.

Seeming
A Joseph Angello Story

by Peter A. Parmantie


......The Walsh house sat in the middle of a residential area of twisting roads, sculpted greenery, and old-growth trees. The trees in my neighborhood--survivors all--fought more pollution in one day than this section of town saw in a year.

......Who says the rich don't have it better?

...... I'd made the crosstown drive to Eades, a suburb light years from Sheatown, my part of the city, and a place that never required my services until now. The seven hundred dollar, hand-delivered check made me curious. It didn't bounce.

...... I parked my Toyota in a circular driveway and walked to the rose brick two-story structure. Red and white rosebushes guarded my flanks. Huge concrete vases planted in ferns stood watch over the door. A Lexus, Toyota's upscale brother, sat outside a three-car garage.

...... The door opened as I rang.

...... "Come in, Mr. Angello." Clyde Walsh stood in the doorway. He was tall, graying around the temples. He wore an expensive suit, gray with pin-striping and a blood-red tie that had to be silk. Trudy Walsh awaited me in the foyer. She was a touched-up blonde about forty, also expensively dressed in a blue pantsuit that draped her slender body. At three o'clock her makeup was morning-fresh. What had to be genuine pearls draped themselves almost to her waist. Both smiled around the mouth. Upstairs, piano music, something classical, rose and vanished as a door opened and closed. Trudy Walsh's eyes darted toward a staircase. Her husband's gaze never left my face.

...... We made small talk as we maneuvered ourselves toward the living room. It was about the size of my apartment. The furniture was dark wood and light fabrics, rich undersea blues and greens. Modernistic paintings hung on the walls. Originals, I guessed. I waded ankle-deep in rug to a chair next to a picture window. I sat on a chair next to a picture window that looked out on a sculpted garden. They sat on a sofa.

...... "Thank you for coming so quickly, Mr. Angello." Trudy Walsh folded her hands on her lap and smiled. During the course of our conversation, her eyes darted first to her husband then to me. From time to time she glanced toward the origin of the music that still drifted around us. It had a feverish edge to it.

...... I said, "You bought my time, so I'll listen, but I don't like molestation cases."

...... "We understand," Clyde Walsh said. "It is a delicate problem."

...... I repeated, "For seven hundred I'll listen, delicate or whatever."

...... Mrs. Walsh said, "It's our daughter." She hesitated.

...... He finished, "Martha Denise. She was--fondled."

...... I breathed in slowly. Exhaled. I looked out at the garden. "When and where?"

...... She said, "Today, at school. Twelve-thirty."

...... "A classmate?"

...... "A teacher." Her glance flicked upstairs, to her husband, back to me.

...... He studied my face.

...... "Who says?"

...... "Martha Denise."

...... "Only?"

...... "Yes. At first."

...... "And then someone else came forward?"

...... Mrs. Walsh nodded.

...... "Who?"

...... Her husband said, "Her name is Patrice Demarco. Dr. Clifton phoned us just before you arrived and said she corroborated Martha Denise's story. He said she witnessed it."

...... "How did you hear of it?"

...... Trudy Walsh said, "Dr. Clifton," she saw me about to interrupt, "he's the Headmaster of Dorset Academy. He phoned and told me that Martha Denise had been," her hands tightened in her lap, "fondled."

...... "Where?"

...... "In the English office. He asked me to pick her up."

...... "When did you?"

...... "At one-thirty."

...... "How did your daughter seem to you?"

...... "By that time she was calm." The hands unclenched. They drifted up and held on to the pearls.

...... Clyde Walsh said, "Then Trudy phoned me at the bank. I recalled your ad in the newspaper."

...... "Discreet investigations," I said.

...... He leaned forward. "Yes. Discretion is necessary."

...... "Our social," his wife began. Clyde Walsh patted her knee.

...... I smiled. "Your check didn't bounce so I'm discreet." It was a joke. Neither laughed. I continued, "What else I need I can get from the Headmaster."

...... Trudy Walsh said, "He is still there. On Mondays he works late."

...... "Fine. May I speak to your daughter before I leave?"

...... She rose and without a word left. Clyde Walsh and I looked out into the garden where late afternoon sun sprayed everything with gold. It was a fairyland.

...... Martha Denise Walsh was as tall as her mother, about five-seven. She entered the room with a thick book. She held it spine foremost as if my noting the title, Thomas Mann, Joseph in Egypt, was vitally important.

...... I remained seated. Martha Denise sat in a small chair. Delicately. She was a scholar interrupted in her labor of simultaneously reading and playing the piano.

...... She was not pretty. Her short hair was reddish-blonde. She was dressed as her mother, in a pants suit of blue denim. She wore no adornments of any kind, though she could have used some makeup or jewelry to hide her plainness. Her eyes roamed left, right.

...... "Martha Denise, this is Joseph Angello," said Mrs. Walsh.

...... Martha Denise stared blankly at them. After a suitable interval she nodded, not at them, not at me. At the floor.

...... "Martha," I said, "tell me what happened. Maybe I can poke my big nose into this and we can find some kind of solution together."

...... It didn't take. She glanced at my nose and away. "He fondled me."

...... "Who?"

...... "Frank Shade." The words were bitter, charged with hostility.

...... "He is her English teacher," said Mr. Walsh.

...... Her face mirrored anger. She clutched the book. "I'm transferring to Ms. Demarco's class tomorrow. I hate him."

...... Trudy Walsh nodded in approval. Clyde Walsh looked at me.

...... I glanced at my digital. "Tell me what happened." There must have been an edge to my voice. The parents looked at me. Martha Denise looked at a point just short of me. She set the book upright on her lap. It was a shield.

...... In a thin voice she told me she and Mr. Shade were finishing a conference about a paper. He rose. Before she could stand, he'd stepped behind her and rubbed his hands over her breasts. At that same instant Ms. Demarco entered the English office and witnessed the act.

...... "What time was this?"

...... "Twelve-thirty."

...... I got up. Martha Denise's eyes followed me. "A thousand on top of the seven hundred and I'll look into the case." I figured that would end it.

...... "That will be fine," he said. His wife nodded. He extracted a checkbook, wrote me a check. He rose and handed it to me. He sat.

...... Mrs. Walsh said, "Thank you, Mr. Angello."

...... I folded the check into my wallet. "You'll hear from me shortly."

...... I waded through carpet to the door.

* * *

...... I parked across the street from Dorset Academy. The building predated air-conditioning. High windows reflected the orange of a late day. They looked as if they opened to fresh air. Thick ivy gripped mortar.

...... Classes had let out, but students were still gathered on the walks or strolling down the street in conversational knots. I left my car and crossed the street. A tall boy nodded politely. One said hello. I nodded.

...... The main door, tall and paneled, had the appearance of a church door. At my lightest touch it swung ponderously open.

...... To my left a library with tall stacks and humming computers contained about twenty students, all well dressed.

...... Dorset charged enough to maintain an imposing atmosphere. Dark wood paneling and floors waxed to a sheen; high, plastered ceilings; windows composed of rectangular strips of yellow, brown, and green stained glass that seemed modeled on a Wright prairie house--all seemed designed to give learning the quiet dignity of a law library.

...... I found the main office and identified myself to a smiling lady, who waved me into the office of Dr. Robert Clifton, Headmaster of Dorset Academy.

...... His office was an extension of the receptionist's, dark paneling and bright lights with bookcases and a computer. He sat beneath a wall loaded with framed testimonials and diplomas. One proclaimed him a doctor of physics.

...... He rose to greet me. He was African-American, about my height, with a head the color of a coconut, and as bald. After introductions in which he was Dr. Clifton and I was Mr. Angello, he waved me to a chair.

...... "Coffee, sir?"

...... "No, thanks."

...... He sat. "Confidentiality is vital in a case like this."

...... "Have you seen my ad in the paper?"

...... "No, sir, I have not."

...... "It says discreet. That's how I make my living."

...... He smiled politely. "Mr. and Mrs. Walsh--"

...... I held up a hand. "Tell me what happened today from your viewpoint, just as though I hadn't met the family. Begin with the accusation."

...... He steepled his hands on the desk and glanced around the dark-paneled office. "Martha Denise Walsh came to my office to tell me she'd been molested."

...... "Molested as in what?"

...... "A teacher rubbed his hands over her breasts."

...... "According to her."

...... A stubby finger went up, "And a witness, Mr. Angello."

...... "What time did the girl report this?"

...... He glanced at a desk clock. "Twelve-fifty, perhaps a minute or two later."

...... "Who did she say molested her?"

...... "Her English teacher, Mr. Frank Shade, as they were ending a conference. She was standing, he sitting."

...... "She's sure of that."

...... Dr. Clifton's eyes left mine for a moment. Returned.

...... "She had come around to his side of a work table to point out something on a paper and he reached up and fondled her."

...... "How were they positioned with respect to the door?"

...... "Facing."

...... "Did she scream or cry out?"

...... "No, sir. The office was deserted except for them. She says she was shocked."

...... "Did you believe her story?"

...... "No, sir."

...... "Why?"

...... "Martha Denise is a loner, withdrawn. Students do not trust her."

...... "You know this because--"

...... "Mr. Angello, the Walshes are fine people." Our glances locked. No more in that direction.

...... "What was the time?"

...... "Twelve-thirty." Again the frown. "Exactly."

...... "That's what she told her parents," I said. "How did she appear?"

...... "Angry. Indignant. She walked past Noreen, our receptionist, and entered the office. Without preamble of any sort she said that Mr. Shade had fondled her and that she wanted to report him."

...... "Did your secretary hear the accusation?"

...... "No. When I saw Miss Walsh's anger I closed the door."

...... "After Martha Denise told you, how did you advise her?"

...... "I told her I would contact her parents and Mr. Shade. I requested she wait in the library until one of her parents could pick her up."

...... "And then?"

...... "I phoned her mother and contacted Mr. Shade to report the accusation."

...... "What was his reaction?"

...... "He denied it."

...... "Did he say anything else?"

...... Dr. Clifton shook his head. "Mr. Shade refused to elaborate; he merely denied the accusation. He looked in a few minutes later to tell me he met with his wife and repeated Martha Denise's accusation to her."

...... "He made no defense."

...... "No, sir."

...... "Did he and Mrs. Walsh meet?"

...... "No. I thought that a flare-up of tempers would not work in the best interests of either party or of Dorset Academy. Mrs. Walsh arrived after one p.m. and took her daughter home. About one-thirty."

...... "Did Mr. Shade confront the girl at any point?"

...... "No. Martha Denise remained in the library. My meeting with Mr. Shade was very brief. He left to consult his wife immediately after."

...... "He said that was where he was going?"

...... "Yes, Mr. Angello, and from there back to his afternoon class. Before they left for the day they came into the office. Again he denied the accusation. Mrs. Shade went on record to say she believed her husband. Both were angry."

...... "Tell me about Mr. Shade."

...... Dr. Clifton raised his hands in what could have been an appeal. "Frank and Donna Shade are Dorset's best teachers. They are popular with students and parents."

...... "How long have they been here?"

...... "Frank Shade for ten years; Mrs. Shade for twelve."

...... "Was she single at the time she was hired?"

...... "Yes, and with many suitors; she is a striking woman."

...... "How so?"

...... "She is tall, and," his eyes widened unaware, "with a superb figure. And she is quite outgoing. The students love her. Her husband is more of an introvert."

...... "Do you know of any problems between them?"

...... "None. They are a devoted couple."

...... "Any idea how the rest of your faculty view them?"

...... His face clouded. "There is some of the usual faculty gossip, I am afraid, the usual diversions. You see, Mr. Angello, Frank and Donna Shade have their methods of teaching, remarkably effective if one judges by their popularity and the performance of their students. Many parents specify the Shades at registration time. Such fame generates jealousy, though they have more friends than detractors."

...... I leaned forward. "Tell me about those diversions." At his glance I said, "The check cleared." The one in my wallet would too.

...... One hand traced a path over his bald head. "The Shades are two of my best teachers. I would describe Frank and Donna as first among equals, with Mrs. Shade enjoying an edge over her husband since she is extroverted. Add to that the mothering instinct. It gives her a decided advantage with students."

...... He looked at me and at his hands and back at me. His hands worked independently meanwhile, straightening papers in front of him, opening and closing folders. I waited.

...... A well-bred grimace, "Unfortunately, intellect and character do not always intersect." His hands settled down.

...... "But they do in the Shades."

...... "Yes." He hurried on, "And in many others on the faculty, naturally. Let me point out that a few faculty are professional gossips."

...... "Trish Demarco's the one that concerns me."

...... Dr. Clifton sighed and the hands resumed work, straightening folders, arranging papers. After a moment, "Yes, sir, she repeated the accusation after Martha and her mother left."

...... "Do you believe her?"

...... Carefully, "To the same extent I believe Martha Denise."

...... "And the rest of the teachers?"

...... "They hear gossip, but they are not professionals. Ms. Demarco is."

...... I drummed my fingers on the arm of my chair. "I'll see Ms. Demarco later. Tell me a bit about how Frank and Donna Shade teach."

...... He sat straight. Here he was at home. "Mr. Shade refuses to give short answer tests. He insists that all work be written out. He refuses to answer factual questions directly if students can discover answers independently. He will not lecture; he prefers instead to ask what students term off-the-wall questions. He prefers questions that begin with why."

...... "His wife too?"

...... "Fundamentally, though she is not as rigid. She prefers how to why, which is more congruent with the sciences."

...... "She teaches--?"

...... "Sorry. Biology."

...... "They disagree."

...... Clifton shook his head and smiled, at ease talking about his best teachers. "A minor question of tactics, nothing more. Last year one graduate told our evaluations council in person that Mr. Shade's classes are more like writing sessions following discussion and analysis. Another informed us by letter that one cannot not pay attention in Mrs. Shade's classes, an interesting juxtaposition of negatives. There were other reports, all equally glowing."

...... "How's Martha Denise as a student?"

...... "Her grades are uniformly excellent. She is highly intelligent, quite verbal." He glanced around the office, then at me.

...... I understood. Verbal was one of the things I hadn't seen yet. "Does Denise Walsh have any friends?"

...... "As far as I know, not many."

...... "How many, Dr. Clifton? Five, six?"

...... "I cannot say for certain, sir, but I have observed her in the halls and in the classroom and she is usually by herself."

...... "Who is her favorite teacher?"

...... "That would be Ms. Demarco-so says Ms. Demarco." His lip curled.

...... "Is she here now?"

...... "No. She frequently leaves early."

...... "Ms. Demarco told you she witnessed the incident. Did she tell you immediately?"

...... "No. She explained the delay on the anger she felt. She wished, she said, to cool off."

...... "The alleged assault occurred over the noon period. Where was Ms. Demarco supposed to be then?"

...... "She has a free period that hour."

...... "She and Frank Shade both."

...... "Yes. He spent that noon period working with students. He often does."

...... "Was she in the English office the entire time of the conference?"

...... "No. She said she'd been in and out of the teachers' lounge and the lunchroom. She entered the English office just in time to witness Mr. Shade doing--that."

...... "At twelve-thirty."

...... "Yes. She was explicit about the time."

...... "Describe her."

...... "Ms. Demarco is tall, rangy with a longish face, thin lips, and dark brown hair."

...... Except for her reddish-blonde hair, he could have been describing Martha Denise Walsh.

...... I stood. "Thanks, Dr. Clifton. May I wander around the school?"

...... "It is rather late--"

...... "Where's the cafeteria? I'd like to talk with a few faculty or staff if I can find any. If not, I'll come back here and check out at your office."

...... He walked me out to Noreen's desk, remarking that most faculty had left but some cooks might still be on duty. She handed me a map of the school. The teachers' lounge was in the cafeteria area. She marked the English office at my request.

...... Dr. Clifton and I shook hands. I eased his mind by promising to leave by the front door and checking out with Mrs. Milner. On my way to the cafeteria I timed a slow walk from Dr. Clifton's office to the English office--half a minute.

...... In the cafeteria two pleasant-faced middle age ladies in white smocks were sitting at a table next to the serving area drinking coffee. I introduced myself and we all shook hands.

...... "I'm Alice," said the larger one. "This is Pearl."

...... Pearl was as lean as Alice was large. She smiled. I smiled.

...... Pearl said, "I never met a private eye before."

...... "My eye is looking into the Walsh case."

...... "Molestation."

...... "Right."

...... Alice said, "They work fast."

...... "Maybe they should've gone to the police?"

...... Alice shook her head and sipped coffee. "Hell, no. We don't need the publicity, that's for sure. It'd only hurt us all."

...... "Think I'm working for the right side?"

...... Alice and Pearl stared at one another for a moment. They shrugged.

...... Talk with the help; they're close to the truth. "You think Dorset will suffer because of this?"

...... "I sure hope we don't. Here we're family," said Pearl.

...... That said a lot.

...... Alice nodded, "We've been cooks in the public schools. This place is heaven."

...... Pearl said, "Parents know it too, and they pay the freight." She leaned forward. "Joe, you ever see well-dressed boys and girls act up?"

...... "I went to public schools, when I went."

...... They nodded as if that explained everything.

...... "Think the Walshes have a case?"

...... Pearl shook her head. "No way something like that will stand up. If Frank Shade says he didn't do it, he didn't. I believe him."

...... Alice straightened up. "That Demarco woman said she saw it? If she said she did, she's a liar. She's got this reputation. She asks you how you are, you say you got a migraine or something and the next day she's got it all over the school that you're dying of cancer. Had a hemorrhoid removed a few months ago and people were surprised to see me when I got back, thought I was being laid out at the undertaker's. Bitch."

...... "Come on, Allie," said Pearl, "nobody believes her anyhow and she's the only one that doesn't know it. She doesn't have enough dirt to spread about the teachers so she practices on us." To me, "Allie takes her too seriously."

...... Alice said, "But you want dirt spread around Dorset, she'll do it and happy to oblige."

...... "Was Demarco spreading dirt today?"

...... Both women nodded. "Right," said Alice, "going on and on about what happened. It was after one today."

...... "About what she said happened," Pearl corrected.

...... "Was she down here during the lunch period?"

...... They couldn't say for sure. Monday noon was a busy time, and about a quarter after twelve they were hassled with an influx of students stoking up for a field trip. She could have left and returned without their noticing. But they'd both seen her on and off.

...... I asked for a cup of coffee and got one. I waved my hand from one lady to the other, "Tell me why you believe Shade."

...... Pearl said, "He doesn't gossip."

...... Alice said, "Look, ever see the Shades?"

...... "Not had the chance yet."

...... "Well," she said, "when you do, just you take a good look at Mrs. Shade. I mean she's real pretty. And almost as tall as her hubby." She shifted her own curves more comfortably on the chair.

...... Pearl set down her cup, "He's tall, a real sweet fellow. I worked here since before both the Shades were hired. Donna Wanzer was chased by all the bachelors on the faculty and half the men in the city. Frank Shade trumped the competition. Took him a year. I figure he won because he's so sweet." She nodded as if she were the bride's mother. "Engaged one summer, married the next. Finally tied the knot."

...... "Tied it tight," I ventured.

...... "Damn' tootin'," Alice said. "Look, he's too much in love with his wife and too much of a teacher to mess with a girl like that skinny Martha Walsh. Donna Shade would make ten of that little snip with a lot left over." Alice's hands were on her knees. She brought her arms together, compressing her own capacious bosom to signal where Donna Shade's assets resided. Alice wasn't wearing a wedding band.

...... "So you found out about the incident from Ms. Demarco."

...... "Who else? Came down after one and began spreading the dirt."

...... "Know anything about the Walsh girl?"

...... "Sure," said Pearl, "sits by herself a lot."

...... "Reading?"

...... "Nope. Sitting."

...... I thanked them and left. Alice winked and I smiled back.

* * *

...... It was too far for a decent supper at Torelli's if I wanted to get to the Shades' house. I settled for a stopgap meal and a place to add to my notes. I found a bus station with a food machine near their home. About a dozen people were waiting. I found a table by the food machines and opened my folder. I bought a roast beef hoagie and a cup of coffee and began thinking in pencil on the margins of what I had already written. None of my thoughts were pleasant. He-said, she-said was all I had.

...... As I bit into my sandwich, a man in stocking cap and tattered jacket asked me for money. He smelled of carbolic soap. I made a bet with myself: another druggie. I stood and pointed at the machine. I lost. He didn't ask for cash; he pointed to a ham sandwich. I settled my bet and bought him one.

...... He sat at a table to my left. I ignored him. As I finished up, he wolfed half his sandwich. It must've been breakfast and lunch too. He went to the water cooler, got a drink and came back. He continued eating. I continued ignoring him.

...... He gave me a sidelong glance. "Hey, man."

...... I sighed. "What?"

...... "Thanks." He smiled. I nodded and went back to my notes and my brooding.

...... "It'll be all right."

...... "What?"

...... "Your problem. It'll be all right."

...... I jotted a note or two.

...... He said, "My wife kicked me out. Took the girl. She was three last June. Gotta be four now."

...... "Yeah," I said.

...... "You know, my wife left me for another woman --"

...... I dug out my wallet, folded a five and tossed it at him. "Here, buy another sandwich." I gathered my notes and left.

...... The bum had it easier than Clyde Walsh.

* * *

...... The Shade home was a ranch house about half a mile from the bus station in an older middle class section. Like the Walshes' home, it was rich with old trees and hedges.

...... Frank Shade answered the door. He was at least six-four, with red hair and fair skin. We shook hands. His grip was careful, as if he knew his strength and the knowledge made him cautious.

...... They had converted the combination living-dining room into an office. A pair of desks faced one another and rows of bookcases took up the remaining space except for a corner table with a computer. Stacks of papers held by rubber bands lay on the desks.

...... In the kitchen he introduced me to his wife, sitting (she informed me with a smile) over a cup of mid-grading coffee. Alice and Pearl hadn't exaggerated: she was an imposing woman, a brunette with a ruddy complexion. Her face was long, with a full mouth, strong chin, and large, deep-set eyes. She stood and we shook hands. She was everything Dr. Clifton's wide-eyed stare implied. In loafers, she was just six feet.

...... We sat at the kitchen table. I declined coffee. "I saw the stacks of papers in your study. You've got a ways to go. Thanks both for giving me a few minutes of your time."

...... Frank Shade said, "We know why you're here."

...... "Wish I wasn't."

...... Donna Shade said, "Let me say first, and for the record, that the accusation against my husband is false. The Walsh girl is lying."

...... Her husband's hands bracketed his coffee cup. The hands could squeeze and burst the cup into shivers. He relaxed his hands and took a small sip. "We talked this out right after Dr. Clifton informed me of the accusation."

...... "You both attended all your classes this afternoon?"

...... "Of course." This from Donna Shade, with a toss of the head. Frank Shade nodded, but his eyes were troubled.

...... "Do you intend to take legal action?"

...... He said, "You're thinking of the Walshes."

...... "Sure. And Patrice Demarco."

...... She said, "And gain what?"

...... "You don't think this will blow over." I said.

...... He shook his head. Donna Shade's mouth formed a no.

...... Frank Shade had risen to pour himself more coffee. He sat. "You know, Mr. Angello, Donna and I have been thinking about resigning for some time."

...... "Why?"

...... The big man blushed. He glanced at his wife. She was trying to keep from laughing. Her mouth worked.

...... She patted his arm. "No one at Dorset knows. We are planning a family." Frank blushed. "We've decided that if I could get pregnant this year, Frank would take another job. He has one waiting."

...... "I drove a truck for a few years after college and the pay is even better now. A local firm is interested. The move would give me half again as much as my salary at Dorset. It would be short-haul work so I'd be home four nights out of the week. In a year, I would have to take an administrative job and wouldn't be on the road."

...... He rose and went to a desk. He came back with a red file folder. "Here, Mr. Angello."

...... The top letter was from Fitchert Trucking dated a week ago reminding Frank Shade that the job was still open. The salary offer is firm, and the position will be held open until the end of this month, two weeks away. However, we remind you that management is where you will be employed. The lower letters, concerned with various duties and dickerings about salary dated three months back.

...... "I thought I'd give you proof of one element of my story."

...... I nodded and handed back the folder.

...... Donna Shade beamed, "I'd intended to become a full-time mother for some time. We could manage easily with Frank's salary at Fitchert." Her face clouded. "But with the Walsh girl's accusation, people would say we'd been forced out."

...... The difficulty, she was not yet pregnant. But they were working on it.

...... "You two have to get to work, so I'll keep this short," I said. "Mr. Shade, when was your conference with Martha Denise?"

...... "From twelve to twelve-twenty." He raised his eyebrows. He said slowly, "By my desk clock. After that I had an appointment with another student."

...... "Name?"

...... "Stocker, Gary Stocker."

...... I made a note. "You're sure of the time."

...... He nodded. "Gary has one or two failings as a student, tardiness being one. But he was on time yesterday and we were at work at twelve twenty-five. He joked about being on time and we checked our wrist watches and my desk clock."

...... "I have to ask a personal question, Mrs. Shade."

...... "Please, Donna."

...... "I'm Frank," her husband said.

...... I turned to him. "I have to ask this, Frank. Donna, how long have you been trying to have a baby?"

...... "I've been trying to conceive for the past two months."

...... Frank sat back and put his arm on his wife's shoulder. Her hand came up and rested on his hand. He said, "Donna has been quite demanding. I believe it's the mother instinct." This time his wife blushed.

...... "Joe," he said, "drop over to the English office tomorrow morning at seven-forty on the dot and you'll see my proof. Please."

...... "Frank hates to answer direct questions," Donna said. "He likes to show."

...... "You'll show me tomorrow morning."

...... They both nodded.

...... "No success so far," I said.

...... "No," she said, "but we're hopeful."

...... He said, "If we waited too much longer, childbearing would be risky."

...... "You've had an active weekend."

...... They blushed.

...... "How did you feel this morning?"

...... Frank threw his head back and laughed. Before he could speak, Donna said, "He was barely moving."

...... I rose. The Shades rose. "Tackle those papers. I hope you trade them for diapers. Now, you're sure about giving up teaching, both of you?"

...... Donna and Frank held hands. "Yes," she said.

...... "Because of Trish Demarco?"

...... "Yes," she said. Frank added, "In part."

...... "Frank, you're sure about those times."

...... "Tomorrow morning," he said. "Be in the English office at seven-forty precisely." We checked our watches.

...... Donna was standing at her desk coffee cup in hand when Frank let me out.

...... I drove to Torelli's for a late supper.

* * *

...... The next day I was back at Dorset. Theresa Giverny, the guidance counselor, was all business. She was short and pleasant and overweight. She smiled a lot. "Martha Denise is quite intelligent, but her IQ is not the highest at Dorset. She is in the upper fifteen percent."

...... "Does she know that?"

...... "I am not certain she accepts it."

...... "Character is more important," I said. "And initiative."

...... "Yes, a cluster of traits of which IQ is only a part."

...... We were waiting for the appearance of Martha Denise, who had been summoned from class.

...... Martha Denise appeared. Mrs. Giverny ushered us into a conference room with a mirror. She would be on the other side.

...... Martha Denise Walsh was as unadorned as yesterday. Her tunic boasted no jewelry or accent. No bracelets or watch. No figure to speak of; she could have been a boy in drag. Her eyes were as disturbingly out of phase, as if while we talked she was still carrying on a simultaneous dialogue with someone inside.

...... Her face, devoid of makeup, was neutral. Her eyes would observe me, then drift off for a moment. With an effort she would return from the land she inhabited.

...... She took a moment to size me up, noticed me long enough to award me a formal smile. She sat rigid, like a convict at a parole hearing.

...... I gave what I hoped was a friendly nod. "Sorry I couldn't talk more with you yesterday, Martha Denise. I wanted to see Dr. Clifton and Mr. Shade." I paused and leaned forward. "I saw Mr. Shade in his office this morning." No reaction. "In a few minutes I'll be interviewing Gary Stocker."

...... No reaction save for a formal, far-away smile.

...... "Tell me what happened in the English office at twelve-thirty Monday."

...... Her lip curled in contempt, "It was at the end of a tutoring session with Mister Shade." Her voice was innocent, child like. She waited as if for a prompt. She glanced at the mirror.

...... "Go on."

...... "We were finishing the conference. We stood. He reached over and," here she shot a glance at the mirror and managed a prim hesitation, "rubbed his hands over me." Her hands rose and made circular motions and dropped to her lap.

...... "He said nothing."

...... "No."

...... "This happened at the time you said."

...... "Yes, at twelve-thirty."

...... "Why did you ask for a conference?"

...... "He said I cheated on a paper."

...... "What was it about?"

...... Her face glowed. With startling swiftness her features became lively, even interesting. "A character study of Holden Caulfield and how a critic had a wrong view of him. I found that flaw in his reasoning myself." She leaned forward. Her eyes caught mine. Without a doubt she saw me.

...... "The Catcher in the Rye."

...... She nodded, pleased that I knew Salinger.

...... "Did Mr. Shade say why he thought you cheated?"

...... The light went out. She shook her head. The words she reportedly had at her disposal, the high intellect, all seemed to desert her.

...... "Did you cheat?"

...... "No." Mechanically.

...... I was tired. "Thank you, Miss Walsh." I wished I had refunded the second check.

...... I rose and left.

* * *

...... Gary Stocker was the athletic type, with a broad, open face. He wore the customary blazer, a shirt that was too small, and a tie. He tugged at his collar as, defiance in his voice, he talked about the Shades. Best teachers at Dorset.

...... I interrupted the flow. "Gary, thanks for getting out of class. We'll make this short. You had an appointment with Mr. Shade Monday. What time?"

...... "Twelve-twenty, Mr. Angello."

...... "When did you get to the English office?'

...... He ran a finger around his collar. "Right on time, twelve-twenty."

...... "Meet anyone in the hall?"

...... He made a sour face. Again he tugged at the collar. "Martha."

...... "Where was she?"

...... "Coming out of the English office."

...... "Where was she headed?"

...... "Down here."

...... "What did she say to you?"

...... "Nothing, just walked by like she didn't see me."

...... "Lost in thought."

...... "Maybe. She doesn't see many people."

...... Well-dressed students milled around the lunchroom, no pushing or shoving, no horseplay. Some students took out flash cards, homemade from 3x5s, and began checking one another on facts. Others ate as if at a church picnic. It was all somewhat unnerving to an older man whose only memory was of the fury of a public school lunchroom.

...... "How was Mr. Shade?"

...... "Same as usual. I mean, we got right down to business after we joked a bit about my being on time and all. He wasn't any different."

...... And last night, too. A guilty man would be in a funk. Frank Shade was angry and worried about papers still to grade.

...... I held up my watch, an eighteen-dollar digital. "He didn't appear worried."

...... He knew my drift. He held up an expensive analog. With our elbows on the table it looked like we were ready to arm wrestle.

...... I said, "What time you got?"

...... "Ten forty-five."

...... "You were on time yesterday, you're sure?"

...... He nodded.

...... I smiled and put both hands flat on the table. "That's what Mr. Shade told me last night and again this morning."

...... He sat back. The hand that went up to tug at his collar relaxed on the table. "She's lying."

...... I stood, thanked him, and we shook hands. Then I went back to my notes.

...... At seven-forty that morning, the English office was a beehive. Five desks, all inhabited, were loaded with papers, books, pencil holders, and travel clocks. Teachers prepared for the day.

...... Frank Shade and I shook hands. We glanced at the grime-smeared wall clock. My digital said seven forty-two. The wall clock told the English faculty it was time for classes to begin.

...... Trish Demarco sat in a far corner beneath the clock. We inspected each other. She was plain, lanky, with a muddy complexion. No wedding band. Her gaze slid back down to her text. Since I am homelier I wasn't worth bothering about. Or she knew who I was and ignored me and wanted me to know that.

...... We talked in the hall. "Nice place." The only loud sounds were lockers banging open and closed as students gathered their belongings for the first class.

...... "It is, really. Most of us are congenial."

...... "I saw the clock. You made your point. What time do you have?"

...... His digital and mine agreed.

...... I grinned, "Frank, you tired this morning?"

...... "Sure am."

...... "You take care now, okay?"

...... He smiled and hurried back into the office. His children waited.

* * *

...... Patrice Demarco said, "Martha Denise went through hell with that man. He accused her of cheating, and now this." Her voice was nasal, her mouth a thin bloodless gash. "She is very sensitive, has a high IQ. It is the highest at Dorset." She glanced at me as if daring me to dispute the assertion. It wasn't worth it.

...... "By hell you mean," I said, "the fondling you witnessed. In part."

...... She peered at me for a long moment. "Yes."

...... "You back up her story of what occurred Monday."

...... A vigorous nod. Eyes open, candid.

...... "At what time did you say you saw Mr. Shade fondle Miss Walsh?"

...... "Twelve thirty."

...... "What did you see?"

...... "They were both standing and he was rubbing her breasts and she backed away."

...... "Did you say anything?"

...... "I left before they saw me." Her eyes searched my face, dropped away. I'm not good at hiding my emotions.

...... In the serving line Alice waved a spoon at me. I waved back.

...... "Ms. Demarco, tell me about the cheating accusation Mr. Shade leveled at Martha Denise."

...... She nodded and, the nasality growing more pronounced, launched into a speech against Frank Shade. He had accused Martha Denise of copying from a book. No, she herself had not read the paper. No, she had not talked to Mr. Shade. She refused to talk to Mr. Shade.

...... I said, "The Walshes and Dr. Clifton don't want the problem to spread. There's a lot at stake."

...... "The reputation of Dorset Academy," she recited, mincing the words. Leaning over the table, "If Dr. Clifton demands the resignation of Mr. Shade, he will go a long way to restoring our reputation." Her lips were a thin line drawn under an F on a hapless student's paper.

...... I had another question or two, but what was the point? I thanked her and rose. She looked away, over to a knot of students quizzing one another with flash cards.

* * *

...... I said, "You didn't accuse her of cheating."

...... Frank Shade and I stood in a stairwell alcove by a window. "No. She was imitating Salinger's teenage tone. That often happens when a bright student becomes absorbed with her material. I asked her to change the tone and promised to reconsider the grade."

...... "You made no accusation."

...... "She said I did?"

...... "She and Demarco."

...... He frowned. "She couldn't have cheated. If she had she would have adopted the scholarly tone of her sources. She was involved in the cynical mood Salinger set in the novel; she adopted it along with the idiom. She likes Salinger. In preparing the paper she'd read all of Salinger and three or four critics. She claimed--and made a good case--that one of the critics had misread a chapter."

...... "What did you tell her to do?"

...... "Recast the entire paper, amplify the idea of critical sloppiness. Avoid the Holden Caulfield tone. Be yourself. That's all I said."

...... "That was the final piece of advice."

...... He nodded. "She wanted to talk for another few minutes but I said I had another student coming in. She glanced at the clock and left."

...... "The wall clock."

...... "Yes."

...... "She wasn't wearing a watch."

...... "No."

...... "Trish Demarco--"

...... "Never appeared," he said.

...... "I know," I said. "You'll resign."

...... "I have to. Last hour a kid asked me about the case. I said it was a private matter." Side by side we stared out the window for a moment. Across the street shops lined the avenue, insurance, CPA, women's clothes, a tailor shop. "The kids seem distant."

...... His effectiveness as a teacher was ended.

...... He pointed to a tailor shop just visible from where we stood. "No place to get a reputation patched or sewn up."

...... "Take the job with Fitchert."

...... "After classes I'm going over there."

...... "What grade did you give her on the paper?"

...... "B-plus with the option of redoing it for an A. She's a straight-A student."

...... Martha Denise Walsh had accomplished her goal, Frank Shade's reputation was ruined. She had no discernible motive, unless a B-plus was a motive.

...... "Has Martha Denise returned to your class?"

...... "No. She transferred to Ms. Demarco's class."

...... "She said she would."

* * *

...... On my arrival Walsh deserted the desk, and we sat across from one another in visitors chairs. Bars of sunlight touched the expensive carpet, the paneling of the banker's domain.

...... "I'm off the case, Mr. Walsh."

...... He nodded without surprise. "Martha Denise."

...... "This is my report: your daughter lied. There's no sense in pursuing anything. A teacher backed up her lie. They're both in this up to their eyebrows. Neither one seems concerned with consequences. They couldn't even get straight who was standing and who was sitting when the event supposedly occurred. At your house, she was sitting, he standing. Dr. Clifton said she was standing, Mr. Shade sitting. At school Martha forgot what she said and told me they were both standing. That's what Ms. Demarco said."

...... He winced. "So finally they have the story straight."

...... "The lie," I amended. "Now they have what they want. Frank Shade's reputation is wrecked."

...... His head went down. "I suspected Martha Denise was not being truthful." His hands gestured helplessly. "It's Trudy; she dotes on our daughter." He studied me for a moment. "She almost died giving birth."

...... I wanted to say so what. "Your daughter has been caught out a few times before this." Before he could reply, "I don't need to know."

...... "How did you discover the truth?"

...... "Trish and Martha Denise acted on impulse, but your daughter had the original idea." I raised my left arm and pulled my sleeve back. "Martha Denise said the fondling occurred at twelve-thirty precisely by the English office clock. It didn't; the clock was off. At twelve-thirty another student was in the office. Dr. Clifton said she entered his office at twelve-fifty. That was a lapse of half an hour. It takes less than a minute to walk from the English office to the main office."

...... The expression on his face made me think of the bum I'd fed, a man luckier than Clyde Walsh.

...... "Ms. Demarco confirmed that the alleged event occurred at the time your daughter said."

...... He looked down at his feet. He must have been through something like this before, without his wife. "Please continue."

...... "Ms. Demarco has a desk in the English office. Mr. Shade demonstrated to me that the clock on the wall is so unreliable that the teachers have individual travel alarms on their desks. Now, if Ms. Demarco had witnessed the event, she would have known the clock was fast. She wasn't there. Today when I interviewed her she was wearing a watch."

...... "Where was she yesterday?"

...... "Unimportant. Two cooks say they saw her down in the cafeteria area but couldn't swear she was there the entire period. What's important is she had to take your daughter's word for the time of the event. She did, which means she and Martha Denise conferred at some time and Ms. Demarco didn't bother to ask which clock Martha Denise referred to. They talked Monday after Mr. Shade asked Martha Denise to revise a paper and before she went to Dr. Clifton with the accusation. That accounts for the half-hour lag."

...... "What might they have said to one another?"

...... I shrugged. "They both hate Mr. Shade." How deep was Martha Denise's hatred for her parents? "Dr. Clifton said that when Martha Denise entered his office she was angry, not distraught as might be expected. The boy who had an appointment after your daughter said she seemed preoccupied in the hall, but not angry. She wasn't heading to Dr. Clifton's office, either. By the time she got to his office, she'd decided something."

...... "With help."

...... "Yes, with help."

...... "Did Martha Denise cheat on the paper?"

...... I placed both hands on my knees. "Mr. Shade said she didn't. He told me her paper needed revising, which is what he recommended. She left at twelve-twenty."

...... "That time is firm."

...... "Yes, sir."

...... "She took offense at a recommendation to rewrite the paper."

...... "That's all I can figure for a motive. Do you have any ideas?"

...... "She is arrogant. Whatever an IQ is, she is confident she has the highest at Dorset."

...... "She doesn't."

...... "No, and she knows it." He sat back and sighed.

...... Bury the information deep, with a demon's aid. Someday Martha Denise Walsh would have to confront the demon. Or Clyde and Trudy Walsh could try to tease it out before it burst like a boil.

...... Motive? Hate and more than hate. What more? I didn't want to know.

...... He studied his hands. "Mr. Shade could not have molested her, because of the time factor."

...... "There's more." He raised his eyebrows. I continued, "He and his wife decided to resign to raise a family, months before this event. He has a better paying job lined up. For months they'd been trying to conceive. Monday, Mr. Shade was fatigued."

...... His eyes traveled around his office, over the books and filing cabinets and dark furniture. They came to rest on my tie.

...... I said, "He couldn't have had the slightest interest in your daughter."

...... He said, "Why did my daughter and--"

...... I rose. "Ask a shrink. Martha Denise needs help." I went to the door and turned.

...... "I shall withdraw her from Dorset." He put one palm on the desk and tucked his feet under him, preparing to rise. He didn't. He continued to sit, hand on desk, as if he didn't trust his legs.

...... "Dr. Clifton would appreciate that." He would appreciate Ms. Demarco's resignation too. He mentioned something about moral turpitude. She's really a fine teacher Mr. Angello, really she is. Dorset would be shy three teachers.

...... He stood, slowly. "What else would you recommend, Mr. Angello?"

...... "Just get her help before she does worse." Maybe to you, I thought as I recalled her air of detachment when I first met her.

...... "Can't you prove Mr. Shade did nothing to my daughter?"

...... "Yes. But it won't matter. Mud sticks."

...... "The Shades intended to resign before this."

...... "Yes."

...... "Some comfort in that."

...... "I suppose so."

...... "But some will believe they were forced out."

...... I leaned back against the door. "Can't be helped, I guess."

...... We shook hands. "Thank you, Mr. Angello."

...... "Sure."

...... "Just a moment." He crossed to his desk and reached for a checkbook.

...... "Forget it," I said. "The case is over, Mr. Walsh. I didn't do much."

...... He sat heavily in the chair behind his desk.

...... I went to my car and sat for a minute before starting the engine and returning to my part of town, back to the struggling trees.

Copyright (c) 2002 by Peter A. Parmantie.



Peter Parmantie was born in Chicago, Illinois and left thanks to the Korean War. Before the war he read. He read during the war and after it. Not knowing what else one could do with a reading background, he decided to become a teacher of English. He began in 1955 and ended in 1997. Still casting around for something to do in his retirement, he began writing the stories that intrigued him most as a kid, crime and mystery. Joseph Angello is Parmantie in a bad mood.

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