“You have made a very poor start, sir,” said Mr Hamilton, the assistant headmaster.
Why did he call me ‘sir,’ I wondered, when the tone of his voice said ‘little boy?’
I was in trouble for my conduct again. That was happening a lot since I’d arrived in New Zealand, about three months before.
“Stabbed who in the heart, sir?” I asked. I didn’t yet understand the New Zealand accent very well and wouldn’t you know it? One of the people I understood the least was Mr Hamilton.
“Made a poor start, boy!” he corrected me raising his voice.
“Yes sir,” I said.
I really was trying my best at school, but it was hard being the new kid from America with the funny yank accent and baffling stupidity about everything. And the lessons. Who knew other countries had their own history and geography and social studies? Not me. Even English wasn’t English anymore, not the way they spoke it and spelled it. I was tall and gawky too, an easy target for the derision and ridicule of my schoolmates.
Unknown to me at the time I was learning one of life’s lessons.
The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.
I sat and listened as Mr Hamilton droned on about what a bad boy I was and how much trouble I caused everybody and when would I ever learn? There was also the usual reminder about the glory of Avondale College and its noble traditions, and how I wasn’t living up to them either. With every minute in his musty office the feeling of confusion and failure weighed heavier and heavier upon me. It was like some dream where you are on trial for you don’t know what in some place that you never have been and everybody there whom you never have met is ready to convict you just to teach you a lesson that you never will forget.
I was sitting there listening to Mr Hamilton's oration about what a failure I was when suddenly, unbidden to my mind came a childhood recollection.
I can’t help it. Sometimes things pop into my head.
It probably happens to you sometimes, too.
It was a vivid recollection about Mr Wilson, the angry man who resided in the house down the street when we lived in Englewood, California. I must have been about seven or eight years old at the time.
It was summer.
Hot, bright, dry.
I could almost hear the cicadas singing and smell the newly mown grass.
“Keep the freaking freak off it, you little freaking so-and-sos!”
He used to run out from his house hitching up his trousers as the screen door slammed behind him and shout forth a volley of hateful cuss words if we ever so much as set one foot on his precious lawn! He spent countless hours in his yard, pruning or mowing or whatever, glaring at us all the while, daring us to, “Just try something, you little sons of bitches!”
When I later mischievously asked my mother what a ‘sons of bitches’ was, she said to ask your father, then she instructed me to pass Mr Wilson’s house on the other side of the street in future. To spare her feelings, I had not asked my mother about the really bad words he had hurled at us.
Stupidly, I asked my father what a couple of them meant and all I got for my trouble was to have my mouth washed out with soap and sent to bed early without my dinner.
We children of the neighborhood (I recall there were at least a dozen of us together at any one time that summer) applied our fairy tale morals to the situation and came to the conclusion that the angry, cursing gardener was simply … evil.
The worst sort of grownup.
Thankfully, apart from our teachers, they were rare.
There could be no other reason, in our limited experience of life, for Mr Wilson's angry actions, and we believed the most fabulous myths about him. How dogs that did their business on his lawn were never seen again. Why? Because they were roasted and eaten, that's why. How he had murdered the weird little runny-nosed kid who lived two blocks over (no one had seen the boy for weeks, it turned out he and his family were on summer vacation). How he buried his victims under his immaculate lawn in the dead of night when the moon was full, or cut them up with garden shears and burned them in his backyard incinerator (which seemed to belch smelly, mysterious black smoke on a regular basis).
Most terrifying of all, how he had caught and skinned little boys and girls, and had their hides hanging on the walls of his backyard greenhouse, right beside the dog skins! This last myth, especially when told after dark, would start the little ones to crying, and they never went past his house but at a run, madly dashing past the manicured garden and the angry gardener.
Their hysterical crying only increased his ire and he would laughingly taunt them with foul oaths, even throwing things at them sometimes.
Ha! Ha! He looked so funny, a grown man cussing at children!
Turns out he wasn’t 100% right in the head.
So my mother told me later.
Mr Wilson couldn’t help it, she said, he was ill and that made him the way he was. He used to be very kind. She was a little disappointed I hadn’t treated the old man better, she added, and that I had allowed the smaller children to believe such nonsense.
“You know he doesn’t eat dogs or hurt children!” she said. “Rusty! I’m surprised at you!”
But I wasn’t so sure.
I surreptitiously appraised Mr Hamilton as he continued to remind me of what a useless little schoolboy I was and how I was letting everybody down.
He had the look of a villain from a James Bond novel if you ask me.
(I had begun reading Ian Fleming’s 007 books on the ship which brought us from California to New Zealand. I was still reading them. There was one next to me in my schoolbag as I sat there in Mr Hamilton’s office.)
Yes, he certainly had the look of a Bond villain, with his eerily glowing eyes behind soulless pince-nez, his wrinkle-free skin with its strangely orange tint, his crooked little teeth and his highly polished cranium housing his evil-genius brain. When he smiled he resembled a Halloween jack-o-lantern. The two fingers and thumb of his writing hand were always stained with ink from the fountain pen he used which, because he used red ink, I somehow found upsetting.
Like he’d stained them doing something unspeakable to some innocent schoolboy.
What would his character’s name be, I wondered? A good name was important to a Bond villain.
Doctor Odd? Inkfinger? Pumpkin Galore?
Try as I might though, I couldn’t see Mr Hamilton as a preeminent Bond villain. Oh, he had enough insanity in his eyes, I could see that, but he lacked the driving egotistical ambition for world domination necessary. He’d be a smaller character in a Bond novel, I figured, with a distasteful quirk of some kind, and have a number or a letter instead of a name. Number Two. That seemed to suit him, scatologically speaking. And there would be dark hints of his unnatural (and by unnatural I mean with animals unnatural) sex life, if he had any sex life at all.
Then he’d be killed off with much ignominy by the real villain for his incompetence in chapter four.
I mean he was killed in chapter four.
His incompetence occurred in chapter two.
Chapter two is the chapter that starts off with a steamy sex scene of Bond and twin flight attendants from B.O.A.C. named Barbi and Bambi.