Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ted Stories: Patterns (Part 2 of 5)

© 2011 by Henry Melton

Ms. Calvin handed out a math study sheet and told everyone to work quietly.  Ted took his and waited until she had passed by before looking at the second sheet, stapled to his worksheet only.  It was the test page.  Up at the top was the computer printed 72 score, but it had a red line marked through it and a hand lettered 100.  Red ink covering his pattern.  In very fine lines, red ink marks had circled all the ovals where he'd erased his initial correct marks and left betraying buff marks on the paper.  She had also seen his pattern and outlined its major strokes showing the house and stream.
He showed no reaction, but it was a wake up call.  He wasn't as invisible as he'd thought.  The initial correct marks had been a mistake.  He should just have memorized and visualized the initial pattern, rather than rely on the marks as a crutch.  It shouldn't be difficult.  He'd memorized everyone's locker numbers, hadn't he?
But what should he do with the worksheet?  Whatever he wrote would be examined. Leaving it empty would be a sign of defiance and possibly lead to more attention. 
The real question was, was Ms. Calvin trustworthy?  She was likely watching him.  However, she had not written any personal questions on the test sheet.  It was a chess match.  His move.
He read down through the problems on the worksheet and then in tiny letters, wrote all the correct answers in the bottom margin.  He turned the worksheet over and closed his eyes.
In the darkness, he listened to the sounds of the school--the classmates scratching away at their worksheets, the air-conditioner whistling faintly though the grill that had accumulated dust and lint on its white painted louvers.  Footsteps in the hallway marked their owners by their pace and the texture of the steps.  Slow and massive was a male instructor.  Likely Coach Haskins, given this time of day and the corridor.  Fast and light, with the swish of a skirt had to be a late student.  He went through his mental checklist and guessed it was Louise Watson.  She was frequently late.  That was a puzzle to follow in a few days.
At the back of the room, he could identify Ms. Calvin's steady breathing.  Slight variations in the sound told him she was looking around at the class, not fixated on him.  That was good.
In fact, she appeared to be more concerned about someone to his left. Indeed, someone was breathing hard, showing signs of distress, sniffing and sighing.  He turned and looked.  It was Martha Lister. She was on his project list, part of the loner group, and had been displaying signs of depression for a month or so.  He raised her priority.
Ms. Calvin turned her eyes on him.  He didn't look away, glancing back at Martha before turning back to face forward.  Hopefully she would turn her instructor sympathies towards someone who needed them more than he did.
"Sign your worksheets and pass them towards the front of the class."  He marked his and added it to the stack moving up the row.  The bell rang and he made his escape.
Isis wore a bright yellow dress, and it suited her.  When he was ready, he'd like a pretty girlfriend.  That was no time soon, however.  For now, he was content to watch. Bob Denton, sitting with the other football players glanced her way a couple of times, which he hadn't before.
Today's person of interest was Martha.  If dark eye makeup could conceal facial bruises and long black sleeved dresses could hide other marks, wouldn't that be an ideal costume to wear if bruises were an unresolved problem?  It was only conjecture, however.  She'd been wearing dark clothing since the Christmas break.  It was notable at the time, but he couldn't recall her dressing that way before.  Had something changed in her home life at that time?
After ten minutes of careful observation, he was convinced.  She was favoring her right arm, and possibly a bruised rib.  She moved carefully, but the very care showed patterns.
Unfortunately, while she could report abuse herself, she had elected to hide it.
He pulled out a blue pad and lettered:
Your bruises have been noticed.  Teachers are concerned.  If you do not want help, discard this note in the trashcan to the left of your locker.
He marked it with M. and left it inside her locker.
Every available minute between classes, Martha lingered near her locker, watching people, checking to see if anyone looked into the trash can.  Ted, as first mover, had the advantage, watching the watcher from various vantage points.  She did not discard the note, not in that trash can. She had torn it to tiny bits and scattered them on the lawn.  She was terrified that her problem would be discovered, and yet was loathe to cut off an offer of help.
Isis did not take the 4:15 bus home.
He paused at the fence line, and ignored his path through the front pasture.  He went directly into the house and logged onto the computer under an established alias.  
Martha Lister's mother Sue was a checker at a Freshmart grocery store, with 8 years work history.  The store's HR records were well secured, but her union's computers were not.  He filed the data and started researching her house and medical records.  One list of data had leads to others.  Soon a pattern developed.
Martha's father Edgar had vanished from the record five years ago.  However, six months ago, the archived images her house on Google's mapping system showed a red pickup that was not listed in Sue Lister's financial records.  A lucky angle by the street view system gave him a license plate.  The number, from two states over, led to a stolen vehicle report, from six months ago.
A number of possibilities existed. Was the driver of the red pickup Edgar, or a new friend of Sue Lister?  What were the family dynamics that were in play?  Was the mother aware of Martha's abuse? 
Ted's father came home before he could complete his research.  He wiped the traces of his research from the computer.  His memory was good enough to retain the data.
He opened his school books to his fake homework assignments and started at the pages without reading.
An anonymous tip about the stolen vehicle could remove the driver from the household.  There were any number of ways that the abuse could be 'accidentally' discovered.  And there was no guarantee that other teachers hadn't picked up on the situation.  How had Martha avoided gym class disclosures of her bruises?  Had she been reporting sickness to get out of gym, and if so, was her mother complicit to give her excuses?  He needed to get more information, and he needed more information from Martha herself.
Making changes in her life 'for her own good' might just make things worse.  Sometimes a defective home life was better than none at all.  He had offered to help, not to make her life fit his patterns.  He had to watch that impulse.  It was too easy to pull strings.


Mike G. said...

Interesting character! I'm looking forward to the rest of this story.

Henry Melton said...

The remaining parts of Patterns are ready to go. The next Ted story is still being shaped. But there will be other stories in between.

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