the case of the four women (part seventeen)

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"And, of course," Miss Tumolo said, "since you didn't tell us your theory, you didn't risk looking foolish if it had turned out to be wrong."

Jan shook her head. "There's more to it than that. Remember who Zoe's father is, and remember how precarious U-town is. He isn't in a position to act, but if we should suddenly implode, maybe with a little help, he would be very happy to take some quiet credit for it. So, the more impressive I am to him, the more he thinks that I know everything, the better it is. For all of us."

"Well, I do take some pleasure from the fact that, knowing how gossip travels through police circles, this won't stay secret for long."

"Does your gentleman friend know who you are?" my employer asked Zoe. "Who your father is, I mean?"

"Oh, yes, He was one of my professors at college."

"Hence his aversion to reporters," Miss Tumolo said.

"Yes. He isn't married, though I know Ashley and Willie think he is–"

"And I'm sure his name is not Mason," Stu put in.

"Of course. His career could be in trouble, for a variety of reasons, if this became public. He suggested I live in U-town, where rent is cheap and where I wouldn't be viewed as peculiar. And it's some distance from where he lives and teaches, so probably nobody would recognize him. He visits as often as he can."

"And you don't mind missing out on your education?"

"For a couple of months, I lived two lives. From Monday morning to lunchtime Friday, I was at school, where I had no friends, and where I got beat up a few times. I was wearing boy clothes, but still... well, I didn't fit in. Then, I'd take the bus to the city, after my Friday morning class. I'd walk to the bridge, to U-town, and I'd always stop at that coffee shop by the bridge to eat a sandwich, and then I'd change clothes and do my makeup in the bathroom."

She smiled. "The waitress there, Dot, would always compliment me on my outfit or my hair, and she'd tell me that I made a very unconvincing boy. She used to say, 'You should just give it up, dear. You haven't got the knack.'"

"The worst was Monday morning, of course. I had to get up at an ungodly hour to make it back in time for my first class. It was one Monday morning, in the bus station, when I had my little... episode and ended up in the hospital." She drew on her cigarette. "Which was when I knew I needed to stop going to school. I tried living at home again, trekking back and forth to my apartment when I could, but that was even worse.

"Then I just said to hell with it and moved into the apartment, full time. But the restaurant had closed, and I needed money, so I sent that note. And... I thought he'd come. Himself. And see everything. But of course he just sent some flunky instead."

Miss Tumolo shook her head. "I agree that he acted badly today, I have no sympathy for him on that score, but you should have realized that he can't just pop over to U-town for a visit. He has–"

"Well, he made it clear today what he thinks."

They gave each other a brief look. Miss Tumolo was prepared to deliver a lecture on civic responsibility and Zoe was prepared to respond negatively to such a lecture, but Miss Tumolo dropped the subject. Being a teacher must give you a sense of when students are willing to learn and when they aren't.

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About Anthony Lee Collins

I write.
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