Brian Lambert spent the last fifteen minutes of his life feeling sorry for himself.
Since he was unaware that his life was about to end, but knew that his hands were cold, he stuffed them deeper into his coat pockets. As a not-so-perfect end to a not-so-perfect day, he had left his gloves on the table in the student union where he had one last cup of hot chocolate to fortify himself for the long walk back to his room.
He had to face it--his whole college experience so far was not perfect.
He had been closed out of the MWF English class, and the professor of the longer TTH class had a way of droning that left Brian pinching himself to stay awake. His calculus prof spoke little English, none of it intelligible, and he was already behind in both bio and chem.
As if he weren’t miserable enough, his college was located in Grosvenor, New Jersey. Worst of all, was why.
When his mother brought him to look at the school, he discovered that from the higher elevations of the little town the spectacular skyline of New York City was visible. But as Brian walked home from school on Wednesday evening, he could not see it, anymore than he could see what was coming. He was near the bottom of the hill, seeing only the dark street in front of him, and not much of that. It, like the rest of the streets in the town, was not straight.
The streets looked like they had been laid out by people who were too tired or lazy to make sense out of the mountain in the Watchung chain upon which the town was built. Later developers of New Jersey made straight streets with names that sounded like they belonged together, but Grosvenor was settled long before that.
Like Lima, Ohio, which was pronounced like the bean, and Versailles, Indiana, which was pronounced Ver Sales, the people of Gross Venor, as Brian thought of it, pronounced it just as it looked. He could hardly believe he had ended up there.
Brian had taken a room in a house about two miles from the campus because it was the cheapest living arrangement he could make. The landlady didn't bother him, didn't even pay any attention to him, despite his mother's requests, when she brought him and his belongings to school, that the old woman promise to keep an eye on her baby boy, her only child.
His mother had approved of the college, St. Michael's, probably because it was small, and Catholic, and his acceptance letter had come with a scholarship offer. Although it broke her heart, she had actually accepted that he wasn't going to one of the big name schools. This small private university was the best he could do after his grades dipped in his crucial junior year of high school, courtesy of the most demanding and difficult to please girlfriend in the world.
All she wanted to do was become Mrs. Brian Lambert, right away, and have babies as soon as possible, even if that meant that Brian would have to give up his plans of becoming a pharmacist. As soon as he sent in his applications for college, with his spectacularly lowered credentials, she dumped him.
He shook off the painful memories as he turned onto Brookside Lane. It was much darker there, with long shadows cast by bare overhanging trees. Rushing water in the brook that ran beneath the bushes nearly obscured the other autumn sound of brittle leaves crunching under his feet. Inhaling deeply, he smelled their fragrance. It was mingled with that of a wood fire coming from a fireplace in one of the large, comfortable houses that lined the road. It only made him miss his home more.
A muffled cry shook him out of his reverie just as the road turned sixty degrees to the right and inclined steeply. Right at that spot a huge clump of bushes in the tree lawn obscured the sidewalk ahead. The light from the gas lamps along the street was so dim that Brian could not see who made the noise, but he thought it sounded female, young, and frightened.
“Who's there”? he whispered into the dark, fear spilling into his own voice.
There was no answer, just the snap of a branch and a grunt. Brian stood paralyzed by fright.
The voice cried out, louder this time. “Let me go. I'm not--” was all he could make out.
“D-do you need help?” he asked in the general direction of the sound. He pushed his way into the bushes, uncertain of what he would find, unable to ignore the cries.
He had almost come out of the bushes on the other side when he felt something knife through his sweater. It pierced his flesh and twisted upward, which caused unbelievable searing pain as it severed crucial blood vessels.
As he fell, he heard a gasp from somewhere above him, more struggling, and then quiet, just before he passed out. The chilly ground did not do much to stanch the blood which was gushing out of him, taking his life, his dreams, and his mother's hopes with it.
The death of the college student missed the six o'clock news because the body was not found until nearly eight-thirty by a man taking his beagle for a walk. Preferring the flatter part of the hill, he headed down that way. His normally cooperative dog surprised him when he stopped at that annoying clump of bushes and refused to move. The dog’s plaintive trumpeting led to the startling discovery.
Starting at nine o’clock, promos ran every ten minutes or so for the story, even before the field reporter could get her car out to Grosvenor for the live lead.
Telephone wires buzzed. By eleven o’clock the news channels of the tri-state area had the attention of nearly everyone in the town of Grosvenor, including Wally Morris. She sat propped up in bed in the dark next to her husband, Nate, staring at the spot of light from their television. The tiny nursery school teacher got goose bumps as she recognized a street she drove along every day.
“In our lead story tonight,” said the meticulously groomed eleven o'clock anchor, in his stentorian voice, “a man walking his dog made a grisly discovery today in the small village of Grosvenor, New Jersey. We'll go live now to the scene of this heinous crime that has upset an entire town. B.J.”?
The news camera showed a reporter, B.J. Waters, standing in front of some bushes. It could have been anywhere, but of course viewers knew where this particular clump of bushes was, since the name of the town was flashed on the screen.
“John,” she said, as if this were a personal conversation between herself and the news anchor. “I'm standing here where only hours ago a resident along this quiet suburban street found the body of an eighteen-year-old-college freshman from upstate New York, who had only been attending St. Michael's University here in Grosvenor for a short time. Police aren't releasing his name, pending the notification of his next of kin.” She paused for a moment to look at her notes.
“It appears from the preliminary reports that he was stabbed in the chest. You can't see it in the studio, or at home,” she added, suddenly including the viewers in on the story, “because it won't show on camera, but given the amount of blood on the ground where the body was found, he apparently bled to death.”
A file film bearing the inscription “earlier” along the top left‑hand corner showed an ambulance and a body bag on a stretcher being put inside it. The tape played until the doors were shut and the ambulance drove away. All the while a voice-over explained everything that was happening. The scene with the body bag was repeated twice, almost leading the audience to believe that there was more than one body, perhaps because there wasn't enough footage to fill the length of the narration.
Following that footage, various people were interviewed, all expressing shock, and the local police chief was seen and heard promising to wrap up the case quickly. Then the camera switched back to “live,” with the appropriate designation for the viewers, and B.J.'s face was in the lights again, to further explain to the audience what they saw.
She interviewed a few passersby or, more accurately, people who had been lured out of their warm houses by the lights of the cameras and rescue vehicles. “Did you know the victim”? she asked each one.
“I've seen him walking along this street several times,” said one lady. “I live in that house over there.” She pointed, but the camera did not pan around to the house. “He was a nice boy. It's such a shame.” The camera went in for a close up on her sad face, then switched back to the reporter.
“As you have just heard, police have no leads at this time, and it is a terrible shock to this small quiet town in suburban Essex County, which has seldom seen violence within its borders. We'll keep you updated if anything else breaks during this newscast.” The serious, earnest look on her face was replaced by a big flashy smile. “Back to you John.”
The camera was back on the anchor's face. In his customary attempt to guide his viewers from one story to another, he went into his contrived segue. “Well, B.J.,” he said, as if she were still listening, “it wasn't murder, but there was a big story today in another town in our viewing area . . .”
Nate pushed the off button. Fighting tears, Wally wrapped herself around her husband, as much as her tiny frame could considering how much taller than her he was, and tried to sleep, with little success.