014218182X by Stephen Dobyns Read Free Book Online

Book: 014218182X by Stephen Dobyns Read Free Book Online
Authors: Stephen Dobyns
on one rather dreary date, and once, when her daffodils were in bloom and she was feeling optimistic, she had invited an older couple over to her small house for lasagna. Still, there was no one to whom she felt particularly close.
    The meeting was scheduled for five and it was nearly that now. Her colleagues were beginning to look attentive, turning from their slouched positions and perfunctory conversations. Green shades were drawn down over the top half of the high windows, giving an aquatic tint to the ceiling. The dark oak woodwork had been recently polished and the air retained the faint aroma of Murphy’s Soap. Next to Kate, Chip Campbell, the history teacher and swimming coach, patted her knee and said, “Let’s vamos, buster!” But whether he meant that they should leave immediately or that he wanted the meeting to begin, Kate couldn’t decide. Chip had a round red face and the look of a former athlete who has gone to seed. His short sandy hair was brushed back in a ragged flattop. He had taught at Bishop’s Hill for twelve years. Before that he had taught in public schools in Connecticut until, as he said, he couldn’t stand the bullshit anymore.
    Directly in front of Kate sat Alice Beech, the school nurse, in her white uniform. She glanced over her shoulder at Chip, then smiled at Kate before turning away. Chip directed a mocking smile at her back. He and a few others claimed that Alice was a lesbian, but Kate had no proof one way or the other. Nor did she care. Alice was an unattached single woman in her midthirties. Her short dark hair was perfectly straight and clung to her skull like a cap. The nurse had always been pleasant to Kate, and sometimes they sat together at lunch.
    People grumbled about attending a meeting so late in the day but their annoyance was offset by curiosity about the new headmaster, Dr. Hawthorne, who’d been observed since his arrival three days earlier but not officially met. A number of faculty had asked Fritz Skander what they were in for. Skander only smiled and said, “I guess we’ll find out.” But Hawthorne had made his presence felt right from the start when he indicated that he wanted faculty cars parked in the lot behind Douglas Hall, not in the circle in front of Emerson. And there were other indications: the grounds crew had grown more active and a number of litter baskets had suddenly appeared. And Kate had seen him at lunch talking to students—a tall man in his thirties with a thin, angular face and light brown hair.
    The heavy door at the front of the room opened and Fritz Skander entered, followed by Hawthorne, Mrs. Hayes—the school secretary—and a third man whom Kate recognized as one of the trustees, Hamilton Burke, a lawyer from Laconia. Burke was about fifty and portly in a three-piece blue suit. He looked as serious as if he were standing before the Supreme Court.
    Skander seemed especially genial and winked at several of the faculty who caught his eye. He was perhaps forty-five, rectangular without being heavy, and with a full head of thick gray hair that crossed his brow in a straight line. He was a man with a lot of charm and fond of wearing humorous neckties. When Kate had met him in January she had thought they would become friends but she hadn’t learned much more about him than she did at that first meeting; and while Skander was affable, even effusive at times, Kate came to realize that was just his manner and didn’t necessarily reflect his interior self. Skander was several inches shorter than Hawthorne, who was also smiling, although his eyes were alert. Kate couldn’t blame him for being tense, if that was what it was.
    Mrs. Hayes looked motherly and somewhat anxious—a stout woman in her early sixties in a flowered dress who was reputed to have a temper. Now she appeared particularly eager to help and, indeed, that was often the case. But her evident strain made Kate conscious of how she herself was looking at her new boss, and she

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