Saturday, October 29, 2016
Mutt and the little Pickpocket
Mutt always liked to keep up to speed on the latest engineering techniques and processes, and frequently took days off to attend refresher courses and seminars so that he wouldn't fall behind. This year the Seminar for Continuing Education was being held in Bangor, and as Jeff wasn't able to get the same day off, Mutt got in his pick up and headed for Bangor on his own.
He'd loaded his luggage and satchel into the passenger seat and headed out. He wasn't halfway down the driveway before he started missing Jeff, but he knew this was something he had to do. They'd had a private going away party the night before, and that had left a glow in Mutt's heart that helped carry him over into having to leaving his husband.
He was welcomed into the Okoro household with open arms. It seemed as though everyone was there, Mama and Papa Okoro, their daughters and husbands, and all their children. Here was the loving family he'd always dreamed of, and while he missed Jeff something fierce, he felt safe and loved in this home. The only ones who were missing were their son Coral and his husband Ryan, and Mutt felt a small pang of homesickness.
Mama Okoro led him to the comfortably furnished guest room where he'd be staying, insisted on unpacking his things for him while he rested a bit, and then brought him back downstairs for a wonderful meal. That night he slept soundly despite the fact that Jeff wasn't there.
Mrs. Okoro woke him early the next morning for breakfast and so that he'd have time to shower and shave before he had to leave. She beamed with pleasure when Mutt thanked her and gave her a little kiss on her cheek. Mr. Okoro joked that he'd better behave himself because Zhara was already spoken for.
Even though he'd had time to stop for more coffee on the way to the conference, Mutt found himself getting sleepy during the seminar and, since he'd taken a seat at the back of the auditorium, quietly left the room to get some fresh air. He sat on a bench in front of the building and took deep breaths of the crisp October air and pulled his jacket a little closer around himself. As he did so he noticed a little hand reaching into his satchel from behind the bench. With lightning quick reflexes, he grabbed the wrist attached to the hand and turned around to find a young child, brown eyes wide with terror.
"Just what did you think you were doing, kid?" Mutt asked, an edge to his voice that he immediately regretted. The youngster began to pull, trying to get away from the older man who he feared might slap him around a bit before letting him go.
Mutt saw the look of terror on the boy's face and moderated his tone and expression. He got up, still holding the kid's hand, which funnily enough still had Mutt's wallet clutched in it. He relieved the child of the wallet and reached back to pull the slight body up and over the bench to face him.
"I wasn't doin' nuthin' mister. Lemme go!" the little boy cried, trying to twist and pull away.
"Nothing?" Mutt grinned. "So my wallet just magically appeared in your hand? No, let me guess. It jumped out and you just happened to catch it before it could run away."
The youngster scowled at the man. "It's mine now. I got it fair and square!" he cried and tried to make a grab for the wallet once more. He kicked the man in the shin hard and twisted at the same time he tried to make the grab.
Mutt easily caught the boy, only grimacing slightly at the pain in his shin, and kept a firm grip on the child. With his other hand, he pulled out his phone and dialed 911.
"'Mon, lemme go mister!" he cried, seeing what Mutt was doing and not being able to get free. People were beginning to stop and stare now.
"911, What is your emergency?" came a calm female voice over the phone.
"I caught a little thief. He was trying to pick my pocket. I have him with me now." Mutt explained loudly enough for the onlookers to know what the situation was and that he wasn't trying to harm the youngster in any way.
"There's a man tryin' to kidnap me!" the child cried loud enough to be heard over the phone.
Mutt kept his cool and said, "If I were trying to kidnap anyone, I wouldn't do it in broad daylight with an audience, nor would I be calling the police. I'd just like this little monster picked up as soon as possible. If I let him go he'll just steal from someone else."
The dispatcher, hearing the reason in the man's words, spoke calmly. "Give us your location sir. We'll send a car by as soon as possible."
"I'm outside the Conference Hall on Baker Street. What should I do with this little piece of baggage until then? He's causing a ruckus and drawing attention. I'm worried that someone is actually going to believe him and try to interfere."
"We'll send a car right away," the dispatcher said. "Just stay put."
The onlookers were beginning to look concerned and a couple of men moved closer to Mutt
Mutt raised his voice and said, "This little guy was picking my pocket. If you need proof that he's alright the police are on their way now so please just stay calm."
The crowd of people who had begun to gather heard what Mutt said and saw the child once again try to kick Mutt in the shins. Just then the little boy's stomach growled loudly and he seemed to lose his will to fight.
Mutt sat the boy on the bench and released his hold. The child sat there with his head in his hands and began to cry.
"Hey kid, Talk to me. Are you hungry? Look, there's hot dog cart over there. I'll get you whatever you want while we wait, OK?"
The little boy looked at the man and nodded, still sniffling. "They're gonna be mad," he whispered.
Mutt led the youngster over to the cart and ordered two dogs and two sodas before returning the two of them to the bench. He wondered where the police were. "Who's gonna be mad, kid, and what's your name, so I don't have to keep calling you kid?" he asked with a kind smile.
The child scowled. "Ya can't trick me mister. I ain't tellin' my name or where I live."
"Alright, since I like for people and things to have names, I'm going to call you Goober until the police arrive. Now, Goober, why don't you eat your hot dog while we wait?" Mutt said with a glint of humor in his eyes.
He took a bite of his own hot dog and opened the can of soda, ready to throw both down if the child made any move to bolt.
The boy gave Mutt a look. "I ain't no Goober." He took a bite of the hot dog and chewed slowly however, trying to make it last as long as possible.
"Well, until you tell me at least your first name, Goober you are. If it makes you feel any better, I'm called Mutt."
The boy looked at the man. "Mutt? That's a weird name. Sounds like somethin' ya'd call a dog."
Mutt laughed and nodded. "It's a long story, if we have the chance I'll explain it to you some day." He took another bite of his hot dog. So, Goober..." Mutt began.
The little boy scowled at the name, but shrugged continuing to eat the hot dog slowly and taking small sips of his soda. "What?" the boy asked.
Mutt sighed, he'd hoped that the kid would dislike being called Goober and tell him his real name. Instead he said, "Who is it that's gonna be mad at you? Are you in any danger? Is there some way I can help?"
The little boy shook his head. "Naw...the people I live with will just tell the police to take me back and then they'll take me to some different people to live with."
"Are you a runaway?" Mutt asked, trying to keep the surprise from his voice. This kid couldn't be very old, and the idea that he'd run away and was picking pockets to survive worried him. "You mean they'll put you in jail?"
The child looked at Mutt. "Mister, they don’t put children in jail. The police will call the social worker; she'll take me to get my stuff if the people I live with now don't want me no more and take me to some other people to stay with. It's happened 'fore."
"That sounds like a lonely life, Goober," Mutt said sympathetically. "It's got to be hard not knowing where you'll be from one day to the next. I was like that for a little while. Until I found some friends who took me in."
It was then that the thought hit. Mutt wondered how James would feel about having a kid on the resort, even if it was just for a little while. He knew he'd have to call Jeff as soon as he got back to the Okoros. Maybe he would have some ideas.
The little boy shrugged. "It's what my life is."
As they sat talking, the police finally arrived. One of the officers got out of the car and grinned. "Well, I shoulda known it was you, Lucas. Up to your old tricks again, eh? C'mon kid, let's get you back to your foster parents," the man said, holding out a hand to the child.
The other officer approached Mutt and took his name and a statement.
"Well, we're pretty much done here," she said. "Lucas is an old friend of ours. We'll take care of him from here."
"Wait!" Mutt cried, "Wait! Is it possible... he said that the foster home he's staying in might not want him back.... what'll happen to him?"
"If the home he's in doesn't want him we'll try to find a new one for him. If nothing is available at the moment, he'll go to a facility until a new home can be found. At the worst, he may end up in juvenile detention."
"Juve... No! He's just a little kid! That can't be safe for him," Mutt protested.
"Well, if no one wants him there's really nowhere else for him to go," the officer said in an understanding tone.
"I want him," Mutt said, surprised at the words coming out of his mouth.
The officer raised her eyebrows. "There's a lot of red tape to go through to place a foster child. Social services would have to visit your home and make sure that it's a fit place for a child. There'd be a background check..."
Lucas took the officer's hand with a sigh, hanging onto what was left of his hot dog and soda and glanced up in surprise at the man's saying he wanted him. No one had ever wanted him before.
"Look, I'm staying with some friends, Omari and Zhara Okoro, just a few blocks from here. If you can't find anywhere else for him, can we take care of him, even if it's just until I have to leave for home? I don't want him to end up in another home that doesn't care for him, or a place where he'd be a prime target. Please."
"We'd have to run it by social services, Mr. Tailor. It's kind of you to offer but..."
"Please," Mutt interrupted, his heart racing. What if he was doing the wrong thing? What if it jumped up and bit him in the ass? What if Jeff didn't approve. What if Mama and Papa Okoro didn't want a child in their house? He had to put those thoughts away for the time being. He couldn't bear the thought of the little boy being in some over crowded room, or worse, in a cell at the detention center.
"Let's get him back to his foster parents. We'll see what happens from there. We have your number, Mr. Tailor."
As soon as the police left with a very dejected looking little boy in the back seat, Mutt raced back to the Okoro's who were unfortunately not at home at that time. In a panic, he called Jeff, completely forgetting about the seminar.
Jeff answered the phone on the second ring with a smile on his face. "Hello, sweetheart, how are you? I didn't expect a call from you for another hour or so."
"Jeff, there's a problem," Mutt said almost breathlessly.
"Slow down, Hon. What problem? Are you in trouble?" he asked, concerned.
"No, I'm not in any trouble... there's this kid..." Mutt raced through the story of what had happened, and what might happen to the little boy.
"You told them you wanted him?" Jeff asked, trying to keep the astonishment from his voice.
"Well, I told them maybe until I leave, or that maybe the Okoro's would take him but they're not here to ask and I'm afraid I've bitten off more than I can chew, as the saying goes. I... I just can't bear the thought of him in a detention center, or juvenile hall, or... Jeff he's just a little kid but... it was like talking to someone much older. He... he..."
"Reminds you of you?" Jeff said softly with a fond smile.
Mutt blushed. "Yeah, I guess, kinda. The thing is, I at least had a home, crappy as it was. This kid has nothing he can count on. No one."
"So what do you suggest we do about it? We already talked about what having a child would mean to our lifestyle. Our lives. Where we live. We can't take him in, and as you said, the Okoro's might not want a young child at this time in their lives."
"What about if we moved? Take a house in Masonville or..."
"Mutt, calm down and listen to me. I'm sure we can find someone willing to take in the little guy, but it can't be us. Understand?"
"No buts, Hon. I'll have James put out feelers, see if we can find the little guy a permanent home, but it can't be here on the resort. And even if we did move, one of the things they'll be looking for is a stable home, and we won't have been living there long enough to prove that it's stable. Then they'll ask where we were living previously... and we can't expose the resort. You understand that, don't you?"
Mutt didn't like the answer, but could understand the logic. "So what do we do now, Jeff? We can't just leave that kid hanging in the breeze like that."
"You can't help every child out there, Mutt, and I know you felt something special about this one..."
"But we may be able to help. Even if it's just one. This one," Mutt insisted.
"Tell you what, let me come out there and meet this kid... what's his name by the way, do you know?"
"Lucas... but I don't know his last name."
"I'll ask Dusty to look into it, OK, Hon? In the meantime, just sit tight. Talk to Mr. and Mrs. Okoro when they get home and see how they feel about this. I'll head out as soon as I can and meet you there, and then with Dusty's help we can probably track this kid down. Deal?"
"Deal," Mutt said gratefully, glad that Jeff would be arriving soon. "I love you, chief."
"I love you too, Hon. Now get some rest. It may end up being a long day."
"Just stay calm, Mutt. It'll work out somehow."
I hope so, Mutt thought as he disconnected the phone call. He waited impatiently for the Okoros to return home, doing some minor cleaning and starting dinner to keep himself occupied and to surprise the people who had been so kind to him.
Dusty Greyson, Sheriff in Masonville picked up his phone as it rang. He replied when he heard the voice at the other end, "Jeff, are you having any problems out there at the resort? I'll be there as soon as I can."
Jeff tried not to laugh with relief. It was good to know that they had such a good friend in the Sheriff that he would drop everything and come out at a moment's notice.
"No, Dusty, no problems at the resort... it's something else. I was wondering if you could help us."
The lawman sat back in his chair and said, "It depends on what you need."
Jeff sighed. Choosing his words carefully he outlined the situation. "The kid's name is Lucas. That's about all Mutt knows about him. The Bangor police picked him up, apparently, the kid is a repeat offender. Mutt's worried about him. We don't know what happened to him."
Dusty listened and took down notes as they talked. "I probably won't know anything until later today, being it's not an APB or anything. I'll have to wait for the reports to be uploaded. It's not much to go on, but I'll do my best." He told Jeff.
"Thanks, Dusty. And, ah... well... Mutt is going to ask Coral's parents to take the kid in if it's possible. They're a good, solid, loving family. You've met them. If, ah, the opportunity arises, would you be willing to be a character witness for them? I'm sure James will do it as well, once I ask him," he added a little sheepishly. "But the more people we have to speak on their behalf, if they're even willing to take the child in, the better."
"Sure, I'd have no problem doing that and coming from a law enforcement officer it would carry some weight too. I'll call you as soon as I know anything."
Jeff sighed in relief. "Thanks Dusty. If you can get back to me as soon as you find out anything, I'd appreciate it. In the meantime, I'm packing to go out to Mutt. You have my cell phone number if you need me for anything."
"Yes I do have it and I promise to call as soon as I find out anything."
As soon as Jeff hung up with Dusty, he stood up, stretching wearily, and went across the hall to James's office. He knocked on the door even though it was slightly ajar and waited for the invitation to go in.
"Come on in," James called, looking up from the paperwork he was doing and seeing his friend in the doorway.
Jeff, knowing that he didn't need an invitation to sit down, did just that and let out a tired sounding sigh. "There's a little bit of a situation, nothing terrible," he assured his friend, "but I need your help." He told James the story and waited for his friend to process the information. "The thing is, if we can find a place for this kid," he said eventually, "we'd need references. Character witnesses and the like..." he left the sentence unfinished, looking at his friend for help.
James listened to his friend and smiled and shook his head. "We do find ourselves in the most unique positions, sometimes don't we? I'd be more than happy to be a character witness for the Okoros and help in any way I can."
Jeff let out a sigh of relief and smiled at his friend. "Thank you James. I knew I could count on you. Now I just have to wait to hear from Dusty and Mutt. I told him I'd be out there as soon as I was able to. He's going to talk to Omari and Zhara in the meantime. He said he'd let me know what they say. I'm just hoping they'll be willing to take the boy. I'm with Mutt. I hate the idea of a little kid being shunted from one home to another, never knowing where he'll be from one day to the next." He finally sat back and relaxed for the first time since receiving the call from Mutt.
"Well, I need to go and put a bag together. I'll only be gone a day or two, promise."
James said, "You and I are humanitarians it doesn't matter to us if it's a child, gay or straight, man or woman. Even though we are an exclusive gay community it's good to know that when we need to do something like this we also have friends of all kinds willing to lend a hand."
Jeff smiled, the first real smile he'd been able to manage since being told about the child. "You're right, my friend. We're very fortunate. I just have to remember that. I'll be back in a couple of days. Thanks again for your support. I'll call you with updates as soon as I find anything out."
James got up and took Jeff's hands and pulled is Marine buddy up and into a manly hug and slapped his back. "Take as much time as you need and keep me up to date my friend. I'll get the wheels turning as soon as I know which ones to turn." He grinned.
Jeff returned the hug and smiled at his best friend. "I'll see you soon then. Thanks again, James." He shook the man’s hand before turning to leave. He had a lot to do before he could meet up with Mutt.
"You're welcome Jeff. Anytime." James returned the handshake and watched his friend go. James sat back in his chair after Jeff left and thought about the situation for a few minutes, checked his watch then picked up the phone and made a few phone calls. He grinned to himself as he disconnected and sat back in his chair.
Lucas sat sullenly in the child seat in the back of the social worker's car. She brought him up to the house and the foster mother glared at the child. After hearing that the boy had been in trouble with the police once again she told the social worker she couldn't have a little thief in her home, that he was a bad influence on the other children and she requested he be removed. The woman sighed and told Lucas to go get his things packed. He didn't have much and sneaked into the attic, removed a grid from a hidden air duct, and then a small wooden box where he had hidden his stash of money and put it in the bottom of his pack. He told the woman he was ready to go.
She put him back in the car and began to make calls before she drove off trying to find a respite home that had an opening as she had to know where she was going to have to take the little boy. There were no openings and as much as she hated the idea drove Lucas to the juvenile detention center where he was processed and put into a holding room.
At the detention center Lucas had visits from the social worker, psychologist and a medical doctor to make sure he was medically fit to place among the general population. They placed him in a room by himself because of his age. They sincerely hoped he'd be placed soon. It was seldom they had a child this young placed in Juvenile. Generally, there were older kids and the very young ones were placed in isolation for their safety. The director had seldom had a young child held there for more than 24 hours.
Lucas was familiar with the process of being examined, talked to and questioned by now and knew very well how to tell the people what they wanted to hear. He was surprised to find himself alone in his room and tried to find a place that was safe to hide his box of cash. When they questioned him about the box he had told them it held personal mementos and even if they looked inside, there was a false bottom and they wouldn’t see the cash he had stashed in it. Because it was innocuous looking they didn't open it to check it. He found he could put it in a corner of the closet floor with his pack around it so it couldn't be easily seen. If he stayed here very long he'd have to seek out another place to hide it.
Dusty kept watching the day’s reports show up and when one with the first name of Lucas came up he read the details. He shook his head and phoned Jeff on his cell.
Jeff saw that it was Dusty on his cell phone and he pulled over to the side of the road to answer the call, "Jeff here. Dusty, what's the 211?"
Dusty said, "The report just came up. The boy's name is Lucas Caden McCleary, he's six-years old. He has been placed in six foster homes since age four. He apparently found his mother dead in their home on the floor. His father was apparently drowned at sea when a storm came up and capsized the lobster boat he worked on. No known relatives, or at least none that came forward to claim him."
"Six! And he found his mother like that... oh that poor kid! I can't even imagine what he's been through or what kind of damage it's done to him," Jeff said sadly. "I'm on my way to Bangor now to meet up with Mutt. I'll tell him what you've found out and we'll take it from there. I'm not sure what you can do from your end, but anything would be appreciated."
Dusty said, "Wait...there's more coming up...it says he's been picked up several times for petty theft and pick pocketing and that his foster home just refused to keep him and is being held in the juvenile detention center awaiting a new placement," the Sheriff shared. "You do know I can get into some trouble for this, don't you?" he told Jeff, but with a smile in his voice as he was very careful to not do this kind of thing very often.
"We appreciate all your help, Dusty, and please don't get into trouble on our account. Just, ah... can you tell me what our next step is? How do we get custody, even temporarily, of this kid? I still haven't heard from Mutt about the Okoros either. It feels like it's taking months to get to Bangor rather than hours," he laughed.
Dusty said, "You'll have to go to the District Court Family Division and petition at least for temporary guardianship.”
"Alright. Let me get a hold of Mutt and see if the Okoros are home yet, and what they say. We'll have to play it by ear after that. Thanks again, Dusty, for all your help."
"You're welcome. It shouldn't be too hard. A troubled kid like him is usually hard to place. They may actually be grateful to find anyone willing to take him."
Omari was the first to arrive home to the sight of a freshly washed floor, cleaner counters than when he and his wife had left that morning, and a table set for an early dinner that was nearly done, according to Mutt.
"Ok, young man. What do you want?" Omari asked with a little twinkle in his eyes.
"What makes you think I want anything?" Mutt asked, just a little too quickly.
"Because that's exactly what the kids would do when they wanted something. Usually a puppy or money for a trip somewhere with their friends. Now I know you don't want a puppy or money, so I ask again, what do you want?" he grinned.
Mutt blushed at being seen through so easily. He cleared his throat and said, "Can we wait for mama to get home? This way I only have to say it once."
"How big of a 'what' is this?" Omari asked, a little suspicious at this point.
"It's pretty big," Mutt replied, eyes wide with uncertainty. "It's not a bad thing, I promise!" Mutt said quickly, "It's just... big. Or maybe not big, it's more small but..."
"Matthew, take a breath and relax," the older man said. "Would you like a drink?" he asked as he walked into his house to make himself more comfortable.
"Sure," Mutt replied a little breathlessly.
"Breathe." Omari commanded.
Mutt took a deep breath.
"Good boy. Now," Omari said as he handed a glass of whiskey to his young friend, "Zhara should be home any minute. In the meantime, just relax. I believe you when you say it's nothing bad..."
The older man didn't have a chance to finish his sentence before the door opened and Zhara walked in. "What's nothing bad?" she asked curiously.
"What I need to tell you," Mutt replied before taking another sip of the strong drink.
"Whiskey? How bad is it?" Zhara asked, taking off her coat and sitting beside the young man.
"It's... well... a kid... homeless... I mean, a foster kid. He's... it's..."
"Breathe!" Zhara and Omari said at the same time.
Mutt did as he was told, and began to tell them the story of what had happened that morning. "And... well, I told them I'd like to take care of him, but I'm only going to be here another couple of days, and then what happens to him? And so, I wondered, I mean... would you... consider..."
Zhara laughed and hugged a very confused Mutt. "If you're asking what I think you're asking, the answer, as far as I'm concerned, is yes. I'd love to have a little one around the house again."
Omari seconded his wife and saluted them with his glass before draining it.
Mutt sighed in relief. "Thank you! You don't know what this means to me! Except... I only know his first name and... I have no idea where they took him or..."
Just then Mutt's cell phone rang. Seeing that it was Jeff, Mutt excused himself and took the call.
"Jeff, thank God! I just spoke to Omari and Zhara, and they said they'd love to take Lucas in, but I don't know where to find him!"
"Calm down, Mutt," Jeff said with a smile. "Dusty was able to get some information and I know the kid's name. James called me a few minutes ago and he said that he got a hold of Judge Henshaw, and he's going to do some looking into the matter for us. I'll be there in about a half hour, alright?"
"Oh shoot!" Mutt replied.
"Not quite the response I was hoping for," Jeff laughed.
"Hang on, Jeff, please?" Mutt said. Taking the phone from his ear he gave the elder Okoros a guilty look. "I forgot to tell you, Jeff is coming. I told him about Lucas and... well... is it ok if he stays here or..."
"If you say you'll go to a hotel I'll swat you," Omari said sternly.
Mutt couldn't help but to laugh and put the phone back to his ear.
"I heard," Jeff said, laughing. "I'll be there soon. And dinner is going to have to wait, I'm afraid. James told me that the courthouse closes at 4:30 so we're not going to have time to eat before then. I'm in the SUV, when I get there I'll just pick you all up and we'll head there."
"I love you so much."
"Love you too, Hon, see you soon."
Jeff had written down the Okoro's new address and put it into his GPS. He arrived within the half hour he had told Mutt and went up to the house and rang the bell.
Mutt nearly ran him over when he jumped into Jeff's arms for a hug. Omari and Zhara both laughed and smiled as they put their coats back on and followed the two men to Jeff's SUV. Without asking, they simply got into the back seat and buckled up. Mutt's hands were shaking so hard that Jeff had to buckle his husband in before he could do his own.
Mutt looked nervously at the dashboard clock. "We're gonna be late!" he worried aloud.
Jeff reached out a calming hand and reassured his husband that they had plenty of time. "The judge asked the secretary to wait for us, we're fine."
Nervous with excitement, the quartet arrived at the courthouse and ran to the secretary's desk. The woman smiled because Judge Aaron Henshaw had called ahead and told her that when the Okoros arrived to have them wait, he was on his way.
As the group of people rushed into the office the woman asked, "Are you the Okoros? Judge Henshaw just called and said he'd be here soon. Please begin to fill out these papers while you wait." She handed them a clipboard with the appropriate paperwork attached.
A dignified looking man arrived shortly and seeing the people in the office asked his secretary if they were the Okoros. She acknowledged that they were.
He went up to them and introduced himself. "I'm Judge Aaron Henshaw, you must be the Okoro family?"
Mr. Okoro stood first and held out his hand to shake the judge's. "Yes, I am Omari, and this is my wife Zhara," he said with a smile.
Zhara stood and held out her hand as well, her dimples seeming deeper and prettier than ever. "Pleased to meet you, Your Honor," she said.
"And I already know you," the judge said, smiling at Jeff and Mutt. "How are you?"
"We're fine, Your Honor," Jeff smiled, shaking the man's hand as well.
The judge smiled at the couple. "You have friends in high places," he said with a smile. "I understand you're interested in taking custody of one of our little ones?"
"Yes sir," Omari answered. "It seems that our Matthew here came across the young man in question today and was quite taken with him. My wife and I have fostered in the past and when we heard about him, we knew he was meant for us."
The judge smiled. "If you've fostered before then there shouldn't be any problem with you being able to get this young man. Let's go into my office and I can see how we can expedite things. The young man in question is only six years old and I’m not thrilled with him having to stay overnight in Juvenile detention if we can help it."
"Neither were we, to be honest," Zhara said quietly. "Matthew here was especially worried for him, being young and alone in a strange place. We would like to offer the little one a loving, comfortable home, for as long as we can have him. We know that not all placements are permanent, but we hope to give him the best experience we can for as long as we are able to."
The judge nodded and looked over the paperwork. He went into his computer and did a few things, nodding and making noises as he read and then looked up and smiled. "It looks like one little fellow will be very lucky tonight." He typed a few things and pushed a button. In a few moments, the secretary came back and handed the judge some papers. "I'll sign these and you'll be set. There's a letter here to the authorities at the Juvenile Detention Center instructing them to release him to you. You can take him home tonight."
Forgetting decorum, Mutt jumped up and clapped, then hugged Jeff around the neck, then Omari and then Zhara. He stopped in his tracks when he reached the judge and blushed, holding out his hand to shake with the man. "Thank you, Your Honor," he said bashfully.
"Thank you, Sir," Omari said a wide grin nearly splitting his face. Zhara's smile was if possible, even wider.
Aaron smiled and shook the young man's hand. "You're quite welcome and thank you for caring and bringing such well qualified people here to take this child. He is a handful, been caught several times for stealing and pickpocket offenses," He warned the Okoros.
Omari laughed. "Yes, Matthew told us about how he and Lucas met. We're looking forward to getting to know the child better, and lead him by example."
The judge said, "He may need a strong parent. He also is having school problems. He barely attended enough days of school in Kindergarten to be able to make it through that and he's been truant more often than not since the start of first grade."
Zhara frowned for the first time since the whole thing had started. "Well, then I blame the foster parents, and not the child. He won't be missing school while he's with us, I can promise you that."
Omari read the paper and also frowned. “Matthew said something about him being afraid of someone being angry with him..."
"I thought he meant the foster parents... maybe... maybe it was the other kids?" Mutt said in a near whisper.
"He won't have to worry about that with us, I promise you," Omari said. "He'll be our one and only, and the only other children he'll see will be ones his own age. We do have grandchildren and we will introduce them to him in time, once he's gotten used to us."
"I'm not sure what he meant, it could have been either the foster family or older kids. I'm very glad he is going to be in a family who truly cares. Most of the foster homes are overcrowded and transient. He's been in six since he was first placed. The system isn't perfect," He sighed.
"We understand. And we do care. We will be sure to give him what he's been missing all this time," Omari promised.
"From what I've seen in your record I'm certain you will." Aaron smiled at the group of people once more. "I'm sure you're anxious to go get him, so be on your way with my blessings. As always if anything is needed, let the family court know or his social worker."
"We certainly will. Thank you, Your Honor," Zhara said with a smile. "Jeff? Ready to go?"
"We're ready," Jeff replied. "I know Mutt can't wait to see Lucas again."
"Thanks again, Your Honor," Mutt added, "He's like a little brother to me, and I'm happy beyond words that he'll be with Mama and Papa Okoro."
The judge watched them leave with a smile and then told his secretary to close up and that they were leaving for the night.
Lucas sat in the room huddled on the bed, hugging his knees. He'd never been in a place like this before and he was scared.
When the Okoros arrived at the Juvenile Hall they were greeted by a burly man. "Yes, may I help you?" he asked in a no-nonsense manner.
"Yes, we have a court order from His Honor Judge Aaron Henshaw, giving us permission to pick up the little boy named Lucas McLeary," Omari replied, not sure he cared much for the man's manner. If he had been as abrupt with Lucas as he seemed to be, the poor kid might be scared out of his wits. The last thing the poor kid needed was to be more afraid than he probably already was.
"We'd like to pick him up now, please," Zhara said quietly. "We'd like to take him home and get him settled and fed."
The attendant looked over the papers the man handed him carefully. "Come with me Sir," he said abruptly and led the way.
Omari wasn’t the sort to dislike people on sight but he had a bad feeling about the one leading them to their new charge. He kept his misgivings to himself and followed, holding Zhara's hand, followed closely by Mutt and Jeff. Zhara squeezed his fingers, happy and nervous at the same time. Mutt looked at Jeff, a question in his eyes. Jeff only shook his head a little and focused on getting the child out of the facility.
The man took out a ring of keys and unlocked the door. "He's in there, Sir," he told the man. "You can collect his things and take him now."
Lucas hearing the door opening scooted into the far corner of his closet protecting his stash and the few belongings he had. He was quiet as a mouse.
Mutt was furious that a child as young as Lucas had been put inside a large, dark room by himself, locked in like a criminal. He sent the surly man an unfriendly look and wordlessly asked the Okoros if he could go in ahead of them. They nodded and Mutt went inside slowly, looking around and not seeing the child until he opened the closet. Crouching down to get to the boy's level and therefore seeming less of a threat said, ”Hey Goober. It's me, Mutt. How are you buddy?"
The little boy cracked open one brown eye to see the man who had called the police on him in front of him. "Whadya doin' here...ya sent me here, whatcha want now?"
Not letting himself be put off, Mutt grinned, "I'm here with friends. They'd like to take you home with them. They're here with me and they'd like to meet you."
"Why? Are they gonna beat me or somethin'?" the youngster asked, half fearfully and half belligerently.
Omari walked quietly into the room with a gentle smile and introduced himself to the boy. Zhara followed and did as Mutt had done, kneeling down to be on the same level as the boy.
"We won't beat you honey," Zhara promised. "Any friend of Mutt's is a friend of ours. We'd like you to give us a chance to show you what a real family is. Will you give us that chance?"
The child looked warily up at the woman. "Yer black, why do ya want me?" he asked bluntly.
"We don't care about color in our family. We like to call ourselves the mini United Nations. We have a little bit of everything thrown in," she laughed.
The child looked from Mutt to Omari and then back to Zhara, then shrugged. "Sure it'll be better than this place and it can't be much worse than the other places I've been in." He stood up.
Omari and Zhara shot a glance at each other. They knew this wasn't going to be easy but they were willing to put the time and effort into it that the child deserved.
"Get your things together, hon, and come with us. You're just in time for dinner," Omari said.
Lucas began to gather up his few belongings and then stuffed the little box inside his pack for now so they couldn't see it. He'd find a good hiding place for it when he got to wherever they were going.
The little boy looked at Mutt and said, "By the way my name is Lucas so ya can stop callin' me Goober."
The child stopped short at the sight of Jeff. "Who's he and why's he here?" he asked suspiciously and taking a step closer to the door to run if he needed to.
The burly man blocked the door at the child's movement ready to prevent him from running away.
Mutt smiled. "This is my best friend in the whole world. My husband Jeff. When I called him, and told him about you, he wanted to meet you."
Lucas looked at Mutt strangely. "Husband, yer not a girl."
Mutt laughed, "Nope, not a girl. Jeff and I are gay."
The little boy looked at him a bit puzzled and then at the man and woman he shrugged. "'Kay, all ya people are really strange, but I guess no stranger than some I've seen walkin' the streets."
Jeff couldn't help but to laugh. "It's really a pleasure to finally meet you, Lucas."
The little boy looked at Jeff and asked "Why? Ya don't know me."
"Not yet. But I do know I like a man who speaks his mind. I admire that," Jeff said with a grin.
Lucas looked at Jeff. "Ya do mister?"
"Yes, I most certainly do," Jeff replied.
The little boy looked confused for a moment before saying, "Speakin' my mind gets me in a lotta trouble sometimes."
"You'll learn to speak your mind and stay out of trouble as you get older. I know that Omari can show you how to do that. If you're willing to learn."
" 'Kay," the boy shrugged. "If ya say so."
The burly man at the door raised an eyebrow at the men as he heard Mutt introduce the other man as his husband, but shrugged. He figured the judge knew what he was doing and who was he to question it.
"Omari, let's get this child home and fed," Zhara said happily. "I think you'll like it with us, Lucas. We're going to take good care of you."
Lucas looked at the woman and shrugged. "'Kay." He began to pick up his things again.
"Do you need a hand, Lucas?" Zhara asked.
He said to Zhara, "Naw...I can handle my own stuff. I've done it 'fore. 'sides, I don't have much."
As they headed back toward the Okoro home, Mutt asked Jeff to stop for a loaf of fresh Italian bread. "The stuff I was warming is probably hard as a rock by now," he grinned. "Wanna come in with me, Goober?" he asked with a gleam of humor in his eyes.
Lucas looked at Mutt and wrinkled his little nose, but said, "Yeah, I'd like to come in." He scrambled out over Omari and ran ahead of Mutt.
Mutt led the little boy to the bread isle and picked up two fresh loaves of Italian bread, then headed to the check out. The line was long, even in the 10 items or less line, and the little boy became bored quickly.
Lucas began to look at the items on display as they went through the checkout aisle. He began to reach for a candy bar at eye level, attempting to secret it in his pocket.
Mutt noticed Lucas' hand and cleared his throat before kneeling down to whisper in his ear.
"You don't have to steal anymore, Lucas," he said quietly. "You only have to ask. You might not get what you want, but you'll always get what you need. Understand?"
The little boy's brown eyes widened at Mutt's noticing and words. He blushed and looked down. "Sorry Mutt, can I have the candy bar?" he asked quietly.
Mutt took the candy bar from Lucas' hand and put it back on the shelf. "Trying to take something without paying for it is just as bad as actually doing it, Lucas," Mutt said gently. "If I were to buy you this now, it would be telling you that what you did was alright. So, no, not right now. It's just about our turn to cash out so just hold onto my hand until we're done and back in the truck."
Lucas bit his lip and did as Mutt asked. He worried that Mutt would tell the Okoros what he had tried to do and they'd turn around and bring him right back to the juvenile detention center.
As soon as they got outside the store the little boy yanked his hand from Mutt's and started running down the street, ready to dart into the nearest alley way.
Mutt tossed the bag with the bread aside and took off after the little boy, grateful that for once he was bigger than his prey and was able to catch up easily. He caught the boy under his arms and swung him up and over his shoulder, carrying him back to where he'd ditched the bread, and strongly resisting the urge to swat the kid on the backside. "What on earth do you think you were doing, Lucas?" Mutt demanded as he opened the back door to hand him over to Omari, who, like everyone else in the SUV looked completely stunned.
Lucas began to cry. "Ya gonna tell 'em and they're gonna take me back!"
Zhara put her arms around the little boy and hugged him tightly. "Why don't you tell us what happened, little one?" she asked quietly, rocking the boy in her arms to try to calm him.
Jeff looked questioningly at his husband who remained mute, preferring to check the condition of the bread rather than answer.
Lucas said sniffling, "Ya better know right now sos if ya wanna take me back now ya still can. Mutt caught me tryin' to snitch a candy bar in the store," he told Zhara. "I ain't nuthin' but a little thief like Mutt said."
Jeff sent another look at Mutt who hung his head, looking guilty. "I said that when I was angry at you, Lucas. I'm sorry."
Omari took the child's chin in his finger tips and made him look at him. "We're not going to throw you away, little boy. You're not trash, understand that? There's nothing you can do that will make us give you up now that we have you. Do you believe that?"
Lucas bit his lip and said to Mutt, "It'S 'kay...it ain't but the truth." Then he looked into the warm brown eyes of Omari and said softly, "I wanna believe it."
"No, child," Zhara said softly with a small smile. "We're not willing to let you go. We've only just met you and we already care very much for you. Mostly based on what Mutt said about you."
"Ya do? Even after...well I tried to steal again?" he asked a note of amazement in his voice.
"You'll learn my little man, that parents have a great, limitless well of love for their children, and we forgive their mistakes. Tonight, is the beginning of a new life for you, Lucas, and you'll learn, just as we will. Understand?" Omari told the child.
Lucas nodded at Omari’s remark. "What else did Mutt say 'bout me?" he asked Zhara.
The woman couldn't help but to laugh a little, a charming sound, and hugged the little boy closer before letting him go. "Mutt said that you were a very special little boy. He knew that from the moment he met you, and our Mutt has good instincts."
Lucas looked puzzled at Zhara at first, then smiled. "He did and he does?"
"He did. And he does." the woman echoed with a grin. "And we can see it now for ourselves. We want you to stay with us. Learn with us. Teach us. Will you do that, sweetheart?"
Lucas looked at Zhara. "Don’t know 'bout teachin' anyone but how to pick a pocket, but if ya want to learn that I can teach ya real good," he told her.
Zhara gave her husband a look of surprise before she laughed out loud. "We don't need to learn to pick pockets, my little love, and you won't need to do it either anymore. You'll teach us about yourself. What you want. What you need. What your dreams are. And we'll do our best to help you achieve those dreams... as long as that dream isn't to become the world's most famous pick pocket."
"Or cat burglar," Omari added with a smile.
Lucas for the first time gave the older couple a smile. "A cat burglar might be fun.
Omari and Zhara gave each other a look and then smiled. Lucas Caden McCleary would be a challenge, but would help keep them young.