Dan scrolled down the lines of entries, knowing perfectly well what was coming next. The Chancellor wrote the credit card company numerous checks to pay back his debt out of his personal checking account. He couldn’t have such a large total coming out of his account, though he certainly had wealth to spare. It would have caught Ellen’s attention.
Instead, he’d spent two weeks making a dozen payments between sixty and two hundred dollars until he’d paid back the card in hopes that the school would never be the wiser.
“Can you see if Katherine Bryant was at work Monday December ninth of last year?” Dan asked Jeff.
“Dan?” Fionna sat up and rubbed her eyes. She’d felt the agitated energy that bled from him even in her sleep. “What did you find?”
“I’m not entirely sure what she had done at a women’s clinic in New York but I have a few suspicions.”
Fionna, his beautiful, nurturing, astoundingly empathetic wife, sat before him seven months pregnant and having suffered a violent miscarriage just weeks before she’d conceived again. “Do you think she lost a baby?”
“I don’t think so.” He wasn’t certain but his Visium predilection said that hadn’t been it, neither by miscarriage nor abortion. But he wasn’t certain. The only thing he knew was that it may have been possible for a Non-Gifted woman to have another man’s baby and assure her husband that it was his but it was certainly not possible in the Gifted Realm.
The baby’s energy patterns, although a combination of both of their parents, have rhythms that match their father’s. If the baby was Wilshire’s, it wouldn’t have read of Terry Bryant’s rhythms. Having had two other children with Katherine, he would have known immediately.
“If it wasn’t an abortion, what was it?” Jeff continued to stare from the text messages on the phone to the computer screen.
“Jeff, could you cast and print the text messages from the end of last November to the end of December for me?”
“Do you think her husband found out? Do you think that’s why he showed up at the Wilshire’s last night?” Fionna grappled with the unknowns.
“Maybe. He might’ve intercepted a follow up phone call, received something from the clinic, or found something that put all of the pieces together.”
“A lot of women’s clinics send out reminder cards a few weeks before the yearly anniversary of being seen.”
“That would be right about now,” Dan concluded.
“So, did he steal the money, or just borrow it? Is that illegal?” Jeff looked thirsty for justice. He pulled the text messages off of the printer as Dan began printing emails for the next morning. “Uh, Mentor Vindico, I think you might’ve been wrong.” He pointed to a paper he pulled off the printer.
Dean, I don’t know what to do. What if it’s Terry’s? Dan hadn't seen those texts yet.
The Chancellor’s response had any minute vestige of respect that Dan once held for the man back when he was a student at Venton gone in an instant. I wasn’t aware that was a possibility my love.
She went on. I have to keep up appearances, Dean, or he’ll suspect something.
“So, is that it? He stole the money and paid for her to get rid of it?”
“The money he charged and paid back is the proof Governor Haydenshire asked for. That’s all I really know. He used Venton accounts to pay for something personal. That is illegal whether he paid it back or not. Whatever happens next will be up to the Governors. I do need one more favor from you,” Dan urged.
He handed Jeff every single Venton’s students favorite sign to see hanging on a classroom door. The sign alerting the students that the class had been cancelled for the day. “Hang this on my senior defense door tomorrow morning. I have to go to the Senate before the custody trial. I have to show this to Governor Haydenshire.”
“No problem. That’s my only class tomorrow. I could work all day. Could I come down there after I hang up the sign?”
“Check with Portwood but I see no problem with it.”
Dan eased out of the bed at a quarter to five. He hadn’t slept. The disgust that had permeated his soul and the bitter disappointment ate at him in the inky blackness of night. He perked a fresh pot of coffee and casted it to stay warm without burning.
He’d be gone long before his precious girls would need to be up to get Aida on the bus. He dressed silently, grabbing the sport coat and tie he’d laid out the night before.
He poured a cup of the coffee and called his father at 5:01. “Dan?” Governor Vindico sounded panicked. “Fionna hasn’t gone into labor?”
“She’s fine, Dad. Sleeping soundly. This isn’t about us. I need you to meet me in your office in an hour.”
“Bad enough to get you out of bed with your wife must mean it's pretty bad.”
“Pretty damned bad, Dad.”
He drew another restorative sip of coffee and phoned Governor Haydenshire.
“This can’t be good,” the Crown Governor huffed. Dan could hear little Abigail’s sweet suckles and sighs on the bottle the Governor must have been up feeding her.
“How quickly can you meet me in my dad’s office?”
“Let me shower and dress. I’ll get Lillian up. I’ll be there before six.”
Easing back upstairs Dan peaked in on Aida. He kissed her cheek and pulled the covers up to her chin sealing heat in their fibers. His heart ached he moved back to Fionna. Performing the same task Dan ran his hands over Halia’s bump as he heated the quilts.
“I love you,” Fionna whispered.
“I love you too, sweetheart. I’ll be home as soon as I can.”
“Be careful, Dan. You’re about to upset a lot of very powerful people.”
“I’ll be fine,” he assured her."I have all of the most powerful people on my side."
Aida appeared at their door carrying her blanket. “Mommy is sad.” It wasn’t a question. She knew. She could feel it.
Dan lifted her into the bed beside Fionna.
“It’s okay, Mommy.” Aida curled up beside her mother.
“It is now,” Fionna kissed her cheek and they both fell back asleep.
Governor Haydenshire shook his head in abject disdain as he read everything Dan had presented him. “If anyone else had given me all of this, I would have called them an outright liar.”
They were standing outside Governor Vindico’s office awaiting his arrival. “Sorry,” Governor Vindico lamented as he rushed towards them.
Governor Haydenshire offered no greeting he simply handed the file to Governor Vindico. He summoned and allowed everyone into his stately office and brewed a pot of coffee.
He opened the file to the page showing the credit card charge. “Tell me this isn’t what I think it is.”
“I can’t tell you anything for certain about what happened at that clinic. All I know is he used Venton funds to pay for it.”
He had to remind himself that he was thirty-three years old, and a father himself, so he wouldn’t cower beneath his father’s infuriated scowl. Dan watched the man that had raised him stomp to his office phone.
“Dean, this is Arthur,” he growled coldly. “You have less than a half hour to be in my office or I’m calling out Iodex. We’ll start with charges of credit card fraud and go from there.” He slammed down the phone.
“What are you going to do, Arthur?” Governor Haydenshire probed.
“I’m suspending him. But if I suspend him without pay, I’m punishing Ellen as well. My God the man is in his sixties! What was he thinking?”
As Governor Haydenshire had just fathered a child at fifty-five, Dan didn’t really think that was a valid argument, but he said nothing.
“Do you want me to leave?” Dan asked as there didn’t seem to be a response to his father’s question.
“You know what,” Governor Vindico spat, “He quite literally made this bed so he can lie in it. He can know that you’re there at the school on my orders checking out each and every single thing. And if he tries to stop you or fire you then trust me I’ll take care of it.”
Fifteen minutes later, there was a weak knock on the Governor’s door. Governor Vindico slung it open his. Gall burned in his eyes. “Sit down, Dean,” he menaced.
“Well, now I know where you learned to do that,” Governor Haydenshire offered wryly under his breath as he and Dan shared a slight grin.
“What’s this all about?” Chancellor Wilshire glanced nervously from Dan to Governor Haydenshire. Exhaustion and strain etched the man’s face. He appeared to have aged several decades in the last minute.
“Why don’t you tell us?” Governor Vindico slung the file to the Chancellor. Dan watched Wilshire pale as he sank down in a seat in front of the substantial oak desk.
“Where did you find this?” he demanded.
“Really, Dean?” Governor Haydenshire fumed. “That’s where you’re going to start.”
“What do you want me to say?”
“I want some kind of plausible explanation of why you would do this,” Governor Vindico exploded. “She is twenty years younger than you! You have ruined not only your and Ellen’s lives, but hers and her husband’s as well, not to mention their children.”
“And now we get to go in that chamber in an hour and decide which parent gets to try and put those kids lives back together.” Governor Haydenshire glared at Wilshire hatefully. It was distinctly odd to be in an office where anger permeated the very air and not be the one shouting, Dan noted.
“Stephen, please,” Wilshire began begging. “Please don’t take her kids away from her.”
“Are you seriously sitting there after all of this,” Governor Haydenshire joined in the acrimony as he hit the file folder with the back of his hand. “And asking me for favors for your mistress.”
Dan understood very well that Governor Haydenshire would have loved to have hit the man holding the file instead of the file that quite literally held the man.
“My God, what happened to you?” Governor Vindico ordered. “You will regret this until the day you die.”
“I know,” Wilshire choked. “Believe me, I know.”
Governor Vindico shook his head. “I don’t even want to look at you. I don’t even know you. You’re suspended until further notice. Do not return to Venton Campus until you’ve been given written permission from me.”
“She wasn’t pregnant. We just… weren’t certain. It turned out to be… something else.”
“You went to have an energy scan of the fetus done so she would know if it was yours or her husbands, right?” The pieces snapped into place in Dan’s mind. The navy blue of his Visium predilection glowed in his shield. “If it had been Terry’s, no harm no foul, was that it, sir?” he sneered the word.
“I just told you she was never pregnant.”
“Yes, but what you’ve failed to tell any of us is if you’re actually sorry or if you’re just relieved you didn’t get caught,” Govenror Haydenshire snarled.
“Until you’re actually terminated from the position, I’ll just see to it that your paychecks are made out to Ellen,” Governor Vindico made a few notes on the file he’d rescued from the floor. “I’m taking over Venton Academy. Have my new office cleaned out by noon today.”
Wilshire turned to Governor Haydenshire. His eyes plead with the only man with the power to overturn another Governor’s decision.
“Sounds good to me,” Governor Haydenshire vowed.
Wilshire shook his head in disbelief. “How exactly am I supposed to pay for the hotel where I’m currently staying?”
“Quite honestly, Dean, I might have Lillian give Ellen a call. I can assure you, although I would never ever do something like this,” he pointed back to the file folder, “if I even thought about it, all of my belongings would be in a smoldering pile of ash in my front yard and every single penny that has our names on it would be hers and hers alone, rightfully so. I don’t give a damn how you pay for your hotel room. I don’t care if you end up living in a tent in one of your kid’s lawns. You know one of the five children that she gave you, who, by the way, I don’t know how you look in the eye anymore after what you’ve done to their mother.”
“So, that’s just it then,” Chancellor Wilshire raged, “I gave twenty-five years of my life serving that school and this Governing Board and this is the thanks I get. It was a mistake. Ellen and I haven’t been close in years.”
Dan edged closer. He would never allow his father and the Crown Governor to be threatened. His shield glowed omiously.
“You just stand there in your indignation and blame me for everything. And then you get to decide my punishment. That how it works, Stephen? You’re the Crown Governor, so you get to be judge, jury, and executioner? Seems to me Arthur did the very same thing twenty years ago and you covered it up for him.”
Dan's breath choked somewhere between his nose and his mouth. His gut contracted like he'd been sucker punched. Is that what had happened?
Governor Haydenshire’s voice lowered to a frightening menace. “You are an employee of this Realm and of the Senate that governs this Realm. The Realm that I run. Remember that. And no I don’t just blame you. It seems Katherine Bryant, who is by the way also an employee of this Realm and of the Senate, should bear half the burden. But you will not stand there playing both the martyr and the victim. Do not try to tell me that things weren’t good at home and you never meant to hurt anyone,” the Governor spit the words like venom from his lips. “If things aren’t good with your wife, then get off of your lazy ass and fix it. If you’d spent have the energy and the time you spent wooing Katherine Bryant and all of the time and all of the money it took you to cover up the little den of cobras you knowingly leapt in with both feet, trying to work on your marriage, you’d still have a job, and a paycheck, and a home, and most importantly the heart of a woman that adored you and took care of you and bore your children. So yes,” the Governor nodded, “I will stand here and I will back up Governor Vindico because he is your boss, though you never really liked the idea that you had anyone to report to, did you, Dean?
“Governor Vindico made numerous trips to the Academy last year and numerous phone calls to make certain everything was all right because once the foundation begins to give way, the entire house is gone in an instant. We knew something wasn’t right. Yet you looked him in the eye and lied over and over and over again. I suppose by then you’d gotten pretty good at that. I doubt you can even tell the difference between the truth and the lies that have consumed you.
“As far as I’m concerned, you can drown in the mess you’re swimming in. Now get out of my face, and out of this office.”
Chancellor Wilshire swallowed harshly as he turned from the Governors. He narrowed his eyes at Dan as he made his exit. “Don’t think I don’t know who found all of that for them.”
Dan rolled his eyes with a derisive chuckle. “You know, my dad used to say to me, everyone makes mistakes, son, but you’re not a failure until you start blaming other people for them. So, Chancellor, let me be the first to say you’re a complete and utter failure.”