“Anyway, the timer’s going off soon, so I must wrap up,” Mr. Montoya said with one of his signature flourishes. “Just remember these, remember these very well: The battle of the Monongahela took place in 1757. George Washington unwittingly confessed to a man’s assassination because he couldn’t speak French, and had such painful diarrhea that he needed a to put a pillow atop his—”
The alarm went off. Mr. Montoya covered his mouth with both hands. “A vow of silence,” he whispered. I was in the front row, so I heard.
As everyone filed out, someone stopped by the blackboard.
“I request that you break the vow,” Olga said. For a second, I thought about English class, and then I wound up thinking about Ronnie’s Olga speeches (“Olga is such a rare name here!” and “Her hair looks like it was spun by a golden orb spider!” and “Have you noticed how powerful her legs are?”).
“A crime,” Mr. Montoya responded, uncovering his mouth. “What is the situation?”
“Please tell me about the ass pillow,” Olga said, her gray eyes sparkling.
I decided that was a conversation I didn’t need to hear more of, so I stood up and joined the neat line of exiting students.
I slipped into the stream of kids heading for the biology lab (our last class of the day), and, as usual, made sure to high-five Ronnie as our processions passed each other. Hers was leaving the math room, which was across the hall from the history room. She was in the AP history class, which used the history room (and Mr. Montoya) right after mine. We were lucky that we had so many classes in common that year. We even shared a lunch hour at 10 AM. 10 AM is a terrible time for a lunch hour. We were both always starving and miserable by the end of the day.
The biology lab was cleaned-up and empty, even though it smelled like dissections. Formaldehyde is a lingering thing, and it stays long after it’s gone. Oddly enough, Doctor Bonesaw seemed to be deeply involved in a conversation with Mr. Fitz (his real name was Roger Harrison, but we all called him “Bonesaw,” because they say that one time, he cut up an old classroom skeleton to show everyone cross-sections. I’m not sure if that story’s all true, but it’s scary and earned him everyone’s respect and a cool name).
“Whitening them?” Doctor Bonesaw said, scratching his scraggly little beard.
“Exactly,” Mr. Fitz said. “I thought I’d gotten them clean, but they look rusty and have started stinking.”
Doctor Bonesaw spun his pink watch around his wrist. Finally, he said, “No matter what anyone else tells you, don’t boil them, and don’t bleach them. If you’ve already cleaned them, I’d say leave them outside for a few days to let the bugs get rid of any leftover tissue. Then a week in peroxide to make them white. Why do you ask?”
“My son’s become interested in collecting as of late,” Mr. Fitz said. “Ex-wife thinks it’s creepy, but I think he’s got a knack for natural science. I’ll remember that, about the peroxide. I swear, Roger, sometimes I think you and I are the only sane staff members in this school.”
“What about Alena?”
“My mistake,” Mr. Fitz said, smiling a little. “Alena, too. That woman is a force of nature.”
“Don’t want to get in her way,” Dr. Bonesaw said, glancing at his inappropriately cute watch. “I need to start class. Talk to you later, Roger.”
We didn’t dissect anything that had been sealed in formaldehyde that day. It was owl pellets: the little balls of detritus that owls cough up every now and then, since they always swallow their food whole. We were supposed to see how many bits and pieces we could pull out and identify. I mostly just found a lot of hair, but I did find two little cracked skulls and a lot of unidentifiable sharp bits. Later on, Doctor Bonesaw congratulated me and told me that I’d gotten almost an entire shrew (and a third of a frog). I’m not sure how anyone could deduce “shrew” from the little pile of white shards on my tray, but I did put them all in the “rodent” compartment, so dumb luck won out in the end. I don’t know why a shrew is worth celebrating. It wasn’t a lucky shrew or anything. I mean, it got eaten and puked out.
At the end of the day, I was almost too tired to talk to Ronnie. I wound up talking to her anyway, because she was a lot faster than me and she always had a lot to say. I was taking a shortcut home across the football field when she tackled me from behind (like a real pro).
“What is it, Rhonda?” I asked through a mouthful of dirt.
“Guess who got Olga’s gel pen!”
“It was you. Don’t steal things, Ronnie,” I said, rolling over and pushing her off. She beamed at me. Her glasses sparkled.
“It’s the kind that changes color. I’m returning it tomorrow,” Ronnie said, brushing off her ripped jeans (they weren’t ripped in a fashionable way. I think she just doesn’t take care of her clothes). “I’ll show up at her soccer practice and be like, ‘hey.’” She flipped her auburn hair and gave me a smoldering look. “’Saw you dropped your pen while you were leaving the Montoya District. Figured I should give it back… sports gal.’ Smooth, right?”
“You’ll see her in English first.”
“Oh, crap, I haven’t got a line for that one! She doesn’t even like English!”
“You’ll have to figure that out,” I said, standing up and starting to walk away.
Thinking about English got me thinking about Tracy. It was the only class we had in common, despite our school not being that big. In class, she was always enthusiastic and thoughtful. She somehow got along with Mr. Fitz, even though she wasn’t a suck-up. She’d always be the first person to offer to help with difficult homework, and, as far as I knew, she never went to parties or hung out with shady people. Her friends were as studious and squeaky-clean as she was.
Who would want to kill someone like that? Was it jealousy? I could understand being jealous of Tracy. Even I was a little jealous of her. Sometimes I wondered if she managed to be so well-liked and get such good grades just because she was a pretty girl and polite to the teachers.
Who would be jealous enough of someone’s high-school success to murder them?
That was what was on my mind Monday night.
Tuesday morning, I was thinking about the early radio news report: “At 1:13 AM on Tuesday, October 12th, Roger ‘Bonesaw’ Harrison, a teacher at Mulberry Public High School, was found dead beneath the bleachers of Dapper Dan Memorial Stadium. The police are withholding details at the moment, but, according to the autopsy report, he was missing his right hand.”