Disclaimer: Daria and associated characters are owned by MTV. This is fan fiction written for entertainment only. No money or other negotiable currency or goods have been exchanged.
Original characters and plot copyright Richard J. Lobinske. 2004.

This is the sixth story in the Falling into College series.

Richard Lobinske

Nineteen in Ninety-Nine

Daria Morgendorffer sat in an uncomfortable lecture hall seat, about one quarter of the way back and to the right of the professor's lectern. Thursday morning, and U.S. History to 1876 was proving to be duller than she had anticipated. Much to her surprise, this class was little different from her high school experience, except Mr. Demartino was more entertaining. This is not to say that Dr. Miller was ineffective, but few could provide the atmosphere of her old teacher.

"Can somebody out there give me a clear definition of Manifest Destiny?"

The question brought Daria out of her minor daydreaming; the juxtaposition of the question with those reminisces produced an uncharacteristic, for her, chuckle.

Dr. Miller raised an eyebrow at Daria's reaction to the question. "Do you have a particularly amusing insight into this, Ms. Morgendorffer?"

"Sorry, I was just remembering about a time I was asked that in high school. You had to be there. Manifest Destiny was..."

Dr. Miller smiled and shook his head. "Well, since you don't want to share the joke with the rest of us, why don't we let somebody else try to answer that question before we get back to you?"

Daria left her dorm room in Fenderson Residence Hall, for the walk to the gymnasium. Besides Dr. Miller's history, she had made it through another session of Principles of Education that morning. Now, with lunch over, she was heading for her mandatory physical education and last class of the day, Beginners Low-Impact Aerobics. She wore black sweat shirt, pants and tennis shoes. Over that, her grey jacket against the early afternoon chill.

"Boston sure gets a lot colder than Lawndale. November nineteenth, and we're already getting frosts. That's one thing I miss about Texas, it was warmer."

Daria started to cross the main quad diagonally, but altered her course to stay on the perimeter sidewalk. She picked up her speed a little to a fast walk.

"Might as well get in a little extra exercise on my way to purgatory. Please, somebody, do the right thing if I start to behave any more like my mother."

A tall, rail thin, young man with black hair fell in step beside Daria. His normal stride easily kept pace with her fast walk. "Depends. What is the right thing, and how are you behaving like your mother?"

Daria looked at the newcomer. "Hi, Al. The right thing is putting me out of my misery, the current behavior is this power walking."

"Oh, yeah. I guess you're walking fast, for you."

Daria glared at him over her glasses. "I do have the means to separate you from certain body parts."

Al swerved away about two feet. "Ouch."

"What brings you to this side of campus?"

"Looking for you."

"A likely story."

"Really, I am."

"Are you feeling oxygen deprivation up there?"

"I still need to find a partner for that 'Princ-Ed' project. Figured recruiting some intelligence would be a good idea."

"Flattery, huh? I suppose I could do worse for a partner. Sure."

Al nodded his head toward the building they were approaching. "Nevis Hall. My next stop. See you in class next Tuesday. Thanks."

Daria watched him quickly jog away. She shook her head, thinking. They used to avoid me for my brain, now they want me.

After returning from the gym, Daria quickly closed the door to her room and dropped most of her mail on the desk. She retrieved a letter opener from the desk, and carefully cut open a large envelope. Inside, she found the slightly delayed October issue of Literature in Action, a mid-sized fiction magazine devoted to action/adventure stories. Halfway down the left side of the cover was:

Introducing Melody Powers in:
Summer of Our Discontent
By Daria Morgendorffer

Also inside was the second manuscript she had submitted to the magazine at the end of summer, several forms, and a letter.

Dear Ms. Morgendorffer,

Please accept this gratis copy of the October 1999 issue, containing your story Summer of Our Discontent. It is also a pleasure to inform you that your manuscript, Fall of Ice Base Leopard, has been accepted for publication, pending major revision. Enclosed, is your manuscript with the recommended edits, along with our standard publishing agreements and contracts. Please review the recommended edits and submit your revised manuscript and/or rebuttals within 60 days of receipt. Please sign and return the publishing agreements with your revised manuscript.

Thank you for choosing Literature in Action.

Daria stared, wide-eyed, at the letter. "Wow."

Daria's roommate, Karen, looked over from her desk. "Cool, looks like you got your copy of the magazine. What's the rest of that stuff?"

Daria looked over with a smile. "They've accepted my second story, pending revision, of course."

"Wow is right. That's one nice extra birthday present."

Daria gave a small laugh. "I guess you're right. Nothing else I sent in last summer was accepted, but this makes two Melody stories in a row. Guess I know what works for now."

"Speaking of birthdays, what are you planning for tonight?"

"I'm going to open that package from Jane that's been waiting for the last couple weeks. Mom and Dad called this morning, best time for them, Quinn, and me to get on the line at the same time. They're going to do the cake thing and stuff when I go home for Thanksgiving next week. Therefore, I plan on spending a quiet night in my spacious abode."

Karen went to the door, peeked out, and turned to face Daria. "Don't plan on it being quiet." She stuck her head back out of the door. "Come on in."

She opened the door and many of the residents of the third floor were waiting outside. Jenn Cavendish came in carrying a stack of boxes from Cheap and Cheesy Pizza, the local favorite. Carly Stanton followed, carrying a cooler of soft drinks in front of her. Anna Stevens brought in an ice cream cake with "Happy Birthday" generically written on top. In place of candles, nineteen light sticks glowed. They found conveniently prepared space on top of Karen's dresser and desk. Robin Hollister dropped off a stack of paper plates and a cup of plastic spoons. Other residents poured in after the food, resulting in cramped quarters.

Karen said, "Happy Birthday."

Daria looked quite uncomfortable with the crowd, but Karen placed a hand on her shoulder. "Everyone promised not to stay too long. But, this was a good excuse to have a small party."

"I guess, I...I've just never had a birthday with this many people around before."

"First time for everything." Karen turned toward the general crowd. "Okay. One...Two...Three."

Everyone chorused, "Happy birthday!"

Karen smiled more. "We decided that singing would probably cause too much brain damage."

Daria looked relieved. "Thank God."

Daria maneuvered to the cake, looking at the light sticks. "I hope you don't expect me to blow those out."

Anna handed Daria a cake knife. "With this crowd, open flames would be too dangerous. Take the sticks off and make a wish anyway."

Somewhat self-consciously, Daria removed them and stood silent for a moment. She then used the knife to cut the cake into numerous irregular squares.

"Don't expect me to serve things up to you. Come and get it yourself."

Daria dropped a slab of slowly melting ice cream onto a plate, alongside a slice of pizza. She grabbed a spoon and sat down at her desk.

Daria looked over the room and located Karen, who was loading up plates and handing them out to the others. Daria thought, she and Jane together are going to be dangerous.

For the next half hour, people wandered around, munching on pizza and ice cream. They stopped by Daria to express their good will and best wishes. Many seemed polite, others genuine. By the end, all had wandered back to their rooms, leaving Karen and Daria.

Daria looked around the room in amazement. How could the place get trashed so fast?

Karen rolled her chair up next to Daria. "I think you have some gifts to open." She pointed to Jane's package, and produced an envelope.

Daria accepted the envelope and opened it. "A gift certificate to Cheap and Cheesy. That's a gift I can really use." Daria smiled and nodded toward Karen.

Karen smiled and nodded in return. She then rubbed her hands together. "Come on. Open the big one."

Daria sighed. "Okay."

She carefully peeled the brown paper away, then the box, and then the underlying bubble wrap. Inside was a painting by her best friend, Jane, of Daria on a beach chair, with a young, blond-haired man wearing glasses looking up at her in admiration. The incident from Daria and Jane's trip to the beach last summer was also recorded in an included photo, showing the painting to be of a real incident and not a figment of Jane's active imagination.

Karen gave a low whistle. "You weren't kidding about Jane being good. You don't look so bad yourself in a swimsuit."

Daria blushed at the comment.

"And who's the cute guy?"

Daria was relieved to hear a knock at the door. She rolled the chair over slightly and cracked the door open; then pulled it open fully.

"Aunt Amy?"

Amy Barksdale stood in the door, wearing an ankle length black skirt and a deep purple turtleneck sweater. She carried a small, black leather purse in one hand.

"Well, well, well. My favorite niece has turned into a party girl, at least by the looks of this place. What would Helen think?" Amy smirked.

Daria stammered slightly, "Umm. The girls on the floor just gave me a little birthday party."

"Oh, so that's it. Well, I don't smell any alcohol, and I don't see any other used items in the trash cans, so I guess you were well behaved."

Daria recovered from her initial shock. "Amy, this is my roommate, Karen Myerson; Karen, this is my favorite aunt, Amy Barksdale.

Karen extended her hand. "Nice to meet you. How did you get up here? Nobody at the RA desk phoned that Daria had a guest."

Amy shook Karen's hand. "Nice to meet you too. I walked in with a crowd and looked like I knew what I was doing. I did three years as an RA to help pay for grad school; I know how to get past them."

Daria asked, "What brings you all the way to Boston?"

"Just my favorite niece's birthday."

"You didn't drive all the way from..."

Amy laughed. "No, I'm attending a conference in town. After listening to a bunch of first round interviews for a faculty position I'm chairing the search committee for, I decided to blow off the afternoon and see you."


Amy developed another of her devilish grins. "Now give, I heard. Who's the cute guy, I want to know too."

Karen pointed to the painting and photo. "Trying to get some info on him."

"Hmm. He is cute."

Daria blushed. "That's Will. I spent a nice day with him at the beach last August when Jane and I had that road trip."

Amy rotated her hand in front of her face in a coaxing motion. "Come on, there has to be more."

"He was at the beach with his friend Greg. The two spent the day with Jane and me. We had a nice dinner together. We went to our separate hotels. The end."

Karen looked at Amy. "She leads such an exciting life. I believe her."

"Yeah, so do I. Though it's good to see she kept up her good taste in boys."

"I wouldn't know, due to her lack of any dating in the last almost three months."

Daria gave her a steely look. "Karen!"

Amy laughed lightly. "What she lacks in quantity, she makes up for in quality. Her last boyfriend was cute, and rich."

Karen's eyes widened. "No offense, but what do you people consider rich?"

Daria sighed. "His father was partner in one of the top ten companies in the state."

"Does he have a brother?"

Daria glared.


Daria rubbed her temples. "Could we please not discuss my love life, or lack thereof?"

Amy placed her hand on Daria's. "Sorry, just having a little fun."

Amy picked up the painting to examine it, rocking her head back slightly to view it through the lower half of her glasses. She read the signature. "Jane Lane. Your friend's work is impressive."

"I'll let her know you said that."

Karen pulled the magazine issue and cover letter from Daria's shelf and handed them to Amy. "You should be impressed with your niece, too."

Amy held them at the same level she had held the painting, quickly reading the letter, and then thumbing through the story.

"Consider me impressed. Plus, another on the way. This gives me one more reason. I hope you don't have a test tomorrow, because I want to take you out for a night on the town." Amy waved to Karen. "You're invited too. If Daria calls you a friend in her letters, you must be worth knowing."

Daria replied, "No tests, I guess I can make it."

Karen said, "Thanks, I'd like that too. I have a Chem Twenty, Forty-Five test tomorrow, but it's just electron orbitals and configurations. I can get in a good review tomorrow morning before class, and ace it."

"Deal, both of you. I'll help you clean up so we can get out of here quicker. Dorm rooms still give me the creeps."

An hour later, Amy led the two, now dressed in warm clothing in anticipation of the overnight cold, toward a red Camry. Daria wore dark blue pants, a black sweatshirt and her grey jacket. Karen had on jeans, a brown sweater and heavy khaki jacket.

Daria looked at the car. "Not your usual style."

"The university travel rules limit us to certain types of rental cars. Best I could do without paying for it out of pocket."

Karen looked at the driver-side mirror in puzzlement, expecting a parking ticket; then noticed a removable parking pass in the window. "How did you get a Raft faculty parking permit?"

"I borrowed it from one of the Raft faculty attending the conference. Promised to have it back to him this evening, so I'll need to stop by the Hynes Convention Center on the way."

"Promise him anything else?"

"That's privileged information."

Amy seated herself to drive, Daria took shotgun, and Karen stretched out across the back seat.

Daria smiled. "Good thing we're not in your car, Amy. Be a little tight for space."

"Like I'm going to drive my car to Boston with what they pay us for mileage. Best way to the convention center?"

"Head over to I-93 South, go down to the Mass Pike, west to Massachusetts Avenue, exit, and then hit Boylston Street."

"Got it. Rather good for somebody without a car."

"Still need a map to walk around this town. I looked up the route while you were in the bathroom, before we left."

Amy exited the parking lot at a moderately excessive speed. Soon she was on the interstate.

Karen leaned over the seat. "So, what is this convention you're attending?"

Amy said over her shoulder, "Third Congress on Quantitative Approaches to Sociology."

"Okay, what do you do that makes this so interesting?"

"I'm an Associate Professor of Statistical Sociology at Tennyson University. Before you ask, I'm not one of the enemy; I have a one-hundred percent research appointment."

"Still, kind of cool. Somehow, I expect Daria to end up like that some day, professor by day; action/adventure writer by night."

"She's off to a good start. I'll have to pick up a copy to have Daria sign before I leave town. I think there's a Books by the Ton near the convention center."

Karen continued her interest. "Statistical Sociology, what is that?"

"We study human group behavior for statistical trends that might be of interest."

Karen looked at Daria. "Just call her Mari Seldon, Mother of Psychohistory."

Daria smirked at the pun on an Asimov character. "Come to think of it, there are times when I wonder if she has been more than observing the Barksdale family dynamic."

"Now, Daria. That would be unethical. Besides, it's too small of a sample size. However, I will admit that it had something to do with my career choice."

"Trying to figure out some way to control Mom and Rita?"

"Or at least to be able to predict the next detonation, so I could avoid the blast area."

All three laughed. Amy looked back briefly at Karen. "What do you do?"

"I'm a Pre-Vet major, and I shovel stuff at the Franklin Park Zoo."


"Yes, zoos generate a lot of it."

With traffic delays, they reached the convention center parking garage in about fifteen minutes. Amy pulled the Raft pass from her windshield and put up her garage-issued pass. She found a space and neatly parked.

"Probably be best to come in with me. It's usually not safe to hang around parking garages anywhere for too long."

Karen looked around uncomfortably at the garage. "You don't have to twist my arm. These places just seem nasty."

Daria locked and closed the door. "You're not getting me to hang around here, either. Might find something less appealing than Upchuck."

Amy pulled a nametag out of her purse that read:

Dr. Amy J. Barksdale
Statistical Sociology and
Anthropology Laboratory
Tennyson University

She pinned the tag to her sweater as they walked toward the doors. Soon they entered the convention center. People of myriad ages, shapes, sizes and forms filled the central atrium. A registration table was up front. Lines of conference rooms lined both sides of the atrium. Placards on easels stood in front of each door, showing a schedule of the day's presentations for that room.

Amy looked at the other two. "Just follow me; you'll look like any other grad students following around their professor."

Amy walked to the second door on the left. She looked at her watch, peeked inside for a couple seconds, and looked at the schedule.

"Count on Sid to keep things on time. I'm going to sneak in and drop this off with him, be back in about a minute or so."

Right on schedule, Amy reappeared at the door. "Okay, now let's go out and find some fun for tonight."

She placed an arm around each younger woman, and walked toward the parking garage. "Any interesting museums you want to show me?"

As the three passed the registration desk, a man in a brown suit coughed into his hand, but left his cuff lingering by his mouth for several seconds after. He began walking toward the parking garage.

A man in a blue suit raised his hand and pushed his glasses back against his forehead with his thumb, lingering for a second or two. He also began to walk toward the parking garage.

Daria looked at Amy. "You know, the Institute of Contemporary Art is just a couple blocks down the street from here. Probably get there quicker by walking, being as rush hour traffic has started. They're also open until nine on Thursdays."

Karen shrugged. "Not my usual style, but I haven't been there yet."

"Off we go then." Amy steered them away from the garage and toward the street exit.

Amy insisted in stopping by a newsstand near the museum. A couple minutes later, she handed Daria a copy of Literature in Action, along with a pen. "I want the first signed copy of one of your works. In fifty years, I'll sell it on WebBay and split the profit with you."

Daria smiled at Amy, who pushed the magazine and pen toward Daria again.

"You're serious."

"I want you to sign it."

Daria took the two and signed the article. "Happy now?"

Amy slid the magazine back into its bag. "Very."

All three started walking toward the museum again.

A minute later, the man in brown wandered into the newsstand, scanned around the stock, then thumbed through the four remaining issues of Literature in Action, set them down and exited. Moments later, the man in blue also looked through the magazines, before quietly exiting. Passing him in was a young man in blue jeans and a grey turtleneck sweater, with a small cassette player at his belt and earphones in place. The young man displayed a conference nametag:

Jason McClellan
Graduate Student

He unslung a black backpack, and set it at one end of the counter. He wandered back into the stand to pick up a copy of Literature in Action, along with Sports Illustrated and Time. He paid with crumpled bills from his front pocket. After dropping the change in the same pocket, he reslung the backpack, grabbed the bag with the magazines, and headed out toward the museum.

Just outside the museum, Karen tapped on Daria's shoulder. "Think your Mom would want a signed copy?"

Daria turned. "She preordered a dozen copies. I'm sure I'll be signing all of them when I get home next week."

"Has your Mom always been like that?"

Daria and Amy answered in unison, "Yes."

Karen turned and looked, raised a finger, and paused before speaking. "Please don't do that again. It's...chilling."

Daria and Amy innocently smiled.

Amy quickly scanned the front desk and slid a twenty to the attendant. "Three please." She turned back toward Daria and Karen. "My treat, Daria's birthday, no discussion."

Amy took her change and distributed tickets to all. "Let's see what kind of screwed up taste they have in Boston."

Three minutes later, the man in brown paid with the exact change and entered the museum. One minute later, the man in blue followed, also paying the exact amount. The young grad student came in next, scattering dropped change on the floor as he retrieved money from his pocket. Embarrassed, he gave the cashier a grin, accepted his ticket and picked up the change before entering.

The women wandered through the main exhibit hall. Some pieces were breathtaking; others left a lot to be desired.

Karen was listening to Amy, who was quietly animated. "When we got back to the reception, it looked like the aftermath of Sherman's March to the Sea, with Helen and Rita sitting on a step, crying, hugging and getting sloshed straight out of a bottle."

Karen grinned. "Sounds as bad as my Aunt Betty's wedding. Though the ATF agents looking for Great Uncle Rick's moonshine still did most of the damage. Talk about bad timing."

"Sounds like it."

"If you don't mind, you and Daria seem close, what happened that kept you away for so long?"

"About the time I started my doctorate, Helen landed a job with a law firm in Texas. Daria wasn't quite four then. I had little time or money to travel during my studies. I finished my degree, spent a couple years in adjunct hell, and landed this position. By the time I was tenured and had time to spend with family again, they'd moved to Lawndale and twelve years were gone."

Daria moved back toward them. "But she did make quite an entrance."

Amy smirked at Daria. "And listening to her tales of high school made my experience seem almost tolerable, except for one thing."

Karen asked, "What was that."

"Be glad you didn't go to high school during disco."

"That bad?"

"Staying Alive was the prom theme."

"Eww. Glad I missed it." Karen shuddered slightly.

"So am I. One advantage to being the nerdy brain with glasses, I was under no pressure to attend."

Karen shook her head and chuckled. "Ours was Wind Beneath My Wings; by the end, we were calling it Wind Between My Cheeks. Spent most of the night keeping my date's hands out of any and all openings in my dress."

"Glad I missed it," was the stereo response.

"Will you two stop doing that?"

The three women leisurely ambled around the museum, quietly talking and enjoying the atmosphere. The man in brown calmly moved to keep them in view while appearing to study various works. The blue suit watched the brown suit while also maintaining the illusion of interest in the art. The grad student looked around a while and appeared to get bored. He found a seat and started reading his magazines.

A little after seven, the three women exited the museum.

Karen said, "Why don't we hit that restaurant next door? I'm getting hungry, and don't feel like a long walk after that museum crawl."

"Sounds good." Daria and Amy smiled at each other after the shared response.

About half-way to the restaurant, Daria quietly said, "Amy, do you normally have guys following you around who talk into their cuff links?"

Concern flashed across Amy's eyes, and was quickly controlled. "What?"

"Behind and to the right. Brown suit. There is a guy in a blue suit by the museum exit."

Amy turned a little toward Daria, she noticed the brown suit.

Amy looked worried. "No, I don't normally have guys following me like that."

"Do you think that might have something to do with your work?"

"I...I don't see how. I study large group action responses to stimuli in confined areas. Such as concerts or sporting events."

"You mean you get the university to pay for you to go to these?"

"Well, it really comes out of my grant money, but basically, yeah."

"We'll have to talk about that later. So, why us?"

Karen asked, "What are you guys talking about?"

Daria said, "Two men in suits are following us from the museum. I saw one apparently speaking into a microphone set in his cuff."

"What? They think we lifted something?"

"I don't think they're security guards."

Amy nodded. "I don't, either. Though they don't seem to be real experts, if Daria spotted them that easily."

Karen rubbed her hands. "Don't be so sure, Daria seems to be very good at spotting things out of the ordinary."

Daria looked at Amy. "With the amount of time I had to deal with those two mutants in Highland, I learned to notice people or things that could potentially cause bodily injury."

"I still can't believe those two were real."

Karen leaned over toward Daria. "How does it feel to be in the middle of a spy story?"

"I think I prefer to write them. That way I have more control over what's going on."

They found the restaurant to be clean and well-lit. The distinctive architecture and décor made it clear the place was trying to attract museum patrons. The three found a table near the kitchen and sat down to read menus.

The brown suit entered, and took a small table, facing them. Soon after, the blue suit entered, positioning himself to watch both the brown suit and the women.

Daria whispered to Amy. "They followed us in. This is getting spooky."

"We need to find a way to call the police."

The young grad student bounded in, and made a straight line for their table. He plopped down in the remaining empty chair.

"Dr. Barksdale! Cool to meet you. I saw you leaving the museum and wanted to say hi."

He pulled his name tag forward. "I'm Jason McClellan. Just started grad school this year and found your paper yesterday to be really interesting."

While talking, he pulled a conference program from his pocket and flipped to the next day's schedule. He slid the program toward Amy.

"Are you going to be at that session tomorrow?"

Over the printed text was written:

My name is Special Agent Devon. I'm with the FBI. Please stay calm.

Amy gave him a tight smile. "Yes, I'll be there."

Daria raised both eyebrows; Karen's eyes opened wide, her hand shook slightly.

Devon pulled a menu from the table rack. "Cool. What do they have here to eat?" He pulled the menu up in front to read. He slightly nodded his head, as if to a musical beat.

Daria listened carefully, and heard Devon say, "I'm inside. All three are safe. Targets at five and eleven o'clock, relative to the entrance. Five more seated civilians, two at six o'clock and three at nine. Unknown number of staff. ETA for backups? Understood."

She looked closely at him. Hmm. Small bulge under turtleneck must be a neck mike. Already wearing earphones, hidden in plain sight.

Daria leaned over toward Devon and pointed at something on her menu. "Is there anything you can actually tell us about the two goons following us?"

He smiled at Daria. "It looked like you were the one that spotted them."

He lowered his menu and spoke in low tones so that all three women could just hear him. "Dr. Barksdale had the misfortune to walk into, and out of, the seminar room at the time a...courier was expected to make a pickup from somebody in the room. Those two mistook her for the courier, who actually made the transaction a couple minutes later. They work for...competing interests also desirous of the package, and followed her to find out to whom the package would be delivered."

Amy narrowed her eyes a little. "Why there?"

"Numerous rooms darkened for slide presentations and lots of people from different countries milling around with briefcases, tote bags, backpacks, or other means to carry objects. Nobody really checks tags or ID's. Good place to arrange a transfer."

Daria furrowed her brow. "You say they followed us from the convention center; why haven't they done anything?"

"They wouldn't try in the museum, too many security cameras and guards. Since there are three of you, they're probably waiting for help before attempting anything. Could be thinking that you are either going to split up to different directions to reduce the odds of any one being trailed, or assume you two young ladies are guards. With the odds three to one against, remember, they are assuming you are, um, professionals; simple self-preservation keeps them from doing anything. Plus, the other interested party may or not interfere. But, if they get help, the odds change. I'm hoping my backup gets here first, so we can get you three out safely."

Karen nervously said, "What if they get help first?"

"They want information; they will probably try to take all of us somewhere for questioning. They'll try to be as low-key as possible to avoid being noticed. If they search us, it'll probably mean a stop at a back alley somewhere when they find my ID and weapon."

A waitress approached the table. "Good evening. My name is Tammy. Our special tonight is roasted salmon steak with a crushed pineapple garnish over wild rice. Also served with a fresh vegetable medley. Would anybody care to order drinks?"

"Could we have a few minutes please?"

"Sure, take your time." The waitress turned and went to the man in brown.

Devon nodded his head slightly and said, "Five minutes, roger...two, two and one, got it. Thanks."

He rotated his gaze past all three. "Please listen. Our goal is to get you out of here without incident. My backup will be here in five minutes. Four men will come in, two will sit down between us and the man in brown, facing him, and two more will do the same for the man in blue. We will calmly exit as soon as they are in place. One more agent will be waiting outside."

Karen was still shaken. "What if they try something?"

"Not that likely. My men's presence will tell your followers that the authorities are involved and that we don't want them to do anything. Since the interests they work for prefer to keep things quiet, they will most likely stay put. Though you should never discount somebody going stupid. If they do, drop to the floor and get behind something. If nothing else, I'll work for cover."

Daria kicked Devon to get his attention. "Mr. Blue has some friends."

Three more large, suited men entered the restaurant and seated themselves at the table with the man in blue.

Devon watched the newcomers carefully. They talked a little among themselves and with the man in blue. The man in brown watched the new arrivals. He shook his head and silently left.

Devon was quietly speaking again. "Dammit. Target two has backup, three more at the same location. Target one has left the building."

"You three, calmly get up and go to the restroom. Act natural. Leave through the window."

Daria asked, "What if it doesn't have a window?"

"Either improvise a way out the back, or find a place to hide. Go."

"What about you?"

"I'll try to keep them entertained."

Amy, Daria, and Karen walked to the restroom, trying to look calm. They quickly spotted a small window on the far side of the restroom. Amy checked the window and opened the simple, slide-bolt lock. After a small tug, the sash rose freely.

Amy sighed in relief.

Daria leaned against the wall. "Good."

Karen looked at the window, down at herself, and back at the window. "You two can make it, but I won't fit through."

Daria rose off the wall. "What?"

Karen slapped her hips. "These are not going through that window."

Daria started to say something, but stopped. Karen was right.

Amy motioned to the other two. "Karen, hold Daria up so she can look outside. Daria, check for other windows that all three of us might get through."

Karen nodded and moved to the window, knitting her fingers together. She braced herself and Daria stepped onto Karen's hands. She looked out and pulled back in.

"There's a larger window to the left."

Karen made the mental map. "The men's room."

Daria hopped down and started moving toward the door. "A little embarrassment beats the alternative."

Amy followed. "If there are any occupants, they'll be behind a door, or have their backs to us."

Karen jogged behind. "I hope it's not as nasty as the one at my old high school."

Daria cracked the women's room door open and peeked out. She opened it and motioned for the other two to follow. She pushed straight into the men's room and directly to the window. It was almost twice the size. She opened the window and looked outside, then crawled through. Amy stopped at the window and pushed Karen through next, then carefully crawled through, trying to keep her long skirt from getting caught on anything.

An accented, possibly eastern European, male voice spoke, startling all three women.

"What an odd way to exit a nice restaurant."

They turned and found the man in the brown suit standing next to a dumpster. He held one hand inside his coat; the other was pressed to his ear. Suddenly, he stiffened.

A women's voice came from behind him. "Those two points you feel on your butt belong to a taser. I'm sure I won't miss at this range. If I use this on you, sitting down is probably going to be very difficult. Plus, I've heard that strong electrical shocks in the pelvic region can cause a loss of bladder and bowel control. Something to think about."

The man nodded.

A hand reached out from behind the man, motioning the three women to move that way, behind him. They carefully walked the indicated direction. Behind the man was a red-headed woman in a black power suit, similar to the one commonly worn by Daria's mother, holding a taser to the man's right butt cheek.

"Now, leave the alley, and nothing else will happen."

The man walked forward without a word, and without looking back. He turned the corner and was out of sight.

The woman extended a hand. "Agent Simpson. Glad to see you're okay."

Amy was concerned. "What about inside? Is Devon alright?"

"The rest of the backup went in and had a little staring match. Your admirers backed down and made a polite exit. Nice display of testosterone though."

Simpson adjusted her headset. "All three are safe. Target one convinced to be somewhere else. Coming around."

Karen moved next to Simpson. "Was that true, about the taser charge causing those...side effects?"

Simpson laughed. "Hell if I know; I made it up on the spot to scare him. Seemed to work."

Agent Simpson started walking toward the front of the building. Amy, Daria and Karen slowly followed, each looking dazed.

Just before they reached the front of the block, Devon came around the corner.

"Thank heaven."

Simpson said to him, "Three cool-headed people here."

Karen slumped against the wall. "I think I was too scared to do anything else."

Devon rested a hand on her shoulder. "Any sane person would be scared, but you three kept your wits about you. A lot to be said about that."

He took out a notepad. "I need a little information for my report. Do you two young ladies have names?"

Amy pointed to Daria. "My niece, Daria Morgendorffer, she's a freshman at Raft." She pointed to Karen. "Karen Myerson, also a Raft freshman. The two are roommates."

Devon raised an eyebrow. "Daria Morgendorffer? Where have I..."

He reached into his backpack and retrieved the magazine bag. He pulled the Literature in Action issue out and reread the cover.


"Yes. How did you...?"

"I was curious about the magazine you two fussed over outside the newsstand."

You saw that?"

"Yes. I followed everyone from the convention center."

Daria dropped her head into her hand. "Was anybody else following us?"

"Not that I'm aware of. By the way, I liked your story."

"Um. Thanks."

Amy poked Devon in the arm lightly with her finger. "Any chance of me finding out what was really going on here?"


"That's it?"

He nodded. "Sorry."

"All three of us get scared witless, and you can't even give us a hint of what was going on?"


Daria spoke up. "In other words, there's enough embarrassment here for all parties involved to want to keep things quiet."


Devon shook hands with all three. "I am sincerely glad you are unharmed. I apologize for you getting caught up in this. I also want to thank you for keeping your heads, and making my job a lot easier. I hate to seem so abrupt, but we need to get going. Filling out the reports on this is going to take half the night."

He turned and walked to a nearby, dark grey sedan. Simpson waited by the driver's door. They entered and drove away without a further word.

Karen slid down onto the cold pavement.

"I could use a shot of Great Uncle Rick's moonshine about now."

Daria leaned against the wall next to her.

Amy kicked at the pavement. "Guess I'm going to have a hard time topping that for the evening's entertainment."

Daria softly snorted. Karen looked up and shook her head; a soft smile formed.

Daria looked at the museum. "I think I'll skip that place for a while; this has been a little surreal, even by my standards."

Amy reached down and lightly grasped Karen's arm and pulled her up. She put an arm around each younger woman.

"Cheese fries."

Daria looked at her. "You're buying; it's still my birthday."

Karen also looked at Amy. "Sounds good to me."

Amy pulled the two forward. "Deal."

The door to Daria and Karen's room opened and the three women stepped in.

Amy looked at Daria. "Are you sure that the parking restrictions are off this late?"

"Pretty sure. What are they going to do to you, withhold your grades?"

Amy laughed.

Karen yawned and gathered up a blue nightgown and her toilet kit. "It was...very interesting to meet you, Amy. I can see why Daria thinks so much of you. If you don't mind, I'm getting ready for bed. Still haven't shaken a lifetime of farmer hours. Good night."

"Good night, Karen. Happy to have met you. Hopefully, next time will be less stressful."

Karen smiled and exited the room.

Daria and Amy sat on Daria's bed. Daria hugged her aunt. "Thanks for stopping by on my birthday. Certainly know how to show a girl a good time."

Amy smirked. "You wouldn't believe how hard it was to set all that up."

Daria smirked.

"Daria, tell your Mom and Dad I said hello when you see them next week for Thanksgiving. Also, tell Helen that I'm still jealous of her."

Daria pulled her head back. "Jealous of Mom?"

"Yes. Rita got, well, almost anything she wanted from our mother. I managed to coax a lot of my grad school tuition out of her. After Helen and Jake graduated from Middleton, they were on their own. Paid for their wedding, paid for Helen's law degree. Of the three of us, Helen got the least from Mom and ended up with the most."

"What do you mean?"

"You, Quinn, and Jake."


Amy stood and walked to the door. "I need to get going, too. Despite everything, I hope you had a happy birthday. Good night."

"Goodnight, Amy. Thank you."

Daria sat in thought for a couple minutes. She picked up the phone and entered her voicemail code. A mechanical voice answered: "You have three messages."

Daria entered the code to retrieve.

"Hey, Daria. It's Jane. I'll call back in a bit."

"Daria, Jane again. Guess I better give you a little more time."

"Daria, I'm trying to wish you happy birthday, dammit. What did you do, get kidnapped by the KGB or something? I'll try again tomorrow."

Daria hung up the phone, and raised one eyebrow.

Thanks to Ranger Thorne for the idea that got me thinking about Amy Barksdale as a professor.

Thanks for the comments and suggestions from Roger E. Moore, Mike Nassour, Kristen Bealer, Ranger Thorne, Isa Yo-Jo, sleepless, Steven Galloway, Decelaraptor, MrMagnum, Lawndale Stalker, and Between_the_Lines at PPMB.

Thanks to Kristen Bealer and Robert Nowall for beta reading.

July 2004
Revised February 2005