***Themes of sexual violence***
There is nothing like a dead body to bring two people together.
“I am not the right person for this- shouldn’t we just call the police?” I leaned into Julie. She didn’t give me the time of day in high school, but now 20 years later, we were as thick as thieves after discovering the murder victim.
“Greg, you can help us here. We had to cancel the reunion party. If you could figure out who did this, maybe we can hold it again.” Julie pleaded. “And no one really liked Tony, I mean except you-”
I stared at the slumped over body in the high school cafeteria. The 20th high school reunion had not even started yet and my one-time best friend, Tony, was dead. A cafeteria knife, with the characteristic blue handle, was sticking out of his neck. The blood had dripped down his body making a pool on the floor, blood splatter covered the table.
We were standing just inside the doors of our high school cafeteria. It had been painted but still looked the same, the cold, large room had been set up for the reunion with folding tables under high dusty windows. Blue and orange table cloths and banners did little to brighten the dim room. The linoleum floor had smudges and streaks from uncountable spills and sneakers. As I looked at the body the incongruous smell of stale bread and soda brought me back in an instant to memories of awkward high school lunches in this room. I shook my head, I needed to stay sharp.
“The police are coming but, I thought- you could investigate this murder, since you are a detective…” Julie's request made a strong impact on me. If only she and her friends talked to me like this in high school, things might have been different.
“Julie, I am not a detective, I am a writer.” I turned to her. “I do not want to be involved in this! I wrote a few novels about a detective, but…”
“I read them all, I loved those stories.” Julie turned to me with a soft smile. “Julia, the bumbling detective, is great. The least likely person is always the murderer, and there is always some secret from the past.”
“-My point is I do not solve mysteries, I make up stories.” Shaking my head I took a step away from Julie, trying to figure a way out of this situation. I can not get caught up in this.
“And I should really get going, I don't feel comfortable-”
“You know about murder-” Julie pointed at Tony’s body, “-and you know everyone here. Can you please just take a look?” Julie put her hand on my arm.
I looked again at the dead man. Tony and I were once so close, until that night. Maybe I could make this work.
“We had been in touch, you know, phone calls and texts, but I hadn’t seen him in years. “ I turned to Julie. “We were going to meet up here. I just wish I had a chance to talk to him before-”
Tony and I didn't have any classes together our senior year of high school, but spent every other minute together, playing baseball, hanging out at the mall or just driving around. Tall, good looking and arrogant, Tony had every girl’s attention, and every boy’s envy. But he could care less about anyone but himself and me. I was short and my low-hairline gave me a monkey-ish appearance. Carla, Marcia and Julie, ‘the three queens’ regularly made fun of me, calling me Greg the Grape Ape. But Tony saw me for who I was, always talking me up. He even talked Coach into letting me on the baseball team when I was not really good enough to make it. I just felt good when I was with him. We took on the world together. He knew everything about me, good and bad.
“Ok Julie. I will do what I can-for Tony.” I said.
“It’s lucky for me you needed to get cleaned up, I would not want to have found him by myself.” Julie nodded at my shirt, now in my hand while I wore only my undershirt.
“Yes, the red punch bottle just exploded, sprayed all over me.” I shook my head at my clumsy hands. “You said there were only a few people setting up in the kitchen, near the cafeteria. Maybe I could talk to those people first?” I said, warming up to the idea of getting involved in the investigation.
“Ok, It was me, Marci, Carla, and Ben.” Julie said. “ You know Carla and Ben got married right?”
“Yes, I heard about it on facebook. I didn’t see that coming, they ran in different circles back then.” I said.
“Carla has changed since high school.” Julie said. “I will let her tell you about it.”
“OK, let’s start with you, is there a place we can talk privately?” We walked out of the cafeteria, being careful not to touch anything.
“Yes, we can use a classroom.”
I followed Julie through the school and as we passed by the trophy case I had to stop. It took me a minute to find it, but there it was. Down on the bottom shelf, covered in dust was our trophy and the team picture. Division baseball champions. I leaned in to look close at the young faces, huge smiles as we surrounded Tony holding up the trophy. I saw my own face and saw for the first time that as everyone else was looking at the camera, Tony’s face was in profile, looking at me.
I watched the baseball fall into Tony’s glove and erupted out of the dug out, leaping for joy. We had won! The whole team gathered together while Tony, our star pitcher, held up the trophy. We lingered on the baseball field wallowing in our victory while the orange glow of the sunset slowly faded on that spring day. We were kings of the world.
Tony and I went straight to Marci’s house from the field, walking down the steps to the basement to loud cheers. I had never been invited to this kind of party, Tony got me in. Everyone else had changed into street clothes, but Tony and I still wore our uniforms, the sweat and dust were our badges of honor, medals still around our necks. As the driver for the night, I had only one beer, but Tony grabbed two, one in each hand as took over a corner of the basement, telling stories of the game. He was the life of the party, ridiculing Jose for his two errors, and then pointing to Ben, who did not have a hit in the past three games. As always it was Tony who was the hero of the hour, pitching a shutout, hitting a homerun in he championship game. I laughed, my own errors and hitless streak never mentioned by Tony. The girls of course ignored me, so I sat sober and alone. The party went on and on, everyone drinking heavily, celebrating the game, and the last weeks of our senior year. Eventually I needed to get home, but I could not find Tony. He was gone, and so was Carla.
Julie took us to an empty classroom, and we moved a table and a few chairs around it. I rifled through the teachers desk until I found some loose leaf paper and a pen.
“Ok, Julie, let’s discuss a motive. Why do you think someone would kill Tony?” I said, imitating what my detective character would say.
Julie breathed out. “I never liked Tony, really no one did. He was just kind of a prick. But Ben really hated Tony.”
“I don't remember that…”
"Tony bullied a lot of people. I can't believe he even came to the reunion.” Julie said.
“I know!” I said. “I was surprised to see him too.”
“But I thought-” Julie gave me a confused look.
“-Did anyone step away from the group, who would have had time to commit the murder?”
“I didn't leave the kitchen. Ben left to get more sodas, but came back empty handed. Carla left for a while, and Marci, and then they came back together.”
“OK, thanks. Send in Ben.”
Ben, short and chubby in a rumpled dark suit, walked in the room and started speaking before he even sat down.
“You're the detective huh? Did you see that the back door was propped open? Someone could have easily walked in -and out.” Ben said as he pulled up a chair. “And those knives were in a box on the table, someone must have grabbed one and-”
He made a stabbing motion with his hand, quick and sharp.
“-I don’t think it was planned.”
I remembered Ben from high school as a class clown who took nothing seriously. His narrowed eyes and fierce grimace showed me he had changed. “Anyway- Tony was an asshole, back then and now. Anyone could have done it, I am sure he had a ton of enemies.” Ben leaned back, his fingers drumming rapidly on the table.
“Julie said you left for a while to get some sodas? I asked.
Ben’s fingers stopped. “I went to get more drinks, I thought there were some more in the back room. There wasn't, so I came back to the kitchen.”
“Did anyone see you during that time?”
Ben’s fingers turned into a fist. “I don’t know Greg, what are you asking me?”
“I saw you speaking with Tony earlier-” I said changing the subject.
“I confronted Tony about some things he did in high school.” Ben said, his head up, daring me to challenge him.
“What did you accuse him of?” I needed to know what Tony told him.
Ben shook his head. “That is not important. He denied it, I knew he would. Then he started saying something about what I accused him of was impossible. But before he could explain, Carla walked by, and he just bolted.”
“Did Tony say anything else to you?”
“He did say he was looking for you. But nothing else. I did not kill him, I swear.” Ben slammed his fist on the table. “He did deserve to be punished for what he did, but not killed.”
Ben left, and Marci walked in. I forgot how stunning she was.
“This reunion has been a lot of work to coordinate, but really tough for Carla.” Marci began. Marci was the glamour girl of our class, tall and thin with big blond hair. She was always after Tony but he wouldn’t give her the time of day. It took me a long time to figure out why.
“I was with her in the bathroom,” Marci continued, “trying to fix her make-up because she was crying."
“What was that about?” My notes were indecipherable scribbles. I needed to find a viable suspect.
“Well, I don't know if you heard this but in high school, at the end of our senior year…” Marci paused, “Carla was raped.” Marci’s hands were gripped together into tight fists.
“What!” I shouted.
“Worse, it was at my house, after a party in my parent’s basement! That was the last one, I never held another party after that.”
“I heard about your basement parties, I never went to any.” I said, looking at my notes.
“The last one was after the championship baseball game, I think you were there?” Marci looked directly at me.
“I can not believe she was raped! Who did it?” I leaned in conspiratorially.
“Carla was too drunk to remember much, she woke up in my bed. Ben blames Tony, he was the last one to be seen with her. And, there was a belt from a baseball uniform left in my room.”
“You said Carla was too drunk to remember. Do you think this has anything to do with Tony’s murder?”
Marci nodded slowly.
I went up into the house and to Marci’s room looking for Tony. I knocked softly and walked in to see Carla asleep, propped up on her bed fully clothed. Then I saw Tony in a corner wearing a women’s silky blouse over his uniform. His face turned red, he pulled me into the room, and shut the door. He grabbed my shirt and pulled me close.
“Greg,” Tony’s hands were clumsy, his breath stank of beer. “I need to tell you something-
Tony’s eyes were bloodshot and serious. “I love you, let me kiss you.”
I tried to push him back, laughing. “You are just drunk. Let’s go.”
Tony pulled me in closer. “Maybe I am drunk, but I still love you. Let me love you, we are perfect together, let me…” He leaned forward for a kiss, but I twisted away, I felt his wet lips on my cheek.
A rage I didn't know I had erupted in me.
I slapped Tony, hard across the face. When it did not seem to have an effect I balled up my fist, just like Tony had shown me how to, and swung, connecting with his unprotected chin. He fell back onto the bed and then dropped onto the floor, out cold. Carla woke up at the sound and stared at me with half opened eyes. Her long dark black hair flowed loosely over her shoulders, her mouth was open slightly. She looked beautiful.
Carla walked into the classroom for the interview slowly, her head was down. She still had the classic good looks she had in high school, though she had gained a lot of weight. She seemed broken somehow, even more shy than she was in high school. She did not look up from the floor.
“It is my fault!” Carla burst into tears.
“Are you saying you killed Tony?” I said, slowly.
“No, I didn’t. But my husband Ben has never gotten over Tony- assaulting- me, and I think he might have done it as some sort of vengeance.”
“Oh my goodness. You were sure it was Tony who raped you?” I asked.
“Well, no, but he was the last person I remember talking to. I was drinking a lot, and we went to Marci’s room to look through her dresses. Such a dumb excuse right? Why would a boy want to look at dresses. I am so stupid, I should have known!” Carla’s face was wet with tears.
I handed her a box of tissues from the teachers desk.
“Then, I don’t remember anything until I woke up without clothes on, and well. I couldn’t face school after that, so I finished the last few weeks at home. It was fine, but it changed everything. I couldn’t go away to school after that so I stayed at home, and married Ben. I still have panic attacks.” Carla began crying quietly.
“You are gorgeous, Carla. Why won’t you ever speak to me? You are always teasing me with those looks. Let me show you what the Great Ape can do.” I unbuckled my belt and it dropped to the floor of Marci’s room...
Julie came back into the room after Carla left.
“Did you discover the truth?”
“The truth?” I said.
The truth died with Tony. I held up my notes “I solved the mystery. Julie, thanks for asking me to investigate. This is like a detective story. Ben’s actions are suspicious. I will speak to the police.” I said. “I think the past caught up to Tony.”
The three queens finally need me. I will write the ending to this murder mystery, I know how to make up stories.
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That first line is a barbed hook in my mind. Great story.
You've been knocking these opening sentences out of the park. Definitely seems like a mindful effort to write a compelling attention grabber, and it's paying off :) The twist is neat, and vile - not only does the villain win, he also under-the-bussed his former friend. There's a lot of interesting history packed into this story too. Bullying plays a big role, but curiously the person everyone saw as a big bully - Tony - was seen as a good guy by the narrator. And then where Tony saw a good person, the narrator turned out to be treacherous ...
Thanks for the good words. I try to get a readers attention with a first line, I only hope the rest of the story keeps up ! 'Fall prey to arrogance' ... You know about those writers- of course he will !
Great twist to a twisted tale. It's always the one you suspect the least, right?