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Authors: Lisa Bullard

Turn Left at the Cow (6 page)

BOOK: Turn Left at the Cow
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It all kind of blurred together for me. Since I was the one they were counting on to recognize a map of the island in my father's stuff, I figured we were out of luck unless I stumbled across something that was clearly labeled “Island” with an arrow pointing to a big red
X
and a scrawled “
buried treasure here.

At least some good came out of the whole thing, though: our little wander through her happy childhood memories seemed to have cooled down Iz's bad mood by the time we were heading back home in the boat. So I thought it was safe to ask one of the questions that still dogged me. “Here's the other thing I was wondering: What are you going to do with the reward money when you collect the big bucks?”

I was wrong about the cooled-down part.

Iz turned on me, and her eyes could have melted the skin off my bones. “That part is my business,” she snapped. “Not everyone is born a rich California smart aleck!”

I felt my jaw drop down and my inner demon rise up at the same time. “And not everyone's born a—”

“Time-out, you two!” Kenny suddenly bellowed from the back of the boat. “This is the part where Coach would make you both drop down and give him fifty.”

Iz glared at me a minute. Then she stood up, whipped off her shorts and T-shirt to reveal a bikini underneath, and threw her watch down onto the seat. I admit it—my mouth dropped open and stayed open when she went for the T-shirt, so she got in the last word.

“You are just about the stupidest boy I've ever met!” Then she dived over the side of the boat and started swimming toward home.

Kenny shrugged at me and adjusted the boat's speed to putter. “Guess she's voted herself off the island.”

We followed along, watching her slice through the water at top speed. My rage sizzled like sunburn under my skin, and then it drained down through my feet and out into the bottom of the boat. Finally I gave in and turned to Kenny.

“Uh—shouldn't we stop her or something? Looks like she's planning to Michael Phelps her way home.”

He shrugged again. “She was the best swimmer on the tritown team before she quit this year; the distance back home is barely a warm-up to her. But we better follow close behind. If Mom catches one of us swimming without using the buddy system, we're grounded for a month. So watch to make sure Iz's head comes up for air once in a while.”

I watched her windmilling arms for a few yards and then turned back to Kenny. “Seriously, what is wrong with her?”

Kenny shook his head. “She's a girl, dude. That's just how they are. I got two sisters and two girl cousins and a mom living in my house. There's no explaining them. You just stay out of their way when you can and keep your head down when you can't.”

“Then why aren't you off tossing around the pigskin with a bunch of your buddies instead of playing pirate?” I asked.

Kenny glanced over the side of the boat, either to make sure Iz's head was still visible or to check if she was likely to hear us—I wasn't sure which.

“Look, man, Iz's family has had some really bad times lately,” he said. “I mean, you might think you've got parent problems, but her mom and her dad, they both . . . although that don't make it right for her to trash-talk you like that. But this money—she really thinks it could fix things for her family. She's kind of . . . focused on it. And I don't mind trying to help her out.” Then he grinned his usual grin—what I was starting to think of as the Kenny Grin. “Besides, Iz is the smartest kid in school. And I ain't exactly Einstein. I made her swear she'd do whatever it takes to get me passing grades next year so they don't bust me off the football team.”

I thought about that a minute. “Okay, I won't ask you to fill in the blanks in the family soap opera. I guess it's not really my business. But I gotta tell you—Iz is right about my family having money. At least my stepfather seems to have a whole big bunch of it—and I'm not exactly living happily ever after.”

Iz had reached shore. Kenny cut the motor back even more, and the two of us sat in the boat and watched her climb up the ladder, up the dock, up the sloping yard, and into Kenny's house. She never looked back.

Kenny waved his hand in the direction Iz had vanished. “I'm just saying, keep your head down and you'll be safer around her. It'll be all right; you'll see. She never stays ticked in the end.”

Even as he said it, Iz was hurrying back down the dock toward us. She looked as if she'd worked off her anger; in fact, she looked a little freaked.

“What's the matter with you now?” Kenny asked.

She gave me a scared look and kind of hugged herself. “Trav, I think you better get over to your grandma's house. There's a sheriff's car sitting in her driveway, and my little sister says the deputy was over here asking where you were.”

CHAPTER 8

For, like, a minute after Iz told me about the sheriff's car, I completely froze; all I could focus on was this series of film clips playing across the Trav's-Head Cinema—outtakes from every show I'd ever seen where the cop comes to the door to deliver the news that somebody's croaked. Who was dead? Gram? Ma? Then somehow, without really knowing how it happened, I was standing in Gram's kitchen looking at her and this big dude in a uniform sitting at the table with coffee mugs and cookies in front of them.

“Is something wrong with my mom?” I had to push the words out past an invisible hand that was around my throat, choking me.

“Your mother is fine,” said Gram. Her face had its usual unreadable expression and she didn't look as if she'd been involved in a five-cow pileup or any other kind of emergency.

The guy got to his feet. “You're Travis?” he said, only it wasn't really a question. “I'm Deputy Anderson. Why don't you sit here so we can have a little talk.”

He towered over me, making it clear I didn't have much of a choice. I sat on the edge of the chair across from Gram, and he sat down at the head of the table, where he could keep his eyes on both of us.

Gram spoke up. “Deputy Anderson and I have been discussing—”

But he interrupted her. “Thank you, ma'am—I can take it from here.” I had been waiting to see if he was good cop or bad cop, but it seemed as if he had everything mixed up. Interrupting an old lady put you in the bad cop camp, right? But then sticking the “ma'am” in there kind of muddied the water.

Deputy Dude kept on talking. “I got a call after lunch from Mr. Svengrud down at the Big Store. Said you'd been in today spending a bit of money.”

Far as I could tell, there weren't any hidden question marks anywhere, but it was clear he expected an answer from me.

“Uh—yeah?” I couldn't resist turning my answer into a somewhat snotty question even though I was pretty sure that was a Taser on his belt. I mean, was it against the law to spend money around here?

Deputy Dude tossed me a look that convinced me to dial it down a notch. “Where else did you spend money in town today?”

“I bought some stuff for Gram at the grocery store, and I stopped for some burgers at the café and a soda at the gas station,” I said.

He nodded after each place I mentioned, and I noticed he was making marks in a little notebook. What was going down here? Had the good people of Cowpoke decided to run the son of a bank robber out of town on some trumped-up shoplifting charge or something?

“Well, Travis . . .” Deputy Dude paused really long, like he was giving me time to confess to an ax murder before slapping the cuffs on me.

That barfy feeling from earlier was taking over my guts again; whatever was left of the pancakes, the burgers, and the caffeine was slamming around my insides, wrestling to see what would make it out first. I clamped my lips together, and I guess the deputy took that as the prisoner's refusing to narc, because he settled his big, beefy forearms onto the table and leaned in toward me to drop his atomic bomb.

“Looks like somebody was in town today spending money that came from that bank burglary a few years back. The one that the FBI figures your father was involved in.”

There was dead quiet in the kitchen while I watched the mushroom cloud explode across that screen inside my skull.

Sometime after the explosion, I realized Deputy Dude was still talking. “And I want to be real careful here about not jumping to conclusions, but the fact is, turns out you spent money every place the cash turned up. So I need to ask you—”

Gram surged to her feet. For a minute I thought she was going to latch on to Deputy Dude's ear and yank him right on out of her kitchen, but instead she nabbed the plate of cookies out of his reach and stood glaring at him.

“Kyle Anderson!” she said, and you could hear a rattlesnake shaking its tail behind each word. “If you're insinuating—”

“Mrs. Stoiska—” He tried using his long-arm-of-the-law voice, but it was obvious that Gram was going to win this round.

She talked right over him. “Let me make one thing perfectly clear.” She limp-marched over and put her hand on the doorknob. “Every penny that Travis spent in town today came out of my pocket. It was
my
money. If you're accusing
me
of something, I'll call my lawyer so we can talk about the matter further. But my grandson is off-limits. The boy hasn't done anything wrong. And I'd like you to leave my home.”

Deputy Dude walked over to the door. It was clear from the way his face tightened up that he thought Gram's story was plenty fishy. But finally he lifted his hat for a moment, tilted his head toward Gram, and then settled the hat back down with a tap.

“Just doing my best to try to make things easier for you and the boy, Mrs. Stoiska,” he said. “Because soon it could be out of my hands; how it all plays out from here will depend on the FBI. The two of you may be in for a few hard questions from them.”

He looked over at me. “I understand that your grandma wants to protect you. But the fact is, there's been no sign of that money for fourteen years. Then you show up, and two days later some of the money turns up, too. If you know anything, it could save you a lot of trouble if you tell me before the big guns get here.”

He turned and nodded one last time to Gram. “You know how to find me if either one of you has any more to say on the subject. And for now it would be best if your grandson stays a while longer rather than head right back to California. I think it's likely we're going to need to talk to both of you again soon.”

Then he walked out of Gram's kitchen.

CHAPTER 9

As Deputy Dude walked out the door, the world switched over to slow motion. Gram lifted her hand and started walking back to me, but she seemed to be battling gravity with each move she made. She opened her mouth and sounds came out, but they were the grown-up speak of the old Charlie Brown cartoons, all “wah wah wah” noises instead of actual talking. I felt my face push against the thickened air to shake my head at her, and then I hauled my body out of my chair and back to my room, where I could close the door and be alone.

In the room where my father used to sleep.

After a while I guess my brain rebooted. Random thoughts started to drift around in my head, trying to form some kind of pattern. But it was like an all-black thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle: there were way too many pieces and none of them fit together just right. When I was a kid and I couldn't get puzzle pieces to fit, eventually I'd just pound one in where it didn't really belong. But no way I was jigsawing this mess together just by pounding at it.

I'd come to Minnesota looking for answers, and instead I just had piles of new questions. What I wanted more than anything was to talk it all through with somebody who knew me deep down. I took out my cell and stared at it. Ma? No way. She'd just refuse to talk about my father all over again.

I really wished it were as easy as texting Jason Kalooky. I could use a whole keyboard full of those little frowny faces to translate all the crappiness across the two thousand miles between us. But at the start of summer he'd shipped off to a wilderness survival camp to fight grizzlies or something—the kind of place where they outlaw cell phones. I had seen him only a couple of times since Christmas anyway, since Ma had hauled me kicking and screaming all the long way to my new stepdaddy's house. But even though we were in different towns and different schools now, Kalooky and I still texted all the time and also met up online to do some gaming.

Now that he was offline, I didn't really have anybody to talk to. It wasn't as if I'd been able to make a bunch of friends when I showed up at a new school midway through seventh grade. Everybody had already staked out his territory; being friendly to the new guy was too big a risk.

So with no one to call, I just lay there on an old Minnesota Vikings comforter, looking at the ceiling while Deputy Dude's words played tag inside my head. They always chased one another back to the point where he'd said I had to stick around so I could have another little chat with him or the FBI. I suddenly realized that the only thing worse than being trapped someplace you suddenly want to escape is knowing that even if you do get out, you have no place better to go.

That stupid walking catfish, man—does he even stop to think before he trots on out of his pond? What if he never finds water again?

At some point there was a knock, and I heard Gram's voice outside my door. “Travis, dinner's ready.”

“I'm not hungry,” I called back, which was a lie, of course, because even though my stomach still had some of that pro-wrestling action going on, I was pretty much always hungry. But I just couldn't talk to her right then; this dark suspicion, this thought about Gram, was squirming its way into my brain like one of those hungry parasitic worms, and I needed to face
it
before I faced
her
.

BOOK: Turn Left at the Cow
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