Here it is, finally complete, there was a time when I thought I would never finish this story. I want to thank everyone who reviewed Morristown, it helped me start working on the story after an annoying illness sidetracked me this year. Also, to my beta reader... Sweetie, I want to thank you so much for your help and friendship these past few months
"What do you mean, Dunbar didn't come back?" Gayle Authier's icy voice made Jack Hughes cringe. "He went to the mall with you, but he didn't come back." Hughes felt the walls of his safe little world closing in on him.
"This whole session has been a disaster." Authier clenched her hands tightly as she paced in front of the staff.
"Who was the last to see him at the mall?"
"I was, Gayle," Sam spoke up. "I told him where the cab stand was, followed him and left once he was safely in a taxi."
"So you can't remember which cab company picked him up?"
"Dunbar is a grown man, a police detective; we have to be able to trust he can get in a taxicab." Sam put his hand on Gayle's shoulder, "Jim was a bit sleep deprived, but I'm sure he could manage to choke out 'Take me to the Seeing Eye' even if he were half dead."
Milt Gibbs spoke up next. "We have to contact the police. The man was extremely sleep deprived and if he got involved with an unscrupulous driver he could be anywhere."
Authier dropped into her desk chair and picked up the phone, "I'll call the police. Sam, organize a search party. He may be close, but disoriented. Why that man decided to take a taxi is beyond me."
"Ms. Authier, the State Troopers are here. They're talking to Anita Shaw. I'll get them right now." Hughes was out of the room before the woman could tell him to wait.
"Well, the rest of you, get moving, before the roof falls in on all of us." Authier's eyes fell on her trusted second in command. "Sam, take care of it."
The staff trooped out after Coleman; at least that is how it seemed. Milt Gibbs hung back and was the last to the door. He wanted to tell Authier that Sam was playing down just how disoriented Jim Dunbar was, but Coleman had worked at the Seeing Eye years longer than he had. Coleman had to know more about teaching the blind than Milt; so, ultimately, he just did what Sam told him to.
Up. He finally got up, but he slid right back on the bench.
There was a noise behind him. Another one was walking through the trees.
Hank started barking again. He jumped and howled and pushed to the end of his leash, but no further. Hank knew he had to stay with his partner. Then the other man looked his way, dropped what he was carrying and ran toward him and his partner.
This was good.
Dunbar felt hands on his shoulders. "Mister, what are you doing out here?"
"'m tired," he managed to mutter.
"Wake up or at least get up." The solitary man looked at the barely coherent Jim Dunbar and shook his head. "Oh god, I can't leave any living thing out here in this cold. Come on."
"Hank, caa-nn-t leaf Hannk."
"Hey, I said I can't leave any living thing in this cold," the man muttered as he tried to help Jim. "I'll call the Seeing Eye."
"No," Jim grabbed at his saviour, "some…one… from there… lef' me. Call the local cops… aashk for Officer Millie." With that Dunbar blacked out.
My head hurts, god almighty my head hurts. Jim pressed his hands hard against his temples. He burrowed deep into the mattress and huddled under the soft blankets. Then someone grasped his hand; Jim clung tight to the comfort this stranger was giving him.
"Don't move, you're safe here," the young man's voice was reassuring. "You're in the emergency room at Morristown Memorial Hospital."
"Hank," Jim called. Immediately the guide dog was there, sniffing and nudging to make sure Dunbar was all right. Jim leaned over on his side and buried his hands into the thick fur of his partner. "Hank, you are such a good boy."
"He saved your life. I was out there refilling bird feeders when I heard Hank barking. You were just about passed out on a park bench. Now you're safe here, warmed up and awake. How are you feeling?"
"Like I've been hit by a Mack truck," he levered himself up on one elbow and extended his other hand.
"Hello, my name is Jim Dunbar."
His rescuer grabbed his hand, "Seth O'Brien."
Jim's eyebrows shot up. "You're not as loud as I remember."
"He isn't, is he?" the voice of Millie Berger surprised Jim, "I always had him pegged as a shouter and not a doer."
"It's not like your friend can read a protest sign," the soft spoken young man answered. "What I don't understand is what were you doing in the middle of the park?"
Jim finally relaxed, "Being murdered; evidently."
"Well," Millie leaned back on her heels, "whoever tried to kill you, failed; now we had better get the troopers back and get this taken care of."
"Gayle," Sam Coleman approached Authier in the foyer of the main building, "I have volunteers already searching around the campus and the police have cars covering the streets between here and the mall."
"Oh God, Sam, I've had students leave early, I've even had a student kidnapped by a parent, but I have never had a student die. Now I have one murdered and for all I know another one frozen to death on the side of the road." Authier turned and stared out onto the frozen landscape beyond the door. "It's been hours that Dunbar has been missing. Damn, I hate the cold."
Sam put his hand on Gayle's shoulder. "Less time has passed than you think, Jim was bundled up and Hank will keep him moving. Don't give up on him."
"Sam, you always make me feel better."
Sam finally managed to get away from the search party and go to the park where he had dropped off Jim. Dunbar wasn't where he'd been left. Coleman parked his car and went behind the storage sheds of the parks and recreational depot, scanning the rows of benches stored there for the winter. His head tilted back to watch the snow that was falling from the sky. "This is even better; nobody will find him before morning."
"I heard that," Seth O'Brien stepped out from between the buildings. "Even better that nobody finds who?"
"Oh, it's you." A smirk creased Coleman's face. "How did it feel to be arrested for murder?"
"You'll have to tell me, I was only brought in for questioning." Seth pointed to the side of the building. "You aren't blind, so I know you can read a sign that says Authorized Personnel Only. I'm a maintenance employee so I guess that makes you a trespasser."
"One of our students is missing and I'm part of the search party." Coleman slowly approached the young man.
"Be careful, Seth, Sam's gone from impulsive to calculating." Jim and Hank stepped forward, followed by Officer Berger and Troopers Kovacs and Carson. "Ashley was a crime of opportunity… and I'm betting a crime of passion too. Were you a notch on her bedpost, Sam, or were you someone she said no to?"
Sam deflated. His whole life was built around helping people and suddenly he was trying to kill… had killed someone.
"All she did was laugh at me," Coleman dropped to the frozen ground. "How could I kill her for laughing at me?"
"Hank, forward," Jim approached and then crouched down. "Sam, it's alright now. It's over… we can help you now."
Millie Berger stood with Jim Dunbar in the observation room and watched while Sam Coleman wrote out his confession.
"Thanks for the call; this is my first big collar." She shifted from foot to foot as she watched Dunbar sit and scratch the dog's head. "I just got one question: why'd he do it?"
"There are only two reasons to commit murder." Jim rubbed the bridge of his nose, trying to ease out the tension.
"Yeah, I know; either love or money," she said without pausing, "so which one is it?"
"Love, I think, but not the love you'd imagine. I think Sam Coleman loved his job so much that when Ashley Rush started seducing people there he wanted to protect the Seeing Eye school." Jim leaned back in the straight backed chair. "I listened to those tapes twice before I turned them in and later… later, anyone who couldn't bring himself to talk to a cop talked to me."
"Jim," Millie straightened up, "he's finished writing and is looking up at the mirror. He's motioning us in."
"Obviously he watches TV and knows someone is always back here. Go see what he wants." Jim listened as Berger left the room. Was this the swan song of his police career? "Hank, is this the end?"
The observation room door opened. "Jim, Coleman wants to talk to you."
"Officer Berger, don't play with me."
"No, he really does. Come on, before some over eager detective takes him to booking."
Dunbar stood, "Yeah, here I come; Hank, door."
"Hello, Jim," there was a rattle of handcuffs as if Coleman waved or extended his hand. "The first time I met you I said I was impressed; that hasn't changed."
"I wish I could say the same thing." Dunbar reached the table. "Ashley Rush was no saint, but she didn't deserve to die that way."
"I wouldn't have done anything if she hadn't laughed at me. She ridiculed me and everything about the Seeing Eye. We had helped her so much and…"
"I don't care what excuses you make about Ashley Rush, anything you might have said was negated when you tried to kill me. The next time I see you I'll be testifying at your trial." Jim turned around to leave.
"Promise me one thing; promise me you won't let them stop you from being a police officer. You fight for it because if you do no one will be able to stop you." Coleman watched as Dunbar walked out of the interrogation room. "You are a cop, Jim. Never let the bastards get you down."
The four week training session was over and the students were packing and getting ready to go home with their new canine partners.
"Hey, Jim," the voice of Anne Peabody interrupted Dunbar as he was checking the dresser to make sure he had everything. "I found your friend wandering the halls looking for you."
"Hey, Detective," a familiar voice came from the hall.
Jim turned to the door. "Hey, Officer Millie, so you came to see me off."
"As far as I can tell, you were always a little off," laughed Berger.
Dunbar turned from his task, "Well, what can I do for you?"
"Actually, it's what I can do for you. I have news about Sam Coleman; he pled to the lesser charge of involuntary homicide. There's not going to be a trial so you won't have to haul ass back to New Jersey any time soon."
"Halleluiah," Anne laughed, "maybe I should leave you two alone now?"
"No way, Red, I need a chaperone with this aggressive woman here." Dunbar kidded Berger.
"Actually, you might want to sit down." Millie unfolded the printout she had been clutching tight in her hand. "I've got something to read to you… if you want to hear it?"
"Goody, a bed time story. Red, you'd better hold my hand in case this is scary." Jim tried to keep the mood light but the solemn way Millie Berger was acting put his teeth on edge. He settled on the bed and pulled Anne Peabody down beside him while Hank settled by his feet.
"This is a copy of the confession of Samuel G. Coleman. It is not pleasant after dinner reading, but I thought you might want to hear it." Millie watched Dunbar's shoulders tighten while his classmate took his hand.
"Here we go… my name is Sam Coleman and I have worked for the Seeing Eye for seventeen years. When I first met Ashley Rush she had been blind for barely a year. She was a divorce lawyer who had had acid thrown in her face by the husband of one of her clients. Ashley's own marriage was breaking up and she was very lonely and very afraid. I recommended she come to the school because she seemed to be a smart, funny and strong woman and I felt that a Seeing Eye dog would be the best thing for her to rebuild her life. The session was almost over when we first made love. I don't know if it was Ashley or myself who started flirting but in the end I take all the responsibility for the affair. My own marriage was in trouble and I let myself believe that being with Ashley was a good thing. In the end, however, I tried once more to patch things up with my wife. Ashley took this as abandonment and she changed for the worse. By the time she came back to the Seeing Eye for her next dog she had become a hard woman who punished men using sex as a lure. Then she would drop them the way she felt she had been dropped. I looked the other way because I felt any grown man who fell for this deserved what he got. It was when I found out she was going after our most vulnerable students, teenagers and a despondent woman, that I knew I had to act. There was an ice storm coming and Ashley had taken her dog, Teddy, out to relieve himself. I confronted her and tried to be calm and persuade her to stop these actions but Ashley only laughed at me and said she would 'do me real good' if I left her alone to her fun. I tried to reason with her, but she only laughed harder. I gave up and headed back to the building when she called me a mental eunuch who couldn't satisfy a woman now or ever. I snapped. There was a metal snow shovel by the exit door. I grabbed it, attacked Ashley and once she hit the ground I slammed the shovel into her neck. Teddy, her dog, rushed me but I hit him with the shovel, I thought he was dead but I now know I only knocked him out. I tried to clean the shovel off in the snow and then switched it with one by another door. Then I headed home, but never got there. I pretended to return out of concern for the school but I really wanted to see if anyone figured out if I had killed Ashley Rush. It was James Dunbar, that homicide detective from New York City who got too close to the truth for comfort and I thought I had to kill him too to protect myself. This is something I never would have believed of myself. I am not a murderer but I had killed in the heat of passion and now I planned to kill this man. Ashley was just a moment of anger but Dunbar was carefully planned. I am glad I failed to kill Dunbar. I freely admit I killed Ashley Rush. I will plead guilty and then let justice run its course on me. Signed Samuel George Coleman."
Berger folded the paper and looked at the two people sitting before her. Jim Dunbar looked like he was carved in granite but Anne Peabody was gently stroking the man's hand and slowly shaking her head. "I just wanted to let you know what was going down. You are a great boss, Jim, and if you ever need me feel free to call me. I'll make the hike to the big bad city for you any time you call."
Jim stood up and extended his hand. "You'll always be welcome in my home. Officer Millie, you are one good cop."
She shook his hand. "Thanks, Boss. I gotta go now, my shift starts at three. Bye for now." Millie took one more look at Dunbar; tall, blond and handsome; it was too bad he was married. Then she turned and went out the door.
"Hey Jimmy boy," Anne Peabody stood up and took her dog's leash, "I have to finish my packing. My flight leaves Newark at 4:30."
"Red, knowing you're there makes me want to go to Michigan." Jim reached out, found Red and pulled her into a tight hug. "I'll miss you."
"Don't worry," Anne laughed, "I've got family in Queens and I think it's time I visited them. My husband is retired and we can go back to where we first met and spend time remembering what it was like to be young and foolish in the east Fifties during the fifties."
"You'd better call me when you come."
"Of course, us jazz babies gotta stick together." Then the jangle of a leash and the closing of a door told Jim that one red hot mama had left the room.
After that, the day kicked into fast forward. The Seeing Eye didn't have graduation ceremonies because everyone was to return seamlessly to their lives. Goodbyes were quick but heartfelt, phone numbers and e-mail addresses were exchanged and even if some people never called there were always some who would.
It was seven o'clock when Jim Dunbar slipped his key into the front door lock. Automatically he took his white cane from his coat pocket and put it on the table by the door. He hung up his coat and, for the first time, unfastened Hank's harness and hung it next to his coat. Jim heard the soft steps of his wife come towards him so he turned to them.
"Christie, I'm home. Come meet Hank; he's home too."