Sunday, July 9, 2017
Phoenix from the Ashes Part 2
Written by Snarks
Thanks to PJ and Rosemarie for their great advice and beta, and to JL of JL's Junction without whom Joaquin might never have existed.
Warning for one swat to a minor and foul language (mostly the 'F Bomb')
'Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! What was I thinking?! Really, a complete stranger, no matter how nice. What the fuck did I think he was going to do with me! Adopt me? Give me a guided tour of the United States and leave me in whichever state I decided was right for me? Fucking adults! Fucking do gooders! I wanna stick around just to catch him speeding so I can call the police and report him!'
‘Keen stayed in among the trees that lined the highway. He had a vague idea of which way he had to go now, but wondered if continuing east through Montana was a good plan... the ever so Wonderful Mr. Gideon Baker might expect it and look for him there. And now, because of the Wonderful Mr. Gideon Baker he had to be even more attentive than he had before. He had no doubt that the Wonderful Mr. Gideon Baker had given the cops a full description and they'd be on the lookout now for the run away. He hoped that the Wonderful Mr. Gideon Baker got an award for turning in a harmless kid. He hoped that the Wonderful Mr. Gideon Baker choked on the damned award.
Well, no. He thought guiltily. Because then who would take care of Killer. He didn't want the little dog to end up in an orphanage or a foster home where he would be abused.
‘Keen fought the tears that tried to force their way out. Now was not the time to think about it. There was nothing he could do except hope that his brothers would somehow get lucky and find good people to take care of them. Maybe someone like the Wonderful Mr. Gideon Baker without the bit about him being a tattle tale. Stool pigeon. Rat!
The boy kicked the nearest tree several times until he'd worked out his frustrations. He was tired to the bone. Once again, he climbed the tree he'd just attacked and hunkered down among the stronger branches to wait out the day. Panting with exertion, he settled back as well as he was able, pulled his hood over his face and the sleeves of the hoodie over his hands to ward off the cold, and fell quickly asleep.
When he woke he was surprised to see that it was twilight. He'd slept the day away. Traffic had slowed down considerably and everyone who hadn't gotten their license from a box of Cracker Jacks would have their headlights on, which would make it that much easier to spot cop cars.
‘Keen jumped down from the tree and laughed to himself. Even those so called unmarked cars were jokes. Were the police really that clueless about how much those things stood out? Talk about sore thumbs, he chuckled. They were as noticeable as those cars the folks from CPS drove. Everyone in his neighborhood could spot one of those a block away and be gone before the busybodies even pulled up in front of the apartment.
Why were there so many people who felt it was their right to meddle in other people's business? he fumed. It wouldn't be so bad if any one of them actually helped but they never did and it only ended in more trouble for whatever kid the do-gooder had been supposedly trying to help. Do-gooders. He spat on the ground. Nosy jerks, more like it. They were all cowards anyway, all promises of help and concern to your face and then hiding behind CPS.
‘Keen wondered if that's who Saint Gideon had called. Or had it been the police? More likely both. He was sure that Saint Gideon wanted to cover all of his bases. And his ass. He didn't care. All that mattered was that he'd gotten away.
He smiled to himself as he thought of the scene in one of the Harry Potter movies where moldy Voldy had been summoned because the Death Eaters had captured Harry, only to have Harry escape and leave the bad guys to face the music. Oh, how he wished he'd seen the man's face when he realized that he'd been given the slip.
Thinking of Gideon reminded him of the cigarettes in his jacket pocket and he grinned. He'd crush the boxes of cigarettes into the mulch under the trees. It was petty revenge but it was all the seventeen-year-old could think of to do. He'd often done it to his mother and 'uncles' to get back at them and he'd had a good laugh watching them running around, frantically searching for the danged things and becoming more and more crazy as the nicotine withdrawal started to kick in. The lighters he'd keep. They'd be handy if he needed to make a fire later.
He threw the first box on the ground and was about to crush it under his heel when curiosity overtook him. He'd smelled cigarettes of course, the apartments he'd lived in with his mother and whoever the current 'uncle' was, had always reeked of them. His hair and clothes had always smelled of them... but he'd never tasted one.
At school, he was thought of as a cool kid because he smoked. Other than smelling of cigarette, and frequently cleaning out ash trays at home he'd never touched one. He'd never contradicted the kids because that would have turned him from 'cool' to 'fair game', and he wouldn't have been able to protect Sammy and Mikey if he was always having to watch his own back.
He copied the motions that his mother had always made before lighting up, tapping the pack, selecting a cigarette, tapping the cigarette on the pack, placing it between his lips; his nose wrinkled at the smell. Then he lit it, drawing the heat and smoke up through the thin paper tube and into his mouth.
It was several minutes before he stopped gagging and coughing and a few more before his breathing returned to normal. He tried to wipe his tongue off on his shirt but that only seemed to spread the hideous taste. His head and his throat hurt from the coughing and lack of oxygen. Why on earth did people smoke these things? And they did it voluntarily?! He crushed the remaining cigarettes into tiny particles under the trees and got as far away from them as quickly as he could.
The night grew darker, the passage of cars became fewer and far between so he felt safer walking alongside the highway rather than in the trees and brush. He could still drop and lie still if a car came by. He had no doubt that anything lying by the side of the road would be dismissed as garbage or road kill, and ignored, so it was highly unlikely that he would be found.
He hitched rides from truckers whenever one stopped, always keeping his bag strapped around his arm and his hand on the door lever. Some of the drivers asked questions, most didn't, having been in this youngster's place themselves at one time or another. He had a close call with a couple of them who propositioned him then kicked him out of their trucks when he declined, but he figured he'd gotten a lot further across the state than he'd expected and felt that even the close calls were worth it.
As it grew darker it grew colder. Despite the cold, ‘Keen was sweating from the exertion. He couldn't stop at any of the diners or restaurants to buy something to eat or drink to get the terrible taste out of his mouth because someone was sure to ask what he was doing out 'this late'. He had considered eating some grass but he worried about what had been on the grass and what it might have done while on it, so he continued to walk, cranky, hungry, tired, and feeling vaguely sick, for several more miles.
Then, there in the darkness, was another rest stop, full of cars and people of all ages dropping in to use the facilities, buy overpriced, soggy food and play arcade games. Once again, there was a good chance that he could get in and out without being noticed.
He looked around for police cars and sighed in frustration. If there were unmarked cars in the lot he’d never find them in the mixture of ghostly florescent lighting and fog, not to mention that he couldn't see every car in the lot at a glance. If he took the time to study each car before going in he'd be there all night. He took a deep breath and took his chance.
Once inside he made a beeline for the restroom where he first rinsed out his mouth with the hottest water he could tolerate, fishing in his bag for his toothbrush and paste, scrubbing violently before spitting it all out. He saturated several handfuls of paper towels and lathered some of them up with the soap before scuttling into the nearest stall where he kicked off his sneakers, peeled off the socks and dirty clothes as quickly as he could, did a quick 'sponge bath' with the wet paper towels, dried himself as best he could and slid into his last change of clean clothes, stuffed the dirty things into his bag and walked out into the restaurant area less than ten minutes later.
The youngster was sitting at a small table, working on his second burger when a hand fell on his shoulder. ‘Keen dropped his dinner, knocked over his extra-large Dr. Pepper, and ducked under the table, preparing to pull a Philippe Gaston, when he realized that he was hemmed in on either side by two sets of legs.
He cowered under the table, lambasting himself for not sitting in a corner by an exit so that he could keep an eye on the room, and for thinking that cops wouldn't walk into rest stops for one reason or another, or that they wouldn't notice a teenager sitting alone at 4 a.m.
The knees of one set of legs bent until the owner of the legs could get down far enough to look at the youngster.
"Phoenix? Phoenix. Don't be afraid,” said a man, his dark hair just going grey, kind blue eyes and a gentle smile.
The other set of legs bent as well, and lo and behold, thought ‘Keen sarcastically, there was Saint Gideon with a pleased expression on his face.
‘Keen didn't yell but he did scowl ferociously and released a string of invective aimed at Gideon that should have made the man's hair curl.
Shorty had seen and heard a lot of things in his life, and he was no stranger to foul language, but he had to admit his surprise that such a good-looking youngster would know words like that, let alone use them to complete strangers.
"Hey, Phoenix,” Gideon said softly, “I know you're mad at me, but come on up."
"Is there a problem here?"
The two older men looked up to see another man, perhaps in his early twenties, tall, lanky with reddish hair and pale blue eyes, wearing a badge proclaiming him a manager at the restaurant, standing beside them, looking as foreboding as he was able. Gideon couldn't help but to equate the man child standing beside him to the kitten that stood up to the bull dog, and quashed a smile.
The manager, whose name was Clement, bent at the waist and looked under the table at ‘Keen. "Are you all right, little boy? Are your parents nearby? Do you need me to call someone?" he asked, concern on his features.
"I'm the youngster's uncle," Gideon lied smoothly, sure that if the kid was half as smart as he seemed he would not contradict him. "We had a bit of a falling out earlier and he ran away. We've been searching for him all day. We're just trying to convince him to come back home so that we can work things out." Gideon smiled.
A little warily, Clement looked back at ‘Keen. "Is this true? Is this your uncle?"
"Yes sir,” ‘Keen whispered. There was no sense in saying no and then having to explain who he was and why he was here.
"All right then, sir. I'm sorry I disturbed you but when I saw the boy..." Clement began.
"Don't worry, sir,” Gideon said. "Any civic minded person would have done exactly what you did and it was commendable. I'll be sure to put in a word for you at your headquarters."
Clement smiled and puffed up visibly at the praise and being spoken to so respectfully. "Thank you, sir," he replied before heading back to his duties.
"Come on out, Phoenix,” repeated the kindly blue-eyed gentleman. "Let's sit and talk things out, all right?"
‘Keen reluctantly slid back into his seat while the two men took seats across the table from him.
"I could use a drink," Gideon announced. "Shorty?"
Shorty nodded. “If the coffee isn't a year old, I think a cup would hit the spot," he said, taking a wad of napkins and mopping up the spilled soda.
"Phoenix? Do you need another soda?" Gideon asked.
"Free refills,” ‘Keen replied shortly, his gaze on the remains of his burger.
"Ah yes. All right then, I'll be back soon," Gideon said with a smart salute, turning on his heel and going to the Cinnabon for coffee and a refill on ‘Keen’s drink.
"Finish your food, Hon. Don't stand on ceremony just because I'm here,” Shorty smiled.
"I don't even know who you are,” replied ‘Keen belligerently, still staring at the now cold burger. "What are you? A cop? Someone from CPS? A social worker?" he added in a tone that indicated that he had a very low opinion of the latter.
"Think of me as more along the lines of Search and Rescue," Shorty smiled.
"I'm not lost, and I don't need to be rescued," ‘Keen replied sullenly.
"Really?" Shorty asked, looking and sounding relieved. “Then perhaps you can rescue me since I really have no idea where I am. What town are we in?"
‘Keen shifted uncomfortably. He really didn't know where he was. When drivers asked him where he was going he would only say, 'East. However far you're going.' He wasn't even sure what day it was.
He hazarded a guess, "South Dakota? I'm not sure where though. I kinda fell asleep in the last couple of trucks I hitched rides in," he admitted sheepishly.
"Missouri," came the voice behind them.
"Missouri, Phoenix. You're in Cameron, Missouri," Gideon said, placing the cups of coffee on the table.
"Where the fuck is Cameron, Missouri!?" ‘Keen demanded. "How the fuck did I get to Missouri!?" he repeated as he struggled to dig out his map of the United States. "I shoulda been at least in South Dakota by now!"
"Please stop shouting," Shorty said quietly, “and please stop swearing. It's unnecessary and it's drawing attention again."
‘Keen looked around and noticed people who had been staring at him dropping their eyes quickly, pretending that they hadn't been openly listening.
‘Keen looked at his map and went back and forth over the state of Missouri but couldn't find any sign of Cameron.
"What the fuck?" he whispered in consternation.
Gideon turned the map toward him and ran his finger south, rather than east, until he came to the place he needed.
"What the fuck!" ‘Keen yelled, slamming his hand down on the table in frustration.
At that, Shorty took the boy by the wrist, pulled him up and led him quickly and quietly out of the restaurant. Taken off guard, ‘Keen followed without question. Gideon followed swiftly, carrying the child's bag. Once outside he took the lead, brought them to his car and put Shorty and the boy into the back seat.
"Your yelling and cussing are going to get you into more trouble than I think you want, Phoenix. So, I'd advise you to watch your language, watch your tone and your volume. Understood?" Gideon scolded.
"But I said east! I told those assholes that I was going east! How the fuck do you become a truck driver and not know the difference between south and east!?" he yelled.
"Tell me, Phoenix, how would your mother feel about the language you use? Your grandmother?" Shorty asked.
"My mother didn't give two shits about u...uh, me or what I said or did or where I went, and I never had a grandmother. The only one I ever heard about was my mother's mom and she kicked mom out when she was pregnant with me." ‘Keen pinched himself. He'd nearly given himself away more than once during his conversations with Gideon and now this man. One of them was bound to catch on if they didn't already know. "And I'm not saying another word without a lawyer present," he concluded, arms crossed stubbornly.
"Well Phoenix, you're not under arrest, so you don't need a lawyer. We have contacted CPS and the police..."
"I knew it!" ‘Keen yelled, grabbing at the door handle to get out but being thwarted by child locks. He began to slam his palms into the door and window. "Let me out! Let me out! Let me the fuck out! Now! Now! Now!" he shouted as he pummeled the door with his fists.
Shorty gathered the boy into his arms as best he could, pinning the youngster's arms to his sides and using his cheek to keep the kid's head from thrashing around. He knew he was going to have a bruise on his cheek the next day but better that than the child be injured.
When ‘Keen's hysteria didn't subside, Shorty did the only thing he could think of to do and he gave the boy a smart swat on the hip. ‘Keen was so surprised that he stopped his struggles.
"I'm sorry I had to do that, Phoenix, but I was afraid you would hurt yourself or draw attention that I know you don't want. Now, will you please calm down and listen to what we have to say?"
‘Keen ground his teeth a little but remained quiet and still. Little by little, Shorty loosened his grip on the boy. When the child didn't make any further moves to try to escape he released the kid entirely, although he stayed on the alert in case Phoenix tried to escape again.
"We have already called the police and CPS," Gideon continued, “but no youngsters matching your description have been reported missing."
‘Keen 's heart dropped into his stomach. No one had noticed him missing? He held back tears and tipped his head back nonchalantly. "And now?"
"We've arranged to have you brought to the resort where I live." Shorty replied. "It's a nice place. Quiet. Safe."
"What is it, like a home for runaways? Like a boot camp? Do you make the kids dig holes all day?" ‘Keen asked suspiciously.
"Well, some of our family were runaways,” Shorty said fondly, "and no one is going to make you dig holes, promise. We'll let you get settled in, and we'll take care of you until we can find out where you came from."
"And once you find out where I came from... you send me back, right?" ‘Keen asked dully.
"If that's what we're ordered to do, then yes," Gideon said quietly.
"Well thanks for not lying to me,” ‘Keen replied, thawing slightly at the man's honesty. "So, how do we get to this resort?" he said with a sigh.
"The nearest public airport is Kansas City International Airport in Kansas City, Missouri so it'll be a few hours drive. All you need to do is stay calm, and trust us, all right? I know it's hard to believe us, but if we'd wanted to harm you or turn you over to CPS or the police, we would have already done it," Shorty reassured him.
"Truce?" Gideon asked with a wry grin, holding out a hand to shake.
"Yeah, I guess," ‘Keen replied, eyeing the hand warily before shaking it.
'Keen looked around the car suddenly remembering his furry little friend. “Where’s Killer?” he asked.
“When I picked Shorty up at the Missoula Airport I arranged to send Killer back home,” Gideon answered. “I didn’t know how long it would take us to find you and I knew he would be happier at home.”
By the look on the young man’s face the two men could tell he was disappointed that the dog wasn’t there.
"Do you need to use the bathroom before we leave?"
"Yeah, I guess,” ‘Keen repeated.
"Promise not to take off again?" Gideon jibbed.
"No promises," ‘Keen grinned. "You mean you guys are gonna trust me to go alone? What if I take off again?”
"Just from knowing you for this short period of time I believe that you are a man of honor, and that if you give your word you'll keep it," Shorty said quietly. "Will you give your word that you won't run again?"
‘Keen looked at the man squarely, obviously assessing him and his words. Thinking back to the scares he'd had from those crazy drivers who had wanted to... he didn't even want to think about it. After several moments, he decided that he'd be better off with these men than taking his chances on the road again.
"Yeah, I give my word," he replied.
"Go on then," Gideon said as he and Shorty got out of the car to let the boy out.
After ‘Keen was out of earshot, Shorty looked at Gideon with a guilty expression. "Do you think that he'll ever find out that you were on the CB and putting the word out about the kid to all the drivers?"
"Not if we don't tell him," Gideon grinned.
"I guess Zip and Klein put a good scare into him too, from what they said," Shorty continued with a wry smile. "Zip was sure the kid would never hitchhike again." He grinned at Gideon and shook his head slowly. "That was playing dirty pool you know," he chided gently.
Gideon tried to suppress a smug smile but didn't succeed very well. He crossed his arms and leaned against his car, waiting for the boy to return.
Reference to 'Lord Voldemort' ie moldy Voldy in my story, belongs solely to JK Rowling, writer and creator of the Harry Potter series starting with Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, which was published in 1997, and six sequels, ending with the story of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which was released in 2007.
Reference to 'pulling a Philippe Gaston'
Philippe Gaston (Played by Matthew Broderick) is a character from the movie Ladyhawke:
Release date: April 12, 1985 (USA)
Director: Richard Donner
Music composed by: Andrew Powell
Screenplay by: Edward Khamara, Dave Peoples, Tom Mankiewicz and Michael Thomas.
No copyright infringement is intended, and no money is being made from these stories.