THE SHROUD OF THE MIDNIGHT PHANTOM
A Julie Kane Mystery set in Potter County PA at the annual Judy Bolton Day weekend.
Chapter One: WINGS TO FLY
Julie Kane smiled happily as she looked in the rearview mirror of her snappy black Jaguar coupe at the receding skyline of Jamestown behind her. "So long, Jimmytown," she said aloud, using one of her pet names for her hometown. "I'll be back soon. Only a weekend trip this time."
Having lived there all her life, Julie loved the city and surrounding area located along the shores of Chautauqua Lake in western New York State. It was a scenic region of rolling hills, fertile valleys, and beautiful lakes, and Jamestown itself was a bustling city experiencing an exciting economic and cultural revival. But the pretty auburn-haired , green-eyed nineteen year-old had been away from home for long periods of time recently since beginning her job as a reporter for the internationally acclaimed LifeStyles Magazine, whose headquarters were based in Jamestown, and there was a touch of nostalgia in her heart right now at having to leave once again.
Harrington Bamberger, LifeStyle's editor, was a close friend of Julie's dad, Gordon Kane, the city's law director. Ever since Julie's very first lead story, The Mystery of the Girl in Blue, had caught nationwide attention and resulted in a sell-out issue, Mr. Bamberger had no qualms about sending Julie all over the globe in pursuit of a good story. She was a crack reporter and a good writer, and he knew she'd dig deep and bring up all the news the readers wanted. What Mr. Bamberger didn't know, because Julie would never tell him, was the danger and peril she'd often had to face unearthing the stories that received such worldwide attention.
In The Secret of Baldwin Manor, Julie had uncovered a plot to imprison the aging film star Ann Baldwin in her beautiful French chateau on the sweeping hills overlooking Chautauqua Lake. It was during this adventure that Julie had found Shirelle, a beautiful multiracial child who later became Julie's little sister through adoption. And other important stories had followed. Among them: in Canada's north woods in wintry Manitoba, Julie uncovered a plot of international implications while facing the terror of the The Legends of the Red Death. And most recently, while attending a Nancy Drew collectors convention in New York City, Julie had uncovered a human-smuggling operations and solved the mystery of a girl from her hometown who had disappeared during the 9/11 tragedies In the Shadow of the Towers.
The girl smiled now, switching on the car radio. No doubt she had faced some serious situations in those adventures, but she knew the story she was covering this weekend would be a simple piece of cake. Nothing to fear, no thugs or criminals to deal with, no perils around each and every corner. Just a normal weekend in Pennsylvania to cover the local Judy Bolton Fall Festival in Potter County and interview Gina Sabreen, America's teen pop singing sensation, who'd be there to do some final scenes for a music video.
Julie gazed at the blazing autumn colors all around her and sighed deeply at the lilting strains of the lovely ballad coming over the air being sung by Celine Dion. The famous hit song from the movie 'Titanic' was the perfect background music for a sunny October morning on the road. It was the Thursday leading into the Columbus Day weekend and the surrounding hills were resplendent with the multitudinous hues of the peak fall foliage. The temperature was in the middle sixties and the weekend was forecast to be warm and sunny, perfect for the festivities in Potter County, one of Pennsylvania's leading vacation destinations.
She was driving south on Route 62. The scenic road would take her right into Pennsylvania at the town of Warren, located on Route 6 North which led through the state's mountainous northern tier counties, world renowned as America's biggest outdoor playground. From Warren she'd drive Route 59 east through the beautiful Allegheny National Forest, one of her very favorite places, and then pick up Route 6 North again on the other side to take her to Coudersport, her destination in Potter County.
It was only a two to four hour drive depending on how many stops one made, and there were plenty of tempting stops to make along the way. Julie wished that her mom and dad and little Shirelle had been able to come, but none of them could make it. Shirelle was in a play at school that Julie was just going to have to miss. Her mother, Lydia Kane, Julie's pride and joy because she was so glamorous and sophisticated, owned an antique shop in Lakewood, a very upscale district on the south shore of Chautauqua Lake. So, of course, she couldn't come either, fall foliage time being one of her busiest seasons. How her mother managed the store, the house, and little Shirelle, too, on a regular basis, Julie just didn't have a clue. Her dad, naturally, being in charge of just about everything that went on in Jamestown, could never get away.
Her best friend Trudy Phillips, who had been along with her on many an assignment, could not take the time off from work, and her brother Bob was at nearby Cattaraugus State University where it was a big football weekend. He had to stay and do the fraternity thing, so he couldn't join her either. And then there was Dave.......
Julie's eyes rolled heavenward as the car rounded a curve in the road alongside a scenic muskeg swamp with hundreds of spindly naked trees reaching up into the air.
She was like, Dave! Dave! Dave!
Her smiling green eyes belied her emphatic pout. Dave Redmond was supposed to be her boyfriend. Supposed to, she thought in an attempt at dramatic dismay. But she never got to see him anymore. She was always dashing off here and there on assignments and he was always dashing off, too, in his current role as a 'professional' exchange student. She hadn't seen him in months.
Now he was in Paris, of all places. She had talked to him last night. "But Julie," he had responded to her whiny-voiced 'I miss you'. "You're always zipping off somewhere on your stories. I was tired of being in Jimtown all alone. SUNY is willing to send me all over the world on this exchange program. Why should I stay in New York? Get an assignment in Paris and come see me!"
"Ha!" Julie laughed out loud, braking slightly as a tractor trailer loomed ahead of her.
She hadn't told Dave that she was indeed going to Paris in two weeks on an exciting new assignment. A cache of previously unknown Monet paintings, many of them of the famed water lilies theme, had recently been found hidden in the royal palace in Bristania, a small European principality. Julie would be covering their debut showing at The Louvre, and she couldn't wait to surprise Dave by popping up unexpectedly at the door of his Left Bank apartment.
"And he better be happy to see me!" she said with a threatening little laugh.
It was just then that she heard a name on the radio that caught her attention - Gina Sabreen!
She pumped up the volume. "This is Gina's new number one hit," the disc jockey was saying. "Released as a single only on iTunes - it's not on any album yet - four weeks ago, it is now number one in the USA and Canada, and twenty-five other countries around the world, making it one of the fastest selling hits of all time. Our teen sweetheart from nearby Erie PA has given us all a big surprise with this tune. Famous for her string of catchy hip-hop dance hits and their sexy controversial videos, Gina's new hit is a beautiful ballad sung to the accompaniment of the Cleveland Orchestra, the top symphony orchestra in the world, ending all the controversy if she can really sing - or is it all that hi-tech over-dubbing making her sound so good? Well, she sure can sing, folks, so hold onto your hats. Here's Gina...."
Julie held her breath as the opening strings of the Cleveland Orchestra sounded in a plucky pizzicato introduction, then a full blown assault of woodwind and brass, then Gina's stunning still-maturing voice rushing right in with thrilling vibrato............
"Loving you has given me
Wings to fly.
My heart now soars
High in the skies.
No longer grounded
In lonely pain,
Wings to fly
Have brought me life again............"
Julie realized that her hand was clutching at her heart as the beautiful ballad soared on. Good thing the tractor trailer was up ahead, or she might have floored the accelerator and shot down the highway to the strains of the incredible musical production.
She'd heard the song before, of course. It was getting more airplay than anything she could ever remember, especially around the northwest PA-western NY area, which considered Gina its number one citizen. Julie had downloaded the single the week it came out and burned it onto a CD. She had it in her overnight bag on the seat next to her and intended to have Gina autograph it. Wings to Fly was her current favorite song, not surprisingly, and she never tired of hearing it, much like just about everyone else in the world, it seemed. And the unprecedented hit actually was the main reason Julie was going to interview Gina Sabreen in Coudersport this weekend.
Gina was America's teen pop princess, an incredibly adorable and talented seventeen year-old blonde from Erie, Pennsylvania, a city not far from Jamestown on the south shore of Lake Erie. Bursting with talent and personality from an early age, Gina had been taken to Hollywood by her mother when she was merely eight years-old. Mr. Sabreen, a truck driver, had stayed home in Erie to foot the bills for Gina's hoped-for career, and got to see his wife and daughter only when a long overland haul found him in California. But in a matter of a few months Disney had 'discovered' Gina and she instantly became the most popular mouseketeer since Annette Funicello way back in the 1950s. Later, she landed a starring role on Family Values, a TV family sitcom that stayed in the top ten for five years. But even with all this success, the family stayed centered in Erie, and Gina was very often back in Pennsylvania to experience the more 'normal' life she still loved dearly.
Last year she had left the TV show to give full attention to her budding singing career. Her first CD had spawned three number one singles and gone 'diamond', selling over ten million copies world-wide. The second, released only six months ago, had already sold over six million copies and given the charts two number one hits.
Gina's music was decidedly hip-hop, trendy techno-pop dance numbers and upbeat ballads with lots of sound-gimmicks and overdubs. Although everyone loved Gina - she was just so sweet and adorable even critics didn't pan her - there had been some buzz around for months if she could really sing or not. Julie knew that the ballad Wings to Fly, which had taken the world by storm, was Gina's answer to that question. And Julie's boss, Harrington Bamberger, wanted the story behind the incredible collaboration between a reigning teen queen and the world's top symphony orchestra. He had contacted Gina's agent and arranged for the interview in Potter County.
But Julie, ever alert and a model of industriousness, had already done some work on the story. It was in LifeStyles Magazine itself that she'd seen a photo of Gina at the Grammy Awards show with Benneto Franchi, the son of the musical director of the Cleveland Orchestra. Gina had won the Grammy for Best New Artist, and Benneto had been her date that night. Last week Julie had driven to Cleveland to meet Benneto for lunch and get the scoop on how he and Gina knew each other. Benneto, a very friendly and handsome young man in his early twenties, lived part of the time in his father's Shaker Heights mansion in the tony Cleveland suburb, but most of the year he spent at the family home in Rome, Italy. Last year Gina had opened a concert in Rome for her friends the Jonas Brothers and had met Benneto at a press party afterwards. They became fast friends and dated often in the entertainment world circles. Better yet, Cleveland and Erie were only ninety miles apart -perfect for when they were both in this part of the world. And, as to be expected, Benneto was Gina's 'in' to getting the Cleveland Orchestra to record with her.
Said Benneto, "My dad was absolutely floored by Gina. And after a couple auditions, he knew she could do the orchestra justice. She asked for the collaboration, and there was no way he'd have said No."
The beautiful song ended and Julie lowered the volume, looking forward to meeting this girl who was causing such a stir around the world. She'd been a fan of Gina's throughout the years and still watched the repeats of Family Values when she had the chance. Yes, Gina Sabreen was really someone special, and right now the hottest music act in the world. But there was even more to the story Julie would be writing about the weekend ahead, and a lot of it struck a very personal chord with her.
This past summer Gina Sabreen had starred in her first movie, a made-for-cable TV movie titled The Vanishing Shadow, based on the first book in the thirty-eight volume Judy Bolton Mystery series by the author Margaret Sutton. The movie had been filmed in Coudersport, which happened to be the real town that the fictional town in the books was based on. The series had been a bestseller in the 1930s through the 1970s right along with Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, but it had been discontinued after that because of the waning popularity of such series. But through the efforts of fans and collectors who wanted to keep the series alive for generations to come, the books were now being reprinted. Philly Cable, headquartered in Coudersport, who supported the character Judy Bolton as a local icon, made the movie for its nationwide cable systems, tentatively as one of several to come.
Their coup at getting Gina Sabreen to play the role of redheaded Judy Bolton was not as amazing as it might seem, Julie knew. Gina was actually a Judy Bolton fan herself, having read the entire series which had been handed down to her from her mother and grandmother. When the script came in, Gina jumped at it. No way would she turn down playing her home state's favorite girl sleuth.
Julie herself was also a Judy Bolton fan, having read her mother's copies of all the books over and over again. She even had her own set now for they were always showing up in estates her mother purchased to resell at the antique shop. Julie much preferred Judy Bolton to Nancy Drew and other similar girl sleuths because Judy was a redhead like herself, and because the series was more realistic. Judy Bolton and her friends aged throughout the books, and Judy even got married. But she still kept solving mysteries. Julie knew that her own love for mystery and adventure and uncovering a good story came from the endless hours she had spent reading those thirty-eight classic Judy Bolton Mysteries now experiencing a great nationwide revival.
The Judy Bolton Day weekend was being sponsored by the Potter County Chamber of Commerce. As a local icon, the character Judy Bolton was attracting a lot of attention and even the civic groups were getting in on the action now. Among the events planned were a parade featuring floats depicting scenes from the books, country crafts and foods for sale on the courthouse square, bus tours of the many sites used in the books around the area, a preview showing of the cable movie at the local theater, and many other related events. Mix these in with peak fall foliage tourist season, local antique shows and antique malls all promising to feature the collectible Judy Bolton books, the opening of bow-hunting season and high school homecoming weekend, and it all promised to be a weekend to remember.
And add to that, of course, the fact that Gina Sabreen was going to be in town to film the parade scenes for the video of the song used in the movie, It's No Mystery, written and sung by Gina and planned for inclusion on her upcoming third album. Julie hadn't yet heard the song but she was hoping that Gina would have a demo copy or mp3 she could listen to.
Traffic began to slow down as she crossed the state line into Pennsylvania and entered the outskirts of Warren. She found herself fidgeting in the slower crawl, wanting to be on the open road, eager to get to Coudersport and the good times that lay ahead. She'd been to Judy Bolton weekends before and knew many of the fans and promoters, including executives from the cable company who were involved in the proceedings. But she bit her bottom lip and quelled her impatience, knowing that shortly she'd be driving through the Allegheny National Forest where she always experienced the thrill of freedom and adventure. She used to go camping there with her parents and brother when she was younger, when her dad was just an attorney with a firm and was able to get away from the office now and then, and she couldn't wait to see the splendid wilderness once more.
But traffic tangled up even more through the winding streets of downtown Warren. Although smaller than Jamestown, it was similar in being basically a Victorian city with the obligatory add-on modern amenities. Many of its huge restored Victorian homes reminded Julie of the big 'Vickie' she and her family lived in on Washington Street in Jamestown, high on a hill and looking over the downtown and off to the west to Chautauqua Lake. Sometimes it seemed to Julie that she could see forever, on a clear day especially, from her tower bedroom and small library in the tower's attic room. She smiled now, remembering how she and Bob had used a powerful telescope to watch Baldwin Manor all the way on the far side of the lake from the library when she was suspicious that someone was holding Ann Baldwin prisoner in her own home.
Julie realized she was a really lucky girl. She had a great family and a terrific life. A job she loved. Mystery and adventure that most people would never even imagine. And she was really grateful for it.
But she was still like, Now if only I can get out of this traffic!
Oh well. She winced as another red light caught her. Warren's position on Route 6 North made it the bustling business center on the west end of Pennsylvania's great northern wilderness. And this early October weekend was the weekend it bustled the most. Everyone was out to see the leaves, to go hiking or picnicking, antiquing, bow-hunting for deer, and a hundred other things.
It was almost like, she thought, if you weren't in Pennsylvania, you just weren't anywhere!
Finally arriving at Route 6 North a few minutes later on the south side of the town, Julie pulled off into a McDonald's parking lot and whooshed into a parking space next to a big red Jeep Grand Cherokee. She'd use the bathroom, get a light lunch, and then trek off into the wilds of the national forest. She stretched her lean jean-clad legs after getting out of the car and shook back her long thick red hair which gleamed brightly in the October sunlight. She was wearing a red sweatshirt with white lettering that spelled out University of Manitoba. It had been given to her by the Indian princess Yellow Bird, also known as Nannette Couchee, and her boyfriend Pierre La Pierre, whom Julie had affectionately called 'Pete La Pete'. She'd had a great adventure with them not too long ago in the far northern lands of the big snows and the Red Death, and she had turned it all into a cover story for LifeStyles Magazine. She knew she'd never forget those two fab friends she'd made, nor the French-Indian Metis way of life they had introduced her to.
Julie grabbed her purse and shut the car door. She felt totally exuberant and suddenly flung her arms up with carefree abandon, her green eyes sparkling as she breathed in the crisp autumn air.
She was totally, "Holy flipping cow! What a groovy day!"
Then she laughed and turned happily to walk into the restaurant.
"Yo! Do that again. Please!"
Julie blinked, surprised and embarrassed to see a young man standing right behind the Cherokee, a paper cup of coffee in his hands and his dark attractive eyes dead set on her. He was lean and rugged looking, six feet tall, with thick dark hair mostly covered by an orange hunting cap, and a sharply etched tough but handsome face. His button-down shirt with a leather-like patch on one shoulder and his gray-green-black camouflage pants told her he was a hunter and reminded her of when her dad used to outfit himself like that.
Julie grinned at him. "I'm not really crazy. I guess you caught me in the act. Just in a happy mood on this lovely day."
He set his coffee cup ontop the Cherokee. "Crazy? That was wonderful. It made my day to see such a pretty girl show such joie de vivre. Sure you won't do it again?"
"Of course not. You were lucky to catch it that time. I'd never done it if I'd known someone was watching."
He leaned against the back of the SUV. "So, exactly what is it you're so happy about?"
"Well," Julie began, knowing she was being too friendly with a stranger - something she very often did, especially if it was an attractive guy. But the guy was a hunter, and a hunk. What more could a girl from Chautauqua County, New York, want? "It's a beautiful October day and I'm in Pennsylvania," she told him. "And after I get myself some lunch, I'm going to drive Route 59 through the Allegheny National Forest!"
"I guess that answers that question," the fellow returned, with a grin that showed beautiful white teeth. "That's almost better than winning the lottery."
"Almost?" Julie caught herself eyeing him up and down, and there was a lot of him to get an eyeful of. She made herself focus on his nice smile, just to play it safe. "I'd rather have a day like this anytime than win the lottery."
"It promises to be a whole weekend of days like this. You're gonna be one happy gal."
Julie took a step closer to him, feeling a little of that tingle that an especially handsome guy can make a girl feel. "Looks like you're going hunting, eh? My dad used to hunt a lot when he was younger."
The fellow nodded. "I'm off to Potter County for the bow-hunting. You know, there's more deer there than people, and they ought to be bounding around all over the place in this weather. I hope to get myself a buck."
"I'm headed there, too," Julie told him. "Coudersport. They're holding the Judy Bolton Day festivities there and it's going to be one fun-filled weekend."
The young man put his hand on his hip and his brows knitted. "Judy Bolton. That sounds familiar."
"She's a character in a series of mystery books," Julie explained. "The author lived in Coudersport and based the town in the books on it. Now they use Judy as a civic pride icon, and the festival draws hundreds into town. They come from all over the country."
The dark-haired young hunter straightened up, both hands on his hips now. "I'll be darned. My sister used to read those books when we were kids. My mother too. In fact I read one once. It was on a hunting trip and it rained so hard all weekend we couldn't even go outside. So I sat and moped and read. Didn't she have a brother named ....uh... , maybe Boris?"
Julie laughed happily, hearing the name mispronounced, pleased that this hunky guy knew about Judy Bolton and had actually read one of the books. "Her brother was Horace. You were pretty close."
He snapped his fingers. "Right! Horace. And didn't he save the town from the flood when the dam broke?"
"Right. You are so cool, knowing that. You read the first book in the series, The Vanishing Shadow. Yes, Horace warned everyone in town that the dam was breaking and saved all their lives. It's a true story too. In real life it was the Austin Dam that broke in 1911, and a boy on a bicycle warned many of the townspeople in time so they could flee up into the hills."
"Awesome! I've driven past the ruins of the Austin Dam a dozen times. I do a lot of hunting in that area. But I never connected it to that mystery story I read when I was kid. Who'd think?"
Julie gave him one of her best smiles. She certainly would like to get to know this guy better. "You know, that makes you an official fan. You read the first book. Most of us Judy Bolton fans will be staying at the Westgate Motel. Why don't you stop by?"
"You bet. If you'll be there."
"That's where I'll be. Where do you stay for hunting? A lodge up in the hills?"
He nodded. "I'm meeting my hunting buddy from Olean. We stay at a small lodge in the hills down by Costello, a little south of Austin, just a cabin actually." He shifted on his feet a little, looking at her curiously. "You know, you really look familiar. Like I already know you or something. Who are you?"
Julie was used to being recognized at times by readers of LifeStyle Magazine. She was often in the photos that accompanied her stories, and because they had been so popular, people often remembered her.
"My name is Julie Kane," she told him, offering her hand. "I'm a reporter for LifeStyles Magazine. Perhaps you've seen me in one of the issues?"
The fellow's mouth opened in a kind of O, and he took a half step back, looking really surprised. Then he grinned, and laughed, shaking her hand "Sheez! Of course I know you. I lived in Asheville near Jamestown until just a few months ago. I've read your stories and seen your pictures. You really get around, girl. My name is Andy. Andy Quade from Meadville PA."
Julie liked the feel of his strong but gentle grip. In fact, she hated to let his hand go. But she did, instantly thinking of Dave way off in Paris and how nice it would be to have a boyfriend nearby, at least.
"Great to meet you, Andy. I'm serious. Stop by the motel if you get tired of hunting. We have a ball at these gatherings. Some of the fans are men too, and lots of the gals bring their husbands. So it's not just a girlie thing."
"Ha! Like that would stop me from looking you up." He grinned, again showing those pretty pearly whites. "You can bet you'll hear from me."
The sun glinting off the red paint on the Cherokee caught Julie's eye, and she patted the SUV affectionately. "This is really a beautiful Jeep."
Andy Quade pulled a key chain out of the pocket of his baggy camouflage pants. "It cost a few bucks but it's really terrific. You can't get a more macho vehicle for a guy, yet it's as classy and comfy as a limousine."
He opened the back hatch window with a key and pulled it up so Julie could see the interior. The back seat was folded down so the cargo space went all the way to the back of the front seat and it was loaded with what was obviously hunting and camping equipment, although she couldn't see it all because he had an old chenille bedspread thrown over to cover it.
"You know how we guys have to have lots of gear. I can carry just about everything I own in here."
Julie laughed, remembering the arguments her mom and dad used to have when packing the trunk before hunting and camping trips. He wanted to bring every bit of gear he could, and she just wanted to bring food and dishes. She reached in to stroke the velvety bedspread which was an unusual shade of gray-green.
"This is lovely," she said. "My mom has an antique shop in Lakewood and you'd be amazed at the prices she puts on spreads like this."
He leaned on the tailgate, very close to her. "I've had that since I was a kid. My buddies get nylon camo blankets for gear-covering. I still use my bedspread from when I was a boy."
Julie found that very endearing, and she knew she could spend the rest of the day talking to this friendly guy. But she had to get a move on, and the forest was waiting.....
She pushed herself away from the Cherokee and stepped back. "Don't forget to look me up in Coudersport. I'm really glad we ran into each other, Andy. But I really must be movin' on."
He put down the hatch window and grabbed his coffee cup off the roof. "Me too. Enjoy that Route 59. It's really awesome, especially by the Kinzua Dam. I'm taking Route 6 down to 219 and then over to Emporium, then over to Costello. But for sure I'll be seeing you soon, Julie Kane."
She took one last look at him and then turned away, a pang of regret mingling with her thudding heart. Now if Dave were still living in New York, where he belonged, he could've come with her this weekend. He always made her heart thud! But, oh well, she shook her head and chuckled as she walked into the restaurant. You can't be a lady Indiana Jones hopping the globe and expect to have a steady boyfriend at your side.
Julie shrugged. She was like, Just one of the drawbacks of my very fabulous life!
A few minutes later, after having used the bathroom and purchasing a Big Mac and chocolate shake to stoke her up for the rest of the drive, Julie walked into the seating area of the restaurant. There were four young teen boys in one booth, all wearing the obligatory backwards baseball caps and baggy cargo jeans and sweatshirts. Julie wondered why they weren't in school, or maybe there was a school nearby and they'd come for an early lunch?
A couple other booths had young families in them with excited little tots eating their special kids meals, and in another was a hunter in full camouflage gear, gray-green-black blotches, pants and shirt and cap. It made Julie feel warm all over to see hunters, and she smiled. It would always remind her of her dad when she was a little girl. In fact, she made a mental note to buy him a complete new camo outfit when she got back home and make him wear it. He still was lean and tough and handsome, and she'd love to see him outfitted again.
Sitting with the hunter was a girl who looked to be a little younger than Julie. As she sat down in a booth across from them, Julie couldn't help looking at the girl. She was dressed in bell-bottom jeans and a Penn State sweatshirt and, even though she wore huge wrap sunglasses that hid just about half her face, there was something vaguely familiar about her.
Must be the hair, Julie thought as she bit into her Big Mac. It was the very same color as her own.
The girl's hair was the exact auburn-red shade as Julie's, which was not at all very common. In fact, redheads were so few and far between that it always intrigued Julie when she saw another. The girl wore her hair in a very different style, though. It was pulled back severely into a twist on the back of her head with just a couple curly tendrils spinning down the sides.
Hmm, I'll have to try that hairdo, Julie thought. It sure looked great on the girl.
Suddenly the girl looked Julie's way, stared at her for a half a minute or so, and then smiled. Julie was a little embarrassed, caught staring at the girl, but she returned the smile and nodded hello. What the heck, they had the same color hair.
Checking her wrist watch, Julie saw that it was almost noon. If she dilly-dallied along the way, which she knew she would, especially in the national forest, she'd arrive in Coudersport a little before three, perfect time to check into the motel. She knew there would be plenty of other fans arriving today too, and she was anxious to see them again, meet the new ones, and gab about the Judy Bolton books and the weekend festivities. And then there'd be Gina.........
Julie's eyes flew up from her burger to see the red-haired girl standing right next to the booth.
"Hello," Julie returned, smiling at the girl and placing her half-eaten Big Mac on the napkin she'd laid out in front of her.
"I love your hair color," the girl said, almost whispering. "Mind if I join you?"
"Not at all, " Julie said, noticing again the vague familiarity of the girl. "Do sit down, please."
Julie saw that the man in the hunting gear with whom the girl had been sitting was watching them from the booth across the way. She couldn't help but wonder what she was getting into.
"Is that your natural color?" the girl asked as she slid into the booth across from Julie.
Julie nodded. "Yes, it was more of a strawberry blonde when I was a little girl, but at about five or six I became a redhead for life."
The girl grinned in what seemed almost a mischievous manner. But Julie really couldn't tell for sure because she couldn't see the girl's eyes because of the big dark glasses.
The redheaded stranger pointed to Julie's sweatshirt. "And you're from way up north in Manitoba?"
"Oh no," Julie said, shaking her head. "I live right up in Jamestown. I was in Manitoba recently on a job assignment."
The girl squealed. Then she laughed and pounded a fist on the table. Then she was all, "I knew it! I knew it! You're Julie Kane! I read your story in LifeStyles about the legends of the Red Death. Ohmygod! It was so weird. That missing Indian princess and the kidnapped symphony conductor from Winnipeg, and all that stuff about the Red Death, the small pox plagues from the past and how the people still feared the legends. And that cute guy Pierre. There was a picture of you with him and the Indian girl. Oh, what was her name? Oh ... Yellow Bird! Sa-weet! What a fabulous life you lead! I am such a totally big fan of yours. I read every one of your stories! And, gosh, that last one, about the girl from Jamestown who'd been killed in the twin towers on 9/11. I was like, oh, this is too much. It was just so huge. My mom and dad and I actually drove to Chautauqua Lake one day to see the memorial they'd put in the park there for her."
Julie sat back, agape at the girl's excitement and surprised at being recognized for a second time that morning. "Yes, I am Julie Kane. But who are you? You look familiar to me, too."
The girl slowly pulled down her glasses so Julie could see her pretty blue eyes. "Don't let the red hair fool you. It's a dye job. But, oh, I really like it. I'm actually a blonde."
Julie's brows furrowed and she just stared. It was as if her mind had gone completely blank. Who was this bubbly, friendly girl?
But the pretty redhead with the 'dye job' beamed happily. "This traveling incognito is really working. Yobs, it's a blast! I love it!" She leaned across the table toward Julie and added, "I'll give you a little clue..."
And then, to Julie's complete astonishment, the girl started singing in a subdued but very familiar voice:
"Loving you has given me
Wings to fly....................."
Julie's eyes widened and her hands flew up to her cheeks in surprise as it finally dawned on her.
Then, she was totally like, "Gina! Ohmygod! It's you. Gina Sabreen...............!"
Click here for Chapter Two!