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Chapter 4: Scene 16: What happened with Mr. Fletcher?

     


       "Let's go over what happened."


       "Happened?"


        His voice gets soft and low. "What happened with Mr. Fletcher?"


       I slump down. I don't even like to think about it. McGill pulls his leg back and leans over the desk toward me. He's not going to stop poking around. "Have you been in trouble before?"


       "I took off once, two years ago, and the Cops caught me down at the California border. I was going to see my dad. The judge says that's no crime ."


       "It's not, it's a statutory offense by a minor, meaning there are rules against anyone under age running away. You're right, though. It's not a crime ." He looks at a couple more sheets in my folder. "I see it here in the report. You told the state police you were on your way to Texas to persuade your father to come back to Oregon with you."


       "Yeah, well, I figured my uncle Pete ran him off when he called him a no-good washout , and I wanted him to know we needed him and we didn't think he was a washout."


        "Let's get back to the present. What got you in trouble this time?"


       "I got arrested ." I remember the hoot from the guys when I said it was a big mistake, so I don't say that again.


       He's scowling now. "I know. Before that. I need to know the whole thing from you, not just what it says on paper. What kind of work did you do for this Roy Fletcher?"


       "I worked in his gas station for three months, four o'clock to eight, while he fixed cars or went to his place out back to eat dinner. I pumped gas, washed windshields , and when I wasn't doing that, I swept the whole place out. I worked hard." Busted my butt, but I don't tell McGill that. "Then he told me business had dropped off and he didn't need me anymore. Business looked same as ever to me, but he was the boss."


       Some boss. I clenched my fists. "He still owed me forty bucks. He told me he'd give it to me later, but every time I rode over on my bike to collect, he'd tell me he was short on cash."


       McGill nods. "Tell me the rest."


ThinkLink: Can you talk about a time you had to tell somebody about doing something bad? What happened?

       I've gone over it so often, it's like a rerun I've seen six times. "I don't know where to start."


       He looks at his watch. "We've got time. Just tell it the way it happened."


       I look down at the floor. "I rode my bike over to the gas station . It's a couple of miles from the ranch , over where our county road crosses the state highway. There's no real town there, just a couple of houses, a little grocery store and the gas station." I look up at McGill and he nods again. "When I rode up I couldn't see Fletcher, but all the lights were on and the door was unlocked. I figured he was around."


       "Then what?"


       "I called him. A couple of times. He didn't answer so I went into the office and sat down. I made up my mind I'd stay this time until I got my money." That doesn't come out the way I mean for it to. "I mean until he forked it over." That sounds worse. "Paid me what he owed me."


       McGill draws circles on a scratch pad with his silver pen. He doesn't say anything, waiting for me to tell the rest of it. "I was there ten minutes, maybe more. Then I got up and walked around, looking at stuff."


       "What kind of stuff?"


       I've been trying to put that night right out of my mind, but now I think about walking around the little office. I read the labels on the oil cans on the shelf over the back counter. I looked at the girl on the twenty-year-old calendar that's up over the cash register. Roy keeps it there to look at the picture. He calls her his Calendar Girl. She's in a skimpy swimsuit, and twisted around in a funny way with one hip up and both knees bent like nobody stands in real life.


       "What kind of stuff?" he says again.


       "I looked through the parts catalog on the counter. It's got grease all over it from Roy's fingers. Sometimes I think he never washes up. I really had to scrub hard to get the grease off when I got home from work."


       McGill wrinkles his forehead. "Get to what happened."


       "Well, I called Roy again. He still didn't answer. By this time I was standing in front of the cash register. I knew I better leave and come back when he was there, but I fooled around with the keys. I pushed the No Sale key and the cash drawer popped open." I looked up at McGill and explained, "It gives a ding and a bang when it comes open." I hope that'd be enough.


       "Go on."


       "I don't think I meant for it to ... to open ... but then I saw all that money. Roy'd been saying he was low on cash and there was a pile of bills in every slot. Fives, tens, twenties."


       I stare back down at the floor. When I look sideways at McGill, he's staring me right in the eyes. "And then?"


       "I pulled four tens out of the till. Just what he owed me, and I stuck ‘em in my back pocket." I try to look at McGill again, to see how he's taking it, but I can't look him straight on, so I look over his shoulder at a poster of Mt. Hood .


       "That's not the end of it, is it? How did Fletcher get hurt?"


       "I didn't hear him come in. Maybe he sneaked up to watch what I was doing." Then I finally figure it out. Roy'd been there all the time, probably hiding outside, right around the corner or behind a car in the shop area. He must have seen me coming and thought I'd go away if he ducked out of sight and didn't answer. Tightwad. I don't know why I didn't figure it out that night and get out of there while I could. I start to sweat, thinking about him out there -- watching me.


       McGill pushes. "How did he get hurt?"


       "He came for me with his fists up. I thought he was going to hit me. I pushed at him, trying to get past him and out the door. That's when he grabbed me and we swung around. He banged his head hard against the door frame." I try to look serious, but inside I grin. He'd dropped like a bag of beans.


        "I called the sheriff right away and told him he'd better get the guys from the volunteer fire department to come quick with their rescue truck. Roy's head was bleeding bad. I thought maybe he was dead, but while I was waiting for help he came to, cussing and yelling."


       McGill's just gotta believe I never meant to hurt Fletcher, or take what wasn't already mine. "I know it wasn't right, taking the money that way, and I didn't mean for Roy to get hurt."


       He clicks the pen and puts it down on the desk. We sit there, looking at each other.


       "I believe you mean that."


       "So I can go home?"


       "Not until you've earned your way out of here. I'm going to give you my best advice, and I hope you'll listen."


       "I'll do whatever..."


       "Stay out of trouble. And God knows there's plenty of trouble to be had here. The others will challenge you. They'll try to drag you into their schemes. But the only thing that'll speed up your release is for you to earn your way out of here. Is that clear?"


       "You bet. I'll do it faster and better than..."


       "Just stay out of trouble," he says, but not in a hopeful voice.


       More than anything I want him to believe me. "You can tell I don't belong here, can't you?" Tears sting my eyes and I blink hard and hope he won't notice.


       He smiles, just a little. "You're not our usual client , I can tell you that. I'll talk to you again before you go to a cottage. In the meantime, I'll work out a plan for you."



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 Updated on 5/13/04

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