Billy was my best friend and the last guy on earth I wanted to see.
In Mr. Lake (buy it here), Joe Marino’s in trouble, as much trouble as a public school kid can get into in the 6th grade in the autumn of 1966. Mr. Lake’s his school’s janitor. Lake always parks his beat-up Volkswagen in front of his run-down cottage across the street from the school’s playground. In an afterschool pickup game, Joe breaks Lake’s windshield with a line drive. Joe and his pals run away.
Upon reconsideration after a strapping by his father, Joe volunteers to make it up to Mr. Lake by cleaning up Lake’s front yard for three whole Saturdays. He’ll never get the job done with Billy Harwell helping him.
But Billy’s the one who notices that strange-looking cat in Mr. Lake’s tree, hovering threateningly over Joe’s sleeping dog, Ginger. Billy’s got a wild imagination. He thinks it’s some kind of lizard-like devil cat. He thinks it’s thrown a hex over Ginger. Joe’s not worried. Ginger’s never met a cat she couldn’t kill.
Joe does get worried when he can’t wake Ginger up, when she’s nothing but dead weight in his arms until Mr. Lake calls the cat inside. Then the dog’s back to normal. Weird? Absolutely! As weird as Billy? Maybe.
Joe’s willing to let sleeping dogs lie, as long as they wake up again. But, on the way home, he and Billy get into a brawl with the neighborhood bad boy, Larry Tucci. Billy loudmouths his story about the devil cat to Larry, who naturally wants to go back to investigate. Joe doesn’t like the idea, but when Larry threatens to beat Billy to a pulp, he goes along.
As dusk falls, the three boys sneak up to Mr. Lake’s kitchen window. They can’t agree on what they see inside but, whatever it is, it triggers a series of cascading circumstances that suck the boys into voodoo, street gang crime, paranormal Arthurian adventure, and a dreaded trip to the principal’s office.
Come back with us, now, to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when dogs went unleashed, grade school kids roamed their towns unsupervised, no one knew where you were after school let out, and the doorway to a realm of wild fantasy and imagination hung open on every bus stop. Lace up your Keds, gulp down a Baby Ruth, stick your pocket knife in your pocket and prepare to meet Mr. Lake.