“STREAKS OF BLUE”
CHAPTER 19: A SHOT IN THE DARK
On Sunday evening, the 14th of September, Nicole was driving her car away from the diner where she had just told Candace all about her amazing first date with Derek.
But where was she driving to? Home? The police station? Whispering Pines trailer park?
That morning Adam had told her he would be too busy to hang out with her Sunday afternoon — a complete reversal from what he said yesterday; yet completely consistent with his bizarre tone and unreliability of late. He also refused to divulge what he would be so busy doing. Nicole desperately wanted to believe he was just being a jerk to get back at her for going to New York instead of hanging out with him last Thursday; for making other people a priority over him since the LSD incident, or for some other reason he wouldn’t discuss with her. But her gut told her otherwise.
Last Sunday, after the hike at Rainbow Lake, Nicole felt encouraged about her progress with Adam. But at 7:42 p.m. on this Sunday, as her car rolled to a stop at a red light, she dreaded what her hands might do next.
The light turned green.
A horn blared from behind her as she gripped the wheel — knuckles as white as her teeth, everything clenched — a potential lives-changing moment frozen in time.
“Shit!” she shouted, pounding the steering wheel, hitting the gas and turning her car left toward the trailer park instead of driving straight toward home.
The police station was not an option yet. She had to talk to Adam face to face before she made a decision like that. She had to ask him about the fire alarm, study his eyes and make sure she got an honest answer this time. She would reveal to him the dream she had and gauge his reaction to that. And if he couldn’t satisfy her with his answers enough to calm her fears, then she would be forced to drive to the police station … tonight!
When Nicole turned into the trailer park at dusk, she nearly struck two boys skateboarding away from the entrance, in the middle of the road, with their backs to her. They barely even noticed.
Her heart pounding, Nicole pulled over angrily, got out of her car and slammed her door.
“What the hell are you two doing — in the middle of the road … wearing dark hoodies … at dusk? I nearly killed both of you!” she shouted.
Brody Upton spun around on his board to face her while his pal Vince wiped out and gazed up at Nicole from the pavement.
“Brody, is that you?” she asked.
“Yeah … oh, hi Nikki,” he replied, pleasantly surprised to see her after his eyes adjusted to recognize her face and blue-brown hair in the fading light. “Sorry … we don’t get many cars coming in and out of here on Sunday nights so we like to do a little boarding.”
“OK, well now I know,” she said, her mind already racing ahead to more pressing issues. “Where is Adam? Is he home?”
“No, I’ve barely seen him all day,” Brody said as lanky-framed Vince shyly stood up behind him and stole a few glances at Nicole.
“What’s going on with him?” she asked. “He’s been acting really strange lately.”
“My brother’s always strange,” Brody corrected her. “The only time he’s less strange is when you’re around, but you haven’t been around here lately so he’s back to being his old self again.”
Nicole took a moment to digest Brody’s unknowingly weighty words and then she moved closer to him.
“Brody, will you tell me the truth if I ask you a tough question?” she queried, putting a hand on the boy’s shoulder as Vince watched in amazement. He had never seen a 17-year-old girl that physically close to his fellow freshman friend before.
“Sure,” Brody replied, looking into her eyes.
“Why did you pull the fire alarm on Thursday?”
“Adam and Lee told me to do it,” he said without hesitation.
“Why?” she asked.
“I’m not totally sure, but they told me to tell the principal that it was a message from them to protest their suspensions.”
“I see.” Nicole nodded, but her mind immediately flagged this as a bullshit cover for their real intentions. Those two likely would never protest any punishment that removed them from school.
“Yeah, they even took me out to McDonald’s for lunch after I got off the bus that day … I couldn’t believe it,” Brody added with a smile. Vince grinned, too.
Nicole’s face, on the other hand, struggled to conceal her horror.
“Adam and Lee both took you out for lunch after you pulled the alarm for them?” she asked again, somehow hoping for a different answer this time.
“Yeah … I was as surprised as you,” Brody confirmed, looking more and more confused by her strange reaction. “What’s wrong, Nikki?”
“I hope nothing, but I’m afraid a lot is about to be very, very wrong,” she said, her hand trembling as she grabbed the iPhone out of her jacket pocket and attempted to call Adam.
“Damn you, Adam, pick up!” she said loudly, alarming Brody and Vince.
Adam did not pick up.
“Brody, do you have any idea where your brother might be right now … any clue at all?” she asked desperately.
“He said he was going to the shooting range today, but that was sometime this morning.”
“Do you have a phone on you?”
“Please give it to me,” Nicole said, “so I can give you my number.”
Brody gladly handed her his phone. She quickly punched her name and number into his contact list as Vince looked on in awe.
“If Adam calls you, texts you or comes back here, call me right away, OK?” she asked urgently as she handed him his phone.
“OK. Where are you going now?” Brody asked as Nicole ran back to her car.
“I’m going toward the high school just in case Adam went there,” she said.
“Why would he do that on a Sunday night?”
“I don’t know, Brody. It’s just a shot in the dark,” Nicole said before turning her car around and driving off.
Nicole spotted Adam’s abandoned red pickup on the right shoulder of the road about a half mile before the school and pulled over behind it. After flipping on her hazard lights, she got out of her car, gingerly stepping along the passenger side to inspect it. The bed was empty except for an orange hunting vest and an empty cardboard 12-pack of Natural Light beer. She thought it was odd that Adam would leave the hunting vest for anyone to take.
Nicole detected the scent of marijuana when she approached the passenger-side window, which was halfway down, and noticed the doors were unlocked. He had left everything to thieves but the keys … and the beer, of course.
She also noted there was no orange police sticker on the windshield yet, warning the vehicle’s operator to remove the truck from the side of the road or get it towed. That told her the truck couldn’t have been sitting there for very long.
Nicole got back in her car and resumed her drive toward the school. At the next light, she took a left and, a quarter-mile later, steered right into the football stadium parking lot just in case Adam was hanging out there. The ticket gate was closed and the large, dimly lit lot was empty except for a beat-up black Mustang parked in the far right corner, next to the fence and the woods. It, too, looked abandoned, but Nicole didn’t want to drive too close to inspect it just in case there were a couple of teens having back-seat sex in the partially secluded spot.
Nicole circled around in the lot and exited. Two minutes later, she pulled into the empty main high school parking lot. Her heart skipped a beat when she saw someone take off running down the grassy slope and into the practice field as her headlights flashed in that direction.
After parking with her headlights facing the field and the engine running, Nicole sprang out of her car and ran to the top of the hill to see who was fleeing.
“Adam? Is that you?” she shouted toward the dark field.
The only big lights were well behind her in the lot and far to her right next to the school’s main entrance.
“Yeah … it’s me,” Adam replied, slowly approaching the base of the hill. “Nikki? What … what are you doing here?”
Nicole immediately thought Adam sounded drunk, but she was relieved to have found him.
“Wait a sec … I’ll be right back,” she said, trotting back to her car to kill the engine. She left the headlights on.
Seconds later, Nicole ventured down the slope to stand next to Adam. She tried to ignore the smell of booze and pot and get right to the point.
“I’m here looking for you, Adam,” she said, finally answering his question. She zipped up her blue windbreaker on this clear, chilly September 14th night. The stars sparkled brightly overhead and the words “14th and Stardust” breezed through her mind as she thought of what to say next. “You look like you could use a friend right about now.”
Indeed he did — drunk, depressed and disoriented in a dirty gray, long-sleeved shirt and jeans. One of his construction boots reeked of dog shit.
Adam nodded, pulled a travel-size bottle of Jim Beam out of his pocket, finished it off and flung it toward the woods. He staggered and nearly fell from the aggravated exertion of the throw. His brown eyes looked glazed and his stubbly face wore an expression of utter hopelessness. Nicole now had zero doubts about the dream she had at Lakes of the Clouds. She knew she was here with Adam at this moment in time for a reason.
“I found your truck abandoned on the side of the road. You haven’t answered my calls or texts. You’re drinking alone at our school on a Sunday night. Adam, can you please tell me what’s going on so I can try to help you?” she asked as empathetically as possible given his obviously fragile state.
Adam tried to wipe the fog out of his eyes and focus on Nicole’s face. Her genuine eyes offered him a rope out of the abyss and he desperately wanted to grab on. He deeply yearned to tell her everything, but he also believed she’d never want anything to do with him once all of it was revealed. The liquor helped him open up and tell her the truth regardless. He was so sick of carrying it around inside him.
“I didn’t want to hang out with you today because … cuz I don’t know what to do … and I don’t know what’s gonna happen,” he began, looking down at the grass.
“OK, Adam, what does that mean?” she asked softly but urgently.
“Me and Lee were going to shoot up the school tomorrow,” he admitted, too ashamed to look her in the eyes. “He was going to pull the fire alarm and we were both going to expel the whole school … before we got expelled.”
The chills piercing the entire length of Nicole’s spine kept her pinned in place as she hung on every terrible word that Adam uttered.
Nicole waited a second to see if he had anything else to add, but he just stood there — looking down at the grass, hands in his pockets, awaiting her judgment. She couldn’t believe the dream’s warning had been so dead-on. It took her a few more seconds to form a question.
“So, Brody pulling the alarm on Thursday was the dress rehearsal?” she asked, forcing herself to keep her tone calm, no different than if they were talking about the school play. Nicole wondered if anyone would get to try out for “Romeo & Juliet” tomorrow. She pushed the thought aside. This was the absolute worst time to think about a teen tragedy.
“Yes,” Adam acknowledged.
“And you planned to bring your guns to school and kill all of us, me included, tomorrow?” she asked, again suppressing her emotions for the sake of gathering the facts.
“No, you and Brody and Candace were off limits,” he said, finally looking her in the eyes for the first time since she came down the hill to stand next to him.
Nicole shuddered and gazed up at the stars for guidance, but now her emotions started getting the best of her. She looked back down into Adam’s lost eyes and suddenly wanted answers. If only her tongue could keep up with her dizzying train of thoughts.
“How could you even … Adam, I’m so … you did say, ‘You and Lee were going to shoot up the school,’ did you not? Is the plan on hold? Canceled, I hope?”
“My Dad told me a couple of nights ago that he’s dying of liver cancer,” Adam said, dropping another bombshell rather than answering her question. Then he pulled another bottle of Beam out of his other pocket and took a swig.
Nicole’s eyes popped open and her mind raced to process all of Adam’s revelations.
“Wow, that’s awful, Adam,” she said, forcing herself to put a hand on his shoulder.
“Yeah,” he nodded.
“I’m so sorry … no wonder you’re a mess right now,” she said, then pausing. “But you’re not … I mean, you and Lee called it off, right?”
Adam looked down again and then launched into a drunken ramble.
“Not exactly … we had a fight … I’ve been avoiding Lee … I don’t really want to go through with it, but he’s pissed off … I left my truck … I don’t think I need it anymore.”
“What? Why, Adam?” she begged.
“Because I don’t want to live anymore, Nikki!” he yelled, his desperate eyes fixed on hers again.
As Nicole struggled to think of what to say or do next, a loud gunshot erupted from the woods.
“Ah, what the?” Adam yelled, staggering, falling and grimacing in pain.
Nicole jumped in place, then froze with her hands over her mouth, staring down at her wounded classmate. Adam had been shot in his backside.
“Don’t move, Dead Girl Walking!” Thomas “Lee” Harvey shouted as he emerged from the nearby woods and stalked them with a black pistol in his hand.
It was aimed directly at Nicole.
Her heart pounded as she now wished she had just driven straight at the red light. She’d be home with her mother — safe, warm and catching up on all of her schoolwork.
Not here. Shivering. Facing death.
Thomas grinned as he moved next to them and then spit on Adam as he groaned on the ground. His right hand was covered in blood from pressing it against his wounded buttocks.
“Holy shit! I shot you in the ass … perfect! Not a bad shot in the dark,” Thomas said, wearing all black clothes and a creepy, satisfied smile. “Killing you would be too easy. I want you to suffer for backing out of our plan and acting like a pussy. I make good on my motherfucking threats. I told you that!
“And you,” he continued, turning his cold blue eyes toward terrified Nicole with the gun now a foot away from her chest. “You crossed the tracks to our side and wanted to be pals. How’s that working out for ya right about now, DGW? Thanks so much for screwing up all of our plans and turning this loser into a useless pile of shit. Now I’d like to turn all of you blue to match your hair. How does that sound?”
“Don’t do it, Lee!” Adam shouted through his pain. He tried to get up while fumbling around with his left hand along his belt line. He had a pistol concealed beneath his extra-large shirt.
“Get your bloody ass back down on the ground and throw your gun toward me right now or I swear I’ll shoot you between the eyes this time!” Thomas yelled.
Adam fell back down and reluctantly tossed the pistol toward Thomas’ black boots. He grabbed it and stuffed it into his jacket pocket while still keeping his gun pointed at Nicole.
“Please don’t kill me,” she begged, tears streaming down her cheeks. “I was only trying to help Adam.”
“True, Lee, she was only …,” Adam joined in.
“Oh, shut the fuck up, both of you!” Thomas shouted, glaring more at Adam now. “We had a great plan. We were going to be famous — way more famous than that baby killer Lanza or that punk in Norway. And then this rich little whore got in your dicked-up head …”
A flash of headlights entering the parking lot above the hill made Thomas freeze as much as his victims. The gunman looked to his right, in the direction of the approaching vehicle, and Nicole saw an opportunity to bolt. She sprang into a sprint as fast as she could, but Thomas calmly aimed his gun and blasted her with a shot to her right side. She cried out, fell halfway up the grassy slope and blood poured out of her bullet wound.
“No!” Adam yelled, once again struggling in vain to get up.
Thomas cursed several times, then took off toward the woods to flee the scene.
A female police officer — who had gotten out of her car to see why an empty green Nissan Altima, with its headlights on, was parked at the high school on a Sunday night — now drew her gun after hearing the gunshot.
“What’s going on here?” the officer shouted from the top of the hill.
“Help! We’ve both been shot!” Adam screamed. “The shooter’s getting away!”
“Who’s we?” she yelled, pointing her gun with one hand and shining her flashlight down at him with the other.
“There … in the grass … it’s Nikki! Go to her first!” Adam shouted, pointing at her crumpled body 25 feet away. Her lifeless strands of brown-and-blue hair haunted him now and made him sob.
“I see her!” the officer confirmed when her flashlight illuminated Nicole’s motionless form in the grass. She raced down to the girl’s side and yelled into her shoulder radio. “I need backup and ambulances at Lakeview High School right now! Two students are shot — both in the field to the left of the main parking lot!”
“He’s getting away!” Adam cried. “Into the woods!”
“Who? Who did this?” the officer yelled.
“Thomas Lee Harvey!” Adam replied.
Just then, Nicole’s iPhone ringtone went off inside the pocket of her blue windbreaker, and Adele’s “Rumour Has It” cut through the panic-filled night air.
On the other side of town, Lynn Barrett began to worry when her daughter didn’t answer her call.
— Excerpt from “Streaks of Blue” by Jack Chaucer (2013), paperback available at Amazon; ebook at major online retailers
** TV actress-fronted production company inquired about the film/TV rights to “Streaks of Blue” in December 2016