Jenna tried to swallow, but her throat had completely dried up. She wanted to wipe her palms on her jeans, but at this point, with Kurt pointing what appeared to be a very large gun at her in a state of advanced agitation, she thought that sudden movements – or any movements – would be a bad idea. She tried not to look into the darkness of the gun barrel, but the way Kurt’s face kept flickering between utter despair and manic hatred made the gaping maw of the muzzle a much more soothing sight.
Her voice was whispery, and she had to try twice before she could speak. “What can I do for you, Kurt?” The question sounded glib, but it was the first thing to come to mind. “Oh god please don’t kill me” was probably not going to work, and there was no way she could pull off, “Is that a gun in your hand or are you just happy to see me?” It would have been great if she could have.
The gun trembled in Kurt’s hand. “You know what you can do for me, Jenna,” he said. He sounded bad. His voice has heavy and thick, and his words were mumbled more than spoken. His eyes – his angry, angry eyes – were red-rimmed and shiny.
“No, Kurt. No, I don’t.” She glanced back at his face. “I really, really don’t.” She tried to back away from him, but there was nowhere to go. The lab bench was right behind her. She had been mid-experiment when he popped up from behind one of the other benches in the otherwise empty chemistry lab and started ranting at her.
“SAY YOU’RE SORRY!” Kurt was shaking visibly now, the gun wavering. For a moment, she thought she could grab it, maybe force it out of his hands and then hold him until the cops came. She’d be a big damn hero. Her picture would be in the newspaper, maybe she’d go on TV to tell the world about how she just did what she had to do. Aw shucks.
But that wasn’t going to happen. First of all, chem majors don’t wrestle anything out of the hands of a guy who was very nearly a state wrestling finalist in high school. And second, unless there was another person in the science building on a Sunday afternoon – and there wasn’t – the cops weren’t even going to know she was there. He must have been watching me for a while, she thought. Truth be told, if someone wanted to get her alone, this was a good time to do it. She took advantage of the quiet on weekends to get work done – a little electrolysis experiment, or some work on her soil contamination project. Most weekends, she wasn’t ambushed by a crazy man with a gun.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Kurt,” she said. He was crying now. At least that might be a good sign.
He grabbed the pistol in both hands to steady it. So much for a good sign, she thought.
“You ruined everything,” he said. “I had a scholarship. I had a future. And you took it all away from me.” He smiled, and it looked like the kind of smile he’d practiced as his “I’m an angry crazy person” smile. And it worked. “Say. You’re. Sorry.”
Jenna bit her lip. Her shoulders were starting to hurt from holding her hands up. She started to say, “I have no idea what you’re talking about…” But then – she did.
He saw her face and nodded. “Ah,” Kurt said. “You remember now, don’t you?”
“Kurt, I… Wait. Is this about the wrestling?”
“You’re goddamn right it’s about the wrestling!” Good. He was yelling. It certainly wasn’t guaranteed to get anyone’s attention, but it was a better chance than tense, quiet muttering.
“You accused me of throwing matches! You got me kicked off the squad for state finals! You cost me everything!” He took one hand from the gun to wipe his eyes, and Jenna used that moment to glance around. Maybe there was a path to the door short enough that he wouldn’t shoot her. Or perhaps someone had just randomly left a crowbar lying around for no better reason than for a stranger to start cracking skulls.
No. No luck there, either. All she had was her setup for extracting petroleum from soil samples. No giant beakers of acid, no sharp metal bits. Not even a bunsen burner or anything.
“Kurt,” she said. “Listen to me.”
He took a deep breath. His hands were trembling again, and she wondered how long he could hold the gun up like that. If he was still in good shape, she thought, probably a while.
“Kurt, none of that was my idea. Catie was the one who went to Coach Dixon. And it was Rico who started poking around in your email in the first place.” She listened in horror to what she was saying, and what she might be setting in motion. A desperate study of his face told her nothing – either he had already confronted them and killed them, or he would soon be on his way to do so. Thanks to her.
“And what about you, Jenna? Remember what you did?”
“Kurt, I didn’t do anything, I told you -”
“Shut up!” he yelled. “No one would have believed Catie and Rico if you hadn’t said anything!” His eyes were getting shiny again. “Dixon and Gitter and Principal Landon all trusted you. They knew that good, clever Jenna Birch would never lie about something like this. Not like a couple of little greaseballs like them.”
“They just did what they thought was right, Kurt.” She could finally swallow. “And yeah, they came to me because they knew I had Principal Landon’s ear. And you know what, Kurt?” She made herself stand up straighter, no matter that it seemed to make him more annoyed. “They showed me their evidence. And I believed them. I mean, it was all right there, Kurt, right in your emails.”
He was starting to grind his teeth, but Jenna didn’t notice. Against all reason, she put her hands down. “You want to know why I went to the coaches and the principal, Kurt? Not because I liked Catie and Rico. Not because I even cared about who went to State.” She actually took a small step forward, ignoring the screaming, gibbering voice of her hindbrain that tried to remind her that she was talking to an unstable man with a gun.
“I did it because you disappointed me, Kurt. Because I thought you were better than that.”
He flinched back as though he’d been slapped, and the gun dipped. By some marvelous synchronicity, the door to the lab slid open at the same time, and a couple of laughing students came in.
Kurt’s head snapped around to the girls, who saw him, saw the gun, saw Jenna, and screamed. He opened his mouth to yell at them to get the hell out, and Jenna reached for the beaker behind her. When he turned back, he got a face full of yellowish, oily hexane.
He started coughing and dropped the gun, which Jenna kicked away. She brought up the collar of her t-shirt to cover her nose – the fumes were sharp in her nose and she knew what they could do. Kurt staggered back, spitting the foul-tasting liquid out of his mouth. “You… Gaah, what did you?” His words were starting to slur, and he was having trouble standing. “You po-poisoned me,” he drawled, just barely able to stand.
“You tried to shoot me, you moron!” Jenna yelled. The panic she had been suppressing was starting to bubble up. “You’re lucky this was all I had on hand!” He dropped to his knees, weaving, and then bent over and threw up.
Jenna coughed and took a step back from him. There were shouts and running footsteps coming down the hall. “Relax,” she said. “You’re not going to die.” He wasn’t listening. He was lying on the floor in a puddle of vomit and hydrocarbon, groaning. “You deserve worse,” she said.
A couple of campus security guards burst in, tasers in hand. She pointed towards Kurt and let them do their thing, all self-righteous and officious. They’d need a statement from her, of course. There would probably be a criminal investigation of some kind once the real police got involved. She sure wasn’t going to get any work done this weekend.
There was the snap-crackle of a taser, and Kurt screamed. Jenna smiled.
Maybe it’s not all bad after all.