What we saw at night, p.20
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       What We Saw at Night, p.20

           Jacquelyn Mitchard
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  His silhouette stood in stark relief against the seam between the sky and dark water. Three floors and a hundred yards separated us, and still, when he waved the flashlight across the balcony, I had to stifle a shriek. Far off, miles down the road, a rumble and whine suggested Rob’s Jeep. But the sound of possible salvation died away. I held my breath.

  Then he aimed the big light directly at my face.

  I winced. Naturally: a lifetime of recoiling from the light.

  I could call the police. But what would that do? In the eyes of the authorities, I was the attacker, the culprit. I could only thank my lucky stars Tessa and her family didn’t know. But then, he’d probably orchestrated that, too. From the corners of my vision, I tried to scope the lights throughout the building. It was late. Only nightlights, and few. I was all by myself and he knew it.

  Maybe you can’t stop them until after they do what they do.…

  Perhaps as reparation, Juliet had offered her own life. But what could I offer Juliet, my best friend, my heart, in return for that? Could I avenge her? Even if I had wanted to hide and pretend, it was too late for me to die without really having lived.

  The light swept playfully, an arc.

  If Tabor wanted war, fine.

  Kicking off my shoes, I stepped on the first rung of the metal railing. Finding my balance, I stood on the second and threw both my arms up in a raised V.

  “I am Allie Kim!” I shouted, louder than I realized I could.

  The light beam froze on my face.

  “I am Allie Kim!” I repeated. “The Great and Terrible. And I will end you!”

  His light went out.

  Turn the page for a preview of the forthcoming






  Picture yourself in a helicopter, looping slowly down from heaven.

  First, it looks like a child’s map of what Earth offers: green and blue and beige. The green resolves into broad hills, thick with trees: a green beard chopped off by the craggy throats of glacial bluffs, dropping away to sparkly beaches. Even from this great height, the water is so clear that you can see the bottom, and the bottom could be hundreds of feet from the surface. You think it’s a sea. But no; it’s a lake, massive and majestic. The greatest of all lakes, it’s called Superior.

  Now you descend.

  You can tell the red pines from black spruce at this height. You begin to hear the restless fingers of the wind among all those branches. Closer, you spot the little town. It’s named after a harbor as narrow as a creek but as deep as a river. No one pays attention to the small freighters that load and unload there. Everyone sees the big, winged yachts with their showy masts, polished deck rails, and ironic names. Nick’s Waterloo. Enter the Titan.

  Touch down gently. Your rotors spin slower and then fall silent. The helicopter disappears.

  There’s a town square, just a little too old and well-used to have been tacked on for tourists, although tourists flock to Iron Harbor for reasons I’ve never been quite able to fathom. At the center stands a monument to Amos Hayden of the Union’s First Minnesota infantry regiment. The town’s Civil War hero, he was a miner’s son. At Gettysburg, when nothing except a doomed charge with fixed bayonets could hold back the Rebels, the general turned to the First Minnesota, the soldiers who were closest to him. Two hundred and sixty-two men charged, and two hundred and fifteen died. Not a single man deserted. It was over in fifteen minutes. They gave their lives for an idea that not all of them probably even understood.

  Amos Hayden was only seventeen. His statue is here, but he still sleeps far away in the ground.

  Was he brave or only young?

  Did he have a moment to think of his mother? Or the lakeshore where he skipped stones, or the summer stars so close you felt you could reach up and play with them like beads? Did a girl love him and wait for him? Did he know that he might never again open the door on an icy wind that slapped him until he glowed?

  Tonight, nobody is thinking of Amos Hayden dying young and alone. It’s late fall, and people visiting this town are taking advantage of the warmth of an extended autumn. They stroll past the Flying Fish restaurant and Borealis Books, with its neat, scalloped wooden fringes—each painted to resemble a famous volume of prose. Even the tall, pale girl with the uncombed auburn hair, who stops in front of the statue and stares … the tall, pale girl who is me … even she isn’t really thinking of Amos Hayden, although I remember looking up into his chiseled young face, which would always be young.

  Only later, when I passed by the scene of the only true breakdown I would ever have in my life, would I really stop to consider Amos Hayden and wonder how the most innocent of heroes and the pond scum of sinners could rise from this one small place.

  That Sunday night was only a few weeks after my best friend’s body was found. It was the night that I walked into one of Iron Harbor’s two clothing stores and stole a poncho.

  I had never stolen so much as a pack of gum.

  If all the boutiques in Beverly Hills had opened for my own personal plunder, and I could run through them and keep whatever I wanted until my arms and shopping carts were filled, I would have chosen a rhinestone cat collar sooner than a poncho. And I don’t even have a cat.

  The poncho I pulled down was woven in shades of green, from mint to forest—thick and subtly striped with the kind of oily, expensive feeling that seems to scoff at all weather. Ladies from Chicago bought these to wear on their sailboats. The store was the typical wannabe Native American thread-and-head shop required on the map of every tourist town.

  I slipped the thing on.

  Then, I walked out the door.

  The owner, an old, bearded hippie guy everybody called Corona, watched me curiously. He didn’t say a word.

  Corona’s store was one of the few places that Juliet and Rob and I had never been able to break into. (We’d tried, but Corona is in the gifted program for theft prevention.) Yes, I call it “breaking in,” but we never broke a thing. We were way too good for that. We left things just as they were, or a little tidier. Juliet could be light-fingered when it came to expensive wine and trinkets, but Rob and I kept her in check. She was the first one to get a set of lock picks (which you can buy online), and we quickly followed her lead. The tres compadres, we roamed the night, from fancy faux-Swiss ski chalets in the hills where we sipped champagne in the owners’ hot tubs, to the music store where we pounded our palms on drums or ran our fingers over the electric guitar strings in an unmelodious twang.

  We owned Iron Harbor, Minnesota.

  It was ours, all twenty blocks.

  Really, though, Iron Harbor, and our place in it, in its night landscape, was mostly Juliet’s. Juliet was always at the wheel, no matter who was really driving. Rob and I rode shotgun to her one desire—the desire to be free. Not free of us, her closest friends on earth, but of this place and her life in it.

  Now she was free, of the former and the latter.

  Wearing the poncho like a shroud, I reached the end of the street. Then I stopped and burst into tears. It was a warm night, sixty-eight degrees at nine o’clock. It’s never this warm this late in the year, so far north … I was practically in Canada, minus the checkpoint.

  Corona joined me at the corner. He was a tall, old guy, thin to the point of gauntness, with a face I now noticed was lined not with the wrinkles of care, but with decades of quiet amusement. His eyes brimmed with a surpassing kindness. Why had we ever even tried to break into his little store? As we gazed at each other, I saw that he knew that we had tried, and it was already forgiven.

  “It’s okay, little dude,” he said.

  Corona took the phone out of my hand and scrolled through my favorites list until he found Mom.

  She was there within five minutes, jumping out of the minivan, leaving the driver’s side door hanging open. I might as well have been a toddler for the way my mother held up my arms and
slipped the poncho over my head. Then, she stroked my hair. “Oh, Allie … oh, Allie.”

  “I stole this from him,” I confessed. My teeth started to chatter.

  Corona just shrugged. “It’s okay. I don’t care if she keeps it, even.”

  Everyone knew about Juliet. Everyone knew I was crazy.

  “I stole this!” I repeated, raising my voice.

  Corona gave my mother a level look.

  Mom sighed. “Allie,” she said. “Honey. Time to go home.”

  “Why don’t you call the cops?” I glared at her, and then at Corona. “Call Tommy. Call Mr. Sirocco.” I bit my lip. “No, don’t call him. But call someone.” Even I knew that was too over the top. Tommy Sirocco, in addition the chief of the Iron County Sheriff’s Department, was Juliet’s father. “Doesn’t anybody around here ever do anything? Doesn’t anyone care when someone does something wrong?”

  “You aren’t a bad person. You didn’t do anything wrong, tonight or ever. You couldn’t have helped her, Allie,” Mom said, pulling me close. I shook my head, squeezing my eyes shut and struggling against my mother, literally kicking at her shins with the toes of my ballet flats, now really acting like a toddler. That’s a lie, I thought. I knew, I knew, I knew.

  “Allie, no,” Jackie said, pulling me closer. Both of us were sweating. “It’s not your fault.”

  I might as well have spoken aloud. I never had to speak for Jackie Kim to know exactly what I was thinking. Maybe it was because I was chronically ill, with something that would probably kill me sooner rather than later, so she’s never paid anything but ultra-close attention. Maybe it was just Jackie’s ultra-vigilant nature, because despite a basic optimism, Jackie is so overprotective of her family that she makes the Secret Service look like a bunch of stoners. My mind seemed to provide my mother with near-constant printouts of my every emotion.

  She handed Corona the poncho.

  I let her guide me to the front seat, pulling the safety belt across me. She turned the AC on to arctic blast. I glanced in the rearview mirror. My nine-year-old sister, Angela, was curled in the backseat, bony arms wrapped around her knees, a fringe of thick black hair hiding her face, trying hard not to look at me.

  I opened my mouth wide and screamed as loudly as I could.

  Angela flinched. “Allie?” she croaked. “Are you … sick?”

  “You loved her, too,” I said, breathless, my throat an open wound. Angela would know that I meant Juliet, the friend who had treated her like a little sister and a little princess. I glanced back at Angie. I was tormenting her. She swallowed, rubbing her eyes.

  My mother concentrated, backing the car out into Harbor Street.

  “Allie, we all loved her,” she said.

  “But nobody knows the truth! Nobody who’s alive, anyway. I should do community service. Not for what that freak said I did. For being a goddamn fool.”

  “Don’t talk about it like that. It’s just a job,” said my mother. “Think of it as an opportunity. You would have wanted a job like this anyhow.”

  I glanced at Angie from the edge of my eye.

  Angie’s Asian features glowed pale, stretched tight. This was not the capable, strong Allie she knew. She expected grief but she didn’t expect this moaning, fragile thing her big sister had become. I hadn’t expected it either.

  We left poor Corona standing there on the corner, holding his green poncho. He offered a halfhearted wave.

  “Remember, Allie, when we talked about this?” my mother said. “It will be intercession at school, starting next week. The mini semester. Like winter break, as far as the world is concerned. I explained to Angie how this would help you at college.”

  I had just started college online at John Jay, the first school in the world to grant a major in criminal justice. John Jay had never before offered an online degree. I was part of the first class.

  “The experience will be invaluable. It’s a good résumé item.” With one hand still on my arm, my mother piloted the car into around the corner onto our street. “The days will go past so quickly. This time will always be a terrible memory. But it’s over now. Allie? Do you hear me?”

  “I hear you,” I said.

  “Do you believe me?”

  “I believe you, Jack-Jack,” I said, using the name I used to tease her. At least one of us should relax. I didn’t believe her, at all.

  “I believe you,” Angie said. I had to smile.

  “No one will punish you anymore. It’s over,” my mother added.

  On both counts, she was wrong.

  A week later, when I showed up for my community service, the first person I saw was Garrett Tabor, the man who murdered Juliet and who knows how many other girls. The man who would have also murdered me.




  “Good evening, Allie,” said Tabor. “How are you?”

  “I could be better,” I told him. “If you were dead.”

  It astonished me that I could speak at all, much less summon up a barb.

  I could see the fabric of my T-shirt rising and falling with the whomping of my heart. How could he fail to see it, too? Didn’t he know this was all bravado? I glanced around to find the night supervisor. There had to be one.

  Please let it not be Garrett Tabor.

  “I’m sorry, Allie,” Garrett Tabor said. “I’ve felt a great deal of sadness about what happened. I’ve had time to reflect on everything. I realize how impaired your judgment was. I’m sorry for that.”

  “Leave me alone.”

  “I’m not trying to bother you. I’m trying to move past this.”

  “You’re crazy,” I said. “Who else is here?”

  “Just us,” he said. I put my hand on the handle of the door behind me. It was locked. Tabor explained, “It’s the medical examiner’s office. It has to be locked. There’s a code you punch in.”

  A code. He would know it. The medical examiner was Garrett Tabor’s father, Dr. Stephen, and Dr. Andrew Tabor ran the Tabor Clinic. Iron Harbor was the name of this place only by virtue of geography. It should be called Taborville.

  I stared now at the scion of that great family of healers.

  Blondie. The child’s nickname I had given him the first time I saw him would always spring to my mind. It owed to a streak of platinum down the wavy dark pelt of his hair, a blanket over the twisted brain beneath.


  Garrett Tabor: trusted coach, privileged son, genetic researcher, and serial killer.

  Yes, serial killer.

  Does that surprise you?

  That he is one, or that he’s walking around?

  The great majority of them are walking around. The great majority of them look like everyone else. Some of them even look a little better, unless you catch the unguarded glance—the flat gaze of the predator, as sympathetic as a grizzly. Mostly, they present a front that’s civil, lively, even charming. That’s how they get people.

  Garrett Tabor and I had a short, blunt, potent history.

  I was here because Garrett Tabor’s word was better than mine. He claimed that after my friend Juliet’s death, I had scaled the balconies to his apartment at the Tabor Oaks Condominiums, broken in wearing a ski mask, and poured boiling water on him as he lay unprotected in bed. That part was pure nonsense. I poured boiling water on him? I took the time to put a teakettle on the stove, able to find the stove and the kettle in an apartment I’d never been in, with Tabor separated from the kitchen by one wall? If I’d gone to all the trouble to catch him alone and vulnerable, why didn’t I just hit him with a hammer? Still, Tabor had the surveillance tapes of Rob, Juliet, and I climbing the outside walls “to case my place,” he said. He had the second-degree burns rippling along his neck and shoulder, not to mention a ski mask I’d once owned, to prove it.

  What was true was that I was a gifted climber.

  Rob and Juliet and I had practiced the urban discipline called Parkour, and we were so skilled t
hat there was almost no vertical surface that we couldn’t boulder up or leap down from. We had indeed traced the Tabor Oaks, although that was before Garrett Tabor lived there.

  The Tabor Oaks was the first place I remembered seeing him and his blond streak. We were doing what Parkour people call a “trace,” jumping from the roof of one building to the next, then preparing to swing down. When my foot touched the first balcony, I saw him. In an empty, uncurtained apartment, he bent busily over the still, colorless, half-naked body of a young woman whose name no one would probably ever know. She laid helpless, her clothing and dignity torn away by the same immaculate hands I was now staring at.

  Had I called the police? Who wouldn’t?

  You bet I called the police.

  I called them then, and again later, when Garrett Tabor forced me to jump from the third story of a parking garage, breaking my arm so badly I had to have surgery.

  I called when he threatened me, while I was babysitting a little boy, and again when he cornered me in a local cemetery.

  It was always my word against his. His word always prevailed.

  Except once.

  After Juliet’s memorial service, when I got the phone calls, I didn’t risk calling the police. Dr. Barry Yashida, a former FBI evidence expert, was my college advisor, and there was no one else in the wide world I trusted except him: a man I’d never met face to face—only on Skype, and then just twice. He had done exactly what I asked him to do, in confidence, and he had kept my confidence, in hopes of a future time when the information he gave me could be useful.

  It wasn’t even the horror of Juliet’s disappearance, or the confirmation that Juliet’s DNA matched the badly mauled remains pulled from the river three weeks later. It was her voice.

  I’d never heard her phone go off. I was deep in sedative-soaked sleep after the incomprehensible experience of reciting a poem and then accepting a handful of ash—all that remained of the wild and splendid beauty, Juliet—to scatter in the dark waters of Ghost Lake. When I awoke the following night, my breath stopped when I saw the screen: five calls had come from Juliet’s phone, the phone that was never found.

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