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Authors: Lisa Bullard

Turn Left at the Cow (17 page)

BOOK: Turn Left at the Cow
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She was pretty-pleasing me bigtime with those eyes, so I gave in. Besides, I could tell she was right. The only way I was going to make my way through that crowd was if I got up and marched in the parade itself. And there was no way I was giving anyone another excuse to stare at me.

“I thought this was a small town,” I said. “Where'd all these people come from, anyway?”

“All the other small towns around here. And the farm families. Plus, lots of summer people come from The Cities for the holiday weekend. Look, there are the flags!” Iz and everybody around us jumped to their feet; she pulled me up too. When the flags had passed, we all sat down again. So far this parade was a lot like church, what with all the popping up and down.

“Oh, here come the dogs!”

Instead of looking where she was pointing, I turned my head to study Iz. She had that same look on her face that Linnea had the day before: pure, new-bike excitement. Maybe the parade was another one of those things she still loved from when she was a kid.

“There's Jen with the butter head!”

I turned back to the parade to see Big Ken driving a classic convertible with a banner along the side reading
PRINCESS KAY OF THE MILKY WAY
. Jen, Krissy, and Kari were sitting up on the top of the back seat waving like the Queen of England. They must have changed clothes after church, because they were all rigged up as if it were prom night. The butter head was riding along in the passenger's seat, nestled on a bed of ice. But you could tell the ice wasn't going to be enough to fight off the sun. While I watched, a big, buttery tear slid down poor Butter Head's cheek like she knew she was done for.

I might have felt the same way if it had just been me there at the parade, but it was hard to resist Iz's good time. I even managed not to duck when Linnea threw her baton extra high just for us.

I guess I'd let my guard down by the time the football float drew close.

The flatbed was loaded up with all these beefy jocks carrying buckets of candy to toss out to little kids along the route. Kenny must have been on the other side of the float somewhere; Iz and I still hadn't spotted him when suddenly we were getting bombarded with Tootsie Rolls by Prince Svengrud and a couple of his buddies, thrown hard enough to do damage.

That was it; I'd had about all I was going to take from that family, and I was definitely done letting that loser Cody harass Iz. I pushed her behind the giant bullhead and started after him. I kept going despite having to duck regular barrages of ammo; I had just about caught up with the float when somebody stepped out of the crowd and swung me around by the arm.

“Going somewhere, young man?” asked King Svengrud. I yanked away just in time to crash into the high school band. They had marched up without my noticing, and next thing I knew, I was getting elbowed by some chick with a triangle, making me bounce off the bass drum. I was finally taken down altogether by the tuba dude, ending up at the mercy of the high-heeled boots of the pompom girls. They stepped around me without breaking stride, stomping along to that “Yankee Doodle Dandy” song.

I hid my head until the pompoms were past and then debated just staying where I was in the hopes of being flattened by some giant horses that were clomping by. Or maybe the pooper-scooper guys running along behind them would shovel me up into the manure wagon. But Iz scurried over and grabbed my hand to haul me up and over to the safety of the curb.

“Are you okay?” she asked. She had this weird look on her face, and I didn't even try to guess what she was thinking. There was no way around it—you'd have to practice for years to blow the knight-on-a-white-horse routine any worse than I had.

“Wait until you see my encore. It's a killer,” I muttered. I dropped her hand and leaned over to dust off my knees, when Iz made this odd sound. When I straightened up, she was holding her hand over her mouth, trying to push back a laugh.

“I'm sorry,” she gasped on the back end of a snort. “I know it's probably not funny to you.”

I decided there was no point in pretending I had any dignity left. Especially when most of the crowd was still staring at me instead of the parade. So I gave in and slid Iz a little grin. “Guess you had to be there, huh?”

She stopped laughing and leaned her shoulder into me. “I can't believe that idiot Cody Svengrud. No wonder you hate this town.”

“Yeah, well, there are some things here I like pretty good.” I reached for her hand again and looked around. “Looks like we missed the end of the parade. Everybody seems to be packing it in.”

People were folding up chairs and dragging along screaming munchkins, drifting out into the street to form a tail to the parade.

One old guy gave me a pat on the back as he walked by. “Thought you were roadkill there for sure, boy.”

We jostled along with the crowd. I guess the band had only two songs in their rotation; every time they started up on the “Yankee Doodle” one again, Iz got another fit of the giggles.

We met up with Gram at the church, and Iz headed off to hook up with Kenny's family at the end of the route. Gram and I loaded into the truck, and she set off on this roundabout way home to avoid the roadblocks.

“What happened with the football float?” asked Gram.

“Whaddya mean?” Had news of my roadkill act really made it down the street faster than I had?

“Something must have happened,” said Gram. “I thought maybe you'd seen it. By the time the float reached the church, there was this huge fight going on. Kenny and the Svengrud boy seemed to be in the middle of it all. Pastor Jackie's husband had to run out and break things up. I'm afraid Cody's nose might never be the same again.”

I couldn't help but let loose a laugh. Gram gave me a suspicious look.

“Okay,” I said. “I know you're going to say that violence is never the answer and all that crap that adults have to say. But sometimes guys just have to handle things, you know?”

Gram gave me another look. “And what exactly was Kenny handling today?”

“That stupid Svengrud kid thought it was a good joke to pelt me and Iz with candy,” I said. “Kenny must have been telling him to lay off. I was going to do it, but old man Svengrud stopped me. What is with that family? They hated me on sight.”

Gram sighed. “It's probably . . . Your father and Cody's father were always big rivals. They went head-to-head for everything from football captain to homecoming king to girlfriends. I know it seems silly, but sometimes these things carry over to the next generation in a small town.”

“So that's why they hate
me
,” I said. “But what's the stupid kid got against Iz?”

This time Gram smiled. “I'm only guessing, Travis, but Cody's family has a lot of money, and he's something of a football star—those things make him a big fish in a small pond around here. And those aren't the kind of things that impress Isabella the way they might some girls. Add to that the fact that she can be a rather . . .
direct
young lady, and I can only assume she made her disdain overly obvious when she spurned Cody's advances.”

I thumbed through my mental dictionary and finally translated Gram's words. “You mean you think he
likes
her?” I could hear the outrage in my own voice.

Gram laughed outright. “Finally something the two of you agree on.” She pulled the truck to a stop in her driveway. “The garbage cans at church were overflowing. I volunteered to bring some trash home to get it out of the way. The bags are in the back. Will you please carry them up to the garbage can for me?”

I hauled the trash as fast as I could, suddenly realizing how hungry I was. But when I charged into the kitchen, I almost barreled over Gram, who was standing just inside the door. I reached out to steady her and then stepped around her.

“Gram, what—”

The words died in my throat. The kitchen was a disaster. Dried noodles were scattered everywhere. Cereal crunched under my feet. The chairs were knocked over. The door to the fridge was wide open. Broken glass littered the countertop.

And a wickedly sharp butcher knife had been used to skewer a small pile of Monopoly money into the wooden kitchen table.

CHAPTER 21

“It's all my fault,” I blurted out.

Gram and I were once again sitting at the kitchen table with Deputy Dude. Only this time he'd just gotten back from taking the knife and the Monopoly money out to his sheriff's car.

“You'd better tell us everything, son.”

I didn't think they could send you to juvie for being a complete doofus, but I could already feel the handcuffs. Worst thing was, I deserved whatever happened to me for putting that make-it-stop-hurting look into Gram's eyes.

I really wished I'd listened when Iz had told me that answering the anonymous note that way was a stupid move.

I pulled the original note out of my pocket and unfolded it on the tabletop. “Somebody left this in Gram's truck the night of the church fundraiser. So I wrote him back an answer, kind of hinting that maybe I do know where the bank money is, and I buried it out on the island with the Monopoly money.” I waved around at the mess in the kitchen. “This whole thing was a message for me. He came here to look for the real money, and when he didn't find it, he upped the ante in this weird game of chicken we're playing.”

While Deputy Dude studied the note, I made myself look at Gram. Since we'd found the place trashed, her face had changed; it looked like the skin was coming loose from her bones.

“I'm really, really sorry, Gram. I was just trying to get him to come out into the open. I wanted to find out what he knew about my dad.”

“It's all right. I understand.” Gram reached out and put her hand over mine when she spoke, but two things were obvious: it wasn't all right, and she didn't understand.

Deputy Dude broke in before I could say any more to her. “This isn't a game. This guy's made it clear you don't want to mess with him. It's very important that you tell me where you have the money before somebody gets hurt.”

“I don't have the money, I swear! I was just pretending to have it, to draw this dude out.” Even though I could see why I'd lost all my credibility, I felt myself resenting the fact that I was somehow still the bad guy in his eyes.

“Kyle, if he says he doesn't have the money—” started Gram, but the deputy flattened both of his hands out on the table and leaned forward.

“Mrs. Stoiska, we don't have time to mess around anymore. Next time—and I'm pretty sure there will be a next time—the consequences could be much worse.”

“Seriously, if I had the money, I'd give it to you.” I tried to keep my voice low and steady, but I could hear it cracking a little at the end. “You think I want to take the chance he'll do something even more horrible next time?”

Deputy Dude skewered me with his eyes the way the butcher knife had skewered the Monopoly money. A silence as thick as blood settled around us.

Finally he seemed to make up his mind about something. He gave a little nod and leaned in really close to me. “Son, I really want to help you out here, but you have to tell me whatever you know before it's too late.”

The look he was giving me was trying to say,
The policeman is your friend
. But he could put on all the sincere looks he wanted—it was still coming through loud and clear that in his eyes I was guilty until proved innocent.

I couldn't give him money I didn't have. All I had were wild suspicions, nothing more solid than the evidence he had against me. Even if I did start accusing other people to save my own butt, I could just predict the look the deputy would get in his eyes if I told him about any of
my
suspects.

Like the crazy old man who jabbered about aliens any chance he got. Or the Svengrud family. So what if Cody hadn't been in church that morning and would have had time to trash Gram's house? It wasn't like Deputy Dude was going to go over and start accusing the town royalty on the say-so of Bank-Robber Boy.

And there was still the possibility that my father might be out there somewhere, not actually dead after all. I was sure my dad's old best friend would have loved to hear my whole zombie-dad theory.

I shook my head.

He shook his head too. Finally he turned to Gram.

“Whoever this was might have taken the chance to grab a few other things when he didn't find the bank money. Was anything missing when you looked around?”

“Only one thing. There used to be a box under my bed. There wasn't anything valuable in it, just some keepsakes about John. But it's gone,” Gram said.

I felt my shoulders jerk, and they both turned to look at me.

“Something else you've forgotten to share, son?”

It didn't seem as if the box could possibly have anything to do with the break-in, but the whole I've-got-a-secret thing really wasn't working for me at that point, so I confessed. “I took the box. It's safe under my bed.”

Gram moved her hand away from mine.

Deputy Dude stood up real slow and put the anonymous note into a plastic bag. Then he wrote something on a business card and set it onto the table. “That's my cell number. You suddenly think of something important you need to tell me, you call that direct. And you might want to start locking your doors. Safer that way for both of you.”

He nodded his head at Gram. “I've got to get back downtown. Place is a zoo because of the holiday. Be careful. And remember, son, I'm just trying to help you.” He walked out, pulling the door shut behind him.

We sat there for a minute, neither one of us saying anything. Then I jumped up and waved my hand toward the door. “I just have to—” I ran outside. Deputy Dude was backing his car out of the driveway, but he must have seen me heading his way, because the car jerked to a stop.

BOOK: Turn Left at the Cow
8.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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