Chapter 36: Home Sour Home

For the next hour, I sat alone and shivered, watching the minutes tick by on the clock outside my cell.

Finally, the tall cop came down the hall and unlocked the door. "C'mon." He led the way back to the police chief's office. Everyone was exactly where he was before.

"Walter," the police chief said. "In view of the fact that you're a minor and this is your first offense, these good people have agreed to drop all charges against you. I have decided that we will not prosecute this case.

"However, you will be placed on probation for one year, which means these people can change their minds and press charges any time during that year. It also means that if you get caught doing anything, anything at all - jaywalking, littering, you name it - we'll toss you in the slammer and throw away the key. You got that?"

"Yes, sir."

"However, that doesn't mean you're getting off. For the next year, you're gonna belong to these three people here. If the first selectman needs his grass cut, you cut his grass. If he needs his car waxed, you wax his car. Miss Stiletto has a whole lotta work needs to be done around her house right now. And you're gonna do it. And if Mr. Apely here wants all 35 of the toilets cleaned at the aquarium, you clean 'em. You follow me?"

"Yes, sir."

"Now I think you should thank these people and apologize."

"Thank you," I croaked. "I'm sorry."

All three of them glowered at me.

The chief turned to my father. "He's all yours."

Miserably, I followed my father to the car. When I got in, he didn't even look at me. The muscles in his face twitched. I could feel his anger like a vacuum cleaner sucking up all the air in the car. I couldn't breathe.

Please, Dad! I wanted to say. Yell at me! Hit me! Anything but this!

But I couldn't speak. We rode home in awful silence.

When we got there, my mother was sitting on the sofa in her bathrobe, her face a swollen mask of beauty cream and sorrow.

She took one look at me and started blubbering.

Oh, Ma! I thought. I don't want to make you cry!

I wanted to hug her, ask her forgiveness, but then my father finally spoke, his voice dry and brittle: "Go to your room."

As I turned to go up the stairs, I saw The Day, spread out on the sofa next to my mother. A huge headline across the front page said:

"UFO AND ALIEN SEALS TERRORIZE MYSTIC"

The story was by Agnes Wimberly.

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