The Blunt Pool – series IV

The day after my meeting with the Nicholson boys, instead of heading to the office, I drove to The Goode School after breakfast. The landscape of tightly spaced, single wall constructed housing units with smaller yards and chain-linked driveways eventually gives way to the multi-level dwellings owned and reserved for the nearby national universities’ student housing. As you cross one very long block, the university housing comes to an abrupt stop, and all one can see from the road is a flora-covered wall interrupted intermittently by security entrances. Even today, The Goode School itself remains an enormous, and expanding compound surrounded by a stone wall draped with pretty but prickly plants that were chosen through no accident. Lush, green and beautiful to look at, but painful if approached without caution, the plants are a kind of natural concertina wire that blooms at night. Those plants do a lot to keep the uninitiated out, while allowing the students to escape with little hindrance.

As I turned the Rover towards the first entrance gate, I recalled my own frequent travails over that wall with any multitude of friends, including Gleise, Plipbst and Forsythe. We’d slip over the plants and huff it down to the bowling alley for fresh saimin noodles, a Coke and several rounds of ten pin between classes or instead of PE. My memories of the conservative-minded Goode School still intact, it confounded me why or how the administration could have become such a bunch of tight asses. It seemed absurd to me that after a little ado with a little pot, the Nicholsons should have to be hunting for the services of my firm. It was a heavyhanded response to a petty incident.

The reason I get stuck with cases this trivial and confounding is easy to understand. In a firm with 35 hard-driven corporate, maritime, and property lawyers doing casework that I still find dreadfully boring and tedious, it’s nice to be a legacy. My interest wanes easily, I can’t stand minutiae, and tedium gets in the way of living. Small cases are entertaining to me, and something long and drawn out rapidly becomes a burden I’m not interested in pursuing. I prefer my free time living by the often-misguided intentions that I have always held as a sacred rite. My liquor cabinet appears, often enough, to runneth over with libations that I have called as my sword and cipher. That, and for some reason, sometimes I get pretty lucky.

After finally finding public parking near the administration office, I wandered my way around the scenic campus. It had a multitude of beautiful grass fields spotted with large trees and pruned hedges, elaborate swing sets, battered soccer goals, basketball courts with crisp white nets on all hoops. Well-kept buildings edged the fields on all sides, and I walked and walked until I found the building Mark Nicholson told me to look for, Rooke Hall. A recent addition, it was supposedly shaped like a volcano to represent the ever-expanding mass of the school youth’s knowledge. Zeitgeist aside, it looked more like four crudely stacked old-fashioned donuts.

The building was awash in every shape, color and form of kid imaginable when I arrived. There were hundreds of them wandering the halls, chatting with friends, comparing notes, and generally being 7th and 8th graders. When the bell rang, though, the kids took off like they were rabid dogs roaming the halls. I looked at my Submariner. It was five ‘till eleven. Occasionally, a kid would sprint from one room to another; but at eleven sharp, the second bell went off, and the only movements visible were made by teachers and hall monitors.

Without the deluge of kids filling the halls, the principal’s office was easy to find. I walked through the glass doors and into the reception area with offices on either side of the greeting area. After asking for Bill Constanopolis, dean of students for the 7th and 8th grade, I sat, per his secretary’s request, just outside the dean’s office. I couldn’t help but feel empathy for Mark Nicholson as I lowered myself into the chair. It had been 35 years since I last sat waiting to see a principal at The Goode School. The thought was not a happy reminiscence. It meant I’d been caught in the midst of something, again. And who wants to remember that?

At about 5’10”, fit for his age, with a Brylcreem-wetted military haircut and a pronounced jawline, Bill Constanopolis might have made a foreboding image of authority figure to gangly Mark Nicholson. His gingham shirt, brown polyester pants and cheap loafers lost their effect on me, as I stand four inches taller and at least 70 pounds heavier. He shook hands well, was courteous and helpful in recounting briefly some of the details of the incident. As I followed him towards his office, he reached for a clipboard that was hanging by his door. He picked it up, turned to hand it to me, but he stopped as I reached to grasp the board. He smiled to himself, shaking his head, “Sorry, force of habit,” and he put the clipboard back on the hook by his door. It said ‘visitors log’ on it. He seemed to keep a pretty tight ship.

According to his logs, an apparent carryover from his days in the service, at 11:45 on a Tuesday the 16th Louise Sinclair entered his office and explained to him that Mark Nicholson had stolen her marijuana cigarettes. His notes stated further that Nicholson was summarily removed from the cafeteria and assessed of the situation and its scholastic ramifications. Mark’s father had been called, and he removed his son from campus before the lunch break finished at one o’clock. I’d met with the Nicholsons at two that afternoon.

“What happened to Louise Sinclair? Was she disciplined similarly?” I asked, wryly smiling at the audacity of bringing any amount of pot on campus in the current political climate. “Oh, yes, she’s on administrative leave as well, until this is sorted out.” He nodded, adding quickly, “ She left at the end of the school day on Tuesday and has been gone ever since.” I appreciated his candor, and figured that’s how he saw it. What Constanopolis didn’t know is that the Sinclair Corporation had helped bankroll a film set to open in LA this very evening, the 18th. According to neighbors of the family, whom Rebecca had talked to late last night, the producer, Gerald Sachs, had personally asked the Sinclairs to be at the Hollywood premier of “Kerrigan’s Wake,” and the entire family had been off island since the morning of the 17th. Constanopolis didn’t need to know this, and Sinclair’s staff had quietly left it out.

Still curious about the fairness of being subject to the administration’s persecution, I asked, “Is the punishment for mere possession as severe as the punishment for Mark Nicholson?” I leaned back and reached for the pack of Rothmanns in my chest pocket so I could judge his response from behind a plume of seemingly uncaring objectivity. As I slid my smoke out and reached for my Zippo, Constanopolis was already lighting his Players and finishing with the flourish of a quick flick to extinguish his Ronson. Smoke escaped from his lips as he began to speak, as if he were trying to spit the answer out in Indian signals. “The school looks at theft as more of a damnable offense than possession. The actions taken by Mark were–”

“Not proven, just accused,” I interjected.

He leaned his head to the side, took another drag and exhaled. “The two of them were an item earlier this term; although apparently not anymore. And she thinks it was him. As you know, Ranier Sinclair is her father, and let’s just say Mark’s not coming from a position of sainthood.”

“Or standing” I thought to myself.

I knew what Constanopolis was getting at, but he wasn’t making progress swaying my opinion that young Mark was being railroaded. I continued looking around his office as he kept talking. I needed to find a witness who could provide a simple, reasonable alibi for Mark Nicholson. I remembered the sign-in sheet by the principal’s office.

After some time letting my mind race around his sparsely furnished office, I recognized that Constanopolis was about to finish his rambling about the relationship of the Sinclair girl and Mark Nicholson. I feigned attention until he’d finished, dumped my butt in his “Guam is Good” ashtray, shook his hand and asked if I could get a copy of his office registry for the morning of the 16th. He gladly obliged, stating from memory that the only kid he’d seen that morning prior to Ms. Sinclair was a quiet, unremarkable 8th grader named Woody Lynnfoote. As he recalled the kid, something in Constanopolis’s look caught my eye. I’d seen that look before, in both my exes’ faces, and on the faces of some of my former clients. It was the look of someone who realized that they had said more than they’d needed to. Constanopolis had apparently just been too smart for his own good.

He turned on his heel crisply to return to the confines of his office, while dredging his pack of Players from his pants pockets en route. As he left, I asked Constanopolis about Lynnefoote. He turned his head and blurted, “That boy’s got a good brain, but he never applies himself. This was his first visit to my office, ever.” He continued to the comfort of his office. and the door slowly shut behind him. It clicked like it had been pressed firmly; not a slam, but a focused, concentrated display of controlled force. According to the log, the Lynnfoote kid signed in a mere three minutes before the harried signature of Louise Sinclair. I’d need to talk to him; and if the schedules were right, he’d be heading to lunch soon. I intended to buy him his overcooked teri-chicken sandwich, but first I had to figure out what he looked like.

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