Sunday, July 17, 2011

On Baby-Sitters Club Super Mystery #last: Chapter 7

Okay, so first, a note: The characters, places, and situations created for the Baby-Sitters Club series are the property of Ann M. Martin and Scholastic. (If they were mine, you know Mallory would have at least had a keratin treatment by now, poor girl.) Everything that isn't real life and isn't Ann M.'s is mine, and if you violate my copyright, I will cut you. On with the show.

In our last episode, the girls did some more shopping... and got more than they bargained for. (Duh-duh-duhhh...)

Chapter 7.

After I got Mary Anne's message, I was tapping my foot for the rest of the day. The group had been apart for more than ten years, and now it had taken less than two days for us to get back to our old adventures. It almost made me feel like a teenager again—except this time, we were older, smarter, and better equipped to solve this mystery.

I always tried to really interact with my students, stay engaged, and not just assign a chapter to outline for the entire class period. But for my last two periods of the day, that was what they did. As hard as I tried, I just couldn't focus. Thoughts and action items kept popping up that I had to write down right away, and in the end, I had to put together a whole binder to organize my theories on suspects, witnesses, motives, and evidence.

When the bell rang at the end of the day, I was just as ready to get out the door as my students were. I felt like a running back, rushing down the hall and dodging questions.

"Ms. Thomas, Morgan said practice was moved to Wednesday next week."

"Yes." Twenty yards from the door.

"Because I have an orthodontist appointment on Tuesday—"

"Yes. Wednesday." The ten.

"Okay. Thanks!"

"Bye, Kaci." The five.

"Kristy, can you cover detention for me this afternoon? My kid—"

"Sorry, Alan. Not today." The two.

"Okay… Bye."

"Bye!" Touchdown.

I drove to the Spiers's house a little bit faster than I probably should have, and the entire time I kept my eyes peeled for the white Camry that had tried to run us down in the parking lot. I saw three of them between the high school and the house, one actually turning off of Mary Anne's street, and I was so tempted to turn around and chase them down. But I knew I had a job to do and people waiting for me to do it.

I was already talking to myself, running through scenarios and evidence, by the time I was in the driveway and out of the car. I almost grabbed my Stoneybrook High visor out of the back seat, but I settled instead on just my binder and headed inside.

The whole gang was there, and by the tension in the room I could tell they were all as worried about the situation as I was. "You're all here," I said. "Excellent. I thought we'd all head over to my place to get started."

"We've been talking it over," Jessi said. She was sitting on the floor and leaning against the couch, looking like she was ready to watch a movie at a slumber party. She didn't look terribly focused on the dead-serious matter at hand—and neither did talking it over, like they were trying to decide on a flavor of popcorn. "We're trying to work out potential motives for our mystery stalker."

I bit my lip. "You started without me?"

"We haven't gotten too far into it," Claudia said. "Here—take my chair, and you can crack open your binder and take over."

"Take over? Who's been running the meeting?'

"I have."

"Oh." I guessed my presence wasn't really required, since the vice president was presiding. I tapped my binder against my leg. "Okay. Well, I'll let you get on with it, then."

"Kristy—" Claudia said.

"I made some notes while I was at work. You might be able to use them." I put my binder on the side table next to Claudia and looked around for a seat. Mallory was next to Jessi on the floor. Stacey had the wing chair nearest to the door, and Mary Anne and Dawn were sitting on either end of the couch, with just enough room for a person to squeeze between them.

"No, you should be in charge," Claudia said, getting up and moving to the couch. I halfway protested, but I sat down quickly, mentally putting on my visor and calling the meeting to order. Looking around the room at my friends, I felt a surge of pride—with this group together, there was no way this stalker was going to get away with it.

I took a deep breath. "Let's review the facts of the case. Mary Anne, you take notes." She blinked a few times but obediently got up and disappeared down the hall. I couldn't help drumming my fingers until she returned with a legal pad and a pen. "Okay," I said as she settled back on the couch. "The suspect is driving a white Toyota Camry. Our first encounter was Wednesday at eleven o'clock p.m. in the parking lot of Los Sombreros. Present were myself, Mary Anne—"

"We were all there," Stacey interrupted. "Present were all of us. And drunk as hell, if it matters."

"All seven members were present," I said. "The suspect was speeding and driving erratically, and he nearly struck us. The second encounter…" I didn't know anything important about the second encounter. Nobody had filled me in.

Dawn spoke up. "The second encounter was this morning around ten," she said. "The guys had left to take my girls to the zoo, Mary Anne and I were hanging out, and Stacey showed up to take us shopping. Mary Anne saw the car parked in front of Stacey's house—"

"He was parked in front of my this house," Stacey put in.

"He was parked between the houses, but it was obvious that he was watching this one," Dawn said darkly. "When Stacey opened the door, he drove off fast."

"Mary Anne, are you getting all this?" She raised an eyebrow at me. "Any of these details could be the clue that cracks the case."

"Yeah. I'm getting all this."

Touchy. "It's just that this is really important. One of us is in danger."

"Yeah, about that," Mary Anne said. "Has anyone considered calling the police?"

No one said anything "Why?" I asked finally.

She shifted slightly in her seat. "Well, if one of us really is in danger from a stalker, they'd be able to handle it better. They do this kind of thing all the time."

"What do you mean if?" Dawn demanded.

"We can handle this," Mallory insisted. It was the first time she'd lifted her eyes from the floor since I'd gotten there. "We're closest to… whomever it is who's being stalked, because obviously it's one of us. And seven heads are better than one."

"I'm pretty sure Stoneybrook P.D. has more than one head in it," Claudia said.

"We can do this!" Dawn said.

"Does anyone else remember Shea Rodowsky?" Jessi said. The room fell silent, and she nodded. "Oh, good, so it's not just me. Does anyone else remember looking his mother in the eye?" Right then, we weren't even looking each other in the eye. My heart and my stomach both clenched at the memory. "Do you remember what Special Agent Gardner said? Three families, guys. Three. Because we thought we could handle it."

"That was ten years ago," I protested.

"What, you've gotten your P.I. license in the past decade?" Claudia said.

"No! It's just we're… older. And we have more resources." Jessi stared at me. I wanted to go down the list of everything we had, everything we'd been able to do fourteen years ago and everything we'd gained since then, but she didn't seem terribly open-minded at the moment. "Fine. As soon as we have enough evidence, we'll take it to the police and let them handle it."

"I'm still lodging my complaint with the assembled members right now," Jessi said. "This is a bad idea. But I'll do what I can to help."

I nodded resolutely. "Good, we're all on board. Mary Anne, where were we?"

"This morning," she said, not even checking her notes. "Dawn and I were here, Dad and Sharon were at work, Stacey came later."

"So we have three possible targets," I said.

"Whose cars were here?"

I frowned. "What?"

"Whose cars were here?" Claudia repeated. "In the driveway. Maybe the stalker thought the… stalkee was here because her car was in the driveway."

My brain turned it over. "Wow, that's actually a good idea."

"Will people please stop sounding so surprised when they say that?"

"My mom's car was here," Dawn said. "The guys drove our rental to the zoo, and Richard gave Mom a ride to work. We took Mom's car when we went downtown."

"So now we have more potential suspects," I said. "You three, and possibly Dawn's mom. Mary Anne—"

"Yeah, I'm getting it."

"And we saw him again when we were shopping," Dawn said.

"The third encounter," I supplied.

"Yeah, that. We were at Shannon's, and Claud came in with the note."

"And what time was that?"

"We called you pretty much right away," Mary Anne said.

"What time?"

She sighed. "Around one."

"Write that down." She opened her mouth, but then she closed it again and wrote.

"Claudia, you found the note?"

"Yes," she said. "Jessi and I were going into the store—"

"Boutique," I corrected.

"Yes, Kristy, it was a boutique. We were going into the boutique, and the note was under the windshield of Dawn's car."

"Sharon's car," Mary Anne said.


"Was the Camry around?"

"Not that I could see."

"So we're looking at—"

"Dawn, Mary Anne, and me," Stacey said. "And maybe Dawn's mom, but whatever. Like we've been saying from the beginning."

"But which one?" I mused. "We need to start exploring some possible motives—"

"I need to pee," Jessi said, standing up. "That's what I need to do."

I couldn't help staring. "Can it wait? We're kind of in the middle of something."

"Actually, this isn't a bad stopping place," Mary Anne said. "Why don't we take a quick break, then reconvene in fifteen minutes?" There were pleased sounds as the girls started moving around—Claudia and Dawn to the kitchen, Mary Anne down the hallway, Jessi toward the bathroom and moving fast. Mallory glanced at Stacey, then headed out onto the back porch. Stacey was already buried in her iPhone and didn't notice.

I sat frozen. When had a Baby-Sitters Club meeting ever broken up for snacks halfway through? My high school students knew better than that. Hell, my pee-wee softball players knew better than that, and they averaged nine years old. "Uh, sure," I said. "Fifteen minutes, everybody."

We just needed to get back to our good habits, was all, I thought. We'd been apart for so long, it was no wonder we'd gotten a little rusty. We'd be focused and disciplined and cracking this case in no time, just like old times. I was probably the only one here who'd had any real structure in her life since we split up. I'd gone from Stoneybrook High straight to a double major at Stoneybrook University, then straight back to Stoneybrook High to start teaching. I juggled a full schedule of health classes, two softball practices a week, and another practice a week with my pee-wee kids. And on top of that, I have to maintain a social life, shuttle Emily Michelle around until she stopped failing her driver's test, and keep an eye on Watson's type 2 diabetes. None of that could happen without structure, discipline, and strict scheduling.

Honestly, sometimes it felt like the only people I saw anymore outside of school were Mom and Watson, Emily Michelle, and Shannon. Even Sam and Charlie and David Michael spent more time away than home, leaving me to look after everything and everyone.

None of that mattered, though, when we had a stalker to catch. Mary Anne had left her legal pad on the couch, and I started flipping through it to review our notes. "Hey, with the car this morning—do you remember whether it was facing north or south on the street?" I asked Stacey.

"Nope." She tossed her phone into her purse and headed to the kitchen.

With Stacey's attitude, I couldn't imagine that there wasn't someone out there who wanted to kill her, but I didn't know who might be after Dawn or Mary Anne. And Dawn's mom was one of the nicest people I knew. Mary Anne seemed to agree—she'd written Motive - ? after Sharon's name. Stacey had gotten Take your pick.

And somehow, I'd made the list. Kristy - student, colleague, or friend who got sick of being bossed around and finally snapped.

Wow. Okay.

I laid the legal pad back on the couch where I found it and picked up my binder. As tempted as I was to just take off, I didn't want to let on that anything was bothering me.

I started in the kitchen. "Hey, something came up with the team. I've got to run," I said. Stacey and Dawn were facing off and didn't even notice my entrance.

"You know, it's none of your business, and it has nothing to do with this case," Dawn was saying.

Stacey laughed. "You're such a lousy liar. Something's bugging you, and it's about this, and even I can see it. And I'm about as shallow as they come."

"And you don't know anything about my life," Dawn shot back. "So there's no point in having this discussion."

I knocked on the doorframe. "Anything I can help with?"

"No," Dawn said, glaring at Stacey. "We're good. Thanks."

"Really? Because I—"

"We're good," Stacey said. "When you can maintain a meaningful relationship with someone who isn't a chick, you might be able to contribute."

My breath caught in my chest, and I couldn't move. All I could do was stand there, eyes burning, hoping my face wasn't as hot and red as it felt, hoping that I could overcome this paralysis before the tears started to break loose. Stacey and Dawn had already gone back to their conversation, though, and they didn't notice me leaving.

Shannon was already home and cooking when I got there. The apartment smelled kind of citrusy, with a hint of pineapple. "That smells great," I said, leaning over the bar into the kitchen. "You're home early."

"I'm trying something new with chicken," she said. "And I closed up early. Things sounded kind of intense there, and I thought you might need someone to talk to."

That was all it took. The tears broke loose, and suddenly I was blubbering in a really unattractive way. "I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing," I sobbed, slumping onto one of the bar stools. "This is so huge, it's so important, and I need help—"

"Oh, honey. Come here," Shannon said, rounding the counter and pulling me into a hug. "It's okay. You don't have to do this yourself."

I shook my head and sniffed wetly. "Nobody else is contributing. I try and try to get them organized and get them engaged, and they don't—and then—" I tried to stifle another sob. "And Mary Anne thinks I'm a bitch, and Stacey thinks I'm… I don't know. And now I'm a grown woman who's crying her eyes out because some girls she hasn't talked to in forever are being mean to her."

"It's okay." Shannon rocked me from side to side like a crying toddler, but it actually did make me feel a little bit better. "It's been a long time since you all really functioned as a group. It's not going to fall into place right away."


"Just ease back a little. Take some of the pressure off. You're having to get to know each other again at the same time you're investigating, and that's a lot to do at once."

"You don't even think I should be doing this."

She laughed. "No, I don't, but I know you're determined, and I just want it all to work out for you. So give it some time."

I sniffed again and pulled away. "Yeah. I'll do that." I half smiled. "Your shirt is disgusting."

Shannon looked at the wet, slightly snotty patch on her shoulder and laughed. "It was a free gift anyway. I don't even carry the line anymore." She kissed me on the forehead. "Now go wash your face. You look disgusting."

Coming up: Dawn has a few ideas.

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