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."
...... "Yes. At first."
...... "And then someone
else came forward?"
...... Mrs. Walsh nodded.
...... 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
...... 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."
...... "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,"
...... 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."
...... "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?"
...... 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
...... "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
...... "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
...... "Her English teacher,
Mr. Frank Shade, as they were ending a conference. She was standing,
...... "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?"
...... "Did she scream or
...... "No, sir. The office
was deserted except for them. She says she was shocked."
...... "Did you believe
...... "No, sir."
...... "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
...... "What was the time?"
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
...... 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
...... "He made no defense."
...... "No, sir."
...... "Did he and Mrs.
...... "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
...... "Tell me about Mr.
...... 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
...... "How long have they
...... "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
...... "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
...... 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.
...... A well-bred grimace, "Unfortunately,
intellect and character do not always intersect." His hands
...... "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
...... "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,
...... "How many, Dr. Clifton?
...... "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
...... "That would be Ms.
Demarco-so says Ms. Demarco." His lip curled.
...... "Is she here
...... "No. She frequently
...... "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
...... "The alleged assault
occurred over the noon period. Where was Ms. Demarco supposed
to be then?"
...... "She has a free period
...... "She and Frank Shade
...... "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
...... "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."
...... Alice said, "They
...... "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
...... "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
...... "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
...... "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
...... "Was Demarco spreading
...... 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
...... Alice said, "Look,
ever see the Shades?"
...... "Not had the chance
...... "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
...... "Tied it tight,"
...... "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
...... "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."
...... "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
...... 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."
...... "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
...... 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
...... 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
...... She said, "And gain
...... "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."
...... The big man blushed. He
glanced at his wife. She was trying to keep from laughing. Her
...... 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
...... 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."
...... "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
...... They both nodded.
...... "No success so far,"
...... "No," she said,
"but we're hopeful."
...... He said, "If we waited
too much longer, childbearing would be risky."
...... "You've had an active
...... They blushed.
...... "How did you feel
...... Frank threw his head back
and laughed. Before he could speak, Donna said, "He was
...... 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
...... "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."
...... "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
...... "The Catcher in the
...... 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
...... 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.
...... "When did you get
to the English office?'
...... He ran a finger around
his collar. "Right on time, twelve-twenty."
...... "Meet anyone in the
...... He made a sour face. Again
he tugged at the collar. "Martha."
...... "Where was she?"
...... "Coming out of the
...... "Where was she headed?"
...... "Down here."
...... "What did she say
...... "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
...... "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
...... 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
...... "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,
...... 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
...... "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,
...... "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
...... 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
...... "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
...... 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
* * *
...... 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."
...... "She wasn't wearing
...... "Trish Demarco--"
...... "Never appeared,"
...... "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
...... "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,
...... He nodded without surprise.
...... "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
...... 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
...... "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
...... "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
...... "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."
...... "Some comfort in
...... "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."
...... "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.
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.
Like what you've read? Head here
for more Thrilling Detective Fiction!
Please direct further comments and
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...... ."And I'll tell you right out that I'm a man who
likes talking to a man who likes to talk."
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