"Will you call that meeting?" Jan presses. "Because this problem's not going to go away."
"I will. Now I'm going to see Jenny Townsend. Theresa, will you lock up when everyone's gone?"
The secretary nods, glad for being given something to do. While the remainder of the board members continue to express disbelief, my cell phone rings. The caller ID shows my home as the origin of the call, which makes me unsure whether to answer. My daughter, Annie, is quite capable of pestering me to death with the phone when the mood strikes her. But with Kate's death fresh in my mind, I step into the secretary's office and answer.
"No," says an older female voice. "It's Mia."
Mia Burke is my daughter's babysitter, a classmate of Kate Townsend's.
"I'm sorry to interrupt the board meeting, but I'm kind of freaked out."
"It's all right, Mia. What's the matter?"
"I'm not sure. But three people have called and told me something happened to Kate Townsend. They're saying she drowned."
I hesitate before confirming the rumor, but if the truth hasn't already spread across town, it will in a matter of minutes. Our secretary learning the truth from an ER nurse was part of the first wave of rumor, one of many that will sweep across town tonight, turning back upon themselves and swelling until the facts are lost in a tide of hyperbole. "You heard right, Mia. Kate was found dead in St. Catherine's Creek."
"I know it's upsetting, and I'm sure you want to be with your friends right now, but I need you to stay with Annie until I get there. I'll be home in ten minutes."
"Oh, I'd never leave Annie alone. I mean, I don't even know what I should do. If Kate's dead, I can't really help her. And everyone is going to be acting so retarded about it. Take whatever time you need. I'd rather stay here with Annie than drive right now."
I silently thank Jan Chancellor for recommending one of the few levelheaded girls in the school to me as a babysitter. "Thanks, Mia. How's Annie doing?"
"She fell asleep watching a documentary about bird migration on the Discovery Channel."
"Hey," Mia says in an awkward voice. "Thanks for telling me the truth about Kate."
"Thanks for not flipping out and leaving the house. I'll see you in a few minutes, okay?"
I hang up and look through the door at the boardroom. Drew Elliott is talking on his cell phone at the table, but the rest of the board members are filing out the main door. As I watch them go, an image from our promotional TV commercial featuring Kate rises into my mind. She's walking onto the tennis court in classic whites, and her cool blue eyes burn right through the camera. She's tall, probably five-ten, with Nordic blond hair that hangs halfway to her waist. More striking than beautiful, Kate looked like a college student rather than a high school kid, and that's why we chose her for the promo spot. She was the perfect recruiting symbol for a college-prep school.
Copyright © 2005 by Greg Iles.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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