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-four

"Dispatch, I need you to put out an alert for an old white van that was used in an attempted kidnapping and attempted murder. This van was like an old Ford Econoline, somewhat long with one of those porthole windows on either side panel near the back. The witnesses saw no license plate in the back as it drove off."

"Officer Perkins, do you have a description of any suspects in the van."

"Yes, one. He was the one that attempted the kidnapping. He is described as around eighteen to twenty-two, about six feet tall and Caucasian. He wore a hoody, like a dark grey color, but they could see brown hair and rather dark eyes. Oh, most of all, the abductor will have fingernail scratches on the tops of both forearms."

"Okay, sir. We can get on this right away. I'm sorry but if there's no actual kidnapping, a missing child, we can't use Amber Alert."

"Yes, I'm aware of that unfortunate fact. I want you to know that this van is complicit in many kidnappings and even murders in the last twenty years."

"Yes, sir. I'll forward that information too. Is there any idea as to the direction that we should look?"

"No, unfortunately. It happened in a suburban neighborhood and as soon as they turned the corner, well..."

"I understand, sir. May I just ask for myself, is the one that was threatened, is the child okay, sir?"

"Yes, thank you. He is fine. Off the record, Marie, thank you for asking. He is my foster son."

"Oh my! I'll do all I can. I ... I don't know what to say except I'm so glad ..."

"Thanks again," said Dan, hanging up the phone as he looked into the backyard at his guys all playing and joking as if nothing had happened. The older guys were especially giving Denver the time of his life, chasing, tickling and even Ralph tossing him in the air a couple of times.

It was later the same evening of the attack and attempted kidnapping of young Denver. Dan had been reserved the entire time he had been at home with the boys. But after their meal, they'd had a very emotional evening together, expressing themselves to each other.

"Ralph, since things are a little different tonight, could you lead our check-in? Is that okay boys? We'll pick up where we left off tomorrow night," Dan said. Denver, who was snuggled in his lap, nodded and the rest of the clan agreed easily.

"Then I guess, Jacob, it's your start," said Ralph, picking up the marker to write down the numbers and the boys' initials.

"Wow! Where to start?" said Jacob.

He immediately sat up on his haunches, straight and alert, unlike his usual laid back demeanor, a difference Dan had no trouble distinguishing from other nights. But it also made him aware of the other boys and how attentive they all were after their unusual afternoon.

"This morning, when I got up, it was just another day. But after we were begging and nagging at Ralph and we practically made him call Pop to let us do something, I ... I ..."

It was obvious to his family that he was having a hard time saying what was on his mind. Jacob wasn't the smartest of the boys, and he usually just spouted off what was on his mind, Dan realized long before that night. So, this show of emotion and careful words told Dan that what he was about to say was something that had penetrated deep into his mind since that incident that changed them all.

"I thought about, well, after, after Denver, well, you know, I thought about me asking, heck, pleading to let me take you guys by myself so Ralph could study. I can't help thinking how my selfishness could have made what happened to Denver ... you know, made it even worse if we'd been somewhere else and just me was in charge. I ... I never want that to happen to any of you. I don't know what I'da done but it woulda been hard living if I'd been responsible for someone ... well, you know."

"Jacob," said Dan, tenderly, "It didn't happen that way, did it?"

Jacob shook his head, his tears streaking his face as he held his head low.

"And do you know why it didn't?"

"Yeah, cuz between you and Ralph, you wouldn't let me," said the fourteen year old boy, almost in a whisper.

"But, Jacob, you didn't even think about arguing and, I really think you already knew what the answer would be, didn't you?"

Jacob looked up at his foster dad, his face showing the processing his mind was going through to add up what he was hearing. "Yeah, I knew I shouldn't do it cuzza the court stuff and how it wouldn't be right, yet."

"See? That tells me how much you've grown since you've been here, how much progress you've made. I'm so proud of you. You're almost ready to go out on your own, huh?"

"NO!" said the boy sitting straight up. "I don't wanna do that. I want you guys to make the decisions like today. I don't want me to be the reason someone gets hurt." He slumped back down and Ralph walked over to him, knelt and wrapped his arm around the boy's shoulders.

"But don't you see, bro," said Ralph, "how much different you've become because you do care about others, about our brothers here? I bet next time you'll make the right decision all by yourself."

"Exactly!" said Dan, his voice bold and full of the encouragement the boy craved right then.

"Really? Ya think?" asked Jacob.

"No, Jacob, we all know," finished Dan.

"Okay, Jacob, what's your number then," asked Ralph, doing a funny crawl back to the white board.

The others needed that bit of fun to get back into the groove of their exercise and Ralph provided it.

"Well, it'd been less than a one when all that happened today, but now, thanks to you guys, I'd go as far as a five, maybe."

"'Kay. Enrique, you next."

"'Kay, well, I kinda agree with Jacob, that we need to be better about watchin' out for each other, 'specially until Pop finds those bast ... um bad guys and locks 'em away for a long time. And, Pop, if you was to bring 'em by the house before you took 'em in, you might have a mess to clean up but it'd save costing the county people a trial."

"Enrique!" said Dan, sitting up a bit, heavy as his lap was.

"Oh, you know I'm just spoutin', but I don't think I was ever more angry at someone since that Daniel guy tried to kill you."

"Hm-m-m," thought Dan out loud. "How many of you feel the same way about the Connors boy?"

All their hands went up except Ralph's and Denver's. Ralph was shaking his head slowly and Denver looked poised to raise his, but didn't when he saw that Ralph didn't.

"I guess we've never really talked about it, have we? I need to correct that. Until then, guys, it doesn't do any good to be angry and keep it in, in fact it can do a lot of harm to your mind and your body. We'll talk more about this later, I promise."

"Okay, Enrique, a number?"

The twelve year old ended by saying, "I'm goin' with a five like Jacob 'cuzza I got my brothers with me and we're all safe now."

"Mel, what about you?"

"Hm-m-m, I'm with you two. It was a boring day until all hel ... uh, heck broke loose," he said, looking quickly at his Pop when he almost slipped.

Of course Dan gave him the evil eye, but Melvin could see the smile behind it and smiled back sheepishly before he continued.

"Yeah, so I've never been so scared in all my life. I practically creamed my pants."

"Melvin!" exclaimed Dan through his chuckling.

The other boys chuckled too, except Denver who just snuggled into his dad's arms even more.

"Well, yeah. Anyway, I hope that since they didn't really take Denver, (he shuddered noticeably before going on) that they won't try that again. And I hope, like Enrique, that you catch 'em and lock 'em up. And, Denver, I'm glad we didn't let them get you."

He sat back and looked down. His emotions were beginning to show in him too.

"And you saved me," said Denver.

"I, uh, but I just did what any one'd do 'cuz that guy came after you."

"Okay, but you did it after getting almost run over, bro," Jacob told him.

"Yeah and then you jumped on him and everything," said Enrique.

"But most of all, Mel, you scratched the man that was going after Denver," said Dan, squeezing his little guy even closer to him. "I think that one act will get us a lead on who is doing this stuff and has been doing it for years and years." He almost ended with 'even my family's murders but quickly realized that only Ralph knew anything about his past.

"I just did ..."

"You saved me, Mel. Thanks a lot," said Denver with a sweet smile on his face and a tear running down his cheek.

"So, Mel, you got a number?" asked Ralph.

"Um, 'kay. I guess a five maybe," said the twelve year old.

He happened to be looking at Dan and the cherub in his lap as Denver scrunched up his nose, like he didn't approve.

"Okay, then, a seven, I guess," said Mel with a slight smile.

Denver beamed at his hero.

"Denver's up."

"Um, I guess," started the smallest of the five, taking his time to form his thoughts. Dan moved him onto one leg and swung him around so he could see his youngest as he spoke. "I guess, I have to give today a twelve, like Ralph did when AJ and his dad were here. Is that okay?"

There were lots of 'huh's?' and what's?' of surprise and disbelief.

"Okay, guys just wait," said Dan, his arm around Denver's waist. "It's okay, Denver. You must have realized they would think you'd say something like a one or two, but a twelve?"

"Oh, well, yeah, I can't say something that low. Guys, this was 'bout the best day of my life."

Well, he certainly had their attention. All the boys scrambled closer to hear the reasons Denver had.

Ralph asked, "Will you tell us why, Denver? Why was this the best day of your life?'

"Hm-m-m," said Denver, "It's cuz one, I didn't get caught by that jerk."

Everyone easily agreed with him.

"And then two is, you guys were all right there and helping and stuff and I got to see how much you and, well, we really do all love each other. Yeah!" he said, sitting a little straighter and little taller in Dan's lap.

The rest of the boys readied themselves for number three, though their vision was a little blurred after number two.

"'Kay, but the best part is that, well, now I got my whole life again, to live, and it's cuz o' you guys and savin' me and all that. 'Specially you, Mel. I woulda been ... well, I don't know but it sure wouldn't o' been as good as it is right now with all you guys and Dad here."

Denver's smile caught on like wildfire throughout the room as the others seemed to digest what he'd just said. All except for one.

Mel's blush was a nice rose color and all the boys helped it get even redder when they huddled around him and cheered for their hero.

"Hey," said Jacob toward Ralph, "I wanna change my number."

"Me too!"

"Yeah, mine too!"

"You gotta change mine too then," Melvin finally said.

"Yeah, me too," said Dan, pulling his boy into his arms again and burying his head behind the boy, mostly to hide the tears he finally let flow.

Several miles away, on a lone stretch of rough road, sat an old white van idling. Its driver was sweating, not from the heat but from the terror he felt when he thought about his future. He looked over at his passenger that wasn't doing much better than he.

The young boy rocked in his seat, looking at his clenched fists in his lap.

"I think I made us a decision, boy."

"You did?"

"Yeah, how'd you like to go on a little road trip and see some things I'll bet you've never seen before? How's that sound?"

"Sounds okay, I suppose, Gus. Why?"

"Why? Because, if we go back right now, they'll skin us alive, for sure."

"Yeah, well, I been beat before. It hurts so bad but ..."

"No, boy. When I say they'll skin us alive, like a pig or a cow, I mean they really will."

The quiet was so annoying to Gus. He just wanted to be somewhere else, maybe around other people. He knew a public place would be best.

"Oh, you mean ... Yeah, I haven't had that one done to me yet. That wouldn't be good."

"'Course not, and it would be the last punishment you ever received."

"Oh, then that wouldn't be so ... Oh, I see what you mean," said the boy, lying back against the seat.

"So we've got to get going or they'll be on us before we know it. Buckle up."

They rode in silence for a while, until Gus noticed the boy's intense look at every little thing along the way.

"Boy, you are weird. You look like you've never been out of farm before."

"Well, that's because I haven't. It's really scary to be this far away from there and not know where I am."

"You've never ...? How long you work for the old man, Boy?"

"All the time, I guess. I don't remember anything else."

"You mean you never went to school or anything like regular kids?"

"Well, no. It took me quite a long time before I knew what regular children do."

"Say, how come you don't talk dumb as they say you are? You're talkin' like you'd been to school all your life and then some. What the hell's with that?"

"Oh, well, you promise not to tell him?" said the boy, emphasizing the word 'him'.

"Believe me, I have no plans to be seein' him again," laughed Gus, until he shivered at the thought of what their meeting would be like.

"Okay, I found a room in the barn that had a lot of boxes stacked along the walls, and in those boxes were every kind of book you could imagine. Like maybe six or seven boxes," he described, excitedly. "It was like what I pictured a library to be."

"You found a libury in the barn? Ha! That's a good one."

"Yeah, there was even two or three books for small children that helped me with the words I read in the beginning. Then I found two huge fat dictionaries and that helped a lot from then on."

"Oh, yeah, to look up words to see their meaning, huh?"

"Um, well, I hadn't thought of that. No, I just read them like the other books. They were fascinating to me. See, I decided that I had to make sure I would never be without those books if they were to ever be found by someone."

"What? How could you ... Ha ha! What'd you do? Cram a couple up your ... Oops! Sorry."

"Cram, um, no. All I could think of was to keep reading them until they were stuck in my mind."

"What? You didn't? You did? Memorized 'em?"

"Yeah, memorized I guess you'd say."

"Yeah, but you come across as a real dunce. What's with that?"

"Oh, well," said the boy, timidly, "I'm just trying to stay out of everyone's way most of the time. I do what's expected of me so I can go back to my animals and my books. I figured if they found out that I could read and somehow discovered my books, they'd take them away like everything else in my life. I don't think I'd last without them, now that I have my books."

"Yeah, I see what you mean. That's probably wise."

"So, did all them books teach you how to read a map?" asked Gus, handing a wad of map to the boy.

"Wow, um, no, I never saw any books on travel or maps or anything. But I guess I can learn that too, given a little time."

"Well, good, cuz you got about two minutes to figure out where we're headed. Ha!"

"What in the world have you been into, Perkins?" asked Norton, as he walked into the office that he and Dan had been using for their investigation into the spate of kidnappings and murders over the past two decades.

"I didn't do anything, but it looks like we got a big break in our case," answered Dan, who was on hold to the DNA testing center that they used.

"Hello. Yes, I'd like to know how long we're talking about getting the results. It'll help crack this case we've been on wide open, we ..." He paused to listen.

"What? There's no way we can wait six or seven weeks! There has to be a way to get the results sooner, please!" Again he listened.

"But that's insane! No, no, I didn't mean you. I meant the system. Isn't there a way ... Look, we've been on a case that dates back more than two decades. It's about families that were murdered and their small children were kidnapped, or sometimes their cars were hijacked, leaving the parent on the road as the perpetrators drove off with their little child."

After listening, he answered, "You do? Then you know how much these families have been hurting, the ones that survived, that is. And if we wait even a few days these guys are going to find out, close up shop and we'll be back to square one. That's why we need a rush on this. That's why we need to stop them before they strike again. How old is your son?" Dan asked, looking up at Norton with hope in his eyes.

"How long? Two! Okay, yes, I understand. I want to thank you. You could be saving more lives by doing this for us, really." Then he hung up the phone and sighed as he slid back in his chair, looking exhausted.

"So, two days? Wow! You really did ..." started Norton.

"No. Don't get so excited. Two weeks. There's no way they can prove the results in less time IF they can do it that fast, she said."

Norton sat down hard in the chair opposite his peer. "Man, a lot can happen in that time."

Dan was looking over his shoulder, out the window that looked into the parking lot.

"What?" said Norton as he turned to see a huge black pickup with overhead lights pull into the parking lot.

"What do you suppose he's doing here today?" asked Dan. Then he noticed who was at the desk by the entrance. Sheriff Jenkins little toady, his assistant with a very brown nose.

When the assistant noticed the daggers coming from Dan's eyes, he turned back to the work on his desk, until the sheriff came through the doors and walked into their office.

"What the hell are you two doing working today?" said the large, broad-shouldered man with his hands on his hips.

"Sir," answered Norton, standing, "We've had a break in the cold case we've been investigating. We think we can finally start to look for at least one of the people involved due to an attempt on one of Dan's foster kids today. We've just sent ..."

"Attempt?" interrupted Jenkins, rudely. "What do you mean by attempt?"

"He means that it failed. Their attempt to kidnap my son failed and we were able to ..."

"But you really have no way to know whether this is related to those cases or not, right? I mean, didn't you say that no attempt has been made for several years now?"

"Well, yes, that we know of," said Dan. "But we need to go at it like it's the same people until we can prove it isn't." He couldn't believe the resistance he felt, though it was only a little stronger than he usually felt from his boss.

"Okay, enough. I've been asked to stop the investigation by a couple of the commissioners. We don't have the money for this. The resources we've lost because of the time you've been wasting on this, with no results I might add, are making the other men tired and edgy. It's got to stop."

"What? Right now, when there's something that we can grab onto? There's no way we can stop this now, with all due respect, sir," said Norton.

He glanced over at Dan who seemed to be scribbling something on a post-it note. Some support!

"Okay, sir," said Dan, standing and walking toward Norton.

"What?" asked Norton, astonished that his peer and friend was giving up so easily. Usually Dan would have been screaming at the boss by then.

"Okay, so both of you get out of here and off the clock. I can't be spending any more money right now. Get out of here," barked the sheriff.

"Um, you bet, sir," answered Dan as he bumped into Norton on his way to the front door. "Oof! Sorry, man," he said as he stuffed a small piece of paper into the other deputy's hand.

End of Chapter Twenty-four

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