At Dad’s store, as we sometimes refer to it, which stays open until eight, we found Roy and his son finishing up with a customer. Roy looked at us quizzically. I had a thought. I motioned for him to follow us into the office. “Roy,” I said, as thoughtfully as I could appear to be, “do you know whether my dad has a list around here of the things that have been stolen?”
“Stolen?” Roy slowly asked me back, frowning from one to the other of us. “He never said anything about stuff being stolen.” He really wanted to talk about it, but I shrugged him off. Another customer was trying to get his attention from outside, so he looked at me hard and went out.
When he’d gone Heidi asked: “What did you do that for?”
I had set the copier for 75 copies and had inserted the master sheet.
“Listen,” I said, as I do whenever I’m in charge and sure of myself, “I thought he might know. And if there is a list it could sure help us. I’ve been thinking. I wish I had pictures of the stuff in that garage. Not for The Clover Street News, but for evidence for the police, you know? So before we put this out tonight I’m going back in there with my camera and get some. With a list, I’d know what to take pictures of and what to ignore.”
“I’m not going back there with you!” Heidi whimpered.
I didn’t doubt her friendship one bit, so I forgave her her cowardice. “I’m not asking you to.” I finished making the copies and then said, “Let’s go.”
On the way home I explained further: “You stay with the boys at my house and wait. I’ll go up and take the pictures. Give me ten minutes or so and then start delivering these.” I handed her the 75 copies of the CSN. “I’ll meet you around the Ardrills’s house when you get there.”
The boys were mad when we returned, but when they heard the plan they were thrilled. This was real detective work. Broccoli wanted to go with me to take the pictures himself. After all, I’m not a member of their amateur detective club. But he doesn’t know a thing about cameras, so he had to “contract” me to do the photography.
Off I went into the last glow of dusk. From inside any house it was as good as complete darkness. I was at the back of the Reuhausens’s garage in a couple of minutes, and all at once my anger rose again. I hated these petty people. If they stole from my father, who else did they steal from? From little children who came to sell homemade pot holders? From the government? From the place where Mister Reuhausen had once worked?
With an expression suitable to show the spiders in the crevices how much I hated the people they lived with I slipped in through the rear garage window. I took two or three steps inside and paused, silent. My heart pounded and my breath came hard, as if I’d run six blocks. I hadn’t been running, so I knew it was just fear, and that I’d get over it.
As soon as I was inside I realized I had made one minor mistake: I’d forgotten a flashlight. The flash on my camera would work fine for taking the pictures but not to show me the way around. So I resolved to wait a couple of minutes to let my eyes adjust to the near-total darkness.
I counted quickly to two hundred while I waited. Somehow I had turned myself around, even though I thought I was standing still, and by the time I’d stopped counting I couldn’t even make out the opening for the window I had crawled through. That made me nervous. The only thing to do, I decided, was to take a picture, and, in the instant of the flash, to take my bearings on the inside of the garage.
Foolishly I put the viewfinder to my eye and pointed toward where I figured the two lawn mowers would be. Then I pressed the shutter release.
Everything went instantly blue-white — and stayed that way. That’s when I panicked. Oh, I saw some normal garage-type junk in the instant of the flash, but not enough to get oriented. I panicked because I was now blinded worse by the flash than I had been by the darkness.
My common sense took over, though. Turning slightly to my right, I took another picture, figuring to create a panorama of the entire garage. At least, I hoped, I could catch a glimpse of the window in one of the shots. I resolved that, when I saw the window, I would quit taking pictures and make a groping lunge for the safety of the out-of-doors.
I took a third picture, which showed me part of the Reuhausens’s car. That told me that the window I sought was just about right behind me.
Again my heart drowned all other sounds. What the other sounds were I couldn’t tell you. I can guess, though. Over the roar of my ventricles I’m pretty sure I heard spiders munching on fly parts, oil wicking through rags under the work bench, giant clods of dust crashing down onto the hood of the car, and molecules of rust popping out on the surfaces of shovels and rakes.
I chose a new position and took a fourth picture.
Or at least I thought I did. For a second after I pressed the shutter release the whole garage stayed lighted, and then for a second after that, and then for many more seconds.
Voices were trying to get me to hear them — voices belonging to Mister and Missus Reuhausen. They were angry voices, but in my fear of death my mind short-circuited and I couldn’t pick any words out for a long time.
I let myself be led by the arm into their kitchen where I realized I’d be able to see better if I rubbed away some tears.
Mister Reuhausen’s words finally assumed form as he shouted at me in a voice accented by some language that sounded faintly — I don’t know — Dutch?: “I’ll give you one more chance! What were you doing in my garage? And don’t tell me ‘taking pictures’!”
I stayed quiet, shivering, hating, crying, thinking.
Before I could think of anything to say, he said: “Then I’m calling the police.”
“Maybe you should,” I mumbled, but I could tell that the significance of it was lost on him. He just ranted on for a few more mouthfuls.
Then Missus Reuhausen broke in, her accent thicker than his but also more pleasant. “Forget it, Karl. Send her home. We can deal with her parents.”
“What’s your phone number?” Mister Reuhausen demanded. I told him.
As he started to dial I said: “No one’s home, until tomorrow.” I told them that I was staying somewhere else, but I didn’t say where.
“You’d better get back where you belong,” one of them said. The door was opened. I started toward it, then hesitated, expecting to be snatched back.
“Go on, but your parents are going to hear about this! Don’t think they won’t! Maybe they can get an explanation out of you for this snooping!”
I left. I don’t remember whether I went quickly or slowly. I just know I left. Once on the street I was so upset I headed in the wrong direction, wrong for my house, that is, because I thought that’s where I would go to calm down. I had the pictures, though! Surely something would show up in my pictures! Even so, it somehow wasn’t very reassuring.
Suddenly, under a streetlight, I blundered into Harvey and Brocc. “All delivered!” Broccoli said cheerfully. “At least, ours are. Heidi’s doing the other end of the street.” I quivered visibly. “What’s wrong?” Harvey asked next. At least he was perceptive.
I knew I couldn’t catch Heidi in time to prevent more than the last couple of papers from being delivered. “Were most people home?” I asked the boys, with a feeling of doom.
“Yep,” Harvey piped, trying to cheer me, and they both held out handfuls of change for me to approve of.
I nodded and slumped onto the lawn beside me.
“Did — did you leave one at the Reuhausens’s?” I shuddered to ask. I hadn’t seen them take one there, and to skip their house was a precaution I’d completely forgotten to make.
“Naw,” Brocc answered. “We figured they already know they’re robbers. It wouldn’t be news to them.”
“They caught me,” I said at last, not expecting them to hear or comprehend. But comprehend they did.
“Didn’t they take your camera?” Harvey asked, incredulous.
“Did you have to fight your way out?” Brocc seriously wanted to know.
Presently I rose and began walking, and told them the details, in abbreviated fashion. We met Heidi near my house, and I told it again. Somehow, though, I felt horrible. Heidi tried to comfort me. But she was scared, and so was I. She said something about soldiers going into battle hoping to win, and one side always does. And they feel good that they’ve won, but not as good as they thought they would feel because they watch their friends die in the process. “I still say we’ve won,” she concluded.
“I think Dad’ll be glad for what we’ve done,” I agreed, “if not especially proud.” Something sinister went through my body like a dull electrical charge.
I’ve since learned to call it a foreboding.
The Clover Street News – Chapter 1 – Chapter 2 – Chapter 3 – Chapter 4 – Chapter 5 – Chapter 6 – Chapter 7 – Chapter 8 – Chapter 9 – Chapter 10 – Chapter 11 – Chapter 12 – Chapter 13 – Chapter 14 – Chapter 15 – Chapter 16 – Chapter 17