New segment of THE STORY OF DEV. Theo is plowing through his presentation on the Louisiana when he gets a visit from Office John Ellingwood.
A knock at the side aluminum storm door pulled him away from the table. Theo edged behind the open kitchen door to see who it was. They’d never had a visitor.
The storm door squealed open. Another knock, this time on the main door. Louder, longer.
It was that policeman, Officer John from the school.
Theo wished his mother was home, but she had left early for her other job.
He gulped and walked to the door.
Water dripped from his wide-brimmed hat and his official slicker with a little white badge on the left breast. His face was tight, but his eyes were puzzled.
“It’s Theo, right? Anyone else home?”
“My little brother and sister.”
“Oh, all right. I’m sorry. I’m Sergeant Ellingwood. I met you at Cherry Street School with Dev. She here?”
Theo just offered a wide-eyed stare. His hands shook.
“I know she’s been staying here. Not a problem. Good of you. You know I sort of keep an eye on her. I just need to know if she’s here.”
Something’s happened. I knew it.
Theo coughed an answer. “She went to work at the farm yesterday. I’m guessing she’s still …”
The sergeant’s tight lips and downward glance told Theo that was not true.
“That was the first place I checked. They said she worked yesterday, got paid and left. She wasn’t scheduled to work today.” He nodded to Theo. “Your brother and sister okay alone? Can you come with me?” He waved a hand. “You’re not in trouble, Theo. I just need you to come with me for a few minutes.”
Theo’s voice ripped open and his face crumbled. “What happened? Where is she?”
“I don’t know. The school bus was vandalized.”
“Holy crap. But why do you need me?”
“Because they left you a message on the side on the bus. I need you to confirm something.”
“Jeez. Okay, just a minute,” and he turned from the door to the living room. “Hey, guys, I have to go with…”
“Oh, Ta-o’s in trouubble,” sang out Paul from his upside-down perch on the couch, feet planted on the wall, head hanging off the cushion.
“No, I’m not,” Theo said, grabbing a ball cap. “He needs my help.”
“Right, needs your help to put you in jail,” Paul laughed. “I’m tellin’…”
“Just lock the doors.”
On the porch the sergeant asked, “No rain coat?”
Theo shrugged, embarrassed. “No, it’ll be…”
“Got an extra in trunk. Come on.”
They drove in silence. The officer muttered into the car radio. Theo only understood, “10-4.”
Theo hunched in the front seat, confused and scared.
Why don’t he say somethin’? It’s gotta be really bad.
“Her father’s not a vet, is he?”
“Is that what she’s saying?” Sergeant Ellingwood flicked a glance at Theo. “He’s a farm worker, migrant. Thorntons adds a dozen or so seasonal workers every year, generally late spring to the end of October. Something happened to Enrico’s paperwork. That’s her father name. His work visa was never processed. He was sent to another Thornton farm in the Finger Lakes, but he never showed up. That was maybe a month ago.” He pulled the car into the grocery store lot. “Here we are.”
By the time they got to the Red & White the rain had picked up, blurring the view of the school bus. Sergeant Ellingwood hauled a black slicker from the trunk. “You’re really going to need this now.”
Theo slipped in to the oversized slicker.
“Aw, man, look at that,” Theo said as he saw that the school bus windows had been broken out and a chair and clothes and books, pans and other stuff had been thrown into the parking lot. Black paint had been splashed across the windshield and the entry door torn from the side of the bus.
“I need you to see this,” the officer said.
On the side of the bus facing the street had been painted, “Hey Theo-awful-lee we got Onion Girl You next”
“Bobby Danforth. He called Dev ‘onion girl’, ”
“We know,” the sergeant said, with a nod. “That why it’s trouble. That family.”
“He’ll get away with it, won’t he?”
“I’d like to say no, but, no guarantees.” Ellingwood nodded to the police car. “Let’s get out of this.”
Inside the car, the officer said, “I just needed to you to verify that it’s Bobby. You had a couple run-ins, right?”
When Theo hesitated, the officer said, “Don’t worry, you’re not the only kid.”
“Yeah, a couple. First day, he knocked change out of my hand in the lunch room, and last week him and his guys were following me.”
“Didn’t you and he have a discussion when you beat him on the wall crawl?”
Theo felt his face heat up. “You know about that?”
Ellingwood laughed. “Everybody knows about it.”
Theo leaned back. “Oh, crap.”
“Hey, you’re not in trouble We all did the wall crawl. I did the wall crawl. Only got half way.”
Theo shivered, then huffed out a fresh breath. “No way.”
“It’s a tradition, as I’m sure you’ve heard. And know what? We all bet on it. Cokes, an ice cream sandwich, little stuff, not real money. My God, Jacob has about a thousand dollars in bets so far. “
“I told him to shut down the online betting and figure out how to give back the money. He’s not in trouble but parents have been calling. Nickel and dime bets are one thing, but if it gets too big, someone besides me in law enforcement notices, understand?”
Theo pursed his lips into a fish face and opened his eyes wide and tried not to laugh. That little hustler.
“So where do you think Dev went?”
“Dunno,” Theo said, lying. The old factory. “I knew about the farm and the bus. When she came to our house I thought she came from here, you know, the school bus. I mean she didn’t have anything with her except some clothes, and they were really dirty and the dryer broke so she had to wear my Mom’s stuff.”
The sergeant started the car. “Yeah, okay, Let me take you home. Thanks for your help.”
At the house, Theo stepped from the car and peeled off the slicker.
“Keep it. You got a phone?”
As Theo nodded yes, the car radio spit to life: “All cars 10-50, multi-vehicle, high school, fire and rescue enroute.”
“Oh, man, gotta go. Car accident,” Ellingwood said. “When she comes back, have her call me.”
He spun the car in a U-turn and lights flashing sped off north.
Theo stood in the rain listening as the siren faded in the heavy air.
Only then did he notice the slicker was a shade of green and had strips of reflective tape around the arms and across the chest.
In a moment when he wanted to disappear he stood out like a Christmas tree.