by Jake Teeny
It seemed impossible, no, it was impossible that the
squat, balding man, with untrimmed, weedy, nose hair had
found Mr. Jackson. But unbelievably, as he stood watch at
the school playground, that eggshell of a man named
Sherman waddled toward him.

“Teacher Jackson,” said a little dark-haired girl as she
tugged on his slacks, “I let Tommy play with my hula hoop.
That deserves a gold star.”

“Not now. I’m busy.”

“But I helped him, Teacher Jackson. And my mom says
people who help others are like Jesus and Jesus had a gold
star so I deserve a gold star.”

“Well, right now I don’t have any stars to give you.”

Sherman was trying to pass between the pendulums of
children on the swing set but couldn’t time his steps
properly. Why the idiot didn’t just walk around…

“Can you give me one of Tommy’s gold stars then?”

“What? No. Listen. Teacher Jackson is busy right now, and
can’t be bothered.” Sawdust splattered everywhere as a
child swung backward and struck Sherman, sprawling him
into the wood chips. “If you speak to me again, I will be
forced to
remove one of your gold stars.”

“But Teacher Jackson, that’s not—”

“Uh! Uh! Gold star, remember?”

Returning to his feet, Sherman staggered forward, blinking
and shaking his face like Wile E. Coyote after an anvil
flattened his head. Squeals of giggles applauded his
performance from behind.

“Now scram, Tina, and go play kickball or something.”

“My name’s Annabel.”

“Hey! Gold star, remember?”

The little girl opened her mouth to retort but then closed it.
The stuffed zebra was only four gold stars away, and she
had been praying every night before she went to sleep that
she would earn it soon. She did not intend to waste all that
praying; she hurried off.

“Sherman!” hissed Mr. Jackson when the dumpy man drew
near. “What the hell are you doing here?”

Still a bit dazed, Sherman worked his mouth as if he were
trying to scrape a hair from his tongue. “I could ask you the
same thing.”

“I work here,” snapped Mr. Jackson. “Speaking of which, how
the hell did you—”

“Hold the telephone, Mr. Double-O-Seven. I’ll be the one
asking the questions here.”

Telephone? Oh-oh-seven?

“Sherman, what on earth are you talking about?”

The frumpy man—his monogrammed bowling shirt still
powdered with wood shavings—squinted his eyes and
snarled his lips as he stared at Mr. Jackson with the
terrifying violence of a provoked tiger.

Or at least Sherman intended it that way. He really
appeared like he was trying to quiet a boisterous fart.


“You know what, Sherman?”

“That’s right. What do I know?”

Everything inside Mr. Jackson politely urged him to reach
forward and strangle Sherman, to watch his plump face turn
blue and pucker in surprise as he calmly, happily, restrained
all sound from ever leaving the man again.

“Why don’t we go over there,” said Mr. Jackson, motioning
to a shaded spot near the brick corner of a classroom.
Sherman peered at it, then back to the playground, then
back to their destination, then to something under his
fingernail. Finally, he faced Mr. Jackson, an air of dignity as
pungent as the man’s own, spoiled-fish body odor and
nodded once. Apparently the new area would suffice.

The two hunkered against the wall, the pleasant autumn
day no longer welcomed.

“Now, what is it you seem to
know?” asked Mr. Jackson.

“Let’s just say…I know my onions.”

Mr. Jackson sensed an ulcer begin to eat at the lining of his
stomach. “Sherman.
Please, for the love of God, tell me
what the hell you’re talking about.”

Sherman licked his lips and gave his best impression of a
suave, secret agent moments before he disclosed the
location of the bomb. But once again, Sherman just looked
like he was trying to suppress his flatulence.

I figured out how you were going to get the money and
then frame me for taking it.”

“What? Keep your voice down,” hissed Mr. Jackson. “What
do you mean?”

“I had been copying down the invoices each night as I
closed up the bowling alley and stored them in my locker
just as you said, when I started to wonder why you had me
copy them all down anyway. What would it matter if we
knew how much money was in the safe right before we steal
from it? And then I realized. They’ll have my fingerprints all
over that pen I’ve been copying the invoices with. You were
trying to set me up.”

“Sherman, what are you talking about? I would never do
that.” He would. “You’re my pal, my friend.” He wasn’t. “I
wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize your share of the
money.” He had. But fingerprints? This lunatic thought he
was trying to frame Sherman with fingerprints on a pen? If
Mr. Jackson had known Sherman’s incompetence reached this

“Then explain to me why I’ve been using the same pen
every time I copy down those numbers.”

“I don’t know, Sherman. Because you like the color?”

do like blue…Hey! You must have known that and put the
pen there on purpose!”

“Sherman, that was a joke. I didn’t put the pen there. You
can use any pen you’d like. Hell, use a pencil.”

“Oh, I bet you’d like that, wouldn’t you? Get even more
fingerprints from the lead on the paper.”

“Sherman. Listen—”

“Betrayal! Betrayal!” yelled Sherman, waving his arms above
his head.

Mr. Jackson’s whole body tensed, and he flung his hand to
constrain the man’s lips but Sherman immediately started to
lick Mr. Jackson’s palm.

Some of the teachers on the other side of playground
glanced toward the commotion, but Mr. Jackson raised a
shaky and slightly slobbered-on hand, and they lost interest.

“What the hell has gotten into you?” hissed Mr. Jackson as
he wiped his hand on his new Dockers (thank goodness he
had only paid half-price for them).

“Not only have I
felt betrayal,” said Sherman, “but I’ve
tasted it now, too. And it tastes like peanut butter. And

Mr. Jackson took a deep breath. “Sherman, just relax. I
haven’t betrayed you. Just tell me what would make
everything fine again and we’ll see if we can’t make that

“I want to use a new pen.”

“Then use a new pen.”

“And I want it to have black ink, not blue.”

“Wonderful. I’ll get you a new black pen. I have one in—”

I’ll get the black pen this time.”

“Even better. Now, is that all? Because you’re not supposed
to be on school property.” It was pure luck that Sister
Jeanine didn’t patrol recess today. Sirens would have blared
the moment she saw Sherman step onto the asphalt.

“One more thing,” said Sherman, and he ran his hand over
his head, his pathetic collection of hairs doing nothing to
organize. “I want a bigger pie for the slice.”

“You mean, you want a bigger slice of the pie?”

“You don’t tell me what I want!” shouted Sherman.

“Easy now,” said Mr. Jackson, quickly checking to see if any
of the teachers had looked over again. None had. “We
already decided on how much we’re each getting,

“Well, now I’m deciding that it should be different. I’m the
one who works at the bowling alley, and I’m the one who’s
going to steal it.”

“But I’m the one who came up with the plan.”

“But if I don’t like things, then you’re not allowed to like
them either.”

“Okay, Sherman. What were you thinking?” After this was all
over, Mr. Jackson promised himself he would give Sherman a
solid kick in the shin.

“I want to split it seventy-thirty.”

Mr. Jackson paused. “Did you want the seventy or the thirty?”

“What do you think?” snapped Sherman.

Mr. Jackson honestly wasn’t sure. The previous agreement
had Sherman receiving forty percent.

“You want…the thirty?”

“Of course I do! You think I didn’t realize you were trying to
stick me again by giving me all that money? The I.R.S.
would get suspicious if I declared my gross income and it’s
shot up without explanation. I’m not stupid, you know.”

Mr. Jackson blinked slowly a number of times. His lips
waited half open, not sure if they should form a laugh, an
insult, or some prayer of divine thanks. Instead they replied,
“If that’s truly how you feel, Sherman, I will be happy to
take seventy percent.”

“Good,” stated the plump bowling alley employee, content
as a turkey fed the day before Thanksgiving.

“Sherman. How did you find me here?”

“You have a bumper sticker with the school’s name on it so I
just drove here on my lunch break.”

The bumper sticker. Maybe Sherman wasn’t as stupid as Mr.
Jackson presumed. But upon review of the last thirty
seconds of conversation, he immediately retracted the

“Well, you better leave, Sherman. We don’t want people
getting suspicious because they’ve seen us together.”

“Good point,” said Sherman nodding. He withdrew a pair of
sunglasses from his chest pocket. It appeared as though his
prior tumble on the playground had mangled them, because
the right lens only covered half of his eye. But if they were
anything other than normal, Sherman didn’t notice as he
strode across the playground with a swagger that seemed to
imply he had just learned how to walk.

Mr. Jackson sighed and mumbled, “Once we steal this
money, I’ll never have to see that moron again.” He rubbed
at the back of his neck.

“Stealing’s not good, Teacher Jackson,” said a little voice
from around the corner. Something hard caught in Mr.
Jackson’s throat, and he felt as though a grappling hook
suddenly used his stomach for leverage. Proudly, the little
dark haired girl from earlier marched into view, her lips
pursed in a disapproving pout.

“My mom says people who steal don’t go to heaven where
you get to sleep on clouds and eat ice cream.”

“How long have you been there?” stuttered Mr. Jackson.
They should have never stood so close to the corner. Anyone
could have been listening on the other side, but of course
stupid Sherman had to—

“I heard you talking with that man. You said you were going
to steal money.”

“No, I didn’t say that.”

“Yes you did. I heard you say it a lot.”

“OK. Well…maybe I did. But I was just joking.”

“So then you lied to me? My mom says lying is for evil, bad
people who want to live with Satan for eternity.”

“What? No. I don’t—”

“And you talked about how you were stealing it from the
bowling alley, and you were getting seventy and he was
getting thirty, and how he likes black pens not blue ones.”

“Listen, Jenny, everything you just heard was—”

“My name’s Annabel! And his name’s Sherman. And yours is
Teacher Jackson. And the bowling alley is named AMT Lanes.
I read it on the back of his shirt. My mom sometimes takes
me there, but sometimes the heathens—”

“Listen, Annabel, how about we keep this our little secret
then, OK?” Mr. Jackson could feel sweat oozing down his
spine and the cool autumn air became tepid with discomfort.

“My mom says secrets is the language of Satan and we
shouldn’t speak like him.” She paused and solemnly
whispered, “He’s bad.”

“Well, what if we don’t call it a secret then?”

The little girl looked away to consider this, somewhat
puzzled. “Yeah?”

“What if—what if you just do me a
favor by not telling
anyone what you heard? Do you know what ‘favor’ means?”

“I think so,” said the little girl, scrunching her eyebrows.

“Could you tell Mr. Jackson what a favor is, then?”

Annabel paused and twirled a lock of her dark hair around
her finger. “It means lots of gold stars. Remember?”

Jake Teeny graduated from Santa Clara University with a dual degree
in psychology and philosophy, and currently attends Ohio State
University for a doctorate in social psychology. While not doing
research and schoolwork, Jake likes to box, play the piano, and list
things in groups of three. An index of his other publications as well as
his weekly blog, "Psychophilosophy Tips for Everyday Life," can be
found at
Short Story
$25 Prize