By Karen Singer
Chapter 14 (Part 1 of 2)
Depressed! Depressed and defeated… and disappointed with himself. That’s how he felt as he sat at his desk and watched his first class of the day filing into the room. Depressed and defeated. Yesterday he had such high hopes of clearing all the fog from his brain and grabbing the courage to fight back… at least somewhat against Janice Stokley. But today… after last night… it seemed that the will power to do anything at all toward that end was simply not in him. Depressed… and defeated… and stuck! And that was the problem. He was stuck. Because as much as he didn’t like anything Janice Stokley had done to him, he absolutely could no longer even think about doing anything against her wishes… totally. Just as it was a few days ago. Ugh! And even if he did somehow manage to go against her wishes, then he would be looking at a very long and miserable stretch in jail… and that prospect still scared him more than he wanted to think about.
All day long he passed back tests… and taught – somewhat, but today his heart wasn’t really into teaching. He had to tell the school system that he would no longer be teaching there anymore after this year. It seemed so depressing. He was putting off telling them as long as he could… praying for some kind of miracle. He might not be able to do anything against what Janet wanted, but he could still hope. Of course, he was fairly certain that whatever happened, in the end, he was going to wind up in prison – and he still didn’t want that. So maybe that was part of the reason he couldn’t really fight against her will. Her “conditioning” was one thing, but landing in prison was an even bigger problem.
Janice packed her purse, making sure she had plenty of money again… and she double checked her phone to make sure it was turned on and had plenty of charge on the battery. It had been charging all night so there was no problem there. She also checked to make sure she had the other “burner” phone she had purchased last week. She was fully expecting to hear back from Mr. Wu today since he hadn’t called her back yesterday.
With a plan in mind for all the things she needed to get, she headed out shopping once again. And first on her list was to buy those boots she had seen yesterday! After that, she had plans to buy a computer and a printer. She didn’t want to use Roger’s computer, and for some unknown reason, he didn’t even have a printer.
Sid Forsyth plopped himself down in the chair across from Ted Jacobs’ desk. “What’cha looking at?” he asked.
Jacobs threw the file he had been holding in his hands onto his desk with some disgust. “The Stokley file,” he replied.
“I thought we weren’t supposed to go there anymore.”
Jacobs made a face. “You know me better than that!”
Forsyth just smiled. He did. Jacobs wouldn’t let go of anything, especially when it frustrated him so much. “So what are you going to do?”
Jacobs shook his head. “I don’t know.” He leaned forward toward Forsyth. “It just doesn’t wash!” he declared.
“What doesn’t wash?”
Jacobs held up the file again. “Remember I told you about that child welfare agent giving me the wrong address? Well, he didn’t! Turns out it was the right place after all. And the place is a dump! And I still can’t figure her working as a housekeeper. But she’s now working for some guy named Brinkley who teaches math at the county high school.”
“It does sound different,” Forsyth noted. “If I remember correctly, she’s always worked in banks or investment firms before.” He thought about things a little more. “Of course, she did just get out of prison. She probably can’t get a job at someplace like that now.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right.”
But Forsyth was thinking about something else now. “How can a school teacher afford to have a housekeeper? If that’s the case, then I’m quitting the FBI. Teaching must pay better.”
Jacobs grunted a laugh. “I think anything pays better than what we get.”
“So how did she hook up with this job… and so fast?”
“Actually, that was easy to find out. She answered an ad in the paper.” He dug through the file for a moment. “Here it is. Housekeeper wanted. Live-in possible for reduced compensation. Call between 5 and 9 PM only.”
“Live-in possible?” Forsyth asked. “I guess now we know how he can afford her. He pays a pittance, and she gets a place to live.”
“Her and her daughter,” Jacobs corrected.
“And most likely the arrangement will include a little sex somewhere along the way as well.”
“It’s possible,” Forsyth insisted. “Or at least he may think it is… or will be.”
Jacobs shrugged. “I guess,” he replied, although he clearly didn’t believe it. “You know what I’d really like to do now? I’d like to go out there and talk to this Brinkley guy… only away from the house somewhere where she won’t be around.”
Forsyth shrugged. “Sounds like a plausible idea. How about at the High School? We know where he’ll be at least.”
Jacobs nodded as a smile crossed his face. “Say, don’t I remember someone telling me we should look into something else out in that direction?”
Forsyth pried himself out of his chair. “I do think I remember that… clearly! And who’s to know the difference if we just happen to stop in at that school today.”
Janice looked over all the boots on sale again, but she still kept going back to the pair that had caught her eye yesterday. They really were the best style for what she had in mind. She started searching the sizes. Roger had said last night that he wore a size nine and a half, but in all the boxes in front of her, she didn’t see a size nine and a half. She saw several size elevens and a box that said size ten, but not nine and a half. Hoping they would fit anyway, she grabbed the box that said size ten.
She opened the box to make sure what she wanted was inside. Yes… perfect! They certainly looked a lot better than the boots he wore now! But that thought made her remember what a mess he had been last night… along with his boots. Before leaving the store, she found a can of shoe polish to go with the boots. What good would it do to buy him new, better-looking boots, if he just messed them up?
With that done, she went off in search of a good store to buy computer equipment… as well as a few more burner phones.
After lunch, Roger handed back the tests to Carol’s class. He particularly tried to note the look on Carol’s face as he handed her the test back, but he couldn’t tell if she was relieved to have passed, happy because she had done much better than usual, or angry because he didn’t give her a perfect score. He was fairly sure that an eighty-nine was perhaps the best math grade she had seen in a very long time. He went through the motions of going over each of the problems on the test so everyone would know what they had done wrong. But as with his morning classes, his heart wasn’t in it today.
The bell rang and the students began filing out of the room. As Carol left, she had to force her way around the school’s vice-principal who was entering the room. “Mr. Brinkley,” he called as he finally got through the doorway, “there are some gentlemen in the office who need to talk to you. I’ll watch your next class till you get back.”
That startled Roger. Someone needed to talk to him? “Who is it?” he asked as he got up from his desk.”
“I think it would be better if you just went yourself to find out.”
Strange answer! And to Roger, something about the way he had said it sounded ominous. He went, but it was with a touch of fear. When he got to the office, the secretary immediately sent him through to the Principal’s office. As he opened the door, he saw two men in with the Principal that he didn’t know. Something about the way they were dressed made him even more nervous. “You wanted to see me?” he asked.
“Mr. Brinkley?” one of them asked. Roger nodded. “I’m Agent Jacobs with the FBI. This is Agent Forsyth.”
The two agents held up their ID’s and Roger glanced at them briefly. Protect Janice and Carol immediately went through his mind. It took very little thought to realize that he now needed to add himself to that protection list as well. “What can I do for you?” he asked.
“Are you currently employing a housekeeper by the name of Janice Stokley?” Jacobs asked.
“Yes,” Roger replied a bit tentatively. “What of it?”
“We’ve just got a few questions, that’s all,” Jacobs replied.
“What’s wrong with hiring a housekeeper?” Roger asked, a bit more defensively.
“Nothing!” Forsyth replied. “Nothing. It’s just that…”
“We’re keeping a close eye on Mrs. Stokley,” Jacobs finished.
“Why?” Roger asked.
“She’s robbed some banks!” Jacobs stated rather flatly.
Roger was shocked by how bluntly he had put it, but before he could reply, Forsyth jumped in. “We’ve got no proof!” Forsyth added quickly. “It’s just that we think she may have a connection to some robberies.”
“So are you going to talk to her about it?” Roger asked uncertainly.
Both agents shook their heads. “No. In fact, we’d rather you don’t even tell her that we were here,” Jacobs told him.
“So why are you here? What can I do for you?”
“Have you seen any sign of her having a great deal of money?” Jacobs asked. “Or perhaps she’s made mention of having money at some time?”
Roger’s mind immediately pictured the stacks of money that he had gotten his blood all over. He shook his head. “No… she’s made no mention of anything like that to me,” he replied.
The two agents stared at him for a moment before continuing. “Mr. Brinkley,” Forsyth said, “when you hired her, were you aware that she had been in prison?”
Roger nodded, this was an easier question. “Yes, I know. But is there a reason I should hold that against her?”
“No, of course not,” Forsyth replied. “We were just wondering.”
“I put an ad in the paper,” Roger continued, “and it was her daughter Carol that persuaded me to give her a try. Carol is in one of my math classes. In fact, now that her mother is out of prison, Carol has just had the highest math test grade she’s gotten so far this year. She was in danger of failing previously.”
“You’ll excuse me for asking,” Jacobs continued, “but why would someone like you need a housekeeper in the first place?”
Roger grew a little defensive at the way the question was asked. “Someone like me? What’s wrong with me? And what’s wrong with me having someone to help take care of my house? I work hard teaching all day long and I often go out and work a second job doing home repair work for people when they need something done to their houses. I see nothing wrong with me having someone to help me with my own house!”
“We’re sorry, Mr. Brinkley,” Forsyth replied quickly. “We meant no offense by the question. We were just wondering, that’s all.”
“Does she do a good job?” Jacobs asked, totally ignoring what Forsyth had just said.
“She keeps the house clean. She does my laundry. And I can tell you one thing for sure, she’s a hell of a cook!”
“As I said, we meant no offense,” Forsyth repeated, looking over at his partner, willing him to back off a bit. Forsyth dug out a business card and handed it to Roger. “Tell you what, Mr. Brinkley, if you see or hear anything the least bit suspicious in anything she says or does, please give us a call. We’ll be happy to talk to you anytime.”
Roger looked at the card and then stuck it in his pocket. “What bank did she rob?” he asked.
“Banks!” Jacobs replied flatly. “There were three of them. One in Jackson, one in Mobile, and one in Birmingham.”
“But as I said,” Forsyth added, “we have no proof she was actually involved. She’s simply a person of interest.”
“So you want me to spy on her for you,” Roger stated.
Jacobs nodded happily. “Something like that.”
Roger shook his head. “Don’t expect to hear from me anytime soon. Since she’s taken over my house, I’ve been nothing but totally happy to have her there.” It was perhaps the biggest lie he had ever told in his life. But it was what she wanted and he had to protect her. Besides, he now also had to keep himself out of prison!
“Well, if you do come up with anything, you have my card,” Forsyth replied.
Roger nodded. Then he looked over at the school’s Principal who had been sitting behind his desk listening to everything. “Actually, now that I’m here, I was going to come see you later anyway. I’m afraid you’ll have to cross me off the list to teach summer school this year. In fact, I won’t be able to teach school next year either.”
The Principal looked shocked. “What? Why? This is awfully sudden.”
Roger shrugged. “Yeah, I know. I’m sorry. But I think I’m going to try going more into the home repair business than I have been so far. I think I can make a lot more money doing that than teaching right now.”
The Principal stared at him for a few moments before he nodded his head. “If you’re sure about it,” he replied.
“I am,” Roger stated, even though he really didn’t want to give up teaching at all.
“I’ll put the paperwork in,” the Principal said, although he certainly didn’t look happy about it.
Roger looked at the two FBI agents. “Do you two have anything else for me?” he asked.
“No. Just let us know if you hear anything,” Jacobs told him.
Roger nodded and turned his back on them. He opened the door and walked out. But as he headed back through the hallways, his hand went to his pocket and pulled out the card that Sid Forsyth had given him. If only there were some way he could tell them what was really going on. But even if he could do that, it would only land him in more trouble than he wanted to contemplate. Still, he carefully stuck the card away in the middle of several other business cards he always carried in his wallet. Maybe someday the card would be of use.
“The guy defiantly knows something,” Jacobs said for the tenth time as his car approached Roger’s house.
“I agree,” Forsyth replied. “It was obvious. But he’s also obviously not talking.” He noticed as Jacobs quickly slowed the car down and he glanced over at the house they were passing. “That’s it?” he asked, wondering if Jacobs had made a mistake.
“That’s it,” his partner confirmed.
“Geez! You’re right. It’s not much, is it?”
“No, not from the outside at least. That child welfare guy, Fitch, says it’s a lot different on the inside. He said Brinkley’s been fixing it up and it’s real nice in there.”
“So what happened to the outside?” Forsyth asked.
“I guess he hasn’t gotten that far yet.”
“Either that, or by keeping the place looking like this, he doesn’t have to worry about thieves.”
“I’d sure like to take a look inside,” Jacobs muttered as the car slowly cruised past the property.
“Yeah, but she’s probably in there and I don’t think we should let her know we’re still watching her,” Forsyth replied.
“Unfortunately, I agree,” Jacobs grunted as he punched the gas and the car sped quickly around the corner… where they couldn’t see the new black Cadillac come around the bend behind them… and turn into the dirt driveway… and go into the garage… and the garage door closing behind it.