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The sun streaming through the curtains made my head throb. “Never drink wine on a Tuesday night,” I muttered, rolling out of bed and blindly feeling my way to the bathroom. Stumbling into the shower, I adjusted the temperature by feel and nearly scalded my face and breasts. As I spun away and adjusted the knob in a panic, icy water cascaded over my spine and brought me fully awake with a sharp squeal. I soothed insulted skin with a generous lather of bracing rosemary, eucalyptus, and grapefruit scented body wash. I smelled as good as last night’s roasted chicken, and fresher than the icy Prosecco I washed it down with.
I dealt with a deadly case of morning breath, careful not to turn Listerine into “hair of the dog.” A tiny bit of foundation, just enough to caulk the worst of the crevices, and a little tint to the eyelids and lips, just enough to keep from being mistaken for a corpse, and I was ready to face the onslaught of excuses for why last night’s lit homework was still undone. Half the kids in my class could’ve made an A turning those excuses in for the Tall Tales writing assignment, if only they were clever enough to think of it. I wasn’t going to make it that easy for them.
I drove down into town with the windows rolled down, enjoying the crisp, almost spring-like air. It was still only mid-March, but spring had arrived early; I refused to believe Mother Nature was pranking us all. Then again, she’d been known to fake out a certain red maple tree from year to year, goading it into blossoming twice with a warm kiss and a cold shoulder.
As I pulled into the parking lot, I saw students ambling into the building slowly. It was about four minutes to the first bell–no rush. Not that they’d be in a rush 8 minutes from now, either. Wednesday mornings were always a bit of a slog. Not quite a Monday, but still three days from Saturday. “Hump Day,” though I hated to call it that around randy teenagers. Might give them ideas. The janitors disliked nasty surprises in their broom closets.
“Ms. Hobbes! Ms. Hobbes!” It was Annie Lestrade, known affectionately as “Inspector” in the teachers’ lounge. Annie was an investigative reporter for the Sawyers Mill High School Sawblade, a paper whose name was intended to convey its “incisive coverage” of “cutting edge issues,” or some such rot. The faculty had barely won its argument in the free-speech battle against a circular saw blade dripping with blood. Now and then, the newspaper staff changed the logo a bit – turned it into a see-saw for April Fool’s Day and added a hockey mask to it at Halloween. They once tried to incorporate a tree stump and a turkey for Thanksgiving, but that was a little too grisly for the faculty advisor’s taste, and by then the newspaper staff had learned to choose their battles more wisely, reserving their righteous indignation for worthier arguments on meatier content.
“Morning, Annie!” I loved her enthusiasm, and she was on fire this morning.
“Do you have any insight into the incident yesterday?”
“Good morning, Annie.” I smiled pointedly.
“Sorry. Good morning, Ms. Hobbes.” She flipped a page in her notebook, pen poised expectantly, and asked again. “Do you have any insight into the incident with Mrs. Peters?”
The incident? I really was out of the loop. I pondered, perhaps a split second too long, whether it would be more prudent to ask, “What incident?” or to mutter “No comment,” and hustle my bustle to the teacher’s lounge. Either way, my curiosity was piqued. A little. That said, the last thing I wanted to deal with on a Wednesday morning was student and faculty gossip, particularly student gossip involving faculty.
I put my hand over Annie’s notebook and pushed it down to her side. “What incident, Annie? What are you talking about?”
“Someone tried to poison Mrs. Peters. At lunch, yesterday.”
So much for drama-free Wednesdays. “That’s a serious allegation, Annie.”
“I know! That’s why I’m digging into it–everyone’s talking, but you always taught us to triangulate our sources, and that there are more than two sides to any story–“
I held up a hand. “Give me a little time to catch up here, Annie. What makes you think she was poisoned?” Mrs. Peters was young, mousy, a little insecure. She was new to Sawyers Mill, new to teaching, easy to pick on. She was quiet, but still waters, as they say, often run deep. I wasn’t so sure this one ran that deep. I could imagine her suffering a self-induced case of food poisoning, but I could not think of anyone who would want to hurt her. I never wanted to say “sit on it a while” to a student reporter – past experience had taught me that was the fastest way to make a story front page headlines – but I needed to impress upon “Inspector Lestrade” that there was a huge difference between food-borne illness and poisoning. “Where is Mrs. Peters now?”
“She’s at Mercy. They took her there by ambulance after fourth period. I haven’t heard anything, they won’t talk to me. I hope she’s not–“
“I’ll check on her, Annie. I’m sure she’s not–whatever you were about to say.” At least I fervently hoped she wasn’t.
Lydia Armitage met me at the top step, held the front door open. “Meeting in the teachers’ lounge in five minutes,” she said quietly.
Photo credit: Yates Mill, by Larry Lamb
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