Walter strode into his office, shook off his coat and hung it on the coat rack. He did a double take. A sprig of artificial holly and red plaid ribbon now adorned the top of the coat rack. Was there no escape? He sat down at the desk, glanced out the window and saw two cars pulling into the lot. Time. There was never enough. He leafed through papers to sign and sorted phone messages. The phone rang. He ignored it and let it ring over to voice mail. Technically, the office phones weren’t open for another thirty minutes.

Before too long, foot traffic began picking up in the hall. Locker doors were slamming and kids’ voices filtered into his office. The background chatter steadily built momentum. He could hear Peggy at her office desk, laughing with some of the students and chatting with some of the moms.

“Live one on line three!” Peggy yelled. This was her cue that she was putting through a call to Walter. He wished she wouldn’t refer to callers as “live ones,” but in Peggy’s words, that was just her way of “keeping it real.”

He lifted the receiver and said, “Walter, here.”

“Headmaster?” a gravely voice asked.

“Yes,” Walter said, “how may I help you?”

“This is Walter Hawkins?”

“Yes, Hawkins here.”

“Walter Hawkins in the old P.S. building on Jackson Street?”

“Is something wrong with our connection?” Walter asked, mildly irritated.

“No, just making sure you’re the right one.”

The voice was rich and deep. Too old to be the parent of a student. Could be a grandparent or guardian though.

“Well, this is Cypress and I’m the only Walter Hawkins, so you have the right one.” Get to it, man, Walter thought, I don’t have all day.

“I have something you might be interested in. Something that belongs to that school of yours.”

“Really?” Walter said detached, pulling open his middle desk drawer.

“Sure do.” The man sounded confident.

“What is it?” Walter asked.

“I’d like to show it to you,” the caller said.

“Sir, I have a school to tend to. Is this some kind of sales pitch?”

“No sales,” the caller said.

“Sorry, I don’t have time —” Walter was about to disconnect when the voice on the other end said something that drew him back.

“What was that?” Walter said. He froze.. “Go on, I’m listening.”

A small group of upper elementary students filed into Peggy’s office for morning announcements. This morning, Mrs. Moffat’s after-school French Club would be singing “Ah! Quel Grand Mystere.” That was, if they could contain themselves. They were giggly, squirrelly, and bouncing all over the place.

“Hold on, will you?” Walter asked the caller.

Walter dropped the phone, lunged for the door and swung it shut. He was back on the phone, pen in hand, taking notes.

“You’re sure?” Walter asked with an air of disbelief. “Absolutely sure?”

He brushed stray crystals from a used Sweet ‘n Low packet off his desk top, exhaled and said, “Sure, I’ll be there.

“East on 28th Street, then north. I know right where it is. I’ve driven by before. I’ll be there Saturday. Right. Ask for Ludwig. OK, see you then.”

Lori Borgman is author of "I Was a Better Mother Before I Had Kids," "Pass the Faith, Please" and "All Stressed Up and No Place To Go." Her weekly column, distributed by McClatchy-Tribune News Service, covers family life issues, values and contemporary culture with insight and a touch of humor.

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