Charlie

by Hamen Cheese

Chapter 30: Suicide

"RED!" I cursed. "RED! How the fucking hell was the light RED?!" I swore at the impossibility of it. I looked through my rearview mirror and saw the Mile Five Intersection stoplight mocking me with a bright red eye. Stoplights were never red for me and the one at the Mile Five Intersection had chosen the opportune moment to turn red just as an eighteen-wheeler was crossing from the other side. The curved form of the said vehicle was parked along the road, its hazard lights blinking ominously.

I nearly jumped out of my seat when there was a loud and rapid thumping on my window. "You okay, kid?" came the muffled question of a giant truck driver. He looked like someone who couldn't decide between being a body builder and the star model for Pillsbury Doughboy. He was ashen white with ripped arms and a shiny bald head. He rapped on my door again. "Kid, you okay in there?"

"Yeah," I said and then realized I must have sounded muffled too. I rolled down the window and replied again. "Yeah, I am."

"Good," he said sounding thoroughly relieved. "I'm so sorry, kid, I was damn sure the light was green. I didn't see you coming at all. I would have flattened your car if you hadn't swerved in time."

"Yeah. I mean it's okay. I'm okay. That stoplight's always been a little crazy."

"Well, I'm just glad you're alright. Do you need to go to the hospital or something?"

"No, I'm fine, really."

"Okay," he said as he gave me another cursory look as though to make sure I didn't have any broken bones or something. "Well, if you're sure, I really should get going. I have a tight schedule and they'll bake me if I don't get my cargo there in time."

I wanted to say how appropriate those words were for him but of course I resisted. "Yes, of course. Go ahead. I'm fine."

He nodded one more time and rushed back to his truck, checking all the roads as though to make sure no one was about to turn him into the largest Pillsbury dough cookie. I suppose it wasn't strange to find all the streets empty at dawn. I heard the very loud gears of the truck shifting before smoke started puffing and it was once again on its way.

I sighed heavily and leaned back against the headrest of my seat. Apart from almost being turned into a pancake by a ripped Pillsbury Doughboy's truck, I finally remembered what I had so long ago forgotten. I had remembered at last why my father became absent. It was because of me. He left because of me – because he wasn't sure if I was the son he wanted. Maybe he could see through my lies because if he really did accept me to be straight, then he never would have gone away. But he did, maintaining his distance and watching from afar as though waiting for some concrete proof that I was a son he could be proud of.

But I wasn't. I knew that then. I was it seemed wise enough to know even at the age of eleven that some things lasted beyond age, some things were forever. I loved Charlie. I loved him more than as a friend. I knew I could have pretended. I could have gone to extreme measures so that my father would not find out. But I also knew that one day I might slip. One day, I might make a wrong move and send red sparks up into the sky confirming my father's worst fears. I would condemn not only myself but also Charlie and Mrs. C.

I couldn't have that. Even if it hurt, even if it was unfair, somehow I did what my mind thought was best. I forgot and put all that love away where it would never hurt anyone again. With it, a part of me was lost; a part of me had died.

I turned the car around. I needed to find Charlie. I needed to make him understand, to explain myself. Above all, I needed to make sure he was okay. I knew several hours had passed since everything Luke had done to him but I needed to know that he was okay.

And Luke. I still didn't know what happened to him. I still didn't know if I perhaps really had run him over. But that wasn't something I could worry about yet. Charlie was more important.

I made my way back to the tiny junkyard in the city. I knew it was unlikely he would still be there but I had to make sure. The gate was open and I just ran in as soon as my car came to a halt. I tried to remember the paths we took the night before and my heart beat wildly, worried that I would somehow find Charlie still on the floor, cold and…

"Hey, watcha doing here?" came a disgruntled voice from behind me. I turned to see a grotesque creature walking towards me. It had long tangles that crawled all over its face, barely restricted by pink overused curlers. It had thick, stubby fingers and toes and wore the most ridiculously pink nightgown ever to be created in the history of nightmares.

"Uhm, sorry," I told the creature. I was just looking for someone.

"Well, I'm the only one here," it said as it reached up and scratched beneath what looked remarkably like twice the physically acceptable amount of boob. "So unless you're looking for me sonny boy, you should hightail outta here. We ain't open yet."

"Oh," I said. "Uhm, did you perhaps see anyone here last night? Like another person my age?"

She lifted one leg and audibly farted. "No."

"Okay," I said as I resisted the urge to open one of the large refrigerators and then stuffing the thing in it. "I guess I should get doing."

"You do that," it said as it scratched the other boob.

I made my way out of the junkyard, trying to keep an eye out for Charlie's bike. I didn't see it anywhere so unless that she creature ate it, it probably meant that Charlie had somehow managed to get out of there the night before.

I drove to the next possible place he could be, which was his home. Sure he could be at the hospital. If he was, that was okay. It would mean he was safe. But if he wasn't in the hospital, then he could still be in danger if not from Luke then from himself. I tried to block out Luke's words the night before but I couldn't. If we're lucky, he won't check if Travis really is dead and he'll go kill himself and do the job for us. Do the job for us…

Charlie wouldn't do that. At least I didn't think so. But then a lot of things had changed. A lot of crap had gone Charlie's way and I knew a large chunk of it came from me.

I cursed every single time I had to stop at a stoplight. It was like they all decided to stay red for the day so I had to pause with all the other commuters. It was the one day that I really needed to get somewhere fast and it was like the cards were stacking against me.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I finally reached our neighborhood. I was probably breaking all sorts of speed laws but I had to get to Charlie's house. I had to make sure he was okay. I couldn't shake the dreadful feeling that something terrible was about to happen.

My car went up the pavement as I stopped in front of Charlie's lawn. I didn't care. A meteor could have fallen on my Camaro and it would be okay if I just found Charlie safe. I saw his bike lying in the grass and it made me feel slightly better. But the way it was lying, as though it had just been thrown to the ground, exposed to the world made me feel nervous. As old and worn as his bike was, he wouldn't just leave it out in the open for anyone to steal.

Mrs. C's car wasn't in the driveway so I wondered if perhaps she had left with him. All sorts of scenarios flashed through my mind as to what had happened while I was away. He might be with her after all. But still… I couldn't shake the nagging worry and feeling that was steadily growing heavier as I moved closer and closer to the house.

I rushed to the door and found it unlocked. I went in and did a three-sixty to see if Charlie or Mrs. C was anywhere in the living room. They weren't. "Charlie?" I shouted out loud hoping he would hear me. "Are you in here?" I heard a muffled thud that sounded like it came from his room. "Charlie?"

I reached the hallway that led to his room and saw that his door was closed. I almost stopped to ask for his permission to enter but something told me not to do that. I was glad I didn't because of what I saw as I entered.

"Charlie!" I screamed as my eyes travelled upwards to Charlie who was hanging from the ceiling, writhing on a rope tied around his neck. Somehow, the ceiling lamp (a fixture from the days the Parkinsons still lived there) held his light weight as the rope looped around it all the way to bar by his cabinet where clothes could be hung. An upturned chair was sprawled on the floor. "What do you think you're doing?!" I asked as I rushed to his legs, to carry his weight.

To my great surprise, he kicked at me, flaying his hands everywhere as though trying to push me away.

"Stop it!" I demanded. "Charlie, stop it." I finally managed to wrap my arms around his legs despite the several painful kicks he managed to my ribs. I lifted him up with all my might and I heard him give a strangled breath as though air had finally managed to find its way back into his lungs. My relief was short lived as the air seemed to give him renewed strength as he once again began hitting me with his fists, not playfully as he would have years ago but with hatred and despair. "Charlie, stop it," I said again as his legs struggled to free themselves from my grasp.

"Get away from me," Charlie said. His voice was choked as though he still couldn't open his throat but I couldn't mistake the vehemence in his words.

"Charlie, please listen to me," I begged. His fist landed painfully in my eye and I almost let go of him. But I didn't, I couldn't with what was at stake. I buried my head into his jeans and hoped he would stop. My head was feeling dizzy from the repetitive blows he was landing. "Charlie, listen to me."

"Charlie?" I heard another voice call out from the hallway. It sounded like Rebecca.

"In here!" I yelled. Charlie thrashed more desperately in my arms. "Charlie, just stop it."

I heard footsteps coming down the hall just before the very loud gasp of Rebecca Hastings as she came into view.

"What are you doing?!" she screeched. I could have sworn her hair was starting to rise on end as she stared alarmingly at me. "Let him go!"

Charlie agreed with her immediately.

"Let him go?" I asked incredulously while Charlie was still beating on my head. "Are you fucking kidding me?"

She looked at me for a moment then up at Charlie then at the rope that ran all the way from the ceiling to the cabinet. "Oh," she said at last.

"That's right OH!" I said testily. "Now, are you going to help me or what?"

"Don't help him!" Charlie demanded. He seemed just as angry towards Rebecca as he was with me.

Rebecca ignored him and ran towards the cabinet where the rope was tied to the bar. She began untying it.

"Hurry up please!" I demanded as Charlie landed a particularly painful jab at my head. I was pretty sure I'd have several bumps by the time all the beating was over.

"It's too tight!" she said. To my despair the knots on the rope looked the same as they did before she touched them. "Wait! I have an idea!" she said as she rushed out of the room.

"Where are you going?" I yelled after her. "Ow! Charlie!"

"I hate you!" he screamed. "I hate you! Get away from me! You have no right. I want this!"

"No, you don't," I begged. Again, he struck with stronger blows as if he was becoming more and more desperate. My vision was starting to blur and it felt like I was about to black out soon if he didn't cease his attacks. "Big C, stop, please."

Surprisingly, he stopped struggling in my arms and for a moment it felt like the world itself had stopped. "What?" he whispered.

"It's me," I said. I wasn't at all surprised to find that I was crying. Well, it's either I was crying or blood was leaking from my eyes from all the blows. "It's me Big C. It's Hero. Not Derek. Not the guy who's been a jerk to you all these years. It's me."

We stood there frozen as if letting the words sink in. There I was barely able to stand up, my arms wrapped around my best friend's leg, lifting him into the air. We must have been a depressingly funny sight.

"I got it!" Rebecca said triumphantly as she returned into view. My eyes almost popped out as she stood there framed in the doorway with a large fireman's axe in her hand.

"What the hell is that?" I asked.

"An axe," she said looking at it as though to check if it wasn't obvious.

"Where in the world did you manage to find an axe?" Charlie asked. I couldn't see his face but I was pretty sure it would have had an expression just as surprised as mine.

"In my car," she shrugged like it was no big deal.

"You have an axe in your car?" I asked disbelievingly.

"Do you want me to help or not?" she demanded as she glared at me. Under her deadly glare I relented and nodded. She made her way to the cabinet and swung.

"Wait!" Charlie yelled but it was too late. The axe made contact with the rope cutting it cleanly in half. It then impaled itself into the wood with an audible snap.

Charlie's full weight suddenly fell into my arms. It must have been the blows that somehow weakened me because I couldn't support his full weight. We both fell onto the floor in a heap.

"Oh no!" Charlie said is he struggled to get up. I was more content to just lie there for a bit. "Look what you did!" Charlie said as he reached Rebecca who was still struggling to remove the axe from the cabinet. "My mom's going to kill me when she sees that!"

"Kill you?!" Rebecca screeched. With one more tug, she finally managed to pull the axe from the cabinet and turned menacingly towards Charlie. "I should kill you for trying to kill yourself!"

"Well it's none of your business," Charlie said distractedly. "This doesn't involve you."

"What about me?" I asked as I sat up. "Is it any of my business? Do I have any say in it?"

Charlie looked at me and I was afraid he would lash out with the expression he had on his face. However, he seemed to be putting himself under control. "You should have just let me die," he said. "That's what you wanted anyway right? It's what would have made you happy."

"I didn't…" I said. "I never want to see you get hurt."

Charlie snorted. "Could have fooled me."

"I didn't," I said again. "I'm being honest with you, Big C."

"Big C?" Rebecca said. She looked from me to Charlie and back again.

Charlie looked liked he was grinding his teeth together, very hard.

"Wait," Rebecca said. "What have I missed? And why were you," she said as she punched Charlie painfully in the shoulder, "trying to kill yourself."

Charlie winced and complained about the punch but otherwise didn't answer.

"It's because of what Luke and I did last night," I answered for him. "And because he thinks Travis is dead."

Charlie gave me a sharp look as though trying to see if he heard me correctly.

"Travis?" Rebecca asked. "You think Travis is dead?"

Charlie stared at me as though trying to find answers in my eyes. I hope he could. I hope he could see them all. "I thought…"

"I just spoke to him ten minutes ago," Rebecca said in a way that made it sound like we were being stupid. "He was the one who sent me here. He was worried about you when he couldn't call your phone. He's on his way but he figured I'd get here sooner. Thank goodness I did! Imagine what could have happened if I wasn't here." She lowered the axe in her hand and inadvertently made a nice-sized cut into the floor.

"Watch it, will you?" Charlie said as he pushed the axe up to prevent further damage. "Give me that."

"I'm not giving you any deadly weapon!" she said as she took a step back with the axe. "You, sir, have lost all rights to hold any sharp objects."

"I'm not going to try and kill myself," he reasoned.

"Could have fooled me," Rebecca mimicked heatedly.

"I'm not," Charlie said. "Really."

"Then why'd you do it?" I asked. I extended my hand out to the room. "Why'd you do this?"

Charlie looked down and I was pretty sure he was feeling ashamed. "It just… felt like an easy way out."

"An easy way out?" Rebecca asked. "An easy way out of what? How bad could things have been?"

"You have no idea okay?" Charlie shouted angrily. He was so angry that even Rebecca who was glaring at him took another step back. "You have no idea what it's like to have one friend, your best friend, to see him every day knowing that one day he will turn on you because of who you are. You have no idea what it's been like to live every day afraid that someone would find out. And when he did find out, your worst fears came to life and everything just went to hell. And then when you found someone who might be just as good a friend, you found out that he was dead, killed by the very person you thought would always be there for you."

"I didn't kill Travis," I said.

"You might as well have," Charlie said. I could tell that it was more than his voice that was broken. "You left me," he whispered. "After everything we've been through. After I told how I really felt about you. You let Luke do those things to me. You watched as he hurt me. You stood by and did nothing."

"What?" Rebecca yelled indignantly as she turned towards me.

"It's not as bad as it sounds," I tried to argue.

"Wasn't it?" Charlie asked. There was a defiant glint in his eyes and a sort of anger that I never thought I would ever see there, much less directed to me.

"I'm not trying to say that everything I did was right," I said as the two of them stared at me. "I did a lot of things wrong. I made a lot of mistakes. But I remember now. I understand." I looked at Charlie and I could have imagined it but it was almost like he understood what I really meant. "All I want to do now is make up for all the bad things I've done. I'm not a bad person. I'm not," my voice broke. "I'm not my father."

Charlie stared into my eyes. I couldn't tell what he was thinking. I didn't know what he was feeling. To me, it looked like he pitied me. If he did, then I deserved it.

Rebecca kept changing her glances between Charlie and me. She looked somewhat uncomfortable with the turn our conversation took. "One of you will have to explain to me very soon what this whole thing is about. Cause right now all sorts of very bad images are fleeting through my mind and I'm afraid they'll only get worse if I don't know the truth soon."

Charlie sighed and turned his whole body towards the window as a clear indication that he wasn't the one who would be doing any explaining.

Just then there was a loud shuffling noise that came from somewhere in the house, followed by the sudden closing of a door. "Charlie!" came Travis' panicked voice. "Charlie, you in here?"

"We're in here," Rebecca called out to her cousin.

We heard footsteps coming a few seconds before a disheveled Travis came into view. His right foot was covered in bandages from the sprain Charlie gave him and he was leaning heavily on an old man's cane. He didn't look the slightest bit diminished though as his eyes quickly scanned the room. His expression softened slightly as he looked at Charlie but just as quickly became strained as his eyes met mine. He then turned to Rebecca with a befuddled, almost comical expression. "Why do you have an axe in your hand?" Before she could even answer, he turned to me. "And, what's he doing here?"

"I'd like to know the details myself," Rebecca said swinging the axe over her shoulders as though ready to strike down whoever didn't spill the story first.

"Charlie," Travis said sounding uncertain, "why do you have bruises on your arms? And what happened to your neck?" His eyes lingered for a moment on Charlie's neck where deep red abrasions were starting to form from Charlie's brief midair moment. Then they travelled to the scattered rope on the floor and I could almost see the cogs turning in his mind.

Charlie sighed irritably and gave me a pointed look as though to say this is entirely your fault. "Travis," he said, "we need to talk."

"Okay," Travis said slowly.

For a moment the four of us stood there until Rebecca looked at me and nudged her head slightly towards the door. I frowned at her which seemed to cause her to sway her head even further.

I silently said what to her as the three of them seemed to be looking at me expectantly. She opened her eyes wider and swayed even harder until nearly half her body seemed like one of those annoying, upside-down pendulum things that just went back and forth forever.

"What?" I finally voiced aloud after her body seemed to be on the brink of snapping in half from all her swaying.

"Oh never mind," she said and rolled her eyes before reaching over with clawed fingers and digging them deep into my arm.

"Hey," I protested as her nails violated me. She began dragging me out of the room.

"Sometimes, you can be so dense, you know that?" she said as she closed the door behind us, leaving Charlie and Travis alone in the room.

"What?" I whined. "They didn't say they wanted to talk alone."

"They shouldn't have to," Rebecca said rolling her eyes again at me. She sat me down against my will onto one of the kitchen chairs. "When someone says we need to talk that means we need to talk in private."

"Well next time, they should clarify," I said as I looked back down the hall that led to Charlie's room. I wondered what they were talking about in there. I knew of course that they needed to talk in private… I just wished that private included me.

"Now," Rebecca said as she took a seat herself, "tell me everything. I want to know everything that's happened that led to this. I know Charlie wouldn't do something like this without severe reasons so spill, Derek. And be quick about it." She glared at me as if my life depended on it. Considering the axe that was still in front of her, that was probably true.

So I spilled everything, everything that had happened ever since I discovered that I was kicked from the team. I told her about Travis' father being involved (which of course I realized was her uncle), about me finding Travis and Charlie at The Spot, about how Luke found me and told me about knowing where I could speak to Travis, about what Luke did to Charlie, and about how I drove to find Charlie as soon as I could manage it. Talking to her, telling everything that had happened, felt like a heavy weight was being lifted away from me. It was like the more I talked about it, the better I felt about what happened.

"So let me get this straight," she said once I was done talking. "You and Luke went to Charlie last night?"

"Yes," I said, "but like I told you. I thought we were going to talk to Travis. I needed to ask him about those threatening letters he's been receiving."

"Which you didn't write?"

"No. I swear it wasn't me. I may be angry at Travis but I wouldn't do something like that, especially if the letters would be a dead giveaway that I wrote them."

"And you arrived here not too long ago," she continued. "Just in time to save Charlie from choking to death."

"Yes," I said, glad that she was taking it so easily.

"Well, that's an eight hour difference," she said.

"What?" I asked.

"More than eight hours actually," she said. "More than eight hours passed between the time you left Charlie at the junkyard and the time you found him here. What were you doing during that time?"

I hesitated. I didn't know what I did during that time. I suppose I could say I was driving. I mean that was probably what I was doing. Except that would entail me having to explain about me blacking out just before I ran over Luke. And that was one part of my story that I decided to leave out.

"If you were sleeping, Derek Hampton," she said as she glared at me.

"I wasn't sleeping," I said. My voice sounded flat, dead. Something about it must have unsettled Rebecca because she frowned and leaned back on her chair as though trying to see something that was there but slightly out of focus.

"Something else happened didn't it?" she asked in a soft whisper. It felt to me like she could almost read my mind and derive from it the secrets I was hoping to keep.

I didn't have a chance to answer her because Charlie's door suddenly burst open and a furious Travis came stomping out following by a frantic Charlie.

"Travis, wait," Charlie begged, sounding desperate.

"You bastard!" Travis yelled as he stared straight at me and advanced. I was pretty sure the bastard he was referring to wasn't Charlie.

"Travis, let me explain," I tried to reason with him. "Wait just a minute. It's all a big misunderstanding." Travis continued to fume as he moved furiously. It would have looked funny with his limping and cane if it wasn't all directed to me. "Wait! Just wait okay!" I said backing up. Travis raised his fist and clenched it. "Okay! Not the face!" I begged.

And of course, it was in the face.

"Ow, you bwoke my nows," I bellowed from the floor as I covered my gushing nose with my hands.

"You're goddamn lucky that's all I've broken you bastard!" he bellowed as Charlie and Rebecca tried to restrain him. "How the hell could you do that to Charlie? He could have died you bastard. I should kill you for this!"

"Travis, get a grip on yourself," Rebecca said.

"Please," Charlie said, "I think he did try to help me."

"Some bloody help he was," Travis said angrily as he managed to poke me painfully with his stick. "Running away from the scene of the crime huh?"

"I said get a grip on yourself," Rebecca said as he twisted one of Travis' ears with her clawed fingers.

"Ow, what the hell?" Travis bellowed. "Becca, seriously, who's side are you on?"

"Yours of course," she said, "which is why I'm trying to make you realize how much of an idiot you are being right now."

"Do you know what this piece of shit did to Charlie?" Travis demanded. "Do you know how Charlie was beaten several times with a bat? How he was threatened at gunpoint?"

"Yes," Rebecca said calmly. "A gun which, by the way, was fake."

Charlie and Travis looked at Rebecca in confusion.

"It was," I said as best as I could around my congested nose. "I didn't know it was when Luke threatened Charlie with it. But when I saw it, I knew I had to get Luke as far away from Charlie as possible before something irreversible happened. When Luke and I were back in my car, he shot me with it and flames came out from the end of the barrel. It was a lighter. Just a lighter."

"Doesn't change anything," Travis said. "What about the bat? Was that fake too? Are you telling me it was made of Styrofoam?"

"No," I said sadly. "The bat was very real."

"Okay," Rebecca said raising her hands for everyone to listen to her. "I think it's time we lay down all our cards on the table. The four of us will talk this out, each person expressing what he knows. That way there will be no more confusion, no more misunderstandings, okay?"

Everyone looked at her like she'd lost her mind.

"Okay?" she said again as she glared at all of us.

We all quickly agreed.

"Now, Derek, why don't you go to the washroom and clean up," she said. "I can't talk to you with all that blood leaking from your nose."

"Gee, thanks," I said as I stood up and passed her. Travis was still glaring at me like he wanted to hit me a few more times. Fortunately, he didn't do anything else.

When I reached the bathroom, I almost fell over when I saw myself in the mirror. My eyes were red, puffy and deeply deprived of life. One eye, which received quite a blow from Travis fist, was slightly swollen and was already turning a deep blue shade. My nose was swollen also and red all over. My hair was disheveled from all the times Charlie whacked me on the head. It looked like someone ran me over with a truck after throwing me off the side of a twenty-story building.

I took several sheets of tissue from the sink and started washing my face to rinse off as much of the blood as possible. While I was doing that, there were suddenly loud banging noises coming from the living room. With all the thin walls in the house, I could hear everything that was happening.

"Charlie! Charlie! Charlie!" someone said while banging nonstop on the front door as if he was trying to wake up the whole neighborhood. I hurried my washing and drying to find out what was happening.

"The door is open you know," I heard Charlie say.

"Guys, guys, I'm glad you're all here," I heard Mikee's excited voice say. "You won't believe what I just found out."

"Not more surprises," Rebecca said with a weary drawl.

"What?" Mikee asked and before anyone could answer, he continued, "whatever. You won't believe what I just heard."

I rushed back down the hall to find out what was happening but froze at Mikee's next words.

"Luke's dead!" he said as though it was the most wonderful thing in the world. "They found his body near the Sundial Mall this morning."

"What?" Travis said in surprise.

"But wait," Mikee said excitedly. "That isn't the part you won't believe. They have a suspect in mind already."

"A suspect?" Charlie said with a frown and for the briefest moment his eyes flicked towards me framed there in the hallway before returning quickly to Mikee.

"Yes!" Mikee said excitedly. It looked like he was about to shoot in his pants. "They think it's…" he looked around as though to make sure he had everyone's attention but then his eyes seemed to finally notice me standing there. They bugged out to five times the normal size as they threatened to pop out. "…Derek?"

"What?" Rebecca said. "They think it's Derek?"

"What?" Mikee asked as though he didn't understand the question.

"You said they think it's Derek," Travis said.

"I did?" he laughed nervously. "Why would they think something like that?"

"Then who is it?" Travis frowned. Again, Charlie's eyes flicked ever so briefly towards me.

"I dunno," Mikee said nervously.

"But you just said…" Travis said then paused as he seemed to finally notice Mikee's suddenly odd behavior. He looked at me briefly and turned back to Mikee as though he was slowly putting two and two together.

"It's okay," I said more to diffuse the sudden tension that seemed to dawn on the room. "They think it's me. They think I killed Luke."

"Derek?" Rebecca asked Mikee as though the very idea was absurd. "They think it was Derek?" Oh come on. Derek is a lot of things but he's no murderer." She laughed heartily but stopped when no one else laughed. "Right?" she asked a little uncertainly.

"I dunno," Travis said, as he seemed to grip his cane just a little bit tighter. "Derek seems like the type of person capable of anything."

"Well I didn't kill him," I said with more conviction than I really felt.

"You sure?" Travis said with much skepticism. "Charlie said you left the junkyard with Luke. That means you were one of if not the last person to have seen him alive. What did you do after you left?"

"Eight hours," Rebecca muttered to herself, frowning.

Everyone turned expectantly at me. "I… I don't…"

"Don't…?" Travis repeated.

"I don't remember."

"You don't remember…" Travis repeated. "Do you honestly expect us to believe that, Derek?"

"I don't! I mean I do, expect you to believe me I mean. I really don't remember what happened last night after I drove away from the junkyard."

"That's got to be the most pathetic excuse I've ever heard," Travis said.

"Big C, you believe me right?" I asked. "You know I didn't do it. You know me."

"I'm not sure I know you anymore, Derek," he said. I didn't miss the way he used Derek instead of Hero despite me calling him Big C. He turned away from me and moved towards the window. He kept his eyes looking outside. I'm not sure what I expected really. I mean sometimes I didn't know myself either. But I knew myself well enough then to know that I didn't kill anyone. At least I was pretty sure I didn't.

"Wait," Rebecca said almost like a light bulb was well… lighting up in her head. "There may be something here."

"You don't honestly believe him do you?" Travis asked incredulously.

"I'm not saying I do or don't," she said seriously. "However, I want to know first what Derek has to say. Derek, what was the last thing you remember?"

Perhaps it was Charlie's words or his lack of faith in my character but strangely, I found myself telling the truth without hesitating anymore. "I think I may have tried to run Luke over with my car."

"See!" Travis said elatedly. "He killed Luke."

"Tried?" Rebecca asked, ignoring her cousin's words.

"I told you. I can't remember. I just was so angry with him for what he did to Charlie. I wanted to hurt him. I did, really. But I don't think I wanted to kill him. I just remember asking him to get out of my car a few blocks away from the junkyard. And when he threatened to do something worse to Charlie, I just lost it. I drove my car towards him and next thing I knew, I was out in the middle of nowhere and it was several hours later."

Rebecca got this most contemplative look on her face as if she was mulling the mysteries of life over in her head. "Mikee, how was Luke killed?"

"I dunno," Mikee said. "I didn't see the body. I was just passing by and I heard the police say that they found Luke Crawford's dead body."

"What difference does it make how he was killed?" Travis asked impatiently.

"Well, if he didn't die from being run over, then that means Derek didn't kill him."

"How do we know he didn't run him over and then do something else to kill him?" Travis asked.

"Well, Mikee said he was found outside the Sundial Mall," Rebecca said. "That's a long way off from where Mr. Maloney goes for secondhand stuff. And if he placed a body he ran over in his car then there would probably be pools of blood in there. I haven't checked but I'd bet a year's worth of allowance there won't be pools of blood in there."

"You're just trying to defend Derek because you like him," Travis accused Rebecca.

"That SO has got nothing to do with this and you know it," Rebecca glared.

"You like me?" I asked, unable to keep the amusement out of my voice despite the seriousness of the situation.

I could have sworn that Rebecca's face was changing into many different colors really fast. "Excuse me but there is nothing in you to like."

Travis snorted and looked like he was going to say something else but then Rebecca renewed her patented glare on him and he quickly changed his mind.

"Whatever it is you've forgotten," Charlie suddenly said, "you better remember it fast."

"Why?" I asked.

"Because…" He turned towards us with a grim expression. "The police are here."

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