The whisperer nodded toward the redhead. The boy lifted his flute to his mouth, the end of it wavering with a constant tremor. A thin sound wandered out the end of his flute, accompanied by the sound of embarrassed throat clearing by a girl in the percussion section. There was a shuffling of feet and a mute dropped to the floor somewhere in the brass section. The boy looked like a cornered mouse. His terrified eyes lifted to the bandleader, the Hawk. The notes became shaky, the volume faded. Everyone watched, waiting for the Hawk to swoop in for the kill. They didn’t have to wait long.
“Mr. Thibault!” he shouted. He walked across the room and stood over the kid’s music stand.
“Do you suffer from asthma?”
The last quivering note faded, he lowered the flute, and held it protectively across his chest.
“Or bronchitis? Or perhaps you smoke excessively?”
Someone snickered in the back of the room. Thibault dropped his chin to his chest.
“The flute is a wind instrument. What does that mean, Mr. Thibault?” the Hawk continued.
Silence. Thibault hugged his flute. When Cory saw the red blotches bloom above his tightly buttoned collar, she looked away.
“It means you blow into it.”
The Hawk emphasized the last three words with strokes from his baton on the kid’s metal music stand.
Cory rubbed her palms down her thighs. Prickly sweat broke out under her arms, as she tried not to stare at Thibault. The red splotches spread to his face and neck, and it seemed as if his pale blue eyes glistened. The Hawk circled around behind him and stood with his arms folded across his chest.
“Again,” he commanded, “and this time let’s hear something.”
The Hawk rocked back and forth on his heels as Thibault raised his flute and took a ragged breath. He blew across the mouthpiece, producing a quivering note. His fingers missed the correct keys, hitting sharps that made her wince. Cory looked away. Others looked at their feet.
The room was hot. Cory plucked at the front of her shirt, peeling it away from her skin. Thibault kept playing. Her stomach felt sick. She shifted in her chair and watched. The Hawk still stood over the kid from behind, glaring at the top of his head as he faltered measure after measure. Thibault’s playing had become so soft it could barely be heard. The sound of blood pumping in Cory’s ears crowded out the music. She jiggled her leg on the ball of her foot and looked over at the whisperer, sprawled out in his chair, his clarinet resting comfortably across his lap. He was tall and looked older. A senior. He watched the Hawk toy with his prey, too, but his face was passive, detached.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish