Emend by Eclipse
Chapter 24

Copyright© 2020 by Lazlo Zalezac

February 9, 1976

“I had a deal with Principal Haley.”

Principal Atkinson said, “Mr. Haley isn’t here anymore. I’m his replacement, and I’m in charge now. You don’t have a deal with me.”

“I had a deal with the institution of the school. Principal Haley was its representative. You can’t change a deal between the institution and me.”

“Now I represent the institution, and the deal is null and void.”

“Why can’t we keep things as they were?”

“Benny, I find your absences from classes to be quite offensive.”

“You offend easily,” Benny replied in a matter of a fact voice.

“I’m offended each and every time you aren’t in class. I want your butt in that chair in the classroom and learning something.”

“That’s crazy. Most people find themselves overjoyed when I’m not around.”

“Just because they are too lazy to do their jobs does not mean that I am. You’re supposed to be in the classroom learning.”

“Learning what?” Benny asked. The frustration in his voice was unmistakable.

As if the answer should be self-evident, Principal Atkinson said, “The subject matter of the course.”

“Oh. So I’m supposed to go to algebra, when I know college level number theory, calculus, partial differential equations, and discrete mathematics.”

“You need to learn grade appropriate material, just like your peers.”

“I’m supposed to read that one summary history book instead of the thirty I’ve read. Reading a line in your book that two princesses didn’t get along versus a treatise on their lives, the circumstances of their births, the treatment of their mothers by the king, the impact of their different religions, and the political factions who backed each young woman. I can see how what I learned could interfere with parroting back that Mary and Elizabeth didn’t get along. My goodness, there might even be nuances in my answer. We can’t have that.”

Getting angry, Principal Atkinson said, “You should do the course work assigned to you.”

“I take the tests and get all As.”

“You don’t do the homework. When you factor that into the calculation of your grades, it gives you Cs and not As.”

“That’s not true. My science teacher gives me assignments that I turn in for As.”

“You fail to turn in the regular assignments that everyone else is assigned. That would give you Cs if your science teacher was honest. I’m working on that issue separately.”

Benny said, “Ah! I see what our problem is.”

“What do you think our problem is?”

“We have a significant difference in perspective. You’re a prick, and I’m not.”

“Benny! I’m warning you.”

Benny just started at him. After half a minute passed, he said, “Well?”

“Well what?”

“You were warning me. What were you warning me about?”

“Don’t be dense. You know what I meant.”

“No, I don’t. We have such a difference in perspective, that I can’t tell what you’re thinking.”

“Benny, I’m about at my limit.”

“Are you contemplating suicide?”

“What are you talking about?”

“If my thoughts were as stupid, shallow, and superficial as yours appear to be, I’d be contemplating suicide. So, are you suicidal? If you are, I’ll give you a helping hand.”

“Benny, I warned you.”

“No you didn’t. You said you were warning me, but you didn’t say what you were warning me about. A warning is something like, “Hey that’s hot. If you touch it, you’ll get burnt.” Saying I’m warning you, isn’t a real warning. It’s more like a threat, but a lazy threat, since you can’t be bothered enough to say why you’re threatening me or what you are threatening me with.”

“Benny, that’s it.”

“What is it?”

“I’m suspending you for a week.”

“A week?”

“Now I’ve got your attention,” Principal Atkinson said sitting back in his chair smugly.

“Why only a week? I could use a two week vacation.”

“You’re absolutely incredible.”

“I think so, too. I’m glad we agree on something.”

“How do you expect to get into college if you fail out of high school?”

Truly taken aback by the question, Benny stared at the man seated across the desk from him. He was dealing with a complete moron.

“Gosh, I don’t know. Maybe my perfect PSAT score might get me in the door of some backwater school. Now that I think about it, I’ve got a perfect SAT score, too. Maybe that might mean something. Nah, probably not. Perfect scores on those tests are a dime a dozen.

“You’re right. No college or university in the country would want me.

“I’m gonna cry.” Benny theatrically pretended to wipe tears from his eyes. He raised a finger in the air and shouted, “No wait! I just had epiphany.

“All is not lost. There is one school that will take me. The same dumb ass school that graduated an idiot like you, will accept anyone!”

“Get out of my office!” Principal Atkinson was furious.

“Say the magic word,” Benny said sweetly.

“I said, get out of my office!” Principal Atkinson was starting to see red.

This punk kid needed to go down. He got up and moved around the desk. Benny stood to face him eye to eye.

“You’re still not saying the magic word.”

“Out!”

In the most irritating, condescending tone of voice ever used in that office, Benny said, “Not until you say the magic word!”

Principal Atkinson reached back and hit Benny right in the middle of the face. As soon as his fist made contact, he knew that he had blown it. Benny’s nose exploded in a stream of blood. He turned, opened the door, and staggered out of the principal’s office.

Every eye in the front office turned to look at him. Benny stood there with his hands to nose. His shirt turning red from the blood streaming from his nose. The office staff had heard everything that had gone on in the principal’s office.

“He hit me. Call the police. I’m pressing charges.” What he said didn’t quite come out that clearly, but the meaning of his words were obvious.

According to Principal Atkinson, Tim and Benny were a gang of juvenile delinquents destined for prison at some point. Both of them had to be put in their place so that their bad attitude couldn’t infect the entire school. Tim was seated in the office waiting his turn to see Principal Atkinson. He marched over to the secretary’s desk. He picked up the telephone and dialed a number.

“Chief Hale, this is Tim Blake.”

One of the secretaries finally reacted. She went over to Benny with a handkerchief. She tried to stop the flow of blood. Other people in the office surrounded him attempting to help him.

“I’m fine. Unfortunately, I’m calling to report an assault.”

Weakly, Principal Atkinson said, “You can’t call the police ... I’m the Principal.”

“Principal Atkinson just hit Benny square in the face. I think his nose is broken.”

“Thank you.”

Tim hung up by pressing a finger on the switch. Still holding the phone he dialed another number. He really hated rotary dials.

“Hello, Mr. Forbes. I’m Tim Blake.”

“I’m in school. I’m calling you from the high school.”

Feeling sick to his stomach, Principal Atkinson said, “Not the school board.”

“There’s a problem. Principal Atkinson just hit Benny Baker in the face. I think he broke Benny’s nose.”

“I imagine so. Benny hasn’t said anything about a lawsuit, but he’s probably still in shock. I know you know Benny. He isn’t the kind of person who understands violence.”

Tim exchanged a few more words. He hung up and dialed another number.

“Mr. Alexander, this is Tim Blake.”

“I’m fine, but Benny was assaulted by Principal Atkinson at the high school just a few minutes ago.”

“I thought as our attorney, you might have some advice.”

“He’s here at the school. They’re still trying to get the bleeding under control.”

“Lots of blood. It’s everywhere.”

“We’ll wait for you.”

Tim hung up the phone. He turned and looked at Principal Atkinson. There was no compassion in his voice when he said, “I think you should get a lawyer.”

It might seem strange, but there were still a few doctors who made house calls in 1976. Two different people made calls and two different doctors showed up to treat Benny. It was awkward when the second doctor showed up and found the first one treating Benny. They both agreed that his nose was broken. They reset it on the spot which cause him to cry out once again. His face was swelling up. They had his nostrils packed with cotton.

Everyone in the office knew Benny. They knew he was brilliant. They knew he was different. They knew that he tended to be a little rude. Everyone knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he could be extremely irritating. Everyone knew that Benny, deep down, was basically a nice guy. He was about as harmless as they come. Anyone asked to comment about Benny would sigh and say, “Benny is Benny.”

At the moment, Benny was the center of attention. A regular patrolman was standing behind Principal Atkinson, just in case he lost his cool again. Mr. Alexander, the attorney for Two Guys Working, was seated beside Benny. Tim, who was present by Benny’ invitation, sat on the other side of Benny. Al Forbes, the head of the school board, was alternating between staring at Mr. Alexander wondering how much this was going to cost the school district and glaring at Principal Atkinson for creating this situation. Benny’s mother was seated there looking distraught at the damage to Benny’s face. His father was furious and glaring at everyone associated with the school. Mr. Kramer, the attorney for the school district, was chatting amiably across the table with Mr. Alexander.

Al Forbes said, “I guess it is up to us to begin the discussion.”

Benny waved a hand and nudged Tim. Tim glanced over at Benny who nodded back at him. “Benny wants me to make a statement on his behalf.”

“Why does he want you to speak for him?”

Benny said, “I solve problems. Tim deals with people. This is a people thing.”

Benny’s father said, “I’m your father. I should be the one doing the talking around here.”

Benny looked over at Tim. Tim nodded his head. “You’re absolutely correct. You are his father. It’s just that Benny wants to be clear about what he thinks about this matter.”

“Go ahead.”

“Benny is saddened by the events of this afternoon. He realizes that he can be a little irritating and that aspect of his personality may have contributed to the events that culminated with him being punched in the nose by Principal Atkinson.”

While just about everyone in the room nodded their heads in agreement that Benny could be a little irritating, only one of them spoke out, “He’s an irritating punk.”

“Shut up, Atkinson.”

Tim shook his head and continued, “Benny knows that he could sue. After a discussion with Mr. Alexander, it is his belief that he could win a substantial award. However, he is civic minded and wants the best for the community. That’s why he and I used Two Guys Working to fund the Principal Haley Scholarship for a needful student of this school.”

Atkinson groaned. He hadn’t known that. He wasn’t the only one who had been unaware that Two Guys Working had put together a scholarship. His parents were staring at him. Like a lot of parents, they had discussed how to pay for his way through college. It was disconcerting to discover that he was establishing scholarships to pay the way for other people to attend college.

“He’d rather not sue, but that decision belongs with his father and not him. His opinion on the matter is that the only ones who would suffer in the long run are the students ... people like his little sister, Lana. Winning or losing wouldn’t really affect the school system other than to take away a much needed resource, namely money.”

Tim looked over at Benny’s father. The man knew that he would look like a greedy vindictive man if he went ahead with a lawsuit. His wife mouthed, “Lana.”

“Of course, he has expressed concerns about Principal Atkinson’s fitness for the position he’s currently holding. He’s not saying anything about how the school board should decide to handle this. He has no preferences in what happens. It is a matter for the school board to settle. His father may disagree, but Benny is a forgiving kind of person. He doesn’t hold grudges.”

Everyone around the table knew that was a nice way of saying that Principal Atkinson should tender his resignation as soon as possible. All eyes turned to look at him. He had the grace to look down at the table rather than stare back defiantly.

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