A Study in Charlotte

Page 73

That faded as quickly as it came. He?

The dealer. The Moriarty dealer.

“Two minutes,” the policeman said. “Cut the dramatics and finish packing.”

“Talk fast,” I said, pulling my suitcase out from under the bed and yanking armfuls of clothes from the dresser.

“I never even got anything good,” Tom said, as if to himself. “Nothing conclusive. Charlotte even stopped coming to the room. You two were always hunkered down in her fucked-up little dungeon.”

“I just— I can’t deal with this right now.” I grabbed the novels from above my bed and dropped them on top of my clothes, one, two, three, like grenades. Textbooks, soap. I had to get in my closet but Tom was still slouched in front of it.

“Move,” I said to him, but he stared up at me stupidly, and the bovine look on him eroded the last of my temper. “I swear to God I will break your neck if you don’t move. I might break your neck anyway. You were spying on me, Tom? On top of all the other awful shit happening—you had to make it worse? I never did anything to you.”

“He offered to split his advance with me,” he said. “He already sold it, you know, he’s in the middle of writing it now. It’s going to be huge, and he’s going to have all this money, he’ll be famous, he’ll finally be able to teach somewhere better than this shithole—his friend Penelope is going to get him a job at Yale—”

I stared at him, at his horrible lying mouth. “Wheatley? You’re full of shit. The dealer told you to say that.”

Tom went to his desk and, opening the bottom drawer, pulled out a battered legal pad. The top page didn’t have any writing on it. Not actual writing, no—someone had painstakingly colored in the indentations made by the words written on the page above. Skeletons in her office he says starrily as if he’s in love with death as much as her. Lines and lines of florid prose. He wears the glasses of a Beat philosopher from the 1950s but his face is all Cornwall smooth. When they dance they do not touch.

They were Mr. Wheatley’s notes from our meeting, when he’d so impressed me by interrogating me and then handing over what he’d written down. I remembered the piece of cardboard he’d stuck below the top page. The top two pages. I’d thought at the time that he was worried his ink would bleed through, but he had just been making himself a copy.

“He was sure you were guilty,” Tom said, almost like he was pleading with me. “Back in October, I was waiting for an appointment with him to talk about my story, and I heard him say it to another teacher inside his office. You. Guilty. And I told him, no, you weren’t, and it was actually this great story, you and Charlotte Holmes solving crimes, that you two were totally boning like Bonnie and Clyde, the good-guy version. He had this idea for a book. True crime. With famous kids as the heroes. The public would eat it up. I’m a good writer, he told me that, better than you, anyway, even if my family’s not famous, and I’d do a good job helping, and you’d be happy about it in the end, when you saw how much attention it got you—” He cut himself off.

“So you bugged our room.”

“He had me do it. Ordered all the stuff online. The mirror was the worst, replacing it. But yeah, I’d get you to talk and then I’d review the files when you were gone, write everything down, pass it along to him. But—look at this. He’s never going to pay me now.”

“Why?” I asked him again. I’d thought Tom was my friend. He was one of the only constants in my life, his irrepressible grin and his motor mouth and his ridiculous sweater-vest. We watched stupid videos on his computer at night. We ate each other’s candy, borrowed each other’s shampoo. He was the first person who was nice to me when I came back to America, miserable and alone.

“I was doing you a favor,” he repeated, like he was trying to make himself believe it.

“Time, boys,” the officer boomed from the doorway. I slammed the door in his face and bolted it. I was going to get an explanation even if it got me arrested.

“Tell me why.”

“Lena’s family goes to Paris every summer,” Tom said quietly, as the policeman hammered on the door. “She invited me. And she . . . she expects things from me. Dinners out. Presents. You know her dad’s a big oil tycoon out in India. They have a housekeeper. She has her own plane. And I’m here, from the Midwest, on scholarship. Do you know what that feels like? He was going to give me ten grand!”

I couldn’t wring out an ounce of sympathy for him. “Seriously, what do you think Lena will say when she finds out how you got that money? Jesus Christ, everyone at this fucking school acts like they’re so rich and half of them aren’t, not even close. When are you going to realize that? What do you think all those people are doing at Holmes’s poker game every week, wagering all their money? Here’s a solution. Get the hell over yourself. Tell Lena the truth. God, she’s actually a decent person, do you think she’d really care?”

“I didn’t expect you to understand it. You’re a show dog with a pedigree. I’m just someone that escaped from the pound.” He shook his head. “It’s not like I hurt you or anything. You’re my friend. I was doing you a favor. It was going to make you famous—”

“Open up the door! Open it up!”

I was disgusted with him, disgusted with Sherringford, with the bullshit and the jealousy and the backstabbing. Furious, I grabbed the handles of my closet doors, ready to throw the rest of the stuff in my suitcase and get the fuck out of Dodge.

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