Seconds Away Page 3

Ema smiled. ’’Well, yeah, there\'s that. But just so we cover all the bases, let\'s go through it step by step, okay? Just to make sure I have this straight.’’

I nodded grudgingly.

’’One’’ she held up a finger with pinot noir nail polish ’’you\'re walking to school last week and you go past the creepy Bat Lady\'s house and even though you don\'t know her, have never seen her before, she tells you that your father is alive.’’

’’Right.’’

’’Spooky, right? I mean, how did she even know who you were or that your father was killed and what would possess her to say such a thing?’’

’’I have no idea,’’ I said.

’’Neither do I. So let\'s move to two.’’ Ema held up a second finger, the one with the skull ring and canary-yellow polish. ’’A week later, after we go through hell and back, Bat Lady tells you that her real name is Lizzy Sobek, the famous Holocaust heroine no one has seen since the end of World War Two. Then she hands you a photograph of this old Nazi who killed her father. And you think it\'s the same guy who took your dad away on a stretcher.’’ Ema spread her hands. ’’That about sum it up?’’

’’Pretty much.’’

’’Okay, good, we\'re getting somewhere now.’’

’’We are?’’

She shushed me with a hand gesture. ’’Let\'s skip for a moment the fact that somehow the guy hasn\'t aged a day in seventy years.’’

’’Okay.’’

’’Here\'s the other thing: You always describe the paramedic as having sandy-blond hair and green eyes.’’

’’Right.’’

’’That\'s what you remember best about him, right? The green eyes. I think you said they had yellow circles around the pupils or something.’’

’’Right, so?’’

’’But, Mickey?’’ Ema tilted her head. Her voice was gentler now. ’’This photograph is in black and white.’’

I said nothing.

’’You can\'t see any colors. How could you tell, for example, that his eyes are green? You can\'t, can you?’’

’’I guess not,’’ I heard myself say.

’’So let\'s put it plainly,’’ Ema said. ’’What scenario is more likely? That the Butcher of Lodz has a passing resemblance to a paramedic and you imagined more or that a ninety-year-old Nazi is now a young paramedic working in California?’’

She had a point, of course. I knew that I wasn\'t thinking straight. In the past week I\'d been beaten up and nearly killed. I had seen a man shot in the head, and I was forced to stand by helplessly while Ema had come within seconds of having her throat slashed.

And that wasn\'t even mentioning the really stunning part.

Ema stood, brushed herself off, and started to walk away. ’’Time for me to go.’’

’’Where?’’

’’I\'ll see you tomorrow.’’

She did this all the time just disappeared like this. ’’Let me walk you,’’ I said.

Ema put her hands on her hips and frowned at me.

’’It\'s getting late. It might not be safe.’’

’’You\'re kidding me, right? What am I, four years old?’’

But that wasn\'t it. For some reason, Ema wouldn\'t show me where she lived. She always just vanished into the woods. We had quickly become close, yes, maybe the closest friends either of us had ever had, but we both still had our secrets.

Ema stopped when she reached the end of the yard. ’’Mickey?’’

’’What?’’

’’About the photograph.’’

’’Yes?’’

She took her time before she said, ’’I don\'t think you\'re crazy.’’

I waited for her to say more. She didn\'t.

’’So what then?’’ I asked. ’’If I\'m not crazy, what am I? Falsely hopeful?’’

Ema considered that. ’’Probably. But there is another side to this whole thing.’’

’’What\'s that?’’

’’Maybe I\'m crazy too,’’ she said, ’’but I believe you.’’

I stood and walked toward her. I\'m six-four, so I towered over her. We made, I\'m sure, an odd pair.

She looked up at me and said, ’’I don\'t know how or why, and, yeah, I know all the arguments against it. But I believe you.’’

I was so grateful, I wanted to cry.

’’The question is, what are we going to do about it?’’ Ema asked.

I arched an eyebrow. ’’We?’’

’’Sure.’’

’’Not this time, Ema. I\'ve put you in enough danger.’’

She frowned again. ’’Could you be more patronizing?’’

’’I have to handle this on my own.’’

’’No, Mickey, you don\'t. Whatever this is, whatever is going on here with you and the Bat Lady, I\'m part of it.’’

I wasn\'t sure what to say to that, so I settled for, ’’Let\'s sleep on it and talk in the morning, okay?’’

She turned and started back through the yard. ’’You know what\'s funny?’’

’’What?’’

’’This all started with a crazy old lady telling you that your father was still alive. But now, well, I\'m not so sure she\'s crazy.’’

Ema disappeared into the night. I picked up the basketball, lost in the and, yes, I know how this will sound Zen-like quality of shooting. After all that had happened, I longed for a little peace and quiet.

But I wouldn\'t get it.

I thought that it was bad then, but soon I would learn just how bad it could get.

Chapter 3

I was just about to take a jump shot when I heard Uncle Myron\'s car pull up.

Myron Bolitar was something of a sports legend in this town. He held every basketball scoring record, won two NCAA Final Four titles in college, and was drafted in the first round by the Boston Celtics. A sudden knee injury ended his NBA career before it really began.

I\'d always heard my dad Myron\'s younger brother talk about how devastating that had been for my uncle. My dad had loved and hero-worshipped Myron until my mother became pregnant with me. To put it mildly, Myron did not approve of my mother. He let that fact be known with, I guess, very colorful language. The two brothers fought over it, leading to Myron actually punching my father in the face.

They never saw or spoke to each other again.

Now, of course, it was too late.

I know Myron feels bad about this. I know that it breaks his heart and that he wants to make amends through me. What he doesn\'t get is, it isn\'t my place to forgive him. In my eyes, he was the guy who pushed my parents down a road that would eventually lead to Dad\'s death and Mom\'s drug addiction.


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