THE SMOKING GUN
Mom made us hot cocoa with little marshmallows as if me and Leslie were six years old instead of sixteen. However, this was Mom’s specialty and you know what? It was damn good.
As we were sipping, Mom said, “Leslie, the obvious question is why didn’t you tell Riley?”
“Well, Mrs. Tyler, word spreads fast in our school. I thought people wouldn’t be as candid if they knew the site was run by Riley’s friend.” Were we really friends, I wondered. We hung out, for sure. But I had never been to her house. She wasn’t a total nerd, or no way would I eat lunch with her. But nor was she exactly beautiful or someone who could help me with social climbing.
Mom asked, “Have you learned anything we don’t know?”
Leslie said, “Well, no. But I think there’s a value in just having all the information out there in one place for everyone to see. Especially considering how quick events have moved in the last week. Maybe if people just see all the pieces of the puzzle, they might see how they fit together.”
Mom took a deep breath. “Leslie, you are truly a good friend to Riley. This might sound odd, but why didn’t you do anything like this before Casey died?”
“Well…to be honest, based on my conversations with Riley, I don’t think she would have wanted me to.” I raised my eyebrows in a way that probably said, “Yep.”
Mom said, “But you could have done it anonymously, like you are doing.”
“Yeah, well, I thought about it, but this html stuff is hard! I only just took a class in it this semester.” She was leaving something out. Was Mom as aware of that as me? I doubted Leslie had anything to do with Miley or Casey’s deaths, but there was still…something weird about her tone.
“Leslie?” I said.
“Why have I never been to your house?”
She turned red. “Have you…asked to come to my house?”
“Yeah. In fact I know I have.”
“You’re not missing anything.”
“What do you mean?”
“My parents…sorta suck. Actually, I hate them.”
“Yeah, who doesn’t? Uh, no offense, Mom.” My Mom rolled her eyes.
Leslie said, “I recognize that eye roll.” She meant me, which was a little weird. “Riley, your mom is cool. Believe me, I wish I had…well…” What? She went, “Riley, did you know I have foster parents?”
“Uh, no. Did you ever mention it?”
“Maybe not. I didn’t want you to think less of me.”
My mom said, “Don’t worry about that. God doesn’t want us to judge.” Yeah, that didn’t always stop me. “And there’s nothing wrong with having foster parents.”
“I’m sure that’s true in a lot of cases. But mine are sorta…horrible.”
My mom got a sort of Oprah-focus tightness to her face. “Has one of them ever…touched you?”
Leslie said, “It’s not physical abuse. It’s, uh, mental. I mean, they hate me. There’s a lot of reasons.”
Mom put her hand on Leslie’s shoulder. “I’m so sorry you feel that way about your parents…”
Leslie shrugged off her hand. “I don’t just feel that way! God, maybe you can’t…” And she swallowed her words.
“Can’t what?” I said.
Leslie said, “Well, I was sorta hoping that maybe I would help find Miley’s killer before I said this, but…I was thinking…maybe I could stay here for a little while.”
I knew it. I frakkin’ knew it. I said, “How long is a little while, Leslie?”
“I mean, it would be nice to have junior year in a safe space. Where I could work.”
“Junior year?” I said. “What do you expect my mom to just adopt you or something?”
“Mrs. Tyler?” asked Leslie. “I just think you’re amazing…”
“Leslie, I like you very much,” said my mom. “But it’s a little soon.”
Leslie stood up. “Yeah, I should go home anyway. My bike is outside.”
“Hold on,” I stood and blocked her path to the door. “How long have you been planning to ask my mom to adopt you?”
Leslie said, “Riley, it’s late.”
“You thought you could replace Miley? Did you hit up every local parent with a missing child?”
She barely said aloud, “There aren’t many.”
I yelled, “Maybe you should go to the Campbells!” Did I say she was pinterest? I should change her to friendster, though I don’t know if the site is that desperate.
My mom said, “Riley, that’ll do.”
“No it won’t!” I was pissed. I looked at Leslie. “Would you have ever bothered to still be my friend if not for what happened to Miley?!”
“Would you have ever bothered to still be Veronica’s friend if she didn’t have upperclassmen friends?”
“All right, you two, enough,” said my mom. “Leslie, I’m flattered. Keep up the site and we’ll see what happens. Why don’t you get back to it now? So good-bye and good night.”
Leslie smiled with tremendous relief. “Thank you, Mrs. Tyler.” She left.
I looked at my mom like she had sprouted beanstalks out of her eyes. “Mom!”
“It won’t do any good to be angry with her. We can use her. Just like you’re using Veronica.”
“Mom, that’s not even comparable.”
“Be that as it may, I’ll take all the help I can get.”
I collected myself. “Here’s the thing, Mom. You seem to think that because this all began on the internet, it’s gonna be solved on the internet. But I don’t think it is.”
“So how is it going to be solved?”
We both looked at the coffee table, where my yearbook was sitting.
The good news about the next day, Tuesday, was that my yearbook was filling up nicely. I was getting messages from people who I’d said hi to maybe twice. It’s funny how in high school you can have these “hi-in-the-halls” relationships with people you may not even have spoken to, but once it’s there, you can’t stop it. Mostly people wrote really nice things, like “if you ever need anything, ping me” with a phone number. Even though I never asked to be the girl with a missing or dead sister, I can’t say it was all bad. I can’t imagine so many people would have written “KIT – BFF!!” if not for the Miley dealio.
Anton wouldn’t have liked to see so much ink in my yearbook’s pages. He would have said that I might be obscuring clues. Whatevs.
The bad news was that Kamran still hadn’t signed it. For the second straight day, he was looking at anything but me in gym class. Was he mad at me again after hearing about this trophy thing?
The trophy wasn’t what the cops – and now Anton – were calling “the smoking gun.” There was no DNA on it. Anton admitted that the swipe card list, even if we had it, wouldn’t necessarily be authoritative, because someone could have followed someone in – people tend to allow other people to just go in. And Anton thought the bathroom windows were usually open. So we had to just keep looking for other stupid clues.
For those of you scoring at home, today Anton’s gym T-shirt said “RED RUM RED RUM.” I wanted to find the Sharpie he used for these shirts and draw a big “L” on his face.
You know where I was at 3:15 – Mr. Studie’s classroom with Anton and LaQuisha. After Mr. Studie left, I said, “Guys, I think we got lucky yesterday. I mean, how much more can we really expect this book to tell us?”
“I think Riley makes a good point,” LaQuisha shocked me by saying. “I mean, I was out of school for three days. I’ve looked all up and down the data. From what we have, I don’t know what we could be missing in here.”
“You see?” I said.
“So what, you want to give up?” Anton looked at both of us.
“No,” said LaQuisha, standing, “I want you guys to watch out for Mr. Stanley.”
She picked up her backpack and walked across the room to Mr. Studie’s desk. There, she pulled on his central desk drawer, as though to make sure it was indeed locked, which it was. Then she took out a small case, like for a drill and its bits. She said, “Do you think Mr. Studie has told us everything he knows?”
“LaQuisha,” said Anton, “What are you doing?”
“I’m not saying he doesn’t want to help us find Casey’s killers. But is it possible he’s hiding something?” She took little flat dummy keys out of her case and tried them in the lock of Mr. Studie’s desk.
I said, “You know how to pick locks?”
She said, “My uncle is a locksmith. He lets me work for him sometimes. That’s how I first got interested in people’s secrets. Now I show my uncle how to hack into people’s accounts.” She smiled broadly. “He likes to say that the old-fashioned way is the best. I hate to admit it, but sometimes he’s right.”
Anton was watching out the door’s window slit. He told us, “Mr. Stanley!”
LaQuisha stood bolt upright, and so did all of us. We started pacing around the room like we were about to have a baby or something. Mr. Stanley opened the door and came in. “Hello kids!”
“Hello!” we all said.
“What are you doing?”
“Brainstorming,” I said.
“I don’t have to worry about shovels, now, do I? Or you sneaking into any other room in this school?”
“Nope,” we all more or less said.
“Have a good afternoon,” he said and left. As soon as he was gone, we all looked to the corner of the room where Mr. Studie had left our shovel. Still there. Then we looked at each other for looking. That might have been the only time we all shared a mutual laugh.
LaQuisha went back to what she was doing – picking the lock.
Anton said, “What makes you suspicious of Mr. Studie?”
“The camera. If you only had one drawer that locks, wouldn’t you keep it there? Unless maybe you had something even more valuable there already?”
And then, it clicked. She turned the key and opened his central drawer. We all ran over. For such a thin drawer, there were certainly a lot of files, including, of course, his thin book of grade records.
“Can I see what I’m getting?” I asked. Anton nodded and handed me the little book. I looked me up. Averaging a B-minus. I knew that.
Anton said, “Uh, Riley? You might want to look at this.”
They put it on the table. It was an 8½by11 printout of a color photo of two people, and you could tell from a distinctively knotted tree that they were in the main clearing in the path through the Pine Barrens. The picture clearly showed Kamran standing there menacingly even as Scott was swinging the trophy.
Anton said, “Hello, smoking gun.”
LaQuisha said, “Is Mr. Studie part of a conspiracy to kill Casey?”
I said, “That’s crazy. He cared about her!”
She said, “Maybe he cared too much and she rejected him?”
Anton had already dialed a number on his phone. He said to us, “I don’t care. Hello, Officer Tsui?”
A couple of hours later, back home, I got a text from Hayley: “OMG. Scott and Kamran were arrested.”
I texted back: “shut up. How do u know?”
“etvets – dont you go there?”
Leslie’s site? I was trying to keep that out of my house. At that moment I heard a shriek of joy from down the hall, namely my Mom being thrilled at the news. Oh well, so much for that idea.
So now we’re trusting Leslie for breaking news?
Well, it turned out Leslie was right. They were arrested. For Mom it was like Christmas had come early. For me it wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad. More like Arbor Day.
STOP RIGHT NOW OR YOU’LL REGRET IT
That night, Anton texted me his guess that the photo was once slated for inclusion in the yearbook. He thought Casey withdrew it at the last minute, on that final night. Either she was coerced to remove it, or she was worried it somehow wouldn’t stand as evidence. If Casey couldn’t make a convincing case, then the next thing you know, Schwarzenegger’s lawyer would have said “I’ll be back.”
The next day, Wednesday, just as Mr. Studie’s class was beginning, Veronica showed me her latest toy: none other than a brand-new iPad 3.
“Oh my google!” I said.
She said, “Yeah, exactly.”
“Where did this come from?” I asked, as though it had fallen off a turnip truck.
“A little graduation present…”
“You’re not graduating!”
“I know, but I bought one for my brother. And then I decided I needed to have one too.”
Must be nice, I thought. What did her dad even do for a living? I wished Mom would give me money to spend like that. Hey, maybe if I found Miley’s killer, she would.
After the day’s announcements, Mr. Studie gave us “quiet reading” time. Two days before the end of school, “quiet” is more of a hope than a description. Ignoring the buzz of students, I walked up to his desk and said in a low voice, “We’re not quite done with the announcements.”
He looked at me with that anime-mouth. “Go ahead.”
I said, “No. Not now. Anton and LaQuisha and me want to meet you here at lunch.”
“Anton and LaQuisha and I want,” he said.
“You want to meet? I’m surprised.”
“No. Never mind. Yes, I’ll be here.”
3 ½ periods later, we gathered in his room. Well, we sat in three of the five desks in the front row while he sat at his desk. To an observer we might have looked like we were receiving a special tutorial; Anton had told me earlier that it was more like we were conducting an inquisition.
“So, Mr. Studie,” said Anton, “What have you heard?”
“I’ve heard a lot of things. Why don’t you tell me what you want me to know.”
Anton said, “Scott Fassbinder and Kamran Levi were formally arrested last night for aiding and abetting the murder and disappearance of Miley Tyler. Kamran is still only 17, so he’s being charged as a minor, but that doesn’t really make much difference.”
Mr. Studie’s face gave away nothing.
Anton said, “LaQuisha?”
LaQuisha pulled out a copy of the photo we’d found. She said, “Does this look familiar?”
Mr. Studie said, “That’s what you gave to the police?”
“Yes,” said Anton.
“That’s why they arrested those students?”
“Where did you tell them you found it?”
“At the bottom of one of your desk drawers,” Anton said. “We sorta suggested that you might not have known it was there.” Anton had tried to throw up a smokescreen, so that the police wouldn’t contact Mr. Studie.
“What about the lock?”
“We didn’t tell them about that,” Anton said.
“You wanted this kept secret for a reason,” replied Anton. “We thought we’d give you a chance to tell us what that reason is before we tell the police about your, uh, involvement.”
“The police have contacted me. Since they arrested the kids.” Oh. So much for the smokescreen.
Anton said, “Right, but obviously you haven’t been arrested, and the lock would make it clear that you knew about it.”
“Or maybe I just loaned Casey my keys. Or maybe you didn’t want to tell them about the lock because you might get in trouble for using locksmith equipment on a teacher’s desk. Or maybe I could say you planted the photo.”
I looked at Anton and LaQuisha with what I hoped were blazing eyes. “I told you we should have just told them the truth!”
Anton said, “We didn’t lie to the police. We just didn’t tell them the whole truth. Kind of like Mr. Studie.” Anton made this weird move where he put both his palms on the desk in front of him, fingers flat out. “Mr. Studie, I could care less about being busted with locksmith equipment. You know what I want. I want everything you know about Casey and Miley’s deaths. Stonewall, and we go to the cops. Tell me everything, and I’ll do whatever I can to save you from jail and from losing this job.”
Mr. Studie sighed. “I didn’t get into teaching for this. I got into it to give you students the gifts of knowledge and rhetoric. I wanted to watch you use those gifts to write great essays, give great speeches.”
Anton said, “Stop stalling.”
Mr. Studie fixed him with a look. “Under your ridiculous scenario, if I admit to criminal wrongdoing, I’ll be saved from criminal charges? It would never, could never work that way. Anyway, I don’t know anything. I wish I did.”
“You knew about that photo!” I said.
“That photo should never have gone to the police.”
“Why?” asked LaQuisha.
His eyes took careful stock of each of us. “I…can’t say right now. I wish I could.”
“Really?” said Anton with righteous incredulity. “That’s the best you can do?”
Mr. Studie said, “Did you look for this photo in the digital files?”
LaQuisha said, “Yes. It’s not there.”
“Did the police ask about that?”
LaQuisha said, “We speculated to them…that she was going to publish it in the yearbook, but that she deleted it on that final evening. Perhaps under duress.”
“And she didn’t email it to anyone?”
LaQuisha said, “We don’t have her emails. But I’m guessing not, or else they would have seen it already.”
Mr. Studie asked, “But why would I have held onto it?”
Anton said, “Don’t answer that, LaQuisha. We’re asking the questions.” He turned to Mr. Studie. “Are you engaged in some kind of…extortion?”
“No,” he said with an eerie calm before his spine stiffened. “Do your worst.”
Anton stood up. “Don’t worry, we will.”
The three of us left his classroom and walked out into the lunchtime courtyard, filled with so many people that we didn’t even stand out. Whew.
LaQuisha said to us both, “You know, let’s not tell the police about the lock just yet.”
Anton said, “Why not? Afraid of juvie?”
“No, it’s the same reason we didn’t say anything before. Leverage. If he goes to jail, we have none. If he still has something to lose, we can still bargain to get information.”
“Maybe we don’t have as much leverage as we think,” said Anton.
“I think we do. Let’s give him a day to sweat it out.”
“What do we say when we see him this afternoon?” asked Anton.
“Let’s not even go. Riley was right. There’s nothing in his classroom that we need; let’s just study the yearbook at our own houses and text each other if we find something. And I like the idea of him wondering where we are.”
The whole thing was crazy. Mr. Studie as part of a conspiracy to keep my sister buried? And kill Casey Campbell if she got too close? I mean, come on.
Gym class sucked. Kamran couldn’t exactly show up, seeing as he was in jail. Anton’s dumb shirt said “MURDER CANNOT BE HID LONG.” Meanwhile, everyone wanted to gossip with me or about me. Thanks for the site, Leslie. I was beginning to feel like I was wearing a shirt that said “Talk About Me.” I tried to answer texts and questions politely but I was really getting sick of everyone. I wanted to crawl into bed, curl into a ball, and just wait until this whole thing was somehow over.
I texted Mom about my revised plans; she texted back to arrange another pickup. I’m sure she wanted my stupid blow-by-blow account of the meeting with Mr. Studie. As per usual, we met two blocks from the school. I climbed into her ancient Toyota and kissed her. She said, “Is this far enough from Starbucks?”
I smiled. “Yes.”
“How are you, honey?”
“Good. Ready for school to be over.”
“How was your meeting with Mr. Studie?”
“Fine. He didn’t admit anything.”
“I’m surprised the police haven’t arrested him.”
“Mmmm.” Slight awkward silence. “Mom, can we just not talk about any of this stuff for a few hours? I need a break.”
I closed my eyes and rested my head on the window. I thought about the times when I was a kid and sitting in the back seat, and I would fall asleep and when I woke up, we’d be home. There was something so magical about that, it was…oh yeah, Miley called it like “teleportation.” Miley had a lot of nice words like that.
I said without opening my eyes, “Mom, are you gonna pick me up every day for the rest of this week?”
“You mean the next two days? Riley, I don’t want to scare you, but these people are obviously deranged. Even if some of them are behind bars, we can’t put it past them to threaten your life. Baby, I lost one, I am not going to lose you too.”
I opened my eyes and looked at Mom. “No, Mom, you’re not.”
Our car was stopped at the top of a little hill, at a traffic light next to our bank. Suddenly there was a crazy BANG, like an earthquake. The bank’s usual homeless guy – the one that looked like Gandalf – had just thrown his body on the hood of our car.
WHAT THE FRAK. He never did anything like that before, certainly not to us.
We watched as he stood up and did it again.
My mother said to me, “Call 9-1-1.”
“Are you kidding? Let’s just keep driving.”
“The light’s red!”
“It’s not gonna change?”
Now we noticed that Gandalf was holding up a cardboard sign. I mean, all these hobos have these stupid signs, and I normally ignore them, but right then it seemed like we should look. The letters read STOP RIGHT NOW OR YOU’LL REGRET IT.
The light changed to green. I’m like, “Go, Mom, go. Get us the frak out of here.”
Mom peeled away, a little faster than she might normally go on a green light. She said, “Did you read his sign?”
“That’s not the kind of sign homeless people normally have. Usually it’s more like ‘hungry please help’ or something.”
“Mom, are you telling me that a homeless person may have been behaving erratically? Better notify the six o’clock news.”
“That’s weird. My brakes are really soft.”
“What do you mean, like, soft?”
“I mean, like, they don’t – oh my God. They’re not responding at all! Riley!”
I remember that I thought to look at the speedometer. It said 35 and rising, as we were going down a hill. No way could I just jump out and expect to live.
We were on the kind of central city road that has two lanes in each direction. We were in the left lane; there was one car in front of us and one just to our right. Mom didn’t mean to tap the car in front of us but she did. Of course that driver slammed on his brakes. Mom knew he would so she had to swerve to the right. She banged the car to the side of us, just a little – he managed to pull over immediately. Now we had a clear road in front of us, but we were going something like 45 down an incline.
My mom pulled on the emergency-brake, located between our seats. That was like hitting a speed bump, a definite jarring pause but not more. When she gave up, I yanked on that thing like I was pulling taffy. It didn’t come off, exactly, but it stuck straight up, becoming the world’s most useless erection. Maybe I slowed us a little. We were barreling toward an intersection at the bottom of the hill. Thank God, our light was green. Mom began turning the wheel to the left, then to the right, then to the left again. She only had a two-lane margin, because cars were still coming the other way. We shot through the intersection, to the astonished looks of, like, everyone.
The next light, now a block away from us, went from green to red. FRAK. We were either gonna hit the intersection like a bullet, and probably smash into someone going in the cross-direction, or somehow make our car stop before that. We were now on flat ground, big deal. More importantly, the wave of cars tapered off going the opposite direction. No one was in front of us. This was it.
“Riley, brace yourself!”
I frakkin’ did. I put one arm on the roof, the other on the seat.
Mom spun the car in a circle, to the left. You have no idea how fast 30 miles an hour really is until you’ve seen it from a spinning car. Would we flip? I somehow had time to wonder. Would we flip?
We flipped. Or flopped. Onto our side.
The Toyota was too ancient to even have air bags. It slid in between two parked cars and came to rest on part of the sidewalk.
I could barely feel my legs. Mom was unconscious.
I screamed, “MOM! MOM!” She didn’t answer.
I unbuckled my seat belt and grabbed Mom. We could only open my side. I opened it and the stupid frakkin’ door landed on me again.
I pushed it open more and managed to get us both out. I was aching all over but I started dragging Mom. I pictured the car exploding like in a movie.
It didn’t, but that’s just about the only good part.
NEW CUSTODY ARRANGEMENT
In the hospital, Mom kinda wavered in and out of consciousness. The doctor told us she had two bruised ribs, a punctured lung, and a broken arm. I was basically fine other than soreness and scrapes. As usual, Father O’Brien was right there.
When we were finally alone in her room, Father O’Brien asked me, “Do you think your mother tried to preserve your life, at the possible expense of her own?”
I said quietly, “I know she did.” Somehow, maybe instinctually, Mom spun the car to the left – I believe – because she knew she’d be more likely to feel the impact.
Why the frak did I feel like it was my fault? It was most assuredly not my fault. What did my Father O’Brien say about the blame game and 9/11? He said something like, “You know who I blame for doing evil? Evil-doers.” Wise words, those.
I put my hand on Father O’Brien’s shoulder. He hugged me. “We’re gonna get even for this one, Riley-smiley.”
“Didn’t you say that last time?”
“I don’t know about you, but I’ve had just about all I can take.”
“Yeah, me too. So what are we gonna do?”
“I called Anton.”
What? Who’s he getting even with, me? I said, “Why?”
“You’re going to solve this with that yearbook.”
“Father…we’ve looked all through that yearbook. What if there’s nothing else there?”
“There’s something.” He didn’t know. He and my Mom were just people, just like everyone else, with the same ignorances and insecurities. I guess I knew that, but what a time for it to hit me in the face.
Officer Tsui showed up. At first he tried to talk to my Mom. She wasn’t saying much. I mean, she wasn’t in a coma, exactly, but her answers were like “uhhh” and “ehhh.” I had never seen her in such bad shape.
Officer Tsui took me out into the hall outside, where he asked me about a bazillion questions. I also had a few for him.
“Witnesses described the same thing that Mr. Elton did,” answered Officer Tsui.
“Which was what?”
“Somebody in a big Santa Claus outfit, including beard, slid under the car with a set of wire clippers. He apparently paid Mr. Elton…”
“You mean Gandalf?”
“Okay, Gandalf, ten dollars to distract you, and then he slid under the car and sliced up the rubber brake hoses so thoroughly that all the fluid leaked out of them immediately.”
I didn’t feel like respecting this guy anymore. “So nobody on the street says anything about a Santa Claus in the middle of June. Jumping under a car.”
“Let me ask you something, Miss Tyler. If you were there, maybe a hundred feet away, would you have said anything?” Well, okay, fine, no. But we’ve already established I’m a shallow twat.
My reply was, “Did they find Santa Claus?”
Officer Tsui said, “They found the Santa suit discarded in a nearby dumpster.”
“Did they check it for DNA or whatever?”
“Working on it. Waiting on lab results.”
“Mr. Elton is in custody. But I’ll be honest, it’s a formality. We can’t really charge him with anything.”
“But what if you find a suspect? Maybe he can identify him.”
“That’s why we’re keeping him overnight. He’s enjoying the free food. But no matter what he or you might like, the law won’t let us keep him past tomorrow morning without a real charge.”
“How about aiding and abetting manslaughter?”
Officer Tsui wrote in his notebook. Did he ever get tired of doing that? He said, “Did his sign warn you to stop?”
I’d forgotten about the sign. I was starting to realize what it actually meant. “Do you have that sign?”
“Did you check it for DNA?”
“You know, DNA isn’t dandruff. It doesn’t just fall everywhere.”
“So, you didn’t?”
“No, uh, we did. So far, no luck.”
This dude was frakkin’ useless. He saw the look on my face and put his hand on my shoulder. Creep.
“Look, Riley, you have been through a great ordeal in the last few days. I do not pretend to know how you feel. But truly, I want to help you. Do you want some kind of extra security?”
“Can you take your hand off my shoulder?” He did. “Uh, the answer is maybe. I’ll let you know.”
“Can I have the list of teachers who swiped into the building on the nights of Miley’s and Casey’s deaths?”
“I…uh…I don’t have that in front of me.”
“Can you get it?”
“I’ll see what I can do. Okay?” Not okay. That meant a big bag of dicks.
Anton found us in the hall. Officer Tsui stood up. “I can leave you two alone.”
“Oh no, you can’t,” said Anton. “Stay right there.” He took my hand and leaned over and hugged me, which I thought was kind of odd. As soon as I looked at his eyes again, he said, “Are you all right?”
“You’re not hurt?”
“Bruises, scrapes. Nothing major. Mom’s the one in intensive care. But she’ll be okay.”
Officer Tsui said, “Mister Forster, can I ask you, why…?”
Anton interrupted, “Why are Scott and Kamran out of police custody?”
“WHAT?” Tsui and I said at the same time.
Officer Tsui made a phone call and walked a few feet away from us. I asked Anton, “How do you know this?”
“I just saw it on somebody’s twitter feed. I didn’t believe it, but then I searched around and found this photo.”
I looked on his phone and saw a photo of Kamran and Scott in casual clothes, waving as they walked down the front stairs of the police station.
I said, “That doesn’t prove it. That could have been taken anytime. Like when the judge ruled them innocent.”
“You’re starting to sound incredulous of everything on the internet. I like it.”
“So we agree you’ve proved nothing?”
He said, “Weren’t they wearing suits back then?”
Father O’Brien walked out of the patient room and up to us. “Hi, Anton. What’s going on?”
Anton said, “Sorry to tell you this, Father, but it seems our lead suspects are no longer in custody.” He handed him the phone, showing the photo.
“Why?” said Father O’Brien, more calmly than I wanted him to.
“That’s what the Officer is going to tell us.”
Officer Tsui finished his phone call and turned to us. “They want to explain it to you at the station. All of you, if you can.”
Anton said, “No, I’ll go alone. You two stay with Marie.”
Father O’Brien said, “I’ll stay with Marie. She’s fine. Riley, go with Anton and Officer Tsui.”
I said, “Are you, like, gonna tell Mom about this?”
Father O’Brien sighed. He said, “I think I’ll wait a little while.”
Riding in the back of the police car, I tried to talk Officer Tsui into blaring his siren. He wouldn’t do it. I noticed traffic often cleared anyway. There would be this hysterical moment when a driver ahead of us realized that a police car was behind them. Their car would have almost like an epileptic twitch, brake for no reason, and then get over into the rightmost lane as soon as possible. Ah, fear.
My phone had new texts from Hayley – “r u ok? wtf happened?” and Susie – “Riley were you in a car crash? How can I help?” I texted them both back with the same text: “I’m fine, Mom’s fine, will call u l8r”
Anton was looking over my shoulder at my texts, which I didn’t like.
I said to him, “Should we call LaQuisha?”
“She’s not picking up.”
“Did you leave a message?”
“Missed-call. She knows I wouldn’t call for no reason.” You save those no-reason calls for me, huh? I thought. Then I thought no, that’s not fair. He has only contacted me about the case. Did I want that to change, or something? Ew.
At the police station, we went through the usual metal detectors. Hey! We finally landed in one of those closed-off Batman-Joker kind of interrogation rooms, complete with central white-grimy table. Officer Tsui took off with barely a “bye.” Anton looked at me with a furrowed brow.
An officer in a dirty beige corduroy blazer and sky-blue buttoned shirt came in. “Anton Forster, Riley Tyler?”
“Yeah?” we both said.
“I’m Detective Zachary Powell. Sit down.”
All three of us sat around the pukey table. Anton said, “There may be some confusion. We came here to find out why you released two people from custody.”
“I know why you came. They were released because we found out that the photo that incriminated them was a fake. A photo-shop job.”
“What?” said Anton, his jaw almost hitting that gross table. “How do you know that?”
“New information came to light. We saw the photos it was made from, we saw the whole thing.”
Anton said, “Who did the photo-shopping?”
“We were hoping you would tell us.”
“We don’t know. Do we, Riley?”
I said, “That’s right. We don’t know.”
The detective said, “Is that your last word on this subject?”
Anton said, “Until you tell us who did it, yes.”
“You know who did it, Mr. Forster. You did.”