This is the conclusion of a Catholic High story, as my friend Jack Wingfield (a fictitious name for a real person) told it to me. Other names have been changed as well.
It was the most suspenseful few moments of my life, before that time or since. There was not an empty desk in our homeroom. Everyone was quiet and I could hear Winston’s loud breathing behind me. At 8:05 the intercom popped and he was there with the shortest Monday morning message he’s ever delivered.
“I know who you are and I’m coming to get you.”
Behind me I heard Winston doing a Hail Mary. I joined in on the prayer, whispering to myself, “Dear Father in Heaven, please don’t let it be me.”
Our room was the third one upstairs on the right. There was no sound at all. And then we heard the footsteps. They went from almost nothing to a little louder with each step. They were climbing the stairs.
Then they reached the top and kept coming. It was like when I lie in bed some nights and listen to a siren from far away get louder and louder as it gets closer and closer to my house.
The steps kept coming down the hall and I waited, wishing for them to stop in one of the other rooms, which would be followed by the piercing cry of some poor doomed youth.
But they didn’t stop, and now they were near the second pair of rooms, and still coming.
A little louder … and quicker … and closer.
Then silence. And he was in our room.
I sat in the farthest row from the door, against the windows with the rest of the last names that fell at the end of the alphabet. I was in the next to last desk. Winston was the last. Was it Winston? Not likely, he didn’t have the guts for something like this. And he wasn’t that stupid.
Father passed all the rows quickly and turned down ours. He was coming right at me.
Winston’s Hail Mary’s had quickened and before I knew what was happening I was leaping from my desk, desperately screaming, “Please Dear God Father! I swear it wasn’t me!”
This must have surprised everyone because I heard a unified gasp go up. Father stopped and looked at me, but just for a second.
“Shut up and sit down Wingfield, I know it wasn’t you.” I slumped down into my chair, exhausted and relieved. And I was quickly forgotten as Father snatched Jimmy Vickers, who sat right in front of me, by his hair, pulled him up from his desk and whisked him out into the hall. It was quiet again. Then I heard Winston whisper, “Hallelujah.”
Less than an hour later we shuffled through the hall like drained zombies. I got to my locker and looked to my right where I saw Jimmy Vickers, clearing out what would soon be his old locker.
“Jimmy, you OK?” I asked him.
“I guess,” he replied with no emotion.
“What did he do to you?”
Then he shut his locker, said, “See ya” and began walking away.
But I had to know, so I yelled after him, “Jimmy, did you do it?”
He turned, looked right at me and said, “Yeah, he nailed me.”
“Was it the feds that figured it out?”
“If it was, I never saw them. I think he did it all on his own.”
Then he turned again and was quickly lost among the crowd and I never saw him again.
I often think back on those days at Catholic High, with Blaylock and Winston, Jimmy Vickers and all the others; and of course, in the center of everything, Father. And when I think of that day, the day when he came into our room, and walked down our row, I swear I remember just the slightest hint of a smile on his mouth, forming there just after I jumped up and screamed my innocence.
Yeah, looking back on all of it now, that would be about right.
Jay Edwards is editor-in-chief of the Hamilton County Herald and an award-winning columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.