Crime Scenes, a short story by debut novelist Diana Renn

With enthusiastic reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and a host of YA and mystery writers you already know and love (Kirsten Miller, Alane Ferguson), Diana Renn’s debut novel “Tokyo Heist” is a page-turning thrill-ride through the gritty art worlds of Seattle and Tokyo.  The novel stars sixteen year old Violet, who is herself an artist living in the shadow of her famous father—and who’s the only one who can solve the mystery of the Yamada family’s stolen van Gogh sketches.  “Tokyo Heist” has been selected for the Summer 2012 Kids’ Indie Next List.  You can follow Diana Renn, and all her book adventures on the group blog Sleuths Spies & Alibis for fans of YA mysteries.

And here she let’s YARN readers in on a short mystery you can only find here!

 

 

Crime Scenes

By Diana Renn

I marched downstairs to my sister’s room, fired up for my mission. Adrienne was still at the high school, at a saxophone lesson until four. That gave me one solid hour to ransack her room.

Where to begin? As I looked around at clothes and sheet music flung everywhere, a metallic clicking sound made me jump.

It was Jasmine, our rabbit, drinking from his bottle in the laundry room. That comforted me a little. Adrienne’s room always creeped me out. I felt like I was being watched, probably because of the walls. Rock star pictures, floor to ceiling. All those staring men.

I dropped to my knees and looked under furniture for the little black box from Grandma Joan. Sifting through piles of clothes, I found an empty beer bottle that served as a vase for a long-dead rose. Math homework, with someone else’s name. Mom’sOlympuscamera. Forty-one dollars, my babysitting money, which had once been on top of my dresser. I shoved the cash in my jeans pocket. I was hot on the trail now.

I went through Adrienne’s dresser drawers, at first careful not to leave signs of disturbance. Then I got angrier, and sloppy. Of all the things she swiped from me, why did she have to take the diamond earrings?

They were the fanciest gift I’d ever gotten. Grandma Joan and Great Grandma Lena had both walked down the aisle in them. When Grandma Joan gave them to me at my fifteenth birthday dinner last week, I had told her they were too nice, but she pushed the box into my hand. She said I deserved them, especially after all I’d been through. Mom and Dad splitting up. The move. Starting high school in an unfamiliar school district. “You put those somewhere safe,” Grandma told me. “Save them for your wedding.”

I looked at Adrienne, trying to signal I was sorry, even though I’d technically done nothing wrong. I hadn’t called my grandmother every Sunday so that I’d become her favorite; I just liked my grandmother. But Adrienne shot me a look so dark I quickly put the box in my backpack and didn’t say another word.

As soon as we’d arrived home from the restaurant, I had taken the earrings out of the box. Each earring was set like a claw pinching a pea-sized diamond. The backs of the earrings had delicate screws, silver tarnished black. When I held them up to my lamp, they gleamed. I’ve never been into jewelry. But they felt lucky, a gift from the past that promised a better future. After awhile I put them back in their little box. Put those somewhere safe. I put the box in various drawers and cabinets and took it out again. Where in my room would it be safe from Adrienne’s sharp eyes and thieving hands? Finally, I put the little box inside a ceramic hippo from a paint-your-own pottery studio, and I put the hippo on my windowsill, high up where she couldn’t see into it.

When I checked the next night, the box was still in the ceramic hippo, but the earrings were gone. And every day since then, Adrienne had denied having anything to do with them. She said I’d lost them or dropped them somewhere. “Which is why Grandma Joan should never have given valuables to a child. I’m the oldest. They were meant for me.”

My sister had every reason to steal them. I listed reasons as I slammed her dresser drawers. She was jealous. Grandma Joan was playing favorites. Adrienne wanted them to impress her friends. She was always moaning about her bare closet and how she had nothing to wear.

Her closet. I approached the slatted door, then paused. I could see a faint, dark outline of a shape shifting and rising. Then the door opened.

I screamed and ran out of the room.

“Hey!” a guy called out. “Amy! It’s me. Brian.”

I stopped and scanned my mental files, scrolling through about fourteen different names and faces before pulling up Brian Leary. A junior, like her. They’d been going together for three weeks. They were both in jazz ensemble, where he played the trumpet. He was applying to the Air Force Academy for college.

A nice guy, at least on paper. But what was he doing in our house, in her room? Mom wouldn’t be home from work until six. Who had let him in?

I slowly returned to the room and looked at him from the doorway. He had one of those faces that seems good looking at first, until you look closely and realize that the narrow nose, the cleft chin, the thick eyebrows, the green eyes, the spray of freckles, are all individually nice to look at, but together something’s off. Still, his smile was warm.

“I didn’t mean to scare you,” he apologized.

“What are you doing here?”

“Calculus.” He pointed to a math book on the closet floor, like it was a completely normal thing to hide in his girlfriend’s closet and study by the light of a dangling bulb.

“How’d you get in? Did we leave the door unlocked?”

Brian pointed to Adrienne’s window. “She never locks it. I’ve come in before. It was pretty cold out, so I came in to do homework while I waited for her. When I heard a key in the door upstairs, I thought your mom was home early, so I ducked in here.”

“Oh.” I tried to make sense of his story. “Adrienne’s at her saxophone lesson.”

“Ah. Forgot. Mind if I wait around a bit longer?”

I pulled a loose thread on the cuff of my hoodie. “You probably shouldn’t. My mom has this thing about guys in the house.”

“Got it. Well, tell your sister I’ll catch up with her later.”

I watched as he gathered his homework and put on a familiar brown

Image courtesy of Judy ** (flickr.com)

jacket. Adrienne had been wearing it lately. She always borrowed the jacket of the Boyfriend of the Month.

Suddenly his words hit me. He’d come in before. When? At night? And if he was comfortable slipping through windows, could he have taken the earrings? Why?

I narrowed my eyes and watched as he slung his backpack over one shoulder. Heading to the window, he paused to look at a corkboard on the wall.

I stepped forward to block his view of the fourteen photos pinned to it.

“What is this?” he asked, leaning in.

I couldn’t tell him. Before Adrienne broke up with someone, she always took a picture of his coat and printed it out. All the arms in the pictures were outstretched, like crime scene outlines all splayed out, or a bunch of empty hugs.

“That’s Tom Harris’s coat.” He pointed. “And Steve Wilson’s ski jacket.”

“Art project.” The words flew out. I didn’t know why I rushed to protect Adrienne when I was so mad at her. Maybe it was because she had been just a little easier to live with since she’d taken up with Brian. Maybe it was because she used to always rise to my defense. I used to be bullied, in middle school. A rumor had started about me—someone in fifth grade said that I smelled—and once someone says that, it’s all over. Even if you never actually smelled, the scent of that rumor hangs around. Adrienne had saved me, over and over, telling my tormenters to shut up and then letting me hang out with her and her friends. “She’s really creative,” I said to Brian, and I prayed for a distraction.

And it came. A crash in the laundry room. High-pitched whimpering sounds.

“Jesus,” said Brian. “What was that?” He grabbed a desk lamp.

My heart racing, I followed him to the short hallway that led to the laundry room door. “It’s not an intruder. It’s just Jasmine. Our rabbit.”

Image courtesy of Robobobo (flickr.com)

“Rabbit?”

“Adrienne didn’t tell you we had a rabbit?”

“No. Is she in a cage?” Brian set the lamp on the floor. “She sounds enormous.”

I heard skittering sounds on the floor, and another crash.

He. The breeder screwed up and said it was a girl, but we’d already named him when we found out. We leave his cage door open.”

“She—I mean he—sounds hurt. Should we check on him?”

I followed him in there, dreading what we might find. I hadn’t been down to see Jasmine for days. When Adrienne was out, I usually let Jasmine out too, to have the run of the house. But when Adrienne was home, she got territorial about the entire basement, sometimes hurling objects at me to make me get out. Once her saxophone reed clipped my chin. It was easier just to steer clear of the whole area. But I felt bad. Dad had given us Jasmine when we moved. A consolation prize, I guess.

Brian turned on a light, and I wanted to sink into the floor, seeing the place through his eyes: the piles of clothes, the unpacked moving boxes, the broken appliances, the cast-off furniture. But I couldn’t even sink into the floor because it was littered with chewed-up paper and cardboard, old greeting cards, and rabbit turds.

Brian whistled.

“We’ve been meaning to clean it.” Jasmine’s wire cage sat empty in one corner, the water bottle empty and lying on its side. I wondered when Adrienne had filled it last. I felt a pang in my stomach. All those drinking sounds were futile attempts to get water.

“Jasmine!” I called, blinking back tears. “Where are you?”

Whimpering sounds came from beneath a pile of boxes, where Christmas tree ornaments, Mom and Dad’s wedding china, and wire hangers had spilled.

Brian approached the boxes, broken china crunching underfoot. “Got a towel?”

I tossed him one and he caught it with one hand.

Then Brian got right down there on the floor, on his hands and knees. He reached into a space between boxes. I could hear Jasmine’s claws scrabbling on the floor.

Then Brian stood up, Jasmine shivering in his arms. “Check out his eye.”

Jasmine’s left eye, normally chocolate brown, was clouded over, leaking goop.

“Who’s your vet?”

“We don’t have one. I mean, he’s never been sick or hurt before, so . . .”

Brian stared at me. “Seriously? Every animal should see a vet for regular check-ups. We take our dog to the Shoreline Animal Hospital. I’ll take your rabbit there now.”

My heart sank. I knew we needed a vet. My mom had talked about looking for one when we moved to North Seattle. Yet another thing she hadn’t gotten around to.

Brian wrestled the rabbit into the cage and latched the wire door. He lifted the cage by the handle. The more I watched him, seeing how gentle he was with Jasmine, the more convinced I was that he could not be a thief. I also couldn’t believe I’d been looking for diamonds when our pet was suffering in the next room.

“This cage sucks,” Brian said. “I’m going to build you guys a real hutch, out in your backyard. Rabbits need fresh air.”

“Are you a boy scout or something? You don’t have to do that.”

“I am a boy scout, actually.” He stood up straighter. “Eagle Scout candidate.”

“No way.”

“You know that old playground at Cedar Ridge? That’s my project. If I can raise enough money to finish refurbishing it, kids’ll have a playground by April.”

“Wow. So, do you get a merit badge for helping a rabbit?”

“Naw. The Boys Scouts of America eliminated the Animal First Aid badge in 1911. I just like animals.”

Was this guy too good to be true? What did he see in my evil sister? I wanted to ask, but I just mumbled thanks. “I didn’t see your car outside,” I added. “How are you going to get to the vet?”

“Same way I got here. Walking. It’s only a mile.”

“With the cage? It’s heavy.”

“I could use the work-out.”

“My mom will be home in two hours. She can take him.”

“He can’t wait. Look at him. We have to get going.”

“We?” I wondered how Adrienne would feel about that.

“It’s your rabbit. And someone’s got to pay for it, right?”

I’d have to call my mom. I wasn’t looking forward to that.
 


 
Brian and I set off down Ballinger Way, each of us holding an edge of the cage. Brian described the fantasy hutch. “I’ve built one before, at my cousin’s farm. This hutch is going to be better. I’m going to make three sections, and a skylight, and a feeding trough. A slip-proof wire for the water bottle. And a silo to store extra food.”

“How about a surround-sound system?”

“I’m serious. Adrienne’s going to love it.”

“Where are you going to get all the stuff to build it?”

“I have some connections. Hey, you didn’t bring a coat, did you?”

“I’m okay,” I said, though I was starting to shiver in my thin hoodie.

“Stop.” Brian set down the cage and took off his leather jacket. He guided my arms into the sleeves. The lining was soft. So was his touch. I instantly warmed.

“Thanks. Do you think Jas is cold?” Jasmine was still shivering.

“Nope. Rabbits have fur. That’s why they get made into coats.”

“Oh. I hadn’t thought about that.”

We picked up our ends of the cage and trudged on.
 


 
Mom met us at the animal hospital. She listened to my slightly altered version of the story with her lips pressed together. I told her Brian had knocked at the door, looking for Adrienne, and then we both heard the crash downstairs. Then Mom talked with the vet, silently signed some papers, and handed her credit card over. She thanked Brian for helping out and gave him a ride home. Nobody spoke in the car.

Back at our house, Adrienne was pacing by the door. “Where were you guys?” she exploded. “There is zero food in the house. I’m starving.”

“There’s zero rabbit in the house too,” I said. “Did you happen to notice?”

She narrowed her eyes at me. “What are you doing in Brian’s jacket?”

I chilled, looking down at the sleeves. I’d forgotten to give it back.

“Hand it over, freak. And explain.”

“Let’s all have a little chat,” Mom said, in a non-chatty way.

I explained how I happened to be wearing Brian’s coat. Mom filled Adrienne in on the rest. Adrienne listened, coiling her hair around her fingers.

As my mom spoke, the horror finally hit me. Jasmine was suffering from dehydration and a scratched cornea. The dehydration had been fixed with IV fluids. The eye would be removed later tonight. The fiasco would cost one thousand dollars.

“You’re grounded, Adrienne. Two weeks,” my mom finished quietly.

“That is not fair!”

“The daily care of Jasmine was primarily your responsibility, Adrienne,” Mom said. “When you chose that bedroom, that was part of the deal.”

“Okay. I forgot about the water bottle. I’m sorry. But I’m not responsible for startling him.” Adrienne glared at me.

“You girls will have to work that part  out yourselves. I have no more energy for your spats.” Mom went into her room and closed the door hard.

“It’s your fault, you know,” Adrienne said. “It’s because you were snooping.”

“I wasn’t.”

“Oh my God, Amy, it’s so obvious you were in my room looking for your stupid diamonds. Which I do not have. Maybe you made a noise that freaked Jasmine out.”

“Maybe your freaky boyfriend freaked him out. I heard a noise and went to your room to check it out. Brian was in your closet. Doing calculus. How weird is that.”

Adrienne frowned. “Brian wouldn’t sneak in. He’s an Eagle Scout.”

Working towards Eagle Scout. He came in your window. He’s done it before.”

“That’s crazy. Brian’s the nicest guy ever. Don’t blame innocent people for your problems, Amy.” She went into the living room and turned on the computer, leaving me to wonder who the real Brian was: Boy Scout or burglar? And a bigger mystery: why had my sister turned so mean over these past few months? Would she ever be my ally again?
 


 
That Saturday, Brian came over and started the hutch. He continued to work on it over the next two weekends. After an afternoon of sawing and hammering and wood-staining, he’d take Adrienne out driving, or for ice cream or whatever, since my mom, stressed about work, had forgotten she’d grounded her. While they were out, I’d continue searching her room. I worked like a real detective, plotting out a grid and tackling a section at a time. I ran my fingers over carpet fibers in case the earrings had dropped.

Adrienne seemed so happy with Brian, she didn’t even hassle me about trespassing. “Look all you want,” she’d said with a laugh when she came home early once and caught me trying to escape. “You lost them.”

The next weekend we spent with Dad back in West Seattle, but the following weekend, Brian was back. Adrienne and I sat at opposite ends of the living room together not doing our homework, watching Brian through the window. He worked in a T-shirt, ignoring the light drizzle. I could see his arm muscles flexing, as his leather jacket was draped across the back of Adrienne’s chair.

“It’s going to be an amazing hutch,” I said, nuzzling Jasmine. Ever since he’d had his eye removed, he’d kept to himself, creeping around the edges of rooms, jumping when we approached too quickly. Only in the last couple of days had he started to let me pick him up and stroke him gently, on just this one spot near his neck. Adrienne, for some reason, he wouldn’t go near. “You’re going to love your new home.”

Jasmine sneezed and sighed and blinked his remaining eye slowly.

Adrienne slumped over her unopened math book, resting her head on one hand. “It’s taking forever. What is this, the Ritz for rabbits?” She yawned. “Pop quiz. On a scale of one to five, how hot is Brian?”

“What? I don’t know.” This was one of those questions where there was no good answer. Some game I could not win.

“Just give me a number.”

My stomach felt queasy. “Okay. Four. Four point five.”

“Do you think he’s boring?”

“No!” I almost shouted.

“I don’t know.” She sighed. “He talks so much. Always droning on about that playground, and the Air Force Academy. And he’s short, which is presenting a major footwear challenge.” Suddenly she took a school newspaper from her backpack and flung it at me. Jasmine leapt from my lap and ran behind the TV. “Page three. Guy in the back row of the swim team picture. Third from the left. Check him out.”

I checked him out. A square-jawed, curly-haired guy, grinning broadly, towering over his teammates. “Crestview Swimmers, State Champs!” read the headline.

“Marc Danielson. Co-captain.”

I nodded. I’d seen him in the halls. Noticed his long easy stride, his wide grin, and the fact that he never seemed to carry any books. It was like he existed at our school just to provide atmosphere and eye candy.

“He’s been going out of his way to pass by my locker. He invited me to see him at the swim meet last Thursday.”

Image courtesy of siaronj (flickr.com)

“Don’t you have your sax lesson on Thursday?”

“What, are you my social secretary? I’m not going to those anymore. Don’t give me that look. I need the money, so I’m keeping the cash Mom gives me for lessons.”

“Why do you need so much money?”

She rolled her eyes. “I need a car. If Mom and Dad can’t get their act together and communicate and figure out how to buy me one, I’ll go get a used one myself. I am not going to be a prisoner on the Metro bus system. Anyway, Liz thinks Marc likes me.”

“But you’re going with Brian.”

“I can still look at people, can’t I? Is it a crime to go to a swim meet?”

I opened my mouth to say yes, but the word stuck in my throat.

I wanted to say yes because of what happened with our parents. How could she even ask? She had been there too, the day it all went down.
 


 
One Saturday morning last year, Mom and Adrienne and I went to the furniture shop to surprise Dad. We’d brought him a cinnamon roll and coffee from our favorite bakery since he had to do inventory before the store opened. This lady was sitting on a display bed. She was like Goldilocks startled in the three bears’ house. While Mom stared at her, and I let Dad’s coffee cup burn my fingers, the lady laughed weakly and tried to comb out her messy blonde hair with her fingers. She said she’d tried out beds the evening before. She felt so comfortable on a Serta mattress she’d totally fallen asleep.

I wanted her story to be true. It sounded almost possible. But then Dad came out of his office, buttoning his shirt. “Hey, Maddie. Oh.” He saw us, his family, and looked desperately toward the Exit sign.

Mom freaked out. Shouted a bunch of stuff at both of them, and then said that Maddie could have her pick of furniture. She was done. She ran out of the store. Adrienne took my arm and guided me home since I couldn’t see through my haze of tears. “It’s been going on for awhile,” she said, her voice cold. She didn’t cry at all. “I can’t believe you didn’t know.”

“What are we going to do?” I asked.

“Nothing. Dad made his choice. Nothing we can do. We are now a statistic. We are Children from a Broken Home.” At our door, she took her hand off my arm.

We never spoke of that day again.
 


 
Adrienne’s cell phone rang, jolting me out of my memory. She cupped her hand over her mouth and turned away. “Liz. Hey. Did you see Marc there? What’d he say?”

I slipped out to the backyard. “Looking good,” I said to Brian. “The hutch.” My face warmed. “I really like the turrets. And the flags.”

“Thanks. What do you think of the catapult launch over here? Just for style.”

“Awesome.”

From the roof of the structure, Brian looked down and grinned. His hair clung to his neck. “Skylight’s in. Now I’m shingling. Want to hand me nails?”

I handed him nails from a tin, one at a time. I noticed a Property of Crestview High School sticker on the side of the tin. “Did you take these from school?”

“They owed me. I used a bunch of my own nails for a wood shop project.” He laughed. “Are you the police? Amy, it’s just a tin of nails. Nobody minds.”

I nodded and managed a smile. “How’s the playground going?”

“It’s going.” He talked loudly over the hammer. “Just got some cash from a private donor. I have enough money to line and fill the sandbox. Then I can start on the climbing structure. I’ve got troops helping me out. We’ll knock it out in no time.”

Cash. The earrings flashed through my mind. I suddenly remembered there was a pawn shop on 15th Avenue whose sign was a single diamond.

“You want to see the roof?” He reached for my hand and pulled me up, and when I felt the press of his hand on mind, the pawn shop sign fell right out of my head.

Squatting beside him, I admired how the edges were so even all around the glass skylight and how the shingles overlapped. It was beautiful, to see something built in our very own yard, like a monument rising from ruins.

Suddenly I was intensely aware of him breathing. What if Adrienne saw us? Even if she was thinking of moving in on Marc, Brian was still her territory. I shifted away.

“You going to Musical Horizons?” he asked.

Musical Horizons was this band and choir festival the school district put on every year. It featured every musical group except the marching band, the group I was in. “Maybe not. Some kids are thinking of not going. To protest the marching band not being included this year.” Normally I’d go. I loved watching Adrienne perform. When she blew the sax, she was happy again. And she was good. Really good. After her solos, she got rousing applause, and her face would just light up. But in light of our recent tension, I’d been thinking that maybe I shouldn’t go. To protest cruelty against younger sisters.

But I didn’t want to tell Brian about all that. “It’s ridiculous that the marching band is left out.”

“Yeah. They said it’s because there’s not enough room in the auditorium to march,” said Brian

“I think that really means it’s not the right kind of music.”

Brian nodded. “You’re probably right. They want to show off the wind ensemble, or the jazz ensemble, since people pay money to go. People aren’t going to pay to hear something they can hear any old time at an assembly or a game. No offense.”

“None taken.”

“Why aren’t you in one of those ensembles, anyway?”

“I’m not good enough for the wind ensemble. It’s so hard to get in.”

“Then try for the jazz ensemble. You’ll be a sophomore next year, so you can be in that.”

“Flutists don’t play jazz.”

“Not true. Dr. Yusef Lateef. A jazz flute legend. Check him out.”

“Okay.”

“I mean it. If you’re serious about flute, you should know him.”

“Okay, okay. I’ll check him out.” I laughed.

“Anyway, doesn’t matter if you’re the only flutist. You play whatever you want. Hey, if you join next year, you and your sister will be playing together.”

My happy image of playing jazz exploded. Adrienne would never let me in that territory. “We don’t really do anything together. She’s pretty busy.” We used to, though. We used to pool our money and then race our bikes to the 7-Eleven, where we’d load up on candy and comic books. We’d raid my mom’s closet and make crazy outfits out of her clothes from the eighties. We even shared friends. I was allowed to bring my sleeping bag and sleep on the edge of the slumber parties she threw, close enough to hear all their secrets. Close enough to feel I belonged.

“Yeah.” Brian sighed. “I know. I barely see her. She’s missed a couple of jazz ensemble rehearsals. And I thought she’d want to help me out with the hutch, but I guess she’s not that into it.”

I knew why she was busy. I couldn’t tell him. But I wanted to warn him somehow. “You should put a swimming pool in this rabbit hutch.”

“That’d be funny.”

“No, really. I think Adrienne likes pools.” If he would get suspicious enough, he could stop her from making a huge mistake.

“She’s not a big swimmer, is she?”

“No. But she might know one.”

He set down his hammer. “Amy, is there something I should know?”

Now I really felt like I might throw up. I scrambled down from the hutch. “No. I’m just joking around. I have to go practice my flute now. Bye.” I ran into the house.

God. What was I thinking? That Brian would really fight for my sister’s heart? Or did I want him to get mad at her and turn to me?

One thing was clear. I was intruding. This was dangerous, and I had to stop now.
 


 
That night, I went downstairs to put Jasmine in his cage. I straightened his bottle, grabbed a broom, and swept the laundry room floor. Jasmine watched with his good eye.

When I was done, I paused by the door to Adrienne’s room. “Adrienne?” I called softly. “Want to see how I fixed up Jasmine’s –“

“Get lost,” she snarled. “I’m busy.”

The door was cracked open an inch, so I peered in. Adrienne was laying Brian’s jacket out on her floor. Mom’s Olympus camera swung from her wrist.
 


 
Brian did not come over the next weekend. My suspicion that he’d been ditched was confirmed when I saw the leather jacket photo pinned to Adrienne’s corkboard.

I took down the photo and left a note in its place: Will return the photo when you give back the earrings. I brought the picture to my room, remembering the feeling of his coat on my arms. I held the picture to my nose, as if I could breathe in Brian’s soap and cologne instead of printer ink. Then I slid it into my jewelry box.

“Whatever, freak,” Adrienne said at dinner, tossing the crumpled note at me.
 


 
A couple days later, I was in my room practicing my flute when a fight started up in the kitchen.

“Mr. Savard called. He wants to know why you quit the jazz ensemble, days before a major performance,” Mom said.

“I’m not playing in Musical Horizons. Marc Danielson invited me to his party.”

“And your sax teacher called. You haven’t been going to lessons for weeks.”

“Look, I’ll give you your money back, okay? But I’m through. I’m sick of jazz ensemble taking over my life.”

“Are you really such a quitter?”

“Learning from your shining example, Mom.”

I went to the backyard, not wanting to hear more.

Brian had left his tools and the last parts of the hutch propped against a tree: a doorframe, a panel of chicken wire, two gold hinges. Hating the thought of an unfinished hutch, I picked up a hammer and nails and attached the chicken wire to the frame.

It took me an hour to get the hinges on and hang the door. But I did it. I stepped back and studied my work with my smile. I was no quitter.

I ran inside, scooped up Jasmine, and brought him out to the hutch. I hung his water bottle and food bin. I lined one section with cedar. I put in two fat carrots. Jasmine sniffed and wriggled, exploring his new home, then attacked the carrot with gusto.
 


 
First thing the next morning, I went out to check on Jasmine. I did not see the poof of black and white fur. My hands flew to my mouth when I saw the door hanging off one hinge, the cage completely empty.

I screamed. I cried out for Jasmine. Then I just cried.

Why couldn’t I hold on to anything? What was so wrong with my family that none of us could hold on to each other?

I heard the door open. Mom came outside. “We’ll look for the rabbit,” she said quietly. She looked in all the bushes, calling Jasmine’s name.

Adrienne didn’t show up to help. Maybe she’d let the rabbit out herself. It would have been easy to blame her. But I knew I was responsible this time. I didn’t know the first thing about hanging a door.
 


 
Even though Adrienne had gone to Marc’s party, leaving her saxophone case by the door, Mom and I went to Musical Horizons. We didn’t even discuss it. We just got in the car and went.

The jazz ensemble played last. The audience went crazy, cheering and stamping when the eighteen musicians walked on stage. They looked sharp, the guys in tuxedos, the girls in long black skirts and red silk blouses. Maybe Brian was right and I would be up there next year, the lone jazz flutist, hearing that applause.

But where would Adrienne be? I didn’t know. And suddenly that bothered me way more than the lost earrings and the lost rabbit. The one person I’d thought I could count on was gone. Why had she changed? What made her keep doing horrible things?

I spotted Brian on the top riser with three other trumpet players. He grinned at the crowd and made a show of inspecting his trumpet mouth, cracking his knuckles. If he was devastated over Adrienne, it didn’t show.

The terrified alto sax player they’d pulled in from the regular band sat in Adrienne’s chair. He fumbled with his sheet music and dropped it on the floor.

Mr. Savard took the stage as conductor, and the band struck up Glenn Miller’s big band hit, “Sing, Sing, Sing.” The drummer was really going at it. The trumpets and trombone pointed their instruments up high on the high notes, low on the low notes. Brian’s face flushed almost magenta. For a few minutes I lost myself in music. I stole a look at Mom; even she was tapping her program in time.

After the show, I ducked out to use the restroom. Scrawled on the

Image courtesy of ahknight

stall door, in heavy black ink, were ugly words scrawled in different inks and handwritings:

Adrienne Bower is a slut.

Adrienne Bower STEALS boyfriends. Watch out!!!

 Number of guys Adrienne Bower has done…. Followed by a series of tally marks, up to nine. And counting! The last tally mark was in blue ink, so fresh that some came off on my finger when I tried to rub it away.

I felt myself ripping apart. Part of me still hated Adrienne for her lies about the diamonds and the way she’d been treating me lately. Part of me just wanted to obliterate those words, violently, with some sharp tool. That’s when I knew what I really wanted back. More than the diamonds. More than the rabbit. I wanted my sister again: the sister who was nice to me, the sister who used to have my back.

I found a ball point pen on the floor and tried to cross out the graffiti, but the ball point was no match for the felt tip. So I wrote in big letters, beneath the tally marks, “ADRIENNE BOWER IS A GREAT SAX PLAYER.”

I went to the sink and tried to scrub that blue ink off my finger. Meanwhile, two girls in choir robes swished in. They went into separate stalls, chattering about some soprano’s screw-up. They came out and washed their hands beside me.

One of the girls, with a long ponytail, laughed. “Oh my God. I just did the funniest thing. Go look. On the door.”

The other girl went into the stall I’d been in. “‘Adrienne Bower is a great sex player.’ That is hilarious.”

“Shut up,” I heard myself say, in a voice I didn’t recognize.

They looked at me. One girl’s face, the ponytailed girl who’d changed my “a” to an “e,” softened a little. “Oh. You’re her sister, aren’t you.”

“Yeah. And those things on the door? They’re lies.”

“Really. Well, then you might want to warn her about something.”

“What’s that?”

“Marc Danielson’s party tonight. I heard she was going.”

The other girl gave me a withering smile. “Marc isn’t having a real party tonight. He does this once in awhile. He has a couple of his buddies over when his parents are out of town. They have a few beers. They invite some girl over. The girl thinks it’s a party and that she’s early or had the time wrong. They give her drinks, tell her people are coming. After she has a few more beers, the guys draw straws to see who will . . .”

It took me a moment to fill in the blank. “You’re lying.”

“Nope,” said Ponytail. “Our boyfriends are on the swim team. They know.”

“Not that our boyfriends go to these fake parties,” her friend quickly added. “I mean, Josh and Matt would never. Never.”

“Thanks for the heads up.” I bolted out of there.

The performers and the audience were pouring into the lobby, exchanging hugs, flowers, compliments. My parents and I used to meet Adrienne out there after her performances.   Now there was just Mom, eating a bake sale brownie, a smear of chocolate on her chin. I was embarrassed for her and wanted to go wipe it off. But before I went to Mom, I had to find Brian.

He was surrounded by other musicians. When I beckoned to him, he looked confused, then came over, still flushed red and breathing hard from the show.

“Hey, Amy,” he said. “How’d you like the concert?”

“It was amazing,” I said. “You guys sounded amazing.” Pull it together. “Listen. About Adrienne. There’s something I have to tell you.”

He stopped smiling.

“She’s at Marc Danielson’s party tonight. She doesn’t have a car, and I think she’s—”

Brian sighed and ran his hand through his spiky hair. “I’m only going to say this once,” he said. “Your sister dumped me. Ergo, I am no longer obligated to be her personal car service.”

“But . . .”

“I’m out. Sorry.” He turned to go.

I reached out and tugged on his tux sleeve. “You don’t understand. This party at Marc’s, it’s all a big set-up. I just heard. There’s a bunch of guys going, and they’re going to get her drunk, and—“ I swallowed hard. “I think she’s in danger. We don’t have much time.”

Brian stared at me. “We?”

“We have to get her out of there.”

Brian nodded. “She has to get out of there. I get it. Okay. I guess I can drive.” He glanced toward his jazz ensemble friendsl – longingly—then reached into his pants pocket and jangled his keys. “Or maybe I could call someone?”

I gave him a long look.  “Never mind. My mom’s here. She’ll drive me.” He was just doing the Scout’s Honor thing. But his heart wasn’t in it. And clearly we weren’t going to go swooping in to Marc’s house to save the day as a team. I stood up straighter. “Just tell me where Marc lives.”

“Beach Drive.I don’t know the number. But the house has a tall hedge, brick pathway. His dad’s a dentist, and their mailbox has a wooden tooth on it.”

“Beach Drive. Wooden tooth. Got it. Thanks.”

“Sure.” His face softened. He smiled, a little sadly it seemed. “Hey.” Suddenly he was that guy on the rabbit hutch roof again, asking me to hand him nails, listening to my words like they really mattered.

My eyes stung with tears. I couldn’t hold them back, or my words. “Our rabbit escaped. I – I hung the door wrong.”

Brian’s smile faded and he took a step back.

“You left some supplies in our yard. I don’t know if you want to come and get those sometime?”

He took another step back, almost crashing into Mr. Savard. “That’s okay, Amy. You can hang on to them.”

And he walked back to the jazz ensemble.

So that was it. Brian wasn’t anyone special. He was giving up, just like everyone else. I should have expected that. Most people didn’t fight for love. Hearts got stolen and damaged all the time. People let their loved ones go.

But not me. I could be different. I could be a lone jazz flutist. And I could try to rescue my sister, if only for one night.
 


 
I wanted to tell Mom what those girls in the bathroom had said. I wanted her to get mad, to bust up the party. But even if she got half a spine and did that, Adrienne would probably refuse to come. Plus I didn’t want to get my sister in trouble.

“I have a study group meeting tonight,” I told Mom. “It’s at this girl’s house on Beach Drive. Can you drop me off? They’ll bring me home.”

Mom asked no questions. I was the good daughter, in her eyes, and I worked it, talking about a fake U.S History project. She drove me right toBeach Drive. I saw a white house with a Spanish-style red tile roof, and a looming hedge. I spotted a jewel-like tooth on the mailbox, gold paint shining under a streetlamp. “There,” I said, pointing.

Image courtesy of AMagill (flickr.com)

My legs shook as Mom drove away.  I could hear music throbbing somewhere inside. What was I going to do, ring the bell? No. Adrienne could stay in the house, and then I could end up in there too. I’d have to be more strategic.

Remembering Brian’s words, I went around back. The patio door was open. In front of it, a high school guy lounged on a picnic table, smoking.

“Hey. Is there a party here tonight?” I asked. My voice squeaked.

“Maybe. Who wants to know?”

I remained out of the porch spotlight, in the shadows. “Is Adrienne Bower here?”

“Who’s asking?”

“Her friend Liz.”

There was a long pause while he peered into the dark, as if trying to place me. I held my breath, hoping my invisible status as a freshman would help me out here.

He belched. “I’ll check. Wanna come in? It’s cold.”

“I’ll wait out here. Tell her I have something of hers that she needs.”

He slid open the screen door and staggered inside. I crept behind a big rhododendron. If I could just lure her outside, I could grab her and force her to run.

Adrienne came to the screen door, wobbling in her short dress and high heeled boots. She peered outside. I stayed in the shelter of the shrub, well away from the light.

“Liz?” She stepped onto the patio and looked around the dark yard.

“Over here!”

“Where?”

When she was by the shrub, I reached out and grabbed her arm.

She shrieked. “Who—Amy? Is that you?”

“There isn’t a party here tonight. You have to leave now. Some girls at the concert said Marc set you up.”

She tried to wrench her arm free. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You don’t believe me? How many people are here?”

She counted on her fingers. “Marc. Josh. Steve. Matt. Me.”

“All guys, except you. Don’t you get it? No one else is coming. These guys, they’re trying to get you drunk.” I pulled her, and she followed two steps.

“Marc’s waiting for me,” she whined. “You’re ruining everything.”

Already I could heavy footsteps approaching the door. Low voices.

Where’d Adrienne go?

Not far. That chick is wasted.  

Well, go check the back yard. Get her friend in here too while you’re at it.

Footsteps grew louder. The back door flew open.

They’re in the bushes. I might need some backup.

“Come on!” I hissed at Adrienne.

Her eyes widened. She got it. I steered her to the driveway by the arm, and she let me. When we got to the street we ran, all the way to Ballinger Way.
 


 
Waiting for a crosswalk light and trying to catch our breath, Adrienne smoothed her hair away from her face. That’s when I saw it. One glittering diamond.

“My earrings!” I exclaimed. I looked at her other ear. It was bare. “Earring.”

Adrienne’s hands flew to her ears, as if to cover them. “The other one must have come off at Marc’s. Or on the way there. I don’t know.”

We both looked on the ground and retraced some steps, but the other one didn’t appear. And there was no going back to Marc’s.

I took a deep breath. I had to confront her. And it felt scarier than showing up at Marc Danielson’s house with all those guys there. “Give me my earring.”

She unscrewed the earring and handed it over.

“I lied to Mom to get you out of this mess.”

“You didn’t have to do that.”

“But I did. And I’ve covered for you more times than you know. I just want to know one thing. Why are you so mean to me? And to everyone?”

Adrienne blinked at me. “I don’t know,” she said at last. Then her face hardened. “Anyway, it’s my life. Why should anyone care what I’m doing?”

She’d nailed it. That was the crime in our family. Nobody showed that they cared. I’d been guilty of that myself.

“Well, I do,” I said. “And just because Dad messed up his life doesn’t mean you have to mess up yours.”

Adrienne sniffed loudly. She crossed her arms and hugged herself. “It’s freezing,” she snapped. “Are we going to yell at each other here all night, or can we move on?”

We walked the rest of the way home in silence.

Outside our house, I fumbled for my key; I wanted to sneak Adrienne in without Mom seeing her.

Suddenly Adrienne dropped to her knees.

I groaned. “Great. Are you going to be sick now?”

“No.” Suddenly Adrienne laughed. Her old laugh, deep and rich and loud. “You won’t believe who I found.” From under the juniper bushes, she pulled out something furry. She held Jasmine up to me, then snuggled him under her chin.

“Jasmine!” I ran over to kiss him and stroke his nose.

I sat down on the steps, and Adrienne sat beside me. I looked beyond her at the rising turrets and spires on the rabbit hutch. Maybe I could find something on the Internet about hanging a rabbit hutch door. Or turn it into a drawbridge and secure it with bolts and chains.

Jasmine splayed across both of our laps, and we petted him for a long, long time. As Adrienne’s knees touched mine, I smiled to myself in the moonlight and squeezed the remaining diamond. Maybe it promised a better future. Or who knows. Maybe it didn’t. But in this moment, anyway, we were safe. We were good.

 

 

Diana Renn grew up in Seattle and now lives in Boston with her husband and son.  She graduated from Hampshire College and earned an MA in English and American Literature from Brandeis University.  After graduate school Diana taught ESL, writing, and literature, and worked in educational publishing, and authored several ESL textbooks.  She also traveled whenever possible, and taught English in South America.

In addition to writing for young adults, Diana writes short stories and essays, which have been published in a variety of magazines and literary journals.  When she’s not writing, Diana enjoys bicycling and taiko drumming.  “Tokyo Heist” is her first novel.

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2 Comments Post a Comment
  1. [...] short mystery by Diana Renn, author of the upcoming Tokyo Heist. Thrills! [...]

  2. Linna says:

    Oh, wow. I could not stop reading this story! I love that there was more than one mystery going on in this story. All the cracks in Amy’s life, while not unfamiliar, weren’t predictable either. I felt so strongly the loss of the earring, Jasmine, Adrienne, even the loss of the idea that Brian is the perfect guy. I am definitely going to check out Tokyo Heist—have just bumped it to the top of my To Read list.

    This is such a terrific short story, and I absolutely loved it.

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