Murder Most Grievous: Mr. Ditter

27 Oct



Murder Most Grievous

Mr. Ditter

By L. Stewart Marsden


James Ditter sipped on his cup of camomile tea and switched off the TV. News was boring. The same-old same-old: vitriolic political positioning, more global warming evidence that pointed to industry, automobiles and now — fracking.

“Who the frack cares?” he said aloud to the empty room.

It was time to prepare to leave. Five years was long enough in one place, and one couldn’t be too careful, in spite of incompetent local law enforcement. He had already mapped out his next potential locations and sent the necessary applications and paperwork to several high school principals in rural counties. Rural county schools always needed excellent educators. Only locally grown teachers provided any competition, and as it was, fewer and fewer were going into education. The state government had seen to that through its draconian cutbacks and reformation of teacher pay scales.

A large album lay on the coffee table before him, and he positioned it carefully in front of himself, opening the cover. In meticulous hand was the name Klerique M. Shaunasey. A black and white photograph was centered below the name. It was her senior portrait. As advisor to the yearbook staff, Ditter had access to all sorts of things. As an instructor, he also had access to private student information — family members, addresses, grades and test scores. All of which, in copied form, were as carefully attached to the subsequent pages of the album.

The book chronicled Klerique’s entire school records from pre-K on, with page after page of information.

Ditter marveled at her success. Here and there a slight dip in grades, as when her mother died and she went to live with her uncle. A blip when her brother was arrested and ended up in state prison. But, all-in-all, a commendable reflection of someone he thought was well above any other student at Higdon High. He had no doubt she would not only be accepted at Duke, but would be showered with scholarships and grants.

Added randomly to each page of data were photos of Klerique in other settings. A shot of her in her living room at night from the street. A photo of her strolling with friends in the local mall, ice cream cone in hand, all other shoppers slightly blurred. One of her bending to get a drink of water from the water cooler in the school hallway. Another of her at the state debate finals, arguing her point from behind the dais. Still another in the stands of a home basketball game, arms raised above her head, eyes bright and mouth fully opened, cheering for the Hornets.

“You were so complete!” Ditter whispered to the photograph.

He had hundreds more pictures on memory sticks. All taken unawares. Some at school. Most not, from secretive vantage spots he frequented, careful to be inconspicuous and unobserved by others. Only the best shots went into the album.

He had planned to let the album conclude at her graduation, after he knew she attained high accolades and was named valedictorian for her class. After she was accepted at Duke, and he could copy the school’s copy of her acceptance letter. After her accumulated scores and GPA information was available.

But there was a monkey wrench in the works. Sedgwick.

Up to this point in her life, Klerique had managed little to no involvement with boys. One of the true hopes Ditter projected on her was she would maintain that aloofness, and not get sidetracked. That hope was now dashed.

He saw it that Friday evening when she emerged from the library accompanied by Sedgwick, and drove with him to Dante’s. He watched it grow during that pre-relational pizza the two shared. He snapped the evidence when the two — now becoming more couple-ish — sat on a bench on Saturday, and when she suddenly pulled Sedgwick to herself and kissed him.

All that night he couldn’t sleep. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw them kissing — and in his dream states, even more. And he would awaken in horror, sweating.

Ditter closed the album, pushing it aside. He raked his fingers through his long hair. Also on the table was a stack of letters from various school principals. At the top of the stack were responses from schools in Chatham, Wake and Person counties, counties that bordered Durham County, where Duke University is located. All were positive to his queries regarding a teaching position. He calculated the odds to be in his favor for each — but having three options was logical. He never knew, after all. But his track record at securing a teaching position was excellent.

He also had, at the bottom of the stack, several responses from schools at the western-most part of the state. Plan B, he called it, in the unlikely event something went awry with his desired goal.

He culled those letters from the stack, and began to more seriously sift them. He reread the remarks of principals who, though he disdained them purely by reading their words, knew would not have the intelligence to investigate him to any depth.

“Dear Mr. Ditter,” one principal wrote, “I am very excited at the prospects of welcoming you to the Jeeter High School faculty! You’re resume is excellent and well-received by I and my assistance. Some has actually heard of your successes — ”

Blah, blah, blah.

Ditter took out his red pen and edited the letter. Your — not “you’re.” Me, not I. Assistants, not “assistance.” Typos? He thought not. Ordinarily he would have circled the mistakes, graded the letter and returned it with a ‘No thank you’ in prominent block letters.  But this was the ideal school for his next move. He pulled it aside for a later affirmative response.

Ditter stood and cradled his teacup, then walked to his bedroom. He laid the cup on his nightstand, and fell onto his bed. His depression seemed to grow with every throb of blood that pulsed to his head. He turned his eyes on the photographs. Hundreds of them. All of Klerique.

Then, sadly, he looked at the bookshelf against the wall. Dozens of paperbacks and hardbound books. His favorites. All read many times, not just impressive dust collectors. And on the bottom shelf, eleven photo albums with the same gray vinyl cover bindings. On the spines, marked in a careful hand, were ten different names. Alyssa. Barry. Charlotte. David. Evelyn. Frederick. Gloria. Halstead. Ianna. Jeffrey. All had come oh-so-close. Some, even to the day before graduation. But, alas and alack, thought Ditter, perfection is so, so very difficult to attain. Even the most protective armor has a chink. Every Achilles, its heel. Every Goliath, vulnerability.

His eyes teared, thinking how he loved them. How he invested so much of himself, albeit unknown to each, into their futures and possibilities. How he was, in fact, their greatest fan, and wanted only to see them succeed and reach their potentials.

One by one they failed. One by one the fatal flaws revealed. And, after one by one, he had to relocate.

Six states in twenty-three years. He was becoming too old to do this. It was damaging to his health, to his constitution, to his mental well-being. It would soon show itself in his teaching, he knew. He would become like those other tenured terrors of the teaching trade, he called them. Old and shriveled. Cranky and post-menopausal. Curmudgeonly. Unable to pass on the passion of Shakespeare and Milton and Keats and Byron.

He grew more solemn, and choked back his emotions.

Klerique! he thought. I had so very much hoped for you!

And under the weight of his sadness, James Ditter finally slept.

* * * * *

Missed the first installments of Murder Most Grievous? Click here.

For the next installment of Murder Most Grevous, click here.

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 27 October, 2014


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