September 18, 2014

Elizabeth's Story: Campbell Speaks

by Jessica Knoll

I'm not a bad guy. But you have to understand what it was like for me, growing up in a town that's half meth-heads on government assistance, half yuppie liberal arts college students to whom debt or loans or bills are foreign concepts. I know I'm socioeconomically inferior, I don't need to be constantly reminded of it, year after year, with each new wave of spoiled, entitled, Nantucket-red wearing eighteen year-olds that roll into town, acting like they own the joint. They have their whole glittering futures stretched out before them, and they don't have to do a damn thing to claim them but  kill four years perfecting their beer pong game and attending class sporadically. Everyone knows Smithson is a safety school for dumb rich kids. You don't have to work that hard to stay afloat—and you get to go right from a graduation party keg stand to claiming a desk at daddy's Fortune Five Hundred Company. I'm sorry, do I sound bitter? Like I think the world owes me something? Well, it does.

I didn't use to think that. I used to believe just the opposite, in fact. That opportunities are created, not given. I'm smart, but even from a young age, I knew I couldn't just rely on my IQ to get me out of this hellhole. I had to work hard, and I drove myself into the ground. I was at the top of my class at Geneva High (not like I had much competition, but still), a decorated varsity athlete in basketball and lacrosse. I was president of the debate team and editor-in-chief of the school newspaper. There was no way my single mom (Dad, dead. Drinking problem.) could afford to send me to an Ivy League school, which I needed to graduate from summa cum laude, degree in econ, glowing recommendations from all my professors, in order to secure a job in investment banking, in order to finally become one of them. Someone important. Someone who wasn't invisible, who didn't smell vaguely of smoke and mildew in his grimy Salvation Army threads.

But in order to get to that point in my life, I needed a scholarship. And with my robust résumé,  I got one, to Cornell. Not Harvard, but an Ivy sister nonetheless, and only forty-five minutes from Geneva so that I could make the trip home to check on my mom and my little sister. We were only a year apart, but I was fiercely protective of her. Kids brutalized her for her red hair.

There was still a small issue of money, however. My scholarship covered tuition, but I still needed to pay for books, a meal plan, room and board, and bar tabs for cute blond girls. I worked part time at a pizza place off campus, but it wasn't cutting it. You know what did cut it? Selling Colombian marching powder to d-bags with unconscionable names like Bartholomew and Thurston.

I got busted spring semester of sophomore year, right after being accepted to the London study abroad program, which was headed up by the most influential professor in the economics department.  I had really been looking forward to sucking up to him in the hopes that he would connect me with his contacts in New York. I never even got the chance, because the school decided to handle the matter privately, and I was quietly "asked to leave." Ivy leagues are so polite, aren't they? At Geneva High, they just kick you out.

So, I came home and enrolled in the local community college. But I was depressed and it stymied my motivation. I started drinking too much. Lost my stride. I fell into the police force. What's that thing they say? All cops were just delinquents at one point or another? Couldn't get a better job somewhere else? Can't say I disagree.

Then my sister died, and my mom came into some decent money. (More on that later.) Not New York money, but enough to get us out of our rundown apartment with water that smelled like rotten eggs. We moved into a nice little white clapboard house and I considered the opportunity to decorate it as a sort of "extra credit" college course. I still hadn't completely given up my dreams of moving to New York. Interior design kept the hope alive. How would a Sniffie (which is how the police department refers to Smithson students) design the place? I bought a lot of home decor magazines. I would have felt the need to assure the Rite Aid cashier that I wasn't gay if I didn't look like such a steely eyed hit man. Women really seem to dig that. What is that about? Why do you get so hot over a someone who could crush you with his thumb?

Elizabeth was the only woman I ever met who I wasn't afraid of hurting. She could take it. No matter what I said. No matter what I did. That's why she had such a hold on me. I'd met my match.

When I left her that evening, in my kitchen, I'd been close to telling her that. What she didn't know is that the my partner and I, the police chief and even the DA, we were all looking at her. She was involved in Bridget's disappearance. We had eye witness testimony that she had entered Grey House the evening Bridget went missing, and two students claimed they saw Bridget driving her car with Elizabeth, passed out drunk in the passenger seat. We still didn't know what had happened exactly, but once we made the Abby-Bridget/Thayer-Elizabeth connection, we realized it was too great a coincidence to ignore.

What Elizabeth also didn't know is that I resented her. I resented her because she was the embodiment of everything about this town that I hated, that made me feel less than. So I could never decide—did I want to be with her, or did I want to ruin her? The two were so inextricably linked it was impossible to tell which I was acting on when I arrived at the northeast tip of the lake, parked my car, and weaved through the swarm of cop cars and ambulances, the tow truck shivering at the edge of the water, struggling, straining to extract the SUV from the muck.

I saw my partner standing in the shadows and approached her. "It's the same make and model as Bridget Mason's car," Roth said, almost giddily. It's gross, but it's hard not to get excited when a lead presents itself in a cold case.

I looked down at her. Roth was a lesbian, immune to my charms. "Is she in it?"

"Hopefully," she mumbled, without a shred of sarcasm.

It took an hour to drag the car onto the shore. Officers and EMT volunteers all rushed it at once, but the chief shouted at everyone to get back, to only allow forensics and Detective Roth and myself to approach.

I stuffed my hands into latex gloves before yanking open the passenger side door. No body, just some mildewed textbooks and a Smithson sweatshirt hanging over the edge of the headrest, dripping lake water into the seat. And something else—a clump of long blond hair, coiled around the gear stick. I glanced over my shoulder, quickly, but Roth was still pulling on her gloves and the rest of the forensics team was busy assembling their evidence collecting gear. Before I could second-guess myself, I reached out and ripped the clump of hair free, stuffing it into my pocket.

"All clear," I announced, turning on my heel and opening up a space for Roth to step into.

"Not even a severed hand?" Roth groaned, irritably. She was ready to put this case to bed.

When I get nervous, I don't shake, I tighten. There was a knot in my chest as I rejoined the ranks on the side of the road, and it only coiled when I glanced across the road and saw a small gathering of bystanders, no doubt drawn to the spectacle by the farm of flashing red lights. All the faces were a blur but one. Elizabeth.

Her expression hardened as I strode across the road, collecting power in every step. Anyone else would have stepped back, would have betrayed the fact that her heart was in her throat with a quiver of her chin, or a purse of her lips. But Elizabeth only appeared bitchier and colder the closer I got. It was electrifying.

I grabbed her arm and dragged her down the road, away from the crowd, out of the Christmas glow of the lights. She didn't try to rip her arm away, and when I finally stopped and turned to face her, she was smirking.

I reached into my pocket and grabbed the knot of hair, presenting it to her in my palm like a ring box. "You have some fucking explaining to do."

She stared at her hair in my hand for a long while before speaking. Raising her eyes to meet mine, she said, "I'd say you do too. I'm not completely up to date on the language of the judicial system, but isn't this what they call obstruction of evidence? And from a man of the law?" She gasped, and held her hand over her chest.

Every couple has a meet-cute story, a bad but sweet first date anecdote, or romantic first kiss account. This was ours, all in one. I grabbed her and kissed her, furiously, because I was so hyped up on adrenaline it was either that or turn her in. And I wasn't ever going to turn her in, even though the bitch deserved it.