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Turtles All the Way Down(7)
Author: John Green

I wove back toward the river, scrambled down the riverbank wall, and found Daisy standing above my overturned canoe, holding a large jagged rock high above her head.

“What the hell are you doing?” I asked.

“Whoever that guy is, he definitely saw you,” she said, “so I’m making an excuse for you.”

“What?”

“We’ve got no choice but to damsel-in-distress this situation, Holmesy,” she said, and then brought the rock down with all her force onto the hull of the canoe, splintering the green paint and revealing the fiberglass below. She flipped the canoe back over; it immediately started taking on water. “Okay, now I’m gonna hide and you’re gonna talk to whoever is coming in that golf cart.”

“What? No. No way.”

“A distressed damsel has no companions,” she said.

“No. Way.”

And then a voice called out from atop the gabled wall. “You all right down there?” I looked up and saw a skinny old man with deep lines in his face, wearing a black suit and white shirt.

“Our canoe,” Daisy said. “It has a hole in it. We’re actually friends with Davis Pickett. Doesn’t he live here?”

“I’m Lyle,” the man said. “Security. I can get you home.”

FOUR

LYLE USHERED US INTO HIS GOLF CART and then drove us down a narrow asphalt path along the golf course, past a big log cabin with a wooden sign out front identifying it as THE COTTAGE.

I hadn’t visited the Pickett estate in many years, and it had grown even more majestic. The sand traps of the golf course were newly raked. The cart path we drove on had no cracks or bumps. Newly planted maple trees lined the path. But mostly I just saw endless grass, weedless, freshly mown into a diamond pattern. The Pickett estate was silent, sterile, and endless—like a newly built housing subdivision before actual people move into it. I loved it.

As we drove, Daisy struck up a wholly unsubtle conversation. “So you head up security here?”

“I am security here,” he answered.

“How long have you worked for Mr. Pickett?”

“Long enough to know you’re not friends with Davis,” he answered.

Daisy, who lacked the capacity to experience embarrassment, was not discouraged. “Holmesy here is the friend. Were you working the day Pickett disappeared?”

“Mr. Pickett doesn’t like staff on the property after dark or before dawn,” he answered.

“How many staff are there exactly?”

Lyle stopped the golf cart. “Y’all best know Davis, or else I’m taking you downtown and having you booked for trespassing.”

We rounded a corner and I saw the pool complex, a shimmering blue expanse with the same island I remembered from my childhood, except now it was covered by a glass-plated geodesic dome. The waterslides—cylinders that curved and wove around one another—were still there, too, but they were dry.

On a patio beside the pool were a dozen teak lounge chairs, each with a white towel laid out atop the cushions. We drove halfway around the pool to another patio, where Davis Pickett was reclining on a lounger. He was wearing his school polo shirt and khaki pants, holding a book at an angle to block the sun as he read.

When he heard the cart, he sat up and looked over at us. He had skinny, sunburned legs and knobby knees. He wore plastic-rimmed glasses and an Indiana Pacers hat.

“Aza Holmes?” he asked.

He stood up. The sun was behind him, so I could hardly see his face. I got out of the golf cart and walked over to him.

“Hi,” I said. I didn’t know if I should hug him, and he didn’t seem to know if he should hug me, so we just sort of stood there not touching, which to be honest is my preferred form of greeting.

“To what do I owe the pleasure?” he asked, his voice flat, neutral, unreadable.

Daisy walked up behind me and held out her hand, then shook Davis’s forcefully. “Daisy Ramirez, Holmesy’s best friend. We had a canoe puncture.”

“We hit a rock and landed on Pirates Island,” I said.

“You know these people?” Lyle asked.

“Yeah, it’s fine, thanks, Lyle. Can I get you guys anything? Water? Dr Pepper?”

“Dr Pepper?” I said, a bit confused.

“Wasn’t that your favorite soda?”

I just blinked at him for a second and then said, “Um, yeah. I’ll have a Dr Pepper.”

“Lyle, can we get three Dr Peppers?”

“Sure thing, boss,” Lyle answered, and took off on the golf cart.

Daisy’s glance at me said, I told you he’d remember, and then she wandered off. Davis didn’t seem to notice. There was something sweetly shy about the way he looked at me, glancing at, and then away from, my face, his brown eyes bigger than life through his glasses. His eyes, his nose, his mouth—all his facial features were a bit too big for him, like they’d grown up but his face was still a kid’s.

“I’m not sure what to say,” he said. “I’m . . . not good at chitchat.”

“Try saying what you’re thinking,” I said. “That’s something I never ever do.”

He smiled a little and then shrugged. “Okay. I’m thinking, I wish she wasn’t after the reward.”

“What reward?” I asked, unconvincingly.

Davis sat down on one of the teak loungers, and I sat across from him. He leaned forward, bony elbows on bony knees. “I thought of you a couple weeks ago,” he said. “Right when he disappeared, I kept hearing his name on the news, and they would say his full name—Russell Davis Pickett—and I kept thinking, you know, that’s my name; and it was just so weird, to hear the newscasters say, ‘Russell Davis Pickett has been reported missing.’ Because I was right here.”

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