As promised here is a new story, one I started way back in February of last year. This one is neither sci-fi or fantasy, but pretty much straight-up fiction, and it features a teacher as a the protagonist, because I think teachers are awesome. Mind you, she’s not necessarily a “nice” teacher, but I think you’ll agree she’s a pretty good person, at least by the end.
My working title for they story was Balance, but I never cottoned to that name much. I settled on The Sound of Pieces (you’ll have to read the story to see why), but I’m not sure if its any better. If you think you might have a better idea for a title, go ahead and post it.
This story is just shy of 5900 words. Call it about 20 minutes of your time, depending on how fast you read. And every time I read it, it still makes me cry, although you might never guess where.
And with that, I leave you to the story.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I knew my day was gonna be bad when the coffee machine spit out hot water. Damn. In my usual morning fog I had forgotten to add the grounds. Worst still, I had wasted the last filter in the box.
We have extra coffee filters buried somewhere in the cupboard over the refrigerator. I looked at the clock and saw I had a few minutes to spare before I got in the shower, so I unfolded the stupid step ladder that shakes whenever I stand on it, and started digging through the piles of junk.
I mean, how many half-empty bags of coffee beans does one couple need? Really?
That’s when I found the bill. It was tucked into the corner, next to the liquor bottles covered in dust and cat hair. It was a doctor’s bill. $463.00. From a surgeon I never heard of. Not a lot of money, but still more than we had.
And it was due in three days.
I don’t know why he hides them. Henry swears he’s getting better, and to give the devil his due he does faithfully attend his court ordered D.A. meetings, but each promise just piles up, one on top of another, until they start to feel like a lead weight crushing my lungs and pushing me deeper into the ground.
I steadied myself against the cupboard door, and practiced my deep breathing. Dust from the top of the refrigerator made grey lines in my pajamas. I did what my therapist Carly says will help; I counted backwards from 100, I envisioned Henry a better man, I looked hard for the bright side. None of these things made me feel smart or strong. They just make me mad.
Just once I’d like to not feel mad. Just once I’d like to wake up and not wonder if today is the day I should divorce my husband. Is that too much to ask?
Then I went to school and things got worse.
I was ten minutes late walking into the staff room. Some stupid lady in line at the coffee shop kept changing her order over and over, and when I finally got to the counter the only Americano available was hazelnut. I mean, who in the hell drinks hazelnut coffee?
And then running late to the meeting, I passed Billy in the hallway. “Hello Mrs. Caplestock. Good morning, good morning, good morning,” he said in his sing-songy voice. Like he does, each and every morning, without fail.
I stopped to reply to him like I always do, “It’s Ms. Rodriquez, Billy,” I said, emphasizing the “Ms.” part strongly, like I was taught in school. “Ms. Rodriquez. Not Mrs. Caplestock.”
“Oh,” he said, his face switching from a smile to a frown, like I had just kicked his favorite puppy. Then his smile suddenly came back. “Did I say good morning to you yet, Mrs. Rodriquez? Good morning, good morning, good morning.”
“Good morning, Billy,” I mumbled as I hurried past.
By the time I got to the staff room, the Ice Queen, which is what everyone calls Principal Mendoza, was going over the schedule. She gave me the stink eye as I crept into my seat near the back. A small piece of paper was sitting face down on the desk in front of my chair. As I turned it over I saw Hillary give Jennifer a significant glance. They were the other two forth grade teachers at Grace Boulevard Elementary, and from their conspiratorial smiles, I knew they had looked at the note already.
“See me after Staff,” it read in a huge flowing script. It was signed “Theresa Condolez, Vice-Principal.” As if I needed help remembering her job title. Theresa was a large woman with large hair, large handwriting, and even larger feelings. She was always talking about her feelings and how everybody must feel. She also sucked up to the Ice Queen so hard that Hillary and Jennifer joked that they were connected nose to ass.
The note was a bit of good news. It looks like someone had finally read my complaint. I smiled, knowing it would cause Hillary and Jennifer to wonder. It did.
After the meeting, in which Mendoza described tardiness as unprofessional at least three times, I grabbed my things, and followed Theresa to her office. On the way out Hillary shot me a questioning glance, but I shook my head. I’d see her at prep after third period. She could hold her curiosity until then.
When I got there, I was kept waiting in the outer office while Theresa took care of some minor things. When she called me in I could see my report sitting on her desk, opened to the second page.
“You wanted to talk about my report?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said sitting down. “But first I wanted to ask how you feel?”
“How I feel?” I asked.
“About teaching here,” she said with a smug smile.
Holy shit! I thought. About teaching here? That was not good. “Um, fine,” I lied.
“Just fine?” she asked. Her big fat eyes were looking back at me with an emotion I couldn’t read. Pity?
“Fine,” I said.
“Okay,” she said looking down at my report. “I see you have turned in a complaint about William Maxwell.”
“Who?” I said. I’d never heard that name before.
“Billy. The janitor.”
“It says here that you have problems with him, ‘walking down the hall,’” she said, reading off of my report.
Trust Theresa to take something simple, and screw it up. “Not his walking,” I said. “Its when he pushes his trash can thingy. You know, the round one with all the cleaning stuff hanging off it? That one.”
“He makes too much noise. Rolling it down the hall after lunch. It disrupts the class. Makes the kids jumpy. I’ve told you this before.”
“Yes,” she said, looking up from the report. “Did you try closing the door, like I suggested?” she asked with an innocent smile. “After all, that would solve the problem wouldn’t it?”
“Did you fix the air conditioner in my room?” I asked with a similar smile. It was an old complaint. We were near the end of the hottest April on record, and my classroom had had no working AC since September. The only way to keep the room from getting so warm that the kids fell asleep was to open the outside windows and the door to the hall.
“No,” she said. Smile gone.
She glanced at the report, reading it for a few more seconds. “And I see here you’re complaining about your name,” she said.
“Not my name,” I corrected. “The name he calls me. Mrs. Caplestock.”
“Oh yes,” Theresa said with a warm smile.
Before I took this job at Grace Boulevard Elementary, there used to be a teacher here named Mrs. Caplestock. From the way everybody gushed about her, she must have been the best forth grade teacher in the entire universe. Ever. Somehow I got stuck with her classroom, and almost every day someone used her name in my hearing. “Mrs. Caplestock used to have the best library,” or “Did you look in the right hand drawer? That’s where Mrs. Caplestock put them,” or “She used to sing so well. Can you sing like Mrs. Caplestock?” Being compared to a woman long retired was galling enough, but when the retarded–sorry, mentally handicapped–janitor starting calling me by her name, it was too much.
“You know,” Theresa said, breaking my reverie, “this is going to sound strange, but you do favor her some.”
“So I’ve been told,” I said trying to keep my tone pleasant. About a thousand times, I wanted to add, but didn’t. Here’s a hint. When you’re in your early thirties, being told you look like someone in their seventies is not a compliment.
“Still,” Theresa continued, “I guess it must make you feel bad. Funny how he would make such a mistake. Mrs. Caplestock was so nice.”
See what I have to put up with?
Theresa went back to the report. “And this last paragraph says something about him looking at you?”
I squirmed in my seat. Talking about sexual stuff always make me feel like a little girl in a room full of adults. “Yes, um…” Theresa raised an eyebrow at my discomfort which just made me more mad. “Its not that he looks at me, it’s the way he looks at me.”
“I’m not sure I know what you mean,” Theresa said demurely, a hint of a smile playing on the corners of her mouth.
On the inside I thought, oh I doubt that very much you silly bitch, but on the outside I said, “You know… Like a woman.”
“But you are a woman, Esther,” Theresa said as if it was evident.
“Yes but…” Oh I hated talking about this. “He looks at me like I’m a woman woman. You know. Like, like he’s attracted to me.”
She slowly looked up from my report, both eyes glancing over the top of the stupid little half glasses she wears that make her look cross-eyed. What is it about diminishing eyesight that makes people suck at fashion?
“He looks at you like you’re attractive?” she repeated. Coming from her, it sounded retarded.
“Yes,” I stammered.
“Surely, you’ve had this experience before, Esther. You are a pretty woman, after all.”
“Yes, but…” I said. My mind was reeling, trying to describe the difference between an attractive man looking at you, and an unattractive one. Only it wasn’t that Billy was unattractive. Well he was, but that wasn’t the thing. When he looked at me, it was like he was leering at me. It was not a happy thing, it was a scary thing.
“I see,” Theresa said, not waiting for me to finish my thoughts. And then predictably she added, “And how does that make you feel?”
I wanted to shout, “It makes my skin crawl!” but by then I knew the direction this meeting was headed, so we sat across from each other while I tried to find a more politically correct way to say the retarded janitor was making eyes at me and it was creeping me out. Alas, my words were failing me.
“Do you suppose it has something to do with the way you dress?” She said innocently, while glancing at my outfit.
I think I went into shock at that point. My mind was reeling. She did not just pull a victim blame on me, did she?
There was a knock at the door, and Marlena, the school secretary, leaned her head inside flashing a stack of papers. Theresa waived her over, and that pretty much concluded the meeting. After being ignored for a few minutes, I got up and left. Still fuming I stopping by my box to see if there was anything important. There wasn’t. By the time I made it to my class I had only a few minutes before they let the kids in, and there was still a lot of work to do.
Ten minutes later my official day began. I didn’t realize I’d left my coffee in Theresa’s office until after the bell rang. Maybe, I said to myself while the kids filed in, she’ll take a sip, and we’ll discover she has an allergy to artificial hazelnut flavor or something. It was a reach, I know, but a girl can dream, can’t she?
That morning the kids were…well, they were kids. Meaning…. Look. Its a charter school in a bad part of town. It was a job that didn’t look too hard at my credentials, in exchange for a guaranteed one year contract. No pension, no medical, and no union. A choice between fifteen years of debt and fifty. In other words, no choice as all. So yeah, the kids were bad. What’s new?
We made it through the flag salute and reading without any major mishaps. Jon Carlos started wandering around the room during math but I was able to corral him, for a change, by sticking him with Evan Dramer–the only kid in class worse at math than he was. Usually those two competed to see who can be the worst at a subject. Today they decided to see who was the best. Thank heaven for small miracles.
After nutrition, which is the break we used to call recess (which offers no actual recess, and features no food item that could even remotely be considered nutritious), we zoomed through social studies, and then off to lunch.
Once the kids were out, I met Hillary and Jennifer in our regular corner of the staff room for prep. Technically the period was supposed to be dedicated to Professional Development, but mostly it was an excuse to gossip, which we did with reckless abandon.
Billy was a favorite topic of ours. Since Hillary and Jennifer had taught here longer, they had better stories. Hilary called him the school’s pet, and Jennifer liked to make fun of the way he talked. You know, harmless fun. So I was surprised at their reaction when I told them both about my complaint.
“You went to Theresa about Billy?” Hillary said in surprise.
“Yeah,” I said suddenly self-conscious. “Why not?”
They glanced at each other then down at their plates. That scared me more than the frosty look I got from Mendoza this morning. When the two biggest gossips in the school take a sudden interest in their food, you know its not good.
“What?” I said. They studiously ignored me.
“Are you two going to tell me, or am I going to have to threaten you?” The last part I said soft enough that no one could overhear.
“You can’t possibly…” Jennifer started, but I interrupted.
“Jon Carlos,” I said. They both stopped. “Everyone knows I have three more students than both of you,” I said hurriedly. “All I have to do is tell the Ice Queen I’m not sure if I can handle the load, what with being in my first year and all, and I’m sure I can get him transferred.” They both sat up straighter at this. “The only question is, which one of you deserves him more?”
They looked at each other and then laughed. “Okay,” said Hillary. “You got us.”
“Well,” I said after a pause.
“Well,” said Jennifer, “Don’t take this too serious. See, we heard a rumor…“
“Yeah, a rumor,” Hillary said.
“…and we didn’t want to tell you…” Jennifer said and the stopped.
“But…” I added.
“But…” Jennifer continued, “The thing is. What we heard, and don’t take this the wrong way, but…”
“Would you two get on with it!” I said loudly. The room went silent.
Jennifer gave me a pained look, but waited until the general hubbub returned before making a sound. “The reason you were hired,” she said softly. “One of the reasons, at any rate, that you were picked over the other candidates…. And you know there were a lot of candidates for your position, right? I don’t have to tell you…”
Hillary silenced her with a chopping motion. “We heard you got hired because Billy likes you,” she said, looking down at her plate.
“Be-cause,” Hillary repeated slowly in her teacher voice, like she was speaking to a forth grader, “He. Likes. You.”
“Who told you this?” I demanded. They shrugged their shoulders in unison.
“Does it matter?” Hillary asked.
Outside the window I could hear the rushing of the traffic on Grace Boulevard, the normal yelling and screaming of the kids on the playground, and the murmurs of the other teachers in the staff room droning like hundreds of low pitched mosquitoes. The microwave let out a single ding to let someone know their lunch was finished cooking.
“I suppose not,” I said with a sigh, very much wishing that my friends had been more forthcoming before I wrote the complaint. Or that I’d been smart enough to tell them about it before I turned it in. Or that I hadn’t taken the job in the first place, or that I hadn’t married Henry to begin with…. Or, or, or.
Why is there always a shit storm raging on my sea of regret?
After lunch we were supposed to do health science, but with the hotter weather I had learned it took a good 30 minutes for the kids to settle down. So I had them pull out their library books and read. John Carlos took ten minutes and five reminders before he got out his book, but the rest of the class settled into the routine quietly, with only the occasional twitch or interruption.
It was warm enough in the room that I had the doors and windows open fully, catching the faint cross breeze. Anything to get the kids to settle down. So of course this had to be the time that Billy took out the trash.
Now my classroom sat at the far end of the hall. Just past my door was the small storage space that Billy’s used for an office, and just past that was a back door that lead to the rarely used end of the parking lot. You know, that place where they keep the large trash cans that no one ever goes near. I had been in Billy’s office before. Once. It was full of little knick-knacks, bottles, sticks, chewing gum wrappers, leaves, and small abandoned toys, each one placed carefully next to the other, and organized as if by a blind madman with exquisite taste in junk. The room had accreted so many objects over the years that if you turned quickly while sticking out an elbow, a dozen things were bound to fall. And, as I discovered the hard way, nothing made Billy more angry than knocking over his things. The room gave me nightmares after that.
In between Billy’s door and mine was an old trophy case that was built into the wall. Why they would give trophies to this school was beyond me. The trophy case curved over the top of a rusty drinking fountain. The bottom of the case, dusty and filled with a display from the Eisenhower Era, hung low enough over the fountain that an adult had to duck their head to drink. That’s if the water fountain was working, which it often wasn’t. After one experimental taste, I had learned to always keep a supply of bottled water under my desk.
It was from this back room that Billy started his rounds, cleaning the school as he rolled forwards. He was supposed to start after 2:15 when the students were let out, but he had discovered his own way of doing things and didn’t react well with change. This meant that every afternoon, right when I was trying to get the students to settle down, he would wheel his big trash can down the hall, squeaking and bumping as it went, and noisily dump the refuse from each class. It was precisely this noise that disrupted the student’s quiet time, making them giggle and squirm with every bump and squeak.
Maybe it was me, but he seemed to spend more time on my end of the hall than the rest. More than once I caught him staring at me through the door while I was bent over a child’s desk attempting to help. It was not a good feeling.
Today I decided I would be proactive. So when I first heard the squeak of the trash can rolling out his door, I drifted over to the hall door to close it. Just as I reached the handle I heard Billy’s voice from the hall asking, “Who’re you?” This was unusual. Billy knew the name of every child in the school, and rarely spoke while working. Then his voice changed from question to anger. “You…. You go, you go, you go. Bad man, bad man, badman.”
I grabbed the handle, and instinctively stopped. Through the angle of the opening I could just make out another man in the hall. The bright glare of the open back door made him appear as a dark silhouette. Billy was standing right close, his body in between me and the man. “Bad man, you go, you go,” he was saying. “My kids, you go, you go yougo.” He words started slurring together in as they increased in volume.
The man was struggling with something. Cursing. In the bright light it was difficult to see. “Damn retard! Get out of the way!”
Billy was still yelling, “My kids, my kids mykids,” when the shot went off. In the enclosed hall the sound bounced around massive and harsh. Suddenly the man went flying up against the wall. His head connecting with the top of the trophy case, while his body continued below until it struck the wall over the drinking fountain.
And when he hit, the sound….
When I had first started at Grace Boulevard Elementary, Jennifer had innocently suggested I ask Billy how many items were in the “lost and found” box they keep in the front office. Everyone said Billy was incredible at finding things. Even Hillary remarked on this. So of course, I asked.
Later I would learn that asking about the “lost and found” meant having to talk with Billy, and attempting to communicate with him was usually more effort than searching for the damn lost thing to begin with. But at the time I didn’t know any better.
“Depends,” he had slurred.
“It depends on what, Billy? I asked slowly.
“Pieces, no pieces,” he said.
I looked at him blankly. When he didn’t respond I said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t know what you mean.”
“Pieces, no pieces,” he said again in frustration.
When I didn’t respond, he took my arm and walked me into my room. Grabbing a pencil he held it up. “No pieces,” he said, and then with quick motion he snapped the pencil in two. Snap. “Pieces,” he said holding the two ends up. Then he gently pressed the two halves together again saying, “No pieces”.
That pencil sound–the snapping, breaking–that was what the man’s neck sounded like when he hit the wall.
I let out a small squeak, which echoed in the silence of the hall. Billy’s head slowly turned from the man towards me, his eyes round and open in alarm. He took one look at me and the effect was like a slap to his face.
“Sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry,” he slurred, then he turned and ran down the hall, slamming open the front door at the other end so hard that it smacked into the stop with a bang, and then chattered like the kid’s teeth on a cold day.
Somehow the back door had closed, so the only light that fell into the back hall came from a small hole in the ceiling. From it I could just make out a strange man laying half under the trophy case. His upper body was twisted, motionless, but his heals drummed into the ground like a morse code operator on crack.
In the dim light I could see next to the body a series of thin bright highlights and long dark shapes that somehow added up to a rifle. Then I smelled that familiar burned-wood-and-sulfur scent I knew from my childhood, and the hair on the back of my neck started to rise.
And right at that moment, the thought that went through my head was, Oh shit. There might be more of them.
Grace Boulevard Elementary may have been short of money, and well short of parental involvement, but the one thing it didn’t lack was plans. There was a plan for regular days, a plan for holidays, a plan for Christmas programs (which seemed to revolve around putting the new teacher in charge), a plan for floods, a plan for fires, and most importantly a plan for roving gunmen.
Back in August when we had practice these plans over and over in the hot sun, I thought Mendoza was a sadistic fascist. Now I clung to them like a life-line. Funny how rapidly one can change their opinion.
I slammed closed the hall door, sliding the lock home in one swift motion. Then I turned to find the kids all staring, mouths open in perfect Os.
“Jon Carlos,” I yelled. The boy jumped from his seat like he’d be shocked out of it with a buzzer. “Close every window, starting on that end,” I said pointing to the back side of the school.
“But…” he protested.
“Now!” I yelled.
Its amazing how fast the kids react when you sound terrified.
“Evan,” I called.
“Yes,” he said.
“When he’s done, you’re to close every curtain. Can you do that?
He looked at me for a second. “Yes,” he said starting to get up.
“When he’s done,” I yelled.
Evan sat back down.
I turned to the rest of the class. “Everyone else, line up quietly at the back of the room, and sit in place. No backpacks, no coats. Nothing. If you make a noise it might be your last, so zip it people. We need to do this right.”
I reached for the phone on my desk while the kids were a blur of terrified silence. I dialed the office. Marlena answered on the second ring. “Marlena this is Ms. Rodriquez in room sixteen. We have a condition three.”
“A what?” she said.
“A three. Condition three,” I repeated.
There was a gasp, and I head the phone drop. Just about the time I thought I would have to send someone down there, the school alarm went off. Seconds later Marlena could be heard over the intercom. “Condition three, Full lock down,” she repeated over and over. It sounded odd coming over the phone and the intercom at the same time.
I dropped the phone and ran to the back door, making sure all of the kids were down low. Then we sat that way and waited. It was the longest hour of my life.
One thing I can say, it was the best I’ve ever seen my class behave. For the first five minutes at least.
Eventually the cops arrived in all their riot gear, looking like extras from a war movie. They quietly hustled us out of the room, and down to the staging area. Because we were the farthest room out, we were the last to be escorted in. By the time we arrived, the parents were already there and the front of the school was a total madhouse. The parents were laughing and crying. The kids were mostly crying and not understanding the fuss. Helicopters circled overhead, and about a million cops roamed all over the school.
Once the kids were accounted for, a cop singled me out and asked me to step into the office to talk to the detectives.
“So, its all over then?” I asked.
Another cop, this one much older, looked over as we approached. He had grey hair, a fuzzy beard, and a wrinkled suit. He squinted at me funny. “You’re the one who called it in? Room 16?” he said checking against a list.
“We’ve got one more,” he said importantly, “hunkered down near your room.”
“You mean the dead one?”
His face suddenly stopped as if his brain had just switched off automatic. “You know about the…”
“I saw it happen,” I said.
A radio came up to his face as if by magic. “Hold one” he said, holding up a finger, then he turned away to speak into the radio. After a few seconds he turned back and said, “We’re going to want to know everything you saw.”
Well, I thought to myself, there goes my diner plans. For the first time I realized just how scary the situation had been. Then quite unexpectedly my knees gave way as if someone had removed my leg bones.
I woke up looking into the older cop’s face. Concern mixed with anxiety crossed his features. Glancing around, I realized I was laying on the cot in the nurses office. From those two pieces of data I put together what had happened.
“I’m sorry,” I said trying to sit up, and feeling dizzy. “I don’t…”
“Happens,” the older cop said. “Hang loose for a second. It’ll come back to you.”
I nodded, while I looked around. Stars were floating around my vision in the upper corners. It was beautiful in an abstract way, like the way the wood grain on a coffin can be beautiful.
While I was sitting there I heard something over the radio.
“I’m sorry,” I said to the cop. “What were you saying about the other shooter?”
This time he looked more annoyed. “I wasn’t,” he said. Then pity or something must have taken over his mouth. “He’s holed up near your class. Some kind of store room at the end.”
“Did you get a look at him?” I asked. For some reason this seemed important. Something in the back of my head was bothering me.
“No,” the cop said. “But he keeps on saying something about Mrs. Capelcheck or something.”
“Caplestock?” I asked.
“Something like that.”
I was up and running before I knew it. I could hear the cop yelling at me but I ignored him. Then I heard him behind me yelling into his radio. By the time I got to my room his voice was echoing loudly in the hall from a dozen different sources. “Hold your fire. A civilian’s coming. Hold your fire.”
I didn’t really notice much until I reached the end. The guy who Billy had killed–for he most certainly had killed him–was now covered in a sheet. Cops in battle gear had seemed to be randomly standing all over the hall, but at the end they converged in a semi-circle around Billy’s office. Their guns were drawn, pointing at the closed door.
The sound was like nothing I’d ever heard before. Cops were shouting at the door, other cops were yelling at me, there were radios blaring, and sirens and helicopters outside. And over all of it I could hear a faint, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry I’m sorry,” over and over.
I made it through most of the cops until I came across an older one who stood in my way. “What are you doing here?” he yelled at me, then he turned to the men around him, “What in the hell is she doing here?” he yelled at no one in particular.
I ignored him, focusing on the sound from the door. I recognized the slur in his voice.
“Mam,” the cop said. “you have to leave this area. There’s a dangerous man in there, and…”
“Did you go in there?” I asked. No one responded so I asked louder, “Did anyone go in this room?” I said pointing. A few heads shook.
“Mam,” the cop said, “You need to leave this place right now…”
“Did anyone get a look at him? See if he’s armed?” I asked.
Then the cop started up again, “Mam…”
“Shut up,” I said in my best teacher voice. “I’m trying to think.”
His mouth started moving like the proverbial fish out of water; making lots of motion, but no sound. I’d never seen anyone do that before, outside of the movies.
Through the door I could hear Billy talking, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
I thought about Mrs. Caplestock, and what she would sound like. “Billy,” I called in a softer voice. A voice of someone who cares. Who’s nice.
Billy stopped speaking.
The cop started in with, “What are you trying to do…” so I shushed him. “Be quiet,” I whispered. “He’s…. He’s…. He’s mentally handicapped. You’ll scare him.”
“Billy?” I called again.
Through the door I heard, “Mrs. Caplestock?” There was panic in his tone.
“Yes honey, I’m out here. But…” I stopped thinking furiously. If he came out with all these cops… “You need to stay still for a second, Billy. Can you do that for me? Please?”
“Yes, Mrs. Caplestock,” he said sounding more calm.
I thought for a moment. “Billy. There’s a lot of policemen out here.”
“I know. They’re scaring me. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
“Billy,” I said quickly. “Its okay. These are good policemen. They’re not going to hurt you. They’re going to help you. Do you understand me Billy?”
“Yes Mrs. Caplestock.”
“They came to protect the children Billy. That’s good isn’t it?”
“My kids, my kids, my kids.”
“That’s right Billy. They’re your kids. And you protected them today, didn’t you?”
“But… I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
“Yes. Mrs. Caplestock.”
“You protected the kids. Didn’t you? You protected the school. Didn’t you? You saved my life…”
“Can I come out now?”
“Of course you can sweetie. When you see the cops, do not be scared. Okay? Now, what did I say about the cops?”
“Don’t be scared,” he said.
The door opened slowly, and Billy shuffled out into the hall. The cops pointed their guns at him, and he shrank back. Over the noise of his feet shuffling and the squeak of leather, you could hear him whispering softly, “don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid.” I didn’t know if his words were for himself, or the cops, but either way, they seemed to work.
The cops lowered their guns, and Billy stepped out of the doorway. He walked a few steps to me, and then suddenly he was hugging me fiercely. Crushingly.
Then he stopped just as suddenly, and held me back at arm’s length. “You’re not Mrs. Caplestock,” he said.
“You’re Mrs. Rodriquez.”
I didn’t know how to answer him. Why was I there. I hated this man. He had cost me my job today. Well to be fair, I had cost me my job, but I had no reason to love him, and I certainly had no reason to love Mrs. Capelstock.
Then suddenly it came to me, and in a voice far more calm than I felt I said, “I forgot to say good night, Billy.”
I don’t know, but I might have even smiled.
“Oh,” he said suddenly smiling his old smile. “Good night, good night, goodnight, Mrs. Rodriquez.”
“Can you show these policemen around?” I asked. “They lost some things, and I think you know where to find them?”
“I’m good at finding things,” he said with a huge smile.
“I know you are Billy. Can you show them were the bad man came into the school?”
A shadow crossed his face, but then it was replaced by a smile. “Here,” he said turned towards the end of the hall.
With that, half the cops started following him, asking questions, but before he went out the back door he turned to me.
“Good night Mrs. Rodriquez. Good night, good night, goodnight,” he said.
“Good night, Billy,” I said. “Good night, good night.”