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About the Author: Douglas Soesbe recently wrote the feature film BOULEVARD, the final starring role for Robin Williams. He has also published two paperback novels, CHILDREN IN A BURNING HOUSE, 1987, Knights Press, and SCREAM PLAY, 1990. Charter-Diamond, Berkley.

The teacher might have guessed he had a penchant for murder, simply by the aggressive manner with which he used his pen. Miles Becker, sitting at his tidy classroom desk, wielded the pen with its blood red ink like the weapon it had become. It brought him joy to declare a sloppy student essay as worthy of an “F.”

There, young man, young lady, I have assigned your work a value. Life is not easy, life is not fair. Only hard work and determination will out.

Mr. Becker had taught English at Wolverton High School for twenty-five years. Often, as he drove up to the school, precisely at seven, for another round of fiercely regimented English classes, he imagined they might one day place a statue of him at the entrance. He pictured such a bronze devotion to his skill, not unlike the Lady Liberty who welcomed the poor and wretched. His statue would describe an impeccably dressed man holding a thick volume, preferably Shakespeare, his specialty. His expression would be serious, intimidating, suggesting he was indeed the roadblock a lazy student might encounter on the road to graduation.

He certainly felt he deserved such recognition. After all, he had given most of his working life to the school. Thousands of essays, from unreadable to excellent, had crossed his desk. He had stayed late to direct school pageants. He had chaperoned deadly dull school dances. He had suffered the gooey frostings of hastily made cakes at cake sales. He had manned the gate of countless athletic events, affecting school spirit, when in fact he found these games an appalling demonstration of mindless, pointless brawn.

It certainly wasn’t the money that kept him at his desk, as he was now, his pen traveling over yet more student papers, the pen’s tip attuned to failures of spelling and grammar. In fact, it was all he could do to make ends meet. A single man, he lived in a small apartment, comfortable enough, but far too tiny, made tolerable only by his eye for tasteful decoration. He drove a modest car, but lived in fear it would one day need work, placing additional strain upon an overly exercised credit card.

And so it was that now, the papers graded, he pushed them aside, made certain his classroom door was closed before unlocking a desk drawer and pulling out a bank bag of cash. This was the money he collected as supervisor of school events. He had long ago volunteered for the position. His job was to pick up the money at the gates of such tedious affairs, making certain it was banked. But it wasn’t a spirit of volunteerism that led him to take on the task. He had guessed quite correctly that if he worked it right, he could reward himself in ways the school would not.

Miles reached into the bank bag, his hand finding a comforting cushion of cash, the enticing wad from the past week’s events. He pulled out a handful. His heart sped up as he separated it into piles of denominations. He counted quickly, fearing interruption, soon reaching a total of nine-hundred dollars. He counted out two-hundred, placed it in his briefcase, snapped it shut, and returned the remaining money to the bag and readied himself to leave. On the way home from school, he deposited the bank bag along with an official form.

Who would miss the two-hundred? he thought. They never did.

That evening he poured himself a glass of brandy after a simple dinner of baked cod, string beans, and one scoop of low-fat cottage cheese. He then placed the two-hundred he had taken from the bank bag into a box he kept hidden at the back of a dresser drawer, the cumulative results of all these years of successful larceny.

I deserve it, he said to himself, finishing the brandy, pouring another. His gaze fell to a small display case in the front room. The case contained what few rewards his hard work had earned: A few plaques, some certificates of merit, and then, his prize, a heavy glass orb, the size of a plump grapefruit, given to him by the school district the year before. “Miles Becker: Teacher of the Year.” He was determined to win it again.

This story appears in our FEB 2023 Issue
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