Her Last Word

Page 25


“Kaitlin Roe to see Dr. Margaret Williams. I’ve an appointment.”
“She’s expecting you.” The front door latch clicked open, and she entered the school. Smells transported memories better than sight or sound, and as she closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath, she could almost imagine the last fourteen years had melted away and nothing but happiness and hope lay before her.
Without glancing at directional signs she walked the hallway and ducked into the second door on the right that was still the office. Once inside, she introduced herself to the principal’s secretary, who escorted her to the end of the hallway.
Dr. Margaret Williams rose from behind an old desk to greet Kaitlin. Kaitlin remembered Dr. Williams, who hadn’t changed much in the last fourteen years. For such a large title, Williams was a tiny woman with dark hair, wire-rimmed glasses, and a warm but slightly wary smile. She ran a tight ship and was loved by both the students and the alumni.
“Thank you for seeing me, Dr. Williams,” Kaitlin said, extending her hand.
“I’m always glad to visit with alumni. You said on the phone you’re making a documentary about Gina Mason.”
“A podcast. Gina and I were both students here at the same time. She was a senior. I was a sophomore.”
Her smile sobered. “Of course, I remember you both. Tragic case.” Dr. Williams motioned to the seat in front of her desk. “Please, sit. What can I help you with?”
Kaitlin lowered into the seat. “I need to know what happened to Gina.”
“That’s noble. How will a podcast help?”
“My hope is the piece will refocus the spotlight on her. Someone knows something. Maybe enough time has passed and the truth isn’t so guarded.”
Knitting her fingers together, Dr. Williams leaned forward. “Well, I’ll do whatever I can to help.”
Kaitlin flipped to a clean page in her notebook and turned on the recorder. “I don’t have access to any police files, but I’ve read every article ever written about the case. You were interviewed by the police and media, correct?”
“I was. I joined the staff in January 2004, so I was here for the spring semester and onward. I got to know her quickly because she always stood out. To refresh my memory, I did pull the 2004 yearbook. Gina was very accomplished. I was a chaperone at prom when she was crowned queen. Her prom date was another senior, Tom Davenport. They were such a handsome couple.”
Kaitlin scrawled down Tom’s name as a reminder to call him next. “They broke up right after graduation. I lost track of him when I moved back to Texas. What’s he doing these days?”
“He returned for the ten-year reunion a few years ago. He’s a money manager. Doing well. Has an office here in Richmond on Main Street.”
Gina had downplayed her breakup with Tom, saying it was mutual. “Time for us both to go to college with a fresh start.” Like Kaitlin, the police had ridden Tom hard. “Was there anyone who didn’t like Gina?”
“Not that I knew of. She was a lovely, sweet girl.”
“When was the last time you saw Jennifer?”
Dr. Williams frowned. “That poor girl. Last year’s Saint Patrick’s Day fund-raiser. That class was always good about reunions, I think because of Gina. We all had a moment of silence for her.”
“Did Jennifer have a date?”
“She did. An engineer, I believe. But I don’t remember his name. I do remember she looked nervous. I think coming back here was never easy for her after what happened.”
“What about Erika?”
“She was very reserved. The girl I had remembered was outgoing, but sadly she’s not anymore.”
“And her husband, Brad?” Kaitlin asked. “Did he come to the event?”
Some of the smile faded. “I did see him, but they left early. I didn’t get a chance to visit with them.”
“She said she wasn’t feeling well.”
“Do you know anything about a student named Randy Hayward? I know he was before your time. He’d have graduated with Brad Crowley and Derek Blackstone.”
“I know of him, but we never met. I can tell you Derek has been a real friend to Saint Mathew’s.”
“He’s a lovely man. He’s an attorney and done quite a bit of pro bono work for the school. If you go into the meditation garden, there’s a memorial bench in Gina’s honor. He paid for it. In fact, he’s receiving a service award this afternoon. He should be arriving at the school soon.”
She remembered Blackstone. He was a tall, moody man who’d dated Ashley. “Good to have such a strong alumni network.”
“We’d love to see you at your next class reunion. You’re welcome to attend this afternoon’s fund-raiser.”
“I was only here my sophomore year. I never graduated.”
“That doesn’t matter to us. Once you’re a Saint Mathew’s student, you’re always one.”
“Thanks. I might try to come by this afternoon.”
Dr. Williams removed a VHS tape from a drawer. “I did find this when I was looking in the archives for the old yearbook. VCRs were state of the art when the tape was made, but there are still a few machines around to play it.”
“What is it?”
“A video of Gina. We have a VHS player in the teacher’s lounge, so I watched it. She made it right at the beginning of senior year. It made me smile and cry. We can go up there now and see it, if you’ve time.”
Kaitlin accepted the tape. It had been fourteen years since she’d heard Gina’s voice. And she wasn’t sure how she’d react. “I can get a video player at the university. Thank you. Is there anyone else here at the school who might have known Gina?”
“We do have a teacher on staff who graduated about the same year as Gina. Angela Baxter. She’s here early like me to set up for the fund-raiser. We can ask her if she’d be willing to talk to you.”
“That would be great. Mind if we do it now?”
“Sure. I’ll walk you to her classroom.”
Dr. Williams led Kaitlin up a flight of stairs and along a hallway decorated with glittering paper shamrocks. She paused at a door and knocked. “Ms. Baxter, I’ve a visitor who’d like to speak to you.”
Angela Baxter capped a red pen and rose up from behind a wooden desk covered with stacks of papers. Bright images of rainbows painted by the students splashed the walls of the room, and large windows overlooked a student vegetable garden. In the rear of the room was a display of ten science projects, all contenders for first place in the school competition.
Angela came around her desk, and her smile froze when she looked at Kaitlin, who still didn’t fit the Saint Mathew’s mold as an alumna or parent of a prospective student. Still, she extended her hand and introduced herself. “Angela Baxter. I remember you.”
Kaitlin accepted her hand, remembering the girl had been a gossip in high school and was always in everyone’s business. “Angela. You look just like you did in high school.”
Angela grinned. “You don’t look like you’ve aged a day. Are you here for the alumni event?”
Dr. Williams explained why Kaitlin was there, and Angela’s bright smile sobered. “Sure, I’d be glad to talk about Gina. I’ve a few minutes now.”