Feeling another round of wistful longing wash through him, Dan pulled his cell from his pocket as he slid into the booth at Frye’s across from Governor Haydenshire.
Chuckling, he shook his head as he read Fionna’s text. “Fi wants to know if I would mind bringing her home Philly rolls with extra wasabi and sour gummy worms. And I quote,” he held up the phone, “They sound so incredibly delicious right now.”
“Yeah,” Governor Haydenshire laughed as his customary drink order, a tall glass of iced tea with lemon, was supplied to him without him even having to order.
“When Lillian was pregnant with the twins I came home one day to find her inhaling her mother’s peanut brittle,” he began.
“That’s not that weird. I’ve had Nana Anderson’s peanut brittle. It’s delicious.”
“I know, but she was dipping it in ranch dressing. And the kids and I had to just sit by and watch her eat the best peanut brittle in the world like that.”
Commiserating over the Governor’s plight, Dan assured his wife that he would gladly bring home anything she’d like.
“I invited your dad to dine with us. He’ll be by as soon as he’s off the phone.”
“Great.” Dan found it somewhat odd that he was pleased to see his father. He also wondered what his father had to do with Chancellor Wilshire’s affair, assuming that’s what this lunch was all about.
“Tell me about Kauai. Your dad said he’d never seen you so happy, and that Fionna and Aida seemed to be in heaven.”
Before he could reply, the waitress arrived. Dan ordered a Dr. Pepper and the Governor placed an order for a large platter of appetizers to be split. This clearly wasn’t going to be a quick lunch.
“It was everything we desperately needed it to be and nothing we didn’t. Last year was hell.”
“It was that,” the Governor agreed.
“Fi and I talk about moving out there all the time, but we can’t decide.”
“Well, Daniel, you have to do what’s right for you and all of your girls, but we would sorely miss you, son.”
“We’d miss everyone here, too. It’s a very different life out there,” Dan sighed as he picked up a tortilla chip and sank it in the spinach and cheese dip. The food appeared rapidly when one dined with the Crown Governor.
Governor Vindico slid into the booth beside Dan.
“How are my girls?” he ordered.
Grinning at his father, Dan bit back laughter. “Hey, Dad. Nice to see you.”
“He does love you, Dan, it’s just he loves his granddaughters slightly more,” Governor Haydenshire joked.
“I was going to ask about you and Fionna, too, but I miss my Aida, and Halia’s going to be here soon.”
“I know, Dad. Aida is over the moon because she’s spending the night with Olivia tonight, and Fi wants sushi and sour gummy worms, so I’m assuming they’re all pretty much the way they’re supposed to be.”
“You know I can head out after lunch and get Fionna sushi and gummy worms if you’re planning on hanging out down at Iodex after lunch. I’ll get Aida those lemon cookies she likes so much from the grocery store bakery.”
“Thanks, Dad. I know you love spoiling them but I’ll get the worms and sushi.”
“The little one’s good as well, I’m assuming?” Governor Haydenshire quizzed.
“She’s moving all the time. Adeline says she’s right on schedule growth-wise even with the scar tissue from … everything that happened. She’s checking her again tonight.”
“I’m thrilled they’re all doing well. And a word of advice from the father of eleven – do not forget the worms. I promised to get Lillian pumpkin seeds with one of the boys and then I got a phone call just before I walked out the door and I forgot to get the pumpkin seeds. Good grief,” he shook his head. “You know I adore my wife and that when she is not eight and a half months pregnant with one of my boys she has the patience of Job, but that night,” he shuddered, “I went right back out and got them only I was unaware that there was a certain kind of pumpkin seed she wanted. I, of course, got the wrong kind.”
Dan and his father laughed heartily.
The appetizers disappeared and everyone ordered. Governor Haydenshire leaned in with a sigh. “All right, let’s have it. You give me your bad news, and we’ll give your ours.” He gestured to Governor Vindico who nodded morosely.
“I don’t really know much other than that he did have an affair. I only know that for certain because of Fionna so that wouldn’t stand up in court. Rumor is that it was with a Mentor. I have nothing to substantiate that. And the students know and seem to have known for some time.”
“I was afraid you were going to say that,” Governor Haydenshire huffed. “What I want to know is why do men do that? He’s been married longer than Lill and I.”
“If it proves true that it was with Mentore Bryant, she’s half his age.”
“And there you have your reason.” Governor Vindico shook his head. Governor Vindico was the head of all Gifted academies. He was Wilshire’s direct boss. Typically, he left most of the governing to the academies themselves, only stepping in when he was needed. He focused his work on making certain the school system was well-funded and that education was valued and rewarded throughout the Senate.
“Are you going to ask him to step down?” Dan quizzed as he bit into one of Frye’s delectable Philly cheesesteaks.
“I don’t know yet,” Governor Vindico admitted. “There’s a bit more to it than just the affair.”
“Fi had him figured out as soon as he was within ten feet of her,” he explained how he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Chancellor had indeed had an affair.
“I will never understand. If something is wrong in your marriage, you go home, and you talk, and you work until you fix it. You do not find yourself a woman on the side,” Governor Haydenshire growled furiously. The American Gifted Realm had chosen well when they’d elected him Crown Governor.
Governor Vindico raised his glass to the sentiment which Dan joined.
“Governess Martin called to chew my ass today. Apparently, it’s been going on for years and she believes I should have figured it out and done something about it before the press got a wind of it,” Governor Vindico admitted.
“How the hell would you have known?” Dan demanded.
“This has to be the first time I know more about a case than my son, but I’ve been hearing about this one longer. The story goes that her husband came home from taking their son to soccer practice. He had plane tickets to Destin, swears he wanted to take her away for a week. He knew something was wrong and wanted to work on it. Dean was there. They were washing the sheets.”
“Wilshire’s lucky to still be alive.” Bile swirled in Dan’s throat.
“I spoke to Dean this morning,” Governor Vindico continued. “He’s still denying everything, swears nothing inappropriate happened between himself and Mentor Bryant.”
“I get the distinct feeling I’m about to be asked to find you your proof.” All of the pieces fell into place as soon as Dan’s shield settled and his Visium predilection took over. That’s why he’d been asked to lunch.
The Governors shared an ominous glance.
“There’s more going on at Venton than I care to admit,” Governor Vindico sighed.
“A nurse who works with Adeline at Georgetown discovered something odd at the hospital. It would appear that someone is covering up some of the drug tests that the students are given randomly throughout the year. One was done the last day of school last year. The urine samples were delivered to the hospital and then they disappeared before they ever made it to the lab.” Governor Haydenshire explained in a low tone.
Shock worked its way through Dan’s veins as he tried to fathom who had the power to orchestrate something like that without inside help from the hospital.
“And,” Governor Haydenshire drew a deep steadying breath. “Dean Wilshire isn’t the only person I’ve gotten complaints about, Dan.”
“Me? They’re already complaining to you about me?”
“You and I both know that most of the time a complaint has much more to do with the complainer than whom they’re complaining about, but you apparently ticked off a few parents with your demands and your assignment load. There were parents that assumed their kids were going to get a free pass their senior year, and now they’re going to have to actually work. And you taking up with Mr. Strenton has upset a lot of people. They feel, perhaps understandably so, that you took pity on the kid because of what happened with you and Fionna last year. They believe that is how he got the coveted spot at Iodex. I understand that he is a tremendous kid, Dan, but I don’t have answers for the parents who are angry. You did take up for Jeff because of what happened. That cannot be the criteria for getting the Iodex internship.
“We are also going to have to talk about you assigning extra papers and then allowing your wife to grade them?” Governor Haydenshire’s brow furrowed.
“There’s more to that story, and I took this job with the understanding that it was my job to pick the intern. I picked. They need to get over it.”
“I told you that is what he would say,” Governor Vindico chimed in. “And as long as we’re laying everything out, from what I can tell with limited access to the Venton books, there might be a great deal of money missing from the school’s main account and there have been numerous tests that were to be given later in the year that have found their way onto the internet and in the hands of a number of students. No one seems to know how they got them out of the vault and I’m talking in every subject every Predilect.”
It took Dan far too long to remember how to join his lower jaw with his upper. “What?! Someone broke into the vault? That’s impossible.”
“We thought so, too, but more and more websites pop up every day offering the exams for a fee.”
“Have you bought any to see if they’re legit?”
“I can’t do that, Dan. I would have to use Senate money to make purchases to make the findings evidence. To do that I would need Iodex to step in an investigate this as a case. I, uh, I … was trying to avoid that.”
Understanding laced itself slowly through Dan’s mind. If Iodex opened a case, in the most prestigious Gifted Academy in the world, his father would be willingly laying his head on a chopping block. There would be no coming back. He would take the fall.
Governor Haydenshire’s gaze was urgent. “I was hoping you could help us avoid that.”
“I’ll do whatever needs to be done. You are not going down for this, Dad.”
“The buck does have to stop somewhere, Dan. If it’s with me, so be it. But I need to know how far and how deep this goes. After the little bit of digging I was able to do, the only person I can vow isn’t involved in any of this is you.”
“Unfortunately, you’re the one person everyone wants to blame.” Governor Haydenshire grimaced. “There were a few people that weren’t too thrilled with your appointment after what happened last March. They’re concerned you aren’t a good example, and that there might be an issue of nepotism. Your name has been thrown around as an obvious choice if anything illegal is going on at the Academy. It’s the time more than anything. The press just happened to get wind of the affair and the books just as you started teaching.”
“It sure as hell wasn’t nepotism. I didn’t even know Wilshire had offered you a job,” Governor Vindico huffed. “If I’m worsening your reputation, I’m just going to resign. I want to govern people, to help them. If they don’t want me, I’ll leave.”
“Dad, you are not giving up a job you love, that you’ve given your life to, that you were elected to do thirty years ago, so that I can keep a job I don’t even think I like.”
Shock colored Governor Vindico’s face as the truth settled firmly in Dan’s gut.
“I signed a contract to teach for this year. I want to honor my commitment and I feel like my seniors need me. They need to be trained. This works out well, actually. I’ll figure out who’s covering up drug tests, and stealing tests, and money. I’m the best damn detective in this Realm or any other.”
“You were the best Dan and we both know that,” Governor Haydenshire vowed.
“Then let me do what I’m good at. I will prove you had no idea who Wilshire’s side-job was. I’ll figure the rest out. Fi and I have a very healthy savings account. I’ll clear your name and we’ll move to Kauai. Maybe D.C. and I don’t get along.”
“I knew that’s what you would decide. I don’t want you to move to Kauai. I don’t want you to run away, certainly not because of my mistakes,” Governor Vindico pled.
“I wouldn’t be running away, Dad. I’ve never run away.”
“Forgive me for bringing up your somewhat less than stellar past, son, but I believe you eluded German Iodex and ran to Paris just last year.”
Regret-fueled bile singed Dan’s throat. His past would always override his future.
“And, you’re right, I’ve been Governor for thirty-odd years now. Maybe it’s time for me to retire. All of my kids are having kids. I hardly ever get to see little Aida or Olivia and Oliver or even little Aiden. I’m sure Halia won’t be any different. I want to spend time with my grandkids. I’m still not certain what I think about this, but Ryan actually asked me yesterday if he could propose to Lindley.”
“Ryan Tuttle?” Governor Haydenshire gasped.
“The one and only.”
“What did you tell him?” Dan demanded angrily.
“What was I supposed to say? I can’t tell them they can’t get married any more than I could have stopped you and Fionna when you called me an hour before your ceremony. Not that I would ever put the sweet, sweet wonderful woman who saved my son’s life and who has given me not one, but soon to be two precious granddaughters in the same boat with Ryan Tuttle, mind you.”
Reeling from everything he’d learned in the past hour Dan drew a deep breath. His cheesesteak was threatening to make a rapid reappearance.
“I’m not going to allow either of you to quit your current jobs just yet. If you’re willing to take on a full investigation of the Academy as discreetly as you can, let me tell you everything I know.” Governor Haydenshire turned the conversation back to the Academy.
“I’m more than willing. I’ll figure this out.”
“I have no doubt, just keep your wits about you. Like your dad said, it could be anyone behind any of the things we’ve discovered. It might not even be the same person or people involved.”
“This isn’t my first investigation.”
“And Officer Vindico makes his triumphant return. Just remember, George Sapman isn’t particularly thrilled with Jeff Strenton and your involvement in his internship. He’s one to hold a grudge. There is also a mentor at Venton that just became engaged to a young lady that graduated last year. The talking heads don’t like the idea that they were more than likely dating while she was a student.”
Dan tried to hide his grin. So they already knew about Fergus Martin and his asinine stupidity.
“The kid was a friend of Logan and Rainer’s coming up. I really don’t think he would do anything underhanded but there are people at the academy that might find him an easy target since it would appear mentors are not following the Venton code of ethics.”
Blood pounded in Dan’s chest as it swelled. It had been months and months since he’d been given a run down on a case he was being assigned from the Governors. Pride sluiced through is veins. This, he knew how to do. This is what he was meant to do. He’d clear his father’s name, and he’d deal with what came after that, later.
“Now the hard part,” Governor Haydenshire sighed dejectedly. “You know I would never have thought that Dean Wilshire was capable of cheating on Ellen. Certainly not with someone he employed. So, I suppose I don’t know him very well after all. Having an affair is not technically an offense I can fire someone over. I certainly don’t agree with it, but I will not be a Governor who beats others with his own moral stick. But I am concerned that Dean might’ve skimmed a little off of the top of the account to continue to pay Katherine Bryant as she was basically forced to take a leave of absence once people started talking. I don’t know that for certain, but at this point it doesn’t seem too far-fetched.”
“Who has access to the accounts?” Dan lowered his voice.
“Several people, but Dean is one of them. I’ll get you a list.”
“Before we figure out who took the money, I need to know how much is missing. I can’t order an official audit without drawing more negative attention to the school. Anything you can find as to how much is missing, tell me immediately,” Governor Vindico jumped in. “If you can prove Dean skimmed money off of the top of the vast Venton bank accounts, he will be removed as Chancellor and criminal charges will be filed. But I cannot and will not pin this on him just because of the affair. I need the truth and I need it quickly.”
"Then I am your man, and you know it," Dan reveled in the awakening of his dormant ego.
"Yeah, I know it. I just don't want you to get yourself into more trouble trying to save your old man."