Story: How Will You Go?

It’s time for a new College-Time Mystery!

In this one, Bryan and John find themselves the victims as a mysterious man haunts their every move. Can they discover his identity before it’s too late?

How Will You Go?
Story by J.R. Underdown

November swept in cold and wet, and with finals fast-approaching the weather seemed to reflect the mood of the students at Boyce College. On a dark, fateful, damp evening, John packed up his pile of books and left the study area above Founders’ Café to head back to the dorms where he could catch a cold in his room. His roommate, hailing from Michigan, preferred abnormally cold temperatures year-round to simulate the northern tundra from which he came. This meant the AC never stopped, the lone window was left open, and a fan blew the cold air in whichever direction the Michigan man was sitting. So the chilly walk across campus only prepared John’s blood for the climate he would live in for the rest of the night.

A light drizzle glazed the pavement, which the lone student studied as he walked through the J-Bowl past Norton Hall and the library. He crossed the small parking lot where dreary leaves massed against the curb. Down further he descended into the valley with lights from Carver Hall drawing him up the other side.

The small courtyard behind the dorms was split into three sections, each with at least one door into the building. The larger area had multiple tables and chairs that rested beneath a great oak tree in the center. This part was flanked on either side by smaller sections with flower beds and stone benches. John entered into the small garden the walkway led to first. He yanked on the door and was surprised to find it locked. Usually it was never locked that early in the evening and especially not on a weeknight!

Slightly bitter at the over-zealous security guard who barred John’s speedy exit from the damp night, he hustled into the bigger courtyard and made for the door.

“Hey John,” said a voice.

The student stopped abruptly and peered cautiously and awkwardly around. It had been a man’s voice, deeper, it sounded, than most of his peers. He also thought it came from the small garden on the other side. He squinted, trying to discern anyone there. It wasn’t well-lit and he couldn’t detect a presence. He shook his head and shrugged; much study was fraying his mind.

“John, over here,” came the voice again as the young man reached for the door.

“Who’s there?” he finally answered.

“Come here for a second. I need your help.”

Curiosity overcame dread and John slowly advanced on the dark area. A low brick wall ran around its perimeter and here he stopped, staring hopelessly into the black.

Suddenly a shadow sprang up before him and, with amazing strength that John didn’t expect, grabbed him, lifted him through the air, and dropped him in a bed of mulch. Dormant adrenaline now raced into action as John sprang up, discarding his heavy backpack. He faced his attacker but there was no one.

Raising both arms to face-level, as if fending off blows in a boxing ring, he warily turned around and side-stepped a small tree. He crept deeper into the shadows. His eyes were adjusting now and soon, he felt, he could defend himself properly. But he never got the chance.

*          *          *          *          *

A light air from Bach filled Bryan’s room with a sweet sound. It drowned out the bubbling beakers that had taken over his roommate’s desk. Unfortunately, it could do nothing about the smell. He tried leaving the remnants of an orange from supper on his desk, but the poor fruit was no match. No matter! The young man and occasional detective had found his zone and clicked away at the keyboard to rapidly mark down his thoughts on Christian involvement in politics.

So, it was a slight disappointment when a loud knock disrupted his progress. He sat a moment to think of who it could be. John most likely; but his friend was in the habit of banging the door open without warning. The knock came again. Curious with this little problem, Bryan half –considered letting the soul outside knock until he could deduce the assailant’s identity. He thought better of this and stood up to open the door.

John stood before him in his most bedraggled appearance to date. He was clearly soaked through with the rain and covered with black splotches from mulch. Some fallen leaves leeched onto his blue and green hoodie and his face was red and bruised.

Bryan gaped at the sight and merely stood aside as John entered wordlessly, tossed his wet backpack on the floor beside Gus’ bed, and plopped down in Gus’ chair. For his part, Bryan closed the door and resumed his seat. Silence reigned as both friends exchanged looks, Bryan’s full of inquiry, John’s full of frustration.

“You will not believe what I have been through tonight!” John finally exclaimed.

Bryan nodded. “Did you jump in a pile of leaves, fall asleep, and get raked up and dumped in the back of one of the grounds crew’s trucks by accident?”

John raised an eyebrow. “Why yes. Your powers of deduction have grown beyond normal human comprehension.”

Bryan laughed at the sarcastic compliment. “You have to admit, it’s not outside the realm of possibility for you!”

“If it wasn’t raining, then I would concede that as possible. But in current weather conditions, I am only like this because someone attacked me.”

Bryan frowned slightly and cocked his head. “Which girl didn’t appreciate your Reformation pick-up lines this time?”

“Har, har. Seriously, I just got attacked!”

“I think my original hypothesis is more credible.”

John sat flabbergasted.

“Sorry,” Bryan apologized with a laugh, “writing about politics makes me feel loose.”

John found no words for reply.

“So…you were attacked? By whom?”

“I don’t know.”

Bryan nodded slowly. Perhaps, he figured, his friend had finally snapped after a long semester with plenty of stress. But John related the incident detail-by-detail (with maybe a little too much detail). At first, Bryan seemed somewhat humored by it. Something like this would happen to John. Yet, by the end, he felt that there was a dark and mysterious air to the matter.

Bryan was about to begin hypothesizing when they both were startled from their seats by a brick that crashed through the window. Slowly John picked up the object while Bryan rushed the pane and threw it open. He peered into the rainy night and discerned a figure down below.

“Sorry,” he heard a voice, presumably from the figure, say.

“Excuse me?” Bryan replied.

“I meant to throw that into the window on the floor above you!”

Bryan spared a glance upward and then returned his gaze back down. “Put a little more arch in your throw!”

“Got it! Could you toss my brick and note back down?”

Bryan took the missile with the note still rubber banded on and gently threw it to the ground. With a word of thanks, the figure reclaimed his brick. As Bryan turned away from the window, arms akimbo, and stared thoughtfully at his friend, they heard the sound of glass breaking above them followed by a dull thud.

“This is a random night,” Bryan declared.

“Did you just tell that kid how to properly break a window?”

“No. I told him how to properly throw a brick.”

He crossed the room and stood by his desk thinking. John was about to pursue the brick-throwing technique a bit farther when another object sailed through the open window and bounced across the floor. John, whose threshold for patience had long since dissipated, flung around and bent himself out the opening.

“Look, buster, how many notes do you want to throw around tonight, huh?”

He would’ve continued his yelling, but all words choked at the source. The hurler of the new missile stepped into the light cast from Bryan’s room. He was covered in black garb, including a ski mask, and stood smiling and waving at the college student. John didn’t need Bryan’s reasoning skills to see that this was his attacker. He dumbly pointed at the man and turned his head back to his colleague.

“Bryan, it’s him!”

His friend, who had been studying the rock and found a piece of paper attached, leapt across the room and peered into the darkness. But, alas, the culprit was gone.

“We should give chase,” John urged.

Bryan shook his head. “Not yet, friend. We don’t know what we’re up against with this guy. He’s clearly dangerous and he’s purposefully given us a clue.”

“A rock?”

“No, what’s attached to the rock.”

He held up the object in question and pulled the slip of paper free. He unfolded it to find this message, written in a broad, coarse scrawl:

HOW WILL YOU GO? LIKE PIGGY?

“What does that mean?” John wondered.

Bryan cocked his head. “I think it tells us his intention.”

“Which is…?”

“To kill us.”

John looked up wide-eyed in alarm. “Us? Why?”

“That’s the mystery.”

“But if he wanted to kill us, then why didn’t he ice me when he had me in his grasp out there?”

“It looks as if he wants to toy with us before he lets the final blow fall.”

“What should we do?”

Bryan shrugged as he sat both note and rock on his desk. “There’s not much we can do at this point, other than be on the highest alert.”

“For what? Who’s Piggy? Miss Piggy? I don’t think she’s ever died. Unless he’s insinuating that he’ll fry us like bacon…”

“Who’s Miss Piggy?”

John studied Bryan’s face before responding. “Miss Piggy, the Muppet? You know, married to Kermit the Frog?”

“Oh, I’ve heard of him. No, I don’t think literally frying us in a pan of grease is his game. That seems a little far-fetched. But, then again, so was the beginning of this little problem.”

“Little? Bryan, I think you’re feeling too loose. Well, if we’re sitting ducks for now, I might as well get out of these clothes and shower.”

“Thanks for the information.”

“You’re welcome. Let me know if you come up with anything else.”

“I will. And John,” he stopped as his friend opened the door, “sleep with your door locked tonight.”

The rest of their evening wasn’t an easy one. John was on edge through his shower and as he crawled into bed. He convinced his roommate to keep the window closed and the door locked, though the Michigan man welcomed any intruders as he had been practicing throwing knives.

Bryan was also off the rest of the night but not from fear. Gus was nonplussed by the broken window and was genuinely curious at their latest adventure. Bryan tried working on his paper, but between the smell and the mystery he made no progress and went to bed.

The following day proved a weary test for their nerves. At every turn in every hour they awaited their foe to strike again. Bryan eventually figured that the next move would probably come at night so he relaxed some. John wasn’t reassured by this and eventually karate chopped someone who bumped into him at supper.

It was in the twilight after supper as the two detectives journeyed across campus that their adventure would reach its next act. They were hurrying back to the dorms, as they figured they would be safe so long as they were indoors and surrounded by friends. They cut through the Valley of Decision and were on the ascent toward Carver when Bryan suddenly grabbed John’s arm. He followed his friend’s gaze upward and there, at the top of the steps, sat a boulder. As soon as they noticed it, it rolled forward, bouncing off the steps. Both students leapt aside easily and watched the giant rock careen down, fly off the steps, and finally rest at the bottom of the valley.

Now both looked back upward and without a word darted that way. As they emerged from the final steps between a tall brick wall and the building, they saw a black sedan speed through the circle and off onto the main road.

“There goes our culprit,” Bryan noted. “Now, how did he get a boulder on the steps?”

“Why does that matter?” John wondered.

“Is he working alone or employing help?”

The path was easy to follow. The wet grass lay flattened where the stone had been rolled and that trail led away to where the brick wall blocked the road from sight. A deeper divot at the base of the wall showed where the boulder was dropped upon breaching the partition.

“Clever,” Bryan said, “he had the boulder hoisted from the sidewalk where there would be no chance of being seen from the school’s security cameras.”

“But people from the road would spot him.”

Bryan shrugged. “Probably wouldn’t excite too much curiosity. They’d chalk it up to a prank.”

They walked in silence back to the main path.

“I get the reference now,” John spoke. “Piggy is from Lord of the Flies; he gets killed by a boulder.”

“Huh, I never read that one. Is it any good?”

“Yeah. A little weird. But this wasn’t a great plan. We weren’t in that much danger from the boulder. We had plenty of time to avoid it.”

Bryan nodded. “He probably intended that. He’s getting into our heads.”

“So now what?”

“I don’t think he’ll try anything else tonight, but all the same let’s stay inside.”

John sighed. “Good thing I don’t have a girlfriend.”

“Who knows?” Bryan replied with a pat on John’s back. “Maybe this will make you study more and increase your grades.”

“You say that like I need to study more.”

“Can you name all the Christians who signed the Declaration of Independence?”

“Yeah, maybe I need some work.”

They retreated to Bryan’s room and sat talking for a little while longer. As John was about to leave, he turned and said, “You know, he didn’t leave another clue for us.”

Bryan, who got up and was readying his bed for a quick nap, suddenly stood rigid. “Ask and you shall receive, my friend.” He pulled a piece of paper from under his pillow.

He handed John the slip of paper bearing an uneven scrawl that said:

HOW WILL YOU GO? LIKE ROBIN HOOD?

This had the unfortunate effect of unhinging John a little further. The placing of the clue meant the man had access to the dorms, which wasn’t too surprising since the doors to Carver were never locked during the day. They also couldn’t figure out what it meant to die like Robin Hood since the mythical archer died from illness and not by violent means. So, another night was spent in fearful tension.

As the next day was Saturday, they had no additional stress from classes. Bryan felt confident the next attack would be at night, or at least the evening, so he encouraged John to sally forth for a brisk walk in Cherokee Park. It was mid-afternoon, and though the air was cold, the sun shone brightly and gave some warmth to the walkers. It turned out that Bryan had one small encouragement for John.

“I found out where the boulder’s origin was,” he explained. “I researched where a rock of that size could come from and traced it to a quarry outside the city. Quaker Quarry received a call from one Richard Smith requesting a boulder to be delivered on the sidewalk outside Carver. This Mr. Smith claimed he was a groundskeeper and needed a large rock for a project. They thought the delivery point odd, but Smith claimed it was the easiest spot for placing the boulder. The quarry didn’t mind, ultimately, because Mr. Smith paid them with cash when they pulled up with the package. They lowered the rock over the wall and left it in the care of Mr. Smith, who claimed his crew would take it from there. The man I talked with at the quarry admitted in hindsight that the whole thing seemed strange, especially considering their client had no help waiting for them at the wall.”

John ruminated on this exposition, and then said, “So Richard Smith is obviously a false name.”

“Correct.”

“But did they see his face?”

“Ah, that’s where this clue comes to bear fruit! Most of the men didn’t pay much attention to Smith, but the man I talked to did as he was the driver and oversaw the transaction of money. He said Mr. Smith was about 6 feet, dark hair, a large nose with a bushy moustache, and overall looked like he came from Italian descent.”

“That could be anybody.”

“Yes, but he also had a small scar at the corner of his right eye.”

“Well, that narrows it down.”

“It does. If he’s hiding around on campus, we know what to look for now.”

John thought about this for a moment. “You know, Bryan, considering how smart this guy seems to be, what are the chances he wore makeup or something to cover his features?”

Bryan cocked his head. “That’s possible. But for now we can at least anchor some hope on that scar.”

As they walked along the path with the woods to their right and the majority of the road to their left with a clearing beyond, they both thought they heard a weird whoosh noise behind them. They looked back at the same time, exchanged glances, shrugged, and continued. But the sound happened again, this time with the awareness that something flew by overhead and thudded in a tree to their right. John looked toward the tree and saw the shaft of an arrow sticking out of the trunk. Bryan looked left toward the clearing and saw a masked man wielding a hunting bow and fitting an arrow to the string.

“Run!” he cried, pushing John off the road and into the dead forest.

“Zig-zag!” John yelled, as they darted between barren trees and ducked under naked limbs.

Every now and then the whoosh and thud of an arrow told them their hunter remained behind them. At one point Bryan dared to look back and see how big their lead was. But as he looked, he tripped on a gnarled root jutting from the earth and fell into the brown leaves and underbrush. John heard his friend fall and doubled back, trying to keep the vegetation between himself and their attacker.

He grabbed Bryan’s reaching arm and yanked him up and forward. They darted on a few more feet, came upon a ravine, and jumped in as an arrow grazed overhead. Taking shelter behind a large tree, they peered out on either side. Their pursuant was gone.

“You OK?” John asked, breathing heavily.

Bryan looked himself over and nodded. “We better keep moving.”

“Maybe he ran out of arrows?”

“Or he’s sneaking around to flank us.”

John surveyed their position. “Not a bad fox hole we have here. Good thing it’s not tick season. I hate ticks.”

“Let’s keep moving.”

The two detectives rushed on through the woods, not as fast as before, but enough to put distance between themselves and the creek bed. Both were shaken up by the experience. Clearly the stakes were rising and their mysterious terrorist seemed to edge closer toward physical harm.

They eventually hit upon a road that led home and hurried down it with haste, in spite of drawing laughter from people they passed, who assumed the two terror-stricken young men either just had a bad double dating experience or desperately needed a bathroom. The truth was closer to the latter.

Upon reaching campus, they immediately applied to security for protection, or, at least, a closer guard on Carver Hall. The man on duty shook his head and said, “Fill out this report of what’s happened to you and we’ll review it and see if it’s worth investigating.”

“How long will a decision take?” Bryan asked.

“Oh, a few days. The head of security won’t be back in until Monday.”

“But we might be dead by then!” John burst out.

The man smiled. “Take it easy, it’s probably just a prank.”

“Involving a real bow and arrows?” Bryan countered.

The man frowned slightly. “Look, if it’ll make you feel better, I can have our staff put extra attention around Carver, but we can’t provide special services 24/7. Our force isn’t large enough for that, especially on the weekend.”

While this wasn’t the best they hoped for, Bryan and John settled for it and returned quickly to their dorms. No new clue was found, which relieved John and worried Bryan.

“I think this means he’s done toying with us,” Bryan explained.

“So the ax is about to behead the turkey?” John finished.

“Yes, a very apropos metaphor with Thanksgiving coming up.”

“Thank you, I try to be relevant when life is on the line.”

The two sat in Bryan’s room and exchanged looks. The room was washed in the lazy shadows of early evening. Outside they could see the rays of the setting sun hit the trees in hazy orange light. It was a mirror to their souls.

Suddenly Bryan smacked his lap and stood up. “Really, are we going to let this guy get us down like this?”

John thought. “Yes.”

“Why? We can solve this! We’re detectives!”

“Who cares who he is?” John rebutted. “What we need to know is when he’ll strike next and how we can stop him.”

Bryan took up a thinking stance and paced the room.

John watched him and eventually cut in, “Bryan, what if he succeeds and we’re dead before the next week is over?”

Bryan stopped and looked his friend full in the face. He opened his mouth to give a rallying answer, but stopped. He had hope, if nothing else. However, an honest question deserved an honest answer.

“If he succeeds…then we’ve had a good run. And I’m glad we’ve run that race together.”

Both of their eyes may have been fighting down tears at that moment, but, thankfully, the shadows had deepened. John stood up, shook Bryan’s hand, and left.

Sunday proved to be uneventful, though they didn’t know this until the day was over. Church provided no reprieve as every new guest was suspect. John had to avoid greeting any for fear of withholding his urge to tackle them and yell, “WHO’S YOUR DADDY!?”

Monday was also quiet. And wet. The clouds returned and so did the autumnal drizzle. At supper Bryan and John mingled with some other guys who were debating whether single or married missionaries were the most effective on the foreign field. John, who had lower tolerance for tedious debates and who also fretted over another attack, took leave of the table early. About a half hour later, Bryan decided to follow.

He swung by his mailbox and found a small package wedged in his box. It was addressed to him without a return address. Highly suspicious of this, he went to a nearby table and opened it. A small bag of candy lay inside with a note written in an uneven scrawl:

HOW WILL YOU GO? LIKE HANZEL AND GRETEL?

The implication of the clues was apparent immediately. Bryan tucked the package under his arm and sprang from the building, making greatest haste to reach the dorms. He feared no external attack. This next move was more dastardly.

He broke in upon John’s room only to find it empty. He proceeded at a brisk pace down the hall to his room trying to think of what his next step would be. As he opened his door he gasped at the sight of John lying prostrate on his bed. Even in normal scenarios this would have been weird.

“John, are you OK?” Bryan asked, advancing quickly.

A groan answered him.

Bryan rolled his friend over and paled at the complexion on John’s face. It was a sickly purple color with his eyes looking unusually sunken. John groaned again.

“I shouldn’t have eaten that candy,” he moaned. “Grandma always said too much sweets would kill me.”

“Did she really?”

John thought about his statement. “I can’t remember now. Maybe she didn’t say that…It would be ironic, though, eh?”

He lapsed into another groan, but Bryan thought furiously.

“John, where is the candy you ate? Is there any left?”

The sick boy shook his head. “Ate it all. So addicting…”

“Did you keep the wrappers?”

A funny look took John’s face. “You know how some candy wrappers have comics or jokes on the inside? These had the weirdest things on them.”

“Did you keep them?”

John nodded. “On my desk.”

Bryan laid a hand on his shoulder. “Wait here. I’ll investigate.”

As he turned to leave, John stopped him. “Bryan, wait. Is it fine if I throw-up on your bed?”

The owner of the sheets thought for a second and answered, “Sure, just have Gus help clean them. He owes me a favor.”

Without another word, Bryan darted into the hallway and bounded into John’s room. The wrappers were lying strewn about on his desk and each contained an odd symbol on the inside. It looked like a trapezoid with four diagonal lines crisscrossing through it. Bryan recognized it and took a minute to remember where he saw it last.

But there must have been more clues than this! Surely the man who had been their terror for the past week left something more. Then Bryan recalled his package and tore open his chocolates, being careful to dump them into the trash. Most of the wrappers were blank, but one said, “TOO BAD YOUR FRIEND HAS A SWEET TOOTH,” and listed a number. Nearby on the desk sat John’s cell phone. Bryan snatched it up and punched in the number.

A deep voice picked up on the other side. “Hello?”

“What have you done with my friend?”

Mocking laughter answered. “You want to save him? Hop in the taxi waiting outside in the circle. Don’t try calling your cop friend for help or I won’t show and your friend is lost. I have people watching at every corner and the cabby is in my employ.”

Before Bryan could question him further, he hung up. Bryan re-dialed the number.

“Yes?”
“Who are you?”

More laughter. “You’re the detective, figure it out!” And he hung up.

Bryan re-dialed.

“Why do you keep calling?” the voice answered.

“Why do you keep answering?” Bryan retorted and hung up. He wasn’t sure why he hung up, it seemed like the thing to do at the moment. Regretting that decision, he re-dialed.

“Did you hang up on me or did I lose service?” the voice picked up.

“I hung up,” Bryan replied.

“Why…?”

“I’m not sure. Look, I want a guarantee that you have a cure for my friend!”

“You don’t have a choice to question me.” He hung up.

Bryan re-dialed.

“For the love of…! What do you want, boy? Hop in the cab and go!” And he hung up before Bryan could speak.

He stood thinking for a moment, determined his next play, and proceeded down to the taxi.

The vehicle was an average one of its type and the driver didn’t volunteer information. Bryan sat patiently in the back and took careful note of their route. The cab traveled first to downtown Louisville and meandered through the streets. Clearly Bryan was meant to be confused. He accepted the challenge, though. He needed something to keep his mind off John’s fate.

Eventually the car took the interstate and found its way to an industrial area full of warehouses. The taxi came to rest at one particular warehouse that bore a sign marking it as the place of business for Prescott’s Paper Printing Services. With a nervous motion, the driver intimated this was Bryan’s stop.

“Will you wait for me?” Bryan asked before closing his door.

The cabby made no eye contact. So the student shut the door and the car drove off hastily. This didn’t bode well.

The nearest door was unlocked and Bryan found a building full of giant reams of paper in metal racking. Only a few overhead lights lit the way and he noticed that they seemed to run in a path. Following this cautiously, he eventually came to an open aisle with a man standing in the middle. He was tall, had black hair slicked back, and a nondescript face with piercing eyes. He wore khaki pants and a black leather coat. A smirk played on the edge of his lips as Bryan advanced. He gave himself at least ten feet of distance between them.

“Dr. Jones?” he opened.

The man laughed. “You figured it out! Good! I had to spell it for you, though.”

“I had my suspicions. When I got the box with the candy, it confirmed them. Besides, you’re the only one we’ve run into who was still free and available.”

“Correct! You are a master detective. Yes, after you spoiled my job at the seminary, my street cred was ruined. No one trusted my skill after that. I’ve spent nearly every day since then learning how you and your friend worked and lived. I studied the campus and learned your schedules. I planned my revenge meticulously.”

Bryan shrugged. “Understandable, I guess. Is Dr. Jones your real name?”

“Of course not.”

The student nodded. “Of course. And who was your employer in the food poisoning case?”

“No one of consequence to you.”

“And the symbol on your ring we found a couple months ago? The symbol on the wrappers?”

“The calling card of the society of assassins I worked with. But you ask too many questions!” Now he pulled a vial from his coat pocket. “This contains the cure for your friend’s sickness.” Next he pulled a pistol from his other pocket and pointed it at Bryan. “Come and get it.”

Surprisingly, Bryan was nonplussed by this development. “You never intended for me to get the cure, did you?”

“I want you both dead. Now come get it.”

Bryan readied himself to step forward to his fate. But he stopped. His mind, ever active, considered an oddity in this scenario. He cocked his head.

“What are you waiting for?” the man shouted. “Come get your prize.”

“You don’t have good aim,” Bryan stated.

The man started, his face reddening.

“That explains so much,” the detective continued. “The night of our first confrontation, the evening of the banquet. As you fought with me and Detective Havenstraw, you drew a gun, considered which of us to shoot, and chose Havenstraw.”

“Rather shoot a cop,” the man gritted through his teeth.

“But you missed in a sense. You were aiming to kill; you hit his arm instead.”

“That proves nothing!”

“A few moments later you pointed the gun at my head, fired, and hit a car window. At the time, I thought you were just trying to scare me, but now I see you missed your intended target.”

“Circumstantial!”

“Fast forward to a couple days ago,” Bryan continued undaunted, actually relaxing in his posture, “you shot at us with arrows. Again, we assumed it was to intimidate us. It gained that affect, but your intention was harm.”

“Still means nothing!”

“Now here we are. You want me to walk toward you not for mere pleasure, to see me squirm or panic in the face of death, but because you can’t shoot me safely from that distance.”

“Fine!” the assassin yelled. “I’m a horrible shot! My specialty is poisons, not marksmanship. It doesn’t change the fact that I have the antidote your friend needs.”

Bryan scoffed audibly. “You never intended me to have it! How do I even know that’s real? I’d rather walk away with my life, rush back to school, and get John to a hospital.”

“You don’t have time,” the man answered with a terrible grin. “Besides, you don’t know your way home.”

“I paid attention on the ride here. I know exactly how to get home.”

The assassin opened his mouth to speak and tightened his finger on the trigger when suddenly he realized a gun was placed against his head and the voice of Detective Havenstraw rang out with, “Drop the gun and give me the antidote!”

Dr. Jones was utterly flabbergasted. “Your detective ex machina,” he grumbled. “How did he know to come here?”

Bryan smiled and pulled John’s phone from his pocket. “I texted him the address and told him he could catch the man that shot him in the arm here. I may be homeschooled, but I can figure out how to text.”

With a roar, the assassin turned upon the detective and many things happened at once. As he turned, he dropped the vial, for which Bryan dove. Havenstraw easily disarmed the man and soon they were entangled in a struggle. Bryan’s fingertips barely missed the container as it shattered upon the floor, spilling its life-giving substance.

By now Havenstraw had subdued the elusive Dr. Jones. But the villain laughed.

“You lost! Oh, how tragic! By the time you get him to the hospital, it’ll be too late.”

With a knock across the head from the detective, the assassin went limp.

“Let’s take this guy and get in my car. We might be able to save him with my driving.”

After roughly cuffing the poisons specialist, the two dragged him to Havenstraw’s cruiser and sped off. It was a nerve-wracking trip not for the faint of heart. They careened into Carver Circle and rushed up the steps to Bryan’s room. It was empty!

“Maybe Gus moved him to his own room,” Bryan suggested.

They found the second room empty as well.

“Maybe Gimli took him to the hospital,” Havenstraw remarked.

They were about to call the nearest medical establishment when suddenly John emerged from the bathroom across the hall.

“JOHN!” exclaimed Bryan, showing a great mixture of emotions upon his face. He was surprised, relieved, incredulous, all rolled into one. Unable to contain himself, he embraced his friend in a hug.

For his part, John looked confused. “Missed you too, buddy.”

“Why aren’t you dead?” Havenstraw asked gruffly, feeling his heartstrings were being toyed with.

“Well, Gus found me passed out on Bryan’s bed, gave me some herbal potion to drink, and I slowly got better. Nasty aftertaste, though.”

Bryan gave a hearty laugh. “Dr. Jones has utterly failed!”

The confusion grew on John’s face.

Before Bryan could explain, Havenstraw cut in. “Look, why don’t you two come down to the station with me to fill out a report. You can tell him everything then.”

They followed this course of action and Bryan gladly recounted his adventure and the unraveling of their terrorizing mystery. John was much relieved. Havenstraw, wanting to get some enjoyment out of the situation, used smelling salts to awaken his prisoner and proudly displayed the man’s failure before him. Dr. Jones looked simultaneously angry and crushed.

Later that evening, back in John’s room, the two friends shared a jar of peanut butter and made sandwiches.

“I guess I’ll appreciate Gus’ experiments more from here on out,” Bryan remarked.

“You only have to appreciate them for a few more days,” John noted.

Bryan nodded. “How do you think you’ll die?”

John gave him an odd look. “Lying on your bed after eating too many sweets.”

They laughed.

“I hope to live a long time,” Bryan said. “‘Old and full of days’ as they say in the Bible.”

“Yeah… I wonder, when I die, will I finally have a wife?”

The two students finished out their semester without further incident. Bryan aced his exams with flying colors, and while John wasn’t as fortunate, he did sleep soundly at night without the fear of constant attack. A sadness did tinge their final parting before break, though. John was taking the next semester online and staying home. They spent their last days together in deep discussion, long walks, and a little adventuring in the woods.

Dr. Jones was revealed to be one Archie Ackroyd. Beyond that, they could crack nothing out of him regarding who hired him to sabotage the seminary. Nor could they glean any information about his secret society he had worked under, though now he was certainly fired from it. He wound up disappearing into a military prison and what happened to him there is locked in a dossier beyond the reach of common man.

The moral of this story is, never eat so many sweets you wind up sick in your friend’s bed.

*college-time mysteries. 2017.

In case you missed the previous story that is referenced in this one (or you forgot), you can read it here.

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