Newt Gunther's apparent friendliness struck a discord with Salzwedel almost immediately. The principal had been aloof despite their reenactment interest. Not much different from his attitude toward all of the teachers, except the attractive females.
“He was so obvious at school and at school functions it was a common joke,” Salzwedel told Blow in the library room next to Blow's home office. “And at reenactment activities? Where you would think we could at least pretend we were on equal ground? No way. With Newt it was as if we really were in the military, with him as an officer and me a lowly private.
“Until this one day during a break at Leigh's. He sort of sidled over to me and put his hand on my shoulder. I thought at first it might be someone else. But, no, it was Newt. Big grin on his face and a How ya doin, Andy. Phony as hell. Soon as we got past the small talk, which was quick, he asked me if I knew one of my students had a crush on me. That's when the alarm bells really went off. I had no idea what he meant, but I felt the danger. Circled the wagons, so to speak.”
In a quiet, almost cautious voice, looking up now and then to gauge Blow's reaction, Salzwedel began a narrative that dovetailed in certain key parts with the sketch Jamie Moriarty had given Blow from her perspective earlier in the day. Newt Gunther, after startling Salzwedel with the suggestion of an improper relationship between the teacher and a student—ironic, had this been the case, in light of Gunther's own whispered reputation—related something even more bizarre, if less troubling in its implications.
The “crush” turned out to be the mere mention of Salzwedel's name in an online discussion forum comment in which the teacher was described as “cool”. No indication of gender, and the sense it came from a student was only from context. With this Salzwedel's initial wariness relaxed somewhat, not because he had reason to worry but of the ever-present danger of rumors springing up for any reason at any time. He was meticulous, he emphasized, in keeping a personal distance from his students, both in school and out. He knew of teachers whose reputations and careers were destroyed by nothing more than the appearance of impropriety. A hug, a hand too long on a shoulder, quiet chat alone in a classroom. That's all it need be.
More heartbreaking were the instances of deliberate malice by a student or parent to punish a teacher with contrived allegations over anything ranging from a bad grade to a bad joke.
“But this was something new, Joe, although it did involve something someone posted on the Internet. I'm afraid I'm not very computer literate, at least not compared with some if not most of my students. I knew nothing about online discussion forums, had never seen one. This one, the one Gunther told me about, is called Flintlocks dot com. He showed me some printouts of one of the discussions. Someone calling himself Scrapper is who mentioned my name.
“This Scrapper claims he has a musket that belonged to his great-great-grandfather. Long story short, Scrapper says he also has proof his great-great-grandfather, with this musket, fired the first shot at Lexington on April 19, 1775, the shot Ralph Waldo Emerson called in his poem sixty-one years later the shot heard 'round the world. The official record says a British officer fired that shot. Scrapper says his ancestor beat the officer to it, firing from just outside Buckman Tavern next to where the militia was gathered on the village green.
“This would be an incredibly significant development if it's true. I told Gunther it was likely a hoax, a practical joke. He said he didn't think so. He said someone from Massachusetts who had seen Scrapper's comments contacted him very interested in meeting whoever has this musket. Gunther said he asked the fellow—he didn't say who it was—what made him think it was a student. That's when my name came up. Apparently this guy knew quite a lot about the Battle of Lexington, and he confirmed the name this Scrapper said was his great-great-grandfather's was the same as a man who within days after the battle made the same claim in an official deposition Scrapper describes in the forum.
“The deposition was omitted from the official report. The guy from Massachusetts told Gunther several such accounts were omitted because the witnesses were unreliable. What stood out for me in this last is that apparently the guy stated it as a fact, whereas most people, I should think, would be more cautious. They'd say the witnesses were believed to be unreliable. Gunther said he also noticed this man's certainty, that it was as if he were one of the officials who prepared the report back then.
“I was about to bring up the hoax thing again, that someone, maybe a student, had managed to get hold of some old documents or found a reference to them online or in a book. But before I said anything, Gunther told me he raised the same possibility with the Massachusetts man, who, by the way, Gunther said eventually came to Leicester County and met him at the high school. This is when the guy showed him some photographs he said he had printed out from the online forum. I later found the same photographs in the forum, and copied them to my hard drive. That's why I brought my laptop along.
“I'll show them to you, Joe, but first I'll tell you that one is a color photograph of a musket with the identical markings on it that are described in the official records from 1775. There are two other photographs, each of which look to be very old paper, spotted and streaked with brown, the kind that comes with age. There was handwriting on them. One has an elaborate signature at the bottom, beautiful as calligraphy. The name is Willie Isaac Hosner. I've since found records that show there was a man by that name, spelled the same way exactly, at Lexington on April 19, 1775.”
“What if it's true?” Blow said this with the kind of edgy wistfulness of a child testing his faith in Santa Claus amid mounting evidence to the contrary. He'd studied the photos on Salzwedel's laptop, his mind marveling at either of the opposing prospects: Scrapper's story was innocent and true or it was a clever hoax.
Salzwedel compressed his lips and drew them in between his teeth as he pondered Blow's question.
Blow prompted with an addendum to his question: “I mean, if it's true, that stuff must be worth a fortune, the musket and the papers.”
“Priceless, I would say. Just their value as antiques would have Sotheby's drooling. But as history? What it would do to our perception of righteousness at the official commencement of this country's struggle for independence? Yikes. Think of all the textbooks that would have to be rewritten.” Salzwedel allowed a slow grin to take over his face.
Blow, lips parted, stared at his client as if entranced.
“And if it's a hoax,” Salzwedel continued, “as my grandpa Milo would have said, that'd be a whole 'nother kettle of fish. I expect the tabloid TV shows would have a field day with that.”