Disclaimer: Daria and associated characters are owned by MTV. This is fan fiction written for entertainment only. No money or other negotiable currency or goods have been exchanged.
Original characters and plot copyright Richard J. Lobinske. 2005.
This is the Thirty-Third story in the Falling into College series.
The Last Piece Falls
After opening the front door of her upstairs apartment, Daria Morgendorffer lifted a dark green animal carrier and lugged it inside, pulling the door closed behind her.
"Hey, Karen," she said to a young woman with dark blond hair who was sitting on the floor, surrounded by books and notes.
"Hey, Daria," Karen Myerson replied.
Daria sat on a sofa and placed the carrier on the floor, facing her.
Wiping her hands on a paper towel, Daria's old friend, Jane Lane, looked out from the kitchen. "Ah, you're back. How's our resident goddess?"
"She's still groggy from the anesthesia, but otherwise came through fine." Daria crouched and opened the cage, carefully removing a black cat with white forepaws and nose.
Jane tossed the paper into a trash can. "Let's hope she doesn't figure out she was used as a teaching aid."
Daria said to Karen, "I'm glad you told me about the Vet School's program for free spaying and neutering."
Karen shrugged. "Makes sense, vet students need hands on experience."
"I'll take it," Daria said as she sat on the couch. "All I had to pay for was the cost of her shots."
Jane came in from the kitchen. "And as a good Morgendorffer, you never let an opportunity to get something cut-rate go by."
"You make that sound like my parents rubbed off on me...wait, they did."
The cat sleepily held her eyes open and let out a weak meow.
"Fine, Bump." Daria started long, gentle strokes along the cat's back. "The guilt trip worked; I'll worship you for a while."
Jane leaned over the back of the sofa. "Damn, Morgendorffer, you are getting soft around the edges."
Daria looked up. "I still think you're getting glaucoma."
"Come on, Daria. You didn't think twice about bringing her home."
Daria sighed. "Maybe just a hair. Things never worked out for us to have a pet when I was growing up."
"Never?" Karen asked, incredulous. "No pets at all?"
Daria shook her head. "Longest we had an animal in the house was a lab mouse that I'd used in a conditioning experiment in tenth grade."
Jane said, "Poor mouse though."
"What happened?" Karen asked.
"The girlfriend of the idiot I was assigned to work with stole the mouse and let her psycho little brother keep it," Daria explained. "By the time I traded her for it, the poor thing was too terrified to do anything."
"I traded her boyfriend back. I got the better end of the deal."
Karen chuckled. "This sounds like that quarterback and cheerleader couple you've told me about."
"So, what happened to the mouse?"
"I'd heard one of the girls in our class, Scarlett, took the mouse home to take care of. Not really sure beyond that."
Jane said, "Oh, yeah."
Karen looked back at Daria. "That's it? No puppies? No kittens?"
"Nope. Not even a goldfish."
"Mom just never seemed that comfortable around animals."
Karen looked at Jane. "Please tell me you had pets."
"Did we ever, especially when Penny was in her animal rescue phase and brought home every stray she could find."
Daria said, "Jane and Trent had two cats when I first met them. We think Mystik Spiral's practices scared them away."
When the doorbell rang, Jane looked toward it. "I'll get it." She went to the door and looked through the spyglass.
A man in suit stood on the landing. Jane opened it a crack and said, "Can I help you?"
He smiled. "Ma'am, are you Ms. Daria L. Morgendorffer?"
"Who are you and what do you want?"
"Ma'am, I'm a licensed process server and I have a legal document for Ms. Morgendorffer." He reached into his pocket and opened his wallet. "My identification."
"Um...okay." Jane turned. "Daria, for you."
"I heard." Curious, Daria moved the cat from her lap, "Sorry, Bump."
Unhappy with losing a warm lap, Bump gave a slightly sharp meow.
Daria got off the sofa and went to the door. "I'm Daria."
"May I please see some positive identification?"
"Yeah, sure. I'll be right back." Daria went to her room and returned with her wallet open. "Here."
The server examined her driver's license and handed the wallet back along with a sealed, folded paper. "The District Attorney of Lawndale County, Maryland has requested this subpoena be delivered to you. Thank you for your cooperation, ma'am."
"Um, you're welcome."
He nodded and walked back down the stairs.
Daria opened the seal and read the enclosed subpoena. "I've been summoned to testify in the case of the State of Maryland versus Linda Griffin, Leonard Lamm, and Angela Li."
Jane said, "With Li and Lamm involved, it must be something with that Ultra Cola mess."
Daria read a bit more from the letter. "It is, and I did tip off Superintendent Cartwright about things. But how the hell is Linda Griffin involved?"
"A subpoena?" Karen said as she came over. "How crooked was that old high school of yours?"
Daria read some more. "Maybe even worse than we thought. I really think I need to talk to Mom about this."
Jane asked, "As a lawyer?"
"Yeah. It looks like there was a lot more going on with Ultra Cola than on-campus advertising." Daria went to her room and came back with her cell phone. "Might as well get this taken care of."
After using the speed-dial and waiting a few moments, Daria said, "Hi, Marianne. This is Daria Morgendorffer. Can I speak with my mother? It's important."
The legal secretary said, "Hi, Daria. Your mother's going through background material for a new client right now. She should be able to talk, hold please."
Marianne efficiently worked the office phone.
"Yes?" Helen Morgendorffer used the external speaker function to answer her office telephone.
Marianne said, "It's your daughter, Daria, on line two."
Helen punched a button. "Daria, how are you?"
"Hi, Mom. I'm okay, but..."
Helen narrowed her eyes. "But?"
"I'm going to need some legal counsel."
"Daria! Oh, God, what did you do?"
"I got involved in trying to right one of Ms. Li's wrongs and no good deed goes unpunished."
Helen cautiously picked up the file folder she had been looking through. "Go on."
Sighing, Daria continued, "I've been subpoenaed to testify to a grand jury against Linda Griffin, Leonard Lamm and Angela Li about that Ultra Cola mess, back when I was a senior."
Helen sat back in her chair in shock. "Oh, dear. I'm sorry Sweetie, but I can't help you."
"Mom?" Daria felt like she'd been physically hit. "I didn't do anything wrong, but I know enough from you that I should have counsel. Why can't you take time out of your schedule to help me?"
Helen looked at her newest client's name on the top of the folder, Linda Griffin, and sighed heavily. "Because taking you as a client would be a conflict of interest. This is...complicated."
Linda Griffin, the Vice President of Advertising at KSBC television in Lawndale, put down the telephone and said to her daughter, "Sandi, I'll be back in a few minutes. When I do, we're going to the bank to get you up to date on your college trust fund and what you can and cannot withdraw money for."
As soon as Linda closed the door, Sandi Griffin went to her mother's filing cabinets and began a quick search of correspondence. After a couple minutes, she wickedly smiled and went to the photocopy machine.
By the time Linda returned, the original was neatly folded in Sandi's pocket and the photocopy closed up in the filing cabinet.
"Paperless society my ass," Linda complained as she searched for a file folder in a cabinet marked "Correspondence." She flipped past several folders before stopping. "What's this one doing out of place?
When Linda pulled the folder out to move it, she noticed something odd about a corner of paper sticking out. "Why's this copy on plain paper instead of watermark?" Linda sighed and looked at the ceiling. "Damn. I told that idiot secretary that I wanted all my correspondence copies on paper matching the original."
She pulled it out of the folder and walked to the copier. "Better make a new copy." Her breath caught when she realized what it was. "Oh, no!"
After several minutes of carefully searching folders in the cabinet, she sat down at her desk, pale. "Somebody's taken the copy...dammit! I've got to get rid of the original."
"Yes, Mrs. Griffin. I understand it's frustrating, but you can't see them unescorted," Lawndale High School Principal Claire Defoe said over the telephone.
Annoyed, Linda asked, "Are they secured or something?"
"Yes, by court order. The only reason they're still here is the DA's office didn't have the storage space."
"For how long?"
"Until all of the investigations of Ms.Li are done."
"Ms. Defoe. This is a fairly minor detail; can't you just let me take a quick look to find it?"
"I'm sorry, but nobody can examine her files without a police officer or officer of the court present. Besides, nothing can be removed: it's all considered potential evidence. If you can tell me exactly what you need, the school will be happy to provide certified copies for your records."
Linda sighed. "Oh, no. Don't go to a lot of unnecessary effort on my part. I'll double check around here. Good-bye."
"Very well, then. Have a nice day." Claire placed the telephone back on its cradle. "That was very odd," she said to the empty room. "I have a bad feeling about this."
She opened a small address book and dialed a number, waiting patiently for an answer. "Good afternoon, Mr. Sullivan. This is Claire Defoe...I'm doing fine, but I had an odd request today that worried me. Could you come over and witness while I check some of Ms. Li's files?...Thank you very much." She hung up the phone and rubbed her eyes.
What else did that Ms. Li get into? And why does Linda Griffin want to see the files?
Mr. Sullivan was a striking man in his late thirties. His expertly groomed blond hair accented his tailor-fitted blue/black suit extremely well. Claire did have to admit that he was very enjoyable to watch, even if the wedding ring marked him as unavailable. "Mr. Sullivan, thanks for coming over."
"My pleasure, Ms. Defoe." He removed a key from his pocket and went to a file storage room in the back corner of the office. "What kind of request would be odd enough for you to want to check into it?"
"Linda Griffin was very eager to look for some correspondence she'd had with Ms. Li about the club her daughter was the president of. Something about helping her qualify for additional college scholarships."
"What's so suspicious about a parent wanting to get details for a child starting college next year?" He signed and dated a form on a clipboard hung from a hook next to the door and handed it to Claire.
Claire took the clipboard and also signed and dated the form. "Well, for one thing, Sandi's already in college."
Mr. Sullivan accepted it and placed it back on its hook. "Hmm. Maybe she's running a little short of money?"
"I doubt that. She never fails to remind me of how successful she is every time we have a conference about her son, Sam."
"You suspect something about the club?" He handed Claire a pair of disposable gloves and put a pair on himself.
"We could never figure out how that club got recognition. But, since they were mostly harmless, I hadn't worried about it until now." She put on the gloves. "Funny how I've accepted these as normal when looking at these files."
After several minutes of searching, Claire found a suspicious letter.
From the desk of:
Vice President of Marketing
Dear Principal Li,
In light of last fall's failure of the voter's initiative for additional education funding, I understand that your school is under monetary distress. I may have a solution to your current financial difficulties. I've enclosed the business card of Mr. Leonard Lamm. I think you will find his proposals to be quite rewarding for your school, as well as personally enriching.
Several more letters between Linda Griffin, Angela Li and Leonard Lamm were included in the folder. Claire read through them with increasing shock and handed each to Mr. Sullivan.
Mr. Sullivan read through them and jotted down a neatly written note. "Hmm. Ms. Defoe, may I use your fax machine?"
"Thanks." Mr. Sullivan went to the fax machine and sent copies of the letters and his cover note. "Now, I need to call Judge Marchese." He opened his cell phone and hit a speed-dial button. After a short while, he said, "Your honor, Assistant District Attorney Sullivan. Sir, I just faxed over some letters to support a search warrant for the offices of Mrs. Linda Griffin at KSBC." He held the phone away for a second. "Don't worry Your Honor; she's in advertising, not the news department...You should have it...I'll wait."
Mr. Sullivan tapped his foot for several seconds before speaking again. "Thanks, Your Honor. Can you also issue one for her residence?...I'll take care of calling the police...Thank you, Sir."
"Look, I still don't want to leave a message. Tell Mr. Lamm to call Linda Griffin as soon as he gets in. Yes, it's very important. Thank you." Linda hung up her phone. "And tell the idiot to turn his cell phone on."
"Damn slump in advertising. Why the hell did I keep this crap around?" Linda went to her filing cabinet and started removing folders. She took the small stack across her office to a shredder. "Need to make sure the trash is taken out tonight," she muttered and started feeding pages into the shredder.
"Argh," she exclaimed and answered the phone. "What is it?...What?...When?..."
Mr. Sullivan poked his head through the door. "Mrs. Linda Griffin?"
"Linda, the matching correspondence collected from everyone's offices constitutes powerful evidence against you. There's not a chance in hell we can get them thrown out since it was your call to Principal Defoe that resulted in the first discovery. We can pretty much expect an indictment from the grand jury when it meets next month. Ms. Li's already neck deep in trouble and could plea-bargain to testify against you and Mr. Lamm. My sources tell me that Mr. Lamm would turn on his own mother to save his hind end," Mr. Stevens told his client.
"What do you propose?"
"You may want to consider a plea bargain yourself."
"A plea-bargain? I was framed."
"Your signature on the letters is damning."
"Mr. Stevens, those letters all used an electronic signature. They can't prove I actually signed them."
"I send out dozens of letters a day; I don't have time to hand sign them. They're printed with an electronic copy of my signature. Somebody could have hacked into my computer and obtained the signature file."
"Probably somebody wanted to cover their rear."
He looked straight at her. "Hmm. We may be able to distance you from the evidence in that case. How's this? Somebody at the station wanted a little extra cash, so they set up the deal using your name. That person split the kickback with Lamm and Li, while leaving evidence to implicate you. Now, you've been suspended and could lose your job." He rubbed his chin and looked up. "I think filing a civil case against the station in conjunction with our defense is in order. To restore your good name and protect your career."
"What will a civil case do?"
"It will support a criminal defense case that you were framed and wrongly accused. Remember, we don't have to prove you were framed, we just have to raise sufficient doubt that you weren't. It also effectively opens up a second front against the prosecution. This will depend on an aggressive attorney to handle the civil case."
"I think I know just such a person." Linda grinned.
Marianne said over the phone, "Helen, Mrs. Griffin is here."
I wonder what that bitch is up to now? Helen answered, "Thank you, Marianne. Please send her in."
Linda walked in and took the indicated seat. "Helen, thanks for seeing me. Congratulations on your promotion to partner. I hear you're already making a name for helping women in the corporate world."
"Hi, Linda. I'm in a position where I finally can make a difference. What can I do for you?"
"I'm in need of your services."
Helen smiled at the thought of getting Linda in her debt. "What seems to be the situation?"
"Someone at the station has planted falsely incriminating evidence against me. The station is using this to replace me with a younger, lower paid, subordinate."
"Well, Linda. That is the kind of case I'm trying to get the firm to expand into. Tell me about the specifics."
"Um, Helen. I need to be up-front with you to start with. Early on, I did something rather stupid that could make things difficult."
Why does that not surprise me? "Please go ahead."
"The planted evidence was letters in my files implicating me in a complex kickback scheme involving Ms. Li at Lawndale High. When I found them, I panicked. I called the school to see if I could go look for copies, I told them I wanted some background information on my Sandi's old fashion club."
As if you didn't have every instant of that club already documented. "That doesn't look good."
"I know, like I said, I panicked. The new principal found the letters and they used that to get a search warrant my office and home. That's when I made my second mistake; I was trying to shred the letters in my office."
"Linda. That does make things hard. But, we may be able to work with it. Tell me about this kickback scheme."
"It involves a Mr. Leonard Lamm, who operates a soft drink distributorship for several companies and the former principal of Lawndale High, Ms. Li. In exchange for someone at the station getting Mr. Lamm in contact with Ms. Li, Mr. Lamm agreed to purchase large amounts of advertising time at the station for one of the brands he sold, Ultra Cola. Mr. Lamm also set up an exclusive contract with Ms. Li to have only Ultra Cola sold at the school."
Ultra Cola? Why does that sound familiar? I'm sure it will come to me later.
"The company provided financial incentives to the school, pretty standard stuff. In exchange, someone at the station provided Mr. Lamm with a kickback from the ad fees, which was presumably split three ways."
"That's awfully convoluted, Linda. Do you have any ideas of who was behind it?"
"Someone higher up at the station, probably to boost advertising revenues for the February ratings sweeps. If we can sell out our high-end time slots, it means we can increase our advertising rates for the lower end time slots. The station gets a double win."
"Hmm. And they have a pre-positioned scapegoat. Linda, I'll take the case."
"Thanks, Helen. I knew I wouldn't regret coming to you."
Present Day, Early November:
After remembering how she picked up Linda as a client, Helen sighed and told Daria, "It's a long story that I can't go into details with you about because of privilege. I can tell you that I'd been hired as Mrs. Griffin's lawyer in a civil matter associated with the case. So, Daria, I can't help you and because of your involvement, I can no longer be Mrs. Griffin's lawyer." Helen looked with trepidation in the direction of the other partners' offices. "This is not going to be pleasant on a lot of different fronts."
"Don't apologize. Sweetie, you've done nothing but the right thing all along. I should apologize to you. I completely forgot about you getting involved in that Ultra Cola situation at school. If I'd remembered, I would have turned Mrs. Griffin down."
"I guess that's what you call life. Can you refer me to someone, then?
Helen smiled. "I think I know just the person. I'll give her a call and make sure the billing goes to me."
"Your father and I will be waiting for you. And, Sweetie."
"I'm proud of you."
Helen hung up and immediately dialed another number. "Hello, this is Helen Morgendorffer. I need to speak with Linda Griffin right away."
After a moment for the connections to be made, she said, "Hello, Linda. I'm sorry, but I have some bad news."
"Helen, what is it?" Linda asked.
"I have to remove myself as your counsel because of a conflict of interest."
"My daughter has been subpoenaed as a prosecution witness in the grand jury proceedings."
"Those bastards! They're doing that to get you off the case! When the station says they're cooperating fully, it means they're trying to railroad me out of here!"
"She's a legitimate witness. Therefore, I can't be your attorney."
"Dammit Helen! Can't you see what they're trying to do?"
"I'm sorry, but the ethics on this are crystal clear. I have to completely remove myself from the case."
"Ooooh!" Linda slammed the telephone down.
Helen looked at the phone with a frown. "I don't like being played against my daughter." She picked up the file and flipped through the pages. "Damn, I hate this. I can see what you were trying to do, now, Linda."
She let out a deep, troubled sigh and looked at a photo of Daria. "I still can't figure out if your integrity would make you a great lawyer, of if your integrity would completely keep you away."
Linda yelled into her telephone, "What the hell are we going to do now, Mr. Stevens?"
Mr. Stevens coolly replied, "First, you're going to calm down and tell me what's wrong."
"I just lost my civil attorney! Because her bratty kid is testifying to the grand jury."
"Yeah, hmm. Helen's daughter was called by the DA's office to testify."
"Let me check something." After a minute, Mr. Stevens said, "This is only a minor setback."
"Yes. From my sources, this Daria Morgendorffer is well down on the list and will be questioned about events directly involving Lamm and Li. She's little threat to us."
"That's good, but what about the civil case?"
"We ask for a continuance while we search for a new lawyer. This will work in your favor. It will help to keep the civil case ambiguous but active enough to cast doubt when we go to trial."
"Great. I want to avoid a trial."
"Look, I told you before. There's a damn good chance all three of you will be indicted. We need to be planning ahead for the trial."
Daria answered her cell phone. "Hello."
"Daria, how good to hear you. This is Carol Murphey."
"Ms. Murphey?" Daria was honestly surprised to hear from the well-respected elder lawyer.
"Your mother made a referral."
Daria gave a small smile. "She told me she had someone in mind. I thought she was calling someone in the firm, but I'm much happier she called you."
"She explained the situation to me as much as she could. It really is best for you to have someone totally independent of your mother or her employer."
"Well, I'm scheduled to appear next Wednesday and the DA's office has requested a brief interview on Tuesday."
"That would be pretty standard if they haven't interviewed you before. I want to meet you before then."
"I hope you don't mind me being a little groggy. It's a six hour drive to Lawndale and almost another hour to your office in Baltimore."
"I'll meet you in Lawndale, since I also want to be present during the interview."
"We can catch up on details over lunch. How's the rest of the Honor Society doing?"
Daria gently smiled to remember the honor society that Ms. Murphey had helped set up. "Jane's one of my roommates here in Boston and is having the time of her life in Art College. Last I saw Mack and Jodie, they were both doing well."
"That's good. I noticed your sister was in this last year's group."
"She was; kind of surprised me."
"I look forward to seeing you, Daria."
Helen watched Jake as they ate dinner. "The other partners all about hit the roof when I told them."
She tapped her fork on the table. "But they got over it when I reminded them how much the firm's last ethics violation cost."
Jake Morgendorffer swirled peas around on his dinner plate. "It'll be good to see Daria next week. It's been too quiet around here with our girls gone."
She sighed, but gently smiled, knowing that Jake had heard that Daria would be home for a couple days. "Much too quiet."
"I miss our girls."
"Me too. I never thought I'd want to hear Quinn going on and on about her outfits."
"I miss reading the paper with Daria."
"Or listening to them bicker."
"Helen...what happened? Before we had our girls, I never remember things being this quiet."
"Well, we spent a lot of those years with one of us in school, studying and the other working overtime."
"Jake...we also talked to each other more often."
"Yes, we did. We also went out more. Jake, why don't we go out to dinner tomorrow night? Someplace nice and romantic."
"Hey! That'd be great."
"I'll go ahead and make reservations."
The following Tuesday, Carol waited on a bench inside a restaurant. She rose upon seeing the young, auburn-haired woman enter. "Daria, good to see you."
"Ms. Murphey, thanks again," Daria said to the bespectacled, older woman.
"Come on, I have a booth waiting for us." Carol moved a lock of white hair from her glasses and pointed.
Daria followed her while thinking, Jane is so going to appreciate the irony of us meeting in the Good Time Chinese after that Halloween party weekend before last.
Carol picked up a menu and sat. "I hope you don't mind; I have a weakness when I'm in town."
Daria followed suit. "Not at all, I have some good memories because of this place."
Setting the menu aside, Carol said, "Why am I bothering? I know I'll order the Mongolian beef."
Daria looked past Carol to the steam tables at one end of the room. "If you don't mind, I'll have the buffet. I haven't eaten since my boyfriend brought some take-out breakfast over at five this morning."
Carol raised one eyebrow. "You have a boyfriend willing to crawl out of bed before five in the morning?"
"Just to bring you breakfast?"
"We kind of have a running joke concerning cheap breakfasts."
Carol raised the other eyebrow. "As your counsel, I'd advise you not to make any incriminating statements."
Daria rolled her eyes. "The only thing incriminating is that he's crazy enough to put up with me. He drove over to my apartment from his dorm."
Carol snickered and shook her head. "Sounds like a nice boy, but I'll spare you any further interrogation on that subject. Now, tell me everything you know that might possibly concern the case."
Mr. Sullivan looked up in surprise when Daria and Carol walked into his office. "Carol Murphey? What a pleasant surprise."
"Good afternoon, Mr. Sullivan. I'm Ms. Morgendorffer's counsel," was Carol's response.
"I'm a little...wait...now I remember. Helen Morgendorffer presented the Lifetime Achievement Award to you at last year's Bar Association banquet." He looked at Daria and remembered more. "You're the young woman she spent most of the evening with."
Daria nodded. "That's me."
Mr. Sullivan pointed to comfortable chairs in the office. "Please, have a seat."
Once everyone was settled, he said, "Ms. Morgendorffer, I'm primarily interested in the events of the school review meeting where the Ultra Cola contract was discussed. I understand you were the only person to speak."
"Yes. Ms. Li called the meeting on Super Bowl Sunday, just before the game started."
"When did she publish notification of the meeting?"
"She didn't. She made an announcement on the intercom right after the last bell of the day the Friday before."
Mr. Sullivan grinned. "Interesting. No written notice?"
"No, she said they couldn't afford it."
He wrote a note on a legal pad in front of him. "Please tell me your recollection of the meeting." He wrote some more notes as Daria gave him a brief synopsis of the discussion that day, then said, "After a couple weeks, you contacted Superintendent Cartwright about the situation, correct?"
"I visited his office and asked him to look into it. At first he sounded reluctant, because Lawndale was the only school in the district not running a deficit. But, he did come to the school to look into it, right when Ms. Li had her breakdown."
"Ah, yes. Her breakdown."
"That was kind of scary."
"I'm sure." Mr. Sullivan continued, "Ms. Morgendorffer, bear with me, I'm trying to fill in an important hole in our evidence. Do you have any idea of why Mrs. Griffin would believe that something about this case had been removed from her files?"
Carol placed a hand on Daria's to calm the younger woman and said, "Ms. Morgendorffer potentially has information on this subject. However, in trying to help another, she gave advice that may have resulted in an illegal act. This was done in good faith and I ask you to keep it under consideration."
"This is the biggest hole in our case. If you have good information, Ms. Morgendorffer, you will not be in any trouble."
Daria sighed. "It may have been Mrs. Griffin's daughter, Sandi."
"Last August, I was visiting my parents when Sandi asked my advice on how to use the contents of a folded piece of paper against Mrs. Griffin."
"Did you see the paper?"
"No, I refused."
"What did you tell her?"
"Um...I knew that Sandi was holding a grudge against her mother and only had that paper to hurt her. I advised her to destroy it, walk away, and to rise above retribution. I think Sandi did, and I think it helped her."
"Destroying evidence. Now I know why you were concerned, but you don't have to worry, for yourself or Sandi."
Daria slid down an inch in relief.
"Okay. Why did Sandi Griffin come to you for advice?"
"I...uh... offered to help her earlier in the summer. As a result of my actions, Mrs. Griffin had Sandi fired from her job at the television station, for what was Mrs. Griffin's mistake."
"You're actions? Please explain."
Daria inhaled deeply. "I need your patience. I was really hoping not to talk about this. Last spring, I discovered that one of my old high school classmates had a website up with a bunch of clandestine pictures of me. It was very creepy."
"I can understand that."
"I noticed that one picture was a screen capture from some news footage taken..." Daria looked at Carol. "...Of the awards banquet where I met Ms. Murphey."
Carol's hand went to her mouth in surprise.
"I knew that KSBC had covered it, so I had an anonymous tip sent in to the network. Things filtered down from there and the website was taken offline. I found out later that the image had come from a tape taken home by Mrs. Griffin. One of her other children had traded it for some bootlegs."
"Uh, huh." Mr. Sullivan wrote on his pad.
"Mrs. Griffin somehow had Sandi blamed for taking the tape, so she was fired."
"Providing the incentive for her to break into her mother's files and steal something." Mr. Sullivan said, "In turn, you talked young Sandi into destroying the document and walking away from the situation."
"Did you suspect that there was something illegal in the letter?"
"Yes." Daria looked down at her hands. "Part of me was wary to get involved with it. But, more important, I could see Sandi and her mother getting into a cycle of revenge. Even though I've never gotten along well with Sandi, I...wouldn't wish something like that on anyone. So, I did what I did."
Mr. Sullivan stared intently at his notepad. "There...aren't many that could do that. This helps me fill in important gaps. Thanks."
"You do realize we will need to call in Sandi?"
"I was hoping you didn't, but I understand."
"One more thing."
"About the website. Who put it together?"
"Upch...Charles Ruttheimer III."
"I'm going to have that looked into, also."
"Just like old times." Daria looked at her parents' house as she got out of her black sedan carrying an overnight bag and her laptop computer. "Nobody home."
She unlocked the door and went straight up to her old room, pausing for a moment before looking in the open door. Inside were the carefully chosen greens and wood tones that Helen had redecorated the room with a year earlier. Daria closed her eyes and imagined the gray padding and sawn-off bars in the windows. She quietly told the room, "I miss you, old friend."
Daria placed the laptop on the desk and her overnight bag on the dresser. "Time to get out of these semi-nice clothes and into something comfortable." She removed the soft, low boots she wore in place of her regular tall boots, and with a wrinkled nose, her socks. "Twelve hours is long enough." Finally, she removed her green dress shirt and black skirt.
While pulling fresh clothes from the overnight bag, Daria yawned and shook her head. "Maybe a nap is in order." She looked at the bed and yawned again. "Okay, I hear you."
She put on an old nightshirt, then folded her glasses and placed them on the nightstand. After a relaxed, "Ahh," she slid under the sheets and was almost immediately asleep.
Jake called out, "Daria?" as he walked in the front door. The usual silence of the house was all he heard. He went upstairs and noticed the door to her old room partially closed. He went to it and said, "Daria?"
"Ungh?" Daria muttered and put her glasses on.
"Catching a few winks before dinner?"
Once Jake came into focus, Daria said, "Hi, Dad. Something like that."
She tossed the sheet aside and stood up. Jake gulped and turned to look down the hallway, saying, "Um, Daria. Think you might want to put something on?"
Still struggling to come to full consciousness, she said, "Dad? I've worn this for years."
Jake continued looking down the hall. "Uh...you look different." Jake leaned against the doorframe and shifted his gaze to the carpet. "Really...not like a little girl anymore."
Beginning to sense her father's discomfort, Daria looked down at herself. The shirt wasn't embarrassingly out of place anywhere, though her legs were bare from mid-thigh down. Slowly, it registered in her mind how much her feminine form was noticeable in the slightly tight shirt. Oops.
Moving in a wide arc, she went behind the door. "Sorry, let me get dressed and I'll meet you downstairs."
"Okay, Daria. See you downstairs."
Right after Daria closed the door, Jake wiped his brow. She really has grown up.
Jake was placing a skillet on the stove when Daria came into the kitchen. He said, "I'm just getting ready to whip up some dinner. I've got a new recipe I want to try out."
She made her way to the refrigerator and took out a soda. "Let me help."
"But, you're our guest."
"Think of it as making up for not helping much when I lived here." And I see the jumbo family-sized bottle of Egyptian hot peppers you have on the counter.
"In that case, sure."
They worked together in silence for a couple minutes, each still a little uneasy. To break the silence, Jake asked, "Long day?"
"I was up at four, drove for six hours to get here, and spent all afternoon with lawyers."
"Yep, long day."
"Now I know why Mom's sometimes so cranky after work."
Jake chuckled. "She's gotten better."
"I was hoping that making partner would let her relax some."
Silence continued for several more minutes before Daria said, "Dad, I'm sorry I embarrassed you up there."
Jake gave her a slightly sad smile. "I hope I didn't embarrass you."
Daria held her father's hand. "I've grown up more than you expected, haven't I?"
I've missed too many chances. He needs something. "Dad...part of me will always be your little girl."
Jake smiled and abruptly embraced her. "Thanks, Kiddo!" He just as abruptly looked worried. "Is it all right to call you that?"
Just a little more, he is your father. "Yes, yes it is."
"Oh, Sweetie! You helped your father with dinner? Thank you," Helen exclaimed as she came into the kitchen. "Just let me get out of these work clothes and I'll be right down to set the table."
She rushed upstairs and returned a few minutes later in casual clothes. As she went past Daria, Helen whispered, "Thanks, I notice the new peppers are unopened."
Daria whispered back, "All in a day's work."
"Thanks for calling me, Mr. Sullivan. This means I'll miss another day of class and another day of work, but I'll be there tomorrow instead. Oh, could I get that in writing? Some of my profs are real hard-cases about missing class." Daria nodded listening to his reply. "Okay, thanks. Good-bye."
Daria closed her cell phone and looked at the wall of her bedroom. "Wonderful, now I have a whole day to kill in sunny, exciting Lawndale. Or, I could just do my homework and not put it off until the weekend."
While waiting for her laptop to boot up so she could email her professors and boss that she wouldn't be in the next day, Daria thought about what to do. "Outside of Trent and Lindy, there's not a lot of people around here I want to see. Lindy's probably at work and I bet Trent's asleep. So, I guess it's homework."
The next morning, Daria stepped away from the witness stand with relief and resumed her seat as Sandi Griffin was called up.
Carol leaned close and whispered, "You handled yourself very well and make a hell of a witness."
Daria whispered back, "You mean all those years of honesty might have paid off?"
"And it's going to keep paying off for you."
Daria watched the three under investigation. Mr. Lamm seemed almost bored by the proceedings. Ms. Li's eyes darted from place to place, as if looking for an escape. Mrs. Griffin sullenly sat and watched Sandi, a slow burn of anger growing.
Mr. Sullivan faced Sandi. "A little background, please. You are currently a freshman at Northern Coastal State University?"
"How are your college expenses being paid for?"
"My parents set up a trust fund."
"Have you been applying for any additional scholarships?"
"Why would I do that?"
"Maybe your trust fund isn't enough."
"It pays for everything."
"So you mother would have no reason to look into your high school records for materials needed for scholarship applications."
Looking at his notes, Mr. Sullivan said, "Moving on. Last August, did you remove a letter from your mother's filing cabinet pertaining to a Mr. Lamm and Ms. Li?"
Sandi was nervous, but after she noticed her mother's cold stare, she braced herself and said, "I did."
Mr. Sullivan handed Sandi a reconstructed sheet of shredded paper in a plastic cover. "Ms. Griffin. Does this look like a photocopy of that letter?"
Bereft of emotion, Sandi gave it a glance. "Yes."
"Did you put a photocopy of the original in its place?"
"Yesterday, did you agree to be fingerprinted?"
Sandi looked down at the slight stain remaining on her fingers. "Yes."
"These," Mr. Sullivan held up a folder and said, "Are the results of fingerprint analysis of the photocopy. There are three separate matches for Ms. Sandi Griffin, showing that she had handled it. In addition, her prints do not appear on any documents recovered from Ms. Li's or Mr. Lamm's offices."
He set the folder down and said, "Why did you take it?"
"I wanted to get even." Sandi looked sad. "Mom forged my name on a videotape copy sign-out sheet at the station and got me fired. Just to cover her butt. She'd checked out the tape and forgot about it."
"This would be the tape that Ms. Morgendorffer described in her testimony?"
Mr. Sullivan turned to look at Linda. "Why did your mother bring the tape home?"
"It's kind of silly."
"Please, indulge us."
"It was some lawyer's banquet the Morgendorffers were at. Mom didn't recognize Daria, and brought the tape home to ask me who she was."
"And Ms. Morgendorffer has already detailed how the tape was traded to a third party and an image from the tape illegally used, resulting in the station discovering the tape was missing." He looked back at Sandi. "What did you do with the original letter you took?"
"Um...I tore it up at a rest stop on I-95 and threw it in the trash. Like Daria said."
"So you changed your mind about getting even with your mother."
"Yeah." Sandi looked at Linda again. "It felt good to tear it up." She shifted her eyes to her lap. "I didn't want to come here. I only wanted to not be hurt anymore."
Mr. Sullivan addressed the grand jury. "For the record, Ms. Sandra Griffin was subpoenaed to appear and did not volunteer." He turned to Sandi. "Thank you, Ms. Griffin. You are excused."
Outside the courtroom, Daria caught up with Sandi. "I wish I could have kept you out of this."
Sandi slowly turned. "That's okay. You did that honesty thing of yours."
"Mom screwed herself."
"Looks like it."
Sandi jogged away before Daria could say, "You're welcome."
Inside the near-empty courtroom, Linda's eyes burned with pure malice. "I don't believe my own daughter did that. After all I did for that miserable bitch."
"Look." Mr. Stevens told Linda, "It really is in your best interest to try a plea bargain."
"What the hell did you say?"
"They just completely connected the dots, and our civil case has been shot out of the water. The station now has a legitimate case to dismiss you completely separate from the kickback scheme. You should've told me about that videotape and forging your daughter's signature on the log. It's in your best interest to turn before someone else does."
Linda glared at him.
"We'll also be able to negotiate a better deal if you do it before the grand jury returns the indictment. At this point, I can guarantee one. If we move fast, we might avoid jail time for you."
Linda looked at Ms. Li and Mr. Lamm plotting with their lawyers. Resting her head on arms folded on the table, she said, "Make the deal."
The landlady told Mr. Sullivan, "I'm sorry, but I haven't seen young Mr. Ruttheimer since yesterday. He's probably still at school; goes to Lawndale State. I think he went somewhere else last year, but something happened." She fitted a key into the lock and opened the door. "There you go, sir. I hope he's not in any trouble."
Mr. Sullivan followed two police officers inside. "Ma'am, I always hope I'm wrong in these situations."
Several minutes later, they found a spare room filled with bootleg videotapes. Plus, there was a bulletin board covered with photographs of Daria. Mr. Sullivan pulled one away: on it was an image of Daria leaving the Good Time Chinese restaurant with Ms. Murphey. "Because it's so creepy when I'm right."
"Hey! What's going on here?"
Mr. Sullivan and the officers turned to see a young man with curly red hair in the doorway. Mr. Sullivan said, "Mr. Ruttheimer, I presume?"
"Corruption, bribery, kickbacks. What a mix," Daria read from the newspaper article Helen had sent Daria. "I suppose Mrs. Griffin cut a nice deal for the guilty plea, but it does feel like the good guys won for a change."
A meow at her feet got her attention. "Okay, you can come up."
Bump jumped into Daria's lap and rolled onto her back, gently pawing at Daria's stomach. Daria smiled at the feline, "Cute is not a generally accepted principle in this house, but you're young, you'll learn." As she used one finger to softly stroke the fur along Bump's throat, the cat rocked her head back and purred in contentment.
"Argh," Daria grunted and shifted to the side to free her ringing cell phone. "Hello...Mr. Sullivan?"
Daria listened with widening eyes before saying, "Um...thank you."
A few minutes later, Jane walked in and found Daria on the sofa, holding the cat in her arms. "Hey, Daria? You're pale as a ghost."
Daria slowly turned her head. "You remember that website of Upchuck's?"
Jane frowned. "Yeah."
"Because of what I told the DA's office in Lawndale, they searched his apartment." Daria breathed deep twice. "He was stalking me."
"Jane...he had photos of me meeting with Carol last week. From the sounds of it, there were photos of me from each time I've visited Lawndale since last spring."
"They also confiscated hundreds of bootleg porno tapes."
"And what's worse, he's out on bail."
"Whatcha gonna do?"
"Mr. Sullivan recommended I play it safe for now and not give him any opportunities. If he's still hanging around Lawndale, I think it might be a good idea to skip going home for Thanksgiving this year, maybe even Christmas."
Thanks to Kristen Bealer, Ipswichfan and Mr. Orange for beta reading.