Jason Ramos heard the knock on his dorm room door and growled. He glanced at the clock and wondered why anyone would disturb him on a Saturday morning before 8:00. Flexing his stiff, right hand, he noticed his knuckles had gone a yellowish purple. After pulling on a pair of pants, the trespasser hammered on his door again. Why does that have to be so loud? He massaged his forehead.
“I’ll be out in a moment,” he grumbled.
“Police! Open up.” It was a woman’s voice
An officer? Jason scanned the room and gulped. Not seeing any of his roommate’s contraband, he crossed the room and let himself out. Closing the door, he stationed himself between the cop and his room. “How can I help you, ma’am?”
Officer Wexler wore a dark blue uniform and cap. Unlike campus security, she had an air of authority about her that made Jason want to fade away into the background. “You are Jason Ramos, correct?”
“Yes. What’s this about?”
“I just need you to answer a couple questions. Could we step inside?”
Jason looked up and down the hallway. A few guys on the floor stared his way. He tried to glance at the carpet, but fear would not allow it. “Is that necessary?”
The officer’s eyes fixed on him with icy determination. It was a glare that said she would have her way no matter what. “I’m taking statements from Dr. Conrad Vellion’s students. Could we step into your room, sir?”
Jason stuttered as he opened the door and beckoned Officer Wexler inside. “Dr. Vellion? What do you want to know?”
Wexler took half a minute to appraise the dorm room before answering. She frowned. Her nose wrinkled at the musky scent of sweaty socks. “As I understand it, Mr. Ramos, you were involved in an altercation with the professor yesterday.”
“An – an altercation?” Jason tried to suppress a guffaw. “I’d hardly go that far.”
“Then describe it to me, Mr. Ramos.” The officer took out an electronic pad and stylus.
Jason ran a hand through the morning tangle on his head. He felt a jolt in his stomach. Realizing he had not thrown on a shirt to cover his scrawny torso, his cheeks colored. “Well it was mostly Chad. He – was making fun of the professor just as Dr. Vellion walked in. They exchanged words, Chad left, and I went to take my seat in class.”
“Dr. Vellion said Chad should leave and go waste his life with a video game or something like that. Chad called him a fool and left.”
“And that’s all that happened?” Officer Wexler peered at him the way his mother would when he claimed not to have touched the last piece of pumpkin pie in the fridge. “You didn’t talk to Dr. Vellion after that?”
“Well, I mean – he stopped me before I could leave for the dining hall. Wanted to talk to me about what Chad had said earlier.”
“What was your reaction to this talk?”
Jason pursed his lips and shook his head. “It was fine.”
Officer Wexler turned a page in her pad. “According to a witness, you left the lecture hall ‘distraught and angry.’ Says you punched a wall.”
Jason hid his right hand behind his back.
Officer Wexler raised an eyebrow. “Do you want to revise your statement, Mr. Ramos?”
Jason sighed. “Okay, so maybe fine isn’t the word. Sure, I was ticked. He called me a coward. No one’s ever – I just – I hated that I couldn’t convince myself he was wrong.”
“I see.” Officer Wexler scribbled. “And what did you do next?”
“I ate dinner and went to a party with some buddies.”
“How long were you there?”
“Wait. You’re asking questions about an alibi, aren’t you? What is this all about? Is Dr. Vellion alright?”
“No. I’m afraid not.” Officer Wexler looked up from her pad. “The professor was murdered in his home last night.”
Jason’s eyes widened. He could not shut his mouth. He sank into a nearby chair. “What? Why?”
The cop’s gaze softened along with her tone. “That’s what we’re trying to determine.”
“And you think – oh, crap! No! No way! I did not kill Dr. Vellion.”
“Then help us rule you out as a suspect. What time were you at this party?”
“It was right after dinner, so 6:30ish. I didn’t leave until 11:00. Maybe later.”
“Can you narrow those times any?”
“I wasn’t looking at a clock.” Jason heard his voice crack. “I just wanted to forget – to have a good time with my buddies.”
Officer Wexler nodded. “And these ‘buddies’ of yours have names?”
“Yeah. Sure. It was – uh – Mary Crest, Omar Lafferty, and uh – uh—” Jason snapped his fingers as if that would call the name to memory. “Carter Maguire.”
“Was Chad Rodgers among the ‘buddies’ at this party?”
“I didn’t see him there, but – you don’t think—”
“I’ll need your contact information in case I have any more questions.”
“Of course.” Jason shared his phone number and home address. “Home’s out of state, so I’ll still be here until Thanksgiving.”
“Do you have an MPlant?”
“What? No. Can’t afford the surgery. Or any of the other bits. Not if I want a college education, I mean. Mom says a phone plan is plenty expensive already, and—” Jason realized he was babbling. “Why?”
The corner of Officer Wexler’s mouth curved up. “It just makes transferring my contact from the pad to you a little faster. But in lieu of that, I want to give you my card. If you think of anything else, I want you to call me.”
“Right.” Jason held the card a foot away from his eyes and read the name “Becca Wexler” next to a picture the officer that must have taken five years before when there were fewer frown lines around her eyes and lips.
The officer left his room and closed the door. Jason folded his arms across his chest. His shaky breaths made him feel as though he were still under the officer’s scrutiny. Slimy sweat clung to his body. He knew a shower would make him feel better, but he could not stand on wobbly feet. And his heart thumped hard. Who could have – Why? This makes no sense.