The principal shifted uncomfortably in his seat again. His eyes went to the breast pocket where Lark had put his badge away. Lark sat perfectly still, hoping Principal Bob here wouldn’t want to see it again. It was a good phony, but it was still a phony.
“I don’t know,” he said slowly. “The kids really shouldn’t be talking to any authorities without their parents present.”
Fuck. A school administrator who knows the law. Whodda thunk?
Next to her, Jack smiled that big, friendly smile that had a way with the unwilling. Even now, the principal couldn’t help but relax in his seat, the tiniest bit.
“An excellent observation,” Jack said. “And a correct one. Usually. We’re not looking to interrogate anyone here. We have no reason to believe anyone in this high school is connected to these disappearances. Not as a perpetrator, anyway. We’re worried this is going to happen again. And soon. Any information we can get from any of the students on these missing girls might help us stop this before it happens again.”
“The local police already talked to a lot of the student body,” Principal Bob said.
“They don’t have the training we have,” Jack insisted. “We deal with nothing but missing kids. We might have a better idea of what to ask.”
The principal tilted his head to the side, like something Jack had said had triggered a memory.
“When you put it that way, I might have someone for you to talk to.”
Lark and Jack sat patiently next to each other while Principal Bob dove into his computer, mouse clicking and keyboard typing until he finally had the information that he wanted. He picked up his phone, dialed three numbers, and waited.
“Hey, it’s Bob. Can you send Raquel Anderson to my office, please? Yes, now. Thanks.”
“Raquel Anderson?” Lark asked.
“She wasn’t exactly friends with the missing, but she ran in the same circles and they saw each other a lot. When the local police came to interview the kids…well, the interviews were private, obviously, but I saw Raquel when she came out. She was very frustrated, but would only say that they wouldn’t listen to her. Perhaps this is exactly what you were talking about? Something the police wouldn’t understand but you would?”
Lark and Jack exchanged a look. In fact, it sounded exactly like something they were looking for. A lot of the stuff the actual cops thought was lies or bullshit was, in fact, the exact clue they needed to bust a case wide open.
And, sometimes, it was bullshit.
They tempered their emotions to cautiously optimistic.
“I should warn you, before she comes in,” Principal Bob said. “Raquel can be…a lot.”
The office door opened and a teenage girl walked in. The exact sort of teenage girl that used to bully Lark when she was a teenage girl. Jack didn’t exactly look comfortable either.
She had to be sixteen or seventeen but she was dressed like some Hollywood starlet out on the town. At 10:30 am. On a Wednesday. In the middle of Corn Maze, Iowa. Her clothes were tight and her makeup was heavy. Ringlets of curls fell on either side of her face as she glared at her phone and typed frantically.
“Miss Anderson,” Principal Bob said with a sigh. “What’s the rule on phones?”
“No phones in class,” she answered automatically, not putting the phone down. “But I’m not in class right now, so, like, whatever.”
“Miss Anderson, please.”
Raquel lifted the phone to take a grimacing selfie and began rapidly typing again. Lark could almost imagine the post.
Sent to the principal, so lame.
Wait, did the kids still say lame? And where was she going to post it? Lark was pretty sure the kids didn’t like Facebook anymore, maybe not even Instagram. TwikTok? Was that a thing?
Finally, Raquel put the phone away and noticed Lark and Jack. She scowled.
“Miss Anderson, these people would like to talk to you. These are agents Brown and Smith from the FBI.”
Raquel grimaced as she looked both of them up and down. “Ew.”
“They want to talk to you about the missing girls.”
“Ugh, I already did this, though,” she said. “I’m going to miss lunch.”
“This won’t take long,” Lark said, standing up. “As I understand it, your conversation with the police didn’t really go the way you wanted it to?”
She still looked like she’d rather go to the cafeteria. But the way she jutted her hips out to the side made it clear she was interested in anyone who would hear her speak.
“Fine,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Just make it quick.”
Principal Bob set them up in a study room off the library. Raquel pulled a nail file out of her purse and started using it on nails that, as far as Lark could tell, were perfectly shaped already.
“So,” Jack said. “What was it you told the police that they didn’t want to hear?”
“Um, only, like, exactly who took those girls,” Raquel said. “Duh.”
“And who was that?”
“Are those khaki pants?”
Raquel snorted like that was the funniest thing in the world while Jack tried to close his coat and cover the offending pants.
Lark snapped her fingers a couple of times. “Raquel? Can we focus.”
“Oh, like you get to talk in your little pantsuit.”
“Girl, please,” Lark said, tired of it. “I’m thirty-six. Do you know what that means?”
“It means you’re supposed to find me uncool and stupid. And I know that. So all your mean girl comments mean nothing to me. I’m immune.”
“You’re, like, bullying me, and that’s not okay.”
Lark rolled her eyes. “Who do you think took the girls, Raquel?”
“Okay, first of all, I don’t like that tone,” Raquel said, waving her hand around. “Second of all, I don’t think I know. I know I know.”
“It was Bloody Mary.”
The three of them stared at each other for a few seconds.
“You know, Bloody Mary?” Raquel said again. “Chant her name, she comes out of the mirror, all that?”
“Yes,” Jack said. “We’re aware of who Bloody Mary is.”
“And…you’re not laughing?”
“Actually, Bloody Mary is exactly the sort of thing we investigate,” Lark said.
For the first time, Raquel looked something other than annoyed. “Like The X Files. Very retro.”
“Why do you think it’s Bloody Mary?”
“Because I walked in Makenzie and Britney and the others about to call her in the bathroom!” Raquel said. “All of them lined up in the mirror, about to chant her name. And they wanted me to join! I was like, no way, I am not helping the four of you resurrect that gross ghost. And then Patterson was all, what, are you scared? And I was like, no, I’m just not an idiot. And they were all, it’s not even real. And I was like, tell yourselves whatever you want to tell yourselves. I didn’t think Bloody Mary was real, either, but I still wasn’t going to go around calling her to come down and fuck up my life, you know? Like, have some self-respect and don’t fuck with what you don’t know. And now look – I’m here wasting a lunch period talking to you two and they’re all gone. Probably dead. You know, this is just like eighth grade, when I was at a party and a bunch of kids wanted to summon Slender Man. I called my mom and went home. They’re all dead, too.”
Lark blinked at her. “Uh, okay. Was anyone else in the bathroom that day?”
Raquel shrugged. “No, just the four of them. Stacey Higgins was going in as I was leaving and I grabbed her by the arm and pulled her down to the other bathroom. She may not understand how to dress for her body shape but I wasn’t going to let her get dragged into that mess.”
The room was quiet for a few minutes while Lark and Jack tried to understand what the fuck had just happened.
Finally, Raquel scoffed. “So, like, is that it? Can I eat now?”
“Yeah, yeah, go ahead.”
The door was already closing by the time Lark realized she was gone.
“Okay,” Jack said, putting his hands together. “I guess no one else is going to go missing around here. At least not from this.”
Lark nodded, staring at the door. “We somehow need to take that girl’s common sense and give it to everyone.”