A/N: Back, after a short (well, maybe not THAT short) break. I'm sorry to what few readers I'm sure to have left, but school is murdering me. Aha....murdering...myess....
Chapter 4: Murder Most…Personal?
Tyler was at my house three days after the lackluster welcome feast (the night had dampened him so much that we had left early), kicking my ass at Need for Speed when we got the call that Jay was missing. It was Tom that called, being within constant range of the news station at work, he was the first to see Barbara Wethers camped out in front of Jay's parents' house, thrusting her mic up under Jay's mother's nose and spattering her with questions.
According to Tom, Jay had been missing ever since three nights ago—the failed supper. He had called Freddie before me, and had been informed that Freddie had dropped Jay off in front of his house, but the newscast said that when Jay's parents had gotten home, he was nowhere to be found.
"That's fucked up, man," Tyler proclaimed once I had relayed Tom's words.
"You're tellin' me," was my shell-shocked voice of agreement as I numbly set the phone back onto its cradle.
"Well," my best friend prompted, hopping to his feet and tossing the Xbox controller onto the mattress, "What're you waitin' for, Firecrotch? Let's go help the search. Lord knows that Michael and Freddie and Tom aren't gonna."
"Are we supposed to do that?" I asked dumbly.
He slapped me lightly with the flat of his palm and ordered with morbid cheer, "Snap outta it. Now c'mon, Andy. Get your shoes on and maybe lets go check Mrs. Tinders' ditch. Think he's in it like I was?"
"That ain't funny," I huffed at him as I shoved my feet into my sneakers—not the fishing ones—with the laces already tied.
"C'mon," Tyler rushed, yanking his Vans on and trotting around in an anxious circle as I pulled my socks straight.
"I'm comin', I'm comin'," I grunted, getting up and diving for my wallet and car keys in a single swoop before we were both thundering down the stairs and out to where my dusty Jeep was crouching in the driveway.
"This is a bad idea," I ventured as I zoomed out of park and gunned down the neighborhood street, going double the posted limit.
Tyler's silence bothered me more than it should have as I careened through the paved way, shrieking to a stock in front of Old Mrs. Tinders' dilapidated country house.
"See anything? I don't see anything," I was practically hyperventilating, gripping the steering wheel so tightly that a couple of my knuckles popped. Images of Tyler now, not Jay, were flashing through my adrenaline soaked brain. Tyler was in the ditch again, in my imagination, bleeding and half dead, and even though I hadn't found him, hadn't seen him until the hospital aftermath, the pictures that my mind dredged up were enough to make my stomach pang in protest.
The slamming of the passenger door made me jump, and I cast around wildly for sight of Tyler before I spotted him in the ditch, standing with his arms akimbo, but with a frown on his face as he called, "Nothing's here, man. I don't know if I should be relieved or scared."
"Ty, why don't you get back in the car," I pleaded shakily, sure that my skin was as white as it felt at that moment.
He looked up at me, something akin to a surprised curiosity and—I pretended not to notice this one—realization crossing his face, and a second later he was bounding back up from the ditch and clambering into the safety of the passenger side of the car, shutting the door with a sound that screamed GUILLOTINE! to my ears.
I started to put the Jeep in gear, but his bony hand clamped down onto my wrist like a pincer, and I looked over at him against my will, feeling like a mouse caught in a viper's gaze.
But, he didn't say anything as I sat there staring at him, and I had to loosen my grip on the steering wheel because my hands were shaking so badly. I felt his hand slip smoothly away from my wrist finally, and for several minutes I couldn't make myself move.
"I'm…gonna drop you back at your place," I finally managed to choke out before I put the Jeep in gear and crawled to an acceleration through the remainder of the neighborhood.
Tyler kept his mouth shut throughout the entire drive, thank God, and when I dropped him at his house, he hopped out of the car without a sound, and plodded up to his front porch across the dead grass that dominated his front yard. I waited to make sure he got inside, and only looked away from his retreating form when the screen door of the house clacked shut behind him.
I drove home in a dazed stupor, wishing we hadn't gone looking for Jay, and thinking that even though Tyler hadn't said anything, he knew. He'd be different; I was sure about that—if he even decided I was worth talking to again.
But, when he called me the next morning, he didn't sound any more mean-spirited than he had been the previous day, and I almost hung up on him and went back to sleep, the combination of my self-loathing and the fact that he was calling me before nine in the morning when he wouldn't ever get up before noon lening to my disbelief. But, when he spoke his voice had a stark alarm-clock effect on me.
"Andy," he commanded, sounding disgusted, "Turn on the TV, right now. They found Jay. That fuckin' bitch is at the scene giving her two-cents."
I literally vaulted out of the bed at that, dropping the phone and casting around for the remote to my television before giving up and simply punching the button on the TV manually. Some morning cartoons were dominating the defaulted station, and I retrieved the temporarily abandoned phone, "Which station?"
"Twenty-three," Tyler pronounced agitatedly, "Quick, quick!"
I hit the dial on the side of the screen until the number I wanted announced it self in lime green digital on the top right corner of a picture now occupied by an exhilarated looking Barbara Wethers, babbling excitedly into her mic while standing at a safe distance from the police-taped line around a pier at the bayou. My pier.
I felt bile coming up to my throat and I sat down hard on the edge of my bed, numbly listening to the overjoyed reporter announce to all the world that Jason Brightly, a seventeen-year-old rising senior at the local public high school and aspiring movie director, had been found, murdered in cold blood before being tied to a post half-in-half-out of the shallow, murky water; the police wouldn't release any further information at that time.
"Sick, isn't it?" Tyler's revolted voice yanked my attention back to the receiver I held stiffly in my hand, "Reporters like her deserve to die."
"Don't…don't say that right now," I managed, my tongue feeling like alien matter inside my dry mouth, "My God...Jay…"
"Tom woke me up about a half an hour ago. Apparently the police got a 911 call from the pier last night, but by the time they got there…"
"Ty…that…that could've been you," I choked, "In the ditch…"
"I know," I could hear his voice tighten, "But whoever it was…he made sure Jay was dead. I don't know why he didn't do the…the same to me."
"Damn…it's…Tyler that was my pier. I go down to fish there every week! What if I'd gone down there last night? I could've—I could've helped Jay! I…I could've…I could've…"
"I think that best you can do now is pray for Jay's parents," Tyler murmured softly, "And for the rest of us. If…someone hated two of us enough to try to—to kill us, I think it's…personal."
"Ty…" I whispered, but he hung up on me, leaving my ear pressed against a dull dial tone. I exhaled slowly, taking the phone from my ear and setting it on the receiver with a dead click. The sound clenched my gut so tightly that I barely made it to the toilet before the contents of my half empty rocketed their way out through my mouth in a putrid mess of burning stomach acid.
In the background I could still hear Barbara Wethers' cheerful newscaster voice wax on Jay's brutal slaying as if she were commentating on a very exotic bird that had just landed on the tree beside her.
I suddenly found myself in agreement with Tyler. That disgusting woman deserved to die. She was making my friend's death into a subject for story, and no one did that. She had tried to with Tyler and had almost succeeded, but he was still breathing, Jay wasn't, and I wasn't going to let his memory fall victim to that repulsive whore's red-lipsticked commentary that wasn't even fit for the Yankee television sets where she came from—where she needed to go back to!
I was thundering down the stairs, not even bothering to exchange my boxers and wife-beater for a more public appearance-worthy jeans and t-shirt. My mother made an alarmed sound when I barreled through the entry hall, not sparing her a look before charging bare-footed down our front steps and raging down the not-yet-sun-heated paveway to the prickly grass of the bayou that was currently host to the feet of many people, official and civilian.
I got her in mid-preen. I don't hit women as a rule, but when someone makes a show of murder—my friend's murder—well, I've learned that Michael isn't the only one with a temper. She was fixing her makeup during a 'commercial break' when my fist connected with her face. I felt her perfect little nose collapse under the force of my knuckles, and I could feel my upper lip curling back over my teeth in an animalistic snarl that I'd thought up until that point that only Tyler was capable of. The revolting woman's head snapped back and she fell with a dull whump! onto the yellow grass.
Seeing her there with her nose bleeding sent a sobering feeling through my rage-ensanguined brain, and I let her lie, looking around frantically at all the shocked bystanders, my chest heaving.
"Andy," the Deputy said, stepping toward me, glancing at the unconscious newscaster, "Calm down son."
"I…I'm calm, sir," I gulped, feeling very suddenly exactly like a fish on a hook with the other news cameras trained on me, "S-Sorry."
The Deputy put an arm over my shoulders, turning me away from all of cameras that were now watching me, and spoke softly through his quivering mustache, "I know Jay was one of your friends, Andy, and that woman was kickin' dirt over his grave when he ain't even been put in it yet, so…I'll let this little episode slide. But you got to keep that temper in check, Andy—you can't let any more outbursts get the better of you."
I felt disgusted with myself, standing there in my pajamas, with cameras on my back, and Barbara Wethers lying on the dead grass in a disgustingly red jacket with blood oozing from her broken nose, and I hung my head, "Sorry, sir."
"Go on home son, we'll be by to talk to you later," he said gently, nudging me along back up the path to my house.
I glanced back briefly at the scene, feeling my stomach turn at the sight of the form—Jay's form—lying covered in a sheet on a stretcher, and I launched myself from the Deputy, propelling myself into a desperate, shambling sad excuse for a run, praying to get back to the house before I threw up again.
Unfortunately I didn't quite make it, and my mom found me gagging on all fours in the front yard like a dog, gasping in between choking moans, tears washing from my burning eyes.
"Andy!" she cried in alarm, running out to me. "Andy…" she said gently, crouching down and rubbing my back, "I know it's horrible…"
I felt worse than horrible. I felt like part of my brain had been tranquilized, and that the tingling in the base of my scalp that foretold bad news had taken up permanent residence.
"I…I'm going back to bed," I gulped when my stomach had finally stopped doing somersaults.
My mom nodded, and helped me to my feet, still rubbing my back soothingly as I limped to the porch and trudged up the steps to the promising cool of air-conditioning.
I went to my room, falling into the bed like a dead body might fall from high up—limply and without feeling. A sudden lethargy covered me then, muffling my morning like a thick woolen blanket, smothering me under it. I thought, it couldn't possibly be true, that someone close to me had been killed. It wasn't possible, I had to have been dreaming; having a nightmare. I would go back to sleep and wake up to find it had all been some horrible creation of my imagination stemmed from Tyler and Tom making me watch Scream one too many times.
Feeling better once I'd drawn that conclusion, I settled back into the bed, and even though the numbness in my skull refused to fade, I plummeted headlong into a panic induced fever-like dream that had me sweating in the sheets until my mom's voice yanked me back to consciousness.
"Andy…! Andy, Sherriff Rawlins is here to…talk to ya, honey. I told him you weren't feeling good, but he instisted," she cooed gently in my ear, one of her dove-like hands hovering tentatively above my bare shoulder, as if she were cautious of touching a scalding stove top.
"Oh…crap, I…do I have to go downstairs?" I stammered, pinching the bridge of my nose as I suddenly felt an uncharacteristic migraine coming on—at least, I assumed it was a migraine, Tyler complained about them often enough that I was pretty sure I could tell if I had one.
My mom shook her head gently, "No, no hon. He said if you felt too under the weather, he'd come on up, if it was alright."
I think I nodded, but it felt more like I'd become a solid stone statue, completely numb and lifeless, and I lay back against the headboard, swallowing thickly as my mom went to call the Sherriff up.
"Afternoon, Andy," Sherriff Rawlins greeted solemnly as he entered my room, the Deputy from this morning in-tow. He tipped his hat at me, revealing the snowy whisp of hair that hadn't been that color when he'd started his job, and then began to cast around my room for a chair before giving up and sitting down on the foot of my bed.
"Hi…Sherriff…" was all I could force out of my mouth which so suddenly felt like a desert.
"Mack here told me about your little incident this mornin', and we just want you to know that we're gonna make it go away," the Sherriff told me gently, patting my knee through the blanket draped over my legs.
I nodded again, slowly and stiffly, "Thank you, sir…I'm sorry…I just…"
"Andy, Mack and I gotta ask you a couple o' questions, y'hear? You reckon' you're up to that?"
"Well, we'll see, sir, won't we?" I murmured hoarsely, my eyes travelling between the two of them slowly.
Sherriff Rawlins nodded, and put his hand back onto my knee, "Andy, we found Jay down at your family's pier. Do you…have any idea how he got down there? Did you see anythin'?"
My eyes were trained onto his purple, veiny hand, violating the space over my leg inconsiderately when I so obviously didn't want to be touched, and a thick fog began to cloud my brain again, the tingling sensation in the base of skull increasing until it was the only thing that occupied my thoughts.
"…ndy? Andy?" the Sherriff roused me from the stupor with a shake of his offending appendage.
"Yeah…I…I didn't hear anything…"
"What about saw? Did you see anythin'?" the Deputy pressed me from my left where he still stood.
"No. Nothing. Just that Jay was…was missin'."
Both of the cops exchanged a look, and I suddenly felt like maybe I was a suspect. Well, so what if I was, it didn't matter much, it was partially my fault that Jay had ended up...well, it was still too soon to think about.
"We went lookin' for him," I said suddenly, looking up at the Sherriff's weary old eyes, "Me and Tyler did. But we didn't find him."
"When'd you boys go out?" the Sherriff asked, "I reckon' it'll do for an alibi at least, Andy."
"Last night…" I whispered, my soggy brain suddenly dredging the not-quite-events at Mrs. Tinders' ditch back up, and I felt suddenly nauseous again.
"You remember what time, son?"
"Nah…I don't…ask Ty…" I whispered, settling back into the bed and covering my eyes, "I'm awful sorry, sirs, but I don't know any more."
"That's plenty, Andy," Sherriff Rawlins said gently, and I felt his weight vacate the edge of my bed as his hand lifted from my knee, "We'll try an' let you know everything."
"Have a nice day, son," Deputy Mack added half-heartedly as the two of them plodded out the door, leaving me alone with my throbbing guilt.