“Long term success is a direct result of what you achieve every day. Goals provide your daily routine.” ~Rick Pitino
It took determination, but Lara strictly adhered to the morning routine that she’d set up for herself. After spending an hour or two canoeing with her mom each morning, she packed pencils, pens and sketchbook into her backpack and set out. She began each day hoping to find an inspiring setting, animal or person that would jumpstart her imagination. It was not until her tenth day in Shafer Lake that an idea for a storyline began to germinate.
She was sitting in front of St. Paul’s church, doodling in her sketchbook. She had spent over an hour soaking up the charm and beauty of the ivy-covered church. She, like many others who appreciated history historical architecture, was unhappy with the current trend that called for demolishing old buildings in order to make way for ultra- modern structures of steel and glass.
Her dad had liked to tease her about her oxymoronic personality. “How is it,” he said, “that you have an appreciation for old structures, when you vehemently claim to detest history.” He had a point. She loved the contrast of old and new and believed that tradition could be in concert with change. She even appreciated the fact that Shafer Lake residents were preservationists. It was a pleasure to spend time in a community that honored the past. Did that mean that she was more into history than she claimed to be?
Without consciously realizing that she was creating a new character, she looked down to see an adorable mouse with oversized ears and a long, curly tail peering up at her. For some inexplicable reason, the name Tina Louise popped into her head. With a name and a character image, the beginnings of a story began to fall into place. She scribbled notes on the borders of her sketch pad.
Where would an orphan mouse like Tina Louise find refuge? What better place than a cozy stone church. In a church, Tina Louise would find the safety that she needed to survive. When the organist practiced, she could relax and enjoy a special concert for one. What a treat! If Pastor McElhaney made a habit of eating a late morning snack in his study, there would surely be an occasional crumb that would find its way to the floor. There would, of course, be daily challenges. Between avoiding strategically placed mousetraps, the housekeeper’s broom, and Jezebel—the pastor’s cat—life in Tina’s home would never be dull.
The cartoon character’s Tom and Jerry flashed through Lara’s mind. There were some similarities between the escapades that she was imagining for Tina, but Tina’s adventures were quite tame when compared to the actions of Barbera’s animated characters. She was completely lost in her own make-believe world when she was startled by a voice nearby.
She turned to see Chris Tillman. “You startled me, Chris. When I’m working, I get so involved in my work that a herd of stampeding elephants can’t distract me.”
He looked puzzled. “You know my name?”
Lara nodded. Remembering Mary’s words of advice, she remained facing him. “Mary told me. She said that you’re Ms. Lou’s grandson. I had no idea that she had grandchildren.”
“Grandchild. Her daughter Shannon was my mom. Mom died two years ago.”
Lara instantly regretted her words. “I’m soo-o sorry. I know what it’s like to lose a parent.”
He didn’t acknowledge her words, but she sensed that he knew about her dad’s disappearance. “People have to deal with all kinds of losses. I’ve been known to whine and complain, but my life has been a breeze compared to the lives of some kids I know.”
“That might be true, but pain is pain.”
“I wasn’t keen on coming to Lake Shafer, but Sam, Dora and Grandma Lou have been great.” He paused before adding, “Your grandparents talked about you a lot last summer.”
“Uh oh, I hope they didn’t share all of my dirty little secrets.”
“You don’t have to worry about Sam and Dora ratting on you. They’re cool.”
“That, we agree on.”
He peered over her shoulder and studied her story notes. “Hm-m. Interesting. Maybe you should warn Brian that Tina has taken up residence in his study.”
She laughed. “Tina’s just a figment of my imagination at this point. Sometimes my characters die an early death. If she makes it into an actual book, I’ll warn Pastor Rafferty.”
“Your sketch of the church is super good. Are you more into drawing than painting?”
“I usually work in colored pencils, pen and ink or a combination of the two. Occasionally, I use watercolors.”
He asked, “Are you a writer who wants to be an artist, or an artist who wants to write?”
She shrugged. “Time will tell. A lot depends on the reaction of the editors and publishers I eventually deal with. For now, my goal is to write and illustrate children’s books, but that’s not written in stone.”
He was fidgeting. Something was obviously bothering him. Lara was surprised when he finally mumbled an apology. “I’m sorry about almost knocking you down the other day. I was late for an appointment and I wasn’t watching where I was going.”
“No problem. My run-in with you tested my reflexes. Mary warned me that you were in training for a race with Speedy McGreevy.”
His ears turned red. “Grandma and Mary are always telling me to slow down. Do you read children’s books or do you just write them?”
“Write, read and collect. I like the uncomplicated world that children live in. Toddlers are fascinated by the illustrations in a picture book long before they know what the words mean. Young readers are honest. If they don’t like the illustrations or the storyline, they’ll tell you.
“If I’m to be successful as an author, I have to be able to tap into my imagination, and I have to determine what style of illustration works for me. I’ve spent hours studying the techniques of other artists. Of course, technique isn’t enough. A writer has to be able to develop characters that children fall in love with.”
“When did you know that you wanted to be an author?”
“When I was five. Mom took me to my first story time at Backstories. Mary read Where the Wild Things Are. She made the story come alive, and I was hooked. When we got back to my grandparent’s lake house, I created a story about a sea monster that made his home in Shafer Lake. Houlio was his name. I’ve been drawing and writing ever since.”
“Storytime was never my thing. I had earaches when I was younger, and one of the infections led to a hearing loss. I missed half of what was being read. The times I went, I was bored and became restless. Mom finally gave up taking me. I enjoy reading more than I used to, but I’m more into science and history than fiction.”
“When did you lose your hearing?”
“I was seven when I got my first hearing aid. I don’t know whether it was the hearing aid or me, but it didn’t work out all that well. I got my second one six months later. It took over a year to get the settings right. There are still some sounds I miss, but I’ve learned to lip read. Between reading lips and the hearing aids I don’t miss a lot.”
“Do you know sign language?”
He nodded. “Grandma Lou insisted that I learn. She teaches Special Ed, so she’s into all kinds of learning techniques. I don’t use sign language unless I’m around someone who has a complete hearing loss.”
Lara began packing up her supplies.
“Hey. I didn’t mean to chase you away.”
Lara laughed. “Relax, Chris. You’re not running me off. I’ve finished for today. Pastor Rafferty suggested that I go inside and look around. I need to have a mental picture of the interior of the church if Tina is going make her home there.”
“The sanctuary is pretty much what you would expect in a hundred and fifty-year-old building, but Brian’s office has been remodeled. He’s a neat freak. I hate to tell you this, but your character won’t find any crumbs in Brian’s office. He might dress casually, but his office is organized and spotlessly clean.”
“Oh, well. That’s where my imagination kicks in. Tell me about Pastor Rafferty. He’s not like any pastor I’ve ever met.”
He grinned. “You mean because he dresses like the hip crowd? Casual is the accepted style in Shafer Lake. And, casual works for a pastor who’s more at home preaching on the streets and on the beach. He prefers to be called Brian, by the way.”
“Do you attend St. Paul’s?”
“No, but I attend his Wednesday evening service in the square. The crowd is primarily for the area’s teens, but there are usually a few adults in the mix. If several days go by and I don’t see Brian at Bella’s, I stop by the church to visit. Occasionally, I run errands for him. Do you mind if I tag along on the tour?”
“Not at all. You can be my guide.”
The morning after her tour of St. Paul’s, Lara took a break from her daily routine. Early that morning she watched Megan destroy an unsuspecting competitor on the volleyball court. Later, she observed story time at Backstories and eventually got around to eating a late lunch at Bella’s.
When she arrived back at the lake house, her ears perked up when she heard the last words in her mom’s conversation. “Thank you for listening to my argument. Let me know what you decide.”
Lara’s heart raced, but her voice remained steady when she asked, “Were you talking to Lt. Traynor?”
Her mom glanced her way and shook her head. “No, but we spoke earlier today. How was your morning? Did you find the inspiration you’ve been looking for?”
“Actually, I was taking a breather today. We’ll talk about my creative block later. Right now, I’m more interested in what Lt. Traynor had to say about the investigation.”
Her mom motioned for Lara to take a seat. “The two officers working on your dad’s case have been reassigned.”
The bitter taste of bile rose in Lara’s throat. She fought to control her temper and lost. “You’ve got to be kidding. Has Lt. Traylor lost his freakin’ mind?”
Susan put her hand on Lara’s shoulder. “Whoa. You’re overreacting, sweetie. There’s been an absence of evidence that a crime was committed from the beginning of the investigation. When and if tips come in, they will check them out. In the meantime, there are other crimes, other current cases that require the officer’s time and attention.
“They don’t have enough officers to keep cold cases open for extended lengths of time. There’s another high-profile case that needs immediate attention.”
“What is more important than an upstanding citizen who has gone missing?”
“The police are building a corruption case against Mayor Keller. It’s purely speculation, but they think that the two cases might be linked.”
Lara’s eyes widened. “If there is corruption in city hall, Dad wasn’t involved.”
“The police know that your dad and Mayor Keller were friends at one time.”
Exasperated, Lara shook her head. “That makes absolutely no sense. Their friendship ended a long time ago.”
“We know that, but the police don’t.”
Unwilling to argue the point, Lara changed the direction of the conversation. “I’m not surprised to learn that Mayor Keller’s administration is crooked. Dad usually respected elected officials, even when he disagreed with them. Mayor Keller was the exception. I begin to suspect that Donovan had crossed a red line, when Dad walked away from their friendship.” She paused before adding, “I never particularly liked him, but Ariel was cool. I missed her when they stopped coming over to the house for barbeques.”
“The Lt. questioned me about our association with the Keller’s.”
“So, what did you tell him.”
“The truth. I told them that your dad met Donovan in college, that they became college roommates, and that their friendship ended three years ago. They knew that Charles supported Donovan when he ran for mayor. Traynor asked if your dad still supported the mayor’s policies.
“I explained that your dad became disenchanted with Donovan’s politics after Donovan hired Van McCorkle as his lawyer. Your dad was never clear about his reasons for distrusting McCorkle, so I couldn’t give Traynor any specifics. And I didn’t speculate about your dad’s reasons for ending his personal relationship with Donovan.
“I emphasized that your dad’s and Donovan’s golf games ceased three years ago, and had not resumed. It was about that same time that our invitations to the Keller’s charity events and Christmas parties ended. When Lt. Traynor checks, he’ll learn that I’m telling the truth.”
Incensed, Lara groaned, “If they try to tie Dad into Donovan’s mess, the press will have a field day with the information.”
“Traynor assured me that he would keep your dad’s name out of the investigation. If they try to implicate your dad, they will fail. Charles’ friends and co-workers will vouch for him. Anyone who knew your dad, knew how he felt about Donovan Keller.
“The police are doing the best that they can under the circumstances. Since that haven’t been able to uncover any new information, I’ve decided to hire a private investigator.
“I expected Lt. Traynor to object, but he approved of my decision. I was pleasantly surprised when he recommended one. He gave me the name of a retired police detective who takes on an occasional case. I was talking to him when you came in just now.”
“So, what did the PI say?”
“He sounded interested, but he won’t give me a definite yes until he’s talked to Traynor.”
“When will that be?”
“If he’s retired, does that mean he’s old? Maybe you should contact a younger PI.”
“According to Lt. Traynor. He was the best detective in the police department. He retired early because of his wife’s health.”
“What’s his name?”
“Anything else I need to know about him?”
“No, but there’s news about Mom and Dad that I need to share with you. Dad finished his consultation earlier than expected, so they’ll be here day after tomorrow. You will need to act as the welcoming committee because I have to meet with the symphony director that day. While I’m in Hazelton, I want to spend some time with your Aunt Maddie.”
“Oh geez, I keep forgetting about her. How is she doing with us down here?”
“She’s fine. Leah would have notified us if there had been a problem.”
“Dad spent a lot of time with her. I know that she must be missing him.”
“I’m sure she does, but it’s painful for her to talk about him. No one can take the place of your dad, but Leah tries.”
“Aunt Maddie is never going to be normal again, is she?”
“She is normal, Lara. It’s just a new normal. With only a few adjustments, she can lead a full and happy life. It’s unlikely that she will ever write another novel, so she won’t be the adored public figure that she was. Fortunately, she never seemed to crave that kind of attention. She misses the writing. Your dad was encouraging her to write articles as opposed to novels. So far, she hasn’t been receptive to the idea.”