Read an Excerpt
By Caroline B. Cooney
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2001 Caroline B. Cooney
All rights reserved.
The police car was not locked. When the police had thrown her diary into their squad car, they didn't even bother to slam the door. In the casual way of police, they left the car door open so they could still hear their radio squawking.
Rose stood in the front hall of her house and stared out the windows at the police car. It was white with a blue logo and the officers had left the lights swirling. By day, the lights were not as powerful as they would have been at night. They were not threatening. It was more of a circus, telling neighbors that the show was being held here, at her house.
Lying on the front passenger seat, as if it didn't matter, was Rose's diary.
Suppose she walked out of the house, crossed the grass, reached into the police car, and took it back.
Robbing the police. It was dangerous, but not as dangerous as letting them read the diary.
They don't have my permission to touch that diary, she thought. My mother just went and got it. I didn't say anybody could have it. It's my property. I'm not an adult, of course. I won't be sixteen for a few months. So perhaps technically it is my mother's property and she does have the right to give it to the police and they do have the right to drive off with it.
Rose hated herself for keeping a diary. How could she have written it all down?
And now it would become public property. Evidence in a trial. It would be read out loud. The world would hear every word Rose Lymond had set down on paper.
She imagined talk shows: local—regional—national. Radio and television and newspapers. The teasers: Kid's diary tells all. Nobody would pass that up.
Rose's heart hurt. I've ruined our lives, she thought.
In the formal living room, rarely used, her parents were pacing back and forth. Rose had been told to wait in the study. She had not argued. She had not shouted, "I'm not a child. I prefer to stay!" Instead, she walked quietly into the front hall and out of sight. They expected her to continue on through the house and sit in the study, surrounded by books and silent papers.
But papers were not silent. She herself had produced the noisiest paper of all. Paper that would shout the truth. Truth she could never permit anybody to know.
The police were bored and ready to leave. She had little time in which to make her decision.
If she were to slip out the front door, the adults would neither see nor hear her. She could walk across the grass toward the driveway and they would not see or hear that either. The police car itself, however, was visible from the long, tall row of living room windows.
But now the discussion among the grown-ups was becoming heated. Perhaps nobody was gazing out a window. She could race across the grass, lean into the police car, snatch the diary, and run. Or walk slowly, bending calmly over to retrieve what was, after all, her own property.
Either way, Rose could reach the diary before anybody could leave the house and stop her.
She could run, Rose supposed. Dart out into the road and race madly around the neighborhood.
Getting the diary back was not enough. Rose had to destroy the pages. That might take time.
Other than sprinting after her, she did not think the police would do much. They were bigger and stronger, though, and could simply wrench the diary out of her hands. She wouldn't have time to bury it There was no handy river in which to chuck it. She had no fire in which to burn it. In any event lab techniques were astounding. Partially damaged words might be retrieved. She had to destroy those pages utterly and completely, and she did not know how.
Rose assessed her situation.
She had her house key in the pocket of her jeans. She had a dollar and some change in the other pocket She had a stick of gum. And her library card, because she had been thinking, just before the police arrived, just before the end of the world hit her in the face, that she was in the mood for a really long read, six or seven hundred pages of suspense and terror. Rose only liked books where the good guys won.
It was difficult for Rose to tell whether she herself was a good guy. Nor was it clear how she could win.
Rose opened the front door gently and stepped outside. She closed the door softly behind her. She thought the people inside had been talking too loudly to have heard.
Rose Lymond stood on the top step of the four wide slate slabs that led down to the grass and the pretty slate-and-brick walk. The front entry to the house was beautifully designed but rarely used. People came in the side, where a sweet, narrow porch with a low white railing and boxes of yellow pansies beckoned.
Rose walked over the grass. It was soft and bouncy. Spring grass, full-of-life grass. It was early May, only six more weeks left of sophomore year. Almost four years ago, the summer before seventh grade began, Rose had started that diary.
A twelfth-birthday present from her great-grandparents, the diary was distinctive, crimson red leather with page edges dipped in gold. It looked like something handmade in London a century ago. Grandfather and Nannie had also given her a fountain pen and a glass bottle of black ink.
Rose was left-handed and could not write cleanly except with a pencil, so she never filled the fountain pen but left it, pristine in its package, on her desk. She wrote in the diary, however, from her birthday, June 28, until November 11, when it was necessary to stop.
She had never written another word in that journal or any other. She no longer knew why she had kept this one. It was a terrible mistake to keep something that told the truth.
The leather binding of the journal she could not destroy. But the pages themselves—yes. What she needed was time to shred those pages into tiny pieces and then bum or flush or throw them away in such a manner that nobody could find the shreds and piece them together.
All these things Rose thought in the course of a dozen grass-springy steps.
And then she saw that not only was the police car unlocked and the door wide open ... the keys were hanging from the ignition.
They could not follow her if she had their car.
She didn't have much driving experience. On the other hand, people got out of your way when you were driving a police car.
Rose could drive toward the city, stop in some parking lot along the highway, shred her pages, go into some fast-food restaurant, enter the ladies' room, flush her shreds away, and it would be over.
Well, over except for the part about stealing a police car.
Rose looked back at the house. The adults were far too busy to glance out a window. They were not even near the windows.
Rose Lymond got into the police car, slammed the door, and drove away.CHAPTER 2
The police car was filled with gadgets and dials, speakers and buttons. It smelled of sweat and dog. Although a computer screen filled the space between the two front seats, a clipboard and notebook lay on the passenger seat, open and vulnerable like her diary.
The policeman who drove this car was much taller than Rose. She could barely touch the accelerator with the tip of her right shoe. She had little control, and if she had to brake quickly, she'd have to lift herself off the seat to jam her foot down.
She drove for a couple of miles at twenty miles an hour. Her hands were sweating so badly that the steering wheel was wet. It was disgusting. It had never happened to her before.
The police radio began to chat and she could tell that it was addressing her by name, but she didn't answer and couldn't actually hear. Either there was a lot of static in the radio or a lot of static in her brain.
The Frontage Road between the town and the highway was lined with fast-food places. She crept into a parking lot and just stopped, not bothering with a parking space. She was so eager to get out of the vehicle that she left the diary inside and had to lean back in and reach across the sweat-damp vinyl to pick it up.
She left the engine idling and the driver door open, just the way the police had.
She chose Burger King, went in the side entrance, and walked into the ladies' room. The regular stall was occupied so she went into the handicapped space, where there was more room to think anyway, and ripped out the last dozen pages of the diary, her eyes racing over the words, making sure she had the crucial details. If he knew, it would kill him. She tore half the pages savagely into strips and then into confetti and flushed them away.
"Are you out of paper?" said a kindly voice in the next stall. "Here, I'll hand some under the divider."
Outdoors, her police car continued to idle and people continued to drive in and out of the parking lots. She walked between little button-shaped bushes, sinking in brown mounds of mulch that surrounded them, and over to the Mobil station. Here she got the key to the ladies' room, flushed some more paper down there, and leaving the key in the door without returning it, walked straight to Wendy's.
She shredded the last few pages into their toilet.
Next she went into the laundromat.
Rose had not often been in a laundromat. Her mother actually loved laundry and even loved ironing, claiming that ironing a dinner napkin was very satisfying, the only activity in life where you could make something perfect in twenty seconds.
Once during a hurricane, when they lost power and water for four days, Rose and Mom had come here to do the washing. The kind of person who frequented laundromats in this town was down-and-out, poor and struggling.
Rose looked at the tired, sagging women folding mountains of children's clothing and heaps of ragged towels. They could have been the same women she had met during the hurricane. She walked out the back door, because laundromats always had back entrances. Parked in two messy rows were old cars: a sad and dented Taurus station wagon, a beat-up Chevy van, an ancient rusted-out AMC hatchback, and a once-grand Town Car.
The Lincoln was filled with overflowing cardboard boxes, a tricycle without wheels, large tied plastic bags, stacks of yellowing magazines, and stuffed animals losing their stuffing. Either the owner was collecting tag sale rejects or was so fond of her junk that she stored it in the car.
The car wasn't locked. Rose opened its back door, untied a garbage bag, stuck the diary in, tied the bag back up, shut the car door, and walked around two other buildings to go into Dunkin' Donuts.
She was fading. A little sugar would help. Even at Dunkin' Donuts, a dollar and some change did not buy much. Rose chose a mixture of jelly-filled, cinnamon, and powdered-sugar doughnut holes. She pulled two large white napkins out of the dispenser, walked outside with her white paper bag, and looked around.
She should put distance between herself and the police car, the flushed toilets, and the Lincoln Town Car.
The fast-food places on Frontage Road backed up to warehouses, and beyond those, the city began. She could walk through the warehouse delivery yards, circle the big steel buildings, cross the next street, and be only a block from the library and the art gallery and the coffee shop where people sat for hours.
But what would be the point? The only place to go now was home.
Her legs were trembling. It was difficult to stand. Rose sat down on one of the small round white tables at the edge of the parking lot, facing the road and resting her feet on the weather-stained bench. The fringe of a faded sun umbrella shaded her eyes.
She could not eat the doughnuts after all. She pleated the bag between her fingers, spindling long wrinkly lines through the paper, until she had created a mountain range of crinkles on the doughnut bag.
She hoped it would be the police who picked her up and not her parents. She did not care about the police. She cared about her father and mother. The important thing was that they should never understand.
Indeed, they never were going to understand the theft of a car.
She knew kids whose parents didn't let them take blame for anything, whose parents yelled and fought and hired lawyers when their kids did something wrong, insisting it wasn't really wrong, or there were extenuating circumstances, or the witnesses had lied.
Rose's parents were not of this variety.
They had not bailed her older brother, now in college, out of jail the night he and a carload of friends were stopped, driving drunk. Everybody else's parents had. But the Lymonds, furious and ashamed, said a night in jail was just what Tabor deserved.
Rose did not want a night in jail.
She rather thought that stealing a police car meant several nights in jail. Possibly weeks or months.
I can handle it, she told herself. Stealing a police car means temporary punishment. Telling the truth is a life sentence.
A police car appeared down the road to her right, lights swirling but siren off. She held tightly to her bag of doughnut holes. She suddenly understood those real-life criminals in cop videos: losers who ran when they were surrounded, ran when they were wounded, ran when they were in a dead-end alley.
Rose Lymond wanted to run.
Instead she lifted her arm straight into the air and waved it once, like a flag on a pole, to catch their attention. I have the right to remain silent, Rose said to herself. I was silent four years ago. I've been silent this week. I can be silent now.
Bits of television played through her head, an electric storm of TV cop shows, men and women in blue, attack dogs and guns, officers' adrenaline pumped so high that they gasped and heaved while the weapon in their hands somehow stayed steady. In voices too loud, charged with fear and fury, invariably they shouted, "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you."
My only ally is a Supreme Court decision, thought Rose.
The police saw her, put on a turn signal, and came slowly into the Dunkin' Donuts lot, the car pulling almost close enough to amputate her legs at the knees before it stopped. The cop had his phone up to his mouth.
No. It was a woman—young, tall, and tanned. Her name tag said Megan Moran. She looked at Rose in exasperation. "Your plan?" said Megan Moran acidly as she got out of her car and walked over. "Your hopes? Your expectations? Stealing a police car?"
A second police car appeared from the other direction, entering Burger King to pull up next to the idling vehicle Rose had abandoned.
"I just needed it for a minute," Rose said. "I would have taken a different car if there'd been one with the keys in it." This was not a good beginning for somebody who intended to remain silent.
The policewoman looked Rose over, opened the wrinkled white bag, found only holes, handed it back, and sat on the tabletop next to her. "You are one dumb kid," she said.
They sat together while the afternoon sun warmed Rose's face, and she tried to think silent, shrugging thoughts, but there was nothing to shrug about.
Two more police cars arrived. The policemen who had been in her living room were not among the ones who surrounded her now. They had lost their transportation. It was probably not a good thing to humiliate a policeman.
"Rose Lymond?" said one of them.
He was her parents' age. Rose did not know why this surprised her. She nodded. His tag said Craig Gretzak. It was a sharp, edgy name, but the man seemed mild. "Must be quite an important diary," he said next, not looking at her face but at her hand. Rose looked down, too, and saw with surprise that her hand was shaking so badly the bag was noisy, paper rustling and doughnut holes thudding softly against one another.
With difficulty she set the bag on the little white table and folded her arms across her chest.
"Where is the diary?" asked Megan Moran.
Rose said nothing. She reminded herself of her strategy, the one word a long thin repeating line silencesilencesilencesilencesilence until it became a hiss, a snake in her heart.
It occurred to her that the police had no idea what to do next.
They hadn't known what to do back at her house, either. When Rose said, "I don't remember, I wasn't looking, I can't think of anything," the police were stymied. Rose had drifted away, heading for the kitchen, planning on a glass of lemonade. The month of May had started out surprisingly hot and they were drinking summer drinks already. Her mother was a pink lemonade person and her father a yellow. Rose liked to cut hers half and half with seltzer to make lemonade soda pop.
Excerpted from Fatality by Caroline B. Cooney. Copyright © 2001 Caroline B. Cooney. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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