Ollie's promise to make sure his boys go easy on Max cleverly still allows RJ to go as hard as necessary.
Ollie Oop came to a slow stop in front of Max like a train pulling into the station. “Hey little man,” he said, filling the hallway with aesthetically pleasing squareness.
“Big man.” Max tipped his hat at Johnny’s bulky henchman
A silent staring contest ensued, which lasted several seconds. Max and Ollie wore matching expressions of indifferent defiance. Zoey’s eyes ping-ponged between her brother and the very big boy looming above him, looking increasingly concerned with each ricochet.
Ollie broke the silence with a sniff. He thumbed his nose. “What are you doin’ here, huh? They find you that brain donor you needed?”
“Well it’s a safe bet yours would fit. You’re not using it, right?” Max leaned back against the wall. “My arm snapped. I’m gonna sue your dad.”
“Gotta drink your milk, player.” Ollie’s attention turned to the other Puckett he’d caught in his orbit. “This your sister?”
A grumbling sigh preceded Max’s reluctant introduction. “Ollie, Zoey. Zoey, Ollie. Last name withheld so my dude can keep his dignity.”
Zoey squinted at the human eclipse blocking the light above her. “Are you... Max’s bully?” she asked, voice wavering with both awe and reproach.
“One of a bunch,” Ollie answered, flashing her a peace sign. “Your bro’s an easy target.”
“Says a lot about your aim,” quipped Max. “And what are you doing here? They decide to blast the gamma rays at your bottom half this time?”
Ollie was halfway through a dap that made Zoey’s hand look like a little baby’s. “Celebratin’,” he said, not glancing back at Max. “My sister Allie’s in remission.” Ollie gestured down the hallway with a jerk of his head. Sure enough, what looked to be the entire Oop clan was gathered there, all beaming at each other and chatting cheerfully... except for Coach Oop, who was busy exuding an aura of utter uncomfortableness a step away from the rest. “We’ll be buzzcut brothers now that I don’t gotta shave in solidarity,” Ollie added, smirking proudly.
Zoey shot Max a scathing look, ready to shove his foot into his mouth if it wasn’t there already. It very much was, though, so she slowly recoiled to a judging leer instead.
“Well that’s good,” Max said, immediately wincing at his own words. “Coach Dad—I mean, um. Your dad looks... uh...”
“Like he sweat a world war’s worth-a bullets in the last minute?”
Max was going to say “strange in tweed” but went with Ollie’s suggestion without protest. “I was kidding about the lawsuit,” he said, resisting the urge to add “but that admission isn’t legally exculpatory.”
Ollie shrugged. “Doubt he even saw you, bro. My old man’s eyes point in.” The phrase sounded like another relative’s pithy insult, a verdict oft-repeated since it stuck. “Nah, he just knows he only shows up for the good news.”
Max nodded slowly, chewing at his lip. He wondered if it would hurt more or less to get shoved into a locker by Ollie now that he’d glimpsed the man behind the meat shield. Probably the exact same amount, he ended up deciding.
It was Ollie who kept the awkward silence at bay, glancing down the hallway in the opposite direction. “That dude your dad? What’s he up to?”
Max and Zoey turned to check.
“And how’s Angél?” they faintly heard Mr. Puckett say. “I’ll bet his garden’s something else by now.”
Amy smiled apologetically. “Oh, we’ve been divorced for quite some time, actually...”
“Ah! Oh. Hm. I’m... so sorry to hear that—”
Max met Ollie’s eyes. “Flirting with a nurse,” he replied at last, to which Ollie simply answered “Dope.” Zoey mumbled “Is that my new mom?” with ambivalent concern, which Max was forced to willfully ignore.
A heavy hand changed the subject by clapping down on Max’s shoulder. “...Hey. Sucks about your arm, bro. You got my sympathy. That hitball game was wack... but you an’ Johnny made a good team out there.” Max was grateful for P.K.’s numbing doctopus presence as Ollie thumped him on the back a few times for good measure. “I’ll make sure my boys go easy on ya for a bit. Take the lunch money, leave the milk money, that sorta thing.”
Max squinted. “Do you run a dairy farm or something?”
“But watch out,” Ollie said, ignoring him and leaning in still closer.
“Don’t tell me there’s a downside to such a generous offer of extortion.”
The bulky bully’s voice dropped to a whisper. “We’re onto you, bro. You and Ed and Lightning Legs O’Connor—”
“Incredible nickname, stealing it, sounds like a boxer from the Great Depression—”
Ollie’s grip tightened to cut Max short. “I’m tellin’ you for your own good... we’re gonna figure out what’s up. So get ready.” He shifted to block Zoey, who was craning in to listen. “What’s rumors for the rest of the school, we know without a doubt: there’s somethin’ SUPERNATURAL goin’ on here in Mayview... and the Johnny gang wants in.”
Max met Ollie’s eyes with irritated pity, studying him for a few moments. “...No you don’t. If you really knew what’s going on here, you’d want OUT.” There wasn’t going to be a Mayview by the end of summer, after all.
A grin unfurled across the bully’s face. “Smell ya round, punk,” he said, and with a slap of Max’s back and a little kiss on his forehead, the Ollie train departed from the station.