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Chapter no 28 – NATALIE

The Coworker

I’VE GOT another interview in the late afternoon to promote the 5K, this one for a local radio station. My head isn’t entirely in the game, but it’ll be a good distraction. I’ve been doing sales calls all morning and haven’t made one sale. But I can do an interview in my sleep. I’ve been told that I have a nice speaking voice. Someone once told me I should do voice-overs.

I was supposed to get a call from Rita Duke at four, but when it’s a quarter past and I still haven’t gotten the call, I find her number in my address book. Maybe I got the time wrong. Although I’ve got it written on my calendar. I don’t usually make mistakes like that.

After several rings, I’m certain the call will go to voicemail, but then Rita picks up. “Natalie?”

“Hi, Rita!” I chirp into the phone. “Weren’t we supposed to record the interview at two? Did I get it wrong?”

“No…” She’s quiet for a moment. “I guess I just assumed you didn’t want to do it anymore since your coworker…” She drops her voice several notches. “You know, was killed.”

I’m not surprised she knows about Dawn. It’s been all over the news today, since her body turned up. “Actually, I thought we could talk about

that during the interview. We’re raising money for cerebral palsy, but now we’re also going to be running in Dawn’s honor.”

She’s quiet for so long that I almost think she’s hung up. Finally, she says, “Really? Do you think that’s in good taste?”

“In good taste? What are you talking about? Dawn was brutally murdered and the killer is still out there. This will draw more awareness— maybe it will lead to finding the bastard who did this to her.”

“Natalie, do you know what everybody is saying on the internet?” I get a horrible sinking feeling in my stomach. “What?”

“Your company is trending.” Rita says it like it’s a big deal. “Everybody is saying that Dawn was severely bullied by the staff who work there. It’s all over the place.”

I grab my phone and bring up my Twitter feed. “What should I search for?”

“Hashtag VixedBullies.” Oh God.

“It’s not true,” I say to Rita. “It’s just a horrible rumor. You know how these things get started.”

“Uh-huh…”

“I liked Dawn.” My voice sounds almost whiny, but I can’t help it. “She and I were friends. Good friends. If anything, I protected her from other people bullying her. She was different, you know? But I liked that about her. I liked that she was different.”

“I get it,” Rita says, “but I just feel like the climate is wrong right now. I can’t take the side of the enemy, you know?”

“I’m not the enemy!” I want to pound my fists on my desk. “I’m the one who found out she was missing in the first place!”

“Yeah, I saw a post mentioning that.” Rita coughs. “It was hashtag suspicious.”

I’m too stunned to speak. It takes a second for my voice to come back to me. “You know, I have an alibi for the night she disappeared.”

“I’m sure you do,” Rita says vaguely. “Look, I just don’t think it’s a good idea to do this interview right now. But I hope it all works out for you, Natalie.”

“Gosh, thanks, Rita. I appreciate your support.”

Before she can respond, I hang up the phone. That was unbelievable. Rita has been interviewing me every single year since I started doing the

5K. I thought we were friends. I can’t believe she would hang me out to dry like that after just a hint of a rumor.

Now that I’m off the phone, I have to see what Rita was talking about. I bring up my Twitter feed, and I type in the hashtag.

Oh no. This is worse than I thought.

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