Shelter Page 11

“Is he your father?” Spoon asked.

“My uncle.”

“Oh.” We kept walking. “The basketball team was eighteen and five last year,” Spoon said. “They lost in the state finals. The top six players are all returning. They’ll be seniors this year.”

I knew all this. It was one of the reasons I, a lowly sophomore, was keeping my own game under wraps for the time being. I hadn’t played in town yet, choosing instead to find more competitive pickup games in Newark.

We passed a football practice for kids who couldn’t have been older than ten. The coaches screamed like it was Division I-A. This town was big on athletics. The first week of school I asked someone how many pro athletes had come out of this high school. The answer was one: my uncle. And in truth he never really played pro basketball. He was drafted in the first round but blew out his knee in preseason. Boom, like that, his career was over. Uncle Myron never got to suit up for the Celtics. I thought about that sometimes, about what that must have been like, and I wonder if that explained the tension between him and my dad.

But it was still Myron’s fault—what happened between him and my dad. So I saw no reason to forgive.

“It’s up this way,” Spoon said.

The stone sign in front of what looked like a new development read THE PREMA ESTATES. The area reeked of new money. The streets were well lit. The lawns couldn’t have been greener without using an industrial-strength spray paint. The landscaping was almost too polished, like a show that had over-rehearsed. The sprawling mansions were brick and stone, trying to look old and stately but missing.

When we hit the top of Carmenta Terrace, I looked out at the Kents’ house and felt my heart drop.

Four police cars, all with spinning lights, were parked in front of it. Worse, there was an ambulance in the driveway. I broke into a run. Despite being a foot shorter, Spoon stayed with me stride for stride. There were police officers on the lawn. One was talking to what I assumed was a neighbor. The cop was taking notes. The front door of the Kent house was open. I could see a foyer and a big chandelier and a cop on guard.

When we reached the curb, Spoon pulled up. I didn’t stop. I ran toward the door. The cop at the door turned, startled, and yelled, “Halt.”

I did. “What happened?” I asked him.

Spoon came up next to me. The cop frowned his disapproval with everything he had. Not just his mouth frowned. All of him joined in. He had a unibrow and Cro-Magnon forehead. They frowned too. He glared at Spoon, then turned it back at me. “And you are?”

“I’m a friend of Ashley’s,” I said.

He crossed his arms over a chest that could have doubled as a paddleball court. “Did I ask you for a list of your friends?” he said with a gigantic sigh. “Or did I ask who you are?”

Oh boy. “My name is Mickey Bolitar.”

That got the brow up in the air. “Hold up a second. You’re Myron’s kid?”

He said Myron’s name like he was spitting something really foul out of his mouth. “No. His nephew. If you could just tell me—”

“Do I look like a librarian?” he snapped.

“Excuse me?”

“You know. A librarian. I mean, do you think I’m here to answer your questions? Like a librarian.”

I glanced at Spoon. He shrugged. I said, “No. No, I don’t think you’re a librarian.”

“You being a wise guy?”

“Me? No.”

He shook his head. “Smart mouth. Just like your uncle.”

I was tempted to tell him that I didn’t like my uncle either. I figured that it would bond us, like pulling a thorn from his paw, but no matter what I felt about my uncle, I wasn’t about to sell my family down the river to appease Mr. Cro-Magnon.

Spoon said, “Officer?”

He turned hard at him. “What?”

“You’re being rude,” Spoon said.

Oh boy.

“What did you say to me?”

“You’re a civil servant. You’re being rude.”

Cro-Magnon pushed his chest so it was right up against Spoon’s face. Spoon did not step back. Cro-Magnon stared down at him and then narrowed his eyes. “Wait a second. I know you. You were picked up last year, weren’t you? Twice.”

“And released,” Spoon said. “Twice.”

“Yeah, I remember. Your father wanted to sue us for false arrest or some crap like that. You’re that old janitor’s kid, right?”

“I am.”

“So,” Cro-Magnon said with a sneer, “does your dad still clean toilets for a living?”

“Sure, that’s his job,” Spoon said, pushing up his glasses. “Toilets, sinks, floors—whatever needs cleaning.”

The guilelessness threw him. I quickly stepped in. “Look, we aren’t looking to cause any trouble. I just want to make sure my friend is okay.”

“Big hero,” he said, turning back to me. I saw now that he wore a name tag—TAYLOR. “Like your uncle.” Taylor made a big production of putting his hands on his hips. “Strange you two being out so late on a school night.”

I tried not to make a face. “It’s eight o’clock.”

“You being a wise guy again?”

I needed to get past this guy.

“Maybe you two should come with me.”

“Where?” I asked.

Taylor put his face so close to mine I could bite his nose. “How about a holding cell, smart guy? You like that idea?”

Spoon said, “No.”

“Well, that’s where you’re heading if you don’t start answering my questions. There’s this one we got down in Newark I think will be perfect for you two. I can put you in separate cells. Adult population. One guy we have in holding right now, he’s seven feet tall and got these really long fingernails because, well, he likes to scratch things.”

He grinned at us.

Spoon swallowed hard. “You can’t do that,” he said.

“Aw, you gonna cry?”

“We’re minors,” Spoon said. “If you arrest us, you need to contact our parents or guardian.”

“Can’t,” Taylor said with a smirk. “Your daddy is too busy scrubbing toilets with his brush.”

“He doesn’t use a brush,” Spoon said. “He uses your mama’s face.”

Oh boy.

Something behind Taylor’s eyes exploded. His face went scarlet red. I thought that maybe he was having a stroke. His hands formed fists. Spoon stood right there. He pushed his glasses back up his nose. I thought that Taylor was going to punch him. Maybe he would have, but a voice yelled, “Out of the way, coming through.”

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