Part 3

Nathan walked out of the small kitchen and joined the three men in the sanctuary. "Something wrong?" He looked at his long time friend, "Did you come to meet our guest?"

"The boy. They're looking for a missing child."

In unison the group headed for the treatment room, Nathan leading the way.

"Where did he go?" Josiah looked around the empty room, seeing the blanket pooled on the floor.

"He won't be going to far." Chris held up the abandoned shoes. "The kid still wore these?" The sight of the sneakers flashed memories of another boy begging for PF Flyers, sneakers that let the wearer run faster and jump higher than anything else availble. He'd taken Adam shopping for a pair the weekend before the explosion that claimed his and Chris' wife Sarah's lives.

"Where does he live?" Josiah asked.

"Where is he now?" Nathan looked out the door into the darkness. "He needs more rest. Wasn't able to get him to eat much. Kid is exhausted."

"I got an idea where he might go, a place he felt safe till I scared him." The normally jovial man hung his head in shame. Could he ever forgive himself for aiming his revolver at the youngster?

"Let's ride." Chris led the way to the patrol car. A young man leaned against the black and white vehicle. Larabee stopped and locked his gaze on the stranger. The three other men stood behind the officer, unsure what might happen.

The stranger nodded, a sign of recognition and Chris returned the sign. "Need something?"

"Waitin' on ya. Want to know what you plan to do with the kid," the teen declared defiantly.

"You know him?"

As Vin shook his head Josiah said, "This here is Vin. He found JD, brought him here."

"We can introduce ourselves later. We need to find that boy, make sure he don't get his fool self hurt more." Buck shoved his way past the lanky teen then looked back at him. Get in if you want to help us find him."


Buck unlocked the padlock and silently opened the storage shed door. He shined the flashlight into the dark corners, silently praying that he'd find the missing child. In the far corner laid a tattered, grease stained rag, a piece of material that might have been a blanket in its former life.

The others stood guard at the door and the hole in case the officer missed the slippery youth. Vin remained near the police car, part of the dark shadows.

Setting the flashlight on a crate where it would illuminate the room but not blind anyone, the large man knelt and pulled back the dirty and smelly fabric. A wooden cigar box sat hidden, tucked into the back corner of the shed.

Wilmington knew what the box contained. Hadn't he himself hidden his worldly possessions in such a container? With reverence Buck opened the lid while asking forgiveness from the child for prying into such personal property.

The box contained two small black and white photos, framed in a simple hinged double frame. One picture featured a young couple, the bride in a pale colored housedress and the man next to her in an army uniform. The other small photo revealed a laughing infant; his round cherubic face surrounded by lots of dark hair. A locket on a tarnished chain fell into Buck's lap as he studied the photographs.

"Find anything Buck?" Chris shouted through the door.

"No. Come in."

His fellow officer's light help illuminate the small space. "The rest went in the bar, to get something to eat." He saw the cigar box and knew what Buck discovered. "Any clues?"

"Nope, not much to count for a fellow's earthly goods. Wait, what's this?" The man on the floor held up a folded piece of paper to the light. "Looks official."

Chris read the paper over his partner's shoulder and sighed. "His birth certificate. John Dunne. That's the name the teacher gave to Mary. Shoot, he's only just turned twelve."

Larabee slowly panned the storage shed with his flashlight, noting the orderly placement of the tavern's supplies. The building offered a dry place to sleep but what would the child do come winter and the colder temperatures?

"I feel like I'm prying, snooping in his stuff. Kids never have any rights. He's out there in the rain, barefoot, scared, run out of his home cause of me. Chris, we gotta find him." Buck pleaded.

"I know." Chris's own voice choked as he was assaulted with other memories, memories of another child lost, one who would never see a twelfth birthday. "Let's go talk to that other boy. See if he can help us; maybe tell us what he knows about this boy."


JD huddled against the large tombstone, He removed the cloth sling and draped it over his shoulders in a feeble attempt to hold in body warmth. He thought about the nice men at the old church, how they gently tended his arm and offered him a warm place to sleep. He remembered the warm bowl of soup and cup of milk and then tried to forget about the food. He'd run half way to the church before he realized his shoes were missing. Momentarily he thought about sneaking back but he feared the policeman would shoot this time.

Thick fog blanketed the city and a small figure shivered in the cemetery. He sat down on the wet grass in the area with no headstones. They'd buried his mama someplace in the area. "Mama, I hope you can hear me. I tried , I really tried, but I messed up. I tried to fight and I lost. I almost got shot and I don't even have your locket anymore. I don't know what to do. I'm hungry and so cold. I know you want me to finish school but I can't do that and earn any money. I'm sorry.

Voices drifted through the grave yard as people arrived to attend Sunday morning mass. Car doors slammed and children laughed before being hushed as they entered St. Joseph's.

JD ignored the church bells, lost in his own despair. Every Sunday morning he attended mass with his mother; he hadn't returned to a service since she died. His guiding light died and left him drowning. No one cared about the orphaned son of an immigrant chambermaid. He saw no choice but to become a thief. He'd already stolen from garbage cans and hid in private sheds. No shoes, no shirt, no money. If he got caught stealing, they'd throw him in prison. The police must feed their prisoners; a life better than what he had now.

Sunday would be a hard day to find laundry; most women washed on Monday. By noon the fog burned away and left a beautiful autumn day. He retied the sling around his neck and rested his aching arm in the fabric. Hiding from the police in a grave yard didn't offer much in the way of clothes or food.

Was it warm enough that someone would brave swimming in the local river? JD knew the alleys and back routes and arrived at the local swimming hole at mid-afternoon. He froze in horror every time he heard a siren but the patrol cars never stopped near him. Several teenagers romped on the rocky shore and few brave souls jumped in the cold water. Dunne strolled along the grassy walkway, looking for the opportunity to 'borrow' a shirt and pair of shoes. Near the bend in the river he saw his chance.

Five high school boys stripped out of their shirts and jeans. Shoes littered their makeshift camp site and a grill sat next to an aluminum cooler. From the trees JD spied on the boys, waiting for them to get into the water. Finally the last one joined the frolicking, leaving their clothes unguarded.

JD casually walked down the beach, stopping every once in a while to look at an interesting stone. He tossed a couple into the water, watching them splash. As he neared the boys' possessions, one stood and waved at him. The soon-to-be thief froze but forced his face to smile and his feet to continue. He'd already chosen the shirt and shoes he'd take. The teen returned to his friends and JD increased his speed. The food cooler tempted him but he quickly grabbed the plainest shirt and smallest shoes, tucking both into his sling, before returning to the trees. 'Walk slow, walk slow,' he mentally chanted.

Upon reaching the cover of the bushes he plopped down and pulled a shoe on each foot. He slipped his arm from the sling when it hindered tying the shoestrings and ignored the throbbing pain. He expected to be discovered at any minute and silently cursed when his fingers fumbled with the thick strings. Though the shoes were too big, they offered his bare feet protection and would allow him to run. With the shirt securely tucked back into the sling, JD jogged down the street putting blocks between him and his victims.


"Dang it Chris. How can one kid be so hard to find?" Buck ranted, having spent the entire Sunday searching for the missing student. "To know we let him slip through our fingers, not once but twice is, well, it's."

"Frustrating, Brother Wilmington." Josiah walked up to his friends. "Nathan and I searched the north side, asked everyone we knew about the boy, nothing."

A polished and pristine Chevy Corvette joined the men in the parking lot, purring to halt beside Buck's pickup. "Gentleman, by the look on your faces I would surmise the day has been unfruitful in the quest to locate the absent juvenile?"

"Just for once can't you speak English like rest of us, Ez?"

Looking hurt at the curt rebuff, the attorney replied, enunciating each word void of his trademark Southern smoothness. "Ain't found the kid, huh?"

Josiah and Chris laughed and Buck smiled, "Hell, Ezra, can't let folks hear you talking like that, spoil your reputation. Did you have any luck?"

"I never leave anything up to chance, Mr. Wilmington." He returned the smiles and his diction returned to normal. " Being a weekend, the courthouse records remain unobtainable but a sweet clerk, whose name shall remain anonymous, was cajoled into allowing me to accompany her to the records room, a dirtier place than I'd normally enter. The child's mother, arrived here fourteen years ago, as a war bride. I was unable to obtain any information about the father. Service records are better protected. No other relative of either parent was indicated.

I also took the liberty of speaking with the educator of young JD, a very distraught woman. She shared some of the child's history but if he were on trial his outcome would certainly be gloomy, too many holes and vacancies."

None of the three men heard the approach of the long-haired teen until he spoke. "Kid can disappear if he wants too." He held up the missing school books. "Figure he'll come looking for these in the morning. Should be able to talk to him in that alley."


JD shivered in the gloomy corner of the garage waiting for the day to begin. He'd slept in the cab of an unlocked pickup but left before sunrise. Sunday nights were a good time to search garbage cans and his belly stopped it insistence growling. He'd worked a bottle of soda from the machine before sleeping. The call of nature woke him minutes before the truck's owner appeared, unaware of the vehicle's use during the night.

He remembered about the missing text books and planned to recover and return them to the school before beginning his search for a job. He'd already devised a story to tell any prospective employers and it included lying about his age. A cat twined between his legs and arched its back for attention. As JD pet the animal it responded with a loud purring noise that comforted him. He'd take one day at a time and wouldn't worry about the next until it arrived.


"Hey shrimp," came a voice from the shadows. "Didn't expect you to show this morning. Where's my money?"

JD stopped. Niles was here? Would he hurt him again? "I ain't got nothing left. You already busted my arm. Ain't that enough? Leave me alone."

"I can't stand liars," Rhodes spat. "You got money somewhere to get new shoes and shirt. If you don't got any cash then give me the shirt."

"You got more clothes than you can wear in a month. Leave me alone." JD moved closer to the opening of the alley, the search for the textbooks forgotten.

"Can't do that. Got a teach you a lesson. Trash like you don't belong in our school. You make the rest of us look like trash. Sides we're sick of seeing how the teachers pity you. Poor JD wears such dirty rags; poor JD don't have a home; poor JD's mother is a wh…"

Before the word finished the smaller boy tackled his tormenter and hit him in the face with his splint. He sat on the boys chest and pummeled him with his good fist, releasing all of the hate bottled up since his mother passed away and he was cast out onto the street.

A pair of large hands gently grabbed the enraged child and a soothing litany caressed his ear. "Calm down son. You're safe. You don't need to hate him any longer. Calm down."

Niles opened his eyes and grinned. A large police officer held Dunne tightly and another kneeled beside him. "Thank goodness. It's about time you showed up. That thief, he jumped me and was trying to steal my wallet."

Chris offered a handkerchief and asked. "You hurt anywhere?" He made no effort to assist the downed lad.

Looking at the other officer Niles grin widened. "He hurt me real bad. I can hardly breathe. I hope he rots in prison!"

A large black man kneeled down beside the officer, "This him, Larabee."

"Yep, it's him. Keep an eye on him while I call for a patrol car. You got a name, boy?"

Why was the officer so surely? Didn't he see that he was the victim?

"My name is Niles P. Rhodes and my daddy is..."

"Shut up. I don't care who your daddy is." Chris spat the words out. "You got a home, food on the table, fine clothes yet you think you have the right to judge and steal from someone you see as weaker, poorer. You, boy, are under arrest for assault and battery. I imagine he'll add robbery to the charges too. So if I was you I'd shut up and wait to make your one phone call. Better be thinking real hard who you plan to call."

"But he hit me. When my daddy get here..."

"You hard of hearing, boy? I'll add charges of resisting arrest and interfering with official acts. So shut up!"

"Better listen to the officer, son." Nathan reached to examine Niles but the boy slugged the healer in the arm.

"Get away from me. This is harassment. I want my father called immediately. You can't do this to me. We've got money. My lawyer will eat you up!"

Josiah joined Nathan on the ground, "Boy don't listen too well. Poor upbringing." He grabbed the bloody cloth and snapped it into a triangle before tying it around the boy's mouth, effectively gagging him.

Chris returned and none too gently snapped his cuffs on the boy's wrists. "Thanks preacher."

"Son, don't be scared. Son?" Buck gently touched the shaking boy. "Can you talk to ole Buck? How about we get you inside someplace warm?"

"Is he alright, Buck?" asked the healer.

"Yep, just needs to calm down some more." The officer bent over to pick him up and received a fist in his face.

"Don't shoot me. Leave me alone. I ain't done nothing. It's Monday, Monday I'll go back to school. Don't send me to the truancy officer!"

"Whoa, slow down. Nobody's gonna shoot you. You hungry? You had any breakfast?" He took off his wool coat and wrapped it around the boy's thin shoulders.

The boy sat on the dirt, huddled in the blue wool coat, too scared to answer.

"Buck, what's taking so long? Car's here to take this one downtown. We need them both," Chris demanded.

"Come on, son. Don't want to keep Sergeant Larabee waiting."

"Am I under arrest?" whispered the boy.

Buck smiled his friendliest grin. "Nope, not that I know of. We're here cause someone cared about you, sent us looking for you. Some of us would even like to be your friend."

JD tucked his stolen shoes under the hem of the jacket and snuggled his ears lower. "Ain't got any friends."

"Well, Kid. Looks like you just six new ones. And I know Inez and a lady reporter named Mary are concerned about you too, just like your teacher, Mrs. Potter. She asked us to look for you. We need to file some reports down at the station. When we get done there think you enjoy meeting your new some new friends over a plate of Inez's famous stew?"

"She got milk?"

"I'm sure she does. And if she don't, I'll personally head down to the dairy and get you as much as you want. Ready to go someplace warm?" The officer reached out his hand to pull the boy off the ground.

JD looked up, his good arm clutching the warm coat.

"We best do this proper. My name is Officer Buck Wilmington, but you can call me Buck." He winked and held out his open palm.

Taking a tentative step JD extended his right hand to the officer. He lifted his chin proudly and looked directly at the larger man, ready to accept his friendship. "My name is JD Dunne."


Buck leaned against the bar, keeping an eye on the boy eating at a nearby table without crowding him. He watched the tavern owner set a heavy glass mug of milk on the table in front of the young one. Long, dark bangs covered the boy's eyes but a wide smile lit his youthful face at the white beverage.

The smile faded as JD looked up at his attractive host. "I'm sorry. I never took nothing from your shed, just from the garbage cans. Didn't mean to bother you none."

"Chiquita, that is in the past. Now that we've met we're friends and friends are always welcome at my table." Inez rested a reassuring hand on his arm. "Do you want some more stew?"

He shook his head negatively. "It's real good, real good. I haven't had a hot meal like this in ages but I'm getting full."

"Maybe you don't want the milk?"

The wonderful smile returned and he laughed. "I never turn down moo juice, ma'am."

"Seems like a great kid." Josiah set his beer mug on the bar and rested his back against the well-worn counter top. "Shame to send him to a juvie hall."

"Ain't right. Kid's been through hell, loosing his ma. Don't mean he's a criminal. Livin' on the street, trying to survive." Buck chewed nervously on a toothpick. "Twelve year old, sleeping next to some street rat, who'd murder his own grandma for a couple a bills."

"Maybe our intrepid lawyer friend can help."

Buck sighed. "Ezra's a smooth talker but I doubt high-paid attorneys dirty their hands with helping a dirt poor orphan."

Chris sat with the other youth at another table. Without speaking the officer felt a connection to the young man of few words. "Kid was lucking, you finding him the other morning."

"Been watching him for awhile. Kid's amazing. Seen him late at night, sitting under a streetlight, scribbling in his notebook. Musta been doin' schoolwork."

Chris took another sip of water, thinking of all the questions he wanted to ask but limited them to asking about the younger boy. "You willing to be a witness to who hurt him? Otherwise it'll be JD's word against the other student. That boy'll have a great lawyer. If'n we can't pin this tight, JD might still end up in a juvenile home."

Vin's eyes glared at the policeman. "Can't. If'n you know'd me, you'd have ta arrest me." He hung his head low at the confession." Just so you know, I didn't do it but I can't prove that I'm innocent."

Larabee ignored the confession. "That's for another conversation, another time. Right now I need to make sure that bully doesn't hurt anyone else and that boy finds a loving home."

The warm milk and filling stew worked their magic. The conversations melted into a lulling blur. The boy, feeling safe for the first time in months. He pulled his dirty, cigar box close, wrapped his good arm round it securely and used it as a pillow on the table before closeing his eyes.

"Think we should take him back to the church for the rest of the day?" Josiah asked Nathan.

Before the healer could answer, Buck responded "He's staying with me till we can get him someplace more permanent. And I don't mean Juvenile Hall."

"Mr. Wilmington, I don't mean to criticize your attempt at philanthropy but the boy needs a stable environment. Your heart is certainly in the appropriate position but we've all witnessed your swinging lifestyle. Are you certain you wish to introduce an impressionable preteen to that way of life? Don't let your guilt encourage you to commence with a course that will leave both of you disillusioned." Ezra joined his friends at the bar.

"One night can't hurt. I ain't on duty tonight. I live close by and he can sleep on the hide-a-bed. Give him a chance to sleep and eat some of Inez's cooking. After that we can help him sort out what comes next."


Mrs. Potter sat at her desk waiting for the students to arrive. Mary's call Monday afternoon helped relieve some of the guilt but until JD returned to her classroom she couldn't forgive herself for missing the signs of abuse and neglect. Moments after the first bell students began entering the classroom, filling the air with the joyful morning chatter. The teacher worried, 'What will be the reaction when they learn one of their classmates brutally attacked and injured another?'

She watched the desks fill, a couple of boys dropping into their chairs just as the last bell rang. Smiling at her students, she resolved to keep the day as normal as possible until JD arrived. "Please stand. Sally, will you lead us in the Pledge?"

The school day began with its morning ritual and a few minutes devoted to the administrative items. She completed the attendance form, noting the names of the two missing boys. As she opened the door to hang the slip of paper on the clip outside her door she saw two uniformed police officers escort JD toward her room. Mr. Conklin scurried to keep up with the men. She grabbed the attendance slip and quickly crossed JD's name from the list.

"Mrs. Potter, this is Officer Wilmington and Officer Larabee. We have a problem." The principal started the conversation but was quickly silenced by the famous Larabee glare while the Wilmington charm melted her heart.

"Mrs. Potter, thank you for calling the police. I really needed their help. I'll work real hard to get my schoolwork made up." JD said, feeling extra proud to be accompanied to his class by the two policemen.

Gloria stared at her student and noticed the sling and cast on his left arm. Her eyes traveled up to his face and saw the black eye and swollen nose, but she also saw the sparkles she'd missed seeing in his expressive eyes. "Welcome back, JD. Are you sure you are ready to come back to class? The others will have so many questions."

JD looked up at Chris' grin and laughed at Buck's silly expression. "Yes, ma'am. And if it'd be alright Officers Larabee and Wilmington would like to help me with them."

"When Mary calls in a favor, she calls in a favor!" The teacher's laughter echoed in the hallway. "Mr. Conklin, what about Niles?"

"Mr. Rhodes has transfer to the military academy across town. Send his personal items to the office, I'll see they get returned to him," the man replied before leaving the group.

"Ready to do this Kid?" Buck put his hand on the boy's shaking shoulder.

JD took a deep breath and exhaled. He looked up into the eyes of his new friend and visibly calmed. He took another deep breath. Standing taller in his new, well-fitting shoes he stepped into the classroom, ready to begin a new day with two new friends by his side, ready to help him meet life's challenges!

       the end for now......

Part 1 -- Part II -- Part III