Read Payback Online

Authors: Melody Carlson

Payback (20 page)

BOOK: Payback
10.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

In that same split second, with the phone still to my ear, I hear a slight commotion behind me. Leah and Tyler are arguing now. And their friends are chiming in; the guys are telling Leah to “just chill,” and the girls are telling the guys to “stay out of it.” None of them seems to be aware of the threat coming directly their way.

“Brandon,” I say with the phone still in my hand, attempting a friendly smile and a casual wave—something to distract him, slow him down. And what else can I do? After all, I’m right here, right in the line of fire.

He pauses and looks at me now. There’s a flicker of recognition, and for a moment I think he’s going to stop and talk to me. But then he gets a look on his face that chills me throughout as he unbuttons his coat to reveal what looks like an automatic weapon folded in two. His expression is one of cold, hard hatred as he straightens out the gun in one swift motion like this is something he has practiced again and again. And I know, thanks to my training, that I need to get out of the way Now!

“He’s got a gun,” I whisper into the phone as I run barefoot from the lobby toward the front entrance. Hovering in the foyer, I hide behind a marble column.
“Brandon is the shooter!”
I say, but I can hear nothing on the other end. I don’t know if Ebony is even there, or maybe my phone is dead. Does anyone know what’s going on? There is nothing else I can do right now. I must simply follow my orders, obey my training, and stay out of harm’s way. So I remain behind the column, and I pray! I pray and pray and pray.

But just as I’m begging God to stop this madness, I hear voices yelling, and then several shots ring out…followed by screams and more screams. And the horrible scene from my dream flashes through my mind again. Blood-splattered prom dresses, kids splayed across the white marble floor, bleeding. Sobbing…death…Monday’s memorial at Fairmont High. It’s too late.

I cling to the column as tears fill my eyes. I haven’t been able to stop this. It’s too late…
Oh, God, why?

“Samantha,” says Ebony as she puts an arm around my shoulders, “it’s over.”

“It’s over?” I ask, wiping my face and looking at her. They shot him.”

“Shot who?”

“Brandon. He pulled out an AR-15 and was about to shoot into the crowd. They had to stop him.”

“Is he…is he dead?”

“I think so.”

Now I’m really sobbing. Ebony takes me into her arms, and I can tell she is crying too. “I’m so sorry, Samantha. When lives are in danger like that, cops are trained to protect them. That means they shoot to kill…You know that, don’t you?”

I nod but continue to cry. Finally I stop and step away wiping my wet face with my hands. I can hear sirens now. “Did Brandon shoot anyone?”

“No, but his finger was on the trigger.”

By the time we get to the scene, someone has already laid a tablecloth over what I know is Brandon’s lifeless body. The students, still dressed in their finery, look on with shocked expressions, talking among themselves, saying how close it was, how they could’ve been dead, how unbelievable this was.

The girls seem more horrified than the guys as they cling to each other and discuss what almost happened. Meanwhile some of the officers, including Eric, are taking names, getting information from the witnesses.’

“Come on, Leah,” Tyler says finally. He’s the first one to make a move to leave as he tugs at her arm. “Let’s get out of here.”

The other guys are doing the same with their girls, saying, “It’s time to leave.” Like they’re too cool to stick around and
watch this anymore. Acting like the party’s over and they want to go start another one. And slowly the popular crowd, the A-list couples, begin to trickle away

I watch with a sense of confused outrage and indignation. I mean, it’s not like I wanted to see them dead instead of Brandon. But in a way it seems they should bear some of the blame here. Yet they simply walk away, off to pursue their next pleasure, whatever it might be. It makes me feel sick to my stomach. Brandon is dead…and they’re walking away like it’s
no big deal.

My phone is ringing, and it’s my mom. She’s seen a news flash, which isn’t surprising since the media has begun to arrive. They’re interviewing the prom kids who stayed behind, as well as some of the police force. I reassure Mom that I’m okay That only the shooter was killed.

“Oh, that’s good.”

“Yeah…” I will explain it to her more fully when I get home.

“Let’s get you out of here,” Ebony says as the press starts getting pushy “No need to blow your cover.”

As she ushers me off, I see a middle-aged woman rushing into the lobby with several others by her side. She’s wearing a maid’s uniform, and she is sobbing with her arms outstretched in front of her. She collapses to her knees, tearing off the tablecloth to reveal Brandon’s face. She falls onto him and makes a sound that reminds me of a wounded animal.

I shudder, and Ebony keeps walking me toward the foyer and then out the door to the limo, now waiting off to one side. There are police cars and emergency vehicles clustered around, stopping traffic from all directions. So Ebony and I simply sit in the back of the unmoving car.

“You were right,” Ebony says to me, as if that’s a comfort.

“But I didn’t figure out that it was Brandon,” I say.

“Yes, you did.”

“Not in time to save him.”

She sighs. “I don’t know if anyone could have saved him, Samantha. Even when he saw our undercover cops with guns, he didn’t hesitate.”

Somehow I can imagine that. I’d never seen such a determined look in my life. Like he wanted to do this or die trying.

“Eric said that Brandon’s AR-15 was fully loaded. That means thirty rounds, and he had two more banana clips, each with thirty more, all ready to go. He had ninety rounds of ammo on him, Samantha.”

A chill runs down my spine as I consider this.

“Do you know what would’ve happened if we hadn’t gone tonight?”

I slowly nod.

“My theory is that Brandon, with access to a back door, could slip past security, but besides that, he might’ve had an employee locker to stash these things in. This was a well-thought-out, calculated plan on his part.”

“But the bullying—” My voice breaks with emotion. “If Brandon hadn’t been picked on, he wouldn’t have done this.”

“Probably not.”

“And those kids.” I start to cry again. “They just walked away, Ebony, like it was no biggie. Like they hadn’t picked on him, like they hadn’t teased him or made his life miserable. Like this had nothing to do with them. And he was lying right there—dead.” I put my face in my hands and let the tears fall freely now.

Ebony just lets me cry. She hands me a tissue and waits until I’m done. I appreciate that.

“In a strange way it must be how God feels sometimes,” she finally says.

“What?” I look up at her and try to figure this out.

“Oh, I’m not suggesting that Brandon was like Jesus. But how do you think God must’ve felt when His Son was killed and people just walked away like no biggie? How it must break His heart when people everywhere, including us before we believed in Him and those selfish kids tonight, just continue on their merry ways—totally oblivious to the reason that Jesus died, totally unconcerned that the Son of God was beaten and murdered so mankind could be saved. And yet mankind didn’t care.”

I nod, taking this in. “I see what you mean.”

“Not that I’m saying Brandon is a hero. He most definitely is not. Still, this is a tragedy. And you’re right, Samantha, it seems wrong for those kids to simply walk away, taking no blame.”

“I wish there was a way to let them—I mean Leah and Tyler and the others—know why Brandon did this. Bullies need to see the consequences. They need to be called to some kind of accountability.”

“And schools need to adopt antibullying policies.”

“Yes,” I say with conviction. “Is there a way to use this — Brandon’s death—to force schools to wake up and pay attention?”

“I think we can do that.”

“Like the press in there right now. If I wasn’t trying to keep a low profile, I’d go in and make a statement.”

“How about if I go do that?”

“Would you?”

She nods, and I want to hug her, but instead I say, “Hurry, Ebony! Go and do it while you have their attention. Do it now!”

“I’m on my way” she says as she reaches for the door.

“And I’m praying.”


or the next few days, the averted prom massacre is the hot topic on the news. Not just locally, but nationally as well. By midweek Ebony and Brandon’s mother, whom Ebony has befriended, are even flown out to New York for appearances on several national news shows. Ebony invited me to come along with them, but I told her I’d rather not. I like being able to work with the police and the FBI without the whole world knowing my identity.

Just the fact that people across the country are hearing more about the sobering consequences of bullying—that it leads not only to crime, which is rather rare, but to suicide, which is not so rare—is encouraging. And I’d really like to think that Brandon’s death will serve some purpose. I still feel horrible about his death, and I keep asking myself, and God, if there was something more I could have done. Ebony has pointed out that it’s similar to the way it went with Felicity; I can offer warnings and advice, but I cannot control people’s choices. It reminds me of how God must feel. But then again, I am not God.

“You need to let it go,” Olivia says as we walk to the parking lot together after school. I realize that she’s been tolerating
my. unusual quietness these past few days, but she’s probably fed up.

“Huh?” I try to play stupid, like I don’t have the foggiest idea what she’s talking about. Mostly I just want to get in my car and drive home.

“I know you’re still feeling bad.”

“Of course I feel bad.” I turn and frown at her. “Why shouldn’t I?”

“It’s okay to feel sad about Brandon’s death,” she says slowly. She’s choosing her words carefully, like she doesn’t want to offend me. “But it’s not okay to keep blaming yourself.”

Leave it to Olivia to see right through me. I don’t even try to deny this accusation. But I don’t respond either.

“I know that’s what you’re doing, Sam.”

I nod now, swallowing against the hard lump that’s growing in my throat.

“It’s not your fault that Brandon died.”

“It sort of is….” I say in a voice that sounds very small and far away even to my ears.

“How is that?”

I consider this. “I should’ve put two and two together.”

“What two and two?”

“God was giving me visions…you know, about the school shooting…and visions about Brandon…at the same time. I should’ve figured out they were linked.”

“And what about Steven or Greg or whoever he is?”

“What about him?”

“Should you have considered that he was somehow linked to that whole thing too?”

“Well, no…”

“And think about what a huge distraction that was to you at the time. No wonder you couldn’t put two and two together. You were freaking over your mom, Sam. You were trying to help her—and you
help her. Frankly, I’m surprised you could pull it together well enough to make it to the Fairmont prom and figure that whole thing out in time to avoid a huge tragedy.”

“But Brandon is still dead.”

She nods sadly as she places a hand on my shoulder. “Yes, that’s true. But it’s not your fault.”

“Still…” I feel tears burning in my eyes now.

“Look, Sam,” she says in a firm but kind tone, “you are not God.”

I glance at her and almost laugh. “Duh.”

“And sure, He uses you to help people, but He doesn’t plan for you to save the world. Don’t forget that’s what He sent His Son to do. Right?”

I nod.

“And good grief,” she continues. “You’re only seventeen, and you’re already solving some pretty incredible cases, but I’m sure you have a thing or two yet to learn about detective work.”

“That’s for certain.”

“So don’t be so hard on yourself, okay?” Then she hugs me.

“Thanks,” I tell her as I step back and wipe my wet cheeks, “I needed that.”

“Just remember, you’re not Supergirl. You can’t save everyone.”

“I know.”

“But you are pretty amazing.”

Even so, I try to patch together the various puzzle pieces of Brandon’s case. I just can’t quite set this thing aside yet. I want to figure out who the bullies were and why they were bullying him. I figure there is something to be learned here—for everyone. Then, while in New York, Brandon’s mother gives Ebony the names of a couple of her son’s “acquaintances.”

“Why don’t you look into it?” Ebony suggests when she calls me Wednesday evening. And so I do.

One of the names on the list—a boy named Aaron who has also been bullied—actually agrees to talk to me. But only if I keep his name strictly off the record.

“No way do I want to get mixed up in any more of this,” he tells me as we meet at Lava Java on Thursday after school. “I already have to look over my shoulder as it is.”

“Your anonymity will be protected,” I promise.

He glances nervously around the crowded coffeehouse, as if he thinks we’re being watched. So I remind him that Fairmont High is going to adopt a bullying policy “Things are going to change,” I say.

“Words are cheap,” he shoots back at me.

“Trust me, okay?”

He sort of nods. “What do you want to know?”

“Why do you think Brandon was such a victim of bullying?”

“He sort of asked for it.”

“How’s that?”

“Well…Brandon made extra money by selling papers. “Papers?” I frown at him as I try to imagine Brandon being a paperboy

“You know, like term papers or essays or answers to upcoming tests—that kind of thing.”

“Oh…” I nod as it sinks in. Brandon was helping kids cheat.

“He was real smart. I mean, like genius kind of smart. And he was also kind of poor. So he decided to make some money off the guys who weren’t as smart he was but who had money.”

“By selling them papers?”

“Yeah. And he did make some money, and he actually thought he was going to be making some friends too.” Aaron laughs in a humorless way.

BOOK: Payback
10.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Memoirs of a beatnik by Di Prima, Diane
The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie
Firstborn by Carrigan Fox
Florence of Arabia by Christopher Buckley
Will & Patrick Meet the Mob by Leta Blake, Alice Griffiths
My Formerly Hot Life by Stephanie Dolgoff