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Authors: Mary Downing Hahn

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Mysteries & Detective Stories, #Mystery and Detective Stories, #Detective and Mystery Stories

The Dead Man in Indian Creek

BOOK: The Dead Man in Indian Creek
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The Dead Man in Indian Creek
Mary Downing Hahn

CLARION BOOKS • NEW YORK

Clarion Books
a Houghton Mifflin Company imprint
215 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10003

Text copyright © 1990 by Mary Downing Hahn

All rights reserved.

For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to
Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2 Park Street, Boston, MA 02108.
Printed in the USA

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Hahn, Mary Downing.
The dead man in Indian Creek / Mary Downing Hahn,
p. cm.
Summary: When Matt and Parker learn the body they found
in Indian Creek is a drug-related death, they fear Parker's
mother may be involved.
ISBN 0-395-52397-4
[1. Mystery and detective stories.] I. Title.
PZ7.H1256Dd 1989
[Fic]—dc20

89-22162
CIP
AC

BP 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

For my nieces,
Anne Downing and Livia Collins

1

I
F PARKER PETTENGILL
hadn't wanted to go camping, we never would have found the dead man in Indian Creek, and, believe me, we would have been a whole lot better off. But isn't that the way it always is? You look back on some little decision you made and realize all the things that happened because of it, and you think to yourself "if only I'd known," but, of course, you couldn't have known.

Anyway, there Parker and I were, sitting on my back porch one Saturday afternoon, enjoying the sunshine as we watched the leaves slowly fall through the quiet October air. It was Indian summer, and the day was so warm and lazy I could have sat there forever.

But not Parker. Lately he'd been edgy and restless, always wanting to go somewhere, meet somebody, do something. If we stayed in the same place for more than five minutes, he'd start drumming his fingers on tabletops or tapping his foot or biting his fingernails. Nervous energy, my mother called it, but he wore me out.

"Hey, you know what we should do?" he said.

"Nothing," I said, and I meant it. I was perfectly content just feeling the sun warm my back and smelling something that might be brownies baking in the oven.

"No, seriously, Armentrout." Parker poked me in the arm, just hard enough to hurt. Since we started junior high school, he's been calling me by my last name; I guess he thinks it sounds cool and sophisticated, but it kind of gives me a pain. I mean I've been answering to Matt or Matthew all my life, but now all of a sudden it's Armentrout this and Armentrout that, and it takes getting used to.

"Let's camp out tonight," Parker went on. "This might be the last good weekend."

His straight blond hair was hanging in his eyes, his bony knees were poking out of the holes in his jeans, and he had the eager look on his face he always gets when he's excited about something. I often see the same expression on his dog Otis's face when he's begging for a walk.

"Where do you want to go?" I asked, unable to infuse the slightest bit of enthusiasm into my voice.

"How about Indian Creek? It's still warm enough for swimming, and we could fish in the morning. We might even see that blue heron again." He gave me another little punch. "Come on, what do you say?"

Well, I wasn't really in the mood to pack up my camping gear and ride my bike eight miles out of town and who knows how far down the creek. But no matter what I said, Parker kept insisting, and finally I gave in. He was, as my parents often pointed out, a natural-born leader, and I was a natural-born follower.

I went into the house to tell my mother about Parker's and my plans, but she was too busy making a bunch of little bread-dough Christmas tree ornaments to pay me much attention. She only had a couple of weeks to get ready for the Woodcroft Fall Festival, and she was counting on her sales to bring in extra money for Christmas shopping.

What I'd thought were brownies baking in the oven were more ornaments, so I took a handful of cookies out of a box and poured glasses of milk for Parker and me. After a while, I cleared my throat and said, "Mom, Parker and I are camping out at Indian Creek. Okay?"

She looked up from the bread dough and frowned. "Overnight, Matthew?"

I knew what Mom was thinking. She always worries I'll get into trouble under Parker's influence. According to her, his mother, Pam, doesn't keep a close enough eye on him. It's true that Parker spends a lot of time alone, but it isn't his mother's fault. His father was killed in a car crash when Parker was a baby, and she has to work. So what if she goes out at night and leaves Parker home by himself once in a while? No matter what Mom thinks, Parker doesn't take advantage of it.

"We want to go one more time," I said, "while it's still so nice and warm and all." I munched a cookie and waited for Mom to answer. I was kind of hoping she'd say no and save me all the trouble of getting the tent, an old K-mart special, out of the attic.

But you know how parents are–if I'd been dying to go, she would have said no, but since I wasn't all that hot on it, she said yes.

Then she had to add, "The exercise would do you good."

That made Parker laugh. For some reason, he and I are developing at very different rates. A year or two ago, we were about the same size, but now that we're twelve, Parker is getting taller and leaner every day, and I seem to be staying the same height but getting rounder. I've even developed this awful little spare tire around my waist like a middle-aged man, and I sure didn't appreciate Mom's drawing Parker's attention to it.

Leaving Parker with Mom, I got the tent out of the attic. Then I threw some stuff in my backpack. On my way to the kitchen, I had the bad luck to pass my little sister Charity in the hall. If ever a kid was misnamed, Charity was. At the sight of me, she and her friend Tiffany started cackling like chickens in a barn.

"Fatty, fatty two by four," they chanted. "Can't get through the kitchen door!"

I paused and glared down at her. Should I care what a couple of six-year-old twits said? "Stupid," I muttered.

Charity stuck out her tongue and made her bratty little face even uglier, but I ignored her. Pushing her out of my way, I stuck my head into the kitchen.

"Come on, Parker," I said. "Let's get out of here."

He smiled at Mom, took one more cookie, and followed me down the back steps. No matter how Mom feels about Pam, Parker always manages to charm her into liking him.

We strapped the tent on my bike and rode over to Parker's house. He lives on the other side of town, not a long ride, and we pedaled slowly, enjoying the weather. All around us leaves drifted down, yellow and red and gold. In the big yards on Appleton Street, people were raking them up as fast as they fell, and the air was mellow with wood smoke.

The houses we passed were the biggest and oldest in town, and almost all of them were decorated for Halloween. Jack-o'-lanterns grinned on front porches, scarecrows lounged on the steps, ghosts made of bedsheets hung in the upper windows of a house with a tower on the side.

Like a little kid, I was looking forward to Halloween and the Fall Festival–two whole days of food and fun, costumes and prizes, parades and speeches. It was the most exciting thing Woodcroft ever did, and people came every year from as far away as Washington, D.C., to buy handmade crafts and food, watch the parade, have their faces painted, and ride in horse-drawn hay wagons.

Everybody wore costumes, and there were prizes for things like the funniest or the scariest or the prettiest. Last year my parents won the best couple prize for dressing up like Bonnie and Clyde and shooting everybody with water pistols. It was very embarrassing, and I was glad they were dressing as George and Martha Washington this year.

"What are you going to be for Halloween?" I asked Parker as we bumped over the train tracks and coasted down Cat Tail Hill.

Parker glanced at me. His hair was blowing straight back from his face, and he had his hands in the back pockets of his jeans, showing off his perfect balance and nerve. He shrugged. "Some kind of monster," he said. "Frankenstein maybe, or one of the Walking Dead."

"I was thinking of Dracula," I told him. "Mom has a long black cape, and Dad's got an old waiter's uniform he wore years ago."

Parker nodded. "I saw some great makeup kits in the Ben Franklin Store. You can get fangs and green glop for your face and this stuff that makes really gross scars."

We talked about Halloween the rest of the way to Parker's, planning the route we'd take for trick or treating and speculating about which houses to hit first. We didn't want to make the mistake we'd made last year when we'd found out Miss Atkins was handing out full-size candy bars. By the time we got to her house, she'd given them all away, and Parker and I ended up with a couple of pennies instead of a big chocolate bar. This year, we told ourselves, Miss Atkins would be number one on our list.

But, of course, at that moment, racing around a curve at the bottom of the hill, we didn't know about the dead man and the effect he was going to have on our Halloween.

2

A
T PARKER'S HOUSE,
we dumped our bikes in the driveway. His mother was on the front porch, and my heart went flippety-flip at the sight of her.

Wearing faded jeans and an old, paint-splattered T-shirt, she was sanding an oak icebox, something she'd brought home from the Olde Mill Antique Shoppe where she works. Her long blond hair hung around her face in curly waves, and a band of freckles bridged her nose, making her look more like Parker's sister than his mother. I know it sounds dumb, but sometimes I think I'm in love with her even though she's almost thirty-two years old.

"Hey, Park, Matt–how are my favorite guys?" She asked.

"We're going camping, Pam," Parker said. "Out at Indian Creek. Okay?"

When I first met Parker, it surprised me to hear him call his mother Pam, but, even though I still couldn't imagine calling my mother Cathy, I was used to it by now. Besides, Pam suited her better than Mom or Mother.

"Sounds like fun." Pam went back to work on the icebox. "If I were twelve, I'd go with you."

"You can come," I said, hoping she was hinting for an invitation.

Pam shook her head and laughed. "No, Matt. You don't want old folks spoiling your fun."

"You're not old!" I paused to admire the icebox, but Parker gave me a poke in the side, ruining my attempt to look cool and mature.

"Let's get going," he said. "You move so slow, it'll be dark before we get there."

Reluctantly I left Pam on the porch and followed Parker to his room. Unlike my house, Parker's place is real small. A shot-gun house, my dad says, because you could open the front door, fire a gun, and the bullet would go straight out the back door.

"Hey." I paused in front of a huge color television set in the living room. "When did you get this?"

Parker stopped in the kitchen doorway and gave me a funny look, sort of mad and embarrassed at the same time. "Evans brought it over here," he muttered.

"Pam's boss?" I whistled and ran one hand over the smooth finish on the cabinet. "How come he loaned it to you?"

Parker didn't answer. He just shrugged, flipped his hair out of his eyes, and walked into the kitchen.

"It must be nice having a boss that generous," I said. "I bet Mr. Stemmer wouldn't even loan my dad a pocket calculator."

Since Parker was still ignoring me, I stopped to examine a heap of shabby antique dolls on the kitchen table. Pam had already fixed a few of them, but most of the poor things were lying around in pieces. Bald, eyeless heads, china hands, bodies, wigs, piles of little dresses and shoes littered the table.

"Better call the Red Cross," I told Parker. "These folks need help."

I picked up one of the victims. The dark brows painted right above her eyes gave her face a criminal look reminding me of old photographs of outlaws, sort of ruthless and stupid. "Did you ever see that TV show about the killer doll?" I called to Parker.

But he was too busy pulling camping gear out from under his bed to be interested in what I was saying. Dumping a sweatshirt and some other things into his backpack, he returned to the kitchen and grabbed a couple of cans of Dinty Moore Stew, half a loaf of bread, and some brown bananas. "You got any cash?" he asked.

I checked my pockets. "Three dollars," I said, glad I hadn't spent all my lawn-raking money. "And some change."

Parker nodded. "We'll stop at Seven-Eleven and buy sodas and Twinkies for breakfast."

Picking up his sleeping bag, Parker followed me out onto the porch. We were just in time to see George Evans getting out of his MG.

"What's he want?" Parker slammed his gear down and watched Evans saunter up the sidewalk.

From the porch, I could see the top of Evans's head as he climbed the steps toward us. His hair was getting a little thin on top, even though he arranged what was left very carefully. He also had a spare tire which you couldn't dismiss as baby fat, not at his age. He was at least forty, maybe more, but he dressed like some preppy-type just out of college-pink polo shirt, khaki pants, loafers. My mom told me once she thought he was one good-looking guy, but I sure couldn't see anything handsome about him.

BOOK: The Dead Man in Indian Creek
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