Seconds Away Page 9

The mood at school was both somber and surreal. There were counselors on hand for kids who were having trouble dealing with the news of the shooting. Some students were openly weeping in the hallways—the ones you’d expect to get overly emotional. It didn’t matter if they knew Rachel well or not, but, hey, people react differently to tragedy and it wasn’t fair to judge.

Rumors were flying all over the place, but nobody seemed to know how seriously Rachel was injured. Two days ago, Rachel had told me that her parents were divorced and that her mother lived in Florida. She hadn’t mentioned anything about her mom visiting.

So what was Rachel’s mother doing in New Jersey?

I found Ema sitting alone in the cafeteria. Some would say that we sit at the outcast or “loser” table. That may be, but to me the cafeteria is more like a sports stadium. The so-called cool kids get the boxes and suites while the rest of us sit in the bleachers—but I always have more fun when I sit in the bleachers.

“Wow,” I said to Ema.

“Yeah. Where were you this morning?”

I told her about the police asking me questions. As I did, I spotted Troy Taylor out of the corner of my eye. Troy sat, to keep within my sports metaphor, in the “owner’s luxury box.” Our fellow students came up to him to pay their respects or offer condolences.

I looked over at his table and frowned. “They weren’t even dating.”

Ema gave me the flat eyes.

“What?” I said.

“That’s what matters to you now? Troy Taylor’s past with Rachel?”

She had a point.

“And just for the record, Rachel didn’t sit here. She sat with them.” Ema pointed toward Troy’s table. “Once she graced us with her presence to unload some baked goods. That’s all.”

“She helped us,” I said.

“Whatever.” Ema waved her hand dismissively. Her dark nail polish was chipped.

We ate in silence for a few moments.



“Do you think the shooting is connected to what happened at the nightclub? I mean, are we in danger too?”

“I don’t know. But we should probably be more careful.”


She looked at me with a mix of curiosity and hope. I flashed back to Wednesday, to the knife against her throat, how close Ema came to dying. My heart crumbled anew. I was about to offer up some lame statement about not worrying, that we’d come up with some answer, but I was mercifully interrupted.

“Hello, comrades. Even on this terrible day, it gives me great pleasure to see you.”

It was Spoon. He always held his tray close to him, afraid that someone would intentionally knock it out of his hands. This was our table in the farthest corner of the “bleachers”—Ema, Spoon, and yours truly. Spoon put down his tray and pushed up his glasses. His eyes were red, but he wasn’t crying.

“So,” Spoon said, “do we take on the case?”

Ema frowned. “What are you talking about?”

“Rachel was shot.”

“We know,” Ema said.

He looked at her, then at me, then at her again. “So it’s agreed then?”

Ema again asked, “What are you talking about?”

“Rachel. She’s part of our group.”

“No, Spoon,” Ema said, pointing toward the table of varsity jackets and cheerleader sweaters. “She’s part of that group.”

Spoon shook his head. “You know better.”

That silenced Ema.

“We have to act,” Spoon said.

“Act how?” I asked.

“What do you mean how?” He stuck out his chest. “We need to find out who shot her. This is too important. We cannot rest until we find out who committed this terrible deed. We should make a pact—we do not quit until we know the truth and Rachel is safe.”

Ema sighed. “Ready to rescue the pretty girl, I see.”

Spoon wiggled his eyebrows. “I’m a hero to all the babes.” He turned to me. “What do you say, Mickey?”

“We don’t even know where she is,” I said.

Spoon smiled. “I do.”

That got our attention. Ema and I leaned forward. Spoon just smiled. We waited. Spoon smiled some more.

Finally I said, “Talk, Spoon.”

“Right, sorry. My father. You know he’s the head custodian at this school, right?”

“Of course we know,” Ema snapped. “Get on with it.”

“Ah,” Spoon said, raising his namesake in the air, “but do you know about the custodial network?”

“The what?”

“The custodial network. It’s probably too intricate to explain in detail, so let me give you the basics: Janitors talk to one another. They are the eyes and ears of any establishment. See?”

Spoon stopped and waited for a reply.

I said, “No.”

Spoon sighed. “Another janitor in the custodial network is friendly with my father. This particular janitor—his name is Mr. Tansmore—works at Saint Barnabas Hospital in Livingston, New Jersey. He told my dad that’s where Rachel is currently residing.”

“Did he say how bad her injuries were?” I asked.

“Negative. But he did say she had a gunshot wound. Here’s what I suggest: We go to the hospital after school and visit her.”

I looked back at Troy Taylor. He was studiously ignoring me, but his best buddy, Buck, was giving me the stink-eye. Buck pounded his fist into his palm and mouthed the words Dead man in my direction.

I reacted by yawning back at him, patting my mouth in full pantomime.

“Tired?” Spoon asked.

“No. That was directed at Buck.”

Spoon frowned. “Buck’s tired?”

Yep, Spoon could be maddening.

“Just forget it, Spoon.”

“Forgotten,” Spoon said. Then he leaned in and said, “Well?”

“Well what?” Ema replied, clearly irritated.

“Do we go to the hospital after school? Do we try to figure out what happened to our fallen comrade?”

“Are you out of your mind?” Ema said. “You don’t just waltz into a hospital and visit a shooting victim. You don’t even know if she’s allowed visitors or wants visitors—and if she did, she’d probably want her close friends, not us. On top of that, the police, including Troy’s father, are working on the case. Real, live law enforcement officers.”

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