Saturday, November 30, 2013

November 30: WHITE ROSES

      Curt groaned and dug in his pocket, and Toni realized that chirping she heard was his cell phone ringing. She didn't like that little crease of frown that formed between his eyes when he looked at the number on the display. She liked even less that surprised look on his face when the person on the other end started talking, and the way he shook his head.
      "Never rains but it pours, huh?" he finally said. "Okay, I'm out with some people, but I'll be home in about an hour and then I can take off again. No problem. Tell him not to worry about anything. And if he needs anything, call me."
      Toni sagged against the wall, feeling a sick little weakness in her knees and in her stomach. It hadn't even occurred to her that something might have happened to Annalee while they were out of town, until she heard Curt say 'he' and the relief hit her.
      "Sherwood got trampled yesterday. Fell down the escalator at the mall and broke his leg," Curt said, when he finally slid the phone back into his pocket.
      "Isn't he covering a basketball tournament this weekend?"
      "Yeah, that was Loni. She showed up to take pictures and he wasn't anywhere around. Luckily, the schools reporter was able to fill in, and she got the pictures. That's all the parents really care about, seeing their kid in his moment of glory. But I have to fill in for him tomorrow, do the follow-up, catch all the stats."
      "Poor Sherwood. What?" she had to ask, when Curt grinned and shook his head.
      "Loni says he's just glad for the excuse to sit down for a while. Of course, it could be the pain meds he's on, but he's in a good mood."

      Toni shook her head. Some things about the people at the Picayune just didn't add up. She liked working there, liked the camaraderie and teasing and support, and the feeling of belonging after such a short time, but sometimes she just didn't understand the mindset. It would be nice, she decided, if she could stick around long enough to not only understand, but to make it part of her.

Friday, November 29, 2013

November 29; DETOURS

      Shane seriously considered his aunt and uncle's invitation to move down to Orlando and live with them until he could get his own place. They worked for Disney and knew enough of the right people to guarantee him a good-paying job with plenty of opportunity for advancement. For the last two years, he had been able to say no without hesitation.
      Then within two weeks of Trix temporarily moving in, he lost three of his four part-time jobs. He found others quickly enough, but the scheduling conflict gave him headaches. Every new boss wanted him to work either when he was already scheduled for another job or when he had classes. He had explained his schedules and when he was available for work, and each claimed to understand and to be flexible -- and each, at one time or another, ignored promises and got upset when he couldn't be accommodating.
      To make matters worse, it certainly looked like Trix planned on staying with her brother indefinitely. Shane knew he was being a nit-picker and old-fashioned, but it was one thing for Trix to stay in the apartment for a week or two, and another thing for her to live there -- when he wasn't a relative. He looked for a new apartment, but two things stopped him. On Monday, he barely had enough money to pay for rent, tuition, food and gas for his motorcycle. By Friday after his scheduling problems erupted, he realized he wouldn't have enough money if he put his motorcycle in storage, cancelled his insurance, and ate all meals at the restaurant where he worked.
      Then he lost his restaurant job when his boss called him three times in the space of half an hour to come to work on his day off -- while he was working another job -- and made a fourth call to fire him for not calling him back immediately.
Moving to Florida was looking better all the time.
      Then he tried to catch up with Bekka on campus, when he saw her crossing the quadrangle in front of the big old ivy-covered sandstone administration building. By the time Shane got halfway to her, someone else had caught up with her. He recognized the guy who seemed to be with Bekka everywhere on campus -- in the cafeteria, in the student center, walking arm-in-arm on icy sidewalks. As Shane skidded to a stop, Bekka laughed and hugged the stranger.
      He scolded himself not to be a wimp and just take things at face value. Just because the first girl who really caught his interest in a long time seemed to be 'taken' didn't mean anything. If he was smart, he would get to know her, and if she was worth the effort, fight for her. Still...

      Florida was looking better all the time.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

November 28: WHITE ROSES

      "How's your dad doing?" Mr. Mehdlang asked, startling Toni so she almost dropped the box of Christmas decorations she had brought up from the basement.
      One of the many Thanksgiving traditions in the Mehdlang family, along with inviting BWU students to dinner, was to decorate the Christmas tree with the help of their guests. Toni laughed with Curt when he had commented, so his parents could hear, that they started the tradition because it was so much work and they needed help. She had agreed after seeing the enormous tree that scraped the vaulted ceiling of the family room. There were enough decorations for three ordinary Christmas trees. Just hauling all the paraphernalia up from the basement had taken half an hour, between Mr. Mehdlang, his three sons, four BWU students, and Toni.
      "My dad?" she asked, after getting a better grip on the box. Was the snow too thick out there, in what felt like the Storm of the Century, for her to run for her life? What had she gotten into, coming here and joining this family for Thanksgiving?
      "Took me a while, but I finally figured out where I heard the name before." He took the box from her and set it down on the long table where the others were unpacking and spreading out the decorations. "Ben Napolitano ran that garage down by the tracks. Seems to me, his company brought him in to set it up."
      "Yeah, they transferred him in from Columbus." Toni hoped her smile didn't look as tight and fake as it felt. This was the wrong time for Mr. Mehdlang to remember details like that.
      "He was a good man, your dad." A snort of laughter escaped him. "There I go, talking about him like he's dead. He isn't, is he?" His grin widened when Toni shook her head. "We used to meet up with each other at Marge's Diner sometimes. We sat at the counter with an empty stool between us, pretending we were fighting over customers. Just started to get to know him and your mom when -- well, when that tragedy hit." His eyes narrowed and he tipped his head to one side and Toni felt as if he really saw her for the first time.
      "Dad?" Curt came over when the silence between them seemed to ring and the air thickened so Toni thought in another moment she wouldn't be able to breathe. That was ridiculous, she knew, but that's the way she felt.
      "Odd isn't it, that Toni's back in town when we've got all this new trouble?" Mr. Mehdlang said. He looked at his son. Curt didn't flinch so much as he went very still. "Ah, well, today's not the right time for that kind of talk, is it?" He clapped him on the shoulder, stepped around him, and supervised Chuck and Mike, who were setting up a ladder next to the tree.
      "Are we in trouble?" Toni whispered.

      "No." Curt tried to smile. It was almost as if she could read his thoughts, the unspoken words: Not yet, anyway.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

November 27: DETOURS

      Two days before Thanksgiving, the Storm of the Century blanketed the entire northern half of Ohio. The worst part for Bekka was that the weather couldn't seem to decide between either freezing rain or snow. She was coated with ice and soaked clear through her waterproof shoes and leggings during her delivery run on Tuesday. She was swamped with homework and tests, so she didn't notice she was getting sick until Wednesday evening, when all the samples of Amy's treats for Thanksgiving day decided to stage the Revolutionary War in her stomach.
      "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.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


New THIS MONTH from Desert Breeze Publishing:

"Nobody they usually supply got their papers, and I'm getting as many complaints from the carriers and their parents as I am customers. Either nobody is answering the phone, or they do get through and..." Cory winced. "I've had seven kids quit delivering already, just because of the way they're getting cussed out."
"Ah." The pieces came together, like a scattered jigsaw puzzle in his head. It was the word "cussed" that did it. No other paper drivers would talk that way to the children who delivered the papers for the Picayune -- if only because Andrew requested them, sternly, not to use such language. There was one family, however, who seemed to increase their foul language the more he told them not to use it. "The Pluch boys."
"Mr. C, I'm not trying to tell you how to run your paper, but... these guys gotta go."
"Yes, you're absolutely right, Cory. I should have foreseen it." He patted her shoulder. "Don't you worry. Is your brother available this morning? He's got a pickup, doesn't he?" He gestured at the stacks of newspapers piled up around the desks. "Do you have enough to fill in? Do you know enough college friends who are free this morning, who would like to earn a little extra money?"
"Yeah." Her pinched look softened and she nodded slowly. "Sorry, Mr. C, I should have thought of that."
"You would have, once you got that puzzle unraveled." He glanced up at the map, seeing in his imagination lurid red, pulsing lines around the delivery area formerly assigned to Vivian Pluch's favorite nephew and his bully brothers. "I owe you an apology, Cory. I definitely should have foreseen this problem and short-circuited it. When you talk to your brother, ask him if he wants to take over that territory. Even if it's just short-term, until we can find someone else, I would be in his debt."
"You got it." A relieved smile lit her face, putting color back in her thin cheeks, and she dug into her pocket for her cell phone.
Andrew nodded and resumed his walk up to the front of the office. Now that he had been made aware of the problems, the office phones seemed louder and more strident and insistent than usual.

Monday, November 25, 2013


New THIS MONTH from Desert Breeze Publishing:

"Mr. C?" Cory, the in-office circulation coordinator, had such a look of relief on her pale face that Andrew didn't resent her stopping him on his way to the front of the office.
Rose was supposed to deliver her first Dateline column today. Max explained about the email tutoring difficulties and said she would deliver a printed copy. Andrew couldn't help walking to the reception area to look for her to hand-deliver it, every five minutes. This was worse than waiting for Angela to be born. He much preferred Rose come into the office, rather than use the email, but what if something happened to her on her way to the newspaper? He would never forgive himself.
"Something wrong?" Andrew glanced once more at the reception area, the half-wall, and the empty front of the office. No sign of Rose in the big plate glass window, or any activity on the street beyond.
"We're getting dozens of calls for non-delivery." She gestured up at the ceiling. It took him a moment to realize she meant for him to listen.
Andrew flinched when he realized he had grown so used to the sound of the phones ringing non-stop he had entirely blocked it out.
"Any particular area? Or all over? It's a windy day. Maybe the boys aren't being as careful as they should..." He sighed. "From your expression, I have the feeling you have a good idea who and why."
"Well... Not why. Or maybe I do know why, but not their why. Exactly." She rubbed her eye with her fist, leaving a slightly gray smear from newsprint. Cory was a genius with logistics and figuring out routes to cover the most missed deliveries in one sweeping run in the least amount of time. Andrew imagined when she graduated college, she would have a brilliant career in the military devising strategy, or maybe creating video games.
However, getting her to communicate clearly and keep aware of simple things like dirty hands and where she put her super-sized cups of soda so she didn't knock them over in the worst possible places... not so good.
"Okay, start from the top. Where?" He grasped her shoulders and turned her to face the big map of Tabor Heights pinned to the side wall of the half of the office claimed by the circulation department.
Cory stepped over bundles of newspapers and slapped her hand on the map. "Districts seven and eight and half of nine." She drew lines with her finger, marking the boundaries.
Andrew had that awful feeling of impending disaster he always loathed, when he sensed the answer ready to pop out, but couldn't seem to get it clear in his head.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

November 24: WHITE ROSES

      When Toni called her parents Saturday evening, she had Curt's injury and trip to the hospital as an excuse for why she hadn't called back right away. Somehow, she managed not to mention him by name. After all, Curt's father and her father had been friendly business rivals and they would recognize it. How many Mehdlangs could there be in the state of Ohio? Then her parents would put things together and realize she wasn't living in a suburb of Akron and she would really be in trouble.
      Guilt prompted her to tell her parents yes, she had found a nice church to attend. She silently promised God she would attend Tabor Christian to make up for that lie -- then it wouldn't be a lie anymore, would it? It seemed like half the people she had met attended there, so why not? It wasn't that she didn't like church, but she had never felt any interest in getting involved any further than attending Sunday morning worship. Toni had the distinct feeling once she walked through the doors of the church that was only ten minutes of walking from her cottage, she would have no excuse for being a pew-warmer and nothing more.
      Guilt prompted her to walk across the center of town instead of driving the short distance, up the slight hill past the post office, and walk through the doors of Tabor Christian that Sunday morning. Toni had the sense to call ahead and find out when the services were. It was a little daunting to realize there were three. She chose the second service. After all, she didn't feel guilty enough to attend the early service.
      Annalee and her parents sat in the pew in front of Toni. She spent most of the service remembering Angel and speculating on how Mr. and Mrs. Gray were handling this threat to their daughter. She thought about Angel walking with her to Sunday school and sitting through long, boring worship services with nothing to do but draw tiny pictures in the margins of the bulletin. Had Angel's boyfriend attended the same church with them, hoping for a chance to meet her in a dark corner and exchange notes or whisper together? Did the White Rose Killer sit somewhere in this sanctuary, watching Annalee, making sure she stayed pure and faithful to him?
      When the service ended, Toni hesitated just a few seconds too long before standing and fleeing the pew. Annalee turned around and their gazes met. To Toni's surprise, the girl smiled and introduced her to her parents, and didn't act at all as if some dark cloud of danger hovered over her life. They talked for a few minutes about shared experiences, being newcomers to Tabor, since the Grays had only moved to the town a few months ago. When the press of people in the aisle had diminished enough to let them out, Annalee walked with Toni.
      "I really envy how well you're handling all this," Toni murmured. Then she blushed hot and wished she could have taken the words back. What happened to her tact and sense of timing? Had she lost it yesterday in the snow when she was hunting for Curt?
      "Actually, I don't think I am." Annalee gestured around the sanctuary, taking in the whole church. "This is the only place where I feel safe. I can feel him watching me everywhere else, but not here."

      Toni hoped Annalee was right, and the White Rose Killer would never walk through the doors of the church.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

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.

Friday, November 22, 2013


      "Hey, great, honey." Mike barely glanced at Lynette, busy with his TV program and the tray of cheese, beef stick, and crackers. "You won't be bored, and you can keep an eye on Kathryn. Sounds like a good idea."
      "Glad you think so," she said, barely loud enough for him to hear. From past experience, Lynette knew Mike wouldn't have heard if she shouted. Now that the holidays were here, the big season for catering, he never let anything interfere with indulging in one of his rare evenings at home. Most definitely, listening to his wife counted as 'interference'.
      Lynette turned from the TV room and wandered down the hall to her craft room. That vague feeling of discontent that had nibbled at her for years felt like a combination of shark teeth and indigestion now. What was wrong with her? Wasn't this what she wanted? She wouldn't have to endure Mike's yearly lecture on the food traditions of Thanksgiving and his 'better ideas' for holiday eating. She wouldn't even see him from Tuesday night until Sunday afternoon, when he flew back from Denver.
      Best of all, her mother had decided to go visit friends in France and had canceled her command performance for Thanksgiving, so Lynette didn't have to go to Chicago. Part of her suspected her mother really didn't want to see her because Kat wouldn't accompany her this year. Sometimes, Lynette thought her mother loved Kat more, and she was only tolerated.
      "You're turning neurotic," she told herself, and nearly kicked the door closed.
      A soft chuckle escaped her as she sank into her old-fashioned, overstuffed easy chair. She had saved it from being hauled out to the trash at least a dozen times since marrying Mike, and finally managed to put it in a room he never entered. The man cared more about style than comfort, and never understood why Lynette loved the scratchy old swaybacked chair with its permanently dented cushions and arms wide enough for people to sit comfortably on them.

      Appearances were all that mattered to Mike. Being married and looking successful were all that he cared about. The surface was his priority. It never occurred to him that marriage required just as much work as his catering business. He knew nothing about putting work into the background details of a relationship. Of course, that was if she and Mike had a relationship at all, or ever had a relationship to begin with.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

November 20: WHITE ROSES

      Curt knew immediately something was wrong, as soon as he walked in the door to work that morning. Max wasn't at her desk, but a half-empty mug of tea indicated she was somewhere in the office. She was probably in the back conferring with Angela on a tough headline. Ty Mangione was on phone duty. Curt idly watched him while he riffled through the stacks of pink phone message slips haphazardly tossed into the reporters' box.
      The college student wore his habitual sweats with his microscopic headphones hanging around his neck and homework spread across the desk. The acne-scarred boy nodded and tapped his boot-clad feet on the roller mat under the desk while tapping his pen on the edge of the desk in counterpoint. The person on the other end of the phone did all the talking. Curt could hear the voice, but not the words, so the situation hadn't escalated too badly. He glanced at the clock and whistled. An irate caller only ten minutes after the office opened? He tried to remember if there was anything in yesterday's paper that irritated someone enough to call as soon as the newspaper opened. He rested his elbows on the counter and waited for the call to finish. If it was a complaint about a story, he would probably have to handle it anyway.
      Ty flinched and inhaled quickly as the buzz of voice from the other end abruptly cut off with a squeak. "I can understand why you're so angry, Ma'am, but like I've already told you, I can't do anything." The boy winced and held the phone away from his ear. Now Curt could hear the high-pitched babbling, but still couldn't make out individual words. It was definitely a woman. He gave Ty a commiserating look. "Ma'am, please-- Like I already told you, this is the Tabor Picayune. You said you live in Middleville, and you're supposed to get the Middleville Torch, right? You have to talk to the Torch to take care of that. We can't."
      Curt winced, hearing the definite bang-click of the phone hanging up.
      "You could at least say good-bye before you slam the phone in my ear," Ty grumbled. He forced a smile as he hung up the phone. "Well, at least she didn't demand to know my name and home phone number like that psycho last week."
      "Middleville? Where is that?" Curt had to laugh. The only alternative was to scream in frustration at the stupidity of people.
      "Far enough away for her to shriek, 'Where the heck is Tabor?' before she hung up."
      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.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

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.

Monday, November 18, 2013

November 18: DETOURS

     "Snow!" Kat cheered, and darted across the street without looking. Fortunately, there was no traffic at the intersection of Main and Sackley. Bekka and Amy kept walking until they reached the crosswalk, then ran across the street. Kat was already spinning around in dizzy circles, head tilted back, catching snowflakes on her tongue.
     Bekka didn't want to think about the pollution in the air. She wanted to be back in the happy, thoughtless days before her parents died in a plane wreck, on their first vacation in eight years. She glanced at Amy, who also eyed the visibly thickening dusting of snowflakes. They looked at each other, grinned, and joined Kat in muffled giggles and spinning around on their heels, and yelping softly when snowflakes fell in their eyes.
     They were giggling, wet and red-faced when they finally reached their apartment half an hour later. Kat dropped her backpack on the table, which sported a set of Pilgrim candles and a cardboard turkey, and unzipped the pack to bring out more Thanksgiving decorations. Bekka darted into her room to change into her nightgown.
     When she emerged five minutes later, Kat and Amy had vanished into their room. Bekka settled her notebook computer on the little folding table and opened it up. That little bit of goofing around in the parking lot catching snowflakes had given her ideas for the current scene she struggled over.
     "We just put in three hours of rehearsal," Amy said, crossing from the bedroom to the kitchen. "My brains are fried. How can you get any writing done at this time of night?"
     "Practice." Bekka clicked open the book file.
     "But you were up at five this morning. Don't you ever get tired of writing?"

     "Blasphemy!" She laughed when her words wrung a sigh from her roommate. Amy insisted on the perfect mood and setting for writing. Maybe that explained why she only produced ten or twelve poems a year.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

November 17: WHITE ROSES

      Curt felt a twinge of guilt as he led Toni around the funeral home, introducing her to people, pretending he didn't see the speculative looks on some faces. He hadn't told her the whole truth of why he wanted her to come to the visitation for Katrina Harper.
      He knew the cliché of the guilty party always returning to the scene of the crime was a cliché because it was true. He was betting on the White Rose coming to Katrina's viewing. Whether the sick mind wanted to gloat over the pain he had caused others, or to reassure himself that Katrina had deserved death for being unfaithful, or for some other, unfathomable reason, the murderer could be there. Right now. Offering comfort and encouragement to Katrina's parents. Curt couldn't risk wasting a chance to catch the White Rose's reaction when he saw Toni, even if he didn't consciously recognize the reaction until later. Would he be upset, delighted, just plain startled and confused when he saw Angel's sister? Would he recognize her as Angel's sister, or think, as Curt had done in a few unguarded moments, that Angel had come back from the dead?
      Curt wanted to catch that reaction. He made note of anyone who gave Toni a second look, anyone who had an "oh, yeah" reaction when he introduced her and gave her last name.
      And, he felt a little guilty over Toni's discomfort. She was right, and several people thought they were there as a couple, dating, not a team of reporters covering a story that was painful for the whole community. Just like any community, there were the hypocrites who would latch onto the worst possible interpretation of any scene or event. Which of those people would decide Toni was being cruel and gauche by intruding into a funeral for someone she didn't know? Which ones would punish her for it later on?
      That was assuming, of course, that Toni stayed in Tabor after the White Rose was caught. Why would she want to? The town only held painful memories for her.
      All in all, by the time he and Toni left at the end of visitation, Curt had a headache from frustration and his stomach had a few new knots that weren't there when he got up that morning. They had a chance to talk to Chief Cooper and report on their progress and new theories. Curt felt good about that. But otherwise, had the afternoon been wasted?

      Only time would tell.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

November 16: WHITE ROSES

      Every likely suspect who had been attending school with Angel had to be tracked down. First, she and Curt had to determine if those schoolmates had grown up and were living in Tabor or surrounding cities. Then they had to determine if they had any police records or any other records to indicate mental or emotional trouble. Then they had to determine if any of those men had any routine that would have led to them crossing paths with Rose and Katrina and Annalee. She felt a little sick when it occurred to her that the longer the search took, and the more victims the White Rose Killer picked as his 'true love,' the more search parameters they would find, and the narrower their search would grow.
      "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.

Friday, November 15, 2013

November 15: WHITE ROSES

     Then the five of them were inside Stay-A-While. Toni had vague memories of this particular section of the shopping plaza being a drugstore and a drycleaner. She was glad to see the place looked busy and prosperous. It had a dozen two-seater tables, a handful of tables that seated four, five booths tucked along the back wall, and couches arranged along the other walls with coffee tables and lots of newspapers and magazines spread on them. Toni laughed out loud when she realized that was exactly what the name of the coffee shop implied: people were invited to stay a while. She looked at the display of muffins, cookies, gooey, rich cheesecakes and other desserts, and the menu of different hot and cold drinks, along with the sandwich platters and soups, and suspected that people didn't need much encouragement to linger.
     The three officers picked up soup and sandwiches to go and hurried out again. Curt watched them go, and his pleasant expression turned a little more somber, what Toni had already decided was his 'deep thoughts' expression.
     "Something about them in particular?" she asked, when the college-age girl at the counter took their orders and stepped away.
     "Hmm?" Curt glanced at her, then out the door again. "Not really, but... it just occurred to me that all three of them are homeboys."
     "Grew up here?" she guessed. "They were around when--"
     "When you and your folks lived here, yeah."
     "They didn't react to my name, when you introduced us. Evans stopped by that first day when I was unloading my truck, so we've met. He certainly didn't make the connection."
     "Might take a while for anyone to remember you were here before. Especially the police. They have a lot on their minds, lately." He gestured at a two-seater table tucked into a corner where two of the big windows would let them see anyone who came in the main door. "Let's take a seat until our food's ready."
     "Do you think they might remember something from... back then?" Toni glanced at the dozen other people in the café, who were all that remained of the lunch rush. Her stomach told her, without having to look at her watch, that it was past one and heading toward two.
     "Might be good to check. That's what we can do this weekend. Dig through yearbooks, make a list of everyone who was in school with us." He grinned as he dropped into the closer chair. "I don't suppose you brought your yearbooks with you?"
     "I don't know if my folks held onto anything from when we lived here." She congratulated herself on not hesitating every time she referred to that brief time in Tabor, when Angel died. "They got rid of so much when we moved, and they certainly never refer to our home or friends here. It's like two years just got sliced out of our lives."
     "Well..." Curt squeezed her hands, waking her to the fact she had her hands clenched together, almost painfully tight. "It's a good thing my folks are packrats, and they got fed up enough with the clutter to make me take everything when I moved out." He tipped his head to one side and studied her a moment. His grin got wider, and more crooked. "You don't mind helping me rid out my attic this weekend while we're at it, do you?"
     Toni laughed, which, she decided later, was exactly what Curt had wanted.

     And she was grateful.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

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. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

November 12: 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. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

November 11: WHITE ROSES

      "Look out below!" Max called as she came into the lunchroom. "You know those rumors that DDT is remodeling and coming back under a new name?"
      "I thought we got rid of that bar," Sherwood Gaynes said, coming in on her heels.
      "There's a big sign on the downstairs entrance." Max hooked a thumb over her shoulder, through the back window that looked over a sloping roof and the equally sloped parking lot.
      The newspaper office took the street-level floor of the building, with a dance bar below them. It had been named Dancing Danny Twilight, in hopes of attracting the college crowd, but the name had been shortened to DDT when the beer-and-billiards crowd dominated the scene. The mistake, Curt supposed, was keeping the pool tables and pinball machines that had been left over when the last bar that occupied the space had folded. The original crowd just came back and ignored the change in décor.
      "It says 'Under New Management,' but the fine print has the same names as DDT's owners," Max continued as she stowed her lunch bag in the refrigerator. "And..." She rolled her eyes. "There are a bunch of guys moving lumber and construction tools inside. So we're going to have some competition."
      Curt groaned with the others. During the last renovation of the space downstairs, the noise level had been a constant problem. Every time he got on the phone to interview someone, invariably the power saws or some other loud piece of machinery would start up, and when they weren't in use, someone had a radio set at chop-and-liquefy volume.
      "Fine print?" Loni asked, sticking her head out of the photography lab, which lay between Angela's office and the men's bathroom. "Who reads the fine print on those signs?"
      "With all the contracts I have to sign, for Dad's theater and my own books, you better believe I read the fine print all the time." Max offered them a grin and hurried up to the front of the office. Curt listened, and heard the sound of the phone ringing. Annalee had phone duty until Simon, the Monday receptionist, got in from his first period class. Why wasn't Annalee answering the phone?
      "My friends," Andrew said with a heavy sigh, "I think it's time we start looking at new quarters. Preferably our own building." He nodded for emphasis and strode out of the lunchroom and into Angela's office.
      The nice thing about Andrew Coffelt was that he had the money to back proposals like that. Curt didn't doubt the Picayune's owner would spend the entire day on the phone, tracking down every piece of commercial property for lease or sale in Tabor.

      The plus side to that was, he wouldn't be wandering the office, helping everyone. Most of the time, Andrew's observations and bits of advice were useful, but sometimes he had a magical talent for tangling the simplest story into indecipherable gobbledygook or causing a time-consuming breakdown in the system.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

November 10: WHITE ROSES

      The muffled clops of horses' hooves came to him from the right. Curt turned, searching the white horizon. For two in the afternoon, the park was pretty deserted. Except for those horses coming toward him. He waited a little longer, and two horses appeared around the bend in the park road where it vanished into the trees, plodding steadily along through the snowy grass between the road and the asphalt jogging trail. Curt decided he would walk over to where he would meet up with the riders, check if they had seen anybody remotely resembling vagabonds, and then call it a day.
      He certainly hadn't expected to be tramping around through the snow when he got dressed for church this morning, but that chance remark he overheard in the fellowship hall when he snagged a cup of coffee between the service and Singles class was too good a tip to pass up.
      "Somehow, I just can't picture you as the type to take a picturesque stroll through the snow," Angela called, when the horses were close enough for Curt to make out details.
      "Just looking for those squatters we've been hearing rumors about." He grinned and stepped off the trail to wait.
The other rider was Chief Cooper. He wondered idly if he would ever meet up with Cooper's daughter, Diana. She had come to live with him three years ago, after some showdown with her mother and stepfather. He didn't talk much about her, and Angela was pretty tight-lipped, too. Curt only knew his boss got along with the girl because of their mutual love of horses. The Coopers' stables had a good reputation and a waiting list of people who wanted to board their horses with them.
      "If you're bucking for a promotion," Cooper said, "you might as well give up. The only step up is to take over as editor, and I have it on good authority she's years away from retiring."
      "Boredom, not ambition," Curt hurried to say, holding up his hands in surrender, which made Angela and Cooper both laugh.
      A cell phone chirped, making all three dig in their pockets. Chief Cooper was the loser. He rolled his eyes and grimaced as he listened to whoever was on the other end of the line. His grimace turned into a frown of concentration. Then he muttered something, closed his eyes, and shook his head once, sharply.
      Angela reached over and grasped his arm. Curt wondered what signal she had picked up that he missed. He watched the chief, wishing the person on the other end of the line would talk louder. From the man's reaction, it was police business. Couldn't they even leave him alone for a few hours on Sunday?

      Then a hunch gave him a dropping sensation in his stomach and a cold chill of premonition that made the icy wind seem balmy by comparison.

Friday, November 8, 2013

November 8: WHITE ROSES

      He watched Katrina leave the hospital room, tears gleaming in her eyes. He might have believed those tears, might have felt sorry for her, but he knew better.
      She didn't cry in pity for the man lying in the hospital bed. Sam Conrad deserved the punishment he received for trying to lay claim to the woman another man loved. She cried because she knew her punishment waited. She cried because soon the whole world would know she wasn't an angel, pure and loyal and worthy of love. She deserved to die.
      He followed her to the elevators. He knew better than to wait where she could see him, or to ride down in the same elevator. When she got on the elevator, smiling politely at all those innocent people who didn't know she was a lying, deceitful traitor, he took the stairs down to the first floor. He reached the lobby before her and waited just outside the range of the electric eye that opened the doors. When she stepped outside, she looked up at the half-moon in the chilly, clear sky and shivered. He wondered if she sensed justice waiting in the shadows.
      Her car waited in the corner of the parking lot, furthest from the lights. That was a sure sign that she unconsciously submitted to her justified punishment. He stood on the other side of her car, hidden in darkness, waiting for that moment. Her cry of dismay, the sob that escaped her when she discovered the white rose he left on her windshield, was pure music to his soul.
      "Oh, please!" She turned and flung the white rose away and staggered backwards to sag against the side of her car. "When is this going to end?"
      "Don't worry," he said, staying in the shadows. "It's almost over. You won't be bothered anymore."
      "Who's--" The relief that brightened her face when she saw his borrowed hospital security uniform was almost comical. "You have no idea how glad I am to see you."
      He almost corrected her, that she didn't really see him at all. She hadn't seen his face. His true love would never see his face until she had proven she was worthy of his love.
      She pulled her keys out of her purse and turned her back to him, to unlock her car. "I have to call this in. Chief Cooper said to call him or Donovan, whenever anything happened. Or do you want to write up the report, since you're here?"

      He crept up behind her. It was a matter of seconds to rip open the sealed bag with the chloroform cloth and slap it over her face while she was still talking. He wrapped his other arm around her chest to pull her off her feet and pin her arms to her sides. She struggled, kicking, her cries muffled by the cloth for a few seconds. Then she collapsed like a limp rag against him.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

November 7: WHITE ROSES

      Toni saw the light flashing on her answering machine, sitting in the wide window seat of the kitchen, when she stepped through the side door with her arms full of groceries. After her interview this morning, she had gone on a shopping spree, picking up things like curtains, throw rugs, cleaning supplies and food. After all the work she had put in yesterday, getting unpacked and settled, she had decided to splurge and celebrate -- even though she hadn't received the official word yet that she had the job. Sometimes, acting like she had already succeeded in whatever she wanted to do had made all the difference. If she acted like she had the job at the Picayune, then maybe she could make it real.
      Toni planned to turn on the TV, curl up on her funny little two-seater couch to eat Chinese, and go through her Star Wars DVD collection until she went unconscious. Unless she had to start work the very next day. Then she would get a good night's sleep. She actually debated ignoring the message on the answering machine until she had unpacked all her shopping bags. Anticipation was always the best part of any good news.
      Curiosity won out. It always did. She put her bag from the Green Dragon on the window seat, pressed the play button, then stepped across the tiny kitchen to fill the refrigerator.
      "This is Angela Coffelt at the Tabor Picayune, calling for Toni Napolitano."
      Toni dashed back across the room to the window seat. She laughed at herself for doing that, as if being on top of the machine would affect the message.
      "I'm just calling to say I'm sorry, your credits and your reporting skills are topnotch, but we simply don't have the need for another reporter on our staff. There are a handful of other community newspapers you might try, even the Cleveland Plain Dealer or the Akron Beacon Journal, if you want to move up to the dailies. Thank you for applying to work with us, but again, we simply can't add anyone else to our staff at this time."
      Toni snatched up the first thing she could reach, which turned out to be her hot and sour soup. The splat on the forest green tile floor came nowhere near adequately expressing how she felt, and filled the air with the mouthwatering aromas of Chinese food. Toni wasn't hungry. She stared at the red light on the answering machine, steady now, and felt the tears coming.
      No. She knuckled her eyes until they were dry again. She couldn't cry, not yet. Not until Angel's murderer was caught. Not until she knew any other potential targets were safe.
      "What am I going to do?" she whispered, and sank down to the floor.
      Maybe she was wrong to try to do this alone, but who could she ask for help? She had to find someone who remembered her sister, who cared about what happened twenty years ago.

      "Time to take some risks," she told her quiet kitchen. She glared at the answering machine. "You're going to hire me, Angela Coffelt. You just don't know it yet."

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

November 6: WHITE ROSES

      Toni Napolitano checked her rearview mirror as she pulled up in front of the little cottage tucked among the trees between Main and the sloping curve of road down into the Metroparks. She felt a single notch of tension ease away at the sight of the Tabor Heights Police Department sign and all those black-and-whites parked behind it, almost directly across the street from her new home. It wouldn't do anything to ease her parents' anguish and disappointment over all the lies she had told lately -- once those lies were revealed, as they eventually would -- and especially over her returning to Tabor Heights, but she felt a little better. This had to be done. She owed it to Angel, more than anyone else.
      Taking a deep breath, she unlocked her door and stepped out of her fourth-hand brown SUV and down onto the street. She chose to take the glorious sunshine on the sugar dusting of snow as a good sign. A promise for success.
      "Okay, God, I know we haven't talked in a long time, but please... help me catch him? For Angel? For my folks?"
      She reached back into the front seat and pulled out the canvas bag with all her paperwork for the cottage and the thick folder of printouts of newspaper stories taken off the Internet. Even more than her computer, those printouts were the focus of her life. She walked around the trailer hitched to the back of her SUV and up onto the curb, and grinned at the thought of the whirlwind she had made of her life since reading that first newspaper article just three weeks ago. Pride mixed with panic surged through her, and she kicked aside some fallen twigs and dried, curled up leaves on the slate sidewalk as she approached the door of her cottage. She had quit her job at the Calumet Cyclone, gave up her apartment, sold most of her belongings, and drove all the way from Iowa to Ohio without a job to cushion her landing. Her parents would be horrified that she had taken such chances -- and for what?
      Toni had told no one that she was positive the White Rose -- the Plain Dealer insisted he was the White Rose Killer, while the Tabor Picayune insisted on calling him the White Rose Stalker -- was the same boy who had killed her sister, Angel, twenty years ago. What use was all her education and being an investigative reporter if she spent her life reporting on farming news and small-town events, and didn't use the gifts God gave her to track down that boy, now grown into a sick, cruel man?
      She pulled the key that her new landlord, Mandy Gordon, had given her from her pocket and unlocked the front door. The scents of lemon, ammonia and honeysuckle greeted her as her boots made echoes on the bare, hardwood floor. The cottage was partially furnished -- kitchen table and chairs, appliances, sofa, bedroom furniture in one room. That suited her perfectly, and she had chosen to take that as a sign of promised success and maybe God smiling on her plan. Toni had kept her pots and pans, her desk, TV, DVD player, stereo, books, and office equipment when she cleared out her apartment, and sold everything else. Everything she now owned in the world was inside that trailer she had hauled for two days of silent driving. She was rather proud of herself for being able to get rid of so much, pull up stakes and go where her heart led her.

      If she had to, she would do it again. If she could find Angel's secret boyfriend -- he had to be the White Rose Killer -- and bring him to justice after all these years, Toni knew she could do anything.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


      "Mr. Tyler Sloane, please?"
      "Hi, Mrs. P," Tyler said, a little startled to hear the woman's distinctive, generously accented voice coming over the speaker phone of the theater office. He automatically checked his pocket for his cell phone, because she should have called that number. Of course, it wasn't in his pocket. He couldn't remember where he dropped it. "What's up?" He braced himself to hear that Danny had fallen, or the overnight camping trip this weekend for the boys in the adventure club had been canceled.
      "It's that horrid man. He was at the church, looking for your sister's children."
      "What horrid man?" Tyler sat down in the nearest chair, squashing a pile of costumes that needed mending. He felt something catch in his chest as his mind shied away from understanding.
      "That man who was at the camp this summer. The one with the filthy mouth, who said he was their father." Her voice sounded like it would break with the heavy load of indignation that filled it.
      "When?" He jumped out of the chair and looked around for his car keys. He was supposed to be leaving in another twenty minutes to meet Tanya and Xander at her lawyer's office, to discuss new information on Pete.
      Why was Pete Fenton always rearing his ugly head? What was he doing back in town?
      Of course, rules were for other people. Why would Pete care that he had a restraining order against him in three states?
      "Not five minutes ago. He's just pulling out of the church driveway right now."
      "The kids--"
      "They left twenty minutes ago with that nice Kathryn. You know, Bekka Sanderon's friend. Your sister and Miss Abby gave permission for them to have dinner with her."
      "Thank You, Lord," Tyler whispered.
      "I told that awful man they were already heading home. He swore at me!"
      "Thanks, Mrs. P. I'm sorry you had to put up with him again."
      "Don't apologize. It's not your fault. But I think you should check on the children. People like him, people who lie, they don't believe what anyone says. He'll look for them."
      "You're right. Thanks." Tyler nearly let out a shout when he saw his car keys sitting on that shelf by the door, with his cell phone right next to them. That was what the shelf was for, after all, so he wouldn't tear his office apart like a madman, looking for them.

      He snatched up the cell phone before he finished hanging up the other phone, and scrolled through the address book for Abby's number. There was no way he was going to frighten his sister with this news. Not when she was caught in rush hour traffic and couldn't do anything but worry.