Great Summer Novel, Chapter 5: The treehouse with secrets, Aug. 4, 2013
“Laotian trunks?” Boots asked. “I know nothing about Laotian trunks, black, white or otherwise. My Laotian interests tend toward the blue.”
Davis looked at him blankly.
“Sapphires,” Boots clarified.
“Got it,” Davis sighed, rolling his eyes. “How you’ve avoided prison… Speaking of, where were you last week? Cannes?”
“Nope, here in good ol’ Palisade,” Boots said with an unblinking, ace-the-lie-detector-test gaze.
“I don’t want to know,” Davis said.
“You ever come across any nice collars?” Tater chimed in.
“Why? You never even keep them on! If I get one more ‘friendly visit,’” Davis did the air quotes with his fingers, “from Mrs. Neal about the birds and my fat cat…”
“She called me fat?” Tater interrupted.
“Never mind!” Davis said, struggling not to shout. “The trunk, OK?”
“Yeah, what’s the story?” Boots asked, and Davis filled him in: the monk, the knife, the threat, the Lina connection.
“Typical,” Boots said darkly. “The legacy of Lina continues to spread its evil tentacles.”
“Anyway,” Davis said, unwilling to get into it again with Boots, “not that I want to punk out to some alleged monk who just wanders in with a knife, but he seems like he’d keep showing up at the store. And that’s bad for business, you know?”
“Yeah, about that,” Boots said. “Why didn’t you just do your thing? It’s not like a knife is any kind of a big deal to you, am I right?”
Davis closed his eyes for a second and ignored the comment. Then, turning to Tater, he asked, “The trunk?”
“Treehouse,” Tater said, pausing mid-lick on his tail.
“Oh, wow, I haven’t been up there for years. Decades, probably,” Davis said.
“Yeah, it’s probably been 420 months,” Boots said with a goofy leer.
“Can it, ya hippie,” Davis snapped. “That was a long time ago. For some of us.”
Pushing open the kitchen door, Davis hurried across the shaggy backyard — his dad would have tsk-ed sadly to see the state of it, Davis thought guiltily — with Boots and Tater right behind. They stopped at the base of an enormous old cottonwood with narrow boards nailed rung-like up its trunk.
“Geez, how’d Lina get a trunk up this?” Boots asked, peering up at the treehouse 18 feet above their heads.
“Pilates?” Davis theorized. “Yoga? She did talk a lot about some proud warrior deal. Maybe she meant herself?”
“Whatever,” Boots said, yanking on the bottom rung to see if it still was nailed into the bark solidly enough to hold their weight. It seemed OK, so he began to climb, limber as a monkey. Davis followed, a little less simian, and Tater beat them to the top, leaping lightly up through the hole in the treehouse’s wooden floor.
And there it was, amid decades’ worth of dead leaves and twigs and dust: about the size of a respectable ottoman, a muted, shining black with swirling, white ebony inlays on top. It was beautiful, and it was locked.
“Dang it!” Davis yelled. “I have no idea where the key would be and…”
Boots was already hunched over the lock, having pulled a long, thin tool from his pocket.
“You just carry that around with you?” Davis asked.
Ignoring the question, Boots countered, “Where’d something like this even come from?”
“Well, Lina and I met in Thailand, you know, and I know she’d been doing the ‘pray’ part of her whole ‘Eat Pray Love’ deal before we met, so maybe she got it at the monastery?” Davis wondered.
“I think you’re right,” Tater offered.
With a small grunt, Boots finally popped the lock, slid it out of the latch and slowly opened the trunk’s lid. He, Davis and Tater peered inside, which was empty except for a clear glass vial about as big as a travel-size tube of toothpaste. There was nothing in it and a black stopper was lodged in a corner of the trunk.
“That’s it?” Davis was disappointed. “Dude pulled a knife on me for this?”
“Was there anything in that vial?” Boots asked.
“Who knows,” Davis said. “Who cares. Let’s get this back down and I guess take it to the store? Monk didn’t leave a phone number, but I assume that was the plan, for him to meet me there.”
As a random aside, Tater said, “You know Mrs. Neal’s son and his friends come up here sometimes?”
“I’m not surprised,” Davis said distractedly. “Anyway, Boots, you start down and I’ll shove it down to you.”
“Now, wait a sec here,” Boots said, looking in the trunk, then at the outside of its base. “Check this out. It has a false bottom.”
Pulling out a pocket knife, Boots slipped the small blade between the side of the trunk and the false bottom, slowly prying it up. Davis grabbed it as it rose, and noticed in the four extra inches of trunk an envelope tapes to its true bottom. Using his knife to gently cut the tape, Boots lifted the envelope out of the trunk.
It was a letter, and it looked old, or at least worn out. And it was addressed to Davis.
What is Davis’ “thing” (as Boots called it) that he could have used to deal with the monk’s knife?
■ Martial arts skills learned in the mountains north of Luzon, Philippines.
■ An extremely loud scream.
■ Mossad training.
■ A whole lot of suppressed rage.
■ Everything he learned during his time touring with a Russian circus.
What is the name on the envelope’s return address?
■ Truman Cooper, Davis’ dad.
■ Winston Churchill.
■ An Australian backpacker Davis vaguely recalled meeting in Thailand.
■ Who knows? It’s written in Laotian.