Authors: P. T. McHugh
I snorted. For the past two years, ever since Paul's dad left, Doc and I had played Paul's surrogate family. He didn't even ask permission to come over for dinner anymore. I didn't mind, of course, but sometimes I thought it would be nice to spend some time alone with Doc. Tonight might have been one of those nights. Then again, I thought ruefully, maybe spending time alone with Doc wouldn't be such a great idea. With everything I'd learned in the past sixty minutes, I was bound to be at least a little awkward around my grandfather. Having Paul around would lighten the mood.
“Of course Paul, I wouldn't have it any other way.” Doc smiled and took the bag from me. “I'll see you boys tonight,” he said. He gave me another look, as though he'd just remembered that he forgot something at home,
and gestured toward our Physics classroom. “I've just remembered that I have an important appointment to keep. Can you boys let Mr. McGregor know, and give him my apologies? I'm afraid I can't stay to talk to the class today. Iâ¦” Instead of finishing, he shrugged apologetically. He turned and walked away before I could answer.
I watched him walk down the hall, and was still watching when he opened the leather bag and stuck his hand in. He must have found whatever he'd been seeking, because I could see his shoulders relax. It didn't take a genius to figure out what he'd found in the bag.
“Well that was strange,” Paul observed, watching Doc as well. “Why would he tell McGregor that he could talk to the class, then suddenly change his mind?”
I grunted in response, not yet ready for conversation. Besides, I didn't have an answer for him. I couldn't exactly tell him the truthâthat Doc hadn't actually come to school to speak to the class. That he'd come, instead, to collect his journal, which seemed to detail his mental journeys into the past. I watched my grandfather as he made his way down the crowded hallway toward the front door. He was easy to spot, at least a head taller than most of the students, and with a regal bearing that most high schoolers lacked.
“No idea at all,” I replied quietly. It occurred to me suddenly that I didn't have a clue about a lot of things Doc did. Or at least the things he thought he did. I saw him first thing in the morning, and of course when I got home from school in the afternoon, but had no idea what he did during the time in between. I didn't know where he went lately, when he was gone for hours and even days at a time. It made me feel a bit lost, and more than a little suspicious. There was obviously more going on than I had ever considered. What those things actually were â¦ well, that was what I needed to find out. As soon as school finished for the day.
The final bell rang, releasing us from seventh period, and I made my way
upstream through the hall, navigating wave after wave of students to reach my locker, where I shuffled books from the locker into my bag without paying attention to what I was doing. My mind had already moved on to the night ahead of me, and my options. I'd been thinking about them all day, and now was the time for making a decision.
“Wait up,” Paul said. He brushed up against me and threw his own textbooks into the locker. I turned to walk away before he'd finished, hoping to avoid the company.
“What's your hurry?” he asked, grabbing my arm before I could get away.
I didn't have an easy answer. I had a terrible need to get out of school, to a quiet place, where I could think and try to figure things out. I had no idea what I was going to do about anything yet, but I knew that I had to come up with a plan, and quickly. I couldn't get Doc's journal out of my head, no matter how hard I tried, and I wasn't going to be any good to anyone until I figured out my next move.
I couldn't say any of that, though, so I settled for a shrug. “Just ready to go home, that's all.”
Paul grabbed his backpack and threw it over his shoulder. “Well, what are we waiting for then?” he asked brightly. He slammed the locker door shut and shoved past me toward the closest exit. I smiled and slid after him without answering. Paul might have been difficult, but he usually supported me when it counted. And if I didn't want to talk about why I was doing something, he wasn't going to make me.
We walked past Camp's field, then sliced our way along the dirt path that separated the football field from the soccer field. We always took a different route home than we did on the way to schoolâit took more time, but provided better scenery. I wanted to get home, but still didn't know what I was going to do when I got there, so I didn't argue with the path.
After a few minutes of walking in silence, Paul got tired of letting me be. “Hey, did you hear about the substitute teacher who took out Derrick's friend Hunter today?” he asked. I shook my head, but didn't answer. Derrick was Paul's older brother, and the biggest bully in school. Anytime
anything happened to him or one of his friends, Paul gloated over it for at least a week, which meant that I would probably hear this story about ten times between our walk home and our arrival at the house. Still, it took my mind off Doc, and that was a blessing. I looked at him and lifted both eyebrows in encouragement.
Paul smiled, warming to his subject. “Yeah, I was there. Saw the whole thing. This Mr. Slayton is subbing for Fulton in History. It was amazing. This kid was shouting from the back of the room, just giving the sub nothing but crap. So the guy gets up, real smooth and no-nonsense, walks over to the kid, and makes his point. Ends up taking the kid's wrist and twisting it around behind his back.” Paul breathed out in a low whistle. “Real Special Forces move, you know? Never even broke a sweat. But I swear he scared the hell out of everyone in the room.”
“Impressive,” I answered, despite myself. “That kind of move takes some serious skill. What happened?”
Paul snorted. “Hunter was mouthing off, as usual, and the sub wasn't having any of it. He walked up and said so, and Hunter actually took a swing at him. That's when the sub grabbed his wrist and twisted his arm around his back. Smooth and easy as you like. And get what he told the kid.” Paul's voice dropped, to better imitate the teacher. “âBeating kids up on the playground isn't the same as taking a swing at a grown man. You're out of your weight class, boy.'”
I whistled in appreciation, and Paul nodded emphatically.
“I know, right? He towed the kid out of the room and directly to the principal's office.” Paul finished the story triumphantly, as if it had been his own personal accomplishment.
“Sweet,” I grunted.
We continued on in silence, considering the actions of the new Special Forces substitute, and heard a car pull up behind us. Turning, we saw two girls from our school sticking their heads out the car's passenger-side windows.
” someone inside the car shouted, amidst heavy laughter. A plastic cup flew out of the car and landed at our feet. Before I could
answer, the driver punched the car's accelerator and screeched away. We were left standing in a cloud of smoke and gravel, a puddle of Mountain Dew at our feet.
I looked down at my sneakers, disgusted.
“Well, that was classy!” Paul yelled at the quickly receding car. We heard faint laughter, but got no other response.
“Did you catch who it was?” I asked.
“Boothie was driving. Another charming friend of Derrick's,” Paul replied, shaking his head. “Another gift from my lovely older brother. What an ass!”
“Still feeling so bright and shiny?” I asked, annoyed.
Paul snorted. “Of course. You're not letting those losers get to you, are you?”
I shrugged, but didn't answer, and Paul snorted angrily. “Forget them. Someday they'll be working for you. They don't have half your intelligence or drive.”
I snorted back. I wasn't too worried about anyone working for me. I'd settle for just getting out of this town and doing something with my life. But I didn't think now was the time to outline that subtle difference. Even if I had, I didn't think that Paul was the type to understand what I was talking about. I was saved from the thought of explaining by the sound of another car slowing down behind us. I turned around, grinding my teeth and trying to harden myself against the insults I figured were coming.
I was surprised, though, to see a car I knew very well pulling up next to us. “Gentlemen, may I offer you a lift?” my grandfather asked. We were already almost home, but Paul and I jumped into the convertible without a word and sat down. My grandfather had screeched back into the road before we had time to put our seat belts on. He was always in a hurry to get somewhere, and today seemed to be more of the same.
We drove in silence for several minutes, watching the scenery fly by, before Doc decided to focus on us instead of the road.
“Did we have a good day today?” he asked cheerfully.
The phrase âmonumentally confusing' entered my mind, but I bit my tongue.
Paul nodded with excitement. “Yeah, there was a new sub in History, and he totally beat theâ¦” His voice faded as we pulled onto Patriots Drive, where we lived, and came on a scene straight out of a cop movie.
“What the hellâ¦” he breathed.
My eyes scanned the street and I nodded in wordless agreement. At least four police cars were parked in and around our driveway, along with a State Trooper SUV. Men in bulletproof vests and black jumpsuits lined the driveway and filed in and out of our house. Police tape covered our lawn, the black words “crime scene” stark against a bright yellow background. Above it all, the constant din of the police radio screeched in the background. I stared around, completely shocked. Everyone in our town knew that at least two police cars responded to every callâeven if it was just a cat in a treeâbut this was ridiculous. Unless the President of the United States was lying dead in our living room, there was no need for this many cops in one place at one time. Especially at our house.
Doc parked the car on the opposite side of the street to give us a moment. We watched the activity wordlessly, then started to slowly unbuckle our seatbelts. Before we could get out of the car, a cop came out of our house, looked in our direction, and turned to walk directly toward us.
he officer was young and overweight, and his legs looked to be both too short and too thin for his torso. In a less serious situation, I might have laughed at him. As it was, I just watched silently as he walked up, pulling a heavily starched sleeve across his sweaty brow.
“Are you Mr. Richard Evans?” the officer asked breathlessly. He placed his hand on the driver's side door and leaned forward until his head was halfway through Doc's window.
Doc leaned back slightly, his mouth turned downwards. “I am. What seems to be the trouble? I certainly hope that you people have a good reason for being in my house.”
The officer huffed defensively. “I'm sorry, sir. We received a call from one of your neighbors. She reported some suspicious activity at your residence. It appears that someone broke in this morning.”
“In broad daylight?” Paul asked, shocked.
My grandfather grunted and attempted to open his door. “Are they in custody?” he asked curtly. The cop stayed put, and Doc pushed against the door again, harder this time, and with an air of intensity that seemed rather â¦ well, odd. After several quick attempts, he finally dislodged the cop from the side of the car and climbed out. When the officer tried to block him off to finish his statement, Doc shoved past the man and darted across the street.
Paul and I watched in awe, then jumped out of the car and ran after him. Doc was standing in the driveway, gazing intensely at the house,
when we caught up with him. The overweight cop waddled up a few moments later, grumbling.
“Unfortunately, sir, the perpetrators left before we arrived. We did get a license plate number on the vehicle, thanks to your neighbor.”
Doc glared at the man, his face growing bright red with frustration, his mouth compressing into a grim line. I moved to stand in the space between him and the officer, worried about what he might do.