The publicist's job was to assure the Magnolia College community that the campus was safe...despite two murders. But someone was watching Dee too closely, following her, making anonymous phone calls in a voice that sounded eerily familiar. And every time she turned around, there was her boss, handsome Brazilian Edgar Ortiz. He insisted on protecting her. And now it wasn't just fear sending those chills racing up her spine....
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April 07, 2008
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Excerpt from In His Sights by Carol Steward
Something had to be wrong. The caller ID showed her sister's number, and Lauren knew not to call her at work.
"Deandra Owens, how may I help you?" she answered out of habit. "Sorry, Lauren. What's up?"
"It's happening again, Dee. There's another warning on the Web site."
Dee hadn't heard Lauren this frantic in weeks.
"Log on the site, now," her sister demanded. "Hurry!"
Dee swung her chair to the computer and moved her mouse to pull up the site. "Magnolia Falls: Where Are They Now?" scrolled to the top of the computer monitor and the photograph from the reunion began to load. "Where?"
"Someone put a picture of the group at the reunion on there," Lauren said.
"I did," Dee said with a sigh of relief.
"Yes, on the home page, but, it's in the blog now--with flames burning over it."
"You can't be serious!" Her mind raced to the angry posts they'd received in the guest book. Dee stared as the blog loaded, her pulse racing. She scrolled through the comments, then came to the digitally altered photo posted by Anonymous and gasped.
"Who would do this?"
"The police never even figured out who sent that entry last month."
Dee looked for some clue, ignoring her sister.
"The one telling us that someone on campus isn't who they seem to be."
"Yes, I remember," Dee said. "I'm--"
The fear in Lauren's voice returned. "We have to do something."
The police hadn't given the Web site much attention, claiming pranks and inappropriate postings were pretty common on any public site. Dee stared at the photo in disbelief. Who would have such anger toward those at the reunion?
"Where are you, Lauren?"
"I'm at Seth's with Jake. Seth has a late appointment today."
Lauren had had enough scares in the recent months. Dee didn't want to see it start all over again. "Stay put and lock the doors." Dee looked up to see, Edgar Ortiz, the assistant director of admissions in her doorway, pointing at his watch. "Thanks for calling. I'll call you back after the press conference."
"Dee, you ready?" The handsome Brazilian made her heart flutter, even when she wasn't under stress.
"Just a minute, Edgar. I need to fix a little problem right away." Her hands were shaking.
He stepped to her side. "Can I help?"
"No, thanks, it'll just take a minute."
"We're in a hurry. The police need a minute to prep you." He leaned closer, making her nerves that much worse.
"I'll be right there, just hold them off for a minute. You know, work your charm."
He cleared his throat and headed for the door. "You're the charmer. That is why we hired you."
Dee highlighted the name of the picture and all of the Java script that went with it, then read the options she had for removing the data from the blog: "Remove Locally" or "Remove locally and from server." She tried to reason out which would keep it so the police could trace it. One option would keep it on her computer, but remove it from the site. The other would remove it from everywhere. Dee moved the mouse to "Remove Locally" and thought it through again before clicking the button.
"Dee, come on." Edgar paused as he stepped through the door, his voice full of annoyance.
She jumped and with one slip of the wrist, she hit the wrong button and everything was gone.
Edgar leveled her a stare and she felt the emptiness in the pit of her stomach. Temporary or not, every day they were together they always seemed to be needling each other.
She picked up her notes and rushed out the door after him. "Someone's posting harassing messages on the Web site again, and thanks to you, I just lost the evidence."
"Yes, I saw the flaming picture. I was going to talk to you about it after the press conference. Maybe it's time you just give up on the Web site." He waited for her to walk beside him, then pushed a stray hair from her face.
How could he be so cavalier about it? "You're one of the people in the picture, Edgar. We don't know who they're targeting." She never went into a press conference so distracted.
"Miss Owens, we need you to read this release also," Detective Jim Anderson said as he handed her a sheet of paper.
Dee read it, then glanced through the doorway to the members of the press watching her every reaction. "In here please." She walked into the empty office and turned to Detective Anderson. "You've had this information for weeks, since Cassie Winters planted the memorial garden. Why haven't you said something sooner?"
"We've run out of leads with what we had. We're hoping that we can flush out the person if he or she thinks we have more information to go on," the detective responded.
Dee struggled to regain her composure as she watched Edgar walk to the back of the room with the other college administrators.
She loved Magnolia College. She had to make that come across, above all else.
Professional. She forced a smile and realized it was overdone. She couldn't look happy, sharing terrible news like this.
She didn't want to look disrespectful.
She took a deep breath to steady herself before facing the cameras. With a serious smile on her face, she gazed past the reporters and cameras to Edgar.
This was about the college they both loved.
People they cared about.
Edgar had been dead set on getting her position as a PR specialist soon after the construction crew had uncovered a woman's skeleton on campus. Yet in less than six months, they'd had three huge scandals that rocked the community's foundation, and would likely hurt enrollment if they didn't do some damage control immediately. Edgar--and his boss--weren't happy with the rash of negative publicity. That was perfectly clear.
"The faculty and staff at Magnolia College are shocked by recent events involving our tight-knit community." She took a quick breath for strength.
"We are deeply saddened by the shooting of three individuals with ties to Magnolia College. The three were following leads in the death of talented alumnus, Scott Winters. Scott graduated two-and-a-half years ago with his bachelor's degree in Journalism and went on to write for the Savannah Herald. The victims are identified as Scott's sister, Cassie Winters, Professor Jameson King, and former teammate of Scott's, Kevin Reed. All three have been treated and released from the hospital.
"The police have made two arrests in connection with the shootings, which took place at the old sugar mill in Riverton. Both are being held in the city jail and will undergo questioning in relation to an alleged point-shaving scheme, as well as the murder of Scott Winters."
Dee paused, waiting for the lump in her throat to dissipate. She fought to get the image of Scott's sister out of her head. I can't think of Cassie or I'll never get through this.
Dee could see the administrators cringe, those whose faces didn't look like they were carved from stone. Her stomach churned. "The Magnolia Falls Police Department expect to reveal at least one more suspect soon." Hands immediately raised, but Dee knew what they wanted. "I'm sorry, we will not be revealing the suspects' names at this time."
She pulled out the prepared statement given to her by the police chief and noticed her hands shaking. She took a deep breath. "The staff at Magnolia College is cooperating fully with authorities. We ask the public to respect the school's responsibility to protect the privacy of every member of our staff and student population. Progress is being made on both the recovered skeleton and the point-shaving cases, but we would like to remind the community that these are ongoing investigations, and the details must be kept confidential in order not to compromise the integrity of the investigations."
Dee cleared her throat and took a sip of water. "The police chief has asked me to update the public on evidence found in relation to the unidentified woman's skeleton. A charm, found during the planting of the Scott Winters Memorial Garden, is now believed to be key evidence. Crime-scene investigators have determined a set of initials on the charm and believe it will open up new leads. If you have information related to any of these cases, you are asked to contact the Magnolia Falls Police Department directly.
"Magnolia College will continue to provide our students with an excellent education and will maintain a normal schedule. Thank you."
Television stations from all over the region had come to cover these events, and the room was filled to capacity. Dee shifted behind the podium and pointed to a reporter who refused to be ignored.
The young man looked to be about Scott Winters's age. "Miss Owens, what is being done to ensure student safety?"
"I will point out that Magnolia College has the second lowest crime rate in the region. We have not seen any increase in crime on campus since the skeleton was found. However, we are taking every precaution possible. In addition to seminars on personal safety, new emergency phones have been installed along the inner-campus walkways, and patrols have increased. The college did go through a major security upgrade just two years ago."
She glanced to the back of the room and saw Edgar leaving before the press conference was finished. While she couldn't help but feel she'd let him down, she was also furious. He'd touted her as the "Queen of Spin" when it came to recovering from bad publicity. But what did he expect after a second murder connected to Magnolia College?
Dee regained her composure and continued. "The upgrade included key cards for external entrances to every dorm and building holding evening classes. Security cameras are in place in many undisclosed locations. The college is in the top ten on safety studies. The board of trustees is gathering information on whether further changes need to be made."
Hands shot up, and Dee nodded to another reporter. "I've heard rumors that some Magnolia College staff are involved in the point-shaving scheme. Are they going to be fired?" she asked.
Another reporter stood up. "What about the coaching staff? To what extent is Coach Nelson involved?"
Dee held up one hand until the room quieted, regaining control. "One question at a time, please. Chairman J. T. Kessler has called for a special session of the board of trustees this week to discuss possible disciplinary action for any involved faculty and coaching personnel. Until then, no further details will be released."
As she answered each question, her mind drifted back to Edgar. Though he had been forced to reduce their recruitment team, the two of them were working hard. She had thought they were becoming close, and she realized, with disappointment, how much his approval meant to her.
What more did he expect of her?