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Saville Middle School, Las Vegas

Forrester had managed about 14 hours in the sack, and as the shadows were lengthening on the bedroom curtains, he felt Carilyn tugging at his shoulder. 

"Waky, waky, baby. Big meeting at school tonight." 

Yeah, it did look like a big meeting tonight. You could forget about getting a parking space in Saville Middle School's parking lot, or even just outside on Torrey Pines; he was around the corner on Grand Teton. Both EA and Lily had been left home for this meeting at Lily's school; this was for adults. 

Walking into the school, they headed towards the large auditorium, the one with the big pictures of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon in 1969 and John John saluting the coffin of his father, president John F Kennedy, as it went by on the gun carriage in 1963. If it was five minutes later, they would have been shunted off to the large lunchroom with its old pulldown TV screen. 

A high school kid came over as they were sitting, hands them a pamphlet. "SAVE COACH PARDELLI!" Opening the pamphlet, Forrester read that the school's girl's soccer team coach, Nick Pardelli, a former tower supervisor at Nellis before he got out with his 20, was being subjected to a travesty of American justice worthy of comparison to Sacco and Vanzetti, the Rosenbergs, maybe even O J Simpson. 

"Is that true?" Carilyn asked Forrester. 

Forrester laughed, threw the pamphlet away. "Puleeze." 

It started four weeks ago. Lily's team was playing Cannon, 1-1, a couple of minutes left. Lily slips the ball into the goal box to the team, and league's best striker, Masha Voronikov. It looked like a sure goal, but from out of Cannon's goal came their keeper, Sandy Mayworth, with great sliding save. 

Voronikov was going for the league record here in the last couple of games, and she was clearly pissed. The goalie got up, and maybe exchanging a few words, started to move back into goal. 

Not if Masha Voronikov had anything to say about it. She reached for the goalie's ponytail, and, in full view of the about 25 videocams and 50 cellphone cams on the sidelines, pulled it down hard, Mayworth buckled, collapsed, hit the back of her head really hard against the pitch, rock-hard due to the watering restrictions mandated by the district's budget cuts. 

The girl was out cold, not even a doctor and an ER nurse in the crowds could bring her up. They called for the medical evacuation chopper, she was still out. The chopper was just about to turn west to head to LA Children's, but then she woke up, so they turned back to land at Vegas Sunrise. 

Matters between Voronikov and the Mayworth, or the Mayworths and the Clark County School District, were in the hands of the lawyers; there was talk that Mrs Voronikov, a single mother and dealer at Harrod's, could lose her small house. Tonight at the auditorium the issues were different, namely, should Pardelli keep his job, or did the incident reveal a fundamental moral flaw in his pedagogy. Also, was there a fundamental moral flaw in their lives here in the Spring Valley that acted as the enabler of Marcia Vorinkov's clearly antisocial impulses. 

Sent up from downtown, a School Department flack laid down the law. Reading from Section 5141.1 of the student code, he intoned that "a student shall not intentionally cause physical injury to any person, nor behave in such a way as could reasonably cause physical injury to any person". 

But it wasn't like they didn't have plans for Pardelli. Since, according to the flack, "the Clark County School District is committed to providing all students and employees with a safe and respectful learning environment in which persons of differing beliefs, characteristics and backgrounds can realize their full academic potential". Violators of this normative social order would be subject to the modern equivalent of the electrodes on the testes treatment, diversity training. "The Clark County School District will provide for the appropriate training of all administrators, principals, teachers, and all other personnel employed by the district." 

The chair opened the floor for questions. A young mother, patched jeans and a hooded knit sweater right out of the peasant markets of San Salvador, or maybe Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, stood up. 

"With all due respect to Mr Pardelli, I didn't come here to talk about the coach tonight. My oldest won't be here at this school for another two years, but I'm starting to wonder. If the schools are nothing but a reflection of the general society, what impression of what behaviors we expect from our children are we passing down to our kids? Like when we bull in front of each other in the bank or the Starbucks line, or when we go through the supermarket express line with too many items? Or when we drive our big, powerful cars like no one else matters on St Rose Parkway? What about when we water our lawns to the point of drowning; doesn't anybody care about all the little animals in the ground we're sentencing to death by thirst?” 

A few snickers, a few claps of applause, and then she sat down. Everybody knew who it was that was standing up next, it was Gus "Gunman" Gallagher, the owner and proprietor of the Make My Day Guns 2nd Amendment Discount Superstore, down on South Tropicana.

"With all due respect to the little lady just finished," Gallagher adjusted his bolo around his American flag shirt. "I want to express a different opinion." 

The crowd murmured; they had all heard plenty of him, including his political views, from his cable TV infomercials. 

"Now, I don't wanna say anything bad about the little girl who got hurt. I'm a football man myself, but people I know that know their soc-ker says that was a helluvah play. I'm personally pledging $100 tonight to her hospital bills." 

Polite applause. 

"But I wonder, are we coming down a bit too hard on the coach and on the other little girl? What exactly is it that they did wrong?" 

Forrester had actually been to Gallagher's house, a big, hulking 700 square-meter Spanish colonial on Winter Palace Drive; Gallagher invited some guys from Creech over to his place for a barbecue. A lot of people thought his commercials were stupid, but they weren't the ones given full auto Berettas with instructions to shoot out the 500 cod he had dumped in his swimming pool. 

"Was it that they had played tough? Well, what's so wrong with that? We're Americans, isn't that what we're known for?" 

Forrester found he couldn't get the image of Gallagher's house from his mind's eye. 

"We played tough with the Injians who were here when we got here, the Limeys, the Mexicans, then the krauts and Japs. Hell, if not for playing tough, we'd still be paying tolls to the Frenchies to head out over the Cumberland Pass." 

Suddenly, the image in Forrester's brain changed, from Gallagher's house to that same house framed by the infra-red targeting screen of the Predator. 

"We gotta teach our children to be tough, to break some rules, hell, to break some skulls if they have to. If the guys won't do it, if they're too busy knitting doilies in cooking class, maybe we should be glad that the girls have 'em these days, instead of the Mexicans taking them back over the Rao Grande like they did everything else." 

"Lock." Forrester hears his mind's voice call out. 

"Lock," Rico responds. 

"We got society rotting out from the core like an old tomato." Gallagher continued to address the crowd. "What would have rather seen, the kids going to their diversity counselors for training in how to bawl their eyes out?" 

"Yes!" said the previous speaker, the hippie mom. 

"Ahh, shut the hell up - nobody wants to hear your bullcrap." With that, a few in the crowd booed loudly, and the chairman was about to bring down his gavel; not that it would have stopped Gallagher. 

"Arm." Forrester's mind's voice continued the launch sequence. 

"Arm," Rico replied. 

"Now, what about the coach? We gonna nail him to the cross, we gonna send him down to the unemployment line?" 

"Friendlies?" Ross asked from the command tower? 


"Call the ball, Big Green." 

"Hell no we ain't," Gallagher continued. "We should be handing him a medal. The only way the kids be acting right is if us adults teach ‘em right." 

"Fire!" In the auditorium, Forrester felt his fingers tighten, as if he really had just let a Hellfire go. Gallagher's house sat there in the VDT for a couple of seconds, then, almost as if he had been storing oxygen canisters in the basement, blew the estate to bits, actually, it blew the summit of his hill clear straight off, with a tremendous explosion. 

The upshot of the meeting was that, for now, coach Pardelli, as long as he kept up with his diversity and sensitivity training, could keep his job, at least until the school district dealt it away in the payoff stage of the lawsuit talks with Sandy Mayworth's attorney. 

"What did you think?" Carilyn asked as they were leaving.

Forrester remembered Schwarzkopf's old first Gulf War joke. "You know Gus Gallagher? Luckiest gun dealer in Vegas." 

Carilyn had no idea what he was talking about.