Rick didn’t like cops. Really didn’t like them. Didn’t trust them. Didn’t want to be around them, even. Whatever was going on with them about Penny Greenlee was a good example why — way too much behind-the-scenes stuff that they’d justify not telling everyone for ‘their own good’ or some bullshit. Rick didn’t buy that. He wanted to decide for himself what was for his own good — him, and nobody else. He didn’t trust anyone else to do that. Not for him.
Well, except for Grandma Hilda. Of course, he trusted her. He sort of had to. What other choice did he have?
But it wasn’t like that, really. She looked out for him. She cared about what happened to him. She was close to him. You need those things to decide what’s for someone’s own good, was how Rick saw it.
“If you’ll just come this way, we’ll try to get you back home, like I said.” Otis the Cop was addressing Grandma Hilda.
The old lady with the big glasses — the one who had been behind the desk when they’d all come in — came up behind Otis with a clipboard in her left hand and a pen in her right. Otis tore a page from the little notebook that was in his shirt pocket and then took the pen from Old Glasses Woman and signed something on the clipboard.
Rick cast a quick look toward Grandma Hilda as Otis opened the door to one of the rooms for them to enter.
His grandmother gave him a little nod that told him to go along with things — at least, for now.
“Sorry again about the power outage,” Otis said, after closing the door. “Like I said, there are problems like that. This used to be the old Sacred Union, before we switched buildings. And we’re still working out some wiring … things.” Otis seemed embarrassed that he clearly didn’t know what else to call it.
“It’s perfectly understandable,” Grandma Hilda told him. “I’m amazed you got everything back up and running so fast, as it is.”
“Yeah, totally,” was all Rick could manage. Rick gave his best fake smile, but he just wanted to go home. He’d expected someone other than Otis the Cop to be the one asking him questions about what happened. That made things tougher, and tougher Rick didn’t need. Otis knew Rick … a little bit, anyway; Rick would’ve rather dealt with someone who wasn’t familiar with him as much. Mostly because of the promise he’d made to CJ about leaving Raccoon Kid out of things. Rick felt a chill; the pain at the back of his eyes got more intense. Just from thinking about Raccoon Kid. The way Raccoon Kid had just stood there, in the bushes, watching the Marsh house burn. Wearing that fucking wood or papier-mâché or whatever-it-was mask and that weird outfit. It had been hard to tell what any of it was made of, or much detail; the heat made the air look wobbly all over the place; he’d learned what you called that in science class once, but he couldn’t remember it. Heat reflection, or something.
Inside the room, Otis gestured for Rick and Grandma Hilda to sit down in a pair of desk chairs, which they did.
Rick noticed that all of the desk chairs in the room had wheels, but they otherwise didn’t match each other at all. The room kind of bothered Rick, for being so disheveled. It made him trust the cops of Drodden less. There was an old-looking white board that covered most of one wall of the small room; at the bottom of the white board there was a little shelf along its base that was covered in those thick felt pens you only really see in school. An old television — the kind that wasn’t flat — was on one of those carts teachers wheel in when they’re too tired or drunk to do anything in class but show a movie. The room smelled like chlorine, and it made Rick cough a little. It was the kind of room that promised constant and immediate agonizing adult bullshit. “Oh, man,” Rick said, shaking his head a little.
Grandma Hilda walked into the room last, silently. Rick noticed that she he kept looking back and forth — like she was trying to figure something out about the place. Or maybe it was like she was looking for someone, which didn’t make sense given the small size of the place. But it kind of looked that way.
Otis shut the door behind them. “Sorry,” he apologized again. “I know. It’s cleaning fluid. They’re all like that, right now, I’m afraid. We haven’t opened them one up since we cleaned last.” Otis sat down and faced them, opening the pad from his shirt pocket again. “So, before anything else, Rick, I want to say I really appreciate you calling in. The fire could’ve done a lot more damage if you hadn’t done that.” He leaned forward toward Rick just a little. “It was really civic-minded of you.”
Rick felt like he was going to barf on Otis’ face at that, and not from the cleaning fluid.
Otis seemed to be able to read Rick’s expression. “And on that note,” he said, looking down to his pad, “let’s try to make this brief.”
It wasn’t brief.
“How well did you know Mickey Laddow?”
“Why were you out in the woods that day?”
“Did you see anything else that was suspicious before, during or after the fire that stands out to you?”
“Did you see anyone else who was suspicious before, during or after the fire that stands out to you?”
“Did Mickey talk about any problems with Victor Marsh recently?”
“Did Mickey have any problems with Gunny Marsh?”
“Where were you this morning?”
“Where were you this afternoon?”
“Where were you just before the fire?”
“How well do you know the other Laddow family?”
“Did Mickey tell you what his plans were for the prank?”
“When did you first realize the Marsh house was on fire?”
“Did you talk to Mickey much about planning the prank?”
“Did Mickey make any phone calls when you were working on the prank?”
“Did you know what the prank he told you about was supposed to be from the start?”
“How did you help participate in the prank?”
“Who else was with you when you worked out the prank today?”
“Where did you all work out the details of the prank?”
“Do you know why Mickey invited Gunny Marsh?”
“How do you feel about the Laddows?”
“How do you feel about Mickey?”
“How do you feel about Gunny?”
“How well did you know Gunny Marsh before today?”
“How well did you know Mickey Laddow before today?”
“How well did you know Jay Redwing before today?”
“How are things at home?”
“Did Mickey ever give any indication he was considering violent actions recently?”
“Was anyone else friends with Mickey, that you know of?”
“Did Mickey have specific enemies other than the Marshes?”
“Do you know the Greenlee family?”
“Do you know Penny Greenlee?”
“Do you know CJ Sweet?”
“Was there any specific incident between Mickey and Victor Marsh you can think of recently?”
“Do you know what instigated the prank?”
“Do you know the Sweets?”
“Do you know Kevin Sweet?”
“Did you see Mickey go into Sweet’s Drugs that day?”
“Did you see or hear Mickey make any telephone calls?”
“Was there anything suspicious about anything Mickey said to you in the last few months?”
“Did Mickey ever say anything about hearing voices?”
“Do you know why Mickey wanted to pull the prank today?”
“Did Mickey seem irritable or distracted when you saw him today?”
“Did Mickey ever talk about any lucky numbers or important numbers?”
“Was Jay Redwing meant to be part of the prank?”
“Do you or any of your friends smoke or drink or do drugs?”
“Was Mickey doing drugs today?”
“Was Mickey drinking?”
“Did Mickey say anything that seemed irrational, or just didn’t make sense?”
Question after question …
… to the point that three hours passed, and Otis the Cop still wasn’t done.
The questions went on and on. Rick couldn’t even take the luxury of tuning them out. He wanted so badly to just ignore Otis the Cop. He wanted to collapse in the chair. He wanted to complain about how tired he was. But, with Grandma Hilda there, Rick kept up being as attentive as he could. He tried his best to answer all the questions he was asked … as much as he could. But it was hell. Pure hell. The room had fulfilled the promise he’d seen in it, and he could only imagine how Jay was doing if this was happening in there, too. But Rick there was no choice for himself except to be dutiful; he answered all of Otis’ questions — even the really, really stupid ones — as best he could, except for when he knew he needed to lie. Lying turned out to be easier than he’d planned, because none of the cops asked him any specific questions about Raccoon Kid. Mostly, he stuck to simple answers — Mickey was his friend, and the guys were out there to help with Mickey’s prank, which was going to be to bury some gross dead animals and call Victor to freak him out when he dug them up. Through it all, Rick felt the heat of Otis the Cop’s scrutiny — despite the guy’s obvious attempts to seem like he was on Rick’s side. Rick knew better. Rick also carefully avoided looking at his Grandma Hilda when he discussed the specific details of the prank. She was the only authority in the room Rick really cared about, and hearing himself describe such a stupid and fucked-up prank in front of her was even more painful than all of Otis the Cop’s questions.
“Well,” said Otis, moving to stand back up again. Rick could tell that Otis’ opinion of Rick had diminished considerably, probably over the details of the prank. The appreciation of the ‘civic-minded’ kid was gone. In its place was the hard glare of restrained contempt that he was used to from the Drodden police. “I want to thank you again for all your help with this.” He looked over toward Grandma Hilda. “You’ve got my contact information if you need to reach me,” he said, before looking over toward Rick, “if either of you think of anything else that you think might help. It goes without saying that … well — even the most important-seeming detail can be helpful. And Rick? I’ve given your grandmother some resources on grief counseling, if you think you might need it to deal with what happened today.” Otis opened the door and gestured toward Old Glasses Woman. “Mrs. Nguyen will need you to sign a few things, but after that, you can both get home and get some rest.”
Neither Rick nor Hilda spoke to each other as they walked to the desk. They signed some documents Old Glasses Lady — a Mrs. Nguyen, apparently, from what Rick overheard — put in front of them. Rick barely paid attention, finally reaching critical brain mass on new information. He didn’t process what he was signing, but he got it out of the way as quickly as he could. He trusted Grandma Hilda to know what he was doing, because he just couldn’t take it any more. He just wanted to get home and sleep.
On the way down the elevator, with the pair finally alone, Grandma Hilda spoke to him: “I’m not angry about the prank, Rick. I want you to know that.” She reached up to put a hand on Rick’s right shoulder, which Rick did not resist. “I know that things like this happen. Things get out-of-hand sometimes and they move too fast. Peer pressure and escalating violence can go hand-in-hand sometimes. Especially with boys.”
Rick winced. “Aw, Grandma-!” He shut his eyes, now wanting to look at her. The elevator awkwardly announced the parking garage.
“I’m sorry. ‘Young Men,’” Grandma Hilda said, letting go of Rick’s shoulder as the two began to walk toward her minivan, which had been parked right near the elevator exit. As she took the driver’s seat and Rick got in next to her from the other side, she continued: “And I don’t want you worrying you’re going to be punished.”
Rick realized he hadn’t even contemplated that. And it bothered him — not because of his Grandma, but he realized in that moment that other people in Drodden might blame him as much as they’d blame Mickey. The pain behind his eyes came back. He hung his head.
“I know,” Grandma Hilda said. “You’re tired. And you want to go to bed. And you’ll be able to.” She started the minivan’s engine and quickly pulled out of the Drodden police station garage. “I promise you’ll be able to — but you know that we have to do something first.” She nodded toward Rick. “You and I both know that we have to talk to the spirits about this.”