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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

January 30: THE SECOND TIME AROUND


"Morgan?" Kat burst through his open office door almost before he could finish hanging up the phone that morning. "We really need your help."
All Daniel could think of was that Lynette was in trouble and had asked for him. He had driven by her house more times than he could count in the last three weeks, looking for some sign of her, trying to screw up his courage to ring the doorbell and ask if they could talk about Kat. He wanted his daughter to know who he was and become more than just her teacher and advisor.
"What's wrong?" He shot to his feet, reaching out a hand to Kat.
"It's Bekka. You know that book she was so excited about? The one that guy she met in Florida wants to publish? It's all a scam. He's a major crook and he's trying to extort money from her grandparents and I know she needs to lean on somebody and she won't cry but I bet she wants to and... can you talk to her?"
"Sure." Daniel almost dropped back down into his creaky chair again. He felt blindsided.
Kat didn't need him, but Bekka did. Yet Bekka never seemed to need anybody. Whenever she asked for advice, it was mostly to check out what she'd already prayed about and decided for herself.
"Great. I knew you'd help." She started backing through the door, then paused. Daniel wondered if she was about to finally reveal what had been a shadow at the back of her eyes since she got back from Christmas. "It's... it's really nice to..." Kat shrugged, and Daniel could have sworn she blushed a little. "It's great to be able to... depend on... well, if we could pick our own fathers, all three of us decided we'd pick you. If you were old enough to be somebody's father," she added, hastily, and vanished through the door.
Daniel stared at the empty door for at least five minutes, his mouth hanging open. Then he laughed. He turned and propped his elbows on his desktop and hid his face in his hands and laughed until the tears came.
Bekka's problems were no secret to him. She had gone to the Randolphs for advice when her miracle book sale started to go sour. Joel immediately told Daniel, because he knew how important anything affecting her would be to him.
Kat coming to him and asking him to help was a good sign, Daniel knew. No matter what her stepfather had done to her, she still reached out. She still wanted a father.
"If I were old enough to be somebody's father," Daniel muttered, and laughed a little more.
He wished he could tell Lynette what Kat said. Would she laugh, too, or would she be hurt? But why couldn't he call her? He seemed to have missed her every time he drove past the house. That slob husband of hers couldn't be around during the day, could he? It wasn't like he could leave a message on the machine.
Daniel picked up the phone and dialed. After all this time, so many instances where he intended to call and then gave up, he knew Lynette's number by heart. The phone rang five times, then the answering machine picked up, with Lynette's gentle voice. Daniel hung up before the greeting ended.

Friday, January 25, 2013

January 25: DETOURS


Joel Randolph was the only one home when Bekka propped her bike up against the back steps of the combined theater/home/print shop. He grinned and held out a hand for her poncho, gave it a good, hard shake to rid it of water and gestured for her to make herself at home in the big kitchen with the old, scarred, oval oak table.
"Coffee?" he asked, as Bekka slid into the nearest chair.
"No, but thanks."
"Feels more like April than January. How's everything coming along with the book?"
"That's why I'm here. I came over to take Max up on her offer..." Bekka swallowed hard, fighting the sensation that she was about to burst into tears. "Something just feels wrong."
"Oh, to have Chuck Winters look over your contract. Yeah, I was glad she thought of it." Joel saw the soggy envelope clutched in Bekka's hands. "I don't have that much experience, but I could look it over and call Chuck for you right now."
"Would you? I don't want to make any trouble for anybody."
"Bekka, you've bailed us out more times than I can remember. Working backstage, and that time Max was so sick she couldn't see straight, and we needed a rewrite on a script. I'd be more upset if you wouldn't let us help." He held out his hand, waiting, that big, slightly crooked grin on his face that made Bekka wish for her father.
Which really made no sense, because her father had never been the big, teddy bear-type, hugging, tickling, roughhousing kind of father. She knew her parents had loved her, and Bekka had some hazy memories of cuddling, but their physical closeness in her childhood had always been quiet, not the laughter and affectionate roughness displayed between Joel Randolph and his sons and stepdaughter.
"Thanks," she half-whispered, and handed over the envelope. It immediately felt like a giant weight had slid off her chest. Bekka didn't hesitate when Joel gestured for her to help herself to the cookie jar sitting in the middle of the table, while he settled down to read through the thick sheaf of papers Elberts had sent.
Bekka was eating her third white chocolate oatmeal cookie, just nibbling around the edges, when Max and Emily came in from shopping. Joel continued reading, leaving Bekka to explain what was going on. He got through the last page just as she finished, and Emily was settling down at the table with her own cup of coffee.
"There's something fishy here," he said, slowly shaking his head, his forehead wrinkled under the thick tangle of salt and pepper curls. "The way the contract keeps repeating itself, but in slightly different wording every time, makes me think it's a trap."
"That he's trying to slide something by?" Max guessed. She settled down next to Bekka and handed her friend one of the glasses of milk she had poured. Bekka took it without thinking.
"Like that contract Matthew Carpoli tried to pressure us into signing without reading?" Emily suggested.
"Ouch! This guy tried to get ownership of the theater, just when my folks were starting out," Max explained, turning to Bekka. "He put together a contract that was supposed to be a partnership, but made it so top-heavy, everything in his favor, there was no way my folks could fulfill it. They would have lost everything they'd built up, and probably owed him half of what they managed to earn for the rest of their lives."
"The fact that he pressed so hard to have us sign it without really reading it over or consulting a lawyer made me suspicious," Joel said. He handed the papers back to Bekka. "Just like that note that came with the contract. Imagine what would happen if you sent him your book file. That would be proof enough that you agreed to the contract, even if you never signed it. And it makes me suspicious that he specifically told you not to register your copyright."
"Is he trying to get something from me?" she asked, her voice falling to a whisper. It was the only way she could talk without either bursting into tears or screaming. Bekka wasn't sure which was more likely to emerge from her mouth. "See, I've always been told that any decision you have to make in a hurry is going to be a bad one, and anyone who pushes you to make a decision really fast has something to hide, and that note... he practically told me to sign the papers right there in the post office and throw it back into the mail to him. It felt wrong."

Thursday, January 24, 2013

January 24: DETOURS


"Isn't your agent more like screenplays and TV scripts and things?" Bekka asked. "I know he sold the novels you and Tony are writing but..."
"Chuck does everything. Actors, playwrights, novelists. If you want, he'll look through the contract and steer you clear of trouble. No charge. I guarantee." Max snickered. "Dad already asked him. Actually, it was more like he told him. I believe the words he used were 'You'll look after any of my kids who need help, won't you?' So how could Chuck say no?"
"That'd be... great. Really great." Bekka wondered if this breathless feeling would keep coming back until her book was actually in her hands. "Thanks. I really appreciate it."
"No problem. You deserve all the breaks you can get, Bekka." Max squeezed her shoulder a moment. "I heard some rumors... someone was telling some gossip and someone else heard it and... well, the story on the nasty side of church is that your grandparents threw you out in the middle of Christmas vacation. If you need any help--"
"I walked out on them." Bekka shrugged and swallowed hard against a sudden urge to cry. "I suppose they've told their friends up here that they threw me out, just to make themselves look good and counteract anything I've been telling people."
"But as usual, you haven't told anybody anything. Do your roommates even know?"
"A few people. But they don't gossip." She sighed. "Should have known I couldn't just slide on past. It's amazing their old friends haven't come by to chew me out for being ungrateful."
"Maybe their friends suspect the truth." Max nodded, a shadow of old hurt momentarily darkening her eyes. "I know what it's like to be put down for something you didn't do. Anyway, you've got friends over at Homespun, and any time you need someone to talk to..."
"Thanks. For everything."
Bekka watched Max pulled out into traffic when they finally parted company, and wondered how her friend could be so calm about the nasty rumors, about the Pharisees in their church and the idiots who still gave her a hard time about parts of her life she certainly had no control over.
Maybe it was because Max had so much practice, being the daughter of famous Emily Keeler, and growing up with her living room functioning as the Green Room for Homespun Theater. She rubbed elbows with Hollywood types all the time and helped launch the careers of a few people. She had seen her first script produced in a children's production at Homespun when she was fourteen. She had the most gorgeous, funny, intelligent writing partner in the world, Tony Martin, and they had a four-book contract writing under their shared pen name, Antonia Maxwell. Everything was working out for Max Randolph.
"She certainly paid her dues," Bekka murmured, as she turned to head down the street toward the apartment.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Quarry Hall: JOAN

My Tabor Heights companion series, Quarry Hall, is now available at Desert Breeze Publishing.

JOAN is the first book, filling in some of the back story that you've heard in reading various Tabor Heights books. With JOAN, we go back in time four years before the events of Tabor Heights, and learn about Joan and Xander's friendship, what brought her to Tabor and then to Quarry Hall, how the Arc Foundation became sponsor for Common Grounds Legal Clinic and eventually for the Mission.

The week of January 28, Quarry Hall Book One: JOAN, is in the spotlight on the Desert Breeze Publishing Blog.

Stop on over and learn some behind-the-scenes information, and find out how you can get a free download of a fanzine story (remember the Stephen J. Cannell TV show, "Stingray"?) where I did some "test driving" of various Quarry Hall characters, back before it was even called Quarry Hall.

You can also check out my web site to learn more about Quarry Hall and download the story -- NEXT WEEK.

And if I remember, I'll stop in and answer questions anyone wants to post.
Hope to see you there!

Monday, January 21, 2013

January 21: WHITE ROSES


He watched Angela sort through the saddles waiting to be used in the tack room. It irritated him that she seemed amused and not worried at all. She should be worried. Didn't her sins weigh heavily on her conscience? She had to know that he would come to punish her for deceiving him, tricking him into loving her. Did she think she was so valuable that Chief Cooper would actually send her a bodyguard?
At the very least, someone should have called her to tell her that he had attacked Toni and Curt. He might have managed to kill Toni, but he knew Curt was still conscious when he fled. He should have called for help by now.
His hand slid into his pocket to look at her cell phone. She had been ignoring her phone. There was probably a message in there, warning her. Maybe Curt had even recognized him and there was an APB out for him right now.
Why hadn't he killed them both, instead of settling for beating them?
He knew why -- he had been startled when Curt appeared. He thought Toni was alone.
Why was everyone so cruel to him?
He reached into his other pocket and pulled out the zipper bag with the chloroform cloth. Everything worked fine when he followed his plan, rather than letting his wounded heart rule.
"I think I’ll put you on Buster," Angela said, turning around with a saddle in her hands. "He's Di's horse. She won't mind. Come on." She gestured with a tip of her head and led the way down the aisle to the box stall closest to the door.
He stepped up behind her as she bent to put the saddle down on the bench in front of the stall, and he brought the chloroform cloth from the bag. Just a few more seconds now, and he could throw her in his car and be on his way. No one the wiser.
Angela turned, reaching for a bridle hanging on a peg above her head. She hesitated a moment, her face hidden by her arm, and he shivered, suddenly afraid. He shifted to the left and their gazes met and locked.
He lunged, reaching for her head with his free hand, the cloth ready to slap over her face.
Angela snatched at the bridle and turned, slapping at him with the leather straps. He went down, momentarily blinded, and let out a howl. Lunging to his feet again, reaching for her, he saw the flash of silver and ducked. The bit caught his cheek, stunning him for two seconds in a black flash of heat and pain. Angela ran, her boots making muffled thuds in the straw-strewn aisle.
                "Angel!" he roared, wiping away the blood with one hand and reaching for his gun with the other. "Come back!"

Sunday, January 20, 2013

January 20: DETOURS



Bekka felt that little shiver go up and down her back when Amy and Kat reported that Shane Hopkins was asking about her. She had seen him a few times outside of class, but he was always in a hurry. She saw more of his back than his face. It made no sense why she should be so interested in him, when he certainly hadn't bothered following up with her. The few times she managed to strike up a conversation, he hadn't shown any interest.
"He who hesitates... probably lives longer," she muttered, and headed over to the student center to see if she could find a campus directory. According to the conversation she had with Shane before they flew to Florida, he lived off campus, but he had been in his apartment for two years now. All she had to do was find him in the most recent directory, get his phone number, and call.
She had realized a long time ago that she didn't know the first thing about letting a guy know she was interested. How was an inexperienced girl supposed to encourage a guy without looking desperate or easy? Maybe openness was the best bet. She could be honest, saying that Kat and Amy said he was asking about her, so she thought she could call him and find out what he wanted.
Only heavy praying could take them from there.
Bekka felt like doing a victory dance when she found Shane's name in the campus directory. She wished yet again she had a cell phone -- that would be the first thing she would buy with her advance check from Barney Elberts, although, come to think of it, he hadn't mentioned what she was getting for an advance when they talked. Digging in her pocket for change, she went to the bank of payphones by the entrance of the student center. Despite the prevalence of modern technology among college students, she had to wait for someone to finish using one of the five payphones.
"Hello?" The person who answered the phone at Shane's apartment was a woman.
She sounded young. She sounded like she had just gotten up from a nap, her voice slurry. Bekka almost hung up.
"Umm, I was looking for Shane Hopkins. I guess I have the wrong number."
"Nope, you got the right number, but he's not here, if--"
"Thanks, I'll try to catch up with him in class." Bekka hung up, feeling like a big, hot hand had wrapped around her throat.
Did she really want to know what Shane wanted from her?

Friday, January 18, 2013

January 18: WHITE ROSES


"Angie." Ray Cooper stood somewhere out in the aisle between the stalls. His shadow didn't fall into the stall.
Angela didn't turn around, and she was proud of herself that she didn't jump six feet in the air and fumble the saddle she had just lifted up off its bench. She finished settling the saddle on her horse's back and turned to him.
In the twenty minutes between leaving the newspaper office and him following her here to the stables, he had aged ten years, maybe more. She wanted to go to him, wrap her arms around him, try to drive away that chilled, aching look from his eyes. But how could she, when she felt so cold inside that not even the hottest afternoon Ohio ever produced could ever warm her again? They would both freeze together, stuck there. Wouldn't that be a lovely way for the rest of the world to learn how they felt about each other? She could just see the picture in some other newspaper -- certainly not splashed across the front page, their secret romance didn't merit such attention -- the two of them locked in an embrace, with icicles hanging off their elbows and noses.
She refused to break her cardinal rule, even in death, though she definitely had no intentions of dying just yet. No, the Coffelts reported the news. They never became the news.
"I think it's time," Ray said. He stayed out in the aisle, though he did take a step closer and braced both hands on the posts of the stall door.
"Time?"
"We've been edging around the issue for a while now. I love you, and you love me. And everything that's going on, it kind of woke me up to what I want in life, and what I need. And I'm hoping you need me just as much."
"Ray--"
"I want to marry you, Angie."
She wanted to laugh. She wanted to scream. She seriously considered scooping up the brush she had pulled out, to remind her to buy a new one next time she went to the tack store, and lobbing it at him.
"How about we make it official?" he hurried on, taking one step into the stall. "Shock the whole town, put our engagement announcement in Tuesday's paper?"
"I suppose you want it on the front page." Angela opted for laughing.
"No, that'd be slapping him in the face a little too much. But he has to know."
"This isn't about us, is it? This is about the White Rose."
"It's definitely about us. And you wouldn't be in danger from him right now if we had both had the guts to take our feelings for each other out into broad daylight." Some of the chill left his eyes, and she realized that mixed in with his fear for her was shame.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

January 17: WHITE ROSES


He pulled into a side street where he could see the Coffelt house, two stories, surrounded by old oak and maple trees, a wrap-around porch, all painted gray and white. The Christmas tree still sat in the front window and the sunlight sparkled on the colored lights and the icicle lights hanging from the eaves. He sat for a few minutes, studying the neighborhood.
All was silent. He got out of his car and walked around the back, aiming for the driveway of the house next door. He would cross the back yards and come into the house from the back door. He had his lock picks in his pocket and he could see Angela's car sitting in the driveway. He had to stop the lies now, today. How could he ever find his angel if people kept telling lies about him?
"Angel?" Andrew Coffelt stepped out onto the back porch and shaded his eyes against the bright sunshine sparkling on the snow.
He stopped, hiding in the shadows of the bushes in the side yard and watched. He shuddered, seeing movement in the garage, and realized Angela was working in the garage. What if she had seen him coming upon her? She didn't deserve any warning. She didn't deserve a chance to call for help. No warning, to try to run or fight to defend herself.
"Angel, are you okay?" the old man called again. He came down two steps and paused, still looking at the open garage door.
He shuddered as memories crashed down on him. His angel and Angela had laughed together about the similarities in their names. They had looked so much alike, and laughed when they chose clothes that were similar. Blue pleated skirts, white blouses, black loafers, red ribbons in their long, black hair.
Tears filled his eyes, turning everything into sparkling prisms as he watched Angela come out of the garage. His heart thudded in his ears, so he couldn't hear the old man and his daughter talk. A sob caught in his throat when the two embraced. He watched Angela take a grip on her father's arm and support him a little as he climbed the steps up to the porch.
Her father called her Angel.
Brilliant light seemed to burst into his mind and he sat back among the bushes, ignoring the snow that soaked through his pants and filled his boots.
Her father called her Angel.
Why hadn't he seen it before? She wasn't printing lies in the paper. She was trying to send him clues, trying to warn him. She was trying to get him to stop looking for his angel, because she was his angel. She always had been. She had been there, watching, waiting, when he thought he was in love with Angel. Could she even be jealous?
No, she couldn't be jealous. She was his angel, perfect and sweet and kind.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

January 16: WHITE ROSES


He had stopped reading the Tabor Picayune. He didn't like hearing the ugly things people said in letters to the editor or the small updates on the hunt for the White Rose copycat. Today, however, he bought a copy of the paper on his way home from work because he had overheard people discussing a story about the White Rose. Maybe there was news about his angel in there? No one was talking about her at the police station. He was afraid to ask questions. No one had any information at the school, and when he asked, he received odd looks that made him think something very bad had happened to his angel.
He needed to know. But he didn't want to know. Nobody knew the truth. They were all wrong, to be afraid of him. He never hurt anyone. Not the innocent ones. He only punished the evil ones, who lied to him and wouldn't obey. They deserved to be punished, didn't they?
So he bought the paper to find out what lies were being told about him. He made his supper and ate it in the silence and the shadows of his kitchen, and listened for echoes of his aunt and uncle's voices and the sounds and smells of those happy, innocent days. Then he went out the back door, through the overgrown tangle of the back yard, to the small greenhouse that still functioned. The air was thick and sweet with the perfume of his roses. After his angel went away the first time, he had nothing in his life but the roses, and he had learned from his aunt and uncle how to grow the roses and tend them, wrap them and feed them and trim them so he had roses blooming all year round. He stood in the middle of the darkened greenhouse and breathed the thick, humid, sweet, wine-potent air and let the perfume calm him.
Then he went to his desk and the plastic tub that stored and protected all his memories of his angel. He sat down at the desk and unfolded the paper and read.
The White Rose has now gone from a sick individual who terrorizes young women to a psychotic who threatens the safety of every child in our town, the story began.
"It's a lie," he whimpered, and nearly dropped the paper.
Dread fascination kept him reading.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

January 15: WHITE ROSES


He waited for his angel until the custodian came around to the front door of the school and chained it shut. He walked around to the side where the sports teams came out after practice and waited until dark, but she never emerged.
Where was she? Had she stayed home from school because she was sick? He wanted to drive to McGuire's house and ask him, but he knew that wouldn't be a good tactic. After all, he had never indicated any interest in the girl before, and McGuire was too good a cop not to get suspicious. He had watched McGuire give safety presentations in the elementary and middle schools, teaching the children how to avoid dangerous places and know when strangers were lying to them, trying to lure them into danger, to hurt them.
He wasn't going to hurt the girl. He loved her. But McGuire was too careful, too suspicious, to believe anyone. He admired McGuire for protecting the girl, his angel, so carefully. But that didn't help him now.
            What was he going to do? He needed to see his angel every day.


Monday, January 14, 2013

January 14, COMMON GROUNDS


                "You call me if you even suspect something," Xander half-growled. 
            He watched Hannah put on her coat, just moments away from walking Sheila out to her car and starting the long trip to Indiana and the Arc Foundation's battered women's shelter.
            Vincent had driven up from Quarry Hall to follow and guard Hannah until she reached the state line, to make sure no one followed her and Sheila.  He waited in his car around the corner to avoid suspicion.  Vincent knew what he was doing.  Despite knowing Hannah and Sheila were in good hands, Xander didn't feel any more secure.  He was proud of Hannah, so quick on her feet, so ready to take personal responsibility for Sheila. 
            And he ached for her.  Hannah had gone through something like this only a short time ago, fearing for her life, even when they were sure it was a copycat and not the real White Rose Killer stalking her.  She had to be reliving those uneasy days.  Combined with her concern and sympathy for the teenager now in her care, Hannah had to be under far more strain than she showed.
            "We'll be fine," Hannah said.  She paused in zipping up her coat to reach up and just touch his cheek with her gloved fingertips.  "Bekka's already called the church, and the prayer chain is hard at work.  With all the snow falling now, nobody could follow us if my car had a blinking neon light on the roof and a homing signal under the hood."
            "Yeah, some consolation.  And what if you get in a wreck halfway there, or halfway back?"
            "I have my cell phone and my AAA membership, and a blanket and extra clothes in the back seat, and a shovel and bags of sand in the trunk.  I'm used to Ohio winters, remember?  Besides, do you think some lousy weather would dare interfere with Vincent on the job?"   She rolled her eyes, and her exasperated tone was almost convincing.
            Xander managed a grin, but feared it was a stiff grimace that didn't fool anyone.  Least of all him.
            "Yeah, you'll be fine.  You don't need me watching out for you at all."
            "Maybe.  But I kind of like it when you do."  She blinked back a sudden glistening in her eyes and turned to Sheila.
            The girl had relaxed enough to devour the double cheeseburger, fries, shake and apple pie Xander had picked up for her.  She watched them now, interest wiping away the wide-eyed, pale-faced terror she had worn when she first met them.  She was a pretty girl.  Xander could understand, just a little, how any man would be tempted to desperate measures to keep a girl like her for his very own.
            He wasn't sick enough to use threats and to adore from a distance, though.  What was wrong with a man to expect a girl to read his teeny, tiny mind and know exactly what he wanted, what he thought and felt?  Xander resolved that when this was all cleared up, he and Hannah were going to have that overdue talk.  He'd been a coward and idiot for far too long.
            "I'll always be worried about you," he said, and wrapped his arms around her in a brief hug before he lost his nerve.  "So you might as well relax and enjoy it."
            "Is that so?"  A bright blush darkened her cheeks.  Hannah cleared her throat, licked her lips, and suddenly couldn't meet his gaze.  "Lock up after me?  Rene is working late tonight.  Come on, Sheila.  Your uncle should have your suitcase in my car by now."  She flashed Xander a quick smile and snatched up her overnight bag from the table.  In moments, she and the girl were out the door and heading down the fire escape.
            "Is he your boyfriend or something?" Sheila asked.
            Xander braced himself in the doorway, straining his ears for the answer.
            "Boyfriend.  Definitely.  So hands off, understand?"
            Sheila's answering giggle was the most beautiful sound Xander had heard in a long time.

Friday, January 11, 2013

January 11: COMMON GROUNDS


            "Hannah?"   Xander gaped, paralyzed in his own doorway.  Despite his daydreams, he had never expected to see her standing on the front doorstep of his condo.
            "Yes, me."  She grinned, and mischief sparkled in her eyes.  "Did you think I climbed into a storage locker on the weekends and slept until Monday morning?"
            "Don't be silly.  I mean, I see you in church."  Xander sighed, rubbed his eyes, and wondered if ten in the morning was too early to get up on a Saturday.  "I don't mean to sound rude, but what are you doing here?"
            "Hey, leave my date alone," Tyler bellowed and emerged from the laundry room, via the kitchen.  He tugged a Southeastern football jersey over his head and hurried to the front door.  "Sorry, running late.  We stayed up a little too late last night talking about the old days."  He elbowed Xander aside.  "She can come inside and wait, can't she?"
            "Uh, yeah.  Sure."  Xander shook his head, hoping it would help.  Maybe he would wake up and find out it was all a bad dream.
            "Be right back." 
            "Take your time.  I'm a little early," Hannah said.  She nodded thanks as Xander stepped back and gestured for her to come in.
            Tyler slid down the hall, his stocking feet turning the bare wood floor into an ice rink.  It had been funny last night, Xander knew, but right now he found himself envisioning his old buddy landing flat on his back.
            "What's going on?  What date?"  Xander tried to remember if Tyler had mentioned Hannah coming over, but nothing sprang to mind.
            "He's just being silly."  She perched on the edge of the recliner and glanced around the stark living room.
            Xander wondered what she thought of it.  He never really cared what his condo looked like since he didn't spend much time there.  The only times he thought about the interior, the furnishings or decorations, was when he thought about Hannah being here.  He supposed there was something a little too Spartan about a recliner, a two-seater sofa, two bookshelves and the entertainment center holding his television and stereo system.  No carpeting, nothing but basic blinds on the big picture window.  The dining room was even more echoing empty, with his little bistro table and two filing cabinets.  Tyler had laughed at him when Xander showed him to his room that first night, neatly furnished with a mattress, a chest of drawers and a sheet hanging across the window.  He hadn't thought anything of it, since Tyler's furniture was due to arrive by moving van on Monday.  Maybe he had been living a little too simply?
            "What are you two doing?"   Xander bit his lip against asking if he could come along.
            "Tyler asked me to give him a general tour of the area, that's all."
            "I could do that.  He didn't have to waste your time."
            "It's not a waste.  I like Tyler."
            "But I live here — you live twenty miles away."
            "Uh, huh.  And how often do you get out and explore the area?  I bet you know two grocery stores, the garage where you get your car fixed, and one bookstore.  You know Padua better than Medina, because you spend most of your time there."
            "Well… yeah.  I guess."
            "Do you even know where the Regal is in Medina?"
            "The what?"   Xander wished he could have taken back that question before it left his lips.  Especially when Hannah grinned and shook her head, and her face reddened with repressed laughter.
            "It's a theater."
            "Hey, my favorite word," Tyler said, emerging from the hallway.  He stopped short and tipped his head to one side, visibly studying them.  "Something wrong?"
            "Nope.  Nothing."  Xander hid his clenched fist behind his back.  He didn't really want to deck his roommate.  He didn't really want to shake Hannah and accuse her of playing the flirt to get his attention.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

January 10: DETOURS


Trix didn't stay in Denver, and Shane wasn't surprised to find her back at the apartment when he returned after Christmas break. Whatever or whoever she had been looking for, she hadn't found it. Or him. He wondered if maybe Trix had been trying to reconcile with the father of her baby. She didn't volunteer any information, nor did Duke, and Shane decided not to ask questions and irritate what was probably a sore topic. After a week back at the apartment, he wasn't any more settled about what he should do, regarding work, regarding Trix, regarding Bekka -- but he did know he couldn't stay in the apartment any longer. He would just have to move out and trust that God would provide the money for his expenses. Even if nobody else cared about the questionable morality of sharing an apartment with Duke while his sister was there, living an ethical life meant more to him than money problems.
He mentioned the situation to Joel Randolph during his work-study in the scene shop that afternoon. They were measuring and cutting two-by-fours to build a frame for that semester's main theatrical production in the Studio Theater. Shane surprised himself -- he hadn't planned on talking about his problem with anyone.
"You're not living on campus?" Joel sat back and let the measuring tape snap back into its case. "Funny -- I guess I just assume most students live on campus. Did you ever think about getting a dorm room, even if just temporarily?" He chuckled when Shane stared at him and his mouth fell open.
"You're a genius!" Shane might have been tempted to hug his teacher, if they both hadn't been grimy and gritty with sawdust thrown everywhere by the malfunctioning table saw.
"I wouldn't say that. But I'm glad I could help."
"Now I just have to figure out where to store my stuff that won't fit in the room."
"Don't look at me for that one." Joel tugged the tape out again and walked over to the next length of lumber that needed measuring. "We're short for space here as it is."
"I'll figure it out, now that the big question is settled."

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

January 9: COMMON GROUNDS


            Hannah was on the phone when Tyler Sloane walked into the Padua office that afternoon.  She had seen pictures of Tyler with Xander from their college years together.  That, plus Xander's increasingly annoying habit of coming to the front of the office every ten minutes to look for his friend to arrive, helped Hannah recognize the newcomer.  Despite the photos, the reality of him was different. 
            He was tall, for one thing.  She estimated he was maybe five or six inches taller than Xander.  Chocolate brown hair and eyes.  A lean, fit body fairly vibrated under that long, thick, black wool coat, as he turned around in the doorway to give the office the once-over inspection.  Or maybe that was tension.  Xander said his friend was driving in from Iowa, where he had been a drama teacher at a Christian college for the last nine years.  Hannah couldn't imagine what it must have been like to drive two days, all alone.
            In those few seconds before their gazes met, Hannah couldn't decide if he was naturally honey-brown all year round, or he used a tanning bed.  His face kept drawing her attention as she waited for the person on the other end of the phone to take her off hold and answer her question.  Tyler's face struck her as a little too long; but she liked it.  He had wide cheekbones, nice angles that just escaped being chiseled, which always reminded her of cartoon heroes with no brains.
            She waved to him when he turned around and looked straight at her.  She pointed at the phone held against her ear and then gestured at the coffee machine, hoping he would take the hint to help himself.  Tyler's face widened in a smile that wiped away several hours' worth of rough day.  He nodded thanks and made a show of tiptoeing past her to reach the coffee machine.
            "That's all we needed.  Thanks," Hannah said, and fought to stifle a sigh of mixed frustration and exhaustion.  All that waiting to get the answer she had been sure of all along, but still needed confirmation before she could do anything.  She made her farewells to the obsequious little clerk who always made her think of naked, pink mice running mazes.
            "You saved my life," Tyler said with a groan, the moment her phone clicked down into the cradle.
            Hannah caught her breath.  His voice was as chocolate brown as his eyes.  No wonder Xander said his friend had been a successful romantic lead in summer stock, despite his unusual, not-quite-handsome face.  She turned to see Tyler slouched in one of the reception area chairs, his coat spread to reveal faded jeans and a bright yellow Southeastern Christian College sweatshirt.  He grinned at her and raised his cup in salute before taking a long drink.
            "Xander's on the phone, Mr. Sloane, but I'll buzz him as soon as he's free."
            "Tyler, please.  And you must be miracle-worker Hannah.  Xander told me a lot about you."
            Hannah bit her tongue to keep from asking how much Xander had told his friend about her.  She felt her face warm at the phrase 'miracle-worker.'.  Well, at least Xander talked about her to other people.  That was more than she would have expected only a few months ago, when she was convinced he forgot she existed after working hours.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

January 8: COMMON GROUNDS


            Hannah finally raised her gaze from the letter and studied his face in silence until Xander grew fidgety again.
            "You could pretend you never got the letter.  Or wait until next week to send your reply."
            "I can't."
            "Hannah, you know he'll go into his suffering martyr role and then lambaste you for refusing to bow to his greater wisdom and experience.  I've seen him do it at a dozen board meetings and congregational voting sessions."
            "I can't ignore him or delay responding because he's going to call the office on Friday for my decision."  She folded up the letter and slid it back into its envelope.
            "Your decision?"   His hackles rose.  "What about an interview, discussing salary and benefits, your schedule, your duties, things like that?  Does he think his firm is such a plum opportunity he can just snap his fingers and you'll come running?"
            "Obviously, he does."  She shivered a little and wrapped her arms around herself.  That distant look touched her eyes.
            "The only reason I can think for you to take up his offer — no, two reasons.  First, a bigger salary—"
            "What makes you think I care about money?"
            "And second, if you work for him, we can date."
            "What?"   She sat back hard, shoving her rolling chair against the filing cabinet.  "What makes you think King Arthur Montgomery would put up with me dating the enemy while I work for him?"
            "So, I guess you can't take the job."  Xander grinned, relieved that he had broken through her daze.
            "Was that the problem?  You ignored me all this time because you wouldn't date an employee?"
            "Co-worker.  Practically a partner," Xander hurried to say.  What got her so angry?  She was practically shooting sparks from her eyes.  "And I never ignored you."
            "While I was in the office, no."  Hannah stood and snatched up her coat.  "The moment I step out the door in the evening, I don't exist."
            "Hannah—"
            "I can't decide if you're a snob or a coward.  You won't date an employee, or you're afraid what self-righteous idiots like Montgomery would think or say if you showed some interest in me as a woman."  She pulled on her coat with angry stabs of her arms into the sleeves.
            "I couldn't care less what he thinks.  Especially when it comes to you."  He cringed, positive that didn't sound right.  He wished he stood in front of a hostile jury.  He would know what to say to get them on his side.  Hannah, he couldn't figure out if he had twenty guesses and unlimited time.
            "It's nearly six, Xander.  I'm going home.  It's been a very long day."
            "Let me take you out to dinner?"
            "I'm not hungry."  She gestured at the door.  "Do you want to turn everything off and lock up, or should I?"
            "I'll do it."
            "Fine."  She picked up her purse and slid the letter into it as she walked toward the door.
            "Hannah!"  For two agonizing heartbeats, Xander feared she wouldn't stop or look at him.  She stopped and looked over her shoulder.  "Don't leave me."
            "You mean, don't go work for Montgomery?"
            "I mean, don't leave me.  I can't seem to do anything right lately when it comes to you.  All I know is that I can't manage anything without you."
            "Xander," she sighed.  A tiny smile caught the corners of her mouth, and despite the darkening skies full of snow, it seemed like summer noontime filled the office.  "You are such an idiot sometimes."
            "Only sometimes.  The rest of the time, I'm tolerable.  Right?"
          "Tolerable."  She closed her eyes, and for a moment he thought she swayed.  Her smile faded.  "Good night, Xander."  She turned her head away and walked to the door, opened it, and stepped outside.

Monday, January 7, 2013

January 7: DETOURS


Bells jangled in the doorway when Bekka entered the ground floor suite of the old house that used to house Kiddie Time. She was pleased with the classy, muted shades in the wallpaper and paint, and the dark stain on the woodwork, remembering the garish colors splattered everywhere when the children's used clothing and toys store used to be here. She looked around, tugging off her stocking cap as Hannah came up to the front of the suite.
"This place looks fantastic. Is it true that Ice Man Montgomery tried to swipe it from underneath you?"
"Partially." Hannah gestured for Bekka to go take a seat in the office area set up to the left of the entryway. Two desks sat there and several filing cabinets, and shades had been installed in the windows with sills deep enough for sitting. Bekka loved old houses and all the comfort details built into them. Someday, she wanted enough money to buy one of the old houses on Main and restore it to its former splendor and have all that space and solitude to herself.
"If you're asking about the office sitter position, you're hired," Hannah said when Bekka pulled out the Fish Wrapper in preparation for applying for the job. She laughed when Bekka stared at her. "You do understand it's only part-time, and only until we get the office fully-staffed. Maybe three months at the most."
"Answer phones, direct people to the main office, and sort the mail." She nodded and mimed sagging with relief. "Perfect for me. It'll let me get some schoolwork done and keep me off the streets during the worst of the winter. I love my courier job, but I'm having a hard time finding chains for my bike tires."
Hannah laughed with her, then they settled down to talk about the job requirements, the salary, and Bekka's schedule. Then she took Bekka on a tour of the rooms, giving her a general idea of where everything was stored, the circuit breaker box, the thermostat, and the supplies. The last step was to give Bekka a set of keys and the code for the security system that had been installed the Friday before.
"Not a good idea to forget that one." Bekka nodded and looked around again as they settled down at the desks in Hannah's part of the office. She thought about the discussion she had with her roommates yesterday. "Um... I heard Annalee was found here. Is it true that he goes after brunettes only?"
"Seems like it. We can only guess the pattern, but he targets girls who don't seem to date."
"Uh oh. What an excuse to get a boyfriend. Think I can hire one?" She fiddled with the frayed cuff of her heavy, cherry red sweater. Ron hadn't called her back yet. She wondered if he had gotten impatient, finally, and was busy pressing Dana to set a date for their wedding.
"If it's any comfort, he picks on girls who live at home, not on their own. That girl from the college is a break from the pattern."
"Not really much of a pattern, is there, with only four? When do you think he'll pick number five?"
                "I hope he never does," Hannah said with a shiver. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

January 4: COMMON GROUNDS


          Donovan showed up when the work crew was only halfway through the dinner line.  Hannah had retreated to her section of the office, to stay out of the crush and enjoy the organized, nearly pristine look.  She knew it wouldn't last very long, once the staff was hired and she was busy juggling dozens of records every day.  Xander had followed her and braced his arms on her desk, visibly ready to say something important.  Donovan rapped on the locked door before she could think of something to say.  Xander sighed, grinned, and stepped into the entryway to open the door.
            "Just wanted to let you folks know, McGuire followed our man to a meeting tonight.  Recorded a lot of the conversation."  Donovan didn't step inside, just braced himself against the doorframe.  He smiled, but it was a grim expression, and the weariness in his eyes contrasted with it in a way that sent a bolt of sadness through Hannah.
            "Incriminating?" Xander asked.
            "Henry Ford might have been a very intelligent man at one time, but he needs a lot of coaching and gentle handling to get him to do anything.  Seems Toby Halm isn't very patient anymore."  Donovan's smile grew sharp.
            Hannah gasped.  Whether from relief, surprise, or anger, she couldn't decide, even when she thought about it later.
            "They said enough to prove Halm hired Ford to do his dirty work?" Xander asked as he slid a hard, strong arm around Hannah.
            "That's what McGuire said when he called for backup.  They're bringing them both in, probably in the next ten minutes.  I'm heading down to the station to do the initial questioning.  With Montgomery for his boss, I expect Halm to get out with no bail and no questioning, and we'll have charges of entrapment slamming down on our heads before we have time to think."
            "But it could be over, right?" Hannah had to ask.
            "Hope so, folks.  I'll keep you updated."  Donovan backed off the porch.  "I'd keep the doors locked and be careful in dark places for a while, just in case."  He nodded to them and stepped down onto the sidewalk.
            Hannah shivered, but it wasn't from the cold air that came in while Donovan held the door open to talk to them.  Xander shut the door and locked it.  He turned her around to face him and wrapped his arms around her.  She let herself enjoy the warmth, the caring she felt in his arms for five too-brief heartbeats.
            "The blinds are up.  The whole town can see us," she muttered as she pushed free of his arms.  What she wanted was to stay there forever.
            This was probably the last time Xander would ever hold her tight and close.  The danger was past, or nearly past.  He could stop worrying, stop blaming himself for the threat to her, and things would slowly slide back to normal.  Was that a good thing?  Had she finally convinced herself to let the dream of a romance with Xander fade away, and just hold onto him as a good friend?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

January 3: COMMON GROUNDS


             "Hannah?"   The male voice on the phone was unfamiliar. 
            After a long, busy, tiring day cleaning up a week's worth of work at Common Grounds, Hannah wouldn't have been surprised if the stranger turned out to be one of her brothers.  All she wanted was to go home, curl up on the couch and watch a totally brainless movie while she indulged in a super-deluxe pizza and a chocolate peanut butter malt.  Would anyone be upset with her if she spent the entire weekend in a deliberate coma?
            "Speaking."  She closed her eyes and hoped whoever it was would identify himself before she had to reveal she was clueless.
            "How about that dinner date now?"
            Hannah stopped herself just before asking 'what dinner date?'.  She remembered Toby Halm from the New Year's Eve service and everything learned about him later.  But if she revealed she knew who he was, what would he do?  After all, he didn't go to their church, so she wouldn't know who he was.  Or would he expect Xander to recognize him and identify him to her?  If she pretended not to remember him, would he know she was on her guard against him?  All this trying to think circles around him was tying her brain into knots.
            "I'm sorry, but I'm busy."
            Two could play this game.  He hadn't specified a day or time and she hadn't said when she was busy.
            She almost laughed when the silence stretched out on the other end of the phone.  Xander stepped around the corner of the dividers.  She signaled him to come to her desk when he would have gone to the coffee machine.
            "When are you busy?" Halm finally asked.
            "Constantly."  Mentally crossing her fingers, Hannah decided to put the ball into her court.  "Why don't you call me when I get home, and I can check my calendar for when I'm free, okay?"
            "Uh ¾ sure."
            "Oh, hello officer."  Hannah crossed her eyes at Xander.  "I'll be with you in a minute.  Um, let's talk about this tonight, all right?"   She barely waited for Halm to stammer agreement before she hung up.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

January 2: COMMON GROUNDS



            Hannah didn't know what to think when Donovan showed a picture of Toby Halm, Montgomery's clerk, to Chucky, and the hapless boy didn't recognize him.  Halm was a law student at John Carroll University, and Donovan had Taylor run a check on him.  They found nothing unusual to indicate criminal connections.  He was on a scholarship, covered most of his living expenses working at Montgomery & Associates, maintained a B-minus average, and had the usual assortment of college ruckuses and traffic tickets on his record.
            "He doesn't go to our church," Donovan said, as he drove her and Xander away from the restaurant in Stoughton, where they had met Chucky for breakfast.  "So, we have Halm in an outright lie, in front of witnesses, claiming to know you from church when that's probably the first time he stepped through the doors."
            "He had enough information about me."  Hannah shivered as the implications raced through her head.  "Who would have given him that information?"
            "Colson, from dating you or just talking to you after class.  Halm could have mentioned seeing you with him, and asked about you," Xander said.  "Working from that information, he could have asked around town and learned enough."
            "You're such a coward, Xander."  She turned around enough in the front seat to give him a teasing, slightly shaky grin.  "We both want so much to have proof Montgomery is behind all this, we're both afraid to even speculate that he gave Halm the information, so he could fake knowing me from church."
            "All this is off the record," Donovan said.  "Speculate away.  Nobody will get anything out of me in court."
            "Let's hope it doesn't go to court," Xander muttered.