The next morning I packed and carried a box of equipment to Art’s house, which was right across the street from the park. I showed him how the equipment worked before I left it with him and walked to the park to meet Pete.
When he showed up with a ball, we fooled around kicking it back and forth to look like that was what we had gone to the park to do. After we’d worked up a good sweat, we went over to the bench where Derek just happened to be sitting. He always sat on the same bench which made it a little easier for us to carry out our plan.
“Hi, Derek,” I said as Pete and I sat, one on either side of him. The two of us pulled out water bottles and drank for a minute, then I asked, “Whatcha’ doing?”
I nodded. Then he asked, “Where’s your n----r friend?”
“Don’t know,” I said. “He’s not really a friend; he just hangs out with us sometimes. I don’t think he really has any friends.”
“Well, he’s not home; I know that,” Derek replied.
Nobody said anything for a while. Finally, Pete asked, “How do you know that?”
“I’m not supposed to say anythin’.”
“About him?” I asked.
He nodded before saying, “Yeah.”
Again we were silent for a while.
Finally I broke the big subject. “Maybe the cops think he wasted his family. Maybe they have him.”
“Why are you laughing?” asked Art.
“Can’t say anythin’,” Derek answered.
I looked at Pete and he looked at me. When we’d made our plan, we had decided not to go too far the first day. After a while, Pete and I stood, said goodbye to Derek, and walked off, heading in the general direction of Pete’s home.
When we were away from the park, I called Art and asked him how things had gone. “Fine,” he said. Pete and I walked the rest of the way to his house, where we had agreed to meet the others and swim in his pool.
Vinny wanted to know how things had gone. I just said, “Fine,” and then we all swam for the rest of the morning. Mrs. Allen had offered to feed us lunch so I had told Bonnie I wouldn’t be home.
In the afternoon we played some tennis before returning to swim and cool off.
At supper, Dad as usual asked me and Wally about our days. I told him about swimming and tennis but didn’t mention anything about the park or Derek. Wally had spent the day with Roger, swimming at the town pool and then shooting baskets.
In the morning, I called Art to be sure he was set to go. Then I walked to the park, where Derek was on his usual bench. I waved to him with a quick “Hi” and walked over to the basketball courts. About 5 minutes later, Vinny arrived with a basketball.
We shot baskets for a bit before I called over to Derek, “Wanna join us?” He shook his head, as I thought he would, so Vinny and I continued to play.
When we finished playing, we walked over to Derek’s bench, said hi, and sat down, one on either side of him.
For a while we just sat without saying anything. After a while I asked Derek if he had seen any sign of that Oliver kid. “Oliver Talbott,” I said using his full name so we wouldn’t sound so much like friends.
Derek just shook his head. He wasn’t a big talker, but I knew I had to get him to talk. I waited a bit and then asked, “Do you think the cops have him?”
He laughed again. “Nope.”
“So where do you think he is?”
“Dunno. Prob’ly scairt and hidin’.”
“From who?” asked Vinny. Because Vinny had a habit of speaking without really thinking things through, the rest of us had cautioned him carefully. I knew it was a bit of a risk including him, but if I hadn’t he would’ve been hurt. When he asked his question, I held my breath hoping he wouldn’t go any farther. He didn’t.
Derek seemed to think a minute before he said, “From whoever wasted his family.”
“So why didn’t they waste him?” I asked.
“Prob’ly couldn’t find him. Mebbe he ran out a back door when he heard ’em.”
Both Vinny and I nodded. Finally I asked, “Do you have any idea what happened at the Talbotts’ house?”
Derek started to nod and then seemed to catch himself. “Can’t talk ’bout it.”
“Why?” asked Vinny. That was as far as he was supposed to go. I held my breath again but he didn’t say any more.
“’Cause that’s what my dad told me.”
“So you know what happened but you can’t talk about it?” I asked.
Derek said, “Yup,” and I left it at that. We didn’t want to rush him. Again I invited him to shoot baskets with us, but he just shook his head, so Vinny and I went back to the basketball court for a while before leaving the park.
When we were far away from the park, I called Art and asked him if he had gotten everything. He said he had so we agreed to meet him later.
Pete had to run some errands with his mom in the morning, so Vinny and I split up and went to our homes for lunch.
Wally and I ate together with Bonnie, talking about nothing special, really. I thought that in a few days I should ask Pete if Wally and Roger could swim with us instead of at the town pool, which tended to be crowded and where sometimes the bigger kids were inclined to take over.
In the afternoon I headed back to the Allens’ house and their pool. By then, Pete was home. I whispered to him for a few minutes and then we jumped into the water where we stayed all afternoon.
Dad had to work late that evening, so Bonnie made a casserole and served me and Wally when we got home.
At night I lay in bed thinking, both about our plan and about Oliver. I was really worried about him. I hadn’t heard anything from him since he’d ridden off in the cruiser.
Leaving the house after breakfast, I called Art to alert him that I was on my way. At the park I again waved and said “Hi” to Derek before joining Pete and Vinny, who were already there.
We kicked the soccer ball around for a while, one of us playing in the goal, one playing defense, and one trying to score.
This time we played a little longer than we had before, but eventually we stopped and walked over to Derek’s bench, where we greeted him and then took seats, with Pete and Vinny sitting beside him and me across from him.
After being silent for a bit, Vinny asked the group as a whole if we had heard anything more about what happened at the Talbotts’ house. Of course, both Pete and I said we hadn’t heard a thing.
“It’s a big mystery, isn’t it?” Pete remarked.
“Yeah,” Vinny said. “I guess it’s the biggest mystery we’ve had in the town as long as we’ve been alive.”
“It must have been a pretty slick operation,” I added.
Derek didn’t say anything, but when I spoke he got a big grin on his face.
“Do you know what happed?” I asked.
Derek smiled again.
“Were you there?” Pete asked.
“C’mon, you can tell us about it. We’re your friends,” I said, knowing it was a lie but believing that, as I’d sometimes heard, “the end justifies the means.”
“Can’t,” he said. But he was obviously enjoying the attention.
“Sure you can. Your dad just meant that he didn’t want you talking to adults about it.” Another lie, but then, as the saying goes, “in for a penny; in for a pound.”
Derek seemed to think about that before he finally said, “Okay.”
We all leaned in close to hear what he would say.
“Father said he was dissed by that n----r boy. I knew who he was talking about. He said, ‘It’s time to make a statement.’ Then he got his gun out from the table next to his bed. We walked over to the Talbotts’ house.”
He stopped for a moment and Vinny urged quietly, “Go on.”
“It was late at night,” Derek continued. “Father knocked on the door a couple of times before the man opened it. Father shot him in the chest. There was a woman who came out of a room and Father shot her twice.”
Again, Derek stopped until Pete urged him to continue.
“Father handed me the gun and told me to shoot the kids. I went into a room and the girl was there. She screamed and I shot her three times. But I couldn’t find the boy. We both looked and looked. But then we heard sirens, so we had to get out fast.”
“Wow,” I said, trying to get admiration in my voice even though I thought I might throw up. “That was something.”
“Yeah,” Derek said. “Ya know, I liked hearin’ the girl scream and shootin’ her so much I was thinkin’ about takin’ Father’s gun and bringin’ it here so I could shoot a few kids I don’t like.”
“Are there many you don’t like?” Vinny asked.
“Yeah. I could run out of bullets real quick.”
“Well, Derek, “I said. “Thanks for telling us. That was a great story.” The others agreed and we began to leave.
Outside the park I phoned Art and asked him if he had gotten it all. He said he had, so I told him to bring the equipment to the police station and we’d meet him there.
The station wasn’t far away, and we met him at the door. We all went in and I said to the woman on the desk, “We need to talk to a police officer. We have some evidence in the Talbott killings.”
That got a quick response and almost immediately we were in an office with a man who introduced himself as the detective who was heading up the case.
I took the box from Art, placed it on the table, and brought out the equipment, which consisted of an old reel to reel tape recorder, a speaker, amps, and a microphone. Then I removed the mic I had been wearing. I explained to the man that I didn’t have a little pocket recorder, so I had to jury-rig this system.
With that, I turned on the tape recorder and we began to hear the first conversation that Pete and I had had with Derek. When the detective asked who Derek was, I told him and explained his relationship to Charlie.
We listened through the whole tape covering all three days as we stood around the table.
When it finished, the detective turned off the tape and asked if he could keep the equipment for a while.
I assured him he could, and then, after writing down our names and contact information, he thanked us and we left the station.
At the pool, we all talked about what had happened and what a sick puppy Derek was.
“I hope the cops stop him before he takes the gun to the park,” Vinny said. We all agreed.
At supper that night I said nothing about the tape and what we had been doing for the last few days. We just talked and I told Wally that he and Roger were welcome to join us at Pete’s pool.
“Great,” he said. “You know, I was kinda jealous of you guys all going off camping while I had to stay in town. Do you think we could go next year?”
“Sure,” I replied. “Of course, I’ll have to ask the other guys but I’m sure they’ll be okay with it.”
That night, as I lay in bed, I felt good about what we had done but I was a little worried about whether the tape would be evidence enough. I sighed as I decided I just had to wait and see what happened.