Seconds Away Page 36

’’What\'s that supposed to mean?’’

’’Are you going to tell me that you\'ve told me everything? Are you going to claim that you trust me as much as you trust Ema?’’

’’Ema? What does she have to do with it?’’

’’Who do you trust more, Mickey? Me or Ema?’’

’’It\'s not a contest.’’

’’Sure,’’ she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. ’’Right.’’ Rachel shook her head. ’’Talk about being stupid. I shouldn\'t have told you anything.’’

’’Rachel, listen to me.’’ I put my hands on her shoulders and turned her to face me. ’’I want to help you.’’

’’I don\'t want your help.’’

She pulled away.

’’But ’’

’’What\'s going on here?’’

I looked over my shoulder. A man in a business suit stood there, his fist clenched.

Rachel said, ’’Dad?’’

As I turned toward him to introduce myself, Rachel\'s father reached into his jacket and pulled out a gun. He aimed it straight at my chest.

Whoa.

’’Who are you?’’

My knees went rubbery. I put my hands up. Rachel slid in front of me and said, ’’What are you doing? He\'s a friend of mine!’’

’’Who is he?’’

’’I told you. He\'s a friend. Put that away!’’

Her father and that gun stared me down. I didn\'t know what to do. I stood there with my hands in the air and tried not to shake. Rachel was right in front of me, blocking my path. Through all the panic, I felt cowardly. I wanted to move her out of the way, but I was also worried about making any sudden moves.

Finally Mr. Caldwell lowered the gun. ’’Sorry, I . . . I guess I\'m still on edge.’’

’’Since when do you carry a gun?’’ Rachel asked.

’’Since my daughter and ex-wife got shot in my own home.’’ Mr. Caldwell looked at me. ’’I\'m sorry . . .’’ He stopped as though searching for my name.

’’Mickey,’’ I said. ’’Mickey Bolitar.’’

’’Rachel, I don\'t remember you mentioning anyone named Mickey.’’

’’He\'s a new friend,’’ Rachel said, and I thought I heard an edge in her tone. Mr. Caldwell heard it too. I thought that maybe he wanted to ask something more, but he turned back to me instead.

’’Mickey, I\'m really sorry about the gun. As Rachel may have told you, we had something of an incident here.’’

He waited for me to respond, but I gave him nothing. Was Rachel supposed to tell me? I didn\'t know, so I neither confirmed nor denied that I knew about the murder.

’’Someone broke into our home and shot my daughter and her mother,’’ he said. ’’Rachel was just released from the hospital, and I specifically told her not to let anyone in the house, so when I saw you two arguing . . .’’

’’I understand,’’ I said, not sure whether I did or I didn\'t. The man was carrying a gun. He had whipped it out and aimed it at me. I was having trouble gathering my thoughts.

’’You should probably leave now,’’ Rachel said to me. ’’I know you have basketball.’’

I nodded, but I didn\'t like the idea of leaving her alone with her . . . her dad? I searched her face, but she turned away and started for the door. As I passed Mr. Caldwell, he reached out his hand. I shook it. His grip was firm.

’’Nice to meet you, Mickey.’’

Yeah, I thought, nothing like pulling a gun on someone during your first encounter. Some ’’nice to meet you.’’

’’You too,’’ I said.

Rachel opened the door. She didn\'t say good-bye. She didn\'t say we\'d talk later. She closed the door behind me, leaving her alone inside with her father.

I had started down the road, lost in my thoughts, when I heard a souped-up car slow as it approached me. I looked up and saw two scary-looking guys staring daggers at me. The guy in the passenger seat wore a bandana and had a long scar running down his right cheek. The driver had aviator sunglasses hiding his eyes. Talk about a danger vibe. I swallowed and hurried my step. The car picked up speed and kept pace with me.

I was about to veer off the sidewalk when the guy with the scar rolled down his window.

’’That the Caldwell house?’’ he asked.

He pointed at it. I didn\'t know what to say, but I figured that it would be okay to say yes because there was a security gate. I nodded.

The guy with the scar didn\'t bother saying thanks. The souped-up car drove up to the gate. I stood and watched, but then Scarface turned around and glared at me again. ’’What are you looking at?’’

I started to walk away. They wouldn\'t get past the gate anyway.

I risked a look behind me and saw the gate open. Scarface and his friend drove through it.

I didn\'t like this. I didn\'t like it all.

The car stopped and the two men got out of the car. I had my phone out, ready to dial 911 or at least call Rachel. Warn her. But warn her about what exactly? The two men moved toward the door. Without conscious thought, I started running toward her house, but then the front door opened, and I saw Mr. Caldwell step outside. He smiled and greeted the men. They all clearly knew each other. There were lots of smiles and backslaps.

Then I saw Mr. Caldwell get into the car, and they all drove off together.

Chapter 30

Half an hour after I had a gun pointed at me, I was in the locker room getting changed to try out with varsity. I could hardly wait. Now more than ever, I needed the sweet escape I only found on the basketball court. As I laced up my high-tops, my stomach started to do flips.

I was nervous.

It wasn\'t as though I had any friends on the court yesterday, but I knew these guys on varsity actively hated me. From the other side of the locker room I could hear a bunch of guys, including Troy and Buck, laughing. The noise sounded alien in my ears. Would I ever be a part of that? Would I ever be welcomed?

It was hard to imagine.

I finished dressing and took a deep breath. To stall, I texted Rachel and again made sure she was okay. She said she was fine and wished me luck at the tryouts. I was about to put away my phone when it buzzed again. I figured that it was one more text from Rachel, but I was wrong. It was Ema saying good luck.

I smiled. Thanks. Then I added: Guess what?

Ema: what?

Me: The old Nazi photograph. It was Photoshopped. That wasn\'t the butcher.

Ema: no way!

A whistle sounded in the distance. I quickly explained via text, then I put away the phone. It was time to head out on the court. When I opened up the door to the gym, it was like one of those scenes in a movie when the guy walks into a bar and everything goes quiet. All balls stopped bouncing. No one took a shot. I felt as if all eyes were on me. My face turned red.


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