Friday, June 13, 2008

Karyn--murder on greek row

As I looked around at the boxes filling my new home I could hardly believe that I now lived here. The memories of my former life flooded my brain, and then I quickly remembered why I had chosen to move across the country. Kimber. No last name just Kimber. She hired me as a body guard early in her career when a stalker tried to cut off a lock of her hair for a “keep-sake.” I quit when she went big in Hollywood, preferring not to deal with the paparazzi. A chance meeting ten years later sparked an intense sexual relationship that had been enjoyable, but lacked any real substance in my opinion, she felt differently. After trying to burn all of my possessions, including the clothes I was wearing, in an attempt to teach me a lesson, I decided to move. I caught the first plane to the only other place I knew and paid a friend to fed-ex my belongings.

Shaking off these thoughts I continued unpacking the remainder of my meager belongings into my one bath, one bedroom apartment that was located a mere four blocks from the Louisiana State University football stadium. Life was shaping up for me. The apartment had not been by choice but by proximity. Upon returning to my un-glamorous hometown I called the only person I bothered to keep in touch with, Benny Taylor. Since we graduated from high school he had stayed local, married his high school sweetheart, and became a detective while I had hauled ass away from the south. It was he who also got me the job as a private security guard for the school. I started tomorrow. Even if the initials were the same Louisiana was nothing like Los Angeles, I reminded myself that this was the change I wanted as I went to bed using my sleeping bag for a blanket.

As I pulled up to the address that Benny had given to me I thought that there had been some mistake. The house had three large Greek letters on it reading Delta Pi Alpha. Benny didn’t answer his phone, and looking into my empty wallet convinced me to ring the doorbell. When an elderly woman answered the door of the sorority asking if my name was Cooper Thompson I became more confused but confirmed and was quickly ushered in. I walked inside and saw the double descending staircase and expansive living room with three chandeliers but was taken instead into a small side room labeled guest. She spoke in a whispering tone explaining that she was the house mom, known to the girls as Iris, and was in charge of the girl’s well-being. When I asked why she was whispering she gave me a confused look, lowered her voice another octave and said “because of the murder Mr. Thompson.”

I was taken aback for a moment as my mind wrapped around the idea that I was unaware of something so significant. I timidly told Iris that I was unaware of the current happenings in Baton Rouge as I had just moved here two days ago. I ventured to ask her what had happened but the look on her face halted my sentence. She quickly became professional and instructed me to take a seat on the bed while she sat at the small desk to the right.

“Well, Mr. Thompson, the reason you are here is because due to recent events I have deemed it necessary for extra protection around the house. I didn’t want to make this fact public which is why our mutual friend Benny has set you up here. He says that you have had high profile cases before and your discretion is quite necessary in this situation. I take it from your earlier question Benny didn’t bother to fill you in on what would be required, so I will. You will be in charge of verifying the identity of everyone who comes into this house and monitoring the cameras that are placed around the perimeter. Due to your limited knowledge I will allow you three days to contact me and let me know if you are willing to take the job, now Mr. Thompson if you could leave out the back door I would appreciate it, the girls are already jumpy enough. I’ll show you the way out.”

I had barely even heard what she had said; my imagination had been going wild with the possibilities of who had been killed and in what manner. Was the star quarter back strangled by his angry girlfriend for impregnating another girl? Did a Ted Bundy wanna-be sneak into a sorority house? Was it a fencing fight gone wrong? Obviously the killer hadn’t been caught or there wouldn’t be a need for security. Maybe the straight A sci-fi buff was tired of being turned down by girls. I sped home to install my wireless and find out.

I love reporters, anything to sell newspapers; all the gory details of the death were in the article. A white female named Cassandra Dukes age twenty-one had been found in the Sigma Tau fraternity house, room twelve. The occupant of this room, Tim Crawford, had come back from a weekend at home to find the body in his bed. Believing it to be “some drunk girl trying to sleep it off” he ripped off the blanket to find a naked body and blood on his sheets. He then ran for the bathroom and subsequently called 911. His upchuck reflex had been triggered by the fact that his own hunting knife was lodged between two ribs of a girl he immediately recognized. Tim had been questioned by the police but after confirming with his parents that he had been home in Nashville the whole weekend he was released. Cassandra also happened to be a member of the LSU chapter of Delta Pi Alpha. The picture in the article showed a statuesque blonde deeply tanned from the scorching Louisiana summers. I wondered to my self who could be capable of killing this kind of beauty.

Wanting to know more about who was suspected I called Benny again. This time he answered with a chuckle and a “So did you take the job?”

“I’m considering, first tell me what you have on this case so I know what I’m getting myself into.”

According to friends Cassandra had left the sorority house around ten thirty pm with Debbie Hudspeth on Saturday night. Debbie stated they first went to a party at the Delta Chi house before heading next door to Sigma Tau. They arrived around midnight and that’s where Debbie’s memory of the night ends. She wasn’t concerned when she woke up and Cassandra’s bed was un-slept in. It wasn’t be the first time she shacked it. The coroner determined that the time of death was approximately three am, Sunday morning. Tim had called 911 around noon. CSI had found white powder in lines and two empty syringes, tests were being run to verify the substances. Debbie had also told the police about two girls in an opposing sorority who openly hated Cassandra for hooking up with their boyfriends. Debbie claimed there were a lot of people who disliked Cassandra, “she was beautiful and guys noticed, she tended to steal the spotlight, even from their girlfriends.” However, she couldn’t think of anyone who would kill over this. Cassandra’s room had been searched and her laptop was taken for evidence. Currently an officer was sifting through her emails and documents for any clues. Investigators were interviewing other attendee’s at the party, but the level of intoxication at the party was hindering the process. “Here is what we do know” Benny said. “One male noted that she had been dancing on tables around one am and appeared quite drunk. A few people saw her head upstairs soon after that, stumbling on several steps. Other than that we won’t have too much until the reports on the drugs and computer come in.”

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll take the job, but finding this psycho is your job, not mine. I’m on door duty only.”

“Just because you caught a few stalkers in your prime doesn’t mean I need your help,” Benny responded. “I’ll keep you up to date though,” he said as he abruptly hung up.

My next call was to Iris. She thanked me for my quickness and told me to arrive at the house tomorrow at eight am promptly for a tour of the house and an introduction to the girls. She also informed me that I would be on duty in eight to ten hour shifts, rotating with another guard. I was less than thrilled to work ten hours at a time, but something about this situation intrigued me and I wanted learn more.

After the tour and introductions I was lead to my new post beside the door. I was confidant that sitting in a chair for ten hours straight would do wonders for my now softening physique. While I didn’t grown any new muscles I was amazed at the entertainment I had before me. Not only were there cameras showing the girls tanning on the grass in front of the house, but my location was at some strange vertex of sound. I could hear almost any conversation being had downstairs. I would imagine my job as an episode of True Life: I live in a sorority house anytime I became too bored.

Apparently life was not so great all the time. In the first week in the house I overheard several arguments break out, mostly over petty things like who took who’s favorite dress, but one seemed particularly juicy. “Look this was not my fault, Cassandra was my best friend. Just because you were Suzy High School doesn’t mean that your daughter had to be. She might not have been the pinnacle of perfection but at least she knew how to enjoy life and have fun, something you wouldn’t be able to do even if you pulled that stick out of your ass!”

Holding back my initial urge to laugh I turned my head to see who these harsh remarks had come from. I saw a girl I recognized as Debbie sitting on a nearby couch crying, her hair cascading down to cover most of her now pink flushed face. I decided to follow my urge and asked her if she was okay.

“I will be as soon as that bitch leaves town,” she said. “I mean Cassandra had always told me what a bitch her mom was but I didn’t think she would do this. She called my parents and told them that it was my fault that Cassandra was doing drugs and partying with a different guy every night of the week. She told them that they better send me to rehab before I get what’s coming to me.”

I didn’t know what to say so I stood up and sat next to her on the couch, trying to put a comforting look on my face. Debbie took this as encouragement to continue talking. “Thank god my parents and I are close or she just might have convinced them. Cassandra used to tell me stories about how her mom would put her nose where it didn’t belong just to make sure that the people she didn’t like would always remain below her. She told me that once her mom rigged cheerleading tryouts to prevent the daughter of a rival co-worker from making the team. We would laugh about how crazy it was to do those types of things but it doesn’t seem so funny anymore.” She tilted her head to rest it on my shoulder and said “It’s nice to know I will have some protection from Mrs. Dukes while you’re around.”

When I got home that night I thought about what Debbie had said and reminded myself of what had happened in the past when I became involved with girls in need of protection. As I feel asleep that night I tried to push the smell of Debbie’s hair out of my mind, that lush fresh tropical smell. I dreamed of the beaches in Tahiti that night.

I had the next morning off so I gave Benny a call and we went to Waffle House for breakfast. As we sat down and ordered I remembered how much I used to love simple food like cheese grits. I could definitely learn to live without the L.A. trend food like wheatgrass shots. My thoughts were interrupted by Benny’s voice. “So we got the lab results and toxicology report back early this morning. You won’t believe what they said.”

“I’d rather not play the guessing game Benny, it’s early just tell me.”

“Well, the drugs on the table next to the body, they weren’t drugs. The lines of what looked like coke was baking powder and the syringe had nothing in it, it was brand new. Except here is where it gets real strange though, the toxicology report did detect cocaine and GHB in her system.”

“Wait, if there were real drugs at the party, why would there be fake drugs on the nightstand, and does this mean that the girl was raped, are you looking for male suspects?

“I’m still trying to figure it all out, but there wasn’t any sign of any kind of sexual activity, and the cause of death was the GHB, the victim was allergic. I talked to the lab specialist myself just to make sure I wasn’t reading the damn report wrong.”

“Jesus, then who the hell would stabbed the poor girl?”

“God only knows, but we do have a few leads now. We finished interviewing the students at the party and a few of them remember Cassandra’s roommate holding her up and helping her into a room upstairs. The same roommate who claimed she didn’t remember anything. Also there were some emails between Cassandra and a freshman named Nicole Barrett. It’s probably nothing but Miss. Barrett sent a pretty nasty email claiming that Cassandra told everyone not to let her in during rush and had been urging a face to face meeting, which Cassandra never responded to. Anyways I’ll be interviewing them both today so I’ll be on campus. Give me a call if you take a break from the strenuous job of watching sorority girls.”

It was about three hours into my shift when Benny rang the doorbell. I bypassed the normal ID check and asked him who he wanted to speak to. “I told you this morning Cooper I need to speak to the roommate, Debbie Hudspeth.”

“Wait, Debbie is the roommate? I thought she didn’t remember anything.” I said trying to hide the shock in my voice. I couldn’t believe I didn’t make the connection that Debbie was Cassandra’s roommate. And now Debbie was a suspect. This would happen to me I thought as I walked Benny to Iris’s room. “You already know Iris, just knock she’ll get Debbie for you.”

Back at my station I wondered if Debbie had been putting on an act the whole time, if the blackout was a convenient excuse, if she had been the one to shove the knife in Cassandra, ending her life. When Benny came back out to the foyer I asked him what had happened. Give me a call when you get off work, now is not time. I’m on my way to meet with Nicole Barrett at the coffee hut on campus.

I didn’t see Debbie the rest of my shift. I immediately called Benny when I got off, hoping to hear news that the killer had been caught and Debbie was exonerated. Instead I found out that Debbie had confessed to remembering a little more than she let on. She had told Benny that she had been with Cassandra when she did coke and that later when Cassandra had gotten too drunk she put her to bed in Tim Crawford’s room knowing that he was out of town. She claimed that after putting her in bed, fully clothed, she went back to the party. She also said that there was nothing on the nightstand when she put her to bed. This was around one thirty am. Benny told me that she had been crying trying to explain to him that she wanted to help catch the killer she just didn’t want people to know that Cassandra used cocaine. She was trying to protect her friend’s reputation. While they didn’t have enough to arrest her, Debbie was the main suspect.

“What!” I exclaimed. “What happened to your interview with Nicole Barrett?”

“She said that she and Cassandra had met up about a month ago and Cassandra explained that she had nothing to do with her getting dropped. They had known each other in high school through their parents so Nicole believed her and apologized for the email. There’s nothing there Coop.”

“Maybe you just weren’t asking the right questions, I know Debbie didn’t do this!” I said before I could stop myself, and immediately regretting it.

“Listen I know we’re friends and you’ve had a rough time meeting women since you moved here, but I’m only going to say this once. A twenty-one year old college sorority girl who is the main suspect of a murder is not someone you want to get involved with. And if you for one moment get in the way of my investigation, I will have to arrest you,” he said in a tight voice before slamming down the receiver.

I knew he was right but there was something about Debbie that made me believe she didn’t do it. Something beyond just the way I felt about her. When I arrived at the house the next morning I immediately went and knocked on Debbie’s door, ignoring the no men allowed upstairs rule. When she answered her eyes were red and puffy and showed a mix of shock and relief. She threw herself around me in a hug and started crying. “I didn’t do it I swear, Cassandra was an amazing person,” she whimpered when she calmed down.

“I know I believe you, the thing is the police don’t. I shouldn’t be telling you this but they’re trying to build enough evidence against you for an arrest. You are pretty much their only lead at the moment.”

“What do you mean pretty much? Is there someone else?”

“Just this Nicole Barrett girl who sent an email but she said everything was resolved.”

“Wait, Barrett, is she a freshman?”

“Yea, she accused Cassandra of keeping her from getting in a house during rush. Why?”

“This fall during parent’s weekend I remember Cassandra’s mom getting into an argument at Yamato’s with a woman named Mrs. Barrett, it was brutal. Everyone was watching; Cassandra was so embarrassed. She told me that the Barrett woman was involved in her parents divorce. Hold on I’ll go get our rush binder, if she tried to rush there will be a picture with her application.”

Before I could even comprehend what she had said Debbie was back, with an overstuffed four inch binder. “Here she is,” Debbie exclaimed, ripping the photo from the book. “Go to your station before you get into trouble; I’ll ask the girls if anyone saw her at the party.”

Wondering who was really in charge I went back downstairs and about an hour later Debbie came up to me with a grin on her face. “I was right, both Margaret-Bailey and Katie-Lynne saw this girl following Cassandra around at the party. Grab your coat it’s up to us to find Cassandra’s murderer if the police refuse to.”

I wondered at what point in time it had become ‘us’ and at what point in time this girl was going to get me arrested. “Look Debbie, I believe you, the thing is I can’t just leave here, this is my job.”

“This is my life. I know this girl is hiding something, but I need your help. Please.”

The earnestness in her eyes led my hands to my coat before my mind had time to think. As we drove to campus my mind began to catch up. I was about to storm the freshmen dorms on the hunch of a sorority girl. Christ I hadn’t even fucked her and she already controlled me.

I was relieved to find that Nicole was not home when we got there, I wasn’t ready for an epic battle. As we poked around the room it seemed like the normal room of a freshman girl and I began to question how much I was risking in being here. But then I heard a gasp from behind me, expecting to see an irate Nicole I turned slowly but was instead met with an excited Debbie. “I knew it, she drugged Cassandra, look in her top drawer, there’s a picture of Cassandra in Tim’s bed naked with drugs on the table, but no knife. She was there, she planted the drugs.”

I knew enough about police procedure that none of this could be used in court if the police didn’t use a search warrant. “Listen Debbie we need to go, I’ll tell the police about this stuff, I have a friend on the force. They will catch her I promise.”

Debbie looked worried but agreed and I took her hand leading her away from the desk. I was about to grab the door knob when the whole thing swung inward, almost knocking me out. In front of us stood the life size picture from the rush book and she didn’t look pleased. “Who are you and what the fuck are you doing in my room” Nicole shouted.

Before I had a chance to come up with a lie Debbie was racing at her. In an instant everything was out of hand. Debbie had her hands around Nicole’s neck and was screaming “Why did you kill her! What did she ever do to you?” A few doors in the hall way began to open at the commotion. I heard someone yell “call the police in the distance.” I knew Benny would be pissed. I knew I should be the one to call him but as Nicole’s face began to turn blue I knew I had no time. I pried Debbie off and held her back as Nicole fell to the ground gasping. “It was an accident,” Nicole got out between heaving breaths. “I never wanted to kill her.”

By this point a crowd had gathered to watch the scene. “Tell me, tell me why you did it!” Debbie screamed, frantically scratching to get out of my arms. I heard sirens and thought of Benny. I knew I was fucked but at the moment I was too busy preventing a second murder to think about going to jail. Looking around Nicole noticed that everyone had heard her say it was an accident, it slowly dawned on her that she was caught.

By this time there were police were in the building, but Debbie wasn’t ready to leave it to them. She bit down hard on my arm and I reflexively released her. She ran straight for Nicole, who still lay on the ground. She pinned her to the ground screaming “tell me, tell everyone, why did you kill Cassandra!”

When Nicole hesitated Debbie grabbed for a knife she had in her pocket. God I really do choose the craziest ones I thought as backed away slightly, informing the recently arrived police of what was going on. Upon seeing both the blade in Debbie’s hand and the rage in her eyes, Nicole began to talk.

“Okay, oaky, I’m sorry, it was an accident. This fall when I rushed I was dropped from every house on the first day. I didn’t understand what had happened, so I asked a close friend of mine and she told me that a woman named Dukes had sent bad character references to all of the houses, claiming that I had severe mental issues and had recently been hospitalized. I was shocked at first, but then I became angry. I emailed Cassandra, the only ‘Dukes’ I knew, but she refused to respond, so I made a plan to embarrass her and get even, maybe even get here kicked of out DPA. That night at the party I tried to talk to her to give her a chance to explain, but she kept walking away from me. It made me mad, she wouldn’t even acknowledge what she had done to me, I knew I had to get her back so I slipped a GHB pill into her drink and waited. After I saw you put her to bed that night, I snuck upstairs. I set up what looked like drugs and undressed her in some guy in the frat’s bed. I took a picture, planning to post it on Facebook so that everyone would think that she was a drug whore, but then something went wrong. Cassandra wasn’t breathing anymore, I thought that the alcohol mixed with the GHB must have done something to her and I freaked, I didn’t know what to do. I saw a knife on the dresser and shoved it into her dead body to try to make it look like some serial killer or something, I panicked,” she finished shaking with tears. “I swear, I didn’t want her dead I just wanted her to fell as embarrassed as I was.”

As she finished her sentence Debbie face had turned entirely white in disbelief. One of the officers grabbed the knife from Debbie and both girls were placed in handcuffs, too emotional to even realize they were being arrested. But then, right when Benny walked up, Debbie had a flash of anger, “it wasn’t Cassandra, it was her mom,” Debbie muttered. As they dragged her and Nicole away in different directions she yelled louder, “it was Cassandra’s mom who wrote the letters, it was her fucking bitch of a mom.”

I was overwhelmed with information. I couldn’t believe what had just happened. I couldn’t believe that Debbie had pulled a knife, I couldn’t believe that rush was that important to someone, I couldn’t believe that Baton Rouge was just as crazy and fucked up as Los Angeles.

As the area cleared out and officers got everyone’s statements Benny came up to me and offered me a ride home. “You know,” Benny said as we headed for his car, I really should have you arrested for impeding a police investigation. You’re lucky Nicole confessed or this would have been your ass.” Benny walked ahead, turning around as we reached the car and saying “and you know you might want to find a new job, a new profession for that matter, or else one of these days, one of these crazy bitches you always fall for is send you to the morgue.”

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