Synopsis: Jules is called to investigate what appears to be a grisly homicide on a college campus. However, as details emerge, it becomes obvious that things aren’t always what they seem.
The air in Johnson Hall hung thick and heavy. A body had been found on campus, so I’d been called in to investigate.
My head pounded as I walked toward room 207; maybe I was getting too old for the kind of night I’d just had.
I was happy to see a cop I knew in the room itself. I was still bristling at having to show my badge to the uniforms downstairs who’d thought I was just another co-ed. Sometimes, being a young, female detective was more challenging than others.
I’d worked cases with Gomez before and knew how he operated. He looked up as I walked in.
“Hey, Jules! Good to see you. This one’s ugly. Ready for the lowdown?” Without waiting for my response, he continued. “Victim is 20-year old Andrew Mueller. Roommate spent the night off-campus. He got back at 11:20 AM and found Mueller like this. Claims Mueller told him he had a date last night with some woman, but nobody seems to have gotten a good look at her or knows anything about her.”
I moved in for a closer look. Mueller lay prone on the floor halfway underneath a lofted bed. Cause of death seemed obvious enough: something protruded from his forehead. I could see wood with what looked like an inscribed gold plate.
“It’s a trophy. Big one,” Gomez said. He gestured to the shelf above Mueller’s body. “Kid was apparently a star athlete.”
At least a dozen trophies stood on the shelf, on the desk below it, and scattered on the floor. The sheets and blankets on Mueller’s lofted bed hung off its side. Scattered beer cans and bottles contributed to a general look of disarray.
“Thanks for the overview. Where’s the roommate now?”
“Down the hall in the lounge, him and the victim’s ex-girlfriend.”
I suppressed a shiver as I took a last look around the room. Hell of a way to die. I hoped I could get some coffee in the lounge; my headache was getting worse.
Four hours later, I was exhausted. Thanks to the magic of coffee, the pain in my head had lessened to a dull throb.
I’d met individually with several people, but couldn’t pin the murder on any of them.
There was Mueller’s roommate, a scrawny kid who, at 5’5” would have been dwarfed by Mueller’s 6’3” frame. I just couldn’t picture a scenario where he could have reached Mueller’s head to stab him with the trophy, even if he’d had the strength to do so.
Then there was the ex-girlfriend. I liked her, but maybe that’s because looking at her was like looking in a mirror. Turns out she hadn’t even been on campus until learning of Mueller’s death. Assuming her story checked out, I could cross her off my list.
I’d suspected as much, but my investigation confirmed that campus security was a joke. There were no cameras and the overnight desk attendant admitted he’d fallen asleep. Nobody remembered seeing Mueller come back from his date with the mystery woman.
I talked to kids in neighboring dorm rooms. The guys in 208 said they’d heard a loud noise sometime in the night. Neither thought anything of it though, as Mueller wasn’t the quietest neighbor. He had a reputation as a mean drunk and a ladies’ man, something the ex-girlfriend confirmed.
I reviewed the scene in my mind’s eye: Mueller’s body, the trophies, the shelving, the loft bed. I pictured the moment Mueller’s forehead made contact with the trophy, draining the life from his body.
Different scenarios had been passing through my mind at lightning speed all day. Then, I had it. It was possible, but was it plausible? Time to find out.
I ducked under yellow crime scene tape. Inside room 207, the crime scene technician and Gomez were packing up.
“It’s not a homicide,” I blurted out. “It’s not a crime scene at all.”
Gomez and the tech looked at me like I was wearing a tinfoil hat.
“I think you’re going soft, Jules. We’ve got a body, and a murder weapon inside said body,” Gomez retorted.
“Look again,” I gestured toward the bed. “What do you see? What don’t you see?”
“Why don’t you enlighten us? I can tell you’re on to something.” I had Gomez’ full attention now.
“It wasn’t murder. It was an accident. The reconstruction and toxicology techs can confirm this, but here’s what I think happened: Mueller was drunk, sleeping one off. He fell out of his loft bed, which doesn’t have rails,” I pointed at the bed, “impaling his own forehead on his own trophy,” I gestured to the shelf which extended just far enough for this to be possible, “on his way down to the floor.”
I watched as they looked from the bed to the shelf, and to the floor. I saw the moment Gomez accepted the explanation. Like I said, I knew how he operated and that he’d like nothing more than to close this case quickly.
“We’ll work that angle. I have a hunch you’re right.” Gomez said, a grudging admiration in his voice.
I took a deep breath as I exited the building. My hands were shaking inside my pockets as I thought back to the night before. I’d been careful and was sure I hadn’t left anything for the crime scene technicians to find. Being a detective gave me a professional edge of sorts when it came to this type of thing.
Mueller had been a big guy, but the booze had made him unsteady. When he’d started to get rough, I’d pushed him. It wasn’t what I intended; he ended up making it all too easy on me. He’d fallen, impaling himself on his trophy in the process. That part, at least, had been true.
I’d wait a few days before finding my next target, some womanizing creep from out of town this time, just to be safe.
Author’s note: I entered the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge and had 48 hours to write a mystery story using no more than 1,000 words. At least one scene in my story had to take place at a University dormitory, and I had to include a trophy somehow.
This was my first time trying my hand at mystery; the jury is still out on whether I enjoyed it or not. I had some fabulous “beta readers” who helped me shape this into what you see here.
I will find out in November how this sits with the judges. In the meantime though, I’m happy to have another story under my cap. – Cindy