The entrance hall. 9:30 PM.
Virginia stared glumly at her punch. It was her third cup. “I think I’m sugar-crashing,” she said. She downed the rest of it, then set her head down on the table.
“Did you figure out the password?” Benny asked her, mostly out of politeness. It was obvious from Virginia’s demeanor that she hadn’t gotten anywhere. He was starting to believe there really had been a drug dealer, unless Virginia was the best actress in the world and this makeout trap was going to be a long con. If the drug-dealer story was true, it meant Virginia was already embarrassingly far ahead of him, investigation-wise. And while he was impressed that she’d been able to discover and pursue a mystery on her own, Benny was used to being the leader, not the—what had Virginia called it? Gaping bystander? What if it turned out Virginia was actually better at this than he was? He shook the thought out of his mind. That stupid kiss had thrown him off his game, that was all. No need to have a professional crisis.
He turned his attention back to the ballots for Spring King, recounting them for the third time. Fifty-four for Xander Mulroney, 57 for Jordan Cross, and a whopping 89 for Calvin Harker.
“This isn’t right,” he said.
“I’ll bet it’s a prank,” Virginia suggested. “Like, a bunch of jocks are planning to dump punch on him, or pants him in front of everyone. God, people are so stupid. Don’t they realize that shit doesn’t work anymore? It’s not, like, 1989. Victims are in know.”
Benny shrugged, thumbing through the ballots again. It wasn’t hard for him to imagine Riverside’s more Neanderthal-ish element ignoring that cultural shift. There would always be jerks who think it’s cool to throw their weight around.
“Wait,” he said suddenly, realizing the problem. “There are too many ballots.” At least 50 people had breezed past the ticket table without paying or casting their votes. There should have only been about a 130 total, not 200.
Of course, he thought. I gave the extra ballots to Calvin.
“I’m such an idiot,” Benny said, slapping his forehead.
“What?” Virginia asked eagerly.
Benny was talking so fast, he tripped over his words. “I gave him a pen—he said…he said he needed something to write on, and I gave him the ballots. He must have filled them out then and slipped them in the box when the lights went out. God, I’m such an idiot. The kiss. The kiss!”
“The kiss, the kiss?” Virginia repeated, half-grinning. It was kind of fun to watch Benny freaking out. He was normally so unflappable.
“It was a diversion,” he declared, throwing the ballots back in the box.
“Wait, wait, you think Calvin kissed you?” Virginia asked.
“It makes perfect sense,” Benny said. “He did it to distract me. And it worked. Dammit, it worked!”
“OK, wow, do you have a self-esteem problem?” Virginia asked. “Maybe someone just likes you, Benny. It doesn’t have to be a diabolical plot to make Calvin Harker Spring King.”
“No, no, this makes much more sense,” Benny said, actually smiling. “Whew, he really had me there for a minute. But I’m onto you, Calvin Harker. I’m back. Benny Flax is back on the case!”
As Benny continued to ramble, Virginia just stared at him. Wow, she thought. The lengths he’ll go to avoid thinking someone has a crush on him.
The hallway. 9:45 PM.
“We know what you did,” Benny declared.
Calvin Harker blinked in the brightness of the fluorescent lights. He’d been lurking in a dim corner of the dance floor, trying to write a poem, when Benny Flax and that girl he was always with appeared out of nowhere and dragged him into the hallway.
“We know what you did,” Benny repeated.
Instead of seeming intimidated, Calvin randomly asked, “Hey, do you have a pen? I need to write something down.”
“I already gave you my pen,” Benny said. “And you used it to commit a devious crime.”
Virginia snorted. Devious crime?
Benny shot her a look, then turned back to the suspect. A lock of dark brown hair had fallen across Calvin’s forehead. Benny found himself looking at it with a touch of envy. His mom would never let him go that long between haircuts.
“I like your dress,” Calvin said to Virginia, ignoring Benny.
“You do?” Virginia said. She looked down at herself. You could barely even see the dress what with the huge red punch stain and the smeared blue icing.
Calvin gazed at her. “It’s like, you were too beautiful, so they had to throw garbage at you. To bring you down to their level.”
Virginia felt her mouth hanging open. It was the most amazing thing anyone had ever said to her. She tried to think of some worthy reply, but the compliment had caught her off-guard. “Thank you,” she finally managed.
Next to her, Benny clenched his jaw in annoyance. Don’t fall in love with the suspect, he thought. It was the most basic rule of mystery-solving.
“We know you voted yourself Spring King,” he said, but Calvin continued to ignore him. He was showing Virginia a poem he’d written on the back of a cake plate.
“It’s called ‘The Elevated Prison,’” he was saying. “I wanted to capture the experience of being sober while everyone else is on drugs.”
“I love it,” Virginia gushed. “I think you’re an amazing poet.”
“OK, enough about poetry,” Benny said. “Why did you rig the election, Calvin? Why would you want to be Spring King anyway?”
Calvin tore his eyes from Virginia. “Gee Benny, I just don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Are you conducting some sort of social experiment?” he pressed.
“Life is a social experiment,” Calvin replied.
Benny rolled his eyes. “Come on, give me a straight answer. Is it some burning desire to be popular? You realize people won’t suddenly like you just because you’re King. They’ll just make fun of you for trying.”
“If I’m King, I’m King,” Calvin said, as if he couldn’t care less one way or the other.
“That should be a poem!” Virginia exclaimed. “If I’m king, I’m king!”
“If I’m king, I’m king,” Calvin repeated, taking a deep bow. Virginia giggled, curtseying. Then Calvin took her hand and started cheesily dancing with her, like this was a ballroom instead of a dingy school hallway.
Come on, Virginia, Benny thought resentfully as he watched them twirl around. This is an investigation.
But it seemed like Virginia had forgotten he was even there.