It was the usual Monday morning madness around the Record-Herald. "When he was in the army, Gil used to call it the Monday morning initial burst," the social editor, Carrie Evachevski said on Brenda's first morning at the Record-Herald, and she proved to be right. "People sit around stewing about something all weekend, and they make a mental note to call and do something about it the first thing Monday morning."
By now, Brenda had come to like the slender, brown-haired fiftyish woman. As social editor, she handled a wide range of things, mostly items that had been brought in, from club meeting notices and obituaries, wedding and engagement notices, and a lot of other stuff. She was a gentle, motherly woman; Brenda had soon learned that she had five kids, all grown, and that she'd worked at the Record-Herald over twenty years. She seemed an island of serenity in the madness of the morning.
It hadn't been till later in her first week at the Record-Herald that Brenda learned that one of Carrie's daughters was Jenny Easton – and, that in Spearfish Lake, Jenny Easton didn't exist. Period! Using the name among the citizens would as often as not bring you a blank stare; people were proud of their hometown hero, and everyone helped her guard the anonymity she so desired. And, the Record-Herald went along with it; Mike had warned Brenda that the quickest way to get her ass fired was to slip an item about Jennifer/Jenny to someplace like Hollywood Tonight. Jennifer Evachevski wouldn't even answer to her famous name, at least in Spearfish Lake; she much preferred to be as much a normal person as possible, although she lived in a big house out on the Point with her combination boyfriend/backman/bodyguard Blake Walworth. By now, Brenda had met Jennifer, in fact, had learned how to run the Saxmayer from her – and was starting to accept her as a real person.
Brenda came into the office in the middle of the initial burst. She'd already been by the city police station – Novato hadn't been there, so she hadn't been able to learn more about the school incident – the courthouse, and the jail, and a couple of other bases she touched regularly on Monday morning. She had come to enjoy her visits at the jail. She'd learned the first Monday morning when Mike had taken her around that Judge Dieball usually stopped in around 7:30 to check who had been booked over the weekend, just to give him some idea of what he'd be facing over the day. He was a friendly guy who could tell a joke. Mike had told Brenda that a cup of coffee with him was always time well spent. She could get an idea of what he had coming up that might make a story – one of those sneaky reporter tricks that come from experience.
The police and court coverage was actually a small part of what Brenda had to do. Much of what was left consisted of government meetings. The big ones she had to be concerned with were school board, the third Monday evening each month, county commission, the second and fourth Mondays, and the city council, the first and third Tuesdays. There were other meetings, but usually Mike or her own questions told her which ones she absolutely had to go to. It blew up a lot of evenings. "Just be glad you don't have to go to all the school's varsity games, too," Mike told her the first Monday. "That can ruin what's left of your social life."
Beyond that, she always had to be trolling for feature stories, usually two or three small ones, but about every other week she had to do one big enough to lead the second section. Some weeks Mike or Carrie wrote them, and occasionally one would be contributed from someone in the community, often the retired teacher who ran the County Historical Society.
Now, this morning, Brenda still felt frustrated about the stonewalling and the runaround she'd gotten at the police station and the school Friday, but it was lunchtime before she got to talk to Mike about it. "It's frustrating," she said. "I feel dead sure there's a story there. What's worse, I know a lot of people at the school know what the hell is going on, but I just can't start calling blindly and say, what do you know about this kid pulling a knife last Thursday?"
She didn't mention Falconswing; she wasn't sure that his warning had even referred to this story. She'd checked e-mail and the Dragonslayer chat room several times over the weekend, but there was no sign of him. In fact, he hadn't even made any game moves. That was strange, but she couldn't figure out why.
"It'll probably come out at school board tonight," Mike told her. "There'll still be time to get a story out if you think anything's there. And, I can hit on some people you don't know. You're still learning your way around, and you'll get some sources soon."
It was a busy day, and it ran late, after normal quitting time. Brenda did find the time to get back over to the Fitness Center – she realized she was going to have to do it virtually every day unless there was positively no chance.
"How's it going?" Connie asked, as Brenda was working out on a Nautilus.
"Pretty good, but I can't kill myself tonight, I've got a meeting."
"I know you're a junior reporter," Connie said. "That's going to happen. You pushed it pretty hard Saturday. What did you do yesterday, take a day off?"
"No," Brenda smiled. "I was going to go for a walk up the lakeshore, just to work the kinks out, but it seemed pretty slow, so I started jogging. I made it out to where I've been turning around, and I was still going pretty good, so when I turned around, I ran out Point Drive a ways."
"You are serious about this, aren't you?" Connie smiled. "I thought you were about all done in Saturday. I was busy with something else, so I asked Carole to give you a little lift."
"I'm glad you did," Brenda admitted. "She was a big help. Yeah, I was about ready to say the hell with it until she reminded me what I was supposed to be doing. It went a lot better after that."
"Carole's good about that sort of thing," Connie smiled. "I noticed you were getting friendly with her."
"Yes, and thank you for that," Brenda replied. "She really is a neat person, you know?"
"She is," Connie smiled. "I think you've already learned that there's a lot more to her than meets the eye."
"Next item of business," the board president said. "Expulsion hearing."
The board meeting was being held in the high school library. It was a nice enough room, for a school library, and it looked like a school library. The table that Brenda had her note pad sitting on was a little wobbly, and that was irritating. All in all, she wasn't impressed. The library at Ackerman had been about the one decent place she could remember. It had been a refuge, a place to get away from all the crap in the halls, and Brenda had learned more from the books there than she had in the classrooms. But, the stacks here were junk by comparison, even considering that it was a smaller school, and a lot of stuff was juvenile in contrast to the much better collection of more general books she remembered. This place is going to be pretty barren for a bookish kid, she thought sadly. Poor kids.
Harold Hekkinan stood up. "About 2:30 Thursday, between classes, we had an incident in the hall," he said. "I heard shouting, and when I got around the corner, I found a student, Jason Bailey, holding a knife, threatening three other students. I was able to subdue him, confiscated the knife, and removed him to the office, where I wrote him up on an administrative suspension. State law says that carrying or showing a knife in school is a mandatory 180-day suspension, and I'm asking the board to approve that suspension."
Shit, Brenda thought. That's not a lot more than he told me Friday, but at least he gave me a name, for what it's worth. Jason Bailey. Why did he pull the knife?
"I guess we don't get a lot of choice," one of the board members, a fat woman, said. "Move the suspension."
"Second," a man sitting further down the table said.
"Show of hands," the board president said. He glanced down the table; all seven board members held up their hands.
Is that all? Brenda shook her head. If she'd been a board member, state law or no, she'd at least have wanted to know why the kid pulled the knife. He may have been the worst troublemaker in the school, but what if he wasn't? What in hell happened?
"May I address the board?" a woman's voice from behind her said. It sounded familiar, although she couldn't place it.
"Go ahead, Lisa," the board president sighed in resignation.
"With respect, the board is going to have to take action to control this problem of hoodlums running around the school with knives," she said in a shrill voice. "How can you manage to accomplish any education in an atmosphere of violence. When I heard about this incident when this Bailey attacked three of our fine young athletes, Larry Kohlenberger, Duane Ruoff and Paul Ferguson . . ."
Holy shit, Brenda thought scribbling furiously, she's spilling the beans!
"With respect, Lisa," the board president said. "The board has taken action and expelled the student involved."
It didn't faze the woman with the shrill voice a bit. "The board is going to have to take action to control this atmosphere of violence . . ." The woman worked up a good rant, and it carried on for several minutes, mostly beating on the school administration for allowing hoodlums to run around the school. She repeated herself several times. Brenda did quickly realize that she knew a lot about the incident, but then a lot of people had to know. It happened in the hall, during a break in classes, so a lot of people had to have seen it. With the speed gossip runs, it had to be all over town – but Brenda knew she wasn't plugged into the gossip circuits enough to pick up on it. What to do about that? It was a good question. She'd have to work on it.
The woman didn't actually give any more facts in her rant after the first minute or so, but she sure seemed to enjoy beating on the school board. After a while, when it was clear she was repeating herself, Brenda got tired of taking notes. Lisa, Lisa, why would that name stick with me, Brenda wondered. . . oh, yes, that's Lisa deLine.
Recognizing the name made things snap together. Brenda had in fact met her, at the fire the first night on the job. She was a neighbor, and they'd talked for a couple minutes – but Mike's son Henry, who had showed up with a camera in case no one else heard the fire call, had dragged Brenda off into the shadows before long, and explained that he didn't want the deLine woman to start ranting about something. "Mrs. deLine is one of the bigger pains in the ass in this town," Henry explained. "Her daughter, Cindy, is in my class. Cindy is OK, but her mother is always working the school administration and the board for special favors. It embarrasses Cindy, but there's not much she can do about it. If you're going to be covering school board, you'll meet her again and see what I mean. I've heard Dad bitch about her for years."
And, Henry appeared to be right. In a matter of a couple minutes she realized the woman was a pain in the ass. But, she was one who obviously knew an awful lot about what happened around the school. She'd have to remember that.
The Record-Herald office seemed still and quiet after the meeting. It wasn't exactly policy to head back to the office and write up a meeting report right after the meeting. Mike had stressed that it was usually a good idea, especially early in the week, when the days got busy and it could be tough to find the time to write a meeting story in the morning. Her computer upstairs wasn't tied into the office network; she could have written it there, but it would have meant having to e-mail it to the office. Besides, all the reference material was at her desk, so it was no big deal to do the work in the quiet downstairs.
A lot had happened at the board meeting, mostly routine business, but things that had to be reported on, like bus bids, textbook purchases, field trip approvals and a long list of other items. It had taken over two hours to work through the agenda, punctuated by three other rants from Lisa deLine. God, that woman was a pain in the ass!
Brenda wrote quickly through most of the meeting, but the memories of the deLine woman were simmering in the background of her mind. She remembered a long entry in the Reporter's Handbook about her, but a lot of names and information had gone by when she'd skimmed the whole book, and she didn't remember clearly. Finally, curiosity got the best of her. She stopped, got the Handbook, and looked up the entry.
Spearfish Lake Record-Herald Reporter's Handbook
Do not remove from Record-Herald office
DELINE, LINDA L.
(It's deLine, lower case d. She gets very pissy if you do it the common way – PV '87)
b. ca. 1956 as Lisa Lawrence, originally from Camden. m. Gordon deLine, 1980. Lived here since marriage. 1 daughter, Cynthia (Cindy) b. 1981.
Since about 1986 has been a constant and very shrill critic of the schools and school board, mostly as board or administration policies affect her daughter, Cynthia. (And just for the hell of it sometimes, on things that will have no effect. GK, '91) Goes to most board meetings, many committee meetings, many parent functions. It's hard to predict what she's going to spout off about next. (Anything under the sun. BM, '93) Not popular, has run for school board at least six times and has never come close to being elected, even when unopposed, due to write in votes. (As a write-in, Mickey Mouse even outpolled her in the '91 election – GK, '91) (Hjalmer Lindahlsen was involved – MMcM) Failure to get on the board has not stifled her, and she continues to be very critical. (The hell of it is that about one time in five she hits it right square between the eyeballs, so it pays to pay attention to her. The problem is that the other four times she's so far off base that you have to ignore her, and it isn't easy. She's cried wolf and made a pain in the ass of herself so many times that most people don't take her seriously when something comes along that she's dead right about. RC, '94) She tends to pick up minor, seemingly unimportant details and beat them to death. (She spent four months bitching about a one cent rise in elementary school milk prices – CH '89) Writes many letters to the editor to stir things up. Usually we print them unless it's clear than she's way off base, but do not run any letters without Mike's approval due to libel concerns. (She will also get on the phone and chew on you for hours if you let her – MC, '92)
(Please try to avoid mentioning her daughter, Cindy, in any article about any of her antics. Cindy is basically a nice girl, but the poor kid is embarrassed as hell about her mother and is counting the days until she can get as far out of town as she can and never come back. Between her mother and the shit she takes over her mother, it's very hard for her in school. Don't make it worse for her if you can help it – HLMcM '95) (What he said. However, don't ignore the kid for her own accomplishments, like honor roll, school activities, and the like. Report them straight. MMcM.)
Interesting. This wasn't like the entry on Carole at all; it was detailed, and carried a lot of good information. RC's comment, whoever he was, seemed to be especially insightful, but it carried a warning with it, too. One thing was clear – Lisa could be used as a lead on lots of things, but never as a source. As far as Brenda could tell, she'd missed the point at this meeting, by ranting on and on how the board had to do something that they'd already done. But, it was clear too, that she could be a warning flag.
Even the board members had seemed at best pained to hear her. Well, that was understandable, the woman had an obvious pain-in-the-ass personality, one that didn't get the message. Mickey Mouse! Brenda laughed at that. God, that must have been embarrassing, but apparently she hadn't gotten that message, either. What was that about this Hjalmer Lindahlsen? She'd heard the name. Idly, she flipped a few pages to his entry.
Spearfish Lake Record-Herald Reporter's Handbook
Do not remove from Record-Herald office
B. 1948. Spearfish Lake. m. Judy Bensen, 1974; 2 k, Hjalmer, Jr. (HJ) 1975, Cassandra (Cassie) 1977. No college. Easy going, fun-loving, but very public spirited citizen. VFD since 1970, (except 1980-1983 due to back problems); EMT. Spearfish Lake City Council 1985-present. Fanatic football fan, strong team supporter. Was maintenance man at SL Hospital through 1988, Central Lumber since then, now manager.
(WARNING: Hjalmer is far and away Spearfish Lake's leading practical joker, and has been since a kid – or so it's believed. He never admits complicity in a gag unless it takes others to help set it up, like the 1991 School Board election. Has toned down his act some since the 1975 Chili Festival incident, in which the community common wisdom is that he tried to blow the town up like a balloon. Doesn't do penny-ante stuff; his specialty is the setup, usually simple but Machiavellian. He takes his time and usually waits until he can anonymously nail his target right between the eyeballs. His reputation is such that he's usually blamed for any really good anonymous joke, whether he pulled it off or not. Hasn't struck for a while, but everyone believes it's just a matter of time. If in doubt, talk to me, not that I'm any expert. He's gotten me, too. – MMcM)
(MMcM 1975, last updated 1995)
Brenda laughed. This Lindahlsen must be a piece of work. She hadn't met him, but thought she might kind of like the guy, even though she'd have to watch him like a snake. She'd heard about the Chili Festival thing – the chili had been dosed with the most gas-producing substance known to man, whatever it was, turning the festival into a huge fart joke. It was the last Chili Festival ever held in Spearfish Lake. Yeah, he had to be a piece of work, all right.
But, that wasn't getting her anywhere with the Jason Bailey business. She'd deliberately got all of the scut work out of the way first so she could concentrate on it. Not sure of where to start, she started out by looking in the phone book for Kohlenberger – it was a fairly unusual name for Spearfish Lake, it probably wouldn't take too many calls to find him.
In fact, it took two to get the kid on the line. Brenda identified herself, and asked the kid about what he knew about the Jason Bailey thing.
"The little fucker got his ass kicked," a rather surly young male voice replied. "Fucker deserved it, too."
"Little fucker pulled a knife on me and Duane and Paul, then Mr. Hekkinan came up and tackled him."
"Why did he pull a knife on you?"
"Fuck if I know, we was just minding our own business."
Brenda's bullshit detector was flashing red lights and warning sirens. There was something about this kid's tone of voice, the words he used, that told her more than that was going on. She'd heard those kinds of stories, those kinds of excuses before, too often. As soon as she ended the call, she started thinking about it. Why the hell would one guy pull a knife on three guys? Shit, he was outnumbered big time . . . unless that was the point.
God damn it, something was happening here. Something she didn't know about. Something that was being covered up.
She called a couple more places, looking for the Ruoff kid, until she got a response from someone who didn't know him that it was kind of late to be calling around like this, wasn't it?
Brenda glanced up at the clock. Yes, it was. "Sorry, I didn't notice the time," she apologized. She hung up the phone. Damn, she should have held off and done the scut work last, rather than first. She'd have to remember that, too. She stared at the screen for a moment. She'd already written a paragraph about the expulsion, buried in the board report. The bare facts were there, basically reflecting what Hekkinan had said. Now, she wasn't happy with what she had written. But what to do about it?
Well, maybe Falconswing could help. She powered down the office computer, went upstairs, fired up her own, and checked the Zapmail account. Nothing, except more spam, and there was a pot load of it to delete. She killed it all off in one burst, and went straight to the Dragonslayer chat room. No sign of Falconswing there, either. That was strange, he was often on at this hour. She thought about making a couple game moves, but thought better of it. She was tired, and needed to get to bed.