Chapter 6

Ari spent most of the next day trying to make sense out of what he’d seen in the deli the night before. And when he wasn’t doing that he was counting to ten. Or higher.

At lunch in the school cafeteria Finbar Fenker yelled “Be a taster, not a waster!” and squirted pickle relish all over Ari’s tater tots.

While lined up for music class Finbar, behind Flossie Beemis who was behind Ari, loudly hummed the Wedding March. Ari tried very hard not to notice Flossie’s delighted giggles and switched to counting in Spanish for variety.

But when the final bell rang and Finbar followed Arden Feeny out the door saying “If you look up ‘pickle boy’ in the dictionary, is there a picture of Ari?,” Ari found that the counting system was beginning to fail him, and his tightening fist got tighter with every number from one to ten. Just as he began to seriously wonder how long he could resist swinging it, he was both surprised and relieved to see Uncle Ellery waiting for him on the playground.

“Mr. Soffit!” called Finbar, dropping back a couple steps. “I love your pickles!”

Ari wondered if Uncle Ellery had noticed his clenched fist, but something told him the answer was yes as his uncle’s firm hand steered him away from Finbar Fenker.

“We’re going to see Wilton Daylatch,” said Uncle Ellery as if Ari had asked, which he hadn’t.

“Uncle Ellery,” said Ari, “Does Wilton Daylatch seem like a grifter and a grafter to you?”

“A what?” said Uncle Ellery with a smile.

“I met someone who called him that,” replied Ari. He gave a fleeting thought to describing what he’d seen in the deli…but it still made no sense to him. Uncle Ellery would most likely say it was a dream, and maybe it really had been.

“Uncle Ellery,” said Ari, “would fleas die at three-hundred degrees?”

“I guess they would,” said Uncle Ellery, “and so would anything they’re living on. Are you doing something weird in science?”

“Yeah,” said Ari, hoping Uncle Ellery wouldn’t ask any more questions.

Ari and Uncle Ellery climbed Duchy Street together and approached the Daylatch Academy gate, which stood as black and stark and cold as ever. Ari saw something pass over Uncle Ellery’s face, but he couldn’t tell whether it was something sad, or something scared.

A speaker box sat on a post just inside the gate. There was a large black button under the speaker. Uncle Ellery reached through the gate and pushed the button.

“Yes?” squawked an impatient female voice.

Uncle Ellery paused a moment, as if he preferred not to take this a step farther, then he said “This is Ellery Soffit. I have an appointment with Mr. Daylatch.”

After a moment, the impatient voice squawked “Thank you. Please proceed to the Conservatory.” The iron gate creaked with a jolt and a rumble, opening just enough for a person to pass.

“Ok,” said Uncle Ellery. “Here we go.”

Beyond the black gate, a brick walkway stretched in front of them, leading to a square building, also of dark brick, which was brightened only barely by a glass and ironwork greenhouse attached to its face.

To the left, in the distance, was a long structure which reminded Ari more of a jail or a chicken coop than the dormitory Uncle Ellery said it was, and to the right something new was being built–something modern, windowless, and concrete.

Ari stepped on a brass “S” inlaid into the brick, and noticed a “W” to the left, an “E” to the right, and an “N” just ahead. They were walking across a compass rose, an ornate emblem centered in the middle of the letters with spikes like sunrays pointing in all four directions.

A bell rang, making the usual startling school-bell racket, and Ari instinctively braced himself for a surge of children to come pouring noisily from the buildings, but there was no surge. Instead, there were several sharp blasts on whistles, followed by orderly and silent lines, each of about ten boys, coming from various doorways and filing wordlessly to other doorways under the grim surveillance of beefy men who looked just like the motorcyclists Ari had seen before, at the gate. He watched at the boys, but very few of them returned his gaze. Some looked tired, some grumpy, but most were expressionless as they trudged by in their drab gray clothes.

“Cripes,” said Uncle Ellery. “at least we got to wear blue in my day. At least we talked. Cripes.”

Uncle Ellery looked even less comfortable with this mission than he had before, but he put an arm around Ari, pointed at the glass room straight ahead, and said “Let’s go.”

They went through a door of cracked glass held together by a rusty metal frame, into a room of more cracked glass and more rust.

A squat woman sat at a desk in front of them. She reminded Ari of a toad with hair.
“Mr. Daylatch will be with you in a moment,” she said, primly punching several buttons on a device in front of her with her stubby fingers.

There was nothing behind the woman but empty greenhouse space, with a few statues set on pedestals around the room. Ari supposed the room had once been full of plants, but now there was just a concrete lion near the right wall, a sphere near the door just ahead, a dog resembling the chihuahua Kipper on the left, and a concrete frog near the front end of the room. The floor was tiled, and much of the tile was cracked or missing, but a compass rose of inlaid tarnished brass was completely intact in the center of the floor, and north, straight ahead, pointed to the door, which was labeled “Wilton Daylatch.”

The door opened. Wilton Daylatch emerged, like a spider stepping away from its web. He smiled–most insincerely in Ari’s opinion.

Uncle Ellery had a very unusual look on his face. Was he afraid of Wilton Daylatch? Ari had never seen Uncle Ellery be afraid of anything before.

“Two Soffits,” said Daylatch. “What a pleasure. Do come in.”

Trackback URL

No Comments on "Chapter 6"

You must be logged in to post a comment.