Case #5.09: "The Girl Next Door"

The final season brings us yet another episode centered around the American institution that is high school football. This tale takes place at Woodrow Wilson High, home of the Wolverines, a mascot which will forever make me think of Red Dawn (the Patrick Swayze version). A glasses-wearing football player named Dell tells his girlfriend that he just got a full ride to State next fall. She doesn't seem enthusiastic about the idea, but she'll let him decide on his own whether to take it. She promises to visit him if he does.

Shortly after his girlfriend leaves, a red car tears through the high school parking lot and runs over Dell. His glasses fly through the air before shattering on the asphalt. We jump to Dell's girlfriend giving a speech at his graveside memorial service. Joey and Mac are hiding at the edge of the crowd.

At football practice, one of Dell's teammates seems to be a little too cozy with Dell's cheerleader girlfriend Suzanne. Mac walks over and introduces himself as her new biology tutor. His rate is $5/hour. Their first lesson is over DNA. Suzanne's behavior is way too flirtatious for a girl who just buried her boyfriend.

Joey walks through the high school parking lot leaving flyers on windshields. He stops to examine a red car with a large dent in the hood; Vince, a football player confronts him, thinking Joey is casing cars. Joey shows the Vince the flyers, which advertise an upcoming football pep rally.

Joey learns from Cap'n Rufus that Vince assaulted Dell on the field during one of Woodrow's recent games. Rufus glares at his constantly ringing phone. It seems a beeper company accidentally displayed The Chapel's number on a lot of beeper screens in the area. Joey answers the phone and pretends to the woman on the other end that his name is Rod. He tells the woman he heard she's "a red-hot mama looking for a good time." Apparently sexually harassing women also runs in the Penhall clan. Joey goes on, "I'm a 6'2" lovemaking machine--She hung up!" "Go figure!" Rufus deadpans. Judy giggles. Pretty sure Joey fudged that height by a bit. 

Mac interrupts Doug's game on the squadroom pinball machine to ask him for advice. He knows Doug has been with Jump Street for 5 years; he wonders if Doug has ever become attracted to a good-looking girl he had to get close to while undercover. Doug tells Mac not to get involved. There's nothing morally wrong about dating an 18-year-old high school cheerleader, but it poses a huge ethical problem. 

Mac goes to Suzanne's house for another tutoring session. Suzanne's father is suspicious and asks what they're planning to do. Suzanne makes a lame joke about blowing up the microwave with lighter fluid. When her dad leaves, Suzanne explains that he's been overprotective since her mom died. He's also probably wondering what she's up to given how recently Dell died. Suzanne claims to have inherited good dancing skills from her dad. Mac turns on some music so she can show them off. Mac's moves are terrible.

Suzanne reveals a surprise: she and Dell weren't actually boyfriend and girlfriend, just good friends. "We should study," she says quickly as a generic slow, jazzy number comes on. They start to slow-dance. Suzanne abruptly stops dancing, grabs her stomach, and starts crying. She asks Mac to drive her to the hospital.

In the emergency room, the nurse asks if Suzanne is taking any prescription drugs. She doesn't want to answer in front of Mac, but the nurse presses for the information. Suzanne mumbles that she's on AZT, a drug prescribed for AIDS. Hours later, Suzanne rejoins Mac in the ER waiting room. She asks him to be honest about his feelings toward the AIDS issue. The only people who know about her diagnosis are Mac and her father.

Suzanne explains that she got AIDS from a needle that was passed around at a party. She claims it's the first and only time she ever did drugs. She's sorry she got romantic with Mac and says he doesn't have to see her anymore; she won't let her disease hurt anyone else. She doesn't mean sex; she means dying.

Back at the Chapel, Doug talks to Mac about Marta. He knows how it feels to wonder what someone did to deserve to die so young. For a while, Doug hated himself for falling for Marta. Eventually, he realized that he gave Marta happiness that she might not have otherwise had.

Suzanne's father brings the family car, a red Thunderbird, back from the shop. Suzanne immediately notices the broken grille work and asks what happened. Her dad sighs that he was trying to read a map, stopped paying attention to the road, and hit a tree; a couple of branches fell off and dented the hood.

At the high school football field, Vince taunts the male cheerleaders; Joey is among them. Vince purposely bumps a cheerleader's arm, causing the pyramid to collapse. Gerald, one of the male cheerleaders, goes over to the sideline and hands Vince some money.

Mac invites Suzanne to go out for dinner, but she has a study date with Gerald. Mac wants a chance to help make her life happy. Suzanne repeats that she doesn't want him to get hurt. Montage of Mac and Suzanne having a picnic in the park, playing on the swings and basketball court, getting ice cream, and walking along the nature trail.

At the morgue, Mac and Judy learn that Dell's blood tested positive for HIV. Judging by the state of Dell's organs, he'd been sick for at least a year.

Mac confronts Suzanne, telling her that he found out about Dell's condition from the morgue and Dell's mother. He knows how she really got AIDS. Suzanne denies it at first, then realizes Mac is a cop. Mac asks the girl who she's trying to protect and insists that his feelings for her are real. Suzanne's father comes in. She sobs, "Daddy, please make him leave." 

Suzanne's dad threatens to call the cops if Mac won't leave. Mac flashes his badge. He asks if Suzanne's dad knows how his daughter got AIDS. Dad says they don't keep secrets from each other; he found out last Tuesday. Dell was murdered last Wednesday. Dad orders Mac out.

In the driveway, Mac inspects the front end of the Thunderbird. Suzanne comes outside and repeats the story about the dent being from a tree. Suzanne begs Mac not to arrest her father, insisting he didn't do it. It could take months for him to make bail; Suzanne might not have that long.

At the Chapel, Mac fills Cap'n Rufus and Judy in; he doesn't think they have enough to go to trial. Rufus disagrees; means, motive, and opportunity are the holy trinity of homicide investigation and they have all 3. He reminds Mac that it's not his job to determine guilt or innocence; it's his job to arrest if there's probable cause. Mac thinks Vince might be involved. Vince also drives a dented red car. Rufus agrees to let Mac bring Vince in for questioning; if Vince didn't do it, Mac has to arrest Suzanne's dad.

Cap'n Rufus and Mac ask Vince why he and Dell fought during the football game. Vince shrugs that he lost his temper. Mac questions him about the money exchange. Gerald owed Vince money to fix Vince's car. On Wednesday, Vince loaned Gerald his car so Gerald could pick up mats for the cheerleading squad. When Gerald brought the car back, there was a dent in the hood.

Joey and Mac go to the high school. Gerald asks why Joey isn't dressed for practice. Joey arrests Gerald for Dell's murder and reads Gerald his rights. "You killed him?" asks Suzanne. Gerald claims he didn't mean to; he's had a crush on Suzanne all through school. But Gerald couldn't be with her because Dell was in the way. Dell walked in front of Vince's car and "it was like he was on a silver platter or something." Suzanne looks nauseated.

Later, Suzanne thanks Mac for finding out the truth. He wants to see her again, but she's moving to San Francisco, where there's an AIDS clinic with a new specialized drug regimen. They share a parting hug.

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