- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Madison Laclaire had hoped no one would mention the murder. It was the one pitfall in what she believed was otherwise a great idea.
"Wasn't that the same year as the murder?" Linda Walston, current dean of students, asked promptly after Madison's presentation.
Didn't it figure.
Heads turned toward her around the long table in the conference room. Several mouths were agape. The dean—a small, intense woman who was well-loved as a professor in the philosophy department—was possibly the only member of the Wakefield College administration who had been here thirty-five years ago, when a student was murdered on campus.
The murder itself wasn't the stumbling block, Madison reflected; the real problem was that no arrest had ever been made.
No expensive, private liberal arts college wanted parents of current or prospective students thinking their precious offspring wouldn't be safe on campus. Madison's impression was that, after the police had thrown up their hands and designated the case inactive, the crime hadn't exactly been hushed up, but close enough.
Her father certainly hadn't liked to talk about it, and he had been a student at the time, not an administrator. She supposed that was because he knew the victim.
"I don't think we need to be too concerned about it," Madison said smoothly. As director of alumni relations, she would be masterminding the special alumni weekend she was proposing, which would include a full slate of activities like a wine tasting, dinner at the president's house and more. She glanced around. "For those of you who weren't aware anything like that ever happened here at Wakefield, it was an awful crime. A senior named Mitchell King was bludgeoned to death in the McKenna Sports Center sauna during first semester finals week."
There were some sharp intakes of breath.
"Just as it is now," she continued, "the center was open all night for students who needed a break from studying. At that hour, it was deserted enough that no one saw or heard anything. The police investigation got nowhere."
"If he was a senior," Babs Carmichael, director of admissions, pointed out, "every single alumnus coming back for the opening of the time capsule would have known this Mitchell King. Wasn't the student body even smaller then?"
"Yes." Everyone here knew that Madison's father had also been a student at Wakefield at the time. "But the victim wasn't an English major. He wouldn't have contributed to the time capsule even if he'd lived."
She saw a subtle relaxation in the half-dozen people involved in the discussion. This whole thing would definitely have been trickier if Mitchell King had put an item in the time capsule tucked into the foundation of the then brand-new Cheadle Hall, which housed the English department.
Only a couple of weeks before, Cheadle had suffered irreparable damage in an earthquake that startled local residents awake but otherwise barely shattered a dish. Consultants determined that the building, built in the early 1980s, had been erected on a flawed foundation that had required only a mere nudge to make it shift and crack.
The news that it would have to be demolished and rebuilt from the ground up was pretty much a disaster. College administrators had hoped to build a new Student Union building next. The existing cramped and dated one was commonly left off the tour given to prospective students and their parents. Tour guides would wave vaguely in its vicinity and say, "Our SUB is over there," while hustling their charges along to the music building, which was impressive with its stained glass and soaring ceiling.
Back when students in the English department had been invited to put items in the capsule, the plan was to open it fifty years later. Fifty was a nice, round number, and the then-students would only be in their late sixties and early seventies when it came time to open it. But only thirty-four and a half years had passed. The original assumption was that the capsule would be removed and carefully put back in the foundation of the new building to be erected this coming year. It was Madison who saw the premature opening as a splendid excuse to bring a host of well-to-do alumni back to the Wakefield campus, where they would be wined, dined, entertained and given opportunity to reminisce fondly about their college days.
They would also be given plenty of opportunities to write checks to help replace Cheadle Hall so that the current and upcoming classes of English majors would benefit from the same experiences they had had at Wakefield.
"Remember," Madison continued, "that the students all came back to Wakefield for spring semester despite the murder. And that the majority of the students who did put something in the time capsule had at least another year left here, some more than that. They won't have forgotten the murder, but it won't be the first thing they remember about Wakefield, either. As you know, some of our more prominent alumni from that era often express public gratitude to the college for providing them with the springboard to their current success. Clearly, the murder didn't taint their memories." She paused. "Sooner or later, the time capsule will be opened. If we don't do it now, we're only postponing the issue for another fifteen years."
"That's true." The president of the college, sitting at the head of the table, nodded thoughtfully. "Tell us more about what you have in mind for the weekend."
She did. By the end of the discussion, everyone in the room looked energized. They were all excited about the prospect of bringing in a significant amount of money to replace Cheadle Hall.
The president looked around. "Anyone opposed?"
No one stirred.
"Then it's a go if you think you can pull it off this fast," he said with a nod. He smiled warmly at Madison. "I like your creative thinking."
"Thank you," she said with composure, although privately she was rejoicing.
"Okay, any issues with residence hall advisors?" he asked, and talk flowed into the current preoccupation of most administrators: the first day of fall semester, one month away.
Fast indeed, Madison thought with trepidation. Cheadle Hall was scheduled to be demolished in late September, as soon as it was emptied of its contents and stripped of some salvageable material, including wood paneling and copper roofing. She had slightly less than two months to pull her event together.
It was all she could do not to leap up and dash out to get started. Instead, she tried to maintain a patient, interested expression while her mind whirred.
Ignoring clumps of students parting to pass around her, Madison stood on the sidewalk that wended its way through the campus of Wakefield College and contemplated the handsome brick building currently wrapped in yellow tape that proclaimed, "Keep Out." She held a clipboard ready to jot down any last-minute to-do items.
Seven weeks had passed since her proposal was approved. The big event was happening this coming weekend.
The tape had to go before alumni started arriving on campus, Madison decided. It was unsightly, even tacky. She made a note to speak to someone on the maintenance crew. She saw no reason a dignified sign on the door wouldn't be adequate.
Leaving the sidewalk, she stepped closer to the cracked foundation. She knew exactly which block hid the time capsule that was the raison d'etre for this weekend's event. Madison had come to envision the time capsule as a lemon that, when properly squeezed, would make some excellent lemonade for the college.
She felt really good about how everything was coming together. There were only a few final details needing her attention.
Smiling with satisfaction, she turned away and started toward the building that housed administrative offices. One of her student assistants had called five minutes ago to tell her that the box of programs for attendees had arrived from the printer. And this afternoon she had a meeting with the city police department liaison to discuss any security issues that might arise. She couldn't imagine there would be any—this was Frenchman Lake, after all, a small Eastern Washington town with tree-lined streets and graceful older homes. It was true that downtown Frenchman Lake wasn't the same place it had been ten years ago when Madison was a student here, thanks to the conversion of wheat fields surrounding the town to vineyards. At last count, there were thirty-eight wineries in and around Frenchman Lake. Tasting rooms, bed-and-breakfasts and highend restaurants had mushroomed in a town that had never been on the tourist path before. In fact, Madison was taking advantage of that new fame by including a wine tasting tour on the itinerary for visiting alumni.
Fortunately, crime had not increased, despite the many outsiders who flooded the small town seasonally. Making sure the police department was prepared to back up the college's small security force in the event of a problem was only a precaution—but she believed in being cautious. She hoped the officer assigned to work with her had a good attitude.
After a glance at her watch, she walked more briskly.
Private liberal arts colleges claimed to offer the finest in undergraduate education. They prided themselves on cutting edge labs, sophisticated online databases, professors who had searched for medicinal plants in the Amazon basin, served as Under-Secretary of State or come up with a revolutionary algorithm. Much was invariably made of the fact that this was where tomorrow's leaders would be trained.
So why, Detective John Troyer pondered, did those same colleges always appear as if they hadn't altered so much as a brick or trimmed the ivy since 1890? Seemed to him there was an implication of tradition and even stodginess in the look. But what did he know?
Troy nodded at a group of passing coeds who were noticeably staring at him. He contemplated the three-story, granite block edifice—complete with bell tower—that housed the administrative offices of Wakefield College.
The sound of that bell ringing the hours was part of his childhood. His family home where his mother still lived was only ten blocks away from the campus. Although his father was a Wakefield grad, Troy had rebelled and attended the University of Washington in Seattle—on the other side of the mountains. He'd been desperate to escape the small town where he'd grown up for the imagined delights of urban living. He knew how disappointed his father had been that his son chose not to follow in his footsteps.
On a beautiful day like this when the campus looked its best, Troy had his own regrets. He'd enjoyed his years at UW, but his experience didn't have much in common with what students found at Wakefield. With enrollment of only 1,400, the students all got to know each other and the professors knew them individually almost from the moment they arrived.
The UW also had plenty of brick buildings festooned with ivy, but the dorms at Wakefield were a lot nicer-looking, he reflected, admiring Harris Hall with its long gambrel roof and arched, small-paned windows.
And then there was the fact that he didn't like thinking he'd disappointed his dad.
Shaking off the grief that thoughts of his father brought, Troy let his gaze rest briefly on a few girls wearing skimpy shorts while sprawled in the shade of an old leafy tree studying. Nice legs, he thought, but without much interest. At thirty-two, he'd discovered recently that college students looked like kids to him.
He scanned the two dorms and the half-dozen classroom buildings that ringed Allquist Field until his gaze landed on the building that was the cause of his visit to the campus. Cheadle Hall was scheduled for demolition at the end of the month. He understood the English department was being forced to hold classes in miscellaneous rooms elsewhere on campus, including some that had formerly been used for storage. A new building would go up on the same site—the college hoped to complete it by next fall.
To his cop's eye, the yellow tape suggested a crime scene. He grinned at the thought. College administrators must find the sight exceptionally jarring.
He was on his way to meet one of those administrators, the director of alumni relations who had come up with the scheme that involved Troy. Troy's captain had made clear that this assignment was not optional.
"You're the logical choice," he had informed Troy. "If you have anything urgent on your caseload, hand it off."
Fortunately, Troy hadn't been immersed in the aftermath of a recent murder, kidnapping or rape. The idea of a few days spent hanging around the college hadn't been unwelcome, especially since he'd be here for part of the festivities anyway in his father's stead.
Aware of speculative stares—guns weren't a common sight on this campus—he cut across the plush green lawn and climbed the broad granite stairs to enter Memorial Building, which was fondly known at Wakefield and in town as "Mem."
A receptionist behind an antique oak counter directed him to a staircase that led to the third floor. Admissions, Financial Aid and the president's office took up much of the ground floor. Made sense, he supposed, as more prospective students and their parents visited campus than alumni, who tended to show up only for their reunions. He was amused to see that Career Planning and Resources had been relegated to the basement. Students were unlikely to have their parents with them when they plunged into the bowels of Mem.
Of course, he reflected, the basement was probably the coolest level of the building on a day like this. In the third week of September in Eastern Washington, temperatures were still climbing into the nineties. The lower floors had felt as if they might be air-conditioned, but when he emerged from the stairwell, he found the third floor to be hot and stuffy.
Alumni Relations was stenciled in gold on the glass inset of the second door. It stood open, and he saw that the tall casement window was open, too, in an apparently futile effort to create a cross-draft. The outer office contained rows of tall oak filing cabinets, bookcases and an old desk with a very modern computer on it.
"Hi, come on in," a woman called through another door, from an internal office.
Troy circled the large desk and entered this second office. His first impression was of elegance—warm woods that might have been cherry or mahogany, a desk with Queen Anne style legs and a Persian rug that looked like the real, gently-aged thing and not a recent knock-off. Then he focused on the woman and, stunned, lost interest in their surroundings.
A brunette with warm brown eyes, she stood maybe five foot five and was curvaceous enough to be considered a little plump by today's standards. That body, poured into a red suit, was perfect by his. Her hair was cut bluntly at her shoulders, thick and glossy, currently tucked behind her ears. As she looked back at him, he caught a glimpse of surprise and maybe a touch of nerves on her face before she offered a bright, professional smile.
Not altogether professional, he decided, or if it was, it was damn good. Her entire expression was now welcoming. He felt like the lucky guy basking in the only available beam of sunlight.
Posted May 15, 2013
Posted May 15, 2013