Janie followed Walter down the hallway to an office with the words ‘Principal Ward’ etched into the glass. He pushed the door open and walked in. The secretary, an old woman with white hair, horn rimmed trifocal glasses, and a weathered face darkened by the sun sat behind a desk.
“Walter,” she snapped curtly, “what brings you by here?”
“Hello, Ms. Thelma. This is Detective Janie Temple. She has some questions…”
“Principal Ward is out.”
“Okay. Maybe you can help her.”
“I don’t see how.”
“Janie, just ask your questions. Thelma has worked here for over forty years.”
Thelma glared at Walter but said nothing. Janie cleared her throat, and asked, “Do you remember a young woman who came to school here named Sue-Anne Traylor?”
“Ma’am, we found her bones in the swamp. She was badly beaten and left for dead, and on top of that, she had a child out there that died too.”
“I said I didn’t know her.”
“No, you said you didn’t remember her.”
Thelma stood and pointed at the door. As she prepared to spew her anger at Walter and Janice, Principal Ward walked in.
“Um, Thelma. Who are these people?”
“Principal Ward, they are leaving.”
“No, ma’am. We’re not. Sir, I’m Detective Temple, and this is Deputy Walter Higgins.”
“Okay,” Ward stammered, “um, what can I do for you, detective?”
“Can we talk in your office? You know, away from Granny Grumps here.”
“Sure. Follow me.”
The two officers followed Principal Ward in, while Thelma glared at them. Walter closed the door, and then sat next to Janie.
“You’ve been in here more times than you can recall, haven’t you Walter?”
“Now, how can I help?”
“A skeleton was found in the swamp, and it’s identified as Sue-Anne Traylor. Do you remember her?”
“Ah, the poor girl. Of course, I remember Sue Anne.”
“Do you have any records of her?”
“We only keep records for so long. Then, they’re shredded. Sue Anne went to school here in the 80’s. Her documentation is long gone.”
“Okay. During our discovery, the medical examiner said she was pregnant at the time, and she gave birth in the swamp. The child died also. Do you remember who got her pregnant? Maybe who her friends were, or who she dated?”
“I’m not sure. If I’m not mistaken, Sue Anne and Charlene Travers was pretty close.”
“She’s a teacher here,” Walter interjected. “Isn’t that correct, sir?”
“Yes, she is.”
Janie looked around the tiny office. On the wall were two frames. One held a degree from Ole Miss, the other was Ward shaking hands with a red-headed man, who handed Ward a check for 100,000 dollars.
“Nice photo,” she said, motioning to the picture. “Who’s that with you?”
“Roy Darnell Carver,” Ward said. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped at his eyes.
“He’s something of a big wig around these parts, isn’t he?”
“Um, his family owns the most productive farms out here, and he is known for his generosity. He’s one of our most gracious supporters.”
“I see. Is Charlene available for us to speak to her for a few moments?”
“I believe she’s between classes, so I don’t see why not.”
“Okay. Where can we find her?”
“Probably out back in the smoking area.”
“Okay. Thanks for your cooperation.”
“You’re welcome, detective.”
Ward escorted them into the outer office, Thelma looked up from the phone, her lips curled back into a snarl, and Janie gave her a small wave.
Walter watched everything but said nothing. In the hallway, he turned right and once again, Janie followed him.
The smoking area sat in the back of the building, underneath two tall oaks, out of view from the students.
A lone woman with dark brown hair bounced her right leg and chewed at her fingernails.
“Hi,” Janie said, as she walked toward her. “Are you Charlene Travers?”
“I’m Detective Temple, this is Deputy Higgins.”
“Yeah. I’d know my own cousin.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t realize.”
“It’s okay. What can I do for you?”
“Well, your cousin and I are investigating the death of a young woman named Sue Anne Traylor. Principal Ward said he thought you two were close.”
Charlene ran a hand through her hair, and a tear raced down her cheek.
“I’m sorry, Walter. I can’t talk about this in front of you.”
“Okay,” Walter said, giving Janie a look and then turned and walked inside.
“She’s dead? How?”
“Um, she was beaten. Badly.”
“With a belt?”
“I haven’t got the report with me, Charlene, but yeah. I remember something about a belt in it.”’
“He gave her the dun, dun, dun, dun-duh.”
“I’m sorry? What is that?”
“Um, if you didn’t do what he wanted he would head butt you into submission. He called it that.”
“Who did this?”
“Roy Darnell Carver. The patron saint of this crappy town.”
“Did he date Sue Anne?”
“He didn’t date anybody,” Charlene laughed bitterly. “Roy took what he wanted, and when he was done with you…”
“Did he, um, take you?”
“Yes,” Charlene answered shakily, trying to light a cigarette but failing miserably.
“I was knocked up by him.”
“I went to Jackson and had his seed cut out of me.”
“Charlene, I’m so sorry.”
“I killed an innocent baby, but I couldn’t bear the thought of bringing another Roy Darnell Carver into the world.”
“Was Sue Anne pregnant with his child?”
“Half the school was pregnant by him, but yes, to answer your question, he got her pregnant.”
“Why has no one ever…”
“You don’t know what he means to this town, to this school even. He knows you’re here asking questions about Sue Anne, and you’re not even gone yet.”
“The people of Angie protect him. They couldn’t care less what he does as long as the money keeps rolling in.”