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Growing Up Gage

Summer of Iniquity

An Emergency Story by

Pate
 

June,1958

 

 

 

School was out for the summer. Ten-year-old Johnny Gage trotted down the dirt road toward the ranch, relieved that studying was over for twelve weeks and happy that he'd passed. The students had just a half-day of school, spent mainly clearing out their desks and cubbies in the cloak room and receiving their fifth grade report cards to take home for their parents. Johnny had peeked into the envelope before heading home and he was eager to show his father how well he had done. Next fall he'd start the sixth grade.

 

The warm midday sun made the shadows short as he walked and he looked forward to the lunch that Betty Simonson would have waiting for him when he got to the ranch. With his afternoon free, he could ride one of the horses before chore time. He soon glimpsed the roofline of the two-story house above the treetops as he cut through the pasture on the narrow footpath; it was his preferred way to the ranch. A piercing bark could be heard as he stepped across the field, signaling the arrival of one of Ed's Belgian shepherds as the dog came crashing rapidly through the tall overgrowth and jumped about excitedly, lapping at the boy's hands and face.

 

 "Hey Nemo," Johnny said, then giggled at the wet, sloppy dog-kisses."You miss me while I was at school? Huh boy?"

 

Nemo happily trotted beside him as Johnny entered the far end of the yard and headed for the house. Betty was ironing in the kitchen when Johnny entered. The table was piled neatly with freshly pressed items and a filled the basket waited on a kitchen chair. Betty glanced up as he came through the screen door.

 

 "Hello Dear."

 

"Is Papa in the barn?"

 

"Wipe your feet!"

 

Johnny hastily stepped back and scrubbed the soles of his shoes on the doormat, then stepped forward. He thrust the envelope before the woman's face.

 

"I got my report card Betty," he said."Look!"

 

Betty's face registered pleasant interest."That's great!" When Johnny indicated for her to take the envelope, however she shook her head."Darling, don't you think your father ought to take a look first?"

 

“It's okay," Johnny insisted."I peeked. Besides, you've helped me all year with gettin' my homework done."

 

"Johnny..."

 

"Look, look!" Johnny pressed eagerly, his whole body vibrating with anticipation. She accepted the envelope as the screen door swung open once more and the men entered.

 

"What's all of the excitement?" came Roddy's voice as he and Ed stepped into the kitchen, followed by Nolan Parker and Jake Little Hawk. Johnny scampered over, his face jubilant.

 

"I got my report card Papa! Look!"

 

Roddy accepted the envelope his son handed him and made a show of opening it dramatically, much to Johnny's impatient amusement.

 

"Read it Papa!"

 

Roddy read over the card and then the accompanying note from his fifth grade teacher, a slow smile spreading over his face as he did. Johnny bounced on his feet, peering over his father's arm expectantly. When he finished, Roddy embraced his son, his expression proud.

 

"Not bad Wapike! Four A's and a B+," he remarked."And your teacher spoke well of your performance in the last year."

 

"I didn't get such good marks for study time though," Johnny admitted. Getting down to work was a challenge for him; the assignments weren't always demanding and Johnny was chatty and easily sidetracked and he had gotten a few reprimands in class for his distractive behavior. But Roddy shook his head at that. He knew how his son needed plenty of creative stimulation to help him focus.

 

"Well, your teacher realized how smart you are and that a lot of that was because you completed assignments early,” he explained."She gave you extra work to keep you busy and not interrupt your classmates. She didn't do it to punish you." He glanced down at him and then gave Johnny another squeeze with his arm."But you did well and I'm proud of you."

 

Johnny beamed with pride too pleased to say anything more, as the other men showered him with praise. He enjoyed learning but he also found school easy and idly wondered if he was the only one who felt this way. As he sat down at the table for lunch with the others, he thought about his work during the school year. He ate quickly, eager for the freedom of the outdoors. Following lunch Johnny changed out of his school clothes. It was warm, so he donned an old pair of overalls and went shirtless down to the barn, his bare feet making his footsteps silent as he entered a stall. He had a few hours of freedom and decided to ride his favorite horse, Paint out to the grazing pasture by the creek. The horse whinnied softly as Johnny slipped between the rails.

 

"Hi Paint," Johnny greeted."How are you boy? Wanna go for a run?" He reached to scratch the animal's snout, then pulled an apple from the feed bin. The horse eagerly gobbled up the treat..Johnny took up the reins and released the latch on the gate. He opted to go without a saddle, so he led Paint out of the stall and through the barn door to the yard. There he seized a handful of the animal's long mane and hoisted himself up onto his strong back.He could feel the horse's muscles quiver as Paint instantly started to  trot where he led, heading out the side gate into the pasture. Johnny had been riding horses since he was able to walk and didn't have to order Paint beyond a gentle tap with his heels or a subtle tug on the animal's mane. He used a saddle when he helped the men or roped calves but he preferred riding bare-back when just rambling.

 

Paint's ears pricked up and his stride became jaunty as they headed out and Johnny couldn't help but smile. It was a glorious afternoon, perfect for play. Johnny didn't have to worry about school work and the chores didn't have to be started for a while yet. Feeling buoyant and sensing Paint's friskiness, he leaned forward and dug his heels into the animal's flanks, letting out a piercing yell. Instantly, Paint charged into a gallop, hooves pounding the loose earth and sending clods into the air in his wake.

 

Johnny gripped tight to the thick handfuls of the animal's mane as the horse ran, enjoying the speed and the freedom that riding gave him. He loved all animals but horses most of all. They always trotted over eagerly whenever he approached the pasture fence or entered the barn and he appreciated their beauty and speed. After a while he slowed the animal to a trot as they approached the creek and he allowed Paint to rest, the horse stepped into the shallows and dipped his snout into the water to drink. Johnny let go of Paint's mane and stretched out upon the animal's back, resting his head against the warm neck and lifted his gaze to the skies. HIs eyes were slitted against the bright afternoon sunshine as he idly watched the puffy clouds drift in the vast blueness that surrounded the earth like a bowl of brilliance. The gentle breeze made the tall prairie grass whisper, while crickets filled the quiet air with soft music.

 

Far overhead Johnny spotted a dark shape riding a thermal, swirling in broad arcs far above the earth and he recognized the shape as a hawk searching for prey. The bird lowered its flight, close enough for Johnny to glimpse it's flexing talons before dive-bombing to the ground and disappearing into the tall grass about a dozen yards away. When the bird reemerged a moment later, it was flying away with the corpse of a ground squirrel. Johnny watched the bird vanish into the immense sky, then returned his gaze back to the clouds and sighed contentedly. Paint's body was warm and quivery beneath his back and the earthy equine scent made him sleepy. Within moments Johnny had dozed off.

                                                                                     

                                                    ----------------------------

 

 

Teddy Gage sat in the pickup smoking, one hand on the steering wheel, the engine turned off. His eyes were fixated on the fly that crawled along the dashboard before him. It was hot inside the cab, despite the windows being rolled down and he wished that Ray would hurry up. He was parked behind the liquor store, watching the modest hamburger stand across the way. He didn't see Lynnie Otter Tail through the glass, so she must have had the day off. It was just as well; the last time he approached the stand she spurned his advances. Teddy glanced back to the fly, which still crawled idly along the edge of the panel. He reached out and smacked his palm down, squashing the bug completely just as Ray Cooley sauntered over carrying a brown paper sack.

 

As his buddy slid into the passenger seat Teddy flicked his cigarette butt out the window."Didja get it? The Coors?"

 

"I got that, an' some whiskey," Ray boasted proudly."Had extra cash."

 

 "Good deal," Teddy muttered, reaching for a bottle and popping off the top. He guzzled for a moment, effectively draining half within seconds."Let's get the hell outta here."

 

The two youths sped off down the road out of town, headed for Ray's place to burn off steam and drink. Teddy didn't care where they headed; they could drink the stuff under a tree for all he cared but Ray was concerned about being spotted, so they headed down to where he knew of an abandoned homestead where they could hang out. It was no use for them to head to Ray's folks' place; Ray's mother would holler at them anyway. So they continued, passing the pastures and cattle pens that indicated ranch property. Ray jabbed Teddy in the arm.

 

 "Hey! Let's go scare some cows Ted."

 

 Teddy screwed up his face at that."Whattya crazy? Don't be dumb Ray."

 

 Ray swore softly under his breath."It's not dumb."

 

 "Is too dummy."

 

 "I'm not dumb."

 

 "Shut up stupid."

 

 As they crested a small rise, Teddy spotted a painted horse standing about five yards from the fence with a darker form on its back. As he drew up closer he spotted the form as a child and a wicked grin formed on his face. He slowed to a stop, squinting in the bright sun and realized that the boy astride the horse had dozed off. He got out from behind the wheel.

 

"Where you goin'?" Ray asked, following suit.

 

"He's asleep," Roddy said in a loud whisper and headed over to the horse.

 

 At the slam of the truck doors Johnny stirred awake. He hadn't realized he'd fallen asleep on Paint's back and he slowly sat upright as a man came forward. With the sun glinting off of the truck's windshield he couldn't see who it was and he started to slide down off the animal's back. Thinking it was his father and that he was late for chores,he quickly gathered the horse's reins.

 

"Sorry Papa," he began."I fell asleep and-"

 

Johnny froze at the sight of the young man's face as he approached. It wasn't his father at all.

 

The young man's evil grin grew wide as he realized who he was looking t."Well, well, look who we have Ray!"

 

"So it's a kid Ted."

 

"Not just a kid, you retard but my brother's kid," Teddy snorted.

 

"Your nephew?"

 

"Yup, it's him." Teddy saw Johnny started to back up, then reached to snare the younger boy's arm. "Where you think you're goin'?" He dragged a struggling Johnny over to the fence.

 

“Let go Teddy," Johnny said, still trying to tug free."Just let me go…please?"

 

"Shut up!" Teddy said through clenched teeth. He raised a hand menacingly as if to strike."Or I'll make you wish you did!"

 

Ray charged at Paint, clearly intent on spooking the animal and the horse reared up on his hind legs. Johnny tugged ineffectively in his uncle's grip, growing angry even as he was frightened at what the two young men would do.

 

"Leave him alone!" he cried."You'll scare him!"

 

"So what if he does you little brat!" Teddy said as Johnny continued to struggle."Knock it off!"

 

"That's Ed Simonson's horse!" Johnny yelled."He'll pound you if he finds out you hurt his property!"

 

"I ain't afraid of some old fart white rancher!"

 

 Ray reached for a stick and jabbed at menacingly at the agitated animal, then snared the length of rein that dragged along the ground. He raised the stick once more and snapped it hard against the horse's rump. Paint reared once more, then took off, galloping away and down the far coulee. Johnny watched the horse run away with dismay. He tried to fight off Teddy's hold  but only managed to step on the young man's feet. Teddy's grip tightened around his nephew's pinned arms and Johnny did the only thing he could do-he lowered his chin and sank his teeth into the flesh of Teddy's forearm. Teddy yelled and jerked free. Johnny dropped to his knees and started to crawl away but Ray caught him in a wrestle, effectively pinning him down. He glanced at the sight of his friend shaking his arm vigorously and started to laugh.

 

"What'd he do?"he asked, even as a thin trickle of red ran from an angry-looking welt.

 

"He bit me!"

 

 At that Ray laughed even harder as Teddy gave him a dirty look. Johnny bucked beneath him and Ray pressed his torso down firmly."He fights like a girl! Hey! Where are you goin' now?"

 

Teddy stalked for the pickup, reached inside for the paper bag,t hen returned. He knelt beside Ray and pulled out the bottle of whiskey. "Turn him over, "he instructed."It's time he learned his lesson."

 

Ray shifted, then hastily grabbed Johnny and pinned the boy down as he tried to escape. The young man thrust his smoldering cigarette against Johnny's left forearm. Johnny gasped at the pain and struggled harder. Ray burned the soft flesh in several places, until tears were streaming down the boy's cheeks. He then straddled Johnny's chest and pinned his arms by kneeling on them, then reached to pry his mouth open, painfully pinching his cheeks with his hand to keep him from clamping his lips closed.

 

Johnny realized what they were about to do and tried to kick Teddy as he moved to Ray's side, bottle in hand. His arms were killing him, but that was soon forgotten as the potent liquor poured into his mouth. He promptly spat it out, which made his tormentors angry. With the pair's curses assaulting his ears, Johnny struggled, even as Ray grasped his jaw painfully once more and then plugged his nose.

 

“Drink it!"ordered Teddy."Or I'll whip your skinny little butt!"

 

Johnny had no choice but to open his mouth again as the whiskey was forced down his throat. He had continued to struggle until Teddy's threat and his hair being harshly yanked back stilled him. Before he could spit once more, Ray forced his mouth closed and clamped his hand down firmly; Johnny finally swallowed painfully in order to be allowed to breathe. The stuff burned horribly and when Ray removed his hand Johnny coughed and retched. He thought they were through but Ray's hand continued to grasp his jaw and Teddy's face floated above his, the bottle still in his hand. Once more the liquor was forced down his throat and Johnny's head began to swim. He quit struggling as his limbs grew heavy.

 

Teddy and Ray cursed and laughed as their victim fought in their grip, shoving the bottle into the boy's mouth and making him swallow. Then they laughed even harder as Johnny struggled to sit up. He would attempt to raise himself up, then flop back onto the ground, his eyes hooded and glassy and drool dribbling down his chin. Finally he dropped back and was still.

 

"Now who's a retard?" hooted Ray, punching Teddy in the shoulder. He regarded the semi-conscious youngster laying limply on the ground."Whattya want to do with him now?"

 

Teddy hadn't given that much thought but then he smiled wide and said, "Let's take him with us."

 

 So the pair yanked a drunken Johnny to his feet and half-dragged and half-walked him to the pickup, where they hoisted him over the tailgate and unceremoniously dumped him into the bed. Johnny's cheek struck the tire iron and he drifted unconscious as the gash began to bleed. Hooting and laughing, Teddy and Ray jumped into the cab and sped off down the road.

  

                                     -----------------------------------

  

The men had returned to the barn before supper with the sheep and were sending them through the gate to the feed bins when Roddy noticed something amiss. Johnny always had the stalls ready by three and the boy would have been busy performing some chore for Betty; but there was no sign of him. Roddy glanced at his watch and noted the time. It wasn't like Johnny to shirk his duty, even if he had been out playing. Last he saw of him Johnny had taken Paint out to the far pastures. Roddy slid from his mount and approached Ed.

 

"Nolan tells me that the feed bins aren't filled," Ed snapped ."Where's that boy of yours, Rod?"

 

"I was just wondering that myself," Roddy remarked."I'll get things started in the meantime. I saw him head out on Paint around one-thirty. Maybe he just forgot."

 

 Ed nodded as he dismounted. He couldn't help but feel annoyed. It wasn't like Johnny to forget either. He was heading for his office when Nolan let out a shout.

 

"Look over there Boss!"

 

The others turned in the direction he was pointing and they were astonished to see Paint galloping hard toward the barnyard gate. The horse was riderless and as Roddy trotted over to let the animal in, he glanced anxiously for any sign of Johnny. Thinking that perhaps the horse had reared and run, maybe the boy was running behind but as he hopped up onto the gate and snared the horse's broken reins, he saw no sign of his son. Paint was frothy with foamy perspiration, burrs clung to his long mane and tail and his tongue was thrust out. The animal's sides heaved and Roddy realized that the horse had been running hard for some distance. Quickly handing the reins to Jake, he strode back for the barn, calling over his shoulder as he went.

 

"Johnny might be in trouble," he said."I'm headin' back out to look for him."

 

Nolan stepped forward."I'll go with you."

 

 Just as Roddy was riding Nickel,a solid gray stallion out of the barn a pickup bounced up the drive and stopped. Roddy recognized the vehicle as belonging to Wendell LaBine, one of the ranchers just outside the reservation lines and dismounted as the man exited the cab. The older man crossed over to the passenger side and carefully lifted a small form from the seat. Roddy was shocked when he saw that it was Johnny.

 

"What the-" he said,as he hastily took his son into his own arms. Johnny was limp and semi-conscious, his cheek cut and bleeding, a nasty bruise was swelling his left eye

shut and his arms were bruised and marked with what looked suspiciously like cigarette burns. When the boy's head lolled in the crook of his arm, Roddy caught a strong whiff of alcohol. He looked at Wendell wide-eyed."Where did you find him?"

 

"Some beat up old pickup stopped out by my hog pens and I seen these two young fellas get out and dump something," Wendell explained. "I went over to shoo them off and I found him on the ground. I recognized him as your boy." Wendell shook his head. "They must've dared him to drink."

 

Roddy wasn't so sure of that. Neither he nor the Simonson’s kept booze in the house and Johnny wasn't inclined to experiment. "Did you see what they looked like?"

 

"Just a coupla Indian fellas," Wendell said."One of 'em looked to be one of Red Cooley's boys."

 

Roddy's mouth set into a thin line. Red Cooley was the patriarch of a notorious family. He was a nasty drunk who gave the town bar owners frequent trouble. If it was one of his boys, Roddy had his suspicions on who the other one was.

 

"Did one of them look like my brother?"

 

 Wendell scratched his chin."Now that you mentioned it,yeah. It's possible."

 

Roddy shifted Johnny in his arms, then looked down in alarm as the boy heaved. Suddenly Johnny lurched forward and vomited onto the dirt. After several gagging breaths, he whimpered once, then slumped against his father's shoulder.

 

"We'd better get him inside," Roddy said."Thanks for bringing him back, Wendell."

 

"Believe me, it's no trouble," Wendell said, then headed for his truck.

 

Ed stepped forward."You take that boy right inside Rod. I'll call Dr.Shipley and the Sheriff."

 

Roddy and Ed hurried for the house. Betty looked surprised when they entered and saw Roddy with Johnny in his arms.

 

"Good Lord!" She said, astonished."What happened?"

 

"Wendell LaBine found him at his place," Roddy explained."He saw some teenagers dump him in his pig pen and when he got to him...well, he thinks that Johnny was dared into drinking."

 

Betty grimaced and fanned the air when she sniffed."Whew! He got into something! I'll go draw the tub."

 

"Can we bathe him in this condition?"Roddy looked down at the limp form draped over his shoulder. Johnny was small for his age but he was dead weight in Roddy's arms.

 

 "You'll have to help me," was all Betty said and they headed upstairs.

 

 Roddy tugged off his son's soiled overalls while Betty filled the bathtub. Johnny seemed to have revitalized slightly and wobbled on his father's knee as the man tugged away the rest of his clothes. Roddy was dismayed to see additional bruising on his son's torso and wondered what happened for him to receive such marks. Suddenly Johnny moaned and lunged forward once again. Anticipating another bout of vomiting, Roddy braced his son over the toilet bowl as Johnny emptied his stomach a second time. The youngster's body quivered from the abuse to his system and Betty shook her head in sympathy.

 

"Poor dear," she fretted.

 

Roddy hoisted the boy into the tub, then held Johnny upright by hooking his arm behind his shoulders.Then, working together, he and Betty managed to get him cleaned up. Purging more of the alcohol perked Johnny up a little and he gazed blearily at his father with bloodshot eyes.

 

"P-Papa...I don' f-feel...s-so good..."

 

"Shh," Roddy gently hushed him, wiping his face carefully with the washcloth. Gingerly he dabbed at the gash with the antiseptic that Betty handed him. Johnny flinched dully in pain."We'll talk about it later, son."

 

 Shortly the two were done and Roddy grabbed a large towel and wrapped the boy snugly and quickly scrubbed him dry. Johnny nearly toppled over and he had to lift him once more to take him to bed. Betty had kept her youngest son's room furnished as a spare and was turning the covers down on the bed when Roddy carried his son into the room. There was no extra clothes in Johnny's size at the Simonson's,so Roddy accepted the oversized pajamas that Betty handed him, with the plan on heading back to his place for the right things later. They had just tucked him in when the doctor and a deputy arrived.

 

 While Dr.Shipley tended to his young patient, Roddy spoke with the deputy. All he could explain was that one of the neighbors found him at his place, beat-up, dirty and drunk and explained that it was possible that his own brother was involved. But in the end the deputy would have to return tomorrow when Johnny was sober and capable of describing what had happened. Once the doctor was finished treating his young patient Betty insisted that Roddy let the boy stay the night and even made up an old Army cot to place beside the bed so that he could keep tabs on his son. Roddy retrieved clothes from home, then settled in to tend to Johnny during the night.

 

                                         -----------------------------

 

 It was well past noon the following day before Johnny woke up again. Roddy looked up from the rocker close to the bed when he heard the boy stir. As the doctor said, he'd slept off the effects of the whiskey, but Roddy felt a knot of sympathy twist in his gut as he took in the sight of his son's pale, pinched face as he grimaced from simply turning his head.

 

Johnny felt like he'd been trampled by a dozen horses; every small sound echoed in his ears, his mouth felt dry and tasted funny and even the tiny chink of daylight that leaked through a rent in the closed curtains hurt to look at. It dawned on him that he was not in his own bed and gradually recognized the room and then his father seated in the nearby chair.

 

"Papa?" he managed to croak, then moaned when he did so."Uuuh!"

 

Roddy moved to sit on the edge of the bed.Johnny flinched when he did, pressing his hand to his puffy left eye even as he squinted through the other.

 

"Sorry," Roddy apologized."How do you feel?" His response was a painful groan as Johnny threw his left arm over his eyes. Betty had entered the room and she glanced at Roddy before handing him a filled glass. Roddy took the boy's hand and shook something into his palm, then held out the glass of water. "Here," he said."Aspirin. It'll help with the headache."

 

Johnny accepted the pills and water, then sank back into the pillow with his arm over his eyes once more."Papa...my head's splitting."

 

"That's called a hangover," Roddy explained gently."It happens when someone drinks too much alcohol."

 

The arm lifted slightly and Johnny's right eye blinked."Is this what happened to Grandpa when he drank?"

 

"Yes, it was," Roddy said, and Johnny made a noise in his throat.

 

"How could he drink then? Just to feel terrible after?" he said in bewilderment."It's awful!"

 

 Roddy shrugged."He was addicted. He couldn't function without it and it killed him."

 

Johnny groaned again."An' Uncle Teddy does it too. An' he caught me an' forced me to drink."

 

"Is that what happened yesterday?"

 

Johnny nodded slightly, then winced."I fell asleep on Paint's back. I woke up near the fence by the road...I heard a car door slam, an' I thought it was you lookin' for me 'cause I was late for chores, but it wasn't...T-Teddy was there, with Ray..."

 

"Ray Cooley?"

 

At the mention of the name Betty made a disparaging sound in her throat."That boy..."

 

"Uh-huh," Johnny went on."They scared Paint when I got off,  an' he ran away...I-I tried to run too, but Ray tackled me down. H-he knelt on my arms to hold me down...a-an' Teddy...he forced me to drink something...it tasted awful Papa, it burned my throat. Then I couldn't remember anythin'." A frown crossed Johnny's face."How'd I hurt my face? How'd I get here?"

 

"Wendell LaBine found you at his place," Roddy explained."And he saw Teddy and Ray take off. I suppose you hurt your cheek when they dumped you." Johnny's fingers gingerly probed the bandage and he grimaced. Roddy pulled his hand away."Oh and don't touch. Dr.Shipley had to put in four stitches."

 

 Johnny sighed and leaned back."Papa…are you mad at me?"

 

"Why would I be mad at you? This wasn't your fault Wapike. Teddy and Ray are to blame. They shouldn't have jumped you and forced you to drink." Roddy reached to pat his son's hand. "Now you just rest,okay? I'll bring you something to eat in a little while if you're up to it."

 

"Okay."

 

Roddy tucked the covers over his son, then adjusted the chink in the curtains so that the daylight no longer slanted across the bed. Then he tiptoed from the room. An hour later Johnny surprised Roddy by entering the kitchen, shading his slitted eyes as he adjusted to the painful brightness. Roddy was sipping a cup of coffee while Betty sat at the table with her mending. Both paused to watch as Johnny gingerly settled into a chair at the table.

 

"Better?" he asked as Johnny sank into his seat. At a nod, he asked,"How does lunch sound?"

 

Johnny squinted upward."Lunch?" Then he noticed the hour on the clock above the stove,and the angle of the sun through the south-facing window; it was past 2 P.M. Betty had turned to the stove and was filling something from a pot set on a back burner.

 

“I made a pot of chicken soup."Betty replied, turning and setting the steaming bowl before Johnny. "I suppose what works for a cold or the flu would likely feel good right about now."

 

The aroma wafting up from the bowl was appealing and Johnny felt his empty stomach rumble in response. He spooned up a mouthful and tasted it and found it to not only be delicious, but it went down very easily. He started to slowly eat. While he ate he glanced at the bandages on his forearms, covering Ray's cigarette burns and spied the Band-Aid on the crook of his right arm.

 

"Papa, what's this for?" He indicated the adhesive bandage.

 

"Dr.Shipley had to insert an IV while you were still intoxicated. It was to help flush the alcohol in your bloodstream and also to counteract dehydration. You threw up four times."

 

"I did?" Johnny frowned. No wonder his mouth tasted so bad. He resolved to brush his teeth once he was finished with the soup. He had no memory of what had happened after Teddy showed up. All he could recall was being pinned to the ground, then everything was a blank. He didn't know if that was good or bad as he finished the soup. His father poured something from the kettle and set the cup on the table.

 

"Drink that," he instructed. "You're too young for coffee but Betty brewed tea." Johnny's nose wrinkled at the familiar dreaded aroma. "And no grimaces Wapike."

 

The tea was unsweetened and Johnny hated the bitter taste. He would have gladly dumped at least several spoonfuls of honey into it but with his father watching expectantly, he had no choice but to drink it straight. He picked up the cup and took a tiny sip, making a face as he did. He obediently drank the whole cup and Roddy smirked and patted his head kindly when he did. Johnny got up to retrieve the toothbrush his father thoughtfully remembered to bring and proceeded to spread a generous amount of toothpaste onto the brush. He brushed vigorously, eager to be rid of the awful taste in his mouth.

 

 A knock sounded on the screen door, and when Johnny glanced over he saw a sheriff's deputy standing on the back step. Roddy hastily stepped over and let the man inside. Johnny was astonished when his father addressed him by name, not realizing that the same deputy had been sent for the call the previous afternoon.

 

"Good afternoon, Rod, Ma'am," the man said to both adults as he stepped through the screen door. He nodded at Johnny, adding, "Good to see you alert and moving, young man."

 

"Coffee, Mr.Carlson?" Betty offered and the officer nodded.

"Please."

 

Johnny sat back down, perplexed as Roddy offered a seat for the deputy. He likewise had no memory of the deputy's visit at the Simonson's, nor did he of being tended to by his father and Betty. Roddy gave his hand a squeeze.

 

"Deputy Carlson stopped by the ranch yesterday afternoon," he explained."You won't remember since you were too intoxicated Son."

 

Johnny looked between the two men quizzically. Deputy Carlson turned to the boy. "I came to speak with you Johnny, about the previous day's events; when and where you ran into trouble. Can you remember anything?"

 

Johnny nodded slowly, his eyes apprehensive. Roddy caught the look."Johnny, you're not to blame, remember? He just wants to find out what happened."

 

Johnny fidgeted anxiously. He had been frightened by Teddy's presence and although he fought back, Teddy had still bested him by getting him to drink that awful booze. But he also wanted his uncle to be punished for what he did.

 

"I don't 'member much," he admitted sheepishly.

 

"We're not asking for every detail Son," Roddy informed him."Remember what you told me earlier?" Johnny nodded."Well, just like that."

 

Johnny watched as Betty set a steaming cup before the deputy, as bits and pieces of the previous day's events came to mind. Some things he remembered well; others were murky.

 

"I was ridin' Paint," he began."It was a couple of hours before chores and I wanted to explore the creek. I must've fallen asleep... I 'member was bein' by the fence. You know, by the road past the LaBine ranch?"

 

Deputy Carlson nodded."Is that where it happened Son?"

 

"Uh huh," Johnny said."I ran into Teddy...Ray Cooley was with him, an' they wouldn't leave me alone. Ray scared off Paint, then they grabbed me...Ray pushed me down and held me here-"Johnny indicated the bruises on both upper arms."He knelt on my arms while Teddy came 'round..." At the flash of memory, Johnny choked up, remembering his fear. Roddy squeezed his shoulder.

 

"Take your time,Son," he said gently. Knowing how his younger brother had always taunted Johnny, he understood his son's apprehension. Johnny swallowed, arms wrapping around his midsection as he sat hunched in the chair as if cold.

 

"T-Teddy made me drink some awful stuff," he quietly continued."He said he'd whip my butt if I didn't...I-I think he was mad,' cause when he first grabbed me..I bit him."

 

Roddy's eyebrows rose."You did?"

 

Johnny nodded."He was really mad, an' he shoved the bottle in my mouth and they held my nose so I'd swallow...I don't remember much after that,'cept that the stuff hurt my throat and then I got really dizzy."

 

The deputy had been jotting down everything he said. He paused and gazed at Johnny closely."You don't remember anything else? Being taken to Wendell's?"

 

Johnny shook his head. All he was certain of was hitting his face once, before blacking out. His next clear memory was of waking that afternoon in bed. Deputy Carlson shut the cover on the small notebook and slid it into his pocket.

 

"Well, you gave me a lot of important information Johnny," he explained softly and patted the boy on the arm."I think we can investigate your uncle further and press any charges if we have to. He had no right to do what he did." He turned to Roddy and handed him a small card."Here's my number. If anything comes up, feel free to call me."

 

"Thanks Nick," Roddy said, shaking his hand.

 

Deputy Carlson tipped his hat in departure, then winked at Johnny."You take care Johnny." Then he headed out the door to his patrol car.

 

After the deputy was gone, Johnny slid from his seat to head upstairs to the bathroom.

 

"What a way to start summer vacation!" he remarked, then hurried upstairs. Roddy couldn't help but shake his head; he was right.

 

 

                                               -------------------------------

 

 

 Roddy found out soon enough that Teddy and Ray had indeed been responsible for Johnny's attack and he filed a complaint with the Sheriff's Department. He also filed for a restraining order and decided that his son would spend his free time with Betty when he wasn't doing his chores or helping the men. Johnny balked at being 'babysat' when he was almost eleven years old but Roddy wasn't taking any chances. Forcing a child to overdose on liquor was wrong, and he intended on avoiding further trouble until Teddy was in custody. So following breakfast the next morning Roddy dropped Johnny off at the ranch house where he knew he'd be supervised.

 

“I don't wanna stay all day," Johnny complained as the truck halted near the back porch."It's summer Papa!"

 

"Johnny, it's already done," Roddy explained firmly."I don't trust my brother not to try something again. At least with Betty you'll be supervised."

 

"Then how come I feel like I'm the one bein' punished?" Johnny muttered.

 

“Johnny, I don't want an argument," Roddy said in a tone that Johnny recognized as warning him to halt all complaints."You're still healing and Dr.Shipley advised you not to ride for a week. Now you're staying here with Betty.I don't see what the big fuss is."

 

Johnny snorted and climbed down from the truck's cab. He stalked grumpily over to the porch where Betty had come out to greet them. All she got for her cheerful greeting was a disgruntled sound as the boy stepped past and into the house.

 

"Well, so much for a pleasant hello," she remarked.

 

"He's not very happy about the arrangement," Roddy told her.

 

"Don't worry," she remarked."We'll manage."

 

"Let me know how things go when we get back," Roddy called, heading at a trot for the barn. There was a lot to be done.

 

 Betty had ideas for things that Johnny could do and she strode confidently back into the kitchen. With three sons and six grandchildren, she had become adept at dealing with the myriad issues that children could bring. She took in the sulking expression on Johnny's face and placed her hands on her hips.

 

"Why such a long face?" she asked."There's plenty for you to do, Darling, if you just try."

 

"Papa thinks I need a babysitter," Johnny grumped."But I don't! I'll be eleven soon! That's not a baby."

 

"You're right."

 

Johnny's head lifted from where he'd had his chin in hand."I am?"

 

"Well, you're not a baby," Betty agreed, drawing a chair over and sitting down beside him."But you must realize that what your uncle did to you was wrong. You could have been really hurt or even killed."

 

"From whiskey?" Johnny looked skeptical. Although he'd seen what too much alcohol could do, courtesy of his grandfather, he was still naive enough at his tender age to not understand how alcohol can poison the system.

 

Betty's face grew serious."Yes, from whiskey. You were force-fed an entire bottle and that can be deadly. Your father was wise to call Dr.Shipley when he did. His intervention prevented you from being poisoned to death."

 

Johnny pondered that, glancing at Betty in astonishment. Could he have died from consuming just one bottle?  "I could've died?" he asked in a small voice. He was shocked.

 

Betty nodded. "Yes. Your father is only concerned Johnny. He loves you very much."

 

"I know."

 

"So you understand."

 

"Yeah...a little," Johnny admitted, although he didn't. His confusion must have shown on his face, for Betty patted his cheek. A soft knock sounded on the screen door and Betty smiled when she saw who it was.

 

"Good morning Gordy," she said, upon glimpsing the young boy standing on the other side of the screen door.

 

"'Mornin' Mrs. Simonson," he replied."Mama sent this over for Johnny." He held a small capped jar filled with something brown; Johnny cringed when he saw it. The jar contained her homemade all-purpose salve.

 

"Well tell her thank you Gordy," Betty said, accepting the jar."And I'm sure that Johnny thanks her too."

 

Catching her meaning, Johnny nodded exaggeratedly, even though he didn't. "Yeah. Thanks."

 

"Hey Johnny," Gordy went on."My grandpa caught a skunk. Wanna see it?"

 

"Sure!" Johnny's dark eyes swung over to Betty."Uh...can I?"

 

Betty looked skeptical."Johnny, your father wants you to stay here. After all, you're still recovering. Maybe Gordy can visit here."

 

Gordy shrugged."For a little while. I gotta go over to Aunt Lily's later."

 

Johnny gestured to the dishes sitting in the drainboard. "Do you need any more help?"

 

"No, you two go on ahead," she replied."But I want you to stay close to the house Johnny."

 

 Johnny forced himself to keep from rolling his eyes as he headed for the door."Okay."

 

He and Gordy headed for the barn, where several of Ed's remaining horses were and the two boys turned them out to pasture. As the animals grazed, the two boys slipped through the fence rails and started walking.

 

"How's your face?" Gordy asked, indicating the bandage that concealed the stitches and the bruising that surrounded Johnny's left eye. Johnny shrugged.

 

"Okay, I guess," he replied."Doesn't hurt so much now but my whole head sure hurt yesterday."

 

"Papa said that your uncle made you drink," Gordy said."Is that how you hurt your face?"

 

Johnny shrugged, gazing at the horizon."I dunno. I must've passed out."

 

"Did he really make you drink a whole bottle of whiskey?"

 

Johnny's gaze lowered as he shrugged once more. He wasn't really comfortable discussing the incident after what Betty had told him.

 

"Yeah," he said shortly."He an' Ray Cooley caught me ridin' Paint down by where the creek crosses the road," Johnny explained."They spooked Paint...and I tried to run too but Ray pinned me to the ground an' Teddy forced the bottle into my mouth. I don't 'member much...Betty told me that I could've died from havin' a whole bottle forced down my throat."

 

 "My cousin Luke's brother did that," Gordy said somberly."He came back from the Army an' drank all the time. When he died my papa said it was alcohol poisoning."

 

It seemed to Johnny that every family on the reservation was affected by alcohol somehow but after what Teddy and Ray did, he didn't want to drink another drop. He didn't understand the point of drinking until one was sick. He hated throwing up.

 

Suddenly uneasy, Johnny turned away to face the open pasture land, walking faster."Let's not talk 'bout it anymore," he said."I hate it and I don't ever want to have to drink anything like that again."

 

He started to stomp for the twisted oak a short distance away. Gordy followed quietly and stared as Johnny jumped, seized the lowest branch, then hoisted himself up to settle upon the limb. He could always climb trees and Gordy tried to follow suit but missed his grab. He was six months older but several inches shorter and stockier than his slender friend. Peering down, Johnny rolled his eyes and extended his hand through the leaves.

 

"Grab on then pull yourself up," he instructed.

 

Gordy tried but all he succeeded in doing was dragging Johnny off of his branch. The two boys tumbled unceremoniously to the ground in a jumbled heap. Johnny sat up spitting dirt and Gordy gave him a sheepish look.

 

"Sorry."

 

Johnny took in the hang dog expression on the other boy's face, then he burst out laughing. The front of Johnny's shirt was smudged and there was a tear under one sleeve and he now boasted a nasty scrape on his chin. Betty, not to mention his father would have a fit when they found out he was climbing trees but for the moment he didn't care. He reached to pat Gordy's head like a puppy.

 

"Now you're in trouble," Gordy remarked. Johnny fell back on the grass and laughed until his sides ached. Neither boy heard the soft clopping footsteps of the pair of horses as they approached nor saw that each horse bore a rider.

 

"What's so funny?" a familiar voice asked. Johnny sat up, shading his eyes with his hand. He recognized his father's silhouette. Roddy squinted down at the two boys, while Nolan sat next to him on the other horse.

 

Johnny and Gordy exchanged looks and started laughing once more. "Gordy can't climb trees Papa," Johnny giggled, getting to his feet. Gordy just shrugged sheepishly as he struggled back to his feet.

 

"I take it you scraped your chin climbing up there."

 

Johnny gingerly touched the scrape, then winced."No...I uh..."

 

"He fell," Gordy revealed."I accidentally pulled him down when he tried to help me." Johnny jabbed his friend in the side with his elbow and flashed him an annoyed frown.

 

Roddy's face screwed up at that as he swung from the saddle and approached his He took the bandanna from his pocket and as he dabbed at the oozing wound, he shook his head.

 

"Johnny, you're still recovering," he scolded."And I thought I told you to stay with Betty. What the devil are you doing climbing trees for?"

 

"She said I could do stuff with Gordy! Ouch!" Johnny insisted, then jerked away.

 

"And I'm sure she insisted that you stay close to the house too," Roddy concluded."You've come a good mile Son. You know what I said and you know that Teddy might be looking for payback." He sighed at Johnny's beseeching look and gave him a gentle cuff on the back of the head. "C'mon."

 

Nolan had gotten down from his own horse and was boosting Gordy up. Roddy swung back up onto his own mount, then reached for Johnny's hand and hoisted his son up. They headed back, holding the horses at a walk. Within minutes they were back in the barnyard where Betty stood waiting with her husband. She shook her head when Johnny hooked his arm with his father's and swung down from the horse's rump.

 

"John Gage, I thought I told you boys to stay in the yard," she scolded."Here I thought that you were in the barn, only to discover that you've snuck away." She glimpsed the scraped chin and torn, dirty shirt and sighed."I see that you're determined to add to your injuries."

 

"Aw, I'm okay!" Johnny whined but she simply took him by the shoulders and steered him toward the house.

 

Gordy climbed into his father's old pickup to be taken back home and he waved at his friend in departure."'Bye Johnny!"

 

"See you later Gordy."Johnny called over his shoulder.

 

Johnny gazed up tentatively at his father's somber profile and bit his lip.

 

"Papa, are you mad?" he asked meekly.

 

"Yeah," Roddy sighed."A little; and frustrated. I told you to mind Betty and stay close to the house and to take things easy. You were pretty sick just a couple of days ago and your bruises haven't healed. I'm disappointed Son."

 

Johnny felt his face grow hot with embarrassment. He'd only wanted to hang out with Gordy for a while and hadn't noticed just how far they'd walked. Roddy took in the contrite, bewildered expression on his young son's face and sighed again.

 

"You're grounded to the house for the rest of the day," he decided."Nolan will do your chores and you're to stay here until we head home. Betty will keep tabs on you until I return. Is that clear?"

 

"Yes Papa," Johnny said quietly. He hated to disappoint his father but he truly felt that he hadn't done anything seriously wrong. But he also couldn't tell his father that; he'd get the standard lecture about minding his elders or get grounded further. Johnny gazed out the window unhappily as Roddy and the other men headed back to the barn. Now, because he was restricted to the house, he had to do what Betty said. He sat dejectedly on the nearest chair with a sigh.

                              

                                        -----------------------------

  

 Much to Roddy's dismay the Sheriff's department was not successful in finding Teddy and bringing him in. They got one tip from Ray's mother that her son's friend had gone to Lame Deer, but that ended up being fruitless. The department then issued a warrant for his arrest; meantime, they sat tight waiting for a sign of the errant young man. Roddy kept Johnny within sight at home and while he worked he made sure that his young son minded Betty when he wasn't helping the men. Johnny predictably balked at the restrictions after his detour with Gordy. Once home he picked at his supper and was sullen the rest of the evening. Several days passed without a sign of Teddy's whereabouts.

 

Roddy stood before the small mirror hung over the kitchen sink and worked lather over his stubbly jaw. It was a week since Johnny was forcibly intoxicated and he glanced briefly at his son as the boy sat at the table poking at a bowl of soggy Wheaties cereal.  The stitches were due to be pulled that morning, the bruise that decorated his cheek had faded to a greenish hue and the puffiness that swelled his eye was gone. Johnny sighed, dropped his spoon onto the table and shoved the unwanted cereal aside. Roddy lifted the straight razor and ran the blade over the leather strop.

 

"Not hungry Wapike?"

 

"I hate Wheaties," Johnny grumped, getting up and wandering over.

 

“Strange,you liked them several days ago," Roddy remarked and lifted the sharpened blade to his jaw. With practiced ease he swiped the razor over his cheek, leaving the skin clean.

 

"Well I don't today," Johnny said with a snotty tone. His father gave him a sharp look.

 

"Food costs money Son," he said.

 

Johnny's cheek pinked."How come you never nick yourself?" he suddenly changed subjects.

 

"Years of practice," Roddy said, wiping away another patch. "Why don't you have some of that leftover oatmeal in the ice box then?"

 

Johnny made a face."Uh uh!" He snorted and walked away, heading for his bedroom in exasperation. He grumbled to himself as he dug through the drawers and pulled out a cotton shirt and jeans. He dressed and headed back into the kitchen carrying his school shoes in one hand and attempting to tame his sleep-mussed hair by licking his palm and pressing his hand to his head. His father handed him a peanut butter sandwich and started to wet-comb his wild hair.

 

"Papa, can I ride Paint today?"

 

"Let's see what Dr.Shipley says."

 

 "What if he says no?" Johnny pressed.

 

 "Then you'll stay and help Betty."

 

Johnny let out a groan."Awwww!"

 

"Let's go," Roddy sighed, plucking the truck keys from their place on the coat hooks and steered his son for the door.

 

Johnny climbed into the passenger seat, then paused to gaze at his reflection in the rear-view mirror, probing at the stitches on his cheek.

 

"Will it hurt?"

 

Roddy started the truck. "Will what hurt?"

 

“Gettin' the stitches out," Johnny  said."Will it hurt?"

 

"It shouldn't," Roddy replied.

 

"Did you ever get stitches?"

 

"No."

 

"Well, then how do you know?" Johnny looked annoyed.

 

"Jake told me," Roddy explained."Remember when he got thrown off that bull in the rodeo and gashed his arm?" Johnny nodded."Well, he had over twenty stitches and he said it didn't hurt having them pulled."

 

"Oh..."Johnny still looked unconvinced. As they shortly entered town and he spotted the doctor's office he sank a little in the seat. So much for delaying the inevitable.

 

                                                     ----------------------------

  

The noises emanating from the next room woke Teddy from a fitful sleep. The raucous activity on the other side of the wall reached his addled brain and he groaned, stuffing the pillow tight against his ears. He tried to go back to sleep but the combination of the racket, the broken spring poking through the sofa cushion and the sunlight slanting through a tear in the window shade all conspired to keep him from getting any more rest. Groaning even louder he sat up and scoured a hand over his stubbly chin. His bleary eyes scanned the tiny cramped room and he remembered where he was. At his friend Sam's place. Ever since the incident with Ray involving Johnny he'd been hiding out, forced to flee after the brat tattled and Ray was arrested. Sam had reluctantly let him take the sofa, although his girlfriend laid down the law the moment Teddy had parked himself there. Witch, he thought, annoyed by the activity in the next room.

 

Needing a cigarette he searched the pockets of his discarded shirt until his fingers found the crumpled half-empty pack. Withdrawing one, he slipped it between his lips and fumbled for a match. He shuffled to the door clad only in his boxers and pushed through. The outdoors was painfully bright with the midday sun and blazing hot but he dropped to sit on the narrow step and smoke to rouse himself further. Across the way two small boys were busy shoving each other in the weedy yard in some sort of rough game. The ramshackle trailer that served as their home stood like a rusty land ship ringed by yellowed uncut grass and scrub. The lone tree on the property boasted plenty of dead branches. The scene reminded him too much of his upbringing in the modest Gage shanty and he averted his eyes. Seeing the children made him think of his nephew and he scowled. He knew that his brother's place was in better shape than this neighborhood and imagined the filling breakfast, warm bed and clean clothes that Johnny likely enjoyed that morning with envy. Teddy tossed away his butt and stood. Better get dressed before Sam and his girl left their bedroom. He wanted to go to Hardin and try to get some cash.

 

                                             -------------------------------

  

Johnny peered into the rear-view mirror at the healing scar beneath his left eye. The stitches removed by Dr.Shipley left a fine line that the doctor said would grow less noticeable over time and as his father promised having them removed hadn't hurt a bit. Thankfully the doctor had also cleared him to ride horses again, enabling him to help the men instead of being stuck indoors under Betty's watchful eye. Johnny loved her but he hated being stuck indoors. He leaned back in his seat as his father climbed in behind the wheel, setting down a small paper bag.

 

"We have one more stop to make before we head to Ed's," he explained."The truck needs a new battery." The pickup had refused to start and Ed had used his truck to jump-start the battery.

 

"Can we go to the burger stand for lunch?" Johnny asked hopefully.

 

"Let's see how much a battery costs first."

 

The auto parts store was several blocks away and as they cruised the short distance Johnny watched the streetscape pass. He didn't get into Hardin much and it was always exciting to see the larger town on such excursions. Shoppers strolled the sidewalks along the main street, going in and out of the stores and businesses. There was enough vehicles on the street to warrant traffic signals and everything was more vibrant and lively than the sleepy reservation village of Crow Agency.

 

The Western Auto store primarily supplied vehicle parts and accessories but there were also a variety of other merchandise, including air rifles, radios, tools and electronic household appliances. Johnny grew bored with his father's haggling over batteries and began to browse the aisles. He stopped at the display of small transistor radios, intrigued by their pocket size. They were much smaller than the old tube farm radio back home and he thought it would be neat to carry one wherever you went. But when he looked at the prices, he sighed; the average price was forty dollars, more than he could afford. He glanced back to where his father was paying for the battery and sighed again. Forty dollars was a lot of money for a frivolous novelty when a car battery set his father back sixteen dollars. He stepped away from the display to return to his father's side.

 

Roddy settled on a four-year battery and a mechanic headed outside with them to help install it. Johnny watched for a moment but soon grew bored with mechanical work. He sat on the running board, then got up again and started kicking large chunks of gravel around the dirt alley. He was growing hungry and paused to lean against the fender of the truck and peer into the open engine compartment as his father and the mechanic worked. The hamburger place was a short distance away.

 

"Papa, I'm hungry."

 

Roddy winced as he tightened a set of screws."We'll be on our way in a second."

 

"Can we go get hamburgers? Please?"

 

Roddy finished what he was doing, frowning in concentration. He glanced toward the nearby hamburger joint at his son's pleading face."Alright," he sighed. He reached into his pocket and withdrew his change purse."Why don't you go get something for both of us? I'll be right there in a minute." He handed Johnny a dollar in change.

 

"Okay."

 

Johnny headed off, pleased with himself. It wasn't often that they got something to eat outside of home. He shuffled up to the take-out window and eyed the menu board. He figured that his father would like a regular hamburger like himself but he couldn't decide if they should have French fries or onion rings. The customer ahead of him was still ordering, giving him time to decide. The girl manning the window paused to smile at him and he smiled back shyly before seeing her expression change as she glanced past him at something over his shoulder. Perplexed, Johnny followed her gaze and spotted the rattletrap truck that pulled to a stop nearby. He turned back to the board with a shrug; so it was just some old pickup. Probably somebody she didn't like and he didn't pay any mind. He froze when he heard the voice of the individual who'd exited the vehicle and spoke.

 

"Lynnie!  Hey baby! How's it goin'?"

 

The girl was clearly annoyed."It's not 'going' Teddy and I'm not your baby."

 

Teddy spotted his nephew almost immediately and a wicked grin spread on his face."Well, well! If it isn't the little tattletale!" He snatched Johnny by the shoulders, his fingers digging painfully through Johnny's thin cotton shirt and shoved the boy hard into the side of the building. The other customer, a teenage girl, hustled away in fear, not wanting to get involved. "So how'd you like snitchin' to the Sheriff, you little brat? I had to hide out because of you!"

 

Johnny winced as he was shoved backward."L-lemme go Teddy!"

 

"No way!" Teddy said, grabbing a handful of Johnny's shirt to keep him from fleeing. Johnny nearly slipped from his grasp, stomping on the young man's foot. Teddy let out a curse and seized his collar and started shaking him roughly."You keep fightin' an' I'll wring your little neck!"

 

"Teddy!"

 

At the shout Teddy abruptly stopped shaking his nephew and turned to look over his shoulder. Johnny managed to peer past the young man and was immensely relieved to see his father. The mechanic from the auto parts store stood beside him. Johnny started to tug free but Teddy's hand clamped down on his neck.

 

"Let Johnny go Teddy," Roddy said in a low voice.

When the younger man didn't comply the mechanic strong-armed him and allowed Johnny to slip free before he twisted Teddy's arm behind his back and shoved him against the building. Johnny went to his father's side, his mind reeling. One moment he was about to be beaten for a second time by his unsavory uncle, the next he was holding tightly to his father's middle. Roddy touched Johnny's head with his hand, never taking his eyes off his brother.

 

"Go wait in the pickup Son."

 

Johnny hesitated for the merest second, then obediently headed back to the truck parked a short distance away. But once inside the warm cab he rolled down the window and gazed back at the scene. The mechanic continued to restrain Teddy, causing him to mutter a curse under his breath. He tried reasoning with his brother.

 

“C'mon bro," he said, gritting his teeth."Tell this goon to back off."

 

 "No way Teddy," Roddy replied grimly.

 

Teddy swore again."I was just playin'! So the little brat got drunk! So what? Pa did it all the time!"

 

“Pa was an adult," Roddy said tightly."Johnny is a child. He told me what you did Ted. Why? He's just a kid!"

 

"So was I!"Teddy shouted."Pa made me drink many times. It happens all the time!"

 

Roddy wanted to punch his brother's lights out for his illogical reasoning."Not with my son! I never wanted to have Johnny see what I saw! You think I liked having a drunk for a father?"

 

"Why do you care about him so much?" Teddy demanded."When you met that girl and ran off to get married...you betrayed me Rod."

 

Roddy had to turn away for a moment and regain his composure. Teddy had been eight years old when he and Emma were married and his brother had been left with more than any young boy should have. He'd hated to abandon his brother but he had a wife and a child on the way. He couldn't stay.

 

"I'm sorry Teddy," Roddy finally said."But I had a wife and a baby. I couldn't let them live that way. I just couldn't."

 

Teddy slumped in defeat at his brother's words. He groaned when he spotted the Sheriff's cruiser pulling to a stop behind Roddy's pickup and the deputy emerged. When the man reached the group Roddy did a double-take.

 

"Nick!"

 

"I was wondering when and where we'd find him," Deputy Carlson nodded at Teddy. He moved to search then hand cuff the young man."We got several calls from the owners of a couple of Laundromats and an automat here in town for someone breaking into the machines. Looks like we got him."

 

Roddy's gaze flitted between his brother and the deputy."Laundromats? For breaking into the washers?"

 

"That's crazy!" the mechanic said.

 

"Damn, all I wanted was money for cigarettes," Teddy snorted. He gave Roddy a scathing look as he was led away.

 

Lynnie, who'd been observing the entire exchange, stifled a giggle as the deputy placed Teddy into the back of the cruiser. Roddy followed, where he promised to make his statement that afternoon at the Sheriff's office. Johnny had seen the car pull up and gawked as Deputy Carlson arrested his uncle. As the cruiser pulled away and drove off he poked his head out of the passenger window and craned his neck to look where his father had settled on the tailgate. Roddy simply sat there, gazing off down the largely quiet street as if mulling over the situation. Johnny climbed from the cab and shyly rounded the rear of the truck to look expectantly into his father's face. The man's eyes looked far away.

 

"Papa? You mad?"

 

Roddy blinked, returning to the present."Huh? No Son. I'm not mad at you, if that's what you're worried about."

 

Johnny scooted up beside him on the tailgate leaning into his father's side. Roddy wrapped his arm around his shoulders."Teddy was bad huh?"

 

"Yes, he was bad," Roddy replied."He robbed some businesses. That's why Deputy Carlson showed up…Seems they were looking for him all this time."

 

"Oh." Johnny's expression turned bewildered as he thought about the things that his uncle had done."Too bad Teddy never learned how to be good. He's always been mean Papa. How come?"

 

“I don't know Wapike," Roddy shrugged."He had a hard life and made bad choices I suppose."

 

"Oh."Johnny thought about that for a moment before gazing at his father."Papa? I'm really hungry. Can we please have our hamburgers now?"

 

Roddy had to chuckle at that. Leave it to a little boy to think of the present. He shoved off the tailgate and Johnny followed suit, grasping his father's hands and swinging briefly off his feet.

 

"Whee!"

 

"C'mon, Johnny," Roddy said, holding his son's hand as they headed back to the hamburger stand."Let's get the works."

 

 

 

 

 

                                            ----- The End -----

 

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The Characters of Emergency do not belong to me. They are the property of Universal Studios and Mark VII Limited. No copyright infringement is intended or monetary gain made. I merely like to toy with them and return them to their proper owner in good working order.

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