Chapter 6 – In Which I Investigate at Dad’s Work The next morning, I came downstairs to Mom getting her jacket and

shoes on next to the door. It was Saturday, so she wouldn’t have been going into work. “Where’re you going, Mom?” I asked. Mom kept looking at her shoes for a second, rubbing the back of her hand on her forehead. “Jay’s work called me to pick up a few things of his.” She tugged at her shoelaces, holding the tongue closer to her foot. “Someone new is coming in and they need the space.” I almost slipped right onto my butt as I ran back across the hardwood floor, rounding the corner and running up the stairs. “Just a sec!” I shouted. “I’ll come with you.” This could be a key area of investigation—Dad’s work. Perhaps he has some information in his desk or computer that I could inspect. Mom’s Camry was already backing out of the garage when I returned downstairs. I ran out the front door and jumped into the passenger side of the car. We drove for about nine minutes, including stoplights, because CPS1 is only 1.5 miles from our house. Dad mostly walks to work so that Mom would be able to use the car. Mom played the 70s on 7 channel the whole way there. I noticed more dented fenders than usual on the road, and the air conditioner was on too high, but neither of us switched it off. We listened to Karen Carpenter, Cat Stevens, and 45 seconds of the Osmonds before pulling into the parking lot of CPS. My dad’s work looks almost like any office building, except that if you go down one floor, it looks and smells like Home Depot. Bins and bins of metal pipes, faucets, and wiring, stacked next to rows of toilets, showers, bathtubs, sinks, all made of porcelain, ceramic, plastic, and stainless steel (although, stainless steel devices are generally only used in prisons, so there are less steel plumbing devices than other materials).
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Commercial Plumbing Service

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However, today, Mom and I only stayed on the main floor where plastic wood composite desks pushed up against each other to form mock cubicles under green tinted fluorescent lights. Today, only a third of the desks had people sitting at them, answering phones and filing paperwork. I recognized my dad’s desk near the glass cubicle at the front. The cubicle belonged to Dad’s boss, Jesse Hendrickson. Jesse came out of his cubicle to meet my mom when we walked into the room. “Hello, Mrs. Gray,” Jesse said, scratching his balding head. “I’m so, so sorry.” Jesse used to hold corporate parties at his house every summer. I remember he gave let me light off a big firework all on my own. He’d tapped his nose and told me, “You’re a big boy.” It was called the Atom, which I now consider to be a fairly offensive name for a firework, but I got to light it, and I remember it was the coolest set of shapes in the sky. Big stars and I think there was even a dog that lit up in gold shimmers. We never have parties like that at Jesse’s house anymore. Dad said Jesse and Mrs. Hendrickson got a divorce and she took the house with her, so he lived subsidized housing now south Hillsboro. “Henry!” I looked up into Mom’s worn out eyes. She nodded over to Dad’s old desk. “Get together what you can while I talk with Mr. Hendrickson.” “Okay,” I said, making my way over to the desk with Celtics flags and pom-poms hanging off the sides. My dad never lived in Boston, but his dad took him to a game between the Blazers and the Celtics once when he was in high school and the Blazers were a brand new team. He told me, “Henry, you should’ve seen it! They mopped the floor with us. Everyone walked out of there all pissed off and stuff, but I loved it.” I guess you could say he’s a traitor to Portland, but he’s never once waivered in his loyalty to Boston since then, especially when they got Larry Bird.

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There wasn’t much on Dad’s desk other than that. Some plumbing contracts half filled out and his hard hat. But there was a computer. I glanced at Jesse’s office. Mom was crying and Jesse’d handed her a tissue. They probably wouldn’t come out for a couple minutes. I sat down in Dad’s thinly padded and tapped the keyboard, waking the computer up to a desktop picture of Mom, Dad, Maggie, and me at Maggie’s high school graduation. “Hey,” a thin voice said from behind the computer. I jumped a little bit, the chair squeaking under me. Peeking around the computer screen was a short man sitting at the desk across from me. He had wispy gray hair but a face that looked like it was made of clay. His wrinkles were set deep in his skin, but his eyes bugged out like two cloudy marbles fixed under his eyebrows. I wasn’t sure whether this guy looked tough or skittish, but he seemed a little of both. “Hey,” the man said again. “You’re Jason’s son?” I nodded. “Yes, sir.” I always called Dad’s work friends Sir because they were older and Dad says I should respect the blue collared men who fix our toilets. The man smiled just a little and held out his hand. “I’m Mr. Kehrer. I worked with your dad on a lot of jobs.” I shook Mr. Kehrer’s hand. It was warm but tough and calloused. He leaned forward a little bit, peering over at my dad’s desk. “What’re you doing?” “Just looking through some of my dad’s work information,” I said. Mr. Kehrer’s bottom lip went right over his top lip like a bitter-beer commercial. “I’m real sorry about the accident.” His voice sounded even thinner, and the wrinkles in his face stiffened even more like trenches in his skin. “He was a real good guy.”

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“It wasn’t an accident,” I said, skimming through the list of files on my dad’s hard drive: CORP., CLIENTS, GB, GF. “What’d you say?” Mr. Kehrer’s voice thickened a little bit. I checked the properties on GB. Gray’s Bidets. Last opened May 15. Three days after Dad was killed. My heart snuck up my chest, beating into my throat. “Paul Angel Soft,” I whispered. “What?” Mr. Kehrer’s eyes bugged out even farther. I leaned towards him. “Did anyone come in here after my dad died?” I asked. “Maybe someone in a newsies cap?” “Huh?” I rolled my eyes. So far, Mr. Kehrer hadn’t uttered an intelligent sentence in the last two minutes. I leaned in closer, whispering. “There’s this man,” I said, keeping Mr. Kehrer’s bug eyes fixed in mine. “His name’s Paul something. He works for Angel Soft.” Mr. Kehrer’s eyebrows mounted high up on his forehead, digging into his hairline. “That’s Paul Ropert.” “What?” I sat up so quick in the flimsy chair, I almost bent the back of the seat right off. “How do you know him?” “Georgia-Pacific helps supply us with some of our tools and materials for toilets and piping. Not to mention, Paul’s daughter grew up with my daughter.” Mr. Kehrer pulled out his wallet. I glanced back at the computer screen, scrolling through the files under Gray’s Bidets. “See?” I felt a nudge on my hand holding the mouse. A creased and faded picture slid onto the desk next to my hand of a ten year-old girl with big teeth and a big blue bow in her hair. Mr. Kehrer looked at the picture himself. “Course, she’s older now—”

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I touched Mr. Kehrer’s arm because that supposedly gets people’s attention and lets them know that you’re serious. “Was Paul here at all after my dad was killed?” I asked. “Hey, now.” Mr. Kehrer backed up in his chair. “Who said Jason was killed?” I tightened my grip. “Did Paul come in here?” Mr. Kehrer’s hands stuck up like a bank robber surrendering to the cops. “Now, son, I know you’re upset and all—” I didn’t have time to sidestep this conversation. “I know my dad didn’t die on accident,” I whispered, bending over the desk onto Mr. Kehrer’s workspace. “I’ve got proof.” Now, that wasn’t exactly true, but I had Tom’s letters. And I knew someone had stolen my dad’s business license and switched it out for an illegitimate one. At any rate, Mr. Kehrer’s face changed just a little bit. The lines in his face softened into putty. “He was here a few weeks ago managing some orders from Georgia-Pacific.” Mr. Kehrer flexed his wrist. I realized I hadn’t let go of his arm yet. I backed off, putting my hand back on the mouse. My fingers were shaking. I exited out of GB and clicked onto GF. Mr. Kehrer scratched his neck. “I still don’t see how this proves your dad was killed.” “Henry.” I stopped scrolling, holding my breath. Mr. Kehrer looked behind me and stood. “Hello, Mrs. Gray,” he said, nodding with a smile that wasn’t big enough to look happy. I turned around, looking up at my Mom. Her arms were folded, but she held a Kleenex to her nose, dabbing at her nostrils and shaking a little when she inhaled. “Hurry up.” She nodded toward the desk. “Take all of this with you to the car. I have to sign a few forms with Mr. Hendrickson.”

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She walked back into Jesse’s office. I could see that Jesse’d taken some papers off of the printer in the corner of the room, setting them on the table between them. I sat back facing the computer. “You shouldn’t start assuming all these things, son,” Mr. Kehrer shook his head from his desk. There was a file on Dad’s computer called “Henry.” I opened it. “No, I wouldn’t go around telling people that.” Dozens of thumbnails filled the screen. They were pictures of me and Dad. I opened the drawer to the side of Dad’s desk. Empty. The next second drawer was also empty. The last drawer had only Dad’s blue Arctic Zone lunch box. I opened it and found a floppy disk inside. I laughed. Dad’s computer was too old for USB drives or CDs. I pulled the disc out and inserted it into the port on the side of Dad’s computer, then dragged all of Dad’s files onto it. CORP., CLIENTS, GB, GF. It took a few seconds to transfer. I stood and collected all the Celtics paraphernalia from off the table, holding it in my arms and feeling the light strands of the pompoms tickle my chin. When the transfer finished, I took out the disk and buried it between the pompoms, deleting all the files off my Dad’s computer and emptying the recycling bin for good measure. “Thanks for your help,” I told Mr. Kehrer. He looked up at me without moving the rest of his face. “Careful, Henry,” he said. “You shouldn’t go making up stories and having people get upset about it.” I paused, looking down at the load in my arms, then back up at Mr. Kehrer. “You can tell Paul I’m on to him.”

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Mr. Kehrer shook his head. “I don’t talk to him much.” I blinked. “Well… if you do see him…” I straightened up a little. “You can tell him that.”

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