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In an empty classroom, the fifteen girls pulled their desks together to sit in a tight group. Aldana was half-sitting on the teacher’s desk, already talking to them, when Gillian knocked and stuck her head in, smiling. “May I?”
Aldana waved for her to come in, turning to the girls. “This is Lieutenant Gillian, guys. You can call her Reg.”
Gillian came to sit by the girls, taking a first look at them in the flesh. The school uniform and their tight ponytails made them all look very alike, with hardly any distinctive feature to let them stand out from the others. They kept their eyes down in a stressed silence.
“Hey, gals, nice to meet you. Did Al tell you why we’re here?”
“I was just about to,” said Aldana.
“This is about that Johnson ********** snarled one of the girls.
Gillian kept smiling. There they were, the three girls, sitting right in the middle of the group; the rest of the flock surrounding them, shielding them, protecting them. She decided to try the flat-lie gambit.
“Well, actually it’s about you, guys. You see, we already got the killer, and there are officers chasing him as we speak, so no worries there.” Some flashes of surprise, quickly concealed. Did they all know? Did they all plan it together? Were those three only the enforcers of some kind of conspiracy?
Aldana picked up the baton, her years in Sex Crimes working to smooth the situation. “During any investigation, we in Special Crimes like to dig a little deeper, and yesterday we came across some videos…”
A girl from the first seats jumped to her feet. A front-line fighter. According to what they had, her name was Tricia Mullen, and she had been one of Johnson’s first victims. Tall, thick glasses, she was a dull teen version of Wednesday Adams. Top student in Johnson’s class, she was the perfect example of the boy’s cruelty. Somebody like him would’ve never been interested in her. But she could’ve never had anything but contempt for him. So he’d hurt her. To show her who was boss. Something she would never forgive.
“But they’re private!” she cried. “You have no right to—!”
“Easy, this is not about judging you, guys, but the other way around,” said Gillian, leaning forward and moving her eyes over the faces as her smile faded. “Girls, what you’ve been through? No one should experience that. What happened to you is not right. At all. But Roger’s death doesn’t make it right. It solves nothing, because the hurt is there. You still have to share spaces with his friends, and be at the places where you were attacked, and now you have to see the candles and hear the praises, right? Everybody is mourning him, while you have no one to turn to, but yourselves.”
Her serious words seemed to bounce from girl to girl, causing a domino effect. One of them burst in tears. Two others hurried to sooth her. She was sitting with the three suspects, and Gillian spotted the bandages around the girl’s wrists, peeking out from under her shirt’s cuffs. This was the one who had tried to kill herself after the attack.
“But there are still things we can do about it, y’know?” Aldana said. “’Cause he couldn’t pull it off by himself. And that’s how you can help us.”
“You expect us to tell you cops what happened to us in detail!?” Tricia, the front-liner again.
“You expect things to change?” retorted Gillian. They needed to neutralize that girl before she turned the whole group against them. A bit of realistic fear might do the trick. “How long till some thug takes on Roger’s crown as king of ***** and this starts happening again? To other girls. Or maybe to you again, ‘cause maybe the new king thinks there’s something special about you that made Roger pick you in the first place.”
“No one wants to know! No one ever listens!” cried another girl from the first seats. “D’you think we didn’t try?”
Aldana smiled. “Well, we’re here, right? We’re here for you, and we’re not going anywhere. So why don’t you give us a chance?”
“You’re no different from them! Or you would’ve showed up ages ago!”
Another seat in the first row. Jeez, the flock really knew how to place their defenses. Gillian stood up slowly. Time for a little official intimidation. Aldana glanced at her with a warning look she ignored.
“You see, girls, now that we’re aware of what happened, we can’t drop it. So we’re gonna keep digging. Did you know that not reporting a crime makes you an accessory to that crime? And refusing to provide information is called obstruction of justice, google it.” Yeah, there’s also the Fifth, but sure they know it better than me. “So it’s up to you now: you get to choose which side are you gonna land on when this all comes down. Are you gonna help us catch all those who let Roger get away with it for years? Or are you gonna end up teaming up with them? Are you gonna allow us to give you what little satisfaction justice can offer? Or are you gonna screw up the rest of your lives over this? Your call, girls.”
Once again, her words bounced from girl to girl, and she could read which ones were dying to speak up, and which ones were willing to kill in order to keep the whole thing in the dark—Tricia among them, of course. She was surprised to see the three girls from the TV coverage were among those who wanted to cooperate. There was also guilt. They had carried out somebody else’s plan, and they were starting to regret it.
Aldana stood up with her warm, reassuring smile. “Please feel free to contact us. I’m leaving my card here, on the desk, so you can have our numbers and email. Needless to say, anything you want to share with us is strictly confidential.”
“Confidential?” Tricia repeated bitterly. “Those videos we made were confidential! That’s why they were uploaded to a secret group, secret being the keyword here.”
Gillian was hating that bossy little witch. “You’re wrong, Tricia.” She smiled at the girl’s jolt when she used her first name. “You posted them online, and there’s no such thing as secret on the internet. Think of it this way: if you wouldn’t do it in the middle of the street, in broad daylight, then don’t do it online.”
The bell rang and Gillian nodded at the door, inviting them to leave. The girls didn’t move, all eyes fixed on Tricia. Aldana flashed another warm smile at them as she joined Gillian, who paused before walking out. If Tricia or any of the other front-liners thought they were getting off the hook so easily… “Every one of you will be receiving an email from us,” she said. “Just in case you happen to lose our contact information. Anyway, expect to be called downtown to make a statement within the next weeks. An individual statement, of course.”
As soon as they left the room, Tricia jumped to her feet and ran to grab Aldana’s card. She ripped it into small pieces and turned to the other girls. “We’re not talking to them,” she hissed, final and menacing.
Right outside the door, Aldana and Gillian traded a look.
“That’s our the queen bee,” said Gillian. “Those three girls just drew the short straw to execute her plan.”