Principles

Paul Boniface studied the computer screen. The statewide statistics were sobering to say the least. While Jamesville High did not rank as the worst school in the district, the district as a whole didn’t have much standing statewide. Rather sad, but indicative of problems beyond his pay grade.

After two quick knocks, the door opened. Kenneth Franklin Herold, director of Human Resources, stepped through the doorway. He smoothed his Brooks Brothers suit while scanning the walls of the office. “Hello, Paul.”

Paul tried not to shiver. “Mephistopheles” Herold never showed up for any good reason. “Mr. Herold, to what do I owe this visit?” he asked.

Herold walked over and stood in front of the wall where Boniface’s college degrees hung. “Krepner sent me,” he said without looking his direction.

Paul bristled at the name of the District Superintendent. It was one thing to have Herold show up, quite another for Krepner to have instigated it. On his own, Herold was a feckless gadfly who took up more space on a golf course than a chair in an office. In tandem with Krepner, however, he played his role as professional bootlicker and minion with finesse. The two were connected, if not by anus, certainly by having graduated from Harvard Business School together. That said, their combined impact on the school system had little to show for it, other than accelerating Jamesville’s declining academic standards, as well as chasing away the kind of teachers needed to reverse that trend. Still, that didn’t mean they wouldn’t stop trying to blame everyone else for their shortcomings.

Paul swallowed hard. “What does that have to do with me?”

“How many years have you worked for the district?” Herold straightened his tie in the reflection cast by Paul’s framed doctorate degree.

Bastard. Herold knew the number but was clearly trying to goad him. “This year will be my twenty-ninth in the system.”

“Too bad.”

A chill ran down his spine. “How so?”

“Dr. Krepner and I have looked over the performance of Jamesville High and found it wanting. It was his recommendation that we terminate your contract.”

Paul’s face grew hot, and his hands started to shake. “What?”

Herold smiled, though it was crooked and thin. “Relax, I recommended an alternative.”

His heart thumping wildly, Paul swallowed again. “Which is . . .”

“I convinced Dr. Krepner to keep you on, but to reassign your vice-principal. In Dr. Clark’s place, we’ll bring in some new leadership to see if we can turn this school around.”

A dull burn seethed through him. Dr. Duncan Clark was a supremely gifted administrator, and a close friend. It made no sense to remove the man. “Who is replacing Dr. Clark?”

“The assistant principal at Harrison Middle.”

Boniface felt sick. The assistant at Harrison Middle was Gregory Herold, Mephistopheles son. “How is that going to help me?”

“You? Well, I don’t know about that, but if the school doesn’t make its AYP goals this year, then we have to go with a management style capable of providing the needed leadership.”

Paul knew that code and the result. Making AYP under the current constraints on resources was not possible in the next couple years, let alone by the end of the current one. So, his contract would be terminated short of full retirement, and Greg Herold would become principal. It took all his strength to not leap out of his desk and strangle the man.

Herold tapped Paul’s desk. “Well, I’ve got an appointment to keep. Clark has already been informed.” He turned and started to leave the office but stopped in front of Boniface’s degrees again. With a thumb and forefinger, he adjusted the frame slightly off-center. After casting a smile over his shoulder, he vanished out the door.

Boniface felt the walls closing in and rubbed his temples. They set him up for failure. How was he going to get out of this? Then the answer erupted in his mind. What’s he got to lose?

Escaping the Strip (Part 4/The End)

Escaping the Strip (Part 3)

“You ever wonder where you’ll be in five years?”

“With my study habits, probably still in college.”

“Studying what? What do you want to be doing for a living?”

I wasn’t sure how to answer that. ‘Going to college’ had always been my stock answer, but why I was going to college wasn’t very well formed. “Let’s see. Can’t really write or pass a calculus class to save my soul. No skill in working with my hands. Pretty much useless for anything that requires talent. Wait. I know–I’ll be a politician.”

“Har, har,” Nate chimed back to me.

“How about you?”

He was dead silent until we crossed the railroad tracks.

“I’ve got no job, no experience, no college, no car, and no girlfriend. I might as well be dead.”

“Hey, stop that talk.” An epiphany slithered through my mind. “Say, after I leave for college my dad will need someone to help him maintain his rentals and to keep from killing himself with electricity. If you can tolerate working with someone deaf and clumsy, you’ll fit right in. Plus, he pays decently.”

“Sounds good, but should I get my hopes up?”

“I’d say your chances are pretty even. Because your dad was a veteran, he’ll probably like you.” More than he ever did me, anyway. “I promise to talk you up to him. What do you think?”

“Would I need a car?”

“Nah, he likes to drive, though, with his bad hearing, it sometimes gets more exciting than it should.” I turned onto Henderson.

“All right, I like that idea. Can we listen to some more music?”

“Sure.”

Nate grabbed the radio tuner and twisted it. Tom Petty’s ‘Refugee’ came on. We sang the chorus together. But by the time the song ended, Nate had slumped down in the seat and was staring out the window.

The Henderson MickeyD’s came into sight, Nate asked, “Can you drop me off at home? I’m kind of tired.”

“Okay.” I sailed passed the restaurant and made a turn onto Fremont. About a mile down the road, I turned left into his driveway. Gravel crunched under the tires as we moved closer to his small home. All the windows were dark, but the porch light flickered giving just enough light for him to get to his front door. We sat there staring at his house.

In low voice, Nate asked,”Ever feel like you keep going around in circles, never getting anywhere but spending all your time doing it?”

“Yeah, sometimes, but time moves on.”

“Time makes no difference when you’re in jail. I wish I could escape this town.”

How do I answer that? I was going somewhere, and he wasn’t. Hardly seemed fair, but there it was.

“When you are leaving for Colorado?” Nate asked in a low tone.

“Two days.”

“Man, that sucks. We just graduated. Don’t you get to enjoy the summer?”

“No, of course not, they want me gone.”

“Really?”

“They’d sell me to the circus if they could.”

Nate chuckled, but then his face fell. “When are you coming back?”

Should I be honest or feed him some bullshit? Better keep it real. “If I can help it, never.”

Nate sighed, but then opened the car door and stepped out. “Never is a long time.”

“I know, but if I don’t leave, I might not ever get away.”

Nate and I locked eyes on each other. Left unsaid was the thought, Like me, you mean.

“Good luck Pete. Don’t forget to mention me to your dad.”

“I’ll talk to him. Take care of yourself.”

He turned and walked toward the house. The car coughed and sputtered but eventually started, and I backed out the driveway into the road. In the rearview mirror, Nate, with one foot on the porch step, stood staring up into the night sky. I shifted into drive and pulled away.

Goodbye, Nate.

Escaping the Strip (Part 3)

Escaping the Strip (Part 2)

Another set of crossing gates appeared, and once again the lights were flashing. A slow Santa Fe freight creaked across the iron rails.

“Say, you still going out with Hanna?”

“Uh.” His query threw me off. I’d not thought of her since the prom, which made me a bit sad, for some reason. We never really dated. Rather we often ended up doing the same activities, like dancing and swimming. I knew her, she knew me, and when prom rolled around, which I hadn’t considered going to, she showed up and asked me to it. A bit irregular, but hell, why not? I never had the hots for her though. Still, she was a nice girl. Probably too sweet and smart to be dating a skunk like me. “No, she’s getting ready for MIT in the fall.”

“Cool.” Nate flicked the remains of his cig out the window. “Say, I saw Ricky the other day. He was kinda mad about Darleen, and when I asked why, he said I should ask you. What gives?”

Oh, I knew all right, but I wasn’t going to say anything. “Oh, uh, we just had a … a misunderstanding about Darleen. Nothing serious.”

He looked at me sidelong. “He seemed pretty pissed. I’d avoid him if I were you.”

That was good advice since Ricky looked like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s little brother, and I weighed about 150 pounds. “That’s the plan, and just for the record, I’m avoiding Darleen too.”

“I’d sure like to know what happened with you and Darleen.”

“Ah well, I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.”

Nate chuckled. “I’ll spare you being someone’s prison bitch.”

“My ass thanks you,” I said with a smile.

Up ahead, MickeyD’s on Main appeared. That was the halfway point for the Strip. Then you had to turn around and make it back to Henderson Street MickeyD’s. I pulled into the lot and started to make my way past the parked cars toward the drive-through area.

“Hey,” Nate said, shooting upright. “Park here. I see Tammy.” He slapped my arm incessantly.

“Cut it out.” Tammy? Tammy who? Nevertheless, I pulled into a spot.

Nate leaned out the window. He began yelling at a car with two girls in it. “Tammy. Hey. Tammy.” One of the girls turned to look at us, but it was hard to see what she looked like.

I turned off the engine. “Who the hell is Tammy?” As I said this, it occurred that I was familiar with a Tammy, but it couldn’t be the same–oh shit.

A familiar face appeared outside Nate’s window. Long, straight auburn hair framed soft brown eyes and a pair of deliciously red lips. She wore a Rolling Stones graphic tee with the tongue logo. It was tied just under her ample breasts, revealing her midriff.

Nate grinned from one ear to the other. “This is Tammy Bronson. She’s the girl I told you about.” He turned to the girl. “Tammy, this is–”

“Hi Pete,” Tammy said pursing her lips at me. “Nice to see you again.”

Nate’s eyes widened. “You know each other? What the hell?”

“Small world, apparently,” I said weakly. Because the god of chance is a mean-spirited shit, another voice emerged from my left, as did a hand on my shoulder.

“Hey Pete,” Darleen said, running her fingers down my arm.

It was a small town too.

Wearing a halter top and short shorts, she leaned forward giving me an unwanted view of her cleavage. Brushing back her black feathered hair, she snapped her gum. “Funny running into you here. The last time we saw each other, you didn’t have any pants on.”

Oh for the love of God, just shoot me.

Nate did a double take. “Did you date Tammy AND sleep with Darleen?”

“Oh there wasn’t any sleeping,” Darleen offered unhelpfully.

“Pete and I went out a few times before I met you,” Tammy said to Nate, before looking at me. “But nothing happened.”

That was true because her mom came home early and my pants had stayed on. I looked at Nate. “That’s true.”

Nate narrowed his eyes at me but then turned to Tammy. “We need to talk.”

“Okay,” she said, then gave me the stink eye. He opened the door, took her by the arm and walked over to one of the picnic tables positioned nearby.

That left me with Darleen. Hot breath stroked my ear. “I think about that night all the time,” she whispered.

“Okay, we have to talk too.”

She ran a hand down the front of my shirt. “Can I sit on your lap while we talk?”

“Uh, no.” I tried to scrape together my wits. “Here’s the thing. We can’t see each other, EVER.”

“Why not?”

“First of all, you’re the girlfriend of one of my best friends, and secondly, you are seventeen. The first you didn’t tell me, and the second you lied about.”

“Oh, Ricky knows now, and besides I’m on the pill.”

Yeah, that’ll convince the judge not to jail me for statutory rape.

The passenger door opened, and Nate flopped into the seat. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”

So Nate was having as much fun as I was. “Darleen, I have to go.” She leaned in before I could stop her and stuck a tongue in my ear. I twisted the ignition key so hard I thought it might break, but for once the old hunk of junk started. Slamming into reverse, I goosed the accelerator and hoped to God that no one was behind me. Darleen jerked back to avoid losing her head. In seconds I had circled behind the building and shot back out onto Main Street.

All this time Nate glared out the window and was silent.

Guess I’ll have to kick the rock over. “How did it go with Tammy?”

He sighed. “She dumped me. Said we can’t date anymore because she’s going to college in the fall. I don’t get it.”

“Let me clue you in. She only dates guys that have cars. If you can’t haul her ass anywhere, she wants nothing to do with you. When I was going out with her, she was always asking for rides and wanting me to buy stuff. When I refused she made up that lame ‘I’m going to college’ excuse.”

“That’s sick.”

I nodded, but I didn’t add that she let me feel her up in return for some of the rides.

“I can’t believe you slept with Darleen. You’re a perv.”

Fuck you, Nate. “I didn’t know.”

He stayed silent again until we passed the ‘square.’

Escaping the Strip (Part 4/The End)