I waited until I heard Danielle’s breathing slow to a nice, rhythmic pace before stealing out into the hallway with my cell phone. On the way back from the guys’ dormitory I’d noticed three old telephone booths built into the wall near the lounge. They looked like they hadn’t been used in a decade, probably because every kid at Hereford had been given a cell phone as soon as they’d said their first word. I deemed it the perfect place for my midnight phone call.
I ducked into the booth closest to the lounge and farthest from any dorm rooms. Sure enough, the inside was peppered with graffiti like “S.G. Class of ‘91” and “New Kids Rule!” It seemed the phone booths were the one area that had escaped the recent refurbishment that had left all of Hereford smelling of paint and new carpet.
I closed the glass door behind me. It let out a loud creak that reverberated through the silent dorm, causing my heart to hit my throat. I waited for a moment, holding my breath, but no one seemed interested in checking out the noise.
Sitting back against the hard wooden wall, I hit the speed-dial number for my house. My mother picked up on the first ring.
“Hey, Mom,” I said. “It’s me, calling with my quotidian update.”
“Kim! How’s it going up there?” my mother asked. “Are you doing all right?”
“Well, I’ve talked to all three of the suspects, although one of them didn’t actually talk back,” I said, cringing slightly as I recalled the encounter with Jon. “David corroborated the fact that Marshall is here on scholarship, but I haven’t learned anything new, yet. Oh! Except that Jon Wisnewski was addicted to painkillers a couple of years back. That’s incriminating, right?”
I waited for my mother to convey her thoughts, wondering whether she’d be proud of the tidbit I’d managed to unearth or irritated that I hadn’t gotten very far.
“That’s great, Kim, but I was more concerned about you,” my mother said. “How are the people up there? How’s your roommate? What are they feeding you?”
For a moment I just sat there, rendered speechless by surprise. I had expected my mother to interrogate me—to be all business. This was, after all, an important investigation. What did she care if my roommate was cool or not?
“Mom? Are you okay?”
“What, I can’t be concerned about my daughter?” she shot back.
Suddenly I couldn’t help smiling. I relished the rare moments when my mother dropped her hard-ass persona and became motherly.
“I had a feeling,” my mother said.
“Except for the food. Mom,” I added, experiencing a sudden craving for the chocolate chip cookies they’d served up after dinner. “I swear they should open a restaurant up here.”
“Well, that’s good, at least,” my mother replied. “So listen, you said you talked to all the suspects. Do you think any of them has deduced why you’re there?”
“Nah. I’m definitely not impressed by their collective intelligence,” I told her, adjusting my butt on the rock-hard seat. “David’s the only one who seems incisive enough to figure it out, but I don’t think he will.”
“I think he’s kind of enamored of me,” I said, flushing.
“Kimberly Stratford, you are not there to make friends!”
Finally! A reprimand! Now that sounded more like the mother I know, love and sometimes fear.
“I know, Mom. Don’t worry. It’s not like I’m going to start dating him!” I said. “All I’m trying to say is no one suspects a thing.”
“Well, if they start to question you or make you feel at all uncomfortable, I can bring you home at any time,” she told me.
My mother sighed. “Kim, we didn’t really talk about this before you left, but if this is about Corinne—”
“It’s not,” I lied, truncating her speech. I didn’t want to have all that baggage dragged out right before bed. It had already caused enough insomnia over the past few months, and I had to be alert tomorrow. “I just want to help. That’s all. Besides, I was going out of my mind sitting at home. This is much more interesting.”
“If you say so,” she said.
“I do,” I replied with a nod. “I’ll call you tomorrow. I’m having lunch with Marshall and I’m hoping to get in with Jon as well.”
“Okay, but honey . . . just be careful.”
My heart warmed. My mother had never called me honey in my life. Taking on this case may have been the greatest decision I’d ever made.
“Don’t worry, Mom,” I told her. “I will.”