Sunday, November 15, 2015

Chapter 3

Amadeo was normally a very good student.  Respectful, attentive, hardworking, and was always prepared for class.  This day, however, he distractedly answered roll call in his first class by responding to his name by saying 'Yeah?' instead of 'Present.', as was required, earning him a stern glare and a minor scolding which caused him to blush uncharacteristically, as he had never been on the receiving end of either before.  He apologized, after which Mr. Mason pointedly called Amadeo's name again to which the boy answered, appropriately, "Present, sir.", after which, mollified, the teacher continued with the roll call as usual.

In his British Literature class he was so lost in thought that when the teacher asked him a question he not only had no idea what the question had been but he had no clue what was being discussed, earning him a short scolding, after which he'd been sent to stand in the hallway for the rest of the period, causing the rest of the class to burst into laughter until the teacher called them back to order. 

After class, Mr. Price had confronted him in the hallway and expanded on the scolding.  Amadeo had apologized profusely and promised to do better the next day.  He sounded so sincere and was normally such a good student that the teacher finally let him go with a warning.

His third class was a disaster that resulted with him being sent to the principal's office with the dreaded blue slip, sealed with tape so that if Amadeo had tried to read what it said before he delivered it to the principal, the paper would tear and he would find himself in even more trouble.  Unfortunately, he had no need to peek, he knew exactly what had been written, and he licked his lips nervously.  It hadn't been a stellar morning for him so far and he wondered if this infraction would be the one that earned him a trip to the DOD's office for the first time since he'd begun attending school.

After a twenty minute wait that felt more like several hours, the school secretary, Mrs. Jennings finally announced, "Mr. Barnes will see you now, Amadeo."  

He thanked her, stood up and went through the swinging wooden gate that separated the waiting area from the main office.

Mrs. Jennings turned her head to watch his passage, peering at him through her shiny blue cat eye frames, studded with light blue rhinestones.  She'd known Amadeo and his family since the boy had been ten years old and had always found him to be polite and well mannered.  To see him walking into the principal's office with the blue slip had been a surprise which had turned to shock as she'd read what Mr. Fishlock had written.  As policy dictated, she would contact his parents as soon as Mr. Barnes had dealt with the bad behavior and written his report.

Amadeo stood stiffly before the principal's desk with his hands clasped behind his back and waited for the man to acknowledge him.  For his part, Mr. Barnes continued to scribble away at whatever he was working on for another few moments before glancing up and reacting as though he were surprised to find that Amadeo had been standing there.

He gave Amadeo an avuncular smile, displaying ill-fitting store bought teeth, and invited him to sit down.

"So, Mr. Rossi, what brings you here today?"

Amadeo had heard about this tactic from other kids who'd been sent to the office.  He guessed he understood it, since his father did the same thing, making the miscreant confess his misdeeds, but it still didn't stop him from mentally yelling at Mr. Barnes to reread the damned slip and not waste their time with head games.  But he would no sooner do that to the principal than he would his own father.  He'd been raised better than that. 

"I was disrespectful to Mr. Fishlock, sir."

"How did you manage that, Mr. Rossi?"

"I called him Fishface, sir."  Amadeo had done and said quite a bit more but decided to take one thing at a time.

Mr. Barnes responded with an expression that tried hard to be stern but failed as the corners of his mouth curled up in amusement.  He was aware of the student's nickname for the man and had to admit it fit.

"And why would you do such a thing, Mr. Rossi?  I've read your files and from what I can see that was very unlike your normal behavior.  Your teachers have, in the past, had only glowing reports about you.  I'm sure you're aware that Mr. Fishlock has requested that you be sent to Mr. Cobrane's office?"

"Yes sir,"  Amadeo replied, trying not to look as nervous as he felt.  Being sent to the DOD's office was tantamount to a trip to the executioner, to hear the stories from the kids who had been there.

"So what happened today, Mr. Rossi, to make you do such a naughty thing?" 

Amadeo flushed at the word 'naughty'.  He resented being spoken to as though he were five years old instead of sixteen.

"I am sorry, sir, for losing my temper and resorting to name-calling,"  Amadeo said carefully.

"Yes, I'm sure you are, Mr. Rossi.  I've seen what Mr. Fishlock had to say about the incident, now I'd like to hear your side of the story."  Mr. Barnes replied. The smile left his face and he suddenly became all business as he clasped his hands on top of his blotter and focused his pale blue gaze on Amadeo.

Amadeo was reluctant to say anything.  After all, he was just a student, and whoever believed students when they were in trouble.  Mr. Barnes asking for his side of the story was surely just a formality, and anything he said would go in one ear and out the other.  Then, of course, he was sure that Mr. Barnes would report anything he said to Fishlock, and the sh-stuff would really hit the fan since Fishlock would never admit to having said or done anything wrong.

Seeing his reticence, Mr. Barnes said, "Mr. Rossi, I assure you that whatever you say in this office will stay between you and I.  I don't want you to be afraid to talk to me.  All I ask is that you be honest with me.  I can't help you if you aren't truthful."

When the boy remained silent, Barnes played his ace in the hole.  "Mr. Rossi, have you ever heard the phrase 'Silence implies consent.'?  If you don't speak up then I'll have no choice but to accept Mr. Fishlock's version of the event."

Amadeo wasn't a fink.  If he saw another student doing something they shouldn't he would go straight up to them and make them stop.  But it was different with a teacher.  On the other hand, Fishlock couldn't be allowed to continue the way he had been and if no one said anything it would never stop. He took a deep breath and began. 

"He was all over one of the students, sir.  The kid was having a hard time understanding differentiation formulas..."

"What is 'the kid's' name, Mr. Rossi?"

"Please sir, I don't want to give the guy's name and get him in trouble," Amadeo said.

"I assure you that whoever this boy is his name will remain confidential."

"Please, Mr. Barnes..."

"Tell me the boy's name, Mr. Rossi,"  Barnes said, firmly.  "Otherwise I'll have to assume that you're lying."

Amadeo knew that Sully wouldn't speak up for himself.  No one would speak up against a teacher, it wouldn't end well.

Amadeo sighed.  "Sully, sir.  Sean Sullivan."

"Very well, Mr. Rossi.  Then what happened?"

"Well, Fishlock..."

"Mr. Fishlock, Mr. Rossi."  Barnes corrected.

"Yes, sir.  Mr. Fishlock went over them again, but he explained it exactly the same the second time as he did the first time which didn't make it any clearer.  I could tell that Sully was confused but Mr. Fishlock ignored his raised hand and continued with his lecture, then when he finished he went right onto improper integrals without even asking if he got it that time or not."

"Then when Fishfa... I mean, Fishlock..."

"Mister Fishlock, Amadeo,"  Barnes corrected sternly a second time.

"Sorry, sir.  When Mr. Fishlock asked if there were any questions, Sully raised his hand and asked if he could please go over differentiation formulas one more time."  

"Well, Mr. Fishlock," Amadeo forced himself to refer to the old fart properly, "told Sully that we were done with those and he wasn't going to keep repeating himself for someone so dense.  He called Sully an idiot and an imbecile.  He suggested that Sully's head was made of 'good old Georgian marble' and said that maybe the teachers would have to come to school armed with hammers and chisels in order to crack his skull enough to allow the information to sink in more easily.  Mr. Fishlock said that Calculus was so easy that his three-year-old niece understood it, and that he, Sully, should be ashamed to admit that he couldn't understand something that was as easy as ABC for a three-year-old."

"I find that hard to believe, Mr. Rossi.  That sort of behavior is not tolerated by this school."  Mr. Barnes said firmly.

Amadeo sighed.  "That's not all he said, sir, but he did say it.  If the other kids in the class weren't so intimidated by him they'd probably tell you the same thing I did.  The problem is that everyone is so worried that Fishlock..."

"MR. Fishlock, Amadeo."  Mr. Barnes scolded again.

"Yes sir, sorry sir.  As I was saying, the students are so afraid that Mr. Fishlock will flunk them if they tell on him that they're afraid to speak up.  I mean, one guy last year in F... Mr. Fishlock's Trig class got so tired of the abuse that he said something.  Fishlock failed him on the final and the guy had to repeat the class the next semester, even though he'd been getting A's and B's up till then."

"That's impossible, Mr. Rossi,"  Barnes stated firmly.  "All of the grades are recorded and kept in the office under lock and key.  One bad grade would not have caused someone who had been earning A's and B's to fail a class.  In order to do that, Mr. Fishlock would have had to go into the files and change all of this boy's grades manually.  Are you insinuating that he did anything of the sort?"

Amadeo shrugged.  "I can't say what he did or didn't do, sir.  But I do know for a fact that this boy..."

"What was this boy's name, Mr. Rossi?"  Barnes demanded.

"I'd really rather not..."

"Tell me his name, Mr. Rossi, or I'll have to assume that you're making this story up out of whole cloth and I'll expel you right now."

Amadeo was getting a little tired of Barnes' tactics but he knew he really had no other choice.  It was tell or be expelled.  He could only pray that Barnes was a man of his word and that everything he said would remain between the two of them.

"Adam, sir.  Adam Jordan."  Amadeo admitted, reluctantly.  "Anyway, I sat next to him in class, and we would always compare test grades. He never had a grade lower than a B+ on any of his tests.  He was never absent or late for class, he always did his homework and participated in class, so I know he should have gotten full credit for that as well."

"This is a serious accusation, young man.  If Mr. Fishlock did indeed do what you say, he will be fired.  You, on the other hand, will be expelled if it's discovered that what you have told me is false.  I'll give you this opportunity to change your story," He steepled his fingers and looked at Amadeo expectantly.

Amadeo held the older man's gaze steadily.  "No, sir.  I don't wish to retract anything that I said.  I can't speak for anyone else sir, but if you can guarantee that there won't be any retribution from Mr. Fishlock, other students might be willing to step up and tell you what's been going on."

"And if none of the other students will speak up?"

"Then it's my word against his, I suppose, and you'll probably end up expelling me, sir,"  Amadeo replied levelly.

Mr. Barnes opened a folder and glanced at its contents then at the clock above Amadeo's head.  "I see that you've missed your PE class and that you have lunch next."  He rummaged in a drawer, took out a hall pass and wrote quickly. "Take this and head to the cafeteria. By the way, I expect you to write out a formal apology to Mr. Fishlock for your disrespect, and I'll expect you to verbally apologize as well, in front of the class, the same way as you insulted him."

"But, sir!"  Amadeo began to protest.

"Do as you're told, Mr. Rossi or I may change my mind about sending you to Mr. Cobrane.  You're dismissed," he said, handing the pass to the obviously angry young man.

The older man's expression was unyielding and Amadeo backed down.  His father was a very down to earth man and had always told his children to respect their elders, even if said elder was an 'idjit'.

"Yes, sir. Thank you."  Then he turned on his heel and left the office.

Mr. Barnes followed the boy out and watched as he exited the waiting area.  Then he turned to Mrs. Jennings and said in a low voice, “Margaret, I want you to find Adam Jordan and Sean Sullivan's schedules.  Ask them to report to my office during their next free periods.  Then make a list of students who have taken Mr. Fishlock's classes, narrow it down to the last... two years should do it. Give that to me as soon as possible, please."  He turned to go back into his office when he clicked his fingers and turned back toward his secretary. "By the way, hold off on calling Mr. Rossi's parents until further notice.  Thank you." With that, he walked back into his office and shut the door.

Margaret Jennings arched her penciled eyebrows, adjusted her glasses and proceeded to do as she'd been bid.  Something was going on and it sounded like it was going to be good.  She smiled.  She was a patient woman and knew she'd hear all in good time.

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