Seconds Away Page 5

In my mind\'s eye, I locked in on the paramedic\'s face. Then I tried to superimpose this image in my head onto the one I\'d created by staring at that photograph.

It was the same man.

But that was impossible. So maybe the Butcher had a son who looked just like him. Or a grandson. Or maybe I was losing my mind.

I should go see the Bat Lady again. I should demand answers.

But I had to think about how to approach her. I had to think it through and consider every possibility and try to stay logical. Plus there was something else to consider.

There is an old saying, ’’Nothing is certain, except death and taxes.’’

Whoever said that forgot one: homework.

I debated asking Uncle Myron to write an excuse note for me:

Dear Mrs. Friedman:

Mickey\'s French Revolution assignment will be tardy because he was rescuing another student, watching a man get shot, getting the stuffing beaten out of him, being grilled by the cops . . . oh, and he saw a photograph of an old Nazi who disguised himself as the California paramedic who told him that his father was dead.

Mickey will turn in the assignment next week.

Nah. I didn\'t think that would work. That, and I hate the word tardy. How come you only use the word tardy when it comes to school? And how come you don\'t just say late?

Man, I needed sleep.

My bedroom had been, for too many years, Uncle Myron\'s bedroom. It was located in the basement and would be considered ’’retro’’ if it wasn\'t completely lame. There was a vinyl beanbag chair and a lava lamp and even trophies that dated back more than twenty years.

My partner for the French Revolution project was none other than Rachel Caldwell. I hadn\'t known Rachel long, but she hit me as one of those girls who always handed her assignments in on time. You know the type. She comes in on test day and swears she\'s going to fail and then she finishes the test in record time, hands in her perfect paper, and spends the rest of the class putting reinforcements in her notebook.

No way she\'d let me be ’’tardy’’ with the assignment.

Fifteen minutes later, my cell phone rang. It was Rachel.

I hit the appropriate button and said, ’’Hello?’’

’’Hi.’’

’’Hi.’’

Yep. Pretty dang smooth all the way around. I decided to go now with what was fast becoming my patented icebreaker: ’’You okay?’’

’’I guess,’’ she said.

Rachel sounded strangely distracted.

’’Pretty wild night,’’ I said.

’’Mickey?’’

’’Yes?’’

’’Do you think . . . ?’’

’’What?’’

’’I don\'t know, Mickey. Is it over? It doesn\'t feel like it is.’’

I wasn\'t sure what to say to that. I had felt the same thing like the bad was just beginning. I wanted to offer words of comfort, but I didn\'t want to lie.

’’I don\'t know,’’ I said. ’’I mean, it should be.’’

Silence.

I said, ’’We have that French Revolution project due tomorrow.’’

’’Right.’’

More silence. I pictured her sitting alone in that empty mansion. I didn\'t like it.

’’Should we get to it?’’ I said.

’’Excuse me?’’

’’Should we try to do the assignment? I know it\'s late but I can come over or we can do it over the phone or . . .’’

Then, through the earpiece, I heard a noise in the background.

Rachel may have gasped. I wasn\'t sure. There was more noise.

’’Rachel?’’ I said.

’’I have to go, Mickey.’’

’’What?’’

’’I can\'t talk now.’’ Her voice took on a strange, firm tone. ’’I have to take care of something.’’

’’What?’’

’’I\'ll see you at school in the morning.’’ She hung up.

But Rachel was wrong. I wouldn\'t see her in the morning, because by then everything would be different.

Chapter 4

It began with a hard knock on the door.

I had been dreaming about my mother and father. We were somewhere I\'d never been in real life my mother, the legendary Kitty Bolitar, was playing tennis.

Before she got pregnant, my seventeen-year-old mother was the top-ranked amateur female tennis player in the world. She quit tennis to have me. And she never played again.

Weird, right?

In the dream, Mom is on center court playing in some big-time match. The crowd is huge. I sit in the stands next to my dad, but he doesn\'t see me. Dad just gazes lovingly at my mother on the court. They had been so happy, my parents. Most adult couples with kids, well, they aren\'t like that. Sure, they eat together and go to the movies and all that, but they seem to rarely make eye contact. They just occupy the same space, but maybe there\'s a comfort in that, I don\'t know.

But it was different with my parents. They never took their eyes off each other, as though no one else existed, as though they\'d just fallen in love that very morning, as though they were ready to sprint across a field of daisies and embrace with some corny music playing in the background.

Yes, as their son, I can tell you that it was mortifying.

I always assumed I\'d find love like that. But now I don\'t want it. It isn\'t healthy. It makes you too dependent. You smile when they smile. You laugh when they laugh. But when they stop laughing, so do you.

And when they die, a part of you dies too.

That\'s what happened to my mother.

In my dream, my mother hits a cross-court winner with a whiplike forehand.

The crowd screams.

A voice says, ’’Game, set, match . . . Kitty Bolitar!’’

My mom flings her racket in the air. The crowd rises to its feet. My dad stands and claps and has tears in his eyes. I try to stand and clap too, but I can\'t. It\'s as though I\'m glued to the chair. I look up at my father. He smiles down at me, but suddenly he starts floating away.

’’Dad?’’

I struggle, but I still can\'t get up. He\'s floating toward the sky. My mom joins him. They both wave for me to follow them. Mom calls out to me.

’’Hurry, Mickey!’’

But I still can\'t move.

’’Wait!’’ I shout.

But they keep floating away. I put both hands on the armrests and try to will myself up. But I\'m trapped. My parents are still in sight, but they are so far away now.

I will never reach them. I take a deep breath and try one more time to stand.

That is when I realize that I\'m being held down.

There is a hand on my shoulder. The hand is strong. It locks me in place.

’’Let me go!’’


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