Disclaimer: My mental filter forbids me to recount the following events exactly as they occurred, but accuracy in reporting demands that I do everything in my power to recount these events as exactly as possible. So my filter has compensated by replacing all words not appropriate to a young audience with ice cream flavors. End disclaimer.
I tried to find Robbie at school the day after the mill fire, but we have different tracks on Thursdays and Robbie didn’t stick around after school, since he was grounded. Of course, Kerry wasn’t there. I still didn’t know how badly she was hurt. When I called their house, their parents would only say that “she would be fine, but she’s resting now.” I’m pretty sure they probably thought I had something to do with the whole mess. Never mind that I told them I’d been practicing all afternoon and well into the evening and the first I knew about the mill fire was the news report I’d seen online.
So I returned to my investigations alone, determined to find out what had happened and fairly certain I was on the right track.
The Information Age is a great time for super powered super sleuths. You wouldn’t think a gang would have a Facebook page, but if Julius Caesar can have one, so can the Flaming Spiders. They weren’t that great of a gang anyway.
Facebook told me that their symbol looked rather like a Swastika on fire. It was supposed to look like a spider, but to me it just looked like a Swastika. It didn’t take much exploration of the downtown area to find this symbol. A large one had been spray-painted in an alley. After finding it, all I had to do was wait around for someone who seemed to belong to it to show up. While a police officer, even under cover, would have stuck out like a sore thumb, a mangy dog sniffing around trashcans would not. So I shifted into a dog and hid behind some crates to wait for someone to show up.
In hindsight, it’s really quite surprising that any of this worked. I think someone was taking astounding liberties as far as plot is concerned.
A kid with a do-rag tied around his head and his pants hanging around his ankles showed up early in the evening. He stood just inside the alley looking at his phone. Well, I say kid. He was probably about my age. Another one, dressed about the same, showed up a few minutes afterwards.
“Yo, rocky road, watchoo want, man?” said the first.
“Got somethin’ I overheard from the police,” the second said, over-enunciating the o in police.
“Think the big man wants t’ hear it?” asked the first.
“Yeah, man. Big time,” said the second.
They started heading down the alley, and I followed once they passed me. They walked for a long time, not saying anything. I got the impression they weren’t close friends, which surprised me, because I had always thought gang members were always very close.
They went to an old abandoned house with busted windows and a missing door. It was an eye-sore, but it was far enough back from the public roads that most people didn’t see it unless they were looking for it, and the locals had forgotten it existed. Otherwise it would have been torn down ages ago. It was just the sort of place you’d expect to be full of all kinds of spiders.
My dog form was more conspicuous there, so I shifted into a squirrel and scurried through a window and up towards the ceiling. There were holes in the ceiling and not much light inside, so it was easy for me to get inside and into the ceiling without being noticed.
“What the mint-chocolate-chip are you rocky roads doin’ here?” said a voice below. I peeked down from the ceiling. He must have been the guy the other two had called the big man. He had to have been six-and-a-half feet tall, at least (though it was hard to measure, being a squirrel and looking down at him from above). “You supposed to be keepin’ eyes on our real estate!”
“Li’l’ guy here says he got info from the police,” the first guy said, also over-pronouncing the o.
“Well, what is it?” asked Big Man.
“They think we’re the ones startin’ these fires-” the second guy said.
“Cookies ‘n’ cream, we already knew that!” Big Man interrupted. “You better not be calling me without good info!”
“They say they gon’ start haulin’ us all in ’til someone starts talkin’,” the second guy went on, undaunted.
“Yeah, and if we don’ talk nothin’ happens,” the first guy said, “same as always.”
Big Man rubbed his chin. “Mebbe so, but if these vanilla rocky road don’t stop mint chocolate chip burning down our strawberry real estate, we gon’ have bigger problems than moose tracks coppers. What we know about these tutti fruttis?”
“Nothin’ much,” said the first guy. “Some guy comes in to the buildings. A couple minutes later, he runs out and the whole chocolate chip building’s on fire.”
“You seen him? Know what he looks like?” asked Big Man.
“Yeah, birthday cake.”
“You see him again, you follow him. And you run into him, you mess him up. Real good. Ain’t nobody messes with our real estate and gets away with it.”
There seemed to be a general understanding among the three gang members below that the meeting had been adjourned. The two I had followed there left while Big Man stayed behind. I wouldn’t doubt if he lived in that drafty old disaster of a building.
I followed the other two until I had a general idea of where I was, and then I left them behind, but not before I overheard the first guy describe the guy who’d been setting the fires in detail to the second guy.
I was looking for a tall, thin man with light blonde hair.
And that about describes fifteen percent of the population of Metroville. This would not be an easy search.