One IT HAPPENED ON A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT.
I’m a sucker for stories starting like that. I like it even better when it’s true. I said as much to my girlfriend, RayAnn, as she cut the engine, and we were left with the sounds of drumming raindrops on the roof and a surge of wind through the forest. Finally she leaned over me and opened the passenger door of our borrowed car.
"I’ll stay here," she said.
I heaved my backpack over one shoulder, trying to size up the distance between us and a couple of flashlights bobbing in what appeared to be a crowd.
"Thought you wanted to be an investigative
journalist," I lectured.
"Can I write about a bank robbery before I do a dead body?"
I got out, saying, "You can do anything you want. God bless America . . . land that I
Lanz, from the back seat, started panting and whining. I patted his head.
"Stay," I told him as I stepped into the rain and slammed the car door.
The forest trail was wide up to the crime scene tape holding back a group of people with flashlights. I stooped under the tape and kept going. The last ten yards were treacherous—uphill and full of bramble, which, fortunately, kept me from skimming backwards. I crept up to a second crime scene tape surrounding a gaggle of orange ponchos where portable floodlights beamed onto the ground. We were maybe a quarter mile behind Torey Adams’s house, I knew, from the map on his website.
Adams launched ChristopherCreed.com four years ago, about a year after Chris disappeared during their junior year at Steepleton High School. They hadn’t been friends, but Adams needed to make sense out of Chris’s disappearance. Creed hadn’t had any friends. Since its launch, lots of visitors have become site fans, including me and RayAnn. Adams is a budding musician in L.A. now who doesn’t post much anymore and doesn’t respond to interview requests.
I haven’t been a reporter for long. In fact, some would say that because I write for a college newspaper and I’m only a junior, I’m not actually a reporter. I’m a pretend reporter
, that’s what they would say. Whatever.
I know a good potential story when I hear it. I’ve been following this one for four years. I know when it’s finally time to sell my laptop to buy a plane ticket.
I had already won my blowout with Claudia Winston, our editor in chief, a first-year grad student and equal parts bluster and brains. This morning she tore around the office demanding to know why I was stupid enough to bail on covering the Spring Formal, which would force her into it because all the other reporters were going, and I know she hates dances. She reminded me loudly that the newspaper has no budget for replacing laptops of imbeciles who sold them to report on crimes that have nothing to do with Randolph University or our newspaper, the Exponent.
I told her that if she prints this holy mess, Associated Press will buy it, no question. My name and "of the Randolph Exponent
" will be in every paper across the country, and she’ll be famous as my editor. Like I said, I know what I’m doing.
It took the cops a couple minutes to realize that I was not one of them, because I also was wearing an orange police poncho, which an Indiana state trooper gave me last fall when I was covering a car accident in a blinding rain storm. It explains why nobody stopped me, nobody bothered me. Finally an officer noticed my backpack. It says RANDOLPH on it in bright yellow letters.
"No one past the crime scene tape but FBI and Steepleton law enforcement," he snapped, and I tried to pull my eyes from the neon skeleton to look at him. A spotlight shone on it. The skull was less than half uncovered, the angle telling me the head had been turned to the side when the dirt was thrown on top. One eye socket gazed nowhere and everywhere, and muddy teeth were bared in a forever-silent scream. No raindrops were hitting it, and I realized that we were under a tarp. The skeleton was still buried from the waist down, with one visible arm extended out to the side slightly. An officer was digging carefully—sweeping, in fact, making short, patient swipes. The arm bone appeared to be wrapped in muddy, leafy, woodsy remains of some sort of fabric. The officer was nowhere near the feet yet. Torey Adams said in four different places on his website that Christopher Creed had always worn Keds. I looked down where the feet might be, and, seeing only the mud of a homemade grave, laughed at my uneasiness.
I took off my glasses, reached under my poncho, and rubbed the raindrops off them with my T-shirt, biding for time. I put them back on my face and took one last glance at the corpse, even as I turned my polite grin to the officer, because my dark glasses allow me to do stuff like that. My eyes can pick up a lot when bright light is shed on something in the dark.
"I’m Mike Mavic. Reporter. I called this morning." I stuck out my hand for the officer to shake, but he only glared into my dark glasses. I was used to stares and let my polite grin remain. "I called and talked to, um . . ." I reached nervously into my pocket, pulled out a piece of paper where I’d written down the name, and held it out.
He snatched it up and held a flashlight deep under the tarp so rain wouldn’t devour the ink. "You talked to Chief Rye?"
"That’s right. This morning. I’ve interviewed different police officers over the past six months. Rye said I could come."
The officer moved away toward a hulking poncho holding an upside-down shovel that looked to me like the staff of Moses. The figure was on the other side of the corpse. I kept my head high but my eyes lowered. I could see a lot in this light. I saw the chest coming clean—four rib bones, and I heard curses as little pieces of fabric kept getting stuck in the broom utensil.
Chief of Police Doug Rye had a booming voice, despite his whispering.
"Some legally blind guy . . . college paper somewhere near Chicago . . . just some friendly geek . . . stay, so long as he doesn’t . . ."
The officer eventually walked back around the body and spoke close to my ear. "He can’t talk to you right now. He wants you to stand where you are. Don’t move, don’t come any closer to the remains."
I waited patiently as the broom picked up mud but managed to leave a mangle of that fabric on the bottom rib.
I’ll tell a truth here that could get me in trouble if people knew, because not even my boss Claudia realizes this: Legally blind
is a huge term, and it basically means I don’t see well enough to drive and I can get scholarships for blind people. I’m not as blind as I make myself out to be.
I lost most of my vision when I got cracked in the head with a baseball my first week at college, playing in a dorm scrimmage. Most people’s vision, including frontal and peripheral span, runs about twenty-five feet, side to side. After two failed corrective surgeries, my entire vision screen is seven inches wide. About four inches of that is in black and white, and I lose everything for two to three seconds if I turn my head too fast. If I don’t wear shades, I see "twinkles" outlining things, so I wear them almost always. Funsville. But I make sure to count my blessings every day, because I could be taking meals through a tube while examining the back of my hand all day and finding that amusing. Life is excellent or life blows, depending on how you look at it.
I can actually see well enoug...