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.
Dan was at the counter, waiting for the coffee drinks he'd ordered when Norton walked in.
"You've got to be kidding! Coffee? What the ...?" asked Norton, holding up the note that told him to meet Dan.
But Dan just held up his finger to quiet the man, then used it to point to a booth in the back of the coffee shop while he waited for the barista to finish their drinks.
"Mocha latte, right?" asked Dan as he sat and held out the drink to his friend.
"Oh my God! Okay, yes, but this had better be good," Norton said, taking the offered cup.
"I needed to tell you something and, under the circumstances, I didn't think it was appropriate in front of the boss," explained Dan.
"O-o-oh? And what could that be?"
"Jenkins said he was told by the commissioners to close us down, right?"
"Yeah, what kind of lame-brain idea is that? Don't they know ...?"
"Yes, they do," interrupted Dan.
"Huh? How do you ...?"
"After a little run-in with the sheriff concerning one of the commissioners," explained Dan, thinking back to the day he'd introduced me to Sheriff Jenkins and the name Commissioner Gifford came up, "I made it a point to talk with Gifford. You know, kinda get to know him and have him on our side maybe?"
"Alright! And ...?"
"One day last week I saw him at the deli on Lombard. I was eating a sandwich and he actually came over to me. Anyway, during our conversation he brought up our investigation and he asked how it was going. Then he told me that he and all the commissioners were really worried that we weren't going anywhere with it. At the time I couldn't tell him we were."
"Oh, so that's why they want us to close it down, isn't it?"
"Not even close, my friend," said Dan, leaning over so no one else heard, "He said that the commissioners were pulling for us and wanted to know the minute something developed."
"You're kidding! But that means ..."
"Exactly. Now you know why I didn't want to bring it up in front of the sheriff."
Norton seemed thoughtful for a minute. "Have you thought about what this means, Dan? Why would he blatantly lie to us about something as important as this case, especially just as it was about to break wide open?"
"I know. It kinda sends shivers up and down my spine. I know he's a real bastard sometimes but you don't suppose ...?"
"Oh, I suppose alright. I suppose big time. But I also know we had better tread very carefully from here on out," Norton said.
"Yes, and I plan to make the commissioner very aware of our every move, but I don't think I'll tell him about Jenkins' ultimatum yet. It may be difficult to keep the boss from finding out that we're still on the case, but I, for one, am not giving up. Not after what they tried to do with Denver."
The two talked for a while. Dan told Norton in more detail about the attack and what followed, especially how well the boys handled it, including little Denver.
"Would it be too much to ask you to knock first, for Gawd sakes?" said the old man as the younger one stormed into the kitchen unannounced.
"Look, I warned you, but no-o-o; don't listen to him. What does he know?"
"Okay, can we get past the 'I told you so's' so we can decide what our next move is?"
"I can tell you exactly what it should be - just that! We need to move, period. Shut down."
"Now, now, let's slow down. It isn't like they're gonna come stormin' through the door any time soon. We've got time."
"You're kidding. I am not about to be found running out the back door as they're breaking down the front door."
"Good Gawd! Calm down. We'll put an end to this. I have people looking for them now. When we find them, there won't be anything to connect them with us, if you know what I mean," said the old man. "I'm sure we haven't been at this location long enough to cause suspicion."
"It's only a matter of time. We need to get out now."
"Gawd, you are hopeless! It will all work out. Trust me. I haven't been wrong yet."
Many miles away, in an old white van that was putting a great deal of distance between it and the site of the inhabitant's fiasco, the boy was asleep in the passenger seat as the driver, a middle aged man with a reprehensible background and severely misguided morals, tried to think of his next recourse.
As the van approached what appeared to be a weathered combination gas station and diner, he made his decision.
"Wake up, boy. Get up, now!"
"Wha ...? Are we there? What is this place, Gus?" asked the boy, rubbing the sleep from his tired eyes.
"Um, it's just a stop in the road, boy. But we haven't had anything to eat and I need to get gas."
"Oh, yeah. Eating sounds good. I hope they have the good oatmeal stuff. I don't like it when there's nothing on it. Sometimes I even get a spoon of some brown sugar stuff. M-m-m."
"Oh, well, um, you can bet that they have lots more good stuff 'n that here. You take this ten dollars and go in and ask them to feed you while I get the van filled up. Then I'll be right in to eat too."
The boy started rocking in the passenger seat of the old van. His head went almost to his lap and he started to moan.
"What the hell's goin' on over there? You havin' a fit or somethin'?"
"I ... I ... , what do I do in there?" asked the boy in near panic. "What if they know I don't know anything and they kick me and hit me? I don't know what to do? You gotta help me, please. I don't know anybody but you and ... you know, them, back there."
"Oh shit. I forgot. First time away in a while; hell, ever. Okay. I'll go in and order for you while they're filling the van, then I'll go pay up and be back. You good with that?"
"I ... yeah, I suppose. Thank you." The boy was still rocking, but more slowly. His head came up and he stared at the tubes of light that outlined the huge letters 'C-a-f-‚' above the small shack off to the side of the old, two pump gas station. "Neon," he mouthed, "that must be neon." His mind immediately read the words 'an inert gaseous element of the noble gas group, used in fluorescent lamps and advertising signs.'
Gus parked next to the gas pump and waited for the boy to get out of the van. He then grabbed his arm, though not forcefully, to guide the boy into the diner. They easily found a booth since the place was almost empty, except for a greasy man in blue coveralls who turned out to be the gas station attendant. He was just finishing his coffee and pie.
The waitress was a broad woman with a big bosom and a filthy apron but a smile that made the boy relax and smile back, though shyly.
"Now, what'll it be, gents? You both look a little tired and I'm sure you could both use some good home cookin'. Travis in the back is the best in town and we'll have you stuffed and back on the road in a few minutes."
The boy was mesmerized by the woman and her attitude and confidence. Except for pictures, she was the first woman he could remember seeing. But it struck at some memory he had, a memory so long before it was more like feelings, good feelings, than pictures in his mind.
"Uh, I'll be waitin' on the van, Ma'am. You wanna get the boy a hamburger and shake? 'Nilla's okay. I'll be back in to pay after the van's been gassed, if'n that's okay."
"Sure," said the waitress as she smiled her best smile at the boy sitting in the booth looking through glassy eyes at her.
Gus left, looking over his shoulder at the boy as he passed through the door and walked over to the van.
"Well, sugar, it looks like it's just you and me to get acquainted. What's your name, honey?"
"Um, no. My name isn't honey, I don't think. I, uh, I think my name is just boy, ma'am, sir."
"Ma'am, sir? Ha ha ha. TRAVIS! The boy called me ma'am, sir. That's a first. No, sweetheart, you can call me Luanne. And I'll call you ...?" she asked, leading the boy to his name.
"Okay. Oh, my name is just boy, ma ... Oh, no. I'm sorry. Really I meant to say Luanne, ma'am. I'm sorry," said the boy, cringing into the booth a little. Everything was so confusing. She was so nice but he'd seen nice before, right before someone kicked the daylights out of him in the barn, then walked away laughing, leaving him to tend to his own bruises.
"Sweetie, it's all okay. We don't stand on ceremony here. Call me anything you want, now, hear?"
"Yes, Luanne, ma'am. Thank you, sir ... I mean ..."
"You are one nervous youngster. Let's get some good food in you and see if that doesn't put a calm in you, angel."
"There's your hamburger, now," she said, looking over her shoulder at the plate of food as it slid into the pass-through between the diner and the kitchen. "You just wait right here and I'll have good things for you to eat in a minute."
"Luanne, ma'am, I was wondering if it would have some of that brown kind of sugar on it. I had it once or maybe another time too. It sure made that mealy stuff taste so good."
"Ha. You are sure a strange one. Honey, I guarantee that you'll have plenty of sugar in the shake that is coming with your meal."
"Um, shake? I, uh, okay."
'Strange,' thought Luanne, as she walked to the window to get the boy's meal.
"Travis, honey, if I didn't know better, well for sure I don't, but that boy seems to have just come out of the woods or somewhere. He doesn't know whether he's comin' or goin'. Why, looky! He's looking at that knife and fork like he's never seen one before. Lord o' mercy."
The boy looked at the shiny, slightly bent instrument in his hand and turned his mind to looking up what he knew about it. 'O-o-o-h,' he thought. 'Fork, an implement with two or more prongs used for lifting food to the mouth or holding it when cutting.'
His smile at figuring it all out was enough to make Luanne smile again.
"You look like you just ate the canary, young 'un. You figure that all out?"
"Oh, yes, Luanne, ma'am. This is a fork and I already knew this was a knife. I've been cut with sharper ones though."
"You? Ha ha. You are the funniest young man I've had in here in quite a while; a real delight. Now, you sink your teeth into this meal and tell your Aunt Luanne what you think of Travis' cookin'."
She waited while he took a bite.
But he didn't know what to do with the huge mound of steaming meat and bread in front of him. He had his spoon in his hand, ready to dig into the bowl of ... But that wasn't what he was served. He looked up at Luanne and was almost ready to panic.
"You mean you've never had a hamburger before in your whole life?" she asked softly, leaning in to make her seem more understanding somehow.
"Um, no, Luanne, ma'am. I, uh, I had oatmeal and, um, well, oatmeal mostly. Sometimes, if I was real good, but not too often, I'd get two scoops. Do you have any, um ,oatmeal, Luanne, ma'am?"
"Now, angel, you can't pass up a humongous delight like this. You grab that up with both hands, open your mouth really big and just shove in as much as you can and chomp down. It'll warm the cockles of your tender lovin' heart for sure. Just try it once."
"Okay," said the boy, with no assurance in him that what he was about to do would somehow result in his getting his stomach full.
He carefully wiggled his fingers under the sandwich and gripped the top with his thumbs. He looked up at Luanne surprised.
"Wow! It's, uh, hot, like coffee but not."
"Yes, that's what fryin' does to meat. Now raise it right up and bite down a good one, sweetie. You can do it."
And he did. Not all of the juicy burger slipped out the other end of the bread and he did get a big mouthful of the sandwich. He started chewing, then stopped, then started again, looking closely at the burger, then up at Luanne, then at the burger again.
"You can set it down if you like between bites," offered the ever-patient waitress. She wanted to make this the best meal that the boy had ever had, though she didn't really understand why she felt that way. "Well? How was your first bite of hamburger, sweetie?"
"Um, it was, um." The boy was dripping with juices on his hands and face. The taste of meat and tomatoes, even catsup exploded into his mouth in the most confusing battle his immature taste buds had ever known. But what he feared most was the mess in front of him that he made!
"Oh, no." he said when he saw the drips on the table, his hands and in his lap. "Oh no, oh no. What'll I do? I didn't mean to ..." He was getting frantic when he realized the beating he would be getting over making a mess of ...
"Now, don't you worry, honey. I'll get a wash cloth and we'll have you cleaned up in a jiffy."
'She was so different,' thought the boy. 'She never got mad or anything. Even that Travis man never ran out and hit me or anything.' Things just didn't add up in his mind. On one hand he was kind of enjoying the feelings of kindness he was experiencing for the first time. On the other hand, he was also aware of the games the men would play on him, like acting kind for a few minutes, then he'd wake up later with bruises and cuts all over his broken body, pain shooting from everywhere. No, he wasn't ready to let his guard down just yet.
Luanne was back quickly and the boy let her wipe him up clean, something else that he wasn't used to. He flinched every time she started to clean someplace different, until she pulled back his sleeves and saw the scratch marks on his forearms.
"Honey, are you okay? You sure got some scratches there."
"Oh, that. Um, yes, I'll be okay. It's just that, well ... I'll be okay."
"Well, you sure made a mess of that burger, boy," she said, quickly changing the subject. 'But the important question is, did you like it?"
'Now, everyone knows,' thought the boy, 'That I like everything given to me by others, be it food or punishment. Everything, no matter how bad it was. What a silly question.'
"Um, yes, it was, uh, very good thank you."
"Dumplin', you are one strange bird. Tell you what, you try that milkshake and see if it doesn't rock your socks off. Okay?" she said as she walked toward the counter.
"But, Luanne, ma'am, I'm not wearing any socks."
"You are the funniest boy, you know. And cute? I bet you make your mamma proud every day."
His look told her that the word mamma wasn't part of his vocabulary. She still couldn't figure him out.
He did like the shake a lot. He'd had to use a straw a few years back when he'd moved while he was being kicked and his error cost him a broken jaw. So, to taste the pure delight flowing into his mouth was something he savored until Luanne noticed him scrunching up his nose and rubbing his forehead.
"Now, honey, you go slow on that there shake. You'll get brain freeze somethin' awful if you hurry it."
It simply amazed the boy that she was so calm and not at all angry. In fact, he realized he'd been staring at her for a minute until his head stopped throbbing and he accidently poked himself with the end of the straw.
"Strange, that one, Travis. Stra-a-ange. I'm gonna talk to his partner when he comes back in. There's something ..."
But the one that came in was the gas station attendant, rubbing his hands on a greasy towel which he stuck in his pocket before sitting at his perch at the counter and waiting for a fresh cup of coffee.
"Billy Joe, that man comin' back in soon? I got some questions I'd like to ask ..."
"Hell, no. He and that boy took off in a hurry that'a way 'bout five minutes ago. They was sure ..."
"He what? They never left!" said Luanne, pointing at the boy enjoying the last dregs of his shake with that slurping sound it makes when the glass is empty.
The boy looked up and smiled, feeling at peace in the most wonderful place on the planet that he could think of.
"What!" exclaimed Billy Joe as he swung around and noticed the boy smiling at him.
"Now, let's not panic. I'm sure there's a perfectly good explanation for this," said Luanne.
It looked like she might have two boys going into panic-mode. She walked over to the younger of the two and sat beside him.
"Honey, don't fret none, hear? Either he'll be back or we'll call your folks and figure out how to get you to where you belong. Okay?"
"My folks? I don't know what they are, Luanne ma'am. I also don't know where we were headed." He'd never had a slang dictionary so the words 'folks' and 'mamma' were foreign to him.
"Oh, you don't. Why doesn't that surprise me? Well then, where did you come from?"
"Oh," answered the boy, his head looking down into his lap. "I, uh, I don't think I'm supposed to say that. It wasn't very nice."
"Does it have anything to do with those scratches?"
"Um, ye ... um, well, I don't think I'm supposed to say that either."
"Well, let's just call and see if someone is missing you. What city are you from?"
"That's what I thought."
Luanne walked over to the wall phone by the cash register and dialed 911.
"Betty Lou, this isn't an emergency and, no, I don't want to know how much my gas bill is; not this time anyway. I got a young 'un was left in here just a few minutes ago. (Pause.) Oh, maybe seventeen or eighteen, boy, white with pretty brown hair and eyes. He's a real sweetie, you know, but it's like he's just landed on our planet. He didn't have the slightest idea how to eat a burger of all things. (Pause.) I know! That's what I'm gettin' at. Anyway, he was abandoned. The jerk just drove off without him. (Pause.) Oh, that. An old beat up white van with those little round windows in the back on the sides, you know. Yeah."
Luanne turned to face away from the boy when she and Betty Lou were discussing whether to dispatch a sheriff's deputy or not.
The boy was curious about the phone call. Most of the ones he'd ever heard meant nothing to him. In fact, he was usually being hurried out to the barn when that thing, oh, a telephone rang it's bell or when the old man made a call out.
But when he heard the word 'sheriff' in the next sentence, his ears perked up. Something about the sheriff in a story he'd read wearing a gold star with six points instead of five like the stars on the flag. He even tried to draw a picture of what it looked like. It was shortly after that when he noticed just such a shiny gold star pinned to the loop of the belt on the pants of 'that man'; the man he had grown to fear and hate, even more than the old man.
"Oh, Betty Lou, he's adorable. But he has scratches on his arms and he says he isn't supposed to say where he's from or what they'd been up to. No good, if you ask me. But just look at him; he's so ... Oh my Gawd! Travis, Billy Joe, where'd that boy take off to?"
"He cain't o' gone far. I'll run after him, whichever way he took off to," said Billy Joe, running out the door just as a car pulled up to a pump. "Oh, shit!"
The boy knew that no good would come to him if the sheriff came to get him. He slowly stood up and went for the door, then returned, laid the ten dollars on the table and glanced at Luanne's back, smiling sadly.
It was getting cold out as he walked along the dark road. Surrounded by pitch black and cold, he was scared. Everything had gone wrong until they got to that eating place. 'Oh a café,' thought the boy. 'A coffeehouse, restaurant, or bar. French' something.' He couldn't remember. He was too cold and scared.
He heard sounds that were unlike the sounds he heard in the barn at night. He only knew the sounds of his animals, his friends and he was beginning to miss them. 'Who would feed them tonight?' His eyes started to water just as he noticed his body making a long shadow in front of him. He turned to see a vehicle approaching. He started to get excited, then realized it was still at least twice as far as the fence posts at the other side of the farm from him.
But soon enough the car was much closer.
'Sure would be nice to be warm again.' It was even colder than in his cot when they took the blanket away. He looked toward the car but he had no concept of waving, certainly not thumbing for the car to notice him. So, it sailed by without slowing.
Ten minutes seemed like twenty and the only thing he could think to do was recite pages from one of his books.
A SHIFTING REEF
The year 1866 was signalised by a remarkable incident, a mysterious and puzzling phenomenon, which doubtless no one has yet forgotten. Not to mention rumours which agitated the maritime population and excited the public mind, even in the interior of continents, seafaring men were particularly excited. Merchants, common sailors, captains of vessels, skippers, both of Europe and America, naval officers of all countries, and the Governments of several States on the two continents, were deeply interested in the matter.
Just as his mind's eye was beginning to whisk through the first few pages of one of his favorite tales, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, he noticed his shadow again.
He looked back, thinking maybe he should signal the driver someway. He had decided to just wave at the car when it actually pulled over and came to a stop right next to him. It was a pretty red car that looked huge to the boy. He noticed a big scrape on the side that left a nasty white mark all the way along the side. Other than that, it was sure pretty. His heart leaped as he felt the warm air when the passenger window rolled down all by itself.
A pleasant looking man was at the wheel and had a smile just like Luanne had back at the café. He even smiled to the man.
"Son, this is no place to be so late at night, and so cold too. How about you hopping inside and we'll get you warm and a nice place to spend the night?"
There was a click and the boy jumped when the lock popped up on the door frame. He and the man laughed as he grabbed the door handle and hurried into the warm car. Of course, to him everything was so much more wonderful than he could imagine. So too were the feelings he experienced as he settled into what must have been a very expensive car. He barely noticed the leather and wood interior before his exhaustion got the best of him and he drifted into a peaceful sleep, content for only the second time in, well, forever.
The man looked over at the boy and smiled, then patted the boy's leg. When the boy made no signs of waking, the man took his cell phone from his breast pocket and hit the speed dial.
"Yeah, it's me. I got him. I'll be there in about four or five hours, maybe longer. I'm pretty tired. He won't give me any trouble. If he does, I'll just put him in the trunk."
The man laughed hard then quickly looked at the sleeping boy to see if he stirred.
"It's okay. He's out for a while. He might not even wake up until we get there, Mr. Jenkins," he said to the old man on the other end of the connection before he hit 'End' and put the phone back into his pocket.
After a few minutes the man turned up the volume on his police scanner to cut through the boredom he was feeling.
"SP35 to Dispatch, we found the van in question."
"Dispatch to SP35, is it confirmed?"
"10 - 4, Dispatch."
"How do you know, Burt?"
"Sp35 to Dispatch, oh we know Betty Lou, we know."
The man smiled to himself and turned down the scanner.
The deputy sheriff looked over at his partner who shook his head. His hand was already bloody from the result of the fresh bullet wound that had blown off the side of the driver's head.
"Looks like it got side swiped into that tree then he was shot. Yup. Looks like it was super professional alright. Red paint on the side, here and here."
The boy's lips moved as he tried, in his deep, peaceful sleep, to recall the taste of that ... oh, yeah, milkshake he had enjoyed so much. M-m-m, milkshake, 'A whipped iced dairy drink, usually chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry.'
End of Chapter Twenty-five