Wednesday, March 11, 2015

"The Message" March Excerpt - Mary A. Berger

The Message is my latest launch into the happenings of my “go-to” gal, Mattie Mitchell, who discovers that the Internet can be a dangerous place. Mattie and gal-pal, Clare, two spunky mid-lifers, discover a mysterious message on a laptop. Here’s how things begin:

“Clare, put that back. You don’t need a thermos bottle and you know it.”
“But it might come in handy for some of my special four o’clock brew.”
Mattie Mitchell and her pal Clare Tibbitts were rummaging through donations at Hastings House, a thrift shop where they both volunteered. The women never knew what items might show up. Donations ranged from a size petite woman’s dress form to old clocks that hadn’t run since 1810. Once they even came across a set of dentures.
Nothing in today’s articles seemed out of the ordinary, until they noticed a laptop computer someone had dropped off. Unusual, Mattie thought. She knew most people ditched their computers at a recycling center or took them back to the shop for repair.
She considered taking a closer look. Except for shooting out email messages with proficiency, she and Clare remained clueless about computers. However, Mattie’s curiosity got the best of her. To her surprise, when she plugged in the computer and lifted the lid, it actually came to life. After randomly tapping a couple of keys, the screen appeared clear.
Then she saw it.
“Hmm, what’s this?”
“What is it, Matts? What’d you find?”
“I’m not sure but it seems odd. Something about getting in touch with someone right away. Could’ve been an email.”
“Good thing you’re not nosy.” Clare peered over her pal’s shoulder. “Let’s have a look. Maybe I can help”
“Now who’s being nosy? Well, go ahead, Einstein. I mean, you know as much about computers as —“
“As you do?”
The message appeared again but was gone in an instant. Clare could only catch a quick glance at the screen. She made a face that lit up like a child getting an ice cream cone. “There was definitely something there,” she said. “Probably a love letter for me.”
“Yeah, right. From one of your stud boyfriends.”
“Jealous?” Clare said with a mocking sniff before turning back to the laptop. “It’s probably only gibberish anyway. But this is what I like about you, Mrs. Mitchell. Can’t let anything slide by, can you?”
“Not if it’s for a good cause.”
Everyone who knew Mattie knew she’d go to almost any length to do the right thing for the right reason—at times even risking her life. But she lived by her wits, somewhat like the proverbial cat with the nine lives. In fact, one day when Mattie was in her thirties and worked at a bank, she heard shouting in the lobby. It was near closing time. A man stood with a gun aimed at a teller.
“The money!” he demanded. “Gimme the money—now!” She was witnessing a robbery! Without thinking, she hoisted a fire extinguisher from the wall in her office, ran up behind the would-be robber, and doused him with foam. A teller called the police, and a late customer jumped the man and held him down until the officers arrived. Mattie realized her actions were questionable. Brave, yes; smart, not so much.
Staring once more at the laptop, Mattie said “You’d think people would clear out a computer before ditching it.” She glanced over at the woman who was in charge that day. “Betty, know anything about this computer?”
“Oh, some woman dropped it off. Said it was broken and she didn’t want anything more to do with it.” Betty frowned and added, “Kind of an odd acting woman too.” With a shrug, she said, “The owners told me to get rid of it. No one here wants to work on a dead computer.” She returned to some filing.
         By this time, Mattie was hooked. An odd acting woman and a computer with a mysterious message . . . the perfect combination for giving her goose bumps and stirring her curiosity like wild fire.