I’m Detective Staff Sergeant Deviled Yeggs. I work homicide in the big city of Tracy. My partner is Jim Wednesday. Poached Yeggs, homicide detective and my nephew, has been working with Jim and me.
My personal cellphone rang. It was a number that I did not know. Usually, I let those go to voice mail, thinking them to be scam calls, but something inside me told me to answer.
It was Sophie, whispering, “Daddy, it’s me. I’m borrowing Mr. Herbert’s phone. Can you please come to the Moon Maid Middle School security office right away? You can bring Det. Wednesday with you but not Cousin Poached.”
I was perplexed. “Honey, I am at work. I need a good reason to leave. Are you sick?”
Sophie sniffled, “I could be if you want me to be. I’m scared, Daddy, please come. No sirens. No official business. Just report to the main office and tell them that there is a glitch in the security system, and you got a call. That way no one will know until Mr. Herbert and I can explain. Please, hurry, Daddy. I’m scared.”
I went into the squad room. “Jim, you’re with me. Unofficial, off the books.”
Jim groaned, “Oh, goodie, I just love those.”
“Yeah, Jim, Sure.” I turned to Poached, “And Poached, you have no idea where we are or what we are doing.”
“I don’t know,” Poached retorted.
“Good job! Keep it up.”
“But I don’t know!” Poached said.
“And Poached, you are an accomplished liar. But if you did know, you might screw up.” With that, we were gone. Poached was still saying something like bu-bu-bu-bu.
On the way to the school, Jim asked, “What is this all about?”
My reply was simple. “Other than the location where we are going, I have no more information than Poached. Sophie called and said she was scared. What is a Daddy to do other than run to the rescue. Just one difference, this particular Daddy has a badge and a gun.”
The secretary that showed us the way to the security office was a bit confused. Security alarms were supposed to ring in their office as well as the police station. I told her that was why the glitch was so alarming.
When we entered the security office, I recognized a couple of the children, Sophie and Emmett. A few others looked familiar, having attended assemblies when they performed.
Sophie ran over and hugged me. “Thank you so much for coming. We are already late for our next class.” Then she unclenched the hug. “Daddy, this is Jeff Herbert, our STEM teacher. You know, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. He was teaching us how to use the directional microphone. It’s one thing to talk about it in class. It is different when you use it and see what a difference it makes.”
I looked at Mr. Herbert with a look of askance. He said, “I chose the faculty lounge security camera. The classroom cameras were too important to normal school operations. I knew the faculty romances and those teachers that curse like sailors when they do not have students. With the teachers that were in the lounge, the three in the corner would be talking about school policies, discipline, improving the work environment. I started off with a few of the children pointing the microphone at the refrigerator or the drink machine. The noise from the compressor drowned out everything else. Then it was Sophia’s turn and she focused on the three teachers. This is what we recorded.” He pressed the play button on the video player.
The dialogue is as follows:
Teacher #1: Have we got what we need?
Teacher #2: Yes, we have a small pipe with enough nails to do the job.
Teacher #3: Is this necessary?
Teacher #1: We have already gone over this. The vice principal is unreasonable. He will not think of changing policies. The discipline within the school is totally out of control. Daily fights. Drugs on campus. Three children in the hospital just last week due to being beaten, and we as teachers could do nothing except call the office and then watch.
Teacher #2: Calling parents who do not care does nothing. These children are doing things that should get jail time.
Teacher #3: But fragging someone could get serious jail time.
Teacher #1: The principal has turned discipline over to his henchman and he will not give us office time to complain.
Teacher #2: Now we need to figure out when.
Teacher #3: His schedule is tight this week. We cannot do this if someone else is in the office. It will have to be next week.
Mr. Herbert shut it off. “I stopped recording at that point. The children might not know what ‘fragging’ meant but they were getting the idea that this was menacing and dangerous. The three teachers in question are correct. The principal locks himself in his office when it comes to disciplinary matters, students or teachers. Roland Cream, the vice principal, had a policy last year that worked well with the students that we had. He made some insane modifications to the policy, but the big thing is that we redistricted. The Moon Maid Middle district now includes some children from downtown and other children farther east than what we used to have. All these children are low-income families either on subsistence or both parents are working. A policy that the first offense of any type infraction warrants a call to the parents. The second means a required meeting with the parents. Only after three similar infractions do the police get called. Murder is the only exception.”
Jim asked, “What do you mean by similar infractions?”
Mr. Herbert replied, “Leading a mob to beat up someone is one type. Selling drugs is a different type. Raping someone is a different type. Being caught with a butcher knife in your possession is a fourth type. With one child that a friend of mine had all five days, she had all four of those violations last week. With Mr. Cream’s policy, they were all first offenses, and the parents were both at home, refusing to answer the phone. Thus, nothing happened. Last year, we had middle and upper class children only at Moon Maid. Not all parents got involved in their children’s education, but they hated to be called in and they hated the social damage from having a naughty child. The first offenses led to phone calls which led to action. The children apologized, accepted the discipline, and did not do anything again. Now, it seems some of these children are imbalanced. The low-income families that want their children to have a good education have children who are well-behaved, but if anything happened, both parents work two jobs, unable to come in for a conference.”
I asked, “And these three, maybe with other accomplices, think that killing the vice principal is the answer?”
Mr. Herbert held up his hands in surrender. “I am just the guy who recorded a conversation while trying to teach these children how STEM learning can be interesting. Obviously, today’s class got a little too interesting. I am not an accomplice. Since STEM is something that is added to the curriculum to boost interest in the sciences, the privilege can be taken away by me telling the teacher that the student was unruly. Notice that this class size is small. Good grades are required, so I rarely get the bullies.”
Jim asked, “Why were the districts adjusted?”
Mr. Herbert shrugged, “I am thinking sports. We got a lot of athletic kids with grade point averages too low to be eligible to play. Since the Moon Maid scholastic performance is the highest in the city, it must be the teachers, right? So, they shifted the districts just a few blocks to give those children enough of a boost to be football or basketball eligible. That is just my guess, but others have said the same thing. It sounds noble, but the side effects have been tragic, and the athletes just may not have the motivation to stay focused or the backing from their parents.”
I asked, “What did you want us to do? These three teachers sound serious, but if we arrest them over this conversation, they’ll want to know how you obtained it. And at this point, my daughter has her fingerprints on the controller.”
Jim shrugged, “Dogs. We announce tomorrow or the next that an anonymous call came in about drugs. We bring in explosive dogs instead. Some of the dogs are cross trained anyway. They’ll check the parking lot and all the classrooms and storage areas and locker rooms.”
I asked, “What if these three teachers have been working out of the house and they have not brought the bomb onto the campus yet?”
Jim shrugged, “The same thing if we play it right, maybe while the teachers are here at school. If we find anything, it does not point to a STEM teacher that eavesdropped, legally or illegally, onto a conversation.”
Mr. Herbert sighed, “Thank you for understanding that. My job might be on the line here if what I discovered became public. But can we trust these children in the room here to not tell anyone?”
I suggested, “What if an exposure to a contagious disease breaks out in the security room while you are teaching this little lesson? The children stay home for a few days and get all their homework sent in over their tablets. I cannot arrest them to keep them from talking, but a disease outbreak would be believable. Do any of you children mind working from home for a week or so? The dogs may come up with nothing and we might be stuck working on a plan B or C before this is over.”
All the children loved the idea. None of them wanted to be in the same building with a bomb.
With the story cooked, we told the middle school office that these children would be staying home for the rest of that week and all the next week for “public safety” reasons. Since we were public officials but not medical, they were confused but they said nothing more.
It turned out that there was one more child from the mission in the class, a seventh grader. Jim and I dropped the three children off at Pink Lady’s mansion. We entrusted her with the ruse, and she said that she would babysit the children and ensure the homework was done.
I told Jim on the way back to the precinct that we would have to tell the principal at some point. My problem is that the principal’s reaction would ruin the ruse. We only knew three of the people in the plot. We had no idea who else, if there were any. If we tipped our hand too early, we would have three suspects. If a fourth suspect killed Mr. Cream, we would suspect the first three and the fourth would get away.
But the entire thing sounded so unreal. How could a group of teachers think murder to be the answer when discipline was lacking?
The next day, the K-9 crew came in with their claim of a called-in drug problem. Each classroom was emptied and checked. The dogs sat next to the door and sniffed the children as they filed back into the room. The children had been instructed not to pet the dogs. Nothing was found in the school, but the car registered to Suspect #2 caused a dog to alert. Felix Madison, Suspect #2, unlocked the trunk, but nothing was found. Because the dog had alerted, the car was sent in to search for trace evidence. A bomb had been transported in the car. It was not in the school, but someone else probably had it at home.
Felix was brought to my office. He played dumb, not offering us anything. Then, I showed him the video with him talking about how the device was complete and they were simply waiting for a scheduled time where the vice principal would be the only one in his office. He claimed that we had misinterpreted their conversation. But when I told him that the crime scene techs had found explosive residue in the carpet of the trunk of his car, he got very nervous and started asking if he should get a lawyer.
I explained his Miranda rights, but I had not even charged him with anything. I asked him if I should call in the other two in the video and explain things to them. One of them would crack, probably his lady friend, Cecily Cardinal, Suspect #3, and she would get the sweet deal and he and his buddy, Oscar Ungar, would be doing the hard time, still having not charged him with anything.
Then I got serious with him. My question is this. Why kill the vice principal when your reason for doing so was that he had tied your hands in administering discipline? How can someone who is a stickler for discipline become so undisciplined in the name of discipline?
He immediately started trying to defend their viewpoint and their actions.
Okay, we had a couple of things out of order here. I had not charged him, and I showed him the video that might never be allowed as evidence, but once we had all three in custody, they were all singing like songbirds. They identified their contact for the explosive materials, but they did not indicate any additional players in the plot. That did not mean that there weren’t any, but as we questioned the three: Felix had the skills. Oscar had the initial idea and the connection to the explosives. And Cecily had access to Mr. Cream’s calendar.
But in searching all three houses, the bomb could not be found. They only admitted to planning the bomb and getting a small amount of the explosive material to see how it worked.
But on our little, probably inadmissible video, they had a completed bomb, a bit of bragging and exaggeration as they claimed. Who was their accomplice and where was the bomb?
With all the frustration sending my mind in every direction, and I assume Jim’s and the pea brain of Poached also, I went by Pink Lady’s mansion to pick up Sophia from “school.” I was asked to go into her office. All the “quarantined children” even those who did not live at the Lily the Pink complex were there. Pink Lady had contacted all their parents and volunteered to make sure they did their homework. These were all children that were self-motivated to learn anyway.
Sophia came and gave me a hug. “Daddy, did you find the bomb today?” I shook my head. “That’s not good. Someone might have gotten the bomb onto the school grounds by now.” I explained that we had a bomb sniffing dog checking everything into the school. Sophia continued, “I have a proposal to make. Could we start a home schooling project here at Lily the Pink? Just for this year? Maybe they’ll have everything at Moon Maid figured out by the next school year, and most of us here are going to the high school next year.”
I snickered, “Two problems with that, Sophie. Pink Lady has to approve it.” I looked over Sophie’s shoulder and Pink Lady was giving me every indication that she would love to do it. “And as for you, your mother has the final say on all education decisions. You have already endured home schooling during the virus lockdown. We’ll see.”
Pink Lady beckoned me toward her desk. “Dev, I have had a wonderful time with these children. I have finally gotten my truck list complete and quadruple deep training at each supervisor position. When we split the crews to start the Washington state operations, we will have two deep leadership at every position. A leader and an assistant to handle vacations, sick leave, and be in line for the promotion when the leader moves on to something else. I do not have to be the hands-on leader that Gwen and I once were. I miss her, but this change in our organization has allowed me to be free to explore other things. And, Dev, I never had children around before. Please! Put in a good word to Naomi.”
By this point, the truth about the attack that was planned for Roland Cream was well known. It forced the principal’s hand in changing the disciplinary policies. He was now missing three of his best teachers and he could not afford another staff loss. Mr. Cream’s responsibilities were shifted to other needs on campus.
But near the end of the week, Poached went with a K-9 crew team to the principal’s home and Mr. Cream’s home. The bomb had been hidden in Mr. Cream’s garage. It was wired to be set on a timer, but they had not yet done so. There was no fourth bomber running loose with the bomb. Felix had gotten the idea that hiding the bomb in Mr. Cream’s garage and tracking his comings and goings might be a better way to rid them of their nemesis. And it would take the focus away from the school. He had done so on his own, and he held back that information as a future bargaining chip.
Even though the twelve children from the STEM class could safely return to Moon Maid, the school administration worked out a deal with Pink Lady to do remote learning at Lily the Pink. And Pink Lady had recruited several employees to provide enhancements to their education. Jochebed would teach French. Zuzka would teach Latvian and the basics of project management – hopefully keeping their school projects on track. Tommie Tat was available for math tutoring. Jim Kaiser would tutor science with help in biology from Emmett’s parents. And Sandy Beech would tutor civics.
But it seemed that Pink Lady had an ulterior motive. The children were working together during their Physical Education period to form a mixed water polo team. With one adult player on each team, they have enough for two teams, just no substitutes.
Donald Jeffry Herbert was “Mr. Wizard.” His television show was Mr. Wizard’s World. I could not think of a better person to be a STEM teacher.
“Fragging” was a term coined during the Vietnam War. If the troops hated their commander, someone would roll a fragmentary grenade under his cot, thus fragging. With a lot of Vietnam veterans, I was physically yanked into a private room by a sergeant in the barracks. All NCOs in the company were in the room. They told me that if the balloon went up (World War III started) that I would be the new company commander. I asked who would do the deed. My platoon sergeant said that the entire company would draw straws to see who got to do it. Everyone wanted to do it. Luckily, they never issued ammunition during an alert after that day.
The vice principal, Roland Cream, is a mash of Roland B. Molineux, who poisoned a man using cyanide in 1868 and Dr. Thomas Neill Cream who killed several people with strychnine.
As for the disciplinary policies, they are similar to what I have heard used, trying to get the parents involved more. And sadly, criminal offenses were withheld from the police in the guise of getting parental involvement.
The trio of bombers are named for characters in The Odd Couple. The main characters were, Felix Ungar, the neat one, and Oscar Madison, the sloppy one. In the movie version, there were two sisters living together, the love interests, sort of. They were Gwendoline and Cecily Pigeon. While flirting with the two sisters, Oscar suggested that their last names were Robin or Cardinal, thus Cecily Cardinal.