Reads: 43

15

The Excuse

 

There was an old, disused barn about two miles from my house, located in a muddy field that hadn’t grown crops in years. We landed and guided the Indestructo inside the barn. I checked my watch and saw that I had to be in bed really soon. I quickly told the professor what I had seen in Mr. Lewis's email, showing him the evidence on my phone.

“We have an hour before my parents will start wondering where I am, professor.”

“I knew it!” he shouted. “Trenchbog, Lewis, Alistair Sheehan, and those two police officers. They’ve been crawling on my back for years, trying to get me thrown in prison, and I knew they were up to no good! They want me locked up so they can sell my machines, and then they can use that money and the town’s funds to shut down your school, buy the land and and own the whole town. They’ll be the most powerful people in the area. This is a disgrace to the town and to the community. It all makes sense now. I was in the way of their work. With me out of the way, and selling my inventions, nobody can stop them.”

“The email said my school would run out of money in a year,” I said. “We'll be forced to go to school in Wormshead. It's a rough place, and the people there are mean.”

“My entire life’s work is gone!” said the professor, pacing around the barn and throwing empty buckets at the wall. He sank to his knees. “One lousy invention after another, wiped out. Hill, we need to win this competition, and we need a great idea. We must work together. That’s our only way out of this. We can take the prize money and give it to your school. But I don't think it will be enough to keep it open. We can't let those nasty men beat us and destroy this town. They are the real evil here, not me. Not me!”

“Professor, I need to get home. We can meet tomorrow.”

“There’s no escaping from this, young man. You have to stay here.”

“I can't stay here, because I'll get into trouble. My parents will ground me again. You can stay here in the barn. Just hide in the hay. I’ll come back for you tomorrow.”

“Hill, you broke me out of prison. There’s a manhunt on for me right now. With the combined police force of the entire area, they’ll sniff me out in a couple of hours and they'll take me straight back to Wormshead prison. You have to hide me, but not here.” 

“Professor…”

“Take me with you to your home. I have nothing else. I have nobody else. Please.”

“Look. I know I can’t leave you here, and I feel bad. But if my parents see you, then they’ll go baboon crazy. They’ll call the police and you’ll be arrested, and then I’ll be grounded for ten years. I’ll probably go to prison too, just for helping you!”

“If they are honest, decent people, and I’m sure your parents are, even though they are tough on you most of the time. If they are honest, then they will see the truth and accept it. If they are concerned about your school, and the fate of this town, they must act. It’s worth the risk. I don't think you'll get in trouble. Just tell them the truth.”

“Professor, I’ve already disappointed and infuriated my parents enough. I’m the biggest failure of their lives.”

“Don’t say that about yourself,” he said with a touch of tenderness. “Don’t ever put yourself down, Hill. They love you. They want the best for you. You must see this. We must save Hamley from these criminals, the real criminals. This is different. I’m innocent, and when Mayor Belch sees the evidence, and your parents see the evidence, then they’ll decide with their hearts if it is right to condemn an innocent man. That will reveal who they really are. If your parents are truly good people, they will help us.”

I just hoped for an ounce of empathy and understanding from my parents. If they could see, like I could, who the professor really was - an impatient but kind, angry but considerate, overly passionate but sensible man, and someone who honestly cared about the community and wanted to protect and improve it, then perhaps my parents could change their minds about him.

“You must talk to them, Hill. They won’t listen to me.”

“Then let’s get out of here,” I said.

We ran through the field and my shoes got caked in mud. We sloshed and trenched though the streets, constantly worried about seeing a police car or an officer. When we reached Pennington Lane, we kept watch for sight of Mr. Lewis spying on the neighbourhood, and as there was nobody around, we kept running until we reached my house.

“What are you going to tell them?” the professor said as we stood on my porch.

“The truth,” I said, and as I went to ring the doorbell, the door suddenly opened by itself.

“Tom! I was just going out to the car…”

My dad’s voice trailed off as he saw the professor in his muddied, vomit covered prison clothing, with the few hairs on his head battered by the wind, his wooden eye looking towards his nose, and a sympathetic, begging smile on his face.

“Carol!” he shouted, and my mum joined him with immediate suspicion and surprise.

“Hi, Mum! Hi, Dad!" I said enthusiastically. "This is my friend, Professor Wernie Walker. Can he stay at our house tonight? Or for the next few months?”

“Words cannot express how disgusted I am with you right now,” said my mum, snatching me by the collar and pulling me indoors. “After we placed our trust in you, I knew you would betray us!”

“Mum, wait!”

“Go to your room and don’t come out!”

“Please, Dad. There’s a reason for this.”

“I don’t want to hear it,” said Dad. “I’m calling the police. He’s going to prison and you are not leaving your bedroom for a long time!”

“Wait,” said the professor, placing a hand on the door as my dad tried to close it. “Tom is right. You must listen to him. He can explain.”

"Don't you dare try to come into my house!" snapped my dad.

"Mr. Hill, please just listen for once. Your son hasn't done anything wrong."

My dad thought for a moment, gazed at me with suspicion, and closed the door anyway. I expected him to give me another goal kick, or an ear slap, or something to release his anger. I wouldn’t have blamed him if he did. Instead, he folded his arms like he did whenever he was confused.

“We should give Tom a chance to explain,” he finally said, catching my mum by surprise.

“We’ll do no such thing!” she snapped. “You are in serious trouble, and not just with us, with the police too! Dennis, tell him.”

“Carol, wait. He’s been good for the whole month.”

“Dad, you must let me speak,” I said in a pleading tone. I saw a glimmer of sympathy on my dad’s face. I wondered if he was going to give me chance to explain my actions. Then he spoke again:

“Tom, if there’s something you need to tell us, then we had better sit down. You had better have the brilliant, inspiring excuse for your behaviour!"

My mum let go of my collar and my dad suddenly opened the door. Professor Walker’s expression hadn’t changed. He was still grinning with his hands clasped together like he was muttering a silent prayer. My dad stared at him, looking him up and down and noticing the mess we had both been through.

“You had better come in,” Dad finally said. “Take off your shoes, go into the living room and sit at the table. Don’t go anywhere else. I’m watching you.” The professor countered my dad’s stern speech with a confident ‘thank you’ and a firm handshake. Then the professor whispered to me, “Good job, Hill!”

My parents sat either side of me at the table. It felt like the professor was miles away, even though he was sitting on the opposite end of the table me with a warm cup of tea and one chocolate cookie. I gave him that. He smiled at my parents, and they remained staring at him with their trademark resting disappointment face. I wondered if the professor felt like the naughty child with two angry parents staring him down.

After showing my parents the picture and video evidence on my phone, the professor sat patiently waiting for my parents to say something.

“If this is true,” my dad began, “and I hope it is, then professor, you’ve been treated unfairly, and this is a conspiracy which he have to tell the mayor about. I’m not sure if we can tell the police. They may be involved. You can’t go outside, professor. You have to stay here. We can keep you for a while, but sooner or later, the police will come knocking on our door. There’s also the chance that we’ll all be in deep trouble.”

“Leave that to Tom,” said the professor. “I’ve seen his sorting machine. It’s one of the best pieces of work I’ve seen in many years. If he can invent a product like that, I’m sure that he can come up with a plan to get us out of this mess.”

I enjoyed the way the professor trusted me to find a solution, and the positive review he had given my sorting machine. He had previously been obsessive about taking control of testing products and inventions. He had told me not to touch anything in the Old Mill without his permission. But now he was giving me the chance to prove myself, and to prove everyone else wrong.

“Well, I can’t come up with a plan if I don’t have any help,” I said.

“It’s too dangerous for me to leave the house, Tom," said the professor. "I would need to wear some kind of ridiculous costume to hide my identity.”

His joke fell flat, because then I suggested something that he had ever considered. Later, he came into our dining room wearing my polar bear suit. His pipe was sticking out of its mouth.

“I will draw too much attention to myself wearing this,” he said, putting the head on properly after it nearly fell off. “It’s a bad idea. Do you have a pilot’s outfit? Do you have any women’s clothes?”

“You’re fine,” I said. “Just lose the pipe. I’ve never seen a smoking polar bear before.” That evening, we hatched a plan.

 


Submitted: December 23, 2021

© Copyright 2022 Richard C. Parr. All rights reserved.

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