Seconds Away Page 42

I held up one of the old clippings. “You haven’t changed that much,” I said. “And you’re leaving something out.”


“The tattoos. That was the first real clue something was weird. I thought I saw a bruise on your arm. But it was a smudge. I couldn’t figure out what about you was different, but then it came to me. Your tattoos. They changed. And your mom—she wouldn’t let you mark up your body with a bunch of tattoos. Not at your age. So they’re temporary, right?”

Ema looked almost pleased. “Wow, I can’t believe you noticed.”

“You know what’s weird?” I said.

“Uh, everything about this?”

“Well, yeah, I know, but one other thing: Our mothers knew each other when they were teenagers.”

“Right, when they were, like, our age. That is weird. Oh, and why is your uncle suddenly bodyguarding my mom?”

“I don’t get that either. He said a close friend asked him to do it. I know Uncle Myron is more than just an agent or manager or whatever. I think he’s, like, a secret private eye or security guy or something.”

“So he’s helping guard Mom while she’s in the area?”

“I guess. Why don’t you ask your mom?”

“I did. She just said she needed extra security, and Myron was an old friend.”

“So maybe that’s it then,” I said.


Neither one of us bought it.

“Bat Lady said I shouldn’t tell Myron about Abeona,” I said. “Not ever. And my father never told him either.”

“I haven’t told my mom. I mean, it just feels like something we should keep to ourselves, you know?”

I did.

“There’s one other thing I need to tell you,” Ema said.


“You’re right about the tattoos. Agent at Tattoos While U Wait . . . he puts them on for me. They’re all temporary. Except, well . . .” She slid her shirt off her shoulder. For a moment, my eyes just popped open, like maybe this was a prelude to a striptease or something. Ema must have seen the look on my face, because she rolled her eyes and said, “Cut it out.”


“Just . . . never mind.” Ema turned around and showed me her back. “Here, take a look. Agent says he doesn’t know how this happened, but somehow, this tattoo never comes off.”

I didn’t even have to look because I knew which tattoo she meant. The image never quite escapes me. Or, I guess, us.

It was a tattoo of a butterfly with animal eyes on the wings.

Chapter 33

Ema and I talked a bit more. I suggested that we should try to meet up at Bat Lady’s house later and see if we could find a way into the garage and the tunnels. Ema wasn’t sure that she could make it.

“When my mom’s not around, it’s pretty easy to sneak out. But when she’s around, like now . . .”

“I get it.”



“I’m really sorry about this thing with the basketball team.”


It was funny how the mind takes weird, circuitous routes sometimes. Do you ever start thinking of something odd and try to trace back to what started your thought process and really, your mind is going all over the place? That was what was happening, so here was the trail my brain took: When Ema mentioned basketball, I tried to push the thought away, but the one thing that would help me escape the pain of getting thrown off the basketball team would be . . . well, playing basketball. That made me think of the last time I played basketball, which made me think about playing yesterday in Newark, which made me think about Tyrell Waters and what he might be doing, which made me think about his father, Detective Waters, which made me think about the ride home, which made me think about two things about Detective Waters:

One, he was working on busting a drug ring in Kasselton.

Two, he had known that Mr. Caldwell’s first name was Henry.

How would he know that—and were those two things related?

In fact, Detective Waters had asked me a bunch of questions about the Caldwells, trying very hard to sound casual. At the time I figured that he was just naturally curious about the shootings. But now I remembered what Tyrell had said—that his father probably would have been the one investigating the Caldwell shooting except he was busy “working on this big drug ring in your hometown.”

“What is it?” Ema asked.

I quickly explained about Detective Waters. Ema, as always, got it immediately.

“You have to ask him more about it.”

I agreed, but it was getting late. I texted Tyrell to see if he was at the courts. He wrote back that he wasn’t because his high school team, Weequahic High, had started practice today. Then Tyrell added: Can you get down here quick? We need people to scrimmage.

Damn, there wouldn’t be time. Even if I ran to the bus stop, it wouldn’t leave for another half hour and then the ride down . . . no way. I was showing the message to Ema when suddenly I heard footsteps coming down the stairs toward us. Ema stiffened. For a moment I thought that she was going to tell me to hide, but as the footsteps got closer, her face softened.

“Miss Emma?”

I recognized the British accent. It was Niles the butler.

“I’m here, Niles.”

Niles entered the room. He was one of those guys who probably never showed emotion on his face—stiff upper lip and all that—but he stared at me as though an elephant doing handstands had suddenly materialized in the basement.

“Niles, this is my friend Mickey.”

“We’ve met,” I said, standing up.

Once the surprise was off Niles’s face, he couldn’t have looked more pleased. “A visitor!”

Ema frowned. “Yes, Niles.”

“How marvelous. We don’t get many visitors, do we, Miss Emma?”

“You don’t have to look that shocked, Niles.”

“This isn’t shock, Miss Emma. This is delight. Will our guest be staying for dinner?”

“No,” Ema said. “In fact, Niles, can I ask you a really big favor?”

“Of course.”

“Can you drive us to Newark?”

Chapter 34

When Niles pulled to the front of the driveway in a lime-green Volkswagen Beetle, I felt relief. I was afraid that maybe we’d be driving down in that stretch limousine and I could just imagine the ribbing I’d deservedly take if I showed up to play basketball in that. Still, the lime green was a tad conspicuous and I asked Niles to drop me off two blocks away so I could walk.

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