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Mr gedrick and me, p.7
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       Mr. Gedrick and Me, p.7

           Patrick Carman
 
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  Mr. Gedrick knelt down close and put a hand on my back. “It might have been me who left the cage open. Or someone else. Or maybe Bob just got very tired of being in there and wanted to go on an adventure. Lizards are like that. They like to roam once in a while.”

  “They both hate me,” I said. “They never want to play with me and they think I’m dumb. This just makes it worse.”

  “They don’t hate you,” Mr. Gedrick said. “They’re just lost. But we’re going to help them find their way again, together. Will you do that with me?”

  I wiped my nose on the back of my hand and looked right into Mr. Gedrick’s face. I could see he really cared. And I saw something else I’d seen before. He had that thoughtful, sad look. “I miss my dad so much. It hurts all over. And it’s even worse because they ignore me. It’s like I don’t exist.”

  “I know, Stanley. I know,” Mr. Gedrick said. He hugged me and I felt the soft green of the jacket on my cheek.

  Mr. Gedrick pulled back and held me by my shoulders. “Just because you’re the smallest doesn’t mean you can’t do big things.”

  My eyes went wide. I couldn’t believe the words I’d just heard.

  “Hey! My dad was always telling me that.”

  “Really?” Mr. Gedrick asked.

  “I remember the last time he said it. We were playing basketball in the driveway and I wished and wished that I could dunk the ball, but I was way too small. He told me the same thing—just because you’re the smallest doesn’t mean you can’t do big things—then he lifted me up and I dunked the heck out of that ball. The backboard shook and everything. Fergus even saw me do it.”

  “Well, there you go,” Mr. Gedrick said. “You can do big things, just as I suspected.”

  I looked at the floor and then at Bob’s empty cage.

  “Are you magic, Mr. Gedrick?” I asked. “How else would you know all about my dad?”

  Mr. Gedrick smiled thoughtfully. “Magic is difficult to explain, Stanley. But the best kind is always for a good purpose. Let’s search the garage. Bob has to be here somewhere.”

  We searched and searched, but didn’t find Bob.

  “Hey, look,” I said as I crouched down next to the wall of hanging tools. “The door to the crawl space is open. That’s weird.”

  The crawl space is under the house, and the opening isn’t very big. It’s built into the floor, only a couple of feet square.

  “It’s dark down there,” I said.

  “There’s little doubt,” Mr. Gedrick said, staring at the crawl space door. “Bob went in there. It’s the perfect place for a lizard.”

  “But . . . ,” I said. I wrung my hands and looked up at Mr. Gedrick. “Why would he do that? I’d never go down there.”

  “Are you sure about that? What if your friend was alone and lost; wouldn’t you go looking for him?”

  I didn’t want to answer that question, so I stared at the floor some more. “I still don’t think I’d go down there. I’m too afraid to do that.”

  “Oh, but you’re the only one who can crawl around there quickly and efficiently,” Mr. Gedrick said, his face lighting up with excitement. “Imagine how fast you’ll find Bob if you only have the courage to try.”

  I paced back and forth. I thought about finding Bob and how surprised Fergus and Amelia would be. I took a couple of deep breaths and glanced at the bench press.

  “You didn’t think you could do that,” Mr. Gedrick said, eyeing the bench as well. “But you did.”

  I went to the wall of tools and grabbed a flashlight. I turned it on to make sure it was working, and then I went over to the crawl space and pointed the light inside. I put the flashlight in my back pocket and felt how heavy it was.

  “I can’t believe I’m doing this,” I said. I walked back and forth some more, shaking my head. And then I cracked my knuckles like a prizefighter. “Bob, I’m on my way! Don’t worry!”

  I took the flashlight out and jumped down into the hole, then I started crawling in the darkness, the light dancing in front of my eyes.

  UNDER AND AROUND THE HOUSE

  There were cobwebs everywhere and I kept batting them away with my hand. Every few feet I yelled back to Mr. Gedrick and waited for a reply, and every time the voice I heard coming back was a little farther away. I could still see the light coming in from the garage, but it was like a night-light, far away.

  “Bob, if you’re down here, I could really use a little company,” I said. I felt my hands shaking and almost dropped the flashlight. The ceiling overhead was low, so I had to crawl on my hands and knees. The cold dirt made me think about cemeteries and headstones.

  “I can’t do this,” I said. “Mr. Gedrick! I’m coming back!”

  I turned around awkwardly and started for the light coming out of the garage, but a couple of seconds later I wasn’t so sure. I thought about Bob, stuck under the house with no crickets and no friends. So I turned around again and started crawling.

  “I’m not going to let you die down here alone, Bob. Don’t worry. I’m coming for you.”

  A big, hairy spider eyed me from a cobweb and I lurched upward, banging my head on a beam.

  “Come on, house, whose side are you on here?” I said as I rubbed my head.

  I took a wide turn around the spider, then crawled past a concrete block and farther into the darkness. It felt like I was a million miles from anyone else, all alone at the bottom of the world.

  I started thinking about my dad, trying to keep my mind away from spiders and headstones and stuff like that. I remembered once when we were bowling at a birthday party, and I could hardly hold the ball even with two hands. I wanted a strike so bad, but when I threw the ball down the lane, it landed in the gutter. I turned around and looked at my dad, expecting him to be all disappointment. But he made me feel better.

  I wished and wished that I could find Bob. I thought I heard something moving up ahead, and stopped in my tracks.

  “That you, Bob?” I asked.

  The sound moved to my left and I pointed the flashlight toward it. Then I screamed.

  Two eyes were staring back at me, and they were way bigger than lizard eyes.

  “Heeeeeeelp!” I yelled, but no one could hear me all the way under the house.

  I heard the creature moving behind me and a shiver ran up my spine. I spun around, pointing the flashlight.

  “Back, you beast! Back!” I yelled.

  It was a possum. I am not a fan of possums. They freak me out. It was about ten feet away, but when I yelled at it, the possum wobbled away out of the light.

  “Oh man, this is crazy. I’m going to have a heart attack.”

  I pointed the flashlight in every direction, searching for rats or more possums or possibly a wolf. My nerves were shot, my hands were shaking, and I was pouring sweat.

  “I don’t think I’m going to be able to save you, Bob. I’m sorry. I just can’t stay down here anymore.”

  I went to turn around, defeated, and my flashlight landed on something in the corner under the house. It was the farthest corner from the crawl space door.

  “Bob? Is that you?” I asked.

  There were two little dots that looked like they might be eyes glowing in the dark.

  “Or are you a huge rat that’s going to bite into my arm and suck all my blood?”

  I looked toward the exit one more time. I really wanted to leave, but it was only a little farther to make sure Bob wasn’t waiting for me.

  “You better be Bob or I’m going to punch you in the nose,” I said. I imagined what it would feel like to punch a giant rat in the nose. I imagined the rat with boxing gloves, both of us in a ring taking jabs at each other. And by the time I imagined knocking the rodent out with a monster uppercut, I was at the farthest corner of the house.

  “Bob!” I yelled. Bob looked bored to death, like he was about to take a nap.

  “Hey, what are you doing all the way down here?” I asked. Bob squinted into the light and blinked.
<
br />   I crawled forward until I was right next to Bob. I was feeling much better now that I wasn’t alone. “There’s a lot of weird stuff down here, huh? I saw a possum as big as a truck back there, scared the pants off me. Hey, what is that?”

  Bob was sitting in the middle of a coiled-up rope. But it was no ordinary rope. This one was leather, like an Indiana Jones whip.

  “Cool,” I said. “You’re a good little adventurer. I’m glad you’re here. I was getting freaked out all by myself.”

  I only have two hands, and I sure wasn’t going to put the flashlight down, so I picked up the strange leather rope and hung it around my neck. “Come on, Bob. Let’s get the heck out of here.”

  I picked up Bob and crawled toward the tiny square of light from the garage. The way back was less scary than the way inside had been. In fact, I wasn’t scared at all. I’d found my little buddy—and bonus—I’d found a treasure, too. When I popped my head back out into the garage, Mr. Gedrick was standing right there.

  “One went in, but two came out,” Mr. Gedrick said. “Well done, Stanley Darrow. Well done!”

  “Thanks, Mr. Gedrick. You should have been there! I almost got eaten by a giant possum! And a hairy spider. And I got into a boxing match with a rat. And check out this cool rope thing I found.”

  I set the flashlight down and held out the rope. Mr. Gedrick seemed really curious about it. “Interesting. You found this under the house?”

  “Actually, Bob found it under the house, then I found Bob,” I said.

  “What a clever lizard you have there,” Mr. Gedrick said. He looked at the leather rope more carefully. “A very curious rope. I wonder what it could be for?”

  “I have no idea,” I said as Mr. Gedrick gave it back. “Maybe it belonged to the person who used to own the house.”

  “Or maybe someone hid it down there, for safekeeping,” Mr. Gedrick wondered. “Either way, you must take good care of it. Who knows what important use it might have?”

  Mr. Gedrick’s eyes twinkled and he got that small half smile on his face again, like magic was in the air.

  “I’ll take super good care of it,” I said. “You can count on me.”

  “I know I can,” Mr. Gedrick said. He looked at Bob’s cage. “How about you and I build a bigger, better cage for Bob? Something magnificent. A place he’ll never want to leave. It would be a good warm-up for the big plan Amelia just walked away with.”

  “Hey, that’s a great idea!” I said. “Can I cut the wood?”

  Mr. Gedrick didn’t answer. He took out his pointer and extended it. Then he folded it very quickly many times and it ended up looking like a coat hanger. He took off his green felt jacket and hung it up, then he rolled up his sleeves.

  “That pointer of yours is pretty neat,” I said. “Want to trade it for my super cool rope?”

  “Not on your life,” Mr. Gedrick said. “Now let’s get to work, shall we?”

  “Yes, we shall!” I shouted. I put Bob back into the old cage and set the leather rope on the floor in the corner.

  Mr. Gedrick stopped short and sniffed the air.

  “You smell a possum?” I asked as I sniffed the air, too. “I’m not getting anything.”

  “Do me a favor, will you, Stanley?”

  “Sure thing.”

  “Go around the front of the house. I think Mr. Harvold has arrived to see your mother. You’re good at staying hidden—another bonus of being small, you see—and I’d like to make sure he doesn’t put too much pressure on her.”

  I saluted Mr. Gedrick.

  “Yes, sir!” I said.

  I love playing spy games, so I was excited about this assignment.

  “Don’t start cutting stuff up until I get back,” I said.

  “No problem.”

  “Promise?”

  “Yes, Stanley. I promise.”

  And with that, I went out the side garage door and worked my way toward the front of the house using my sneakiest spy skills.

  HUXLEY HARVOLD

  On my way to the front of the house I peeked into the kitchen window and saw Mom pacing back and forth. She was stress-eating from a bag of M&M’s.

  I heard a car door shut in the driveway, and continued on to the edge of the house. When I looked around the corner, Huxley Harvold was walking up to the front door.

  I’d met Huxley before at Mom’s old office. He’s shaped like a pear, with a big gut and stumpy legs like an old football player. He’s about halfway to bald, so he’s got this long forehead that shines like a golf ball.

  Huxley stood on the front porch and looked at our lawn. There were weeds everywhere and it hadn’t been mowed for weeks. It was so bad I almost felt embarrassed. Huxley shook his head and looked concerned.

  “What a dope,” I said, moving a little closer and hiding behind a big bush.

  Mom had told me all about the Chicago Community Arts Center and how important it was. It was a showpiece, and the whole city was watching. If she couldn’t deliver a bang-up plan on time, it would mean more than just serious egg on her face. Mom kept talking about the guy who ran the firm now, Mr. Jivins, and how she thought Huxley wants to push him out. I think Mom felt like she was being used in all this, and the project she was working on was some sort of chess piece.

  Huxley ran his hands along the sleeves of his expensive suit jacket and adjusted his designer glasses. He rang the doorbell and seemed to brace himself for a difficult encounter.

  And waited.

  And waited.

  I could hear the sound of power tools from the garage, so Huxley could hear it, too.

  “Dang it, Mr. G., you were supposed to wait for me!” I whispered, almost too loudly. I wanted to run back to the garage and see what was going on, but I’d been given a mission. And a spy never leaves a mission half done.

  Just then, Mom opened the front door.

  “Mr. Harvold,” Mom said as she waved him into the house. “I’m sorry to keep you standing there. Won’t you please come in?”

  “I’d be delighted,” Huxley said with a fake smile pasted on his face.

  I skedaddled up the walkway and onto the front porch, then I turned the knob on the door super slowly. I opened the door just a pinch. They were still standing in the living room so I couldn’t go in yet.

  “The inside of your house is much nicer than I expected,” Huxley said. “The outside threw me off. You really need a gardener, don’t you think?”

  Mom tried to ignore the comment while she ushered Huxley into the kitchen. I slipped through the door with the skill of a superspy and crawled along the floor behind the couch. All the crawling around under the house had given me plenty of practice.

  “I’ve just made some coffee,” Mom said a little too excitedly. “Would you like some?”

  “I’m on a tight schedule and can’t stay long,” Huxley answered. “And I’m dying to see the plans!”

  “Right, the plans,” Mom said. She wiped her sweaty palms on her blouse and walked over to her worktable. That was my cue to move in close, right next to the doorway leading into the kitchen.

  “Welcome to my office,” Mom said. “Not a lot of privacy. On the upside, I can get to the refrigerator in three seconds flat.”

  She laughed awkwardly, and Huxley smiled and nodded like he really didn’t care whether she ate all day or not at all. “Quite a lot of racket going on in the garage. That must be distracting for you.”

  “Oh no, not distracting,” Mom said. “I like a lot of noise when I’m working. Keeps me focused.”

  Huxley looked sideways at Mom. “I see. How about we take a look at those plans?”

  The sound of a power saw firing up in the garage made Mom jump. She held up a finger. “If you could excuse me for just one second. I’ll get them to keep it down.”

  All I could think about was all the sawing I wasn’t doing. It was driving me bananas.

  “Guys, please,” Mom yelled through the garage doorway. “Keep it down out here. I’ve got work t
o do. Lots of work. And I have a visitor.”

  Mom seemed to hope Mr. Gedrick would get the hint—my boss is here! She closed the door and turned back to the kitchen to find Huxley going through her things. He looked up at her with eyebrows raised. His glasses had slid down on his round nose.

  “Is there something else you’d like to show me?” he asked. “Or is this all you have?”

  The sound of a hammer pounding in the garage interrupted the silence between Mom and Huxley She pulled the door open again. “Guys!”

  All the noise from the garage stopped in an instant. I wanted to yell Thanks, Mom! Anything that slowed Mr. Gedrick down was fine by me until I could get back in there.

  “I have some things,” Mom said, walking back to the table. She unrolled a tube of paper and laid it out for Huxley to see. “Nothing too detailed.”

  Huxley began flipping through the new stack of pages, looking more optimistic. “Oh, this is good. I like this one. And this one shows some promise.”

  Mom watched as Huxley looked more carefully at the designs. I could tell Mom’s heart was sinking by the look on her face. I don’t think any of it was what she wanted to do for the arts center. If it was, she would have showed it to him when he walked in. But Huxley was her boss, so what could she do?

  “You have a long way to go,” Huxley said. “But I like where this is heading. Maybe you should return to the office and finish the work there. The deadline is approaching and you can be more focused at work, don’t you think?”

  The hammering started up again in the garage.

  “I’m sure I can work here and finish on time,” Mom said. “It won’t be a problem.”

  “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength or knowledge,” Huxley said, looking gravely at Mom. “But rather a lack of will.”

  Mom nodded and smiled awkwardly, because as usual Huxley’s advice made no sense.

  “Now I must be going,” Huxley said. “Don’t let me down, Elsa. The whole firm is counting on you. We’re expecting something big and bold and amazing. You can do that, right?”

 
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