Chapter Three: A Great Sub-Urban Newspaper

 

            I am of certain convinced that the greatest heroes are those who do their duty in the daily grind of domestic affairs whilst the world whirls as a maddening dreidel.

 - Florence Nightingale

 

 

            Sandi’s car left the pavement briefly as she shot through the yellow light. Her knuckles were white on the steering wheel as she negotiated the Lawndale streets at double the posted limit. She’d be at Cedars of Lawndale in less than ten minutes, provided she didn’t have a wreck herself and show up as a patient.

            “Nah, she went down to the quarry. She’s still not home, so I guess Quinn went and got her,” Trent said, his words echoing in Sandi’s memory.

            If Quinn was in a car wreck, then so was Jane. Stacy’s mom hadn’t said anything about Jane, so she probably hadn’t been mentioned on the news. Which either meant she was uninjured, or it meant her name was being withheld from the media.

            And that only happened for one reason.

            Smoke boiled off her tires as she shot into the hospital parking lot and swung into the first empty parking spot she saw. She jumped out of the car and jogged to the hospital entrance, and then headed straight for the information desk.

            “Hi, can I help you?” the receptionist asked with a bored tone.

            “Please,” Sandi said. “I’m looking for somebody, I heard she was in a car wreck and wanted to find out if she’s here.”
            “Name?”

            “Jane Lane.”

            The receptionist pecked away at the computer for a moment, and viewed the results with pursed lips. “J-a-n-e L-a-n-e?” she asked, spelling the name out.

            “Yes.”

            “She’s not here, sweetie.”

            “You’re sure?” Sandi asked. “She’s a little taller than me, runner’s build, short black hair?”

            “Oh!” the receptionist said. “The girl that came in after Amy and her niece. She’s in the waiting room. Follow the green line on the floor, sweetie.”

            “Thanks.” Sandi turned and quickly walked down the hall, taking the turns necessary to follow the green line painted on the floor. After a moment she came to a small room with a few rows of hard plastic chairs and a turned off television set.

            Jane was sitting in one of the chairs, her hands clasped between her knees and her eyes locked on the floor. All the hair on the right side of her head was sticking out and looked matted with blood. More blood, also dried, was spattered up and down both of her arms but her hands looked clean.

            “Jane?” Sandi asked, her voice barely above a whisper.

            Jane looked up, and offered Sandi a watery smile.

            Sandi slowly walked across the room and knelt down in front of Jane, and then hugged her fiercely. “I thought it was going to be some horrible cosmic joke,” Sandi whispered. “We get to be friends again, and then you die.”

            Jane sat immobile for a moment, then slowly put her arms around Sandi and returned the hug. “I’m fine,” she said. “Quinn’s not.”

            Sandi moved to the chair next to Jane. “What happened?”

            “Some dumb ass ran us off the road. Amy, that’s Quinn’s aunt, was hurt but not too bad. The doctors doped her up so she’d quit trying to order around the other nurses.”

            “What about Quinn?”

            “No word.” Jane looked back down at the floor again. “She wasn’t wearing her seat belt. She hit her head on the windshield.”

            “Oh, God.”

            “Yeah,” Jane whispered. After a moment Jane looked up at Sandi, her face stricken with guilt and sorrow. “I was right there, Sandi. She was bleeding to death in my hands.”

            “It’s not your fault.”

            “I should have been able to do something.”

            “Like what?” Sandi asked. “It’s not like you have super powers, Jane.”

            Jane abruptly stood and turned towards the door. Before she could leave, the door leading deeper into the hospital swung open and an older woman stuck her head into the room. “Miss Lane?” she asked.

            “That’s me.”

            The woman walked into the room and smiled at Jane. Nodding towards Sandi she asked, “Friend of yours?”

            “Yeah,” Jane said, “how is Quinn?”

            “Miss Morgendorffer is stable, but she hasn’t woken up yet,” the nurse sighed. “She may not for a while. Honestly, I wouldn’t expect her condition to change for at least twelve to twenty-four hours.”

            Jane dropped back into her chair, her face going chalky white.

            “She lost a lot of blood,” the nurse continued. “She has a concussion, and there’s some minor swelling of the meninges. It doesn’t seem like it’s going to be a problem, but we can’t be too sure.”

            “Swelling of the what?” Sandi asked.

            “It’s the membrane between the skull and the brain. A little swelling is a problem, but not an insurmountable one. Too much swelling can be a very serious problem,” the nurse shrugged. “So far, the swelling isn’t too bad.”

            “Is she going to wake up?” Jane asked quietly.

            “Her chances are good,” the nurse said. “They’re better than they could have been, since somebody wrapped her up and kept her from going into shock before the paramedics arrived.”

            Jane nodded woodenly.

            “Go home, girls.” the nurse said gently. “Give the receptionist your contact information, and we’ll let you know when Miss Morgendorffer’s condition improves. Amy will probably be awake tomorrow, so that’ll be one less worry on your mind.

            Jane nodded again, and stood. She and Sandi left the waiting room and followed the green line back to the receptionist’s desk. They both gave her their cell phone numbers and left the hospital.

            “Do you want a ride home?” Sandi asked.

            “No,” Jane said, still unnaturally subdued. “No, thank you, Sandi.”

            “Are you sure?”

            “Yeah.” Jane looked away, peering down the street. “I need to run. God, I need to run.”

            “Call me. You’re not alone, Jane.” Sandi turned and started walking back towards her car. About halfway there she was buffeted by a sudden strong wind, causing her hair to blow around wildly, and she looked around the parking lot.

            Jane was already gone.

 

            Trent sat in the old gazebo, plucking at his old acoustic guitar and humming along to his rendition of Stairway to Heaven. He stopped playing for a moment and picked up his beer, taking a swig and then putting the bottle back down on the floor. A sudden gust of wind blew past the gazebo and kicked up the leaves that had drifted into the back yard.

            “Trent,” Jane said hoarsely.

            Trent set aside his guitar, but before he could stand Jane collapsed on top of him. She was half curled in his lap with her arms around his neck and her face buried in his shoulder, her body wracked with sobs.

            “Jane, it’ll be ok,” Trent said, holding his sister.

            “She’s in a coma, Trent.” Jane said, still crying. “The nurse said her brain was swelling.” Jane pulled away so she could look up at her brother. “What if she dies? What if I couldn’t save her?”

            Trent stood, hefting Jane up in his arms with a grunt. He walked back to the house and deposited Jane in a kitchen chair, only slightly out of breath. He opened the ‘fridge and pulled out two beers, sitting one in front of Jane and opening the other for himself. He sat across the table and stared intently at his miserable looking sister.

            “What happened?” he asked.

            “I went to the quarry. I’m allergic to the meteor crystals, that’s why I’ve been getting sick,” Jane said. She paused long enough to open her beer and take a swig.

            “Damn,” Trent said. “Quinn was right, you were in trouble.”

            “What?” Jane said, looking up sharply.

            “She called earlier tonight. Got pissed because I hadn’t gone to get you from the quarry.”

            Jane nodded. “She came to find me. We talked for a while, and then her aunt came to pick us up. We got run off the road by some jack ass in a red jeep.”

            “Is that why you’ve got blood on you?” Trent asked.

            “Yeah,” Jane sighed. “Quinn got hurt really bad. She was bleeding everywhere, and now she’s in a coma.”

            “She’s at the hospital, right?”

            “Yeah.”

            “Cedars is a good hospital, she’ll be ok.”

            “Trent,” Jane said, “I ripped the doors off the car to get to her. I moved so fast the trees blurred. I can’t be hurt.”

            “Whoa.”

            “With all that power, I sat next to my best friend and watched her bleeding to death.” Jane stood, her fists balled up by her sides. “I . . . just . . . watched!” She slammed one fist down on the kitchen table, causing it to shatter into kindling.

            “Uh, Janey.” Trent said, looking around the kitchen.

            “Why couldn’t I help her, Trent?” Jane asked, sounding deeply bitter. “What’s the point of having super powers if I can’t help anybody?”

            Trent sat quietly as his little sister left the kitchen and took the stairs to her bedroom. He glanced down at the beer in his hand, shrugged, and drained the bottle. It was going to be one of those mornings.

 

***

 

            Amy heard the soft knock on the door and looked up from the magazine she’d been reading. “Come in,” she called.

            The door swung open and Jane walked in, pushing the door closed behind her. “Hey, Amy. You look pretty good today.”

            “Yeah, I’m great for being on the wrong side of the bed sheets.” Amy tossed her magazine aside and waited for Jane to sit next to the bed. “How’s Quinn?”

            “No change,” Jane said, staring at the wall behind Amy. “The doctor says he isn’t going to worry for another twelve hours, and even after that it could be as long as another thirty-six.”

            “Goddamn it,” Amy said, leaning back on the bed and rubbing her face. “I should have been out of this bed yesterday.”

            “You have broken ribs. You were bleeding internally.”

            “I’m not now, and my niece needs me.”

            “The doctor also said the swelling around her brain has gone down, and that the bleeding has stopped.”

            “Well, that’s something.”

            The door was opened abruptly by a young woman with brown hair arranged in two long braids. “Jane!” she said, “uh . . . and . . . Amy, right?”

            “What do you want, Stacy?” Jane snarled.

            “She’s awake. She asked for both of you, and I told her you were ok.” Stacy rubbed the back of her next and looked embarrassed. “I don’t think she believed me.”

            “Help me,” Amy said, trying to lever herself out of bed.

            “Hang on,” Jane said, putting one hand on Amy’s shoulder. “Stacy, go get a nurse and tell her to bring a wheelchair for Amy. I’ll go see Quinn and tell her you’re on your way.”

            “I don’t need a damn wheelchair!” Amy shouted at Jane’s back. She turned her glare on Stacy.

            “Eep!” Stacy said, backing out of the room. “I’ll just go get that nurse now.”

 

            Jane strode down the hallway, stopping when she saw a young man with bright red hair leaving Quinn’s room.

            “What are you doing here, Upchuck?” Jane asked.

            Charles flinched, then glared at Jane steadily. “I came to see how Quinn is doing. She said she was really tired, so I left.”

            “Just don’t get any bright ideas, ok?”

            “Listen, Lane.” Charles said, his eyes flashing with anger. “You know what? Forget it.” He walked past Jane to the elevator, stabbed the button with one finger, and then disappeared inside.

            “Freak,” Jane muttered to herself before entering Quinn’s room.

            “Hey,” Quinn said, smiling weakly. Her usual pale complexion was washed out to a ghostly translucence, every vein and artery clearly visible under the skin. The blood had been washed out of her hair, but it still looked matted and oily.

            “Hey yourself, amiga.” Jane said, sitting next to Quinn’s bed. She wanted to reach out and take her hand, but Quinn looked so fragile that Jane was afraid to touch her.

            “You’re not hurt?”

            “No, I ended up in the floorboard behind your seat.”

            Quinn frowned. “So there was a car wreck. I was pretty sure that’s what happened, but I couldn’t remember for sure.” Her eyes suddenly widened. “Amy?”

            “Should be here in a minute. Stacy is supposed to be arranging a wheelchair for her.”

            “Wheelchair?” Quinn asked, looking horrified.

            “She’s got a couple of broke ribs.” Jane smiled gently at her friend. “You got hurt worst, you’ve been unconscious for two days. Today is Monday.”

            “Why aren’t you in school?”

            Jane laughed aloud, suddenly feeling a huge black weight lift off her back.

            “What?” Quinn asked.

            “You’re such a bookworm,” Jane said, still chuckling. “Only you would wake up from a coma and ask me why I’m not in school.”

            “I’m glad I’m still around to provide you with amusement,” Quinn said, pouting slightly.

            “Me too,” Jane said, her laughter fading to seriousness. “You scared the shit out of me, Quinn. Don’t you ever ride in a car without your seatbelt on again. You broke the windshield with your head.”

            Quinn frowned and gingerly poked at her face and forehead. “Am I scarred?” she asked.

            “No, the cuts are on the crown of your skull, your hair covers them up.” Jane smirked at her friend’s vanity. “They had to shave a little of your glory off though, so you’ll have to get by with a comb-over for a while.”

            Quinn nodded, and then glanced over as the door opened again. Stacy pushed Amy into the room, the older woman sitting in the wheelchair with an expression that was more suited to a surly toddler than an adult woman.

            “Amy?” Quinn asked, reaching out one trembling hand to her aunt.

            “Quinn, honey.” Amy said. “Thank God you’re ok.” She took her niece’s hand and smiled down at her.

            “Stacy,” Jane said, rising from her chair, “let’s go down to the cafeteria for a minute, I’d like to get some juice.”

            “Ok,” Stacy said, and followed Jane out of the room.

            “Thanks for covering for me at school,” Jane said as they headed for the elevator.

            “It’s cool,” Stacy said with a shrug. “Ms. Li had already heard about the accident and I told her that you and Quinn were both at the hospital. If she drew the conclusion that you were both patients it’s not my fault.”

            Jane chuckled and shook her head. The girls waited a moment for the elevator and then took it down to the ground floor. They headed into the cafeteria and Jane pulled out her cell phone. She turned it on and scrolled down her phone list, finding the correct number she hit the dial button.

            “Hi, Sandi.” she said after a moment. “Yeah, I’m still at the hospital. No, she’s awake. She’s gonna be ok.”

            Jane nodded at whatever Sandi was saying, and then continued. “Yeah, I’ll tell her. Tomorrow probably would be best, she still looks like hell. Yeah, thanks. Bye.”

            She hung up the phone and turned it off, depositing it into her pocket. She glanced around and saw Stacy walking back from the vending machine with a pair of juice boxes.

            “Is apple ok?” she asked, “It was that or grapefruit.”

            “Apple is fine, thanks.” Jane said, taking the offered drink. “Sandi is collecting homework for me and Quinn.”

            “Sandi is a really good friend, Jane.”

            “I know,” Jane said with a sigh. “Look, your position is secure, ok? I’m not going to fight you over her.”

            “Ok.”

            “I’m glad she and I are talking again, but a lot of water has flowed under that bridge, you know?”

            Stacy smiled at Jane, and said, “I think things are going to work out fine. Me, you, Quinn, Sandi, and Tiffany are going to be great. We’re destined for great things, I can feel it.”

            Jane smiled weakly. “I hope you’re right, Stacy.”

 

            “Thanks for calling, Sandi.” Tiffany said in her usual disinterested drawl. “I’m so glad that Quinn is going to be ok.”

            Tiffany sat at her vanity and stared at herself in the mirror while Sandi spoke on the other end of the phone.

            “Of course, we should really go and see her tomorrow. I’ll bet she really needs a make-over. She’ll have three days’ worth of bed hair, and those hospital gowns are just so tacky.”

            Tiffany leaned forward, getting a closer look at herself in the mirror so she could check her make-up.

            “Yeah, you are so right.” Tiffany nodded reflexively, “Hey, did you ever find your necklace? It’s so sad you lost it, it was so cute.”

            Tiffany nodded at the phone again, and picked up the huge shard of crystal that was resting on the vanity’s table top. It was the biggest piece of crystal she’d ever seen, easily two feet long and four inches across. It was deeply flawed and cracked, and one end was covered in a dark brown discoloration.

            “Yeah, I’m sure your dad can get you another one. Do you want to have tonight’s Fashion Club meeting at my house?”

            Tiffany put the crystal back down and glanced at an antique jewelry box sitting next to it. Pushing open the lid, she saw that it still contained a simple emerald pendant on a broken chain. With a slightly queasy expression she dropped the lid back into place.

            “Could you bring Jane? I have a dress I want her to try on and I think it’s just the right color for her eyes. They are just so blue.”

            Tiffany nodded into the phone again.

            “Yeah, you’re probably right Sandi. Just pass on the invitation, it’s ok if she doesn’t want to come. Yeah, bye.”

            Tiffany hung up the phone and continued to stare at her reflection in the mirror.

 

***

 

            “You’ve been a really big help,” Quinn said, trudging down the hallway towards the computer room.

            “Service is its own reward,” Charles said, hefting her school books and giving her a cheesy grin.

            Quinn chuckled wearily. “I wish you wouldn’t do that, Charles.”

            “I speak the merest truth,” he said. “I could never lie to you, my vision of perfection.”

            Quinn stopped in the hallway and glared at Charles. He took another couple of steps before realizing that she wasn’t beside him anymore and then turned to the pale redhead.

            “I mean it, Charles. Stop it.”

            “Name what should stop and it will cease, even if you should say the blood flowing through my veins.”

            “Don’t put me on a damn pedestal just because I’m a girl.” Quinn crossed her arms and looked up at him sternly. Her fierce expression was somewhat undercut by the little green newsboy cap she had perched on her head, but Charles knew better than to laugh at an angry woman.

            “I, uh . . .” he stammered.

            “I know you can talk without sounding like a bad romance novel, I’ve heard you do it.” Quinn sighed and dropped her arms, looking weary. “Treat me like a person, Charles. If you want to be my friend, treat me like a person.”

            Charles slowly nodded.

            “I know what it’s like to be an outcast,” she smiled a little and put her hand on his shoulder. “The whole time I was in Highland, I was the morbid city girl that nobody liked. So let’s cut each other some slack, ok?”

            “Ok,” Charles said, and swallowed audibly. “Quinn, can I ask you something?”

            “Sure.”

            “Out?” Charles croaked.

            “What?” Quinn asked, blinking at him.

            “Never mind,” he mumbled, turning to continue down the hall.

            “Wait. Did you just ask me if I wanted to go out with you?”

            Charles nodded wordlessly, his ears turning a shade of red brighter than his hair. He bit his lip and waited for the rejection.

            “Come over to my place tomorrow night,” Quinn said. “Amy, Jane, and I are going to be having a bad movie night. Come and watch movies with us, be my friend, and show Jane that you’re not a deranged stalker.”

            Charles nodded, feeling his heart pound in his chest. It wasn’t a yes, but it wasn’t a no, either.

            “That’s all I want right now, Charles: a friend.” Quinn smiled slightly. “But I do think you’re cute, especially when your ears turn all red like that.”

            Charles stood in the hallway with his jaw hanging open as Quinn laughed brightly and continued down the hallway. Shaking his head, he hurried to catch up with her and entered the computer room on her heels.

            “Quinn!” Jodie said. The usually reserved girl ran across the room with a smile and gently hugged her friend. “You and Charles are here a little early, so make yourselves comfortable.”

            “Thanks, Jodie.” Quinn said, returning the hug. “I’ve got some stuff on a flash drive I want you to look at.”

            “What is it?”

            “It’s the story that’s going to break this town wide open.”

            “Really?”

            Quinn shrugged. “I’ve been in the hospital for a week with nothing to do but surf the internet. I did some research, and I found out a few really disturbing things about the local police.”

            “I’ll look it over,” Jodie said, taking the drive from Quinn. “But if it’s all that, shouldn’t you take it to the Sun-Herald?”

            “I can’t,” Quinn answered, shaking her head. “First off, I work for you and I value my journalistic integrity too much to go to the competition.”

            “We’re in high school,” Jodie said, “we’re too young for journalistic integrity.”

            “No,” Quinn said pointedly, “we’re not. And even if we were, they wouldn’t publish my story anyway. They’re part of the problem.”

            Jodie’s eyebrows went up, and she glanced over at Charles. Charles, who was standing behind Quinn, just shrugged and looked as in the dark as Jodie.

            “I think you’re right Stacy,” Sandi said from the doorway, “we should definitely . . . oh, my God! Quinn!”

            Sandi and Stacy each hugged Quinn, looking delighted at her return to school. Tiffany hung back a little, but even her expressionless calm was broken by a slight smile.

            “You should have told me you were coming back today, amiga.” Jane said, leaning on the door frame. “I’d have planned a surprise party for you or something.”

            Quinn smiled at Jane and shook her head. “I’m not really coming back today. I’m supposed to be at home resting right now, and Amy will have my head if she finds out I’m not, ok?”

            “Ah, blackmail material,” Jane said, her grin widening. “So what brings you out to the hallowed halls, et cetera, et cetera.”

            “Picking up my school books, thank you Charles,” Quinn said, “and my assignments for this week, thank you Sandi for getting them for me up until now.”

            “You’re welcome, Quinn.” Sandi said. Charles blushed.

            “And,” Quinn continued, “dropping that stuff off for Jodie.”

            “You finished it?” Jane asked.

            “No, but I ran into enough roadblocks to know that getting more information is going to take a lot of time and effort. May as well go to press with what we have.”

            “What do we have?” Stacy asked.

            “That’s what I’m wondering,” Jodie said, tapping the flash drive against the palm of her hand.

            “Long story short,” Quinn said, grinning. “Gillian Loeb is taking bribes, and a whole lot of them. I have all the proof we need for an expose, and then the district attorney’s office is going to have him for lunch.”

            “The police commissioner!?” Stacy squeaked.

            “That’s, uh,” Sandi stammered, “I mean, you can prove it?”

            Quinn nodded.

            “That’s huge, Quinn.” Jodie said in a hushed voice.

            “We think that Mayor Hill is on the take, too.” Jane said smugly. “That’s part of what we’ve got to keep digging for, though. That and who is doing the bribing.”

            “Won’t we get in trouble if we tell people?” Stacy said.

            “You don’t get in trouble for telling the truth,” Quinn said, “especially the truth about people who lie and steal.”

            Stacy nodded, but still looked uncertain. Sandi had a withdrawn and pensive expression, and Chuck looked worried and kept glancing at Quinn. Tiffany stared out the window blankly while Jodie turned the flash drive over in her hands as if examining it minutely.

            “Publish it, Jodie.” Jane said. “You know it’s the right thing to do. We can handle what happens after.”

            Jodie nodded once and pocketed the drive. “I’m going to read over it, and double check your facts. It’s not that I don’t believe you, but we can’t afford any mistakes with something as explosive as this.”

            “Journalistic integrity?” Quinn asked with a smirk.

            “Yeah,” Jodie said, then took a deep breath and looked around the room. “Well, come on people,” she said, “we’ve got the whole rest of the paper to write, let’s get to it.”

 

            Sandi went through the rest of the day in a daze, barely aware of her surroundings and nodding absently at any attempts her friends made at conversation. She knew she should be thinking, plotting, scheming, but her brain refused to get into gear. Her thoughts whirled pointlessly, and kept coming back to the same refrain over and over.

            If Commissioner Loeb was being bribed, it was almost certainly by her father or on his orders. She knew Quinn was smart enough and relentless enough to trace the money back to the source. Her father was going to go to prison if he didn’t take some action to defend himself. If he did take action, it would probably be to murder Quinn. It was up to Sandi to warn her father, or not. She had to choose.

            “It’s not fair!” she shouted. Glancing around nervously she was shocked to discover that she was in her car, sitting at a red light. The surrounding buildings revealed that she was in downtown Lawndale, in the business district. She was a block down from the building her father’s office was in.

            She drove the block and parked in the same spot her father had used the first time he brought her to one of his business meetings. Mechanically, she got out of the car and went into the building. The security guard smiled and nodded to her, and she absently returned the nod.

            “Miss Griffin?” he said, “Is everything ok?”

            “No,” she answered, “it really isn’t. Thank you for asking.”

            “Your father isn’t in today,” the man said.

            “Oh, that’s alright,” Sandi said on her way to the elevators, not even sparing the guard a second glance.

            “Ice bitch,” he muttered, shaking his head. He turned back to his crossword puzzle and tried to forget he’d been interrupted.

            Sandi stopped at the elevators and frowned. Her father wasn’t in his office, which almost certainly meant Cindy wasn’t in, either. Probably for the best, since she still hadn’t decided what to tell him. There had to be a way to steer this, a way to protect her family and her friends. She scanned the directory next to the elevators, and one of the entries leapt out at her: Vitale, Davis, Horowitz, Riordan, Schrecter, Schrecter and Schrecter – Attorneys at Law.

            “I think it’s time to consult with my attorney,” Sandi muttered to herself, and then started giggling madly. The security guard glanced up from his puzzle, sighed to himself, and tried even harder to pretend that Sandi wasn’t standing in his lobby. After a moment, the elevator dinged and she wasn’t.

            The elevator deposited Sandi on the top floor of the building, right in front of the receptionist’s desk. The receptionist was a very harassed looking blonde woman, with a name plate on her desk reading ‘Marianne.’

            “May I help you?” she asked, looking up from a large pile of papers.

            “I’m here to see Mr. Vitale,” Sandi said.

            “Do you have an appointment?” the woman asked, pulling a desk calendar over where she could see it easier, then continuing, “No, no you don’t. Mr. Vitale is with another client right now, and then he’s scheduled to leave for the day. Would you like to make an appointment?”

            “No,” Sandi said, slumping her shoulders and turning back to the elevator.

            “Marianne, Miss Griffin does not require an appointment,” Jim Vitale said, entering the foyer from his office. “As long as I’m not actually in conference with a client she is free to see me at any time.”

            “Yes, sir.” The receptionist nodded and made a note on her calendar. While she was speaking a young man stepped out of Jim’s office and smiled at Sandi. He was wearing khakis and a grey sweater, and he was cute in a prep school sort of way, so Sandi smiled back.

            “Well,” he said, “I guess I’ll be off, Mr. Vitale.”

            “You be careful, son.” Jim said, shaking the young man’s hand warmly. “You think over that advice I gave you, never know when you’ll need to plan for the future.”

            “I will, sir.” he answered. “Thank you again.” The young man smiled at Sandi again and nodded pleasantly as he entered the elevator.

            “Nice boy, nice boy,” Jim said, nodding to himself. He turned to Sandi and motioned for her to go into his office. “Let’s chat, Miss Griffin.”

            Sandi took a breath and preceded him inside. The office was moderately sized, and appointed with sturdy, serviceable furnishings. Not at all what she expected from the office of the most senior partner of a successful law firm, let alone one that she knew had deep ties to organized crime.

            “Everybody is surprised by the office,” Jim said smugly, pushing the door closed. “Except the ones that realize that boasting is a frailty, and vanity a weakness.”

            Sandi turned and looked at the much older man, and once again found herself overwhelmed by his charisma. She only dimly grasped what caused his animal magnetism, but believed that part of it was his self-acceptance. Here was a man that was totally comfortable in his own skin, and there was a seductive kind of power to that. It was the kind of power she wanted for herself.

            “Is Commissioner Loeb on our payroll?” she asked.

            “Our?” Jim responded, quirking an eyebrow. He casually walked over to his desk and flipped on the small device that looked like a stereo. At one of her father’s business meetings Sandi had learned that the device was designed to stop eavesdropping, whether by bugs, directional microphones, or old fashioned snooping at the door.

            “Sorry.”

            “Quite alright, my dear.” He smiled indulgently. “But kindly employ more discretion in the future. To answer your question: yes. Why do you ask?”

            “He’s about to get exposed,” Sandi said bluntly. She had made up her mind; the best way out was through. She’d save as many as she could and live with the rest. It was, she thought, the sort of decision that Jim Vitale might have made himself.

            “Oh, really?” Jim sat on the edge of his desk and motioned for Sandi to take one of the chairs. “Do explain.”

            “You know I work for the newspaper at my school, right?” Sandi asked, taking the offered seat.

            “I believe your father mentioned something to that effect, yes.”

            “One of our reporters figured it out. She doesn’t know who is bribing him yet, but she seems pretty sure she’ll find out.” Sandi looked away. “I don’t know what to do.”

            “So you came to surrender the problem to your father?” Jim asked. His voice was mild and devoid of judgment, but Sandi still felt her face flush with embarrassment.

            “I haven’t decided what to do yet,” she said. “I don’t know what I can tell him, what if he decides kills her? She’s my friend.”

            “Yes, and he’s your father.” Jim nodded sagely. “That is a conflict of interests, of course. You have a very delicate wire to cross, Miss Griffin. May I ask who the young lady in question is?”

            “You’ll tell my dad, won’t you?”

            “Of course not.” Jim said, sounding slightly insulted. “Everything we say here is privileged, Alexandra. After all, am I not your lawyer as well as your father’s business partner?”

            “Isn’t that a conflict of interest for you?”

            “It is not, nor do I expect it to be.”

            “Quinn Morgendorffer.”

            “The little redhead that was recently hospitalized?” Jim asked. “Terrible accident, I saw the news report on it. I’m delighted she survived with her wits intact, as the last I’d heard she was in a coma.”

            Sandi nodded.

            “Let me lay out your problem, as I understand it.” Jim leaned forward a little, and looked Sandi in the eyes. “Correct me if I’m wrong. Your friend discovered evidence of our civil servant’s perfidy, and intends to publish said evidence. You believe that this may lead to your father getting in trouble with the law, unless you forewarn him. If you forewarn him, you fear that he will solve the problem by killing your friend and destroying her research.”

            Sandi nodded again, looking more depressed by the second. “Damn Loeb anyway,” she muttered. “How could he have been sloppy enough to get caught?”

            “That,” Jim said, leaning back and smiling broadly, “is an excellent question, Alexandra.” He looked down at her and nodded. “You have an excellent mind, and I’m impressed that you cut directly to the heart of the matter so quickly.”

            “Um, thanks.” Sandi said, flushing slightly with the compliment.

            “I’m glad you brought this to me,” Jim said, standing and offering Sandi his hand. She took it and he helped her rise from the chair. “Put it out of your mind, and don’t mention it to your father. I will accept your proposed solution, everything will be taken care of, and no one you care about will be hurt. You have my word.”

            Sandi blinked. “Thank you, Mr. Vitale.”

            “Please,” he said, ushering her out of the office, “since I’ve taken the liberty to call you Alexandra you must call me Jim.”

            “Ok,” she said, blushing. “Thank you, Jim.”

            “You are very welcome.”

            Sandi left the office and went back down to her car. On the drive home she felt buoyant and light, all her worries and troubles solved.

 

***

 

            “So has Jodie said anything about the story yet?” Jane asked. She added a little fresh red to her palette, mixing it with the colors already there to create the shades she needed.

            “No, but I’m not going to push her,” Quinn said, absently paging through one of her books. She reclined on Jane’s bed, resting from her walk over. “I spent every waking moment, for days, on that research. I’m willing to give her the time she needs to double check me.”

            Jane frowned over at her friend. “Do you think it was a good idea to strain yourself like that?”

            “Jane,” Quinn said, peering over the top of the book, “I had to. I had to make sure.”

            “Make sure?”

            Quinn closed the book and sat up. “I had to make sure that I could still think clearly. That I wasn’t . . .” Quinn swallowed, “damaged.”

            “You think circles around me, amiga.” Jane said with a shrug. “I’m just glad you’re ok.”

            Quinn stepped over to the easel and looked down at the canvas. “What are you working on?”

            “Just dealing with some issues.” Jane muttered, also looking down at the canvas. The mostly complete painting showed a red, four-door car that had smashed into a tree. Two women were in the car, one brunette and one redhead, and they were both obviously struggling to escape the wreckage. A third, indistinct figure stood impassively on the nearby road.

            “You saved my life, Jane.” Quinn said quietly. “The doctor told me that if I’d gone any deeper into shock after the accident my chances of survival would have been minimal. You got the car door open, you called the ambulance, and you kept me warm until the paramedics got there. You were not a helpless bystander.”

            Jane stared at Quinn with wide eyes.

            “Art is not a handcraft, it is the transmission of feeling the artist has experienced.” Quinn smiled and shook her head at Jane. “You say as much in this painting as any novel I’ll ever write. I don’t think circles around you, Jane . . . I just think differently than you.”

            Jane nodded and turned back to her painting. “I still need to finish up some detail work,” she said, her voice a little rough around the edges.

            “Sure, I’ll get back to my book.” Quinn sat back down on the bed, but ignored the novel in favor of watching Jane work.

            “I still can’t believe you invited Upchuck to our movie night,” Jane said a few minutes later.

            “You can’t complain about his behavior.”

            “True enough.” Jane snickered. “The fact that he spent half the night bringing you fresh popcorn and sodas was a little obnoxious, but other than that he was, um,” Jane paused to think a moment, “I’m not sure how to describe it, really.”

            “Normal,” Quinn said. “He talked and acted like a normal guy. An extremely shy normal guy, who seemed terrified of my aunt, but normal.”

            “Yeah.” Jane nodded, and added a few more brush strokes to the painting. “You must have really lowered the boom on him.”

            “We talked,” Quinn said with a shrug. “He asked me out, that’s why I invited him to bad movie night.”

            “You’re not about to offer to share your boyfriends with me again, are you?” Jane asked wryly.

            “He is not my boyfriend,” Quinn said, blushing.

            “Of course not,” Jane said agreeably. “It was a complete coincidence that he’s the first guy you’ve brought home to meet Amy, and that you seem concerned about my opinion of him.”

            “He’s a nice guy, I think you should give him a second chance before you condemn him. That’s all.”

            “Amy seemed to like him, especially after she found out his dad is a director at Ace Chemicals,” Jane said.

            “I think she’s just happy I didn’t bring over a parade of football players and yuppies.”

            “So,” Jane said, nonchalantly adding a few more brush strokes to the painting, “Is he a good kisser?”

            “What!?” Quinn squawked, almost falling off the bed. “What makes you think I’d have any idea about that?”

            “Oh, I don’t know. Probably something to do with how he’s being driving you home from school everyday this week. I figured you two were having alone time.”

            “I still get tired if I walk too far,” Quinn said, blushing. “We just ride around and talk, anyway.”

            “Just ride around? And talk?” Jane asked speculatively.

            “God, yes. Would you stop making it sound so dirty?”

            Jane turned to Quinn with a delighted grin. “God, I love how worked up you get. You are so much fun.”

            “I hate you,” Quinn said with a glare.

            “Look,” Jane said, “You like him, and I think that’s great. I don’t like him, but I’m not the one he’s trying to go out with so my opinion doesn’t really matter.”

            “It matters to me.”

            “I’ll tolerate him, for you.” Jane shrugged. “He keeps acting like a human being I might even get comfortable with him, ok?”

            Both girls looked over as Jane’s bedroom door swung open and Trent walked in. He had a bundle of papers in one hand, and a cardboard box tucked under the opposite arm.

            “Went to the post office?” Jane asked.

            “Yeah,” Trent said as he started sorting the mail. “Junk, junk, junk,” he grunted, dropping the items into Jane’s trashcan. “Bills, bills, bills,” he continued, dropping those letters into the same trashcan.

            Quinn quirked an eyebrow at Jane, who grinned and shrugged.

            “Oh, hey,” Trent said, pausing at what looked like a stack of post cards. “Mom is in Ecuador, she says hello.”

            “Hola,” Jane said.

            “Dad is in Ireland, and Summer took the twins to Canada.” Trent glanced up from the postcard. “They ran away in Canada, so she’s got the Mounties looking for them. Penny is coming back to America, says she’s enrolled under her middle name at Metropolis University on a journalism scholarship.”

            “What’s her middle name?” Quinn asked.

            “Lois.” Jane said with a shrug. “She’s always hated Mom and Dad for naming her after a Beatles song, so that’s what she always goes by when she isn’t at home.”

            “We got a wedding invitation from Wind.”

            “Again?” Jane asked with a smirk.

            “Yeah,” Trent grinned. “Oh, and this package is for you.”

            He handed Jane the box and she looked it over. It was a plain brown box with an envelope attached to the front. She didn’t recognize the stamps across the front of it, but they weren’t American. She grabbed a palette knife off the bedside table and cut the box open. Reaching inside, she pulled out a red suede jacket.

            “Wow,” she said, running her fingers down a sleeve, “this is a really nice coat.”

            “Maybe I’m not the only one around here with an admirer,” Quinn smirked. Jane rolled her eyes and Trent chuckled.

            “So who is it from?” Trent asked.

            “Dunno,” Jane said, “lemme read the letter.” She pulled the envelope free and opened it, removing the single page from inside.

            “Miss Jane Lane,” she read aloud, “I cannot begin to express the depth of gratitude I feel for the assistance you provided my sister . . .”

            Quinn gasped, her eyes growing wide. Jane glanced over at her and returned to the letter.

            “. . . assistance you provided my sister and aunt after their recent automobile accident. The doctors at Cedars of Lawndale assure me that your presence at the scene may have been the difference between life and death. I can never repay the debt I owe you, but I hope the token I sent will be a suitable replacement for the coat you lost while preserving the last of my family. As I am certain that Quinn is with you now, please tell her that I have sent a letter to her and Amy as well, informing them of certain changes in my plans. In short, I am cutting my time abroad and will be home this summer. With respect and gratitude, Daria Morgendorffer.”

            “She’s coming home,” Quinn whispered.

 

***

 

            “And that was it?” Sandi asked. She and Jane were sharing a booth at the Pizza King.

            “Yeah,” Jane said with a shrug. “It’s been two days and I haven’t seen Quinn outside of school. She barely talks when I do see her.”

            “Bummer,” Sandi said and took a bite of her pizza. “It is a really nice coat, though.”

            “Thanks. Hey, when did you start eating your pizza without cheese?” Jane asked. Her slices were topped with all sorts of unhealthy things, including extra cheese; Sandi’s resembled oversized breadsticks coated in pizza sauce.

            “The grease is bad for my skin,” Sandi said. “I had to give up some things to stay pretty and popular, but it’s not all bad.”

            “Oh.”

            “So Quinn hears that her sister is coming home from Japan or wherever and gets all weird and anti-social. I guess I would too, at least for a little while.”

            “Really?” Jane asked.

            “Yeah,” Sandi nodded, “I mean, Quinn hasn’t seen her sister since they were little kids. So, there’s this girl coming that she’s supposed to be family with, and Quinn doesn’t really know anything about her. She’s probably really nervous.”

            “I didn’t think about that,” Jane said.

            “Why did Quinn’s sister have to go away?” Sandi asked. “You said she was five or six, did something happen to Quinn’s parents?”

            “Yeah.” Jane sighed. “Quinn probably wouldn’t want me to talk about it, though.”

            Sandi shrugged.

            “Hey, guys!” Jodie said, she and Mack walking up to the table. “You mind if we join you?”

            “Nah,” Jane said. She and Sandi scooted over to make room for the other teenagers to join them.

            “So how did you sneak past the wardens?” Jane asked, smirking at Jodie.

            “They don’t know about the tunnel in the basement yet,” Mack answered, taking Jodie’s hand. “I dug it myself, with Kevin’s head.”

            Everyone at the table shared a chuckle at the expense of the Lawndale Lions’ quarterback. Kevin Thompson had a fantastic throwing arm, but his head was really only useful as something to hang a football helmet on.

            “Mom and Dad think I’m at school doing final edits on the Lowdown,” Jodie said, pausing to take a bite of her own slice. “Thanks to Mack it’s already done and I can sneak some free time.”

            “So,” Jane said, “anything really interesting in next week’s paper?”

            “Yeah, actually.” Mack answered, pulling a rolled up paper out of his back pocket. “I printed off a galley, thought you’d want to see it.”

            Sandi put her slice down, looking as if she’d lost her appetite. Jane took the offered paper and paged through it quickly.

            “Oh, hey!” she said, “There’s going to be an all-county art contest? Not the story I was hoping to see, but yeah I’m glad you showed me this.”

            “The competition is going to be fierce,” Jodie said. “There are six high schools involved with the show: Lawndale, Oakwood, Grove Hills, Fielding Prep, East Gotham, and West Gotham.”

            “They’re all amateurs,” Jane said smugly.

            “Um, so are you.” Mack pointed out.

            “Bah.” Jane replied, rolling the paper back up. “So when are you going to get finished checking over Quinn’s work, Jodie?”

            “I’ll probably put her story in the next paper,” Jodie said with a sigh. “I’ll be honest, Jane. I’m not all that happy about breaking a story like this, it’s going to cause us a lot of problems.”

            “If the right thing was easy, everybody would be doing it.”

            “I know, I know.” Jodie said with a sigh. “I still don’t know how she put that information together. I ended up having to take some of it to Stacy’s mom and ask her to look it over.”

            “Stacy’s mom?” Jane asked.

            “Yeah, she’s a forensic accountant,” Jodie replied. “Once she showed me the patterns it was really obvious, but you have to know what to look for or it’s just a jumble of numbers.”

            “I have to go,” Sandi said, nudging Mack on the shoulder.

            “Um, sure.” he said, standing and letting her slide out of the booth.

            “I’ll call you later, Jane.” Sandi said over her shoulder as she headed for the door. “Bye, Mack. Bye, Jodie.” The bell over the door jingled and Sandi was gone.

            “Has she seemed weird lately?” Jodie asked.

            “Yeah,” Jane and Mack said together.

 

            Sandi walked out into the parking lot of Pizza King and got into her car. Once inside she pulled out her cell phone and hit one of her speed dial numbers.

            “Vitale, Davis, Horowitz, Riordan, Schrecter, Schrecter and Schrecter, Attorneys at Law, this is Marianne how may I direct your call?”

            “Marianne, this is Alexandra Griffin. Is Mr. Vitale available?”

            “Just a moment, Miss Griffin.” the woman answered, and put Sandi on hold. Sandi sat in her car and listened to the light classical that the law firm had chosen as their hold music. After a few minutes the line clicked and the music stopped.

            “How may I be of assistance, Miss Griffin?” Jim asked.

            “I just found out that one of my friends took Quinn’s story to Cindy Rowe to get her opinion of the numbers involved.”

            “That’s very interesting, Miss Griffin. Did your friend pass on Mrs. Rowe’s thoughts on the matter?”

            “Not specifically, but she indicated that the story is definitely going to be printed. Not this next Monday, but the Monday after that.”

            “Well, that’s good news for Miss Morgendorffer, isn’t it?” Jim asked, sounding pleased. “Miss Griffin, I’d appreciate it if you could get me a copy of that paper when it’s published, I’d like to read it.”

            “I will,” Sandi said numbly. “But, what do we do now? What if Mrs. Rowe tells my dad about the story?”

            “I’ll make a couple of phone calls, and see what I can do to keep your father from being too shocked by the news.”

            “Ok, thanks.” Sandi said miserably.

            “Cheer up, my dear.” Jim said affably. “I’ve made all the arrangements for your gift to be delivered, exactly the way you wanted it to be. You should take your father out to dinner tonight, and tell him that you handled things yourself in the way you saw fit.”

            “You want me to lie to him?”

            “Not at all, Alexandra. You discovered something that would upset your father and you came to me with it. I provided advice, and then acted as your representative to carry out the decision you made.”

            “Oh,” Sandi said.

            “You should give yourself more credit, Alexandra. You’re much smarter than the people around you think you are.”

            “Alright, Jim.” she smiled slightly into the phone. “I’m sorry I bothered you, I guess I just wanted to make sure things were going smoothly.”

            “It’s never a bother to hear from such a lovely young woman. Good day, Miss Griffin.”

            “Goodbye.” Sandi hung up her phone and then sat in her car, looking pensive. “I’d still like to know what it was that I apparently decided.” she muttered to herself. Shaking her head, she dialed the number to her father’s office.

            “Hi, Daddy.” she said into the phone after he answered. “I want to take you out to dinner, ok?”

            She listened to her father for a moment.

            “No, it’s fine. You don’t have to do anything, I’ve already taken care of it.” She nodded absently. “No, really. Think of it as an early Father’s Day present, or as proof that you made the right decision when you let me be an adult.”

            She listened to her father again, and then smiled when he finished speaking.

            “I’ll be by to pick you up in a few minutes, I want to drive us this time. I love you, Daddy.”

            Sandi took a moment to plug her phone into the cigarette lighter, and then started the engine and pulled out of the Pizza King parking lot. On her way out, she passed Kevin and his girlfriend Brittany as they drove up in Kevin’s red jeep.

 

            “Well,” Jane said, “I think I’m going to head home and let you crazy kids enjoy some couple time.”

            Jodie stood so Jane could slide out of the booth. She and Mack both waved to Jane as she left the restaurant.

            “QB coming through!” Kevin said, jostling Jane as he entered the pizza place.

            “Kevvie!” Brittany scolded. “You should be more polite.”

            “Yeah,” Jane muttered under her breath, “dumb ox, always running . . . into . . . son of a bitch!” Jane stood and stared in shock at the red jeep. It certainly hadn’t been in the parking lot when she and Sandi had arrived. Jane knew it didn’t belong to Mack or Jodie, and aside from them Brittany and Kevin were the only people that had come in while she’d been eating.

            She slowly walked to the jeep and looked inside. There was a pair of blue and yellow pom-poms on the passenger side floorboard. This was definitely Kevin’s jeep.

            “That no brained, drunk driving, lunk headed, piece of crap.” Jane seethed.

            “Pissed at Kevin Thompson?” a girl asked from behind her. Jane looked over and saw a short girl in a black dress with blood red hair. She wore large silver ankh on a chain around her neck, and was drinking a soda.

            “I’m pretty sure he caused the accident that put my friend Quinn in the hospital.”

            “Quinn Morgendorffer?” the girl asked with a frown.

            “Yeah.”

            “She’s my lab partner in Chem,” the girl said, her frown deepening. “Man, that’s too bad.”

            “What’s too bad?”

            “I like her.” The girl shrugged. “Even if Kevin is responsible he’s never going to get in trouble for it. We both know that.”

            “Yeah,” Jane said with a sigh. “I guess I could go punch him in the nose.”

            “Nah, you should attack him where it hurts . . . sugar his gas tank or something.” The girl shrugged again. “Anyway, I didn’t give you that idea and I didn’t see you out here thinking about it, ok?”

            “Sure, thanks.” Jane nodded at the girl, who headed off down the sidewalk towards the Pizza King. After she was gone, Jane walked a circle around the jeep and examined it with a baleful look in her eyes. She saw a tool box in the back and paused, considering. After a moment she grinned like a loon, carefully checked to make sure no one was watching, and put her plan into action.

            A few minutes later she stepped back from the pile of rubber, plastic, and metal that used to be a vehicle. Off to the right sat a short row of buckets containing all the drained off fluids, and to the left was a big shiny pile of nuts, bolts, screws, and washers. Jane flipped a wrench over in her hand, smiled cheerfully at it, and then dropped it into her jacket pocket as a souvenir.

            Whistling to herself, she started walking home. A few blocks down from the school a hot pink Cadillac convertible pulled up to the curb and slowed, keeping pace with her walking speed. The car had obviously seen better days as it was dented and rusty, and there were odd knocking sounds coming from under the hood. Glancing over, she saw Charles in the driver’s seat.

            “Hey, Jane.” Charles called out, waving at her.

            “Wow,” Jane said sarcastically, “I can really see why Quinn enjoys riding around in this car.”

            “Well, you know our Quinn,” Charles said, grinning. “She’s a thrill seeker. I told her the gas tank could blow any minute and she just couldn’t resist.”

            Jane stopped walking and turned to stare at Charles.

            “Uh, that’s a joke,” he said, stopping the car.

            “Very funny,” Jane said dryly.

            “Hey, you want a lift somewhere?”

            “What are you, some kind of compulsive ride giver?” Jane asked in annoyance. “I’m walking here, thank you very much.” She turned and continued down the sidewalk.

            “Then I’ll walk with you a little way.” Charles turned off the car, although the engine sputtered for several more seconds. Exiting the vehicle, he jogged over to Jane and started walking along beside her.

            “What do you think you’re doing?”

            “Look, I want to talk to you for a minute. Ok?”

            “Fine. Talk.”

            “Ok. You don’t like me, and that’s fine.” Charles sighed. “There’s no reason you should.”

            “You got that right,” Jane muttered.

            “I just wish you’d try to be civil to me. At least when Quinn is around.”

            “And why should I put myself out?”

            “Because she’s your best friend, and I really like her too. I’d like the chance to get to know her better.”

            “And that has to do with me how?”

            “It has to do with you because if you hate me it puts her in a bad position.”

            “I don’t hate you.” Jane stopped walking and turned to Charles. “Really, I don’t even know you, just what the rumor mill has to say about you. I’m just not going to stand idly by while you cut in on my friendship with Quinn.”

            “I don’t want to cut in,” Charles said, sounding exasperated. “I’d like to be included. Besides, when she and I are hanging out all she talks about is you. It’s all ‘Jane said this’ and ‘Jane did this’ and ‘listen to what Jane told this moron’ and stuff like that.”

            “Don’t try to butter me up, Chuck.”

            “I’m not. I’m just saying that you and Quinn have a strong friendship, and nobody is going to come between the two of you except you.”

            Jane sighed and ran her fingers through her hair. “Look, Chuck . . . I’m sorry I’ve been so bitchy, and I’ll try to tone it down. But I don’t like you, and we’re not friends.”

            “Ok.”

            “Even if we were friends, I would not get into that car.”

            “Well, that’s just common sense.” Charles grinned. “How’s she doing, anyway? I haven’t talked to her in a couple of days.”

            “You too, huh?” Jane asked wryly. “Apparently she’s spending most of her time at home hiding in her room.”

            “What happened?”

            “How much has she told you about her home life?” Jane asked.

            “Not much.” Charles shrugged. “She gets on well with her aunt, her parents died when she was really young, she has an older sister she hasn’t seen in years.”

            “Her sister is coming home in a couple of months.”

            “Ah,” Charles said, “that’s why you’ve been extra snippy the last couple of days.”

            “Snippy?” Jane asked, arching an eyebrow.

            “Yeah. You’re worried that her sister is going to monopolize her time and you’re taking it out on me.”

            Jane frowned. “I’m going home. See you at school, Chuck.”

            Charles nodded and walked back to his car. “Two steps forward and one step back,” he muttered. “Good one, Ruttheimer.”

 

            “Dammit,” Quinn muttered, glaring angrily at her computer. “It was here yesterday, why isn’t it here now?”

            She began typing industriously, checking and cross-checking the public records database for the information she needed. After several frustrating minutes her research was interrupted by a knock at the door.

            “The door you have knocked at has been disconnected,” she called out, “If you feel you have reached this message in error please wait a couple of hours and knock again.”

            “I think I’ll just barge in like a concerned parent,” Amy said, opening the door and walking into the room, “if that’s ok with you.”

            “Sure,” Quinn said, turning her monitor off. “I’m not getting anything done here anyway.”

            “Still working on that police corruption story?”

            “Trying,” Quinn sighed, “but all the documents I was working with have been taken out of the system. I’ve got back-ups of the evidence I need to support the story I gave Jodie, but I’m not going to be able to follow the paper trail back to who was providing the bribes.”

            “Do you think somebody leaked the story?”

            “Nah, I guess I tripped a flag or something with my research. Annoying but not entirely unexpected.”

            “Don’t get yourself in any trouble, Quinn.” Amy said sternly.

            “I won’t. What did you need, anyway?”

            “I was hoping we could have a little Q and A time tonight. I want to discuss the letter from your sister.”

            Quinn grinned at her aunt’s cutesy nickname for their family discussions. “What’s to discuss? She decided to leave, and now she’s decided to come back.”

            “I just thought you’d be happier about it.”

            “Are you happy about it?”

            “Yes and no,” Amy said with a sigh. “Of course I’m happy that my niece is coming home, but at the same time I’m worried about what kind of person she’s turned into.”

            “Exactly,” Quinn said with a nod. “We haven’t seen her in ten years, Amy. I can’t decide whether to be happy or scared.”

            “Scared?”

            “What if she doesn’t like me? What if I haven’t lived up to her standards or something?”

            “Honey, she’s part of our family. Of course she’s going to like you, you’re her sister. Besides, she’s probably worried about the same things we are right now.”

            Quinn nodded slowly. “I’m going to send her an email, and tell her not to worry.”

            “Send her my love when you do,” Amy said. “You should probably ask her about the story you’re working on, too. She’s good with computers, isn’t she?”

            “Yeah.” Quinn smiled. “Thanks, Aunt Amy.”

            “You’re welcome, dear.” Amy turned back to the door and then paused. “Oh, you’ve got about ten million phone messages, most of them from Jane and Charles.”

            “Ok, I’ll take care of it.” Quinn waited for Amy to leave the room and then picked up her phone and dialed. After a moment, it was answered and she said, “Hey, Jane. Sorry I’ve been such a hermit. You’re not going to believe the research roadblock I just ran into.”