Another piece of Jackie's world crumbled. She'd known since she was eleven that she would be a librarian. It defined her. Going to the library every day to work among thousands of books gave her life not only meaning but joy. "Do what you think is best, Meagan."
"Have you seen either of your guest speakers, by any chance?" Meagan's voice rose so high it hurt Jackie's ears. The pounding in her temples spiked. Her boss didn't seem to notice Jackie was hanging on by a thread. "Have you even looked for them?"
She had but to no avail. "There were more than eight hundred people in there. I'll keep searching for them."
"You'd better pray they weren't hurt. They could sue us, the library director, the city, you, me—"
"Meagan Nobel, are you saying you know who the bomber is?" Bella stepped between them, her back to Jackie. "Bella Glover with the Express-News. Are you saying you think it's a city employee? One of your employees? Are you willing to go on the record with that statement?"
Meagan's face blanched. She stuttered for a few seconds, then drew herself up to her full height—not quite to Jackie's shoulders. "Of course not. You misheard. Don't you dare quote me. All media requests to city officials are being referred to the city hall PIO—"
"I don't want a watered-down news release quote from the city manager. I want the real story from people who were here." Bella swiped at her face with a sodden tissue. "People like me."
Meagan backed away. "I'm not authorized to talk to the media." She pointed at Jackie. "Neither is she."
"She's my friend. I only want to make sure she's okay." Bella wrapped her arm around Jackie and squeezed. "I'm sure HR would love to know that she was being bullied by her superior on the worst day of her life."
The two women locked gazes. Meagan whirled and hip-hopped toward the command center. "If I pick up tomorrow's paper and see you quoted, Jackie, you're gone. Fired for cause." She threw the words over her shoulder, stumbled, regained her balance, and hobbled away.
Meagan always had the last word.
"You didn't have to do that. I'm capable of holding my own with her." Jackie entwined her arm with Bella's. "But thank you."
"I know, honey, you're fearless. You're my hero. I just despise a bully." Bella sank against Jackie. "I can't believe Estrella is dead. My brain—my heart—refuse to accept it. Why? Why her?"
Meagan could suck a lemon. Jackie guided Bella to a folding chair in the Victim Assistance area. Bella had been her roommate at UT-Austin. They'd navigated the collegiate world of keggers, campus politics, and college boys together, and pulled all-nighters at the library. No way would they abandon each other now.
Bella had skinned knees and puncture marks on her hands, bare legs, and arms. Her beaded braids, normally bundled in a ponytail at her neck, lay askew around her face. Her round, sturdy body shook. Tears streaked her mocha-brown cheeks. Jackie draped a blanket around Bella's shoulders and hugged her. "It's okay. Give yourself a minute to recover." She rubbed the other woman's back. "I can't believe you were able to hang on to your backpack throughout the explosion."
"The laptop belongs to the newspaper and I have a job to do." Having served with Bella on the high school newspaper staff, Jackie knew nothing stood in the way of the born-to-write reporter getting her story and finishing it on deadline. She took her Fourth Estate government watchdog responsibilities seriously. "I can't believe I'll never hear Estrella's laugh-snort again. Or hear her screaming, 'Go, Spurs, go' again. Or hear her stupid puns again."
They had been the fearsome threesome in high school. Debate, school newspaper, basketball team. The Three Amigas, as Mateo liked to call them. Jackie drew a shuddering breath. "It's surreal. I keep thinking she'll come bursting out of the building and start giving orders. She would've taken charge of the whole rescue operation."
"I feel terrible, but I have to get the story. People have a right to know what happened and whether there could be more attacks coming." Bella clutched her backpack to her chest. "I can't mourn right now."
"Estrella wouldn't want it any other way. We'll have time to mourn later, when we've figured out who did this."
"Jack, I know that look on your face." Bella shook her head so vigorously the braids flopped and rearranged themselves. "The entire law enforcement community will run with that ball. Whoever did this doesn't have a rat's-behind chance of getting away with it."
"I saw her. I was with Tony when he realized she was dead."
This excerpt ends on page 13 of the paperback edition.
Monday we begin the book No Journey Too Far by Carrie Turansky.