“Let’s go to lunch to celebrate,” Harry said. “This is just so … so … wonderful! Flash, you come too. You’ve been such a good friend, you deserve to be part of the celebration, too.” If only he knew, Hannah thought. Yes, the chance was extremely remote, but if the baby Harry wanted to celebrate was Flash’s and not his, Flash was definitely an interested party.
“I really can’t,” Flash said. “This is your moment for the two of you. I’d just be an extra presence in the room, a fifth wheel.”
They were interrupted by Hannah’s phone ringing. She answered, “Hello?”
The booming voice on the other end was unmistakable. “Hello, Hannah, this is Grym!” Apparently he had managed to recover from the shock of the night before. She was glad of that, but she was wondering why he was calling now.
“Yes, Grym, what’s up?” she asked.
“The remaining events for the spelling bee have been relocated!” he said. “The spelling events will now be held in the Siete Mares High School auditorium! Some of the evening events were already going to be elsewhere, but those that were to be at the college are being relocated to the Siete Mares High School gymnasium!”
“I thought after what happened last night, the spelling bee would be canceled,” Hannah said. “It was rather traumatic for all involved.”
“Oh, no!” Grym said. “As they say, ‘The show must go on’! We can’t let a little incident like that derail the whole spelling bee! These kids are counting on their chance to earn a place in the state bee!”
Hannah wouldn’t exactly have characterized an especially gruesome murder as “a little incident,” but with Grym’s focus being so narrow, apparently everything else was far less important than the spelling bee. “Don’t you think there ought to be at least a couple of days off?” she asked. “To carry on as usual after a man has died, that’s a bit unfeeling.”
“Nonsense!” Grym said. “If anything, it honors his memory to stick with a cause that was dear to him! You heard his speech, up until it got cut off! You know how he valued the spelling bee!”
“But what about the kids?” Hannah asked. “What happened must have been very traumatic for some of them. It would be good to give them some time to cope with the trauma.”
“Ridiculous!” Grym said. “These are spelling bee champions! They have drive! They are far more mature than other kids their age! And they don’t want the Mid Coast Regional Spelling Bee to be postponed, because then they wouldn’t be able to go to the state bee! The schedule’s really quite tight!”
“You can’t postpone things even just a couple of days, then?” Hannah asked. “You could postpone today’s and tomorrow’s events, and have two spelling sessions each Thursday and Friday – morning and evening.”
“That would not work!” Grym said. “We don’t want the contestants to get overly tired! They can deal with only one spelling session per day, or else they start making stupid mistakes because of mental fatigue! Besides, the rule book permits double sessions only under very extreme circumstances!”
Hannah rather suspected that any sane person would consider the gruesome and very bloody murder of the keynote speaker, in front of all of the contestants, judges, and audience, to be “very extreme circumstances.” But, apparently, Grym did not.
“Please be at the high school auditorium by one p.m.!” Grym said. “We start spelling at 1:30!”
“Okay,” Hannah said. “I’ll be there.”
“Excellent!” Grym said. “Don’t be late! ’Bye!” He hung up before Hannah could respond.
Hannah put her phone away. “I’m afraid lunch is off,” she said. “The spelling bee is still on, and it’s relocating to Siete Mares High School. Spelling starts at 1:30, and I need to be there at one.”
“Well, maybe we don’t have time for a fancy lunch,” Harry said. “But we can at least grab some burgers together.”
Hannah looked at her watch. “I guess I have time for a visit to Bleu Burger,” she said.
“I’ve noticed you’ve been craving blue cheese lately,” Harry said. “Is that the baby talking?”
“Don’t attribute everything to the pregnancy,” Hannah said. “I’ve always loved Bleu Burger.”
“Flash, you coming along?” Harry asked.
“Yeah, I guess I could do that,” Flash said, “now that it’s not a fancy dinner for you two.”
Lunch was a bit weird for Hannah. She knew Harry was totally excited and enthusiastic about the prospect of becoming a father, and that enthusiasm led him not to notice that she and Flash were somewhat tense. Flash, she imagined, had mixed feelings. Did he hope the baby was his, flesh of his flesh, or did he hope the baby was not his and therefore wouldn’t saddle him with responsibilities he didn’t want? She herself felt guilt, guilt about what had happened between her and Flash – even if, technically, she wasn’t at fault – guilt that she hadn’t had the courage to tell Harry about what happened, guilt that in some little secret part of her heart, she might be hoping the baby really was Flash’s. It was that last bit of guilt that was the most troubling. She loved Harry, she was going to marry Harry, and while she loved Flash too, it wasn’t the same sort of love, but more like love for a family member, such as a brother. Not that she had had much experience in that area, since she had been an only child, and her parents were killed when she was still fairly young.
Harry dropped Hannah off at the high school auditorium about ten minutes early, and she went in. It was clear that Siete Mares High School was suffering from the budget cuts that had hit schools all over the state. The auditorium was clean, but it had a threadbare feel to it, with carpeting that was worn out in heavy traffic areas and torn in some places, patched together with duct tape. A very large percentage of the seats in the auditorium had hinges or seats that groaned or squeaked or otherwise made noises as the audience members shifted their weight. The stage was very small, and the curtain, she saw, had the telltale lint paths left by textile-eating insects, similar to gopher burrows in a lawn. The flooring of the stage was faded and even splintery; it had clearly been a very long time since it had had any sort of maintenance. About half of the light bulbs seemed to be burned out, or not working for some other reason.
Hannah went up to the stage, where she found that a table had been set up for the judges, and chairs on risers had been set up for contestants, in the same formation as had been set up at the community college the night before. She was glad to see that she and Marvin had new unabridged dictionaries to read from, rather than the ones that had been spattered with pieces of the mayor last night. Of course, the police had probably taken those as evidence anyway – or Grym might have tried to re-use them. Hannah saw that there also were clean, new number tags for the contestants; that was good. It wouldn’t do for a spelling bee champion to be photographed for the newspaper or filmed for the television news wearing a hang tag coated in gore.
Hannah noticed that many of the contestants’ seats on the riser were empty. While it still wasn’t yet one o’clock, she knew that these kids were mostly the enthusiastic sort who showed up early. While a few more might show up in the next few minutes, it looked like there would be a lot of no-shows.