The FotoMat in the Kingston Plaza had at various times been the source of much speculation among Timothy’s friends. The person who worked in this tiny booth in the middle of the parking lot, how did they go to the bathroom? Was there a trap door leading to a secret toilet underneath? Or did they simply pee in a cup when no one was looking?
Timothy rolled up to the FotoMat drop-off window much like he was in a car, except he was on his banana saddle bicycle.
At first, he couldn’t tell if the attendant was a girl or a boy. Looking more closely, Timothy could see she was a girl with a cute face, but kind of a boyish haircut.
She, in turn, looked at the little kid on the bicycle with the long hair, taking a moment to figure out that he was a boy. She continued to stare at him as if he were a mirage, until he held up the Instamatic film cartridge, at which point she realized he was an actual customer and slid open the window.
Timothy sat atop his bike and said nothing at first, so she broke the silence:
“So...did you want to develop that?”
The attendant wore an official-looking blue and yellow smock top, which she’d personalized by adding a psychedelic smiley face pin. She reached out through the window and held out her hand, into which Timothy plopped the small plastic cartridge.
While she began to fill out the envelope, Timothy leaned right up to the window and tried to look inside, maybe he could spy the secret trapdoor to the subterranean bathroom.
Was this little boy trying to look at her legs? She wasn’t quite sure. Most customers were confined to their cars so this usually wasn’t an issue.
“You want one print of each?” she asked, trying to snap Timothy’s attention back into the world of the transaction.
“Of each what?”
“Of each exposure. You can get just one print of each, or you can get two if you’d like to share them.”
Two prints sounded pricey, plus Timothy wasn’t planning on sharing these photos with anyone, at least not at this point.
“One, please,” he said. “How much is this going to cost, anyway?”
“A roll of twelve would be $2.40, assuming they all come out.”
$2.40 would be almost one fourth of his available funds.
“Actually, I only need two of them--can I just pay for two?”
Who was this kid?
“I can’t say I’ve ever been asked that question before,” she said, “but no, we can’t go through the roll trying to figure out which ones you want.”
“They’re the last two, they shouldn’t be so hard to find.”
“It’s kind of an all-or-nothing deal.”
Well, it was worth a try anyway. He gave her his name and address and felt very adult about it.
“Here, hold onto this,” she said, handing him the receipt. “You can pick them up in two days.”
Timothy marveled at the receipt as he steered his bike one-handed from the FotoMat. It was just a tiny strip of paper, but somehow it was an important document. It offered proof from the outside world, in writing, that the investigation was real.
# # #
Back at the school library’s card catalog, when D for Detective came up empty, Timothy tried M for Murder. He had to start somewhere.
The only thing that came close to what he was hoping for was a book about unsolved murders. Judging from the number of librarian’s stamps competing for space on the inside cover, this book was way more popular than the one about camping.
Later, on a lovely afternoon without a cloud in the sky, Timothy lay on his bed, leafing through the morbid book, while the radio played an impossibly whiny pop song about some guy’s dog getting lost at sea.
The pages in the unsolved murder book depicting the most gruesome crime scenes were particularly dogeared. There was even one in western Massachusetts involving a meat cleaver, which really wasn’t so far from Kingston, when you thought about it.
“What are you reading?” Cathryn asked, peering into Timothy’s room, surprised to find him there.
“Oh, nothing,” Timothy said, stuffing it under his pillow.
“Why aren’t you playing outside?”
“Eh, I don’t feel like it.”
“What do you mean you don’t feel like it? It’s a beautiful day.”
She had a point. The murder book was creeping him out anyway, it made his hands feel bloody just holding it. Why wasn’t he outside?
If he were honest with himself, the minor confrontation with Crazy Carl had psyched him out, just a little. He couldn’t say for certain whether a fight was brewing, or if it was a onetime incident that was already forgotten, by Carl if not by him.
Detective work was way more interesting than whiffle ball, but he was running out of ideas for how to go about the investigation. Was he really going to let a single harsh exchange of words keep him inside?
The screen door slammed behind him as Timothy headed down the street toward the Green Apartment Building. Maybe jumping into a whiffle ball game wasn’t such a bad idea.
When he reached the field, he found double the kids and a slightly different demographic than usual.
The junior high school boys had come around. These were boys who seemed to have graduated from playing in the field when they’d graduated from elementary, but they all still lived in the neighborhood and Timothy knew them by sight.
At least, he knew most of them. There was a new kid here today who didn’t live on Warren Street. He stood out for two reasons, one because he was black and not too many black kids lived in this neighborhood, also because the other three junior high boys were all majorly vying for his attention, like they all really wanted to impress him.
“Man, I used to hit it over the fence every time,” said one of the junior high schoolers.
“Yeah, that’s ‘cause the fence is like, forty feet from home plate,” said another.
“It’s more than that.”
“Okay, fifty feet.”
The black kid had an easy going style, he was taking it all in in a good natured way. Timothy was pretty sure he recognized him from the school playground from back when the kid had gone to G.W. Elementary, but of course he hadn’t known him personally because he’d been one of the older kids.
“We call this the Green Apartment Building,” one of the junior high school boys said. “It’s got all these freaks living in it. There’s the lady who rides the tricycle, there’s a middle-aged hooker, there’s Key Man...”
“Who’s Key Man?” the black kid asked.
“He’s a guy who carries lots of keys.”
There was the general tendency in uptown Kingston to name the characters for their most obvious defining physical characteristic.
“That queer who got beat up, he lives there too,” said Mike, another one of the junior high boys. “Well, used to live there.”
“Really,” the black kid said, scratching his chin and visually analyzing the Green Apartment Building afresh, like this detail of something he’d read about in the paper had actually caught his interest.
Crazy Carl broke from Mark and went over and whispered something into Mike’s ear.
Mike was Carl’s older brother, a notoriously tough guy. He squinted over at Timothy, then back to Carl, and said:
“Then what did you say?”
Carl shrugged. “I dunno.”
“What do you mean you don’t know?”
They were obviously talking about the argument Timothy had with Carl a few days back.
“Hey, queer bait,” Mike called to Timothy, “get over here.”
Fuck, this was exactly he kind of thing Timothy was trying to avoid.
“You deaf?” Mike said, “Get over here.”
Hesitantly, Timothy walked over, not knowing what else to do, everyone was watching.
“You fucking with my brother?” Mike said.
“No? That’s not what I heard. Carl, is he fucking with you?”
Carl didn’t like being put on the spot in front of all these bigger boys any more than Timothy did, he was clearly regretting having brought it up. He shrugged, trying to get out of it.
“Look, was he fucking with you or not?”
“Yeah, I guess,” Carl admitted, reluctantly.
“Okay...” Mike said, like, we’re finally making some progress here. “So, kick his ass,” he added prescriptively, like, this is simply what is done in a case like this.
“Hey Mike,” the black kid said, “let the kids be, they obviously don’t want to fight.”
Mike waved off this objection as an unnecessary concern. Carl, meanwhile, tried turning away, wishy washy. He had two inches on Timothy, and under normal circumstances could probably do what his brother was telling him to, but the added attention was making him freeze up.
Meanwhile, Timothy’s heart was racing. He’d seen Carl fight before, he knew he always just pounded away with his right, so he was prepared to throw up a block, but beyond this he had no idea what he’d do.
“Come on, do it,” Mike said, physically pushing Carl toward Timothy.
As the two boys crashed slightly into each other, they pushed back on each other half strength, both reluctant for this to turn into a real fight.
“Don’t be a pussy, really do it,” Mike said, stepping in, giving Carl a wake-up knock to the temple, then demonstrating by shoving Timothy like he meant it. This of course put Timothy on his butt because Mike was a whole head taller than him.
At this point the black kid stepped in, he’d seen enough.
“Okay, leave the kid alone.”
“Ah Charles, I’m just having a little fun, he’s just a little queer bait.”
As Timothy stood back up, Mike grabbed him and gave him a little shake, like he was just roughhousing, but Timothy was a rag doll in the older boy’s grip.
“I said leave him alone,” the black kid said.
“What, are you a fucking queer too?”
The black kid spun Mike around so lightning fast, no one even saw it happening, he just suddenly had him in a headlock. Mike squirmed, kicked, and tried to punch his way out of it, but the black kid just stood like a rock, not breaking a sweat in the slightest, continuing to subdue Mike firmly.
“When you let me go, I’m gonna kick your fucking ass,” Mike spat out from underneath.
“Who said anything about me letting you go?” the black kid replied calmly, almost humorously. To prove the point, he tightened the headlock effortlessly, sending Mike into a flailing spasm.
“Okay, okay!” Mike gurgled, “I give up, okay?!”
The black kid held on for a few moments longer, to make sure his point was driven home completely. When he released his grip, Mike fell to the ground in a breathless heap.
He looked back up at the black kid resentfully, then over to Timothy.
“What’re you looking at?” Mike spat.
The black kid stepped toward Mike again, Mike stood to his feet but backed away.
“Alright, alright... Carl, c’mon, let’s get outta here.”
Crazy Carl followed his brother, looking nervously back at the black kid.
“The same goes for your redneck brother,” the black kid called out to both of them, “you leave my little friend here alone.”
Did he just call Timothy his little friend? Who was this guy?
“What’s your name, partner?” the black kid asked, still confident, but softening his tone.
“Here you go, Timothy Miller, you ever need help with anything, you just call me.”
He handed Timothy this odd little rectangle of white paper that looked like something an adult should have. It was professionally printed, with embossed letters and everything.
“What’s this?” Timothy asked.
“It’s my calling card,” said the kid, as if it were the most obviously thing in the world that someone as refined as he was would have his own calling card.
As Timothy marveled at the card like he’d just been handed a piece of gold, the older black kid stood up straight and added with confident poise:
“My name is Charles Lambeau, Jr.”
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