throat. Distance. I needed distance between me and reality. I could turn away and run or I could do the mental thing and focus on pedantic details instead of murder. Since I felt frozen to the spot, I blinked away my dumbfounded stare and tried to see past the bullet hole.
Male, probably in his forties, eyes half closed, wearing black dress slacks and a mud-red dress shirt that had probably been white before he went into the river, and no tie. Scrapes and gouges marred his face, but something about him looked faintly familiar. I was certain I knew this man--or had at some point. I don’t know how long I stared, but the warm grip of a hand on my shoulder brought me out of my daze.
Jerry stood beside me. "It’s Calvin Holt," he said, guiding me away from the riverbank and the body.
As we turned I noticed a swarm of uniformed officers and emergency personnel had materialized around us. Paramedics had even arrived with a stretcher, as if there were a point to that.
"Remember him?" Jerry asked.
As we walked toward a big cottonwood away from the crowd, the name began to register. "From our class?"
Jerry nodded, and I mentally thumbed through my high school memories to place the man.
Calvin Holt had sat in front of me in every alphabetized classroom we’d shared. A skinny guy with brown hair and Coke-bottle glasses, but no particularly distinguishing features. Not a brainiac type that I recalled, just nerdy, one of those people who were kind of invisible.
No sooner had the thought registered than I felt a stab of remorse for thinking about the dead man that way--both now and then. The unpleasant feeling sank its claws a little deeper in my gut when I realized that I never really knew Calvin Holt--and there hadn’t been but maybe sixty kids in our entire graduating class.
Feeling lower and lower by the second, I decided to see if Jerry wanted to ride along on my guilt trip. "Did you know him?"
He shook his head. "No, not really."
"Ever talk to him?" I asked, hoping the answer would be no and we could commiserate on what lousy human beings we had been at age seventeen. I had a fleeting thought that I wasn’t doing so very great in the human issues department at forty-three, but I needed to assuage the old guilt before I started on the new.
"Sure," Jerry said, "I talked to him. Nothing special. Hi, got your homework, going to the game, that kind of stuff."
I sighed heavily. "I don’t think I ever even talked to the guy."
Jerry smiled. "Yeah, you did. I think it was the week before homecoming of our senior year. He went around red-faced and glowing for three days. Funny, I hadn’t thought about that until just now."
I groaned. Obviously I hadn’t even thought about it at the time--or noticed any glowing geeks in the hall. I did another run-through of the time and place, trying to determine what evil motivations I might have had for speaking to the poor guy. I suppose it was within the realm of possibilities that I was just being nice, but I didn’t think that highly of myself at the moment. "I was kind of hoping you’d convince me I’m not the slime of the universe."
He frowned. "Why would you think that, Jolene? You were always nice to everybody. Except maybe Rhonda."
Oh, yes, let’s not forget Rhonda. Sweet little "I’m gonna fucking kill you" Rhonda. She just loved saying that to me, but only when there were no witnesses. Even now Jerry wouldn’t see her for the evil witch she was--and no doubt still is, regardless of what Russell said. If she’d taken a dive off the new falls, it wouldn’t have dismayed me even a little. In a pinch, I’d have even given her a leg up and a friendly slap on the back for smooth sailing. Adios and good riddance.
A little voice in the back of my head chanted bad karma, bad karma . Okay, fine. I know better, but sometimes I just can’t help myself. In the general scheme of things I make a good effort to be a better human being, really I do. I own a library of self-help
Richard Greene, K. Silem Mohammad