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“How did you do it Gauge? How did you convince this place to keep you around for another year?” Johnny stopped chewing and looked up from his food.
“Not a year, TJ,” Johnny growled as he resumed staring down his potato wedges, “it’s only one more semester.”
TJ placed his plate on the table and sat down across from Johnny. “Yeah, well, you’re a little beyond a victory lap at this point,” TJ grinned, “what in the hell are you still doing here?”
“Missed one class I needed to finish out my major,” Johnny replied, “using this last chance to knock it out.” Johnny stabbed one of the wedges with his fork and raised it to his eye level, inspecting it carefully before inserting it into his mouth.
“We have got to stop having wedge cut fries with dinner,” Johnny spewed, “I’m sick of eating things that can be accurately described as crispy Earth dick.” Johnny raised another wedge to his eye level for scrutiny.
“Anyhow, you’re still here. I’m not the only one dying in the window.”
“I’m in the master’s program numb nuts,” TJ chuckled, “I actually have a legitimate reason to still be in school.”
Johnny swallowed his food. “Fuck you. I like it here.”
The sound of a plate clattering onto the table next to them drew both of the men’s attention. The owner of the plate, a member of the previous spring’s pledge class, took the chair next to TJ and smiled broadly at the two older brothers.
“Hey guys!” The JI excitedly squawked, “How was your summer?”
“It was good, thank you Smitty,” TJ responded.
Smitty looked expectantly at Johnny, but Johnny sat stone-faced, his eyes boring a hole through Smitty’s forehead. An awkward silence settled over the trio. “Ok, cool, I’ll see you guys after Chapter,” Smitty said as he stood up from his chair, his smile visibly wilting under Johnny’s gaze, and moved toward the other end of the table.
“Fucking Troglodyte,” Johnny grunted once Smitty was out of earshot.
Tj shook his head. “It would serve you to be nicer to the young guys, Gauge,” he sighed, “especially since it’s their fraternity now. It’s not their fault the pledge process has been scrapped, or that the world has decided the Greek system doesn’t have a place in it. What we went through doesn’t exist any more. You can’t hold that against them forever.”
TJ waved his hand toward the front of the room where the tables were being moved in preparation for Chapter.
“Besides, with the new Exec coming in, you could use all the friends you can get. These kids don’t know you, Gauge. And the ones who do either hate you or are terrified of you. You need to watch yourself this semester, Johnny. Now that I’m off the board, I don’t have the pull around here to bail you out of the barrels of shit you usually climb into. You’re on your own now.”
Johnny pushed the now empty plate away from him and sat back in his chair.
“It’s not about their lack of a pledge process or how ridiculous it is that they hold a status equal to me in the view of the fraternity without having put in comparable time or effort. I’m not that petty. It’s about re-introducing an element of respect. You remember what would have happened if we sat down next to a Fall ’09 as a JI on the first chapter of the season? We would have been wearing our dinner as a smock. I understand that the world has changed, but just because we fragged the mechanisms to teach them respect doesn’t mean the respect itself is forfeit.”
Johnny leaned forward and lowered his voice to a whisper.
“So no, I’m not going to make some grand effort to explain myself to these kids. All they need to know about me is that I am one of the last remaining bastions of justice in this entire husk of a system. If they’re smart, they’ll avoid me like a scorpion dipped in Anthrax. If they’re stupid, they’ll get an education in how extreme violence can be the cause of a prolapsed rectum.”
Johnny returned to sitting upright and kicked his feet up on the table in front of him.
TJ’s eyes darted from Johnny’s feet to his face several times before again shaking his head.
“You’re a psychopath, Gauge.”
Johnny snorted loudly.
“So I’ve been told.”
“Just stay out of trouble once nationals get here next week. I would like for the fraternity to actually be able to do shit for the foreseeable future.”
TJ cocked his head and arched his eyebrows. “We don’t need a repeat of 2013.”
A sadness washed over Johnny’s face. “You know that wasn’t on me,” Johnny replied.
“Brothers! If I could have your attention please!” a voice roared from the front of the room. “We’re going to get started. Everyone stand for the creed.”
Johnny and TJ rose to their feet. “What’s your professional opinion on the new kid, Mr. former President?” Johnny whispered, nodding toward the brother standing in the middle of the Exec table.
“He’s a grade one moron. Reading his resume was like watching a video of somebody cutting cake and evaluating them to be a surgeon. He misspelled cunnilingus for christ’s sake.”
“Oh, but I should be nice to him,” Johnny murmured sarcastically.
“Fuck you Gauge.”
“Start at the beginning.”
Johnny inspected the kid sitting in the chair across from him: younger guy; Spring ’16 at most. Fidgety. Nervous. Keeps smiling to try to lessen the tension; makes his face look dumb.
“Well, they told me that- maybe you could. I need some help with a problem I’m having.”
“Start at the beginning,” Johnny repeated, “what are you missing?”
“The last time I had it- well I lost it about- what time is it?”
“It’s 9:18 am.” Johnny replied, rapidly tapping the pencil he was using to take notes on the wood of his desk in agitation.
“Oh, it must have been last night- wait, maybe this morning? I just can’t remember losing-”
Johnny slammed his hand on the desk. “You’re talking like a fucking head trauma patient,” he boomed, “take a minute and buffer, then spit out what happened as a cohesive thought before I kill myself and then you.”
A sudden commotion outside his door drew Johnny’s attention away from the terrified kid. Johnny stood up and moved to the entrance, opening it to reveal a group of brothers charging down the hallway.
“What the hell is going on?” Johnny yelled at the sprinters as they passed him. One of the crew turned his head.
“Nationals showed up early! The rep is in the fucking atrium, we’re so fucked!”
Johnny watched as the pack of men rounded the corner of the hallway and disappeared from sight. He turned to go back inside.
“Jonathan Michael Gauge.”
The color drained from Johnny’s face. He knew that voice.
“Elkhorn,” he muttered.
Johnny whirled to face the mouth of the hallway. There he stood; the devil himself.
“Well no shit. I could have sworn you should have graduated already. What are you still doing here, Gauge?”
Johnny remained frozen in place, fists clenched with anger.
“What the fuck are you doing here Travis?”
Travis Elkhorn was the greatest brother Johnny’s fraternity had ever called their own. President for four of the five years he attended the University, he was the only sophomore ever elected to the position in the entire 200 year history of the chapter. Nicknamed “The Greek Reaper” for the body count he built up during his campaign through the top tier sororities, he was the embodiment of everything a fraternity gentleman was supposed to be. The man was a legend, a godfather of the brotherhood. And he fucking hated Johnny Gauge.
“Come on now, Gauge,” Travis said, walking forward, “it’s been four years and that’s the greeting I get?” Travis grinned as he drew within inches of Johnny, “But then again, you were never good with respecting your elders.”
Johnny stared at Travis, barely contained rage dancing across his features.
“Oh excuse me,” Travis continued, “I should introduce myself.”
Travis extended his hand, “I’m your new nationals rep.”
Johnny’s eyes never left Travis’s face, his arms firmly pressed against his sides.
Travis’s grin grew wider. “Why what? Why did I join nationals? That’s easy, they asked me too.”
“No,” Johnny hissed, “why are you our rep?”
“Even easier.” Travis replied, his smile giving way to a glare. “I heard some asshole was creating problems, running around acting like fucking Batman, beating the piss out of people for borrowing phone chargers.”
Johnny’s lips retracted into a snarl.
“But even worse, I heard that my fraternity was letting him do it. That all the brothers here had gone soft as kitten shit in August, content to let Nancy Drew take them for a ride on the HMS butthole roulette whenever she felt the urge.” Travis’s grin returned. “So I decided that I would be this year’s emissary, and I intend to report every single violation I find. I’m going to wipe clean the stain these weak little bottom feeders have left on my letters by punching this fraternity so hard in the gut it purges all the pieces of shit it’s holding in.”
“You wouldn’t screw these kids Elkhorn, this is your home chapter, these guys are your brothers.”
Travis shook his head. “Nah, you have it wrong Johnny boy. When you’re on this side of the wall, you play the long game. What’s a few semesters under sanctions if it means the future of the chapter is safe? So what if this particular generation of dipshits loses a few years of their college experience if it solidifies the fraternity’s path forward?”
Johnny took a step back. “These kids don’t know you. They don’t have to study the composites any more. You’re just another nationals asshole, they won’t bend to you.”
Travis chuckled and turned toward the entrance to the hallway.
“LIEUTENANT NUT SACK,” he bellowed,” “FRONT AND CENTER!”
The muffled sound of feet approaching filled the hallway, eventually giving way to the image of a young man sprinting toward where Johnny and Travis were standing. Johnny recognized him; the kid had just been elected to EVP. He skidded to a stop in front of the two men.
“Lieutenant nut sack, your rise through the ranks has been rather meteoric don’t you think? Especially considering you were just drafted. Why don’t you inform Brother Gauge what you said that resulted in your impressive promotion.”
The kid looked at Johnny.
“Mr. Elkhorn asked me where we stood in reference to the top sororities at the University.”
Travis clapped the kid on the back. “And what was your reply?”
“I said that they think we’re pretty lit.”
Johnny’s eyes narrowed as he stared at the kid.
“Thank you Lieutenant, you may return to holding your dick in the kitchen.”
The kid blitzed back toward the hallway entrance, nearly tripping as he careened through the exit.”
Travis turned back toward Johnny.
“I’ve known that kid for 12 minutes.”
Fury swept over Gauge like a rogue wave. He closed the distance between Travis and himself in a single step, drawing even with the older brother. Every muscle in his body tensed as he coiled to strike.
“Do it you cherry fuck, give me a reason to end you and your entire poisonous bloodline,” Travis growled.
For an eternity, the two men stood eye to eye, a silent war waging between them. Finally, Johnny relented and shuffled backward.
The hallway shook with Travis’s laughter.
“You arrogant fucking manatee,” Travis roared, I hope you enjoyed it, because the era of you parading around here, enforcing your brand of order is over. No more tazers, drop-kicks or night sticks. It’s the dawn of a new age, Gauge, and I’m going to make sure you aren’t a part of it.”
Travis pushed past Johnny as he continued down the hallway.
“This place deserves a better hero than you, Johnny boy. Because let’s face it, you’re not Tom Brady. Hell, you’re not even Scott Tolzien. You’re what happens when you start the fucking Juggs machine.”
Travis disappeared around the corner, his laughter haunting Johnny long after he disappeared from sight. Johnny walked back through the door to his room, seething as he lorded over his furniture.
Suddenly, Johnny picked up the chair next to him and slammed it into his desk.
“EVIL MOTHER FUCKER,” Johnny howled as he repeatedly smashed the chair into his worktable, stopping only when the seat split into several separate chards of wood. Feeling slightly better, Johnny looked down at the pieces of chair scattered across his floor. Gauge’s path was simple: Elkhorn had to be dealt with, but he couldn’t be allowed to interrupt Johnny’s work. However, with Travis looking to string him up by his balls, things would be more difficult now. He would have to be much more careful conducting his business. Johnny needed to be airtight.
A whimper from the far corner of the room jolted Johnny out of his thoughts. He rotated his head to see the nervous kid from earlier pressed up against the wall, a horrified look plastered across his features. “May-maybe I should come back later?” The kid squeaked.
Johnny glanced down at the two shattered legs of the chair he still clenched in his fists; the legs of the chair the kid had been sitting on less than half an hour ago.
“Yeah, I think that would be best.”
President Mikey Pierce sat on his bed in shock. He had only held his position for a day, a single damn day, and the world around him had already gone to shit. The guy from Nationals had shown up a week early, declared himself king and begun cataloging infractions like a court stenographer. The fraternity wasn’t prepared for rush, and he didn’t even have a full executive board because his choice for pledge master had gotten suspended after he lit a fire at a fraternity owned satellite house over the summer. He was starting the year in a free-fall.
A knock at the door caused the beleaguered President to stand. He opened the entry to find the hallway empty, the only trace of someone’s presence a white envelope on the ground. Mikey bent down and picked up the letter, ripping it open to reveal its contents. It contained a single page of hand-printed writing: “To protect something valuable, something must be sacrificed. You want to save this fraternity?”
Mikey’s eyes traveled to the bottom of the paper, where the last line was scrawled in bright red pen.
“Destroy Johnny Gauge.” .