Clausen or CC, as he was usually called, owned a car dealership
and a the local sporting goods store. He should have been
well-to do, but he gambled. Everyone in town knew he lost
regularly at poker every week. So all of us were surprised
to see him at the hearing since it was his regular, weekly
CC sat down at the back of the room, and Miss Carswell turned
her attention to his son.
"Ben, Mr. Willard just told us that you saw him put Jason's
fountain pen in the faculty storage closet. Is that correct?
"Speak up, boy!" she boomed at him.
"YES, IT IS!" Ben bellowed, his face reddening.
Miss Carswell smiled coldly and continued. "When did
you see him do this?"
"The afternoon that he took the pen off Jason,"
"Louder, please!" Miss Carswell ordered him sternly.
"THE AFTERNOON HE TOOK THE PEN OFF JASON!"
"Was that after classes ended for the day?
Miss Carswell wrote something down and then looked up at him.
"Do you usually spend time after classes end with Mr.
Ben shook his head. "HE ASKED ME TO SEE HIM BEFORE TRACK
"I see. And when did he ask you that?"
"RIGHT AFTER I HAD CLASS WITH HIM."
"Health education right?" Miss Carswell asked conversationally.
"Yeah, health class," Ben mumbled.
"What was that?" Miss Carswell asked with a slight
"Goddammit!" Ben mumbled and then shouted, "YEAH,
"Were you late for track practice that afternoon?"
Ben shook his head.
"I beg your pardon?"
"NO, IT ONLY TOOK A COUPLE OF MINUTES FOR HIM TO SHOVE
THE PEN IN THE CLOSET."
"And did anyone hear him ask you to see him after school
or observe you on the way to or from seeing him?"
"HOW THE HELL SHOULD I KNOW?" Ben replied.
Miss Carswell stared at him intently.
"Sorry!" he mumbled. "But you're making me
yell and it annoys me."
"Well, I certainly wouldn't want to annoy you, but you
mumble, " Miss Carswell replied.
I had a sneaking suspicion that she could hear him just fine
though, mumble or not. And I wondered why she was making him
talk so loud.
"Now, Ben, Mr. Willard also told me that you told him
that Jason had broken into school and taken back the pen Mr.
Willard had confiscated from him. Is that correct?"
Ben nodded. "Yeah, that's right."
"I SAID, 'THAT'S RIGHT'!"
"Did you see Jason break in and take the pen?
"Did he show you the pen?"
Ben looked over at his father, then at Mr. Willard. He shook
his head. "NO, I HAVEN'T SEEN HIM SINCE HE WAS SUSPENDED.
BUT HE TOLD ME HE DID IT ON THE PHONE THE ONE TIME I TALKED
TO HIM AND TOLD HIM WHAT HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENTS HE'D MISSED."
"And when was that?" Miss Carswell inquired calmly.
Uh, let's see. He got suspended on Tuesday. So it must have
been Wednesday , the first of the three days."
"What time, Ben?"
"At what time did he tell you that he'd broken into school
and stolen back his pen?"
"I don't know when he broke in and took the damned pen.
He didn't tell me that."
"That is not the question, Ben," Miss Carswell said,
slowly enunciating each word. "I asked you at what time
you spoke with him on the phone and heard his confession."
"Oh, around three-thirty or four in the afternoon."
"So he was suspended Tuesday afternoon and had broken
in by Wednesday afternoon and taken the pen?"
Ben shrugged. "He was really pissed. And he loves that
Miss Carswell didn't bat an eye at his language. She just
looked at him as if he were dirt. The she shook her head and
said, "Thank you, Ben, that's all for now."
Ben started to stand up, a smug look on his face, but then
she said, "Oh, just a second, I forgot to ask you something,
He sat down again, looking deflated.
"Why did Mr. Willard ask you to see him on the day he
confiscated Jason's pen?"
Ben looked over at CC.
"I asked you, not your father, Ben," Miss Carswell
snapped at him.
Ben shrugged and mumbled, "He wanted to talk to me about
"Uh, yeah, that's right," Ben replied with more
confidence. "He wanted to, uh, tell me I owed him a homework
Miss Carswell gazed at him, disbelieving. "I see."
Ben took a deep breath and started to his feet again.
"One more thing, Ben," she said, and he sat down
again, grinding his teeth. "How did Jason find out that
Mr. Willard had locked his pen in the storage closet?"
She looked over at Mr. Willard. "That is what you said
you did, right?"
Willard nodded and she turned back to Ben who was squirming.
"I don't know," he said. "I guess he figured
it out. Where else would Willard, uh, Mr. Willard have put
I looked over at Mr. Willard who had a big grin on his face.
I heard Ben's dad say, "Good job, son. Don't you feel
better having told the truth? Even if it means telling on
I shook my head in disgust and looked up to find Miss Carswell
staring at me with raised eyebrows.
"Well, Jason," she said. "Do you have any rebuttal
I took a deep breath. "Ben did call me Wednesday to get
me up to date on homework assignments, but I never told him
that I broke into school and took back my pen because I didn't."
I made eye contact with her and held it. "But one thing
he said is true: I do love my pen. And if I had it, I'd never
let is sit without its cap for days on end." I pulled
the cap out of my pocket and held it up.
Miss Carswell said nothing, and Mr. Willard's lawyer stood
up. "That is no argument, boy!" he said, smirking
up at Miss Carswell. "It seems to be the word of this
young man here against that of his teacher and his fellow
Miss Carswell raised her eyebrow. "Seems is the operative
word here. However, as Jason's grandfather Edgar used to say
to me at every opportunity, "Things are never the way
My eyes opened wide, but not as wide as my mother's. "You
were friendly with my father?" she blurted out.
Miss Carswell gave her a deadpan look. "We shared a hobby."
Mom shook her head. "Who'd ever have thought it?"
"Not you, obviously," Miss Carswell retorted in
a very dry tone. "Now Jason, I told your mother to send
your lawyer, Mr. Conley home, didn't I?"
Yes, you did, Miss Carswell," I said to her.
"Do you know why I did that?"
I shook my head. "No."
"It was because you said you trusted me to be fair. Is
that still true?"
I nodded. "Yes, it is," I said, not sure as I said
it why I believed it so strongly.
She smiled. "Well, having someone trust me is a rare
experience in recent years. So I decided to earn that trust.
Of course, I didn't know that Mr. Willard would bring a witness
to support his story about what happened to your pen."
I nodded. "I didn't either," I said.
Her smile broadened. "I strongly suspected, as you know,
that your pen had been destroyed, mostly like intentionally
and maliciously. So I wondered how I could check out my suspicion,
find evidence one way or the other."
I nodded again.
"Evidence is very important, Jason."
"Yes, ma'am," I replied.
"And I found it," she said, a slight note of triumph
in her voice that I wasn't sure anyone else detected.
She reached into her bag and pulled out an envelope. "I'm
very sorry to have to affirm to you that your fountain pen
was indeed destroyed. I have the remnants here." Unfortunately
they are only fragments."
She laid out a piece of white paper from her notebook on the
desk and emptied the tiny shards of plastic, a bent lever
and clip, and a torn sac onto it. "I am very, very sorry,"