Southern Suspects – Chapter Five
I called Piper a few hours after she left. I didn’t need her to come back to the station, but I wanted more information from her. Luckily, she was happy to answer my questions.
“Can you tell me more about Benson? Do you know why they would invite him?”
“No. He’s not exaggerating when he says he doesn’t know him well. Daniel used to come and complain that he was asking him to join his sailing club.”
“Sailing club? Schools have those?”
“Yup, lotta kids like to sail or fish here. Daniel wasn’t one of those, though. He was more of a… yachter. His family invited me on their yacht once.”
“Did you go?”
“Yup. I swear they have the nicest dock at the marina, the biggest one… it wasn’t my first yacht, but it was by far the best. But his parents wouldn’t even look my way. I thought they had invited me- turns out it was just Daniel. We had a good time, though.”
“How long ago was this?” I was intrigued- why would a high school boy ask his librarian to come out on his yacht?
“Maybe six months ago. He had told me about having a hard time with his friends, so I don’t think he had anyone to really turn to.” I guess that made her reasoning for going make sense, but I still couldn’t wrap my head around Daniel’s motive in this.
“You recall why he was fighting with his friends?”
“He said it was all stupid stuff. ‘Boys fight all the time- it’s just nature’ is what he would always say. He was a real smart kid, but he felt no one saw him that way. It was a real shame what happened.”
I thanked her for her time and ended the call. While that anecdote finally provided some evidence as to his parents ignoring him, it also provided me evidence of a conflict. I hadn’t met his friends yet, and apparently, their scuffle wasn’t important, but it was still something- a sign of what had previously gone wrong.
Soon after, Bradley came back around to my office.
“Checked in on Ripley- we were right, I got nothing. Didn’t even know the kid died.”
“Are you sure?’
“He was out in the Caribbean last week- had the tan and everything. And I saw his wife had bags from the airport.”
“I knew there was no lead there. Thanks for checking it out.”
“No problem, Sam. I’m heading out now- don’t stay up too late.”
The following morning, I had an interview arranged with Daniel’s girlfriend, Ally. Her mother had agreed to let her speak for herself, only because she wanted to. Usually, people of her age didn’t want to. Maybe she knew something worth sharing.
She showed up just on time, probably straight from church based on her clothes. She has that kind of fried blonde hair from bleaching too many times, and I could see that it was a family trend- her mom had an unnatural purple highlight scheme going on.
She sat humbly in the chair, and she didn’t give me trouble until the questions began.
“How well would you say you knew Daniel?”
“Oh, I knew everything! I was his girlfriend, of course I know everything.”
It was clear right off the bat that she was defensive and the slightest bit combative. She fell into that archetype of girl that would act confident and like a know-it-all to compensate for her other insecurities. I think at one point or another, we all feel that way. But she was feeling it a bit too much.
“Okay, that’s good…” I tried to play it as I believed her. “When did you first meet Daniel?”
“I was new. The principal assigned him to help me get used to the school… let’s just say after my first day he wouldn’t leave me alone.”
“Yeah, but it was kind of cute. I know he didn’t look it, but he was like a lost little puppy looking for someone to follow.”
“His parents noted that they didn’t know about you until a month ago.”
“Yeah, Daniel was pretty secretive with his relationships. In the past, his mom had made him break up with girls because their parents weren’t in their social circle.”
“That’s harsh… were you ever concerned about that?”
“No. Daniel said he was older and knew better now, so he wouldn’t stand for it. He always wanted to fight for me until the end… too bad his end came so soon.”
It had been five minutes, and she was just showing her first sign of remorse… which was a little weird.
“Did anything else that was notable happen during your relationship?”
“Well, we broke up once or twice. Everybody does that. He would just say he wanted some space from me, and I’d get so mad I’d call it quits. Then he’d come back around again.”
“Do you know why he wanted space?”
“I don’t. I mean, we hung out every day, but I thought it was fine. We would text and facetime a lot too.”
“Hmm…” she sounded clingy, alright. “What would make you take him back?”
“Well, he would always do some grand gesture. He got me this necklace last time, actually… 200 bucks.” She leaned forward over the metal table, showing it to me. He had rather good taste for a teenage boy- silver chain with a simple heart. She continued.
“I mean, in my opinion, he could have spent more, but I didn’t care. There was also the benefit of his status… his last name could get you in anywhere you wanted. Nobody would want to lose that on an island like this.”
“And when was this last breakup?”
“No more than two weeks ago.”
“Where were you the night that he… well, you know.”
“I was there. He brought me to the year-end football party. Well, I showed up, it’s more like it.”
“Was he happy to see you?”
“Yes and no. He never liked having me around his friends, but he never hated seeing me.”
“They were eating and I showed up in the backyard where they were all hanging out- you know, all the yards there are open right to the shoreline. He saw me and tried to keep me away, so I was upset. I went to the bathroom and when I came back, he was gone. I asked his friends, and they all thought he went home. So I went home.”
All the yards were connected by the shoreline… you know what was also connected to the shoreline? The high school.
“So all of his teammates thought he went home?”
“What way would he take to get home? The shoreline, or the main road?”
“Well, he would take the main road ‘cause he drove. But his car was left at the house, so they all were saying he took the beach way.”
“What time was that?”
“Maybe ten. His mom had a curfew of 10:30, so him leaving made sense. Must have just gotten lost on the way…”
Something about her responses felt off. Not in the way that she seemed suspicious in the crime, but I just felt I was missing something very important about her. Nonetheless, I was going to let her go- I just had one more question.
“One more thing- what was Daniel’s relationship with Mr. Benson?”
“Just his teacher. Didn’t really like him. He was always saying he and I should join his damn fishing club or whatever.”
I dismissed her and went back toward my office, questioning how it had been two days and I didn’t have a single lead.
Today no one was in but Bradley, so he was all I had to talk to.
“I don’t get what I’m missing, Bradley. This place is so small, and I still haven’t found the right people yet.”
“Sometimes the suspects need a little time to emerge from the tall grass.”