Samantha had told Dr. Ashworth that his detective was not only inept but was actually encouraging pranks because the pranksters were treating him as a challenge. Instead of blowing a fuse, Ashworth seemed to like the information. It gave him an excuse to fire a buffoon who obviously wasn’t getting the job done. She was hoping that was the end of it when Ashworth pulled her aside after class.
I hoped my sudden anxiety didn’t show. I was afraid any reason Principal Ashworth might have for wanting to talk to me wasn’t going to be favorable. I joined him out of the flow of students rushing to their lockers. “Yes, sir?”
“I want to thank you again for informing me of Mr. LeClerc’s unintended influence on the tomfoolery going on around the school.” He looked around as if to make sure no one was in hearing distance. “When I approached him to let him go, he had prepared a final report. He had identified the kingpin who was responsible for starting this nonsense.”
My heart thudded, and I struggled to keep a straight face. I was afraid my voice would crack if I asked who, so I waited for him to continue.
He didn’t seem to notice me holding back. “Ingrid Hoffman,” he continued, “According to what LeClerc heard students saying early in his investigation, Miss Hoffman painted the graffiti on the front of the building and followed up with several other practical jokes before I hired a private detective.” He paused. “It appears I owe you an apology. I trusted Miss Hoffman when she accused you of spreading rumors about Mrs. Finch and Mr. Browning and was biased to believe her accusation that you had done the graffiti.” So she was the one.
He continued, “I’ll see that she is suitably dealt with.”
That was it I was off the hook, and Ingrid was going to get hers. “If I may ask, sir, what do you have in mind?”
“I’ll have to confirm it with the superintendent, but I will probably suspend her for the rest of the semester.”
Much as I wanted Ingrid to be punished, I didn’t think the offense justified that stiff a punishment. “Isn’t that a little extreme, Sir.”
He looked at me quizzically. “Considering what she did to you, I would think you’d want a severe punishment.”
I shook my head. “I don’t know. Wanting her to be harshly punished merely seems vindictive to me I guess. And that’s not me. I mean, wouldn’t that make it hard for her to graduate with the rest of the class?”
He seemed to think about what I said before he said, “Well, in that case I may reconsider my position. Thank you, Miss Pederson.” He turned and walked away, leaving me standing there with my mouth open.
––– # –––
Renee caught up with me on my way out the front door. “What did the dictator have to say?”
I was still dazed. What had just happened? Had I really softened Principal Ashworth? It took me a second to respond.
She studied me. “Well?”
“He said that Sheerluck found out that Ingrid had painted the graffiti and had reported that she was also responsible for the majority of the pranks. He was going to suspend her for the remainder of the semester.”
Renee smiled. “Sounds good to me. She deserves it.”
“I don’t know. You and I both know she didn’t have anything to do with our practical jokes.” I paused. I had finally realized that Ingrid was getting blamed for what I had done, I and Renee and Dwayne. I whispered, “Oh my god.”
Renee gave me and odd look and asked, “What?”
I didn’t respond. I was too deep in thought. Principal Ashworth was going to punish Ingrid for what the three of us had done on top of what she had done. That wasn’t right, and it wasn’t fair. I had to clear her of our pranks. I mumbled, “I’ve got to do something.”
“What are you talking about?” Renee was staring at me as if I had lost my mind.
“We can’t let Ashworth punish Ingrid for what we did. You, Dwayne, and I have to figure out a way to prove she didn’t do our pranks.”
“That’s easy, confess.”
That hit me like a blow to the solar plexus. I couldn’t tell if she was serious, but it shocked me into thinking some more. I looked around to see if Dwayne remained in the dwindling crowd of students. I spotted him talking to a couple of the members of the basketball team. I grabbed Renee’s arm and pulled her with me. “Come.”
Dwayne saw us coming. “Hi, what’s up?”
I stared him in the eye. “We need to talk … privately.”
He turned to the other boys and shrugged, palms up. “See you guys later.” Then he followed Renee and me.
As soon as we were out of earshot, he asked, “What’s all this about?”
I scanned the area to make sure no one was approaching. Then I told him what I thought the problem was. He nodded and asked, “What do you propose to do about it?”
“I’ve been struggling with that. Renee”—I nodded at her—“suggested confessing. I don’t know how serious she was, but I can’t think of anything better.”
Dwayne shook his head. “I’m not fond of that idea.”
“Can you think of anything better?”
He scowled. “Better than volunteering to be punished? Letting it be comes to mind. After all, if she hadn’t framed you for the graffiti, none of this would have happened.”
I had expected something like this. I pressed the point. “But that would mean letting Ingrid be punished for what we did. Would that be right?”
He continued to scowl, but he said, “No, but I don’t like it. Come up with something else.”
Renee joined the discussion. “I feel really bad about this, but if Ashworth was going to suspend Ingrid, wouldn’t he do the same thing to us? I vote for letting it be.”
I couldn’t accept that. I had one last card to play. “Look, I understand where you’re coming from, but I consider this my responsibility. I can’t let it go. Here’s what I propose: I’ll go by myself and accept full responsibility for the pranks we pulled. If he asks me who else was involved, I’ll tell him it was all my fault and no one else needs to be punished.”
Dwayne had a final comment. “I don’t think he’ll let you get away with that.”
“I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do something to make it right.”
His shoulders slumped. “I guess we’ll have to risk it.”
No, I’ll have to risk it.