Amateur detective and aspiring journalist Tressa "Calamity" Jayne Turner returns for her fourth novel (after Ghouls Just Want to Have Fun), in which she goes back to school, hunts for a campus criminal and finds more trouble than a drunk coed with daddy's car. Enrolling in college for the fourth time, Tressa's looking to get a real degree in journalism and just maybe a raise at the Grandville Gazette. Unfortunately, Tressa isn't a great student, just squeaking by in her Carson College classes until the final project in her investigative journalism class, coupled with a string of unsolved campus crimes, lights a fire under her barely passing bum. Thanks to her cousin Frank and his fiancée, Dixie (Tressa's least favorite person and a hilarious foil), she might have her story: Frank's theory points to someone in his criminal law class. Of course, it's not nearly that simple, and Tressa finds that her investigation may lead to a fate worse than failing. Funny and endearing, with enough side characters and plots to keep the pages turning�Tressa's maid-of-honor duties, conflicting crushes and her live-in grandma's hot new beau�Bacus's book is another crowd-pleaser; fans of Janet Evanovich will see shades of Stephanie Plum in this spunky Iowa sleuth. (Apr.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Calamity Jayne Goes to College: A Tressa Jayne Turner Mysteryby Kathleen Bacus
Ace cub reporter Tressa Jayne Turner is carrying a full load -- and we�re not talking post-holiday pounds. Back in college for the fourth time (but who�s counting?), she�s also looking to nab a raise from her stingy boss at the Gazette. So, what�s to stop her from making the grade? Could it be the botched betrothal that�s more than just schoolyard gossip? Or maybe it�s the two men in hot pursuit of her heart. And let�s not forget the campus criminal that�s out to teach the student body a lesson - one crime at a time. It�s a case of murder and mayhem by the books -- and failure is so not an option.
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Calamity Jayne Goes to College
By Kathleen Bacus
Dorchester PublishingCopyright © 2007 Kathleen Cecile Bacus
All right reserved.
Chapter OneRick and Tressa are sitting in Catholic school. Tressa is sleeping and the teacher, realizing this, asks her a question: "Tressa, who created Heaven and Earth?" Rick sees Tressa is sleeping and, meaning to help out, quickly pokes her with a sharp pencil.
"Jesus Christ Almighty!" exclaims Tressa.
"Correct," says the teacher, surprised.
The next day, the same incident occurs and the same question comes up. "Who created Heaven and Earth?" asks the teacher.
Tressa-again sleeping-is poked by Rick's pencil. "Jesus Christ Almighty!" she exclaims.
"Correct again," says the disgruntled teacher.
The next day, for a third time, the teacher sees Tressa snoozing. She decides to trick Tressa and asks a different question: "What did Eve say to Adam after their fifteenth child?"
Tressa, poked by Rick's pencil once again, this time screams, "If you stick that thing in me one more time, I am going to crack it in half!"
Hi. My name is Tressa Jayne Turner. I should tell you up front that I never attended Catholic school. (The "Rick" I referred to, however, did-and does-exist. And the name has not been changed to protect the innocent.) I'm a dubious poster childfor public school education. I should also admit here that I probably would have benefited from attending a school where you wore uniforms and the educators were allowed to rap your knuckles with a ruler and slap you upside the head just to make sure you were paying attention. I slept through more high school credits than my gramma does TV newscasts. Not that that's something I like to crow about, but there you have it. You get the point: School and I weren't what you'd call simpatico.
It wasn't that I hated school exactly. I just didn't like the early class times, the course material, the administration, some of the faculty members, and all those really silly rules. You know, like no dodge ball at recess. They even outlawed Red Rover, Red Rover because Dorky Donnie Douglas got clotheslined during one session and bruised his windpipe!
In junior high, there were all those lovely little afterschool detentions if you were tardy. I got to know the janitors real well. And in high school? Well, they had no sense of humor at all when it came to being late for class. It was like baseball: Three strikes and "YOURRRE OUT!"
Then there was that ridiculous rule about bringing food into the classroom. What a joke! Like some pathetic prohibition was going to stop me from sneaking in contraband Twinkies and candy bars? It was a no-brainer to get around. They don't make that handy dandy pouch in the front of a hoodie for nothing, right?
Last but not least, there was that pesky bit about staying awake in class. It got to the point where teachers requested I bring disinfectant spray so I could dedrool and sanitize the desktops at the end of each period. Sigh.
Yes, I was the kind of student whose parents got real used to seeing the notation STUDENT NEEDS TO APPLY HIM/HERSELF on report cards. Guess they didn't have a drop-down selection with STUDENT DOESN'T GIVE A RIP on those computerized reports, huh?
Despite my difficulties, I did manage to avoid total, abject humiliation, and received my high school diploma along with my classmates by means of some summer school sessions and a mother who threatened to take away my livestock if I didn't graduate on time. Talk about your motivation! I ended up with a GPA and class ranking that, while they didn't result in colleges beating a path to my door begging me to attend their fine institutions, did get me a lot of attention from recruiters for the various branches of the armed services. I considered a stint in the military for a bit ... until I got a look at the shoes they have to wear. And camouflage is so not my color.
I live in small-town Iowa-just FYI, we grow corn and soybeans here, folks, not spuds-and I've achieved some level of ... shall we say "notoriety" in the last several months-purely by accident and happenstance, you understand. You see, stuff has a way of happening to me. A lot of stuff. I have the nickname to prove it. Thanks to a certain Department of Natural Resources officer who has invested an inordinate amount of time and energy messing with my head-okay, and at times my body, too-I was dubbed "Calamity Jayne" at about the same time I was learning how not to ride a bike-feet on handlebars and hands on pedals is not so safe, I found out-and discovering that not only was skirt-wearing not recommended when playing on the swing set, but-skirt-wearing in general was something to be avoided at all costs. Especially when one was a bit of a tomboy, loved to ride horses and climb trees and romp with puppy dogs. (Okay, so I still love to do all those things. What can I say? I'm a free spirit.)
By the time I was in second grade, my mother had given up on outfitting me in anything with a frill, ruffle, or bow, except for on Sundays when I was forced to wear my "girl clothes" to go and sleep in church. (I gladly left all "little princess" trappings to my younger sister, Taylor. She looked the part. She still does, as a matter of fact.) To be honest, on Sundays I generally ended up looking like Little Orphan Annie playing dress-up after her dog, Sandy, took her for a run though a thicket.
Your basic "girlie girl" I wasn't. While cowboy boots may be a great fashion accessory when you're twenty-three, an almost rodeo queen, and finally (I hope!) coming into your own, wearing boots with shorts and skirts in elementary school was just looking for trouble. As if I ever needed to look.
My time in middle school was no less bumpy, but luckily I found sports-or they found me-and that kept me operating just well enough to avoid the ineligible list. Most of the time. It was in middle school that I also learned I perform better at individual sports. (Something about getting along well with others.)
By high school I had adopted a bit of a rebel-without-a-cause identity-developed in response to chronic harassment from that certain rangerly friend of my brother who went on to become too good-looking for my own good, an ever-growing series of misadventures, and a reputation for being a bit of a nonconformist ... as well as someone to avoid during an electrical storm. Or at weddings. (I'll explain the latter later.)
From then on there seemed to be no turning back. I was a hormone-driven, harmlessly rebellious, cockeyed cowgirl with a turbocharged motor mouth. And believe me, I wasn't afraid to use it. With a superjock older brother and a beautiful brainiac younger sister, I found comfort and safety in mediocrity. And the mouthiness, you're wondering? I'm blaming that one on genetics, folks. My gramma is known as Hellion Hannah, if that helps explain things.
Truth be told, I saw myself as a kinder, gentler-and female-version of James Dean. Oh, I have a soft, gooey center, but I just wasn't comfortable showing it all that often. For me, showing feelings was like being caught with your pants down. You know, uncomfortably exposed. At a distinct disadvantage. I am slowly learning how to embrace the inner me and to pursue my destiny in a confident, mature manner. Dr. Phil and Oprah have counseled me during this ongoing process, so I have high hopes that I will figure it all out before I have to sign up for Social Security benefits or croak, whichever comes first. But with my history, which includes matching wits with murderers, playing hide-and-seek on a carnival midway with psycho dunk tank clowns, and pursuing reclusive authors in houses only Norman Bates could love, I'm not bettin' the farm on makin' it to retirement age. Still, one has to plan ahead.
This financial planning was what compelled me to drop in to college for the fourth time after three previously unsuccessful attempts to expand my cranium tanked big time. To be fair, I do have to add that at the time of those earlier collegiate experiences, I was still searching for that inner self I mentioned earlier. My niche. You know, what I wanted to be when I grew up.
Through the process of elimination I had discovered what I wasn't supposed to do with my life: One, veterinary medicine. (I just can't inflict hurt on an animal even in the name of healing.) Two, psychology. While I'm totally into Dr. Phil, I discovered I don't have the stomach to sit and wait for anyone's response to the question "Tell me how that makes you feel." Blech. I'm thinkin' I'm more of a "Suck it up, Nancy," kind of therapist. As you might have gathered, I don't deal comfortably with emotions. Or mushy love stuff. Oh, or diets. Sigh.
There was also my short-lived stint as a massage therapist. Unfortunately, the reality of rubbing oil on some stranger's naked body for a living grossed me out more than I anticipated. Ah, she has intimacy issues, you're thinking. I see you watch Dr. Phil, too. Good for you.
With a string of dead-end jobs behind me-well, maybe not exactly behind me yet, but I have high hopes-I finally found a vocation where I could utilize my skills. Okay, so maybe being a Nosy Nellie type isn't exactly a job skill you can include on a résumé, but it does come in handy as a newspaper reporter. Which was what I became. Well, at least part of the time. Off and on. Now and then. I'd been rehired for the third time at the Grandville Gazette, my hometown newspaper-the only hometown newspaper-less than a year earlier when I'd been a key figure in a homegrown whodunit. My writing skills were adequate and, for once, being a magnet for chaos was a point in my favor. Like, who knew?
Stan Rodgers, my boss at the Gazette, and I had discussed compensation issues last fall after I'd sniffed out the goods on a famous chiller/thriller author who'd turned Houdini. Stan had agreed to give me a raise and benefits if I got some college journalism courses under my belt. He'd even offered to pick up half the cost of tuition after I threatened to proffer my nose for news to his closest competitor and biggest rival, the New Holland News. I jumped at the chance.
I enrolled at Carson College in nearby Des Moines for the spring term, taking Basic Reporting Principles and Investigative Journalism. Despite the lure of higher pay and the perk of health insurance bennies, I discovered it wasn't any easier this time around. It was high school all over again, with one notable difference: This time I was paying for it. Kinda. Sort of.
It was the same old, same old:
Tressa struggling to get to class on time.
Tressa struggling to stay awake in class.
Tressa struggling to get her homework done.
I blinked and looked up from my spiral notebook to find my fellow students staring at me, along with Professor Stokes, who, I gotta tell you, looks way too much like Saddam Hussein for my peace of mind.
"Present," I responded, no clue what the journalism instructor wanted since I'd been spacing off for the last ten minutes.
The classroom snickered.
"I was inquiring as to what you've decided on as the topic for your investigative report," the professor said. "As you no doubt recall, this paper will serve as a huge part of your final grade, so it's extremely important to pick something that you can sink your teeth into." He took a long look at the candy wrappers on my desk. "Journalistically speaking, of course," he added.
Oh, buddy, Tressa Jayne was not going to earn her little gold star for the day. I'd completely forgotten today was the day we were scheduled to get our topics approved by Saddam-uh-Stokes. I didn't have clue one what to suggest as a topic for investigation. All of my previous journalistic coups had basically found me, not the other way around. And somehow I didn't think a piece on how long the new gaucho pants trend would last or a debate of the state guidelines pertaining to the handling and application of livestock manure in an environmentally friendly way constituted the hard-hitting, gritty investigative report the good professor had in mind.
"Uh, well, you know ... actually I've already kind of, like, done this assignment," I told the man standing at the podium and looking at me as if I were an infidel. (Which I suppose is always possible. I'm not quite sure of the meaning of that word, but it seems to get thrown around a lot lately.) "After all," I continued, "I did break the Elizabeth Courtney Howard story."
The professor gave me a hard look. "Yesterday's news, Miss Turner," he responded. "We don't recycle old headlines for final grades here at Carson. We require current, topical events. You know. New news."
I wondered who the "we" was that he was talking about, but decided it was safer not to ask.
"Yes, Professor," I said, sensing a promised brand-spanking-new office desk and ergonomically designed leather chair slipping away from me. "But, you see, I have this best friend who is getting married this coming Saturday and I'm her maid of honor. She went with dusty blue and peach for her colors," I felt compelled to add for some strange reason. My friend, Kari, had selected peach for my dress. With the holiday weight I'd packed on, I'd sure look ripe for the picking. I just prayed there wasn't any kneeling involved or I'd split my peel. "As the maid of honor, I've had to do some heavy-duty hand-holding and snot wiping to get my friend to this point. You all know how emotional brides can be."
Emotional? Try mercurial. The same woman who could handle a roomful of middle school students without breaking a sweat had become apoplectic when she discovered the mints were not a perfect match to the flowers and napkins.
"Not to mention the best man is the same groomsman who gave me an extreme wedgie at my brother's wedding," I told the class. "And I dropped a little smokie dripping with barbecue sauce down the front of my dress. I ended up with all side poses in the wedding pictures, and believe me, it's harder to hold in your gut through a marathon photo session than you'd-"
"Thank you for sharing, Miss Turner," Professor Stokes said with a tight smile, "but unless you're planning an article on prenuptial stress or how to remove cocktail wiener stains or wedgies, we're still waiting for your topic selection."
The class roared with laughter. Who knew Saddam had a sense of humor?
I quickly typed out up a short throw-me-a-line-I'm-going-under-Lord plea for inspiration, hit my send-to-Heaven key, and fidgeted a second while waiting for a response.
Heaven's server must have been down because I wasn't receiving any divine reply.
"Uh, you said we needed to tell you today, right?" I stalled.
"Technically, 'today' ends at eleven fifty-nine and fifty-nine seconds or thereabouts, right?"
The professor hesitated. "I suppose that's technically correct," he agreed.
"So, technically, I have until midnight tonight to get the proposal to you? Right?"
I was really grasping at straws. The chances that I would miraculously find a newsworthy story to investigate by that evening were roughly the same as me being able to get into the bridesmaid gown I'd already had let out twice (please don't snitch on me to Kari) without requiring me to wear an all-over elastic undergarment to flatten the fat. Have I mentioned that weddings give me a great deal of anxiety? When I'm anxious, I eat. A lot. Okay, so I eat a lot when I'm not anxious, too. Still, about the dress alteration? It's our little secret. Okay?
"And you think the additional"-the professor looked at his watch-"fourteen hours will give you sufficient time to select your topic?" he asked.
I nodded. "I'm almost sure," I said. "In fact, I guarantee you I'll e-mail it to you before the stroke of midnight," I told him. Or Tressa Jayne Turner would turn back into a minimum wage worker with no bennies and a shoe itch she could never scratch.
Professor Stokes removed his glasses and rubbed his forehead. Why do people do that around me so frequently?
"Very well, Miss Turner," he acquiesced. "By the stroke of midnight it is. However, if I don't receive your topic choice, I'll have no alternative but to drop your project a full grade."
I gulped. I was hovering around a C- right now. Holding down several jobs, taking care of a small herd of horseflesh and two yellow labs who love to romp and play, keeping tabs on a seventy-year-old grandmother who had taken up residence with me to escape her "captors," as well as reassuring a best friend in the throes of prewedding mania had a tendency to cut into one's study time.
Excerpted from Calamity Jayne Goes to College by Kathleen Bacus Copyright © 2007 by Kathleen Cecile Bacus. Excerpted by permission.
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