The news of the three new
break-ins flowed through the school like a verbal tsunami. How it arrived is
unknownand considering it was bound to show up sooner or later, is also
unimportantbut the speed with which it traveled was unprecedented. It was so quick
and pervasive that had you asked anyone in the school who they'd heard it from they would
have cocked their head to one side in puzzled thought and not been able to answer. The
Word was just there; it was an immaculate conception in a collective scholastic
"Okay, class," Miss
Hellstrom said, "since this seems to be the only thing anyone in school is interested
in these days, why don't we take a few minutes to talk about the robberies so we can get
it out of our systems and get on with the business at hand. Like, say, discussing last
night's reading assignment. Who wants to start?" She scanned the class, and was
deluged by a barrage of blank looks. "Jamie?"
Jamie Garrett, whose mother
always dressed her in blue because she was once told it was a warm color and she didn't
want her only daughter to catch a cold which she knew would metamorphose into pneumonia
causing her premature death, looked up at the teacher with her eyes open wide. "Yes,
"Would you like to start the
class discussion about the robberies?"
"No, Miss Hellstrom."
"Have you been following the
news stories about them?"
"Yes, Miss Hellstrom."
"Then certainly you must
have an opinion."
"No, Miss Hellstrom."
Jet turned to Neckless and
mouthed the words along with Jamie, but his friend had his chocolate brown turtleneck
pulled above his head where it was fastened with a bow made of red satin ribbon he'd found
in the hall between classes.
"Have you been talking to
your friends about it?"
"Yes, Miss Hellstrom,"
Jamie said. Jet turned to his left and mimed the words along with her, but Hanner couldn't
see through her densely brushed bangs to appreciate what he was doing, which was quite a
shame as she would have enjoyed it.
"Would you like to tell the
class what you and your friends have been saying about the robberies?"
"No, Miss Hellstrom,"
Jet said aloud in perfect synch with Jamie.
The teacher's head snapped around
towards Jet's voice. Her eyes landed behind him at Johnny's empty seat, a logical place
since he had so often been the cause of class disturbances in the past, not to mention
that she was sure the second voice had come from that direction. "Oh please!"
she thought as she gazed at the empty chair. "Dont let him be haunting me from
The discussion with Jamie
obviously headed down a one way street the wrong way, the teacher called on the first
person her eyes landed upon.
"Mr. Rosenbloom?" she
"Would you like to share
your feelings about the robberies with the class?"
"Do I have to?"
"No, you don't have
to," she said sympathetically. "I just thought you might like to."
"Why would I want to do
"Because very often an event
that becomes larger than lifeas this one most certainly hasstarts to take on a
significance greater than it actually deserves," she began. "First you're
hearing about it all the time, then it starts to occupy your mind, next it becomes the
dominant topic of your own conversations, and then before you know it, it's taken over an
extravagant part of your life. Add to that the personal involvement you can feel if
someone you know is intimately involved and it paves the way to becoming a psychologically
"Oh," Jose said.
"And very often the best
therapy in a situation like that is to bring it out in the open and rid yourself of your
"If I do that will I get
more inner feelings to take their place?"
"You'll always develop new
inner feelings," she told him wishfully. "Just tell us what you're feeling at
this very moment."
"Well," Jose said
uncertainly, "I guess I'm kinda confused."
"Very good," she said,
turning to the blackboard.. "Mr. Rosenbloom says he feels confused." She reached
for a piece of chalk so she could write the word on the blackboard in large cursive
script, forgetting that there wasn't any in the school. She kept repeating "Confused,
yes that's an excellent start" and other time-wasting redundancies as she tore a
sheet of paper from the legal pad, taped the yellow page to the chalkboard, and wrote the
word "confusion" on it with her ballpoint pen. Although she wrote in large
script, it was so much smaller than it would have been in chalkand the pen lines so
much thinnerthat it couldn't even be seen by the students sitting in the front row.
"And exactly what are you
confused about, Mr. Rosenbloom?"
"You really want to
"You're sure?" he said
"Of course we do, that's why
we're having this class discussion."
"Well," he said slowly,
"I'm confused about why you think it's so important that we talk about the
The class erupted in stifled
laughter. Miss Hellstrom scanned the class, the laughter quieting in waves as her eyes
passed over each row.
"Would anyone like to answer
Mr. Rosenbloom's question?" she asked.
Everyone looked down, some
staring at their desktops, others at their notebooks, and still others pretending to be
reading their English textbook, an activity that had absolutely no hope of fooling anyone
in the room, least of all Miss Hellstrom. Only three students weren't joining in an
avoidance activity, but were, in fact, looking straight ahead. Hanner's chin rested on her
balled up fists, though as always her bangs made it impossible to tell where her eyes were
looking; Neckless might have been staring right at Miss Hellstrom but no onenot even
himcould tell as long as he remained in his turtleneck sanctuary; and then there was
Jet, who was staring directly into the familiar whorl Jose's hair made on the back of his
huge head, assurance that he was well out of the teacher's line of sight.
"I think it's important that
we discuss this because it's therapeutic to openly evaluate one's inner feelings,"
she declared. "But if you don't want to do it, then I most certainly wont force
you to." She looked at the tops of her students' bowed heads, then picked up a book
from her desk. "That being the case, let's begin by going over last night's reading
assignment. Now who would like to give the class a brief synopsis of the selection from
From Miss Hellstrom's vantage
point, Hanner was the only one in the class who seemed to be looking at her attentively.
While many teachers would ignore that fact and deliberately call on a pupil who was
desperately trying to camouflage himself as part of his desk, Miss Hellstrom decided that,
the discussion of the robberies turning out as it did, perhaps it was time to take the
"H. Jandolyn?" she
asked, causing Hanner to jump at the shock of suddenly hearing her name pronounced out
loud. "Why don't you begin?"
Hanner shook her head from side
to side, her hair swinging back and forth across her face.
"Did you read the
Hanner shook her head up and
"Then please tell the class
briefly what it was about."
Hanner took a deep breath. And
held it in. She didn't say a word, but rather sat in her seat with her cheeks puffed out,
her skin turning first red, then quickly darkening into a rather violent shade of purple.
"What was the point Dickens
was trying to make?"
Jet watched Hanner, his eyes
scrunched up, ready to flinch the very moment she exploded, which he was certain would be
any second. Shielding his mouth with his hand, he whispered, "You've got to face
Hanner's head started shaking and
bobbing like a spring-loaded China doll on the package shelf of a car as she giggled to
herself. Holding your breath and laughing at the same time is an art that's beyond the
capability of mere mortals, and being the budding human she was, Hanner lost control, the
laughter erupting at the same time she sucked in a huge breath of air, almost causing her
to choke on her own laughter, a potential cause of death which has yet to be taught in any
forensic science class in the free world.
"And what, may I ask, is so
humorous?" Miss Hellstrom inquired. "Why don't you share it with the whole
"I.......Dickens.......frustrations..." Hanner squeezed out between giggles.
"Just take a deep
"That's what started this
whole thing," Jet said.
"Relax," Miss Hellstrom
suggested. "Take a moment to gain your composure and we'll..."
SLAM!! The classroom door swung
open hard, banging loudly against the wall. The class turned their heads in unrehearsed
synchronization. Standing in the doorway was a silhouetted figure, posed in a backlit
tableau like a young James Dean playing Wyatt Earp at the OK Corral. The students looked
at the figure, then at their teacher, then at each other, then back to the doorway. Miss
Hellstrom's mouth formed a small "O" as she stared hard; it was as if she was
seeing a ghost.
"Holy shit," a voice
said quietly from the back of the room.
"Watch your fucking
language," someone else said.
"What's going on?"
Neckless asked Jet.
"Why's everyone so
quiet?" Hanner asked.
Jet leaned forward and looked
over at Rubber Boots, whose eyes were wider than Jet thought physically possible.
"Johnny's back," Jet
said to no one in particular. "And I think he's pissed."
* * * * * *
"What are you doing
here?" Miss Hellstrom asked Johnny.
"Aren't I still a member in
good standing of this class?" he asked as he sauntered into the room. He strolled to
the teacher's desk and stopped in front of Miss Hellstrom, folding his arms across his
"Well of course you
are," she stammered, "but aren't you supposed to be...I mean, do the
police...uh, what are you doing here?"
"I'm here to be educated in
English. This is second period English, aint it?"
"We live in a free country,
right?" he said, as he turned and walked to his seat. "And as of now yours truly
is a free man."
"Wait just a minute, Mr.
Kasouska," she said, gaining her composure. Johnny stopped but didn't turn around.
"You're late for class, do you have a note?"
"A note? You mean like 'Dear
Miss Hellstrom. Johnny will be late for class today because we kept him in jail overnight
for suspicion of lots of stupid robberies he didn't do. We're sorry we didn't have any
evidence so we could charge him, but at least it got him out of first period gym.'?"
The class started laughing, the
snorting kind of laughter you only hear in a schoolroom that results from clamping your
hand over your mouth, forcing the laugh to erupt from your nose.
Johnny looked down at Jet.
"Hey, slick. Did ya miss me?" he said as he slithered into his seat.
"Yeah, like a wart that's
"Well I'm back," Johnny
said proudly. "Like a big fat hairy wart smack in the middle of your pimply little
"Don't get too
comfortable," Miss Hellstrom told Johnny. "You're not staying."
"Where to now?"
office?" he echoed. "What for?"
"Being late for class
without a written excuse."
"How about the morning
paper?" Rubber Boots said, holding up the front page with the banner headline
trumpeting: Serial robber suspect arrested. "Is this a written excuse?"
"Hey, that's me,"
Johnny said proudly. "Gimme here."
"Would you like to join
him?" the teacher asked Boots.
Rubber Boots looked at Jet, who
was shaking his head "no", then looked at Johnny, who was nodding
"yes" while grinning like a hungry lion inviting a rabbit home for dinner.
"No, thanks," Rubber
"Wise choice," she
replied, turning back to Johnny. "The principal's office, Mr. Kasouska?"
Johnny stood up and sashayed to
the door. He stopped with his hand on the doorknob and turned back to the teacher.
"Ya know," he said matter-of-factly, "there's just no justice in
Then he looked at Jet and winked.
* * * * * *
"He wants to see
you," Winston Baumgardner's secretary informed him as she stood in the doorway of his
office. "Right away."
Nobody, but nobody, at the Weekly
World Scene used the Managing Editor's real name. In fact, most of the employees
didn't even know what it was. He, while always pronounced in italics, was uttered
with a heavy dose of sarcasm and not the slightest trace of deism.
"Tell Him I'll be there in a
few minutes," Winston grunted, irritated that she consistently refused to use the
intercom, preferring instead to stand in the doorway between their offices with her
stomach sucked in, her hips thrust to one side, and her head gently cocked to the other.
Winston, for all his education and experience, had trouble picking up on anything more
subtle than a dentist using a jackhammer to drill out a cavity.
"Okay, okay," Winston
said, knowing he could put off the inevitable but not evade it. Sooner or later he was
going to have to face Him like a man and accept whatever sentence was to be meted out for
having killed 3,425,689 copies of the Weekly World Scene; he strongly suspected
life at hard labor but wouldn't be at all surprised if the death penalty was imposed.
He stood up as his secretary
turned and left the doorway, tossing her hair provocatively, her hips swaying rhythmically
from side to side. Winston took a deep breath, not because his secretary's movements
stirred his long dormant libido, but rather to send oxygen and adrenaline flowing to his
muscles in preparation for the confrontation with Him.
"Everything will work
out," she said. "I know it will."
Winston smiled at her. Ah, to be
young, beautiful, and optimistic, a combination Winston had never been fortunate enough to
possess. As he stepped into the hallway, his secretary's phone rang.
office," she said. "I'm sorry, but he's stepped out for a few minutes. Can I
take a message?" She began scribbling on a pink message pad as Winston stepped back
into the office and read the name she'd written down.
"Don't you dare hang
up," he told her as he rushed into his office and closed the door behind him.
He picked up the phone. "Let
me guess Holmby, they've already tried and executed the kid and you want a copy of the
recalled paper so you can frame it to remember me by," he said. "'Good old
Winston Churchill Anderton Baumgardner, youll tell people. He was a
newspaperman through and through. Why he even gave his life for this story'."
"Jesus, is that really your
"Don't be," Winston
said as he sat down. "Now, aside from wanting to gloat about my recent misfortune,
what other possible motive could you have for calling?"
"I've got an item for
"I think I've had enough of
your items for one week."
"Then you havent heard
yet?" Holmby said, a little surprised.
"They let the kid go."
said incredulously. "Didn't you hear me?"
"You said they let the
kid....Did you say they let the kid go?!"
"Sure as shit."
Winston sat bolt upright, his
mind going in twelve directions at once. "What happened?"
"They arrested the kid just
like I told you and held him overnight pending arraignment this morning," Holmby
explained. "But before they could even hit the courtroom they discovered three more
robberies that all reek of the same M.O. so they cut him loose."
"How do they know the same
guy did these that did the other ones?"
"They don't," Holmby
said, "but apparently they dont have a lot of proof that the kid did any of the
earlier robberies either, and he obviously didnt do these."
"Well I'll be one of
Hearst's aching hemorrhoids," Winston said, "are you sure about this?"
"That depends. You want to
believe both AP and UPI?"
"I knew there was a
catch," Winston said to Holmby's laughter. "I don't know if this means I owe you
another one or whether this cancels last night's."
"You owe me," Holmby
said as he hung up the phone.
Winston put the receiver down and
raised his clenched fists in a show of victory. His secretary was standing in the doorway.
concubineI mean, his executive secretaryjust called and said He's getting
"Let him wait," Winston
said, "get Flash on the phone." She arched one eyebrow questioningly.
Winston reclined in his high-back
chair and smiled. He was about to bet double or nothing with the odds so stacked against
him there was virtually no chance of scoring double, but what the hell, he'd long ago
decided that life is nothing but one great big sucker bet anyway.
"You want what?"
Flash screamed into the phone.
"I want them sent back
"But they're not even here
yet. I mean, I don't even know where most of them are right now. They could be
"A lot of them are probably
still where they were last night," Winston bluffed, "so if you hurry up and call
the distributors they can just not bother sending them back and deliver them as
"But what about the new
editions that are being printed?"
"Let me worry about
them," Winston said, knowing he had an hour before the presses would start printing
the revised tabloids. "The rewards back on."
[ Chapter 24 ]