Author’s Note:

A Daria fan had been upset over a school shooting in his area and asked that a Daria fanfic be created in which Daria overcomes (or at least deals with) a school shooting, and I was inspired to craft the fic you see before you now....and I think it’s different from any other school shooting story I’ve seen, too. There will be more expansive notes when I finish. But I want one thing understood before you start reading my story:

This is a story in the Daria-verse, where every sacred cow is in danger of becoming hamburger. This also includes references (and, in Part III, characters) from *Beavis & Butt-head Do America*, which Daria had a cameo role in as the BATF tore up her classroom and assaulted her teacher in front of her.

This is a story about how Daria and friends would try to keep their heads above water in a majorly screwed-up society. Particularly if they ever found themselves as chess pieces in a plot as Byzantine as this one.

This is NOT meant as a story to sermonize on the gun debate. The background issues of victim disarmament/gun control (pick your preferred catchphrase there) aren’t what this story is about. But the screwed-up politicking (and poli-tricking) and deal making behind it all are part of the story. The "debates" are also a way of showing character development, as Daria is forced to deal with a lot of guilt and others deal with their ingrained prejudices (and their own feelings of guilt), for and against the use of guns.

I’ve noticed that people with strong feelings on this subject have automatically assumed that I favor whichever side they oppose. This isn’t necessarily true, for if you look at it with a little less passion, you’ll see I don’t put either side (or even Daria herself) on a pedestal. Perhaps I should say it’s a story about human nature more than it is about the Great American Gun Debate.

Send kudos, commiserations, death threats, ad hominem attacks, tear-jerking stories, hellfire and brimstone preaching, guilt-and-shame trips, etc, etc, to

Daria in
Something To Shoot For, Part I of III

by Dervish


03/14/01, 8:30 A.M., Wednesday

“I can’t believe Ms. Li had the gall to look through our things,” said Sandi testily. “We, the esteemed members of The Fashion Club.”

“I knoooowwww,” said Tiffany.

Stacy piped in with, “I can’t believe she took your nail file, Quinn!”

“I know,” said Quinn in shocked disgust, “I guess I’ll have to start using an emery board.” What a bad way for the day to start, she thought in annoyance.

“Quinn,” said Matthew’s voice from a distance, but sounding urgent. Again. Quinn frowned, forgetting all about her nail file. “Quinn,” he said again, urgently, “We need to talk about your mom. She’s trying to get a restraining order against me!”

Quinn half-sighed, half-growled. “Matthew, stay away from me!” She should be terrified or enraged to see him again so soon, but most of her feelings seemed to go away when she heard his voice. All she knew was she wanted him gone.

Matthew approached and spoke with more force. “Quinn, we need to talk NOW. It’s urgent.” Quinn looked away. His curly brown hair, his green eyes, that so many of the girls drooled over had never really been that attractive to Quinn, although she’d pretended interest. Now she just wanted him to leave her alone.

“Quinn,” said Sandi with annoyance, “he needs to stop interrupting Fashion Club business. Maybe you should give up your Vice Presidential duties if you can’t curb him better than that.” She glared, but softened slightly when she looked again at Quinn’s swollen cheek, now covered with makeup, where Matthew had hit her just two days ago.

Matthew, who heard every word and knew he was being ignored, grew furious. “CURB me? You’re the stupid bitch, you...”

“Young man!” shouted Ms. Li. “I will not tolerate that attitude in the halls of Lawndale High.”

“This doesn’t concern you,” Matthew said in an icy tone.

Ms. Li blinked at such a flagrant lack of respect for authority. Then she looked at Quinn and back at Matthew and her eyes narrowed. Turning back to Quinn, she asked, “Is this Matthew Foster?”

Quinn nodded cautiously.

“Don’t worry, Ms. Morgendorffer, I just got a copy of the restraining order and will be changing his locker number, along with transferring him out of any classes that you share.”

“What!?” Matthew sounded furious, but now he glared at Ms. Li.

Quinn smiled her thanks tremulously. Then Matthew looked back at her and slowly smiled in a way she never seen before. A chill traveled down her spine. “Let’s go,” said Quinn softly. Sandi snorted in agreement, and they continued walking into the bowels of Lawndale High.

Quinn tuned out the Fashion Club as she heard Ms. Li tell Matthew, “I believe you have a long absence to explain, young man; maybe I’ll just expel you. In any case, you will remain with me until I can get you square with the restraining order against you in my office.”

Matthew grunted, “I’m not bound by your rules.”

Ms. Li exclaimed loudly enough for Quinn to clearly hear, “You will follow the rules like all other students! And like all other students, you will allow me to look through your backpack for drugs, weapons, cartoons demoralizing to Lawndale High, and other contraband on this safe morning.”

And then their voices began to melt too much for her to understand them, but only for a moment.

“What in the name of God!?” shouted Ms. Li. Quinn spun around, and the Fashion Club turned their heads, to see Matthew with a large barrel gun pointed at Ms. Li. Then they heard deafening reports that turned their everyday world into something surreal. Like magic, each report was matched by another bleeding wound in Ms. Li. Ms. Li was on the ground trying to crawl away. A cloud of smoke seemed to magically appear around the gun. Quinn’s ears rang with the reports, and nearly all other noise had stopped.

“Have fun, bitch,” said a leering Matthew who seemed to be enjoying his adrenaline, “you’ll die far too quickly for my tastes!”

Then the screaming and running began. Quinn was bumped hard enough to drop her books by someone running past her.

Ohmigod, run Quinn!” shouted Stacy. Sandi had already taken off. Quinn stared mesmerized. All time had slowed, and yet so had she. She could not move. This was really happening. But it couldn’t be. This had to be a nightmare. Yes, a nightmare. Who wouldn’t have nightmares after Matthew had made all those horrible threats to her and Daria over the last two weeks? And why couldn’t he leave her alone? Didn’t she make it clear, several times, she NEVER wanted to see him again?

He advanced on her, gun pointed at the floor, a trickle of smoke maybe coming out of the barrel. Quinn wasn’t sure if this was real or not. She desperately hoped it was not. But the smell of smoke and gun oil seemed to mock her hopes.

The maniacal gleam in his eyes said there was no reasoning with him, no manipulating him, no way to even predict anything other than he WOULD kill her as soon as he raised the gun.... and he would raise it the moment she made a move to escape.

“Surprised there’s more to me than the family cabin, Quinn? Yeah, there’s a lot of OTHER stuff I have that you can now enjoy!”

“QUINNN!!!” shouted Sandi from a distance. Quinn was the only Fashion Club member still there, staring at Matthew like a rabbit staring at an oncoming car. She knew there was no one to save her this time.

Suddenly, there was a primal yell. Jodie’s shrill shriek that sounded just as primal, “MACK, NO!!!!”

Matthew turned and quickly raised the gun at a charging, yelling Mack and squeezed the trigger. Blood splattered from a little below his shoulder, and began dripping down his jersey. He staggered, but he showed no pain, and it looked as if he were going to rush him again, but Jodie leaped on his back. “MACK, STOP!!!!”

Quinn’s paralysis was broken. Without a sound, she turned and ran. But she heard two reports, and knew he was shooting at her. She heard his heavy breathing and loud footsteps hurrying to catch up. The halls were now empty, but she noticed a few people hiding in classrooms and thought to hide in one, but knew he would hunt her down in any of them. She was the main target of his wrath.

Suddenly, another report, and the wall almost directly in front of her splintered, and left a noticeable hole. She knew she shouldn’t, but she did it before she could stop herself. She fell, rolling on the ground.

Facing towards Matthew now, she saw he could run very fast. He stopped only a meter away, breathing hard, and pointed the gun down at Quinn. A drop of sweat flowed past one crazed eye.

It was obvious he wasn’t going to say anything this time. She thought she could see the bullet in the barrel that was aimed at her on the floor on her hands and knees. When he fired, she was going to get it in the face. She didn’t even know she was groaning.

Three loud reports and Quinn shrieked short and loud and started shaking and crying.... but she was unhurt. She vaguely noticed that he jerked his gun up some and pulled the trigger, missing her by a wide margin. She still flinched. But Matthew looked confused, as if he couldn’t figure out why Quinn was still alive.

Then he dropped to his own knees, pointing the gun at the floor again. Then the gun fell from his limp hand and he fell face down. Quinn could see there was blood in his hair. And there, only a few meters behind him, stood Daria Morgendorffer holding another gun in a 2-handed grip, with her usual emotionless face.

Daria kept the gun pointed at him, as Matthew lay bleeding. After a minute (so it seemed--it felt like a day), Daria dropped to her knees, ejected the mag from her gun, made sure the chamber was empty, and set it down beside her. Then she covered her face in her arms and sobbed.

It took Quinn awhile to realize that Matthew wasn’t getting up, and that Matthew was never going to hurt her again. She got up shakily and walked unsteadily over to Daria, bent down and hugged her. She did not care if anyone saw. She had forgotten the rest of the world existed. For a few brief moments, Daria and Quinn were sisters who loved each other, not a social outcast and a popularity achiever that avoided each other.





03/14/01, 8:40 A.M., Wednesday

Daria?” It was Jane, returning Daria to the present. She was holding onto Quinn who was sobbing on her shoulder. She didn’t let go. “What?”

Jane was worried to begin with, but that casual question really bothered her.

“Everyone is outside already,” said Jane, “or almost everyone. We should join them.”

With effort, Daria returned herself to the present and helped a crying Quinn away from Matthew’s corpse. (She didn’t check, but something in her gut told her Matthew was dead.) After her short spell, she felt.... well, not better, but more in control. She could think again, which is something she really needed to do. They walked a little behind Jane, Quinn continuing to hold onto Daria, who returned the hold.

Jane, Quinn and Daria came across Ms. Li lying on her back, with Mack and Jodie beside her. Jodie was calm but crying, and Mack looked exhausted--and bloody. It wasn’t clear how much of that blood was his own, and how much belonged to other people, like Ms. Li.

Quinn, beginning to regain her awareness of where she was, just knew she saw him get shot. They had elevated Ms. Li’s feet on cushions from a couch and put bandages on her.

“Are you two hurt?” asked Jodie, staring unbelievingly at Daria and Quinn clutching each other. Quinn was still crying, Daria obviously had done so, however calm she might be right now. Jodie grimaced as she caught the swelling on Quinn’s cheek, with just a bit of a bruise showing there. So the rumors were true.

“We’re fine,” said Daria deadpan.

Yeah, right, Jodie thought.

“Is she dead?” asked Quinn. She couldn’t see how Ms. Li could be otherwise. She saw Matthew shoot her 4 times with that huge gun of his.

“No,” said Jodie. “Weak breath. But steady. I’m not sure where the nurse is. I grabbed all the bandages, gauze, and first aid materials I could find. And stupid 9-1-1 was busy!” Jodie’s face broke. “Oh, god Daria, Mack’s been shot.”

“I’ll be fine,” said Mack, pressing at the side of his chest, a little under the shoulder.

Jodie glared at him through her tears, and then turned back to Quinn. “How did you get away? And he IS out, right? You sure weren’t running, and there haven’t been anymore shots. I assume he’s.... stopped.”

“Yeah,” said Quinn weakly. “Daria shot him.”

Jodie’s head twisted to stare at Daria in open shock. “How did you get his gun away from him?”

“I had my own gun,” said Daria groaning inwardly at her own admission, but suddenly feeling an overwhelming need to justify what she did. “I’m sorry. But he had threatened us. I knew restraining orders usually don’t help. It can trigger violence. And he had already threatened Quinn, and then threatened me when I called the cops. He left, but I knew he was serious. I could feel it down in my gut. It was a feeling I never had before, and hope I never will experience again.”

Jane looked as if she thought Daria was crazy to have just divulged that. And so damn casually!

Jodie stared a bit more, and then went back to checking on Ms. Li. Daria knew that most people would not see what she did as heroic. And as much as she hated to bite the bullet, she figured she’d better call her mom now. She was tempted to have Quinn make the call, but Quinn was fighting hysterics.

“Quinn, may I borrow your phone?”

“It’s in my backpack,” said Quinn weakly.

“I’ll get it, amiga,” said Jane. Only a little quiver to her voice, but otherwise also casual. She reached in Quinn’s backpack, and finally found it and pulled it out. She clicked it on, and after it beeped, she handed it to Daria.

Quinn had an almost vice-like grip on Daria. Luckily, Daria just had to hit a button to call her mom’s office. And after arguing with the secretary with unusual heat, she finally got her mom on the line.

Daria,” said Helen Morgendorffer, “this had better be good!”

Daria felt a slight twinge at wanting to say something brilliant that would go over her head, but couldn’t find any real inspiration. “Mom, Matthew brought a gun to school and tried to kill Quinn.”

There was a second of silence before Daria pulled the phone away from her ear a bit. Even Quinn heard a loud, audible, “What!?”

“Matthew. He came to school. He shot Ms. Li and Mack. And he tried to shoot Quinn.” Now for the good part, thought Daria, as her insides twisted almost as bad as when she squeezed the trigger some time ago.”She’s okay,” said Daria. “I prepared for this. It was a good thing. I shot him before he could shoot Quinn.”

Daria pulled the phone away again as her mom began ranting. “This is NOT funny in the least, Daria Morgendorffer!” That was the first time in years Helen had used her last name, Daria noted grimly. “I want to know what you thought you would accomplish with this joke besides getting yourself grounded for a month! And counseling for you!”

“Mom,” said Daria calmly, even as her heart was beating faster again, “I’m not joking. Would you like to talk to Quinn. She’s right here beside me.”

When no answer came, Daria sighed and handed the phone to Quinn. “Here,” she said deadpan, “You tell her what happened.”

Quinn snatched it away and began babbling incoherently, crying hard again. She repeated herself over and over without making much sense. Finally, “What!? Oh.... okay. Here.” Quinn sounded almost sullen for some reason, Daria thought.

Helen was crying now, too. But there was more silence in the background, so Helen must have gone somewhere more private, Daria realized. “Daria, you shot that boy. Please tell me you shot him with his own gun!”

“No,” said Daria, “I was scared and brought one of my own, knowing he was likely to try something like this. I’ve been studying stalker cases, you see. I knew that restraining order was likely to drive him over the edge. So I prepared.” Daria wished she could stop this unexpected need to justify herself from babbling out like that.

“Listen to me very carefully, Daria,” said Helen slowly and precisely and with an intensity Daria never heard her mom use before. “That gun belongs to Matthew. He dropped it. You picked it up and fired it without thinking. You were sure he was going to kill you both. Do you understand me?”

“Mom,” said Daria, "He WAS going to kill Quinn, and me if he saw me. But there are cameras in the hallways. It almost certainly got on video. Other people might have seen. And Jodie and Mack already know the truth.”

Daria decided not to comment on Quinn’s state at the moment. Or her own. Jodie and Mack stared intently at them both now.

Daria,” said Helen imploringly, “You don’t understand. Even if it were self-defense, you broke federal and state laws that don't care if your life is in danger. The Gun-Free Zones Act, the Project Safe Neighborhoods. You are legally an adult. You are looking at several years of federal prison at least. And that’s not counting the local charges or the law suit Matthew’s family might bring against you.”

“What!?” Daria had expected something horrible from the legal standpoint, but the last startled her and outraged her more than anything. "Why would his family sue me!?"

Helen sighed. “I’m sorry, Daria, but our society prefers to blame everyone and everything but the criminal that started it. Families have sued those who have stopped a violent criminal rampage with a gun or other weapon. It happens more often than you know.” Helen suddenly sounded old.

Icy fury filled Daria, but she suppressed it. “Can you sue his family?”

Helen gasped. “I hadn’t thought of that, Daria, but it’s a thought. I can use it to scare them into leaving you alone, anyway. But that’s really one of the smaller problems. Even if I call in every favor I can to get you off, there’s still the federal laws that I can’t do anything about. Please, Daria, are you absolutely sure? Are the police there?”

“I’m pretty sure. But no, there’s no police. At least not inside the building.”

“I’m on my way, Daria. Please don’t volunteer any information. Don’t leave the scene of the....” Here Helen stopped herself. Then continued, “Of the incident. Don’t talk to anyone, Daria. Don’t let Quinn talk, either. If any police question you, avail yourself of your right to remain silent. Except to let them know I will sue their asses off if they take advantage of Quinn while she’s in the state she’s in!” Daria knew Helen wasn’t bluffing.

“Okay,” said Daria.

“I’m on my way,” said Helen. “I love you.”

“Love you, too.” Helen hung up, and Daria punched in 9-1-1 with one hand. Busy. “Sorry,” she said to Jodie. “9-1-1 is still busy.”

“Thanks for trying,” said Jodie weakly. Then looked up after a moment.Daria,” she said uncertainly, “If you wanted to claim the gun you used belonged to Matthew, I’d..... I’d back you.”

“Me, too,” said Mack decisively.

“And me,” said Jane unnecessarily, and a bit of pleading.

Daria was sorely tempted. She wondered where the film was held for the hall cams. She wanted to see the angle they got. And were they on cam now? Did they have audio? Not enough information for Daria to make a choice. She now realized that she hadn't thought this out anywhere as well as she thought she had.

A loud click, booted feet. “ON THE FLOOR! NOW!” Time for thinking was over. They all got on the floor as several cops looking vaguely like heavily armed ninjas were approaching. In some odd way, the cops seemed as murderous as Matthew. Several cops came up to them, their guns still drawing beads on them. “Where’s the shooter?” asked one.

“In... in the hall,” said Jodie. “But Mack and Ms. Li here are hurt. They need an ambulance.”

“There’s ambulance outside,” said the cop, before speaking into a radio on his shoulder. He looked back down on them and said, “They’ll be in....” several gunshots echoed from down the hallway. Quinn began sobbing again, and all the others came close. They thought the shooting was over and it was so LOUD.

The cops lost interest in them and went to the hallways, taking up point positions. Daria heard one of the cops swear with many words Ms. Li would disapprove of. He shouted something about, “Next time, make damn sure before you shoot again!”

Radio squawks echoed everywhere. More cops came running in. Now some EMS workers were coming in.

“Over here!” shouted Jodie with a sense of relief that bordered on joy.

“Wait,” said one cop, a different one, if he looked like a carbon copy of the first one that spoke earlier. “Stay on the floor.”

“What!?” asked Jodie. “We’ve got two wounded over here!”

“Stay calm, miss,” he said professionally and without feeling. Jodie felt herself beginning to lose it, but bit down on her natural reaction.

Luckily, more EMS came in a couple of minutes later. Two of them with gurneys came for Ms. Li and Mack. All of them were escorted outside under police guard (with the stanchions pulled apart allowing greater access), where a few cameras were already set up from the local press. Daria was amazed by that.

The cops didn’t search any of them, and even with the buzz of the metal detector from the gurneys and cops going through as well as Daria's gun hidden in a gun pouch under her shirt, did anyone stop to think that there might've been another shooter among them.




03/14/01, 10:00 A.M., Wednesday

Daria was sitting in the front seat of her mom’s car, door open, feet on the curb, watching Quinn and the cops, with Helen hovering over them. She couldn’t hear what they were saying over the radio she tuned through listlessly.

“.....Police have released no names at this point, but the shooter was apparently a jilted lover who shot his principal, a boy for being black, and his girlfriend before taking his own life. We have word that the principal and black student are in critical condition, while the girl and the shooter are both dead......”

“....Why was this student allowed to have access to guns anyway? Do we want all our schools to become places where shoot-outs are common? How many more children have to die?....

“....This is why teachers need to have guns, to prevent incidents like this from happening. I wouldn’t just make it optional, I’d make it mandatory......”

Daria’s shaking hand kept flipping the tuner on the radio in her mom’s car. What had happened was all over. So far, no one seemed to know there was another shooter. The accuracy of the reports themselves were confused, at best. No one knew anything, but it wasn’t stopping people from acting as if they knew, reporting wild speculations as facts, and exploiting this situation for whatever pet political agendas they had. It really was a sick, sad world.

She regretted sending Jane away. But she didn’t want Jane with her if she got arrested. It would be too easy to arrest her, too. Jane begged Daria to give her the gun, but Daria refused. If the police didn’t find it on her, they would go after Jane.

Daria was amazed at how fast the police and the media showed up in force. And more kept coming. It was uncanny. She hadn’t thought either of them could respond with this kind of alacrity. It had taken the cops of Columbine hours longer to gather and organize the kinds of tac teams that swarmed Lawndale High now.

Right now, they were running dogs all through and around Lawndale High sniffing at everything. Daria had to give them credit for being thorough. She’d heard Lawndale’s Finest were lazy and incompetent, but Ms. Li would be pleased to see such speed and apparent efficiency.

Helen was with Quinn, talking to a few police officers. They seemed to be questioning Quinn, but Helen was doing most of the talking. The police seemed confused and annoyed by the defensiveness and protectiveness of Helen, but seemed willing to put up with it. For now.

“....We said it over and over again folks, that taking God out of the schools is putting the violence and the drugs and the sex in, for where there is no God, there is Satan....”

Daria clicked off the radio. She felt tears well up again, but they didn’t spill over. She dimly realized she was in some kind of shock, and her mind was struggling to convince her this was all a dream. She would be strong and remind herself that while this sucked, it was real.

Several police officers, possibly even a SWAT team with all their body armor and guns Daria mused, joined Helen and Quinn and the other officers. Daria saw one black gloved hand holding what looked to be a video tape up to one who was probably a detective, and her heart raced. Helen slowly turned to look towards Daria and she knew that they knew. Bumps crawled over her flesh as she fought to maintain her composure.

Helen turned and said something to them and started walking towards her. Several tense cops walked behind her, but Helen paid them no mind. As they got close, Daria stepped out of the car and then chaos broke loose.

One black-cad arm grabbed Helen and pulled her down to the ground. Several of the black cad team raised their weapons at her screaming incoherently. Of the few orders they barked at her that she could make out included, “don’t move!” and “get on the ground now!”

Helen was also screaming at them in panic to stop and she’d have their badge among other things. Daria couldn’t make much sense out of what was being said, but she suddenly remembered how trigger happy they were in the school hallways. They were almost as bad as the BATF had been in her Highland school. It seemed all the faces and cams had turned towards her as she was being screamed at by this brigade, their weapons trained on her.

Daria put her hands up, figuring that was one of the things they were yelling. And now only one voice rose above Helen’s for Daria to lay herself on the ground. As Daria knelt down, she used her hands to balance on the pavement eliciting many more screams of things like, “Keep your hands where I can see them!”

Scared or not, she was finding the police to be rather annoying. Was everyone in the world this stupid and panicky? They might have a record response time, but they hardly lived up to their reputations of courage, intelligence, and cool temperament under fire shown on the silver screen.

“Another illusion shattered,” Daria mumbled glumly, as she stretched her arms and legs out, lying flat on the asphalt.

She was soon surrounded by several men pointing guns at her. She fought the temptation to tell them that Lawndale High was a gun free zone, or “away put your weapons, I mean you no harm.”

She felt a hand firmly push down on the small of her back, just below the belt with her gun pouch. Her right hand was grabbed so firmly as to hurt, even bending her index finger, and brought behind her back. After they yanked her other hand back, she found being cuffed can actually hurt. They were either sadistic, or they were truly afraid of her.

One then sat heavily on the back of her knees and another officer took off her Doc Martins. The one sitting on her ran his hands down her back and side. She wondered if that was legal, as they were supposed to have women to do that, and some were present. The searching officer finally felt the belt under Daria’s shirt. He pulled her shirt up revealing the belt.

“Hey, watch it!” she said, “we’re not even married.” She was beginning to wonder if she should’ve just shot it out and be done with it.

The belt finally came off. “Gun!” yelled the searching officer. They continued the search, and then did it again. Then two helped to pull her up and one ran a nightstick over her front. Then one from behind used his hands to search her front more firmly. Daria repressed the urge to say her dad would force him to marry her in a shotgun wedding for fear of them seeing that as a terroristic threat.

Daria heard Helen, finally on her feet and brushing herself off, say, “I am her lawyer, she is availing of herself to be silent....”

“You knew,” said the man Daria assumed to be a DT. “I ought to have you both arrested!”

The police finally stopped searching her, but seemed frustrated. “Give her to Sergeant Lanny,” said one. “I want her thoroughly searched!”

Daria saw that several cops were going through her mom’s car, including with a dog. What the hell were they looking for?

Daria was stopped a short distance from Helen where she was read her rights. They seemed to be making a point to Helen, but Daria couldn’t make out what it was. Helen looked worried though, and that couldn’t be a good sign.

Helen took her eyes off Daria to turn to the detective. “Detective Warner, your department is using excessive force! If you don’t....”

“Mrs. Morgendorffer,” said the detective with a lot of heat, “we have two seriously wounded and a dead body. If you don’t want to join your daughter in a detention cell with charges of obstruction of justice and interfering in an investigation, then you’ll let me do my damn job. We know what we’re doing, and you will be made aware of the reasons soon enough.” With that, he turned and walked off, audibly cursing.

Daria was soon out of range to hear anything more. They eventually came to a car and opened the back door. “Watch your head,” said a monotone voice as she was put in and the door slammed behind her.

Now she could only see Helen, not hear her. Only the crackle of the police radio made noise in the car. She looked and saw Quinn looking at her forlornly, crying. Her own tears fell then, and she lost any regret for having saved Quinn’s life, even if the cost might be her own future.

Then she saw Jane in handcuffs being put into another car. Damn. Life sucked.




03/14/01, 4:20 P.M., Wednesday

Hours that felt like days assaulted Daria Morgendorffer, as she was booked in, strip searched with more zealotry than required, scanned by devices, fingerprinted, pictured. When they finally got through one cop told the detective that had threatened to arrest her mom that nothing was found on her. He expressed his cynicism with some expletives and ordered the search done again.

“She’s smart,” he said, pointing at her. “Watch her!”

So she was searched again. Then she was put into a room with a mirror that she knew was two-way. Daria didn’t understand what was happening. At least she wasn’t put in a suit of some kind, and she got her Doc Martins back.

And here she waited hours, still in handcuffs. She hadn’t had lunch and she was pretty hungry. She also needed a bathroom pretty bad about now. She called out a few times, but no one responded to her.

As she was finding that she could sleep in her position, the door came open and two men came in, including the big and swarthy man who threatened to arrest her mom, and the other one a bit more rounded out with his hair made slick with some kind of jell. The one who threatened her mom glared at her as if he hated her.

The other one smiled disarmingly as he pulled out a file and began going through it. He cleared his throat, almost apologetically. “I’m sorry for the wait, Daria, but it’s been a zoo. The press is out for blood. They really want to know who you are. I don’t want to say anything, especially until I know what’s going on myself.” He looked at Daria who stared at him emotionlessly. “Just relax, okay? We’re all friends here.”

“Can I go to the bathroom?”

He looked embarrassed. “Oh, sure.” He looked up at the one who was still glaring at her. “Dan,” he said in a lower voice, “Could you get Sergeant Lanny to escort Daria here to, uh, where she needs to go?”

“Actually,” said Daria a bit uncomfortable, “I’ve already had the pleasure of meeting Sergeant Lanny. Can someone else escort me?”

The glaring cop called “Dan” smiled at her menacingly. “Your call. But I warn you, Sergeant Lanny is one of our nicer people.”

The other cop got up and talked to him too low for Daria to hear. The cop glared at Daria as he walked to the door and left.

After he left, the other cop said, “Daria, my name is Glenn Cartwright. I’m pretty much in charge in investigating what happened at Lawndale High today. My partner is named Dan Warner, also a detective. Due to another investigation in progress regarding the activities of Matthew Foster, he has also been assigned to this case. He’s in a really bad mood and dealing with a lot of hard circumstances that you accidentally caused to his investigation. But if you answer our questions quickly, I’m sure we can all go home sooner, and that should put Detective Warner in a better mood.”

“I can go home?” Daria asked in a mix of hope and disbelief.

“I don’t know,” said Cartwright. “I hope so. I think you were just scared and did what you thought you had to do to defend yourself. You’re young, in a bad situation. I have a daughter not much younger than you, and I know how scary the world can be to young people, and the poor judgment teens sometimes use without meaning to hurt anyone.” He looked at her as if asking if she was okay with this.

“I’m wondering something,” said Daria. When Cartwright made an expression to ask away, Daria asked, “I was seen on the video shooting Matthew, so you knew what I looked like. But how did you know it was me, Daria, and how did you know who my mom is to ask her and find out where I was?”

Cartwright seemed to blanch. “You’ve never been in trouble with the law before?”

Daria shook her head.

“I don’t know, Daria, but I wasn’t there. Warner was, but you don’t want to ask him about that right now. But I’m sure it will become clear as we look into what happened together.”

Daria didn’t like that answer at all. She had been briefly interviewed by a female officer two days ago, but all the cop did was get her name and ask if she saw Matthew hit Quinn or if she had seen a gun. Saying no, the cop moved on. Almost all the attention had been on Quinn and with Helen. She didn’t think that was how they recognized her this morning. But she didn’t know how else to pursue it for the time being. So instead she asked, “How much time am I looking at?”

He tightened his lips, and looked a bit uncomfortable. “I personally think the most you should get is probation for bad judgment. And you might have even saved a life, maybe several lives.” He looked at the door before looking back. “Warner, though,” he made a face, “he thinks anyone who has a gun has something to hide.”

“He must not trust cops much,” Daria replied.

Cartwright chuckled and then turned serious. “Please help us, and I think we can help you. We know the guy you shot. He has a history of violence. He had threatened you and your sister before, hadn’t he?”

Daria nodded. Maybe she really had a friend. Warner had threatened her mom and now he was threatening her. He seemed to really hate her. She shook her head to clear it of rambling thoughts. “Can you tell me what Matthew was being investigated for?”

Cartwright shook his head in disgust. “I’m sorry, Daria, but that’s privileged information. But I will say if anyone ever needed killing, it was him. It’s bad to say that, but that’s how I feel about it. I tell you, Daria, I think you did us all a favor, and I want to say thank you. But don’t tell anyone, not even Detective Warner, or I’ll deny it.” He smiled and winked at her.

“What about me?” asked Daria. “And am I going to be charged with federal crimes?”

“What federal crimes would that be?” Cartwright seemed more curious than anything.

“I didn’t violate any by bringing a gun to school?”

“Yeah, you might have. You violated Virginia law, too, by bringing a gun to school, but who cares about those laws?” He smiled at her. “But there’s some discretion on our part, and I’m gonna try to see to it that you get off. You should get a medal for what you did, not prison. You saved your sister’s life! I’d have done the same exact thing. But you’ve got to be absolutely honest with us, Daria. It doesn’t look good if you keep things from us.” He looked at her intensely, a look of fatherly concern and sad eyes on his face to go along with his voice of paternal concern.

“Are these cuffs necessary?”

“I don’t think so,” said Cartwright, “but Warner insisted. At least until we let you go or put you in a cell. And the rules are on his side on this.”

Daria doubted that.

“Can I, uh, ask you something, Daria?”

Daria nodded.

“Where, um, where did you get that little gun of yours?”

When Daria stared at him, he waved his hands in a “nothing to worry about here” gesture. “I’m just wondering because it’s so small, but you took that scumbag out! I’d like to get one for my wife.”

“I’m sure any gun store can get you one," replied Daria. If you're not going to answer my questions, why should I answer yours?

Detective Cartwright frowned at that, and before anything else was said, Sergeant Lanny came in and took Daria out and brought her back. When she came back, looking much calmer, the two detectives were talking in low tones, but very animated. They both put on the faces she recalled when they looked at her.

Daria, let go by the chair she had been in, sat back down and stared at them quietly. They both seemed to dislike that calm expression on her face.

“Now Daria,” said Cartwright, “why did you get a gun?”

“Don’t I get a lawyer?” asked Daria.

Warner laughed. “What did I tell you?” he said to Cartwright. “These punks think they all know how to work the system.” He turned to Daria and put his hands on the table as he firmly said with contempt dripping from his voice like acid, “No, kid, this ain’t TV. You answer our questions, and then you get a lawyer.”

Cartwright motioned for Warner to calm down before turning back to Daria. “Daria, we don’t even know if we’re going to charge you with anything. If there are formal charges, then yes, you get a lawyer. If you answer our questions without any trouble or resistance, I’m sure you’ll be home in time for supper.” Daria’s stomach rumbled at the mere mention of supper. He shrugged nonchalantly at her. “You saved your sister’s life. It’s not like you got anything to hide, do you?”

Daria looked towards the mirror behind the two detectives. She recalled her mother saying something about a “gun free zone act” and “project safe neighborhoods,” both being federal statutes. “I want a lawyer,” she said again and more firmly.

Daria,” Detective Cartwright said pleadingly, “even if we let you go, we have paperwork to fill out. Let’s not be hostile about this. Just tell us enough to fill out our paperwork and we’ll probably let you go.”

Detective Warner got up and approached the silent Daria. He stared down at her with his arms crossed. “Tell us what you were doing at the Zen on March 2nd and I’ll help you get a lawyer,” he said.

Cold. Daria tried not to sweat, but she could feel the moisture building, and yet she felt cold. How much did they know? She took an unsteady breath and repeated, “I want a lawyer.”

Detective Warner’s eyes bore into Daria’s as he said in a low voice, “Maybe the Sloanes will get you a lawyer.”

Daria blinked at that with genuine confusion. “Why would they do that?” She blurted that out before she could stop herself.

Detective Warner walked to where he was standing directly behind Daria. He rested his dark hands on her shoulders while he continued to stare at her eyes, using the mirror to do so. “What did you talk to Matthew about at the Zen?”

Daria’s face hardened. “I want a lawyer.”

“GODDAMMIT!!!” shouted Warner from behind her causing her to squeeze her eyes shut instinctively for several moments, “You and Jane both plotted to kill that kid, didn’t you! I bet you thought he had killed your sister before you shot him! You set him up but killed him before he did his job!”

Daria’s face flushed with heat. “Jane had nothing to do with it!” said Daria. “I don’t know why she didn’t run when I did what I did, but she doesn’t know anything!” She was close to babbling and she quickly got hold of herself.

Patting Daria’s shoulder a couple of times, Detective Warner started to casually walk back to his chair on the other side of the table “Oh, that’s very touching,” said Warner with such sarcasm as to impress even Daria. “But your friend already told us everything, including how you hated your sister. Who do you think we’ve been talking to all this time? You stupid kids. You can never keep a secret. She already told us how you plotted to kill him after you used him to kill Quinn, told us about your disagreement with Matthew at the Zen, and that you threatened to kill her if she said anything.”

Daria didn’t know how they knew about the incident at the Zen, but she couldn’t trace any of what happened there with the other questions. They must be lying. She shook her head no in denial of their words.

“I’m sorry, Daria,” said Detective Cartwright regretfully, “but Jane Lane is Jane Lane’s best friend. I don’t believe her myself. I think that there might have been some drugs involved, though that doesn’t cancel out that you saved your sister’s life. Why don’t you tell us your side before Ms. Lane’s testimony becomes the only testimony heard in court?”

Daria grew furious. The lying bastards had real practice at sounding like they were telling the truth. But she said nothing, merely making a mental note never to play poker with them.

Warner grew calm and sat down, smiling as if he knew a very nasty secret that Daria was not going to like. “If you stay silent, Jane will get off, but you’ll never see the outside of a prison cell until you’re collecting social security. Don’t you think Jane should grow old with you?”

“Liar,” Daria gritted out. Both detectives actually looked as if they had been slapped.

“You don’t think we want to help?” asked Cartwright, looking wounded.

Daria just stared at him deadpan until even Cartwright began to feel a chill.

“Believe what you want,” said Detective Warner, “but Jane Lane has already agreed to testify against you in exchange for dropping all charges against her. If nothing else, we got you, Daria Morgendorffer, lock, stock and barrel.”

She knew they were lying, but she couldn’t help breaking into tears again. Mainly because she knew that Jane was going through everything she was going through, too. All because of her. They were telling Jane that Daria was putting all the blame on her. She hoped Jane knew better, just as Daria knew better. “I want a lawyer,” she said again, this time her voice shaking and her tears falling free.

“YOU DON’T GET A LAWYER!” shouted Warner, slamming his fists on the table, startling Daria. She hated the cuffs on her wrists as she felt an overwhelming need to be able to block against blows.

Cartwright grabbed at Warner to calm him down and whisper in his ear, but Warner continued with, “And a lawyer won’t do you any good. Video doesn’t lie, kid.” He let himself be calmed by Cartwright then.

Cartwright turned back to Daria. “I know this is very uncomfortable for you. Heck, we want to go home just as badly as you do, but we can’t until we get the paperwork on this finished. And we can’t do that,” he said pleadingly, “until you answer only a few simple questions. We just want to understand what’s going on here, Daria.” He shrugged and added, “Even if we do charge you with anything, you can be bailed out and sleep in your own bed tonight. How’s that?” When Daria just stared silently at the mirror, Cartwright added, “It’s not like you have anything to hide, is it?”

“I want a lawyer,” said Daria, shaking still but calming down as her resolve strengthened.

“Okay, kid,” said Cartwright. “We’ll do this the hard way if you insist. It’s a hard row. You don’t want to know about the kind of places you’ll be sent to for holding if you insist on this.”

“We got 48 hours before we have to let you go, assuming we don’t charge you with a crime,” smiled Warner, making it clear that she was going to be charged. Daria had no idea how much time had already passed, or when the counting officially began.

“You sure?” asked Cartwright, looking at Daria with concern.

Daria, firmly resolved, just stared silently into the mirror.

“Okay, then. Just so you know, Daria,” said Cartwright, “You’re being charged with first degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, illegal possession of a firearm, and bringing a weapon onto school grounds. The DA and the city attorney are looking into other charges at this time, and there’s an on-going investigation that may bring up more charges. The BATF have also been notified, and they will be issuing gun-related charges. Now we’ll get you your lawyer.”

Warner looked at Cartwright. “What about the other one?”

“Jane?” asked Cartwright. “She’ll get her immunity in exchange for testifying against Daria.”

“No,” said Warner, “Right now? Nearly everyone has gone home for the day. We’re about all that’s left. I personally don’t feel like baby sitting.”

Cartwright shrugged. “Have Sergeant Lanny bring Jane in here so they’re in one place. She can watch both of them.”

“Bullshit!” exclaimed Warner. “She’s working dispatch, and you know how she just watches TV when we’re not here. You know how she is.”

“What I know,” said Cartwright meaningfully, “is that I’m hungry. I want something to eat. THEN we can do the paperwork and go home. They’ll be okay for an hour or so.”

“The cuffs stay on,” said Warner. “I’m not gonna have my star witness killed by this sociopath.”

“Fine,” said Cartwright, “the cuffs stay on. But let’s go out and get something. I want to show you a new Chinese place.....”

The two left, Warner glaring at her all the way out the door. A little later, Sergeant Lanny brought a handcuffed Jane in.

Daria!” said Jane loudly. Daria looked at her and shook her head slightly.

Sergeant Lanny left saying, “Keep it quiet in here you two,” and Daria and Jane were alone.

Daria,” said Jane softly, “I’m so sorry this happened....”

“It’s not your fault, Jane,” interrupted Daria quickly, “you didn’t even know I had gotten a gun to defend myself.”

Jane blinked at her. Of course she knew! “But Daria....” Jane had walked to the chair Warner had sat in. She scooted it around the table by pushing at it with her foot.

“Jane, it’s just like at the Mall of the Millennium, when I told you never to trust people while the light is on them, but wait until the lights go off.”

Jane blinked again, finally getting the chair near Daria, and leaning back into it a little as she tried to figure out where THAT had come from. Then she glanced at the mirror and then back at Daria. Daria nodded slightly. “Those bastards,” Jane muttered almost inaudibly. “Can you at least tell me what happened?” asked Jane in a more normal sounding voice.

“Matthew threatened me and Quinn. You know that. What you didn’t know is I took steps to make sure I’d be ready if he tried to carry out his threats. Especially when I found out Mom filed a restraining order against him. Psychos like Matthew, they sometimes blow up when you do that, even carrying out their death threats. So I was ready.” Daria looked at Jane meaningfully, and her voice shook a little. “I’m sorry, Jane, I don’t know why they brought you in, too. I told them that, but I don’t know if they believed me.

“Hey,” said Jane, surprising Daria in the bright tone it was given in, “Maybe your mom can sue for wrongful arrest?” Jane smiled. “She can get them back for busting you, and my family can use the money!” Her smile broadened. “I’ll even chip in for your defense fund! I’ll put up a Free Daria web site!”

Daria smiled at her and then began crying softly again. Jane scooted over next to Daria and brushed her arm against Daria’s. “Hey,” she said softly, “we’re still amigas.”

Daria smiled at her with a little humor. “Even though you’re being released for testifying against me?”

Jane’s eyes widened. “Huh? Oh, they told me that you said I had forced you into it. I just didn’t say anything after that. Warner’s the kind that makes me realize how ‘dick’ and ‘detective’ come to mean the same thing.”

Daria smiled and resisted the temptation to look at the mirror. Jane scooted closer, and whispered into Daria’s ear, “Wanna put on an x-rated show and see how fast they get back in here?”

Daria actually laughed at that, just a little. “What makes you think they wouldn’t just eat popcorn instead?”

Jane laughed back.

Daria tapped Jane’s ankle with her foot. When Jane looked at her, Daria softly said, “Let’s make a deal. You don’t believe anyone who says I already betrayed you, and I won’t believe anyone who says you already betrayed me. No matter what, we will only believe it when we see each other and confirm it.”

Jane shrugged. “That was already my policy, amiga.”

Daria sighed in relief, and then looked at mirror thoughtfully. “Something troubles me about all this.”

Jane’s eyes went wide and she whistled. “ONLY one thing troubles you? God, Daria, I wish I had your tolerance for humiliation and intimidation.”

Daria ignored her. “One said the Sloanes might get me a lawyer. Where did that come from?”

Jane shrugged. “No one said that to me. Would be kinda cool if they’d chip in for our defense fund, though. I think I’ll ask them about it. I’m sure Tom will donate some of his allowance anyway.”

“Maybe they can get me sent to one of the GOOD prisons,” Daria darkly mused.

And then they talked of everyday things and pointedly staying away from the topic of Matthew Foster and the hell he had visited on them all. Daria guessed it was two hours later when Sergeant Lanny came and took Jane away again. Jane gave Daria an encouraging smile as she left, even if it disappeared to reveal fear when Jane was back out in the hall being carried back to her detention cell.

Shortly after, Sergeant Lanny came back in and put her in a cell with a woman with bleached hair who looked a bit older than Daria, though almost as thin and only a little fuller. She was laying on a bunk and looked up curiously when Daria was put in. The entire cell was sparsely furnished and couldn’t have been much more than 6’ by 6’ by 6’.

The cuffs were finally taken off. Incredible relief flooded her as she rubbed her wrists, which had a red indention where the cuffs had been. She offered no resistance when she was gently pushed inside. “Later,” said Sergeant Lanny as she left. Daria just walked over and collapsed on the bunk. The blanket was coarse, but it beat being handcuffed in a chair.

“Hey,” said the woman. “What they get you for?”

Daria turned her head to look at her. The woman didn’t seem hostile, just curious. She was at least in her 20’s. “Espionage,” she said. “You?”

Mmmm...” she said. “Just a little crank. I’ve mostly just slept since they put me here, but I finally got bored with that. You ever do any crank?”

“I haven’t,” said Daria. “But I plan to sleep until my mom gets me out.”

“Mom?” She looked at her. “Just how old are you?”

“18,” said Daria. “You?”

“25,” she said. “Wow, I can’t believe they put you here back with me! But I know it wasn’t for esp-ee-yanage or spying. Come on! What was it? Crank? Although you look more like a mary jane type. Is that it?”

Daria shook her head, still lying down completely.

“Fine! Don’t tell me.” She put herself back on her bunk.

Daria sighed. Why couldn’t she be put in solitary?

“Hey,” said her cell mate. When Daria glanced at her again, she said, “I’m sorry about that. You look really tired. But I’m really bored. I’d love it if you talk to me, fill in the endless boredom here. I can use a friend, and I bet you can, too.”

Daria smiled slightly at her. “Let me sleep, okay? Then we’ll talk.”

“Okay.” She didn’t seem happy with this, but she accepted it.

Daria was just starting to drift off when someone opened a small shaft on the door. Daria looked and saw her cell mate grab a tray. She brought it over to Daria. “Since you’re tired and all, I thought I’d get it for you,” said her cell mate. Then she got her own tray and started eating.

Daria sighed and at up. Oh, she could not believe this. Lasagna. And with her own new toothbrush, she wryly noted. She sat down and ate, for she was hungry.

“I’m Beth,” said her cell mate. “You?”

That was just reflex.

“Hey, you’re not that kid that shot up her school are you!?”

Daria snorted a bit and took another bite. “Of course not,” she said, her usual tone creeping back into her voice. “I wouldn’t kill them anywhere near that quickly.” Then she frowned. Now she felt guilty for the people who had been shot. Even for Ms. Li.

When Beth kept looking at her, Daria sighed and said, “A guy dating my sister threatened to kill me, along with my sister. So I prepared, and shot him as he was shooting at my sister.”

“Wow,” she said. “And they arrested YOU? That just figures. Creeps.” She looked to the door and yelled, “You’re a bunch of assholes!” Beth turned back to Daria. “Sorry, I just had to say that to them. It’s not like they would’ve done much about that guy threatening you. But you, oh, they’ll throw the book at. I hate this place.”

“It’s better than cheerleading practice,” muttered Daria.

“You’re a cheerleader?” asked Beth in a tone that said she never would’ve guessed that.

“No,” said Daria taking another bite, “we just have to pretend we are in gym class.”

“That sucks,” said Beth. “Where did you get the gun anyway? I thought they were hard to come by around here.”

Daria blinked at her. “The less you know, the better,” said Daria.

Daria finished, hardly saying anything to Beth. She looked at her toothbrush and decided only if it became absolutely necessary. Shortly after, the orderly or whatever came back and took the trays. Daria went and collapsed on the bunk.

“Hey,” said Beth, “don’t conk out on me yet! I want to hear all about what happened! Come on, they don’t even let me have a TV in this place! It’s absolutely un-fuggen-civilized around here!”

“The less you know, the better,” Daria repeated. She finally promised to say more after she got some sleep. Beth was obviously disappointed and whined awhile before she gave up and let Daria sleep in peace.





03/15/01, 9:52 A.M., Thursday

Marguerite Kramer, the DA, sighed as a frantic Helen Morgendorffer pleaded with her. She was sympathetic, and even if she wasn't, she didn’t think she would dare prosecute this case. Prosecute a girl that saved her own sister’s life, after the system failed to stop the attacker? Her political enemies would trash her image, and her own standing in several feminist organizations could be hurt.

Some of her other associations, such as the Virginia Association of Black Lawyers, would probably see Matthew Foster as a racist that included violent hate crimes along with his attack against Quinn Morgendorffer, or would assume Matthew was typical of Lawndale. Most would be of the former, and would probably see Daria as stopping him from killing more minorities.

She had already received a call from both of the Landons asking her not to prosecute Daria--and their own daughter, Jodie Landon, had nearly been shot by that maniac, too, which inclined them to be very sympathetic to Daria. And, she cynically noted to herself, the Landons actually support her with money and volunteer campaigning for her, despite some of the political differences they had. It would be good not to turn them against her.

Not only that, but Helen Morgendorffer was her friend. When younger, both had been idealists, ultrasensitive to the injustices of the world. Both had become lawyers to fight for those who were chewed up mercilessly by the system, and to make it work for the People instead of the Man.

They had both become sidetracked when they encountered many harsh realities. Disillusionment, making compromises, and financial limitations and obligations had made them both switch their focus slightly. But they still (sometimes) remembered why they had gotten into law in the first place, and contributed what time and resources they had to groups they believed were slowly helping the world become a better place.

Ironically, that included some gun control laws that Daria was now likely to be charged under. What they did to help these laws come about was nothing major, but the laws passed by the collective effort of many like-minded citizens were now going to crush Daria, after proving themselves useless in saving Quinn’s life. Did gun control save Quinn from Matthew? Oh, no. It was another gun. This grated on her more than she cared to admit. It had to bother Helen, too.

Finally, she was the one that had made sure the restraining order against Matthew Foster went into effect immediately for Helen’s ease of mind. And then Matthew did what a lot of stalkers do and tried to kill the object of his obsession. It was only a couple of days ago that she, the DA, sent two deputies that owed her a favor directly to Matthew Foster to tell Matthew in no uncertain terms never to speak, communicate, approach, or even LOOK at Quinn again. For his sake.

She remembered why as she stared down at the Polaroid and other photos now developed of Quinn’s bruised cheek that Helen had taken immediately upon noticing it and connecting it with Matthew.

And 23 hours ago she had learned that the school shooting on the news had been Matthew shooting two people, attempting to murder Quinn, but being shot to death by Daria. How could she prosecute Daria?

But if she didn’t prosecute her friend’s daughter for doing what all their laws and restraining orders failed to do, then her political enemies could attack her for being too lenient on young hoodlums with guns. The gun control groups could remove their support from her.

So be it, she decided. She had ambition from a real desire to help America as well as from personal pride, but she wasn’t willing to do that if it made her uneasy to sleep at night, and caused the town she served and the friends she valued hate her for it. She’d made too many compromises as it was. This time, she was going to do something radical and stand up for justice instead of politics.

“Helen,” said Marguerite, “Calm down. I’ve already decided not to prosecute your daughter. It sounds like she really felt she had no choice. Maybe if I could charge her with something that I could recommend probation, or if she were older, I’d think about it, as I think she acted too hastily and with stupidity.” She held up her hand as Helen began to speak again, “But in light that Quinn Morgendorffer would be dead if she hadn’t, I will not.”

“Thank you,” said Helen sincerely.

“No thanks are required for my refusal to prosecute,” said Marguerite, “I will not fight to make the world safe for homicidal stalkers.” She said the last with some passion. Then she sighed again and looked down.

“But that’s not going to help much, is it?” asked Helen, already knowing the answer.

“It will help some,” said Marguerite , “and I will make every resource I have access to available to you--discreetly, of course. But there are laws and forces which I can do nothing about. If the BATF choose to get involved, the entire circus will include the federal courts. And whatever happens, you know this is going to be a circus, don’t you?”

“Yes,” said Helen heatedly, “I’ve already dealt with far too many clowns for my liking today. Police, news hounds, even political and religious activists harassing me.” She shook her head as if to clear it. “What can you tell me about the case?”

Marguerite frowned. “Are you acting as her defense attorney?”

Helen nodded. “One of them, yes.” Knowing she would soon see The United States vs. Daria Morgendorffer on top of everything else, she wasn’t about to stay out of it, but neither was she going to do this alone. Criminal law wasn’t her specialty.

“Just to be on the safe side,” said Marguerite, “I’d appreciate if you didn’t let people know I’m giving you access to all my files until it becomes clear that you are officially on her defense team. Any future files will have to be officially gotten through Roger Fillman.”

“Of course,” said Helen making a face, “and thank you.” Roger Fillman was the city attorney. Helen had known he was going to be a problem from the beginning. Helen had been the one and only lawyer who successfully exposed his ethics violations and habit of falsifying evidence, causing him to be suspended for 2 years and nearly disbarred. Luckily, Marguerite had just said she could count on the unofficial help of her office. That was no small advantage.

Marguerite wondered if Fillman was prosecuting this case because Daria was Helen’s daughter. Normally, cases like this would be left to her discretion. In any case, Fillman saw opportunity here, or he wouldn’t involve himself.

Marguerite smiled wryly at Helen. “By the way, that was amazing what you did to him back in the 80s. After that, a lot of lawyers were scared of you, weren’t they?”

Helen nodded. She hadn’t thought about it much in years. Fillman had been using false evidence to frame several small businesses into giving up, or losing everything, so that Con-Tel could monopolize the region. Because of Helen Morgendorffer, Con-Tel got sued out of existence, and Roger Fillman was suspended from his legal practice. She was a different person back then. “Actually, it had been a private investigator that proved he was falsifying evidence. I just made it stick.”

“You showed them ethics can mean something,” returned Marguerite. Ethics were a joke among lawyers. When given an ethics test, all one had to say when in doubt (or say period) was, “I would not accept this case in any circumstances.”

“Yes,” said Helen in a low voice, remembering. “It’s a big part of why I had to go into litigation. The other lawyers pretty much shunned me.”

Marguerite laughed lightly. “Shunned you? As I recall, no one would give you the time of day, let alone any help you needed. You had to leave Lawndale for more than ten years.”

Of course Marguerite knew that. She was one of the few people she stayed in contact with after she moved to Highland. Luckily, the incident seemed to be forgotten after more than ten years passed. But by then, she was used to living in Highland.

But then Helen thought of moving again because of the rising crime. The final straw had been the BATF tearing up Daria’s classroom and Daria witnessing the beating of her teacher because he had advised the BATF of “due process.”

After she told Marguerite of this by phone, it wasn’t long after that she got a call from a new law firm in Lawndale that was really impressed by a glowing recommendation by a Marguerite Kramer.

Helen spoke a little bemusedly. “Yes, and I thank you for helping me to move back.”

“I was glad to have you back, Helen,” replied Marguerite warmly. They both reminded each other of times long ago when they still believed in some things passionately. Had they ever been that young, and willing to spit in the eye of ‘The Man’? It seemed like another lifetime.

Now to make sure Helen would get the message that there is hope here, Marguerite thought. “My own PI, Earl Gentry, is digging up dirt on his own, too. Maybe history will repeat itself?”

“I hope so,” said Helen sincerely. Maybe this time, they could get him disbarred! Helen raised her eyes hopefully as she asked, “Know of any other allies that can help me against Filllman?”

“I hate to say this,” said Marguerite as she lightly covered her mouth with her hand as if to underscore how much she hated to say it, “but I hear the NRA is already getting ready to use this case to challenge the Gun-Free Zones Act and the Project Safe Neighborhoods.”

“Figures,” muttered Helen. “I’ve already have two messages and one e-mail from the Virginia Citizens Defense League offering to help Daria.”

Marguerite smiled with a sense of self-depreciating irony as she continued. “I’ve heard this from the groups you and I are a part of, of course, who are getting ready to fight them. Just maybe, as much as it irks the both of us, you should enlist the NRA’s help. Their financial, legal, and political resources are vast, and you and your daughter are going to need all the help you can get. Especially if this goes to a federal court, which it most likely will.

Helen’s face hardened but she nodded. “I plan to at least talk to them,” she said.

“Good,” she said. “I won’t be surprised if there’s a message from them on one of your message machines or e-mail accounts by the time you get home. But there’s a complication.”

Helen sighed, “Isn’t there always?”

“You know Roger Fillman still feels he has a score to settle with you over your revealing to the world what a rat he is. With him, that would be enough for him to throw the book at Daria. More than that, he has political ambitions that he pursues with ruthlessness. You know, of course, about his involvement with the former mayor?”

Helen nodded, stone-faced. Seems the former mayor had indulged in hiring prostitutes with tax dollars, including one that brought her underage daughter “to watch.” The new mayor, Marvin Grant, and her old enemy Roger Fillman had turned him in. Marvin Grant took his place in an emergency election promising to bring back morality and decency to government. Later, further investigation suggested they knew to turn him in because they had arranged for the illicit services to begin with, but Mayor Grant had already stolen the office by then. It was just another example of why Americans were generally disgusted with politics and ashamed of their government.

“Well,” said Marguerite, “he seems to be after the new mayorship, now. He’s already seeing who he can get to back him and finance his campaign for mayor if he crucifies your daughter.”

“How will that help him against Grant?” asked Helen as calmly as she could.

Marguerite smiled cynically, but without amusement. “Seems the new mayor doesn’t want to alienate his backers among Republicans and the NRA. He’s sticking to his crime control not gun control slogan. And he’s either going to fight to get Daria off... or he’s going to decide Daria’s a criminal that took the law into her own hands. Right now, he’s waiting to see how the political winds blow.”

“Justice means nothing to him,” said Helen. “Only politics.”

“Of course,” replied Marguerite casually. “But one thing in your favor is about to be released to the public.”

“Yes?” asked Helen, hopeful.

“Matthew Foster had a bag with 17 more bullets in his jacket pocket. Not only that, but he had an entire box of ammo for his gun in his backpack. Matthew meant to do more than shoot a couple of minorities and kill his ex-girlfriend. Matthew was out to commit a massacre.”

“Oh,” said Helen shocked, shaking her head. Then she brightened and felt horribly guilty for it, but also excited. “That means many of the parents of the students of Lawndale High will see Daria as someone who may have saved their own child!”

Marguerite nodded, but held up a hand. “Not necessarily. You are likely to get a lot of local support, but it’s not a sure thing.”

“But if that happens, then Roger will have an uphill battle prosecuting Daria!”

Marguerite took in a deep breath and looked directly at Helen. “In response, Roger Fillman has contacted several groups like Handgun Control Inc. and promised to vigorously prosecute not only Daria, but also anyone who had a hand in arming either her or Matthew Foster. He has already been promised support and contributions from several gun control groups, and he’s hoping to use them to also attack Marvin Grant’s reputation even further if he refuses to publicly condemn Daria, and to support himself as the new mayor come the next election.”

“Oh, god,” said Helen disgustedly. That such a foul man might become mayor of a town she lived in.... and might do so by crucifying Daria.... she trembled with rage and hatred for Roger Fillman. The fact that Helen helped, if only a little, to get some of the laws passed that Roger was now using with relish only deepened her hatred for him.

“One bit of news,” continued Marguerite, “and is not clear if it’s good or bad, is that Judge Tim Oliver will be presiding.”

Helen thought about that. Judge Oliver had ambitions, but he was also lazy, content to just get his fingers in several dirty pies. He also loved to pose for the media. He would do whatever would get him the most positive press, and possibly the most money. Right now, it was too early in the game to guess which way Judge Oliver would lean.

Helen moaned, “Is there anyone who cares about justice over politics?”

“Another complication,” said Marguerite, as if she hadn’t heard Helen’s comment.

“How many complications can there be?” groaned Helen rhetorically.

“The police are being very slow to actually charge Daria with a crime. They appear as if they’re going to hold her for the 48 hours if they can before they do anything official. I’ve already tried to pressure them to press charges and get the process going, but they’re stalling. And I hear Detective Dan Warner is seeking some kind of damage control by prosecuting Daria, but I don’t know what it is, yet. Consider that an unverified rumor that I will confirm or cancel in a day or two.”

“If he needs to build up a good rep, how come he can’t do it by getting people like Matthew off our streets?”

“They’re after bigger game,” said Marguerite, “and Daria has just become the biggest prize of all.”

“How far are they willing to go?” asked Helen quietly, bracing herself.

Marguerite shrugged. “They’re not very bright or competent, especially since the ‘average intelligence’ required for the job is heavily enforced.”

Helen just stared. “Average intelligence?”

Marguerite shrugged again. “That means not too smart. Because a smart officer would get bored patrolling Lawndale, and likely quit.” To Helen’s disbelieving gaze, she responded, “I’m serious.”

Helen shook her head. That help explained what had happened a little, but not completely.

Marguerite continued, “But they do know the tricks to cracking suspects and even getting them to confess to crimes that were never committed in the first place. Not all of them are fully legal, but between the fact that they’re detectives and that Roger Fillman will vouch for them, there’s not likely to be a lot I can do about such methods, unless they’re dumb enough to be blatant about it.”

Helen shook her head saying, “Daria is smart. She won’t fall for that. And she can drink hot water and spit out ice cubes.” Then Helen remembered Jane Lane was also arrested, and knew fear.

“I hope you’re right,” said Marguerite, “for her sake.”

“You don’t think they’d... abuse her, do you?”

“No,” said Marguerite firmly. “Not when you’re going to be breathing down their necks over every little thing they do. And they’re not all behind the blue shield. There are police there who are sick of what’s going on and very willing to help me in any way to stop the abuses going on.”

Marguerite didn’t suggest the horrible possibility that they might arrange for Daria to be put in a cell with someone who WOULD hurt her to encourage her to “confess.” But even that was unlikely, especially since she was already riding their back over every little thing they did. She hoped such knowledge would dissuade them from such barbarity.

“Marguerite?” asked Helen, “what about Jane Lane?”

Marguerite pursed her lips and went through some files. “Oh, yes, Jane Lane,” she said. “Ms. Lane was officially picked up for suspicion because the footage shows Jane going back to Daria after Daria shot Matthew.” She had emphasized the word “officially” just enough for Helen to catch it. “That’s it. Of course all parties are interested in where Daria got the... the weapon used, since it’s widely believed that you won’t have a gun yourself.”

“That’s right,” said Helen as she wondered what the unofficial reason for arresting Jane was, “I made Jake sell his guns some time ago.” Then she made a face. “The dog the police ran through our house yesterday should’ve convinced them, too.”

Marguerite blinked at that. She hadn't looked at everything yet, but she had no reason to think she would come across anything like that. “They used dogs in your house?”

“They said something about searching Daria’s room for bombs and ammo. Then I caught them in Quinn’s room and all over the house. I tried kicking them out and they threatened to arrest me for interfering in an investigation!”

Marguerite raised her brows. “The entire house?”

Helen’s eyes grew a bit distant. “They made a mess, especially of Daria’s and Quinn’s room. It’s going to take hours to get everything sorted, cleaned, and put back where it belongs. I don’t understand why they tore up Quinn’s room! And Quinn was upset enough before they did that.”

Marguerite shook her head. “They’re taking a big risk,” she said visibly surprised that they went to such lengths. “When you’re ready to sue their socks off, let me know. I’ll help”

Helen smiled warmly. “Thank you.” Then she frowned. "Do you think they searched the Lane residence, too?"

Marguerite spoke thoughtfully. "I'm sure they did, but I haven't come across that." She shook her head again. "This is strange."

"Tell me about it," moaned Helen. “What can you tell me of Daria’s gun?”

“The gun, a .32 Mark II, is unregistered. It was also loaded with JHPs....”

JHPs?” asked Helen.

“Jacketed Hollow Points.”

That didn’t sound good. “Are JHPs particularly bad?”

“They’re hollow bullets that deal more soft-tissue damage when they flatten out, which makes them more deadly. They’re also harder for forensics to investigate, though any dedicated examiner will still find what they’re looking for. But they’re common among hunters and police both, partially because they’re less likely to ricochet.” She shrugged. “And they said this is the only type of bullet that would be effective for this type of gun. By the way, Helen, has Daria ever practiced with any kind of firearm before, or taken a firearm training course?”

Helen shook her head. “Not to my knowledge. I can’t imagine her leaving her room for any kind of physical activity if she can help it.”

“Then why was she such a good shot?” She pulled another file out and opened it. “Two in the center of the back, one in the head. The head caused more massive brain damage than would normally happened, and one of the two shots in his back pierced his spinal cord. We say she’s been trained, and trained well, in how to use a gun to kill.”

Helen shivered. She vaguely recalled some jokes about a “Melody Powers,” and “working for the government.” But she shook her head again and said, “I don’t know what to tell you.”

“That’s not the only mystery,” said Marguerite, “The gun does not show up on NLET, and neither does the gun used by Matthew Foster, though no one has given up trying to trace the two guns.....”

Helen interrupted with, “NLET?” .

“National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System.” When Helen nodded, she continued. “Even more interesting is that Daria’s gun has been heavily coated with teflon which makes getting any fingerprints impossible for all practical purposes. Forensics claims the teflon was added in specifically for that purpose. The only prints they can identify are Daria’s most recent ones.”

“But Matthew’s gun wasn’t coated with this teflon?”

Marguerite shook her head. “No. Matthew didn’t seem to take all that good care of his gun. Daria, on the other hand, looks to have treated her gun with a lot of TLC.”

Helen swallowed. “So you have no idea where it came from?”

“I would guess it was sold to a hobbyist in one of the loopholes used by gun enthusiasts. That hobbyist may even be Daria. Even if this is the case, it should’ve cost her no less than $250, given its condition, and that doesn’t count the teflon job or the hollow points she had, or the bullets she used in learning to use her gun. Did Daria have that kind of cash on her? Has she asked for a lot of money, or for a lot of little bits of cash over and over again?”

Helen shook her head, but remembered all the times Daria made Helen bribe her. She thought Daria did that to other people, too. It wasn’t impossible for her to raise the money, but why would she buy a gun?

Marguerite continued. “It’s a wild card, so to speak, but no one seriously believes the gun belongs to you or Jake. Personally, I’d guess Daria got it at a gun show. Here in Virginia, there are no criminal background checks required and more than a few gun dealers are completely unlicensed.”

“Damnation,” moaned Helen. This was another example of why she pushed for greater gun control.

“Even felons not allowed firearms can usually get one there. So Daria shouldn’t have a problem, if she had the money. An officer discreetly told me that some strongly suspect Jane Lane of getting the gun for her. Why they suspect this is beyond me, but I haven’t looked at all the reasons and evidence available yet. Maybe I’ve missed something important.”

Helen sensed that Marguerite wasn’t telling all. “So we have the excuse on why they’re holding Jane, but what is their real reason? Is she a dangerous liability to us?”

Marguerite looked sadly at Helen. “They’re pressuring her to testify against Daria or to confess to getting the gun for Daria. If she cracks, she’s a liability to Daria and to herself. If she doesn’t, they will likely let her go, but only so they can see where she goes and who she talks to.”

“They think Jane would lead them to the source of the gun?”

“Maybe,” said Marguerite with an unreadable expression. “There’s also the possibility she’ll talk. That’s how most cases are cracked, you know. People can’t keep their mouth shut, and kids are especially bad about it. Especially if they feel they got away with something.”

“Marguerite, please!” pleaded Helen, “what are you not telling me?”

Marguerite grimaced and cleared her throat. “I am about to tell you something that you would be very ill-advised to repeat outside this office.”

Helen drew in breath and braced herself. “Go on.”

Marguerite added, “In fact, should you find evidence of anything I’m about to share with you, it would be wise if you thought twice before bringing it to me or even letting me know such evidence exists.”

“That bad?” Helen was getting scared.

Marguerite nodded her head. “Matthew Foster was known to vice cops as a petty drug dealer.”

“No,” said Helen disbelieving, “he’s a clean cut boy....” She trailed off.

“A clean cut boy with a nice car and money to take Quinn to Chez Pierre,” said Marguerite, “from a low income, single parent family on welfare. A clean cut boy who would never try to kill your daughter.”

“That bastard,” whispered Helen in moment of fury and panic. Then she remembered something. “Just last month, on the Saturday after Valentine’s Day, Quinn, the Fashion Club she’s with, and some other boys went to a family cabin belonging to Matthew’s family. What about that?”

“We’re looking into that as we speak. You see, Helen, we can’t find out where Matthew got his gun, either, and we believe it belongs to his father, just as that cabin does.”

“But you’re not sure.”

“No,” she said. “Matthew’s father is barred from having guns as part of the restraining order barring him from contacting Matthew’s mother.”

Helen leaned back in her chair. This just got better and better. “What else?”

Marguerite smiled grimly. “He filed a restraining order back at her with the same condition added in. So technically, she’s not allowed guns either. As they both have a history of substance abuse, trouble with the law, mental illness, and domestic violence by both against each other, neither had any trouble in getting the restraining order extended to a few years. But they seem to have done it more out of spite than actual fear.”

She pulled out another file and opened it. “Matthew’s mother’s house was searched and no weapons were found. The father’s house was searched, and we found two handguns. But the lab is saying they don’t think Matthew’s gun came from there. Matthew’s gun isn’t as well taken care of and doesn’t have any of his father’s prints. There are also some telltale chemicals that forensics looks at, and their examination leads them to conclude that Matthew’s gun never belonged to Matthew’s father. A warrant is being drawn up to search the cabin that was left to Matthew’s father two years ago when Matthew’s grandfather died, but nobody really expects to find anything.”

“I’d like to know what you find, even if it’s nothing,” said Helen, “since my daughter spent a day out there skiing!”

“I’ll be sure to tell you,” Marguerite replied, “but the lab boys believe the father when he says he’s never seen the gun Matthew used in his life. It’s just one more mystery in all this crud.”

“I hope there aren’t any more surprises,” said Helen in a low voice.

Marguerite looked down a moment and looked back up. “Oh, I saved the best for last.”

“Please, tell me!” Helen was getting annoyed with this game of digging information out of her.

Marguerite cleared her throat. “Jane, Daria, and Quinn were apparently mentioned in a report from an informant to a vice cop as being in a drug ring with Matthew Foster. Another informant even stated that Daria and Matthew got into a gang related dispute that ended in gunfire at a seedy little bar known as the Zen a little over a week ago.”

Helen’s leaned forward, her eyes wide in shock and anger. “That’s impossible!”

“Is it?” asked Marguerite calmly.

“That’s just so.... it’s impossible,” said Helen shaking her head. “Until recently, Daria and Quinn almost never got along together. I mean I’m as shocked as I am grateful that Daria did what she did to save Quinn.”

“The detectives don’t believe Daria shot Matthew to save Quinn,” said Marguerite carefully. “They suspect Daria shot Matthew because he was about to be busted and reveal names, including her’s and Quinn’s. It’s even been suggested that Daria meant for Quinn to die first. They also claim that Quinn hid the drugs that police knew Matthew had purchased, but it wasn’t until last Monday that the police even knew about his relation with Quinn.”

“NO!” shouted Helen standing up. “That’s just so warped! Those cops are crazy! It’s nothing like that at all!” She took a breath and sat back down. “I’m sorry for that outburst. It’s just that it’s so crazy. You don’t believe any of that, do you?”

“I think the detectives are incompetent, especially if what they said is true about not knowing of the relationship between Matthew and Quinn until last Monday, and Roger Fillman is desperate to do anything to win this case,” said Marguerite carefully, “but I’m also convinced that there is more going on here than we realize. If Daria is as smart and cool under fire as you say, why did she bring a gun to school? And where did she get it? And what about the teflon?”

Helen had no response to that. Finally she took in a breath. “It turned out she needed it.”

“What she needed was to get Matthew out of the way, one way or another. For one reason or another.” When Helen gave Marguerite a hurt look, she shook her head. “I’m on your side Helen. But I feel there is something more to this story than you or I know about. Roger Fillman and the Lawndale PD fully believe this to be so and are very anxious to get to the bottom of it. And that’s why Jane will likely be released without charges if she can’t be used to harm Daria directly. To see if she can be made to harm Daria in another way.”

“Impossible,” Helen repeated.

“If Daria were a drug dealer,” said Marguerite slowly, “it would explain how she got the money to get a gun, and why she carried it around and learned to use it.”

Helen pushed her rising fury away at what Marguerite was saying. “Is there ANY evidence to any of these claims besides the unsubstantiated claims of an informant, whom I assume to be a drug user himself, that this suspected involvement took place?”

Marguerite put her hands together for a moment and spoke very clearly. “No, there is not. And your assumption about the informant being a drug user and insinuating the informant to be unreliable are both correct. Investigation at the Zen has so far turned up nothing, and not a single bullet hole was found, thus discrediting the allegations of any shoot-out. Everyone the police talked to claimed that such a story was ridiculous, but they’re only getting warmed up. Still, the informant swears it’s true and seems to believe it."

Then she knocked her half-folded fingers against her desk as she said, “However, if Jane Lane is released, she will be closely watched, tailed, and monitored to see if any such connection between Matthew Foster’s drug dealing can be made to her.”

“Then it’s Jane’s problem more than Daria’s, right?” Helen asked desperately. “She won’t turn on Daria. I know it.”

“Helen,” said Marguerite in her tone of voice that said this was very important, “if they succeed at this they have an automatic connection to Daria Morgendorffer via Jane Lane. Between Daria and Matthew, they have an automatic connection to Quinn Morgendorffer. If nothing else, they can entrap Jane and then extort her to testify against Daria, even if she has to lie. They’ve done it others before.”

“I better warn Jane,” said Helen more to herself than to Marguerite. And I better represent her along with Daria, she thought to herself.

“You do that,” said Marguerite, “but make sure you sound like a concerned mother asking about her daughter than a conspirator in a crime. You know Roger Fillman would love to implicate you, too, if he thought he possibly could.”

“Don’t I know it,” gritted Helen.

“Right now, Jane is the one who will need to exercise the most caution. If they can, they will do just about anything to extort her to turn against Daria.”

“They’d destroy Jane just to get Daria?”

Marguerite gave Helen a look of disbelief, saying, “You have to ask?”

Helen took a deep breath. “I’ve had experiences from my own college days with the fuzz, and I know there are a lot of nasty secrets below the mirage of respectability. So I can accept everything you’re telling me with very little difficulty, and know that sometimes it gets even worse.” Then Helen shook her head to emphasize her next statement. “But the police even thinking that Daria, Quinn, and Jane in a drug ring with Matthew! That is just too unbelievable. Even the police have to know that!”

“And it may be nothing more than smoke and mirrors,” said Marguerite relaxing her voice, “but Helen, you know what this could do to your daughter’s case if any such connection is proven.” Marguerite spoke then with emphasis. “Talk to your daughter and find out if there’s any truth to these allegations at all. And do it soon in case the police decide to ask Quinn about it first.”

Helen nodded in stunned disbelief. “I will.”

“In any case,” said Marguerite businesslike, “find out where Daria acquired the gun. I think that’s the key to this whole mystery. You can count on Roger Fillman to hammer away at this until he finds out the truth for himself. I expect he will find out. And when he does, Helen, you better be ready for him.”

Helen fought tears as she rubbed her temples, muttering, “I don’t know who I hate more, Roger Fillman or Matthew Foster.”

“You’d hate Matthew Foster more if he had killed Quinn. Which would you rather do, Helen? Try to save Daria from being crucified for saving your other daughter, or trying to crucify Foster for the murder of Quinn Morgendorffer?”

Helen choked once in a stunted sob and then regained control of herself. She wiped a single tear away as she pulled herself out of her sudden bout of self-pity. “I feel like my entire world is crumbling around me, Marguerite, and I’m just now coming to realize just how little I know about my own children.” She shook her head, taking a deep breath, and composed herself. “Thank you for your help,” she said quietly as she got up. “I should be getting back to Quinn.”

“Of course,” replied Marguerite, also getting up and walking over to Helen and touching her hand. “And I’m looking into some sources that Roger Fillman won’t expect. I hope I find something I can give you to use against him,” she said with sincerity, “because not only will it help my career if he’s out of my way, but I hate that bastard, too.”

“Thank you,” said Helen, giving Marguerite a brief hug, “for everything.”

Marguerite squeezed Helen’s arm. “Just be glad you still have Quinn to go back to, Helen Morgendorffer.”





03/15/01, 12:23 P.M., Thursday

As she had done for breakfast, Beth woke Daria up for lunch. Daria groaned some and then reached for where she had put her glasses. She was glad they let her keep them as she was practically blind without them. When she looked up with her glasses on, she saw Beth standing in front of her holding her tray out to her.

Daria mumbled her thanks and started eating without much thought. She didn’t think she would go back to sleep right after the way she had done after breakfast. She wondered how much longer they were going to keep her here. Didn’t they have bigger pens somewhere with TV or something? She was going to miss Sick, Sad World.

“You were thrashing around in your sleep,” said Beth.

“Huh?” asked Daria brightly. Then she understood and just said, “Oh.”

“What were you dreaming about?”

Daria tried to recall. She couldn’t really remember. Quinn was in it, and Jane. No Matthew or cops or jail or anything like that. In what little of her dream she could recall, she did not think of where she now was or what had just happened.

“I don’t remember enough,” said Daria.

“I bet you were dreaming about shooting up your school,” said Beth.

“Maybe,” Daria replied.

“It’s so boring without a TV,” Beth said.

Daria grunted her sympathy.

“Hey, is there a place still called the Zen?”

Daria nodded.

“Oh, you’ve been there! I haven’t been there in awhile. What’s going on there now?”

“Same ol’ stuff as always. Bands play, people get intoxicated and leave together to make decisions they’ll regret the rest of the lives, and everything else that people do in any place they go to.”

“I hear that place has gotten kinda rough lately. Is it?”

Daria shook her head. “Not really.”

“A lot of hot merchandise gets moved at places like that. Well, not a lot, not in Lawndale, but they have it, too. I bet you got your gun there, huh?”

Daria stared at her deadpan.

“No, I bet you had a gun before you went to the Zen, didn’t you?” Beth smiled conspiratorially at her. “C’mon, anything ever happened to you there?”

Daria frowned. Obviously, someone knew something had happened at the Zen, but they didn’t know what happened. Beth was to find out for them. That’s why she was in this cell without a TV. They hoped she would get so bored she’d spill everything to Beth, who was either a cop or someone that would get time-off for good behavior or something.

“Once,” said Daria, “but you’ll need to show me your security clearance before I can tell you about how I almost averted World War III.”

“Almost?” Beth blinked several times, and then frowned at Daria. “Well, I’d rather hear about you shooting up your school anyway,” said Beth. “Like, why did you do it?”

“You mean besides the obvious reasons?”

Beth seemed a little taken aback, and then she forced a laugh. “Yeah, besides that.”

“I was bored, and thought I would liven things up a bit.”

Beth frowned, and for a second she looked angry. And then she tapped her right foot, whining, “Can’t you pleeeeaase tell me what happened? I’m so bored here that I think I’ll just start screaming if SOMETHING doesn’t entertain me soon!”

Daria sighed. Okay. But just to be on the safe side, she’d get the heavily edited script she was saving for everyone else. “Quinn dates a lot of guys, and she started dating Matthew....”

“And you liked Matthew?”

“No,” said Daria with a little emphasis. “I don’t really like many of Quinn’s boyfriends. But Quinn decided she didn’t want to date him anymore and dropped him. Matthew wouldn’t accept that. He said Quinn used him and discarded him. Then he would try to convince her to take him back. Obviously, the guy was a nut case.”

Beth encouraged her by leaning toward her a bit.

“Jane and I happened to walk down the stairs of my house when we heard him by the front door threatening to hurt Quinn, to show her she couldn’t just use guys like that. I picked up the phone and Jane told asked Quinn if she wanted us to dail 9-1-1.”

“Jane? Who’s Jane?”

“A friend. Or at least someone who will talk to me. Anyway, Quinn said be ready if he didn’t leave right away, and Matthew pushed past her coming towards me. I hit the 9 and he threatened to break my fingers if I didn’t stop. He said he could do that before the police got there. Then we all heard a beep. We all saw Quinn with a cell phone to her ear and she ran out the door, slamming it behind her. Matthew turned to me and bluntly said, ‘The police can take me away, but they can’t keep me away. Remember that you,’ yadda, yadda, yadda, and a bunch of obscenities. Then he went out and grabbed Quinn. Quinn says he smashed her phone while he says Quinn dropped it. Then he hit Quinn and left before the cops showed up.”

“And they didn’t go after him at all, did they?”

“Yeah, they did actually,” said Daria. “They just didn’t keep him. It’s pretty much as he said, the police could take him away, but they couldn’t keep him away. What really bothered me was he was surprised when we did what we did and was unsure about what to do. I knew he’d have a plan the next time. And I heard rumors that he had a gun, and I started researching stalker cases that really bothered me. And then my mom filed a restraining order against him, and I had just read that such orders sometimes cause stalkers to go postal. So I prepared. When Matthew showed up shooting at Quinn, I shot him first. End of story, except for me being here. There were two other people shot, but that was by Matthew, not by me.”

Beth shook her head a bit, seemingly fascinated. “Wow,” she finally said. “That sounds like you saved a life. Why did they arrest you for?”

“Because I had a gun in a so-called gun-free zone. I’m being charged with his murder, too.”

“Those assholes,” Beth murmured. “But I hear you fired three shots, and all hit vital spots. Where did you learn to shoot?”

“Beginner’s luck.
I read the instructions and I was careful.”

Beth showed annoyance for a second, saying, “Uh, hu,” in a way that said she didn’t really believe that. Then she put on a sad face and looked down. After a bit, she shyly said, “Daria.... there’s this guy that beats me up sometimes, and he has a gun, too. I want to leave him, but I’m afraid. Could you pleeease tell me how I could get a gun around here without everyone knowing about it? Please?”

Daria’s eyes hardened just a bit. Everyone wanted to know where she got her gun. Was Beth telling the truth, or was she getting a special deal if she found out for the police? Daria decided then that in any case, where she got a gun wouldn’t do her any good anyway, so she just shook her head. “Sorry,” said Daria, “but my source would never deal with me again after my face has been all over the news. He’s probably in Mexico somewhere by now.”

“Can’t you help me at all?”

“There are plenty of places to get guns, especially for someone your age.”

Beth shook her head. “I’m a convict, Daria. I can’t.”

Daria wasn’t too streetwise, but she knew there were still ways to get a gun. Besides.... “Why don’t you just leave?”

“He’d track me down and kill me.

“Not if you made sure the police found him while he had a lot of drugs on him or in his vehicle.”

Beth leaned forward, looking at Daria with what appeared to be real hope in her eyes. “Daria,” she whispered, “would you know of a source my boyfriend doesn’t know about for crystal? That would be even better than the gun.”

Daria’s brows raised and she smiled. “Sure, I’ll fix you right up. I keep my crystal hidden in a box of baking soda. Cash upfront.”

Beth frowned. She obviously wasn’t giving up, but she had no reply to that. Daria wondered if she was just being paranoid, or if the cops really were trying to set her up. And if they were trying to set her up, was her instinctive distrust still paranoia? She could definitely feel the hidden mines all around her just waiting for her to make one small misstep.

Daria entertained Beth with other things, and Beth shared a little about her own screwed up life. One that came down to asking Daria for help in getting away from him, and if only she had a gun....

The door was suddenly being opened. Sergeant Lanny was there, one hand on one hip, one on the door. “Daria Morgendorffer,” she simply said.

Daria got up, and followed her out without a word. She was almost pathetically grateful when the cuffs didn’t go back on. She was escorted to a bright room on the second story, even with a large window she could see outside into Lawndale.

A young woman sitting at a desk smiled warmly at Daria. She had short blonde hair that looked both easy to care for and stylish. She got up and walked professionally and competently up to Daria, extending her hand.

“Ms. Morgendorffer?” said the woman in a voice that sounded concerned, “I’m Ms. Palmer, a lawyer who is very interested in your case.”

Daria extended her own hand and felt Ms. Palmer shake firmly. She never lost her smile. Daria raised a brow. “Aren’t you a little young to be a lawyer?”

Ms. Palmer laughed, “Aren’t you a little young to know how to get on my good side?” She waved at a chair in front of the desk she had been sitting at. “Please, Daria, sit down and we’ll talk about your case.”

Daria walked over and sat down. Ms. Palmer chatted about how far feminism had come and how far it had to go. Stalkers were a menace to women everywhere. Daria let it go in one ear and out there other before asking, “Why isn’t my mom here?”

“She will be here soon, Daria, but she’s still working on preparing a good defense, and that’s something you’re really going to need.”

“You don’t have to sound so cheerful about it,” muttered Daria.

“Oh, the challenge of it is exciting, Daria! Challenge is a spice that makes victory taste that much sweeter!”

When Daria just stared at her silently, Ms. Palmer lost a little of her smile, a little nervous. She took a drink of her coffee before smiling again, saying, Calm down, Daria. We can all be friends here. I just wanted to ask you a little about the case, if that’s all right with you?”

Daria just stared, but her expression said it might be... and it might not be.

Ms. Palmer cleared her throat. “Now Daria,” she began as she opened up a file and started looking at some papers within. “Where did you get the gun?”

Daria crossed her arms.

Daria,” Ms. Palmer said in a quiet, concerned voice, “it’s possible that some of these charges can be levied at the one who armed you in the first place instead of yourself. Don’t you want that?”

Daria said, “Sorry, but that is information that I can’t give out.”

“Will you tell the judge that, Daria?” Ms. Palmer looked at Daria meaningfully. “Do you know what contempt of court is?”

“Fine,” said Daria, “I’ll make something up.”

Ms. Palmer cleared her throat again. “I did not hear that.” She shuffled through some more papers. “Okay, let’s get on with what you are willing to tell me at this time. You believed Matthew to be a threat?”

Daria began talking, sharing everything she had told her cell mate Beth, and nothing more. She was glad now that she had a chance to rehearse it because Ms. Palmer knew how to ask unexpected questions in such a way that Daria’s natural reaction was to give answers before she thought about it. It was a little unnerving.

Finally, Daria said, “Look, if you don’t mind, I’d like to talk to Mom now. Can you call her for me?”

“Your mom is busy, Daria,” said Ms. Palmer, losing a bit of her warmth. “She’ll be along when she can. Meanwhile, I’m supposed to get some information to make this case go smoother. Please help me, okay?”

When Daria didn’t respond, she took another drink and then opened another file. “You’re a good student, Daria,” she said sounding pleased, “I like that. And you’re smart, too. How much planning went into ‘being prepared’?”

I got a gun just in case, and that was it.”

“How did you get it past the metal detectors?”

“I left it in my bag outside the craft building and went around, opened the door and got it.”

Daria,” said Ms. Palmer, “Jane Lane told us she went in while you waited outside. Being something of an artistically created student, she was able to get into the craft shop with little suspicion. She then let you in, knowing you had a gun under your shirt. She did this for the day before the shooting and for the day of the shooting.”

Daria stared wide-eyed. That was what actually happened. Had Jane Lane really told her this?

Ms. Palmer smiled at Daria with warmth. “Jane Lane trusts me,” she said sweetly. “And so can you.” She took another drink of her coffee and then flipped to another page, this time hiding it from Daria. “Okay, according to Jane Lane, you both decided that Matthew was going to hurt you or Quinn, or both of you, and you had to get him before he got either of you.”

“No, she did not say that,” said Daria in a frosty tone, “she was letting me in because I asked her to, without her knowing why. I told her it was an experiment to see how long before Ms. Li caught on. It can be fun to play with Ms. Li’s paranoid little head, and I said if she was good enough not to be caught all week, I’d even pay her $20, but she’d have to pay me if she was caught.”

“Please, Daria, don’t lie to me. Why would you come up with such an unlikely scheme, and why would Jane go along with it?” Ms. Palmer was tapping a paper with a pen as she leaned forward a bit to hear Daria’s answer.

Daria fumed at Ms. Palmer telling her not to lie! In a frosty voice, she replied, “I secretly figured that if Matthew didn’t show up that week intending harm, then Matthew was bluffing and I could stop bringing the gun to school. But Jane thought we were just playing a head game while contesting a wager. I have no idea where you came up with what you claim Jane said, but I know you’re lying, because that statement you said Jane made is not true. That’s all I have to say, except this interview is over.”

Daria,” said Ms. Palmer, looking wounded, “Please. I’m trying to help you and your friend. You have both been the victim of a horrible crime, just as much as Quinn Morgendorffer was, and yet you two are being treated as the criminals. Help me to help you.”

Daria looked away. “I want to talk to Mom.”

Ms. Palmer sighed. “Okay, Daria. Are you sure you’re willing to abandon Jane? She won’t be happy to hear you contradicted her story.” When Daria said nothing, she pushed a button that made a slight buzz that Daria could hear.

Soon, Sergeant Lanny came back in. “You done?” she asked gruffly.

“Yes, we’re done for now,” said Ms. Palmer all business like.

“Can’t I at least call my mom?” asked Daria.

“Your mother is too busy,” said Ms. Palmer, now sounding like a glacier.

Daria left, feeling alone. Was Ms. Palmer really on her team? How did she know about Jane’s part in this? But there was no plan to get Matthew first, so where had that come from? Daria’s eyes narrowed. Jane Lane hadn’t talked. So how did they know what they did?

Daria suddenly stopped, causing Sergeant Lanny to bump into her. She started walking again. The camera! It caught Jane coming into the school alone, going to the craft shop and coming out with Daria beside her. There was no cam in the shop itself. The investigators had watched the footage and made a reasonable guess over what happened. She remembered the cam now, but had forgotten it after she and Jane had figured out how to sneak her gun into school.

Daria grew angry at how she had nearly betrayed her friend, but also felt relief in that she hadn’t. Ms. Palmer was another minefield. Paranoia would be her policy now. But would that ploy work on Jane?

She stopped again. “Sergeant Lanny?”


“I haven’t had my phone call yet. I’d like to make my call now.”

“I can send someone to get you,” she said. But it wasn’t firm. She was just being lazy.

“Please,” said Daria. “My mom’s my real lawyer and I need to talk to her right now. It’s urgent.”

Sergeant Lanny sighed theatrically. “Fine, come back this way.”

She soon came to a pay phone. Was she supposed to call collect? She looked at Sergeant Lanny, who sighed again and pulled out some change to put in the phone. She called home, hoping someone would be home. She braced herself for Quinn.

Helen’s voice came on that told Daria it was the answering machine. Damn. After it beeped, Daria said, “Mom! Mom, please be there! This is very important. You have to speak to me and get Jane out as soon as possible, or at least get a message to her. Please! Won’t someone pick up? I need you NOW. Please.....”

“Hello? Daria?” It was Dad.

“Dad?” asked Daria with trembling relief, “Can I speak with Mom, please? Even if you have to link us.”

Daria? Daria!? Helen is trying to bust you out right now! We won’t let them put you away, it’s us against the world, kiddo!”

“Thanks,” said Daria, “May I speak to Mom, please?”

“Sure! And Daria, don’t SAY anything to anyone until Helen gets there!”

“Right, Dad.” She didn’t ask for Mom again, because there was another beep and Helen was on the line.

“I got it, Jake,” said Helen.

“Good talking to you, kiddo,” said Jake.

“I feel the same,” said Daria.

Daria, I’m so sorry! If you knew how many people are calling, you’d know why we’re screening our calls now. Every Tom, Dick, Harry, Mary, Jane, Sue want me to tell them something they don’t know, which is a lot! Anyway, how are you?” asked Helen. She seemed happy, if extremely frazzled, to hear from her.

Daria took a couple of seconds to get her thoughts back together. “Not good, Mom,” she said. “I know how you feel with everyone hammering away at you, but it’s even worse here. They’re trying everything to get me to talk about things I didn’t do, and things I just shouldn’t be talking about at all. They just tried to....”

Daria!” shouted Helen, “their phones are monitored! More than one person was convicted for discussing a crime over their pay phones, so don’t say anything that can be used against you in a court of law!”

“Right, Mom.” Daria grimaced. She hadn’t even thought of that. Still, it’s not like she would say anything with Sergeant Lanny right beside her. “Anyway, I’m afraid they might try tricking Jane, and she might not figure out they’re trying to entrap her before it’s too late.” When there was silence, Daria continued, “Unless you really did hire a Ms. Palmer to work on our case?”


Daria pulled the phone away from her ear, that shriek was so loud. She put the phone next to her again. “Mom, please don’t do that again. I now only have one ear left.”

“Oh, god, Daria, you didn’t say anything to her, did you?”

“Um,” said Daria briefly recalling what she did say, “Nothing that should incriminate me anyway. She tried to get me to tell lies about Jane, and I knew then she was lying.”

“God, Daria, she’s part of Roger Fillman’s staff!”

“Who?” The name sounded familiar.

“The city attorney. He’s the one prosecuting you, and he plans to crucify you, Daria.”

“Well is it legal to say she’s my defense attorney?”

“She said that?” asked Helen in a tone of disbelief.

Daria thought a moment. “Um... no, actually. She just led me to believe she was helping you with my defense. But she never said she was.”

“That bitch!” muttered Helen bitterly. “They’re trying to get you and Jane to turn against each other. Right now they don’t have enough on you to make this a sweet enough victory. They need you and Jane to tear each other a part, volunteer information, even lie about each other just to hurt each other. And then they have you both as sacrifices for Fillman’s future campaign.”

“Excuse me?” asked Daria. She was following this until that last line.

Fillman. He plans to crucify you just to make a play at becoming the next mayor of Lawndale.”

Daria felt her lip tremble a little. “Why? Am I that hated that crucifying me will win someone the election? I mean I know what I did and all, but lives were in danger, and there was nothing anyone could do about it. I did the only thing I thought I could do, which was merely a precaution. It was only for a few days. Another day or two and I would’ve stopped bringing the gun.”

It’s okay,” said Helen sounding furious and compassionate at the same time. “Daria, please understand, this is beyond you. There are several factions that plan to use you to challenge or uphold certain laws.”

Daria grunted in obvious distress, “You understand, Mom, and anyone listening in on this call. I’m a person, not a rope to be yanked around like this for the advancement of career and wealth. This strikes me as evil.”

“Pretty much,” said Helen.” And it gets worse. Fillman has exchanged favors with nearly all the detectives at that station, and has their support. No doubt he promised them a huge budget if he became mayor, too. Which would....”

Helen paused, and Daria sensed Helen thought better of talking about that now. “Look, honey, I’ll explain this later. You do have friends and you do have help. You’re not alone and we will get through this. I will get you out as soon as I can, but you are not to talk to Ms. Palmer.”

“I know that,” gritted out Daria, “but does JANE know that?”

Daria could sense the light flickering with her mom as she heard the sudden intake of breath.

Daria,” said Helen quickly, “I need to call someone right away. I’ll be there to get you as soon as I can. Thank you for calling me with this information. I love you.” The phone clicked.

Daria slowly put the phone back in its cradle, feeling alone again. She tried to make herself feel better by imagining how she could use all this in a future Melody Powers story, but she desperately wanted her mom to come get her and Jane out before either one of them finally stepped wrong, allowing the State to chew them up without mercy, just so people could advance their political careers.

She was starting to think of the world like that “evil universe” in that Star Trek video, “Mirror, Mirror.” Only no one admitted that people advanced themselves by destroying others. They pretended it was all about justice and the right winning over all. So in this universe, there was hypocrisy added in with all the other evils.

She barely noticed when she was back in her cell with Beth. She lay down, hoping that her mom would get her out soon. She couldn’t even fake a smile when she looked at Beth.

“That bad, huh?” asked Beth.

“That bad,” affirmed Daria. She briefly wished she hadn’t brought the gun, had allowed Matthew to kill Quinn, and then Matthew would be here now. He deserved this. And then the sheer guilt of such a thought as wishing Quinn dead so she wouldn’t be here cut her and she started sobbing.

Beth came up to her and held her, telling her it was going to be okay.

When Daria forced herself to calm down a bit so that she could distance herself from the unwanted contact, Beth asked, “What did you tell them?”

“Same as I told you,” said Daria in a wavering voice.

“Did you tell ‘em where you got the gun?”

“No,” Daria replied, her eyes going hard but looking away from Beth at that moment.

“Man, I’m dying with curiosity where a kid like you got a gun. I bet your mom got it for you in secret, didn’t she?”

Daria forced out a laugh. “I’m going to lie down for awhile. Wake me when my mom gets here to bail me out.”

“Please, Daria, it’s so boring here without a TV! Tell me SOMETHING that no one else knows!”

Daria turned back to Beth, a little calmer. “Promise not to tell anyone?”

“I promise!” said Beth, sounding sincere.

“Ash got it for me at S-Mart.”


“A guy I met at the local Lackluster Video.”

“Oh. How did he get you a gun? Did he know what you were going to do?”

Daria sighed. “You better not tell anyone else what I’m about to tell you.”

“I already promised you I wouldn’t!”

“All right then. When I told him about Matthew, he got me a gun since he works Sporting Goods instead of Housewares now. He told me a gun helped him out in a few bad situations of his own and gave it to me.

“And he works at S-Mart,” said Beth distractedly. She shook her head. “I don’t think I’ve heard of it.”

“Shop smart,” said Daria. “Shop S-Mart.”

“Oh, yeah,” said Beth, not sounding sure, “I think I have heard of it. Wow. Thanks for sharing. I won’t tell anyone! You get some rest now, okay?”

Daria stared at her a moment longer. “Okay. Just so long as I can trust you.”

Beth and Daria exchanged secretive smiles, and then Daria turned over and let herself go back to sleep.





03/15/01, 3:22 P.M., Thursday

Helen walked in the door, grateful for the curious lack of reporters outside. Maybe she’d allow herself a glass of something.... soothing. But first, she needed to talk to Quinn.

“Helen!” shouted Jake running down the stairs, “We gotta bust our girl out of jail! No telling what horrible things they’re doing to her right now!”

“Calm down, Jake!” Helen was yelling that a lot lately. “They’re not doing anything to her.”

“That’s easy for you to say!” shouted Jake. “Have you ever seen Vixens in Chains? That was based on a true story!”

“Vixens in Chains?” asked Helen mystified. “When did you see Vixens in Chains? And what was it about? And what was it rated?”

Jake suddenly looked as if he were a rabbit staring in some approaching headlights. “Um, I don’t recall,” said Jake in a quiet voice. Then he raised his voice again, “But we’ve got to get her out before she’s in there for too long! We don’t want our Daria to become any more hardened than she already is!”

“Jake!” shouted Helen, “Calm down! She’s coming home tomorrow, as soon as we get through the bond hearing.”

“But the police are all corrupt, and force people to confess to crimes they didn’t commit!”

“Jake,” said Helen with much exasperation, “They’re not all corrupt, only most of them. They don’t torture anyone to confess, they trick people with little money, protection, or intelligence into making things up or seeming to admit to things without realizing what they are saying. Daria is too smart for that, and there are too many eyes on her, and we have enough money and legal power that they won’t try anything outrageous with her at all. If they’re smart, they will mind their p’s and q’s and dot all their i’s in triplicate.”

“Oh, that’s a relief,” said Jake, “they’re too smart to do anything illegal to Daria.”

Helen bit her lip. Best not to tell him that wasn’t necessarily true. Besides, part of Helen actually hoped to be able to prove something just illegal enough to get the entire case thrown out of court. If she believed in God, she would pray for it.

“I think I’ll go take another valium,” said Jake casually as he headed back upstairs.

“You do that,” said Helen. She’d have to watch him to make sure he didn’t take too many or start drinking, too. But she had too much to do right now. She’d deal with Jake later. Maybe have him committed before he drove her into a nervous breakdown.

She went up the stairs and checked on Jake before going to Quinn’s door and putting her ear on it. She could make out that Quinn was actually crying softly in there. She braced herself to be strong and knocked on the door.

“What?” said Quinn.

Helen opened the door. She looked around in surprise--Quinn had her room spotless, orderly, and clean. She’d say something, but there was something more important to talk about right now.

“Quinn,” said Helen calmly and gently, “we need to talk about something very important.” She braced herself. The last time she said that, Quinn went on about charges to her credit card she hadn’t known about yet and to this day she couldn’t recall what she had actually meant to talk to Quinn about.

Quinn, lying on her bed hugging her stuffed dino, turned to face Helen and blinked at her through wet eyes.

“Quinn,” said Helen crossing her arms, “where did Daria get the gun?”

“I... I don’t know,” said Quinn. Helen didn’t have a clue if she were telling the truth or not.

“Quinn,” said Helen calmly, sitting on the bed, “the police are going to find out. I need to know before they do so I can do all the damage control I can before Daria is hurt even more.”

Quinn looked at Helen with such sadness that Helen bent down hugged her without even thinking about it. “It will be okay, Quinn. We’re going to get through this.”

“I really don’t know where Daria got her gun,” said Quinn casually, “you could ask those hoodies she hangs out with at the Zen.”

“The what?” She meant that simultaneously for whatever the name of that place was again and for what hoodlums Daria hung around. Helen, sitting back up, was staring down at Quinn in shock. Was it really possible her girls had drifted so far from her that they were both involved in gangs and drugs without her having a clue?

“The Zen,” said Quinn more firmly.



“I mean when was this?”

Quinn scrunched up her face in concentration. “Oh, yeah. First Friday of March.”

“And what was Daria doing at The Zen?”

Daria and some hoodies saved me and made Matthew go away. But I don’t know who they are. When I asked, Daria just smiled and said she’d have to kill me if she told me.

“I’m sure she was just kidding,” said Helen, desperate to believe that. I hope by hoodies, she means sweaters!, but knew that Quinn did not. What she couldn't get over was how child-like Quinn was acting. She was used to immature, but this was to the point of age regression. Helen couldn't help but be afraid for her daughter.

“Yeah,” said Quinn, “I think so, too. But Daria has such a... a face! You can’t really tell with her. And they were bigger and older than Matthew.”

“What did these, uh, hoodies look like?”

“Grungy, tattooed, and a fashion sense as razor as Daria’s.” Quinn’s tone was only a little sarcastic there.

“What was Daria doing with these hoodies? Do you know?” Helen was getting a bit panicked as she feared for Daria and whatever truth she might find.

“They seemed to be protecting her, and doing what she said.”

Helen narrowed her eyes. “You’re having fun with me, aren’t you Quinn?” She was going to be really annoyed if Quinn was, but she still hoped Quinn would break out in giggles or something.

Quinn looked at her with solemn eyes and shook her head no.

Helen closed her eyes for a moment and ran her hands over her face. “Were they involved in drugs in any way?”

Quinn scrunched her face in thought. “I don’t know. They seemed to know where they were and all. Well, sorta. The one with long hair seemed kinda out of it. But I don’t keep up with Daria’s friends. They just saved me from Matthew is all.” Her face brightened a little. “Oh, yeah! They were in a band of some kind, because they had a bunch of instruments in the back of their van.”

“Oh, Quinn, you didn’t get into a van with them!?” Helen’s mouth was actually hanging open.

“They gave me a ride home, Mom,” said Quinn defensively. “Besides, Daria and Jane weren’t scared of them.”

Helen gasped. “Jane was with them?” Then she remembered Daria spent the night at Jane’s the last two Fridays and Saturdays.

“Well, yeah,” said Quinn as if that went without saying, “Does Daria ever leave the house for any reason other than to be with Jane?” Quinn sniffled. “And school,” she added as an afterthought.

Helen was reaching her limit. “Okay, Quinn, what I want you to do is tell me why you were in this place, what you know of Daria being there, and what happened. From the beginning. Okay?”

Quinn looked at her a little frightened. “Do I have to?” she asked, like a little girl.

Helen frowned a little at that voice, getting worried by it but too focused to get distracted by it. “Yes, Quinn Morgendorffer, you must!” There, now Helen spoke to Quinn as if she were a little girl.

Quinn began crying again. Helen put an arm around her and told her, “It will be okay, Quinn. But I need to know what happened before it blows up in all our faces.”

In a voice that sounded like Quinn was 12 rather than 16, she said, “I was trying to break it off with Matthew, but he wasn’t letting me break it off.”

“Why did you want to break it off with him?” asked Helen.

“Mo-oom! This is about Daria!”

“It’s about Daria, Jane, you, Matthew, and these hoodies. Why did you want to break up with him?”

Quinn stared at Helen a moment. Then she looked down. “Because we had dated way too long.”

“Quinn,” said Helen warningly, “I want the truth. All of it.”

“I am telling the truth!” cried Quinn, “why won’t you believe me?”

“Quinn,” said Helen, “there are several detectives and investigators who are looking into what happened. If I am to protect you, I need to know now what they will soon know themselves.” When Quinn gazed at her with fear, Helen said in a gentler voice, “Please Quinn, help me to protect you. It’s a nasty world out there. I don’t care what you did. What I care about right now, more than anything else, is protecting my family as best as I can.” She kissed Quinn’s forehead.

“Promise not to ground me?”

Helen choked a bit at that, and fought two reactions at once: One, to break into a fit of laughter, and the other to leap on Quinn and yell at her to talk. Finally, she calmly said, “I promise.”

“Well,” said Quinn, “Sandi had lost 7 pounds on phen phen and she weighed less than me, so Matthew gave me some pills that he promised would help me lose even more weight even faster and...” at this point, Quinn saw Helen’s face and she put her head forward as she declared, “Mo-oom! I can’t tell you what happened when you’re looking at me like that!”

Helen swallowed. With every bit of self-control she had, she did not start screaming. She swallowed again, took in a shaking breath and asked, “You took some strange pills so you could lose weight?” The last word was actually hissed more than spoken.

Quinn crossed her arms. “If I’m grounded, I don’t say another word!”

“You’re not grounded,” said Helen. Yet. “I’m just trying to comprehend why you and Sandi are competing at who weighs less than the other..... well, never mind. That’s not important,” she said, thinking For Now. “So Matthew gave you these pills to lose weight?”

“Yes,” said Quinn cautiously. “Only I couldn’t sleep on them and I had to go to the bathroom all the time, so I stopped taking them.”

Helen realized her hands were clenched into fists against the bed and she unclenched them. There, she told herself, it’s not so bad. “Then what happened?” she asked sweetly.

Well, I thought the pills were gifts, you know the way guys are suppose to buy me stuff and all. He got me a bunch of nice clothes at Cashman’s, though I had to wear that skimpy suit at the cabin he got for me from Frederick’s as it was a Valentine’s weekend and... Mo-oom! Stop making that face!”

“Sorry, Quinn,” Helen said sweetly as she composed herself, again. “Tell me everything. I can take it.” The last was to herself more than to Quinn.

“Well, anyway, Matthew wanted me to hold a package for him. He told me not to open it. I’m like yeah, right, only I didn’t tell him that. I just took it and told him I’d put it under my bed where no one could find it. But when I got home, I looked, and it was a bunch more of those pills, plus a bag full of marijuana, and some white stuff that I wasn’t sure what it was.”

Helen felt her heart stop for a moment, and then resume beating. “Drugs,” she stated.

“Yeah, pretty much,” said Quinn. “Anyway, I told him I didn’t want to hold his stupid drugs for him cause I’d get really grounded if you found out and he said he was expecting to be busted soon and he needed to have them somewhere where they wouldn’t think to look, and if they thought to look there they wouldn’t dare. He said you being a lawyer and all, they would think twice before they did anything.”

“I... see,” said Helen, fighting to keep her composure. “You had all these drugs under your bed, when?”

“The week after we got back from the cabin,” said Quinn.

“And you were able to recognize the marijuana how exactly?”

“By it’s smell, feel, texture, what else?”

Helen tried again. “How did you learn what marijuana smells like?”

“There was some at a party. It’s kind of hard to miss, once you know,” she said cautiously.

“You didn’t try any, did you?”

“Will I get grounded if I say yes?”

“That answers my question,” mumbled Helen. “No, you won’t be grounded just for answering a single question. Now how many times have you tried it?”

“Oh, only that once.
I didn’t really like it, it made me hungry and I’m scared I’ll get fat. But everyone was doing it, and even though I was scared, Sandi said we had to be overcome our fears and do the popular thing, and so we did.”

“Uh huh,” said Helen. “I see. Have you done any other drugs?”

“No,” said Quinn, “nothing illegal anyway. Just what you give me, and maybe an aspirin on my worst days.”

“Ok, then,” said Helen relieved. It could’ve been much worse.. “Was there a gun in this stash?”

Quinn shook her head. “No, just the drugs. There was a spoon, a spatula, a couple of thin razors like the kind that Ms. Barch tried to get me to cut up frogs with, one razor blade in a sheath, some of the tiniest zip lock bags I ever saw, and some little glass tubes, too. Oh, and some empty pen tubes. You know, they’re like pens, only the ink part that you write with was taken out. I couldn’t figure that out, it was so weird.”

“Oh,” said Helen. “So what did you tell Matthew about the stash?”

“I said I didn’t want to hold them for him and he had to take them back and he kept saying that I only needed to keep it a little longer, and I said no, and he said I owed him for the pills he gave me and that he couldn’t take them, and if forced he’d say the drugs were mine and turn me in and you all would lose the entire house and stuff.”

Helen’s hands clenched into fists again and she unclenched them. “So you kept them without telling me, right?”

“Pretty much,” said Quinn. “He said he was going to buy me a bunch of more stuff after a week or so of my holding them. Which he did. He got pulled over a couple of days later and they didn’t find anything, or so he said. They even searched his home. They had to let him go with his mom threatening to sue them. Then he took the package back.”

“So did he buy you... stuff?” Helen was beginning to keep her composure with less effort. She didn’t know if that was a good or bad sign.

“Yeah,” said Quinn, “I even changed my mind about breaking up with him because of it, but then he did something no guy should EVER do!” Quinn quivered in outrage.

Helen lost her composure and her mouth dropped open. “What was that?” asked Helen.

“He said I demanded too much and now I had to pay him back! Ooooo! The NERVE of him! I broke up with him then and there!”

“Uh, huh,” said Helen swallowing hard after that. “Okay, then what happened?”

“He said that the pills I took were in my system and could be detected by certain tests, and he’d report me and the police would find I took the drugs and I’d be tested for them. And that he’d put some pills in my locker and tell Miss Li he saw me with the pills earlier so she’d find them if I didn’t give him money, which he said I owed him.”

Helen breathed in and out carefully. “Okay, Quinn, how did you think you were going to get out of this?”

“Well, I gave him what I had at the time and promised him more later,” she said, “and then I went to Daria for help.”

“You went to Daria,” repeated Helen. “Why Daria?”

“Because Daria is smart, and while she pretends not to like me and all, I know I can go to her if I’m in trouble. I mean I do have to pay her and stuff, but she doesn’t make me pay the way Matthew was doing. She only makes me pay when I need help, and that’s it.”

“I see,” said Helen, “can’t you come to me, too? I’m free, you know.”

“Well, yeah, and I would, except I thought you would ground me.”

Helen had no response for that. “So what did Daria say to do?”

“She told me that what he could do to me, I could do to him, and I said I didn’t buy him stuff to make him pay me for it. Then she said no, he could be made to get into trouble for drugs, and I said I don’t have any, and then she asked me what my excuse was for going with him and then I said if that’s all the help you’re going to be I’ll take my money back and she said no, bring him to the Zen on Friday night, and she’d find a way to get rid of him, but don’t let him know that’s why I want him to take me to the Zen, and that I should go along with what she said and act as if she’s dangerous, as if that were hard to remember.”

“Okay,” said Helen trying not to scream, “so you went to the Zen with Matthew?”

“Mm-hm,” nodded Quinn.

“And then what happened?”

“It turned out he knew the place, and he was surprised I wanted to go. But he took me.


Daria acted like a total freak, that’s what! She and Jane came up and were acting like I had to be at home, and do you know what Dad will do if he catches you with him, and she asked Matthew if he ever heard of a shotgun wedding.”

“Jake is a little crazy, but would he believe what Daria was telling him?”

“Oh, yeah,” said Quinn, “Matthew’s just seen enough of Dad to say he thought the guy needed a long rest somewhere, and Daria did seem to be freaking him out.” Then she frowned.


“He got mad at Daria and Jane and called them dykes, which might be true, but it wasn’t a nice thing to say.”

Daria and Jane are dykes!?”

“Mo-oom! I said it wasn’t a nice thing to say!”

“That was a question, Quinn.”

“Oh. Um, no, I don’t think so, but you never know. It would explain a lot.” She shrugged.

Helen’s hands clenched into fists again and then relaxed as she let out a breath she had been holding. “Just tell me what happened next, Quinn.”

“Oh, ok. Well, Jane said it took one to know one and he pushed her down, and she jumped back up and he slapped at her, and then there was this yell, and the hoodies showed up and Matthew backed off trying to tell them it was okay, and Daria said it wasn’t okay, she hated him and never, ever wanted to see him again around me or even talking to me or her henchmen would cut him into little pieces and feed him to their animals, and then Matthew said what we did wasn’t her business and he grabbed my wrist and....” Quinn broke off as if amazed by something.

“And what, Quinn?” Helen leaned forward, because by the look on her face, she knew this was important. To herself anyway, Helen thought as she sighed.

Daria reached for him, and he pulled his gun out and pointed it in Daria’s face.”


“Mo-oom, don’t shout or I won’t finish telling you what happened!”

Helen took several deep breaths and then smiled weakly at Quinn. “Sorry about that,” she said. “So Matthew pointed a gun at Daria. Was it the same gun he used at the school?”

“Yes,” said Quinn, “but it was different because he didn’t shoot it at anyone. I don’t know why, but I didn’t even think of it as the same gun until now. I hadn’t forgotten it, it was just different.”

“Quinn,” said Helen, “What happened next?” She hoped there wasn’t a shoot-out like the informant said, but Daria’s odd actions of late were just starting to finally make sense.

Quinn narrowed her eyes a bit as she continued, “Well, I was staring at Daria then anyway, because her face was so weird. It was the first time in my life I ever saw Daria so scared, so off guard. Jane was telling Matthew to calm down and I could tell Jane was scared, too, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of Daria, she just kept staring wide-eyed into Matthew’s gun. I finally realized Daria did not know what to do, she was as clueless as everyone else! And for some reason, that scared me more than the gun Matthew was pointing in her face, from about a foot away.”

Quinn looked up at Helen and saw Helen’s face frozen into something of a smile, but it didn’t look right for some reason. Her face was way too red, too. Helen made a “wait a minute” motion with her hand and left. She heard the front door open and close. And she waited. And waited. And waited. After awhile, Quinn put on some music to listen to while she laid back down on her bed. She felt pretty sure Mom would be back eventually.

Eventually, she noticed Helen standing in the door. “Are you back?”

“Yes, Quinn, I’m back,” she said, as she came and sat down beside her. She took a breath. “So Matthew was pointing a gun in Daria’s face?” Her voice only wavered a little and didn’t sound as hoarse as she thought it would.

“Uh, hu, and Daria was scared. And I couldn’t do anything because I couldn’t stop staring at Daria’s face that had turned so strange to me.”

“So what happened?”

“One of the tall hoodies, Jane’s brother, slowly walked in front of Daria and stood there, and I couldn’t see Daria’s face anymore. Jane’s brother told him to leave while he still could as if Matthew wasn’t holding a gun at all. The other hoodies were nearby, and I think that if Matthew shot anyone, they were going to rush him, but I’m not sure.”

“Jane’s brother was one of these hoodies?”

“Yes. The one who stayed here with Jane and stayed out real late the same way I did and you cared more about him staying out than me.”

“Okay, yes, I know who you’re talking about. Jane’s brother. That makes perfect sense. So Matthew was holding a gun at Jane’s brother who was standing in front of Daria.”

Quinn nodded. “And then I noticed how quiet it was. I mean it was real quiet. It was so quiet that we could all easily hear a bunch of cars and motorcycles outside starting up and leaving. But then I saw that other people inside who had guns. One had a big one like Matthew’s, and another guy who I think worked there had something that looked like a short rifle. And another hoodie had a smaller gun in his hand. I could see this because most of the other people had backed away, going out the doors, or gotten real low, except for the ones with guns.”


“Matthew started looking around, and said, everything was cool, he was just leaving, and the people had tried to stop him from leaving with his girl. And I said I wasn’t his girl and ripped my arm out of his hand and ran behind Daria’s friends. Everything got even more quiet and then Matthew ran with his gun still in his hand. He made it outside, and then we heard another car roar into life and peel out of there. The guy with the short rifle looked outside and said he thought he was gone. And then everybody else started leaving, too, and I got in the van with Daria’s friends.”

“And you went to Jane’s?”

“No,” said Quinn, “I wanted to go home, so they brought me home. But Daria asked me a bunch of questions about him. She cried, too, once we were in the van. I haven’t seen her cry in a long time. Jane cried, too. So did I.

“Quinn,” groaned Helen, “why didn’t you tell me when this happened? I could have done something.”

Quinn shrugged. “Daria thought I should tell you, and I said there were reasons that might not be a good idea, and besides, he was gone, right? And one of the hoodies were worried that if the police found out, they might be blamed for threatening him, especially since Daria had me lead him out there. Oh, and they were adults and Matthew was a kid. And that maybe they’d do something about the Matthew problem themselves, if he even so much as glared at us, but Daria said something about trying to get him busted for his drugs, if that was possible, but her friends said that could get her killed by Matthew or by someone he knows. That’s what they said.”

Helen gritted her teeth and reminded herself that Quinn was a child that had just endured a traumatic experience. She decided to just stick to getting facts for now. “Quinn, this is very important! Did ANY of them show a gun to you at any time?”

Quinn shook her head.

“And no shots were fired?”

Quinn shook her head again.

“And to the best of your knowledge, Daria has never had a gun until yesterday?”

Quinn nodded.

Helen took long, slow breaths. She finally had found a little good news. She’d known that the story of Daria being in a gun battle at the Zen couldn’t have been true, just like the other ridiculous stuff said about her! And the story had grown so much that evidence would paint the informant as a liar. Now she had to figure out whether or not to use the information Quinn gave her herself.

“Keep going,” Helen said, actually feeling just a tiny bit better. Just as long as you don’t tell me you’re carrying Matthew’s baby, Helen silently said with a sudden frown.

“Um, yeah. Daria and I talked about it on Sunday, and then Matthew didn’t show up for school at all next week, so we thought maybe he took a vacation to make sure no one was after him. Jane’s brother picked me, Jane, and Daria up from school in a car and drove us home on Monday, but that caused some problems with the Fashion Club, and I stopped.”

“And Matthew showed up here the next Monday? The day you and Daria called 911?”

“Yes,” said Quinn, “I told him I had a date, and he said he just wanted to talk. I told him I didn’t want to see him or his gun, and he pulled up his shirt and turned around. It was big enough that if he had it on him, I would’ve seen it. He might have had it in his car, though.”

“Or maybe behind a shrub nearby,” said Helen.

“Yeah, that’s possible, too. But he wanted to talk and I told him that we were through no matter what, and he cried and told me how sorry he was and he would buy me a bunch of stuff, but I still said no. Then Matthew got mad, but before he got too loud, Jane yelled out that Daria was calling 911. And Matthew said a bunch of stuff, threatened to kill Daria and break her fingers, and Jane yelled back. While they yelled, I pulled my phone out and picked it up. Daria really had called 911 and was on the phone saying she thought he had a gun and I said yeah, and he’s in the house going after Jane and then Daria got off the phone. But that’s when Matthew turned and came after me. And you know the rest.”

“He caught you, and you both struggled with the phone and it fell either because you dropped it or he smashed it, and then he hit you, apologizing right after. Then he ran to his car and left and some police showed up. Then they said they had him and they called me and I came home and took pictures of where your face was swelling up.”

“Pretty much,” said Quinn. “Oh, and he said the police could arrest him, but they couldn’t keep him.”

“The police didn’t find a gun?”

“I don’t think so. But like he said, the police let him go.”

“And that’s everything?”

“As much as I can remember.”

Okay, Quinn. Who else knows that you kept drugs for Matthew?”

“Um... Daria and Jane, and her friends in the van.”

“What about the Fashion Club?”

“Nope, not a word,” said Quinn. “Think I’m gonna tell them where I got my diet pills?”

“Does anyone other than the two of us know you took some pills Matthew gave you?”

Quinn shook her head. “You’re the first person I told.”

“Quinn, this is very important. Never, ever tell ANYONE, at all, that you took his drugs or kept drugs for Matthew. Not on a dare, not in a game, not as a secret, not anytime to anyone. If anyone asks, you deny it every single time. If someone says they know, you say they don’t know because you never did it. You even say that if I ask. Got that?”

Quinn nodded her head thoughtfully.

“I mean it, Quinn. And it would be a real good idea if you stayed around the house. I do want to know where you are at all times. And whatever you don’t, do NOT talk to ANY reporters. Or anyone else you don’t know. Understand?”

Quinn nodded. Helen hugged her for a long time.



“When’s Daria getting out?”

I expect her to be here by tomorrow at the latest.”


“You miss her, don’t you?”

Quinn nodded, looking miserable. “And she knows what to do. I just feel so confused.”

Helen felt almost as she had been slapped. “Quinn,” said Helen, “I think we all feel confused right now. But I think I have a pretty good idea of what we should do, too. You should talk to me openly some time and see.”

“But you’re always so busy.”

What Helen hated most about that was it sounded like Quinn was just stating the obvious. Then she realized what she hated the most about it was that it was true.

“Not anymore,” she said.

Quinn searched her face. “I believe you,” she finally said.

“Good,” Helen replied, “I’ll be back in a little bit.”

“Where you going?” asked Quinn.

“To make a call and see someone, sweetie.”

Quinn frowned but said nothing as Helen walked out. She was very tired anyway. She held her stuffed dino, somehow still looking 12 instead of 16.




03/15/01, 6:15 P.M., Thursday

Marguerite had a lot for Helen.

“Are you sure the feds are going to wait their turn?” asked Helen. The feds usually got to go first. Then the state courts got what was left over.

“Looks like it,” said Marguerite. “Daria is actually looking at more time locally, while the BATF is wanting to learn more about where Daria got her gun from. They’re frustrated, and they know Daria isn’t going anywhere, for the time being.”

Helen really didn’t like to be reminded of everything Daria was facing.

“And then there’re the political factors,” Marguerite added, “The ones wanting to make a name off of this want to do it now. I would say all indications are the feds will wait until we’re done down here. Then Daria will have to go endure a federal trial.”

“That will give me some time to prepare,” said Helen unnecessarily. “Maybe even some time to help undo those federal laws.” Helen knew she was wishing, but since she supported these laws before, why couldn’t she support their repeal now with equal success? “So what’s the status on Jane Lane?”

“You should be happy to know,” said Marguerite, “that I personally got to Jane Lane just as a Ms. Palmer was getting warmed up on her. I said I needed to talk to her about another case I was thinking of prosecuting, which made everyone else curious, and maybe even a little nervous.” She smiled. “Guilty conscience, you know.”

“Oh,” said Helen. She'd have to remember to call Jane the first free moment she had.

“Anyway, they let Jane go without any real charges. I let her in on how the dirty world of law and politics really works. Luckily, she didn’t seem all that surprised by it. She seemed glad to finally make sense out of it. She’s at home now.”

“I should be bringing Daria home tomorrow myself,” said Helen.

“And then will you finally know the deluge of reporters.” She pointed at Helen. “You need to get out there and have the press work for you. Otherwise, it will be Fillman alone who shapes public opinion.”

Helen nodded. “I’m so busy, but you’re right. I’ll have a real statement prepared by tomorrow.”

Marguerite nodded, and then cleared her throat. “I’m about to hand over some papers I want you to look at. But I need you to think like a lawyer, not a mother.”

Helen closed her eyes. Now what dirty secret was she about to find out about Daria or Quinn?

“I think the sooner you see this, the better. But if you’re emotionally exhausted, maybe you should wait until tomorrow.”

“No, I’m fine,” said Helen, opening her eyes again. “After talking with Quinn earlier today, I can handle anything.”

Marguerite seemed very curious but said nothing. She handed a file over for Helen to look through.

Helen was confused. There was a file about some illegal drugs confiscated from Matthew Foster. But she already knew he was a petty dope dealer. The one thing that made her smile was that every new report showed less and less money and drugs. She could use that to attack the department, but the only use to Daria would be if she could blackmail the department into losing evidence.

“What’s the big deal?” asked Helen. “I know it’s sordid, but I can use this. Thank you.”

“Helen,” said Marguerite getting up and coming beside her, “look at the date of the initial police report.”

Helen looked at where Marguerite pointed. She felt fury build inside her. “March 12, 2001!” Helen quickly found the time of arrest. 5:23 P.M.. “This was when the police arrested him right after Daria called 911!”

Marguerite cleared her throat. “Check the original charges.”

“Assault, possession with intent to sell.... illegal transport of a loaded firearm?” Helen looked up into Mrs. Kramer’s face in stunned disbelief. “It can’t be.” She looked to where Marguerite then pointed. A Model 608 .357 Magnum revolver. Helen looked up again, mouth hanging open. “It can’t be,” she repeated.

Marguerite nodded her head. “The same weapon Matthew would try to murder Quinn Morgendorffer with less than 48 hours later, shooting Michael Mackenzie and Ms. Li in the process.... and possibly destroying Daria Morgendorffer’s future, when she saved her little sister, after 911 failed to do so.”


“Helen,” said Marguerite soothingly as she tried to calm her own breathing, “think about this in terms of.....”

“WHY!? Why in the name of all that’s reasonable did they let him go!? And... and....” Helen sat back down and broke into sobs.

“Why?” asked Marguerite, “Because budgets are getting harder to come by. The various law enforcement services...”

“You...Call...This... SERVICE!!??”

“Uh, various departments,” said Marguerite, trying to keep her own voice calm so as to inspire Helen to calm her own self down, “are practically in open competition for dwindling funds. One of the most valued score cards is how much money’s worth of illegal drugs a department takes off the streets. After arresting Matthew Foster, petty teenage dope dealer that he is, Narcotics gave him an offer he couldn’t refuse. No doubt they lied somewhat, promised him prison, though that would be difficult to press on a 16-year-old. His only chance, he was told, was to give them someone bigger.”

Helen stopped sobbing, but the tears continued to pour. From her clenched fists and teeth showing, Marguerite knew these were tears of rage of the worst sort. So she spoke the next part to Helen as soothingly as possible.

“After taking his money and at least most of his drugs, they left him his weapon because they believed he would give it to Daria Morgendorffer, who would then be busted for having an illegal firearm, if nothing else, and then they would lean on Daria to open the way for the police to make one of the biggest busts in the State of Virginia, ever.”

“I don’t understand,” said Helen mystified, “and they never should’ve believed it.”

“They didn’t. At first they thought he was trying for revenge against the three girls that essentially called 911 to come get him. I personally believe they were right the first time.”

Helen was taking deep breaths. “So,” said Helen in a crisp matter, “what changed their little minds?”

“While holding Matthew, they had a narcotics officer check some of his contacts. One informant claimed that Matthew had showed up at the Zen unexpectedly. He appeared to show up with a perky, red hair high school girl who practically dragged him in front of two other high school girls, slightly older, one wearing glasses, who began to openly chastise him about something he could not overhear due to background noises.”

Helen moaned and put her face into her hands. How did Daria’s plan get so royally screwed up? She was getting over her tears finally.

Marguerite put her hand on Helen’s shoulder. “It was apparent that words were exchanged. Several people came to the aid of the two older high schoolers. Then Matthew Foster pulled a big gun, and the people did not back down, which is how he knew these people were hard core. He said that Matthew shoved that .357 right in Daria’s face and she didn’t even flinch. It was Matthew who looked scared.

"Then several people, a dozen he guessed, pulled guns out of their own and all pointed them at Matthew Foster. The last thing he saw before getting out the door was Quinn, apparently, pulling herself away from Matthew with her nose stuck in the air and getting behind Daria.”

Marguerite stopped talking because while Helen was still crying, but she was laughing now, too.

“Helen?” asked Marguerite timidly, “are you okay?”

“I don’t know,” wheezed Helen in a tone that contained both laughter and sobbing, “just keep talking.”

“Yes,” said Marguerite, “the informant claimed to hear gunfire as he was leaving, and then saw Matthew Foster driving past him well above the speed limit. It was his assumption he finally shot the girl with the glasses, or maybe he shot one of the people that did her bidding.”

“God,” whispered Helen. She seemed to be fighting hyperventilation. “You’re not going to believe what really happened...” Then she shook her head. “First, tell me why they then let Matthew go with his weapon.” Helen was regaining control of herself.

Marguerite sighed and sat back down. “Well,” she began, “since descriptions, including photos of Quinn and some older photos, were freshly available, they were able to confirm that the girls were indeed Daria and Quinn Morgendorffer, going so far as to show the polaroid of Quinn gained on Monday to the informant on Tuesday. And many, including the informant, recognized Jane Lane. It was assumed that an emergency matter of drugs were being discussed in secret at the Zen.”

“Excuse me?” asked Helen. “Aren’t police suppose to be psychologically screened?”

Marguerite smiled slightly at that. “Matthew told police that Jane and Daria answered to someone higher whom Matthew did not know. Daria gave the drugs to Quinn who passed them onto Matthew. When police raided him before, he somehow was aware--which indicates a leak in the department, by the way--and he claimed he gave his entire stash back to Quinn who handed them back to Daria. Daria would then pass them up to someone who was supposed to be highly respected in the community on both sides of the law. Matthew hinted that this person was wealthy and was also the reason why he knew when to hide the drugs just before Narcotics tried catching him again.”

“And they trusted Matthew?”

“No! They held him in jail until Wednesday morning, just before the shooting. Then the Lawndale PD literally dropped Matthew off at his house on the morning of the shooting with the understanding he was going to head to Lawndale High, which Matthew assured them was ‘neutral ground where nothing could go wrong,’ and as soon as possible to smooth things over with Daria and her criminal connections.”

Helen groaned. “Why?” she muttered.

“Because they were blinded by greed and the thought of making one of the largest drug busts in the history of the Virginia.” She smiled sardonically here. “Apparently, from other sources, they deduced that Daria’s connection was the Sloane family. Which they think was given to her by Jane Lane.”

Helen shook her head. “It wasn’t like that at all. And so what? How is hurting Daria suppose to hurt the Sloanes?”

“With Matthew’s help, they planned to bust and entrap Daria with the gun, and then lean on her to entrap the Sloanes.”

Helen gaped. Then she laughed. And then she just shook her head.

“They hoped the final bust would be such a mother lode,” said Marguerite slowly, “as to make national headlines. And not only save their budget, but increase it, once they were declared heroes. That doesn’t include all the Sloane estates and assets that would be confiscated under the seizure laws used in the war on drugs.”

Helen’s jaw dropped. Even she was impressed by the gall to take such a huge prize. That was ambition! And, if done just right, it could actually work! Then she shook her head. “The Sloanes are too wealthy....”

“Not if they get busted with drugs on their property. Like many organized crime families, many of which are bright enough to keep their properties in other names, the Sloanes are wealthy enough to keep offshore accounts and unlisted properties with ease. This could all be used to hide a drug smuggling operation. And all that could be found would be forfeit if they could create an ironclad case against the Sloanes. Essentially, they’d become paupers overnight. And if it works the way some other cases have in America, many of them might not even survive the raid.”

“And if Daria refused to cooperate?”

Marguerite shrugged. “They’d still have a bigger bust than Matthew, or so they thought. And they’d just keep Matthew, too, I expect. I mean we’re not talking about honorable people, here. They still came out better for the risk, even if it didn’t hand them the Sloanes the way they hoped it would.”

“If they thought they had what they needed but made even the slightest misstep,” said Helen in absolute amazement at such audacity, “they could find themselves effectively without jobs, and possibly even severe legal problems of their own that not even a police badge could hope to save them from. All of them.”

“Oh, don’t think it hasn’t happened before. Stuff like this is on the increase. Donald Scott, from the evidence available, was shot in cold blood in his own home in 1992 by agents of several law enforcement agencies for his multi-million dollar ranch in Malibu, California.”

Helen shook her head. “That couldn’t happen in America. It just couldn’t.”

“Oh, but it did, and it’s happened again since then.”

“Okay, so what was he charged with?”

“Charged?” asked Marguerite, “He wasn’t charged with anything. They never were. The bulk of the intelligence gathering involved financial reports and property assessment done by the local tax assessors, and some other agents from helicopters. They made some noise about investigating marijuana plants, but not one reason is given, nor do the aerial photographs support such a claim. And even this noise is dropped as soon as they confiscate the property without even charging anyone. It’s happened to a lot of people, and many of them had police and federal agents scope out neighborhoods disguised as reporters or some such asking about the equity of the homes. What happened with the Scotts is not unique.”

“That’s just plain robbery,” said Helen disbelieving.

“And in the Scott’s case, it was murder, too. While Frances Scott was begging for her life from the ninjas that broke down her door, Donald Scott came to his wife’s defense with a gun, not even guessing that these people were police officers of various departments. The officers told him to drop the gun that he had pointed at them. When he finally did, they open-fired on him. He died. Then his body was removed and they set about disposing of the ranch and splitting the loot.”

“Why isn’t that national news?” asked Helen.

“Good question. But it’s easy enough to find articles and news clips about it, and other cases like it. I guess it doesn’t get picked up because it’s too scary. If they’ll do that to a multimillionaire, they’ll do it to the rest of us. And they do.”

“You know,” said Helen, “I recall reading something, years ago, 1998 I think, about Patty Hearst trying to get a pardon. She had a box dropped on her step with a number on top. She dialed the number without touching the box and when no answer came, she called the local police to pick the package up. Local police got there moments before the DEA did. The package was full of drugs. If Patty hadn’t called, you and I would be convinced she was in prison for drug crimes. And what sticks with me is that it was nothing more than a small article in People which was considered AMUSING. But I thought it was terrifying!”

“And nothing came of it, either, right?”

Helen shook her head, “The DEA refused to give any comments, and it was forgotten. It never was big news. I’m starting to remember others like that.”

Marguerite added, “And virtually nothing was done to the murderers in Malibu, either. Not even a slap on the wrist or a demerit on their record.” She shrugged. “Years later, surviving relatives were paid around five million dollars in reparations, but that was paid for by the tax payer, not the murderers, some whom are probably still cops.”

Helen looked at Marguerite. “And you think that the Sloanes may be next?”

“What I’m saying," said Marguerite with emphasis, "is that it would be naive to think that the situation, which the evidence here very strongly suggests, is somehow impossible. Even worse has happened before with few negative consequences for the guilty.”

Helen wondered if the next Matthew her family faced would be sworn to uphold the law.

“I do have to say, though, they are hoping for some kind of drugs to show up. They want that bust. I doubt they’ll do anything without it. But as dirty as they’ve played so far, just how much dirtier will they get before they decide to give up on it?”

Helen looked down, saying in a low voice, “I honestly don’t know anymore.”

“In the process,” Marguerite paused until Helen looked back up, “if it succeeded, it also bolsters the reputation of the city attorney, Roger Fillman, in his bid for mayor. It also proves to the people watching the news that Roger Fillman is not a friend to the wealthy, which will gain him many votes. If we didn’t know better, even we’d vote for him after he proved himself willing to punish the rich who break the law.”

Helen began to feel ill.

“And incidentally, he gains his revenge on the only lawyer that hurt his career, and no doubt would stand in the way of his rise to power. Anything you said against him would automatically be discredited.”

Helen shook her head. “But if these officers screw it up, then Roger Fillman will be disbarred for sure. At the very least!”

Marguerite shrugged. “If the officers screw it up, I’m sure he’d be happy to lead the proverbial lynch mob against them, too. He still shows himself the champion of the little people.”

Helen half-snarled, half-snorted.

Marguerite crossed her arms. “Which is another motive the police now have in fearing you. And me. I’m going to use this to indict some people, possibly even police officers and Roger Fillman himself if I think I stand even a small chance of making it stick. And I’m scared to do it, Helen. But I’m even more scared not to do it.”

“Are you saying,” asked Helen who was still trying to assimilate all this, “that this is greed and political ambition, and revenge? That this is the reason they dropped Matthew off at Lawndale High?”

Marguerite clarified, repeating a little of what she said earlier. “He was released from the station at roughly 7 am on the morning of the shooting and given transportation to his home so he could get into some proper clothes and presumably restore his esteem in the eyes of the Sloane drug lord lieutenant, Daria Morgendorffer, and entrap her in the process.”

“So what was Matthew’s angle in this?”

“My guess is that the first conclusion by the officers was correct. Matthew wanted revenge against those who sicced the police on him and finally caused him to be busted with the drugs they long knew he had but had been unable to prove. He made the keystone cops of Narcotics believe that the 911 call was the blessing the department needed."

"Why didn't they stop him when he started killing people?" Helen's voice started to break again.

"They had no tac teams on the scene, but they did have surveillance. By the time it had warped into the tragedy at Lawndale High, with students and faculty running out of the school screaming in terror, it was too late except to pick up what pieces were left and carry on. Not to mention covering their own butts.”

“The reason they let Matthew have the gun?” Helen was close to tears again, but still holding strong. “I’m still not understanding that part.”

“Matthew needed the gun for his own revenge. But the explanation Matthew told the police was he needed the gun to hand to Daria on the ‘safe ground’ of Lawndale High, as the gun belonged to a cohort of hers and she wanted it back, but would be hostile to him if he went to her elsewhere. Once she had it back, the police would take her with it, and she would be where she is now, only being pressured to entrap the Sloanes instead of being pressured to confess to crimes other than the crime of saving her sister’s life.”

“Why would Daria want the gun back, and where would she have gotten it from?”

“Where did Daria get the gun she had?” returned Marguerite. “Matthew claimed he won it as part of some gambling pot, fair and square.” She laughed, shaking her head. “That was what the fight was about at the Zen. He didn’t want to give the gun up after he had just rightfully won it.”

“And if all this were true, why would Daria call 911?”

“As of Monday, Daria told Matthew that she would forgive Matthew for pulling the gun on her if he surrendered his gun to her to give to her connection who wanted it. He refused, and Quinn tried to take it until he knocked her aside, bruising her cheek. And they used the 911 facade as it was believable, and he would finally be busted. A fitting punishment for defying Daria and Quinn Morgendorffer. Not to mention Jane Lane, also on the scene, and reported at the Zen, and the one who introduced Daria to the Sloanes.”

Helen crossed her arms. “I don’t understand how Matthew knew enough about the Sloanes to implicate them in this bluff of his.”

“It was the police that made that connection, and one of the police officers that talks to me said Detective Warner asked Matthew some leading questions,” said Marguerite. “What opened the possibility of a Sloane being the secret connection used by Daria to Detective Warner were photos taken by a vice cop, whom I assume was bored. Take a look.”

Marguerite passed Helen four photos. One was out on her sidewalk of Daria and Tom speaking with Quinn and Matthew. None of them seemed particularly pleased to be speaking together, and Quinn was looking over her shoulder as if worried someone might see them together. The other three were taken at Pizza King, where Quinn and Matthew were standing by a table, looking down on Daria and Tom.

“So these are the reasons Warner said I would be aware of soon, right after they roughed up Daria right in front of me! They treated her like she was Scarface!” Helen was feeling her temper rise again.

Marguerite nodded. “It was deemed insignificant at the time, but in light of new facts they believed they possessed, the pictures took on a new, ominous meaning to Detective Warner.”

“It’s not enough,” said Helen. “We’ve got more circumstantial evidence on them than they do on those four kids.”

Marguerite continued. “Then the informant who witnessed the altercation at the Zen describes the same young man with Daria and Jane in the past. He claimed there had obviously been friction there in the past between this Sloane and Daria and Jane that he thought was a romantic entanglement of some kind, but that they still seemed to work together anyway. With the recent event the informant described, Detective Warner wondered if this wasn’t a romantic entanglement but a business entanglement.”

“So Matthew was asked some leading questions? What, did they WANT it to be true?”

“Of course they wanted it to be true, Helen.” She shrugged then. “How do you think con-artists make so much money. They promise things like this all the time, and usually the victim is blinded by his or her own greed from seeing the looniness of it all. And this is what is going on here; more greed and ambition than common sense.”

Helen shook her head.

Marguerite continued. “In this case, Detective Warner asked him about Tom Sloane, and Matthew said that was the connection to the Sloanes, but he didn’t know anything about them. He claimed Daria kept it a secret from him.”

“I’m just stunned,” said Helen, “that they would jump to that conclusion.”

“As of Tuesday night, Fillman was contacted by Detective Warner, and by Wednesday morning, they had set a plan into motion that has resulted in yesterday’s.... incident.”

“Unbelievable,” said Helen in something like shock.

“Well it’s not only greed, and the political ambition of Roger Fillman, but there is an apparent leak in the department to many petty dope dealers like Matthew. The dope dealers seem to know when to make themselves clean or when to leave town.” She shrugged. “They probably thought Daria and Jane have the same connections Matthew did. And they hope to find that connection through them, in addition to making the biggest bust ever.”

“Amazing,” murmured Helen, still trying to assimilate the twisted motives and what she had just discovered both her daughters had been doing on their own as of late.

“Another thing,” said Marguerite, as she pulled out an old file. “While I was looking into Roger Fillman, I got a little nostalgic and dug up the legal file in which you nearly disbarred Fillman. You said a private investigator had been the one to prove it and you made it stick?”

“Yes,” said Helen wondering what this had to do with anything.

Marguerite handed her the file. “Take a look at who hired the private investigator.”

Helen looked a bit, smiling a bit as she recalled just how passionate she had been on this case. And then she felt her insides twist and goose bumps crawl over her as she found the information on the private investigator. Looking up to Marguerite, she exclaimed, “He was hired by Andy Sloane!” She had completely forgotten that.

Marguerite nodded. “Tom Sloane’s uncle. He was just protecting an investment by doing so, not from any idealistic reasons, but it’s still a slight Roger Fillman hasn’t forgotten or forgiven.” She shrugged. “And he might consider the Morgendorffers and the Sloanes to be people who would threaten his political ambitions. And that your two families now seem close together because of the unlikely match of Tom Sloane and Daria Morgendorffer, well, it may spook him just a little.”

“Add paranoia to greed and ambition,” Helen muttered. Then she swallowed hard and closed the file. “And Roger Fillman not only hopes to become the mayor of Lawndale, but endorsed Matthew’s release with the intent to avenge himself against me by destroying both of my daughters?”

Marguerite simply nodded, “Not in the way it almost happened, but essentially, yes.”

“I think I’m going to be sick.” Helen got up. “I mean it. I think I am.” Helen really did look ill as she quickly walked to the bathroom.

Everything that happened was starting to make sense to Helen. The fast and zealous responses, the seizing of Jane on the flimsiest of evidence, the heavy handed, even risky, tactics of the police used on anyone connected to the case. They were desperate to not only cover their own pathetic butts, but to salvage what they could out of the situation, which was no small prize for them all.

She HAD to get Daria out of their clutches. And she had to prepare Quinn. They'd come for Quinn. She knew it.

She didn’t get sick, but she did cry tears of rage and fear and pain. Then she washed her face and she returned. As she got close to her chair, Marguerite was looking at some more reports and spoke without looking up.

“If you’re interested in reading the autopsy reports, you’ll see he had a high concentration of methamphetamines in his system at the time of death. He probably had some in his system when he went to see Quinn. He may have had enough chemically induced hubris to think it would work from the beginning.” She shrugged. “People have fallen for worse cons. Especially if they think they’re going to get some significant windfall out of it.”

Helen's voice was weak, but seemed devoid of tears. “And his goal was not only to kill Quinn, but Daria and Jane?”

“That’s my guess,” said Marguerite. “Unless, of course, Daria really is a criminal mastermind.”

They both laughed, though Marguerite noticed Helen laughed rather weakly.

“After that,” said Marguerite, “He probably intended to kill other students, but I would guess he intended to kill a few police officers, too.” Marguerite cleared her throat and continued. “He got the extra ammo after he was dropped off at his house. The bullets he put in his pocket suggest that he was prepared to reload two more times and then use the last bullet in one chamber to kill himself, should he get separated from his backpack.”

“Roger Fillman and Detective Warner have to know we’ll find out.”

“Oh, yes,” said Marguerite, “that’s why they’re hurrying to find truth to their claims, or at least make a solid case against Daria. It’s also possible that if the situation gets hot enough, they intend to trade Daria for your silence.”

Helen’s mouth dropped open.

“Helen,” said Marguerite, “there are at least two police officers willing to risk their careers and testify. I will bring charges against Warner. Even if they have Daria at their mercy, we may soon have Warner at ours. And with it, the bright future Fillman expects for himself.”

Helen clenched her fists again. “Daria is my first priority. But if we can get Daria and then burn them, Marguerite, let’s burn them before they ever do anything like this again!”

“My thoughts exactly,” said Marguerite. “Any luck in finding out where Daria got her gun?”

Helen shook her head slowly, relaxing her hands. “No, but I got a lead. I think.”

“But you know something you didn’t before.” It was a statement more than a question.

“Yes,” said Helen. “With your permission, I’d like to go over these reports before I divulge what I’ve found out on my own.” She smiled apologetically. “It’s even possible I can clear up all the misunderstandings.”

Marguerite raised her brows. “THAT would be something I’d like to hear, when you care to share it. I’ll even promise not to repeat it if you want, as long as it doesn’t require me to stay silent about ongoing serious criminal activities.”

“I expect I will share it with you soon,” said Helen. “And I thank you for all your help.” Helen got up.

“Wait, Helen,” said Marguerite, “I’ve got more for you.”

“I hope my nerves can handle it,” muttered Helen as she sat back down.

Marguerite opened a drawer and pulled out a large envelope and pulled out several photos. “Do you know this place?” she asked, pulling out police photographs of what looked like an old, dated cabin by a small lake.

Helen flipped through the pictures. “It looks like some old cabin that has seen better days to me.

“Yes,” she said. “Originally built as a cabin around the turn of the 20th century, it has been passed down from family member to family member for three generations, counting Matthew’s father, Jim Foster, as the current owner after his father died two years ago. It’s also the cabin Matthew took Quinn, too.” Marguerite handed her some more photos. “Now take a look at these,” she said.

More photos of inside the cabin and what looked to be a cellar. And guns. Lots of guns. Helen looked up at Marguerite with an ill expression on her face. “How did the girls not know?” she asked weakly.

“Well if they spent most of their time skiing on the hill as they claim, I doubt they would unless Matthew showed them off. The guns were mostly kept in the cellar, with a few stashed in cases in other places. Now take a look at these.”

Helen felt her gut clench when she saw several photocopies of excerpts from papers that were obviously racist in nature. Judging by the headlines and inscriptions by the pictures, these were “reports” that defied description.

One had stories of Communist Russian troops waiting in underground bunkers and behind the Mexican border to invade during the supposed Y2K madness. Another described underground UN bases and their black helicopters hidden in national forests. Another told you which politician was a Jew, and warned of the “Zionist Occupied Government.” Another had a bunch of Nordic runes on it and she recognized the editor as the guy who was suppose to have written The Turner Diaries. Another had a crude drawing of 3 skulls showing a “white man,” a “black man,” and a “gorilla.”

Helen threw them back on Marguerite’s desk. “Matthew’s?” she asked weakly.

“No,” said Marguerite. “Jim Foster’s. Apparently he kept the cabin as a place where he planned to bolt to when the race war began or the ZOG came for him or whatever he thought was going to happen. He’s not talking much. We don’t know how much Matthew was involved in this, but it appears there was a lot of friction between Matthew and his father. We don’t have details because Jim’s not talking and Matthew’s dead.”

“You’ve arrested him then?” asked Helen.

“You better believe it,” she said, “right after he threatened to kill several officers. As I told you, he’s barred from owning guns because of a restraining order. He led us to believe that he had sold all his guns to friends, at a gun show, and even at a pawn shop. He showed us receipts. We’re now in the process of tracking down the people who signed those receipts, though it seems only a few used their real names. Most of those folks really do have the guns the receipts show them buying, though we think in those cases, he traded guns with them.”

“I never would’ve guessed,” muttered Helen.

“Oh, the press will learn about this soon. This is going to be huge news. The circus out there is going big time. But don’t believe it when they warp it into Matthew trying to start a race war. All indications are that Matthew hated his father and was ashamed of him.”

“But he shot Ms. Li and Mack,” said Helen.

Marguerite sighed. “We can find no evidence that Matthew was even racist. The shootings of Michael Mackenzie and Angela Li seem to have been because they interfered with him, not because of their race.”

She made a look of disgust and looked up at Helen. “Unfortunately, that’s not stopping all the so-called watchdog groups from publicly claiming otherwise, nor the press from reporting such untruths. And you’re not going to like this.”

“What?” asked Helen.

“Within minutes of these photocopies being made, they were sent to my office at the behest of Roger Fillman. John Dees, who must have learned of this from Fillman since it is not public knowledge, called me an hour later and asked me about suing you and your family for the involvement of Quinn and Daria in helping with this race war Matthew was supposedly trying to start.”

“Damn him anyway,” said Helen. She can’t believe she once admired that con-artist.

“I told him where he could stick that offer, and made it clear to him that your entire family would get a lot of minority support if he tried that." She shrugged. "Mr. Fillman may have even hope to bribe me to join his side by using Dees to win a lot of money, some of which could go to me for my, uh, services.”

“So when does this sideshow open up for the public?” asked Helen, noting a cynicism in her own voice that would impress Daria.

“Everything is to be returned to the cabin first thing tomorrow morning,” said Marguerite, “where it will be set back up, and then a press conference will be called. Then you won’t hear the end of it. I suspect Fillman hopes that the sins of Jim Foster will bleed onto Matthew’s memory, and from that, onto your daughters. At least Quinn.” She shook her head. “I just hope they can’t make Jim Foster slander your daughters for a promise of getting out of prison.”

Helen gritted her teeth as she realized just how dirty this fight was going to get. “But if Matthew and his father were estranged, then how did Matthew get to use the cabin?”

“His father was visiting relatives in Florida that weekend,” she said. “Or so he says. For now.”

“But Matthew got the gun from his father, right?”

Marguerite sighed. “No.”

“Do you think he got it from a gun show or from his drug connections?”


Helen blinked. “You know?”

“The gun belonged to his maternal grandfather. He collects guns, too, though he’s much more discrete about it. And he has no known connections to the kinds of groups that Jim Foster seems to have had.”

“So Matthew stole it from him?”

“No,” sighed Marguerite, “it gets more complicated than that.” She smiled when she saw Helen roll her eyes at that proclamation. “As I said, Matthew’s mother, Mary Walker Foster, had a restraining order against her that barred her from having guns. Since she does have a history of violence, stalking, mental illness, and drug abuse, it wasn’t hard to have one granted. Personally, I thought the world better off if both of those people didn’t have guns.”

“So how did Matthew get it?”

“Mary Walker Foster had it given to her by her own father, John Walker. He was picked up for interrogation after the shooting. When he heard he and his family might be liable for damages Matthew caused to Mr. Mackenzie and Ms. Li, he broke and said he’d given it to his daughter because she had to have it to defend herself from her ex-husband. Mary Foster refutes this, of course.” Marguerite shook her head at that. “Loves his daughter enough to give her a gun in secret, but willing to throw her to the dogs when he thinks he might lose what he has if he doesn’t.”

“Well,” said Helen, “her ex-husband does sound dangerous.”

“Actually,” said Marguerite, “he seemed more dangerous to himself than anyone else. He might’ve gotten too drunk and shot someone, but he’d just as likely have shot himself or wrecked his car. His plan was to hide, not fight back. In the last few years after the divorce, they’ve pretty much avoided each other, even when he skips on child support payments.”

Helen made a noncommittal sound. “So Matthew got the gun from his mother?”

“Perhaps,” replied Marguerite, “but John Walker knew of it and bought the ammo.”

Helen muttered in amazement under her breath before asking, “What did he think Matthew wanted with that many bullets?”

“Target practice,” Marguerite said. Then she added in a John-Walker voice, “Like I did when I was a boy. Builds character.”

“Does it put hair on your chest, too?” asked Helen with a grin.

Marguerite smiled back more warmly. “Keep your sense of humor, Helen. You’re going to need it.”

“Just out of curiosity, what’s the NRA saying, now that it’s found Matthew used a legally purchased gun and ammo to do his shooting spree?”

“Oh, they point out his mother shouldn’t have had the gun to begin with, even though they’re against the restraining orders being used to take guns away. They say if the laws had been enforced, Matthew would not have been able to do what he did.”

Helen rolled her eyes. “The nerve of them.”

Marguerite smiled cynically. “Well, the weakness of their argument is just as weak as the arguments of Handgun Control Inc. None of their laws helped, either. The laws favored by HCI and the NRA have not done a damn thing to stop what Matthew intended to do.”

Helen looked at her friend quizzically. “You changing sides?”

Marguerite laughed. “Hardly. Maybe I’m inventing a new side. One that believes in justice over politics. And that maybe most morality and legislation should be two completely separate components of our society.”

Helen cocked her head a bit, some concern on her face. “Are you okay? You sound depressed.”

Marguerite sighed. “I guess you could say that I’m looking at the games we keep playing with each other and wonder if we can’t learn to play a better game. None of us seem to be building the kind of world we want, only a world of endless conflict over rules and games that don’t make a difference anyway.” She frowned. “What’s going on now seems so pointless that I’m actually thinking of quitting law and politics and just finding some nice remote area to retire in.”

Helen reached over and clasped Marguerite’s arm. “I may move out there with you, Marguerite Kramer, but before you give up, let’s see if we CAN make a difference one last time.”

They exchanged a friendly smile, and for a moment, they both saw the passionate, caring young people they had once been before they sold out and called it “wising up” and got used to compromising more and more of their values to get ahead in their careers. Maybe they wouldn’t drop out just yet.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us, though, don’t we,” said Marguerite, her voice becoming more normal.

“That we do,” said Helen. “Maybe we should get HCI to do gun control for the police and leave everyone else alone.” She almost laughed as she said it.

“Maybe we should,” murmured Marguerite seriously.

“One thing’s for sure,” said Helen, trying to get the conversation back to the practical details, as dirty as they were, “this case is going to make for some strange bedfellows.”

Marguerite nodded and said, “Have you thought about just how the NRA and HCI are equally at a stalemate in this case?”

Helen raised her brows. “How so?”

“The NRA can’t champion legalizing Daria having a gun in her circumstances without essentially championing Matthew’s right to do the same. And HCI can’t really point out that there were two wounded and the only dead was the perp himself without pointing out that it was a gun--one she was barred from having by the same gun control laws that restricted Matthew and his immediate family from owning his gun--that saved several more lives.”

Helen grimaced. “I wonder how many of them will even think of it.”

“An extreme position might do it, but that hardly paints a pleasant picture. You restrict all guns, and pretty soon only criminals and the government has them. More often than not, you can’t tell the difference between them then. And even when the government appears benevolent, it can always change.”

“But wouldn’t the opposite lead to shoot-outs all the time, like in the Wild West?”

“Sometimes. Thing is on that, most of the places where shoot-outs were common had a lot of young men, a lot of alcohol, and a lot of money, such as a mining town. Where there was a lot of money, gambling and criminals followed. And some of those places had gun control laws of their own. And not all of these places were violent.”

Helen raised her brows. “You don’t think it would lead to violence then?”

“I don’t know, Helen. Maybe society would be more polite, and you’d have less people cutting you off on the highway or yelling at you....."

Helen prompted her to continue with, "Or?"

"Or maybe in such a society, Columbine would’ve been hit by two suicide bombers, like happens in Israel, instead of two boys shooting Tech-9 pistols. It's the same catch-22 with just a little extra room for speculation."

Helen paused a bit before replying, “Maybe there are no clear answers. Maybe it’s something that’s inside of us, or our culture, or something almost indefinable that’s the real problem. I don’t know. I used to think I did know, but I’m just not as sure as I was about anything anymore.”

Marguerite shrugged, “But imagine it. Neither side can point out how their solutions save lives without pointing out, at the very same time, how their solutions take lives.”

“I expect,” said Helen, “that both sides will eventually find some clever way to slip around their particular catch-22 without losing their original message.”

Marguerite suddenly narrowed her eyes. “By the way, Helen, do you know of anyone named Ash?”

Helen thought a moment, a little surprise by the turn in conversation. “No, I don’t think so.”

“Detectives Cartwright and Warner believe that someone named Ash may have gotten Daria her gun from the sporting goods section of a....” Marguerite quickly looked up a piece of paper and read, “at a store called S-Mart.”

Helen shook her head. “I never heard of it.”

“I looked in the yellow pages and then googled the name to see what I’d get. I couldn’t find anything, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”

“Just out of curiosity,” mused Helen, “could you google S-Mart again with the words Ash and gun?”

Marguerite got on-line by moving her mouse and did as Helen requested. Several sites came up as Helen had moved to stand behind her.

After a few sites of “the evil dead” and of a man with a metal hand, a chain saw appendage, and a gun, Helen smiled slightly. “That would be Daria.”

Marguerite shook her head. “They list their source as an informant.”

“Trust me,” said Helen, “Daria has just found a way to send her tormentors on a wild goose chase.”

Marguerite shook her head. “Whenever you need a boost to your morale, Helen, just remember the intelligence of the cops involved.”

Helen smiled bitterly at that. Then she frowned as she caught the time at the bottom of the screen. “Oh, dear,” said Helen, “it’s past 8:00! I better get home!”

Helen picked up the box of new photocopies, documents, and files and headed to the door while Marguerite walked with her telling her there was real hope of clearing Daria. Helen was confident she could persuade the jury for leniency, but she doubted she was going to actually save Daria from at least a little prison, or at least a permanent record haunting her for the rest of her life.

Outside were about a half dozen reporters. Helen groaned but kept going, and Marguerite came out with her. They pointed bright lights at them along with the cams.

“Mrs. Kramer,” said one, “how did the defendant's mother talk you out of pressing charges?”

Helen kept her face blank as she put the files into her car. She wanted to blame Fillman for these reporters, but she knew that was silly.

“Mrs. Morgendorffer did not talk me into anything,” said Marguerite. “I called Helen Morgendorffer into my office of my own initiative to tell her I wasn’t pressing charges against someone who saved her sister’s life from a brutal, drug-crazed stalker.”

Helen struggled to keep the smile of gratitude off her face, since every muscle she twitched would be analyzed, and probably used to slander her.

Marguerite continued. “It appears that Matthew Foster terrorized the accused and her little sister with no significant help from an appeal to law enforcement for assistance.”

Helen wondered why Marguerite didn’t mention how the Lawndale PD might be responsible for what happened. Then she decided that until they had something better than circumstantial evidence, as damning as it might be, it would be a better idea not to waken that particular dragon yet and allow them to prepare their defenses and counter attack. And maybe the information could be bargained in exchanged for Daria, Helen mused.

Another reporter spoke up. “Do you champion kids taking guns to school to take the law into their own hands?”

Mrs. Kramer’s voice rose and became very clear. “First, Daria Morgendorffer did not ‘take the law into her own hands.’ She stopped a drug-crazed gunman from killing anyone, particularly her own sister who was staring up into Matthew’s gun barrel when Daria shot him from behind. She had reason to believe Matthew would carry out such an attack after repeated threats and previous, lesser attacks, but did not move against Matthew until she had no other choice. 9-1-1 failed Daria and Quinn Morgendorffer. I’m glad to say Daria herself did not fail.” She shook her head. “I will not fight to make the world safe for homicidal stalkers.” Then she turned and went back inside, ignoring the babbling reporters behind her, and shut the door on them.

They quickly turned on Helen who was just opening the driver’s door. More than one voice rose up which essentially asked if she had a statement. Helen carefully guarded her face and realized she really should prepare some statements unless she wanted Roger Fillman to monopolize the press to his advantage. But what could she say right now?

Helen gazed into the lights and cameras, remembering that the last time she spoke on a legal matter involving Roger Fillman, she found herself having to leave Lawndale for Highland shortly after.

She swallowed and said, “I would like to say I can’t support Daria’s choice to carry a gun to school. But how can I say that when she saved my Quinn, herself, and other students and teachers at Lawndale High? We may not approve of what she did, but how can I condemn her for what she accomplished?”

Then she got in the car drove home.





03/15/01, 8:45 P.M., Thursday

Helen didn’t so much sit down on the couch as she collapsed on it. She had left Jake upstairs, resting with the help of a couple of valiums (how long since she had taken one of those? Helen wondered).

Quinn was still totally upset and acting almost as if she were regressing in age. So far, it wasn’t too bad, especially when you considered what she had just been through. But Helen sincerely hoped Quinn would start to regain her semi-independence soon.

She had gotten a lot done today and she was exhausted. She had been busily calling in favors, putting herself into the debt of others, and avoiding the clowns of the media circus as best as she was able. She already had a basic defense team for Daria prepared, which she was personally overseeing, and she was still taking offers of the pro-gun groups and even a feminist organization that had been leaving messages on her machine all day.

Daria would be in court tomorrow to arrange bond. Fillman was going to request that bail be denied completely. Helen was pretty sure she could beat him on that, but how much would the Morgendorffer savings be set back? She wondered if she could get some of the big gun groups to donate to the bail bond.

She dreaded doing it, but she’d better see the 9 o’clock news. She needed to keep up with what was being said, and what the potential jurors are being exposed to. She gritted her teeth, remembering how some of the media clowns were from CNN, and that meant this was nationwide news. Would it grow, or would it sink into something anecdotal, quickly forgotten? She didn’t know and right now she was too tired to think about that.

She clicked on the TV. Another car commercial. At least it wasn’t mostly naked women dancing around laughing guys and giant beers. But she did wonder if she’d have to sell the car before this was all over.

She got up and put a lasagna into the oven. It was good she had food like this she could just pop in and set the timer on. She smiled at Quinn when she came into the kitchen behind her. Quinn smiled back slightly and got a diet soda before heading back out. She poured herself a glass of ice tea, too.

When she heard the news coming on, she hurried out with what was left of the tea. She frowned seeing Quinn sitting on the couch. But she was in the middle of this no matter what, so perhaps she should see what went on. Besides, she just wanted Quinn to be around her for awhile.

When Helen sat down, Quinn leaned into her, and Helen put an arm around her. And then she frowned. The first news item was about the shoot-out at Lawndale High. She wondered if anyone of these jackasses would get the story right this time. The last time, it was said there had been two shooters--Daria Morgendorffer and Jane Lane! She planned to sue for that, though she might drop it if they agreed to do some positive press for her.

The news started off with what she had already learned from Marguerite. Matthew’s gun, a Model 608 .357 Magnum revolver with 8 shots, had fired all 8 shots, wounding Michael Jordan MacKenzie and critically injuring Ms. Angela Li, both minorities. He stopped his shooting of minorities when he saw his ex-girlfriend and fired the rest of the bullets at her, miraculously missing her.

Then he himself was shot 3 times by Daria Morgendorffer, the sister of the girl he was shooting at, killing him almost instantly when the hollow points from the .32 Mark II pierced his spine, lung, and brain. Helen snorted when they did such a ridiculous close-up that the gun appeared much bigger than it was, followed by a scene of Daria being lead away in handcuffs showing her usual emotionless face, if in disarray and without her Doc Martins.

“We know by the placement of the shots,” said Detective Cartwright, “that the accused, Daria Morgendorffer, has been trained in how to use a gun and hit her target. We believe, however, she may have had more of a motive than stopping a killer.”

Bastard. Helen wondered how she could use this against him or for Daria.

Roger Fillman was on the screen then, looking all sanctimonious, talking about getting tough on crime, particularly kids waving around guns with no respect for the law. He castigated the District Attorney for refusing to prosecute “for no other reason than she is friends with the mother of the accused." He also implied that no one in the system knew about the problems with Matthew, and that all it would’ve taken would be a call to 911.

Helen gritted her teeth. She would make sure to wave the 911 transcript regarding Matthew Foster, and how the police had then released him with the gun he used at Lawndale High. And how would 911 save her Quinn once he was already shooting?

Helen suddenly rejoiced silently that Matthew Foster was dead, and didn’t feel a single ounce of guilt or shame over it. But that would be something she couldn’t admit to. But she would try to make the jurors hate Matthew as much as she did.

Others were speaking in, and the police were making their statements which essentially said nothing other than they were looking into it and had Daria in custody. But Helen narrowed her eyes when one said, “we have the killer in custody.” She wondered if she could use any of this in the trial. If only she weren’t so tired.

Then Helen’s eyes blazed in sudden interests and fury as Matthew’s family was being interviewed. She barely had any time to look into them yet. Maybe Matthew wasn’t their fault, but she still blamed them for what he had done, and for what was happening to Daria right now.

A middle-aged woman that didn’t seem to be aging well, with scraggly blonde hair that looked fake, struck a tragic pose. The screen listed her as Mary Walker Foster, the single mother of Matthew. Her voice finally came on with, “Where were the metal detectors? Where was the security? I thought I was sending him to a safe school, and he gets shot by some jilted lover and her sister!”

The scene moved to a man in handcuffs. The scene listed him as Jim Foster, Matthew’s dad. According to the newscaster, police had just searched his home (it looked as if it happened just an hour ago), and had found several unregistered guns, and there was a court order against him that barred him from having guns. He was also delinquent on child support payments, guilty of tax evasion, and had made death threats against police officers.

Helen knew in this case, several guns meant only two handguns. But that would change tomorrow morning, so she let it slide.

Jim Foster glared into the camera for a few seconds before turning away, but he seemed to have sense enough not to say anything. Too bad he didn’t have sense enough not to glare like that. The media loved it and would play it nonstop now. Silent fury like that was almost as good as tears to them.

Then they revealed that the gun had originally belonged to Matthew’s maternal grandfather. An old man appeared on the screen messing with a hearing aid. The TV listed him as John Walker. He responded “What?” a couple of times. She wondered how many times he had said that. In some trials, people on the stand sometimes pretended to be hard of hearing or understanding in order to give themselves time to think. (A few even went to greater lengths, demanding a drink of water to “quiet their cough” before answering any question.)

He eventually croaked out what a horrible tragedy it was, and how bad things had gotten since he was young. “You didn’t have to worry about if someone was going to shoot your or not when I was growing up,” he said. He seemed to be answering questions other than the ones being directly asked of him. He finally said he didn’t know how his gun came to be in Matthew’s hands and he turned away.

A picture of a cute boy about 5 came on, of him dressed up for what looked like Easter. The caption read Matthew Foster. “My boy, my boy,” continued Mary Walker Foster tearful voice over the picture, “he was everything to me. Oh, God, no mother should have to lose her child....”

Bitch!, thought Helen, what was Quinn?And she remembered hearing how Mary Foster spent most of the child support at a local liquor store instead of taking care of Matthew.

Then it was released that Matthew had been under the influence of methamphetamines at the time of the shooting. So far, no word that the police knew he was a petty drug dealer. She would make them aware of it soon enough, Helen thought with bitter rage.

Helen sat through some mind-numbing commercials before the news came back on quickly recounting the highlights of what they had already showed. Quinn tensed, and Helen focused on the TV.

Her comments earlier were already on the air. So was Marguerite’s, but they had cut out her line about 911 failing. Still, they did play most of what she said.

Then Helen went cold as George Bush came on the screen. What was that friggin’ newbie doing? She’d voted for Gore, and Gore should’ve gotten it, she fumed. Bush had been in one screw up after another since he’d gotten sworn in last January.

Bush looked solemnly at the camera. Idiot missed his cue card or he was struggling to read it, Helen noted as she frowned, glaring at the screen.

“Another.... senseless tragedy.... has occurred in Lawndale, Virginia.”

He had pronounced occurred as “ah-kured.” He seemed to be struggling with recalling or reading the words, not just pronouncing them, Helen thought bitterly. This was what a Bromwell education got you? She vaguely recalled urging Daria to think about sending out a college application to Bromwell, but now she’d reconsider.... if Daria even had that kind of future now.

Bush continued to struggle valiantly at forming speech. “Another school shooting happened this morning by two gunmen.....” Bush blinked and then said, “By two students.” Helen wondered how many takes it took for Bush to be this coherent?

“Our prayers are with them all,” said Bush quickly, and the scene changed again to Lawndale High as a reporter dramatically asked, “Everyone in the nation is asking, how did it come to this? How did it come to gun fights in our schools? But everybody is still too much in shock to answer.”

Helen rolled her eyes. As if school shootings and shoot-outs were new. But they always made bigger news when they happened at mostly well-to-do schools like Lawndale High. Yet incidents of school shootings have been going down for a couple of decades. There were still too many, but it was ridiculous to act surprised by it. She should know; she looked behind the hype enough, having learned from long, bitter experience not to take anything said by the press at face value. The media, often called “infotainment” these days, was actually better at shaping opinion rather than enlightening with facts.

When the standard reports of sports, weather, and NASDAQ came on, she switched off the TV. Quinn didn’t say anything. She smiled hoping to break the ice with Quinn. “Quinn, what did you think of how Matthew’s family were all dressed?”

Ug,” said Quinn blandly, not looking up.

Helen blinked. Quinn was still in her shell. She sighed.

Quinn looked up at her. “Mom?” she asked.

“Yes, Quinn?”

“Why would anyone want to kill me?”
Quinn suddenly broke into sobs.

Helen grabbed hold of her, telling her over and over it was okay, she was safe until Quinn calmed down some.

“I’d really like to know,” cried Quinn. “No one has ever disliked me before.”

“Some people are just jealous.” Helen knew there were control issues involved, too, but she was too tired to explain that to Quinn.

“But he liked me before,” said Quinn. “He wouldn’t leave me alone. He kept showing me his money, his good car, and he took me to Chez Pierre. I had to tutor him a bit on how to dress and act, but he was a fast learner. I never could figure out how he came from that family of his until I found out about the drug deals. But he kept showing off the money and stuff. He LIKED me. Why did he go off and want to kill me?”

Helen didn’t really know, but Quinn needed to hear something.

“Maybe he felt like an outsider, his Jerry Springer family a collar around his neck holding him down. Maybe he had so little money, and been tormented by that fact, that he got into drugs. Maybe feeling no love or acceptance at all, he tried to get that from you. Maybe he thought if he could buy your acceptance, he could show he was better than his family or his childhood. And then you....” Here Helen was careful. “You saw through him finally. And he didn’t like it. He couldn’t handle the fact that he was a drug dealing loser that was more and more like his own violent, dysfunctional family than he wanted to be. I’m glad you got away from him, but he couldn’t stand your leaving him behind.”

“Well, I told him I just dated guys for awhile. He just wouldn’t stop.”

Helen tried remembering what all those books she read about how to talk to your children and get them to do what you want said. She was finally in this situation, and she could barely recall anything!

“Quinn?” asked Helen, as she recalled a little. “Why is his acceptance so important anyway?”

“Be-cauuuse,” said Quinn as if stating the obvious, “I live by my cuteness and popularity. I survived on my cuteness as a child and I plan to be well-taken care of because of my cuteness and popularity when I’m older. Nobody can hurt me. Nobody can ignore me. It’s not like I’m Daria.”

“Say what?” Helen was too shocked by this to be angry, upset, or bemused.

Daria just doesn’t care. Or she acts like she doesn’t. I think maybe she cares too much, so she tries to keep people away so she doesn’t care so much. Like how she’d pretend she didn’t need you and dad or didn’t care about your yelling about her and stuff. But I’m not like that! I got you to calm down and take care of me by being cute! By showing you all my friends and activities I became a part of. By showing you I can be cute and popular and busy and everything.”

“Quinn,” said Helen getting annoyed despite her intentions to remain calm. “You didn’t have to be cute to be cared for. We took care of you--will take care of you--because you’re our daughter and we love you....”

“Until someone who you barely knows calls for you, and then we’re forgotten....”

“Quinn! That’s not----”

Cursed fate caused her phone to ring right then--the one with the unlisted number the reporters hadn’t been able to get yet. She fought to finish what she was saying instead of answering the phone. Damn it all, this could be important.

“Hello,” said Helen.

“Mrs. Morgendorffer,” said a male voice that she didn’t identify right away.


“This is Andrew Landon.”

“Hi!” said Helen. She noticed then that Quinn was giving her the most adorable if sad face. She wiped a couple of Quinn’s lingering tears away.

“I want you to know, Mrs. Morgendorffer, that we’re behind you all the way. Jodie saw Matthew Foster try to kill Quinn. And Miss Li and Michael Mackenzie.”

“How awful!” said Helen, as she ran her hand over Quinn’s hair careful not to mess it up in a way that would upset her. Quinn gave her such a sad smile back.

“I immediately got on the phone with the District Attorney when I found out how Jodie herself had nearly been shot and told her not to do anything to Daria. Jodie would not stop talking about how Daria saved them all. And she told me to tell you to call her on the witness stand, and she’ll tell everyone in court the same thing.”

“Thank you, Mr. Landon,” said Helen sincerely. “It’s nice to know I still have friends in this town.” Helen pulled Quinn a little closer to her and smiled down at her.

“I just saw you and Marguerite on the news,” he said, “you both presented well, and made better statements than I thought would be possible in your case.”

“Oh, there are going to be some big surprises coming up, Mr. Landon,” she said. “In fact, the only thing that really worries me are the federal charges.”

“I assume you can’t share the details with me?” asked Landon.

“I’m afraid not,” said Helen, “but trust me, we’re confident about defending Daria!” Except maybe for having the gun, Helen thought morosely.

“That’s wonderful,” said Landon. “I’ve tried calling you all day, but all I got was your machine.” He sounded a bit worried, “So I finally got this number from Marguerite. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Oh, no, I don’t mind! It’s just the reporters all day,” said Helen exasperatedly. “Luckily, this number is unlisted, given only to people I have business with. You’re welcome to use it anytime.”

“Be careful the reporters don’t get your business card.”

“Thank you for pointing that out, Mr. Landon!” She sounded very sincere. In truth, she had already hidden them.

“No problem,” said Mr. Landon. “I’ve had my own battles with the press, too. It will get better. After it gets worse.”

Helen laughed politely. “I hope it gets better soon.”

“I know you’re very busy, Mrs. Morgendorffer, so I’ll let you go.”

“I am very busy, but I’m also very glad you called to offer me and Daria your support. You don’t know how much that means to me.

“Anytime,” said Landon. “And if you need any help, you just let me know.”

“I will,” said Helen. “Bye!” She hung up and looked down at Quinn as they smiled sadly at one another. “What were we talking about?”

“Nothing, Mom. Just hold me.” Quinn leaned into her. It reminded Helen of when Quinn was younger before she got wrapped up in that Fashion Club of hers.

Helen frowned in concern at that. She knew they were discussing something important. “Quinn,” Helen started, “I’m not going to ground you for all that you did as everything that’s happening now must be punishment enough. But I hope you don’t do anymore drugs. Especially to keep thin.”

Quinn looked at her. “What about all those pills you and Dad take to calm yourself down and pick yourself back up? In addition to the coffee and sometimes alcohol?”

Helen blinked, then fought anger, and then suppressed her natural reactions. “It’s a bad habit, and we’re both going to stop,” said Helen.

Quinn looked as if she didn’t quite believe that.

“Really,” said Helen. “Right after this case gets cleared up.”

“Okay,” said Quinn, turning back to the TV, seeming to watch it even though it was off.

Helen sat there comforting Quinn for a couple of minutes or so, wondering how much time the lasagna had, when there was a knock at the door. She frowned. “That had better NOT be the press,” she muttered darkly.

She gently disengaged herself from Quinn and went to the door. Taking a breath, she opened it to find Mr. DeMartino. “Hi!” said a tired Helen, “What can I do for you?”

“Mrs. Morgendorffer,” replied DeMartino in a low growl, “I was wondering if I could come in. There are couple of strange cars out with people in them and I fear they may be reporters, and I’m allergic to such.”

Helen frowned and motioned him in, wondering if those cars held reporters or cops. “Please excuse the mess, Mr. DeMartino, we haven’t had time to clean up after the police tore up our home.”

“I’ll excuse YOU, Mrs. Morgendorffer, but I’ll hold it against the police.”

Helen laughed lightly. “Would you like something to drink, Mr. DeMartino?” she asked, retreating into her home.

Mr. DeMartino followed. “Just water, thank you,” grumbled Anthony DeMartino, “and call me Anthony.”

“Anthony,” repeated Helen, “You can call me Helen.”

“Hello, Quinn,” said Anthony when he saw her.

“Hi,” said Quinn weakly. She turned towards the kitchen. “Mom, I’m going to go do my homework.” She got up and left, heading for the stairs.

“School opens tomorrow,” growled Anthony, “but it looks as if it’s going to be a counseling session. If you don’t want to listen to Ms. Manson and Timothy O’ Neill drone on for hours on end, you might want to stay home.” He raised his voice a little as Quinn was still going up the stairs, if smiling at him politely. “I know I plan to take it off!”

“Say what?” asked Helen, as she came out with a glass of water. Handing him the water, she looked around. “Where did Quinn go?”

“She said she had homework to do.” He restrained from a tirade of Quinn’s working habits. Besides, Quinn had been doing noticeably better this year.

“Oh,” said Helen. “Forgive her, Mr.... Anthony. I don’t need to explain why she’s not in the mood to see anyone.”

“Especially anyone from the school,” muttered Anthony. “I hope.... she does not have a problem.... ever returning to Lawndale High again. I wouldn’t blame her if she never steps a foot inside the school again, but I would miss her.”

Helen blinked. “Thank you, Anthony.” She sat down. “Make yourself comfortable.”

Anthony sat down on a chair, but he hardly looked relaxed. “Mrs. Morgen....”

“Helen, please,” insisted Helen.

“Helen,” said Anthony. “I want to first tell you how sorry I am about everything that happened. We should’ve gotten rid of the Foster boy some time ago.”

“Yes,” said Helen in a low, tired voice.

“I also want to volunteer to act as a character witness for Daria on the stand.”

Helen smiled then, if tiredly. “Thank you.”

“And I wanted to warn you.”

Helen’s gaze focused on Anthony. “About what?” She realized everything she was learning was starting to make her a bit paranoid.

“As you are probably aware,” said Anthony, “I’m a member of the NRA. I’ve become somewhat disillusioned with them for many reasons. The reason that matters to you, Helen, is they are known to back secret treaties with groups like Handgun Control Inc. and other such groups in exchange for favors and capitulations on their side in exchange for the same on the other side.”

“Yes,” said Helen. “Negotiations can be nasty sometimes.”

“Exactly, Helen. Exactly. The NRA leadership is also more concerned with its image and membership drives than actually solving anything. Hell, if they SOLVED anything,” here his eye bulged a bit but he quickly calmed back down, “then they would lose a lot of the support of those who cling to them in fear and desperation. Then they wouldn’t be worth as much to the politicians. They would lose money. They would lose more value to the political campaigns. They probably would not become meaningless, but many of the perks they now enjoy would diminish. And human beings, being the LAZY! Er, that is, human beings being what they are sometimes do what is best for themselves personally, and not for those they have an obligation to.”

“I’ve heard they plan to use Daria to challenge the federal statutes of the Gun Safe Zone Act and Project Safe Neighborhoods,” said Helen. “Since these are laws that my daughter has very obviously violated, with serious consequences involved, I am inclined to let the NRA offer any help that they can.”

Anthony nodded his head in understanding. “I would question your wisdom if you didn’t at least consider their help,” he grumbled. “But you should know that this case has engaged the interests of those at the very top of the chain of command. And should it become personally profitable to make a MARTYR out of Daria, I fear they won’t hesitate to make a deal under the table with Handgun Control Inc. to crush her.”

Helen made a noise for him to continue.

“You hope, as I do,” said Anthony, “that they will remove these laws, thus clearing a severe obstacle that Daria is unlikely to overcome otherwise. But should they get close to achieving their goal, then the groups opposed to them will want to deal. And if such a stunning victory meant a short celebration followed by a loss of ACTIVE membership as the tide seemed to be turning and the more lazy could stop worrying about our second amendment rights, the NRA leaders might be tempted to keep the threat hanging over our heads a little longer. Or if they can get promises from Handgun Control Inc. to let the NRA have their way on several pet projects, they might offer Daria in return."

Helen was getting used to this. "Anything else?" she asked sardonically.

Anthony smiled cynically. "The NRA is starting to collect contributions for a defense fund for Daria now, and it might also show a discrepancy between what is given to help secure her release, and how much of it makes it to Daria’s defense, too. Perhaps you should dedicate some people to collect money for Daria’s defense personally.”

“I thank you for such blunt honesty,” said Helen. “And I should tell you that I have been a member of Handgun Control Inc. for some time, though all I ever did was participate in poster card campaigns, a few minor donations, and minimal politicking for them.”

“That sounds like me with the NRA,” mentioned Anthony. “Now, anyway.”

“Well, I can tell you that should the NRA win such a stunning victory, HCI would ring every alarm they possibly could and could no doubt terrify HCI membership into an all-time high. With such voting leverage and money at their fingertips, the politicians will line up to tap the awesome resource they become.....”

“And the NRA,” grinned Anthony, “will be required to stand up to them, to keep them from taking away our right to bear arms. Something you will be sure they know.” He laughed when he saw her smile. “Mrs. Morg... I mean Helen, I like the way you strategize. I think that if anyone can get Daria out of the predicament that she’s now in, it’s you.” It was uncanny how for just a moment when Helen smiled she looked a lot like Daria.

“One more thing, Helen,” said Anthony, after taking a drink of water.


“I happen to know two of the people they’re sending here. They like showing off for the press. If not handled discreetly, it could backfire.”

“More clowns,” groaned Helen. The circus was just getting more and more rings.

“Yes. If you need any help dealing with them, don’t hesitate to call me.

“Thank you,” said Helen again.

“And the two I’m thinking of will claim to have ties to the GOP. They do, but they have less Republican support than you might realize. Don’t expect any favors from any of the politicians just because they’re Republican.”

Helen nodded. Then she told him how the current mayor was working with the NRA, while the city attorney was gaining the support of groups like HCI by crucifying Daria, and anyone involved in seeing either student armed, in hopes of gaining the support and backing he needed to become the next mayor of Lawndale. But she didn’t tell him any more than that.

Anthony swore, and his eye bulged. “It was bad enough when it was Tweedle Dee GORE vs. Tweedle Dum Bush, but NOW I can look forward to Sleezy Dee GRANT vs. SLEEZY Dum Fillman in the next mayoral campaign of Lawndale!”

Helen snorted. “Tweedle Dum Bush? Don’t tell me you don’t like that Bromwell graduate.”

“He never would’ve graduated any class of MINE,” said Anthony, his eye bulging with the last word. Then he sighed. “Bush, I’m afraid, will be the man liberals love to hate, and conservatives hate to love.”

Helen laughed lightly at that, genuinely amused. “Listen to us Anthony! We were once on opposite ends of the political spectrum, and here we are talking about our own sides in terms of Them.”

Anthony smiled back in a way that said he was enjoying the irony, too. “Daria,” he said, “Daria, and the danger our kids are in today, from BOTH sides of the law, are far more important than the petty partisan politics.”

“Agreed,” said Helen. “Our kids come before politics.”

Anthony grunted agreement before adding, “I’ll send you Nicki Fellenzer’s e-mail addy. If either side, the NRA or HCI, try anything underhanded or otherwise act in a way that is contrary to Daria’s best interests, you let her know. She’s one of the few people out there who will fight to make sure the NRA stays honest--or that the NRA’s membership know about it. You can bet she’ll be paying close attention to this case.”

Helen could not believe how helpful Anthony was being. She smiled genuine gratitude at him and felt the stirring of real hope for Daria to be cleared of ALL charges.

Helen took a sip and asked, “Do you know anything about the Virginia Citizens Defense League, Anthony?”

“Yes,” said Anthony, “I’m a member of them, as well. If they’re helping, then I’m glad I send them money and share my time.”

“They are. It might be nice if you’d be willing to help me with them should they provide a problem or do something that confuses me.

“I will, Helen. Anything to help Daria and Quinn.”

Helen smiled her thanks and yawned. “I’m sorry,” she said, “it’s just been so busy today.”

Anthony stood up. “I completely understand,” he said, “and I should be going anyway, Helen, thank you for the hospitality.” He approached Helen a little as Helen got up. In a lower voice he told her, “I was also going to tell you to pass on to Daria for me that she should not be ashamed of what she did. Killing a man is nothing to be proud of, but in this case it’s nothing to be ashamed of, either.”

“Thank you, Anthony,” replied Helen, “for all your help and kind words.”

Anthony cleared his throat. “But seeing Quinn Morgendorffer when I came in, and knowing that had Daria done nothing to stop it, there would be NO Quinn Morgendorffer EVER again, I have to say she SHOULD be proud. Or, at the very least, anyone who allowed Matthew Foster to do what he intended to do should be ashamed if they looked the other way because they knew their own life would be easier that way.”

Helen couldn’t think of anything to say to that, so she smiled and nodded to him, leading him to the door.

“And for the immediate future, I am acting principal of Lawndale High. Should Quinn return, I’ll see to it that Quinn is not harassed in any way. ESPECIALLY by REPORTERS!”

Helen smile grew. “Congratulations,” she said.

“Oh, my role as principal is only temporary. No more than to the end of the school year. Hopefully, by then you will have this mess straightened out. For Quinn, anyway. Good luck to you, Helen, and remember I will help you, Quinn, and Daria in any way I can.” He nodded to her and walked out to his car. He didn’t look back as Helen closed the door.

Part of her was actually sorry to see him go. Anthony’s words kept running through her mind as she went to check on the lasagna. She had 4 minutes left on the timer, so she went ahead and took it out, ripped the cover all the way off, and put it back in for another 20. Then she decided to steam some veggies.

Her mind wandered over the political and legal implications as she cut some broccoli up. One weakness was that she could really use Sleezeball Dee Grant’s support. And he would go with whatever side got him the most public support. And the support was created in large part by the media. And the media tended to shape public opinion. She could imagine how that was going to go.

On the other hand, Helen mused, knowing that Fillman was going to try to replace him next election might make him an ally, too.

She needed options and leverage, but she wasn’t sure how to get it. If she didn’t get it, then she was backed in a corner, and so was Daria. Helen got the broccoli steaming as she brainstormed.

Helen knew if the NRA was willing to make deals with the other side in exchange for political favors, then the groups they dealt with would do the same. It takes two to tango.

And since she was a minor member of HCI, she stood a chance of having HCI and the other gun control groups listen to the offer she was thinking of. If she pulled this off right, then not only would the NRA likely keep bashing away at the laws they hated, but their major opponents would turn into allies, helping Daria immensely and taking away Roger Fillman’s support, which this was a large part of what this was about anyway!

Helen grinned energetically as the strategy she had in mind became more detailed. Oh, this was BRILLIANT!

She hoped.

End Part 1

Thus ends Part I. Parts II and III will be focused much more on Daria, Jane, and Quinn. If Quinn’s state of mind bothers you some, she’s about to snap out of that. Course, she’s going to experience a lot of other states of mind....... and a lot more trouble is on the way