What a zoo, Brenda thought as she went in the back door of the Record-Herald office and turned on the lights. No giraffes, but more than enough monkeys. Ohh, is this ever going to be a mess . . . better get used to it. This isn't going to blow over quickly.
It had been bad enough at Jennifer and Blake's party Saturday night. The party had been a lot of fun, and there was some really interesting music that Brenda had never heard before, but the talk in the breaks all went to the same topic and it wasn't the Soliels. In fact, they weren't mentioned at all; it seemed like in two weeks her wearing them was becoming as much a part of the background of Spearfish Lake as was Carole's.
The people at Jennifer's party were by no means rabid sports fans – they were a little more eclectic than that, an interesting group – but everyone there knew sports were a big deal in Spearfish Lake, especially in the winter, and it was hard to get away from the topic. Losing the whole basketball season, when the Marlins had a good chance to make it to the state finals – Brenda was no sports freak, but even she could see why people were upset.
The phones had been ringing off the hook even before last week's Record-Herald had hit the street, and things didn't settle down much the rest of the week. Brenda would have only been half-surprised if there had been a lynching, with Lisa deLine and James D. Moore the guests of dishonor.
But tonight . . . the special school board meeting. It was huge, easily the biggest public meeting Brenda had ever been at. It was angry, and the police had sent a couple officers over to help keep order. They should have sent more. No punches were thrown, but it had been close.
The office was still and quiet, as it always was when she came back late and wrote up a meeting story. As her computer started to boot up, Brenda shook her head once. No point in putting it off; she picked up the phone and dialed Mike.
"So, what happened?" he said as soon as he heard her voice.
"Oh, hell," Brenda said shaking her head, even though he couldn't see it. "I don't know where to begin. You thought the shit hit the fan last Tuesday. Tonight, it really did."
"I was afraid of that," she heard him say, disappointment in his voice. "What happened?"
"A million people wanted to get their two bits worth in," Brenda replied. "So, about five minutes into the meeting, Hazelton moved to go into closed session to discuss legal strategy."
"Uh-oh," Mike said ominously. "They can't do that. According to the Open Meetings Act, there's supposed to be twenty-four-hours' notice of a closed session."
"They had it, anyway. Lisa shouted that it was illegal, and there were any number of people that yelled things like, 'Shut the bleep up, bitch.' if you know what I mean."
"I get the picture," Mike said.
"I think she'd have gotten roughed up right then, but there was a cop right there next to her," Brenda said. "Anyway, the library was just absolutely packed, and everyone had to go out into the cafeteria while they held their meeting. And, the crowd outside was just absolutely livid. I mean, everybody had an axe to grind. Anyway, they were in there, uh, forty-two minutes, it was, if I remember my notes correctly. So, we all go back in there, and Hazelton moves to cancel all cheerleading, including competitive cheer."
"That's one way," Mike said. "Takes the cheerleaders right out of the picture. Probably someone wanted to protect football."
"My reading exactly," Brenda said. "I did get to talk to Hazelton after the meeting, and he didn't put it in those words, but you have to remember that the hassle really isn't between girl's basketball and boys' basketball, but between girls' basketball and football. Anyway, the board passed it unanimously, no further discussion, although there was a hell of a lot of yelling from the crowd."
"I understand perfectly," Mike said. "Probably a bunch of it was from cheerleaders' mothers."
"I think so. I talked to one mother afterwards who was literally in tears. Her little girl's life was just positively ruined, according to her," Brenda snorted. "Anyway, once things settled down a little, Hazelton moved to appeal the ruling on the basketball team to the State Supreme Court."
"I don't know if they can get it on the docket soon enough to make any difference," Mike said.
"They don't either," Brenda replied. "They talked about that, too. But, let's face it, they have to try. Well, a lot of the athletic supporters, and particularly the boys' basketball parents weren't real happy about it, obviously. Well, it got talked around quite a bit, and then finally, Hazelton pipes up and says, quote 'Title IX works both ways. I move that if the boys' basketball season gets wiped out, we cancel girls' basketball next fall.'"
"I'll bet that went over big."
"Better than I expected, in a way," Brenda said. "But, remember, both Lisa deLine and Moore are girls' basketball parents. Moore was absolutely foaming at the mouth, so was Lisa, and they were both yelling at the board at the same time, and then it got a little ugly. Finally the cops had to escort both of them out, I think more for their own protection, than anything else."
"And the board?"
"With them gone, seconded and approved."
"Oh, shit," Mike said. "That's just lovely."
"It gets worse," Brenda said. "That was the end of the meeting, but the athletic supporters held a rump meeting in the cafeteria right afterward, and they're talking legal action against the board for canceling both cheerleading and boys' basketball. I think they'll do it. There's a lawyer in the parents there, too."
"And girls' basketball?"
"I didn't see Moore or deLine after the meeting," Brenda said. "They were already gone. But he was telling the board before things got wild that he'd sue them if they cancelled girls' basketball. Let's face it, he's proved he's crazy enough to do it. So now, unless tempers cool, we've got three lawsuits floating around."
"Maybe four," Mike said. "Pulling an open meetings stunt like that is pretty serious, in my book. We can't let them get away with that."
"Two thoughts about that," Brenda said, sliding off one of her pumps and putting her foot on her desk. "One, Hazelton did say it was to discuss legal strategy, and that's a legitimate reason to hold a closed session. But, Mike, they came out of that meeting and immediately passed a resolution to cancel cheerleading, then talked around appealing the appeals court ruling. I don't think they talked much about legal strategy at all."
"It'd be nice if we could prove that," Mike said. "But pulling a snap session like that is a clear violation of the law. I'd hate like hell to have to sue them, but if they get into the habit of that, there's no stopping it without getting uglier."
"Yeah, really," Brenda smirked. "We ought to get an attorney. I'm thinking James D. Moore."
"Oh, Christ, I don't want to pick sides like that," Mike said, and was silent for a moment, then snickered. "But, there's no harm in pointing that violation out to him. It always helps if you can get someone else to pay for the dirty work. When you write the story, make a prominent note in it that the closed meeting was in clear violation of whatever section of the Open Meetings Act it was, quote the law, and then we'll just sit back and see what happens before we do anything."
"This is going to be a serious mess," Brenda told him. "I don't think it's going to end here. I think there's going to be suits and countersuits and injunctions and God knows what until the next day to forever."
"Yeah, it's going to be a feeding frenzy, no doubt," Mike said sadly. "I doubt if we're going to have any problems finding a lead story for the foreseeable future. Look, Brenda, write the story tonight. Be careful, stick with the facts, and be sure of them. I'll go over it line by line with you in the morning. This is going to be one of those deals where we're just going to have to watch our step, since there's going to be lawyers all over the place. You know what they call a hundred dead lawyers?"
"A good start, right?"
Day followed day, and week followed week. Brenda's entries in her journal about wearing the Soliels became fewer and shorter. She had ups and downs, bad days and good – but mostly, nothing happened worthy of a mention. The good things were good, though nothing spectacular or particularly notable, and made her feel better. The bad times got her down a little, but never anything serious, and later were hardly worth comment as the days went along. Slowly, almost unnoticeably, wearing the Soliels became part of her life, much like wearing a heavy wristwatch or a pair of glasses is irritating at first, but soon fades into the background.
There were times more notable, and they drew longer entries, although not always in great detail. Two weeks after the unexpected visit by her parents, one particularly challenging time came, but she didn't detail it in her journal much, because she realized it was going to be a challenge, prepared for it, and met it head on.
The challenge was the Spearfish Lake Winter Festival. The Winter Festival was a long-time event in the town, held out on the lake, with lots going on, including ice fishing contests, snowmobile races, and plenty of other events. In recent years, the centerpiece of the festival had become dogsled racing. This year, Spearfish Lake was hosting the Camden Dogsled Association State Sprint Championships, which they did about every other year. There were other events, notably the fact that the town was in the eleventh year of being the host of the Start-Finish line of the 100-mile endurance "Warsaw Run", out to a neighboring town and back, along with some shorter events. It made for a lot of dogsledding.
Dogsledding was a big deal around the Record-Herald, at least partly because Mike had been one of the instigators of the revival of the sport in town, and also of the Warsaw Run. Mike and Kirsten's daughter, Tiffany, had won it twice, and her husband, Josh, three times. They hadn't competed the last four years, though – they were in Alaska, training to run a somewhat longer race for the fourth time, the 1100-mile Iditarod, from Anchorage to Nome.
But, Brenda had an even closer connection to the winter festival and dogsledding in general: her uncle Greg, who was president of the Camden Dogsled Association. His long-time friendship with Mike had been the reason Brenda had wound up applying to the Record-Herald in the first place. With his pack of purebred Siberian Huskies, Uncle Greg been trying to win the Warsaw Run for the last ten years, and had never managed better than third.
Between Mike – who wasn't running the Warsaw Run this year, since Tiffany and Josh had the family's best dogs in Alaska with them – and Uncle Greg, the weekend was clearly going to go to the dogs. Brenda knew that she was going to have to spend hour upon endless hour out on the ice of the lake, getting photos and gathering information for stories.
That meant that she was going to be spending hours out in bitter cold. While Spearfish Lake had experienced a relatively moderate winter, the weekend of the Festival came off clear and cold – very cold. The high for Saturday was predicted to be minus five degrees, and it was supposed to push down towards thirty below overnight.
One of Brenda's very first impressions after Carole had fastened the Soliels around her wrists was how cold they were, and one of the very first lessons of "Living in Handcuffs 102" was that they could get dangerously cold in such bitter weather. Dealing with them was going to be a problem. Since it had been clear for weeks that Brenda was still going to be wearing them through the Winter Festival, and up through the still-not-yet-settled dates of the proposed Florida trip, she made what preparations she could. A big one was to rescue an old sweatshirt from the rag bin. She cut off the sleeves to make double-layer wristlets to slide under the handcuffs, and taped them down with duct tape to the sweater she wore as a bottom layer just to make sure that they wouldn't come adrift and the handcuffs couldn't come in contact with her bare skin.
A really heavy jacket, appropriate for such conditions, couldn't be worn normally with the Soliels; it was much too thick to slide under the handcuffs. Carole had solved that problem long before, by having a couple of winter jackets made that had zip-up sleeves; she loaned Brenda one of them the day she'd locked the handcuffs on her wrists, but warned that the jacket was nearly impossible to put on and take off by herself.
So it proved; one evening a couple days prior to the festival, Brenda tried to put it on, spent nearly an hour in the attempt, and failed, at that. The only workable solution Brenda could come up with was to just take the jacket with her when she set off for the festival, dressed in the under layers, then waylay the first person she could find to help her with it.
It was awkward, but it worked; Brenda was getting used to the Soliels making things awkward by now, and figuring out ways to deal with such things had become routine, barely worth comment in her journal.
One of the things that she expected to be awkward about the whole affair was Uncle Greg, but Uncle Greg was cool. He'd already heard about the handcuffs from her father, and it turned out that he and Mike had exchanged a discussion about them at a meeting of the Camden Dogsled Association the weekend before the race, so he wasn't surprised. After all, a lot of people, including Brenda's parents, thought he was a little crazy himself, for keeping up to twenty purebred Siberians at his suburban tract house, so he knew what goofy looks and stupid questions were all about.
Uncle Greg came up for the weekend a couple days early, to give the dogs a little extra training, and Brenda had him over to the apartment for dinner. She cooked a fairly nice one, steak and baked potatoes. She was wearing her work clothes, although this outfit was more toward the "eye-candy" end, and he was impressed all the way around – this wasn't quite the Brenda he remembered, and he complemented her about how good she looked and about how happy and healthy she seemed.
Of course, he had a lot of questions about the Soliels, and some of them were of the rather stupid variety, but he was actually interested in what she was doing. "If you want to do it, are learning something, and are enjoying yourself, then, more power to you," he commented, "But it's not something I would do."
"Well," she smirked back, "I don't think I'm crazy enough to want to run a dogsled a hundred miles through subzero weather, but if you enjoy it, more power to you."
As far as Brenda was concerned, the high point of the weekend came in the bitter cold of seven minutes after eight PM on Saturday night, when she stood outside the food tent at the Winter Festival and watched Uncle Greg bring his Siberians home in first place, seven minutes ahead of last year's champion, Fred Linder out of Warsaw. It wasn't a record time – Mike's son-in-law, Josh, had set that back in '93 – but after ten years of trying, he'd finally won the Warsaw Run! Mike was there, and he got a picture of Brenda giving Uncle Greg a big hug while he held onto the trophy.
"If having you around wearing handcuffs is my good luck charm," Uncle Greg laughed, "You're going to have to wear them next year, too."
But what it was outside was bitter cold – Brenda had been out there for hours, waiting for the racers to get back from Warsaw, and it wasn't very warm in the food tent – in fact, about fifteen below, although the air was still. She'd dressed warmly – in fact, was wearing almost everything she owned that she could get on, along with silk underwear, fleece pants and snow pants she'd borrowed from Denise Carter. She wasn't real cold, but when she sat in the food tent with Mike and Uncle Greg and some other mushers as Uncle Greg told yarns about his run, she happened to hold the Soliels over her coffee cup, and noticed that the vapor coming off the coffee was forming frost on them! She held them up close to her face, not daring to let them touch her skin, and saw that they were covered with ice and radiating cold. That scared her, and with reason.
It was only a few blocks back to her apartment above the Record-Herald, but it was a long, cold walk, since she'd had Mike partially unzip the sleeves to the jacket before she left the festival. She was shivering when she got there, but didn't even dare take the gloves off, as cold as she knew the Soliels were. In the end, she ran the sink as full of water as hot as she could stand, then plunged her hands into it, gloves, wristlets, Soliels and all, the sleeves of the jacket dangling precariously over the lip of the sink.
She stood there for close to twenty minutes before she dared pull her hands out of the water, and take off the gloves, wristlets, and jacket. By the time she got another layer off, the Soliels were again bitter cold – the cold that had sunk its way deep into the steel had started to work its way out. She had no choice but to soak them in the hot water again.
It was an hour or more before Brenda got them warm enough to go downstairs, dump the day's photos off the camera, and try to make some sense out of the notes she had taken while wearing gloves. It had been cold enough that she wouldn't have taken them off, even if she hadn't been wearing the handcuffs.
It took courage to go out there again the next day – toward the end, she'd been feeling the cold of the Soliels through their own neoprene and layers of sweaters and the wristlets. Fortunately, it was a little warmer – the temperature rose close to zero – and she didn't have to stay out late after dark, waiting for the Warsaw Run racers to return. The sprint races were a lot of fun; Mike won the six-mile, six-dog open, using some of the dogs Tiffany and Josh had left behind, dogs that were good sprinters but not endurance runners. When the day was over, this time before dark, Brenda still had to soak the Soliels in the sink before she dared take the gloves and wristlets off, but this time it wasn't as bad. But, as she stood there, she couldn't help but dream about how much nicer it would be to be lying out in the warm Florida sun in a swimsuit. Brenda was a cold-country girl – Camden wasn't a heck of a lot warmer in the winter – but she got winter cabin fever with the best of them.
But, when Brenda finally got around to writing up her journal about the weekend, late on Sunday night, it more reflected the interesting events of the weekend, like Uncle Greg's winning the Warsaw Run, and Mike's winning the sprint, than it did the difficulty with the Soliels. Then, it didn't really deal with her reaction to them, but her mild satisfaction at conquering a difficulty.