For the past few weeks there had been a mystery rapist on campus. One girl had been attacked in the freshmen parking lot. The parking lot was in the middle of nowhere. It was dimly lit, and close to Front Street Tavern and several other bars.
She had been badly beaten, and had quite a few scratches, but was otherwise okay.
Everyone was in an uproar about it. Girls walked to classes in large groups, afraid of being attacked and defiled. But a few nights later, there was another rape on campus.
This girl was a Junior, she ran track. She was strong, but she had been pulled into the woods as she ran on one of the back trails.
The police were in an uproar. They were questioning tons of people, but both attacks had been quick and calculated. Both of the victims had described a panther tattoo on the guy's arm. Creepy.
I generally wasn't afraid of anyone, but I knew that if I was caught off guard, even someone with my level of military training could fall victim. Scott had been walking me to work at night.
Not tonight. I brushed my teeth in front of the large communal mirrors in the dormitory ladies room. I swung out, grasping my toothbrush and still pissed off, when I saw a large poster duct-taped to the wall adjacent to the bathroom door.
RECENT EVENTS ON CAMPUS HAVE LEFT THE ISSUE OF SAFETY AS A HIGH CONCERN FOR ALL FEMALE RESIDENTS. IT IS WITH HONOR THAT WE, TIM AND GREG OF ROOM 301, STONE HALL ARE PROVIDING OUR SERVICES AS ESCORTS TO ALL FEMALES ON CAMPUS. PLEASE GIVE US A CALL.
A telephone number was scrolled beneath it.
I examined the poster, reading it over again. My roomate Becky saw me from down the hall. She came over and gestured to the poster.
"Pathetic isn't it?" She voiced loudly. "It's a scheme for those two losers to meet girls"
"I see." My head nodded in agreement.
Dressing for work that night, I placed the tiny metal whistle my mother had given me around my neck. The whistles were taken seriously here, especially now. If you heard one, you ran towards it to help. I chose to wear good sneakers and concealed my Bowie knife inside the wool pea coat I wore.
It was about a mile to the pool from the entrance of Stone Hall. The night was a black vortex of empty stillness. Leaves dry with time forgotten crunched beneath my feet. The air was chilly.
I looked up at the moon, it was a tiny sliver in the sky, like the thumbnail of a glowing demon. Or perhaps it was the white-hot scythe of the reaper, the collector of souls.
I crept along cautiously, my hand just inside my jacket, wrapped around the handle of the knife.
I heard someone running from behind me. I spun around wildly.
A man jogged at an even pace, white ear-buds jangling along with him. His breathing was rhythmic. He ran past me, obviously not interested in defiling my body. He was just a jogger.
I made it to the Gym, and threw myself into the building where there were plenty of people inside.
"Hey Cynthia!" I greeted my favorite staff person, a sassy Puerto Rican girl who won my affection with dirty jokes and some homemade brownies.
She waved at me with a warm smile as I punched my time card.
I rolled my eyes. "Don't ask"
She moved aside to help a customer and I dodged into the locker room.
Joe was the lifeguard on duty. A slightly balding 25 year old, Joe loved to drink. He grinned. It was a Thursday night. I was early. He passed me the tethered flotation pillow as I took his spot, and scurried away.
I wore a red standard lifeguard's bathing suit. It looked nice on me, I think. My boss seemed to stare at me a lot in it, anyhow.
Cynthia came and sat next to me. Her dark skinned hand came down on top of my knee.
"Hey girl, how's it going?" She smiled at me.
I liked her. She seemed genuine. I had been taught how to thoroughly read people. Most people were at least somewhat deceptive. Cynthia was all real.
"Okay, so, my boyfriend wants to go to a party tonight hosted by that whore, Jenn Bailey."I heard it all pouring out of my mouth.
"Whoa." Cynthia remarked.
"I mean, I'm actually pissed off mostly because he didn't even tell me. That idiot Gigga blurted it out at lunch."
Cythia's nose wrinkled "Smelly Gigga? The guy who runs the track here barefoot?"
I nodded. "He didn't even walk me here tonight."
"Well, maybe he needs closure." She offered. "They sort of almost dated right before you two got together. he might just need to see..." Cynthia trailed off.
"Ugh. Closure is over-rated." I groaned. "He's an ass-munch and I hate his face."
"No you don't" She laughed in a silver tone. "You love him"
"I wish I didn't." I lamented sadly. "I don't think he likes me very much. He's always pulling crap like this anyway. It sucks."
"Yeah." She looked into the pool, focusing on the gentle rolling blue light dancing across its surface. "I dated a guy like that once. He kept things from me."
"Why do people do that?"
She looked at me with too much wisdom in her brown eyes. "Well, do you keep things from him?"
I started to say "No"....
...but then I realized that there was a whole lot I kept from him. About a lifetime's worth.
"Relationships are equal. You both need to communicate." She gave me a handful of M&M's and walked back to the front desk.
I sucked the shells off of the candy, rolling it in my mouth. Life looks a little less grim with a mouthful of chocolate.
After my shift was over, the clock struck 11:30. It was late. Cynthia dropped by to help me throw the underwater vacuum into the deep end.
The device whirred into action, pulling some long plastic tubes along the surface of the pool. It smelled of a thousand bottles of chlorine, and made me think of R2D2.
"We'll let it do its thing. Some things work best when left alone." She slapped me hard on the butt "Go on back and work things out with your man."
I glared at her and sighed.
I helped Cynthia close up the lobby, and we left together. She lived off campus, so I walked her to where her car was parked.
"I'll give you a ride to your dorm" She offered.
"No thanks" I smiled "I'd rather walk, and think and stuff."
"Be careful" She warned as her window rolled up and the car edged away. Its red tail lights illuminated my hands and glowed in the black evening.
It was now nearly midnight. In the far distance there were a few shouts as Thursday night parties were in full swing. I had two parking lots and a bit of lawn to cross, so it wasn't that far, I told myself.
The breeze began to howl into a strong wind. Leaves scratched along the black pavement of the road and drowned out all other noises, the noises I was carefully listening for. My shoes didn't make much noise, but I had not felt this vulnerable for a while.
I trotted along at a quick pace, keeping the lights of my dorm in sight. I was getting close now. I could just make out my own window on the second floor when a dark shadow suddenly stepped in front of me.
My gaze drew along the shadow until I saw the owner's feet. Large black boots stood silently and my eyes rose to a pair of strong legs, a broad chest, and a dark skinned grinning face.
"Hello Ashley" He said with an accent that was neither French nor Italian.
My heart pounded. "Who are you?"
A strange clicking noise banged in the distance loudly. Kids were skateboarding.
I placed my hand inside my coat, feeling the cold metal of the whistle.
"I am Xavier" He said, and reached into his pocket.
I held my breath, but what he pulled out was a badge.
He was NSA.
"Oh" I sighed with relief.
"Another mission" he informed me, and handed me an envelope.
"Thank you sir" I saluted him and walked away.
Closing my door behind me, I tossed my coat onto the chair and kicked off my sneakers.
Becky wasn't in the room. She was probably out drinking. Normally, she invited me to go with them, but as a rule I never drank. I was too afraid of becoming my mother.
I sliced open the envelope with my thumb. Some photos and a printout were inside. The printout was a few names that I didn't recognize, but one of the photos took my breath away with the sudden intensity of a candle being extinguished.
It was a photo of a huge man, bald and muscular. On his flexed forearm was a large tattoo of a panther.
They wanted me to find and kill the rapist.