|Home||My Photos||My Fiction||My Dolls Houses|
Sometimes it seemed to Blair Sandburg that he did nothing except grade papers. Sometimes he thought that even sitting in David Lash's chair waiting to die had been a more rewarding way of spending his time.
When he was in that sort of mood, any interruption was welcome.
At the expected, but tentative, knock on the door, he looked up from the admittedly well done test paper he was reading, glad of the reprieve.
The young girl who obeyed his call looked nervous; and his observer's eye noted the slightly reddened eyes. She had been crying, though she was making a brave attempt at controlling herself.
"You wanted to see me, Mr Sandburg?" She sounded as if it wouldn't take much to start the tears again.
He ignored that. "Julie. Yes." Mentally, he noted that she was early for her appointment with him, and said so. "Have a seat. I'll be with you in a moment." In fact, it would have been perfectly easy for him to drop what he was doing and speak to her right away, but he recognised that she could use that moment to pull herself together.
This clearly wasn't going to be just about a low mark; this girl had a serious problem - at least a problem serious to her; and he wondered if it was the most obvious one - that she was pregnant and her boyfriend didn't want to know. If that was the case, he decided, he would take great pleasure in finding that boyfriend and kicking him into a sense of his responsibilities.
He seemed to return his attention to the paper in front of him while surreptitiously watching her. He saw when she began to relax, absorbing the quiet 'guide' atmosphere he was broadcasting. He gave her another few seconds, then looked up, laying aside the paper he had not been reading.
"Sorry about that, Julie - I wanted to finish reading that to get the full flavour of it," he said.
"Now, the first thing I want to establish is that you're not in any trouble here. One bad mark isn't the end of the world, and it isn't likely to affect your final result. But when a student who has never had a mark under B+ suddenly and for no obvious reason gets a D, I like to see if there is a reason for it. It could be something as simple as a bad headache the day you did the paper, or a little more serious, like a raging argument the night before with your boyfriend. Maybe you just didn't understand the questions, in which case it's my fault for not making them clear.
"Whatever, I'm here to listen if you have a problem that caused that low mark, and help you if I can." He was using something close to his Guide voice - it didn't always work with students, none of whom were Sentinels, but in this instance it could just persuade her to trust him.
She licked her lips and swallowed. "I..." Just the effort of uttering the single syllable broke her again and her voice was lost in a sob before she fought to regain her composure.
Well aware that a comforting hug could be misinterpreted, Blair squashed his first instinct, which was to give one, and simply waited. "It's all right, Julie. Take your time. Don't try to speak. Just nod or shake your head. Are you in any sort of trouble?"
She shook her head. Well, that was his first guess out the window, and he was glad of it.
"Not being bullied?"
"No," she managed. "It's... It's my Mom." It was blurted out as if she would rather remain silent but was forcing herself to speak.
"Ill?" It was the most obvious conclusion, but somehow he didn't think that was it.
She shook her head again. "No... but..."
He waited patiently.
"I shouldn't tell anyone... but it's not fair..."
His Guide voice fully engaged, he said, "It can help to tell someone who isn't involved, Julie. Just talking about it can help you. It's something that's obviously bothering you a lot when it's affecting your marks so badly."
"Yes..." She swallowed again, groped in her jacket pocket, pulled out a handkerchief and blew her nose almost defiantly. Then she took a deep breath.
"Two years ago - the day after my sixteenth birthday - Mom told me that the man I'd always thought was my father was actually my stepfather. I was about four when they married, and the very first thing he did after that was adopt me."
He nodded, afraid he knew what was coming. Once again he was wrong.
"Nobody could hope for a better Dad, Mr Sandburg. He couldn't have loved me more, done more for me, if I had been his own daughter." She fell silent again. Then -
"My real father is dead, killed by a gunman who tried to rob the liquor store where he worked. I don't know if he tried to be a hero and the thief panicked and shot him, or if the thief was just plain bad and would have shot him anyway, and I don't suppose it really matters much." Once started, momentum carried her on.
"I was just a toddler; obviously I don't remember anything about him.
"Mom said things were really hard for us till she met Dad, because my father hadn't earned that much and he'd left nothing in the way of savings; she'd be the first to admit that we've had a better life with Dad than we'd ever have had with my biological father; if he hadn't been killed... She'd loved him right enough, but he never earned enough for life to be more than a struggle, didn't have any ambition - from what she told me about him, he sounded like a feckless charmer, the sort of man it's easy to love but who just isn't ever going to make a good, reliable husband. She'd have had to work all her life, which she hasn't had to do with Dad, and I'd have had to leave school the moment I was old enough and start working too; they could never have afforded to let me stay on at school let alone come to university, even with the scholarship I got.
"So although I was sorry to hear about him, about how he died, I didn't feel anything. Dad is my father." She looked almost appealingly at Blair, seeming to be on the verge of tears again, and he had the feeling that at least one person - probably her mother - had criticised her for her attitude.
"I know exactly what you mean," he told her, speaking in as matter-of-fact a tone as he could manage. "I never knew my biological father, never knew his name, even; I'm not sure my Mom even knows who he was. If someone walked in now with proof of who my father was, then said that he was dead, I'd feel nothing except perhaps some regret that I'd never had the chance to meet him and see what he was like. But I've never missed him, and I certainly wouldn't grieve."
It had given her a chance to regain control once more.
"Anyway, Mom said that the man who killed my father had been caught and sent to prison - that he was still in prison. He'd been eligible for parole after ten years. The parole board had contacted her then. She went to his parole hearing; she said she'd cried, because it brought it all back and she really had loved my father, so the man was turned down for parole."
"I suppose that's understandable. The parole board would think her life had been ruined."
"Yes - but she's happy with Dad."
"You don't easily forget the kind of trauma she suffered - her husband shot, she was left a widow with a very young child... And being reminded of it like that..." Blair knew he was playing Devil's advocate but he wanted to learn exactly how Julie felt about it all.
"I know - but she did the same the next year, and she was expecting it that time. And she's done it every year since. When I was sixteen, she only told me about doing it the first year - I only found out she was still doing it last year after she came back from the parole hearing with a... a sort of gloating, satisfied look on her face, and she told me what she'd done.
"The man's annual parole hearing comes up again next month, and she means to do it again.
"I've tried telling her to let it go. He's paid and paid. He lost his life too.
"Yes, my father died; but Mom got a new life, a good life with a good husband. I've had a very good life. Dad's given us far more that my biological father would have - could have - done.
"I keep thinking I should go along too and tell the parole board the truth -that she's happily remarried, she's just being... I don't know... unforgiving? But she's my Mom. How can I do that to her?"
Understanding Julie's dilemma Julie, Blair schooled his face to show nothing but sympathy. "Do you know the name of the man who killed your father?"
He licked his lips, thinking. "It might be possible to do something for him without involving you or letting your Mom know you had anything to do with the truth coming out."
"By tracking down the records of your Mom's second marriage and your adoption. This was all in Cascade?"
"About..." he looked at her; sixteen two years ago... "About fourteen years ago?"
"Yes. Their wedding anniversary is - "
"No, don't tell me. I want you to be able to say completely truthfully that you didn't tell anyone any details if your Mom ever asks. That I spoke to you about a low mark and you told me your father's killer's parole hearing was due and you were unhappy and upset about the whole thing. Which is the truth. Now leave this with me, and stop worrying. Concentrate on getting those marks up again, and keeping them up."
She already looked more cheerful. "Thank you."
"And I think your name can definitely be kept out of it, except of course in terms of 'Julie was adopted by her stepfather and is currently a student at Rainier'."
As the door closed behind her, he reached for his cell phone.
John Turner glanced around the room as he was escorted in, noting with resignation the familiar figure of Mrs Olsen, sitting there with her handkerchief held to her face. The man he had hoped to see - Detective Ellison - was not there, and he was aware of a touch of disappointment. 'No guarantees', Ellison had said, but Turner had trusted him to come along and at least try.
However, before anything was said, the door opened again and Jim Ellison entered, carrying a folder. He too looked round, and nodded to Turner.
"My apologies for being late, gentlemen," he said. "I hope I haven't delayed things too much?"
"No - we were just about to start the hearing."
Turner listened, stony-faced, as the widow of the man he had killed broke down and sobbed as the details of his crime were read to the parole board - the members of which probably knew those details perfectly well.
The widow wasn't even questioned; the Board was used to this and let her tears speak for her.
The prosecutor stood. "It is obvious that the prisoner's action destroyed this poor woman's life. I move that his request for parole be denied."
Jim Ellison stood. "Detective James Ellison, Major Crimes," he said. "I have a story for this Board.
"Recently, it came to the attention of the Police Department that there was a problem at Starkville Prison. Men were dying there. OK, it happens; but there were too many men dying. A cop sent in undercover as a guard also died. I went in as a prisoner; my cover story was I'd killed a cop. Turned out that the prison authorities were running a gambling shop, with prisoners fighting each other and a sick clientele of gamblers betting on who would win and who would die.
"My cellmate was John Turner.
"In that environment, men talk about what they did. He told me I was stupid killing a cop; of his own crime, his comment was, 'He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. So was I.'
"Subsequently, when another prisoner tried to kill me, Turner saved my life. However, I was betrayed to the guards by a prisoner we didn't realize knew me and sentenced by them to fight; they reckoned Turner had probably tried to help me, and he was also given the same sentence. We were set to fight each other in their ring; he followed my lead and refused to fight.
"Before things could get any worse, my Captain raided the prison and made a several arrests.
"Turner helped me, and all he asked, when he realized I was a cop, was that I come here today, tell you how he helped me, and put in a word on his behalf. However, I decided to do some checking up on Mrs Olsen, whose attitude seems to have been instrumental in keeping Mr Turner in prison."
He opened his folder. "I have here copies of a marriage certificate dated June 1984, between Maria Olsen, widow, and Andrew Neumann, businessman, and a certificate dated July 1984 attesting to the adoption of Julie Olsen, daughter of Maria Olsen and the deceased Thomas Olsen, by Andrew Neumann.
"A further check revealed that Julie Neumann is a student in her first year at Rainier University, and doing extremely well.
"No matter how much Mrs Neumann loved her first husband, she has been happily remarried for fourteen years. Mr Turner's unpremeditated actions may have made life difficult for her for a short while, but did not ruin her life; he has paid for the shooting of Thomas Olsen, he helped an undercover cop even before he knew that I was a cop, and I contend that he deserves to be favourably considered for parole."
They had decided that Blair should stay out of the picture to hide the connection with Julie so as not to cause a potential problem between her and her mother, and he was waiting at home to hear the results.
"Very well, Chief. Turner got his parole. I had a word with him later, and I've promised him a character reference. He's got skills he learned in prison; I think we can get him a job. Simon's agreed to help - considering how much Turner helped me."
"Good. Julie will be happy to hear that - she's been feeling, like, very guilty about Turner, though it was nothing to do with her."
Ellison nodded. "Will you tell her how you were able to contact the right authorities to swing things for him?"
"No. Not unless she asks. I imagine her mother will let her know, even if it's only in indignation, that a cop who already had an interest in Turner checked her background. Julie's a clever girl; she'll work it out that I gave that cop a shove in the right direction. Meanwhile, dinner's nearly ready."
He was smiling happily as he began to set the table. From the little Jim had told him about events in Starkville, Turner was a good man at heart; now he would get the second chance he had been denied for so long. In addition - and more importantly, as far as Blair was concerned - Julie Neumann could turn her full attention back to her studies.