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.
The cleanup at the farm and the disbanding of all the police units involved seem to drag on forever. I stuck around for some but, after promising Dan to come into town for a debriefing in the morning, we decided I was needed with the boys more than at the farm.
Finding a place that sold ice cream at that time of night was a chore. I finally found a convenience store that was open and had a small assortment of ice cream bars. I bought a couple boxes of each.
My greeting wasn't as spectacular with Dan's boys, once they saw the ice cream treats, as it was with my two and with Ralph, who was looking over my shoulder.
Just as the boxes of ice cream left my hand I had two arms full of a twelve year old. Jeffy was right beside us as we made our way into the kitchen.
"Ralph, everything is fine, but your dad was commanding this whole event so he'll be the last to leave, unfortunately. I think you'll do well to see him in the morning."
"Dad, is everything good? Ralph wouldn't tell us anything. I didn't believe him about the dessert part either."
"What?" said Jeffy laughing. "Is that why you asked Ralph what kind of dessert Pop was getting. What a little goof ball."
"Okay, then, maybe just for a while I believed it. What kind did you get?"
"You are so funny, AJ. Go look and we can talk about something very important while you guys enjoy your desserts."
As my two moved away I was met with a nine year old with a sad look on his face.
Denver asked, "Is he hurt bad?"
I knew who he meant. He already knew that his Dad was fine, I'm sure Ralph wouldn't hold out on the boys about that. He wanted to know about 'his' boy, the one he wanted his dad to protect.
"Denver, you are so caring. Why don't you pick out an ice cream bar and let's all sit down and I'll tell you all at one time, okay?"
"'Kay," he said. His eyes lit up a bit and his smile was big enough to see his dimples in either cheek.
When everyone was either sitting or standing around the table I told them what I could without going into any gory details. Ralph and Jeffy would hear more later, but not the younger ones; there was no need.
"Let's just say that there were three bad guys and they are no longer a threat to anyone, especially kids they try to kidnap."
"They all dead?" asked Jacob.
That put an intense look on every face, staring at me, anticipating my answer.
"Okay, yes, they are, Jacob. And, because of the great job your dad did, no one else was injured except for a few glass slivers on three of the men."
"No one?" asked Denver.
"One of the men took the boy with him and drove to Mr. Harding's house and had them both up in the attic. Mr. Harding was one of the ones that got cut with glass.
"Oh no, Dad! Is he going to be okay? Can we go see him?" AJ was hanging on my arm waiting for my answer.
"AJ, calm down, son. He's just fine. All his injuries were very minor. But he groaned and argued when they told him he had to go into the hospital overnight at least, until they threatened to sedate him if he didn't behave."
"Wow! What's sedate?" asked AJ, much relieved that his good friend would be just fine.
"Like knock out pills, AJ," explained Ralph.
"Yes, or a shot in the butt that makes you sleepy and calm," I added.
"Ouch! The butt?" laughed Enrique.
"Anyway, the one that was hurt the most was your boy, Denver."
Denver gasped as did Melvin and AJ.
"Son, it was because they whipped him before your dad got there. He'd been whipped before. I promise that he'll be fine. He was doing fine and was taken to the hospital before I left."
I didn't say that he was still unconscious, but the EMT's said it didn't look like any of his wounds were life threatening.
"And, he'll be okay? When can we go see him?" asked Denver.
"Whoa. Don't get all excited about going up there in the near future. He's going to need at least a few days to recover. Then he's got a lot of explaining to do to your dad and the rest of the deputies about how he fit into all this."
"But don'tcha see? He was made to do that stuff. He didn't want to. That's how come they hurt him because he told them no and they hurt him." Denver was so sure of his answer. I could see it pasted all over him; his face, his posture, everything told me he was sure.
"I believe you too, son. Your dad just needs to hear it from the boy too."
"What's his name, Dad? We can't keep calling him boy, can we?" asked AJ.
"Well, I don't think anyone has asked him yet. We're not sure about the names of two of the bad guys yet either."
"Yeah, but they're gonna be a lot harder to ask now, huh, Sarge?"
"Yes. Very perceptive, Jacob," I said sarcastically.
"Ralph, I think that my boys and I will stay here tonight. That way I'll be here too since your dad isn't back yet. Boys, why don't you all go get ready for bed. My boys, you can just wear your T-shirts and underwear to bed for one night, okay? Ralph, we need to figure out where we're going to sleep."
"Jeffy can sleep with me in my room," called out Enrique. Then he got a little shy but everyone understood about their new friendship and the wonderful way it had all come about.
I looked over at my AJ and he had on his best proud smile with his chest pushed out a little. After all, he'd done a lot to square things up between the two when he made a few things clear to Enrique earlier in the evening. Yeah, how could I help but be proud of him?
"Okay, and I can sleep on the couch," offered Ralph, "You and AJ can sleep in my bed if that's alright."
"Huh? No way!" said AJ. He blushed too until I let out a loud laugh and told the boys that I didn't blame him.
Ralph and Jeffy stayed up a bit longer than the others and I went into more detail about what happened at the farm.
"Wow, Pop. So that's why they called you to come over there. I never woulda guessed that," said Jeffy, loud enough that I had to quiet him a little.
"Yes, but don't let on to the other boys, guys. I would never want to be held up as a hero or someone special because I took someone's life," I said.
"Ha! Too late, Pop! But not cuz you killed him, but just because you could shoot so good from that far away."
"Yeah, Tim, that must have been an awesome feeling to be so accurate at such a distance," added Ralph.
"Well, guys, I'll have to say that none of that really registered when I pulled the trigger knowing that another person's life would end by my actions. It was the first and, I hope, the last time I have to make that kind of decision."
I could see some of the air drain out of their sails as they thought about what I'd said. The sheriff was the only living thing I have ever shot at, much less killed. In all the time I was in Iraq, my team had only wounded two of the enemy and Lenny had to kill one to protect his comrades.
"Still, I was thankful that my actions spared lives that were definitely in jeopardy at the time."
"Ye-e-ah," said Jeffy.
The morning dawned too early for some sleepy boys and Dan and I decided to let them sleep for another hour. We each drove a group of them to either school and went in to give the office excuses for their late start. I played it down and Dan said he tried but the principal of the high school came out to talk to him, luckily after the boys had gone to class. It seems his brother-in-law was on the SWAT team and mentioned that Dan was commanding the raid against the county's sheriff.
"I thought he'd never stop talking about it. At least he had the good sense to take it into his office where it wouldn't spread all over the school. It'll get out soon enough as it is."
I'd spent the rest of the morning at the sheriff's office, debriefing with the others that were on Dan's team the night before. Debriefing - I thought that was all in the past. I sure didn't miss it.
"So, Dan, the county needs a new sheriff, if for no longer than it takes to get an election organized. Will it be you?" I asked.
All the guys looked at Dan, except for Norton, who looked down at the table and gripped his coffee mug.
"No. Norton and I had talked about it before and we'd decided that we'd approach the commissioners and see what they thought."
"But they'll ask you for your recommendation," said one of the men.
"Yes, and if it's okay with you guys, I'd like to recommend Norton here as our new sheriff. You all know he'll do a good job and, quite frankly, he doesn't have any kids to tie him down like I do."
I thought Norton looked a little worried about the others' responses, especially when there was several seconds of silence before,
"Great idea!" "I agree, wholeheartedly!" "Here, here!"
It was nice to see Norton's persona perk up every time someone responded to Dan's choice.
"Thanks, guys. I promise that I will never behave rudely or like ..."
"An asshole!" shouted one of the guys.
"Well, I wasn't going to use that exact phrase, but, yes, you're right on."
The room was suddenly electric as all the guys started bantering back and forth and slapped Norton on the shoulder to congratulate him. He seemed very proud.
I tried to slip out but Dan motioned for me to hold up.
"I want to go over to the hospital to check on the boy this afternoon. I'm also having Ms. Cottington meet us there. Even though we think he's too old for the system, we can't be sure and I don't want to flub up something by not having him have an ambassador there to take care of his interests. I wanted to know if you want to tag along."
"Good idea, I suppose, but surely you can't still think he was involved in all that."
"Tim, I have to go by protocol and it says to cover all bases. After all, he was most certainly the man that attempted to kidnap Denver and he was living at the farm for how many years, in the midst of all the kids coming and going."
"Yeah, and he was hanging from those ropes in the barn, and he was whipped to within an inch of his life, and who knows how many times and for how many years," I added a little indignantly.
"Okay, okay. Don't get your panties in a bunch! I agree with you, but I still have to do my job so no one else will come down on the boy later."
"By the way, do you know his name yet? We can't keep calling him boy."
"No, but I did find out that the hospital might be able to do a DNA test faster than the crime lab can. We might have results in only a few days."
"Well that would be great. And by the way," I asked my friend.
I leaned in and whispered into his ear, before I made my getaway through the front doors, "How did you know I was wearing panties?"
It wasn't until I'd reached the bottom step that I heard a loud enough guffaw that it would have put Jeb's outbursts to shame.
I met Dan in the hospital lobby after asking the Couches, Stewart's parents, to make sure AJ and Jeffy got home okay. It would mean a separate trip to the high school but they were only a couple of miles apart.
There was a police officer sitting in a chair outside of the room where the boy was. I looked at Dan as we approached.
"Just protocol, Tim. He has orders not to go in. I don't want to frighten the boy any more than he already is. And certainly the boy isn't going anywhere in his condition."
Just as we approached and the officer got to his feet and shook Dan's hand, a doctor came out of the room with a nurse behind him.
The officer introduced Dan as the deputy in charge of the case concerning the patient. Then Dan introduced me as a friend. When that didn't get the reaction we wanted from the doctor, enough to give me the right to be there, he leaned in and whispered something to the doctor. The doctor then nodded as though he understood and held out his hand to shake mine.
"Doctor Strauss. Pleased to meet you both. Good job, Sergeant. I was with the 212th Combat Support Hospital in Pakistan to support the 2005 Kashmir earthquake relief operations some years ago. I don't envy your role in this."
"Thank you, but my concern now is for the welfare of the boy. How is he doing?"
The doctor shook his head and noticed our concern.
"Oh, I'm sorry. He's doing really well for what he's been through. My head shaking was because I don't think I'd ever seen anything like what he's been through on one person's body. When he regained consciousness this morning, I had him down to x-ray for his back. The x-ray technician called me when he looked at the x-rays to see if they were clear. He said there were signs of trauma and old wounds that looked very old. We decided to x-ray his entire body at that point. They looked like a poorly made jigsaw puzzle when I saw them a little while ago. This boy has had many broken bones and deep scarring. I've never seen anything like it."
I heard something behind me and saw the nurse walk quickly away with a hand to her mouth. She tried to keep her crying quiet but it was clear to all of us that she was overcome by the knowledge of what her patient had gone through. I couldn't blame her.
"Doctor, are any of his injuries permanent or disabling in any way?" I asked.
"Let's go sit in the waiting room for a minute. To answer your questions, though, they don't have to be."
After we sat down, he went over some of the major problems that the boy had incurred. "I saw what must have been a broken jaw bone. It healed well enough. He's had several cracked ribs, most of which were recent. When I say recent, I think I saw five that could be no more than a year or two old. That's only a guess, of course. Either way, this boy has seen more than his share of injuries. He has two places that could be a problem later, one of them is almost a certainty. He'll need surgery to repair those two places and I would recommend that we do it sooner than later, even while he's recovering. Both places are on his torso so he'll be in a body cast for the summer. If he isn't treated there, he could be permanently disfigured in time and in even more pain than they are causing him now."
Just then we looked up to see Linda Sue Cottington standing over us with the doctor's nurse.
"Ms. Cottington, good to see you again," said the doctor.
"Yes, it is, Dr. Strauss, especially under these circumstances."
"These circumstances?" asked Dan.
"Hi, Dan, Sergeant. Yes, Dr. Strauss has been seeing our kids for years and done some phenomenal things to help some of our children lead normal lives after being abused and, as in this case, beaten severely."
"Ms. Cottington and I have already been on the phone together about the boy. We know that you could easily take him into custody, Deputy, but we'd like to proceed with his surgeries before then."
"Quite honestly, doctor, Linda Sue, I don't think there is much chance that we'll be holding him after we interview him. Even my foster son, the boy he tried to kidnap, says the boy didn't want to do what he was trying to do and that he even apologized to Denver, my boy. He also told me that the boy could have easily overpowered my other son Melvin and taken Denver without much trouble, but he chose to run instead."
"That's a relief, Dan," said Linda Sue. Then she looked at me with a slight smile. "And, Tim, is this boy another of your little one's projects as well? Is AJ out to save him too?"
"I'm sure that if Denver wasn't so adamant about the boy's outcome, that AJ would step in and tell us what for," I said with a laugh.
'Well, people, I need to do some scheduling, then. I know that it doesn't seem fair to the boy to be put through more misery but quicker is better than waiting and this way he only has to go through one recovery for his contusions and these surgeries. He will be in a body cast, like I said and, because of his back, which I will keep open as much as possible to promote healing, he'll be confined to lying on his stomach for a while."
"Thank you, Dr. Strauss, for spending time with us and explaining everything," said Dan, holding out his hand as we stood to let the doctor go.
"Oh, think nothing of it. These kids are my life too," he said, looking at Linda Sue with a nice smile. "They deserve the best care, especially the ones that come in here as this young man, having gone through their own hell at the hands of some very wicked people. I just don't get it, especially when it comes from the child's family.
"Oh, there is one other thing. We don't know his name yet and I hate to call a child John Doe or something if they can hear it. But when I asked him his name he only knew himself as boy. Very strange. Ms. Cottington is working on that, right, Linda Sue?"
"Right, doctor. No success yet of course. I'm sure we'll have to rely on anything Dan's people find at the house or the DNA your lab comes back with."
"That's right. I'll make sure they're on top of that downstairs and let each of you know when we have something. We can do the search of the FBI's national database here. While that will be quick and convenient, the initial analysis may take a few days."
"Not a problem. Thank you again, doctor."
He turned to walk away, then snapped his fingers and turned back toward us.
"One more thing I forgot. The boy doesn't react well to men right now. It's obvious that men were responsible for his beatings. He almost fell in love with Nurse Flora though."
He indicated the nurse standing next to Linda Sue, who was still dabbing her eyes with a tissue and smiling at us. I found out later how much she reminded the boy of his Luanne Ma'am.
"I think I'll assign a female intern to see him for the most part. He did react to me so, while I'll still see him once a day, I think he needs to have some reassurance and build some self-esteem before he's inundated by male figures right now. Hopefully, by insinuating into his space a little at a time and being very positive and supportive, he'll relax around me."
"How about Tim and I seeing him now, Doctor? Will that be okay?"
"Oh, sure, deputy, but he's sedated after getting twisted and bent for his x-rays. I wouldn't plan on talking to him until maybe tomorrow afternoon."
The doctor left and we went in with Nurse Flora.
"Oh, he's so adorable. It just breaks my heart when I think of the pain he was in and how much he's been through," said the nurse.
"It's always horrible to think about how much children go through under these conditions. I'm just glad we were able to save this one from certain ... well, I'm sure he wouldn't have survived much longer," said Dan.
The boy was lying on his chest on a flat bed with the rails up on both sides. His arms were at his side and there was a sheet over him. He seemed peaceful in his sleep as well.
"Doesn't that sheet rub against his wounds?" asked Linda Sue as we stood on either side of the sleeping youth before us.
"No, some of his wounds needed stitches and some are covered in bandages, so there's room for air to get between him and the sheet. Besides, he has a drip that is taking away the pain right now and helping him to sleep and another feeding him. He's probably a lot more comfortable now than he has been in a very long time, considering," explained Nurse Flora.
"Can we see his back, nurse?"
"Okay, but I warn you, it isn't pretty and I've seen lots of trauma in my days here," she said as she slowly pulled down the sheet from his neck to just about halfway uncovering him rump.
Linda Sue gasped and I wanted to look away.
His bottom was almost completely covered in bandages and his back had some bandages, but mostly we could see the damage that was done to him there.
"There are whip marks on his legs also but they're not as severe as his back and bottom."
I think the bruising looked as hideous as any new cuts to his skin. His back was a zigzag of old scars, topped by new, red welts that had swelled. The yellow soap they used, along with the same yellow that old bruises leave made his coloring even worse looking.
"Ah. I've never," said Linda Sue rather loudly.
Her outburst caused the boy to twitch slightly causing Linda Sue to react again. Her hand went to her mouth as she hurried out of the room. The nurse was close behind.
In the time it took Dan and I to cover up the boy's back and walk out to find Linda Sue, they had made their way to the same waiting room we had been in. The nurse was coming back with tissues for both of them as we approached.
"Gentlemen, please excuse my sudden outburst. I've seen the results of severe beatings, as close to this or maybe even worse, one in which the youngster never regained consciousness. For some reason, this one struck a nerve I didn't know I had," she said, with a laugh as though she were as surprised as we were by her reaction.
"I can't imagine what you've seen, Linda Sue. As you know, Denver had some bruising when he came to me, but nothing like this young man's," Dan said.
"I'm sure it was just a surprise, though I was told in some detail what to expect. I guess I can't really say why I behaved like that."
"Well, maybe in time, we'll understand why," I added to encourage her.
We all left shortly after that. Dan and I both had boys at home by that time, but we'd both decided to downplay the boy's injuries until we all went to visit him, probably when he was out of surgery. By then Dan hoped any question of his involvement would be put to rest.
Linda Sue wanted to be there when we came back with the boys to meet our recovering patient. She also said she'd be with him when Dan questioned him.
As we were walking out of the hospital I remembered Jeb and his overnighter there. I felt bad that I hadn't thought or asked about him the entire time we were there.
"Dan, I need to go back in and see if Jeb is still here."
"Okay. Let him know that I'll be calling on him to find out about what went on at his place. And let me know when he's being released, please."
I asked at the Information Desk and got his room number. I even lied and said I was his son or I don't think they would have let me up to see him. 'Then again, anyone that came in, that the staff could push him off on, might be to their benefit,' I thought, chuckling to myself.
And as I rounded the corner on his floor and saw his room number my suspicions were laid to rest.
"....but when? I'm perfectly fine. Now get me my pants or I'm walkin' as is, breeze in back and all, young lady!"
As I walked in it got even better.
"Ah! Tim, just in time. They won't release me until I have someone to take me from this godforsaken place and make sure I'm okay for a few days. Nurse, nurse, this is my neighbor and good friend, Retired Sergeant Tim McGill. He's strong and young and even has two boys that can help. Now, please, can I go?"
"I keep telling you, Mr. Harding, I can't make that decision. It's up to your doctor. I think he's on rounds so he should be coming by shortly." The nurse was busy straightening some things on the other side of the room. She was about twenty-five, attractive and talking very sweet to the man in the bed who I'm sure had made quite an impression on everyone on the staff, as well as everyone on the whole floor. Then she turned and took about three steps until she could bend down and look right into his eyes. "Until then," she continued with an even sweeter sound to her voice, "if you don't stay in that bed I'll have orderlies in here in about one minute to strap you down. And if that doesn't keep you quiet, we'll take you over to the children's section where they have the right to whine like a little child, Mr. Harding." She finished, emphasizing his name.
He looked like he was trying to push back farther into the bed. His look was one of fear, but I could tell he was acting as well as he did when he complained.
After she left he immediately turned to me and smiled, reaching for my arm to emphasize the pleasure he was having.
"I think she's my favorite so far. She doesn't take anything from me. I had one sweet little thing in tears last night. I had the florist here send her a bouquet of a variety of carnations. Haven't seen her since, though."
"Well, you look good. I can see you're getting your exercise by running everyone else ragged."
"Yes, it's just my way, don'tcha know. I'm sure they think they died and gone to heaven when they find out they get to come in here and listen to me rant and rave. What do you think?"
"I think you're probably right, but I think you got the timing wrong. It's when they leave you that they think they'd died and gone to heaven."
"Ha ha ha! I think so too. I'll probably have to buy up a flower stand and send it here to all of them. But I was pretty nice to the doctor when he saw me last night."
"Pretty nice? As nice as you are to AJ, Jeffy and me?"
"Oh come on. I reserve that for my special friends. But I was civil enough.
"So, Tim, I really was wondering if you could drive me home when it's time. It should be today. The doctor said there were very few cuts that amounted to more than scratches. Still, he did stitch up about three in my neck and arm," he said, pulling back the sleeve of his Johnny to show me an example.
And who should walk in right then but Jeb's doctor. He looked pretty young but I could tell immediately that he had Jeb figured out and wasn't taking anything from the old fart. Still, he had a twinkle in his eye that gave away his liking for my friend and neighbor.
"Dr. Hastings," he said, walking directly to me. "And you are ...?"
"Doc, this is my neighbor, Sergeant Tim McGill, that I told you about. His truck is pretty old but it'll be fine to take me home in. Whadda ya say, doc? Please?"
"Mr. Harding, it won't do any good for you to cry anymore," said the doctor with a wink toward me. I believe Jeb had met his match and I got to see the winning goal.
"Cry? Why I ..."
"Yes, that poor nurse said she was so sad because you were in such a state last night that it made her cry just to see you that way."
"ME? I ... Well I never! I'll have you know ..."
"Mr. Harding, of course I'm pulling your chain; throwing back a little of what you've been tossing at my staff all day. Frankly, I think the party will commence after you leave. Do you blame them," he asked while scribbling in the chart he'd taken from the front of the patient's bed.
"Humph! Why, I ... Okay," smiled Jeb, giving up on trying to act out an attitude to the man he obviously admired for his endurance. "I guess you win again. But, may I really go soon?"
"Since you asked so nice," the doctor answered, pulling out the sheet he was writing on. "And since you have a ride waiting, I think we can release you."
He handed Jeb his release form.
"God bless ya, young man. You've been a good and fair man all along and I do take kindly to people like you, don't I, Tim?" he said turning to look up at me.
"Yes, well I think ..." I started until,
"Okay, get me my pants, boy. Times a wastin'," he said sitting up on the edge of the bed.
"I've written out some instructions along with prescriptions for an antibiotic and some pain meds, just in case. Finish the whole course of the antibiotic and just rest for a few days. Now, I had the choice of stitches that dissolved or the kind I take out and I decided on the kind I needed to take out."
"So come back in a week and we'll continue the fun. I'll let you rant and rave in vain a few minutes more." It was all he could do to keep from laughing.
Jeb was about ready to come back at him when he saw the laughter in the doctor's eyes, then he immediately relaxed and smiled back.
"You really are a piece of work. I can't get anything by you, can I?"
"Maybe not, sir, but you've certainly kept me on my toes for the three times I've been in here."
"Tell me, do you see patients as a family practice or primary care doctor?"
"No, not yet. I may go that route in a few years but I'm still cutting my teeth here. There's a lot to learn to get really good at this doctoring stuff, you know."
"Well, son, I for one think you've come a long way and I'm proud to have met you," he said, holding out his hand to shake the doctor's.
"Oh my god, nurse, get the crash cart! I think he's going into fibrillation!" said the doctor, though not loud enough to be heard outside the room. Besides, he was smiling through the whole thing.
"Smart ass! Forget everything I said," retorted Jeb, smiling just as big when the doctor took his hand and shook it.
We had to wait for the ever-necessary orderly with the wheelchair, which Jeb protested about of course, until the orderly turned to leave without his patient.
The drive home was quiet for about ten minutes until Jeb just started to talk about his time with the sheriff in his attic. He spoke kind of softly, like he was deep in thought though he answered the few questions I had during his story.
There were orange cones across the driveway of the farmhouse across the way from Jeb's, a sole deputy's car farther along the driveway and I could see yellow tape closer to the house, but it was a ways from the road. I don't think Jeb even looked over there. He looked tired.
I walked Jeb into his house and made sure he'd have everything he needed, at least until dinnertime when I invited him over. I said I'd send the boys over for him at that time.
AJ must have lost all his adrenalin by the time he and Jeffy got home escorting Jeb to eat with us. I can imagine that both Jeb's and Jeffy's ears were on fire by then. We had a quiet meal with a story or two from our friend.
"That reminds me. I need to call some place in the Midwest tomorrow. Something about my daughter," he told us. "Nothin' important I'm sure."
The following day when I met Dan at the hospital earlier than the day before, we found Linda Sue waiting for us by the boy's door and, after exchanging a few pleasant words went in to see the boy. His curtain was drawn and a nurse explained from the other side that she was just changing some of his bandages and it wouldn't be a minute.
"Could you ask him if we can get him anything, like to drink or maybe a dessert," asked Linda Sue. "Something special since we may be here for a while and it might get boring for him."
We heard the nurse mumble something to the boy.
"Oh? You know about milkshakes?" asked the nurse in a more normal volume. "I think we have a winner. He would like a milkshake, please, a white one. I suppose that means vanilla."
"Wonderful. Guys, do you want anything? I may buy some cookies to go with this. I was thinking of a coffee or tea."
"I would and I'll go with you, Linda Sue," I said.
Dan agreed and we all went down to the cafeteria and ordered.
When we returned the nurse was just coming out of the room. She was the same nurse as the day before. She was shaking her head at us.
"If he isn't about the sweetest, shyest young man I have ever met. Do you know that everything we served him to eat was new to him except the oatmeal this morning? Even that had granola on it and you'd think he'd found some Turkish Delight. He went on and on about how it was even better than having 'that brown sugar stuff', as he called it, on his oatmeal. But everything is such a challenge to him. It's like he knows lots of information, even has a good vocabulary, but has no idea about the real world. Where did he come from, if I may ask?"
Dan answered," Well, that's what we're here to determine. We have no idea about where he's from or who he is. We don't even know his name."
"Boy is all he could tell me. That's pretty strange in itself, though I've read of other cases where that's happened."
"Is it okay if we go in now? Maybe you should be the one to introduce us. You seem to be high on his list of good people," said Dan.
"I will have to say that he was very shy and even scared when the doctor met him, even more so when a male orderly came to take him to x-ray. Since then, we've tried to keep a female in attendance so he'd be able to relax."
"Hm-m-m, well, let's just play it by ear then and we'll leave if things start to go south," Dan said, looking at me.
"I know," said Linda Sue. "It's a small thing but, Dan, why don't you offer him the milkshake."
"Not a bad idea."
Dan took the drink from her and we all went into the boy's hospital room.
The nurse bent down a bit to see that his eyes were closed.
"Oh, well, he might have drifted off while ..."
"Um, no, ma'am, I'm just resting my eyes a bit. I'm not asleep," said the boy. "Oh, I'm sorry I interrupted you too."
"That's nice of you to say. You certainly are a polite young man. I have some friends here that I'd like to introduce to you."
"M ...my friends? I, uh, I don't know anyone." He seemed a little shook up and instantly sounded confused.
"No, sweetheart. These are my friends and friends of Dr. Strauss. But I'm sure they want to be your friends too."
"They do?" he said, trying to look behind him where we were standing.
"Come around, folks, and meet one of the nicest people on our planet," said Nurse Flora with a huge smile.
When we came around he immediately cringed when he saw Dan and me. We knew it had to be because of his distrust of men in his life up to then.
Dan knelt down so he was at the same height as the boy.
"Son, we mean you no harm, in fact, Sergeant McGill and I are part of the team of people that saved you from that farm and those bad men that kept hurting you all the time."
"You, you are?" said the boy to Dan, then shifted his eyes to look at me.
I tried to smile my best smile and nodded my head.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, young man. I'm just so sorry we were unable to get there in time to save you from this last beating."
"Oh, it's okay. I'm kind of used to it. You know, after a while you just push the pain out of your head so you can take more, right?"
His words shocked me because he said it as though he was telling us something that everyone knew and experienced all the time.
But it must have shocked Linda Sue even more. She gasped when he said that, her hand going to cover her mouth and soon her eyes were filling with tears.
"Did I say something wrong again? I seem to do that a lot. I, um, well, I don't know a lot of people and the ones I do ... well, did know usually did all the talking at me. I'm sorry to have upset you, ma'am."
"And I'm sorry for reacting. I just hate to know that someone, anyone could have had to endure what you have been through for so long."
"Thank you, ma'am. That's very kind of you to say."
Linda Sue had a puzzled look on her face when she looked up at me. I didn't know at the time what she was thinking. That would come later.
"Well, my boy, you asked for a milkshake and that's what we brought. Can I hold it for you? I don't think you'll be sitting up for a while."
"Um, well, um okay," he stammered, looking up at Nurse Flora for help. He was obviously still frightened of us, at least Dan and me.
"May I say something to him?" I asked Dan.
"Of course," he said and stood up.
I knelt down as Dan had done and the boy cringed a bit before he opened his eyes and looked into mine. I wanted with all my heart to convey our acceptance of this unfortunate boy, whoever he was. It didn't matter.
"It hasn't been a couple of months since I took in a young boy, a few years younger than you. He'd been beaten several times by some bullies where he lived and he was on his own and on the streets for much of his life. He was pretty scared of me then too, just like you are, because he didn't trust anyone, especially adults that could hurt him. But he finally accepted me and now we live together and soon he will be my son. In fact we just took another boy into our family that had lived much like my little guy. We're all so happy, just as we here are all so happy that you are now safe and won't have to endure anymore pain." I thought I was talking over his head a bit so I started to explain. "Endure means to ... "
"One, to suffer something painful or difficult, patiently. Two, to tolerate someone or something."
We were all a bit taken back by what he'd just recited, though only Linda Sue caught on to what that meant about the boy.
"Um, yes, exactly," I said, looking at my friends standing over me. "That's perfect. Just like it came from ..."
"Webster's New World College Dictionary, reprinted 1996," said the boy. "Oh, I'm sorry, sir. I didn't mean to interrupt." He was getting a little upset.
Linda Sue scooted me over and knelt beside the boy. He immediately smiled and I thought that she must have lost her balance by the way she reacted. Her mouth opened but the words took a second before they came out.
"I, oh my, I want you to know that it is finally okay for you to say anything and everything that's on your mind. In fact, if there are thoughts or feelings from way back in your life, I want to hear them too. We only want what's best for you from now on. Do you understand what I'm saying? We just want you to think of us as you would think of your own folks."
I could see some regret in her expression when she realized he didn't really have any folks, at least not at that farm. The three men and the boy were the only ones there. Dan had evidently told her that earlier. She smiled softly at the boy and raised her hand to his head and gently played with his thick mop of hair.
"M-m-m, that sure feels wonderful, ma'am."
"Oh, please call me ..." and she stopped in mid-sentence, like she was unable to go on. In fact, she stood up and turned away for a minute.
Dan handed the boy the milkshake, took the paper wrapper off the straw and pushed it into the drink and bent the tip so the boy could enjoy it.
"Um, this is almost as good as the other one I had the other day. It sure was nice and I got it from the nicest ma'am, kind of like you two ma'ams. It is so good."
We let him drink for a bit until Nurse Flora noticed him scrunching up his nose a bit.
"Honey, is there something ...? Oh, drink it slower and you won't get that feeling on the roof of your mouth. Let your mouth get used to the cold before you drink anymore."
"Wow! Do you know, you sound just like Luanne Ma'am at the café when she saw me getting that cold spot too. She said almost the same thing to me. She was as nice as you ma'ams are. I, uh, I guess you sirs are very nice too," he said, bending his head to look down. He was still very shy around Dan and I and who could blame him?
"And I'm sure they want to be your friends as much as the ladies and I do, sweetheart. Now, this man would like to ask you some questions. I have to go for only a little bit but this lady will be with you the whole time"
And Nurse Flora was gone.
"Yes, I will, and if this all gets to be too much for you, we'll just come back another time to finish up, okay?" asked Linda Sue turning back to us and the boy.
"Um, okay I guess. I don't think I'm going anywhere soon," he said, looking back over his shoulder.
"That was very funny. I think I'm going to like being your friend," Dan said with a warm smile.
He grabbed a chair and slid it over to the head of the bed so he could sit at the boy's level.
"This won't take long, I'm sure, but I would really like to know a little about what went on at the farm where we found you. Is that okay?"
"Um, oka-a-ay?" he said looking at Linda Sue for assurance, I suspect.
"It's okay, son. He just wants to know what you know about that horrible place, but don't be afraid to tell him everything. The truth is a very good thing to tell, isn't it?"
"Oh, yes ma'am. I once told him, um, that old man, a lie to save me from a beating and I was beaten worse than when I tell the truth. The truth is much less painful for me."
Again, I noticed Linda Sue shudder. She didn't like to hear him describe what he'd been through.
"Well, let's start with something simple." Dan said. "My name is Dan Perkins."
"Pleased to meet you, sir," said the boy automatically.
"Um, yes, and this man's name is Tim McGill," said Dan, pointing to me.
"And you too, sir. Pleased to meet you."
"And you, son," I replied.
"And this nice lady is Linda Sue Cottington. A long last name but you'll be hearing it a lot so you'll be used to it in no time."
"Shall I just call her Linda Sue Ma'am?"
"Um," Dan looked up at Linda Sue who shrugged her shoulders. "Sure, that would be fine. I told you all our names. Now you get to tell us yours. It's only polite, right?" Dan said smiling.
"Yes, it is. Boy."
"Okay, then." Dan said, waiting for the boy's response.
"What?" asked the boy looking to each of us.
"I asked your name,"
"Well, usually then you say it."
"Yes sir. I said my name was Boy. Is that the wrong answer?" He looked on the verge of tears and was starting to shake just a bit.
Linda Sue reached over and rubbed his head softly and he calmed right down, almost cooing at the feeling of her gentle touch. Once I even saw her turn her hand to look at it before she continued to stroke his head.
"I think Deputy Perkins is asking if you have a name like we do. You know, a first name and then a family name after it."
"Oh, um, not that I know. I was usually called boy, but sometimes they called me stupid and sometimes it was idiot. There were lots of those names. Oh, asshole and jackass too. But mostly they called me Boy."
"Hm-m-m. Then do you know the names of the other men who lived there, at the farm?"
"And they are ..."
"The man that lived there mostly was called old man a lot so I guess that was his name. This really mean man who had a six sided star, he called him other names like they called me sometimes, but he was the only one they all called old man."
"Was the star that the mean man wore like this one?" Dan said reaching into his breast pocket to pull out his service wallet with his badge and ID in it."
"Oh no! You and him are friends? Oh no!"
"No, no, son. We aren't friends. Son, a badge doesn't make someone good or bad. It just tells you that we both worked at the same place. Though it should also tell you that you are protected when you are near someone with one of these," he explained, finally flipping the wallet closed and sliding it back into his breast pocket.
"Protected means keep safe from harm or injury, but that sheriff man hurt me as much as the old man and others did, just like they were having fun."
Again I noticed Linda Sue cringe at the knowledge of what the boy had gone through. She dabbed her eyes with a tissue as Dan went on.
"So, you heard the bad man called sheriff?"
"Yes, once that I can recall; maybe more. Was he a sheriff?"
"Yes he was."
"He isn't now?"
"No, son, he was killed when we came to get you. He was shot while he was trying to hurt more people."
The boy stared at Dan for what seemed like a long time before he mouthed the single word, "Oh." Then he broke down and sobbed.
Again Linda Sue rubbed his scalp soothingly. She also leaned down and spoke softly to him, telling him it was all okay, that he couldn't be hurt by those men anymore and that Dan was a real good sheriff and would protect him like he should have been protected.
As the boy tried to collect himself, Dan told him the same thing.
"I won't let anyone hurt you, Boy. I only want to know these things so we can know you even better. Okay?"
"Yes sir. I believe you are a nice man and so is he, um, Mr.?"
"You may call me Tim. I want to help you too and maybe you could meet my sons someday."
"You have those two boys you talked about? I saw some boys the other day too, but it wasn't a nice thing at all. I ..."
"Those were my sons you met that day," said Dan, not thinking about the reaction it would cause.
The boy almost got up from the bed he was so shocked! The pain I could see on his face must have been excruciating because he immediately flopped back onto the bed and started to cry and try to curl up but that too must have hurt too much.
"Oh no! Oh no! I am so sorry. I didn't want to be there. I didn't want to do that but Gus made me. Honest. He pushed me out and said bad things if I didn't grab that little boy. I am so sorry. I didn't really take him. No, I left him and I ran and we left real quick."
Dan reached to comfort him too, but the boy jerked back.
He was getting incoherent and Dan and I decided he needed a break. Linda Sue began to care for him again, rubbing his hair and talking to him with her voice that was naturally soothing to him. She motioned us toward the door when she had things under control and we both slipped out.
"What will he do to me now that he knows I'm the one that ... the one that tried to take his little boy? I'm so sorry. I really am." The boy was really shaken by Dan's comment that he was the little boy's dad.
"Hush, hush, Boy. Everything will be fine," said Linda Sue, gently rubbing his scalp again. "He already knew you were the one and his little boy even told his daddy that you didn't want to do it."
"Yes, but I ... Um, he did? The little boy knew that? How did he know?"
"Well, it seems that your look told the little boy that you were so sorry for trying to take him and he saw how upset you were and he said that you were almost kind as you asked him to come with you. Is that when the other boy jumped on you and scratched you?"
"Yes, it is. How did you ... You mean, Mr. Dan was here with me all that time and he knew what a horrible person I am and he still wanted to help me and give me a milkshake?" His tears began before he could finish.
When Linda Sue told us the story later, she said he just couldn't believe someone could be so nice.
"Boy, I think you will find a lot of people that want to be nice to you. We all know that you went through so much pain and torture at the hands of those men. All we want is for you to start to live a normal life again."
With that, the sobbing took on new levels, as strong as Linda Sue had ever seen. He crossed his arms under his head and wept, his head buried. She continued to stroke his head as he cried until he couldn't anymore. Before she realized it, his crying subsided until he had worn himself out and was breathing deep. He had cried himself to sleep.
As she laid her hand on his head she felt a stirring in her that she had put aside a long time ago. Then it struck her what a coincidence it was that he seemed to be about the age her own son would have been had he not been ...
She shook the thought away, then looked at him again, peacefully sleeping next to her, his face wet with spent tears. She hoped he wouldn't have to go through that kind of emotion too many times before things began to get back to normal for him, not knowing that the boy had never known a normal life like most kids experienced.
'So this is what my little one would have grown up to be if he had ...'
And she wept too.
The end of Chapter Twenty-eight