Friday, 27 August 2010

Author Spotlight Week -- an excerpt from DETOURS by Michelle Levigne

Tuesday, January 21

Bekka walked into the Tabor Picayune to go to lunch with Max and thought she would go deaf. People were lined up at the counter three deep and every phone in the office seemed to be ringing off the hook. Myrna, the wacky part-time receptionist, who seemed to be lobbying for the title of most irritating know-it-all in Tabor history, was in top form, arguing with half the people and talking on her cell phone, while ignoring the ringing phones. Bekka thought it was just delivery day craziness, until she took a second look at the people who were all demanding to talk to either Angela, the editor, or Toni Napolitano or Curt Mehdlang, and waving copies of the paper around. She didn't recognize a single one of those faces, which made her think they might not be Tabor residents. She stayed back by the door, wondering if she dared to run the gauntlet to the gate that separated the reception area from the rest of the office. Any moment now, one of those frustrated-looking strangers would get tired of arguing with Myrna or being ignored by her, lift the latch, and let them all into the office.

"Great! You're finally here. What took you so long? Do you know we have a newspaper to run here?" Max said, emerging from the long hall that led into the back of the long, narrow office suite, where the editorial department resided. She strode up to the gate and flipped the latch, and held up her arm to block the people who all seemed to think she was talking to them. She beckoned for Bekka. "We need that server up and pronto. I sure hope you have your usual magic bag of tricks inside that backpack of yours." She widened her eyes, silently urging Bekka to go through the gate.

It took a second to catch on to the cover story Max had offered her. Then again, Bekka had always hated improv sessions in acting class. She maintained she was a theater student to learn to write and to work backstage, not to act or get in front of the camera. Hunching her shoulders and trying to avoid eye contact with the people who now gave her easily interpreted 'She must be important -- who is she?' looks, she scurried through the gate. Max slammed it shut with a loud click of the latch sliding into place. Bekka followed her into the back of the office, amid the persistent ringing of the phones. Myrna's nasal rant stopped, meaning she had probably hung up her cell phone. The voices behind Max and Bekka rose up in demands again.

"What was all that about? What's going on?" Bekka said, as she followed Max down the narrow hall between the circulation and sales offices.

"Didn't you read today's paper?"

"I was planning on getting one when I came for lunch. I'm guessing you can't go?" She followed Max through editorial, which was slightly quieter, but all the lights on the phones were flashing like insane Christmas tree lights and every reporter was at his or her desk, talking on the phone. Bekka didn't see Curt or Toni at their desks, and Angela's office was closed and dark.

"If only. I'm afraid if I go outside, somebody will recognize me and I'll get deluged." Max pulled a copy of that morning's paper from one of the stacks of extras sitting in the kitchen.

"Who's Angel?" Bekka asked, scanning the headline that read 'Angel is Dead'. It was written by Toni and Curt.

"Toni's older sister, who was murdered twenty years ago." Max slumped down into a kitchen chair and rested her elbows on the table. "Angel had a secret boyfriend and he got jealous and killed her -- strangled her with fencing wire, down in the park. And he left white roses on her grave for months, until Toni's family left town."

"White..." Bekka sat down, feeling sick to her stomach. "They think he's the same guy who killed Gretchen and Katrina and Annalee?"

"The thing is, that shouldn't be today's front page story. Toni and Curt went behind Angela's back and put the story in, to force the White Rose out in the open." Max looked over her shoulder, then leaned closer to Bekka and lowered her voice. "Angela got white roses over the weekend, right here in the office."

"She looks like all of them," Bekka murmured. "All the White Rose's targets look alike. Even Sheila."

"The little girl Hannah Blake got out of town?" She closed her eyes and shook her head, looking as sick as Bekka felt. "This place has been a zoo since the delivery trucks went out. There were like fifty messages on the answering machine when we opened up at eight-thirty. Angela was steamed. I've never seen her so angry, not even with Myrna and all the stupid tricks she pulls. She told Toni and Curt to get out of here and take the day off, and talk to nobody whatsoever about that story."

"Where's Angela?"

"I wouldn't go home, if I were her. Myrna has given Angela's home number out so many times, it's getting expensive to keep getting a new unlisted phone number. I'd guess she's out riding, just to stay away from people. It's weird, being held prisoner in your own office."
"Does this place have a back door?" Bekka asked after a moment of thought.

"Yeah. There are some enclosed stairs that open out next to the loading dock for the bar downstairs. Why?" Max leaned back in her chair.

"I thought maybe I'd run out and get lunch for the office. Everybody's probably afraid to show their faces, and you don't want to give away the escape hatch by everybody suddenly vanishing and showing up in the parking lot."

"You are an angel."

Twenty minutes later, Max had gathered money from everyone in the office and phoned an order to Mancuso's. Bekka had enough money left over to tip the delivery boy handsomely for helping her carry fifteen side salads, eight two-liters of soda and ten pizzas and orders of cheesy breadsticks back to the office. Fortunately, it was a nice day out, no wind, no snow falling, sunny enough to make the walk across the center of town pleasant. Bekka used the trip to the pizza shop to pray for Angela.

When she paid off the delivery boy and deposited the many containers of lunch on the kitchen table, Bekka wandered out into editorial to let everyone know they could eat. Most of the reporters and the salespeople were gathered around Sherwood Gaines' desk. Everyone looked grim.

"Lunch?" Bekka said, feeling like an intruder.

"Where's Angela?" Chief Cooper barked, directly behind her. He stood in the hallway in front of Angela's closed, dark office. Without waiting for an answer, he slammed the door open and slapped his hand against the wall, turning the lights on. Then he stalked back out into editorial and glared at everyone, as if they had all lied to him by their silence.

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