Carol Pahl 2002
The sixth grade teacher stared out her Edsel's windshield, worried about her missing student. JD never skipped school, though lately he'd been arriving disheveled and dirty. He'd make a quick stop in the restroom before entering the classroom, unlike the rest of the students who remained on the playground until the final bell. This morning she knew something was wrong. The desk belonging to the boy with the beautiful hazel eyes remained empty but the real clue was the subdued members of her classroom. They stood around whispering in small groups. She saw a few fingers pointed at Niles Rhodes and heard the letters JD drift thought the conversations. Disappointed with the way Principal Conklin handled JD yesterday, she would investigate things herself today.
Gloria drove to the current address listed on John Dunne's permanent record, wanting to see for herself that the boy was fine, was playing hooky or was needed at home, not that some malicious act hurt the boy. Stopping before a stately mansion, she reviewed the address. The boy lived here? She parked the car and approached the front door.
An older man dug in the flower bed and without looking up from his task he said, "No body home. Family's gone for the weekend. Can I help you?"
The teacher sat down on the front steps before speaking. "I'm looking for Lora Dunne. I'm from Abraham Lincoln school."
"She ain't here no more. Ya kin find her at St. Joe's, in the potter's field."
Thinking she'd misheard the man she repeated the information. "She's at the church?"
"Nope. Not the church itself. Graveyard. Lory passed on last spring. Real sweet girl till she took sick." The man attacked another weed. "Wasn't so uppity as the rest of them in the house."
If Mrs. Dunne died six to seven months ago who'd been caring for JD? The truth nagged at the back of her mind but she refused to listen to her soul. "What happened to the boy? Does he still live here?"
"You crazier than me? This look like an orphanage? Poor gal weren't even stiff and they sent the kid packin'. Planted her in the potter's field, no marker or nothin'. Like as if she never worked here. Lory poured her life into serving the family, ten years she struggled to provide for that boy. Smart kid, too. He was doing well in school during the day, working in the stables at night. One minute he's got a home, though it was only a small room he shared with his ma. Next he's livin off the streets, fendin fer hisself." The older man looked up at his visitor's face. "Don't tell me something's happened to the child."
"I don't know. He didn't show up for class today. He's never missed school. The other students acknowledged something happened but none would admit to knowing anything specific. I need to report this to Children's Services."
"Busybodies. Boy can take better care of himself without some paper pusher hassling him." The gardener mumbled to himself, ignoring the smartly dressed woman. "Ain't gonna see him round this place, not in a month of Sundays, not with the way the family threw him to the wolves."
Gloria ignored his mumbling as her own mind cataloged the information. If Mrs. Dunne passed away last spring then JD registered himself for school, attended faithfully and usually handed in his homework on time. She thought about the last two weeks, the changes she'd observed but ignored in her classroom; the boy arriving late for class, his clothes dirtier and disheveled, homework assignments missing. The biggest clue sat in front of her but she missed it. JD no longer smiled, his eyes bright with the excitement of learning; now they were dull and listless. JD needed help and she missed the opportunity to make a difference in his life. Was it too late to correct her mistake?
The two boys walked along the busy streets, one keeping his eyes nervously watching the vicinity for trouble, the other concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other while ignoring the unbelievable pain assaulting his brain.
"Turn here. I know a shortcut." Vin guided the younger boy without embarrassing him. JD allowed the stranger to lead him to an unknown location. He knew he should be wary of trusting an unfamiliar person but his heart told him to trust the teenager.
"Almost there, Kid." Vin encouraged.
Gaining a second wind, JD looked up at the old church badly in need of a new coat of paint. "We going to a doctor? Can't pay. Ain't got any money left."
"Friend of mine, he's a healer. He'll work something out with you. Come on. In the church."
The two boys entered the back door of the building and Vin helped JD sit on an old wood chair. "I'll go get him. Stay put."
'Like I can go any further,' the injured boy thought to himself. How soon would the school send the truancy officer to find him? Would he have to quit school when they found out his mother was gone? He hoped Niles Rhodes would choke on his dinner!
"Vin tells me your arm is broke." A deep voice startled JD's musings. "Let me take a look, see what I can do."
The short rest revived the twelve-year-old and he stared at the dark-skinned man reaching out to examine his broken appendage. How could he be so foolish to follow that other fellow? He'd heard about the men who lived in this part of town, a place where criminals congregated in an old neighborhood. Men wanted by the law, murderers and thieves, drug dealers, outcasts from society used the rundown buildings as a hideout. He heard they ran out the honest folks and that no law would dare set foot in the place.
Some folks called his mama 'white trash' but they lived separate from the colored neighborhoods. Unaware of the prejudice preached to him in the white school and the derogatory remarks made by the mansion staff, the boy panicked when seeing the large man.
JD stood up, his fight or flight reaction ready to propel him out the door. The rapid change of location left him faint and his knees buckled, sending him to the floor. Large hands caught him before his head slammed into the wood.
"Whoa, son. Nathan is here to help you. No need to fear him." Strong arms lifted and guided him toward a small bed. "You're safe here. No one will hurt you."
"Josiah, ya know setting his arm's goin' hurt like hell, so don't be lying to him, saying it won't hurt."
"Nathan, you're right but he's gotta know. No one is going to abuse or beat him up while he's here." The giant of a man gently rubbed JD's good arm and he smiled at the boy. "This here is Nathan's office. He'll take good care of you. That's it. Need to let your heart slow down. Let Nate take a look at your arm. When he's done it won't hurt so much."
The Negro pulled the wooden stool next to the bed and spoke softly. "Running around with a busted wing don't feel too good, does it? Let's get your shirt off. I need to set the bone, get it bound up ta give the arm a chance to heal and take away the pain."
The large white man with salt and pepper hair carefully lifted JD's back as the healer removed the muddy and torn shirt. A flash of worry shot through the man's eyes as he visually examined the young patient. The boy was much skinner than he imagined. "When's the last time you ate?" The healer's touch was gentle and caring.
Steeling himself, JD watched the two strangers with wide eyes as he clenched his jaw tight against the pain. He'd have to open his mouth to talk and he wasn't taking any chance saying anything to these men.
The shirtsleeve material strained surrounding the site of the broken bone. Nathan tried to ease the swollen flesh from the tight opening but knew the tugging would only cause more damage. He accepted the shears from his friend and cut the material. Slipping the shirt off he barely bumped the darkening skin but his patient exploded.
Unable to contain the pain, JD's mouth shot open releasing an anguished cry just before he slumped over onto the bed.
"Finally. Didn't think the boy would ever pass out. One tough kid." Josiah held the injured limb and assisted the healer. Within a few minutes the arm was set and cloth bandages held a homemade splint in place. A blanket covered the bare chest and the ragged pair of PF FLyer high-top sneakers sat on the floor under the bed.
"Need to ask Vin where he found the boy. Couldn't help but notice. That boy needs some good food and he needs it now." Nathan fussed over his young patient. "Looks like he needs some place to rest, too."
The two men left the small room in darkness and returned to the front part of the building, Nathan to prepare some thick broth and Josiah to question the longhaired high school dropout sleeping on his cot.
"Mary, I need your help." Gloria Potter usually looked forward to weekends, preferring the peace and quiet change to a classroom of noisy preteens. But she wouldn't be able to rest without knowing what happened to her missing student. Saturday morning she decided to ask for outside help
The blond newspaper reporter welcomed the silver haired teacher into her office. After exchanging pleasantries the women sat down at the reporter's desk and Gloria began her tale. Mary Travis met the teacher when both women shared a tragedy. Mary's husband, Steven, and Mr. Potter attended the same convention, one as a reporter and the other as a salesman. A stranger walked up to Travis, shooting him in the back. He turned the gun on Potter, shooting him in the stomach, before disappearing into the crowd of people. The women met at the hospital and shared their grief.
Each widow returned home burying their spouse and needing to raise children in a one-parent household. They continued to comfort each other when stress became unbearable.
"Do you think you can help me find him? The police won't look for a street urchin. I feel responsible. I should have seen the situation and helped JD somehow." Tears ran down Gloria's face.
Mary's own mind imagined her young son, left alone in the world and having to fend for himself. Would he been able to survive on his own?
"Did you go to the police?" Mary rested her hand on the older woman's arm.
"No. Didn't figure they'd be any help."
"I'll help you find him, Gloria. I happen to know a couple of officers that might be willing to do a special favor to me. I also think this would make a great human interest story, exposing a ugly sore the people around here are blind to."
The reporter picked up her telephone receiver and waited for the switchboard operator to answer. "Please connect me with the police." She waited while the phone rang and smiled when a familiar voice answered. "Hi Chris, its Mary. I need a favor."
Buck Wilmington sat at his favorite table, enjoying the delicious tavern meal. Across the table sat Ezra Standish, an enigma in the old building. He enjoyed escaping the high stress lifestyle of a corporate lawyer and often dropped by on weekends to visit with his friends in the old bar. Chris approached the table and lowered himself into one of the well-worn chairs.
"Yahoo, Stud. It's about time! Let me get you a drink to celebrate." Buck enjoyed this down time, relaxing with his friends.
"Sit down and finish your supper. She called to ask for a favor. Wants us to look for a missing kid."
"Didn't you tell her to call the missing persons unit? We don't look for run-aways."
The handyman, returning home from a day of shingling, entered the dimly lit room and smiled. He walked over the back table in time to hear the men's conversation. "Good evening, brothers."
"Mr. Sanchez, you look euphoric." Standish smiled at his older friend.
"Ezra, a successful day of menial labor sooths the troubled soul. I'll rest well tonight." He looked at the other two men and realized he entered in the middle of a discussion. "Am I interrupting police business?"
"Mary called Chris. Wants us to look for some run-away." Disappointed that Chris missed another opportunity with the attractive reporter, Buck continued to eat his supper.
"This child Mary wants you to find, what does he look like?"
"Boy's about five foot, dark shaggy hair, kinda scrawny, about twelve years old."
"Damn, that sounds like the kid I saw last night in Inez's storage shed, the one I almost shot. Scared the hell out of me seeing that youngster's face popping through that hole." Buck's eyes glazed over, remembering the horror of the previous night. "I was ready to blast some woodchuck or raccoon."
"I might know where he is. At the church. Two boys showed up yesterday morning, one had a busted arm. Nathan set the bone. When I left to go to work today the younger boy was sleeping." Josiah offered. "No one came to collect the child and he was in dire need of a good meal and a safe place to rest. He matches the description."
Meals forgotten, all four men left the tavern and climbed into Chris's patrol car, knowing the ever present cherry light would get them through the Saturday night traffic.
JD woke up; his foggy mind struggled to place where he was. Dim light from the setting sun revealed shadows, chairs and cabinets. A table sat near the bed; an unlit lamp set in the middle of it. He felt the bandages swaddling his injured arm. His arm felt sore but the killing pain of before was gone. He remembered the black man offering him some soup. JD's belly rumbled at the thought of more hot food.
Voices murmured in the distance. JD stood on wobbly bare feet, reaching out his right arm, steadying himself on the rough plaster walls. His empty stomach growled but the light in the distance drew him like a moth to a flame.
A police officer leaned against a well-worn church pew. A second uniformed officer sat on another pew, resting his arms on the next bench. "Mary's a friend to the boy's teacher. The lady's feeling guilty, like it's her fault, not getting him off the streets."
Hidden in the shadows, JD recognized the first voice but failed to listen to the words. His breathing increased and panic squeezed his heart. How did the police find him? Shoot. That other guy, the one that brought him here, turned him in to the cops. He turned sharply and retreated to the room where he woke up.
The sun set, leaving the unfamiliar neighborhood in darkness. Escape. He
had to escape! JD ran out of the old building and stopped on the back porch,
trying to decide which way to run. In the distance he saw the towering steeple
of St. Joseph's cathedral, a landmark he could follow! He ignored the rumbling
of thunder in the distance and he forgot to grab his shoes or tattered