Imaginary Friends – Chapter 9
Ten-year-old Paige Holley has made a new imaginary friend. A talking cricket named Chuck.
Chapter Nine – Leverage
After being grounded indefinitely for — according to her parents, “faking her own kidnapping” — ten-year-old Paige Holley flushes the remainder of the meds prescribed by the late Dr. Norma Petty down the toilet, while Chuck looks on approvingly from the sink counter.
The doorbell brings Paige downstairs as her mother opens the door to a harried-looking Det. Harry Schette.
“Mrs. Holley, I was hoping I could borrow your daughter for the afternoon. Take her down to the station and talk to her a bit more about all that’s been going on.”
“No I don’t think so, Detective. We’re just trying to put this all behind us.”
Det. Schette takes Mrs. Holley aside and lowers his voice as Paige & Chuck strain to hear. “There’s a boy two towns over, Jeffrey Sullivan.”
“The boy who killed his parents?”
Det. Schette nods. “And his babysitter. Some of the things he said he saw/experienced in police interviews are, in my opinion, quite similar to things your daughter is going through now. I thought if I showed her a few crime scene photos and had a stern talk with her, I could sorta scare her straight before she becomes the next Jeffrey Sullivan.”
Mrs. Holley frets, biting her lip. “I don’t know…”
“I’ll have her back before dinnertime.”
Mrs. Holley turns back to her daughter. “Paige, hon. Do you want to go with the detec–“
Before she can finish, Paige is out the door and buckling herself into the front seat of Det. Schette’s car.
The two sit in silence for a while, driving past rolling brown plains, a winter storm swirling overhead poised to cover the countryside.
“Where are we going, Detective? We passed the station a half hour ago.”
Det. Schette glances nervously at Paige. “Is, uh, Chuck with us?”
Paige glances down at the cricket smoking a tiny cigarette and eyeing the detective suspiciously before she turns back to Harry nodding.
“Tell him we’re going to see an old friend.”
“I can hear ya just fine, pig,” Chuck mutters, tossing his cigarette to the car floor and approaching Schette menacingly, walking across Paige’s lap before she cups a hand around him, blocking his path.
Paige & Det. Schette are seated at a diner counter two towns over, Paige munching a grilled cheese while the detective sips black coffee.
“What are we doing here?”
Det. Schette points at a young woman behind the counter. “Ask Chuck if he recognizes that girl.”
Chuck pretends like he doesn’t hear and takes a bite out of an olive on Paige’s plate the size of his torso.
“Who is she?” Paige asks.
“She’s nobody,” Chuck barks gruffly. “You gonna finish these chips, kid?”
On the ride home, Det. Schette explains his plan after Paige informs him Chuck isn’t with them.
“That waitress was the one person who ever showed human Chuck affection. If we act like we’re going to threaten her in front of Chuck, maybe he’ll back off.”
“If we do that,” Paige reasons, “aren’t we just as bad as Chuck.”
The police radio crackles to life. “Body found in the ladies restroom at Meryl’s Diner. Looks like a waitress. Hung herself from the door handle. Suicide, cut and dry. Coroner en route.”
Paige & Det. Schette exchange a glance as their faces turn sallow.
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