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A Weapon of Choice IV
The fourth installment of a new pen related serial
from the fountain pen of Myra Love
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 Chapter IV

"Good afternoon," a low, slightly hoarse voice said. I couldn't see the face or the body very clearly since the sun was coming in the window at the wrong angle and blinding me when I looked up.
"That pen is a Sheaffer Sentinel with a triumph nib. It fills by means of a snorkel. That keeps your hands, the section, and even the nib clean when you fill the pen. An ingenious invention, the snorkel-filling fountain pen. Have you ever written with a triumph nib before?
I shook my head, suddenly feeling shy.
"Well, feel free to play around with it for a while longer if you like. It's not at all flexible, so you shouldn't have any problems getting a decent line out of it. It takes practice to learn to write with a flexible nib, but you don't have to worry about that."
I kept trying to see the speaker, but my eyes teared up, and I couldn't tell who was talking to me. Whoever it was seemed to know a lot about fountain pens. And all this time I thought Mr. Harmon was the only person in town who knew what a fountain pen was.
"I won't need the pen until a few minutes before four," the voice said. If I squinted I could just barely make out a tall, thin figure leaving the room.

I wasn't sure if it had been young or old, a man or a woman. The voice had sounded old. The walk had something springy about it, so I felt sure it wasn't an old woman. Grandma Lore Harnisch walked as if the world were weighing on her shoulders, and so did her friends. The light was so intense that all I'd been able to recognize with any certainly was a fedora hat atop a large head. At least I thought it was a fedora. The speaker could have been an old man. There was something about the look of the figure that reminded me of Grandpa Edgar. I shook my head and thought I was being ridiculous. Was I going to see Grandpa in everyone who had a fountain pen? Would I think Mr. Harmon was Grandpa next? I decided not to think about Grandpa Edgar right then. I was just too relieved at finally being able to sit down with my pad of paper and write down some of my thoughts with a real pen. The pen didn't look or feel like my Esterbrook, but it was close enough so that I experienced a comfortable familiarity using it. I didn't know how long I'd been sitting at that desk when Ed Conley stuck his head through the door and called out my name.
When I looked up, he gestured me out of the room. I carefully capped the pen, put it down, and followed him into the hall.
"Now, Jason," he said, "I don't want you to be nervous. I'll intervene if Miss Carswell starts to give you a hard time."
"Do you know her well?" I asked, suddenly alarmed.
He made a face. "Yes too well. I had her for algebra and trigonometry."
Great, I thought. I hope she doesn't ask me to determine the trajectory of my fountain pen after Willard tossed it. I cleared my throat. "I meant as an adult," I explained. "Have you gone before her a lot representing clients?"
He didn't answer my question. "The most important thing, Jason, is to tell her the absolute truth as best you can. She becomes very unpleasant when lied to." From the look on his face I was pretty sure he'd tried to lying to her once upon a time. Maybe he'd told her the dog had eaten his homework. I shook my head. What was it about Miss Carswell that seemed to reduce adults to looking and sounding frightened, guilty adolescents?
Before he had a chance to say more, my mother came into the room. "Tom and the principal are here, Ed," she announced. "And Alex DeContreni is here as the representative of the school board. He's the only one who doesn't have an attorney."
Ed Conley looked at her hard. "And you're really prepared to say in public that Tom Willard took out his resentment of you on Jason?" he asked.
I did a double-take. "What?' I squawked in my astonishment.
My mom gave me a weary look. "Tom used to want to date me when we were in high school. I was never interested in him. Then after your dad and I divorced, he, uh, well, he expressed his interest again, and again I rejected him."
"But he's married," I barely got the words out.
"Some men are like that," Ed said smoothly, a little astonished, I 'm sure, at what he took for my incredible naivete. I wasn't naïve though, just surprised. Willard had put moves on my mom? My mom?
"I'm not sure," Ed continued, "how Anita Carswell will respond to that tack, but I guess we can hope we don't have to take it. She has little tolerance and less sympathy for…that kind of thing." He smirked and mumbled something under his breath about dried up old maid school teachers, and I realized I'd never really liked Ed Conley very much.
It was only three-thirty, and Ed told Mom and me to try to make ourselves comfortable until the hearing began. He advised us not to talk to anyone connected with the school. We walked past Dr. McCallister and Mr. Willard, who were standing with their lawyers in the hallway, and went downstairs. Ed Conley told us he'd be back in time for the hearing, so Mom and I went into the empty auditorium and sat down.
We sat quietly, my mom just looking at the print-out of her latest cartoon. After a couple of minutes I got antsy and pulled out my pad with the notes I'd taken upstairs and tried to calm down enough to read them. But I was nervous, there was no denying it.
"Mom?" I asked.
She looked up from her cartoon and raised her eyebrows. "Do you think I'll ever get back Grandpa Edgar's pen?"
She smiled. "I certainly hope so. Even if Miss Carswell upholds your suspension, I can't imagine she'll allow Tom or the principal to keep something that belongs to you."
"Did Willard really…"
She smiled at me. "I'll tell you about it some time. Not now though. Now I want to warn you that I also have a little bit of history with Miss Carswell."
I scratched my head, irritated, What a time to tell me! "History?"
"I had her for math, but I also took art classes from her friend, Miss Clarence. Miss Clarence was a very good art teacher, and I learned a lot from her. She wanted me to go on and study art seriously. Instead I became a cartoonist. She was disappointed."
"Miss Carswell didn't like her friend to be disappointed. She didn't like the caricatures I drew of her in math class either."
I looked at her, trying not to laugh. "You got caught?"
She nodded. "Pretty stupid!"
I shook my head. "But you can't really think she'd hold that against me."
Mom shrugged. "This is a small town with a long memory."
"Do you really think Mr. Willard was out to get me because you'd rejected him""
She shrugged again. "I don't know. But it is possible."
I didn't know what to think, so I just sat silently musing on what I'd learned for a moment. "Mom? How come I don't know Miss Carswell?"
She smiled, but her smile didn't look very authentic. She looked as nervous as I felt. "Once Miss Clarence died, she became reclusive. She'd never exactly been popular with the other old ladies in town even before that. They disapproved of her. And everyone else had had her for math in high school and was intimidated by her. Even the math whiz kids. She was a holy terror in the classroom. I think your generation or maybe those only a few years older than you are the first who really don't have history with her. And they hardly know her at all, since she keeps to herself."
"So how come she keeps getting elected town mediator?"
Mom reached out and patted my arm. "Since she's a loner, she's seen as objective and neutral. Besides, no one else wants the job."
That was pretty much what Ed Conley had said. I had more questions for Mom about Miss Carswell, but just then Ed came in to escort us upstairs. The questions would have to wait.

The hearing, I realized, was to be held in the room where I'd sat and written with that Sheaffer. The pen was no longer on the desk when we walked in. Neither was the notebook. The principal, teacher, school board representative, and the two lawyers were already settled in folding chairs to the left of the desk when Mom and I entered with Ed. They didn't look at us.
On the dot of four a door I hadn't even realized was there opened behind the desk and a very tall, old woman with short, iron-gray hair walked in. Although I'd seen her several times around town I'd never really looked at her before. She was at least six foot tall with hooded eyes, and the most severe, scowling face I'd ever seen. There were deep creases between her eyes. She was wearing a long ugly skirt and a white blouse that looked like a man's shirt. I could see why Mom called her a holy terror. Her expression was enough to scare an angel. Forbidding was the word that came to mind. Over her white shirt she wore a blazer that looked a lot like one Grandpa Edgar wore when we walked in the park. She took large hands with slightly swollen knuckles out of the pockets as she seated herself behind the desk and cleared her throat with a raspy cough.
"Good afternoon," she said, resting her hands on the desktop, and I gasped when I heard the same deep, hoarse voice that had offered to let me write with the Sentinel and held forth on the virtues of the snorkel filling system. I must have looked as surprised as I felt because my mother, who was seated next to me, leaned over and asked if I was all right. I just nodded and returned my attention to Miss Anita Carswell, mediator, dragon lady, and… fountain pen collector? Suddenly I felt better than I had in days. Ever since Mr. Willard had tossed my pen onto the floor I'd forgotten what it felt like to have hope. Maybe, just maybe, even if she was a rule-bound monster everyone was scared of, Anita Carswell might understand how I felt about losing my grandpa's Esterbrook.


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