3. You’re in luck. I’m the normal one.
The policeman opens the door; I step out of his cruiser and am surrounded by people in uniforms. Latex gloves shield their skin from me. They untie and strip away my shoes.
“You can keep them,” I offer.
They remove a pack of cigarettes, down to the last two. Upon opening the paper box, the policeman notices something written along the side of one of the smokes.
Change is constant.
“That ink will probably tear up your lungs if you smoke it,” he warns.
“They’re cigarettes,” I say. The guard grunts and opens a thick metal door, leading me by the arm into the jail itself. The linoleum is freezing through thin socks; colored lines mark paths for the inmates to walk from one area to the next. Signs explain: red is for lunch, black for administration, and blue for court.
The far corner of the jail is a large cell where a group of bored looking men sit. We follow the black line to a sort of doctor’s office. The handcuffs click as they’re released, like fishing tackle.
A woman grabs my wrist with one hand and fingers with another, pressing them into an ink pad, then onto a sheet of paper next to the words “Jacob Thorke.”
Jacob Thorke. My label, but not the description of a person. The prints are the most permanent thing about me.
After this, we walk to a small office inhabited by a sweaty policeman who appears to be in pain. The man stands as I enter; he’s twice my size. I’m directed to a chair nearly in his lap. Sitting brings him so close it’s an invasion, noses almost touching. This forces eye contact, forces attention. As he watches me, tortured grunts escape his fat lips and puff hotly against my cheek. “What happened to David Bloom?” he asks.
“Jealousy. Betrayal. Maybe revenge? I’m not sure. Do you have any idea what kind of person David was?”
“I know he was practically homeless. I know he was valedictorian of his class, though that’s got a controversy attached to it. He was a suspected arsonist and potentially psychotic." The detective reaches into a black leather case sitting open at his feet and retrieves a file.
"Arsonist?" News to me.
"I could probably tie him to two separate fires. One eight years ago, one six. No deaths, though, and not much evidence. We never pursued it."
Hearing this is like being punched in the stomach, and my bile churns in response. David was burning down houses? I thought we had no secrets.
“What, you didn’t know?” The detective asks, all smirks.
I give him one word in response: “Interesting.” Given what else David did, arson isn’t unthinkable. David was born to set people free; he just didn't know how, at first, to do it.
“Okay. I get it, you’re informed. You want to know who killed David? I can narrow it down to four people now—his followers. Five, including me. But, I have a psychologist, a special advocate for children’s something or other. Mr. Aschen is his name, he counseled all of us. If he were present, I’d happily tell you everything, and he could corroborate it.”
“You said David had ‘followers.’ He was the leader of what, like a gang or something?”
“More like a cult.” If my counselor heard me admit this, he’d celebrate with champagne.
Another groan as my interrogator stands and moves to a small bookshelf lined with yearbooks. “Sadly, I find these to be very handy in my line of work. What year?”
“I’m a senior this year. I’d be graduating…right now.”
The most recent yearbook is pulled. “Give me names. Faces. Then we’ll talk about your counselor.” The book is heavy in my arms, which are sore from being bound.
The laminated pages squeak under my sweaty fingers. “You’re going to love these names and faces. You’ve got records on all of them, I’m sure. The State took an interest in our lives when we were about thirteen. Let’s see. You’d have a file on this guy,” I point at a wiry little nerd with glasses. Under the picture: Steven Thomas. “In connection with one landlord of Broadway Park, whom my friend Steven wanted to kill, but settled on having arrested. He’s…wrathful.”
“Wrathful?” the detective asks, a grin forming at the edges of his face, afraid to spread inward.
“Like the Old Testament.” The pages fan the cop’s reeking breath away as they flip. I stop at the baseball team’s photo and point at a chubby, egg-shaped kid on the far right. “Kent Gimble. His dad tortured us growing up, and molested one of the girls. So there’s that file, and also one you’ve got on Kent for an arson charge you stuck him with. Oh, and the drugs, but the nerdy kid framed him for that. Hell, he might still be in jail.”
The detective grunts as I flip through the pages, stopping on a full-color photo of a young girl. She is vibrant with life like beehives and fruit that just fell off the tree, copper curly hair, tan skin. Something an ancient hero would find bathing in a lake.
“Cameron Merrill. She’s a victim. Object of the aforementioned child molester’s desires. Mom was a whore. Not to mention, the first wrathful kid and the second big weird kid, both have a history of fighting over her. But, she was sleeping with the guy who died—David. That news hit pretty recently.”
The detective murmurs something, but I’m too excited by the next face staring out of the book. A pale skinned girl with thick, dark makeup, looking like the reanimated corpse of a homecoming queen. “Emily Maebe. Also screwing David. And me, sometimes. Otherwise, just screwing with me. You’ve got her down for identity theft and grand theft auto, at least.”
My keeper leans back and runs a hand over his barren scalp. Another painful sigh escapes him; a pack of antacids are torn open and a handful is eaten.
”You’re a screwed up bunch of kids.” A grunt is cut short by a hollow laugh. He takes the yearbook away and we lock eyes. Measuring me again.
“You’re in luck. I’m the normal one,” I say, grinning.
“I’ll get your counselor, if you tell us everything that happened. Until then we are going to hold onto you. Within forty-eight hours we will either charge or release you. Think about that.”
No way can I ignore it. Guards lead me back to a holding tank, where I sit surrounded by other prisoners. I lean my head against the stone wall behind me and think back to the first thing I can blame for the death of David Bloom.
YOU ARE READING
[sic]Mystery / Thriller
Six teens are devoted to a game with one rule: If a player gets tagged, they must change their life within the next fifteen minutes. The better the player, the bigger the change. One might give their car away, or punch the school bully. Another migh...