This story first appeared as "All In The Family" on the podcast Nighty Nighty with Rabia Chaudry

I was alone when I read online that they found Mr. Williamson’s body washed up on the riverbank. My parents told me it was probably an accident, but I know the truth. I saw the pictures.

Keith T. in Algebra was the one who found the body. He and his older brother came across it while they were sneaking beers in the woods. I think they probably took the pictures before they even called for help. He didn’t even warn me before he showed me some close-ups. Prank the new kid, I guess.

Have you ever seen a dead body before?

They don’t…look right.

Sometimes when I was little, I’d try to sneak down to the kitchen in the middle of the night. Y’know, to get some food or watch TV or something, but before I even got down the stairs, I could just tell that my dad was still up…that I was probably going to get caught.

When someone is around, you can kind of sense it, right? I’m not talking about something super obvious like hearing them listening to music or walking around, I mean even almost subconsciously picking up on their breathing. When you’re alive you just kinda…make noise. You burn energy.

When you see someone who's dead, it’s like they're, I dunno, a statue…a mannequin. Like finding an old stuffed animal left outside, slowly turning black as they grow mold and absorb dirt.

The face is the worst part.

Mr. Williamson’s jaw was not just hanging open…It was hanging completely off on one side. His tongue lolled out of his broken jaw, swollen, his skin was somehow both colorless and blue. Drowned and bloated. Mr. Williamson’s left eye was missing, the socket now just a small bowl containing murky black water. Behind the phone, I could just see Keith T. smirking some “she didn’t see that coming” smirk. A tacky, monogrammed vape pen clenched in his teeth.

I refused to give him the satisfaction.

From behind me I heard another girl shriek at the photo and run away. Some popular kid. Keith dropped the phone and cackled with pride.

As he walked away, one of Keith’s little cohorts, Ryan something, nudged his buddy, saying “Dude, you can’t just show people stuff like that. They’re gonna freak out.” His cover man.

Before they turned the corner, I could hear Keith’s reply. His go-to.

“Not my problem.”

It would be.

When we moved to Hacketstown, my parents insisted things would be better. We’d stay longer, I’d make more friends. I wouldn’t be the constant stranger, the forever “new kid.”

They said the same thing every time we moved anywhere…We were practically migratory, flying back and forth across the country, just picking at whatever scraps we could find. Back when I believed them, it hurt when, inevitably, we repacked to move to some other tiny anonymous place, but these days I’m almost used to it. They’re my parents, they’re supposed to insist that things are going to be better “this time,” “that time,” “next time,” and I’m the kid so I’m supposed to smile and say “okay, mommy. Okay, daddy.”

We’re really just playing the role of a happy family.

But we’re getting better at it.

If only they’d stop getting us chased out of town…

My parents are artists. Really controversial, taboo stuff. A lot of statues and paintings, lots of religious symbolism, stuff like that. The kinds of things small town America never appreciates. A lot of it is actually about me. I don’t think they ever expected to have a kid…My dad told me once that he didn’t want to ever become a father because he feels like humans are destroying the planet. He’s not some hippie, by the way, I think in his mind believes he’s just being practical.

It’s getting a lot hotter, you know.

My mom says they fell madly in love when they were around my age. She really romanticizes their first projects together. They were chased out of their home town for some art installation in the town square. They were edgy right from the start. They told me once that they hold up a mirror to America. The gun-toting, bible thumping hypocrites. They like to paint bible verses on the police station, splash blood on the church steps, stuff like that.

You’d think having a kid would make them slow down and live a more normal life, but instead I’m just along for the ride. At some point they push it too far and before you know it, we’re on to the next place. Some weird little town no one’s even heard off.

Rinse. Repeat.

Congratulations to them and their art, but Christ it’s exhausting.

My first day at Hacketstown High School, I clocked all the familiar types of kids. It was the first time I set foot in H.H., but ultimately they all feel basically the same. School buses out front, loud, obnoxious kids laughing, screaming, running though the hallscz  zASIŠXSS2XA  z, some boring teacher announcing a mediocre lunch on the loudspeaker, bells ringing, popular girls shooting videos of themselves, popular boys pretending not to notice, on and on and on and on.

When you’re trying to make friends, you stick out like a sore thumb. When you realize everyone at one school is basically the same as everyone at the last school and you let them all blend together in your head, you kind of float under the radar.

Besides, I know the ultimate truth: everyone here is meaningless, no matter how important their lives seem to each other at the time. They’re carbon copies. They’re my temporary classmates until I’m shuttled off to the next place.

No connections. No staying power. They’re like the extras in the background of a movie. Like the fake people living their fake lives in some video game. They’re basically not even real.

Mr. Williamson was the first person to really pay attention to me.

And it was horrible.

Talk about a nobody. Nothing to say, zero personality.

His corpse is honestly not all that different.

But that’s a horrible thing to say.

Mr. Williamson did the routine you see in old shows online. He made me stand up at the front of the room and introduce myself to people, even though I told him I didn’t want to.

“How about three fun facts about yourself”

“I hate you. I hate everyone in this room. And I can’t wait to leave.”

I didn’t actually say that, obviously…

I said something about being into true-crime and writing, just praying he’d let me sit down and hide.

“What’s that?” He asked with mock surprise, “Crime? Maybe I’ll have to enroll you in my sunday-school class too!”

“Church and state, asshole,” I muttered. I couldn’t help myself.

“Uh, what’s that?” He chuckled at me. Straight up laughed at me right in front of anyone. Was he insane?

“Could you speak up, honey? I don’t think even the front row here could make that out.”

That chuckle again. I looked back to see Mr. Williamson leaning on a golf club, some lame prop he kept in class. I guess he thought it made him seem sophisticated or something. So proud of himself. So condescending and arrogant. Rude. Embarrassing.

Listen, I know myself. I’m comfortable with who I am, but can you imagine if I wasn’t? Brand new to town, alone, maybe hoping/dying/dreaming of making friends? And then here’s this jackass Mr. Williamson heckling a teenage girl struggling to open up in front of the room? An adult? How damaging would that be??

Thankfully, I mean, I’m not that shy or anything, but can you imagine?

So I told him to stop laughing at me. I called him a hypocrite and a bullshitter. He told the principal I screamed it at him. The principal told my parents I was starting my HH career on thin ice.

Thin ice…What a thin ego. He couldn’t handle a teenage girl pushing back?


And then…

At first they thought he jumped…

One morning there was some guidance counselor running Mr. Williamson’s class. She told us there had been an accident. A ringing in my ears drowned out the rest, but it had something to do with a local bridge. I don’t know it for sure, but I think some of the popular kids even looked to see how I’d react.

Listen…I’m not happy he’s dead.

Like, I’m…not.

Just because you’re an asshole to kids, that’s not some justification that you should die. That’s insane.

I even told that to my parents. I’m sure on some level they heard me. Dad sat in the living room, flipping through some local Facebook group, undoubtedly picking fights with the “local yokels,” as he called them. My mom was lost in painting some mishmash of birds and bibles. Always work. They’d pick this town clean in no time, I was sure.

As for Mr. Williamson, neither of them was all that concerned. We barely discussed it at all…Pretty typical.

I ate my dinner and laid down in bed…But I couldn’t get those  photos out of my head.

I dreamt about it.

Mr. Williamson, dead and decaying, led me to the front of the class, his rotting hand holding me by the elbow. I can still feel his skin loosely sliding around under his wet palm. I can smell the putrid red/black fluid draining from his open, disconnected jaw, unattached but somehow smiling. Enjoying and controlling.

He questioned me at the front of the class each night. Who I am, where I’m from. He wanted to know about my family. My parents' names. He wanted to come over for dinner. Know everything about us. He was picking at me, like a buzzard. He wanted to punish me again, this time in front of all the other kids in class, sitting and watching. Dozens of anonymous kids who I’ve never met but remind me of other kids in other towns I barely remember. And Mr. Williamson enjoyed making a show out of me. Getting back at me from beyond the grave…For criticizing him…For pushing back…And I’d try try try to get out of his grip, push against his squelching sunken chest. I’d push and push, feeling the loose water and rotten organs roil inside him like waves, and then finally he’d tip back! I stared into those eyes…rolling, bulging in shock and fear, pointing in different directions, coated in algae or scum, milky with death, and he’d fall away, and down and down, and the class could see that I pushed him, and it felt like forever, and maybe even years but eventually his body would finally splash down in the water, only to bob back up to the surface. A gleaming cross on his bloated chest.

But he wasn’t the only one.

More faces bubbled up all around him. Staring up to enjoy my horror. Always that same gaping expression of judgment.

But there, on the bridge behind me…suddenly there was a packed van ready to bring me to the next town.

…Take me off into the light.

Some nights I woke up while it was still dark, unable to get back to sleep. That face.

Eventually my dad’s voice at the door would tell me it was time for school.

Any promise that Hacketstown would be a happy or healthy place to start over had been squashed.

It was as dead as Mr. Williamson.

Evidently I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t stop thinking about him.

Whenever someone dies (I don’t think it really matters who it is), everyone who knew them is in shock for, lets say…two weeks. A month, tops.

But then you have to start getting back in shape, getting back on track, back to work, whatever. You can’t just cancel everything forever.

Life goes on.

But you never forget that first dead face.

It was in gym class one day when Abby, this popular girl, this little high school celebrity came up to me out of nowhere. She had been the girl behind me when Keith T. showed me the photos in the first place. I already knew what she was going to say.

“I can’t stop thinking about that picture.”

I had been sitting in the bleachers doing my best to avoid being forced to play volleyball. Boring, smiling nobodies settling back into their regular routines and games.

And here was the future prom queen or whatever coming to talk to the weird, quiet new kid about the bloated corpse pics.

I didn’t know what she wanted from me. Did she expect me to somehow make it easier for her to digest what goddamn Keith T. decided to burden us with?

The best I could summon was, “Yeah, me too.”

It turned out that Abby really was something of a little local celebrity. The daughter of the sheriff of Hacketstown was suddenly confiding in me things that gave me a pit in my stomach.

When Mr. Williamson’s body was found on the bank of the river, their first assumption was that he’d taken his own life.

Hacketstown is a small place. There’s not a lot of crime. No one ever suspected murder. But in what evidently counts for dinner conversation in Abby’s house, the Sheriff had told her something interesting he’d learned from the medical examiner. They firmly believed Mr. Williamson had indeed gone over the side of the bridge, but that “Bill,” (Bill Williamson, I know…terrible name), was dead way before he ever hit the water.

“Someone murdered Mr. Williamson…And I bet we can find out who.”

My plans to float under the radar were clearly in jeopardy. I was in serious risk of having to socialize.

“How insane is it that Mr. Williamson was such a dick to you and then he turned up dead?”

Abby had cornered me at lunch for the third day in a row. She was relentless.

“You even said you’re into true crime. You said that yourself! Wouldn’t it be incredible if we solved his murder?”

Yeah. It’d be amazing, alright.

Abby laid it all out. Turns out the girl I took for the prom queen was not interested in the small town, high school monarchy.

The sheriff’s daughter had seen an opportunity. Yes, the corpse photo had stuck in her mind’s eye, but not only because of the grotesquery. Mr. Williamson’s murder was about to be the biggest story to ever come out of Hacketstown, a town that barely qualified to have a zipcode.

“C’mon, new kid, how many shitty true crime shows are out there? There are dumbass dudes who just google murders and then capitalize. We actually knew Mr. Williamson. It probably doesn’t even matter if we actually catch the killer. The fact that we investigated at all might be a big enough story.”

Underneath it all, Abby wasn’t particularly interested in justice for Mr. Williamson, or for the fame of solving the murder, she was into the bigger thing. The meta story that sometimes follows a true crime story. The story about the storytellers.

Abby wanted to become a hero by pretending to be a hero.

“High school girls investigate a crime is a big story. Maybe it’ll even become a movie!”

I reminded her that it probably already was a movie.

“Several, in all likelihood.”

But, I thought about that dream again. The murky face looking at me from just below the water. The same van backed with the same boxes to carry me to a different town full of the same nothingness. The same anti-existence.

I was in.

Everything was Abby’s plan.

She wanted to confront Keith T. After all, he and his brother had found the body, right? They’d taken those photos that started this whole thing.

After school, Abby texted her mom that she was hanging out with some of her usual crowd, and we started walking. There was no need to say anything to my parents.

They’d call it a benefit of being the child of artists. All this freedom. A lack of consequences…But it sure smelled like disinterest. I thought of their reaction if that knew what I was doing.

They’d finally have to pay attention.

The route to Keith T.’s house showed me Abby’s version of Hacketstown and what I was was beautiful.

Neighbors waving as they moved their lawns in the afternoon sun. A light breeze I hadn’t bothered to pay attention to or enjoy was suddenly a welcome atmosphere for walking with a…friend?

I could not have been less surprised when Abby slowed to a stop in front of a gaudy McMansion. Some bias in the back of my mind had told me a scumbag like Keith T had to live in some dilapidated house with broken shutters, but it was even worse: he was born rich.

We could hear music blasting from the backyard, so Abby and I walked down a tidily landscaped cobblestone path to where the ultimate badass was smoking with his little cronies.

“Hey, Keith!”

Abby called over the music, getting the attention of several boys, some definitely college-aged guys who looked like they hadn’t showered in weeks.

“Oooh Abby Yates…and…sorry, never bothered to learn your name. The hell you doing here?”

“We want to talk to you about those pictures.”

Keith and one of the older guys, probably his brother, laughed. I noticed one of the guys look down at his shoes uncomfortably.

“Your dad made me delete them, Abs.”

“We can show you somethin’ else though,” added some loser to mild chuckles.

Abby, impressively seeing through the other guys like they didn’t exist, explained that we didn’t need the photos, that we just had some questions about when Keith found the body in the first place.

It was then that that kid Ryan swooped in, urging Keith not to talk about it. Like some conscience or voice of reason. Why is it that sometimes people voluntarily cover for the assholes of the world?

“What are you, his lawyer? You protecting him from something?”

Abby had evidently hit the right nerve, and Keith, to prove he didn’t need protecting, pocketed his vape (with “K.T.” gaudily written in gold along the side) and started walking over to a small guest house, waving at us and his brother to follow him.

In a single glance, Abby communicated the risks involved in following known idiots into their rich parents bungalow, as well as her intense interest in learning more about Mr. Williamson’s body.

Without a word, Keith closed the door behind us, and walked over to a small refrigerator in the corner, asking if we wanted anything to drink.

Neither of us was interested in beer, but Keith and his brother each snapped open a can, and I could see piles of empty bottles and garbage littering every corner. Apparently the brothers had taken over their parent’s guest house and turned it into their own little apartment. I could just imagine pushover parents justifying everything they did in here.

Leaning back against a tall, thin chest of drawers, Keith crossed his arms and asked us, “What do you want to know?” He looked like the poster child for toxic masculinity. A symbol of American excess. Mommy, daddy, and countless cronies all so charmed by his attitude. I just knew my parents would love hearing all about him.

We had them tell us the whole thing. The older brother, Derrick, seemingly the second in command, surprisingly, let Keith take the lead. Pushover.

He told us that just beyond their backyard is a stretch of woods where they used to play when they were kids. They still sometimes walk through, smash bottles and do whatever other destructive things teen boys like to do. One time, they even set fire to a small shed at the edge of the forest. It got out of control, and some men playing golf nearly caught them, though, Keith proudly boasted, they got away.

But then the other day, they came across something they never expected to see…

Derrick was the one who saw it at first. At first they thought maybe someone had fallen asleep beside the river. He was laying on his side.

Their gut instinct was to pretend to be the cops and bark out “you there, what do you think you’re doing?”

They expected it to be a homeless man, startling awake, but instead, the shape on the riverbank didn’t even flinch.

“We basically knew immediately.”

It was a loose definition of “immediately,” but I could see it so clearly in my mind's eye.

Again: the stillness of the dead.

Keith proudly took credit for getting a stick.

“Well we had to roll him over, right?”

He had an annoying way of justifying bizarre behavior, as if he was somehow not the one responsible for poking the dead guy with a branch out of morbid curiosity.

Abby was disgusted, “God, Keith, what the hell woud people think if–”

“Not my problem,” he interrupted. Never his problem. Until that wimp Derrick nudged,

“Tell them what you did with the rock.”

Whatever happened with the rock, Keith didn’t want to share it with us. He shot a look at his brother to shut up, which Derrick dutifully did.

As the story dragged on, I kept waiting for the part when Keith or Derrick would reveal their hidden humanity. Swallow a lump in their throat, choke back tears, I don’t know. Instead, Keith kept rambling about himself taking picture after picture of the pathetic bloated corpse, almost seeming to get lost in what was somehow a good memory.

“I had Mr. Williamson in goddamn 5th grade. Couldn’t wait to get to high school, but then what happens? He basically follows me there?”

Derrick giggled, blurting out “friggin’ creep,” from the corner. I almost forgot he was there.

Abby later told me that Keith and Mr. Williamson fought pretty regularly. A bad combination of two blowhards both determined to get the better of each other. Mr. Williamson probably was like Keith when he was a kid. Maybe Keith would even grow up to be just like Mr. Williamson.

“Did you see any, like, I don’t know…defensive wounds on him or anything?”

“Defensive wounds?” Keith scoffed. “What are you, a reporter now?”

I sensed Abby deflate for just a moment. He had a point…What a joke for us to be borrowing our detective vocabulary from murder shows and shit.

“Who do you think killed Mr. Williamson?”

“They told us it was an accident…”

Derrick seemed puzzled, but he looked like he was always puzzled. Keith had somewhat sobered up, though.

“Is that what your dad said? Someone killed him?”

Suddenly, Keith looked concerned. More than likely he realized his sarcastic attitude might bring him in for questioning.

I wondered again what he’d done with a rock.

The gears were turning in Keith’s mind.

“So actually…” he started.

Without another word, Keith suddenly leaned forward and turned to open a draw in the chest behind him. Reaching in, he pulled out something small and metallic.

It seemed there was something Keith and Derrick hadn’t shared with the police. When they first turned over Mr. Williamson’s body, he’d had something clutched in his right hand.

It was a minuscule piece of jewelry.

A pin…handmade…in the shape of a vulture.

Days later, Abby was still obsessing over the pin.

“I’m telling you, he must have ripped it off of whoever attacked him!”

It had occurred to me, and I told her as much, that we didn’t even know for a fact it wasn’t an accident. At best, Abby had heard her dad talking about something the medical examiner said. Maybe she  misheard. Maybe he was wrong, who knew?

Wasn’t it way more likely that Mr. Williamson’s death was:

  1. Self inflicted.


2.   An accident.

For a while Abby agreed…

And then the investigation was opened.

Kids were watching it on their phones just before school one morning. I could pick up only snippets.

First “The sheriff’s office,” then “Local teacher,” and finally “believed to have been murdered.”

Every class that day inevitably devolved into a brainstorming session full of conspiracy theories.

“I heard he was having an affair with Mr. Mueller’s wife.”

“Jessica’s dad told her that Mr. Williamson had a bad gambling habit once.”

“Well one time I stayed late and saw Mr. Williamson getting into a fight with that creepy janitor.”

It was a circus. I heard several kids ask each other “who do you think is next,” as if Jack the Ripper was on the loose. Rumors started that Keith T. hadn’t actually deleted his photos afterall, but was instead showing them to people as long as they promised not to tell anyone. He had also started telling anyone who would listen that someone had robbed him and was harassing him.

Guys like Keith just thrive on attention, no matter what kind.

At lunch, I spotted Abby craning around, looking for someone. We locked eyes and she made her way over, only to be interrupted by a skinny kid, holding his cell phone out to her like a microphone. She listened momentarily as he said something to her I couldn’t quite make off, and then, furrowing her brow, pushed past him, eventually setting down across from me.

“What was that?” I asked.

“Ugh, friggin Josh Neuman just told me he’s doing a podcast about the murder.” She leaned in, lowering her voice, adding, “We’ve got to move faster.”

After school, Abby asked me to come with her to the police station to talk to her dad. I wasn’t exactly a fan of the idea, but I was really enjoying having someone who actually called me a friend.

It was just before we pushed the doors open that I finally asked her:

“Why me?”

Here was Abby Yates, popular, good looking, suddenly turning her back on the cool crowd to creep around with the freaky new kid. I asked her why she picked me to do all this investigating and plotting and stuff…She looked back at me confused.

“Because I saw you,” she finally explained. “When Keith was showing those pictures around, I saw the way you looked at them, and I just…it…it made me want to be more…like you.”

I couldn’t imagine what she meant.

Abby told me that everyone else had immediately covered their eyes or walked away, but then there I was: standing almost rooted to the spot. She said I clearly refused to let Keith get any satisfaction from my reaction.

That I was defiant.



It was not at all how I felt.

But my appreciation for Abby Yates grew even more, and as we questioned her father, the goddamn sheriff of the goddamn town, I felt the way she told me I was.

He didn’t see us coming. Abby took us straight to his office.

Sheriff Yates spoke to Abby as if she were somewhere between a toddler and a nine-year-old.

“Beebee, what are you doing here, princess?”

Beside me, I watched in amazement as Abby transformed into her father’s perfect girl, playing up a little innocence, some naivety, but ultimately getting nothing we hadn’t already guessed.

According to her father, we had nothing to worry about, the police already had a few leads (no details), and he was going to get to the bottom of it.

Our interview with the sheriff was cut short, when a call came in about some disturbance out on main street. A stern looking woman told Abby’s dad something about painted on the side of an old church.

My parents, I assumed. Possibly their best-timed art installation ever.

With apologies, suddenly, Abby and I found ourselves alone in her father’s office, and wordlessly, Abby flipped open his laptop, typed, hit enter, and suddenly we were looking at the very messy desktop of the Hacketstown sheriff. I asked and received immediate confirmation that this was not the first time Abby has sifted through her dad’s files.

The file labeled “BW,” brought us all kinds of information. They had a lot. It turned out Mr. Williamson had been in debt from gambling…and he did fall from the bridge, though it didn’t appear to be where he’d actually been murdered. An email or two explained the urgency with which the police needed to locate the crime scene.

And then, of course, there was a backup of good ol’ Keith’s photos again, coupled with a small notes file documenting various crimes “KT” had committed, from setting fires to graffiti. Most enlightening were the details of a few run-ins between Keith and Mr. Williamson in the past. True to Keith’s word, he’d been putting up with Williamson since the fifth grade. And he’d been suspended by the teacher no less than three separate times. He’d even thrown a punch at the teacher on one occasion. A threat of expulsion.

Abby clicked on the photo album as my wheels spun.

Looking at the dead man’s face again, I thought of Keith and the stick. And there, clutched in the corpse’s hand, I could just make out the gleaming metal of the vulture pin.

But there was something else.

It wasn’t in every photo, but just at the beginning, bobbing in the water at the body’s feet, a small…blood stained…golf tee.

That night, my parents were in rare form.

“Hey baby bird, did you see?”

My dad had a fire in his eyes, he was really enjoying himself. It was family night. Mom drove, looking content, she always felt better when the game escalated. It was like a pressure release for her.

“Thoughts and prayers though no one cares. The hypocrite has been baptized,” she whispered, enjoying the phrase she’d come up with. We grabbed some burgers and parked by the church to watch the local yokels fuss and fume at their artwork.

They really came out of the gate strong this time. I estimated we’d be run out of town by the end of the week.

And then I thought of Abby. The first person I didn’t want to say goodbye to.

“Mom…dad…” I finally gathered the courage to speak… “I think you made a huge mistake.”

On the wall, below the text, my father had painted Mr. Williamson, smiling. I assumed it was based on a professional photo or profile picture. He was face up in a pool of blood, left eye a black hole, and there in the distance, the bridge, with a small schoolhouse in the middle, a prominent cross perched on top.

And I saw down in the far corner, an abstract…a little bird of prey watching the whole thing.

That’s when I came up with the end game.

That night, my parents and I ran an important errand and I called Abby to talk. Yes, about the murder, and of course about the crime scene…I told Abby I worried the killer would have just burned any evidence by now…Maybe they’d never catch the killer…But then we just talked about…nothing at all. Like real, actual friends.

Before bed, for the first time, I told my mom and dad that I didn’t want to move again. I wanted to stay, to really put down roots.

The next day, Abby wasn’t in class. Before I could find out why, I ran into Keith.

“What do you want, freak?”

I just jumped right in.

“What’d you do with the rock?”

He looked as if I’d reached out and punched him. So I did it again. Looking around, Keith checked to see if anyone had heard what I asked him. He smiled nervously to some girls by the gym door. He warned me with a glare, but it gave me the opening I needed. If he didn’t want to tell me, I’d just have to ask even louder. Maybe even tell Abby’s father to ask, himself.

Keith silently urged me to follow him, a look of pure fury on his face. He really didn’t like being challenged.

“Do you have any idea what could happen to me if people found out what I did?”

I felt the adrenaline being coursing through me. Keith told me the entire sick story. Using the stick to not only roll the corpse but take out his aggression when he saw who it was.

“I just kept hitting him. The last time I saw him he threatened to have me expelled if I didn’t pay him off…”

Wililamson’s gambling and Keith’s parent’s money. Add in Keith’s anger issues…

“And then I picked up the rock, and…I threw it right in his goddamn face.”

I could hear the crack, and the snap. I could see the jaw swing loose on one side. With a gesture, I hit “STOP” on the phone recording in my pocket, just before Keith added, “But I didn’t kill him.”

The first words out of Abby’s mouth when she suddenly showed up at lunch were, “we did it. I can’t believe it, but we did it.”

She said it’d be on TV soon.

Forget TV, it was a live performance.

Abby’s father, the sheriff, imposing and stern, flooded into the school, flanked with officers whose job we’d done, ourselves.

And there, in front of everyone, was Keith T. in handcuffs, a mix of disbelief and childish fear on his face. I think I saw him cry.

Abby had evidently thought about what I said on the phone the night before. When I told her I was afraid of the killer burning the evidence, her mind went right to the shed on the edge of the woods. The one Keith and his brother Derrick set on fire by the golf course.

She apologized profusely for not bringing me, but told me she couldn’t resist peeking through the shed’s broken windows on the way to school. She hadn’t planned to find what she found.

Abby showed me pictures on her phone of the small, burned out shed, tilting at almost a 45 degree angle, and there inside, what people would call the crime scene. Williamson’s golf club bent in the middle, and a vape pen with “K.T.” on the side.

Evidence that Williamson and Keith were meeting in a suspicious place…Couple that with my recording of Keith admitting to bludgeoning Williamson and it would undoubtedly be enough for everyone to agree that the local bad boy was worse than they ever thought he could be.

And that’s more or less exactly how it went. Keith’s brother Derrick was assumed to have been involved, though of course their parents insisted their babies could do no wrong.

Shows would inevitably be made about the crime, likely a circus of a trial, too. We were done though. Abby and I handed over what we had and washed our hands of the rest. There was satisfaction enough in seeing it come to a close.

No longer assumed to be a gentle princess, Abby’s reputation grew further, as did her popularity, but so did everyone’s respect for her, and my parents agreed to cool off for as long as they could. For now, I’d be staying in town, though I knew it couldn’t last forever.

But we felt like heroes. Like detectives.

My friend and I.

It was weeks later when Abby asked the question:

“What do you think was up with the vulture pin?”

I told her we might never really know. It could have just been something that was already in the water and got lodged in his hand or something.

That seemed to satisfy her, though I worried her gears were still turning about it.

That night, my parents could tell something was bothering me, but I couldn’t ever tell them that there was still a loose thread.

They don’t like loose threads. We had gone over the story again and again the night we ran our errand…the night we placed Williamson’s club and Keith’s vape pen in the shed. I knew I could nudge Abby in the right direction. And like a good friend she heard exactly what I was really saying.

I thought of the other faces in my nightmare, the ones bobbing up to the surface beside Mr. Williamson’s corpse. The other people who had humiliated me, offended my parents, or just found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. I thought of vultures, protecting their young, migrating across the country, leaving behind those fascinating bones, picked good and clean. Like statuary. My loving, dangerous mother and father.

And there in the sea of faces, the accusatory glances, the looks of betrayal from the other girls who I had almost considered a friend…until they got too close.

But now I had a real friend.

Abby Yates.

The sheriff’s daughter.

And if she wanted to solve another murder someday I’d be more than happy to give her one.