The last bus left and Detective Charlene Pepper turned back to the classroom, where Marguerite Lancer had solved her last quadratic equation. Phil Gregg, Charlene’s partner, squatted beside the body. The apparent weapon, a large piece of quartz, lay near the teacher’s head, bloodied along one jagged edge.
“You ask me, we just let the killer ride away on a big yellow bus,” Detective Gregg said, rising. “She takes his cell-phone, or he don’t like his last test grade, he blows up, grabs the rock off the desk, and smashes her head. Kids these days are crazy.”
“Maybe,” Charlene said. “You gonna give the girls a pass, Phil? It’s got to be a guy?”
The sour expression Gregg made was just the look Charlene intended. Phil was a smart detective, but his address was somewhere in the nineteen-fifties. No prosecutor would ever convict him of political correctness.
“Anyway,” Charlene continued, “I’m gonna talk to the principal again.”
Charlene took a seat before Principal Danvers’s spacious desk.
“Mr. Danvers, take me through it again.”
“The students were in the gym for a pep rally during the last period of the day. Tonight’s game is our big rivalry, Riverside High. I spoke to Mrs. Lancer in the hallway before the last regular class. That bell rang, I made my rounds, and returned to the office. When the bell rang for the pep rally, I observed the students going to the gym, then went inside after it started. Mrs. Lancer was not in her usual place. I asked Ms. White, my assistant, to check on her. She found Marguerite in her room . . . and, well, we called you people.”
“You usually send after teachers who aren’t present?”
“Teachers are expected to be with the students. Besides, Marguerite loved the kids. She never missed.”
“Who’d want to hurt her? Did she have any trouble with anyone? A student or another teacher?”
“The students love her. Sometimes minor disputes crop up amongst teachers, but nothing this serious. Marguerite did seem preoccupied sometimes. She may have had something personal happening. I think her husband was here, earlier.”
Leaving the principal’s office, Charlene found Ms. Erin White, the assistant principal.
“I’ll never forget Marguerite lying on that floor. Why, I had just talked to her about an hour before, during her planning period.”
“Mr. Danvers sent you to find Mrs. Lancer?”
“Yes, about ten minutes after the bell for the pep rally. The cheerleaders were starting their second dance routine when he came in. I was a little surprised, as he’s not ordinarily that late.”
“Do you know if Mrs. Lancer was having trouble with anyone?”
“No. We weren’t close.”
“Was Mr. Lancer here today?”
“Not to my knowledge.”
Charlene next went to the school secretary, Janice Mills.
“Yes, Mr. Lancer was here,” Janice said. “He came in about fifteen minutes after the beginning of her planning period. That was the last period before the students went to the gym, and it was a madhouse in here–the cheerleaders were working on posters for the pep rally. Ms. White came in just then, and complained about the noise. I sent one of the cheerleaders to take Mr. Lancer to Mrs. Lancer’s room, but it was locked and dark. I told Mr. Lancer he was welcome to wait in the office, but he wouldn’t. He seemed angry.” Her voice dropped. “They were arguing, you know. Something about Mr. Lancer and Ms. White.”
“One more thing,” Charlene asked, “how long are the periods?”
“Fifty-five minutes,” Janice said. “Here’s a copy of the bell schedule.”
Charlene was met outside the office by Detective Gregg.
“I’ve started making a list of students to talk to–” Phil began.
Charlene, staring at the bell schedule, interrupted. “I don’t think we’ll need it, Phil. Let’s take Ms. White in for questioning.”
“Ms. White? Why?”
“Look at this,” she said, handing him the schedule. “She spoke with the victim ten minutes into her planning period, the last period before the pep rally. The husband, with a witness present, found the victim’s room locked maybe five minutes later. White says she didn’t see the husband, but that’s a lie, according to the secretary. She was not on good terms with the victim, who thought she might have something going on with her husband. Then White finds the victim dead. I think she has more to tell us, Phil.”
“Let’s hook her up,” Gregg replied.
Larry Chavis, a recently-retired high school physics teacher, previously appeared in the Fall, 2016 issue of Flash Bang Mysteries, and his stories have appeared in several online publications. He lives and writes in south-central Mississippi.
Copyright © 2017 Larry Chavis. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited.