Friday, August 12, 2011

TWELVE: Fifteen Love

Les stayed at Diana’s over night and drove to his office in the morning. During her lunch hour, Diana came to campus to register for his class. “Learn to act,” she said, “ease your lover’s despair.” 
Afterwards they walked to the bridge over the ravine at the observatory.
“Okay, Joe,” she said, one foot pushing tiny pebbles off the bridge and into the ravine, “I’ll meet you at 5:20 in front of the bank so we can motor to the mansion and find out what young Father Nepomucine is up to.”
She went off singing Gold doubloons and pieces of eight.
            He stayed on the bridge and looked into the ravine a few minutes and then walked up to the playing fields. For a while he watched a pick-up game of—what? Soccer? Lacrosse? Whatever. He was trying not to think specifically. It wasn’t easy. He was feeling old and more lost than yesterday. After an hour or so, he went back to his office.
Olivia came to the door.
“Doctor Breznick wants you to call him as soon as you can.” When she saw puzzlement on his face, she added, “He’s the principal of Falkes Hollow elementary.”
“Oh.” He felt a sudden pinch of concern in his stomach. “Oh, all right.” He told himself there was nothing to feel a sudden pinch of concern about.
            Doctor Breznick’s voice sounded like a banker’s. “Professor Overchord, thank you for returning my call.”
Unconsciously, Les switched to casual mode. “Not a problem. What’s up?”
“I wanted to ask if you and Mrs. Overchord took Patti out of school this afternoon?” It was the formal but familiar, even condescending, tone of the minor bureaucrat temporarily in charge of something significant.
The pinch of concern in Les’s stomach intensified. “I don’t know,” he said.
            “I didn’t take Patti out of school this afternoon, but—“
            “I called your home and when no one answered, I assumed that someone must have picked Patti up after lunch.”
            “What’s going on?”
            “It would of course be irregular to take a child out of school without notifying the front office, but--”
            “What happened?”
            “No need to panic, Professor Overchord.”
“I’m trying not to.”
“Patti seems not to have come back into the school building after playground lunch break. Do you know if perhaps Mrs. Overchord--”
            “No, I don’t know if perhaps Mrs.—I’ll be right there.”
            In minutes he was sitting in the principal’s office. “Did you talk to Derek?” he said.
            “Derek says he hasn’t seen Patti since early morning.”
“Where is he?”
“He’s at Little League. Just as well, considering, yes?”
            “Did you call the police?”
            “Professor Overchord, since we haven’t had an opportunity to talk with Mrs. Overchord—"
            “Patti is a good, careful child. She would not leave the schoolyard without cause.”
            “Exactly. Can you suggest where we might locate Mrs. Overchord?”
            “I don’t know.” He was indeed panicking and the minor annoyance with Doctor Breznick was developing into focused anger. “She—uh—she sometimes goes shopping with friends on Wednesday afternoons—but this is Thursday, isn’t it? Uh, I don’t know, she plays tennis a couple of times a week, takes lessons, but I think that’s in the morning.”
            “Where does she play? Perhaps we might call.”
            “The country club.”
            “Oh?” with some surprise. Then: “Old Falkes Hollow?”
            Had derision slipped in behind Doctor Breznick’s placid exterior? Jesus, faculty can belong to the goddam country club, right?, without--
Breznick was staring at him.
“What.” With some aggression.
            “Would you rather I made the call?” Breznick said.
            “No. No, I’ll do it. Do you have a phonebook?”
            He had to get the number from directory assistance. The front desk at the club connected him with the clubhouse.
            “Clubhouse. Cheeks speaking.”
            Les felt sudden embarrassment not only for not knowing Cheeks but also for never even having spoken with him. Maybe he should apologize or something. “Uh, Cheeks, this is Les Overchord. Lydia Overchord’s husband.”
            “Oh, yeah, Perfessor, how are you? How’s Patti and Derek?”
            “Um, well, they’re fine, Cheeks, thank you.” Maybe he did know Cheeks. “I’m, uh, actually trying to locate Mrs. Overchord. Has she been to the clubhouse today?”
            “I don’t think so, Perfessor. Hold on, I’ll ask Jimmy, he’s the kid who’s manning the counter this summer.”
            Les had only a slim grip on the fear and anger twisting in his stomach.
            “This is Jimmy Kroegher.”
“Yes, Jimmy, hi, thank you, uh, have you seen Lyd—Mrs. Overchord today?”
“No sir, Mrs. Overchord hasn’t come in today.”
            “Ah. Oh.” A moment of helpless loss. The panic was now choking his voice. “Well, thanks for—“
            “I think she told one of the ball boys she’d be taking lessons at the college this summer.”
“Oh, did she?”
“Yeah, starting this week.”
            “That I don’t know, sir.”
            He got Breznick’s home phone number and he went to campus.
There were four outdoor tennis courts next to the old gym. All of them had people on them. Lydia wasn’t among them.
Maybe she was in the dressing room. Maybe she had been here with Patti and had decided to have a girls’ day out. Could he just walk into the women’s dressing room? Could she have had a lesson on the indoor court up at the field house? Where would she take Patti for a girls’ day out after a tennis lesson anyway?
            “Les!” a voice called in bright delighted surprise.
            He turned and saw Jean Balfour coming toward him. She carried a racquet and was wearing a white tennis skirt with a pink top. Her lipstick color matched the top and her impossibly black hair was pulled into a high tight ponytail.
A tall young man in tennis shorts and shirt came behind her holding three tennis balls in the fingers of his left hand. Slung over his right shoulder was a nylon athletic bag from which a tennis racquet poked out. He turned his head to watch the action on the courts.
            Les asked and Jean said, yes, both she and Lydia had decided to give the instructors at the college a try this summer and in fact Lydia had scheduled a lesson for today, but Jean had been side-tracked all morning and hadn’t seen her. She wasn’t sure exactly what time Lydia’s lesson had been scheduled for, but surely there was a master schedule at the main desk, wasn’t there?
            “Do you know if she had Patti with her?”
            For a moment Jean looked at him directly and simply. “She didn’t say anything about bringing Patti, no.” And then the look disappeared and her tone again brightened. “Why? Is something wrong, Les?”
            Les could see the sparkling delight in Jean’s eyes as she looked at him with what she surely assumed resembled open earnest concern. He had an instant’s vision of Amber and Whitney Balfour going home last week after their visit to Patti’s house and telling their mother how they had seen Mr. Overchord run out of the kitchen swearing at Mrs. Overchord, blood running down the back of one of his hands. And in an unguarded moment maybe Lydia had spilled her guts at their last goddamn partnered tennis lesson.
            “No, nothing’s wrong,” he said. “Just mixed signals. Or cross purposes. Or something.”
            Jean laughed and introduced Leon, her summer undergrad tennis instructor, who brushed back a curl of streaked blond hair with his free hand and smiled. Then he and Jean went on to the courts.
            Les stood paralyzed by anger and panic. He decided to call the police.
            Diana waited at the bank for Les until 5:35. She called his office. Nothing. She called his house, ready to hang up if Lydia answered. Nothing. It looked like Frank Hardy was going to have to pursue the mystery of the sexy priest without the help of brother Joe. And Frank was proud of herself for putting aside her understandable disappointment and deciding that Joe must have had good reason for ditching her without so much as a word of warning, the selfish prick son of a bitch.
            She drove to the Pedersen Mansion gate, parked, and stole up the drive. Yes, she thought, I am not walking up the drive, I am stealing up the drive. I am on the lookout for Leatherface the Slasher Gardener.
At the last moment, she decided not to ring the bell. Instead she would look in windows, perhaps even try for an unlocked door. She slinked along the side of the house and went to the back. The sun was low but still bright and shadows stretched across the back lawn. The lawn sloped gradually to a sweep of stone stairs and the entrance to what looked like a great formal garden. With its walls of high hedges, she thought it might even be an Elizabethan maze. Like the one in The Shining.
            She heard a male voice and laughter coming from the garden. She walked along the back of the house toward fruit trees of some kind at the side where she thought she could maneuver without being seen from the windows. She hurried to get ahead of the voice, which was moving into the garden and which she was certain was his. Where the hedges weren’t so dense she found a way in and immediately ducked behind a cluster of yellow rose bushes. For just a moment she watched the turn in the sun-dappled path beyond which the voice--or voices--grew clearer and louder.
Then around the turn came Father John Nepomucine. She knew it was him by the swirls of black-brown hair tossing about on his head as he moved animatedly through the patterned sunlight and shadow. Walking beside him was a young girl perhaps nine or ten years old. She was carrying a long-stemmed pink rose and her black hair fell freely over and down her shoulders.
Both of them were naked.
            He said something and she laughed and threw the rose into the air and twirled, her hair fanning out in the fading sunlight.


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