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Chapter 34

After an unsuccessful hour of trying to get ahold of my father, Mr. Clayton announced that I was to be suspended from school for one week effective immediately. I tried to argue my defense, but he was hearing none of it. With the matter settled, he waved me off with a dismissive hand and emphasized that I should stay out of trouble.

As I stood on the Metro platform waiting for my train, I thought it unusual that my dad would be out of reach. I thought about trying to contact him, but figured it would be better to give him the news face to face. Although he would be disappointed, I also believed he would understand having known the full backstory and all that I had been going through lately. On top of that, maybe this would prompt him to tell me what he knew about my brother.

The train approached Matt’s usual stop and I had the sudden urge to finish some unfinished business. Might as well get this out of way, I thought, and quickly snuck through the sliding doors as they closed. The wind rustled my hair on the way up the escalator, but for the first time, I didn’t mind. I had other things to worry about – much more important matters.

Although I tried, Mr. Clayton wouldn’t tell me what type of punishment Matt and Malton had received. I figured – or hoped – that Malton would spend as much time out of class as me. That would only be fair, right?

As for Matt, I don’t know if his actions justified a full week’s suspension. My guess was that he would have to spend a few hours in detention, which I thought, was worse than getting the week off. At least I was going to be able to enjoy myself. I saw it kind of like a vacation for bad behavior. Matt, on the other hand, would have to spend his time stuck in a white room with a no-talking policy. Go figure.

I turned the corner onto Matt’s street and spotted a figure springing down his front stoop. Was that Matt, I wondered, as he lifted a hoodie over his head and stuck his hands in his pockets. I recognized the walk and knew it was him, but where was he going in the opposite direction?

I thought about calling out his name but something inside screamed not to. Spidey-sense or intuition? I wasn’t sure, but followed my gut and stayed a couple of blocks back.

Matt zigzagged through the neighborhood and eventually reached a main thoroughfare where he continued for another ten minutes until reaching a more vacant, industrial part of town. I hadn’t been here in a while, but recalled sneaking around with the guys when we were in middle school.

The buildings were old and scary and provided loads of mischievous fun for a pack of eleven-year-olds with nothing better to do than let their imaginations run wild. We got a kick out of rummaging through scrap piles in search of cool, worn out objects like signs or old pieces of machinery. The neighborhood had plenty of that stuff lying around and no one seemed to care because it was scattered everywhere.

I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what would bring Matt back here. To my knowledge, he didn’t know anyone who worked at one of these places. What made me more curious was how Matt occasionally glanced over his shoulder as if checking for prying eyes. Had he seen me, I suddenly wondered, and stepped behind a brick wall, craning my neck to keep an eye on him.

My heart started pumping faster and I felt warm. I took a deep breath through my nose and slowly exhaled. I heard about that trick in a movie and it actually seemed to work. Pretty cool.

Matt continued for another block and stopped in front of a four-story, masonry warehouse. No lights were on inside and I wondered why in the world he would be here past business hours.

Matt monkeyed around the door for a minute then swung it open and disappeared inside. I debated whether or not to follow him, but to be honest, I couldn’t muster the courage to go in. Part of me figured it would be better to wait for him to leave then sneak inside and find out what the place was used for.

As the minutes ticked by and the setting sun brought on twilight, an uneasy feeling manifested and I wondered what type of miscreants might hang out in this neighborhood at night. Eye Patch, Spider and the rest of their buddies immediately came to mind and I began to doubt my plan. What if Matt was in there all night or better yet, what if he snuck out the back and was already heading home?

As my resolve weakened and I was about to leave, a figure stepped out the front door. I was stunned at the sight and strained my eyes amidst a double-take. Was that Number Nine? It sure looked like him, but it was too dark to be certain. Besides, what in the hell was he doing here?

Number Nine, or whoever the mysterious figure was, lifted his collar at the penetrating wind and crossed the street in my direction. I swallowed and sprinted the other way. I hoped he hadn’t seen me and cut into the nearest gangway. I held my breath and listened ... footsteps clickety-clacked closer. I crouched and waited…

Ten seconds later, the figure approached, a brisk pace carrying him past and he was soon a block away. I couldn’t tell who it was and was just glad I hadn’t been spotted. Holding down the growing urge to vomit, I now had to decide my next move – should I go home and forget the whole thing or go back to the warehouse and check it out?

Volleying the options in my over-active mind, the hairs on my neck sprang to attention as another set of footsteps approached. I crouched again, hand to my mouth and waited ... ten seconds later Matt ran past and cut across the street, disappearing into the darkening sky. Now I really had to hold back from releasing my lunch and made a command decision – I wanted to know what Matt was up to.

I surreptitiously made my way back to the warehouse and approached the front door. There was a keypad lock preventing entry and I decided not to try my luck. Who knows what alarms might be triggered at the wrong guess?

Instead, I peered through the windows, but they must not have been cleaned since the place was built because I couldn’t make out much. I sighed and shrugged and examined my options, but realized I didn’t have any.

I swung my eyes across the building’s façade one last time, not really expecting anything. As I did, a small plaque nestled above the tall door grabbed my attention. It was tiny and the silver color blended into the graying sky. On top of that, the first half was so worn out that it was unreadable. I squinted for several seconds and made out the last three letters, which were L-U-S.

“LUS,” I said softly, rolling it over in my mind. Nothing rang a bell then a dog barked in the distance and I spun around defensively, cut across the street and retraced my way home. Besides having had enough of that eerie feeling, I had to get to work and didn’t want to be late.

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