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.
AJ ran up to Jeffy and I panicked, thinking the little pipsqueak was going to get us a contempt of court something or other. But I should have known better. I looked up at Judge Davenport and saw the biggest grin. He practically waved AJ through the gates. AJ ran to Jeffy and they hugged.
As they hugged and I got closer I saw them slump a little and heard muffled crying coming from them. Jeffy was letting down and I was glad of it; glad it was all over, at least for him.
Cybill was right there to grab the boys and I raced up just in time to help hold them. I scooted chairs under them and AJ looked up from Jeffy's neck with worried eyes.
Cybill came to the rescue again. "Daniel, it's all over. You did all the right things and you have nothing to worry about anymore. Even the men who hurt you and betrayed you won't be around for a very long time."
He finally looked up and did some heavy breathing to get his emotions in check.
"She's right," said the judge. "Not only that but I think we were able to save you a little spending money."
"Really? Cool," said AJ. "Didja hear that, Jeffy? You got money to spend, I guess. How much, sir, does he getta spend?"
"Well, normally I'd say he shouldn't spend it and should save it for college, but in this case, it will be a drop in the bucket compared to ... But to answer your question, about $75,000."
"Jeffy, you're rich," said AJ, matter-of-factly, as though it happened twice a day.
"I am?" said the boy, looking first toward the judge then to Cybill.
"Yes, you are, son," said the judge, walking over from his bench, "but not because of that paltry, um, small amount."
"I had a friend look into the property and speculate on what the value would be before and after the improvements the three men had been planning for about four years. They had this organized a year before your dad was murdered, even had designs commissioned while they plotted your dad's demise. It was very bold of them.
"Without the help of Tony Handy here, we may have never discovered they were in cahoots with each other. Anyway, I have an expert on this kind of thing in my chambers. George, would you ask him to join us, please? I think it's time."
"Me?" said Jeb from the back room, when the bailiff asked him to come out with us.
"Dad!" said AJ, knowing we were right all along. He smiled and looked toward our friend and neighbor as he leaned toward Jeffy and said, "He's our neighbor, ya know. 'Member? You met him. Hey, your neighbor now too!"
Out came one fine looking man, dressed in a three piece suit like he'd just come from a corporate board meeting. He looked nothing like a farmer. I was impressed. So was my little guy.
"Wow! Is that really you, Mr. Harding? You look slick."
"Ha! Slick? Well, we'll leave the slick stuff to the three that just left. It doesn't pay off in the long run."
"Get over here, you old geezer, and tell this boy what he's been missing out on," said Judge Davenport in his sternest voice and with a wave.
"My word, man, it took you long enough to get to the point. I thought we were going to have ta bivouac here for days until you got to the good parts. Finally!" said our friend as he sat in ex-D. A. Thomas' chair.
"What's it all about, sir?" asked Jeffy. "I heard something about some land somewhere, but what about the tens of millions part? Millions what?"
"Jeb, tell the boy. You're the one that found out about the land holdings and what it could be worth. You're the one that brought it to my attention," said Judge Davenport, who was taking off his robe.
"Wow!" said AJ. Again he leaned into Jeffy to quietly say, "You know, I pick blueberries for him and he lets me keep some of 'em."
Jeffy gave AJ a half smile and looked over at me, sitting close by. I nodded. Then Jeffy turned to the man with his answers.
"Let's see," started Jeb, pulling up a manila folder that he'd brought in with him. He fumbled around through some papers mumbling. "Nope, not this one. Oh! No, humph."
"Oh, will you hurry up. You don't have to run this like a committee meeting, you know. We're all friends, but it is getting to be lunchtime," squawked the judge, feigning his anger.
"I have it here. Patience. This is pretty important. Daniel, is it?"
"But we get to still call him Jeffy, huh, Jeffy?" said an over exuberant AJ, with much pride in his young voice.
"Oh, you do, do you? Well, for now, Daniel will do for me. So, the land is pretty extensive. Seems your dad got most of it from his father when he died, having worked the farm all his life and his father before him. But your dad would buy up bits and pieces close by when available and finally attached them all when he bought a prime piece about five years ago. It is some of the prettiest land in the state, complete with a natural lake and large stream running through it. Almost like an oasis out there.
"Anyway, the value of the property shot up when he added that piece. It alone was worth three or four times what he bought it for because of the rest of the land with it, which also went up in value. Yes, I think that realtor you talked to, Mr. Handy, was a little on the conservative side."
"Oh? Sorry, sir," said Tony Handy, the investigator, who stuck around for the fun, too.
"Yes, my office had it valued at, uh, let's see here," he said, looking for another sheet of paper.
"Come now, Jebediah. You're wasting our lunchtime. By the way everyone, we have reservations at the Chinese food place on Decker Street in one half hour. And since Jeb is taking so long, he's buying." Then Davenport laughed out loud, even slapping his knee, startling most of us a little.
"You are always good at spending my money, you old ... Ha! Daniel, your property as it is, is worth about $2.7 million. We haven't even got to the price with the houses and golf course yet. There are a lot of factors, but if the houses were as the men had intended, and the golf course was designed by a good pro, the whole place could be worth forty to fifty million. I think, young man, your allowance just went up."
"Wow!" said my son.
"I ... I ... But what do I do with it? What do I do now?" said the boy looking at each of us.
"You can still live with us and be my brother. Huh, Dad?" said AJ seriously.
"That would be wonderful, but we need an expert to invest your money and figure out what to do about this property," I said.
"Well, your man is sitting in the D. A.'s chair, Sergeant, said Judge Davenport. "Best there is in the county; hell, the state. Regular Warren Buffet if there ever was one. Why, he can even afford our lunch! Let's go!"
"Daniel, you pay him no mind, he's on some diet. Just don't stand in his way when he sees that buffet they got over there," laughed Jeb.
I know Jeffy wasn't quite comfortable yet with what had happened, but we needed to get out of that atmosphere and into something more pleasant, and besides,
"Yeah, I'm hungry too, Judge, sir. Let's go!" said AJ pulling on my arm.
The little pipsqueak!
The luncheon was wonderful, not so much for the mediocre Chinese food, but for the great people we were with.
I don't think either AJ or Jeffy had ever been to an all you can eat restaurant before. They were both pretty cautious until we explained the rules. Of course, leave it to the judge and Jeb to do the training.
"What do we do, Dad?" asked AJ, pointing to an empty plate in front of him.
We'd just sat down and the waitperson had taken our drink orders.
"Son," answered the judge, "You go take that empty plate and fill it with all the good things you see over on those two long tables. Look around some first; make sure you get what you want."
"And boys?" added Jeb, "Don't get in the judge's way and remember, you can go back for another plateful when you've finished the first, and the second and the ...Ha!"
"Wow!" exclaimed AJ looking incredulously at me, then Jeffy. "Didja hear that, Jeffy? All we can eat!"
"Pretty nice, AJ. Will you go with me over there?" asked AJ's new brother.
"Yeah! Come on!"
I followed behind them to answer any questions they had about what food was what. AJ had just had Chinese but I didn't know if Jeffy had ever had any. Strange, the simplest things we take for granted that some people never experience.
AJ loaded his plate with some of the foods we'd already had since he knew them, but he also tried some others, just a bite until he knew if he'd like it.
Jeffy was more cautious. He'd look up at me and then take a piece or two of something, then go to something else. When he walked back to our table he barely had his plate covered, let alone top-heavy like AJ's. I scooped up some of my favorites and waited for AJ.
Jeffy spent much of the time pushing his food around and watching the rest of us. It was like he was still processing everything from the past few days. I can't imagine what all was going on in his mind.
"Jeffy, aren't you hungry?" asked Cybill.
"Oh, um, yeah, well, sort of," he said. "I just still don't know what it all means yet. I feel like I'm some kinda dunce or something. You'd think I woulda paid attention and got it down the first time."
"Daniel," advised the judge, laying a gentle hand on the boy's wrist. "Don't be ashamed about what you took in or didn't, what you may have remembered or not. You have all these wonderful people and a new family who want to help you get your feet back on the ground and begin to live a normal life again."
"If you ever had one at all," said AJ, waving his fork at his brother.
"Thank you, everyone. This whole thing I started at Pop's house that day just kept gettin' bigger and bigger. Then it's like the balloon popped and everything is alright again; even more alright then before. I'm still trying to get past all the guilty feelings for what I did to you all to cause all this. I just don't know how to thank you enough for helping me get through everything."
His voice got a little shaky and everyone waited until he was done before they went on eating.
"Please know that you are loved, Jeffy," I said. "You're about to embark on a life that you've deserved all your life, but only got to experience in the last few days. There is nothing that I won't do to protect and help you in any way I can, for as long as you need."
He looked like he was going to be engulfed in his tears but he breathed deeply and came up with a big smile. I think that indicated how far he had come.
Jeffy finally did eat up and go back with AJ for an even bigger load. AJ only ate about half of that second plate and pushed back his seat, finally.
"Whew! I'm stuffed. I don't think I could eat another bite in a week. Well, maybe till dinner."
Everyone laughed at that.
"That's too bad, AJ," the judge told him, "Because there's a dessert buffet behind that partition right over there that ..."
But AJ was gone before he could finish.
He came speed-walking back, knowing it was impolite to run in such a place.
"Jeffy, they got an ice cream machine you pull on the handle yourself, chocolate and vanilla. They even got a ton of different things to put on it like those sprinkles. They got brownies and puddings and lots of other stuff too. Wanna see?"
He was halfway back there before Jeffy could scoot out and follow him. Jeffy turned back at us and shook his head and smiled.
"So, ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to thank you all for your interest in Jeffy's welfare. I had no idea it would end up so favorably for him. He would have been eaten up by the system and would have likely been trapped in it for his whole life if it hadn't been for you. Thank you, thank you so much."
"Sergeant, I'll have to admit it helped a lot that the men had that scam going on that would have probably taken young Daniel out much like his father. But I could never see a young man as promising as Daniel locked up in our justice system rather than being on a road to rehabilitation. It happens all too often the other way."
"Well, thank you for your help, Judge Davenport. You are one terrific man."
"Okay, enough. Humph. Um, I, uh, was just doing my duty, within the law, I might add."
"Ha ha ha!" we heard coming from the other side of the partition.
"I guess I better get over there before the contents of that ice cream machine are all over the floor. I can just imagine," I said moving to get up.
"Sir, can I go? I'd love to see what they're up to, and, well, I just love to see them interact together. They really love each other; it just oozes from them," said Cybill as she moved to get up and walk over there.
Needless to say, we had a great time. All too soon we were on our way back to our place, after making plans with Dan to get together.
"Look, let's face it; it's not going well for us. They've been looking at the cases again. It wouldn't take much for it to explode in our faces and I don't like the idea of spending any time behind bars."
The two men were talking in the kitchen of the old farmhouse. The man standing was tall with broad shoulders and spoke with little respect to the other, much older man, who was well into his retirement years.
The old man turned in his seat. His attention was focused on the young man reaching for a glass in the cupboard.
"Boy, if you don't get your ass out of this house and over to the barn, I will kick your hide from here 'til Sunday. Now git."
The boy he yelled at set his glass down on the counter, slunk down as he usually did when reprimanded, which seemed to be more and more, and crept over to the kitchen door.
"Get your butt back here and deal with this glass, you idiot!" yelled the other man, the one that really terrified the boy.
He kept his eye on the man as he moved back to the counter and reached for the glass, trying to avoid getting too close but he wasn't far enough away.
The glass flew from his hand and shattered on the floor. His face screamed in pain; a pain he'd known most of his pitiful life, it seemed.
"Now look what you done," said the older man, rising from his chair.
The boy stood there, not only hurting but anticipating the outcome of his misdeed. Like always, he never thought that it was anyone's fault but his own.
"Well, don't just stand there, get the broom and dust pan and clean up your mess. And, as I'm sure you well know, there'll be hell to pay come punishment time tonight, you sorry excuse for a jackass."
The boy did as good a job as he could sweeping up the broken glass. The man, the one standing over him the whole time, would intentionally bump into him, making him spill the contents of the dust pan. That wasn't so bad, really. But when he stood on the boy's hand, while the boy used it to push the glass shards into the dustpan, the boy nearly screamed.
"Good gawd, boy, now you got blood on the floor. When are you gonna learn?" said the old man.
The boy tried to pick out the glass embedded in his palm but ...
"That stains my floor and your punishment time'll run into tomorrow's if you live through it tonight, boy. Now pick out that there glass on your own time!"
'Of course,' the boy thought, 'there was never 'my time', at least not as long as I can remember.' He could remember a lot, since he was very, very small.
Finally finished, a paper towel in his hand to catch the blood that oozed, he sauntered off to the seclusion of his barn, his animals, his friends, his quiet. He didn't hear the rest of the conversation in the kitchen. Luckily, there were no others in the barn that night that he had to deal with.
"Time to do something with him, you know. He's served you well all these years, but one of these days you're going to have to high-tail it out of here. It might be several months or a year from now, but these two investigating those cold cases are going to find something that is going to put even more pressure on our operation here. I can't have them finding anything or anyone, if you know what I mean."
"Yeah, yeah. Hell, I been runnin' this since you were knee high. I don't figure on anything much happenin'. Still, I think I'm ready for someone younger to help around here. I've 'bout had it with him. Maybe you're right. 'Bout time."
"So, anything look good so far?"
"Well, let me think. Oh, our guy over to Slocomb County says he's got a guy what wants an old 'un. Weird."
"Humph. How old? He say?"
"Yup. Maybe seven or eight. No tellin' what for."
"Hah! Who cares what they do with them after we get our money?"
"Hey, maybe I oughta get me one to replace that pathetic ass out there? 'Bout time. You nervous about somethin' tonight, son?"
"Don't call me son! No, just some internal stuff at work. Nothing for you to waste your time on." Still, his mind seemed to be wandering.
"You sure? You look like you got somethin' naggin atcha."
"He say if a nine would do? It seems to me I know someone."
"Hm-m. Maybe. I'll ask him. So, if this next one goes through we'll be back in the money. That means we're ready to spread ..."
What that means is we can start to close up shop and thank our lucky stars we haven't got caught yet," said the younger of the two men.
"I still don't know what you're all concerned about. But I have no mind to slowin' down any time soon. Too much at stake; hell, too much money to ..."
"You're getting to be an old fool, you know. I'm not about to risk the rest of my life for your taste in, in our product."
"Yeah, besides that you have the most to lose by far. Don't try to shut us down, mister. I'll set you up so fast to fall so hard you won't know your ass from your peter until you land on either. I've done it before; I can do it again."
The threatened man slammed his hands on the table and stared into the older man's eyes. "No one threatens me and gets away with it; no one!" he said, slamming his hands down once more for effect.
"Oh, stop. We've threatened each other a dozen times since you came on board. Go cool off and we'll let you know if this trip is doable."
The man was still red from anger. He wouldn't admit how intimidated he was by this last try at uncovering their business deals. He knew he had to be prepared to expose the whole operation in such a way that he wasn't made a part of it. As he thought about it, as he made his way to his truck, he realized he would have to silence the key to the operation. A noise made him look toward the barn where the boy, whistling to himself, was carrying in a bucket of water for his friends.
'Yes,' he thought, 'one other would have to be rid of, quietly. But then, no one had missed him for years anyway.'
Dan's kids were getting antsy. It had been raining long enough and there were other concerns that took up so much time that the kids hadn't had a chance to burn up the energy they produced like 24 hour factories. They all wanted to take off on their bikes but Ralph was coming to the end of the year and studying for finals was filling every moment he had.
"Dad, they are really on my case. I need to study and all they want to do is go ride their bikes. I haven't got time for it and I sure don't want to disappoint them. Can't they just go around the block or something if they promise to stay close and not take too long on the way?"
Jacob was standing right there, listening to Ralph's side of the conversation.
"Tell him I'll do the best job ever watchin' 'em. After all, I'm the oldest after you, Ralph."
"I heard that, son," said Dan into the phone. "I know Jacob is ready and he'd do a good job. It's just that the system has a few things they need to finish up with his case. Until then, he might as well be quarantined with the others. If he were found with those boys by themselves, they'd have him in an institute, heck, they'd have all of them in an institute and I'd sure never be a foster dad again even if I didn't lose my job. You know how much I love all our boys. I just can't take that chance."
Ralph shook his head at Jacob with a 'I'm sorry' look on his face. Jacob understood the problem, just didn't get why it took so long to get anything done with the state juvenile system.
"Okay, Dad, I guess I can take an hour off and take the guys out. They've been pretty patient. Maybe it'll clear up my mind too. I could use a break, I suppose."
"Good job, Ralph. I knew you'd come up with a solution. I love you, son. You make me proud every day. Just keep them close as always and I'll be home about dinnertime, I promise."
Jacob heard Ralph's idea and ran out the front door, hollering at the others when he cleared the door.
After Ralph and Dan said their goodbyes, he walked to the front door to see that the boys were already on their bikes and either waiting, looking at the door, or pedaling in a tight circle in their wide driveway until their older brother joined them. They were all talking at once about how far each of them could go in an hour, each one adding several miles to the last one's tall tale, indicating how much stronger they were than the others.
"Okay, guys. I need to change my clothes and get a bottle of water to take. We only have an hour though. I need to hit the books again. Anyone want water, get it now. We aren't stopping at a store on the way."
He went back in as did Jacob and Enrique to get drinks for the rest. That left Melvin and Denver bantering back and forth in the driveway.
Without warning an old white van sailed around the corner and screeched to a stop halfway in the driveway, knocking Melvin off of his bike, scraping his arm and hitting his head. Denver was aghast and literally frozen to the spot where he'd stopped.
In the van the driver was yelling at his partner.
"Get out there and get that kid, you lamebrain! If you screw this up, they'll kill us both. Now get outta here and grab him. Ain't no one gonna stop you! Git!"
"But it's wrong. He isn't ours. We shouldn't ..."
"Boy, shouldn't isn't a word you get to use when I tell you something. You want that big hulk back there to do the punishing tonight? You'd never survive it. You know that. Now git and fast!"
By the time the young man got out and approached the small boy that was still on his bike he was almost apologetic. Even with all the beatings he'd endured in his life, it wasn't in his nature to be mean or do the wrong thing, ever.
"Um, come with me, kid. We need to take you, um, somewhere. You need to get in that van and come with us now, okay?" he said, reaching for the boy's arms.
"What? You're kiddin'! I'm not going anywhere with you!" Denver screamed. "Melvin, help me! This guy is taking me! I'm not doin' it!"
Melvin was just sitting up when he saw what was taking place a few feet from him. He tried to stand, then swayed like he was going to faint from the recent impact but somehow got his adrenaline going to give him the fight he needed to try to protect his brother.
"Jacob, Ralph, HELP!" he shouted over his shoulder as he lunged at Denver's assailant who had just put his hands on the boy's arms as he gripped his handlebars.
Melvin piled into the older boy and they all went down, Denver pinned under the bike with Melvin laying half on him and clawing at the attacker.
"Yeo-o-ow!" screamed the older boy as Melvin's fingers dug into his wrists. He pulled back, feeling fire race along his arms as the boy's fingernails bit into his flesh. It was too much for him to take. Just as the other two boys came running out of the house with Ralph close behind, he jumped back into the van and it sped off.
It was Jacob that had the foresight to call out, "Get a license number!"
Enrique stopped to concentrate on the back of the van but there was no plate to see.
"There ain't any! Oh, shit!"
Ralph and Jacob came up on the two boys laying in a pile on the driveway. They quickly knelt down to aid their brothers.
"You guys okay? What happened? We were only gone a minute."
Denver was crying and Melvin was trying his hardest to keep from tears himself.
"They came outta nowhere and this kid tried to grab Denver," he said, trying to get off of his brother and the bike.
"Yeah and the van hit Melvin and knocked him over. You okay, Mel?" asked Denver, wiping his face on his shirt sleeve.
"I, uh, I guess. I'm still a little woozy. I think I hit my head or something. Then I got a bike pedal in my leg when I jumped that kid."
"Kid? He was just a kid that came after you guys?" asked Ralph.
"Well, he was like your age, I guess," answered Mel. "He was a little strange too."
"Okay, guys, let's go in and get you guys cleaned up and call Dad. He'll know what to do. And I wanta hear more about this kid," said Ralph, already dialing his dad's cellphone from his.
Of course, Ralph's phone call to his dad was a relatively short one.
"What!?! You have got to be kidding! I'm home. Nobody move! Don't touch anyone or anything, Ralph. It might be evidence."
Ralph turned to tell the boys what their dad had said, but ...
"You don't have to tell us. We could hear him from over here," said Enrique.
Dan arrived right behind an ambulance. He knew if the boys were attacked there could be evidence on them that he wanted no chance of compromising.
Denver was sitting on the front steps next to his hero, Melvin. His eyes were red from crying, mostly from the pain of Melvin landing on him and his bike, but a lot was caused by the realization that someone was trying to kidnap him.
When he saw his foster dad approach him he jumped to his feet, but Jacob and Ralph were quick to hold him back.
"Sorry, little one, but we need to do some things before you can touch anyone; you too, Melvin."
"But, Dad?" cried the youngest of the bunch, trying to get around the two boys to get to his foster dad.
"Oh, Denver, I want so much to hug you to me, but we have to wait. I want to get those guys so bad for touching you and this might be the best chance we've ever, ever had." He turned to Melvin to say, "Do you realize, young man, that you may be carrying the solution to a crime wave that has been going on for decades?"
Melvin stood up to look around at his body. "What? What do I have that could help?"
"Ralph said that when the man attacked Denver that you scratched him," explained Dan to his excited boy. "If we can match his DNA to our database, we may get a lead on whose been perpetrating these homicides and kidnappings."
Melvin stared blankly at his foster dad, then looked at Ralph and said, "I think I understood the word kidnapping but that's all."
"You're gonna help catch the bad guys 'cuz you scratched that guy, little bro. You're a hero."
Under Dan's supervision, the EMTs were able to go over every inch of the two boys, especially scraping under Melvin's fingernails. Finally, the men left and the family was able to go into their house. One scared little nine year old was able to climb into his foster daddy's lap and begin to feel safe enough to relax. It was all Dan could do to hold back the emotions he felt, almost losing one of his boys.
In a white van a few miles away, in the opposite direction of their ultimate destination, the man pulled over and stopped, sat back and sighed.
"Oh man, you big jerk. You are so gonna get it when we go back."
The boy sat with his hands in his lap, shaking like he was freezing from the memory of the plan gone bad and, even more so, of the beating he was going to be getting for screwing up. He had no concept of dying as a result of a beating. Every beating he had gotten seemed to bring him close to or over the edge of passing out. This would be no different, just more, he figured.
"I don't know what we're gonna tell 'em when we show up without that little brat. They are gonna be so mad, hell, at both of us. Shit!"
The boy opened his mouth and stuck out his arms to show the man his wounds, but the man just slapped them away.
"Shut up, you ass! You don't think they care that you got a little scratch do you? Man, this could screw up everything. This is major."
He was beside himself with fear, as well. It dawned on him that this was the first time they hadn't accomplished their goal. As his brain began to click away, trying to figure out all the possibilities of their predicament, he realized that it was also the first time they'd let the idiot go on an assignment. It didn't figure since they knew what a klutz he was. They had to know that ...
'Oh, holy shit!' he thought to himself, looking over at the panicked boy in the passenger seat. 'They knew we could screw up. Hell, they knew we'd be back empty handed. That meant they'd have a reason to get of ...' His gaze on the boy intensified, no big deal to him, but then ...
"Wait a minute," he said out loud, to no one in particular, "If they knew it could mean sacrificing the kid if we screwed up ..."
"They gonna hurt you too, Gus?" asked the boy, finishing the man's thoughts.
"Yeah," he said, going pale and gulping audibly, "I s'pose they are gonna wanna hurt me big time too."
"Oh," said the boy. "Sorry."