Doof wasn’t at school on Monday. Or Tuesday. On Wednesday, Will went to the school’s office to ask if Doof had been reported sick. The lady who usually sat in the office wasn’t there, but Will heard people talking in the Principal’s room, whose door was open.
“I think it’s time we did something about the Duffy boy.” Will’s ears pricked. The Duffy boy, that was Doof. “He’s missed three days already this week and I’m pretty sure I know why.” Will recognized the voice of Ms. Lacy, the school’s guidance counsellor.
A man rumbled an answer. Will couldn’t understand what he said, but he knew it was Mr. Springer, the Principal. “What about the mother?” Mr. Springer must have turned or talked louder, because Will heard this just fine.
“She’s not in the picture,” said Ms. Lacy. “I gather she’s left the home. It’s just Harold and his father. They live at that Shady Grove Trailer Park. Not a great place. I think something bad happened last summer. I think that boy is in trouble.”
“We don’t want to act prematurely,” said Mr. Springer.
“Better to deal with the child welfare people than the police.”
Ms. Lacy appeared in the doorway of the principal’s room. Will ducked behind the counter and out of the office before she could see him. Was Doof in some sort of trouble? Why would Ms. Lacy think they might have to deal with the police?
After school, Will decided to go to Doof’s house and see if he was okay. Maybe he had a bad stomach bug or something, and no mom to look after him. Or maybe he’d gone back to the ice cream truck and the driver had done something to him. The Shady Grove Trailer Park was in the opposite direction from Will’s house, the part of town that Will’s dad called “the local slum.”
The trailer park’s name was the nicest thing about it. The trailers were old and looked like they were sinking into the ground. A few of them had little patches of grass and flowers outside, but most were surrounded by weeds and junk. Will asked an old lady if she knew where Mr. Duffy lived. She stopped sweeping her walk and stared at him.
“What you want with him, kid? He’s kinda mean.”
“Well, actually, I’m looking for Doof, uh, Harold. His son.”
She frowned, clutching the broom. “Haven’t seen him around the last few days. Maybe he run off too. Wouldn’t be surprised.” She frowned. “Tom Duffy’s trailer’s right at the back.” She pointed down the dirt road. “Just go to the end of the road. That’s the right place for him, all right.” She snorted.
Doof’s dad’s trailer made the others look good. It had once been white, but now was a mottled grey. Bags of garbage slouched near the door, the steps were broken, and a rusty barbecue with a missing wheel leaned nearby. A couple of crooked posts held up a dirty sheet of corrugated fiberglass over the entryway.
Will stepped up to the dented door and knocked. Nothing happened. He made himself knock again, louder, and waited, looking around. A wreck of a car peeked out of a thicket of bramble bushes. Behind the car, an old brown blanket hung from the branch of a tree. Something about its shape bothered him, but before he could get a better look, a couple of thumps sounded from inside the trailer, followed by shuffling. The door creaked open.
Mr. Duffy was a big man. His stomach loomed over Will like the moon, a T-shirt cratered with stains and holes. Will waited for him to smile, but he didn’t.
“Who’re you and what do you want?” Mr. Duffy’s voice sounded like it came out of a bowl of thick oatmeal.
“Uh, I’m Will. I’m looking for Doo— Harold.”
“Don’t know where he is. Little bugger should be at school. You too, kid.”
“School’s out for the day. He hasn’t been there all week. That’s why I came. I thought he might be sick or something.”
“‘Or something.’ That kid’s never sick, except in the head. He’s not here.”
“I guess he’s missing then. Don’t you think you’d better call the police?”
“I don’t talk to cops. Don’t you sic the cops on me. Kid’s probably gone to visit grandma. Now get lost!” He started to close the door.
Will felt a kind of sneaky relief. He’d tried. Now he could go home. But Doof had never mentioned a grandma.
“Mr. Duffy, did you know that Doof—I mean Harold—he really wants a dog?” The words popped out of Will’s mouth before he knew it.
“Dog!” Mr. Duffy made a gargling laugh. “No damned dog here. Not any more. I don’t like dogs, I don’t like cops, and I don’t like you either. Get lost before I run you off!” He slammed the door so hard, the posts holding up the fiberglass shuddered and a clump of rotten pine needles fell off it.
Will could go home now. Except he wasn’t done. He had to find Doof. That meant telling the police. Or finding the ice cream truck again.
By the time Will got home, he was tired and looked it. His mom poured him a glass of milk and gave him a couple of cookies. After eating and drinking, he went to his dad’s office and knocked on the door.
“It’s me, Dad. Can I come in?”
“Yes, you may come in, Will.” His dad looked at him over his glasses from behind a big pile of students’ notebooks. “What is it? I’m pretty busy.”
“Doof’s gone missing. He hasn’t been at school since last week. I’m kind of worried about him.”
“My friend Harold Duffy. He came for supper one day, remember? Doof is his nickname.”
“I don’t approve of nicknames, Will. And I don’t approve of that boy, either. He struck me as a questionable type. I’m not surprised he’s left school. You’d best find some better friends.”
Will shrugged. “Doof’s my friend right now. I want to make sure he’s all right. Do you think I should tell the police that he’s a missing person?”
Will’s dad shook his head. “Waste of time. The police won’t listen to you. The boy’s parents are the ones to report him missing. But I’m sure he’s all right. That type is always all right, as much as they care to be. Don’t waste your time worrying about him. I very much doubt if he’s giving you much thought. Now, please excuse me, young man. I have work to do.”