CHRISTMAS EPHEMERA

© 2011 by Jess Mercer

To Jim K. dear friend and editor

"Just one more day, please, just one more day," Bradley mumbled to himself as he clutched his briefcase tighter, awaiting the inevitable bone-jarring, crashing stop of the ancient lift as it hit the bottom of the shaft, the buffers having long ago given up their resilience. He felt he was taking his life in his hands each time he entered the detested conveyance, but the alternative was seven flights of now unlighted stairs.

As usual, the security guard standing by the reluctantly opening lift doors extended his hand to help Brad negotiate the fourteen-inch difference between the floor of the lift and the floor of the lobby, a kindness greatly appreciated by Brad. "I swear, I think that damn thing is gonna finally die or kill somebody afore we gets gone tomorrow evenin'. You okay, sir?"

"Yes, thanks, Tom. I wish they'd have left at least a few lights working in the stairway, but there's so much trash I'm afraid to try walking down in the dark."

"Know what you mean, sir. I worries 'bout Fred when he's making his rounds, 'cause he won't use this old elevator. Don't know why they care one way or t'other when they's gonna tear it down, ain't much left 'cept the little bit you got in your office."

"Some screwy thing about the lease. The premises have to be occupied until the lease runs out tomorrow or there's a big penalty." Brad grimaced. "I'm low man on the totem pole so here I am. Would be even worse if I didn't know you and Fred were here. It gets mighty lonely, even spooky at times, but I guess we should be thankful the heat's still on." He smiled at the guard. "I heard the old man say he'd be damned if he was gonna let'em steal good oil, so he's trying to burn it all before tomorrow night." Brad set his briefcase on Tom's desk by the filthy glass entry doors and fumbled for something he palmed, then reclosed the case. "Snarley," he called. A huge German Shepherd launched himself over the back of the ancient sofa to sit with a wagging tail and expectant look at Brad, who held out the rawhide twist. Snarley took it gracefully from Brad's hand, growling softly with pleasure as Brad scratched his ears.

"I swear, I don't know how you does it, sir," Tom said. "He's meaner 'n hell. Ain't nobody can touch him 'cept Fred, me, and you."

Brad glanced through the glass doors seeing the first few flakes of snow, then turned back. "You'd better get Fred and leave. It looks like it might set in. See ya tomorrow."

"Since you're leaving I guess we can, too. Ol' Snarlery'll protect the nothing that's here. Take care, sir."

"You and Fred, also."

Tom picked up his radio as he secured the door behind Bradley.

Brad joined the crowd of people pouring out of the new office building next door. The sidewalk had already begun to acquire a thin coat of ice, causing them to slip and slide despite taking cautious steps toward the transit stop at the far corner. The sputtering sodium vapor streetlight spread its light grudgingly, making the way barely visible in the deep dusk. The retail spaces along the block added a little additional light from their show windows, while narrow alleys between a few of the older buildings offered accented stripes of blackness.

Clang, clang went the bell held by a person standing next to the red yuletide kettle under the canopy of a retail store. Bradley grimaced. If there was one thing he hated more than any other, it was the bell ringers on nearly every corner during the season, their clanging making his ears ache. He'd have to remember to put his earplugs in his brief case tomorrow morning.

He crossed the street. On the corner, from a few steps back beside the building came the intermittent sound of a round 'jingle bell' of the type common for seasonal decorations. He glanced that way, seeing a small boy ineffectually propped against the wall, a small grubby Santa hat drooping over the side of his face, a large scrap of ragged red fabric wrapped around his thin body. In front of him was a relatively clean fried chicken bucket hanging from a crude tripod of sticks.

"Help me, mister?" His plaintive voice cut through the frosty air. Brad was reaching into his pocket for some change when he realized the trolley he needed to catch was slowing to stop at the corner. Breaking into a run, he thrust himself through the pneumatic doors just as they began to close.

"Whew," he exhaled, "just made it." He dropped into a seat, thought momentarily of the child, then turned his thoughts to the small amount of 'make work' he'd use to fill his day tomorrow. Being the last day, his boss was likely to drop by just to ascertain that he, Bradley, was still doing a little work, enough at least to fulfill the terms of the expiring lease.

As he lay in bed, the uncertainty of his situation crowded in, occasional visions of the child, the joyous season for which he was unprepared. He awoke early, unrested. Unable to go back to sleep, he showered, dressed, found his ear plugs, then, for the first time in days, leisurely enjoyed a second cup of coffee as he read the morning's paper before making up a couple of sandwiches, a thermos of steaming soup, and another of coffee for his lunch.

He arrived at the office building just as Tom was unlocking the door. "Wonder where ol' Snarley is?" Fred wondered. "He's usually right here a'wantin' his breakfast." He wandered over to the old sofa where Snarley usually slept.

"Well, I'll be damned," he said softly. Beckoning to Tom and Brad.

Between Snarley and the back of the sofa lay a sleeping child. Brad immediately recognized the scrap of red fabric, the grubby little Santa hat on the floor.

"You seen him before?" Tom asked.

"Last night. He was standing on the corner trying to look like one of those bell ringers and begging for help. He even had one of those jinglebells he was shaking." Brad dropped his head in shame. "I was going to give him some change, but my trolley came by and I had to run to catch it."

"I ain't never seen 'em before," Fred said. "Wonder how he got in? I'm kinda surprised Snarley didn't make mincemeat outen 'em."

"Must have crawled through that busted winder in the boiler room. He could o' felt the heat. Well, best we get 'im up and out o' here." Tom started to reach over Snarley to shake the child, but Snarley bared his teeth and snapped at him. Tom jerked his arm back, a shocked look on his face. "Damn," he muttered softly.

"Looks as if Snarley's adopted a child," Brad said. "I know I've got to be here when the boss comes by and he surely will with today being the last day. Fred, if you will run down to the diner and get the kid something to eat, I'll spring for it and coffee for you and Tom. Maybe the smell of food will wake him up."

"You got it," Fred replied, taking the ten-dollar bill Brad held out.

Tom went over to his desk, followed by Brad. "Sort o' tears me up, sir, a poor youngun like that, 'specially with Christmas bein' so close."

"I know, Tom. If nothin' else, I'll call childrens welfare. At least he'll be out of the cold and have enough to eat."

Tom unlocked the door to let Fred back in. "Here ya go, boss," Fred said, holding out a paper bag and a handfull of change.

"Thanks, Fred. Let's see if Snarley will let us have the boy now. Oh, yeah," Brad reached into his briefcase and brought out another rawhide bone, "maybe this will help."

Snarley was instantly alert as they approached the old sofa. Brad knelt down and held out the bone. "This is yours, Snarley, and this," Brad shook the bag gently, "is for your friend. We just want to help him, okay?"

Snarley took the bone with his usual gentleness then slipped off the sofa, sitting watchfully at one end. Brad opened the bag, letting the odor of the sausage biscuits waft over the boy.

"What? Who are you?" The boy awakened, inching closer to Snarley.

"My name's Brad and this is Tom and Fred. We work here. Would you like some breakfast? There's sausage and egg biscuits and chocolate milk in here, all for you."

A look of surprise crossed the boy's face. "For me?" He looked at Brad closer. "Ain't you the man from last night?"

Brad nodded. "Yes. I'm sorry I didn't give you any money, but I almost missed my trolley and I would've had to wait an hour for the next one." Brad stood. "Come over to Tom's desk and eat. You can stay there with Tom where it's warm. I have to go up to my office for a while, okay?"

The boy nodded and got up, Snarley immediately at his side.

Brad finished up the little remaining paperwork in his briefcase and closed it, wishing he could leave. There really wasn't any reason to hang around, except for ...

His intercom phone rang. "Thanks, Tom, I'll be right down." He grabbed his briefcase, overcoat, then entered the car, pressing the L button. The ancient lift groaned into motion. A minute or two later he braced himself for the crash landing.

When Brad climbed out of the car he saw Fred restraining Snarley whose attention was fixed on Brad's boss. The boy clutched Tom tightly as old man Jenks continued to yell, "Why's that damned dog here? Get rid of 'im. And who's that kid?"

"Sir," Brad spoke softly from experience, "if you'll just calm down, everything will be okay."

"Explain, damn it!"

"The dog watches this place at night. He belongs to Fred. The boy apparently found a way in to get out of the cold and snow last night. He slept on the old sofa and the dog has taken to protecting him. He's just reacting to your yelling, sir. If you're calm, he'll be okay."

"I just came by to tell you to get what little you had left in your office and go home. Things are still in a mess in the new building, so I won't need you 'til after New Year's I expect." He looked at Tom and Fred. "You can leave, too, but report for duty at the new building tomorrow morning. We'll need security." He reached into his pocket and pulled out an envelope, handing it to Brad. "Here's your pay for the month, since you ain't gonna be coming in 'til after New Years." His normally frosty face cracked into a slight smile. "Bit of a bonus, too, for sticking around this old place like I asked. A lot of the others would have snuck out every chance they got, but you're an honest man. Have a nice Christmas, Bradley." He turned, handed the child a ten saying, "Have a good Christmas, son," and left the building, leaving the men in shock.

Once they regained their equanimity they looked at each other. Tom broke the silence. "What we gonna do with the kid?" Instinctively he and Fred looked at Brad.

Brad returned their look, then shrugged his shoulders. "Don't know. Guess we should call the social service people."

"No!" The boy screamed.

"Why not?" Tom asked. "They'll have a warm place with good food for you."

"No, they won't. That's why I run away. They're mean and hit me 'cause I asked for more to eat. If you call 'em, I'll run away again and puppy will come with me." Hearing 'puppy,' Snarley was immediately next to the boy, looking at him with adoration.

"Now what the hell we gonna do?" Fred asked. "'Cause I know Snarley ain't gonna let nobody near the kid, an' I already got a house full o' kids. Tom's just got a tiny place; he can't have no dog, neither." They looked at Bradley expectantly.

"Looks like it's me then. A couple of months ago, I got a good buy on what used to be a summer place about six miles out of town. Got four acres in the deal, so if Snarley comes he'll have a place to run. But I don't know anything about raising kids."

"Don't expect he'll be with you until just after the holidays. You know how screwed up the child protection people are," Fred said. "Hell, some ol' busybody told 'em I was mistreating one o' my boys 'cause I swatted his ass a good one fer bustin' the windshield on my truck 'cause he got mad at me fer not lettin' 'im go someplace I wouldn't go myself. Had to go through all kinds 'o sh...crap afore them people left us alone."

Brad shrugged. "Maybe so." He looked at the boy. "What's your name, son?"

"Kevin, sir."

"Well, Kevin, it looks like you're going to be coming home with me. You can have a nice room and bath all your own, and I'll try to fix you something to put a little meat on those bones."

"Yeah? What I gotta do for that?" He asked cynically.

"Just be a good boy and take care of your things." Seeing the boy's doubts it suddenly hit him. "Nothing sexual. You're too young and I don't find kids appealing in that way."

Snarley rubbed against Kevin's leg. "Can Puppy come, too?"

Brad looked at Snarley. "I guess he has to if Fred will let him, because it looks like he's adopted you. That'll be good protection for you, because if I tried anything funny he'd be all over me." He looked down at the dog. "Right, Puppy?"

Hearing Brad say puppy brought Snarley over to have his ears scratched, tail wagging furiously.

"I'll be much obliged if you do take 'im," Fred said. "My kids'll be glad 'cause Snarley won't let none of their friends around, an' the old lady's been pesterin' me to git rid of 'im anyway."

"Well, Kevin, you got anything you need to get before we go?" Brad asked.

Kevin went back to the sofa and reached under it, pulling out a plastic shopping bag. "This is all."

As Kevin walked back to the desk, Snarley ran to the sofa and pulled the old blanket off, dragging it along the floor. "I guess Puppy wants his blanket."

Brad viewed the filthy remnant with disgust. "I guess he'll have to have it, then, but it gets a good wash once we're home and so does he." He shook hands with both guards. "Thanks for being here and being good friends. Have a Merry Christmas, guys."

Kevin sat staring out the passenger side window. Puppy, to which name he now responded, sat between Kevin and Brad. Brad was thankful for the automatic shift, as Puppy's size barely left him enough room to reach the shifter of the four-wheel drive Santa Fe.

"Ain't you goin' home?" Kevin asked, as Brad drove through the outskirts of the town.

"Yes, we're going home. It just happens to be about eight miles out of town. I like the quiet and privacy and you'll have lots of room to run and play in with Puppy."

As if he understood Brad, Puppy leaned over and gave him a doggie kiss.

"Ugh," Brad grunted, wiping his cheek.

When he turned onto the gravel road leading into a thick grove of evergreens, Brad failed to notice the concerned look on Kevin's face. The look quickly faded into one of delight as Brad stopped on the paved area before a garage door and Kevin could see the modified A-frame home and the thinned out grove of trees around the house.

Opening the door to help Kevin out, Brad was pushed aside by Puppy, who raced to a nearby tree and lifted his leg. "Me, too," Kevin cried as he wriggled in Brad's arms to get down. Before Brad could admonish him to wait until they were in the house, Kevin had joined Puppy at the tree.

Brad shrugged. 'Oh, well' he thought, 'probably isn't the first time.' He gathered his briefcase and Kevin's shopping bag, then turned to unlock the door at the ground level of the house. Kevin and Puppy were quickly beside him, following him up the stairs into the great room.

Setting his briefcase on the kitchen counter, Brad opened a pair of folding doors and, with Puppy watching anxiously, stuffed Puppy's piece of blanket and Kevin's filthy clothing into the washing machine, adding a good quantity of detergent, then set the timer.

When Brad returned to the great room, Kevin was looking about. "You ain't gonna have a Christmas tree?" He asked.

"I wasn't going to bother, but since you're here ..." he stopped and riffled the boy's hair. "Into a bath for you, young man, and scrub good. I'll get a robe for you to put on until your clothes are dry."

While the boy was bathing, Brad heated up some bean and bacon soup and made BLT's for them. Though imports, the tomatoes he'd bought at the market were exceptional in flavor. Kevin set to, eating so rapidly that Brad had to caution him to slow down before he made himself sick.

Brad was placing their dishes in the washer when the buzzer on the dryer sounded. Kevin jumped at the sound. "What's that?"

"Your clothes and Puppy's blanket are dry. Come get your clothes and get dressed."

Kevin took his things into the bedroom Brad had shown him, but Puppy sat watching Brad fold his blanket into a neat square, then followed him into Kevin's room.

"Where do you want Puppy to sleep?"

"Right here," Kevin replied, pointing to the side of his bed.

Brad laid the blanket down and smoothed it out. Puppy sniffed at it carefully then curled up on it contentedly. "See," Brad said, "Puppy likes a clean bed, too. Are you ready?"

"Where we going?"

"There's a Christmas tree farm just down the road, so on our way home we'll stop and get a tree, but first we need to get you some new clothes."

Two and a half hours later, shopping finished, Brad stopped at the signboard. "Let's go find a nice tree, Kevin."

"This one," Kevin called excitedly.

Brad shook his head slowly, hating to disappoint the boy. "It's a beautiful tree, son, but way too tall. Let's look some more."

Kevin raced ahead of Brad, stopping to look at one tree, then another. "What about this one?"

The Fraser fir was perfectly shaped, save for one broken branch. Though he had thought about a six-foot tree, this one was eight, but Kevin was ecsatic. "It's perfect, sir."

"Did you did see the broken branch?"

"We can put that side against the wall, then nobody will see it."

"You're a smart young man. Run ask the man to come cut it and we'll take it home."

Brad helped Kevin fold and put away his new clothes. "Good job, son. Now we have one more thing to do tonight. We'll do the tree tomorrow."

"What's that?" Kevin asked.

"Puppy needs a bath for Christmas, but I'm not sure if he'll take it."

"I bet he will," Kevin replied. "Come on, Puppy, I had a bath, now you take one. You'll like it." To Brad's surprise, Puppy ambled over to Kevin, tale wagging.

Not wanting dog hair fouling the pump in his jacuzzi, Brad undressed, as did Kevin, and they got into Brad's large shower stall with Puppy and closed the door. Brad adjusted the temperature of the water and wet Puppy down using the handheld showerhead. Together, he and Kevin lathered Puppy with dog wash Brad had thought to buy while they were shopping, then rinsed him thoroughly.

Brad slipped out and grabbed an old beach towel. He rubbed Puppy briskly, surprised at rumbles of pleasure. Kevin found a red bow ribbon from somewhere and tied it to Puppy's collar, laughing as Puppy pranced proudly towards the great room and stretched out before the fire.

With breakfast shoveled down by an impatient Kevin the next morning, he impatiently waited for Brad to set the dishwasher going, then pulled him to the tree.

Kevin could scarcely contain himself as he handed Brad the strings of lights he untangled, then checked to see if any bulb was unlighted. At last Brad opened one of the stack of cardboard boxes placed on a nearby table and handed it to Kevin. "Why don't you hang these where you think they'll look best? But be careful, for they are very old and break easily."

"I will, I promise."

All went well, the branches laden with colourful ornaments. One sizable red ball slipped from Kevin's fingers as he reached high up to hang it. The sharp tinkle of breaking glass followed by tearful cries immediately arrested Brad's attention.

"Are you okay, Kevin? You didn't get cut did you?"

"But ... but I dropped it an' it busted. I'm sorry. Please don't beat me."

Brad dropped to his knees and pulled the sobbing boy into a hug, rubbing his back. "Don't cry, Kevin, it was just a ball. I know you didn't mean to break it because I've broken some myself. Besides, that's one we can easily replace when we go into town."

Once Kevin was calmed, Brad stood up. "Aren't you going to plug in the lights and see how good the tree looks?"

"Can I? Really?" At Brad's nod, Kevin pushed the plug into the socket. "Ooooh!" He cried, gazing at the tree in wonder. "That's the prettiest tree I ever saw. Momma wouldn't let us have a real tree like this, it was always a scrawny little fake one. It didn't have a lot of pretty things like this either."

"Let's get the boxes put away and have a cup of hot chocolate, okay?"

Brad was crushed in a hug. "I love you, Papa." Now it was Brad's eyes watering upon hearing words he'd never imagined hearing.

"I love you, too, Kevin, son. Oh, look at Puppy."

The shepherd had walked over and started sniffing at the trunk of the tree, Brad having not yet put the Christmas skirt in place.

"Puppy! Don't pee on my tree. Bad dog!" Kevin yelled.

Puppy shamefully crawled back to Kevin, while Brad collapsed in his recliner in laughter.

Brad's gift shopping was hindered by the presence of Kevin until he thought to buy a handful of tokens for Kevin to play games in the arcade with a strict warning not to leave before his (Brad's) return. Having mentally noted things the boy had shown interest in, Brad quickly bought the most important and stowed the parcels in the boot of his car then returned to retrieve Kevin.

The day of Christmas Eve, Brad felt fully alive once more. Boring job forgotten as he threw snowballs at Kevin, ducking the ones thrown in return, showing him how to make snow angels, even slide/skate on the slope of the icy driveway while wishing the ice on the lake was thick enough to actually skate on. Gallons of hot chocolate and dozens of cookies disappeared during breaks in their play, enjoying each other, a gleeful Puppy in the middle of every activity.

Considering himself a 'holiday' Christian, Brad always attended church on Palm Sunday, Easter, and Christmas in particular. But this Christmas service was the most memorable of all, for Kevin sat beside him awed at the pagentry of a festival High Celebration; however by the recessional, Kevin was practically asleep. Brad carried him from the car to his bed, undressing him and sliding him under the covers with a goodnight kiss on the forehead.

Safe from detection, Brad brought his purchases in and wrapped them in colourful paper. The bicycle, sized for Kevin, he hid behind the tree as much as possible. Everything as he wished it, Brad tiredly turned off the lights and crawled into bed.

"Papa, Papa! Santa came!" Kevin's screams of delight roused Brad far earlier than he would have preferred.

"Let me get my robe on and we'll go see."

Lighting the gas logs to bring faster warmth to the room than the central heating, Brad sat on the floor next to Kevin, feeling the joy of the boy as he looked at the gifts. "Aren't you going to see which ones are yours?" Brad asked.

"You mean I can?" Kevin asked excitedly.

"Of course. But read the tag first to be sure that present belongs to you."

"Okay." Kevin reached for one and held it up. "Look! It's for Puppy. Santa brought him one." Puppy raised his head from where it rested on Kevin's leg.

"Unwrap it for him," Brad admonished.

Puppy took the rawhide chewey stick from Kevin's hand and went to his blanket to enjoy the treat. Kevin continued to open gifts with cries of delight. When the last gift was unwrapped, Brad gathered up the torn paper and put it in the trash.

"There's one more gift Santa left for Kevin," he said, coming back into the room.

"Where?"

"Here," Brad said, rolling the bicycle out from its hiding place.

"Ooooh, oh!" Kevin cried, grabbing the frame. "I wanted that more than anything. Can I ride it?"

"Not in the house, Son. It's warming up, so if the sun melts the little bit of snow and ice on the drive way this morning I'll take you out after dinner."

"Thank you, Papa, I love you." Those words again filled Brad with warmth. How quickly he had come to love the young boy as a son.

Kevin filled the time before dinner playing with one of the electronic games Santa had brought. After the table was cleared, the dishes in the washer, Brad took the bicycle out. After a few wobbly tries, Kevin could ride without assistance. Puppy ran alongside the bike yipping happily. Brad watched them, feeling a rare sense of pleasure.

Early evening the day after New Year's, Brad answered his phone. "Andrews here."

"This is Edna Williams with Child Protection Services. It's my understanding that you have a Kevin Parkinson living with you. You are not a registered foster parent, so I will be coming for Kevin tomorrow morning. Have his things packed and ready to go when I get there about ten."

"I understand that you're concerned for Kevin's well-being, but he is happy here and I am able to care for him properly. Finances are no problem and I want him back in a good school when it reopens."

"You have no say in this," she replied snippily, slamming her phone down.

Brad grabbed his phonebook, looking up the number of the lawyer who had helped in settling his parents' estate. He explained the situation as well as he could, comforted somewhat by the attorney's promise to be present the next morning.

Brad answered the pounding on his front door to be confronted by a large framed woman with a sour expression. "Yes?"

"I'm Edna Williams, I'm here for the brat. Where is he?"

Brad stood blocking the door, giving her no invitation to enter. "First of all, Kevin's not a brat, he's a fine young man. Secondly, I wish to see some authorization for your taking him."

"I don't have to show you anything, but here's my ID card." She pulled it from her purse and flashed it by Brad so quickly he barely made out her picture.

"That still gives you no right to invade my home without an invitation, nor the right to demand anything of me. Bring me a court order or something similar and I'll consider your demands." Brad shut the door in her face, hearing her yell, "I'm calling the sheriff."

A few minutes later Brad heard a car pull up in the drive. Looking out the window he saw a sheriff's deputy emerge and exchange words with the woman before ringing the door chimes.

"What may I do for you, Officer?" Brad asked, opening the door, a watchful Puppy beside him.

"Sorry, Mr. Andrews, but she's demanding I take the young man you have living with you into custody." He lowered his voice, "I hate working with this old cow. She hates kids, but she's got political pull, so I've got no choice. I'm really sorry."

"Sheriff, I'm afraid that if you try to take the boy, Puppy here will attack. He can be vicious and I have no control over him if someone tries to touch the child against his will."

"Are you going to stand there jawing all day or are you going to do your duty?" An imperious voice screeched. Brad and the deputy both winced at the sound, reminded of fingernails down a blackboard.

"Puppy?" Kevin called as he rode his bicycle out of the garage and down the drive.

Puppy pushed between Brad and the deputy, racing to Kevin's side.

Williams quickly stepped into the drive grabbing at the handlebars of the bicycle causing it to fall, throwing Kevin to the pavement. He sat up, Puppy nuzzling him. Brad could see the child's cheek was bleeding slightly from a scrape. He raced over and picked Kevin up to wipe the blood away with his handkerchief, but Williams had already grabbed Kevin's arm, pulling him away.

Immediately, Puppy went into attack mode, only Brad's restraining hand on his collar kept him at bay. One look at the snarling crouched form and Williams backed off, releasing Kevin. "Don't stand there looking like the village idiot, Deputy, that's a vicious animal, do something."

The deputy looked at Kevin huddled against Brad, then at the snarling dog appearing ready to attack anyone who approached. "I ... I ain't equipped to handle nothin' like this, ma'am," he said.

"You have pepper spray, don't you?"

"Don't work much on dogs like this an' it would get to Mr. Andrews and the boy."

"I don't give a damn if it does. If it don't work on the mutt, then, shoot 'im."

"I ... I don't see no need ...."

"If you won't do your duty, I'll protect myself," she snapped, pulling a small pistol from her bag and aiming towards Puppy.

"No!" Screamed Kevin, throwing himself in front of Puppy just as she pulled the trigger.

"Oh, Christ!" The deputy yelled, knocking the pistol from her hand. "Look what you've done." He pulled a set of handcuffs from his belt and had them around her wrists before she could react. "You're under arrest for attempted murder and cruelty to animals." Despite her size and struggling, he pulled her roughly towards his patrol car, pushing her, still cursing, into the secure backseat then slamming the door.

Puppy lying beside him whining continuously, Brad sat on the icy pavement cradling Kevin, kissing him over and over on the forehead, tears streaming down his cheeks as he rocked back and forth. He looked up as the deputy approached. "I wish I'd let Puppy get that bitch." He looked down at the still figure in his arms. "He's where she can't touch him now."

He kissed Kevin on the forehead once more. "God keep you, my son."


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