Friday, January 26, 2007

Drafts: Frog Haven, Chapter 17

Chapter 1, Chapter 2 and 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: Ransacked!

The bushes and brambles on the road to the cabin had been cut and cleared.

“Brush hog,” Sissy commented, having seen them at work on the Forestry trails at Pack Forest. There were tire tracks on the road. Sissy and Paul clung to the brush remaining along the roads and snuck slowly up to the cabin and peered in, wanting to be sure no one else there. No one was. The place was empty.

Old Man Williams was gone from the cabin, along with a few of the blankets from his bed. Nothing else was moved, but the cabin seemed different, violated somehow. Something was wrong. They gazed around without touching anything.

“Here, put these on,” Sissy said, handing Paul a pair of gloves. Then she realized she was bossing him around. “Wait, she cried, yanking her hand back. “Let me try that again.” She thought for a moment and said, “Paul, I don’t think it would be a good idea for us to leave any fingerprints. What do you think?”

“Of course not, dummy, give me the gloves, quick!” Paul sounded angry, but he was smiling. They began searching. Sissy didn’t know what they were looking for exactly. She was sure someone else had already been looking. The place felt different, it felt disturbed.

“Sissy, there’s someone coming,” Paul whispered in a panicked voice. “They’re down there on the road,” he pointed.

“Quick, let’s get out of here.” The children waited just inside the porch door until the men were hidden at the curve of the road. Then they dashed around the side of the cabin. They heard the men coming up the hill and dared not run into the trees for fear they’d be spotted, so they stayed tightly pressed against the side of the cabin. Sissy wanted to look, but she was afraid they’d spot her, so she didn’t. Instead, she listened hard. She could almost feel her ears prick up like a dog listening to a distant howl. She recognized one of the voices. It was the fat cop, Sergeant Maroni.

“Don’t worry about making a mess, we’ll blame it on the kids,” Maroni said. “We’ll tell them the kids did it. Just look fast, everywhere you can think of. That old man was rolling in dough. There’s got to be treasure here somewhere. Or maybe a map. Look everywhere!”

Sissy could hear the cops crashing around. They’re going to wreck the place and blame it on us,” Sissy whispered to Paul.

“Shhhhhhh,” Paul hissed back, very quietly.

Sissy could see some dead plants of the windowsill of the window closest to where she stood. She thought they would screen her from sight, and hiked herself up to the window ledge and peered in. The fat cop was there all right, but he wasn’t in uniform. He was wearing dirty overalls with a T-shirt that must have been white once but was now a brownish yellow and full of little holes. The other man was not the nice cop, Harrison. Sissy was glad. He was a little skinny guy with a sharp-hooked nose and long stringy blond hair. He was wearing a yucky T-shirt and jeans and his jeans were so low that part of his behind was hanging out. It was all hairy and ugly and gross. He had lifted up the mattress and was feeling around the springs. Then he started thumping the bottom of the mattress, and his pants slid further down. If they came down any more, they would fall right off.

When the skinny guy straightened up, he gave his pants a yank and pulled them up a little. Sissy noted that he was not wearing gloves. She looked over at the fat cop who was pulling stuff out of the roll-top desk. He was not wearing gloves, either, and he should have known better. Sissy knew better, and she was barely eleven. She had learned that from watching detective shows on TV.

The skinny guy yanked the sheets off the bed and started feeling the top of the mattress. The fat guy took papers from the desk, looked at them, wadded them up, and tossed them toward the woodstove. Some went in and some didn’t.

Paul pulled himself up beside Sissy. They wedged their toes between the logs and hung on to the projecting windowsill. Sissy turned toward him for a moment and saw his face relax a little as he saw the screen of plants. But the men never looked toward them anyway, they were too intent on what they were doing.

Every once in a while, Maroni would stand up, walk to the door and peer out. Then he would return to searching the desk. The other man took the cushions out of the chair and couch and felt the cushions. He unzipped each cover and felt around inside. He looked under the cushions and stuck his hands down inside the chair around where the cushions would be. Once, Sissy saw him pocket a coin, a quarter maybe. That didn’t mean much. Sissy often found coins when searching for a lost card or toy down inside a chair. She always gave them back to her parents, and they usually let her keep them.

The skinny guy turned a chair upside down and slit the bottom with a pocketknife. Sissy gasped. Paul elbowed her and gestured to be quiet. The skinny guy peered in and then reached in and felt around. He proceeded to slice open the next chair. Sissy quietly let out a snort of anger.

The fat cop stopped going through the papers and looked at his watch. Sissy looked at hers. It was 5:20. The fat cop went back to working at the desk. Sissy pointed at her watch and lowered herself to the ground. Paul dropped down beside her. They went around behind the cabin and into the woods, thumping suddenly over two wooden platforms, cutting through the trees parallel to the road. Sissy wondered what the wooden platforms were. A moment later, Sissy stumbled over a large stone. She looked back at it. It stood at the end of a mound. It looks like a grave, Sissy thought, as she hurried on.

They didn’t dare take the road between the ponds, knowing how visible they’d be, and how easily spotted from the cabin. They ran as fast as they could through the woods behind the back pond, retracing the stream a ways and then crossing. It was no problem for Sissy with her bare feet but Paul slipped on the muddy rocks and got his sneakers and pants wet. They cut through the woods into the pastures praying Dzabel wouldn’t be there. They’d never make it if they went all the way through the butterfly fields.

At the edge of the woods, tangles of blackberry canes with sharp thorns tore Sissy’s bare feet and legs. Even with jeans and sneakers, Paul still shrieked in pain a couple times. Sissy was silent as her skin ripped and ribbons of blood streaked down her legs. They sprinted across the pasture, up the dirt cliff under the barbed wire. Then Sissy grabbed Paul—“Do you think we could not go that way, if they see us, they’ll know where we’ve been.”

It was 5:30, but they skirted Paul’s yard at a dead run and Sissy came into her yard from his. AT 5:33, she burst through the door garage gasping for breath. Trying to breathe quietly. Papa was at his place at the head of the table. Mom was dishing food into serving bowls. The boys were crashing around in the bathroom. Sissy dashed in, washed her hands well, and sat at the table.

She wanted desperately to tell someone what she had seen, but then she would have to admit, once again, that she had disobeyed a direct order. She knew she had to think it over carefully and decide later what she should do.

After supper, Sissy went over to Garryd’s. When he answered the door, Sissy was relived to see him.

“Why weren’t you in school?” she demanded.

“I had to go to court.”


“My lawyer told me not to talk about it.”

“Oh.” Sissy didn’t know what to say. She felt left out somehow. Like Garryd wasn’t her best friend or her blood brother after all. Secrets.

Then she remembered her own secrets and in her excitement, forgot his. She told Garryd first about the lightning-lit argument between the cops and then about what she and Paul had witnessed.

“They wrecked stuff, and they’re going to blame it on us!” Sissy concluded.

“Let’s go back right now and check it out,” Garry said.

Sissy checked her watch. “Okay, but we’ll have to hurry!”

They couldn’t believe the mess. The flour and sugar bins were upside down and there was flour and sugar all over the floor. Apparently, the men must have thought something might be hidden under the flour and sugar in the bins. Cans of food and macaroni were strewn over the floor with paper and other junk.

“Don’t touch anything,” Sissy commanded, “Don’t walk in it, either. I mean, Maybe it would be better and safer if we don’t touch anything or walk in there, because we don’t want our fingerprints or footprints on anything.”

“I knew what you mean. Come on, let’s look upstairs.”

The loft was wrecked, too. The mattresses were off the beds and the toys were lying helter-skelter. One of the rag dolls was split in half. It had been cut open and all the stuffing had been pulled out and scattered across the floor. Another doll had its head off and several were missing arms and legs.

Sissy looked around. Time seemed to slow down and the air seemed like liquid. She felt as if someone had punched her in the stomach. She couldn’t seem to get her breath.

“This is awful, really awful,” she finally managed to say.

“I wonder if they found the treasure,” Garryd said.

“They sure didn’t find it right away or they never would have wrecked everything looking. I bet they didn’t find it at all.”

“I hope you’re right,” Garryd commented, angrily surveying the mess.

“I want to go outside and check something,” Sissy said.

“Okay.” Sissy led the way to the spot behind the cabin where she had tripped over a large rock. There, side by side, were what looked like two old graves. There were two mounds of dirt with two large rocks side by side like headstones. They were ordinary rocks, small boulders, really. Nothing was written on them.

“These are the kids who lived in the loft. They died, and old man Williams buried them here,” Sissy said with conviction. The graves were small ones and Garryd could see that they might be children’s graves. If they were graves at all.

“They could be graves, kids’ graves.” He lay down between them, then sat up, looking at his feet. “They’re the right size. But . . . how do you know?”

“I just know. It’s a hunch, I guess, but I am almost certain I’m right.”

“What are you, psychic or something?”

“I don’t think so. It just makes sense. Two beds. Two sets of toys, two small graves.”

“Maybe the old man killed them.”

Chapter 18, P365-07W

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