by Michael Guillebeau
Enjoy this never before published mystery short story.
My first dead body and it’s not. I mean it’s not him. I am so screwed.
I can’t believe I ditched school for this. But when the substitute history teacher died, and I had never seen a dead guy, I thought I could get to the funeral home and back before anybody noticed. Mom will kill me if she finds out after I promised her I wouldn’t cut school again.
I only do it when it’s educational, but nobody listens to me. Like the time there was a bank robbery and I snuck out to see how the police really did those investigations, and then the police thought I was a suspect. God I wish I were normal.
But, I’m sorry, it’s not him. Mr. Russell had this really bushy lame mustache, and this guy doesn’t and his hair’s wrong, not just combed different but wrong.
So I’m looking around, don’t know what to do, but then I never know what to do, but then I see this police officer in the parking lot. I’ll tell the officer, then get back to school before the PE ogre notices that our flag football team is missing a receiver. Going to be OK.
He smiles as I run up to him. “The bank robber chick,” he says. Oh, crap.
“No, it’s OK, I don’t blame you for coming to the bank.” He’s smiling even bigger. It’s a creepy lounge-lizard smile. I’m just a kid, mister. “We get a lot like you, just want to be where the action is, hang around with the cops. I’m cool, I get you.”
Oh crap, oh crap.
“No, listen,” I say. “Somebody’s got to listen, this time. The man in the coffin in there is not Mr. Russell. He—not the dead guy, Mr. Russell—was our substitute teacher, for one day. That’s not him. The mustache is wrong.”
He’s still smiling. “Maybe the guy in there is the substitute’s substitute. Maybe you and I will have to investigate, like real detectives.”
Better than nothing.
So we’re back inside, standing over the coffin, and it’s still not Mr. Russell from school. Someone behind us says, “Can I help?” I turn and my eyes go big before I can stop myself and I see Mr. Blocker, my principal.
“Young lady says this isn’t Mr. Russell,” says the officer, respectful now. They’re always respectful to an adult in a suit. Maybe I should wear a suit and a fake mustache, see if anyone would listen to me.
Mr. Blocker looks at me. “Maddie? Maddie Graham?” I think about saying I was Kristin Bell but said yes, sir.
“Did you get a pass?” He turns back to the officer. “I wish this weren’t Don Russell, but I’ve known him for years. Shame.”
“I guess the young lady’s mistaken,” says the officer, smiling and leading me outside. I break free in the parking lot, run back in, and take a picture of the body with my cell phone and run back outside.
Mom is waiting when I get home. “Maddie, what is wrong with you?”
There are a lot of answers to that question, but I have more important things to discuss.
“Mom, listen to me.”
“No. I’m done listening. You promised me you wouldn’t do this again. Why, Maddie, why?”
“Mom, you’ve got to listen to me…”
“No. I do not. I don’t want to hear any of your crazy stories. Just go to your room and don’t speak to me.”
So the next day I’m sitting in school first period after my jailer-Mom unlocks the bars from my cell at home and sends me from one prison to another. Mr. Blocker comes on the intercom in this really angry tone. Students have been abusing cell phones at school. Oh my God, it’s a crime against humanity. At least, that’s what he makes it sound like. So the teachers have to confiscate everybody’s cells for the day, your own fault, blah blah blah. Whatever. Has nobody in this place heard of civil liberties?
My phone comes back with the others at the end of the day. I look and see that the picture of the body that’s not Mr. Russell is gone.
There’s a crowd around the school office the next morning. I can see Mr. Blocker standing at the computer with the big monitor. The police chief is using the mouse to play a YouTube video. I made that video. Made it when Mom had me grounded my room, made it with just the photo of the body and a cell phone video clip of the live Mr. Russell dancing in class. I emailed it to Todd, who uploaded it yesterday.
At the end, the live Mr. Russell keeps dancing next to the dead Mr. Russell while the track sings, “I ain’t him, I ain’t him.” On the bottom is a title says, “Glendale police are investigating.”
“We are investigating, sir,” says the police chief to Mr. Blocker. “We don’t know everything yet. But we do know that the dead body was the appraiser for the property for the new high school; the live substitute appears to be a ringer brought into the school by you to cover up. The city is paying $10M for the land, based on what appears to be a phony appraisal. The report we found on the appraiser’s computer values it at $3M. Your brother-in-law owns the land. As I said, we don’t know everything yet, but we believe that, if the appraiser had lived, he would have blown the whistle. And if his death had been covered up, we never would have looked into this. But we are looking, now, and we need for you to come with us, sir.”
Mr. Blocker spots me in the crowd. “She did this,” he yells.
I put on my hurt little girl look. “Mr. Police Chief, sir, when was the video uploaded?”
“YouTube says it was uploaded at 1:27 yesterday afternoon.”
“Couldn’t have been me, then. I was in school all day yesterday. Check your records. Or you could just believe me, but then,” I look at Mr. Blocker and gave my new friend my biggest, warmest smile, “nobody ever listens to me.”
And I turn and sashay off to class.
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