Read an excerpt from Discipline, the new novel from faculty member Debra Spark

From the second chapter of Discipline:

Spanish was first period, so Reggie was dozing in one of the mobile classrooms when a tall middle-aged man, dark haired with a round, sweaty face, shook him roughly awake. “OK, buddy. OK, come on.”

“What?” Reggie said, instinctively shrugging the stranger’s hand off his shoulders, a “get off of me” springing to his lips, though he didn’t speak it.

“You’re coming with us,” the man said.

“What?” Reggie repeated. The man jerked his head toward the door, as if Reggie were confused about the avenue of egress, not the reason for it. “Who are you?”

The classroom, so ordinarily stifling, was suddenly electric. Something was happening.

“That’s for me to know, and you to find out,” the man said, schoolyard-style. Was he for real?

Improbably, he was wearing a long duster coat, even though it was early June, already so hot the city’s newspapers were full of angry letters saying the school year should be shortened, kids couldn’t concentrate in the un-air-conditioned classrooms. Next to the stranger stood a short, beefy guy, wearing a white T-shirt, jeans, and a Red Sox cap, which was confusing in a different way. Bridgeport wasn’t a city where people wore baseball caps, and if they did, it was for the Yankees.

Ay caramba. What’s going on?” said the Olive-Oyl-shaped Ms. Funes, hand to cheek, behind her the magazine pictures from Spanish-speaking lands that she’d taped onto the blackboard. She always talked in rapid, overexcited Spanish, and no one could tell if this was a Ricky Ricardo imitation, the way she really talked, or something she affected to get the class motivated. It didn’t tend to work, whatever it was, but now Reggie’s classmates were livening at the possibility of drama. Nothing really good had happened all year.

“He’s coming with us to the principal,” the bigger man announced to the room. He handed Reggie a soft-edged hall pass, confirming the official nature of the errand. Hall passes only came from one office.

Reggie had not, to his knowledge, done something wrong. Not recently anyway. “What for?” he asked.

“There’ll be time for all that,” the man said.

“Nice coat,” a kid called from the back of the room. The garment looked like something a pimp might wear, and Reggie assumed the kid—it was Noah Tremont, that bonehead—had the same thought and was offering the insult disguised as a compliment.

“All right, whatever. I’m coming,” Reggie said. He stood and swung his backpack over one shoulder then offered a broad shrug to convey to his classmates that this was a mystery to him too. At least he wasn’t going out in handcuffs, never to reappear, as one kid had in English last year. He followed the men out of the classroom and down the hall, walls painted in what Reggie always thought of as Milk of Magnesia white to cover (and then re-cover) the swears routinely scribbled there. He was really tired. He was always tired, so he wasn’t even thinking, 

“What’s going on?” more like “OK, man, whatever you want.”

Later, of course, much later, he’d wonder why he didn’t think to start asking questions right away. Why he didn’t think to resist? Had he been able to avoid the situation he was about to step into, his life might have gone in an entirely different direction. Could he have stopped things? Who might have helped him, if he had realized that, at that very moment, he was in profound need of help?

“In there,” the tall guy said, once they got to the office, gesturing not to the Principal’s door but the Vice Principal’s. Reggie wasn’t exactly surprised. The Principal was a good enough guy. He looked a little like that gameshow host. Gene something. Match Game something. Gene Rayburn. That was it. Anything that smacked of punishment rested outside the Principal’s purview and with Vice Principal Jack-off, who was an indisputable asshole.

The Vice Principal’s actual name was Jack Jacket, which should have been the first indication that he shouldn’t work with teenagers. Or that his parents were drunk when they named him. Or too stupid to think of a different first name. Everyone called the Vice Principal Jack-off, or J.O., or Joe Job. Sometimes even the teachers slipped and called him Mr. Jack.

“What’s up, my man?” Reggie said with brash, false enthusiasm, when he entered the Vice Principal’s office, a place where spider plants went to die. Reggie raised his arm exuberantly, so Jack-off could offer him a high-five. Then, when Joe Job failed to do so, Reggie examined his hand, as if wondering what was wrong with it. He sniffed his palm, as if that were the issue, then, making a face to indicate everything smelled fine to him, shrugged before slumping into one of the two chairs in front of the Vice Principal’s desk.

“I see. A smart guy,” said the tall man, as if he’d already figured Reggie out. Reggie yawned theatrically, though, in fact, concern had finally woken him.

Discipline is out today via Four Way Books.

Debra Spark on the web: