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Scholars Warriors Killers Kids
I was walking down the 2nd floor corridor. I had come to morning study, and in March the sun was still asleep, even at this hour. I walked to my locker across the campus and put my backpack away. As I did so, I heard several noises. The slamming crash of my locker door, my own tired yawn and a bloodcurdling scream. I ran full tilt towards the sound, down a small flight of stairs and through the library. I emerged, and saw everyone in the school hunched over the limp form of Max Colins, my fellow student at Amber Middle. He was more than asleep.
We were dismissed from school that day, and that night was a strange one. My parents wept uncontrollably, yet they hadn’t known of Max’s existence until his demise. The next morning, I came to school to be greeted by several local police cars. I opened the large double doors, went past the front desk and a large portrait of Max, and entered the Auditorium. The principal was speaking.
“Today will be a special schedule, officers Morrison and Berkley will be interviewing each and every one of you today about the unfortunate passing of Mr. Colins.”
I shook my head with anger. They treated it like he had died of some infectious disease when we all knew somebody had bludgeoned him over the head with a large metal pipe. I silently greet my friend Josh, and sat beside them.
Josh was a relatively quiet kid, his glasses and thick British accent placed him in the Nerd category. But unbeknownst to most, his martial arts and video games skills far surpassed my own, and he was more curious than intelligent.
“Hey, pretty crazy, huh, a death at Amber?”
“You seem to be taking it rather lightly”
“I barely knew the guy, I have nothing to grieve about.”
I was about to tell Josh exactly how I felt about his strange lack of compassion when the principal continued, and I never got a chance.
“I assure you there is no need to worry, the authorities have been working day and night to find the perpetrator of this hideous crime...”
As the subject shifted, my focus did not, and I sat thinking. I was nervous for the interview, I had only seen something this dramatic on television. This little airport town was in a bubble of
suburbia and a semi-decent public school system. I tried to force Max out of my mind. This was a foolish mistake, for his empty seat in homeroom was next to mine.
Max had moved from Palo Alto several months into the year and lived in the nicer part of town. His parents were kind, generous and loaded, so Max’s allowance was often seen falling out of his backpacks in wad of tens a week. We were together in homeroom, so we became acquaintances. Borrowing pencils, greeting in the hall, but friends was not exactly the word.
After homeroom, I walked to English. Girls that had treated him like scum and declined his invitation to the prom were crying into each other’s shoulders. One of the major bullies at out school, Dwight Cederholm, wasn’t crying. He and his cronies laughed as our English teacher, Mr. Thompson tripped on an outstretched leg. He was one of the more mysterious teachers at Amber Middle, tall, pale and sickly. He was short-tempered but gullible. His clumsiness didn’t stop his small classroom from being filled with chachki and delicate light fixtures. Most of the space was taken up by two large cardboard boxes. On top of them were several leather jackets and a purple bandana. Oddities such as this were never questioned, but they always appeared.
“Mr. Henry Atherton?”
The slimmer of the two officers, Berkley, stomped into the cluttered classroom.
“Mr. Thompson, can we borrow him?”
Mr. Thompson flinched like a startled cat. When he answered, he did so quickly, his hands shook as he spoke.
“Have him back by forty five please.”
As the officer led me outside, Mr. Thompson fell over and broke a lamp. Cederholm and his cronies laughed.
Berkley took me to a small conference room lit by several flashlights. The strangely sinister lighting amused me, and I barely stifled a laugh. I sat in a small desk chair and the now stern officer sat across from me.
“Mr. Atherton, as you know, I’m here to talk about Max.”
“You are one of my more interesting interviews...”
“Is that so, Officer?”
“Yes, indeed it is Mr. Atherton. According to the testimony of Ms. Nicholas, the teacher who discovered Max’s body, you arrived at the crime scene last, “wild-eyed and out of breath..”
“I arrived last, yes, but I wouldn’t say ‘wild-eyed’...”
“You are in the same grade as Mr. Collins, correct?”
He trudged on, but I was still trying to defend myself from his first onslaught of accusations.
“ Yes, but...”
“And you share a homeroom as well?”
He pulled a diagram out of his briefcase and held it up.
“The teacher’s testimony also says that you and Mr. Colins interacted a lot and chose to sit together in homeroom.”
“Exactly, we were friends-ish, so I have no motive!”
“Number 1 rule of interrogation, Atherton, never assume you’re being suspected.”
Embarrassment and shock rendered me speechless.
“Now you definitely are. Anyhow, our report states you had an altercation with a student about a week prior to Max’s death...”
“A fight, Mr. Atherton, you got into a fight.”
About a week before Max died, I had a fight with a kid named Sam Timothy. He tried to steal my lunch money, and I resisted. I eventually won the fight, but my lack of nicks and scratches appointed me the taker of blame.
“We roughhoused a little.”
Berkley took out another sheet, this one with several pictures.
“It says here you broke his nose and the school’s therapist labeled you ‘violent, reckless and disturbed.”
“I haven't read the therapist’s notes.”
“I also noticed you were the only 7th grader at Amber middle to refrain from crying during assembly, your supervisor witnessed a guilty look on your face.”
“Wait, so you’re saying...”
“I’m saying we’ll talk to you later Mr. Atherton, get back to class.”
I was distraught on my way back to English. This officer had plenty of evidence on me, and my alibi wouldn’t check out with anyone, I was alone at the time. I feared if I didn’t start playing detective it would be too late save my innocence. In terms of suspects, Dwight Cederhom came to mind. He was strong, stupid, and generally mean. He could have given Max an extra hard beating and literally left him for dead. But to pin the murder of an innocent child on a bully is not going to save my hide. I would need evidence to back up any accusations I made, really, and I didn’t know how to get any. I walked down the hall into the English classroom and started packing up. I was alone with Mr. Thompson at that point, and as I mulled over the events of the past day so far, Mr. Thompson accidentally knocked every single paper on his desk and then some onto the heavily carpeted floor. Worksheets from his English and Geometry classes littered the classroom. They were picked up in the wind like leaves in the play yard I longed to enter. I normally played soccer at recess, and I was itching to be active. “Mr. Atherton?”
I was instantly removed from my train of thought and I shook my head, bewildered, I saw what had happened and rushed to help. I noticed a lot over by that desk. Mr. Thompson had ordered McDonalds, strange choice for a teacher at a large heavily funded private school. I also noticed something else, far more important, on the paper I picked up. I had ironically scrambled to retrieve the homework completed by both Cederholm and Max, and something clicked. I read .3 and .3, 10 and 10, 3 pi squared, 3 pi squared. The answers were both completely identical and extremely incorrect. This got the gears in my mind turning once again. Max was probably one of the best geometry students in Mr. Thompson’s class. His flawless performance had taken a sudden plummet and both worksheets were marked with a large D. Max could have given Cederholm the wrong answers on purpose, then Cederholm took it out on Max. Cederholm beats him up, but the metal pipe is a little harder than he expected, and he fell to the floor, muerto. I thought about this as I picked up a number of bills and several prescriptions and placed them on Mr. Thompson’s desk.
I immediately left the room for lunch, but instead ran to the lockers, slightly out of my way. I opened Max’s locker, which surprisingly hadn’t been cleaned out. There was a mess of papers and pencils, and a large piece of paper stuck on his locker door with a large orange T . I closed the locker and went to check out Cederholm’s. I opened it and found binders strewn about, pens littered the floor, and then bingo. A small metal pipe was there, amidst the academic wreckage. But I noticed something else. I got the locker wrong. This was Josh’s. I suddenly heard loud footsteps, I quickly turned around and closed the locker, afraid a teacher would see me.
“Speak of the Devil.”
“Ha ha, you’re gonna meet ‘im”
Dwight Cederholm slammed me against Josh’s locker and I could smell his disgusting breath.
I groaned, “What do you want?”
“I want to flatten you like a pancake, Atherton.”
And he would have if Mr. Thompson had not chosen this very tense moment to calmly exit his classroom and send Cederholm to the principal’s office. As Mr. Thompson chewed Dwight out, I ran to lunch.
I was torn whether I suspected Dwight or Josh during Social Studies. Halfway through, the second officer, Morrison, arrived. I walked down the hallway to the small conference room and the flashlights were now dim, as if the batteries had run out in the passing day. Morrison was a plump, irritable woman who acted as if she’d been on the force much too long.
“I got interviewed first last time too.”
“You’re my last and only interview Mr. Atherton.”
I was genuinely scared that I would wrongly persecuted at this point, and my composure was hanging by a thread. Officer Morrison, however had the only pair of scissors.
“Officer Berkley told me your case was weak, the evidence was pressing and you seemed stressed during the interview. I personally thought you were not behind it, but an anonymous tip said that the murder was related to a specific street gang in the neighborhood. His information was very vague for an anonymous tip, but the call was traced to a pay phone, so no further questions could be asked. Have you seen this picture?” She had a similar briefcase to Berkeley and took out a print out of a W with a lightning bolt going through it.
“Yeah, when I was collecting notebooks for Mr. Thompson I noticed it on several kids notebooks.”
“What do you know about gangs Mr. Atherton?
“Well bullies have their little group of ‘friends’ but...”
“I mean warring gangs of street kids, in alleys and such.”
“Oh. at Amber? No.”
“That is the emblem for the Warriors, a gang of street kids mostly comprised of Amber students. Their name plays off a very popular movie in the late 80’s featuring a gang with the same name.
I thought this over and hoped her point was taking more evidence off my shoulders.
“Witnesses of their fight against a rival gang say they saw the member toting illegally modified bebe guns. Do you have anything to do with these gangs?”
“Look kid, the evidence pointing towards you is extraordinary, this would be the easiest case of Officer Berkley’s career to book you now. Anonymous tips aren’t always real evidence but this is major. Even the slightest connection between you and these kids will send you to jail. Just confess.”
“But I didn’t kill him.”
She looked at me with sad eyes, like an adult looking at a foolish naive child. This was most likely the case.
“So be it, have a nice weekend.”
I left that little conference room scared out of my wits. One thing I knew for sure was Josh had some explaining to do.
“Why was the murder weapon in your locker?”
He stopped in his tracks, his face white and his nerves suddenly shot.
“Just curious.” I said
“I took it from the fat one, Morrison.”
“Why the heck did you do that?”
“I thought if I could look at the evidence I could solve the case and I’d be a hero!”
“What you’d be is in a load of trouble! They could pin the murder on you without a second thought! You’re done for, chances are they already submitted the box you stole it from into evidence and will send you to jail before they realize that wasn’t a different pipe for your next victim!”
He looked at me, almost in tears.
“They’ll think I did it?”
“I think you did it.”
He looked at me with so much anguish I couldn’t help softening my approach.
“I thought you did it. Have you seen this picture?”
I showed him my own quick scrawl of the Warrior’s symbol.
“Yeah, I saw some guys scribbling it on an alley on Flight Place.”
“You want me to believe your story? Take me there.”
By the time I had gotten home, suited up and headed back out it was evening. Flight place was a narrow street with long double lot alleys that were the source of bad juju for generations before, and most likely after. Josh and I had run to the the alley and I turned on my camera. I crept behind a trashcan near the opening of the ally. There was a meeting inside.
In the half-darkness two figures spoke. One shorter, one much taller. The taller one gave the smaller a small parcel. We couldn’t hear their conversation, but there was most likely an exchange of sorts inside. The adult-sized person fled while the shorter one stepped into the moonlight. As the face was illuminated, I recognized it almost immediately. It looked like Sam Timothy was a Warrior. Dwight Cederholm and his cronies were sucking up to Timothy like I’ve never seen, he looked like the leader. If I wasn’t hiding from a merciless street gang I probably would have laughed. He greeted each kid with few words. He shouted a command and everyone immediately grabbed their guns and got ready for another battle. Sam took Cederholm aside.
“They don’t suspect me at all.”
What? Sam Timothy had a reason to be expected? He’s the killer? I was so surprised my balance was immediately compromised. I fell onto a large trash can, which banged against the concrete, creating a din heard all through the alley. Josh and I ran full tilt away and the gang was in hot pursuit. We ran down Flight Place. Several shots rang out and we continued our pell mell dash to Josh’s house. Suddenly a loud bang from close behind us filled the air and small metal bebes tore Josh’s hoodie and his leg started bleeding. Scared to death but feeling strangely heroic, I picked him up and ran with him past the corner store and Max’s house where we finally were safe. No more shots were heard as we made it to Josh’s.
His parents were away at work, so he sat on his bed and winced at the antiseptic I used. It stung his wound. “So.” I said. “I guess Sam did it.”
“Henry, Sam has all A’s in English and Social Studies. He’s too smart to hit someone over the head with a metal pipe hard enough to kill them without serious lethal intentions.”
“Maybe he was trying.”
“Maybe he didn’t do it.”
He looked at me, this time with a look of deep thought.
“Who could have done it?”
All of a sudden a million little gears clicked. I though about the adult-sized man in the alley, the abnormally strong hit and everything that had happened that day.
“It’s Mr. Thompson, Josh, think about it.”
“Look, Mr. Thompson gets decent money from being a teacher, but the funding for all those lamps he keeps breaking comes from his other source of income. He funds the gangs. He heard about them from teacher gossip and figures he can make a profit. He buys stuff for the Warriors, and the Warriors give him a percentage of whatever the steal from the rival gang.”
“You’re saying he’s the dude in the alley? You have no proof!”
“You recognize those jackets and that bandana from anywhere?”
As Josh’s thoughts drifted eventually to the storage boxes in Thompson’s room his eyes lit up.
“I gotcha, continue.”
“Thanks. Anyways, the Warriors start losing these little fights, and Mr. Thompson starts losing his money.”
“But this doesn’t point him to Max.”
“But wait, all of a sudden, Max comes to Amber. Max is a tough kid and has a lot of money, but instead he joins the rival gang.”
I remembered the large T I found on his locker. I grabbed a piece of paper and scrawled the design.
“Let me guess, Josh, you’ve seen this in an alleyway near your house.”
He nodded. “Yeah, actually,it’s the logo for a club, I think it’s called the Tigers. My brother’s friends are all in it.”
“After all you’ve been through you think it’s a club? I saw this symbol on Max’s locker, which means he probably joined the Tigers.”
I was drunk with my own realization now, and it felt good.
“Max, the rich kid, joins the Tigers even after Thompson begs him to switch.”
I remember the bottles I saw on Mr. Thompson’s desk the the theory continued to take shape.
“Mr. Thompson is so upset he forgets to take his medication, and he starts going insane. That morning he finally loses it and kills Max.”
Josh was shocked, fully realizing I was right.
“He makes an anonymous tip to pin the whole thing on Sam while he gets away scot free.”
Several minutes of silence ensued. Josh just stared at the floor. As he did so, I sent an email to Oberkely@SVPD.org outlining the whole thing. As I sent away the evidence, the sun set. What an interesting day indeed.