Authors: Peter Abrahams
An Echo Falls Mystery
For my children,
Seth, Ben, Lily, and Rosie,
INGRID LEVIN-HILL, three weeks past her thirteenth birthday, sat thinkingâ¦
CRACKED-UP KATIE was well within smelling range. She smelled likeâ¦
NINETY-NINE MAPLE LANE was a two-story Cape built in theâ¦
The kitchen door opened, and Ingrid looked up in alarm,â¦
SATURDAY MORNINGS WERE never about feeling tired. Even during soccerâ¦
But Ingrid didn't come right back. She put up herâ¦
DOWNSTAIRS MOM'S and Dad's voices rose and fell in irregularâ¦
HOW LONG A FALL? That was hard to judge, butâ¦
TWENTY MINUTES LATER, Mom had gone out for Sunday bagelsâ¦
INGRID WENT BACK in through the slider and up toâ¦
THERE WERE NO more Prescotts in Echo Falls, hadn't beenâ¦
WEDNESDAY AFTER SCHOOL. Ingrid home alone. She sat at theâ¦
HAPPINESS, essence of.
THEY ATE AT THE kitchen table, under the sailing-ship calendar.
DAD HAD EXPLAINED the whole calculus track thing to Mom.
“TAKE THE NEXT LEFT,” Ingrid said. “That'll be River.” Wow.
“INGRID. TIME TO get up.”
THAT'S WHAT YOU CALL doing your best?” Ingrid said.
NINETY-NINE MAPLE LANE had an attic, used only for storage.
BEFORE THE NEXT rehearsal, Ingrid walked around Prescott Hall toâ¦
EVERY FALL BEFORE THE weather got too cold, the wholeâ¦
INGRID WOKE UP IN THE night. Nigel was crowding theâ¦
INGRID AWOKE ON Saturday morning and remembered that she stillâ¦
Sunday morning. The note on the fridge read:
INGRID DROVE BACK down Moodus Road, toward the junction ofâ¦
“WELCOME, ONE and all,” said Vincent. “Here are new scripts.
THE WIND ROSE AND the waves rose with them, whippedâ¦
INGRID LAY ON HER BED. Lying on the bed inâ¦
NO I IN TEAM, but two I's in Ingrid. Orâ¦
NIGEL ENDED UP being the hero. He'd woken up duringâ¦
, three weeks past her thirteenth birthday, sat thinking in her orthodontist's waiting room. You're born cute. Babies are cute. Not hard to guess whyâit's so everyone will forgive them for being such a pain. You grow a little older, and people say, “What beautiful hair,” or “Get a load of those baby blues,” or something nice that keeps you thinking you're still on the cuteness track. Then you hit twelve or thirteen and
, they tell you that everything needs fixing. Waiting in the wings are the orthodontist, the dermatologist, the contact lens guy, the hair-tinting guy, maybe even the nose-job guy. You look at yourself in the mirror, really look at
yourself, for the first time. And what do you see? Oh my God.
Two orthodontists divided the business in Echo Falls: Dr. Lassiter, who didn't mind pulling a tooth or two to speed things along, and Dr. Binkerman, who liked to say he'd turn in his badge before sacrificing a single tooth. One kind of parents sent their kids to Dr. Lassiter. Ingrid, whose parents were of the other kind, was well into her second year with Dr. Binkerman, and behind her braces lurked the same jumble of teeth she'd come in with in the first place. And by the way, what stupid badge was he talking about? Ingrid flipped to another page of
. The glossy paper made an angry snapping sound.
WHERE THE HOTTIES ARE
In the weight room, of course. So it's important to get down with all that weight room terminology. Cut, ripped, reps, lats, pecs, curls, dips, jacked, juicedâis this a weird lingo or what? Let's start with reps. Reps is simply short forâ
Ingrid looked up. Mary Jane, the chairside assistant, stood in the doorway that led back to the operatories, the expression on her face a little exasperated, as though maybe she'd been calling Ingrid for some time. If so, Ingrid really hadn't heard. Readingâit didn't matter whatâalways did that to her.
“All set,” said Mary Jane. Ingrid followed her. There were two chairside assistants: Mary Jane, who wore her gray hair in a bun and always had circles under her eyes, and a younger one, who changed every two months or so. Mary Jane motioned Ingrid to the chair and raised it just as Dr. Binkerman strode in, flexing his surgically gloved hands.
“And how's Ingrid today?” he said, looming into extreme close-up, his gaze locking on her teeth. Like Sherlock Holmesâ
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had been sitting on her bedside table for yearsâIngrid was a habitual noticer of little things. Sherlock Holmes believed you could find out just about all you needed to know about people from little things; his method, as he told Dr. Watson more than once, was founded on the observation of trifles. Trifles were things like the single but surprisingly long
white hair poking out of Dr. Binkerman's left nostril; the sleepy seed, lima bean colored, in the corner of his right eye; the pinprick-size blackhead on the end of his nose, a millimeter off-center. All these trifles added up to the glamorous Dr. Binkerman, hard-riding sheriff of the overbite range.
And what was the question? How's Ingrid today?
“She's fine,” said Ingrid.
“Open, please,” said Dr. Binkerman. He peered inside her mouth, felt around in back, where the screws were, with his rubbery fingers. “Been wearing the appliance?” he said.
“Uh-huh,” said Ingrid.
“Every night?” Dr. Binkerman drew back, looking at her whole face for the first time, fingers out of her mouth now so she could speak clearly.
“Uh-huh,” said Ingrid, although every night would be pushing it, if by “every night” Dr. Binkerman meant every single night, night after night after night ad nauseam. Ingrid didn't want to get to the nauseam stage, so she never wore the thing on sleepovers, for example, or when she fell asleep reading, or on Friday nights, when she gave herself a regular breather as a reward for getting through the school week; and there might have been
other random misses from time to time. She was only human. Still, what business was it of his?
“Keep it up,” said Dr. Binkerman.
Keep it up. He said that every time, and every time Ingrid replied, “I will.” But this time, for no reason, she said, “For how long?” The words just popping out on their own, the way words sometimes did.
Mary Jane, sticking X rays up on the light box, paused for less than a second, just a tiny hitch in her movement. Dr. Binkerman blinked. “How long?” he said.
How long? Had Dr. Binkerman lost track of the whole point of this? “Till everything's all straight,” she said. “Till I'm done.”
Ingrid had noticed that people's lips often did things when they were thinking. Some people pursed them, some bit them, some sucked them in between their teeth. Dr. Binkerman was a biter. “Every case is different, as I mentioned way back at the initial consultation with your parents,” he said. “You remember that conversation, Ingrid?”
Ingrid remembered: Mom hovering over morphing mouth schematics on the computer screen, Dad checking his watch. “Uh-huh,” she said.
“Then you'll remember there are lots of variables,” Dr. Binkerman said. He paused. “Like patient cooperation. But all in all, I'd say you were coming along right on schedule.” He leaned forward again, pointy silver pliers in hand. “Are we due for an adjustment, Mary Jane?”
Mary Jane glanced at the chart. “Overdue.”
Adjustment meant tightening. Tightening didn't hurt much while it was happening, but every turn of the screw made a squeaky sound that seemed to come from right inside Ingrid's head, and reminded her of the Shackleton IMAX movie she'd seen a few weeks before on a class tripâthat scene where ice floes slowly crush the ship to death. Over Dr. Binkerman's shoulder, she saw that Mary Jane was watching. Ingrid read the straight answer to her how-much-longer question in Mary Jane's frowning eyes:
Till hell freezes over.
“See the receptionist on your way out,” said Dr. Binkerman.
Ingrid made her next appointment at the reception counter, then looked out the window to see if Mom or Dad was waiting in the parking lot. Mom drove a three-year-old green Mazda MPV van, an uncool car with uncool bumper stickers that said
she supported NPR and the Echo Falls Heritage Committee. Dad drove a silver Audi TT, a very cool car, no doubt about that, with no bumper stickers supporting anything, the only problem being that the TT was really a two-seater, with not much more than shelf space for Ingrid in the back. But shelf space covered in the softest leather Ingrid had ever touched, so it all balanced out, kind of.
Neither car was in the lot. Ingrid hadn't really expected them to be exactly right on time to the minute. Mom and Dad had busy lives. On the far side of the parking lot, a squirrel ran down a branch and leaped to the next tree. Three yellow leaves came loose and drifted to the ground. Ingrid watched how they landed, intact and undamaged, so softly you could hardly call it landing.
She sat back down, reopened
ârepetitions. Meaning how many times you lift the weight. Reps are divided into sets. For exampleâ
Ingrid tossed the magazine onto the next chair. She knew all this. They had practically a whole gym in their basement at home. Her brother, Tyâher parents had had only one acceptable name in them,
and he'd come firstâwas into sports, and Dad, who was also into sports, especially Ty's, was building him up. Dad was into her sports too, or sport, since she'd rid herself of hockeyâtoo coldâand softballâtoo slowâand was now down to soccer, the only one she'd ever liked in the firstâ
Soccer. Ingrid checked the clock on the waiting-room wall: 4:10. Practice was at 4:30. She'd completely forgotten soccer practice. Miss a practice, miss a game. That was Coach Ringer's rule number one. Was there anything more boring than sitting on the bench for a whole game? Other than math class, of course; that went without saying. And could you get around rule number one by skipping the punishment game? No, because rule number two was miss a game miss the next game. This had actually happened to Ingrid's friend Stacy Rubino, who'd gotten into a battle of wills with Coach Ringer that had spun into a death spiral of missed games and eventual demotion from the A travel team to the Bs. The Bs, who always inherited the uniforms worn by the As the year before. Say no more.
4:13. Ingrid glanced out the window: no green van, no silver TT. Her cleats, shin pads, and sweats
were in her backpack, slung over one shoulder and heavy with homework. She went outside to wait, in the hope of saving a minute or so. Why? Because being late for practice meant push-ups. Rule number three.
Ingrid stood in the parking lot. No Mom, no Dad. This would be a good time for a cell phone. Did Ingrid have her own cell phone? She did not. Did Ty have his own cell phone? Yes, he did. Were Mom and Dad's reasons for not giving her one yet anything more than complete b.s.? They were not.
A few more leaves drifted down. Probably 4:15 by now, maybe even laterâIngrid didn't know because her watch, Fossil, red face, red band, lay on
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in her bedroom. Or maybeâuh-ohâin her desk at school. Red was Ingrid's favorite color, of all the colors the only one that said COLOR in big letters.
What was it now, 4:17, 4:18? Still time to get to the soccer fields. The drive only took a few minutes. You just turned right out of Dr. Binkerman's parking lot, went past Blockbuster and Benito's Pizzeria, the one with the thin-crust pizza she liked andâ
A little spark went off in Ingrid's head, a lively, wake-up kind of spark she'd had before. It always
meant one thing and one thing only: Inspiration had struck. Inspiration, a thought coming out of nowhere, like the apple falling on Newton's head, and this was a good one: Why not walk to soccer practice? Even though she'd never actually walked from Dr. Binkerman's to soccer practice before, she had to know the way, having been driven there a million times. So what was the big deal about walking? Why hadn't she thought of this before? In fact, why not run?
Ingrid ranâturning right out of the parking lot, zipping past Blockbuster and Benito's, and over a bridge. Bridge? Funny, she'd never noticed this bridge beforeâmaybe you noticed a lot more when you were on foot, like the way the river flowed underneath, sliding along like one long jelly the color of Mom's good silverware when it needed a polish at Christmas, the only time it came out of the drawer.
One thing about Ingrid: She could run. She could run and she loved to run. “Look at her fly,” Assistant Coach Trimble, who'd played for a UConn team that had gone all the way to the NCAA Division One Women's Championship game, would sometimes say. And Coach Ringer, who owned Towne Hardware, would reply, “Be nice if she kept her
head in the game,” or “When's she gonna learn a move or two out there?”
How about this for a move?
Ingrid thought, swerving to kick a Coke can over a fire hydrant, catching up to it before it stopped rolling, kicking the can again, then again and again, while she thought
When the hell is Coach Ringer going to retire?
Does the fact that I hear them talking on the sidelines mean he's right and my head's not in the game?
and raced faster and faster down a street lined with shabby old gingerbread houses, their paint peeling and windows grimy withâ
Shabby old gingerbread houses? Whoa. The Coke can clattered into the gutter and came to rest on a sewer grate. The only shabby gingerbread houses Ingrid knew in Echo Falls stood in the Flats, the oldest part of town, where the shoe factories and railroad yards had been long ago. The soccer fields were up the hill from the hospital, and that was nowhere near the Flats. Was it? Ingrid looked around. No hill, no hospital, just these gingerbread houses in a neighborhood not especially safe, come to think of it. The front door of the nearest oneâjust about the most decrepit of all, actually crooked to the naked eye, half the roof covered with a blue
tarpâopened, and out came a woman with a shopping bag in her hand.
A strange woman: She was tall, and even taller in the gold spike heels she wore. What was the word? LamÃ©. Gold lamÃ© spike heels, that was it. She also had on tights and a red-and-black-checked lumber jacket. Strips of silver foil were stuck in her hair, as though she was in the middle of a coloring treatment. Ingrid recognized the woman. She collected cans from trash barrels on Main Street and sometimes bought things at the tail end of tag sales in Ingrid's neighborhood, Riverbend. The kids called her Cracked-Up Katie.
Wearing wraparound sunglasses even though it was starting to look like rain, she came down the front stairs, wobbling just a little. She ignored the cement path leading to the street, cutting across the bare-dirt yard, straight for Ingrid, who for some reason was rooted to the spot.
Cracked-Up Katie walked right past Ingrid, missing her by inches and maybe not noticing her at all. She took a few steps down the sidewalk, then stopped suddenly and turned around.
“You lost?” she said. She had a deep, ragged voice, like a heavy smoker or someone who'd just finished
screaming at the top of her lungs.
“Not really,” Ingrid said.
Cracked-Up Katie took off her wraparound sunglasses and gazed down at Ingrid. She had pale irises, blue or green, but so light there was hardly any pigment at all. The whites of her eyes, on the other hand, had twisted red veins running all over them, so the effect of her gaze was painfully red.
“You look lost to me,” she said. She took a step closer, gazed harder. “Like totally.”