Seventeen Against the Dealer (7 page)

BOOK: Seventeen Against the Dealer
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The shelf under the table was shadowed, so she couldn't see from where she stood if they'd noticed it or not. She didn't want to go down the length of the shop and find out, but she made herself.

And the shelf was empty, too. Hammers, screwdrivers, planes,
straightedges—gone, all of them. The boxes of nails and screws had been left, but everything else—

All the tools she'd found, and stripped down to refinish, and taken apart and put back together, polished and honed, and the ones Jeff had given her, too—

Dicey leaned her hands against the worktable. Her head kept wanting to bend down and rest on the wood. Her body wanted to fold up. She didn't even have the energy to get angry.

Who would do this to her? And why would they? And what was she going to do?

Clean up, that was what. First things first. First she'd clean up and that would clear up her mind.

No, first she better call Gram. It was late and Gram would be wondering. She kept her back to the room while she made the call. If she wasn't looking at what wasn't there, it wouldn't creep into her mind. The phone rang only twice before Gram answered. “I'm back, at the shop,” Dicey said.

“And you've eaten.”

“Not yet. But I'll be a while yet here, so I wanted you to know that I'm back.”

“Jeff wants you to call him,” Gram's voice said into her ear.

“Yeah, okay, thanks. I'll see you in the morning, Gram.”

When she'd hung up, Dicey got to work. First, she gathered up the brushes and jars, took them into the little bathroom, and lined them along the back of the toilet. She'd need to get turpentine in the morning, because if the brushes hardened up they'd all have to be replaced, too. Whoever it was hadn't gone into the bathroom, she guessed; a dozen clamps were still piled under the sink. They hadn't found the clamps. So at least they hadn't taken everything. They must have opened the bathroom door and decided it was so small and grungy, there couldn't be anything worth taking out of it.

Dicey rolled the plastic sheet up, from the outside edges, rolling up the empty cans inside it. She hefted it over her shoulder and took it out to the Dumpster. The quiet of her empty building, with all the other empty buildings around and the empty water beside, and the empty sky overhead, came creeping at her. She went back into the shop and closed the door, even though with the smashed window it couldn't keep anything out. It wasn't even keeping the cold air out.

She dialed Jeff's number and listened to the short buzzing rings. He'd be playing his guitar, probably, with a fire burning in the woodstove; or maybe reading, studying. The phone rang once, twice, and she almost hung up: She had to call Claude. After all, the shop belonged to Claude. But if she hung up and Jeff was halfway to the phone; and she didn't know how late it was, if Claude would be in bed already, and she didn't know what difference it made if Claude found out tonight or tomorrow, anyway.

Jeff picked up the phone on the fourth ring. “Hello?”

“What time is it?” she asked.

“Ten of nine. Why?”

“Can I call you back?”

She could hear his smile, as clear as if his face was in front of her eyes. She could see why he thought it was a funny conversation, but she wasn't finding anything particularly amusing.

“Sure. Or I'll call you.”

“Okay, bye.” She hung up. Claude's number was on the inside of a notebook she kept on the table, with numbers and prices and ideas for designs in it. His wife answered the phone. When Dicey asked to speak to him, Mrs. Shorter demanded, “Who is this?” But when Dicey told her, all she said was a bored “oh.” Dicey told Claude that the shop had been broken into. “That's too bad,” he said. She reported that her tools had been taken and the glass in the window
smashed. “That's tough, girlie. I don't know why you're calling me, though. You should be calling your insurance agent. Although, I guess, the window'll come under my policy. Tell you what, why don't you take the cost of repairing it out of the next rent check? Did you change your mind about those boats?”

“No,” Dicey said. She didn't have an insurance agent. She didn't have insurance.

“Well, don't take a break-in personal,” Claude advised her. “It just happens sometimes.”

She hadn't even thought about insurance. She didn't even know how you went about getting insured. The Tillermans didn't have anything worth insuring, except the truck. Dicey dialed Jeff's number again.

He answered on the first ring. “Dicey? What's wrong?”

“How do you know something's wrong?”

“You sounded—funny.”

“Oh. I didn't think I—Someone broke into the shop,” she told him.

He waited. “And?” he asked.

“They broke the window in the door. To get in.”

“But that wouldn't bother you. Are the boats all right?”

“Yeah. And they took my tools,” she admitted.

He didn't say anything. He felt the same way she did about her tools, she guessed. “I'll be right over,” he said.

“No,” she told him, “don't. I've got to clean up and then go home. I bought that wood, but I'll leave it in the truck overnight, I think. I'm not going to leave it here.”

“That sounds smart. I'd like to come help out.”

“I'd rather you didn't, Jeff.”

“If you say so. But tomorrow—we'd better go out and replace them, or you won't be able to work. You're covered against theft, aren't you?”

“How would I be covered?” she demanded.

“Your insurance policy.”

“I don't have one.” He should know that. She didn't know why everyone thought she had an insurance policy when everyone who knew her should know she didn't. “I gotta go.”

“Dicey? You know how sorry I am, don't you?”

She did, although what good sympathy did she didn't know. It just made her feel worse. She got off the phone and got to work.

It wasn't ten minutes later that she heard a car. She was trying to get broken glass up off the rough cement floor, practically scraping at it with a broom. She heard the engine, heard it approach, then idle, then stop. She'd
told
him not to. If she'd wanted sympathy she'd have asked him over, but it wasn't sympathy she wanted. Sympathy just made you feel worse and she didn't need to feel any worse. She stood up, ready to let him know how she felt about being ignored like that, being treated as if she didn't mean what she said. She stood there with her fingers clenched around the handle of the broom, ready to give Jeff an earful.

But it was Mina who walked through the doorway. At the sight of Mina, in a baggy sweatshirt, with flannel-pajama bottoms hanging out of the legs of her jeans, the crossness that had been puffing Dicey up evaporated. Mina stood just inside the door, looking around. “Yep,” she said, “somebody broke in, for sure.”

Dicey didn't see any need to comment on that.

Mina turned around slowly, to look at the empty worktable and at the empty rack above it. When she turned around again, her lips were stiff. “I gotta admit, I was hoping I'd heard Jeff wrong. Don't you ever wonder about people?” She put her hands on her hips, angry. “I do. Sometimes I could just—knock some heads together. We better finish this glass first.” She pushed up
the arms of her sweatshirt, as if getting ready for a fight. “What're you standing around dumbfaced for like that?”

Dicey shook her head. Mina stood right in front of her, big and dark and strong, with her sleeves pushed up, dressed out in her anger. “I'm glad to see you,” Dicey said.

“Hunh,” Mina answered. She pulled down the right sleeve of the sweatshirt, stretching it over her hand and then catching the overhang with her fingers, from inside. When she'd done that, she walked out to the open door and hit at it with her elbow. Pieces of glass fell out, then shards and sprinkles, as she ran her forearm around the window frame. Dicey stood, watching Mina punch at the broken window, elbow it and shoulder it and finally beat at it with her protected fist to beat all the glass out of it.

“Well, that makes me feel better,” Mina said. “How about you?”

“I thought you wore nightgowns,” Dicey said, which was the only thought in her mind.

Mina laughed. Her laughter was as rich as soup. Like Gram's beef-and-vegetable soup, her laughter warmed and filled Dicey's stomach. “You're right, I do. That is, when I haven't just dumped my long-time guy. All right. The only question is, what do we do next? You finish up the glass and I'll get some more lights on.” She went down the room, reaching up to turn on the lights. “Where do you keep cleanser? There's wet paint on the floor here. What happened, did they dump cans of paint?”

“Yeah.”

“Well.” Mina surveyed the room. “I suppose it could have been worse. They could have trashed the place.”

Dicey shrugged. They could have not broken in at all. But there wasn't any use thinking of could-haves.

She continued sweeping up glass while Mina scrubbed at the cement floor. Those two jobs done, they lifted the two boats back
onto the rack. Dicey went carefully around each boat, checking for nicks or dents.

“We've got to figure out some way of covering that window,” Mina said. “Probably a sheet of plywood nailed over it.”

“They took all my tools,” Dicey admitted. “Everything. I don't even have a hammer. So we can't nail anything.”

Finally, Mina had another suggestion. “Dad keeps a toolbox in the car. We can use the flat of a wrench, and at least hang up a sheet of plastic.”

Dicey just went along with whatever Mina suggested. She held up the plastic while Mina hammered little nails through it and into the wooden frame of the door. “Did you call the police?” Mina asked.

“What's the point?”

“To prove somebody stole something from you, for your insurance company.”

Dicey shook her head.

“What does that mean?”

“I don't have an insurance company.” Even Mina assumed Dicey had insurance. Dicey guessed she wasn't as smart as she thought she was, but she didn't much feel like talking about that. Not right now.

“How about your landlord?”

“He's not insured against theft of whatever's in the building,” Dicey said. “Just the building.”

They stood there, the two of them, in the damp, chilly air. Mina was worried, Dicey could see that. She didn't know what she was. Whatever it was she was, it was clogging her up inside, leaving no room for anything else. She was afraid Mina was going to make an angry, sympathetic speech, but Mina didn't. “You going to be okay?” was all Mina said.

“Yeah,” Dicey said. She didn't see how she
was
going to be
okay, because without her tools she couldn't build, and she didn't have time or money to go around finding another set, not to mention getting them into working shape—whoever had robbed her of the tools had robbed her of the hours she'd spent on them, too—as if they'd taken up a box filled with minutes and hours and days, and stolen it. She didn't even know what new tools cost, although her guess was she couldn't afford them. That made her realize she hadn't built up a big enough savings account before diving into this whole project. It had seemed like so much money, but it wasn't enough. She should have worked another six months, or at least three. She hadn't planned it realistically. Dicey didn't know what she was going to do now. But Mina, who had her own problems, putting herself through college, didn't need to hear about Dicey's troubles, especially since there wasn't anything Mina could do about them. “Yeah,” Dicey said again, “I'm okay.”

Then, as if repeating it made it true, she knew she would be. She'd faced worse, and gotten through it. She had money in the bank, and a check in her pocket. Besides, maybe no matter how much money you had it wouldn't be enough, because money itself wasn't enough. She had her plans and she knew how to work hard. She would be okay, she made herself that promise. “I'll figure out something,” she told Mina.

“You always do.” Mina stood there in the darkness, big and warm, sure of what she was saying.

And why shouldn't Mina be sure, since it was true. Dicey filled her lungs with energizing damp air. “Yeah.”

Something made Mina laugh again.

“What's so funny now?” Dicey demanded.

“Sometimes, I look at the two of us and—I'm gonna leave old Dexter to his honey babe, and get on with my own life. You never liked him that much anyway, did you?”

“Half the time I like him a lot,” Dicey said. “The other half—well, he's so arrogant and you do your supportive-female act and—I don't mind the arrogance, but I mind you—so I guess no, not that much. Although he's interesting—”

“Oh, yeah, that boy has brains enough,” Mina agreed. “And ambition.”

“For himself,” Dicey pointed out.

“I know. Being Dexter's woman—I guess I just don't want to be any man's woman. I guess maybe that's what's really behind all the jive he says I've been giving him. I go back to school tomorrow morning. You know what I wonder? I wonder if all this school isn't a way of running away. You know? A failure to choose, and get down to the business of life. I don't think so, but I have the suspicion that a really free woman wouldn't ever wonder.”

“I dunno,” Dicey said. “Maybe that's true, but it seems like a lie, because how can you not wonder?”

“Well, I wish I knew how,” Mina said, laughing. “I know what I want to do, and I think I know why I want to, but what if—Oh, well, if worse comes to worst, I'll work for you, okay? You can hire me. I know I don't know anything about boats, but I'm a quick learner.”

Dicey wouldn't mind a bit working with Mina. “I can't afford to hire anybody,” she pointed out.

“We can worry about that at the time. It's still a couple of years before I'll get a chance to fail to get into law school. By then, who knows? By then you may be the Sara Lee of boatbuilders.”

BOOK: Seventeen Against the Dealer
8.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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