Found Page 1

Chapter 1

Eight months ago, I watched my father’s coffin being lowered into the ground. Today I was watching it being dug back up.

My uncle Myron stood next to me. Tears ran down his face. His brother was in that coffin—no, strike that, his brother was supposed to be in that coffin—a brother who supposedly died eight months ago, but a brother Myron hadn’t seen in twenty years.

We were at the B’nai Jeshurun Cemetery in Los Angeles. It was not yet six in the morning, so the sun was just starting to rise. Why were we here so early? Exhuming a body, the authorities had explained to us, upsets people. You need to do it at a time of maximum privacy. That left late at night—uh, no thank you—or very early in the morning.

Uncle Myron sniffled and wiped his eye. He looked as though he wanted to put his arm around me, so I slid a little farther away. I stared down at the dirt. Eight months ago, the world had held such promise. After a lifetime of traveling overseas, my parents decided to settle back in the United States so that I, as a sophomore in high school, would finally have real roots and real friends.

It all changed in an instant. That was something I had learned the hard way. Your world doesn’t come apart slowly. It doesn’t gradually crumble or break into pieces. It can be destroyed in a snap of the fingers.

So what happened?

A car crash.

My father died, my mother fell apart, and in the end, I was made to live in New Jersey with my uncle, Myron Bolitar. Eight months ago, my mother and I came to this very cemetery to bury the man we loved like no other. We said the proper blessings. We watched as the coffin was lowered into the ground. I even threw ceremonial dirt on my father’s grave.

It was the worst moment of my life.

“Stand back, please.”

It was one of graveyard workers. What did they call someone who worked in a graveyard? Groundskeeper seemed too tame. Gravedigger seemed too creepy. They had used a bulldozer to bring up most of the dirt. Now these two guys in overalls—let’s call them groundskeepers—finished with their shovels.

Uncle Myron wiped the tears from his face. “Are you okay, Mickey?”

I nodded. I wasn’t the one crying here. He was.

A man wearing a bow tie and holding a clipboard frowned and took notes. The two groundskeepers stopped digging. They tossed their shovels out the hole. The shovels landed with a clank.

“Done!” one shouted. “Securing it now.”

They started shimmying nylon belts under the casket. This took some doing. I could hear their grunts of exertion. When they finished, they both jumped out of the hole and nodded toward the crane operator. The crane operator nodded back and pulled a lever.

My father’s casket rose out of the earth.

It had not been easy to arrange this exhumation. There are so many rules and regulations and procedures. I don’t really know how Uncle Myron pulled it off. He has a powerful friend, I know, who helped ease the way. I think maybe my best friend Ema’s mother, the Hollywood star Angelica Wyatt, may have used her influence too. The details, I guess, aren’t important. The important thing was, I was about to learn the truth.

You are probably wondering why we are digging up my father’s grave.

That’s easy. I needed to be sure that Dad was in there.

No, I don’t think that there was a clerical error or that he was put in the wrong coffin or buried in the wrong spot. And, no, I don’t think my dad is a vampire or a ghost or anything like that.

I suspect—and, yes, it makes no sense at all—that my father may still be alive.

It particularly makes no sense in my case because I was in that car when it crashed. I saw him die. I saw the paramedic shake his head and wheel my father’s limp body away.

Of course, I had also seen that same paramedic try to kill me a few days ago.

“Steady, steady.”

The crane began to swing toward the left.

It lowered my father’s casket onto the back of a pickup truck. His coffin was a plain pine box. This, I knew, my father would have insisted upon. Nothing fancy. My father wasn’t religious, but he loved tradition.

After the coffin touched down with a quiet thud, the crane operator turned off the engine, jumped out, and hurried toward the man with the bow tie. The operator whispered something in the man’s ear. Bow Tie looked back at him sharply. The crane operator shrugged and walked away.

“What do you think that was about?” I asked.

“I have no idea,” Uncle Myron said.

I swallowed hard as we started toward the back of the pickup truck. Myron and I stepped in unison. That was a little weird. Both of us are tall—six foot four inches. If the name Myron Bolitar rings a bell, that could be because you’re a basketball fan. Before I was born, Myron was an All-American collegiate player at Duke and then was chosen in the first round of the NBA draft by the Boston Celtics. In his very first preseason game—the first time he got to wear his Celtic green uniform—an opposing player named Burt Wesson smashed into Myron, twisting my uncle’s knee and ending his career before it began. As a basketball player myself—one who hopes to surpass his uncle—I often wonder what that must have been like, to have all your hopes and dreams right there, right at your fingertips, wearing that green uniform you always dreamed would be yours and then, poof, it was all gone in a crash.

Then again, as I looked at the casket, I thought that maybe I already knew.

Like I said before, your world can change in an instant.

Uncle Myron and I stopped in front of the coffin and lowered our heads. Myron sneaked a glance at me. He, of course, didn’t believe that my father was still alive. He had agreed to do this because I asked—begged, really—and he was trying to “bond” with me by humoring my request.

The pine casket looked rotted, fragile, as though it might collapse if we just looked at it too hard. The answer was right there, feet in front of me. Either my dad was in that box or he wasn’t. Simple when you put it that way.

I moved a little closer to the casket, hoping to feel something. My father was supposed to be in that box. Shouldn’t I . . . I don’t know . . . feel something if that were the case? Shouldn’t there be a cold hand on my neck or a shiver down my spine?

I felt neither.

So maybe Dad wasn’t in there.

I reached out and rested my hand on the lid of the casket.

“What do you think you’re doing?”

It was Bow Tie. He had introduced himself to us as an environmental health inspector, but I had no idea what that meant.