The Scheherazade Curse sample chapter
Chapter 6 -- www.synchroforums.com
  On Tuesday after school, Karina Kowalski waited impatiently for Amity, Brit, Emily
Renée, and Sarah to arrive. Their mothers had volunteered to be the Jazzicals
Annual End-Of-Season Banquet Decorating Committee and were holding their first
planning meeting at the Kowalski home.

  Karina sat in front of her mother’s computer catching up on the hundreds of entries
on www.synchroforums.com. She had finished her homework during her first day
back at school after the Paris trip, in spite of the jetlag that tempted her throughout
the long day to lay her head down on her desk and sleep.

  “At least we’re done for the season and I can take a few days off skating.” Karina
spoke out loud to the monitor as she scrolled up and down the threads.

  As a young child, Karina had been labeled “gifted” by her teachers at the renowned
Ravenscroft Academy in Raleigh. But her advanced vocabulary and bookish
mannerisms intimidated other children, and her physical awkwardness, short
stature, and slight chubbiness increased her social isolation. Concerned, her
parents had consulted a child psychologist, who suggested that they involve little
Karina in a sport.

  “I have a friend. Her name is Dr. Michaela Milani,” said the psychologist. “She’s in
charge of that new sports complex out near the Research Triangle Park. She’s a
child psychologist, too, really good with kids. Why don’t you enroll Karina in ice
skating lessons?”

  To her parents’ delight, Karina discovered that learning jumps and spins was just
as interesting as learning French and mathematics. Then Dr. Milani suggested that
seven year-old Karina join the recreational Jazzicals precision skating team, and by
the end of the first season, the redheaded bookworm had become a lively social
butterfly.

  When she was ten years old, Karina was told that her father had cancer. “He’ll be
OK, right, Mom?” she had asked, and Nora Kowalski nodded reassuringly.

  Three years later, over one hundred Jazzicals skaters attended Dr. Craig Kowalski’
s funeral. And Karina announced that she would devote her life to serious study,
become a doctor, and discover the cure for cancer.

  A few months after the funeral, still struggling with her own overwhelming grief and
loneliness, Nora Kowalski received a phone call from thirteen year-old Amity Wilson.
Later that day in the Wake Medical Center cafeteria, the woman doctor met with
Amity, Brit, Emily Renée, and Sarah, who spoke in solemn voices about their friend
Karina.

  “She’s the best skater on Novice and we love her like a sister,” said Amity, as she
touched Nora’s arm. “But she’s so serious now. She uses big words and half the
time we can’t understand what she’s talking about. A lot of the other girls on the team
think she’s weird. We try to defend her, but…”

  Nora’s throat tightened as Sarah spoke up. “Dr. Kowalski, I think I know how Karina
feels right now. When I first joined Jazzicals, I was so shy that I acted a little weird,
too. I was afraid to touch the other girls even when we were doing precision
maneuvers. I felt different from everyone else because I was the only Jewish skater
on the team and my parents were poor compared to a lot of the other parents. Karina
feels different because her dad died. Maybe that’s why she acts weird.”

  “My daddy and mama pray for you and her,” added Emily Renée in a soft voice. “My
daddy says that it takes two to five years to recover from the death of a loved one and
that we should always try to help you and Karina if we can. He suggested that we
meet with you.”

  Brit’s dark eyes flashed dramatically. “Karina is our friend, our synchro sister, and
we’ll stand by her no matter what. That’s what teams do. But we don’t know what to
do to help her. Just tell us what to do and we’ll do it.”

  At that point the woman doctor broke down and cried, and the young girls
responded by gathering around her and hugging her, crying with her. Brit claimed
that the Jazzicals Team Hug had been created that day.

  That night, Nora went to Michaela Milani and begged her to help Karina. “I know you
don’t accept patients who are also on your teams because of conflict of interests. But
Michaela, you and I are best friends. And Karina loves you. Please, can’t you find a
way to help my daughter?”

  Michaela worked with Karina on and off ice to bring her out of her self-imposed
shell of isolated study. Amity, Sarah, Emily Renée, and Brit worked just as hard to
keep Karina involved with the real world of teenagers. Six months later, Karina
occasionally used big words and demonstrated advanced knowledge of many
school subjects, but she was once again accepted by most of her teammates.

  Karina leaned her chin on her hands as she read the posts under the “Paris
Trophy” thread. A link to the article in
Okapi had been posted, along with an English
translation. The discussion about the “Scheherazade Curse” and the Novice
Jazzicals team was lively, and Karina winced as she spotted Brit’s entry posted
under the name “SynchroBee.”

  “Oh, Brit.” Karina shook her head and murmured under her breath. “You know it’s
against the rules for Jazzicals to post on the forum.”

  But among all the messages of congratulations to the Novice Jazzicals, as well as
the criticisms of their program, dresses, and music, and predictions about the next
season, Karina discovered a very strange post. She ran down the hall to her
bedroom to retrieve the dog-eared copy of
Ciphers and Secret Codes for Young
Detectives
that her father had given her for her tenth birthday. Just as she sat down to
work on the message, she heard the doorbell.

  Karina tossed the book on the desk, ran down the stairs, opened the front door,
and helped her mother welcome their guests. The mothers proceeded to the dining
room table and pulled out catalogues of party decorations.

  While the mothers chatted about the upcoming banquet, Karina turned to her
friends. “Girls, come up to the study with me right away.”

  The five friends raced up the stairs of the contemporary home on Shelley Lake
where Karina and her mother lived.

  “Did you see my post on the synchroforums?” asked Brit, as the girls gathered
around the computer.

  Amity frowned. “I saw it this morning. Brit, you know it’s against the rules for
Jazzicals to post. Coach Michaela could kick you off the team.”

  Brit laughed. “No way. Besides, I never say anything negative.”

  Sarah rolled her eyes. “What is it, Karina? What did you find?”

  “Look at this.” Karina highlighted a message.

         Aladdin loved Scheherazade. Come back to Paris. I want to see you again.

  Emily Renée frowned. “Who’s Aladdin? Some French boy who liked us?”

  Karina shrugged. “I know that Aladdin is probably the most famous story that
Scheherazade told in the
Arabian Nights. But I don’t know what it has to do with
Jazzicals. Do you know if anyone in Jazzicals has a boyfriend named Aladdin?”

  Brit’s dark eyes narrowed. “There’s no one named Aladdin. And none of the teams
except us are skating to Eastern music.”

  Amity frowned. “How about Coach Michaela? Does she have a new boyfriend yet?”

  Emily Renée shook her head. “She broke up with Don last week, right before the
Paris Trophy Competition. She’s still pretty upset about it. Emma Ruth told me
Coach Michaela was crying before Senior practice this morning.”

  “That’s so sad.” Sarah leaned back and tried to scratch under her cast. “Karina, do
you have any idea what this message means? It’s weird.”

  Amity agreed. “It doesn’t seem to fit in with all the other messages.”

  Karina was about to answer when Dr. Kowalski called for the girls to come
downstairs right away. When they entered the living room, the five friends were
surprised to see a stranger standing next to the fireplace.

  Karina studied the tall, gray-blond man.
Spooky eyes. Contacts? No, they’re real.
Definitely a runner. A dancer? That’s ludicrous. But it’s possible. Not a skater, too tall.
And those bulges under his jacket…he’s carrying guns. A cop!

  Then she noticed the white card in his hand.

  Oh, my God, a Worldpol Officer! Strange…he’s wearing kids’ friendship bracelets,
including one of the Jazzicals bracelets that Coach Michaela makes. I wonder if she
gave it to him? He must have talked to her about…about what? Jazzicals?

  Karina decided to take a chance. “Officer, why is Worldpol interested in Jazzicals?
Is someone on the team in trouble?”

  “Cool, Karina,” said Brit.

  The man’s eyes widened. Then he held out the white card that identified him as a
Worldpol Officer and pointed to the Jazzicals friendship bracelet on his left wrist.
“Great deductions. I’m impressed.”

  “Karina’s really smart, sir,” said Amity. “Just like Sherlock Holmes. We always ask
her to help us with problems.”

  “She can see things about people,” said Emily Renée. “It’s spooky. When I first met
her, I actually thought she was psychic. But she says it’s just logic.”

  Nora sighed. “Officer, I tried to warn you about her. This is my daughter, Karina, and
her friends, Brit, Amity, Sarah, and Emily Renée.” Nora turned to the girls. “This is
Officer Chuck Zander. You’re right, Karina, he’s with Worldpol. He’s here about the
trip to Paris.”

  The girls huddled together and Sarah’s voice trembled as she asked, “Are we in
trouble, sir?”

  Zander’s eyes crinkled at the corners. “Hey, everyone. Nice to meet you all. Don’t be
scared, Sarah. No one on Jazzicals has done anything wrong and I’m not here to put
anyone in jail.”

  “You’re from North Carolina,” said Karina. “But you haven’t lived here in a long time,
have you?”

  “Karina,” cautioned Nora. “Not now…”

  Brit interrupted. “It’s his accent, right, Karina?”

  “Yes, he has a slight Southern accent. And he said hey instead of hi.”

  “And ‘you all’.” Emily Renée frowned. “But Karina, how did you know he was from
North Carolina instead of another Southern state? And how did you know he hasn’t
lived here in a long time?”

  “The way he pronounces his vowels. All the Southern states have different vowels. I
have some tapes that Brit gave me from the community theater with various United
States accents and idioms. But even though he has a Southern drawl, it’s very faint,
so I deduce that he hasn’t lived in Raleigh recently.” Karina looked at Zander. “Of
course, sometimes I’m wrong, sir.”

  “You’re absolutely right, Karina,” said Zander. “I grew up in Raleigh. Now I live in
Washington. Actually I live all around the world.”

  Karina’s eyes glowed. “Wow. By any chance, are you related to that wealthy Zander
family that owns the office supply business in Raleigh and lives in that huge
mansion with the wrap-around veranda?”

  “I’m their only son.” Zander studied the teenager curiously.

  “Cool! I’ve seen that house from the road,” said Brit. “The paper had an article
about a dance they had there, and the guests danced around and around the
veranda while the orchestra played. You’re so lucky, Officer Zander.”

  “I’m surprised you’re not in business with your parents, sir, since you’re their sole
heir,” said Karina.

  Nora cleared her throat. “That’s enough detective work, Karina. Officer Zander,
perhaps you should explain why you’re here.”

  Zander nodded. “There will be a meeting Saturday night at Dr. Michaela Milani’s
home at eight P.M. It’s a matter of United States security, and I’m requesting all
Jazzicals Novice team members and their parents to attend.”

  Mothers and daughters looked at each other. Brit finally broke the silence. “Mom,
don’t blame us. We honestly don’t know anything about this.”

  “It’s OK, sweeties.” Angela Mozzarelli twisted her North Carolina State University
sweatshirt between her fingers. “Officer Zander, is it alright if we bring our husbands
to the meeting on Saturday? Vincent will want to be there.”

  “Of course, ladies.” He stopped when he saw Nora and Karina glance at each
other.

  “My father died last year, sir,” said Karina boldly. “It’s just me and Mom.”

  “I see. I’m sorry.”

  “Don’t worry about it,” said Nora. “We’ll be at Michaela’s house for the meeting,
Officer. I’m scheduled for call that night, but I’ll switch with someone at the hospital.”

  “Can’t you tell us anything else, sir?” Shirley Wilson stepped forward. “I’m a lawyer
and I’m used to getting a little more information. Are you sure that we aren’t in
trouble? Or our girls?”

  “You aren’t in trouble, ma’am.”

  “Are the girls in any danger?” Ruth Goldman spoke in a whisper as she leaned on
the back of a chair for support.

  “No, ma’am. I’ll see you all on Saturday.”

  Karina watched Zander walk to the door.
Definitely a dancer. Then the idea came to
her.
He would be such a cool dad. She glanced at his left hand. Single.

  Zander surprised Karina when he turned around and asked, “Do you like
Ravenscroft Academy, Karina?”

  “Yes, sir. How…?” She looked at her friends, who shook their heads and shrugged.
Then she snapped her finger. “You saw the Honors Certificate on the mantel.”

  “That’s right. When you go to school tomorrow, find an old Class of 1976 yearbook.
Look up the Z’s.”

  “You went to Ravenscroft, too?”

  He nodded. “Is Mr. Bennigan still around?”

  “He retired last year.”

  “He was old when I was there. I always liked him.”

  “He was a good history teacher.” Then she took a deep breath. “Sir, did you take
lessons to learn to dance or learn by experience?”

  “Karina!” said Nora, and the girls giggled.

  Zander grinned. “Honest, it’s OK, Dr. Kowalski.”

  Brit clapped her hands together. “Are you really a dancer, Officer Zander? I’m a
dancer, too.”

  “I love to dance, Brit. When I was growing up, my mama made me go to the
Cotillion Club every Saturday morning so I would learn to be a gentleman at social
affairs. I used to hate it and try to sneak out, but when I got older, I got more
interested, and took ballet and other dance classes all through high school. Now I’m
glad I learned. How did you guess, Karina?”

  “It wasn’t a guess. You walk like a dancer.”

  “Karina!” Embarrassed, Nora put her face in her hands and groaned. “Oh, God, I
am so sorry, Officer.”

  The girls laughed, and Zander smiled at them. “Don’t worry, I think I know what
Karina means.”

  “Oh, I don’t mean…” Karina blushed. “I just mean that you stand tall and elegant
and you walk the same way, like a cat. The people I know who walk like that are
dancers like Brit or Coach Michaela.”

  Brit nodded. “We learn about stance and posture in dance classes. And Coach
Michaela’s a good dancer. She taught us how to swing dance and waltz and do other
dances that help us in our Jazzicals programs.”

  “No wonder your teams win. I saw the display of trophies at the Complex.” Zander
smiled again as he opened the front door. “Good night, ladies. See you Saturday.”
He shut the door quietly.

  “Oh, dear God!” Mrs. Goldman collapsed into the chair. “What’s going on? Will
someone please tell me what’s going on?”

  “It’s OK, Ruth, it’s OK.” Mary Long knelt in front of Mrs. Goldman’s chair and held
her friend’s hands. “Calm down. Don’t worry.”

  Nora frowned and shook her head. “How puzzling. I wish he would have given us a
little more information instead of touting his dance acumen.”

  Mrs. Wilson nodded. “I guess we just have to wait until Saturday to find out what’s
going on.”

  “Let’s pretend we’re waiting for an important competition.” Amity tried to smile. “It
will help us get through the rest of the week.”

  Nora nodded. “Good idea, Amity. About the only thing we can do is wait. Ladies,
why don’t we get back to our decoration meeting? And girls, do what Amity
suggested and pretend like it’s a competition. Probably the meeting is nothing
important. Maybe there was a drug smuggler on our plane, and Officer Zander has to
question us all.”

  “We’ll find out Saturday.” Mrs. Mozzarelli pulled Mrs. Goldman to her feet. “In the
meantime, we have decorations to plan. Or the Jazzicals Banquet will be a pretty sad-
looking affair this year.”

  After the meeting, Nora and Karina waved good-bye to the girls and their mothers.
Then Nora turned to her daughter. “I don’t know about you, but I found it hard to
believe that Chuck Zander is actually a Worldpol Officer. He seemed somewhat
immature.”

  “I disagree. He was at least forty. And I thought he was nice. And smart. And funny.
And he’s handsome, don’t you think?”

  “Too tall and buff for my taste. He looks like a fitness fanatic. Of course, he has to
be, for his job.” Nora paused, then continued in a softer voice. “You might be
interested to know that he was cut out of his parents’ will, even though he’s an only
child.”

  “He was? Why?”

  “I’m not sure. When your father was still healthy, we did a little socializing with the
high society crowd, and I remember hearing some gossip. Don’t repeat this to the
other girls, OK? We don’t know the details, so it’s best not spoken of. I only told you
because you asked him about it. I thought you might want to know for future
reference, so you’ll not embarrass yourself or him.”

  “I won’t say anything to anyone. He seemed so nice. And he was single. Did you
notice?”

  “No, I didn’t notice. Now don’t you go getting ideas, sweetheart. I’m not interested in
a Worldpol Officer who might get killed by this time next week.”

  “Mom! What a terrible thing to say!”

  “It’s true. I’ve read in the
CDC Morbidity and Mortality Report that Worldpol has the
highest casualty rate of any of the law enforcement agencies. Worldpol statistics are
depressing. The Officers all take some kind of Death Oath. Go look it up online. You'll
see.”

  Karina sighed. “Oh, well. And he was so fascinating.” She threw herself into an
armchair and closed her eyes. “Why do all the nice men have to die?”

  Nora’s hands trembled as she stroked Karina’s red hair. “Karina, honey, I’m not
interested in Officer Zander and I doubt he would ever be interested in me. A man
like him probably knows glamorous women all over the world. But maybe you can
still be friends with him. He seemed impressed with you and that Sherlock Holmes
mind of yours. Maybe we can ask him if it’s OK for you to write him occasionally.”

  Karina stood up and hugged her mother. “That would be awesome! You really think
he liked me, Mom? It almost felt as though we were playing a game, trying to see
who could deduce more. It was fun. And he didn’t seem to think I was peculiar or
geeky like some kids do. Wouldn’t it be cool if I could write him or email him and ask
him about his work? Oh, I can’t wait until Saturday night!”