What Lies Ahead
Saturday morning Jonathan called, and said he was stopping by the house. He wanted to make sure the girls and Mom would be home, which was unusual. I was glad he called ahead, though. Mom was really getting into her work, and she had headed out a little early to do something that couldn’t wait until Monday.
She showed up at the same time as Jonathan, and walked him into the house.
“Caspian had asked me to look into a few things,” he said once we were all assembled around the dining table, “and since it dealt with Next Step, I figured the rest of you should be in on the conversation.”
“A few weeks ago, Caspian came to me with concerns about your school’s art and music programs being cut. I looked into it, and he was right. Starting next year, the district is planning on phasing out the programs because of budgetary reasons.”
“How did you know?” Zoe asked.
“Mrs. Polaski said something to me when I went to ask about the number of absences we were racking up.”
“He asked me to look into having Next Step help get funding for the programs,” Jonathan said, continuing. “One option was to fund the entirety of the art and music programs as they are now. That, however, doesn’t seem like the best way to go as it is a fairly large cost, even for just one school. After talking with a few contacts I have at the state house who put me in touch with a few folks at the Department of Education, I think I have a better solution.”
He pulled out a few packets and handed them around.
“There is a federal grant out of the DOE that allows for additional funding for districts to have basic art programs, which in this case covers music, as well. If the school district comes up with outside funds for additional programs, the cost would be actually only slightly higher than if we funded the entirety of the program for Roosevelt, but it will cover the entire district.”
“How would it work?” I asked.
“The state would give the district additional funds earmarked for arts and music programs. We would have to set up, and pay for, more advanced classes after school.”
“So it’d be enrichment type courses?”
“Something like that, yes. However these would be run by certified teachers and the schools would be able to give credit for the classes taken. There are requirements we would have to meet, but I talked to a district in New Hampshire that started this last year and has had some success.”
“I have a question?” Zoe asked, raising her hand.
“Just because we are talking about school doesn’t mean you have to raise your hand Zoe,” I said, teasing.
She stuck her tongue out at me before turning back to Jonathan.
“Can we use college students for these after-school classes?”
“We can have college students work with the program, but the classes themselves have to be taught by accredited teachers. The teachers’ union like the idea since it gives another outlet for teachers to earn money. There has been a slowdown in pay rises and new hire salaries are down. And there are only so many summer school and driver ed classes available to teach.”
“Ok. We’ve been looking at ways to help kids who qualified to go to college, but couldn’t afford it. We were talking to several companies about setting up work study programs they could use, and this seems like a good place to start that.”
“It seems like a good idea, and it’s something we can work on.”
“Will these classes be free to students?”
“Normally no. That is why we can do it district-wide. There will have to be some costs, otherwise it becomes extremely expensive. Other districts that are running this charge a per class rate for each student. I know it will raise the costs, but we can offer offset and free classes for those students who can’t afford it. I would hate for this to be a program only available to more well off students. I can look into this, and see what the numbers are.”
“Ok. Let us know. I really want to do something to make sure these programs are still around next year.”
“I am confident we will be able to. Maybe not everything we discussed; but the New Hampshire district managed to make theirs almost revenue neutral, if you figured in the federal grant and class costs to students. I know we are talking about not quite going that way; but I think we can do it, and keep the costs down to a manageable point.”
“Let me know if there is anything you need from us,” Zoe said.
“I’d like to stop by next week and talk to you about how this would affect Next Step’s budget and about the college work study thing you were talking about.”
“I’ll be here,” Zoe said with a bright smile. “I was also working on setting up a real, funded tutor program for the school district, using college students along with what we just talked about. Is there a way to roll these together?”
“Maybe. I will look into that, also.”
“Jonathan, this is a lot of stuff to deal with. Are you sure you have time for all this?”
“I do, now. I took your advice and hired a few paralegals to help with both New Life and Evolve.”
“Good, I was worried.”
“Don’t worry about me. I spent my career doing just business filings and contract law. I’ve had more fun over the last year than I’ve had in the rest of my career.”
Jonathan headed out to take care of everything and we spent the rest of the weekend relaxing and doing stuff around the house. I got a reprieve from having to do much at the office, since half of the building seemed to have come down with something and were home sick. I felt bad for them, but I can’t say I hated my free weekend.
I was in a really good mood for school on Monday morning, right up until the phone rang.
“We have a window for you to talk to the preacher, kid,” Carter said when I picked up.
I really wished he would stop calling me kid. The story had broken in the local paper and was quickly picked up by papers in both Austin and Houston. By the end of the week I had even heard it mentioned on the national news, although in a relatively low spot in their lineup.
“When and where?” I asked.
“Tonight. He is headed to one of his potential victims’ house. He told the family he would be there at four-thirty.”
He gave me the address of where the family lived.
“Do you want me to go with you?” he asked.
“No. The more people that are there, the greater the chance he tries to save face. No, I think it should be just me and him. I wouldn’t mind if you kept an eye out for me while we met though.”
“Sure thing. Be seein’ ya kid,” he said and hung up.
I headed to school and had what could quite possibly be the least productive school day in my life. I couldn’t say what we learned in any of my classes, and twice a teacher had to call my name several times to get my attention.
When school let out, I said goodbye to the girls, letting them think I was headed to the office. I knew they would worry if they knew I was going to threaten the preacher.
I was down the street thirty minutes before the preacher showed up, waiting for him. I saw a car pull up, and my suspicion was confirmed when I saw the older man step out of the car a moment later, helped out by his driver. I had hoped he would be alone, but I assumed he would have someone with him.
I was most of the way to him before the preacher looked up and saw me. From the look of hate on his face, I knew he recognized me. His driver, and most likely body guard considering his immense bulk, turned to put himself between the two of us as I came up on them.
“What do you want?”
“Just a short conversation.”
“The reverend has nothing to say to you,” the walling mountain said, putting out a hand.
“I think he does. I know that news story last week caused you some problems. It’s a shame those records got leaked.”
I didn’t want to come out and admit to anything right next to a witness, but I wasn’t being very circumspect either.
He glared at me a moment before patting the other man on the arm, “It’s okay, Josiah. I will speak with him.”
The mountain seemed unsure, but walked away towards the house they were visiting, anyway. He turned and kept an eye on us however.
“I gave you a warning the last time you threatened the Smiths. I told you if you tried to get your claws into Judy or Tami, you would regret it. Did you think I was joking?”
“I do not bend to the will of Satan. The politician was a tool, and easily discarded. It seems your little blackmail didn’t work so well.”
“Do you really think that was the worst I had? I just wanted you to sit up and pay attention. I have a lot more on you, enough to get your wrinkled old ass sent to prison. I want you to listen, because this is your last warning. I don’t want you to have anything to do with those two girls. Don’t talk to them, don’t visit them, and sure as hell don’t plot to bring Judy into your disgusting cult. I know you are still planning on having her as your next wife, and that shit stops! Now!”
“There is nothing you can do to me. God protects me.”
“God has nothing to do with pedophiles. You’ve been awfully chatty about the girls you are marrying, how young they are, and what you do with them when they leave you. Selling off women, actually they’re young enough to be called girls, is pretty damned illegal. You know the FBI would love to get their hands on you, but so far you’ve managed to be slippery enough to keep out of jail. I’m sure they would love to hear all this.”
“Are you ready to bet your freedom on that?”
“Get away from me Satan,” he said and stormed past me to join his guard and headed into the house.
I’m not sure what I expected to happen. I knew he wouldn’t just fold like Tami’s parents did, but I didn’t really get an answer one way or another. I made a call to Carter later that night, and asked him to keep an eye on the preacher for a while longer, at least until we knew how he was going to react.
Thankfully, when I saw Tami the next day, she seemed fine. She didn’t mention anything, so I hoped maybe the preacher had decided to just back away from them.
I was going over Tami’s reaction, or non-reaction, and what the preacher might do when I was pulled up short by a hand grabbing the back of my shirt.
Even though I hadn’t had any problems at school since Jake and his crew were kicked out, but I was still turning, ready for a fight when I saw it was Mrs. Polaski holding onto me.
Now I was just wondering what I did wrong.
“Come to my office, Mr. Grey,” she said, letting go and turning around to walk off.
I just shrugged and followed her. She didn’t sound angry, but the way she pulled me up short, still threw me off guard.
“Is there a problem, Mrs. Polaski?” I asked when we were in her office and the door was shut.
“I don’t know. I knew I shouldn’t have said anything about the problems with the school to a student, and I am wondering who you told?”
“Sorry, what?” I asked, still not sure what she was talking about.
“Weeks ago you asked me if something was wrong, and I told you about the art and music programs being canceled,” she explained. “It’s not something I would normally discuss with a student, but I was upset when you asked me and wasn’t thinking straight. Yesterday, there was a district wide meeting in which we found out a charity had stepped forward and, with the combination of a few federal grants, had managed to get us funding for basic classes plus put in an entire after-school enrichment program for students who wanted to go further.”
“That’s a good thing, right?”
“Yes, it’s a very good thing. They are even putting up money to set up a district-wide tutoring program. My problem is, where did this come from? None of the other principles knew, and the superintendent told us the money came with an anonymity clause attached. They weren’t allowed to tell us where the money came from.”
“Ok. But why are you asking me?” I asked, playing dumb.
“Caspian,” she said exasperated, “I’m not an idiot. Everyone knows about you taking over Ted Bakers company and being some kind of wunderkind businessman. I know you’ve come into money. Hell, everyone in town does. I complain to you about the changes and weeks later mountains of money come down to save us out of nowhere. I don’t believe in coincidences.”
“Let me ask you a question. Did you know about my personal ... umm ... finances and what not before you talked to me?”
“Yes,” she said after a moment, having the good graces to look guilty.
“Well then I think we can assume everything worked out like it should have.”
She just shook her head and pointed to the door, “Get to class, Mr. Grey.”
“Yes, ma’am.” I said, leaving.
“And, Mr. Grey,” she said, stopping me before I could close the door behind me.
I just gave her a nod and a half smile, closed the door, and headed to class.
That night I got a call from Marcus asking if there was any way I could get to a meeting during the day, later in the week. He wasn’t specific, but this was the first time they had ever asked something like that, so I figured it must be important.
I didn’t want to miss any more classes, not with the absences I picked up when Vicki went missing, so I told him it had to be at eleven-thirty, which was my lunch time at school, and I would have to bail after forty-five minutes. We had an hour for lunch, and that gave me just fifteen minutes for traveling to and from the office. I would probably be late for my next class, but the teacher liked me so if it wasn’t too bad I could probably get away with it.
Marcus said that would work, and that I should dress up for the meeting.
Coming of Age /