Scat

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Book: Scat by Carl Hiaasen Read Free Book Online
Authors: Carl Hiaasen
properly deliver Mrs. Starch's letter, but curiosity got the better of him. He snatched the envelope from the box.
    Not wishing to encounter the mailman and have to explain why he was taking the letter, Dr. Dressier drove straight back to campus.
    There, in the privacy of his office, he opened it and began to read:
     
    Dear Dr. Dressier,
    It is with great regret that I must request an indefinite leave of absence from my position at the Truman School, due to a sudden family emergency.
    I'm sorry for any inconvenience that this may cause my students and fellow faculty members. Be assured that I will return to my teaching duties as soon as my personal situation is settled.
    Thank you for your patience and understanding, and for respecting my privacy on this matter.
     
    Most sincerely,
     
    B. Starch
     
    The letter had been typed on Mrs. Starch's personalized stationery. The headmaster reread it twice before folding it back into the envelope.
    Mrs. Starch's file already lay open on his desk. Dr. Dressler leafed through every page-her job application, her pension records, her insurance forms.
    Wherever Mrs. Starch had been asked to list her next of kin, she had printed the word "none."
    Dr. Dressier wearily rubbed his forehead, thinking: How can there be a family emergency if she has no family?
     
    Nick brought Marta home to show her the swamp video on the television screen. It was the first time she'd been inside his house.
    "That your dad?" She pointed to a framed photograph on the coffee table.
    "Yeah, that's him," Nick said.
    "Is that a sailfish he's got? It's huge."
    "A hundred and ten pounds." Talking about his father made Nick want to go online and check for an e-mail, but he decided to wait until he was alone.
    He said, "C'mon, let's look at the tape."
    When he paused the part where the tan blur appeared, Marta sprang off the sofa. "I see it! I see the belt!"
    "Like the kind cowboys used to wear," Nick said, "to carry their bullets."
    "But is it him 7 . I can't tell." She scrunched her eyes, examining the image on the TV screen.
    Nick couldn't remember if Smoke ever wore an ammo belt to hold up his pants. Marta said the Truman dress code probably didn't allow it.
    "When are you gonna tell the police about this video?" she asked. "Or are you gonna tell 'em?"
    All day, Mrs. Starch's students had been talking about their interviews with the sheriff's deputies, and about the news that Smoke was being investigated in connection with the Black Vine Swamp fire.
    Nick told Marta that he didn't know what to do about the tape. "You can't see the guy's face-there's no way to be sure who it is."
    "Betcha five bucks it's him," she said. "I bet he snuck out there and lit that fire to get back at Mrs. Starch."
    Nick had to agree that Smoke was a likely suspect, considering his previous crimes.
    "Where does he live, anyway?" Nick asked Marta.
    "I don't know-and I don't want to know," she said. "Probably in a cave somewhere."
    As soon as Marta was gone, Nick hurried to the den and checked the computer. Nothing from his dad, not a word.
    Nick could no longer pretend that this was a normal interruption in communication. Never since his arrival in Iraq had Capt. Gregory Waters gone so long without e-mailing home. Nick felt sick and anxious-something must have happened. There could be no other explanation.
    He really didn't want to be alone with such horrible thoughts, so he dashed out the door and ran until he caught up with Marta.
    She heard his footsteps coming and turned around, surprised. "Hey, what's up?" she asked with a smile.
    Nick slowed down and started walking beside her- shoving his hands in his pockets, trying to act casual. He said, "I gotta go up to the Circle K and get some milk and stuff."
    "But that's, like, two miles."
    "No big deal. I promised my mom." It wasn't a particularly clever story, but it was the best Nick could come up with.
    "Want me to go with you?" Marta asked. " 'Kay."
    Secretly Nick was elated that Marta

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