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

approximate word count: 6,075

 

The St. Croix Scandals

Chapter Five

 

Lorraine Baker Stouffer turned her cheek as her husband, Jackson, kissed her. He was late, and she wanted him to know it. She took his suit coat from his arm and hung it in the hall closet.

"Something smells good," Stouffer said. "Sorry, I'm late. There was just so much paperwork I wanted to get done so I wouldn't have to go into the office this weekend."

Lorraine made a face, then smiled. "Iím trying a new recipe for coq au vin," she said.

"Must be the wine," Stouffer replied. "I know itís not the chicken," coming over to her and hugging her.

"Oh, Jack," she said, pushing him away. "You know the doctor said you had to watch your cholesterol."

"But chicken?" he asked. "We seem to have it all the time."

"But you donít like fish," she said, stepping into the kitchen.

Stouffer followed her, saying, "Whatever happened to the vegetarian cook book your mother sent? I think I might like some meatless--at least, chickenless--meals."

"Oh," Lorraine replied, dismissing his comment with a wave. "Men need meat."

Stouffer leaned against the counter and watched his wife as she checked on dinner. He never tired of looking at his wife, whose figure rivaled that of his sixteen-year-old cheerleading daughter, Gail. Her figure, at 41, was almost the same as it was when they married twenty years ago--many people thought their kids were adopted, her waistline was so narrow. Of course, she walked every morning with Jillian Hamilton and went to the gym, but she also seemed to eat all the time--fattening things, like ice cream. Some people have lucky metabolisms, he thought again, as he pressed against his thickening midsection. He certainly was not fat, like Avery Wilson, but he was starting to have trouble keeping the pounds off. Thatís why he ate salads for lunch and swam at the pool three mornings a week.

"How was school?" Lorraine asked.

"Usual," Stouffer replied. "I donít know whatís happening up there anymore. I used to be able to talk to Hamilton, but he seems to let Bidwell and Wilson make all the decisions."

"Now donít start picking on DeWitt again," Lorraine said. "I donít to hear you running him down. I donít think you should let your frustrations at work make you miserable at home. So itís best not to talk about him."

"I know youíre right, Honey," Stouffer said. "But itís hard not to say anything when you ask about school. After all, thatís where Hamilton is, and heís driving me nuts."

Lorraine concentrated on slicing cucumbers.

Just then, Michael, the college freshman and their oldest came into the kitchen. "Man, whatís that smell?"

"Itís dinner," Stouffer replied.

"Man, why do you have to ruin good food with wine?" he said, picking up the burgundy bottle. "Who thought that was a good idea?"

"Itís supposed to help the digestion," Lorraine said to her son defensively. "Besides, you father likes the wine."

"Canít you at least put it on a decent steak?" Michael asked. "I canít remember when you cooked real meat for dinner."

"Michael," Lorraine said, "that will be quite enough. Now go round up the other kids--and be sure Kevin washes his hands."

"You know," Stouffer said, "you could fix the kids some other kind of meat. Iíll just eat the vegetables and whatever else weíre having."

"Men need meat," Lorraine said again.

Stouffer did not reply. Lorraine was stubborn about a lot of things, and this meat thing was once of them. He had tried eating only the vegetables in the past, and she insisted on putting chicken on his plate. She fussed and fussed until he ate it. Stouffer moved to the cabinet and took out plates and brought them to the table.

"Thatís Kevinís job," she said. "You will spoil him if you do his chores."

"Iíll make him get the silverware," Stouffer replied with a sigh.

"Iím starved," Kevin said, running into the kitchen.

"Did you wash your hands?" Lorraine asked. She continued, not waiting for an answer, "Get the table set. Itís your night.

The eleven-year-old made a face but didnít argue.

"I already got the plates out," Stouffer said.

Amid the clinking of silverware as Kevin grabbed it out of the drawer and plunked it down on the table, Lorraine said, "Ceelee called."

"Oh," Stouffer replied, "and what does your worthless sister want now?"

"Jack," Lorraine said sharply, "donít talk that way in front of the kids."

Stouffer apologized.

"She broke her leg. She was wondering if I could come to Stillwell and stay for a while."

"When would you leave?"

"I thought I would go on Monday. We have that church thing Sunday afternoon--we really need to go to that. And I can get you started for the week before I go. You donít mind my going, do you, Jack? Ceelee sounded like she was having a really hard time getting around. And I havenít seen her in over a month--and then just for one night.

"Itís okay," Stouffer said. "Iíd rather have you go there and take care of her than bring her here."

"I know, Jack," she said. "Itís easier on everyone if I go there."

 

 

When Margie Sullivan pulled up to the Administration Building parking lot the first Monday of April, she was surprised to see Dr. Harry Bidwell's car. She was coming to work an hour earlier than her usual seven thirty to try and get a jump on the paperwork for the upcoming Board of Regents meeting later in the week.

Dr. Bidwell rarely came into the office before eight. And, lately, he had been coming in closer to nine.

The interior of the building was dark beyond the security lights blazing in the foyer. Mrs. Sullivan fumbled with her keys just inside the door before turning the corner toward the main office about halfway down the shadowy hall. As she looked through the glass-fronted office, she could see light coming from under Bidwell's closed office door.

Margie Sullivan went about her normal routine. She put her purse in her lower desk drawer before crossing to the kitchenette. She flipped the switch on the neon lights of the small room, and was momentarily blinded by their flickering brightness. After she hung her coat in the closet, she and made coffee. While the coffee brewed, she went around the main office turning on the lights, the copy machine and her computer. Her phone light was blinking, so she checked for voice mail while her computer finished its booting cycle. She jotted down a few notes as she listened to her messages. The most important one was she had expected from the president of the college, Dr. DeWitt Hamilton. There were some papers on his desk that she needed to attend to immediately.

When she finished with the voice mail, she clicked the E-mail icon on the computer. While she waited for the mail program to load and check for new messages, she took her coffee cup into the kitchenette and rinsed it out before pouring herself a cup from the first pot of coffee of the day. When she returned to her desk, she scanned her list of new messages, sipping the hot liquid from her cup. She started to get up to get the papers from the president's desk when again noticed the light coming from under Dr. Bidwell's closed door. She dialed his extension.

There was no answer.

Odd, Margie Sullivan thought. But she stayed on the line and left a message. "Dr. Bidwell," she said into the receiver. "This is Margie. I just wanted you to know I was in the office. I've made some fresh coffee. I'll be happy to get some for you."

Mrs. Sullivan sniffed in disgust. He's becoming more and more like Wilson, she thought. Dr. Wilson often didn't answer his phone when he was in his office during non-business hours. "I know they don't know who's calling," she grumbled, heading for the president's office. "But it's just rude to let the phone ring." When she opened Hamilton's office, she could see his phone light blinking. He had at least one message waiting for him.

Margie Sullivan decided the make the changes Dr. Hamilton had requested in the correspondence he left on his desk before beginning the work for the regents' meeting. It took little time to pull up the files on the computer, to insert a phrase here and delete a phrase there, and to print the revised documents. She was already immersed in board matters she was startled by the ring of her phone. She looked at her watch. It was already eight o'clock.

"President Hamilton's office. This is Margie Sullivan. How may I help you?" she asked, pulling a pencil out of a cup near the phone.

"Hello, Margie," a familiar voice replied. "This is Phyllis Bidwell. I just tried my husband's office and didn't get an answer. Is he in a meeting with Dr. Hamilton?"

"No," Mrs. Sullivan answered.

"I don't suppose you know where he is?"

"I thought he was in his office," Margie replied. "Do you want me to check? I know he and Dr. Wilson don't always answer their phones."

"Would you, please?"

Mrs. Sullivan crossed the room to Bidwell's closed door. She knocked softly and waited. There was no reply. She knocked again. Harder this time. But there was no answer.

She hesitated for a moment, reaching out to turn the handle, then decided to return to the phone and Mrs. Bidwell.

"Mrs. Bidwell," Margie said. He doesn't answer when I knock. Do you want me to look in?"

Margie could almost hear Mrs. Bidwell thinking about her reply. "No, Margie," the vice president's wife said a moment later. "Just leave him a note that I called. I need to talk to him about something, but it's nothing urgent. I'll try back in a little while."

"Okay," Margie replied. She hung up, and returned to the agenda she was preparing for the board meeting, but she couldn't help wondering about Dr. Bidwell. Unlike Hamilton and Avery, who had places to hide when they weren't in their offices, Dr. Bidwell was rarely away from his desk except for a scheduled meeting with someone. Margie always knew where he was.

"Good Morning, Margie," Dr. Chester Hickerson said after sticking his head into the office.

Margie Sullivan's body shuddered noticeably.

"Oh, I'm so sorry, Margie," Hickerson said. I didn't mean to startle you.

"Oh, Dr. Hickerson," the gray-haired secretary replied, trying to regain her composure. "I didn't think anyone else was here."

"It's my fault. I just thought I would say hello since I saw you in here. I was on my way to the Dean's office."

"Oh? Is he here? I didn't see him come in," she replied. "That's probably where Dr. Bidwell is, then."

"YesÖwellÖ" Hickerson stammered. "I hope you're feeling better now. Again, I apologize for startling you."

Margie returned to the agenda that she had partially entered into her word processor. "Let's see," she said out loud, "Item three, reports, item a, tax levy. So I need item b." She looked down at the notes she had on her desk. Item b was preliminary lists for tenure and promotion. She would have to double check with Dr. Bidwell to make sure those lists were ready to go. After brushing her hair back up from her forehead, Margie Sullivan typed in the next item on the list. Then she picked up her phone and dialed Dean Stouffer's extension.

"Dr. Stouffer," the familiar voice said as soon as the connection was made. "How can I help you?"

"Dr. Stouffer, this is Margie Sullivan. I was just wondering how much longer Dr. Bidwell was going to be in your office. There are some things I need to ask him about for the board meeting."

"Dr. Bidwell isn't here, Margie," Stouffer told her. "I haven't seen him this morning. I did notice his car out front when I came in. Are you sure he's not in his office?"

"WellÖnoÖ" she stammered. "I'm sorry I bothered you," she said, turning to stare at the close door to Dr. Bidwell's office once more. She hung up the phone, not hearing Stouffer's final remark. She opened her desk drawer and pulled out her keys. With an effort, she got up out of her chair and walked toward the vice president's door. Each step brought more dread.

When she tried the door, it was not locked, and a wave of relief washed over her. She knocked before pushing the door open. There was no answer.

As the door swung open, Margie Sullivan shivered, and leaned heavily against the doorframe for support.

How long she stood there, she would not be able to recall.

Nor would she be able to answer Sheriff Earl Johansson when he asked her what she noticed first. She did see Dr. Bidwell's body slumping in his chair. But she also saw the spatters of blood that dotted the windows and walls behind his desk. She saw his glasses and a handkerchief sitting in the middle of the desk. And she saw the single, typed page beneath them.

When the sheriff asked her what she did after she found the body, Margie tried to remember each step she took. "I called you," she told him without looking at him. Her voice was toneless.

"Did you touch anything in Bidwell's office?" Johansson asked her.

Mrs. Sullivan stared in reply.

When the sheriff led her back to the office, he pulled her around the desk. "I never came in this far. I called you," she said. A shiver spasmed through her body. She looked away from the exploded back of Bidwell's head. She focused on the small revolver on the floor. She could not stop looking at the gun. Even as the sheriff led her back out of the office, she craned her neck to look under the desk by the dead man's feet.

Johansson closed the door. "Don't let anybody in there. "I'll need to have some pictures taken before the coroner can take the body out of here."

When Kevin Dalton walked into the main office at eight thirty, the police photographer was just finishing her work in Bidwell's office. Margie Sullivan sat on the couch near the president's office. The youth ignored the commotion around the vice-president's door and crossed the room to sit with her.

She did not seem to see him.

Dalton started to raise a hand to her shoulder. But he dropped it into his lap instead. "Are you all right, Mrs. Sullivan?"

She did not seem to hear him.

Dalton reached out and took her hand in his.

The middle-aged woman tensed at his touch. But she did not pull her hand away.

"Are you all right?" the youth repeated.

"I don't know, Kevin," she said in a lifeless whisper. "I don't know."

"Margie?"

The middle-aged secretary looked up to see Dr. Hickerson standing in front of her.

"I was nearly across campus to my office when I heard all of the sirens. Are you okay?"

Mrs. Sullivan noted that the aging psychology professor was breathing heavily. She reached up a hand and took a hold of his. "Thank you for worrying about me," she said. Why don't you sit down?"

"In a minute," he told her. "I want to ask Sheriff Johannson something first."

When the professor stepped away, Margie reached down into the pocket of her skirt and pulled out a folded sheet of paper. She pushed it into Kevin Dalton's coat pocket. She gently restrained him from trying to take the paper out again with one hand, shook her head ever so slightly, and then held her index finger up to her lips.

A few minutes later, Hickerson returned. "I've asked the Sheriff to let you go home. He'll send someone by later this afternoon to talk to you. Perhaps Kevin could take you home?" He asked, focusing on the blond-headed youth. "I don't think you should drive."

Mrs. Sullivan started to nod in agreement, but then stopped. "The board meeting! I can't leave. I have all that work that needs to be done before the meeting."

"It'll keep," Hickerson said in trying to calm the gray-haired woman. The meeting will probably be postponed until next week, if not cancelled altogether."

"But we've never postponed a board meetingÖ" Margie said, her voice trailing off.

Hickerson ignored her. He went into the kitchenette and pulled her coat off the hall tree. When he returned to the couch, he held it out so she could slip it on. Kevin Dalton helped her up from the couch. She slipped her arms into the sleeves of the coat as the professor lifted the collar up over her shoulders. She started to follow Kevin out of the office when Hickerson asked her about her purse.

"I guess I do need to lie down for a while," she told him as she walked back to her desk and pulled her purse from the bottom drawer. She was just stepping into the hallway when she thought about President Hamilton. "I really should wait for him."

"I'll tell him I sent you home. He'll understand," Hickerson assured her. He nodded to Kevin. The young man took the secretary's arm and led her down the hall and out of the building. He had to ask her for her car keys when they reached her vehicle. And, after helping the middle-aged woman into the car, Kevin climbed behind the wheel and drove her home. They didn't say a word until Mrs. Sullivan was inside her front door.

"What's that paper you gave me?" Kevin asked.

"Something you need to see," she replied. And that was all she would say. She closed the door on the boy, leaving him on her porch.

As Kevin started down the steps, he began to reach into his pocket for the piece of paper the secretary gave him earlier.

"Hey, Dalton!" he heard someone yell, along with a repeated honk of a car horn. "Hey, Dalton!"

He located the car, and saw Wes Barringer hanging out of the back window on the passenger's side. Kevin waved and bounded down the steps and out to the street. "Hey, Wes," he said, reaching the car. He peered inside. "Hi, Tim. Jody."

Jody and Tim never went anywhere without the other. They made sure they were in each other's classes. And they even worked the same hours at the Deluxe Grill over by the college. Jody didn't give time to look around for another girl friend, not that Tim wanted one. But almost everyone who knew them thought Tim would eventually break up with her or be smothered.

"What are you doing over here? Don't you have an eight o'clock class?" Wes asked.

"Not today. Lynch is at some conference, and he gave us a walk," Kevin replied.

"Man, you're lucky. Spectra always schedules a test when she's going to be gone," Jody said.

"So what are you doing over here?"

"I drove Mrs. Sullivan home."

When Kevin didn't add any more information, Jody asked, "Why did you drive her home?"

"There was a problem up at school and--"

"I told you he'd know," Tim cut in.

"Shut up a minute," Wes said.

"You've heard something?"

"We heard the sirens earlier and saw the police cars and ambulance at the administration building," Tim said.

"So what are you doing over here." Just driving around, waiting for the parking lot to clear out," Wes said.

"We need to start heading back, Jody said. Spectra's class will start at nine no matter what's going on."

"So, what is going on?" Tim asked.

"Bidwell apparently committed suicide," Kevin told them.

"Really?" Jody asked. "I thought that fat guy, what's his name--he's not very nice--had a heart attack or something."

Wes whistled softly as Jody started speaking. "Was Mrs. Sullivan there when he did it?"

Kevin shook his head. "She just found the body."

"Bidwell committed suicide?" Jody asked. "NoÖ."

"Why would he do that?" Tim asked.

"You need to go back up to school?" Wes asked.

Kevin nodded.

"Well, hop in," Wes said. "We do need to get back for class. This'll give Spectra something to talk about. Even kind of fits with the stuff we're talking about in class."

"At lease we didn't have to ride our bikes all over the country to find out about it," Tim said. Wes laughed.

"What does that mean?" Jody asked.

"You know, that guy that rode all over the place collecting information--" Tim started to say.

"Oh, yeah," Jody said. "From the textbook."

"Why were you up at the administration building so early?" Wes asked after Kevin got around to the other side of the car and hopped in the back seat.

"I was just going to ask about having lunch with the board," Kevin said. The last time I picked up the minutes for the paper, Mrs. Sullivan said she would see about my sitting in on the lunch, too. I was just going to remind her since the board meeting is Thursday. Guess I don't need to worry about that now, though, do I."

"What do you mean?" Wes asked.

"I'll bet the board meeting is canceled or at least postponed.

"Yeah, well, that makes sense."

"So, was Mrs. Sullivan pretty shook up?" Jody asked.

"Of course. Wouldn't you be?"

"I can't imagine walking in and finding a dead body, let alone a dead body of someone that committed suicide," she said.

"Did you see him?" Tim asked.

"No," Kevin said. When I got there, there was a photographer in there taking pictures. She told a cop who was standing by the door to keep people away from the office. So, I just went over and sat down on the couch next to Mrs. Sullivan."

"When did you decide you needed to take her home?" Jody asked.

"It was Hickerson's idea."

"He was there?" Wes asked.

Kevin nodded.

"That sounds like him. You know, last fall, the Monday after Tim's mom's funeral, we were supposed to have a test," Jody said. "And he told Tim he could take a make up test later if he wanted to--which you would kind of expect. And then he told me the same thing. Don't you think that was nice?"

"I still wonder why Bidwell committed suicide," Wes said, as Tim gunned the engine and jerked away from the curb.

Kevin wondered, too. And hoped the sheet of paper in his pocket held an answer to that question.

 

 

Margie Sullivan made her way to the kitchen at the back of the house and put the teakettle on to heat water for some herbal tea. She couldn't get the site of the gristly hole in the back of Bidwell's head out of her mind. Her only small comfort came from knowing she would not have to face Mrs. Bidwell today. She did not think she was up to that. It would be hard enough talking to the Sheriff or one of his men.

While she waited for the kettle to whistle, she stared through the window over the sink into the backyard. There were several inches of snow on the ground. She checked her watch. Nearly nine, she thought. Only nine. She suddenly felt very tired.

The kettle's shrill whistle brought her back to the moment. She fumbled in one cupboard for a mug and in another for the Serenity tea her sister sent her for Christmas. If I ever needed some, then today's the day, she mused. She would have to Thank Kate for the tea. After slipping the pouch of herbs into the mug and covering it with water, she carried the brewing tea into the living room and set it on the long, battered coffee table in front of the couch. She turned on the CD player and put in "Quiet Moods," her favorite collection, which sat atop the tuner for the stereo. Most of her CDs were filed alphabetically in the nearby bookcase. But "Quiet Moods" was never filed.

As the first track began to play a light arpeggio on a harp, she collapsed onto the couch and picked up her mug of steaming tea. She sipped it carefully. It was still too hot to drink. But she needed to check to make sure it wasn't getting too strong. After her first quick sip, she sipped again, and decided it had steeped enough, and she pulled the pouch out and put it in the nearby empty ashtray. Although she never smoked, Michael, her dead husband had. And so had her father. So Margie had grown used to having ashtrays about. She used them for candy wrappers, for bits of thread from her sewing and used tissues, as well as for the occasional teabag that found its way into the living room.

As the second track played, a piece for oboe and flute wafted gently from the speakers. Margie took a swallow of tea and then sighed. She slumped back into the couch hoping to rest a bit before the Sheriff came over to question her about what she had seen.

Margie was startled by a knock at her front door. And was more surprised as she rose to answer it that the CDs LED readout was on 1. She vaguely remembered the start of the third track, a violin piece that she found particularly soothing, but she did not remember any of the other music playing. She glanced at the clock. It was nearly ten.

As she approached the door, she could see the profile of Sheriff Johannson in the sheer curtains. His size, the familiar Sheriff's hat, and his large stomach were easy to identify. He was a large man, at about six foot four. He was a native of St. Croix, but everyone teased him that his father must have come from somewhere else as he was easily a head taller than anyone else in town, except for a couple of the recruits Coach Harris had playing basketball for him at the college.

"Come on in, Sheriff," Margie said as she opened the door.

"Is this a good time," he asked her, still standing on the porch. I can come back later if you would prefer."

"I'm fine," she sighed. "And I don't think it will get any easier if I put it off."

"Okay," he said, he took off his hat and tucked it under his arm as he entered the house. Just inside the door, he brushed his thinning red hair from his forehead before following the gray-haired secretary into her living room.

Margie was standing at the edge of the coffee table staring at her cold, half-full cup of tea. "I think I'd like something hot to drink. How about you, Sheriff? Some coffee or tea?"

"Oh, coffee would be great if you have it, Mrs. Sullivan."

"Well, follow me out to the kitchen. We can talk out there. Besides, it will be easier to take notes if you're sitting down at the table.

"How's you boy?" Johannson asked as he seated himself in the chair nearest the hallway door.

"Oh, he's fine, you know. He loves living in St. Paul. I'm glad it's close so that he can come and visit. I hate driving in that city. There's just too many people and too much traffic." Margie poured water into the back of her coffee maker.

"Traffic seems to get worse and worse, even here," Johannson agreed.

Margie finished filling the filter basket with coffee grounds and swung the compartment back in place before turning on the machine.

"It's all the college kids," Margie said, coming to the table carrying cups and spoons. "All of them have cars nowadays. Not like it used to be when the only days we had traffic were at the beginning and end of the school year with all the parents in town."

Johannson laughed, ran his hand through his hair and then across his stomach. "Those days are long gone, I'm afraid. As both fell silent, the sound of the water pulsing over the coffee and the first faint tendrils of aroma filled the room. Johannson watched the pot fill. Margie idly positioned the sugar bowl on the table between them.

When the last hisses of water finished dripping into the grounds, Margie got up and retrieved the thermos carafe, screwing the lid on as she came back to the table. She filled both cups three-quarters' full and set the pot so that the Sheriff could reach it easily before sitting back down at the table. She waited while the Johannson added two spoons of sugar to his coffee. The she took the sugar bowl and added three spoons to her own cup.

Johannson fumbled with his pen and his pocket notepad while Margie took the first sips of her coffee. He waited for her to set the cup down. "Are you ready?" he asked in a hoarse whisper, clearing his throat after asking the question.

Margie nodded.

"In your own words, why don't you tell me what you saw when you went into Bidwell's office."

Margie sighed and picked up her cup again. All she could see was the hole in the back of Bidwell's head, and the blood and the brains and the bones that clung to the rough opening and spattered backward into the bookcases and across the window behind the desk. She set down the cup without drinking any coffee and pinched the bridge of her nose.

"No hurry," Johannson said, reaching out any patting her hand.

It was several moments more before Margie spoke. "It's odd, but I remember being relieved when I first tried his door and it wasn't locked. I don't know why. And then I knocked, turned the handle, and gave the door a little shove. As the door swung open, it was kind of like watching a movie and having the camera pan across a scene. First I could see the bookcase and everything seemed normal. Then the corner of his desk came into view. And then his arm and shoulder. They didn't look right. ÖAnd then I noticed the blood. As the door swung out of the way and I saw his faceÖhis headÖI remember leaning up against the doorjamb. I couldn't look away."

When Margie stopped for a sip of coffee, the sound of the sheriff's pen scratching across his pocket pad filled the void. Margie took another sip of coffee before setting her cup down. And then she watched as Johannson continued to write.

"Go on," the Sheriff said.

"I don't remember walking into the room, but I must have because I can't get the picture of the hole in his head out of my mind. I seen stuff like that in movies, but thisÖthis was realÖand it wasn't anything like it's filmed to be. And I saw the gun on the floor, there by his hand. It almost looked like he was trying to reach down and grab it."

When Margie remained silent for about a minute, Johannson asked, "Did you notice anything else? Anything at all?"

"No," Margie said, shaking her head. "I don't think so."

"Anything out of place in the office?"

"Not that I noticed." But after a brief pause, "His glasses were on his desk and so was his handkerchief," she added. "I remember thinking I had never seen him without his glasses on. Strange, the kinds of things you think, isn't it?"

Johannson nodded. "What time did you get to the office this morning, Mrs. Sullivan?"

"I got there about six thirty. The board meets this week, was supposed to, anyway, and I always have a lot of extra work to do to get everything ready for that meeting."

"Was Dr. Bidwell there when you arrived?"

"Yes, his car was out front. And I told him I was there and that I made coffee. But he didn't answer me. Not that he has to, you know. But he usually is very politeÖ." Margie's voice trailed off as she thought about how different Bidwell was from Avery.

"Anything unusual happen before you went into Bidwell's office?"

"No," Margie replied. "Not really. Mrs. Bidwell called. He didn't answer the phone, so she rang my desk. She was wondering where he was. And I offered to stick my head into his office to see if he was there, but she said it wasn't necessary. And then, when Dr. Hickerson said he was going down to see Dean Stouffer, I thought Dr. Bidwell must be down there, so I called the Dean's office to see when he would return. That's when I got up to check Dr. Bidwell's office."

"When?" Johannson asked.

"When Dr. Stouffer told me he hadn't seen Dr. Bidwell, I got worried about where he was. It wasn't like him to disappear. So I went to his office. That's when I looked in. Thatís whenÖthat's whenÖ" Margie started crying. She buried her head in her hands and spilled her first tears.

Johannson stood and moved around behind her and placed his large hands across her shoulders. After Margie regained control, he asked, "Do you want me to go now? I can always talk to you later."

She nodded.

As he reached the kitchen doorway, he turned and said good-bye, and thanked her for answering his questions. "I hope you don't mind," he added, "but I asked Dr. Hickerson to come by and check on you. He said he would come by at lunch time."

She nodded again, before looking away, fighting to stop the flow of tears.

Johannson turned to leave, but stopped before taking another step. "Just one last thing," he said. "You didn't see anything else on the desk other than the glasses and the handkerchief. Did you?"

When Margie buried her head in her hands and started to cry again, the sheriff did leave the house.

 

 

Kevin Dalton asked to be let off in front of the administration building. As he approached the main office, a police officer was directing traffic away from the door. Dr. Hickerson noticed the cub reporter coming down the hallway and called to him, and the police officer reluctantly waved him into the office.

"Did you get her home all right?" Hickerson asked.

Kevin nodded.

"I told Johannson he should talk to you," Hickerson said. "He didn't like it. But I told him you were a member of the press and you had done him a favor by taking Mrs. Sullivan home where she could calm down a little. He made me promise I would look in on her, which I would have done, anyway. Can you be at the Sheriff's Office at 3:30 this afternoon? He said he would try and give you about fifteen minutes then."

"Thanks," Kevin said, not knowing what else to say.

"Don't thank me. You need to get busy and work on the questions you're going to ask him. He'll respect you if you ask him good questions--even though he may not want to answer them. But you'll never get another chance to talk to him if you go there unprepared."

"I understand," Kevin said. And then he wondered if he should tell Hickerson about the piece of paper Mrs. Sullivan gave him, the paper he had yet to take out and read.

"Was there something else, Kevin?" Hickerson asked.

"What?" Kevin said, focusing on the professor again. "No. Nothing else. Not right now."

"Fine. Fine," Hickerson replied. "Then let's get out of here."

The two walked out of the main office and headed toward the back of the building in silence. As they reached the bottom of the stairs, Kevin turned to the aging professor and asked, "Would it be all right if I came over and talked to you sometime tomorrow?"

"You know my door's always open, Kevin. Tuesdays I am free after three and I usually go home about five. If you need me to stay a bit later, just call--leave a message if I'm not there--so I will know."

Kevin thanked Hickerson again, then darted down the walk toward the science building.

 

End of Chapter Five