Chicago Police Detective Kerry Grant returns to the South Side of Chicago for her twenty-fifth high school reunion and finds a classmate murdered.
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Kerry entered the auditorium through a rear door and waited for her eyes to adjust. The darkness formed a barrier between her and the stage where she and Shayna had planned to meet. “Shayna,” she shouted through the gloom. “Turn on the lights. I can’t see.”
She pressed her fingers to the wall and followed it toward the stage. With each cautious step, the exit signs behind her dimmed, until their glow gave no more light than a distant star in a pitch-black sky. “Shayna, are you here? Sorry I’m late. Mr. Sellick’s class ran over.”
As she climbed the three steps to the wing entrance, she hung on to the railing. Her free hand waved in front of her searching for and finding the heavy velour drape.
They decided to meet at four, but Kerry knew it was at least ten after and turned her wrist to check the time. Neither her wrist nor the watch was visible and she wondered again, why the lights were off.
Props and scenery from the previous week’s variety show littered the stage, forcing her to slide her feet over the floorboards to avoid them. “Shayna, what’s going on?” She crept along the curtain until her tennis shoe bumped what she thought was a sandbag.
Kerry bent to find the edges and knew at once that what her fingers touched was not a hemp bag filled with sand. The object was soft, warm, and covered with loose cloth. “Oh, god,” she whispered. “Shayna, is that you? Are you okay?” As she stood, the house lights went up and she saw a sandbag. Lying next it, was Shayna.
Two students entered a back door and screamed. Others burst in and ran toward the stage. Some shouted, a few cried, but Kerry remained silent.
The people and sounds became a dull gray noise as she looked at Shayna’s body. She knelt and pressed her fingers on her friend’s neck to find a pulse. She felt nothing except a lump in her own throat and a large hand gripping her shoulder.
Several teachers, the principal, and the nurse knelt in a circle around Shayna’s body. The hand dragged Kerry to the wing where she watched them struggle to bring her friend’s pale body back to life.
Blue uniforms poured into the hall and escorted students to the exits. Additional police officers covered the stage and took pictures of Shayna, the sandbag, the entire area. Everyone was in motion but Shayna and Kerry.
A policeman told her to stay put until they talked to her. She doubted that she could do anything else. As the police and teachers walked away from Shayna’s lifeless body, Kerry stood frozen.
When the investigation finished, paramedics put Shayna on a gurney. Kerry watched them cover her with a blanket until even the beautiful black hair that spread around her shoulders disappeared. She turned away, unable to watch them roll her out of the auditorium.
A different police officer approached and told her to follow. She accompanied him from the stage to the seats where he began asking questions as soon as she sat. “What’s your name?”
“Why were you on the stage, Miss Grant?”
“Shayna and I were going to build sets for the next play. It’s only a month away. Shayna told me four o’clock, but my English class ran late and it was ten after before I got here. I couldn’t see my watch in the dark.” She lifted her arm to show him, and when he nodded, let it drop.
“Were you two friends?”
“We’ve known each other for the last three years through drama club. Yes, we were friends.”
“You’re very calm about this.”
Kerry looked at him, unsure of what he meant, and then jumped to her feet. “You think I did that to Shayna?”
“That’s not what I said, but when girls are in situations this upsetting, they get hysterical, or pass out. You haven’t even been crying.”
“Despite what you might believe, officer, not all young women are prone to hysterics. My guess is that Ms. Grant is, understandably, in a mild state of shock.” Dr. Drummond, principal of Casimir Pulaski High School, stood behind the uniformed officer and looked at her student. “How are you, Kerry?”
She felt better hearing the principal’s voice. A kind, familiar person in the middle of the unkind, unfamiliar place she found herself. “I’m okay, Dr. Drummond. Does anyone know what happened to Shayna?”
“There hasn’t been any news yet.” Dr. Drummond returned her gaze to the officer. “If you’re finished, she should see the nurse. I’m sure you appreciate how difficult this would be for any seventeen-year-old.”
“Yeah, we can wrap it up for today, but we’ll want to talk to her again.” He stood, put his notebook in his pocket, and left.
“Come on, Kerry. The nurse will check you over.” She followed Dr. Drummond to the nurse’s office, where after a brief examination, she pronounced her shaken, but in good shape. Dr. Drummond placed her arm around her student’s shoulder as they walked to her office. “Would you like me to call your parents?”
“No, I’m okay. Thank you, and thanks for talking to that police officer. I still can’t believe what he said. I couldn’t hurt Shayna, or anyone.”
“I know. That’s his job, but I look forward to a day when more women are on the police force to give male officers a bit of an attitude adjustment. Go ahead home and try to relax if you can. I’ll contact you as soon as I hear anything.”
The final police report said that Shayna died when a fifty-pound sandbag dropped and struck her. The enormous weight slammed her head to the stage and caused massive damage to her brain.
Investigators found that the snap hook holding the sandbag’s strap malfunctioned and released it from the steel grid that hung above. They believed vibrations from Shayna’s footsteps shook it lose. The official report ruled her death an accident.
A policewoman questioned Kerry once more before the case closed. She did not accuse her of murder, but she ignored her doubts. No one listened when she said Shayna’s death was not an accident.
After graduating from high school, Kerry attended college for three years, and when she turned twenty-one, the Chicago Police Academy accepted her application.
Finding Shayna’s body on the stage was an experience that had a profound effect on Kerry’s life, but not one she expected to repeat.
Should Old Acquaintance be Dead