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?

A Rock in the Pond

Kip lay in bed, eyes closed, as his mind ran in circles. One more day to the homecoming game, meant one more day to impress the college scouts. Football plays and lingo rolled around in his head, defying his attempts to fall asleep. He needed rest, but it wouldn’t come. Voices carried from the darkness, adding to the noisy chorus already ringing in his brain.

“Kip! Kip!”

He jerked awake to find Megan shaking him. “What is it?”

“Someone’s at the front door.”

Thumping and banging echoed through the walls of the house. “What the hell?”

With a groan, he stumbled upright and found his way down the stairs. The front door shook violently. With barely contained annoyance, Kip pulled a door curtain aside, and found his uncle, Sid Luckett, dressed in full police uniform.  He looked angry.

Oh great, what does he want? Kip pulled the latch and opened the door.

“About time you answered,” Sid groused. “Come with me.”

“Why?” Kip barked back. Sid acted too much like his dad for him to willingly follow his lead.

“I need your help with Josh,” Sid said, then started walking toward the police cruiser in the driveway.

Kip started to swear, but realized Megan stood behind him, peeking through the open doorway. He spoke over his shoulder, “Megs, go to your room. I have to help Uncle Sid with Dad.”

“Is Dad okay?” she asked quietly.

“Who cares,” he snapped, but instantly regretted it. She sniffled.  He turned and waved her back. “Go on, you don’t want to see him like this. No one does.”

She headed upstairs. Kip walked to Sid’s cruiser where Josh lay sprawled across the back seat. He grabbed hold of an arm and a leg, and with Sid’s help, they carried Josh up the steps and through the front door. Once inside, they dropped the inert form onto the couch. The man lay flat on his back, mouth agape, emitting chest rattling snores.

Kip stared at his disappointment of a father. “Where did you find him?”

“He was in his truck on North Street.”

“Sweet Jesus, was he driving drunk?”

“Actually, no. Someone was driving him home.”

“Good thing, he’d have killed someone driving like this.”

“Yeah, I just can’t believe some underage kid was trying to drive him home.”

Kip stared at Sid. “Say again?”

“Yeah, strangest thing. I pulled Josh’s truck over, because I thought he was driving drunk, but instead I find this seventeen-year-old kid sitting in the driver’s seat.”

“Who was it?”

“Beats me,” Sid said. But then he remembered, “Oh yeah, his name was Jonathan something.”

Kip swallowed and looked back at his father. What gives with this Jonathan kid? This was the second time in the last day he’d been involved with their family.

“Well,” Sid said. “I’d better be going, my shift isn’t over for at least a couple of hours.” He looked at his brother-in-law. “At least Josh is home safe.” He turned to leave.

A wave of heat shot through Kip, as anger dripped off his words, “Oh great, the drunk is home.  No one will be safe when he wakes up.”

Sid whipped around and shook a finger in his face. “Don’t judge the man! He made a mistake, and he’s had to deal with it ever since.”

Kip stepped closer, until just inches away from Sid’s face. “Deal with it? He gets drunk every night, and terrorizes his family when he’s sober.”

“He’s your father Kip.”

He’s a useless pile of shit. “You’re his brother-in-law, why don’t you say something to him?”

Sid blinked and stepped back. With a glance at the floor, he spoke, “He’ll be all right.” He turned and let himself out, and the door swung shut with a bang.

Fucking coward.

His father rolled over and started mumbling. Kip looked at him. “I never saw her … I never saw her …” Josh muttered into the couch cushions.

Kip turned away and shut off the light.  His dad disappeared into the darkness, with only the presence of a recurring nightmare to keep him company.

Bitterness followed Kip as he climbed the stairs. It had been almost a year since his father had nearly killed a man in a bar fight. After avoiding prison time on a technicality, he’d ended up paying a hefty fine, which took every available dime the Lawrence’s had, including Kip and Megan’s college funds. What little they had left continued to support the newest addition to the family, Josh’s drinking habit.

At the top of the stairs, he found Megan staring down into the darkness of the foyer. She chewed on the tip of her thumb, the way she did as a baby. It almost looked like she was sucking it. She turned and looked at him.  In her blue eyes, he saw not the usual iciness, but the fragile surface of a pond, into which a single stone could cause a mighty ripple.

“Is he okay?” she asked, voice wavering.

“Yeah,” he said. “He just needs to sleep it off. Go back to sleep, everything will be better in the morning.” She turned away and slipped into her room.

He hated lying like this.  Worse, the more he did it, the easier it became.  Not because he was trying to deceive, but because no one wanted to deal with the truth. Josh Lawrence was a sick man, pulling his family into the abyss into which he had fallen. Kip wasn’t sure what was worse, that that no one wanted to do a damned thing about it, or that he no longer cared either.

So he crawled into bed, and once more waited for the cacophony of noise in his head to begin.  Even if it did keep him awake, at least the racket drowned the drunken snores of a father who had abdicated his role of as parent and protector, by surrendering to the dark embrace of his guilt and the siren song of the bottle.