“Elizabeth, I’m going to be out of the building the rest of the day. You have my cell. Vice-principal Johnson is in his office.”
Elizabeth had a mouthful of Goldfish and could only grunt. But she wrote a note herself and nodded furiously at her boss.
Nancy Flanders left the building.
Forty-two minutes later, Flanders was parked and walking into the lobby of modern, glass and stainless steel building. The building had no names on the side. The slate floors of the lobby had no markings. There was no receptionist, only a kiosk with a touchscreen that Flanders manipulated. When she was done, shiny, steel elevator door opened to her right, and Nancy Flanders stepped in.
The elevator took Flanders to the fifth floor and opened into a large, nameless office suite. A vestibule with four doors. Flanders walked directly to the second door from the left, opened the door, and walked in.
“What’s the problem?” said the bald man behind a marble desk.
“An incident at school, Max. And I screwed up.”
“We’ll see. What happened?”
“One of those little racists said he supports Trump in class. Our teacher followed the protocol. The Tiger Team did it’s job, just like we thought.”
“It doesn’t sound like there’s a problem to me,” Max said.
Flanders looked down at her hands. “First, I told the kid’s father things I shouldn’t have. I didn’t follow the plan. It all happened faster than I was prepared for.”
Max raised his left eyebrow. “What else?”
“The teacher isn’t cooperating. At all.”
Max turned his chair to look out the window. “What’s the teacher’s name?” he asked.
“Amanda Mateo,” Flanders answered.
“Single. Twenty-eight or -nine.”
“Children? Family in the area?”
“No children. I believe her family is in LA, but I’m not sure.”
“Send me her file. What’s the kid’s name?”
“David Thompson. Fifth grader. His parents are together. Roger and Natalie.”
“Send me their stuff, too,” Max said.
“And there’s a cop who seems uncooperative. A Sergeant. Mike Franklin.”
“Is that all? What about the Tiger Team?”
“Don’t worry about them.”
“I’ll let you know how to proceed. Don’t do anything until you hear from me. Nothing by email. Check Dust every half hour but do not allow the app to post notifications on your phone.”
Flanders stood to leave. “Max, one more thing. We have to do something about these parents. They’re the ones indoctrinating their kids into privilege and racism. That should be our bigger goal. We have to eliminate parents.”
“Thank you, Nancy.”
“Good afternoon, Max.”
An hour later, Nancy told herself “that feels better,” as she pulled into her garage below her condominium. But she knew she was lying to herself.
Amanda walked into the Peet’s Coffee at 2:14 p.m. The only cop in the place was easy to spot.
“Sergeant Franklin?” she said.
“Ms. Mateo,” he answered, rising out of his booth.
“Don’t get up, please,” she said.
“Have a seat. What would you like? I’ll get it for you.”
“You don’t have to do that.”
“I insist. And I’m good at getting coffee orders right.”
“Okay. Let me see.” Amanda screwed herself around to look a the coffee board. “How about a triple, venti, half sweet, non-fat, caramel macchiato?”
“This is Peet’s,” Franklin said.
“Okay. Same thing, only large instead of venti.”
“What was it again?”
“Triple, large, half sweet, non-fat, caramel macchiato,” Amanda said.
Franklin repeated it back. “Triple large half-pint, non-fat … coffee.”
Amanda grinned and rolled her eyes, slid out of the booth and walked toward the counter with Mike Franklin following. Another man in another line of work might have missed Amanda’s glance at Mike’s left hand. But Mike’s a trained observer.
“Sorry. By ‘any coffee order,’ I meant black and bitter, blonde and bitter, black and sweet, or blonde and sweet. You know, coffee,” he explained.
Looking back at Mike, still smiling, Amanda said, “Which one am I?”
Mike thought about it. Amanda was definitely a latt´e. Black hair, impossibly perfect brown eyes, a hint of natural blush in her cheeks, perfect teeth that gleamed. Mike wondered why she became a teacher instead of model. He considered his options and said, “I’m on duty, ma’am.”
Amanda turned to the barista. “Triple, large, half sweet, non-fat, caramel macchiato.”
“Triple, large, half sweet, non-fat, caramel macchiato,” the barista repeated, loudly. “Can I get your name?”
“Amanda,” he yelled. “Six thirty-two,” he said.
Mike Franklin already had his credit card out.
“Thank you,” Amanda said.
“I feel better now, so thank you,” Mike told her.
They returned to their booth where Mike’s blonde and bitter waited.
“Do all the teachers look like you these days?” he asked.
“I thought you were on duty,” Amanda said.
Mike smiled. “I’m just being thorough.”
Amanda Mateo was the kind of teacher boys fantasize about. Maybe not fifth graders–and maybe that’s why she teaches the little kids. Amanda might cause problems walking into a high school classroom.
“Yes. Most of the teachers are around my age if that’s what you mean. And mostly women. And this is California, so a lot of Latinas. And how old are you?”
Boom! That hurt. Mike Franklin turned forty-six two months earlier. He’d been on the police force 24 years and was eligible for retirement after 25. “I’m forty-six,” he answered with the sincere detachment of a trained, professional witness.
“Forty-six,” Amanda repeated. “So … you were like a sophomore or a junior when I was born?” she said with a giggle. Her giggle was cute enough to soften the blow to Mike’s ego.
Franklin thought about that age difference and decided it was time to change the subject. Before he could he speak, a barista yelled ‘Amanda, macchiato!’ Mike jumped up to retrieve her drink from the counter.
“Thank you,” she said. “So why did we have to meet at Peet’s? Or did you just want to show off your macchiato ordering skills to a much-younger teacher?”
Mike made a mental note flirting and said, “I wanted to hear your side of the story in a less intimidating environment. Police stations tend to make people forget important things and remember things that didn’t happen.”
“Okay,” said Amanda. “My story. Okay. First, I am not political. At all. And I don’t think eleven-year-olds should be worrying about presidential elections. But the school district sent out a policy directive that we had to hold this mock election yesterday. It was all very scripted. They wanted to identify kids who support Donald Trump for some reason.”
“Did the policy say that?”
“Not exactly, but that was the whole point. We held the election, open ballot, then had to ask every student why they voted the way they did.”
“And Mr. Thompson voted for Trump?” Franklin asked.
“And you asked him why?”
“Yes. He say something like ‘I don’t think Trump’s so bad.’”
“Not exactly fighting words,” Mike said.
“I know. But the curriculum required me to read a statement verbatim to students who said they supported Trump. I did. And I sent him to the principal’s office.”
“You sent him to the principal’s office because he voted for Trump in a mock election.”
“Yes. That was part of the curriculum. It’s cruel, really. I had to tell him that supporting Trump is a hate crime or something, and hate crimes are punishable by suspension or expulsion. Then I had to remove him from the room according to our building’s policy. Our policy is that kids removed from a classroom for conduct go directly to the principal’s office.”
“Did the Thompson kid put up a fight or something?”
“No. He looked scared, but he didn’t say anything. He just got up and left the room.”
“Okay. Then what happened.”
“It was almost the end of the period when this happened. About five minutes later, the bell rang. When the kids opened the door, I could hear a commotion, so I stepped out into the hall. I could see a scuffle by Ms. Flanders’ office, so I ran down there.”
Amanda was suddenly on verge of tears. “I’m sorry,” she said as tears streamed down her cheeks.
Mike grabbed a handkerchief from his pocket. “Here. This is perfectly clean,” as he handed it to Amanda.
She chuckled through her tears. “Really? A handkerchief. You sure you’re only forty-six? Ha ha. Thanks.”
“You’re welcome,” he said.
“So, when I got down there, David was on the floor trying to cover up. Eight boys were kicking and punching and calling him racist and white privilege. Half of them were white, too. And Nancy Flanders, the principal, was just standing there with this sick grin watching all this.”
“Flanders didn’t try to break it up?”
“And the Thompson kid wasn’t fighting back?”
“No. He was beat up. Holding his head. Curled up trying to get under a chair. It was horrible.”
“What did you do?”
“I screamed, ‘knock it off,’ and started pulling the boys away. They would just go back at it. There were too many for me.”
“When did it end?”
“I don’t know, honestly. I think Nancy said something. The boys all marched into her office, and I helped David up to the chair. The police showed up pretty quickly.”
“Did you give a statement to the officers yesterday?”
“As soon as they showed up, Nancy told me to go home.”
“And you did?”
“Yeah. I know, I shouldn’t have. But I was a wreck. That poor baby.” Tears started again, only softer this time.
“And no one contacted you about a statement today or last night?”
“No. Well, not exactly. Nancy wanted me to sign this statement today.” She pulled the wrinkled, folded statement from her purse and handed it to Franklin. He read it like he was trying to decipher an ancient love potion written in Cyrillic alphabet.
“This isn’t anything like what you just described.”
“I know. That’s why I wouldn’t sign it. I grabbed it off Nancy’s desk and got out of there. I wanted to give my statement directly to the police.”
“Okay. Sorry. I should have met you at the station. I didn’t realize how different your story is from the others.”
“Yes. Flanders, the office staff, some of the students. They told a very different story to the officers who arrived at school yesterday.”
“Like, they said you provoked David and encouraged him to assault the other students.”
Amanda felt a fire erupt in her cheeks.
“How am I supposed to believe you?” Mike Franklin asked.
“I don’t know,” Amanda said. “But I love kids. I would never, ever tell a student to hurt another student. Everybody who knows me knows that.”
Mike looked at her beautiful brown eyes and tried not let her looks influence his judgment. But he was fighting a losing battle.
“I believe you,” he said. And he felt absolutely no shame in saying it.
Amanda let her head drop into her open hands. She gave Mike a muffled “thank you.”
“Besides, the Thompson kid’s story is pretty close to yours. That’s between us. But now I’m going to need you to swear an official statement of what you witnessed. Do you have time?”
“Okay. Have you been in contact with the boy’s family?”
“No. I tried to call last night, but they didn’t answer,” she said.
“Okay. I’ll get you in touch with them. You two need to talk. And you might need to talk to their lawyer.”
Amanda didn’t like dealing with lawyers, but she said she understands. “I want to help them.”
On the way out of the Peet’s, Amanda grabbed Mike’s arm. “One more thing. About the boys who beat him up. I worry about them, too. Something caused them to behave that way, and I don’t think it was anything David said or did. They’re just babies, too.”
“I understand. We’ll look into that.”
“Are all cops like you?” Amanda asked.
“Ruggedly handsome and witty? No. Just me.”
“I meant humble,” she said.
to be continued
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.