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Scum, page 1



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  James C. Dekker

  orca soundings

  Copyright © 2008 James C. Dekker

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced

  or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,

  including photocopying, recording or by any information storage

  and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without

  permission in writing from the publisher.

  Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

  Dekker, James C.

  Scum / written by James C. Dekker.

  (Orca soundings)

  ISBN 978-1-55143-926-6 (bound).--ISBN 978-1-55143-924-2 (pbk.)

  I. Title. II. Series.

  PS8607.E4825S38 2008 jC813’.6 C2008-903105-9

  Summary: Fifteen-year-old Megan’s brother is dead, apparently a

  random victim of violence. As Megan digs deeper, she finds that Danny

  was “known to police” and that nobody wants to solve the crime.

  First published in the United States, 2008

  Library of Congress Control Number: 2008928741

  Orca Book Publishers gratefully acknowledges the support for its publishing programs provided by the following agencies: the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program and the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Province of British Columbia through the BC Arts Council and the Book Publishing Tax Credit.

  Cover design by Teresa Bubela

  Cover photography by Dreamstime


  PO BOX 5626 STN. B PO BOX 468


  V8R 6S4 98240-0468

  Printed and bound in Canada.

  Printed on 100% PCW recycled paper.

  11 10 09 08 • 5 4 3 2 1

  Chapter One

  Every time it’s my birthday or my brother Danny’s birthday, my mother always says the same thing. She always says, “I remember the day you were born like it was yesterday. I remember when they put you in my arms. I’ll never forget.”

  Here’s a day I’ll never forget.

  Seven thirty Friday morning. My dad is sitting at the kitchen table with his newspaper and his cup of coffee. My mom is at the stove making eggs for me. I don’t like eggs. But I’m a vegetarian, so my mother makes me eat them so that I’ll get enough protein. The doorbell rings. My dad frowns slightly as he looks over the top of his paper at me. My mom turns from the stove and nods at me. Right. Go answer the door, Megan.

  So I go. As I walk from the kitchen at the back of the house down the hall toward the front door, I wonder who it could be. It’s way too early for it to be Caitlin or Shannon. We don’t hook up until at least eight fifteen to walk to school. Maybe Caitlin had another fight with her mother. When that happens, she comes to my house and we go up to my room and she tells me—again—how she can’t wait until the end of next year when she finishes high school, how the only universities she’s going to apply to are going to be clear across the country, so far away that she’ll only have to see her mother on holidays, assuming she even decides to go home.

  But it isn’t Caitlin at the door.

  It’s two men in suits. One is tall and bulky. He looks like he could be a wrestler, except what would a wrestler be doing at our door at seven thirty in the morning? The other one is shorter and wiry. They both have serious expressions on their faces. The shorter one says, “Is your father or mother at home?”

  “They both are,” I say.

  Behind me, I hear my mother yell, “Who is it, Megan?”

  So I call back to her, “There’s someone here who wants to talk to you or Dad.” I turn back to look at the two men, who are standing silent on the porch. The shorter one glances up at the taller one.

  Then my mother comes down the hall, an apron over her skirt and silk blouse. She is district manager of a chain of video stores. She believes in dressing for success. She nudges me aside and looks at the two men in suits. I don’t know for sure, but from the look on her face I think maybe she thinks they’re Jehovah’s Witnesses or something like that, here to try to save her.

  “Mrs. Carter?” the shorter man says.

  Surprise registers on my mother’s face, and I realize they can’t be Jehovah’s Witnesses. They know her name. Suddenly I get the feeling that something is wrong.

  “Are you related to Daniel Carter?” the shorter man says.

  That’s when it hits me. These guys are cops. I can’t count the number of times I have told Danny how stupid he is. I can’t count the number of times I’ve told him, One of these days you’re going to get busted. I can’t count the number of times I’ve told him, What do you think Mom’s going to do when the cops show up at the front door asking questions about you?

  But you can’t tell Danny anything. You never could. The company he keeps—he thinks he’s smarter and tougher and faster than anyone else, especially the cops. But here they are, at our door, just like I told him they would be one day. And now Mom’s about to find out what Danny’s been up to, and it’s going to kill her.

  My mother is frowning. She knows that something’s wrong. She says, “He’s my son. Why? What’s this all about?”

  I think it’s about Danny finally getting busted. It’s about him not being as smart and as tough and as fast as he thinks. It’s about the cops not being as dumb and as slow as he always makes them out to be.

  I hear a shuffling sound behind me. It’s my dad, still in his slippers, the newspaper still in his hands. He’s coming to see what’s going on. At first he has a kind of puzzled, half-there expression on his face. My dad is an architect. When he’s working on a new project, you always get the feeling that he’s somewhere else, deep inside his head, seeing things that don’t exist because he hasn’t created them yet. But when he sees the two men in suits at the door, suddenly he’s right there. He looks at me. He’s probably thinking the same thing I am.

  “What’s going on?” he says.

  My mother glances over her shoulder at him. “It’s something about Danny,” she says.

  The shorter man has pulled something out of his pocket. It’s his identification. I knew it. He’s a cop.

  Chapter Two

  At first my mother doesn’t seem to understand. Why are there cops at our house? Why are they talking about Danny?

  “Where is he?” she says. “Is he all right?”

  The taller cop looks down at his partner. I have this weird feeling that they tossed a coin before they rang our doorbell—the loser gets to tell the family.

  “Was he in an accident?” my mother says.

  I glance at my father. His face is somber. He is bracing himself for bad news.

  “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, Mrs. Carter,” the shorter cop says, “but he’s been shot.”

  “Shot?” My mother looks stunned. She shakes her head. Then, just for a second, I see the hint of a smile on her face, like she thinks this must be a joke. “No,” she says. “That’s not possible.” She sounds so positive. “You’ve made a mistake.”

  “Your son is Daniel Christopher Carter,” the shorter cop says.

  “Yes,” my mother says, confused and alarmed. I can see it in her eyes. “Yes, that’s my son. He’s been shot?” It’s like she can’t believe it. “Is he all right?”

  “I’m sorry,” the shorter cop says. “He’s dead.”

  My mother stares at the cop. My father touches her elbow. He tries to pull her gently back into the house, but she won’t move.

  “No,” she says. “No.”

  My father finally manages to ease her inside. When the two cops come into the hous
e, I see one of our neighbors standing on the sidewalk, looking up at me. Another neighbor goes up to him and says something. The first neighbor shakes his head. They both look at our house. I close the door.

  My father is asking the two cops to wait, please just wait a minute, he wants to attend to his wife. He takes her into the living room and makes her sit down on the couch. He gives her some tissues. He tells her he’ll be right back. He tells me to go and sit with my mother. When I hesitate— I want to know what happened—he tells me, “Go, Meggie.” As I start to go to my mother, I hear my father say to the cops, “Please, there are some things my wife doesn’t know.”

  In fact, there are a lot of things she doesn’t know.

  My mother stops crying when I come into the room. She sees my father talking in a low voice to the two cops out in the front hall. She stands up. She says, “What’s going on, Paul?”

  “I’m just having a word with these two detectives,” my father says.

  “I want to know what happened,” my mother says. “I want to know what happened to Danny.”

  The shorter cop looks at my father for a moment. Then he comes into the living room. He introduces himself as Detective Rossetti, homicide. His partner, the big cop who looks like a wrestler, is Detective French. Detective Rossetti asks my mother if she minds if he sits down. My mother says she doesn’t mind. She sits too.

  Detective Rossetti says, “Danny was in a bar early this morning.” It turns out he means three o’clock in the morning. “A couple of men came in and had words with him. One of them pulled out a gun and shot Danny. He died on the way to the hospital. I’m sorry.”

  Tears run down my mother’s cheeks. But she’s used to being in charge and dealing with problems. She oversees fifteen stores with a total of two hundred full- and part-time staff. My father always says she’s the practical one, the level-headed one. So while the tears are running down her cheeks, she says, “Have you arrested whoever did this?”

  “Not yet, Mrs. Carter,” Detective Rossetti says.

  “But you know who he is,” my mother says. “You must, if it happened in a bar.”

  “We were hoping you might be able to help us with that,” Detective Rossetti says.

  My mother looks confused again. “I don’t understand,” she says. “You said he was in a bar.”

  My father has been out in the front hall the whole time, talking quietly to Detective French. But he hears the change in my mother’s voice. He stops talking and comes into the living room.

  “Wasn’t there anyone else in that bar?” my mother says.

  Detective Rossetti glances at Detective French.

  “Yes,” he says to my mother finally. “Yes, there were other people in the bar. But no one has been able to give us a description yet of the man who shot your son.”

  “But someone must have seen something,” my mother says. “Someone will be able to describe the man who did this.”

  “We hope so, Mrs. Carter,” Detective Rossetti says. “But in the meantime, did Danny say anything to you about any trouble he might have been having with anyone—a friend or an acquaintance?”

  My mother shakes her head. “Danny is still in school,” she says. “He has a part-time job at a music store. He’s doing well. He never said anything to me about any trouble.”

  I glance at my father, but he refuses to meet my eyes.

  “Someone at that bar must have seen something,” my mother says again. Then she says, “I don’t understand. Why would anyone want to shoot Danny?”

  The two detectives tell my parents that they need someone to identify Danny. My father tells them he will do it, but my mother insists on going with him. She gets angry when he tries to get her to stay at home and let him take care of it. She says, “I want to see him. I want to see my baby.”

  My father asks me if I’ll be okay for a little while on my own. I tell him yes. I tell him Caitlin will be coming by soon and maybe she can skip school for a while and stay with me. My father says, “That’s a good idea.” But after my parents leave and I’m all alone in the house, I don’t want anyone there. I don’t answer the doorbell when it rings. I don’t answer the phone, either. I just sit there in the living room and look at the picture of Danny that’s on the mantel, and I think, Boy, now you’ve gone and done it.

  Chapter Three

  It’s on the news that night—man shot dead in bar. The news story is maybe three sentences long. Danny was shot dead. His death is the twenty-third homicide in the city so far this year. The police are investigating.

  My parents don’t see the tv news. My mother is upstairs by the time it comes on. She has been up there for hours. At first, when she and my father got back from identifying Danny’s body, she stayed busy by making a list of all the people to call, what to do about the funeral arrangements, what to do about work. But a couple of hours later, she started to cry, and I don’t mean just tears. I mean weeping. Sobbing. Moaning. Howling. It got worse and worse. Louder and louder. Finally my father called Shannon’s father, who is a doctor, and he prescribed something to calm her down and help make her sleep. By the time the news comes on, my mother has been upstairs in her room for hours, and it’s quiet up there.

  My father is in the kitchen. He has been calling people—relatives, friends, friends of Danny. He’s been saying the same thing over and over again. Danny was shot. No, the police don’t know who did it. No, he has no idea why it happened. Yes, he hopes the police will make an arrest soon.

  Finally it’s too late to call any more people. He comes into the living room where I am, and he says, “You should go to bed.”

  I want to ask him why he thinks Danny got shot. But I already know the answer to that. I keep thinking about what Detective Rossetti said. There were other people in the bar, but no one has been able to give the police a description of who shot Danny. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out what that means. I tell my father I’m not tired. I tell him I’ll go to bed soon. He doesn’t argue with me.

  I stay up most of the night and eventually fall asleep on the couch. I don’t wake up until I hear my father open the front door to get the newspaper. When I don’t hear the front door close again, I look up over the top of the couch.

  My father is standing in the open doorway, reading something on the first page of the newspaper. Then he looks out across the street. He closes the door and goes into the kitchen with the newspaper. When I join him in the kitchen a few minutes later, the newspaper is nowhere in sight. My father is putting a teapot onto a tray along with a mug.

  “I’m taking this up to your mother,” he says. His face is gray. He looks like he hasn’t slept.

  After he leaves the kitchen, I look for the newspaper. I find it in the garbage under the sink. I pull it out and see that there is a story about Danny on the front page. In the article, it says that Danny was known to police. It also says that there were over fifty people in the bar at the time Danny was shot. No wonder my father threw the newspaper away.

  The phone rings all morning, and all morning my father answers it. Mostly it’s people my parents know who have heard about what happened and who are calling to say how sorry they are. But a few times it’s reporters. I hear my father tell them that he has no comment. I hear him say this over and over during one phone call. I hear him say, “Do you have children? Well, imagine that this had just happened to your child. Would you want to talk to a reporter about it?”

  But this particular reporter must be good at his job, because a few moments later I hear my father talking about Danny, about how, when he was little, he drew the most amazing pictures, about how he used to talk about going to art school, how he talked about being an architect like my father and how he had finally gone to university to study art history. Then I hear my father say, “He was my son. He was our son. We want to remember him as our son. Do you understand?”

  Caitlin comes over later, and my father sends her up to my room to see me. We sit on my bed, and Caitlin tells me
how sorry she is about Danny. She asks if the cops have arrested the guy yet. She says she read what it said in the paper. She says with fifty people in that bar, the police will catch the guy for sure. Then she says, “What did they mean when they said Danny was known to the police?”

  I tell her I don’t know.

  That night, when my father is cleaning up the kitchen after a supper that we all barely touched, the phone rings. My father answers it. Mostly he listens. Then he says, “Yes, thank you, I would appreciate that. Thank you.”

  When he hangs up the phone, he turns to my mother. “That was a reporter I spoke to earlier,” he says. “He says the police have found a car that matches the description of a car that was seen driving away from the bar after Danny was...” He shakes his head. “He says the car is parked behind a house in the east end but no one is home. The police have the house under surveillance. He’s going to call us as soon as he hears anything.”

  I feel like I don’t breathe for the rest of that night. We all sit in the family room. The tv is on, but the sound is down so low that I can’t hear what anyone is saying. But that’s okay. I don’t really care what’s on. My parents don’t even look at the tv. We all just sit there, waiting for the phone to ring again, waiting for news.

  An hour goes by.

  Two hours.

  Three hours.

  It is close to midnight, and my father says, “We should all try to get some sleep.” He stands up.

  My mother stays where she is.

  My father sits down again.

  We wait some more.

  The phone rings. My mother’s eyes never leave my father as he picks up the phone and says hello. Again he mostly listens. Finally he says, “I see. Well, thank you for calling.” He puts down the phone. He looks more tired than I have ever seen him.

  “That was that reporter,” he says, his voice as lifeless as his face. “It wasn’t the right car after all. It was a false alarm.”

  My mother stands up and goes to him. For the first time since Danny died, she is the strong one. She kneels down in front of my father and puts a hand on his knee. She says to him, “It’s okay.” And for the first time since Danny died—the first time that I know about, anyway—my father cries. The sound is terrible—long, anguished sobs. His shoulders shake. His whole body shakes. My mother wraps her arms around him and holds him and says over and over, “It’s okay.”

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