Neil sighed and said, “I am the person you are asking about, but you don’t have your facts straight. I was not dismissed; I took a leave of absence for one year with the intention of returning. And I did not have sexual relations with my students, forced or otherwise. I was accused, but found innocent.”
“Then you won’t mind if I check for myself?”
“Mind? I certainly do; I mind the whole damned affair. I’ve been hounded for a year over something I didn’t do and I’m sick of it. But go ahead and check. You will anyway.”
“Yes,” she said primly, “I will.”
# # #
That night in bed with Carmen, he said, “I made a mistake in Oregon.”
“Tutoring that girl?”
“No. That was stupid, because I knew her reputation. The real mistake was taking Dr. Watkins advice and leaving for a year. I should have stayed to fight it out.”
“It would have been hard.”
“Yes. But now I have to make my stand here, and I have already compromised my position. No matter what I say, people will believe that I ran because I was guilty.”
Carmen could not dispute the truth. Instead she put her hands where he could not ignore them and made him forget everything for a while. Later, when he was sleeping, she held him in her arms and whispered, “No matter what happens, I am glad you came here. To me.”
# # #
The next afternoon, a stranger was waiting at his classroom door when the children left. Neil ushered him in, observing his expensive suit and silk tie. By the time he handed Neil his card, Neil had a pretty good idea who he was.
“Russell Danvers,” he said, and his card said attorney-at-law. He shook Neil’s hand politely before taking a seat, then added, “Mrs. Boyd works for me.”
“I rather thought she might,” Neil replied dryly.
“She told me all about your situation,” Danvers said.
“All? As a lawyer, you should know the value of accuracy. She told you what she knew, which is not much.”
“It is enough to tell me how to proceed in finding everything.” He put just a slight emphasis on the last word.
“Then I suggest you do so. When you know everything, you will know that I am innocent and there is no work for you to do here.” Neil did not try to keep the sarcasm out of his voice. He was sick of being balanced and understanding. If it came to lawyers again, he was ready to be aggressive this time.
Danvers crossed his legs, carefully pulling at his pant leg to avoid a wrinkle. He said, “I can get a statement from young Ms. Hamilton to introduce to the school board here. They are not a court of law, but it would be enough to get you fired.”
Danvers looked surprised. Neil outwaited him, until the lawyer finally asked, “Why are you so anxious?”
“Danvers, before you decide to take this on, step back once. Just for the sake of argument, be devil’s advocate to your own position. Consider just how I might feel if I were innocent. Consider how I would feel about Alice Hamilton and her father.”
He paused to let the words sink in. “If you bring a statement by her to the board, it will be in writing. I will have a right to a copy. Then I will take her to court for libel. So go ahead, get your statement if she is foolish enough to make one. But she has other things on her mind these days, and you may have a hard time finding her. Her daddy hid her away when she turned up pregnant.” more tomorrow