Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sketching It Out

Melissa had insisted that Julie meet with Professor Clayton.

Julie found her request strange and tried to probe Melissa more about its necessity. It seemed like rain out of blue sky, without any detectable cause or logical explanation. However, Melissa wouldn't give any clues or additional information. She just said Julie had to.

So, to appease Melissa, Julie agreed. What could it hurt? Julie met with strangers of all kinds in audits all the time; she didn't think meeting with the old, gone-off-the-deep-end professor would be any more challenging than meeting with some arrogant taxpayer with over-bloated claims on his business's tax return. And, besides, now she was curious about why Melissa thought it was so important.

But she saw no urgency in doing so and wanted to put it off for at least a couple of days. After all, detritus cluttered her life at every point of the compass at the present, what with work and trying to facilitate an excuse to get out of going to Atlanta, the separation from Ron and the divorce and its fallout, especially, as it related to Tommy. Furthermore, Angela was still sitting in jail without Julie having even been able to visit or help her in any way.

When it came right down to it, Julie saw no purpose in meeting with the weird, old professor. "And if I do," she said, "I want you there with me."

"That's not going to happen." Melissa was adamant. "You need a couple of minutes at least to talk one-on-one."

"Then a meeting isn't going to take place." Julie tried to be as firm.

Nonetheless, Melissa insisted and demanded that the visit be as soon as possible: that night, at the very latest.

God, Julie thought, she's a bitch. "So, am I supposed to - what? - just show up at his office?" Julie asked. "At the University? Like I'm a student or something?"

"No, that's probably not a good place to meet or strategy," Melissa said. "It'd be better someplace else."

Why? " Here, in one of these audit rooms, like this one? Him over here and me over there. Like it's an examination of his financial records? I'd be totally comfortable doing that."

"Very funny. No." Melissa pulled out her telephone and made a call. "Yeah, it's me," she said after a moment. "Is tonight okay?" A couple of seconds passed. "All right. Let's say Starbucks at 7 PM, the one at the Courtyard Marriott where I'm staying."

So it had been arranged and Julie agreed to go.

A little after 2 PM, Julie took a break from work to go get Tommy from school. It was her turn to pick him up, so she didn't anticipate any problem relative to Ron interfering. She didn't know yet what she would do tomorrow, however, when it'd be Ron's turn to pick the boy up. Julie hadn't thought that far in advance yet. By now, the divorce and injunction papers had probably been served on Ron, who therefore wouldn't be able to legally contact her. So she would have to work through Bob Cartwright to make arrangements with Ron as to how they would handle matters relative to Tommy in the interim until everything got all sorted out.

Before leaving to go get Tommy, Julie called Katie Truman, a college-age girl Julie usually counted on for babysitting. Katie was always desperate for spare change, and Julie regularly utilized her services. Katie agreed to meet Julie at Angela's, where she'd watch Tommy until Julie got off of work around five o'clock.

So after work, Julie hurried home, relieved Katie of her babysitting duties, fed Tommy and the dogs, and called the Sheriff's office to see when visiting hours at the jail were. Not until Wednesday's. Then Julie hurried off, dropping Tommy at Claudia's to play with Claudia's son, Doug, his cousin. Then she went to the appointment.

Now Julie sat at a table in Starbucks, drumming her fingers and waiting alone. Melissa had agreed to be on standby in case Julie called her and said she needed to be there. Julie had hoped that Clayton would already be there, waiting for her, but he hadn't been. So she ordered a latte and a muffin and sat down. She almost wished she had brought her laptop - after all Starbucks had Wi-Fi - so she could get something done as she waited.

Finally, the professor made an entrance. He came right up to her as if he knew her. "Hi, Julie?" he said, a question. "Clark Clayton. Do you remember me?"

She stood and shook his hand. He looked great, handsome, had an engaging smile.

"I think you had a class from me years ago, at the University. It's hard to forget that beautiful smile."

"I remember you." she said. "I enjoyed your class, the lectures, even if the subject wasn't quite my cup of tea."

"Well, speaking of cups of tea, it looks like you have ordered. Maybe I should get something, also. Will you excuse me a moment. Can I get you anything else?"

"No thank you," she said. "I'll wait right here for you."

Professor Clayton surprised Julie. He had on a suit, a conservative one, not made of leather. In fact, he wore no leather except for his belt and shoes, and the shoes looked store-bought. The suit was blue and pinstriped; it looked medium-priced, if she was guessing right, and he had augmented it with a white shirt and a dark tie. He looked distinguished.

When he returned and sat down, he said, "Well, sociology as a course of intense study isn't for everybody."

"Yeah, I know." Damn if he didn't look like a lawyer scheduled to appear before the Supreme Court.

He sniffed and then slurped at his drink and complimented it. "It's not often I get my coffee done up so dignified."

Julie laughed. She'd never seen Clayton dressed like he was. Especially, lately when she'd caught glances of him around town. Once, not long ago, she'd seen him on the news. He'd even looked his mountain-man self there, and she wondered why he hadn't worn something to lend more authority to what he was saying to the journalist. He had, according to the newscast, invited a group of neo-Nazis to speak to one of his sociology sections. It turned out a media event. All of the local stations carried the story, including an interview with the professor.

"So, what did you study at the University?"

"I got my degree in accounting," Julie said. "I'm a CPA. I work as a revenue agent with the Internal Revenue Service."

"That's quite different from sociology. However, I bet it requires considerable contact with the public."

"Sometimes more than I like."

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