Principal Down the Rabbit Hole
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Down the Rabbit Hole

Categories:
Idioma:
english
Series:
Echo Falls 1
File:
EPUB, 701 KB
Descarga (epub, 701 KB)
 
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1

Tunnels door de Tijd

Year:
2010
Language:
dutch
File:
EPUB, 290 KB
2

Down the Rabbit Hole

Year:
2005
Language:
english
File:
MOBI , 353 KB



fourteen



THEY ATE AT THE kitchen table, under the sailing-ship calendar. It was different from dinner at Ingrid’s. First, it was called supper. Second, it was happening earlier. Third, they were eating steak, banished from the Levin-Hills’ table because of mad cow. Ingrid loved steak, especially medium rare and juicy, just like this.

“Been saving these,” said the chief, loosening his tie, a navy-blue tie that matched his uniform shirt. “How’s yours?”

“Great,” Ingrid said.

“Pass down that A1, Joe, where she can get it.”

“That’s all right,” Ingrid said.

“No A1?” said the chief. “How about ketchup?”


“I like it just like this,” Ingrid said.

“Me too,” said the chief. “Joe puts sauce on everything.”

“That’s not true,” Joey said, although his steak was swimming in A1 and there was a pool of ketchup on the side.

The chief rolled up his sleeves—his forearms were huge, the links of his steel watchband stretched to the max—and poured himself a beer. Ingrid and Joey had milk—whole milk, which she’d hardly ever even tasted. So good, like a meal all by itself. There was a lot to be said for eating at Joey’s.

“How’s school?” asked the chief.

“Good,” said Ingrid.

“Ingrid’s one of the brainy kids,” said Joey. She felt something press against her foot.

“That’s clear,” said the chief.

Joey’s foot. “I’m not,” said Ingrid. How could a foot pressing against another foot feel this good?

“What’s your favorite subject?” the chief asked.

“English.” Joey pressed a little harder; it actually sort of began to hurt.

“Least favorite?” the chief said. “Send those rolls around, Joe. And the butter, for Pete’s sake. What’s wrong with you?”


Joey withdrew his foot fast.

“Math,” said Ingrid.

“Ingrid’s—” Joey began, and then stopped himself. She knew what he’d been about to say, knew he’d realized he’d be opening a can of worms.

But too late. “Ingrid’s what?” said Chief Strade.

“Uh,” said Joey.

“I’m going to be in Joey’s math class,” Ingrid said. “Starting tomorrow.”

“Pre-Algebra?” said the chief.

“Yeah.”

“Whe; re were you before?”

“Algebra Two.”

“Her teacher was a jerk,” Joey said, a streamlet of A1 leaking from the corner of his mouth. Ingrid felt the crazy temptation—totally whacked—to mop it up with her napkin.

“How so?” said the chief.

“It doesn’t matter,” Ingrid said.

“Just being a jerk,” said Joey.

“Who’s the teacher?” the chief said.

“Ms. Groome,” Joey said.

His father nodded, chewing slowly. Joey’s eyes narrowed.

“You know her?” he said.


“Is she new?” the chief said. “From Hartford?”

“You know her?” Joey said again.

“I think she’s going out with Ron Pina,” said the chief.

“You mean like dating?” Joey said. “But Ron’s a cool guy.”

“Who’s Ron Pina?” Ingrid said.

“Sergeant Pina,” Joey said. “He works with my dad.”

Ingrid, putting more butter on her roll, froze: Sergeant Pina.

“How’s he doing, anyway?” said Joey.

“Be on crutches for six weeks,” the chief said.

“What about that hunting trip to Wyoming?”

“Had to cancel, and they’re fighting him over the deposit,” the chief said. “Pass those potatoes down where Ingrid can reach them, Joe.”

Joey passed the potatoes. “Sergeant Pina was the one who chased the guy into the woods,” he said. “He ran into a tree.”

“Oh,” Ingrid said. A baked potato she was transferring from the bowl to her plate somehow got loose and fell to the floor. “Sorry,” she said, reaching down to pick it up, lying right next to one of the chief’s enormous feet. The laces of his black shoes were untied, black shoes that gleamed even in the dim light under the table; she could smell the polish and see where—what were those things called? bunions?—deformed the leather.

“That’s all right,” the chief said. “Take another.”

Joey put another potato on her plate. “Ingrid’s into Sherlock Holmes,” he said.

She glanced at him. How did he know that? He must have been talking to her friends. Ingrid wasn’t sure whether she liked that or not.

All the heavy features on the chief’s face seemed to lighten up. Was he really a hard-ass, like Stacy thought? “‘There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact,’” he said.

“‘The Boscombe Valley Mystery,’” said Ingrid. One of her favorites.

The chief grinned. His teeth were huge, too, all different shapes. “I’m a big fan,” he said. He clinked his glass against Ingrid’s. “Wonder what he’d think of the case.”

“The Cracked-Up Katie case?” Ingrid asked.

The chief’s grin went away. “That’s what people called her,” he said, “but there was never any evidence of actual insanity and no criminal record whatsoever. She did have her share of problems.”

“Mental problems, right, Dad?” said Joey.


“Don’t know if you’d call them mental problems,” said the chief. “She got eccentric over the years, but at one time she must have been pretty normal. They say she was engaged to the most eligible bachelor in Echo Falls.”

“Who was that?” Ingrid asked.

“Philip Prescott,” said the chief.

“Of Prescott Hall?”

“Yup. The last of the Prescotts.”

“The one who took off for Alaska?”

The chief gave her a quick look. “How’d you know that?”

“Ingrid’s Alice,” Joey said. “In the Wonderland play.”

The chief glanced at him in a way that said Is this my son?

“My dad told me,” Ingrid said.

The chief nodded, helped himself to another steak from the serving platter, cut it into bite-size chunks. “That’s the story,” he said. “Long before my time, of course. This must have been thirty years ago or so. I was a kid back then, younger than you two.”

“Here in Echo Falls?” Ingrid said.

“Oh, no. Thirty years ago I’d of been in Germany. Army brat.”


“He lived in Omar too,” said Joey.

“Oman,” said the chief.

“Amen,” said Ingrid; it just popped out, completely ludicrous.

But the chief seemed to find it very funny. His eyebrows, thick and almost meeting in the middle, shot up and he laughed and laughed. “That’s a good one,” he said. “Have another steak.”

“I couldn’t.”

“This one’s barely two bites.” He plopped one on her plate. “They say her problems started up after he disappeared.”

“He just took off for Alaska?” Ingrid said. “Out of the blue?”

“He wrote a farewell letter to The Echo,” the chief said. “We found it among her effects, saved all these years.”

“What did it say?”

The chief reached for his briefcase, standing by the fridge. He opened it on the table and handed her a yellowed newspaper clipping.

My friends, Ingrid read.

“Read it out loud,” said Joey.

“‘My friends, this may come as a surprise, but after our wonderful production of Dial M for Murder, I feel a sudden and very deep need to refresh myself. My plans take me far away, to Alaska or even beyond. I want honest physical work, space, a chance to work things out in my head. Please don’t think badly of me. Sincerely, Philip Prescott.’”

“That’s so weird,” Joey said.

“What do you think, Ingrid?” said the chief.

Ingrid thought. She hardly ever got sick, so hardly ever stayed home from school; but when she did, she watched those afternoon shows on TV, soap operas, so unreal. Philip Prescott’s parting letter reminded her of those shows. “Yeah,” she said. “It’s weird.”

“He never came back?” said Joey.

“Nope,” said the chief. “Never heard from again.”

“What happened to all his money?” Joey asked.

“I wondered about that,” said the chief. “So I called old Mr. Samuels over at The Echo. If there’s an Echo Falls historian, it’s Mr. Samuels. Seems there wasn’t much Prescott money left by then. They hadn’t really worked for a generation or two. What was left behind got used up in taxes and maintenance over the years.”

Ingrid handed him the clipping. As he put it back in the briefcase, she noticed some color photographs in there. The corner of the top one showed Kate’s body on the floor, her arm flung out, almost as if reaching toward a pile of shoes in the corner. On top of the pile lay the red Pumas.

The chief pushed himself up from the table. “Wash up, Joe,” he said. “I’ll take Ingrid home.”

A question popped up in Ingrid’s mind. “What’s Dial M for Murder about?” she said.

“No idea,” said the chief. He smiled at her. “Let me guess—you want to be an actress too.”

Or a director. But those were secret ambitions, so Ingrid said, “I don’t know what I want to be yet.”

“Give a thought to criminology,” said the chief.

 

Out in the driveway, Ingrid started to get into the police cruiser. “Off duty,” said the chief, gesturing to a pickup parked on the street. He drove her home in that.

“Want some music? Joe likes music in the car.”

“Mr. Strade?” she said.

“Yeah.”

“These men—Albert Morales and Lon Stingley—why did they kill her?”

“The motive?” said the chief. “We don’t know that.”


“Isn’t it a pretty big crime not to know the motive?”

He glanced at her. “What do you mean?”

“‘The bigger the crime the more obvious, as a rule, is the motive,’” Ingrid said.

The pickup slowed down slightly, as though the chief’s foot had come off the pedal. “‘The Blue Carbuncle’?” he said.

“‘A Case of Identity,’” said Ingrid.

He glanced at her again. “Right,” he said.

They turned onto River Road; Ingrid put a name to the street at once: She was learning Echo Falls. It was dark now, the river sliding by black and shiny, like licorice. Once there would have been barges out there, loaded up with shovels for the gravediggers.

“Just between you, me, and the lamppost,” said the chief, “very few cases end up being one hundred percent tidy.”

“What’s untidy about this one?” Ingrid said.

The chief laughed. “Poor little Joe,” he said.

“What do you mean?”

“Nothing,” said the chief. “I’ll tell you what’s untidy about this case. First, Morales and Stingley left prints in the house but only in the kitchen, and she was killed upstairs. We’ve got witnesses who say they sometimes socialized with her, so the prints could date from some other time. Second, they really don’t seem to know anything about the break-in that happened the next day.”

“Why is that important?”

“Because there’s evidence of tampering at the crime scene. Who would take a risk like that other than a guilty party?”

“Tampering?” said Ingrid.

“Meaning that the crime scene was changed.” Before Ingrid could say she knew what tampering meant, he went on, “Plus there’s the problem of Stingley’s physical condition.”

“He limps. I saw it on TV.”

“Says he stepped on a land mine in the Gulf War, although the fact is he never served in the military and was born with a clubfoot. But it’s hard to imagine just about anybody not being able to get away from him.”

“Then what makes you think he did it?”

“Morales ratted him out. We hadn’t been questioning him more than twenty minutes before he described the whole thing, how the victim and Stingley…uh, went upstairs together, then he heard noises but got there too late.”


“Maybe he’s just protecting himself,” Ingrid said. “Maybe he did it.”

“That’s exactly what Stingley said the second we told him Morales’s story,” said the chief, turning onto Maple Lane.

“This tampering,” Ingrid said. “What kind of changes were you talking about?”

They pulled up in front of ninety-nine, all lights shining inside. “Nice house,” said the chief. He turned to her. “You know the way Holmes always talks about the observation of trifles?”

“Yes.”

“After the break-in, I took a pretty close look at the crime scene. That’s basic. And something bothered me. Couldn’t put my finger on it, naturally. Like Joe, not the sharpest knife in the drawer. But procedure says to take photographs before the body is removed, so back at the office I had a look at them. Sure enough, something was missing.”

“What was that?” Ingrid said.

“A pair of red shoes. Can’t make out what kind, maybe those bowling ones. But we’re working on it.”

“You…you think it’s important?” Ingrid said.

“Got to be. Who else would do that but a guilty party, like I said?”


“Guilty of what?” said Ingrid.

“Maybe they had an accomplice,” the chief said. “It’s even possible that they were set up and the real killer is still loose.” He glanced out the window. “Starting to rain. Better get inside.”

Ingrid went into the house. Her legs felt wobbly. Mom was waiting on the other side of the door.

“I had a very disturbing call from the guidance counselor today,” she said.

Dad called from the living room: “Is that her?”








eight



HOW LONG A FALL? That was hard to judge, but long enough for a cry to spring from Ingrid’s lips despite the importance of absolute silence at a time like this. And then, crash, with a capital C, and all the other letters capitalized too. CRASH. A paralyzing landing and she crumpled up, the wind knocked out of her. Maybe paralyzed for real. Then came cacophony, more concentrated noise than she’d ever heard in her life: a wild multichannel soundtrack for a movie—banging trash cans, hubcaps rocketing across a resonating floor, whole glass factories shattering; a wicked symphony that went on and on. When it was over, the silence that followed was even worse. Except for one final sound: the high window banging shut.

Ingrid got her breath back. She tried to wriggle her fingers. They wriggled. Could she move? Yes. She rolled over, got to her knees. Flashlight: still on her belt loop. Was it working? Yes. Ingrid panned the beam across the room, a furnace room full of shadows, cobwebs, newspaper stacks, junk. The trash cans she’d landed on had spilled garbage all over the place. The hubcaps were close to real hubcaps—trash-can lids; and the glass factories were smashed glass cabinets full of ceramic knickknacks, now mostly in pieces. Dust motes by the billion floated in the flashlight beam.

Ingrid rose, picked up her pom-pom hat, brushed something horrible and sticky from her hair. Other girls—smarter ones—were home in bed now, happily—

She froze. A voice spoke in the alley. She switched off the flash.

“Wha’ the hell was tha’?” a man said

“Wha’?” said another man.

“You din hear nothin’?”

“Wha’?”

Then came a tiny splashing sound, maybe two parallel splashing sounds. After that Ingrid heard a quick zip zip of zippering up.

“Dju see a light?”

“Wha’?”

“Light on in Katie’s cellar.”

“Nope.”

“Nope?” Pause. “Don’ matter anyhow. Here’s to Katie.”

“Katie.”

Ingrid heard what might have been bottles clinking together.

“Hey! Wha’s with the grate?”

“Grate?”

“Window grate. Lookit.”

“Stick it back on.”

Grunt. “Like so?”

“Close enough.”

Drunken footsteps moved off.

She wanted to get out of there, get back to her own bed. But the window was closed now and well out of reach, the grate back on. She had no choice but to go up the crude wooden stairs she’d spotted on the far side of the room.

Ingrid mounted the stairs, all of them creaky and coated with dust. At the top she came to a partly open door. A calendar from the Norwich National Bank hung on it. The month was June, the year 1987. Ingrid calmed down. No one in the house, nothing to be alarmed about. Night was the same as day except for lighting. And those cleats: She had to have them. Get a grip.

Ingrid pushed the door open, found herself in the kitchen. She beamed the light around: back door leading to the alley, heaps of dishes in the sink, a half-full glass of water on the counter, fridge in the corner, humming away. Ingrid opened it. There was food inside—chocolate milk, Smucker’s blueberry jam, three pink-glazed doughnuts. So weird: Kate dead, but her life kept on going a little while longer. She’d probably been looking forward to those doughnuts.

Ingrid walked down the long corridor to the purple-and-gold parlor. What had happened here? She’d taken out the red Pumas with the idea of putting them on to save time. Then the taxi had beeped and she’d hurried out. So the cleats would have been right here. Ingrid shone the light around. No cleats, nothing on the floor at all. She tried the sagging pink couch, on top and under, found cigarette butts and empty VO bottles just like Grampy’s, but no red cleats.

Where else? Maybe nowhere, maybe time to go. She’d made an honest effort, if breaking into a house in the middle of the night could be called honest. Then she remembered assistant Coach Trimble: Playing hard, an honest effort, wasn’t the same as playing to win. Ingrid went into the hall, gazed at the stairs leading up into darkness, up where she’d heard a footstep although Cracked-Up Katie lived alone, up where she really didn’t want to go.

Ingrid climbed the stairs. At the top was a room barred off with a strip of yellow police tape. She stood next to it, shone her light into the room beyond, a bedroom, although that wasn’t the first thing she noticed. The first thing she noticed was the sprawled outline of a human body, chalked on the floor. The second thing she noticed was the pile of shoes beside the closet door. The gold lamé stilettos were there. So were the red Pumas.

POLICE LINE, it said on the tape. DO NOT CROSS. Ingrid knew that was important, all about protecting evidence. She also knew that she wasn’t Kate’s killer, and therefore the red Pumas couldn’t really be called evidence, were just on the wrong side of the tape by accident. What harm could possibly result if she simply ducked under the yellow tape, like so, walked carefully around the chalked outline, and picked up the red Pumas—yes!—while touching absolutely nothing else? No possible harm whatsoever. Ingrid held the Pumas tight. Griddie: playing to win.

She turned to go, already planning her exit strategy—touching nothing, using that back door to the alley, home before you knew it—when her beam lit on a stack of playbills on the bedside table. And not just any playbills, but playbills from the Prescott Players, old ones, yellowed and beat up with age. Funny, the way she’d been telling Kate about the Prescott Players and up here in her bedroom were these playbills. The top one featured a production of Dial M for Murder, a play Ingrid had never heard of, and showed a photo of a young blond actress with frightened eyes facing a silhouetted man. Was there something familiar about that actress? Ingrid bent closer. Yes. Kate, even younger and prettier than in The Echo photograph. The very moment Ingrid made that connection, a windowpane shattered somewhere downstairs.

She cut the light at once, stood very still, listening. Had she imagined it? Or had the sound come from the alley, not from inside the house? Ingrid listened with all her might, heard nothing but her own heartbeat, pounding in her ears. The imagination could be very powerful, plus those two drunks might be walking back, dropping bottles in the alley, so chances were—

A footstep on the stairs. Ingrid heard it, clear, distinct, real.

Those little creatures, rabbits and such, that freeze at the sight of a rearing snake and wait meekly to die: for a moment she knew what they felt, understood preferring death to terror. Then she remembered what Grampy said about the point where fear stopped helping and started hurting. She dove under Cracked-Up Katie’s bed.

Another footstep, soft but closer. Then a few more, followed by silence. Ingrid pictured someone standing by the police tape. She even thought she sensed the force of a straining human mind. A narrow beam of light flashed on, arced across the floor, then up and out of her sight. She heard a soft grunt: a man ducking under the tape. Ingrid knew it was a man from the sound of the grunt.

The footsteps drew closer. The feet themselves came into view, lit by the soft edges of the narrow beam: dirty, man-size tennis sneakers with those three Adidas stripes, spattered with dark-green paint.

The feet were still. Ingrid heard the man breathing. Could he hear her? She held her breath. The feet shifted a little. Something shuffled. A playbill fluttered to the floor, inches from Ingrid’s face—the Dial M for Murder playbill. The man made a sound in his throat, harsh and metallic. Then came another grunt and a gloved hand appeared, long and narrow, feeling under the bed. The fanning fingers came so close to Ingrid’s face that she could feel the breeze, smell the combination of glove leather and absorbed sweat. The hand encountered the playbill, settled, picked it up.

The Adidas feet moved away. A small circle of light jerked across the opposite wall in the direction of the door and vanished. The man grunted once more—that would be him ducking under the yellow tape. His steps faded away, down, down. Ingrid, her ear already to the floor, listened hard, thought she heard a door close down below—that would be the kitchen door leading to the alley. She let out her breath, what was left of it, which wasn’t much.

It was cold in Kate’s house, but Ingrid was sweating. She was also shaking a bit, lying there under the bed. The house was silent now. Did that mean it was safe to come out? Ingrid didn’t know. She stayed right where she was for a long time. Nothing changed. The silence went on and on.

 

Ingrid crawled out from under the bed, making no noise at all. She tied the red Pumas together, slung them around her neck. With her hand over the flashlight lens, she had a quick look around the room. Under the reddish light that escaped between her fingers she saw the stack of playbills still standing on the bedside table. Dial M for Murder was no longer on top. Ingrid leafed through: In fact, the Dial M for Murder playbill was gone.

Ingrid stepped around the chalked outline, crouched under the yellow tape, started downstairs, hand still covering the lens. Almost at the bottom, she heard a car pulling up. Then came a sound she was familiar with from Cops, Stacy’s favorite show: the crackle of a police radio. Ingrid hurtled down the last few steps, swung around the stair post into the long corridor. A powerful searchlight from outside was shining through the parlor window.

Ingrid raced down the corridor, into the kitchen, to the back door, broken glass crunching under her feet. She yanked the door open. At the same moment, she heard the front door opening at the far end of the corridor. A man called out: “Hey!”

Ingrid sprang out the door, ran across the alley and into the woods, faster than she’d ever run in her life. A searchlight beam cut through the night, just missing her.

The man called out: “Stop! Police!”

But Ingrid didn’t stop, couldn’t stop. The searchlight beam angled through the trees, momentarily revealing a path ahead. Ingrid took it. The right path? The right direction? She didn’t know. She just kept running. And she could run.

“Stop! Police!”

The searchlight went out. From behind came the sound of heavy charging footsteps, ripping through underbrush, coming closer and closer. How was he doing that if he wasn’t even using his searchlight? Ingrid realized her flashlight was still on, bobbing along like a lure. She snapped it off.

A tremendous crash not far behind her, followed by a cry of pain. A brief silence, except for her own panting breath, and then a police radio crackled through the woods. Ingrid kept going, slower now without the flashlight, but she left the crackling sound behind. No one came after her, no one who made noise or aimed a light. Soon her eyes adjusted to the darkness, and the path began to shine again like polished coal. She ran.

Ingrid could run. Running ran in the family. She ran until she could run no more, which must have been a long time. Shouldn’t she have reached the big rock by now? Ingrid peered into the darkness, saw no sign of that looming shadow. She listened, heard nothing but a dog howling, somewhere up ahead.

Ingrid kept going, walking now and starting to feel a chill, her sweat cooling. Where was the big rock? The path suddenly split in two, two polished black tracks, forming a Y. Ingrid didn’t remember any Y. Left or right? Right seemed best for no reason she could explain. Why hadn’t she taken up the hobby of learning Echo Falls years ago?

Play to win, she told herself.

This path to the right had lots of twists and turns, twists and turns she didn’t remember. The sound of the howling dog grew louder and louder, very near, then stopped abruptly. Ingrid stopped too. She took the risk of switching on her flashlight. There on the path, not ten yards away, stood a big dog, its eyes yellow and opaque.


“Good dog,” she said.

The dog growled.

Okay. This was probably the wrong path anyway. Her best bet would be returning to the Y intersection, trying the left-hand path. Ingrid started back. She heard the dog taking off after her.

Ingrid whipped around, aimed the flash in the dog’s face. The dog froze, one forepaw poised in the air, like one of those well-trained pointers. But this was not a well-trained pointer. Close up, this dog, collarless, turned out to be kind of fat and dumb-looking, with floppy ears and droopy eyes. Ingrid held out her hand. The dog wagged its tail and came forward. She patted its head. It pressed its head against her hand. Simple as that. They were pals.

“Where’s out?” Ingrid said.

The dog ran in a little circle, stopped by the nearest tree, and lifted his leg.

“You’re a big help,” Ingrid said.

She backtracked to the Y intersection, took the left fork this time, the dog trotting along beside her. The left fork led down a long hill and then came to a three-way split, one path going left, one right, one straight ahead. Where was the rock? The previous left fork must have been a mistake. If so, shouldn’t she take the right-hand path now, as a correction? Ingrid took the right-hand path, the logical choice, the choice Sherlock Holmes would have made. She tried to think of any similar situations Holmes had been in and remembered none.

The right-hand path went up a rise, got narrow and almost disappeared, then came out at an opening in the woods. Ingrid found herself on the top of a hill. Down below flowed the river, silvery black. The river? Didn’t that mean she’d gone in the exact wrong direction? The river was on the other side of the woods from her house, miles and miles away, so far she’d never even considered walking to it. And the falls: She could hear them, not too distant, making a sound like people going shhhh. That would mean…yes: Topping a hill on the opposite bank stood Prescott Hall, the old mansion that housed the Prescott Players, all its tall leaded windows dark. Curiouser and curiouser. Prescott Hall was nowhere near 99 Maple Lane. Griddie, deep down the rabbit hole.

 

The sky wasn’t quite so nightlike by the time Ingrid finally found the big rock. She was so cold, so tired by then that she hadn’t noticed the coming of day, and was even slow to recognize the significance of the fact that she could read RED RAIDERS RULE without a flashlight, the only way she could read it now in any case, the battery having gone dead.

“Good boy,” she said, although the dog had done nothing to help, leading her down false trails every time she’d decided to trust his animal instincts. Ingrid took the right-hand path by the rock, this right-hand path the correct one for sure, and headed for home.

Day was breaking beyond any doubt when Ingrid stepped out of the woods and into her own backyard, a gray dawn with thick clouds covering the whole sky. Ninety-nine Maple Lane was quiet. Ingrid crossed the yard, slid open the door to the basement.

“Go home, boy,” she said, very quietly.

The dog wagged his tail but didn’t go anywhere.

“Go.”

Ingrid went inside, closed the door. She hurried into the basement bathroom, looked at herself in the mirror.

Oh my God. Filthy, scratched, blue lipped; and what was that in her hair? A clump of rice in congealed plum sauce? How had that happened?

Ingrid cleaned herself up, not well but quickly, and went into the laundry room. Her yellow pajamas with the red strawberries were folded on the drier. She threw all her clothes into the washer, except for the shoes she’d been wearing and the red Pumas, which she left on the floor, and put on the pajamas. As for the red Pumas—she didn’t love them anymore.

Now to get upstairs and into bed. Ingrid went up, into the mudroom, almost there. Then she heard someone coming down the hall from the master bedroom. Could she reach the stairs to the second floor? Not in time.

Ingrid slipped into the kitchen instead, sat at the table in the breakfast nook, took a banana from the fruit bowl. Mom came in, wearing her quilted blue housecoat, eyes puffy, hair all over the place. One small part of Ingrid, maybe getting smaller, was telling her to fly across the kitchen, fling her arms around her mother and say, “Oh, Mom.”

“Ingrid!” Nothing in Mom’s tone was saying “hug me.” “You’re up early.”

“Uh-huh,” said Ingrid noncommittally, peeling the banana. And anyway, wasn’t it all over now?

Mom gave her a long, suspicious look.

“Did you wear the appliance?” she said.






[image: image]

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For my children,
 Seth, Ben, Lily, and Rosie,
 with love









Copyright


DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE: An Echo Falls Mystery. Copyright © 2005 by Pas de Deux. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins e-books.

Adobe Digital Edition March 2009 ISBN 978-0-06-189129-8
 

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two



CRACKED-UP KATIE was well within smelling range. She smelled like Grampy: cigarettes and booze.

“Little girlie, totally lost,” she said. “Or else running away from home. Is that it? You running away from home?”

“No,” said Ingrid, fighting the urge to back up a step.

Cracked-Up Katie squinted down at her. “Bet you are,” she said. “Bet your whole life’s hit the fan and you’re taking off. I’m a real good guesser.” She stuck the sunglasses in her piled-up hair. “Or used to be,” she said, her voice a lot quieter all of a sudden. She glanced around. Her gaze fell on the Coke can. She stepped into the gutter and scooped the can into her shopping bag automatically, like an assembly-line veteran; a shopping bag, Ingrid noticed, that came from Lord & Taylor. “You a Coke person or a Pepsi person?” said Cracked-Up Katie.

Fresca was Ingrid’s drink, but she said, “Pepsi.”

“Me, too,” said Cracked-Up Katie. “Plus rye. What’s your name, sister?”

Ingrid knew better than to give her name to strangers, especially strangers like Cracked-Up Katie. On the other hand, she had to say something. But what?

“Forgotten your name?”

“No,” said Ingrid. Who could forget Ingrid? Ingrid, a name that might as well have been Geek, Dork, or Loser, a name she absolutely hated, inspired by a long-ago movie star in Mom’s all-time favorite movie, Casablanca, curse it forever. Why couldn’t Mom have fallen in love with something starring Drew Barrymore? Drew Levin-Hill: cool, essence of. But no. When she was eight, Ingrid had finally thought up a nickname, but it hadn’t caught on. Nicknames, she learned, were something others had to give you.

“Then what is it?” said Cracked-Up Katie. “Your name.”


Had to say something, real name out of the question, no fake names coming to mind except Miss Stapleton from The Hound of the Baskervilles. “Griddie,” said Ingrid.

Cracked-Up Katie’s expression grew thoughtful, her forehead wrinkling, pushing ridges of dried pancake makeup out of the furrows. “Griddie,” she said. “Cool. Mine’s Katherine, but you can call me Kate.” She held out her hand. Ingrid shook it.

Surprise. The only person who’d ever bought into her nickname turned out to be Cracked-Up Katie. And a second, smaller surprise: how cold her hand was.

“Nice to meet you,” said Ingrid. The handshaking was going on too long. The actual shaking part was over but Kate still hadn’t let go.

“So what are you running away from, Griddie?” she said.

“I’m not running away,” said Ingrid, pulling her hand free. “I’m on my way to soccer.”

“At the fields up by the hospital?”

“Yeah,” said Ingrid, surprised that Kate would know a fact like that.

“How are you getting there?”

“Walking.”

“Walking?” said Kate. “It’s five miles from here.”


“It is?”

“So. Lost after all.”

“I wouldn’t say lost.”

“No?”

“How can you be lost in your own hometown?” Ingrid said.

“Let me count the ways,” said Kate. With her free hand, she reached into the chest pocket of her lumber jacket, took out a cigarette and a lighter, and lit up, the lighter spurting a foot-long jet of flame. She took a deep drag. “Got any money on you, Griddie?” Smoke blew into Ingrid’s face.

What kind of question was that? After most school days, the answer would have been no, but Mom hadn’t had anything smaller than a ten for lunch money, so $8.50 was sitting pretty in the zipper pocket of Ingrid’s backpack. Did Cracked-Up Katie have robbery in mind? If so, could Ingrid outrun her? Ingrid glanced at those gold lamé stilettos and decided the answer was yes.

“’Cause if you do,” said Kate, blowing more smoke, “I could call you a cab.”

“A cab?”

“A taxicab.”

Ingrid knew what a cab was, of course. She’d been in two, once when she and Mom had gone to New York to see The Producers, then on the vacation to Jamaica, where the Rasta driver had sung under his breath practically the whole way from the airport to the hotel, that Bob Marley song about burnin’ and lootin’. But Echo Falls wasn’t the kind of place where people took taxis. Had she ever even seen one in town?

“Otherwise,” said Kate, “you’re not going to make it.”

“I’ve got eight fifty,” Ingrid said.

“More than enough,” said Kate. “Come inside.” She went up the steps and opened the door.

Echo Falls was a pretty safe town. The local paper—which came out three days a week and no one took seriously (right off the top there was the name they hadn’t been able to resist—The Echo)—printed the police blotter and Ingrid always went to it first thing. Crime in Echo Falls meant lots of DUIs, underage drinking (Stacy Rubino’s brother, Sean, for example), and any-age drugging, some theft, some late-night mugging and second-home vandalism, bad checks passed at Stop & Shop and CVS, a little domestic violence, the occasional bar fight. No murder, no kidnapping, even in the Flats: a pretty safe town, but Ingrid knew better than to enter a stranger’s house, and would never have done so in this case except for the tremendous crack of lightning that zigzagged across half the sky at that very moment, seeming to tear it wide open like a gutted water balloon, raining down an icy flood. Ingrid flew up the steps of the crooked gingerbread house and ducked inside, thunder booming around her.

Kate was already disappearing through a doorway at the end of a long dark corridor. The light was all fuzzy and grainy, the way it got sometimes in high-end movies. Ingrid waited in the entrance hall, the floor littered with unopened mail. She left the front door partly open, but the outside light hardly penetrated. To the right of the corridor, a staircase with warped wooden stairs led up into gloom. Ingrid smelled kitty litter. First she was the one actively detecting the smell; then it was coming to her, growing and growing, an inescapable stink. She looked around for cats and spotted none. From somewhere upstairs came a creaking sound, maybe a footstep.

Kate came back along the corridor, materializing out of the darkness. “All set,” she said. “Be here any minute.” She dropped her cigarette butt on the floor and ground it under her stiletto heel.

“Thanks,” Ingrid said.

“No problemo,” said Kate. “Want to wait in the parlor?”

“Outside’ll be fine,” Ingrid said, as thunder boomed again.

“Parlor’s right here,” said Kate, kicking open a door with the side of her foot.

The parlor: a small square room painted purple with gold trim, the paint peeling everywhere. A dusty chandelier dangled lopsidedly from the ceiling. The only furniture was a saggy and stained pink velvet sofa. Kate sat on it, patted the pillow beside her.

“I’m okay standing,” said Ingrid.

“Suit yourself,” said Kate. She felt around under one of the cushions, fished out two cigarettes, one bent. She offered the straight one to Ingrid. “Smoke?” she said.

“Me?” said Ingrid.

Kate shrugged, stuck the straight cigarette back under the cushions, lit the bent one with another eruption of flame. “So what do you do, Griddie?” she asked from behind a cloud of smoke.

“What do I do?”

“With your life.”


“I go to school,” Ingrid said.

“That’s it?”

“I play soccer.” Which reminded her: She opened her backpack and took out her cleats, bright-red Pumas with glittering red laces ordered special. Why not save time by putting them on now?

“But what’s your passion?” said Kate.

Ingrid paused, the cleat still in her hand. “My passion?”

“What you like to do the most.”

That was easy. “Drama.”

“You like acting?”

Ingrid nodded.

“Ever been in a play?”

“Lots,” said Ingrid. “We did Our Town last spring. I was Emily in the birthday scene.”

“Who is we?”

“The Prescott Players,” said Ingrid.

Because of that fuzzy and grainy light, Ingrid couldn’t be sure, but all of a sudden Kate seemed to go very white, and her mouth opened up, an empty black hole. Had smoke gone down the wrong way?

“Do you know the theater in Prescott Hall?” Ingrid asked. “That’s where we perform.”

Kate rose, her lips moving though no sound came out. She left the room—a little unsteady, maybe because of those stilettos.

“Is something wrong?” Ingrid said.

No reply. She heard Kate’s footsteps on the stairs. Ingrid went into the hall, looked up the staircase, didn’t see her. At that moment, a car honked outside. Through the partly opened door she saw a taxi waiting at the curb.

“Uh, thanks,” Ingrid said, speaking back into the interior gloom. Then she moved toward the door, and as she did a huge cat, the biggest she’d ever seen, almost bobcat size, came gliding in from outside, tail hooked up high and a tiny blue bird in its mouth. Its hooked tail brushed her as it went by. Ingrid hurried out, slipping slightly on the unopened mail, and jumped into the cab.

“The soccer fields,” she said.

“This is adjacent the hospital?” said the driver, toothpick wagging between his lips, face on the ugly border between beard and no beard.

“Yes, yes,” said Ingrid, checking his ID posted by the meter: Murad and then a complicated last name.

“You are pressing for time?” he said.

“Yes.”

He flipped the lever on the meter and made a quick U-turn, driving back the way Ingrid had come. The rain was falling hard as they passed Benito’s Pizzeria, Blockbuster, and Dr. Binkerman’s office, its parking lot now empty. A few minutes after that, they zipped by the hospital and stopped alongside the soccer fields. Empty soccer fields, not a soul in sight.

“What time is it?” Ingrid said.

The driver snapped open his cell phone. “Five on top of the button,” he said.

Practice didn’t end till five thirty. Where was everyone? Ingrid paid the driver—five dollars plus a fifty-cent tip, which was possibly not quite enough, but wouldn’t a whole dollar have been too much?—and got out. The taxi drove off.

Ingrid walked over to a bench on the sidelines and sat down. Cold rain soaked her hair, her shoulders, her back. A thought came, a little late, like maybe she should have stayed in the taxi and had the driver take her home. What was the route from soccer to her house, 99 Maple Lane? Through the line of trees at the end of the field, Ingrid could see the red cross marking the helicopter pad on the hospital roof, and beyond that the spire of the Congregational church. From the church, you went by the village green and turned right at that corner with the Starbucks. Or was it the next corner, the one with the candy shop? Ingrid didn’t know, but it was getting dark now. Time to go.

Ingrid rose just as a car came up the road. A minivan, actually, and green: a green MPV van. Ingrid started running.

Mom was already out of the car when Ingrid ran up.

“Ingrid,” she said, rain dripping off the hood of her rain jacket. “Where have you been?” Those two vertical lines on Mom’s forehead, the only flaws in her soft skin, were deeper than Ingrid had ever seen them, and her big dark eyes were open wide.

“Here,” Ingrid said, moving around Mom to get in at the other side. Mom put out a hand to stop her.

“What do you mean, here?” she said. “I’ve been by three times and Dr. Binkerman’s office had no idea you’d even left.”

“I just got here,” Ingrid said. “I decided to walk.” Maybe leaving a message to that effect with Dr. Binkerman’s receptionist would have been a good thing.

“You walked?” Mom said. “And you’re just getting here now?”

“I got a little turned around,” Ingrid said. All that other stuff—Cracked-Up Katie, the purple parlor, the taxi—seemed too messy to bring up at the moment. “Where is everybody?”

“Soccer was canceled,” Mom said.

“Canceled?”

“The rain, Ingrid. Mr. Ringer called hours ago. And I was at Dr. Binkerman’s at four twenty-five.”

“Oops,” said Ingrid.

Mom gazed down at her. Not so much down anymore—almost eye to eye. “Nothing like this will ever happen again, will it, Ingrid?”

“Uh-uh.”

“Do I need to explain why?”

“No.”

Ingrid got in the car. Mom explained why all the way home.








twenty-seven



THE WIND ROSE AND the waves rose with them, whipped into a frenzy. At first the snug little boat did what it always did, bobbed snugly along, staying warm and dry. Then a worm crawled up from the space between two deck planks. It started mouthing at the wood. Another worm wriggled up, and another and another. Soon there were hundreds, thousands, millions of worms, chewing and chewing, the worms in a frenzy too, eating the boat out from under her. Ingrid awoke. Nigel was whimpering beside her.

 

Brucie Berman got on the bus, did what he must have thought of as a cool King Tut dance down the aisle. No one looked at him. He stopped by Ingrid’s seat.

“Way cool,” he said, “that thing in The Echo.”

“Huh?” said Ingrid.

“About dogs not voting.”

“Guy,” called Mr. Sidney from the front. “Zip it.”

“Thing in The Echo?” said Mia, sitting beside her.

“No one reads The Echo,” said Ingrid.

“I do,” said Mia. “What thing?”

It turned out that lots of people read The Echo, including Mr. Porterhouse, a dodgeball lover who taught gym and was also Ingrid’s homeroom teacher, which meant taking attendance and recording tardies before letting them loose.

“Our friend Ingrid here made the paper,” he said, standing under the basketball hoop and holding up The Echo. He took reading glasses from the pocket of his warm-ups—Mr. Porterhouse always wore warm-ups, the colors always intense—and read aloud: “Heard on Main Street. Best quote yet on the widespread and much-to-be-lamented disobedience of the town’s leash law comes from the mouth of thirteen-year-old Ingrid Levin-Hill, eighth grader at Ferrand Middle. According to young Miss Levin-Hill, ‘The problem is that the dogs didn’t vote.’”


No one laughed except Mr. Porterhouse.

“Get it, kids?” said Mr. Porterhouse, looking at them over the rims of his glasses. “Town meeting voted in this leash law thing—but the dogs didn’t vote!”

Silence, unless all the blood flowing into Ingrid’s face made a noise.

Mr. Porterhouse cleared his throat and read on: “We had the pleasure of making Miss Levin-Hill’s acquaintance when she dropped by The Echo office while researching a school project about ‘pretty much anything.’ Our intrepid middle-schooler, who has chosen ‘The Life and Death of Kate Kovac,’ is a young lady to watch indeed.”

More silence. Ingrid’s embarrassment deepened, got all mixed together with the dread.

“Enough culture,” said Mr. Porterhouse. “Choose up for dodgeball.”

Mia was a captain. She chose Ingrid first. “What school project?” she said.

Who else was going to be asking that same question?

 

At lunchtime Ingrid hung out by the swings with Mia and Stacy. No one actually ever swung on the swings, but they stood in a corner of the yard farthest from the school and partially screened off by trees. Clouds were thickening overhead, growing darker and darker, and the wind was blowing across the grounds, scattering dead leaves and the shouts of a bunch of boys playing touch football.

“You sick?” Stacy said.

“No,” said Ingrid.

“Does Ingrid look sick to you?” said Stacy.

“Maybe a little,” said Mia.

“I’m fine,” said Ingrid.

A football came bouncing their way, end over end, and landed in the sand. A boy ran over, picked it up, turned to run back. Joey. Ingrid hadn’t recognized him at first, partly because he wore a wool ski hat that hid his blunt-feather thing, but mainly because she’d never seen him run before, hadn’t realized he was pretty fast. He saw her.

“Hi,” he said.

Joey threw the ball back to the other boys, stayed where he was.

“Hi,” said Ingrid.

Stacy and Mia kind of melted away. What the hell? Ingrid thought.

“How’s it going?” Joey said. His face was getting unpudgier by the day, or maybe it was the ski hat.

“Good,” Ingrid said. “You?”

“Good,” said Joey. “Um. You know the Rec Center?”

“Do I know it?”

“I mean more like…ever go there?”

“No.”

“Me either,” said Joey.

Silence.

“The thing is,” he said, “they’re gonna start having dances.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.” He kicked at the sand. “Like there’s one next Saturday. With a DJ from Hartford.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Um. He brings his own sound system. It’s supposed to be awesome. The sound.”

The school bell rang, lunchtime over. Joey had dug a pretty big hole in the sand with his foot.

“Maybe we could…go,” he said.

“Sure,” said Ingrid, and at the same time had a strange thought: I’d rather go over to your place and have another look at the catapult. She came very close to saying it—the words were forming on her tongue. Yikes. That would have been so out there, so brazen. Catapult. Oh my God. They’d learned about metaphors. She was losing her mind.

“Sure?” said Joey. “Like yes?”

“Yes.”

“Oh,” he said. “Good.”

They walked back toward the school. Ingrid noticed a police car pulling up to the front door.

“Do you read The Echo, Joey?” she said.

“No.”

“Do you get it at home?”

“Uh-uh. My dad hates The Echo. Why?”

“No reason,” Ingrid said. In the distance a man in uniform got out of the cruiser. Too far away to tell if it was Chief Strade, but Ingrid had a feeling. Joey didn’t seem aware of any of this.

“I read the Hartford Courant,” he said.

“Yeah?” Maybe Chief Strade hated The Echo, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t delivered to the station, where someone might point out the Heard on Main Street column. And what then? Chief Strade would find out pretty soon that there was no school project. What was her answer to that? I was misquoted? She’d seen a million interrogations on TV and in the movies. Once you started giving any answers at all, they had you, would uncover every secret, especially when there were secrets like a stolen murder confession lurking around. How many laws had she broken by now? Beyond count. She’d become a career criminal. A young lady to watch indeed.

“Just the sports,” Joey was saying. “And Dilbert. You like Dilbert?”

Ingrid stopped. “I forgot something,” she said. “Go on ahead.”

“Forgot something?” said Joey.

“My gloves. I’ll catch up.”

“Gloves?”

Almost all the kids were filing back into the school. Joey hesitated. Ingrid gave him a little push. He went off.

Ingrid returned to the swings. She glanced back. Joey had almost reached the school, seemed to have his head pointed in the direction of the cruiser, spotting it at last. Ingrid kept going. She got to the chain-link fence that surrounded the school, not high, maybe four feet or so, a symbolic sort of fence. Ingrid climbed it and hurried away.

 

Cold and blowy. Ingrid wished the madeup gloves were real. She stuck her hands in the pockets of her jacket, bright red, the only bit of color in the whole darkening town. Wally’s 99¢ Video Heaven stood at the bottom of Foundry Street across from the empty wasteland where the railroad yards had been. Ingrid didn’t get lost on the way—School Street to Bridge, Bridge to Hill, Hill to Foundry. She was learning Echo Falls.

Ingrid opened the door and went inside. One of the reasons people avoided Wally’s was the mildewy smell. Another was the gloom, getting darker and darker toward the back of the store, empty now except for Wally, avoidance reason number three, sitting behind the cash register at the front. He wore a tank top and had big flabby arms, a Freddy Krueger tattoo on one and a big WALLY—festooned with razor wire, blood dripping from the tail of the y—on the other. One of the tattooed blood drops had a hairy mole growing in the center. When you noticed little things, the world could sometimes be a nasty place.

Wally looked up from what he was doing, which happened to be cleaning his fingernails with a penknife.

“Help you?” he said.

“I’m looking for a movie called The Accused Will Rise,” said Ingrid.


“Jack Palance and Barbara Stanwyck?” said Wally.

“I think so.”

“Where he says I’m getting on that train and she says if you do it’ll be in a box?” said Wally.

“I don’t know,” said Ingrid. “I haven’t seen it.”

“And then Jack Palance throws the city boy down the well, and just when you think he’s drowned for sure, his head bobs up one more time like a curse?” said Wally.

“That sounds right,” Ingrid said, remembering the details of the blog. “Have you got it?”

“What a question,” said Wally. “This is Wally’s.” He tapped his keyboard, peered at the monitor, nodded to himself. “Here we go—A419, way at the back. Hasn’t been rented in five years.” Wally folded the knife. “Now what was the name of that actor, the one who played the city boy?”

“David Vardack?” Ingrid said.

Wally looked at her in surprise. “Movie buff, huh?” he said. “I got a discount club here, but you need a driver’s license to join. Got one, by any chance?”

“No,” said Ingrid. “Was he in any other movies?”

Wally closed his eyes tightly, his face scrunching up in a really repulsive way. “Drawing a blank on that one,” he said. “Which means no, ninety-nine point nine percent guaranteed.”

“What became of him?” Ingrid said.

“Showbiz,” said Wally with a shrug. “Tell me about it.” Did Wally think he was in showbiz? He pushed himself to his feet. “Anything else you want while I’m back there?” he said.

“Is The Accused Will Rise the one with the honey scene?” Ingrid said.

“Honey scene?” asked Wally.

“Where Barbara Stanwyck keeps spooning honey into her tea.”

Wally shook his head. “Nothing like that in The Accused Will Rise,” he said.

“It must be in another one of her movies,” Ingrid said.

“Nope,” said Wally.

“Nope?”

“She never did a scene like that. You’re looking at her number-one fan. Name me a Barbara Stanwyck movie and I’ve seen it a dozen times.” Wally started naming them himself. “Forbidden, Baby Face, Woman in Red, Double Indemnity, Witness to Murder…” The list went on and on. He waddled toward the back of the store, disappearing in the shadows. Ingrid heard rummaging, grunting, muttering, more rummaging. The phone rang on the counter beside her.

“Wanna get that?” Wally called.

Ingrid picked up the phone. “Wally’s Ninety-nine Cent Video Heaven,” she said.

“You open?” asked a man in a low whispery voice that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Freddy Krueger soundtrack.

“No,” Ingrid said, in case he lived around the corner.

Wally came back empty-handed. “That’s weird,” he said.

“What?” said Ingrid.

“The Accused Will Rise,” said Wally. “I know I had it.”

“You mean—”

“It’s not there,” said Wally.

“Maybe it got put on the wrong shelf,” Ingrid said.

Wally shook his head. “The backups to my backup systems have backups,” he said. “It’s gone.”








nineteen



NINETY-NINE MAPLE LANE had an attic, used only for storage. To get to it, you went into Mom and Dad’s office, the way Ingrid was doing now, and stood on Dad’s desk. From there, a tall person like Dad could reach up to the ceiling and pull on the trapdoor handle. Then the trapdoor would open and a small wooden ladder would extend itself automatically. Ingrid, not so tall, used a combination of an overturned wastebasket to raise herself up a little higher and Dad’s pitching wedge for getting a grip on the actual handle.

The ladder came down. Ingrid climbed up, taking her copies of the clippings Mr. Samuels had given her and the plastic bag of audiotape.

The light in the attic had a golden cast, maybe because of all the unfinished wood up there—beams, joists, studs, none of which she could identify precisely, although she knew the names. It also had a musty smell, not unpleasant, and an air of peace and stillness. Plus tons of stuff. Ingrid hadn’t been up here in years, could have easily spent an hour or two examining it all—old toys, boxes of books from Mom’s and Dad’s college days, a steamer trunk full of God-knows-what, antiquated sports gear like wooden tennis racquets and long unshaped downhill skis, Mom’s doll collection from when she’d been a kid. But only one object interested Ingrid now—a reel-to-reel tape machine, the kind they cut to in conspiracy movies when someone is being secretly recorded.

Ingrid found an outlet, lugged the machine over, and plugged it in. There was a tape already on the reels. She hit the switch and a folk song started up, all about clouds. Folk music was not Ingrid’s thing. She rewound it onto one reel, which she replaced with an empty one. Then she dumped out the bag of audiotape.

She gazed down at the whole big jumbled mass. What was this? An attached Christmas sticker: TO ALBERT AND LON, MERRY XMAS, KATIE. How much more innocent could they get?

Ingrid examined the tape, all crinkly and twisted, especially, she thought, where the head of the hanged man had been. Inch-long strips of white tape appeared here and there. What was the name? Splices. The tape had lots of splices, meaning edits, different sections joined together, like scenes in a movie. Ingrid didn’t know where to begin. How many ends were there? It took her a while to find just one.

She threaded it into the slot at the center of the right-hand reel, pressed fast forward. The machine whirred and started spooling up the tape. Ingrid let it slip through her fingers, hoping to smooth out the kinks. Tape wound onto the reel to a depth of about two inches. Then it snapped. Ingrid threaded the new end into the slot of the other empty reel, rewound, then hit play.

A voice spoke, deep and smoky. Ingrid recognized it right away. Cracked-Up Katie, like she was alive. The sound made her shiver.

“…quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath.” What was this? Poetry, the kind Mom liked? And also about mercy? Kate said, “Oh, sure. Sure sure sure and sure.” Ingrid shivered again: it was almost like Kate, from beyond the grave, was telling her to go it alone.

There was a metallic click. Ingrid had heard that sound before: cigarette lighter. Kate inhaled deeply, let out a long sigh. Ingrid could almost smell the smoke. Kate repeated those words about mercy, this time in a sarcastic voice, like an actor trying different readings. The effect was nasty and for some reason made Ingrid look around to make sure no one else was in the room. She was alone, the attic still but no longer peaceful.

A white edit zipped by with a snick sound. Kate said, “Sixty-three cans times five cents makes…empty, emptier, emptiest.” Snick. Now she was singing, harsh and raspy, “The townsfolk are renovating Prescott Hall, tra-la, tra-la.” Snick. Her voice changed, sounded younger. “Information for Fairbanks? Philip Prescott. No address, sorry…nothing?” Snick. “Information for Anchorage? Philip Prescott. No address, sorry…nothing?” Snick. “Information for Juneau? Philip Prescott, no damn address…nothing, huh? Ever think of trying a little harder?” Snick. Her old worn-out voice returned, now drunk as well. “Information for Planet Earth? Philip Prescott. Do you want me to spell that? K-a-t-i-e. K-o-v-a-c. Little Katie Kovac, the cutest thing you ever did see, actress extraordinaire, stardom bound, tra-la, tra-la.”

Snick.

Then Kate spoke again, but sober and much younger-sounding, almost girlish. A nice voice, with lots of range and feeling. “He’s very talented.”

A man said: “I think you like him.”

Kate said: “Don’t be silly, Philip.”

Philip? Had she just heard the voice of Philip Prescott? It gave Ingrid a chill.

“He sure likes you,” Philip said.

“We work well together,” Kate said, “that’s all.”

“But you’re also attracted to him,” said Philip.

“I admire his talent,” Kate said. “That’s different.”

“What makes you think he’s so good?” said Philip.

“Just watch him,” said Kate. “Did he tell you about the movie?”

“What movie?”

“The Accused Will Rise.”

“The Accused Will Rise?” said Philip. “What a ridiculous title.”


“It’s a major studio production.”

“I’m surprised you can be fooled so easily,” Philip said.

Snick of an edit.

“Are you jealous?” Kate said.

Philip laughed. “Jealous of him? That’s an insult.” But he was: Ingrid could hear it clearly.

“Don’t be jealous, Philip,” Kate said. “You know I love you.”

Then came a kissing sound.

“Is that thing on?” Philip said.

“For my performance piece,” said Kate. “About the whole Dial M for Murder production. I record over it so—”

“I hate the play,” said Philip. “And how many times have I told you I can’t stand that machine going all the time?”

“Sorry, Philip.”

“Why can’t anyone ever just simply do as I ask?” he said.

Snick.

“Say you love me,” said Kate.

“I love you,” Philip said.

Kissing sound, followed by the click of the recorder getting switched off. What was that all about? Ingrid had no idea. Philip Prescott sounded like a combination of snob and spoiled brat. But who was this other guy, the one they—

“Ingrid? Ingrid? Are you up there?”

Oh my God. Mom.

Ingrid snapped off the machine.

“Ingrid?”

Ingrid went over to the trapdoor, looked down. Mom, craning her neck over Dad’s desk, was looking up.

“Hi, Mom,” Ingrid said.

“What’s going on?” Mom said. “I thought you were sick.”

“I was,” Ingrid said. “Then all of a sudden it went away. Like one of those twenty-four-hour flus, Mom, only shorter. And I started getting bored.”

“So you went into the attic?”

“To explore around.”

“What were those voices?”

Mom climbed onto the desk with surprising ease. Maybe there were athletic genes on both sides of the family. She went up two or three steps on the ladder, poked her head into the attic, glanced around.

“I was just playing with the tape recorder,” Ingrid said.


Mom turned to her, feelers in action. Ingrid arranged her face in an expression of pure innocence. “Come down,” Mom said. “I’ve brought you some soup.”

“Thanks, Mom.”

Mom climbed down, Ingrid behind her. Ingrid shoved the ladder back up, pushed the trapdoor closed with the pitching wedge.

Mom was watching her closely.

“Is there anything going on?” she said.

“Going on?” said Ingrid.

“Anything you want to tell me.”

“Just thanks for bringing the soup, Mom. That was really nice.”

Mom gave her a hug. “Miso,” she said.

“From Nippon Garden?”

Mom nodded.

Nippon Garden was Ingrid’s favorite restaurant. She realized she was starving, could have eaten Nippon Garden’s entire family-size sushi sampler all by herself. They went down to the kitchen. No sushi. Nothing on the table but a steaming bowl of miso soup, perfect for a sick kid at home.

Mom pulled on her leather gloves, slung her bag over her shoulder. “Client waiting in the car,” she said. “See you tonight.”

Even with all the business of work, Mom had taken the time for her. Ingrid felt guilty. All these—what would you call them? mental states?—seemed to have a physical feeling that went along for the ride. Guilt was dread without the tightness in the chest part, just the weight in the gut.

Ingrid walked Mom to the door. “Anything you want me to do around the house?” she said.

“Now I know you’re feverish,” said Mom.

Ingrid laughed. Mom opened the door, went out. The MPV was parked on the street, a client sitting in the passenger seat, gazing straight ahead. A man with a fine profile and close-cropped steel-colored hair. Ingrid recognized him right away: Vincent Dunn.

 

Oh my God. Vincent Dunn, out hunting for bed-and-breakfasts with Mom, despite all her efforts to stop him, to keep them apart. What had Mom told him? They would have already established that Ingrid was her daughter, of course; he’d probably mentioned that when he called the agency. So, out in the car, Mom had probably said something like “Mind a quick stop? Ingrid’s home sick.” And then, to his surprise, she’d parked outside 99 Maple Lane in Riverbend instead of 337 Packer Street in the Flats. And after that? Had he said, “This is where you live?” To which Mom would have said, “Yes.”

But then what? If Vincent had followed that up with some remark about driving Ingrid to 337 Packer Street, then wouldn’t Mom have jumped on her about that right away? But not one mention, not a hint, no signs of worry or anger dug into her forehead, just surprise to find Ingrid in the attic. And therefore? Vincent hadn’t said anything about it. And therefore?

Ingrid had no idea. But it didn’t mean he wouldn’t rat her out later. Ingrid was nervous the whole afternoon.

 

That didn’t stop her from climbing back up to the attic. The first thing she did was read those clippings from The Echo.

Clipping one was all about how Katherine Kovac, a recent graduate of the Yale School of Drama, was now living in Echo Falls and would be giving acting lessons for all ages and abilities at the Rec Center.

Clipping two was an announcement of the engagement of Katherine Kovac to Philip Prescott. Hey! She had parents, at least had had them then, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Kovac of East Harrow, not far away. There was also a photograph of the couple. They stood on a bluff, Prescott Hall in the background. Philip Prescott turned out to be a moonfaced, chubby guy with an aggressive sort of grin that reminded her of Chris Farley. And Kate Kovac was beautiful, young, and happy. Ingrid, looking closely, couldn’t see a sign of the future Cracked-Up Katie.

Clipping three was a review of Dial M for Murder. A rave review with praise for everyone, including Philip Prescott, producer and director, actors and actresses named R. William Grant, Bev Rooney, David Vardack, and Marvin Sadinsky, but especially for “the radiant Katherine Kovac” whose “slowly dawning understanding of her husband’s treachery” was “wonderfully evoked.”

Sitting cross-legged up in the attic, the light starting to fade, Ingrid went over the clippings. In “The Five Orange Pips,” a strange story that turns out to be about the Ku Klux Klan, Holmes tells Watson that if you really understand one link in a series of incidents, you will know them all, both before and after. Ingrid had the feeling she was at one of those points of understanding right now, but just wasn’t smart enough to figure it out. Maybe she was a Watson, not a Holmes. She was moping around like that when she was struck—finally, you dope—by the importance of that playbill. The Dial M for Murder playbill that she’d seen on Kate’s bedside table, had been dropped by the man in the paint-spattered Adidas, and was missing after he left.

She needed to see that playbill.

 

Joey called after school. Ingrid, starving, was in the kitchen, wolfing down a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, plus Marshmallow Fluff. Plus hot chocolate for washing it all down.

“Hi,” he said.

“Hi.”

“What’re you eating?”

“Sandwich,” Ingrid said, her tongue practically stuck to the roof of her mouth.

“You weren’t in school today.”

“Sick.”

“Don’t sound sick.”

“I got better fast.”

Joey laughed. “I used to try that, but there’s no fooling my dad.”


Oops. Joey’s dad, who thought she was working on a project and had dropped her off at school. What if Joey’s dad came home and said, “Saw Ingrid out on her bike today, working on her project.” Or even: “What’s your project, Joe?” And all kinds of things would come tumbling down, like her life, for starters. She was standing on top of a tall, rickety structure, very tall, very rickety, all her own doing. There had to be something brilliant she could say right now to keep at least this one mess-up from happening.

“Joey?”

“Yeah?” said Joey and then: “Hey. My dad’s on the other line. Call you back.”

But he didn’t.

 

Mom and Ty came home not long after, Ty limping slightly, one forearm skinned from practice. He opened the fridge, guzzled orange juice right out of the carton.

“Ty!” Mom said.

He guzzled some more, put the carton back, went downstairs. The weights started clanking around.

Mom sighed, turned to Ingrid. “All better?”

“Yeah,” Ingrid said. Mom was about to say something else. Ingrid got ready for Vincent Dunn and how he’d dropped her off at 337 Packer Street, another time bomb all set to blow her tall rickety thing to bits.

But all Mom said was, “How’s spaghetti?”

Never a bad choice. Mom boiled the water and heated the sauce. Ingrid chopped an onion to add to it. Worry built and built inside her. She had to be sure.

“How was the showing?” she said, trying to sound casual, not easy when your face was streaming with tears, even if they were only from onions.

“I meant to tell you,” Mom said.

“What?”

“He knows you from the players,” Mom said. “The client, I’m talking about. Vincent Dunn.”

“Oh,” said Ingrid. “Him.”

“A nice man,” Mom said. “He thinks you’re talented.”

“Yeah?”

“Very. He’s really looking forward to rehearsals.”

Any more to come? Didn’t appear to be. “What else did he say?” Ingrid asked, dumping the chopped onions into the sauce.

“Just that he hopes you get well soon,” said Mom. “I told him there was nothing to worry about on that score—up in the attic like a monkey.” Mom stirred in the onions, delicious smells rising up, mixing together. “That’s about it. We weren’t out very long. There was nothing in his price range.”

Vincent had covered for her. Either that or he hadn’t been paying attention on the drive to 337 Packer Street, maybe had thought he was dropping her at a friend’s or something. But whatever the reason, a warm tide of relief flowed inside Ingrid. The rickety thing was still standing. She was going to be all right.

Ingrid set the table.

“Will Dad be here for dinner?”

“Supposed to be,” said Mom. She checked the time. “Did he call?”

“No.”

Mom gazed off into the distance. The sauce got too hot and spattered all over the stove top. “Damn,” Mom said, turning it down. Ingrid set the table for four.

“Call Ty,” Mom said, draining the spaghetti.

“Ty,” Ingrid yelled from where she stood.

“I could have done that myself,” Mom said.

Ty came up, bare chested, sweating. A vein was throbbing over one of his biceps. Mom, standing behind him, said, “I’m going to get you an appointment with Dr. Pedlosky.”

“Who’s he?” said Ty.

“She,” said Mom. “The dermatologist. You’re getting acne on your back.”

“I’m fine,” Ty said, pulling on his Red Raiders varsity T-shirt, probably the coolest T-shirt in town.

They sat down to dinner. Nigel entered, sniffing the air.








sixteen



“TAKE THE NEXT LEFT,” Ingrid said. “That’ll be River.” Wow. The town was coming together, the neighborhoods and streets taking shape in her mind, clearer and clearer every day. You just had to keep your eyes open.

Vincent glanced at her. “You know your way around,” he said. She noticed he’d put on driving gloves, kind of like golf gloves with open fingers and little holes; she’d never seen anyone wear driving gloves before.

“It’s a hobby of mine,” she said. “Learning the town. I got the idea from Sherlock Holmes—the way he knows London.”


It was dark now. The headlights of an approaching car shone on Vincent’s face, sparkled on his liquid brown eyes. Ingrid was sure she could feel him thinking; she got the feeling he was pretty smart.

“You like Sherlock Holmes?” he said.

“Yeah.”

“You don’t find him a little cold?”

“I don’t think he is cold, not underneath,” Ingrid said.

He turned to her with a smile. “That’s quite a gift.”

“What is?”

“Being able to see what people are like underneath.”

“Oh,” said Ingrid, “that’s not what I meant.”

“What did you mean?”

“Only about Sherlock Holmes,” Ingrid said. “It’s not just solving puzzles for him. He cares but doesn’t let on. And Watson’s not smart enough to get it.” Hey! She’d figured out most of that on the fly. She turned to Vincent. He was easy to talk to. She spoke the next thought that came to her mind. “What about you, Vincent? Do you have the gift?”

At that moment they came to Bridge Street. Left or right? Left, Ingrid thought, but before she could say the word, he’d done it on his own.

“Only—” he began, and then paused.

“Only what?” said Ingrid.

They stopped at a flashing red light. Vincent glanced at her, the light reddening his face, then blanking it out. “Only when I’m performing,” he said, then looked both ways and drove carefully across the intersection.

Ingrid understood perfectly, or thought she did. To make sure, she said, “Meaning you find out what’s inside when you’re actually doing the character?”

“Something like that,” he said. “Left here?”

Ingrid had lost track. She peered at the street sign: Packer. “Yes,” she said, suddenly wondering whether he was saying he saw inside the character, which is what she’d meant, or saw inside himself. “I bet you’ve done a lot of acting,” she said. Down a side street, she glimpsed the green neon glow of the Benito’s Pizzeria sign.

“Some,” said Vincent. “At one time.”

“Where was this?”

“Various places,” Vincent said. “Nothing to speak of.”


Ingrid knew modesty when she heard it. “What are some of the plays you’ve been in?”

“Oh,” said Vincent, “the usual.”

“Like?” said Ingrid.

A moment of silence, tiny reflections of green neon in his eyeballs. “You’re the curious type,” he said.

“Curiouser and curiouser,” said Ingrid, kind of expecting a smile if not an outright laugh. But there was neither.

“Death of a Salesman,” he said. “The Three Sisters. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Di—” He stopped himself, then went on. “And others of that ilk.”

Ingrid wasn’t sure what ilk he meant, but they all sounded pretty heavy. “No comedies?” she said.

“No comedies.”

“Oh.” Comedy was the best ilk of all. “How about movies?” Ingrid said. “Jill was in Tongue and Groove with Will Smith and Eugene Levy.”

“Missed that one,” Vincent said. “I had a small role, long ago.”

“Yeah? In what?”

“Nothing worth mentioning.”

“Maybe it’s at Blockbuster.”

“No,” said Vincent. “It’s not.” He pulled over, stopped the car. “Three thirty-seven Packer Street,” he said. “Your place.”

Ingrid looked out. The house, two doors down from Kate’s, was dark, not one light shining inside. But all the streetlights had been fixed since the murder. They illuminated the FOR SALE sign on the scrubby patch of lawn—RIVERBEND PROPERTIES.

“Looks like no one’s home,” Vincent said.

“They’ll be back soon,” said Ingrid.

“Just the three of you?” Vincent said.

“And my brother Ty.”

“How old is he?”

“Fifteen.”

Vincent gazed at the house. “Have you got a key?”

“Yes.”

“I see it’s for sale.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Your mother’s a real-estate agent?”

“Yes.”

“So that must be her company,” said Vincent. “Riverbend.”

Uh-oh. Ingrid saw a possibly tricky situation lurking in the future, namely Vincent and Mom doing some bed-and-breakfast deal together. How about saying it wasn’t Mom’s company? Dumb, essence of. Was there ever an agent in the whole history of real estate, going back to grass huts, who’d listed her own house with someone else? “She’s with Riverbend all right,” Ingrid said. “But they don’t do bed-and-breakfasts.”

“Really?” he said, slowing the word down the same way that in the audition he’d changed the meaning of the Mad Hatter’s line about not having the slightest idea. “I wonder why not.”

“It’s not a bed-and-breakfast kind of town.”

“Funny,” said Vincent, “with the falls and the jazz barge in the summer, I’d have thought…” He turned to her. “What does your father do?”

“He’s a financial adviser for Mr. Ferrand.”

“Chloe’s father?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Small world.”

Ingrid opened the door. “Thanks for the drive, Mr. Dunn.”

“Vincent, please. And you’re entirely welcome. I’ll just watch to make sure you get in safely.”

“That’s all right,” said Ingrid. “I’m fine.”

“It’s no problem,” Vincent said. “The street is rather dark.”

Not really, with the lights fixed, but Ingrid didn’t argue. She got out of the car and walked to the front door of 337. There were three brass keys on the ring, all pretty similar, Ingrid tried one in the lock. No dice. Then the second, which also didn’t work. Fumbling now for the third, she felt Vincent’s eyes on her back, read the obvious thought: How come she’s having so much trouble getting into her own house?

Key number three. Presto, like in a fairy tale, where everything came in threes. Ingrid let herself into 337 Packer Street, turned with a little wave, and closed the door. She heard the car drive off.

Other than that, nothing. The house was silent.

I’m home. A little shudder went through Ingrid when that thought popped unbidden into her mind.

Light leaked in from the street through one of those fan-shaped windows above the door. Ingrid saw she was in a small dark-wood paneled entry, bare of decoration or furniture. Two doors faced her, both painted black, identical. Eat me, she thought, drink me, and randomly tried one of the keys in the right-hand door.

The key turned. Ingrid opened the door, saw a staircase leading down into darkness. Basement apartment. This was it. She went down, slow and silent.


At the bottom she stood and listened, heard nothing, nothing human, like breathing, sighing, snoring, nothing from the machine world, like a humming fridge, rumbling furnace, or TV talk. The apartment was cold and empty, its occupants in the hoosegow. There was nothing to fear. She found a light switch and flicked it.

A single light went on, shining from a naked bulb in a bracket on the far wall. The main room of the basement apartment had nothing in it but a small unplugged fridge and a strange mobile suspended from the ceiling, made of balled-up and twisted audiotape and resembling a full-size hanged man. Who had made it? Why?

Off the main room was a tiny bathroom, completely empty except for a bad smell, and a narrow bedroom containing two iron bedsteads with nothing on their springs but green plastic garbage bags, one on each.

Ingrid opened them up, both packed with clothes. She dumped them out on the floor and searched through, one at a time. Albert Morales—she knew which bag was his because the first thing she saw was a Midas Muffler work shirt with ALBERT stitched on the pocket—had left behind three pairs of shoes: stinking green flip-flops, scuffed and cracked black tie shoes with worn heels, and dark yellow loafers with pointy toes and tarnished buckles. Lon Stingley had only a pair of felt slippers, very wide, probably because of his club foot. No Adidas with green paint spatters, no sneakers of any kind. Ingrid checked everywhere—under the beds, in the cabinet under the kitchen sink, behind the toilet. There was nowhere else. The apartment didn’t even have closets. No Adidas sneakers, absolutely for sure. Albert Morales and Lon Stingley were innocent—innocent of the break-in, and if Chief Strade was right about the connection between the break-in and the murder, innocent of that too.

Ingrid knew she couldn’t let them stay in jail. But how to get them out? It was all so convoluted now, all so twisted around. Would anyone even believe her? Would she just end up looking like a crackpot, already a convicted math cheat, totally without credibility? And it was way worse than that. Chief Strade knew there’d been tampering and believed that the tamperer could have set up Morales and Stingley or even done the murder. The truth hit her, the very dangerous truth: She had set herself up. Maybe the chief was a hard-ass after all, an unjust one like Ms. Groome. Anything could happen in a trial. Innocent people were in jail right now. And she wasn’t even innocent: Tampering with evidence was a crime, crossing police lines was a crime, breaking and entering was a crime; and there were probably more. What would a jury think? A jury. A trial. Oh my God.

Who could she tell? Mom? Could Mom take it? She might actually have a heart attack. Dad? How embarrassed Dad would be in front of Mr. Ferrand, the contrast between the two daughters set in stone for all time. Ty? Forget it. Grampy? She already knew what he would say—mouth shut, head down, deny everything. Stacy? What was the point of that? Stacy was a kid, just like her, with no power in the big world. She stared at the audiotape man, hanging perfectly still. That last line of poetry Mom had recited came back to her. “I say that we are wound with mercy, round and round.” Ingrid wanted to buy that idea, that she could blurt it all out and then sink into the merciful arms of others, but she just didn’t believe it. It was practically babyish.

There was only one solution. She would have to—

A noise came from upstairs: a loud metal clang that shook the house. Ingrid froze and, in the heart-stopping moment that followed, made a vow to herself: I’m never breaking in anywhere again, key or no key. My nerves just can’t take it. Then came a series of clangs, getting softer and softer and finally dying out. It was only an air bubble in the heating system, or some other technical thing like that. She started breathing again.

Ingrid repacked the plastic bags, shut off the light, went upstairs, and let herself out of 337 Packer Street. There was no one around, just a few cars parked by the curb and a raccoon scuttling through the gutter. Ingrid walked around the house, crossed the alley, and entered the woods. This time it really was just like day except for the darkness, her path clear and unambiguous all the way home. She zoomed. Griddie, the night stalker.

The garage door was open, only the TT inside. Ingrid went into the kitchen. No one there except Nigel, who saw her and thumped his tail on the floor but otherwise made no movement. She went into the mudroom, hung up her jacket. The door to the basement was open and she heard Dad: “Come on, one more, push, push, push, come on now—PUSH.”


Ty let out a furious grunt.

Ingrid went downstairs. She realized she loved 99 Maple Lane, everything about it.

“Hi,” she said. “What’s happening?”

They both looked at her: Ty on his back on the bench press with a surprising amount of weight on the bar, Dad at the head of the bench where the safety stood.

“Bobby Moran broke his arm in practice,” Dad said. “Ty’s starting next game.”

“Even after that flea-flicker fiasco?” Ingrid said.

They both gave her a mean look, the identical mean look, a gene Grampy probably had too, and other Hill men all the way back to some knuckle-dragging patriarch. It was kind of funny. Ingrid went upstairs, heated Ta Tung leftovers, opened an ice-cold Fresca, sat at the table.

The outside lights were off, making her reflection in the window very clear. Because of the window’s angle in the nook, this wasn’t her usual mirrored self but something a little different, maybe the way others saw her. She looked older, for a moment even imagined she was seeing the adult Ingrid, her face harder and determined, a formidable person. Yeah, right.


But something about her reflection prompted Ingrid to finish the thought that had been interrupted by the air bubble clang at 337 Packer Street. A big thought, probably the biggest of her life: She was going to have to solve this case—the murder of Cracked-Up Katie—herself. There was no other way.

Mom came in, the two vertical lines on her forehead very deep.

“Oh, good,” she said. “You’re home. Sorry I got tied up.”

“No problem.”

“Is Dad here?”

“Downstairs with Ty.” Mom’s forehead lines got shallower, almost completely smoothing over. “He’s starting,” Ingrid added.

“He is?”

“The coach has Alzheimer’s.”

“Ingrid!” Mom said, but she was smiling at the same time. She threw her coat on the chair next to Ingrid, kicked off her shoes, slid her feet into the sheepskin slippers, wriggled her toes.

“Who drove you home?”

“Vincent.”

“Who’s Vincent?”

“The Mad Hatter.”


“What’s he like?”

“Nice.”

Mom went into the pantry, started eating something crunchy, crackers or potato chips. “I hope you thanked him.”

“Of course,” Ingrid said. She took out the keys to 337 Packer Street and slipped them into Mom’s coat pocket.








twelve



WEDNESDAY AFTER SCHOOL. Ingrid home alone. She sat at the kitchen table, math homework in front of her, rain whipping by outside at a sharp angle. She counted the problems—six factoring, eight solving for x. X, that obsession of Ms. Groome and all her buddies in the math police.

Ingrid gazed at the page in the textbook, saw a maze, a thicket, a minefield, endless. Suppose she could do each problem in two minutes; the whole thing would take six plus eight makes fourteen times two—twenty-eight minutes. Practically a whole half hour, a serious amount of time, torn right out of her life, lost without a trace, wasted forever. A sin.


“Can you believe this, Nigel?”

Nigel, sleeping on the floor, one paw awkwardly over his face as though warding off the light, had no response.

But what about if she went a little faster, one and a half minutes per problem? That would be…let’s see, fourteen times a minute and a half, minute and a half being tricky…twenty-one minutes. Still too big a chunk of time. One a minute would make fourteen minutes, but even that, so close to a quarter of an hour, was too much. Math homework was worth ten minutes, not a second more. That meant doing better than one problem a minute.

How much better? How quickly did she have to do each problem to get the whole stupid thing over with in ten minutes? Was there a way to figure it out? Time—ten minutes. Problems—fourteen. What else was there? Just the amount of time per problem, which was what she wanted to know. Call that G, for Griddie.

She wrote G on a corner of the textbook page, remembering too late the rule about not writing in textbooks. G was the time for one problem. For all of them, it would be…fourteen times G. She wrote 14 in front of the G. Total time—14G. But total time was also ten minutes. Hey. 14G = 10. So G…turned out to be one of those messy divisions that wouldn’t come out even, forty-two point something. Call it forty-three. Forty-three seconds. Hey! That was the answer. Wow. Forty-three seconds per problem, painlessly quick, if you wanted to be done in ten minutes. But impossible, as least for her. She sucked at math.

The phone rang. Ingrid grabbed it, thinking Jill Monteiro, her heart racing even though she knew she’d blown the audition. But it wasn’t Jill.

“Ingrid? Hi.”

“Hi Joey.”

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

“What’s happening?” Joey said.

“Homework,” said Ingrid.

“Me too. Math.”

“Me too.”

“Um,” said Joey. “Who have you got?”

“For math?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Ms. Groome.”

“You’re in Algebra Two?”

“Yeah.”


“I’m in Pre-Algebra. Mr. Prindle.”

“What’s he like?”

“Gay.”

“Gay gay?”

“No,” said Joey. “Just gay.”

There was a silence.

“How’s Nigel?” Joey said. “Your dog.”

“He’s sleeping right now,” Ingrid said. “He sleeps a lot.”

Another silence. “Do you think dogs dream?” he said.

“Yeah.”

“About what?”

Ingrid glanced at Nigel. If he was dreaming, there was no sign. “I don’t know,” Ingrid said.

“You think there’s a way to find out?” Joey said.

“What dogs dream about?”

“Uh-huh.”

“You mean like an experiment or something?”

“Yeah.”

An interesting idea, the kind she wouldn’t have had in a million years. “You could do something for the science fair,” she said.

“I’ve already got a project.”

“What is it?”


“I’m building a catapult.”

“A catapult?”

“Like in Lord of the Rings where the orcs lobbed the bodies into Minas Tirith.”

“Cool.”

“Not full-scale,” said Joey. “I could lob maybe mice.”

“That wouldn’t be as scary,” Ingrid said.

Silence.

“You could see it, if you want,” Joey said.

“The catapult?”

“Uh-huh. After school. I’m on bus two.” She’d need a note to change buses. “My dad could drive you home.”

“That sounds—” Beep. “Joey? Hang on a second. I’ve got another call. Hello?”

“Hello. Tim Ferrand. Is Mark there?”

“Hi, Mr. Ferrand.”

A little pause. “Ingrid?”

“Hi. He’s not here.”

“Do you know where I can reach him?”

“Probably at the office.”

Mr. Ferrand’s voice, kind of impatient to begin with, got a little sharper. “I’m at the office.”

“Oh.”


Click.

Ingrid hit flash to get back to Joey.

“Joey?”

“Hi.”

Beep.

“Hang on.” She hit flash again. “Hello?”

“Hey.” Stacy. “You watching TV?”

“No.”

“Turn on channel nine. Quick.”

Ingrid switched on the under-cupboard TV, found channel nine. A reporter was standing in front of 341 Packer Street, and the writing at the bottom of the screen read ECHO FALLS MURDER. “…suspects lived two doors down,” the reporter was saying. The camera panned down the street, zoomed in on 337. There was a FOR SALE sign outside—Riverbend Properties, the company Mom worked for. “Morales and Stingley were arrested by Echo Falls police on Sunday,” the reporter said. Footage came on of police marching Morales and Stingley into the station.

“Are they nasty-looking or what?” said Stacy.

But Ingrid wasn’t looking at their faces. She was bent close to the screen, peering at their shoes. Morales wore beige work boots; Stingley, who walked with a pronounced limp, dragging his right leg, had on black hightops. That didn’t prove anything: Somewhere in the basement apartment at 337 Packer Street there might be a pair of paint-spattered Adidas sneakers. But one thing Ingrid knew: Whoever had broken into 341 and stood over the bed hadn’t walked with a limp. Did that mean Stingley, at least, was innocent for sure? That feeling of dread stirred inside her.

The news shifted to another story—people lined up at a convenience store for lottery tickets.

“Stace? I’ll call you back.”

She hit flash.

“Joey?”

No one there. The door opened and Mom came in with a bag from Ta Tung Palace. “Who’s Joey?” she said.

“Joey?”

“Didn’t you just say Joey?”

Ty came in behind Mom, dumped his backpack on the floor.

“Not there, Ty, please,” said Mom. She looked tired. “How many times do I have to ask you?”

“You’re so uptight,” Ty said, grabbing the backpack, rounding the corner, tossing it into the mudroom, where it knocked something over. He looked tired too.

Mom turned to Ingrid, her eyes a little confused. Ingrid could tell she couldn’t remember what they’d been talking about. Just as well.

They sat down to dinner: spring rolls, dun dun noodles, orange chicken, Szechuan shrimp with onions. Nigel woke up. Ingrid got out the chopsticks—Chinese food always tasted better with chopsticks.

“Where’s Dad?” Ty said.

“Working late,” said Mom. “Anything interesting happen today?”

Ty shrugged.

“Ingrid?” Mom said.

Ingrid, chopsticking up a slippery shrimp no problem, like she hailed from Haiphong, said, “Not that I can think of.”

“What’s happening in English?”

“We’re reading poems.”

“Such as?”

English was Ingrid’s favorite subject, by far, but today’s class seemed long ago. She realized she was tired too, the whole family tired at once. “There was one about daffodils.”


Mom’s eyes brightened. “‘I wandered lonely as a cloud,’” she said, “‘That floats on high o’er vales and hills, When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils.’”

“Hey,” Ingrid said.

Ty paused in midchew. “How do you know that?” he said; midchew of an orange chicken ball, Ingrid saw.

“I just do.”

“But how?” Ingrid said.

Mom looked a little embarrassed. “Don’t laugh,” she said. “But as a kid, I wanted to be a poet. My poetry was terrible, so I decided to memorize great poems in the hope it would rub off.”

“Like how many?” Ty said.

“How many poems?” said Mom. “Oh, I don’t know, lots. I got good at it—I guess that was my talent, memorizing poetry.”

“Say some more,” Ingrid said.

“Of ‘Daffodils?’”

“Something else.”

Mom thought. Then she said:


“That sunny dome! those caves of ice!

And all who heard should see them there,


And all should cry, Beware! Beware!

His flashing eyes, his floating hair!

Weave a circle around him thrice,

And close your eyes with holy dread,

For he on honeydew hath fed,

And drunk the milk of Paradise.”



“What the hell’s all that about?” said Ty.

“Something scary,” said Ingrid. “What is it about, Mom?”

Mom didn’t answer the question. Instead, she smiled a wise sort of smile, and in a quieter voice, recited:


“I say that we are wound

With mercy round and round

As if with air.”



“Hey,” Ingrid said.

Mom didn’t look so tired anymore.

The door opened, and Dad came in with a bouquet of mixed flowers in his hand. He handed them to Mom.

“They’re beautiful,” Mom said. “What’s the occasion?”


“No occasion,” said Dad. He sat at the table. “I’m starving,” he said, and started eating out of a carton.

“Let me get you a plate,” Mom said. She got him a plate; opened a bottle of wine too, which normally happened only on weekends. Dad took a big drink.

“Long day?” Mom said.

“No complaints,” Dad said. “That Blueberry Crescent sale go through?”

“Not yet,” said Mom. “They’re haggling over whether the freezer stays or goes.”

“What’s your cut?”

“One and a half percent of three twenty.”

“Forty-eight hundred,” Dad said. He was amazing with numbers. And Mom had all this poetry in her. Together they had it made.

“Let’s go somewhere,” Ingrid said.

“What do you mean?” said Mom.

“With the forty-eight hundred. Chloe Ferrand went to Barbados for the weekend.”

“When were you talking to her?” Dad said.

“At the audition.” Ingrid glanced at the clock. Maybe Jill wasn’t even going to call, would be e-mailing the bad news instead. Yeah, that was it.

Dad dipped a spring roll in plum sauce; Chinese food was great, and plum sauce most of all. “The Ferrands and us aren’t in the same league,” he said.

Ingrid knew that, of course, but it was depressing to hear it coming from Dad. “He called, by the way,” she said.

“Who?”

“Mr. Ferrand.”

“When was this?”

“A while ago.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

Uh-oh. Some kind of mood change—why, she had no idea. “I just did,” Ingrid said, maybe a little rudely, but it came out so fast.

“Thanks,” said Dad, rude right back. He took out his cell phone and went into the dining room. “Tim?” he said, and closed the door.

Ingrid cleared the table. Mom loaded the dishwasher. Ty went into the little pantry and started eating something that made crunchy sounds, probably potato chips. Dad returned, shaking his head.

“He’s in some kind of a mood,” Dad said.

“Why?” asked Mom, pushing the energy-saver button on the dishwasher.

“No idea,” Dad said.

Strange, thought Ingrid, Dad’s moods and Mr. Ferrand’s. She made a big decision: No way she was going to work for anyone but herself.

The phone rang. Ty stepped out of the pantry, answered it.

“For you,” he said, handing the phone to Ingrid.

Yes, potato chips: Their oil was now all over the receiver, and therefore on her hand and in her hair, just washed this very—

“Ingrid?”

Jill Monteiro. Ingrid went still.

“Or,” said Jill, “should I say Alice?”








Peter Abrahams


Down the Rabbit Hole


An Echo Falls Mystery

[image: image]













nine



TWENTY MINUTES LATER, Mom had gone out for Sunday bagels and lox and Ingrid was in her own blessed bed, Mister Happy tucked in beside her. Seconds after that she was asleep. Stormy seas rose all around her, but she was snug in her sturdy boat—dry, warm, safe.

 

“Hey.”

Ingrid opened her eyes, the lids almost glued together with eye crust. Ty was at her door.

“Phone,” he said, and tossed it to her.

She missed. The phone bounced on the bed, hit the wall. She grabbed it.


“Hello?”

“Ingrid? Jill Monteiro.” Ingrid sat up; Jill Monteiro was director of the Prescott Players. “I hope I didn’t wake you.”

“Oh, no,” said Ingrid. “Not me.”

“We’ll be auditioning for Alice in Wonderland Tuesday at five,” Jill said. “Hope you can make it. There’re all kinds of good parts.”

“Like Alice?” Ingrid said, unable to stop herself.

Jill laughed. She had a great laugh, surprisingly deep and wicked; she’d used it once in a real Hollywood movie called Tongue and Groove, all about home-renovating hijinks with Will Smith and Eugene Levy. Straight to video, but JILL MONTEIRO was on the box, tiny but there.

Alice: a plum role. Ingrid had a copy of the book on her shelf. She took it into the bathroom, poured a huge hot bubble bath, got in, and started leafing through the pages. The trick was going to be keeping Alice from sounding like a geek. Ingrid practiced saying “he’s perfectly idiotic,” “the stupidest tea party I ever was at in all my life,” “mustard isn’t a bird,” and “you’re nothing but a pack of cards,” trying to inject at least a bit of cool. Acting was all about cool; she’d learned that at the movies.


 

When Ingrid went downstairs, she found everyone in the TV room, Dad and Ty watching football, Mom going through some listing sheets.

“I found your cleats,” Mom said.

“Oh.”

“Don’t you want to know where?”

“Okay.”

“In the laundry room.”

“Oh.”

“Try to keep track of your things, Ingrid. I put the cleats over there by the—” Mom paused, looked out the slider. “There’s a strange dog in the yard,” she said.

They all looked. A strange dog—with floppy ears and droopy eyes, coat a kind of tweedy brown—but not strange to Ingrid. He stood right outside the slider, peering in, tail wagging as if he’d spotted someone, although the only thing in his line of sight was the StairMaster.

Dad and Ty turned back to the TV.

“Did you see that hit?” Dad said.

Mom got up, went to the slider.

“Go on, go home,” Mom said. The dog wagged his tail, still looking off in the wrong direction. “He’s not wearing a collar. Anyone seen this dog before?”

No one answered, Dad and Ty probably too into the game to have even heard, Ingrid because, well, because where would she start?

Mom took her cell phone out of her pocket, called the shelter, described the dog. That was Mom, organized, quick, on task. No such dogs reported missing in Echo Falls, and the shelter didn’t do pickups on weekends.

“He’s kind of cute,” Mom said. Ingrid saw where this might be going, tried to head it off.

“He’s the dumbest dog on the planet,” she said.

Mom looked surprised. “What makes you say that?”

Uh-oh. Those feelers of Mom’s: almost impossible to outthink them. “Just look at him,” she said. It was true. He was the kind of dog that in a cartoon would harrumph a lot and play second fiddle.

“I think he’s cute,” Mom said. She opened the slider.

The dog came right in as if totally familiar with the place, trotted past Mom, and stood in front of Ingrid, mouth open and tongue hanging out.

“He likes you,” Mom said. “Give him a pat.”


Ingrid gave him a pat. He did that head-pressing thing, shoving his head against her hand.

“Mark,” said Mom. “Look how the dog likes Ingrid.”

Dad didn’t hear: Football put males in a trance, maybe a handy fact to keep in mind.

“You know what I’m thinking, Ingrid?” Mom said.

Ingrid knew, but she said, “What?”

“If no one claims him, maybe we should at least give him a temp—”

Mom’s phone rang. She listened for a moment, hung up. “We’ll talk about it later. I’ve got to go show Blueberry Crescent.”

“What’s the price on that?” Dad said, eyes on the screen.

“They’re asking three thirty,” Mom said.

Mom left. A few minutes after that, Dad got up and said, “Maybe I’ll go into the office for a while.”

“What about the game?” Ty said.

“It’s getting out of hand,” Dad said.

“Seventeen-ten’s not out of hand,” Ty said.

“I’ll tell that to Tim Ferrand when my report’s not ready,” Dad said. He left too.

Ingrid sat on the couch near Ty. The dog followed, stood at her feet; didn’t sit, just stood there. On the screen a player in green and gold knocked down a pass and did a funny hip-hop dance.

“You should try that,” Ingrid said.

“Are you nuts? I’d be off the team.”

“I meant after you made a great play.”

“When’s that going to happen?”

Ty had never asked her a question like that, like he was leaning on her or something. “You’re just a freshman,” Ingrid said. “The only one on the varsity.”

“Not for long,” Ty said.

“That can’t be true,” Ingrid said. “You’re so fast.”

Ty snorted.

“How were you supposed to know about that stupid flea-flicker?” Ingrid said; unless he’d listened to her, but too late to bring that up.

And maybe she should have kept her mouth shut completely, because Ty turned on her, his face going bright red. “What the hell do you know?”

That annoyed her, especially after all she’d done to try to warn him, annoyed her enough to change her mind about keeping her mouth shut. “I’d know enough not to fall for it twice,” Ingrid said.

What happened next was so fast, Ingrid didn’t understand at first, didn’t even feel the pain. Ty sprang across the couch and hit her. Maybe he was aiming for her arm or shoulder; his fist did graze her shoulder, but where it landed was on her right eye. Ingrid fell sideways, hand going up to her eye, hardly aware of Ty bolting out of the room, kicking something, yelling, “I hate football.”

Now she felt the pain. Not enough pain to make her cry, but she was crying anyway. Nothing like this had ever happened. Ty’s speech could be rough sometimes, and when they were much younger he’d gone through a stage of shutting her in the broom closet when Mom and Dad were out, but he’d never actually hit her, and she’d have thought they’d outgrown the possibility by now.

Ingrid felt the dog pressing his head against her leg. She stopped crying, gave him a pat. He pressed harder.

“You’re pretty strong for a fat guy,” she said, brushing tears away on the back of her sleeve.

He wagged his tail, a scraggly thing with burrs in it. A TV commentator said, “That’s what they call lowering the boom.” Ingrid got up and switched him off. She heard water running in the pipes: Ty taking a shower, or washing his face. She didn’t want to be in the house. Confiding in Ty: She’d actually considered that?

“Come on, boy,” Ingrid said. She got her jacket from upstairs and opened the slider.

He came out and shook himself the way dogs do when they’re wet, which he wasn’t, of course. “Know any tricks?” she said.

He pressed his head against her leg.

“That’s not a trick.”

Ingrid picked up a twig. At the mere sight of a picked-up twig, Flanders would have been springing up and down and barking his head off. This dog didn’t seem to notice. He was looking at nothing in particular.

“Here’s a stick,” Ingrid said, waving it before his eyes. She flicked it backhand about ten feet away, right in front of him. “Go get it. Get the stick.”

His mouth opened and his tongue appeared. He gazed off into the middle distance. That was it.

“Come on,” Ingrid said. She walked over to the twig, picked it up. He stood beside her, watching. Watching her do the retrieving, you could almost think, like he was the one doing the training. You could almost think that, but not if you looked at his dumb face, which reminded her of Nigel Bruce, who’d played Dr. Watson to Basil Rathbone’s Holmes. Ingrid had all the videos.

“Smell the stick,” Ingrid said, holding it close to his nose. He averted it slightly, a strangely delicate movement, like an aristocrat who’d been offered a pastrami sandwich.

“Go get it,” Ingrid said, throwing it again. She pointed.

This time the dog ambled off in the general direction of the twig. He came quite close, actually stepping over it, before making a sharp turn and heading into the woods.

“Hey!”

He kept going, past the oak with the split trunk where she and Ty had built a tree house, now in disrepair, around a bend and out of sight.

“Hey. Come back here.”

Ingrid ran after him, not her fastest, no way she could run her fastest, still sore all over from the night in the woods. And the woods were the last place she wanted to be right now.

“Dog!” She didn’t even know his name. “Come here.”

Ingrid tore along the path, back in the damn woods. Up ahead she caught sight of him squatting, the lower half of him all urgent and straining, his head in the clouds.

“Stay.”


But he didn’t stay. As soon as he was done, he took off again, trotting in his clumsy way, like that beer-belly guy who jogged past their house every Sunday.

“Come back, you moron.”

But he didn’t. The stupid jerk got all the way to the big rock before Ingrid caught up with him. He’d come to a stop, was just standing still, almost alert-looking, sniffing the air.

“Move an inch and you’re dead,” Ingrid said.

The dog turned his head backward in her direction, one of those weird angles dogs can do.

“I mean it,” Ingrid said.

A man stepped out from behind the rock. He was very big, with broad shoulders and a barrel chest. The dog saw him and wagged his scruffy tail.

“Just who are you planning to kill?” the man said.

Ingrid backed up.

“I wasn’t—” she began.

And then someone else stepped out from behind the rock, someone in an Echo Falls Pop Warner jacket, someone she knew.

“Ingrid?” said Joey Strade.

“Hi,” Ingrid said.

“Hey,” said Joey. He rocked back and forth a little.


“Manners,” said the big man.

“This your dog?” Joey said.

“Kind of,” said Ingrid.

“Manners means introduce me to