Chris Conklin murdered his father.
That simple sentence first appeared on the Facebook page of Washington High School’s senior class. The page’s normal function was to keep Washington High’s seniors updated on all the important news of the school—from the current price for purchasing their cap and gowns to something as simple as whether it was an even- or odd-block day. Needless to say, nothing like this was ever posted on the public page before.
The author of the post was known by the name of Karla. There happened to be quite a few ‘Karlas’ who attended the school, so it was anyone’s guess which one this message belonged to—if Karla was the real name, of course. There was no picture of Karla. Karla’s profile pic was of a manila file folder with red lettering across it. When one clicked on the photo to bring up its larger image, the words ‘Top Secret’ came into focus.
The statement hit the net at 1:28 a.m. on a Wednesday morning. Since far too many of Washington’s student body needed to always be kept abreast of information, the teens immediately woke to their phones’ text alert. Another group of teens still hadn’t gone to bed, so they quickly saw the news as well.
The comments to the post were all over the place. The immediate one simply asked, ‘Who is this?’—As if Karla was going to just answer the question. Another senior replied with a simple ‘WOW’ followed by a bunch of shocked emojis. A few seniors came to Chris’s defense. It is unknown if it was due to genuine support of his character or just to curry Chris’s public favor. When 2:00 a.m. rolled around, the original post had even amassed forty-three likes.
Chris Conklin came to the party at 2:12.
‘Who THE FUCK IS THIS? Your not funny.’
Noman Patel, the current front-runner to be valedictorian, gleefully corrected, ‘You’re.’
Once school started that day, the post had been seen by 312 people officially. Yet, there was no one, not even the outcasts, at Washington High School who had failed to hear of the message. This applied to the students only; however, the teachers were unaware of the scandalous post.
Jessica Horne, the senior class president and moderator of the senior Facebook page, felt it was her duty to report it to Mr. Wells, the senior class sponsor. Mr. Wells decided it was best to simply delete the post and refer the matter to the principal. So, Jessica duly deleted it and tried to go on with her day, but that was impossible.
Chris Conklin went on to be a no-show at school, a fact noticed by everyone.
Exactly twenty-four hours after the original statement, Karla posted again:
‘The murder weapon is buried under the large oak tree at the edge of Washington Elementary’s playground. Chris missed something, as all criminals do. While he got rid of the fingerprints from the gun, he neglected to wear gloves when he had loaded it. Check the bullets.’
Karla, whoever she was, could not be ignored this time. Mr. Wells, who had made himself part of the senior page immediately after Jessica had come to him, saw the message and informed the police. The cops showed up to check out the tip and just happened to find Chris Conklin there.
With a shovel.
Chris confessed to the murder of Ben Conklin before he had even wiped the dirt off his jeans. The police department put on a nonchalant front, as if this type of thing was routine. Secretly they were relieved; it was frankly a miracle Conklin got caught. The detectives were beyond baffled. In fact, they hadn’t even considered Conklin a suspect. They were too busy thinking of ways Ben’s wife, Chris’s second step-mother, could have pulled it off.
It had been a year since the murder. Chris had assumed he had gotten away with it.
Little did he know, someone had stolen his secret.
The cameras and the reporters may have left, but the questions still echoed through the halls of Washington High; Who is Karla? Will more secrets get exposed? What will these secrets be?
Mallory Ann stopped typing and took a sip of her iced caramel Macchiato while looking at the old-fashioned digital clock on her nightstand. 12:27. Mallory grimaced at what it read. She may have been nearly finished with her front-page story for The Washington Post, the aptly named student newspaper for Washington High, just in time for tomorrow’s—today’s actually—deadline, but that didn’t mean her work was done. She still had a Chaucer test to study on her docket. For full disclosure, she also hadn’t finished her econ homework, but since her current grade stood at a 99.3%, she didn’t plan on getting it done anyway.
Thank God for coffee, she told herself.
Her laptop was getting hot, so she put one of her pillows under it before continuing to use it. She clicked save on her story—she always waited a few hours before editing any of her writing—then brought up her Canterbury Tales notes. She hadn’t gotten very far when her phone rang. She checked the caller ID and upon seeing who it was, promptly hit reject. She loved her friend. However, she had to get this stuff done.
She continued reading up on her notes, which she had copied down in class before scanning them onto her computer. She was interrupted once again by her phone. This time a text was to blame.
‘I know you are still up. Macchiato???’
Mallory couldn’t hide a smile. She sighed and picked up her phone.
‘I’m busy, Macy.’ She typed back.
‘I’m more fun than Chaucer. Or is it your story?’
‘Fine. Talk tomorrow then.’
Mallory’s brow creased. Macy didn’t usually give up so easily. ‘Deal.’
She got back to her studying. Yet, now that her concentration had been broken, she found it too difficult to bring it back on task. After a few unsuccessful minutes, she closed her laptop and got out of bed. Everything would have to wait until the morning. She stretched as she went to put her computer on her desk.
Her gaze fell on a framed four by six photo, the only one on her desk. She picked it up. It was taken six years ago, when she was twelve and going through a painfully awkward phase. That didn’t matter to her though, because her father stood next to her in the photo. Robert Ann was a highly accomplished lawyer, a terrific husband, and the best father Mallory could hope to have.
Robert Ann was murdered three days after the photo was taken.
Mallory put the photo down before allowing her sorrow to overcome her again. Not tonight. She pulled the sheets back and got under them. She wasn’t tired, thanks to the Macchiato, so she grabbed her phone. She considered texting Macy back to let her know she was free, before deciding against it. She wasn’t in the mood to talk. She put it back on the nightstand. She turned the light off then stared at the ceiling. It was going to be another night of her mind racing and swirling with thoughts, refusing to give in and relax.
At least she was used to it.
“Okay everyone; it is time to take the final vote on the theme for the yearbook,” Ms. Johnson said. The teacher hit a few keys and brought up a PowerPoint with the three top options. “First one is the ‘Hollywood Premier’ theme. The second is the ‘Around the World’ theme. And last, by not least, is the ‘Diamond Anniversary’ theme for Washington High’s sixtieth anniversary.”
“They should have done a Karla theme,” Jack Pearson whispered from the desk to Mallory’s right.
“That’s not funny,” Mallory said. He was someone Mallory didn’t really pay much attention to. He was too immature, and not in a goofy, sorta charming way either. She was also annoyed her friend Macy had a crush on him.
“How’s your story on her going?”
“I finished it this morning.”
“Who do you think it is?”
“I have no clue, Jack. What about you, since you asked?”
Mallory rolled her eyes. “You can’t be serious.”
“Her first name is Karla.”
“It’s Christy, Jack.”
“Don’t matter. She seems like the type.”
“What does that mean?”
“You know, kinda bitchy and all.”
“Are you two paying attention?” Ms. Johnson said, interrupting them.
“Yes, Ms. J,” Jack said for them both.
“Good. It’s time to vote. Raise your hands for the ‘Hollywood.’”
Mallory kept hers down. She studied Ms. Johnson, looking for reasons why Jack had suggested her to be the mysterious Karla. She was pretty, but very stern for a younger teacher. She didn’t go easy on her students to try to get them on her good side. Mallory could see why some of her immature peers, like Jack, would mistake that for being a bitch. To them, any strong female character was one.
After the meeting was over and everyone else had left, she approached the teacher.
“Sorry about earlier,” Mallory said.
Ms. Johnson smiled. “I usually don’t have students apologize for something so trivial, Mallory.”
Mallory shrugged. “My father taught me to have manners, I guess.”
Many locals, and Ms. Johnson was one of them, knew the story behind Robert Ann’s unsolved murder. Mallory saw her teacher’s face change, so she turned away, not wanting any pity right now.
Ms. Johnson coughed. “So, Mallory, you must be happy ‘Diamond Anniversary’ won the voting. It was your idea.”
Mallory nodded. “I wanted to ask, though, if you read my story yet.”
“I did. I just finished making a few quick grammatical edits, nothing major …”
“I had errors?” Mallory asked, aghast. The student editor in chief should not be so careless, she thought.
“It’s no big deal, Mallory. The story was great.”
“You are very hard on yourself, aren’t you?”
Mallory ignored the question.
“Everything is ready to go. You already checked on our other writers, I assume?”
“Yes,” Mallory said. “All their stories are completed and edited.”
“You are doing a fine job of getting this paper off the ground this year, you know. As I understand it, last year only two issues got published. This year we have put one out every single month.”
Mallory had a few choice words to say about last year’s newspaper sponsor, but she kept them to herself.
“Speaking of your story,” Ms. Johnson said. “You think we will hear from Karla again?”
Mallory nodded. “Yes. Call it a hunch.”
Mallory put her key into her front door lock and entered an empty house. What else was new? Ever since her father died, her mother, Melanie, had been working fifty-hour weeks. This wasn’t due to needing the money her husband could no longer provide. Robert Ann had been very judicious in his spending while he was alive and he had a very hefty life insurance policy at the time of his death. Melanie Ann and her daughter had plenty of money. She worked at her school district job to keep herself busy, and the busier she kept herself, the less lonely she would feel.
Mallory knew it didn’t work at all. All her mother’s long work schedule did was create two lonely people in the house.
Mallory put her backpack onto the kitchen counter before plopping onto her couch. She had stayed up for too long the previous night to stay awake any longer. Within minutes, she was asleep. When she woke, she was still alone. A quick check of her watch showed the time to be 8:32. She guessed she had really needed the sleep. She looked around and quickly concluded her mother still wasn’t home from work, which was odd given the time of night.
She sent a quick text to her mom: ‘Where are you?’
She watched the three dots appear on her phone. Mallory went over to the kitchen table with her calculus text and notebook while she waited for the response. She was very hungry suddenly.
‘Just leaving work now.’ Came her mother’s reply.
‘Can you bring home something? I never got around to eating tonight.’
‘Pizza from Don Vito’s?’
Urgh. All that cheese this late at night? ‘House salad instead?’
Mallory opened her calculus book. She had all the odd questions to do for her current section, and it was only the even questions that had answers in the back of the book. Calculus was easy for her anyway, though. The homework’s purpose was more to keep her busy than to learn anything from it.
She decided to check Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat before starting. After all, she had missed about four hours of life during her nap. Who knows what could have happened in the world? When she checked the Washington High senior page again, there just happened to be a new post from three minutes ago.
‘Three seniors on the Washington High football team will soon be suspended for using performance enhancing drugs.’
Karla had struck again.
Mallory grinned. The fallout from this was sure to be interesting. Football season was here and Washington was due to make the playoffs. She called the one person who might know more about this …
Rickey Nicols raised an eyebrow upon looking at his caller ID. What could she want?
“Mallory Ann,” Rickey said. “Please tell me you are calling because you are lonely on this fine night and want some hot phone sex from me.”
Rickey could easily picture her rolling her eyes, he had seen her do it to him often. He knew he was laying it on too thick anyway.
“Maybe next time, then. So, what’s up?”
“Have you checked the senior Facebook page recently?” Mallory asked.
“No, why?” Rickey replied. “Should I?”
Rickey put her on speaker so he could check it on his phone. “I’m checking it now.” He brought up the page and read the newest post. “What the fuckedy fuck!?”
“Can I quote you on that?”
Rickey read the post again. “Damn, Mallory. Why did you have to go ruining my night?”
“You might want to blame Karla for that.”
“Fuck. How do we even know it is true?”
“Karla was right about Chris Conklin.”
“Well, I’m not one of them, Mallory.”
“I didn’t think so. That’s why I called you. You are the quarterback and the leader of the team. I would imagine you are the one person who has his pulse on the team.”
“I’m the star quarterback, you mean,” Rickey had to clarify.
“Of course you are. That’s why I want you to officially comment on behalf of your teammates.”
“Is this for that internet blog?” The newspaper club had a breaking news blog for items which needed to be distributed right away.
Rickey took a deep breath. “I want to be able to deny it, but it could be true, Mallory.”
He felt his phone vibrate a couple of times. Probably his teammates had seen the post by now and were contacting him. “Okay, look, I’m going to go. Put me down officially for a ‘no comment,’ I guess.”
“All right, Rickey. We will be in touch soon.”
“Bye, Mallory. Next time I want that phone sex, though.”
“You would have to give me more than a ‘no comment,’ Rickey.”
“You really should flirt more often, Mallory.”
Rickey checked his messages. He had been right about their content. He answered a few of them before the deluge of texts caused him to ignore the rest. In fact, he had gotten so many alerts on his phone, he did the unthinkable; he turned it off completely.
Rickey walked into ‘specialized team sports IV.’ The fancy title masked the fact it was basically a football class. This was one of the advantages of having a principal who loved sports, especially football, more than anything. Not only was this class an easy ‘A,’ but it allowed the players to get caught up on work from other classes. The last thing this team needed was players who became academically ineligible. There were also the occasional film studies, too, which allowed them to spend more time after school with physical tasks.
When the bell rang to signal the start of first hour, Coach Williams was still not in class. Rickey knew it had to be related to Karla’s post. Or maybe the line at Dunkin Donuts was long this morning. There wasn’t a day yet where Coach Williams didn’t have a coffee in his hand at the start of class.
When he finally walked in, he was ten minutes late. Of course, if any of his players had been ten minutes late, Coach would have chewed their ass out in front of everybody. Maybe not me, due to my status as team captain, Rickey thought, but definitely everyone else.
“Let’s get right down to the elephant in the room,” Coach Williams said.
“You mean Tony?” one of the players said from the back of the class, triggering a round of laughter. He referred to Tony Sorrento, the team’s nose tackle, who weighed in at about three hundred pounds.
“That’s not funny, dickhead.” Yes, Coach was allowed to say such things to his players. “You all know perfectly well what I am talking about, so all of you, shut up!”
“Ten members of the team were subjected to random drug testing by the school district last week. We have not heard back from them yet, so I don’t know where this Karla girl is getting her information. Obviously, if some of the tests do come back positive, we will deal with the players, and consequences, then.”
“Which players were tested?” someone asked.
Coach Williams shook his head. “Absolutely not.” There was a disappointed murmur throughout the classroom. “Now, can we focus on more important things, like last week’s atrocious run defense against Park Central?”
Rickey tuned him out. After all, he was the star quarterback. He didn’t have to pay attention to what the defense was doing. Besides, if it meant having to put up more points to compensate, then it wasn’t exactly the end of the world. Rickey looked at his other teammates and thought about which ones might possibly be guilty. It didn’t take long to grasp the reality here. He knew that everyone; from his trusty center, to speedy McDaniels, to even the kicker, was a suspect. Okay, maybe not the kicker, he thought. The kicker was a skinny twig of a guy who missed an easy chip shot last week. If it was him, then Washington High really wasted a cheater.
After the period ended, he headed to US government. As he sat at the last desk in the middle row of the class, he couldn’t help but notice Mallory Ann as she walked in. She was wearing super-tight jeans with a black T-shirt that had ‘But Nonetheless, She Persisted’ written in white across it.
Rickey smiled to himself. There was something about Mallory he just found compelling. Her pale skin and light auburn hair didn’t exactly qualify her as ‘blazing hot’ as Tony Sorrento would say, but he found her undeniably attractive anyway. She might not have been the girl you turn your head and stare at as she walked by you, but the more time you were around her, the more you needed her to be around you. Mallory sat right in front of Rickey in this class, which was probably the reason he really started to notice her.
She put her books down on the desk and placed her purse on the floor. Rickey admired the grace in which she did these things; leading him to shake his head and realize how much he had it bad for her. He knew he had to either do something about this soon, or just go out with a random cheerleader to get the taste out of his mouth. It’s not like he couldn’t take out any cheerleader of his choosing, even the ones in ‘committed’ relationships.
“Hey, Mallory,” Rickey said to her as soon as she sat.
Mallory turned around to face him. Rickey wondered if her milky white skin was that smooth or if there was some sort of cosmetic involved. He reckoned he had stared at her a beat too long, because Mallory’s brow furrowed.
“Um, about last night,” Rickey said. “I had my class this morning.”
Mallory’s face relaxed and she nodded. “That special football class, right?”
“It really is ridiculous that they allowed that to get on the schedule, you know.”
Rickey brushed it off. “Anyway, Coach said ten of our players were randomly drug tested. He wouldn’t say which ten, though.”
Mallory quickly grabbed her notebook and pen. She jotted something down. “And none of those ten were you?”
Rickey felt bold. “If you want more information, maybe we could work something out.”
Mallory’s scribbling stopped. “Like what?”
“Come over the house after school.”
“Obviously. We could use the pool. I’d bet Miss Mallory Ann would look amazing in a bikini.”
Mallory tisked and spun back around. Rickey opened his mouth to say something before getting interrupted by the tardy bell. He sighed and sat back in his seat. Mr. Sidway held court as soon as the bell rang each day, so whatever Rickey wanted to say had to wait until class was over.
Sidway’s eyes searched each row, taking attendance as everyone waited quietly. Few teachers could pull that off, but Sidway did. Sidway made a quick note in his gradebook then smoothed his red tie.
“Last night’s assigned chapter was twelve. Please take out the answers for the questions on page one hundred seven.”
The vast majority of the class did just that. Not Rickey.
“Go ahead and pass them up.”
Mallory turned around to grab Rickey’s paper. Rickey just shrugged at her instead.
“Really?” she whispered to him.
Rickey considered it a good sign she cared.
“No homework, Mr. Nicols?” Sidway said. He was also the only teacher Rickey ever had who addressed all his students by their last names.
“No, sir.” It took all his willpower not to respond with some sort of wisecrack. He would have done it with any of his other teachers.
Mallory, by now, had turned around and went to hand her completed assignment to the student in front of her. There was an empty desk in between her and the next student, so she had to bend and stretch to reach. Rickey’s eyes traveled downward, where he caught a glimpse of Mallory’s underwear peeking above the waistline of her pants.
Hmm … lime green. Interesting.
Rickey felt his phone vibrate. He spied on Mr. Sidway and saw he was far enough away to risk it.
‘Such a perv.’ The text read.
He turned to his left, where his best friend Johnny Smith sat and watched him …
Johnny Smith watched Rickey mouth to him, “So what?”
How Johnny ever became best friends with someone who hopelessly fit every negative stereotype of a teenage man, he would never know. Rickey, the poor fool, thought he actually had a chance to get with someone as sophisticated and mature as Mallory. Johnny thought he probably had a better chance to get into Mallory’s pants, and he loved the irony of that thought.
After class ended, they walked out together. “You have no shot with Mallory,” he said to his friend.
Rickey dismissed it with a wave of his hand. “Like you would know.”
“Since when have you been interested?” Johnny was surprised Rickey hadn’t mentioned her before. It’s not like Rickey was shy about the subject. Sure, most of it was just talk, but he did his fair share of backing it up.
Rickey ran his hand through his sandy blonde hair. “I don’t know man; it just hit me one day.”
“Yeah. Why are you so certain, by the way?”
“If I can throw four touchdowns against the Generals on a bad ankle, I can get with Mallory.”
“It was two, Rickey.”
“Not my fault the other two were called back.”
Johnny chuckled. Vintage Rickey. “I’m sorry for teasing, man.”
Rickey’s face lit up. “You could put in a good word for me, you know. You are one of her little minions at The Washington Post.”
“You mean, ‘writers,’ Rickey?”
“She’s the editor, right? Your boss? Same thing.”
“I’d be willing to do so if I thought you actually wanted to get to know her as a, you know, human being.”
“Who says I don’t?”
Johnny stopped and looked at him. Really looked at him. “Shit, you might be serious.”
“Surprised, boy?” Rickey exaggerated the last word, adopting a limited Southern accent.
“If you said that to my uncle Thaddeus, he’d knock you into next week.”
“I love your uncle Thaddeus.”
“He loves you, too,” Johnny said with a grin. “For a cracker and all.”
“You got a newspaper meeting after school, today, don’t you?”
“Fine, Rickey, I’ll try to put in a good word for you.”
“Love you, man.”
The rest of the school day passed without anything noteworthy. Whenever he got bored in class, he thought of the audacity of his friend. He supposed one could call Rickey many things, but cautious certainly wasn’t one of them. Johnny really looked forward to Newspaper club today.
The club turned out to be rather low-key. All the stories were finished and edited, so there really wasn’t much to do. Half of the members hadn’t even bothered to show up because of this, making today perfect for Johnny’s purposes anyway. He knew he would get the opportunity to talk to Mallory.
There were only five people in the room. Ms. Johnson was busy at her computer, catching up on her emails from the day. Two other girls were busy chatting with each other and playing with their phones, most likely just killing time until their rides got there at five. Mallory was writing in her notebook, alone at the center of the room. Johnny took the desk next to her and scooted it over so it bordered hers.
The movement drew a quizzical glance from Mallory.
“Hi, Johnny.” She put her pen down and gave him her full attention. “What’s up?”
“Rickey really likes you, you know.” Johnny liked getting to the point.
“So I’ve gathered. Rickey Nicols likes every single girl here at Washington High for some reason or another. The bigger the bra size, the more he likes them.”
Johnny noticed, in a purely clinical fashion, Mallory didn’t exactly fit the big breasts description. He wondered how he could use that to point out how much Rickey really liked her before figuring it was best to leave that particular fact unsaid. “You are right, Mallory, about him. I think, though, he thinks of you differently.”
Johnny smiled and shrugged. “I don’t know. I just told my friend I’d put in a good word.”
“I appreciate you trying to help him out, but I’m really not interested in him.”
“You know, you two couldn’t be any more different as people.”
“Personality wise, we are the odd couple. Look, I am aware of Rickey and all his faults; but I speak the God’s honest truth when I say he has the biggest heart of anyone I know.”
Mallory smiled. Johnny had to admit it was a very pretty one. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
Ms. Johnson approached them. “Hey, Mallory.”
“Yes, Ms. J?” She liked having her students call her Ms. J, even though Johnson wasn’t exactly a hard name to pronounce.
“I approved your story about the end of capital punishment in our state.”
“That’s great,” Mallory said. Johnny knew she had been really pushing for it to be featured in the next issue.
“You said you knew someone who could be interviewed?” their teacher said.
“Timothy Davis,” Mallory said. She figured it was only polite to bring Johnny up to speed. “He is the nephew of Russell Davis, one of the last people still languishing on death row. As luck would have it, he’s a freshman here.”
“Wait, how can he be on death row if there is no more capital punishment in our state?” Johnny asked.
“It wasn’t retroactive,” Mallory said. “So, Mr. Davis and one other person are still scheduled to be executed.”
“Well, that’s terrible timing.”
Ms. Johnson frowned at Johnny. “That’s a rather dismissive statement, don’t you think?”
“Sorry, Ms. J. I guess you aren’t a fan of putting people to death?”
“Not at all.”
Johnny wasn’t so certain. Sure, he understood people do get accused and convicted wrongfully, but if someone killed his uncle he would want the murderer to fry. Extra crispy, too.
“Anyways, I wanted to let you know. I’m sure it will make for a great issue,” Ms. Johnson said. “Johnny, what do you got cooking for your Sports Corner?”
“Keep me posted,” she said as she walked back to her desk.
“So, you were telling me about how much Rickey wants me,” Mallory said.
“Sounds like you don’t mind the attention after all?”
“I wish it was from someone else.”
“He has some work to do, doesn’t he?”
They were quiet for a while, before Mallory spoke again. “Let me ask you something; did Rickey mention anything about the drug tests to you today?”
“You mean this thing with Karla?”
“Jealous she’s the one breaking all this news and not you?”
“Rickey didn’t say anything to me today about it. For him, that means he is worried.”
“He thinks it is true,” Mallory said.
“Probably. If so, then Karla would be two of two on these rumors. What’s behind this?”
Mallory took out her phone. “I noticed this today when I clicked on her profile.” She put the phone in front of Johnny and pointed. “Before, her page was completely blank apart from the profile pic of the file folder. Now, though, Karla’s page has a brief, one sentence bio.”
Johnny read it aloud. “I Steal Secrets.”
After the meeting ended, Johnny headed to the student parking lot where his ride was waiting for him. His friend Macy had drama club on the same day, so she agreed to always take him home. Due to his uncle’s work schedule, Johnny would have needed to take the public bus if it wasn’t for her.
She beeped the horn, which drew out a smile from him. She did the same every week. To an onlooker, it appeared as if she was annoyed at having to wait for him. That wasn’t the case. For a reason Johnny no longer remembered, the honk had become part of their little tradition.
Johnny opened the passenger door and got inside …