The Little Pipsqueak

© 2012-2013 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 Forty-five

"Wait! That's odd. The lights that were on are off now. In fact I don't see any on ..."

The campground was pretty big with plenty of open ground within the five or six buildings that surrounded it. Immediately in front of the two deputies was the biggest building, clearly the main meeting area. On one side of the main building was the administration building and a shower and restroom facility big enough for the whole camp was on the other side. Beyond that, the deputies weren't too sure. They were too close to the Main lodge to see around it, except ...

The other officer hit his arm and pointed to the other side of the compound. There was a dim glow indicating that a light had just come on from a building in back of the one blocking their view.

But just then they heard a car start up and saw headlights turn on in front of the lodge where they originally saw lights.

"Oh, shit! Dan, one of the vehicles is leaving. Good thing you told us to hide the cruiser or he'd be tipped off. You'll probably want to stop whoever it is. We do see some glow from lights back a ways."

"Okay. We'll block the vehicle so it can't go around us. When they pass you, get over to where the lights are and find out what we need to take down the suspects pronto. Don't take any chances unless those kids are in eminent danger, then use your discretion."

"Roger, Dan. Out."

"Stop it! Stop it! OW! OW! Hey! I mean it!" cried Ray in a frantic voice.

"Ray, don't take that from her," screamed Jeffy but his voice was strained like he too was getting plummeted with blows from someone.

"Yeah, like I'll start saying pretty please. OW! Hey!"

"Ray, I can't take much more!"

"I've had it with you brats! This is it!"

The two deputies had moved around the main building and were on the outside of the next building, leaned against the wall, listening to the beatings that were going on inside one building over from them. While they didn't hear the third young voice, they were well aware that the other two boys were there and were suffering unknown punishments.

"Walberg to Perkins, come in please."

"Perkins, here. What's happening?"

"Dan, it sounds like these kids are getting' beat to hell. Now, the two of us can get in there but there's no tellin' if they have hardware or what."

"Okay, Rich. We're on our way. We have the other culprit in custody and he's being held in one of the cars right now."

"Okay, then. But hurry. We'll be picking up pieces soon, it sounds like."

Four vehicles with two men each arrived at the scene. They jumped out of their cars and hurriedly but cautiously approached Deputy Walberg and his partner.

"They're in the building right on the other side of this one. I think it's the mess or the kitchen or whatever campers call it. Anyway, we've been listening to those kids getting' beat half to death. We gotta get in there and pronto, guys!"

"Okay, let's do this. You four go around this way. One of you keep going around and cover the far side so they don't escape through a window or something. The rest of you are on me. Let's go!" Dan barked.

The operation was smooth enough and very precise. They came in from both sides, guns drawn, ready to take down the perpetrators and save the three kids. But they were a bit too late to help!

What they found was Ray sitting on Elliot's mother as he tried to strap down her arms. She'd keep getting one arm free and begin to lay into Ray until he held down that arm too.

"Daniel, I can't get that arm tied down and hold her too. I'm gettin' killed over here."

Meanwhile Jeffy had a wooden bench laying over Elliot's dad, pinning him to the floor. He'd made a few good attempts at tying the man up but he too was having difficulty.

Dan looked at Walberg and smirked. Walberg turned a little red but was much relieved.

Elliot was nowhere to be seen.

"Need some help, boys?" called Dan, holstering his pistol.

"Thank God, Dan," called out Jeffy over his shoulder. "It took you guys long enough to figure it all out. These people are totally insane. They have Elliot in the chapel and I'm not too sure what condition he's in. You need to hurry."

"He's the devil incarnate I tell you," screamed the lady.

"Yeah, well, if you don't quit yelling in my ears, I'll help you meet face to face with the Devil, and I don't care if his last name is Incarnate," cried Ray, trying to protect himself.

Some of the men immediately subdued the couple amidst their angry and belligerent comments at their jailers.

"Why, I have never been so defiled and ... and ...

"And?" asked one of the deputies,

"And humiliated!" complained Elliot's mother.

"Oh, honey,"said the deputy, "Then you ain't seen nothin' yet."

Most of the law enforcement people laughed at the snide remark.

"OH! Well, I never!" Elliot's mother protested.

"Well, you're gonna!"

"Oh, shut the hell up, woman," yelled Elliot's father.

Having freed Jeffy and Ray, the two boys were able to go with Dan to the other building right next door which was the chapel.

Dan removed his revolver again and carefully opened the chapel door. Jeffy and Ray peered over and around him as he went in.

Lying on the altar, wearing just the red sash around his waist, was Elliot. His arms were tied together and extended over his head and his legs were bent over the edge of the altar and tied at his ankles.

He wasn't moving.

Both Jeffy and Ray gasped. Dan held his breath.

Dan quickly walked past several pews, looking right and left, just to be sure someone else wasn't hiding in the room. He got to the front and the first thing he noticed was a huge kitchen knife laying next to Elliot's still body.

"Elliot!" shouted Jeffy. He ran to the side of the altar and lifted Elliot's head.

Elliot jerked and reacted by sitting straight up and looking all around him.

"Good grief! Can't a guy get any sleep around here?"

"But we thought ... You could have been," stammered Jeffy, as worried as he could be, trying to hold back his tears.

Ray was right next to Jeffy with his mouth open, but he couldn't speak, for once.

"Naw! They chickened out. I think they finally realized who it was they were about to butcher. How'd you guys make out in the dining hall, Daniel?"

"We did okay. They sure do get excited when someone's trying to tie them up, though."

"Tell me," said Ray, rubbing his arms and head.

"Okay, guys," Dan said while he untied Elliot's bonds, "we have the driver of the Audi in custody as well. Looks like the fun's over. Why don't we get you guys warm and then you can go meet your families at the hospital."

"Sounds like a plan to me," Elliot said, pushing himself off of the altar.

Jeffy and Ray were right there to catch him and help him get steady on his feet. Elliot wrapped his arms around each boy's bare shoulder and hugged.

"Thanks, guys. You saved my life. If you weren't here, they were just going to leave me lay there tied up until I rotted away. At least that's what they said when they walked away."

"Think nothing of it," said Ray. I'da done the same for any of my friends."

"Well, you're my friend now," said Elliot.

"Yeah, I suppose mine too," admitted Jeffy. "Goofiest friend, but friend none the less."

"Thanks, guys. I consider you guys my friends too, now. Hey, a nerd and a convict. I can sure pick 'em, huh?"

"Oo-oo-oo. Let's get him, El."

"Yeah? With whose strength? And what're you gonna do, pants him or hit him until he's all bruised?"

Jeffy looked over at his new friend, Ray Carlton, sopping with sweat in sagging, filthy Batman undies with the beginnings of bruises showing up on most of his exposed body.

"You got a point there. We can spend the ride back poking his owies, El."

"Hey! Be nice. I'm right here ya know."

Dan turned around to look back at the three musketeers and almost laughed out loud. Most of that was due to the relief he felt at knowing the boys were alive and in fairly good condition. But some of it was the sight before him.

Ray was the shortest of the boys. He was about two inches shorter than Jeffy and was your all American teenager. He looked like he could have played baseball or soccer, having good firm muscles on his arms and legs. With a little concerted effort he could even have had some abs showing in very little time. He had an average looking haircut that looked pretty fresh. He also had a slightly devious smile on his handsome face most of the time, something that could help to attract the ladies. Dressed only in his sagging Batman underwear and filthy, he didn't look like he was ready to go out on the town.

Jeffy was about average height but above average looking. He'd taken care of his body since being released from his prison cell. His arms were firm with some definition. He had a bit less sculpture to his mid-section than Ray but it wouldn't have taken much to get that part of him in shape. He wore boxer briefs like his new dad did. They had stayed in place for him during their night of roughhousing and he didn't have quite as many bruises on him that Ray did, though he was dirty enough. He did however have a large red knot on the right side of his forehead where it had met up with the frying pan wielded by Elliot's mother. It also yielded him a painful pulsing that wouldn't quit.

Elliot was a surprise to Dan. Of course they'd met several times throughout the last few weeks but Dan had never seen him without his glasses. He was an inch taller than Jeffy but skinnier than both boys. He had some form to his body but it was only because he was gifted with it naturally and because of his bicycle regimen he pursued diligently. But Dan couldn't help but notice how cute Elliot was without his glasses. He had a few good-sized bruises on him and was also dirty but the red sash made him look even cuter than he already was.

He smiled and shook his head at the image of the boys, an unlikely threesome, and, after a huge sigh, turned to continue leading them to the cars.

"Guys, there's blankets on the cars for each of you. We found Elliot's clothes and glasses but Jeffy and ... Ray, is it? Your clothes aren't here."

"Nope, Dan. Ours were cut off us at their house. Have you been there?"

"Yes, but I didn't stay long. Okay, we'll get you some clothes for when you're released from the hospital following your exams."

"Oh, man! I gotta get home! My dad is gonna kill me if I come in late again," anguished Ray.

"Ray, your dad knows that you were kidnapped and, yes, he is waiting for you. He will be told to pick you up at the hospital after your examination, treatment, if there's a need, and maybe some food and rest. As for being late, well, it's more like early," Dan said, pointing to the eastern horizon as they exited the campgrounds.

"Yeah, but, do you think they'll make us stay overnight?" asked Ray.

"Oh, I doubt it since it's becoming morning already," answered Dan.

The sky was almost golden where it shone through the trees. In front of it the dew on the leaves and grass sparkled like diamond dust as a gentle mist began to disappear. They even heard birds begin to sing as if on cue. It was a beautiful taciturn scene of the world just barely waking up. The boys were all stunned by the beauty of the morning as though it was something that they had never really noticed before. But after what they'd gone through in the past twenty-four hours, they were quickly learning to appreciate the simple things in their lives, and to take the time to look around them.

The other deputies and officers were standing by the vehicles. One of the men, without thinking, tried to split the boys up but they would have none of that. They were joined at the hip and had tons of things to discuss and pent up energy to release together.

Dan had to laugh at their resolve and promised them a ride back in his cruiser, though it was mostly so that he could hear their banter all the way to the hospital.

After they'd driven for a few minutes, Ray piped up. "You guys know the worst part of this whole shebang?" he asked.

"Okay, Ray, we give. What's the worst thing about almost getting killed," asked Jeffy.

"The worst thing is it's summer vacation."

"What could that possibly have to do with ... O-o-o-oh!" said Elliot.

Then the three of them in unison said, "So we don't get to stay home from school this morning because there isn't any."

"Yeah, what a waste of a good excuse, huh?" finished Ray.

Dan almost drove off the road, laughing, when he heard their whining. 'At least these kids still have values, and a good sense of humor,' he thought.

Then the silence that followed was eerie for Dan. He expected far more banter. The kids each left the scene with what sounded like an amazingly upbeat attitude. He looked in the back once in a while to see if they were actually even awake it was so quiet.

He felt, more than saw, at first, a slight shaking, then heard a sniff, another, then an all-out cry. It was a heartbreaking sound and was soon joined by two other voices, crying as though, well, as though they finally realized how close they'd come to being with each other in Heaven instead of the backseat of the warm cruiser.

He looked in the rearview to see the boys' three heads together bawling. It was a weird sounding chorus but one that he should have expected. At least they would be through with it by the time they reached the hospital and public scrutiny. The embarrassment would have killed them.

I thought I'd only been lying there for a few minutes and decided I needed to get up. The glare through my bedroom window was so brilliant it made my eyes water. I blinked several times before I realized I was looking at the morning unfold. The clock read six-fifteen.

I was finally able to adjust to the light, not quite cognizant of the fact that I'd slept all night. I went into my bathroom and washed my face. When I came out and saw the clock again, realization struck me. I almost panicked but decided to be thankful for much needed sleep.

I went back into the bathroom, showered and put on fresh clothes knowing the day would be another long one. It helped me to feel a little better about myself.

As I made my way to the stairway I detoured long enough to confirm that nothing had changed in my life. The boys were still gone, all three of them. No, it hadn't all been a nasty dream. Their bedrooms, though mostly havoc, looked like they had been abandoned for at least one night; a lifetime to me.

I stumbled into the kitchen and poured a glass of water. Drink in hand, I sat and stared at the phone. It was still too early to go to the hospital so I just sat there.


I jumped when the phone rang!

Maybe because I was practically sitting on it, maybe because I was impatiently waiting for news from the hospital or from Dan. Why hadn't he called?

"Yes, hello? Is there any news," I said into the phone, without waiting for a response, hoping for the best.

"Tim? Tim boy, that you? Waitin' for what?" called out the familiar though gruff voice at the other end.

"Oh, Jeb. I'm sorry. I was waiting ..."

"Don't matter. Hey, I been missin' the little guy over here the last coupla days. I don't think we've run out of blueberries, but I haven't had any on my cereal for almost, well, since his party. Where is that little scamp of a great grandson anyway?"

"Oh my God, Jeb, I'm so sorry. I ... I totally forgot you in all that's been happening."

"You did? Happening? Tim, what in tarnation are you goin' on about. What's been happenin'?"

"Jeb, we've got a couple of situations here. First, Elliot was kidnapped."

"Kidnapped? Not another kidnapping! That seems to run in our lives, boy. Do you have any idea who it might ... Oh, sure. It had to be his evil parents, right? Tarnation, I'm gonna get out my shotgun. Only way to end this hell for a boy."

"Well, it won't do any good until we find them. They even killed the pastor of their church. We think it's because he decided not to go along with their plan to cleanse Elliot. We also don't know where Jeffy is. It seems he took off with someone, maybe a friend, and they went looking for Elliot."

"O-o-oh, that's not a good thing if they should run into Elliot's parents, now, is it? I'm sure you got everyone lookin' fer the both of them."

"But, Jeb, I'm afraid that isn't all the bad news."

"Now, boy, I'm old. What else could possibly go wrong?"

"I'm afraid there's no easy way to say this, AJ is in the hospital. It seems ..."

"WHAT? I didn't hear that, right? AJ, in the hospital? What is goin' on?"

He was getting really excited and worked up. It reminded me of the first time I met him at my front door, when he asked me for the first time where AJ was. But this time ...

"Jeb, I need you to calm down or we're just going to be in a shouting match until one of us keels over and I don't need another person in trouble right now."

"What? Why I ... Oh my good gracious, man, you are so right. I'll be a listenin' now. You go ahead, but don't miss any detail, you hear? I mean, please."

"The doctors say his body is being attacked. It looks as though his immune system kicked into high gear. But the truth is, nothing is happening except that his body thinks it's being attacked. They've never seen anything like it and they are at a total loss. Our doctor has called specialists in to ask them for their input. I have never been more worried in my life."

"Ha, ha, ha!" I heard at the other end.

"Jeb, are you really laughing? God damn it, my son, hell, your great grandson is laying there dying in front of specialists that don't know what the hell is going on and you're laughing? I think I need to hang up now."

I had never been so worked up in all my life.

"I don't have to take ..."

"I'm sorry, Tim. I really am," said the old man as he tried to control his laughter. "I'm sorry to sound so flippant about something so serious. It was as serious when I was growing up and it was serious when my son was AJ's age as well."

"I ... you ... your son?" I asked, dumbfounded by what I was hearing.

"Look, son, come pick me up. Let me grab something from my bedroom and change slippers to shoes and I'll meet you in my drive. We'll hightail it over there and take care of our little guy lickity split."

"But how ..." I asked in total unbelief.

"Later, Tim. Time's a wastin'. I'll explain on the way," I heard him say in the background just before his phone hit the cradle and hung us up.

'Maybe this is it? Thank you, God,' I prayed, then ran to the front door.

I'd just picked up Jeb and we had just gotten on the road and were headed into the city to the hospital. I hadn't even had time to drill the old man about what he was so excited about that it caused him to laugh that AJ was dying. Still, I knew it had to be positive. Okay, I hoped so.

My cell phone rang and I wasn't about to answer it while I was driving. I certainly wasn't going to take the time to pull over and stop. Then I had a really lame-brain idea. Not a good one, but an idea.

"Jeb, grab this phone and answer it. See who it is, please."

"Um, sure. Phone?" he said, holding out his hand.

I dropped the cell phone into his big paw and realized he'd probably never dealt with one before. I took a quick look over at his face and it confirmed my fears.

"Jeb, you've never ... Anyway, just swing the cover open and hit the talk button."

"I need to ...? Which ...? Ah, okay, I got it open. Which end is up?"

The picture part is up. Push the green Talk button and answer it."

"Hello? Hello? This here is my first time with this dinky little contraption so speak up," he barked into the phone that was lost in his hand.

"Jeb? Jeb Harding? That you? What are you doing with Tim's phone for heaven's sake?"

"Dan? Oh, it's you. He threw this midget phone at me and made me answer it. How do they get all that stuff inside ... Well, never mind that. It's your dime."

"I'm looking for Tim. I'm guessing he must be in the seat next to you if he can't answer the cell phone."

"I guess that's what makes you an officer of the law. You got us figured out in no time at all. Well, he is right next to me and we are hightailin' it to the hospital to take care of my great grandson. Did you know he was a sicky?"

"Yes, I was told yesterday. Look, tell Tim I have news and we'll meet at the hospital. I'm headed there myself."

"Well, good! Yeah, I'll tell him," I heard Jeb say as he looked over at me.

"Tell me what?' I mouthed at Jeb but he just waved me off and went back to listening.

"So, you finally found out about our little pipsqueak and you're on your way to visit him?"

"Well, that's part of it. I do have news for the doctor when we get to the hospital that will put some light on the problem with my great grandson. That should help."

"Oh, that's wonderful! Thanks for that, Jeb. I owe you big time if you can help the little guy get better."

"No need, Dan. Now you make your way and I'll take over on this end. Say, how do I hang up this phone? There's no cradle to set it in or anything. The what, Tim? Oh, this little red ..."

Dan laughed at the visual he had of Jeb hitting the End button before he had a chance to say goodbye. Not that he would have said it anyway.

It is so frustrating when I only get to hear one side of a conversation, especially when it should have been my conversation!

"Now you just drive and we'll have this all cleared up in a jiffy," Jeb told me.

"Fine, but what did Dan call for? Does he have any news?"

"You know, he never said except that he'll see us shortly. He must have something up his sheriff's uniform sleeve, don't ya know?"

"I wish I could have talked to him," I lamented.

"Like I said, my son, you will get to speak to him soon, I'm sure."

When I heard Jeb say that with resolute confidence I looked over at him. He was looking straight out the front of the truck, just enjoying the ride. God, he could be frustrating sometimes.

I pulled up to let Jeb out at the front door but the stubborn old coot wouldn't have any of it and waited until I parked. Of course, then it was moseying to the door.

I had just stepped close enough to the automatic doors for them to open when I heard someone yell behind me. It was actually two voices as one.


I turned to see both Jeffy and Elliot running toward me. Elliot was dressed in pretty dirty clothes but all I could see on Jeffy was a blanket flailing behind him as they both ran toward me.

"OH MY GOD!" I cried.

Before they got to me I was so overcome with relief that my legs finally did give out and I found myself on my knees bawling like a baby with my arms wide open. They couldn't have got to me soon enough to please me. I wanted to crush them into me so bad so they'd never be able to leave my side.

"Pop, let up before they have to admit us!" cried Elliot.

"God, you guys, I was so worried. I am so sorry I couldn't do more to find you but I was here with your brother while he ..."

"He? He, what he, Pop? Why is AJ in the hospital?"

Both boys pushed back from me so they could look at me for the answer. That's when I saw Dan walk up with another youngster wrapped in a blanket. They'd almost got to us when we heard a bellow from inside the hospital.

"Ray! Thank God, Ray, you're okay," said the booming voice of the man that ran past us and scooped up his son into his arms.

"Dad! Dad! Not here! And my blanket. Oh man, where'd it go?"

The two boys next to me started laughing at their new friend, held in the grasp of his father whose arm under his son's buns did nothing to cover up the fact that he was only wearing his dirty Batman's.

"Nice undies, Ray," yelled Jeffy.

"Dad, please!"

"Mr. Carlton, you need to let your son down," advised Dan. "He does have some injuries and we don't need them to be any worse until the doctors here can look the boys over."

"Oh, of course, deputy. I'm just so glad to see he's alive and okay."

"As we all are, sir."

"But, Pop, what's this about AJ? Why's he here?" asked Jeffy while he and Elliot pulled me to my feet.

"Yeah, Pop! What can we do?" asked Elliot.

Dan came up beside the family. Even Ray and his dad paused to listen.

"He's so totally weak, boys. When I brought him in for his doctor's appointment he fainted and they kept him. Since then he's pretty much gone downhill. Dr. Strauss sent for two specialists who may well be up there now."

"Tim, do they have any idea what's wrong?" asked Dan.

"Not a clue, but if they don't find something soon, well, I'm not even thinking about that. Let's just get up there in case he's awake and we can encourage him."

I started to count noses when I realized we were short one nose; the oldest one, no doubt.

"Boys, Dan, where's great grampa?" I asked them.

"He was here, but he just disappeared, I guess," answered Jeffy.

"Well, we still need to get up there. Hopefully he knows the way. Let's go."

We all started for the elevators. The boys were met by orderlies who insisted that they be wheeled in. The boys started to put up a fuss until Dan took the three men aside and talked to them.

When they came back, the orderlies seemed even more intent on having their way; they just had a different destination by then.

"Then by all means, deputy," said one of them. "Everyone, follow us."

Nine of us and three wheelchairs crowded into the elevator and got off on the floor where Intensive Care and my AJ were located.

I took a cursory look around hoping to see Jeb but he was nowhere to be ...

"I know, I know, but tarnation, doctor, just look at it!"


Jeb's booming voice was coming from behind a curtain enclosing the stall next to AJ's.

As we approached AJ's nook, also enclosed by a curtain, a doctor came out from behind the one in which we heard Jeb's voice.

"I've never heard of such a thing. Hereditary Inane Lupus. That's absurd. Why, there is absolutely no precedence for it."

Jeb came walking out, holding up a large white bottle. Come to think of it, he'd had it in his hand on the way here.

"Sir, you know as well as I do that something has to have a startup to have precedence. Isn't it just possible that you're seeing that happen today? Isn't it possible that there are so few of us that there's no record of it in any of your fancy journals. Remember, this dates back to before you were a little sperm looking for a nice egg to wiggle up to."

You'd thought he told the naughtiest joke ever to hear the boys practically rolling out of their chairs. I have to admit, I was not having an easy time holding back the laughter either, but I was a far cry from being comfortable with all this talk and no action on AJ's behalf.

"Look you two, that's my son in there," I announced, walking up to them. "If there is just the slightest possibility that what Jeb is suggesting might do some good, considering you haven't been able to find anything else to help the boy, please set your pride, or whatever is keeping my son from getting better, aside and do something now. Please, try it!"

"Well, I ... See here, I'm a specialist in this field. I've studied and ..."

"Doctor, quite frankly, all the books in the world had to have someone discover their need before they could be written. The fact that this may be something new to medical science is not only possible, but it's highly likely at this point I would say. Besides, think of the article this will make in the next journal."

I was fuming but relentless.

Dr. Strauss and another doctor walked out of the curtained area.

The second specialist said, "Journal? New discovery? Hmmm. James, if Dr. Strauss is willing to use this medication on the boy and we monitor his progress with him, it may be one of the most important discoveries of the year, hell, the century!"

"Hmmm, well, if you put it like that. Sir," said the first specialist, "May I look at your medication?"

"Well, what a coincidence. That's why I brought it."

"There's no dosage listed. Where did you get this?"

"Oh, I found a place in Canada. Kept getting rejected here in the states. It's not a, what you call a controlled substance, but it is a mite powerful. The boy should only have a half a pill for the first several days. I remember when Dr. Unthank diagnosed my son with this. He said to let it build, take your time, then one pill a day for probably the rest of our lives. Ha! Good as new!"

"Humfph! We'll see."

The doctor looked over the bottle which did have a worn label on it. He scrunched up his nose and looked up at Jeb.

"Why, it's just ..."

"I know, but it's what works. I haven't had that there thing relapse on me since I started taking that medicine there."

Dr. Strauss seemed to be getting impatient. After all, when all was said and done and the two specialists went home, AJ was still his patient. He walked over and glanced over the doctor's shoulder and laughed.

"That's it? Give me the bottle, Dr. Mason. I'm administering it immediately. Stand by if you want but at least stand aside."

And with that, he took the bottle from Dr. Mason and walked into the enclosed area where AJ was lying.

"Shouldn't be long now, my boys. He'll be up and around in a moth's life. Oh, that's not more than a few weeks."

I was so confused. So much had happened and so fast, and it seemed far too simple a remedy to believe in, that I could feel myself sinking again. I was much too out of it to do any more crying.

"Pop? Pop, you okay," asked Jeffy.

"Hey, quick, push this chair under him!" called out Elliot, hopping out of his wheelchair.

I felt the chair hit the back of my knees and I buckled and sat down, rolling a foot more.

"Pop, he's gonna be alright, huh?" asked Jeffy, kneeling in front of me.

I could feel someone's hand on my shoulder and looked up to see Elliot looking down on me, smiling. I still don't think I fully realized the impact of what had happened.

"Is it true? Do I have all my sons back? Are they all going to be alright now?"

I didn't even know who I was asking.

Then ...

"Dad? Dad, is that you?"

It seems that when Jeb was about twenty he started to have the same symptoms as AJ. But back then he had a few things going for him, but many, many things lacking the scientific background to effectively diagnose his ailment. And that's probably what saved his life.

His doctor was kind of a quack, Jeb said, laughing, and would try using tree bark if he thought it would help. Luckily, this ailment didn't call for tree bark. But he did try several off the wall remedies until he came upon a relatively simple concoction that was used for treatment of something seemingly unrelated to his symptoms. No doctor in this day and age would even consider doing something like that aside from a research laboratory.

When Jeb's son was almost AJ's age, He too contracted the same symptoms. Jeb's family doctor was still around and they quickly administered the 'wonder drug', Jeb called it, and within a few days his son was much better.

AJ had been suffering from it a day or two longer than Jeb's son but he seemed pretty sure that it would only take a few days to see a chipper smile on my son's face again.

"Probably means a week or so that I'll have to go without my blueberries, though," Jeb whined, tipping his head, making sure that both Jeffy and Elliot heard his pout. "But I'll survive, I suppose."

"Good grief, Great Grampa, El and I'll get you your blueberries," said Jeffy, walking up to the man. "But only because you're our hero again and saved our brother's life, oh, plus we love you so much anyway."

"That's my boys!" said Jeb, smacking Jeffy lightly on his blanket covered undies. He looked around for Elliot too but he'd caught on and was hiding behind me where is sat in the wheelchair. We all were able to laugh at that.

"Hey, I wanna be there and have fun and get smacked too," said AJ from his bed.

"Well, young man, you get yourself better and come over to my place. I'll be glad to tan your hide for you, if you want," laughed Jeb.

"Oh. Well, maybe I won't be well enough that day then."

"Fine. I make house calls."


It was so good to hear everyone slowly progress back to some normalcy.

All three kidnapped boys came out of their trauma with only some bruising. Elliot could well have some scaring on his wrists from the rope burns. Unfortunately, he now had something in common with Tyler.

Within three days, AJ was pronounced well enough to come home, albeit for bed rest for another three days at least, until Dr. Strauss saw him again.

At that time, he was made to go through a battery of tests by the two specialists who were consumed with taking note after note while observing 'their' discovery. Slowly but surely the test results confirmed what we were quickly finding out while trying to keep a squiggly boy quiet, if not in his bed then, more likely on the couch, that everything showed he was almost back to normal, well, as normal as a McGill/Harding could be.

It honestly didn't take much, over the next few days following all of my boys' release from the hospital, to just stare at them, watching every movement, whether together or separate, either active or just lying around reading or playing a game. It didn't take much to try to absorb every nuance that was who they were, how they were put together, what made them giggle with glee or get upset. I strained at knowing everything I could about them.

They were mine and I wouldn't give them up for the world.

Initially each boy had visitors asking about them. There were dozens of phone calls all inquiring as to each boy's health progress. Within a few days and my two oldest boys having healed very well, the attention was pointed solely at AJ, complete with visits from his school friends, neighbors and, of course, the family combination of the Perkins and Cottingtons. All the boys wanted to be with AJ as he got stronger.

Denver made several pictures for AJ to enjoy, something that my boy really treasured as gold from the talented young boy.

And, it seemed that Enrique turned his affections from Jeffy to Elliot, much to Jeffy's delight and support. Jeffy seemed to have made a few female fans during his recovery and Elliot was smitten by his newest friend, Enrique. That worked out beautifully.

So it was that a few days after AJ was released from his captivity, his 'cage' as he called it, having been to Jeb's for his and our blueberries, that the phone rang once more.

End of Chapter Forty-five

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