by Martin Zeigler
Mr. Nielsen sat in his cubbyhole of an office,
just off his classroom. It was late. The hallway outside was dead quiet.
He was at his desk, grading homework. Checkmarks
for the right answers, X’s for the wrongs. There were far more checkmarks,
which was a good sign, but still too many X’s.
A man appeared at his office door. An
older guy, not a student.
"Help you?" Nielsen said.
"1967," the guy said. "This'll
be the year. Meadows High will make state for sure."
"And you are?"
"Gary Seltin's my son."
"Ah, okay. Come in. Have a
Seltin stayed where he was. "Coach Aden
says Gary is one hell of a player. But he'll need good grades to make the team."
"His other teachers will do their
part," Seltin said. "And he could sure use a B from you."
"He's at D level right now, I'm
Seltin stepped into the office, stood at
the side of the desk, close to Nielsen. "Doing what? Making circles and
"There's more to geometry than that."
"Not much more," Seltin said.
"I flipped through Gary's textbook. It's all useless, you ask me."
"Learning can often be its own reward."
"They teach you that in teacher
Nielsen shrugged again. "As I told Gary,
I can recommend a tutor who'll give him the one-on-one attention he needs."
Seltin snickered. "And I recommend
you listen to Coach Aden about what it means to have school spirit."
"It's a matter of being fair to my
"So you won't budge? Not even this
once?" Seltin said.
Seltin swung his fist, slammed it into
Nielsen's face. Nielsen's head lurched sideways, and he grunted. He whisked a
hand to his stricken cheekbone and held it there. "What on earth?" he
"I'll press charges, do you hear?"
"Is that so?" Seltin said.
"I belong to the Chamber of Commerce. I'm active in Kiwanis, Rotary. The
Boosters. I own and run the best trophy shop in the area. I sponsor more games
and competitions than you can count with your tiny teaching degree. Good luck trying
to make me look bad. And I'll expect that B by tomorrow."
Nielsen, at his office door, called out
to Seltin, at the classroom door, "Wait. Don't leave. Please come back in and
have a seat. Let's talk."
This time Seltin sat.
Nielsen stood by the chair. "We use
a straightedge for the lines," he said.
"And this for the circles."
With an aim straight, true, and swift,
Nielsen rammed a leg of a drawing compass up Seltin's right nostril until the
sharp end pierced solid tissue and stuck.
Nielsen held tight until Seltin's scream
settled into a whimper, then let go of the compass.
It didn't move. It hung sturdily from Seltin's
nose, the one leg still lodged in the nostril, the other leg visible and
pointing upward, the handle hovering motionless over Seltin's quivering mouth.
"Here's the deal," Nielsen
said. "I'll give Gary a B on one condition."
Seltin pawed at the hanging instrument,
wincing with each touch. "What," he said finally. "What condition?"
Nielsen rested his hands on the chair
arm and leaned forward. "That he do B work. Deal?"
"Really?" Nielsen said. He reached
out toward the compass.
"Okay! Okay!" Seltin said.
"Deal! Now get this thing out!"
"I'm going to have to yank it. Really
Sweat streamed down from Seltin's hairline.
"Do what you have to do."
"Will do," Nielsen said.
"And, oh, one more thing. As one good person to another, can I give you
some friendly advice?"
Nielsen tapped his finger on the tip of
Seltin's nose. "On your way out, try not to bloody the floor."
Martin Zeigler writes short fiction,
primarily mystery, science fiction, and horror. His stories have appeared in Yellow
Mama, Mystery Magazine (formerly Mystery Weekly Magazine),
the anthology Crimeucopia―As In Funny Ha-Ha or Just Peculiar, and
the anthology Die Laughing: An Anthology of Humorous Mysteries.
Besides writing, Marty enjoys watching movies, playing the piano, and going for
long walks. He makes his home in the Pacific Northwest.