This is a continuation of my previous fic, “A Chain Reaction Begins”. In it, the Ruttheimer line gets cut-off, we see how Linda Griffin and Amy Barksdale met, and Sandi Griffins confers in her fellow Fashion Club members about her family legend. Part one of two.
Daria (and associated characters and locations) is copyright © 1997-2000 MTV Networks.
This story is copyright © 2002 by Bacner () and has been written for personal enjoyment. No infringement of the above rights is intended.
(More) Trouble on Tuesday
“So let us review what has happened yesterday,” Daria Morgendorffer was talking to her friend, Jane Lane. “Upchuck and his dad are dead-er than a doornail-“
“-while Jodie has firmly turned her back on her past,” Jane added.
“Hey guys, what are you talking about?” Jodie Landon joined the other two girls.
“We're saying how you firmly refusing to return to the working force of Lawndale High,” Jane explained.
“Yes. Exactly,” Jodie replied curtly.
“But don’t you miss it?” Daria asked. “I mean, you were considered somebody important back then…”
“Why do you care?” Jodie curiously looked at the bespectacled girl.
“My mom is a workaholic, like you, so just imagine I’m asking on her behalf,” Daria replied.
“Okay. See Daria, some people just have to be active all the time, they just have to be.”
“But back then you had power – don't you miss it?” Jane suddenly interrupted.
The other two girls looked at her. “Did you by a chance saw the new movie ‘Lord of the Ring’?” Jodie asked, and continued to explain. “See Jane, there are differences between wanting power, getting power, and keeping power. People all too often confuse the three or think that they’re one. But they’re not. They’re three different things.”
“So which one are you?”
“None, I suppose. Dad drove me pretty hard to follow in his footsteps-“
“And your mom doesn’t?” Daria asked quietly.
Jodie stiffened. “Mom is cool. She doesn't drive me to become a businesswoman as dad drove me to become a politician.”
“Hmm,” Daria said. “Speaking of your mom, who are her friends? We saw them in the crowd yesterday.”
“Speaking of yesterday, who would do such a thing? I mean, go to jail ‘cause of Upchuck? Ew!” Jodie said, firmly changing the conversation’s track.
“Anyways,” Daria continued, ignoring the shift in the conversation, “according to Quinn, Sandi Griffin recognized your mom’s friend – the female one – as her aunt Vicki.”
“Don't be ridiculous! That woman’s name isn’t Vicki.”
“Names can be changed,” Jane pointed-out softly, “while Mrs. Griffin gave that woman such a look that is reserved only for unwanted family members. Quinn affirmed that, and Quinn knows such matters.”
“Our argument is pointless,” Jodie shook her head. “If we’re so smart, we should be thinking about who killed the Ruttheimers instead of arguing about the Griffins’ family situation, no?”
Daria gave Jane a thoughtful look. The situation in the Landon house became all more worrying to her.
Angela Li sat in her office, thinking: was it necessary to get Tiffany Blum-Deckler involved in this whole arrangement? From a humane point of view – no. Tiffany Blum-Deckler wasn't involved in any way in this. The problem was that Ms. Li never dwelt on the humane point of view when her interests were involved or aroused, as now. Tiffany Blum-Deckler had potential, and had agreed to volunteer for the mission – and she shall succeed.
At that last thought chills raced through Angela Li’s body. “Calm down,” she told herself firmly. “This isn't Texas, and you’re just a high school principal now in a small town. Nothing dangerous can happen here.”
Did Charles Ruttheimer Jr. think so too?
Angela Li shook her head again. It didn’t matter any more, and Tiffany Blum-Deckler would probably come to the same conclusion as Angela Li did: Angela Li stuck Tiffany Blum-Deckler into a hot spot.
Angela Li sighed. “This better work-out,” she muttered, “or I’m as good as gone.”
“Oh, hey Trent. Awake now?”
“Uh-huh. Say Penny, what was that commotion yesterday? It almost woke us up.”
Penny gave her younger brother an incredulous look. “You mean you still don't know? Brother dear, two corpses were drugged out of the river back then!”
“Whoa! Who were they?”
“Charles Ruttheimer Jr. and his son, it seems.”
“Do I know them?”
“The boy was that obnoxious red-haired shrimp who hit-on on every female he saw.”
“Oh yeah, him. Who would kill him and his dad?”
“That’s why the police are busy investigating!” Penny snapped. “Trent, try to wake-up before the sunset for once? It’s more natural.”
“Cool, sis. Where’s Janey?”
“At school, Trent!”
“Oh. Cool.” And Trent re-started snoring. Penny made a face. Trent was such a, such a-
There was a knock on the door. “Come in,” Penny called-out.
A black-haired girl of about Trent’s age came inside and saw Penny. “Who are you?” she asked, rather angrily.
“Brother of that over there,” Penny jabbed her finger at Trent. “Who are you?”
“I'm his girlfriend,” the girl replied. “My name is Monique. And isn't his sister younger than he with black hair?”
“That’s another sister,” Penny explained, “Trent has three sisters – two of which are me and Jane – and an older brother too.”
“What-ever,” the girl said, sitting down on a chair as well. “Is there anything in the fridge?”
“Not that I’m aware off, no,” Penny shrugged. “What’s your name, anyways?”
“I'm Monique. One of the Harpies.”
“Say what?” Penny gave the girl a sharp look.
“The Harpies. It’s our music band.”
“Oh, another musician? Like our Trent?”
“Well, yeah. I just don’t sleep so much.”
“Nobody sleeps as much as Trent, I reckon,” Penny replied. “So why are you here, Monique-of-the-Harpies?”
“Ha-ha, very funny,” Monique gave the other girl a dry look. “I just came over to ask Trent if he knows anything about that happened yesterday.”
“He doesn’t,” Penny assured her. “Trent never awoke yesterday.”
“Just like him,” Monique grimaced. “Say – Penny, right?”
“Do you know anything about yesterday’s news?”
Monique suddenly sat down next to Penny, looking her straight in the face.
Penny involuntarily shuddered. The whole bloody myth of Harpies reminded her of one of her own misadventures in South America, this one in the Brazil, when she was collecting wild birds’ feathers, and stumbled onto the nest of the harpy eagles. The memories and the momento of that encounter laid deep psychological scars in Penny’s mind. And now, under the close scrutiny of the Goth girl Monique, those scars began to throb. “Say girl,” Penny re-took all of her self-control in a firm grasp, “why is the sudden concern in the Ruttheimers’ death? You wouldn’t happen to know something out of ordinary, now would you?”
The girl exhaled and moved-away out of Penny’s face. “You don’t understand!” she exclaimed. “See, I live on the other side of the Dega street.”
“I know where that is,” Penny replied carefully. “Is Axl still running that piercing parlour?”
“Yeah, but it’s not the point!” Monique shook her head. “See, if a town-wide investigation begins, it’ll be us-“
“Don't be ridiculous,” Penny argued. “What would Ruttheimers be doing beyond Dega street?”
“Yeah. Father and son. The murder victims.”
“Oh, so that’s who has died,” Monique spoke to herself.
Penny, meanwhile, was still looking at Monique, and finally reached some internal decision. “Say, Monique, would you perhaps know a Goth girl called Andrea Hecuba?”
Monique stiffened slightly, and tried to look once again into Penny’s face. But Penny was prepared, and wasn’t planning to establish any direct eye contact any time soon. “Well?” she asked, avoiding Monique’s direct gaze.
“Never heard of her,” Monique finally replied. “Why do you ask?”
“Both of you are Goths?”
“This doesn't solve anything,” Monique shrugged. “Well, I must be off.”
“Not so fast!” Penny quickly stood before Monique. “Now tell me – do you know anything particular about yesterday’s news?”
“No,” Monique replied firmly.
“You know something?” Penny draped an arm over Monique’s shoulders. “I think you and I will have another talk some other time, you know?”
“Maybe,” Monique replied, before slinking out of the door, closing it firmly after herself. Penny waited five minutes and opened the door. No one stood there or walked down the street. ‘Course, a vehicle would’ve carried anyone away from Casa Lane quicker than that, but Penny never heard no engine-starting noise… “Interesting going-ons are happening here in Lawndale,” Penny spoke to herself. “Very interesting.” She firmly closed the door.
“Gentlemen,” Sophia Hakiojopoulos turned her attention to Aaron and Hassan. “Our objective: the friends of late Mr. Ruttheimer. Any original info?”
“Ruttheimer was in a lawsuit with Alex Nicholson over a question of land,” Aaron Guthan told his superiour. “All, however, was quite civil, since both men were rich enough to fight their battle legal-style. Thus the police and private investigators hired by the current law firm (it’s quite upset over the loss of a client) are preferring the theory of one of the Ruttheimers hitting on a wrong kind of a girl.”
“Rakes, were they?” Sophia squinted one eye, thinking. “So they hired girls or what?”
“Nobody knows,” Aaron said. “The Ruttheimers were smart enough to keep their private lives private.”
“In fact, their lives seem to be so private, that was several days till their deaths became common news!” Hassan chuckled.
Sophia and Aaron glared at him. “Hassan, the Caucasian race prefers to talk about death in sombre and mournful tones,” Aaron said.
Hassan didn't look chastened. “So what? The Caucasian race prefers to talk about death in sombre and mournful tones, but people here in Lawndale say about Ruttheimers death at best with ‘good riddance’! I believe that if Ruttheimers were poorer, their deaths would be much more obscure.”
“From where did the Ruttheimers’ money come?” Sophia asked, curiously.
At that point Michelle Landon joined the conversation. “Ruttheimers were involved in shipping pet food and accessories to Ohio,” she said. “I know that because once I and Andrew run into late Ruttheimer Jr. in a business summit in Chicago.”
“Thank you, Michelle,” Sophia nodded thoughtfully. “Ohio, eh?”
“Yes. Company offices in Marietta and Steubenville,” Michelle nodded, as well as here, in Pittsfield, and in Gloucester.”
“Right,” Sophia looked very thoughtful now. “I guess this does sanctify a federal investigation, yes. Is there any place I can find-out a bit more about Ruttheimers?”
“Mrs. Petersen’s,” Michelle replied primly. “The gossip of all Lawndale’s upper crust gathers there.”
“Then to Mrs. Petersen’s I shall go,” Sophia said thoughtfully.
“Keep in mind,” Aaron spoke-up, “that she is having some sort of trouble, right? Something about her dogs?”
“Oh yeah,” Michelle nodded. “She has some special-type bulldogs – white of skin and ugly of muzzle. The two older ones got poisoned, and the oldest one died. Therefore, prepare to hear a lot of anti-anti-dog indignation if you’ll go there.”
“Don't worry,” Sophia smiled. “I'll brave it.”
Tiffany Blum-Deckler was thoughtful, as it was customary for her. Her school-friends in Fashion Club thought that she was in Minnesota on a business trip with her parents, while her parents thought that she was safely at home in Lawndale. Over all, the ends of the knot were nicely tied – too bad that the knot was wrapped around Tiffany’s neck, so to speak.
Tiffany’s assignment was clear-cut – to everybody. Find out anything leading to the Ruttheimers’ death – or at least the possible suspects.
And the suspects were scarce. The only one who had any official reason was Mr. Nicholson, and everyone thought that it was pretty dubious that he would cut-off Ruttheimers’ heads. However, there the Ruttheimers were – completely headless. Personally, Tiffany doubted that she or anyone else would ever be able to find-out who did this. People, Tiffany suspected, vanished often enough in Lawndale, especially on the other side of Dega street; after all, Lawndale wasn’t exactly a tiny hamlet or a pilgrim settlement, where everybody knew everybody. The murder’s mistake – or miscalculation – was that enough people knew Ruttheimers to make the recognition of them possible. Or was that so?
Suddenly Tiffany had an idea. They didn't occur too often in her life so far, but then her life wasn’t quite two decades long at this point. Still, Tiffany was being in a precarious place here, so she kept quiet, and just listened to what was going-on around her…
For a start there was the old Mrs. Petersen. Her husband has died in the Vietnam War, and that made Tiffany decide to keep out of Mrs. Petersen’s somewhat scrupulous gaze. Mrs. Petersen’s only daughter, Nadine, married a military man from College Park, Georgia… and one day went to see Fort Pulaski National Monument… but never returned. The desolate and rather Othello-like husband, feeling totally lost and humiliated, took a vacation break to Savannah and committed suicide. The case was closed since nothing was found of Nadine Joneston ever again. However, something was left to Mrs. Petersen to remind her of her daughter: two grandkids: Peter and Nina.
When Tiffany saw the Mr. and Miss Joneston, she was surprised. It was obvious that the late husband of vanished Nadine used to be more Othello-like than just in the behaviour – he was at least part-black. And so were his kids – Peter, for example, received the prominent lips and nose of an Afro-American, while Nina was Afro-American, but several shades lighter than Landons or Mackenzies – the Afro-Americans that Tiffany knew.
However, these were the cases outside – inside was another story. Personality-wise, the two Jonestons were like their mother – according to their grandmother: flighty and irresponsible. And very, very unfriendly towards each other. Tiffany privately thought that Miss Joneston, in particular, reminded her of Sandi Griffin on a bad day. Or rather – a cross between Sandi Griffin and Jodie Landon with their negative sides amplified. Not a nice combination.
Tiffany then shifted her thoughts towards other prominent people around here. One was Mrs. Petersen’s butler and major-domo, Mr. Arnolds. Basically, he ran the whole estate, and was the most important person outside the ‘ruling family’. That, Tiffany suspected, could be but a temporary hurdle, if Mrs. Petersen got her way and made her granddaughter marry Mr. Arnolds. That, Tiffany thought, wasn't the worst version.
And there were others. One was Mr. Podgio, a friend of Arnolds’. He came from his home in Exeter, New Hampshire, to visit his old friend Lawrence Arnolds, and was staying here for quite a long time.
And then there was Alexander Nicholson, the only official suspect in Ruttheimers’ double-murders. He was not above courting Miss Joneston herself. The problem was, however, that Mr. Nicholson was a Catholic – not a very good thing in the rather Protestant Massachusetts. And his attitude downright clashed with Nadine’s.
Overall, this was enough for a first report to Ms. Li, but then Tiffany decided to add about the bulldogs. There wasn't much. Two older bulldogs got sick after eating soup, and the veterinary was barely able to save one, the more younger one. The old one died. Mrs. Petersen is very upset because of it. That is all.
Tiffany Blum-Deckler looked pleased, and went to send the letter to Ms. Li. Little did she know, that she would have to send another letter to Ms. Li at this same day, at sunset…
Ms. Li turned away from Tiffany’s e-mail report. “Things are starting to move away from the anchoring point. This is something at least.”
“And again, there’s a woman involved,” Amy Barksdale commented.
“Well, yes. Ruttheimer Jr. was divorced and probably knew that Miss Joneston was eligible and single. Couldn't he try and press his suit? After all, he could top that Podgio character at least.”
Ms. Li pinched her nose. “Not bloody likely. I have a distinct impression that old Mrs. Petersen pretty much runs the things in her household, and it is extremely unlike that any woman would associate with either Ruttheimer, who sends pet food and accessories to Ohio.”
“True, but this is Lawndale, not Gloucester or Boston.”
“And not even Salem or Exeter in New Hampshire, yes. But Mrs. Petersen still has enough riches and health to chose her granddaughter’s husband, whoever it’ll be.”
“Well yes, Ms. Li, but don’t you see a possibility of a tendency here?” Amy Barksdale argued her theory. “According to Helen’s information, Nicholson and Ruttheimer Jr. already were warring about land – couldn't woman problems just aggravated this competition?”
Ms. Li felt silent for a long time. Finally, she spoke. “It’s a very interesting point you rose there, Miss Barksdale.”
“On one side, neither conflict on its’ own – the land argument, the possible competition over Miss Joneston – can be considered dangerous, especially for such rich Lawndale men as Ruttheimer Jr. and Nicholson. But on the other hand… neither of the men had ordinary sexual lives. Ruttheimer Jr., as you have learned by now, was a rake and a letch, caring only about sex when it came to women. And Nicholson, at twenty, married a woman who was in early forties – a calculative marriage, you might say. And there was a catch – Mrs. Nicholson died some time after, a food poisoning. A cook was fired and was never seen in Lawndale again. Thus there’s a bad precedent. Still, nothing can be proven at this point. And-“
“We're at disadvantage. See, Sophia Hakiojopoulous – or Vicki Vanelk – has one more advantage over us.”
“Friendship of Michelle Landon.”
“And how’s that an advantage?”
“Michelle Landon is the sister of Nadine Joneston’s late husband,” Ms. Li spoke gravely. “She’s Peter and Nina’s aunt.”
“So you’re Peter and Nina’s aunt?” Sophia Hakiojopoulous raised an inquiring eyebrow.
“Yes,” nodded Michelle Landon. “I never associated with Jonestons and their grandmother since Steven died…but since it is unlikely that they and I are going to be chatting all day long while you trowel with your nose the traces of foul play, I’m willing to introduce you to them.”
“What a nice image, Michelle,” Sophia snorted. “Who, or what, do you think I am to trowel with my nose? A wild boar? A collared peccary? A pygmy razorback?”
Michelle Landon didn't catch the bait. “So what are you going to do there, Sophia?”
“Investigate what, Sophia? Kindly remember that you’re here on my request – and should be solving my problems.”
“Had I ever let you down, Michelle?”
“The thing is – no. However, don't you think you’re getting old for all of your grand combinations?”
“Michelle, do I feel or look old?”
“I meant mentally.”
“Now I'm insulted. I’m not senile.”
Michelle Landon sighed. “Just forget it. I'll comply with your request, but don't expect me to jump through the hoops – I’m not on your payroll.”
Linda Griffin sat in her office, gnashing her teeth. “Bloody Vicki! I will not let her involve my business manager – and my business – in her scams! I won’t. But first-“
Her phone rang. “What?” she snapped into the receiver.
It was her secretary. “Mrs. Griffin? A Miss Dupri here to see you.”
“Miss Dupri? Send her in.” Linda put down the receiver, thoughtfully. “Wonder what news she brings.”
A short time later the doors to Linda’s office opened and in came a girl dressed in a typical Dega-street fashion. Compared to ‘Gorgün’s’ business-type clothing, it looked odd, to say the least.
“What news do you bring me, Miss Dupri?” Linda Griffin asked curtly her ally.
“We need to talk,” the girl replied, sitting down in an office chair. Linda Griffin grew silent. “Mrs. Griffin, what is going-on around here? Something strong and cruel came to Lawndale.”
“My sister, by all probabilities,” Linda Griffin said calmer than she thought she could.
“Yes. The Federal Bureau’s investigator.”
The girl’s gaze suddenly flared. “Linda Griffin. When you came to Lawndale, you showed no signs other than some knowledge about… the odd going-ons in this world. But your sister – she’s much more.”
“So she is,” Linda Griffin agreed, each word dropping like a boulder from her lips. “Look, Monique Dupri, you and yours are still going to co-operate or not? If this is re-establishing our relationship, let’s firstly answer this question.”
The two gazes met like a pair of sabres, and it was Monique who drew her gaze away. “You have some of the old blood yourself,” she accused Linda Griffin, but without the old vehemence.
“All I have to prove it, is an old family tale that I’m preferring to forget,” Linda Griffin shook her head. “Anyways, the reason for your visit was?”
“There’s a little chick, Andrea Hecuba, who may be raising trouble for us.”
“And you want her neck twisted?”
“Possibly her arm… Sometime in the future…”
“Noted. So what’s the news?”
“Jethro states that the bodies were killed by a human. Your sister isn't the one who did that deed.”
“I thought so. And there is something that bothers you, besides that Andrea Hecuba. What is it?”
“Do you know of a young woman called Penny Lane?”
“Yes, I have heard of her,” Linda said quietly and rather coolly for her.
“What can you tell us of her?”
“She has travelled the world – parts of it. Third world countries. And she might have gained genuine knowledge or simply learned about the existence of… odd going-ons, as we call it. Basically, it’s your choice how you’ll deal with her – though I don't see what you have to fear since the pair was slain by a human’s hand.”
“You're too kind, Mrs. Griffin,” Monique Dupri replied, and left.
“Good morning, Mrs. Petersen.”
“Please, Michelle. You know you’re no stranger to me. Your brother Steven had been a very good husband to my girl – too bad that she treated him so badly.”
Michelle raised an eyebrow in surprise. “Somehow I understood that a drowning was involved in Nadine’s disappearance?”
Mrs. Petersen just sighed. “Sadly, I doubt it. I know my girl, and she was never the best of women. But it’s all in the past, and we must talk of the present. Why are you here and who is your friend?”
Michelle didn't bat an eye. “My friend works for the Federal Bureau. She came here because of the Monday’s mess.”
Mrs. Petersen was surprised. “Surely she doesn’t think-“
“Well, Mr. Ruttheimer and Mr. Nicholson did have a falling-out lately.”
“Come now, Michelle, Alex Nicholson and Charley Ruttheimer were pretty friendly towards each other. I can't believe that a bit of a friendly argument got so extreme!”
“Well, I don't know much about Mr. Nicholson, but Mr. Ruttheimer Jr. was a bit of a trial on occasions.”
“That he was, that he was… But all of his problems came from the fact that he couldn't find a right woman for himself.”
“Speaking of finding a right women,” Michelle said thoughtfully, “how your grandson doing in that area?”
“Neither of my children are doing too good,” Mrs. Petersen exclaimed. “Peter, for example, I had to withdraw from Boston college because of his silly romance with a female musician!”
“Oh?” Michelle grew genuinely interesting. “How that happened?”
“Oh, it’s just a trait of his uncle on his father’s side, you know? His uncle in the military, a general.”
“Then why Peter a civilian?”
“Because I do not trust a man in a uniform! No woman should, too! Even my Collin could be such a, such a-“
“Hound-dog?” Michelle suggested neutrally.
“Exactly! And his brother, William, is worse! All those ballet dancers and singers! I did not want my grandson to fall under his grand-uncle’s influence. Nothing good would come out of it for all involved! And even so, as a civilian, Peter still almost managed to land himself in trouble…”
“And his sister?”
“Nina? Worse than her brother. Peter, at least, behaves well
when he is in the view,” Mrs. Petersen said. “But Nina – she’s hoity-toity, she has to be the princess of the world, or else!”
“I thought you could talk anyone into behaving sensibly,” Michelle Landon commented.
“Dear, you’re a mother?”
“Yes. Two girls and a baby boy.”
“Aw, how nice! Your husband must be proud.”
“Last time we talked about this, he was.”
“Well, dear, how old are your daughters?”
“Jodie is almost out of school; Rachel soon will enter Lawndale High,” Michelle said.
“Dear, when your daughters are Nina’s age, you’ll understand that those hormones can’t be controlled. At all. By anyone.”
“So you say, Mrs. Petersen, so you say.”
While this was going-on upstairs, Sophia Hakiojopoulos, her hands untied by Michelle’s actions, was snooping through the rest of the house. And her search wasn’t in vain.
For a start, Sophia went through the corridor, just learning the general layout of the building. And there she heard a conversation.
“So you’re the new maid?”
“Yes, Mr. Joneston.”
“A nice girl you are.”
“Yes, Mr. Joneston.”
“Not very talkative, are you?”
“No, Mr. Joneston.”
“You can speak, I won't bite.”
“I guess, Mr. Joneston.”
“Don't ‘Mr. Joneston’ me, please. Call me Peter.”
“Yes. My grandmother – she’s somewhat old fashioned, you know? All those different society circles and such – they’re so nineteen century, you know?”
“I guess, Mr. Joneston. Now if you excuse me, I have to go to the kitchen to tell the cook what your grandmother wants for dinner.”
“Come now, what’s the hurry?” Peter Joneston’s voice changed slightly. “We’ve just met, and you’re already leaving?”
Sophia frowned. Her well-trained hearing recognized the new subtle difference in Peter’s voice as a danger sign. The girl didn't have Sophia’s experience, but she probably knew things about Peter Joneston beforehand, for her reply was worried: “Sir, I must go.”
“Now-now, what’s the rush?”
“Excuse me,” Sophia decided to interfere. “What’s going-on here?”
“Nothing,” the girl said and fled. Peter glared at Sophia.
“What do you want?”
“I'm looking for Mr. Nicholson,” Sophia said.
“I have no idea where he is,” Peter snarled and stalked-off, looking angry.
Sophia shrugged and continued her search.
However, Sophia wasn't too good in orientation, and so, accidentally, she stumbled into the ‘back-yard’ of Mrs. Petersen’s mansion instead. Well, the term ‘back-yard’ was an understatement; this was really more of a small, private park, quite overgrown with trees and shrubs. Apparently, Mrs. Petersen really liked to see wild nature.
Come to think of it, so did Sophia. But Sophia’s idea of a perfect wild spot was more of a steppe, or even a semi-desert landscape – not of a forest.
Still, Sophia quite appreciated the tastes of Mrs. Petersen, and decided to explore it. She quietly began to walk through the forest, looking around, listening.
Again, she wasn't to be disappointed. Sophia suddenly heard voices, and went to investigate. And so, she found Arnolds and Podgio, involved in a deep, rather fiery, argument.
“This is impossible, this is unacceptable, and I hate you!” Arnolds was snarling at his so-called friend, poking him into the chest. “You and your bloody high airs about photography – it all went to her head!”
“Shut-up!” Podgio yelled back. “Ye, it is true – or was once. She did once want to be an actress and go with me to Concord, but not anymore! Can't you understand, dolt – we’ve both been honourarily re-tired!”
“Not on your life!”
And the talk disintegrated into mere physical fighting. Sophia didn’t stick around, but turned and left, searching for an exit from the ‘park’.
However, Sophia’s wanderings weren’t over yet. Her lack of knowledge of the grounds’ lay-out now brought her into the mansion’s library. And again – an argument was unfolding there.
“Look, Nina, let us speak candidly,” a rumbling masculine voice was saying. “I like you, and more than willing to make you my wife.”
“Don't be ridiculous!”
“Don't you be ridiculous! I've got plans, ambitions. My company has finally gained entrances to both overseas and into America’s innards. Thus, I soon will become rich to be acknowledged in the nation – not just in the state, and you, mayhaps, will benefit from it too. My word is solid. Think on it.”
Sophia barely had time to turn away to the book-shelves, when a big, robust man – with some Nordic blood, if she was any judge – stride past her and out of the library. Before Sophia could also leave, a pretty, Afro-American girl also came past her, running. She was visibly upset, and mumbled something like “no, never!”
Sophia shook her head. The personal lives of Mrs. Petersen’s household seemed to be more complicated than asps in a crumpled nest.
“…and so, I feel safe to say, that if anything was going-on in Mrs. Petersen’s house that got Upchuck and his father killed, it was most likely because of Miss Joneston,” Tiffany’s next e-mail said. “That girl gets more attention than Quinn Morgendorffer! She has no lack of suitors, eager to make her theirs, and she’s got a brother, who’s like a beefed-up Upchuck, ick. In short, while Mr. Ruttheimer Jr. would probably perfectly fit in here, there’s also a very strong possibility that he had lost his head because of her. The possible suspects are Arnolds, Podgio, Nicholson, Nina’s brother Peter, and possibly somebody else whom I didn’t meet. Tiffany out.”
“Interesting,” said Ms. Li, as she read-off the e-mail message on her computer. “All goes as expected.”
“What were you expecting?” Amy Barksdale asked the older woman with curiosity.
“That behind this respectable façade of a rich manour lay morals of canned spiders,” Angela Li replied grimly.
“Ow come on, it’s not that bad!” Amy protested. “And besides, how can you know that?”
The older woman gave Amy a piercing look from behind her glasses. “I too once had a chance to become somebody important, you know?”
“Like Linda Griffin?”
“Did her sister – or that Sophia woman – cut both of you off?”
“For one thing, the two you’ve mentioned are one and the same, and for another – I do not like being compared to Linda Griffin. ‘Course, you know…” her voice trailed-off.
“Your secret’s safe with me,” Amy hurried to assure her.
“Then turn-off that pocket microphone in your purse,” Angela Li suggested.
Amy grinned her best disarming smile. “Oops. Force of habit.” She turned the microphone off.
“Undoubtedly,” Ms. Li agreed with her wryly. “Anyways, this is what I once looked like. She produced a photo of herself, some years younger. Back then, Ms. Li didn't wear glasses, tended to flash teeth a lot, and-
“Your hair style – it resembles that Jane Lane girl’s,” Amy pointed-out.
“Hmm?” Angela re-looked at her photograph. “So I did, so I did. But think nought of it: Jane’s hair-style changed recently too – here’s what she looked like once.”
“Yikes! All bald with just a topknot on top! What was she thinking?”
Angela Li shrugged. “All Lanes wanted to stand on their own, to be their own people. Consequently, it showed in their attitudes.”
“You disapprove of them, it looks like?”
“Yes, I do. All people have their places in life, and they should aspire to reach them, causing minimal friction as they get there.”
“Ow, come on! We're people, not cogs in a computer!”
Ms. Li emitted another sarcastic look. “How trusting you are in a computer – Amy?”
“Reasonably well, I suppose.”
“Then did you go under Y2K craze?”
“No, not really.”
“Good for you. That hoopla bogged-down all sorts of minds; people and companies spent fortunes to prevent it, and – nothing happened. Except that people had as often as not to deal with the consequences of allowing others to fiddle in their computer’s innards.”
Ms. Li trailed-off and looked at a video camera over Amy’s head. “You know something?” she changed her topic of the conversation abruptly, “I would’ve dearly give anything to have audio alongside with my video, you know?”
Amy Barksdale just gaped.
“So-o, do you know where Tiffany is?” Quinn Morgendorffer asked Stacy Rowe.
Stacy shook her head. “No. Some family emergency, I heard. I wonder what sort of an emergency it is, that’s all.”
Quinn said nothing. She had a much better idea of what the emergency was about. Still, it was important that Stacy didn’t.
“You know something?” Stacy suddenly spoke-up. “I think it is something that Tiffany saw this Monday – you know what I'm talking about?”
“Yeah. There’s this witness protection thingy, you know?”
Quinn snorted. “Come-on Stacy, Tiffany never had the chance to see anything unusual and have the need to go into that thingy, as you put it.”
“Mhm,” Quinn nodded wisely. “Now where’s Sandi?”
“So Mack – what’s the down-face is all about?” Sandi Griffin asked her new friend, Michael “Mack” Mackenzie.
“I didn't know you were friends.”
“Well, we weren’t. Not really. It was merely that, well, I knew him – we knew him. Last week he was here with us – and now he’s gone.” Mack gave Sandi a look. “You seem unshaken by it, though.”
“That’s ‘cause I ‘knew’ him, all right. Both him and his father. They were not likeable, you know?”
“Yeah, but still – they are dead.”
“That’s not proven.”
“Ms. Li seemed sure. And Daria doesn't dispute her.”
“I hate to shake your faiths in Ms. Li and Daria, but the lack of heads does complicate the identification process of the bodies.”
“Actually, the DNA testing supported the Ruttheimer theory.”
“Then why weren’t they published?” Sandi persisted.
For that Michael had no answer…
“Aye, I knew Ruttheimer and his little boy too,” Alexander Nicholson was telling Sophia. “Now I know that little Charley was getting quite tall as it was, but still, still – to me, he was still a little boy… Why, just last week I've entertained them at my own house – and now…”
“Uh, from what did your argument with Mr. Ruttheimer Jr. arise?” Michelle asked casually, while the maid – who vaguely looked familiar – poured them tea. (It was luncheon-time at Petersen manour.) “I heard it was about some land – or a wall?”
Mr. Nicholson shook his head. “Please, don’t remind me,” he said. “The memory is too fresh in my mind. And it seems to me now to be the most foolish, freakish, drunkest argument ever!”
“And still?” Mrs. Petersen pressed on.
Nicholson sighed. “As you know, your lands lay side-by-side to each other, adjoined, without walls. Quite rustic and country-side looking, in fact. And in that dubious stretch of two-foot-width, grows a copse.”
“How nice,” Sophia said with a false smile. Her own opinion of copses was pretty low.
“Oh, it is, it is. And in this copse – mushrooms have arisen, just after the recent rains.”
“Ah,” said Mrs. Petersen, but so quietly, no one has heard it.
“And then, little Charley found in one of his books that those mushrooms were quite delicious and nutritious, and so we adults decided to harvest them, but fell into most childish agreement.”
“In other words,” Mrs. Petersen quietly said to Michelle and Sophia, “that pair – old Charley and Alex – grew some aphrodisiac mushrooms in that copse, but fell into an argument who’s to benefit from the first harvest. But surely, this couldn't lead to...”
“No, probably not,” Sophia said thoughtfully. She gave Nicholson her best disarming smile and asked:
“So what happened then?”
“Then? – Then the lawsuit. As I said before, it’s embarrassing really, now that Charles is gone. He and his boy were good friends of mine, you know?”
Michelle wisely held her tongue. After all, she was a first-time guest here, and hopefully, this was her last. She didn’t like Mrs. Petersen, or Joneston siblings. Why did ever her poor late brother had to marry Nadine Joneston? It brought nothing to him but mortifying shame that resulted in his death, whereas Michelle had married Andrew Landon, and now…
And now was the accounting manager of ‘Gorgün’, a company of Linda Griffin’s…
Meanwhile, Tiffany Blum-Deckler held her own silent council. Obviously, Upchuck was told by his father to keep that matter silent; otherwise, He would’ve shared it with the whole school. Smart man, Mr. Ruttheimer Jr. was – but obviously, not smart enough to keep his head.
Or his son’s head either.
Tiffany frowned and listened-on on the conversation.
“So what happened to the mushrooms?” asked Mr. Arnolds.
Nicholson just shook his head mournfully again. “I don't know; I quite forgot about them; the birds must’ve gotten them or something.”
“Ah,” Mr. Arnolds said again, looking as if he was onto something.
Not only Tiffany noticed that. “You know something, Arnolds?” Mrs. Petersen asked the major-domo. “Then share, please. We wouldn't want Alex to go to jail, now would we?”
“It's nothing, really?” the major-domo argued. “So admittedly, I found some rooks and ravens who were rather… disoriented, flying over there.”
“Disoriented? What do you mean?” Sophia asked, immediately perked-up.
“I mean as in drunk, drugged… I thought that Mr. Nicholson was just trying to poison them off, or something.”
“You naughty boy!” Mrs. Petersen gave a sharp glare in Mr. Nicholson’s direction. “What kind of mushrooms were you growing?”
Alexander Nicholson shrugged. “Some nutritious ones. Young Charley found them in some big book of his that he liked to read.” His face crumpled. “I still can’t believe they’re gone.”
But both Michelle and Sophia had their doubts about that now.
“What are we doing here, on private property?” Hassan asked Aaron.
The ape-shaped man glared at his partner. “We're here sniffing for clues, damn it! News on the street is, some birds were acting oddly around this area, and I’m sure that our boss knows about this by now and likes to know the real reason, not whatever she’ll be told.”
“Makes sense,” Hassan shrugged. “Still, what says that that isn’t some official anti-bird thing, eh?”
“’Cause no ‘official anti-bird thing’ could’ve caused the birds – crows, starlings, whatever – to do such high pilotage shapes as the witnesses proscribed, see? No, it’s probably nothing legal – at least.”
“Yeah, but what are we looking for?” Hassan persisted in his questions.
“Anything out of place – what’s that?”
“Looks like… looks familiar, almost Russian,” Hassan smiled. Before he came to USA, he’s been in some Russian cities – like Krasnodar and Groznyy. He had some fond memories about them, through they weren't polite memories or anything to be shared-about even with colleagues or close friends. Besides, the memories of him in those cities were anything but fond or polite. “Looks… looks like toadstools to me. Fly agarics, yes!”
“Toadstools? Fly agarics? Poisonous mushrooms?” Aaron said thoughtfully, inhaling deeply with his nose. “This may be a clue of some sort. Hassan – collect the evidence!”
A small sparrow-like bird with dark feathers was watching the two men pick small things off the ground. It then flew-off.
“Ms. Griffin? You're receiving a call from ‘Your Fine-Feathered Friends’?”
Linda growled something under her nose. “Put them on.” She waited a little bit, then spoke into the speaker-phone: “You hear me?”
“Good. Why’d you calling me? Found something important?”
“We suppose so? There’s a copse on the – formerly disputed lands of Nicholson and Ruttheimer. In it, poisonous mushrooms once grew. That is all.”
“Not too thick,” Linda muttered.
“Do not forget our payment, Linda Griffin!”
“I won’t,” Linda replied smugly, as she reached for the turn-off button. “Things are happening as we speak!”
Stacy and Quinn were walking to their next class. “I too wonder where Sandi is,” Stacy uttered an agreement.
“Probably with Mack,” Quinn shrugged. “They’re friends now, I guess.”
It was when Andrea Hecuba made an appearance. “Trouble, trouble is on the way!” she said, obviously scared. “Evil, evil has come to Lawndale!”
Quinn and Stacy looked at each other, but before they could reply-
“We’ve got the message, half of the school got the message and so did the select parts of our town. Cut it out already!”
-Sandi stepped-in into the dispute.
Andrea whirled around. “Mock me if you want! Nobody believes me, it seems!”
“Well, that’s your own fault, really,” Quinn argued. “Daria, for one thing, with sympathetic enough to your cause – till you told her that Ms. Li isn't human.”
“She isn’t,” Andrea said stubbornly. “She has to be.”
Stacy looked at Andrea as if the squat girl was crazy. “What is Ms. Li, then?” she asked.
“I do not know,” Andrea shook her head. “But it is something calculating. Cold.”
“And here we see the finer points of delusion,” Sandi spoke disgustedly. “We all know that Ms. Li isn't the best person in the entire world, and she can be somewhat cold and calculating – though accounting is more of a right turn. But to consider her inhuman based on that – sheer madness. Or idiocy. Or both.”
Andrea looked hard at Sandi. “I'm not the one deluded her. You're in denial about the monster in you.”
“Big words from the walking fashion disaster!” Sandi sneered. “Honey, you shouldn’t be wearing black with your girth!”
Andrea grinded her teeth and glared at Sandi, who glared back.
Daria, Jodie and Jane were walking through the same hallway few minutes later, when they noticed an assimilation of kids around one spot. “What can that be?” Jane wondered.
“A fight, most likely,” Jodie shrugged. “Shall we go and look?”
“Why?” Daria asked, but then Quinn appeared, like a jack from his box, shadowed by Stacy.
“Daria! Andrea and Sandi are about to fight!” Quinn exclaimed.
Daria exchanged glances with her two friends. “Now why is that happening?” she asked.
“Oh, Andrea was spreading her news about Lawndale’s end, and Sandi asked her to knock it off, and Andrea said that Sandi has a dark secret in her, and Sandi said that Andrea is too fat for her clothes and that’s when Stacy persuaded me to find you!”
“Why?” Daria asked Stacy.
“’Cause you’re smart and can stop the fight!” Stacy said excitedly.
“Can't argue exactly with the logic,” Jane said brightly.
“Jane – shut-up, and let’s go and have a look.”
When the quintet arrived, however, it seemed that other students already decided to interfere in the conflict. Namely – Mack.
“Look, Sandi, chill,” Mack was saying.
Upon seeing this Jodie’s lips formed a thin line: even if she and Mack were never close, this still stung somewhat – he never did that for her. “Aw, isn't it nice – you sticking for your girlfriend,” she sneered in such a tone, that Mack’s hackles just had to rise.
“We're just friends,” he snapped back.
“Right, the way you two are acting-“
“Oh, what would you know about that anyways – you and your former crowd of sycophants!” Mack snapped.
Jodie stopped whatever she was planning to tell Mack, and turned to Andrea instead. “Andrea, you’re started this with your shouts – so please stop it by stopping your preachings.”
“Never! The people must know!”
“The people already heard what you’re shouting,” Daria interrupted. “So you can take a break.”
Andrea paused and looked at Daria, who looked back with a deadpan expression. Andrea’s face crumpled and she fled.
“What was that all about?” Jane asked Daria after the next class, as they and Jodie once again walked the school corridors.
“You meant what is this all about?” Daria replied. “The answer is psychology. See, Andrea is suffering from a Cassandra syndrome.”
“Say what? Who’s Cassandra?”
“I think Daria is talking about that priestess of Troy who could see the future but was un-believed,” Jodie replied instead.
“Uh-huh. And this is how Andrea feels. The trouble that both Cassandra and Andrea were facing, is that both of them are laying some pretty strong accusations without any back-up proof. Take last evening, for instance. Back then I was undecided, vacillating. Then came the accusation of Ms. Li’s un-belonging to humanity – and even if I thought before that Andrea may have something genuine to tell me – then I didn't think so after that. Got that?”
The other two nodded, and the three girls – all aware, all with various views, all knowing that something, or someone has come down into Lawndale – walked quietly through the school corridors.
Andrea sat under a big tree outside, looking very upset. Quinn Morgendorffer and Stacy Rowe were silently watching her. “Should we step-in and say something?” Stacy asked Quinn. She would’ve asked Sandi, but Sandi left to phone Linda due to the events earlier today.
“Say what, Stacy?” Quinn argued.
“That we’re sorry?”
“For, uh, I don't know?”
“Me neither. And besides, the weather seems to be turning nasty. Let’s postpone the apologies till she comes back inside, shall we?”
The weather was turning nasty indeed – a wind started, and the sky was turning cloudy. And amongst those clouds…
“There are some really big birds up there.”
“I don't see anything,” Quinn argued, looking skyward as well. “All I see are some clouds.”
Suddenly a big gust of wind threw the school doors shut. Of course, the door was opened a few moments later, but then, Andrea Hecuba was gone.
The lunch at Petersen manour was over, and Michelle and Sophia were preparing to leave. “Just let me contact my assistants and we’ll be on our way,” Sophia was telling Mrs. Petersen.
“Don't even think of it!” Mrs. Petersen emphatically stated. “I know where you’re staying – at the Landons’ house, right?”
“Yes?” Sophia and Michelle looked warily at the older woman. “So?”
“So, it’s cruel! Michelle and her husband have three kids, plus you and your two assistants! Your housing conditions – must be terrible!”
“Actually, Andrew has left – on a business trip,” Michelle said hurriedly. “And he wouldn't mind that Sophia is staying with us.”
“It’s beyond the point,” Mrs. Petersen shook her head. “Ms. Hakiojopoulos, I'll have to insist that you stayed at Petersen manour. It’ll help your investigation too.”
“Very well,” Sophia sighed resignedly. “But let me inform my assistants anyways.”
A certain phone rang, but very, very quietly, that only Hassan was able to hear it.
“Yes?” he spoke into it.
“Hassan, it’s me. I'm – we’re now moving into the Petersen manour, it seems. Any news on your end?”
“Somebody – Nicholson or Ruttheimers – was or is growing some sort of poisonous mushrooms in a copse.”
“That checks with what I've learned too. Check now the libraries of both the late Ruttheimers, and Nicholson.”
In Ms. Li’s office the phone rang. The Lawndale High’s principal listened to it attentively for some time, then looked at Amy. “Say, Miss Barksdale,” her voice turned dryly official. “What do you know about poisonous/intoxicating qualities of various mushrooms?”
“What mushrooms are we talking about?” Amy said, turned to attention at once.
“Mushrooms that grow in temperate climate – Lawndale climate and have poisonous/intoxicating qualities,” Ms. Li repeated her question.
“Quite a bit,” Amy Barksdale admitted.
“Then please make a written report,” Angela Li said in a voice that Amy Barksdale dared not argue with.
Things were slowly getting on their way on that somewhat varied-weather Tuesday. And the day was not over yet – what was to happen next?