This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
This story is copyrighted by Parker Sheaffer, all rights reserved. Distribution, including but not limited to: posting on internet sites, newsgroups, or message boards, or in book form (either as a whole or part of a compilation), or on CD, DVD or any other electronic media, is expressly prohibited without the author's written consent.
© 2013 Parker Sheaffer
Noah Osgood in
At the edge of town in a section that had fallen somewhat into disrepair sat a small factory. The cracked asphalt and weedy borders along the vine covered chain link fence, and the peeling paint of the buildings were evidence that the place had been steadily neglected for many years. Although a few people still worked there the place had a melancholy look to it.
Other neighboring businesses had closed their doors over the years and now all that remained to show that the area had once been busy and vibrant were a few rows of working class homes, and they too were looking as shabby as their aging residents.
The moon, like a giant glowing balloon, hovered overhead and cast black shadows of the buildings across the raggedy lawn. In that darkness some shapes were moving. Three young boys used their hands and a gardening trowel to dig out a shallow trench under the bent and sagging fence. Working in silence they soon had enough room to shimmy under it and into the yard. Directly before them sat two small wooden storage sheds. The buildings were identical with flat, sloping roofs, a row of windows along the top of the front, and stilt legs that raised the floors more than two feet above the ground. Their cracked and peeling white paint reflected the moonlight and illuminated the factory yard, but the boys kept to the darkness at the back. One by one they crawled beneath the shed on the left until they were under the center of it.
"You got it?" one boy asked.
"I told you I did. See? Light that flashlight so I can see what I'm doing," the second boy whispered.
The third boy flipped the switch on a small flashlight and shone the beam on the second boy's face.
"Not on me, stupid. Up here," the boy ordered him as he maneuvered an auger into place. He placed the bit against the soft wood above his face and began to quietly turn the handle. The others held their breath as they waited for the drill to break through into the treasure-filled room above. A minute later they saw the handle begin to move freely and knew that it was done. The boy withdrew the auger and immediately little balls of colored glass began to pour through the opening. They sparkled in the beam of the flashlight like rare exotic gems.
"Wow," the boys all gasped in delight, holding out eager hands to let the glistening colors flow through their fingers.
Yellow, orange, green, blue, and red, not jewels but marbles, a rainbow of marbles, cat's eyes, aggies and swirlies that cascaded from above. They made a soft clicking sound as they began to pile onto each other. One by one the greedy boys each filled a pillow case with the gleaming treasure until it became too heavy to carry and then they stuffed the pockets of their jeans until they were ready to burst their seams and still the marbles poured through the hole.
"Holy shit, how are we gonna stop it?" asked the first boy, suddenly seeing the unanticipated problem.
"I don't know," said the second, sounding a little worried. "Ain't there no shooters? A shooter would stop the hole, wouldn't it?"
The first boy said, "No way, the hole is way too big."
"Shit, I think we're going to get in trouble over this," the third boy cried.
Like sand running through an hourglass, the flood continued unabated.
The second boy said, "I wish we had brought a cork."
The first said, "I don't think we can stop it. They're all gonna run out. We had better get out of here before somebody comes."
"We were just gonna grab a few marbles and no one would ever notice they were gone. I think they're gonna notice this," said the third boy, ruefully.
They dragged their heavy sacks of loot back toward the fence. Maybe it was the weight of all the glass or the fabric snagged on a rock but somehow the first boy's pillowcase ripped and his marbles went everywhere. He scooped up as many as he could and tried to secure them in the torn remnant of his pillowcase, but he lost most of them. The three boys were eager to get back under the fence and back to their homes. Finally they were out, but they had another surprise. In their greed they had forgotten about how they were going to get the heavy sacks home on their bicycles. In the end, the two with the unbroken pillowcases had to empty out some of their haul so they could pedal away without tipping over. Behind them the marbles continued to spill out from under the storage shed, following the slope of the ground to form a glittering pool near the fence.
The next day two men stood and looked at the puddle of colored glass balls that sparkled in the sun behind a dusty old shed. One of the men wore a badge.
"Damned kids," one man muttered, shaking his head.
"Yep," the sheriff said. "It had to be kids. Who else would want marbles?"
"What are you going to do about it?"
"Not much I can do. I'll photograph the tire tracks and ask around the neighborhood but I don't expect anything will come of it. We don't have the manpower for a full scale investigation over a few missing marbles. I'll write you a report for your insurance."
"What insurance? I'm not getting rich in this business, you know. I can't afford insurance anymore."
"Well, have fun cleaning them up."
Noah Osgood was enjoying a nice bowl of Cap'n Crunch along with his little brother, Artie. Across the table his mom was hidden behind the morning paper, sipping her coffee. Noah's attention was captured by the headline of a short article on the front page of the morning paper.
"Local Businessman Loses His Marbles," he read aloud. "That's pretty funny. Hey, Mom, can I see that part of the paper?"
"Sure, Sweetie," she said, detaching that section and passing it over.
"Listen to this, Artie. Two nights ago someone broke into the old Millridge Marble factory at the edge of town and drilled a hole through the floor of a storage shed.
I didn't know that place was still in business. Anyway, it says that they think it was kids. The funny part is that almost all of the marbles ran out through that hole and had to be shoveled up and put back in. Ha, I'll bet they couldn't stop the marbles from coming out once they drilled through the floor. I'll bet they were surprised. I wish I could have seen their faces. The article says they left a trail of them."
Artie laughed along with his big brother. He said, "I wonder if it was somebody who goes to our school. Lots of the little kids play marbles but not many of my friends do. We've all outgrown them."
"I wouldn't be surprised. Keep your eyes peeled for anybody with a bucket full of marbles. They shouldn't be hard to spot," Noah said as he continued to look over the paper.
"Looks like there were some more robberies over on Delancy Street and on Cooper's Terrace. Thieves took a gas grill and some patio furniture from people's backyards. That's been going on for weeks now and the police still haven't caught the crooks. I wonder what's taking them so long."
Artie said, between bites of cereal, "I'll bet you could catch them, Noah. You could catch them in no time."
Noah appreciated his little brother's high regard of his detective skills, but modesty made him blush a little.
"Thanks, Artie. It says the robberies occur mostly in broad daylight, in the mornings and afternoons when people are at work, but some have started happening around five or six in the evening. There's not much we can do since we're in school but I suppose we could patrol a little after school. Wanna help me? It says there's a reward.
"Really? I can come?"
"Sure. I'll tell Adam today and we will do a bike patrol and look for anything suspicious."
He mentioned it to Adam on the way to school and Adam was all for it.
"Not that we really have a chance of catching anybody," Adam, said, "but I don't have anything else to do. Besides, Mom's cousin, Aunt Ida, is staying with us for a week and she won't quit criticizing me. 'Shouldn't you be cleaning your room, Adam? Why don't you do the dishes for your mother, Adam? You play too many video games, Adam.' She's driving me crazy, plus she smells funny, so I need to get out of the house."
"I'll tell mom you're coming for dinner so when you get home just grab your bike and come on over," Noah said. "We can hit the streets and finish our homework after we eat."
The three of them got on their bikes right after school and did a slow exploration around the neighborhood. They had only been assigned a little homework, which they could easily take care of later, so they had a couple of hours before dinner to act as a neighborhood watch.
As Adam had predicted they saw nothing unusual. People were arriving home from their jobs, kids were playing outdoors and traffic was heavy. As they passed one house they were distracted by the sounds of voices arguing inside. Someone was having a really loud fight and because he wasn't watching where he was going Artie wandered into the street and was almost hit by a slow moving Goodwill truck. The driver honked her horn and yelled at him to watch where he was going. Artie was embarrassed and apologized.
"Are you okay, Artie?" Noah asked.
"Yeah. Sorry about that."
"Don't worry about it. It could happen to anyone."
Artie was grateful for the reassurance. He knew that most kids would get a chewing out from their big brother. He was lucky to have Noah.
After dinner they wandered about the streets again with no direction in mind, hoping to get lucky and find a gang of masked criminals coming out of a house loaded down with loot. Of course, that didn't happen so they grew bored and went home, promising to resume their vigil the next day, although their enthusiasm seemed to be waning a bit.
The next day at school Artie was kicking a ball around with a couple of his friends. Freddie kicked it too hard and sent it flying off to a far corner of the schoolyard so Artie took off after it. That was when he noticed a small group of younger boys kneeling in the dirt. Curious, he picked up the ball and approached them to see what they were doing. As soon as he saw the marbles in their hands he thought of the robbery and wondered if these boys might be the culprits. The question was how to find out. He stepped closer so he could hear what they were saying.
A blond boy in torn jeans said, "You didn't get it out of the ring, Jeremy. It's on the line so it doesn't count. It's my turn now."
The blond boy shot at Jeremy's red and yellow marble and knocked it several inches out of the ring that they had drawn in the bare, dusty soil. He grinned as he picked it up and deposited it in a large drawstring sack that was already bulging with marbles.
Jeremy said, "It's not fair. You've got almost all my marbles now. Give me some of them back."
"It ain't our fault you lost a bunch of yours," said the third boy, who also had a large bag of marbles on the ground beside him., "And remember, we're playing for keepsies."
The blond looked up at Artie and quickly shushed his friends. Artie pretended he hadn't heard and gathered up his ball and returned to his game.
These boys had a lot of marbles, more than Artie had ever seen at one time. That made them prime candidates to be the marble thieves in his book. He would tell Noah and ask him what to do.
As luck would have it that afternoon Artie found himself in the boy's restroom when Jeremy came in. Both boys were washing their hands at the sinks.
Artie said, "You know, you've got dirt on your face," and he pointed to his own cheek.
Jeremy looked in the mirror and said, "Oh, thanks," as he began to swab his face with a wet paper towel.
Taking a chance, Artie casually said, "That must have been scary when those marbles wouldn't stop pouring out."
Caught off guard, Jeremy automatically said, "Yeah, I ..., uh, what do you mean? What marbles?" He tossed the paper towel into the trash as he hurried to the door.
Artie planned on mentioning his discovery to Noah after school that day but became distracted when the teacher assigned some difficult math homework for his class. Noah and Adam said it was time to patrol the neighborhood so Artie put off his homework until later. Riding his bike was much more fun.
The trio went up and down each street for several blocks, carefully checking the cross streets at each intersection for anything suspicious. Then Noah saw it, a dirty old pickup truck full of junk was slowly cruising along Elmhurst Avenue, like a shark looking for a tasty snack. He pointed it out to the others and they rode their bikes past it to get a better look. There was nothing written on the sides of the truck, no company name or anything, and in the back was a couple of bicycles, which were slightly rusty, an old oven with the door hanging open, and some old boards with cracked, peeling paint on them.
Noah couldn't help staring at the driver. He was probably the ugliest man any of them had ever seen. He had a grizzled hair that stuck out in patches, a short neck, and a flat, broken nose. The worst thing was that his face seemed to have been badly burned at some time in the past and he was left with some terrible scar tissue on the left side of his face. Noah involuntarily gasped at the man's appearance and quickly rode on ahead to make it seem as if he had not been staring.
Artie and Adam pulled up beside him and they all three stopped.
"I wonder what happened to that guy?" Artie said.
"Don't know but it must have been bad," said Adam.
"I know I shouldn't say this, but he was scary looking," Noah admitted, feeling a little shaken.
"I'm sure he can't help it," Adam chided him.
"You're right," Noah said, feeling a little ashamed. "But did you notice what he had in his truck? I'll bet he stole that stuff from somewhere around here. He's probably the thief that's been robbing the whole town. I think I should at least mention it to the police."
"I don't know," said Adam. "You don't really have any evidence."
"I'm just going to point him out to them. I'm not going to accuse him of anything. Let me write down his license number while I still remember it."
Noah had made a friend at the police force, an officer who was impressed with his powers of observation and deduction when he helped figure out who robbed the rodeo the previous summer. He had given Noah and Adam some tips on crime solving and always waved when he saw them around the neighborhood. Noah called him after dinner that evening and explained what they had seen.
Officer Jackson listened quietly and then said, "I understand why you might suspect this person, son, but I would like it if you would meet me somewhere after school tomorrow so I can show you something. Bring your friends with you, okay?"
He gave Noah an address which was less than a mile from their house, an easy bike ride away. Noah excitedly agreed and was filled with curiosity about what the officer wanted to show him.
Adam and Artie were curious as well the next day when Noah told them what the officer had said. They went directly to the place and were surprised to see that it was a rundown house with a dusty yard full of old junk. They sat in front of the place for a few minutes until Officer Jackson arrived.
He greeted them and shook their hands.
"I wanted to show you this place and to tell you an important story about it. You see, many years ago there was a fire at a home in another part of town. A young family lived there and they were all asleep when the fire started. The parents were trapped in their bedroom and had to climb out a window to escape but they couldn't get to their two young sons whose bedroom was next to theirs. The flames filled the hall too quickly and it looked like the boys were going to be killed.
"The fire department hadn't arrived when the neighbor, a Mr. Avery, ran into that burning house and up the stairs covered with a wet blanket. He ran right through those flames and entered the boys' room, wrapped both of them in that blanket and carried them out.
"Neither boy was seriously injured, some minor burns and smoke inhalation, and the doctors fixed them up just fine. Mr. Avery, on the other hand, didn't fare so well. He was uncovered when he came out and his face was badly burned. He had some other injuries as well. What he didn't have was insurance. The county picked up the tab for his hospital bill but they wouldn't pay for plastic surgery. He was unemployed at the time and eventually lost his house to the mortgage company. Some people offered to help him but he was too proud; he wouldn't take a bit of charity.
"He moved into his mother's home, this one, and lived with her until she died. Now he makes a living by finding and fixing up old junk.
"Avery loves kids, even though he never had any of his own. Every Christmas he repairs two bikes and makes them like new, then he donates them to the police department. We give them to some worthy and needy kids. The man gives but will not take.
"I want you boys to remember his name, Brian Richard Avery, because you are going to meet all sorts of people in this world and you can't judge them by their appearance. You're not the first to be put off by his scars and you won't be the last."
Noah felt like he was about to cry. "I feel ashamed of myself for thinking the way I did. I think I was afraid of him. Now I feel awful."
"Don't beat yourself up too badly," Officer Jackson told him. "Just take it as a life lesson and let it go."
Noah was quiet on the way home but in his mind he was forming a plan for how to atone for his mistake. His Scout troop needed a project and that run down house could really use some fixing up. He could get someone to donate some materials and he and the rest of the troop could paint and do some minor repairs. They would tell Mr. Avery that it wasn't charity, that he would be helping them by being their project.
"It's a good thing the weekend is here," thought Noah. "I'm going to be busy tomorrow."
That night, as they were getting ready for bed, Artie remembered to tell his brother about his discovery.
"I just know that it was these guys who stole the marbles. The proof is the size of those bags they had. Nobody has that many marbles. Should we tell someone?" Artie asked.
"Hmmm, I don't know. Let me think about it and we'll figure something out this weekend. Good detecting, by the way, little brother. I like the way you tricked the kid into admitting to it," Noah said, clapping Artie warmly on the shoulder.
The next day Noah called his Scout Master, Mr. Jacobs, and told him about his plan. It was met with enthusiastic approval.
"Mr. Jacobs," said Noah, "I have a question about right and wrong and I'm not sure what to do. Could I ask you about it?"
"Of course you can, Noah."
"Artie figured out that some younger boys at school are the ones who drilled the hole in the shed of that marble factory that was in the newspaper. He's seen them playing with big bags of them and one of the boys sort of admitted it. Should we turn them in without any real evidence or try to get more proof and get them to confess? I just don't want to see them become thieves."
"Your instincts are right, Noah. You need more evidence but if you can't get it then you should report them to the police and let them investigate it. I'll bet they can wring a confession out of them. It's funny that you would ask about the robbery because my brother owns that factory and sales haven't been real good lately. It caused him a lot of trouble to clean up the mess those boys made but I'm sure he can be convinced not to press charges if they will apologize. I'll talk to him and you talk to those boys."
The two of them then began to make calls asking for donations. That afternoon they visited Mr. Avery for the first time to get his consent. Noah wore his uniform, hoping to make a good impression.
Noah was very nervous at meeting the man face to scarred face. He didn't want to embarrass himself.
Mr. Jacobs knocked on the door and they could hear loud footsteps crossing the floor inside.
The door swung open a bit and Mr. Avery asked, "Can I help you?"
They could only see a bit of his face through the narrow opening.
"Mr. Avery, I'm Carl Jacobs, with the local Scout troop. This is one of our star Scouts, Noah Osgood. We're looking for a project for the boys to do, something that will teach them some good skills and at the same time do some good for the community. We were wondering if we could convince you to let us paint your house for you."
"Well," said Mr. Avery, opening the door a little wider, "I don't know. It needs a paint job and I can't seem to get around to it, but I just don't like to take charity from anyone."
Noah jumped in and said, "Please, Mr. Avery, you would really be helping us out and it would mean a lot to a bunch of really nice boys."
The door opened wider and the man looked Noah over for a moment. Noah met his look without flinching and wondered what he had been afraid of. There was nothing all that strange about the man's face. Sure it was scarred and twisted in places but it was just skin. Realizing how foolish he had been Noah began to feel relief and it appeared as a big smile on his face.
Mr. Avery couldn't help but smile back.
"Okay, son, I guess it will be alright."
"How about a week from Saturday? We'll take care of everything," said Mr. Jacobs.
They all agreed and shook hands.
Noah had not told Adam or Artie about his plan that day. He wanted to have it all nailed down before letting them in on it.
"I think it's a good idea," said Adam. "Do you think we have enough hands to do it?"
"Well, we could always use more help but it's not like we have a time limit. We can take as long as we need. I thought we could get rid of some of that junk, mow the lawn and plant some flowers too. There might be a lot of other repairs that need to be done but we can find out after our first visit. Scoutmaster Jackson is getting some of the bigger stores to donate paint and plants and stuff."
Noah told his brother about his conversation with Mr. Jacobs. On Wednesday, Artie saw the three boys playing marbles again. One of the boys stood and watched the other two shoot. It looked like he didn't have any more marbles to risk.
Feeling rather bold, Artie walked over to the boys and said, "You guys sure have a lot of marbles. I wonder how you got so many."
Jeremy looked at him silently. The other two, Will and Kyle, stared at him for a moment and finally, Will said, "We bought them. Where do you think?"
Artie replied, "I think you got them from the marble factory, the one with the hole in the floor. I think you stole them."
Kyle said, "Well, what if we did? What's it to you?"
"Stealing is wrong. You know it is," Artie said softly and walked away.
The boys stared after him and for a moment they actually looked a little guilty.
Later Artie told his brother, "I just walked up to them and accused them of stealing those marbles, but then I didn't know what to do."
Noah smiled and said, "You constantly surprise me. I was trying to figure out how to trick them into admitting to stealing and you took the direct approach. Good job, Artie. I'll have a little talk with them tomorrow."
The next day, at recess, Noah and Artie found the trio of thieves sitting by themselves, talking. They watched apprehensively as the two brothers approached.
Noah spoke first, "Look guys, we know you were involved in that robbery at the marble factory. We know the man who owns the place and you caused him a lot of trouble. He says that if you apologize to him and promise to never do anything like that again he will not go to the police about it. If you don't confess then he will turn your names over to the cops and they will tell your parents."
Noah's words frightened the three boys. Anything to do with the police was a real bad thing. Jeremy asked, "An apology? That's all we have to do?"
"Well, we do have something for you to make up for being bad. We want you to do something good now. Think of it as community service." He told them about the work project that was coming up and said that they needed to be there.
Will said, "We're not Scouts."
"Yeah," said Kyle. "Scouts are nerds. My brother said so."
"Scouts are not nerds," said Artie, sternly. "Scouts have a lot of fun."
"That's right," said Noah. "We go camping and hiking and canoeing. We make things and learn stuff and help people. It makes you feel good when you help someone."
Jeremy asked, "What would we have to do?"
Noah grinned and said, "Just whatever you can. That's all. It'll be fun, I promise. What do you say?"
The three reluctantly agreed. Noah wrote down their phone numbers and said that Mr. Jacobs would call their parents to clear it with them and that they would pick them up on Saturday morning.
That Saturday morning Noah, Adam and Artie rode their bikes to Mr. Avery's house. Mr. Jacobs was already there and Jeremy and Will were helping him unload the van. Kyle and four other boys were scraping old paint from the clapboards while still more began to arrive. Soon the house was a beehive of activity with boys working, laughing and talking happily.
Mr. Avery caused a bit of a stir when he made an appearance but the boys had been forewarned and no one reacted unkindly to his appearance. Noah was proud of all of them. Mr. Avery and the scoutmaster showed the boys how to use ladders safely, how to apply paint properly and how to avoid being messy.
When one side of the house was painted the boys would move to another side and then the landscaping boys would start digging and planting around the base of the newly painted side of the house.
It was hot, hard work but Noah saw Will and Jeremy wielding paintbrushes and smiling.
"I told you it would be fun," said Noah. "It's nice being with a group of good kids, isn't it?"
"It's more fun than I thought it would be," said Will.
"Maybe you'll think about joining the Scouts then."
Because he was more or less in charge, Noah made sure that he and Adam always worked together. They took a turn at picking up junk, painting for a bit, and just supervising. They were both sweating and Noah saw how his friend's wet tee shirt clung to his chest and back. Adam had been working out at home and was starting to show some real muscle definition. Noah found himself staring at Adam's protruding nipples and tight pecs and it made him feel funny inside, sort of dizzy.
"What in the world am I going to do?" wondered Noah.
After an hour or so the boys stopped for a snack and a water break. It was important to stay hydrated when doing hard work. Later they had lunch, which had been donated by the local pizza parlor. By three o'clock the house was finished and it looked amazing.
The one thing that Noah noticed that still needed some paint was the shabby mailbox on the street. He told Mr. Avery that he would paint his name on the mailbox if he had a small, artist's paintbrush. Mr. Avery brought him a nice brush and a small can of black enamel paint so Noah began. The box was too small to fit his entire name so Noah just used his initials and last name. When he was finished he stopped and stared. He had written B. R. Avery, bravery. It was so appropriate that he had to point it out to everyone.
Mr. Avery was very touched by the boys' generosity and his eyes were moist as he thanked them. He became a good friend to the Scouts and they to him. Will and Jeremy wanted to join the Scouts but their families couldn't afford the uniforms or the occasional fees so the other Scouts all contributed to a special fund to cover their costs. They never stole anything again.
That evening Noah, Adam and Artie made Noah's mom drive by to admire their work. She was delighted and told them they were three wonderful boys.
"You can relax now," she told them. "Your project is finished and your case is solved."
"What case?" Noah asked.
"Well, the neighborhood burglaries. The police caught the robbers. Officer Jackson said that he would phone you to thank you for your help."
"Help?," said Adam. "What help?"
"Oh, I guess I forgot to tell you," mentioned Noah. "We've been so busy organizing this house painting that it slipped my mind."
"What did?" asked Artie.
"I just pointed out to them that a Goodwill truck was a good place to investigate. They roam the neighborhood and pick up packages and stuff from people's houses. They don't look suspicious or anything. I got the idea that first day when one almost hit Artie so I guess it must have been a good tip."
That evening, Officer Jackson called. "Your instincts were spot on once again. It wasn't a real Goodwill truck, but a fake one. As soon as we knew what we were looking for it became easy to spot. The woman who was driving it was really mad. You might be eligible for some of the reward since your tip helped. It'll be sorted out later.
"By the way, good job on the Avery house. I'm proud of you and your friends. I hope you'll tell them for me."