Vince followed Anthony DeSanto’s square-back silhouette down the hall. The Chief hadn’t uttered another word since summoning him from the meeting. Vince’s intuition told him to respect the silence, but his anxiety mounted with each and every step. He was certain he was in store for some sort of reprimand. But what had he done? Left a door unlocked? Offended somebody important? Vince racked his brain, reviewing every single nuance of his work activity over the last several weeks, yet he couldn’t come up with one glaring instance in which he’d failed.
He was good at his job. At least he thought so. He was always on time, kept his head low, did what he was told and never complained. He’d probably never shine, rise naturally to the top like Eric Brenner. They were two different breeds. Things always seemed to come easy for people like Eric. For Vince, life was a constant struggle. That he had to work harder than others bothered him sometimes, but he’d come to accept the fact. He’d been raised to the respect the natural order of the universe.
Besides, becoming a leader in the C.S.O. program wasn’t his ultimate ambition. What mattered to Vince most was the money. The job paid well, compared to other university part-time positions anyway. His grants and scholarship covered the bare bones of his college education – tuition, room and board – but didn’t leave him with any pocket money. He needed this job, unlike Eric or the hundreds of privileged students like him, to pay for books, gas and other assorted living expenses. He’d really be struggling without it.
Which looked to be a distinct possibility now that he was confronting the UPD Chief outside his office. Vince swallowed hard, bracing himself for getting fired.
But Anthony DeSanto had something entirely different in mind. “Vince, I have a special assignment for you,” he said, holding open the door. “Come in. There’s someone I want you to meet.”
Vince stepped inside. The office was a study in black and white, befitting a man who upheld the law for a living, sparsely furnished with a desk, several chairs and a credenza. The only personal effect was a battered wall map of Italy, which must have held some personal significance, since it seemed out of character with the otherwise orderly and perfunctory décor.
She was little more than a shadow in the corner of the room. Not due to poor lighting, but because of a faint ego. Vince had met people like her before. They try and blend in, become invisible. It’s how they survive.
“Hannah?” DeSanto said coaxingly. “This is the person I was telling you about.”
She turned away from the blind-covered window, regarding them with a blank stare through pale blue eyes. Her bulky, strawberry blond hair, parted down the middle and falling to her shoulders, blended with her yellowish complexion. Her features were squished on the middle of her face by full, round cheeks. She was what one might call “a big girl,” not overweight per se, for her tall frame could support an abundant amount, but stocky.
She may have had a ghostly aura, yet her movements were anything but ethereal. Lumbering over awkwardly to join them, she stomped her feet, which were clad in clunky Birkenstock sandals. She hugged her middle with both arms, either because she was self-conscious about her size or as an act of self-protection, Vince wasn’t sure which. He guessed the latter; she appeared wounded. She also turned out to be painfully shy, unable to look either of them in the face for longer than a second.
“Vince, this is Hannah Singer, Courtney Kennedy’s roommate,” DeSanto introduced them.
“Hi,” Vince said gently, attempting to make eye contact and failing.
“Hannah’s a bit shaken, Vince. Understandably,” the Chief said. “I thought she could use a personal escort for awhile. We’ll take you off lock-up duty in the meantime. Would that arrangement be all right with you?”
“Yes. Of course.”
DeSanto nodded his appreciation. “Fine. Hannah, feel free to call Vince whenever you need him.”
She mumbled something indiscernible to both men.
“Excuse me?” DeSanto said.
Hannah took a deep breath and found her voice. “Can he come with me now?”