Chapter Nine: Counting Cars
“Michael, Michael.” Someone was shaking him. He hoped it was Mariah, it had to be her. But when he opened his eyes he saw Kit’s face.
“Michael, you were having a nightmare or something. You looked really scary.” Kit’s young face looked worried. Suddenly his kid sister looked far too old for her age.
“She shouldn’t look that way,” he thought, “She’s only a kid.”
“Hey Mike.” Dewey stood next to the sofa and punched him gently on his shoulder—fortunately not his injured one. He looked for a chair close to the sofa, then, finding none, sat on the floor. He accepted the cold can of coke Kit fetched for him, careful not to encourage her too eager smile.
“Some privacy, Kit?” Michael said meaningfully. She shrugged her shoulders and then with one last look of longing at Dewey, went upstairs.
“What have you done to my sister?” he asked, only half in jest. “She’s got a crush on him. I don’t know if I like that,” he thought.
“Transference,” Dewey replied. His parents were psychologists, and he could pull psychobabble out of the air like a magician. “I was on the bus and I saw her. I was coming over here anyway, so I told her I’d walk with her.” He dropped his light tone and became more serious, “She really is afraid of that house, you know.”
“She may have good reason, but I don’t know how to prove it. I can just see me telling the cops that I believe there are two bodies buried in the basement of a house up the street. That would go over really well, don’t you think? Especially if I told them that I knew because a ghost of one of them told me.” Michael laughed, but there was no humor in it.
“Speaking of ghosts, where…”
Michael cut him off. “I don’t want to talk about that, okay? Just leave it.”
“Touchy.” Dewey stretched out on the floor. “But okay, I’m cool. Your business, your problem. If you want my help, you’ll ask for it.”
Michael smiled. That was the thing about Dewey--he could back off something and not take it personally. Short Round was intense, and sometimes he’d go off on you for some reason only he understood. Dewey was more laid back. There was a strange chemistry between his two best friends. They complimented each other in a way that Michael could see, but not quite understand. Sometimes he’d even feel like an outsider in their company, because he had no part in that strange synergy.
“What are we going to do about your sister, Mike?” Dewey took a long drink of his coke. “She’s always been afraid of her shadow, but that house has her really freaked out. Spring’s coming, we’re going to start having a lot more daylight and maybe she’ll feel safer, but she shouldn’t have to be afraid to walk down her own street.”
He glanced down at the newspaper and did a double take, “Hey, what’s this?” He picked up the paper and started skimming an article. “Mike, have you seen this?”
“It makes me too dizzy when I try to read. What did you find?”
“I’m not sure you’ll want to hear this.”
“C’mon dude, what is it? You can’t just tell me about something, and then say, ‘oh, never mind!’”
“Why not? You and Short Round have been doing it to me for years.” He sighed theatrically, “Okay, here goes: ‘Disappearance of 15 year old girl puzzles police’.”
“What?! Let me see—oh wait that might not be a good idea. Is there a picture? I think I could look at a picture.”
Dewey handed him the paper. There was a color photo of a teenage girl whose resemblance to Kit made Michael uneasy. Light brown hair, almond eyes, the too-thin face, even her wide mouth with its narrow lips. It could almost be a picture of Kit two years from now, he thought, just before the image started swimming before him.
“Just read me the highlights of what it says.” He handed the paper back to Dewey.
Dewey scanned the paper. “Okay, her name is Suzie McCann. She’s our age—goes to our school! She disappeared from the skating rink three nights ago. She told her friends she was going to get something to drink but she didn’t return. No one saw her leave. Her friends called her parents to see if she’d gone home, but they hadn’t seen her. They reported her disappearance to the police, but they didn’t act for forty eight hours because they figured she might be a runaway.” He set the paper down for a moment. “Why do they always think we’re runaways? That sucks.”
“Let me guess the rest,” said Michael, “They’ve found no trace of her. They’re asking anyone who might have any information or who might have seen anything to contact them. If she’s run away, her parents are pleading with her to come home. If not, they’re asking that anyone who knows anything to please come forward. They’re offering a reward for any information that leads to her recovery.” These were words that were used almost every time a child disappeared. He didn’t have to stretch his imagination far for this.
Dewey applauded. “Not word for word but close. There’s no description of a vehicle since there’s no witnesses. They aren’t coming out and saying it, but it’s like she just vanished. Mike, you don’t think this has anything to do with the guy that Kit thought she saw, do you? Jeez, I mean, just because she’s scared of that house and imagined…”
“Maybe she didn’t imagine it,” He’d spoken more sharply than he meant to and tried to soften his words. “She says this creep looked right at her. She wasn’t just scared, she was terrified. Maybe there is more to this than her over-active imagination. I know my sister. I know the difference between her little girl hysterics and when something is really wrong. And I think the something wrong is that guy she saw in the window.”
“Doesn’t mean we can connect a creepy neighbor with the disappearance of a girl we don’t even know,” Dewey was good at playing devil’s advocate, “Even if you hadn’t hurt your head and we could go out running around, there are at least a hundred places, in or out of town, where someone could hide a body. We’re just skate rats, not detectives.”
“Dewey, are you up for doing something stupid for me, since I can’t?”
“Uh oh, I don’t like the sound of this.” Dewey looked at Michael, waiting. Mike wasn’t one for hair brained ideas, but lately the friend he’d known all his life sometimes seemed to have someone else walking around in his body.
“Dewey, if it seems safe, if it looks like there’s no one watching you. The third house up from mine, the one with the foxglove growing in the gutter. Go check the garage and see if it’s open. Look for a maroon van. If it’s there, check and see if it looks like there’s any fresh dirt on it, or something. Just check it out, and call me when you get home and tell me what you found out.”
Dewey laughed mirthlessly. “This is totally whacked, Mike. Checking out someone’s car? You think I can get away with it even if I agree to try? You’re starting to scare me. First you tell me you made friends with the ghost of a murdered girl. Now you’re trying to solve a disappearance of another girl. You’re acting like you think you can figure all this out, and I’m telling you that you can’t.”
“Please.” Michael waited, but wasn’t receiving the reply he’d hoped for. “You’re the one who said we couldn’t protect Kit, remember? You said he’d have to be stopped.”
“I was talking the cops, Mike, not us playing Hardy Boys. Okay, here’s the compromise. If it looks safe, and if I feel okay about it, I’ll take a quick look. He paused for a moment, and took a deep breath. “I’m starting to wonder about you. Maybe Short Round is right; you’re messing around with things you should leave alone.”
“He told you that? I’m not trying to put you in danger, all I’m asking is for you to try to look at this guy’s van.”
Dewey sighed. “And trespass on private property. I don’t know who’s getting weirder—you or Short Round. I’m used to an ordinary life. My parents are pretty ordinary people, for shrinks. Now all this weirdness is going on that I didn’t ask to be a part of; but it looks like I’m being dragged in because I won’t leave my best friend hanging. I’ll think about it, okay? As much as I’d like to walk away from this, I’m a little curious myself.”
“Thanks, dude. I’d do it, but I feel like crap. The world is starting to spin again. See you tomorrow?”
“If I’m still alive.” Dewey laughed and let himself out.
Michael sighed. What Dewey said made sense. Of the three of them, he was the most level headed. He tended to be less impulsive than his two friends. Right now he was probably debating as to what he would do while he walked up the street. He’d have to pass the house, but he could either keep on walking, or give in to curiosity and look. Michael was counting on his opting for curiosity.