'Thick as thieves’ was an epithet often applied to Jed Burroughs and Nate Collier. Friends since time immemorial, the pair had got themselves in to many scrapes through the years already. They were only two years into their teens.
Personal charm, good looks and an infuriating ‘likeability-factor’ had seen them evade the worst punishments that could have been meted out to them for their various infractions of the rules, which could have led them to believe that they were impervious to punishment and maybe a bit special, too.
Neither of them saw themselves in that light.
They saw themselves as two young guys who liked a laugh, and liked to make others laugh as well. There was nothing wrong with that, surely?
Okay, so they pissed-off teachers and adults in general at times, but weren’t kids supposed to just that? What was the point of being a kid otherwise? It helped that both boys were bright lads. Not straight-A kids by any means, but solidly B and C students. Neither aspired to be any better than that, which irritated teachers and parents alike as it was obvious they could be, if they applied themselves a little more…
Anyway, they never did anything really naughty or particularly unpleasant. Sure they might cause a person a little embarrassment, but they never went out of their way to cause distress. After all, they were not bullies for heaven’s sake! Sure they walked a thin line at times, but they had yet to fall the wrong side of right and wrong. Yet.
Stevenson Hopewell was the first teacher of African heritage Horatio Nelson Academy had ever employed. At around six feet in height, curly, greying hair, very dark skin, intense, intelligent brown eyes and ready smile, the bass-voiced fifty-year old science teacher was an immediate hit with his pupils. They loved his voice, his relaxed-yet-informative teaching style and his sense of humour.
Jed Burroughs and Nate Collier saw him as a challenge. Not an easy one like Mister Simpson, their third-year maths tutor who let the kids get away with almost anything in his classes. No, Mister Hopewell was going to take something different to get a rise out of. It might even have to be their most spectacular stunt yet, the friends felt.
Coke-cups and greasy burger detritus put aside, the two boys sat either side of an ugly moulded-plastic table-and-bench-seat arrangement in a fast food place that described itself as a ‘restaurant’, although it would take an extremely creative imagination to picture a Michelin-starred chef partaking of the menu such places offered.
"I tell ya," Jed insisted for the umpteenth time, "it’s a rug!"
"Nah, it’s too natural-looking for that." Nate disagreed.
He was a couple of months younger than his pal, but already shaved at least twice a week, unlike Jed who managed once a month if he was unlucky. Even so, Nate Collier tended to defer to Jed in most things, but today he genuinely did not believe what Jed was telling him
"That’s cos they make those things really realistic-looking these days." Jed said, sighing for the third or fourth time in as many minutes.
As much as he liked Nate, sometimes he could be a nob-head, like now. Anybody with half-decent eyesight could see that the new guy, whatsisname…Hopewell, was wearing a hairpiece; a wig no less.
"Look," he tried again, "all you’ve got to do is watch him in class. He scratches his head a lot, haven’t you ever noticed?"
"Well, yeah, course I have. That don’t mean anything, though."
"Of course it does!" an exasperated Jed Burroughs said a little more loudly than he intended. A couple of girls from their school were sitting at an identical table to theirs a few rows back. One of them guffawed, sounding not unlike a braying donkey.
"Bloody Sandy Tripp!" he snorted derisively.
Nate Collier chuckled.
"You know she fancies you, right?"
"Piss off! She’s a dog!" A deep red flush suffused Jed’s face and he looked anywhere else around the fast food joint than at his dining companion until the flush had subsided more to a pink than brilliant red.
"Anyway," he said, picking up the conversation without preamble, "that scratching head bit, that’s because wigs made your head itch."
"And you know this, how?" Nate asked, enjoying his friend’s discomfort with the awareness of a girl who liked him sitting not so far away.
Personally he, Nate, thought Sandy Tripp was quite fit. She did have a gob on her though, which rather spoilt the image. Not that he would ever say anything to Jed. He’d never hear the last of it he knew from making that same mistake a couple of years before.
"My Aunt Kelsey had to wear one when she had chemo." Jed said less aggressively.
Nate nodded. Jed’s aunt had died from cancer about eighteen months ago and Jed was still a bit cut-up about it. He and his aunt were kindred spirits and Jed had worshipped the ground his aunt walked on. The chemotherapy had cost his aunt her long auburn hair and Nate remembered her wearing a series of wigs when out of doors and colourful scarves indoors.
"Yeah, I remember." he said solemnly.
"So, yeah, she told me that the feel of the thing on her bald head made her itch like hell at times, especially when it was hot, so that’s how I know." Jed said confidently.
Nate could not contradict his friend’s expertise, especially as he was speaking from a superior standpoint.
"So, this itching thing? That’s what makes you think Hopewell is wearing a rug, then?" he clarified instead.
"Either that or he’s got nits." Jed said dryly… then laughed loudly.
"Your face, man!" he guffawed at Nate. "It was a picture!"
If there was one thing in the entire world Nate Collier detested passionately it was nits, or hair lice. He’d had them once in his life after catching them off his pre-school aged little brother. His aversion to them now was almost pathological. Just the thought of head lice was likely to cause the burger, fries and coke he had consumed to make a second appearance of the day if the subject continued to be discussed much longer.
"Yeah, well." he said sulkily.
"I’m pretty sure Hopewell ain’t got anything wrong with his hair," Jed continued diplomatically, avoiding the word that upset his pal, "so logic suggests it’s the other option."
"I’m not convinced," Nate said, "but I remain to be."
The unspoken challenge did not go unheard.
""Don’t worry, you will be." Jed promised.
Just then the aforementioned Sandy Tripp, accompanied by her coterie of giggling acolytes, passed by the table where Jed and Nate were sitting.
"Hello, Jed." Sandy said sweetly before flouncing away. Her friends giggled at nothing in particular. Jed, for the second time in under thirty minutes, blushed bright red. Nate laughed… and laughed until tears streamed down his face. It was only the the threat of violence being perpetrated upon his torso and the urgent need to pee that brought Nate’s hilarity to an end.
It’s takes a special kind of person to get a disparate group of people onside in any situation. Some politicians, public and religious figures, teachers, musicians and so on to varying degrees all possess that gene that draws ordinary people to them like moths to a flame. But the Kings and Queens of attention-grabbing are the comedians. One person on stage, if they are at the top of their game, can hold an audience of thousands in the proverbial palm of their hand for as long as they so choose. It must be a magical feeling to have that power.
Jed Burroughs and Nate Collier were not at that level just yet, but they were not too far off it. Of a class of thirty-four teenagers, a forty-thirty split in favour of the boys in the class, only one overweight and personal-hygienically challenged boy actively disliked both boys, with a particular enmity towards Jed Burroughs. He could not say exactly why he disliked Jed that much more than Nate, only that he did.
The whole class were in on what was about to happen. On pain of death or worse, the smelly, Jed-and-Nate-hating boy was told to keep his trap shut if he knew what was good for him. He did… and he did.
Three days earlier, in what was apparently and attempt to get to know their new tutor a little better, Jed and Nate had remained behind after class had finished to talk to Mister Hopewell. They asked him about his experience as a teacher, where he originally came from, about his family and, oddly, how tall he was.
Had Stevenson Hopewell been employed at Horatio Nelson Academy a little longer than the couple of months he had he would not have been smiling quite so brightly and shaking his head with an accompanying chuckle to himself at the conversation he’d just had with the two cheeky but nice lads.
He would have been cautious. He would have been on his guard. He would have been asking himself questions, questions like ‘why are Jed Burroughs and Nate Collier suddenly so interested in me?’ Unfortunately, his lack of experience at the school and his failure to mention the conversation in the staff room at lunch-time, left him exposed and vulnerable. The die had been cast.
Jed and Nate had tested Jed’s theory at home on his bedroom door. It took three attempts to get the thing to work at all. It took a frustrating five more attempts to get it to work perfectly. They knew that it did because Jed’s six-feet, two inch father had become their unwitting guinea-pig in their experiment. The volley of mild abuse directed at both boys was worth it to see their idea work so well. They high-fived one another after Jed’s dad had stomped back downstairs again then burst into giggly, excited laughter. The game was on!
It was a rule at Horatio Nelson Academy that all pupils must be in their seats and ready for class before their tutor arrived. That rule worked straight in to the mischievous hands of Jed and Nate. Swearing their class mates to complete silence they set their rig in place.
Barely able to sit still the two boys, along with their classmates, held their collective breaths as heavy measured footsteps approached the half-open door.
"Good morni….," the resonant voice of Stevenson Hopewell began, before a louder-than-expected ripping sound stopped him in mid-sentence. Unfortunately, as he was taking a forward step, his momentum propelled him in to the classroom. The door swung fully open, revealing to his class of teenagers his bald, shining pate. Behind him his toupee or wig hung suspended in mid-air as if by magic.
Closer inspection would have revealed several lines of clear nylon fishing line from which were suspended a round dozen small barbed fishing hooks. The line had been attached firmly to the doorframe on one side and the back of the door on the other with clear sticky-tape. The line had been left slack and looped over the classroom side of the door so that it was not visible from the outside.
Placed exactly six feet and one inch above the ground, an inch higher then Mister Hopewell’s height, as he had pushed the door open the slack in the line had been taken up, causing the fishing hooks to become entangled in the hairpiece he was wearing. His own forward momentum had provided the necessary force to remove the object from his head. The result had worked even better than the two boys had hoped for.
Nervous laughter rippled around the stunned classroom as Mister Hopewell patted his exposed head. His eyes drifted around the room, looking into those of everyone there until they alighted on the barely suppressed amusement on both Jed Burroughs’ and Nate Colliers’ faces. He grinned. A big, ‘you got me good’ grin, ‘but I’m still your teacher’ it said. Jed and Nate’s smiles faltered, just a little.
There were repercussions, of course. Were it not for the good nature and good humour of the victim of their prank, they could – and most certainly would – have been more severe. As it was a week’s suspension with a month’s further after-school detention for both boys was deemed sufficient for the ‘crime’ .
Upon their return to school a message was sent to them to attend Mister Hopewell’s classroom at lunchtime. The meeting was brief and to the point.
"What you did showed a good knowledge of scientific principles." he told the stunned teenagers. "I am more pleased to know that you have at least learned something of use from my lessons than I am pissed at you for embarrassing me."
Jed and Nate chose to not respond to this odd compliment. It had never happened to them before. Then again, neither had what came next.
"I have your measure now, boys. I have you in my sights. You threw down the gauntlet with that little prank. Well, you’ll be delighted to learn that I, Stevenson Hopewell, do not back away from a challenge." He grinned that disarming smile of his.
"Watch your backs, lads. I’m coming for you! Now, get out of here!" he told them before turning his back on the pair and returning to marking homework, chuckling to himself as he did so.