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© 2012 Honora Finkelstein & Susan Smily
Ariel Quigley Mysteries

Excerpt from The Reporter Who Died Probing

  Prologue

Friday, September 15th, 1995

Connie Cordoba, daily reporter extraordinaire, was dressed in her most expensive black suit and pumps, ginger-  colored hair coiffed to look business-like but sexy, and nails done just last night in "Witch's Apple" red. She blew a mental kiss to Marty Weingarten, the very pragmatic gay costume designer who had been her Henry  Higgins at the community college where her education had started. He had said to her more than once, "My dear, you  may be from a trailer trash background now, but if you can learn how to dress like a lady, speak like a Southern belle,  and behave with impeccable manners, you can take your South Texas journalism degree all the way to the nation's  capital." Thanks to Marty, as Connie waited behind the cordoned line, she didn't even have to look down and check her  perfect grooming. She knew she was a sexy, redheaded bombshell. She was confident and ready for action.  Her editor, Butch Yancy, at the San Antonio paper where she was a cub reporter, had sent her on assignment to the  university in Corpus Christi, where the Great Man would be speaking.  "He's going to be talking about what his administration has accomplished so far, as well as what they're proposing  for the remainder of the term. So I want you to get the Everyman's view of how these changes are working out for the  local population here in Texas. You know the routine-outline the speech, get the facts, summarize for our readers, and  point out any discrepancies. There may not be any-he's got great speechwriters, and he knows how to deliver. But go  for the throat if you get a chance."  She had listened to the speech, had taken copious notes, and had raised her hand at every opportunity when  members of the audience had been solicited for questions. She had the outline, she had the facts, she had the  summary. But nobody had called on her. She wanted much, much more than she had so far. She wanted a private interview.  She knew in her heart of hearts that someday she'd be walking the corridors of power in the District of Columbia  and that what she had to say would be taken very, very seriously.  So here she stood, waiting on line for the Great Man to emerge from the auditorium and do the requisite hand  shaking and baby kissing all politicians were expected to do. She'd managed to get a place right up front, and she knew  it was now or never to get herself noticed. She took a deep, relaxing breath and rested both hands gently on the cord  that was meant to contain the public. Then the door opened, and out he came, flanked by Secret Service agents on both sides. She smiled sweetly,  disarmingly, focusing only on him, even though he was still several feet away from her. He was shaking hands with  everyone he could reach in the first three rows of the crowd. She continued to smile waiting…waiting…until finally he  was directly in front of her and reaching beyond and behind her to the outstretched hands that wanted to shake his. And  carefully, she slid her hands off the rope and between his legs, where she gently squeezed what she was able to cup in  her palms. When he pulled back, slightly startled, he finally looked deep into her eyes. Oh, yes, she now had his undivided  attention. Decorously, she had broken physical contact with him as he had pulled away, and her hands now rested once  again on the rope that separated them. Nobody had seen what she'd done.  She smiled sweetly, he smiled back, and their eyes held just a few more seconds before he continued down the line  of eager supporters. She watched him as he shook people's hands, nodded at their statements, and made politically  correct comments in return. And when he reached the end of the line, he glanced back at her knowingly, appreciatively.  Or so she thought. She would wait for a while after he got into his limousine and was driven away. There was a public dinner in town  tonight for well-heeled party supporters, so he wouldn't be flying away in his jet until the wee hours of the next morning.  Perhaps before his magic carpet took off, one of his lackeys would come and find her. Then she might have her longed-  for interview with him after all. After the ball, so to speak.  She licked her lips and smiled to herself. No matter whether she got the invitation or not, one thing had already  satisfied her sense of self-worth.  For just a few moments, she'd held the fate of the leader of the Free World in her little, lily-white hands. 

 Chapter 1

Friday, December 5th, 2003

I finished marking the last term paper and put the grade on it with a flourish of red ink. After recording this final mark  in my grade book, I bundled all the papers into my briefcase, snapped it shut, and stood up and stretched, then bent  over and touched my toes to get the kinks out of my back. My boyfriend, Greg Mason, and his son Brandon were across the room, playing a video game together, both with  their eyes glued to the television screen. I wandered to the couch, and without taking their eyes off the screen, they  moved in opposite directions to make room for me between them. I stepped carefully over their lifeline cables and sat  down in the open space. The screen seemed to have a couple of ships on a wide, blue ocean, and they were  bombarding each other with shells that exploded into fireworks when they hit each other. But I couldn't immediately tell  whether this was an elaborate form of "Battleship" or some sort of pirate fantasy. I put my head on Greg's shoulder,  crossed my eyes, and let my tongue loll for a moment. But neither of them noticed, so the effect was lost. "Finally finished, huh?" Greg said, his eyes still welded to the screen and hands working the game controls.  "Yup. The term is terminal. Only three sets of final exams to go." Without looking at me, Greg asked politely, "Anything interesting in this last batch of papers? You seemed pretty  pleased the few times I looked up."  "Well, a lot of the papers were real bombs, but toward the end of the stack there was a fascinating one on 'Pagany  as an Influence in 19th-Century Romanticism.' Turns out the student who wrote the paper is a practicing member of  Wicca." "What's that?" asked Brandon, eyes never leaving the TV screen and fingers still manipulating the controllers.  "Ariel means her student is a modern-day witch," Greg answered for me.  "Oh. Like on Charmed or in Bed Knobs and Broomsticks?"  "Sort of," said Greg. "Except I don't know if members of Wicca actually cast spells, or if they do, whether any of the  spells work. What do you think, Ariel?" His eyes never moved from the screen. I thought he should probably get a  medal for his ability to multi-task. I shrugged. "I know that witches in England definitely cast a lot of spells during World War II to improve the Brits'  chances of repelling the Germans, just the way the witch does in the Disney movie. And I know modern Wiccans are  trying to give the nature religion aspects of witchcraft a better image than it usually gets at Halloween. But I may find  out more before long. The student who wrote the paper, Sandy Seacrest, has invited me to a Solstice celebration on the  21st where there'll be dancing and reveling in honor of the rebirth of the sun."  "Dancing? Reveling?" Greg finally turned and looked at me. "Don't witches do that sort of thing au natural?" I  assumed he was using the French phrase so Brandon wouldn't realize what we were talking about.  "I don't know. I've never been to a witches' Solstice celebration before. But if you feel like reveling au natural, I'll find  out if I can bring a date."  "I'm not sure I should go," said Greg. "As a member of the police force, I think au natural dancing may not be  permissible for me. But I also don't want to have to arrest you for causing a riot."  I was amused by the idea that my dancing naked might cause a public disturbance. "That's very flattering," I said,  and gave him a sweet smile. "But you won't have to worry, because you won't be called. The Solstice celebration will be  out in Loudoun County."  "Gotcha!" shouted Brandon. "I win! I just blew the last of your ships out of the water, Dad. Boy, you need to learn to  focus! Hey, Ariel, are you really thinking about dancing naked?"  Copyright © 2008 Honora Finkelstein & Susan Smily
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