by Amory Peck
Emerald slid into her first-class seat, slipped out of her Jimmy Choo’s, and into her favorite in-flight footwear, Lissom Flytes. Accepting a glass of champagne from the flight attendant, she reached for boyfriend Zeph’s hand.
“Zeph, sweets. We made it. Two glorious weeks in St. Barts just twelve hours away.”
“Traffic was a bitch, didn’t you think?” he grumbled in response.
“Of course, my love. That’s why being away for two whole weeks will be even more delicious. Here’s to our get-away,” she replied, tipping her glass toward his for a toast.
She and Zeph had been together for five years. Yes, that was a bit before she and Jack divorced, but love loves what love loves and all that. To keep herself in shape, she had arranged for a personal trainer. She opened the door to her home that memorable fall morning, and there he stood—Zeph. The attraction was immediate and mutual. True, he was younger than she. Actually, only ten years older than Annabelle. But they were completely right for each other! Zeph assured her he’d never before been attracted to one of his clients, and, of course, he was completely committed to her now.
Emerald had dreamed of a vacation on St. Barts ever since she discovered the playground of the rich and famous on season eleven of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. That August, the K’s shared the St. Barts’ lifestyle from their rented villa, La Banane. Emerald couldn’t justify spending the $70,000 it would cost to spend two weeks living like Kim, Kourtney, and Khloe. She and Zeph would stay at the Hotel Isle de France instead, hoping to do some celeb spotting while there.
“I’ll just leave one last message for Jack. Then I can put all thoughts of that work-crazed mistake of mine out of my mind.”
“Annabelle deserves better than the local high school, and God knows you can afford it.” Emerald ended the call, slipped her phone into the seat pocket, and turned her attention to Zeph.
She loved chatting with him, and putting all thoughts of Jack aside was no problem. But, the memories of her time at Westminster Academy were irresistible.
What a gracious man Headmaster McPherson had been. He shared that ordinarily a student would provide the tour, but he would be honored to guide her around himself.
Emerald knew at once that Westminster was the place for her Annabelle, although she couldn’t sound too excited when talking to Jack. If she were for it, he’d automatically go negative. Public high school just didn’t offer all the options of the Academy and she could tell the students at Westminster were the sort Annabelle should get to know. Emerald would make certain that her daughter enrolled in French classes. Annabelle had always refused to learn another language, but once she understood that French was the language of St. Barts, she’d be eager to learn. Emerald planned to include Annabelle on some of the future trips to the island.
Truth be told, the tour of the campus was fairly brief. Dr. McPherson, who encouraged Emerald to call him Peregrine, invited her to lunch in his private dining room. “My dear, I can just tell you appreciate the finer foods and spirits, as do I,” he had said in invitation. There was a chance to peek into the dining hall where Annabelle would eat her lunches. It was empty at the time, but she spotted a marvelous German espresso machine. She vowed to order one for herself and Zeph one as soon as they returned from vacation.
Yes, Emerald thought, as she walked the grounds to her car at the end of lunch, passing by a stately Douglas fir, this is the perfect place for Annabelle, a cocoon for my baby. After all, Peregrine said the Academy cherished each student.
The rest of the first-class flight went quickly—meals, drinks, two movies, more drinks and a lovely nap. It seemed not long at all before they were taxiing into the gate. “You are now free to use your phones.”
As Emerald glanced at her screen, she noticed a text from someone named Jane Varner. “Call me as soon as you can. Urgent.” Jane Varner? Oh yes, that mousey secretary who brought coffee to me and Peregrine. Whatever could she want?
Each day, Jane sent up a silent plea that the day be the one when she could leave Westminster Academy at a reasonable, end-of-an-ordinary work day time. The subpoena made that get-away unlikely. Losing track of a potential student squelched all thoughts of an early evening with Sybil. Jane never mentioned Sybil at work. She wasn’t hiding anything; she just didn’t want to tarnish what she had at home by exposing it to the toxic academy.
That stupid, stupid man. How many years did he think Professor Trompe could get away with his vile, inappropriate behavior? Dr. McPherson could have easily avoided the subpoena—he could have fired that troglodyte years ago. And, trusting silly, silly Justine to follow-through on anything. Foolishness! The girl cares only for her appearance and her appeal to the boys on campus.
So, here she was. Doing all the invisible things she always did to clean up Peregrine’s messes. Jane had been at Westminster for twenty-years. Within a few years she figured out what her true job was to be. Yes, of course she did all the ordinary secretarial tasks: answering phones, handling the correspondence, serving countless cups of tea. But, her main task, the one the headmaster counted on the most, but never mentioned let alone showed appreciation for, was to keep the foolish man out of trouble.
Her job description should include covering up, making excuses, soothing ruffled feathers. A particularly tricky subterfuge was deflecting questions about Dr. Mc Pherson’s educational, professional background. A doctorate bought and paid for, indeed!
Heaven help her, the bane of her work life was three troublesome males. The headmaster, of course. Professor Trompe, and that buffoon of a security director. Recently she had become aware that he was going to ask her out, probably for his idea of a perfect date—coffee and a donut. Her usual tactic of ignoring him was going to be impossible unless Annabelle Watson was found quickly.
Her twenty years at the academy had slogged by, her thirty years with her beloved Sybil had passed so quickly. Years of a bond so strong between them, finally recognized by the state when they married on December 9, 2012, the first day same-sex marriage was legal in Washington State. She and Sybil had joined twenty other couples for a joint ceremony in the State Rotunda—the happiest marriage ceremony ever.
After years of financial struggling, Sybil’s career as a glass artist was taking off. Jane’s beginning salary as a secretary had been low, but one positive thing she could say about the old fool was that he now paid her well.
She and Sybil were living their dream. Early on they found an old two-story commercial building in Belltown they could afford. The couple had divided up the first-floor space into two areas, a work space for Sybil, and a gallery for her to show her work and work of her artist friends. The upstairs was their in-city dwelling. On entering each evening, Jane would shed her image that Trompe had described as “plain as a pitch fork with dull prongs” and dress herself in her true, jewel-bright colors. Their home was rich with color, music, classically good food (no trendy whims for them) and wine, without a teenager or an academic in sight.
“Hello sweetheart. It’s not to be. He’s made a mess of it. Again. I’ll be home late.”
Jane ended her call, and placed a second. This time she was trying to get a message to Annabelle’s mother. She hoped Emerald would return her call soon .
Sarge McGuffin shuffled out of the AM PM Mini Mart, patting his hip to make certain his night stick was properly in place and checking his belt to ensure his walkie-talkie was clipped as it should be. Reassured he was uniformed in a manner fitting a security director, he lumbered his way back to the academy’s parking lot.
To brace himself for what was certain to be the most challenging case of his life, he’d briefly left campus. The mini mart was the closest place to get a proper cup of joe (none of those fancy coffees for him, that’s for sure). The AM PM also sold great donuts. Donuts weren’t available anywhere at that fancy-smanchy school.
Despite all his self-aggrandizement, McGuffin knew he had a pretty cushy job. Most of the craziness the teens got into happened, he supposed, once they left campus. He handled disputes over parking spaces, occasional scuffles between hormone-driven teen boys, and a small amount of thievery, a case or two of marijuana on campus. Nothing like this, though. A missing student. Well, not a student. Worse, a prospective student. One who would bring in more of the huge fees everyone was charged.
You know, Sarge thought to himself. Junior Assistant Deputy NIghtlie has shown some real promise recently. My expertise in training is paying off. She’s still a bit rough around the edges— using Happy 21st Birthday streamers to block off the crime scene. Ridiculous! But she did get the job done. Not as I would have, of course, but the job was done. Perhaps the time has come for her to step forward. I’m going to see how she’ll do, flying on her own.
As McGuffin walked closer to the campus, his stomach roiled more and more. Blaming the caffeine and sugar for his distress, yet recognizing much of the tummy turmoil as fear, Sarge affirmed what he’d been thinking. Yes, let’s give the girlie a chance.
With a relieved step, Sarge walked close by the Douglas fir that marked the edge of the campus. “Bloody hell,” he yelped. “What in sweet Jesus’ name are you—a bobcat?” Marie, the academy cat walked sinuously in a figure eight around his legs.