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For The Strength of Youth

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Submitted by Steven ODell on 5 July 2007 - 11:51pm.

Chapter 10

"You know I could get into trouble for this, don't you? It's an invasion of personal privacy and you've given me no good reason to do so, Mr. Rollins."

"No good reason? Ah, yes...perhaps three hundred good reasons will be sufficient motivation." Perry peeled off three one hundred dollar notes and laid them on the desk in front of private investigator Rudolph Javits. Javits looked, but didn't touch the money.

"I'm not saying I’ll do it, but if I did, what would you do with the information?"

"Why do you care? You can help me and make three hundred dollars for a few hours of work or I can keep the money and use it in much more interesting ways."

The cold stare nearly caused Javits to shiver. He didn't know what Rollins meant for sure, but something told him he was relatively certain he didn't want to know, either. "Alright...." Javits said begrudgingly.

Rollins didn't hesitate for a fraction of a second. "Good. Call me as soon as you have what I want. And don't disappoint me, Mr. Javits." He paused only long enough to drive home the point with another icy stare and a meaningful poke of the finger in Javits' direction, then turned and closed the door behind himself.

Javits exhaled sharply and was shocked by the sudden relaxation that swept over him now that Rollins was gone. It was like having a painfully infected tooth removed. He only hoped that this one did not flare up again.

Jenna had missed a day of studies, but being the exceptional student that she was, she got notes from others whom she knew to be thorough and she read the old and new assignments alike. When she returned to class, she was fully prepared. Things had changed for her, without doubt, but she was not the kind to run away from challenges. She had a goal—a dream. She intended to pursue it in spite of the new stresses in her life. Knowing Tom loved her and that the Jamesons would support her meant everything in the world to her. It gave her hope and courage. She would not run—not even from the likes of Perry Rollins. It would be business as usual; or rather, life as usual.

Jenna's psychology classes were always of great interest to her. There were so many ways people responded to stimuli and so many ways in which to apply the lessons in everyday life. The average person would go through life in an act/react manner, but Jenna was motivated to learn to use the knowledge she was gaining. She was especially interested to understand the aspects of abnormal psychology. This newest turn in her life had driven that point home even further. Perry was anything but normal. What worried her was the nagging feeling that she had not seen the last of him. He had already proven himself to be unpredictable. Jenna decided that perhaps she'd better jump ahead several lessons and see if she could understand him better.
Tom knew instinctively that Perry had every intent to be a pain in his and Jenna’s lives and backsides. It would certainly pay to follow the old adage, "Know thine enemy." Perhaps those who might know him best would be the greatest assets at this time.

As Tom strode through the doors of the local police precinct, a young lady standing nearby watched him closely. Arriving at the desk, Tom began to ask questions regarding the Rollins family and specifically Perry Rollins. At every turn it seemed he received less than he would have liked. Finally, the officer behind the counter breathed a sigh of exasperation and, wringing his hands, stated with an air of finality, "Believe me, mister, I could spend hours telling you about those people, but legally I'm not allowed to—especially as an officer of the law. I honestly wish I could help you, but I can’t, okay?" That seemed to be the end of it and Tom thanked him politely and turned toward the door to leave.

"Perhaps the librarian could help you in your search." Tom spun and looked questioningly in the direction of the voice. It was a lovely young woman, mid to late twenties. Her hair was as golden as Jenna's was black.

"Good idea," the officer chimed in and gave Tom a look of encouragement laced with meaningful direction. It was mostly unspoken, but nonetheless understood and Tom nodded his thanks and the officer broke eye contact and returned to his work.

"I'm sorry, miss...do I know you?"

"Not really. I was at a party you crashed awhile back." She smiled as she said it, waiting for him to squirm, but he smiled back and nodded his head in resignation.

“Guilty as charged. I'm Tom Baird and you are...?" He extended his hand to her tentatively.

"Sheila Balfour...at your service." She locked eyes with him and spoke the last three words more meaningfully than expected. Tom almost did squirm this time and decided it best to play dense and let it slide by as if unnoticed. "Good to meet you, Sheila. Do you remember every man who crashes a party?"

She laughed softly. "No, not all of them. Just the ones that catch my eye."

This time there was no ignoring so overt a compliment. "I'm flattered, to be sure, but if you were indeed at that party as you claim, you'll also know why I was there."

"Yes, but I thought you might be too much a gentleman to raise that issue." She sighed tragically, in mock anguish.

"I retract the comment, then. Please forgive me." Tom smiled widely. She was charming and unabashedly playful, there was no doubt. Had he not met Jenna first, he may have been sorely tempted.
"Well, alright. I forgive you—this time. But, don't let it happen again, okay?" Her smile was back and it was infectious.

"So, Sheila, you suggest I speak with the local librarian?"

Yes, let's get out of here, shall we?" Without waiting for an answer, she turned and left the station. On the street she paused and waited for him to catch up with her.

"What brought you to the police station today?" Tom was genuinely interested.

"Just a matter of an annoying dog. Nothing too serious, really. Anyway, the reference librarian has a lot of information that you'll be interested in and has no reason to keep it from you. In fact, she’ll have every reason to help you, I’m sure."

"You know this person intimately?"

Not that intimately," she grinned suggestively.

"That's not what I..."

"I know what you meant. She's my aunt. She has no love for the Rollins family. She's been collecting anything and everything she can on them. I think she knows more about them than they do."

"Why the interest? I mean, why so deeply?

"Let's just say that she doesn't like the way they do things and the way they treat people." She bristled visibly.

"Okay, sorry I asked."

"No, Tom; don't get me wrong. I'm not chewing you out. I just react to what I've seen and heard, the same as any other person. And from what I've come to know of that family, it could turn my stomach."

"That's the impression I'm getting, too."

The walk to the library was short and both Tom and Sheila left their cars near the police station, preferring to enjoy the beauty of the day. Nothing was out of the ordinary until a young man stepped from the alleyway between two buildings ahead of them. He was twenty-five or more feet away and neither Tom nor Sheila thought anything of it until he suddenly raised a camera, snapped their picture and disappeared again behind the building. In as much time as it took to Tom to wonder aloud and for Sheila to reply, they reached the corner and peered down the now empty alleyway.

"Wow, that was strange," Tom stated frankly.

"I'd guess it was some college kid either fulfilling an assignment or just having fun," Sheila replied.

"Perhaps he's been stalking you and I just happened to get in the way," Tom said matter-of-factly.

Sheila grinned and asked, "Was that a left-handed compliment?"

"Uh...." was all he could manage, looking befuddled and speechless.

"Never mind. Here we are," she said as she climbed the library steps.

Tom sensed that she fully enjoyed his discomfort and he felt all the more foolish for it. Why was he at a loss for words with this woman that he had no love interest in and yet he felt so assured now with Jenna, the woman of his dreams? He shrugged mentally and began ascending the stairs behind Sheila.

Inside, Sheila smiled and waved quietly at the woman behind the front desk and proceeded purposefully to a place in the far corner of the library, where an attractive and pleasant-looking woman sat behind a desk alone. As she looked up and saw Sheila, her eyes brightened and she broke into a wide grin. Standing quickly, she came around the desk to meet Sheila and embraced her strongly and affectionately, exchanging short pleasantries.

"Aunt Karen, I'd like you to meet Tom Baird. Tom, this is my favorite aunt, Karen."

"Yes, we’ve met before. You’ve helped me do some of my research.” Trying to be cute and charming, he added, “Any favorite aunt of Sheila's is a favorite aunt of mine, too."

As Tom extended his hand to her, Karen cast an aside glance at Sheila and in a mock whisper said, "Charming as well as handsome. I don't know whether to take him up on his offer and adopt him outright or just steal him from you right now and be done with it."

Tom felt the blood gather in his face and his temperature rise as he began to grow red.

"Well, Aunt Karen, I'm sorry to say that he isn't mine to steal from. Not yet, anyway." She winked and they both turned to watch Tom's already red face as it now deepened in color.

It was evident to Tom that overt flirting was a family trait. Nor did it escape him that both were now amused at his uneasiness. A spontaneous thought sprang to his mind that these two women would be a lot of fun on a double date, but realizing that he had not pictured another man in the scenario, Tom just as quickly pushed the idea aside. How embarrassing, he thought. A typical male fantasy to be sure, but somehow disturbing, nonetheless. Tom was glad for the change of direction in the conversation when it came.

"So, what brings you down here, darling?"

"Tom needs your expertise, Aunt Karen."

"Well, I thought he would never ask!" She smiled wickedly and winked at him and he again began to blush. This was not going to be an easy way to get the information he needed, Tom concluded.

"Maybe we need to give him a rest, Aunt Karen. Don't want to wear him out all in the first day, do we?" She grinned, but not at Tom this time and proceeded to tell Karen of the need for whatever information they had on the Rollins family. Karen lit up like a Christmas tree at the mention of the name, but there was also an underlying air of determination that was apparent even to Tom. Turning again to her desk, she stooped to retrieve a thick file folder from a lower drawer. Tom felt the blood rush to his face once again as the neckline of her loose summer dress fell away from her body and he received a clear view of her more than ample bosom. He averted his eyes, but not before Sheila discovered the reason and remarked softly, "This is just not your day—or is it?" The humor at his expense was again made plain and Tom wondered if he should just go home now and avoid any further embarrassment. Since his feet would not seem to move, he just refrained from answering, from looking and from anything he thought might get him into further trouble.

Karen opened the folder and began to spread the contents across her desk. There seemed to be little specifics there; mostly newspaper articles touting their good deeds for the area and so forth, but she acted as if what she had collected might be of the gravest importance. Her suddenly upturned eyes now riveted Tom into rapt attention.

"This piece is the keystone of the whole thing. It is the pinnacle of my research." Her finger poked at the sheet repeatedly, but her eyes never left Tom’s for a second, until Tom could not help but begin to show his discomfort again. These were truly intense women, he reflected. Maybe more than he could handle. Karen continued, "If I can prove what is written here, I could have Perry Rollins put away for life. It's too late to get his forefathers, but not him—and he's the worst of the lot." She now stared at the single sheet to which she had referred, silent and unmoving.

"May I?" Tom asked.

"Yes, yes. Of course." Karen handed the single leaf to him and watched expectantly as he read every word, every paragraph, his mouth falling open further and further as he continued. She nodded knowingly, obviously pleased at his response.

Tom finished reading and looked up at Karen, stunned and speechless for nearly a full minute. When he finally gathered his wits and composure, he blurted out, "You think this is true? It's incredible—it's monstrous!"
Karen again nodded, this time more emphatically and, while cautioning him to be quiet in the library, reached for the paper and returned it to her folder. The others were left open for Tom's perusal, but he was too absorbed in thoughts of the first of his readings to pay the slightest heed to any others right now.

Tom found that he was scarcely breathing as he left the library to return to his car. If what he'd read was true, it could indeed put Perry Rollins away for the remainder of his natural life. If it was not true, then to accuse without positive proof was very dangerous. Though he was more beast than man, Perry would still be considered innocent until proven guilty, just as any other person.

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