Three Little Pigs, Lego Version




I was helping with a Lego camp and tailored the story to what I saw and heard that week (and so can you, feel free to make changes. 😉  These are my additions to the familiar tale, with wolf huffing and puffing and blowing houses down.  I wrote down these “bones” of the story for a friend and thought I should record and share it.

1st pig liked comic books, filled his backpack with his favorites plus a candy bar and soda.  Traded comic for straw, “Have to give something to get something,” and built straw house. Offered to share comic with wolf, who instead wanted “piggy for lunch.” Ran to brother’s house.
2nd pig had computer game, chips, and juice, let man with sticks play games while he built house, offered to let the wolf play Tetris, but no. Both run to . . .
3rd pig, heaviest backpack, filled with grains, apples, and water . . . and Lego bricks!  He built a strong Lego house with locking door and clear windows and chimney, near a stream, where he planted grain and apple seeds.  Three pigs safe inside house.

I wanted to end with the wolf showing up at Lego shows to learn to build a catapult, and the campers were fine with it, but the visiting little sisters insisted there had to be “wolf stew” from wolf falling down the chimney.  They were right; the menace has to be GONE at the end of a story.  “No one ever saw that wolf again.”

When I told stories to a friend’s high school class, a smart-alec made a comment about “3 Little Pigs” so I included it in the mythology lineup, pointedly saying it was in response to his request.  I’m ornery, but I also like to point out how to change the old tales to fit new interests.  I couldn’t think of a Lego story until I picked up on the fact that true aficionados refer to them as Lego BRICKS. 😉
Lego fun

JacKaLs GHosted

Picture 1

“Aunt Mary, you’ve been blocked,” my niece explained. “There’s nothing wrong with your computer.” 

“What?  How? Why?” 

 Jill had told me when she was very young, “I don’t know it all, but I know some things,” and she did.

 “Hard to know the why, but how to block is easy, even though it’s the highest level of “distancing” on social media.  If you need just a little distance, you can “unfollow” someone and go to their page to read posts only when you want to.”

I nodded. “Glass of wine in hand to prepare for my nephew’s angst-filled posts.”

“Right, and they won’t know you’ve done this, especially if you check in now and then.  Next is ‘unfriend.’ This might be noticed, as you will disappear from their list of friends.  They can still see comments and posts as “friends of friends” and you can see theirs. Blocking is the most extreme, usually reserved for scammers and trolls. If you can’t see anything at all, it means they’ve blocked you.”

At first I hadn’t realized what was happening when a “friend” disappeared on Facebook. Sometimes I’d see four comments in a row with none in between, like a person talking to herself.  Some people do set comments to “friends only” so if we don’t know that person, we won’t see her comments. Technical difficulties, glitches in the system?  Then I read about “ghosting,” blocking friends as one would the scammers who “like your pretty smile.”  It’s the electronic version of “cutting them dead” in old books on manners.  

My niece explained the process and offered consolation. She reminded me of my mother’s warning that “two girls can play nicely together, three or more will fight.”  She called it the JacKaL Effect, but never explained the odd capitals, initials perhaps?

“Really, if they are mean, you are better off without them. You’d never have done that to anyone, and you’ll never really trust them again. Move on,” and I did. Cyber-friendships were ephemeral anyway. It’s not as if it was happening in real life, until it was. 

Real-life blocking began, reasonably enough, with law enforcement enforcing  restraining orders and witness protection.  Then someone hacked the technology, and soon there were seemingly empty desks at work with work getting done, empty seats in theaters and restaurants that one couldn’t manage to sit on, involuntary weaving on sidewalks to avoid invisible obstacles.

Mom and Joy (3)033


It all came to a head for us one Thanksgiving when the youngest niece started crying, “Grandma, make them stop! Make them stop being mean and talk to each other.  It’s rude to ignore people.”

Jill, always practical, asked, “How can we fix it? I know, let’s take roll. Raise your hands if you can see Beth.” Everyone could.

“Who can see Grandma?”  Everyone.

“Who can see Uncle Joe?” Ben’s hand stayed down. 

“Ben, could you say something positive about Uncle Joe?  Anything? Anything at all?”
“Well, Uncle Joe taught me to fish.  He was very patient, even when my hook caught on his cap.”

“Uncle Joe, tell me something you like about Ben . . . please?  Just one thing?”
“Well, Ben is very bright . . . and helpful.  When my old car wouldn’t start, he helped me fix it.”

Grandma, the patient crocheter of lace and mender of boo-boos, continued Jill’s work with each person at the table, coaxing everyone to remember good things and acknowledge loving gestures, reminding all of what family was.  When there were no more shimmering gaps around the table, she had everyone join hands to say grace again.  Then she brought out the pumpkin pie and whipped cream, the cheesecake, and the cherry pie that was Beth’s favorite.  Gaps might still exist on (anti-)social media, but Grandma love can fix everything important.

I asked Jill if it would work online.  She winked and said, “Not worth the bother. Just mentally thank them and let them go.”

Smart girl!  


We are each of us angels with only one wing, and we can only fly by embracing one another. Luciano De Crescenzo



Balloons, the “Not Welcome” Sign

At Lou Fusz Subaru with Fran the Prius. Thanks, Matt
Balloons, the “Not Welcome” Sign
Fran’s the Prius’s New Adventure
My little Prius, Fran, is so confused. We headed out for oil change and inspection, but stopped much too soon, at an unfamiliar place.
“Wait, this isn’t right!”
Oh, oh, I should have explained. “Yes, it is. It’s where we’re going now.”
“Noooooo! We ALWAYS go to P’s Toyota. It’s where I started. It’s where I always go! Even the tow truck knows that.”
Actually, it goes back much further, more than thirty years of total customer loyalty to those who’ve helped me through rough patches. I remember winning deluxe tickets to a Cardinals game, which Donna took Mom to. Easy access even for Mom’s wheelchair, and she had a great time. Yeah, grateful for that, and a few months later, for their finding time to fix my Tercel so I could get to the hospital to see her. They had said there were no openings, but then found time. Did someone skip lunch? I had bonded with Fran for a year, every time I brought the Tercel for service, and was so happy when a new “floor model” meant I could buy her just when I needed to.
“Well, this is where we’re going today. You’re good at adapting. Remember going to Louisville on just one tank of gas? and Texas? and Jonesborough, TN? It’s just an oil change and inspection. Let’s see how it goes.”
“There are balloons at P.T. and I’m allergic to latex. The nice techs took me home last time, and I paid by phone, but it’s not the same, and when I called to ask for the safe environment I’d been promised, the mis-named customer service guy yelled and was insulting.”
“Oh, that’s not nice.”
“No. I’ve heard he has a reputation as a bully. Most oddly, he kept saying, ‘I know who you are.’ I wish I knew what he meant by that. He also compared a request for no balloons to the absurdity of cutting down all the trees in St. Peters because of pollen allergies.”
“Not nice at all. Okay I’ll try . . . wait, you aren’t trading me for a Subaru are you?”
“No, I hope you keep going for a long time. Oh, and you’ll like this: they have a car wash. Spa day!”
“Will we ever go back to P.T.?”
“Let’s see how this goes. It would take a sincere effort to change their ways, and probably, as one of the laid off teachers responded when asked if he’d come back from his new district, ‘Only if the new guys are really mean to me.’”
So far, Fran and I are happy at Lou Fusz Subaru, close to home, courteous staff, and competent and fair. I’ve remembered that my Corolla came from Lou Fusz in Kirkwood. My sis says Fusz is another branch of our Fussner family tree . . . so it might be a bit of a homecoming after all.
Thinking of a commercial with very cute kids and the punchline, “When you’re the best, you don’t need balloons.”
Thinking also of my first boss at Prudential saying, “The most expensive advertising is poor customer service” . . . and the best, value beyond measure, is being good to your customers, 35+ years of building a great relationship tossed in the trash by one ill-tempered bully.
When you decorate your business with latex balloons, you might mean to be festive and fun, but you are signaling “off limits/danger/not welcome here” to those of us with a latex allergy.

Latex and Other Allergies (Bill’s Iguana)


I fondly remember the cook at the airport in Newark who when I told him that his latex gloves meant I couldn’t eat the food and I was starving, “I’ll take off these gloves, sterilize my hands, and make you the best hamburger you ever had.” He did!

It is now easier to find food and clothing for those with a latex allergy . . .  I’ve put information online to help others.

When I developed an allergy to aloe, I put the aloe plant out on the porch, with orders to find a new home before winter. I heard the roofer telling his son, “We used to have an aloe almost that big, but it wouldn’t fit in the moving truck.” Match made!

I confess that I did cry when my first allergist proclaimed, “That is a a 4+ reaction on a scale of 1-4.  You MUST get rrrrid of the cat!”  I did find a good home for the stray mama cat and her no-longer-fragile baby, leaving them better off than when I found the poor skinny mom-to-be.

Allergies did not stop me from playing hostess to my tree frog houseguest Prince for a winter,


. . . and my friend Bill’s clever parents discovered he could have iguanas as pets.  This is my early version of that story, written but not previously published. I tell a slightly different version, along with Prince’s story,  on my Frog and Friends CD.

No Feathers or Fur: Bill’s Iguana     by Mary Garrett

     “Mom, I want a pet.”  Billy brushed his hair from his eyes and waited for an answer.

     “Billy, you know you can’t have a pet.”

     “But all my friends have pets,” Billy said.

     “I know,” said his mother, “but you’re allergic to fur and feathers.”

     “I don’t care.  I want a pet of my own.”

     Mother sat down and put Billy on her lap. “If you had a pet, the fur or feathers would make you sneeze, and pretty soon you wouldn’t be able to breathe.  You could end up having to go to the hospital.  You don’t want that, do you?”

     “No, but I do want a pet,” said Billy.  “Isn’t there any pet that doesn’t have fur or feathers?”

     “Hmm, I wonder,” said Mother.  “I guess we could find out.  Let’s start at the pet store.”

     In the window of the pet store was a brown puppy, with long floppy ears

and a little black nose.  He was chewing on a red rubber bone and looking right at Billy.

     “Not him,” said Billy’s mom.  “He has fur.”

     “Yeah,” said Billy, not very happy, because he really wanted the frisky puppy.

     Right inside the door of the pet store was a little grey kitten.  It stretched its paw through the wire front of the cage, batted Billy’s finger, and said, “Meow.”

     Billy said, “I know.  It has fur.”

     He frowned and walked further into the store.  Billy sneezed as he walked past the bright, noisy birds and said to himself, “Feathers!  Everything has fur or feathers.”

     He stopped in front of a sign that said, “Garter Snake” and looked at the striped snake lying on a big stick.  It wasn’t doing anything interesting, but at least it didn’t have fur or feathers.

     “Please, Billy, no snakes,” said Mother.  “I know I wouldn’t be able to sleep with a snake in the house.  Besides, they eat the most disgusting things.  Let’s keep looking.”

     The fish were pretty, swimming in circles and waving their tails, but Billy said, “I’d really like a pet I could pet, Mom.”

     Then he saw something different.  It looked like a big lizard, and it was bright green.  Its bright black and yellow eyes looked right at Billy.  Then it took a bite of banana and swished its long tail in the air.

     “What’s this, Mom?”  Billy asked.  “It doesn’t have feathers or fur, and it eats fruit.”

     “It’s an iguana,” said Mom.  “I never knew anyone with a pet iguana.”

     “I like it,” said Billy.  “Can I pet it?”

     The owner of the pet store got the iguana out of its cage and held it down for Billy to touch.  Its back felt smooth, and a little cold.

     The man explained, “Iguanas are cold-blooded.  Their temperature is only as warm as the room they are in, so they like warm places.  They come from South America and the West Indies and are very good climbers.  Iguanas are pretty easy to take care of, but you might want to read this book to learn more about them.”

     Billy said, “Please, Mom.  I really like him.”

     Billy’s mom said, “If you’re sure you’ll take care of him.”

     “Of course I will,” said Billy.  “I’ll name him Iggie.  He’s going to be my best friend.”

     When they got home, they put Iggie in a box in Billy’s room, with some fresh lettuce, bananas, and grapes and a bowl of water because the book said they liked fruits and vegetables.  The book also said that iguanas were very gentle and didn’t need to be in a cage unless there were other pets like dogs or cats that might hurt the iguana.  Iggie ate, stretched and then climbed out of the box and went exploring in the little bedroom.

     “Hey, Mom,” yelled Billy.  “Look at Iggie climb.”

     Iggie was on top of the dresser, looking all around.  Billy picked him up and scratched the top of his head.  Iggie sat on Billy’s arm, stretching out to enjoy the warmth.

     “Mom, he likes me,” said Billy.  “I have a pet.”

     As time went by, Iggie explored the whole house and made friends with the whole family.  He learned to go to his dˇish in the kitchen when he was hungry.  When they fed him, Iggie would even eat from their hands.  Iggie liked to sleep on the radiators, because they were warm.  Billy’s mom put old bath towels on the radiators to make them more comfortable.  Sometimes Iggie would sleep on the top shelves of the closets, where it was dark and quiet.

     Iggie liked company, and sometimes he would jump right on a person’s shoulder to let them know how friendly he was.  He did that once while Billy’s parents were having a party for their friends.  Billy laughed when the lady jumped up and spilled her soda.  Then he apologized for Iggie and helped to clean up the mess.  She laughed, too, and petted Iggie.  She said he seemed like a good pet to have.

     That summer, Billy’s family went on vacation.  They left food and water out for Iggie, and asked a neighbor to stop in to check on things while they were gone, but Billy was still a little worried about his pet.  After all, he had never been left alone for even a day, and ˝they would be gone

two weeks.  Billy’s mom said he would be fine, and that iguanas didn’t like to take trips.

     While Billy’s family was gone, some robbers broke the lock on the back door.  They took the television, the radios, and the stereo.  They took the toaster and blender from the kitchen.  They even took Billy’s piggy bank from the book shelf.

      One of the men went into Billy’s parents’ bedroom and put all their jewelry into a pillowcase.  Then he walked over to the closet to see what else he could steal.  Iggie, who had been very lonely, jumped down from the closet shelf and landed on the burglar’s shoulder.  The man was so frightened that he dropped the jewelry and ran!

     When Billy and his parents came home the next morning, they could tell that the lock on the back door was broken, and they could see that the kitchen was messed up.  Billy’s dad said not to go in, because a thief could still be inside.  They all went to the neighbor’s house and called the police.

     When the police arrived and told them it was safe to go in, they started trying to list everything that was gone.  When they got to the bedroom, they saw the jewelry spilling out of the pillowcase on the floor.

     The police officer said, “This is the strangest thing I have ever seen.  It just doesn’t make sense to take everything else and leave the jewelry.”

     Just then they heard a rustling sound, and the officer felt cold claws grab his shoulder.  He jumped and dropped his notebook and pen on the floor.   Billy reac\hed over and took Iggie off the officer’s shoulder, saying, “I’m sorry if Iggie scared you.  He loves to jump on people, but he wouldn’t hurt anyone.”

     “No problem,” said the officer, picking up his notebook and looking for his pen.

     “Hey,” Billy shouted, “maybe that’s what happened with the burglar!”

     “That could be it,” said the policeman.  “Your average burglar wouldn’t expect to be jumped by a lizard.  He probably dropped everything and took off without even looking back.”

     “Iggie, you’re a hero,” said Billy.

     “Yeah,” said the policeman, “the only watch iguana in town.”

Princess Joy’s Secret Fear

62018248_10156537601321476_2054866238789648384_nFormer student, Sarah Abery, has declared that she will never outgrow her love of spiders.  They are rather marvelous, and I do love the stories of Grandmother Spider, including the one that Elizabeth Ellis gave me permission to include on my CD.

Then there’s Charlotte’s Web — what’s not to love!  One Halloween I put a fake spiderweb on my classroom window, and wrote Awesome in dry erase marker —  most of my high school students got the literary reference.

Here’s my story, written many years ago . . .

Princess Joy’s Secret Fear

by Mary Garrett

“Hurrah for Princess Joy,” shouted the crowd, happy to be rescued from the fire-breathing dragon.

“Leave this kingdom in peace, dragon,” commanded the brave princess, as the dragon meekly crawled away.  To herself Joy thought, “If they knew the truth, they would be laughing, not cheering.”

The truth was, the brave princess Joy was afraid of one thing — spiders.  She could not go near a spider, or even look at one.  She had to leave the room if she saw one, even if she was doing important work.  If she saw one on the path in the garden, she would have to go another way, usually making up a story to cover up the truth.


How could she ever explain to anyone that she, who was afraid of nothing, could be afraid of a such a small creature?  She kept silent, feeling more and more ashamed of herself, as people gave her awards for her courage and her brave deeds.

Finally, she decided she must tell someone, and perhaps find a solution to her problem.  She went to her father the king, who was choosing jewels for his new crown.

“Father,” she said, “I need to talk with you if you have time.”

“Daughter, of course I have time for you,” he smiled.  “Why, you are more precious to me than all the jewels in all the crowns in all the world.”

“Father, you may think this is a foolish problem,” she began, “but perhaps you can help me solve it.  I am terribly afraid of . . . of spiders.”  She shuddered as she said the word.

“Oh, my little one,” he chuckled.  “Such a silly you are to let a thing like that bother you.  You are too brave anyway, for a girl.”

“Father, please be serious,” she replied.  “I don’t want to act cute and helpless.  I am a leader in this kingdom, and there is serious work to be done.  How can the people count on me if they find out I’m afraid of a little thing like a spider?  Help me!”

“I really don’t know how to help you,” he frowned.   “I’ve never been afraid of spiders myself.  Don’t you think you are making too much of this, though?  Why don’t you just forget about it and go on about your business?”

“I can’t; I really can’t,” she replied.  “It’s a weakness.  A princess should be perfect.  Don’t you have any ideas to help me?”

“No,” the king muttered, “no, I don’t think so . . .  but maybe some of your girlfriends could help.”

“I don’t think so, Father.”

“Well, perhaps your mother would have an idea,” he suggested.

“You know how old-fashioned Mother is,” she pouted.  “She would just tell me to stick to my needlework.”

“True, true.  Of course, I have always thought that was a part of her charm.  Since you are determined to be a strong, brave leader in this kingdom, I will try to help you any way I can.  Why don’t we make a list of people you know who are not afraid of insects, and ask each of them for their secrets?”

“But I can’t do that without letting˛ them know how afraid I am,” Joy argued, “and what if they just say like you did, ‘I just never gave it any thought’?”

“I see your point,” replied the king.  “Let me ask around for you.  Someone should know something.  Meanwhile, why don’t you relax and find something pleasant to do.  Maybe you should study your French.  The ambassador from France will be attending the next court ball.”

“Oui (we), papa,” Joy sighed sadly.

Princess Joy went to her room to think.  She felt like a liar.  Everyone thought she was brave, but she knew she was a coward.  Sooner or later, people would find out.  Then they would make fun of the great dragon-fighter who was afraid of spiders.

Sadly, Princess Joy rested her cheek on her hand and let out one long, sad sigh.

“Why are you sad?” asked a very quiet little voice.

“What?  Who said that?” replied Joy, looking all around for another person in her room.  “Tell me who you are and where you are.  Tell me right now!” she commanded.

“I can’t tell you that right now,” said the little voice.  “Please tell me your problem.  Maybe I can help.”

Joy thought the voice was coming from the picture of her grandmother which was sitting on her dressing table.  She stared at it for a moment, and then whispered, “Grandmother?  Grandmother, is it you speaking?  Do you know how to help me?  Oh, I knew if I could talk to you, you would help me.  You always knew everything.”


“I’ll try to help you, if you’ll tell me about your trouble,” answered the tiny little voice, and it seemed to Joy that her grandmother’s mouth moved.

She was so excited that she almost didn’t know how to begin, but she managed to tell her story.  When she had finished, there was a short pause before the small voice spoke again.

“Joy,” the voice began, “it seems to me that you are being too hard on yourself.  There is a very good reason for your fear, and it isn’t a sign of weakness at all.  You just need to think about it a little.  What is the important thing about your fighting a dragon?”

Joy thought and answered carefully,  “Well, dragons are large and powerful and dangerous.  If I don’t stop them, they could hurt a lot of people.”

“Good, Joy,” replied the tiny little voice.  “Now, what bad thing will happen if you run away from the spiders?”

“Well, nothing really bad would happen,” replied Joy.  “I would be embarrassed if anyone found out, but no one would get hurt.”

“Are spiders powerful and dangerous?”

“No, of course not,” answered Joy.  “They are tiny.  Most of them can’t hurt anyone, and even the ones that bite don’t chase people.  If you leave them alone, they will leave you alone.”

“In fact,” added the small voice, “most spiders are helpless, aren’t they?  They are a lot like the people you save from the dragons.  What is the result of your fear of the spiders?”

“Well, I just quietly leave the place where they are.”

“And when you leave, your friends also leave, don’t they?”


“And when all the people leave, the spider is safer, right?”

“Why, yes!” answered Joy. “Of course it is, because there aren’t any people there to step on it or smash it.  It sounds silly, but my fear of spiders protects the spiders, doesn’t it?”

“Yes,” replied the voice, “and it isn’t silly at all.  Spiders are very important in the natural balance of things, eating insects that might cause problems.  Spiders are soft and easily hurt.  We need protection as much as any ‘damsel in distress.'”

“Yeah, I guess so, Grandma,” mused Joy.  “Wait a minute!  What did you mean ‘We need protection’?  Who are you?”

“Before I tell you,” answered the voice, “you have to promise me not to be afraid of spiders anymore, and not to hurt them, either.”

“Of course I won’t hurt any spiders,” said Joy.  “I only hurt things that are dangerous and have to be chased away.  I won’t know about being afraid, though, until the next time I see a spider.”

“Well, that might be pretty soon,” answered the voice.  “If you think you are ready, just look behind the picture frame.  Take a deep breath first, though.”

Joy took a very deep breath and looked behind her grandma’s picture.


There was a little, tiny spider, who had just spun a little, tiny web behind the picture frame.  Joy caught her breath, let it out slowly, and WASN’T AFRAID!

“See?” said the little spider.  “It’s hard to be afraid of someone you’ve talked with.  Any other problems I can help you with?”

“Not right now,” replied Joy.  “You’ve done plenty for one day, but please stay.  You are a good friend.  Is there anything I can do for you?”

“Just one thing.  Could you please chase that mosquito over this way?  If I have her for dinner, she won’t be munching on you later.”

“It’s nice having someone protecting me for a change,” laughed Joy.


Grandmother Spider story on Frog and Friends CD, recorded, with some music by Mike Anderson

NCLB Murder



The NCLB (Nickleby) Murder
by Mary Garrett
(Putting homicidal thoughts into fiction rather than action . . . . This is a work of fiction; any resemblance to real persons is just the result of good writing).
“Damn, something stinks!”
“Tony, your language please,” responded Mrs. Sweet. She was the perfect special ed. teacher, caring, patient, and no-nonsense. She often reminded her students that with one letter changed, her name was “Sweat,” and she expected them to work hard.
“Sorry, Mrs. Sweet, but it really does stink bad, like something died in the dumpster.”
“What? That should just be clean paper; there shouldn’t be a smell. If someone dumped garbage in here, the recycling company won’t pay for the paper.” The funds from the paper recycling project paid for a number of projects for the students, things like field trips and job shadowing that had been cut from the budget. The department took paper recycling seriously, even beyond the feel-good help-the-planet aspects.
As she moved within range, Mrs. Sweet clapped her hand over her nose and mouth and backed away. “D. . ., oops, sorry. That is a terrible smell, Tony. Don’t empty any more bins. We’ll put them in the foyer and deal with them later. I’ll get someone to check this out.”
A call to the office brought Jan, the head custodian, to investigate. Her hair pulled back in a clip, her uniform spotless (how did she keep it that way?), a tall ladder in one hand and a shovel in the other, Jan smiled a greeting. “Let’s get this sorted, Sarah,” she said. “The kids need that money for their trips. After that last fieldtrip to the supermarket, my helpers talked about stocking shelves for weeks.”
“Thanks, Jan. I hate to bother you, but . ..”
“It’s no bother; I’m glad to help. Besides, the recycling program means we carry out a lot less trash every evening. It’s win/win.”
Climbing the ladder and using the shovel to move aside some of the paper, Jan looked in the dumpster. “It could be a stray garbage bag, or maybe another raccoon. There was one last week. We propped a tree branch inside and it climbed out. Maybe this one wasn’t as lucky.” Jan suddenly stopped speaking, gripped the edge of the dumpster, and fell from the ladder, hitting her head as she fell.
“Jan! What is it? Are you hurt?”
A trickle of blood marked her forehead, but Jan shook away her dizziness. “It’s nothing, I’m fine, but in the dumpster . . . would you take a look if you can stand to? I thought I saw . . a body . . . long, dark hair, white blouse. I hope I’m wrong. Could you check?”
“Yes, but you couldn’t have seen a body, and we need to get you to the nurse. That’s a nasty cut.” Sarah helped her friend up and then carefully climbed up the ladder. Peeking over the top, she saw a hand and a cascade of black hair. Her voice came out between a squeak and a whisper, “Damn, you’re right. This is terrible. The SRO office is right on the way to the nurse. Let’s take care of you and get help on the way.”
Sarah used the SRO designation to refer to the School Resource Officer. Ted seemed too informal for school, and Officer Sweet too formal for addressing her husband. Having a full-time police officer assigned to the school was justified by its size; with 2400 students, the high school was bigger than many towns in Missouri. Today it would be a real blessing to have a knowledgeable person on the scene.
Officer Sweet wasn’t in his office, which wasn’t unusual. He spent most of his time out around the campus, wherever his presence might help keep order or influence students. “The receptionist can page him and call 911,” Sarah decided, “as soon as we get you to the nurses’ office.”
The nurses sprang to action the second they saw Jan, cleaning her forehead, applying antiseptic, and covering the small cut with gauze. Ice pack on her forehead, Jan vaguely heard the office secretary page Officer Sweet to report at once. A few seconds later the bell rang and the hallways filled with shouting students. No power on earth can hold back a school full of students when the final bell rings, especially on a Friday afternoon.
Officer Sweet met Sarah at the back door of the school, and she showed him what they had found. “We didn’t touch anything, but Jan did move some papers with her shovel, to see what was in there,” she assured him.
“Well, it’s too late to keep the students at school, and it’s probably just as well to have them out of here, but we should have faculty stay,” he decided. “Could you have the office make an announcement for an emergency faculty meeting? I’m going to call for more officers. Oh, and could you ask them to cancel afterschool activities, too?”

The announcements set off a wave of rumors, and as teachers gathered in the commons, a a buzz of speculation filled the room. Everyone grew quiet as the principal took the microphone. “I am sorry to report,” began Dr. Wise, that we have suffered the loss of a member of our administrative team today. Police will be questioning each of you separately before you leave. I will appreciate your full cooperation with their investigation. Assistant Principal Martin worked hard for our students, and she will be missed.”
“Miss Martin?” exclaimed several teachers at once. “How? Why?”
“Details will be released later. Meanwhile, please give the police any help you can. Please remain in this room until called for questioning.”
Huddled groups of teachers, waiting to be called, discussed the news in whispers. “Miss Martin? The Martinet? I heard she was found in a dumpster.”
“No! That’s too gross, even for that pit bull.”
“Hush, you don’t want to be overheard talking like that.”
“Well, we’ve not made a secret of our problems with that Ass-Prin. It’s not going to help to start pretending now. We’re all on record, demanding an association representative at any meetings with Her Deviousness. Even so . . . a dumpster? No one deserves that.”
“No, no one does. Besides, I’ve really not had as many problems with her since we developed the ‘go limp for the bulldog’ strategy. Smile and nod and pretend to agree, and just like a bulldog when you go limp, she’d lose interest. Then we could go on to do what’s right for the students. I relabeled all my good tried-and-true materials with the titles from the ‘new and better’ workshop, and she complimented my ‘brilliant new lessons.’ It’s been working well for me.”
“That and the mantra you taught me, ‘May the deepest desires of her heart be satisfied,’ though I have to admit that sometimes it changes to Emilia’s line from Othello, ‘May (her) pernicious soul rot in hell half a grain a day.’”
“She is . . . was good at organizing schedules and test data,” said Marla.
“Not really. I’ve had to provide duplicate materials after she lost her copies. Also, she insisted on totally illogical room changes and wouldn’t listen to any requests to move classes to more suitable spaces. Besides, what is it they say? ‘The trains ran on time under Hitler.’ Efficiency doesn’t excuse anything.”
“And for all her emphasis on ‘data’ and other ‘administrivia,’ she never figured out that many of the students were just answering the tests with ‘ABACADABA’ repeated over and over.”
“Well, I heard that she’s good to her mother,” said Marla, who tried to see good in everyone, “and when she came back from Hawaii, she brought some lava rocks for me.”
“Did you know it’s considered very bad luck to take rocks or sand from Hawaii? People mail it back from all over the world to avoid the rage of Pele.”
“Maybe that’s it then, Pele. Otherwise, someone went beyond all our coping strategies and decided to ‘rid the house of her.’ I wonder who?”
Questioning went on for hours, but finally the exhausted teachers were allowed to leave, with the admonition to “stay available for further questions.” Much later, Officer Sweet returned to his own home and a fitful night’s sleep. In the morning, the smell of coffee and cinnamon rolls drew him from his bed.
“You do know how to pamper a guy,” he yawned, smiling at Sarah.
“I even set the crossword aside for you, Ted, but have some coffee first to wake up your ‘little gray cells.’ How’s it going?”
“Too many suspects. It would be easier to ask who didn’t have a problem with her. Also too many means of death.”
“I thought you said a blow the head was the cause. It’s not?”
“Not enough bleeding or swelling. It could have caused a headache, perhaps unconsciousness, but not death. The examiner also considered suffocation from that clay mask on her face, but it wasn’t tight enough to obstruct breathing. We’re waiting for labs on stomach contents and the clay. There’s also that odd message painted in red on the front of her blouse, ‘LB.’ What do you think that could mean?”
“I could hazard a guess . . . .,” began Sarah. “She did have a reputation for, uh, disregarding the truth . . .”
“Liar?? but the ‘B’? Oh Lying B . . . . Cold, really cold. Do you have any ideas about who might have done it? She’s had so many problems with so many people.”
“Too many,” Sarah agreed. Most of the teachers she supervised wouldn’t even meet with her unless accompanied by a representative from the teachers’ association. I can’t think of any teachers who would kill her, though. I’ve worked at this school for years, and the teachers work through channels to get things corrected. I just don’t see this.”
“Anyone can snap if pushed far enough,” said Ted. “Who has been pushed lately?”
“Teachers in nearly every department she covers: business, science, drama, art, FACS.”
“Family And Consumer Science — get with it, Ted. It hasn’t been Home Ec. for years. English is now Communication Arts. Everything changes.”
“And yet remains the same . . . . human rage is a powerful motive. Let’s see if anything connects. The clay mask? Art department?”
“Possibly, and what was she hit with? Have you figured that out?”
“We are trying to match that, some kind of the blunt instrument with sharp edges. We do know that the papers that were covering her are the test papers from the PLAN and Terra-Nova testing that were reported missing from the Guidance files.”
“Then logically,” mused Sarah, if the alphabet soup of test papers was targeted, might there be a connection? What about the new ‘Big Brother is watching’ scantron grading machine?”
“I’ll have that checked. Thanks,” smiled Ted. “Let’s tackle that puzzle before I go in to work.”
Shoulder to shoulder crossword puzzle solving was a cozy ritual to start to their days. Not only did their respective areas of expertise cover nearly any topic, but also her left hand and his right hardly ever got in each other’s way while working. The world seemed logical as they filled in the little squares.
Students returned to school on Monday, full of questions and speculation. Dr. Wise took the P.A. microphone to inform the students of the loss and ended with, “We have brought in crisis counselors. Anyone in need of help dealing with this terrible event, please go to Guidance to speak with someone. Teachers, if you or your classes need assistance, please call the office, and a counselor will come to your room. Anyone with information that could help the police investigation, please speak with Officer Sweet or with one of the principals.”
To everyone’s great surprise, no one came to Guidance, and when the counselors took the initiative and went to classrooms, they were told that they weren’t needed. “We’re all just fine, really,” answered class after class of students who preferred to go on with their normal routine. Things did seem normal, except for posters with large letters, CLB, that appeared in nearly every hallway of the building. No one admitted to knowing how or why they were there.
Since the counselors weren’t needed to deal with grief, they agreed to substitute for teachers who were called for further questioning. Officer Sweet used the Guidance conference room, more roomy and less threatening than his small office. Coffee and cookies from the business department helped to open the conversations, and his familiarity with the campus helped him select and approach teachers most likely to hold a grudge against the deceased Miss Martin. Most teachers willingly admitted to having had problems with “The Martinet” but denied any possibility of physically acting on their hostility.
“It’s true that I disliked her,” said Miss Garnet, “and that she had the habit of targeting anyone who disagreed with her, but while I might have fantasized about ‘putting down the bulldog,’ and while I received numerous facetious offers to ‘help hide the body,’ it was just talk. No one I know would ever actually do anything like that; we are just too law-abiding.”
“What did you do about these problems?” asked Sweet.
“Several teachers have filed grievances through the teachers’ association, for unfair treatment, harassment, unprofessional conduct. She told one teacher approaching retirement that she wasn’t a ‘team player’ and assigned another to do written homework for being sick on the day of a professional development meeting. It’s as if she wants to ‘beat the lame ducks,’ to mix a metaphor.
“I filed a grievance myself when she refused to reschedule meetings away from the lower level of the building,. Mold levels are higher downstairs, so I don’t go there. If I had gone to that meeting, I would have been out sick the rest of the week. She didn’t care. She said I should retire on disability if I couldn’t meet where she wanted me to, and later she denied ever having said it. That’s why many teachers wouldn’t meet alone with her; we would always arrange to have a rep from the union attend the meetings with us.”
“Of course I was angry when she canceled our Shakespeare trip,” admitted Ms. York, the drama teacher. “Accountability and test scores seem to be all that matter now, as if the students are going to remember or be changed by any of these tests. ‘There are more things in heaven and on earth than are dreamt of in your’ tests! Shakespeare not academically relevant? What sort of mind can’t see the relevance of a live performance of Shakespeare? We are battling statisticians for the soul of education.
“I wouldn’t have killed her, though. What good would that do? Besides, she was on her way out after her latest escapade, refusing to send an escort for a teacher who was threatened by a former student. Once that went to a hearing, she wouldn’t have been in this building, or that position, any longer. She wasn’t that competent anyway, arbitrarily giving and taking away student privileges, even misspelling it ‘priviledge’ on the senior privilege cards.
“She seemed to have a unfailing ability to make any situation worse. I’m thinking of the student who lost her cell phone at lunch. The girl’s friends tried to help find her phone by phoning her and listening for the phone, and Miss Martin spent the rest of the afternoon recording the incoming numbers, since they were all breaking the rules by having their phones turned on. By the end of the day, the girl was nearly hysterical looking for that phone. It would have been so easy to just give the phone back in the first place.”
“The art department has been under siege,” complained Mr. Armstrong. “Our budgets have been cut and field trips are no longer approved. We used to take trips to the art museum and botanical gardens. My students could branch out and show creativity. Now everything I do comes straight from the final, the same final for all classes on all three campuses. It’s hard to force creative people into standardized formats, but I put my anger into my canvases, not into homicide. My mother, bless her, buys paper and markers at the Dollar Store for my students to use.”
“As a science teacher, I felt I was under extra scrutiny,” said Ms. Pasteur. “It made me feel nervous and inadequate, until someone told me that Ms. Martin had once said during an administrative reorganization that she hoped she wouldn’t have to go back into the classroom; she hated the idea of setting up all those labs. I figured that if she couldn’t or wouldn’t do the job herself, she didn’t have all that much room to criticize me, so I’ll just continue to do what I know is best for my students.”
“I never was bothered by her,” asserted Star Phillips, business teacher. “When principals get the mistaken notion that they are my bosses, I remind myself that they are actually supply clerks. They are here to handle schedules, budgets, and discipline, to get me what I need to do the real work of teaching, and that’s what I expect them to do. She had no grasp of the things needed to run a schedule or budget well. She’d focus on silly details like having all the window shades at the same level.”
Mr. Roberts, the P.E. teacher, had no comment regarding the murder, other than, “You have mistaken me for someone who cares.”
Sweet’s final meeting was with the former head custodian, Curtis Larson, who said, “Yes, there was some resentment over the suspension and firing of most of the old staff. It was punitive and no way to treat people who work so hard for so little. None of us trusted her. We figured she’d do the same to anyone got on her bad side. Mostly, we tried to avoid her as much as we could. She may have deserved what she got, but I can’t see any of my people actually committing murder. Most of us just waited for a chance at another position. I’m much better off now in my new job; in a way she did me a favor.”


The ME’s report that afternoon shed more confusion over the matter. “Stomach contents revealed sodium sulfate, easily available in the science lab, mixed in with something sweet and creamy, possibly the sauce on the bread pudding the FACS students shared with several staff members that day,” Dr. Warner reported to Officer Sweet, “but in too small a quantity to kill, and digestion hadn’t progressed far enough to have caused more than a little stomach upset. The head wound, not serious enough to have caused death, perfectly matches the new Grade Manager scantron machine, which also has traces of her blood.”
“That machine has been a controversial part of the new data system,” explained Sweet. “It correlates data on all the students, supposedly to show what teaching methods are most effective. Speculation is that it will be used to compare teachers for evaluations. It’s also slower and harder to use than the old scantrons, so it’s taking longer to finish grades for finals, and there’s already enough tension at the end of a semester. One of the teachers said they are spending so much time on testing, there’s no time for teaching. It’s like a pig farmer weighing the pigs but never feeding them, and then wondering why they don’t gain weight.”

“That’s a motive for destroying the machine perhaps, but the principal? Isn’t that a bit like ‘killing the messenger’? By the way, the clay from the mask nearly matched the clay in the art department, but had a higher level of aspergillus fumagatus, a type of mold.”
“Mold!” exclaimed Sweet. “Several of the teachers have complained of allergies to mold, and the lower level has had visible mold scraped off and sent for testing. I’ll get those records for comparison.”
“Martin’s medical records showed an allergy to mold,” added Dr. Warner. “If it was a severe allergy, the mold on that mask could have been the final cause of death. Was her allergy common knowledge?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Then it looks as if our inept murderer accidentally stumbled on an effective method.”
The CLB mystery notes continued to be found throughout the school, with additions. “Nickleby slew education, Nickleby must not live.”
“Who’s Nickleby?” asked one of the young detectives.
Officer Sweet explained, “Nickleby is the educator’s pronunciation of the No Child Left Behind law, NCLB, the ‘high-stakes testing’ that is now running, some say ruining, the educational process. If a school district doesn’t improve scores, it can lose funding or be taken over by outside management. Pressure to do well on the tests is high, and the tests are so long that one teacher asked me to arrest the makers of the test for child abuse.”
“So CLB?”
“Aha,” said Sweet. “I didn’t pick up on that. Without the N for No, it would be ‘Child or Children Left Behind’– students — and we’ve only been looking at teachers. Why didn’t I see it? The teachers may be angry, but they have the maturity and means to go through channels. Students would be more impulsive. In a way, they also have more at stake. Teachers can ride out the swing of the educational pendulum, knowing that these fads have a way of correcting themselves as good sense takes over. Students only have their few years of high school and might feel they will never recover the opportunities they’ve lost. They are also more emotional and protective of their school and their teachers. A couple of years ago, a group of students were planning to beat up a fireman who yelled at my wife during a fire drill. We talked them out of the notion. She told them that with her mother so sick, she just didn’t have time to visit them in jail.”
“Yeah, kids could have done it, but do you think we’ll have any luck finding the perpetrators now? We let them all go home the first day, and the evidence is pretty cold now.”
“True, and everything they used was easily available to dozens of people,” agreed Sweet.
“The final outcome of this investigation may be, ‘Assassinated by the spirit of education.’”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * my original ending — then a friend insisted on “justice” * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“We’ll keep looking, though, and wait for somebody to talk,” said Sweet. “Almost always somebody will say something. We’ve solved several cases, thanks to ‘loose lips.’”

It was a long and patient twelve years, with no action on the case except monthly phone calls from Mrs. Martin, whose daughter really had been good to her. Officer Sweet was still on duty, befriending students, trying to “keep a lid on” the activities of impulsive youth, having talks with those who thought they might enjoy a career in law enforcement. He kept in touch with graduates as well, even attending reunions to catch up with the lives of his “kids.” Troubled students who had straightened out their lives took special pride in reporting their success to him. It made all his hard work worthwhile.
One warm summer evening, during a Ten-Year Reunion celebration, a group of former students gathered around a table in the Senior Courtyard, reminiscing on the years when this area was off-limits to them as underclassmen and the final, glorious senior year when they ate lunch at this very table nearly every nice day. “This was such a cool place for lunch our senior year,” sighed Melissa, flashing her beautiful smile. “I was in all the plays, headed for New York. Our drama program was the BEST! Things really took off once . . . . .” and she ended with a frown.
“Art, too,” remarked the short-haired girl beside her. “It was wonderful to be able to experiment with new techniques, visit the art galleries, enter regional shows. Things really opened up for us. Without all those experiences, I doubt I would have made it to the Sorbonne. Only . . .” She bowed her head and looked down.
“Oh, stop,” growled an athletic young man. “I don’t regret C.L.B. at all! If things had gone on the way they were, we’d all have been “left behind.” Athletics would have been cut next. I needed my scholarship to get to college, and now I’m being offered coaching positions all over. We did a lot of good for this school, for all the students. Chuck wouldn’t be at M.I.T. if we hadn’t saved the science department. . . so many others wouldn’t have had the chance they deserved.” His muscular build was enhanced by the custom-tailored suit, but his face betrayed the regret his words denied.
“It’s just that, you know, it’s a human life!” said Melissa. “You can’t just throw away a life because of disagreements. I keep thinking of that year and wishing we’d found some other way, an end run around the restrictions, like when we ‘liberated’ the Shakespeare tickets and signed out for ‘doctors’ appointments’ so we could go. Mandy could still have done her art; you could still have competed; I could still act, but because of us Miss Martin lost everything, and the people in her life lost her forever. I wish I’d never been involved.”
“What’s done is done, and regrets don’t accomplish anything,” said Mandy. “The real villain was the stupid policies, but we could only see Miss Martin. We need to go forward and try to do as much good as we can with our lives. Maybe we can help others see past the masks and fight the real evil in the world instead of the figureheads.”
“Yes, said Chuck, “and protect our schools and education through school boards and elections, so future students won’t be frustrated pawns like we were. We need to be more involved than our parents were and not let education be taken hostage by politics.”
“Fine words,” said a voice behind them, and they exchanged guilty looks.
“Oh, hi, Officer Sweet. Join us?” Chuck hoped he’d managed to sound normal.
“Yes, I will. You’ve all done so well since you left here. I hope you don’t mind a bit of instruction from an old friend . . . you know, one of my most important rules of crime-solving is that someone always talks. Sometimes I have to wait a very long time, but I haven’t been disappointed yet. Someone,” he repeated, looking around the table, “always talks.”
He reached under the table and pulled out a small “bug.”
“Another basic fact is that there is no statute of limitations on murder. A murder case is never closed, especially when the victim’s mother calls faithfully every month to keep the memory of her good daughter alive. A final bit of philosophy you might want to consider is that the ends seldom justify the means. I’m afraid your successful lives are about to take a drastic u-turn. Don’t go anywhere. We’re arranging special accommodations for all of you until your arraignment.”
Their eyes focused on the “quote wall” ahead of them. Perhaps it was just a trick of light, but the most prominent seemed to be the Ben Franklin quote, “Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.”