The Little Pipsqueak

© 2012-2014 Matthew Templar
matemp1148@yahoo.com
Thanks again to RCN for his editing wizardry. It makes for a smoother read.

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 Fifty-five


This was no 'name-brand' computer store. Of course, I'd never been in it before, but even though it was small, it looked like it would have everything we needed.

"This is great!" said Elliot as he made his way to the door.

Jeffy was right behind him and AJ was walking with me and the baby, who was in my arms, of course.

"Dad," whispered AJ as he pulled on my sleeve and casually pointed to the far corner of the store's front.

There were three older teens, probably a couple years from their twenties, that looked a little rough around the edges. Two were smoking and the other, the fidgety one, would look into the store window every few seconds. Then they'd make some remark and laugh. I couldn't hear what they said, but it seemed to have to do with something on the other side of the glass.

Let me describe where we were. The barber shop and the computer store were in one, two-story building on the corner of the block a mile or two from the city center. The rest of the double block was an older strip mall. If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say that whoever owned the small mall had tried to buy up the separate building to raze for more parking as it was surrounded by asphalt.

So the boys in question were right on the corner closest to the strip mall, kind of leaning against the building and making small talk.

They weren't real boisterous or anything, so I didn't know what AJ was getting at, that is, why he was whispering, at least until we entered the store.

Elliot was standing in front of an array of desktop computers on display on a side counter. Jeffy had wandered over to the smart phone display, farther into the store. The checkout counter was at the very back of the store and behind it was a man several years older than me and a teen about the age of the guys outside. He looked a few years older than Jeffy and Elliot, anyway.

The man was being a little demonstrative, especially since he had to hear us come into the store. I couldn't hear what was going on but I could see he was pointing to the front of the store and talking animatedly to the young man. The kid was just standing there taking it.

Like Elliot, the boy was wearing glasses, giving him that nerdy look one needs to be working at such a store. Okay, that's stereotyping and not at all true, of course, but he seemed to fit in there for that reason.

Jeffy saw us come in and waved me over. That put us within about fifteen feet of the two men at the counter.

"Pop, that guy is getting all worked up about those three guys out there. He thinks that kid has something to do with them being here and he doesn't want to leave the kid until he gets rid of them."

"See, Dad?" said AJ.

Well, I didn't see at all.

"What, AJ? I don't understand."

"Dad, I don't think those guys are his friends. I think they're bullying him, or have before or something. If that owner guy leaves him alone, I bet those guys'll come in and beat that kid up."

"AJ, that seems a bit farfetched, doesn't it? Where'd you come up with that?"

"I heard one of 'em say that, 'He'll be gone in a minute and then we can go in and finish where we left off last night.'"

"They said that?"

"Uh-huh."

"We'll be right with you, gentlemen," said the older man. Then he turned and pulled the boy into the back with him.

I walked closer to the back so I could hear what was going on. I didn't know whether the kid needed protection from the kids outside or from the owner, assuming he was the owner.

"I swear, sir, they are not my friends. They attended high school last year when I was a junior. They were a year ahead of me."

"So you do know them. Why are they here?"

"Honestly, I, uh, I don't know. They certainly aren't the computer type. I don't know, sir."

"See, Dad?" AJ said from behind me. "He does know what they want and it isn't good."

Now, it wasn't too long before this incident that I would have said that AJ was making things up, but, frankly, knowing him by then, and by the hesitation in the young salesman's voice, I believed he had the situation pegged.

"So, I just leave and your hooligans come in and you all rob me blind? Is that it?"

"What? No, sir. I said I don't know them. There's no way I will let them take anything from here, I promise."

I could hear the concern in the boy's voice, the sincerity.

"Well, I don't have any reason to believe you. You've only been here since school was out. How do I know you're telling the truth?"

"Da-ad? Can't you help him?"

My little activist son was practically pushing me toward the door they'd gone through. So, here goes nothing.

"Sir, could I talk to you, please?" I asked, loud enough to carry into the back.

"Um, please, sir, if you'll just give us a minute, we'll be right with you," called the man.

"It's about the boys outside," I called back.

There was silence for about twenty seconds before the door opened and both of them walked out.

"About the boys ... Do you know the boys outside?" asked the man, moving to behind the sales counter.

The kid was standing in the open doorway.

I noticed Jeffy walking up to stand beside AJ.

"No, I don't know them; I just think we know of them."

"Of them? I'm confused," said the man, shaking his head as if to clear it.

"My son overheard one of them say they were going to finish what they started last night. By the looks of that bruise on the boy's arm, I think I know what they meant. They want to beat you up and, from the looks of that bruise they already had one go with you, haven't they, son?" I asked, turning toward the boy.

The two of them immediately swung their heads to look at each other, one in confusion, the other in what looked quickly like he had given up.

"Yes."

"What? What did you say?" asked the man.

"Yes, they charged me as I was going home last night. I kicked one of them in the, um, well, balls," he said blushing, "and I ran."

"But not before they laid into you a bit, I take it," I added.

"Yeah, well, they got me a few times. Nothing too bad this time," he said looking down.

"This time? It's happened before? While you worked here?"

"Oh, no, Mr. McClellan. No, they used to pick on me at school. I thought they forgot about it all when they gradu ... , well, when they moved on from school."

"So, now what do I do? I intended for you to stay until closing. It was supposed to be a quiet day."

Just then we heard something outside. We all turned to see the three boys laughing at an elderly couple that was trying to get around them on the sidewalk. One of the boys was lurching out at them and scaring them. The old couple wasn't moving.

I handed Lewis to Jeffy and walked quickly toward the door.

"Uh-oh," I heard Jeffy say behind me. "Some ass is gonna get ki-icked."

"Jeffy!" I shouted as I reached the door. But I didn't slow down.

When I got outside the boys didn't even notice me there, at first.

"Guys, let the couple pass. You have no right blocking their way. And you have no right to treat anyone like this. Why don't you go on home and do your shenanigans indoors, away from innocent bystanders?"

"Oh, brother. Who made you in charge, mister?" asked the smallest, but loudest, most aggressive of the three.

"Guys, just go home. No one wants any trouble."

"Come on, Jake. Let's get outta here. This ain't no fun anymore," insisted one of the other two, pulling on the loud one's coat. Then he leaned in and whispered something as he looked over at me.

By that time the couple had moved away. They'd quickly turned around and headed back the way they came. The boys found their cool walk and sauntered out of there too, in the opposite direction, looking back once in a while, talking and laughing again, acting like they were back in control.

I waited until they were at the far corner of the block before going back in.

"Pop, you didn't kick ... um, do anything," said Jeffy.

"The idea is to avoid a physical confrontation, Jeffy. Remember what happens when it escalates?"

"Oh, um, yeah," he said, reminded of my first encounter with him and Jarod in that alley what seemed like years before.

The man walked up to me.

"Thank you for helping us. I really appreciate it. Now, I need to leave. Walter can help you, then I think I'm going to have him close up early."

"You don't think they'll come back today, do you, Mr. McClellan?" asked Walter.

"I'm not taking any chances. We'll talk about this on Tuesday when you are on again. Terry has your shift tomorrow, right?"

"Yes, sir."

"Thank you again," the older man said, as he headed for the back again, and was out the door.

I looked at Walter and noticed him start to shake. I realized the stress had been almost unbearable for the poor kid and the relief he felt was showing up in his body.

"I think you'd better sit down, young man, before you ..."

"Dad!" cried AJ.

I reached for the boy as he collapsed in my arms, keeping him from falling to the floor.

It was at least a minute before I heard his weak voice.

"I, uh, I don't know what came over me. I'm sorry."

AJ was right there. "Don't be sorry. You should be glad my dad was here. He won't let anything happen to you now, huh, Dad?"

"Um, well, I certainly don't want to see you or any child get hurt, Walter. And I'll help in any way I can to protect them."

"Yeah, Walter, my dad was in the marines and did special missions and stuff over there in whatchamacallit."

"Um, Iraq, AJ."

"Oh, that's very kind of you but they shouldn't be bothering me again, really. I hadn't even heard from them all this year, practically, until just now. Well, and yesterday, and ..."

"So, has this been going on pretty regularly?"

"Okay, yeah, kinda."

"And can you tell me why they want to beat you up all the time? Why they want to pick on you?"

My thoughts immediately went to what I thought had to be the problem. But the real problem was me. I was stereotyping again, expecting the answer to be in line with what, or who, I was looking at. He was kind of geeky looking, and seemed educated. He was dressed okay, not at all sloppily. So, I projected an image onto him that I thought was correct. I assumed he was gay, just like that!

But the truth was so different as it usually is. To me, it was far better than I could ever have imagined.

It was as though I had asked Walter to talk about the proudest moment in his life. He lifted his face, his chest puffed out and he smiled surrounded by rich, pink cheeks, but not at all shy.

"See, they found out that I have two moms." That's all he said.

AJ jumped on it quicker than I could. "Two moms? You got two moms? So you're adopted?"

"Nope," he replied, even more proudly, if that were possible. "One of my moms had me from the juice, um, insemination of a sperm donor. But, yes, my other mom adopted me so I could be her son too."

"Wo-ow! That's so cool," AJ said.

The other two boys had wandered over to see why Walter had been so upset and had heard his explanation.

"But, Walter," asked Jeffy, "So, what's the big deal with that? I mean, it's super cool and all, but why do these guys care about all that?"

"That's easy," answered Elliot for Walter. "It's because they're lesbians, isn't it, Walter?"

"Yes, it is," answered Walter.

"Yeah, so what?" said AJ, in his own innocent way. "You have two moms that love you and raised you real good. I bet they're jealous cuz that's not what they got, even if they got a mom and a dad, huh?" he asked, looking up at me.

"It's true, AJ. Some people can't look beyond what they have been brought up to believe is different. They've probably been told that two women or two men, for that matter, can't bring up a well-adjusted child without perverting him somehow."

"It's true, sir. And my moms are pretty outspoken about how wrong everyone is about the perception of their inability to raise me as a normal child. They even think I have to be gay because my moms would have surely converted me by now."

"But you aren't?" asked AJ.

"AJ! I don't think that's appropriate to ask unless he offers."

"Oops! Sorry, Walter. I didn't mean to ..."

"Oh, it's okay, AJ. Most people just expect me to be gay, well, most people except my moms ... um, and my girlfriend."

That time his pink cheeks really were a blush.

"O-o-oh."

"Walter, I can tell that you must think the world of your parents. It just radiates from you when you mention them."

He puffed back up and said, "Honestly, sir, they are the most wonderful, loving, giving people I could ever know. I couldn't be anymore happy or loved if I had a dozen dads and moms."

"Wo-ow!" said AJ. Then he grabbed my arm and said, "Yeah, we know what you mean, Walter." Then he turned to look up at me to give me one of his best smiles.

"By the way, Walter, may I introduce my family to you. I'm Tim McGill and these are my sons, AJ, Jeffy and Elliot McGill."

Even though my boys were reaching out their hands and shaking Walter's, his eyes were squinting, especially at Jeffy and Elliot, who were obviously very close in age.

"Um, your sons? All of them?" he asked me.

"See? There we go again," analyzed Elliot. "We assume something is true and when it doesn't fit into our norm we suspect something is wrong. The answer to your question is we're all three adopted. Pop is our father by paper, not blood."

"Oh. Please forgive me. I just didn't see any likeness between you two and you had to be close enough in age that it didn't add up. Sorry."

"It's okay, Walter," I told him.

"Um, it's Walter Miller-Sloan. I'm really pleased to know you all."

"Okay, let's get down to business. Walter, we came to buy two computers for the older boys, I think a laptop for AJ and a computer for me, as well."

"Yes, and we'll also need a router and cabling or wireless adapters for a network at home, plus a selection of software to aid in our schoolwork and whatever Pop needs for running this show." Elliot had thought this through.

Walter's mouth was hanging open farther and his eyes were going wider as we itemized each piece of equipment.

"Earth to Walter," said Jeffy. "Come join us back down here."

"Um, if you don't mind me saying so," Walter finally got out after shaking his head, "That's a lot of equipment. I've never ... But hey, I know we have just what you need."

"Okay, but then you have to let us take you home. I don't want those guys coming back and harassing you after we leave."

"Um, well, can we talk about that, um, after we work on your order, sir? This is getting very exciting."

I almost laughed when I saw the same look in his eyes that Elliot had when he found out we were going to buy computers that day.

"Okay. Why don't you guys get working on it and the rest of us will just stay over here, out of your way."

"Yeah," said Elliot and Walter in unison.

I had been following AJ around the store, explaining the various equipment to him as he came upon something he didn't recognize. Keep in mind that my boy had been kept from most things throughout his short life, especially anything with a decent price tag and wasn't an essential item. Also, we didn't have a TV at the house that he could look at to catch up on commercials for almost anything.

The most interesting part of our exploration was what AJ did with the information, once it was explained to him what a certain product was good for.

We were standing in front of a display of portable music systems, boom boxes if you will.

"Dad, there's a guy at school, well, when we were in school, and he'd be dancing to the music he played on his player. But his was being held together with that thick tape and rubber bands. He could use one, huh?"

"He sure could, AJ."

When we got to the tablets and, after I went into some detail about their usefulness, AJ made another comment.

"I bet Stewart could use one of those, Dad. He wants to make lists and stuff for when we start our club. He says he wants to keep track of all the different things we come up with, you know, information and stuff, and where we can get more of it."

"Oh, like resources and organizations with like-minded goals as your club will be."

"Um, yeah, I guess. Stewart has been thinkin' about it a lot."

In fact, the only thing he was interested in for him was a cellphone. He didn't even care about a smartphone as long as he could text.

I think Jeffy tried every cellphone in the place at least once. Walter would probably have to wipe down the glass counter where he spent most of his time drooling over the smartphones.

It took some time, but after about an hour Elliot and Walter called me over to see what they'd come up with. I was very impressed that, for the most part, the boys were very conservative with their choices. Elliot tried to pick out components that would not only do what we needed, but be able to upgrade at least some, without going hog wild with every fancy feature.

I think it was at that point that I figuratively stepped back to observe my three boys and realized that, between the three of them, they probably had the resources to buy the whole store. In fact, they probably could have bought the whole strip mall. But it never seemed to occur to them.

When Walter began to pull all their notes together and gather up the prices, it all came to a tidy sum, of course. Still, they'd done a very thorough job and included everything that we would need to get our network of computers up and running.

We all went to the back of the store where Walter waited while Elliot finished explaining what they thought would be essential and what some cheaper options might include.

"So, ring it up, Walter, just like you boys decided. I think you did a great job and I don't think there's anything on your list that we don't need."

"Well, maybe a coupla those smartphones, Pop," suggested Jeffy, hopefully.

"Yeah, Pop, but we don't really need ..." started Elliot.

"Why don't you add two to the list, Walter? We'll also need a family plan for each phone."

That's when I felt a tug on my arm and the face of a hopeful boy looking up at me.

"I suppose you'd better add another phone to that list. But it doesn't have to be as fancy as the ones that Jeffy had his eye on. It just needs to be able to text, right?" I asked of the boy hanging on my arm.

His beaming smile said it all. He was very pleased.

But Walter was stunned.

"I, uh, I've never rung up this much stuff before. This may take a while, Mr. McGill."

"Take your time, Walter. We're not going anywhere until we take you home."

"Thank you, yes, sir, I'm on it!"

And then I got three huge hugs and two, "Thanks, Pop," and one, "Thanks, Dad."

After another half hour, most of our order was done. Walter had never activated a family plan without Mr. McClellan, so he asked me to come back the next day. I also decided to come back for the larger items since they'd be left in the back of the truck while we ate our lunch. Elliot was a little upset about having to wait, but I told him he'd have plenty to do, setting up the network that evening.

"Pop, there's a suit store at the end of the mall. Can we go over and just look to see if they have any cool coats like you have?"

"Sure, Jeffy. Guys, let's leave Walter to finish and start locking up. Walter, if we're not back when you're done, come on over to that men's clothing store. But we shouldn't be long."

"Yes, sir. Thank you again."

Well, we were quite a while because I had to change Lewis when we got there. Luckily they had a changing table in the restroom, which fascinated Lewis and AJ. After the cleanup we met up with Jeffy and Elliot in front of some very nice sports coats. In fact, a bit too nice. They were pretty expensive. I thanked the gentleman who was at the counter as we left.

When we stepped out of the store, AJ was the first to notice that something wasn't right.

"Dad, if the back door of Walter's store is open, you'd think he'd be standing there or somethin'. Somethin' doesn't seem right."

And, just about that time, the door swung all the way open, then closed with a SLAM!

"Yeah, guys, will you take Lewis to the truck and wait for me. I'll go get Walter."

"Something's happenin', huh, Pop," asked Jeffy.

"Could be. I hope not, but it's better to be prepared for the worst. I need to hurry guys."

The boys walked much slower toward the truck, looking over their shoulders, as I ran to the back of the store. AJ was primed to go with me until Elliot held him and told him to let me handle it.

"If you get too close, AJ, he'll just worry about you getting hurt and maybe get really hurt himself."

"O-o-oh. Okay."

"Guys," said Elliot, "I'm calling 9-1-1."

Luckily the door was not latched when I came up to the rear entrance. I could hear yelling inside. It sounded like the loud mouth from the front of the store screaming at Walter.

"Ya got nerve even showin' yer face in this city. Anyone who ain't got the right parents don't need to stay here. Hell, you don't deserve to live. Yer prob'ly as demented as they are. Perverted, huh, guys?"

It was just like déjà vu. I heard Jarod squawking at AJ with his little cronies behind him. That probably made me more ready for the coming confrontation than anything else.

As luck would have it, there was a broom closet right inside the rear door, so I quietly opened it to find my weapon - a mop whose mop head easily unscrewed from the long fiberglass handle. It wouldn't crack before whoever was on the other end of it did.

Everyone was in the main store. As I leaned to look around the corner, the two minions of the kid called Jake were standing on one side of the counter while Jake was standing over Walter, who had fallen to the floor behind the counter.

"What's your problem," yelled Walter. "Just how does me having two moms affect you anyway? Except maybe because they love me. Do your parents love you, mister almighty thug?"

"Hey, we ain't talkin' 'bout my 'rents, jerk face."

Then he kicked out at Walter, who was lucky enough to move out of the way of Jake's foot.

"Okay, boys. I've had enough of your bullying and insults."

All four heads jerked around to where I stood in the doorway, the mop handle behind me, out of sight for now.

"Hey who are ... Oh, damn, if isn't the smooth talker."

"I hear you've been bothering Walter all year. Well, I want it to stop."

"Ha! Right! Like we're gonna ..."

"Yes, you are gonna," I said, bringing the mop handle around to my front. "I think the alternative will not only be painful, but time consuming when you're let out of the hospital and have to go to reform school. No, wait. You guys will be tried like adults. They go by physical age, not mental maturity."

"And just who do you think you are that can take all three of us on. All we gotta do is take you out, then we go back for the geek pervert here."

"Well, if we're going to take the time to do introductions, I'm retired Gunnery Sergeant McGill. Having just got back from Iraq a few months ago, I'm a little rusty with the hand-to-hand combat we were proficient in."

I know I sounded pretty hoity-toity but I was hoping that they would simmer down and just leave. Still, I didn't have much hope that their assaults on Walter would end for good because I was standing there.

"Oh, whoop-de-doo, big talker. Doesn't make any difference if you're a ninja master or something, three against one isn't good odds."

"Too true, young man, but I really don't have the time to waste for you to call several friends to turn the odds in your favor."

"Wha ... !"

I noticed some movement at the front of the store, on the other side of the glass. It reminded me of the boys at the truck. I felt much better when I realized what was going on out there.

"Gentlemen, let's take this outside so we don't ruin the store. You have nothing against computers, do you?"

"Do if this one touched 'em. They should be destroyed along with him and his moms."

I stepped between Jake and Walter so the boys would have room to leave the store. I had hoped they would just run off, but I realized that wasn't going to be allowed any more.

I made some motions with the stick in my hands and the boys finally moved toward the back door. They were all cautiously looking back at me as they stepped into the sunlit parking lot that was now surrounded by city police cars.

"Step out of the building, guys. We don't want anyone to get hurt," said a voice I barely recognized.

Wayne was the officer with Dan the day of the shooting. Just then, he and about ten other officers, standing behind the open doors of their patrol cars, were surrounding the back of the computer store.

I helped Walter up and we both walked out into the light.

"Wow! Where'd all these guys come from, Mr. Mc Gill?"

"First things first, young man," said Wayne as he walked up to us.

By then the three boys were being handcuffed, read their rights and were headed for the back seats of three police cars.

"We need to determine the extent of your wounds and if they're serious enough to call an ambulance."

"Um, no, sir. I'm fine really. They just mostly pushed me around this time."

Wayne reached out to lift the boy's head, looking at his cheek.

"Yeah, well, looks like you're gonna have a shiner there. Is that the extent of your injuries?"

"Yes, sir. I think so."

"DAD!" yelled AJ as he and the boys ran around the corner.

I turned to see all three of my sons and my grandson hurrying around the corner.

"Stay back for just a few more minutes, gentlemen," Wayne said, holding up his hand in warning.

He smiled so the boys knew he was just trying to protect them. Lewis reached out for me, as though he knew something had happened and either he needed comforting or he thought I did. Elliot, who was holding him, held him out to me.

"Dad, Lewis was real funny. He knew somethin' was goin' on. He kept turning and looking over toward here, even had his hands against the window."

"Were you worried, little guy?" I asked him.

He didn't go into a long dissertation, he just hung around my neck, not letting go until Wayne walked up closer.

"So, Tim, who's this little guy? I thought you had enough sons," he laughed.

"Well, Wayne, remember the son you introduced me to the day after his fatal accident?"

"How could I forget that day, Tim." He did look over at Jeffy who blushed just a bit. "It's good to see you doing so well, young man. I'm glad it all worked out for you, though you had me going that day."

That had Jeffy blushing a bit longer and got some attention from his brothers, but he did manage to say a nice, "Thank you, sir."

"Wayne, I'd like you to meet the offspring of my son, Jarod. His name is Lewis. We found out about him just a little while ago. Seems Jarod was good at other things besides causing a ruckus."

"I'll have to say, Tim, your life has sure been exciting in the last few months, hasn't it? I don't think I've met these handsome young men though I'll bet this is your son, AJ, who you can't seem to stop talking about."

Unlike his shy brothers, AJ stepped up to Wayne, held out his hand and his smile and said, "I'm Andrew James McGill. Pleased ta meet you, sir."

"Well, I'll be. Quite the force, aren't you?" said Wayne, who was caught off guard by AJ's spunk, as were most people who'd just met him.

"Yes, sir."

"And this is my third son, well, in order of accumulation, not age, of course. Elliot, meet Officer Wayne. Actually, he's the one that arrested Jeffy on that day a while back when he came to tell me that Jarod was my son."

Elliot mouthed an 'oh', then stuck out his hand to shake Wayne's.

"That's Wayne Eckles, by the way, Tim."

"Oh, okay."

By that time all the patrol cars except for Wayne's and one other had left the parking lot and most of the people from the area that came up to see what was going down had started to walk off. I noticed that the elderly couple that was blocked by the three boys earlier were giving a statement to the other officer.

"And how are you related to this young man, Tim?" asked Wayne of Walter.

"Oh, we just met, sir," replied Walter, stepping closer to Wayne. "They came to buy out the store," he added with a big grin.

"They what?" said a voice at the back door to the store. Out came the owner, Mr. McClellan.

"Um, yes, sir. They bought over three thousand dollars in computers and networking supplies, besides three cell phones. Oh, and I need you to activate them, please. They were going to come back tomorrow when you were here. I would have, but I've never done it on my own."

Walter went back into the store and came back with a copy of our invoice, which McClellan practically drooled over.

"He's a fine young man, Mr. McClellan," I told him. "He knew just what we needed and, with my son's help they put together everything in no time at all."

"He did, did he? Your son helped? Well, Walter, it looks like you proved yourself again."

Mr. McClellan put his arm around Walter and they both beamed with pride.

Mr. McClellan and Wayne exchanged information and I finally found out that he was in actuality the store's owner.

"Well, I think I'm done here for now, gentlemen. Walter, I'll need you to come down to the precinct to make a statement today or tomorrow. Oh, and Mr. McClellan, I'll need you to make a statement too, after you assess any damage to your place that may have been caused by our three suspects."

"Huh? How could they be suspects if we all saw what they just did?" asked Jeffy.

"Everyone is innocent until proven guilty, son," explained Wayne. "They'll get a fair hearing and then trial, if need be, just like you did."

Jeffy blushed just a little but it looked like he was happy with Wayne's explanation.

The boys talked until Mr. McClellan came up and offered to take Walter home after they locked up. That sounded okay to Walter. They seemed to get along okay.

"Um, Mr. McClellan," I started.

"Call me Mack, Mr. McGill. All my friends do."

"Thank you, Mack. I'm Tim, by the way. I think we'll just come back sometime tomorrow to activate the phones, if that's okay with you."

"Oh, I forgot all about them. If that really is okay, that would give us time to calm down a while. Walter, two minutes and we're outta here. You take the front and I'll empty the till!"

We said our goodbyes and headed around to the truck. Everyone flopped in like they were exhausted. Lewis kept looking at each boy like he was trying to figure out why they were ready for his nap.

"You guys still up for a nice meal?"

Well, that was profound. What was I thinking?

I got three loud 'yeahs' and one giggle from our youngest, so I headed for the restaurant.

Jeffy and Elliot were talking away in the back seat, but AJ got real quiet as we approached the part of town where the restaurant was located.

"You okay, son? You're awfully quiet all of a sudden."

"Dad, this is the first time I've been back here since, well, since that day of the crash. It's kinda creepy."

That got the other boys' attention.

"What's kinda creepy, AJ?" asked Jeffy.

"Um, please don't be upset, Jeffy, but the road up there is where, um, Jarod was hit by that truck."

"Oh," was all he said.

I looked in the rearview mirror and his head was down. Slowly he lifted it again and saw me looking back at him.

"It's okay. I know what he did and I also know that he did, well, sometimes it was me too, we did some pretty bad things. Those three guys sure reminded me of how lucky I've been. I don't know if they'll get off as easy as I did, huh, Pop?"

"Son, I hope they learn their lesson but I can't say what they have ahead of them to make them learn those lessons. I hope it will be easy on them and they learn their lessons well."

We had passed the intersection by then and I turned to pull into the parking lot of the restaurant.

"Elliot and I've talked about what happened back then a coupla times. You understand what we're talkin' about, huh, El?"

"Yeah. Sure do. You guys had your own griefs back then, alright."

We all pretty much opened our doors at the same time. The aroma of the restaurant wafted in and our senses all went on overload. I think even Lewis was ready to gum a piece of steak.

The end of Chapter fifty-five


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