Taking stock as I lay in bed the next morning, I realized all I had was a bigger mess. Thompson was on my couch and explaining that to Lisa was the least of my worries.
Too much kept happening – I was getting entirely fed up with being five steps behind and constantly reacting. Time to go on offense and the only play I had in my book was the search Old Man Jenkin’s apartment.
I pulled myself out of bed. It was Saturday, and if I moved fast I could corral my brothers before they scattered.
I admit, I didn’t look like much as I admitted myself to my parent’s apartment. I’d showered and shaved too fast, missing a few spots as a result. I was dressed, mostly, but still tucking in my shirt as I woke Tim.
Two hours and a whole lot of grumbling later, seven of us, including Thompson and Wolff, were tearing out the first of the ceiling panels. Tim and Kevin were riding herd on Mark, both certain the little hothead would bust up the drywall. That I finally had to put a stop to because while I understood how they felt – the more stuff we busted the longer it would be before they could move in – but Mark didn’t deserve it. He’s a hothead alright, but he’s also more methodical when he’s working than either of them.
A little too methodical, actually, so I put him on door jambs. He was too danged slow to let him do floor boards like he wanted. We’d have been there ‘til next week.
We had ceilings down by ten. Floors up by two – with an hour off for lunch, of course – we laid plywood over the joists to stand on and started on the drywall. By six, we had gutted the entire place. I did the last door while Tim and Mark pulled the final window.
What did we find? Three dollars and eighty-five cents in loose change; a sock; twenty-two marbles including a shooter I thought I’d lost to another kid years ago; the hat token from Monopoly; John’s girlie magazine collection which was under a loose floorboard and consisted of Victoria’s Secret catalogs and two swimsuit editions; rat droppings and the mummified rat; several dog toys in a loose vent; an old belt buckle; and last but not least, Maria’s diary from when she was fifteen. Tim snatched it from Mark before the idiot could open it. He was trying to use a screwdriver when it was obviously designed for a skate key. Of course, he didn’t know what a skate key was – Tim and I were the only ones ever dumb enough to use Poppa’s hand-me-down skates – but still you can’t bust open a girl’s diary unless you just aren’t interested in keeping your hide in one piece.
What didn’t we find? Anything at all useful. Nothing that could conceivably explain the weirdness going on for the last couple months. Unless the dead rat or Maria’s diary were more valuable than I thought we had a grand total of nothing.
Saturday had been wasted and Sunday afternoon would go the same way as we prepared the apartment for occupancy again.
We marched down to supper with Thompson and Wolff both joining us again. Wolff, Thompson and I detoured through my apartment to wash up – and for me to shave properly. The boys had been riding me enough about that.
Once the door closed behind us, Thompson spoke, “Sir? What were we looking for?”
I sighed in exasperation. “I don’t know. Something and whatever it was, it ain’t there now – if it ever was.”
Dinner was grim. The girls were all talkative enough but we guys knew full well how much work still waited for us. I could live with that; not finding anything was what was eating me.
Thompson flirting with my sister did not improve my mood. I’d have to deal with that and I’d have rather tried to put booties on an angry crocodile, which, come to think of it, would be safer. There was no way I could see, short of forcing the guy into matrimony, that didn’t involve breaking Lisa’s heart. I was half toying with the idea of forced matrimony anyway but this was no more Thompson’s fault than Lisa’s. It made their flirty talk all the more annoying, however.
Mike was next to me teasing Jane. If ‘tormenting your sister’ were an Olympic sport, Mike was a shoe in for gold. What he got instead was a hard thump upside his noggin when he made Jane squeal, annoying me.
“Jack.” Momma called my name in an only too familiar tone.
“Ma’am?” Not that I needed to ask – I knew what I was in trouble for.
“Don’t take it out on your brother.”
I sighed. I’ll never figure out how Momma knows what no one else does. “Yes, Ma’am.”
She nodded, “You help clean up tonight. I want to talk to you.”
Now I really did want to thump my brother. Not that he deserved it – he was just available. But I knew better so I settled for working silently on my rice and cheese. I was gonna catch it now. With half a dozen possibilities, I couldn’t guess exactly what or why but I was sure glad I was too old to whoop.