The Little Pipsqueak
© 2012-2014 Matthew Templar
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.
Jeffy got all serious and leaned in. But just then, we noticed that several of the guys were starting to take an interest in our talk and were slowly moving toward our table. Jeffy was actually the first to notice and looked up at them before he got started.
"Um, Dad, could we maybe go somewhere by ourselves, at least for now?"
"Why? Oh, okay. I see," I told him.
Then I turned to the other guys and said, "Fellows, we need a little privacy so we're gonna take a walk. I'm sure you'll hear all about it when we get back."
"Tim," George said, "You guys don't have to move. We're big boys. We can leave you alone to talk this out. Gentlemen, let's give them some space, shall we?"
They all agreed and soon we were alone.
"You okay with this now, Jeffy?"
"Yeah, it's good. Thanks, Pop. I really don't care if they know. I just wanted to tell you first, is all."
"Okay. You're on."
"So, when I went to the restroom . . ."
I started to straighten up and look very serious before he continued.
"With the other guys. I didn't go alone. Honest. You said not to."
"Okay. Go on."
"So, the guys kinda left me because I took a little longer doing my, well, you know, sittin' down and all."
I smiled and nodded that I understood. He was turning a nice rose color.
"Anyway, when I got outta there, this kid was standing by the door. He looked kinda scruffy and had this heavy backpack on him. He was even smokin'."
"He was smoking?"
"Yes, but I didn't have any. I promise. Anyway, he asked if I wanted ta see something really neat, so I said I guess so."
"You didn't even know this guy and you agreed to go with him? Jeffy . . ."
"No, Pop. Oh, sorry. He said he was that guy's nephew. You know, the guy that runs the place. So I figured he was okay and all."
"You did, did you? But you really didn't know if he was telling the truth or not, right?"
"Well, um, I suppose not, but he seemed . . . Well, he didn't seem all that believable, really, now that I think about it."
"Great. Okay, you're still here so he couldn't have had too bad of an agenda for you."
"I mean, he obviously didn't have anything planned that you had to fight your way out of or anything."
"Oh, no, huh-uh. He seemed okay, just a little shady-like. There's these guys at our school that act like this guy did. They think they're pretty neat and all, but they're just guys that think a lot about themselves is all. A couple picked on Elliot once but they stopped when they found out I was his brother. No one picks on Elliot anymore."
Jeffy grinned with a pride showing through that told me he was glad he could protect his brother. I was glad that his protection hadn't included any more trips to the hospital for any of the students.
"Hey, kinda like those three jerks that were beating on Walter. 'Member?"
"Jeffy, why would you go with . . . Okay, I'm sorry. Finish your story. I'll try not to interrupt you anymore."
"It's okay, Pop. So, this guy says to come around the building and he'd show me somethin' and I said, "Why not?"."
I started to shake my head slowly, unbelievably, but decided to hear him out.
"When we got around to the other side of the restrooms almost the whole wall was painted in the coolest graffiti you ever saw. Well, I ever saw, anyway. It was so cool. He said he did it. And, before you say anything, I asked him if it was okay for him ta do that and that's when he said the guy was his uncle."
Jeffy looked a little proud, like he'd done all the right things and asked all the right questions of this kid.
"How old was this kid, Jeffy?"
"Oh, he was probably a year or two older than I am, maybe more." Jeffy chuckled a little before he continued, "He had a few hairs on his chin like he was trying to grow a beard."
I'll have to admit, I was holding a lot back, incredulous of the fact that Jeffy had pretty much set himself up for any number of different scenarios that could have gotten him hurt or worse. And, I must have looked it.
"Just go on. We can talk about all this when you get done."
"Um, okay. So, he set down his backpack and started taking out all kinds of spray cans and then started doin' more. Then he asked me if I wanted to help. I didn't wanna wreck his stuff so I said no. But he said he'd do an area, ya know, like outline it, then I could fill it in. So . . ."
"So, you helped him deface, I mean, paint the back of the restrooms. Did he say he had permission to do that? Of course he did. What was I thinking?"
"Well, I just figured, since he was that guy's nephew that it's okay. Right?" he asked, looking at me hopefully.
"Don't ask me. I have no idea who he is and certainly don't know that he's Wilbur's nephew."
"Oh, his name is Wilbur? I'd forgotten that." Jeffy got kind of quiet and looked down at his hands on the table in front of him.
"Why did you say that, son?"
"Um, well, he said the guy's name was Chuck or something and I didn't remember hearing it so I . . . Hmm, I guess I shoulda remembered better."
"Well, in your defense, maybe there's another man that runs the place with Wilbur whose name is Chuck."
"Yeah, sure, but I kinda doubt it now, Pop."
"Okay, so what happened to the kid? Did he go back to the office to have lunch with his family?" I was a bit skeptical of that option.
"Um, well, I don't really know. I left before he did because I started to realize that I'd been gone for too long and then heard the other kids laughin' and stuff and goin' into the restroom to use the showers. That's when I came back here cuz I figured you'd be getting' upset by then, huh?"
"Well, I'm glad that you thought that through by then. Yes, I was getting upset and I did have several of the men helping me scour the place looking for you. That side of the restrooms is pretty well hidden by those big, overgrown rhododendrons. I guess no one went back in there far enough to see you.'
"I guess. So, are you super mad at me?"
"Mad? I'll have to admit that I was pretty scared that something happened to you. You have to realize that this kind of thing happens to run in our family. We haven't had the greatest luck in keeping us all together and safe, have we?"
"Um, no, I suppose not," he answered, looking at his hands again.
"Well, I'm not so much mad at you, Jeffy, as I am disappointed that you'd do something like that after I specifically asked you all to stay together. I don't know what it will take for you guys to know how much I love you and would practically die if anything happened to any of you. You're just too important to me, you know."
"Um, yeah, sorry, Pop."
"Yeah, well, this time 'sorry' doesn't cut it. That's too lame. You know better and you obviously knew I was going to be upset. To do that to someone you love is a big deal to me, young man."
"So, what's gonna happen?"
"First, I want you to come over here, next to me."
His eyes got huge, expecting the very worst, but he did slowly get up and walk around to my side of the table. He stood just out of my reach until I pointed to a spot right in front of me, after I'd turned around on the bench seat to face him.
I almost chuckled when he started to kneel in front of me, until I reached out and held him up. He looked at me and I motioned for him to step closer. He took one step, then I grabbed him up and hugged him.
After several seconds he sighed and said, "Wow. I thought you were gonna . . ."
"Never, Jeffy. I was just afraid of losing you. But I'd never take it out on you physically. You've had enough of that in your time to last you a lifetime."
"Sorry, Pop. I really am."
"Well, if you aren't, you may well be. The first thing on your list of, shall we say, punishments? No, responsibilities as a result of your irresponsibility, is to go tell Wilbur what you and . . . Does this kid have a name?"
"Oh, yeah. Sorry. It's Kennedy."
"Okay, then you need to go and tell Wilbur what you and his nephew," I said, tongue in cheek, "did to the restroom wall. If he approved of it, then you may be in the clear."
Jeffy looked down at me where he was standing at arm's length and smiled when he thought he could be free of any repercussions from their actions.
"In the clear with him, Jeffy. You still have me to deal with."
"Oh. What . . . um, what do I hafta do for you?"
"I haven't thought that through yet. After all, I didn't expect to be put into a place of disciplining you boys for violating our trust in each other."
"Ouch. Sorry, Pop. I shoulda known . . . Naw, I knew better. I never shoulda stayed with him."
"Jeffy, while I do accept your apology, it comes a little late. You need to learn to obey first and ask second or something else could happen. Something that I don't even want to imagine. You know, families go their whole lives without so much as a small incident happening to them. We've really only been together a few months and already we've had far more than our share of mind-boggling events happen. And that doesn't count any of the crap all three of you guys have been through before meeting me."
"Yeah, and," said Jeffy, starting with a smile and ending by sitting on my lap, "Things got a ton better because of you in our lives. Thanks. We all love ya, ya know."
Had the little imp flashed his eyebrows at me I wouldn't have been a bit surprised. What a con artist in the making! Still, I had the hardest time to keep from laughing.
"Thank you for saying so, son, but it doesn't change the fact that something will be done about this particular incident and it will be worse should it ever happen again."
He slid off my leg and stood up but kept his face down.
"Hmm, okay. Come with me and we'll go find Wilbur."
"Now? Do we hafta?"
"Oh, we most certainly hafta, young man. You know he could press charges if he wants to. What you both did, if it was without the owner's permission, could be considered a crime."
"But it's really good art. It really is. Hey, you wanna see?"
"Oh, I think we'll all be seeing it soon enough."
The walk up to the main office was one of the longest of Jeffy's life, to look at him. It looked like he was headed to the gallows. Some of the younger boys started to follow but I waved them off.
"We'll be back soon, boys. Go catch us some dinner."
That seemed like a good idea and they all started to run toward the river.
"Don't forget the poles!" I shouted.
So they braked, turned and ran the other way. I had a whole gaggle of pipsqueaks, it seemed!
When we got to the office, Wilbur's wife was sitting in an old easy chair, leaning over a TV tray, eating some concoction and totally absorbed by what was on the television in front of her. There was a bell that we could have rung to get her attention but I was afraid it might scare her. I looked over at Jeffy and he had a rather disgusted look on his face.
"Gross," he whispered to me.
"Maybe we should look for him around the back of the building," I suggested.
Just as we turned to go, we heard the toilet flush and soon Wilbur walked into the room next to his wife. He immediately saw us and walked into the outer office area where we were waiting.
"Hey, fellas. What can I do for you both?" he asked with a big grin.
"Wilbur, we have something we need you to look into," I said, looking at Jeffy, who was looking at me and grimacing.
"Oh, well, now, I rightly plan on gettin' to that other facility out yonder, gentlemen, if'n that's your concern."
"No, while that is high on our list, this is something unrelated. I wanted to ask you if you go by Chuck or if there is someone in your management team that goes by Chuck."
"Management Team? Ha! I declare. We'z the only management team besides the owners and none o' them is a Chuck. Why'd you wanna know, anyway," he asked.
"It seems as though my son here met a young man named Kennedy who said his uncle worked here and was named Chuck."
"Huh! If that don't beat all," said Wilbur, scratching his head and squinting his eyes, as if he were thinking very hard. Then he turned to look at his wife and said, "Sweetkins, you know of anyone named Chuck that works here?"
He had to repeat it twice before she turned toward him.
"What? Who? Chuck? You idiot. Ain't no one work here 'ceptin' us, lame brain. Good grief." Then she turned back to her television program slowly shaking her head in disbelief.
"Well, I guess we got told, huh?" he said, smiling back at us.
I looked at Jeffy and his eyes were huge. I don't think he could believe what had just taken place either.
"Okay, then, Wilbur, we have a bit of a problem."
"O-oh? You do . . . Wait, we do?"
"Yes, see Jeffy here said that this Kennedy said it was okay if he painted graffiti on the back wall of the restroom over here. He claimed he was your nephew, or at least the nephew of someone named Chuck. I guess Jeffy thought this kid was telling the truth, at least at first."
"O-oh. Hmm. Okay, so what should we do? I don't know a Kennedy. Do you supposin' that my Sweetkins has a nephew that I never knowed about?" he asked, turning toward his wife once more.
"Um, Wilbur, I doubt it. He didn't say he had an aunt, just an uncle."
I think I was starting to get a headache and I never got headaches. But then again I'd never met anyone quite like Wilbur.
"O-oh. So, what should we do?"
"Um, well, we could go look and see what damage was done."
"Damage? Damage? I thought you said they just painted some." He was getting a little excited.
"Yes. Some people would consider that damage. If it's defacing your property."
"If it's de . . . Um, maybe we best go see it firsthand then," he said, turning toward his wife.
"Sweetkins, we'z off to go see the restroom wall. Seems that someone . . ."
But she waved him off before he could finish. She didn't even turn her head to look at him.
A couple of the men followed us to the restrooms and a couple of the boys stood and watched.
"All you guys gotta go to the bathroom together," asked Liam, chuckling.
"Not quite, Liam," said George. "Go help the boys with their fishing, please."
We worked our way around the building and fought our way through the overgrown bushes to get to the back of the building.
In front of us was the colorful artwork of a talented young artist. It was all very tasteful and looked to be covering most of the back wall. It was full of brilliant colors that wove their way into an overlapping design across the whole wall. It actually was quite good.
"Well, I'll be," said Wilbur. "If that isn't somethin' to behold." He stood gazing at it with his hands on his hips, then he slowly walked along the wall to take it all in a little closer.
"Wow, Tim. Someone did a nice job," said Bill.
"Yes, but he didn't have permission and Jeffy helped deface it."
"Hmm, I see what you mean, sir. I'm a thinkin' what we should be doin' about it all. I got an idea that I think'll work right dandy."
"Uh-oh," whispered Jeffy stepping back a bit.
"Yup, I think it's so."
"What did you have in mind, Wilbur? And, since Jeffy helped deface it, you may have him help you with whatever you plan to do to fix it up."
"You'd do that for me, Jeffy? Well, don't wonders never cease?"
Jeffy had a rather pained look on his face.
"Let's see. I think if we cut down maybe every other of these here bushes, you could just about see the whole thing from the path over yonder. If'n that ain't enough, we'll just whack 'em all down. Okay, boy. Looks like we got us work ta do. I gots us a chain saw that'll take care o' these bushes, lickity split. Then we'll throw 'em all into the back of my pickup and I'll toss 'em into the pile over ta yonder way. We'll have this done in no time a'tall."
He didn't wait for anyone's reaction. He just started walking toward his shed and his tools.
At first I was astonished but, as I thought about it, it would have been a crime to cover up such a great piece of artwork. All the guys around us seemed to agree.
"Well, there you go, Jeffy. Looks like your afternoon is cut out for you. Come see me when you're done helping him, please."
"Yes, sir," said the boy.
Any work was not on his list of fun things to do. But he still had to follow through with his responsibilities in the matter.
"Jeffy, promise me that you'll stay well away from Wilbur when he starts using the chain saw. And please, if he asks you to use it, just tell him I wouldn't allow it. Okay?"
"Oh, you can count on it, Pop. I don't think he's altogether up there. I'm not getting' anywhere near him while he has that in his hands."
I tried to stay as much out of sight as I could, but I'm a worry-wart and had to know if he was going to be okay. Wilbur came back with the chainsaw, complete with two sets of goggles, which I appreciated and started taking down every other bush. It didn't make me too sad to see the bushes go as there were a plethora of them surrounding the whole area. I knew if anyone came in to clean the place up they'd have to remove many, many more.
"Dad, did you punish Jeffy yet?" asked my littlest son.
"No, I haven't. He's helping Wilbur make the best of the painted wall, then he'll meet me and we'll discuss his punishment."
"Oh. 'Kay, then."
I guess that satisfied him. He walked away with several others toward the river. I noticed that he had to pull Denver a bit to get him to come.
"Denver," I shouted at the boy, "Come back in an hour and you'll really be able to see it."
He flashed me a dimpled smile and took off running after AJ.
Elliot and Enrique walked up.
"Pop, is Jeffy using that chainsaw?"
"No. Wilbur is cutting some of the bushes to make the wall more visible. It's actually done very well."
"What happened to the boy that did the painting, Sergeant?"
"Actually, I don't know, Enrique. Jeffy didn't say and I didn't think to ask him."
"We're glad it didn't get painted over, Pop. We both think it's really good work."
By the time I'd explained the goings on at the back of the restrooms to whatever men and boys stuck around to listen, I heard the chainsaw go off, making things a bit quieter around the camp. After a cup of coffee I saw Jeffy walking back into the campsite.
"That was a lot easier than I thought it'd be, Pop."
He looked like he'd been crawling in bushes and mud. His face was dirty except for the ring around his eyes where the safety goggles protected them. His hair had twigs and leaves entwined within. He looked a little like a very dirty, stuffed scarecrow.
"It looks like you really got into your work. I think you need to go take another shower and get cleaned up. Dinner shouldn't be too long."
"Another . . .? Okay," he said, plodding on into our tent to gather his stuff.
Soon, the rest of the boys of all ages started migrating back to our campsites, looking for handouts.
"We're hungry, Dad. Is there something we can have?"
"AJ, I think George laid out some veggies and dip for you guys to hold you over until dinner. Then go and play until we call you to get washed up for dinner."
They disappeared around the first row of bushes between the two sites. Soon, the men called them to wash up and they were back and ready to go to the restrooms.
"You might want to detour to see the back of the building before you wash up, Denver. It really is a fine piece of artwork."
"Alright!" said the boy, taking off from the group.
"With someone, Denver!" I yelled after him.
He turned and gave me a very embarrassed looking smile and went to his friends to ask for someone to accompany him. It didn't surprise me to see AJ volunteer immediately and most of the others follow him to meet up with Denver. I made Jeffy wait until the kids came back before I'd let him take his shower. I also asked AJ to hang out with him for the few minutes it would take Jeffy to finish getting cleaned, dried and clothed.
"Pop, can I go hang out with the guys now? I'm really sorry for what I did."
"Jeffy, I just want to make sure that the next time you make good decisions about these kinds of choices. I don't want anything to happen to you."
"I know. I'll try real hard. I promise."
"Okay, you can go, but I need to ask you something first."
"Uh-oh," he said, a bit cautiously.
"No, this doesn't really have anything to do with you, but I need to ask you about Ray."
"Carlton? Yeah, what about him?"
"Well, I told you he and his dad couldn't come because they were on a trip together somewhere."
"Yeah, I remember."
"Okay, I'm asking because, when I talked to his mom, she sounded like she was pretty close to tears when she told me they couldn't come. I was wondering if you'd talked to him recently."
"Hmm, no. The last time was at our adoption party, now that you mention it. Maybe I should try to call and see if everything's okay?"
"Oh, I suppose it can wait until we get back. It's only a couple of days. I was just concerned. That's all."
Dinner was wonderful. Kaye, bless her heart, had packed some amazing fried chicken, which we ate cold. Lenny's wife had added a big tub of potato salad. We also had more veggies and dip. Afterward, we sat around the campfire again and told old stories. Most were not too scary, but some made the younger ones look around and cuddle closer. We complimented our entertainment with good ole s'mores. Of course, the kids loved them, though we limited them to two each. They are something that you could eat plenty of but their richness would soon turn against you if you indulged too deeply.
And so passed the morning and the night of the second day, and it was good.
"What was that?" I heard Jeffy ask, probably of Elliot.
I have no idea what time it was. It must have been very early in the morning, a few hours after we went to sleep, maybe.
"Huh, wha . . .? I didn't hear any . . ." and silence as Elliot fell back into the welcome coma of sleep.
"Oh," said Jeffy, then silence after I heard him roll over in his sleeping bag.
I heard what I thought was a 'thunk' outside the tent but I was drifting so deeply it might have been my imagination.
"Anybody see the loaf of bread I just had out yesterday? I don't think we had two or three slices out of it after we used up the other two loafs for lunch."
Some of the guys were collecting the ingredients for our breakfast when Matias made his discovery.
"Wait, Matias, wasn't there a big jar of peanut butter with it? I think they were both in the same cooler," said George.
"Nope. It is not there, as well, amigo. It must be with the loaf of bread."
"Do you think some of the kids heisted them for a snack?" asked Bill.
"No. There were always a couple of us up and about before the kids got up. No way could they have taken it."
"Yeah, well, we need to get Dan on it. He's the closest thing to a detective we have."
"I say let it go," said George. "I've got plenty of both. I think Kaye packed two more large jars of peanut butter and maybe a whole bakery worth of breads and rolls."
"Okay, but you'd better go make sure it didn't get taken either."
Just then we heard behind us, "Bears!"
We turned to see Jeffy standing near us with eyes ready to pop out of his head, while several of the older boys were standing by him, having, evidently, heard some of our conversation. None of the other boys seemed to be anywhere near as anxious as Jeffy was.
"Jeffy," I said, trying to calm him down, "I don't think there are even any bears that live around here."
"You don't think so or you know there aren't?" he asked me.
"I'm not completely sure. Why don't you go ask Wilbur? He'd know, I'm sure."
"Um, oka-ay," he said slowly, turning toward the front office. He took a few steps and froze. Then he turned around toward us. "Um, I think I'll just take your word for it, Pop. It's not that I'm scared to go up there or anything."
"Fine. Why don't you guys get your brothers and friends up and get washed up for breakfast?"
Jeffy chimed in on that right away, "Yeah. Good idea. We can all go at the same time." Then he gave me a blushing grin.
"Jeffy," I asked my son, my arm around his shoulders, "No bear is going to come within a hundred feet of this place as long as there are so many of us around all the time, is it?"
"Really. Besides that, do you think a bear would gently open the cooler, take only what he wanted, then replace the lid and lock it? Don't you think he'd more likely rip the thing apart with his claws?"
"Well, yeah. I never thought of that. Yeah, I suppose you're right."
"So, do we agree that there's nothing to be afraid of?"
"Yes. Thanks, Pop. I feel a lot better."
It started raining shortly after breakfast. It wasn't hard, just sprinkles but the older boys gave up on playing Frisbee and the younger ones reeled in their poles and came to find out what they could do until the rain stopped. It was too early to start lunch so I had the guys roll up the sleeping bags in our tent and let them play in there. They got out a couple of decks of cards that Connor had brought and he explained a couple of simple games.
It was only about half an hour when the rain began to intensify. It almost sounded like hail, it was so hard. Soon everyone was crowded into our tent. There wasn't enough room to play cards then, just mostly sit and talk.
We didn't even get a chance to start any good stories when Wilbur pushed open the tent flap and stuck his rain hat covered head in.
"They's word up yonder that this one is a gully washer. That means the river will probably overflow. We ain't had one so bad that it washed up ta here yet. I reckon it'll just slow down until it stops. Never rains much, ya know."
We invited him to stand inside the tent since his body kept the flap open and the rain was coming in. When he came in he stood over the rolled up sleeping bags and dripped water on them until I gently but firmly moved him a step away from them.
"So, the river's never overflowed since you've taken care of this place?" asked Dan.
"That's right as . . . well, rain."
Then I asked, "Just how long have you been up here, Wilbur."
"Let's see, we got here," he started, looking up and counting on his fingers. He mouthed every number and went through his fingers twice before he looked at us and said, "Yessir, in August we'll a' been here six, um . . . " He paused, looking up again.
"Okay, then nothing like this for the last six years," suggested George.
"Oh, um, no, no," Wilbur started, waving his arm to stop George.
That sprinkled more rain water on the kids near him. They all tried to scamper away from him in the tight fitting tent. I'm so glad we got a big one.
"No, see, when I said six, I meant six months," continued Wilbur, smiling at us.
"Six months? You could have had floods right before that continuously," said Bill.
"Oh, I can't really think this will last too long."
Just then we heard a loud crash of thunder that seemed like it was right outside the tent. Several of the boys jumped.
I looked over at Wilbur and noticed that his feet were in a puddle of rain water.
"Okay, will you guys help us get the sleeping bags to higher ground? It looks like the river isn't overflowing, right into our tent," I said, sarcastically.
"Hey, we'd better go check on our stuff as well," said George, waving to Liam to help him.
The rest of the dad's went to check on their things too. The kids helped me pile up the things that could get wet on top of the rolled up foam we used under our sleeping bags. Then we laid our bags with our clothes in them on top. It wasn't but a few minutes before the rest came trickling back in, all soaking wet, having stuffed their vehicles with anything that could be affected by the rain.
"Wilbur, don't you have to go tell the rest of the campers that they're in for a flood, maybe?" asked Dan.
"Oh, naw. S'only you folk. Yup, the rest of the campground is empty."
There was another crash of lightning close by, followed by the continuous noise of the rain.
The puddle seemed to get a bit bigger, but after about an hour the rain stopped and we could see that the sun had come out. It was a good thing it was summer or we would all be freezing.
Finding dry wood for a fire was fun. Not! We had kids searching everywhere that there might be some covered by fallen branches or under a ledge.
Wilbur was kind of hanging around like he didn't want to leave. He wasn't in the way so no one said anything. After at least a half hour of searching for dry wood, he finally said something.
"You know, you could always use the wood stacked up in the shack up at the office that we provide for our campers."
To a man, and boy, we all stopped what we were doing and turned slowly to look at him.
"What?" he said, almost defensively.
"Thank you for the offer, Wilbur," Lenny said. "I think we'll take you up on it."
I shouted to the boys to gather round and had them follow Wilbur to the shack and the dry wood. They each brought back a couple of pieces or more, depending on how big the boys were. There was enough to start fires in all the fire pits. Soon we were all toasty warm, if not still a bit damp in places. I got some rope from George, which was from Kaye, really, and tied a line from which to hang several of our sleeping bags. We also found a wheelbarrow and a sand pile and brought a load over to level out our site, under the tent, so we didn't have a puddle. Then we moved the tent a few feet away from the puddle that had been there.
Actually, everything dried up pretty quickly under the bright sun. I walked down to the restrooms with Dan and Matias. They both went up to the urinals to do their duty but I noticed something as I walked in.
"Does anyone remember hearing the boys ask to come down here after the rainstorm?" I asked, looking at the floor that lead to the shower area.
"No, I don't."
"Nor I, amigo. Por què, I mean, why do you ask?"
"Well, there's mud tracked in here and they look like small feet made them," I said, pointing to the trail of mud. "Hmm, one is even barefoot."
"I see. Ah, they go into the shower area," said Matias, following the mud trail of small foot prints.
We followed them to the door of the shower side of the restrooms and heard some scurrying around like someone was really there and doing a poor job of hiding.
"Please, don't be scared. We won't hurt you. We're here with our sons to have a good time. Please come out."
We heard a small, shaking voice say, "Por favor, no nos hagan daño."
Then we heard some more sounds of someone moving around.
"Oh, they are speaking in Spanish. They say don't hurt them. Let me talk to them."
"While you do that, Matias, I'm going to get your sons. It might be easier for them to talk to them."
"Sì, Dan, good idea."
We didn't go any closer. Matias started to speak to them in a calm, gentle voice. I know he was assuring them that we meant no harm. Still, they didn't move.
"I asked if they would tell me how many they are. As you heard, they wouldn't answer me."
Behind us, we heard Dan say, "Okay, the rest of you guys stay out here. They're already scared enough without having a gaggle of gigglers raid them. Jose and Enrique, will you come in and talk to them. They sound very young."
"Boys, thank goodness Dan thought to go get you. All we have heard is one niño say don't hurt us. They won't talk to us. They must be scared to death," Matias told them. "Stay here until they are ready to come out. We don't want to frighten them any more than they are."
Enrique started to speak to our stowaways. Jose added a sentence once in a while. It made me wish I had paid better attention in my two semesters of Spanish in high school.
After some talking with no response, we heard one of the kids say something. Matias translated for Dan and me.
"They say they have come very far and have been beaten by the drivers. They are afraid they will be beaten again. Enrique and Jose are trying to assure them that we only want to help them. Wait. Enrique is offering them a warm place to stay at our camp and food. Ah, as you heard, they are discussing it. I think I hear at least three voices.
"Okay, they say they want to come out but are really scared. Jose said that my two would come in there and get them and show them that we mean no harm. Good, they have agreed."
So, Enrique and Jose walked around the corner, from the restroom to the shower area. We heard some quiet talking and then the scuffling of shoes, apparently the kids getting to their feet.
"Okay, Papa, we are coming out. We have five very scared little boys with us who need something to eat," Jose told us.
As he did, we could hear Enrique talking quietly to the boys. Matias said that he was translating what Jose was saying to us.
Around the corner came Jose and Enrique, each with their hands on the shoulder of two boys walking beside them. The other boy was trailing behind them. He was carrying a white and blue plastic bag in one hand. It looked like it was weighed down with something cylindrical.
When the boys saw us, they stopped and even took a step back. Enrique said that it was okay, that we were the fathers of the boys he'd told them about and that we were very good men, Matias said.
Matias got down on one knee to be at their level and spoke to them. Both of his boys were smiling at the little ones and nodding their heads at whatever Matias was saying. He pointed to Dan and me, then out the door and I heard the words, 'otro niños', the other boys.
I noticed two of the boys straining to see out the door to look for our boys. Jose and Enrique gently urged the boys on and they were soon in front of Dan, Matias and me.
"Well, that solves the mystery of the stolen bread and peanut butter," said Dan, pointing to the bag the boy was carrying. I could see that the bag was empty of the bread because the weight of the jar of peanut butter was stretching the bag around it.
When the young boy noticed Dan pointing he quickly gasped and brought both of his hands behind his back in an effort to hide the stolen bag. He started to cry. One of the older boys moved to stand between him and us and said he was very sorry but they hadn't eaten for many days. Enrique, after he translated for us, sounded very reassuring and even waved it off as nothing to worry about. The older boy turned to the little one with the bag and talked to him. The little boy slowly brought the bag from behind his back and walked up to Matias and held it out for him.
Matias waved his hand to indicate the boy could keep it but the boy just set it down.
"I'm telling him that we're going to go get some more food for them, all of them," said Matias. Then he turned to them and spoke in Spanish.
"Can we come in? Can we come in, Dad?" shouted AJ from the door.
"Wait a minute, son. We're coming out."
"But, Dad, Denver and I gotta come in there."
"It'll only be a minute," I told him.
"No, Dad. I mean we really gotta come in there, soon too."
"O-o-oh. Okay. Just the two of you though."
They didn't even look at the boys. They just quickly ran to the urinals and started to defuel. They both sighed loud enough for us to hear.
When they came in the five boys stepped back for just a second, then had to see the new boys. I think it was a bit reassuring to them to see more boys closer to their ages, though these kids looked pretty young. A couple of the boys giggled as they watched the two boys hurry in and heard their sigh of relief.
As we all approached the door to the outside, we were able to better see the young waifs. They all looked like their clothes were being held on by threads. Two boys, that looked a couple of years older than the other three, had light coats over their arms. The younger boys were in shorts, t-shirts and sandals, except for one that was carrying his sandals in one hand. The boys were also all wet and looked like they were striped from where the water had cut through the layers of dirt on their arms and faces.
"There's little hope that we have any clothes small enough for them," I said. "Maybe if Denver had extra clothes, the older boys could fit them okay. But they really need something substantial."
"Well, before we do anything else, let's get them fed," suggested Lenny. "They look like they're starving."
"They look like they have been starved, amigo," said Matias. "I will have my boys talk to them as they eat. They will make friends with them very quickly, I think. Maybe they can find out where they came from."
"Matias, why don't you have them wash their hands and faces real good and they can take showers after their meal."
"Good idea, my friend." He turned to the boys and said, "Chicos, vengan conmigo a lavarse las manos y la cara."
They followed him to the sinks and he must have explained what we had decided about washing, then eating first, followed by showers. As he explained the details they turned to look when he pointed to the sinks, then the outside door, then to the showers. The little ones clung to the two older boys while the two older boys nodded and smiled, especially when Matias pointed outside, toward the food, no doubt.
Just then, AJ and Denver walked past them to wash their hands. Once again the five boys stood still and watched in awe of the two, as though it was the first time they'd ever seen other boys. When AJ and Denver were done they motioned for the five boys to take their place at the sinks. They had big, warm smiles on their faces which couldn't help but make the new boys feel a little more welcome.
I herded everyone that was standing outside the door watching, to our campsite, in preparation for the small ones to come and eat.
So the men started to make the quickest meal possible. That, we decided, was scrambled eggs and toast. Bill started frying up some bacon and George found some salsa that was brought for snacks with tortilla chips. Glasses of milk were poured.
Our boys stood around and watched. I asked Elliot and Enrique to set the table for the five boys. We only had plastic ware, separate from our mess kits, but it was good plastic ware.
Soon, five little boys showed up at our campsite, with Matias and Jose. They looked relatively clean. I could see just how dirty they had been from the lines that showed on their necks and upper arms where they had been washed up to that place. They were really in need of a good cleaning.
The two older boys cautiously made their way through the crowd to the table. The three younger boys were frozen with their mouths open, staring at the big boys in front of them. That only lasted until Matias told them that their meal was served and pointed to the table.
All five boys bowed their heads as one of the boys said grace. They all crossed themselves and began to lay into the food. It was very clear that they were famished. It was also becoming very clear that there wasn't going to be enough.
I ran to the site where we did our cooking and started to make a plate of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I figured two each would fill up any cavities in their hollow legs. By the time I had finished, Lenny was helping. I carried the plate over just in time to see them set down their forks and look around for more to eat. The big glasses of milk that were set in front of them were soon only empty glasses.
"Wow," commented AJ. "Even we don't eat like that." Then he giggled into his hands.
The little boys were so cute. Each time they heard one of our boys say something they would stop what they were doing and stare at the boy speaking, like they were in awe. That lasted long enough for them to remember that their food was in front of them and they began to attack it again.
Try as they would, Enrique and Jose made little progress talking to the boys. It wasn't just because they had their mouths full most of the time. They were also obviously reluctant to divulge much information.
By that time several of the other boys had sat down beside their new friends. More awe from the little ones. Then the boys began to talk to the little boys as though they would understand their English. The little ones would stare at the talker, then look at Enrique or Jose as if to ask what was being said.
The three littler boys each ate one PB and J sandwich, but the older boys ate both of theirs. Our boys split up the other three sandwiches, leaving just crumbs on the plate. Once again, the younger boys had to watch as our boys enjoyed their sandwiches.
Matias said something to the boys and they all patted their stomachs and either nodded their heads or said, "Sì."
"I asked them if their tummies were full. You saw their answer," he told us with a grin.
That signaled Enrique and Jose to try to get the boys to talk. For almost ten minutes they asked questions, gestured around the campgrounds with their hands and waited for long pauses for the boys to answer. The three young ones would keep looking to one of the older boys, who would just look at them and shake his head.
Matias was getting antsy and began to speak calmly to the boys. They always seemed to listen politely to whoever was talking, but it always ended with the older boy shaking his head.
I could tell that one of the little ones was getting fidgety. Finally, after the older boy shook his head for maybe the tenth time, the littler boy stood up, reached over, slapped the older boy's chest and started in on him in what was an over exuberant barrage of loud Spanish. When he was done, he looked at the boy with contempt, sighed a big sigh and sat down hard.
The older boy looked at the other older boy. They both shrugged their shoulders at the same time and turned to Matias, who was in awe, as we all were, of what we had just witnessed.
But it had the right effect on them. The boy started to talk to Matias' boys and didn't quit for a few minutes.
Matias translated for us:
"His name is Paco. The one with the mouth, he said, is his little brother. His name is Louis but they call him Lica. The older boy is Cesar and the two other little ones are Cristian and Humberto. He says that the others are not related.
"As I thought, they come from Guatemala and have left their families because they were being accosted by gangs there. In the beginning they wanted them to join, but soon, their whole families were terrorized because they wouldn't join the gangs.
"He said that the gangs were led by older men that were very bad and nasty, that would think nothing of taking someone away from their family in the middle of the night and they would never see them again. It was very scary as you can imagine.
"Oh, Jose asked their ages. Paco is eleven as is Cesar. Cristian is eight and the other two are seven."
I had to digest that. They were so young and so impossibly far from their families. And then it occurred to me that they were what all the excitement was about on the Mexican border. They were among the thousands of young people making their way to the United States for asylum.
"Enrique, ask them how they got to be so far north from the border."
When Enrique turned to listen to me, so did the five boys. Enrique turned back to the boys and asked them.
When Paco began to answer him, Matias started to translate for us again.
"He says they were told at the border, the Mexican side of the border, that they could get a ride to a safe place in the United States and that they could work off the expense once they reached their destination. Then they were loaded into an old van and driven for a whole day, from darkness to darkness, before they came to this place.
"When they arrived the other night they were hungry and filthy from their previous journey to the border. They asked for food, even just water. They asked over and over all along the way. Finally, one of the two men in the front of the van came back and threatened Paco if he didn't shut up and do as they said. He then slapped Paco so hard his mouth bled. He told them they were their property now and they had better obey them or their new masters would not be so kind when they reached their destination."
"Oh my God!" said Dan. "They were going to sell the boys?"
There were gasps among us, especially our young boys. Our visitors just stared at us as we all reacted to the violation that was made on them.
Paco began to speak again but I asked them to wait a minute. I then inquired of the other dads if we could have some drinks for the boys and for us. It was getting hot out.
"Oh, gracias, gracias," said Paco when the drinks came.
We all took the time to enjoy the refreshment before the boys continued their tale. This time it was Cesar that began talking.
"He says that the man came back again when he had had enough of the younger boys crying after they heard of their fate. He slapped Cristian and reached over to slap Lica, but Paco grabbed his leg and he fell down. The man wasted no time in getting up and kicking Paco. Luckily, his foot went under Paco's leg and only gave him a bruise. Cesar says the man was very angry and went up front and talked very loudly to the driver. He heard them say that they would pull off soon and take care of the one problem, that the younger boys were worth more than the loud mouth was anyway."
"What do you suppose that meant?" asked Stewart.
"I'm afraid it meant that they no longer needed Paco," George explained to his son. He then looked at the men before he continued. "And that they would . . . well, leave him somewhere on the road." His sad eyes betrayed the real truth about what was probably the fate of Paco at the time.
"Oh. Wow!" said AJ.
"Hmm, that means that, if they pulled off and stopped here, someplace close to their destination, they had to be close to whoever was going to sell the boys," said Lenny.
"Or at least their drop off point," added Dan.
I could see Lenny and Dan easing into their roles as protectors. They even moved to the side and began conferring.
"Cesar says that as soon as the van stopped here and the door was opened that the boys started to look for a way to get away from their captors. The men grabbed them and slapped Paco, but all the boys twisted and turned until the men lost their grip and the boys fled into the woods."
The other boys were nodding their heads in agreement of what Cesar had said, then showed their bruises. In the light, it was plain to see the bruising that was beginning to show up on Paco's face and neck. He had far more than the others. He even looked like he still had some pain.
Dan walked up to me and asked me to step to the side with Lenny and him.
"Tim, I don't want to cut our time short but I think I need to get to a place where I can call in the events that have taken place so far and get someone looking for the ultimate destination that would have drastically changed these kids' lives. I have to believe that this wasn't the first time that kids were brought here, to this area."
"Okay. What do you need from us, besides watching over your brood until you get back?"
"That should do for now. Since we're in another jurisdiction, about all I can do is pass on the information."
"The big question I have about this whole thing is what do we do about these kids?" said Lenny. "I'm afraid they'll get wrapped up by the system and just carted back to the Mexican border and swallowed up by the thing they fear most, gangs."
"I agree with you, Lenny, but I'm sure the authorities will want to speak to the kids," said Dan.
Lenny looked really worried and kind of walked off a few steps as if to contemplate the possibilities.
I was as concerned and looked at Dan with a face I tried to make look as pleadingly as possible.
"Tim, I share your concerns. I don't know what to do about the boys. As long as they're here, we need to let the law do its duty."
"What did you say, Dan?" asked Lenny walking swiftly back to join us.
"Um, I said I shared your concerns?" answered Dan, with question marks flying all around him.
"No, you said, 'As long as they're here. That's what you said." Lenny had a half smile on and got pretty close to Dan.
"Yes, but . . . Oh, wait a minute. You can't be thinking . . . Listen, if you're up to what I think you are, you need to wait until after I leave," Dan said, waving off Lenny. "You know I can't be a party to anything unlawful."
"And just how unlawful is it to try to save the lives of five innocent boys?"
"You know what I mean. I repeat, guys, I share your concerns. And, after I leave, what you do while I'm gone is out of my control or knowledge, right?"
Lenny came over to me and put his arm around my shoulder and smiled this 'all-knowing' smile at Dan.
"Why, are you implying that we'd do anything that wasn't quite etiquette, Dan?"
"Oh, heavens no. Just something not quite within the scope of the laws as they are written."
I stepped up to Dan and put my hand on his shoulder.
"Dan, we promise not to put any of us or our new arrivals in any danger while you're gone. Now, how danger is defined will be something that we'll work out for the moment."
"Oh, brother. Okay, I trust you guys, especially where the kids are involved. We just don't need anyone carted off in chains. Okay?"
With that, we walked back to camp and told the other men that Dan was going to find out if someone could follow up on the little ones' lead about the house supposedly nearby.
"It could be in the next state north, but I can't let this opportunity slip by at the risk of more kids being hurt."
Everyone was in agreement.
"Matias, do you think you three could get a good description of the van they used? I know I didn't see details when it was here the other night."
"Sure, Dan, give us a minute."
Matias went over to the table where all the kids had gathered around our new arrivals. They were all chattering away, oblivious to the fact that some of the listeners couldn't understand everything. But then, that went for our boys as well as the new ones. As far as I knew, Jose and Enrique were the only bilingual boys among us.
The only boys that didn't throw a sentence into the mix once in a while, were the three youngest, Lica, Cristian and Humberto. They continued to be in awe of our boys. Their mouths were open most of the time, and they were staring at whoever was speaking.
When Matias, Dan and I walked up, everyone went silent. They all looked at us, the older of our new guests concentrating on Matias.
"Jose, please ask them to describe, as best they can, the van that brought them here. If they can describe maybe some unique characteristics of the two men, that would be good, as well."
"Sì, Papa." Jose then turned back to the boys and started to speak in Spanish.
"He's asking them," said Matias, translating for us single language speakers.
Then the older boys became a bit animated and started to ask Jose some questions.
"They want to know if we're going to go get them. At least they don't sound worried for their safety. They're a little excited that maybe those men can be caught."
"No, no, no!" said Jose, looking over his shoulder at us. Then he turned back and continued to speak.
Cesar said something and swung his fist up like he would punch someone. He also had an angry look on his face.
Enrique, Jose and Matias all started to chuckle, soon joined by Paco. The younger boys were nodding their heads while looking very serious.
"Ha! Cesar asked if one of us was going to pound those two in their cojones for what they did to his friend, Paco."
Most of the men laughed at the boy's direct approach to disciplining the abusers, but the younger boys just looked like they didn't understand.
"What's cajones, Dad?" asked my pipsqueak.
"Muéstrales lo que son cajones, César?"
"I asked him to show us his cajones," said Jose, giggling.
All the new boys looked surprised, except Cesar, who reached down and grabbed his crotch.
That broke up all of our young boys.
"Oh, yeah," said AJ.
"Jose, you tell him that we will see that justice is done with those men if we catch them. But we need their help," said Dan.
So, Jose began asking a series of questions and all three of the Fuentes, Matias, Jose and Enrique, were nodding their heads as they listened to the boys answer them. Soon, they'd completed their descriptions and turned to look expectantly at Dan.
"Okay, I know it was an older van that had a good portion of it sprayed with gray primer, but I couldn't see the base color in the dark.
"Yes, they agree with you," said Matias. "They also said the base color was granate, um, how do you say . . ."
"Maroon, Papa," offered Enrique. "The color was maroon."
"Gracias, Enrique," said his dad. They also said it had a set of fancy chrome wheels; the kind that still spin when the tire isn't moving."
"O-o-h, I've seen those. They're so cool," added AJ.
"Jose, can you walk with Dan and tell him what the boys said about the two men that hurt them?"
Shortly after they returned, Dan talked to his family, then left to find cellphone coverage or a phone to make his call.
End of Chapter Sixty-two