Eighteen-year-old Buddy McNeal has always finished last in the eyes of his parents. His mother deserted the family, divorcing his dad when Buddy was eleven. Buddy’s father, a wealthy real estate investor, is a big-time womanizer who no longer has time for him. As an all-state wide receiver, Buddy earns a college football scholarship and intends to prove to himself and his parents that he is somebody by becoming an all-America player in college, and eventually a million-dollar star in pro-football—recognized, admired, and loved by everyone.
In ninth grade, Buddy had a brief sexual encounter with the beautiful but mysterious Crystal Crowe, who promptly disappeared, only to return as a senior. They meet up again, and Buddy falls in love with her, but he quickly becomes embroiled in her unstable home life, including a lesbian love triangle. He follows Crystal down a path that leads them both into a horrific world of mayhem, and eventually murder: Buddy’s dreams for the future destroyed, his life forever changed.
14+ due to sexuality and adult situations
“First-degree murder, concealing a homicide—you're involved in a messy situation here, Buddy,” Muscle Cop says. He's young, and broad-shouldered, like a weightlifter.
“It wasn't murder,” I say. “It was an accident.”
I'm hunched on a metal chair in front of a battle-scarred wooden table, in the interrogation room of the tiny Lost Grove police station. My hands clutch each other on the table. My palms feel soggy, as if I need to wring them out. Sweat bubbles on my forehead.
The cops have brought me here from Mercy Hospital, where I'd been released after a week's stay because of a severe concussion, which resulted in a bit of confusion on my part and temporary memory loss. But I'm okay now … I think.
“Why protect this loony bitch?” the other cop asks—a pudgy, red-nosed guy of about fifty. Both are dressed in street clothes: dark slacks, short-sleeved white shirts open at the throat, silver badges hooked to their belts. They're standing over me, glaring. Vultures.
I thought cops were supposed to be friendly, especially if they wanted information from a witness, but these guys are scaring the crap out of me.
“You wouldn't understand,” I say.
“Are you dating her?” Red Nose asks. “Sleeping with her?”
Blood rushes to my face. I rub my forehead with my palm and drag my hand through my hair. “What difference does that make?”
“She's going to maybe land you in jail,” Muscle Cop says. “Aren't you at least smart enough to realize that?”
“It was an accident,” I say again, and wring my hands.
“Accident. Murder,” Red Nose says. “A jury will decide which one.”
“You could be looking at hard time,” Muscle Cop says. “Just like this witch you're protecting.”
“Why defend her?” Red Nose says, pacing in front of the one-way window, a four-foot by six-foot hunk of glass I can't see through. He halts, looks at me, and says, “Tell us what happened, Buddy. Christ. You were there. You know what happened. Most of it, anyway.”
He calls me buddy, not because I'm his buddy, but because it's my name. Buddy McNeal. He's seen it in the newspaper. I played football for the Kennedy High School Cougars.
Red Nose plunks his butt on the corner of the table and stares at me, his dark eyes flashing under bushy eyebrows.
The fingers of his right hand have wrapped themselves around a Styrofoam cup that he spits tobacco into. Levi Garrett. He dipped it after he shoved me into this chair twenty minutes ago. “Why don't you start way back from when you first met her?”
I lick my lips. They're dry and cracked.
Muscle Cop says, “Buddy, it's best you tell us what you know.” He sounds like maybe he's lightening up. “Right from the start,” he adds.
“You're eighteen,” Red Nose says. “If you had any part in this, you'll be tried as an adult.”
“You got a football scholarship to the University of Iowa?” Muscle Cop asks.
“There goes your college career,” he says. “Out the window before it starts.”
Maybe if I don't look at these guys, I can calm my pounding heart.
My eyes roam the walls and ceiling, as if I'm bird-watching.
“You're a vic, too,” Muscle Cop says, but I'm not looking at him. “Don't you realize that? A girl is dead—hell, you could've died. You got a pretty bad knock on the head, didn't you?”
Red Nose stands. I shrink back. He sets his spit-cup carefully on the table. Sweat's dripping from my armpits. “You listening to me, Buddy?” Red Nose grabs my T-shirt, twists, and shoves his face in front of mine. “Look at me!”
I grab the arms of my chair. I smell the Levi Garrett on his breath. “You guys take pride in being bad-ass cops?” I choke out the words.
“You want to know why we're so pissed?” Red Nose says. “A terrible thing was done to that girl, and your girlfriend was the ringleader!” His fist twists my T-shirt tighter under my chin. I try to swallow, but can't. His knuckles are jammed into my Adam's apple. “Sickening,” he says. “Horrible!”
Muscle cop says, “Best you speak up, Buddy.”
“Fifteen years,” Red Nose says, “I worked a beat on the north side of Chicago before I came here—I never heard anything like this. You understand what I'm saying? I got a daughter myself. I'd kill any guy—or girl—who did something like that to her.”
Muscle Cop grabs him by the shoulder. “Frank, give Buddy a chance. I think maybe he's ready to tell us something.”
That's when I decide to tell them the whole story from the beginning, when I first met Crystal. Not that I want to tell the story, but I probably should for my own good. I swallow the jagged lump blocking my throat. “Look, get this straight. Nobody intended to kill anybody.”