Seconds Away Page 60

The first person to speak was a boyhood friend of Dylan\'s. The contrast was startling. We looked at a picture of a nine-year-old missing boy and now this man in his thirties was talking about him about how Dylan liked kickball and collected baseball cards, about how he liked to walk through the woods and study butterflies.

One in particular, I bet.

The room fell extra-silent now, as though the very building were holding its breath. It was hard to fathom. Twenty-five years ago today, a little boy had been snatched from a school yard. Then, as if on cue, that little boy entered the church from the back.

I froze.

He stood for a moment in the back, all grown up now, before he found a seat in the last pew. He wore sunglasses. Nobody but me had seen him come in. Nobody but me knew who he really was.

When the first friend stopped speaking, I made my move. I slowly slid out of my pew and headed toward the back. I could see the surprise on his face when he spotted me. He rose and started for the exit. I followed. He burst through the door and into the warm sun. I followed.

Ahead of him, I could see the familiar black car.

’’Stop,’’ I said to him.

Shaved Head slowly turned around. He took off his sunglasses and headed back toward me. You wouldn\'t see it if you just looked at him. The curly hair was obviously gone now. The kid in the photograph had been a scrawny scarecrow while this man was tall and well built. The only thing that might give it away, when the sunglasses were off, were the eyes. They were still somehow sad.

’’So now you know,’’ Shaved Head said to me.

’’I know,’’ I said, ’’but I don\'t understand.’’

A small smile came to his lips.

’’If you\'re alive,’’ I went on, ’’why haven\'t you told anyone? What happened to you?’’

He didn\'t answer.

’’Did the Abeona Shelter rescue you?’’

’’I guess you could say that,’’ he said.

’’Where is Bat Lady anyway? I don\'t understand any of this. That picture she gave me was Photoshopped. It wasn\'t the Butcher.’’

He cocked an eyebrow. ’’Are you sure?’’

’’What do you mean?’’

’’The man in the picture is the Butcher.’’

’’But ’’

’’He\'s your Butcher, Mickey. That\'s what she wanted you to see.’’ Then Shaved Head, aka Dylan Shaykes, stepped back up to the church\'s glass door and looked at his father sitting in the front row. ’’We all have our Butcher.’’

I could feel my whole body begin to quake. I remembered his words after Rachel was shot. I had asked him why had we Spoon, Ema, Rachel, and I been chosen. ’’Why you?’’ he had said, and then, looking devastated, he\'d added, ’’Why me?’’

I swallowed. ’’Were you kidnapped or were you rescued?’’

Still staring at his father, he said, ’’Sometimes even I don\'t know.’’

’’Dylan?’’

He closed his eyes. ’’Don\'t call me that.’’

’’Is my father still alive?’’

He didn\'t reply.

’’I\'m flying out to Los Angeles. We are going to dig up my father\'s grave.’’

He turned toward me now.

’’What will we find?’’ I asked him.

He put his hands on my shoulders and smiled. ’’The truth.’’ He let me go and started down the walk toward the black car. ’’Good luck, Mickey.’’

’’Where is Bat Lady?’’

’’She\'s fine. She\'ll be back soon with another assignment for you guys.’’

’’My friend was shot.’’

’’I know.’’

’’How is he?’’

’’He\'s not good, but . . .’’

’’But what?’’

Dylan Shaykes stopped and came back over to me. ’’There is one thing you should know about us about all of us who are chosen for the Abeona Shelter.’’

I stood there. ’’What\'s that?’’

The church doors opened behind us as the parishioners started to file out. ’’We are all stronger than we realize,’’ Dylan Shaykes said as he slid into the back of the black car. ’’And no matter where it leads, we must always seek the truth.’’

Chapter 49

There was enough time before we caught the plane to Los Angeles for one final, important stop.

Even as Rachel buzzed me in through the gate, I wasn\'t sure exactly what I would do. I thought about what Mr. Caldwell had said. He wanted to protect his daughter. That was his right as a father, wasn\'t it? I thought about my own father and the way he had sheltered me from harm. Who was I to interfere with that? Why force Rachel to live with the guilt that her mother was dead because of her? A father had thought this through and made a decision about what would be best for his daughter.

Who was I to contradict that?

I was seconds away from turning and heading home when Rachel appeared. She spotted my face and said, ’’Mickey? What is it? What\'s wrong?’’

Seconds away.

’’Mickey?’’

But then in those seconds, I thought about what Uncle Myron had said, about how the lie never leaves you. I thought about the Abeona Shelter and my friends and what Dylan Shaykes had said. Yes, Ema, Spoon, Rachel, and I had originally joined forces to save Ashley, but what kept us together, what really gave us our unbreakable bond, was our need to know the truth.

I looked at Rachel and felt her strength. The truth could hurt her, sure, but not like a lifetime lie could. And forget Dylan Shaykes Spoon had said it all as he fought through the pain on the hospital bed:

You can\'t stop until we find the truth.

’’Mickey?’’ Rachel said. ’’What is it? You\'re scaring me.’’

It wasn\'t an easy decision for me. Uncle Myron had warned me that life was rarely simple. But in the end I had promised Spoon we wouldn\'t stop until we found the truth. You don\'t do that you don\'t make those sacrifices just to let your friend live a happy lie.

’’I have to tell you something,’’ I said to Rachel, taking her hand in mine.

She looked in my eyes. ’’Is it that bad?’’

’’Yes.’’

Rachel swallowed and stood tall. ’’I\'m listening.’’

And then I told her the truth.


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