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Authors: Liz Jasper

Underdead (22 page)

BOOK: Underdead
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For a moment I was too scared to believe what I saw, unwilling to accept the evidence before me lest I suddenly wake up to find it had been only a cruel dream. But the longer I sat there, the more I believed it was true. The scaly patches on my hands were gone, the redness had dissipated, and they were no longer painful.

I threw back the covers, heedless of the goose bumps that sprang up as the cold night air hit my sleep warmed skin, and rushed to the bathroom. I turned on the bright overhead lights and examined my face again, this time with the help of a mirror. Tears filled my eyes and spilled down my pale, dewy cheeks. I looked…like
, as I had before all this had happened, down to the light scattering of freckles across my nose. It took me a moment to realize the best part—I could
my skin in the mirror. Not perfectly mind you, I was still a little blurry, but now, if I went in the haunted house at Disneyland, I would at least cast a better reflection than the ghostly hitchhikers at the end of the ride.

I felt as if a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders and to celebrate, I did something I had wanted to do for weeks. I kicked the face mask into a dark corner of my closet and went for a long run on the beach, chasing waves with the long legged sandpipers and their avian mini-me’s, the tiny sanderlings. By the time I got back, tired and happy, the sun was up and a familiar figure was sitting on my steps waiting for me.

“Hello, Gavin,” I greeted the detective amiably as he wordlessly unfurled himself into a standing position at my approach. Disapproval radiated from him like heat from a fire. His eyes were like hard silver balls and his well-shaped mouth was compressed into a tight little line, but I didn’t care. I’d have greeted Jack the Ripper amiably just then, I was in such a good mood.

“Good morning, Jo.” He spoke like a parent whose child had just rolled in, drunk and oblivious, from a night of unauthorized partying.

Ignoring the censure implicit in his greeting, I knelt down and ripped open the key holder I wore attached to my right running shoe and pulled out my door key. Gavin followed me in and sat himself down at the kitchen table, arms crossed and frowning, while I gulped down a cool glass of tap water at the sink.

“You’re looking well.” His eyes raked me coldly from head to toe.

“You make that sound like a bad thing.”

“Is it?”

“Don’t burst my bubble, Gavin.” I kept my tone light, but there was steel underneath.

He made a small conciliatory gesture. “I didn’t intend to. I was just wondering why a girl who couldn’t go outside for two minutes during the day without incurring a nasty burn is out running,” he looked pointedly at my face, “without incident on a Saturday morning.”

“The sun rose about five minutes ago and I’m wearing a bottle of blackout sunscreen, long sleeves, gloves, running tights, and a hat. I’m in far greater danger of heat exhaustion than sunburn.”

He just looked at me.

“I found a new skin treatment, okay? Something the dermatologist recommended but they don’t sell here. My mother bought it for me in London. Do you want their numbers?”

He searched me probingly for a second or two and then the invisible string that had wound him so tightly gave a little. “That’s all right,” he grunted, but his eyes lingered speculatively on my pale, dewy skin until it turned red for a different reason. “My sergeant said you weren’t home when he drove by at eight last night.” Gavin rested his elbows lightly on the kitchen table. I wasn’t taken in by the seeming idleness of the question; his gray eyes were fixed on me like a tracking device.

I didn’t like where this was going. I wasn’t about to admit where I had been or what I had been doing there. I certainly didn’t want to discuss my latest run-in with Will—I didn’t really understand it myself. And, I didn’t need a lecture from Gavin on the stupidity of parking in out-of-the-way places at night. His couldn’t begin to compete with the one I’d given myself.

“I was working late.” I changed the subject. “How’s the investigation going?”

It was his turn to look uncomfortable. “It’s stalled. We have no suspects to speak of. Everyone in your department had an alibi and no one has more than the most specious of motives.”

It wasn’t a new position. The police had started with that premise after questioning us the night of the murder. But it was one thing to conjecture an impossible situation, another to know it. “I know. Everyone seems to be in the clear. I couldn’t find out a darn thing.”

“What do you mean
you know
? I thought you were staying out of this.”

Oops. I had
to learn to think before I spoke. “I am staying out of it. But people do talk, and sometimes they say suspicious things.”

“What sort of suspicious things?”

The phrase
sexy thang
seemed to hang like a storm cloud over the room, but I pushed it out of my mind
I knew that Becky hadn’t done anything to Bob, but some of my initial discomfort over that e-mail lingered, like a rotten grape leaves a bitter taste even after you spit it out.

“Take Roger for instance, our department chair. His reputation is everything to him.
thinks he’s God’s gift to teaching, but Bob was going to give him a scathing review. Bayshore is Roger’s world. If that review had been made public, especially by someone so universally liked and respected as Bob was…” I held up my hands. “I don’t know what he would have done.”

“Who told you this?”

“Alan. He’s replaced Bob on the review committee, and has Bob’s notes.”

“Alan. The same guy who found the body? Might he by chance have noticed that you were poking around, looking for motives?”

I had wondered the same thing myself, but somehow it sounded insulting when Gavin said it. “I have not been
poking around
. Alan brought it up one day at lunch after Roger had said something particularly condescending. If you don’t want to hear this, say so.”

Gavin leaned back in his chair, but I didn’t deceive myself he was calm or relaxed. His severe gray eyes and bent nose made him look like one of the scarier voodoo idols. The sort the weary explorer finds when he is too deep in the jungle for running away to make sense, and yet he runs anyway. Gavin’s jaw was clenched so tightly the words came out funny when he spoke. “Go on.”

“Then there’s Kendra, the ninth grade science teacher.”

“She has a rock-solid alibi,” Gavin said. “She was talking with the older woman—Mary Mudget?—who teaches seventh grade, when they heard the glass break.”

“I know. They
have rock-solid alibis. That’s why I’m focusing on motive. I don’t know how it was done, but it
done, and I find it highly unlikely that a total outsider could have gone all the way up to the science wing without having been noticed. Between the security guards, administrators, teachers and parents, someone would have noticed a person who didn’t belong.”

“You mean someone like Natasha?”

I ignored the sarcasm. “Exactly. She didn’t fit in, and I brought her up. And while you may have written her off, she still on my list.”

“That is not what I meant, and you know it. Natasha looks nothing like a Bayshore parent. Too young, too flamboyant. And yet, not only did she have the run of the campus, but she successfully spent ten minutes in a one-on-one teacher’s conference. With you. And, you wouldn’t have thought to mention her if Will hadn’t identified her as a vampire for you later that night.”

That was low. I crossed my arms and glared at Gavin.

“All right. Fine. You’ve made your point. So. Where
all these strangers who had it in for Bob?”

Gavin didn’t respond, unless you count more jaw clenching.

“Perhaps, since your theory isn’t yielding any suspects, you’d like to hear what I have to say,” I said with a fake smile.

“Absolutely,” Gavin said with equally fake solicitude. “I believe you were telling me about Kendra.”

Drat. I didn’t have much on her—she had been my weak middle example, and now she had to be my strong lead-in. I beefed up the story a little. “I’m not sure if you’re aware how big a deal soccer is at Bayshore, but it’s the biggest sport on campus.”

Gavin looked unimpressed.

“Bob was the boys’ varsity soccer coach. Kendra got stuck with the girls’ team. Even with Title IX, there’s a big difference between the two, especially in the money you can earn on the side coaching summer league and giving private lessons. Bob probably doubled his income that way.”

“That’s fascinating, but what does it have to do with Bob’s murder?”

“Kendra got Bob’s assistant coach a job at another school. With her out of the way, the plum coaching job was offered to Kendra.”

“And did she take it?”

“No. But that doesn’t mean she won’t change her mind later. She’ll be put on the search committee for sure, and it wouldn’t be too hard to engineer things so that we can’t find a suitable coach, and she has to step in to save the day after all.” I was beginning to warm to my own hyperbole. Maybe I was on to something!

“So you’re suggesting Kendra killed Bob for a coaching job she’s already turned down? Have I got that right? Hold on, let me write that one down.” He wrote laboriously in a small wire notebook.

“Got any more insights for me?” He tilted his head to one side and looked eager.


“You sure?”

“Have you gotten anywhere with the Farrylls?”

He replied matter-of-factly. “Mrs. Farryll says she caught up with her son soon after your department head demanded she go fetch him. Then they went home.”

“And you believe them?”

He shrugged. “I have no reason not to. There’s nothing to connect them to the murder scene.”

I made a noise of protest.

“We can’t just up and arrest people on a flimsy
, Jo, but that doesn’t mean we’re not keeping an eye on them.”

Maybe I had watched too many detective shows, but I really had expected the police would have figured out who had killed Bob by now, or at least would have had some good leads, but Gavin seemed to have gotten nowhere.

Could I blame him? I mean, was there anywhere to get? Maybe it was the perfect murder after all. But I didn’t believe it. Something niggled at the back of my brain. I was sure I had learned something important, if I only remembered what it was. I thought over everything that had happened in the past few weeks since Bob’s death, but nothing stood out. Everything remotely odd had a logical explanation.

“So what now?”

His response came out like one long, tired sigh. “We go over the information we have, we ask more questions, follow any loose ends.”

“It doesn’t sound very promising.”

Gavin looked weary. He was probably no more than thirty, but looked ten years older. “It isn’t. If you want the truth, chances are we won’t solve this. I’m sure you’ve heard that the likelihood of catching a murderer drops substantially after the first couple of days. It’s true. Frankly, the only reason we’re still devoting substantial manpower to this is because he was killed at a school.”

I bristled. “That’s a terrible thing to say! Bob was a human being, a good and decent man. You should be working hard to bring his murderer to justice because of

“I agree wholeheartedly with you, Jo, but the reality is that we have other cases, more than we can handle, and we get more every day. If you want that to change, tell the taxpayers to fork out more money so we can hire more cops!

“Oh hell, never mind. Ignore what I just said. I assure you, Jo, we’re doing the best we can.” He stood and headed for the door. When he reached it, he put his hand on the doorknob but didn’t turn it right away. Instead, he turned to face me. “I want to find whoever killed him as badly as you do, but I don’t want to find Bob’s murderer because he or she is standing over
dead body with a bloody glass shard.” His mouth formed a grim line and his eyes were unreadable. “You’ve already got a price on your head, Jo. You don’t need to go asking for trouble, you’ve already got it.”

He opened the door and stepped out. As he turned to close the door behind him, he added grimly, “I’ve worked hard to keep you alive. Try to keep yourself that way.”

Student interest in the Science Olympiad was greater than I thought it would be. I’d had to add a second page to the sign up sheet Monday before the end of morning break. As I taped it to the wall outside my classroom, I gave the original sheet a once-over and discovered the reason—Chucky Farryll, our little would-be Pele. Chucky had signed up no doubt because his mother had made him, no doubt because Maxine had made
. Our middle school principal was a big believer in getting slackers refocused on their schoolwork by getting them involved in something only peripherally academic, rather like sneaking vegetables into the meatloaf.

Evidently, Chucky had made some of his friends eat the veggies with him. And since he was a popular boy, the girls had followed. The Science Olympiad had thus gone from low-key geeky pastime to high-profile cool person social event.

I decided I had better get my butt onto the Internet to prepare for my role as club co-advisor, and when school was over for the day and the kids needing extra help had all gone home, I headed for the computer room. I visited all the weird sites first. Surprisingly, or perhaps not so surprisingly given the Olympiad’s typical participant, most of the sites were hosted by geeky kids. I learned a lot of interesting tips about each of the events, and bookmarked the better sites for my students to look at. After a while, I decided I needed some structure to my research and went to the event’s official website. As I had expected, there wasn’t much more to it than dates, rules and regulations, information we already had. They had a rather dry history section; out of curiosity, I ran a search on Bayshore. We had done surprisingly well over the years, given that most of our students did only the barest of prep work (several of the competing schools had serious, year-long classes devoted to the Olympiad). I scanned the photographs posted on the site and was pleased to see that most of the kids looked like they were having fun.

BOOK: Underdead
6.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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