EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER ONE

Chapter 1  ~  Hoover Tower

“I gotta pee.”

Rita Kellogg scrutinized her interviewee as she those unexpected words slid from the young woman’s lips. She suppressed a childish urge to snatch away the black patent clutch the girl had pressed up against her belly.

Crap! Rita thought. Here I am about to snag the female journalist of the year award and my exclusive source has to take a pee?

Rita could feel the cold, rough concrete of the fountain’s rim under her butt as she debated her next step. She couldn’t risk alienating the poor thing after what she’d been through. Remember, Rita, hold your tongue until your head can overrule your gut. Rule Three on her list of journalistic standards. One far more subject to violation than the first two. Rule One being the standard for all journalists—ask questions. And Rule Two—dig for the story.

Rita watched the girl’s chest rise and fall beneath her blue wool coat as she took in and expelled huge gulps of air. They had barely taken their seats on the edge of the tiered fountain in the shadow of Stanford’s Hoover Tower when the girl had made her pronouncement. The famed edifice with its bulbous top, mocked as President Herbert Hoover’s last erection, had this very morning acquired a darker, more disturbing reputation. 

Within seconds, the solution came to Rita. Her fingertips brushed the arm of the girl’s coat. “It’s Carol, right?

When the girl nodded, Rita made a conciliatory offer. “Let me walk you to the nearest Ladies room and then we can talk. Okay?”

“No…no,” Carol said, tears streaking down her face and dripping off her chin. “You don’t understand.”

With her powers of divination stymied, Rita gave Carol a quizzical look.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean that I have to pee now,” Carol said in response. “But that’s how it all started…when I told Ken I had to pee.”

Okay, back to Rule One, thought Rita. Ask questions. “Ken’s your boyfriend, I presume. And what did he do when you told him that?”

Carol let out a sigh and let her purse slide down to her lap. “He didn’t want to hear it. Said we had bigger problems. Like staying out all night.”

“Can we go back a bit, Carol? I want to get things straight.” Rita dug into her coat pocket and pulled out her battered, black notebook, penciling in the date and time of their interview at the top of the first blank page—Fri, Oct 20, ‘61, 9:02 a.m.

Carol swiveled her hips toward Rita but kept her eyes focused on the stippled water of the fountain. In the background, orders being barked out by the police spiked above the muffled drone of a hundred looky-loos, huddled behind the yellow tape cordoning off the Tower.

Rita could almost see the wheels turning in Carol’s head. Hopefully, she was sorting out the sequence of this morning’s events.

When Carol did speak, it was in a matter-of-fact tone, as if reporting on events that had happened to someone else. That surprised Rita but at least she was talking.

“It started about six when we woke up in the back seat of his Chevy. We’d parked in the walnut orchard at about eleven last night. You know, the one behind the Chem building. The stupid car wouldn’t start this morning. Alternator or something. Ken told me we should head back to my dorm on foot. The fog was heavier than usual. I was freezing, even with my coat buttoned all the way up.”

Carol fingered the buttons of her coat as if to check the veracity of her own statement. Then she looked back toward the dwindling crowd, checking to see if Ken was still there. Her shoulders drooped as she realized that he had skedaddled the moment the police had told them both that their official interviews at the scene were over. “The cold didn’t seem to bother him,” she said at last. “His letter jacket was wide open as we beat it back across campus. Only a T-shirt underneath. His regular shirt was back in the car. I kept trying to talk to him about what I was going to tell my dorm mother. He said I should say we fell asleep in the car but not to mention the back seat so she wouldn’t think…well, you know what.”

Rita glanced over Carol’s shoulder at the crowd, a random group of students, faculty, campus workers, and local authorities that had begun to thin as the investigation entered its third hour. Concerned that Carol would change her mind about being interviewed and decide to leave with the others, she threw out a few supportive comments to encourage her to continue her tale of their stolen night together. Carol was, at the very least, a prime witness to the grisly find beneath the tower. Rita had sidled up to her the moment it looked like the police were giving her and the boyfriend permission to leave the scene. Rumors had been circulating through the crowd that she was a person of interest, some voicing opinions that she was a suspect, others saying she was only a witness. Either way, Rita knew she had a story.

Carol continued her saga, her breath turning irregular as the memories flooded back.  “I was afraid the dorm would be locked. But Ken reminded me that all the dorms open at six. He gave me a pat on the shoulder and said everything would be cool.”

Rita refrained from saying it out loud but wondered if the boyfriend had used the same slick reassuring words last night when he had deftly slid her panties down in the back seat of his Chevy.

“Did that make you feel better about staying out all night?” Rita asked.

“No. I worried my goody two shoes roommate had already turned me into our dorm mother. Mrs. Brownfield is such an old bag. Wouldn’t think twice about calling my parents or the campus police. And besides—”

Carol stopped cold.

“Besides what?” Rita asked.

“It was so embarrassing. I needed to use a bathroom in the worst way. That’s when I told him I had to pee. We had just reached the mall. He grabbed me by my elbow and literally shoved me across it, telling me to hold it, that we’d be at Branner in three minutes. A few yards further, as we got near the Tower—”

Carol fell silent and turned her head around in the direction of the Tower. Rita noticed a shudder go through Carol’s body. She reached over and patted her hand. “It’s okay, Carol. Go on.”

“Are you going to print all this in the Daily?” she asked.

Shit! There goes my interview! She had been honest with Carol about being one of the Daily’s Contributing Editors when she had escorted her away. “No, I just want to understand your version of things. If there is an article, I’ll have to get your specific written permission to publish anything you’ve told me.” Rita didn’t mention that there would be a raft of others, including their Chief Editor and their faculty advisor, looking over her shoulder as well.

 “You going to talk to Ken too?” Carol asked.

“As soon as I can track him down,” Rita said, failing to add that she didn’t think there’d be a chance in hell of Carol’s jock boyfriend telling a female reporter anything.

A flash of anger spread across Carol’s face, her jaw tightening. “Just like him. I’m the one in trouble, and he’s nowhere to be seen.”

“But he gave a brief statement to the police before he left, just like you did, right?”

“Yeah. But who knows what he said. They had us separated.”

“Let’s get back to you, Carol? What happened next?”

“I knew I couldn’t last three more minutes. I stopped and pressed my legs together to keep from peeing in my pants. I told him I couldn’t make it.”

Rita scribbled faster to keep up with the girl’s rambling tale—thanking God for that course in Gregg shorthand that her mother made her take back in high school. Mom’s backup plan if Rita didn’t get into college.

Carol went on to describe how Ken had pointed her toward the thicket of bushes encircling the base of the Tower and told her to go pee in there. She remembered cringing and telling him she was too embarrassed to do that. “He yelled at me to just get in there and pee. Practically tossed me into the shrubs.”

Carol’s voice quavered and her breathing became even more labored as she described what came next. “A foot or two in, I yanked my capris and panties down to my ankles and squatted. The pee splattered all over the place.”

Rita looked down at Carol’s feet. The mud-caked stains on her navy Capezios gave evidence to that moment.

“When I tried to stand and pull my pants back up, I stumbled. I stretched my arm out to break my fall. That’s when I felt it…her hand. God, it was so awful. I don’t remember much after that.”

She did recall that her screams, triggered by the realization that she was touching a stone-cold human hand, had brought Ken thudding to his knees by her side. She couldn’t remember whether he had lifted the low-hanging branch covering the rest of the body or had helped her finish pulling up her pants first. They had both gone into shock at the sight of the sprawled remains of a young woman—limbs twisted into unnatural positions, and her blond hair snaking in a bloody swath across her vacant blue-eyed stare.

The glazed look coming into Carol’s eyes suggested she was about at her limit. Rita didn’t want to push. Perhaps later. Just then, a nurse came out of nowhere and interrupted them, saying she needed Carol to come along with her for further medical evaluation.

Rita thanked Carol profusely, wondering at the same time whether their interview would ever see the front page of the Stanford Daily. Would Carol refuse to give permission? Would the police clamp down on any reporting until their investigation was complete? Or, worse yet, would their toady Chief Editor, Fred Langley, backed up by Dr. Sheldon, their faculty advisor, decide that her account, as brilliant as it was, would cast aspersions on the University.

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