Authors: Ryne Douglas Pearson
Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Police Procedurals, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Crime, #Murder, #Thrillers, #Suspense & Thrillers
“Whoever did it will,” Dooley said.
“You make sure of that, Detective Ashe,” Mr. Edmond said. “I’ll take care of the rest.”
The man of action was speaking, but what was he saying? “Mr. Edmond, please don’t do anything that will make things worse.”
“I’m going to do just that—for a few people.” A smile burned on Nate Edmond’s face for the first time in days. “That teacher. The school. The whole bunch of them. I’m going to sue them into the ground.”
Dooley left the Edmond home without another word. Here he had met those to whom Guy Edmond meant something, those to whom all bad things thought or uttered about him were fabrications, vindictive conspiracies come to life.
He stopped at the curb and turned back to the house. The home of a good little boy, and his sweet little family, and their perfect little existence.
If he had wanted lies, Dooley would have started with the suspects.
He slid into his Blazer and picked at the seam on the leather-wrapped steering wheel. This was where the good little boy had lived. It was a part of his story.
“Pages ninety-six and one-oh-five are extra credit homework,” Mary said above the clamor of the 3 o’clock bell. The day that mattered was ending. Standing at her desk she breathed and reminded the class, “Three points each.”
Desk lids closed without slamming and sneaker soles squeaked on the floor as the room emptied. Greg Cosentino remained, as did those who would judge his alleged transgression.
Joey came to the desk as Miss Austin was gathering her things and asked, “Is Mr. Carter cleaning the floor today?”
Mary’s eyes came up from the stack of history tests to be graded that night. It was Monday. The floors were always cleaned on Monday. Joey knew that. They all knew that.
“Yes. You don’t need to lock the door when you finish.” He lingered after her answer, seeming to want something more, she thought. “Is that all you wanted to know?”
Joey nodded, lips tightening to a compressed smile, as if he’d tasted something pleasingly sour.
Mary fit her things into a leather bag and slung that on one shoulder. Michael and Bryce had already moved the review table into place near the flag and were seated at its ends. Three chairs on one side waited for Joey, PJ, and Jeff. One chair faced those, lonely as the accused neared.
“All right,” Mary said warmly. “I’ll be in the teacher’s lounge for a while if you need anything.”
“Have a good night, Miss Austin,” Jeff said cheerfully.
Mary turned and left them. The door hissed shut behind her.
Joey took his place in the middle seat, PJ to his right, Jeff to his left. “Greg. Come on up.”
It seemed that the eleven year old was walking his last steps, looking fearfully at the wood and steel chair as if there were electrodes attached to it, and wires snaking to a lever hidden somewhere that would be thrown once he was in place. This was the end. His end, he was sure. Never in trouble before. A Straight ‘A’ student since last year. And now this.
Finished by curiosity, just like the cat.
Greg Cosentino lowered himself into the hard institutional chair and lifted his head. “I’m sorry.”
“Huh?” Joey said.
“I wanted to see it up close,” Greg explained sheepishly. “Lance said he saw a puddle of blood that froze and—”
Joey held up a hand. “You’re admitting it then?”
A nod, then the face dipped away.
“All right.” Joey’s shoulders bolted as he looked to PJ, and his eyes begged the question,
What’s his problem?
“Greg,” PJ said. “This isn’t a safety violation. Your parents won’t hear about it.”
The frightened face slowly tilted upward.
tell them,” PJ added.
“This isn’t a big deal,” Joey said. “You shouldn’t have hopped the fence on a weekend, but it’s not like you were running in the main building or something like that.”
In that instance his parents would definitely know. Running where one shouldn’t was a definite safety issue, and the quickest way to a parent conference was to break a safety rule.
“So, what happens then?” Greg asked, more wonder than fear sculpting his expression now.
“Well, since you admit it, that kind of shortens this whole thing,” Joey said. “After you go we’ll come up with a punishment. Maybe picking up trash after school, or something else.”
“That’s it?” Greg pressed, perplexed.
Jeff smirked, knowing that he wasn’t the coolest of the cool, but he was certainly no dork like this guy. “Relax. Haven’t you ever been in trouble before?”
“Not at school,” he answered. The way Jeff had asked the question Greg was embarrassed by his answer.
“Okay,” Joey said. “We’ll tell you tomorrow what your punishment is. Okay? You can go.”
The speed with which the non-catastrophe had run its course weighed on Greg, the surprise stunting his rise from the chair, and the trip back to his desk for his backpack, and the short walk to the door. There he stopped. “So I’m not in
“Just don’t do it again,” Joey said. Greg beamed and left the room, the door whispering slowly shut. “Lock it, Mike.”
“It’s Monday,” Michael reminded the class president. “Mr. Carter will be by to mop.”
“I know. We can’t have him walking in. We need to talk.”
Michael now understood. He locked the door, checked it twice, and took the seat of the accused at the table of the suspected.
“Jesus, we pulled it off,” Jeff said with muted glee.
“You shouldn’t be that happy, Jeff,” PJ told him.
“She’s right,” Joey seconded.
“It’s better than getting caught,” Jeff responded.
“What about Elena?” Bryce asked, and silence was the foremost response.
“She didn’t look good after it happened,” Michael commented. “She looked like she was going to lose it.”
“Would you look good?” PJ challenged him harshly.
Joey hushed his vice president with a look.
“I’m sorry,” PJ said, first to the table top, then directly to Michael. “Sorry.”
“No biggie,” Michael assured her.
“Okay, let’s not think about Elena right now,” Joey instructed. “How did everything go with you guys?”
“Fine,” Jeff answered cockily, leaning his chair back on two legs. It was a safety violation, and the looks of his friends reminded him of that quite clearly. Planting all four legs on the floor again he added, “My folks bought it.”
“What about the police?” Bryce asked. “They talked to me for like ten hours.”
“Try four hours, Hool.” Jeff leaned forward on the table, his cast clunking on the wood. “Did you tell them anything?”
“No,” Bryce answered with force.
“Then don’t worry,” Jeff suggested.
“Did anyone’s parents give them trouble?” Joey asked the group. A round of head shakes was a welcome response.
“My dad said it was no great loss,” Michael offered.
“That’s what one of the cops said to me,” PJ said. “Then he said why not just tell him what really happened.”
“He was trying to trick you,” Bryce said.
“Duh!” PJ shot back.
“What’s with you?” Joey asked her.
PJ gave Bryce a sharp look, then shook her head. It hadn’t been a good day.
Damn you, Walter Curtis.
“My mom got ticked off at the cops,” Joey said. “She said that if they didn’t let me go she would call my dad and have him come up from Miami to defend me. They released me right then.”
“What did they do to you, Mike?” Bryce inquired.
“Nothing. Just asked a lot of questions. The same ones over and over. You’ve just got to remember to give the same answers.”
Joey nodded. “If you mess up they can use that against you later. It’s called prior inconsistent statements.”
“Did your dad teach you that?” Bryce asked. Everyone knew that Joey’s dad was a big lawyer down in Florida, with a new wife and a boat he raced on weekends.
Jeff did a one-handed drum roll on the table. “See, it’s all okay. We did it. Today was good. Didn’t you think so?”
“It was...yeah, okay,” Michael agreed.
Joey nodded cautiously. “So we’re okay. Miss Austin is okay. Everyone in class is okay.”
“Right,” PJ said, understanding Joey’s unspoken concern. “Except we don’t know about Elena.”
“If she’d talked we’d be in jail right now,” Jeff said.
Bryce looked to PJ. “You said she wouldn’t talk.”
“I don’t think she will,” PJ said. Her confidence had been tempered by Elena’s absence.
“So what do we do?” Bryce asked Joey.
“We do this. We do what we’d normally do. Just like we said. Act normal and don’t talk about it. Don’t even think about it.”
Bryce nodded. It wasn’t the easiest thing to do, keeping it all inside, but Joey did make sense. He hadn’t been wrong so far. “And Elena?”
Joey held up one hand. His fingers were crossed.
Four o’clock, the sun low and yellow over her left shoulder, Mary Austin strolled across the ball field to the teachers’ parking lot and to her Jeep Cherokee. She heaved her shoulder bag onto the passenger seat, climbed in, and locked the door before collapsing forward against the steering wheel, arms hugging and forehead touching the cool, leathery circle.
“Thank you,” she sighed, releasing the half breath she’d anxiously horded since rising that morning. It was done. The first day back. She breathed deep and long, again and again.
Done. Done. Done.
And it had been all right. They were all okay.
Almost all, she corrected herself, thinking,
Not that her absence was beyond understanding, but Mary had hoped so dearly that they all would be able to get back to normal. In a month, a week, a day; it didn’t matter how long. Just that they all would move on. Let what happened the previous Wednesday exist as another reality that would be dealt with as needed. This reality, the reality for her and for the children she knew so dearly, was the prime reality. It was stability, it was predictability, it was consistency, it was safety. She’d worked so hard to create this place for them, and she’d seen them thrive. Excel. Change. Mature. She’d seen that first hand.
She had also seen one child almost destroy it in life. She’d be damned if she was going to let him complete the damage from the grave.
They would all be fine, Mary told herself. They were survivors. Elena, too. She would b—
Mary’s head jerked up at the cry, and at the crunch of metal on metal, and the tinkly breaking of glass. Through the windshield she saw Chuck Edmond, standing at the left front of her car, a silvery baseball bat held in one hand and an open switchblade in the other. He glared at her and eased to the driver’s side of the car, the bat coming high and swirling round and round like the weapon of some karate master until it came suddenly down upon the windshield right in front of her, carving a million spiny webs in the gentle curve of the safety glass.
“HELP!” Mary screamed, recoiling board straight in her seat. She heard a pop and a hiss, and her car dipped to the left front.
“You let them do it!” Chuck shouted as he stalked back to the front of the Jeep and smashed the right headlight, then laid two solid hits upon the polished blue hood.
Mary pressed the horn with both hands and screamed, “HELP! HELP! SOMEBODY!”
Chuck squeezed the handle of the switchblade and jabbed it with force into the right front tire and sawed back and forth until the nose of the Jeep had settled all the way to the rims. Moving past the passenger window he pounded the top of the car again and again, the fury of a madman unleashed.
“HELP! Somebody!” Mary thumped her fist on the horn and swiveled in her seat to watch her attacker. “Please!”
The right rear tire went down, and then the rear window exploded inward in a thousand crystalline shards. Chuck stuck his head through the opening and wailed, a high shriek that collapsed into a guttural growl. Mary put her hands over her ears, but she heard him say plainly, “You’re gonna die, bitch!”
She looked away and reached for her bag, just as the last tire began to collapse.
The keys. The keys.
No. I had them in my hands. I opened the door. Where are they?!
Her hands moved the bag, felt the cool leather beneath it, back in the crevice where seat and back met.
Not there!? Damn! Where are they?!
Flat tires or not, she could drive. Ruin the rims. Who gave a damn? Just get away from him. From this lunatic.
Where are my keys?
Two almost casual taps on her window drew Mary’s attention from her search. Her eyes flared, and she could feel the blood draining cold from her head. Chuck Edmond stood just outside the window, his nostrils expanding with each massive draw of air, his hair askew, tears staining his cheeks.
“Please,” Mary pleaded, and began to lean away.
Chuck Edmond screamed at the sky and shattered the driver’s window with a single blow of the aluminum bat.
“NO!” Mary cried out as she scampered across the center console to the passenger seat, back against the door, feet thrashing toward her attacker.
“He was just a kid!” Guy Edmond’s oldest brother said, and threw the bat aside, taking the switchblade in his strong hand. He reached in for the lock and said, “You fucking bitch!”
Chuck Edmond’s head swung left. A gun pointed at his face from a few yards away.
“Drop the knife!” Dooley ordered. “Now! Drop it, Chuck!”
The seventeen year-old’s eyes narrowed.
The blade fell to the asphalt. Dooley stepped close and grabbed the teenager by his collar, dragging him to the front of the car and forcing him onto the unnaturally low hood.
“She’s gonna die,” Chuck said, twisting his head to see into the front of the Jeep. “YOU’RE GONNA DIE!”
Dooley holstered his weapon and pulled cuffs from a holder at the back of his belt. Others were now approaching from the main building. “
almost died, Chuckie.”
“Fuck you! Who the fuck are you?!”