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His Soul Lives On
“Clod. Clod. Clod.” Karen Smithson, the Dean of the number one business school, Wharton, inches toward the pedestal that is watching over an anxious, awaiting crowd of hundreds. “Clod. Clod. Clod.” Mrs. Smithson’s high heels rub against the finely stone-paved sidewalks, making a tapping sound effect as she walks. The planted flowers along the walkway smile and cheer for her as she nears the pedestal. She is the dignified leader of a pride of lions as she walks up the steps of the University of Pennsylvania’s main hall. As she orders her papers in a neat fashion, she runs her delicate fingers through the few grey strands among her chocolate brown hair, comparable to dim street lights among a dark, mysterious highway. Her excellent posture shows that she is a strong, experienced woman. She clears her throat, ready to begin her speech. Before she begins to speak she takes a long glance over the crowd, indicating that she demands full attention and respect.
She begins to speak with a bold passionate voice and states, “We have all gathered here on this rare occasion, fortunate enough to be standing in front of a man so hardworking and dedicated. He has become the most successful graduate of Wharton, and is now known around the world. He has been through countless hardships in his life, but still he stands here today, confident, strong and fierce. This man is one of the people I most profoundly admire. Ladies and gentlemen, for the moment we have all been waiting for, I introduce to you, Mr. Roger Burns.”
As the crowd stands up and applauds loudly, it seems as if the birds want to join in as they chirp and dance cheerfully along the lamp posts. Karen Smithson gestures towards the main hall doors, where a large banner welcoming Roger Burns droops along the sides. The scarlet banner is a crown gracefully placed on top of the doors. Hoping Burns would walk out any second, the crowd resembles a group of young, jittery children awaiting the rhythmic bell of an ice cream truck. The doors slightly open and the sun’s striking rays quickly race in, blinding the two men protectively standing in front of Burns. Those two men are his bodyguards, strongly walking ahead of Burns. Both men, Jack Stanton and Tom Mason, try to keep their eyes attentive and open, but the sun’s harmful beams seep into their eyes once again, making it almost impossible to see where they are going. Luckily, as they walk further, the giant, lush green trees block the sun, making it easier to see. Mr. Burns walks behind his bodyguards with a large smile stretching form one cheek all the way to the other. He reaches his muscular arm out into the audience, when a young gentleman leans over the ropes hoping to receive a handshake from his idol. Burns approaches the steps, and nears the pedestal. Jack and Tom step aside, allowing Burns to appear in front of them. Burns stands in front of the pedestal, pauses, and then smiles again. Jack and Tom look at each other and laugh, because before every speech Burns gives, he always smiles at the crowd; they agree time and time again that he is a very blissful, free-spirited man. Burns opens his mouth, ready to begin his speech but then slowly closes it and smiles at the crowd again.
Then, Burns finally begins his speech with, “Hello my young children of UPenn. It is an honor to be back here at Wharton, where I can freely walk and enjoy myself.” Burns turns his head towards the library and gives off a little chuckle. “I remember when I spent nights at that library with a stack of ten or twelve business books with about six cups of coffee. Well, I guess all that hard work paid off.” The crowd begins to laugh, realizing that they spend all their nights studying at the library as well. A shimmer of hope that they too may one day deliver this speech in front of many, appears on the faces of students in the audience.
“Jack, come meet me around the corner of the building. I need to tell you something important,” Tom whispers softly.
“No, not right now. You can tell me later,” Jack responds.
“But, it’s important. Come!”
“No! We can’t leave right now,” Jack says, slightly raising his voice. Suddenly, a young woman in the crowd apprehensively screams, “Oh my god! He’s got a gun!” All the attention that was once on Burns is now put on the tall man in the middle of the crowd, similar to the Empire State building in the middle of New York. Everyone turns their heads in shock and surprise. The few people who were sitting next to the man hastily back away, avoiding any contact. The man appears as any other anxious student, waiting to hear the most remarkable speech. The moment everyone is aware that the man is in possession of a gun, he gradually raises his hand up to the air and releases a tearing bullet straight up into the atmosphere, slicing the air in half. Now the crowd grows even more vexed, unaware of the man’s next fatal moves. The man drops the gun down to his waist, appearing as if he is going to surrender. However, he quickly raises the gun up and aims it to his forehead. Before pulling the trigger, the man gives a seditious smirk towards Jack, aware that he is going to try to stop him. Knowing that the man is going to end his life, Jack immediately bolts towards him, attempting to rip the gun out of his hand. Unfortunately, Jack is too late and the man shoots himself. He plummets to the ground like a blazing meteor crashing into the earth’s surface. Right when the bullet darts out the man’s gun, three other ear piercing bullets are heard, ripping their way through the calm serenity of the soothing wind. Now the crowd is extremely petrified with fear. All the students kneel down on the ground with their hands over their ears, attempting to hide themselves from any more ear shattering bullets of horror. Jack, unable to prevent the man from suicide, turns his head in the direction he hears the shots slitting by, to find Burns shot in the heart, collapsing to the ground, full of incredible pain. Tom quickly runs over to Burns, as a pool of crimson hue surfaces above Burns’ heart, soaking his pure white shirt and turning it into a damp fabric of blood. Jack races towards Burns, thinking he can do something to keep him alive, but he realizes that the shot was precisely aimed to the heart, completely shutting down Burns’ body. Jack and Tom stare at Burns for a moment and feel like nothing can be done to revive him, even with the use of epinephrine. Jack looks over the podium and sees everyone run around aimlessly, like puzzled monkeys. Some people in the crowd are still staring at the dead man, confused about what they had just witnessed. As people are running around frantically, chairs are being misplaced and everyone feels like trapped mice trying to get through the maze that forms. While some people are running around nervously, others rapidly dial 9-1-1, to inform the police of the shootings that had just occurred.
The next minute, the campus security arrives and their inexperience to such a situation shows when they are unaware of what to do. Luckily, the police and ambulance arrive shortly. It is as if the police cars and ambulance trucks are massive boulders and the campus security is a minuscule rock. The obnoxious police sirens repeatedly ring as the bright flashing red lights flicker in a constant beat. The police set up bright yellow caution tape around Burns body; it seems as if one took a giant highlighter and slid it over the murder scene. The entire campus is now put on lockdown, which means nobody can enter or leave any part of any of the buildings.
Jack kneels down near Burns’ body, failing to believe what had just happened. Just before he cups his hands over his watery eyes, he notices a small note sleeping on the side of the pedestal that reads, “The next few minutes will be the last of your life,” signed “K.S.” on the bottom right hand and “E16” printed on the back. Immediately, Jack trudges over to the heart-broken, struck dean, desperately in pain, sitting on a chair.
Jack boldly stands in front of her and starts interrogating her by yelling, “Wipe that shocked look off your face. What is this note supposed to mean?”
“I-I-I s-s-wear I don’t know w-what you’re taking about! W-w-what is this note? What is it s-supposed to stand for?” she stutters, asking questions rapidly after another, showing her fret.
“You tell me! Start explaining!” Jack responds.
She claims, “I am the dean of a highly reputed, prestigious university. Why would I want to destroy the major success that has come from my Wharton?” Jack starts to think twice about Mrs. Smithson and tries to figure out where she truly stood in this situation, but still can’t t put all his trust in her.
“Tom, put Mrs. Smithson in holding,” Jack orders Tom.
Jack, disappointed in not finding a definite lead, goes back to observe Burns’ shot. Just as the paramedics are moving Burns’ body onto the stretcher, Jack orders them to put him down. He analyzes the wound and realizes that the angle of bullet entry was directed from the library.
As Jack heads for the library, he begins to replay Mrs. Smithson’s expressions in his head, trying to determine if she really is innocent. He notes how quickly she responded by asking many questions, which is a sign of guilt and anxiety. Jack nears the library entrance, but from a distance he notices a note taped on to one of the doors. He holds on to the sturdy black railings every time he lifts his knees up the steps, because his legs ached as a result from colliding into the ground, when trying to save the man’s life. Now, Jack was close enough to read the note that stated, “Library closed on Thursday, June 7th, from 9:00 AM to 11:00 AM due to construction purposes.” Jack lifts his head up along the building to find a broken window with tapes surrounding it saying “Under Construction”. He looks through the large front windows and sees a librarian shelving all the returned books in alphabetical order. Even though the campus was on lockdown, and no body was allowed in or out of any of the buildings, Jack was given a security ID, providing him access to any building. He slides the card into the processing scanner and is allowed into the library.
“I’m sorry sir, but this is a lockdown. Only agents working on this case are allowed in,” the librarian squeaks while pushing along the cart of books.
“Ma’am, I am working on this case,” Jack asserts as he shows his official badge to the old, petite librarian.
“Oh…ok then,” the librarian responds, embarrassed of her naivety.
Jack searches the library for anything suspicious, but because he is running out of time, he goes back to the librarian and asks, “Did you notice anything unusual this morning?”
“I can’t say I have. I shortly arrived here. The library opened later than usual, because the windows were under repair,” replies the librarian.
“Did you happen to see the construction workers?” Jack questions.
“No I haven’t. As I said, I just arrived here. But they will probably be here tomorrow, seeing that the windows aren’t completely fixed yet,” the librarian answers back.
Jack searches the area of the library in which he believes the shot came from. He approaches a dull, gloomy section of the library, where one desk sits upon the dim carpet of the mysterious room. He walks over to the old brown windows, trying to crank them open, but it appears that the dust that was piled up over time is preventing the window to open. Jack walks over to the window beside it, and surprisingly it is much easier to open, as it seems it was used more frequently. Jack slightly peers out the window, and to his astonishment, he finds a pistol, covered by the giant lush trees surrounding the outside of the library, planted on a stand, sitting on the ledge of the window. He backs away from the pistol and trips over the leg of the desk, almost falling backwards. As he gets up, he grabs on to the nearest object and accidently spills the coffee on one of the business books lying on the desk. Seeing as there are no towels near him, Jack uses his shirt to clean off the soaking cover page. He opens the book and on the inside flap he reads, “Property of Leroy Higans. If found, please return to room C2 Building G.” Motivated that he has found a lead, Jack runs over to Building G, in search for room C2. Jack grows agitated every time he is held back, waiting for the processer to scan his security ID, as he enters a new building of the campus. He swings the doors open and walks down the hall looking for Leroy’s room. “B8...B9...C1...Aha! C2!” Jack exclaims. As soon as Jack locates the room, he barges in yelling, “Where’s Leroy Higans! Come out now!”
“Uhh...he’s not here right now. But who are you?” the startled student frozen with fear asks.
“I’m Jack Stanton, Roger Burns’ body guard. I am investigating the case and I have reason to believe that a student named Leroy Higans is involved with the murder.”
“Wait, are you telling me Leroy was the killer? Hahaha! In your dreams!”
“Why do you say that? Do you know him?” Jack questions.
“Leroy’s my roommate, and might I say he’s not the best roommate you would wish for. He’s kind of unusual in his own ways.”
“I found his business book in the bleak, dark center of the library. What can you tell me about that?” asks Jack.
“Well...Leroy isn’t the average outgoing college student. He’s the biggest outcast of the whole university. He’s always lonely and extremely shy, but it’s not like nobody tries to be his friend; he just doesn’t like to be very social, he’s not really a ‘people person’. He basically lives and breathes the library. I guess that’s the one place he feels at home. That little cramped area in the back of the library, where nobody is ever seen, is his peaceful sanctuary, where he does all his work, relaxes, and just takes time to think.”
With his right foot in front of his left, Jack crosses his hands, and stares into mid air. A perplexed expression is painted on his face, as he tries to piece Leroy’s personality to a murder, and just can’t make sense out of it. There is a short pause of silence, when suddenly the door knob trembles left and right. The door slowly creaks open as a diminutive, skinny, boy walks in holding three accounting books in one hand, and a scientific graphing calculator in the other. He looks up and is alarmed to see Jack. He abruptly drops his books on the floor. He quickly bends down, scurrying to gather his books. His hands quiver as he places his books on the nearest table. He tries to look up, but his head constantly droops down, because he is afraid of seeing an unfamiliar man in his room. He uses his pointer finger to push his glasses further up, as they slide down every time he suddenly looks away from Jack.
Jack approaches the student and forcefully asks, “Are you Leroy Higans?” The student doesn’t respond, and turns away from Jack.
“I asked you a question! Now answer me! Are you Leroy Higans?” Jack shouts.
“Yes. I am Leroy, but what do you want from me?” Leroy squeaks in a stuffy voice.
“I want to know how you were involved with the murder of Roger Burns!”
“Wha-a-at? What are you talking about? Are you insane? How would I be involved with his murder?” Leroy frenetically questions.
“Explain this! I found a pistol planted outside the window of ‘your room’ in the library” Jack asserts.
“And you think I put the gun there?”
“Well you’re the only one who is ever in that part of the library. Plus, I found your book there, which is all the proof I need.”
“Wait a minute. Roger Burns was killed at around 10:45 AM,” Leroy states.
“So…what’s your point?” Jack asks.
“There’s no possible way that I could have killed Mr. Burns because the library was closed during 9-11 AM. So, how could I have killed him from the library? Plus, I go to my Academic Team practice every Thursday morning.”
Jack stands in front of Leroy, stares at his face, and realizes that he may be telling the truth. Angry not to have found the murderer, Jack storms out of the room, and heads back to the library, where he projects the killer must have been. He walks across campus and enters through the library doors. He returns to the room where the pistol is. He sits down in the chair, starts to think about the note signed by “K.S”, and tries to link it with the pistol. He just can’t seem to piece things together. He gets up and examines the gun and finds a minute timer hidden secretively under the window sill, set to shoot two bullets, one after another. Instantly he realizes, that these bullets were the two out of three other ear shattering bullets heard, when the man shot himself in the head. Jack looks through the aimer on the gun and, to his shock, discovers that the gun is positioned in a way that it was impossible for the bullets to touch Burns. Right then, Jack realizes that Burns wasn’t killed from the library, because he was shot accurately to the heart, but the pistol in the library couldn’t have possibly hit Burns. He runs towards the doors, swings them open, and then suddenly finds a janitor’s cap in the verdant, flourishing bushes outside the library, with “E16” threaded on it. He looks at the cap and realizes it must have been the janitor’s hat that was fixing the window earlier in the morning. Jack starts to run, but isn’t paying attention to where he is going because he is thinking about “E16”, and unexpectedly bumps into Tom, his partner. They both plunge to the ground, slightly unconscious. As Jack descends to the ground, he hears something clashing onto the stoned sidewalk. He gains sight again, and as he slowly gets up, he notices that the clashing object is a key that is engraved with “E16”. Jack instantly pictures the note that had E16 printed on the back, the cap with E 16 threaded on it, and now the key; he knows all these are connected somehow. He picks up the key and pulls Tom to his feet.
“Tom! What do you think E16 means?”
“Huhh...what are you talking about,” Tom asks still slightly insensible.
“Wait a second! It might be a room number, because Leroy’s room number is C2; a number following a letter,” Jack states eagerly.
“What are you talking about?”
“Tom, just listen and follow me!” Jack orders Tom.
Jack and Tom hurriedly run around campus in search for Building E. Once they pass a few dorm buildings, they finally find it. They charge in through the hall with full power. The right side of the hall has all even numbered rooms, so they both search all the rooms on the right hand side. They finally come up to room E16 which appears to be a janitor’s room, but find that there is no processing scanner for Jack to insert his security ID into. As Jack turns the knob irritably, he hears a shriek coming from the inside of the room. He knows something is going on. He reaches into his pocket and remembers he had found the key with E16 imprinted on it. Jack inserts the key into the door knob, but it seems stuck, as it isn’t turning the lock. Jack orders Tom to push up against the door, while he tries unlocking the door with the key. Once again, another shriek is heard. Then, Jack releases a large force of power by banging into the door. The door is unlocked and Jack and Tom bust into the room. “Put your hands up!” Jack screams, as he points his gun to the man in the room. Tom lets out a large gasp as he notices a janitor tied up to a chair with duck tape across his mouth, sitting right beside the man in the room. Immediately, the man reaches into his leather jacket pocket and pulls out his own gun. Now Jack and the man are facing each other, both with guns.
“How did you get in here Jack?” the man says with a malevolent tone.
“How do you know my name?” Jack questions.
“Ohh... I know more about you than you think. Just answer my question, how did you get in here?” the man asks as he circles the room towards Jack.
Jack reaches back into his pocket and says, “with this,” as he raises the key in front of the man. “But stop asking questions, I’ve got you now. You can’t escape. Get ready to live the rest of your life in jail,” Jack adds.
The man’s face is full of disgust as he spitefully looks towards Tom and asks, “How could you be so careless Tom? How could you let something like this happen?”
Jack, extremely confused, looks over to Tom whose face is full of abashment, and is turning bright cherry red. Just as Tom dashes towards the door, Jack runs for it and shuts it, completely blocking the exit.
“Tom, what is he talking about?” Jack asks, in confusion.
“Go ahead Tom, tell him. You’ve messed this whole thing up anyways. It’s over,” the man says.
“Tom, tell me what this man is talking about. Tell me!” Jack yells. There is a moment of silence.
Then, suddenly, Tom blurts out, “Ok! Fine! I was involved with Burns’ murder. I was the one trying to distract you when Burns got shot. I dropped the key out of my pocket when we fell. And I am working with him!” Tom says as he gestures over to the man.
“Tom! How could you do something like this? We’ve been working as partners for so long!” Jack says.
“That’s the problem,” Tom states.
“What’s the problem?” asks Jack.
“We’re not really partners!” Tom yells.
“What are you taking about?” Jack questions.
“You’re always getting credit for everything we do together.”
“No! That’s not true!” Jack shouts.
“Yes it is. That’s why when he approached me, I accepted the mission,” Tom says, once again gesturing to the man.
“Wait. I’m still confused. So, who are you?”Jack questions as he points to the man.
“I’m K.S. Keaton Steele.”
Jack instantly pictures the note that was signed K.S and says, “So, you’re the one who wrote the note, not the dean, Mrs. Smithson!”
“Yes, I did. It was right in front of your eyes Jack; I’m surprised you didn’t catch me earlier.”
“Wait a minute! Keaton Steele…why does that ring a bell? Oh wait! You were Roger Burns’ colleague at Wharton. When I first started to work for him, he use to mention how great friends you two were, but then stopped suddenly. What happened?” Jack questions.
“Yes, you’re right; we were best friends here at Wharton. But when he got the job over me…”
“Ohh. So this was all out of jealousy,” Jack comprehends.
“Well, he became so successful, too successful in fact. He was known around the world, and I wasn’t even remembered at Wharton. I deserved that job, I am better than him,” Keaton says out of selfishness.
“So you set up all these innocent people of Burns’ murder, but you were truly behind all of this,” Jack realizes. He looks around the room and notices a large gun placed underneath the table. “While I was searching this whole campus for the killer, you sat in here proud that you completed your mission. You were the third shot! The three other bullets heard when your man shot himself came from the two that were shot from the planted pistol, and you released the third and final, killing shot.”
“Good for you Jack, you figured out my plan” Keaton calmly says.
“So you got what you wanted—you killed Burns—so, why are you keeping this janitor hostage?”
“I’ll tell you,” Tom says. “After he recruited me, he got me to get hold of the key to this janitor’s room. I gave it to him, and he got in here, tied up the janitor, and took all of his equipment. He impersonated the janitor, and went to the library to ‘fix the window’, when he really went to plant the pistol, and sidetrack you, Jack. He outsmarted you.”
“So, you framed Leroy Higans, intending to set me off track, but I still got you” Jack stated; “I am also guessing you recruited the man who shot himself in the head when Burns was speaking.”
“Yes. He took his life for my mission. He was also part of the plan to throw you off guard,” Keaton replies.
“Too bad you were careless enough to drop the janitor’s hat with E16 on it. Tom was careless in dropping his key. And, it wasn’t very smart of you to use a note, which had E16 printed on it, that came from this room. All those three lead me to you, here in this room.”
“Well I didn’t think you were capable of finding this out,” Keaton says.
“But luckily your plan failed. I guess you didn’t think we would put the campus on lockdown after your man shot himself,” Jack affirms.
“I didn’t outsmart you after all Jack. So, you got me, but Burns is still dead,” Keaton says, giving off an evil smile. Immediately, Jack charges to slam Keaton into the wall, enraged for killing Burns, his number one role model. Instantly, the police and campus security fill the room as fast as the rise of occupancy at Times Square on New Year’s Eve. They handcuff Keaton and Tom, and escort them out of the building. The janitor is untied and set free. Keaton walks out of the campus for the last time. Roger Burns was killed that day, but his soul remains at UPenn Wharton for eternity.