Jonas, still mostly drunk and coming down off the previous night’s bong hits in the house library, was getting annoyed.
“Moscow, get back here, ya little shit,” he growled at the chubby tabby cat, which was leading Jonas on through a minefield of half-empty beer bottles.
Jonas had a mind to punt the cat off the 3rd-floor balcony if he could catch it. The world would be better with one less stray cat – especially Moscow, who lurked around the Sigma Beta Tau house late at night and after parties, lapping up beer spills and marking territory while the brothers dozed.
Moscow stopped just short of the library and stood up on his hind legs against a narrow door, arching his paws to the knob.
Jonas recognized this as a coat closet, rarely used by anyone in the house.
Moscow slowly turned his head, met Jonas’ eyes and meowed; Jonas sensed an urgency.
“You want me to check for a broom?” he muttered. “Yeah, you can help the pledges clean later.”
Moscow lightly stepped out of the way of the door as Jonas grabbed the doorknob and opened.
Lifeless eyes stared out of the closet; Jonas thought he might be looking at a mannequin. Then, with a slow inertia, a fleshy body tumbled out, sinking into Jonas’ arms and nearly knocking him over.
He let out a shriek and let go of the body, which landed on the floor with a dull thud.
Moscow the cat circled the two young men; Jonas, heaving in and out, recognized the braided hair and Dickies jeans. This was Malcolm, one of the new pledges. Jonas didn’t know too much about Malcolm, besides the fact he was from San Francisco and, incidentally, one of the few black pledges.
“Jonas! Dude, the fuck…”
Cal Durkenheim – shirtless, with a bowl of wavy blonde hair, broad shoulders and a chiseled face – was standing in the door of his expansive bedroom, grinning incredulously.
“Are you still wasted or something? It’s 7 a.m., keep it down.”
Jonas gulped; Cal slowly followed his gaze, and snorted as he considered Malcolm, prostrate on the floor.
“Heh, is that Speedboat?” asked Cal, referring to Malcolm by his pledge name. “Those jello shots early in the night must’ve really got him.”
Jonas rushed a hand through his hair – over the bald spot that was starting to develop at the crown of his head – and smacked his lips dryly.
“He…he fell out…of the closet…”
“Jeez, the kid really is wasted.” Cal said, leaning in closer to Malcolm for a second.
Jonas could clearly see no life in the body. The skin, even, seemed to be taking on a clammy blue pallor.
Cal scoffed again, “Well, Les will be calling the pledges to the house soon enough anyway. So…“ he cracked his back and yawned. “Anyway, I’m going back to sleep. Do me a favor and shut the fuck up out here.”
He shot Jonas a final, stinging smile, then went back into his room and shut the door.
Jonas exhaled and took two steps back, landing on Moscow’s tail, who meowed with alarm.
No, no, this must be a nightmare.
Or a hallucination; what did he smoke last night?
He shut his eyes and pressed his palms to his forehead, slowly becoming aware of several sounds throughout the house:
Somewhere, brothers were still listening to music and talking amiably.
In another room of the house – not far – someone was smoking weed; fresh weed, cutting through the ever-present odor of stale marijuana smoke.
And above him, the unmistakable rhythmic creak of a bedframe – a soft moaning –
At least one brother was getting laid.
Jonas squeezed his eyes tighter; yes, that was his reality. Weed and women and good times you’ll never remember with people you’ll never forget, all here at this beautiful private university located far above gorges and waterfalls. Bad things didn’t happen here. The campus had good people, from good stock, making some occasionally regrettable decisions – but nothing bad. Bad was something you couldn’t come back from. Bad was failure.
Jonas opened his eyes; all the previous senses were vacuumed out in an instant, and his focus narrowed to one thing: the body.
This can’t be my problem, Jonas thought, looking down at the dark, crumbled figure.
He reminded himself that he had good plans for that day – breakfast, the gym, a bong rip, a few rounds of Super Smash Brothers, and perhaps the library later.
Just a typical Saturday, if he could get the body out of his sight.
Before he knew what he was doing, he had his arms under Malcolm’s armpits and was maneuvering him back into the closet.
He managed to cram Malcolm between two cardboard boxes; he cursed as Malcolm’s upper torso flopped over.
“C’mon buddy, back to bed…” murmured Jonas.
Jonas gave Malcolm’s chest a concerted push, causing his head to hit the back of the closet. Certain that he was stuck in place, Jonas pulled a ream of several coats over Malcolm’s face, and adjusted his knees into a squat.
He considered the half-visible bent legs; this closet, he knew, hadn’t been cleaned out since he was a freshman. The door might not be opened again as long as he was living in the house.
Satisfied, Jonas shut the door, turned around and marched downstairs to fix himself a bowl of cereal.
The cold milk and sugary frosted flakes did their job, sobering Jonas up quickly; by his third spoonful, he was beginning to have second-thoughts about the body upstairs.
What was he supposed to do? He didn’t have any responsibility in the house; hell, he had run for house steward, to be in charge of meal planning, but lost out to that asshole Harrison, whose dad owned one of upstate New York’s top steakhouses.
What a prick.
So, if his brothers wanted him to deal with such things as a dead body, he reasoned, they should’ve elected him to leadership.
Otherwise he deserved to enjoy his Saturday.
And anyway, the “right thing to do” – calling the cops – was a major no-go, for so many reasons. Weed wasn’t the only drug lying around the SBT house.
Jonas was stretching mental muscles he had forgotten he had, and he wasn’t in any shape to problem solve. A nap, he thought, might be in order; something to recharge before he went to the gym.
He wandered over to the couch by the TV, popped in his AirPods and switched to a rap mixtape.
A glass-rattling wind whipped against the living room window; Jonas gazed out over the snow-strewn landscape, the wind-stripped trees, and, in the distance, the majestic waterfalls for which the campus was so well known.
I don’t have to deal with some post-party nonsense, he thought to himself. Let the executive board clean it up. Or the pledges; the pledges are supposed to come clean soon…
Jonas woke to the sound of men loudly chewing and laughing.
He shot straight up on the couch and checked his phone – 11:30 a.m.
“Guess no gym this morning,” thought Jonas glumly, getting up from the couch and inhaling the rich aroma of French toast.
He could never resist Chef Kate’s French toast.
Jonas stumbled into the kitchen and wordlessly served himself a heaping plate.
“Les got himself a little piece last night,” said Tommy Brosner, shoveling up a forkful of eggs and eyeing a swarthy man at the end of the oak dining table.
Les, who was a sophomore from Westchester, New York and also the house pledge master, shrugged and winced.
“I mean, I did alright. She was a DG, nice girl,” he said, waving a fork up and down. “Used a lot of teeth, but…”
There was a general chortle amongst the table. Jonas, who had happened to sit down next to Les, kept his head down and took a bite of syrup-drenched toast.
“What about you, Jonas Brothers? I saw you talking to that tall freshman girl from the crew team.”
“Lucy Beamer,” said Jimmy Paris, a senior rower. “She’s a bit of a tease.”
Bitterness crept into his voice.
Jonas, feeling the other men’s attention descend on him, glanced up from his plate.
“Yeah, um – Nothing happened,” He nodded in a few short motions, meeting the eyes of Tommy and a few other brothers before casting his eyes back to his plate.
The table was silent for a moment; Tommy tilted his head curiously.
“Yeah? Thought I saw you take her upstairs – or maybe it was that freshman kid, Malcolm – I heard she likes black guys.“
Jonas shook his head, still gazing down at his plate.
“Hm, no, she and I talked for a little bit, but...” he shook his head again and scooped up another bite of French toast, trying to swallow down the uncomfortable lump that had formed in his throat.
“I hooked up with a freshman last night,” tossed out Barry Rader, casually.
Jonas’ heart rate subsided as the attention diffused into a dozen side conversations, mostly about women and woeful decisions the night prior.
Sam Stratton, a lean blonde brother from Nebraska, elbowed Jonas and whispered, “You doing alright, bro?”
Jonas, without looking up, grunted, “Yeah. I’m just real hungover.”
Jonas finished his plate as quickly as possible, then got up from the table.
Jonas’ forehead felt hot and his stomach was churning, like he still had about 6 extra beers to either throw up or shit out.
And that morning – he wasn’t sure if he had dreamt the whole scene – had that been Malcolm in the closet?
He walked to the second floor landing and cast a wary gaze down the East Wing hallway, towards the jacket closet.
I need to tell someone, he thought.
Almost as soon as the thought came, he started arguing against it – tell someone what, exactly? He wasn’t even sure what he had seen; he had been wasted, still coming down off a dozen beers and three good bong hits.
And the closet – who was to say he was in the wrong if he walked right by it? No one ever opened that old jacket closet.
He calmed himself with this thought as he mounted the steps, still sticky with booze, and walked back to his room.
He took a passing glance at his roommate Zach, who was still passed out in an awkward splay, and grabbed his backpack.
He was determined to study; the day was not lost yet.
Jonas passed the closet again as he settled in the house library, a 10 by 12 foot room with stained glass windows and a large lacquered mahogany table, emblazoned with the Greek letters of the fraternity.
Only one other brother was in the library – Lucas Sin, a relatively quiet sophomore who was also the brotherhood Scholarship Chair.
“Hey man,” said Jonas, giving Lucas a brief wave as he sat down.
Lucas looked up, “Yo,” then looked back at his iPad.
Jonas stifled a sigh and cracked open his intermediate macroeconomics textbook; he was still stuck on the first page of Chapter 2, even though finals were three weeks away.
His capacity for concentrated studying, he knew, had fallen off a cliff in college, especially since joining the fraternity. But he was grateful to take his mind off of whatever it was he saw last night – that strange dream, he told himself.
He made it through 15 minutes of fiscal policy before his attention was riveted by a conversation occurring just outside the library.
“And you sent the other pledges to knock on his room?”
“They knocked on his dorm, his girlfriend’s dorm, the rooms of all his suitemates to see if they had seen him come home…”
“No, no, don’t blow up the whole campus looking for him, we can't overreact.”
“I think you might be overreacting.”
Jonas listened with intent to the two fuming voices, which clearly belonged to Nick, the president, and Les, the pledgemaster.
“What time did you tell the pledges to get here for cleaning?”
“Alright,” Nick’s taciturn voice was barely audible. “Alright so, if Malcolm’s not there, have the pledges clean like normal. Don’t make a big deal...”
“I’ll act like he’s in some deep shit with us and we already know where he is,” said Les.
Jonas’ felt his forehead getting hot.
“Yeah,” said Nick, sounding distracted. Jonas could imagine Nick chewing his nails, his sole display of angst.
“When are we gonna ask the brotherhood for information?” said Les.
“We’re not,” said Nick. “Not until the kid’s been missing for 24 hours.”
“Nick, if something’s happened to Malcolm, we need to know before the cops do. We can’t have another Jerry Berger.”
“This is not another Jerry Berger,” said Nick, reprimanding. “Jerry was a fucked up kid from the start. Malcolm’s got a good head on his shoulders. I’m sure he’s fine.”
Jonas buried the lower portion of his face in his hands.
“You gonna study?” Lucas Sin caught Jonas off-guard with his curiosity.
Jonas lifted his head up from the table, “Yeah - I mean - I am studying.”
Lucas half-smiled and shrugged. “Got to keep up our GPAs, right? Real bros get good jobs after graduation.”
“Uh-huh,” said Jonas. He was still trying to listen to Nick and Les, who were continuing to talk in hushed, deep tones.
Lucas persisted, “What’s your major again? History?”
“I’m undecided. Maybe English,” said Jonas.
Lucas frowned, “Dude. What are you going to do with that?”
Jonas turned his attention fully to Lucas – he thought Lucas’ hoodless, slanted eyes betrayed a cold condescension, masquerading as brotherly compassion.
“I’m not your dude, bro,” Jonas said.
Lucas sniffed and shrugged, “Just looking out for you.”
“Look out for yourself. And spend less time studying and more time being a brother,” said Jonas, feeling his face start to burn with anger.
Lucas sniffed again, “Sorry to bother.” And looked back down at his iPad.
Jonas fumed for a moment, then shut his textbook and headed downstairs.
He wandered into the living room, where a pack of three brothers were playing Super Mario Kart.
“Jonas, jump in,” one said. “I can’t keep my girlfriend waiting any longer.”
“I’m studying,” said Jonas, sullenly plopping into a ratty leather armchair at the opposite end of the room. He opened the textbook with shaking hands and forced his eyes to the page.
Doesn’t anyone in this house take their studies seriously?
Jonas forced himself to read for a half-hour before he was interrupted - not by house drama, but by one very serious thought.
What if he had seen Malcolm – and what if Malcolm had been wasted, not dead?
He vaguely remembered Cal, always so cavalier about everything, noting the pledge was blackout, then promptly going back to bed.
Jonas had been drunk, high, half-asleep – had Cal seen signs of life that Jonas had missed?
He looked around the oak-paneled living room, checkered with taxidermy, and strained to recall where Cal usually hung out on Saturdays after parties.
He pulled out his phone and searched for Cal’s number – nothing.
How do I not have his number? They had been in the same pledge class together.
A thump reverberated from upstairs, followed by a remarkably feminine scream.
“Oh shit!” Then again. “Oh shit!”
The brothers on the couch stopped playing Super Mario Kart and craned their necks towards the second floor landing.
A boyish voice shouted from the second floor, “Someone get Nick!”
The brothers dropped their controllers and hustled upstairs; Jonas watched with dismay.
Should I help? Will they blame me? No, of course not, no one knows I saw Malcolm earlier –
And then one last, empty hope: It might not even be Malcolm…
Nick came striding in from the kitchen and marched upstairs, his grave face set like stone.
The commotion upstairs turned quiet; Jonas felt himself glued to his chair, his stomach in knots. He shut his eyes tight and tried to listen for a clue to what was happening upstairs – all he heard was the occasional patter of feet, and urgent whispers.
After a few more minutes, hurried footsteps echoed from the staircase; Les emerged and swept his hawk-eyed gaze across the first floor – briefly making eye contact with Jonas – before calling up, “Only one person here. Come.”
A group of four brothers ambled downstairs, each holding onto a corner of something which seemed heavy and unwieldy.
Jonas stared as the group made their way out the front door. Les looked back at Jonas and held a finger to his lips, then followed the rest outside.
Jonas waited a moment before running over to the window, which overlooked the fraternity parking lot; he watched as the brothers loaded the thing into the back of Nick’s black SUV.
A trail of something blue dangled from the trunk as Les slammed shut the door.
Did they wrap the body in a tarp? thought Jonas. Or are they bringing Malcolm to the hospital?
The car pulled out of the driveway quickly, ripping onto the narrow road and spraying a shower of muddy snow as it disappeared over the hill beyond the SBT house.
Something else caught Jonas’ eye in the parking lot – Moscow, the cat, was slowly toeing his way through the snow.
Jonas tilted his head and considered Moscow.
Why did he hang around the SBT house? What was the appeal for a cat?
A jerky movement played through the snow in front of Moscow, who arched his back, looking ready to pounce.
Hunting, thought Jonas. It just wants to eat.
Jonas watched Moscow stalk his prey until the snow’s sun reflection burned his eyes and he had to look away.