Chapter 16

The cement quad in front of the Literature building was awash in orange light from the late afternoon sun when Julie exited the hour-long lecture. Another week and it would be time to set the clocks back. Julie was already dreading the shorter days ahead. She’d gotten spoiled by her first two months in San Diego. The constant sunshine and balmy daytime temperatures fueled fantasies of Endless Summer.

The line of students alighting from the double doors veered left, and, caught up in the crowd, Julie passively followed the herd. She quickly discovered the draw: the latest edition of The Sentinel, SDU’s weekly newspaper, had hit the stands. Copies were being snatched up faster than free beer.

“Hey!” shouted an angry boy when Julie dove in front of him to get her hands on the last one.

When it appeared he might try and grab the newspaper from her, Julie said something to shock him into submission. “I need something to read in the bathroom.” She crossed her legs and winced. “I really gotta go.”

The boy backed away gingerly, fearful she might explode at any second.

“You can have it back when I’m finished,” Julie offered, “but I might be awhile …”

With a look of disgust on his face, the boy waved his hands to decline then made a hasty retreat, and Julie went on her merry way.

Traipsing victoriously down a path towards the dorms, Julie glanced at her hard-won prize. A color photograph of Courtney Kennedy covered a quarter of the front page, under the headline, STAR STUDENT MURDERED. Julie studied the picture. Courtney was certainly beautiful, in a superficial way, with blonde hair, blue eyes and straight white teeth. But she possessed something else below the façade that set her apart from the multitude of California blondes, which Julie could only define as charisma. She radiated warmth, charm, health and vitality. Staring at her image, Julie found it difficult to reconcile she was dead.

The lead paragraph recounted everything Julie already knew – the date, time and location of the attack, as well as the cause of death: severe head trauma. Subsequent copy revealed the background of the girl she’d only met once, briefly. A San Diego native, Courtney grew up in the affluent North County, and was the valedictorian of her high school. Besides being a model student, she was an accomplished dancer. The article highlighted various performances at venues Julie had heard of but never attended. A dance/theater major at SDU, she volunteered as a dance therapist for autistic children on the weekends and, according to her mother, still found the time to return home every Sunday night for the family supper. The remainder of the story was devoted to praise from Courtney’s friends and teachers. Julie continued to read as she strolled, turning onto a sidewalk that ran parallel to the road.

“Courtney was that rare sort of individual who gave more than she took. The faces of the children at the Center lit up when she walked into the room. They adored her. We all did. She was extremely special.”

“Everybody loved Courtney. She was sweet, kind and caring. But she knew how to have fun, too. I’ll never forget her.”

“She was a role model for her generation – bright, beautiful and, above all, gracious. She had tremendous poise for someone so young.”

“It’s a loss for the college; a loss for the community. She would have undoubtedly accomplished great things.”

The siren blast nearly gave Julie a heart attack. She looked over her shoulder and saw a police car, idling at the curb. Rhonda Sparks, wearing mirrored aviator sunglasses and a scowl, beckoned her over with a quick nod of her head.

Julie wondered what the woman wanted now. She was tempted to ignore the request, since the wail of the siren had succeeded in attracting the attention of everybody this side of Tijuana. They all stood there, staring, waiting for her to be thrown down on the ground and handcuffed. Julie was beginning to suspect Rhonda Sparks had been put on this planet to humiliate her. Trying her best to appear cavalier, she trotted over to the driver’s side window.

“Glad to see you’re staying out of trouble,” Officer Sparks said when Julie appeared.

“Yep. No car thefts on the agenda today. Only Literature 101. Oh, but I did swipe a newspaper.” She proudly held up the proof.

The officer flinched, uncertain whether she was joking. Recovering, she said, “I see you got all of those flyers up. We’ve been getting a lot of calls.”

Julie waited for her to say something else, like “thank you” or “good job,” but Rhonda Sparks proved incapable of giving praise. No tender moments for this tough cop. “I should think so,” Julie replied. “Everybody’s talking about the murder. They’re all scared to death.” She realized too late her poor choice of words.

Officer Sparks didn’t appear to notice. Concern of another kind clouded her face. “Self defense is a useful thing to know, but I don’t think the general student body is in jeopardy.”

“Really? Why’s that?”

”I’ve seen the autopsy report. Courtney’s death resulted from one terrific blow,” the policewoman revealed. “Whoever murdered her must have been ferociously angry. Which means most likely the killing wasn’t random. It was personal.”

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