Authors: Shawn Inmon
The caffeinated bitterness made him wince.
Whoa! That’ll put hair on my chest. Does everything taste stronger in the seventies, or are my taste buds just young again?
“Since when do you drink coffee?”
Thomas jumped. “Damn, Zack! Are you part cat? You’re gonna give me a heart attack.”
“Well, when did you start to drink coffee?”
Almost forty years ago, but that's not a good answer
. “I dunno. It just smelled good, so I thought I would try it. Tastes pretty awful.”
“Yeah, and it’ll stunt your growth.” Zack bent at the waist so his eyes and Thomas’s were at the same level. “You can’t afford any more stunting.”
“Get moving, I’m leaving in fifteen.”
“You know, school? It's a place where they teach things. Didn't school even teach you what school does?”
Oh, shit, School!
His stomach dropped.
I don't like this at all. A large building crawling with hormonal teenagers, with bodies like adults but brains like kids, doesn't sound fun.
“Um, I don’t know if I’m going to school today.”
“Hell you aren't. You know Mom’s rule: if you aren’t in the hospital or the morgue, you go to school. Get your ass in gear. I don’t want to be late. Your backpack’s by the door. Hope you got your homework done.”
That would depend on how diligent Tommy was before I arrived on the scene, which I have no idea
. Thomas scarfed a bowl of Cap’n Crunch, slammed another cup of coffee, and was in the Camaro fifteen minutes later. It was a warm spring morning, and Zack rolled down his window, put on his sunglasses, leaned back, and started blasting his new Led Zeppelin 8-track from the speakers. Mercifully, it was
The drive to Middle Falls High was short. Zack pulled the Camaro into a spot at the far end of the parking lot behind the main building, then was up and out of the car without a backward glance. Tommy got out and looked in the old Ford pickup parked next to them. It had a gun rack and rifle across the back window.
“It’s okay to bring guns to school? Holy crap.”
Thomas realized he was talking to Zack’s retreating back, too far away to hear. “All righty then. See ya. Good talk.” Thomas shouldered his orange and brown Oregon State backpack and walked slowly toward the high school, wondering where he was supposed to go.
Second semester, sophomore year. What the hell classes did I have? Who were my teachers that year? Who is the President, anyway? Jimmy Carter, or is it still Gerald Ford? Maybe there’s a schedule in the backpack.
He unslung the pack and riffled through it as he walked. Biology textbook, American History, Algebra II.
Oh, crap. I don’t remember Algebra I. How am I going to fake my way through Algebra II?
At the back of the pack, he found a tatty Pee-Chee folder, soft with wear, covered in doodles that were no doubt his. Inside was page after page of homework, but no schedule.
Well, duh. I wouldn't have written it down, any more than I'd write down our phone number and address. Maybe I can go into the office and make some kind of excuse and they’ll tell me where I need to go.
A sharp whistle broke through his fog. “Weaver! Wait up!”
Thomas turned and saw a lanky teenager running toward him.
Oh my God. That's Billy Steadman.
Billy had been Tommy’s best friend from seventh grade until the summer after their sophomore year, when his parents had moved to Maine. They hadn't stayed in touch.
Kids didn’t make long distance calls in the seventies; long distance was expensive, even if you waited until evening rates kicked in. Only girls wrote letters to their friends. I remember trying to hunt him up on Facebook, but never had any luck
Thomas started to reach out for a big bro hug, then caught himself.
How do I act?
Shit. I don’t remember how I talked, or how I did anything when I was a kid.
“Billy! Man, you look great!”
How dumb was that? I'd have said that in 2015. Now he’ll think I’m a weirdo.
Billy looked like every other teenager streaming into the school—jeans, a sweatshirt and Chuck Taylors. He was a few inches taller than Tommy, with straight dark hair that hung down in his eyes and a complexion overrun with acne.
Billy squinted. “Oh…kay. Whatever. Did you get the essay done for Burns?”
Burns. Burns. Mr. Burns. History. Almost forgot about him. But then, he’s kind of forgettable.
nestly, I don’t know.”
“Yeah, me too. I got something down on paper, but I don’t know if it’s what I need or not.”
I wish I knew that much. "I don't know if I even wrote anything" would sound nuts.
Thomas and Billy walked into the school and merged into the flow of teenagers. There were so many. Middle Falls only had an official population of 45,126, but the school district drew from smaller surrounding communities, so there were more than a thousand kids enrolled.
Halfway down the hall, Thomas realized he had lost Billy. He looked over his shoulder. Billy had veered off and was bent over, spinning the combination lock on a locker.
Christ! My locker combination. No idea what that is. There are so damn many things I don’t know. How in the hell am I going to pull this off?
Billy opened his locker and threw his backpack inside. He retrieved his American History textbook and a blue three-ring notebook. Thomas stood, uncertain where his locker was.
Think fast. Teen vocabulary
. “Man, the weirdest thing happened this weekend. I was wrestling around with Zack and I hit my head pretty hard. The doc said I’ve got a concussion or somethin’. I’m having a hard time focusing and remembering anything today. I know it sounds weird, but I am drawing a complete blank about which locker is mine, or what my combination is.”
Billy glanced sideways at him. “Must have been a pretty hard hit.” He reached over two lockers and spun the dial. “7-40-22. Remember?”
“Ha! Oh, yeah, of course. Good thing you knew it.”
7, 40, 22. 7, 40, 22. 7, 40, 22. And I think part of that sounded like adult me. I'll have to watch that. Billy smelled bullshit.
Billy shrugged, then returned to messing around inside his own locker.
Thomas looked inside his own locker. The odor of sweaty gym clothes, forgotten brown bag lunches, and old textbooks wafted out. A picture of Bruce Jenner throwing the javelin adorned the door. On the top shelf were an old homework assignment and a blue Bic pen. He tore off a corner of the paper, wrote “7-40-22” and stuffed it in his front pocket.
What’s the worst that can happen if I don’t pull this off? It’s not like I’m scamming anyone. They might put me in the nuthouse up in Portland, I guess. That probably wouldn’t be great.
He pulled his copy of the history book out, grabbed his Pee-Chee and hung the pack up on the hook in his locker.
“Ready?” Thomas said.
“Lead on, Macduff.”
Because I sure as hell can't
Thomas followed Billy through the teenage throng, recognizing no one outright. Some faces looked familiar, but he couldn't match names to most of them. With a small jolt of recognition, he saw Amanda Jarvis, dressed in a tight white top and denim miniskirt. He remembered her as a goddess-like figure, fixed forever in his mind due to the kegger. Now she just looked like a skinny kid, trying to act hotter and more important than she was.
Down the hall, up a flight of stairs, then down another hall, Billy finally turned into a room marked 222. The room was already half full, and they slipped into two half-desks at the back of the room. Thomas inhaled the long-forgotten smells: pencil shavings, mimeographed papers, and teenage pheromones, all mixed together.
These kids looked much more familiar. Names came into sharper focus, such as the girl with long red hair beside him.
She got married a few years out of high school. Two kids. Opened her own bakery,
The boy in the corner, bent over a copy of Dune;
Went to U of O, then finished up at Stanford Law. He’s gay, but I didn’t know that until I caught up with him on FB. He told me then that he didn’t have a single comfortable day in high school.
In the back row, with empty seats around her like a moat,
Carrie Copeland. Cooty Carrie. When we wanted to insult each other, it was always with her. “Oh, yeah? Well, you’d screw Cooty Carrie.” She attempted suicide her senior year. Did it again, two years later, but got the job done that time. I wonder if she started over somewhere in time, like me, or did she make the cut and pass on to whatever’s next?
I guess I can thank Facebook for how many of these people I recognize. All those Throwback Thursday pictures.
Two seats to his left, one tall, thin, dapper boy stood out. He had short hair and wore what Thomas thought of as business casual: grey sport coat, blue button-up shirt, and khakis. The boy turned, looked at Tommy, and smiled. Tommy returned the smile, then felt his face freeze as he made the connection.
Michael Hollister. Holy shit. Michael friggin’ Hollister.
Michael Hollister was Middle Falls’ most famous graduate. He didn’t become a politician, or an athlete, and he didn’t invent Post-It notes. The world would come to know Michael as the West Coast Strangler. Between 1978 and 2002, he had murdered twenty-nine men and women up and down the I-5 corridor. His signature had been a red and gold tie, done in a perfect Windsor, around each victim’s neck. Until some ambitious new killer came along, Michael would hold the record as Oregon’s most prolific serial killer.
That was all in the future. At that moment, Michael Hollister was a seventeen-year-old boy smiling at Tommy, whose blood ran cold as he remembered more of what he'd read at serialkillers.com.
Michael had varied his abduction methods, locations, and victim profiles, confounding the police and FBI for many years. Travelers or state maintenance workers had found his earliest victims at rest areas along I-5, where Michael had seated them on a toilet, pulled their pants down, then arranged the necktie. In the early 1990s, Oregon had installed security cameras at all rest stops, forcing Michael to dump the bodies in rural areas.
In 1983, Michael sent an anonymous letter to
stating that he preferred to be known as “The Necktie Killer,” instead of “The West Coast Strangler.” It didn’t matter. The 'West Coast Strangler' handle stuck. In 2002, he achieved serial killer hall of fame status: Ann Rule wrote a book about him.
If not for a couple of missteps, Michael might have gone on killing until he got too old to strangle people. In 1984, Detective Harold Carmichael of the Oregon State Police stored a scarf worn by Allison Anderson, the Strangler's sixth victim. He kept the scarf in evidence because it had a single smear of blood on it that appeared inconsistent with the more profound bloodstains. Upon testing, this blood was a different type than Alison's. Michael had scraped his arm while manhandling Allison's rather curvy form into position. He had left a bit of the blood on her scarf, where he mistook it for hers.
Then, in 1995, Michael Hollister nearly killed a man in a fight that broke out in, of all places, a wine bar. As part of the booking procedure, the police had taken a DNA sample, which went into the state and national database. Michael hired the sort of attorney the Michael Hollisters of the world could afford, and the prosecutor dropped the assault charges. Even though he escaped consequences at the time, the arrest ended up costing him dearly.