They could see the blue and red police lights twirling and flashing from six blocks away. There looked to be five or six squad cars. Amanda knew Matt’s was one of them and was glad to think she’d see him there.
The walk seemed to take forever even though they were going at Sally’s all-business pace. Amanda scolded herself again for bringing too much stuff on this adventure. Her backpack cut into her shoulders, so she put her hands under the straps. She looked like Farmer Fred walking into the general store. It was that damn laptop. She was carrying it all over town and hadn’t written a single word.
She wondered where Johnson’s backpack was and then figured that he’d left it at the camp. And then remembered that none of the four guys carried a pack to the meal program. They must feel pretty comfortable leaving their stuff unattended, sure that no one would take things or wreck their camp. Amanda wished she’d asked what to do with her stuff before putting it all on her back. She just assumed what she should do instead of watching the others or asking. Still, her laptop was her livelihood, so it made sense to keep it close. Thinking about all this was a way to avoid thinking about what had happened to Clark. She hoped he would be gone by the time they got there.
Amanda couldn’t see Clark himself, just the thick crowd of EMTs and police officers gathered around him. She recognized Matt and nudged up against him. He nodded quietly and stepped aside so she could see.
Clark was heaped on the sidewalk in front of an air conditioner repair shop that had been closed for years. His arms and legs went at wrong angles, his head turned toward the street, his dead but still open eyes seeming to gaze at the parking meter near his right foot. His shoes were in the street along with his baseball cap. His shirt was pulled up to his chin, but it wasn’t clear if that had happened or the EMTs had made it so. He was so remarkably thin, Amanda thought. So spare. Concave, that’s how thin he was. She saw his sunken belly and the outline of his ribs. She wondered about his mother, where she was at this moment, and if anyone had gone to tell her to come hold him.
“What do you think happened?” Amanda turned to ask Matt.
“We don’t know yet. No skid marks though, so it kind of looks like somebody was aiming for him.”
“You think somebody killed him on purpose?” Sally chimed in. Johnson stood silent behind her.
“Yeah. But we have no idea why. It’s weird though, coming so soon after the deal with Jacob. But they’re probably not related.”
“I think they are related. They have to be. Sally, come on, let’s go back to the meal program. I need to get out of here.” Amanda turned to go when Matt pulled on her arm.
“Hey, this is getting really dangerous here. Somebody aimed a car at this guy. How about heading home and we’ll figure it out.”
“We’re just going to go have the homeless meal program experience. I need stuff to write about, remember?”
“Okay, fine.” Matt shook his head and gave her a wave. Both of which were contrary to his entire being. He wanted to put her in the squad car and take her home. He’d even drop off Sally and Johnson on the way. He wanted Amanda to unpack her laptop and write her story sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of green tea while he watched TV in the living room. But he didn’t say any of that because that’s not how they did business as a couple.
“Come on, you guys, let’s head back to camp.” Amanda, Sally, and Johnson waited at the corner for the walk light.
“What about eating? We could get back to St. Paul’s in ten minutes. They’re still serving.” Johnson was clearly hungry. They all were.
“I’ll buy us McDonald’s,” said Sally. She fell into step with Amanda while Johnson followed. Why he was coming with them and not going back to Ace and Beverly was a mystery. But he trudged along, sometimes leading the way, often following. He had become their friend, especially after seeing what they saw at the air conditioner repair shop.
“You think there’s something at the camp that connects all this, don’t you?” It made some sense especially after last night’s weird experience with the person standing on the edge of Amanda’s tent, which had been Clark’s tent before he offered it up for Amanda to use.
The rest of the hike back to the camp was in silence.
Everything was everywhere. The four tents were pulled off their stakes and collapsed. The sleeping bags were shredded and laying in heaps. The trash that Clark had so carefully gathered the night before was scattered, Styrofoam containers and plastic forks hung from the bushes, and pieces of food, the bones of last night’s fried chicken dropped in the dirt like a child’s broken toy.
“Oh my God. What happened? Who was here?” Amanda felt herself go nearly faint. This was where she’d slept last night. It had been her home, her bedroom. And now it was this nightmare of wreckage.
“The backpacks! All the backpacks are gone!” Johnson scurried around the camp, lifting up the remnants of tents and searching in the bushes.
Sally sat down on the log nearest the fire pit. “It was probably that Jerky person they talked about this morning.”
“No,” Johnson said, holding his head in his hands. “Jerky didn’t do this. This isn’t her. Somebody else did this.”
NaNoWriMo is a national novel writing challenge. 50,000 words by the end of November. This year, my husband, Howard Snyder, and I are collaborating on a mystery novel. You are invited to read, comment, suggest plot lines, laugh at our folly, or cover your eyes and run to the next blog to read. Either way, we’re going to keep at it this November until we run out of gas, which could be tomorrow. We can only hope.