Thursday, February 14, 2013

Pizza Face And The Beauty Queen by Katherine Tomlinson

It was Valentine's Day and a teen was dead so instead of spending the day with her new man--who might possibly could be a keeper--Det. Diana Fitzgerald was walking around the very high school where she'd spent four miserable years.
There was no question it was a suicide.
"I'm not really surprised this happened," the dead student's honors English teacher said, "not after I saw the picture."
"What picture?" Diana had asked.
"The picture on Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr," the teacher said, sucking her Marlboro Light down to the filter. "It's probably on YouTube by now, backed by a bouncy Justin Bieber song."
The only thing the teacher had been wrong about what the song playing behind the photo.
It was Britney Spears' "Lucky."
The picture was shot with a cell phone and was more than candid, it was clandestine. It showed a boy and a girl caught by the camera as they broke from an embrace. They were, Diana had to admit, an unlikely couple. The girl was beautiful, A-list celebrity beautiful, with auburn hair and big brown eyes. He was a geektastic disaster with the worst case of acne she'd ever seen.
He looked like he had kidney beans surgically implanted all over his face.
"Do you think she was kissing him on a dare?" Diana's partner John asked. "Kind of a reverse 'Dogfight' kind of thing?"
"I don't think so," Diana had said. She had learned the girl's name was Lauren and the boy's was Cicero. Cicero. How soon after he entered first grade did people start calling him "Sissy?" she wondered.
Diana's older brothers had all been given Gaelic names by their dreamy Irish dad and Eoghan had changed his name to Owen the day he turned 18. When she came along, her mother had put her foot down at the notion of calling her Aoife or Siobhan and she'd been named after her maternal grandmother instead. Diana was a safe name, it was a name that didn't stand out.
The last thing you wanted to do in high school was stand out.
The girls' gym teacher had found the body. Ms. Brody looked much the same as she had back when Diana had attended Harkham High.
Go Green Devils!
Ms. Brody had been a bully then and she hadn't changed much in ten years. Nor had she forgotten Diana.
"Fitzgerald. I see you finally lost that baby blubber."
John gave his partner a look of surprise. She had a runner's body, a lean 130 on a five-nine frame.
"Yep," Diana said, as some of the worst memories of her teenage years came back to her in a flood--the time she fell during the knotted rope climb, the time she passed out in the middle of a field hockey game after Ms. Brody made her play left wing so she'd be running the whole game. Then there was the time someone stole her humongous underpants from her locker while she showered after gym and ran them up the flagpole the next morning so that everyone could see them. She had always suspected the teacher had had a hand in that particular bit of meanness but had never been able to prove it.
"I understand you found the body?" John asked.
"Yep," the teacher said, mimicking Diana.
"Did you recognize the student?" she asked.
"Of course," she said. "You've seen the picture, right?"
Diana nodded.
"It was taken in the gym," the teacher said. "They were supposed to be working on scenery for the school play." Her voice took on an aggrieved tone. "They shouldn't even have been here but Mr. Wadleigh convinced the principal that he needed extra room for the construction."
Diana remembered the drama teacher as a sweet man whose marginal theater credits and unimpressive guest roles on television series all dated from the 80s.
"They were going to do The Robber Bridegroom," Ms. Brody said, "Lauren was going to play Rosamund."
She paused for emphasis.
Lauren's boyfriend is playing Jamie Lockhart." She saw they didn't understand. "The male lead."
"What's the boyfriend's name?" John asked.
His name was Josh Archuetta and Diana could tell he thought he was pretty hot shit but he was the kind of kid who peaks in high school and then spends the rest of his life chasing his youth like a refugee from a Bruce Springsteen song. "That little faggot," he said when Diana asked him if he knew Cicero.
"Faggot" and "whore" were just two of the epithets digitally scrawled in the comments beneath the picture of Cicero and Lauren posted on Facebook.
Diana had to wonder why no one realized the two terms sort of cancelled each other out if the two students were a couple.
"That fucking whore," he added.
That exact phrase had been spray-painted on Lauren's locker in bright orange paint. You could still see the words despite the school janitor's attempts to scrub them off.
"We were royalty in this school," he told Diana and John, "we were gods. And she threw it away for a nothing."
Josh was practically vibrating with anger and loathing Diana found herself wanting to punch him in the testicles just to hear him scream.
He leaned closer to the detectives.
"But she found out there are consequences for going out of bounds. They both did."
"Tell you what," John said after they'd dismissed Josh to return to his previously scheduled life. "I wouldn't go back to high school for a million dollars."
"Not this one anyway," Diana agreed thinking about Ben Lindsay, the good-looking football player who'd taken her friend Anna's virginity and then bragged about it. Anna had slit her wrists but her mother had found her in time. Diana's older brother had been in love with Anna and two weeks after graduation, he'd blown up Ben's beloved GTO. The only person Owen had told what he'd done had been Diana and she'd kept his secret for 15 years.
"Detective Fitzgerald?" a young uniform asked, breaking into Diana's reverie. "CSI's done if you want to take a look at the body."
"Thanks Teddy," she said and signaled for John to join her.
As they walked toward the gym doors, Diana realized there was one crucial question she hadn't asked.
She didn't know whether it was Lauren or Cicero waiting for her inside the gym.


Anonymous-9 said...

Thanks for the Valentines Day reading, Christopher! Ur the publisher that has my heart.

Al Tucher said...

I was wondering the same thing!

Chris Rhatigan said...

Ah, high school. So awful.

Alex said...

Brutally real as always, and leave it to our Ms Tomlinson to remind many of us just how bad High School could and can be (thanks a lot). : )
As always we get the complete picture with an astute economy of just the right words. Thanks again.

Mary Ann Back said...

Katherine, this was a quick read that pulled me right in. Favorite lines. "Geektastic disaster" and "chasing his youth like a refugee from a Bruce Springsteen song." The ending was spot on and expertly set up by the collection of the detective's memories. It's almost as if she was transported into her own past and the crime became secondary, until she had to do the job she came for. Nicely done. Mary Ann

Katherine Tomlinson said...

Thanks everyone!