The Clock Strikes Something

I’ve been working lately on editing a novel that I will be publishing in the next few months. In that time, a couple of mysteries were written down but I never got around to typing them and posting them. Well, guess what? I finally typed up 1 of them and now I’m going to post it! It’s a slightly darker story and the mystery’s a little more involved. But I’m sure you’ll enjoy it just the same!

The Clock Strikes Something

Story by J.R. Underdown

 

Jason Johnson and Amy Frank were locked in a warm embrace. They stood in stark contrast to the weather outside the window of Amy’s small apartment in Williams Hall. Building up on the windowpane was a small pile of snow and ice. A strong blizzard had surprised Louisville in mid-January of 2009. What was supposed to be Southern Seminary’s first week of class and Boyce College’s second week turned into an extension of winter break. The newly engaged couple was enjoying the extra time off and using it to plan for their wedding…which was in May of the following year. Soon the time had come for them to part.

“I wish you didn’t insist on driving in this weather,” said Amy. “It’s a level 3 snow emergency out there! You could always stay with Zed.”

Jason’s light smile turned to a frown. “No…I couldn’t ask that of him and his roommates. I was safe getting here; I’ll be safe getting home.”

“But it’s worse out now than before!”

“I’ll be fine, lil’ sugar cakes. I’ll call you when I get home, OK?”

Amy frowned now. “OK…but be careful!”

They shared a final kiss and Jason departed. As he walked toward the nearby building of Honeycutt Hall, the campus’ clock tower chimed 6 times. Jason came up to one of the doors and hesitated. He finally sighed and went in. A while later, he came out and walked along the snowy pathway, passing lonely and frozen café tables and chairs. The long limbs of pine trees drooped over with heavy, icy fingers. A light snow fell all around as Jason entered the covered corner of Honeycutt and Norton Halls. It was there in the dark shadows that someone hit him on the head from behind. The clock struck 7.

*              *              *              *              *

The Horn of Urgency sounded from John’s cell phone. It was his ringtone and one that others found rather annoying. John stirred in his bed, which was now the top bunk. It was a new semester and Josh had moved to a different hall, leaving John and Abernathy. On the latter’s suggestion, they bunked beds to make for more space in the room. John hurriedly sat up and hopped down from the top. He tried to use a small dresser as a step, but missed his footing and fell to the ground with a muffled SMACK and a rumbling THUD. Abernathy awoke for a second, made sure John was fine, and then returned to sleep.

“Hello?” John answered when he finally recovered and made it to his desk by the corner window.

“Hey John, it’s Laura.”

“I know.”

“Oh, well, hey, get Bryan and meet us over at Williams Hall.”

“Wait, what? Why there? And why so early?”

“…it’s 10 AM.”

“That’s early for me…”

“I’m sorry, but it’s an emergency! Grab Bryan and get over here!”

“What’s the emergency? A giant carnivorous man-eating plant?”

“Not funny! It’s a mystery! We need to help my friend. So get Bryan!”

“All right, all right. Keep your hair red. We’re on our way.”

“Thank you! We’ll meet you outside Williams.”

Laura hung up and ten minutes later, the door to Bryan’s room flew open with a crash. John entered in his grey and black winter coat and blue knit cap.

“Grab your coat and hat,” said John. “Laura needs us for some emergency mystery for some friend or something.”

Bryan, sitting at his desk with a confused look, answered with an “O.K.” and then grabbed his black coat.

As he put it on, John asked, “So what are you doing up this early?”

Bryan gave a dry laugh. “It’s 10:15.”

“That’s early.”

Bryan kept his peace. He knew from his short time with John that some comments were best left without a response.

Soon the two friends emerged from Carver Hall into the patio area. The great tree that stood in its center hung down beneath the weight of ice and added a mystical touch to the snowy picture. They passed through the valley and up onto the Seminary side of campus. Crossing the J-Bowl at a diagonal, they came to Williams Hall. Outside, Laura and Jess shivered in waiting. Laura ran up and hugged both of the boys.

“I’m glad you guys are here,” she said.

“Did…she just hug us?” John asked Bryan.

“I believe she did.”

“Wooooow.”

“Look, I’m sorry,” Laura explained, “It’s just…this tragedy has occurred and a great mystery hangs on it and I need your guys’ help.”

“Well, we’re all ears,” Bryan replied.

“Good. Come with me.”

As they approached Williams, Jess greeted them.

“Hey Jess,” John began, “is this early?”

“Too early.”

“I am vindicated!” John declared with a glance at Laura and Bryan.

They entered the building, walked down a small hallway, and turned into an apartment. Sitting on a small love sofa was a pretty, young woman with a face red and weary from shedding tears.

“Guys, this is Amy Frank,” Laura introduced.

“Wait,” John stopped, “We’re in a girl’s room. Is this legal?”

“These are apartments, not dorms,” Amy answered. “There are no bans against guys here.” She smiled faintly.

“Oh, well, in that case, we are here to solve your problems!”

The visitors took their seats on chairs brought from the kitchen. Bryan sat on a recliner. “So what’s the mystery?” he asked when all settled in.

Amy choked back a sob. Laura joined her on the sofa to comfort her.

“It’s okay, Amy. Tell them what happened; we’ll get it.”

Amy grabbed a tissue and began: “My fiancé was beaten last night…almost to death.”

“What’s his name?” Bryan cut in.

“Jason Johnson.”

“Ah.”

“You know him?”

“We’ve met.”

“So where was he attacked?” John posed. “Downtown? What was he doing there?”

“Oh no! He was with me last night.”

“He was attacked on campus?” Bryan wondered in surprise. “Where?”

“In that corner where Honeycutt and Norton join.”

“You know,” John popped in, “I always thought that with those plywood boards covering the arches on one side and the tall bushes and brick pillars on the other, coupled with darkness, made that corner a great place for a murder!” John caught himself with a glance at Laura and Amy. “Or a beating…” he muttered.

“Who found him?” Bryan quickly posed.

“Zed Launders; his best friend.”

“They roommates?”

“No, Jason lives off-campus in a small studio apartment. Zed lives in Manly Hall.”

“Which room?”

“I’m…not sure. I’ll text a friend who knows.”

“What time did this Zed find Jason?” Bryan asked as Amy texted.

“8 PM.”

“When do they think the attack happened?”

“Oh, they know when it happened—7 PM.”

“How do they know?” Jess joined.

Amy paused to keep herself collected. “Jason said so. It’s all he’ll say. ‘Seven strokes, seven strokes.’”

“A reference to the clock tower,” Bryan explained. “It probably struck 7 when the attack happened, thus the last thing he recalls hearing.”

“Yes,” said Amy with a sob. “He told Zed that last night and told me and everybody else that at the hospital. It’s all he’ll say.” She began crying again.

John, who always felt awkward in the presence of a crying female, hurriedly came up with another question.

“So, uh, how’d it happen?”

“Some blunt object,” Amy answered. “He was hit from behind.”

“I wonder why,” Jess thought aloud. “Was it a robbery?”

“The police think so; his wallet was missing.”

A silence prevailed until Bryan broke out of thought. “You said he was with you. When did he leave here?”

Amy thought for a moment. “I’m not sure, I wasn’t paying attention. No, wait! As he stepped out my door, the tower bell struck six!”

“So what did he do for an hour?” Jess questioned.

“I don’t know. I thought he was going home.”

“What were you doing during this time?” Bryan posed.

“Studying Greek. I sorta lost track of time. He left at 6 and next thing I knew, I looked at my phone and it was 7:30! To think he was lying there helpless…” And Amy burst into tears.

“Now Amy, you can’t think about that,” Laura counseled. “We’ll get to the bottom of this.”

“Thank you, Laura. I believe you.”

“Wish I could believe myself,” thought John.

Just then, there was a knock at the door. Amy yelled that it was open and soon a tall, muscular, bald man in a black trench coat stood before them.

“Good morning, everyone,” he greeted with a low, thick voice. “I’m Detective Havenstraw of the Louisville PD. I’m here to see Ms. Amy Frank.”

“I am she. Have you any news of Jason?”

“No new developments. However, they think he’ll improve. Still muttering about 7 strokes or something. Anyway, I came to get some more particulars on the matter.”

Amy’s phone beeped. “Oh, Zed’s room is 216.”

“Wait, what?” the Detective went.

“We better go see if he’s in,” said Bryan.

“Hold up!” Detective Havenstraw stopped. “Why are you all going to see Zed Launders? That was my next stop.”

“Well,” John answered, “we’re beating—uh, one step ahead of you, because we’re detectives, too! Kind of…”

“What’s this? Am I competing with little detectives now?”

“My friend Laura, here, insisted I bring the case to them,” Amy explained. “They’ve had some success in the past.”

Havenstraw laughed. “Well, game on, little detectives! But in case you need me, here’s my card.”

Bryan took the small card. “Thanks. We can compare notes later.”

Havenstraw laughed dryly as they left.

In the chill air outside, John let off a whistle.

“This is a tough case,” he remarked.

“Yeah, with many mysteries intertwined,” added Bryan.

“Do you think we can solve it?” Jess asked.

“I hope so,” said Bryan. “We can at least try. Maybe we can work with that Detective and figure this out.”

“Maybe we should just leave it to him,” John came in.

“What?” cried Laura. “John, are you trying to back out of this case? I thought you were some master detective!”

In embarrassment and panic, John looked to Bryan, who said, “Let’s at least try.”

As they walked to Manly Hall beneath the grey skies, Laura decided to pick Bryan’s brain about the matter.

“I could tell you were thinking, Bryan. What do you make of it? Do you believe it’s robbery?”

“That theory seems pretty weak to me. We’ve had no such incidents before on campus and why would someone do it on a night like last night? And with such brutality?”

“Do you think Jason has enemies?” Jess posed.

“I don’t know. I coulda asked his fiancé, but I’ll have to settle for his best friend.”

They now found themselves at Manly Hall, the Seminary guys’ dorm (and yes, that was its actual name…). Since the girls couldn’t go up, Bryan and John had to do the questioning themselves, which was fine since Bryan had all the questions anyway. They knocked on Zed’s door and a skinny guy opened it: skinny frame, limbs, and face. His nearly buzzed haircut and thin glasses added to the overall “nerdy” appearance.

“Are you Zed?” asked Bryan.

“Yeah, who are you?”

“I’m Bryan. This is John. We’re investigating Jason’s assault. May we come in?”

Zed gave them a quizzical look and then swung the door wider. They entered a surprisingly clean and organized dorm room.

“Bryan, I think this is cleaner than your room,” John noted.

“It has to be neat,” said Zed. “It’s part of our law.”

“What law?” Bryan wondered.

“Our man law.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s from a beer commercial,” John jumped in.

They sat down in comfortable office chairs and Bryan began.

“So you found Jason at 8 last night?”

“Yes.”

“It must’ve been hard to find him like that.”

Zed frowned. “You have no idea.”

“How’d you two meet?”

“We met in college,” Zed began. “At Texas A&M. There were three of us. We were friends all through college, shared an apartment our senior year. We decided to go to Seminary together. My roommate is the third person.”

“Doesn’t look like he’s moved back yet.”

“He hasn’t. He decided to stay home ‘til next week…provided this snow ever leaves.”

“So if you all came to Seminary together, why didn’t Jason live here?”

Zed squirmed in his seat. “Our first year, he did. But then he met Amy, said he needed to save money for marriage, and moved out.”

“So this is your second year?” Bryan pressed.

Zed nodded.

“I guess you had a falling out?”

“That’s between me, Jason, and Seth, our third partner.”

“Partner?”

“Friend, partner. It’s the same thing.
We’re friends and partners in the law.”

“This man law from a beer commercial?”

“No! Our law is much more refined than that!”

Bryan shot John a look; the latter shrugged.

“Our law is about decency,” Zed continued. “Decency, honor…and loyalty.”

“Loyalty to each other?”

Zed shot Bryan a look. “Yes. I think you’ve asked enough about our private law. Anything else?”

“Yes. Where were you at 7 PM last night?”

“What?!” cried Zed. “You think I would attack my own friend?! Things have been a little rocky between us lately, but I would never do that!” Tears welled up.

Both boys were taken aback by this show of emotion. Bryan quickly recollected himself.

“I’m not saying you assaulted him, I’m just asking a procedural question.”

Zed regained control of himself and answered. “I was in Honeycutt.”

“Honeycutt doesn’t have any power,” John noted. “What were you doing in there?”

“There’s a study room in there; its lights are powered by a generator. Kevin Whitley was also there. He can vouch for me. If you want to talk to him, he’s in the room directly above us.”

“I think we shall,” Bryan concluded. “But first, why were your walking around a frozen campus at 8 PM?”

“I…had a lot on my mind. I was walking around to let off steam.”

Bryan nodded. “I see. Oh, did Jason have any enemies?”

“None that I know of. But since he moved out, who knows?”

“I was hoping you would. Oh well. That’s all I have. John, you have any questions?”

“Yeah, are you sure you didn’t get your ‘man law’ off that beer commercial?”

“Very sure.”

With that, they left and journeyed up one level to pay a visit to Kevin Whitley, a hefty man with short, black hair and a freckled face.

“Wow, visitors for me,” Kevin commented after Bryan introduced themselves. “And detectives, too. I bet you’re here about poor Jason.”

“How did you…?” Bryan began.

“Well, what else has happened?” Kevin finished.

“Good guess. Can we come in for a minute?”

“Yeah. By the way, it wasn’t me. I was in the Honeycutt study room at that time.”

“And what were you doing in there?” Bryan asked.

“Typing a paper. Getting a head start on the semester. I got tired of sitting in here by myself.”

“Was anyone else in there?”

“For the most part, no. But a little before 7, Zed Launders (who’s Jason’s best friend, by the way) came in. But he wasn’t there to study.”

“How could you tell?”

“Didn’t have anything with him. Looked more like he was waiting for someone, kept checking his phone and all that. I didn’t stay long, though. Left shortly after that.”

“I see. Did you happen to see Jason?”

“Nope. I haven’t seen him since last semester. Things changed when he got engaged. Caused quite a splash.”

“I didn’t hear about it,” John informed.

“Not for Boyce students, but caused a splash among Jason, Zed, and Seth. Jason’s engagement broke their ‘man law’…and people think I have sad hobbies.”

“How did he break it?” Bryan questioned.

“Not sure. Apparently back in their first year of college, they came up with this ‘man law’ and one of the laws was that they’d always be friends and never threaten that friendship with something like marriage.”

“Hello, junior high,” muttered John.

“So Jason broke it with his engagement,” Kevin continued. “And Zed was super mad.”

Bryan nodded. “Well, thank you, Kevin. You’ve been very helpful. And now, we’ll leave you alone.”

“Oh, you don’t have to go yet,” Kevin protested. “I was about to watch ‘Battle Star Galactica!’”

“That sounds riveting, but we have friends waiting outside…”

“Friends who are girls?”

“Yeah, how’d you…?”

“Well, who would wait outside in this weather? It must be girls.”

“Yep, and one of them hugged us when we met her this morning,” John added.

“Oh, now you’re just rubbing it in!”

“I…don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Come on, John, they’re waiting,” Bryan cut in. With that, they left.

“Any success?” Laura asked as soon as the boys reappeared.

“You better have,” said Jess. “You were in there long enough.”

“We had a very successful time!” Bryan answered.

“What’d you learn?” Laura pressed.

They headed toward Mullins Hall to allow the girls a respite from the cold. As they walked, Bryan told all they had found. A light flurry mixed with sleet began coating the ground, but they rushed inside and soon sipped on hot chocolate provided by Jess.

“Well, this certainly is a complicated case,” Bryan remarked.

“Yeah, at least it seems clear that Zed is out of the picture,” said Laura. “If he was in the study room at 7, he couldn’t have attacked Jason.”

“So who was it?” Jess wondered. “Kevin? Some random person? Maybe the attacker was aiming for somebody else.”

“Doesn’t seem as likely,” Bryan countered. “Given the weather conditions last night, the attack was intentional. I think the bigger question in my mind is where did Jason go for an hour between leaving Amy and getting attacked?”

“Wait, he was missing for an hour?” John entered.

“Maybe we should review our timeline,” Laura suggested.

“Good idea,” Bryan agreed. “Pay attention, John. Now, Jason left Amy around 6 and was supposedly attacked around 7. He laid there for an hour until Zed found him at 8. All clear? So the question is, what did Jason do between 6 and 7?”

“He visited the pixie people,” John commented. “And was then attacked by an ogre looking for his donkey!”

A moment of silence passed as the others gave John weird looks.

“Actually,” Bryan broke in at last, “here’s what I think happened: Jason and Zed were supposed to meet yesterday evening. Either they confused the times, or Jason forgot, or he just didn’t feel like going knowing his friend probably only had bad things to say. What did he do instead? I don’t know. Maybe he visited the restroom and made a long phone call. Who knows? At any rate, he must’ve been leaving campus around 7 when he was attacked.

“Zed, meanwhile, was waiting for Jason. He waits an hour and decides to go looking for him. Perhaps he was heading for the parking lot to see if Jason’s car was still here. Instead, he finds Jason’s battered body.”

“Sounds satisfactory,” said Laura with a nod. “Now to find who did it.”

“That will be the hardest part,” Bryan admitted. “I think that means we’ll have to dive deeper into Jason’s life.”

“Can we play in the snow first?” John popped up.

“What?”

“We’ve been up since 10 at least, so I think we should take 5 and play in the snow.”

“Yeah,” Jess agreed, “We could use a break.”

With that, they went outside. They were on the steps in front of Mullins leading down into the J-Bowl, when Laura stopped Bryan with a question.

“Bryan, do you think what John said about the pixie people is true? I mean, if they did happen to exist, why would they want to meet with a human?”

Bryan cocked his head and thought of a response.

“That’s a valid question. It’s hard to imagine what extremely small homunculi would want with average-sized Homo sapiens like us. You would think they would want to ride teeter-totters and chase unicorns all day.”

“Bryan, I think that’s a little patronizing of you. You’re treating them like a lower class of citizens, but if they’re people, we should respect them.”

“Well, are they real people?”

Bryan and Laura continued this scintillating conversation while John and Jess decided to build a snow fort. The conditions of snow and sleet made for perfect snow fort building. Other students came by to help for a little while until at last the fort stood 10 feet high, 3 car lengths wide, and 2 car lengths deep. It was a threatening site there on the seminary lawn. Thirty minutes later, a loud bang, a puff of smoke from the top parapet, and a pillar of snow rising and collapsing about 25 yards away came from the icy structure. Jess and John exchanged high-fives over the successful testing of their snow cannon. Soon Laura and Bryan came peeping into the fort; the blast had shaken them from their pixie people conversation.

They were discussing firing off another shot when Detective Havenstraw reappeared.

“Was that you all that fired that cannon?” he asked.

“Yes,” answered John with a pause. “You’re not going to arrest us are you?”

Havenstraw laughed. “No…not if you show me how to use it.”

After a quick lesson from John and Jess, the Detective turned to the students. “Now, let’s get down to business. What did my little detectives find?”

“Quite a bit of info,” Bryan replied. “But I don’t think we gained a lot of ground.” Bryan then shared all that they had learned. Detective Havenstraw nodded and took some notes through most of Bryan’s narrative. When the student was done, he said, “Well, it seems we’re on the same page. However, I have a leg up on you! I visited the crime scene.”

“Did you find anything?” Bryan wondered.

“Found where the culprit hid in the bushes. Not much snow has covered it since last night so it was an easy find. It also looks like one of those plywood coverings had been forced. I went back behind there, but couldn’t find anything. All covered with snow. Welp, I’m heading back to the station to clear my head and take a fresh look at this. Let me know if you little detectives find anything.”

“I wish he wouldn’t call us little detectives,” said Jess after Havenstraw left. “It feels patronizing.”

“I know!” cried John. “It’s not like any of us are minors! We can all smoke if we want to!”

“Yeah…um, Bryan? Why didn’t you look at the crime scene?” Laura wondered.

“Didn’t think we’d find anything,” Bryan explained. “However, that forced board is significant. Maybe the perpetrator was parked in that direction.”

“So what do we do now?” Laura pressed. “Look for clues?”

“No, I think I’m going to do homework and think this case over. Why don’t we meet up for supper at 5?”

They all agreed to this and returned to their respective dorms.

*              *              *              *              *

A cold and cheerless sun shone out as Bryan and John exited Carver to begin their trek to the cafeteria.

“Did you get anywhere on that case?” John inquired as they passed the library on its northern side.

“Not very far,” Bryan answered with a sigh. “This is a thoroughly mind-boggling case.”

“I still think the pixie people have something to do with it.”

Bryan laughed. “John, if you had been paying attention to the conversation Laura and I were having, you would have known why we ruled out any involvement by the pixie people.”

“Enlighten me.”

As Bryan began his discourse, the two came in view of the J-Bowl and the tower began counting off the hours. As Bryan finished the first point in his concise 3-point outline, the tower quit its tolling and John pulled out his cell phone.

“That’s odd,” he cut in, “the bell only tolled 4 times, but it’s 5 o’clock. It must’ve fell behind an hour when power went off yesterday.”

Bryan stopped dead in his tracks. He looked to the clock on the tower. It was an hour behind. He then grabbed John by the arms and cried, “John, you’ve done it! Do you realize that was probably the most important observation you’ve ever made?”

“Well, actually there was this one time in Scranton…”

“Come on! We gotta tell the girls!”

“Bryan, I wouldn’t run if I were you. You might slip on the…nevermind.”

Of course, Bryan wiped out on the ice.

Within minutes, Bryan and John were in the cafeteria, which looked more like a refugee camp at that moment. At their dimly lit table, as they munched down on stale bread and cold meat (this wasn’t necessarily because of the power outage; many claimed that the food was always so lackluster), Bryan revealed to the girls John’s discovery.

“It’s an hour behind?!” Jess repeated.

“This changes everything!” Laura remarked. “Our whole timeline shifts up an hour, which means Jason was attacked at 8!”

“But it still leaves an hour unaccounted for, right?” Jess posed.

“Pixie people,” said John, moving his fingers in a mysterious way.

“John, Bryan and I talked this over,” Laura began.

“Already told him…kind of,” Bryan finished. “But we have more pressing things before us, for this time shift reveals who did it!”

“It does?” Laura wondered in confusion.

“Isn’t it obvious?”

They all shook their heads.

“It’s Zed! It must be! And when we’re done, we’ll pay him a visit. In the meantime, it may help to let Detective Havenstraw in on it. John, may I borrow your cell phone?”

“Do you know how to use it?” his friend asked jokingly.

“I’m not that homeschooled…”

Due to this revelation, excitement boiled over and they finished their meals faster than their mothers would have appreciated. Soon Laura and Jess were standing outside Manly and Bryan and John were standing outside Zed’s room. They knocked, but no one answered. After waiting several minutes, they assumed he wasn’t there and decided to look elsewhere. In the stairwell, they ran into Kevin.

“Oh hey guys, you looking for Zed?”

“Yeah,” Bryan answered, “How’d you…?”

“Well, what else would you be doing here?”

“Good point. Do you know where we could find him?”

“Yeah, he’s in that study room. Actually studying this time, I believe. Say, are those two girls out there your friends?”

“Yeah…”

“They’re cute. Could you give me one or both of their numbers?”

“No, I don’t think they’d like that…”

“Oh, OK. Just checking.”

As they parted, John turned and added, “By the way, we had dinner with them!”

“Stop rubbing it in!”

The four detectives found Zed in the small study room, lit with the setting sun. He sat at a table by the door with his laptop open along with a few books. He was studying Greek (which, in case you haven’t noticed, every student took part in at this school). He eyed the four as they entered and stood opposite of him.

You did it,” Bryan began.

“I did what?” Zed countered.

“You attacked Jason.”

What?! Are you serious? Why would I do such a thing? We were best friends!”

“Emphasis on ‘were’?” Laura entered.

Zed glared at her. “This is insane! How could I do it? He was attacked at 7!”

“But that’s not true, is it?” Bryan countered. “The tower clock is an hour behind. Jason left Amy around 7, not 6. He met you in this very room. You had a discussion about Jason’s marriage breaking your ‘man law.’ You parted on bad terms. But as Jason walked into that dark corner, out you sprang and clubbed him on the back of the head. The clock sounded 7 times. But it was really 8. Jason began muttering about it and you realized you had the perfect alibi. Yet you gave it away by reporting your find a little after 8.”

Tears welled up in Zed’s eyes. “How dare you! To think that you would think that I would do such a thing! Yes, we met and it ended in an argument, but I did go out to clear my head. I just happened to find my best friend beaten to death! I never said he was attacked at 7, the police inferred that from what he said when I found him. Why don’t you ask Kevin where he was at? Huh? Maybe he did it! He was jealous of our friendship! I bet he did this to ruin it!”

This show of emotion was powerful enough to make the four detectives doubt their accusation.

“Bryan, did you ask Kevin where he was at 8?” Laura posed.

“No, because we thought the attack happened at 7!” Bryan replied. “Besides, it has to be Zed! He just changed his story and Kevin said he hadn’t seen Jason yet this semester!”

“Hey, where is Zed?” wondered Jess.

Indeed their suspect was gone.

“The pixie people took him!” John declared.

“I think he just proved his guilt,” Bryan noted.

“Guys, he’s getting away!” Jess informed.

After an obligatory, “Get him!” they gave chase. Zed had a sizeable lead on them and had already reached the fringes of the J-Bowl. When our four detectives made it there, Zed was in the center, running for a parking lot behind the library. All hope of justice seemed to be slipping out of their grasp when all of a sudden a blast of smoke and a loud boom came from the snow fort. Someone had fired the cannon and for a moment, everyone, including Zed, stopped. Before Zed could resume his flight, a giant ball of snow crashed on him. He was captured.

“Who shot that cannon off?” Laura wondered as they moved in on Zed.

“Look! It’s Detective Havenstraw!” Jess pointed out.

Sure enough, a tall, bald figure in a dark trench coat came trotting out of the fort. The two parties converged on Zed, who had barely dug himself out of the snow pile.

“Woo! That is some cannon!” Havenstraw exclaimed.

“Glad it could be of service,” Jess said.

“So, my little detectives solved the crime! How’d you figure it was Zed?”

“The key,” Bryan expounded, “was figuring out that the seminary tower clock was behind an hour. Everyone was basing their time off that clock, except for Zed. He was the only one who seemed to be aware of the real time and yet shifted it around to his purposes.”

“That’s all circumstantial,” Zed groaned.

“He’s got a point,” Havenstraw admitted. “Without some solid evidence, I can’t book ‘im.”

“Would the recovery of the weapon and the stolen items suffice?”

“If we could find them, yes. The suspicion would be enough to get a warrant to search his room.”

“You won’t find them there.”

“Well, where will I find them?”

“Beneath the first sewage hole you come to behind the plywood.”

They stood in shock.

“I went and checked it this afternoon,” Bryan explained. “You can see the bloody wrench and wallet from the top of the manhole. I left them down there to avoid tampering with evidence.”

Detective Havenstraw laughed. “My little detectives indeed! I suppose it helps to know the area. The manhole was covered with snow this morning. At any rate, I wouldn’t have thought to check it since I was working under the assumption that it was burglary. So Zed, are you going to ‘fess up now?”

By now, Zed broke down and cried, drawing pity from the four students (it’s always pity-inducing when a man cries).

“Yes, I did!” he sobbed. “I was angry at Jason for breaking the law. We tried to talk it out last night, but he refused to break off his engagement. I lost it and stormed out. I had a wrench in my backpack for my bike and used it. He kept mumbling about 7 strokes and I realized my alibi was covered. I dumped the stuff in the sewers, hoping it’d wash away.”

“But it’s frozen down there,” Bryan noted.

“And it’s frozen in your heart, too,” Havenstraw added. “All this over a stupid ‘man law.’ Come on! I’ve heard enough! Well, my little detectives, I thank ya.”

With that, the two left.

John whistled. “I am genuinely surprised we solved this case.”

“Me too,” Jess agreed. “That was a tough one.”

“Not as tough as Bryan’s brain,” Laura joined.

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” said Bryan.

“It’s weird, though,” Jess added. “To think that he would turn on his best friend over such a silly thing!”

“Yeah,” John mused. “Bryan, I hope you never do something like that to me.”

“John, first of all, I would never sign a man law with you,” Bryan answered. “Secondly, I would do something more bombastic…like shooting you out of a snow cannon.”

“Speaking of which,” said Laura, “can we shoot it off one more time?”

“We can shoot it off several more times!” Jess replied enthusiastically.

And so, the four detectives played around in the snow fort long into the night, shooting off the cannon several times…once with John in it. Jess and John won an award from a local newspaper for “best use of their time during a freak blizzard.” Laura spent a lot of time with Amy, who was shocked to learn of the “man law.” Bryan became even more noted around campus, not just for playing cello, but now for solving mysteries. Jason eventually recovered and married Amy. Zed received a short prison sentence.

And the moral of the today’s story is: Always wear a helmet when passing through a dark path at night.

*college-time mysteries. All rights reserved. 2013.

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