Chapter 35: The Big Lie

The first cop came back and unlocked my cell.

"Let's go see the chief," he said.

I plodded after him down the hall to the police chief's office. There stood my father, looking older than he'd ever looked before, his rumpled pajamas tucked into his pants. The top of his head was crimson, and his eyes were puffy and sad.

I couldn't bear to look at him. So I looked around the room. There was Miss Stiletto, glaring and clutching her cane. A wild-haired man sitting next to her glowered at me too. Next to him was a thin, sickly man wearing a gravy-stained shirt. The chief, a narrow man with a gray crewcut, leaned back in his chair and put his feet up on his desk.

"Walter Frimhaus," he said. "This is Mr. Apely, the director of the aquarium." He pointed to the wild-haired man. "He's pretty upset about what you've done."

The chief nodded in the direction of Miss Stiletto. "And of course you already know Miss Stiletto. You two had a slight, uh, disagreement in front of the supermarket, as I recall."

And then he pointed to the thin, sickly man. "And this here's the first selectman."

The first selectman turned to the chief and snapped, "Get on with it, Cal."

"Right. Now, Walter, it's my duty to inform you that you have the right to legal counsel and that anything you say may be used against you in a court of law. But I've also got to tell you that things'll go a lot easier for you if you talk."

The chief looked at my father. "You want to get a lawyer?"

"No, no, I'm sure my son will cooperate. Right son?"

I stared down at my bare feet. "Yeah."

"OK, Walter. Let's hear it. Why'd you do it?"

"I don't know."

The chief frowned.

"You got somethin' against Miss Stiletto or the aquarium?"

"No, sir."

"Son, do you realize that you could go to prison?"

"Yes, sir."

"Let's try a different approach," the chief said. "There's no way you could have launched that balloon from where you did and then gone up and stolen the first selectman's car. You didn't have enough time for that. You care to name your accomplice?"

Minerva had escaped!

"No, sir."

The chief crossed his arms.

"We could make things a lot easier for you if you name your accomplice, Walter. We could even agree to drop the charges. We figure it had to be someone older than you, someone who had the savvy to plan this thing. Who was it?"

"No one, sir."

"You're lyin'!" The wild-haired man stood up. "This stinkin' kid is lyin'!"

"Siddown, Apely!" snapped the chief. "I'm handling this." The wild-haired man sat down, rolling his eyes and biting his lip.

The chief took his feet down from the desk and leaned on his elbows. His black eyes bored into me.

"If you refuse to cooperate, we can send you to jail for a very long time. You tell us who helped you, we could drop the charges. How's that?"

I looked around the room. Everyone was staring at me.

"Go on, Walter," my father said. "Tell the chief the truth."

"No one helped me." I swallowed. "I did it all by myself."

The chief leaned back and sighed.

"Lock him up, Jim."

A tall cop took my arm and led me back to the cell.

"Kid," he said as he turned the key. "You just made a big mistake."

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