“So whaddya think he’s gonna do to Mr. Marsh?” Jay asked CJ.
“Be a dick,” came CJ’s simple answer. She reached up to pull her glasses behind her ears a little tighter and then rubbed both hands over the back of her neck.
“Yeah,” Jay replied, falling back into another long silence. The two of them were leaning against the back wall of Sweet’s Drugs. Jay’s brain was buzzing. And kind of starting to ache. He took inventory of his thoughts: he wanted a cigarette really bad, but he knew better than to smoke in town. There were plenty of adults around Fritz Junction who didn’t care when kids smoked, but CJ’s dad, Mr. Sweet, wasn’t one of them. Jay knew not to cross Mr. Sweet. That man was — most of the time — pretty awesome in Jay’s estimation, as far as adults went for that kind of thing. And, yeah, Mr. Sweet was this big, tall dude who looked like he could beat the shit out of you. But that didn’t matter as much; Jay really didn’t like disappointing Mr. Sweet. Like you wouldn’t want to with your dad, even if Mr. Sweet wasn’t Jay’s dad. It felt weird when you disappointed Mr. Sweet, and different from how his own dad would handle things; it felt like you were seriously messing up, and he didn’t even have to say anything or do anything. You’d get in trouble with him sometimes, but he wouldn’t lose his shit like you’d expect. Mr. Sweet would just sort of look at you in this one kind of way. Like he was saying he expected better, but without talking that out. Or yelling it. And when Mr. Sweet just looked at you like that, it made you sort of like embarrassed that you did something bad. It made you want to do better, too. Which was weird. And CJ had gotten that power from her dad. That was actually one of the reasons Jay liked CJ so much. CJ was only Jay’s second best friend ever, and part of the reason why was that she didn’t let him get away with stuff. Jay knew CJ was right, but he was annoyed by her answer. Right then, he was wishing she would just be quiet, so he could get through his thoughts and come out the other side. He liked how, most of the time, he didn’t feel like he had to talk when he was around CJ. Jay thought a lot more than he talked, and he thought a lot. And he liked how, when he was around CJ, he could just be there and work through his thoughts and not have to say anything. She wouldn’t ask him what he was thinking. Not like with his folks. His mom and dad never shut up. It made his brain buzz worse than it was buzzing now; it stressed him out. He was stressed out a lot. And right now, he was real especially stressed out about them all messing with Victor Marsh. A long time ago, Mr. Marsh had been the Sheriff — and had given Jay a metric ton of shit about truancy and jaywalking and all the other made-up words designed to keep you from getting your shit done. Stuff Jay did on quite a regular basis. And Jay hadn’t been unhappy when Sheriff Marsh had gotten recalled and just became Mr. Marsh and stopped coming around town. Jay was not Victor Marsh’s biggest fan.
And his kid was even worse, from what he’d observed that morning. Gunny Marsh seemed totally different from his dad, which might have made him okay if he hadn’t seemed like maybe he was a fag, or maybe queer or something. Jay hadn’t liked the way Gunny looked, moved or talked, and he was still unconvinced that Mickey had done the right thing letting Gunny be involved in their plans of revenge on the former Sheriff. He was pretty sure Gunny was going to seriously fuck everything up. Like maybe run and tell his dad. Mickey said he had some kind of thing — Jay couldn’t remember the word; had it started with the letter ‘c?’ But like, a second plan– to make things work even if Gunny told on them or tried to ruin it.
“We better go,” Jay said, pushing himself off from the graffiti-covered wall. He brushed down the front of his shirt. There were crumbs all over, from the Cowboy Cake he’d bought at Sweet’s. He glanced over toward CJ as she rose from the wall, too. Her girl shirt — blouse — was crumb-free, and she’d just eaten the same thing he’d had. It was one of the two things that most reminded Jay that CJ was a girl — she almost never got crumbs or food stains on her clothes. She was careful like that. The other thing that reminded him was her hair, which was usually tied up in two frizzy pompoms. And, yeah, sometimes people gave him shit for being friends with a girl, or just because CJ was black. But nothing he couldn’t handle. CJ kicked ass, and she was cool; that’s the stuff that mattered. “Come on,” Jay said, stuffing his hands into his pockets. “Mickey needs us.”
CJ gave Jay a funny look like she was telling him to knock something off. Jay had no idea what it meant. He stopped for a second, trying to figure out what CJ was trying to tell him. But then she didn’t say anything else even while he waited; she just came up alongside Jay. So, he just started walking away from Sweet’s Drugs, toward the road out of Fritz Junction. She hefted the strap of her her highlighter-yellow backpack over her shoulder.
Jay asked CJ “You wanna do a murder?” as she caught up with him.
CJ nodded. “Sure.”
“Okay,” Jay said. There was another long silence, and they kept walking. Jay was thinking. It was a game they planed all the time. Jay had told her something he didn’t tell many people: he wanted to be a detective when he grew up. He’d worked out all of his plans with CJ, making sure they had her approval principally because he wanted her to join him. His idea was that they would become a pair of detectives. There had been a lot of playful arguing about whether they’d call the agency Redwing & Sweet or Sweet & Redwing, but ultimately Jay had won out. He’d pointed to the fact that it was his idea to start the agency in the first place. He’d added that, in his opinion, Sweet & Redwing sounded more like a restaurant to him. She’d countered that it sounds like a restaurant in either order, but Jay’s mind was set. CJ had given the victory to him, and he’d even had his dad use the fancy printer at the car dealership to make cards for them both. They feature both their names and cell phone numbers at the top, and below that the cards read:
REDWING & SWEET
“THEIR SECRETS ARE OUR BUSINESS”
They’d put the cards up on pegboards — at places like restaurants, grocery stores and the local massage place; Jay had argued the best places to put them were places old people hung out, because they were the most likely to lose jewelry or need to you to find their cat dead on their roof or stuff like that. Unfortunately, though, there had yet to be any takers for their agency. So, in the meantime, to hone their skills, the two would challenge each other to solve mysteries they’d make up. The long trip to Dog Run Trail seemed like as good a time as any for them to challenge each other.
“So there’s this crazy old rich lady — uhhhh, Mrs. Block.”
“Like an engine block?” CJ cast a sidelong look an a grin at him.
Jay exaggerated a wince, jerking his shoulders like her words really hurt. “Fuck. Ow. Yeah. You suck.” He grinned. “So, okay, yeah — Mrs. … Engina Block. She has all the money, and she’s like a real bitch to her six kids, and they all live in Portugal or something.” He kicked at a fallen branch on the road as they passed it, and missed. “Fuck. Okay — so, like, in their big Portugal mansion that’s like a big castle. And there are all these rooms and she’s, like, super-cheap with her money, which pisses off her kids. She’s, like, all happy with her life and stuff. But not with spending money. I mean, not spending money on things that make sense to her kids. Like, she has a giant butterfly collection. But she won’t spend on stuff like … the water’s always going cold in the showers.” Jay was struck by a concept and began to speak more excitedly. “Like, okay, you know those big showers they show in football movies that, like, hit you all over?”
“This isn’t turning into porn, is it, Jay?” CJ asked, tipping her head back for a moment as if exasperated.
“No! I just mean, like, Mrs. Block is so weird that she, like, had those kinds of showers built for her and her six kids, real luxury shit — but she won’t spend the money on a good water heater system so the water’s never hot. And there are all these basement tunnels and she won’t pay to get them heated so they’re always cold. And the castle used to be, like, a storage building for meat and stuff before they remodeled it into a palace mansion thing. Like chopped cows. You get me?”
“I get you.” CJ put her hands behind her head, her fingers joined together. “So the kids are pissed at how she spends her money and they want to kill her?
“Right? Well, except — well, that’s the thing, see.” He stuck out his tongue a little and flicked the tip to the left and right of his mouth, thinking. Then, he raised his right hand as if to indicate he was about to continue his story. “She starts dating this cop and he’s gonna move into the mansion with them she starts to spend money on him and stuff and her kids are all getting mad. Like, he gets her a car made out of gold like the one in the movie about that orphan. And then one day the cop comes over to check up on her — because, like, she called him every day and then she totally stopped calling and he’s all ‘Where’d she go?’ so he goes to the house and he tries to find her, and she’s in there just dead. She’s dead in a room down in the basement. He went looking for her. And he found her in this room dead with just like a rope and there’s water all over the floor. And her neck is broken! And there’s nothing else in the room. And so, like, instantly, the cop is all, like ‘Okay, I know what happened!’ And the kids are freaking out but he says, okay, none of you are guilty!” Jay exhaled sharply through his open mouth, indicating the story was finished. “Okay, now — who did it?”
“Are the walls smooth?” was all CJ asked.
“Huh?” Jay thought about it for a moment. “Yeah! Like, it’s one of those big round rooms like you see in old movies where they keep wine and stuff. No lights or anything. They have to bring in flashlights. Nothing on the walls, smooth ceiling and floor and stuff.”
CJ licked her lips once, then took off her glasses. She polished them on a little white cloth she took out of her pocket. She put her glasses back over her ears and nose and then looked over at Jay. “So the policeman looks at the Block brothers and says ‘The evidence says she committed suicide, because the rope would suggest she killed herself standing on a block of ice that melted.
“Oh, man, she totally did!” Jay said, jumping twice. “You got that one in one!”
“Quiet, jackass. Shut up and let me finish. But then the policeman looks at the brothers and says ‘You might have gotten away with this murder except for a few things. If the room is so cold — then the ice would’ve probably taken a while to melt, and if she was gonna kill herself, why would she do it there with a block of ice so it’d take extra long and she’d be hurting forever before she died?’ She was happy with her life — you said so. So she wouldn’t torture herself like that. And plus, you said the walls and ceiling were smooth. So, where’d she hang the rope from? Nowhere! So that means someone had to put her in there. And if he’s a policeman, the brothers would probably figure he was smart enough not to, you know, try to fake a murder with him around to solve it. Especially if he could come in any time. So — you said the policeman was gonna move in, which means she probably gave him a key. He pretended to go home one night, but really came back in and went down to the basement and called her down there and killed her. And then he frames the brothers and gets away with it. She just changed her will, so now he gets everything and the brothers all go to jail.”
“Fuck,” Jay replied. “Yours is better than mine.”
CJ grinned and pantomimed patting him on the back. “Your next murder will be better.” Then, her expression sobered a little and she said “If we hurry, we can stop at Risky’s Pond for a minute on the way there. You wanna do that?”
“Cool,” Jay murmured.
They walked in silence after that, until they reached the spot where Jay’s first best friend was buried.
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