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.

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Chapter Twenty

The judge was a special man. If he had grandchildren, I'm sure he wouldn't treat them differently than he did young Jeffy. But Jeffy was still confused. The proceedings had been very intense, especially for someone who had given up all hope. So, when the judge came around from his bench and walked to the defense table, Jeffy began to get a little upset. You could see him looking as though others were going to surround him or something.

Dan did his best to calm him, finally taking the boy by the arms and holding him out so he could stare right into the boy's eyes.

"Jeffy, it's okay. The judge just wants to talk to you up close. That's why he sent everyone else away except your friends here. I think he wants to explain why you will be going home soon?"

The last sentence was asked of the judge who nodded his head at Dan with a smile.

"If you would be so good as to pull two chairs away from the desks, I think Jeffy and I have some talking to do. I think I owe you an explanation about what just happened, don't you, young man?"

Jeffy was still being held by Dan but had turned his head to the judge. Without thinking he nodded his head at the question and then gasped when he realized that he just told the judge that he owed him!

"Ha! That was good, Jeffy," laughed the judge, sitting in the chair by the table, trying to get the robe he had on to cooperate. He indicated the other one for his guest, Jeffy.

Dan almost had to push the boy forward to get him to sit in the chair. Even then, the boy held on to Dan's hand like a vise.

"Oh, come now. I don't bite, well, unless you're a district attorney. My, what a fiasco that was. I think we're going to see fireworks come Monday, folks. How's that sound?" he asked, looking around at us.

"Wow, really?" said my son, standing to walk closer to the action. "I really like to watch fireworks."

"AJ! Come back here, son," I called quietly, waving my hand at him to return to our seats.

"Oh, Sergeant, I thought that might be you. And this is your son, well, your foster son so far, is that right, young man?" asked Judge Davenport.

"Yeah, I'm ... Hey, how do you know who I am anyway? Oops!" AJ, realizing he'd just told off a judge, must have thought he was in trouble. He started to shuffle back toward me but I'd started walking up to his side when the judge recognized me.

"AJ, I promise you, one, that it's all good, and two, I'll get to how I know you very soon, okay?"

"Yes sir. I'm sorry."

The judge waved it off and turned again to Jeffy who was fidgeting in his chair in front of the distinguished looking man; a man that was about to make a very good friend, in fact, several.

"Jeffy, hmmm, how can I put this so you can understand? Well, son, it's plain and simple. You got railroaded. There's a lot more happening here than you know; you were to be the victim of a scam that could ultimately be worth millions of dollars."

AJ and I gasped when we heard that. Everyone else in the room except Jeffy seemed to know already.

Jeffy's eyes were as big as the rest of ours.

"I want to say again how sorry I am that you had to go through what you did. It wasn't fair of those men, it wasn't even legal of them, and it wasn't even fair of me to let it last this long either. But, damn it, Jeffy, we have to bury these guys in their own poop and I needed your help. I still do, in fact. Can you forgive me for making you wait a few extra days?"

Jeffy nodded a little, but he wasn't smiling.

"And, son, if I'd known that you were so upset all this time because you thought that someone died by your hand, I would have forfeited the investigation into those men's doings to protect you. As it was, I did get you into the juvenile center in Baylor County. You all know they wanted to prosecute the boy as an adult, right?" he asked looking at the rest of us.

We all nodded as he turned back to Jeffy. But it was Jeffy that finally spoke.

"But, um, I don't get what happened. I mean, about me. It seemed like a really quick trial and there were no, you know, people up there," he said, pointing to the witness stand, "to tell their stuff about what happened and all."

"Well then, let me explain. There was no trial, Jeffy. As far as I'm concerned, you're free to go. I think everyone here will agree that the hell they put you through, to say nothing of what they are still going to try to put you through, is punishment enough for a crime in which there were no victims. With that, and the fact that you remembered nothing of what happened, I can safely say you would have been released into the custody of someone who would insure your safety and sense of wellbeing.

"But, Jeffy, I need help from you and everyone here because we're not through this yet. We need to stage this day again on Monday, almost like today, but with those three men in the courtroom, playing out their roles. Will you all help me?"

AJ went up and put his hand on Jeffy's shoulder as we all nodded in agreement to the plan. Jeffy jerked a bit in surprise then looked to see it was AJ. Then came his second smile of the day, hell, probably in a month or more.

"You guys were all in on this to get me out? Even you, AJ? How did you ..., and Sergeant McGill, even you, after all I did to you and AJ, oh God. And Deputy Perkins? Oh my god. How can you do that for someone who ...?"

The judge was about to speak, but he was trumped by AJ's move to put his finger on Jeffy's lips to quiet him.

"Jeffy, I knew you were in trouble at home even before all this stuff. I heard you talkin' to the guys about what your stepdad did to ya and all. I also knew what a great guy you were until you met up with that lunkhead, Jarod. I told my dad, well, foster dad," he said, looking at the judge. "I told him there was tons of good in you and we needed to save you. But, know what? There were plenty of others that knew enough of your story that they wanted to help you too, huh?" he said swiveling his head around to see everyone nod.

"Well said, AJ. It's true, Jeffy, you're too fine a boy to let one mistake ruin your life, especially the way these men had it planned," said the judge.

"But what's gonna happen to me? I can't go back home. He'll kill me for sure, now. I got no place to go. I might as well be in jail as anywhere."

"No! You can't do that! Da-ad?" called AJ, flinging himself against my side, looking up at me.

"I know, AJ, I know," I said, then turned to Jeffy. "Jeffy, if you'd like and can put up with Mr. Hyper here, we'd like you to live with us, and I'd consider it an honor for you to become part of our family."

I had tears in my eyes. Don't ask me why. AJ pumped out his chest, looking as proud as ever at what he'd accomplished and also the idea of having a brother. And Jeffy hung his head and sobbed. We all just let him.

After a few minutes, he looked up and wiped his red, wet eyes on the bottom of his t-shirt.

"It sounds as though you have some wonderful friends, young man. You should feel very special that they care so much for you. Is there anything you want to add, Jeffy, about anything to do with the proceedings, um, you know, what's been happening here today?" asked the judge.

"Well, yes there is one thing, sir. Um, I kinda don't like Jeffy anymore, I mean the name. I'm sorry, AJ," he said, turning to AJ next to me, "but I want to be Daniel again cuz that was my real dad's name and, well, except for all the people in this room, he was always the nicest to me. I miss him so much and, well, I want to be like that too."

I think even the judge had a tear in his eye at that one.

The deputy that had brought Jeffy, oops, Daniel into the courtroom leaned over to ask the judge, "Shall I drive him back to the juvenile center tonight, sir?"

That time, it was the judge whose head hit his chest, and then he shook it. I don't think the deputy noticed the rest of us chuckling to ourselves.

"Deputy, have you been listening to anything that has gone on in this courtroom today?" asked the judge, lifting his head. "No, of course not. Seems apparent. Tell you what, you and your partner drive on up to the Center tonight and tell them that some crotchety old judge down here told them to lock you both up in solitary for three days. Okay?"

There were two loud gasps and a lot of laughing by everyone else.

"Well, good. I guess you're listening now, huh? Go home!" Then he turned to all of us, "The rest of you, go home too! Until Monday, that is. Then the fun begins," he said, slapping Daniel on the knee. "But be back here Monday morning," he said, shaking his finger at us and smiling.

We finally left the courthouse with the admonition from the clerk to return at 8 AM the next Monday to deal with the men involved with Daniel's incarceration. The extra hour would give us all time to make sure everything went according to plan.

"We should swing by and get clothes and some of your things, don't you think, Jeff, uh, Daniel?"

"Sergeant McGill, can we wait on that some? I don't want to run into anyone I know. I'm so shameful of what all I did even before with Jarod and those guys. We did a bunch of stuff to kids and people that I'm not proud of. But nothing like what I did to you and Deputy Perkins."

AJ sat between Daniel and me in the pickup. I saw him pat the older boy's knee and assure him, "It's okay, Jeffy, I mean Daniel. It's all gone now. Dad and your lawyer ladies and that neat judge did it all. That was so great, the parts I got anyway."

"Okay, first off, you guys can call me Jeffy if you want. Actually, I like it from you guys because it sounds like more family-ish I guess coming from you. You guys are the best. And I guess we do need to go get me some clothes for me to wear and stuff but I haven't got any money and ..."

I almost stopped the truck.

"Jeffy? Let me handle it just this once, okay?"

"But, I don't want to be a burden on you. Are you sure it's okay to stay with you?"

"Jeffy, let's just stop at the Wal-Mart on the other side of town. They'll have everything we need for a growing teen like you and we only need a little to get us by until we can go to your home and get the rest. I think you're right that it would be better to wait until after the dust settles which will probably be after Monday."

Jeffy was nodding his head slowly, thoughtfully. AJ was mimicking his nodding but had a huge smile on his face. He seemed so proud that it all worked out like he wanted, maybe better than he could imagine. I would never want to take those feelings from him.

"And, Jeffy, they got these cool little rooms at the Wal-Mart place where you get undressed and try on stuff," AJ informed our guest. After all, he was experienced.

"The other thing is this, Daniel Jeffrey Connors,"

"Uh oh," whispered AJ with a giggle.

Jeffy turned a questioning eye to AJ whose eyes began to grow. Of course that made Jeffy's eyes grow too, anticipating something bad that would never happen from me.

"You are never a burden. You have no idea how much we worried about your safety and what would happen to you for the rest of your life because of what you went through. And you have no idea how relieved we are that you are free and with us right now. You have been part of our family since, well, since right after the incident that day in our yard. Part of being in a family is not worrying about the little things, like if there's a pair of socks in your drawer.

"Let us do this so that you can concentrate on living again, if you remember how."

And he did and we had a good time and lunch at a nearby drive-in. Of course AJ had to show Jeffy how to use the little rooms at Wal-Mart.

Within a couple of hours we were pulling into our driveway.

"STOP!" yelled Jeffy.

I slammed on the brakes and AJ and I both looked over at the boy. He just stared. Maybe he didn't even see; it was like his face went blank. Then he turned his head toward the gate to the front porch where I'd been standing that day. That was when I realized that we were stopped in the exact spot where he'd stopped the car on that fateful day of the shooting.

I first noticed a wet spot on his thigh, then another. I looked into big eyes overflowing with huge tears, but no sound, no sobbing, no movement of any kind. His lips moved but no sound came out. Tears ran to the corners of his mouth and disappeared until he closed his mouth again, then they poured down his face.

Jeffy turned in my direction, over the head of the worried younger boy who sat between us.

"I am so sorry, Sergeant. How can you ever forgive me? Ever."

"Jeffy, it's all done and behind us. I don't let bad people in my house. You are not bad people. You just need some loving and some patience from those who care about you. AJ and I want to be two of those people in your life, no matter what happens from here on. Right, AJ?"

"Uh-huh! You need lovin' and we got a lot of it, huh, Dad?"

"True, son. But, Jeffy, there is one thing we need to decide. I can't have you calling me Sergeant McGill all the time. Can't we come up with something better than that? You aren't part of our troops, you're part of our family."

"Oh, I don't know. Maybe Sarge, but I wouldn't feel right calling you Tim or something."

"Hey, how about calling him dad like I do?" shouted AJ, scaring both Jeffy and me.

"Good grief, boy! How about calling me the dad that passed away after you give me a heart attack?"

"Oops!" laughed AJ.

But the best was when we looked at Jeffy and saw him laugh too. That was special, especially right then.

I swear we had no sooner gotten into the house when AJ ran into the kitchen, pulling a totally confused boy with him, and sat them both down at the table. When I walked in AJ waved me away, toward the refrigerator and then made a drinking motion with his hand to his mouth. He was sitting up straight as could be with his chest out and he thought he had everything under control, his control!

So, me being the supportive dad I was, looked at him like he was from Mars. I looked around and held my hands up. AJ let out a big disappointed sigh and shook his head.

"Da-a-ad, you're s'posed ta get the drinks so we can talk, 'member? We always do it when we have something goin' on like we did today."

Then he turned to Jeffy and told him, as though he couldn't hear what had just been announced, "Jeff ... I mean, Daniel, I mean Jeffy again. Whew! Whenever Dad and me discuss somethin' it's right here most o' the time, 'cept when it isn't, like in there," he said, pointing to the dining room, like Jeffy knew what was in that room.

I could see Jeffy trying to follow AJ's finger, then he looked at me for help.

"Jeffy, he's right. We've gotten into the habit of making it a priority to talk about anything and everything, good or bad, so we both understand where the other one is coming from. I think it makes for a smoother relationship. Oh, and he was trying to tell me that we always have something to drink when we're talking, huh son?"

"Yup, we do!"

"Okay, but you guys were there today and we haven't left each other once, well, except when you were outside the dressing room when AJ threw back the curtain on the little ro-o-om to come in," he said, glaring at AJ.

Oh, he was going to fit into our world very well indeed.

"Oops!" said AJ.

"Well, the trick is to be sure that nothing bad stays inside you. Like when your lawyers and I visited you at the Center. If we'd really talked it out, maybe we would have found out that you thought Dan, um, Deputy Perkins, was killed. That would have saved you from a lot of grief, I'm sure."

"Yeah, but, from what I remember that day, well, all those days in there, I wasn't doing much talking. I'm sorry."

"Jeffy, don't apologize. I'm sure I'd have done much the same thing as you did. But now we can put it behind us. And to do that, is there anything, any little thing at all that you might want to talk about, to ask, to let loose of? That's why we do this."

Jeffy seemed to be thinking so I got up and got each of us a glass of apple juice.

"Sir, I can't think of anything. It all went so fast and it wasn't anything like I thought it was gonna be. You probably guessed that I'd given up any hope of being out of jail again, ever. I just didn't see any way out. I still don't really get it all."

"Yeah, I don't get what happened there neither," added AJ. "That judge was real funny, huh? He didn't do any judgy things after he told those other lawyer people to get out. He sounded so much like ... Hey! Was that our Mr. Harding laughing in that back room place?"

"Oh, I'd forgotten about that, AJ. See, Jeffy, we met our neighbor across the road a few weeks ago. But he seemed like such a hermit over there, I never would have guessed he'd had anything to do with the judge or your case. But I'm pretty sure he was in the judge's chambers when the judge went back there to study the report on your injuries."

"Sounds kinda weird. Is he?" asked Jeffy.

"Nu-uh?" said AJ. "He's really neat, and I get to pick his blueberries and stuff, but the best is he has all these stories and they're really cool. You'll like him."

"But why was he there? He must just be a friend of the judge maybe and happened to be there?"

"Well, Jeffy," I said, "If you ask me, nothing happens that isn't in the plan somehow. I think there's a lot more to Mr. Harding than we know."

"Okay so, Dad, what happened?"

"To tell you the truth, I don't really know but whatever it is, it seems weird that all three of those men have business in the same city, at the same time and at the same, uh, resort. And it seems like the judge and Cybill and Lenore know what is going on. I think that's why the judge wants us all to go back and play like today never happened."

"I shoulda asked him while we were there, do you think?" asked AJ.

"Ha! If anyone woulda, it'd been you, AJ," said Jeffy with some laughter in his voice. It sounded so good coming from him. "You got a lot more spunk than you ever had over at the hell hole. Oops! Sorry, sir."

"Think nothing of it. I was there. I know what you mean and it is a hell hole, isn't it, AJ?"

"Yeah, and I'm glad I got outta there when I did. Thanks, Dad. Yeah, Jeffy, I got a lot more to be happy about and friends and everything. I love my life now, since I ran into my new dad," AJ said, pointing to me.

"Wow!" said Jeffy looking up at me.

"Yup, now AJ has a lot of new things, like his own pink and purple room. Huh, AJ?"

"Yeah, and I even get to go to school and ... Da-a-a-ad!" cried AJ, rolling his eyes in total disbelief that I would say that.

"Pink and purple?" This time Jeffy swung around to look at AJ. "Uh, you picked out those colors, AJ. Oh, not that there's anything wrong with pink and purple, I suppose?" he said totally confused.

"Jeffy, I plead guilty to the colors. Oh, that might not have been the right way to put it," I said, worried about the strain it might put back on Jeffy.

"It's okay, sir. I think I'm gettin' the idea that maybe I'm not goin' back to that detention place. I think I get that much. I think it's startin' to be a good feeling."

"Good, because you need to think free. Anyway, before AJ came into my life and while I was in Iraq, my wife and little girl were killed in a car accident. In fact it's the one that took the life of AJ's mother and the life of Jarod's dad."

"Oh, right! I can't say Jarod was too heartbroken about his dad dyin'. I'm sorry about your mom, AJ. I didn't know her except, well, when I could hear her, from down on the street, yelling."

"It's okay. Thanks, but like Jarod, I wasn't too upset except about what I was going ta do with the rest of my whole life."

"You sure got that solved pretty good, I think," said Jeffy with a smile. "And I'm sorry for you too, Sarge, losin' your wife and little ...o-o-o-h, pink and purple room. AJ, you got her room, didn'tcha?"

"Yup," said AJ, proud as could be. He didn't ever seem to care what color scheme went on in there, he just knew it was his.

"Will ya show it to me?" asked Jeffy.

"O-o-ka-a-y," said AJ, like it was putting him out or something. But I could see him holding back a big grin, which he let loose at me as soon as he looked behind Jeffy as they walked toward the stairway.

I pulled some steaks out of the freezer and set some baking potatoes on the counter for our dinner. I wanted it to be special for the boy that was now free to be him again. No, maybe free to be who he really was, instead of the person someone wanted him to be all the time. That would be great to see come out of him and shine, I'm sure.

It was still early so I refilled my drink and took it to the living room to see if I could hear them up there. Not to be nosey but ...

"Ha, ha ha ..."

"Ha, ha, ha ... Wow!"

Yeah, to hear that coming from the floor boards up there. It was as good as the first time I ever heard AJ laugh really good and deep like that. I sighed deep and settled back to let the feelings in me escape; maybe even a tear or two.

End of Chapter Twenty

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