Episode #614

- Brent promised to accompany Claire to Tacoma to speak with Kathleen Bundy, the woman listed as the mother on the birth certificate that Loretta mailed to Claire.
- Travis, Elly, and Landon began their freshman year at King’s Bay University.
- Philip forced Spencer to enroll at KBU. During a run-in on campus, Spencer was hostile toward both Travis and Claire.


Rows of formica-topped tables and plastic chairs greet Claire Fisher and Brent Taylor as soon as they pass through the double doors. Scuffed linoleum floors spread out for yards and yards in front of them in this cavernous room. Even the faded posters featuring education-themed cartoons do little to distract from what a cold, industrial space this is.

The cafeteria is almost perfectly quiet, and as Claire and Brent walk past the empty tables and chairs on their way to the kitchen, their footsteps bounce from one wall to the other and back again. Claire finds her mind wandering back to the last time she was in a cafeteria like this; it was years ago now, for a bake sale at Travis’s junior high.

And just like that day, Travis is the reason she is in a school cafeteria now.

“You’re a hundred percent sure you want to do this?” Brent asks her quietly.

“Yes.” It sounds about seventy percent sure, and even that is a stretch. But she cannot go on the way she has these past few weeks, wondering what that birth certificate means and what Loretta might have done. They have to speak with this woman.

Brent is kind enough to accept that with a nod and no further questions, and they reach the window that connects the lunchroom to the kitchen. A staff of ten or so women and one man are busy bustling around in the kitchen, apparently cleaning up from the day’s meals and preparing for tomorrow. Several running sinks create a wall of dense sound.

“Excuse me,” Claire calls out to the nearest woman. “I’m looking for Ms. Bundy. Kathleen Bundy.”

The woman removes her hands from underneath the water and points to a blonde woman further in the kitchen. “That’s her over there.” She turns off the sink. “Kathleen!”

Kathleen Bundy turns, and immediately Claire is studying the woman more closely than she would the average stranger. She wears a white apron that has seen fresher days, and beneath it is a dark green sweater. She is a bit on the heavy side, but it is the kind of weight that generally comes from middle age--or motherhood, Claire thinks. Kathleen’s blonde hair is mostly tucked up beneath a hairnet, and her face bears a broad, welcoming smile.

She regards Claire and Brent with confusion as she sets aside her work and comes to the window.

“What can I do for ya?” she asks.

“We were hoping to speak with you for a few minutes,” Claire says. “It’s very important.”

Kathleen’s brow furrows. “Sorry, do I know you?”

Brent flashes his badge. “Brent Taylor. Commander of the King’s Bay Police Department.”

The woman’s smile dissolves into worry.

“You aren’t in any kind of trouble,” Brent says. “We just need to ask you some questions about an important matter.”

“Why don’t you let me finish up in here, and I’ll meet you out back in ten or so?” Kathleen points to another set of doors at the other end of the cafeteria.

“That sounds perfect. Thank you,” Claire says. “Just one thing, though.”


“Do you know--did you ever know--a man with the last name of Clayton? He was probably using a first name that began with M…”

The way that Kathleen’s face instantly turns ashen gives Claire her answer. There is no hesitation, no struggling to recall Clayton.

“I’ll be real fast finishing up,” Kathleen says as she retreats back into the kitchen.


Travis Fisher closes his textbook with a decisive slap. “We’ve got this thing in the bag.”

Elly Vanderbilt, seated mere inches away from him on the floor of his dorm room, shuts her own book with much less fervor. “I’m not going to feel good until the test is over tomorrow,” she says, “and even then I’m gonna be worrying until we get them back.”

“You know this stuff,” Travis says.

“I hope so.” She remains unconvinced as she slips her textbook into her backpack. “If Intro to Psych is this complicated, I’m not sure I want to know what the upper-level classes are like.”

“You’re gonna be fine.” He slides closer and begins massaging her shoulders. “Just chill.”

“That feels really, really good,” Elly says, closing her eyes to relax into the shoulder rub. Travis continues for another minute or so before the door bursts open.

“Okay, you two. Let’s keep this PG,” Landon Esco says as he barges into the room and drops his book bag on his twin bed.

With their peaceful moment obliterated, Travis and Elly rise to their feet.

“Wanna go for a run?” he asks her. “We can do that, come back and shower, then head to the dining hall--”

“I want to go to that info session for the newspaper,” Elly says. “I figure it might be something to try next semester.”

“Okay, well, go to that and then meet me at dinner. I was thinking we could watch a movie or something later on.”

“I have a Hall Council meeting at nine.” She slips her backpack over her shoulders.

“Hall Council is retarded,” he says.

“And you don’t have to go, so that works out all right.”

“Oh, snap,” Landon says from his post in front of his computer.

“Shut up, Landon.” He reaches for Elly’s hands. “Why do you always have to be doing all this stuff? Don’t you just want to hang out?”

“I didn’t come to college to just hang out. There are a lot of awesome opportunities. You should try to get more involved.”

“I’m on the soccer team. It’s not like I do nothing.”

“I know, I know. Sorry.” Her demeanor changes, and for a moment, Travis thinks that she might change her mind about the meetings. “I just want to make the most out of this experience, you know?”

“Well, let me know when you want to hang.” He gives her a quick peck on the lips--briefer than usual, to make it clear that he is still miffed, but still affectionate enough.

As soon as she leaves the room, Travis turns back to Landon. Sure enough, his roommate’s mouth is open, ready to make some smart-ass comment.

“Don’t even start with me,” Travis warns as he flops down onto his bed.


Claire and Brent hardly even speak while they wait outside. There are too many questions hanging over them, too many things that need to be answered, for them even to begin speculating. A nasty autumn wind keeps flaring up, tearing through the parking lot, and then fading away, only to return moments later. Claire pulls her black Nine West coat tighter around her body.

It only takes five or so minutes for Kathleen to join them. Her hair, now freed from the net, sits at approximately shoulder length. She is still pulling on a red fleece jacket as she hurries outside.

“I just wanna say that everything was totally legal,” she says. “So if that’s what this is about--”

Brent’s expression tells Claire to let him field this one. “What wouldn’t have been legal?” he asks.

“Nothing. That’s what I’m saying. I made sure it was all on the up-and-up. I swear.”

“We’ll get back to Mr. Clayton in a minute. We actually wanted to ask you some questions about your son first.”

Kathleen’s facial muscles contort in an almost-comical manner. “Not much I can really tell you there. I mean, I don’t really have a son.”

Brent pulls out the birth certificate. “I have a birth certificate here that says you gave birth to a child named John Charles McClintock eighteen years ago. Is that true?”

“Well, yeah. But, I mean, he’s not really mine. Isn’t that kinda the point of adoption?”

“Clayton adopted your son, then?” Claire interjects, leaving not even room for a whole breath between Kathleen’s words and her own.

“Bingo.” Kathleen levels a skeptical look at each of them. “I don’t mean to be rude, but what business is this of yours?”

“It’s a family matter,” Claire says.

Brent places a hand on her arm to cut her off. “Clayton passed away recently, and we’re wading through a lot of paperwork that he left behind.”

“What about his wife? And the kid?”

“Clayton and his wife adopted your baby, then?” Brent asks, not missing a beat.

“Yeah. My ex and I--the baby’s dad--we were on and off, and we weren’t sure we wanted a kid, and I waited too long to, y’know, take care of it, so this Clayton guy comes up to me at the doctor’s one day--”

Claire’s heart is pounding. “Did you ever meet his wife?”

Kathleen shakes her head. “He told me his wife didn’t want to meet the birth mother. Would’ve been too painful or something. They had been trying to have kids for a long time, she couldn’t get pregnant, that whole thing.” She holds up her palms, as if to distance herself from the matter. “We had lawyers do it all. Like I said, totally legal. They seemed, y’know, wealthy. Like it was gonna be a good home for the kid.”

Both Claire and Brent struggle to process this unexpected information. Kathleen seems to read their surprise and, alarm rising in her voice, asks, “Why? Did they do something to him? I just wanted to make sure he was taken care of.”

“No,” Claire says, so overwhelmed that she feels she might pass out. “Your son grew up very well.”


Later, in the student center, Travis and Landon venture into the newly remodeled mini-mart. They stand before a rack of candy choices that would make the Easter display at Target blush. Suddenly, a thought overwhelms Travis and forces its way out:

“Was I a dick with Elly before?”

“No way.” Landon does not sound in the least bit convincing. “Kind of. I mean, you weren’t a dick, but you weren’t exactly… you don’t have to smother her, dude.”

“I’m not smothering her.” Irritated with the topic and regretting that he dredged it back up, Travis returns to attempting a candy selection. He picks up a pack of Starburst and then hears a voice pipe up from behind him.

“Figures you’d get something fruity.”

He turns and sees Spencer Ragan standing there, arms folded over his chest and a smug grin on his face. Travis has mercifully avoided Spencer for much of the semester to date, and the few times that they have crossed paths on campus, he has very deliberately steered clear. There’s something about the kid he just does not like.

“Shut up, dude,” Travis says, putting down the Starburst.

“Don’t you mean Uncle Spencer?”

“No. Seriously, you wanna get punched in the face? Leave us alone.”

Spencer rolls his eyes. “Figures you’d be as psycho as your mom. Too bad there isn’t a ledge you can push me off.”

Travis experiences an (almost) involuntary flinch toward Spencer. Landon grabs him by the arm. “Just let it go,” Landon warns him.

Travis forces himself to draw a deep breath and then turns back to the candy. Landon follows suit, and they purposely do not acknowledge Spencer anymore. A long moment later, Travis becomes aware of Spencer walking away.

“I want these,” Landon says, grabbing a pack of M&Ms.

Travis picks up the Starburst again, then debates between those and a bag of sour gummi worms. Finally he chooses the worms. They take their purchases to the counter.

“I don’t know why he has to be here,” Travis says as he pays for his candy. “He and his mom are total maniacs.”

“Yeah, he seems like a shithead,” Landon agrees, grabbing a soda from the refrigerator.

Travis finishes his transaction, and Landon pays for his things. As they exit the mini-mart, an alarm begins blaring.

“Hey, wait!” the clerk calls out. It takes Travis a moment to realize that he and Landon are being addressed. The clerk, a short man with glasses that make his eyes look enormous, hurries toward them.

“We just paid,” Travis says.

“Empty your pockets, please.”

Landon pulls out his keys, his wallet, and his iPhone. Travis reaches into the pockets of his pants and takes out his iPhone and the change from his recent purchase. In the pocket of his North Face fleece, he finds his keys and…

His hand settles over something that makes a crinkling noise.

“What else is in there?” the clerk demands.

Reluctantly, Travis pulls out the long, thin item: a candy bar. “I didn’t know that was in there.”

The clerk looks skeptical.

“Seriously, man.” It hits him what happened. “Did you see that guy who was talking to us? He’s an ass. He has it out for me.”

“I don’t know, man,” the clerk says with an annoyed shrug. “Do I need to call Campus Police?”

“I’ll just pay for the damn thing,” Travis says. He hands over two of the dollar bills clutched in his right hand.  “Keep the change, man.”

His body vibrates with rage as they walk out of the Student Center. A survey of the surrounding area reveals no sign of Spencer.

“Let’s go look up what building he lives in.”

“Forget about it. Let’s just go back to our room,” Landon says. “Don’t egg him on. It’s what he wants.”

“Yeah,” Travis concedes as he tears open the bag of gummi worms, telling himself that it is probably a very good thing that Spencer is nowhere to be found right now.


After they thank Kathleen for her time and assuage several more of her fears, Claire and Brent return to his SUV. Brent starts the car and turns on the heat, but he makes no move to put it in drive or leave the school’s parking lot. Claire feels as if she is in a fog, a hazy dream from which she has to wake up very soon. If only she could.

“So now we have another kid to track down,” Brent says. He hands Claire the envelope containing the birth certificate. “Great. Loretta and this Clayton guy were masters of setting up a wild goose chase, if nothing else.”

Claire doesn’t even know what to say. She had ideas about what Kathleen Bundy might tell them, but those ideas were completely blown out of the water by their brief conversation with her. Claire expected to meet another victim of Loretta Ragan, someone else whose entire life might be turned on its head by the mysteriously mailed birth certificate.

“Are you okay?” Brent asks, looking over at her. “I know this is kind of an emotional rollercoaster, but we’re going to find that other boy, okay? I promise.”

“We don’t have to,” she says.

“You don’t mean that. You’re in shock. I know I keep telling you not to get ahead of yourself, but if that other boy is… if he’s yours, and Loretta and your father pulled something…”

“That’s not what I mean.”

Brent narrows his eyes at her. Her head is spinning. The boy she has raised as her son all these years--the boy who is her son--could be the child of this stranger they just drove to Tacoma to meet. As for her own, biological child…

“I don’t think we have to search for the other boy,” she says. “We’ve already met him.”


How should Claire proceed with her suspicions?
What do you think is really going on?
Can Travis and Spencer co-exist at school?
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