The Little Pipsqueak
© 2012 Matthew Templar
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 Matthew Templar, 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.
Later, as we were sitting in the breakfast nook, gazing out over the gardens and the land in the back, we talked.
"What's your plan for this land, Tim? You must have what, an acre and a half or two?"
"Almost two. I never really had any plans. There're plenty of shade trees and lots of grass. But then, I might just sell it and move into . . ."
"What? No! I won't let you. Tim, like I said, it will be hard but you have sweet memories here. What would your wife have wanted you to do, give it all up because you're sad? I don't think so."
So many times I wanted to strike out at that man, thinking he knew what was best for me. What nerve; what gall. And yet, so many times, I ended up knowing he was right.
"If you don't want to stay here for a few nights, I'll take you back into town, but I really think you need to stay here and get some things ready for your guests."
"Guests? I'm not having any guests. Are you crazy?" I said a bit louder than I should have.
Dan was very serious as he stood his ground in front of me. "Tim, in two days there will be a funeral, after which, all those people will want to ponder and reflect on their loss too."
A chill overcame me; it felt like ice water pouring down my spine. "Oh my god, what am I gonna do? I never thought about it."
"Don't worry about a thing and don't worry about the food. I have a friend in the catering business that will make what we need for the guests after the funeral. You just worry about seeing that things stay cleaned up here."
See? Once again he's making me do things that are just not right for a man to have to do while he's grieving. I shouldn't have to set that part of my life aside to keep busy with . . . Oh, of course. 'Keep busy, Tim. There will be plenty of time for reflection. Plenty of time for the hurt to come out.'
Somehow, with the help of some wonderful people I barely knew, I got through the funeral and interment. It was so hard seeing those three graves, including little Jeremy's. Another wave passed through me, but this one was like nausea, to see the remains of three lives to whom I thought I would always be able to cling.
After the funeral, Dan and I had talked about what I could do to keep busy around the place, in addition to keeping up the garden. We worked on some ideas for the yard, like a huge pond and waterfall. That idea intrigued me. I knew it would keep me busy so that I wouldn't think about my family.
After two days of Dan continually checking up on me, I asked him if I could just try being on my own. I asked him for a whole week. It would seem like a lifetime, but I thought it was a reasonable amount of time to adjust to my new life. I thought I was ready.
I lasted three days. Oh, I worked my tail off the first day. The second day, I went into town to buy a lot of what I would need in the near future. That was great, until I got home and the feelings hit me, again. I sank, I was crushed, I didn't know which end was up, where I was or how I got there. That evening, I really worked at keeping up, about working through what was going on. The next morning I struggled out of bed and even got dressed. I went out to the pile of supplies for the pond and turned to look back at the house. I fell to my knees, bowed my head and cried. All I could see was Vivian, and I was sure I could see my little girl running through the garden, laughing, as she picked her favorite flowers.
It eventually started raining but I didn't notice, I couldn't have cared less. At some point, I felt someone lift me to my feet and I was walked into the house. Sometime later, I realized it was Dan who had found me. He said later that he actually looked in on me every afternoon, just in case. He said he wasn't surprised to see me in the backyard, on my knees, crying. After all, he knew what I was going through.
The result of our heart to heart talk was Dan asking his friends to help me for a couple of weeks with some of my projects. One guy came over each day, sometimes all day, sometimes several hours. I was never left alone for too long. It was great to work with someone again. The evenings were still hard but knowing I'd get to meet someone the next day helped me through.
When Saturday came around one of the deputies helped me wire up the pump for the pond to a breaker in the house. Afterwards, I decided to go into the city for an early dinner.
There was no need to go into the city very often because it was quite a ways past our small town, but I just wanted something a little special. It was a thirty minute drive into the downtown area, but that's where most of the good restaurants were. By the time I got there, I'd had plenty of time to obsess on what I no longer had. I ate a decent meal and mostly enjoyed it, but I didn't enjoy doing it alone. As I was leaving a few couples were being seated. When they began to interact and enjoy their evening I was made profoundly aware of what I was missing.
I needed to get some air. The meal had been good but it just wasn't sitting well, all of a sudden, so I thought it would help to walk it off to settle it down.
My visits to the city were so rare that I certainly was not in my comfort zone. Every sound and smell seemed to have some significance with my time in Iraq. Being depressed as I was, everything made me uptight and worked against me. I wouldn't have been surprised if I jumped some old lady for breathing heavy or something.
The restaurant was located in a shopping development carved out of the old industrial area. It bordered a winding river and if you didn't stray too far it was a wonderful atmosphere for wandering.
I walked with my hands in my coat pockets and my head down. A breeze had picked up as the day grew darker which added to my feelings of depression.
I walked by a jewelry store where young lovers were picking out wedding bands. I passed a store with TVs in the windows and people laughing at some comedian being piped through to bring in new customers. I saw people filing out of the Catholic church on the edge of this shopping area, fresh from a mass, I suspected. Everywhere there were smiles and laughter. I was turning into my thoughts more and more with every step I took, every turn I made. And I made many turns that night.
Every time I was faced with a group of cheerful citizens I turned onto the next street to avoid them. I didn't need any of that. I had nothing about which I could be happy, not in the least.
But I soon found myself in an area I didn't know. As I began to realize that I had no idea where I was, my head came up and I became really uncomfortable. It was definitely not the best part of the city. Even though it was still somewhat early in the evening, but most of the shops and stores were either closed or boarded up. Twice, a few men walked right in front of me, coming out of empty stores and looking like they'd just helped themselves to whatever they could grab. Luckily, I was wearing some scruffy camouflage jacket, so I didn't stand out as much. I looked like one of them, though maybe cleaner. Something orange caught my eye and I noticed several young boys running across the street, chasing an even younger boy in a dirty orange jacket, as they turned the corner a block ahead of me.
It made no matter to me and I just kept walking, though far more careful and intent on events and people around me. But when I came to the end of the next block, I saw something I couldn't let pass without some interference.
The boys I'd seen running were all standing, facing a brick wall in an alley at mid-block. Most of my view was blocked by several overflowing dumpsters between them and me. They were sure animated but it wasn't like they were talking to each other as much as to the wall in front of them. I almost kept going but I decided I needed to make sure the younger kid had gotten away. As soon as I'd thought that, the kicking started. They started to really get heated, especially one that looked a little older than the others, maybe sixteen, bigger too. He was yelling and making derogatory remarks which the other kids repeated. It was like he was inciting all of their actions. It only took a second to realize that they were kicking the kid I'd seen trying to run away.
"You're no better than scum, Vitale. You don't even know where your momma is, who she's shacked up with this time, and you got nothing except your weak little body to pay me back. Well, it's ours now, so quit your cryin' and get goin'. We got plans for you, right guys?"
"You bet, Brown. He's ours now."
"I wanna piece o' that, dude."
A squeaky voice shouted out, "You guys are just thugs. You're big bullies and I don't have to take it anymore. Ow!"
Laughter at the pain they were inflicting on the boy.
I decided I couldn't let that go on. I'd hate to think that my funk could have very well been the cause of someone's loss of their loved one. I didn't think of the older boys in the 'Loved ones' column; mostly the little guy that was getting beat up.
"What the hell's wrong with you guys? Leave that kid alone. Quit bullying him like he said and move on," I shouted, walking toward them.
"What's wrong with us, ole man, is you buttin' inta our shit. So git your sorry ass outta here and we won't separate it from the rest o' your body, asshole."
The other three kids laughed out loud. Even the younger one, the victim of their assault seemed to smirk some.
This loud-mouthed kid had quite a mouth on him, especially when he had the support of several others to back him up. My goal was to scare at least a couple of the other kids off; then I could handle two of them easily.
"Well then, I guess I'd better bring this sorry ass over closer so you can deal with it properly," I said casually as I continued to walk toward them. I was scanning the whole area, planning my defense, allowing for their escape and looking for anything I could use as a weapon, though my hands had served me well up to then.
I spotted a broom leaning against a dumpster between my new friends and me. I grabbed it, unscrewed the bristles and started to swing it around. I quickly relived the classes taught by one of my men over in Iraq. Though the bo pole hadn't been used in combat as much as to learn discipline and balance, I enjoyed the exercise at the time so I tried a few moves and it seemed to come back to me.
"So, this old man is kinda tired of your lack of respect and your desire for serious tooth replacements and the setting of several bones each. I should warn you that I've just come from a special missions force in Iraq, but that would just give all the fun away."
I could tell that at least two of the brats were ready to take off so I headed toward them. They'd all pretty much forgotten about the kid on the ground, since the other kids had a new and more challenging target. They were both slowly moving away from the others. That made my task even easier.
"Yeah, and I'll bet the next thing outta your mouth is, 'Hey! What's that behind you?' How lame is that? Not very original are ya?" taunted the leader of the pack.
The other kids were wide-eyed and ready to dart, so I ignored the blabber mouth and continued to separate the two others from him and his sidekick.
"Don't worry, guys. It's just a patrol car come to give you protection. That's all," I said, pointing the stick over their heads.
Only one of them looked but it was enough distraction for me to give him a good lump on the head and then swing into his buddy, twisting the stick between his legs and sending him down hard on his butt. I didn't even look at them again, but I heard their feet making a hasty retreat and that was good enough for me. I turned toward the other two, but not before checking on the little victim, sitting up against the wall.
I noticed some blood around his nose and his hand against his side as he grimaced. He looked at me like he was angry, which seemed appropriate, given his situation. I never even considered that he could have been angry at me for butting into his business. Then I turned toward the other two again.
"Guess it's your turn, children. This old man is a might pissed at your behavior and thinks it's time for you to enjoy the peace and quiet of a few weeks in the hospital; all expenses paid by the justice system, which will undoubtedly provide your room and board for several long years after you're all healed."
"Big talk coming from someone with a broomstick," said the one they called Jarod. Then he reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a switchblade, which he flicked open.
"Shit, Jarod, where'd you get that? You get in trouble again and you're a goner for a long time. You're almost an adult now."
"Shut up, Jeffy. Whose gonna find out? Besides, this guy's no match for us. We'll just leave him licking his sores here while we go party all night with the Vitale kid." Then he made some classic moves, like tossing the knife back and forth between his hands.
"So, you gonna join him in the big house, twerp, or you gonna go help the other two with their bruises?" I asked Jeffy.
"Jarod, I'm sorry but I'm outta here. I come back all messed up and I've got no place ta stay. Pop said so. I can't risk it. You wanna place ta stay, you better come too. I'll see ya later."
"Coward!" shouted Jarod, never taking his eyes off of me. "Leave. I don't need your help to handle this piece o' shit."
I was leaning against the broomstick as Jeffy parted company with Jarod. That just left Jarod and me . . ., oh yeah, and the kid, to see this to the end. I glanced over to the wall where the kid had been laying but he had since taken off. All that was there was a ratty tennis shoe amongst the litter in the alley.
"Jarod, is it?" I asked but didn't wait for an answer. "Why don't you and I lay down our weapons and just walk away, go about our business so nobody gets hurt."
"Oh my God. Don't tell me you're chickening out too. Ha! You scared o' what I can do to you, ole man? Ha ha ha."
"No, Jarod. I'm scared of what I am capable of doing to you before you even get your knife up to defend yourself. I just divided up your merry men and let the others go unscathed so I only have one of you to worry about hurting. Right now, son, your best defense is a hasty retreat."
"Bull pucky. You think you can take me, come on. And I ain't yer son."
I hate to admit it but I was getting a bit pissed at his attitude. I was also getting cold. So, I walked closer until I was about five feet in front of him.
He was my height, pretty skinny, with pock marks on his face, which was surrounded by dirty blond hair, about my color. He looked like he was trying to grow a goatee but with his light and sparse hair it looked pretty sick, especially at his young age. He had on a denim jacket and jeans and an old baseball cap. Oh, and a sneer that I'm sure he thought was intimidating.
"Okay, I'm getting tired of this. Let's just call it quits, you get up off the ground and we go our separate ways, me home, you to immediate care."
"Says who? And, in case you hadn't noticed, I ain't on the ground. Duh!" he snarled before he made a lunge at me.
I side-stepped him and swung under him, lifting one leg off the ground and sending him head over heels. He came down hard on his left knee and took a few seconds to try to stand, obviously in pain. He'd dropped the knife and was looking for it.
"Over there," I said. "But if you go for it, I'll end it right here. Take some advice and give it up."
"Brown's don't give up, meathead. We always win."
Why did that name sound so familiar? Just as I felt that I was close to remembering, I saw him grab up the knife and lunge at me again. That time, he grazed me on my arm, so I knew it had to end.
"Got a piece of you, didn't I, scumbag? Want some more?"
"No! You won't learn, will you? Now look what I have to do."
I was really upset. I should have taken that deep breath, counted to ten or something more civil, but he needed a lesson and I was his teacher for the next 30 seconds.
He had his arms wide to his side and was crouched a little, looking as mean as he thought he could. I took one step toward him which caused him to stand straight up with both hands at his side, his eyes huge. Some threat.
I used the broom handle to swing into him and twist his arm around, knocking the knife away.
"Hey! What the...?"
Then whipped around doing a 360 and swung hard into his left arm.
"Oh shit! Oh shit! You broke my arm! Oh shit!" He fell to his knees and held his arm close. His voice went high-pitched and sounded like some squeaky girl, actually.
"Let's get you to immediate care, son, so they can help you. Then we'll just walk away from each other and . . ."
"Don't touch me, you murderer! Get outta my way! I can take care of myself!"
He staggered away, groaning and almost in tears. It had to hurt something fierce. His arm probably wasn't broken. It was the stick that cracked. But the bruised muscle would cause him pain for quite a few days. As much as I wanted to disagree with him about the taking care of himself line, I was grateful that no one had received any more permanent damage to more than his vanity and pride.
After making sure he was well away, I turned to look for the boy, or to see where he might have gone. Like I said before, there was only the lone shoe. I actually chuckled when I thought of Cinderella and the glass slipper, about going around the kingdom looking for the boy that fit the shoe. I walked over and picked it up. It was hardly anything worth wearing. There were more holes than fabric. I thought about holding on to it, but decided that wouldn't be fair. He knew where it was for sure and I wouldn't be back any time soon. I left it where I found it and started to walk back to my car.
The streets were much quieter though not too much time had passed. The only noise was from an old ugly green pickup that let out a cloud of smoke as it raced up the street. I never did like that Forest Ranger green color. As I walked I realized I was in a much better mood and I hoped it wasn't because I'd just beaten up some snot-nosed kid. Maybe it was because I was back in 'protect mode' for just a few minutes. Either way, it was a feeling I'd missed since coming home. I'd pushed that part of my life so far back that I'd almost forgotten how to protect the boy, whoever he was.
As I walked, I could feel eyes on me. Not the people on the streets but someone intently looking at me. I knew the tingle when I felt it. I'd spent enough time overseas, trying to understand those feelings; feelings that could severely jeopardize my life and that of my men. So when I felt that tingle, I started getting tuned in. I never knew where the feeling came from. Maybe I was just paranoid.
I scanned around but saw no one out of the ordinary, if down and out people milling around aimlessly were normal. Still, the feeling lasted until I got to my truck, which was in front of the restaurant.
For fun, I whipped around to look behind me and saw a coat sleeve disappear behind the corner of the building across the street from my location. It was the same dirty orange color as the boy's coat. I was sure he was okay, at least for a while, so I got in the truck and drove home.
All the way home, I made up scenarios about why those kids, especially the younger victim, would have been in such a place. It was an area where homeless people usually looked for some mission or shelter for the night. Surely, he wasn't one of them. He must have had someone waiting for him at home, unless . . .
The next day, my thoughts would flip back to that kid quite often. I wasn't too worried about the other four. The older one, Jarod, would probably find the warmth of a jail cell real soon. Jeffy would probably be grounded for a week or two, and the others would just go on to trade school if they were lucky enough to keep away from Jarod Brown.
I couldn't remember what they called the kid. But my concern for him grew stronger. It wasn't right for him to be on the streets and so vulnerable, at such a young age.
On Monday, I had another friend of Dan's at the house helping out. His wife came by later and brought a casserole for me to warm up for my dinner. It would last for several nights. That was nice. They stayed and talked about nothing, finally getting around to telling me about their family and their two boys in high school and college. Funny, instead of getting depressed about them having family, I remembered the punk kid and wondered what he would be eating that night. Surely he'd gone home by that time and was safe again.
The next day, early, I called Dan and cancelled whoever was coming over and I took off for the city, to downtown. I couldn't stand not knowing. I have no idea why. I just had to know.
It had only been three days, so I was pretty sure that if he lived in that area (shudder), he'd still be hanging around near to where I saw him last. Okay, it was a long shot but I needed closure, I guess.
Nothing had changed much, though the teens weren't chasing kids around. I was pretty sure the kid, Jarod, was still favoring his arm. I was hoping, without his poor example, maybe the others were doing something more constructive. Being bullies like they were wasn't right, there is never an excuse for it, but doing it because someone was enticing you into it was even worse in my book. At least they could take care of themselves. I wasn't too sure about the young one.
I went directly to where I confronted the teens and where the kid had taken off. Then I just turned slowly, taking in the surroundings, trying to figure out where someone could hide or spy or whatever to keep safe, supposing he wasn't at home and warm.
I didn't see him, but it also wasn't the same time of day. I had a cup of coffee a few blocks away and then went to the hardware store, returning to the area near the alley at about noon.
And there he was!
End of Chapter Three