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A Calculated Demise (Bonnie Pinkwater Series #2)by Robert Spiller
Bonnie Pinkwater returns in this second book in the series that follows a math teacher with a knack for solving mysteries in her small Colorado town. When the wrestling coach is found murdered, Bonnie enlists the help of a student to find out what really happened. Original.See more details below
Bonnie Pinkwater returns in this second book in the series that follows a math teacher with a knack for solving mysteries in her small Colorado town. When the wrestling coach is found murdered, Bonnie enlists the help of a student to find out what really happened. Original.
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A Calculated Demise
By Robert Spiller
Medallion Press, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Robert Spiller
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhen Bonnie Pinkwater arrived at East Plains Junior/Senior High Wednesday morning, a cow stood in her parking place. To be fair, the cow didn't know it stood in Bonnie's parking place. The spot didn't have her name on it, although what that would have meant to a Guernsey was problematic. Unfortunately, the space represented the last remaining faculty parking place.
Bonnie hung her head out the window. "Give me a break, Ruby. I'm running late."
Ruby gave a look that could be interpreted either as "How you doin'?" or "That's nice, dear, don't bother me." Milk-cow body language being the inexact science it is.
Frustrated, Bonnie exited her car. She snatched up an egg-sized piece of granite. "I'm warning you, Ruby. I've had a bad morning, and I'm in no mood to take any bovine crap." She hefted the stone, feeling its weight and taking a bead on the bony rear end of the cow.
Unfortunately for Bonnie and fortunately for Ruby, one doesn't just toss rocks at a friend's backside even if that friend weighs nine hundred pounds and gives milk for a living. "You are one lucky cow, Ruby. There was a time when I wouldn't have thought twice about pegging your skinny butt with a rock." To drive home her point, Bonnie chucked the stone into the flagpole maybe fifteen meters distant. The resounding clang echoed across the parking lot. She shook her head, conceding the spot to Ruby and parking in the student lot north of the school.
Bonnie glanced at her Mickey Mouse watch.
Bonnie swiveled the rearview mirror. She grimaced. Steel-gray hair stuck out like straw from the loose bun she'd tied before leaving home. She tried to coax the errant hairs back into a semblance of order with gentle and not-so-gentle pats, but the rebels would have made Che Guervara proud.
Her lipstick had faded, as well. "Boys and girls, this morning Math Analysis will be taught by the Bride of Frankenstein," she said in disgust.
Bonnie pulled her coat tight about her small, thin frame and trudged through gravel and snow to the side of the blue-steel and gray-brick school. After a struggle, the aluminum door grudgingly opened. Squinting, she peered across the gymnasium.
Neither Harvey Sylvester, nor his seventh-grade boys' Physical Education class noticed her as she sped across the gym. She exited through the far door into the school's main hallway.
By the time she arrived at her classroom, Bonnie was almost ten minutes late. While not a school record or even a personal best, it was the latest she'd been this school year. "What the hell, anybody can be on time," she murmured.
Matthew Boone, her student aide, held open the door for her. "Good morning, Missus Pinkwater." He dropped the absent-list/lunch-count slip into the wire basket fastened to the back side of the door.
Good God, youngster.
"Thank you, Matt." She squeezed by him into the room, keeping her face neutral, the acrid odor of burnt rubber stinging her eyes.
The Boones were, by far, the poorest family in East Plains and heated their trailers by burning used tires in their woodstoves and fireplaces. They lived in a ramshackle collection of four trailers, only one of which had running water. Matthew came to school two days out of three with a less-than-delicate aroma.
"Glad you could make it, Missus Pinkwater," Wesley Oliheiser said with a smirk.
"Glad to be here, Wes." She turned back to Matt. "Go tell Mister Whittaker Ruby is loose in the parking lot again."
The pungent boy nodded and left. Bonnie went to her desk at the back of the room and opened her lesson-plan book.
She was writing that night's homework on the front board when a girl's voice asked, "Why were you late this time, Missus Pinkwater?"
Bonnie made sure her face was set with a smile before she turned around. Ordinarily, Vikki Bressler wasn't a problem in class, and she wasn't really a problem now. But what on God's green earth makes you think I want to share my problems with a sixteen-year-old? Especially after the crappy morning I've had.
In particular, Bonnie had no intention of telling Vikki how, this morning, she woke and sleepily began to talk to her husband, Ben, then realized he'd been dead these past two months. She certainly wasn't going to tell this teenager that halfway through the feeding of her cat and three dogs she'd broken down and cried for the better part of ten minutes.
"I guess I need a new alarm clock. Now I have a question, Vikki. What can you tell me about De Moivre's Theorem?"
Bonnie gave 60 percent of her attention to the girl's answer. The remaining 40 percent f flew the distance to a hospital room in Colorado Springs where Ben had lain for the last two weeks of his life.
Ben Pinkwater, I hope you get an arrow in your butt in those happy hunting grounds of yours, 'cause I'm more than a little miserable being left here on my own.
Then she returned her mind to the task of teaching Monsieur De Moivre's Theorem and how it could be used to find the real and complex roots of a polynomial.
"The kid makes me sick, Lloyd." Luther Devereaux was holding court over the lunch crowd in the teachers' lounge. Fifteen teachers sat around two long tables, and Luther slouched at the far end of the same table as Bonnie. "I have to open every window in my classroom and still his smell makes my eyes smart."
"It's not his fault." Principal Lloyd Whittaker stood in the doorway between the teachers' lounge and the main office. "There're not enough beds out there for all those Boone kids to sleep in, let alone enough showers. Matt's a good boy."
"Tell him, Lloyd." Bonnie gave Luther a why-don't-you-eat-feces-and-die-you-missing-link glare.
"Maybe someone ought to look into how those kids are being raised." Luther removed his thick glasses from his overlarge bald head and stared myopically around the room to see if he had supporters for his suggestion. "Maybe get Social Services involved."
From the dozen-plus candidates, only a few teachers grunted noncommittally.
Bonnie slammed her open palm down on the table. "To what end, Luther? Do we split up a family that loves one another because they're peculiar and not as clean as we'd like? Have you ever watched Matt take care of his little brothers and sisters? Never raises his voice. Always listens when they have questions."
"That's about his capacity." Again, Luther glanced around to see if anyone else agreed with him. "First and second graders are his intellectual peers."
Several of the newer teachers tittered in amused agreement but quickly turned their attention to their food when Bonnie gave them dirty looks.
"Enough." Lloyd cocked his head. His glance implored Bonnie to carry the argument no further. "The boy works hard with what he has. He'll be the first Boone in fifteen years to graduate. I'd say that's quite an accomplishment."
"Some of us are handing it to him on a silver platter, if you ask me." Luther glanced f fleetingly at Bonnie before looking away.
"Well, who's asking you?" It was all she could do not to throw her hummus and piñon nut sandwich at him.
Lloyd hooked a finger to invite Bonnie into his office.
She huffed, then rose, crossing the teachers' lounge close enough to slap Luther, but she kept her hands to herself. I wish I had that rock again. She strode through the adjoining main office and into Lloyd's tiny room.
He waited at the door and shut it behind her.
Rather than taking the seat in front of Lloyd's worn oak desk, Bonnie wheeled on her friend of twenty years. "I know what you're going to say. I shouldn't let him get to me." That said, she fell into a red overstuffed chair, her arms folded across her narrow chest.
Lloyd smiled, and his weather-beaten face radiated good-natured wrinkles. He sat behind the desk. "Then you also know I'm going to tell you after this year, Luther Devereaux is gone, retired, never to be seen in East Plains again."
Bonnie sighed a defeated sigh. "I know. Just four more months." Though at the moment those four months seemed to stretch out like a number line into positive infinity.
Lloyd spread his hands across his mostly empty desk, then leaned toward her. "He's a good teacher and a great wrestling coach."
Shaking her head, Bonnie frowned. "You mean those in reverse order, don't you?"
Lloyd wrapped gnarled fingers around the golfing trophy on his desk. "Don't be an academic snob, Bon. You know as well as I do the two aren't mutually exclusive. Luther has his contingent of students who think he's the greatest thing since sliced bread."
A grin tickled the corners of Bonnie's mouth. Only Lloyd could get away with such a cliché and make it sound original. She felt her anger slipping away and made a final grab to hold on to it. "Damn it, Lloyd, he's borderline abusive to any student who's different, and Matt Boone is different."
A sad cast fell over Lloyd's eyes. He nodded solemnly. "I'll talk to him."
Suddenly, Bonnie felt tired. Her shoulders sagged. She stared down at her tan corduroys and grass-stained running shoes.
"How you holding up?" Lloyd whispered.
Unexpectedly, tears welled in Bonnie's eyes. She worked her jaw muscles and tried to mouth something brave, something casual, but the words wouldn't come.
In a flash, Lloyd was around his desk, kneeling beside her, holding her in his arms.
She buried her face into the shoulder of his Western shirt and let the tears f low in earnest. Every sorrow she'd been keeping safely bottled came pouring out.
"Shit, I hate crying," she said in gasped whispers. She gritted her teeth to get control of herself.
Lloyd patted her back. "I miss that ornery redskin myself."
Bonnie smiled at Lloyd's good-old-boy sensitivity. She God damn well didn't need someone telling her everything would be all right. She knew better. Bonnie lifted her head from Lloyd's shoulder and looked him in the eyes.
"I had a rough morning." She sniffed, struggling to keep her voice even. The peal of the end-of-lunch bell startled her.
Lloyd handed her a tissue. "Why don't you go on home? We'll get someone to cover your last period."
Bonnie shook her head while wiping her eyes with the heels of her hands. "I've already missed too many days this year. I've got too much material to make up." She blew her nose. "Besides, I don't want to sit around that empty old house any more than I have to."
Lloyd stood, then held out a hand. "I'd hardly call your house empty, what with two dogs and a cat."
She pulled herself to her feet. "Three dogs."
They shared the laughter of old friends as he opened his door. Doris, the school secretary, pretended to find something interesting on her computer keyboard even though her monitor screen was blank.
I probably look like I just materialized out of a wind tunnel, Bonnie thought.
Lloyd squeezed her arm. "Take care of yourself."
She hurried from the office, through the now-empty teachers' lounge. She had just one minute to get to class before she was late for the second time that day.
Bonnie sat at her desk in the back of the classroom and watched Matt Boone struggle with a linear equation. Since Matt was her first-block aide, fourth-block Algebra One was his actual math class. Add to that the number of times Matt came for help at lunch, on break, and after school, and it seemed as if the redolent young man was connected to her at the hip.
She ignored a furtive whisper from the front of the room. Another senior, Greg Hansen, her fourth-period aide and possibly Matt's best buddy, was trying to sneak a hint to his friend.
On the surface, the two young men couldn't have been more different. Where Matt carried himself with a good-natured clumsiness, Greg was self-assured, almost graceful. The latter young man, already student-council president, stood a good chance of being named this year's valedictorian.
Matt would be grateful just to graduate.
Both were wrestlers, but Greg was one of Luther De-vereaux's favorites, a champion expected to go to the state tournament next month in March. He'd already received offers from colleges to wrestle.
Matt had yet to win his first match.
Bonnie also knew that below the surface, they had another thing in common.
Like Matt, Greg's family was poor. Unlike Matt's ultra religious family, however, it was rumored Greg's father and older brother supplemented their income with the growing and selling of marijuana. More than once, Greg had confessed he couldn't wait to get out of East Plains and off to college. With any luck, he'd do it with a wrestling scholarship.
At the board, Matt grew animated.
Evidently, with Greg's help, Matt saw his equation had variable quantities on both sides of the equal sign. He had to eliminate one or the other.
He looked to where Bonnie sat and announced, "I'll kill the five X with a negative five X." Then he hastily added, "And I'll add a negative five X to the other side, too."
When Bonnie offered him a nod of encouragement, his moon face split into a wide grin. Greg shot him a thumbs-up.
The rest of the problem Matt finished without help. He beamed while going back to his desk. Rather than sitting, he approached Bonnie.
"Missus Pinkwater?" Matt looked embarrassed about whatever he meant to ask.
He rubbed his palms on his faded jeans. "Mister Devereaux told me to come see him up in the wrestling loft before the end of the day."
She checked the clock. "Is it really important? We only have thirty minutes more of class."
She needn't have asked. Matt would never miss a moment of class if Devereaux hadn't insisted. Bonnie wondered if the odious science teacher had done it on purpose to torture either Matt or herself.
Red climbed from Matt's grimy neck up into his cheeks.
She waved him still. "Never mind. Of course you can go, but hurry back."
She erased the board and wrote out another linear equation. As she finished, Bonnie heard the voice of the new girl who had transferred in that week from Denver.
"Janice, would you like to tackle this one?"
Janice Flick was short, with sallow skin and oily ringlets of black hair, which hung perpetually in her eyes. "Not really." Her mouth turned down in disgust as if the very thought of doing a math problem on the board was distasteful.
Bonnie adopted the icy smile she reserved for teenagers she wanted to irradiate. "Why is that, dear?"
Janice shrugged an I-haven't-the-energy-for-this-crap shrug. "I've never been very good at math. Maybe I just don't have the math gene."
Bonnie almost snickered until she saw the girl was serious. "The math gene?"
Janice glanced around the room to make sure she had an audience. "You know. Something that makes certain people good at math and other people hate it." She stared up at Bonnie with a smug look on her face. "Math's mostly a guy thing, anyway."
The class drew a collective breath.
"You actually believe mathematics is a guy thing?"
The rest of Bonnie's class refused to make eye contact with the girl. Several students shook their heads in antipathy.
Janice shrank into her desk.
Normally this show of repentance would have been enough to quell Bonnie's indignation, but since it came at the end of a horrible day, she felt the need to hammer home her point. "Let's put aside the fact that I am both a female and a mathematician."
Bonnie put both silk and iron into her voice. "Have you ever heard of Hypatia?"
Several students groaned, and Bonnie shot them threatening glances. Janice merely shook her head.
"Hypatia was born around 370 AD in the city of Alexandria, perhaps the greatest center of learning the world has ever known. Her father, Theon, was a professor of mathematics at the university there. He told her, at an early age, Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all."
Bonnie paused to let the words sink in. When Janice merely sat there, Bonnie asked, "Isn't that a wonderful thing to tell a child?"
The girl folded her arms across her chest and shrugged again-the nonverbal form of whatever.
I'll let that pass, you pint-sized curmudgeon. "Hypatia went on to become a famous mathematician and astronomer, even more celebrated than her father. Scholars from Africa, Europe, and Asia came to Alexandria to hear her dissertations. She wrote mathematics books that became standards for thirteen hundred years."
Janice opened her mouth to speak.
Bonnie cut her off. "I know what you're going to say. What does the life of a woman who lived almost two thousand years ago have to do with you?"
The girl pursed her lips and nodded. "Yeah, I guess that's right. Why should anybody care what she did?"
Bonnie smiled, this time with less ice at the edges. "I'm glad you asked that, Janice. We should remember Hypatia not just for the things she did while she was alive, but for the way she died."
Excerpted from A Calculated Demise by Robert Spiller Copyright © 2007 by Robert Spiller. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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