I stood up and walked over to the desk. I felt my eyes tear
up, but I wiped the tears away angrily before they could flow.
There was my grandfather's pen, as dead as my grandfather.
The only thing that didn't make sense was that there was a
clip in with the pieces. The clip on my cap was intact. I
pulled the cap out of my pocket and looked at it just to be
I tried to get Miss Carswell's attention, but she was staring
at Mr. Willard. She sighed, and Mr. Willard's lawyer stood
"So the boy stole the pen back and then destroyed it,
he intoned. "How pathetic!"
"Sit down!" Miss Carswell boomed at him. "The
pen was never stolen from the storage closet because it was
never placed, let alone locked in the storage closet. If you
look, you'll find that the lock on that closet is intact."
The lawyer opened his mouth to argue with her, but she just
fixed him with a contemptuous stare. I don't know if he was
planning to tell her I was an expert lock-picker or what,
but she didn't' give him a chance.
"Sit down!" she repeated. "If I were a judge,
I'd hold you in contempt of court, but I'm not. I'm a mediator,
and part of my job is to help people in conflict reach a compromise
solution, but I can only do that if I can get to the truth,
which is the other part of my job. Your client has been lying
to me and inducing other people to lie as well, and I am not
inclined to suggest a compromise solution to this conflict.
I'm inclined to suggest that the school board suspend Thomas
Willard from his position. He is a disgrace to his
to my profession."
I looked over at Mr. Willard. His face was very red, but he
didn't say a word in his own defense. Once again, despite
the evidence that he had destroyed Grandpa Edgar's pen, I
felt sorry for him. And I finally knew why people were so
scared of Miss Carswell. She was like some kind of avenging
angel or prophet sitting there, fixing Willard and his lawyer
with what Mr. Harmon would have called a "basilisk stare."
Suddenly I really missed Mr. Harmon and wished he were there.
I felt Miss Carswell's eyes on me, so I turned my attention
back to her. She looked perplexed. "Jason," she
asked in a much more measured tone of voice, "is there
something you'd like to say or ask?"
I took a deep breath, not sure that now was the right time
to mention the clip. "I feel really bad about what happened
to my pen," I said, "but I feel worse that Mr. Willard
did it, if you know what I mean."
The room got really quiet, and I squirmed. My mouth was dry,
but I wanted to say something more, so I took another deep
breath. "He must have felt really bad to act that way,"
I said, a little lamely, I know. "And, uh, well, I really
wish I'd known that my bringing my pen to class and using
it would set him off that way. I wouldn't have done it."
Dr. McCallister's lawyer jumped to his feet. "That was
very nice, Jason," he positively purred. Then he addressed
Miss Carswell. "The young man has just admitted his culpability,"
he said, smirking at her. "So I suggest we all just pack
up and go home."
Miss Carswell glared at him. "Sit down!" she said
sharply. "Jason did no such thing. He just showed himself
to be a very compassionate, young man, that's all."
She looked at me, and her expression was really different
from what it had been before. I didn't know exactly what I
was seeing, but it was a different look. "Jason,"
she said, "I think you deserve to know how I got hold
of the remnants of your pen."
Her gaze shifted, and I turned around and followed the path
of her eyes only to see Mr. Harmon walk into the room.
"Good evening, Miss Carswell," he said very formally.
He looked constrained but not at all scared of her.
"Good evening, Robert," she answered. Her expression
was fond, as if she were greeting a friend It was the same
expression as she had just turned on me for the first time.
I recognized it and suddenly felt really happy.
"I think Mr. Harmon has something he wants to say to
you, Jason," she said. "Robert?"
Mr. Harmon pulled up a chair next to me and sat down. "Jason,"
he said, "I owe you an apology. I found the fragments
of your pen in the waste basket of the staff men's room on
the afternoon that you were suspended. I recognized the pen,
of course, since I'd resacked and polished it for you, so
I retrieved it from the trash, hoping I could somehow put
it back together, but I couldn't. I should have told you,
" He took a deep breath. "You'd come so
far in the past couple of years that I was afraid of the impact
this might have on you. So I just held on to the pieces of
the pen. Stupid, I know, but I just didn't know what to do.
Then this evening around dinnertime Anita, uh, Miss Carswell
phoned me telling me that she was sure the pen had been destroyed.
So I told her what I just told you." He blushed. "She
told me I was
well, she used a lot of words you'd get
suspended for using in school. I'm really sorry. I showed
bad judgment and should have had more trust in you."
"That still doesn't prove that my client destroyed the
pen," Willard's lawyer piped up. "The boy could
have don't it himself."
"Don't be a fool!" Miss Carswell snapped. "The
staff men's room is locked at all times. Only faculty and
staff have keys."
"Well, someone else then," the lawyer persisted.
"Oh, for Christ's sake," Mr. Willard shouted, standing
up and waving his arms around. "I smashed up the f---in'
pen. Will you people stop acting like I killed someone? The
kid gave me a hard time when I took it from him, so I got
mad and stomped on it! Big deal! I'll buy him a new f---in'
I heard my mom gasp and felt Mr. Harmon, who was still sitting
next to me, jerk to attention. The only one who seemed unmoved
was Miss Carswell. All she did was stare at Mr. Willard for
a second. Then she said, "You certainly will."
After Miss Carswell interrogated Ben some more, it came out
that his dad had put him up to telling the lies that he told.
CC owed Willard money, and Willard promised to let him off
the hook in exchange for one little favor.
Mr. DeContreni apologized to me on his own behalf, on behalf
of the school board, and all the school employees. He didn't
fire Mr. Willard, but Mr. Willard agreed to go on leave starting
at the end of the term and get counseling in return for keeping
My mom was still more concerned with the suspension than with
the loss of my pen. Miss Carswell told her that the principal
was technically within his rights to suspend me according
to the letter of the regulations he'd put in place, but she
recommended that he revoke the suspension retroactively and
rewrite the regulations. "Language is a tricky medium,"
she told him. "That is why I am a mathematician, not
a linguist. You worded your rules in such as way as to allow
this fiasco to occur. If you can't come up with better wording,
I suggest you rescind the regulations."
Dr. McCallister huffed and puffed but finally agreed to her
recommendations. By the time all was said and done, it was
close to midnight, so we all went home.
Saturday morning, Mr. Harmon phoned me. He said he and Miss
Carswell were going to meet with Mr. DeContreni late that
afternoon about my new fountain pen and he wanted to know
if there was a particular pen I wanted.
"Before I answer, I have a question," I said eagerly.
Now was the time to ask about the clip and he was the person
who'd know the answer if anyone did.
"The clip," I said. "Where did the clip come
from? I have the cap to my pen. The clip is on it. There shouldn't
have been a clip with those pen fragments."
"But there was," he replied.
"Yeah, I saw. But it wasn't from my pen."
"No, it wasn't. I don't know where it came from. It wasn't
with the pen fragments I found in the trash."
"But how did it get into the envelope with the other
parts?" I demanded.
"I have no idea," he replied. "I noticed it
when Anita pulled out the envelope. I didn't get a good look
at that clip, so I'm not even sure it came from an Esterbrook.
You know, I didn't give her the pen parts in an envelope.
The envelope was hers."
"Well, I'd still like to know where that clip came from,"
I insisted. "This is just too weird for words."
Mr. Harmon was silent for a moment. "How about if we
go back to the topic I called about. What kind of pen do you
want?" he said.
"You didn't plant the cap there, did you?" I demanded,
suddenly wondering about his honesty. My question shocked
He just sighed. "No, Jason, I didn't. My guess is that
the clip was already in the envelope when Anita put your pen
parts in it."
"You think Miss Carswell planted it?"
He laughed. "No, she didn't plant it." He paused
for a moment and then said, "You certainly think a lot
of her, don't you?"
"Anita is sort of a hero to you, isn't she?"
"I don't know. I think she's admirable, if that's what
"I agree, but she isn't perfect. She is also getting
old and her mind isn't as sharp as it used to be. Her house
is full of pens and pen parts lying around in all sorts of
boxes, bags, and envelopes. She probably picked up an envelope
with a clip in it and didn't notice. She was so triumphant
about finally getting some evidence to back up her suspicions
that she got careless."
"I find that hard to believe," I told him, realizing
that the suggestion made me really angry.
"Jason, get her off the pedestal! She makes a better
friend than an idol! And I think you two can be friends, but
not if you treat her like some kind of superior being. Now
what kind of pen do you want?
"I liked using Miss Carswell's Sentinel," I said.
"Did she tell you she let me use it before the hearing?
I didn't even recognize her."
"Well," he said, "a snorkel-filling, Sheaffer
Sentinel with a triumph nib shouldn't be all that hard to
find or all that expensive. It'll hardly make a dent in Willard's
salary either. Too bad! Are you sure that's the pen you want?"
Suddenly I thought about the pretty pen that I'd seen in Miss
Carswell's pen case, the one she'd used after the Sentinel
to take notes during the hearing.
"What's that pen Miss Carswell has?" I asked Mr.
"Which pen?" he replied.
"Not the Sentinel or the one with the stainless cap,
but the other, beautiful one."
"Jason," he said, sounding a little impatient, "Miss
Carswell owns nearly three hundred pens."
"She had three with her during the hearing. The one I'm
talking about was turquoise blue, sort of marbled, and absolutely
For a moment Mr. Harmon was silent. "Well, I have to
admire your taste, though I doubt the school board will pressure
Tom to buy you a vintage, turquoise, Waterman Patrician."
"Anita Carswell's beautiful pen is a turquoise Waterman
Patrician. A somewhat rare and very expensive vintage pen.
It was the last gift Dora gave her. She carries it with her
all the time."
"Miss Clarence, the art teacher. Your mother probably
told you about her."
"Mom mentioned her, but she doesn't like to talk about
anyone or anything connected to Miss Carswell. I think she's
scared of her."
I could hear Mr. Harmon's laugh over the phone. "I wouldn't
be a bit surprised," he said. "Most everyone in
this town is."
"I noticed," I told him. Then trying to show that
I didn't really have her up on a pedestal, I added, "She's
just an old lady who tells the truth and expects everyone
else to. Why is that so scary?"
He didn't venture an answer, but then I hadn't expected him
to. I knew that people like Grandma Lore Harnisch and even
my own mom were uncomfortable with Miss Carswell because she
seemed so different from them. But she didn't' seem different
to me. She, Mr. Harmon, and I were all the same: we loved
fountain pens. But I still wondered about that clip.