Chapter 11: Misdirection
Luther usually took Harding Avenue from school to the highway, and then over to Elk Valley Road toward his house, but today he took the waterline route.
Deena said she lived next to the water, somewhere where she could watch the waves. He cut over to Pebble Beach Road and slowed down. If he could talk to her, it would be a good idea.
He kept his eyes glued to the buildings next to the water, hunting for the Brooke’s car. He sailed right by where Deena sat, her back to him, as she re-wrapped her bandage.
By the time he reached Front Street, he gave up and headed toward his house. He had packing to do.
Years ago, Mara had found a place by the kitchen window where she could see Deena’s favorite park bench. All she had to do was move one kitchen stool a few feet and she could watch while her daughter had her private moments.
From the time her baby had taken her first steps, Mara had worried about her. How could she keep her safe and healthy? How could she watch over her when she needed guidance? How could she keep her away from evil companions?
So much she had failed at, and so much of what she had done Deena would never appreciate or understand.
And what about this boy—the boy with the car? Deena had torn into her for her suspicions. Was she smitten with him? If so, that made him even more dangerous.
She had never met his parents. He certainly didn’t go to the same church. He was a newcomer to town. Who could know what dark secrets lay in his past?
Luther pulled a wheeled chest from the laundry room where it had been resting under a couple of plastic baskets he used to sort his laundry. Everything was covered with a thin layer of lint. The chest was heavy; it took some effort to get it up on the tiled floor in the hallway from the bare concrete in the laundry room. He pulled it down the hall and into the garage.
The trunk of his Chevy was open. Already inside were two airplane tote bags, a sleeping bag and an ice chest.
Luther opened the wheeled trunk, and stared inside for a moment. He picked his up passport from the top of the stack.
My face looks so different. I was just a kid. He flipped through the pages. Stamps from a few Caribbean islands and one from France each brought back memories. Family vacations. He had hated each one. At least that is what he told his folks.
This thing runs out this year. Kid passports expire every five years. I just might need a new one.
I guess the real question is what name will I have then?
Luke Haskell was such a bratty little kid. Do I really want to renew him?
Deena woke up, drenched with sweat. She tossed aside the covers and went to the tiny window. The night air felt wonderful.
Her alarm clock read 3:17, but she was wide awake.
Echoes of her dream were drifting away. It had been a strange one. No people, just unknown powerful moving forces.
Dressed in the first clothes she could find, she slipped out the front door and walked over to the cliff.
It was a crystal clear night, and in spite of the streetlights, she could see the kite of Cygnus almost overhead. If she looked hard, the faint dusting of the Milky Way could be seen tracing off towards Scorpio low on the southern horizon.
She reached her bench and listened to the relentless pounding of the surf below. The horn at the harbor sounded its regular moan.
The constellation Leo wavered above the horizon to the west. The head and mane of the lion always looked like a giant, if backward, question mark to her.
If the question mark was backward, did that mean that God, looking down at her from beyond the stars, would see a question mark hanging over her head?
What was going to happen to her?
High school was over in just a few weeks. She could no longer have the delusion that living today was preparing her for a better tomorrow.
She hadn’t taken the college prep track. She would get a high school degree, but there was nothing bright and tempting just over the horizon.
She hadn’t taken the vocational options. Mom wouldn’t have that. There was no job waiting for her when school was done, and no job history she could use to find one.
Her computer skills were adequate. You couldn’t get through school without knowing how to use a word processor and a spreadsheet, but their home computer was five years old, with software to match.
Besides, if she had a brain tumor, it wouldn’t matter anyway. How long did it take to die with one of those? Was it painful?
And if they did manage to treat it, that would mean her hair would fall out, right? She felt her straight brown hair, not really visible in the dark. Even when she didn’t cut it, she could never get it to grow long, like she had always wanted. Once the split ends got too bad, Mom would haul out the scissors and ‘fix her up’.
There was a future waiting before her. She tried not to look at it. It was too depressing.
In all likelihood, she would grow old right here, taking care of Mom, getting older and crankier every year.
Even the brain tumor sounded better than that.
Luther walked the house, just in case he forgot something important. The vote was two to one to get in the car and head out of town. Luke and who-he-would-be-next were ready to take no chances. Luther Jennings really hated to give up on Crescent City. In spite of everything, he had friends here.
The trick, he decided, to skipping town, was to leave the house perfectly intact, clothes still in the closet, food in the refrigerator, maybe with the TV still on. You wanted a hunter to think that you would be right back, and not turn immediately to searching the highways.
Somebody ought to write ‘Hiding Out for Dummies’. He would buy a copy.
He ran his hand through his shirts. Don’t love things. You can’t take them with you.
Outside, there was the faint glow of the coming dawn. He backed the car into the street and closed the garage door.
Well, what now? Oregon or Pre-Calculus class?
Deena had her feet up, arms around her knees, sitting sideways on the bench, watching the stars fade away. The dim ones were already gone, but a few bright ones could still be seen.
A car door slammed. Deena looked back at the street, and saw Luther walking her way. She smiled, then frowned. What was he doing here at this hour?
She put her feet back down on the ground and waved when he got closer.
“Have a seat.”
He plopped down on the bench beside her, staring out at the waves.
“Aren’t you chilly?” he asked.
“No. It’s been a nice night.”
He zipped his leather jacket up a few more inches.
“How are you doing?” He asked.
“Okay, I guess.” She tried to read his face, but in the dim light, it was hard. “Are you still mad about the locker search?”
“I wish that was all.”
“What do you mean?” she asked.
He was silent for a moment, then said, “I wanted to have the chance to talk to you before school. There are some things you need to know about.”
She waited. The sea breeze was picking up a little. Not enough to make her chilly, but then she’d been running warm lately.
“After you left school yesterday, the rumors about you, and me too, exploded.”
“Oh dear. What are they saying?”
He went through the list.
Deena was horrified. “Surely they can’t believe all those things. There’s no evidence for any of it.”
“I don’t pretend to understand how rumors happen, or why people repeat them. What’s important is how you deal with it.”
“What do you mean?”
“People are talking, and most know they have no proof. Some people will believe anything. Some believe nothing. It’s just how they are.
“But some will try to figure it out, and go to the source—that’s you.”
“I’ll deny everything!”
“No good. Guilty people deny everything too.”
She fluttered her hands. “Then, what can I do?”
He turned to face her. The sky had turned reddish, the sun catching high altitude clouds. It highlighted her flush.
“There are a lot of things you can’t do. You can’t pretend you never heard of the tales, because you’re not that good a liar.
“You can’t help blushing, I’ve noticed. And they’ll make you angry, and you can’t help that.
“Just defuse the situation.”
He gave her some examples.
“Not all of these work. The important thing is...just show them that all of these lies are either obviously false or unimportant to you. How you react is much more important than what you say.”
Deena had been depressed before he came. Now she was genuinely fearful of the day.
“And I can’t take the day off either, can I?”
“Nope. Absence is proof of guilt. ‘The guilty flee when no man pursueth’ or something like that.”
She sighed. “It’s going to be a horrible day. And I don’t even have my zinc!”
He looked puzzled. “You really want zinc?”
She nodded. “I told you I did. I don’t know why, but I crave touching it. It’s not going to help me deny drug charges if I’m having ‘substance cravings’.”
He laughed. “No, probably not. But zinc is common. It’s all over the place.”
She looked up. “Really?”
“Sure.” He looked around. “See that sign over there. That’s an iron pipe coated with zinc. Galvanized steel. It prevents rust.”
She got to her feet and walked over to the sign. Gripping the pipe, she felt a surge of well-being.
“You’re right. Thirty...zinc!”
He gripped the pipe himself a few inches above her hand. “Cold. You mean you can really feel the zinc?”
Deena nodded. “30/64 is just under half of it, but 30/66, the stuff I like, is nearly a third.”
Luther’s face revealed his confusion. “How could that be?”
She shrugged, content to hang onto the pipe. It was the best she had felt all morning.
But then she sighed, “Now all I have to do is figure out how to smuggle a piece of galvanized pipe into school with me.”
“There are easier ways.” He let go of the pipe and reached into his pocket and pulled out a penny. He dropped it onto the sidewalk and stepped on it. Scuffing it against the concrete a couple of times, he picked it up and examined it.
The raised rim and Abe Lincoln’s hair and forehead were heavily scratched and silvery.
“Not good enough.” He dropped the coin again and with some more foot action, ground it several times.
“Ah, this is more like it.” He showed her the back side, where Lincoln’s Memorial and the raised letters ‘ONE CENT’ had been scraped clear.
“For a long time now, pennies have been made of zinc, with just a thin coating of copper so they still look the same as the old copper pennies. Scrape it off, and there’s the zinc.”
Deena took the penny in her hand. She closed her eyes and nodded.
“You’re right. Zinc, with a coating of twenty-nine—I suppose that’s the copper?”
He watched her. When she opened her eyes, he could see something disturbing in the way they were dilated. Just one more worry.
“Deena, what is this?” He pulled out a nickel and gave it to her. He took back the mangled penny.
She frowned, but felt the nickel. “Three quarters copper and one quarter twenty-eight. Do you want the isotopes?”
“No. Try this.” He pulled out his wallet, and inside a pocket behind his driver’s license, he pulled out a large coin.
She looked at it in her palm. It had a large maple leaf on it. She could tell just by sight that it was gold.
“Element 79/197, and it’s very pure. Is this gold?”
“Yes. One ounce of pure gold. Depending on the markets, it’s worth about $1000.”
He took it back and slipped it back into his wallet. “I keep it there for emergencies.”
Luther looked at Deena, and then out at the waves, now shining with the reflected new morning sunlight.
“I really wish I could prove that this was all a joke.”
“Because it’s impossible! Nobody can do what you just did. It has to be a trick, or something.” He shook his head, and grinned to show her he wasn’t mad at her. “I’m just going to have a hard time keeping my mind on my classes today.”
Deena jumped as if she had been bitten. She glanced at her watch. “Oh, no! School starts in thirty minutes, and I’m not even dressed!”
“Do you need a ride? I’ll wait.”
Ashen faced, she shook her head. “No. Mom will take me, but I’ve got to run.
“Uh, Luther? Can I have the penny back?”
He handed it over.
She turned and ran towards her house, slipping the scraped coin under her wristwatch, with the exposed zinc against her skin.