Always and Forever

Some stories just kind of land in my head, coming from some mysterious place in my subconscious. Others have to be built from pieces that I find laying about my head. This is one of the latter. I was driving to dance practice one afternoon, the day after my birthday in 2018 and felt the urge to write so I began thinking about my next story. I had only written seventeen stories so still had no idea what I was doing (as if I do now at 75 and counting?). I decided I wanted to write about college aged individuals. I thought about people I knew in college and interesting things that had happened. For some reason I remembered a girl who drew the attention of another girl who befriended her and then refused to let her have a social life. She consumed her. I wondered if that ever happened to guys. So I decided to write about it. Then I went and danced for an hour.

After dance practice on the drive home I came up with the names of the characters and some of their characteristics. It’s important for me to know who my people are since I like to allow them as much agency as they will take. That may sound a bit crazy, but I recently read an article that showed 63% of authors allow their characters to drive the story. I’ve believed in doing that for a long time but just didn’t say much since people would think I’m crazy. At least I know I’m in good company.

The female detective in the story has an interesting genesis. I was having some issues with a part time job. I had to contact the home office (on the other side of the country) several times. The person I spoke with was a Ms. Garza. I thought, “What an interesting name.” I have never met Ms. Garza but my detective is kinda like how I envision the employee. I’ve even brought Detective Garza into other stories. Why drop a perfectly good character with whom you are already familiar? And once again, it’s written first person. I seem to prefer that style. I guess it’s my vicarious way of having a life. Anyway, here’s my tale of a touch of madness.

Always and Forever

            “I must be cursed,” I muttered, head in hands, elbows propped on my knees. Bryson sat beside me on the sofa. He put his hand on the back of my neck and kneaded lightly.

            “Come on, bro. You don’t believe that,” he murmured.

            I turned my head to look at him, my eyes red and swollen from crying.

            “How else do you explain it? Every girl I like something awful happens to her.”

            “Well, you do seem to have rotten luck, but that’s all it is. God ain’t out to get you or any shit like that.” He smiled, but didn’t laugh. The situation was too grave.

            “I think someone forgot to tell God.” I had been a wreck all day. I got the call early that morning from Francie that Jenny, my Jenny, my girlfriend Jenny had been killed in a fall from the seventh floor of her dorm. The dorm had outside walkways to the suites with only waist-high railings. I always thought it was kinda unsafe what with how we college kids get, but had never heard of anyone actually falling. Until now. Now Jenny. Aw, shit. Here I go again. I can’t stop the tears.

My roommate Bryson is a champ. He’s been sticking close, getting rid of callers and visitors, keeping a bottle of water nearby, handing me Kleenexes. Taking care of me. He’s good at that. Always has been. Ever since freshman year. We met when he rescued me from some jocks. They seemed to think it was fun to pick on someone significantly smaller. Bryson jumped in, bumping chests with the leader, called him Shit-For-Brains and stood them down. He’s not any bigger than me, but he doesn’t take shit from anyone. He reminded them and they slowly worked out in their lumbering jock way that if they took the time to beat us up, they would probably get in trouble with their coach, might even miss some games. We’ve been best friends ever since. We room together, hang together, pledged the same frat together, and go places together. People say we even look like brothers. In a way, we are. Best friends, always and forever.

“Kev, why don’t you go lie down for a while,” he suggested.

“Yeah,” was all I could muster, and trudged back to my bedroom. It was what, 1 pm? Yeah, Sunday afternoon. Bryson was right behind me.

“I got a lot of homework to do, so I’ll be in the living room if you need anything. I’ll get us something to eat later. You don’t worry about it,” he told me. Yeah, Mr. Take Charge is on duty.

***

I managed to get some sleep and felt much more human by that evening. Numb, but human.

“Crap, I think I have an Econ quiz tomorrow,” I said, looking at my books for the first time since Friday.

“You aren’t seriously thinking of going to class tomorrow?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Dude. You just had a shitstorm all over you. You are in no shape for some dickhead professor’s quiz. I hate to be blunt, but a death in the family is an excused absence. Take it, bro. You need it, whether or not you think so.”

“Jen…” I couldn’t get her name out without choking. “She wasn’t exactly family.”

“Girlfriend, same thing. You guys been together for a couple months. In college that’s like years.”

“I’ll see how I feel in the morning. Right now, I think looking over my Econ notes might keep my mind off other things.” But it didn’t. Saturday night Jenny should have been with me but had texted that she didn’t want to see me. I called, but she didn’t answer. I texted I was coming over and she texted that she didn’t want me to. So I sulked around the apartment. And now, this. Shit. I should have gone over.

***

Monday morning was gray and threatening rain. It was a perfect match for my mood. Bryson was up and puttering around early.

“Dude, you look wasted. Did you even sleep?” he asked.

“Some. I need to get up with Francie. See if she knows if they have made any arrangements. For Jen… Jenny.”

“Oh yeah, she called. Said the police haven’t released her to her family yet. Being pissy about drugs being involved.”

“What? Jenny didn’t do drugs. At least not that I know of,” I said. But I hadn’t thought Marcie was still doing drugs, either.

“Girls do some crazy shit when you ain’t watching ‘em.”

There was a knock at the door. Bryson started for it.

“You want to head back to your room? I’ll get rid of whoever it is.”

“I have to face our friends sometime. I’ll just leave if I feel like falling apart. I think I have that part perfect by now.” I amazed myself that I could say something so flippant.

There were two strangers at the door; a man and a woman. They were dressed in nice suits, nothing fancy, just business attire. Jehovah’s Witnesses, I thought? They introduced themselves as Detectives Garza, a short, matronly female and Wilson a taller, tired-looking man. They asked to come in. Bryson didn’t move from the door.

“We’re dealing with a tragedy right now. Come back some other time,” he said.

“Yes, that’s what we’d like to talk to you about,” said Garza. “Are you Kevin Jennings?”

“No, and he’s not seeing visitors right now. He’s had a shock. As I said, maybe later.”

“And you are?” asked Detective Wilson.

“I’m Bryson Johns. This is my place, too.”

“Look, Mr. Johns, here’s the deal,” Detective Wilson said. “We need to talk to Mr. Jennings about a suspicious death and we can do it nice right here, or we can send some uniforms to firmly assist on his presence down at the station. You can pick.”

My skin went cold at the word ‘suspicious’. What the hell?

“Bryson, let them in,” I called to him, standing to walk to the door.

“You sure, bud?”

“Yeah. I need to know what’s going on.”

Detective Garza brushed past Bryson. “Well, Mr. Jennings, we were hoping you could tell us.” She crowded into my personal space.

“Me? All I know is what Francie told me.” I backed up a step.

“The roommate, Francine McDonald?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“Why don’t you tell us what you know, beginning with the last time you saw the deceased,” Garza instructed. Well, so much for the pleasantries.

I gasped a little as my throat closed. My Jenny was now ‘the deceased’? I realized I was hyperventilating. Bryson was suddenly there beside me, leading me over to the sofa.

“It’s okay, bro,” he crooned to me softly. “It’s okay. Just breathe slowly.”

Then to the detectives, “You dicks are scaring the crap outta him. Can’t you see how broke up he is?” Bryson said accusingly. He planted himself between me and the detectives. “I have enough pre-law classes to know what you can and cannot do. Now you go easy on him. If you upset him again, this interview is over.” He sometimes goes bulldog when defending me. I always feel so safe when he’s around. I haven’t always surrounded myself with the best of people. But knowing that someone has your back no matter what, is so comforting and even humbling. It’s also kinda great. I know Bryson has my back.

The detectives looked sourly at each other, and then Garza nodded. They all sat. Bryson sat on the sofa beside me, lending me strength. The detectives sat in the two chairs facing us.

“Mr. Jennings. I’m sorry for your loss. I understand this can be a difficult time for you. We just need to find out what you know. Miss Stanton’s family needs closure on this, just like you do,” Detective Garza said, proving that she could play nice when she wanted. “When did you last see Miss Stanton?”

“That was Friday night. We were at a party at my fraternity.”

“Delta Tau Upsilon?”

“Yeah.”

“I understand you and Miss Stanton seemed to have some kind of disagreement that night. Can you fill me in on that?”

“What? Oh, it was nothing. She said she thought I was flirting with some other girls.”

“Were you?”

“What? No! Jenny is my girl. Was my girl,” I said as my throat closed again. I swiped at the tears. Garza had the decency to wait a moment. Bryson handed me a tissue and put a hand on my arm. The simple gesture gave me strength.

“Why would she think you were flirting?”

“I don’t know. She said someone told her to keep an eye on me. Probably one of her bitchy girlfriends. You know how girls are.” Detective Garza’s steely glare showed that perhaps she did not know how girls are.

“So you didn’t take her home?”

“No, she went with a girlfriend.”

“One of the ‘bitchy’ ones?” Garza asked sarcastically.

“Sorry. I’m just a little frazzled,” I said. Bryson glared at the detectives.
            “Easy, detective,” he warned.

“So you didn’t see her last night?” Garza asked.

“No.” I elected to leave out the angry texts.

“Saturday night. Date night. I thought you’d be with ‘your girl’, as you call her.”

“I think she was still pissed about Friday and said she wanted to cool off.”

“You think?”

“Well, she didn’t say why. Just that she didn’t want to see me,” I said huffily.

“So you went to see her, talk some sense into her?” Garza led.

“What? No.”

“Did Miss Stanton do drugs?”

“No, not as far as I know.”

“And how far is that?”

“I don’t know. She never mentioned drugs.”

“We got a tox screen,” Detective Wilson interjected. “Seems she was high on acid. She flipped right over the rail outside her suite. Seven floors down is a long way to fall. Maybe she thought she could fly.”

“Hey!” Bryson said forcefully. “I done told you, if you can’t be civil you can take your ass outta here.” Wilson bristled, but Garza’s hand on his forearm settled him.

“Yes, she could have fallen accidentally. Or someone could have helped her. Her suitemates said they were at a mixer. She stayed up in her room. Alone. They didn’t know about any LSD,” Garza continued.

“So what has that got to do with me? I don’t do drugs.” At least not anymore.

“Where were you Saturday night?”

“I told you. Jenny didn’t want to go out, so I stayed here.”

“Can anyone vouch for you?”

“I can,” said Bryson.

“Bryson,” I said warningly. “Don’t lie about this. You were at the frat. You tried to get me to go. I just stayed here.”

“Mr. Johns, if you have had all those pre-law classes you would know that lying to a detective is a misdemeanor. Don’t make me take you in.” Bryson just continued glaring. At this point I’m not sure Detective Wilson could take Bryson in.

“I don’t think anyone saw me here, but I was here. I’m innocent until proven otherwise.”

“Interesting turn of phrase, Mr. Jennings. Do you feel guilty about something?

“No, just a figure of speech,” I didn’t like her tone.

“We have a witness who places you at Miss Stanton’s dorm about 8 pm. ME says she fell about 10 pm. Why are you and your friend lying about your location on Saturday evening?”

“Bryson was just trying to be helpful in his own clumsy way. But I’m not lying. I was here. Anyone who says different is lying.”

Garza stood up abruptly. “I think that’s all we need for now. We’ll be in touch if we have more questions. I know you college kids have restless feet, so please notify the police if you plan to leave town. Good day.” They showed themselves out as Bryson and I sat on the sofa stunned.

“Dude. They think you did it. We need a lawyer.”

***

I was a basket case. On top of losing my girlfriend, now the cops think I killed her. How do things like this happen? Thank God I had Bryson. He called my parents when I asked him to. I was too freaked out to talk to them. They said they were calling a lawyer they knew, and he’d help me. Mom stressed that I not talk to the police without him present. And the standard parent lines—Don’t worry. Everything will be okay. We love you.

***

I went back to classes on Tuesday, for what it was worth. In three classes, I took exactly zero notes. I have no idea what the professors said. I’m not even sure I was in the right classes. Nothing makes sense right now. This will play hell with my grade point average. I guess your GPA doesn’t matter too much in prison. Shit. This is serious. I’m so fucking scared.

***

Detective Garza contacted me late Tuesday and invited me down to the police station “to fill in some gaps.” I told her I’d come in Wednesday if my lawyer could schedule it.

“Lawyer? You have something to hide, Mr. Jennings?”

“No, but you and your friend seem to have painted a bull’s eye on my back. I’m just making sure you play by the rules.” I was amazed my voice held steady long enough to say all that.

“Whoa, dude. That rocked!” Bryson exclaimed after I hung up. “Show ‘em you got balls.”

***

My folks’ lawyer friend, Mr. Fallon, had an office in town and he set aside time for us to talk and then said he’d meet me at the police station. He was very reassuring. He said that so far all they had was “supposition and innuendo”. “That and five bucks might get you a latte at Starbucks,” he joked. I felt so much better. Then I told him everything and his demeanor changed. He became grave.

“I’m glad you told me. They are sure to find out and use this against you. I’ll do what I can to get ahead of it, but it looks bad. Still, no smoking gun. Garza’s a bulldog, but she’s fair. Wilson is a piece of shit.”

***

I pictured the worst from all the TV cop shows, but I wasn’t put in an “interrogation room”, or cuffed to a table or anything. We met in a relatively attractive, comfortable office. Mr. Fallon was at my side and reminded me I didn’t have to answer anything I didn’t want to and to look to him if I had a question.

Garza led with her ace.

“Mr. Jennings. Did you ever know a Marcie Gray?”

Oh shit.

“Yes.”

“You are aware that Miss Gray is deceased?”

“Of course I am.” What are you, stupid? I said in my mind.

“In what way did you know Miss Gray?”

“She was my girlfriend during sophomore year.”

“And you know how she died?”

“I object to you baiting my client, Garza. You have the file; you know exactly what he knows.”

“Just trying to get it in the record for this case. She died of a bad reaction to poisoned street drugs. Seems she got hold of some speed with a high strychnine content. Isn’t it coincidental that both your girlfriends died from drug-related causes?”

“That’s not a legitimate question, Garza. And the record shows that my client was in no way involved in his friend’s drug use. He didn’t know she was using and definitely wasn’t her supplier.” Except I did know she had used, and I knew her supplier. I just thought she had stopped.

“So he says. It’s just the old smoke and fire adage. But let’s move on. Do you know a Laurie Lee? I believe you called her Spooky Lee?”

“I don’t call her that. At least not to her face. She was Marcie’s roommate. She’s weird. Everyone calls her Spooky. She moved in with Darlene after Marcie died.”

“Yes, I see that here. It seems that Miss Lee and Darlene Massey didn’t care much for you. They said you were abrasive, argumentative, made threats and hit Miss Gray.”

“That’s a lie! I never hit Marcie. I’ve never hit any woman. Spooky and Darlene were a couple of bitches. They did everything they could to turn Marcie against me. Then they told lies about me.” The arguments I had with Marcie were mainly about those two bitches.

“Now why would those nice girls say such bad things about you? What did you ever do to them?”

“Nothing. They just couldn’t stand that Marcie didn’t have time for them when she was seeing me. They wanted her all to themselves.”

“Yes, and you and Marcie fought about that, didn’t you?”

“Hold on, Garza,” Mr. Fallon said. “What are you getting at?”

“I’m just establishing that your client has a problem controlling his anger issues around women.”

“What anger issues?” I exclaimed.

“Garza, we’re here as a courtesy. We’re not here to help you go on some fishing expedition.”

“What anger issues?” I asked again.

Garza continued. “Isn’t it true that you have a prescription for Ativan to control your violent tendencies?”

“What? No! It’s for agitation and impulsivity. I have trouble concentrating sometimes. That’s all. Why are you trying to make me sound like some kind of lunatic?”

 “Yes, impulsive actions like helping someone fall from the seventh floor, or adding strychnine to speed, or sending dead flowers and a chopped up doll?”

“We’re done here,” said Mr. Fallon, disgust dripping from his voice. “Come on, Kevin.”

“Wait a minute,” I said. “What dead flowers? What chopped up doll? That’s crazy stuff. Hold on, Mr. Fallon. I want to know what they’re talking about.”

“I’m talking about Paula Warren. Recognize the name, Mr. Jennings?” My stomach dropped.

“What? What’s happened to Paula?”

“Why should you care? I believe when you broke up she called you a ‘monster’ and to leave her alone. Paula seems to be one of the lucky ones. She withdrew from school before someone could kill her.”

“I didn’t know she withdrew,” I said. I really didn’t. I had dated Paula briefly during my junior year. She said something about harassing phone calls and noises outside her apartment. I slept over a few times to check, but nothing happened. I mean, no harassing calls or prowlers. Plenty else happened, but that’s neither here nor there. Then she said she thought it was me doing it. Someone was feeding her lies.

“Well, what did you expect after you sent her a box of dead flowers and the next day a box with a doll chopped up into bits? A doll with blond hair just like Miss Warren. Of course she left. For her own safety.”

“What? I never did that. That’s sick.”

“Well, the UPS guy picked your picture as the guy who sent it.”

“But that’s impossible. I never did anything like that.”

“Then, there is Susan Cummings.” The nightmare seemed never ending.

Garza continued. “You dated her after Miss Warren. We have a statement from her you seemed mentally unbalanced, and she was afraid of you.”

“I don’t know what was going on with Susan. She said someone was stalking her and leaving threatening messages on her phone. She said someone called and told her I was crazy and would hurt her. I wouldn’t hurt her. I’ve never hurt anyone. Why is this happening to me?”

“Well, look at it from my perspective,” Garza began reasonably, too reasonably. “I have four girls here, two dead and two terrified. And the common denominator is you. What am I supposed to do with that?”

My first thought on what she could do with that probably wouldn’t help my case so I went with my second thought.

“I’m being set up. Someone is trying to ruin my life. I’m being systematically set up.”

“Now what makes you so important that someone would go to all this trouble to ruin you? Doesn’t really make sense, does it?” Garza just looked at me.

“It’s that Spooky bitch. She’s behind it. She told me she would get me one day. Said she wouldn’t rest until everyone knew what a monster I was. Monster. That’s it. Both Paula and Susan said someone told them I was a monster. It’s not exactly the most common word. It must have been Spooky. I’ve seen her slithering around campus lately, turning up where I am, like she’s stalking me.”

“And why would Miss Lee think you’re a monster?”

Oops.

“Um, because I took Marcie away from her. She was very possessive. She hated me for taking Marcie. I don’t know. She’s crazy. She probably blames me for Marcie’s death. If she’s the one who told you I was at Jenny’s on Saturday, you can forget it. She’s out to get me.”

“Yes, I’m sure we’ll be talking to Miss Lee. Now are there any other girlfriends, dead or alive, that we should know about?”

“Not funny. Not at all,” Mr. Fallon said. He put his arm around me and escorted me from the police station.

***

“So according to your lawyer, they got nothing on you?” Bryson asked.

“Yeah. Put together it all looks bad, but there’s not enough facts there to hold it together.” My interview with the police still freaked me, but I was starting to calm a bit.

“Unless they find more evidence,” he cautioned.

“No. There is no more evidence. I didn’t do anything. It shouldn’t have gone as far as it already has.”

“Hey, man. Not to scare you, but police plant evidence all the time. It saw a TV show about it. They could come in right now and claim they found a kilo of cocaine and lock your ass up forever.”

“I’d just tell ‘em it was yours.”

“That’s cold, man. After all I done for you, you’d rat me out like that?” he asked, acting wounded.

“In a heartbeat.”

He had a point. I don’t think Detective Garza would plant evidence. Hell knows what Detective Wilson would do. Mostly he just sat in and glowered at me. He’s got Bad Cop down pat. Garza’s Good Cop could use some work.

“It’s that Spooky bitch who’s the problem. I bet she set the whole thing up.”

“What spooky bitch?” Bryson looked bewildered.

“That crazy girl who was Marcie’s roommate. She hated me.”

“Oh, yeah. The crazy one. I remember her.”

“The cops will talk to her. I’m sure she doesn’t know about you or she’d have the cops all over us by now.”

“You sure about that?”

“Pretty sure. She hates my guts. She knew I introduced Marcie to a dealer. She just never knew who. Marcie was smart enough not to tell her.”

“You don’t blame me, do you? I mean, you know I didn’t try to hurt anyone?”

“Bry, we’ve been through this. I hated you for a while. I know I accused you of killing Marcie. But I saw how it affected you. You couldn’t have known you had a bad batch. That was your source’s fault. We all took our chances using street drugs. And if anything good could come from such a fuckup, at least it made you turn your life around and me stop using. You know I’m good with what happened.”

“Yeah. At least I was low-level enough that my connection just beat me up and said there’d be worse if I ever opened my mouth. Piece of cake.”

“I watched you, Bry. What happened with Marcie almost killed you. You blamed yourself. You didn’t even argue with me when I blamed you. You were in a very dark place. As much as I loved Marcie, it hurt me more to see you in such pain.”

“But you pulled me through, bro.”

“Hey, that’s what bros do. It’s me and you, bud. Always and forever.”

“I do remember her and that Darlene chick, with the white-painted face and all the black clothes and shit. A real freak show.”

“Yeah? You know Darlene thought you were pretty hot.”

“Oh, don’t tell me stuff like that. There are some things you can’t unhear. She was the spooky one, you ask me. What’d Marcie ever see in them, anyway?”

“You get thrown together freshman year, make friends, and it sticks. Look at us. Except for the fact that you are apparently hot to Goth chicks I don’t know what I see in you.”

“Same at you, asshole. But you know that’s not true. We have something special. This strange connection. I felt it the first time I saw you. We’re a good team.”

“Yeah, it’s weird how it just happens. What are the odds of finding someone who can end up as close as we are?”

“That’s what Marcie said. That we’re good for each other. That we look out for each other. She’s the only girlfriend you had that I ever really liked. The others didn’t stack up. Paula and Susan were no way good enough for you. Well, I kinda liked Jenny. But you two were getting way too serious. Sometimes it felt like you were leaving me. It’s me and you, bro. Always and forever. We’re bonded. We belong together. I’m no homo but you know it’s always bros before hos. It’s us against them. We’re like Butch and Sundance, or Thelma and Louise on testosterone.”

“As I recall, those didn’t end too well.”

“Well, you know I’d take a bullet for you, bud.”

“Yeah, I believe you actually would.” I suddenly noticed a tear roll down his face.

“What’s this? What’s wrong,” I asked with concern. Bryson never cried.

“I fucked up. I fucked it all up.” More tears streamed out.

“No man, nothing’s fucked up. We’re good.” I didn’t know what he was talking about.

“Yes, I did. I didn’t mean to. I just got so scared.” He was literally sobbing now, his breath hitching.

“Come on, dude. Let’s talk about it. You’ll feel better.”

“I can’t. You’ll hate me. I can’t live if you hate me.”

Something was really going on with him. I went over to the sofa and sat beside him and put an arm around his shoulder.

“Hey, you’re my brother, remember. Always and forever. Nothing’s going to make me hate you.”

“I love you, man. You’re my other half,” he whimpered.

“I love you, too. Always.” He had his face against my shoulder, still crying pitifully.

“I didn’t mean it.”

“Mean what?”

“All the nasty shit I said about you. It was just to make them go away.”

“What nasty shit?”

“I told Paula and Susan you were crazy, a monster. A real whack job and you might attack them. I told Jenny, too. I don’t think she believed me, though.”

I sat up, pushing his face off my shoulder.

“Bryson. What are you talking about?”

“Those girls. They weren’t good enough for you. And they were coming between us. I couldn’t let them take you away from me. I need you. You complete me. You belong to me.”

“Oh shit, Bryson. What did you do?”

“Nothing much. Susan was easy. I scared her a little with some phone calls and scratching around her condo. Once she thought it was you, she left. Paula was harder. I ended up sending her some stupid stuff, dead flowers, cut up doll. It scared her real good.” I watched as he told me this and his face lightened as if he was enjoying the memory. Then his face crumpled again.

“I didn’t want to hurt her,” he said through renewed tears. “She made me.”

“Hurt who?” I asked, but was afraid I knew the answer.

“Jenny,” he said in a small voice. Oh, fuck. Is he saying he killed Jenny? Oh fuck, oh fuck.

            “She called me to come see her that night. I won’t at the frat party. Oh, I’m so sorry. Please don’t hate me.”

            “Just tell me what happened, Bryson. Please.” I said it as evenly as I could.

            “She was mad as hell. She said she knew I’d been dicking with her, trying to scare her. She said our attachment was unnatural. Unnatural! That’s what she called us. She said she would tell you what I was doing, and you’d hate me forever. I couldn’t stand that. I love you. You belong with me.” He curled in on himself, sobbing.

            “Go on, Bry. Get it all out.” The tears were now flowing down my face also.

            “We fought. When I knocked her down, she hit her head on something and it knocked her out. I know I did wrong, but I was so scared. I fucked up. I fucked up because I thought I was gonna lose you. I had a tab of acid on me. I still deal a little. I didn’t tell you because I knew you hated it. I put it under her tongue and tied her up with her sheet. Once she was tripping, we went outside on the balcony. I told her she could fly while on acid. She wanted to try.”

            “Oh my God, Bryson.” I couldn’t come out with any more than that.

            “It hurt so bad to do that. It was even worse with Marcie. I hated dosing Marcie. It liked to have killed me to do her like that. But she was taking you away. You hate me now, don’t you?” He didn’t make it a question. He knew.

            “I fucked up so bad. If they take you, then we can’t be together. If they take me, we won’t be together. Now I’m afraid you might leave me. There ain’t but one way out.”

            He slipped his hand down between the sofa cushions and pulled out a pistol.

            “Shit, Bryson, put that thing down before you hurt someone. Where’d you get it, anyway?”

            “I’ve had it a long time. Just in case. We can really be together like this. A suicide pact. It will solve all our problems. We’ll be together forever.”

            “Yeah, I want to be with you bud, but we’ve still got a lot of living to do. There’s so much we haven’t done yet,” I babbled, playing for time.

            “I’m sorry, Kev. I fucked that up. We got no future. I guess we really are Thelma and Louise.”

            Suddenly the door burst open and Detective Garza and Detective Wilson charged in, weapons drawn.

            “Bryson Johns, drop the weapon!” she shouted.

            Bryson looked over and fired at her. The shot hit her in the chest and she actually flew a few feet backward from the impact. Before she had landed Detective Wilson unloaded three shots into Bryson’s chest. He got a surprised look on his face and dropped the pistol. Wilson raced up and kicked it away. He looked back to Garza, and she shouted, “I’m all right.”

            I grabbed Bryson and cradled him against my chest, sobbing harder than ever. He smiled and whispered, “Hey bro, you do still love me, don’t you?”

            “Of course. Just me and you, dude. Always and forever.”

            “I’ll be waiting. I know you’ll find me. You belong to me.”

***

Detective Garza filled me in the next day on all that had happened. Spooky Lee was actually working with the police. She had told them I had connected Marcie with a drug dealer and they’d been watching me to try to find him. They knew that I did not go out the night Jenny was killed. They were just trying to rattle me to see what they could shake loose. One break came from my saying that Bryson was at the fraternity party. They checked, and no one remembered seeing him there. They finally found a cam shot of a person entering Jenny’s dorm who had no business there—Bryson. At the interview at my apartment, Detective Garza noted how similar both Bryson and I looked. She got a picture of Bryson and took it to UPS and the clerk immediately identified him. He had been a bit iffy on the picture of me. The girl who said she saw me at Jenny’s dorm also identified the picture of Bryson. She later said she just assumed it was me because I was always there. From leads from another investigation Detective Garza had figured out that Bryson was the dealer who supplied Marcie. As she looked into Bryson’s past she found he had a sealed juvie record. She had to get a court order to open it. Once she saw it she called in all units and raced to our apartment. They had treated Bryson as an adolescent for antisocial and sociopathic behaviors. He became obsessed with people or things and ended up destroying them. He lied without remorse and showed no empathy. Just as she arrived outside our apartment the surveillance team watching through a part in the curtains saw Bryson draw the gun. She said she was just thankful that she had taken the time to put on her Kevlar vest.

***

I’ve tried to put this behind me. I’ve spent umpteen hours on my therapist’s couch crying my eyes out. I think I’ve shed enough tears to float a damn battleship. If getting the emotion out that way is effective, then I’m well on the way to being cured. I’ve been thinking a lot about Bryson. I knew he was clingy, but had no idea he was so sick. Am I that naïve or was he just that good at it? I’ve read up on his particular pathology and saw a lot of parallels. It’s kind of eerie looking at it in hindsight. All the signs were there. But I think they got one thing wrong. They said he showed no remorse or empathy. I believe he did. I think in the end he was sorry for how he had ‘fucked up’ as he put it. And obsessive or not, I’m damn sure he did love me. He loved me with all his warped heart. And I’ll try to remember him like that. My best bud. Always and forever.

Billy and the Bush Ax

Sorry, I missed posting last week. Life got in the way. Not much to say about this story except that it is true, bizarre as that may seem. It is one of the few stories from my time in college I can tell. Statute of limitations and all that. The names have been changed to protect the guilty.

Billy and the Bush Ax

(caution: contains underage drinking and partial nudity)

Back in the 1970s I went to college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I’ve heard people speak of their ‘misspent youth’. Mine was definitely not misspent. I had a helluva great time. I came out of my shell and became a hardcore party boy. I raised hell with the best of them and still managed to graduate with honors. You just have to pace yourself.

While at UNC I joined a fraternity. I didn’t come in thinking I would join one; I didn’t really know what they were about. It just kinda happened. Has to be one of my better decisions.

I lived in the fraternity house for 3 years. Now that gave me plenty of stories, most of which I can’t print. Most of the degenerates I hung out with are now pillars of their respective communities, which still boggles the mind.

My fraternity, Delta Tau Delta, was on a little side street in Chapel Hill. We had four fraternities and two sororities in our little two block area (plus a small daycare and a Lutheran Church. Go figure.)  Our house, a huge Victorian with a wrap porch was on a corner and faced onto a little street, which connected two of Chapel Hill’s main thoroughfares. To our right was the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity. We called them the Lambchops; they were our buddies. Behind our house, facing on a main street were the Tau Epsilon Phi’s, the Teps. We did some service projects and street parties with them. Great guys. Across the street to our left was the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority. The Thetas. They looked upon us with the sisterly affection and tolerance one has for a wayward little brother. Diagonally behind us, between the Lambchops and Teps was Kappa Delta sorority. KD. These were the hardcore 70s preppies. You know the kind. All about pink and green, sweaters around their shoulders, adda pearls and lavaliers and way too much makeup. They pretended that the Delts, Teps and Lambchops didn’t exist. The final fraternity in our little neighborhood, across the side street from the Lambchops were the Alpha Tau Omegas, also known as ‘the Enemy’. I’m not sure why the other 3 fraternities and Thetas disliked them so much. The KDs just hated everybody. It could have been because the ATOs were mostly lacrosse players or mostly from New Jersey. My guess is that is was because they were mostly arrogant pricks. But that’s just a guess. It was an established hatred when I came into the fraternity and who am I to buck fraternity traditions?

Directly across the street from us was a Lutheran church. All three years I lived there, I had a room with a window overlooking the church. When that bell started ringing at the crack of eleven o’clock on a Sunday morning, it could be sheer hell. I, like most of my compatriots, was usually a hungover mess on Sunday mornings. More than once I cursed that blasted bell. And if you stood in my window and looked closely, you could just see the red and green fletching of two of our darts sticking in the wooden statue of Mary on their second floor.

The Delts, Lambchops, Teps and Thetas got along fine. We did things like the aforementioned service projects and street parties together. The Thetas would call on the guys if something needed fixing or if a girl needed an escort after dark. Their pledges made us chocolate chip cookies, our pledges cleaned their house, we booby trapped their door with saran wrap or a pyramid of beer cans. That kind of thing. The KDs had their noses in the air and were above it all. The ATOs just grunted and scratched their genitals.

One of my favorite brothers was Billy. We roomed together my junior year. He was full of life and a boundless source of energy, fun and stupidity. If there was a bad decision to be made, he had probably already made it. Like the time he was at a local bar and, in his words, “this short dude on crutches was mouthing off at me.” He said, “I figured, you’re short and on crutches. You don’t need to be mouthing off at people. That’s probably why you’re on crutches.” So the guy keeps it up and Billy finally has enough and pops the guy in the jaw. It turned out the guy was on the UNC football team. The rest of the team was in the bar. The night did not end well for Billy. The other brothers and the townies joined in a general brawl. Some of the brothers managed to grab Billy and drag him out while the team was busy with the townies. Such a character, just fun to be with. But not at a bar with the football team.

Billy had a special hatred for the ATOs. It stemmed back to a time he got a black eye when hit in the face with a snowball thrown by an ATO. There was a rock in the center of the snowball. He was ready to brawl but we held him back. But the seed of enmity was sown.

I believe it was just before school started in 1977, maybe ’78. We had arrived early to work on the house. There were grouting guns and putty knives and other implements of mass construction laying about. We also had several large slabs of sheetrock propped up against the wall in the hallway to replace the wall in a bedroom. There were a couple of rocking chairs and a sofa on our porch. We liked to sit there on afternoons, drinking beer, rating the girls who walked by. Well, one morning we found that one of the rocking chairs was missing. Billy immediately said, “It was the ATOs. Let’s go get ‘em.”

Our president was more prudent. First he asked the Lambchops, Teps and Thetas if they had seen anything. No one had. He talked with the ATOs but they claimed to know nothing. Billy just ‘knew’ they were lying.

A day or so later we awoke to find our sofa missing from the porch. We were pissed, but Billy was livid. He said our honor was besmirched. Our president once again asked around with the same results. Billy wanted to force our way into the ATO house and search it. Our president counseled against starting a war. Billy could not be mollified. It was a matter of honor. He was a volcano ready to explode.

I’m not sure if it was the following night or later, but Billy and I sat up drinking, as we were wont to do. At some point, after many beers, he became convinced the ATOs were going to come that night and steal the remaining chair. I reminded him we had moved it indoors for safe keeping. Not good enough. He had a plan. He went downstairs and put the rocking chair back on the front porch as ‘bait’. He was going to wait and catch them in the act. He was kind of fuzzy on what was to happen then. He decided he needed a weapon to protect himself. He went looking through our garden tools. He came upon an old bush ax. If you are unfamiliar with the tool, it was a wooden handle about four feet long to which was attached a two foot single edge blade. Kind of like a machete on a stick. It is used mainly for clearing ditches of undergrowth. I should have been concerned that he had picked up such a deadly weapon, but I refer you back to the beers mentioned above. I went to bed. The rest I pieced together from various witnesses.

Billy came down to the living room near the front door to wait. He brought a sheet to wrap up in and he was wearing his usual sleeping attire – his tighty whities. However, these were no longer tighty, nor very whitey. I can attest that these had seen better days. But, he rolled up in the sheet on the sofa and laid in wait.

Meanwhile, another brother, Bubba, had scored a date with a Theta. He and the Theta  had come back from a club and Mick asked them up to his room to share a joint before Bubba walked her home. Now, Mick was a big guy, about six feet tall, three feet wide, mostly muscle and at this point, already three sheets to the wind. Bubba was talking about his summer job selling Bibles door to door. He was bragging about how he could go into poor areas and convince people who had virtually no money to shell out what they had for a Bible. The Theta exclaimed that it was despicable and how could he and that he was awful. That kind of thing. She stormed out, down a flight of stairs, clip, clip, clip, a 180, down the hall and out the front door. Bubba was hot on her heels, down a flight of stairs, clop, clop, clop, a 180, down the hall and out the front door, apologizing all the way. Mick, barely cognizant at this point, figures they’re all going somewhere. So he went down a flight of stairs, clump, clump, trip, tumble, tumble, crash into a pile at the foot of the stairs. The old adage that God looks after drunks proved true. Giggling, Mick sat up, and grabbed the sheetrock leaning against the wall to pull himself up. He overbalanced it and the slabs of sheetrock propped against the wall fell over. Luckily it missed Mick. But the crash was loud and shook the entire house.

This finally woke Billy who was lying in wait in the living room. He leaped to his feet shouting “ATOs!” He raced to the front door waving his bush ax in the air with his war cry. As he reached the front door, it opened and the Theta ran in to see what the noise was. She ran headlong into Billy, nearly naked in his not so tighty whities, murder in his eyes, waving a bush ax and whooping. She screamed, turn and ran from the house, knocking down Bubba in the process. Billy also screamed and ran the other way. He tripped on Mick who was lying on the floor giggling. He went airborne and did a belly flop beyond the pile of sheetrock. The bush ax flew from his hand, skidded along the floor and buried its point in the back door. Billy apparently decided the tile floor was comfortable because he just laid there, passed out.

A few moments later, Dan and Jeannie were coming back from a date. They tried to come in the back door but Dan had to push mightily to get it to open. Once inside, he found a bush ax stuck in the door. Looking up he saw Billy laid out on the floor, his underpants slipped down showing half his butt, a pile of fallen sheetrock, Mick laying on the floor giggling and Bubba standing at the front door, bent over laughing his ass off.

The next morning there were two very hungover brothers feeling a bit sheepish. The other rocking chair was gone. But the sofa was back. And the Theta was never seen at our house again.