June 26th, 2016
“You son of a goddamn bitch!” Bret Walker hollers down the phone the second I answer it. I’m packing my bags, getting ready to catch the next train out of town. I was intrigued by the unknown number that popped up on my screen, only to answer it and hear an irate voice screaming at me. The first thing that pops into my head is how the hell he got my number. I know that someone must have let the cat out of the bag, and I know that that someone must be Jamie. I can already see it; I wasn’t back home when I was supposed to be, so my sister told my parents who then managed to track down Bret’s number and talk to him, only for him to then call me on my number they must have given him.
“I’m sorry…?” I play dumb, my heart beating like a samba drum. All I can think to myself is how stupid I am, and I already want to cry. You stupid girl. You can’t repeat history, see? Now the present day is flying over your head and it’s getting too much to handle. You’re ruining the now. Just let go, Two. Let GO.
I’m not at all surprised if he thinks I’m batshit crazy. I’m nothing but a liar these days. I lie for jokes, and the lies become something true in my mind. I can’t extract my true feelings from my elaborate stories. I’m like the girl who cried ‘believe me.’ I’m not even sure if I believe myself.
“Jennifer-Anne Middleton? That’s your name. You’re Jennifer-Rose’s younger sister. Correct?”
I stay quiet, having nothing else to say. “You are, aren’t you?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Your sister called me. Jamie. She’s concerned about your whereabouts. She wishes for you to come home immediately. Whatever sick game you’ve been playing is over. I don’t know why, exactly, but it’s disgusting.”
“You don’t understand anything,” I respond, “You don’t get it. you don’t get why.”
“Why, then? What could possibly compel you to do what you’ve been doing this past week?”
“I said you won’t get it!” I cry. “You jackass. You won’t get it. you don’t know what I’m going through, or why I’m doing this. And I’m so sorry for interrupting the order of your life. I’m sorry for intervening.”
“Do you know how stupid you’ve made me look?”
“I said I’m sorry...” and all I can do is cry. I’m sobbing, a sound I’ve never quite heard from my own mouth for as long as I can remember. He doesn’t say anything for a long time, and silence is met on the other side as I wail and catch my breath, as I wipe my tears and sniffle repeatedly.
“Look, Ro- Anne… I don’t know what’s going on here, but it needs to end. I don’t know what you’re going through, and I can now say that you know what I’ve been going through. Whether you had to or not doesn’t matter at this point. But for the sake of our own wellbeing, you need to go home to your family and let me live.”
I can’t even respond. All I can do is cry like a maniac, and my breakdown is just met with an awkward silence. “Anne. Please, stop crying.” He eventually says. “What’s the matter?” and for the first time, I hear his voice soften. He knows that we all have demons and skeletons and that you can’t be angry with a person for too long. At least not the younger sibling of your dead best friend who looks more like a dead ringer for her. He’s got to feel some sort of suspicion towards everything. Sometimes I wonder if my extravagant ploys at playing out another life was really just my cry for help, or to bring light to my absurd circumstances. The best way to convince someone you’re a clone is to be that person, right?
“How are you getting home?” he asks.
“Train.” I mumble.
“…Are you sure you’ll be safe getting back?” his tone has changed completely; he seems concerned for me. I’m not sure if he’s still angry, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was.
“Yeah, I will.”
“Lord. Yes! I’ll be fine.” He seems to be holding out on saying or asking something, I can tell. He still wants to know why I’m crying, what’s bothering me, why I did what I did. There’s no way I can let him know. “And by the way, you didn’t kill my sister,” I tell him. “You’ve had nothing to worry about all these years. You may have had the right to mourn, but in no way did you ever need to feel guilty about anything.”
“Hmm…” is all he can respond. I guess he’s defeated, and he recognises that’s he’s beaten himself up enough. Even though he knows he was sort of duped by a sixteen-year-old into a cathartic confession, he doesn’t seem too fazed by that anymore. That, or he’s trying to work out other things in his mind. The revelation has sprung him into a new train of thought, and I wonder if it will lead him to the truth of all truths.
July 13th, 1999
“Hello, Mr Walker. I’m Officer Wilson, and this is my partner Officer Rouge. We just need to ask you a few questions regarding the suspect at the Bluebeach shooting yesterday afternoon.”
“Sure,” Bret cracks his knuckles as he sits on the couch opposite the two investigators. His palms are clammy, and his forehead dotted with sweat beads. It’s definitely not hot enough to produce perspiration. He’s just shitting bricks.
“It has been brought to our attention that Tanner Holt was a close friend of both yours and Jennifer-Rose Middleton’s along with Naomi Sanchez and Christof Jones. Is that correct?”
“…Uhh, yeah. That’s correct. The five of us were very close. That’s why this is extremely out of the blue, you know.” He scratches the back of his head.
“We were actually wondering whether you had any knowledge of the conspiracy to attack Jennifer-Rose, or harm her in any way – Holt confessed to Rose being the main target, with any other casualties just additions to the destruction he desired to cause.” Officer Wilson looks right into Bret’s eyes.
As the pair wrangle on the ground, Tanner manages to land a fist right under Bret’s eye. He groans in pain before lashing out at Tanner, who falls back on the floor of his basement, landing with a thud. He reaches out to grab the gun that slid across to the other side of the room amidst the struggle. Bret’s heart starts to thud – he knew Tanner was slightly unhinged, but not crazy enough to kill him over an argument about Rose. What started off as a drunken debate as to where Rose’s real intentions lied escalated quickly into a violent brawl, with Tanner reaching quickly for the firearm in his father’s basement. Bret could only do so much to stop it, especially under the influence of alcohol. As they punched and kicked at each other, Bret wondered if he would ever see another day. He feels like he may have been the only person to see this side of Tanner Holt; the deranged, jealous lunatic teenage boy. The one who just happened to have access to guns.
“Walker, it’s you or the girl.” Tanner breathes, pointing the gun directly to Bret’s forehead. He didn’t manage to get the weapon from Tanner quickly enough, and he is overwhelmed by his injuries.
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
“I could either shoot you now, or I’ll kill Rose. I can’t do both. If I bust your head, you save Rose’s life. If you leave here alive, I’ll make sure she’s gone.”
Bret lets out a hearty laugh, a laugh of delirium. He can’t quite register what he’s hearing, or who’s saying it. But all he has to do is look at the expression on Tanner’s face to know he’s not joking.
“How could you cover something like that up? Murdering one of your best friends? Holding the other one at gunpoint?”
“I don’t give a damn about prison,” Tanner says swiftly. As if he’s had time to contemplate it, or as if he’s something of a psychopath. “And at least I’ll be famous for something, right?”
In Tanner’s nonchalance, Bret quickly rushes to knock the gun out of Tanner’s hand. But it’s like he saw it coming, and like lightening, he abruptly has Bret in a headlock. The gun is kissing his temple. Tanner has never been the strongest, and it’s no doubt that Bret would ruin him in a real fight. But when one is in a situation this surreal, sometimes adrenaline and muscle isn’t enough.
“I’m being serious, Walker,” Tanner hisses. “Who should I use my bullets on? You or Rose?”
“You don’t have to do this, bro. I’m telling you. You don’t have to.”
“You both think you can get away with humiliating me,” he chuckles. “Whatever you’ve been doing with her, and when, you’d rather screw up your relationship with your girl than try and wing for me.”
“Are you crazy?” Bret splutters. “I told you. I did nothing with Rose.”
Bret can’t answer. Tanner loads the magazine, and the click startles Bret. The thing that scares him the most is the strength of his grip and the fact that his hands aren’t shaking. The barrel is pointed to Bret’s temple like a laser. He knows that he’ll be dead in less than thirty seconds unless he saves himself.
“Don’t kill me,” Bret pleads. “Please, don’t.”
“Ahh. So, it’s Jennifer-Rose, then?”
“You know the rules. It’s you or her, goddamnit!”
“Her!” Bret yells. “Go on, then. Fucking blow her brains out, for all I care. Do it.”
“Are you sure you want that?” Tanner asks, almost like he’s clarifying someone’s order at In-N-Out. The calmness sends chills through Bret’s spine.
“Yeah. I’m sure. You can’t tell nobody I told you that, though. That’s unfair. You put me in a real bad position, Holt.”
“Don’t worry about that,” Tanner says, releasing his grip. “I’m responsible for all of this. I’ll tell the cops it was all me.” He smiles. He seems almost excited, like he can’t wait to be on TV or something. He’s going to take all the credit, and he’s going to revel in the infamy.
Bret doesn’t think Tanner will go through with it. He feels like he’s all bark and no bite, and whatever he’s feeling now will fade in the morning. But deep down, he’s not too sure. He thinks he may have just put a target on Rose’s back, and he’s afraid for what he may have done. He stumbles out of Tanner’s house in agony, not being able to see straight. He falls into the driver seat and leans his head on the steering wheel, and flimsily reaches for his phone so he can call Naomi.
The whole time, his heart never stops bounding in his chest.
“I had no clue it would happen. Tanner didn’t show any signs of plotting to do anything.” Bret says. “It was just a normal day, you know. Then everything changed.”
“You were the last person Tanner had met the night before, correct?”
“What can you tell us of that account. What was said, or what happened?”
“Nothing. We just sat and drank, played a couple of games and watched television.”
Bret watches Officer Rouge eyeing his injuries. The bruise on his cheeks is a galactic purple, lined with mustard yellow. It’s hard to not notice. “What happened there?” she asks, signalling to his face.
“I fell whilst I was drunk,” Bret says. Semi true, semi false.
“Ahh. No altercation or something of the sort?”
“No. With who?”
“Tanner holt had sustained similar injuries upon an examination of his person,” Rouge answers. “So did Jennifer-Rose. Bruises along her arm and some scratches on her neck.”
“What would they have to do with me?” Bret is instantly in defence mode. He wants to distance himself as much as he can from the situation, but the marks on his body are drawing him closer.
“We’re not sure, Mr Walker. What would it?”
“Nothing. At all. I told you how I got these.” He wasn’t aware of the injuries to Rose, and he instantly gathers that Tanner must have hurt her, too. A part of him wonders if he did the same thing to her, but if so, it wouldn’t make sense. Rose would have probably begged for her life too, and Bret would have been the dead man. Unless Rose offered herself, and then Bret’s selfish affirmation was the cherry on top.
“OK,” Officer Wilson responds. “I suppose these injuries are nothing, but us trying to connect the dots, but we can’t go further on that basis. Back to the first question – were there no pointers at all as to the shooting?”
“No, I told you. Have you interviewed the others? Naomi or Jo- Christof Jones? What did they say?”
“None of that information is to be distributed, Mr Walker. We would just like an individual account from your own knowledge. Are you telling me that you had no clue about his history of mental illness, such as his bipolar disorder?”
Here they go with that mentally ill white kid shooter, Bret thinks to himself. Tanner was nothing but evil, and he had nothing in his mind but to wreak havoc. His wellbeing can’t be blamed. There are so many people with mental illnesses that wouldn’t do what he did.
“He’d been in remission for a year. He went to a young adult’s rehab centre in Arizona last year, and he’s been fine ever since. Why would that be the cause?”
“So you knew?”
“I knew he had something at some point. But I couldn’t predict something like this happening.” Bret lies through his teeth, and it hurts to say, but he wants nothing to do with it. He may he somehow held responsible for knowing and not doing anything about it – murder by omission, if Rose dies. Of course, he could use maybe duress as a defence, after all he was held at gunpoint by Tanner. But he just wants to wash away the memory and run away from the reality surrounding him. He wants nothing to do with it. “Tanner had always liked Rose. He adored her. For months, he would always go on about it. There was no reason for him to do what he did.”
“Sounds like a classic case of jealousy,” Officer Rouge jots something down in her notebook. “He must have had the If I can’t have her, no one can mentality.”
“Maybe…” Bret says with a small, mousy voice.
“Well, we don’t really have much else to ask,” Officer Wilson straightens his posture. “We just needed to know if this shooting could have been predicted, or even better, prevented by someone close to him, or someone who knew him. We have all we need from you. Thank you for your time, and we’re sorry about your friend.”
And with that, the investigators exit Bret’s living room. And then in the silence of his own home, he cries. Something he hasn’t done for a very, very long time.
His lies got Rose lying on life support. His bullshit tore his friendships apart. Had he not laid a finger on Rose all those months ago, he would not have anything to hide when it came to Tanner’s suspicions. Had he not laid a finger on Naomi, he would not have gotten to the point where he was caught red-handed. Had he not implanted the false idea that Rose was the main accomplice to his cheating ways, he wouldn’t have put a target on her back. He weaved a web of lies and deceit and through his cowardice and evasiveness, he put a bullet hole through Jennifer-Rose Middleton’s head.