I'm embarrassed to say that I didn't see it coming. She just passed off the bag, and suddenly there I was, stuck. And even after I felt how heavy it was, I still didn't know what was in it. How was I supposed to know? I'd never touched one before-—never even been that close to one before. But the minute I looked inside, I knew I was in trouble.
Serious, heart-stopping trouble.
I don't generally hang out at the mall. It's full of biting shoes, shrinking clothes, and useless knickknacks. It's also crawling with poseur kids who think it's their private stage for rehearsing public coolness. Please. I get enough of that in junior high.
But the Santa Martina mall also has a video arcade, and if you know anything about my best friend, Marissa, you know that video games are the only thing that'll make her quit talking about softball. And since we're in the middle of gearing up for the Junior Sluggers' Cup tournament, softball is all Marissa's had on her mind. For weeks. She's working up plays, she's practicing after practice, she's even talked Coach Rothhammer out of her home phone number so she can run ideas by her in the middle of the night. You have to know Ms. Rothhammer to understand the significance of this—nobody's got her number, and I mean nobody. She teaches P.E. and eighth-grade science, and she's got a reputation for being really strict and really private. Like, is she married? We don't know. Does she have kids? Dogs? Horses? Flower beds? Nobody knows. I'll bet Vice Principal Caan doesn't even know, that's how good she is at being private.
What I do know about Ms. Rothhammer is that she's the one person who wants to bring home the Junior Sluggers' Cup as much as Marissa does. Probably for different reasons—like, I know Ms. Rothhammer couldn't care less about us winning the school a party day. More likely it has to do with showing up Mr. Vince, who told her she'd never get her hands on the cup. Of course, that was last November, after our team beat his team in our school's playoffs, so maybe she's forgotten all about that.
Then again, maybe not.
>Anyway, the point is, Marissa McKenze has been the Softball Czar for weeks, and the past few days it's been driving me batty. And maybe I should've just said, "Marissa, enough! There's life beyond softball!" but I do live in Santa Martina, a town where everyone from Heather Acosta, Princess Prevaricator, to Mayor Hibbs, Sultan of City Hall, is into the game. So much so that people play year-round. Rain or shine, mud or flood, people play.
So instead of telling Marissa something she'd never buy into anyhow, what I said was "Hey, you want to go to the mall and play some video games?" And since I'm never the one to suggest it, she said, "Are you kidding?" and off we went.
Now, I'm not big on playing myself. I don't have the quarters to spare. So while Marissa's seriously invested in the skill of electro-badguy annihilation, I'm more an observer than anything else. Sure, I'll play a few games just to keep her happy, but pretty much I'm a peanut gallery of one.
Good as she is, though, I get bored and wind up looking around at other stuff. People, mostly. And let me tell you, there are some pretty strange people in the arcade. I'm not talking about the kids, either. They just strut around, cussing and stuff, acting like they'll take you down if you look at them wrong. Like they could actually catch you with the way they wear their pants halfway down their butts.
No, the adults are strange. It's men, mostly, and mostly they look the same—scraggly hair, faded band T-shirts, dirty jeans, and work boots. They come in alone, park themselves at the gun games, and shoot. They don't look at anyone or anything else, they just shoot. And good luck cutting in if you want a turn. I've seen kids try it, and let me tell you, it's dangerous.
Anyway, there I was, at four in the afternoon, surrounded by the noise of electro-fire, checking out the arcade clientele, when this girl with a big red-and-white Sears bag backs right into me. Hard.
Does she say, Sorry? Or, Excuse me? Or even turn around and look at me?
She whimpers, "Jesus! Oh, Jesus!" and drags that bag in close, between her feet. Her eyes are glued to the arcade entrance, and she's shaking. First it's just sort of a shiver, then a rumble; then she starts having her very own internal earthquake.
"What's the matter?" I ask her, but she still doesn't turn around to look at me. She just paws through her Sears bag and rearranges a yellow towel that's on top, then weaves the bag's cord handles together, shaking the whole time.
I look between the two video games we're standing in front of so I can get a clear shot of the entrance, but all I see is a bunch of people milling around outside.
This girl is melting down about something, though, so I say to her, "Are you all right?"
"No! Oh Jesus, no!" She turns to me, her eyes full of terror. "What am I going to do? He'll kill me! He'll kill us both!"
"Who?" And I'm thinking, Whoa, now! Why would he want to kill me?
She doesn't answer. She just stays behind cover while she checks out the entrance.
"Do you want me to call the police?"
"No!" She turns back to me, looking even more scared than she had before. "No!"
"Whatever you do..." Her shaking goes up a notch. "Oh Jesus, there he is!"
"Right over there!" she says, looking out into the halls of the mall. Only there are about thirty people roaming around out there. "Oh Jesus, what am I going to do? What am I going to do?"
"If you're that scared, why don't you let me call the police?"
She whirls around and says, "No! You hear me! They mess everything up. They put him away and now he's out! He's gonna kill me!"
"But if he's going to kill you . . ."
"Oh Jesus, here he comes." She looks around frantically. "Is there a back door to this place?"
I shake my head.
"How am I going to get out of here?" She goes back to looking outside, practically shaking herself to death.
Then I see him. I can just tell. It's the way he's walking. Slow, but, I don't know . . . tight. Like every step is for a reason and nothing better get in his way.
He's wearing a tight white tank T that shows off his muscles, and his hair is short on the sides, but a little longer on top and gelled forward. There's a heavy gold cross around his neck and a beeper on the waistband of his baggy jeans, and there's no doubt about it—he's headed straight for the arcade.
She slumps down at my feet. "Hide me. You've got to hide me!"
"Hide you?" I look around and say, "There's no place to hide!"
"Is he in?"
I look at the entrance. "He's hanging right outside."
"He'll be in. He can smell me."
"Smell you?" I hadn't noticed any perfume or anything on her, and the way she said it was weird.
"It's his way."
"Now he's in. He's . . . he's going down the first aisle." I squat down beside her and say, "Why don't you let me get security? Or we could get a bunch of people together and tackle him if he tries to hurt you. . . ."
She gives me a sad little smile, then closes her eyes and mouths a quick prayer as she makes the sign of the cross on her chest. And that's when I notice these weird sort of slashy scars on the inside of her left arm. Not down by her wrist, up higher. One zigzags side to side and the other overlaps it a little, zigzagging up and down. And I want to ask her if the guy she's so afraid of cut up her arm, but all of a sudden she stops shaking, slides her Sears bag toward me, and says, "I'll meet you back here at . . . at seven. Be here, you hear me? Everything you need's in the elevator—go get it. And don't let nothing happen to him!" She grabs me by the shoulders and says, "Do not, do not call the cops. You hear me? Promise me!"
Everything was happening so fast. First she's scared to death of this guy; then she doesn't want anything to happen to him. And what was that about the elevator?
But her eyes were so intense. It was like they hypnotized a nod out of me. And before I could ask her any questions, she said, "If I'm not back right at seven, wait for me, you hear me? I will be back." In a flash she's gone, crawling around the corner, then darting out the door.
I look around for the guy who's stalking her, and there he is, coming my way. I do my best to act cool, but let me tell you, this guy's creepy, and the closer he gets, the more I shrink back until I'm practically hugging a video game backward.
When he's right beside me, he sniffs the air. Three times really fast, then slowly three times. And while he's sniffing, I'm noticing the tattoo on the top part of his left arm. It's the head of a cobra with eyes like dice. They're popping out, with the ones facing forward. Real "snake eyes." And the mouth of the snake is open—like it's in midstrike, coming right at me.
Now, the tattoo's plenty scary, but when the guy turns and looks straight at me, my knees practically buckle. I'd never seen a face like his. He had hatred for eyes. Steel for a mouth. He almost didn't look human.
And while I'm dissolving into the front of a video game, he keeps looking right at me, then sniffs the air again and heads slowly out the door.
I had chills running all through me. Hard as she ran, that girl would never get away from him. He'd hunt her down until he found her. I could just tell.
"God, Marissa, what are we going to do?" I looked over my shoulder. "Marissa?"
"What?" Her finger's just a blur, punching the shoot button.
"Don't tell me you didn't see any of that . . . ?"
"Any of what?" Her finger's flying, fast and furious.
She looks at me for a split second. "What?"
"There was a girl in here, scared to death that this creepy guy was going to kill her!"
"Hang on a minute, I've just about . . . Yeah!" She turns to me. "Okay, what?"
I shake my head at her. "You didn't see any of that?"
"Any of what?"
"What I just told you! About the girl and the creepy guy."
"So where are they now?"
"So . . . ?"
"So do you think we should call the police?"
"Look, I don't know what you're talking about! I was in the middle of a game. It's noisy in here. I didn't even know you were talking to someone." She points to the Sears bag and says, "What's that?"
"She left it with me. I think she couldn't run with it. It looks kind of heavy. And I'm supposed to get some stuff of hers out of the elevator and meet her back here at seven."
Marissa squints at me. "Why?"
I shrug real big and say, "I don't know! That's just what she said!"
"How do you get yourself into these things?"
"Hey! I just asked her if she was all right, and it turns out she wasn't. She was scared to death!"
"So why come in here? Why not call the police?"
"Marissa, I don't know! She was hiding, okay? And she was real clear about not calling the police. Real clear. She seemed, you know, allergic to the idea."
"What did she do? Break out in hives?"
"Pretty much, yeah."
"Well, I'm not hanging around here until seven. . . ."
"Neither am I! Grams would kill me." I reach for the Sears bag and say, "I'll just take this home and bring it back after . . . dinner."
"It weighs a ton . . . !"
"What's in it?"
I put it back down and say, "Feels like a bowling ball!" and when I look inside, what do I see?
A brand-new Barbie giving me a bubble-head smile through a bubble pack.
Obviously that didn't weigh much. And neither did the yellow towel underneath it. So I pull back the towel, muttering, "There must be something else. . . ." And that's when I see it. "Marissa," I gasp. "Look!"
It was bigger than a bomb.
Scarier than a bomb.
And it wouldn't be long before shrapnel went flying.
Excerpted from SAMMY KEYES AND THE SEARCH FOR SNAKE EYES © Copyright 2002 by Wendelin Van Draanen. Reprinted with permission by Knopf. All rights reserved.
Sammy Keyes and the Search for Snake Eyes
- hardcover: 277 pages
- Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
- ISBN-10: 0375811753
- ISBN-13: 9780375811753