David Vallejo was walking through the halls of Montenegro High School. It was a Friday morning, and the four-minute warning bell had just rung. He was heading to his first class of the day, “Advanced Placement” World History, though not with any particular enthusiasm. He loved the study of history, but the way that subject was “taught” by Mr. Richard Pinguino somehow sucked most of the joy out of it for him.
When he entered the room he noticed a palpable distress written on the faces of his classmates. Some of them were in a state of outright panic. David remembered immediately that there was a test scheduled today. It was to be their last regular test of the year before finals and the dreaded “AP” test itself. Except this one wasn’t quite a regular test. Since the remaining days of the year were rapidly dwindling and there was much material still to be learned, Mr. Pinguino had made the decision to roll three chapters into one exam.
Most of his classmates were anguished by this decision, but to David it made no difference. He never really took notes in this class (or any other). He didn’t study for tests and he did as little homework as possible. Nevertheless, he never had any problems memorizing the material in a class that nearly everyone else found torturously complex. His brain was just built differently it seemed.
Many of his illustrious colleague were doing some last minute cramming, a regular practice of theirs which he considered futile and even slightly pathetic. “If you don’t know it by now, you’ll never know it.” he declared on the way to his desk.
“Shut up David.” was one of the more polite responses he received.
As he looked around the room he noticed there was one important thing missing: Mr. Pinguino himself. As the bell rang indicating classes had officially begun, chatter broke out among the students, discussing of course why their teacher wasn’t there.
A few minutes into this process, two adults entered the room: Mr. Clemenza, a generic enforcer of rules at Montenegro whose specific job title was unknown to David, and Mr. Pezgato, the school’s semi-official substitute teacher.
Mr. Clemenza had a mobile phone pressed against his face. “Yeah, Vallejo’s here.”
David’s attention was now thoroughly captured. Clemenza started walking over to his desk while Pezgato assumed control of the central lectern.
“Alright ladies and gentlemen…” Mr. Pezgato addressed the students “Your teacher had a slight delay in getting here so unfortunately, you will not be able to take your test today.”
Cheers of relief broke out among them.
“Stand up David.” Mr. Clemenza said.
“What for?” David asked.
“Stand up.” Clemenza said “You’re coming with me.”
“Where are we going?”
“Just stand up.”
David reluctantly complied and Clemenza motioned towards the door “Come on. Follow me.”
“Can you tell me where we’re going?” David asked.
Mr. Clemenza, who was already headed for the door, turned around to say “Follow me or I’ll be happy to drag you myself.”
David could see the confused/amused looks of his classmates all around the room. He did a slight shrug and said “Alright.” And then he followed Clemenza out of the room.
Mr. Clemenza led him into the main office of Montenegro, which was composed of several sub-offices. They went to the backmost of those rooms at the end of a hallway.
They both entered and Clemenza closed the door behind them. He then locked it with a strange but unintended ominousness. Clemenza flipped the light switch, revealing a simple wooden table with two chairs on opposite ends. The walls of the room were a plain, undecorated white plaster. David had heard of this place from other people, but never seen it himself.
“The Montenegro Interrogation Room.” he said “Chris Poole told me about this place.”
“Sit down.” Mr. Clemenza said, pointing to the further of the two chairs.
David took his seat and asked “So what offenses did I commit to earn a visit here?”
“Oh I think you know that already.” Mr. Clemenza said while taking his own seat.
“No I really don’t.” David said.
“Listen, David.” Clemenza said “If you just confess now, it’ll be easier for you in the long run. I promise you that. I know you’re a good kid. You just pulled a stupid prank. It’s not a big deal.”
“I don’t follow.”
“Don’t play dumb Vallejo. We both know what I’m talking about.”
“No, I really don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Clemenza stared at him stone-faced. “Your history teacher, Mr. Pinguino. He couldn’t get here this morning.”
“And how am I responsible for that?”
“What about his car?” David said with genuine confusion.
Clemenza leaned back in his chair with folded arms.
“Okay I’m clearly being suspected of something I didn’t do.” David said “I think at this point I better assert my Fifth Amendment right to silence.” His tone was such that one couldn’t tell where the sincerity ended and the playful irony began.
“David, the Constitution doesn’t apply here.”
“I’m pretty sure it does.” David said with a toothy grin “I’m pretty sure the Constitution applies everywhere, on every inch of American territory.”
“David.” Mr. Clemenza said.
“Could you show me where it says that?” David was now pulling out his pocket-sized copy of the US Constitution, which he carried everywhere. He flipped through the pages. “I’m looking for the part where it says that a high school can set up their own private Star Chamber and exempt themselves from all the other stuff in here.”
“David!” Mr. Clemenza said “This is not a legal proceeding.”
“That reminds me, I’d like to contact my attorney please.”
“David, you don’t need an attorney. You just need to tell the truth.”
“I’m telling you the truth. I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.”
“Where were you this morning?” Mr. Clemenza said “Before you got to school.”
“I was on the goddamn bus to get here.”
“I was in my bed sleeping.” David replied “Where do you fucking schmucks think I was?”
Clemenza pulled the mobile phone from his pocket, pressed a few buttons, and showed David the screen. It was showing a photograph of a white two-door sedan wrapped in toilet paper and covered in raw eggs. The wheels were removed and the car was resting on cinderblocks and the word “HACK” in all capital letters was painted on the front windshield. “Does this look familiar?”
“No I have to admit, it does not.” David said.
“This was how Mr. Pinguino found his car this morning.” Mr. Clemenza said.
“Interesting. And you believe I am responsible for this?”
“You are the person we currently suspect.”
“And why is that precisely?”
Mr. Clemenza answered “Well, when Mr. Pinguino called me this morning to inform me of what happened, he immediately accused you of doing it.”
“That’s very funny, because part of me wants to claim credit for this one. It was very creatively done. But no, I didn’t do it. Not this time.”
“Then why does he think you did?”
“Mr. Pinguino has disliked me from Day 1.” David replied.
“Because he feels you don’t respect him.”
“That’s one of the few things he’s right about.”
“You’ve called him a hack several times.”
“Yeah I’ve called him that when he gets something wrong factually, which is often.” David said “I don’t entirely understand the relevance though of…oh I see. Whoever did this wrote ‘Hack’ on his car. That’s very clever. This was obviously an attempt to frame me then.”
“You think somebody’s attempting to frame you?” Mr. Clemenza asked.
“Clearly that’s what’s happening.” David said “Now that we’ve established that, can I go now?”
“No, you cannot.”
“Why not? I have a day full of pretending to learn ahead of me.”
“I haven’t figured out what really happened yet. When I do, then you can leave.”
David said “So I have to prove my innocence?”
“This place really is a fucking Star Chamber.”
Clemenza went on “David, why do you think somebody would want to frame you?”
“I don’t think anybody would want to frame me per se, but I’m probably just sort of a convenient scapegoat.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Well, Mr. Pinguino had a giant test scheduled today. Nobody in the class except me was really prepared to take it. So clearly somebody wanted to delay it until Monday and they just painted ‘Hack’ on the windshield to make it look like me.”
“Nobody was prepared except you?”
“There might be two or three other people who are sort of semi-prepared, but essentially I am the only one.”
“So, you’re saying that you are actually the person least likely to do this?” Clemenza asked.
David replied “Well I might do it because I dislike him, but not because of some silly test.”
“Funny that you would admit that.”
“Verus in uno….” David said.
“So who in your class do you think would do something like this?”
David leaned back in his chair and said “Well, planning something like this would take a certain amount of intelligence and capacity for strategic planning, so that eliminates about 2/3 of the people in the class.”
Mr. Clemenza’s expression betrayed his confusion. “This class you’re in is an AP class, right?”
“That’s correct.” David answered.
“So aren’t the people in it supposed to be super smart?”
David burst out laughing “That’s an amusing thought.” he said.
“You don’t have much respect for the intellectual abilities of your classmates?”
“Not a lot, no.”
“Well who in the class is capable, intellectually, of planning something like this?”
“Well it has to be someone who knows how to pull the wheel off a car. And who knows where that hack lives…” David’s voice drifted off.
“David?” Mr. Clemenza said.
“I had a conversation with my friend Pavel recently, like in the past few months. He was talking about how his Boy Scout…tribe or platoon…or whatever the fuck it’s called…"
“It’s called a troop, David.”
“Right, anyway they learned a few months ago how to change the tires on a car.”
“Pavel’s not in your history class though, is he?” Clemenza said.
“No, but you know who is?” David physically leaned forward to say “A fellow Boy Scout named Billy Dawson.”
“You can’t possibly mean…” Mr. Clemenza replied “Billy Dawson is not the kind of person to…”
“He’s a brownnose, I know.” David said “He’s such a brownnose that he learns the personal addresses of all his teachers so he can send them Christmas cards…”
There was a pause as Mr. Clemenza processed all this information. Then he stood up and said to David “You’re free to go while I investigate this matter further.”
“Thank you, sir.” David said as he walked out of the room “And best of luck to you.”
Later that day, as David was heading to his final class of the day, Mr. Clemenza stopped him in the halls to say “He confessed within five minutes.”
“He cracked that fast huh? I would have expected him to last at least ten.” David replied “At least poor Billy got what he wanted though.”