“Her daddy hid her away when she turned up pregnant.”
That caught Danvers by surprise. His eyebrows went up, so Neil added, “No, it’s not mine. Anyone who can count on his fingers will know that.”
Danvers left more subdued than he had come. Neil felt good for the first time since Toni Boyd had come in with her news. If they wanted a fight, he would give them one this time.
# # #
During the first two days after Toni received the phone call from her sister-in-law, things proceeded normally at school. Even Lee Boyd seemed unaware of what was going on. Toni had kept the news from him.
It was only the calm before the storm.
Russell Danvers came to see Neil on a Friday. The following Monday before school, Toni Boyd was back. This time she had a committee of concerned parents with her, and they went straight to Bill Campbell. Neil was not there for the meeting, but Campbell came to his room at the first break, ran out the student hangers-on, and told Neil what they had said. They wanted to know why a known child molester (rumors had distorted the facts that far) had been hired; they wanted him fired today and out of the school by noon. They were pretty sure they wanted Bill Campbell fired as well, and maybe the whole school board ought to resign.
Bill had handled them as well as he could, but even his smooth manner was not up to this situation.
“You have to understand their position . . .” Bill began, but Neil would not hear him.
“I’ve understood everyone’s position from the beginning and look what it’s gotten me. Understand my position: I am innocent! Nothing else matters.”
“I don’t think the school board will feel that way.”
“When are they going to meet.”
“As soon as they can all get free. Today or tomorrow. I’ll let you know.”
After that, it was not business as usual in the classroom any more. Tanya Michelson, Larry Whitlock, Bob Thorkelson, and Lauren Turner had all been absent that morning, but Neil had not made the connection until after his talk with Bill. All four student’s parents had been in Bill’s office.
The students had seen the parents come in en masse and wanted to know what was going on. Neil told them nothing, but by noon rumors were flying around the school. Neil found it bitterly amusing that none of them named him. All the crimes of which he had been accused, and all the others that had come by distortion of the rumors, were being credited to Glen Ulrich. Glen was old, grouchy, didn’t really like kids, and his students thought he was unfair. He was, Carmen had told him, the last hold-over from another era before Bill Campbell and a newly elected school board had purged the district of a whole group of poor teachers.
Glen went home in a very bad mood — although really, it was hard to tell. He was normally in a very bad mood.
By the next morning the adult rumor mill had corrected the children’s false assumption, and everybody seemed to know that Neil was the one accused. This morning Casey Kruger, Raul Fuentes, and Rosa Alvarez were also absent. It was Rosa’s absence that cut Neil the deepest. Two students from his afternoon class had stayed home, and six more went home before his class started.
When Elanor Romero raised her hand in class and asked in large-eyed innocence what all the fuss was about, she was probably the only child at Kiernan who had not heard the story. Neil answered, “When I was teaching last year, one of my students accused me of doing something wrong. I hadn’t done what she said, but I had to go before the school board to prove it. Now some people have heard about it, and they don’t believe I was innocent.”
“What did you do?” more tomorrow