Viola avenue, p.12

Viola Avenue, page 12

 part  #9 of  Rose Hill Series


Viola Avenue

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  “Patronizing courtesy,” Patrice said. “Dance and Drama were at war over the theater schedule. He had an awful reputation where the students were concerned. I don’t think any formal complaints were made, but I know the HR department had meetings with him last semester. He was pretty blatant in his favoritism.”

  “Any of those students still around?”

  “Uh huh,” she said. “You’ve got two of them in your class.”

  “The car twins?”

  Claire made a face and Patrice laughed.

  “I know, right?” she said. “Not a brain in their pretty little heads, and from what I hear, terrible actresses, but they were last semester’s stars.”

  “How did he get away with it if everyone knew?”

  “Please,” she said. “The administration says all the right things in public, and there are pockets of decency here and there, but the faculty is rife with affairs and inappropriate relationships. Nobody was going to call out Alan on behavior they could be accused of themselves. According to the administration, as long as they’re old enough, it’s consensual, no parents complain, and the tuition dollars keep flowing in, there are officially no problems.”

  “I heard there were some teenagers here last semester, as part of a high school internship program.”

  “They’ve canceled the program,” Patrice said. “For good reason.”

  “Was Alan involved?”

  “Maybe,” she said. “I heard the ringleader was a Drama student.”

  “Do you know which students were involved?”

  “No,” Patrice said. “It’s all been hushed up; no one’s allowed to talk about it, ostensibly to protect the identity of the victims.”

  “There was more than one victim?”

  Patrice nodded.

  “Did you have any idea Alan had alcohol problems?”

  “No more than the rest of them,” Patrice said. “Although Agatha’s more of a pothead than a drinker.”

  “I’d heard something to that effect,” Claire said. “Who do you think will take Alan’s place?”

  “Maurice Jarvis deserves it,” Patrice said. “But with the politics that go on here, you never know.”

  “Do you think anyone hated Alan enough to kill him?”

  “Why? Do the police think that it wasn’t an accident?”

  “I have no idea,” Claire said. “I just have a suspicious mind.”

  “I once overheard a terrible argument between Alan and my boss, Beatrice, and I’m glad neither one knew I overheard it.”

  “What was that about?”

  “An affair she’s having,” Patrice said. “Beatrice wanted to schedule more rehearsal time in the theater for her dancers, but in order to do that it would have reduced Alan’s rehearsal time, so he refused. He then threatened to tell her husband about an affair if she didn’t back off. She was not pleased.”

  “What did she say?”

  “She said she was in a position to do him a lot of harm if she wanted to, and that he’d better keep his mouth shut or she’d expose him for who he really was.”

  “Who was he?”

  Patrice shrugged.

  “Do you know who she was having an affair with?”

  “Beatrice does not confide in me; she’s very discreet,” Patrice said. “But I’ve heard talk about her and Maurice.”

  “That should make the jockeying for Alan’s position interesting.”

  “Don’t I know it. All of us secretaries have our popcorn out, ready for the show.”

  Claire stopped by Doreen’s office in the Drama Department and asked if Professor Jarvis was in. He wasn’t, so Claire could reveal the real reason she was visiting.

  “Do you have the names of the high school students who were in the internship program last semester?”

  “I wasn’t here last semester,” Doreen said. “I do remember seeing a file for the internship program; I’ll get it for you.”

  Doreen went to a room behind her office. Claire could see it was filled with filing cabinets. Doreen opened a few drawers and rifled through the files before returning.

  “That’s weird,” Doreen said. “The file’s gone. I know it was there earlier this summer. I wonder where it went.”

  “Would you mind if I look in Alan’s office for it?” Claire asked. “It’s kind of important.”

  “Sure, go ahead.”

  Claire opened the door to Alan’s office and then closed it behind her. She didn’t know what she expected, but it was not this empty, barren space with no computer, no papers, no files, no books, nothing on the walls, and not even an empty coffee cup on the clean surface of the desk.

  She went back out to Doreen’s office.

  “Can you come in here for a minute?” she asked.

  Doreen followed her back into Alan’s office and was visibly surprised by what she saw.

  “That’s weird,” Doreen said. “All his stuff is gone.”

  “Has anyone else been in here since he passed away?”

  “Not while I was working,” Doreen said.

  “Do you lock up when you leave?”

  “Yes,” Doreen said. “Maurice has a key, and maintenance and security have keys, but no one else does that I know of.”

  Claire found two teaching assistants in the breakroom on the third floor of Winslow Homer Hall. When she asked them if they had heard about a party where teenagers got into some kind of trouble, the two looked at each other briefly before the young man excused himself and left. The young woman who remained motioned for Claire to sit.

  “He was there but he can’t talk about it,” she said. “There were teenagers there and it got ugly. Everyone got hauled into the dean’s office and threatened with expulsion if they talked about it. It was a very big deal last semester.”

  “Do you know what happened?”

  “I know what I’ve heard,” she said. “That doesn’t make it true.”

  “What have you heard?”

  “It was a rave,” she said. “Well, as much of a rave as you can have on a small campus in the middle of nowhere. They took over one of the dance studios without permission. There were a lot of drugs and drinking. Someone called the campus police and they broke it up; took the teenagers home. That’s all I know.”

  “Do you know the names of the teenagers involved?”

  “No,” she said. “And no one who was there is going to tell you. It would mean immediate expulsion if they did.”

  “Were they the same teenagers as were in the internship program?”

  The young woman nodded.

  “They’re not doing that program anymore,” she said. “Whatever happened, it was really bad.”

  Claire stopped at the gatehouse at the entrance to the college grounds. There she chit-chatted with her father’s old friend, who worked there every weekday. She eventually asked him if he was involved with campus security but he shook his head.

  “I’m just on the gate, and the college pays me direct,” he said. “The security team is run by a contractor; Eldridge pays the contractor, and the contractor pays the security team. They don’t include me in their meetings and I’m not in that loop.”

  “Did you hear about a party that got out of hand last spring, maybe some high school kids were involved?”

  “I heard about that from the maintenance director,” he said. “The president’s son was involved, so it got hushed up.”

  “Do you know if Professor Alan Richmond was involved?”

  “He might have been,” he said. “After he died, the president asked the maintenance director to clean out Professor Richmond’s office, himself, and bring everything to him. They loaded it all up in the president’s car and he took it off campus. I don’t know what he did with all of it, but seems like he didn’t want anyone else to get hold of it.”

  “That’s shady.”

  “That’s the word for it,” he said. “Mighty suspicious, if you ask me.”

  Claire called home to check on her mother, wh
o said her father was sleeping in his chair, quiet as a lamb. His brother, Fitz, was hanging out at their house, just to make sure Delia was safe.

  Claire stopped by the newspaper office, but Ed was not there, and the door was locked. Down on Iris Avenue, she saw his car was in his driveway so she knocked, and Tommy answered the door.

  “He’s in the shower,” Tommy said, and went back to his homework at the kitchen table.

  Claire wandered around the kitchen, opening cabinet doors and closing them, not really looking for anything, just not able to stand still.

  “Are you hungry or something?” Tommy asked. “We’re ordering pizza.”

  “Sounds good,” Claire said, and sat down at the table across from him.

  Tommy was sixteen, with floppy brown hair and the normal teenage skin issues. He was cute, and would be handsome, but although it was obvious to Claire, evidently Tommy didn’t realize it. Claire bit her tongue rather than offer to cut his hair or shop for some better fitting clothes. He did have a mother, and Claire was determined to stay on the right side of her.

  “Oh,” Claire said, remembering. “Did you know Charlotte’s boyfriend broke up with her?”

  To Claire’s amazement, Tommy’s face flushed and he tensed up as if ready for a fight.

  “She broke up with him,” Tommy said. “If I ever catch him out somewhere, I’m going to beat the crap out of him.”

  “Why did they break up?” Claire asked.

  “I heard they ran away together and got caught. Something pretty bad must have happened, though, because his parents sent him to military school and Charlotte’s missed the first two weeks of school.”

  “What do you think happened?”

  “He must have done something to her,” Tommy said. “Something bad.”

  “If he did something illegal, he should be arrested,” Claire said. “He might do it again to someone else.”

  “Rowan’s dad is the new president at Eldridge, and Ava doesn’t want a scandal to mess up things with her rich boyfriend.”

  “When did this happen?”

  “When did what happen?” Ed said as he walked in the room.

  Tommy gave Claire a look of wide-eyed panic and shook his head with a tiny movement.

  “When did teenagers get so spoiled and entitled?” Claire said. “I’ve got a couple of wannabe reality stars in my class named Porsche and Mercedes.”

  “The car twins,” Ed said. “Everyone knows them.”

  “Are they really twins?” Tommy asked.

  “No,” Claire said. “Not even related. Just have parents with luxury car fetishes, I guess.”

  “Actually, Mercedes is another name for the Virgin Mary,” Ed said. “And Portia is a character in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice.”

  “Thanks, smarty-pants,” Claire said. “I somehow don’t think that’s the reasoning behind their names but I’m always so grateful to be schooled by you.”

  “I detect sarcasm.”

  “How do you handle the racism and general hatefulness in your classes?”

  “I gave a speech about tolerance and respect on the first day,” Ed said. “I told them professional civility was part of their grade.”

  “I don’t think a speech would work with these kids,” Claire said.

  “Well, it is called the Drama Department,” Ed said.

  “Haters gonna hate,” Tommy said.

  “Truer words were never spoken,” Ed said.

  “I’m going to call in the pizza,” Tommy said. “What do you want?”

  “I’m going to be kind to you by not having garlic on mine,” Ed said to Claire.

  “Eat whatever you like,” Claire said. “I can’t stay.”

  While Tommy went to pick up the pizza, Ed started telling Claire about the political issues at stake in the next local election. Eventually, Claire was forced to cover up a yawn with a cough, and had to strain not to look at the clock. She could actually feel her eyes glaze over. She was suddenly so tired.

  “Am I boring you?” Ed asked.

  “I’m sorry,” Claire said. “I can’t quit thinking about my dad.”

  “Anything I can do?” he asked.

  “Just knowing you’re here for me is all the help I need right now,” she said. “I’ll let you know if there’s anything else.”

  At home, Claire’s mother was reading through the pile of information the social worker had given them.

  “Is any of it helpful?” Claire asked.

  “It’s kind of overwhelming,” Delia said. “This is a list of steps we need to take in order. Doc is going to take care of having him declared incompetent; Sean’s preparing the application for guardianship and Judge Fineman will sign off on that. I have to go to the Social Security office in Morgantown and apply to be designated his representative payee. Bonnie said she would drive me.”

  “She’s being super helpful,” Claire said. “I’m sort of surprised.”

  “Bonnie has a tough exterior, but she loves us,” Delia said.

  “I’m taking him to his assessment appointment,” Claire said. “Sometime this week.”

  “Are you sure you don’t want me to go?”

  “You rile him up,” Claire said. “I need him calm and docile.”

  Her mother put her hand on Claire’s arm.

  “I’m so sorry this is your life now.”

  “I’m sorry this is your life now,” Claire said. “We’re in this together.”

  “How was your first day of class?”

  “It was somewhat irritating.”

  “Why irritating?”

  “I’d forgotten how rude young people can be,” Claire said. “I guess I haven’t been around them that much.”

  “Your father used to say they shouldn’t be allowed to drive or get married until they’re thirty.”

  “He’s right,” Claire said. “I wish I’d waited.”

  “Which reminds me, Pip called looking for you.”

  “I have him blocked on my phone for that very reason,” Claire said. “What did he want?”

  “He needs someone to watch the girls while he goes to a job interview.”

  Claire let her mouth drop open.

  “And I’m the person he calls?” she asked. “Why not his mother or one of twenty other people I could name? I divorced Pip. I shouldn’t be his go-to person every time he’s in a tight spot.”

  “He knows you’re kind, and you can’t refuse to help those sweet little girls.”

  “What did you tell him?”

  “I said you were far too busy and couldn’t possibly help out, and then I gave him a contact number for the Women’s Interdenominational Society, and the name of the member who could help him coordinate care for the girls.”

  “I hope he calls them.”

  “I also mentioned that school had started, and he needed to get the girls enrolled. He said he was working on it.”

  “Sure he is.”

  “I know he was a terrible husband to you, and Lord knows I’ve cursed his name many a time, but he honestly seems to be trying to do right by those children.”

  “Until he can fob them off on someone else,” Claire said. “I know him. He’s good at saying he’ll do the right thing but terrible at following through.”

  “He’s not had the best role models.”

  “It wouldn’t matter if he had,” Claire said. “He’s not bright enough to learn the reason everything always goes wrong for him is because of the stupid choices he makes.”

  “I feel a little bit sorry for him.”

  “I know,” Claire said. “It’s a natural talent of his, bringing that out in women.”

  “I’m glad you have Ed now.”

  “Me, too,” Claire said.

  Chapter Eight

  Two days later, on Wednesday, Claire’s second day of class, the students showed up with their supplies, and if not exactly friendly toward each other, initially they seemed more tolerant of one other. Unfortunately, it did not last.
r />   “I’d love to make you up,” Porsche told Anna. “I can make your eyes seem much bigger than they are.”

  “My eyes are supposed to look like they do,” Anna said. “I don’t want to look like you.”

  “I can’t say anything to you,” Porsche complained. “I was trying to be nice.”

  “By implying my Asian features are unacceptable,” Anna said.

  “Just ignore them,” Teague said to Anna. “They’re just airheaded bimbos.”

  “And you prefer your bimbos much younger, don’t you, T-Bone?” said Victoria.

  “Young and unconscious,” Jean Claude said, and several of the students laughed at Teague, who flushed a deep red.

  “All right!” Claire said. “That’s enough!”

  They all turned to her in surprise.

  “If one more person says anything offensive to anyone else,” Claire said, “you’re out of this class. Do you understand me?”

  Mercedes started to complain.

  “No, don’t even start,” Claire said. “You don’t get to decide what someone else should or should not find offensive. In this class you will treat me, and each other, with respect, even if you have to fake it. You’re all supposed to be able to act; just pretend to be decent human beings. Otherwise, you’re wasting my time. Now, take out your book and turn to chapter three. We’re going to make everyone look old today. I don’t want to hear any complaints and I don’t want to hear anyone say anything that’s not related to the lesson.”

  They were quiet, but she could tell their feelings were hurt.

  Claire found she didn’t care.

  After class, Claire asked Jean Claude to stay behind.

  “Thanks for all the swag,” he said. “You’re the best.”

  “You’re welcome,” Claire said. “What was all that about Teague and unconscious bimbos?”

  “Oh, you didn’t hear that from me,” Jean Claude said. “Je ne sais rien.”

  “Is this about the rave?”

  “You heard about that, huh?”

  “Were you there?”

  “Honey, everyone who was anyone was there. It was outrageous. Très scandaleuse!”

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