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Tale of the Tape: A Kira Brightwell Short Novel

Tale of the Tape: A Kira Brightwell Short Novel

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A bootleg Nine Inch Nails cassette tape.

Weird thing for Kira to find abandoned by a sewer grate on her way to school.

The hand-drawn NIN logo in marker catches Kira’s eye. Who tossed the tape? And why?

Kira pockets it, of course. Seems a shame to leave it in the gutter. Who knows what kind of extra tracks she might find on it?

...Now she only needs to figure out a way to play the thing.

A twisting, short novel of Kira’s high school past from the Kira Brightwell Quick Cases mystery series.

(This adventure takes place before the Kira Brightwell novel Split Decision.)


“Kira, what are you doing? We’re going to be late!”

Rob’s exasperated voice drifted back to Kira from a few feet ahead.

“And whose fault is that?” Kira grumbled under her breath as she bent down to look at the item that had captured her attention.

The morning air was damp with the scent of rain. Her long, dark ponytail drifted past the shoulder of her windbreaker to brush against her cheek.

No matter how early she got there, she always had to practically drag Rob out of the house to get him going for school every morning as he tried to put off interacting with the outside world for as long as humanly possible.

This morning had been worse than usual.

Rob had overslept. Their friend Whitney was usually good to give them a ride in her ancient boat of a Cadillac, but she had band practice this morning. So now Kira and Rob had been forced to take a shortcut past a former construction site—which had barely broken ground before the developer had gone bankrupt—in an effort to get to class on time.

Chain-link fencing surrounded the failed condo site, plastered with signs depicting the architect’s idealized design, complete with smiling people strolling the sunny, landscaped perimeter. The gate leading to the site hung open, dangling on its hinges in the breeze. Regular traffic had been diverted from the cul-de-sac for months, and people still avoided the area out of habit, even though the road was open again.

Kira reached down to pick up a cassette tape from the precarious edge of a storm drain at the side of the empty road. The white plastic was mud spattered, but relatively dry, considering there had been a storm the night before.

“Ugh,” Rob said as he stopped to look back. He wrinkled his nose. “You stopped to pick up some garbage?”

The remains of the storm’s damp wind ruffled his tangled mass of brown curls above the shoulders of his food-stained hoodie. He had been determined to grow his hair out over the past several months, much to the despair of his mother. But instead of falling, his hair just seemed to get bigger and bigger, like a fluffy, brown helmet. Kira secretly wondered how big it would get before he would finally admit defeat and get it cut. His scuffed laptop bag hung from his shoulder.

“It’s a Nine Inch Nails tape,” she said. She flashed the hand-drawn symbol in black Sharpie that had caught her attention. In addition to the distinctive, rectangle-encased ‘NIN’ logo (complete with a backward, second ‘N’), it also bore the letters ‘PHM’. “Looks like a bootleg of Pretty Hate Machine.”

Nine Inch Nail fans had a tendency to shorten both song titles and album or ‘halo’ titles into initials that almost became like a second language that Kira translated out of habit.

Rob rolled his eyes at her. “You already have everything Trent Reznor’s ever done. What do you need some crappy bootleg tape for?”

Kira shrugged. Rob was right. Her collection included everything Nine Inch Nails in both physical and digital formats. Besides, she didn’t even own a cassette player…

But the white tape stood out like a sore thumb in the grimy mud contributed by the nearby construction site, and the familiar logo had given her pause. She wiped both sides of the cassette against her jacket before pocketing it.

“You never know,” she said. “It could have some extra, live tracks or something. Besides, I think my mom has an old tape deck stored in the basement somewhere…”

Rob uttered a long-suffering sigh. “OK, now can we go? Mr. Travers is gonna kill us if we’re late.”

* * *

In the end, Kira and Rob had to make a run for it. Rob was no athlete, but the threat of facing Mr. Travers’ wrath lent him an extra burst of speed as he clutched his precious laptop bag to his side.

Kira caught up with him easily. Still, she was careful about where she placed her feet. Despite her lean, athletic frame, she was at that awkward stage when she seemed to be all elbows and knees, and sometimes her coordination wasn’t what she would like it to be.

The sounds of Rob’s labored breathing and the slap of their wet sneakers against the pavement were the only sounds as they left the cul-de-sac behind them and neared the school. La Valentia High loomed ahead of them—a sprawling, two-story building of gray stone.

Kira’s green gaze darted instinctively for the bike rack. She stifled a groan. Sure enough, Mr. Travers’ familiar, yellow ten-speed had already been locked up. Even though she knew it was foolish, part of her had secretly hoped he might be sick or something—or at least a few minutes late.

She should have known better.

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