Wes Boyd's
Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online

Book Two of the New Tales of Spearfish Lake
Wes Boyd
Copyright ©2010, ©2012

Chapter 19

Friday at the Record-Herald was busier than Susan had come to expect. For one reason, she still had the snow removal story to write and somehow make it look interesting and informative. It was a little hard to think about, since it reminded her that snow season wasn’t at all far away. They’d had snow in Germany, of course, and at times a lot of it, but it just wasn’t as bad as the kind of snow or as cold as a Spearfish Lake winter could produce.

The main reason that it was more hectic than normal at the Record-Herald was that Monday was Labor Day. Everyone wanted to take the three-day weekend, and moving the paper’s publication date back a day to accommodate it made things more complicated than they wanted. Years before, the staff had decided to get done what they could do the previous week, then bite the bullet and put up with a long day on Tuesday so they could enjoy the holiday. That meant Susan had to make all the regular calls in places like the sheriff’s office, the police department, the courthouse and elsewhere, and get what she could of the stories written up. It would still mean that her father or Carrie would have to make the calls again on Tuesday morning since she would be in school, but much of the work would have already been done. It promised to be a hectic day, and Susan was just a little sorry that she had to go to school and leave her father stuck with the job.

There had been some discussion of the three of them going somewhere and doing something over the long weekend, but ultimately they decided against it. It proved to be a warm weekend, and Susan spent much of it in the nude, either grabbing some of the last of the tanning sunshine she was likely to see for months, or in the hot tub. Of course, she worked on her reading and some of the first assignments that had been given to her down at Riverside, finding them not very difficult.

Though Susan had been e-mailing back and forth with her German friends since the day she’d arrived back in the country and knew that Hans had left for Albburg the previous weekend, she hadn’t actually had a phone call with the Hauners since she’d left Germany. With the six-hour time differential, making a call during the week was just a little inconvenient, so even before she’d left Germany she’d agreed with the Hauners that such calls had to be made on the weekends.

There was a lot of catching up to do, of course – even though the e-mails had pretty well covered the ground of what had been happening, at least the part that Susan cared to share with the Hauners, there was still lots to talk about. Elke and Freya had started their Oberprima year at the Johannes-Staudinger Gymnasium, the year that Susan and Hans had completed in the early summer, and Lothar was in his Unterprima year. Since they had all found out what was involved for the year from Hans and Susan the year before, they seemed to be off to a good start and weren’t at all intimidated with it. From what Susan had been able to glean from the e-mails, Hans was excited and perhaps a little intimidated about matriculating at Universität Albburg, but none of the Hauners had heard much about what was happening with him, yet. Susan wished him well; she’d been exceptionally close with Hans and looked forward to seeing him again.

After a while talking with the whole family, Susan settled down to a little one-on-one talk with Elke, in German, of course, but with occasional excursions into English like they’d always done. “I’m really curious about what’s happening with Hans at uni,” she told Elke. “I’m giving at least a little consideration to going to uni in Germany, maybe even Albburg if I can get in, though even if they accept me, it’s probably not likely I’ll be able to go to school there.”

“Well, I’m curious about it, too,” Elke admitted. “Of course, I will have to do at least as well as Hans on the Abitur to be admitted, but it’s not impossible that I will decide to go somewhere else.”

“I thought you wanted to go there,” Susan said.

“Oh, I think I do, but a final decision will probably have to wait until after I find out what it’s like from Hans, and there’s no point in asking him until after he’s been there for a while. Everything is probably so new to him that he won’t have a final impression for a while, anyway.”

“Yeah, I suppose,” Susan said. There had been plenty of talk over the last few months of all four of her friends going to the ancient uni; now there seemed to be a little doubt about it – or, perhaps reality had set in. Susan couldn’t really tell, but from that exchange her solid-feeling fallback position for next year didn’t seem quite as solid as it had a few minutes before. “But keep me posted,” she added. “I want to know what happens.”

“Oh, we will,” Elke replied. “Freya and Lothar and I all want to know, too. It sure would be nice if we can all be together again someday. We’ve all talked about how much we’ve missed you.”

“Well, I miss you too. I don’t have friends like you here, and since I started college I’m getting a little distant from the ones I used to have. I’ve only seen my old best friend a couple times and talked to her on the phone two or three more times than that. She’s still in high school, and since we’ve already been apart for a year there isn’t that much to talk about.”

“I’m hoping that doesn’t happen with Hans. It may not be the same thing with him being my brother, but it’s hard to say. Have you thought any more about coming over for that bicycle trip we talked about?”

“I was thinking about just the other day,” Susan said, and went on to explain her interview with the old bike rider. “If it works out that I don’t wind up going to uni over there, then I really want to do it.”

“I think it would be a lot of fun. It would be like old times, but in a way more so. But I think it’s still a little early to be making definite plans.”

“I think so too, but it’s sure fun to think about.” Susan admitted. “Maybe by Christmas I’ll have an idea of what my plans will be and what I could use for money to make the trip. I know we’re all thinking it should be a pretty cheap trip, but I’ll have air fare on top of it.”

They talked on for a while longer, just about this and that, renewing their friendship. It seemed hard to imagine that it had only been a little over three weeks since Susan had said goodbye to Elke, and it seemed like months. Somehow the idea of the five of them going to uni together seemed a lot more vague than it had been not long before. Susan was sure she was going to see her friends again, and there was at least a chance that it could be as soon as next summer, but that seemed a long way off, too.

The other important thing Susan did that weekend was to go down to the office to spend some time on college web sites. After the phone call and discussion with Elke, it was clear that she was going to have to get more serious. It didn’t seem very productive; most of them offered the same kinds of things and made the same kind of promises. Susan did look at the Southern Michigan University web site, but the only reason was that Mizuki was so interested in the place.

As Mizuki had explained, Southern Michigan was a different place, and its philosophy seemed somewhat different than other American colleges Susan had spent some time researching. It really was more of a tech school than a liberal arts school, but the courses seemed very practical and career-oriented. Susan found herself spending some time going through the course offerings, looking for some ideas of what might fit into her personal goals, and there were some interesting possibilities. Video production, which Henry had suggested, was one of them but there were others; one that particularly caught her eye was multilingual technical editing, which carried the proviso that students were expected to be fully bilingual before taking the class. That, Susan thought, might be a course she could take almost anywhere, but it also might be the kind of thing where she could be stuck in a stateside office, too. Clearly more research was needed, but at a minimum Susan thought that Mizuki might have something in her fascination with the place.

One of the things that really caught Susan’s eye was that students, especially upperclassmen, were encouraged to live off campus. The web site came right out and said that building new dorms hadn’t kept up with enrollment and the expansion of the campus in other areas, so dorm space was at a premium and prices were charged accordingly. However, the web site also said that because the school was so new, it had little endowment to work with, so that grants to students were extremely limited. Once Susan checked the fee structure, it seemed pretty high in comparison to other schools, although there seemed to be a few minor mitigating factors, but probably not enough to matter. As much as Mizuki liked the place, and as much as Susan was impressed with what the school seemed to offer, she finally had to reluctantly conclude that she needed to look elsewhere. Even though it seemed like too much of a liberal arts school, rather conservative and too close to home, Weatherford was looking better and better.

There was plenty of time to work on that issue, she thought, but she couldn’t put it off forever. She needed to have something worked out by the time Christmas rolled around, or, at worst, by the time the snow was starting to melt, and time was passing.

On Labor Day Monday, Susan and her father went down to the office again, to go over the Gingrich story one more time and to put some finishing touches on it. Henry had one last e-mail with a few tidbits that he’d turned up here and there – they didn’t change the story much, but did add a little detail. “Well, all right,” her father finally said. “I guess it’s ready, and as far as I know no one in the area but us even has a hint of it.”

Given a choice Susan would have liked to skip school on Tuesday to help out at the Record-Herald – it seemed somehow disloyal to leave the staff hanging on a busy day, but it had been agreed that school had to come first. Even though there wouldn’t be anything to see, she was still tempted to skip her last class so she could see the revised front page sent but she managed to restrain herself. She tried to not think about it over lunch with Bianca and Mizuki.

In a way, that lunch was interesting, since Susan and Mizuki had covered some ground over dinner on Thursday, and much had been said that Bianca wasn’t aware of, and that they didn’t want her to know. Although Susan and Mizuki traded a couple hints and double meanings that both understood to mean they’d been thinking about it and still liked the idea, nothing clear could be said in front of Bianca. That meant they mostly talked about Southern Michigan University, where Susan revealed her thinking after her research on the place.

“The money is an issue, that’s for sure,” Mizuki agreed. “Dad is planning on helping me out as much as he can, and I know I’m going to have some grants that I won’t have to dip into for my year here. In fact, that’s why I’m going here for a year, to stretch the money for the other three years a little further.”

“That much applies for me, too,” Susan agreed. “But it would apply elsewhere, even at some place that’s not quite as expensive.”

“Don’t just look at tuition, look at living expenses,” Mizuki pointed out. “Living off campus at Southern is cheaper than living on campus, and, if you and I were to share a cheap apartment, for instance, that would cut the costs even more. You might not get such a good deal somewhere else.”

“Well, that’s true,” Susan conceded, thinking that while she didn’t know Mizuki very well yet, she liked what she knew of her and knew they saw many things much the same way, and that didn’t necessarily include the dinner-table discussion of the previous Thursday evening. “But I really need to look around and do some more comparing and thinking.”

“What else are you looking at?” Bianca asked, most likely out of curiosity.

“Well, Central has a good journalism program, probably the best in the state,” Susan told her. “But I’m not sure journalism will do me much good for what I want to do, and it might limit me in some ways. Besides, going to Central would mean that I’d be following in my brother’s footsteps, and I’m not sure that’s something I want to do. It would be all too easy to wind up doing Restaurant Report Card in some town I never heard of before like he’s doing. That just takes me further from what I want to do.”

“That still gives you a pretty good argument for Southern Michigan,” Mizuki pointed out. “They don’t have a journalism program, but I seem to recall that they offer extension courses from several colleges, including Notre Dame, which I know has a very good journalism program. I don’t recall if they offer it on campus, but it’s not far to South Bend from Hawthorne. You couldn’t take it as a major, but you might be able to swing a minor.”

“That’s an angle I didn’t consider,” Susan said. “You must have spent more time on their web page than I have.”

“Some of the pages I pretty well memorized while I was in Japan,” Mizuki admitted. “Not just Southern, but several other schools. They have a similar arrangement with some other schools in some other fields. I’m pretty sure I’ll have to wind up taking some specialized courses elsewhere myself.”

So, once again Susan had something to think about as she drove home from classes in the evening. Mizuki was probably overselling Southern Michigan a little, but she was really sold on the place and Susan could understand her wanting to have a friendly face down there – along with some of the other possible things they’d talked about with Bianca not around. That shouldn’t be anything to base her decision on, though, although it had some appeal. Maybe later it might affect her decision, for instance after she knew Mizuki a little better, but it was still much too early to be thinking about things like that.

Besides, there were more interesting things to consider. The front page of the Record-Herald had to be down in Camden by now, maybe even on the press. Tomorrow, she thought, was going to be an interesting day.

*   *   *

Even though she knew what was going to be in the article, Susan was anxious to see the Record-Herald the next morning. What she hadn’t figured on seeing was the headline, Superintendent faces charges from former district, a double-deck headline in type so large it was rarely used by the paper. A two column photo of Gingrich in court in Springfield was credited to the Springfield Democrat; as promised, the story was by-lined By Henry L. McMahon, Special to the Record-Herald. The story began:

Newly-hired Spearfish Lake School Superintendent Earl Gingrich is facing embezzlement charges in Barnhart County Superior Court. It is alleged that he diverted over a hundred thousand dollars from his former employer, the Byzantium Consolidated School District.

The Byzantium School board had already placed Gingrich on suspension last spring before he applied to the Spearfish Lake School District, according to public records from both the Byzantium and Spearfish Lake Districts.

Along with criminal charges, Gingrich also faces a civil suit from the Byzantium district seeking restitution of the funds it’s alleged that he diverted, along with punitive damages. According to Byzantium School Board president Lyle Heathrow, the diversions were discovered in accounts managed by Gingrich during a special audit requested by the board after irregularities surfaced in routine financial reports. Following that report, Gingrich was placed on unpaid suspension from the district pending further legal action.

According to documents placed before the Spearfish Lake School Board in May, Gingrich applied for the vacant superintendent position here after he had been suspended from the Byzantium district, and he was hired here after the charges had been filed against him in Barnhart County.

The case has received wide media attention in the Springfield area following the allegations and charges. The most recent action, taken two weeks ago in Barnhart County Superior Court, was the granting of a request for a delay so that the defense could further study the documentation. Gingrich appeared at that court action, and was absent from the Spearfish Lake district at the time.

The story went on from there in great detail about the charges from Byzantium that Gingrich faced, and included quotes from the auditor, more from the school board president and from two of its members. However, there was no mention of the out-of-court action by a student and his family against Gingrich; Henry had told his father that the details on that were still vague, but that he was still working on it. Mike and Susan had agreed that the news of that issue could be kept for a while; this one in print now was going to cause a big enough controversy on its own.

No one at the Record-Herald except Mike, Susan, Kirsten, and Carrie Evachevski, whose turn it had been to pick up the papers in Camden had seen the story before the first bundle was broken open in the addressing room. The first papers, however, weren’t addressed, but broken down into bundles to be delivered to various dealers around town, and as far away as Albany River, Hoselton, and Warsaw. “I can understand why you wanted to keep it quiet,” Anissa commented. “This is going to be a bigger deal than when Johansen got canned as football coach.”

“A lot bigger,” Mike agreed. “Now, just for the sake of making things interesting, let’s start a couple pools. The first, on how long it’s going to be before I hear the words ‘libel suit’ out of Gingrich. And second, McKee’s Sunoco is the closest dealer to the schools. I’ll take bets on when we get a phone call from them telling us that they’re out of papers and need some more.”

It was just a little after seven-thirty in the morning, and nobody wanted a spot in the pool after noon. Susan chose nine-thirty on McKee’s Sunoco, knowing that the bus drivers often stopped in there for coffee after their runs. The drivers had the reputation of being pretty serious gossips, and she figured it wouldn’t take long for a copy or two of the paper to make it to the teacher’s lounge, and someone was likely to make a run down and buy the place out to spread copies around. At precisely nine twenty-seven they got the call, and Susan got ten bucks out of the deal.

They turned to addressing papers. Susan figured that now that the horse was out of the barn she could talk about the story a bit, although she didn’t say much more than what had been in print. But the morning went on and on with no call from Gingrich. About eleven, Mike remarked that Gingrich must either be out of town, or nobody had the guts to give him a copy of the paper.

After a little while longer Mike’s curiosity couldn’t be held in check. He decided to call Hekkinan, if for no more reason than to get a feeling for what the reaction had been at the school. “Boy, that’s all over the school,” Hekkinan told him. “I’ve seen photocopies of the article floating around already, along with some pages that had to be downloaded from the Springfield Democrat web site. You ought to send Susan over here with a bundle of papers and have her wandering the halls yelling, ‘Extra, extra, read all about it.’”

“Sounds like a good idea, now that you mention it,” Mike grinned. “However, that would involve me talking her into going over to the school in the first place. She thinks of herself as a college student now, she doesn’t want anything to do with the high school.”

“Well, I can’t say as I blame her,” Hekkinan replied. “But it would be fun to see. Frankly, seeing this story about him doesn’t surprise me a bit, although I had no idea that something like that was actually happening. I see Henry turned it up for you.”

“No, actually Susan turned it up, giving credit where credit is due,” Mike told her. “Henry just did the spade work since he’s down there in Springfield anyway. I will say that if anyone asks, we have full documentation on everything that’s said in the story. There’s no skimming over gaps or jumping to conclusions. We’re just wondering what Gingrich is going to say.”

“That could be interesting,” Hekkinan agreed. “There are a couple other people I’d like to hear what they have to say on it, too.”

“Same here,” Mike said. “I don’t think this story is over with yet.”

It was actually twelve-fifteen before Gingrich called – Anissa won the pool, having chosen eleven-thirty, the latest time picked – and of course, he was apoplectic. “What sort of horseshit are you printing?” he raged. “That’s a total pack of lies! Total bullshit! I’m going to have your ass in court so fast it’s not funny.”

“I have just one question,” Mike said with an evil smile as he kept his calm; he glanced around the room, where the whole Record-Herald staff was listening in to his side of the conversation. “Were you charged with embezzlement in the Barnhart County Superior Court back in July?”

“Well, yes, but it’s a total pack of bullshit! They can’t prove anything.”

“Then we’re going to stand by everything that was in that story, and we’ll be glad to see you in court,” Mike said. “Everything in that story comes from published documents and court records, or is based on on-the-record statements by the people involved. We may be out here in the sticks, but we’re not quite the bunch of dumb local yokels you seem to take us for.”

“I’ll see your ass in court!” Gingrich snarled as he hung up the phone.

“Well, that’s how I like it,” Mike said as he hung up the phone. “Short and sweet. He confirmed that he’d been charged down there, and he couldn’t very well deny it anyway. So, I think we’ve kicked over the anthill. Now we’ll just have to see what runs out.”

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To be continued . . .

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