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 22

Susan spent most of the next weekend in the Record-Herald office. Even though the office was technically closed, she fielded several phone calls in reaction to the Gingrich story, and picked up a few tidbits of information for the follow-up story on how he got hired.

Of course, having been in school all day and into the evening on Thursday meant that Susan missed the brunt of the phone calls, some of which her father reported had been worth the effort, especially one from Ed Rickenbaugh. That one pretty much made the story, and Susan was a little sorry she’d missed it, for he’d confirmed several of the points that Battle had made, especially the fact that Aho had made no formal, written investigative report to the rest of the search committee. That was enough to make much of the story fall into place, although there were still plenty of questions about why Aho had covered up the results he’d found on the investigation, if any. Laziness and stupidity seemed like logical answers, but Susan couldn’t help but wonder if there was more to it than that. There was no way of finding out without talking to Aho, if he’d even tell her when she asked.

So far she hadn’t tried to ask him. Susan and her father had agreed to put off asking until the last minute, probably Monday evening, so they could be as sure as possible of the facts they had in hand, hopefully from several people corroborating each other, before they started throwing tough questions at the school board president. If for some reason he couldn’t be tracked down on Monday, at least her father had all day Tuesday to try to talk to him. Susan knew that her father was working on a follow-up story on Gingrich, mostly reiterating the charges, including his denial and disputing it, along with a few more facts that Henry had turned up.

Whatever the other lawsuit, the one that had been quietly settled out of court, was all about wasn’t among those facts. Henry had told them in a phone call on Friday that he thought it could involve molestation, but he couldn’t be sure of it, and therefore it couldn’t be printed. It might even be related to the current topic, and there was no way to be sure since Henry couldn’t get anyone to talk, even off the record. Even so, the mere fact that there clearly was something there, whatever it was, made them resolve to keep the heat on.

While Susan worked on the story a little over the course of the weekend, mostly what she was doing was using the Record-Herald’s high-speed Internet connection to research colleges. There were several possibilities, and Susan was able to trim some of them off the list early on. Leaving Albburg as a separate issue, when she finally shut the junior reporter’s computer down she was able to say that Michigan State remained at the top of her most desirable list, although finances were still an issue and the question remained if she could be accepted. Realistically, her high school record was a little thin, since she’d only really attended an American high school for two years; her third year had been spent in Germany and the final one at Riverside. Abitur or not, it worried her a little bit since her record wasn’t going to have many actual grades on it. Some of those she’d done to work ahead were pass/fail, which she knew might not exactly impress a college admissions officer, especially at a place like State.

It was probably going to come down to submitting an application and seeing what happened, and she figured she might as well go ahead with it, if for no more reason than to not have the question hanging over her. If it got turned down, it got turned down, and she could think about alternatives; if it was accepted, she could worry about financing.

One by one the list of alternates got whittled down for one reason or another. Over the course of the searching, she became aware that Grand Valley State in Grand Rapids seemed to float to the top of the list, so she gave some extra attention to the place. It was a good school in a town with a good reputation, without some of the big-city ills that hung around other schools, including State to a degree. She could wrangle a minor in journalism out of the course schedule there and the school seemed to have a good international studies program. That was a vague-sounding sort of thing that seemed to allow quite a bit of latitude and would take advantage of her language skills and time in Germany.

She was quite interested in the Chinese studies program, although her primary interest remained Europe. From what she could see China was going to be a major player in the future, so that needed some consideration, and there were some interesting things happening there with more likely to come. Her talent for languages made it seemed like she ought to be able to pick up the language, at least the spoken part – the written part looked like a major headache and would be a real challenge. It probably wasn’t something she would want to major in, but it had the potential to be a strong minor, especially if her major was in international studies.

After Grand Valley, the list thinned out. Central stayed on it mostly because of the solid journalism program and the family knowledge of the school. She knew she’d be able to afford it, mostly because Henry had been able to on a similar budget, although Cindy had shared some of the living expenses when he had been there. Southern stayed on it as well, mostly as a nod to Mizuki, although the financial part seemed difficult. Finally, Weatherford stayed on her list, but mostly as an backup if everything else failed. Albburg? Well, Michigan State clearly was above it on the list, and maybe Grand Valley, depending on what Hans found out about the German school, but it was definitely a factor in comparison to the others.

Working that much out seemed like a major accomplishment to Susan, along with the decision to at least strongly consider journalism as a minor. She knew that she’d been very indecisive about the whole process, but at least a few things had become clear, and maybe they would open the door to other things. As she walked out the door, she decided that she’d start on an application to Grand Valley as well as Michigan State, just to see what happened.

On Monday the decision still seemed to set well with her, even though she was too busy to think about it very much. It was the normal Monday for a junior reporter, with the usual calls around the various offices and writing the reports up afterward. However, in the afternoon she had a long discussion with her father about the draft her lead story on the school board’s hiring Gingrich, and he picked at her about several issues until they were both satisfied. Then, turning the tables a little, he had her go over the follow-up story on Gingrich’s troubles and the planned editorial, looking for the same kind of things, and to her surprise she found a few things her father was vague about. Maybe she was better at this journalism stuff than she’d thought.

That afternoon and that evening she tried to get hold of Aho, and even went to his house once, but there was no sign of him. That was a disappointment; her father would have to take a swing at it the next day. But, she couldn’t really blame Aho for ducking out, either – after the story the previous week he’d already probably caught more crap from the community than he’d wanted to, and her calling him would just be the icing on the cake.

Like the previous week, on Tuesday she had mixed feelings about spending any time at Riverside at all. Even though there wasn’t much more she could do to the story except let it go, she would still have liked to have been at the office through the final stages. She decided to shy away from talking to Mizuki and Bianca about her conclusions about colleges, mostly because she really wasn’t interested in hearing another pitch for Southern Michigan from Mizuki. Once her last class let out she hurried home, anxious to hear if her father had been able to get hold of the school board president, but once there she was disappointed to hear that he hadn’t. The story would have to go with the line, “Aho was not available for comment,” which took some of the sting out of it in her mind, and wouldn’t be as good as a clear statement.

Having been gone on Tuesday she hadn’t seen what the paper was going to look like. When she saw the papers after they’d been brought back from the Camden Press she was very satisfied, especially with the headline Board was unaware of charges against Gingrich, and with her byline on the story. That would be a good one for a clip file if she ever decided to go into real journalism, as she thought of it.

She’d been aware that there had been some letters to the editor about the Gingrich story, but hadn’t known how many. She’d expected one or two, most likely from the chronic malcontents who had to sound off on every issue, but was surprised to see seventeen, spread across two pages! She didn’t have time to read them all, but in glancing over them it seemed as if most of them called for Gingrich’s resignation, or Aho’s, or both, and there was plenty of righteous anger for all. There were also several complaints of actions taken by one or the other that seemed to call for more serious investigation, too.

“Wow,” she commented around the addressing table as they started getting the papers addressed and out. “People are even more upset than I thought they’d be.”

“You haven’t caught the full force of it,” her father told her. “It’s died down a little since the weekend, but I’ll bet this fires things right back up again, maybe even more. If it’s not going to get in the way of your homework, you might like to go with me to the board meeting on Monday. You might catch something I’d miss. It might be a pretty good show, anyway.”

“Sure, I wouldn’t miss it,” she said. “Aho ducking comments from us is one thing, but I sure want to see what he has to say to the board.”

“That could be a pretty good song and dance,” her father agreed. “And I’d be willing to bet a nickel against a dollar that Battle doesn’t let him get away with a word of it.”

There was always a little bit of a rush getting the papers out, since the post office liked to have the them by the time the carriers came off their routes and began to set up their boxes for the next day. However, work slowed toward the end as once again the calls were coming in to the paper by the time they wrapped up the addressing and the papers were hauled to the post office. Since Susan’s name was on the article, she got more than her fair share of them, but mostly she just took notes on anything that seemed interesting, since there was no point in trying to write anything until the board meeting on the following Monday. Still, it was one afternoon that was good to have over with.

Susan turned her attention back toward school on Thursday. It was, as always, a long day, and it was hard to get her mind off of what was happening in Spearfish Lake, and what might happen on Monday. As usual, the morning break and lunch breaks were spent with Bianca and Mizuki, and once again Susan stayed away from the topic of where she was now thinking about going to college. That bothered her a little, and she decided that when she and Mizuki got together for dinner that she’d talk it over with her.

Over dinner, she went over her thinking with Mizuki point by point, listing the favorable and unfavorable thoughts she’d had on all the schools left on her list. “I realize that leaves Southern pretty far down on the list,” she summed up to her friend. “But it’s not off the list by any means, and if the costs weren’t a factor it would probably rank above Grand Valley, but there’s no way I can rank it above State.”

“Well, obviously not,” Mizuki told her. “Let’s face it, I’m looking to get something out of college that you aren’t, and you want to get something out of it that I don’t care about. I agree that Grand Valley has some pretty interesting factors, but just as a word of advice, you might want to do some more research on that Chinese studies program before you commit yourself to it.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Well, you’re probably right that China is going to be a big player in the coming years, but it could well be an ugly one, too.” She let out a sigh and added, “I know I’m probably speaking as a Japanese to say it, and it may reflect the Japanese attitude toward gaijin, but the Japanese look at the Chinese as cultural barbarians, no matter that celestial kingdom stuff. To top it off, the feeling in Japan is that the Chinese are nouveau riche, with all the pushiness and vulgarity that goes along with it. They seem to be more about making the money than they are in paying the price to do it. That’s why you hear all the stories about all the incredible air pollution, for example. As a place to live, there’s probably no comparison to Europe.”

“You’ve probably got a point there, maybe several of them,” Susan said. “And they all want to be considered and investigated before I make a decision to get into the program. I’ve still got a little time to do that, but at least I’d have some idea of what I’m looking into.”

“It’s not all bad,” Mizuki told her. “Although again, speaking as a Japanese, I’m not sure I’d want to spend time in China unless I really had a good reason to do it. There’s not a lot of love lost either way. It’s partly because of World War II, but the roots of it go back many generations.”

“I knew something about that,” Susan admitted. “Probably not as much as I should. My attention really has been more on Europe than on the Far East.”

“Again, speaking with a full load of Japanese feelings of cultural superiority, you really need to think about that a bit. Europe is yesterday. The Far East – China and India and Indonesia and especially Japan – are the future, and that’s where the world is going to be looking in years to come. You know I didn’t care much for my experience in high school in Japan; it’s no secret. That doesn’t mean Japan is not going to be important in the future, and that’s why I’m getting into my career in the way I told you. My father has quite a bit of influence in my thinking that way and I don’t think he’s wrong, but the Asians will play a big role in the world of the future, and they know it. Just to give you an example of that, in Japan the most common second language in schools is English. French and Spanish in a few, and I never even heard of German being taught in high school.”

“I didn’t know that. I would have thought that they would have taught something like Korean or Chinese.”

“Not a chance,” Mizuki smiled. “Koreans and Chinese are gaijin, even more so than Americans. Japanese respect Americans, or at least respect the thickness of our wallets. Koreans and Chinese, well, they’re competitors, not trade partners. Plus, English is going to be important as a world language in the future. It’s spoken as an international language by more people in the world than any other, and the Japanese are smart enough to realize it. What’s more, the Koreans and Chinese are smart enough to realize it, too.”

“Well, yeah,” Susan agreed. “The most common second language to learn in Europe is English, too, and I suspect it’s pretty much for the same reasons.”

Mizuki leaned back, obviously thinking. “You know,” she said finally, “I can be such an idiot at times it’s unbelievable. Did I ever tell you about the English teachers in my high school in Japan?”

“I can’t recall you doing it.”

“For all that we’ve talked about you wanting to work overseas, I can’t believe I haven’t thought to mention it. Maybe it just didn’t cross my mind since I’m a native English speaker didn’t have to take any of those classes, but most of those teachers were gaijin. There were three of them in the school, one American, one Canadian, and one Australian. And I don’t mean Japanese-dash, either. None of them spoke Japanese that was any good. I mean they could find the bathroom or something, but none of them were very fluent. They were mostly hired because they were native English speakers so the kids could have a better chance of getting their accents right, or at least understandable.”

“I’ll be damned,” Susan said. “I never even thought of that.”

“Like I said, I don’t know how I could have been so dumb as to not mention it to you. You want an overseas job that doesn’t require much training, puts you into the middle of a culture, and pays pretty well, there you go. The American was a woman in her forties who had taught English in several countries over the years. She was pretty nice. The Canadian guy was a kid who had dropped out after one year of college, but he had a good deal going for him, no doubt aboot . . . ” – she emphasized the boot to simulate the Canadian pronunciation – “ . . . it. Anyway, the American woman said that she liked to be in different places in the world, she’d taught English in Japan, Korea, Italy, and the Ukraine. She was thinking of taking a contract in China, just to do something a little different, but she liked Japan and Korea since the pay was better than China.”

“Yeah,” Susan shook her head, “that might be an idea I hadn’t thought of at all. I didn’t see it in Germany much; there are plenty of Germans who speak good English, but now that I think about it, my Spanish teacher there was from Spain, not Germany. I guess I just never made the connection. Maybe I could do a couple years of college and then go to someplace like China to get the funds to do the rest of it.”

“If you were to take that Chinese course at Grand Valley, it might even be a better idea. You know as well as I do that you’ll learn a lot more from a year living in a culture than you will from studying it in books. You might even want to do it sooner, rather than later.”

“It has possibilities,” Susan said . . . “In fact, real possibilities. I wonder how you get a job like that.”

“Beats me,” Mizuki shook her head. “Although I can’t imagine that in ten minutes with a good search engine on the ‘net you wouldn’t have more leads than you could use.”

“That’s probably true. I guess that means I’ll have to fire up Google tomorrow when I get down to the office. I guess it also means that I’ll have to take another look at Grand Valley with that in mind.”

“You know, you probably shouldn’t go a lot farther in your decision making without making a campus visit. It’s the same kind of thing as learning about a culture. You can probably learn more in a day of kicking around a campus and talking to people than you can learn in a month online.”

“That’s probably pretty true,” Susan conceded. “The problem is this Tuesday-Thursday schedule. It’s probably darn near a day’s drive just to get as far downstate as Grand Rapids, and I’d want to be there on a day that classes are in session. That pretty well means that I’d have to skip classes here for a day, and I don’t think I want to do that.”

“Oh, it could be done. I could tape record the class sessions for you, except the one we don’t share and you probably could get Bianca to do that, maybe even give you her notes, too. That is, if she takes very many, which I don’t think she does. I think maybe you could wait till right after midterms; I’m told that the first class or two after them tend to be a little slack, anyway.”

“I’ve heard that, too,” Susan agreed. “But that leads to the thought that if I’m going to all that trouble, there’s no reason I’d have to limit a campus visit to one college. I don’t really think I need to go to Central, I was there when Henry was there, and I’ve got a pretty good feeling for the place, and a good feeling for the classes from him. But Grand Valley and State would be an easy couple to pair up, and maybe if I did it right there’d be enough time to take a swing by Hawthorne and check out Southern. It’d only be another couple hours out of the way.”

“I’ve been to Southern before, twice now,” Mizuki smiled. “But I wouldn’t mind going again, just on general principles. Maybe I ought to go with you, I know my way around there enough to give you a head start.”

“Well, yeah,” Susan said, thinking hard. “Say, if we left Wednesday morning first thing, we wouldn’t have to be back until maybe Sunday, so I could recover a little and still go to work on Monday. If you went with me, I suppose we could have Bianca do the recordings of the classes we’re in together.”

“You’re still not thinking it through all the way,” Mizuki grinned. “You seem to get a little narrow-minded that way sometimes. What I’m thinking is that if we were to leave right after classes on Tuesday it would mean an extra night on the road, with the possibilities offered there.”

“Yeah,” Susan smiled, seeing the potential instantly. It would mean five nights in motel rooms with Mizuki, under circumstances no one would think suspicious. That could be a lot of fun. Though they hadn’t really talked about it much since the first night they’d come out to each other, there was no question that both of them wanted to do it, as long as they were sure it could be pretty anonymous. It was pretty clear that Mizuki didn’t want word of an escapade like that getting back to her father any more than Susan wanted that kind of news to get back to her family. “That offers a lot of potential if we did it right.”

“It’s the perfect excuse,” Mizuki agreed. “Especially since the year we each spent overseas means we’re not real experienced drivers, so we’d have a good excuse to not want to drive all night or push too hard. As far as that goes, it’d be the perfect excuse for us to make this trip together.”

“Let’s do it,” Susan grinned. “I guess sometime after midterms, we’ll have to work out the details. We’ll just have to remember one thing.”

“What’s that?”

“This trip really is supposed to be to look at colleges, so we’d better be pretty serious about doing that.”

“Oh, we can do that,” Mizuki replied with an innocent look on her face but with a gleam in her eye that belied it. “There’ll be plenty of time for that, too.”

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To be continued . . .

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