What we saw at night, p.17
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       What We Saw at Night, p.17

           Jacquelyn Mitchard
 
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  I winced. There was a piercing staccato explosion. Then I froze, my legs turning to jelly. I knew that sound. It was a shotgun blast.

  It reverberated throughout the darkened streets and buildings. Well. Apparently I really hadn’t learned that much from my brief foray into the minds of serial killers. Garrett Tabor was going to defy expectation. He planned to dispose of a victim with a shooting. Which meant I wouldn’t die at the age of thirty after my toxic skin finally gave up on me; I’d die at the hands of a monster on the very roof where I last remembered having real, honest fun with my two best friends.

  “Get the hell off my property,” Gideon’s voice yelled.

  Falling to my knees, I peered over the edge of the roof. Barely visible at the mouth of the alley was Gideon Brave Bear. He swayed slightly but lowered his barrel towards the bottom of the ladder, where Tabor had dropped himself. Gideon cocked the gun a second time. My shaky lips formed a smile.

  “There’s a girl up there on the roof,” Tabor said urgently. “I don’t know what she’s trying to do.”

  “None of your goddamned business,” Gideon said calmly.

  “She’s a teenager. She’s troubled.”

  “Allie?” Gideon called. “You troubled?”

  “Yes!” I shrieked in relief. “I mean, no! I mean, I’m in trouble!”

  “Not anymore. This guy is leaving now.” He lurched forward and raised the shotgun to his eyes, squinting down the barrel. “Aren’t you, friend?”

  Tabor stared back at Gideon. Then he chuckled. With a glance up at me, as amused as it was menacing, he shrugged and marched out of the alley, sidestepping Gideon and slid into his car. “Well, she’s your problem now.”

  “Always has been.” Gideon kept his wavering sights trained on the Alfa Romeo until it disappeared around the corner.

  Only long after the engine had faded completely, only after the other familiar night sounds had settled over Gitchee Pizza … actually, to be completely honest, only after I heard the loon was I able to muster the strength to leave the roof.

  I scrambled down the ladder and rushed into Gideon’s thick arms. I held him tight. The shotgun clattered at his side. He stank of whiskey and cigarettes and garlic. No combination of awful had ever smelled better. I’m not even sure how long I clung to him, but he finally had to extricate me. “Feel like a slice on the house?” he slurred.

  I stood on my tiptoes and pecked him on the cheek. “Rain check,” I murmured.

  Before he could protest, I scurried for the minivan.

  “Thank you, Gideon!” I shouted as I slammed the door. I couldn’t make eye contact; if I did, I might cry. Instead, I drove. I made sure I was halfway home before I dug for my phone. I couldn’t explain the situation to Gideon, but I didn’t want to endanger him in case Garrett Tabor did decide to return with his own gun. I hopped out and threw open the passenger door side, digging under the chair like a squirrel. When I finally found the phone, I realized my eyes were bleary. But it was only 12:05.

  I had three texts waiting.

  From Rob, at 11:25: Can we talk? Is Juliet w/ u? Can’t find her.

  From Juliet, at 11:59: Meet me at Lost Warrior Bridge at 2 A.M. Don’t tell anyone but Rob. Need to trace. Will explain. xoxo

  From BLOCKED, at 12:01: Don’t worry, Allie. The wait is almost over. I’m gone as of tomorrow. Forget about me and everything you think you know.

  Rob was waiting for me at Lost Warrior Bridge. Juliet must have texted him, too. It was 1:47. He didn’t say a word, just hugged me close.

  Lost Warrior Bridge was, in fact, a recreation of something that archaeologists claimed dated back a thousand years. Back to the time of Gideon’s forefathers. Apparently the original bridge had also been built of logs drilled at both ends and joined with thick strands of rope, the ends knotted and crisped under flame to hold fast. It was supposed to be a sacred place, like a museum. But Daytimers still jumped on it and wore it away further, despite its antique beauty.

  I’d never actually stood on Lost Warrior Bridge. It was a good hour from Iron Harbor in the opposite direction of Duluth, and the prospect of driving so far to see a bridge recreation (closed to the public at night) was always met with quick dismissal from Jack-Jack. But for some reason the way people treated it had always rubbed me wrong, the way they were so dismissive of history. When I first realized I was falling in love with Rob, he’d asked me, “Do you really think the fake bridge was built to last forever, Allie? The kids who mess with it are part of history, too. For all we know, the original bridge was fake. It might have been a tourist attraction for the Gitchee Tribe.”

  He was right. For all we knew, everything was fake. The passage of time stamps a label of authenticity on even the worst bullshit. “History is written by the victors,” Winston Churchill is said to have claimed in his fight against the Nazis—and only now did I understand why Professor Barry Yashida had chosen to include that quote in my pre-John Jay literature. Winston Churchill could have been speaking about criminals who get away with it. If he’d even actually said it. Even that was subject to debate.

  Rob stepped away from me and jabbed his finger at his phone. Then he held the screen up to my face. I found myself watching a taped news segment about the imminent departure of the Tabor XP Research mission to Bolivia.

  First there was a wide shot of crates full of sunglasses and gear and the wacky sun blocker some people wear because they just want to experience walking down a beach, even if it’s with an umbrella and a ski mask on. All winter, the Tabor XP team would not only perform surgical excisions, but collect tissue samples from those few who managed to outlive the condition, if not outrun all of its complications. Dr. Stephen would be absent from his duties only for a few weeks, but Dr. Andrew and his nephew, “a nurse, Garrett Tabor,” would be there the whole time.

  The newscaster finished with, “They’re leaving first thing tomorrow, November first. We wish them all well.”

  Rob shoved the phone back into his pocket.

  A car was coming. Before he could speak, Juliet pulled up and leapt out. She wore the bodysuit with the blue glow-in-the-dark stars on it, our original Dark Stars uniform, faded now from too many spin cycles in the washer.

  “I need to do this, okay?” she began. “And I need to go first. Plus, it’ll be a great trace. The last one of our year.”

  She outlined the plan: to leap from the exterior platform of the bridge to the bank beyond. A sign warned that the suspension wires were electrified but, like most warnings in our county, its expiration date probably preceded our actual birth date. Nobody had been electrified here, ever. It was a long jump, more than fifteen feet. But the angle was downward, and if you missed, it only meant hitting deep water after a drop of no more than twenty feet. The current was fast, but not too fast for us. If it did catch us, we’d be swept towards Lake Superior.

  Juliet began to stretch. She took deep breaths.

  The wide stretch of flat beach where she would make her landing, where we would all make it, was plainly visible in the moonlight. My thoughts were racing too fast to ask Juliet why we were doing this particular thing. Was it because she planned to leave with Garrett in the morning? On the sole basis of wanting to trace, it seemed to be very un-Parkour, without reason or destination: just a show-off way to pass time.

  “Here I go!” Juliet cried.

  She scaled the bridge railing and balanced there. Then she deftly whipped her long blond mane into a hair band. It was all off, and at the same time awfully familiar. She stood poised, her legs bent, her headlamp forward. I opened my mouth to shout for her to wait, but she paused before I could utter a peep. She shimmied back down through the cables and planks.

  “Tribe,” she said.

  Rob and I glanced at each other.

  “Tribe,” she insisted.

  We all touched fists, the way we did when we first began last spring, just a few months ago, but so much longer. She put her hand on the back of my head and said, “I love you,
Bear.”

  “I love you, too. What’s wrong?”

  “Nothing. I just think people should say that.”

  “Me too.”

  “I’m proud of you being in college. I’m proud of how you think you really can stop bad people.”

  “Juliet—”

  “Maybe you can’t stop them until after they do what they do, but you can stop them. You can. You’re going to college for it! Rob, aren’t you proud of our girl?”

  “I haven’t even started,” I muttered. “Why am I getting the graduation speech right now?”

  “It’s not a graduation speech. If I were giving a graduation speech I’d say that everybody dies, but what the hell? Been said.” She nodded towards Rob. “Please give this man a big smoochella.”

  “You give him a kiss yourself. What the hell is going on?” Uneasy, unidentifiable thoughts were smacking against my mind fast as bugs on a windshield. “Juliet, I don’t like any of this. If you’re planning something, you need to tell us now.”

  But she was already up and in her stance. Then she leapt. This time her stars truly were dark; I could only see her silhouette. I heard her land solidly, well past the lip of the beach. It was so dark over there that I could barely make out her shape—but it was in motion.

  “Juliet?” I called feebly.

  “Get out of the way!” Rob shouted after her. “I’m coming, too!”

  There was no answer.

  “The woman of mystery,” Rob muttered as he prepared for his jump. We heard a hard splash. I caught a glimpse of something big and light-colored hitting the water in front of the beach. There was another splash, upstream. Then there was a scream.

  “Juliet!” Rob shouted.

  A light seemed to shimmy far back among the river birches, followed by a snap of wood and a crunching sound. Without a word between us, Rob and I ran for the Jeep and sped towards the real man-made bridge, brights on, searching for the first road that would take us to the beach. Excruciating seconds crawled past as we screeched down a gravel road. What if she had fallen after she landed and hit her head? Tripped over a root and rolled into the water? Why hadn’t we scouted the place, as Parkour and good sense dictated? The current was fast. Was she unconscious?

  When we could drive no further, Rob and I jumped out and scrambled down a steep, well-worn track to the spot where Juliet had landed. With his Maglite, Rob swept the shore. There were the prints of the soles of Juliet’s new La Sportiva shoes, along with a deep pattern in the gritty sand, as though something had been rolled to the water.

  Like fools, we screamed her name. Miraculously, for the first time in all the years we’d been outside at night screaming, we actually woke someone up.

  A grizzled man in longies and a flannel shirt came crashing through the brush. “Are you kids drunk? People are asleep up there!”

  “My friend jumped off the bridge!”

  “Holy shit,” the guy said. “Well, why are you screaming? Call 911!”

  TOMMY SIROCCO WAS the first to arrive, accompanied by Mike Beaufort. Tommy pulled Rob and me aside as Mike investigated the beach. He wanted to know “everything.”

  We knew what he meant.

  And as he listened to everything that Rob and I had to say—about the girl in the apartment and the near miss at the parking garage, and Tabor chasing me through the cemetery, Juliet’s father’s face looked like it was aging in fast-forward … his skin loosening as though moments were years, until it hung slack, too big for his face, drawn down by anguish and time. Finally he reached for his pen and pad. Other cops began to arrive. While the officers and the fire and rescue units set up lights, Tommy carefully wrote everything down.

  Still, taken all together, I knew what we’d told him added up to a story that proved nothing at all. That was because I’d left out the crucial element. I didn’t tell him or Rob about the real relationship between Juliet and her former coach. I chalked it up to a “crush.” The word sounded even more pathetic spoken out loud than it did as an excuse in my brain. Crush? It didn’t matter to Juliet’s dad, though. He got it. The fact of Garrett Tabor trying to influence Juliet to run off was enough.

  “Why did you let her do it?” Tommy said finally.

  I felt sick. “They’re not leaving until tomorrow,” I insisted. “I mean … today. This morning.”

  He shrugged. “There’s nothing we can do. To stop a plane from taking off, you have to get passenger manifests from airlines. You have to be able to prove somebody’s involved with something. It would take more than Gideon taking a pot shot at someone who was ostensibly trying to help you.” He studied my face. “Do you know more about this than you’re saying?”

  I shook my head. My stomach squeezed.

  “You suspected something before. And you didn’t tell me before now?”

  “I thought it was over or I would have,” I pleaded, tears stinging my eyes.

  Tommy steeled himself and sighed. “Allie, please forgive me. I know you couldn’t have stopped her.”

  “How do you know?” I said, through tears.

  “Because I never could,” Tommy said.

  Three days passed in a surreal blur. I spent every night alone in my bedroom, texting with Rob as he watched the same news stories unfold. First, dog handlers brought huge Saint Bernards and bloodhounds, tracking dogs, cadaver dogs. The dogs circled the place where Juliet had landed. So the firefighters and deputy sheriffs began to dig into the sand. They dug down to rock, a depth of more than three feet. They found nothing at all. Not a fiber, not a shoe, not a water bottle … not a trace.

  Officially, the search of the river now was a recovery instead of a rescue. I refused to believe it, or acknowledge what that implied. Juliet had vanished for a reason. She hadn’t ended it all.

  Then the call came. The police wanted me for questioning.

  IT WAS COUCHED as “a chat.” My mother needed to be present, as I was a minor. Naturally, the “chat” would occur at night, to ensure my comfort and safety. I wouldn’t be talking to Officer Sirocco, either. I’d be talking to another detective, Deputy Sheriff Sonny Larsen. She was built like a linebacker (six feet tall, all muscle, with blazing blond hair), and had the gruff voice to match. From Deputy Chief Larsen, I learned that Garrett Tabor had received an invitation too.

  “He’ll be joining us momentarily,” she said as she showed my mom and me into a concrete block waiting room, well-stocked with magazines describing weddings of celebrities who had been divorced for years. From behind the room’s only other door (closed), I heard a voice I recognized too well, but couldn’t make out the words. Garrett Tabor didn’t sound stressed at all, though. He sounded calm.

  A few moments later, Deputy Chief Larsen reappeared. “Hello, Miss Kim,” she said. She nodded towards my mother. “Mrs. Kim.”

  “What’s Sonny short for?” I asked.

  “Sonny,” Deputy Chief Larsen answered, without humor.

  “Did your dad want a boy? Or did he think you were very optimistic?”

  “I’m sorry?” she asked, turning her beady eyes on me.

  My mother swatted my arm. “Alexis, stop.”

  “I mean sunny. Like the sun. Optimistic. Did your dad think that?”

  “You’d have to ask him,” Officer Larsen replied.

  Are you alive? I wanted to ask. Or battery-operated? She asked me for a rundown of the night Juliet disappeared. I told her about Parkour. She asked me to elaborate on our plans (illegal, she pointed out) to jump the bridge to the bank. I gave her a timeline. She asked me about Juliet Sirocco and how I knew her. I described our friendship and its duration. I also added that I had a written statement.

  I didn’t add that what I added next I’d learned from John Jay: as soon as the police call came, I detailed every moment of my very unpleasant encounter with Garrett Tabor at the cemetery, including the mysterious texts. Now that my mother knew everything, she was as outraged and terrified as I was.

  Deputy Larsen examined my statement for
several long minutes. She read it once, twice, three times. Then she glanced up. “Thank you for being so very thorough. Now, I think you and your mother and Mr. Tabor owe each other a conversation.” She stood and knocked softly on the door that adjoined the two offices. “You can come in now, Garrett. Sorry to keep you waiting.”

  “I’d rather talk to Allie alone,” Garrett replied.

  My mother shook her head furiously. But I gripped her arm. “It’s fine, Mom. We’re in a police station. Nothing bad can happen.”

  “Alexis Kim—”

  “Trust me, okay?” I whispered. “You know how you hate the word ‘conventional’? Well, this is not a conventional situation. You understand?”

  She nodded, seeing through my skull. He’d be less guarded if I were alone. He’d try to threaten me if it were just us and the police, somehow in some subtle way, even though he knew he’d be observed the entire time. He might even crack.

  “Fine,” Mom said. She shot the cop a cold stare and headed back out to the waiting room. Deputy Larsen closed the door, and the other flew open.

  Garrett Tabor looked surprisingly well-rested for someone who had just flown to and then flown back from Bolivia. He was even wearing a suit. Black: for fake mourning. “Hello Allie. I’m sorry you’re going through this,” he said.

  Really? I almost laughed. He’d chosen the lamest possible script. I said nothing. I stared at Deputy Chief Larsen.

  “I have nothing to say to this man,” I announced. “You can read my statement. If anything is wrong, I’ll point it out.”

  So she did. She read it aloud. “The witness is Alexis Lin Kim, age seventeen, a resident of 1814 Oxford Street in Iron Harbor, Minnesota. The witness swears to a close relationship with the missing woman, Juliet Lee Sirocco, age seventeen, whom she has known since they were four years old. On October 31st, the witness, responding to an unidentified text, arrived at the Torch Mountain Cemetery.…” Deputy Chief Larsen didn’t even look at me. She read on and on, for at least five minutes: about the chase, Gideon and the gun, about Juliet and Rob, and finally about Juliet’s disappearance at Lost Warrior Bridge—all concise, incident-by-incident reportage.

 
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