Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
“You mean that bastard wound up in Spearfish Lake?” Henry said incredulously a few moments later. “How the hell could someone up there been that stupid?”
“That’s what we’re trying to find out,” Mike told him. “You know that I’ve said for years, ‘Never automatically blame something on treachery when it can be accounted for by simple incompetence.’ Well, I’m not so sure I’m right on that in this case.”
“You’re saying you think that someone pulled a fast one,” Henry charged flatly.
“It sure looks that way,” Mike sighed. “I’m just not sure who yet, or how many fast ones are involved, but there’s definitely something funny going on somewhere. I was pissed off enough at this guy over the shit he pulled on Susan, but this looks like a drop in the bucket.”
“Wait a minute! What do you mean, shit he pulled on Susan?”
“It’s a long story,” Mike said, and proceeded to give Henry a capsule summary of what had happened over the last few days. “So, for practical purposes, your sister is a high school dropout,” he wound up, “and started college yesterday.”
“That’s not the way I wanted to do it,” Susan added. “But I kept up my end of the deal and the school welshed on theirs, so it was the only logical thing to do.”
“Count on you to keep life interesting,” Henry sighed. “So, what’s the next step?”
“We have to go with it,” Mike said firmly. “And we have to go with it soon, before he can cause any more damage or get his hand too deep in the money till. But that means that we’re going to need a lot more information, and despite the fact that we found this on the Internet that’s not really enough to go with. You’re in a much better position to track down local information than we are. We need chapter and verse on the legal issues down there.”
“Shouldn’t be too hard to get,” Henry said. “We’ve done several stories on the situation, I know that, and the Democrat has done more on them. I should be able to round up the printed material pretty easily.”
“I’ve got a feeling we can do a lot of that online,” Mike replied. “But I heard you say that there’s more there than meets the eye.”
“Well, I get the impression that there’s more than meets the eye, but that’s not the same thing. You taught me that long ago. I can talk to the guy here at the station who’s been covering it; he probably knows more than he’s put on air. And, something like this, where I’d be helping research for an out-of-town paper, it’s not impossible that whoever it is at the Democrat might be willing to tell me more. For that matter, it’s not very far out to Byzantium. I could probably run out and talk to someone out there.”
“Do they have a local paper?”
“Not that I’ve ever heard of,” Henry replied. “Byzantium is pretty much a suburb, the Democrat mostly covers the area, and they do a pretty good job. Don’t get me wrong, I’m going to help you out on this, but I’m going to have to do it on my own time since it’s not on my beat and people get pretty stuffy about poaching around here. They’re still not letting me do much but Restaurant Report Card and penny-ante stuff like that, but since this is a family deal I can probably get around it. I might even be able to score some points with management out of the deal.”
“Well, do what you can, but it sure would be nice if we could run this next week. But this could get into libel country, so I want everything documented beyond the possibility of mistake. This is going to be touchy stuff, and I could see how it could turn into a lot worse mess than it already is.”
“I’ll do my best with it, but you have to understand that it could wind up taking me a few days. On the other hand, a lot of stuff you want is already public record down here, so it might not be too bad.”
“Sounds like a winner,” Mike told him. “About all I can say is keep in touch.”
“Yeah, I’ll keep you posted, and fax or e-mail you copies of what I get. It’ll be nice to be able to do a little real digging again instead of just reading the Department of Health reports.”
“We all have to start somewhere,” Mike told him. “You’re just paying your dues.”
“I know, but still,” Henry sighed. “So, Susan, how are you getting along in college?”
“Pretty well so far, but I’m just getting started, day one is all, so it’s too early to make any kind of judgment. It would have been hard to go back to high school here after Germany, anyway, so in a way I’m sort of glad that this worked out the way it did.”
They talked for a couple minutes before ending the call. “Well,” Mike said after the phone was back on the hook, “it looks like you did the smart thing by cleaning out Lindeman’s desk. That was something else I should have thought of but just didn’t because I was too busy trying to get everything else done.”
“There’s only so much you can do.”
“Yeah, but still, and if we’d missed this we’d have come out of it looking pretty stupid. We’re not exactly covering ourselves with glory in taking this long to find out. Now, several things. First, we keep quiet about this. Right at the moment I don’t think we want to spook Gingrich by letting him know we’re onto him. Let’s just keep this in the family for now, you, me, your mother, and Henry.”
“That seems obvious to me,” she replied.
“We may not be able to keep a lid on it all the way till we go to press, but we ought to try. Next, I want you to dig all that crap of Lindeman’s out of the wastebasket and go through it a lot more seriously. There may be pay dirt somewhere else in all those school board packets. Anything that strikes you as vaguely interesting, bring to me.”
“I was going to do that, anyway. I just hadn’t gotten to it yet.”
“Get started on it,” he smiled. “And then I want you on the Internet and do your best to get background on this deal in Byzantium, just for a second look, but look around some of those other things on his resumé. There could be something somewhere else, and if there is we don’t want to miss it.”
“We’re going to run with it this time?” she asked.
“Dern tootin’ we are,” he nodded, a firm expression on his face. “We didn’t do anything about the shit he pulled on you because that was family stuff. Maybe we should have, but that’s just a little too close to home. But he got his pass on that one, and this time, unless something really gross and disgusting comes up, we’re not going to give him a second chance.”
It turned out to be a long afternoon, but an interesting one. They didn’t turn up anything in particular among the old board packets, not surprising – sometimes what was being said in the packets was technical and rather cryptic, and it would have taken an accountant to discover if anything suspicious was going on in the financial reports. As far as that went, Mike suspected that if Gingrich was doing something with the financials, which seemed likely, there hadn’t been time for it to show up yet.
The Internet search was more rewarding – at least all the schools on Gingrich’s resumé proved to actually exist although finding anything to indicate that he’d actually been there at the time stated was next to impossible. But there were plenty of recent media stories about the situation in Byzantium, and they went back a ways, although the misappropriation of funds story had only started to crop up about three months before. There were, however, vague reports of something else going on, and a mention of an out-of-court settlement following charges by one student’s parents. What the charges actually involved was not specified in the story, although they could figure out that the charges were against Gingrich. “I sure wish to hell I knew what that was all about,” Mike said as he read the disgustingly obscure and short story for the third time.
“Maybe Henry will find out,” Susan replied hopefully.
“I sure hope so,” Mike shook his head. “But just looking at the sequence of events, it looks to me like this happened before the embezzlement thing came up. Maybe it got the local board down there to look a little more seriously at the guy. It’s clear that the shit hit the fan down there before he applied for the job here, so he had to be already on the run. The thing that still mystifies me is how all of this could get past the most half-assed background investigation.”
“If there really was an investigation,” Susan pointed out. “Or, maybe Aho wanted to cover it up.”
“That’s what I’m suspecting,” her father said. “But there’s no way of proving it without dropping the hammer on this joker first.”
Finally the day wound down. “We’re just chasing our tails on this now,” Mike summed up. “We could probably write a story with what we have, but in this kind of thing you want to make sure the reader has enough information to realize that the charges are solid. Since we’ve got a little time, I think we’d better see if Henry can turn up more than we have now. We’ve still got a couple weeks until the school board meeting, so we might as well make sure we get it right.”
Susan’s father and mother rode home together, as Susan trailed behind in the Cavalier. She was a little behind them getting into the house, and was just walking in the door when she heard, “Yes, she just walked in.”
Oh, boy, Susan thought. It’s probably Megan and she’ll want to gossip. I’ll have to be even more careful that I don’t say anything about Gingrich after what we found out today. Still, there was no avoiding it, so she took the phone and said, “Hello.”
“Susan!” she heard Mrs. Clark’s voice. “The word around school today is that you dropped out so you could go to college. I can hardly believe it!”
“Essentially, it’s true,” Susan replied, figuring Megan must have run her mouth all over school, and the word had spread from the kids to the teachers. “I’m still technically a student at Spearfish Lake, but only under dual enrollment. I’m taking a full load of courses at Riverside.”
“Well, I suppose if that’s what you want to do,” Mrs. Clark said. “But what brought this on?”
Susan reminded herself again to not say anything about Gingrich, then replied, “When I got to looking at the courses available here, there wasn’t anything that really interested me or challenged me after my year in Germany, so I decided it probably would be best to do something else. The dual enrollment deal seemed like the best way to do it.”
“This is really a surprise, but the best of luck to you. I hope everything will work out for you. Drop by and see me sometime. Myleigh said she’d talked to you a couple weeks ago and that you’d had quite the adventure.”
“It was really pretty good,” Susan replied, the little college professor with the big words coming to mind. Where she was going to go to college in another year was still an issue, but Weatherford was on the list; it could be interesting to talk to her about that. “But I think I can say that it changed me in some ways I didn’t expect, and that the results are working out for me. I wouldn’t mind talking to Dr. Hartwell-Harris sometime. I’ve got some things I’d like to talk to her about.”
“That’s not a problem, we’re good friends. She’s a little hard to catch up with sometimes but try to call her in the evenings later in the week. She’s in the book, but it’s under ‘Trey Hartwell.’”
“OK, thanks, I’ll remember that. Mrs. Clark, I’m glad to know you’re concerned about me, but everything is fine and going to work out just fine. Thanks for calling.”
That was the first of several calls that Susan had from former teachers and classmates over the course of the evening. Most people expressed a lot of surprise, but then it had come about pretty quickly and Susan had been keeping quiet about it. The way word got around she suspected that Gingrich would be hearing about it before long, but whether it would mean anything, which included more trouble, she didn’t know. It couldn’t help but make her wonder what would happen when he realized that she and her father were sitting on a huge pot load of trouble for him.
Susan was up early the next day – it was Thursday, which meant it was her long day, with the evening class, so she wouldn’t be getting home until well after dark.
Although it was only her second day of classes at Riverside, she pretty well felt like the classes were routine. The only one in which she was getting things that were really new to her was in English 101e, and that was mostly a matter of detail; she pretty well understood the concepts.
Once again, she spent some break time with Bianca and had lunch with her, as well as with a couple other students they’d met in the morning classes. The conversations were superficial, just getting-to-know-you types of things, along with some complaints about how tough the classes were going to be. Susan didn’t think they were going to be very tough, but decided to keep her thoughts about that to herself.
Still, it was good to talk to Bianca, who seemed to be a more social person than Susan tended to be; she was apparently feeling the need for a familiar face in a strange place, but then, for once Susan was feeling a little of the same need. Bianca was fun to talk to since they faced several of the same problems, but somehow Susan doubted that she was going to turn into a long-time close friend.
Susan had a couple hours to kill after her last afternoon class, so she figured she might as well spend them in the snack bar and get some reading done while she had the time to spare. She got a burger and fries – not very good, but it was food – and a large Diet Pepsi, settled in at one of the tables, and started on her European history reading. She was just getting into the book when she heard a quiet, high-pitched voice say, “You’re Susan, aren’t you? Do you mind if I join you?”
She glanced up to see an oriental-looking girl, just a little taller standing up than Susan was sitting down. She had long, straight black hair, wore a blue pleated skirt, a white top with a blue sailor-style cape and a red ribbon bow tie, and knee socks. She remembered seeing the girl in a couple of her classes and recalled that she’d been dressed pretty much the same way on Tuesday, as well. In any case, she was about the only girl in any of the classes who was about as well-dressed as Susan. “No, sure, sit down,” Susan smiled. “I’ve got all weekend to read this and nothing much else to do.”
“Thank you,” the girl said politely, taking a seat across the table and setting a foam cup of some drink down in front of her. “I’ve heard about you from a couple people. You went to school in Germany last year, didn’t you?”
“Yes, a Gymnasium in Regensburg,” Susan said. “It was a really interesting experience, and I really liked it.”
“Good for you,” the girl said. “I spent a year as a sort of exchange student at a high school in Japan, and I was very glad to get back to school here.”
“Sort-of exchange student? What was that?”
“My grandmother lives in Japan,” the girl said. “My mother went back to care for her, and thought it might be interesting for me to absorb some of my heritage first hand. I have to give her credit for thinking creatively, but I don’t think it worked out very well in the long run.”
“How’s that?” Susan replied, getting curious now. She knew very few American kids who had spent a year as an exchange student in a foreign culture, and had never been able to talk with any of them much. While this wasn’t quite the same thing, it was close enough that it promised to be interesting.
“I grew up bilingually,” the girl explained. “My father is yonsei, which means that, although he is of Japanese heritage, his family has been in this country for many generations. My mother was born in Japan and came to this country after she married my father. The problem comes from the fact that I speak Japanese with an American accent, which I mostly picked up from my father. Unfortunately, when I got to Japan, I found that my accent labeled me as a gaijin, which a lot of people there interpret as ‘untouchable.’”
“It worked differently for me,” Susan explained. “I mostly learned German from my grandmother, and it left me with a little Plattdeutsch, or North German accent. Germans usually don’t expect foreigners to speak that, so most people were surprised to find I was an American if I told them at all. So, you were treated as an outsider, then?”
“Pretty much,” the girl sighed. As Susan listened carefully, she could not detect any trace of an accent, except for American – but the girl’s voice was so high-pitched and soft it almost sounded as if she were speaking in a foreign accent. “In any case, not as a true Japanese, and I don’t like to think of myself as Japanese, anyway. In fact, even less so now than I did before. I will say that the experience of being in so insular a culture gave me a much better love of the diversity of this country.”
This was a much different outcome than Susan had experienced – and the differences were interesting. The two girls – it soon proved that the girl’s name was Mizuki Takashita – spent the next hour or so exchanging experiences, and along the way, Susan found herself glad that she hadn’t been an exchange student in Japan. The schools, Mizuki explained, were very regimented, with a huge emphasis on rote learning. Some things were taken as gospel that Mizuki knew were dead wrong from her own experience. Though there were some upper-level schools such as the Gymnasium Susan was familiar with in Germany, most of the schools, especially the one Mizuki had attended, were more similar to the comprehensive American model, with students on various tracks attending the same school.
“Getting into college in Japan is very important, and much of it is based on a single test. Students looking to get into college often attend special cram schools called juku that do nothing but prepare them for the test,” Mizuki explained. “Thank God I didn’t have to do that. From what I understood, it was even more rote memorization. Hardly anybody believed me when I told them it just wasn’t done that way in this country.”
That, of course, led to more discussion of the Gymnasium Susan had attended and how it was a college prep school in its own way, and how the Abitur was important as a college entrance exam. Both of them agreed that while the American system had its failings, it also had its good points – and Mizuki was more enthusiastic about it than Susan.
“I have to say this much,” Susan said. “I’m glad I didn’t have to depend on the American system or I wouldn’t be in college now.” She went on to explain a little of what had happened in the last few days, leaving Gingrich out of the discussion, of course.
“Well, Mizuki sighed, “if I’d had to depend on the Japanese system, I wouldn’t be either. I’m only planning on being here for a year to get some prerequisites out of the way and save a little money. I’m planning on being at Southern Michigan University in the fall.”
“Never heard of it,” Susan said. “I didn’t even know we had a Southern Michigan University.”
“It just started a couple years ago,” Mizuki explained. “It’s on what was the campus of a small religious school. My understanding is that they plan on de-emphasizing the liberal arts and concentrating more on science and technology education, along with doing a few other innovative things that would be harder to do against a traditional atmosphere. Believe me, right now I’m looking to be about as non-traditional as I can manage. That was something else I took out of the Japanese school system.”
“So, what are you planning on getting into?” Susan asked.
“Automotive engineering,” Mizuki smiled. “Or at least some form of production engineering. There are getting to be a lot of Japanese-owned manufacturing plants in this country, or at least joint ventures. I can’t help but think that being thoroughly familiar with the Japanese language and culture but also being able to look at things from an American point of view could be useful to me.”
“Sounds like good thinking,” Susan said, impressed. She wished she had her own plans as well thought out – she still hadn’t determined what she wanted to study, and her own plans mostly consisted of being flexible.
“I sometimes wonder,” Mizuki sighed. “It may impress American management but may not have the same effect on the Japanese. They still have a rather sexist society, and a woman in engineering, well, it’s a very gaijin concept. You’ve heard of the Japanese salaryman who give his all for dear old Datsun, haven’t you?”
“Yeah, sure,” Susan nodded, still impressed.
“Well, there just aren’t any Japanese salarywomen. That’s about as gaijin of a concept as anything else American, and the men on the Japanese side of the equation probably aren’t going to be thrilled about a woman breaking their stereotypes. But, I still think it can be an advantage with an American company looking to do business in Japan.”
“Well, you’re probably right on that. But why this Southern Michigan University?”
“The big reason for it is that they’re not going to be depending on professors who are out of touch with current production methods,” Mizuki explained. “They’re going to do most of it from adjuncts who have full-time positions in the industry. I’m hoping that it will help open a few doors.”
Susan shook her head. “I have to give you credit for thinking it through a lot further than I have.”
“Hey,” Mizuki smiled. “I had to think of something useful while I was sitting on my dead butt in a useless class in Japan.”
By now it was getting to be time for Susan to be heading to class, and it turned out that Mizuki had to go to the same one as well. They left a little early so they could walk to the classroom slowly, and still were talking as other students came into the room. Finally they had to settle down, but Susan suggested they get together again – she’d thoroughly enjoyed the discussion, learned a lot, and had much to think about as a result.
“Sure thing,” Mizuki smiled. “Maybe lunch on Tuesday. I think we’ve got lots more to talk about.”