Introductions were made and, while Larry and Devon were telling Michael about all that had come about, Jeremy and Jacob sat on the second bed, listening patiently; laughing when they talked, especially about Mrs. Cantrell.
Michael seemed to be feeling pretty well, after a good night's sleep. Breakfast was a hospital breakfast, but even so, it was a banquet compared to what he usually ate. None of it had green mold on it either!
He commented on their new clothes. That was the signal for Jeremy to bounce off the bed and come to tell him about their stacks of the neatest things they could share.
When Michael looked a bit confused, the man walked over and tried to explain.
"Michael, I want you boys to stay with me. I know that you don't know me very well, but that will, hopefully, change quickly. I just can't let you go, knowing that you could be hurt again, or even worse."
There were tears in Michael's eyes as the realization of what he'd heard filled his brain with wonderful pictures. He had almost forgotten what it was like to have a decent roof over his head. He had never known the feeling of an adult that would actually love him as his own.
"Quit'cher snivellin' punk. It ain't all that good. He's already made us set the table and junk. Next, he'll make us clean up his bedroom, too."Devon was in great form.
Larry and Michael were used to his complaining, but this time they were delighted to know it had to be in jest.
The man grabbed Devon around the neck with his huge arm and gave him a gentle scalp rubbing.
"And if you don't always obey me, my little slave, with such a horrible day of pain and work behind you, I'll paddle that fat behind until you laugh yourself to death."And he let him go.
Devon was shocked, at first. Then his eyes lit up and he gave a sigh of relief. The four other boys had recovered from their shock and started laughing at the man's words. Devon soon joined in, then did the best thing ever. He stepped up to the man and hugged him as best he could. Though his arms didn't reach around the rotund belly of his new friend, his heart stretched much farther around and through. When he let loose, he quickly wiped the tears from his eyes, hoping no one would notice.
The four boys were gaping at him, knowing that this may have been the happiest that they'd ever seen their friend.
"What? I guess I got somethin' in my eye."He didn't even bother to try to be convincing. Besides, the wet spot on the man's belly kind of gave it away.
Larry couldn't resist either. He'd had enough with his own act as the tough role model, the leader, the always ready to fight boy. He reached for his friend and gave him an awkward hug, until Devon pushed him away.
"You gonna get me all wet, pansy."Leave it to Devon to set the tone. But he did have to turn so the others didn't notice more tears.
The doctor gave the man some salve and a release form to sign. Then, after helping him dress, the four boys gave Michael a hard time as he was rolled to the front door of the hospital. When he stood up to walk to the cab he moved very slowly. As much as he didn't want to let on, there was no hiding the pain he felt from his attack the day before. When the cab arrived and he had to sit down again, his squirming told the man that sitting like that wasn't an option in a bouncing cab.
"Come up on my lap, Michael. You can lay back and I can take the pressure off of your hurt."
Michael was a bit unsure until Lar reminded him that it was the man that had carried him in his arms, all the way to the hospital, even in the cab. Of course, he didn't help anything by reminding Michael that he had been almost totally naked. But it did help to lighten their mood. Laughter is certainly the best medicine.
The man noticed that Jacob was sobbing quietly next to him.
"What's the matter, little angel?" he asked, stroking the smooth hair of his new little friend.
"His hurts. When we dressed him, he was really bruised and scraped and stuff. It makes my bottom hurt when I look at him. It makes me sad, too."
The other three boys were quick to agree.
"Yes. I agree," said the man."But it's over now, and Michael is safe with us. He'll turn the prettiest shades of blue and purple and then he will be fine, just like each of you."
Michael sighed and burrowed into the man's soft lap.
At the apartment, the man fussed at the couch to make Michael as comfortable as possible. The first thing was removing most of his clothes, down to his underwear and wrapping him in a blanket. Michael was a bit taken back by the man undressing him. Then Jacob came into the room in just his underwear.
"Uh, mister?Jacob's behind you and he's, uh . . . . "
"Naked, or almost?" said the man without looking."Ha! Yes, I imagine keeping clothes on him will be a trial. He's already been to Mrs. Cantrell's in less than that. He's becoming the talk of the whole building by now, I'm sure."
The doorbell rang and Jacob strode toward the door.
"Ha! Little one, until you can see out the little peephole to see who's there, we'll have someone dressed answer the door, okay?"
Jacob gave the cutest sheepish smile, stood with his hands in front of him and nodded. Then just stayed there, waiting for the man to open the door!
"Ha! Git, you little scamp or I'll have to line you up for the spankings Devon's going to get. Ha!"
But it wasn't one of the ladies at the door as the man had thought. It was a man in a dark suit with a long black overcoat over one arm. On his chest was a shiny badge.
"I appreciate your help, sir. It's our intention to put this man behind bars, but we need to know who he is first. I wasn't able to talk to the victim . . ."
"Michael. His name is Michael."
The detective wasn't being obnoxious or cold. He was just going about his job. And that job was to incarcerate the perpetrator; in this case, the rapist.
Of course, Michael had been there, lying on the couch, the whole time, listening to the man and the detective talk. Then the detective turned to Michael.
"So, Michael, I'm Detective Stone. I think we have some things in common."
"Uh, we do?"Michael sat up just a bit, grimacing at the pain.
"Yes. I know from talking to your doctor that you sustained....Uh, got hurt in an old run-down building somewhere. I think that means you're homeless, or were, before you came here."
Michael's head lowered a bit and his cheeks got red.
"I was homeless, too, Michael. By the time I was your age, I'd been on the street for several years."
Michael slowly nodded."Me, too. What's the other thing we gots in common?"He looked up into the policeman's eyes, curious to know more about this man, anticipation causing him to forget his shame.
"The other thing is that we both want this jerk that hurt you to go to jail. Someone gets hurt like you did every few days. It can't go on. If there aren't enough places for kids to have a place that's safe, then we need to make the other places as safe as possible.
"Michael, I need you to tell me all you know."
For the next half hour, Michael told Detective Stone everything he knew about the man that had raped and beaten him. It was a brave thing to do because he had no way of knowing if he would be on the streets again or not.
During this time, the man went to check on the boys. They'd been scooted off to the bedroom so that the detective could talk to Michael. Both Larry and Devon were pretty upset to know they couldn't be with their friend. The man made it clear that he would be there and, if anything went wrong, he would throw the man out on his rump.
Jacob was in awe, Jeremy smiled, but the older boys grunted and gave in.
So, the man wasn't surprised when they were sitting pretty much as he'd left them. He told them that they were almost through and they could get on with lunch in a few minutes. He turned to leave.
"What did you say?" asked the man, turning to look at the speaker, a shy Jacob.
"Buck. That guy's name is Buck. He said we were s'posed to come ta him, ole Buck or somethin'."
"Yeah. I forgot," said Jeremy."Jacob's right, mister. He said it when he came looking for us. He said he was ready for another round of some sweet boy.Sorry.Then some other guy came and they left."
"Thanks, boys. I'll tell the detective. He may want to talk to you."
When the man walked into the living room, Michael and Detective Stone were actually laughing. There was something about the sparkle in the detective's eyes that wasn't there when he first came in.
"Ha ha! I never thought I'd ever be comparing dining habits with another homeless boy. Whew! Nothing has changed."Then he looked more serious as he repeated, "Yes, unfortunately, nothing has changed."
"The man you're looking for is named Buck. He tried to find the two smaller boys on the next floor up, but was called away before he found them. They heard him say something about having another piece of sweet boy."
"Hm-m-m.I doubt if his name will be on the door. Now, where is this place?"
The man motioned Stone over to the window and pointed down to the wreckage below.
"Sure. Well, I'll have some officers go through it later and see what gives in there. Now I have to ask you something. But first, may I meet the other boys? No more questions, unless it will help them in any way. I've got what information I need. Oh, um, there was enough substance that the doctor was able to send in some . . . . well, enough to do a DNA test. We'll have the results back in a week or two."
The man was grateful for the information but was leery of the detective staying long enough to do something that would pull the boys apart from him, like contact Child Services.
Seeing some hesitation, Detective Stone spoke up.
"Sir, I want to remind you that I came from the same places that these boys did. I can guess that a couple of them are runaways from the system or an abusive home. Michael's been on the go for a couple of years. That's a lifetime to these kids. They don't usually survive that long. It would have been more likely that, when we found Michael, he wouldn't have been able to tell us what happened. I know that the system has flaws. I know that there are places that don't provide a safe place for these kids. They aren't all like that. I finally got lucky and found a man that wanted me. Frankly, I'd been on the street long enough that people 'wanting' me was the way I ate every day. This man wasn't like that. Oh sure, he picked me up, but he didn't . . . . well, he cared, and I . . . . I loved him."
The sparkle in the detective's eyes had turned to tears by then. Michael let out a sigh and they looked to see streaks down his cheeks, too. Detective Stone immediately sat next to Michael and took him into his arms. The man couldn't get over how comfortable Michael was with a complete stranger. But then, wasn't he a stranger too?
"Kids! I want you to meet . . . . a friend; a good friend."
The man looked at the detective.
"Warren Stone; my name. I'm not a detective anymore while I'm here, please."His smile was refreshing, just like his laugh had been. He was a little young to look like a detective. He was rough looking like one would expect a detective to look, but good-looking, too. By the looks of his body, the man sure wasn't going to argue with him much. But the warmth Warren Stone showed, especially as he looked up with Michael in his arms, was more than enough resumè for him to find a place in the man's heart.
Warren looked past the man and started to laugh.
"Well, it looks like someone forgot to dress for visitors."
In came Jacob in just his briefs and holding his brother's hand. The three older boys had clothes on, but no shoes or socks. They loved the feel of the carpet on their bare feet.
"So, what's he still doin' here? I thought he was done drilling Michael. Looks like he wants ta drill us now."
"Devon! That's no way to talk to a guest. You have no idea who this man is. Make your judgments after you hear his story. Until then, I want an apology."The man's voice was stern but there was something about it. It seemed like no one could refuse his demand.
"I'm sorry, mister," said Devon after he'd taken two steps to put him in front of his host.
"Devon, not to me.To the det . . . no, to Warren. I promise you, your heart will change when you hear how much like you he is, or was."
"Sorry."Devon barely turned to Warren Stone on the couch with Michael still in his lap.
"Devon is it? I don't blame ya one bit. I woulda done the same thing in my days on the streets. But let's talk after we order some lunch. How about a few pizzas? Who's up for that?"
Michael beamed in the arms of his protector. Jeremy and Jacob cheered their agreement. But Devon and Larry stayed back a ways and just muttered something like, "Sure. Why not?"
It seemed like it took forever for the pizzas to get there, but really, the timing couldn't have been more perfect. Just as the doorbell rang, the boys had finished the loudest laugh the man had heard from them yet. They too were comparing their turfs with Warren. Even Devon was on his knees, sitting back on his ankles, with Larry, in front of their new friend.
The man took the steaming boxes into the kitchen to serve up.
"But how come, how'd ya get to be a cop? More like, why?"Devon had that inimitable way of coming right to the point.
"My dad. He was a cop. When he adopted me at the old age of fourteen, he told me many times he was thankful that he was a trained officer that could protect victims. Then he said, 'cause he was my victim and he needed protecting from me and my shenanigans!"
The man chuckled when he heard the kids all laugh at Warren's story.
"You loved him, didn't ya?" Michael asked. He'd laid back on Warren, who had propped up pillows behind his small friend to make him comfortable, but still keep him as close as he could get, to cuddle.
"Well, uh, of course, I loved him. He saved me and then he adopted me."But his look at Michael told of something deeper. Michael could understand those feelings and wanted someone to love him just as Warren had wanted, before he met his new dad.
"Uh, I need to make a phone call, guys. Save me some pizza."
When Warren left to go use the kitchen phone, Larry and Devon were all over Michael.
"Whatcha doin' lettin' him be all over ya like that, dork?"Devon's way with words.
"It ain't like that, Dev," Michael told him."He just came in here, plunked himself down, and we starts talkin' like. He's been one of us. That should get him something. So, really, it's me that's been all over him.I like him, lots."
Larry was the next to speak, but he got real quiet.
"Yeah, he's neat, huh? I wish . . . ."His voice got lower until they couldn't hear him.
"Pizza! Come on, boys. Help Michael to the table; get him some cushions so he's comfy. We have a feast here, thanks to our new friend, Warren."His voice sang the words as though there was not a care in the world. In fact, most of the boys were thinking just that; they had almost forgotten the cares that they'd left at the old building next door.
There was plenty of laughing and antics at the table as they enjoyed their pizza. The five boys couldn't remember the last time they had such a treat. The man would occasionally look at his wards and try to understand where they'd come from. The depth of the poverty that they had to struggle through was incomprehensible.
But that would change.
When they were done with the meal, Warren helped Michael back to the couch. The kids watched Warren taking care of Michael, then Jacob got some comics out of the cupboard to share with his newest friend. They sat tight together as they read. The other boys started to go into the bedroom, but the man had better ideas.
"Boys, I'd like help with the kitchen. I need to talk to Warren for a minute. You guys can clean up in there until I can come in and help."
The groans were pathetic, in the way boys have learned over the years. But they got busy and seemed to be doing a good job.
"Um, sir, I was wondering if I could come back and visit Mich . . . uh, the boys?"They'd moved into the hallway, out of earshot from the others.
"Ha ha. You seem to have taken quite a liking to the young lad. Of course, you're welcome back anytime. I want you to know, though, that we won't be staying here much longer. I have some work to do up north. It will probably take until after the first of the year. But you know, I'm not too sure if Michael will be ready to travel by then."
"Oh, well, what would you do with him, then? Would you . . . ?"The sparkle that grew in Warren's eyes matched those of the man's as soon as they were on the same wavelength."Do you really think so? Since my father died, I live by myself, but there's three bedrooms. Do you really think it would be possible?"
"I think we'd have to ask Michael, of course. But I'm pretty sure he would rather be with a friend than travel where we're headed. Another time for him. There will be more trips. I tend to make it up there at this time, every year."
"But, when you get back, I want to offer my place. It has a full basement that would take very little to make into more rooms. It's even plumbed for a bathroom."
"Which would have to be completely water-proof, I'm thinking. Ho!"
Four ears perked up at the sound of that laugh. It wasn't like the others. The man blushed. He wasn't ready to get into that mode yet. He needed to talk to Elvin first.
"Okay. I'm off. Oh, be sure to look down at the building after I leave. Right now the place is surrounded by my men. Soon we'll go through and find anyone that might match Buck's description. It should be quite a show."Warren had moved to the front door.
"Then we'll expect you for dinner tomorrow night for your full report."
"Oh, uh, really?Wow!Sure. Then maybe we can ask Michael what he thinks."
"Exactly. But if you leave him without saying goodbye, he may be a bit disappointed."
Then Warren stood in front of the two boys on the couch as they read their comics. Someplace along the way, Michael had lost his blanket. In fact, with the shawl draped over his middle, he could have been as bare as little Jacob was, in just his undies. Michael looked up at Warren and smiled.
"I got hot sittin' next ta this furnace here," he said, nudging Jacob, who giggled and nudged back.
"However you're comfortable, Michael. You look just fine to us."
Actually, his bruising was extreme, but he didn't seem to care. It caused tears to well up in Warren's eyes. He knelt in front of his new friend.
"Michael, I promise you that we'll find the man that did this to you. He won't be doing it to another boy if I have anything to say about it."Michael grinned and patted Warren's head."I'm so glad I got to meet you, Michael. Jacob, you take care of this guy till I come back tomorrow night; will you?"
Jacob nodded enthusiastically and Michael almost jumped into the detective's arms!
"Tomorrow?Really?You're comin' back already?"
Warren nodded and grinned.
"Now. Gots ta go get the bad guys, pardner!" he said, standing up. He swished his hand around the brim of an imaginary cowboy hat and sauntered over to the front door."Bye, kids! See you tomorrow night. What do you want for dinner?" he yelled into the kitchen.
Larry's voice shouted back, "Them Italian stuffed pillows, with the red tomatoey sauce on 'em!"
The two men looked at each other then realized that he had described ravioli. They both had a great laugh at that.
The scene unfolded beneath the boys and the man as they watched from their sixth-floor skybox. About ten fully detailed police SWAT members went into the building. The blue and red lights from about five police cars and a big black van made eerie patterns that constantly changed the shapes of the broken building below them. They could see Warren standing at the bottom of the steps, talking into his radio, as he looked into the building. Soon you could see him answer someone, then signal down the street. The only thing down there was an ambulance. It moved its way up to the front of the building. The team from the ambulance pulled out a stretcher and Warren signaled them to follow him. He grabbed a large, shiny suitcase and walked into the building.
After a few minutes, the SWAT team started to come out. One or two would come out until it seemed like almost all were out, standing back to let the others through. Then the stretcher came out with a gray and pink and red mass on it. Having seen Michael in Larry's arms just the day before, the man knew full well that it was another person, beat almost to death.
The ambulance attendants quickly slid the stretcher into the ambulance and made their way out of the area. The boys and the man waited several more minutes. Then Warren came out followed by an officer with someone in handcuffs.As they helped the man into the back of a waiting squad car, Warren turned and looked up at the sixth floor. He waved and turned back to his work.
Soon the scene was quiet; all the cars and lights were gone. The boys and the man moved back into the living room.
Michael sat on the couch with Larry and Devon on either side of him. Then he started crying. He leaned into Larry and cried hard. Devon stroked his shoulders and Jeremy and Jacob came close to offer their comfort.
Then they noticed that Devon was crying too.
"I'm sorry that I didn't know how ta save ya, Michael. I didn't mean that to happen, really."
"Devon, would you come here, please?" the man asked in that voice that couldn't be refused.
Devon made his way past the boys and stood in front of the man in his recliner, his head hung down in shame.
"I know you're far too old for this, young man, but just this once, will you climb up so I can hold you?"
Devon gasped. He would never have asked. Hell, he'd a never thought of such a thing; not for a million years. He climbed up onto the ample lap and buried his head into the man's neck. His sobbing was evident by his shaking, though he was pretty quiet.
"Devon, sweetheart, you know that you did everything possible to help Michael. You were in no place to fight that man, and when you tried, what happened?"
No one could hear Devon's answer, had they been listening, except the man.
"That's right. You got beat up too, until you were knocked flat on your... .but we usually say until you were knocked out. We're just glad that you were gone when he came back for you."
He slowly pushed Devon away from him at arm’s length so they could look at each other.
"You're a hero, young man. A hero. Remember that."
He got a bit of a smile from Devon, then he pulled him back into his arms.
The atmosphere remained pretty subdued that night. The man reasoned that they would have a long talk in the morning, when all were more rested. It had been an emotional and physically trying day for all of them.
"Where will I sleep, mister?" asked Michael, trying to keep his eyes focused."Jacob says he's got this here couch and there's already three in your bed."It wasn't like Michael was overly concerned but he wanted to spread out and take the pressure off of his backside.
"Hm-m-m.Let's see . . . there's probably room in the bathtub if we take a few towels and such out of the hall closet. I think hanging you from the ceiling might tear down the plaster."
The smirk that Michael gave the man was priceless. Jacob was holding his hand over his mouth to keep his snickering a bit quieter.
"Or we could just fold down that couch into a nice queen bed for my two little friends. How's that sound?"
"Okay, I guess.Sorry."Michael blushed. He should have known that the man had a plan all along. He hugged Jacob to him and said with his best smile, "Guess we get ta share, little buddy. You okay with that?"
Of course, Jacob couldn't have been more pleased.
Please read with pleasure, this has been my gift to you. I would like to hear/read your criticisms, good and bad. I'd love to talk about where this gets to you.