Authors: Jonathan Tropper
The next morning was radiant, which always seems to be the case after a good storm, the air rinsed clean of the gray film that tends to accumulate as a biological by-product of supporting life. Alison came to get us in Chuck’s rental, and I wondered if this was thoughtfulness on her part, or if I’d actually totaled her BMW. “I’m sorry about your car,” I said, climbing into the back seat. Lindsey sat up front in the passenger seat.
“Don’t worry about it,” she said sincerely. “Insurance will cover it. I’m just glad you weren’t hurt.”
“Still no word from Jack, huh?” Lindsey asked.
“Nope.” I could see Alison’s eyes in the rear view mirror, red-rimmed, with dark shadows under them. When she smiled at me, they watered slightly. We passed the local high school on our left, where hordes of teenagers were filing across the lawn toward the large, red-brick building with a white cupola and the words “Thomas Jefferson High School” engraved into the marble marquis. The kids looked unhurried, almost lackadaisical, as they made their way
into the building in their jeans and sneakers, the boys in baggy, untucked button-downs, the girls either in skin-tight shirts or sweaters. I felt an instant longing to be one of them, deliberately careless, having all the time in the world. I remembered being that way once, feeling myself on the cusp of some great adventure that lay ahead. Never guessing that the cusp could go on forever.
Jeremy was playing one-on-one with Chuck when we got home, with Taz napping on the grass beside the driveway. Hearing the car, Taz shook himself awake and came over to greet us, followed by Chuck and Jeremy. “Wow!” Jeremy said, looking at me. “You look worse than Chuck!”
“Thank you,” Chuck said. “I’ve been telling him that for years.”
“The bruises will go away in time,” I said, supporting myself with my arms as I climbed out of the car. “Just like the last remnants of Chuck’s hair.”
“Don’t make me kick your ass again, Ben Boy,” Chuck said, lending me a hand as I straightened up. “I might be feeling sorry for you, but I’ll bet I can find a spot on you that isn’t bruised.”
“I doubt it,” I groaned.
“You seem to be walking okay,” Lindsey said.
“I just don’t know which side to limp on.”
“Any word?” I heard Alison ask Chuck coming up the stairs behind me.
“How’s it going, Jeremy?” I said.
“Okay. How do you feel?”
“I’ve been better.”
“Yeah, well, you’re lucky you didn’t get a coma.”
None of us knew quite what to say to that.
“Did you find the Darth Vader mask?” I asked, leaning over to give a scratch to Taz, who was nuzzling my crotch insistently.
“No. I think someone stole it.”
We entered the house and I eased myself onto the couch. “Who would steal a mask?” I asked, wincing as Taz involuntarily bumped into my legs while clamoring to get next to me on the couch.
“Hey,” Chuck said. “Did they send you home with any pain killers?”
“You bet,” I said, pulling the rust-colored prescription bottle out of my jeans pocket. I pulled out two of the small gray tablets and popped them into my mouth.
“Whoa,” Chuck said, leaning over and confiscating the bottle. “Those aren’t candy. You get hooked on these we’ll have to handcuff you to the bed next to you know who.”
“Who?” Jeremy asked.
“Nobody,” Chuck and I answered in unison.
“There’s a guy in this chat room that says he saw Jack playing tennis in Miami yesterday,” Chuck said. It was evening, and he was surfing the Net, sharing little bytes with me as I lay prone on the couch alternately watching television and slipping into codeine-induced catnaps. Jeremy had gone home a few hours ago to figure out what he would wear for trick-or-treating, which was only three days away. “Someone else just checked in and said Jack’s in Israel, vacationing at the Dead Sea. He was taking a mud bath and he swears the guy next to him was Jack Shaw.”
“How many Jack Shaw Web sites are there?” I asked.
“Over a thousand, according to Yahoo.”
“God. Do people really have nothing else to do?”
“It’s just a diversion,” Chuck said. “The majority opinion is that Jack’s disappearance is a publicity stunt, something to do with the plot of
Blue Angel II
“That’s what they’re saying on television now, too,” I said, and I would have known since I hadn’t left the couch all day. Jack’s disappearance was the lead story on most of the news programs.
“Of course, a publicity stunt would work better if they actually had a film to publicize.”
“True,” Chuck said, his right hand clicking away on the mouse. “It sounds like there’s already a breach of contract lawsuit in the works.”
Lindsey came in, carrying a tray with turkey sandwiches and Cokes which she placed on the coffee table before sitting down on the floor in front of the couch. “Who’s suing, Luther Cain?”
“I don’t think the director sues,” Chuck said. “It’s probably the producers, or the studio.”
“So much for all their concern over Jack’s whereabouts,” Alison said bitterly. She was sitting on the floor, flipping through the phone book and scribbling the names of local hotels and motels that Jack could have walked to onto a yellow legal pad.
“That’s why its called show
,” Chuck said. “The bottom line is the bottom line.”
“Just like medicine,” I said.
The doorbell rang and Alison ran to answer it. “Oh my god!” she whispered, looking through the peephole. “It’s the police.”
Chuck and Lindsey got up, and I sat up on the couch so that I could see over the back as Alison opened the door and the officer walked in. He was a tall, lanky man, in a khaki uniform and a brown jacket, his hat already in his hands. “Good afternoon,” he said, stepping through the door and into the foyer. “I’m Deputy Sheriff Dan Pike. Do you live here?”
“Yes?” Alison said, her voice nervously rising at the end, as if her answer were actually a question, which I guess it was. “I’m Alison Scholling?”
The rest of us all said hello. He looked over at me. “I take it that you were driving the BMW?” He asked, indicating the car by pointing his thumb over his shoulder.
“Yes sir,” I said. “But I’m afraid the deer was worse off than me.”
“Is that right,” he said, smiling. He had a bushy mustache that all but obscured his upper lip, but not enough to hide the insincerity of his smile. The perennial movement of his eyes in their sockets and the grim set of his mouth gave him the appearance of a man who’d spent his whole life trying to catch up. “Every year Route 57 kills almost as many deer as the hunters. I keep telling the county to put up fences . . .” His voice trailed off. He did not come across as the kind of man you wanted to see splitting quantum particles.
“Are you here about the accident?” I asked.
“What? Oh no. Not that.” He scratched his chin thoughtfully. “Is one of you a doctor?”
“I am,” Chuck said. “Are you feeling okay?”
“I’m fine,” Deputy Dan said. “Say, you weren’t in the car, too, were you?”
“Oh. I was just noticing . . .” He ran his finger across his face, under the eyes, indicating Chuck’s bruises. “Kind of a funny coincidence, you and your friend both getting banged up in separate incidents.”
“Hysterical,” Chuck said. “Hurt like hell actually.”
“Is that right?” Deputy Dan said. It was clearly a stock phrase of his, something he said while his brain digested information, kind of like the farting sound a computer makes after you hit save. I was starting to find his slow, deliberate way of speaking annoying. He’d clearly watched his share of detective shows, and had become convinced that slow, confident banter was a standard investigative procedure.
“If you’re not here about the accident, why are you here?” I asked.
“There’s a doctor’s jacket in the back window of the Beamer,” Deputy Dan continued.
“That’s mine,” Chuck said.
“It appears to have some blood on it.”
“That’s because it does.”
“I’m wondering whose blood that might be. Of course, I’ve got two choices right here, since both of you men look like you’ve done a little bleeding recently.” This guy was really right out of a
“Sheriff,” I said.
“Okay, Deputy. Are you telling me that you were driving by this house, saw all the way up the driveway to the back window of the Beamer that there was some blood on Chuck’s jacket, so you pulled in to investigate?”
“I’m not investigating anyone,” Deputy Dan said. “But I would like an answer to my question.”
“I’m a doctor,” Chuck said, and I could tell he was as irked as I was. “I deal with blood every day.”
“Is that right?”
“Let me think a minute,” Chuck said sarcastically. “Yes, that is right. Say a sheriff gets himself shot—”
“—Deputy sheriff,” I corrected him.
“I’m sorry, a deputy sheriff gets himself shot,” Chuck said, staring intently at Deputy Dan. “I could get an awful lot of blood on my coat pulling out those slugs.”
“I see,” Deputy Dan said, a hostile glint appearing in his eyes as he frowned at Chuck. “So would you like to tell me whose blood that is on your doctor’s jacket?”
“I would,” Chuck said.
“But I can’t.”
“That’s privileged information between the doctor and his patient. I’m ethically bound to keep it confidential.”
“Excuse me,” Lindsey interjected. “But what is this all about? I’m sure you didn’t just come in here to argue with us. What’s going on?”
“I’m not at liberty to say right now,” Deputy Dan said. “It’s part of an ongoing investigation.”
“Is that right?” I said.
“Well then,” Alison said, stepping forward. “I’m going to have to insist you stop questioning my guests like this. As far as I can tell, you have no just cause for coming in here, so unless you have something specific to ask, I suggest you end this visit now.”
“You a lawyer or something?” he asked.
Deputy Dan grinned at her, a condescending grin to show her just what he thought of lawyers. “Well,” he said, replacing his hat. “I guess I’ll be leaving for now.” Alison pulled open the door for him. “Say,” he said turning to face us just before he stepped over the threshold. “How long will you people be staying in Carmelina?”
“I’m not at liberty to say right now,” I said. I knew I was pushing it, but the codeine was making me bold.
“What’s your name?” Deputy Dan asked me.
“Well, Ben, you’re a real clever guy, you know that?”
“I’ve been told.”
“Well, for a real clever guy, you’re not too smart. I’ll be seeing you.” With that, Deputy Dan nodded to us and turned on his heel, Alison closing the door behind him.
“What the hell was that?” Lindsey said.
“Do you think they found Jack?” Alison asked
“No. If they’d found him they wouldn’t be asking us. They’d be telling us.” Chuck said.
“Well,” I said, “they obviously know something.”
“Is that right?” Chuck said, and we all lost it.
“Cut it out, man. It hurts when I laugh,” I complained.
“This isn’t funny,” Alison said through her giggles. “We could really be in trouble.”
“Then why are you laughing?” Chuck challenged her.
“I’m just laughing at my life,” she said with an exaggerated sigh that somehow set us off again.
“That guy,” I said, “is depriving a village somewhere of an idiot.” We cracked up again.
“I can’t believe you guys,” Lindsey said, coming to sit with me on the couch. “You two really pissed him off.”
“You think?” Chuck said.
“It’s probably a safe bet that he’s got bigger problems,” I said.
“That’s true,” Lindsey said soberly. “But do we?”
“What do you mean?” Alison asked.
“I mean, they know something. I agree with Chuck that they didn’t find Jack, but somehow they suspect we’re involved with his disappearance. That’s why that deputy was so interested in your bruises and the bloody coat. He’s looking for signs of violence. And that means that someone tipped him off as to what was going on here.”
“So there are a number of possibilities,” Chuck said. “One. They know we kidnapped Jack but have no proof. Two. Maybe someone heard Jack tearing the place apart a few nights ago and reported it.”
“Then the police would have come a while ago,” I pointed out.
“Seward,” Alison said.
“Seward. It’s got to be him.”
As soon as she said it, we all knew she was probably right. After all, he’d known, or suspected, we were involved from the beginning, and after the incident with Chuck’s pager he wasn’t going to just sit back and see what happened. He had too much riding on Jack not to follow up every lead he got, especially after catching Chuck in an outright lie.
“You think he called the Sheriff’s Department?” I asked.
“Why not?” Alison said. “He tells them he has reason to believe we’re involved, and asks them to just come out and check it out. He knows they’ll do it, because what the hell else do they have to do?”
“Good point,” I said. “But now what?”
As if in answer to my question the telephone rang and Lindsey snatched up the portable, which had been discarded on the stairs by whoever used it last. “Hello,” Lindsey said softly. Of course, the moment demanded that the caller be Seward, or the Sheriff’s Department, or even Jack, calling to tell us where he was. But this was real life, and perhaps the biggest difference between movies and real life is that real life rarely concerns itself with plot development.
Lindsey’s face suddenly became an unreadable mask, her expression not quite changing but rather freezing into place, a subtle clenching of microscopic facial muscles all but undetectable, except to someone who knew her intimately. While it remained a mystery who was on the phone, it was clear to all of us that the call was in no way related to our current conversation. It was equally clear to me that Lindsey was disturbed by the call. “Hi,” she said atonally. “How are you? . . . Uh huh. . . . Oh, he did? . . . uh huh, no it’s fine, he’s fine . . . yeah.”
She looked up at me then, and I felt a sudden chill on my spine, just the tiniest psychic
before she extended the phone to me and said, “It’s for you.”