The Missing Manatee

The Missing Manatee by Cynthia DeFelice

Book: The Missing Manatee by Cynthia DeFelice Read Free Book Online
Authors: Cynthia DeFelice
    â€œSo, something is wrong.”
    â€œIs it that paper for your English teacher?”
    â€œNo. Way worse than that.”
    Memaw’s expression grew serious. Before she could ask, I blurted out, “I found the manatee.”
    â€œWell, good for you, darlin’!” she exclaimed. “That’s wonderful!” She looked at me again and asked uncertainly, “Isn’t it?”
    I let out a big sigh. It seemed I talked more to Memaw than to anybody else these days. Which was okay. I mean, Memaw was good to talk to, and whatever she had to say, she always gave it to you straight, and I liked that. But in a weird way, I didn’t want to tell her what I’d found out, because telling her would make it really true. Even while I knew Dan had to be the killer, part of me couldn’t accept it. I wanted to go back to not knowing, but that was something I’d never be able to do.
    â€œDirty Dan did it,” I said at last. It came out as a whisper. I said, louder, “Dirty Dan is the killer.”
    Memaw looked surprised. Then her expression grew grave. She pulled two stools from under the kitchen counter and sat on one. Still looking at me, she gestured for me to take the other.
    My legs suddenly felt too weak to hold me up, and I fell gratefully onto the stool. My shoulders slumped, and I leaned forward, my face in my hands. “I can’t believe it,” I said as hot tears slipped from between my fingers.
    Memaw didn’t say anything right away. She waited until I’d got hold of myself. When I raised my head and wiped my shirtsleeve over my face, she said, “Tell me what happened, Skeeter.”
    I told her everything, not even caring that now Mom would find out about the gun being in the boat, and all the rest of it. Because it turned out Mom had been right about Dirty Dan. No, that wasn’t exactly true. She didn’t know the half of how truly dirty Dan was.
    After I’d finished, Memaw was quiet again for a while before she finally spoke. “What are you going to do?” she asked.
    â€œI don’t know, ” I said. “I’d tell Mac, except he’s down in the Keys.” After a moment I said, “I guess I could tell Earl.” As soon as I’d said it, it seemed to be the obvious answer. Let the police handle it.
    Memaw nodded. “Telling Earl’s one possibility,” she agreed. “Or…” She paused before continuing.
    I looked up, the question in my eyes.
    â€œYou could talk to Dan first.”
    I stared at Memaw, puzzled. “But—why?” I asked.
    â€œTo hear his side of the story, of course.”
    â€œBut what could he possibly say that would make a difference?” I said.
    â€œAsk him,” Memaw said. When I looked at her in confusion, she said, “Look, Skeet, you liked Dan, right? You liked him a lot.”
    â€œBut that was before—”
    â€œJust let me finish here. What about the things you liked him for? Did they all change?”
    My head was spinning. “Are you saying because Dirty Dan is a great fisherman and helped me catch a tarpon, that makes it okay that he killed the manatee?”
    Memaw shook her head. “No, Skeeter,” she said, and her voice was softer than usual. “All I’m saying is that if the man was your friend, you might want to go to him first, before you go to the law. I’d want a friend of mine to do that, wouldn’t you?”
    Well, yeah, I thought. I guessed I would. But I’d never actually thought of Dan as my friend. He was Mac’s friend, and Memaw’s. He was a grownup, an adult. I couldn’t just go over to his house and accuse him, even though he deserved it. I didn’t have any idea what to say to him.
    On the other hand, I had to do something soon. The vultures would make short work of what was left of the manatee, and that was my main evidence, along with the rope

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