Friday, November 30, 2012

November 30: WHITE ROSES

Participating in online chats and reading fan stories online for the Starship Defiance series was a vastly different experience from actually going to a convention. Toni thought she had been prepared. After all, she had covered a few science fiction-based conventions when she worked for the Cyclone. Then she learned that participating was a totally different experience from standing on the sidelines and observing.
Her first clue came when Jeremy Randolph and his 'crew' showed up with various pieces of costumes and props. A uniform jacket on one, night-vision goggles on another, laser-rifle hanging off the back of another. Everyone wore a T-shirt with the Starship Defiance logo on the back and their rank and 'ship' insignia on the front.
"They're going to let you into the convention with that?" she said when Jake, the boy with the rifle, elected to ride in the back seat of her car.
"It's peace bonded." He turned it around to show her what looked like a plastic clip over the trigger and a cap over the muzzle. "Besides," he added with a grin and a shrug, "it's not loaded. I used to fill it with water and food coloring, but it leaks when it's cold out."
"Oh. Good idea."
Well, Curt had warned her that some of Jeremy's 'crew' were hard-core.
They talked eagerly enough, telling her on the drive about things their club did, such as paper drives, volunteering at the local PBS station during telethons, writing their fan magazine and selling it at conventions. Which explained the ten-ream copy paper box Jeremy loaded into the back of Curt's car. Toni decided they were mature enough to tell reality apart from their play universe, and that let her relax enough to anticipate enjoying the convention. Somehow, though, being warned about the participation drama-slash-war games that would take place all day hadn't been preparation enough.
She was met at the door by a fully costumed alien, what appeared to be half-cat and wearing roller skates, demanding her identification and affiliation. When she just gawked at him, he groaned and called her a 'mundane,' whatever that meant. Then he handed her a small, simple booklet with the rules and order of events for the day, and a map of the various rooms being used by the convention.
"It's okay," Curt said, catching up with her once they were inside and through the registration line. He hooked his arm through hers, and she was glad to hold on. "We're probably the oldest people here, and they'll leave us alone."
He laughed, and even if he didn't keep a tight hold on her arm all day, he did stay close. Toni was glad of that when the first of the participation drama came tearing through the main hallway, accompanied by ear-piercing sound effects, strobe lights, swords, and guns that gave off eerie red and green beams of light. She was nearly trampled by a gaggle of squealing, stampeding fans in full uniform who obviously weren't sure they wanted to participate.
              Toni let Curt dictate where they went and what panel discussions they sat in on. The food was plentiful, most of her favorite junk food, and cheaper than she had expected. The dealer's room amazed her. Much of the merchandise was quality, sold in retail stores, and what came from private craftsmen was displayed with pride. Jewelry, homemade perfumes and soaps, fan magazines by the score, weaponry, handcrafted textiles, tee shirts, bumper stickers with silly, sometimes rude slogans, music, costumes, and used books. Of the three panel discussions they attended, only one threatened to devolve into a melee of arguing and pushing. Most of the people around them seemed sane, balanced, and there to have fun. It wasn't their entire reason for living, as Toni had often heard said about those in fandom.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

November 27: DETOURS

"Morgan's going to finally meet my Mom." Kat chuckled and fussed with the table, which had been extended by the addition of another card table. She was working on her Thanksgiving centerpiece and the napkins. "I am so glad Mike is in Denver for that catering convention. Mom couldn't believe anybody'd be so stupid to schedule a conference on Thanksgiving, but Mike says it makes sense. I don't think it makes sense at all. Wouldn't caterers be extra busy on Thanksgiving?"
"I should think so," Amy muttered from the corner where she bent over her collection of cookbooks.
"I think Mike just made an excuse to meet some bimbo somewhere."
"What?" Bekka looked up from the corner where she had retreated to try to write her report for World History. "He's fooling around on your mom? He's more stupid than I thought."
"Mike is a slime and we all know it," Amy pronounced, not looking up.
"I just wish he was stupid enough to fool around where Mom could catch him," Kat said, and gave an extra hard yank to the napkin she folded into an approximation of a turkey. "Then we'd both be free of him and she could meet someone really nice."
"Like Morgan?" Bekka smiled, despite the sweat coating her face. Why did that twisting feeling in her gut make her think of all three Aliens movies?
                 "Morgan is the greatest. Did you know he studied at Northwestern the same time Mom did? I wish they'd met then. But she was so busy with my real dad..." Kat shrugged and went back to her decorations.
"Who's your date?" Amy asked.
"About time," Bekka muttered. She wondered what Morgan and Marco's reactions would be to seeing each other.
"Well, who's your date?" Kat shot back.
"Oh, I--" She gasped and stood up so quickly she nearly dropped her computer on the floor.
"Bekka?" Amy finally looked up from her work as Bekka ran for the bathroom.
She barely got the toilet seat up in time.
             Her fever convinced them it wasn't a combination of spicy corn relish mixed with butterscotch fudge cake mixed with marzipan mixed with chili mixed with the half-dozen other things Amy had been playing with all week to prepare for their guests. Unless her illness was brought on by food poisoning. But Amy and Kat weren't sick from all the sampling they had been doing. They bundled Bekka up warm with the heating pad and brought her tea with honey, Pepto-Bismol, and NyQuil, and continued their preparations for Thanksgiving dinner in a much quieter fashion.

Monday, November 26, 2012

November 23 (part 2): WHITE ROSES

To her dismay, Curt's mother and his oldest brother, Mike, had already reached the emergency room. Donovan, the traitor, pointed her out to them before he left. Toni saw Mrs. Mehdlang's face light up and she groaned, silently, when the woman hurried over to meet her. She was a dead ringer for Mrs. Claus, just as sweet and warm without being overbearing. Toni felt embarrassed by her gratitude.
She had to repeat what happened for a third, or was it the fourth time? Curt's mother remembered Toni's parents, because her mother had been in a counted cross stitch class with her. So that meant a recitation of what her parents had been doing since moving away from Tabor Heights.
"Are you going home for Thanksgiving?"
"Umm... no. Kind of far to drive, and I have to work on Friday." Toni bit her lip to keep from saying that she had plans to go to the Starship Defiance convention with Curt that Saturday. Somehow, with his mother holding her hand the way she was, Toni didn't think it was smart to give even a hint of more than a working friendship.
"Then you're spending it with us." Mrs. Mehdlang nodded for emphasis.
"Spending what?" her husband asked, coming into the waiting room at that moment. He grinned and nodded when she explained. "Great idea. There's always more than enough."
"But--" Toni began.
"Might as well give up right now," Curt said. "They won't shut up until they get their way." He looked a little green, standing there in the doorway, and he wobbled a little bit. "No, really, I'm okay," he insisted, when his mother took hold of his arm and tried to guide him into a chair. "The doctor says I'm fine. Just a bad reaction to the anesthetic, can you believe it? No concussion, and I didn't even lose enough blood to be worried."
Toni wondered if he said that just to ward off his anxious family and keep them from smothering him with their concern. Curt had to go through what the doctor said twice before his parents would let her drive him home. She wondered if she should have been worried about how easily they gave in, instead of insisting on taking care of Curt themselves.
"Mom's already planning on what her grandchildren will look like," Curt muttered, when they were nearly to the intersection of Sackley and Main. He hadn't moved or spoken since they made a necessary stop at a drugstore to fill the prescription the doctor gave him. Toni noticed he hadn't mentioned the prescription to his parents and decided he hadn't wanted to worry them.
"What?" She slammed on the brake without thinking. Fortunately, there was no one behind them. Curt gasped and pressed a hand to the back of his head. "Sorry."
"They got you worried already, didn't they?" He managed a sleepy smile, still never opening his eyes.
"Worried about what?"
"Matchmaking. Could see it in Mom's eyes."
                 "I thought they were a little too eager to have a total stranger over for Thanksgiving." Toni managed to laugh a little, though there was a funny twisting sensation in her stomach that took her breath away.

Friday, November 23, 2012

November 23: WHITE ROSES

The place where she hoped to meet up with Curt was on the line between Tabor Heights and Stoughton. Toni played with the idea of telling him his research wasn't valid if the homeless people he found weren't physically in Tabor's section of the Metroparks. She grimaced at the snow dusting her windshield and decided that made a pretty lame joke. Toni looked for signs of activity as she coasted down the winding Metroparks road. A few families pursued exercise, pulling little children on sleds and walking their dogs. She caught a glimpse of a car parked right next to a sign warning that the ice was dangerous and ice fishing was prohibited at that spot. Toni hoped the car belonged to someone taking a walk, and not a determined fisherman who refused to read.
She reached the parking area, just off a bend in the road before it crossed Pearl Road, five minutes after Curt's message said he would be there. His car wasn't there.
Later, Toni couldn't say why she didn't just assume Curt was running late. She turned around and headed back to the last spot he said he would be. It was less than half a mile up the road. She gripped the steering wheel hard enough to make her hands ache when she saw Curt's snow-covered car -- and someone who definitely wasn't Curt unlocking the door.
All she saw was a mass of dirty denim, scraggly red beard and frightened eyes as she laid on the horn and pulled into the parking slot, close enough to scrape the side of Curt's car. The stranger screamed, flung the keys and several other objects at her and took off running, floundering through the snow.
"Horror movie survival rule number one: never, ever, go chasing someone into unfamiliar territory," Toni muttered as she pulled out her cell phone. She debated calling 911 rather than dialing the Tabor police department directly, and whether she was going to get into trouble for running down an innocent man because she had mistaken his car for Curt's. "Stupid! Sometimes you are so stupid!"
She dialed 'nine' and 'one' and kept her finger on the second one as she climbed out of the car, into the dusting of snow in the air, and searched for the keys and whatever else had hit her car. And she looked around at the slightest sound, just in case the redhead reclaimed his courage and came back. She found the keys and put them in her pocket, then a cell phone. It was the same model as hers, so she knew how to bring up the call log. The last number dialed was hers.
"Okay, Curt, where are you?" she muttered. Then her next step dislodged what turned out to be Curt's wallet. That settled it. She punched the final 'one' and scrambled to put her facts in order in her mind while she waited for someone to answer.
That was when she saw the partially filled footprints in the snow. The would-be carjacker had run toward the road, but these footprints led into the woods.
"Hi, my name is Toni Napolitano and I'm in the Metroparks about half a mile down from the restrooms and the par course, heading toward Pearl." Toni stepped over the mounds of snow that covered the railroad ties marking the edges of the parking area. "I just stopped a man who was trying to steal my co-worker's car. He threw the keys and cell phone and wallet at me and fled."
She barely hesitated long enough for the dispatcher to start asking questions.
"I'm okay, but it's snowing and I'm scared my co-worker is injured somewhere out in the woods. Who? Curt Mehdlang, from the Picayune."
She kept walking, staying out of the footprints Curt had left -- please, God, let these be Curt's footprints and not the guy who attacked him -- and trying to look in all directions. It was too quiet all of a sudden, as if the entire park held its breath, waiting for something to happen.
             "Okay. I'm heading into the woods -- no, I will not wait in my car! Curt could be hurt. I don't know how long he could have been lying in the snow already. Have you ever seen frostbite, what it does to fingers and toes and faces? I have, and believe me, it is not pretty!"

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

November 20: WHITE ROSES

Then Curt realized what was wrong with the office. "Hey, where's Annalee?"
"She looked kind of upset. Max took her in the back. Something going on?"
"The usual," Curt muttered, and hurried through the gate. He was relieved that Annalee was at work, but his gut twisted with apprehension.
He found Annalee in Angela's office, sitting in one of the conference chairs, with Angela sitting in the other and holding her hand. Other than the pallor in her face, she looked fine. A white rose sat on Angela's desk and a note written on that heavy, plain ivory stationery Curt had seen among the growing pile of evidence against the White Rose Killer. Both rose and note were in clear plastic zipper bags.
"You okay now?" Curt asked.
"Unfortunately, this isn't something that can be cured by chocolate," Max announced, coming into the office with a steaming mug of hot chocolate, "but I figure it couldn't hurt."
Annalee sputtered a little laugh and took the mug with a nod of thanks. Her hands weren't shaking, Curt was glad to note.
"Could you get that in to Chief Cooper when you walk Annalee over for the police blotter today?" Angela said. "The fewer people who can connect all this with her, the better."
"Maybe if he thinks I'm not afraid, that I'm not telling anyone what he's doing, he'll think I... well, how could anyone like him?" Annalee murmured. "But maybe he won't get so insistent, like he was with--" She choked and her hand shook a little.
"The others?" Max said. "If hardly anybody knows, they won't make a fuss and there won't be so many editorials and rabble rousers calling him a sick lunatic. So he won't get all defensive and territorial, and he won't get so protective and jealous. I'm no psychologist, but it makes sense to me."
"He might think you're encouraging him," Curt had to say. He tried to recall what Toni had told him about the notes from Angel's boyfriend. There had been a consistent theme of loyalty and secrecy. He could understand how his target reacting in fear might irritate the White Rose and push him to more extreme demands, but if a girl didn't tell anybody that he was stalking her, wouldn't that be exactly what Angel's killer had asked of her? Secrecy?
            "How could anyone expect love when he won't show his face, won't tell me his name, when he just makes demands? Love isn't like that. Love is open and trusting and giving." Annalee gripped the mug in both hands and took a long drink. Curt admired her self-control, fighting her fear physically as well as intellectually.

Monday, November 19, 2012

November 19: WHITE ROSES

Toni thought she was prepared for just about anything, but meeting the actress she had watched on the midnight movie last night was not on her list.
Emily Keeler-Randolph greeted Toni like an old friend who had come back to town, and hugged Curt when she met them at the door. She welcomed them inside and invited them to join her in the kitchen while she finished up dinner. Toni wisely kept quiet and let Curt and Emily chat about the children's Christmas production at Homespun Theater, which was attached to the Randolph home, and the upcoming season at the community theater.
Visiting Homespun Theater was on Toni's list of things to do. Somehow, she had never connected Joel Randolph with Max, who worked at the paper with her. It was even more discomfiting to realize that Max and her writing partner, Tony Martin, wrote under the pen name of one of her favorite new authors, Antonia Maxwell.
Concentrating on untangling the relationships and who did what helped Toni get over the fact that the star of the Civil War movie she had cried over when she should have been sleeping now stood in front of a stove, five feet away. It figured that Emily was a good cook, too. Whatever she was doing with the green beans in the stir fry pan smelled heavenly, but didn't interfere with the mouthwatering aroma of garlic and roast beef seeping from the oven.
"How long have you been here in Tabor?" Toni asked, when the conversation slowed down and both Emily and Curt looked at her, trying to include her. "I'm trying to remember if you came to town before my folks moved away."
"Just about twenty years. Joel had a rental house when he first came here to teach at the university. Max and I joined him, and we started working on his idea for Homespun almost from the start. We moved into the firehouse while I was pregnant with Joe." Emily laughed and slid the green beans out of their pan and into a casserole, which she covered. "What a time that was. Joel was positive we could hitch together an old barn and a firehouse and turn them into a home and a theater. I swear, most of our neighbors thought we were crazy and it was only my very advanced pregnancy that kept them from running us out of town." She looked around the kitchen and gestured, taking in the entire complex of buildings all melded together into a cohesive whole. "Somehow, it all worked out, and we've been part of Tabor ever since." She winked at Toni. "If you have some time to kill, ask Joel for a guided tour and the long version of how it all came together."
                "I heard that," Joel Randolph said, coming through the swinging door from the living room, which, from the desks and makeup tables, costumes lying all over and storage cabinets up to the roof, evidently served as the Green Room for the theater. "Some people don't know how good they have it." His words raised laughter from Curt and Emily, so Toni decided to laugh with them.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

November 17: WHITE ROSES

Through the eyes of a serial killer ...

He watched Curt and Toni leave the funeral home, and he felt a warm glow of approval. It was only right that Angel's sister be taken care of. She was a good girl. She deserved someone who watched over her, who studied her, who stayed at her side, like Curt did. He liked Curt, always there to make sure the truth was told.
Curt had been there the day Angel died. He remembered hiding in the woods, just out of sight of Angel's body, emptying his stomach, choking on the sorrow that stayed silent and hot inside him. Curt had come running down the abandoned park road, to the dead end where the deer had broken down the barbed wire fencing years ago. He found Angel and he had shouted for help, then ran back up the park road, to come back later with a ranger, and the police had followed.
He had liked Curt way back when they were boys, both trying to get Angel to like them. All the boys had wanted Angel, but Curt hadn't been nasty. He was persistent and polite, and he had stayed Angel's friend when she rejected him. Curt had punched one of the boys who told nasty stories about Angel.
That made him one of the good guys.
Yes, he approved of Curt taking care of Angel's sister. Maybe, when he had proven that Annalee really was his Angel, come back to him, when she was allowed to see his face, the four of them could spend time together. That would only be right. Toni would be glad to have her sister back from the dead.
The funeral home door creaked open and he took a step back into the shadows. Chief Cooper and Angela Coffelt came down the wooden steps together. The chief reached out to loop his arm through hers, steadying her on the icy steps. She smiled at him and reached up with her other hand to rest it on his.
He stayed in the shadows, watching them walk down the long driveway to the street, where cars were parked. Angela leaned her head against Chief Cooper's shoulder, and he felt sorry for her. She always had so much work to do. Dealing with the story of Katrina's disloyalty, the revelation of her deception and her filthy soul, had to be exhausting. He remembered how they had all been in school together -- he, Angel, Curt, Angela. The two girls had been friends, despite the difference in their ages, and made a game out of answering for each other when their names were called in the school hallways or the cafeteria.
                   Curt had found someone, if that look in his eyes when he watched Angel's sister meant anything. It was too bad Angela hadn't found someone to take care of her. If he hadn't found his Angel, returned from the dead like she promised, he might have been interested in Angela. Maybe when he and Annalee were finally together, they could find someone for her.
             That would be nice, wouldn't it?

Friday, November 16, 2012

November 16: WHITE ROSES

"This would have been a lot easier in Calumet," Toni remarked over pizza, sitting on the area rug in her stark living room. Her hearth served as the picnic table, and she only wished she had thought to get some wood so she could have a fire going.
It was going on eight now, and she and Curt had reached a plateau in their work. Either they were both too tired to think much further along, or they had come to a stopping point in their preparation. Time to stop preparing and start hunting.
"How would it be easier?" Curt mumbled through a mouthful of mushroom-onion-green pepper.
"Calumet is a small town."
"So is Tabor."
"If Tabor is a small town, Calumet is microscopic. In Calumet, if a stranger comes into town or someone starts acting strangely, eventually, everybody knows."
"Hey, we watch out for our own in Tabor." Curt didn't look or sound offended. If anything, he acted as if her comments were a joke.
"But a lot of strangers pass through town every day, and I bet most of them are ignored. Especially if they come through regularly." Toni chalked up a point for herself when Curt stopped chewing and his eyes went distant and he visibly thought over what she said.
"And if someone is used to seeing the same face all the time, even if he doesn't know the name that goes with the face, that face becomes invisible." He slouched back against the hearth. "Boy, do I hate missing something that obvious."
"I guess you need my input after all." She offered a thin smile. Funny, but the triumph didn't taste half as good as she had imagined.
She suspected she hated being necessary because the situation was so dire.
"I'll mention what you said to the chief tomorrow. If not at church, then at the funeral."
"Funeral? Oh, Katrina's." Toni shivered.
"On second thought, maybe you'd better come." He leaned over the box and looked inside. This would be his fourth piece and Toni was only on her second. She reflected that she had never seen a man eat so quickly, with so little noise and splatter, and it was a good thing he had insisted on buying dinner.
"Ah, I don't think a funeral is the place to bring a date."
"Not a date." Curt glanced sideways at her. "If you and I go as representatives of the paper, doing a story on people's reactions to the White Rose, then nobody will think twice if you ask more questions later."
"Don't you hate having to always be thinking ahead?"
"You get used to it. And you've been doing a lot of thinking ahead yourself. Kind of unavoidable, from where we're both sitting." He picked up his slice of pizza and just looked at it. "Sometimes, I can't stop thinking about it."
"Curt... are you blaming yourself? For what happened to Angel, I mean," she hurried to add, when he turned sharply to look at her.
"Why? There was nothing I could have done."
"You found her. You were still trying to get her interested in you when a lot of those other boys were saying some pretty nasty things about her, from sour grapes."
"Did you ever think that difference makes me a likely suspect?"
Toni gasped and jerked away, but Curt dropped his pizza and grabbed hold of her hand, keeping her close. Idly, she noticed that he smeared pizza sauce on the cuff of her sweatshirt.
             "You did think it might be me, didn't you?" he pressed.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

November 15: WHITE ROSES

 Curt was glad to get back to the office, and not ashamed to admit, even if just to himself, that being alone with Toni bothered him. He supposed it was because he couldn't stop thinking about Angel whenever she got that sad, introspective look in her eyes. Funny, but that was the only time he did think about Angel now. The more time he spent with Toni, the more he saw her as herself and not a vision of her sister.
Still, he was glad to get back to the office, even though he knew every time he looked up from his work, she would be there, right in front of him. Just having people around and work to keep Toni busy and away from him would be a reprieve.
There's something seriously wrong with you, he scolded himself on the walk back to the office from Stay-A-While.
When they went to the lunchroom to hang up their coats, Loni stood at the hatch window, tossing what looked like chunks of dried bread out onto the sloping roof. Curt ignored her, but Toni stopped short and did a double-take.
"What are you doing?"
"Feeding the squirrels." Loni dusted off her hands and shut the window, then wrapped her arms around herself and gave an exaggerated shiver.
"Um, don't the squirrels hibernate most of the time in the winter?" Toni stepped over to the coat rack.
"Maybe in Iowa they do, but the squirrels are crazy around here," Curt offered. He thought Loni was a little crazy herself, but if being a health nut and nature fanatic were her only vices, she was a lot better off than most people he ran into. "You can hear them running around on the roof all the time, day and night."
"Are you sure those aren't rats, instead?" She gestured out the window, where the bread scraps and whatever else Loni had brought for today's offering lay like black spatters of ink against the glistening snow.
"Nope, squirrels. I see them all the time. We have three different kinds. I'm positive if I wait long enough, I'll see a new variety out there one day," Loni said.
"Yeah, a mutant." Curt laughed when his remark earned a scowl from Loni and a grin from Toni.
"Um, don't you think all that food will just attract rats?" Toni said.
"Good!" Loni nodded for emphasis and headed down the hall to her workroom. "If we get enough rats, maybe it'll drive the bar out for good."
As if someone downstairs heard her, the scream of power drills started up again. Curt and Toni exchanged grins and headed for the newsroom together. Just inside the doorway, she let out a little yelp and skipped sideways, almost running into the rack holding the file server.
"Something hit my foot." She pointed at a spot two feet to the right of where Curt had stopped.
He opened his mouth to tell her there was nothing down there, when a vibration buzzed through the floor, getting stronger with each second. Curt could have sworn the carpeting was moving. He bent down to touch the carpet, then thought better of it. And the vibration got stronger under his feet.
"Oh, heck," Sherwood said, coming over from his desk on the other side of the room. "We're being invaded."
"What?" Andrew demanded, coming out of Angela's office.
             Then something black protruded through the now-visible lump in the carpet. The scream of the power drills got louder and he understood what Sherwood meant. The workmen doing the renovations had drilled up through their ceiling, through the floor of the office.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

November 13: DETOURS

Life in the apartment settled down to a routine more smoothly and quickly than Bekka had anticipated. She got up with the crack of dawn -- and as fall progressed, before dawn -- and her roommates stayed up until nearly midnight. Each 'shift' took pains to keep quiet for the ones who were sleeping. Amy had scholarships and worked in the cafeteria and library for rent and food money. Kat had an allowance from her grandmother. Bekka knew from helping her balance her checkbook that Kat had more than enough money to get a much nicer apartment all by herself -- so why hadn't she moved out of the dorms sooner? She suspected it had something to do with Kat's inability to date a guy more than twice, and the way she didn't like to be alone anywhere. Bekka said a prayer of thanks that she could help her friend, even as she envied Kat her freedom to go to school, pay her bills, and spend all her free time working on her scripts without worrying about making ends meet.
"And I get jealous sometimes," Bekka said, admitting her problem to Morgan during their semi-weekly conference.
Dr. Morgan was great that way, she had decided long ago. Even if the students assigned to him didn't have any questions or problems, he insisted on a talk every other week. Just a few minutes to keep in touch with them. She was glad he was her advisor, instead of the General. Morgan would make a great father. She had seen him with his cousin's children, Candy and Chad, and knew he was great with children. She wondered sometimes why he had never married. He seemed totally oblivious to all the female students who sighed and giggled about him and watched him on his early morning jogs around campus.
Which was good, Bekka knew. If Morgan ignored all the girls on hormone overload, no one could ever accuse him of improper actions toward them later. He was careful to keep the door of his office open during all conferences, too.
"Don't be jealous," Morgan said with a smile. "You get more done in a half hour stolen from work and study than Kat gets done in three hours." He glanced over Bekka's shoulder, out the door, and his smile faded. "Of course, a lot of the time it isn't her fault she gets distracted so much."
Bekka turned to see Kat hard at work at the copy machine. Marco Tanner, a junior from Bekka's world history class, leaned against a support post in the lobby of the theater faculty area, watching her. He had that look Bekka had come to recognize in guys who had dated Kat and had been dumped -- or the ones who wanted to date her, and Kat hadn't noticed them yet. Hungry. Wistful. A little lost. Feeling hopeless. She understood that feeling.
"Excuse me," Morgan said, and slid off the corner of his desk to go to the door.
"He's not a stalker," Bekka said. "Marco's a nice guy."
"Maybe." He crossed the cracked cement floor, walked up behind Marco, and waited.
The young man didn't notice him until Morgan tapped him on the shoulder. Startled, he glanced up at the man. A sheepish grin lit his face. He glanced at Kat and opened his mouth to say something, but Morgan's implacable frown stopped him. Marco shrugged and slunk out of the room. Morgan came back to his office and settled down on the desk again.
             "I can't keep them from pestering her anywhere else, but I won't let anybody bother her here, at least."

Monday, November 12, 2012

November 12: from DETOURS

Bekka was at the Tabor Picayune, delivering a package of documents, when the news came in that Katrina's body had been found in the cross-country skiing cabin in the Metroparks. She finished up her route and hurried back to the apartment to get her books for class. On the way there, she ran into Ron Parker, a friend from the Singles group at church.
"Did you hear about Katrina?" he said, catching up with her when she waited for a light to change so she could cross the street.
"Yeah. How did you?" Bekka dismounted her courier bike.
"I was helping my mom open up the cabin, to get ready for the ski group from school. I'm just glad I was the one who opened the door and found her, and not Mom." Ron wrapped his arms tight around himself. Bekke suspected he didn't shudder just from the cold gusts of wind tearing through the intersection.
She shivered, imagining the shock Ron and his mother felt when they found Katrina's body. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah. Spent some time talking with Pastor Wally."
"I think you should get on the phone and call Dana." Bekka liked Ron, but she had never been jealous of his fiancé until that moment. Mostly because she liked Dana, who was at school in Colorado, two years older than her, and had been one of her first friends when she came to Tabor Heights to live with her grandparents. Still, she couldn't help wishing she had a nice guy like Ron with a claim on her, to drive away the White Rose if he ever noticed her. The light changed and they headed across the street.
"I can't help thinking, wondering who the White Rose will pick on next."
"Yeah, me, too." She forced a smile. "I don't suppose you'd consider spending time with me at school, make people think we're interested, would you? Just in case?"
"Huh?" Ron stopped at the edge of the sidewalk where it branched off and led to the apartment building. His confused frown slowly changed to a thoughtful one as Bekka explained her theory about the White Rose's two victims. "Makes sense. Sure."
"Ah, I was kidding. Kind of."
"I know, but Dana would ask me to look out for you. Consider me your pseudo-boyfriend for the duration." He shrugged. "Besides, there are some real twits on campus who don't believe me when I say I've got a fiancé. If they saw me hanging around with a nice girl like you... you'd be doing me a favor."
"Doing Dana a favor, you mean." Bekka sighed and wondered why hearing that she was 'a nice girl' made her feel so depressed.
"But we go dutch on dates, right? I'm saving for seminary."
"You got accepted? Where?" They walked together to the door of the building while Ron filled her in on the news he had gotten just two days ago, that he had been accepted to a Bible college in California. She had a lot to think about as she wedged her bike into the elevator and rode up to the apartment. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

November 8: WHITE ROSES

"No, sorry, Angela is in the bathroom." The gravelly voice of Myrna Calhoun blared down the hall from the front desk to the newsroom.
Curt felt the other editorial staff flinch. They all hated it when Myrna worked the receptionist desk, but on delivery days, the newspaper needed at least two people answering the phones. Myrna was in her seventies, a former gym teacher, and claimed she had danced in Vegas when she was younger. Thanks to that story and a flapper costume she wore every Halloween, the former circulation manager had dubbed her 'Bubbles.' On days like this, when Myrna didn't have the sense to keep people's private business private, Curt swore the bubbles were in her head.
Sighing, he got up and walked to the front of the newspaper office to rescue whoever was at the counter. Angela was expecting Xander Finley for an interview to talk about the new branch office that Common Grounds Legal Clinic was preparing to open in Tabor Heights. Xander was a great guy, in Curt's estimation, but even a trial lawyer might not be able to stand up against Myrna's interrogation tactics. He hurried down the long hallway, past the advertising office, past circulation, past the storage room that held office supplies and the morgue, to the front of the office where Max Randolph worked on copy and the ever-changing staff manned the switchboard. Annalee Gray typed the stringer's stories and helped out on the phones when things got really bad, and Curt saw her hanging up a phone as he walked past her desk. She gave him an apologetic little smile. Curt winked and shook his head. Obviously, Myrna had more important things to do than answer the phone today, so Annalee had to step in, leaving the oblivious old woman to embarrass Angela and the Tabor Picayune yet again.
"Can I help you with something?" Curt asked, holding out his hand to the woman standing in front of the counter, still giving Myrna an I can't believe you said that look. Then he got a good look at her and wished he had stayed in the back and let Myrna drive her away.
He realized it had been foolish to hope Toni Napolitano would give up after one failure. She wouldn't have been the good, detail-oriented reporter he saw in her clips if she gave up as easily as he had hoped. He should have expected her to come back and try again.
"I was in here yesterday to interview for a job," Toni said. She stretched out her hand to shake Curt's. Her puzzled little frown when he withdrew his hand was almost comical.
                He remembered the way she had stared, her eyes big and stunned, when he gave her parents the news about Angelique. Then Toni had let out a little scream and ran from the room. He could still hear the sound of her sneakers slapping on the wooden steps as she fled upstairs, and the slam of her door. And the way her wracking sobs echoed through the whole house.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


             Tyler was two cars from the intersection of Span and Main and seriously considering leaving his car there in the turn lane, to run up the street to Stay-a-While. But what would he do if he got there and found out the children had left already? He would waste time running back to his car, and the apartment--
Horns blared, jerking him out of a dozen disaster scenarios. He glanced around, movement catching his attention, and saw a car's brake lights and heard the screeching of skidding tires, on Span. Then he saw the flickers of movement that translated to people struggling in the middle of the street. More horns blared, and cars skidded to a stop coming from the opposite direction.
A horn blared behind him and he looked around to realize the light had turned green and the two cars in front of him were gone. Tyler fought the urge to gesture at the guy behind him, who was probably giving him some specific gestures, and put his foot on the gas. He turned the corner, trying to spy out where to park, if he could park on the street at all, when his gaze was caught by the people still in the street.
He slammed on the brakes. Time slowed, seconds dragging, stretching into minutes.
Pete Fenton staggered backwards across the street, to yet another sleek red sports car parking on the bridge. He held onto something, struggling with a girl with long, dark red hair who held onto the other end. It looked like a bundle of cloth. A struggling bundle of cloth.
That bundle of cloth was Danny.
Pete had him with an arm around his chest and the other around his neck. The girl -- that had to be Abby's niece, Kat -- had Danny by his knees.
Pam and Candy darted out into the street and grabbed onto Danny's legs, and their added weight shifted the balance of the tug-of-war. Pete let go, and the four tumbled backwards. He leaped forward, grabbing hold of Kat and spun her around, pushing her down headfirst into the car that was sitting there. The driver laid on the horn. Tyler heard the loud thud as Kat hit the hood.
He struggled with his seat belt as he slammed his gearshift into park.
Pete dove in and grabbed hold of Danny, halfway flinging the boy over his shoulder and staggering across the street. Chad came from seemingly nowhere and leaped on Pete's back. The man spun, hitting hard with his elbow, tossing the boy aside like an empty paper bag. Pam and Candy shrieked and darted out in front of the car that was trying to maneuver around Pete.
Didn't anybody see what was going on?
Pete threw Danny into the back seat. Kat got to her feet again. Blood streamed down the side of her face.
            "No." Tyler slammed his car back into gear and didn't even wince at the shriek of the gears as he went from park to thirty in two seconds. His Corvette leaped across the three lanes of traffic, missing the car that was trying to maneuver around him from behind and the oncoming car from the opposite direction. He slid across the lane, his tires bumping up against the curb, and heard the shriek as his passenger side door slid across the fender of Pete's car.