Authors: Tim Tharp
“What’s going on?” It was Randy sauntering up from the east side of the building. “Are those guys gone?”
“What are you looking at?”
“You have your cell phone on you?”
“We have to call the police.”
“Look.” I nodded toward the Dumpster.
Randy had to stand on his tiptoes. “Holy crap. Dude’s dead.”
An argument about whether we should actually call the police followed. Randy was against it. Finally I persuaded him that we might find ourselves in plenty of hot water if the cops discovered we’d been here and didn’t report Hector’s condition. “Okay,” he said. “But call on your own phone.”
Things got involved from there. The cops don’t want you calling in about a dead body and then leaving the scene. We had to stay and answer a bunch of questions:
“Sixteen and a half.”
“Relationship with the deceased?”
“We go to the same school.”
“And why were you enemies with the deceased?”
“What? We weren’t enemies. I hardly knew him.”
“Just a routine question.”
I couldn’t believe it. Apparently, we were actually suspects, which was really a pisser. I was like, “Look, I’m on the school newspaper. My dad’s a teacher and my mom’s a nurse,” but they didn’t care. Somehow we still looked unsavory to them.
At first, it was just a uniformed cop, but then a couple of detectives showed up along with some forensics people. The detectives were even bigger assholes than the uniforms. There was a huge one with a forehead like a cinder block and then a wiry cool-guy type who was too in love with his hair gel. It wasn’t hard to see what their routine was. Detective Forehead’s job was to intimidate you physically, and Detective Hair Gel was there to throw in a few zingers to deflate your self-esteem.
They were convinced Hector had OD’d on some drug or other and seemed to have their minds made up that Randy and I were involved somehow. Which was stupid—we obviously weren’t on drugs at the moment—but once a cop gets an idea in his head, he has a hard time shaking it out.
“We’ll need you to come down to the station,” Detective Forehead told us.
“Just routine,” added Detective Hair Gel.
. I’m thinking,
What? Is that the cop rationale for everything?
At the station house, they split me and Randy up, I guess so they could try to poke holes in our stories. Relieved us of our phones too.
. Lucky me—I was the first one they decided to mess with. They took me into an office—not one of those cop-show interrogation rooms where they beam the bright light in your face—and I ran through the story about the ape men again, but it didn’t take long to find out I wasn’t there to fill in some minor details.
“Dylan, we see this kind of thing all the time,” Detective Hair Gel started out. “Kids out partying, trying new ways to get a buzz. Next thing you know, one guy goes too far, and then that’s it.” He snapped his fingers, his way of summing up the death of Hector Maldonado.
“We can tell you’re a party boy,” said Detective Forehead. He was standing behind his partner’s chair, looming you could say, so as to keep up the intimidation.
I was like, “What? I’m not a party boy.”
But Detective Hair Gel was unconvinced. “Sure you are. You got the hipster-style glasses, the baggy jeans, the rocker-boy black T-shirt. Shaggy hair. I’d say you probably like a taste of the ecstasy.”
For the record, my jeans were baggy because I don’t like pants pinching my gut too much, and the shirt was a retro Black Sabbath T-shirt that I only wear because I think Ozzy Osbourne is hilarious.
Anyway, I’m like, “Ecstasy? Is that still a drug? I don’t even know anyone who’s done ecstasy.”
Detective Forehead leaned forward and glowered. “Oh, it’s still a drug all right. And you know it.”
This was getting ridiculous. You can live your whole life a certain way and what good does it do when the law clamps down on you? I mean, I’m no goody-goody, but I probably hadn’t missed a day of school since I had the flu in seventh grade. Made mostly low B’s but could’ve bagged some A’s if I really cared that much and turned all my stuff in. The only time I ever got sent to the principal’s office since I got to high school was for wearing a T-shirt that said F***K BIGOTS on the front. Now, just because I happened to stumble over a dead body, all of a sudden the cops were treating me like I was
some kind of terrorist with a bomb in my underwear or something.
They kept at me for about an hour. Didn’t matter that I told them I’d better call my parents so they’d know where I was. They just said it was early yet and I could call them in a little bit. Then they came back at me, wanting me to tell the story again and again until finally they got sick of hearing the same answer over and over.
“Why don’t you call the place where I work? They’ll tell you I was there and not out snorting crystal meth and ecstasy or whatever.”
“Hey,” said Detective Forehead. “You don’t make the rules around here. We do.”
“Dylan, just sit here and think about your predicament for a while,” Detective Hair Gel said. “We’ll see what your buddy has to say. And it’ll be too bad for you if he rolls over first.”
Then they swaggered out the door to put the screws to Randy.
So now I was alone, but it wasn’t much of a relief. Hanging at the police station is weird. There’s this air about the place that makes you feel guilty even if you didn’t do anything. It’s like you can’t move or even think the way you normally do. Chances are, they have a camera trained on you and are analyzing every move you make. There was a phone right there on the desk. I could’ve called my parents, but I didn’t. It was stupid, but it was like even doing that might make me look bad, like I was a criminal because the powers that be thought I was. So I just sat there staring at the floor.
I don’t even know how long it was before the dynamic duo waltzed back in to tell me how Randy just confessed. Usually, I would find that funny. After all, I was the king of watching
TV crime shows, true-life and fictional, so I knew it was pretty much standard procedure to trick one guy into spilling the beans by saying his partner already did. But knowing Randy, I wasn’t so sure he wouldn’t cough out a confession. I could just imagine the exchange:
Detective Hair Gel: I’ll bet you’d like a Coke right about now, huh?
Randy: I wouldn’t mind a Dr Pepper.
Detective Hair Gel: Well, you tell us what we need to know, and I’ll see you get one.
unable to sacrifice immediate satisfaction in order to keep out of the big house
): Okay, yeah, we did it. We pumped Hector Maldonado full of ecstasy, heroin, and a little jet fuel just to see what would happen. Now, how about that Dr Pepper?
No, I didn’t feel so good about my chances. “I want to call my parents,” I said.
“Dylan wants to call his parents,” Detective Forehead told his partner, in a mocking, playground-bully way.
“Do you really?” Detective Hair Gel asked. “I doubt that. I mean, what are you going to tell them, that you’re down at the police station because you were out doing drugs and killed your best buddy? Because that’s what we’ve got on you right now. The only question is whether it was an accident or intentional. And let me tell you, we’re a lot more likely to lean toward the accidental side of the situation if you just come clean about what you were up to tonight.”
It was starting to look like I’d never get home. At least not until I’d served a good twenty years in maximum security. I
wondered what I’d done to deserve this kind of trouble. Obviously, I didn’t kill Hector, but maybe I’d done something else the universe was paying me back for.
Just then, the door opened and a lady cop motioned for the detectives to come into the hall. “Sit tight, kid,” Detective Forehead told me. “We’ll be back to have you sign a confession in a minute.”
They didn’t have anything for me to sign when they came back, though. Instead, they did something I never would’ve expected in a million years. They told me to go home.
I’m like, “What? Just like that?”
“Just like that,” Detective Forehead said as he studied the contents of some kind of paperwork.
“Don’t worry, Dylan,” added Detective Hair Gel. “We’ll be in touch. Don’t leave the city.”
Don’t leave the city
. Like maybe I had a private jet waiting to fly me off to Acapulco.
Waiting for my parents to come pick us up, Randy and I sat on the edge of the concrete planter in front of the station trading interrogation stories as we simultaneously texted the news to whoever came to mind. Turned out Randy didn’t crack under pressure after all. In fact, he had a better strategy than I did—playing dumb ass. He acted like he couldn’t even understand the questions, getting the cops to restate them over and over, then acting like he understood, only to come up with an answer that made no sense at all.
“I think those guys chasing us might have been Wiccans,” he told them when they asked him how long he’d known Hector.
Not bad. Maybe Randy was some kind of weird genius after all. He wore them out way before they could wear him out, so they came back at me.
“But why do you think they let us go all of a sudden like that?” he asked, the streetlight shining on his oily brown hair.
“Simple,” I said. “They probably finally called the grocery store and found out we were at work all evening. Idiots.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Kind of hard to get loaded up on ecstasy with your buddies when you’re standing around catching salami
coming down a conveyor belt and packing it into paper or plastic. They should’ve called the store before hauling us to the station.”
Driving us home, my parents also got pissed about the cops giving us the third degree, but did they do anything about it? No. They just rattled on about civil rights until it finally dawned on my mom that finding a dead kid in a Dumpster might be traumatic for our tender teenage minds. Then she and Dad both started in with their TV-talk-show psychotherapy. Randy and I traded exasperated looks like,
Parents—how can they be so clueless?
At home, I passed on their offer to sit around the kitchen table with some cold leftovers and discuss my feelings about what happened. They meant well, but how could I talk about Hector Maldonado while Mom and Dad stared back at me like I was still their five-year-old little teddy bear? No, I accepted the cold meat loaf all right, but I took it back to my room, where I could call my all-time best friend and confidante, Audrey Hoffman.
I’d known Audrey since the days of the little inflatable backyard swimming pool—me in my Tiki-head swim trunks and her in the frilly pink one-piece that I never let her forget. I mean, you should see her now—she’s definitely not frilly or pink. Mostly she does her hair in pigtails and wears plaid shirts, baggy black pants, and some kind of hat, mainly a black Kangol 504. Artsy garb. She’s the photographer on the school paper but plans on doing high-art photography later on.
Audrey used to live across the street, so we did everything together. We read the same books, watched horror movies on late-summer nights, even shot two-character videos in the
backyard. The best had to be the one about two Martians trying to figure out how to eat spaghetti. It was pretty hilarious.
When she found out her parents were getting divorced and she would have to move across town with her mother, she came straight to me. Same with when she decided she was a lesbian in seventh grade. Turned out we had similar tastes in girls. Not that either one of us was exactly successful in that department. At least not by the start of junior year.
So, anyway, there was no way I could go to bed without talking to her voice-to-voice about this latest ordeal. In a way, she was kind of like my conscience sometimes. I could talk to her, and she’d help me figure out what was really important. This time she didn’t seem to totally get what I was going through, though. I tried to explain how the cops had hammered away at me, making me feel like a total nobody loser, but she kept pulling the conversation back in Hector’s direction.
Why didn’t I haul him out of the Dumpster? she wanted to know. Give him a little dignity. And she couldn’t understand how the cops could be so sure Hector had OD’d. Guys like Hector don’t OD, not in her opinion. She even wanted to know when his funeral was going to be. Like I could possibly know that already.
I’m like, “Look, I’m trying to explain how these cops go at you like everything you ever were doesn’t matter.”
And she goes, “Well, I just thought you’d care a little more about Hector.”
“I care, but nobody can do anything to him anymore. Me, I’m not so sure about.”
Maybe talking about the thing wasn’t such a good idea after all. When I got into bed, every time I closed my eyes I saw Hector’s face, staring blankly, the candy-bar wrapper stuck to
his cheek. I felt his arm next to mine and his hair against my fingers. Dead-kid hair. And in the background I heard Detectives Forehead and Hair Gel drilling me with questions, trying to beat me down. What if I hadn’t had an alibi? Would I be in jail right now? It was enough to make you feel like a beetle on the sidewalk with a boot raised right over your head.
The next morning there wasn’t much in the news about Hector, just the basics about where he went to school and who his family was. Body in the Dumpster. Cause of death: suspected drug overdose. Discovered by two teenagers. Names not released because of their ages.
Really? It was okay to tell Hector’s name but not Randy’s and mine? No wonder the local news wasn’t barraging us with phone calls.
My parents offered to let me stay home, like finding a dead body was some kind of stomach bug. I passed. No, I had to go somewhere. If the newspapers weren’t going to call, I could hang with Audrey and rehash the ordeal with Randy. Funny thing, though. As I walked down the hall to first hour, kids started calling to me.