We were in English class the next afternoon when we heard the sirens.
“And so our unnamed narrator attempts to tell us not that he is innocent of murdering the old man, but what?” Ms. Hannum surveyed the room.
Generally speaking, I took a casual approach to reading assignments. I’d skim the material or buy Cliffs Notes and wing my essays with an above-average degree of success. But “The Tell-Tale Heart” was like four pages long, and I enjoyed it, so I raised my hand.
Before Ms. Hannum could call my name Benny said, “That he’s not crazy.”
“Very good, Benjamin,” said Ms. Hannum.
I said, “If you cut me off one more time I will knock you the fuck out!”
Everyone froze. Ms. Hannum’s jaw hung slack. Dead leaves rattled outside the window.
“Mister Zinn. I, for one, am shocked by your vulgar tongue.” Beside me, Benny snickered at her choice of words.
“Apologize to Mister Silver this instant.”
“Me? He’s the one who didn’t raise his hand. What about protocol?”
“Broken protocol is no cause for profanity. Apologize.”
“It’s okay, Ms. H. Ollie’s a little on edge today,” said Benny. “Speaking of protocol, I have a question of my own.”
She gripped the bridge of her nose. “Proceed.”
“The guy put the body parts ‘under the floorboards.’ Wouldn’t the cops have smelled something?”
Ms. Hannum sighed. “The police arrived very shortly thereafter.”
“Okay, fine. But let’s say he managed to keep it together for the interview. He still would’ve had to live with the smell for a while. Why didn’t he just bury him? And how, in eighteen-whatever-year-this-was, did he get all those body parts from the tub to the living room without leaving a trail of blood? It’s not like he had trash bags or a plastic tarp.”
“Mr. Silver, literature needn’t always be taken literally.”
Ms. Hannum turned to erase the chalkboard, which was when the police cruisers arrived out on Chickering Road with much fanfare, shattering any plans she might have had for the rest of the period. We craned our necks to see over the windowsill from our seats, until finally she said, “Go,” and we dashed to the windows.
The cops surrounded the building, backs to the wall, guns drawn, beacons blazing atop the cruisers. One of them kicked in the door and they raced up the stairs. Now that he was on the verge of capture, I wanted Mickey Thurston to burst from the third-floor window and leap to a power line and swing safely into a convertible and outrun the cops all the way to the border. I didn’t care about the money. I now realized that we were more like the greedy NFL owners than the underpaid gladiators on the field. Mickey was the real hero here, stealing from the fat-cat bankers, and Benny and I had to go and rat out Robin Hood just so we could buy more Star Wars figures than we’d ever need in three lifetimes. We were wrong, I mouthed to him, and he squinted at me, misunderstanding, but when we turned back to the window, the cops came out of the building empty-handed, scratching their heads.