EPISODE 2: Open For Business
With his only companion, Carty the cart, Kelly looked up the main stairwell off the lobby in Murphy Hall. He craned his neck to the left to get a better view of heads peeking over the fourth floor banister. Light pushed in through the narrow windows with the early afternoon sun. Pity it didn’t do much to improve the monstrous black wood staircase or the shadowy eaves at the top of the stairs, where people were most likely executed by hanging back in the day.
To Kelly it was kind of a lost cause for the school to attempt to modernize the old buildings with brighter light fixtures and shiny hardware, or to throw in a vending machine here and there. Like cheese puffs would make it all better. The place was still sitting next to a cliff, overlooking the Grand Oak Bay and the county road running around the coast. Hedgewater College was still dark and foreboding, and like two hundred years old. In short, the entire college gave him the shivers. If he started hearing chains rattle at night… he was out of here.
“Well, boy,” he turned to his cart, “how do you suppose we do this?” He once again took in the enormity of his cart and assessed the situation with the stairs. Wasn’t happening, Kelly concluded.
“The elevator’s broken.” A first year donning a stupid Hedgewater hoodie shot him a dirty look, muttering something even worse under his breath.
“Thanks for that. I wouldn’t have known to stand here like an idiot if you hadn’t told me.” Kelly waved, given the middle finger in return. “How nice of you,” he called.
“Would you please move that thing out of the way?” A middle-aged woman adjusted her pearls, raising a brow. “We have a credenza coming through.”
Kelly flapped his hands once, mocking sincerity. “Let me just move my generic belongings out of the way, so you can bring your credenza on up with the men you hired to do so.”
“Such a nice boy.” She patted him on the head then wiped her hand on her dress pants.
Past irate, Kelly snarled, stepping aside for the furniture masterpiece. A freshman, who looked every bit as plastic as his mother, followed the movers up the steps. The mother sighed, clicking after him in her red-soled stilettos.
“Four years here, Kelly, however will we manage?” He groaned and once again pushed the cart up to the bottom step. “Summon your inner Bruce Banner. You can do this.” Situated on the bottom step, he ground his teeth and pulled. Kelly growled, knees bent, trying his hardest to get the stupid thing to move.
“Fork over ten bucks before you give yourself a hernia and consider this puppy moved.” Hands clamped down on the cart from the other side. Kelly looked into the dark eyes of a punked-out vampire. Or that’s what he looked like anyway.
“I’m not giving you shit. Hands off the merch.” Kelly pushed the cart into the stranger. “Back away, before I throw you into the sunlight.”
The student barked with laughter. “I suppose that was a vampire joke?”
“You supposed correctly, Vlad.” Kelly put a hand on his hip.
“Dude, no one else is going to help you out here. If you haven’t noticed, you’re standing in the middle of the twilight zone for the rich and Botoxed. Give me ten bucks for the vending machine. The dining hall doesn’t open until after the assembly. I’m craving some cheese puffs, a lot of them, and the ATM’s being a little bitch, just like you are.”
“Snag me a bag, give me your name, and we might have a deal.” Kelly narrowed his eyes. “Oh and don’t call me a little bitch. Just bitch is fine.”
The vampire swished his black hair out his eyes, red streaks settling into place. The rest of his hair was a spiked out mess that not even peanut butter could detangle. He pulled off his studded vest and cracked his knuckles, flexing his arms, which were covered in nautical and erotic inked sleeves that made Kelly blush. Mermaid genitals were not something one saw on an everyday basis.
“I’m Jagger, Jagger Winegarten, and sure, you can have some of my loot if the machine works. First the elevator. Now the ATM. I’m not really holding my breath. If all else fails there’s a gas station not too far from here. I have a car,” he explained. “But then again, I wouldn’t really need your ten bucks. There’s an ATM at the gas station.” Jagger raised a brow, more at himself than at Kelly.
“Uh, wait. I’m Kelly De Angelo.” Kelly lifted his chin, trying to keep the guy around.
“I’ve heard that na—”
“Trying to give River a run for his money, Winegarten?” Some jock holding a box walked past them up the stairs. “I hear he’s already got a head start with the boys. One of you is gonna end up fucking the other in jail anyway. So why not get some variety before they nab you both?”
Jagger simply smiled. “Yeah, why not start with you? I like that ass, Greg. Do a little dance for me.”
“You’re fuckin sick, man. I hope you rot for what you did.”
“Who says it’s me?” Jagger shoved the cart against the stairs, nostrils flaring.
Greg peeked over the railing. “Everyone.”
“I’m gonna fucking strangle that kid. River and his god damn idiot friends,” Jagger muttered. “Not like they’re his friends anymore. Small consolation, I guess.” He shrugged, ridding himself of his angry dragon face.
“Did you take your meds today?” Kelly held up his hands in self-defense.
Jagger flicked him off. “Have you gotten laid yet, scratch that, ever?”
“That’s none of your business.” Kelly turned his nose in the air. “What the hell was that guy talking about anyway?”
“None of your business,” Jagger spat back. “Now we gonna do this or what? I want to get my cheese puff on, among other things.”
“Eighteen years in Jersey and I’ve never seen anything like this. That’s saying something.” Kelly took the front of the cart, switching with Jagger.
“Welcome to Hedgewood, Kelly. There isn’t a place in the world like it. Thank god.” Jagger hefted the cart up the stairs, leaving Kelly struggling to keep up the entire way.
Half an hour later, with many stops along the way, Jagger stood open mouthed outside the door to Kelly’s room. A bulletin board beside the door had the occupants’ last names pinned to the top, along with a dorm rule list and a Welcome Week schedule.
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.” Jagger ripped the name tag down. “Dammit!”
“Hey, will you stop messing up our stuff?” Kelly grabbed the tag back, smoothing it out. “I don’t want my roommate to be pissed at me before we even meet. Cool off, man.”
Jagger chuckled, out of his mind. “The last thing he’s gonna care about is that tag, Kelly. Trust me.”
“Whatever, I care and that’s what matters.” Kelly tacked the tag onto the board. “Shall we?”
“Oh, by all means.” Jagger waved him forward. “I’m on pins and needles.”
Kelly made a face and pushed the door open. His jaw hit the floor. He stared at two naked men fucking like bunnies, bent over one of the single beds.
“Typical.” Jagger rolled his eyes. He put his thumb and forefinger in his mouth and whistled.
River whipped his head around, still pounding away, seconds from climaxing deep inside of whatever his name’s ass. He gripped the guy’s hips, teeth clacking together, and came.
“What the fuck!” The guy underneath him swiveled his head, throwing a pillow. “Get off me. Shut the damn door. Oh my god, get off!”
Holding on until he was good and finished, River sighed and pulled out. Condom still on, he walked to the dresser and threw a box of tissues at his anonymous piece of tail, then put his hands on his hips. His latex covered manhood still jutted forth, issuing a greeting as well. “Can we fucking help you?”
Kelly sputtered. “I-I…”
“I’m getting the hell out of here.” River’s afternoon delight threw a tissue in the trash. He hopped up and down into his jeans, trying to put his shirt on at the same time.
Jagger stepped forward, smug as a bug in a rug. “Kelly, meet River Hathaway, you’re roommate and possible murderer, slash rapist. River, this is Kelly De Angelo from Jersey.” He lifted his phone and snapped a photo of River’s nude body. “I just love technology, don’t you, River?” He hit the share button, loading the photo to Hedgewood Holmes.
The guy he’d fucked slowly turned to River, horrified. “You’re Hathaway, as in the murder suspect Hathaway? No, no, no, that’s not…oh shit.”
Uncaring, River snapped off his condom and threw it in the trash. “Beat it. Go and tell all your little friends how good that was for you. I’m sure you’ll be back.”
“Is that a threat?” The kid hissed, pushing his feet into his sneakers.
“You wanting my dick enough to come back for more, is a threat? Good one.” River tugged on some boxers. “Now get out. I have shit to do, like boning other guys to death.” He wiggled his fingers ominously.
“Excuse me,” the kid bit out through his teeth, pushing his way between Jagger and Kelly into the hall.
“Wow, Riv, new low there. I’d heard you were putting notches in the belt, but not tearing the thing in two. You don’t even care that I sent that picture, do you?” Jagger put an arm in front of Kelly, creating a barrier between the roommates. River looked manic enough to do something crazy. His anger was swimming behind his eyes and slithering under the twitch in his jaw.
River turned and flicked his thumb across the tip of his nose, one hand on his hip. “After what I’ve been through, Jagger, I could care less. I’ve had my clothes taken from me, made to stand butt ass naked in front of a group of officers I’ve known my entire life. I’ve been cavity searched. Cavity. Searched. I’ve had to blow one off in a cup and I’ve had my blood drawn more times than I can count. My room, my house, and my car, basically everything… it was all tossed to find evidence that didn’t exist. And every time one of those guys ended up in the hospital, it happened all over again.
“My life is under a magnifying glass. I’ve lost the guy I was in love with, and don’t flatter yourself, you know who I mean. I’ve lost all my friends, and sex is all I have left if I want to feel another human being come anywhere near me. So if you want to send a picture of my naked body to Holmes, consider it free advertising, because I’m open for business, baby.” River pulled up his shorts and slipped a soft, cotton t-shirt over his head. “Go fuck yourself, you masochistic little bitch. God knows your enjoying this enough to cream your pants.” River slid his feet into his soft, leather flip flops and pushed Jagger out of the way.
River stopped in the doorway and turned, targeting Kelly. “Touch my stuff and I’ll start with the real threats.” He slammed the door closed.
“I wasn’t going to,” Kelly called, raising a finger.
Jagger smiled, stretching his arms. “Isn’t he just a peach?”
“I don’t think I can stay here. There must have been a mistake in housing. They wouldn’t let a murder suspect room with innocent people.” Kelly pushed his cart into the room. “I’m out of my league here, Jagger. I should call my dad.”
Jagger sighed, actually caring about Kelly’s poignant hysteria. “Look, River might be a suspect, but they haven’t found a thing on him, which makes him free to go here just like anyone else. If anything, they’ve proven he’s not the killer and had nothing to do with any of the attacks. They did the same thing to me. Hedgewater wants someone to blame, so they start with who would make sense.
“Once they were all riled up and had set their sights on Riv, because he was the last person seen with Shay that night, and me because I was the jealous ex-boyfriend, they refused to believe the obvious evidence proving us innocent. That’s what you had a taste of downstairs. This summer was pretty bad and I expected no less from the angry mob this year. If anything, it only gets worse from here.”
“They think you were involved?” Kelly started to panic, putting his fidgeting hands behind his back. “What did you guys do?”
“Absolutely nothing; I swear on all that’s holy, Kelly. We had nothing to do with Garrett’s murder or the attacks. They only think we did because of Shay.”
“Who the hell is this Shay guy? Why is he the center of all this?” Kelly fingered his comforter in the cart, wanting nothing more than to bring the fabric to his nose and smell a bit of home. He suddenly missed his room. He missed his dad.
Jagger cut his eyes to Kelly before walking to the lattice-work windows in the small dorm room. He looked down over the courtyard, studying the media crowded around dean Michaelson. They were all here because of poor little Shay.
“Because he’s perfect, and we’re not. That’s why.”
“Sweetheart.” Shay’s mother sat on the edge of his bed, and put an arm around him. She hummed, leaning in to kiss his temple. “Are you sure you’ll be okay here? Michaelson said you were free to stay at home and commute due to the circumstances.”
“And be the only one of the victims who becomes a shut-in? I don’t want special treatment. I want to be a normal freshman just like everyone else. Please. Stop.” He shrugged her arm off, standing up. “Dad, will you take her home now? I’ll be fine.”
“Shay, we have good reason to worry. You haven’t slept a single night since it happened. The nightmares—”
“Stop!” Shay pivoted towards them. “That’s enough. I’m not a child anymore. I know damn well what happened to me. I don’t need a replay of how my summer went or you to kiss my boo-boos. Let me get the fuck on with my life.”
“Shay, don’t talk to him like that.” His mother rose from the bed.
“It’s fine, Gloria.” Dean held up a hand. His face smoothed over, masking his concern. “He’s anxious, understandably so. It probably doesn’t help cornering him right now. His team is outside waiting for him. He’ll be with them.”
“We’re leaving, Gloria.” He nodded at Shay. “Leif is on call this weekend if you need anything. He has the guest room set up if you want to crash.”
“I know, dad.” Shay crossed his arms, sitting on the end of his trunk. “He already called…twice.”
“That’s because he’s a good brother.” Dean grabbed his trench coat, sliding his arms into the sleeves. “Call us if you need anything. The rest of your things should be here in a few hours. The police will be signing it all in as a precaution, just so you’re aware.”
“Wouldn’t want any surprises, now would we,” Shay murmured.
“No, we certainly do not.” Gloria crossed the room, lifting his chin in her hand. “I want you to realize that I’m your mother and no amount of pushing me away will make me stop worrying about you. It’s what we parents do, we worry, and we take care of our children the best we can. If you think I’m overprotective because my child was a victim of something unspeakable, then you’re damn well right. I want you to have fun and enjoy your experience here at Hedgewater, just like your father did, but I want you to be all right in here while you do it.” She put a hand over his heart. “I don’t care if you need so much as a tissue, Shay Allen Foster, if you need us, call, and we’ll be right here.”
She kissed his hair, holding on for a second longer than necessary then walked to her purse. Without another word, she opened the door, and strutted by the entire water polo team in true Gloria Foster form; uncaring of their nervous looks and her chin held high.
“Don’t poke a mama bear,” Dean whispered. “We’re twenty minutes away, Shay. Don’t be a stranger.” He hauled Shay to his feet and hugged him. “Focus on yourself and let everything else fall into place. You’ll be fine. And remember to call your therapist and set up appointments around your class schedule. Okay?”
Shay saw the guys in the hall. He cleared his throat and gave his dad a hearty pat on the back. “Yep. Later, dad.”
Dean pulled away. “Love you,” he mouthed with his back to the team.
“You too,” Shay murmured. “I’ll see you guys at the game.”
Dean nodded and left.
Owen was the first to enter Shay’s single suite. He shoved his hands in his pockets, rocking from heel to toe. “So, pretty sweet set-up you got in here. All by yourself, you could have some raging parties, bro, with that on-suite living room and kitchenette. And at the end of the hall, damn, I wish. As luck would have it, I have to deal with Francis and all of his shoes. We might have four square feet of walking space that isn’t occupied with his crap.”
“Screw you. You have no sense of style. Nice things require space and it’s a pity your weights take up the other half of our room, otherwise we’d have plenty of floor space. Don’t let him fool you. He has just as much stuff as I do.” Francis sat on the bed, gesturing the others in. Like they were Francis’s personal posse, they gravitated toward him.
“I don’t like a lot of stuff sitting around.” Shay flicked his eyes to the other four guys settling in.
Francis rolled his eyes. “Whatever, Foster. I can clearly see your clunker of a porn collection from here.”
“What?” Shay stood, following Francis’s stare before checking under the bed. “I don’t have a…”
The team rolled with laughter. “I was just kidding, but good to know you’re a healthy boy,” Francis purred. “And we intend to keep you that way. Get your purse, Foster, we’re going to get food in the dining hall.”
“The dining hall doesn’t open until after the assembly.” Shay zipped up his hoodie.
One of the guys snorted. “We’re water polo, Foster, not just anybody. If we want food, they give us food.”
“I don’t want to get in trouble. I just got here and I’m not above everyone else, even being on the team. I’ll eat with the student body.” Shay looked out the window, thankfully hidden from the media by a tangle of birch trees and a potted divider of purple mums. Oh, and the security guards.
“The sooner you learn that water polo is everything, the better.” Owen stood. “We’re allowed certain benefits for leading our school to victory over the years. There’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of them. You’re not going to get in trouble. We’re not breaking any rules.”
“But if we were,” Francis chimed in, “you’d keep your mouth shut because that’s what teammates do for each other. It’s a world of give and take, Foster. And at this school, we’re the closest bond you’ll ever form. We give, you take, and it all makes one big fucking circle. Do you get my drift?” Francis narrowed his eyes.
Owen rolled his eyes. “He’s nervous, Francis. It’s just the dining hall. Cut him some slack.”
“It was just the dining hall…this time. Next time, it might not be. Welcome to Hedgewater, Foster.” Francis held out up palm, waiting for something. The guy next to him produced a red blazer from his backpack. Francis snatched it up and threw it at Shay.
Catching the red blazer, Shay turned it over. Yellow and blue striped trim trailed around the collar and down the front to make a complete circuit at the bottom hem. Brass buttons ran down the single breasted chest. Each shining bobble was embossed with the same Hedgewater crest found on the colorful patch sewn into the pocket. Only that patch had a water polo player stitched in the middle. Shay knew the quality of the blazer, judging from the hand of both the silk lining, and the soft grade of red wool that would stand out in any crowd. Noticing the intense stare going up around the room, Shay knew that was exactly the point…to stand above the crowd.
No one gave him any shit for admiring the beautiful blazer. In fact, no one said a word regarding the small moment of acceptance. To them he was just part of their crew, just like them…on the outside anyway.
“Hang it up and let’s go, Foster. I’m hungry.” Francis rigidly turned, ponytail whipping around, and walked out of the room.
“I thought you were the captain here, Owen,” Shay said once everyone else had left.
“I am, but Francis still thinks he is. We’re all making adjustments here, not just you, Shay. I don’t mean to downplay what happened to you this summer, because I’d kill to ring that guy’s neck for you, but the sooner you lose yourself in what’s happening here and regain a sense of normalcy, the sooner you’ll realize you never left high school behind. It’s the same shit, just a different day, Shay.” Owen squeezed his shoulder. “I’ll wait for you in the lobby. Not all of us are assholes.”
Shay wrapped the blazer in his arms. He stared at the door for a few minutes, knowing he’d heard that line before. And the moment he remembered, his phone beeped on his dresser. He picked it up.
Hedgewater Holmes has news for you. Do you accept?
His brother had warned him not to feed into the gossip of the Hedgewater Holmes, just like he said not to read or watch the media reduce him to a quivering mess all summer. That was like telling someone to look away from a car accident. No matter how much he knew he should, his human curiosity would always win out.
He hit yes and looked at picture of himself climbing the steps of his dorm with a hand up against the reporters.
Let’s all give a warm welcome to Shay Foster, Hedgewater’s newest talk of the town. It must suck living under a magnifying glass like a tiny little ant. Good thing it’s mostly cloudy today, because when the sun comes out, ants are likely to get burned.
Even with his door shut, Shay flinched at the sound of someone dropping a box across the hall. He sat down on his bed, breathing deeply while he fought an oncoming panic attack. He refused to use the pills in his nightstand. He wanted to be completely off the stuff when it was game time. Now he relied on his own techniques to ease the tightening in his chest, the labored breathing, and the sharp headaches.
Finally sure he had his anxiety under wraps; he grabbed his keys and went to the door. Something caught his eye on the floor near the crack under the door. He crouched. Frowning, he palmed two movie tickets. One was for May 28th, to the very movie he and River had gone to the night of his attack. Gasping, Shay flipped over the second one. It was a ticket for one to tonight’s showing of Blood Massacre. And that was when he got the message loud and clear.
Shay threw the tickets on the ground and yanked open his door. A few families still mingled in the hallway, moving things around. Checking both sides of the hall, Shay found nothing suspicious. No lone creepers lingered around to watch him pick up the threatening gift. That left him with one explanation. The murderer would never set foot on Hedgewater grounds with so many people around, especially in broad daylight. The only other person pissed off enough to push his buttons, the one person who’d taken more than his share of personal violations over the summer, because of him, was River.
Shay swiped the tickets from the ground and slammed his door shut. “They think we’ll share a bond like no other,” he whispered, angrily pushing past a family of four. “Then prove it.” He slipped the tickets safely into his pocket to share with his team in the dining hall.
“It’s done.” Holmes’s protégé looked up from the computer screen. “Why didn’t you tell me about the movie tickets? I could have helped you.” The protégé glanced back to the monitor, surveying Shay Foster’s dorm suite.
A figure at the attic window rose. The outline of Hedgewater Holmes moved towards the younger protégé. “Tickets?”
“Come on, if this is supposed to be a test… I don’t get it. We report gossip. We don’t get involved in ongoing murder investigations, no matter what we know.”
“We don’t know anything about that.” Holmes put a hand on his protégé’s shoulder. “Especially about any tickets.”
“So you didn’t plant those?”
“I’ve been here the entire time, haven’t I? Unless I’m part alien, I don’t think I can be in two places at once. Do you?”
The protégé huffed, leaning towards the monitor. “Shit. This is too close to us. I don’t like it.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time Holmes has brushed against trouble. We do have a reputation, one which I hope you intend to keep once I leave.”
Exhaling slowly, the protégé nodded. “I understand.”
“I’m happy to hear that.” Holmes whipped around at the faint sound of the front doorbell. “Keep working. I’ll see who it is.”
“We weren’t expecting anyone…” The protégé bit his lip.
“Expect the unexpected, a motto to live by.” Holmes smiled; a row of pearly whites basked in blue from the monitor. Opening the door, Holmes briskly walked down two flights of stairs and firmly opened the front door.
Sunlight poured into the foyer. Birds chirped high in the trees. The lawn was green and vibrant, speckled with leaves from an earlier breeze, and on the front stoop stood a delivery service employee, watching Holmes behind polarized sunglasses.
“I have as package for…” The man looked down. “Doe. Would you please sign here?”
Holmes hesitated before signing the electronic tablet with a stylus. Taking the stuffed, delivery envelope, Holmes stepped back into the foyer. “Have a nice day.”
“You too.” The employee frowned, but turned around and walked to his truck out by the curb.
Holmes scanned the pristine neighborhood for any signs of trouble. Finding nothing, Holmes shut the door and went back up to the attic, package in hand. Upon reaching the last platform, right outside the attic door, Holmes slipped a finger under the masking tape holding the opening shut. Two files, a stack of hundred dollar bills, and a cover sheet were stuffed inside.
The cover sheet slipped free of the envelope. A floral border caught Holmes’s eye. Lush shades of red, purple, blues, and even yellow filled each petal, meticulously hand drawn by the sender.
A flower is only as good as its gardener. It’s time to start doing a bit of pruning, wouldn’t you say, Holmes?
Holmes’s breath left in a rush. The cover sheet dropped to the ground. Holmes pulled the files out, ignoring the money at the bottom of the package. Pages from the Hedgewater police department, files from the Hedgewater attacks, and documents from the feds were sandwiched together. Every detail about the case was now in Holmes’s hands.
The Hedgewater killer had sent them a message.
Knowing exactly what the sender wanted, putting two and two together with the money and the information, Holmes raced into the attic headquarters. The door slamming into the wall made the protégé jump.
“Pack it all up and start cleaning from top to bottom. We’ve been compromised.”
To Be Continued…
MUSIC FROM THIS EPISODE:
See you all next week!