©Robert M. (Bob) Leahy
2110 E. Crosby Road
Carrollton, TX 75006
(972) 416 - 6098

Approximate Word Count: 23,040

 

 

The St. Croix Scandals

Chapter One

 

Theodore Vincent winced in pain, limping out across College Avenue away from the bank--his bank--feeling all of his sixty-five years. His doctor told him he needed to use the leg more or the leg would get worse. He might become unable to walk. Vincent had to admit the soreness and tightness went away more quickly each day since he started walking the mile to and from the bank.

The morning was crisp. Vincent pulled the collar of his tan coat shut, trying to button it with his gloved hands. Much of the Snow which had covered St. Croix since October melted during the past few days, except along the streets and walks where it had been piled. Green grass glittered as frost warmed in the bright sun shining in a cloudless March sky. Vincent loved this time of year. The air was cold and fresh, stinging on the morning breeze.

Because Vincent had an hour before the College of St. Croix Board of Regents meeting, he decided to walk through Alumni Park. It was only a mile-and-a-half from the bank to the administration building at the college, along the west side of the St. Croix River. As he wandered along the blacktop path through the Campus Woods, he scoured the bare aspens, hoping to catch sight of deer. Although deer were a rarity on this side of the river, he had seen a young doe well off the trail darting through a wall of conifers on a walk just a few weeks ago.

He planned to rest at the Foundersí Gazebo, built out over the heights where the slow moving St. Croix River bent around the campus. It was one of his favorite spots on the college grounds. The structure stood in the middle of a large glade. Just across the river, a pair of bald eagles built a nest in the tall pines. In the spring, osprey could be seen soaring above the water. Warblers sang in the encircling trees.

The gazebo held both bitter and sweet memories for the aging bank president. His wife, Doris, dead nearly nine months since losing her three-year struggle with cancer, made the tiles that decorated the benches and comprised the mosaic on the gazebo floor. Vincent never tired of looking at that mosaic, at the intricate weaving of vines that encircled the collegeís seal. The benches, on six of the eight sides of the octagonal structure, featured silhouettes of the founders of the school and a brief biography. Colonel Herbert Melrose, Dorisí great grandfather, was featured on the west bench. His claim to fame came from his military service with Grant during the Civil War. Dorisí father, one of the schoolís major benefactors due to success with the areaís first paper mill, had secured the land for Alumni Park to ensure that the college always had an unobstructed view of the river.

The north and south ends of the gazebo were open archways through which entrance was gained. Vincent entered from the south, sat on his wifeís great grandfatherís bench and caught his breath. He rubbed his left leg after his mile-long walk. Lost in thought, gazing out toward the river, he was surprised to hear someone call out his name.

"Ted?"

Dr. Chester Hickerson stood in the north archway. The barrel-chested, bearded head of the department of social sciences studied the banker. "Iím not intruding?"

"No, Chet. Iím just catching my breath."

"Kind of a cold place to do it," Hickerson laughed.

"Old Doc Livermore told me I needed to exercise my leg more, so I decided to walk to the board meeting this morning. But I think I may have overdone just a bit, especially since I walked to work this morning."

"Carlyle Phelps," Hickerson said, taking the bench on the northwest wall, "forgive me for blocking your view of the river."

"What?" Vincent asked.

"Oh," Hickerson replied, "just one of my little rituals when I come and sit out here. Today I am sitting on Mr. Phelps. Itís one of those signs that shows what people say about psychologists is true. We are all nuts."

Vincent smiled. "What brings you out this way?"

"Loneliness, I guess. Did you know I first met Mary here?"

Vincent shook his head, studying the curly, gray bearded relic. Hickerson was one of the last of the faculty hired in the early sixties. One of the few who saw the college triple in size in the early seventies.

"I did. And every now and then, when I need to talk to her, this seems like the best place to do it."

Vincent nodded. Mary Hickerson died from a rare bone disease about a month after his Doris died from breast cancer. Vincent remembered Chet Hickersonís coming by one evening, a day or two after Dorisí funeral. How much it meant to have someone take him out to eat and just let him talk about his loss. Hickerson saw him almost twice a week for the next several months. And until the day of Maryís funeral, Vincent had been unaware of Hickersonís situation. One of just so many things Vincent had failed to attend to. One of so many things he regretted.

"For me, too," Vincent admitted. "So much of Doris is here." He sat, studying the mosaic. He was disappointed to see that some of the 7/8th-inch octagonal tiles were missing from the floor. When he looked around the gazebo, he noted that the ionic columns needed paint. The entire structure was in disrepair. Vincent made a mental note to tell Dr. DeWitt Hamilton, the president of the college, about the problem before the regents meeting. After all, there was a fund at the bank that covered the maintenance of the gazebo and its grounds. And, Vincent knew full well, there was plenty of money to keep things in tip-top shape.

"I never did thank you," Vincent started to say.

"No need," Hickerson interrupted.

"But you did so much for me. And I did so littleÖ." His voice trailed off.

"We handle our grief in different ways," Hickerson replied.

"I donít know how you do it."

"I donít really know either," Hickerson admitted. "I just go on and focus on what I need to do. Thatís what Mary would tell me to do. I can hear her say it."

"Thatís what I need to do." The aging banker sighed as he looked at his watch. He must focus on what needed to be done. The gazebo was just one of the many signs that the college was not being tended to properly. And, as chairman of the collegeís board, he took some of the blame. He had been too distracted by Dorisí deteriorating health. Her death. He went through the motions of work at the bank, with the regents. But he had not been focused.

"Letís have dinner again this Friday," Vincent said as he stood to leave.

"Fine," Hickerson replied. "I would love it." He stuck his bare hand out and shook Vincentís gloved one as the banker limped by. "Iím glad we ran into each other."

From the gazebo, Vincent headed West along a path winding through a small stand of trees, what was left of the original forestís western edge and into the dormant rose garden. From the garden, one could see the Greek Revival portico of the Melrose Hall, the administration building. The east and west faces of the building were identical; on the east, which Vincent approached, the building opened onto a broad lawn adjacent to the rose garden. On the west, the building lost some of its charm, opening onto the concrete of a wide sidewalk, a parking lot, and Academy Boulevard. Vincent loved to approach the building from the river. The three-story, white pillars against the dark red brick looked so much more inviting rising from the green of the lawn than the gray of the concrete on the other side. So, even though the walk was almost three times as long from the bank through the park, it was always worth it.

As he walked up the curved stairway leading to the main entrance, he slipped slightly on the last step. He looked down to see the surface had been eaten away by heavy salting. Here, too, the grandeur of the first view gave way to the reality of the closer inspection. There were so many little problems. None of them amounted to much. All--or most--were easily fixed. But they were being ignored. And, soon, if they were left untreated, they would become big problems. Some of them might become untreatable. "A wise man never lets his little problems get away from him," he remembered his dad saying. It was time to heed that advice.

As he stepped into the muralled rotunda of the administration building, Melvin Tipton, another long-time regent, greeted him. "Ted," he asked, crossing toward him, "did you walk over?"

"Sure did," Vincent sighed, regretting a chance to study the St. Croix narrative, from the Jesuit discovery of the river through the growth of the fur trade to the beginnings of the paper industry. Only recently had he become aware of the absence of Indians in any of the progressing scenes. The art teacher, Coombes, mentioned it one day. Coombes explained that during the 1880ís, when the painting was done, the Amerindians were thought to be more nuisance than heritage.

Tiptonís heavy car coat swirled across Vincentís line of sight, bringing him back to the present. "This is my favorite time of year, when the snow melts and the air starts to warm," he said.

"Itís been a long time coming," Tipton replied, smoothing out his non-existent hair by running his hand across the top of his baldhead. Vincent found himself watching as Tiptonís white eyebrows bobbed above his glasses in cadence to the insurance manís speech.

"I just hope the snow is over," Vincent added.

"Me, too," Tipton agreed. "Iím getting too old for this weather. And last year, the pile of snow in the square didnít melt until the end of May."

"Gentlemen," Margie Sullivan, the presidentís secretary said, as she came down the hallway toward them, "if you would like, you can go into the boardroom now. I just checked it, and everything is ready. Even the coffee. Itís been a long time since it arrived before any of the regents did," she laughed.

"Thank you, Margie," Vincent said. Then, putting a friendly hand on Tiptonís shoulder, he steered his slightly shorter fellow board member down the hallway and into the Regency Room. The room was remodeled ten years earlier. The black walnut wainscoting and heavy chocolate drapes had been removed in favor of apple wood details and sheer, gathered curtains hanging from royal blue valences.

"I just never get over how much nicer this room is since the remodeling," Tipton remarked as he took his customary seat along the window side of the table. One of the student waiters was already pouring him coffee.

"Iíve been thinking I need to do the same thing to my insurance offices," Tipton continued. "That dark paneling just wears me out."

Vincent nodded, sitting down at the head of the table. As he pulled his chair in, he noted the small tear in the blue leather of the armrest and a missing, decorative brass upholstery nail. Before Vincent had a chance to say anything, Dr. DeWitt Hamilton, St. Croix Collegeís president for the past ten years, entered the room. He pushed at the unruly shock of gray hair that fell across his forehead. Vincent remembered how Hamilton had kept it slicked back for years. Doris had said he looked more his age when he made the change. Vincent thought Hamilton looked good for sixty, although he was putting on the weight.

Behind Hamilton came Bidwell and Wilson, the other gray suits. Harry Bidwell, the academic vice president, was the shortest of the three at five feet seven inches. He carried all of his extra weight in a ball just above his belt. Avery Wilson, the administrative vice president, was almost as tall as Hamilton but carried about twice the weight. Wilson stopped in the hallway to say something to Mrs. Sullivan.

Vincent remembered what his secretary, JoAnn Newsome, said the last time she saw Vice President Wilson at the bank. She slipped into the office and closed the door before she started laughing. "Itís those beady eyes and the upturned nose more than his overall weight," she said. "But Porky is just so perfect. And since Mrs. Crawford told me that was his nickname, I canít help but laugh when I see him."

Vincent had admonished her lack of professionalism. But only gently. And now he smiled as the rotund administrator, adjusting his tie, turned sideways to ease through the door. Vincent patted his own stomach unconsciously. He had thickened over the years, but his stomach was firm. He pushed the pecan pie sitting to the left of his napkin away from his place at the table.

By the time Vincent had finished stirring the three packets of artificial sweetener into his tea, all of the regents had taken their seats. Vincent noted that he, Tipton, and Gault, the governorís man, all wore brown suits. The other two regents wore sports coatsóFord in a green/brown plaid and Mundale in a navy blue. The gray suits, sitting together on his left opposite the windows, were separated both physically and stylistically from the regents.

As the waiters and waitresses began serving the vegetable soup, he heard someone say, "Good choice." Vincent accepted a few turns of freshly crushed pepper across the surface of his steaming bowl. "Nothing warms you faster on a day like today than some good, hot soup."

Most of the conversations centered on football. Tipton got into the most animated discussion with Clark Gault, the youngest of the members of the board at forty-five. The two were discussing what it would take to make the Vikings a viable contender--something they hadnít been this past season and werenít likely to become any time soon.

The entrée was a chicken dishóCordon Bleu? With steamed vegetables and a baked potato. Vincent reminded himself to eat lightly. He ended up eating the potato instead of the steamed vegetablesóthey were overcooked and soft. He picked at the dry chicken.

Vincent had hoped to get a word with Hamilton during the luncheon, but could never seem to get into his conversation with Bidwell and Wilson. He contented himself with listening to Gault and Tipton analyze nearly the entire roster of the Vikings. Tipton had played college ball, and was quite knowledgeable. Gault owned a semi-pro team in Stillwater. The two were interesting to listen to, but Vincent didnít feel competent to add anything to what they had to say. He was a baseball man. And he couldnít wait for a real sport to begin play.

The meal only lasted about forty-five minutes. And, as the last of the dishes were carted away, Margie Sullivan came in with the meetingís agenda and a few reports. Vincent called the meeting to order and immediately handed the floor over to Hamilton. He began to study the reports.

"Thanks, Ted," Hamilton said. "And, as you can see, gentlemen, we have a short agenda today." He pushed at the hair falling down across his eyebrows. "I guess Mr. Gault wonít have to spend a night in the dorm," he joked, in reference to Mr. Gaultís stays over after many board meetings in the past.

"I donít mind the guest rooms in the dorm," Gault said. "But I wouldnít mind getting back to St. Paul tonight, either."

The financial report that Wilson prepared was quite short, for a change. "We had hoped that the legislature would be further along on their probable appropriations by this time. So, until we get some numbers from St. Paul, we canít do much planning around here."

"Werenít contracts for the faculty due this month?" Tipton asked, running his hand over his bald head.

"They are," Avery Wilson replied, fidgeting with his tie. "We will be sending out letters on Friday, asking for the faculty to commit to teaching for another year. Theyíll be due back two weeks later. We will stress that we are going to try and get them a raise. But until we know what the state will do...." his voice trailed off.

"Iíll be heading down to St. Paul again next week," Hamilton told the board. "Iíll be talking with Swenson and Lindgardt and some of the other representatives on the appropriations committees. Iíll make the case that we need more money--certainly more than weíve gotten the last two years."

"How are the faculty likely to respond," Tipton asked. "Especially after last year?"

"Weíve told the faculty that we have every intention of getting them a raise," Wilson said. "But we wonít know how theyíre reacting until they return those letters in a few weeks. But last year, when no raise was likely, we had a good response to this same type of commitment letter. I wouldnít expect anything to be different this year."

"We have a very dedicated faculty," Hamilton said.

"But we need to take care of them," Vincent added, surprising everyone. The last time Vincent had done much more than open and close a meeting had been more than a year before his wifeís death. "We lost some very special people last year. Helen McWhorter, for one. And the music department just isnít the same this year."

From that point on, the meeting moved briskly until Vincent moved to the last point on the agenda by saying, "One point of new business is that we need to do a better job of taking care of the collegeís facilities. I noticed the steps to this building are starting to crumble and the mosaic at the gazebo is missing several tiles."

"We have budgeted so much for repairs," Wilson said.

"But is it enough?" Vincent wondered. "I think we need to ask ourselves, seriously, whether itís worth letting the problems go in the long run."

"And we do have special funds for some repairs," Tipton said. "I know thereís money to do anything that is needed in the park because I helped spearhead that drive more than twenty years ago." He adjusted his glasses on the bridge of his nose.

"And the dorms," Gault added, "should have a self-perpetuating fund that can be spent on nothing but their upkeep. And I noticed some pretty sad rusting problems in Superior Hall the last time I stayed there. I meant to say something to you then, Dr. Hamilton."

Hamilton nodded and was about to speak when Tipton took the floor.

"Well, let me just make a motion," Tipton said, again running his hand over his head. "I move that we request a prioritized list of the major and minor repairs that need to be made for the campus as a whole--something the director of grounds should be able to produce fairly quickly--and at our next meeting weíll discuss how far down the list we move during the next few months."

"Iíll second that," Gault said.

"Any further discussion?" Vincent asked. And quickly, as no one spoke up, "Any objections to the motion?" No dissent was made. "Motion carries."

"I move we adjourn," someone said. It was followed by a chorus of seconds.

"Meeting adjourned," Vincent said.

As the board members and the upper administration started leaving the room, Vincent called to Hamilton. "DeWitt," he said just loud enough for Hamilton to hear, "we need to talk."

When Hamilton saw that Vincent wasnít moving, he came back down to the end of the table and sat next to the aging banker.

"Whatís the matter, Ted?" Hamilton asked.

"Iím worried," Vincent replied.

Hamilton nodded for Vincent to continue.

"I know I havenít been too involved with this college over the past few years, what with Dorisí chemo and radiation...and then her death." He stopped to catch his breath. "But I plan to be from now on."

Hamilton looked deeply into the long-time chairmanís eyes. "Go on."

"I think I need to start taking back some of the control I lost over the past few years," Vincent answered. "This is my school. It was my wifeís school. Hell, her family is part of this schoolís origin. For heróand for meóI have to make sure this school survives."

"Donít you think thatís what I want, too?" Hamilton asked.

"I donít know, anymore," Vincent replied. "I just see too many things that are deterioratingó"

"But weíll fix the mosaic," Hamilton interrupted.

"Thatís just one small sign," Vincent said. "Canít you see that?"

Hamilton did not respond.

"Consider the board meeting we just had. No faculty member in attendance. No one from the newspaper. That concerns me. The board should be looking after the needs of the faculty and the students of this school. And, in a town this size, no matter what the college does, it should be major news. When was the last time Harvey Kellerman bothered to send one of the Sentinelís reporters?"

Hamilton shook his head. "We give Kellerman press releases," Hamilton said. "They cover what we do in these meetings. Saves the paper some time."

"I know," Vincent replied. "I know. But shouldnít someone outside the school observe the meetings and report what was done?" Vincent asked.

"Ted," Hamilton said, patting his arm. "Youíre worrying about nothing. Youíll see."

"When was the last time a faculty member sat in on one of our meetings?" Vincent asked.

"Oh, I donít know," Hamilton replied honestly. "But Margie could tell you. Do you want me to ask her for you?"

"Nobody knows what weíre doing at these meetings," Vincent said. "And I think they should. I think the press releases give us too much control over the information people get. And I just donít think itís in the collegeís best interest for that manipulation of information to continue."

Hamilton gave a perfunctory nod before getting up.

Vincent watched him go.

Dr. Dewitt Hamilton was glad to getting back to his office. As he stepped into the reception area, his secretary, Margie Sullivan, waved several small, pink message slips for him. The gray-haired grandmother held them out to him as he passed by her desk. He flipped through them, crossing to his office, stumbling slightly on the raveling seam of the carpet in front of his office.

"Anything urgent?" he asked her, turning to face her from just inside his office door.

Mrs. Sullivan looked up from the report she was editing, fiddled with the top button on her blouse. "No, I donít think so," she said.

Hamilton started to close the door.

"You might want to call Dr. Pendleton at Duluth College back. He wanted to talk about your meeting on Friday."

"Would you get him on the line for me, Margie," he asked.

"Yes, sir," she said. "Oh, Dr. Hamilton," she continued, "your wife was in. She said she forgot about the regents meeting."

"Did she say anything else?"

"No, but she took all your dirty coffee cups home. I reminded her that you hated to use Styrofoam. She said you had one clean one left in the bookcase."

He shut the door before sitting down. His eyes darted over to the bookcase. He saw his one remaining coffee mug, a rough-surfaced terra cotta colored cup Doris Vincent made for him, commemorating his first five years as president of St. Croix. The college seal was surrounded by a rope braid design. His name, in upraised, white letters, appeared beneath the seal. The reverse side said happy fifth anniversary.

"Dr. Pendleton on line two," Mrs. Sullivan announced on the intercom.

"Thanks, Margie," he replied. "Abe?" he asked, picking up the receiver. "DeWitt Hamilton." He paused. "Thatís right. Iíll drive up Friday Morning." After another pause, he responded, "Make it 8:30, and youíve got a deal. Breakfast would be great, but I donít want to get on the road too early." He listened a moment. "No, if I come I-35, itís just about 100 miles. Iíll see you Friday. After hanging up, he wrote himself a note to call Moose LakeóThe Big Game Innófor a reservation for Thursday night.

"Margie?" Hamilton called into the intercom.

"Yes, sir?" Mrs. Sullivan replied.

"Would you ask Dr. Wilson to come in here?"

"Yes, sir."

Five minutes later, the obese administrative vice president knocked on Hamiltonís door. Hamilton waved him in. After the door opened, Hamilton could hear the vice-presidentís heavy breathing.

"You needed to see me?" Wilson asked, his face flushing, perspiration glistening at his temples.

"Yes, Avery," he replied, waving the heavyset man in, waiting for the large man to turn sideways and sidle into the office. "Iím worried about Vincent," Hamilton said. "Iím afraid heís going to try and get too involved in the running of the college."

"Thatís the last thing we need," Wilson agreed, still standing in front of the presidentís desk.

"Look," Hamilton said. "You need to put together a report on the salary structures and probable raise scenarios that we talked about last week. Make sure that it sounds like weíre doing everything we can. But donít make it too specific. As long as heís convinced weíre doing what we have to do, heíll leave us alone. I donít want him meddling."

"Iíve already started," Wilson said.

"Oh, and get on Burgmeier," Hamilton said, pushing at his unruly hair. "Get that gazebo fixed up right away. You know that thingís a shrine to Mrs. Doris Melrose Vincent. And be sure the bills get filed at the bank, too. You heard the way Tipton was talking at the meeting."

"Right away," Wilson promised.

"Be sure that mosaic is fixed first."

"Iíll take care of it," Wilson said, playing with his tie.

"As long as it gets warm in the afternoons, Burgmeier should be able to have his men replace those tiles this week," Hamilton added.

"Heís been complaining his people donít have enough to do," Wilson said.

Dismissing Wilson, Hamilton tightened one corner of his mouth into a slight smile. He rolled his eyes as Wilson sidled out of the room.

* * * * *

Vincent stopped by Dean Jackson Stoufferís office on his way out of the building. Stouffer was married to Dorisí closest relative, her niece, Lorraine. The dean had been offered Harry Bidwellís job as vice president for academic affairs. But because he wanted to continue to teach his classes of Minnesota history every semester, which the duties of the vice presidentís position would have prohibited, Stouffer refused. "Besides," he said when he turned down the offer seven years ago, "I have more in common with the general faculty than I do with the upper administration. I like working with students in the classroom."

Vincent admired Stouffer for that commitment. He also knew that Stoufferís salary, as well as the salaries of the rest of the faculty, had remained fairly flat over the past four or five years. At the same time, the upper administration salaries rose about three per cent annually. Stoufferís family expenses were growing as his kids got older. So the pay issue had been personally and professionally difficult. To his credit, Vincent thought, his nephew and friend did not complain. Despite the financial situation, the dean felt it was not only his job to try and convince the fine teachers to stay at St. Croix but also to try and recruit good, young faculty. Both jobs were becoming increasingly difficult as the monetary benefits provided by the college continued to fall compared to other schools in the area.

"Ted," Stouffer said as the aging banker limped into his office. "Itís good to see you. Meeting didnít last long, did it?" he added, taking off his glasses.

"No, just routine stuff today," Vincent replied. "Next meeting may be rough, though."

"Oh?" Stouffer asked, waving Vincent into a chair.

"Salaries," Vincent replied.

"Well, thatís always a sticky issue," the dean said. "Can I get you anything?"

"No," Ted said. "I really need to be getting back to the bank. "I just wanted to stop in and say hello. I was surprised you werenít at the board meeting today."

"Not much for me to do. Besides, I had a several student records to verifyógetting ready for graduation already. I just thought my time would be better spent here." Stouffer paused for a minute. "I donít suppose Wilson or Hamilton said anything about raises? I mean, they promised them to the faculty last year."

"Not really. But you know how it is. The legislatureó" Vincent started to reply.

"ólegislature," Stouffer chimed in, "hasnít approved appropriations and we canít fix our tax rate until we know blah blah blah blah blah."

"So you do know," Vincent laughed. "Do you know what your faculty has to say?"

"Not really," Stouffer replied, wiping his glasses on his handkerchief. "Do you want me to conduct some sort of poll?"

"An informal one, if you could," Vincent answered, giving Stouffer a trusting nod. "Say," Vincent said more light-heartedly, "Gail tells me Lorraine is going to Duluth to do some shopping."

"That girl of mine gets around," Stouffer laughed. "When did you see her?"

"She stopped in at the bank yesterday," Vincent smiled. He remembered the energetic thirteen-year-oldís scrambling into his office before JoAnn could buzz him to see if he could be disturbed. He reminded her that she needed to let JoAnn do her job in mock anger.

"Youíre not really mad, are you, Uncle Ted?" she asked, feigning a pout.

She looked so much like her mother at that age: large, brown, innocent eyes and all. How could one stay angry with her?

"No, Iím not mad," he said, holding out his arms to her.

"My daughter does get around," Stouffer said. "But you should let her know you have work to do." Vincent waved the comment off. "Anyway, Stouffer continued, "it is true. Lorraineís leaving sometime Thursday."

"Who else is going?" Vincent asked.

"Oh, I donít know," Stouffer said, "although Gail probably does. But if she didnít tell her Uncle TedÖ. All I know is that I have to cook on Thursday. Michael wants steaks. Kevin wants macaroni and cheese."

"Gail hasnít requested anything?"

"Of course not," Stouffer replied. "Sheís a growing teen which means she doesnít eat anything but a little salad and, if Iím lucky, a little chicken."

"I guess thatís true. I remember my daughter-in-law, Katy, was that way when she and Ross were first going out."

"To be honest," Stouffer said. "Salads are what I want, too."

"Well," Vincent said, "they are supposed to be healthier for you." Vincent struggled to his feet.

"Leg bothering you?" Stouffer asked, starting to get out of his chair.

"No, not really," Vincent replied, waving the younger man back into his chair. "It always botherís me just a bit when I first get up. It will be fine once I get moving again." The banker limped to the door, turning back when he reached it. "Donít be such a stranger, Jack. I feel Iíve lost touch with you and Lorraine. With the boys."

"I wonít," Stouffer replied as the banker started into the hallway. "Hey," he called after him, "why donít you come to dinner on Thursday. Michael would love to play you some chess. And Iím taking dinner orders."

"Iíll call you and let you know," Vincent said. "And thanks."

* * * * *

Jillian Hamilton wandered up and down the aisles of Campbellís Independent Grocery, the only grocery store in St. Croix if one discounted the two gas station mini-marts on the highway. She didnít like shopping at Campbellís. It was dark and dirty, and she thought it smelled of rotting meat. But for the few things she needed for tonightís supper, it wasnít worth the time it would take to drive to and from Danbury on the Wisconsin side of the river. She and Dewitt planned to go into Danbury on Saturday, anyway, and she could stock up on must items then.

"Jillian?"

She turned to see who had called her name. It was Mrs. Barbara Crawford, the campusí if not the townís biggest gossip. Her husband, Dr. James Crawford, was chairman of mathematics at the college.

"Well, what a surprise," Jillian said, her eyes drawn to the recently dyed hair, an unpleasant deep-purple/red. The heavy make-up around her eyes and on her lips didnít quite match the color. It wasnít a good color for anyone, but especially for a woman whose skin was so white. Jillian prayed the younger woman wouldnít ask for an opinion on the new look.

Barbara Crawford continued directing her basket up the aisle to meet the college presidentís wife. "I heard there was a big board meeting at the college today? Didnít see Mr. Vincentís car up at the college when I drove by."

Jillian almost commented that the meeting was just routine but decided against it. "Oh?" she said, trying to focus on her list of groceries rather than the other womanís hair. Donít think out loud, she reminded herself. Donít think out loud.

"Jim said it was time for contracts to come out. But heís afraid the administrationís just going to send out a letter like last time asking him to commit to teach for another year," Barbara said.

"Uh-huh," Jillian said, only half-listening, wondering why Mrs. Crawford would think she needed to know any of what she had to say about the college.

"Last year, the letter said there would be no raise. But it practically promised one for this year. Jim says heíll tell his department not to sign the letters," Barbara continued, "if thereís no raise guaranteed. "He says heíll make the recommendation at Fridayís Faculty Senate meeting."

"Oh, really?" Jillian asked, now interested, wondering if her husband knew.

"Yes," Barbara said, "itís true. You know, last year they didnít even get a raise. So, unless somethingís guaranteed this year, you can imagine how people are going to feel."

"Certainly," Jillian replied. Then, before Mrs. Crawford could speak again, she said, "Iím sorry, Barbara, I donít mean to be rude. But I really need to finish shopping and get home. Tell your husband I said hello," she added as she turned away. "Weíll talk again real soon."

Jillian Hamilton headed straight to the checkout counter. As she watched her items get scanned, she noticed she forgot the chicken brothóone of three things she specifically came to buyóbut decided against telling the young man running the cash register. She just wanted to get out of there as quickly as she could.

End of Chapter One