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Death in the Fort - Chapter Fourteen

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Jan Hoffman | The Journal Gazette

Chapter 14

"Aritas," Shay said, glancing from my handful of buttons to one of several big ol' reference books spread out across a desk. "They're Japanese porcelain buttons, made after World War II."

She held one button between her thumb and first finger. It had a lily painted on it, six delicate little hand-painted petals. It looked white, but when you got a little closer, you could see green and pink. And a little yellow. I noticed it matched Shay's nail polish.

"This one alone," she said, "is worth about $5,000."

Jaime let out a long, low whistle, and we all stared at him as if that was a really corny thing to do.

"What?!" he said. "What are you looking at?"

It was 9 p.m. by then. The library was closing, and we still had to get home and figure out how to get the police involved in all of this. Should we tell them everything? Like that we'd swiped this box from Darleen's house? And that we'd been in possession of a bunch of stolen money, laundered nicely through the purchase of buttons?

My instinct was to just tell the truth - the whole truth - and let the cookie crumble. Getting in trouble was preferable, in my eyes, to the idea of Travis' switchblade.

"Ooooo," Jessica said. "Do you think Sheriff Fries will get involved? He's a hunk. He should really put out a calendar."

Shay rolled her eyes at us.

"All right, children," she said. "It's closing time." She was already chucking stuff into her Dooney & Burke purse, snapping shut the compact she'd been using to powder her nose and dropping it back in her bag. She grabbed her keys. They jangled. There were probably a million key chains attached to them.

"Get lost," she said. "And please be careful."

"Thanks, Shay," I said.

"No, Martha," she said. "Thank you."

"For what?"

"For having a real question this time," she said. And then she stuck her tongue out at me.

Jessica, Jaime and I left the library and walked through downtown, past what used to be our favorite pool hall, Quincy's. Across the street, inside Coney Island, a guy was scrubbing the hot dog roller clean with a big towel. And at Freimann Square, we could hear the lovely crusty rolling sound of the wheels of a skateboard - and the accompanying shouts of the boys who were trying a few tricky maneuvers on the steps and the railings at the park.

Eventually, we crossed the Columbia Street Bridge and turned down Edgewater Avenue, which was, as usual, hushed and beautiful and probably 10 degrees cooler than anywhere else in the city.

On Loree Street, Jaime walked us to our door - only because he was in the middle of his Cookie Monster-sings-death-metal imitation. And we were laughing and calling him an idiot, like usual. It's weird. Just when everything seems perfectly normal - right when you're doing the kind of comfortable activity you've done a million times at least - everything can change. Like, one minute you're walking out to get your mail, and the next, a truck comes and smacks the heck out of you and ruins your life.

There was a note stuck to our front door.

We have them. Bring the box to the park near the courthouse. Midnight

"The girls!" Jessica looked at Jaime.

But he was already running toward his car.