So my oldest had a homework assignment to write a mystery. His teacher said that I could help as long as Reese did most of the work (and we had to include at least 20 vocabulary words). So this marks our first quasi-collaboration (though I don’t even rate a James Patterson-like acknowledgement of his co-writer). Like with many authors, despite him being much older now (to the point where he brags about the peach fuzz mess he calls a mustache), he has the same author photo he’s had for years.
Reese Broaddus is officially a middle grade student now. He claims to hate writing, yet is continually called upon to do it anyway. He dreams of being a famous quarterback or wide receiver but is content to grow up to be the man who signs the checks of famous quarterbacks or wide receivers. He is no stranger to being published as his stories Surviving the Day and Police, as well as a love letter he once wrote, have appeared on this blog before.
No More Secrets
By Reese Broaddus
Javen Harper didn’t go to college to learn how to take a punch so well. He was re-thinking his journalism major as he was being thrown into another set of lockers. But sometimes he just couldn’t help himself, he had to just keep running his mouth.
“Is this what you did to Kyle?” Javen asked.
“You think this is funny?” Mitch Summer screamed at him. His real name was Michael, but he had everyone call him Mitch. He was the back-up quarterback for Oakwood University. Go Rangers! Javen didn’t think quarterbacks would be so strong. Mitch picked him up and held him against the locker with his left hand. His right fist was cocked, ready to punch him in the face.
Javen held back his first answer, “no, but your momma is,” as that would probably get him punched. Harder. And it probably wouldn’t get him the information he wanted. “I want to know why you were so mad at Kyle.”
“Why does it matter now? He’s dead.”
“Because I think you had something to do with it.”
“Whatever. Kyle couldn’t mind his own business either.” Mitch calmed down, as calm as football players got. He let him go and Javen collapsed into a pile.
“I heard you’d been beating up your girlfriend, Amanda.” Javen massaged his arms and neck as he stood up, careful to keep an eye on Mitch in case he went all “Hulk smash!” on him again. “Kyle tried talking her into leaving you.”
“Where’d you hear that?” The hurt in Mitch’s voice seemed genuine.
“A reporter never gives up his sources,” Javen said. “So, is it true?”
Before he could answer, the coach came running in. “Do we have a problem in here?”
Javen and Mitch looked at each other and then said “no, sir” at the same time.
“Good.” The coach turned to Javen. “Only people who play sports are allowed in the locker room.” The coach started to talk away, but kept his eye on them.
“Just so you don’t go spreading any lies, yeah, me and Amanda had problems, but that clinic filled her head with all sorts of noise. But I didn’t hurt Kyle. Much.”
Javen believed one thing: people lie. Everyone would fabricate stories to make themselves look good. At best they weren’t impartial, reliable witnesses, especially when their own butts were on the line. Some of what Mitch said rang true, even accidentally. He confirmed that Amanda had been to the Campus Clinic. It was obvious that Mitch was no paragon of integrity. One of the reasons he was a back-up instead of a starter was because he’d been implicated in a scam to plagiarize term papers.
Javen had touched a nerve. Mitch had a temper and he was easy to infuriate, even to the point of violence. Quick to retaliate, he implied that he did hurt Kyle, thus explaining some of the bruises. Amanda visited the Campus Clinic where Kyle volunteered. Javen wondered how badly Mitch would have reacted if he’d asked “is this what you did to Amanda?”
From everything that he’d learned so far, Kyle Rapp was a great kid. He was on the honor roll, volunteered at the Campus Clinic, and was a true community leader. So it was a real tragedy when he killed himself. He left a note in the printer that read:
i’m sorry for any trouble I caused theres no use for me in this world youre all better off without me.
Javen wanted to write a profile on the impact of a suicide on a campus, the usual kind of stuff, for the school paper. Then he heard a rumor that the police were investigating the death as a homicide. Javen’s best friend, Bryce Shaman, found the body.
“If the police think it’s a murder, they’re going to talk to all of Kyle’s friends,” Javen said.
“Kyle didn’t have very many friends,” Bryce said. “No one really knew him, he was just another kid in their class.”
“Had he been different lately?”
“He’d been a little depressed. I think working at the clinic was getting to him.”
“What kind of work did he do there?” Javen asked.
“Worked their help line.”
“Listening to people’s problems all day will get you down.”
“He had trouble sleeping. I think he may have gotten into drugs,” Bryce said.
“Why do you say that?”
“He’d been hanging around with Damon Lyon, a real scumbag of a drug dealer. I even found him here once. Said Kyle owed him money.”
“Police know about him?”
“I don’t know. I doubt it.”
Javen had known Bryce since childhood. He was so different these days. He was no longer the fat kid in glasses. Now he was lean and muscular, but not like a jock. He wore contacts. Little changes, but added together, they transformed him. “Bryce, can I ask you something?”
“That’s what you’ve been doing, ain’t it?”
“Why didn’t you want me as a roommate?”
“They assign roommates randomly.”
“Not that randomly.” Then Javen remembered that people lied. “You could have listed me. I listed you.”
“I know, but…” Bryce’s voice trailed off. We hung out all the time in high school. I just wanted to broaden things a bit.”
“But you hung out with Kyle in high school.”
“Not that much. We were on the chess team together.” So he was familiar but not …”
“… me,” Javen said.
“Not like that. I just wanted a bigger circle of friends. Look, here’s a key card. Come over anytime. We can hang out as much as ever.”
“Yeah, okay.” Javen took the key while looking around at the messy dorm room. “Take me through it again. Describe how you found him.”
“I came back to the dorm room. The lights were off. I didn’t think Kyle was there. I flipped on the lights. Kyle was just sitting there on the floor, leaned against he closet, but slumped off to the side. Like he was drunk and passed out. Then I saw the belt around his neck and I freaked out.”
The first clue that things weren’t as they seemed was the bruises on Kyle’s body.
It wasn’t too hard to find Damon Lyon. He always hung around in back of the Student Union Building by the dumpsters. There was a small alcove between the buildings, full of deep shadows. You could always see the orange glow of the cigarette he was smoking in the dark.
Javen was nervous as he approached him. It wasn’t like he hung out with drug dealers all the time. Damon flipped open his Zippo lighter, let the flame ignite, then flicked it shut.
“You Damon?” Javen asked.
“Javen. Javen Harper.”
“You a narc?”
“Close. A reporter. Kinda.”
“I ain’t got nothing to say,” Damon said with a malicious grin. “And if you know what’s good for you, you’ll turn around, walk away, and don’t let my name cross your lips again.”
Javen wanted to turn around, walk away, and not let the name Damon Lyon cross his lips again. In fact, he wanted to forget all about Kyle and his suspicious suicide. But he remembered that he wanted to be a reporter. He couldn’t reconcile the state of the body with the facts of the story. Javen had to search for the truth wherever that truth might take him, even if it meant angering a potentially violent drug dealer.
“I don’t care about you or your business. What’s a little larceny between friends? I want to know about Kyle.”
“Kyle the counselor who killed himself a few days ago. I heard he was a client.”
“Oh, him. I heard about that. I haven’t seen him for weeks.”
“Really? I heard he just copped from you the other day,” Javen made an educated bluff. “You even broke into his room. Because he owed you money.”
Damon crossed the distance between them in less than a heartbeat. He grabbed Javen by his shirt and dragged him deeper into the alcove, away from prying eyes, so that Javen could face his wrath in private.
“Where’d you get these lies?” Damon slammed him against the wall. His breath stark of stale cigarettes and beef jerky.
Javen turned to the side, his eyes closed, his body mid-flinch, ready to take a punch. It just now occurred to him that he was basically ready to accuse a drug dealer of murder. And if he was bold enough to kill an honor student in his room, he’d have no problem doing it to a nosey reporter in a hidden alleyway.
“I’m not accusing you of anything. I’m just trying to figure out who might have a reason to hurt him.”
“You mean kill him.” Damon slammed him against the wall again.
“You saying he didn’t owe you money?”
“I’ll say this, if he owed me money, I might lose my temper and be forced to hurt him.”
“You wouldn’t want to make an example of him.” Javen really hated when his mouth kept moving after his common sense told him to shut up already.
“I can’t get money from a dead client. Damon got real close to Javen’s face. “Now, you’re going to want to think long and hard about your next words because they may be your last.”
“Pardon me while I shut up and get out of your business?”
Javen was out of options. Mitch Summers had a good reason to want Kyle out of the way. And he was perfectly capable of killing him, but Javen wondered if he was bright enough to stage a suicide. With his pretty boy looks, he’d make a good defendant, Javen thought. Same thing with Damon. He was more than willing to kill, especially given his line of work. But he struck Javen more as a leave-a-bloody-corpse-as-a-message kind of guy. Mitch mentioned the clinic and Javen hoped that Kyle’s supervisor could shed some light on a few things.
“Kyle was a bright student. He really cared about the people he talked to,” the supervisor said.
“Like Amanda Pulliam?”
“We don’t talk about who may or may not be clients here. He was keen on helping others through their hurts. Not letting the shame pile up on them. I encouraged him to do the same thing.”
“What kind of shame did he have?” Javen asked.
“I can’t say any more. Doctor-patient confidentiality.”
“Are you even a real doctor?” Javen looked around the clinic. He didn’t see any diplomas or certificates on the wall. And Kyle had been a volunteer.
The supervisor sat up, more than a little indignant. “Are you even a real journalist?”
“Well, does confidentiality survive death?”
“Depends on the doctor.”
“What kind of doctor are you?”
“The kind that won’t say what we talked about.”
“Can I ask you a hypothetical question then?”
“You can try.”
“What might make an exceptional student with a bright future kill themselves?”
“Everyone has their secrets. Some people will do anything to protect them.”
“Is there any way to uncover such a person’s secrets?”
“Retrace their steps. Some people obsess over the kind of things they may find on the internet.”
“The internet is a big place. Care to narrow it down any?”
“And do your job for you?”
Javen went back to Kyle and Bryce’s room. Bryce’s room now. Kyle’s stuff was still there. His parents hadn’t boxed up any of his stuff. The police hadn’t taken the laptop. Despite their suspicions, they were probably waiting on the medical examiner to make a final ruling before investigating Kyle’s death as a homicide.
Javen sat down at the laptop. It wasn’t even password protected. Anyone could have gotten on and printed off the note. There it was, the document still open. Javen read the words again, but they made even less sense the more he had learned about Kyle.
Javen went to Kyle’s browser history. He noticed that an article had been bookmarked. And it had been visited often.
INDIANAPOLIS – A Pike Township coaching assistant has been fired after he was arrested on charges he sexually abused a 15-year-old boy, police said.
Richard Mouser, 35, worked as a part-time teaching assistant at Pike High School, and now faces multiple counts of child molestation.
Over the weekend, a concerned mother reached out to police, saying her son had been repeatedly abused by Mouser, but that he was “tired of being scared and quiet.” So he decided to let someone know.
It’s suspected that Mouser became friends with the boy when he worked as a substitute teacher at Lincoln Middle School, and began teaching at Pike High School when the boy moved up. The police also suspect that Mouser had a history of abusing boys over the last five years. They are hoping that past victims come forward.
“Everyone has their secrets. Some people will do anything to protect them,” Javen repeated the supervisor’s words. A sinking feeling washed over him. Like there was a huge weight in his stomach. And that he was being watched.
“What are you doing?” Bryce asked.
“You told me I could come over any time. I wanted to see what had spooked Kyle so much that his whole attitude changed.”
“You find anything?”
“Not really. Just an article he kept coming back to. It talked about a teacher at our old school. Mr. Mouser. You remember him?”
Javen believed one thing: that people lied. “That’s funny. I thought you and Kyle both tried out for the team. Like all your brothers did.”
“I hated football.”
“No, you tried out. I remember you suddenly quit and your brothers kept making fun of you for being soft. But you weren’t soft, were you?”
“No.” Tears started to well up in his eyes.
“What happened?” Javen asked.
“It was after the second round of tryouts. I was really good out there on the field. I was a little chubby and slow, but I knew that if I kept working out, I could make the JV squad. Kyle, too. We were the last ones out. We were in the shower when Mr. Mouser walked in. he looked at us … it was like …. Then he got into the shower … touched us … we were so freaked out. He put his mouth …” Bryce’s tears flowed freely down his face.
“You don’t have to tell me anymore. It wasn’t your fault.”
“We swore we wouldn’t tell anyone. We swore. We tried to forget it ever happened. Then Kyle stared working at that clinic. That was bad enough. He’d come back after sympathizing with them all day. The victims. Telling them to be strong. T tell someone.”
“To not be afraid.”
“Yeah. it got to him. Then the article came out. He wanted to tell.”
“But you weren’t ready to tell.”
Javen remembered the kind of boy Bryce used to be. Before something, or someone, twisted him up inside. I’m sorry for what happened to you. And Kyle.
“What do I do now? I … killed my friend.”
“I know. To be frank, we can go to the police and tell them the whole story.” Best friend or not, Javen couldn’t condone what Bryce had done. He appeared penitent now and he hoped that the court would be lenient on him if they were just at all. He put his arm around his friend. “I’ll be with you the whole time. No more secrets.”