Generation 9, Chapter 1
We're reporting from outside the Twinbrook Courthouse, waiting for the arrival of Seeley Taffity for his long awaited murder trial. Taffity is charged with the murder of mob enforcer Sammy "the Snake" Piconni. Sam Piconni disappeared ten years ago and, until recently, it was always assumed he'd been the victim of a rival family. The discovery of his remains within the foundation of his own boss's casino brought new federal pressure on the Giovanni crime family. Taffity, who has served as the family's lawyer for over a decade, is as unlikely a suspect as his twin sister - who will be the first to be called to the witness stand today.
"The state calls Camille Taffity." Brian Linder was a clean cut man but the deep worry lines etched across his face testified to the pressure he was under. The case had become such a media frenzy in the intervening months and he'd lost two witnesses despite extensive federal protection. "I hate mob cases," he muttered under his breath as Camille approached the stand.
She watched her brother as she took the oath. For his part, Seeley seemed as undisturbed to see his sister take the stand as he had been at his arrest. His cocky, self-assured smirk was firmly affixed as per usual.
"Ms. Taffity," Brian approached, "you're the defendant's twin sister correct?"
"I am," Camille nodded, glancing over to Seeley's table once more.
"And yet you're here today, testifying against him?" Brian did his best to look incredulous. The defense would raise the question anyway so he felt it best to get it out in the open from the start.
"I'm not testifying for or against him Mr. Linder. I'm presenting my observations of his behavior based on my professional training," Camille said.
"Of course, why don't we talk about that training. You're a consultant for the Bureau correct? A behavioral analyst?" She answered in the affirmative allowing him to continue establishing her as an acceptable expert witness. "Can you please list your qualifications to testify on this subject?"
"Of course. I have five post graduate degrees in forensics, psychology..."
Brian nodded as she listed her degrees and colleges and cut her off delicately as she began to launch into some speech about her private sector work. "Five degrees, you'll forgive me if I say you seem quite young to be so accomplished."
"I graduated high school when I was fourteen Mr. Linder."
"Fourteen?" Though Brian obviously knew all this, he made a show of being surprised. Juries needed a show. "That's quite impressive. Afterwards you attended Duke Simmington University correct?"
"Yes." Camille said.
"I'm not like you Cam, I still have four years of high school..." I pointed out. For all her smarts, Camille was terrified about going to college alone - more specifically without her twin brother.
"But you're talented Seeley! You have a gift and if you'd just try, you could get into their music program!" Cam was digging through her desk and shoving papers and brochures into my hands.
"But I can't go to college without my diploma Cam...you should know that..."
"If you'd just read it, look..." she yanked the papers from my hands and found one in particular to shove in my face. "You can take your classes for dual credit while taking their music courses. It's a fairly new program but I picked Duke Simmington because of it Seeley."
"I'll think about it Cam." She gave me the puppy dog eyes as I left the room, making it hard for me to refuse her but I really did need to think about it.
As usual, I hid away in the empty bedroom that used to serve as a nursery with my keyboard. Of course Camille was as stubborn as she was intelligent; she didn't give me long to "think" before she burst into the room.
"Fine Camille, what do I have to do?" She started jumping around and screeching just before throwing her arms around my shoulders.
"Thank you thank you thank you Seeley! I'll go get the application!"
"You already printed it out?" I asked in disbelief.
"Of course!" She was half way down the hall when she swung around, "oh and you have to submit an audition piece."
A few hours later I was still working my way through the lengthy application while Camille hovered and poked her head over my shoulder every five minutes or so to 'check my progress.' "Cam, seriously, you need to stop that now or I'll throw it away and you can go to college all by your lonesome."
"Oh fine!" she sulked. "But you spelled prestigious wrong..." She dodged me as I reached out to shoo her off and practically flew down the stairs. When she was well out of sight I fixed the spelling mistake.
If I thought the application was difficult, the audition piece was impossible. Part of the problem was me though. I threw out so many pieces simply because they were too easy or didn't showcase my skills properly that it took me a week just to settle on writing my own piece.
And then the waiting began. Camille was frantically checking the mail everyday for me while stalling on making her own plans. She'd been accepted to a dozen different schools but had accepted Duke Simmington as soon as I'd agreed to the scheme. What would she do if I wasn't accepted into their program?
And then there was the matter of our parents. Cam had wanted to tell them right away but I had urged her to wait until I heard back from the university. Why involve them on a plan that probably wouldn't pan out anyway? When the big, thick envelope finally arrived though, things changed. Now I had to tell Mom and Dad - I had to ask their permission too seeing as I was fourteen.
"Are you sure about this Seeley?" Mom asked, looking down at the acceptance letter in disbelief. "We won't hold you back of course but...is this what YOU want?"
"It was Cam's idea but...yeah, it kinda is what I want." I admitted. It was the truth too. While I'd been reluctant at first - the more I'd thought about it the more I wanted to go.
"Well then, I can't say I'm not a little sad. With Russ and Angela both off at school and Tempy having graduated...now you'll both be going off to college. It's not really fair..." she chuckled a bit but pulled me into one of those awkward mother/son hugs.
"Moo-oom" I tried to wriggle from her grasp but she was unbelievably strong.
"Oh fine," she said with a sad sort of laugh. She released me finally, "just do me a favor and wait until I'm outside to tell Cam the news. Vampire or not, my hearing can't handle one of her shrieks."
Luck was on Mom's side though as Cam didn't even get home for another hour - by which time Mom was on the other side of town no doubt. "Did you get the mail today Seeley?" Cam asked as she reached beyond the left over cake, searching for a snack.
The shriek that followed my news may just have reached Mom's ears.
"Wow." That was the only thing any of us could think as we stepped onto the Duke Simmington campus for the first time for our scheduled tour. Given our special circumstances, the admissions office had suggested the tour before the rest of the student population showed up in a few weeks.
"This place is..."
"This is just one of several buildings actually." Camille said, looking down at the map she'd printed from the university website. "But this is where they said Ms. Quin would meet us..."
"And there she is I suspect." Dad pointed across the courtyard to where a slightly frazzled looking young woman came hurrying out of the building. She spotted us and waved excitedly. "Well let's go then..." Dad said, ushering us forward to meet her.
"Oh you must be the Taffity family yes?" She thrust her hand forward and shook each of our hands in order, saving mine for last. "And you, you are young Seeley yes? Your audition piece was...beautiful! I so look forward to teaching you Seeley."
"Um...okay," I said awkwardly. I wasn't used to having anyone praise my music, or pick me out as the 'talented' one when Camille was in company.
Though she may have been expecting something more in response, Ms. Quin turned her attention back to the rest of the family. "I'm Thea Quin by the way, I'm afraid I didn't introduce myself just now. Come along and I'll show you all around."
Mom and Dad were better practiced at appearing interested and Cam actually WAS interested as we were led from classroom to classroom. I, on the other hand, fell further and further behind out of boredom. Finally we ascended to the next floor but a hall full of doors made me think we were in for more classrooms and glorification about the university. "We have several dorm rooms on this floor, I can show you one if you're interested in seeing where you'll be living once the term starts..."
She fumbled with a small set of keys until she produced the correct one and led us into a small double room. There was enough room for two single beds, a pair of lockers for storage and a couple desks. It was a snug fit but had the necessities for a pair of college students.
Then Mom asked the question that would give elation to Cam but, I confess, filled me with a bit of ire. "As they're only fourteen - will they be able to have a room together? I'd feel much better if they could look out for each other."
"I'm sure it can be worked out given the circumstances." Ms. Quin assured her. Cam turned toward me and grinned broadly, I just smiled and nodded - resisting the urge to roll my eyes.
Dad placed his hand on my shoulder while Mom continued to flood Ms. Quin with questions. "Seeley..."
"Yeah Dad?" I asked, turning toward him expectantly.
"You'll keep an eye on your sister for me? She's smarter than anyone I know but..."
"She lacks in common sense sometimes?" I finished for him, smirking.
"Yeah, that she does. She is fourteen - common sense - I hope at least, improves with age." He turned toward his daughter and watched her for a moment as she skimmed through the dozen or so books on the small bookshelf. "So you'll protect her?"
"Of course Dad, always. She's my sister after all."
For all my attitude and annoyance at Cam's perkiness, I was genuinely looking forward to my first day of classes. I strolled into one of the many music classrooms a full fifteen minutes early and had the pleasure of stumbling upon Ms. Quin practicing at the grand piano that was tucked into the class room.
"Oh Seeley!" She glanced at the clock anxiously, as if expecting to find she was running late.
"I'm early," I said quickly. "Over eager perhaps. Aside from a few failed attempts with a private tutor, I've never really had formal lessons."
"Incredible! You have quite a gift then," she smiled at me and motioned for one of the many chairs. "A virtuoso waiting to be free no doubt."
"I'm told it's a family thing but I wouldn't really know. Neither of my parents much like the piano anymore."
She seemed eager to follow the line of thought further but a pair of female students, older than me obviously, came in giggling. They paused when they saw me and at least one of them raised her eyebrows by the pair simply took their seats.
Soon all the seats had been filled and the real work began. My lack of formal training was a challenge that grated at me with everyone of my classes. While naturally talented, I had a lot of technical ground to cover to even be on level with the other new students. And I was every bit a fourteen year old boy - there was no hiding that.
Though I had brought my own keyboard with me, sneaking into the classroom after dark in order to practice on the grand became a common practice of mine in that first year of school.
I was so engrossed in the music, I didn't hear the door creak open or her footsteps across the wood planked floor. "You know you don't have to sneak in here right Seeley?"
I jumped a bit at her voice, completely flubbing the notes in the process. "Damn it!" I hissed before looking toward her. I wasn't angry with her as much as myself for the mistake.
"Relax Seeley, you're over thinking the technical stuff." She smiled down at me kindly. She'd taken a considerable amount of time with me and was overly patient. It irked me but I squashed the feeling so it wouldn't show on my face.
"The technical stuff is what I need to work on though," I said, returning my fingers to the keys.
She sat on the other side of the bench and nudged me over. I reluctantly gave up some of the bench for her. "You're making it harder than it needs to be Seeley," she placed her hand over mine, causing me to tense even more at first. "You're incredibly gifted. Let that come through and the technical stuff will follow."
With our hands combined, we played through the piece in silence. After a minute or so, my body began to relax and my fingers moved freely across the keys.
"There now - that's better isn't it?" She smiled at me and, to my dismay, moved her hand from mine and allowed me to continue the piece alone. That was the first time I actually wanted a partner to play along side - and not just any partner - I wanted her. "And to save you from the wrath of the administration," she stood and reached into her pocket. She slid the key across the surface of the piano and smile. "To the door here, so you don't have to break in. You have my permission to be here any time you need Seeley," she said with a wink and a smile.
As she began to collect her things, I must have faltered over the keys because she turned her attention back to me suddenly. "Y-you're going?" I asked.
She nodded, "I have a dinner date to get to, have a good night Seeley - I'll see you in class tomorrow."
An unfamiliar and uncomfortable feeling settled into my stomach that night as I imagined Ms. Quin out on a date. I was jealous.
I admit I began to invent excuses to occupy her time - it was ridiculous really, I was fourteen, she was in her twenties. And yet, it was so easy to ask her for help with some assignment, even if it wasn't related to music.
"I don't understand why you can't ask you sister for help with this Seeley," Ms. Quin said as she looked over the math problems once again. Math was not her strength and with any luck, we'd be here for hours.
"Oh Cam is really busy, she's taking like eight classes this semester." It's important to note that it was a partial truth - Cam WAS taking eight classes. But she was rarely too busy to help me, if I'd asked.
So while Cam tucked herself happily in the lounge or the library, I spent my study hours with the lovely Ms. Quin.
For the most part, I don't think she suspected my anterior motives - that of wanting to spend every possible moment with her and keep her away from anyone else. It was entirely selfish on my part, I admit.
"Does this look right to you Ms. Quin?" I asked, holding up the notebook - look every bit innocent.
"Um, well I'm not really sure Seeley. Math isn't a talent of mine....well let me look a moment," she took the notebook from me and stared at it for some time, leaving me free to observe her silently. "I think it's right..."
"I'm sure it is, thank you." I said, flipping to the next page.
"Only a dozen or so more," I said cheerily.
"Oh, well I'm sorry Seeley I have to go. I have plans tonight." Before I could object of think of something to stop her, she was gathering her things and halfway to the door.
I sulked for a bit before packing away my own things and returning to the room I shared with Cam. The rest of the homework was tossed aside, unlikely to be completed now.
In the weeks that followed, I was lucky to get even a spare moment after class with Thea - Ms. Quin that is - as she was always going out or had plans. Later I learned that she had a new boyfriend - a fire fighter named Chip. Who names their kid Chip?
This new development fueled my jealousy in ways I couldn't have imagined. I began to slack off in all of my classes, most particularly in her class. While it wasn't necessarily my attention to draw her attention, this did and soon she was summoning to her office hours.
"Now Seeley, what's going on?" She asked, her face full of patience and the kindness I'd come to expect from her.
"Are you stilling having trouble with your classes?"
"No," I slumped back in the chair - unwilling to engage in the discussion. "They're fine."
"Fine? Is that why your grades have slipped so much in the last two months? I know I've been unable to help but surely we can find you another tutor - one who actually knows how to do math," she joked, trying to elicit a laugh or smile.
She didn't get one.
She frowned, "Is there some family trouble?" I shook my head, keeping my eyes fixed on the posters that decorated the office. She must share it with another professor, I couldn't imagine her liking this particular art. "Girl trouble then? I know you're much younger than most of the students here but..."
"Not MUCH younger." The words slipped out unbidden and I quickly clamped my mouth shut.
"Ah! So it's a girl!" She smiled suddenly, happy to have discovered the root of the problem. "If it's a matter of age, some girls like younger men - though I..."
"Really?" I asked, narrowing my eyes and focusing on her for the first time.
"Yes of course. Though given the situation I don't think you should set.." she stammered through the words, uneasy from my sudden shift in mood.
"What about you Ms. Quin...Thea..."
"Let's stick with Ms. Quin, and I think this is an inappropriate conversation Seeley." Her voice was firm and she'd begun to back away from me slowly.
"You started it," I pointed out bitterly.
The job at the florist was mediocre and dull as hell but it gave me some way to keep my mind off her. Thea Quin. Things had gone from weird to awkward to flat out bad since that fateful meeting in her office actually.
"Seeley, you okay brother?" Cam asked, looking up from her research.
"Meh," I grunted in response keeping my eyes on my own work. While I was technically on the clock now, there was no one in the shop so I used it to do homework or read or think of tragic and horrific deaths for Chip...not that I'd ever do that, I don't think.
Then again he was a fire fighter and fires happen. And people die in them. I shook my head, dislodging the evil thoughts as quickly as they came into my mind.
A few customers came in so I was forced to abandon my homework and take their delivery orders. One had come in looking for the adjoining bakery so I sent him on his way as Cam walked up, her book bag slung over her shoulders. "I'm heading back to the dorms - see ya there in awhile?"
"Yeah," I muttered, spinning a pen around aimlessly.
"Right, see ya Seeley...try not to look too happy, you might attract customers," she teased me, hoping to gain a smile.
I gave her a half-hearted one just so she'd leave without trying again.
As she was walking out the doors, Thea walked in on the arm of a muscly man I had to assume was the infamous Chip. I suppressed a groan and turned away quickly.
"Oh!" Her voice was as heavenly as ever but I could hear the awkwardness. "I think we got the wrong door Chip..."
"Bakery is next door." I pointed toward the double doors that attached the two businesses and watched them go - Thea urging Chip along as quickly as possible, though he didn't seem to understand why.
Despite every attempt to push the couple from my mind, I found myself watching them from the shared kitchen.
"You okay dude?" Peter asked when I turned away from the view once again. Peter had worked at the bakery about as long as I'd worked at the florist. We'd both taken the jobs for similar reasons - avoiding life and extra spending money so we spent a lot of time hanging out together during shifts.
"Yeah, nah, not really..." I turned back to look at them again - hiding behind a partial wall so she didn't see me.
"That's the teacher lady huh?" Peter asked, nodding in understanding. I just nodded and tried to walk away from the sight. "Hey, he's comin' over..."
That was enough to make me return to the cash register of the florist. I didn't need to meet him in person. "That's enough Seeley" I muttered to myself. "You were just infatuated because she was paying you special attention...get. over. it."
The pep talk may have been enough if I couldn't overhear the conversation transpiring between Peter and Chip. "..possible to bake the ring into one of the treats? Now no nuts...she's really allergic to nuts...can you do that?"
"Sure man, we have a nut free area we make those things...I can have it ready in an hour if that's cool?" He must have agreed because I heard the register ring up and then the bell over the door sounded as the "happy couple" exited the building.
"Hey Peter, it's dull as crap over here - got anything I can help with?" I called out.
"Sure man, grab me some chocolate from the fridge and come over...we'll bake teacher lady's treats."
I worked someway away from Peter for a bit as he was in the "nut free" zone or whatever it was. I made a few dozen cookies for the display and then put in a batch of brownies and waited for Peter to slide the tray into the oven. "I'm gonna pop back and grab a box for this...Oh hey, hold onto this for me, bet he'll want it back." He tossed the empty ring box to me and disappeared into the backroom.
In true Peter fashion, he was back there much longer than it would take a normal person to get a box. I'm certain he gets distracted by shiny objects and forgets what he's doing. When the oven timer went off and he hadn't returned, I pulled the chocolates from the oven and started putting them into one of the boxes already on the shelf. "Hey Peter! There are a bunch of boxes here already!" I called out. No response.
Once all the chocolates had been put in the box, there were still several empty spots and I heard the bell chime again. No doubt an hour had passed and Chip was back for his proposal. I grabbed a some chocolates from another box and threw them into the empty slots. I was about the slip the lid over them when I noticed the edge of the ring sticking out of one.
I shouldn't have done it.
I know I shouldn't have done it.
But I did. I slipped the ring bearing chocolate into my pocket and quickly replaced it with another one and placed the lid on the box. I didn't even have time to remove my gloves when Chip was obnoxiously ringing the bell at the register.
With Peter still missing, I had no choice but to hand the box over to him. He barely glanced at me as he took the box and left. I threw the gloves into the trash and returned to the florist just in time to be relieved by my manager.
The ring was heavy in my pocket as I walked back to campus. Unable to stand it much longer, I pulled it out and chucked it into the koi pond in front of the main building and then ran the rest of the way to the dorm room.
"Hey sis," I said as I came in. Cam waved but didn't really look up from her computer at my entrance. "Cam, what time is it?" I asked as I selected a book.
"Um...nine thirty," she said.
"Great. Gonna go read in the student lounge for a bit."
The news teams descended on the university the following morning and the music room was barricade with police tape and people.
We're reporting in front of Duke Simmington University where Professor Thea Quin - a teacher of music - was found dead this morning. According to sources she was found in her classroom but there was no sign of struggle. Investigators suspect this was a tragic, but accidental death, but will not release official word until the medical examiner has seen her. Meanwhile the small community on campus is shocked and saddened by her passing. The administration has cancelled all classes for the rest of the day and will be bringing in grief counselors.
"And how did the defendant react to the death of his teacher and mentor?" Brian asked.
"I wouldn't have been qualified to analyze at the time," Camille said simply.
"But in hindsight or just as his sister - would you say his reaction was normal? Did he grieve?" Brian pushed.
"I don't see how it's relevant, Ms. Quin's death was ruled to be an accident - an allergic reaction to nuts."
"Still..." Brian paused to look toward the defense table, expecting an objection. "Would you classify his reaction as normal for the circumstances Dr. Taffity?"
"No. I wouldn't," she admitted finally.
"And why not?"
"Because he was happy."