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Suspects All

   "You two took a dreadful risk," her father admonished, "it might've ended in tears. It's not over yet. What were you trying to do?" They were walking up to the house.
   Christopher answered. "I've got a disk copy, like the one I did for Jilly two years ago. So she could learn the system, and help you."
   "I said she could do that one, but not this."
   "Dad, you've got to have it. Otherwise it's your word against his."
   "Maybe, Jilly. What can we do with it, Chris?"
   "We might find transactions have been left off your reports. There might be a password trapdoor."
   "Can Harold see what you've done?"
   "Never. I took my own disk in to drive the system, and my own tape to copy onto. Nothing to alert him."
   "Except he followed you to Gordon."
   "But he doesn't know me or the car."
   "He'll still be suspicious."
   "Were you about to do a computer copy?"
   "No - I wouldn't even know to ask for one."
   "So Harold'll think he's safe from that?"
   "Bound to." Gerald looked relieved. "He knows I never even use my keyboard."
   "Let's hope he's got careless."
   Christopher's enjoying himself, Jillian thought. "What now?" she asked.
   "I'll make safety copies of both tapes. Give me an hour. Then I'll start digging. into them. No bed for me or Gerald yet."
   Gerald looked at his watch. "See you in an hour, then. Bedtime for everyone else, okay?"
   "We'll need your passwords." Christopher asked.
   "Tell him, Jilly."
   Jilly did.
   As the three Wilsons left, Barbara Jones looked keenly at her husband. He looked less haggard now. She prayed that Chris would be successful. She had never liked the Heffernans, despite the good reports on them before Harold bought his shares. Keith was okay, but she couldn't warm to his father. However this turned out, the partnership was finished. She wasn't sorry. Gerald would get back full responsibility for the business, if any part of it survived this mess. She'd never been happy with the divided control.
   An hour later, Gerald was in the study corner of Christopher's room, jammed in with computers, software packs and computer books. "Where are we up to?"
   "Simple is best. Eyeball the recent transactions. See if you spot any oddities. Here you are, a list of all ledger entries, working backwards. The top one was the last. Five yesterday afternoon. Here, press Page Down, this key, to see the next page. You do it, when you are ready."
   "There's page upon page here."
   "Oh, well, would you like to look only at the big items?"
   "Could I see, say, anything over a hundred thousand in the last month?"
   "Sure. Here you are."
   "That's more helpful." Gerald pressed the Page Down key twice more. "Shit. Five million. What's this code mean?"
   "I think that's a bank transfer."
   "Why would the bank debit us like that?"
   "Let's look at transaction details. Here you are. From the your company bank to your Swiss one. Operator, you. Authorised by, again, you. This Monday. See, here."
   "That's bare-faced. A couple of days ago. Just after the bank bills matured. To cover the season's stock purchases. It's naive. The one day of the year when there is that amount in hand. It would be detected immediately. And that's why I was phoned tonight. The first of the cheques has been bounced. Tomorrow will be a complete mess. The phone will ring off the hook. How come I never knew?"
   "Do you see the bank statement?"
   "The printout. Daily."
   "Current balance?"
   "On that printout it was about five million, because it didn't show this transfer. It should have showed almost nothing in the bank. Can printouts be falsified like that?"
   "Yes, printouts and indeed the whole database can be changed, if you have the knowledge and a password with the necessary access. Printout and enquiry screen could show the same false picture."
   "The staff would have asked me, if they had seen this on their screens."
   "It's hidden. Marked not to be displayed or included in the balance."
   "With my password could I hide it like that?"
   "So, to use this as evidence Harold has to make this transfer visible again. He can do that?"
   "So that's why he was going in late at night. But we've still got the falsified printout and this tape. That's enough to get the police involved."
   But at one in the morning Gerald couldn't get anyone to respond to computer fraud with any urgency. It took an hour to get action. He hung up and turned to Chris. "They are sending someone to guard the office until the day shift come on. The white collar team only work in the daytime. I'm going to the office now to let them in."
   "Can I come too? I want to write all this up if you'll let me. It's the perfect finals paper."
   "Be my guest. I owe you."
   A police car was waiting for them at the office. A uniformed policewoman got out and joined them as Gerald unlocked the building.
   Inside, she said, "I'm Constable Minola. Just show me a comfortable chair with a view of the entrance and the computer, and you can head back to bed."
   "You'll be alone for hours. What if they come back?"
   "I've got my two-way and my trusty friend," She patted the holster on her hip, "And I've only just come on shift. I can stay here until the Fraudies relieve me in the morning."
   "I could stay with you."
   "No need, sir. You get your shut-eye and be back here by eight. It might be a hard day. They'll take the place apart, from what I hear. You'll need your stamina - and heaps of coffee. And don't let anything on to your staff until the Fraudies tell you to."
   "Thank you constable. And you'll need these." He gave her his spare set of keys.
   Back home, at three in the morning as Christopher was getting out, he turned to Gerald. "I want to be in at the kill - take me back with you in the morning? I can come to you at seven-thirty."
   "What about your lectures?"
   "Oh, I can get the notes, but this - they can't teach this. I need to be there."
   By eight, but bleary, they were back at the office, leaving Barbara to postpone all Gerald's appointments.
   At the office, Constable Minola came to the door when she heard the car arrive. "Morning gents. Come in. The Fraudies are on their way. Don't touch anything. Not even a door handle."
   Another car arrived, and the constable let in two men in crumpled suits, each pulling a small wheeled suitcase. They looked more like accountants than policemen, Chris thought. They showed Gerald their badges.
   Detectives Blomfield, "Call me Blom" and Hittmann, "Don't even think about it - call me Jake."
   "Good night then, Constable?" Blomfield was the spokesman.
   "Sir. Undisturbed."
   "You stay by the door then, nobody comes or goes without my say so. Okay?"
   "Sir." She went and stood just inside the main entrance.
   The two detectives pulled out rubber gloves and handed a pair each to Gerald and Christopher. "What made you suspicious? And what makes you sure it's fraud?" Blomfield asked.
   "Last night my partner accused me of embezzlement. We had a five million balance to cover the season's stock payments and it has been moved to a Swiss account in my name, using a hidden transaction. I'm being blamed for the transfer, but I don't have the skills to make it, let alone hide it."
   "How do you know all that, Sir, if it's hidden?"
   "Chris here - he's studying computer crime at the university - made a taped copy and found where my password had been used for that. But I never use my logon - I'm a slow learner about computers. Harold Heffernan, my partner, sprung it on me last night that I was embezzling. Keith, his son, runs our systems. He gives me printouts. They don't show these transfers, but Chris found one on the tape. There's about five million missing. Maybe more. We didn't search further once we found the first."
   Blomfield thought for a moment. "We should start with the computer, then, before anything else. We don't need the whole thing, just the disk drives and backup tapes."
   "That's a relief. So I can keep running my business with a new disk, loaded from the latest tape? If I wasn't five million down?"
   Jake was at the computer, his bag open beside him. He had taken out a small tool kit, selected a screwdriver and was unscrewing the computer cover. "Sure, why not?" he said, continuing to work. "Chris, can you or Keith get the company running again off the backup?"
   "Fine." As he talked, Jake opened his bag, took out a long wire. The strap at one end he buckled onto his wrist, the other end had he clipped to the computer case, now open in front of him. Blomfield stood back, watching.
   Christopher notice the bemused look on Gerald's face. "That's to prevent electrical damage to the evidence," he explained.
   His hands in the computer case, Jake unclipped the leads of what looked like a rectangular lump of metal and plastic, smaller than a paperback book, pulled it out of the computer and carefully slid it into a plastic envelope and protective box that also appeared from his bag. "Done," he said. "I'll leave it open for you - okay?" He had stood up and was packing his case.
   Christopher nodded.
   Gerald was bemused. "That's it? That's all you need?"
   Blomfield nodded. "It's your whole business, apart from any printouts, if you're right. Let's see the fraudulent one. Lead the way please sir."
   Gerald went ahead of them into the corner office, unlocked the filing drawer under the desk and pulled out a folder. Out of it he took a sheet of paper which he handed it to Blomfield, who looked at for a moment. "This looks like a bank statement printout. From the first of the month up until the end of day before yesterday."
   "That's right."
   "And you say there's a line missing, for five million sent to Switzerland and never made visible to you?"
   "Yes. Monday this week are other transactions that should be on it, leading to a ten thousand dollar overdraft?"
   "What sort of entries would be missing?"
   "Well, it should have shown their transfer of a quarter million to a Swiss bank. But of course it doesn't, otherwise I would have know about it and challenged them immediately."
   "Were there two of those transfers, then?"
   "Probably. We foudnone for a quarter million, but there's a half million missing. Theone we found was on the fourteenth."
   "Then it's here. The fourteenth. And the account ten grand is the red." He put the paper on the desk, turned it towards Gerald. "It looks as though you knew about this all along, Sir. Are you sure that your partners haven't discovered you in a fraud? And you're trying to beat them to the draw. to be the first to call us in? I want you to come to the station now and give us statements, you and your little helper, both. Constable, we're sealing these rooms again."
   Christopher had gone pale. Gerald looked at him unhappily. I should have expected this. Harold was headed for the office to switch the printouts when he saw the two kids leaving. He would have gone back to finish that once he was sure that car had nothing to do with us. Lucky it was the Wilson's.
   Harold would gloat when he arrived at the office at nine, to find that his victim had dropped himself in it. He wondered whether he should hold out his wrists for handcuffs.
   The detective gestured to the door. "We'll all go down to the station now, please. Anything else, Jake?"
   "I've got enough for now." He slid the bank statement into a plastic bag and added it to his case.
   The constable opened the door and stood aside. "I'll stay on here then, Sir. I'll get a relief in when my shift ends."
   "You do that Constable. When the Heffernans arrive, I'd like them both come to straight round the station. I'll be wanting statements from them. Take the names, addresses and phone numbers of everyone who comes and tell them that the office is closed for the day, come in tomorrow unless they hear otherwise. Nothing else. Clear enough?"
   A few minutes later they walked into the police station.
   "We want fingerprints from you two, if only to exclude you. Voluntary. Of course, if we must have them we can always arrest you, but we don't want that, do we?"
   Christopher and Gerald looked at each other, then both shook their heads firmly. What have I got him into, Gerald thought. He's hardly older than my daughter and now he may be up as my accessory and goodness knows what else.
   Detective Blomfield went off with Christopher, to take his statement, while Gerald was led away by a young constable, fresh-faced, hardly a day older than Jillian, to have his fingerprints taken. He asked to use a phone, and rang his wife, saying they were being interviewed and fingerprinted, and he had no idea how long they would be, but it was serious. She should let the Wilsons know, and if he hadn't rung by lunch time she should contact their lawyer.
   He put his hands out to be inked and imprinted.
   After the fingerprinting, the young constable gave him a paper towel to wipe his hands with, then took him to an interview room. It was bare, windowless, held a single table, two chairs on each side, and a tape recorder screwed to the wall. "You can sit down there - on the far side." Gerald sat. "Would you like a cup of tea or anything?"
   Gerald suddenly felt hungry. "Tea or coffee, please. Milk, no sugar. Any chance of a biscuit or something? With all the excitement I missed breakfast. And young Christopher might need something, too."
   "You wait here please. I'll be a minute." As he went out, the door closed with a snap behind him. Gerald wasn't sure whether he was locked in, or not, and he wasn't about to try and find out.
   After he had had been waiting for what felt like half an hour but was probably only a few minutes, the constable returned with a cup of tea. There were two biscuits in the saucer, their chocolate melting against the cup. "It's the best I could do."
   "Oh, that's fine. Thank you."
   The constable went to the door, closed it, stood beside it. They waited in silence, Gerald sipped the tea and nibbled the biscuits. The soft chocolate melted onto his finger. He licked it off. It tasted of turpentine. From the fingerprint ink. Everything is tainted now, he thought. Is this how my life will be? Waiting? Locked in? Being watched? Nothing to do? Nowhere to go?
   He drank slowly, to fill the time. He didn't look at his watch. It'll make me look anxious, he thought. Harold might still be too clever for me. Or more devious. The police have got to think like criminals. They'd never catch them, else. They'll think me easy, a dumb beginner.
   When the door opened, Blomfield and Hittmann came in, sat opposite. The constable stood by the door. Hittmann put two tapes in the recorder, said the date and time, named everyone in the room, turned to Gerald. "How did this all start?"
   Gerald told them about wanting to expand, finding Harold, Harold's big spending, and then about the last twenty-four hours, the bouncing cheques, accusations, borrowed keys, the car chase and the late night analysis of the computer tape and finally phoning for the fraud squad. "The rest you know. I've been with you ever since."
   The two detectives just looked at him. The only sound was the hum of the tape recorder. He felt his heart beating. What did they want? What had he missed? Did he have to plead?
   "Look, I'vet done nothing. I learnt about the numbered accounts today. Yesterday. I couldn't embezzle Harold's funds - h'd already spent them. I told you. Why would I embezzled my own money?"
   "You tell us."
   "I wouldn't. It's the other way about. I wanted money to put in, not take out. That's why I needed Harold. He's taken me in, hasn't he?"
   "You tell us."
   "Well, he has." He looked at them. They aren't charging me, he thought. Not yet. I'm just helping them. I've told them all I know. Answered all their questions. If they want to sit in silence, it's their time. My business is shut down, either way.
   The silence was broken by a rap on the door. The constable went out. When he came back in he whispered to Blomfield, who said suspended the interview and went out. Hittmann switched off the tape, sat and looked at Gerald. Gerald sat and looked back. The constable stood by the door. They all waited.
   After a while they waited some more.
   Blomfield came back in. Sat down. Resumed the interview. "Where were you on the twelfth of this month, at about nine in the evening?"
   Gerald took out his diary. "That was a Saturday. Melbourne. Peter Grantly's wedding. Tom Grantly's son. I was at school with Tom. He lived near us before he moved to Melbourne. Between us and the Wilsons. Peter and Jilly were playmates. We all went down. The Wilsons too."
   "Have you got Tom Grantly's phone number?"
   Gerald turned to the back of his diary, read out the number.
   Blomfield suspended the interview. Went out and was back within five minutes. "Thank you for your help. You are free to go. Young Wilson, too."
   "What's happened?"
   "Seems your prints were not on the bank statement report, though they should have been. There was only one clear print, Harold Heffernan's. I'd guess he has a key to your desk.The bank said any transaction typed in on the Saturday, as this was, using your password while you were away, would never be processed until the Monday, adn would appear on the statement to have been done then, when you were in fact back."
   "So, it couldn't have been me." Gerald felt himself perspire. Amazing he hadn't until now. He pulled out his handkerchief and mopped his brow.
   "Right. Keith Heffernan admitted he provides your passwords. That puts them in the frame. Both for conspiracy to defraud, but it would be nice to single the right one out and throw the book at him. My money is on the father. I doubt the son knew much about it. Or he's a bit more believable. Any questions?"
   "Why would Harold have overlooked his fingerprints?"
   "Oh, that could be carelessness. But let me ask you one question."
   "Why did you call us in when you did?"
   "Chris Wilson showed me that transfer, and I knew it wasn't my work, regardless of the password. Otherwise I would have waited until morning and tried to sort it out then."
   "And you might just have been buffed into settling, rather than risk being landed in it, because juries sometimes get it wrong, especially when it seems iron clad, regardless that you know it's not down to you?"
   "I suppose."
   "That's what they were counting on. Not that young Wilson would be on the job almost immediately, and convince you of what had happened. If you had gone in at nine, and certainly checked the printout for yourself, you'd have plonked your dabs all over it, and have lost your proof that they were switched on you."
   "Not quite as careless as I thought. We got lucky."
   "You got young Wilson. We want him too. He's got a job here, any time. I wish we could offer him the sort of money he could get elsewhere. We told him he can write up this case if it's okay by you. I'm going to talk to him about it again, when all this is over."
   "It's what hes been aiming for. That and my daughter. What's the next step?"
   "Jake will take you back to your car. He is going to pick up the keyboard from you desk - the keyboard you don't use - and bring it back for fingerprinting. It wouldn't surprise me to find that Harold was the last one to use it. Now, with a perfectly good keyboard on his own desk, why would he need to use yours? Okay Jake?"
   "Okay, Blom. Come on, Mr Jones? Let's collect young Wilson and get you both out of here."
   Gerald phoned home, told his wife what had happened and that they were on their way, and Jake soon had them back at the office car park. When they arrived back at the house, Shortly after, Gerald drove into his garage. As they got out, the house door burst open and Jillian ran up. "I'll bet you're glad to be out of that. Plain old-fashioned finger-prints, eh?" She hugged her father hard, turned to Chris and hugged him briefly. "Hey, you big lug. Come and get some food." They went into the house, to Barbara and the Wilsons.
   Andrea Wilson said, "We have been keeping Barbara and Jilly company, and we wanted to be here whenever any news came through. We'll go now. Chris?"
   "Hey, not so fast." Barbara put her hand on her friend's arm. "You've just helped me get lunch ready. You know there's plenty. Stay. All three of you. Please."
   The kitchen bench had been set up as a buffet. Gerald turned to the Wilsons. "You two are very tolerant and understanding. Thank you. You must have been worried for Chris, too."
   "But naturally," Andrea replied.
   Her husband looked up from slicing bread. "We know him. There wasn't any risk. I have no idea why I stayed home today." He laughed. "I know it's your home, but you've had the worst of the shock, so I'm being bossy. Everyone take a plate, serve yourself here and let's eat in the dining room while you tell all. Okay, Barbara?"
   When they were settled, Gerald and Chris, taking turns, filled in the remaining gaps. Gerald said they owed everything to Chris, who then said Jiilian was the hero. But for her he would not have got the tape and looked into it. Gerald said they were a good team, and opened a bottle of cider, proposing to toast them both. Jillian sprang out of her chair and ran up to her room. When they heard her door slam they all looked at each other. The cider was left untouched.
   After lunch, Christopher's parents went off to walk the short distance to their home, and he stayed back, with Gerald, sharing the cider as they sat in the shade of the porch, looking out over the yachts becalmed on the harbour. Jillian had finally come down from her room and finished her lunch. She and her mother opted for tea, brought it out and joined the men.
   "There's no avoiding it, is there Chris?" Gerald looked uneasy. "I've got to get computer training myself?"
   "I'm afraid so. They could never have set this crime up so easily if you knew how to probe through the accounts on computer as well as you do on paper. Just letting Keith set your password gave them a way in. They were bound to see you as natural victim."
   "I don't think they saw me that way. Not initially."
   "But once they knew the way you worked, Gerald, it would have been hard for someone with Harold's knowledge and motivation to resist exploiting you."
   "Yes. I knew Harold's background included computer programming, but I saw that as a plus, not as a reason for alarm bells."
   "Well, you won't make that mistake again?"
   "Oh, no."
   "No?" Chris looked at him quizzically. "What about me, Gerald? I could set things up to steal from you."
   "You're very different, Chris. You wouldn't misuse the knowledge."
   "Ah, that's just plain hopeful. You must protect yourself so that even someone you trust, totally, won't ever see you as a tempting target."
   "Is that because computer crime is so hard to detect?"
   "No, actually, it's easy. That's the odd thing. It starts off invisible - a different pattern of information inside a computer - nothing to see from the outside. That's why the crime can be committed in secrecy. But then, once suspicions are aroused - from whatever cause - you can find evidence very easily - it is all on the disk - you don't have to go traipsing over the rainy moors in the moonlight with a magnifying glass and a bloodhound."
   "So you knew what to look for, and that's how you found it within an hour. Whereas they must have months planning it, but within twenty-four hours of their sting, we have them behind bars."
   "Yes, but they made the evidence easier to find because they needed it found, to implicate you. But it would have surfaced soon, anyhow. Besides," he added, "I think they were stupid. Greedy. Once they had that much in numbered accounts they should have skipping off to somewhere without extradition and lived off the interest. But they tried to leverage it so they could have the whole company and stay living in Sydney. Too complicated. Too much to go wrong. Too risky. Had to fail."
   "They made the odds too long?"
   "Pretty much. yes. Now what are you going to do? More to the point, what can I do to help?"
   "You've already saved me a heap of time and trouble, and probably saved this family a half million dollars - they never expected me to have an early-warning system like you. I've spoken to my lawyer - he says we can make a case for breach of contract on the 'best-efforts' clause, but to wait and see what the criminal system does, first, and what assets Harold ends up with, after that."
   "The Swiss bank will return the funds so your business can carry on?"
   "The local bank is looking at having the entries reversed. If they were made as part of a crime, they may be void. So there should be no major problem there."
   "Except that you've been left without a computer system."
   Gerald replied, "We can't do anything about that until Blom and Jake have finished looking for evidence in the office. But we should be able to get started soon after that - they have promised to leave us photocopies of any documents they take. When we do get back in, we should try to get the computers running again. Would you help with that, please?"
   "Of course I will. You will need a new disk. It's a standard size. You can buy them anywhere. I've checked with the computer shop across the road from your office - where Keith bought the computers in the first place. They are holding one for you. I can load it from tape and have you going in a few hours, and then check with the bank to make sure that your figures and theirs tell the same story."
   "... finally," Gerald added. "Then we will be back in business. Tremendous. Tomorrow, I'll start contacting all our customers and suppliers who have been affected, to let them know, personally, that we are still in business, and still a safe bet."
   Chris looked concerned. "I'd be happier if you would hold off until I actually have got the systems running clean. Just in case I strike a glitch."
   "That's fine for me, Chris, but you've got your studies to attend to. What are these few days going to do to your marks?"
   "My marks? Oh, they will be wonderful. You've given me a thesis topic. I've been the initial investigator, entered without authority to gather evidence, acted for the complainant, been grilled as a suspect, and now I'll be doing the fix up of the systems and getting it all running again. Then, with your help, and some study on your part, I hope I'll be able to ensure that only a very much more sophisticated criminal will ever be able to attack you the same way again. What a paper I can write! And I've been offered a graduate entry to the fraud squad."
   "Oh, Chris, that's wonderful. Congratulations." Both of the women spoke at once. It was hard to tell who said what.
   Gerald looked at Christopher. "I'm not going to suggest a reward, for I suspect you'd turn it down, and tell me you did it from loyalty and friendship and the adventure of it."
   Christopher nodded. He looked down, turned his head away very slightly. He's embarrassed, Jillian thought. "Dad's right, Chris, you've earned this. You've been absolutely marvellous. Though I think we should give you a reward, and that you should accept it."
   Her father cut in. "No Jillian. Chris doesn't want that, And I'm not going to force it on him. But I insist on paying him professional fees for every minute he has helped me, us, from the very start when we first began installing the computers, through to now, and for every minute from now on too. I'm sure his professor will tell me what the top rate is."
   Christopher looked at him. Shook his head.
   "Oh, yes, Chris. I didn't think of it at first because I saw you as a young student, a neighbourhood friend of my daughter's. You didn't seem to spend much time, and I thought you only did it to get closer to Jillian."
   "That's true. It was. Still is." He turned and smiled at Jillian.
   "Yes, but over these few years it has mounted up, and I can see that the firm has been taking unfair advantage of you. I won't have that. I'm just sorry it took me so long to get to this point. And you've just suggested doing more. If it wasn't you I'd have to pay someone else. Who might not do it as well. You will get paid, very well, for your time. On this I will accept no argument from you, young man."
   "Oh, Daddy, don't be so gruff and formal."
   "Thank you Sir. Gerald. That's very generous. Yes, I'll accept that. It's very kind of you."
   "Richly deserved. I really could not have come through this without you two. I'm very fond of you both, in different ways, of course."
   "Thank you." Christopher looked at Jillian, though he was answering her father. "And I am very fond of Jillian. She said at lunch that she knew I wanted more, and I do, but I also accept her wish to leave that be a very long way off. I only hope that the waiting won't always be as difficult as I sometimes feel it. We've done quite a lot of talking and been rather shaken up, the last few days."
   Jillian looked round at the two men, Christopher close beside her, her father on his other side. She felt the presence of her mother behind her. I should be so happy now. All my wishes are being granted. The Heffernans' scheme has failed. I'm surrounded by people who love me. They are all safe and well. I'm getting good marks studying my vocation. Chris says he will wait till I'm ready. I should be happy about that, too, but it just feels like another pressure. Why are men like that? You only have to see the way Dad looks at Mum. All smiles. Just like Chris. I can tell what he wants. Mum should, too. I don't know why she thinks it's so nice of him. She should know better.
   Aloud she said, "I just want things to go on as they were, as soon as possible. I'm happy now, but I won't be if I can't keep up my studies. I'm glad this has worked out, but I've lost a day and now I'll have to make it up." Obviously miserable, she got up, went up to her room and got out her text books again.
   Down on the porch the other three looked at each other. Her father spoke first. "Is she really worried about her marks?"
   Christopher just nodded.
   Barbara looked at them both. "She shows me her marks. She is getting 98 in some topics. I don't think I've seen anything below 95. Why is she worried? I thought she must surely be very successful. Do you know, Chris?"
   "I could ask her for you, if you would rather not do so." Then he added, "But I couldn't tell you unless she let me."
   Gerald turned at looked at Christopher, who now had a frown on his usually happy, open face. Gerald thought about his own love, initially for Barbara, and then when Jillian had come along, how it had expanded so easily to contain her too. He was sure it was going to be like that for these two young people, though lately he had thought that Christopher was much more ready for the give-and-take of life than his daughter seemed to be. "If it makes any difference, you both have my blessing." I think you might need a little more than that, though, unless something changes soon, he thought.
   "Thank you. I feel as if I have all the blessings that I can cope with - any more and I'll probably burst!"
   Gerald said, "That's fine then." But he looked puzzled. Barbara looked at him over Christopher's shoulder, and shrugged. He nodded slightly, sure that she held the same concern.

Copyright © 2003 Peter Leon Collins
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