Sloshed – Francis Dobbs
I wouldn’t have looked into this at all if Dan hadn’t asked me himself.
Bill was an older man, probably in his middle fifties, with shorn gray hair and deep crags in his forehead. A plain, no-nonsense, moderate-Republican sort of man.
His companion was tall and slim and had a thick mop of dirty-blonde hair. They sat across from each other at one of the fifteen local Starbucks, in a corner where no one would hear them or even remember they were there.
He took a swig of his black coffee.
“Ah. Of course.”
His companion clinked a spoon in her teacup.
Neither spoke for a long moment. Normal café sounds mulled in the air. A pack of high school girls buying fraps. A few worn-out artists with nowhere to go, muttering into their lattes. The morning rush had died hours ago and those gearing up for the late shift had yet to arrive.
Bill gave a gruff, throat-clearing cough.
Like I said, I’d never have looked into this. Probably wouldn’t have thought twice about it. I’m retired, you know, and it’s not like I was ever a detective to begin with. Just a patrol officer.
“But Dan asked you.”
Yes, but Dan asked me. I could tell he didn’t expect anything to come of it either, but his wife was having fits. Absolutely hysterical. She needed answers.
Bill rubbed the loose skin under his eyes. He hadn’t slept in days.
I suppose I’d have wanted answers too, if my daughter had turned up dead at some party. But it’s not like it’s exactly unusual, though, is it?
He waved vaguely off into the distance.
You see it in the papers every fall. Another couple dumb college freshmen have gone and drank too much and gotten themselves killed. But Jeanie kept saying:
“My girl didn’t drink! My girl never would have drank! You’ll see.”
At least Dan had some sense. He remembers what it was like to be young and stupid. But he asked me to look into it anyway, just to give his wife some peace.
“Sounds like a tall order.”
You can bet your ass it was.
Bill scowled into his coffee.
So I went off to her campus. It’s local, you know. Talked to some of the kids who had been at that party. Sure enough, they all said she’d been drinking. Not like I was surprised. But, funny thing was, all those kids said she hadn’t drunk much, and never the hard stuff. Just those sissy little sweet drinks. You don’t get alcohol poisoning like that. Didn’t add up.
And another thing, all the kids I talked to said that she’d gone off with a boy around two in the morning. Even the designated drivers confirmed that. So I pull a few favors, right? Talk to the coroner, fearing the worst. I mean. No one wants to tell a man that his daughter was raped. But nothing happened. She was clean as a virgin. Well. Almost. Don’t think I’ll mention that to Dan, though.
But it didn’t make any sense. Some boy goes to a party, gets a girl alone, then doesn’t do anything? Don’t think they make boys like that. It’s either one way or the other. Maybe I’m just old fashioned. And another thing—how’d her body end up back at the party if she’d swanned-off with some boy? No one saw her come back. By that point they’d all left or passed out. Anyway. None of it is adding up, but there’s nothing more I can get, so I go back home.
“How could you find out anything there?”
I wondered that myself. But a few days later, when I was reading the morning paper, I stumbled across some other poor girl’s obituary. Same circumstances. Nineteen years old. College Freshman. Died of alcohol poisoning at a party. Her name was Destiny Mercer. And I think to myself:
“Jesus, another one? Can’t they just stay away from these death traps?”
But I keep thinking about it. I keep thinking and thinking until it drives me crazy. After a couple days I just can’t take it anymore. I find out where the party was—got a good friend at the newspaper, you see—and he gets me in touch with some of the girl’s friends. Most of them were either at the party or know someone who was. Same old story. Drinking, but not too much. Ended up leaving with some man around two in the morning. Body showed up back at the party when no one was looking.
“And you talked to the coroner again?”
Yep. Absolutely nothing happened.
“So you think this man is behind it?”
Possibly. Doesn’t make any sense, though. Where’s the motive? That’s what I want to know.
“I suppose. But it’s not like any of this is reliable. It’s all hearsay.”
The young woman squeezed lemon into her tea.
You’d be surprised just how much of police work is just hearsay.
He took another gulp of coffee and added a packet of Sweet n’low.
I can’t seem to find anyone with a motive at her school, so I decide I’m going to stop by the poor girl’s wake. Felt like I had to, you see. And while I’m mingling and talking to relatives and I overhear the mother say something. You know what she says?
She says that they’re getting support from some good friends of theirs, the Renzakowski’s, who lost their own daughter a couple months back. Also to alcohol poisoning. And you know what else she says? She says that their daughters used to be best friends back in middle school. The same middle school that Maggie Johnson went to.
Really. So I go to their middle school. I know it pretty well. It’s the one my Vicky went to. She’s older than these stupid girls, thank God. Out of college.
“Yes, I remember Vicky. She’s pretty nice.”
Thank you. We’re very proud of her.
Bill smiled in satisfaction. A moment of diversion before returning to his story.
Anyway, I go to their middle school, right? It’s the only solid link I’ve got between Dan’s daughter and these two other girls. I mean, besides how they died. And that doesn’t tell me the “why,” just the “how.” So I talked to some of the teachers. The younger ones can’t tell me jack, but there’s this one old Algebra teacher who’s worth all the trouble. She just raves about these girls, on and on. It’s pretty useless until she says:
“All four of them were such good girls, and the very best of friends.”
And I say, “What do you mean four of them?”
And she tells me that Destiny Mercer, Maggie Johnson, and Kelsey Renzakowski were all friends with a girl named Sarah. Sarah Arretti.
Bill’s companion stared into her tea, as if fascinated by the dregs at the bottom of the cup.
She also happened to mention that those girls were never quite the same after Sarah’s accident.
The teacup rattled on its saucer for a second, then calmed.
Oh yeah. Apparently, end of seventh grade, Sarah was in a bad accident and died. After that, the girls stopped hanging out together. I mean. That makes sense, right? You know what’s not making sense, though?
The fact no one can tell me what exactly Sarah’s accident was.
The blonde stared at him, eyes impassive.
So I look over what I know. And I realize that I haven’t got squat. I know three girls died of alcohol poisoning. I know two of them were picked up by some guy. I know they were friends in seventh grade, along with a girl named Sarah Arretti. I know Sarah Arretti died in seventh grade of an “accident.” It’s circumstantial at best.
He was silent, as if waiting for his companion to enlighten him. The café buzzed. Bill folded his hands on the table.
Now how the hell does that all fit together? Birds of a feather flock together? Were these girls just bad eggs that blew up in college? Maybe. But it doesn’t feel right.
So I talk to my daughter, Vicky. Didn’t mean to talk about the case. Just mentioned Dan’s daughter died. Said it was a shame. And you know what she told me?
Silence from the other end of the table.
“I know Mr. Johnson’s your friend, Dad, but I wouldn’t feel too bad about Maggie.”
And I ask what she means and she tells me:
“Maggie was an evil little girl, Dad. And her friends? They weren’t any better. I mean… Unless they were the ones getting bullied by her.”
I ask how she knows this and she looks at me like I’m crazy and says:
“All the students knew. I was in high school at the time and even I heard the stories. Besides, if you ever got Elaine Arrettito talk about them…”
And the name rings a bell. I say, “What do you mean, Elaine Arretti?” and my daughter tells me she went to high school with her. A handsome, boyish-looking girl. That her sister Sarah was in Maggie’s class. That Sarah was bullied for months and months before her “accident.”
Bill Smith looked up at the blonde sitting across from him.
Isn’t that right?
Only the tinkling of a spoon broke the silence.
So that’s why I’m here. I’ve talked to everyone else.
He stared at her, knuckles knitted on the table before him.
Now I want to hear it from you.
A small smile spread beneath her thick mop of hair.