“JD, come on. This ain’t school. I want to get in.”
JD let out a breath. Ace always demanded, but was never satisfied. That’s how he ran his little corner crew. JD liked the thrill, yet his fingers shook. “Just a second, man. It’s here somewhere.” He lifted one flowerpot, then another, and another, until finally he waved an old house key. “Hello, what have we here?”
“For God’s sake, stop talking like a movie my gram would watch.” Ace glared at him. “The door. Unlock it.”
Cardboard cartons lay strewn about. A staircase led up. “What do you think is upstairs?”
Ace snorted. “Bedrooms, you idiot.”
Trying to save his dignity, JD said, “I mean I wonder what goods are up there.”
“Go up. Remember half of everything you find is mine. I’m looking down here.”
JD went up. He kicked himself again for telling Ace he could get inside the old mansion. He entered the old lady’s dusty, creepy, and musty bedroom. A magazine from two months ago lay open, like she was reading it a moment ago. He looked at the jars and tubes atop the dresser, opened a few drawers, and checked the closet. Just clothes, shoes, and ointments.
He reentered the hallway. Opening doors, he found a linen closet, a bathroom with claw foot tub, an empty bedroom, and then a bedroom frozen in time. Pictures of an old guy. Clothes in the closet covered with gray dust. He heard the screeching of drawers downstairs, and then a clattering of items apparently falling to the floor.
JD sped down the stairs. “Find something?”
“Nah, not yet. Go check the basement. Old broads often keep money in tins down there.”
“Why you dumping everything out?”
“Quickest way to find things.” Ace wagged his head. “Get going.”
The wooden steps creaked under JD. He had to duck under the low, unfinished ceiling.
Midway through checking storage shelves, quick footfalls right above caught his attention. They scampered fast across the floorboards towards the back of the house. The front door banged open. Heavy footsteps strode across the ceiling above his head. A booming voice commanded, “Stop or it’ll be worse.”
A quick squeak at the back door, then the rattle of the back fence being jumped, followed by a loud, disgusted, “Damn it!”
Heavy footsteps stopped at the cellar door . The overhead light bulb switched off, then on. And again. “Don’t make me have to come down and get you.”
The basement had no outside door and tiny window wells. JD was trapped. “I’m coming up.”
At the station house, the policeman asked him again. “Who was your buddy?”
“Nobody. I was alone.”
“Humph.” The big man in blue pushed JD into an interrogation room. “Your father’s here.”
“Officer, I’m very disappointed in Jeffrey David. He’s headed for college, that is…” His father, in his shiny suit, realized the policeman had left. He turned to his son. “Who got you into this? It can’t be anyone in your academic classes.” Receiving no response, he went on, “Robbing a neighbor! Next step could be jail, not college.” His voice shook and rose, “What has gotten into you?”
“I wasn’t robbing, just looking around. Just something interesting to do.” He continued his lie. “You know, I’ve always been curious.”
“Don’t be flip, young man.” His father tried to sound harsh, but it rang false. JD knew he always avoided conflict.
The door to the room reopened. The cop said to his father, “Times up. You can wait, but I can’t promise we’ll finish with your son this shift.” Turning to JD, “Time for you to meet lockup.”
A long time went by, JD staring off into nothingness, beyond the cell. Ace escaped. Lucky bastard. The lockup door creaked. The hum of chatter among the drunks, robbers, druggies, and fighters died down.
JD nudged aside the old rummy who leaned against the metal bars. Nothing to seem but a woman’s voice caught his attention. “Let me tell you, Officer, if my mother’s treasures aren’t recovered, I’ll take it to Mayor Gillespie. He’s a personal friend of the family, you know.” He recognized the demanding voice of the old Widow’s daughter. Yet in the years JD lived across from the mansion, the only time he ever seen her was at the memorial wake, when free food, his mother’s insistence, and the unusual situation got him to go. Now she put on like they were the closest family.
The cop entered, pointed at him and unlocked the lockup door. “You. This way.”
The woman was already in the interrogation room. The cop pointed to JD. “Ms. Halsey, we caught this boy in your mother’s house.”
Her eyes narrowed. “You were at the wake. Don’t you live across the street from my mother? How could you steal from us?”
JD shook his head. “I didn’t steal anything.” He turned to the cop. “You didn’t find anything on me, did you?”
The cop pushed out a puff of disbelief. “It must be you. You were alone and things are gone.”
“No, no,” JD protested. “I didn’t steal anything.”
“Officer.” The woman handed him a typewritten document. “The insurance for the jewelry and coin collection. Twenty thousand dollars.”
After glancing at the paper, he said, “Son, this makes it grand larceny. Not a weekend in the lockup or even a couple of months at JV camp, but hard time in the state pen. If you’re covering for a buddy who got the loot, you’ll be doing his time.”
The cop took a chair by the door. JD and the woman pondered each other. She spoke first. “The money…the valuables are one thing, but it’s the loss of memories that hurts the most.”
JD studied a speck on the wall.
“It means nothing to you, but my mother and father had a contentious relationship. Her jewelry and his coin collection are the only good memories I have of them. When they were both alive, she picked at everything. Nothing he did was right. Really fighting about nothing. She made every day a struggle. I moved out at as soon as I could. At his funeral, she talked to me, first time in years. All the sudden my father was no longer a bumbling idiot, but a saint. It made me so mad.”
“Honor the ghost,” JD said.
She laughed without humor. “That’s one way of saying it, after a lifetime of cursing the man.”
“But why are you telling me this? Old Widow Halsey never smiled at anyone. Why should I care?”
“After the wake, sadness overwhelmed me. My mother didn’t know what she had until she no longer had it. Don’t make that mistake. I talked with your father. You have a good family, a promising future. Don’t give it up to honor some guy who left you while he kept my family’s heirlooms.”
A sergeant came in. “Time to finish processing this case. You may go, Ms. Halsey.” After she left, the sergeant returned to the arresting cop’s question. “You going to tell me the name of the other guy or are you going to take the fall?”
JD hated that his choice was so stark. For a moment, he understood why his father avoided risk. It led to these situations. Gritting his teeth, upset with his weakness, he murmured, “You might shakedown the liquor store corner.”
“Ace’s gang? He’s the one?”
JD struggled not to nod. “I ain’t saying that, but you might find something besides X.”
It was Zero Dark Thirty, as the movie called it, when his father reclaimed his son.
Walking out, they passed Ace being processed in. “You gave me up, you bastard.”
“Not me. Never mentioned your name.”
The cop looked up from fingerprinting Ace. “Busted for drugs and the Halsey loot.”
“He was there with me.” Ace pointed at JD. “Why are you letting him go?”
“He’ll be back for the hearing,” the cop said. “Until then, it’s school day curfew and parental custody.”
“Shit! That’s nothing. The whole weight going to fall on me.”
“Yeah.” The cop laughed. “We knew we’d get you for something good some day.” He pushed Ace towards the lockup.
Jeffrey David’s father nudged him to get along.
They got into the Volvo station wagon. Pine tree scent and a mellow coffee house soundtrack settled like a smothering fog over him. “Can we pick up a late carryout? I’m starving.”
“No. The kitchen’s it. And don’t think you’re forgiven, just because you’re not in jail. In your free time, you’ll be cleaning up that old mansion.”
JD gazed out into the dark night. Boredom beckoned, yet a disaster maybe escaped. He knew it was wrong to tell Ace that he could get inside the old house. Why had he done that and taken such a risk? To escape boredom?
One thing was clear—he didn’t want to honor the ghost … of his future.
Image: The Apparition, Henri-Jean Guillaume Martin, 1895 / Public domain