It’s nice to be back writing again. I miss it so much. Plus it serves as a great distraction for all the things going on in my life! I’m sorry that I let you guys (and girls?) think that I’m abandoning this story. Lemme assure you — it ain’t gonna happen. I may take long breaks once in awhile, but I promise I won’t leave this story hanging in the middle of nowhere without closure.
For those interested, my latest excuse for being late is moving to a cheaper place which badly needed cleaning up, working 65 hours a week on two jobs so I can save up enough for University, and all the while struggling to maintain an already falling apart social life. Of course, there’s also the boy drama, but I’d like to think I’m moving on.
On another note, I’ve been getting requests to make a mailing list to announce new chapters. If you want in, just send me an email about it and I’ll add you.
Comments, criticisms and mailing list requests goes to:
Enjoy the 7th chapter of this series.
It was barely ten in the morning and the air was already thick with excitement. There was busy chatter among the spectators as the athletes carefully stretched their muscles in the green fields. Even the tracks looked like they were recently polished in preparation of today.
The Sports Event was meant to be the day I was looking forward to for a long time. But that was no longer the case — I was only here today because I needed to find Riley. I had to somehow explain to him that I wasn’t planning to kill Benjamin Connor. I never was. Was I? No, of course I wasn’t. Fuck. I better be more convincing when I find Riley.
Just like every other year, the event was huge. I wouldn’t be surprised if the entire school was present in the football stadium with their extended family — it took me at least thirty minutes of walking around before I spotted one of Riley’s football buddies. I quickly pushed my way towards the jock and tapped on his shoulder.
“Hey, have you seen Riley?” I asked hopefully.
The jock gave me an expression which betrayed his lack of ability to make simple deductions. “He’s here?”
I sighed. “Never mind.”
The quarterback was a football jock, not an athlete, so I didn’t understand why he would be here at the Sports Event. A man whom I assumed was his father had answered the phone when I called and he told me Riley and his mother would be here. I didn’t enjoy the prospect of bumping into my track team mates after the way I left things yesterday, but I had to make Riley understand.
“Gary!” hollered a voice behind me, which I immediately recognised as Bass even before I turned around. “So you decided to run? I knew you’d come around!” he beamed at me excitedly.
I shook my head. “I’m not here to run — have you seen Riley?” I asked instead. It was then I noticed the sprinting gear he had on. At first I thought Bass was my replacement runner, but then I remembered it was just how my friend was. Most jocks in Green High mistake sportswear as trendy, but Bass took it a step further by wearing the real stuff. He was probably more prepared to sprint on those tracks than the actual runners right now.
Bass was visibly disappointed. “Oh, I thought... nevermind. I haven’t seen him today. You here for Julie then? “
I felt a pang of guilt when he mentioned Julie. She was running today and I haven’t even thought about supporting her. “I’ll be back before she starts,” I told him instead. “Save me a seat will ya? There’s something I need to do first.”
“Whatever. She’s on in twenty minutes, so hurry up.”
I thanked him apologetically and continued my search in the direction I was looking before Bass had caught me.
Ten minutes later I was still looking around for the damn quarterback — I swear the number of people in the stadium had doubled within the past five minutes. It suddenly dawned on me that I hadn’t even planned on what to say to him when I do find him. Maybe I should go home and rethink this, I thought. It was then I spotted him sitting with a couple of his football buddies up the back. I tried establishing eye contact with him, and when I realised it wasn’t going to happen, I walked over to him. If Riley had noticed me approaching, he did not show it.
“Nice to see the quarterback’s supporting the local athletes today,” I said in an attempt to get his attention.
But Riley didn’t respond to it — in fact, he didn’t even acknowledge my presence. This is gonna be harder than I thought.
“Can we talk?”
Without looking at me, the quarterback stood up and excused himself from his football buddies. He walked past me without saying a word and waited by the aisle, which I took as a hint, so I quickly followed him as he continued down the steps and out of the field into an empty hallway, where he finally stopped. He turned around and gave me a hard stare, but did not say anything. It became clear to me he was expecting me to do all the talking. The bastard wasn’t even gonna try.
“You did the right thing to ask me about the shooting range last night,” I started carefully. “It got me thinking.”
No response from him.
“When you confronted me, I didn’t even know why I was at the range,” I continued. “I couldn’t sleep because I couldn’t stop thinking about what you said. I asked myself if I really was going to kill Benjamin Connor. Was that why I took the shooting lessons? Was that why I wanted to know where he lives?” I stopped for a moment to gather my thoughts. “In a way, it was the first time I really thought about what I had been doing the past few days, and it was the first time I forced myself to think about what I was trying to achieve. I won’t lie and say that the idea of putting a bullet between the bastard’s eyes wasn’t tempting.”
Still nothing from Riley. But I could tell he was listening intently to what I was saying. I took a deep breath slowly before I continued.
“But that wasn’t why I took the shooting lessons. I mean, I won’t stop myself from using it on the bastards if it ever comes to that. But I was at the range because—” I hesitated. “—it was because I can’t feel safe anymore, not since we were taken.” I swallowed and felt my voice tremble. “Every time I close my eyes I see them looking at me. Every sound I hear reminds me of something from that night. I can’t sleep in my own house because I know what my dreams will be about. I can’t do anything without thinkin—”
Riley suddenly took me into his arms. “I know,” I heard him say.
It was then I noticed my face was wet with tears. Dammit. I was practically bawling in front of the quarterback.
“Every night I hear screaming, only to wake up sweating,” the quarterback told me. “At first I’ll think I’m in the cage all over again, but then I’ll realise it was only a fucking nightmare. I can’t go back to sleep because it’s gonna happen again, so I keep myself awake until morning. But no matter what I do I can’t forget it. I can’t forget the screams.”
I returned his tight embrace and buried my face in his shoulder. It felt weird to learn that the quarterback was also having nightmares. I should have been more aware of it...after all we did go through the same thing. Standing here with him was kinda comforting. It made me feel a little safer. Just a little bit.
When we finally let each other go, the quarterback stepped back and smiled sheepishly. “My mother makes me see a shrink for this.”
“So does mine,” I laughed a little. “Well, brother, though he may as well be mom.”
He chuckled in agreement. “Sam’s cool.”
“I’m sorry I ever thought you were gonna kill Benjamin Connor.”
“Don’t feel too bad about it. Mistaking a friend for a murderer is a common mistake — everyone does it, one can never be too sure—”
“Oh, shut up,” he laughed as he punched my shoulder. “It’s just that...”
“You felt betrayed?”
“Well, that too. It’s just that...” the quarterback paused. He had become serious again. “It’s just that you’re in this downward spiral, and I’m afraid you’re gonna go somewhere you can’t come back from.”
“I mean, I’ve changed too since that day. Everyday I feel like I just wanna quit football, school, everything. But I knew if I did that, there’ll be nothing to stop me from losing it.”
“Riley, I’m not losing it.”
“I’m not saying that. I just think that’s where you might be headed.”
I looked at him incredulously. “Why would you say that?”
He hesitated. “Because you quit running.”
“Wha—it’s not that big a deal!”
“It is if it hurts your chances for a scholarship.”
I felt the colour draining from my face. I had completely forgotten about it. I couldn’t respond to that because Riley was right. I had been placing everything else above my scholarship — I had even planned to quit the cycling team as I no longer had a bike.
After a moment of silence, he turned to leave. “We should go back — they’re about to start.”
“You should run,” said Riley before leaving me alone in the hallway.
I knew what he meant. But why should I? I no longer enjoyed running. It had become one of the many things in my life which reminded me of what happened that night. So what if Riley was right about me going in a downward spiral? How was running around the tracks going to stop it? Won’t it make it worse instead, considering every time I sprint my thoughts are overrun with images from that night?
Riley was wrong. I didn’t have to run. What if I lost it while I was on the tracks with the entire school watching? Even if I did want to run, I no longer have the money to buy my very much needed pair of new running shoes. If that wasn’t enough, I needed all the time I can spare to find the bastards involved in Pat’s murder. And when I find them, I’m gonna... gonna...
“Fuck!” I cursed aloud and took off into the direction of the track team stand. I hoped it wasn’t too late to run.
The running had already started by the time I got to the stand. Feeling relieved and disappointed at the same time, I quickly walked away from the stand before any of my track mates on the benches saw me. I wasn’t even sure why I was there. I had already dropped out of the race; it was too late to get back in now.
But when I glanced towards the tracks, I realised the men hasn’t started running yet. My legs froze just before I could walk out of sight of my track mates. Julie had only just started her 400 metres sprint.
Coach suddenly yelled my name behind me.
Fuck. My heart nearly leaped out of my chest. What the hell was I doing? I felt myself perspiring and shaking as I turned around and met my coach in the eye. “Coach.”
He didn’t look as pissed as I thought he would be. “What are you doing here, kid?”
“I was—I am—” I stammered a little. “I’m sorry about yesterday.”
Coach looked me over hard and raised his eyebrow. When he does it, it looked like a threat. “Is that all you came here for?”
“Yes. No. I don’t know,” I uttered all three answers so quickly I practically spat them out in the same syllable.
“I don’t have all day, kid.”
“I want to run.”
He was silent for a moment, then he looked down at my feet. Shit. I knew what he was going to ask. “Did you bring your running gear?”
I cursed silently. How could I be so stupid.
Coach sighed in annoyance. “Even if I let you run in those shoes, you can’t seriously expect me to let you compete in casual wear!”
“He can have mine,” spoke a voice suddenly on my left.
It was Bass, in his full sprinting gear.
“I think we’re about the same size—even our feet,” my friend continued as he pointed at his fancy sprinting shoes. “And we have the same shoulder and leg length.”
I was dazed. It could work out. Julie hadn’t finished her 400 metres, so I still had some time left. I looked hopefully at coach, who looked like he still hasn’t made up his mind.
“I’m not fast enough to compete anyway, and I think Gary can really use some new equipment,” Bass insisted desperately. “And—”
“Tommy!” coach suddenly yelled, causing both of us to jump.
One of the guys who was stretching a couple of feet away looked up at us. He seemed apprehensive. “Yes coach?”
“You can relax. Gary’s taking his spot back.”
At that moment I suddenly felt an urge to run up to coach and hug him. “Thank you, thank you!” I told him instead. “I won’t let you down, I’ll—”
“Save the speech for later. You need to get changed now,” he barked instead. “I want you back here in 3 minutes tops. Go!”
I thanked him again as Bass and I hurriedly made our way to the locker room. We barely stepped into the empty locker room and Bass was already shirtless and pulling off his running shorts. I was a little slower than him because of my damn belt buckle. By the time I loosened it my friend was standing in front of me completely nude, with a pile of sprinting gear on his side. It suddenly occurred to me that Bass didn’t have a change of clothes.
“You can wear my clothes,” I offered as I pushed down my pants and boxers and stepped out of them.
He thanked me and reached into my pile of clothing. “Wait, you’re not free–balling, are you?” my friend suddenly asked as I put a leg through his running shorts.
I shouldn’t have assumed Bass would be alright with me being nude under his shorts. “Uh, sorry, I’ll put something on underneath—you mind giving that back?” I pointed at my boxers he was pulling up his legs.
“That’s not what I meant, you idiot,” he scoffed. “I mean you’re not really gonna sprint with your balls bouncing around, are you? What if they get tied up?”
“Oh,” I winced at that thought. “What choice do I have? My boxers aren’t tight enough for that. Besides, it’s not like I’ve never done it.”
“Put on mine,” he picked up and tossed his jockstrap to me.
“Wha–” I caught it in my hand and stared at it. “You’re serious?”
“Don’t think about it — just hurry.”
“Just fucking put it on!”
Without saying anything else I put on my friend’s jockstrap. I wasn’t sure what was going on in my head anymore as I put on the rest of his sprinting gear. By the time I was finished with the shoelaces Bass already had my clothes on him. It’s amazing how similar we were in height and build.
I felt myself going a little sick, as I always do before I compete. I really was gonna run. “Yeah.”
As soon as we got back to the track team stand, coach made me do a couple of quick warm ups. The women had already finished running and the men had just started their 200 metres sprint. I swallowed. I’m next. I literally had about two minutes to warm up and then I’ll be sprinting on those tracks.
It was then I noticed Tommy — the runner who was meant to replace me — standing off the side of the benches looking at me. I started feeling guilty about taking his spot. He must have been really looking forward to sprinting.
“Tommy, I’m so sorry about this,” I tried to apologise.
But he just shook his head and smiled. “Actually, I’m kinda glad I’m not running today. I mean, I’ve always wanted to compete, but I would kinda like more than 24 hours notice to get myself in competition shape!”
I smiled at him. “Thanks for being cool about this.”
“No problem. You deserve to win this anyway — you’ve been working like a dog all year.”
“I guess,” I muttered. I had been working all year for this. Winning gold or silver would mean I get to run against other schools in the state. Funny how things can turn around completely on you in one single event. “Anyway,” I said to change the subject. “How did Julie go?”
He grinned widely. “You had to ask? That crazy bitch won gold!”
“Gary, you’re up,” coach shouted from the other end of the stand.
Tommy smirked. “Hopefully you’re more prepared than I am.”
I laughed nervously at that and stood up.
So this is it.
Coach led me to the tracks with the rest of the runners. I felt myself going dizzy. What was I doing? I felt a hundred eyes on me as I knelt into my position with my fist pressed against the rubbery tracks. Shit, my hands were shaking. I can’t do this.
Suddenly I heard Julie’s voice cheering my name through the crowd with enough volume to wake the dead in China. I felt my face reddening. She didn’t have to put me in the spotlight. That crazy bitch, I chuckled to myself as I thought of Tommy’s candid description of Julie.
Then it started. I leaped off the ground when I heard the signal and pumped my legs with all my might. After achieving my target speed I allowed my legs to relax a little — I had to conserve my energy so I can give it my all in the homestretch. I straightened my back and kept my head steady on my neck while struggling to maintain the rhythm of my breathing. I was doing alright — I could see a runner slightly ahead of me, and two others on my either side at the corner of my eyes. I pushed myself a little harder so that I caught up with the lead runner.
I could hear the deafening footsteps of the runners behind me. I shouldn’t have led that murderous fucker to the construction worker. He was stabbed in the chest because of me. There was so much blood...I couldn’t stop the bleeding. My hands and my chest was covered in blood. He had saved my life, but I took his shotgun and left him alone to bleed in the middle of fucking nowhere.
“Gary, focus!” coach yelled.
Snapping back to the present, I noticed that I had let three runners run pass me, which meant I was the fourth runner. Fuck. I tried pushing my legs a little harder to catch up, but everything was off. My rhythm was all messed up, my posture was exactly what I had been training to avoid and my legs were exhausted. I felt myself slowing down as another runner overtook me. It’s over — I would be lucky to not finish last at this rate.
“Straighten your back and look forward,” yelled Sam’s voice from the crowd, to my surprise. I looked towards the voice and there he was, standing up the front with Bass and Riley.
I quickly turned my head forward and straightened my back. Remembering coach’s lessons, I counted my steps and forced my breathing to follow the counts. I had to get myself back in rhythm for the homestretch, which was just after the bend.
When it came, I ignored the pain in my calves and pushed everything I had into my legs. I was closing in the gap between the fourth guy and me. When I finally overtook him, I felt the exhilarating feeling of runner’s high kicking in, and then I couldn’t feel the pain in my calves anymore. I hadn’t felt like this for a long time — this wasn’t about the competition anymore, it was about doing whatever it takes to make sure this sensation last forever. I could see the finishing line approaching quickly, and before I know it I crossed it and the crowd was cheering loudly.
Alan, my track mate who had finished first, had his arms up in the air shouting happily as the rest of our track mates went up to congratulate him. I was about to do the same when Julie ran towards me from the benches and gave me a huge hug.
“Julie,” I tried to pushed her away. “Let me catch my breath,” I rasped desperately. “Please.” I didn’t realise how hard I was running until now when I felt like all the oxygen in the world couldn’t stop me from self–suffocating.
“Sorry,” she laughed as she wiped her tears away. “That was just amazing!”
“What do you mean? I didn’t win,” I said and looked at Alan again. He looked like he was at the top of the world. He probably was.
“So what? Going from fifth to second at that homestretch was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen!”
“Whatever. Anyway, congratulations on your gold—” I stopped abruptly when her words finally sank in. “Wait, what?”
She only grinned as some of my track mates came over and congratulated me on how amazing that last stretch was.
“I got silver?” I asked Julie in between track mates.
She nodded and beamed proudly. “Fifth to silver in the last stretch.”
I stared at the tracks disbelievingly. “I really did that?” I tried to remember the race — Alan’s was the only back I saw when I crossed the finish line. “Holy shit, I think you’re right.”
She laughed as my brother surprised me from my left and hugged me fiercely. “I’m so proud of my little brother!”
“Sam, I can’t breathe,” I quickly pushed him away. “And you’re embarrassing me,” I whispered loudly while looking at the grinning faces of Bass and Riley.
We laughed as Sam gave me the hurt puppy look.
“It’s definitely the craziest thing I’ve seen you do,” said Bass punching my shoulder.
“Actually, now that I think of it, your shoes had everything to do with it,” I lifted a foot up and inspected the footwear. “I felt really good running in these.”
“You’re wearing Bass’ shoes?” My brother looked at Bass. “Wait, are you wearing my brother’s clothes?”
“Yup,” Bass had an evil grin on his face. “And your little brother’s wearing—ooph!”
“I’m wearing his running clothes,” I quickly cut in after slapping his back when I realised that bastard was gonna tell everyone I was wearing his jockstrap. I felt my face redden at that thought. “So uh, Sam, how did you know I was running?”
My brother eyed us suspiciously, but he let up after giving me the ‘you are going to tell me everything at home’ grin. “Your friend called and told me you were running, so I grabbed the first cab I found.”
Bass called my brother? “Wait, how did you get here so quickly?” There was barely five minutes from the time Bass and I left the locker room and when I saw Sam. I looked at my curly–haired friend questioningly, but he shook his head and shrugged his shoulders.
Then it suddenly hit me. “You bastard,” I said to Riley, who was trying to suppress a grin. “You knew I would run — you played me right into it!”
The quarterback laughed and raised his hands defensively. “Wait a minute, ‘played’ is a bit strong. All I did was gave you a little encouragement.”
“Oh, guilt tripping is a form of encouragement now?” I crossed my arms and smirked. “I’ll remember that when I need to ‘encourage’ you to do something for me.”
“Has he always been a pain–in–the–butt smart–ass?”
My friends and my brother simultaneously answered “yes”.
“Congratulations to Alan for winning gold,” coach declared as we whooped and whistled in the locker room. “You’ve worked hard for it and you deserve the medal.”
Alan grinned widely as we cheered in agreement and slapped his back.
“And,” coach looked at me with a smile. “Congratulations to Gary for winning silver,” my team whooped. “And for the most amazing homestretch I’ve seen!”
I couldn’t stop grinning myself silly as I felt hands slapping my back. I still had trouble believing that it actually happened.
“Of course, this also means you both now have to work twice as hard because I’m not sending either of you to compete with other schools otherwise!” coach continued and Alan groaned loudly as we laughed.
When coach finally sent us to the showers, I told the team that I was heading home instead because I didn’t have a change of clothes. I didn’t realise how close we were as a team until then when they told me how glad they were that I was back in. It made it so much more difficult for me to do what I was about to do next.
I knocked on door to the office. “Coach?”
He looked up at me and signalled for me to come in. “Yes?”
“I’m sorry about yesterday, and thank you for still letting me run. I haven’t felt this good for a long time.”
“Considering what you’ve been through, it’s the least I can do.”
I felt my heart stopping. “What do you mean?”
“I’m sorry about your friend, the swimmer.”
He nodded. “I understand you two were close.”
“Yes, we are.” I stayed silent for a moment. “How long have you known?”
“Since yesterday. When you told me you were quitting I asked around the team if they knew anything was up. It’s never easy to lose someone close to you.”
“Thanks.” He doesn’t know the whole story, I thought in relief. I waited for a few more moments before I resolved to do it. “Coach, I’m sorry for this, but I still want to take a break from the team.”
He looked at me in surprise.
“I’m not quitting,” I quickly added before he had a chance to say anything. “There are some things I have to sort out before I can rejoin the team.”
“What does it have anything to do with being in the team?”
“I can’t focus when I run. You saw me today.”
Coach stood up from his seat. “Look, okay, I admit the middle of your sprint was disastrous to say the least. But to do what you did at the homestretch shows you have real talent. If you stay in the team we can work on improving your focus.”
I shook my head. “This is something I have to work out on my own.” I looked at coach in the eye. “Please try to understand.”
Coach stared at me for a minute before he relented with a sigh. “Don’t take too long. If you still want me to put in the good word for your scholarship, you better be back in the team within a month to train for the competition.”
I smiled appreciatively. “I’ll try—”
“I will, coach. And thanks.”
When I got back to the locker room, I noticed that most of my team was still horsing around in the shower. I considered leaving without saying a word, but I had already done that once yesterday, and they deserved better. So I walked into the shower and cleared my throat.
“Uh, guys, listen up for a minute.”
“Gary, changed your mind about showering with us?” winked Tommy suggestively, causing the guys to roar in laughter as a bar of soap flew across the shower, hitting Tommy in the back. The guy on his right whipped his ass with a towel and I laughed a little as Tommy jumped and tried to retaliate with his own towel.
This was going to be hard to do. “I’m uh, taking a break from the team for awhile.”
The guys lost their glee and stared at me. “What? Why?” one of the guys turned off his shower and asked, which earned him a smack on the head.
“It’s okay, you don’t have to answer that,” said Alan sympathetically.
“No, it’s fine,” I told them instead. “I just need to do something else first. Until then, I’ll never be able to focus when I sprint.”
Alan nodded. “Whatever you have to do, you better do it quick if you still want to compete with the other schools.”
I chucked at that. “Coach said the same thing. He made me promise to come back within a month.”
“Will you?” another guy asked.
I smiled to myself. “I guess I promised.”
“This is bullshit,” Tommy said suddenly. We turned our heads to him, stunned.
“Tommy—” one of the guys began.
“I’m not finished,” Tommy fumed at me. “My spot was taken away and for what? A feeble promise that you might come back for the competition I can only dream about?”
I was too shocked at Tommy’s outburst to say anything.
Alan walked over and put a hand on Tommy’s shoulder. “Come on, give him a break.”
Tommy tightened his jaw. “Whatever,” he muttered as he grabbed his towel and walked past me to the benches.
The guys in the showers looked at me uncomfortably and Alan only shrugged at me. What was happening to me? I seem to be pissing everyone off lately. I walked over to Tommy who was just pulling up his pants.
“I’ll be fine,” he said before I could say anything. “I just don’t like being tossed an opportunity just to have it ripped away at the last minute. It pisses me off that you’re not hanging onto yours as tightly as you should.”
“I’m sorry, Tommy. I don’t know how to explain this, I—”
“You don’t have to. We have an idea what happened,” he looked at me sadly. “You need time to get your shit together, I get it. Just promise me you won’t waste your opportunity.”
“Okay, I promise.”
With that he lifted his bag onto his shoulder and walked out. I briefly wondered if I should ask the guys in the showers what exactly did they know about what happened, but I resisted. I rather not find out what the school had been talking about, especially if it’s about me.
“Hi. Is this, uh, Detective Eric?”
“Who’s on the line?”
“It’s Gary, the guy from—”
“—from the high school. I was wondering when you’ll call. How have you been doing?”
“Oh, um, I’m good, I think,” I fiddled with the phone cord. How should I do this? “And you?”
“Still no good leads on the case, sorry. I assume that’s what you mean, unless you’re really interested in my well–being?”
I was a little taken aback by his frankness. “Uh, I suppose so. Actually, I was hoping you could tell me something else.”
“What is it?”
I hesitated a little. “There was a construction worker at the warehouses...His name was Stan, or Steve...”
“The one you took the Remington from?”
The shotgun. “Yes, that’s him. Is he...did he...”
“Stephan. He’s alive and healthy, don’t worry. He was discharged on Thursday.”
I felt an overwhelming surge of relief wash over me. The construction worker was okay. Preparing myself for bad news was more difficult than I had imagined. I was so fucking scared that he may have had...
“You still there?”
“Uh, yeah. I’m wondering if you can give me Stephan’s number.”
“Oh. Sorry, Gary, that’s one of those privileged information. But it shouldn’t matter. What happened to him wasn’t your fault, and he knows that.”
“It is my fault — I led that fucker straight to him.”
“You were running for your life. How he saw it, you saved his life by slowing his bleeding from his stab wound.”
“I left him to bleed to his death—”
“—to save your friend from being murdered, he understood that. Trust me, Gary, he doesn’t blame you for anything.”
Why the hell not? I left the fucker to bleed to his death. “Well, he still saved my life, and I really want to thank him for it. Please?”
“I’m sorry, Gary.”
“Forget it, I don’t know why I called—”
“Wait,” he quickly interjected. “I can give him your number if you want.”
“What do you mean?”
“Look, I’m checking up on him tomorrow, and I can pass him a message.”
“Oh, uh, in that case, please tell him I really want to thank him in person, and please give him my number.”
“That I can do. Happy now?”
I felt myself turning red in embarrassment. “I’m sorry for that. And thank you so much.”
“It’s fine. Did you find out anything with the list of names?”
I thought about telling him about Benjamin Connor. But I still had nothing on him other than his suspicious timing. Not only that, for all I know, the police may have had already explored that possibility and decided that he wasn’t a suspect — not that it mattered, because I had to find out on my own to be sure.
“No, I got nothing,” I answered. It wasn’t a lie — as far as I know, Benjamin Connor wasn’t even connected to the list. I had to find out more about the doctor before I could say anything. I needed to call Riley next — he had his home address.
The detective let out a frustrated sigh. “It’s weird, for a crime scene this messy, we should be getting at least a couple of strong leads by now. Instead, it’s been nearly a whole damn week and our coroners can’t even give us a straight answer about our bodies.”
“Bodies? You mean the victims?”
“No, the suspects.”
“Oh,” was all I could say as my chest tightened. Visions of robed men being riddled by shotgun pellets flashed through my head.
“Hey, I understand if you don’t want to—”
“Did any of them survive?”
A slight pause. “Only the ones who escaped.”
“How the hell did they escape anyway? I thought you guys stormed the entrance with a whole team?” I could recall multiple gunshots echoed around the halls while I was cutting Riley free. “At least it sounded like it.”
“That fort had a second exit which we didn’t know at that time. Most of them got out that way.”
“Most?” The shower stopped at this point — I had to cut the conversation short. “I gotta go. How many is ‘most’?”
“At least a dozen. Maybe more.”
Fuck. “Okay, thanks, detective.”
“Take care of yourself, and call me Rick.”
I quickly hung up and turned around just in time to see Sam walking out of the bathroom with a towel around his waist.
“Who was that?” my brother asked as he walked into his room.
“Bass,” I answered quickly. Too quickly I mentally winced. “I wanted to thank him for the shoes today.”
“That’s all?” he asked suspiciously from his room.
Sam suspects, I swallowed. “What do you mean?”
“You’re not gonna thank him for his jockstrap too?” he said before bursting out laughing.
I felt my face heat up. “You went through my laundry!”
Sam laughed again. “I was just helping you hang your laundry, nothing I haven’t done before. Except I was pretty darn sure my lil’ brother don’t wear designer undies that cost more than our rent!”
“They have designer jockstraps?”
“They have designer everything,” Sam said as he walked out of his room in a nice shirt and pants. “Okay, I think I had enough talking about my brother’s undies — brother’s friend’s undies — what do you say we eat out tonight to celebrate your homestretch?”
I looked at him guiltily. “Actually, I was just about to call Riley,” I showed him the phone in my hand. “I thought we could hang out today.”
Sam looked a little disappointed, but he pulled out his wallet and fished a twenty from it. “This should cover dinner.”
“Thanks, Sam, but I got it covered,” I smiled as I dialled the quarterback’s number. I was completely broke, but I wasn’t planning to eat, and I couldn’t take anymore money from my brother.
The phone rang a few times, and for the second time today, I was greeted by a man whom I assumed was Riley’s father.
“Hi, is Riley in?”
“No, he went to a friend’s place. Gary’s, I believe.”
“He did?” He’s on his way here? That was pretty good timing. “Do you know what time he left?”
“Right after the school’s Sports Event.”
“What do you mean? It ended hours ago.”
“Excuse me?” the man sounded puzzled. “Yes, I know the event ended hours ago.”
And then it hit me. That man had thought Riley had been at my place for hours. I felt my heart speed up. What happened? Why did the quarterback lie about coming here? Did Riley have another friend named Gary? Or, did something happen to him on his way here?
“Do you want to leave a message? What did you say your name was?”
I hung up the phone. My thoughts were swirling around in a mess, and I wasn’t sure what to do. I remembered that morning when I first found out Pat was missing — when his mother called. What if the same thing was happening all over again?
“How did it go?” my brother asked behind me.
I swallowed. “I couldn’t reach him at his house.” I have to tell Sam about this. He’ll know what to do.
“Have you tried his cell?”
I turned around and looked at him. “He has a cellphone?”
My brother gave me a weird look. “Yeah, I wrote it down over there—” I quickly grabbed the paper he was pointing and dialled the number on it. “Ger, you’re acting all weird — talk to me.”
“Wait,” I told him as I listened to the ringing tone in the receiver.
Two rings. Three rings. Four. Five. Still no answer.
Dammit. I was about to hang up when someone finally answered.
“Hello,” whispered a voice.
“Riley!” I nearly shouted his name. “Where are you? Are you alright?”
“Whoa, Gary, slow down, I’m fine.”
“Dammit Riley, you scared the shit out of me. Why did you tell your folks you’re at my place?”
“Sorry about that, I needed to tell them something. Anyway, this is not a good time. Can I call you later?”
“Wait, what are you—”
But he just hung up. Asshole. Why was he whispering? Why did he lie to his parents about where he was going?
“Ger, is everything okay?”
“Well,” I put down the receiver and paused for a second. I made a mental note to drill Riley ruthlessly when he calls back. “Looks like we can grab that dinner after all.”