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The Ball Breakers Summer Club

by Valerie Brook

 

Felicia and Ruby are just about the best sixth grade friends with bicycles that ever existed in a trailer park. They do everything together, no matter what, including resisting being sucked into an 80’s time warp at the local Pizzaria ’N Kabob Shop. One afternoon while trying out the career of Private Detective—because before you go to college to become learned on a subject, you first should try it out and make sure it’s up your alley—they privately witness a real crime. And sometimes you just can’t count on the insane world of adults to right all the wrongs without a little top-secret help from the kid’s in The Ball Breaker’s Summer Club. 

 

Copyright © 2018 by Valerie Brook

All rights reserved.

First Published in Fiction River: Justice Volume 27 © 2018

Published by Kickit Press/kickitpress.com

Cover and Layout Copyright © 2018 by Kickit Press

Cover Art: /Pixabey.com/Pexels.com

This is a work of fiction. Name, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual events or locals or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction, in whole or in part in any form.

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THE FIRST MORNING OF summer vacation seriously needs big fluffy buttermilk pancakes, so you can celebrate, like right out of the Oprah magazines on the bottom rack of the Quick ’N Go. 

Without the buttermilk, actually. 

Because I can’t stand that sour stuff. But you know what I mean. 

All my stepmom, I mean my step-not-mom, had in the pantry was box yellow cake mix, so I was currently fighting with the only spatula we owned and proving to a point that non-stick is a lie. 

Ruby rang my cell phone and it vibrated off the counter and fell into the bowl of wet brown dog food on the floor in the rainbow plastic bowl.

Now that tells you something when Wiener, my big giant fat wiener dog, sniffs food and walks away from it last night. 

I pulled the Nokia out of the dog blob and wiped my pay-as-you-go phone off with a paper towel. I’m just trying to say that it’s cheap, not that we’re poor and it’s all we can afford.

“Don’t do that,” I said. “Now I have to talk to you and my phone smells like human mouth.”

“What?” Ruby whispered. “Don’t even start with that bacteria thing again, Felicia. I know the molecular world is a new discovery for you and all, but sixth grade science is over. I need you here, pronto.”

“As in right now?” I said, looking woefully at my celebratory breakfast. Even though it smelled wonderful it actually looked a bit like vomit in the pan, and for that reason only I’m sure Oprah would not eat it. I slid the hot pan onto a cold burner.

“No, yesterday.”

I paused to think about that. “That’s impossible.”

“Just get over here.”

It’s really easy to go to Ruby’s house. I walked out the front door of our single wide trailer in the park, sponged across the fake outdoor golf-course-grass carpet mat which is mysteriously always soggy, hopped over the two-foot white plastic garden fence for which we have no garden, and looked up at her faded pink trailer door.

I’m not allowed to knock anymore. 

Ruby lives alone with her grumpy dad and he got a new job at the graveyard doing shifts. He has about the personality of Mr. Potato Head the toy. The last time I knocked he answered the door in his Christmas boxers and yelled at me in Cuban Spanish, which has English in it, and I never knew men could grow so much hair there. 

I mean on his back. 

It makes you wonder about the theory of evolution and maybe the missing link is not actually missing anymore. 

Anyway, I promised myself not to see Mr. Vasculez mostly naked again. One time did it enough for me.

I saw movement to my right and Ruby’s face enlarged like a magnifying glass in the window to the right of the door. Ruby has really beautiful brown skin and I’m just white as a ghost. 

It kinda sucks that way, but we can’t like everything about ourselves. 

I do have really pretty shoulders. I’ve been told that before.

Ruby gave me the five minute hand signal, then disappeared. I’m like, really? Because I could have finished cooking and eating by then. 

So I ran back over to my house and finished cooking and eating and came back over to her house.

She opened the door and flew out like a bird because she’s as skinny as a piece of graph paper. She could practically be an origami doll all folded up and intricate, but super functional just the same.

“What on earth are you so excited about?” I said. It was Saturday morning around ten o’clock and the whole octagonal trailer park was shrouded in an awkward summer mist. This is what we get for living in Arcata on the damp northern California coast.

We’re like the survivors of a lost continent out here. And when the wind blows right, the air also smells like cow patties from the pasture and the pulp mill.

I won’t tell you what the pulp mill smells like. 

Well, it’s basically poop, too.

“Look,” she said. From the pocket of her purple velvet lounge jacket she pulled out a tiny little blue plastic chip with copper squares. I knew immediately it was a memory card. And belonging to the Cannon PowerShot SD780 IS. 

It has 12.1 megapixels. And shoots video.

“OMG,” I said, just like if we were texting. “You found it?”

Ruby nodded in that I know something you don’t kind of way, her eyes all narrowed and spicy and conspiratorial. Just like a janitor would look who had just found a diamond ring in the lunchroom trash can and slinked it into a secret compartment on the end of his mop.

“It had some old toothpaste on it, but I wiped it off,” she said. I took that to mean it got lost in the bathroom.

She raised her eyebrows twice and that’s the signal for getting on our garage sale bikes and going somewhere fun. In this case, we both knew exactly where we were going without saying. 

So we raced off running toward our bikes, which are sandwiched together with a heavy chain-link that loops around the leg of the wooden picnic bench, which was like five steps from where we were already standing.

I won. 

We never actually lock up our bikes anymore because the Masterlock got so rusty we threw it away, but we do drape the chain around the tires and it looks exactly the same.

“Last one there is a rotten egg,” I said.

We hopped the curb onto Manmaker Lane and put the pedal to the metal. The downtown streets were so quiet and lazy we were able to do figure-eights through the middle of the white line down the street.

Did you ever see that movie where there were fog people in it? You really can’t see anything until it’s practically too late and you’re smack in front of it. 

Then I suddenly realized there was a huge flaw in our whole plan. Like how could we be so stupid.

“Stop,” I yelled breathlessly. Ruby squeezed her brakes right in front of me and I practically creamed her. I skidded to the left just in time. That’s a sore spot of an argument between us, “the stopping too fast in front of the other person” thing. 

So I just let it go this time in the spirit of chivalry.  

“How the hell are we going to record anything in this weather?” I said. “What are you thinking?”

Ruby nodded in that way again, the spicy I know something you don’t way. 

She always looks like a movie star when she does that. A cool Cuban cucumber. 

If we were in a movie together, I’d rather do the lighting or do the sound. I could give her hand signals from backstage to help her out if she was messing up—like forgetting her lines. 

We already decided we have to have the same career when we grow up, but it’s okay to work in a different aspect of that career. That way, we will always have our own individual lives, which I think is important.

Getting back to the point, Ruby explained that we weren’t going to our Infamous Technotronic Treehouse like I thought we both thought we were. 

No, we’re going to ground zero—Mr. Winker’s actual house. 

Because Ruby explained, last night when her dad was driving her home from afterschool super detention, which is thirty minutes longer than regular detention, she actually saw Mrs. Peabody’s car parked behind Mr. Winker’s house.

“It’s the moment we’ve been waiting eons for,” Ruby said. “Proof that they are cheating with each other. Come on let’s do a stakeout.”

My eyes widened. We’d been on Mr. Winker’s tail ever since he separated our seats in biology class for texting each other. We weren’t texting. We did happen to be accidentally surfing the internet at the exact same moment, but it was just a coincidence. 

He didn’t care.

Well, he should have cared because one of our top career options is Private Detective, and we’ll have our offices in a duplex and work out of the opposite sides on cases. But before you go to college to become learned on a subject, you first should try it out and make sure it’s up your alley.

Petal to the metal again and we raced up Old Buttermilk Lane though the swirling sheets of mist. There were some hints of blue sky but then it would vanish. Riding your bike fast though cool mist is refreshing for your face. 

It’s almost like a facelift I would imagine.

We hid our bikes in the blackberry bushes and tried to act natural walking a few blocks up a hill in the nicer neighborhood. I whistled and Ruby gazed upwards at the redwoods that are like one-legged tree giants that are standing on one leg. 

I guess that’s redundant. 

Wow, some of these kids get things like trampolines and jungle gyms in their backyards. 

And those BBQ grills that open like a silver treasure chest, I’m just saying that’s one big piece of steak that can fit in there. Middle-class people can get like better cuts of meat and stuff.

When Mr. Winkler’s ocean blue house with a brick chimney puffing wood smoke like a whale spout came into view, Ruby yanked my elbow and pulled me down behind a huge parked RV with a black spandex tarp over the top of it.

I was now crouched shoulder to shoulder with Ruby. Her purple velvet lounge jacket is very awesome but the fuzzy stuff on her hood reached out and irritated my neck. I looked in her eyes like why did you pull me? She nodded her head twice. That’s the signal for when we are in danger of getting caught for something, and you can nod your head anywhere from one time up to nine. 

And if it’s at nine, then we’re pretty much for sure going to federal prison. 

But just two nods—that’s merely on par with super detention.

We were actually on somebody’s property now, squatting on the outskirts of their driveway by the concrete sidewalk. Behind our butts there were four nice and tidy trashcans and a properly astute natural wood fence. 

I couldn’t even see Mr. Winkler’s brick chimney house anymore, just spandex at the tip of my nose.

I wasn’t sure what the danger was but I didn’t want to ask in case my voice gave our location away, so I just waited silently on my haunches. Sometimes Ruby really takes the lead with things and you just gotta let her do it. She was peering around the corner of the RV, pointing the Canon SuperShot down the street like a real detective would.

I could hear the little shutter going whizbang. Or whatever a digital shutter sounds like in spelling.

Then I noticed there was a dimple in the spandex where it kinda pulled up like somebody had been accidentally pointing their blow dryer on the spandex and it had gotten too hot, melted a little, and curled up on itself.

I tapped Ruby’s shoulder and she didn’t respond. Whizbang. Whizbang.

So I got flat on my belly and crawled in like a bear going into a cave. Or I guess more like a lizard going into a narrow opening that you can only be a lizard to fit into.

It’s kinda creepy to be underneath a machine like that all shrouded in a black material that’s sweeping the concrete like a bed skirt. The hairs on the back of my neck went up because I was thinking what if in a freak accident all four tires go flat at the same time right now and I start getting crushed like that famous trash compactor scene in Star Wars. That’s a really great movie by the way, if you haven’t seen it. 

I think they even made a sequel.

A few seconds later Ruby was under the RV with me. “Great idea,” she whispered.

You know, what does RV even stand for? Remote Vehicle? That doesn’t make sense. Rectangular Vehicle? 

“Did you get the license plate?” I whispered.

Ruby nodded enthusiastically, so much so that she cracked her head on a metallic thingamabob coming out of the engine. But at that exact moment there was another noise. 

A shout. 

Like an angry man just mangled a word. Glass shattered like an explosion. A door slammed.

Ruby and I started army soldier crawling on our elbows toward the voice so we could see what was going on, which was up toward the engine area and closer to the residence. 

We didn’t know who lived here, but they sure did have a home security issue with the spandex. It was like military-grade camo. One hundred CIA agents could fit under here practically and no one would ever know they were here.

Ruby had her camera in hand and I knew what she was thinking.

I reached out and delicately lifted the spandex skirt like a mouse. We were in the perfect angle to see under the the chain-link fence that the RV was nosed up against. The concrete driveway continued forward until it dead-ended at a shed that had a closed door and one small window with a wrinkled white curtain that looked like a bandaged black eye.

“You goddam piece of shit,” a beefy man said. He had a belly like a bulldozer. He was actually wearing a wife-beater tank top with the armpits a little bit yellow and some new dark blue Levis jeans. He had better control of himself after that shout. His voice was quiet and cruel now. “The fuck I tell you about it?”

Then my eyes caught movement to the far right. 

There was a kid on his butt like he’d been shoved down. He was wearing pajama bottoms with armored badass Ninja Turtles but his chest and feet were naked and undefended. 

His face twisted, his pale lips barred back in a grimace of desperation.

There was green beer bottle glass all around the kid’s body as he crept back on his palms. Some of the swirling mist had lifted right then and a moment of blue sunny sky coughed up some rays of light that made the glass shards twinkle like diamonds.

Except for the red ooze of blood. 

It pooled out from under his left hand.

The boys eyes looked hollowed out and filled up black with dread. Also like a deer in headlights unable to run. And even like that kid Blake who I saw at recess sometimes and who was a grade younger.

It was Blake.

I heard whizbang.

Then the particular sound of the beefy man’s black leather belt whipping off. It’s like shhhh and hiss put together, or a super bad snake.

I started to smell a cringeworthy smell, and I think it was coming off my neck. I felt suddenly like a stink beetle, the shiny round black kind with long legs. When you scare one it emits a nasty odor that smells like an intestinal surgery gone wrong.

Now the beefy man loomed over the kid. 

The man jerked his head to the left like he was silently saying get into the shed you brat. 

Blake crawled up on his bare feet, trying to miss the glass landmines. He walked the plank to the shed door, opened it, and was swallowed inside.

The beefy man with the belt followed.

The shed door slammed and locked.

I realized my lungs were aching like I’d inhaled two bowling balls and they were stuck in my chest.

“That’s Blake,” I managed to whisper to Ruby. But when I turned toward her she was already halfway scooted out of the spandex skirt right out into enemy territory. My nose brushed her ankles.

Geez, that kid scoots faster than a real army soldier. Then I realized it wasn’t that she scoots fast, it’s that I was paralyzed in place. I mean, I could have peed my pants and not even felt it.

“Ruby,” I said in that hard whisper that means get back here right now.

But Ruby was now in extreme Private Detective mode, which is much more advanced than normal Private Detective mode. She crawled under the high chain-link fence because she’s the size of a piece of paper, slunk alongside the house past the side door, and then disappeared behind the shed with a purple flash.

I could have died and turned to fossil for as heavy with dread I felt.

Relaxation Vehicle? Damn. That RV word was stumping me.

When you’re paralyzed time really slows down. I think like five minutes passed and I only had one real thought.

I heard a high-pitched commotion and Ruby whipped back around the corner of the shed with a pink chihuahua in a tutu snapping at her heels. 

I’m not kidding.

When Ruby dove back under the spandex skirt we both would have nodded our heads nine times to indicate federal prison-level danger, but there wasn’t enough time. 

We wormed our way back out to the public sidewalk, hurried back to the blackberry patch where the mist still swirled, and got out of Dodge on our bikes like they had rocket blasters belching fire and the fog people from that one movie I can’t remember were lumbering toward us like zombie prison guards dangling got-ya handcuffs.

* * *

We didn’t stop pedaling until we skidded to the curb at the secret trail entrance to our Infamous Technotronic Treehouse behind the all-night Safeway grocery store.

My throat burned raw and my cheeks felt so red they probably would show up on a satellite image.

The back end of the big buildings are snug up against Highway 101, but there’s prime real estate between the mushy drainage ditch and the garbage bins beside the loading docks.

I think it always smells like doughnuts.

We pushed our bikes along the muddy trail through the blackberry bushes. Did you know they are an invasive species?

There’s a giant old pine tree and last summer we nailed together a room off the ground with old pallets that we drug out here from the Dumpsters. A saw, two hammers, and a bunch of nails from the back of Ruby’s dad’s truck, plus a green tarp roof that he’ll never notice is missing, and wha-la we have our offices.

Love it.

We even put an old green Army sleeping bag from Goodwill inside, and an egg crate for padding. The outside wall has a no trespassing sign.

After Christmas we super scored while Dumpster diving and got like a million rainbow indoor tree lights. So now on special days we check to see if the coast is clear and run out with our orange extension cord and plug into Safeway. 

They haven’t caught us yet. 

It’s only like one nod on the risk-nodding scale of danger.

The Christmas lights twinkled in a disco dance across Ruby’s face as she explained that she had circled the shed but hadn’t found another window to take any pictures or get evidence. 

And the pink barking chihuahua had run out of a pet door from the main house. 

And come hell or high water we weren’t going to let Mr. Beefy get away with child abuse. Our parents sucked but they didn’t abuse us.

The privileged need to look out for the underprivileged.

We agreed to tail Blake until we caught him alone and came up with a plan to help. We weren’t sure how to explain how we witnessed him being abused without sounding creepy, but we did agree to add in the career option of Counselor to our list.

* * *

It turned out to be hard to tail Blake. 

As a side note, every single car on the planet can accelerate away from your bicycle like a torpedo. So don’t try to follow one with the idea you’ll catch up at stop signs.

It took a week to figure out Blake takes gymnastic lessons on Tuesday afternoon. Then he plays video games at the Pizzaria ’N Kabob Shop with his little five-year-old brother Albert while he waits for his mom to pick him up.

Ruby and I were incognito in dark sunglasses at a table in a corner under the widescreen TV that only played MTV music videos from the eighties. Ruby swears it’s in a time warp, like a real one.

I’m not sure we should sit next to the TV, just in case it includes us, too.

I monitor Ruby every time we come in here just to make sure she doesn’t suggest we go out and get perms.

We decided to split up and left our Cokes dripping moisture rings over the waitress’s dirty rag streaks on the table. I grabbed my school backpack, which was enormously heavy at this point and threatening to rip at the seams, and Ruby headed toward the only other table with a patron, where Albert sat eating a wedge of greasy pizza.

I rounded the corner into the video game room where Pac Man and Donkey Kong warbled their musical bleeps through speakers that sounded like they had drown with the Lost City of Atlantis.

“Hey, Blake,” I said to Blake, who was thrusting a joystick every which direction like he was trying to shake pineapples out of a tree.

He didn’t even respond.

Wait, is his name not even Blake? No, for sure his name is Blake.

“Remember me from school?”

I noticed a swatch of Band-Aids on his left palm. His spaceship exploded and the glow from the screen colored his skin green.

“Remember I walked into the boys’ bathroom once,” I said, “and you were like, hey, this is the boys’ bathroom. And we laughed and you gave me a cinnamon Altoid?”

Blake turned his brooding, arcade-games-suck eyes up at me. A spark of recognition lit up his face and he turned happy. “Oh hey, Felicia,” he said. “What ’sup?”

Being that I’m testing out the career option of Private Detective plus Counselor, I did not come unprepared. 

Once a month, if you shake the giant gum ball machine by the exit doors to Safeway after the janitor has unplugged it to vacuum the dust and trash that accumulates behind it during said month, you might find that it dispenses quarters instead of gum.

I discovered this quite on purpose. 

“Do you want to share my quarters?” I said. I heaved the backpack on top the joystick on the arcade game and unzipped my booty. 

Wait, I mean bounty, as in the pirate stuff.

Blake’s eyes widened like we were looking at nuggets of gold and glittering jewels. “Wow,” he whispered. 

It was kinda awesome, in fact. Like maybe we could all afford to live inside the Pizzaria ’N Kabob Shop for weeks if there was an apocalypse. “Do you and your little brother wanna join mine and Ruby’s club? It’s like a justice club. We even have a treehouse.”

He was like sure.

See? Money talks or people walk. Clint Eastwood said that.

* * *

When Blake and his brother Albert rode their bikes to meet us at the Infamous Technotronic Treehouse three days later on a blue-sky afternoon, Ruby brought a box of saltines and grape jam and the four of us munched away like rodents.

“It’s like a glow-in-the-dark disco cave in here,” Blake said in awe. “You just need some dance music.” 

Ruby explained our radio broke last month.

Blake was wearing concealing long pants and a long T-shirt and the rest of us were in leg revealing shorts. There was still a swatch of Band-Aids across his palm, though the bandages were dirty and crinkled but still adhered.

I guess that shows how sticky that Band-Aid brand can really be. 

The idea of Scientific Chemical Inventor as a career popped into my head, but I pushed it away, because studying glue would get boring.

Ruby and I told the story of how we constructed the treehouse last summer while my parents were getting divorced. 

I added in about how my dad used to punch my mom where the bruises wouldn’t show, and how the police cars took up all the guest parking in trailer park whenever I used my pay-as-you-go to call 911.

You need to always have at least five minutes remaining on your phone just to be safe, because the switchboard can put you on hold if it’s a busy crime night. 

Like on full moons, I’ve noticed.

I tried to detect if the information about my dad compared to the situation Blake was in with his dad. Except there was one critical difference—my own dad never hit me. I think I’m more around the level of furniture to him, or maybe at the same level as Wiener our wiener dog, who gets fed well but never petted, except by me. 

I even gave Wiener a spa treatment in the bathtub once with lavender dog soap, but he shivered in fear and I felt bad.

Anyway, Blake and Albert didn’t show any signs of being abused kids, or give off any clues or secret sideways glances—they just looked normal. 

But Blake was the one covering up bruises with his clothing—I would bet all my quarters because my real mom Cheryl used to cover her bruises, too.

“Aren’t you allowed to have a cell phone?” I asked.

Blake shook his head. “Negatory on the texting thing for me. Mom won’t pay for it.”

I thought for a moment and then I said, “why don’t you try my phone,” and I reached into my shorts pocket and tossed the Nokia. 

Time went into slow motion for me as my phone tumbled through the air, flashing silver and black, like the scales of a fish underwater that’s about to dart under a rock. 

The eighties song She’s A Maniac popped into my head. 

Blake caught the phone and instantly tossed it back. “Thanks, but no thanks,” he said. “My mom would skin me if she found it.”

Ruby moved us on to other topics, such as how Blake and Albert would be honorary members of our justice club, and how we scout the neighborhood looking for crimes to document and we hoped they would join us. 

Our good works include, but are not limited to: Collecting by hand all the highway trash in the drainage ditch once a month to protect the Egret that lives there with its very long freaky beak. Going to the grocery store for Mrs. Wilber’s when she broke her hip. 

And helping Billy paint his white wooden fence again really quickly when an artist hoodlum spray-painted a man’s butt bending over across the boards. It was very realistic.

I’m not kidding. 

I felt like I got an education.

Blake and Albert and Ruby and I got on swimmingly that afternoon. Ruby did manage to ask Blake about the injury on his palm. And Blake did manage to explain it was from falling off his skateboard. 

Ruby and I exchanged knowing looks.

We both know sometimes the situation gets worse when you tell the truth.

I just felt like there was something so familiar about Blake. I kept thinking about his face being twisted, his pale lips barred back in a grimace of desperation.

That I’d seen that same look before on someone else.

Well, I was starting to feel really bad that my legs had froze up under the RV. Like there Blake was getting beat up in the shed with a belt, and I had turned all cowardly. 

I just needed to know something more.

We’re not an all-talk-no-action group.

I knew what I had to do. And I hoped Ruby would understand I had to do it alone.

* * *

At just past midnight that night my dad and step-not-mom were still watching some kind of police show on the couch.

I snuck outside in the cloak of darkness. I knew they’d never notice I was missing. I’m as invisible as Weiner.  

I rode my bike to Safeway and the cashier helped me count all the quarters, even though they were pre-counted. I bought a big piece of middle-class meat. I pedaled my bike in the inky dark down Old Buttermilk Lane until I was at the hulking shadow of the RV. 

There were like zero cars. Or people. Plenty of yellow porch lights on dark slumbering stoops, and some TV lights flashing behind the private curtains of bedroom windows.

I hid my bike in the shadows.

The air smelled faintly like skunk.

My heart kinda started beating harder, like Band-Aids were wrapped around it and squeezing.

I tiptoed up to Blake’s chain-link fence and plopped the meat onto the cement on the other side. It just laid there dead. If that chihuahua came running out it was going to have too much steak in it’s mouth to bark.

I climbed over the chain-link fence. 

It rattled and I thought of rattlesnakes coiled up in the dark.

The shed door loomed up ahead. I couldn’t take it anymore, the shadows were growing arms and my neck hairs were freaking out so I risked turning on the flashlight of my Nokia.

But sometimes a little bit of light just makes things worse and I ended up in a brief Star Wars scene where my phone was a light saber and I slashed it in every direction.

I got myself under control.

I tiptoed up to the shed door, the cold knob turned in my shaking hand, and I slipped into the enclosure quite as a mouse.

Except for the huge box of miscellaneous engine odds and ends that I knocked down with a clatter. This is why Ruby is going to be the movie star and I’m backstage.

After realizing that I did not pee my pants, and also after a full five minutes remaining frozen in a crouched position, squeezing my Nokia with a death latch, I finally decided Mr. Beefy must still be asleep and I stood up and began hunting.

Rows of gunmetal shelves towered over me. 

Dusty boxes and cobwebs and decades of junk built up everywhere my flashlight glowed. A decapitated dolls head. A cracked football helmet. A black mannequin without arms. 

The back of my throat tasted like mold. 

I had no idea which corner to turn.

Then I had the idea to shine my light on the ground and like a sprinkle of magic fairy dust a worn path shone in gray footprints, a tattle-teller in the grime.

The footprints led to the back of the rectangular shed. There was a filthy mattress there. A handcuff hanging on a pole. And after searching long enough, I found the camera on the tripod.

And I found the laptop and the disks.

Bingo, I thought. Then I got the hell out of there. 

That middle-class meat was still laying dead on the ground.

* * *

I needed a few days by myself to think. I told Ruby I had the flu.

Maybe another person would have called the authorities already.

All I know is that the last time I called the police to get my dad arrested for trying to kill my mom, they arrested my mom instead. 

She’s in a federal prison in Kansas now for attempted murder. We write letters every week. I guess the honest testimony of a seven-year-old child didn’t mean anything to the law. 

My mom is innocent. My mom was defending herself. I watched it happen. I will never forget her face how it twisted, her pale lips barred back in a grimace of desperation.

I will never forget his lies.

And my dad’s a bit of an evil genius. I give him that. I hope it’s worn off on me—but in the opposite direction. 

You know, so like I can become a super good person, instead.

I spend a lot of nights sleeping in the Infamous Technotronic Treehouse to be away from him. He disgusts me. That’s the real reason we built it, and put in a sleeping bag, but Ruby promised she’d never tell anyone.

My so-called room in our trailer house is just the couch, anyway. I’m allowed to keep my clean clothes under the bathroom sink.

Ruby is amazing because she hides presents for me. And written notes tucked inside my sleeping bag like an old-fashioned text message. 

There’s often a useful reminder: Felicia, in the morning don’t freak out and think the Egret is an alien again. 

And the note’s always signed: Your Best Friend Forever, Ruby.

I know she limits her texts and calls to me so I have all my cell minutes just in case I get scared out here, you know?

But I’ll never call 911 again. 

I mean, wait. I would need to call them just one more time. But not now. Not yet. There was a little organization to do.

* * *

After two days of the not-flu I gathered all four of us at the Infamous Technotronic Treehouse.

If we were going to be an official justice club, we needed an official name. Secondly, we needed some ground rules for the summer, or a code of conduct, to pin to the wall. And a way to keep track of our justice projects. If other kids wanted to join when the word got out, I was okay with that. 

And lastly, we had to agree to support each other. No matter what happened. Like if one of us had to testify in court or something. Ruby shot me a look with that one.

It was Blake who suggested The Ball Breaker’s Summer Club.

I like that kid. 

* * *

When I called the police on Mr. Beefy, I made sure it was dark and misty and I was alone. I hid under the RV. I took a lot of deep breaths until I thought I might pass out from hyperventilation, and then I decided enough already.

Just do it.

Wait, it’s called a recreational vehicle. My body flooded with relief like a bad itch was suddenly gone.

I dialed 911 and I started screaming bloody murder. I said I was being held hostage in handcuffs in the shed. I gave the address. I saw lights coming on as neighbors looked around for what bad thing was happening.

Then I crawled out the back of the RV and disappeared into the mist.

I saw the red-and-blue flashers as I sailed down Old Buttermilk Lane on my bike. I had already crushed my cell phone and threw it in the blackberry bushes. I think pay-as-you-go is untraceable, but not if you’re still carrying it around.

Anyway, sometimes justice means just us. 

I’m not saying what I did was right. I’m just saying it’s what I did. I’ve learned in this world we have to decide for ourselves where the line is between good and bad. 

I’ve drawn where I stand.

Copyright © 2018 by Valerie Brook. All rights reserved.

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