A few days passed. The bodies of the thrill kill girls provided DNA and fingerprint matches to the evidence from the murders, and the photos didn’t do much to exonerate them. The APD broke down and set up a tip line so anyone could call and give information on my killings. I’d say that Dodger, O’Malley, and I never prank-called the number, but that would be a dirty, rotten lie.
Then, before I knew it, the weekend went by and it was Monday. O’Malley and I stood out front of Cecilia’s as I waited to see if Nick would show up. I tossed the third link in my smoking chain on the ground with the rest, watched the road for his car, didn’t see it, and got ready to add a fourth link.
“Maybe he forgot,” O’Malley suggested.
I shook my head. “The guy knows Pi to something like thirty decimal places. He doesn’t forget.” I flicked my lighter and inhaled hard. “He’s my best friend,” I added through a cloud of smoke. “He’ll come.”
O’Malley sighed and put her thumbs in her belt loops, leaning back against the wall. I glanced over at her, feeling kinda bad for dragging her along. There were more important things she could be doing, clients she could be finding, scumbags she could be killing, money she could be earning.
“If he’s not here by the time I’m done with this, we can go,” I offered.
“I’m fine with waiting, Grin. It’s just…”
That look of hers, when she has to tell me some bad news.
“Look, you said you told him about Walter. And you said he’s smart enough to figure out that that wasn’t your only victim. I don’t doubt that he’s your friend, but… isn’t it possible he might be scared of you?”
I heaved smoke out my nose. I guess I couldn’t blame him. Hell, if I were him, I’d be terrified of me, too.
“Is that his car?” she asked.
I looked at the road and grinned. It was his old, crappy Ford Escort.
“Told ya,” I said.
Nick parked his car and trudged up with his hands in his pockets. “Hey,” he greeted uncomfortably.
“Glad you decided to show,” I said, and introduced, “This is O’Malley.”
She gave him a little wave. He smiled awkwardly and nodded. “Nice to meet you. So…” He looked around to make sure there was no one within earshot. “…Grin, look. I think I know you well enough to know what you want my help with. But, if anyone finds out I’m involved…”
“Don’t worry, man. I’ll take care of ya,” I said, swiping my hand dismissively. “When this is over, it’ll look like the work of a vengeful ghost.”
He sighed and adjusted his glasses nervously. I waited for his response, pretty sure he would refuse. I hoped he wouldn’t, but if he did, I wouldn’t argue. After all, people were going to die. If anyone found out he had anything to do with it, he’d have bigger problems than just getting his diploma pulled. This wasn’t a senior prank. This was a premeditated, elaborately orchestrated, highly theatrical, multiple murder.
Finally, he took off his glasses, cleaned the lenses with his shirt, put them back on, and said, “All right, what’s the plan?”
The first phase of my plan was to screw with Kelly. We followed Nick to his house so he could drop off his car and he joined us in O’Malley’s Nova. I directed her to Kelly’s place—one of those cookie-cutter, upper middle class houses—and we parked across the street.
“Now all we need is some coffee and doughnuts,” Nick muttered.
“Sorry, man. Only stakeout fare I have is cigarettes,” I answered.
“What are we waiting for, anyway?” he asked.
I twisted around and gave him a serious look. “What is rule number one?”
“‘If she says you don’t have to wear one, you should definitely wear one,'” he quoted, rolling his eyes.
“A, that’s from the set of rules about girls, and B, that’s the second rule about girls. What’s rule number one when it comes to enemies?”
“‘Know them like they’re your friends?'”
“Damn right,” I said, and turned my attention back to the house.
“Wait, what’s rule number one when it comes to girls?” O’Malley wondered.
“‘Treat them with the utmost respect,'” I blurted out. Nick started to correct me, but I pointed a threatening finger at him.
O’Malley lifted an eyebrow at me, but just asked, “Okay, so, what do you know about Kelly?”
“He’s a dick,” I said.
“Well, yeah… Anything else?”
“His dad is the vice principal of the high school,” Nick offered.
“That’s how he gets away with so much,” I told O’Malley. “The teachers are too scared to discipline him.” I turned back to Nick. “Like that time he asked that kinda overweight girl out just so he could take pictures of her naked and sneak them into the school newspaper? And I was the one that got Saturday school for trying to teach him a lesson.”
“What did you do?” O’Malley asked.
“The way I heard it, he sat on Kelly’s chest and tried to make him eat a copy of the paper,” Nick explained, and told me, “You’re very volatile, y’know that?”
“What can I say? Assholes piss me off,” I said with a shrug. “By the way, did it ever get out that he was cheating on Sarah?”
“No…” Nick said thoughtfully, “but she did dump him, and… she and Mark are kinda… together…”
I could tell he was trying to break the news to me gently. I just nodded and said, “Mark’s a good guy. I can deal with that.”
“Who was he cheating with?” O’Malley asked.
“Her name’s Stacy,” I said. “And he’s definitely not the only one.”
“And she really hates Grin,” Nick added.
“Yeah, because she can’t have me.”
“No… No, I think she legitimately hates you,” he mused. “Y’know, your personality, your attitude, your wardrobe, your music…”
“How the hell would you know?” I asked.
“Well, that’s why I’d hate you…”
“Is that him?” O’Malley interrupted.
I looked at the house and, sure enough, Kelly was coming out. He got into his Escalade.
“Follow him,” I said, slouching down in the seat.
She started the car and asked, “Where do you think he’s going?”
“Hopefully, somewhere I can fuck with him,” I said.
I had expected him to be going to a party or something. If that had been the case, I would’ve hung around, let him catch a glimpse or two of me, and freak him out. But what did happen was beyond anything I could’ve hoped for.
We followed him up a short private drive to a house on the edge of town. I didn’t know who lived there, but when we parked just off the driveway and some distance from the house, I could see Stacy’s cute, little, pink VW parked out front. The Escalade was next to it. I assumed her parents weren’t home.
Kelly knocked on the door and, after a moment, Stacy opened it. She smiled and pulled him inside by his shirt. I grinned.
“Hey, Nick,” I said.
“Got your phone on ya?”
“Good, ’cause we’re gonna take a couple photos for the yearbook. C’mon,” I said, and climbed out of the car. O’Malley stayed behind to keep our getaway car warm. Nick got out to join me. We ran up the driveway and ducked low to move across the lawn. I pressed my back against the wall, around the corner from the front of the house.
“You’re not thinking about doing what I think you’re thinking about doing, are you?” Nick whispered.
A window some ways down the wall, toward the back of the house, came to life with light. It was now or never.
“Listen. I know you said you’d help, but you don’t owe me shit, okay?” I explained. “If you’re thinking better of this, I won’t hold it against you.”
The window to the room they were in slid open. I could hear them talking. Nick sighed hard and murmured, “The bastard tried to kill my friend. Let’s do this.”
We crept down to the window and sat beneath it. I could hear Stacy talking.
“Can you believe they changed the theme of the prom for that asshole?” Stacy complained. “I had the perfect dress. Now I have to buy a Halloween costume.”
“I know. He’s dead, and he’s still fucking shit up,” Kelly agreed.
You haven’t seen the half of it yet, sport, I thought, and turned around to peek over the window sill.
Stacy climbed onto the bed behind him and started massaging his shoulders. “You all right? You seem even more pissed off than usual.”
“Just been a little freaked out lately, that’s all,” he muttered, and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees.
“What, because of the thing with your locker? It was just a stupid joke. One of his friends probably did it.”
“He didn’t have any friends,” he reminded her. “Not at school, anyway.”
“What about that kid he hung around with? Nick?”
“That scrawny nerd?”
I elbowed Nick in the side. He glared at me and I tried not to laugh.
“Not a chance,” Kelly said. “You saw the video. That guy was, like, six-foot-six.”
“Oooh… So was Grin!” Stacy teased in a spooky voice.
“You know what I’m saying,” Kelly growled.
“Kel, I don’t know who you think did that, but I can tell you it wasn’t Grin’s ghost.”
“Don’t you think I know that?” he snapped. “I just mean, why me? I’m sure I wasn’t the only person who didn’t like the fucking guy.”
“Don’t worry about it,” she soothed, getting up on her knees and wrapping her arms around his neck. “Let me take your mind off it…” She played with his ear with her lips.
He started to smile and got to his feet, taking off his letterman jacket and letting it fall to the floor. “All right… I lied.”
“I know why it was my locker. And I know why they dressed up like him to do it. They’re trying to make me feel guilty.”
“What’re you talking about?” Stacy asked with a laugh.
He grinned and leaned down
close to her. “Wanna know what really happened to Grinley?”
No. Fucking. Way.
“Does that record audio?” I whispered to Nick. He nodded. “Turn it on, quick.”
Stacy giggled and let Kelly take her shirt off. “Tell me.”
Nick did as I asked and I put the phone on the window sill. I couldn’t believe what we heard.
“It was after Sarah’s party,” Kelly told Stacy as he undressed her. “His motorcycle was there when I left. The asshole was still there. With my bitch. So, I waited. When he left, I followed him onto Lake Drive…”
Stacy was naked and helping him undress, whispering, “Oh, Kelly, you’re so bad…”
“It gets better,” he said. “I came up beside him and forced him off the road. He hit the guardrail and went over the embankment.”
She started taking off his pants and I sat back down with my back against the wall. I heard the bed creak under their weight. He actually went on with the story while they were getting it on!
“Then I got out… and went down after him,” Kelly panted.
“I beat the shit out of him… He tried to… pull that fucking knife on me, but… I took it…”
“I took it and… I carved his face… and cut his throat.”
“Oh God, Kelly…”
“I killed Jake Grinley.”
“Oh my God… Say that again.”
“I… killed… Jake… Grinley.”
I reached up, grabbed Nick’s phone, and stopped the recording. “Perfect,” I whispered, and handed it back to him. “Let’s go.”
We were making our way back to the car, but I stopped, looking at the Escalade.
He’d left the driver side window cracked.
“Grin, c’mon,” Nick urged.
“In a sec,” I said, and took out a cigarette.
“Are you seriously stopping for a nic fix right now?” he asked, exasperated.
“Just a quick one,” I said. I took a few drags, then dropped the lit cigarette through the window. I turned around and smiled at Nick. “How much ya wanna bet he’ll shit his pants?”
“Can we just go?”
We returned to the car and I jumped into the passenger seat, grinning at O’Malley.
“What are you so happy about?” she asked me.
I twisted around to look at Nick and said, “‘Play it again, Sam.'”
While we waited for Kelly to come back out, we sat in the car and I told them my plans for prom night.
“What do you think?” I asked both of them when I’d gone through it.
O’Malley shrugged. “Sounds good to me.”
I looked at Nick. He was thoughtful for a long time, then said, “Helen’s gonna think it’s weird that I’m not there when the music changes.”
“It’ll take just a few seconds. Put the flash drive in, start the playlist, and walk away.”
“Yeah, and what about the flash drive?” he asked.
“What about it?”
“My fingerprints will be all over it!”
“They’re called ‘gloves,’ man.”
He sighed and gave me a long, concerned look.
“Look,” I began, twisting around to face him, “Like I said, you don’t owe me shit and you can back out any time. It’s just, you’re the only person I know that can help me here. You’re on the prom committee and in the AV club, so no one will think twice about you screwing around with the equipment.”
He seemed to consider it, sighing reluctantly. But, in the end, he said, “I’ll work on the sound file tonight.”
“You still got a copy of the demo?”
“He’s coming out,” O’Malley said.
We watched as Kelly emerged from the house and walked toward the Escalade. He unlocked the door, opened it, and stared inside for a moment. Then, slowly, he reached out and picked the cigarette up from the seat. He examined it, and with a shout of “Motherfucker!” he dropped it on the ground and took two steps back from where it fell, shaking his hand like the cigarette had bitten him. He stepped around it carefully and dusted off the driver’s seat.
“Go, go, go!” I urged O’Malley. She watched with her hand on the ignition and started the Nova at the same time Kelly started the Escalade so that he would be less likely to hear it. She backed out of the driveway quickly and pulled onto the shoulder of the main road. The Escalade emerged a little while later and we followed it with all the lights off.
“Where’s he going now?” Nick wondered.
“Not back home,” I observed. But after a bit of a chase, he squealed to a stop in front of a house. In the driveway was a minivan. Next to it was an old, gray Lincoln.
“It’s Mark’s place,” I said.
Kelly jumped out of the Escalade and slammed the door. He walked up to the house with his fists clenched at his sides, but before he could knock, the front door swung open and Mark came out on the porch.
“What the hell do you want?” Mark demanded.
“So, you were expecting me?” Kelly accused. “What a fucking coincidence.”
“I could hear that thing speeding this way from a block over.” Mark pointed at the Escalade. “The whole neighborhood was expecting you.”
“Yeah? You must’ve been going pretty damn fast to get here from Stacy’s before me!”
“Don’t play dumb! I know it was you! First you do that shit to my locker, then you drop a lit cigarette in my car?”
Mark stared at him. “How high are you right now?”
“What’re you trying to do, Mark? You trying to make me confess? ‘Cause it’s not gonna happen! I’m not throwing my life away just ’cause that headbanging Frankenstein loser died!”
“I’ve been home all night. It’s finals week. I’m studying,” Mark explained calmly.
“Y’know what I think?” Kelly went on frantically. “I think you had some kind of faggot crush on him!”
Mark scoffed. “You’re calling me gay? What are you, twelve?”
“Is that why you cried like a pussy? ‘Cause your little boyfriend died in your arms? Is that what this is about?”
Mark laughed and shook his head, incredulous. “He was right,” he seemed to realize. “You never are gonna make it in the real world.”
“I don’t hear you denying anything, fag!” Kelly shouted, shoving him.
Mark stood his ground, refusing to get riled. “I was upset when Grin died because I’m capable of something called ‘sympathy.’ You wouldn’t understand. And, no. I’m not the one pulling pranks on you.”
“Oh, yeah? Who else coulda done it? Allan? Brad? The guys who didn’t turn their backs on me and didn’t steal my bitch? My real friends? ‘Cause you, me, and them are the only ones that know what I had to do with…”
Kelly faltered and looked around the dark neighborhood nervously.
“With what?” Mark pressured him. “Say it.”
“You know what,” Kelly growled.
“Yeah, I do. And here’s what I think. Maybe I misjudged you. Maybe you do have a conscience, and that’s why you’re so paranoid.”
“You think I feel guilty? I’m not sorry for jack shit!”
“No. But you know you can’t get away with it.”
Kelly laughed. “Wake up, moron. I already have.”
“For how much longer?” Mark asked, and Kelly’s smile faded. “It’s not me, and it’s not your two stooges. Someone else knows and, sooner or later, they’re gonna make you pay.”
“Who did you tell?” Kelly demanded, grabbing Mark by his shirt.
“There were five of us there, Kelly. Four of us walked away, but five of us knew what you did.”
“What the fuck are you trying to say?”
“Where’s the fifth witness?”
“You know where he is!”
“Really? ‘Cause, last I heard, he’d disappeared!”
“That’s not a grave marker out there in the cemetery! That’s a memorial! Because there’s no grave to mark!”
“And that vigilante in Arlington lately! Leaves a pretty familiar signature on the bodies, don’t you think?”
“Only one anonymous witness so far, and y’know what they said? He was a tall, black shadow, like some kind of—”
Kelly punched him in the stomach before he could say “ghost,” and Mark doubled over, coughing.
“Mark,” Kelly warned through clenched teeth, “shut the fuck up, or—”
“Or what?” Mark groaned, straightening up a bit and giving him a small, contemptuous smile. “You’ll ‘shut me up for good?'”
Kelly stepped back from him and I couldn’t tell if he was shaking with anger or fear. He glanced around and said, “If you’re trying to scare me, you’re wasting your time. We all saw him; there was no way he could’ve made it. You know as well as I do, Grinley is fucking dead.”
“I never said he wasn’t,” Mark replied.
Kelly fidgeted nervously, backing away from the house toward the Escalade. “Just stay the fuck away from me, Mark,” he commanded, and strode quickly across the lawn to the street. As if he suddenly had somewhere very important to be, he hurried into his car and sped away.
On the porch, Mark watched him leave. Then, he shook his head with pity and vanished back into the house.
After what we had witnessed, I figured I’d driven Kelly insane enough, so we called it a night and dropped Nick off at home. But before O’Malley and I went back to Arlington, I directed her to the cemetery and we stopped outside the gates.
“I remember this place,” she said with a bit of a smile.
I smirked back at her. “C’mon. There’s something I gotta see.” I got out of the car and she followed me through the gates.
I walked a path I’d walked a million times before, so many times that I could’ve walked it blind. The gravel under my boots felt and sounded familiar, but the destination had changed. There was an extra headstone there, between the one that waited for my mother and the one my father had already claimed. But this one would never mark anyone’s resting place. It was mine.
I read the words beneath my picture:
Jacob William Grinley
1998 – 2016
Taken Too Soon
“You look just like him,” O’Malley commented, looking at the image on my dad’s tombstone.
I smiled and said, “Thanks.”
For a moment, I felt like I’d traveled two months back in time. It was that fateful Friday night again, and I was heading toward that inevitable conclusion. I thought again about that chain of coincidence, everything I’d done, every decision I’d made, every action and consequence. Suddenly, I believed O’Malley; everything happens for a reason.
“What’re you thinking?” she asked me.
I looked at her and said, “I just realized something.”
“That, if I had the choice to do everything again… I really don’t think I’d change a thing.”