Patricia C. Behnke Finishes Third Novel
Tuesday, December 28, 2004 5:37:00 PM
by Patricia C Behnke
|Developers do not always win, even in Florida in Patricia C. Behnke's newest novel, Sweet Lady.
One fiesty reporter in north Florida takes on the big developers and brings down their plans to put a landing strip in the middle of a small Florida town. Bombs, dead armadillos, and murdered gopher tortoises all lead to one combustible result.
And this time the little guy wins.
By Patricia C. Behnke
The bomb sat in a bag on Kelly Sands’ desk for an hour before she noticed it.
She did not see the white shopping bag because she had a deadline to meet, and tunnel vision ruled when the clock ticked toward the newspaper’s witching hour.
The rest of the debris on her desk also prevented her from noticing anything new. Two stained cups still holding cold coffee from the morning sat next to a pile of files on long-term stories she kept meaning to investigate. A box that once contained donuts lay on top of the papers.
Even if she had noticed the Dillard’s shopping bag, it wouldn’t have registered as anything unusual. Her colleagues were always depositing things on each other’s desks, either from absentmindedness or from the numbing blindness of a daily paper’s deadline focus.
The Braidwood Tribune went to press at eleven most nights. Kelly glanced at the clock on the wall ticking away the minutes as she put the finishing touches on the story she had begun on her laptop at the meeting.
The Commission meeting she had sped from before it was even over had brought out over a hundred residents from around Zion County to Calloway, a town ten miles from Braidwood.
Five commissioners representing 6,000 residents had decided to annex into Calloway 2,000 acres of land, one of the last tracts of farmland remaining in the county.
The annexation bothered some of the residents who believed the increased acreage into Calloway would stress already limited city services such as sewer and water.
Buddy Tills had owned most of the 2,000 acres for several decades, but he had been selling off small parcels over the last several months. The rumor mill kept coming back to Industrial Pines as the developer of the property.
Just the name Industrial Pines evoked fear because they were a company that developed in Florida with little regard to anything but its own profits. BJ Winters, president of the giant company, attended all the public hearings, but phone calls to him from Kelly had gone unreturned. She had hoped to corner him after the annexation meeting, but it had run over her deadline, and she had to leave without accosting him in the parking lot.
Now Kelly had to write a fair, impartial article on a controversial annexation in Calloway in less than an hour. She knew if she didn’t get it down to bare bones reporting, the night editor would hack away at the piece until it fit into a twelve-inch space on the first page of the local section.
Kelly would be thirty-five in a few months, but she still looked like she was in her twenties. Her long black hair contrasted with her light blue eyes, unusual in their intensity for such a translucent color. She was a tall 5’4” because she held her head high and kept her shoulders back. She learned to walk that way as a teenager to show the world she was brave even when she trembled inside.
Thirty-five seemed like a milestone birthday to her. She had worked hard and earned a decent position with The Tribune yet she hadn’t accomplished much else in her life, except a divorce from Jerry, someone she dated in college. The marriage lasted only two years. Her parents, who lived in Palm Beach, could not understand why she had not finished law school. It disappointed them that she had settled for the job of a reporter. Her father, the pediatrician, couldn’t understand why she would work so hard for so little money.
But her father did not understand what happened to her when she first caught the newspaper bug. She had never gotten it out of her system after she worked on the University of Braidwood’s student newspaper throughout her undergraduate years.
After she received her bachelors’ degree, she struggled through one year of law school, hating every minute of it, even more so because she no longer had time to write for the paper.
When she finished the article with five minutes to spare, she rubbed her eyes and then saw the bag for the first time. Carl Handler, a fellow reporter and friend, came by her desk and looked over her shoulder.
“What are you doing here so late?” Kelly asked him.
“I had that forum for the school board election tonight,” Carl said. “What’d you buy? A new set of knives to slice the fat off the developer’s work out in Calloway?” he asked.
“Must be a secret admirer,” Kelly said as she pulled out the tissue paper tucked in the top of the bag.
“What is it?” Carl asked as Kelly stared at the contents of the package.
Kelly motioned for him to take a look. “It can’t be what I think it is.”
Carl and Kelly stood with the shopping bag between them. Kelly held the handles wide enough apart for them to get a good look at the contents. Neither of them had ever seen a real bomb, but both knew enough to recognize that the plastic pipe with the small digital timer and battery attached with duct tape could not be anything else.