Coach Warner stands on the other side of the soundproof study room, his unblinking eyes never straying from Jennifer. A ring of black hair is around his head, which has been polished to shine when struck directly by the hanging lamp. Taking off his green jacket, the teacher exposes his burly arms that makes the student think of a tattooed bear. He casually rubs his precious collection, which are a patchwork of pictures that vary in style, color, and subject. Scratching at his leg, Coach Warner reveals that he has more on his legs, which are toned and look like they could kick through concrete. Satisfied that the silence has done its job on Jennifer’s nerves, he takes out a folder and drops it on the table. Pictures of Natalie and James’s dead bodies slide toward Jennifer, who clenches her eyes shut and looks away.
“Either you didn’t do this or you’re a better actress than your grades imply,” the Coach says, his chiseled face showing no sign that he is joking. Taking a seat, he pulls out a notepad and repeatedly taps a pen on the cover. “Now, the police seem to think you’re the one behind this. I told them they’re wrong, but my word isn’t going as far as it should. Too many people are aware of your roommate’s attempts to drive you away, which gives you motive. At the very least, you will be taken away for a while in order to be watched. That is unless you can give me an alibi or something that shifts the blame to someone else.”
“Why is the hockey coach doing an interrogation?” Jennifer asks, blurting out the first thing that comes to her mind. A wave of fear ripples through her body when the teacher snarls, his eyes appearing to turn black. “I snuck into the library and slept in one of the study rooms. There was too much noise in the house and I didn’t want to drag my friends into this. How can anybody believe I did this? James was snapped in half and suffocated while Natalie had her eyes gouged out by glass that was found lodged in her throat. Whoever did this had to be insanely strong and have cuts on their hands. Neither of those apply to me.”
“I agree, but the police have no other suspects,” Coach Warner mentions while he watches her face. Seeing her avert her eyes from the pictures, he nods his head and scrawls a barely legible note. “To answer your first question, I am here because I have some contacts with the police department. Old friends who owe me favors, but a double homicide with this amount of brutality is too much for them. Word has already spread and some people are thinking you’re a blossoming serial killer.”
Shoving the pictures away, the weeping student puts her head on the table. “I can’t believe this. Did I hate Natalie? Not really. We didn’t get along, but I only wanted her to stop bullying me. Killing her would have been a ridiculous and stupid move because of exactly what is happening now. Our problems weren’t a secret, so I’m the logical suspect. Did it ever occur to the police that she was angering other people and one of them waited until I was in a position to take the blame? I mean, we’re dealing with insane scenarios, so why not go into a full conspiracy theory? Natalie made an enemy of someone with the strength to snap her beefy boyfriend in half like a twig and then kill her with broken glass. How about it being two killers? Anybody talk to Bigfoot and Bloody Mary yet?”
“This is not the time to get angry and irrational.”
“It’s the perfect time for that!”
“Have your outburst, but I still have a question.”
“I don’t need your permission to get upset!”
Coach Warner leans back in his chair and stares at the young woman, her body quivering from fear and rage. He considers putting the pictures away, but he prefers the sight of them keeping Jennifer on edge. The man’s eyes narrow as he examines every movement and inch of her for hints that she is lying. While he doubts that she has the strength to kill James, Coach Warner can think of at least two of her friends who could work together to do the deed. As far as Natalie, he knows a thick pair of gloves would have protected the red-haired student from injuring her hands. Although, he doubts she could have accomplished such a meticulous murder without getting hurt in the struggle.
“I will see what I can do with the police,” Coach Warner finally says while attempting to soften his voice. Hating the sound and feeling phlegm in his throat, he goes back to his stern and gravely tenor. “There is only one piece of information that I need. You said that you snuck into the library, which is something administration will overlook. No sign of you on the security cameras, so I need you to tell me if anybody else was in the building. Did you see Marcy, a janitor, or even another student?”
“Didn’t even know there were cameras,” Jennifer sheepishly admits. Feeling a little more comfortable with the promise of help, she leans back and stares at the hanging lamp. “I didn’t see anybody since I didn’t want to be caught. There were voices from the basement. Not sure if they were the janitors, but I did hear Marcy. Possibly Charlene too, which was weird. To be honest, I was really tired and could have been wrong. None of them knew I was there, so I don’t think this can be of much help.”
“Actually, I should be able to work with that,” the teacher replies as he finishes his notes. He taps his fingers a few times while considering other questions. “Please go back to the sorority and wait in the lounge for one of us. Your time as a pledge will be over, but Charlene is already looking for another room. Aurora Chambers is an option since we recently learned that her roommate dropped out. We’re sorry about the delay, Ms. O’Connor. Thank you for being patient with us.”
Happy to get out of the room and find something to eat, Jennifer grabs her bag and hurries out the door. The lights flicker and start to dim as Coach Warner collects the pictures, the man taking a moment to examine each one. He licks his lips at one that shows the lopsided bed, which the police never took a second look at. Putting the folder in his satchel, he is stricken by a mild pain in his skull that rolls to the base of his spine. It takes several minutes of the sensation running up and down his back before he falls to his knees. Taking in a gasping breath, Coach Warner looks at the window that has been blackened from the outside.
“I was told that we had more time, but you are in charge,” he whispers, blood-tinted drool falling from his mouth. Scratching at his arm, he winces when he almost pulls off one of the tattooed skin patches that have been grafted to his own flesh. “Most of them aren’t ready, but things can be pushed ahead. I agree that patience is not easy to maintain. We will do what we can to increase the speed of our work. Thank you and I look forward to seeing you again. It has been far too long for all of us.”
Coach Warner waits until the aches in his body fade away before he stands, his legs shaking slightly. Keeping his eyes on the window, he backs out of the room and closes the door as softly as possible. The instant the deadbolt clicks, a flock of ebony ravens burst off the side of the building and let the sun shine into the empty lounge.