Authors: Ryne Douglas Pearson
Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Police Procedurals, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Crime, #Murder, #Thrillers, #Suspense & Thrillers
Maybe things only looked like they used to be, Michael worried. What was it Miss Austin said sometimes?
‘Appearances can be deceiving.’
And to deceive was kind of like lying, Michael knew. That thought flitted about his head like a pesky gnat as he followed the end of the line in.
* * *
Once the coats were hung and places taken, Mary stood before the class and noted two empty seats. One her eyes passed over with haste. The other was troubling in a very different way, a hole where one had never been.
“Has anyone seen Elena Markworth?”
Twenty four heads shook in unison.
“Very well,” Mary said, her tone burdened. “How is everyone?”
“Fine, Miss Austin,” the room chorused.
Mary smiled. She knew that there was likely a fair amount of interest in her well being after the T.V. news showed her being wheeled into Mercy Hospital’s emergency room Wednesday last. “I’m doing fine now. The doctors say I’m all right. It was just a fainting spell.”
“We’re glad you’re okay,” Jeff said.
“Thank you, Jeff,” Mary said in acknowledgment of the class secretary’s kind words. He smiled at her, blue eyes aglow against his perpetually tan face. She locked briefly on those eyes, steady this time. No flickering gesture. Just gemstone ovals beaming. “How’s your lefty printing coming along?” She took the roll book from its place on her desk and held it out toward him.
“It’s getting better.” He took the spiral bound book with its official-looking seal and moved to a small desk near hers.
“Please mark Elena absent.”
Mary stepped away from her desk, toward a chair against the bulletin board wall. The school district might have slated Thursday and Friday of the week past for recovery, but this was the real day for healing. Healing the way one tended a twisted ankle. Walking it off. Moving on.
“Well, it is Monday, so, officers, if you would...”
Michael’s stomach churned with the recurrent expectation that things should not be the same. Yes, this was a Monday, and, yes, class meetings were always held at the beginning of class each Monday, but...
Michael looked to Joey, then got up from his seat and took his place near the American flag at the front of the room. Hesitation stalled Joey and PJ for a few seconds, but they, too, rose and found their familiar positions behind Miss Austin’s desk. Bryce was the last to join them at the front, going to the filing cabinet nestled into the corner near the piano and removing a ledger from the bottom drawer. He sat at the small table with Jeff and folded his hands over the large, thin book.
From Miss Austin’s top drawer Joey removed a pitted wooden gavel. He tapped it twice on the desk, noticing as he did that his classmates seemed oddly fascinated by the motion. But when Judy Griggs in the first row jumped at the minor crack of wood meeting wood, he realized that more than fascination was at play. “Sergeant at Arms...”
“Please stand and face the flag,” Michael said, and waited through screeching chair legs until the class was ready. “Right hand over your heart. Ready. Begin...”
* * *
The formalities done, Joey finished several minor announcements before turning the meeting over to PJ with a very proper, “Madam Vice President.”
“We have...” PJ paused, drew in a deep breath, and told herself to put thoughts of Walter Curtis away. Away with the rest of the crud that didn’t really matter. Didn’t matter at all. Stuff that one day would fizzle away of its own accord.
‘Time heals all,’
Miss Austin had told her. Everyone had time. It and breath were the only truly free commodities common to all God’s creatures.
“PJ?” Mary said.
PJ cast Walter Curtis in with the crud, in with memories of Guy, and snapped out of her temporary daze. “Yes, Miss Austin?”
Mary said nothing. Her reassuring countenance and a tip of her head urged PJ on better than any words could.
“We have a little more than three weeks until the...until the conference at Camp One Wing,” PJ began. “The class council still needs more ideas from you so that we can send them to the conference committee. They’re going to put them in an agenda to be shared with other schools at camp.”
A hand poked up from the third row.
“Tommy?” Joey said, recognizing the questioner.
“Have we raised enough money yet?” Tommy Barrow asked.
With the prompting from Joey, Bryce opened the ledger and found his place on the third page. His glasses slid as he bent to read the figures. “We need two hundred and eighty more dollars.”
Satisfied smiles ricocheted among the class.
“We can raise that in...” Joey looked to PJ “When do we have to have our registration money in?”
“Three weeks from today.”
“We can do that,” Jeff said as he scribbled the minutes with his off hand. “We’ve got the refreshment stand at the autumn pageant this year.”
Two seats behind Tommy Barrow, Judy Devaux raised her hand.
“Judy?” PJ recognized the questioner.
“Is room sixteen going?”
“All the sixth grade classes in the district are going,” PJ answered. “I think there’ll be three from our school, two classes from Greenwood, and two from Bravehill.” She looked to Miss Austin for confirmation and received a satisfied nod.
“That’s a lot of kids,” Judy commented.
“Camp One Wing’s big,” Joey told her. Having worn himself blissfully ragged there for a good part of the last three summers, he felt qualified to throw his two cents in. “It’s really cool. You’ll like it.”
“All right,” PJ went on, “so we need your ideas, remember. Write them down, anything you think should be discussed between the schools, and drop it in the suggestion box.”
Chris Bickle already had something noted, and went quickly to the large, sticker-covered box near the coat closet and pushed it through the slot in the top. A mildly sour look from Miss Austin was not lost on him. “Sorry.”
“We wait until all business is finished, Christopher,” Mary suggested.
“Sorry,” Chris repeated, and took his seat.
Joey glanced at the agenda on their teacher’s desk. “Do you have anything else, Madam Vice President?”
“No, Mr. President. That’s it.”
The last item on the agenda drew a second, confirming look from Joey. “Miss Austin. You have a...”
Sound it out. D-I-S-C-
“...discipline item to talk about?”
Mary stood, but did not move from her position on the sideline. “Yes. Thank you, Mr. President and Madam Vice President. This morning when I arrived I had a conversation with Mr. Carter.” The slightest motion from the room’s center caught her eye. “He reported to me that a student in this class was caught on campus yesterday, outside this room.” She knew it to be unnecessary to go into what the motivation for such a transgression was. It was further not requisite to mention any name. Others were now sneaking glances at Greg Cosentino, who had identified himself quite clearly by hanging his head. “The accused will meet with the council after school to discuss this incident and any punishment. Mr. President, Madam Vice President...”
Joey nodded and took the gavel in hand. PJ took the agenda and passed it to Jeff, who was making some final notations in the minutes. Bryce closed the ledger and pushed his glasses up. Michael stood at ease, red and white stripes draped behind.
“This week’s meeting is closed,” Joey said, and gave the gavel one sharp tap on the desk. This time no one jumped.
* * *
A few blocks from the cemetery where their youngest was forever planted in the earth, most of the Edmond family had gathered in their comfortable living room to talk to the detective from the big city.
“There was no reason for this,” Nate Edmond said, swallowing hard after the pronouncement. He sat on a small couch, his wife misty-eyed at his side, two of his three remaining children standing behind. One thick hand lay easily on his wife’s leg, the other kneaded pensively at his own knee and seemed eager to form a fist. His thin black hair, bodiless, trickled over his scalp like fine veins of coal. “Our Guy was a good boy.”
Mr. Edmond looked away, fighting for composure, his family consoling him with hugs. Dooley politely averted his eyes, taking a framed photo from the end table near his seat. A family smiled at him from the frozen moment. Now they were six minus one. “Guy was your youngest?”
Catherine Edmond answered for her husband with a nod. After a few seconds Nate Edmond sniffled into a handkerchief and said, “Our little boy.”
Dooley garnered the other Edmond childrens’ attention when their heads came up. “Who is the oldest?”
“Chuck,” Candy Edmond answered. “Then me, then Buddy.”
“I was just a year older,” Buddy Edmond managed to say, then emotion overwhelmed him and he collapsed over the back of the sofa and into his mother’s arms.
“Our children are close in age so this is...hard for them,” Mr. Edmond explained. “Buddy is fourteen, Candy fifteen, and Chuck is seventeen.”
“That is close,” Dooley agreed sympathetically.
“Chuck is a senior,” Mr. Edmond said proudly, as if telling Dooley that his oldest was an engineer, or a brain surgeon. “He graduates next semester. He has a test today, or a paper due, or something. I’m not sure. He had to go to school.” Tears welled without restraint. “He loved his little brother.”
“We all loved him,” Candy added.
“I’m sorry if this is difficult...”
Mrs. Edmond shook her head slowly, a sad, stoic gesture. “Losing a purse is difficult, Detective Ashe. Not losing a son.”
“No words work well at a time like this,” Dooley observed.
“That’s right,” Buddy agreed sharply, angrily, his fit of sorrow not gone, but pierced by a self more hate than anguish. “Words don’t do nothing. Nothing!”
“Buddy...” Mrs. Edmond begged, reaching for her son as he stepped around the couch toward Dooley.
“So what are you gonna do? Talk?” Buddy’s young face cocked crookedly at the detective, his eyes slitting. Dooley thought the teen frighteningly familiar with this side of himself. “You’re here talking, just like all the others. Talk! TALK!
“Buddy!” Mr. Edmond yelled.
A flash of venom, part frost, part fire, erupted upon Buddy’s face. He looked back to his father, then again to Dooley, then struck out, at Dooley by coincidence, connecting with the adjacent lamp by design. Its shade became a projectile, wobbling across the room and into the hall. The lamp itself tipped like a felled tree and was noisily reduced to ceramic trash.
Silence followed the bedlam, a silence that ended as Buddy spun and rushed from the living room, hands over his face, the lampshade getting a final kick as he disappeared down the hall.
Mr. Edmond nodded bitterly. “This is what’s happened to my family.”
Dooley could have told the man that he’d seen the same, even worse during his career. Words again. How easily they could hurt.
Yet some things that hurt had to be done, or said. “I’m just going to ask you this straight out. Did Guy have any trouble with Buddy, or Chuck, or...”
“Or me?” Candy completed the question, sneering.
“Our children?” Mrs. Edmond asked incredulously.
Mr. Edmond aimed a thick, trembling finger at Dooley. “A family is a family. They protect each other. They don’t...” The hand waved back and forth. “No. They had no problems. None.”
“He had trouble at school,” Dooley said, moving on to an area he was sure would draw more steam from the head of the Edmond clan.
“He was a good boy,” Mrs. Edmond said, almost a plea to Dooley, as if she wanted him to believe it.
“Him? No.” Mr. Edmond bared his teeth, hard breaths whistling through them. “They picked on him.”
“Who is ‘they’?”
“They. Them. All of them. All the little bastards in that class. They picked on him, and then they’d blame him. Get him in trouble for nothing.”
“Why would they do that?”
Mr. Edmond tossed up his hands. “How the hell would I know? Pick a reason. I mean, why the hell did they kill him? Is there any reason for that?”
“Not in my mind,” Dooley said. “So you believe the kids in his class murdered him.”
“Everyone knows they did. But they’re not kids,” Mr. Edmond added, almost spitting with disdain. “Kids don’t do what they did to my son. They’re monsters.”
Dooley put the photograph he’d been holding back in its place. Beyond it, through the Edmond’s front window, Cougar Mountain was dusted in white, not yet in its full cloak of snow. “Did Guy mention anyone by name?”
“The police asked us all these questions,” Mrs. Edmond said tiredly. She stared at her shoes for a moment then stood, straightening her dress at the waist. “And it doesn’t matter which one of them did it. It was her fault.”
fault? “You mean his teacher,” Dooley presumed. “How was it her fault?”
Mrs. Edmond shook her head. “Buddy was right.” She looked to her husband. “I’m going to see if he’s all right.”
The quietly grieving mother left the room. Candy took her place on the couch and held her father’s hand.
“That woman, she could have prevented it.” A snarl threatened on Nate Edmond’s lips. “She could have protected him, but instead she always took their side.”
“Everyone knew that the whole class hated Guy,” Candy said. “My friend’s little brother goes to Windhaven and she said that he told her all about it. How no one liked Guy.”
So little Guy was an angel. And everybody else? It was quite clear to Dooley that Cougar Mountain wasn’t the only place where snow had left its mark. There was plenty in this house. Plenty to go around. “Everyone is lying, then, Mr. Edmond?”
“I’ll tell you this much: I believe my children. If you don’t, then...”
“I’d like to talk to Chuck sometime.”
“He doesn’t like talk,” Mr. Edmond said. “More than Buddy, even. They prefer action. Like their father.”
“Still, I need to.”
“I’ll tell him.”
“You’ve got to make the ones that did it pay,” Candy said. A heartfelt wish from a sister. A wish not for justice, however. A wish for vengeance.