The Gifted Realm: Academy - Volume 1

Chapter 33 - Walk the Line

Ending the call, Dan let his years of training take over.

“What did he say?” Fionna whispered.

“Apparently, Katherine Bryant’s husband took his grievances to Facebook. Jeff wanted me to check it out. He’s not quite old enough to really understand that what they’re watching play out on their screens is the destruction of real people’s lives. It’s not real enough, yet.”

“They are awfully young. Becca’s lived in a protective bubble her entire life.”

“Exactly. I don’t really like to dive into cases backwards. I need to know what got them to where we are now. Whatever is going on tonight will be there forever. People don’t get that either. I glance through it but I want to know where it all began. I want to follow the trail and see if we can’t make all of the pieces fit. When we dive into social media pages remember that we want to work from the oldest posts to the newest and not the other way around. We’re trying to create a timeline.”

 “Should we put on our crime fighting suits,” she teased as she laid her head on Dan’s shoulder. Chuckling, Dan ran his hand over her belly. He needed to cling to his heavenly angels before watched a man sell his soul.

“You put on your Catwoman costume, baby, then the computer goes away.”

Her sweet giggle soothed the frantic pulse of his shield. Dan fought the desperate urge to carry her upstairs, tuck her in the safety of their bed, scoop up Aida, and cradle her and Halia between them. He longed to simply push the rest of the world away. All he wanted was his girls safe and sound in his arms.

“Let’s just get it over with,” Fionna sighed.

“Fine.” Dan started with the couples Facebook pages. Mentor Bryant hadn’t made any posts in the past few days. On her personal page she was still listed as married. Scrolling through her comments quickly Dan felt his dinner swirl ominously as he read a birthday wish from Katherine to her husband at the end of May. “Happy Birthday to the man that still makes me smile each and every day. Hope you have a great night, baby!”

Shaking his head, Dan switched to her husband Terry’s page. His last three posts contained pictures of large mixed drinks he was about to consume. Fionna pointed to an information block that informed everyone that he’d changed his relationship status to Separated. The status update read: “I thought it was forever. She apparently thought something else.” Dan continued to read another comment from Terry, after he’d consumed several of the beverages Dan assumed, read: “Life sucks and then you die. Looking forward to that last part.”

Fionna cringed. “This is brutal. And look at all of the comments. People are eating this up. You know that means each and every one of those people haven’t just seen what he said, once they commented on it all of their friends can see it and then their friends. It just goes on and on. Everyone knew who she was having an affair with and now he’d confirmed it for the entire Realm.”

“I know, Fi, but we’re working a case, okay.”

“I know and something about his posts feel weird.”

“There’s my girl. Tell me what feels weird, baby.”

“I don’t know. There’s deception somewhere, maybe. And I know he’s hurting but this is a little attention-seeking.”

“Deception, huh?”

“Yeah, but I don’t know this man and there’s a lot of things going on here. It’s somewhere. I just don’t know where exactly.”

“Then let’s keep looking. Anything feels off tell me.” Dan scrolled further to read that Terry Bryant had graduated from Venton with honors. He’d been a Duco predilect. Ten years before he’d been employed at a large chain bank in D.C. When their son had been born, Terry decided to stay home with their children making Katherine the family bread winner. Venton Mentors made good money. Dan was certainly aware of that. They wanted the best and were willing to pay to get the people they felt could turn the students of Venton Academy into the brightest and the best.

 Fionna reached and clicked on the photographs from Terry Bryant. “Dan, they had it all. Or I guess I should say that they made it appear that they had it all.”

“No better place for that than social media.”

The photographs highlighted a nice house, a pool, two beautiful kids, vacations at the beach in the summer, and skiing in Colorado in the winter. There were shots of Katherine and her husband embracing, smiling, laughing, being affectionate with each other and their children.

         The comments on Terry Bryant’s latest posts were coming in fast and furious. Digging further into the past proved difficult. “We’ll go back to Facebook later. I want to see the emails.”

Dan opened the emails from Wilshire’s computers. He summoned and forced his computer to show him only the ones between Wilshire and Bryant. The first was two and a half years before.

Fionna continued sipping her tea as they studied the email from Mentor Bryant. Just wanted to thank you again for helping me with that mentor evaluation. I guess I took them a little too seriously. Some people are never happy.

 Dan’s brow furrowed. Each Venton student filled out a mentor evaluation at the end of the year. He wondered what the complaints had been that had upset Mentor Bryant enough to go to the Chancellor when appropriate protocol would have been for her to go to the head of Adminis order, as that was the area she primarily taught in.

“What was his response?” Fionna urged.

Dan clicked on the next email. Glad to be of help, Katherine. You are a bright, diligent mentor with a heart for the students. I assured Mr. and Mrs. Jensen that I did feel that your decision to fail Christopher was a sound one, and that you’d been available to help him all year. I explained that he had not responded in anyway other than to give you a poor review following his failing grade. I will not allow my mentors to be bullied by parents or students. Please feel free to contact me if there is anything else I can do to help. -Dean

“He defended her,” Fionna gasped.

It was like watching a very slow moving train wreck he was powerless to stop.

“You see, this is what I was telling you. It can all start so innocently. It scares me.”

“Fi.” Dan kissed the top of her head. “Do you want me to put this up?”

“No. I want to do this case with you. I never got to work with you when you were at Iodex because everything was so dangerous. And you’re amazing. I want to see you in action. I kind of hate both of the Bryants right now, so I want to see how this went down.”

“If this is going to make you doubt me or doubt what I feel for you. I’ll turn it over to Portwood.”

“It doesn’t scare me for us, Dan. It scares me because men and women walk around on the planet with me hurting. When people are hurting they hurt other people. I can feel all of it. Getting off course can happen faster than anyone could imagine. I just sometimes wish the whole world would drink Tutu’s teas and sit around in circles singing Hawaiian chants. We could heal the world.”

“You just tell me where to sit, Maylea, I’ll be there.”

The next email had come from Chancellor Wilshire and was date stamped over a month later. Katherine, I’ve decided to have a few select mentors from the different Predilects involved in a kind of task force. I’d like us to meet every few weeks to discuss ways we might improve Venton. You were the first mentor I thought of. If you’d be interested, stop by my office after lunch. -Dean

“Does that still exist?” Fionna asked.

“Not that I’m aware of.” Dan’s Valeduto predilection flooded into his shield. Odd. Breathing deeply and forcing his shield away, he could see the foundation of lies between the seemingly innocent words of an email.

“And why couldn’t she have responded via email? He could have informed her when the meetings would be held a thousand other ways. Hell, he could have installed a comment box in the teacher’s lounge if he really wanted to hear what Mentors thought. He wanted to see her. Wanted her to come to his office, to come to him. Right there is where he should have stopped, realized that something was very, very wrong, gone home and fixed it,” Dan vowed.

Fionna looked impressed as she watched Dan’s secondary Predilect come into full power. There was a response less than a minute later.

“See, she was still feeling whatever she felt from his defending her. The need for more already had her,” Fionna sighed.

Chancellor Wilshire, I’m so honored you thought of me. I’ve always greatly admired your work here at the academy. It’s an honor to teach for a man like you. I’ll see you after lunch-Katherine

“Stroked his ego.” Dan rolled his eyes. Fionna nodded morosely. There was no other email contact until the meeting of the task force which was apparently a week later.

Katherine, Wanted to thank you again for your wisdom and insight this afternoon at our first Task Force meeting. I will try to get a few more mentors to join. I’ve had several turn down the idea. Not everyone wants to put in the time the way you seem to want to. Your idea that we should look into visiting the Gifted Academy seminars around the Realm over the breaks and summer was genious. Thank you for providing me with the brochures for so many. Certainly shows a great deal of thought and preparation on your part. I’m planning on registering for the convention in Baltimore over spring break. They will be hosting numerous speakers that I feel could enlighten us all. -Dean

“Stroked her ego and went for one of her ideas,” Fionna breathed. “So, just imagine she goes home at night and her husband and her kids have this thing going on that’s she’s not a part of because she hasn’t been there. She might’ve felt left out of because she’s working and he’s there with them. She makes an off-handed suggestion or wants to tell him about work, and he shuts her down because he’s been with the kids all day and he’s tired, or he just doesn’t react the way Chancellor Wilshire did.” Fionna guessed.  

“Do you feel like he might’ve resented her being the bread winner?”

“I’d need to be in his presence to try to pick up on something that specific. I will say, tons of guys I went out with couldn’t handle how much money I made playing for the Angels. They were defensive all the time.”

“Well, I’m not sorry those didn’t work out,” Dan teased her.

“You, Mr. Vindico, are my one and only.” She always made him feel like a king. It was a good feeling, he realized immediately. But it was a problem if another woman begins making a man that is not her husband feel that way.

“Let’s work from the possibility that he was resentful. If the resentment has been building for the past ten years. If he’s angry and feeling like he’s just falling further and further behind because he’s at home. If that resentment builds and they never talk about it the very last thing he’ll want to hear about when she gets home will be her work.” Dan continued to tap into his other predilect.

“Okay, we can work that angle. Look at me using police lingo. Aren’t you so proud?” Fionna giggled.

“Always, baby doll.”

“I will say this. You are never ever going on one of these convention things.”

“You know he asked me to go to two over the summer. I told him no but it’s interesting. Given whose son I am and my former position with the Senate, doesn’t seem like trying to have an affair right under my nose would be wise.”

“Oh, my gosh, Dan, do you think he invited you trying to keep himself from doing something stupid? Were you supposed to play his guardian or something?”

“That’s a lot of speculation, but we’ll keep it in mind."

They went on to read Wilshire inviting Mentor Bryant to sit at his table at the convention in Baltimore. “I’m just sitting here watching this fall apart. He had time, after time, after time, before he let it get this far. He could have put on the brakes a hundred miles ago. He had the opportunity to reconnect with his wife and he didn’t,” Dan fumed.

“Well, I mean, she went into that first meeting basically planning on getting him out of town,” Fionna pointed out.

Dan found a series of emails that were dated the week after the conference.

“That’s the day we adopted Aida,” Fionna looked at the date with adoration. Dan considered the fact that on the day his world finally came full circle, the day that he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt why he was here, was the same day that Wilshire’s life went from roses to thorns.

Drawing a deep breath and bracing himself, Dan opened the first email. This was much longer and was formed like a more personal letter than an electronic message.

Katherine, Where do I begin?

The opening line had Fionna scowling and huffing furiously. Dan felt sick as he forced himself to go on.

Seems we fought quite the good fight and desire vanquished our best efforts. Fionna gagged.

“Your best efforts my ass,” Dan spat before continuing. 

I suppose I should feel at least a modicum of guilt over what we shared though I cannot seem to. When you asked me up to your room Friday evening, I couldn’t have told you no if my wife had been in the room beside me.  And yet the only guilt I feel is due to the fact that I seemed unable to go further.

Dan’s mouth fell open as he realized what that meant. “He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t fucking do it.”

You made me feel things that I haven’t felt in decades. Your energy draws were intoxicating and the taste of you still lingers on my tongue. I need to feel you again, to absolve myself, and feel you coursing through me. So, as Shakespeare says, ‘Speak low if you speak love.’ I do hope to see you again soon and that I’ll have a chance to redeem myself. Seems neither of us were at the top of our game.  ~Dean

“I guess only Shakespearean sonnets will do if you can’t get it to stand up and cheat for you,” Dan spat.

He slammed the laptop shut and shoved it away from him. “His own freaking body tried to warn him off. Told him to go home and make things right with the woman that has been married to him for forty freaking years and bore him five children.” All he could see was the red haze of his own infuriated energy.

“I wonder how long it’s been since he sent his wife love notes with Shakespearean quotes. I suppose he saves all of that for his mistress. You know, the one who had a loving adoring husband and children that will never really get over this. But that’s all in the past, Dan. What are you going to tell your dad?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know where the line is. Where is the - you lose your job as the chancellor of the finest Gifted Academy on the East Coast and go down in flames- line? And I still want to know where that line was for my own father.”

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