Checking Out

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Chapter 15

It wasn't hard to find the college in the small town, and practically no time had passed before I parked my car and got out, walking onto the campus and looking around. The lawn was huge and still green, despite it being the beginning of summer. The temperature had yet to climb out of light jacket weather. I had taken Jason's extra hoodie, but I left it in the car, preferring to enjoy the cool breeze. I wasn't sure where to begin my search, but my guess was either the admissions office or the housing office, assuming they weren't both the same thing. I headed toward a historic looking building made of red brick and tall towers, hoping to find a map or a helpful student. There were still a few milling around, although it appeared that school was mostly out, and the grounds were pretty empty. A girl who looked to be about my age was walking nearby, listening to something on her ipod, and I gave her a tentative wave, motioning to the headphones.
“Hi, sorry,” I said when she took them out, looking at me curiously, “can you tell me where the housing office is?”
“Sure,” she replied with a friendly smile, and proceeded to give me directions around the campus.
I thanked her, wondering if there were any unfriendly people in this town, and started making my way toward my destination. I passed through a parking lot, and found myself outside of a large building that was covered by huge windows. This had to be the place. I made my way inside, passing a few students in the main hall, trying to find a sign indicating exactly where I needed to go.
I found the office eventually, after asking another helpful student, and when I got inside, it appeared I was the only one waiting. A woman was sitting behind a large desk, typing something on her computer.
“Hi,” I said, and she looked up at me.
Another friendly smile. If I wasn't so paranoid about talking to people, I might actually start to like this place.
“I was hoping you could help me. My friend is missing, and she was a student here, so I was sort of hoping you might be able to give me some information about her.”
Why hadn't I concocted a better cover story before heading in? Stupid. Oh well, too late now.
The woman frowned, yet still managed to look friendly, “I can't give out personal information about our students, dear.”
“I understand that,” I said in a soothing voice, attempting to look as sad as possible, “but she's been missing for so long, and I'm really starting to get worried.”
“Have you gone to the police?” she asked.
I nodded, wondering if a few fake tears would be over the top, “they haven't done anything. Please, if you could just tell me if maybe she's been around?”
The woman acquiesced, “well, dear, what is your friend's name?”
Oh crap. I also didn't have a last name to give her. This was so not my smartest plan ever.
“Uh, her name is Amy, and she has bright red hair.”
The woman was poised to type a name on the keyboard, but she looked up at me sharply, “you don't mean Amy Brennan, do you?”
“Um, yeah,” maybe I did.
“She didn't go to school here,” the woman said, and suddenly all of the friendliness was gone, “why are you asking about her?”
Oh, this was not good.
“I'm sorry, I thought she went here. I met her a while back, and she said she had last been here, but now I can't find her.”
The woman was still watching me closely, “hon, Amy lived here with her family. She went missing about a year ago, along with her brother.”
“Oh, I'm sorry, I must have been confused,” time for a quick lie, “I met her a while back, like I said, but she stopped calling, and I was on this roadtrip and thought I'd try to see her, but I couldn't find her at the address I had, and the apartment manager wasn't in...”
Oh, please let that be right.
The woman relaxed her stare, and I in turn relaxed, though I tried not to show it, “oh, hon, she hasn't lived in that apartment for a while. I'm so sorry you had to find out this way. The police haven't been able to find her, that's probably why they wouldn't tell you anything. They try to keep it pretty hushed up, but they have no idea what happened to her or David. It's such a sad story. Personally, I could see her running away, she seemed the type, no offense, but her brother would never have left like that.”
Well, she was a font of information once I got her started.
“Oh,” I replied, keeping the sad look on my face, “I'm so sorry to have bothered you.”
“Oh, dear, it's no problem, really. I'm so sorry about your friend.”
I decided to push my luck one last time, “do you happen to know where her parents live? I don't want to bring up bad memories, but if I could give my condolences...”
I left it hanging, wondering how far she would be willing to take it.
“That's a nice thought. I'm sure they would appreciate hearing from one of Amy's friends. Let me write their address down for you.”
Apparently she was willing to take it all the way. I had a flash of sympathy for Amy's parents.
She wrote the address down on a pink slip of “While You Were Out” phone message paper and handed it to me.
“Oh, hon, I didn't catch your name,” she said, as I was turning to leave.
“Um, I'm Kim, it was nice to meet you.”
The first name that popped into my head was one of my two dead friends. I was so not cut out for this sneaking around.
I walked quickly out of the building before looking at the slip of paper. I had an address, but there was one more stop I wanted to make before I checked out Amy's parents' house. I made my way back to my car, passing more students and some families, which probably included prospective students, on the way. Everything around me looked so normal. Summer was in full swing, and it seemed like no one had a care in the world except for me. I vowed to myself that if I ever got us out of this mess, I would work a little less and enjoy myself a little more. It was actually kind of depressing that this was my first vacation since my mom cut out on us. I guess being stabbed and left in an alley was my wake up call. It was a hell of one, at that.
I drove back the way I had come, having noticed a local library as I was looking for the campus. It was only a few blocks from the university, a small flat building with a flag flying out in front, sitting across the street from a large church, made of the same red brick that seemed to comprise most of the buildings in the downtown area. I parked in one of the diagonal parking spaces off to the side and got out of the car, glancing around. The town was busy for late afternoon, people in business suits walking by, passing groups of kids on bicycles. I was starting to get depressed. Hopefully, what I was looking for on one of the library computers wouldn't make it worse. I wondered if Jason was having any luck, and staying below the radar, as I entered the building, going from the shouts and traffic sounds of outside to the hushed conversations inside. I smiled at the librarian, who spared me a glance before going back to stamping a large pile of books behind the front desk.
There was a bay of computers on a table to one side of the large room, and I made a beeline for them, taking a seat at the farthest one from the door, hoping it afforded a little privacy. Jason had left his computer at home, and I was starting to miss the convenience of having it around, but these would have to do. I moved the mouse around, and the Vermillion Public Library screensaver went away, revealing their library homepage. My first search was for the local paper from back home. When it loaded on the screen, my stomach dropped. The entire bottom half of the screen, under the headline, was a picture of Marci. She was in her cheerleading uniform, a huge smile on her face. It was one of the photos from last year's yearbook, staged with all of the cheerleaders sitting in various poses on the gym bleachers, but this was a close-up of just her. I shook my head, coming back to myself, and began to read the article.
About halfway down the page, after the descriptions of Marci's fun-loving personality and overall niceness, the story of how the discovered her body began. Just as I had suspected, Amy had dumped her in the woods. Some kids had gone back there, probably to skip class and smoke, and one of them had stumbled upon her. Apparently Amy hadn't taken her far. It made me wonder if she wanted Marci to be found, not that I could think of any good reasons why.
They described the wounds on her body in detail, a crack in her skull, and large slashes in her abdomen. I sucked in a breath at that, then furtively glanced around to make sure no one was watching me. The librarian was still stamping, and the only other nearby person was on the computer at the other end, writing in a notebook. I read the description of her wounds again. It was like deja vu. Take away the head wound, and we had the same injuries, only I woke up from mine.
They quoted her parents and some students, everyone talking about what a tragedy it was. I couldn't agree more. Marci may have annoyed me at times, but I never wished this for her.
Farther down the page, there was mention of Kim, and a reference to the same injuries on her body. Well, that answered the question of how she had died. Three of us, all slashed across the stomach. It couldn't be a coincidence. Someone had tried to kill all of us. There wasn't mention of any other deaths, so I could assume that they stopped after Marci. I was looking more and more guilty.
It was a line at the bottom of the page that made me almost jump out of my seat, though. The police had made an official statement on the case, and part of that statement was “the search for Jason Ross, 17, and another student, 16, a minor”. We were “persons of interest”. Which, to me, translated to “suspects”. Jason had been dragged into this for being a good friend, and now he was a murder suspect. I felt completely responsible. I would definitely have to work on that plan to get him out unscathed.
The clincher, though, was a quote from Mrs. R, talking about her son being missing, and possibly kidnapped. The police had an investigation into his disappearance going as well. There were no quotes from my dad, and nothing about my disappearance. I didn't know if that was because of the minor thing, or because they assumed I was guilty and had fled, possibly forcing Jason to come with me against his will. I had no idea how I would force him to go anywhere, but I was sure they had their theories.
I closed the page and sat back, rubbing a hand over my face. So they were officially looking for us. My paranoia didn't seem so bad, in retrospect. I searched for more stories on Jason's disappearance, but couldn't find any. They might have found his car already, which would lend itself to the kidnapping theory, but I had done a decent job of keeping him hidden, until now. I couldn't think of a way they could possibly have tracked us here, except by someone spotting us, and we probably weren't a big story this far west. I could only hope it would stay that way. If the murders of two teens made national headlines, we were screwed. For the first time in my life, I was hoping for some high profile violence, just to keep us out of the spotlight.
I pushed my morose thoughts away and started looking for information on Amy and her brother. There were some local stories about their disappearance. The first one was just about David Brennan, but the second and third included pictures of his sister. She was smiling in one, an arm flung around her younger brother, who only slightly resembled her, his hair light blonde, and his smile just as wide. The other picture of her included the entire family. They looked like nice people. I wondered what had happened to turn her into someone who could drag a dead body into the woods and not think twice about it. Probably the same thing that had happened to Jason. I assumed her brother was in the same state as me, and she was searching for answers. I wondered why she didn't go with us to find Horace, if she thought he had them. I had so many questions, and no answers. I was even more set on finding her by the time I was finished looking at all of the news articles.
The new one on my mind, after my enlightening internet search, was whether it was even worth it to seek out her parents. The articles had implied that they hadn't heard from either of their children in over a year, since their disappearance. They probably didn't know anything about what had happened, and Amy obviously hadn't contacted them.
On the one hand, I could understand her need to keep everyone out of the loop if her brother was as messed up as I was, but on the other hand, I couldn't understand walking away from her family completely. I liked to think that I would eventually find a way for my dad to know I was still around, even if I didn't go see him. And I would certainly find a way for Jason's parents to be set at ease about his vanishing act.
I looked at the clock behind the librarian's desk. It was only 4, which meant two more hours until I had to meet Jason, but I really needed his advice. I would just have to head back early and hope he would do the same. Besides, I was starting to get hungry.
Another depressing thought.
I printed out the articles about Amy, and after a moment's decision, pulled up the article about Marci and Kim, printing that out as well. The printer seemed loud in the quiet library, but no one took notice. I grabbed the pages once they were done, and stuffed them into my bag, taking one last look around before heading back out. Time to go find Jason.

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