TUESDAY OCTOBER 4, 2005

08:19 GMT-3

PENNY SUMMERS

MERIDIA FALLS TOWN HALL | MERIDIA FALLS

Damn it. Will she never move? The snooty receptionist, Harriet Farnsworth, brings the china cup to her thin lips, holding her pinkie finger in the air like she’s at one of Mom’s afternoon gatherings. She takes a short sip of tea and then glances across at me, then at the clock on the wall. Returning the cup to its elaborately decorated saucer on her desk, she taps on her keyboard, the noise not impacting the chilly silence of the waiting area.

Harriet is a one of Mom’s best friends, so naturally she hates anything to do with me. She really hates it when I come here and request information because I make her do some real work for once. But this time, I can’t ask her for the plans I need; she’d never access the planning archives on my behalf. She’d make me fill out several hundred forms just to get my foot in the door.

I lean back in the hard leather chair, shuffling around, trying to get comfy. I slide my hand in my purse and wrap my fingers around my keys. The metal is cold, stinging to the touch. Logan’s poor hand flashes in my mind. When I connected with him this morning, I felt the pain, experienced it. The burn was like nothing I’d felt before.

Taking a deep breath, I run my fingers down the front of Logan’s shirt. The friction sends the smell of his aftershave to my nose. Sweet, with a hint of spice. I close my eyes, picturing his wonderful face, wonderful eyes. My skin tingles all with the memory of his tender touch.

The phone rings on the main desk like a morning rooster, yanking my mind away from my dreamy thoughts. Harriet almost spits out her tea. I bite my lip to force away the laugh threatening to burst from my mouth. She picks up the receiver and nods several times. Something must be wrong because she jumps up from behind her desk and heads to the elevator down the corridor. She’s forgotten I’m even here.

My chance! I pull out the keys from my purse and force away the guilt that comes with one specific key on the bunch. I watch Harriet wait by the elevator. She scowls at the doors, the same scowl she aims at me all the time.

My phone rings. Crap! I stab my finger on the decline button. Luckily, the ringtone didn’t alert Harriet. She’s in an anger infused trance as she waits for the elevator. I flip open my phone. It was Steve. Maybe it’s news from his dad about the chapel! My finger hovers over the call button, but the elevator dings; I can’t miss this chance to get into the planning archives. “Sorry, Steve.” I whisper.

I jump up, keeping my eyes on the elevators. No sign of Harriet. I’ve got a small window to get into the archives. I make my way down the corridor to the right of the main desk and push open the first door. It leads to the public records room. There’s no paper files left in here. A pattern of dark blue squares covers the carpet, betraying the positions of all the missing filing cabinets. Meridia University requested all the records for their Census Project, along with half the books in the school library. There’s probably a good story in that somewhere, but it’s not a story for me to cover. Not now, anyway.

I pass into a small corridor full of dark brown doors. Small metal plaques identify each room. Snooty face Harriet’s domain. All the locked doors under her control, just how she likes it. I find the small brass “guilty” key on my bunch and slot it into the hole in the second door. It sticks and doesn’t turn. What the hell?! I pull out the key and examine it. It looks fine — no damage. I try it in the lock again. Same result; the key just won’t turn. Crap! I try the next door, but it’s the same result. It can only mean one thing… They’ve changed all the locks.

“Excuse me, Miss Summers. You shouldn’t be down here on your own.” Harriet’s spindly fingers grip my shoulder as she hisses my name.

I spin around. Her eyes fix on my hand as I slip the keys back into my purse.

“Such a shame about dear old Wilbur,” she says, unable to hide the glee in her voice. “Building Superintendent for thirty-five years and then…” Her voice trails off as a sneering smile curls across her lips.

She knows about the master key.

“I was just looking for you,” I say, trying to divert her attention. “I need something for a school project.”

Harriet frowns. “I think I should call Principal Dawson,” she says, checking the thin silver watch on her wrist. “You should be at school young lady.”

My phone rings. I flip it open. It’s Steve again. “No need,” I say. “This is the principal now. He’ll want to know why I didn’t get the information he needed.”

Harriet’s eyes open wide. “You… can take the call back in the waiting room.” She turns and leads the way.

“Hello,” I say, bringing the phone to my ear.

“Penny, good news. My dad’s getting a search warrant for the chapel.” I press my phone tighter to my ear, just in case Harriet tries to listen. “That teacher was the key. Dad says he’s been missing for a while.” Steve pauses. “Are you still there, Penny?”

“Yep.” I let Harriet walk out of earshot. “I can’t talk right now.”

“No problem. Just wanted to let you know,” Steve says. “Penny, there’s something else. My dad wants us all there at the chapel with him.”

“Okay, Steve. Thanks for letting me know.”

I snap my phone shut and run to catch up to Harriet. Her shoulders flinch as she flings out her arm, indicating to the waiting area. “What paperwork did you need?” she asks, scowling at my phone.

I shake my head. “It doesn’t matter now.” I hold up my phone. “It’s not needed anymore.”

Harriet sweeps her arm across to the elevators. “Well then, you know your way out!” She narrows her eyes, watching me as I walk past her desk. I head to the furthest elevator down the corridor, out of her line of sight. Time to call in a favor.

I scroll through the contacts on my phone and press the call button. It rings twice. “Hi Teddy,” I say. “I need another favor.”

A small laugh comes from the phone. “So, what else is new?” Teddy asks. “What do you need this time — a new computer or a last-minute story for the paper?”

“No, nothing to do with my computers or the BNB… This is big. I need some plans from the Town Hall Archive.” I pause for a second. “I need you to swing some of the Mountie pull you keep bragging about.”

“Plans… What plans?” Panic rings through Teddy’s normal chirpy voice. He gulps in air, like he’s running.

“I need some old plans to the Meridia Memorial Chapel!”

“Shit! Where are you now?” Teddy asks through panted breaths.

“I’m at the Town Hall now. My master key didn’t work. I think they changed the locks.”

Footsteps echo behind me. Before I can turn, a hand falls on my shoulder. Crap! Harriet. I spin around, but it’s not her. Bleached blond hair waves from side to side in front of my eyes. It’s Teddy. He bends over, panting for breath, and clutching his stomach.

“Snap!” he says, holding up a requisition order. “The Sarge wants the exact same plans.” He leans against the elevator doors. “Those stairs are a bitch.”

I close my phone and grab the requisition order, holding it to the wall. I check the corridor, making sure Harriet isn’t watching. There’s no sign of her. She’s back behind her desk, getting comfy for another day of doing nothing.

Grabbing a pen from my purse, I change the number of copies from one to two on the requisition order. “There, no one will know,” I say, handing it back to Teddy. “I’ll wait outside for you.”

Teddy leans back and grins. He brings his hand and salutes. “Yes, Miss.”

I shake my head and press the elevator call button. The doors open straight away.

“Typical,” Teddy says, glaring at the open doors. He glances up the corridor as I walk through into the elevator. “Wish me luck.”

The elevator doors close. I check my watch. Logan! I’m gonna be so late for school. I flip open my phone to text him, but there’s no signal in the elevator. I’ll text him about the plans when I get out of the building. Although, I need to tell him about Teddy and all the stuff we’ve been working on too. Not by text though, I tell him all that in person, later.

I stuff my phone back in my purse, but the handle snaps, sending all the contents across the elevator floor. As I quickly scoop them up, my hand pauses over a pink and black gift card for Daphne’s Boutique. The birthday present from Mom. Why? I’d never dream to shop there. I’m not one for all the posh clothes… Although they do have nice underwear… Logan. Butterflies flutter through my stomach as the memories of last night — and this morning — dance through my mind. I hold the gift card tight. Maybe I could pick up something for tonight.

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