Victor Bullock played with the lighter, flicking the wheel down repeatedly. The flame finally breathed into life with a satisfying whoosh. Victor lost himself in the orange glow for a few moments. He caught the boy looking at him and he pocketed the lighter. Victor looked down on the sorry state that sat at the desk before him. Dressed in a crinkled white shirt with a loose tie, the boy lazed back in his chair, leaning so only two chair legs were touching the floor. The stoic, almost pleased look on his face was enough to make Victor spit. Troy Keller was a monster. Victor bit his lip and squinted against the sharpness of the overhead fluorescent tube. Victor didn’t get it. Why did young boys act out in this way? Was it too much testosterone? Victor stepped forward and pushed Troy’s chair forward so the legs went back to the floor. “You do know this is your last warning?”
Troy sat stone faced.
“We’ve been lenient on you these past few weeks. Lord knows we’ve tried to get your Mum or your Dad to take you off school for a while.”
Finally Troy spoke. “They don’t want me.” It wasn’t his usual snarky response either. It threw Victor off. He almost put a hand on the kid’s shoulder. Almost. “Don’t say that.”
“It’s true though. Mum’s run off overseas and Dad barely talks to me.”
Victor paused carefully. “So that gives you the right to light a fire in the A Block boy’s bathroom?”
Troy’s jaw clenched up. The emotion he had just been displaying had all but disappeared. “What does it even matter?”
“It matters because damage to school property has an impact. It’s thousands of dollars worth of damage. You’re lucky it was put out as soon as it was, or we’d be having an entirely different conversation.”
“There’s more than one bathroom at this school. So what’s the problem?”
Victor sat back against the wall, minding the fire alarm switch next to him. He admired the irony. “Just when I thought I was getting through to you, you put the wall back up.”
Troy’s eyes narrowed. “What wall? What are you talking about?”
“Never mind,” Victor turned to a nearby shelf and handed Troy a slab of refill and a blue ballpoint pen. “You know the drill. Write.”
Troy sat looking at the empty page.
“Now the sooner you do this the sooner I can show Principal Edwards, and the sooner the both of us can get home.”
Troy reluctantly picked up the pen and started doodling in the margin. Victor sighed. “Start with Dear Mr. Edwards, I am sorry for my actions because…”
Victor muttered to himself. Edwards would only have to read the page, whereas Victor had to watch Troy painstakingly write the thing. Principals get all the perks. Victor found a seat at a nearby desk and watched the clock on the wall as the hands turned. Fifteen minutes had passed when Troy mumbled a “Done.”
Victor snapped the half page of scribbled words and shooed Troy away with it. What a sorry excuse for a letter. Troy left the classroom, shorts around his knees and his boxer shorts showing. Victor didn’t even bother. He tucked in the chair that Troy had kindly left out when he noticed ballpoint graffiti on the surface of the desk. Upon closer inspection he saw the short hair and the lines in the forehead and an exaggerated nose. His nose. The rest of the little figure was a stickman bent over with a pointy finger stuck up its backside. But that wasn’t what caused Victor’s eyes to twitch or his fists to clench. No, that was thanks to the speech bubble coming out from the crude stick figure drawing of himself: Principal Edwards was busy.
The plastic desk hit the floor with a thud. Victor struck the bottom of the chair with his foot, sending the chair across the room. It bounced off a few desks before coming to a rest at the back of the classroom. Victor stood there in the middle of the classroom, his chest inflating rapidly with every breath. The veins in his forehead protruded and his lips twisted into an almost pleased snarl.
Victor left the classroom in the state it was in and locked the door behind him on his way out. He strode along the concrete pavement towards the Administration block. The walk was helping. Victor’s fists opened and he began to breathe easier. The block drew closer and Victor walked up the steps to the closest entrance and into a corridor. Still striding, a flying laptop connected with his chest. Victor cursed, “Jesus!”
Lucy Williams popped up above the laptop. “Victor, sorry. I was just checking the serial number.”
That short, bespectacled, blonde woman. You would think the Head of IT was on par with the principal, the way she carried on. Victor was not amused. “While you were walking?”
“Sorry, I should have known better,” Lucy quickly changed the subject. “So where are you off to so purposefully?”
For a little thing she sure was up in his face. Victor felt like stepping back. She was invading his personal space. He said something quickly, hoping she would shut up and go away. “Off to see Edwards.”
That line only piqued her interest more. She didn’t back off. “Did you hear the news?”
Victor paused, taken aback. Did she know too? He didn’t know how to respond.
“The retirement,” Lucy whispered.
“Yes, I heard.”
“Thinking of stepping up?”
“Well I am the Deputy Principal. It would make sense,” Victor said almost proudly.
“That you are,” Lucy said. “I’ll get out of your hair.”
Lucy sidestepped around Victor with the laptop securely within her grasp. Victor continued his stride towards the principal’s office. At the end of the corridor the door was already open. Victor stuck an arm through the space and knocked on the wooden frame.
“Come in Victor,” said Principal Matthew Edwards.
Victor ambled into the room, confused at how his identity was so easily guessed. “How did you–”
“It’s your knock. A solid two hits. No one around here has a knock like it,” behind his work desk Edwards sat back in a tall, leather chair. His index finger lay under a white fringe and rested on a temple.
“Is that a compliment?” asked Victor, finding a seat in front of the desk.
“Take it however you like,” said Edwards. “Now I assume you’ve come to speak to me about the position?”
Victor pulled the folded sheet of paper out from his dress pants. “Shakespeare has done it again.” He handed it over to Edwards.
“Are we still keeping that little dirt bag in school?” said Edwards, barely scanning the apology. He crumpled up the paper and made a shot for the waste paper basket across the room. It bounced off the rim and onto the floor. Edwards waved it off.
“I’m afraid so. We have to see that fire starter through at least another week.”
“Rats. So, have you had some time to think about taking my place?”
“Sir, it’s all I’ve been thinking about.”
“And yes, I want to be principal. Always have.”
“Now, now, don’t be too hasty Victor. As I said before, it’s not a promise or an offer of placement. You are however a very important candidate.”
Victor squirmed in his chair. “There are other candidates?”
“Of course. It’s a well sought after position didn’t you know?”
Victor felt like pouting, but he didn’t show it. “I thought I was next in line.”
“This isn’t the royal family. It’s a job like any other Victor,” Edwards said.
“But I am on top of the list, correct?”
Edwards scribbled something down on a scrap of paper. He held it up for Victor to see. Victor Bullock was scrawled at the top in black marker. “There, is that what you wanted?”
“Hah, very funny,” Victor said.
“I’ll miss this place,” Edwards said quite frankly.
“Then why leave?” Victor asked.
“It’s my time,” Edwards pointed to his head. “It’s not white by accident. I’ve done all I can here. It’s just a shame no-good flunkies like Troy Keller never seem to disappear. Over all my years of teaching and leading schools that’s the one thing that never changes; human beings that lack self control.”
Victor suddenly felt nervous. During that last line Edwards gave him a look. An I-know-what-kind-of-person-you-are look.
“Is there anything else?” Edwards said.
Victor slapped his legs. “When is your last day?”
Edwards’ slight frown turned into a smile. “If you wanted to get rid of me, you just had to ask.”
Victor stood up from his seat and offered a sly smile. “But now I don’t have to.”
Victor left the hackneyed principal to his paperwork. He drove out of the school grounds and retired to his one bedroom apartment in the city. He spent the evening cooking a pasta meal and gulped it down in front of the television, wondering how long it would be until he was principal.
Edwards assured Victor time and time again that his successor would be announced in due process. Victor was impatient and reminded him every chance he got. Besides school and Vice Principal life, nothing was special about those few weeks. Surprisingly Troy Keller stayed out of trouble. He still paid little attention in class, but it was a far cry from his toilet burning days.
Life still got to Victor. A day earlier he tore apart an inkjet printer when it refused to take print orders. Already this morning he snapped a student’s set of plastic rulers after a girl in Year 9 Maths decided she was now a professional drummer. Little did Victor know his day was about to get a whole lot worse. In the same maths class he was helping relieve, the loud speaker sprang into life. Victor was well familiar with the system and had communicated messages many times before, including listing those on detention, Troy Keller included.
It was Edwards. “I have an important announcement I would like to share with the school,” the voice paused appropriately. “It was going to wait until Assembly today, but teacher training has thrown a spanner in the works. As most of you are well aware, I am moving on from this school. I am retiring. Over the last few weeks the Board of Trustees and I conducted an exhaustive search of a suitable replacement–”
“We have found my replacement. It is none other than our very own–”
Victor held his breath.
“Head of Information Technology, Ms. Lucy Williams.”
Victor exhaled. Had he misheard? Had Edwards botched up the announcement?
Edwards continued. “Lucy has proven herself in an important field within the school and will undoubtedly do an excellent job as your new Principal. I wish to thank all the members of staff who applied for the role. Their applications were unfortunately unsuccessful, but may you go on serving the school in all the ways you know best.”
The intercom crackled and cut out.
“Is this some kind of sick joke?” Victor shouted up at the intercom knowing good well it couldn’t hear him.
The students stopped doodling in their grid papered school books and changed focus over to Victor whose temples were now bulging an unsightly purple.
A boy seated in one of the front desks spoke up. “Are you okay Mr. Bullock? You don’ t look too good.”
Victor locked onto the boy at the front in his buttoned up polo shirt. There was something about the way his hair curled perfectly at the fringe. It set him on edge. It made him mad. Victor approached the desk and towered over the boy. He looked down at those beady, self important eyes. “I don’t look well huh? I’ve been thrown off my career ladder, the legs are sawn off, and I don’t… look… well?”
“Sorry Mr. Bullock,” said the curly haired kid.
The brat had insulted him and now he was offering insincere apologies. Victor’s face went red hot. His legs stiffened and his back arched. With both hands Victor grabbed the wooden desk, books and all, and marched with it above his head and across the room. He looked through the windows at the ground one story below. With a crashing of glass the desk sailed through the air and to the concrete where it splintered and broke into two parts. The books and stationery exploded around it.
The boy looked dumbfounded and stayed seated at the place at which his desk had once been.
Victor took one quick look at the broken chair and walked back across the classroom and out of the door, leaving the class in a stunned silence. He was fuming as he strode down the stairwell two steps at a time. After all he had done for the school, all his years of service, and he was turned down just like that. And for Lucy Williams no less. He nearly spat. He had lost all respect for the school and what it stood for. It was time to make amends. His mind turned to Troy Keller and his pyromaniac escapades. He fumbled the lighter in his pocket he had confiscated earlier.
Victor walked past the classes in session, the students tucked away in their safe little classrooms all unaware of what he was about to do. Victor walked into the ICT Block and peered through one of the classroom doors. Lucy Williams’ classroom. It was empty. He pulled the set of school keys off his belt and unlocked the door with a click.
The door opened. Victor let it swing by itself momentarily, allowing a ghost-like breeze to widen his entry. He stepped inside. The breeze was not enough to cool his temper; he still had a mission. Streams of light peeked through the curtains, lighting up floating dust particles. The computers lined up and down the room humming in an unnatural usion.
Victor made his way towards Lucy’s desk at the front of the room. He stood stoically in front of her computer like he was confronting a bully in a playground.
“She won’t be needing this anymore,” said Victor. Grunting, he threw the monitor to the floor. It flew off, came back and hit the side of the desk. It dangled by its cables. Victor heaved the computer case so both it and the monitor finally hit the floor.
Victor bent down and picked up the small trash bin beside the computer chair. He pulled out the lighter from his pocket and moved it between his fingers.
He could smell the distinct aroma of methylated spirits and he looked to the whiteboard behind the desk that stretched across the wall. He knelt down and opened one of the cupboards in Lucy’s desk and retrieved a bottle of the foul smelling, purple liquid.
As Victor unscrewed the bottle of methalayted spirits he felt something tickle his thigh. His phone was receiving a call, most likely Principal Edwards, he thought. Or the troll herself, Lucy Job-stealing Williams. He ignored it.
Victor flicked the lid across the floor and held out an arm. With a flourish Victor tipped the bottle upside down and splashed Lucy’s computer and monitor with the foul, purple stuff.
From the waste paper bin Victor lit a piece of waste paper and tossed it at the computer parts. The darkened room burst into light as flames licked at the computer and the carpet below it.
Victor watched, entranced by the tongues of fire. It communicated his feelings perfectly; Rage, Destruction, Uncontrolled. He pocketed the lighter and admired the irony of Troy Keller’s experiments with the wild element.
Victor went off in search of further vengeance.
It was time to find the old bugger before he flew the coop. Victor left the ICT block behind him, the smell of smoke now in the air. He made way for Principal Edwards’ office, now Lucy’s — no, she would not have the office. His office. Not if he could help it.
Victor approached the office at the end of the corridor. The door was closed. Had he missed him already? He tried the handle, it didn’t budge. But he swore he could hear somebody inside. He found the appropriate key on his belt and unlocked the door. He swung it open and walked in without knocking. Turns out the office was occupied. There on Principal Edwards’ desk lay Lucy Williams, pants off, bra exposed, and white-haired Edwards with his pants around his ankles ploughing into her. He continued to grunt, not realising Victor’s presence. Lucy was the first to notice him. With a gasp she pushed Edwards away and covered herself.
“You dirty old bugger,” Victor said. “Is this why you gave her the job Matthew?” He chose to use his first name to really dig in there. “What, is your wife not satisfying you?”
“I.. uh…” stammered Edwards.
Lucy chimed in, “Our relationship has nothing to do with why I was given the position. The Board of Trustees agreed with Edwards.”
“Edwards? You’re shagging him and you’re still calling him Edwards? How cute,” Victor took a step closer. “So if I wanted the job all I had to do was let viagra-man here stick one in me?”
Victor thought back to Troy Keller’s ballpoint graffiti and smiled. “That boy. He’s smarter than I gave him credit for.”
Lucy clambered to put on her clothes. Edwards didn’t bother to pull up his pants but he finally found his words. “Victor, we can work something out.”
“Like what exactly? Are you going to pay me off with your superannuation?”
“Maybe. What do you want?”
“I want to be principal.”
“Victor, Ms. Williams is principal now. It’s done.”
“Well, so am I,” said Victor, turning for the door.
“Wait,” called out Edwards. “We need a new head of IT.”
Victor stopped and marched right up to Edwards and bore down into his eyeballs. “IT? Don’t make me laugh Matthew.”
The school alarm bell sounded from out in the hallway; a loud and shrill screech that didn’t cease, but cycled over and over in a loop.
“Get away from me Victor.”
Victor leaned past his hairy nostrils and whispered into his ear. “Make me.”
Edwards shoved Victor back and Victor found his footing. “There we go! Come on gramps. Show me what you’ve got.”
Edwards didn’t budge.
“Right, my turn,” said Victor. He grabbed Edwards’ shoulder and jabbed him in the chest, twice. Two solid hits. He let go and Edwards fell to his knees and keeled over. He clutched his chest while his white and naked ass stuck up into the air. Victor kicked him to the floor. All Edwards could do was groan and gasp for air.
“You’re pathetic,” said Victor. “Old and decrepit. You sleep around to feel young again.” Victor pointed at the desk not that Edwards could see. “You’re goddamn seventy. Who do you think you are?”
That was when Victor noticed Lucy was no longer in the room. He looked down at the crumpled heap on the floor and fled the office. That bastard had it coming, but he really hadn’t thought things through had he? He ran out of administration to see the ICT block billowing with smoke.
He could hear sirens. Damn firefighters. The one time they arrive early. Victor walked towards the smoke. Students fled their classrooms heading for the school field — the evacuation meeting point. Teachers rushed along after them clutching onto registers and fluro jackets.
A fire-engine drove into the school grounds and over to the ICT block, making sure not to run over any students in the process. Firefighters in uniform jumped out of the vehicle and started unreeling the hose. Others arranged the ladder. One grabbed the nearest teacher and pulled her aside. Victor couldn’t make out what they were saying, but it was most likely something to do with the block, making sure there weren’t dangerous explosives inside and what not.
More sirens — of a different kind. Victor’s heart kicked into gear. Police sirens. Victor ran over to the fire-engine. This was it. His last chance to change things, make everything right. He slowed to a walk and strode past firefighters rushing around him in uniform and helmets. He approached the driver’s open door and saw someone up in the driver’s seat. The driver noticed his approach and looked down at him curiously. “Can I help you Sir?”
The police car pulled up beside the fire-engine and uniformed police piled out with tasers at the ready. Lucy had gone and done it, she had hammered in the final nail into his coffin. Jail would be his burial. Victor reached up and grabbed the firefighter and yanked him out of his seat. The firefighter hit the ground and Victor clambered up and into the vehicle. He reached out for the door and locked it before the man could get to him. There were switches everywhere, but Victor only needed the one pedal. The engine was still running. He took off the handbrake and looked out the driver’s side window to see firefighters and police staring at him dumbfounded. An officer was shouting something at him, but he couldn’t hear him, just his own heavy breathing and the roar of the engine.
That was when he saw Troy Keller standing in front of the fire-engine.
“Get out of the way kid!” shouted Victor.
But he didn’t move. Victor found the horn and sounded it. Troy flinched at the volume but remained in Victor’s path regardless, dressed in the same crinkled uniform, with an expression Victor couldn’t quite place. What was Troy doing? Why was the bad kid trying to stop him? Revenge for all those detentions past? His final redeeming moment? The fire-engine inched forward. With one move he could take out Troy and half the ICT block. He might die in the process, but it was a better fate than what awaited him in jail.
Victor revved the accelerator. Troy would get out of the way. He wouldn’t risk his life. It was all just a ploy.
Glass shattered to his right and stung his face and arms. The firefighter Victor had thrown to the ground had just smashed the window in. Victor felt dazed and watched as the driver stuck an arm through the window and unlocked the door. Victor fumbled for the accelerator but he was already being dragged out of the seat and to the ground.
Troy stood over him, smiling as a policewoman turned Victor onto his stomach and handcuffed his hands behind his back.
Victor lifted his chin off the pavement and croaked in the direction of Troy Keller, “Why?”
“Because this matters,” he said simply.
Victor was shoved into the back of the police car. The firefighters resumed their duties in taking out the fire while Troy was ushered out of the way.
The kid had changed his ways. The fire-starter had become the firefighter. Victor ran his hands through his hair as the police car drove him out of the school grounds. Not being appointed principal seemed the least of his worries now.
Too bad he wouldn’t be let off with a light detention.