The Author

Henry Hack is a lifelong New Yorker who served in the Nassau County, NY Police Department for twenty-two years, including fourteen years in the Detective Division. He commanded the Scientific Investigation Bureau and was qualified as an expert witness in several forensic fields including blood, narcotics, and trace evidence. He also commanded the Eighth Precinct, Uniform Force, and currently resides in North Carolina with his wife, Lorraine.

After attending public schools in Queens and Brooklyn, Henry received a Bachelor’s degree from Adelphi University and a Master’s in Criminal Justice from Long Island University. In addition to his public service on the police force, Henry served as Vice President of Security at Cablevision Systems Corporation. Now an empty-nester with seven children and step-children scattered around the country, Henry devotes his time to writing fiction, traveling, and trying to hit a golf ball straight.

His novels Danny Boy; Cases Closed; Mommy, Mommy; Forever Young; The Marsh Mallows; The Group, and Broken Windows feature homicide Detective Danny Boyland. Cassidy's Corner, The Last Crusade, The Romen Society, and Election Day feature Police Officer/Commissioner Harry Cassidy.

Absolution is a stand-alone novel featuring NYPD Lt. Mike Simon.

Here's a short story for this month (not to be included in my upcoming collection, Shades of Blue).

The Rules

Sometime during the summer between the sixth and seventh grades, our school principal, Miss Mary E. Connolly, became Mrs. Mary E. Vogt. Now, teachers getting married was not unknown to us, but they were usually the young, pretty ones, the ones who were the subject of our early teenage fantasies, who did so. Mrs. Vogt was old – at least thirty-five, maybe even forty. And who would marry her anyway? Not that she was ugly, but she was terrifying, at six feet, two inches tall, exhibiting a command presence that made us cower in fear. Her brown hair, showing some signs of gray, was pulled back in a tight bun. She dressed in business suits of some drab color – gray or brown – with similar colored, low-heeled lace-up shoes, and wore a neckerchief above her buttoned-up white blouse. Sometimes, but not often, the neckerchief had colorful hues in it, adding some semblance of non-drabness to her stiff-backed dominating appearance.

I was a good speller and I loved learning new words and searched for ones which could replace terrifying, as applied to principal Vogt. I came up with ogre, bestial, monster, and fiendish, but truth be told she was none of those. Stern was a good one, but I think the best was intimidating. And intimidate us elementary school kids she most certainly did, and it was obvious she did the same to the teachers who reported to her.

Gradually, my opinion of the Principal Vogt changed. Every week she spoke to us at the school assembly and tried to impart some lesson of life, or experience, or unique piece of knowledge to our young minds that wasn’t to be found in any of our textbooks. This was her opportunity, I figured, to step away from her routine administrative duties and back to the classroom for at least this short period. It was at these talks I learned about figurative language, especially similes and metaphors, of which she was especially fond. And of course the use of alliteration, Full fathom five thy father lies…was the example I most remember. And a sprinkle of foreign words or phrases designed to broaden our horizons. He was dressed cap-a-pie and frequented his pied-a-terre stands out clearly in my memory.

During the holiday season in the winter of 1953, she read an excerpt from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol to instruct and impress upon us the power of description as applied by the author to his principal character, Ebenezer Scrooge. …Hard and sharp as flint from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire…The cold within him froze his old features…he carried his own low temperature always about with him… to quote part of that passage, and I believe it was at that moment that a thought was planted somewhere in my young brain that whispered, Wow, wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to write like that?

Principal Vogt spoke in precise prose with faultless pronunciation. You would never hear any Brooklyn-ese coming out of her mouth. She wouldn’t say pickcha for pick-tyoor – not on your life – and she would expect us to follow her examples. Those brief lessons, as I now think back on them, contained key words to reinforce her teaching points – deportment, behavior, conduct, honor, integrity, truth, cleanliness, procedures, and most of all, rules.

One must follow the rules of our school and then it would be easier to follow the rules for a successful life after we left here she insisted. And there were lots of rules – where to line-up for the morning bell, when to line-up for the morning bell, and ditto for the lunch bell and dismissal bell. Rules for which doors to enter and leave the building, which direction to walk in the hallways, and which staircases were “up” and which were “down.” Violations of these rules were in the form of oral or written reprimands by the teacher who noticed them. Repeated violations meant a trip to Principal Vogt’s office for a talking to. Any student who continued to violate the rules after the talking to – I mean, how stupid could you be? – had his parents called to come down for a meeting. That usually did the trick, because a suspension came next.

I had only one trip there, along with my best friend, Georgie Stewart, because we cut school to go to a baseball game. Not just any game, but an opening day game at the Polo Grounds, Dodgers vs. Giants, April 13, 1954. My father had slipped me the tickets the night before whispering, “Timmy, I can’t use these. Don’t tell your mother.”

When I opened the slim envelope, I was both thrilled and amazed, because cutting school was a big no-no with both my mom and dad. But even dad knew the importance of an opening day game with seats right behind home plate. Unfortunately, my teacher, Mr. Erger, and Principal Vogt, did not share his, or my, opinion. When pressed further for our reason for cutting I said, “Ma’am, we haven’t cut school at all this year, except for this one time. One day at the ballpark isn’t going to make us dumb the rest of our lives.”

“Perhaps, Timothy, I should call your parents to discuss that erroneous conclusion,” she said, fixing me with an ice-cold stare.

I wanted to say, “Go ahead, you old witch. My old man gave me the tickets,” but I wisely took a deep breath and said, “I’m sorry I cut, Mrs. Vogt. It won’t happen again.” Georgie took the hint and said the same thing, and thankfully, she sent us back to our classroom with no further action.

That same April it happened – the incident that would forever change how I viewed Principal Vogt. Mr. Erger called on Anthony Puleo to deliver a note from our fourth floor classroom to a fellow teacher in a classroom located on the second floor. Mr. Erger, who we secretly called “The Owl” because of his flat nose and black-rimmed glasses amplifying his blinking brown eyes, was about twenty-five years old, and we knew a similarly-aged, hot female teacher inhabited that classroom to which Tony had just been dispatched. No doubt a lunch date was being set up, maybe including a little hanky-panky at the park after their sandwiches.

Tony had recently arrived from southern Italy and spoke broken English. Although very bright, Tony insisted that he wanted to be a butcher, just like his dad, who owned a local market. He had a wide Neapolitan smile, and his hair was blond, straight, and unruly, sticking out from his head in all directions, but nobody made fun of him because of that. Well, Normie Boyd once did and Tony, already muscular from chopping up sides of beef in his dad’s butcher shop, made short work of him after school let out that day. Ah, the things you remember.

Tony never reached his destination with the note that memorable day. In fact, he only made it half-way to the third floor as we were soon to find out. About two minutes after he left our room, the door suddenly opened and in came a huffing, red-faced Principal Vogt dragging an equally red-faced Tony Puleo by the arm. “Mr. Erger,” she said with icicles dripping from her words, “Is this… this… rapscallion one of yours?”

Now I hadn’t yet come across that word in my spelling lists, but I was sure it wasn’t complimentary. Mr. Erger, the blood having drained from his face, his owl eyes blinking furiously, said weakly, “Yes, Mrs. Vogt. What did he do?”

“What he did, Mr. Erger, is nearly kill me! As I turned to come up the flight of stairs, he came leaping down from the upper landing and crashed into me full-force, knocking me into the wall!”

We all managed to suppress outright laughter and tried not even to smile, especially me and Georgie due to our recent trip to her office. Mr. Erger took Tony’s other arm – I had a vision of Christ on the Cross – and demanded, “Anthony, what do you have to say for yourself?”

He looked up at Mr. Erger, tears in his eyes, and proclaimed, “But-a – Mr. Erg…, she was-a coming up-a the down staircase!”

If the cliché, stunned silence was ever apropos of a situation, this was it. He had her! The Rules! Her Rules! And she had just broken one! What now, Principal Vogt? She dropped Tony’s arm. Mr. Erger dropped the other one. He was released from the Cross. “Well,” she harrumphed, “although I may have violated a rule, that is still no excuse for outright dangerous behavior. Wouldn’t you agree, Mr. Erger?”

“Absolutely, ma’am. Anthony, I believe an apology to our principal is in order right now.”

Tony hesitated a bit, knowing he was at least partially in the right, but he did the right thing in this obvious no-win situation. He said, “I’m-a sorry, ma’am. I hope-a I didn’t hurt you.”

“I accept your apology and your concern,” she said. She then turned and faced the class drawing herself up to her full height, shoulders back, spine ramrod straight and said, “Let this be a lesson to all of you boys, and girls also, should you be so foolishly inclined. The practice of grabbing the handrails and seeing how many steps you can leap down the staircase is a dangerous one. To you, and to others, as you evidenced today.”

With that she turned and left the room. Mrs. Vogt broke her own rule, but left with her authority intact. Knowing she was basically at fault, she took no punitive action at all against Tony Puleo – no written report, no call to his parents, and no suspension from school. She handled it well, magnanimously, to apply a new spelling word I had recently acquired. And a great lesson in authority and humility taught, unintentionally, by Principal Vogt.

Graduation Day finally arrived that June of 1954, and as I walked across the stage to accept my diploma from Principal Vogt, I immediately noticed as I approached closer how nice she looked – almost glamorous. Her standard business suit was a bright robin’s-egg blue, and her neckerchief a dazzling dark blue and silver combination. I swear the few strand of gray had disappeared from her head. Her usual minimum pale lipstick was redder and a bit thicker, and her cheeks had a bit of rouge on them that I had never noticed before. My unformed, wiseguy, teenage brain made me think of saying, “Be careful on those staircases, Mary!” But I wasn’t that crazy. Instead, my soon-to-be high school self took over and I smiled, shook her hand, and said, “Thanks for everything, Mrs. Vogt.”

She smiled back – one of the biggest smiles I had ever seen cross her face – and said, “You’re very welcome, Timothy. I’m sure you will be a success in this life.”

And I have been successful in this life, in large part thanks to her lessons, and now at six feet, three inches tall, I’m finally taller than Principal Vogt.

Ten years later, Bel Kaufman wrote a hilarious novel about life – and rules – in the New York City school system titled, Up the Down Staircase. As I read her prose, the memories of P.S. 155 flooded back. Did Mr Erger ever hook up with that teacher who never got his note the day of the “jump?” Did Tony Puleo now run his own butcher shop? Where was Mrs. Vogt now? Why hadn’t I gone back to visit her once in a while and tell her how much she had meant to me as I made my way through life?

From the little lessons she gave at our assemblies, to her stand-up example with Tony Puleo where she admitted breaking her own rule, I have never forgotten her. But then, telling her all that wasn’t necessary was it? After all, she was a teacher. She already knew.