Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
The sun was low in the western sky as Susan headed for Spearfish Lake after her first day of college. It had been a long day, although hardly an impossible one, and her initial impression was that the classes were going to be easier than the ones she’d taken in Germany. The one class that seemed it might offer a challenge was the English 101e course, the Research and Design course, and right from the beginning, at least some of it seemed to be rote memorization of some pretty inflexible rules. College papers, she learned, needed to follow certain formats to be acceptable, and it was a format a little different than the newspaper writing she was accustomed to. However, it wouldn’t be greatly different from what she already knew – at least part of the general thinking seemed to be mirrored in some of the things she had learned in Germany.
All in all, though, Susan’s impression of Riverside Community College from the week before still held: it was a Hauptschule among colleges, maybe a Realschule in some ways, but probably not a Gymnasium in many respects. On the other hand, it was in several respects a step up from Spearfish Lake High School, so she had little reason to complain – at the present, anyway.
It felt good to turn in at her house and park the car in the driveway. There was only a two-car garage, so it meant that she was going to have to park her car outside, which she knew from Henry’s experience years before would be a pain in the neck. Tiffany hadn’t had that problem: she’d mostly driven a dogsled to school when there was snow on the ground, a legend that stuck to the family even though Susan barely remembered those days.
Susan carried her books inside; now that she had the syllabus for each of her classes except for the one she had to take on Thursday night, she figured she might as well get ahead on her reading, not that it seemed it would be terribly difficult. Her mother was waiting in the kitchen, working on dinner, which obviously wasn’t ready yet; her father was sitting at the kitchen table going through the mail. “So,” she asked, “how was your first day in college?”
“Alles ist in Ordnung,” Susan shrugged. “I don’t think I’m going to have any real problems. So did you get the paper out all right?”
“It went a little easier than normal, for some reason,” her mother shrugged. “Of course, Anissa had the paper full of sports. You’d think that the football team struggling to edge the weakest team they’ll play all season was about as big a news story as the World Trade Center going down.”
Her father shook his head. “I don’t think I’d mind wasting that much space on the football team if I actually thought they were going to do any better than, oh, two and seven, but the readers seem to insist on it, so I guess it doesn’t matter.”
“Well, if I get a vote, it’s ‘don’t care,’” Susan shrugged. “Maybe less positive than that. I’m just glad to have put school sports behind me along with everything else from there.”
“I can understand that,” Mike told her. “Harold called today, and we had a little talk about your pulling out of school. No real news or anything, but he’s sort of wondering what Gingrich will say when he finds out.”
“You know, that doesn’t really concern me,” Susan nodded. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he tries to make trouble, but I’m not sure there’s any trouble he can make, now.”
“You might lose the school’s contribution to your tuition, but if it happens, it happens,” he replied. “If Gingrich gets snotty about it and manages to get it taken away, then there might be some grounds for a lawsuit, but the amount would be so small that it doesn’t seem like it would be worth it. Anyway, Harold said he hates to lose you as a student, but he thoroughly understands why you did what you did, and doesn’t blame you in the slightest.”
“I hate the idea of causing trouble for him, but I don’t want to bring down more on me,” Susan replied philosophically.
“Well, that’s understandable. Sometimes the best thing you can know is when to run. I think you’re going to come out ahead on this deal.”
“I hope so,” she replied. “So, just out of curiosity, did you find out any more about Gingrich?”
“Not really. I’ve been a little too busy concentrating on the regular stuff, but now that I have the paper out I’m going to look at it a little harder. I got to thinking about it, and I know George Battle never throws any of his board papers away. He wasn’t one of those who supported Aho and Gingrich, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he still has a copy of the resumé and maybe the investigation report on him.”
“Sounds like it could be a lead.”
“It could, but George has been out of town, some kind of business conference, I’m not clear on what, so I haven’t been able to find out anything, and I may not until the weekend, maybe the first of the week.” He pointedly changed the subject and asked, “So, do any of your classes look interesting?”
“More or less,” she said, a little disappointed at the lack of progress. “The English 101e is probably going to be the most difficult since I’ll have to learn to do a few things in a different way, but I don’t see any real problem with it.”
An hour or so later Susan was in her room, reading through her European history book. The content was considerably more detailed than had been discussed in class, although there was little there that she wasn’t familiar with. She realized there was a subtle danger in that – she didn’t dare take anything for granted. It seemed likely that the teacher was going for something in his own way, and she didn’t want to miss that.
She was just getting into reading about Rome when the phone rang. Her mother beat her to it out in the living room, but in a moment she heard the call, “Susan! It’s for you.”
It proved to be Megan. “Hey,” her friend said, “are you all right, or what? I haven’t seen you in school at all!”
“I’m just fine,” Susan said, thinking that it probably still wasn’t a good idea to get into the problems with Gingrich, but figuring that she couldn’t put off telling her friend the truth any longer. “But you’re not going to be seeing me around school this fall. I’m taking a full load of classes down at Riverside Community College.”
“College?” Megan said, clearly interested. “I didn’t know you were thinking about that!”
“It happened pretty quickly,” Susan explained. “There aren’t many classes I could take over at the school that mean anything or that I hadn’t already taken. I didn’t feel like wasting the year, so I managed to get signed up for classes there.”
“You mean you’re not going to graduate from high school?”
“I already did,” Susan smiled. “In Germany. When I understood a little of what that meant, it made a diploma from Spearfish Lake High School seem pretty pointless. I’m still registered at Spearfish Lake, but I’m going to have enough work with my college classes and working for my mom and dad that I don’t expect to be around the school much.”
“You mean you’re going to be skipping school?”
“Pretty much,” Susan grinned. “I only have one class at the school and I’ve already passed it, so there’s no reason for me to hang around there when I have other things I can do. It doesn’t count for much of anything anyway. Since I already have a high school diploma, what do I need another one for?”
“Wow,” Megan said. “I sure never expected that!”
“Well, I didn’t either, but it makes more sense to me than wasting a year. I’ll almost certainly have to go to college somewhere else next year, but I haven’t figured out where yet. It could be in Germany, I don’t know yet.” Susan didn’t want to get into the details, especially about the trouble with the school superintendent, so she changed the subject. “So how did it go with you and Jimmy Friday night?”
“Not too bad,” Megan replied. “You know, you were right that nobody goes out to that road end. We didn’t see a soul. We had a pretty good time and it felt pretty good, too. We didn’t, uh, get all the way, but pretty close, if you know what I mean. Maybe next time, maybe not, I don’t know yet.”
“Well, just have fun. If it’s not fun, then it’s not worth it.”
They talked a while longer. Megan didn’t say a great deal more about what had happened with Jimmy, but from what Susan could pick out it seemed as if things had gone reasonably well. Maybe Megan was getting that issue sorted out in her mind; if so, good.
Mostly they talked about people they both knew at the school. In the two days it had been in session, Megan had made contact with a most of her friends and had done a lot of catching up, and she passed a lot of her news on in the conversation. Susan was only half interested in the topic; for the most part she hadn’t had much to do with those kids for a year, and probably wouldn’t have much to do with them in the future. There was a lack of interest on her part although she tried to indicate to Megan that she really cared.
The conversation finally slowed to a halt, and they ended the call. Susan turned back to her European history book, but her mind really wasn’t on it. Megan was a long-time friend and they shared a lot – but they were following different paths now, in fact had been doing it for a year and it seemed logical to think that they wouldn’t get any closer in the future. While she hoped to keep Megan as a friend, they just didn’t have as much in common as they had once had.
It was bound to happen, Susan thought, as she tried to get her mind back onto the textbook. It’s just happening sooner than I expected. Spearfish Lake High School was behind her now, for good or bad, but Riverside Community College lay directly on her road to the future. She’d try to keep up her relationship with Megan because it was good to have a friend, but like a lot of things in Spearfish Lake, their friendship would probably wind up having to stay in Spearfish Lake.
It was back to the past on Wednesday morning, the familiar job of getting the papers mailed out, the usual addressing and bundling, and gossip among the Record-Herald staff. By now most of the staff knew that Susan was going to Riverside rather than the high school, and unlike many others, they had a pretty good idea of the reasons why. So, for at least a little while the conversation was about Susan’s brief experiences there, and it morphed over into stories of other people’s first days in college.
Susan was especially proud that morning, since her photo of the balloon lifting the sail at Windmill Island was on the front page – and in fact, big and prominent on the front page, the lead photo. What’s more, her story and color photos on the lifting of the windmill components, and the windmill house in general took up all of the back of the “A” section. There was only one change that she could see that her father had made to the story: Susan hadn’t bothered with a byline, but he’d somehow found the room to add By Susan Langenderfer-McMahon, Record-Herald Staff before the lead of the story. It wasn’t the first time she’d had a bylined story in the paper, and she knew that some of her reports from Germany had eaten up a page – but this was honest reporting, and it was the first time she’d been referred to as a staff member. Somehow, that made it extra special.
All in all it was a little lighter paper than the week before, and they managed to work their way through it fairly easily. Once they had it done, Susan could have headed for home, but she had her reading in the various classes caught up, and no papers had been assigned yet, so she had some time to kill. Since the Windmill Island story had gone so well, she decided to see if there was something else she could work on for a feature. She checked the white board in the front office where there was a list of people’s ideas for possible features, but nothing really reached out to her.
What did reach out to her was the junior reporter’s desk. It was a mess. When she’d been working on the Windmill Island story the week before, she’d mostly just worked over the top of the mess, but she’d made a mental note to pick it up and clean up the junk the first chance she got. This, she realized, could be the time to do it; depending on how the search for a regular junior reporter went, she could be working there for a while, so there was no point in working in Lindeman’s pigsty any longer.
Cleaning the top of the desk proved to not be any big deal, but the drawers were much worse – from what she could see the mess at least partly predated Lindeman. Whoever had preceded him – she’d never met him or the predecessor – had to be about as sloppy as Lindemann. In one of the drawers was a stack of meeting agendas and handouts from meetings long past, just tossed in there apparently with the idea of letting someone else sort it out in the future. She grabbed a big armload out of the drawer, set it on the desk, and began working her way down through the pile. As she did, she at least glanced at the top sheet of each stapled or clipped bundle to see if there might be anything useful in it before tossing it in the wastebasket.
Nothing particularly caught her eye until she hit a school board agenda from several months before, with one of the action items being “Accept resignation of superintendent.” It was only then that she realized that she must have already tossed the items where the school board had hired Gingrich, and all of the machinations that Aho had gone through. Little of the latter was likely to get in the board handouts, but it was worth a look. She pulled the wastebasket over to her and started back down through it, considerably more carefully this time.
The resignation of the old superintendent had been months before, but she knew that the search for a new superintendent usually took months; it was a fairly formal process with certain steps that had to be taken. Sure enough, at the next monthly board meeting there was an item about a superintendent search, with resumé being sought and the board forming a committee to review the applications.
In the next month’s agenda there was an item “Report of Search Committee” – it could well have been the lack of the word “Superintendent” that had caused her to overlook it the first time. Fortunately, there was a thick packet attached to the agenda, and she had to dig down through it to find the details, but she thought that now she might be finding something. Sure enough, there was a report from the committee – Aho was the chairman – recommending three candidates to be the new superintendent. Copies of each candidate’s resumé were attached – including Gingrich’s!
“Holy crap!” she said out loud. The resumé that her father had been trying to get had been laying in the mess in the junior reporter’s desk all along! “Dad!” she yelled. “Guess what I’ve got!”
“A scholarship to Harvard?” he smirked.
“Not quite, but almost as good. I’ve got Gingrich’s resumé!”
“What? How’d you get that?”
“It was in a meeting packet that Lindeman must just have tossed in the desk and forgotten about,” she said. She glanced at the packet a little further and added, “I don’t see a background investigation report, though.”
“I’d be surprised if you did,” he said, walking over to where she was sitting at the pile of papers cluttering the junior reporter’s desk. “They usually keep those confidential. I don’t know for sure if they even go to the full board, or just the search committee members. But still, this is more than we had before. The hell of it is that we had it all along. That just proves how big of a dork Lindeman really was.” He glanced at the resumé briefly. “This is a lot more than we had in the paper, that’s for sure.”
“I haven’t gone back and looked at the papers in that period,” Susan said. “Did Lindeman do a story on him?”
“Yeah, but not much of a story,” Mike shook his head. “It was one of the things I jumped him about, and it finally came down to me letting him go. He just made it a bullet point in the board story when Gingrich was hired without going into details. He must have just written it from this resumé, or from what was said at the meeting. I don’t think it went three sentences.”
“For a new superintendent?” Susan shook her head. “I would think that should have been a separate article, at least.”
“Well, yeah,” Mike told her. “But there were several other things going on at the time, and I never caught it until later. I told Lindeman to do a separate story on the new superintendent, but he said he couldn’t get hold of the guy for an interview, and, well, time passed and it slipped away. I screwed up on that, too.”
Together they looked the resumé over. Nothing really jumped out at them, not that anything should have. At the date of the resumé, Gingrich was shown as the superintendent of the Byzantium Consolidated School District; it was located out of state, and neither of them had ever heard of it before. The brief line on the resumé sort of indicated that it was a smaller school district than Spearfish Lake, so realistically, it was not surprising that they were unfamiliar with it.
The rest of the resumé was also obscure to them – Curriculum Coordinator at another school they’d never heard of, Support Services director at another school, and so on. “You know what?” Susan said. “Unless these titles mean something they don’t say, he’s always been an administrator. I mean, he’s never been a teacher, or a principal or anything.”
“I suppose it could happen,” Mike replied, scanning on down through the resumé. “Although I don’t want to speculate on how wise that might be. I would think that it would help for a school administrator to have at least some practical experience with kids. Let’s see, graduated from some college down in Iowa I never heard of, either. Granted, it’s all pretty far out of state, but I can’t help but wonder just how true some of this is. The hell of it is, I can’t believe that it could be total bullshit, either.”
“Susan, whenever a school district or any government unit hires someone like this, they at least run a brief background check. Even the simplest one ought to turn up whether a school or a job exists or what. It might not turn up the fact that the guy had been a failure or thrown out on his ass, but it at least ought to show that he’d been there in the first place.”
“Well, yeah,” she nodded. “So if the search committee ran much of a background check, it ought to have turned that much up.”
“Right,” Mike nodded. “But one of the things we don’t know is how much of a background check they did. If it was just Aho and he was pulling a fast one or just got lazy, well, an administrative background check might not show much of anything.”
“You don’t suppose . . . ”
“I do suppose. How else could an asshole like Gingrich have gotten away with no competent background search? Several companies do this kind of thing, and they’re pretty thorough, but I’ll bet you can go through that pile of paperwork and find that the board never burped up the money for one. This might be a little late in the game, but I think we should at least run our own little superficial background check, just to make sure that some of these places actually exist. Get online, it ought to be pretty easy to at least check that much out.”
Not surprisingly, when Susan ran her first Google search using just “Byzantium” she found hundreds of thousands of entries about the ancient city, not worth the trouble of looking through, so she refined the search by adding the word “School,” all in a single phrase.
In an instant, the high-speed connection came up with real pay dirt: the very first entry came from the Springfield Democrat web page, and read, Byzantium school district files charges against former superintendent.
“Holy shit!” Susan yelled as she clicked on the web link. “My God, it can’t be.”
Her father hadn’t even gotten back to his office; he turned around and headed back toward Susan’s desk. Thanks to the high-speed connection he hadn’t even made it back yet when she started reading aloud: “Barnhart County Superior Court Judge Judy Distler agreed to a continuance in the suit filed by Byzantium Consolidated School District against their former superintendent, Earl Gingrich. The district charges that Gingrich illegally diverted over a hundred thousand dollars in funds from the school to his own use. The court agreed to a defense motion for the continuance, citing the need for more documentation on the charges” . . .
“Holy shit!” Mike agreed. “Are we sure it’s the same guy?”
“The name and the school district are the same,” Susan said. “And there sure aren’t many other Byzantium Consolidated School Districts. And Gingrich was gone the tail end of last week. Mr. Hekkinan didn’t know where or why.”
“Yeah, but before we drop a bomb like that in Spearfish Lake we want to be real, real sure,” her father told her. “Now why does that name ring a bell with me?”
“No, Springfield Democrat. There are a bunch of Springfields in this country, but I seem to recall a paper of that name when we went down and visited Henry last spring. You don’t suppose it’s the same one?”
Within ten seconds Mike was using his memory to dial the number of the TV station where Susan’s brother worked. It took a couple moments to get him on the speakerphone. “So,” Henry asked. “How are things in Spearfish Lake?”
“At the moment, pretty interesting,” Mike told him. “Right this moment we’re looking at an online story from the Springfield Democrat about a hassle the Byzantium school district is having with their former superintendent, a guy by the name of Earl Gingrich.”
“Yeah, that was big news around here last week,” Henry told them. “I didn’t cover it, someone else did, but it looks like he gave them a pretty good screwing, and everything is so fuzzy that I don’t want to bet he’s going to get sent up for it. There seems to be more to what happened than the Democrat got, but I don’t know the details.”