For the 2017summer challenge
The Mysterious Disappearance of Rodriquez Looker
CHAPTER
2
Dad was a big fan of practical jokes.
“Good jokes,” he would chuckle. “Good, laughable jokes.” But Dad knew where to draw the line too, it was just the matter of how far forward the line was.
I actually didn’t get in trouble when I put a Whoopee Cushion under Aunt May’s chair last year at Thanksgiving dinner. Have you ever heard an elephant fart? Well, multiply that sound ten times and you get the sound that came out of Aunt May’s hind end. And to my surprise, instead of putting me in time-out, Dad laughed at her!
We can still laugh at that one. I just hope Dad can laugh at this one...
“Is this some kind of practical joke?”
“No, Dad, really,” I said for the millionth time, pointing to outside the tent. “ Really Dad, I’m not joking, I promise!”
“Rissa,” He said for the millionth time back. “It’s eight in the morning and please can we enjoy this camping trip? I really don’t want your little jokes ruining are experience...”
“Dad!” I insisted, grinding my teeth together in frustration. Why could he see some of the most obvious things when they were right in front of his face? “Really, Dad, I’m not joking for the millionth time, Mr. Looker is right outside! I swear I’m not making this up!”
“Goodness, Rissa!” Dad finally moaned, rolling out of his sleeping bag with a grunt. “Okay, okay, I’m getting up if that’s what you want me to do...you’ve woken me up anyway...Detective Looker, right outside the tent, what rubbish...” Muttering to himself, he climbed out of his sleeping bag and rummaged around in his duffel bag, pulling out floss and a toothbrush. “Rissa, do you have any extra washcloths? I seemed to have misplaced mine...”
“Seriously, Dad, I’m not kidding!” I said, feeling silly. “Come on, you don’t want to keep him waiting.”
“Mmm,” Dad mumbled sleepily. I could tell he still didn’t believe that Detective Looker was outside one bit. “Com’n, Rissa, mmm,” he muttered sleepily, tottering out, his feet on the opposite slippers.
“Mr. Looker, here’s my Dad,” I called, and he hurried out from his tent. Mr. Looker had changed and now appeared a little bit neater, with a clean shirt and jeans, but he certainly was far from his regular, vintage look. His hair was combed but not gelled, and he looked like he hadn’t shaved in a week.
I heard Dad mumbling as he climbed out the tent after me, not registering what he was seeing through his sleepy eyes.
“Mornin’, Mister,” Detective Looker said politely, inclining his hand to Dad. “I’m Looker, Rodriquez Looker. I assume you know me?”
In my entire life, I will never, ever forget that life stopping moment, and the color of dad’s face. It was a deep, sizzling beet red, which faded into a low purple as he made some sputtering and choking noises, sputtering and babbling like he wanted to say something but he couldn’t. I thought he was choking.
“Urghuhg,” He gurgled, swayed on his heels and fainted.
“Dad!” I shouted, bending down and shaking him. “Dad, what’s wrong with you? Come on!”
“Ge-Geurgh,” He mumbled. “Co-comeugghh..” Tottering to his feet, he swayed towards the little plastic porta-potty stall. And slammed the door and locked it.
“Sorry,” I said to Mr. Looker politely, but to be honest, I felt like fainting too. Overnight, this camping trip turned from ordinary to a meet-a-kidnapped-detective-in-the-middle-of-the-forest-and-have-your-Dad-faint kind of trip.
“No,” He smiled, but somehow the smile was different. It wasn’t the face that smiled that was different, it was the wrinkles. They seemed somehow...deeper, and more widespread. The TV-Looker was young, fit and muscular, but up close, he looked almost as old as Dad. “It’s okay. I’ve solved a couple cases with Alzheimer patients involved. I’m used to this sort of thing.”
I can’t think of anything to say except, “Thank goodness.”
“Wait here,” he said suddenly. “I’m going to get something...” He strode into towards his orange tent and rummaged around.
As I watched him fumbling around in there, I thought about how some simple things like going camping could result in crazy, tangled knots. And never in my life would I think I would stand next to Detective Looker in the middle of a forest.
He emerged again with a roll of musky newspapers, which he unfurl on the pincic bench and peeled apart different issues. Brushing off some pine needles, I sat down next to him and pulled towards me the closest issue.
WORLD FAMOUS DETECTIVE RODRIQUEZ LOOKER IS MISSING, said one. I quickly flicked through it. Kidnap, detective, blah blah blah. All the things I heard on the news.
The next one was a little bit more informative. It said, EXPERTS ARE CONTINUING THEIR SEARCH, NOW EXTENDING FURTHER NORTHEAST...
“Well, at least they’re looking for you,” I told Detective Looker before I could stop myself. He gave me a small smile, but didn’t say anything.
“Wait,” I said suddenly. “If your supposed to be missing, how come your right next to me in the middle of a forest?” He smiled again, this time accompanied with a light chuckle.
“That,” He said, pointing at the second newspaper that I had looked at. “They’re looking for me.”
“So?” I asked quickly, but realizing that I sounded rude, added, “Sorry, I’m just curious, sir.”
“Right,” he quietly, some of the momentary cheer fading from his eyes. “Well, if they’re looking for me, that proves that I need to go into hiding from those who are looking for me. It would dawn on them that I, world famous detective, would be camping out in the middle of the forest, would I?”
“I still don’t understand,” I said before quickly adding, “Detective Looker,”
“You can just call me Mr. Looker,” he said gently. “Not much of a detective now, am I?” Chuckling bitterly, he moved a couple newspapers aside to examine another issue, but still didn’t answer my question.
“Detective,” I said curiously, hoping I didn’t sound nosy. “I-I mean sir, Mr. Looker, but can you please tell us the real reason, like the whole truth?”
“A child demanding the real truth,” he said slowly, looking straight at me steadily. “Is a true mark of a future detective.”
“I still don’t-“
“Did you bring any drinks?” he interrupted, a smile swiping his features as he started gathering up the rolls of newspapers.
“Yes,” I said, startled at the abrupt change of subject. “Yes, we have Coca Cola or just plain water.”
“I’ll take a coke, thank you,” Mr. Looker said serenely, his arms swamped with rolls. “I’ll just put these back right now.” He disappeared into his tent with the newspapers.
The sun was rising higher now, and the dew was slowly sinking into the ground, making it soggy and muddy. The grimy packed dirt our campsite clearing was made of was soaked, turning it almost into solid mud.
Dad had been in the porta-potty for a while now. I guess he was just recovering from the shock. Maybe he fainted again or something. Thinking of Dad slumped unconscious over a plastic toilet made me feel slightly nauseous, and decided to just hope that he was simply taking a long time.
I tapped the screen of my waterproof watch, which now read 9: 34. I tramped back to our sagging tent and unlatched the black safe that kept our food safe from wild animals.
Rummaging around, I extracted a bottle of water for Mr. Looker and a sprite for me, and then another soda for Dad. While I shifted around the cooler, tried to reel in the mass of wrangled thoughts growing knottier by the moment.
Why did I just meet Detective Looker when he’s supposed to be missing?
Why does he want to hide from the authorities?
“Fine morning!” The door of the porta-potty exploded open, and Dad bounded out with an ecstatic smile. “Morning, Mr. Looker, did I mention that I’m Rissa’s Dad? Do you like cheese? Or soda? We have some soda!” Okay, Dad was spiraling like crazy.
“Um, here’s a sprite, Dad,” I shot out of the tent and shoved a bottle into Dad’s hand and shot Mr. Looker an apologetic look, like Sorry, really really sorry ‘bout that! The first thing we needed right now was for Detective Looker to think that we were all starstruck dummies.
But Dad seemed to not have heard me. With the sprite in one hand, he grabbed Detective Looker’s hand and literally looked like he wanted to yank it off in his eagerness.
“Dad!” I said loudly, popping open my can of soda and loudly as possible and slurping it with unnecessary force. “So, what are we doing today? Swimming? I heard there’s a nice big lake on the other side of the campsite.”
“Uh, yeah, sure,” Dad said, staring at Detective Looker, popping open his can of sprite and emptying it onto the ground, drenching his toes.
“And did you know, we’ve watched every single episode, and I loved the one where you solved the jewel thief case it was so brilliant I thoughtit wasimpossibleitwasso brilliantIcan’tbeliveit...” Dad babbled to Detective Looker with a glazed look in his eyes.
“Dad,” I groaned, rolling my eyes. “Come on, there’s the lake, I see it. Let’s get going...” A couple minutes later, we tramped down into the rocky bank of the lake, which was deserted so far. The mid-morning sun hung in the air, and the water shimmered welcomingly.
Dad spread the bath towels over the pebbly shore, and stretched out, two sunscreen blotches smeared on his cheeks. Detective Looker didn’t hesitate; stripping off his shirt, he plunged into the water, causing a large wave to wash the banks.
I gaped. I’d never seen anyone (except in those commercials) just dive into the water without their shirt and without checking the depth or anything. When he resurfaced, he was spluttering and laughing, flicking water out of his drop-covered face.
It was a wonder how different people were from the serious TV channels and when they just dived into a freshwater lake without a care. “It’s great in here!” He yelled, waving at us on the shore, treading water. “Come on!”
Dad mumbled something about finishing his book, but I couldn’t say no. I was an invitation to swim in a freshwater lake with a world famous detective! Nobody gets invitations like that everyday!
I walked down to the water’s edge, my feet kneading the pebbly shore. The small flicks of water lapped at my toes, and I jumped back, squealing, “It’s so cold!” But Detective Looker didn’t reply, he was now doing backstroke out in the middle of the lake.
I took a shuddering breath as the freezing water bit at my toes. Slowly, the chill became less sharp, and my toes turned numb. I waded in a few step, and the water was already prickling at my thighs, stinging my skin. Slowly the sensation faded again, and I took a step forward again. Now the water was at my waist.
No more postponing it now; sucking in a great breath and forcing my mind blank, and pushed off the bank.
Immediately the murky water swallow my shoulders, pounding the air out of my chest so fast that it took large gulps of air to calm my thundering heart. Detective Looker, who was paddling nonchalantly on the other side of the lake, waved for me to join him.
As I paddled forward, my shoulders slicing the water in a V-cut, I found that it wasn’t so bad when you got used to it. As the bank sloped down, and the water grew deeper and murkier, I pushed myself forward and began to freestyle towards the middle of the lake.
Now I got why Detective Looker enjoyed swimming so much; The water felt warm and silky, sliding peacefully around me like silk. Lolling on the surface, I turned on my side and paddling lazily, watching Detective Looker, who was now doing backflips into the water off the opposite bank.
Running my hands across the water, I sent a great ripple cutting across the water, and watched it spread and fade. I pinched my nose and sank, seeing all the bubbles and dark water in front of me before losing air and shooting to the surface again. When I learned to keep my eyes open against the stinging water, I dived head-first to the sandy bottom of the lake and ran my hand along the gritty bank, sending large plumes of sand blossoming into the water.
When I had resurfaced again and took large gulps of air, the Detective was cannonballing from the bank. We played in the water until the sun was high in the sky and my fingers were wrinkly. My watch, although waterproof, was washed over in innumerable specks of water. Hastily swiping down droplets off of the screen with my thumb, I found out that it was nearly 1:00.
Yelling to Detective Looker, treading water, I turned and began free-styling back, taking messy gulps of air. As I swam, I was suddenly aware of the Detective swimming up next to me in a perfect breaststroke, cutting cleanly through the water effortlessly.
I sped up determinedly, paddling messily so that the surface of the water was scattered with droplets of water from my furiously kicking feet. Not to be beaten, the Detective overtook me again easily with one swift kick. He sliced through the water, and I was so behind that he even paused to throw me a tongues-out while treading water.
I laughed, but the laugh turned into a gurgle as I put my head down and continued to swim towards the bank. By the time I got to shore, Detective Looker was already shaking himself off like a wet dog. “I left my towel at the tent,” He told me apologetically.
“No prob,” I answered easily, shooting him a thumbs up. “I’ll grab that, and some cup-o-noodles for lunch, too.” I jogged back through to the trees towards the campsite, Detective’s bright orange tent showing through the blur of brown and green.
Unzipping the flap, I crawled inside his tent.
Okay, maybe it was the broken pole, I don’t know, but Detective Looker’s tent was GINORMOUS. It was like a mansion-tent! A air mattress was pushed against one side, and a row of boxes and suitcases were against the other. Various files and papers were scattered along the far side, and the middle had enough space for at least five people to sit down cross-legged.
I looked around for his towel, so I started shifting through the papers and boxes even though it seemed very unlikely for a towel to be with papers.
One of the files caught my eye; and I reached towards it. It was a plain, basic creamy file without any creases or folds. A silver paperclip was pinned against the front sheet to hold it in place. I don’t know why, but I just picked it up and opened it.
I gasped.
Three sheets of paper slid out; one was a typed sheet of paper, and the other two were photos of people. But not just any people. The same people. No, they were different people, but they looked so alike!
And those two people? They were Detective Lookers.
The first photo was captioned, Rodriquez Looker, and this was the young, handsome, hair-gelled Looker. He was grinning gallantly, his crisp royal blue coat contrasting with his piercing blue eyes. This was the TV Looker.
The second photo, however, showed somebody named Aiden Looker. He, in contrast, was the old, skinny, tired Detective that they met during the camping trip. The detective that lived in this tent. The detective that was on the run.
I still all didn’t make sense. How was this possible? Okay, so there are two Detective Lookers, not one, and one appears on the TV, but the other one is on the run. What in the world? This was like trying to shove a puzzle piece that didn’t fit into place. It was like trying to get a rooster to hatch an egg. It was like trying to use the internet when there was no wifi!
I read the piece of paper with the typed words on it, which seemed to be some sort of letter:
Hey Aiden,
My manager told me today a good job on the jewel thief case, and that I did a very good job. Ha! More like I did a good job acting. Really, all the brainpower’s on your part, so technically I’m supposed to be congratulating you.
But now we have a new issue, Aiden. No, this isn’t another case. Look, Dogmas suspects you! He knew me when I was young, Aiden, and I knew him. He knows us too well, brother. It is too dangerous. I am going on my world tour soon, and I have declared that I will solve no cases while I’m on vacation; that gives you plenty of time to go into hiding, brother. Don’t worry about me. Dogmas just wants the money.
And also, Aiden, no matter what you hear about me, DON’T COME OUT OF HIDING because I cannot speak of what would happen if they found out about you.
As for your hiding spot, I suggest the woods. The authorities know that I have a brother, but they don’t know that we are nearly identical. Nobody will recognize you in the middle of the forest; You will find the old camping stuff on the top left hand side of the closet. And if the authorities find you and they think it’s me, then ALL WILL GO WRONG.
So beware, brother, and be brave. I will soon have Dogmas taken care of, and then we can return to the normal routine.
~Rodriquez Looker, Your brother.
I read the letter over and over, my head spinning. What? All will go wrong? Normal routine? Dogmas? Identical? Technically? Brainpower? WHAT??
Slowly, I combed those phrases straight in my brain. So...there isn’t one Looker, there’s two Lookers...they’re brothers, and one is named Rodriquez, and one is named Aiden... One appears on TV, one solves the cases...But whose Dogmas? What do they mean, all will go wrong?
Suddenly, a strong hand seized my shirt and hauled me back , dragging e out of the tent with the papers still in my hand. “What do you think your doing?” A voice snarled, and the hand released my shirt. I fell onto all fours, coughing and massaging my neck.
“Lil’ snooper,” a voice mumbled angrily, and I looked up to see the Detective Looker glaring at me.
“But what-“ I held up the papers and pointed to them. The Detective looked even more furious.
“Those-Mine-Private!” He thundered, snatching them out of my hand and riffling quickly through the sheet.
“I already know!” I cried desperately, my heart hammering fast. “I know your Aiden Looker, I-I know that-“
“Good for you!” Aiden Looker roared, glaring at me through slits of his eyes. “Oh yeah, a little girl knows my secret now, huh? Now you just go back and swim the in lake with your Daddy and after this you’ll never see me again! You can go around spittin’ up your little secret but who’ll listen to you? No one!” Turning to go, he started stoming back towards his tent, but my head reeled fast.
“I want to know the truth.” I said quietly. I could almost hear the gears in Aiden Looker’s head ticking. All was quiet for a moment as he looked at me, all the fury gone from his face. Replacing it was a curious expression I couldn’t name. He walked slowly back to me, never taking his eyes off me, and pointed at the picnic bench.
“Sit,” he whispered hoarsely. I sat. “The truth,” he agreed quietly. “The truth is what you want to hear. Very well.”
He cleared his throat and began to speak as casually as if he was recalling a humorous childhood memory. “When I was young, me and Roddie were best of friends.” Wait, Roddie? Whatever. “We were also identical brothers, although he was slightly older than me. but as we went to school, things began to change. I became indulged in math, physics, and academics, while Roddie chose to kick a soccer ball, and play basket ball, and run track with the rest of the strong, athletic boys.” At this point, he paused and took a long, shuddering breath. The fiery glint in his eye betrayed that he had been waiting to tell someone this for a long time.
“But Roddie won trophies and shiny medals for his achievements, while I obtained nothing but knowledge. Naturally, our parents favored him over me. When I was sitting in a chair, they would pretend that I was invisible while Roddie was not. The whole family despised me for no following in Roddie’s footsteps. But little did they know how genius I became. They ignored the slips from my teacher requesting for me to be put in the additional math group for me to learn more advanced, but they crooned over permission slips from Roddie’ soccer coach.
“And so, when Roddie and I both decided to pursue the dangerous and clever path of a Detective, we both discovered flaws: Roddie was fit, he was muscular and handsome, good for the TV, and good for presentation of cases. But, he lacked brainpower. He wasn’t exactly dumb, but he didn’t have the genius of me. He couldn’t think straight, and he could untangle his thoughts.
“Me however, while I had this brainpower, I was weak, unkept, and you could say, a little nerdy.” Aiden Looker laughed bitterly. “So, we came up with a compromise. If he became the presenting Detective Looker, and we used his name, but I secretly told him the solution to cases, all would go well and we would both have a successful career, even if mine was secret.
“This arrangement went on for many years, but then there came a pothole in the road. Dogmas.” Aiden Looker spat the name like it was something foul on his tongue, and scowled darkly as he thought of him. “Dogmas was jealous. He had been jealous of me and Roddie ever since we were kids, and now that Roddie had a professional career and Dogmas found us, he knew something was up. He knew Roddie well enough to know that he would never be able to solve cases like that, and he knew that I was behind it.
“So he dug up our secret and threatened to tell the public. That’s why Roddie quickly arranged for him to go on a world trip, and bade me to go into hiding. When Dogmas was taken care of, we would be able to go back.”
We both sat in silence for a couple heartbeats, thinking.
My thoughts were like an egg; once Aiden Looker told his story, he had cracked the egg, and the insides came sliding out. But in the process, he had coated my hands in a layer of excess egg goo that were the questions reeling in my brain.
Finally, I chose one and asked, breaking the silence, “What you do mean, ‘taken care of Dogmas?’” Aiden Looker looked at me slowly.
Suddenly, he stood up. “You’ve known enough.” he said coldly, and began walkign away. It was like somebody suddenly doused me with a bucket of cold water.
“Wait!” I called frantically after him. “I-I need to-The truth, remember?” I reminded him. I had hit the key word. He turn and looked at me with the same look. He sighed, and walked back.
“Yes,” he said. “What was your question?”
“Dogmas,” I reminded him.
“Oh yes.” He bowed his head, dark revenge swirling in his eyes. “What we need is something to threaten Dogmas with, something that will make him cowardly. For example, if we tell him that we will tell the public his secret if he tells on us, then we will be safe.”
“In understand,” I said slowly, combing my thoughts straighter. “But I still have another question.”
“Ask away.”
“So, there’s two Detectives. You’re in hiding, but what about your brother? Um, ‘Roddie’? If your not the real missing one, that means he’s the real missing one! What if Dogmas is holding him hostage?!” “
I doubt that’s true,” Aiden Looker said calmly. “Roddie is probably also in hiding now, and if he is, it would be too dangerous to tell me. And that’s not Dogmas’s style anyways. He wouldn’t hold somebody hostage like that. And remember what he said in the letter? ‘no matter what you hear about me, don’t come out of hiding’?”
“Yeah, Now I understand,” I said slowly. “But you guys can’t stay in hiding forever, can you? The authorities mystified...all that stuff...soon Dogmas will lose his will and tell them! You guys need a reason to threaten this Dogmas guy, and quickly!”
“Exactly,” Aiden Looker said, smiling blandly. “That’s what I’ve been trying to do the last few days while I have time. I go through old documents and see if I can find anything about Dogmas.”
“Then I’ll help!” I said fiercely. “I don’t want you guys to be in trouble!” Aiden looked at me and smiled, a small, weak smile, but for the first time, it was sincere.
“I appreciate that,” he said quietly. “Child, you are a fast thinker. You concluded what Iw as thinking about for weeks just in a couple minutes.” I was struggling realize if this was a compliment or a stated fact, but my thoughts were cut short as Dad crashed through a row of pine trees with a towel wrapped around him and pine needles in his hair.
“Lu-lunch,” he panted, looking around at us. “Who wants some cup-o-noodles?”
Ten minutes later, he had steaming lumps of cup-o-noodles floating in Styrofoam cups. Okay, I’ve only eaten cup-o-noodles a couple times before, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t supposed to look like this.
“Uh, Dad?” I asked poking at the blobs of hard, tangled noodles. Aiden Looker shrugged. “Dad! May I please have the instructions again?”
“Oh...Um, yeah, sure,” Dad reached over and tossed me the wrapper of the cup-o-noodles without even looking at me. He was staring non-stop at Detective- ahem, sorry, Mr. Looker with a dreamy look on his face.
As I scanned the instructions, I felt a irresistible urge to roll my eyes. Like I could ever count on Dad to do anything right...
“Dad! doesn’t this say that you were supposed to add hot water, not cold water? And didn’t it say, please removed from styrofoam cup before adding water?”
“Oh...um, yeah..I’ll just...”
“I’ll do it, Dad,” I groaned, snatching the cups out of his reach as he almost knocked his over.
Ten more minutes later, I had a hot, steaming, cup of noodles swirling around in a plastic cup abstractly.
The noodles were soft and tasty, unlike the hard blobs Dad cooked. I spilt them into three cups and we ate.
“Let’s keep looking through your files,” I hissed to Mr. Looker. He noded shortly.
“What?” Dad said loudly, tossing a soda at the trash can and missing by a mile. “What are you guys doing this afternoon? Fancy a hike?” No! I mouth at Mr. Looker, who caught my eye and blinked in acknowledgment.
“Mr. Wallpert, I have a photo album you must look at,” Mr. Looker insisted warmly, placing a hand on his shoulder and steering him towards the tents. “It has all the best photos. Very influential, as you know. I will lend it to you, and you will look through it, won’t you? Let me know...”
They disappeared into Mr. Looker’s tent, and a couple second later, a very flustered Dad emerged, a large, leather bound book ladening his arms and a confused smile smeared on his features.
“Nicely done,” I congratulated Mr. Looker as I climbed into the tent and sat down next to him. “So, where are we starting?” He tossed me a wad of paperclipped files with small, neat words typed in endless rows onto them.
“Look through there, he told me. If you see the name ‘Dogmas’ anywhere, tell me.”
“Okay,” I answered obiediently, and bent over the first sheet. An official-looking seal was stamped in the left hand corner with blocky looking words typed across the top. I had to crane my neck and squint to seperate the first sentence:
The court of law appeal states that any guilty victim or suspect will be pronounced to the literal amount of time served in state prison contrasted with the seriousness of the crimal commitment...
Okay, the guy who wrote this needs some serious punctuation reminders. His sentences were more run-on than a marathon. Slowly, I crawled across half of the page, my in corresponding eyes sliding blankly past one line to the next. Lifting the first page aside, I moved on to the next page:
In order to file a legal lawsuit against a correspondent, whether victim or criminal, innocent or guilty, will be officially reviewed by the jury as in the proposition of lawsuit laws of legal law suiting in section....
I moaned as I rifled through the dozens of pages that were left to read; We would never find anything in this mass...I continued to pad doggedly slow through the pages, until I spotted something that I thought was Dogmas. Excitedly, I leaned in closer, my heart pounding, but it turned out to be this:
The abuse of all animals is hereby illegal, whereas dogs, cats, or any corresponding animals. A passed animal from abuse mass the proper ritual of...
And so the afternoon proceeded with a still boringness that unveiled nothing we could use against Dogmas.
By the end of the afternoon, out necks were sore, our eyes were tired, our backs were creaky, and Dogmas’s secret was still undiscovered. Discouraged, I slumped back to the clearing, where Dad was making (more!) cup-o-noodles for dinner.
Thankfully, this time, he remembered to take it out of the styrofoam cup first.
That night, propped up my book on my knee and switched on my flashlight, casting a husky glow around the small tent. Borrowing some duct tape from the Mr. Looker, Dad managed to pretty much temporarily fix the snapped tent pole, so it wasn’t so caved in anymore.
The night crickets cheeped their monotone chirps, and an occasional howl sent shivers down my spine like a nice, long, mysterious novel. But right now, tucked warmly into my sleep bag and sitting in the cozy tent with a flashlight, I didn’t feel very threatened.
Dad drew a long, crackly snore beside me.
Aiming my flashlight beam at my book, named, The Night Things That Howl, I opened it to a bookmarked page and began to read.
The book was about a Detective named Rivera, who was tracking down a kidnapped victim when she was kidnapped herself. Everyone was assuming she’d save the victim, but no one came to save her. The kidnapper had knocked her cold and brought her to some kind of stone cell, but I hadn’t found out how she managed to get out yet.
Rivera awoke with a start to darkness that piled in heavy loads on her eyelids, her head throbbing. Her whole body ached, and the stone floor she was lying on was moldy and hard. Bits of gravel and rock bit her palms as she put her hands to steady herself. As her eyes adjusted to the dark of the small room she was in, she felt around in the pitch darkness to locate the corner of the room to calculate the width and length of her inprisonment.
Her head was still aching, so dizzying that she could think straight. She drew in a sharp breath as her hand hit something that wasn’t moldy stone: a hinge, the edge of a door. She ran her hands along the perimeter of the handleless door, but of course, it was locked.
“You will never get out!” A voice cackled from the darkness. Rivera whirled around, glaring, but all that met her eye was the blank black. Suddenly, a spark of inspiration lit her brain. “I know your secret!” she called out to the darkness. “I know your secret! I know how to destroy you!”
It was like a flame was lit in my brain along with the character in the book. I know your secret. The character didn’t really know the villian’s secret, did she? She just...
Yes! That was it! Throwing the book roughly aside and grabbing the bobbing flashlight, I stuffed my feet into my sneakers and unzipped the tent flap excitedly, my heart pounding in my throat. A blast of cool night air and a swarm of mosquitos hit my face as I jumped out. Swatting them away impatiently, I strode the few steps quickly to Mr. Looker’s tent. A light was on inside, and I could see blurry sillouettes.
“Mr. Looker!” Hissed, unable to contain the excitement in my voice. “I did it! Listen!”
“Huh?” The Detective’s tired face popped out of the flap and smiled weakly at me. “Well, come in, guess.” The inside of the spacious tent was musky with the light of a small camping lantern that was propped against a stack of books.
In the lantern-light, Mr. Looker’s exhausted features were more visible than in daylight; The dark shadows under his eyes were thrown into relief by the dim light, and his expression was more wrinkling and yawning than ever as he greeted me.
The tent was scattered with various documents fanned across the floor, as if Mr. Looker had been in the process of inspecting him. He quickly began clearing away documents for me to sit down. I sat down quickly facing him, the latern casting shadows over every curve of my face.
“I was reading this book,” I explained excitedly. “It was called ‘The Night Things That Howl’.”
He looked at me curiously and nodded. “Go on,”
“We can just tell Dogmas we have his secret, when we don’t have it at all!” I blurted out. For a second, I thought Mr. Looker had misunderstood, for a look of confusion spread over his face before it was replaced by excitement, mirroring mine.
“By golly! I think you’ve got it!” He yelped. Jumping up excitedly, momentarily forgetting he was still in the tent, he jabbed his head on one of the poles, whirled around, and began to collect and shuffle together the papers on the floor.
“It was so obvious,” he was muttering to himself, a crazy spark glinting in his eye. “You solved what took me hours of brainpower, but not, you did it without any deep thought!” He slammed down the piles of papers, sending flurries flying, but he was too excited to care.
“Yeah, we can just-“ My words were cut off as a shrill scream pierced the cool night air. We froze. Very, very slowly, with trembling fingers I lifted the tent flap and peered out at the night.
Everything as calm and cool. The crickets had started chirping again like nothing happened, but thick tension still swirled in the air. And I couldn’t push off the feeling that the scream was something more than a random fright...
Climbing gingerly out of the tent, Mr. Looker followed me as I loped back to my tent and yanked back the flap. Everything was in the place where I left it, my book, my bag, even the wrinkle on my sleeping bag where I had sat, but one thing was missing.
The lump that was supposed to be Dad was now an empty pile of wrinkled sleeping bag. “Maybe he went to the bathroom?” I whispered fearfully. Mr. Looker shook his head mutely.
“It’s more than that,” He murmured, pulling aside a tangle of the sleeping bag. “Look.” He pointed to a small slip of paper lying where he was supposed to be.
With trembling fingers, I picked it up.
You have until midnight.
The Detective paced. I paced. We paced. We were thinking, but nothing was coming. Of course, it was Dogmas, or some other random burglar. But no, Mr. Looker argued back, It had to be Dogmas because he’d been watching us all week and he must know about Dad, back and forth like this until we had no more to argue and fell silent again.
We kept pacing.
15 minutes till midnight.
Pace pace pace...
14 minutes.
Think think think...
12.
Nothing nothing nothing...
10 minutes...
“Come on,” Mr. Looker whispered feebly in the dusky, darkening light. “At least we should get ready in case he comes back.” Everything was laid out so uncertainly that I found nothing better to do than follow his instructions.
We both held on end of a long, plastic wrap and agreed half-heartedly to jump out at the thief when he appeared. We crouched down behind some trees at the end of the campsite clearing and waited, watching.
The clouds titled away from the moon, revealing a haunting full, white orb hanging in the air.
8 minutes till midnight.
The pure white moon cast a sparkling glower over the treetops.
7 minutes to go...
The shadows twitched.
Suddenly, as he had rose out of the ground, a tall spindly, wide figure flashed out. There was no sign of him dragging anybody. Dragging Dad. My heart skipped with fear for Dad.
He was, of course, the only family I had left. I never imagined that he would be...kidnapped? Well, I guess that could be the word for what was happening right now.
“That’s Dogmas all right,” Mr. Looker breathed in my ear, his voice barely a rustle of the wind in the trees. He whispered the plan stealthily to me. Dogmas surveyed the clearing, his eyes snapping back and forth between the trees, searching out flickering shadows.
I froze behind the trees as he looked straight towards us. I dared not twitch a muscle, for fear that I would alert him that we were here. My heart was pounding and throbbing so hard it seemed to be vibrating my chest. Every breath I drew was shaky and loud in my ears.
Dogmas turned and began to search through the bushes on the other side of the clearing. I let out a small sigh of relief, although my heart was still jumping up into my throat.
Suddenly, as a wisp of cloud darted serenely away from the edge of the moon, Dogmas threw off his dark hood with a whooshing sweep. The full moonlight hit him full in the face, illuminating his rugged features.
He had a clipped, auburn beard that masked his chin the area around it, with piercing blue eyes and rough, yet somewhat handsome features. I could easily see how someone like this could be portrayed as a villain in a fairytale.
“Remember the plan,” The Detective breathed in my ear. He stood up with a crackle of twigs, and Dogmas snapped around so quickly I thought he had eyes in the back of his head, his dark cloak swirling around him as the cool night breeze fluttered it against his ankles.
“So we meet again, Aiden Looker,” Dogmas had a deep, strong voice with a note of menace and an if-you-don’t-do-what-I-do-than-you’ll-regret-it sort of tone.
“Ah yes,” Mr. Looker said softly, his hands still crossed behind his back, gripping the plastic that trailed into the trees where I was hiding. “You thought you’d use a victim to lure me here, would you?”
“Yes,” Dogmas answered directly.
“Well, then you’re wrong,” Mr. Looker said quietly, stepping forward with an equally competitive look on his face. “Because the most important thing is the-TRUTH!”
Hearing the signal word, I lunged out of the trees, not caring if the brambles and twigs were tearing at my hair and pulling on my clothes. I ran, I streaked across the clearing, running faster than I’ve ever run.
But somehow, Dogmas had had a second of reaction as we flew at him; I’d seen for myself how fast his reflexes were. He stepped aside in one fluid motion and I was left lunging at midair. Silently, he turned to flee, but my brain was suddenly sparked by a flame; my thoughts burst into flame, giving energy to my voice.
“We know your secret!” This moment of distraction for Dogmas was enough; we jumped forward and lunged at him.
We working in perfect sync: in one, smooth motion, we tossed the wrapped around him, Mr. Looker holding one end and me holding the other. He twisted left; I twisted right, binding his feet and pinning his arms to his side. Then I threw my end around his face so that I muffled him for a finishing touch, and Mr. Looker knotted the ends around his ankles.
Satisfied, we stepped back to admire our handiwork, Dogmas propped up against the trunk of a tree. His cold blue eyes flickered frantically between us, glaring but not able to do anything but blink. He knew that one twitch or sign of struggle and we would be on him, trussing him up like a turkey.
“Now where’s Mr. Wallpert?” Mr. Looker snarled, pushing his face up to Dogmas. “Where did you put him?” I ran forward and pushed the gag off enough for him to mumble, “In the porta-potty” before shoving it over his mouth again.
I ran to unlock the porta-potty, fiddling with the cheap knob for a couple second before it unlock, and Dad, gagged and bound, was leaned against one wall. His eyes were closed, and he appeared to be out cold.
Grunting, Mr. Looker held me haul him out and unwind with ropes that were bound around him. Thankfully, it looked like he had no physical injury except a painfully large bump on his head, which hopefully was nothing too serious.
“Dad!” I yelped, shaking his shoulders so that his head wobbled back and forth limply. “Dad, wake up!”
“We need to call the police and maybe an ambulance right now,” Mr. Looker said commandingly. “Does your Dad have a phone? I don’t.”
“This is a no-electronic trip!” I moaned, wringing my hands. “He didn’t bring any phones!”
“Dogmas!” Mr. Looker said at once. Dogmas was wearing a pair of cargo pants equipped with large pockets front and back. The first one I searched through revealed nothing but some car keys, but we found victory in the second pocket.
We didn’t know the password to his phone and we doubted that he would tell us, so we used the “Emergency Call” allotment of the phone. He quickly punched in 911, but handed it to me to talk because it would take too long to explain to the police who he was.
Since we were in the middle of the forest, the police department told us that it would take at least an hour to reach us. Great. Meanwhile, Mr. Looker was doing something very strange. He was walking around Dogmas, pulled a sleeve or opening a pocket here or there, as if he was looking for something. I didn’t bother to ask him what he was doing.
As the moonlight dimmed, I ran into our tent to fetch a flashlight, which I propped on the table. Mr. Looker continued his examination.
Suddenly, he called, “AH HA!” and ripped something, a fake beard off Dogmas’s face. I gasped. “This is no Dogmas,” Mr. Looker said triumphantly, but cold anger burning in his eyes.
“Yeah, that’s right,” Rodriquez Looker growled. “It’s me.”
“I trusted you!” He shouted at his brother. “It trusted you! What was that for? Going to use me?” But I could only sputter. What? Rodriquez Looker, Mr. Looker’s brother, the real TV detective, the ‘bad guy’?
“Wait,” Rodriquez Looker said, holding up a hand, or rather trying to in his bounds. “Let me explain!” But the momentum of the exhilaration and the anger carried Mr. Looker on.
“EXPLAIN?” he roared. “THAT’S A GOOD ONE, EXPLAIN! YOU HAD YOUR WHOLE LIFE TO EXPLAIN, WHY NOW? YEAH, NOW I KNOW WHERE YOU WERE WHEN YOU WENT TRAIPSING OFF WITH YOUR FOOTBALL BUDDIES AND BEING BETTER THAN ME AT EVERYTHING! GETTING ALL THE ATTENTION AND-“
“WAIT!” Rodriquez Looker roared in an equally roaring voice. As his hood fell off his face, I could see really how similar he was to his brother. “JUST-LET-ME-EXPLAIN!”
“It’s a crime,” Mr. Looker growled, snapping. “You will get arrested and put to jail for this, and I will finally be free. I will tell the public the truth and I will get to lead a perfectly normal life of my own!”
“Wait.” It wasn’t a request, it was a command given in a low, deadly voice. Mr. Looker fell silent at once, even though he was no the one being threatened. “I did not want to hurt anybody,” he began. Mr. Looker glared furiously at him, earning a glare in return which kept him silent as Rodriquez Looker continued.
“Well, you, Aiden Looker, was smarter than me in everything. Although I earned our parents praise and trophies, you earned academic success and a free life to go wherever you wanted to. When I had to sit in a suffocating press room being asked the same question at least fifty times, you could be surfing or just eating normally at a restaurant without arousing that much attention.
“Sure, they knew how I looked like, but they didn’t know that you were helping me. I wanted to be like you. I figured if I plopped you in my place and you had to solve cases while I could go wherever I wanted to without this curse, then all would go well.
“I meant no harm, because I figured knocking you out and dragging you back would be easy. So when I spotted somebody going to the bathroom, I thought it was you and knocked him out. But instead it turned out to be him.”
Rodriquez Looker cast a disdainful look at Dad, who was still unstirring.
“So I managed to gloss that over, and I figured he was your camping mate, and I figured things have gone better than me. I got your pal out of the way, and I could have you all for myself. But one little thing I missed was her.”
He spat the last syllable venomously, and I snarled, looking straight back into his ice blue eyes.
“The name is Larrisa,” I reported sarcastically. “I don’t remember being named her. And that was my Dad you knocked out, you know.”
He ignored me, but continued to speak:
“I came here, figuring that my plans were al sorted out. But then this happened, and so I’m here. The End. Like my story, girly?” He glared at me. I glared back.
“Very well.” Mr. Looker stood up. “Storytime is over. When the police comes, I will explain everything.”
“No, please!” We both froze. It was the first time we’d heard him beg. “Please, I’m your brother, and honestly, I meant no harm, please! If I could only stay with you, we can keep going on the routine, nothing would change! Really!”
“Oh yeah, really,” Mr. Looker scoffed, but I could tell that he was softened up. “Fine,” he grumbled, bending down to untie Rodriquez’s restraints.
“Mr. Looker!” I protested shrilly. “But-“
“You explain to the people,” he ordered gruffly, ignoring the small sounds of protest from his brother. “The police aren’t gonna like it if they see two Lookers standing here. Tell them everything. Everything. Not one detail left off. Yes, our secret, all of it. And get your Dad some medical care. Got it?”
“Yes,” I whispered numbly as the air was suddenly pierced with sirens and flashing blue lights cut through the trees. Car doors slammed, the motors rumbled, and footsteps thundered towards me, walkie-talkies crackling.
~ Epilogue ~
I ran my hand along the polished white counter of Mr. Looker’s luxury apartment, where I’d been staying for the past week. Dad was still hospitalized with a minor fracture, but the doctors say that he’s going to be fine. Mr. Rodriquez Looker was taken away for questioning, and they said that he might serve some time in jail, but definitely nothing too serious. And on top of all that, Dogmas was no longer a threat because the public knew Mr. Looker’s secret anyway.
“Hey,” Mr. Looker appeared at the doorway of the kitchen, looking clean and shaved in his unstained white tee and jeans. Defiantly nothing like his brother on TV, but much better than in the middle of the forest. I smoothed my hand over the over-large tee that I’d gotten from the police station.
“Hey,” I smiled. “Want some pancakes for breakfast?”
As we sat down to the table with two piles of steaming pancakes, the doorbell, shrill and musical, cut the air from the door. Mr. Looker jumped, his knife poised over his pancakes. He’d seemed a little jumpy ever since we got back from the forest. The doctors said that it was from shock, I say it was because he spent a week in a forest.
“That’s the police, I suppose,” he said, looking at his pancakes longingly and getting up to answer the door. Sure enough, a couple heartbeats later, there was a flurry of clatters, and two fully uniformed officers trotted into the living room.
One of them was tall and thin with a handlebar mustache, and the other, a blading middle aged man, Officer Brown, I recognized from that night.
“We’re here for the questioning,” The tall one ordered, pointing at the couch. “May we sit?” Mr. Looker nodded, flustered, and the officers sat, pulling out notebooks and pens.
“First of all,” he said bossily before I realized that he probably was the boss. “We are questioning-“ he squinted at his pad “-Miss Larrisa Bennet Wallpert?”
“That’s me,” I said stiffly, and they both looked at me like they hadn’t noticed me before.
“Well,” Said the shorter one, his voice suddenly, louder, slower, and containing the tone he would use when talking to a three-year-old. “Little girl, will you please sit?”
I wanted to say that I wasn’t a little girl, but instead, I sat.
“You are Mr. Ben Wallpert’s daughter, correct?”
“Yeah.”
“You were a witness?”
“Yeah.” Duh!
“And you were camping?”
“Yeah!” Obviously! What else would we have been doing? “Just get on with the questions!”
“That’s all we need,” the taller one said stiffly before turning to address Mr. Looker. Okay, that interview was totally useless.
“May I please clarify that you are-“
“Yes, yes, yes and yes!” He said loudly, brushing them off. “What do you need?”
“Just clarifying matters,” the shorter one mutter, scribbling furiously on his pad before turning to him.
“You were involved in this, and part of it was your causing, so you will be summoned to the jury of a questioning on-“ He looked at his pad, as if he hadn’t just been staring at it a couple seconds ago. “-August 21st.”
“Great,” Mr. Looker said sarcastically. “Now that you’ve done what your supposed to, why are you still here?
“Wishing a speedy recovery to Mr. Ben Wallpert!” The shorter one said cheesily as they sidled out of the room. There was a pop of car door in the distance, a screech of tired and a motor, and they were gone.
“Thank goodness,” Mr. Looker said, smiling warmly at me. “Now why don’t we go and finish our breakfast?”
~ FIN ~
Or at least for this story, as there are many more to come.
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