Today's Reading

Jackie introduced herself. They'd met numerous times at library special events, but he couldn't be expected to remember all of the employees in his charge, especially in the aftermath of a traumatic event.

"Sam Santoro's daughter, I remember now."

Even a bomb with multiple fatalities couldn't erase that fact from Vogel's mind. The man had had the audacity to attend the funeral as if he'd forgotten his role in her father's untimely demise.

"A lady is a lady no matter the circumstances." Her mother's voice shouted in her ears. "Only Jesus is perfect. Forgive, seventy times seven." "Yes, sir."

He nodded, but his gaze shifted over her shoulder toward the command center set up by Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and shared by the FBI, San Antonio Police Department, and Homeland Security Investigations. "Are you all right?"

"Yes, sir. Are you?"

Surprise flashed across his face. He probably thought his Teflon coating made him Superman. Couldn't a lowly librarian see that? "Of course. I have to go. Take care of yourself."

"You too, sir." It was nice of him to stop long enough to say the words. He managed a city of 1.3 million citizens, and ultimately he was responsible for their safety. "Here, take this blanket. You're freezing."

His hands remained at his sides. Jackie arranged it across his beefy shoulders. "It's okay, I'll get another one. Go."

"People are dead."

"I know, sir. Do the police have any idea who did this?"
 
"Lots of ideas. All conjecture." Vogel reached for the blanket. His hands were shaking. "Rest assured, we will get whoever did it. My wife could've been killed. Bill was my friend..." His voice trailed away.

Chief of Police Bill Little? "Is the chief—?"

"I have to go." He brushed past her and trudged, head down, toward the command center.

"This is all your fault."

Jackie whirled at the familiar, shrill voice. Meagan Nobel. Her immediate boss. Meagan's black silk blouse gaped open, revealing a lacy camisole. Either the explosion or a fall had ripped her tight, narrow skirt up to midthigh on the right side. Her shoes were intact but one heel was missing, so she meandered toward Jackie in a hip-hop, drunken fashion. "This debate was your idea. It's your fault."

"What? What are you talking about?" Jackie staggered back from Meagan's pointed forefinger with its long nail lacquered in blood red. Her tone blasted the words for everyone in a one-block radius to hear. "Are you hurt?"

"Oh no, I'm fine and dandy." Meagan swiped at a straggling strand of red hair that covered her hazel eyes. "Milton is dead. Dead. You said it would be fine. You said it would be a great fund-raiser. I told you it was political dynamite. I never thought it would be actual dynamite."

Milton Schaeffer, San Antonio Library Foundation board chairman and number-one donor recruiter, lay in one of those body bags.

Her fault. All her fault. Jackie threw her hands up, but she couldn't stop the spewing words. Would Mercedes and Mateo Diaz hold her responsible for their daughter's death too? Was she responsible? "His wife...is his wife okay?"

"Injured. On her way to University's trauma center right now. The downtown hospitals are full." Meagan projected her ire with such velocity, a fine spray of spittle landed on Jackie's face. "Thank God the director is at an ALA conference this week. At least he's safe. Wait until he hears about this. What was I thinking to trust you with this?"

"I never thought—"

"Of course you never thought. We had our hands full with the Catrina Ball next weekend, and yet you bulldozed your way through every objection because you want what you want and you're always right and you have no respect for the opinions of others. You love the limelight. You're never satisfied with simple signings by local authors. You want the big names, the controversy. 'Intellectual discourse,' you said. 'Civilized conversation,' you said. All along you wanted to make a big splash. You never should have become a librarian."

Of all the accusations spewing from Meagan's mouth, only the last sentence held no kernel of truth. Meagan stopped abruptly. Even she knew she'd gone too far.

Jackie's best friends—aside from Estrella and Bella, who grabbed on to Jackie and refused to let go—were books. She never went anywhere without at least two—one for backup. Church, camping, fishing, basketball games, the bathroom. Everywhere. Her now-lost bag contained Laurie R. King's newest Mary Russell novel and Strands of Truth. "Libraries are meant to be places of intellectual exchange."

"People died."

"I know. My best friend died." To her horror Jackie's voice cracked. She swallowed back tears. "I'll never forgive myself for that."

"You shouldn't. If I could fire you, I would."
...

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