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Authors: Mary Ann Scott

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Ear-Witness A Jessica March Mystery

my family, with special thanks to my daughter Martha, who introduced me to Parkdale and whose professional advice and perceptive comments have been invaluable

Ear-Witness A Jessica March Mystery

Mary Ann Scott

© Copyright 1996 Mary Ann Scott

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise (except brief passages for the purposes of review), without the prior permission of Boardwalk Books. Permission to photocopy should be requested from the Canadian Reprography Collective.

Boardwalk Books
A member of the Dundurn Group

Editor: Doris Cowan
Designer: Sebastian Vasile
Printer: Webcom

Canadian Cataloguing in Publication Data

Main entry under title:

Scott, Mary Ann, 1936–Ear-witness

“A Jessica March mystery”.

ISBN 1-895681-12-X

I. Title

PS8587.C6318E27 1996 jC813'.54 C96-932109-0

PZ7.S36Ea 1996

Publication was assisted by the
Canada Council,
Book Publishing Industry Development Program
of the
Department of Canadian Heritage,
and the
Ontario Arts Council.

Care has been taken to trace the ownership of copyright material used in this book. The author and the publisher welcome any information regarding references or credit for attribution in subsequent editions.

Printed and bound in Canada

Printed on recycled paper.

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It was 7:35
and I was desperate. When I heard my mother coming up the stairs I took a dive for the couch and stuffed a pillow under my head. The door opened. My eyes shut.

“That's an inspiring sight,” she said. “Bad night?”

I groaned, and pointed toward the floor, to the apartment beneath us. Blaming the noisy neighbours was a nice touch, I thought. But getting permission to cut school from an attendance fanatic like my mother would take more than nice touches.

I watched through half-closed eyes as she kicked off her shoes and collapsed into the chair across from me. She used to be easier to get along with when she came home tired after working all night, but the minute I turned fifteen she changed. Now she's tough all the time, especially about school. It's almost like she's waiting for me to do something brainless, like turn into a dropout or something.

“So what's the problem?” she said. “Tammi and Ray acting up again?”

I made a yes-sounding grunt. Our downstairs neighbours were OK most of the time, but occasionally, like last night, you'd swear they were bouncing off the walls.

Mom yawned. “Was it love or war this time?”

“War,” I mumbled. I yawned too. “Ray and some other guy. There was a fight. Then Tammi bawled half the night. So did the baby.”

Mom's mouth made a little “tsk” sound and she shook her head quickly from side to side. “Maybe you shouldn't babysit there any more. Maybe we should move.”

“Yes!” I bolted to my feet. “What about one of those condos overlooking the lake. With a doorman!”

“Doorperson,” she said. “Give me a break, Jess. They cost thousands a month! Thousands!”

“Just kidding.” I hugged my arms across my chest and lifted my shoulders up to my ears. Then I glanced at the clock. If I was going to work up some sympathy, I had to get started. “Guess what I have to do today?”

“Not the book report,” she said.

I nodded. I was miserable. I didn't hide it.

“Nervous?” she said.

“Nervous? Me, nervous? Petrified is more like it.”

“Oh, Jess!” She looked pained. “You've worked so hard on it! You know it's good.”

I rolled my eyes back into my head. “Yeah, sure,” I said. “Who cares if I make an idiot of myself? It's a great report.”

“But you only have to read it to the class!”

“The nightmare of all nightmares,” I said. “And in case you hadn't noticed, I didn't sleep all night. I'm totally exhausted.”

“Being overtired isn't a tragedy.”

“Messing up because I'm so zonked isn't a tragedy? Getting a C when I deserve an A isn't a tragedy?” It was a good argument - top student forced to risk low grade because of unsympathetic parent. But she'd never buy it. Never.

She didn't. She shook her head, sort of sadly this time, like she was surprised I'd even bother with such a lousy excuse. I had one last hope. Sickness.

“What if I get galloping diarrhoea or something?” I put my hand on my gut. “I've already …”

“Jess!” she said. “That's enough! Get dressed, and get going!”

Ms. Steely-Voice had spoken. I moved my butt.

Every piece of clothing I own makes me look like a blimp. My mother says I haven't lost my baby-fat yet, which is her way of saying I'm not really overweight at all. Baby-fat? At fifteen?

My green sweater wasn't too horrible, but it was the wrong length for my jeans. I tried on a skirt, then a different sweater, then some tights. Finally I decided on a black shirt, a vest, jeans and my boots. Then I fixed my hair. One of these days I'll do something different with it, like dye it red, or maybe black, or even cut it all off. Right now it's brown, shoulder-length, and boring. I might get rid of the bangs too. I lifted them with my comb and let them fall again.
They just brushed the tops of my eyebrows Unexciting, but what else is new?

I was clumping down the stairs, just coming to Tammi and Ray's landing, when their door jerked open. Tammi poked her head out into the hall, then pulled back quickly when she saw it was me. She looked terrible; half-dead and wearing yesterday's makeup. Not her style at all. “Tammi?” I said. She shut the door slowly, as if she hadn't even seen me. I made a rude comment under my breath, and kept moving. Then I felt bad. She was probably in some kind of trouble again. Not nice, Jess. Not nice at all.

I was late, and cut across the neighbours' yard, passing two tall African women in long dresses and headscarves. Three small blackhaired children, holding hands and chattering in a language I didn't recognize, crossed with me at the corner. A police car, lights flashing, turned down the street and stopped in front of our building. Two cops hurried inside. There weren't that many possibilities about where they were headed: our apartment; Tammi and Ray's; or the Orellanas' on the ground floor. I checked my watch, then turned and headed for school. I had enough on my mind. Other people's problems I couldn't handle.

Parkdale Collegiate is an old, red-brick building with turquoise doors and cement-block designs around the windows. It's set back from the street, surrounded by paved walkways, small grassy knolls, and trees. The picnic tables and park benches are a nice touch too, and so is the play equipment for the day-care kids. Nine hundred students, from all over the world, come here to get educated. Eight hundred and ninety-nine of them lost their baby-fat years ago.

English was the last period before lunch. Six of us were giving reports, and the fifth had just finished. I sat on the edge of my seat, waiting for the world to end. When Mr. Bronski called my name, I cracked my knee so hard on my desk that the red plastic Duo-Tang with my book report inside it fell to the floor and slid under the chair beside me. Evalita, my neighbour, retrieved it with long crimson fingernails and waved it in the air like she just won a prize. The class applauded.

I limped to the front of the room. My hands shook and my voice, when I got it working, sounded like a crow with strep throat. Thirty-eight faces stared. Thirty-five were glazed over with boredom, two were friendly, and one burned with hate. I blocked out everybody except Mr. Bronski
and Jon Bell, my fans. Jon is the smartest kid I know. He's probably even smarter than me. Tall and skinny, with a crest of white-blond hair, he looks like some rare, long-legged bird. When his nearly invisible eyebrows waved at me, I remembered to smile.

My book report was on a whodunit. I started out by talking about the main character, a woman detective who used her brains instead of her muscles to solve a crime. What I particularly liked, I said, was how she was smarter and more determined than the bad guys, smarter even than the police.

As part of my report I was supposed to talk about the type of book I was reviewing. So after I told them about the story, I went into this spiel about mysteries. I told them how the clues build up slowly, and how you have to read really carefully so you don't miss any of them. I even explained false clues, how mystery writers trick you into wondering if good people are bad, and bad people are good. I talked about endings, how they are both a surprise and not a surprise at all, because everything comes together and makes sense. I finished up by saying that if I had a choice between reading a scary book and seeing the same story made into a movie, I'd choose the book every time. (I'd actually see the movie too, but Mr. Bronski thinks we're all becoming illiterate TV and movie goons, so I left that part out.) The reason I enjoy reading best, I said, is because I like time to think about a story, to figure out the plot. On the screen, everything happens too quickly for that.

BOOK: Ear-Witness
4.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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