Mitchell Robieri, one of the more senior faculty members at the financially strapped Riverside High, stared at the unfinished sentence on his screen. He'd blasted through the bulk of his presentation speech for tomorrow's meeting on the force of the adrenalin raised from the prospect of confronting State Senator Dubinsky with the results of his tie-breaking vote, and now he was stalled.
"And in conclusion, Senator," he read the paragraph back for the umpteenth time, "I urge you to reconsider the curriculum directives you have mandated for the State Board of Education. Focusing exclusively on the material covered in the federal government's faulty tests serves neither the students, nor the future of this country. Instead, what we need is..."
He leaned back, crossed his arms, and sighed. Something was wrong, but what? Could there be flaw in his logic... a mistake in his research?
Robieri's train of thought was broken abruptly by a dull knocking at the door. He glanced at the laptop's clock: a quarter to one. He wasn't expecting any late visitors, and since he was the only night owl on the floor, it wasn't likely to be a neighbor, either. Frowning at the interruption, he hit save, and set the open laptop on the coffee table.
As he approached the door, he slowed and glanced back over his shoulder. He'd gotten into serious trouble from instigating his students into mounting a protest, and there was ample evidence for conspiracy charges on his laptop. Police sometimes made late-night busts. So did the Feds. It wouldn't be the first time that he'd stuck his neck out to make a political point, but it was the first time his actions could cost him his teaching job. Eight years of the lesser Bush had gotten under his skin, and spawned a healthy crop of paranoia.
The face in the peephole was familiar, but he'd long since given up trying to remember the names of all the students who'd passed through his history class, so he opened the door for a better look.
"Hi, Mr. R," the pale twenty-something said quietly, her voice thin. "Sorry about the hour, but I need a place to hide. Can I come in?"
Robieri nodded and started to step aside, but froze when she lowered her hand from the doorframe where it had been resting, and he saw the blue and white plastic hospital ID before it disappeared into her jacket sleeve. The name on it brought a brief smile to his face, as he recalled how she'd sparked lively debates in class. He held out his arm for support, and she took it.
"Colleen Tendray," he said as she drew even with him. "It's been, what, seven years? What happened? Did you just escape from the hospital?"
"Pretty much, yeah. And I could use a drink."
"I'll tell you what, then. I'll make us both something hot. It looks raw out there."
She followed him into the kitchen. "Tell me about it. I was out leafleting this morning when all this started."
Her story was interrupted briefly while he made hot cocoa with the point-of-use heater tap by the sink, dropped in a pair of cherry-filled chocolates, added some mint liqueur, and then topped them both with whipped cream.
"You said you were leafleting," he said once they got settled in the living room. "Was it political?"
She sniffed at her mug, smiled happily, and took a sip, getting some whipped cream on her light brown nose."In a round-about way. Did I ever tell you about my mom's grandpa Elvin?"
Robieri thought for a moment. That would be on the African-American side of her family. "I think so. Wasn't he the WPA documentarian?"