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Authors: Susan Bischoff

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Hush Money

BOOK: Hush Money
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Hush Money
A Talent Chronicles Novel
Susan Bischoff

Hush Money

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2010 Susan Bischoff

All rights reserved, including the right to
reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.

http://www.susan-bischoff.com

Copyright of excerpt material is held by the
individual authors.

Cover Art by Robin Ludwig Design Inc.

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal
enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to
other people. If you would like to share this book with another
person, please purchase an additional copy for each person. If
you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not
purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com
and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work
of this author.

Author’s Note:
This book is a work of
fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of
the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance
to actual events, locales, or persons living or dead, is entirely
coincidental.

Chapter 1

Joss

I already knew it had happened again.

Not like I’m psychic, not really, but you
don’t have to have any special mental Talent to see the signs…if
you’re paying attention.

Stacy Scarpelli had had her hand in the air
for, like, five minutes. Eventually she was doing that thing where
you lean one elbow on the desk, and your other elbow in your hand,
like you’re going to collapse from the exhaustion of trying to get
the teacher’s attention. But the teacher was paying attention. She
was paying a lot of attention to checking off names on the role; or
supposedly taking role but totally not looking at that whole side
of the room where Stacy was flinging her hand limply about on her
wrist.

And leave it to Stacy to be so wrapped up in
Stacy that she didn’t notice how quiet it was this morning in first
period English and how everyone just kind of sat there. The
whispering would start later, as the shock wore off. Later, people
would be saying how long they’d suspected and how much they’d never
really liked Krista anyway. But just then we were all looking
around at each other and wondering who else was keeping secrets and
who would be the next one to disappear.

Ms. Carter looked up and set her pencil down
very carefully on her desk, lining it up precisely next to her
planner, and finally raised her eyes to Stacy.

“Yes, Stacy?”

“You assigned me Krista to be my partner for
the project. And it’s not like I wanted to leave it to the last
minute, but she was always later later later, you know? And finally
I said we gotta get together this weekend, and we were supposed to
meet on Saturday morning before my tennis lesson? So I waited and
waited for her, but she didn’t show up, and I
had
to get to
my lesson, right? And then I called her house after, but no one
answered. No one answered all weekend, and now she’s not even here
today, and I don’t know if she did any work at all on it. I did
some, but I was kind of waiting to find out what she had, you know,
compare notes, because there was no point in us doing the same
thing, right? But I couldn’t ’cause she wouldn’t answer her phone
and then I didn’t know what to do, and I was going nuts all weekend
trying to get ahold of her—”

“Ok, Stacy. See me after class and we’ll work
something out.”

“I mean, I don’t think I should be penalized
because she was too busy to work on the project. Which she probably
didn’t anyway, which is probably why she didn’t show up Saturday
and dodged my calls all weekend, and she’s probably ditching school
today so—”

“She’s not ditching; she’s just gone.”

All eyes slid toward Dylan. He sat sideways
in his chair, the back of his leather jacket against the chalkboard
along the side wall, long legs stretched out in front of him, his
expression unreadable.

In the seat behind him, Marco tipped back in
his chair. “NIAC hauled her off.” His voice was laced with the kind
of satisfaction over other people’s tragedies that made me think
about his chair tipping too far and his skull bouncing off the
linoleum.

Ms. Carter glanced nervously around the room.
I felt bad for her. How’s a teacher supposed to handle this
subject? Encourage open discussion? Answer questions? Should we all
share our feelings about the fact that we were never going to see
Krista Pace again? It just seemed to me that the faculty probably
knew about it earlier. Hell, the
National Institutes for Ability
Control
probably sent out some kind of official letter to the
school, wouldn’t you think? Our regular teacher should have been
there for support and guidance instead of leaving the poor
student-teacher to the wolves. But then, what would Mr. Krause have
done differently?

“[cough]Freak![cough]”

“Shut up, Marco.” Dylan continued to bounce
his pencil’s eraser on the desk and examine his boot-tops.

“Why, did you and freak-girl have something
goin’ on? Need a new date for Homecoming now that NIAC’s locked her
up?”

Enquiring minds want to know.
My mind
was particularly interested, unfortunately.

“Thanks, but you’re not my type,” Dylan
sneered back at his friend.

“Ok, people, that’s enough,” Ms. Carter
finally gathered the courage to enter the conversation. “The topic
of Krista Pace is off-limits in this class. If you have questions
regarding her disap— If you have questions, you may take them to
Assistant Principal Sims—on your own time. Meanwhile, I believe we
have some oral presentations to hear today. Stacy, you can see me
after class about your project. Who wants to go first?”

Personally, I think the school system is
pretty messed up. I mean, if Krista had been hit by a bus or if
she’d died of some terminal disease she’d been bravely fighting in
secret for years, there’d be announcements, a moment of silence
over the PA, maybe a memorial assembly. And we’d probably have some
kind of shrine where people would leave pictures of Krista with
flowers and little teddy bears and stuff like that. Out front
somewhere where the TV news cameras could see it clearly, and give
it lots of attention, and call it a “makeshift memorial” fifteen
times a freakin’ day. Like you’ve got to spend $5000 on a friggin’
stone pillar or fountain with an engraved placard on it because
anything else is just “makeshift”.

But I digress.

Maybe we’d have grief counseling to talk
about how she was just ripped from our lives, and we would never be
able to say goodbye. We’d talk about how we felt that she’d never
told us about this horrible disease she had, and if we’d known we
would have been nicer to her, and now we’d never have the
chance.

Because really, Krista was never coming back.
And what she had was a lot like a disease. Something she was born
with, something that couldn’t be cured, something very, very
bad.

What Krista Pace had was a Talent.

* * *

Joss

God save us from guidance counselors…

I swiped my sweaty palm down the front of the
vintage army field jacket I always wore before grabbing the
doorknob and letting myself into the guidance department office. I
handed my hall pass to the woman at the desk inside the door whose
name I’d never bothered to learn.

I absolutely hated it here.

“Jocelyn. Yes, Mr. Dobbs is waiting for you.
Go on in.”

I turned away and moved to the door, thinking
belatedly that I should have said thank you. Eye contact, a smile,
thank you. But I never was any good at that politeness stuff. I was
a lot better at the being quiet and melting into the background
stuff. Having someone call up my Math teacher, being singled out
and told to report to the guidance office while the rest of the
class waited to get on with the being bored—er, educated? It really
messed with my whole
don’t notice me
program.

I was already on edge from that
morning—because of the whole Krista thing—and this just made me
twitchy. It didn’t help that I knew exactly why Dobbs had called me
in here.

I did not want to talk about it.

“Joss.” He shuffled some papers into a
folder, closed it. “Come on in. Have a seat.”

I took the seat across from the desk without
speaking, keeping my messenger bag on my shoulder and my notebook
to my chest. I kept my expression blank, rather than overtly
sullen, but Dobbs prided himself on the whole reading the body
language thing and my message should be clear.

He took off his glasses and drew the side of
his hand along the bridge of his nose as he set them down on the
desk. In a moment he would pick them back up and put them on again,
because he needed them to see. But his ritual of taking them off,
setting them down… that was his way of saying he was serious, yet
caring, concerned, and open-minded.

See, I could do body language too.

“So….how’s it going?” he asked, dragging out
the question.

“Ok.”

He picked up his glasses and put them back
on. “You’ve heard about Krista.”

I didn’t say anything. It wasn’t a question,
and what was I supposed to say anyway? It wasn’t like the school
had any kind of official stance on this stuff. They must cooperate
in whatever investigations went on, but they never made, like,
statements to the press or anything. There was nothing for me to
quote or agree with.

“I thought you might have some feelings you’d
like to talk about.”

You thought that? Really? Are you new
here?
“No, not really.”

“Joss, I know this must bring up some issues
for you, feelings I don’t think you’ve ever really dealt with.
About Emily.”

The name was like an execute command,
automatically flashing a series of images across my brain that
started out like a real estate or life insurance commercial. Little
girls playing, laughing, holding hands, dancing in sprinklers,
birthday parties, sharing secrets, fire, screaming, end of
reel.

I jammed the playback to a stop before it
could loop, forced my eyes from the stupid cartoon character on
Dobbs’s tie, and actually met his eyes. I shoved the discomfort at
the personal contact aside with the rest of my feelings and made
myself cold. “Emily moved away. Lots of kids have childhood friends
who move away. It’s sad at the time, but it’s not, like, traumatic
or anything.”

Dobbs waited for me to say more. I figured it
was safer to let him steer the conversation rather than take the
lead and risk saying the wrong thing. These counselor types could
be so tricksy. It wasn’t my first time in his office, and I knew he
liked to try to read into things people said.

“But Emily didn’t just move away. A child’s
parent might get a job in another town, they break the news, and
there’s weeks, maybe months, of house-hunting, packing—a period to
adjust before the actual move. It wasn’t like that with Emily. One
day the two of you were joined at the hip, running up and down the
block, picking the dandelions from everyone’s yards…Then all of a
sudden she was just…gone.”

I continued to hold the eye contact, because
to drop it now would be a show of weakness, like I had something to
hide. I did a mental check and loosened my fingers on my notebook a
little before he noticed my white-knuckled grip.

Dobbs had lived a few houses down and across
the street for as long as I could remember. He was the kind of
neighbor who waved if he saw you but didn’t walk over to chat. He
didn’t mind if you went through his gate after a lost ball or a
Frisbee, but he never invited you to swim in his pool. In all the
years of casual neighboring, he’d never once tried to talk to me
about Emily. But since my first day in high school he’d used any
excuse to drag me into his office to try to discuss my
feelings
on the subject.

Why was I suddenly of interest? Was it just
because talking to me became part of his job? Or was there
something in that folder he didn’t know from just living in the
same neighborhood? Had someone told him to ask questions?

Get a grip.

“And then there was the fire…” he
continued.

“I told you I don’t remember any fire.”

“The last time we spoke I suggested you
discuss it with your parents.”

“I did. I asked my mom about it. She didn’t
know what I was talking about.” This was a planned answer. If Dobbs
went to my mom, she would explain that she and dad felt it was best
that I wasn’t reminded about the incident.

His eyes narrowed as he mulled over that
response. I could see the wheels turning behind his pale eyes,
realizing that my parents would probably not be open to the idea of
him helping their daughter achieve any kind of emotional
breakthrough.

BOOK: Hush Money
11.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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