Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Book 1 of the Dawnwalker Cycle
Randy took Nicole out to breakfast at the Spearfish Lake Cafe the morning before she started school. In spite of a semester's experience down at Mosquito Valley, and the time subbing at Spearfish Lake last winter, she was nervous, and he didn't blame her. This was the real thing.
A transformation had come over her in the last day. She no longer looked like the grubby, dirty hiker who hadn't had a shower in ten days, the image she'd projected early the morning before, when they'd pulled into the Szczerowski driveway while even the birds were asleep. She still looked strong and bronzed and fit, but now was wearing a nice blouse and a skirt, looking like she was ready for business -- and, given the very limited amount of time she'd had to switch gears, she was. Randy was a little unsure how much time in class would be spent on history, and how much would be spent on hiking, but he knew that Nicole could be all business, and bet the former would get the majority.
There had still been a lot of catching up for her to do, so they agreed that they'd just meet briefly or have a phone call in the evenings, but get together at the Spearfish Lake Cafe in the mornings for a little time together that wasn't quite as stressed. Randy looked forward to heading out to the house site with her on the weekend, and maybe then they could have that little talk they'd promised. There'd be time to drive down to Camden to look for a ring, too.
That wasn't what was on Randy's mind later Wednesday morning. He'd been busy, if not frantically so, in cleaning up details on the Albany River school project, working out details on some other jobs that needed the attention they'd thrown at the school instead. But, it was clean-up work now; there weren't any major projects on the books to start the rest of the year -- just a couple houses, a major remodel, garages, things like that. The rest of the construction season looked fairly easy by comparison to the months that had gone by. He was wondering what the possibilities might be of getting Rod and some spare hands over to work on his house once the Albany River punch list was cleaned up. Rod's crew was more steel and masonry oriented, and the house would be mostly carpentry, so that might not be the best option. It was too early to tell, and something could come up.
The phone rang on his desk; he picked it up. "You want to come into my office?" Brent asked.
"Be there in a second," Randy said. He knew that Don Bailey was in talking with Brent, but not what they were talking about. Don and his crew were the lead house construction crew, and they were good at it. It was almost a separate operation, and Randy hadn't had much to do with Don, except for helping with ordering some special-order items. He had a reputation as being a cranky old cuss, but he and his crew did the best carpentry work in the company, probably the best in the area.
Randy was in Brent's office within seconds. "What's up?" he asked.
"We had a problem come up with the Rufner house," Brent explained. "Don was going to start on it Monday, but the financing fell through. They think they can get other financing, but it's going to take two, maybe three weeks. I hate to have Don and his crew sitting on their butts this time of year."
"Yeah, then have to play catch-up while the snow flies," Randy agreed. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
"Probably," Brent grinned. "What I'm thinking is that we send Don and his crew over to your place. They won't be able to finish it, but they should be able to get it closed in, get the siding and the roof on, those major things, in three, maybe four weeks. Once we have it weather-tight, if the Rufners get their financing, we can pull Don's crew out of your place, and get hot on the Rufners' while there's still some chance of good weather. Then, we can come back and finish your interior while the snow flies."
"What can I say but 'works for me?'" Randy grinned.
"Thought you might say something like that," Brent snickered. "But, there is one problem. Don?"
"Look, Randy," Don started, "I know you're a nice kid, and you've done a hell of a job for Brent. But I've worked with you enough to know that you're going to be underfoot every damn step of the way. It's hard enough when you're dealing with a picky owner, but it's a damn sight worse when the owner is one of the bosses, which you are, sorta. Is there any way I can ask you to spend the next month on Mars and stay the hell out of my hair?"
"I'd like to say yes," Randy replied slowly. "But you're right. This time, it's going to be hard to keep out of things."
"I thought so," Don said. "Look, Randy, I got a good crew, we know what we're doing. All the special material for your house is already sitting out in the warehouse, ready to go, beams and windows and like that, so you don't even have to piss around with them."
"Yeah," Randy nodded. "But, this house is odd enough that I'm going to want to have some input on it. You know, detail stuff, electrical, kitchen cabinets, plumbing fixtures, things like that. Stuff that isn't obvious or doesn't quite make sense until the thing is partly up."
"That's the point," Don said. "All we're going to get done is rough carpentry and siding and roofing. Might get insulation up, maybe not. Then it'll sit there for two-three months and you can think all you want about cabinets and fixtures, and I won't be around for you to bug me about it."
"Let me have some input on this, Randy," Brent interjected. "There's no way in hell we could have made schedule on the Albany River job without you busting your ass. It was worth a hell of a lot. I don't know how many hours you worked but I do know you lost a lot of sleep. Why don't you just take two or three weeks off and get the hell out of town? I know you've been burning to go do stuff and have fun, but you've stayed here and beaten it out, instead. I don't think anything can come up that I can't handle. If it's a question about the house, I'd tell you to defer to Don's judgment, anyway."
"We've got all those closeout issues at the school," Randy protested.
"Piddling stuff," Brent said. "Rod and I can handle it. Jesus, Randy, I'm telling you to go take a vacation."
"Well, since you put it like that," Randy laughed, "I think I can find someplace to go."
This was unreal. This wasn't happening, he thought as he went back to his office. All those times he'd watched the girls head out on an adventure somewhere, while he stayed behind. In a way, it came at a hell of a time, what with Nicole just back after six months gone, but it was clear that she was going to be playing a lot of catch-up in the next couple weeks, and she might appreciate the time without distractions.
Now, here was the chance for his one big adventure, and the Canyon was the most obvious thing. He'd never dared to hope for it. And, he realized, it might give him the chance to square things with Crystal, too. If he couldn't get on a Canyon trip, he had a couple days to think of something else. He leaned back in his office chair, brow furrowed, and realized he'd better quit thinking and start acting.
He actually had to look up the number for the high school office; he couldn't remember it anymore. Mrs. Foxbender, who the kids had all called the "Dragon Lady" over the way she grilled them over absence slips and stuff, answered the phone. "Hi, Mrs. Foxbender, this is Randy Clark," he said. "Could you get a message to Nicole Szczerowski for me please?"
"Sure, Randy," she said, sounding friendly, which was a little surprising. "What do you need me to tell her?"
"Just tell her to call me at the office the first chance she gets."
"Shouldn't be a problem," she told him. "She starts her break hour in about half an hour."
"I'll be here. Thanks. How's she doing, anyway?"
"Pretty good, I hear the kids say," she replied. "That was some trip she took."
"Yeah, it was," Randy agreed. "It'd be nice if I could do it someday, but I probably'll never get the chance." Well, miracles happen, he thought as he said it. One just did. But, one like the AT was too much to hope for . . . "Hey, thanks again."
It took longer to find the area code for Flagstaff than it did to dial information and get the number for Canyon Tours. The phone was answered by what sounded like a teenager; he could just about smell the bubble gum on her breath. "Got a question," he asked. "Is Crystal Chladek around?"
"Not yet, she should be off the river late tomorrow," the bubble-gummer replied in a nasal voice. "She'll be taking a trip out again the first of the week. You want to leave a message for her?"
"Maybe," Randy said. "Any chance I can get on that trip?"
"Lemme see," she said, "Gotta put you on hold."
The odds were huge that they were booked up, he thought, but he could at least leave a message for Crystal, and maybe she could get him on the trip as a swamper. He didn't mind working if that's what it took; in fact, that was the one possible downer -- he didn't just want to ride along like a bump on a log. He stared at the wall for a minute, listening to the elevator music on the phone before the teenybopper came back on. "We had two cancellations this morning," she said. "You want just one, or both?"
How about that? Jeez, talk about a morning when stuff fell together! "Just one," he said.
"That's $3200," she said. "Visa, Master Card, or American Express?"
It took a few minutes to work out the details. "We've got a list of stuff you should bring with you," she said. "You want me to fax it to you?"
"Sure, that'll be fine," he said, and gave the girl the fax number at the office.
"OK, a bus will pick you up at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas at seven AM Monday," she said. "Oh, hey, the other phone's ringing, I gotta put you on hold."
"Fine," he said, and listened to the elevator music on the phone for a bit. It seemed to be taking a while. He stared at the wall again, and glanced at a calendar with a US map and the Interstates on it. He didn't really want to go to Las Vegas, but he supposed he could fly in Sunday night. The hell of it was, for all the driving around the country he'd done in the last few years, it had all been east of the Mississippi; he'd never been very far west of it at all. Just eyeballing the calendar from a distance, it didn't look much farther to Las Vegas than it did to Buddha and Giselle's, and he knew he could do that in two days hard driving. It would be an interesting, if quick, introduction to the West, and he wouldn't have to deal with the airlines -- getting bumped last weekend had been a pain in the ass at a time when both his and Nicole's stress levels were pretty high. But, finding a place to leave the Dakota for three weeks in Lost Wages might be tough.
Finally, the bubble gummer came back on the line. "Sorry about the wait, but I'm here by myself," she said. "I just got someone that wants to book that other spot. Those usually don't sit around too long. OK, you're going to be responsible for your airfare and arrangements. I can book you a room at the Grand, but you'll have to pay for it."
"Got a question," he asked. "How about if I drive to Flagstaff? Would that work all right?"
"Sure," she said. "We have someone do it on most trips. The best thing is for you to be here on Sunday so you can ride out on the crew bus. You can drive to Lee's Ferry on Monday, but it's usually pretty hard to get a ride back out to pick up your car. The bus leaves at eleven, usually. I'd say, be here by ten. We don't go on summer time, so it's the same as Pacific Time."
There was a little more business to discuss, but the girl had to get back to the other customer, so she kept it quick. Son of a bitch, he thought. Things are breaking my way this morning. He went back to Brent's office, where he and Don were talking about a squabble on the closeout of the current project. "Any problem if I leave tomorrow, and maybe take part of a fourth week?" he asked.
"Have fun! Got something in mind already?" Brent asked.
"A seminar on ditching," Randy laughed.
"Ditching?" Don frowned. "You're a glutton for punishment."
"The biggest ditch of them all," he laughed again, "The Grand Canyon. I'm going to drive out."
"That should keep you going," Brent laughed. "That girl who was here over the winter involved?"
"Yeah, she invited me last winter, but I never thought I'd get the chance."
"Don't stay gone too long," Brent cautioned. "If something gets screwed up on the Rufner job again, we may want to keep going on your house, and Don'll just have to put up with you being underfoot."
"Don, if that happens, I'll try to keep it to a minimum," Randy promised.
"Yeah, I know, but still," he grumped. "Sorta makes me hope we can do the Rufner place, then get back to yours later, when maybe I can get your granddad to tell you to go surfing or something."
"Randy, soon as I'm done with Don, here, let's go over the projects you're leaving hanging."
The phone was ringing when he got back to his office; it proved to be Nicole. "What's up?"
"Several miracles just happened, all at once. To make a long story short, in the last hour, Brent told me to get the hell out of town for three weeks while they do the outside of the house." He took a deep breath and added, "And I'm booked on Canyon Tours Sunday."
"With Crystal?" she replied, sounding excited.
"I think. It'll give me a chance to see how she's really doing, and square things with her earlier than we thought."
"Randy, that's wonderful," she said; he could hear the grin in her voice. "I guess I feel sort of like you must have felt the last couple years. I'm glad you're doing it, but I'll be sorry to not have you around. But, God, it's your turn. Have fun."
"Look, I want to see you tonight," he told her. "They're sending me a list of gear I need to take, and I need to pull it together. Maybe you can help. Let's do dinner or something. I want to leave in the morning."
"I'll make time," she told him joyfully. "But you plan on having fun on your big adventure."
Karin looked up from her desk with a feeling of . . . well, not boredom, but apathy, at best. Dreariness, that might be a better description. Thirty years she'd spent in this windowless room, well, almost thirty; it would be next spring. Thirty years of pretty much the same thing, day after day. Oh, what she'd done had changed a little; she'd been the junior bookkeeper when she first came, but all the faces had changed, sometimes several times, and she was the supervisor, now. Seven more months and she could retire -- for that matter, she could buy up those months and retire this minute -- but there was no real desire to. What would she do if she did? She was fifty-one years old, now, still young enough to do something interesting, still young enough to make a new life. Once, fifty-one had seemed elderly, over the hill, ready to die, but she still felt young, in spirit, anyway, although the last three years or so had aged her more than the twenty previous.
She suppressed a little smile. They didn't have thirty-and-out at Hadley-Monroe, so Pete still had ten more years to go until he could retire, not that it meant anything. At least it was going to be peaceful around home for a couple weeks -- Pete had left yesterday for two weeks in Japan, to consult on a new application for the laser die cutter. For a guy who didn't like to go much farther than the store for a gallon of milk, Japan would be sheer torture. He had a young tech rep with him, a guy who knew the place and had been there before, but Pete was going to be going through hell, and the poor tech rep was going to bear the brunt of it. She would have much rather made the trip for him, even though she still didn't know anything about laser die cutters. Still, it was a vacation for her -- two weeks without sour remarks, without grumpiness, without topics to be skirted, two weeks without fear.
Ever since Crystal had left so abruptly, it had been pretty rough. Oh, Pete never got violent, he wasn't that sort of guy, but he could be pretty damn sour, and more than once she'd given thought to just picking up and taking off when she hit her thirty and out. That was why she'd started her own emergency money fund, and it was a pretty decent size, now. It wasn't like they were a family anymore. She only saw Nanci rarely, but there was almost always a fight when she did, either with her or with Pete, so she was just as glad. Jon -- well, he hadn't disappeared, but might just as well have. He was out in Phoenix, and hadn't been home in over two years, and it didn't seem likely that he would be home again soon. She did talk on the phone rarely with him, but there was never much said. It was as if he felt he was as unwelcome in Glen Ellyn as Crystal, but Karin had no idea why he felt that way, except that perhaps he'd had enough of his father's moods, as well.
The thought of Crystal brought a smile. For years, Karin had figured Crystal would wind up in the Grand Canyon sooner or later, but she never dreamed she'd wind up there as a boatman, like Al so many years before. She didn't know much about what she was doing beyond that -- she'd talked to Randy and Myleigh, and they didn't seem to know, either -- but said Crystal appeared to be having a good time. Karin had little difficulty intertwining her knowledge of Crystal and her memories of her own Canyon trip and imagining what she must be doing. God, that was twenty-five years ago, she thought. Could it have been that long? It must have been -- Crystal had turned twenty-four in May, after all.
She glanced down at her desktop. The familiar faces of Crystal, Myleigh and Randy stared back at her. The picture was getting pretty old, now, but she didn't have a more recent picture of Crystal. Even that was getting to be a long time ago. It had been taken when Crystal and Myleigh were seniors in college, and Myleigh was Doctor Harris now! My, how quickly the years pass!
She knew she shouldn't be woolgathering. It was the first of the month, and there were monthly reports to get out, but after almost thirty years, they were close to automatic, and dull as dishwater. Nothing much there interested her, either. She let out a sigh, grabbed the mouse, and brought up Quattro-Pro to get back at them.
Just about that time, Cyndee, the young black girl from the mailroom, showed up with the mail. She rather liked Cyndee; she was a nice person, well spoken. Karin knew she was attending a community college, trying to make something of herself, and Karin thought there might be a junior spot in accounting open for her sometime soon.
"Not a lot for you today, Mrs. Chladek," Cyndee smiled. "Same old same old, I guess."
"Thanks, Cyndee," she smiled. "But, you never know when something interesting is going to come up."
"That's true," the black girl smiled again. "You have a good day, Mrs. Chladek."
Karin glanced quickly at the mail. Right, not much, and she could just about tell from the envelopes what was in them. The numbers and forms inside were important, but it was nothing new . . . what was this? Clark Construction, marked "Personal?" It had to be from Randy! This was an occasion! They'd been sending e-mails, faxes, and phone calls back and forth for a couple years, but the only real mail she'd ever gotten from him was Christmas cards. She reached for her letter opener.
There wasn't much in the envelope. A couple photographs, and a note: "Thought you might be interested in these -- R."
She glanced at the first photo. It was obviously a telephoto shot, but it was clearly Crystal in a raft, breaking over the top of a big back roller, half in the air. She was holding onto the oars with a huge grin, while four passengers held on tight. It was a spectacular photo, one that brought back a lot of memories. She wondered idly what rapids it was, and flipped the photo over. "Crystal running Crystal. Ain't that neat?" the note said.
Karin smiled at that. She'd never exactly told Crystal the reason she'd picked that name, and wondered if she'd ever figured it out. Was this photo ever going to make a great desktop! The other photo was going to have to go some to top it . . . she looked at the other one, and a quarter century fell away as the shock of recognition sped up her spine with the force of a karate kick.
It had to be him, sitting there with his arm around Crystal! The one close photo of him in the scrapbook at home wasn't a good one -- his face was shrouded in the shadow of his hat brim -- but her memory was good, and she didn't need that photo. He was older, now, but still, there was no question, it had to be him. Scarcely able to believe it, she flipped the photo over, and there was confirmation: "Me and Al, who owns Canyon Tours. I really love my boss."
Oh, my God . . .
She flipped the picture back over and stared. There hadn't been any doubt in her mind for years, but any there might have been was destroyed. There was an awful lot of family resemblance there, knowing what she knew. She wondered if Crystal suspected . . . probably not; she'd never let out a hint. Who in hell would have ever expected this to happen? Al had been a nice guy, but face it, a river rat, a drifter, and she'd often wondered what had ever become of him, what he'd done when he finally left the Canyon. Now, she knew -- he'd never left. Owns Canyon Tours? Al hadn't had two nickels to rub together . . .
"I really love my boss."
Karin felt the blood drain from her face, felt her heart pounding in her chest. Could that possibly mean anything like what she suspected it meant? She stared hard at the picture. The two of them seemed friendly enough, had big smiles and an arm around each other, but that might mean nothing . . . or it might not. Unlike Nanci, Karin had never exactly known Crystal to be sexually active. Well, there had been a couple veiled hints about Randy, but never anything up front. Still, Karin couldn't imagine someone as active and full of life not having some fun there, too . . . there was a lot of age difference there, twenty-five years, but that didn't have to mean anything. To her eyes, Al still looked strong and handsome, virile, full of energy. Crystal might not see it that way, but . . . who knew?
Oh, dear God. Oh, dear God. She could rationalize all she wanted, but there was an almost-inescapable fact that was perfectly clear: the lies, the ambiguities, the deceptions, the controlled ignorance of a quarter century were going to have to end. End as soon as possible, too . . . well, maybe not. She might be reading something into a perfectly casual photo and note that might not be there. But there was no way of telling, not at this distance. And, if she did have to tell Crystal, there wasn't going to be any easy way to say it. It had to be face to face. If nothing more, she'd have to have a chance to evaluate whether her fears were real before she actually had to tell Crystal her deepest secret . . . and, there was a lot she didn't know. Maybe it was just paranoia, but God knew, there'd been enough of that.
There was only one thing to do: go to Crystal and talk to her. Thank God, Pete was in Japan. She might be able to bring it off without him knowing; she could swear Crystal to secrecy, and Crystal would understand why, that much she was sure of.
Long ago, she'd looked up the 800 number for Canyon Tours, just in case some sort of emergency arose. Here it was, and definitely not the emergency she'd expected. With a shaking hand, she dialed the number.
After four rings, a young woman answered the phone, sounding like a teenager. "Is Crystal Chladek around by any chance?" she asked.
"No, ma'am, she's on the river," the young woman answered. "She should be getting off tomorrow, but probably won't be back until late. Would you like to leave a message?"
"Uh, I don't know," Karin replied. "How long will she be around?"
"She's leaving on another trip on Sunday," the girl said.
Karin thought. It could be done; she could take some time off, maybe this afternoon, fly to Las Vegas or Phoenix, and drive to Flagstaff . . . but there was one question she could ask that might tell how urgent it was: "Do you know if Mr. Buck is going to be on that trip?"
"I'm not sure. He's on it at the moment, but he's penciled himself off and on twice in the last week."
Karin wasn't sure what that meant. The opportunity was there for them, anyway. Paranoia running strong now, she asked, "Any chance I could get on that trip?" It was a long shot, at best, she knew, but if it happened, she might be able to do a decent evaluation of what was going on, rather than having to make a snap decision.
"We just had two spots cancelled half an hour ago, and I've got a man on the other line signing up for one of them. They don't last long. Would you like to take the other?"
"I think so," Karin said, heart deep in her chest. Oh dear God, this was going to have ramifications. "Look, give me a minute to think about it. Finish up with your other call and get back to me."
"OK, sure thing," the girl said. In an instant, there was elevator music playing in the phone.
There was no question that she could take the time off. She had a memo just yesterday that she was going to have to start taking some vacation before the next pay period or lose it off the books -- but Pete was going to be absolutely livid when he found out about it. She knew she could cover up a weekend trip while he was in Japan; in fact, she'd considered taking a trip to Spearfish Lake to see old friends like Kirsten and Jackie and Linda, and maybe have a face-to-face with Randy. But she knew that a Canyon trip was three weeks and there was no way in hell she could ever cover that up. Pete would be furious! She wouldn't be surprised to get back and find herself locked out of the house . . . and, all of a sudden, she realized that she just didn't care anymore. Whatever she'd had with Pete, and there had been some good years, it was over now, and she was just hanging on out of habit. Had been for a couple years, now, and this was vastly more important. Even if her fears about Crystal and Al were nothing more than simple imagination, reading in things that weren't there, it could be the break she needed. At a minimum, it would prove to Pete that she'd had enough of pussyfooting around him and his grumpiness and anger. Damn it, she was her own person, after all.
The elevator music stopped, and the girl came back on the line. "I'm back," she said. "Did you make up your mind?"
"Yes," Karin said with a calmness that even surprised her. "I'll go. I've been looking forward to getting back to the Canyon for a long time."
Early the following Sunday morning, Karin took a long look around the living room, knowing that the odds were good that this might be the last time. She'd spent over twenty years here, and for the most part, they'd been good ones, but they were in the past. Whether she stood there again would have to depend on Pete, and whether he'd be able to accept a lot of things he hadn't accepted before. If he didn't, so be it -- it was his choice.
The last four days had seemed half-hectic, half-dreamlike, like she was watching herself from the outside.
The personnel director had had a hissy fit when she walked into her office and announced that she was taking three weeks vacation on two-and-a-half-days notice. Karin protested that Thelma was very capable of taking over in her absence, and she'd go over the details with her, but still got told it was against policy. She finally quelled the argument with one question: "How much is it going to cost me to buy up the time till my retirement?"
Not long after she'd finished the call to Canyon Tours, she'd received a fax from them, giving a long list of things she should bring with her. It hadn't changed a great deal from twenty-five years before, but she had little left of what was on the list. A stop at an outdoor outfitting store she'd visited once with Crystal many years before, when she was getting set to go on one of the Adventure Camps, solved that. It turned out that the manager had done a Canyon trip, and together they'd worked their way down through the list, getting most of the items. A visit to JCPenny took care of much of the rest. It was expensive, but it was only plastic, she reasoned -- and Pete's plastic, at that.
She only owned one swimsuit, the one she'd taken to the Ocoee years before, but she knew she needed more. It was hell to find a swimsuit in September, even in Chicago, but she finally found some in a store that serviced pool athletes -- she remembered it from when Crystal had been a lifeguard at the Y. "September can be hot during the day, but is often cool at night," it said somewhere on the several sheets of fax paper, and she remembered one mistake she'd made on her first trip was not taking at least one two-piece swimsuit. She thought long and hard -- she'd put on a few pounds in twenty-five years, but only a few, and still thought she looked pretty good, so finally decided, Oh, hell, you're only young once.
Now, everything was packed in two duffle bags, sitting out in the front seat of the Buick. Pretty certain of what was going to happen, the trunk and back seat were filled with things she didn't want to lose -- clothes, mostly, but some sentimental things, like the baby pictures, and the precious scrapbook of her first Canyon trip. It didn't add up to a hell of a lot for almost twenty-five years, she thought.
She looked around one last time, wallowing in memories, good and bad, and realized it was time to get moving. There was one thing left to do: the computer was already booted up, and she went over, pulled up the e-mail program, and began to type:
Pete, the estrangement from Crystal has gone on long enough. The anger you hold against her is entirely unjustified, and you should be ashamed of yourself for driving her from us. You owe both her and me your deepest and most sincere apologies for your actions. I have a chance to reconnect with her, and possibly make things right with her. I am taking that opportunity. I will be out of touch for three weeks, and there will be no way to contact me until I return. -- Karin.
She looked at the message; she'd been writing it in her head since the moment she hung up the phone call to Canyon Tours. There was no point in telling him where she was going, no point in stirring up the pot unnecessarily. Nor was there a hint of what would happen if he threw a fit the next time she talked to him, either, but the empty closets would say all that was needed. She stared at the words on the screen for a moment, and realized they said what they needed to say.
She hit the "send" button, and waited until the message was gone, then shut down the computer, turned off the lights, and walked out the door, locking it behind her, perhaps forever.