Title: AGAINST MY BETTER JUDGMENT (formerly Chronicles of a Wineaux: Chicken Soup Can't Heal Cell Phones)
Category/genre: NA Mystery
Author: Erica Sumner
Editor: Cynthia T. Luna
Original version here.
I should have called the cops from day one.
Until GBA490, graduating with honors from the University of Alabama was going to be easier than taking my lovable dachshund, Mauzzy, out for a walk. Now, I’m sitting in an interrogation room with visions of bunking with Big Betty for the next five to ten years (wearing—gag— government-issue orange).
Yet another Sara Donovan mess not entirely of my making. First, imagine the hardest course you could ever take, and then imagine taking it while being waterboarded. Yeah. That’s GBA490. Then, a mistake halfway around the world put me in the crosshairs of an international smuggling ring, and the FBI. So, now I look like some kind of smuggling mastermind (which, for the record, I am not)!
And did I mention Connor, the dorky-hot teaching assistant with pool-blue eyes who moved in next door?
It’s enough to drive any college senior to drink cheap wine and make snap decisions. And once I get on the Snap Decision Trainwreck… Yeah.
As far back as I can remember, people have said I can be stubborn and hardheaded. I prefer the word passionate.
I just do and see things my own way, which at times has created a few minor issues. But it’s me being me, not stubborn or hardheaded, just being true to myself. Passionate. In time, Mom embraced my independence, as she preferred to call it, and said I was going to make a difference in the world.
Now, I’m wondering what kind of difference. My name is Sara Donovan. I’m a senior at the University of Alabama with an ever-decreasing chance of graduating this semester; I live in such a questionable area that you can’t go a block without running into a police cruiser, a druggie, or both; and I can’t ever seem to get anywhere on time.
So, when I can’t even get a brand-new plug-and-play printer to play when I plugged it into my laptop, yeah, I’m thinking real hard about ditching that independent drummer of mine and taking up something else—like the glockenspiel. Otherwise, kiss graduation this Spring goodbye.
“Thanks, Dad! It’s working!”
I look at the phone’s display. I’ve been on the phone with Dad for exactly twenty-two seconds of small talk and sixty-eight minutes of setting up my new printer. Although it’s not a personal record as far as “Tech 911” calls go, it’s definitely top five.
“Good. Here’s your mother.”
I hear the phone being passed, followed by grumbling fading away in the background.
“Hi, Sara,” Mom says.
“Hi, Mom. That was a lot of fun.”
“Don’t worry about it. Your dad gets frustrated trying to fix computer problems over the phone. If you were here in Annapolis he would enjoy it. So, tell me about the rest of your day.”
This Wednesday happened to be a very productive day and I fill Mom in on the tally: two Rosetta Stone French lessons completed, one computer crash; three pictures hung, two smashed fingers; six light bulbs replaced, screwdriver needed; one ten-minute walk with Mauzzy, who’s now sprawled out and snoring in his child recliner, his little dachshund legs straight up in the air; purchased glittery nail polish and removal supplies for later tonight; finished homework at Barnes & Noble, just “Barnes” to us cool kids; bought color ink cartridges for the printer; and of course, the freaking printer itself.
“Sounds like you’ve been very busy.”
“Yep,” I say proudly, reaching into the refrigerator for a vanilla yogurt. “Not bad for going to bed at three this morning, right?”
I close the fridge and in three steps, I’m in the living room. Dropping down on the couch, I use the laptop to bulldoze space on the coffee table for my yogurt.
“And why was that?”
“I started doing research for my Egyptology class project and I kinda lost track of time. And speaking of—did you read that Bugler article I sent you? I found it at the library. I know it’s like from five months ago, but both my professor and my boss were quoted in it!”
“I did read it. My daughter keeps very impressive company! You didn’t tell me your work at the museum was so important. I thought you just worked in the gift shop.”
“Yeah, that’s because I do.”
“Oh, so is this—Dr. Gwynne—your boss then? He sounds very important at the museum.”
“Well, boss might be an exaggeration. He’s a head honcho, but he’ll breeze through the gift shop or ask me what I think about the shop’s new inventory.” I eye my own latest gift shop acquisition, a colorful souvenir funeral mask sitting next to the laptop, and shove it away from its precarious perch on the table edge. “He’s a bit up in himself, but he’s done well upgrading the Dauphin’s antiquity collections so I guess I shouldn't fault him.”
“And your professor, Sawalha! He sounds like a regular Indiana Jones!”
“His class is by far my favorite—speaking of which, I gotta go, Mom. I have to get back on my research project. Only two months before my one-on-one presentation with Dr. Sawalha.”
“Okay, but please don’t stay up too late. You need your sleep.”
“Okay, Mom, I promise. Loving you.”
“Loving you more!”
“That’s understandable! Bye, Mom!”
Just as I put the phone down, its Beauty and the Beast ringtone starts singing.
I answer the call with just a glance at the display. “Hello.”
“I believe you have something of mine.” The distorted voice was tinny, almost electronic sounding.
“Who is this?” I quickly look at the phone display again. It just says Private. “Wait, is this JT?”
“My dear, you have something of mine and I want it back.”
“JT, I know it’s you. And—no, my V-card is mine, not yours, mister. Like I told you last week, last month, and all semester, you’re not getting the goodies. Just because you’re always fixing my laptop doesn’t mean you get my V-card.”
There’s a long pause on the other side of the line.
“My dear, I am not—JT.”
“My dear? What’s with all these ‘my dears’? Are you back on that dorky sophisticate deal,” I shoot back. JT was a nice enough guy, but not really my type—a tad too geeky, bordering on the weird. At the beginning of the semester, I ran into JT at the Houndstooth Pub and too many tequila shots later, he ended up fixing more than just my laptop. Even though I told him the next day it was just one time, he would call every now and again to see if I had anything that needed “fixing”.
“Pardon, perhaps this is not Sara Donovan to whom I am speaking?”
“Perhaps it is, but you know that. C’mon JT, Mr. Wannabe-Renaissance Man, quit fooling around.” Some people just don’t quit—and JT was clearly one of those people.
“I am not… I do not want your—V-card? You have—”
“What else would you want besides getting in my pants?”
Another long pause.
“I do not want to get into your—pants. I do not want your V-card. I do not—”
“Well then, why are you calling me yet again, JT? Drop the act, I can tell it’s you and—”
“Stop!” the voice says, followed by a long, heavy sigh.
“Oh, so now you’re breathing heavy into the phone? That’s just gross. I have to go. I have to get back on my research project, and you need to get back to work. I’m sure the Geek Squad is just the Squad without your presence.”
A very long pause. No heavy breathing. No garbled voice. Just silence.
“Hello?” I look at the phone display. He’s still there, probably hatching up another geek scheme for the goods. “JT?”
Finally, the voice breaks the silence. “So tedious.”
“You’re telling me!”
“Hello, JT? Did I finally lose you?”
I stare at the phone display. He’s gone.
“That was interesting, huh, Mauz?”
No response, but I didn’t really expect one. He’s comatose. The perfect study buddy.
After opening the resurgent laptop, I spend the next thirty minutes surfing the net to get more information for my Egyptology research project. The course number is CL380 but I just call it Egyptology. And what I’m finding is nuts! Private collectors and museums are willing to pay tremendous amounts of money for antiquities and primitive art. One piece, a Cycladic marble reclining figure from 2400 B.C., was sold at auction for over sixteen million dollars. Sixteen million! This stuff makes people go crazy. Even fragments of pieces—like heads broken off from statues—are sold for millions. A piece of crap Achaemenid limestone relief fragment from the 5th century B.C. sold for almost one million pounds, that’s close to two million dollars in real money. For something that’s broken!
I pick up my new souvenir and stare at it. It’s an Egyptian funeral mask painted in gold with a big headdress, huge black oval eyes, thick arching black eyebrows, wide Dumbo-like ears, a full-lipped smirk, and very colorful necklace. It may look gaudy, but there’s something about the colors that make it pop. I put it back down. Even in the middle of a very crowded table, it stands out. And in my book, that’s a good thing.
I’m about to click on a link about a famous statue of Queen Nefertari called the White Queen and the Master of Berlin when my phone sings. It’s Edna Martin, the Assistant Manager and my supervisor at the Dauphin Museum’s gift shop where I work on weekends.
“Edna? Is everything alright?” I ask hesitantly.
“Um, yes, I mean, no. Sara, I just got off the phone with Karen. She said Mrs. Bagley is quite angry. And for that matter, Karen is too. She’s blaming you for Mrs. Bagley yelling at her.”
Karen works weekdays at the gift shop and Mrs. Bagley is a sixth-grade teacher and one of our best customers.
I jump up out of the sofa, my left knee sending a seismic tremor through the coffee table.
“Blaming me? Mrs. Bagley? Why—”
“She told Karen her order was wrong. I told you she was supposed to get a funeral mask. But Karen is saying that when Mrs. Bagley got home and opened the package, it was an Anubis statue. Not a funeral mask. And she said Mrs. Bagley is adamant she needs the mask by Monday for a new Egyptian segment that she’s starting. Sara, did you put a funeral mask in Karen’s bin for Mrs. Bagley or not?"