Seconds Away Page 43

’’Why are we here again?’’ Niles asked.

’’Mickey has a big basketball game.’’

’’And he came to your abode looking for a ride?’’

’’I\'ll explain later.’’ Ema turned to me. ’’Have fun at your game. Niles and I will wait here.’’

Niles said, ’’We will?’’

’’You don\'t have to,’’ I said. ’’I can get a ride back.’’

’’No, no, we wouldn\'t dream of it,’’ Niles said, his voice thick with sarcasm. ’’Miss Emma can entertain me by telling me how you two know each other.’’

Ema rolled her eyes. I got out of the car and jogged toward the school. Tyrell greeted me at the door. He wore a white basketball uniform with the word Weequahic across the chest. ’’You guys are red,’’ he said, tossing me a red pinny to throw over my shirt.

The scrimmage between Weequahic High and whatever stragglers they could find was already in the final quarter. I quickly checked the stands. Yep, Mr. Waters was there. I gave him a little wave and he nodded back. During the next time-out, I entered the game. I saw Tyrell laughing it up with his teammates and felt my face start to burn. Tyrell\'s team put their hands in as one and shouted, ’’Defense!’’ and then broke. They were teammates. Tyrell liked playing with me in pickup games, but this was different. This was his school team. This mattered.

How could I have blown my chance?

I still had my junior and senior years, but they seemed so far away, impossible to imagine now. Maybe Mom would get better and we could move someplace else and I could start again but she couldn\'t leave rehab for another six weeks. Maybe Dad . . .

Maybe Dad what?

I had trouble concentrating on basketball. I kept thinking about my father, supposedly in that grave out in Los Angeles, and I wondered whether I\'d ever get the chance to know for certain. Usually I forget all that while I play. But not today.

I didn\'t play well. We stragglers got crushed and for the first time in my overly competitive playing life, I didn\'t care. I just wanted to get to Mr. Waters and ask him about Henry Caldwell. The sound of the final buzzer was merciful. I got in line and shook hands with the other team. When I reached Tyrell, he said, ’’What\'s wrong?’’

’’Nothing.’’

Tyrell frowned at me. ’’Then why aren\'t you at tryouts today?’’

’’I got kicked off the team.’’

’’What?’’

’’It\'s a long story.’’

’’Oh man, Mickey, I\'m sorry.’’

’’I\'ll be fine,’’ I lied.

’’Hey, Tyrell.’’ It was one of his teammates. ’’Coach wants a quick meet.’’

Tyrell looked at me warily. ’’We\'ll talk about this in a few minutes, okay?’’

He jogged away with his teammate. I started to wonder about how to approach Mr. Waters and what exactly to say to him, but there was no need. As soon as Tyrell was out of sight, he hurried over to me.

’’How are you, Mickey?’’

’’I\'m good, thanks.’’

’’How is your friend Rachel?’’

No beating around the bush this time.

’’She\'s better.’’

’’I heard they released her.’’

’’Yes, I saw her earlier today. I even met her father.’’

That piqued his interest. ’’How is he handling all this?’’

Should I tell him about Mr. Caldwell pulling a gun on me? I wasn\'t sure, so I decided to keep it simpler. ’’He seemed very much on edge.’’

’’On edge how?’’

’’Jumpy.’’

’’Jumpy how?’’

’’I don\'t know,’’ I said. ’’Easily startled. Maybe a little scared. You can\'t blame him, I guess. His ex-wife was just murdered. His daughter was just shot.’’ I tilted my head. ’’Mr. Waters, can I ask you a question?’’

He didn\'t say yes but he didn\'t say no either.

’’How do you know Henry Caldwell?’’

Waters didn\'t seem to like that. ’’Who said I know him?’’

’’When you drove me home yesterday, you asked me how Henry was doing. How did you know his first name?’’

His eyes hardened.

’’Mr. Waters?’’

’’It\'s not important, Mickey.’’

’’Are you investigating him?’’

’’That isn\'t your business.’’

’’Rachel is my friend.’’

’’And what? You\'re going to find who shot her?’’ He arched an eyebrow. ’’This isn\'t a game, Mickey. These people play for keeps.’’

’’What people?’’

He shook his head and suddenly he wasn\'t the nice father anymore he was the tough cop. ’’I\'ll ask the questions. When you were at the Caldwells\' house, did you see anybody else?’’

’’Like who?’’

’’Just answer the question.’’

’’No, there was just Rachel and . . .’’ Then I remembered it. ’’Wait, there were two creepy guys talking to Mr. Caldwell right after I left.’’

’’What did they look like?’’

’’Like, I don\'t know, street punks. One had a bandana on his head and a scar on his cheek.’’

Mr. Waters swallowed when I said that. He grabbed his smartphone and started pressing some buttons. ’’Is this the man you saw?’’

He showed me the picture on the phone. No doubt about it. It was Scarface. ’’Yeah, that\'s the guy. Who is he?’’

Mr. Waters\'s face fell. ’’He\'s a very bad man, Mickey.’’

’’But who is he?’’

’’I want you to stay far away from him, you hear? You wouldn\'t believe the evil he\'s capable of.’’

If Mr. Waters was trying to scare me, it was working. ’’Did he have something to do with what happened to Rachel?’’

But Mr. Waters was having none of that. ’’You stay out of this, Mickey.’’ There was anger in his voice. ’’I\'m not going to tell you again. Stop playing around or someone is going to get hurt.’’

Chapter 35

I didn\'t wait around for Tyrell because I didn\'t want to get into the whole getting-kicked-off-the-team mess. Mr. Waters remained firm with me. ’’If you see or hear anything, you call me. Here\'s my number.’’

He started to hand me his card again, but I took out my wallet and showed him that I still had the last card he\'d given me. ’’I also plugged your number into my phone contacts,’’ I said.

’’Put it on speed dial,’’ Mr. Waters warned me for the second time now.

I hurried back down the block. The lime-green Volkswagen Beetle stuck out like, well, like a lime-green Volkswagen Beetle. When I slid into the backseat, Ema said, ’’How was your game?’’


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