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Big Boned

Page 55

I suppose my yelp of alarm might have alerted those nearest me that I was in trouble… if Pam's shriek of outrage hadn't drowned out everything else that was audible within a five-mile radius (I exaggerate, but seriously, that lady has a set of lungs on her).
I don't get to stick around to see what happens next, because one minute I'm in the atrium with everyone else, and the next, I'm in the stairwell.
But I suspect fingernails were launched in the direction of Sebastian's eyeballs.
Seriously, I don't know what Sarah was thinking, letting him talk her into coming here. She had to have known what a bad idea it was. Sure, Sebastian might have wanted to pay his respects.
But couldn't he have done it in some less public forum, when feelings might not have been running quite as high?
In any case, I don't get to see how Mrs. Veatch One and Two react to Owen's alleged killer showing up at his memorial service, beyond Mrs. Veatch Number Two's shriek. That's because Mark has me inside that stairwell and pressed up against the cinder-block wall in the blink of an eye, where he seems to be trying very hard to convince me that I ought to be keeping the information about his previous places of employment-and subsequent dismissals from them-to myself.
I can't help being conscious of the fact that we are standing on the top of a very steep stairwell and that Mark is, for his profession, remarkably strong. It's not out of the realm of possibility that he could throw me down those stairs, snapping my neck, then claim I fell accidentally. Everyone would believe it. I am not known, after all, for my grace.
"Look," Mark is saying, shaking me with the force of his grip. He has both hands on my upper arms now. His thumbs are actually cutting off my circulation. "It wasn't my fault about those other girls! I'm a good-looking guy! Girls hit on me! Of course I say no, and when I do, they get mad, and report me! It's not me… it's them!"
"Mark," I say, in the calmest voice I can muster. There's just a slim metal railing separating us from the stairwell. The smell of chlorine is sharp in the air. It reminds me of all those times I tried to burn calories swimming laps. Yeah. Like that worked. I came home so ravenous, I once ate an entire loaf of Roman Meal. With nothing on it. "I don't care about those other girls. It's Owen I care about."
"Owen?" Mark's face twists with confusion. "Who the hell is OWEN?"
"Owen Veatch," I remind him. "The man you just gave the eulogy for."
"What does he have to do with any of this?" Mark wants to know. "Christ-he didn't say I hit on him, too, did he? I may be a lot of things, but I'm not GAY."
I laugh. I can't help it.
"Right," I say. "Good one."
"I'm serious," Mark says. "Heather, I know I have a problem. But I mean… a lot of girls, they like it. Especially the ones who may not be as good-looking as the others, you know what I mean? The homely ones… the chubby ones-it gives them a little boost of self-esteem. I don't mean anything by it. I really don't. It's just to make them feel good."
I narrow my eyes at him.
"My God," I say. "You really are a piece of work. You know that, don't you? You're disgusting."
"God gave me a gift, Heather," Mark insists, his face just inches from mine. "These looks, this personality… I'm supposed to use it to bring joy to others. I'm supposed to use it to do His work-"
"And since when," I demand, "has killing been the Lord's work?"
"Killing?" Mark blinks down at me. "What are you talking about?"
"Right," I say, very sarcastically. I'm stalling, of course. Eventually Cooper's going to have to figure out which door Mark dragged me through, and come busting through it. Until then, I just have to keep him talking. Because if he's busy talking, he won't be busy doing other things. Such as killing me.
"Like you didn't shoot Owen through his office window yesterday morning," I say, "to keep him from ratting you out to your supervisor and the board of trustees."
Mark blinks some more.
"What? What are you-"
"Come on, Mark," I say. "Everyone knows you did it. Jamie knows. I know. The cops know. You might as well give yourself up. You can plant guns on innocent people all you want, but the truth is, you're going to get caught eventually. It's just a matter of time."
Mark does something extraordinary then.
He bursts out laughing. Then he lets go of me.
"Is that what this is about?" he asks, walking to the opposite end of the stairwell, dragging a hand through his thick dark hair. "You think… My God. You can't be serious."
"Oh, I assure you," I say, keeping an eye on the door. Any second now, I'm sure, Cooper is going to burst through it. I'd make a run for it, but I'm certain Halstead will stop me before I get even one step toward it. Stop me, then toss me over the railing and to my death. "I'm serious as a heart attack."
"How could I have killed your boss?" Mark demands. "They already caught the guy who did it!"
"You shot him," I say, "and planted the gun on Sebastian."
"Oh, right," Mark says, very sarcastically… I mean, for a preacher. "And what time was your boss shot again?"
"Between eight and eight-thirty yesterday morning," I say.
"Right," Mark says. "You mean while I was holding daily morning prayer service, which I do every day between seven-thirty and eight-thirty, in front of no fewer than twenty to thirty students? Would you like to explain how I snuck out in front of all of them, shot your boss, snuck back, and continued prayer service without any of them noticing I was gone?"
I swallow. No wonder Detective Canavan had been in no hurry to rush out and arrest the reverend. It hadn't been because he already had a suspect in custody.
It had been because Reverend Mark had a rock-solid alibi.
"Oh," I say.
Dang. And I'd really wanted him to turn out to be the killer, too.
"You know," Mark says in an irritated voice, "I am getting so tired of people assuming that, just because there've been a few religious leaders who've turned out to be less than honest,all men of the cloth must be inherently dishonest. Apparently we're all either child molesters, adulterers, or cold-blooded killers."