. THE SECRET OF SKULL GULLY
by Caryl Ann Harvey and Matt Barry
his head in his hands. His slumped into the chair and his shoulders shook. Matt reached toward him, but pulled his hand back
and sat watching until Card finally sat up again.
partner. I’ve just been holding it in for so long.”
can’t believe it. I was going to just give it up. And now…I can’t believe it. How…why?” Matt
sat on the metal step of the motor home and propped his elbows on his knees.
called me. Said a kid was asking a lot of questions about the robbery. I thought maybe now was the time for folks to hear
what really happened, but they wouldn’t believe me. So I figured I’d show up and kind of help things along.”
that Timmy in the picture?” Matt leaned forward, trying to see the small square photograph.
Taken the last day I spent with him. His birthday. He’s ten, here.” Card handed the snapshot to Matt, sat back
and dabbed at his eyes with a handkerchief.”
in the picture had a tooth missing. Behind him was the rear of an old car. Matt stared closer. “What kind of car is
roadster.” Card didn’t look at Matt. “’39. There were two of them in town.”
“Yours and Marshall Hadley’s.” Card’s head jerked up. Suddenly, an idea hit Matt and shivers iced
his back. “It’s hard to tell in this picture. Was your car red?”
Same color as Hadley’s was. Kind of dark purple. Only his was real shiny. That kid had bucks and I just had…well,
Old Mr. Hadley let me use his tools and things and I was always real careful.
looks like a neat kid.” Matt’s gaze was riveted to the photo, but he wasn’t looking at the boy.
voice sounded like his mind was somewhere else. Like he was talking in his sleep or something. “You remind me a lot
of him. That first time you came out here, I’d been thinking about him. When I saw you coming, I just….”
thought I was him.”
really.” Card smiled and rubbed Matt’s head the way Candy always did. “Just wishful thinking. How do you
know Marshall Hadley had the other car?”
it at a car show. Hey, Card.” Matt turned the photo so Card could see it, too. “You said this was taken on the
day everything happened?”
car doesn’t have a broken tail light.”
It never did. I can’t believe McCallum didn’t mention that to the police that night. It might have changed everything.”
Card took the picture back and tucked it into his wallet. “Marsh’s did though.”
old lady hit him, right?”
He was steaming when he came into the garage that afternoon. Said some old biddy backed clear across the highway and hit the
rear of his car. I told him he was lucky the tail light was the only damage.”
me to mind my own…my own business.” Card shook his head. “He left the place a disaster, and I told him to
get it cleaned up. He said that was my job, but I made him clean it up anyway. He was hopping mad by the time he left.”
told you to watch your back.”
“I should have corrected Clyde the other day when he told you that. No, actually, it was Snake who said it. He was always
looking for a fight.”
on the back of Matt’s neck raised and he shivered. “But, if it was Snake…I mean….”
I know. Snake’s dead. Dead men can’t talk.” Card stood. I’m about ready for a Coke. Know anyone who’d
like to join me?”
to clear Card’s way into the camper. “Yeah, thanks. Hey, Card, how come you changed your name?”
in prison. The other guys shortened everyone’s name. Packard just turned into Card.” Card re-emerged with the
sodas. “It’s been so long, I don’t think of myself any other way.”
guess a lot of things changed in prison.” Matt took the can of pop and sat back down on the step.
and held the can in his lap. Little rivers of moisture ran over his knuckles and Card wiped his hand on his jeans. He spent
a lot of time running his hand around the top of the can. Matt would’ve kicked himself if he could’ve for saying
something stupid like that.
Card spoke. “I lost my boy. I think maybe those folks he stayed with convinced him I was guilty or something.”
they just didn’t let him have anything to do with you so he’d settle into his new life.” Matt was reaching,
but he was desperate to make Card feel better.
why didn’t he try to contact me when he grew up?”
he didn’t know where you were. Maybe he thought you didn’t want to hear from him. I don’t know, Card. But
from what he said in that letter, I know Timmy never would’ve thought you were guilty.”
seventy-eight years old and I don’t have a soul in the world except Clyde. When I got out, I wrote him to try to find
Timmy. All Clyde knew was Timmy had gone up north. Since then, Clyde and me have been in contact. Made
me feel like I still had family.”
of them spoke for a long time. Matt bit his lip and his throat burned. He could imagine a ten-year-old kid, taken away from
his home and his dad, told he couldn’t talk to him or see him.
Matt got up. “I gotta go, Card. I promised Candy….”
what Matt did, the image of Timmy Packard standing in front of that roadster wouldn’t leave his mind. And, Matt had
wanted to hug Card when the man told him how lonely he’d been all these years. How he’d thought Timmy maybe believed
he’d been guilty after all.
not fair,” he told Candy and Will at supper. “Somebody has to do something.” Matt stopped short of telling
his foster parents about Card, that he was really Stan Packard.
changed your mind, sweetie?” Candy passed him a bowl of rice pudding. “The last time we talked, you seemed ready
to give up the hunt.”
thoughts raced around in his head and got all jumbled. What could he say that wasn’t really a lie? “I uh, that
is…well, I guess I owe it to Timmy Packard to not give up. But I promise I’ll try not to…to…inconvenience
anyone this time.”
helped clear the table, Matt went to his room. He paced his feet on the stairs so he didn’t run. His heart raced as
he thought about the chart. Matt pulled it out from under his bed and unrolled it. Then he grabbed a pencil and, under SUSPECT,
wrote “SNAKE.” Under MOTIVE, he penciled in “HE THREATENED STAN.” Under OPPORTUNITY,
he wrote HE WAS THERE WHEN THEY ARRESTED STAN.
sat back and looked at the paper. Maybe he should add Marshall Hadley’s name to the list of suspects. But that was stupid.
Why would he rob his own dad’s station? Besides, Marshall had money. Fifty dollars wouldn’t have been worth all
the fuss. No. Hadley didn’t belong on the list. Just the same, Matt wished he could pin something on the jerk.
On a hunch,
Matt went downstairs and thumbed through the telephone book under “Davis.” There were five entries. The first
two were the same person, a Jeff Davis, listing his town and farm numbers. The second was Davis, Dave and Susan. He looked
out into the living room where Candy was busy with the latest episode of “Trading Spaces.” Will was asleep in
his recliner. Matt dialed.
It was a woman’s voice.
his own voice, trying to sound older. “Yes, I’m trying to locate a Snake Davis.”
a pause on the other end of the line. Then the woman replied. “I think you have the wrong number, dear. There’s
no one here named…Snake.”
Sorry to have bothered you.” Matt cleared his throat, then dialed the next number in the book…Davis, James Allen.
A man answered.
sir. I am trying to find the family of a person named Snake Davis….”
A ten second
silence followed. Finally, the man replied. “What do you want him for?”
like to…that is, somebody mentioned him to me and—”
it was Matt who hesitated. “His name was George?”
died almost fifty year ago. What do you want?” The voice had an edge to it.
you suppose I could ask you some questions?” Matt squeaked.
gas station robbery the night he died.”
Matt. Come look at this.” Lucas stood on the sidewalk in front of the Munsen house waving a large photo in the air.
When Matt reached his friend, he saw that Lucas had several pictures.
a load of this,” Lucas said. He held up a photo of Angela Robbins. The Angela
Robbins. Only it wasn’t really her. It had her head, all right, but the body was like, out of Playboy or something. She was wearing this swim suit that…well, it definitely wasn’t Angela.”
“Dude, where’d you get that?”
it.” Lucas shuffled the deck of prints to a picture of a dog with a human hind end. “This, too. My uncle got me
some really cool software for my birthday. We just got our printer fixed, so….”
his head. “You are one sick puppy, Harper.”
go with me to show Chris?” Lucas was so excited he dropped one of the pictures. Matt bent and retrieved it for him.
It’s Thursday. They’re comin’ to pick me up for visitation, and I’ve got an appointment with my social
worker. It’s gonna take all day.”
“Yeah. It’s okay seeing my parents and all…even my sister, but I hate talking to Miss Always Right Social
What’s she do?”
in his stomach and walked in a circle on tiptoe. “This is her…Miss Bloom. ‘Now, Matt, you should try to
think about why you ate the last bite of cheese instead of letting your sister have it.”
“And you say—”
say, ‘Because if I give her the last bite of cheese, she always cuts the cheese.”
until his stomach hurt. “Anyway, I can’t go. But I’ll try to see you tonight…call you at least. Chris,
too. I’ve got something to tell you.”
Lumina sedan pulled up next to the curb.
bud. Gotta go. See ya.” Matt got in the car. When he looked back, Lucas was waving.
worker was ticked. Matt arrived ten minutes late with a mustard mustache. He knew it was there, because he’d tasted
it. Heck, he’d even saved it there to eat later.
The restaurant was crowded.” He smiled wide to make his dimples show. She didn’t seem to notice.
your responsibility to make these appointments on time. When you saw the restaurant was full, why didn’t you go somewhere
fries.” Matt grinned again. “No one else has cheese fries.”
sighed. “All right, Matt. Let’s get started.”
was lame. Toward the end, though, she kinda seemed nervous.
she started. “I received a phone call from someone in Holyoke…someone who didn’t want to identify himself…who
said you’d been terrorizing the older people in town, making prank calls and…well, Matt, I frankly don’t
put a lot of stock in things like that…especially when the reporting party won’t even give his name and I’ve
known you for a while now and I have a hard time imagining you doing anything like—”
how long Miss Bloom could talk without running out of breath. “I didn’t do it,” he said.
do you think someone would call me like that?”
don’t know. How did they know to call you?” Matt’s stomach felt
sick. The sick feeling lasted all the way home.
back to Holyoke seemed to last hours. Someone was trying to get him in trouble, probably to get him removed from Candy and
Will’s home. Did they know? If they did…no, if they knew about it they’d be raisin’ Cain at the social
services office. When the case aide dropped him off, he forgot to thank her or to even tell her goodbye. He heard Candy’s
laughter from the back yard.
gonna find out anyway, so I might as well tell you now.” Matt sat down at the picnic table where Candy and Will had
just polished off their grilled steaks.
into the house and returned with a plastic glass. She filled it with iced tea and handed it to Matt. “Find out what,
Bloom’s gonna call you. Someone from Holyoke phoned her about me. They said I’ve been…terrorizing the old
people in town and making prank calls and everything.”
to his foster dad who sat stretched out in his plastic chair. “Honest, Will, I didn’t do it.”
believe you, Matt. But who would call…who would even know who to call…I mean, there is a confidentiality law that
prohibits anyone from giving out that kind of information….” Will was looking at Candy.
“I can’t figure it out. But we’ll get it fixed, Matt. Don’t worry.” Candy kissed his head and
put her arm around him. Matt leaned into her, smelling her perfume and the scent of charcoal.
sleep that night. First, the sheets bunched up under him and made his side ache. Then it got hot in the room. Then he itched.
All over. It seemed like morning would never come. When it did, his eyes burned and he wanted nothing so much as he wanted
to just stay in bed.
rang, and Candy called him. “Matt, it’s for you.”
It was Chris.
“So, dude. What did you have to tell us?”
the receiver in one hand and rubbed his eyes with the other. “What?”
told Lucas you had something to tell us. So give, man.”
his mind settle over Chris’s words. Finally, he understood. “I can’t tell you on the phone. Meet me out
at Card’s. At the rest stop, you know?”
an hour, okay?” Matt listened as Chris talked to someone else. “Chris? Hey, man, come on…I gotta go.”
“Not for an hour, right?”
thinking maybe he wouldn’t make another minute. “No, man…I gotta go, now.”
up. Matt barely made it.
face darkened when Matt told him about the call to social services. He said something under his breath that Matt didn’t
catch. From Card’s tone, Matt figured it was a good thing he didn’t.
arrived together. Matt opened the camper door and motioned them in. “You guys remember Card.”
Card is really just his nickname.” Matt let his voice fall and took several deep breaths while the room got quiet. The
boys stared at him. Finally, Matt finished. “His real name is Stan Packard.”
sat, almost not breathing. Then Chris spoke, but he talked fast, in his mosquito voice again. “Yeah right. Like we believe
at Card and smiled. Neither of them responded.
Chris said at last, and whistled through his teeth.
Lucas sat, wide-eyed, while Matt brought them up to speed. “So,” Matt said when he’d told them about everything
except the call to social services, “We need to find out more about this Snake guy. What he did that night, how he fits
in to all this. We’ve gotta prove that Card was railroaded by someone.”
there’s that Freeman guy.” Lucas leaned back on the couch and folded his hands over his stomach. Matt frowned,
and Lucas sat up.
know, I’ve had my suspicions all these years,’ Card said, “about who did it. I never did figure Freeman
for the one, but I’d bet you a dollar to a doughnut he knows more than he’s said.”
about Joe McCallum?” When no one answered right away, Lucas continued. “Maybe he was only in their gang…Hadley
and Snake and Freeman and all…because he supplied their booze. I mean, If he was the only one who could buy it legal….
Maybe he didn’t have any money.”
his head “And he’d chance stealing it from the dad of the guy he was trying to impress? It doesn’t wash.”
his face all scrunched up, like he always did when he had to think. “ So maybe it was
this Snake guy. He had a kegger right after. Maybe it was him who needed the money.”
“I never did like that kid. Too much of a follower. But we’re forgetting about the cars—”
the cigarette butt,” Matt added. “We found the other one at Freeman’s, remember?”
we’re back at square one.” Chris shook his head as if he could loosen up the answer and it would just float into
view. Like one of those magic eight ball toys.
quite.” Card stood up and went to his refrigerator. He tossed cans of Coke to the boys. “We have more clues now,
and some of them have to fit together. We’re just missing the straight edges.”
Lucas wrinkled up his nose and looked at Card.
you do a jigsaw puzzle, dude, it makes it easier if you can lay out the straight edged pieces first.” Matt looked up
at Card. “That’s what you meant, isn’t it, Card?”
respond right away. When he did, he spoke really slow and quiet. “That’s it. Timmy and I used to leave a puzzle
out on the coffee table all the time. We’d put in a piece when ever we walked by. Sometimes it took a month to finish
Matt said. “I don’t think I have a month. I may be going home in just under two weeks.”
a quick breath. “We’ll have to hurry then, Tim…Matt.”
way home Matt thought about that…about Card calling him by his kid’s name. For some reason, it made him glad