Green Hills Literary Lantern

The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers

 

 

 

 

 

The summer of the murder, Jocy Kwan was working at the public library in Warwick, New Jersey, which beat slinging hash at Burger King or stocking at Eckerd Drug, the only other places hiring in town. The library was air conditioned, and she could hide behind the shelves and read crime books. Her best friend, Liz Wang, teased her and called her Sherlock Kwan, but Jocy didn’t mind. Nobody her age ever came into the library, and she could be as invisible as she wanted. It was her magic power, visible invisibility. Jocy was so unassuming that strangers never noticed that they were spouting off secrets and privileged information within earshot, never stopped to consider that the girl sitting nearby could be aggressively eavesdropping while pretending to read a book. In another life, Jocy thought, she would have made a good spy.

Late July, detectives found Cara Morgan’s body buried deep inside the Ramapo Reservation, nestled inside a ditch covered with leaves and dirt. Cara had been popular, mean, an average student. Tan, long-haired, hard-assed. Just on the safe side of slutty. She got stoned after school when her parents weren’t home, snuck out at night with her friends and fooled around with boys.

 Jocy watched the news with her parents at home. Cara’s stats had been running on TV so often that she could mouth along, like the words to a favorite pop song. Fifteen-year-old Caucasian female, 5’7”, 120 pounds, blonde hair, brown eyes. Last seen wearing a black tank top, denim cut-off shorts, and sandals. Abducted from her after-school job at Aldo’s Pizzeria on July 14. On the news, Terry and Louise Morgan clutched one another as local authorities carried a body bag containing their daughter against a backdrop of mountains and pines. Cara’s parents insisted she was a good girl, and the news reporters played this up. Because no harm should come to good girls, only to girls gone bad, spoiled like milk left out too long on the kitchen counter.

Someone had kept Cara somewhere, assaulted her in ways Jocy could not imagine. She had been missing for a week and dead for three days. Where had she been during that week? What had she been doing, what had been done to her? The news reports talked about how Cara was going into her junior year at Warwick High School. Jocy already knew this. She had graduated from Warwick High in June, and in the fall she was going to NYU. It was a small high school, and she knew who Cara Morgan was, could’ve easily picked her out of a crowd, although they had never spoken. Jocy had not played sports, never attended a varsity game, but Cara had played field hockey her freshman year, and Jocy had seen her in bulky white knee pads and a green jersey, racing along the grass behind the school, passing the ball to her teammates.

 

Mrs. Vermeer, the children’s librarian, was crying again. Last night’s news about Cara had caused many Warwick adults to bolt their doors, yank the shades, and remain tethered to their televisions. “I feel like she was my own daughter,” Mrs. Vermeer said, wiping her eyes. With her gray-blonde hair cropped into a feathery helmet, eggplant-shaped body, ankle-length corduroy skirts, and turtlenecks in dark greens and purples, the librarian reminded Jocy of a certain children’s cartoon dinosaur dressed in a kindergarten teacher’s clothing. She cornered Jocy between the Books on Tape and the Large Print shelves and said, far too loudly, “That girl was hanging out with a rough crowd. She was headed in the wrong direction.”

Jocy was sure that being inside the Warwick Public Library, with its faint smell of paste and mildewed senior citizens, on a sunny summer afternoon, was the right direction. Mrs. Vermeer placed a hand on Jocy’s shoulder and said in a watery voice, “A girl your age. She was just a baby.”

Steadying her hands, Jocy concentrated on arranging the 900 books by call number, willing her boss to move away. She pulled her ponytail back into the black Scrunchie that she only wore at work and wanted to tell Mrs. Vermeer that she was two whole years older than Cara, legal age almost, and most definitely not a baby.

“Phone call,” Mrs. Vermeer sang, waving at Jocy from the front desk. Jocy walked the four feet over to the front and took the receiver from the librarian, who placed a stack of returns from the book drop onto one of the metal carts. Mrs. Vermeer would not have made a good spy.

Jeremy Reyes was on the other end of the line, breathing heavily. “I finished another board of Resident Evil 2 today.”

            “Congrats,” said Jocy.

Jeremy’s biggest passions in life were video games and the Yankees. He had thick eyebrows, greasy brown hair, and a little acne, and still wore tighty-whiteys. Once, Jocy caught him picking his nose and eating the finds. When she kissed him, he tasted like butter that had gone sour. She would never have been hanging out with him so much that summer if Liz were around.

            White noise on the other end of the line. Jocy could almost smell the heavy tang of Jeremy’s breath. “You still there?” she asked.

            “Yeah.”

            Mrs. Vermeer squeezed behind the check-out counter, her corduroy-clad hips straining against the media materials shelf. She extracted a cardboard box of plastic containers from the bottom and held them up to Jocy with a stern expression. Filmstrips.

“I got to get back to work. I’ll call you later.”

Jocy hung up and took the box from Mrs. Vermeer. Ed, the media librarian, was supposed to shelve the media materials, but he never did. He worked on Tuesdays and Thursdays; Jocy on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. She had only met Ed once, when he came in on one of his off days to pick up a paycheck. He had carrot-red hair and lurched forward as he walked, accentuating a premature stoop in his shoulders. His beige short-sleeve, button-down shirt looked like something Jocy’s father wore twenty years ago.

Pushing the returns cart into the back corner, Jocy ignored the media materials and read The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers, which she kept misfiled on a remote shelf in the children’s section and which no one, to her knowledge, had ever borrowed. Her favorite entry told of a trunk discovered at a train station to contain the parts of twelve missing boys. The killer had been about to board a train to Canada when a porter noticed droplets of blood leaking from the bottom of his trunk. The killer had almost gotten away. So many more, then, must have gone unnoticed, Jocy thought. So many bodies could be buried in places no one knew about, people once reported missing and since forgotten.

 

Jocy ate dinner with her parents while watching the six o’clock news, crammed onto the couch, dinner plates balanced on their knees.     

There were no new facts on Cara. Instead, the TV displayed photos of her at Myrtle Beach on spring break, followed by footage of her two best friends crying. Their names were Ashlee and Michelle, skinny white girls with tans and long, wavy hair. “Cara was my best friend,” sobbed Ashlee, who was also on the field hockey team. “I can’t believe this, how could someone do this?” moaned Michelle, who was rumored to snort coke in her car between classes.

Jocy’s mother blinked at her daughter in the same way that Mrs. Vermeer had, pleading and desperate.

“You didn’t know her, did you?” she asked after a prolonged stare.

“She wasn’t in my grade,” Jocy said. “She played field hockey.”

Jocy’s father wiped his mouth and folded his napkin in fourths. “You knew her? What did she look like?”

“I don’t know,” Jocy said. “Blonde.”

            Her mother chewed. “It was probably the parents. Those parents let their kids run around wild. The other day, in the Shop Rite parking lot, I saw a girl your age kissing her boyfriend.”

            Her father wrinkled his nose. “Kissing?”

            “Kissing!” her mother said.

            “That girl must have taken drugs,” her father said. “That Cara girl.”

Jocy filled her mouth with broccoli.

“Oh, Jocy doesn’t know anything about drugs,” her mother declared. “She’d never do drugs.”

Jocy sipped her milk. Her parents would never suspect her of anything. They didn’t know about the things she did with Jeremy, even though—much to Jocy’s consternation—they had yet to have sex. Go all the way. Do it. Jocy wished her parents would say something, anything, about Jeremy, but their silent approval of him made him seem even more unattractive. They trusted her, they said. They were sure she would do nothing to disappoint them.

 

Jocy knew that her sisters, who had long since left Warwick, had been leading more exciting lives when they were her age. Cyn had even been a cheerleader for a year, before her main extracurricular activity became her boyfriend, this scrawny hesher kid whose relationship with Cyn gave her parents fits. Cyn’s grades blew, but she was, far more importantly, cool.

Lyn, who had favored combat boots and black nail polish before she moved to California and went to school for computer engineering, hadn’t been as popular as Cyn. Her senior year she sported an inch-long crew cut and looked hot. Jocy was different, too, but she didn’t want to be. Didn’t need to wear gummy black lipstick, or shoplift from the town drug store, like Lyn used to, once showcasing the spoils of one after-school klepto run to a nine-year-old Jocy. A handful of dollar eyeliners, a wrinkled pack of sugarfree gum, a box of Press-On Nails (“I don’t even want them, they were just so easy to take!”), even deodorant tampons, which had confused Jocy. Jocy had crossed her heart and hoped to die that she would keep her sister’s stealing a secret, but for months afterwards she squeezed her eyes shut whenever she heard police sirens, wondering if it would be the Warwick cops looking for Lyn, ready to cart her away.

Only a few Asian families lived in town. There were the Kwans; the Sys, who were Chinese Filipino; the Ishikawas, who were Japanese, recently relocated from Tokyo; and the Wangs. The summer of Cara Morgan’s murder, Liz Wang was away in Baltimore, working as a counselor at an academic camp, T.A.ing a physics class for eighth graders. Liz was still a virgin. She wore headbands and tucked her pastel button-downs into trim chinos. She was prettier than Jocy, with better skin and shiny shoulder-length hair that curled in softly at the ends. Boys—from church, or summer school—called her, but she rarely went out with them. “They’re dumb,” Liz said. “I’m waiting for college guys.” She had been the class valedictorian. She was going to Harvard.

            Now, a full month into the longest summer of Jocy’s life, Liz had met a college guy named Kelvin, a sophomore at Princeton who worked at the same camp. “He’s so amazing,” she had told Jocy two weeks ago, the last time they spoke on the phone. Liz might no longer be a virgin, although Jocy wouldn’t have known because her friend was too busy to return her calls.

Before Liz left, she and Jocy had shared daydreams of Boston and New York, of meeting boys who had really lived, boys who had experience. Jocy wondered if you could get experience without experience. Like how entry-level jobs required applicants to list references from past jobs. She couldn’t wait to dump Jeremy into the file of one-time past fling. “We just hooked up a few times,” she imagined telling her new college friends. “You know. I was bored.”

He had come into the library one afternoon, two weeks after graduation, to borrow a copy of Sports Illustrated and a science fiction novel that Jocy had read in the fifth grade.

“How’s your summer been?” Jocy asked, barely looking up from the check-out counter.

“This town sucks.”

Jocy scanned Jeremy’s card and stamped the due date on the inside cover of his book. “We should hang out sometime,” she said. “We could bitch about this place.” She felt very grown up saying this to a boy, even though it was only Jeremy Reyes. He was one of those Warwick guys she had known for years but never really noticed. He had been in her American History class senior year, sat two rows in front of her, and never said a word. Jocy thought Jeremy was okay-looking, still the same kid that he had been in first grade: quiet, messy, a passive sports fan, not particularly smart or driven, resolutely boy. Not like the some of the other boys she had known all her life, boys who had suddenly and gloriously become men with deep voices and big hands, slouching in their seats and eyeing girls with a sense of ownership.

Still, Jeremy didn’t call her. He didn’t even think about it, his mind did not plan and scheme in that way. He had never had a girlfriend, never even kissed a girl. So two nights later, after three aborted dialing attempts, Jocy called him.

 

She borrowed her mother’s Toyota and drove across town to Jeremy’s house on Crestview Lane. His father, she knew, was away on a business trip, and his mother, he had mentioned on the phone earlier, was at a school board meeting. Tonight Jocy would get Jeremy to do it with her.

Jocy rang the doorbell three times before someone answered. It was Jeremy’s seven-year-old brother Eric. His mouth was open and ringed with a sticky blue residue, a popsicle aftermath.

“Hi,” Eric said, looking up at Jocy, one hand on the doorknob, the other clutching a plastic G.I. Joe figure.

“Hi,” Jocy said. “Is your brother home?” Eric nodded. Jocy heard a shattering explosion echo inside the house. Most Warwick residents might have had their TVs permanently tuned into the news tonight, eager for the latest facts on the Cara Morgan case, but the Reyes home was permanently tuned into Resident Evil 2.

Jeremy was cross-legged on the carpet in the TV room of the Reyes’s five-bedroom house, wearing a Yankees cap, Simpsons T-shirt, and blue track pants that were so shiny Jocy could see double in them. He jabbed at control buttons while staring at the TV screen, which was about ten inches away from his face. An open package of Nutter Butters lay at his feet with a half-eaten cookie bleeding crumbs onto the carpet.

“Hi,” Jocy said.

He didn’t look up. “I’m in Extreme Battle.”

Jocy stepped behind Jeremy and sat with her back against the sofa. She scolded herself for wearing lipstick and the black sundress with a tiny daisy print she had bought in the Village when she attended the pre-frosh orientation at NYU. It was obvious, unlike the Levis and flannel shirts she usually wore. 

The Reyes’s house was always spotless and smelled of powder. At the Kwans’ house, piles of newspapers held court on most available surfaces and dusty random tchotchkes served as interior decorating. A stuffed bear, a Christmas gift from a local bank, was displayed on the mantelpiece; a hideous framed painting of a camel riding into the sunset hung in the foyer, which Jocy’s father had picked up at a neighbor’s garage sale. “It was only a dollar!” he announced upon bringing it home, like it was such a bargain. At the Reyes’s everything matched, including the picture frames on the walls, which, unlike at the Kwans’, were probably not re-gifted raffle prizes given away at a Lunar New Year party in a restaurant basement in Chinatown.

In the kitchen, Jocy helped herself to a glass of water from the Reyes’s built-in water filter. Eric was tracing pictures of G.I. Joe onto a blank piece of paper and leaving marker imprints across the table.

“Want a Popsicle?” he asked.

Jocy shook her head and walked upstairs to Jeremy’s room. She left the door open, listening to the video game downstairs. Jeremy’s walls were covered in baseball posters. On the nightstand was a boy’s plastic clock, shaped like a football. The twin bed, in which she had removed her pants last week, was unmade, a green plaid top-sheet balled into the corner, matching dark green pillows with drool stains caked across the cotton cases. The room had a color scheme that Mrs. Vermeer would approve of. Jocy lay down and pulled the sheets up, smoothing them out with her feet, repulsed that this was where she had touched and seen Jeremy’s penis—like a plump finger, purplish pink and bumpy—as well as tasted it—acidic, sweaty-sweet—on a hot afternoon last week while the landscapers were outside mowing the lawn.

Not long after they had started hanging out, Jocy realized that Jeremy had no sense of clique divisions. This obliviousness astounded her, but it also pissed her off. He was too nondescript for anyone to notice, and because of this he had cruised through twelve years of public school neither here nor there, ineffectual and unaffected. He had nothing to forgive; he had not been provoked. The other night, Jocy had asked him what he thought of the Cara Morgan case. But Jeremy did not watch the news. “Did they kill her?” he asked. He did not say rape.

Jocy stayed in the bed until her feet started to fall asleep, waiting for Jeremy to come. When he finally did, she was not asleep, but lying still, trying not to cry, sheets pulled over her head.

He peeled the sheets back. “What are you doing in there?” Jeremy smelled like peanut butter, and his Yankees cap poked Jocy in the forehead when he leaned down.

Jocy steered Jeremy towards her by his hips. The slippery fabric of his track pants brushed against her fingers. He took his cap off and kissed her, jamming his tongue into her mouth until she could barely breathe, saliva overflowing onto her chin. Jocy remembered when she was five and decided to eat a paper napkin to see if it had any taste, and it hadn’t, but instead the paper grew sodden and lumpy in her mouth, until she thought it would choke her. Propping himself up by his elbows, Jeremy slid himself over her bare legs, then tentatively placed a clammy hand under her dress, snaking up towards her stomach. He pawed at Jocy’s breasts, rubbing them in vigorous circles, as if he was kneading bread. The fabric bunched at her waist. His hand hit a snag in one of the seams. Jocy concentrated on the mutual pressure between their thighs and tried not to think about Jeremy ripping her dress or her breasts.

She placed her right hand on Jeremy’s polyester crotch and snuck a finger into his elastic waistband. Was that a lump she felt? A proof of desire? She confirmed its hardness, triumphant. 

“Come on,” Jocy said, when Jeremy removed his mouth from hers. “Let’s fuck.”

Jeremy pulled back, eyebrows furrowed. He looked like a scared boy, cornered by his mother. His hand was still tangled in her dress.

“Why not? Don’t you want to?”

He sat up, pants swishing against the sheets. “I don’t know what to do.”

Jocy pulled Jeremy’s arm away and stepped out of the bed. She didn’t want to wait for his answer, and only began crying after she was safely inside her car, keys in the ignition and doors locked. Jeremy did not come after her. She peeled out of Crestview Lane and towards downtown Warwick. At Franklin Avenue, she noticed that the light in the library was on, even if it was hours past closing time. She made a U-turn and pulled into the parking lot.

 

Terry and Louise Morgan had lived in Warwick their whole lives. They dated here and there, each other, friends of friends, a game of human musical chairs among those who stayed in town after high school. Then Louise got pregnant.

            This was years ago. The Morgans lived up on Hobb Hill, which the kids called Hick Hill. In second grade someone had asked Cara, Does your family eat squirrels? Is your cousin your boyfriend?

On the day of her disappearance, Cara Morgan slept until noon. It was another sun-filled day, one of a string of heavily heated days that made her feel like it had been summer for years. The night before had been more humid, damp almost, the closest to rain in weeks, and she could hear the low murmur of frogs over the creek. Cara and her friends had gathered around the lake, drank a little and shouted into the woods to hear their own voices. A guy she knew called her a slut and she called him a fag. Standard stuff. Cara was bored with endless days at the overheated pizzeria where she took orders in cork sandals. At the end of her shifts her skin was greasy and her ponytail smelled of garlic.

            Her friend Ashlee came over at two. They took magazines and Cokes out into the backyard, applied glossy coats of suntan oil, fiddled with a portable radio, and flipped around on lawn chairs. Ashlee made Cara take a quiz in Cosmo: Are You a Flirt? Cara scored in the middle range: Not Too Hot to Stop.

            They talked about boys, about Michelle, who was home with a bad hangover, about what was going on that night, how boring Warwick was, how they couldn’t wait to graduate and get out, the boys they wanted to get with, the old guys who hit on them down at the shore, how strict their parents were, how much they loved summer vacation, how much they hated being fifteen, Cara’s pizzeria job and Ashlee’s life guarding job, how much fun they were going to have. Someday.

            Ashlee dropped Cara off at work at five to five. Business was brisk. Thursday was a discount night, and Chaz and Tim, the delivery boys, were in and out like clockwork. At seven-thirty Ashlee left a message on Cara’s pager. Cara called her back ten minutes later from the pay phone out on the sidewalk.

“There’s a party tonight,” Ashlee said. “I can pick you up. It’s down by the river.”

            “Cool,” Cara said. “I’ll see you then.” Days later they would find her pager in the Dumpster out back.

 

            This was how Jocy imagined it. To be a good detective, you had to be able to recreate the context of a crime, get to know the victim. You had to think out all the possibilities. Jocy gleaned her facts from the news and what she already knew about Cara, the endless televised loops of sobbing Ashlee, hysteric Michelle.

Ed agreed with her. Jocy had used her keys to let herself into the library, closing the door as quietly as possible, and discovered the media librarian sitting on the orange rug in the children’s section. He was folded forward at the waist, chin in hand, bent intently over the book in his lap. Jocy immediately recognized the cover.

The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers was opened to the chapter on Jack the Ripper. Ed’s elbow creased one of the pages.

“So, did he strangle them?” Jocy asked.

“Oh,” Ed barked. His arms and legs flew out in surprise, the book bouncing on his lap. The hairs on his arms, and on the bottoms of his legs, exposed as his pants bunched up, were dark red and plentiful. “Excuse me.” His voice was deeper and froggier than Jocy expected, a croaky bass.

“He cut out her heart,” Jocy said. She sat in one of the plastic kiddy chairs that the library used for Story Hour, arms sandwiched at her sides. The chair was shaped like a mushroom. The larger table next to it was a toadstool.

Ed cleared his throat. “I was just reading about that.” He stood up and wiped his hands on the front of his khakis.

 “Did you go to Warwick High?”

“Class of ’74,” Ed said, thumping his concave chest. He was twice Jocy’s age. “Warwick High’s been in the news a lot lately.”

“The murder,” Jocy said. The way he bobbed his head in recognition made her think that he had his own theories. “Who do you think killed her?”

            Ed shrugged. “You don’t see many strange abductions happening in these parts.”

“They already cleared her friends.”

            “It has to be someone she knows. Like an ex-boyfriend.”

            “Maybe.” That was one of Jocy’s ideas, and she was thrilled to hear it echoed. She pulled herself out of the mushroom chair and remembered the news reports, quick pans across the exterior of the Morgan family home, shots of the shallow grave where they had found Cara. “We should investigate.”

 

Jocy pulled into the Ramapo Reservation. Yellow police tape hung around the entrance.

Ed sat in the passenger seat, long legs poking up in severe triangles, hands folded primly in his lap. He didn’t have a car, and Jocy had offered to give him a ride home from the library. Then she made a detour towards the woods.

“That’s where she was found,” he said.

            “I know.” Jocy wanted to pull over and tear down the tape, try to see the spot where Cara had been buried, the disheveled dirt and pile of wet leaves, the small cup in the land into which her body had been placed. Instead she parked behind a cluster of trees and killed the lights. Finally, she thought. Here was a notch of her very own.

She had to act like it was no big deal. She had to act experienced. This was not like parking with Jeremy behind the library a few nights ago, when they had fumbled in the back seat and kept their ears perked for passing cars.

She put her hand on Ed’s knee, leaned over and kissed him. His lips were cold and chapped.

            “Whoa,” he said.

            Keep going, Jocy told herself. Be brave. Don’t stop. She lowered her head to Ed’s lap and dug in, thankful for his tucked-in shirt. It made finding his fly easier. She fumbled for the zipper, fingers blindly clawing at his khakis.

            Ed jerked back, banging Jocy’s head against the glove compartment. Tears sprang to her eyes, and she dug her fingernails into her arm to stop them.

            “Oh,” Ed said. “I’m sorry.”

            What the hell is wrong?”

            Ed put his hands up, palms facing Jocy and arms squared off at the shoulders, as if he were warding off a rabid animal.

            “Sorry,” he said.

            Jocy picked at the folds of her sundress. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

            When Ed switched on the light Jocy saw the lines around his mouth and pouches of skin under his eyes. “I mean, you’re very young. You must be what, sixteen?”

            “Eighteen. That’s legal.” Jocy bit the inside of her mouth as she lied, willing herself not to whine.

            “You look younger.”

            Jocy wanted to punch him. “Thanks a lot. I’m in college.”

            They sat there, not talking. Jocy took out her keys and put them back into the ignition.          

            The bright lights confused her at first. Then there was the booming voice. It sounded like it was coming from a megaphone, something older, authoritative, and male. “Step out of the car,” the voice said.

            Ed’s hand flew up to his mouth. The lights were blinding, filling the car with red swirls. His eyes darted from side to side. “Oh, God!”

            Jocy saw the outline of a police car and flashing lights. An officer in uniform. She imagined having to call her parents from jail—was there even a jail in Warwick?—and the headline in the Police Blotter section of the weekly Warwick Journal. Seventeen-Year-Old Resident Arrested for Soliciting Sex From Library Employee (She Was Rejected). Everyone would know. Her parents would force her to stay home for the rest of her life. She would be a virgin forever.

            The cop asked to see their driver’s licenses. His badge said D’AMICO, and Jocy realized that he was the father of a kid in her class.

            “You go to Warwick High?” Officer D’Amico said. He was scribbling down her name and address.

            Jocy nodded.

            “You okay?” he said, sweeping his flashlight across the trees and lighting up the police tape. “This is a crime scene. What are you doing here?”

            “Nothing!” Ed shouted.

            Jocy said, “We work together at the town library.”            

            The cop looked down at her and shined his flashlight on Ed. “You’re coming with me.” Then he pointed at Jocy. “You. Go home.”

That night, Jocy looked at the slice of light shining from the hallway under the doorframe of her bedroom, a sign that her parents were still up and about. She was not in the woods. She was not in a ditch. If a knock came at her window, she could scream, and somebody would hear. But she would go, too, out the window and away from the prying streetlamps, if someone knocked hard enough.

 

She saw his name in the Police Blotter the following week, sandwiched between an item about a stolen mailbox and another one about jaywalking. Not the front page—that was devoted solely to the Cara Morgan case. By then the murder had been solved, and the newspapers weren’t reporting on much else. The cops would find out that Cara had run off with some older kids, blacked out from drinking, stumbled into the woods and struck her head on a rock and died, and then her friends tried to make it look like a murder, so they disposed of her belongings and left her in the dirt, covered her with handfuls of leaves, then returned to their homes with pacts of silence and clenched promises to never tell.

            Edward Czusky, 39, of Warwick, charged Wednesday night for allegedly assaulting an underage female in a parked car near the Southern entrance of the Ramapo Reservation.

            At work Mrs. Vermeer barreled up to Jocy, eyes wide. “We have been harboring a criminal right here at the Warwick Public Library all this time.” Her voice broke into a stage whisper. “Ed! The media librarian! He was a p-e-r-v-a-r-t.”

            “What’s a pervart?”

            “An older man who takes advantage of young girls like you.”

            “I was kidding, Mrs. Vermeer.”

            “Don’t joke. First the whole thing with Cara Morgan, and now this. It was in the same spot as the murder!”

            “But Cara’s death was an accident.”

            “If you ask me, there could be a connection. What kind of man takes a young girl to a crime scene? It’s just too fishy.” Mrs. Vermeer smiled grimly. “He quit before I could fire him. I told him if I ever caught him around here or near a school . . . ” The librarian’s hands balled into doughy fists. “I would. You know.”

            “I know,” Jocy said.

            She looked up Ed’s number in the town directory and called him from a pay phone down the street. The phone rang and rang. There was no answering machine. She called Liz and left a message, thinking that someone at her camp might know about proper police procedures. Could they really arrest someone with no proof? Would she have to go to court and testify? Would Ed rat her out as the one who had assaulted him, and would she then be arrested for lying? Jocy drove around Warwick in circles, wishing she could disappear. In less than a month she would leave for New York and college, but until then, she had nowhere else to go except Locust Street. Stupid home, stupid Locust Street.

            The Kwans ate dinner at the kitchen table. The television was turned off, the murder solved.

            “There’s a pervert out there,” Jocy’s father said. “I read it in the paper.” He waved his spoon at her. “Be careful. Don’t get into any strange cars with any strange men.”  

            Jocy hunched down in her seat. “I won’t.”

            “If an older man comes up to you on the street, don’t talk to him.”

            “Okay.”

            Jocy’s mother sighed. “New Jersey is so dangerous nowadays.”

            “It was an accident,” Jocy said. “They were drinking.”

            “That’s not what I’m talking about,” her mother said.

            “Don’t drink, either,” her father said. 

            The phone rang. Jocy jumped up, fork clattering to the floor. “I got it!” But her mother was faster. Jocy bit her tongue and felt the milk she had been drinking bubble back up in her throat.

            “Oh,” she heard her mother chirp. “Hello.

            Please. Please let it be Liz.

            Her mother was already marching over with the phone, a grin smeared across her face. It wasn’t the cops. It wasn’t Ed. “One minute, Jeremy,” her mother sang. Jocy felt relief, revulsion. She made a cutting motion across her neck with her finger. Her mother thrust the phone at her, the holes in the receiver open and waiting. “Jocy’s right here.”

 

 

Lisa Ko is a writer living in New York City. A former New York Foundation for the Arts fiction fellow and a recipient of the Van Lier fellowship in fiction, she is completing a collection of linked short stories. Her fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and published in Konundrum Engine Literary Review, Asian Pacific American Journal, Brooklyn Review, Bullfight Review, and Sassy. Visit her at http://incommunicado.net