What is it?” asked Jessica.
”Just get over here!”
“What’s wrong JP?” asked Kevin, as the three made their way over.
JP turned and in a tiny voice said, “Just look.” He moved aside and the other three gasped. There in the shade, lying against the stage was a body. It was a man, and he was slumped on his side; if it weren’t for the purple bruise around his neck and his pale skin he would have looked like he was taking a nap.
“Oh my… is he dead? Like actually deceased because if this is some joke JP I will kill you myself!” Jessica had a look of alarm, mirroring her friends.
“If this is a joke it is not mine.”
“He looks like he was strangled.” Ashley took a step forward and kneeled closer. She put two shaky fingers on his neck and paused for a moment. “He’s dead. Ugh, and he’s still warm.” Ashley retreated while rubbing her fingers against her jeans vigorously.
“Anyone know who he is?” asked JP. Dubious looks were the answers given. “Well, Ashley check his pockets.”
“You wanted to be the investigator, besides you already touched the body. You should be the one to check for an ID.”
“Well who made you boss? Do it your self.”
“Fine.” JP moved alongside the body and with a pen he had in his pocket opened the back pocket of the man’s jeans. After a few minutes of struggling he managed to worm the wallet out without touching it himself.
“Just pick it up already!”
“And get my fingerprints on it? No thank you Jessica.”
“The police would find out which were yours and the killer’s.”
“I don’t care!”
JP pulled out a small sheet of paper from the notebook he kept on him and used it to open the leather case. The man’s ID was right in front. “John… Dough. His name is John Dough.”
“I’m not I swear. Here, look for yourself.” JP set it down on the stage and watched as his friends looked at the name.
“You’ve got to be kidding. What are the chances, seriously? I mean it’s not “Doe” but still… Oh no.”
“What’s wrong Kevin?”
“He’s still warm right? So that means whoever killed him is still close by.”
The gravity of the news hit them all like lightning. A collective ‘crap’ was said before cell phones were grabbed. Ashley dialed first and waited, then looked at her phone. Jessica and Kevin looked at theirs the same way.
The three replied the same: “I can’t get any service.”
“None of you can? At all?”
“We all have different phones, so something is blocking the signal.” Jessica stated alarmingly.
“Cell phone blockers have a radius of about 200 feet, so either its close by or must be a newer model.” All eyes were on JP. “What? I shopped for them before, none in my price range.” They still looked at him oddly.
“I see it now: James VanPelt, serial strangler.”
“You know that I wouldn’t strangle anybody, Jessica! I would use poison!”
“And we all know you would do that so you changed it up. Besides you didn’t say ‘I would never kill anybody’ you said strangle.”
“Meaning what exactly?”
“You probably planned someone’s murder and are just waiting for the right time.”
“If I do kill someone, it will be very tempting to pin it on you. But since we are such great friends, if you have any competition just tell me who.”
Kevin was looking at John’s neck, puzzlement in his eyes. The remark about strangling jogged his memory. “JP, do you see something… odd about his neck?” JP peered closer along with him. The bruise was less than an inch thick, but near each side of the neck the bruise split into two lines.
“I don’t know exactly; Ashley, what do you say about this bruise?”
“Skin stretches on the neck easily so the wound would be thinner than that.”
“But it’s barely and inch! And what is with the spaces?”
“I’m not sure, there doesn’t seem to be any, uh, deep dents in the skin so whatever strangled him wasn’t hard and pulled tightly and wasn’t patterned like a metal chain. It was also really thin, but I don’t know why it would split apart like that.”
Something triggered in Kevin and JP’s minds, tickling their memories. A moment passed, “Cords!” both exclaimed.
“Cords! Like for your cell phone or game system! A recharge cord is thin enough and can be soft enough to do that!” explained Kevin.
JP took over, “All you would have to do is fold it in half and pull back, but it would split near the hand holds. That’s why the markings are so odd.”
“So someone strangled a guy with their cell phone/game system cord, left them behind the stage and then put on a signal blocker. Does anyone else see the weirdness of this?”
“First time killer. Anyone with skill would not be this sloppy.”
“You would know wouldn’t you?”
Kevin spoke, “Well I don’t believe you would kill anyone JP, unless it was self defense. Even if you did I doubt anyone would suspect murder, if there was a body.”
“Thanks Kevin… I think.”
“There’s something else you guys,” warned Ashley, “Look at the marks, the line is almost even with his neck.”
“It means whoever did this is about the same height. What is he, 6’ 4”?”
“6’6”” confirmed Kevin.
“So not only does that eliminate me as a suspect, but the rest of us as well.” Smirked JP.
“You could have just stood on the stage and do the deed JP.” Pointed out Ashley.
“You are great at sneaking.” Commented Jessica.
“Can we just find a phone and call the police!”
“Isn’t there a landline in the main building?”
“Not anymore, it was taken out a couple years ago. And you can’t get the one in the manager’s building because no one is ever there.”
“Then let’s go to the main building, the catering company inside should have cell phones. Can a blocker be powerful enough to cover the whole park?” Ashley hoped she hadn’t just jinxed them all.
The group made their way to the building in silence. None wanted to speak of the possibility that the killer could be one of the caterers. The only things comforting them was safety in numbers, the idea of police, and that no one saw them near the stage. The back windows of the building had been boarded up due to the windstorms blowing out a few.
“What JP?” asked Kevin.
“The people inside saw us before we went down, if the murderer is inside he or she might suspect something is wrong.”
“So what do we do?”
“I’ve no idea, the chances of none of us having cell phones is slim, as is all of them being broken. Besides its still early, leaving now would be weird. Unless we go in saying we don’t have service, but we still need a reason to call out.”
“How about an injury?” started Ashley, “A medical emergency is innocent and can happen anywhere. But it can’t be too serious and we have to fake it unless someone wants to jump from the top of the playground. Has anyone needed to go to the hospital for something before?”
Jessica and Kevin said nothing that could be faked, but JP did reply. “I sprained my ankle twice. I’ve faked it before to get out of things, and anyone who has gotten a sprain knows that it might not swell up after the first time. It’s easy to fake and it can need medical attention.”
“So you only need to hop in?”
“Yeah, and wince when needed, but I do need a reason for how I sprained it. None of us look like we perform stupid stunts, and there’s a difference between sprains and the ankle giving out.”
“I guess the easiest is tripping and falling down the hill a bit. You never wear anything bright so they won’t question the lack of grass stains. Why don’t I drive out to call the police, you don’t need three people to help you in.” offered Ashley.
“Why didn’t we think of that before?” asked Jessica. A few minutes after she left the others started to the main building. Jessica and Kevin had JP lean on them while he hopped with a practiced step. Jessica opened the glass doors and JP feigning a wave of pain when his left foot brushed the door. None of the caterers noticed them, but they immediately saw a problem.
“Anyone else feel normal sized right now?” asked Jessica. All the caterers, including the two men were no higher than the group. “Its like we’re in the land of munchkins. Unless they were on the stage or wearing high heels none of them could be the killer.”
“Most of them are women so I’m betting on high heels.”
“You don’t wear heels when you cater, I worked for one a few months ago; if you have heels it’s for when the event is going on and when you stand by which I doubt they will wear any.
“Because the flyer on the door said ‘Reserved for Chen Homecoming Party’.”
One of the caterers, a balding man, noticed the group. He walked over with a disapproving look. “Can I help you? We are getting ready for a party, so we don’t need any distractions.”
“Joshua! Can’t you see he is hurt?” One of the women, who had long black curly hair and fake eyelashes started over immediately. Joshua rolled his eyes and resumed his work of setting down table placements. “Really?” asked his coworker as she brushed by. “I am so sorry. My name is Ella. Joshua hasn’t been himself since he was caught cheating on his girlfriend.” Ella said that last part loud enough for half of the room to hear. “What happened?”
“I, uh, fell down the hill a bit. Not sure but I think I did in my ankle.”
“Let me get the first aid kit, sit down over there.” Ella scurried off after pulling out a chair for her ‘injured’ guest.
“She seemed gullible, if a bit trusting.” Other caterers glanced over with mild curiosity but kept up with their work. Decorations were still being placed on the walls, plates and silverware were being precariously set, the smell of food wafting through the kitchen. The group must have been expensive if they were doing all of this.
Kevin and Jessica were milling around making small talk with some of the workers while they lent a hand. Ella sent another coworker instead, new to the job but with experience with sprains. “The hills by the basket ball courts are murder. I managed to sprain both of my ankles by going down them. It doesn’t look bad, but you could still have ripped a tendon. You should probably go to the ER. Sorry if I hurt you.” The woman tightened the gauze around JP’s ankle and he appropriately clenched his jaw with faux pain.
“It’s all right, but do you cell service? None of us can call out and my ride is with someone else. I don’t want to keep my friends here if they don’t need to.”
“Sure, let me go get it.” The worker went to her purse and cursed under her breath. She looked at the plug in and cursed again. “Hey Joshua where is your charger?”
“I don’t know, if it’s not in the wall then it’s missing.” A missing charge cord! The possible murder weapon and it just happens to be owned by the grumpiest worker in the room. Using a cord like that might have broken the internal wire so that would be reason to get rid of it; cords go missing all the time, it would never raise suspicion. But why kill John Dough? What could he have possibly gained from that?
“Just use mine Hilda, it’s by the door.” Ella offered. Hilda plugged hers in and waited a minute before checking it. She returned to JP but with an apologetic face.
“Sorry, but I can’t get any service either. I normally have great reception here.”
“That’s all right, thanks anyways.” Hilda moved into the kitchen to assume her work. Before JP could process what a conundrum they were all in Jessica and Kevin sped walked right over with news.
Kevin broke the news first. “John was one of the workers here JP! They were just complaining about how he bailed on them again.”
“Yeah and get this: He and that creep Joshua have been fighting. The others don’t know what it was about but apparently he knew something about Joshua. One person overheard him offering to pay John to keep quiet.”
JP told them about the missing cord and how Hilda didn’t have any service either. “You’ve got to be kidding.” groaned Jessica, “Let’s hope Ashley is having better luck.”