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13

ALL ON THE SAME TEAM

 

The next day, Sunday, Father O’Brien was in rare form.

“My fellow parishioners, our community has had a series of terrible shocks this week. For those of you that don’t know, one of our town’s brightest, most beautiful young students, the 18-year-old high school senior Casey Campbell, was found dead in front of the high school on Tuesday morning. Casey had been investigating the death of our church’s beloved Miley Tyler. New information has since come to light, and we have finally found our Miley, her mortal form found in a local backyard, her cherished spirit risen to heaven.

“I have already spoken with Miley’s mother, Marie. Even in her matchless grief she has asked me to express her gratitude to so many of you for so much support. In a week, we will give over Sunday Mass to a more formal service for Miley. Today, I just want to say a few words directed to our community.

“For the young people here, I realize how difficult it must be to make sense of these deaths so close to the age of you and your brothers and sisters. I assure you it is no easier for us older people. We see these amazing, wonderful, world-changing lives snuffed out like candles, and that ill wind chills us to the very bone.

“My parishioners, we know each other. You know I like to quote the Book of Job. You know I am going to mention our Lord’s unknowable plan. And yes, we must never, never forget that us mortals cannot know the full extent of God’s love. On some level, we can only know that the Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.”

At that moment, Father O’Brien stepped away from the podium, away from any prepared notes. This was when you knew he was serious. He went on, “But I…don’t want that to be the last word today. Because truly, losing the lives of Casey Campbell and Miley Tyler is something…bottomless, something irretrievable. These lives were genuinely…the best of our selves, the best of what we want our community to represent. To lose them is not some sort of speed bump on our road to eventual enlightenment. No. To lose Casey and Miley is much closer to losing a part of our own bodies. Some members here have struggled with cancer, and some have experienced parts of their body removed. It’s clear to me that you do not forget when part of your body has been taken from you. A thousand prayers a day could never let you forget, nor entirely ease your suffering. I do believe that our community is a body, and Casey and Miley have been ripped out of it. No words can take their place, nor truly squelch the unspeakable grief and sadness at their loss. We trust in the Lord but we also honor the fact that even our love for Him cannot expunge the pain that we feel over these unimaginable losses.”

Father O’Brien went back to the podium then, but it seemed to me that was less to check his notes and more just to hide his anguish. Wow. “Now, there’s a reason that I don’t like cancer as a metaphor. Cancer is something that we think of as either self-inflicted, as with some forms of lung cancer, or as something that just happens. But the cancer that took Casey and Miley from us does not fall into those two categories. No. I don’t even want to tell you that an evil plague has visited us. Locusts would be easier to forgive. No, the evil that Casey and Miley battled during their lives – the evil that shortened their lives – came straight from human hearts. Some will tell you that Casey committed suicide, but I do not believe that. My friends, there is a human menace in our community. Ask them why they do what they do, and they will give you the same reasons we have heard since the Bible was written. They will tell you that no one gave them anything in this life. They will tell you that to survive in this world, you have to do evil unto others before they have the chance to do it to you. They will tell you they felt persecuted, and blamed, and less than human. They will make it clear that they never really felt God’s love because they refused to see it. They never realized how much love was there if they would only see it.”

Now, Father O’Brien started walking down the aisle again. He said, “Under other circumstances, I would tell you to wait for them to know the touch of God’s love. But they have crossed a line. They are taking God’s children from us. No longer can we stand idly by. I know some of you have not been idle. But now – today – I must call on all of you to redouble your efforts. We cannot simply pray this away. We must take up Casey and Miley’s charge. We must stand up to evil. Some of you feel that there have always been bullies and there will always be bullies. I hope the events of the last week have convinced you that this is different. Our children’s lives are literally hanging in the balance. If you have any, any non-public information about the deaths of Casey and Miley, in the name of the Lord please tell the police or myself. You may tell me in confessional and I will keep secret whatever you wish me to keep secret, including your identity if need be. Time is of the essence. When we meet here in a week to commemorate Miley, with your help her soul can truly be at peace.”

He went back to his podium again. “I am thinking now of one of you who once told me that what you liked about the internet was that it was so clean.” This was met by a bit of laughter. “Now, hold on. He was comparing it to a farmer’s life. He was talking about pig slop, scat, and disposing of dead predators when it’s hard to afford dinner. And he was right: no matter how filthy are some of the videos and pictures, there’s something very clean about the internet, about looking at a screen and clicking from site to site. Cyberspace at its best suggests the weightlessness that we know from dreams, where we can go anywhere and be anything and it’ll be fine. I think that’s why some of you love your smartphones, because the phones can, in an odd contradiction, carry this weightlessness. The problem is that the internet and these smartphones are in a sense only human, only as fallible as their users. You all know that the internet helped save me. But it is only as good as we make it. And you all have the chance to follow Casey and Miley’s shining examples and make it better.

“Some of you have asked me why do I care about cyber-bullying? I hope you’ve seen this week what can happen. I hope you now understand that online agitation can lead directly to offline evil. Do we think that people have to know each other to destroy lives? Think once again of those evil men that hijacked the planes on 9/11. Did they know Americans? Had Americans punched them, kicked them, shot at them? No we did not. The hijackers only heard that we were bad people. They took information from news sources and twisted it into something diabolical. On a much smaller scale, something like that happens every day on the internet. People turn words into hate, and hate into violence. But today, right here, right now, it stops. Can I get an amen?”

A thunderous “AMEN.”

Can I get a “It stops with me”?

A loud “IT STOPS WITH ME.”

Can I get a “The future starts with me”?

“THE FUTURE STARTS WITH ME.”

“We will not let Casey and Miley die in vain, AMEN!”

“AMEN!”

“Now, go, everyone, go and help us restore our holy community. God bless you, hallelujah!”

“HALLELUJAH!”

Take that for a sermon, old Baptist minister.

Still dressed in our church clothes, Mom and I drove her hoopdy to the police station. I thought we’d be in one of those closed-off rooms, with maybe a one-way window on one side, with the dingy-white formica table in front of us where, like, Batman interrogates the Joker. Imagine my astonishment when we wound up in a corner conference room with beautiful sunshine streaming in the windows. Aw, what a letdown.

Mom had been there before, back when Miley first went missing. I avoided it. I still didn’t want to be there, especially with Anton and LaQuisha and the Campbells and Mr. Studie. It was a tiny, let’s say amoeba-sized, comfort that Anton felt the same way. Just as I walked in, I read a text from him that said “we cant trust them”.

“I’ve been on the force 25 years,” Officer Tsui said, “And I’ve never heard of anyone leaving clues like these in some kind of book.” There was one other cop in the room, a woman with a face like a kettle. Her kettle-face nodded.

Anton said, “That’s Casey.”

Mr. Tsui said, “The obvious question is, if Casey knew something about Miley, why not come out and tell us?”

Anton said, “Casey was sued before for defamation of character.”

Officer Tsui said, “I know, but this was different. Why be so, for lack of a better word, cryptic?”

“Why not tell you,” my Mom said, “Or why not tell anyone?” Mom came to play, as usual.

Mr. Tsui straightened his shoulders. “I understand when a case goes unsolved this long, people look for someone to blame.”

Mom said, “My daughter’s body was found in your colleague’s backyard!”

“Which is exactly why it smacks of a set-up.”

Mom gasped. “You’re saying that someone came into the Chabots’ garden without their knowledge and buried my daughter in their garden just to…make them look bad?”

“I don’t know. I can tell you that Officer Chabot is under investigation. He will not be privy to any of our conversations.”

“Who will be?”

Mr. Tsui said, “Look, no one is more painfully aware than me that this department has suffered from recent criminal negligence. But several juries have rooted out the bad apples.”

My mom rolled her eyes in a, well, not unfamiliar way. “Any reason I shouldn’t trust you?”

“Mrs. Campbell,” Officer Tsui said, re-directing, “Do you know if Casey felt the same way about our local police?”

Emma Campbell said, “I’m not sure.”

“Did she share any information with you or your husband about…feeling pursued?”

“No.”

“Or about pursuing anyone else?”

“No. If only she had.”

“And you say you had a…good relationship?”

“Yes!”

Anton interrupted, “Are you still treating her death as a suicide?”

Mr. Tsui calmly replied, “Do you have any evidence that we shouldn’t?”

Anton said, “What evidence do you have that it was a suicide?”

Mr. Tsui said, “A note.”

“That blog is fake!”

“The only URL connects to a school library computer.”

“How does that not make it fake?”

Mr. Tsui wrote some things down. “Why do you think she was murdered?”

Anton said calmly, “Casey presented Miley’s killers with evidence that made them decide she was better off dead.” The Campbells winced.

“And you believe this evidence is…in the yearbook?”

“Well, we’ve already proven some of that. Somehow, she learned where Miley was buried. Who knows, maybe that’s all the information she presented to Miley’s killers. But I’m guessing she had more for them. She knew, and they knew, that just the body wasn’t enough.”

“What exact kind of information are you now looking for?”

“Well, we have to find out how she learned where Miley was. That might lead us to another clue.”

“How do you propose to find this out?”

“Same way we found Miley. The yearbook.”

The word hung in the air for a few seconds while we listened to Mr. Tsui’s pencil etch on his notepad.

“Even if she didn’t trust the police,” Mr. Tsui said, “If she had a smoking gun, why not put it on the first page of this yearbook?”

“It seems that she was afraid of being accused of wrongful, uh, accusation,” answered Anton. “Casey didn’t want to tell anyone until she was really sure, until she had an ironclad case that no one could refute.”

Officer Tsui jotted notes and looked at Anton. “Do you think she had that case?”

“Did you just find a body or didn’t you? Maybe Casey would have dug it up herself but she was afraid of getting shot.” he answered. “Anyway…Miley’s killers must have thought so, right? Or else why would they push her off a building?”

“It seems that you’ve got a contradiction,” Mr. Tsui said. “Either she had an ironclad case, making these cryptic clues unnecessary, or she didn’t, making these cryptic clues unhelpful.”

“There’s a third possibility,” LaQuisha spoke for the first time.

“Go ahead,” said Officer Tsui.

“Casey was close, but she was depending on the killers to provide the final piece of evidence – perhaps by attacking her. She just didn’t think they’d actually kill her.”

Mr. Tsui wrote, then looked at LaQuisha. “On the video, she talks about changing the yearbook before it’s too late. Do we know if she changed it?”

“After she made the video, yes.”

“What change did she make?”

“We’re not sure.”

“Did she insert something accusatory? Or remove it?”

LaQuisha replied, “We’ve wondered that as well.” We had? I hadn’t even thought about the difference between those two. “I can see she deleted a few files from her hard drive. But she did a hard erase, and I can’t see what they were.”

Mr. Tsui made more notes. “All right, let me explain what’s going to happen. This is now being cautiously treated as a double murder investigation. I say ‘cautious,’ because we may yet decide that murder did not happen in either case. In any event, Mr. and Mrs. Campbell, I will need extensive phone and email records from you and Casey.”

Mrs. Campbell said, “That’s fine.”

Anton said, “Are you going to ask the principal for swipe card records?”

“Swipe card records?”

“Employees have to swipe into the building after 3:15. You should speak to every employee that swiped in after school that day.”

Officer Tsui wrote again. “How did Casey get in?”

“My card,” Mr. Studie spoke up. “I had given it to her because of all the late nights. They found it on her.”

Officer Tsui sighed. “I suppose I’m going to need all the yearbook records, every single file. Can you provide that?”

Mr. Studie said, “Of course.”

Officer Tsui made some more writings. He looked up and said, “I see that some of you are determined to investigate these matters on your own, and I have no intention of stopping you. I would just ask you to share with us anything new that you find. This way we can avoid a situation like the other night, when I had my gun trained on two of you. Here’s a deck of my business cards. Everybody take one.” He spread out his cards on the table.

“Is this sharing a two-way street?” asked LaQuisha.

“What do you mean?”

“If we share everything we find with you, will you share everything you find with us?”

“Well…probably. I can’t promise that.”

“Still trying to cover your ass, Officer?” said my mom.

“One example would be that if Casey’s emails include privileged sources – like a lawyer, doctor, or priest – I can’t divulge protected information.”

Awkward silence.

Officer Tsui said, “Look, we’re all on the same team here. I want to get these people as much as you do. And one big reason is that I know people don’t trust the police around here. I want to re-earn their trust. I sincerely do.”

My mom said, “Yesterday you said you had leads. What are they?”

“We are looking into Officer Chabot and his daughter and some of her friends.”

“What does that mean, looking into?”

“We are asking them where they were on the night that Casey died.”

“Where were they?”

“I…can’t say that yet. I’m sorry. I will tell you as soon as I can.” Awkward silence. Officer Tsui said, “Does anyone have any other questions?”

My mom said, “Can you provide us with extra security? Like a policeman around the house? Or just for Riley?”

“Mom!” I said, not happily.

“Riley, not now.”

The second cop finally spoke. She said, “Do you trust the police, or not?”

Officer Tsui said, “Gloria, that’s not appropriate. Mrs. Tyler, we have no reason to believe that your house or your daughter requires any extra security at this time. If that changes, then more protection is a possibility.”

“Based on what we’ve seen, if that changes, it’ll be too late.”

Oh, thanks, Mom. Just give me something else to worry about.

 

14

AFTER ATROPHYING

 

At the end of our meeting, everyone was dismissed except us Tylers. I thought Officer Tsui was gonna rip Mom a new A-hole, but instead he wanted to tell us what they’d learned about Miley. My sister’s skull was cracked in exactly one place, apparently causing her death. It was possible that she was struck by something like a baseball bat or a crowbar, but it was also possible – though less likely – that she just fell on the street.

What the frak really happened to you Miley? I mean did you really antagonize some motherfrakker enough to kill you? Or did you try to kill them? Or was it all part of some ridiculous police scandal?

I spent the rest of the day avoiding the internet, just trying to decompress. Now, I don’t know about your school. But at Kirksville High, it’s constant gossip and whispers and staring even on a slow day, when like Jessica Chabot stubs her toe or something. So I could only imagine that the rumor mill on Monday was gonna be like a buzzsaw.

I had begged Mom to let me call in sick, just for a week. Of course, it was also the last week of the semester. Mom was worried that if I said I was sick, teachers might change their mind about me skipping finals. I heard that if you’re in college and your roommate dies, you get to skip classes and get all A’s for the rest of the term. Shouldn’t my sister count at least as much as a roommate?

Late that afternoon, my Mom handed me the landline phone; someone was waiting to speak to me. Who the frak calls me on this thing?

“Riley-smiley?”

Ohhhhh. “Father Chabot?”

“How are you?”

“I’m not great.”

“I’m sorry, Riley, I really am. This must be torture for you.”

YES. Thank you. “Father, the sermon today was…awesome.”

“Thank you, Riley. You know, I just can’t abide people ignoring bullies, you know?”

“I agree.”

“Because then the bullies think that their tactics are working. They think that people are intimidated.”

“Right.”

“And we’re not intimidated, are we?”

“Nope.”

“We’re proud and unbowed.”

“Proud and unbowed.”

“We’re going to school tomorrow.”

Damn. “Oh, all right.”

As part of ignoring the internet, I also paid no attention to text beeps all day Sunday. Finally after dinner I looked at my phone. What, nothing from Kamran? Did he hate me now? No, don’t think that way, Tyler. Probably it’s fine.

Most of the texts were my friends checking in again. Most of my replies were of the “all good” variety. What was I supposed to say? Maybe more important, how was I supposed to feel?

This will sound stupid, but I felt bad that I didn’t feel worse. I just lost my only sister, but I…wasn’t breaking down the way that Mom did at Casey’s funeral. Was I that oblivious? Or just numb? Mostly I felt, like, resentful that I had to continue to deal with all the drama. Then I felt a tiny twinge of guilt that I was so self-centered. You know what though? Sometimes narcissism is a survival mechanism. See, they even rhyme. Like proud and unbowed. Like Riley and Miley.

Susie texted: “Riley this all sounds awful. can we talk b4 study group?’

I texted her, “thanks, its not that bad. have been excused from finals”

She texted back right away, “great! thats 1 less person that i have 2 learn curriculum 4. J srsly its a busy week studying 4 finals but lmk if u need anything”

Anton sent one text. It said: “they know nothing”. I noticed he didn’t name the police in his texts about them. He was already eyeing that future subpoena.

I texted back, “dont we need casey’s emails and texts and calls?”

He texted back, “nah. let em chase those. it’s all in the yearbook. go back to studying it”. I really didn’t feel like studying any book.

Monday morning in Mr. Studie’s class, the announcements were mostly Principal Merrill going over the finals and graduation schedule. But she finally said, “I know many of you have dedicated time and energy to help find Miley Tyler. She was discovered this weekend, tragically passed on. Please continue to respect all your fellow students, particularly during this difficult week. Thank you.”

The classroom, like, erupted in “What happened?”s and “Chabots” and “I told you so”s and blah blah blah.

Veronica said, “Riley, any closer to finding out who did it?”

Hayley said, “Yeah, what’s your next move Riley?”

Mr. Studie coughed loudly. “Class, calm down, calm down. Riley, do you want to say anything?”

I shook my head.

Mr. Studie said loudly, “I’d like all of you to stop pestering her. Leave her alone. Okay, now, let’s discuss the study questions. DeMarcus, what did you get…?”

That day, you would have thought my skin had turned plaid. Like, everyone was staring at me. Is this how Angelina Jolie feels? I like to think that at least people look at her with some kind of respect or whatever. I told myself the attention had to be because of Miley and not because of hooking up with Kamran. Then I thought, what if they think I was hooking up with Kamran while ignoring my sister? Oh, whatever, let ’em wonder. What was I going to do, make an announcement in the school paper?

Some senior from the school paper actually tried to interview me at lunch. I’m like, who the frak is you? Okay, fine, what I said was “no comment.” I don’t know about your school, but at Kirksville High our paper is a joke. Literally it isn’t a paper, it’s an online bulletin. It’s called the “Daily Kirksvillian,” but they only update it maybe once a week. Somewhere on the site it says that they work on it daily, hence the name. Hence the lame, right?

Miley once told me that during her freshman year, the physical paper stopped and they went to online only, partly because no teenager reads newsprint, and partly because no one reads the Kirksvillian at all except athletes looking for their names. They can’t get advertisers and no student is gonna pay for it. In the same conversation, Miley said that to get people’s attention, she was smarter to try for the yearbook than the paper. I bet she also told Casey that, or vice-versa.

I remember saying to Miley, “If it doesn’t make money, what good is it?” And I remember her saying, “Yeah, Riley, that oughtta be on your tombstone.” What a frakkin’ world that now we had to think of something for Miley’s tombstone. Well, okay, Mom did. I had enough to deal with.

Gym class was about as much fun as a dentist appointment. Anton – whose T-shirt said “CASEY IS VINDICATED” – left me alone, which was great. But so did Kamran, which was not as great. All during class, he had this sort of thin-lipped scowl as he shot hoops with some of his friends. I couldn’t even check his face too closely, because half the class was staring at my face. Had they forgotten my legs?

I wanted to walk up to Kamran and say, “Are you ignoring me because of how our hookup ended, or because the police are questioning you again?” But that didn’t seem like a great idea. So I said nothing.

Was I gonna see him over the summer? Was I gonna get invited to any other parties where he’d be? Goddammit. Two years of social work – the real kind – gone in one turn of a shovel. I looked over at Anton swinging his legs as he held onto the parallel bars and felt a sudden desire to find his shovel and smack him over the head with it.

Without warning, a basketball hit Anton squarely in one of his arms. He fell off of the parallel bars and banged his head on the bar as he went down. The whole class caught its breath. DeShawn said from the court, “My bad, Ms. Rodriguez. I didn’t catch a pass.”

Anton was shaken up, but all right. It could have been a lot worse. When I looked at Kamran, he was looking right at me and smiling. Which was creepy because the whole period he’d been scowling. I went over to the uneven bars just so I didn’t have to think about any of it for a few minutes.

At 3:15 I was back in Mr. Studie’s classroom, ruining yet another sunny June afternoon. Mom would not hear otherwise. Anton and LaQuisha were on the computers and I was yet again consigned to riffing, sifting, and shifting through the stupid yearbook.

Now that I knew Miley was dead, oddly, the hardest page for me to see was the “university announcements” page on 162. It named all the universities that seniors were attending in the fall. It was mostly in alphabetical order by college, but in the middle were these four universities being attended by one senior each – Virginia (Alex Cooper), Emory (Dana Jefferson), Rice (Sydney Greene), and Yale (Anna Nomura). I just know that Miley would have been in this elite group if she’d lived. She could have gone to Harvard or wherever she wanted. I avoided even looking at that page.

Mr. Studie went, “I have other things to do today. Mr. Stanley is going to come by this room every few minutes. Do you understand?”

We all said, “Yehhs,” in the same tone we’ve been using since we were five years old. The truth was, I didn’t understand. Was he saying that he didn’t trust us? Or that we were all in this together? Did I really care?

LaQuisha said, “Did you guys know that there’s an episode of Dexter where a teenage serial killer kills his yearbook editor?”

I said, “Is that supposed to be a clue?”

She said, “Probably not. I got bored over the weekend and started scraping the bottom of the barrel.”

Anton said huffily, “You could have called me. I could have had you hacking into Kamran and Scott’s work records.”

I asked him, “Why are you so sure they’re guilty?”

He turned to look at me. “Why are you so sure they aren’t?”

I jutted my lip. “Didn’t you once say that their cyber-bullying on Casey’s facebook page was faked? Doesn’t that suggest that they’re being framed?”

Anton smiled like the Cheshire Cat and replied, “Or, in clever reverse psychology, that they want us to think they’re being framed.”

Okay, now I wanted someone to knock him off the bars again. “Can I ask you guys something?” I finally said. “What are we doing here? We have all the files, couldn’t we just do this at home and text each other if we thought of something?”

Anton said, “Working together, we think of things that we wouldn’t if we were alone. Like the location of your sister. Adults call it brainstorming.”

“We’re not adults.”

“You’ve made that clear.”

“I’m out of here. Text me if you need me.” I would just tell Mom that we tried for a while, and that I was now on call. I started to walk for the door. No squeaky-shoes. Coast was clear.

Anton said, “One question before you go. Did your sister wear glitter much?”

I stopped. “What the frak are you talking about?”

“I’m just asking, would she have put glitter on herself?”

“No. Never. She wasn’t a glitter kind of girl.”

Anton handed me his phone. “I didn’t show the police the photos I was taking when you found me. Here’s one of them. Look at her temple.”

I really did not ever want to see my sister’s dead decaying face ever again. Maybe Anton knew that, because he’d set the photo to a sort of an extreme close-up of the bone between her left eye and left ear.

Anton said, “Doesn’t that look like gold dust?”

LaQuisha said, “Maybe that’s how every corpse looks after it’s atrophied underground for two years.”

Anton said, “That’s why I called two different morticians yesterday. They both told me that nothing should sparkle like this.”

LaQuisha said, “So what you’re saying is that the killers threw glitter on her face, leaving an impression that managed to last two years?”

“Not glitter, exactly,” Anton replied, “But something with glitter on it.”

“You mean, like a Hello Kitty pen?” LaQuisha asked.

“Maybe a Hello Kitty lunchbox?” Anton said.

I don’t know why I was still there, but for some reason I said, “What did you say my sister did underground?”

“What do you mean?” asked Anton.

“LaQuisha, you said she ‘auto-feed’ underground or something.”

“Oh my God, I know,” said LaQuisha, not to me. She began scrolling through photos on the computer. She brought up a photo of the jazz club holding a trophy, in front of the school trophy case. She said, “A trophy.”

Anton said, “Nice work LaQuisha! Can you find the photo of the debate club for this year?” Within a few seconds, she found it. It was a picture of Anton and about ten other students, standing in front of the school trophy case, holding the small trophy they had won that year.

Anton said, “You see, I noticed something weird but I didn’t even think to tell you guys. Casey isn’t in this photo.”

I said, “You’re calling that weird? Didn’t you say in your eulogy that she had to choose between debate and yearbook?”

“She did. She still came to occasional practices this year, but she couldn’t make the tournament where we won that trophy, in St. Louis.”

LaQuisha said, “I’m not following. So that’s why she’s not in the picture.”

“That’s why she didn’t want to be in it. She didn’t think she’d earned it. But I dragged her into the picture anyway.”

“No you didn’t, cause she’s not there,” I said.

“That’s just it. She was. She must have photo-shopped herself out. Can you check on that, LaQuisha?”

“Yeah, hang on. The file has records…give me a second.”

I said, “You said you noticed this before?”

“I thought she did it out of modesty. I didn’t think…there.”

LaQuisha now had her monitor showing two photos side-by-side. They were the exact same photo of the debate club, except that one of them had Casey in it, and one of them didn’t. Considering what happened to her, I’ll admit it was frakkin’ spooky.

I said, “You think she’s trying to show us that big trophy that would otherwise be hidden?”

Anton looked at me. “Let’s go.”

Just as we were about to open the door, Mr. Stanley opened it without knocking. “Hello kids!”

Anton made what I thought was a very forced laugh. “Your timing is perfect, sir. We just need to check something at the other end of the hall. Can you let us back into Mr. Studie’s in a minute?”

Mr. Stanley looked at Anton like he just asked for a date with his mother. “Where exactly are you going?”

“The, uh, the trophy case.”

“Why?”

LaQuisha said, “I’ll stay in the room. You guys go.”

Mr. Stanley walked with Anton and me about 200 feet to the trophy case. It was at least as big as two full-sized bookcases. There were all kinds of stupid trophies in there, mostly for sports, with a few for jazz and science. Like every trophy case, it had mirrors on its back wall. Mr. Stanley looked at us while we looked at the hardware.

Mr. Stanley said, “I can’t open it for you.”

Anton said, “No need.”

I said, “What, are you gonna use to open it, the axe from the emergency glass?” Based on his reaction, I don’t think Mr. Stanley caught my sarcasm.

“Hardly,” Anton said. “We caught a break. I think they turn this over every year. But when there’s a nice big one, like the debate club won two years ago, they sometimes let it linger longer.” He pointed: “You see – Forensic Champions, Columbia, Missouri, 2012. That’s the trophy that Casey and Miley won together like three weeks before she went missing.” It was the least interesting kind of trophy, just a big long golden cup without any statue on the top or whatever.

I said, “So what?”

“Look in the mirror. Look in the back of the cup.”

I stood on my tiptoes to get a better look. The trophy’s backside was dented and some of the glitter had come off at the dent.

Anton almost whispered, “Riley, this is your sister’s murder weapon.”

Mr. Stanley’s eyes widened.

 

15

ENDTHEVIOLENCEENDTHESILENCE.COM

 

That evening, Mom and Father O’Brien and me had the first pleasant dinner in a few days. Okay, fine, I mean, they were still a little stiff, but they were happy to get any slight piece of good news. In our demented world, a murder weapon counted as good news.

Father O’Brien said, “So what does this do for us?”

“Well,” I said, chewing, “As you know, Miley went missing on a Wednesday. People would have noticed if that big-ass trophy was suddenly gone the next day. So whoever used it must have put it right back.”

“Sick person,” said my mother. “What kind of sick person uses a trophy to bludgeon a child to death?”

“I get it,” I said. “Miley was using their words against them. They did the same thing, in their own way.” Mom looked at me like I’d just flushed her jewelry down a toilet. “I’m not saying I approve. I’m just saying I get it.”

Very awkward silence.

“So now,” I said, “Anton wants the swipe card records of everyone who entered the school the night that Miley was…you know. He especially wants to compare them and see who entered the school both on Miley’s night and Casey’s night. He thinks that any such members of the faculty should be questioned about at least collusion with the killers.”

“Yes, excellent,” said Mom. “When will we have the names?”

I said, “The principal is willing to discuss that with the police, but not with us.”

“Oh, but that’s absurd. It must be because you’re students. I’ll call her right now.”

“Mom, before you press that speed-dial button…Anton said that she made the point that almost all of the custodial faculty would have been there both days.”

“I think custodial faculty are unlikely in any event. The top of our suspect list should be teachers. They’re more likely to have relationships with students – even relationships that have gone in this direction.” Mom was starting to sound like Anton. Ugh. So few places for me to go to relax anymore.

Mom said to the phone: “Hello, Jennifer? Marie Tyler. I’m fine, how are you? Good. I’m calling about this swipe card list. My daughter tells me that you won’t tell her the names of the faculty members that were there on both the nights of Miley’s and Casey’s, uh, demises. Uh huh. Uh huh. Yes, Jennifer, but… No. But what I’m saying is… Jennifer! Well then I will call the police! Thank you for nothing!” She hung up.

“So hey, what are the names, Mom?”

“This isn’t funny, young lady.”

“What are you waiting for? Call the police.”

She sighed and looked down. “They’re going to tell me the same thing.”

“Marie,” said Father O’Brien, “That tone doesn’t sound like you.”

“Well I’m sorry Father, but I can’t always be the engineer throwing logs into this train’s furnace.” Nice obscure reference Mom. Way to illuminate nothing. She said, “Thank God for Anton and LaQuisha.”

“Hey,” I said, “I do just as much as them.”

“Only because they prod you into doing it.” She sighed again, and pushed her fork through her mashed potatoes. “Lucky for me you consider Anton cute.”

“I do not! Where are you getting this?”

“Not from anything you’ve said. But you know…some of the facebook comments.”

“What the frak are you talking about?”

“You know, Riley hearts Anton, that sort of thing.”

A couple of total losers who I didn’t even know had written something like that, not even on my wall, but like on Veronica’s or something. It was so stupid, I forgot about it the second I saw it. “Mom, are you telling me that after everything, you’re gonna believe the teases you see on the internet?”

Father O’Brien said, “I believe that someone’s face has turned the color of a fine Maine lobster.”

“Oh my frakkin’ google. Let’s change the subject.”

Mom said, “Remember, we don’t just say ‘let’s change…’”

“Yeah, yeah, I know. When are we gonna change houses?”

“What?” said Mom.

“Well, aren’t you sitting on a hundred grand that you don’t need now? Can’t we get someplace where you don’t have to sleep in the living room?”

Mom said, “This conversation isn’t appropriate yet, Riley.”

“When will it be?”

“How about after Miley’s service? Which reminds me, I need you to speak there.”

Ugh. “Mom, why do we have to have a service? She’s been dead for two years!”

Father O’Brien said, “Riley, listen to your mother.”

“Mom, come on! Aren’t I already doing enough?!”

“What are you doing?”

“The yearbook! Duh!”

“Riley, this is the only time in your entire life that I am going to ask you to say goodbye to your sister.”

I looked at Father O’Brien. No help.

“Can I delegate it to Anton?”

“No,” they both said.

“Okay, fiiiine.”

After Father O’Brien left, Mom walked me over to her laptop. She said, “Look Riley, I want you to see what the school is doing.” After she was sure I was watching, we went to the school’s official website, which had changed its banner to say:

“We are all united in grief and sadness over the losses of Miley Tyler and Casey Campbell. Now we seek your assistance in keeping our community safe. There are some who believe that your fellow students’ untimely deaths were related, and that there may be a killer or killers at large. If you have any information about Miley or Casey that you think we may not have, please email us or tell a teacher. Many of you are leaving for college soon. Do you want to be from the town that let two innocent girls slip away? Or would you rather be from the town where justice happens even when it’s not easy? Many more of you are thinking about what to put on your college application. How about: helped solve a murder? Let’s all do our part to make Kirksville the wonderful town we all know it can be.”

Mom said, “What do you think?”

I said, “I think that’s crazy. Principal Merrill wants us to help find Miley’s murderer because it would look good on a resume?”

Mom said, “You have to hit kids where they live.”

“Yeah, well, nice try. Kids aren’t gonna respond to this.”

“Why not?”

“For one thing, there’s no comments section.”

“Of course it’s closed to comments. It’s the school’s official site!”

“Then they could have linked us to some other site.”

“Which also would have been official, and also closed to comments. You want the hear from all the lunatics again?”

“Mom, we’ve been over this. Kids my age don’t take websites seriously without comment sections. They want to see what people are saying before they chime in. And besides…it’s like you’re saying you don’t trust us.”

“So what should the school do?”

“The school should focus on helping the police.”

“And what should students do?”

“Mom, you know that students wouldn’t respond to the school’s site even if it did have a comments section. I mean, not in any helpful way. People know that the school is lame. Kids my age can smell lameness on a site from a mile away. We’ve got a special digital radar.”

Mom sighed and said, “I don’t know what the internet has done to you kids.”

“You’ve also described it as the only good big thing in the last ten years. So what is it, eighth wonder or eight-alarm fire?” She didn’t answer that. “Anyway, I doubt that things have changed the way you say. When you were in school, and the principal asked you to do something optional, how often did you bother?”

Her lips jutted. “It sounds like you’ve given up.”

“You know, Mom, whatever we do, we’re not gonna bring Miley back.”

Mom said, “You know, Riley, when you have a second child, you hope that she’ll support your first child.”

“After she’s gone?”

Mom took a breath and said, “So, what should the school’s website look like?”

“I’m just saying this sorta thing needs to come from a student. Kinda like when Miley was running ihatebullies. Now that people know you’re running it – I know you get some interest – but a lot of people smell the lame.”

“So…you mean…something more like this?”

She clicked to another site with an exceptionally stupid name: endtheviolenceendthesilence.com. Basically, someone had aggregated all the publicly known information about Miley and Casey’s deaths. They even had today’s new information about the trophy. The site gave each wacko theory its own page and thus its own comment section. One page where it was Kamran and Scott working alone. One page where it was them with Jessica but her father didn’t know. One page where her father knew and it was part of the police corruption scandal. One page where it was kids from the debate team that kept losing to ours. One page for the “mean girls” on campus who were only loosely affiliated with Jessica. One page where it was the notoriously violent assholes of the school – not Kamran. One page for each of various creepy faculty members. One page where Miley ran away, was struck by random violence, and then Casey committed suicide. And so on. And almost all of the pages had lots of recent comments. Looked like the students had come here to vent and speculate.

The site was tinfoil hat times ten, but oddly, I appreciated it for not being obsessed with Kamran and Scott. That made me think it couldn’t be just another Anton project. That and the fact that no one had that much time for frakkin’ multi-tasking. Mom was looking at me for a reaction. I said, “Not bad.”

Mom said, “It’s better than not bad. Look here on the homepage, the person says they’re just a Kirksville High student trying to help.”

“Looks like the kids bought that. I mean, cause they’re commenting.”

“People can be good people, Riley. As Father O’Brien has been telling you, they can act for altruistic reasons. Like Casey, and like your sister.”

I went to the “contact info” tab to write an email to whoever was running the site. I wrote: “This is Riley Tyler. Feel free to make me prove that anyway you like. Can you please text me? My mom and I would love to meet you in person as soon as possible. We are hoping you can help us. Thanks, Riley.” And I left my phone number.

My Mom was watching. “What’s that all about?”

“If they’re as altruistic as you think, they shouldn’t mind contacting us.”

Mom actually smiled. “So this isn’t what you call a ‘rabbit hole,’ then?”

“Maybe the occasional rabbit hole could lead to the Queen of Hearts.” I stole that line from Mr. Studie, but Mom wouldn’t know that.

Literally ten minutes later, I got a text from an unfamiliar number. It read: “its my site. thanks for writing riley. when do u want 2 meet?”

I wrote, “how about now? do u know where we live?’

The reply was, “yeah, c u in 15”.

Mom freaked. “You sent this person to our house?! This could be anyone! This could be Miley’s killer, waiting for this chance!”

“Mom, the location of anyone’s house in Kirksville is public knowledge if you have their last name and at least a minimal amount of internet savvy. Obviously this person meets that description. I thought you wanted to pursue any microscopic chance or whatever.”

Mom sighed. “Fine. Help me clean up around here.”

Fifteen minutes later, we heard a knock on the door. My Mom answered. It was a girl with long brown hair, average build, average height, nothing really remarkable about her at all…uh, except that it was my friend Leslie.

“Leslie!” said my mom. “This isn’t a great time to see Riley. We’re expecting someone.”

“I know…I’m her.”

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