Seconds Away Page 26

I liked Mr. Waters. I really did. I also thought that he probably had my best interests in mind. But I didn\'t know what to say or even where to start. Too much had gone on in the past week, and I had been warned by Bat Lady not to tell anyone. Even if I defied her, what exactly would I say?

’’Mickey?’’

’’I really don\'t know anything more,’’ I said.

He rubbed his face for a moment. ’’You still have my card?’’

’’Yes.’’

’’Put my number on your speed dial. I have a feeling you\'re going to need it.’’

Chapter 21

I didn\'t have homework, so I went online and did an image search for both Hans Zeidner and the Butcher of Lodz. Plenty of terrifying photographs from the Lodz ghetto popped up. They were all in stark black and white. I would say that they were like something out of a nightmare, but I don\'t even think my worst dreams could compete with this. Many of the photos featured frightened and starving children. I thought about Lizzy Sobek. I wondered what her life in that ghetto must have been like.

There was only one photograph that may have been the Butcher of Lodz.

It was, I thought, the most horrible photograph I had ever seen. It had been taken in November 1941 in the Baluty Marketplace in Lodz. Eighteen Jews were executed by hanging in that one day for trying to escape. In this photograph you could see three of them dangling by the neck from what looked like a child\'s swing set. In the background, you could see the crowd somberly gathered even children forced to watch as a warning. And there, standing right next to the dead bodies, with his back to the camera, was a man in a Waffen-SS uniform.

It was suddenly hard to breathe.

I shut down the computer. That had been it there had been no photographs of the Butcher\'s face.

So how had Bat Lady gotten one?

It always came back to her, didn\'t it? Bat Lady had started me down this road the first time I saw her, opening up that door, stepping out with her long gray hair and white gown, pointing that bony finger at me . . .

Mickey? Your father isn\'t dead. He is very much alive. . . .

Hold the phone.

I remembered something else now. When I\'d seen Ema earlier today, she somehow looked different to me. I couldn\'t put my finger on it, but now . . .

I grabbed my cell phone and texted Ema. I just said R u there? in case, I don\'t know, someone else was home and he checked her texts and got angry if it was someone asking more personal questions.

Ema replied quickly: what\'s up?

Me: Going to Bat Lady\'s house. Wanna come?

Ema: can\'t.

That was odd. Usually Ema could get out at all hours.

I typed: Everything OK?

Ema: fine. let\'s go after school tomorrow.

I was about to tell her about Rachel getting out of the hospital, but then I remembered how Rachel had insisted: Don\'t tell anyone I texted you. No one.

Could she have meant Ema too? I don\'t know, but the words no one seemed pretty clear.

To Ema, I typed in: Can\'t.

I was going to ask her about what I noticed, about what struck me as different with her appearance, but I wanted to check it out in person. It could wait.

Still thinking about the rumors Spoon had heard, I added: R you OK?

Ema: fine. u?

Me: Fine.

There was a pause and then Ema wrote: this is an awesome text exchange.

I laughed out loud.

Ema: r u going to Bat Lady\'s tonight without me?

I thought about it, but not for very long. I couldn\'t just sit here. I had to act: Yes.

There was a pause and then Ema wrote: b careful. I\'ve got a bad feeling.

Chapter 22

Nobody knows when the Bat Lady first moved to town.

I\'m sure that there were housing records and someone could probably figure it out, but if you ask anyone in Kasselton, they will tell you that she has always been in that dark, dilapidated house. Even Uncle Myron remembers the creepy old Bat Lady from his childhood. He told me that kids used to hurry past her house, even way back when he was a kid. He told me that one day, when my own father was twelve or thirteen, he had gone into Bat Lady\'s house on a dare . . .

. . . and that when my father came out, he was never the same.

I believed that. I had also gone into that house. I had also met Bat Lady. And now I\'m not sure that I will ever be the same again.

The rumors that struck fear into the children about Bat Lady were, I knew, completely bogus. Legend had it that she kidnapped children. Some nights, the locals say, if you walked past her house slowly, you could actually hear their cries. Some claimed to see them, dozens of children locked up in her house, ready to be . . . well, what? Killed, abused, eaten . . .

Or maybe, just maybe, they were rescued.

It was pitch-black by the time I made it to Bat Lady\'s house. The wind howled. It always seemed to pick up when you crossed her property. I\'m sure that was just in my mind (and the minds of pretty much everyone else who walked past here), but the willow tree swayed and even from where I stood on the sidewalk, I could hear the porch creak.

All the lights were out, except for a lone lamp in the upstairs bedroom. That was a good sign. Last time I had stopped by, when no one answered the door, the light had been off.

Bat Lady must be back.

The night was silent, almost too quiet, as I approached the house. I knocked on the door. The sound echoed. I felt a chill. I listened for movement. Nothing. I knocked again and pressed my ear against the door. Silence. And then, suddenly, the silence was broken.

By music.

I jumped back. I remembered now that old record player, the one that played vinyls, in her living room. It was hard to picture a weird old lady listening to the albums I\'d found stacked there: the Who\'s My Generation, the Beach Boys\' Pet Sounds, the Beatles\' Abbey Road, and the album that was currently playing, the one she always seemed to play, Aspect of Juno by HorsePower.

I knocked again. ’’Open up!’’

Still no answer, just the sound of Gabriel Wire, the lead singer of HorsePower, telling me that ’’time stands still.’’

Like hell it does.

I started pounding on the door. No answer. I wasn\'t sure what to do. I couldn\'t keep pounding the last thing I needed was to draw attention to myself but I wasn\'t about to leave either.

I tried to look in the window, but they were boarded up in the front. Still, I could see through a sliver into the living room, to where that record player was. It was dark. I kept my eye there for a second.

Then a shadow walked by.

’’Hello! Open up!’’

I went back to the door and knocked some more. I was tempted to knock the door down, but then I remembered the garage. When I was last inside the house when Shaved Head brought me to meet Bat Lady and talk face-to-face he had parked in the garage and taken me via an underground tunnel.


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