Between the Lines

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Chapter 29

The next morning, Keeley walked over to the pub shortly after it opened. She felt a little foolish, almost like she was doing something surreptitious, but she had decided the night before that she wanted to talk to Joe about Joyce herself, rather than wait for Claire to get the information. Joe was finishing setting up the bar when she walked in, and smiled his flirtatious smile at her. “Keeley, it’s good to see you. You’re looking gorgeous as usual. What brings you here so early?”

Keeley smiled. Joe was such a charmer, and a flatterer. “Hi Joe. I wanted to ask you a couple of questions, if you can spare a minute or two.”

“I’ve always got time for a beautiful woman. Ask away. Do you want to join me for a cup of coffee?”

“Yes, please.” Keeley sat on a barstool, and took a sip of the coffee he set in front of her. “Delicious. Thanks, Joe. I guess Claire told you we’re trying to find out anything we can about Joyce Williams and Tom Freemont’s murders?” At his nod, she continued. “Claire said you knew Bryan and Sue Ferguson, so you must have known Joyce too. What can you tell me about her?”

Joe shrugged. “I didn’t know any of them very well. I was in a couple of classes with each of them, but we didn’t hang out together. Joyce didn’t hang with any of her classmates, as I recall, except for that brief time she went out with Bryan. I told all this to Claire last night.”

“Yes, I just wanted to go over it in case we missed something. You must have had an opinion of Joyce, even though you weren’t close friends,” Keeley prompted.

Joe scrunched up his face, as he thought back. “She was pretty smart, I guess. She got good grades, and she didn’t seem to work very hard for them. She wouldn’t look twice at any of the guys in the class unless she wanted something from them. She was the best looking girl in school, but kind of vindictive, so I stayed away from her. Once we graduated, I don’t think I ever ran into her again. Of course, I spent most of my time here, and this wasn’t the kind of place Joyce would be caught dead in.”

They both winced at Joe’s unfortunate expression. “Do you know anything about her family?” Keeley asked.

He furrowed his brow, thinking back. “I believe there was only her and her mother. I don’t know what happened to the dad. Her mother was a looker, too, and had a lot of male friends. I saw her in here a few times with her dates. I haven’t seen her for years, though.”

Keeley had drained her cup and couldn't think of any more questions, so she thanked Joe for the coffee and the information, and slid off the bar stool. She had turned to leave when he suddenly stopped her. “I just remembered that Joyce got one of the teachers fired,” he said, and Keeley sat back down, thinking excitedly that this might be exactly the break they needed in the case. He went on to tell her that Joyce had accused the teacher of sexual misconduct. No one could be sure, but many people believed that Joyce had made up the story in revenge for a bad grade the teacher had given her. He had been let go, and had moved away a short time later. That sounds like it could be a motive for murder, Keeley thought. Joe didn’t know where the teacher had moved to, but he supplied her with a name, Christian Meier, so she felt like she had put in a productive morning of investigating after all. Hopefully, another Google search would turn up the information on where she could find Christian Meier now.

“Are you up for a road trip, Kira, or can you not stay away from Wayne for a whole day?” Keeley teased her friend. “I found out where Christian Meier is now living and teaching, and I want to go talk to him this week. But I don't want to stand in the way of true love.”

Kira rolled her eyes, and assured Keeley that since absence was supposed to make the heart grow fonder, she believed the relationship could survive a day apart. They made plans to drive up to interview their new lead on Kira’s next day off.

Cloverdale, the city where the former Ashton teacher had relocated, was just under three hours drive away, so it would take them pretty much the whole day to go there and back, allowing time to talk to their suspect, as they were calling him. Hopefully, he would be available, and not off on vacation or something. It would be a huge waste of time if they drove all that way, and didn’t get to see him. They had considered phoning and setting up an appointment, but they couldn’t think of any reason to give that would guarantee his agreeing to see them. They didn’t want to tell him the real reason, in case he was the killer. They needed the element of surprise.

They started out for Cloverdale early, fortified with a thermos of coffee for Keeley, one filled with herbal tea for Kira, and an assortment of snacks to share. They were torn both by their conflicting hopes that they were about to find the murderer of Joyce Williams and Tom Freemont, and an equally strong fear of the same result.

“What are we going to do if this guy is the killer?” asked Kira, holding her tea in one hand, and a vegan blueberry muffin in the other.

“We’ll tell Detective McDonald, and the police can arrest him.”

“He isn’t likely to just admit to us that he killed two people. And if he does, what’s to stop him from killing us to make sure we don’t go to the police?” Doubts about the viability and particularly the safety of the mission were starting to occur to Kira.

“We’re not going to let him know we think he might have killed them. We’re just going to ask him some questions, tell him that we’re looking for background information on Joyce, and see if we can get an idea of the type of person he is, and how he reacts to the questions. If he did it, he’ll be nervous that we’re asking questions. If we hear anything suspicious, we’ll report it to the police,” Keeley said with more confidence than she felt. The same doubts had already occurred to her, but having committed to the course of action, she was determined to see it through. She was reasonably confident that they would not be in any personal danger, as long as they made sure that Christian Meier knew that their exact whereabouts and the purpose of their visit was well known to several of their friends.

The drive was accomplished without incident, and under more pleasant circumstances, would have even been enjoyable. With the upcoming interview in their minds, however, they weren’t able to fully appreciate the beautiful day, and the pleasing scenery along the way. The city of Cloverdale was unknown to both of them, and much larger to navigate in than Ashton, but with the help of the GPS on Kira’s phone, they were able to find the school where Christian Meier was now employed. Keeley’s google search had revealed him to be the vice-principal of Cloverdale Senior Secondary School, so they were hoping that meant he would be in an office, and not teaching a class. They found the visitor parking lot, and parked the car. They stood for a moment gathering their courage, and then walked into the building in search of the office.

They were in luck. The school secretary asked how she could help them, and Keeley asked if Christian Meier was available. The secretary said he was, and then asked which student their visit was regarding. The question threw Keeley for a moment, but then she simply told the woman it was a personal matter, and within a couple of minutes, she and Kira were being ushered in the door of the vice-principals office.

A genial looking man in his late thirties or early forties with thinning hair and an inquiring look got up and moved around his desk to shake their hands. “What can I do for you ladies?” he asked, smiling. There was a photograph of the same man they saw in front of them, along with a pretty, smiling woman, probably his wife, and two young children. It was a studio portrait of what appeared to be a happy family.

“We wanted to ask you some questions about Joyce Williams,” Keeley began, and instantly, his smile disappeared, replaced by a hard, angry look. Afraid he was going to throw them out of his office right then and there, Keeley hurried on, explaining that she was the owner of the property where Joyce’s remains had been found. She told him she was trying to get a sense of the lives of the people who had died. Christian Meier listened impassively for the most part, although he appeared startled when she mentioned the two skeletons. When she finished talking, he was silent for what seemed like a long time, but was probably only a few seconds.

“Why have you come to see me?” he asked after the pause. “What have you heard?”

“One of Joyce’s classmates said that she accused you of misconduct, which led to you losing your job. He said that some people thought she may have made the whole incident up.”

Christian stared out the window at the side of his office that overlooked the school sports field. He was motionless and silent for so long that Keeley and Kira exchanged glances, both wondering if he had forgotten their presence. Finally, he sighed and turned back to them. “I don’t know why I’m telling you this,” he said. “But, hell, I’ve got nothing to hide. Your information isn’t quite accurate. Joyce did accuse me of making sexual advances towards her. Of course, it was complete nonsense, but obviously the school board had to take the accusation seriously, and there was an investigation. Joyce was the one who had made advances to me, offering me certain favours if I gave her a better grade. I was a young, idealistic teacher, and I was horrified at even the thought of such a thing. Naturally, I refused in no uncertain terms. Joyce was a very attractive young woman, and I doubt anyone had turned her down before, plus she wanted a good grade, and didn’t want to have to work for it. The ironic part is, she could easily have achieved a good grade if she had made the effort, but she couldn’t be bothered. Anyway, I was cleared of the charge, and I did not lose my job. Unfortunately, not everyone was completely convinced of my innocence, including my wife, and with the rumours and speculation flying around, we decided we had no real choice but to move away from Ashton.” He shook his head. “She was a real piece of work. I hadn’t heard she was dead. I wonder who killed her.”

“Did she try to blackmail other teachers into giving her good grades, do you think?” asked Kira.

He shrugged. “I don't know, but I would be very surprised if I was the only one.”

Just then the intercom buzzed on his desk, and a voice told him he had a call on line two from his wife. “Can you tell her I’ll call her back in five minutes, Marjorie?” he asked, smiling now. He looked at Kira and Keeley. “That’s all I can tell you,” he said, clearly indicating the meeting was over.

“Thanks for talking to us,” Keeley said, as she stood up. “I’m glad things worked out with your wife.”

“They didn’t,” he responded shortly. “We divorced a few months after moving here. I remarried seven years ago.”

“What do you think?” Keeley asked Kira when they were back in the car.

“I don’t know. He seemed like a nice guy to me, but that was a terrible thing Joyce did to him. Losing his wife over her lies, and even though he wasn’t fired, there was still an impact on his reputation. Some people would always wonder if there was any truth to her accusation.”

“He had already moved here when the murders took place. Would he drive all that way, that long after her accusations?”

“It would be helpful if we knew exactly when his wife left him. Maybe when she left, he just snapped, and decided to get revenge. There was a heavy energy in his office, but that could be from having to discipline students in there. I didn’t get the sense that it was really evil.”

They stopped for lunch, and continued to try to make sense of what they had learned. Not sure if they had really accomplished anything today or not, they headed back to Ashton.

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