While walking back to the train station, Thomas called Rachel. The day was wearing into the afternoon and he figured she would be at work by then.
She answered on the third ring. “Thomas Holliday Private Investigations; how may I direct your call?”
“It’s me.” Thomas smiled hearing her nasally voice.
“Oh, well you better not have messed this case up already. You haven’t had one in months.”
“I need a warrant to access the student records.” He stopped walking, bursting with excitement. “She was actually going to throw me out!”
“I’ve already applied for the warrant, it should be in the records by now. I’ll upload it to your file and send one to the school.”
“You’re the best.”
“Don’t forget it come bonus time.” She hung up on him.
Sitting down on a bench, Thomas checked his tablet. The light pulsed as if it were excited to telling him he had a download pending. The file appeared as soon as he pressed the button. He read it thoroughly, noting the official seal and signatures. Nodding with excitement, he decided to finish his case notes up to the warrant before going back to the school. Scribbling notes for his own case was a thrill – he had to concentrate on not writing it like the first person books he loved – but he also wanted the principal to think he had to work for the warrant. He wasn’t sure why, but his gut told him playing along would make dealing with her easier.
Fifteen minutes later, Thomas was back at the door to the school, pressing the com button. He ran through the procedure, requesting to see the principal in the corridor. Instead, two large security officers met Thomas at the junction. They led him to the records room and stood close by as he sat at a small desk with an old computer calling up student records. Racks of servers lined the walls and jutted out into the room, whirring, humming, and clicking as they ran through thousands of simultaneous tasks.
Thomas watched the lights blink in random succession. He was disappointed the room wasn’t filled with shelves full of boxed files, but he turned back to the tube monitor reminding himself he was the one living in a different time.
He found the record in the databanks and called it up on the screen. The file was detailed, listing classes, grades, and even a few disciplinary actions. “Principals are probably all stuck up.”
“What was that?” One of the guards heard Thomas’ murmur and stepped closer.
He turned and waved the man away. “Nothing. Never mind.” Skimming the file, Thomas formed a picture of the girl. She was obviously smart and judging by the list of fights she was involved in, aggressive too. He thought about it and decided troubled was a better word. The file ended at her graduation and, while academically complete, it had few personal details. It listed her full name and the false address her father gave, but there was no picture or any hint at what she did after high school.
Thomas pushed away from the desk, deciding to talk to the principal again. He thought she knew something she wasn’t telling him. He rubbed his eyes, sore from staring at the old screen, and stood. The guards stiffened and glared at him.
“Hey, how long has the principal been working here?” He leaned against the desk looking from one man to the other.
“I don’t have to tell you anything.” The guard standing closest thrust his finger out as he spoke.
“Why does a prep school even need guys like you?”
Neither of them answered Thomas, so he went to walk past them. He had a thought that some of the teachers may have been around when the girl was. The officers closed the gap, puffing out their chests, looking down at him.
“Easy guys.” Thomas put out his hands. “I want to have a quick word with your principal. What’s her name anyway?”
Neither man moved.
“You can take me there. I wouldn’t know where I’m going anyway.”
After a minute of exchanged looks, one of the guards shrugged and led Thomas out of the room and down the hallway. Working the information around in his head, he keep an eye open, studying the lockers, room numbers, projected murals, anything that could lead to a clue. He knew the girl attended the school, there was a trail if he could find it.
Thomas was led past a trophy case near the junction where he first entered the school, and stopped. He wasn’t sure how he noticed it, but inscribed on one of the gleaming trophies was the girl’s name. Next to it was picture of her at what looked like a science fair, holding it.
The security officer was several doors down the hallway before he noticed Thomas wasn’t following him. He turned sharply, his face flush with, Thomas thought either rage or embarrassment. He stomped quickly back to the case.
Thomas held out a hand to feebly ward him off as he studied the picture. She looked familiar, a lot like her father, but there was something else.
Large hands knocked Thomas’s arm away and grabbed him ferociously on a shoulder, twisting the arm behind his back. Thomas squeaked, but struggled to stay at the image, clenching his teeth in concentration and pain. He was dragged away.
“I’m taking you to the principal!” The security officer pulled Thomas in front of him and marched him down the hall in a tight hold.
“Ah! That’s where we were going anyway.” Thomas smiled, though his arm hurt. The mention of the severe woman dropped the pieces to place in his mind. The picture looked exactly like a miniature, though smiling, version of the principal of the school.
As they rounded a corner the guard’s grip slackened and Thomas considered struggling free and running, but he was heading to the place he would go anyway so he feigned cooperation.
The sign on the door read Mrs. Simon. Thomas chuckled at the simplicity of the name choice, prompting a jostling from the officer. Letting go of his shoulder, the man opened the door and shoved Thomas inside. A secretary told him to sit in a chair and wait, Mrs. Simon was dealing with a school issue, and the security officer stood in the hall.
While waiting, Thomas warmed up his best gotcha expression, and worked on how he would call the woman out. He fidgeted with excitement, tapping a toe to the annoyance of the secretary who shushed him. Still feeling antsy, Thomas stood and wandered around the small outer office looking at the displayed pictures and signs. The door to the inner office had windows on either side giving a smoky view inside. He put his hands around his eyes and peered through the glass. He could make out the desk and a shelf behind it filled with books, knickknacks and a digital frame, flipping through images.
The door to the hallway clicked open and the loud clacking shoes of Mrs. Simon — daughter of Dr. Simonson — preceded the woman. Thomas was drawn to the noise, but the images through the glass, thought unclear, showed the same girl turn into the woman through the advancing images
“What do you think you’re doing?” The venom in her voice was clear, but Thomas ignored her. The click of her steps started again, closing across the small space causing Thomas’s heart to thump vehemently and a lump to develop in his throat.
He could feel her behind him like an energy source, pulsating, and the most recent picture flipped to one of a little girl and her father, the man in the picture Thomas had been shown when he took on the case. He spun around, eyes wide, meeting the burning gaze of the principal.
“It’s you.” The words dropped casually out of his mouth as if he were surprised, even though he suspected it. His mind had put the pieces together, but it seemed to have been laid out for him. She was still in the same place she was last seen, either brashly flaunting her intelligence, unaware she would be sought, or, Thomas looked away from her at the thought, she wanted to be caught.
As Thomas ran through his thoughts, she turned and ran out the door.
Continued June 22nd