-up if it gets too loud.”

Joel grinned. “Go for it.” Then he stood up suddenly and waved. “Hey, you guys. Come on over here,” he called. “We’ve got plenty of room.”

Sylvester turned. “Who is it?”

Joel sat down. “Guests of our celebrities,” he said grinning and waving some more.

Joel was dressed in pressed blue jeans and wore his long, ponytail on the outside of his red plaid shirt. He was five feet nine inches tall, clean-shaven, and had a slight build. His kind face was always quick to smile. He was in his mid-twenties and had been a teacher at Monroe High School in south Minneapolis for three years. He loved it, and he loved his students, especially Sherry and Zeke, two formerly at-risk kids who had shown an aptitude for science, an aptitude that Joel had helped foster culminating with the two of them being asked to give a talk on the periodic table as part of the evening’s entertainment. He was thrilled for them.

Sherry had invited her mother, and she worked her way through the crowd to join Joel and Sylvester. “Lots of people,” she grinned.

Joel quickly stood up. “It’s great to see, isn’t it?” He and Kari shook hands and she introduced her friend Jan. Then they sat down

Joel leaned over and said to Jan, “I’m Sherry’s teacher. Well, former teacher,” he laughed. “They’re seniors and taking physics now. Oops. Excuse me. More people.” He stood up and waved. “Hey! Over here.” He turned to the table. “Don and Phyllis are on their way.” He grinned. “This is fun!”

Don and Phyllis were Zeke’s foster parents. He’d been in The System since he was ten years old, ever since his mother had left Zeke and his two younger sisters and taken off never to be heard from again. Zeke’s sisters had been adopted right away, but that wasn’t the case with their older brother. He’d bounced around from foster home to foster home before finally landing with The Eversons, a kind-hearted couple who lived in Richfield, a first-ring suburb of Minneapolis.

Joel stood up, shook their hands, and made the introductions. Don was a mailman and Phyllis was a cashier at a local big box store. They were salt-of-the-earth people and Joel liked them a lot. Their stabilizing influence had been good for Zeke, especially while he tried to kick his addiction to heroin. He’d been clean for nearly a year now, in no small part due to Don and Phyllis and their stable home life.

“I’ll bet you’re excited for Zeke,” Joel said, smiling at the couple.

Don was in his mid-fifties and bald. He wore dark blue slacks, a short-sleeve shirt, and a blue and red striped tie. His round face broke into a huge smile. “You bet!” He took his wife’s hand. “Phyl and I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”

Joel turned to Phyllis. “You should be very proud. Zeke’s a great kid.”

She smiled and patted his hand. “Oh, I am.” Then she grinned at her husband. “We’re both very proud. And thanks to you for making this happen.”

Joel had submitted the reports that Sherry and Zeke had been writing over the past year to the selection committee just after the first of the year. The committee, made up of the head of the department of chemistry at the University of Minnesota and the CEO of Heartland Electronics, among others, had liked the content, but it was the one-on-one interview with Sherry and Zeke that had sealed the deal.

Like the CEO had said when they talked about it afterward, “Lots of enthusiasm in those two kids. I like that.”

The vote was unanimous in their favor.

Joel’s conversation with Don and Phyllis was interrupted by a slap on his back. “Hi there. Got room for a few more. Joel turned and smiled. It was Len. Mary was with him. “Hi, guys. Great to see you. Sure! Come on and sit down.”

Everyone at the table knew Mary and Len. Nearly forty years old, Len worked in a small engine manufacturing facility in northeast Minneapolis. He had also recently graduated from the University of Minnesota with a Bachelor of Science degree and had taken over from Joel in mentoring Sherry and Zeke. Mary was the nurse on Doctor Gannon’s staff who’d had the most contact with Zeke while he was in recovery. She’d also gotten to know Sherry through her counseling sessions with Doctor Gannon as the result of the car accident over six years earlier that had killed her father and best friend Leslie. The fact that Sherry still had conversations with Leslie didn’t bother Mary at all. In fact, she found it somewhat enduring.

Joel did a quick count. Two, four, six. He and Doctor Gannon made eight. He turned and looked. Oh, good, he made it. Joel stood and waved. “Riley! Over here!!”

Riley waved back and hurried through the crowd. The two clasped hands. Riley was a tall, thin man around thirty years old who worked at Café Enya in Minneapolis for part of the time and was a musician and songwriter the rest of the time. He also volunteered his time at the halfway house Zeke had attended.

He also had a guest with him.

“How’s it going?” Riley said, looking around. “Great crowd.”

Joel grinned and ignored him, focusing, instead on the big man next to him. “Hi. I’m Joel,” he said.

The big man grinned. “Hi. I’m Leroy. A friend of Riley’s.”

At the sound of his name, Riley quickly turned. “Oh, man, I’m sorry. I got carried away here.” He turned to his friend and clasped his shoulder. “This big guy is my best pal in the whole world.” He smiled up at the big man. “This is Leroy.”

Leroy took off his green, John Deere hat and grinned. “Nice to meet you,” he said, shaking Joel’s hand. 

“Nice to meet you, too.”

Leroy was dressed in clean Oshkosh B’Gosh bib overalls. Joel knew a little of Riley’s and Leroy’s story. They’d been street people together sixteen summers earlier. In fact, Len and Mary had at one time tried to help Leroy but he’d had nothing to do with it. He was heading down a slippery slope when he and Riley met; a slide that ended after Riley had been shot and almost killed in a gang shoot-out. Leroy kept up a non-stop twenty-four hour a day vigil with his young friend while he was recovering, and then had taken him with him back to his parent’s farm in the Ohio River Valley. ‘Where we got not only cleaned up and had a good meal, but also got our acts together,’ was the way Leroy always put it.

Riley eventually moved back to Minneapolis and began his life, the life of being a waitperson, singer, and songwriter as well as a husband and father. He and Leroy stayed in touch, not only because they were close friends, but because Riley and Leroy’s younger sister Sally had fallen in love and she had moved to Minneapolis with him. They’d gotten married a few years ago. When Riley asked his friend to join him for his daughter’s first birthday, Leroy jumped at the opportunity. “I’m on my way,” he said. And now here he was. All six-foot-four inch and two hundred and eighty pounds of him.

Joel had to laugh when the two of them sat down and he overheard Leroy say, looking over the place settings, “Nice spread. When do we eat?”

With all the special guests present and accounted for and finally settled, Joel sat down and joined them all at the table. Doctor Gannon was on his right and Len was on his left. All the people closest to Sherry and Zeke were here along with a bunch of their high school friends scattered throughout the banquet hall.

A flurry of activity from the back of the hall indicated the waitstaff was starting to bring out the meals. Dinner was about ready to begin. He looked toward the stage. Sherry and Zeke should be starting their presentation any minute.


Rad adjusted his dark blue security uniform as he sauntered through the nearly empty exhibit area looking for anything out of the ordinary. There was none. If anything, the kids at the fair were the most spookily well-behaved young people he’d ever run into in his life. Not like he and his brother when they were in school. No way. They’d gone to East High over by the Mississippi River and spent all of their time causing trouble. Knife fights were common along with the occasional gun being wielded. It was a fine line between being tough and showing your stuff and being seen as some goody-two-shoes who’d blow the whistle on any rule-breaking activity.

Fortunately, that never happened. At least to him. He’d been ten years older than Spike. By the time his younger brother was in middle school, carrying knives was a common occurrence. Guns? Sometimes. And there was always dope. Always drugs, mostly weed. Pills of all varieties were there as well. Of course, Spike was a user. Just like Rad had been, both of them taking after their speed-freak parents. “All in the family,” Rad liked to joke whenever he and Spike shared a joint. Which was every day by the time Spike was in fifth grade.

Rad started with Heartland Security shortly after he’d graduated from high school. He lived at home in the basement for a couple of years until he’d saved enough to move to an efficiency apartment on the north side of downtown, only a few miles from where he grew up. He hated his parents but had an affection for his younger brother. “My little Spikey,” he called him and had him over often to watch television and smoke weed. They were as close as could be. Rad wasn’t much of a cook so they ate a lot of take-out, burgers, malts, and fries, with the occasion pizza tossed in for variety, but that was okay. They enjoyed being together. God, he hated to admit it but he missed the little bugger.

Through the doorway and across the hall in the banquet room, Rad could hear an uptick in activity. He checked the time. Dinner was being served. In moments the aroma of roasted chicken filled the huge exhibition hall making his mouth water. He could hear music in the background that was slightly irritating. Hip-hop. Crap music as far as he was concerned. He preferred modern country, but what the hell? It’d all be over soon.

He walked through the exhibits, idly checking them out. One caught his eye. It was a large poster of the periodic table. There were pictures of various of the elements. One was grey and shiny. Hardest Element the sign read. It was called osmium. He’d never heard of it. What was with these kids anyway? Where’d they come up with this stuff?

He’d hated school. Didn’t like being cooped up in class all day long. And he certainly didn’t like the teachers. Lord help him. There was Mr. Arbuckle, or ‘Fat Albert’ as they called him. He’d taught math by handing out worksheets and saying, “Use your books if you have any questions. I’ll collect them at the end of the hour.” Then he’d sit up front and doze at his desk. Real inspirational. And then there was his art teacher, Ms. Franklin, who had them paint themselves. “Paint what you feel inside,” she’d told the class. Rad had grabbed a paintbrush and covered the entire page in black paint. She hadn’t been amused. “I’m sure there’s something more there, Rad,” she had told him at the time. To which he’d replied, “Yeah, but you don’t want to know was it is.”

So, his memories of school were many, and none of them were good. But, as he looked around one the hall one more time, he had to admit, that the exhibits were impressive. He certainly couldn’t argue with that. Too bad, there’d be two fewer science geeks by the end of the night.

A tug on his sleeve made him jump. He was grabbing for his gun when he stopped. It was just a little kid, maybe five or six years old. “Hey, mister. Is that gun real?”

Nearby, a group of parents were talking. Rad made the quick assumption that the kid was with them. He was right.

“Lionel!” A man who was clearly the kid's father hurried over. “Don’t bother the man.” He looked at Rad. “Sorry about that.”

Rad tipped his hat, adjusted his mirrored shades, and remarked, “That’s okay. You and your boy have a good night, now.”

The man led his son away, the boy pointing over his shoulder. “I wanted to see his gun.”

“Let’s just leave the guns alone, son,” the man said. “They can hurt people.”

Good point, Dad, Rad thought to himself. If you don’t believe me, stick around. You’ll see how much this one can hurt someone. In fact, two someones. He smiled and rubbed the handle of the Sig Sauer P210 in his holster. There was a big clock on the wall. He checked it against wrist watch. Just after 7 pm. It’d all be over in an hour.


Ken Murphy was the master of ceremonies for the event. He was a big, dark-skinned man. A former offensive tackle for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers football team, he’d gone into education, becoming a geography teacher and football coach at Willow Creek High School in central Minnesota. A few years later he became the school’s principal. He loved being around kids and when the job of Superintendent for the Minneapolis Public Schools came up, he ran for the position and won. People, parents and teachers alike, loved him and he won re-election a few more times. He’d been superintendent now for nearly fifteen years.

Ken knocked on the door to the office where Sherry and Zeke were preparing.

Sherry called out, “Come on in.”

Ken opened the door and entered, a big smile on his face. “So how are my science geeks doing?”

Sherry and Zeke laughed. They both liked him a lot.

“Just fine,” Zeke said, indicating a wastepaper basket. “I’ve only puked a couple of times.”

Ken roared with laughter for so long his eyes started watering. “That’s better than I’d have done.” He took out a handkerchief and wiped his eyes. “I’d have fainted dead away by now.”

Sherry said. “It’s funny, Mr. Murphy, but we aren’t too nervous, which is weird because…” she pointed to Zeke for him to finish her sentence.

“Because studies have shown that speaking in front of a crowd is the top fear that people have.” Zeke grinned at Sherry. “More than spiders and snakes,” he added.

“And even dying,” Sherry remarked. “Can you imagine that?”

Her imaginary friend Leslie had moved over and was standing next to Mr. Murphy. She rolled her eyes at Sherry’s statement. She’d heard it before. Old news, girlfriend, she said. Old news.

Sherry grinned at her. But it’s still interesting.

It was one thing Ken loved about young people. Especially kids like Sherry and Zeke. They were always coming up with something interesting. “No, I can’t imagine it,” he said. “But I’ll tell you one thing.”

“What’s that?” Both kids asked in unison.

“I definitely believe it!”

All three of them laughed.

Ken made it a point of looking at his watch. “It’s a little after seven and dinner is being served. How about if we get going? I’ll introduce you and you can give your talk.”

Zeke looked at Sherry and raised his eyebrows. “All set?”

She smiled and raised her hand and they gave each other a high five. “All set.”

“Okay,” Ken said. “Let’s go.”

They were on their way out the door when Leslie tapped Sherry on the shoulder. What? Sherry looked at her friend.

Um. Didn’t you forget something?

What do you mean?

Leslie pointed. Their laptop, which contained the visuals for the presentation was lying on the desk.

Sherry smiled at her friend. Oops. Thanks.

“Zeke. Hold it. I’ll get the laptop.”

He turned to her and grinned. “Good going. It’d be pretty boring with just us up there.”

Leslie rolled her eyes. No kidding.

Sherry smiled and took Zeke’s hand. “Got it. Okay. Let’s go.”


Halfway through the presentation, Len turned to Mary. “Man, the kids are doing pretty good.”

“The wonders of technology.” She pointed. Up on a huge screen was a colorful rendition of the periodic table of elements. “The visuals are really eye-catching.”

“Yeah,” Len said. “They did a great job. The colors showing each of the periodic families is a nice touch.”

Mary took his hand and squeezed it. “You did a great job coaching them.”

Len grinned. “Thanks.” He had to admit, it’d been touch and go, especially in the beginning. Mostly for him. He was an engineer, not a teacher. But he liked science and at the time was finishing his bachelor of science degree at the University. So, he’d taken the plunge last fall when Mary had asked him to take over when Joel had to hand the job off due to his busy class schedule. But once he’d gotten into the mentoring mode all had gone well. It still was. “The kids are great to work with.” He smiled at Mary. “They’re making good progress, don’t you think?”

“I do. For sure.”

Mary worked closely with Doctor Gannon. Sherry and Zeke were both seniors this year and would be graduating in three weeks. Zeke was seeing Doctor Gannon every two weeks and had a group session on the alternate weeks. Sherry was learning to live with the aftermath of her father’s tragic death, and seeing doctor Gannon every month. Even though Doctor Gannon was her main counselor, Mary had become a strong role model.

She pointed to the stage. “I think she’s going to be okay.”

Len grinned. “She still has that Leslie as her best friend?”

Mary smiled. “Yeah.”

“What do you think about that?”

“Harmless. It could be a lot worse.”

“How so?”

“She could have withdrawn and shut herself off from the world, but she didn’t.”

“Well, she’s got her mom. And Zeke. Why does she need an imaginary friend?”

Mary smiled. “Sometimes it’s just nice to have someone to talk to.”

Len grinned. “Like me and you?”

“Yeah,” Mary smiled and kissed his cheek. “Like me and you.” Then she pointed at the big man sitting next to him on his left. “Or you and Leroy.”

Len smiled. “Yeah, I hear you.”

The fact that Leroy and Len had reconnected after over sixteen years was one of those strange, unexplainable coincidences that kept life interesting. At least that’s what Len thought. He’d tried to befriend that big man when he’d been living rough on the streets of Minneapolis in the summer of 2005. Leroy had tried to rob him, and Len had taken him down with a swift kick to the groin. When he found out the big man was homeless, Len had bought him a meal. When he found out they were both veterans of the war in Afghanistan, Len was even more interested in befriending him. But Leroy was having none of it.

So, imagine their surprise when Riley, a former street person himself, and a friend of Leroy’s, had brought the big man along.

“I can’t believe it,” Leroy had said when Riley introduced the two earlier. “I’ve never forgotten how you tried to help me.”

“I’ve thought about you, too,” Len had said. “How are things going for you?”

“Fine. Great,” he’d smiled. “I’m working on my parent’s farm in Ohio.” He pointed to Riley. “My buddy here invited is married to my little sister and he invited me back for his daughter’s first birthday. Which was yesterday.” He grinned. “And now I’m here.”

“I’m glad,” Len had said. Then added. “Sounds like there’s quite the story there.”

“Oh, there is, my friend. There really is.”

And they’d been chatting on and off all evening.

In fact, at the table, the conversation was non-stop with Leroy not only contributing but causally eating any food that the others didn’t want. And no one cared. 

After chatting with a number of people along the way, Ken Murphy finally approached the podium. He stood for a moment looking out over the vast crowd as it quickly hushed. When the room was quiet, he smiled. “Welcome one and all.” He waved both hands causing a murmur of laughter to roll through the audience. “And now, let’s get the festivities underway. We’ll have the awards in just a little while. But, first off, we’ll have a presentation by Sherry and Zeke.” He grinned at the round of applause. Many in the audience knew of the two young people through a science blog they ran called It’s Elemental. Then Ken turned to Sherry and Zeke and said, “Take it away.”

Zeke set up the laptop and turned it on, projecting the image of the periodic table onto the screen.

Sherry took the lead. “Hi everyone. Welcome. And congratulations on your marvelous achievements.” She smiled. “You should all be very proud.”

Zeke turned on his laser pointer and flashed it at the screen. “I echo what Sherry said. Congratulations. Now, we’d like to spend a few minutes talking about the periodic table.”


While Ken Murphy was introducing Sherry and Zeke, Rad had moved through the crowded auditorium up to the side of the stage. After the introduction, he listened to the beginning of the presentation. As images of the periodic table were projected on the screen, images of him and his brother flashed in his mind. They were good images bringing back fond memories of him and Spike hanging out together, eating take-out, and smoking a little weed. For them, it may not have been the perfect family situation, but they were making the best of it and, in their own way, they were good times. Good times that had ended much too soon with Spike's death.

The more he thought about it, the more he felt his blood begin to boil. In a matter of seconds, his face turned red, burning with hatred. It wasn’t fair. He and his brother were just as important as those two geeks. Where was the justice in the world? Spike was dead and those two nerds were still alive. It fried his ass.

Finally, when the girl said, “And that just about wraps it up. We’d like to thank you all…” Rad knew the time was now or never. He made his move.

As her words echoed through the hall and the crowd was starting to applaud, he hurried up the steps and began to jog across the stage. He drew his gun and grinned. It was so easy. He’d show them. He’d make them pay. He pointed the gun at the girl. It was a piece of cake. He’d take her down first and then…

He didn’t hear the applause suddenly die, nor the gasps in the audience. He didn’t hear them because in one swift motion, he was tackled from behind and slammed to the floor by a big man in bib overalls.

Leroy put his arm around Rad’s neck in a sleeper hold and pulled tight, whispering to the struggling security guard. “Got you, you piece of crap.” 

He squeezed just a little harder until the guy pleaded, windmilling his arms, “Stop it, man. I can’t breathe. You’re killing me. I give up.” Except his words were muffled. He really was suffocating.

Leroy squeezed once more, hard, before letting up a little. “You’re lucky I’m in a good mood tonight,” Leroy said. “Or you’d be one sorry psycho.”

He sat up, straddling the man’s back like he would a horse while he kept the guard’s neck pinned to the floor. He turned and grinned at Sherry and Zeke and gave them the thumbs-up sign. When they saw Leroy was okay and had the situation under control, they ran to help, both of them thinking the same thought: For a big man, Leroy was really fast.

They were immediately joined by about a hundred other people, mainly cops, security, and friends and family, everyone talking at once. It was pretty chaotic for a while.


Afterward, Leroy said, “Yeah, I noticed there was something off about that security guy. The way he kept watching Sherry and Zeke. The way his face suddenly turned red.” He was quiet for a moment, and then added, “When I was in Afghanistan, we were trained to look out for anything suspicious. And this guy was suspicious with a capital S.”

They were standing off to the side of the stage. The other security guards had used zip-ties to secure Rad and lead him away. Zeke and Sherry had watched it all.

Zeke said, “I’m surprised you didn’t give him a shot of your pepper spray.”

“Yeah, really. I would have liked to, but no. I didn’t have my bag with me. I’d left it in the office.”

Zeke made it a point of looking around. “I’m surprised Leslie didn’t remind you.”

Next to Sherry, Leslie said, Hey. That’s uncalled for. At least I remembered the laptop.

That you did, my friend. That you did, Sherry told her.

To Zeke she said, changing gears. “What’s up now?”

Just then, Ken Murphy came up to them. “Okay. I think everything’s under control. I’ve talked to a few people.” He made it a point of looking at his watch. “It’s 9:30, not too late. It’s Saturday night.” He smiled.

“What are you getting at?” Zeke asked, glancing at Sherry.

Ken smiled. “I’ve talked to a few parents and teachers, and there’s overwhelming consensus. The show will go on!”

Sherry jumped up in place and clapped her hand. “Oh, wow! That’s great,”

Ken turned serious as he looked at the two kids. “It is great. But I’ve got a question for the two of you.”
            “What’s that?” Zeke asked.

“Would you both like to help hand the awards out? I think that’d be a nice touch.”

Sherry and Zeke didn’t have to think.

“Sure,” Sherry said.

“Be happy to,” Zeke added.

Ken’s grin was a mile wide. “Okay, then. Let’s do it.”

They did, and when it was all over, everyone agreed that it was the best science fair ever. And the most exciting.


About the author

 Jim lives in a small town in Minnesota. He loves to write! His stories and poems have appeared in over 500 online and print publications. To learn more and to see all of his work, check out his blog at:

Did you enjoy the story? Would you like to shout us a coffee? Half of what you pay goes to the writers and half towards supporting the project (web site maintenance, preparing the next Best of book etc.) 


No comments:

Post a Comment