For the 2017summer challenge
The Mysterious Disappearance of Rodriquez Looker
Part One
If you ever asked my father, Mr. Ben Wallpert, what he liked doing the best, the answered would be given directly without hesitation: Television. Even in out cramped, 3-room New York apartment, we own 4 TV sets with at least two blaring at full volume 12 hours a day. If you ever got around to asking my father what his favorite channel was, the answer would be given with no necessary consideration: All of them.
From the weather report to the history channel, even the teen gossip channel, we watched them all. Soon I could memorize and mimic the weather woman’s gooey southern accent, and all the good commercials on at seven.
Just because my father didn’t care if my eyes went bad, didn’t mean he was an irresponsible parent. He made sure ate all my veggies at our TV dinners, and lectured me on the importance of a good report card, just like all normal dads.
Aside from watching TV together, which they did most of the time, every summer when school was out, we’d go somewhere fun, like Disney World or The Grand Canyon. Dad always made sure that we got a 5-star hotel with air conditioning, those little Do not Disturb signs, and of course, color TV.
We’d drive for days, and check in at our hotel,and have a whole week of fun sightseeing and exploring. So naturally I wasn’t surprised that in mid-July, Dad sprung the news of where we were going.
I was sprawled out on the short-haired rug covering the polished wooden living room floor while, of course, the TV was blaring on the Sleuthing Channel. As usual, Dad’s eyes were completely focused on the screen, his hands cupped as he leaned forward, like he was really into it. Which he was.
I normally was too, but this particular Sleuthing Channel didn’t interest me much. I was playing with one of those magnet-block thingies where you have squares and triangles, and you link them magnetically together to create 3D shapes.
World famous detective...
I was barely listening as the TV warbled, but with years of watching TV, I had learned to completely train my attention on the television, and even when I was wandering, I couldn’t help but process a few sentences.
I linked a blue piece together with a green triangle.
...intrugiating mystery...
Blah, blah, blah, detectives, mysteries, whatever.
I hummed as I popped another blue piece in place.
...suspected kidnap, experts...
Duh, there was barely a “professional mystery” without a dramatic kidnap.
I popped a green square piece into place.
...expect Detective Looker...
Of course, it was no surprise his name would turn up. Everybody knew about the smartest Detective on the block, Detective Rodriquez Looker.
I latched on another green piece.
So I was just sitting there minding my own business, right? And it’s normal that I hear the words Detective, Looker, and Kidnapped, right? But then suddenly these three words just out at me latched together in a phrase and I jumped, startled, and turned. I wondered if I was hearing it wrong. Then it repeated it again, loud and clear.
That’s right, folks, world famous detective Rodriquez Looker is missing! Who will solve this mystifying case when he himself is not around to solve it? Now folks, we look at some of our key witnesses, the-
I turned around, shocked. Half of my shock came from the fact that Detective Looker, The Detective Looker, was kidnapped! The other half of the shock came from the fact that Dad had shut off the TV all by himself, in the middle of the day. When the TV did eventually shut off, it would be silenced reluctantly late at night after much persuading that it was much too late for another rerun of Jeopardy.
But here he was, setting the TV remote calmly down as if half of our world hand’t just been shut down along with the television. When I recovered from the shock, I realized that it must be a very special occasion if Dad shut it down without any persuasion. Any thoughts of Detective Looker was washed out of my head as my thoughts started to reel.
“Larissa,” he announced proudly, smiling. “Guess where your Daddy is taking you this summer?”
I smiled. “SlashPark Central?”
“Nope, even better.”
I became more excited.
“Kennedy Space Center?”
“Wrong again.”
“You mean-you mean-we’re going- to Alaska ?”
I was so sure that I held my breath as I waited for his answer.
He slowly shook his head, and watched my face fall.
Ever since I was a kid, my Dad had been telling me about Alaska, which was where he grew up. The large oil industry, for example. The little details he left in made Alaska seem almost like wonderland.
“But we’re going someplace better!” He added perking up. I just looked at his with glum disbelieve. No place was better than Alaska. “We’re going camping!” He announced happily.
Oh, nonono. Please don’t let it be true.
“Is-is it some kind of new amusement park?” I held my breath and wished with all my might. No way would my electronic -attracted dad drag us on a ‘real’ camping trip. The kind with tents and and bugs and no TV.
“Nope,” Dad answered, grinning. “The real kind with tents and bugs and best of all, no TV.
“When are we leaving?” I could barely choke out the words.
Ten Things That Makes Camping Horrible
1. Getting attack by giant mosquitos
2. Chemical bug spray that makes your eyes sting
3. Crazed wild animals
4. Suffocation possibility in cramped tent
5. Exposure to too much heat or cold
6. Lack of nutritious food, or food at all
7. Dangerous, deadly plants (poison oak, poison ivy, etc.)
8. Getting lost in the middle of a forest
9. Dealing with cranky park ranger
It was actually much cooler than I thought it would be as I got out of the car and stretched after being cramped in the car for hours. I surveyed the scene of green foliage and towering trunks. There was a gap between some trees where a dirt path curved up to the flat camping area.
“Come help me with the cooler, Rissa!” Dad called as he popped the trunk of the car open. “Don’t worry, we’ll have a safe place to keep our provisions so the wild things won’t get to them.”
I hated the way he said “the wild things”. I shivered.
As we headed up the dirt path to the clearing, lugging the tent and cooler, Dad flicked open a wrinkled map of the campsite.
“Yup, this is our place all right,” he confirmed, pointing to a bare dirt area with a single picnic table in the middle. “The ranger told us we would be sharing the area with another person too...Looks like he hasn’t arrived yet. Well, Nice-to-Meet-You will have to wait, I guess. First, the tent!”
I watched glumly from the picnic table as Dad rippled the tarp across the rocky ground, every rock and stick protruding into the tarp. Dad didn’t see to mind, though, and continued on to dump out a tumble of sticks and cloth. His optimism didn’t even seem blinded when one of the low-quality stick-thingies snapped straight in half. He just went on cheerfully, saying that if the tent company knew it was going to break, then the tent wouldn’t collapse.
He whistled cheerfully in tune to the crisp banging of the large rock hammering the stakes into the ground and the chirping of birds. Although it was sunny, and it seemed that all that was alive was happy, I possibly couldn’t be enjoying this. They were in the wilderness.
And a mosquito was a living thing too, I pointed out to myself crossly, scowling as a mosquito buzzed near my head, swatting it mercilessly, grumbling. We had barely been here for an hour and I was already getting eaten alive. Great.
By the time I had looked back, Dad had managed to arrange the folds of cloth into a small gap above the ground, and he grinned proudly as he unzipped a round flap of a door.
Sighing, I walked over and dropped to my knees and crawled though the gap. The cloth felt hard and gritty under my hands, and I found that the tent was actually much more spacious that it looked from the outside. One wall of the tent was sagging and caved in due to the missing pole, making the space seem so unbelievably small as huge Dad crawled in after me.
He was already sweating and red-necked, but he looked proud and glad as he gazed around the tent. For the next thirty minutes, we unpacked and unrolled the sleeping bags, which barely fit on the cramped floor space of the tent. The domed roof seemed much too close when I lay down and looked up.
An hour later, everything was set, and out neighbor still hadn’t arrived. We took turns guzzling cokes from the ice cold cooler, which was then locked safely into the ‘safe place’ for out food that Dad had mentioned, which turned out to be nothing but a small, black container with stubby legs that looked sort of like a potbellied stove.
I began to crave for some snacks as the morning grew increasingly hot, and the mosquitos promptly flooded forward in swarms. Even Dad was “Ugh!”ing as he swatted at the insects, blindly sweeping a cloud of bug spray around us. That just made us cough harder, and when the eye-watering chemical lemony smell had cleared, I ran to the car and pried open the back.
I moved aside a couple flashlights, and the pack for spare batteries. Then a couple rolled up towels jammed in the corner, which seemed useless to me because it was not like we were going to swim anyway. Then I spotted a small black radio, the portable kinds that came with the cute antennae and the handle. I was tempted to grab it and fiddle with the knobs, to hear something other than bugs, birds, and Dad.
But unfortunately, Dad walked over and moved me aside easily. “Watcha lookin’ for?” He asked, grinning. I rolled my eyes. I especially hated it when Dad was in a good mood.
“I’m looking for my snacks,” I said, and was about to add, “I can do it by myself,” but then I closed my mouth because it was probably true that Dad could find it faster than me.
But instead of looking for it, Dad shut the trunk and walked around the car towards our tent. “What’s wrong with you, Dad?” I asked, chasing after him. “Where’s out snacks? Please I seriously need some Pringles right now.” And that was not a lie. I could almost taste the crispy saltiness on my tongue.
“I didn’t pack any snacks,” Dad said simply, busying himself with the turner lock thingie on the stove/safe food storage.
“I said, I didn’t pack any snacks.”
“Dad, are you kidding?”
“Not even, like oreos or anything?”
“Ugh, Dad, I really needed those snacks! Really, do you think I could survive in the woods without-“
He held up a hand, motioning “stop”. Turning around, he placed his hands on my shoulders. They were wet from the ice cubes from the cooler, and left wet, sticky fingerprints on my already sweaty shirt.
“Listen, Rissa,” he said seriously. “I chose for us to have an all-family camping trip for us to bond, not eat snacks. We can do that all the time at home.”
“But-But Dad!” I cried, but he had already extracted his fingers from my sticky shirt and gone back to rummaging in the cooler. Disscussion over. I sighed. No snacks, No TV. Could this possibly get any worse?
Yes, it apparently could, I learned, as I lay in my sleeping bag that night. Dad, aside me, was already snoring, his large chest moving up and down through his lumpy sleeping bag.
I couldn’t sleep. I rolled over in the sleeping bag, a stick poking me in the hip. I groaned and ignored it, rolling over to stare out at the mute blobs of shadows outside the flimsy cloth of the tent, listening to the crickets chirps. I had always wondered how the tiny orchestra managed to all chirp at once, all together in beat.
I listened to the rhythmic scraping until my eyelids grew heavy and the chirps grew faint and muted. I don’t know how I did it, but I slept in the bag on the ground, the stick jammed into the crook of my elbow.
The next morning when I awoke, my hair was sticky, tangled, and matted, soaked with sweat for being crammed in a ball under my back in my sleeping bag. My face felt grubby and dirty, and I sat up as the sun drifted though the translucent fabric.
Dad was still asleep and snoring beside me, his sides heaving up and down. I slid quietly out of my sleeping bag and silently as I could unzipped my duffel bag, holding my toothbrush and toothpaste in one hand and washcloth draped across the other, I unzipped the tent flap and climbed outside.
A deafening chorus of morning cheepers greeted my ears, and the cool morning air swept over my face. Then I noticed a spacious orange tent sprawled next to the picnic table, and concluded that our neighbor had arrived overnight.
Then I saw him standing next to the wooden picnic table, his back hunched. At first, I didn’t recognize him in the bright morning light with his hair matted and ungelled, but as he turned around, a sizzle of shock passed through me.
Although his hair was not slicked back in its usual whorl, I could recognize his unshaved face, those familiar blue eyes and serious expression.
Detective Looker?
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