Southern Suspects – Chapter Seven
I felt bad abandoning the kids at the station, but they were understanding. Whatever was going on, it was something serious. I just hoped we didn’t have another murder on our hands- the last thing this island needs is a serial killer.
Stevens’s radio kept going off, but it didn’t clue me into what was going on. I could hear Sanderson and Blake confirming they were coming, so this must have been big, but what could it be?
The longer we drove, the more I contemplated. They heightened security on the field and in the school- it couldn’t have been another murder. Could anything big really have happened?
We got to the school, and all appeared to be normal. No flashing lights, no ambulance- guess no one was killed. But something was up.
Stevens brought me inside, beelining to the office. Stevens showed the secretary his badge, and we were in. I hesitated before stepping into the principal’s office. It still made me feel like I was a little kid in trouble.
“I don’t want to go in there and look dumb…”
“You won’t. This isn’t as big of a deal as your main project, remember that.”
I kept walking in, and Officer Stevens left.
The principal stood to greet me, seating me between Sanderson and Blake.
“What is the issue here, Mr. Wilcox?” Sanderson asked.
We were so close together, I could feel Sanderson’s breath on my arm. Somehow, I wasn’t surprised that he reeked of alcohol. He never drank on the job, but he must have today.
“It’s rather big for us, actually. In calculating the money earned from the football season this year- our concessions stand earnings, specifically- we’ve found we’re $2,000 short.”
“Is it $2,000 overall? If there’s money missing from every night, it could have just been a miscount.” Blake nearly insisted that his idea was true… at least his point wasn’t too bad.
“There are about 100 dollars missing from every game. But 900 of the thousand dollars we made at homecoming went missing as well.”
“Okay, so it’s definitely not a miscount. Do you know if any of this missing money went into the bank?” I hated asking clarification questions like that, but I didn’t know how they ran a concession stand for a football team of their size.
“The money goes into the bank right away, but we never had matching sums from the books to the account. We check the book at the end of the season, but otherwise, we only use it to budget for the next year.”
I just didn’t understand who would take money that was fundraised? Someone must have really hated football…
“Were there any common workers between the games?”
“Not all of them… we already interviewed all our volunteers, and all but one of them worked no more than two games. But one thing they did say was enough to finally prompt me to call in the JIPD.”
“And that was?” Blake was always too impatient in our interviews. I knew he was going to get there, and frankly, I needed another minute to process everything.
“One of our teachers- I believe you met him, Miss Davies- Jack Benson, came in the back door with his other teacher friends to use the staff bathroom.”
“And why do you see that as suspicious?”
“I think it distracted their work. Someone could have used that as their time to steal from the cash box.”
“Are you sure it was one of the volunteers?”
“It had to be- Mr. Benson has always been supportive of our athletics program, and so have his friends.”
“But if he was the only one there at every game…”
That made no sense. No one was at every game besides that one volunteer and Benson and his buddies. It must have been one of them- maybe not Benson, but one of them.
“Do you have cameras in the concession area?”
“No. Why would you have cameras in a concession stand?”
I shook my head, standing up and going to the door frame to think.
“Where is Benson’s room?”
“Third floor, the only one with a red door. Why?” Wilcox answered.
“If you’re so sure it isn’t him, why don’t we clear him out of the way right now?”
Sanderson looked at me in disbelief. “Davies, how disrespectful!”
“Speak for yourself. Look at you, you’re drunk on the job!”
“How dare you allege that of me?”
“I’m going. Blake, do me a favor and take him home, hm?”
I started walking out and toward the stairwell I had seen on my way in. Something about it felt so ominous. I had a strong feeling that Benson embezzled this money, but that wasn’t even a big deal in a place like our island- that sort of corruption was everywhere. Yet I felt something was very, very wrong here.
I kept going, passing the occasional student in the hallway. I didn’t feel much older than them at all, and by the looks of it, I blended in.
Finally, I reached the sole red door on the third floor. Looking through the small window, I could see Benson was in there, teaching a class. I recognized Ally in the front row, an empty seat at her side- likely the one that had belonged to Daniel.
I went right into the room and sat in the back, Benson hardly taking notice of my presence. The class was due to end in two minutes, so I just waited it out. I looked around to the board, trying to figure out what they were talking about. It seemed they were talking about the Teapot Dome scandal, something I vaguely remembered from my time in high school history class. I found it ironic that he was talking about a series of bribes just as I was about to question him about his involvement in an embezzlement case.
The bell rang and the students left the room. He took his sweet time coming over to me but sat down seriously.
“I would really appreciate it if you called ahead rather than just showing up in the middle of my class.”
“You have the opportunity to clear your name right now. Did you take money from the concession stand?”
“At every home game of this season, money was taken from the concession stand. The sum has totaled up to $2,000.”
“Did Wilcox put you onto me? I swear that guy is out to get me. First embarrassing me at that interview, now this?”
“He didn’t. Wilcox maintained that you were innocent.”
“He better- I wasn’t even in there.”
“He said you went in at every game to go to the staff bathroom with your friends.”
“Oh, that’s true.”
“And who are your friends he mentioned?”
“Mr. Drake and Mr. Wingate- we advise the sailing club together.”
“Could they have done it?”
“No, none of us could have- I don’t even know where they keep the cash box.”
“So you’re innocent?”
“Yes? Isn’t it a little ridiculous that a teacher would steal from his own school?”
I got up and started to go, but he had one more thing to say.
“Next time you call me down, how about you have me talk with one of the other detectives first? I think they’re pretty good at knowing who’s innocent or not.”
To me, there was no way Jack Benson wasn’t guilty.