Authors: Lisa Bullard
Iz and I both whipped our heads around to stare at him.
Iz sighed. “I must be tired. I hate when Kenny thinks of something I didn't.” She looked over at me. “Did you think of that?”
Kenny smirked while I shook my head.
“I guess if he is alive, he must be hiding out somewhere and maybe he has an accomplice. You know, somebody he's passing the loot along to,” I said slowly. “Somebody who seems perfectly innocent so nobody suspects him. Or her.”
“Like your grandma,” Kenny said. Were we back to Gram being a suspect? I sent Kenny a shut-your-trap look.
“Or maybeÂ .Â .Â .” started Iz. “You know, the newspaper said the FBI thought your dad had an accomplice for the robbery itself. Maybe that person's still around. Maybe when you turned up, they figured it was finally safe to start spending the cash because everyone would blame you for it.”
I was opening my mouth to tell her what a gen-ius idea this was when Kenny jumped in. “Like I said, maybe it's your grandma. Maybe she's the accomplice. Maybe she's really Grandma Stick-'Em-Up!”
“All right, enough grandma-ing!” I said. I wasn't sure why I was getting so ticked; after all, I'd been the one to bring up Gram in the first place. I'd spent half the night worrying about the same things Kenny was now saying. But it was like how you can trash-talk your best bud as much as you want, but as soon as somebody else starts in, you're all over him for it.
“There's this tiny outside chance that maybe Gram found the money somewhere
the robbery, but I won't believe she helped hold up a bank. She's
some granny-get-your-gun type!” I glared at Kenny. “Watch it.”
“Boys, boys, peace out, already,” said Iz. She turned to me. “I thought you said we had to work fast on this master plan of yours.”
“Yeah, okay,” I said, giving Kenny one last don't-go-there look. “I think we have to search Gram's house. To see if there are any clues that my father might really be alive. Like an address or a phone number or a post card he sent from Rio or something.” For just a second I flashed back to that talk in Gram's truck, where she'd told me about when my father had vanished. Had she said she'd never heard from him again? Or had never
him again? I couldn't remember exactly. And anyway, would it really be such a big deal if Gram had lied to me?
Iz nodded. “I'm still hoping there could be something like a treasure map.”
“Or just a big pile of bank cash,” said Kenny.
Iz looked at him really hard. “We have to use our brains while we search 'cause the clues might not be obvious. And we better make sure to put everything back like we found it.” She turned to me. “We don't want your grandma to suspect we searched her house. When's she coming home, anyway?”
“I'm supposed to meet her at the church at five o'clock,” I said.
Iz checked her watch and then walked into the living room and looked from one end of Gram's small house to the other. “We only have a couple hours. I'll do her bedroom and the bathroom. There's probably girlie stuff in those places.”
“Kenny, you start with the kitchen,” she went on. “You spend all your time eatingâthat should be an easy room for you. Just call us if you find anything that doesn't belong. And look everywhere!” She turned to me. “What about you?”
“I'm going to start with Gram's desk,” I said. “It's got all those little cubbies and drawers and stuff.”
There was silence as we each started off on our own personal spy missions. But after just a few minutes, Kenny spoke up from the kitchen. “Bro, can I take a food break? I'm getting hungry.”
“Yeah. If you can find anything I've missed, you're welcome to it,” I said.
“Kenny? Pay attention to what you're doing instead of to your stomach,” Iz called out from Gram's bedroom.
“No wonder I always wanted to be the robber when we used to play cops and robbers. This searching-the-house thing is boring when you can't rip apart pillows and stuff like they do on TV,” said Kenny. “At least let's crank some tunes.”
“I don't have my iPod speakers here,” I said. “But you can try Gram's radio.”
“You'll be sorry,” Iz yelled out. I suddenly had a horrifying thought: What if Kenny was into country music? We were sitting smack in the middle of cow county, after all. My nerves were strung out enough without somebody strumming across them like a banjo.
Fifteen minutes later Judas Priest was telling me “You've Got Another Thing Comin'” on some heavy-metal station Kenny had somehow scrounged up, and I had realized the kid was dead right about both the hungry and the boring parts of playing cop. Then Iz came out of the bedroom carrying a box. She set it down next to me and walked over to click off the radio. “How can you listen to that stuff?”
Kenny walked in from the kitchen.
“Where you'd find that?” I asked, zeroing in on the giant slab of pie he was eating out of his hand. “That wasn't here at lunchtime.”
“Freezer,” said Kenny, showing off a huge bite of apple while he talked. “I searched the whole freezer real carefully just like you said, Iz.” He waved his half-eaten wedge toward the kitchen. “S'more where this came from,” he added to me.
“A little focus here, please?” said Iz, grabbing my arm as I turned toward the kitchen. “What happened to âwe've got to move fast'? You can both think about your stomachs later.” She waved toward the box. “I found something a lot more important than pie. There're newspaper articles and stuff about the bank robbery at the top of this. Maybe there's other stuff about your father underneath.”
The pie suddenly didn't look so good; I guess the truth was, I was counting on our
finding anything in Gram's house to incriminate her.
“Finding the articles doesn't mean anything,” said Iz. Maybe she'd noticed my turning green or something. “Your grandma was his momâshe'd keep those just becauseÂ .Â .Â . you know?”
“My mom buys ten copies every time I make the sports section and sends them to all our relatives,” said Kenny. “Moms like to show off like that.”
Iz heaved this big sigh. It seemed as if she had to throw one of those at Kenny or me every hour just to keep herself from filling up with hot air and floating away. “Not helpful, Kenny.”
“Where'd you find the box?” I asked while Kenny made a what'd-I-do expression with his hands and face. I squatted down and set the cover of the box aside.
“It was under her bed. There's nothing else interesting in her bedroom.”
I started pulling stuff out, making little piles. The smell of old school-library books rose up from the box. There were yellowed newspaper clippings and a beat-up photo album and yearbooks and a bunch of random pieces of paper. I picked up the top newspaper article and stared at a photo of a guy in an army uniform. He looked a lot like me. My father.
I realized Kenny had said something, so I made myself look up and say, “Huh?”
“I'm done in the kitchen. You want me to take over the desk so you can start in on this stuff?” he asked.
The piles of papers were pulling me in like an alien magnetic beam. Another part of me felt like you do when it's report-card day and you haven't slit open the envelope yet; whatever's inside could be waiting to bite you in the butt. I took another look at the piles of junk and then I checked out the box's cover.
“Doesn't look like there's any money here,” I said. “And this is covered with six years of dust. I'm guessing it's been a long time since Gram crawled around on the floor to stick things under her bed, so she won't miss it. I'll hide it in my room before I leave and look at it tonight. That way we can keep working on the rest of the rooms while she's still gone. I'll keep going on the desk.”
“I'll move on to the bathroom,” said Iz. “Kenny, why don't you look in the coat closet and in that cedar chest there.”
I had just gone back to flipping through phone bills and church bulletins when I thought I heard gravel crunching outside. Had Deputy Dude come back to try some water torture on me? I got up and went to look out the kitchen window.
Gram was getting out of her truck.
My heart slammed against my ribs like a pinball bouncing off the flipper. I ran into the living room.
“Gram's home!” I worked to dial down my volume. “We've got about ten seconds to get this stuff put away.”
Iz stuck her head out of the bathroom, gave me a panicked look, and then went back in, slamming the door behind her. Kenny started throwing blankets back into the cedar chest. I scrabbled around on the floor, stuffing newspapers and other junk back into the box. The lid wouldn't fit, so I grabbed it and the box and ran toward my room just as I heard the back door opening. I whipped the box under my bed and then took two deep breaths, trying to put on my Mr. Cool mask before heading back out to face Gram.
“Kenny,” I heard Gram say from the living room, “what are you children doing in the house? Why on earth aren't you outside on such a beautiful day?”
“Well, I got to confess, Mrs. Stoiska.” I froze on the other side of my bedroom door. Was that all it took? She hadn't even gotten out the thumbscrews, and Kenny was already acting like a narc?
“We got real hungry, so we came in and ended up eating most of your pie from the freezer. I'm sorry if you were saving it for something special.” You gotta hand it to himâturned out he could lay it on as thick as a Minnesota accent when he needed to. I came out of the bedroom.
“Sorry, Gram,” I said, hoping the pie theft would account for the redness I could feel on my cheeks. “We were starving.”
Gram gave me this long look, making it pretty clear that she still had that mom skill. The one where she could sniff out a lie in two seconds flat. And between snooping through her house and turning her into a bank-robbery suspect, I guess it was no surprise I was sending out guilt waves.
Finally she turned and walked into the kitchen. I looked at Kenny and we followed her. She peered at the one little slice Kenny had left in the pie dish. “I didn't even remember it was there,” she said. “You boys were welcome to it, as long as it hadn't gone bad.”
“Best pie I've had in ages, Mrs. Stoiska,” Kenny said. “Better than Grandma Gudrun's, even. Maybe if you don't mind, I'll just finish off this last little bit so that you can wash the pan.”
I glared at him while he scarfed up the rest of the pie without leaving me even one little bite, but Gram's face relaxed at the compliment to her cooking. Then she looked around. “Isabella isn't with you?”
“Uh, she's in the bathroom,” I said, waving vaguely in that direction.
“You know girlsâtakes them forever,” said Kenny. “I pretty much never get a chance in there now that we've got even more of 'em living at my house.”
Iz walked into the kitchen. “Oh, like you don't spend an hour in front of the mirror every morning searching for whiskers. Hello, Mrs. Stoiska.” A dust bunny big enough to be a dust elephant was hanging off the back of Iz's shorts, but I figured it was probably better if I didn't reach over to brush it off.
“Hello, dear,” said Gram. “Kenny's mother asked me to send the two of you home to get ready for the church fundraiser. We'll see you there later on. I forgot the hotdish, so I had to come home too.” She looked me up and down, and her eyes stayed stuck on my shirt. I looked down and realized it was covered with dust from the box. When I lifted my head again, that x-ray look was back.
“You might want to put on a clean shirt, Travis.” Gram's voice sounded cold. She finally broke eye contact, picked up the pie dish, and headed for the sink. I'd been spying on her. Now she didn't trust me. We were just one big happy family.
Iz gave me the thumbs-up sign and left.
“Later, dude,” said Kenny.
I was now on bad terms with Gram and most of the rest of the town, but at least I'd have two allies tonight.
I couldn't help thinking about that box under my bed while I changed my shirt. But there was no time to look through it right then; Gram was already convinced I had been up to no good, and hiding out in my room would only make her more suspicious. Fortunately, when I came out, she seemed like back-to-normal Gramânot saying a whole lot, but not giving me that x-ray look, either.
I hated to rock the boat, but finding the box had made me want to start fishing even harder for information about my dad. So when Gram handed me the dish holding the food for the fundraiser and reached out for her car keys, I nodded toward that lumpy fish key rack.
“So, Gram? I know about the bank-robber thing and the rough edges, but there has to be some good stuff about my father too, right?”
Gram froze. Then she took the dish from me, set it onto the counter, and put her hands onto my shoulders, just for a second, before her hands dropped. “There was so much âgood stuff,' Travis. I know that everybodyâeven me, I'm realizingâhas been focusing on the mistakes he made. But your father had some marvelous qualities too.”
She leaned against the counter. “He loved his people the same way he did everything else: full tilt. It was hard sometimes to be on the other side of that love, because he didn't think through how concerned we would be when he took all his risks. But he was always genuinely repentant afterward. And he stuck by his loved ones no matter what.”
“But he and Ma ended up .Â .Â . not together. Even though she was pregnant.”
There was a long pause. “I do believe he cared about your mother, Travis, but their relationship was new, and as you just pointed out, it got complicated very quickly. And John was struggling at that point. It's something you should probably talk about with your mother. There are some things that only the two participants can truly understand about a .Â .Â . romantic relationship.”