The office door was closed, and for a moment. Dr. Larry Fleinhardt hesitated.
He had seen Charles teaching his first class this morning when he walked by the lecture hall, he knew that he was on campus today. He read the sign again. Yes, these were posted office hours. Yet Larry had never, in all his years of working with Charlie, seen his office door closed.
"He's gone?" Amita sounded confused from the position she had just assumed behind him. "Wasn't this the day we were all going to lunch?"
Larry turned and looked at Amita. "Perhaps he's in conference with a student who requested privacy?"
She shook her head. "No, even then he leaves the door unlatched, ajar a few inches. He says it's for claustrophobia."
Larry rubbed his head. "Yes, I remember. More accurately, I remember the time I closed the door behind me as I was leaving. Four years, seven months and 13 days ago, I believe."
Amita smiled. "Had a bit of a reaction, did he?"
"Mmmmm. Well, I suppose we could try knocking?"
He turned back to the door, raised a loosly formed fist tentatively. There was no response to his knock, and he turned back to Amita, who had a cell phone to her ear. "He's not answering the office phone," she said. "I guess he forgot." She snapped the cell shut. "Must have gone to lunch with someone else."
"Surely you will not abandon me as well?" Larry lifted his eyebrows at Amita.
"Of course not, Larry," The two headed off down the hall. "Deli or campus?"
"Need you even ask?"
He heard the conversation at the door. He sat with his back to it, looking out the window, but he still heard. So his claustrophia was a well-known weakness to his friends. Great.
He watched the students and faculty traversing the sidewalk below. This was his world. He was comfortable here. He hadn't always been. When he was so obviously younger than everyone else…high school especially had been difficult. Not only did he have to contend with bullies and classes that weren't difficult enough to challenge him, his own home was a war zone. His parents were arguing about which university offer he should accept, where he should live, whether or not his mother should go with him for the first few years. His brother, star of the school baseball team, was indifferent at school and angry at home…like he had been last night.
College had been better. It was a relief to be away from everyone's anger, and the kids there didn't seem to care as much about his age. The classes were actually hard. But he knew that his mother was sad, wanted to be at home with his father and Don, so he hadn't been really happy either.
Now that he was starting to look like he could at least be a student, if not always a doctor, he was comfortable. He enjoyed the world of academia. It excited him. The squeak of a Dry Erase marker on a white board. The smell of books. The fact that almost any conversation he entered could turn into a cerebral discussion that could be extended for days. The student whose face would turn from absolute confusion to comprehension during the explanation of a difficult theory.
But what else had he ever done? Was he too safe, here? Even his friends found him predictable and neurotic.
So, yeah, he could see what Don was saying — at least what he had started saying, before he turned ugly. What he said about the way he treated Dad, though, that was wrong. When he had bought the house, he didn't ask Dad to stay there so that he would have someone to take care of him. He just didn't want his father to be alone. If Dad took it upon himself to cook, and clean, that was just Dad…wasn't it?
And when he thought of what Don had said about Mom, nothing else in the conversation really mattered. The anger that seethed through him, whenever he thought of Don saying that he used Mom's memory, that he had needed her to death… Charlie could never forgive that.
Colby stood in front of Don's desk, open folder in his hand. "You're sure? This case is a natural for Charlie."
Don opened another drawer, trying to find the red pen. "I said no," he answered shortly. "We don't need Charlie on this."
Colby looked over his shoulder at Megan, who just widened her eyes at him. He looked back at Don. "But it's embezzlement. The suspects are all accountants. There are more numbers in this case than…"
Don slammed a drawer, opened another one. "Dammit, Colby, we have our own in-house experts! If you're having trouble understanding something, go to one of them!"
Colby took a step back, closed the file folder. "It's just that Charlie's so much faster," he said sorrowfully, trying his best to look like a lost puppy.
Don gave up on the right side of the desk, opened the drawer on the left. Then he kicked the puppy. "Just get to work, Granger! You're a federal agent. Show some initiative and stop trying to find the easy way out of everything!"
Don lifted some files to look under them, glared up at Colby and watched the other man slink away. Megan and David were sneaking him looks, and Don had taken just about enough. He looked back down in the drawer, and froze. Staring back up at him, from a small 3 x 5 frame, were Charlie and his Dad. He had taken the photo himself last year, the only time they had ever gone fishing together. It had been Charlie's idea, a surprise charter trip for their Dad's birthday.
He slammed the drawer shut so hard that it shook the entire desk. His red pen rolled off the edge.