Copyright© 2013 by Refusenik
The midterm paper was due in an hour. Scott skimmed the text, looking for typos. All he needed to do was print it, bike to campus, and slip the paper in the basket outside the professor's office door. After that, he could start packing for the drive to Fort Stockton and Spring Break.
His phone chirped and he checked the text from Janie. 'You home? I'll call.'
'Home, ' he typed. 'Have 2 drop paper at campus. B on road shortly after.'
He verified that the printer had paper and was checking the document format when the Main Street door buzzer sounded. He normally ignored it. People selling crap didn't interest him, and his few Levall friends would have called first. But, with his ongoing battle against the poster hangers, he checked the camera on the computer.
"Crap," he muttered. Janie Mendoza stood at the door, bouncing on her feet eagerly.
"Crap, crap, crap," he repeated as he ran down the stairs. His mind raced, but no brilliant solutions came to mind.
He opened the interior door and stepped into the entry vault.
Janie clapped and shouted, "Surprise!" The glass door muted her voice. She was dressed in heels, slacks, and a thin blouse despite the brisk late-February temperatures.
He unlocked the door and they embraced.
"Took you long enough," she said.
"I had to tell the wife and kids to hide."
She punched playfully at his ribs. "These are weird apartments. Where the heck do you park? Did I surprise you?"
"Completely," he replied. "Where did you park?"
"Next block over. Going to let me in?"
She pushed past him and Scott followed her up the short staircase. Janie was curious. Her head moved from side to side as they turned from the stairwell and walked by the laundry room, guest bedrooms, and bath.
The space widened to the right. Janie walked to the pool table, dislodging a ball as she passed. The three-ball rolled against the eight and clicked softly.
Her fingers trailed over the gas tank of the motorcycle mounted to the wall.
She said nothing as he followed her out into the stunning living room, open from floor to third-floor ceiling, bracketed by two stories of corner windows.
Janie turned in a circle taking the view in; the kitchen with its industrial steel appliances, the fireplace, the stairs leading to the balconies above the living room, and back to the view of Main Street.
"What is this?" Her eyes searched his face. "Scott?"
"This is my ... apartment."
"I don't understand."
Scott had her sit on the couch and took her hands in his. He knelt in front of her and kissed her knuckles. "I've been searching for a way to explain."
"Explain what?" she said. "I don't understand what's going on here." Janie's eyes grew wider, "You don't really have a wife hiding do you?"
"No!" he said, "No, that was a joke. I'm sorry."
"I don't know what to believe."
He squeezed her hands. "You know when Mr. Piotrowski died that he left some money and property to me?"
"Yes, but he wasn't a millionaire." She pulled her hands free of his and gestured, "This is crazy."
"Actually, all together, Mr. Piotrowski's estate was worth a bit over a million."
"Really," he said, "Remember I told you that Honour also got me a little money?"
"It was a little more than a little."
"How much more?" Janie asked.
"A lot," Scott said. He pulled Janie to her feet. "And I'll explain everything, but if I don't get my paper turned in before the deadline, I'm sunk." He glanced at his watch. "I need your help."
He led Janie up the stairs to his office. She followed reluctantly. He put her in his office chair.
"I need you to print this document for me," he said. "If you give me your keys I'll move your ... what did you drive anyway?"
"I told you Ed gave me his truck."
She handed her keys to him. Ed's broken down truck was a subject he'd deal with later.
"Print this for me," he said, "and double-check that the page numbers are right."
Janie frowned at him, but she sat in his office chair and started clicking the mouse.
Scott flew down the stairs and sprinted for the door. If he was lucky, she'd still be there when he got back.
Ed's red, sun bleached 2002 Ford F-150 was as battered as Scott remembered. The transmission clunked when he dropped it into drive and the power steering pump squealed as he cut the wheel to pull away from the curbside parking spot. The only way the day could have been any worse was if Janie had been stranded on some back road because of the unreliable Ford.
He drove around the block and berated his arrogance. There was no one else to blame. He could only hope and pray that Janie would forgive him.
The app on his cell phone opened the private Twelfth Street gate. He didn't waste time putting the truck in the garage. He parked in the courtyard and dashed for the door.
Janie was still sitting in the high backed office chair. She cradled a digital picture frame in her hands and looked at him.
"You put our pictures up," she turned the frame around to show him. The image in the frame transitioned to the next on a random rotation.
"I'm sorry." He fell to his knees.
She reached out and her fingers trailed through his hair in silent benediction. "I Googled you."
He looked at her.
"Little Scotty Van Pelt, buried alive, who clawed his way out of a hole in the desert." She leaned forward and kissed his forehead. "After you showed me your parents' grave, I looked up the names. It broke my heart to know you had to keep that to yourself."
Scott had to blink to clear his eyes.
"When is your paper due?" she asked.
"There's time," he said, "will you walk with me?"
Scott took the report from the desk and slid it into a folder. He was unsteady on his feet.
Janie accepted the offer of a jacket and they went out the Main Street door. Scott held her hand and they crossed the street.
The sidewalks were full of afternoon shoppers. Soon, the campus would empty as the student population fled for warmer venues or home for Spring Break.
Janie wrapped her arm around his. "I read an article on the fifteenth anniversary of the killings. It tried to paint a sympathetic picture of the 'Valley Monster.' He went to good schools and the family was very well thought of."
Scott felt his guts twist.
"Most of the story was about the other victims and what happened to their families, all but the most famous victim. Nobody knows what happened to the boy from the grave. It's a huge mystery."
"Tempted to drop a dime on me?"
Scott smiled at her. "I figured they'd find me, after I moved my parents. Can't hide that. The only thing in my favor is that the newer markers in the Fort Stockton cemetery aren't in any genealogical database, yet."
"The article said it was a scandal that there are no records. It's as if you vanished off the face of the Earth."
Scott squeezed her hand. They walked past a clutch of pizza places and coffee shops onto campus property.
"NTSU in all its glory," he said. "The history department has their own faculty building. That's where we're headed."
"It's nice," Janie said.
They walked on.
He cleared his throat. "Do you remember when Bo and I found Andrea Jones's body?"
"Hard to forget," she said.
"The FBI came to town and there was all that media attention." Scott steered them around a group of students blocking the sidewalk. "They took our fingerprints during the investigation."
"Old man Lewis shot his grandson," Janie said, "I remember that."
The faculty building for the History Department looked like a big house. Scott led Janie up a set of stairs and down a hallway. The faculty office doors were decorated with all manner of posters and strange displays. In front of his professor's door was a basket with their class number and an arrow pointing down. He dropped the paper in the basket and they retraced their steps.
Back outside the building, Scott took a deep breath. "Where was I?"
"That's right," he said. "You want to sit?"
He directed her to one of benches overlooking a quad. It was too early for the grass to start growing, but a group was kicking a soccer ball around and laughing up a storm.
Janie sat close and Scott put his arm around her.
"In that article you read, it talked about the Carsons?"
"Old money family," Janie said, "big in California politics."
"Right, keep that in mind. One December day Scott Van Pelt got on an airplane and flew away. He ceased to exist. The next day, Scott Wayne MacIntyre walked out of the Fort Stockton courthouse."
"Are you cold?"
"Yes," she replied. She stood and tugged on his hand, "Let's go back."
A couple of bicycles whizzed past them.
"Who knew?" Janie asked.
"That one kid was the same as the other?"
His first instinct was to tell her anything but the truth. "That's where things get interesting."
"There were only two people who knew. You're talking to one. The other has long since disappeared, the woman who escorted me to Pecos County."
That was a big question.
"Law enforcement in California knew I'd been relocated, but not where. With a new name, and the records removed, they had no way of tracking me. Judge Upcott and Sheriff King knew I had been relocated and given a new name and birth date, but no idea who I was before or where I came from."
"That's crazy," Janie said. "Wait, how old are you really?"
"They moved my date of birth a month, from December 10th, 1992 to January 10th, 1993."
"I didn't know they could do that."
"They can't, not legally and that's the point. Remember the Carsons? Their son and heir went off the rails. He's the 'Valley Monster', a spree killer, and no matter how much money they have – they can't escape the bad publicity.
"The old man had been using money to fix problems for years. Political favors and things like that. I was just one more problem to solve."
"How?" she asked.
"He figured if they dumped a damaged kid in the boonies somewhere, lost in the state system, that he'd disappear never to threaten the family name and fortune. They even fixed it so I couldn't be adopted."
Janie's eyes turned angry, "That's evil!"
"When the FBI ran my fingerprints, it helped them solve a mystery. They were able to pin a ton of dirty laundry on Carson. The government landed hard on him and told him to settle, or else. Honour went to California and negotiated the details on my behalf."
They turned on Main Street.
"How much did you get?" Janie asked.
"What kind of flowers do you like?"
"What kind of flowers?"
"That's not an answer," Janie said.
Scott pointed. "I've lived across the street from this florist shop for months, and I've never been in."
"You're stalling," she said.
He pulled her into the shop. "Well, what's it going to be?"
She scrunched her face up, "I like lilies and yellow roses."
"See, that was easy."
The man behind the counter looked at them eagerly. He wore a white smock and had a big black brush of a mustache, "Can I help you?"
"We're neighbors, I live across the street."
"I've seen you coming and going," the man said. "I'm Paul."
"I'm Scott," he replied. "Paul, this lady needs a dozen yellow roses. Think you could help with that?"
Paul beamed. "I certainly can." He started to move into the back of the shop. "Should I wrap them?"
"Whatever's easiest, I think we'll need a vase too."
"Pick one from the display," Paul's voice echoed from the back.
"You're a bit crazy," Janie said. "You know that don't you?"
Scott looked over the vase options. "What do you think?"
Janie pointed to one.
Paul emerged from the back of the shop with a bundle of yellow roses wrapped in paper. "Did you pick something?"
"The white vase," Janie said.
Paul nodded, "Classic shape, these yellow roses will look wonderful in it."
Scott paid for the flowers and they left the shop. Traffic was heavy on Main Street and they waited for the lights further down to give them a break to cross.
Janie was clutching the bag holding the flowers and the vase. "So how much?"
Scott let it out in one breath. "Between cash, property, and an annuity – forty million and some change."
He caught the bag before it hit the sidewalk.
Janie gawped at him.
He grabbed her hand and pulled her across the street. She had a dazed look on her face. He got her in the door and seated in the kitchen without protest. The coffee in the pot was drinkable and he fixed cups for them. He waved one under her nose until she took it from him.
"Forty million," she repeated.
"It's grown since then."
"That's a lot."
"Honour came back from California with the deal and I didn't know what to do. I was lost. We found a man to manage the money, and that helped. Then Mr. Piotrowski died."
"I can't believe you didn't tell anyone."
"Only Honour and Joseph knew, and the man who manages the money. I wasn't even sixteen. Technically, I was still a ward of the state. The judge said it would take six months, minimum, to fight the court for emancipation. The process would have dug into things I wasn't prepared to examine."
"You moved to the garage apartment."
"As long as I didn't rock the boat, the judge was willing to let things be. I didn't go crazy throwing wild parties and nobody asked questions."
Janie put her coffee aside and unwrapped the flowers. "You changed after Mr. Piotrowski died." She rinsed the vase and filled it with water. "Mom said you had too much grief for one life. Then you were going half-days to the extension campus and people didn't see you."
"I suppose I did change."