I had to bite my lip to keep from breaking out in laughter, but let Carl and Timmy squirm as they exchanged nervous glances for the better part of a minute. I actually wanted to let the stew a little longer, but started to become concerned their contortions might hurt their spines as they stretched, each trying to look taller than the other.
"Well, I guess we could use another aircraft," I began. "But, it's going to take some extra effort on your part," I told all the boys in group staring at me. "You guys look up the specs on a Cessna 414, and prepare a flight plan for it."
The twins bolted to the door so fast I almost didn't react quickly enough to stop them before they disappeared inside. After a harsh warning from my still sore throat and a few coughs I added, "And download a 414 for your flight simulator, I be damned if I'm going to do all the flying."
The twins disappeared inside so quickly I don't think their legs moved until they were halfway to the front room, with Carl right behind. Timmy looked at me, then his parents with a horribly frightened face until his dad barked, "Don't just stand there, if you want to go, you better go help!"
Timmy had just disappeared inside when the twins bolted back onto the patio even before the door closed completely. "Did you say a 414, Dad?" Jerry hooted, grabbing his throat as he spoke.
I only had time to nod, Jeff cutting me of before I could verbalize an answer. "But, that's a twin engine!" he proclaimed.
"They are properly referred to as multi-engine, but yes a 414 has two power plants," I corrected, trying to sound like a professional pilot, instead of the weekend hobbyist I was. "If you want to be multi-engine qualified by next weekend, you better get to work."
Their faces instantly changed to classic happy faces, complete with all but blinding ear-to-ear smiles, before they turned in perfect unison and darted inside. "I'm glad they are both still thin, or they would have ended up with some major bruises," I chuckled to the other adults as their skinny bodies ricocheted off each other, but somehow fit through the patio door at the same time. "I bet that will keep their minds off Mike for awhile," I snickered.
Occupied turned out to be an understatement as the afternoon wore on. Every time I peeked into the family room it was a flurry of activity that I was sure would have rivalled anything the Air Force's top War Room had seen since the peak of World War II. Buy more printer paper, I added to my mental to-do list, And ink cartridges, maybe a printer - they're going to wear that one out! I added a couple of silent visits later when I risked stepping into the room and peeked over everyone's shoulders.
I started to be concerned later when I went back into the family room to tell them to wash up for supper and, for the first time in their lives, the twins objected to interrupting something they were doing to come eat. My concern was short lived, as I was trying to decide another approach I heard the patio door open. A second later Jerry and Jeff in looked up from their work and sniffed the air much like Binki and Bandit do.
"Barbequed Chicken!" Jeff proclaimed.
"And sausage!" Jerry added.
Yes, they are feeling better, I silently chuckled as all four of them dropped everything and darted out of the room and down the hall.
Later in the evening I faced another round of arguments when I informed everyone it was time for everyone to bathe and get ready for bed, despite their tired faces and eyes, but their long day, along with my promise that they didn't have to go to school tomorrow won out.
My stomach tightened a few minutes later when I stepped into Carl's room and found an empty, still made bed. I fought off a panic attack when I entered the twins' room expecting to find all three boys, but instead walked into another empty room, the only evidence of activity being a few discarded articles of clothing laying on the untouched bottom bunk. No, please God, please? I prayed as I realized there was no sign of my beloved sons, but also four-legged friends. Chill Christian, not a good time to loose it, I told myself, trying to keep from doing just that as I checked their bathroom; from the wet shower stall and small spots of condensation on the mirror it had clearly just been used, but was frighteningly vacant.
I started back down the hall, hoping they had somehow slipped past me and snuck back into their war-room, AKA our front room, but turned back. I took a deep breath then hesitantly stepped into my bedroom. I felt the weight of the world fall from my shoulders as my eyes adjusted to the dim light, and saw Bandit's bright white tail wagging like a helicopter's propeller at the foot of the bed. What the hell, I all but chuckled as I surveyed the tangled mess of thin arms, hands, foreheads and headgear straps protruding from the top of the bedding.
Binki pushed his head out of the blankets, nestled between Carl and Jerry, and looked up at me as I sat down on the edge of the bed. "Don't tell me, this was your idea?" I whispered, earning a twitch of his nose as an answer. "Take good care of our boys okay?" I responded as I kissed the little rabbits nose. A very long day, I told myself as he gave me a final twitch and disappeared under the covers.
"God, I hate Mondays," I mumbled to myself as the nasty buzzing of my alarm clock disturbed my slumber. "I hate you too! Well, five more minute," I told the annoying beast as I delivered what I hoped would be a lethal thrust to its snooze button. Maybe ten, I told myself as a warm, thin little body squirmed slightly, molding itself even more tightly against my chest and stomach. I tucked my arm back under the covers, draped it across all three of the youngsters nestled together next to me as I closed my eyes.
Thanks God, thanks for keeping my little angels safe, I silently added as I felt what I was sure was Carl's facebow push into my chest. Now, if you could just get me out of having to go to work today, I added as my consciousness faded away, back into my little piece of heaven.
"What the hell does ten minutes mean, you piece of shit!" I groaned when the beast again disturbed my utopia, what seemed like only seconds later. I gently squeezed the thin bony arm I was cupping in my hand before pulling my arm back out from under the blankets and slammed the side of my hand onto the beast with a karate chop that I was sure would break even the highest pile of bricks. We had a terrible day, a few more minutes, we are suppose to be resting, I silently added, shooting a death glare at the night-stand that I was sure would melt it.
The fog of sleep began to clear from my head, possibly from the wonderful aroma of coffee drifting into my bedroom as I settled back into our group cuddle. I tried to blank out everything for a minute or so until our doctor's face materialized in my subconscious, 'I want both of you relax at home for a couple of days, , ,' it again told me. Shit, I don't have to work today! They don't have to go to school! I thought, even remembering calling my boss last night to inform her. Yeah! I thought as I closed my eyes.
I don't even believe this shit! I silently cursed when the monster began its noise attack still again. As I cruelly slapped the snooze button a couple of times, the beast continued its attack on my ears, reminding me the button only worked twice, but more so it seemed changed to an even more irritating tone, as if getting revenge for the years of abuse I had subjected it to. "Fuck you, you piece of shit!" I growled as I threw the blankets off and sat up to turn it off. And the dumb-ass that forgot to turn you off last night! I silently chastised myself.
I considered laying back down but my stomach, demanding its morning caffeine fix, rather strongly suggested otherwise. Oh well, I thought as I turned around to tuck the boys in. As I did Binki pushed his way out from under the covers, perched himself on one of my pillows and looked up at me with what I was sure a questioning look, his ears straight up and aimed directly at me. Bandit was right behind, pushing his head out from the blankets.
"You guys stay here, take care of our boys," I told them as I stroked the top of each of their snouts a couple of times. Binki twitched his nose at me as his ears relaxed, then quickly burrowed his way back under the covers, Bandit right behind.
Dad and I were chatting over coffee an hour or so later when I felt a warm, smooth body push under my arm. Carl , wearing only his briefs and headgear, flashed us a sleepy grin then climbed onto my lap, straddling my right thigh with his thin legs as he leaned against my chest.
"Good morning Turkey, how do you feel this morning?" I asked as I wrapped my arms around his thin flat waist and kissed his neck.
His head oscillated between the stove and the refrigerator a couple times before his stomach answered for him with a fairly loud growl, which he italicized with a soft giggle.
"What would be good for breakfast?" Dad half snickered, half asked.
"I'd say probably just cereal, I'm sure no one is too hungry," I quickly answered. Carl stiffened bolt upright on my lap, then twisted on my thigh to give me a dirty look complete with a liver-lipped frown. "Well, and maybe a piece of dry toast," I added, causing his lower lip to push out so far his facebow all but disappeared under it. "What, did you have another idea?" I asked trying to keep a straight face.
"Ah, well, what about waffles?" he whimpered, his voice rising in pitch with each syllable. "And maybe some eggs? Well and those little sausages? Oh, and a big bowl of peaches!" he exclaimed, holding his hands out more to indicate a large serving platter than a bowl.
"You think you can fit all that in there?" I quipped, rubbing his flat belly, getting only another giggle as an answer. "You go get in some shorts and a tee-shirt, and I'll try to wake up the waffle iron, okay?" I suggested.
He gave me a wide grin, then squirmed off my lap. "Come on Binki!" he hooted as he darted down the hall. I didn't snap that the little rabbit was with us until he hopped out from under my chair and bounced down the hall behind his boy.
None to my surprise the twins appeared in the kitchen shortly after Dad and I began cooking, both of them licking their facebows, I'm sure to keep saliva from dripping off them. Shortly before we sat down to eat the doorbell chimed. I was startled to see Timmy, displaying a bashful grin, appear in the kitchen a few seconds, but didn't bother asking any questions, just set another place at the table.
Our day went very quickly. As we ate breakfast, then several times later, Carl asked when Mike was coming back, but seemed to be sufficiently distracted by the task of preparing for our trip that just my reminder to include Mike in his plans seemed to be work. After the twins presented me with their flight plans and Timmy and Carl their travel plans, they immediately turned their attention to the flight simulator profile they had downloaded for the aircraft I was borrowing, flying so many sorties I began to wonder if I would have to send our computer in for its two thousand hour engine overhaul the Cessna required.
As I expected the schedule Timmy and Carl suggested would need some trimming, committing us to a month of travel around Orlando during the scant week we would be there, but the twins efforts almost frightened me. Even after reviewing their work a couple of times I could not find a single flaw in it, their fuel and flight time calculations were perfect, even taking into account the different runway lengths, even climb rates to safely avoid land hazards for the larger aircraft were probably more well thought out than most ten or fifteen year pilots might have written.
I was disappointed each time I checked with Tim regarding efforts to recover Mike, with each call he assured me they were receiving multiple tips and chasing different leads down, but no progress.
I had to compromise a little, agreeing to let all three boys sleep in Carl's double bed, but managed to get everyone scrubbed and into bed on time. I was surprised the next morning too, when the buzzing beast struck, and after its usual morning abuse woke me up. We were alone in my bedroom, the beast and I. No Binki perched on my pillow waiting to tell me good morning as he had all of his life, no Bandit wagging his tail at me, just me and the beast.
Oh well, I thought as I staggered down the hall toward the coffee pot. Shows you where you rate! I groaned. I poured my first cup and was about to turn toward the kitchen table when I felt something scratching the calf of my leg. "Hi little buddy, you didn't forget me!" I chuckled as I looked down and saw Binki, standing on his back legs and looking up at me wide eyed. He oinked softly when I picked him up and tucked him under my chin.
Bandit appeared in the kitchen right after I sat down and coaxed Binki into my lap. Somehow I managed to get a few sips of coffee between the pets and chat they demanded. Yeah well, I silently groaned a few minutes later when I glanced at the clock. "Time to go to work guys," I told my four-legged kids. "I have to get dressed, you guys go wake your boys up." Bandit gave me a quick tail wag before galloping down the hall, Binki right on his heals.
All the boys were dressed, staring wide eyed at their grandfather and the several pans he was tending on the stove, when I came back into the kitchen. "I have an early meeting, one I cannot be late to, I have to leave guys," I announced.
All three youngsters glanced at me, then rather longingly back at the stove before rushing over and giving me a group hug. As soon a I kissed to top of everyone's head the twins darted back to the table, clearly turning their full attention back to the stove. But Carl continued his hug, pulling even more tightly into our snuggle when I tried to push him away.
"Dad has to go to work, I'll see you this afternoon," I tried. Getting no response I turned toward the door, only to have my young son move with me and walked next to me with what seemed like a death grip on my belt. "Will you walk me out to my truck?" I rather rhetorically asked.
He buried his head into my chest and let out a whimper as soon as I put my laptop bag in the truck. "What's wrong Son, are you worried about Mike?" I asked, knowing the answer.
Carl pushed against me a little harder for a split second, then seemed to stiffen somewhat. "Ah, , , well you, , , you," he fell silent without finishing his thought, burying his face deeper into my stomach instead.
"Come on Son, it's Dad, what's wrong?" I tried, getting no response. "Hey Turkey, it's Pop, remember me?" I risked, rubbing his thin back and shoulders as I hugged him. "Please, talk to me, what's wrong?"
"You, , ," he began, but sucked in a deep breath and held it instead of continuing. No God, don't let him revert, not now, I'm not sure I can handle it, I prayed, remembering the frightened little animal he was only a few months ago.
Unsure what to say, I opened my mouth to at least attempt to find out what he wanted to ask when he cut me off. "You promised to help Mike and everything and stuff!" he all but demanded, his high pitch voice vibrating my breast bone as he addressed it. "Please sir, you promised! If you'll save Mike I'll do anything, anything you, , ,"
"I'm going to help, no, we are going to help Mike," I cut him off. I started to continue, but the stiffness in his shoulders, or the tension I felt in his neck muscles told me I wasn't getting through. I massaged his neck for a second or so then led him to the back of the truck, opened the tailgate open and sat on it. He didn't resist an instant later when I reached under his armpits and perched him across my lap.
I cupped his pixie little chin and gently turned his face to mine before continuing, "Has Pop ever broken a promise?" I asked. Failing to get a response I tried, "We, we are going to help Mike, I promise. Tim, , , Mister Young and his staff are going to find him, and as soon as he does he's going to bring him back here, bring him home." I felt my stomach tighten as I digested my statement, praying Tim could recover the boy, and what the word 'home' had committed me to.
"Do you still trust me, will you believe me?" I asked. He pushed his head under my chin and whimpered something I couldn't understand as a response. Before I could continue he started sobbing and I started feeling wet spots on my shirt.
"But, remember, I said we are going to help him, all of us. Are you ready to do your part?" He let out a soft whimper between sobs. "Right now, until Mike comes home, you have to be strong, and believe that he is going to be found. How would Mike feel when he got here and found out you freaked out, and molted or something?" He squirmed in my lap as his only answer.
"What if we had to tell Mike we can't go to Disneyworld because you got behind in your school work, and had to stay home and study?" He stopped sobbing and stiffened his back so quickly he bumped the top of his head against my chin.
I reached down and pinched his butt cheek adding, "What if he found out you got so worried your tail feathers fell out and you can't fly, that we have to walk all the way to Disney?"
He bumped my chin again with his head then pulled away a little and looked up at me. For an instant his face had a somewhat angry expression, which almost instantly melted into a very slight grin. I used my finger to wipe the tears from his cheeks and said, "Mike will be alright, he'll come back. Can you trust your dad, your pop enough to believe that?"
"I love you Pop, ah Dad," he whimpered, then kissed my cheek and buried his face on my shoulder and neck.
"I love you Son," I whispered as I pulled him into a tight hug. "But Dad has to go to work," I said, sliding him off my lap. "Go wash your face, and change your shirt and I'll see you tonight. Wear the blue one, with the little alligator on the front, all the little girl turkeys will love it." He threw his arms around my waist giving me a quick hug, then darted back toward the house. Wish I could, too, I thought as I looked down at my shirt, the majority of it soaked with his tears, and probably a few of mine.
I wasn't too surprised to see the twins watching us from inside the screen door. Take good care of him, take care of your brother, I forced into my mind. Jerry and Jeff flashed me identical wide grins as they tucked their little brother tightly between them and ushered him inside.
What next? I asked myself as I turned to close the tailgate and noticed the clean spot on it, wondering how much road dirt I was proudly displaying on the back of my trousers. "Maybe they'll let me take early retirement, instead of firing me outright," I told the truck's steering wheel as I roared out of the driveway; I had about three minutes to complete the fifteen minute drive to work if I was to get to my first meeting on time.
My day went better, and passed much more quickly than I could have ever expected, considering its beginning. It was hectic enough that no one had time to ask many questions about my weekend or unexpected absence yesterday. I did find time to call Tim every couple of hours to check on Mike, but only without learning anything new.
I had forgotten the boys had baseball practice after school until I got home and Dad reminded me. After chatting with Dad for a minute I grabbed a beer and went to relax on the patio for a few minutes, trying to decide if I should check in with Tim or not as I leaned back into a comfortable chair. I took several sips of beer, trying to convince myself I wasn't calling too often and interfering with his work before pulling my cell phone off my hip.
I was about to flip it open when I heard the doorbell chime, and a few seconds later the patio door burst open. "God Damn, you hadn't called in the last ten minutes, I was afraid something happened to you!" Tim boomed. I gave him a one-fingered salute as he sat down next to me, but accepted the fresh beer he offered me.
Although the update he provided me wasn't what I had wanted to hear, it was encouraging at least. Half the law enforcement world, from the FBI to state and local police were indeed putting their all into finding the youngster. Flyers by the tens of thousands with Mike's picture had been circulated, and a reward fund that had been set up for information leading to his safe recovery had already received more then twenty-thousand dollars in donations; calls were coming in by the dozens to the several hotlines the different agencies operated.
"We're waiting for the experts to confirm it, but a convenience store's security camera recorded a boy I'm sure is Mike being escorted into its restroom by a bearded man, and shortly after noon today," he concluded.
I took a deep breath, then a long swallow of my beer. "Where?" I risked, praying I wasn't hearing things.
"Local," he replied. "I don't know exactly where yet, but here in town." he cut me off before I could demand more information.
Getting everyone off to school and work the next morning was much easier than the day before. I had filled the boys in on the positive aspects of Tim's update, that we knew Mike was alive and well etc, over supper the night before, and also used what I knew was almost the ultimate bribe on them. I had to go out to the airport to pickup the maintenance logs and other paperwork for the aircraft I was borrowing from my friend. Also I had to go up on a 'check-ride' with a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) because it had been awhile since I had flown that type of aircraft. Thankfully both the aircraft's owner and I knew the CFI well, and between us we managed to convince him to 'bend' FAA rules slightly and allow the boys to go up with us during my check-ride.
After the boys dressed for school, and I for work, I ignored my parental instincts telling me to search, at least the twins, for CDs containing Flight Simulator programs during our morning hug, and soon was driving away from the house waiving at my flock of anxious kids.
Despite not getting any encouraging news from Tim during the ten or so calls I made to him my day went better than I had expected, and soon I was pulling into my driveway. After changing clothes I was getting my flight-case out of the closet when I heard the front door burst open and slam loudly against the wall, followed immediately by the thunder of a herd of sneaker clad kids stampeding down the hall.
In what had to be record time the twins and Carl reappeared in the entry hall wearing shorts and tee-shirts, along with their headgears. I chuckled a little when I noticed Carl had already put on his Line Badge (an ID Badge allowing access to the flight line) and was proudly pushing his bony chest out to better display it.
"What's this? You guys have time to get a snack!" I said, trying to keep from laughing.
All of their eyes flashed in perfect unison between the refrigerator and the front door. I was about to reassure them they had plenty of time when the doorbell chimed, but before anyone could react the door swung open and Timmy rushed in, skidding to a stop as almost ran into my boys. His face blushed when he saw me, but he lined up next to the other boys.
I bit my lip and turned away for a second, to keep from bursting out in laughter. "Hi Timmy!" I managed to get out, but had to take a deep breath to maintain my composure. "It's good to see you, but I'm afraid the boys won't have time to go out and play, we have to, , , run an errand."
All of the boys exchanged quick glances, and Timmy's face turned so red the color seemed to reflect off his facebow. At the same time Jerry and Jeff's telepathic antennas seemed to push out of their heads so far out I would have sworn I saw their headgear straps move.
The twins eyes flickered at each other as their antennas seemed to go into overload. "Ah, well Dad, I wonder if Timmy would like to go with us, , , Sir," Jerry suggested, giving me an almost blinding grin.
"Wouldn't it be polite to invite him, like you taught us? Sir?" Jeff beamed, his voice dripping with false innocence. "Since he's already here, he's our host now!" he added, giving me a polished smile that have sent Miss Manners rushing to her rehearsal mirror. Carl, who had been standing so motionless I wondered if he was still breathing muttered something I couldn't understand and stiffened his posture somewhat.
"He's our GUEST, but I am very impressed that you guys are being so considerate," I chuckled. "But you would have to ask mom first," I said toward Timmy.
"She already said I could go Sir," Timmy announced. His face when from red to ashen white right after he did.
I bit my tongue trying to keep a straight face and asked, "And where did your mom say you could go?"
The boys faces flashed every color in the rainbow so rapidly I thought I was watching a light show at a concert. I was deciding if I should let them off the hook, or what my next verbal jab should be when a loud snort coming from the kitchen distracted me. As I started to turn around another snort, followed by a chuckle, then a roaring laugh rang into the hall.
"Like I've always said, they are YOUR sons!" Dad tittered between loud snickers. "Here boys, I thought you might be in a hurry to leave," he chuckled as he carried two small ice chests into the hall. "Be sure to remember those good table manners of yours in the van!" he snorted as he disappeared back into the kitchen.
"Get in the van," I groaned, admitting defeat. The hall emptied so quickly I would have sworn the boys and ice chests vaporized, but he still swinging screen door told me otherwise.
The boy had already strapped themselves into their seatbelt and begun what would best be described as a Blitzkrieg assault on the sandwiches and canned drinks Dad had prepared for them, when I climbed into our mini-van two or three seconds later.
"Thanks Mister Miller," Timmy mumbled as I pulled out of the driveway, his mouth clearly full. When I looked in the rear view mirror he already had another sandwich stuffed under his now mayonnaise and mustard stained facebow, but gave me an ear-to-ear grin, exposing what had to be the better part of a slice of luncheon meat packed in his braces.
Howard, my CFI, was waiting for us when we walked into the FBO's small terminal building. Carl's face was priceless when I assigned him to get Timmy a Visitor's Line Badge, but he gave me a frightened look, took a deep breath and grabbed his friend's arm, ushering him to the reception station.
I spent five minutes or so in Howard's office, checking the documents I was picking up for the 414 and leaving off what my friend needed in case he wanted to take my Mooney up while I was borrowing his aircraft. I was pleased that the boys were behaving perfectly, all of them glued to a large window looking out on the tarmac, when we went back into the main area.
"Let's go flying!" I suggested.
Shortly after we stepped outside Jerry pushed against me. "Which one is our's?" he asked. At first I was a little disappointed he hadn't done enough research to recognize a Cessna 414 until I looked around and realized there were two of them parked on the ramp.
"This one," I answered as we walked toward a bright white, sleek twin engine aircraft.
"Wow, it's huge!" Carl gasp. "Can you fly that thing Dad, it's, , , so big!" he exclaimed as he pushed under my arm.
"Forty-five foot wingspan, eight passenger and two crew!" Jeff proclaimed with all the certainty of a most accomplished fourteen-year-old aviation instructor.
"And twenty-five hundred pounds cargo, and two-hundred-fifty knot cruise speed!" Jerry chimed in with the same authority.
"Wow!" Jeff hooted as we got closer to the aircraft. He glanced at his twin then bolted toward the Cessna's right engine. "Sabre tipped!" he exclaimed as he petted the end of one of the propeller blades as affectionately as he would Binki or Bandits fur.
Jerry was right behind him. He glanced at the propeller blades for a split second the bolted to the wings leading edge right, next to the engine. He fondled the thin air openings going inside the wing as he tried to see inside. "Look, liquid cooled!" he all but screamed. "Shit, its got Voyager engines, its got to!" His face turned as white as the aircraft's paint as he put his hand over his facebow and looked around.
"How old did you say they are now? Are you sure they are the two little boys I met before?" Howard asked me. In my many years of taking flight lessons his face showed one of the first completely lost expressions I had ever seen a CFI display.
"Look and winglets too!" Jeff's high pitched cry distracted us before I could answer. Both of the twins reverently studied the small vertical fins mounted at the tip of the airplane's wings almost I total awe for a second or so as if paying homage to them.
"And vortex generators!" Jerry proclaimed a few seconds later, pointing at one of the several small oval protrusions mounted on the wing's skin.
"Generation two!" Jeff hooted as he lovingly caressed the wing. "Jerry, its, its gotta be a RAM! Shit its gotta!" he proclaimed, his voice completely soprano.
"They are fourteen," I snickered. "Budding pilots, fourteen going on twenty-four, but fourteen." I finally was able to answer.
"Are you sure?" Howard asked. "Are you sure they aren't undercover FAA Aircraft
Inspectors, posing as teenagers?" he quipped.
Despite having to dodge a covey of thin bodies and nosy heads I managed to complete my pre-flight to Howard's satisfaction, and soon we were taxiing out to the runway. After a few death threats I even managed to coerce the kids to buckle into seats in the spacious passenger cabin. Even with the moans and groans from the kids behind us about having to remain strapped in their seats until I finished my check-ride I satisfied Howard that I was current on the aircraft in less than ten minutes.
Since I was paying him for an hour of his time if we were up ten minutes or a full hour, I quietly asked him if he minded if we flew for a few more minutes, suggesting the boys might 'feel more comfortable with the craft if they were allowed to roam the cabin while in flight and perhaps look into the cockpit. He gave me a rather cagy grin and agreed.
I thought for a minute, then flipped the switch controlling my headset's microphone from the plane's radio to its cabin intercom. "Good afternoon, and thank you for flying with Silver Turkey Airlines," I began, trying to keep my voice professional. "We are now in level flight, at two-thousand feet en route to, well nowhere, and you are welcome to release your seat belts and enjoy the flight."
It didn't take long to get a reaction to my quip. Before I could turn around to see the boys reaction I felt the big bird shudder slightly and an instant later felt something push against my shoulder and upper arm. "Hi Turkey!" I chuckled as Jeff's face, then upper body leaned over my shoulder, his neck craning like a giraffe's, face glued at the cockpit's instrument panel. I chuckled again when I looked to my side and saw Howard pressed against the outer side of his seat, Jerry's thin shoulders pushing him out of the way.
I was about to chastise the twins when Jeff pushed rather harshly against my shoulder, making me involuntarily turn the aircraft's yoke slightly sending us into a banking turn. I corrected the craft and turned to nail Jeff, but instead was greeted by Carl's saucer wide eyes and blinding smile, his thin body wedged between his older brothers cramming them against the back of Howard and my seats.
"Wow, awesome!" he declared, better put squealed as he looked over the 414's instrument panel. Please God, if Timmy joins us we'll crack the fuselage! I thought, picturing in my mind Howard and I flying out of the aircraft like sideways ejection seats, seats without parachutes.
I'm not sure if the flock of boys pushing their way between the two pilot seat or the drool dripping off of Jerry and Jeff's headgears onto Howard and my arms, but Howard didn't argue when I asked him to relinquish his right seat, the copilot's position to one of the boys. Jerry, then Jeff each took their turn at the controls doing much better than I could have hoped for their first time piloting such a large, complicated aircraft.
Carl climbed into the cherished right seat after Jerry, but looked around at the multiple arrays of instrument displays and controls for a second or so then sprang out of the chair as if Binki had given him hopping lessons. I need to talk to that rabbit, I told myself as Jeff hopped with equal skill over the aircraft's huge center counsel and controls. To this day I am still not sure if the twins were studying or fondling the big white bird's engines and wings after we landed but somehow managed to drag them away into Dad's minivan.
I couldn't help but feel upbeat as I dredged through my grind of back to back meetings the next morning at work and reflected on last night. By the time we got home from our flight the boys were so worn out they barely stayed awake long enough to eat supper, do their homework and bathe. Early this morning I had awoken to find Carl and Binki cuddled next to me, but they both seemed completely happy when they woke up, and Binki perched on my pillow again gave me a boost beyond what I could believe.
As I left the last meeting I had scheduled that morning I allowed my stomach and my brain to argue if I should go out to lunch or grab a snack from the vending machine and go home early. My stomach was a full length ahead, insisting on a major meal until I checked my cell phone, five new voice mail messages.
"Answer your God Damn messages Ass-HOLE! Call me or get the fuck down here, NOW!" Tim's voice barked as the newest message, about thirty minutes old.
I chuckled before pushing 'next' on my cell phone. "Call me NOW, and answer your FUCKN' phone!" Tim snarled.
Another click played back, "Things are really hopping right now, but get off your civil service ass and call me Dickhead!" again from Tim.
I'm glad I didn't check these on a speaker phone! I silently snickered. I was about to press the next button again when the first message rang back into my mind. I more pounded then pushed the back button twice. '. . . Call me or get the fuck down here. . ." slapped into my brain so hard my ear hurt. A quick check of the message's caller ID verified Tim had called from his office.
After almost crashing into several co-workers rushing to the parking lot, I cursed the entire Department of the Army as I drove toward the bases main gate. A four lane road, and thirty mile-per-hour speed limit? I challenged them. I cursed myself for choosing the route I did when a large yellow sign loomed in front of me, 'Troop Area. Speed Limit 15' it read. I was tempted to risk it and give my truck its head, but my knowledge of how zealously protective the military was of pedestrians, and more exactly, its most valuable asset, their soldiers, forced me to crawl along; a simple traffic violation that in town would have earned the driver a warning or ticket very likely would result in arrest in the troop concentration areas of the base.
A call to Tim's office didn't help settle my nerves either. All his secretary would tell me was that he was 'away from his desk'. I was about to call his cell phone when I saw the base's main gate come into view. 'Or get down here. . .' rang back into my mind. "Screw it, I can afford the ticket," I told the steering wheel. I tossed my cell into the passenger seat and floor-boarded the truck's accelerator pedal.
Tim was still 'away from his desk', according to his secretary, when I rushed into his office. After a couple of fairly polite tries at getting more information from the woman I was about to rip into her when Roy, Carl's former case worker stepped into the room.
"Come with me Christian, I know where he is," he warmly suggested.
"That bitch is typical Civil Service," I told him as we started down a long hall. I felt my face blush as I realized what I had said, he and I were both Civil Service, he State and I Federal. "Where is Tim, what is going on?" I asked, hoping to change the subject as much as anything.
"Did you want to see Tim or Mike?" he asked. I was still trying to pick my jaw up off the floor when he added, "Well it doesn't matter, Tim took Mike over to the Emergency Shelter." "For lunch, just to eat lunch!" Roy quickly added, I'm sure reacting to the expression on my face. "You don't know? Tim never found you and told you?" he added.
I wanted to pinch myself to be sure I was not dreaming as Roy and I walked down a long parking lot and he filled me in. Earlier this morning the police stopped a car containing three men and what they thought was a young teenaged girl with shoulder length brown hair, for non-functioning brake lights. At first the stop appeared to be routine, the officer even suggesting the driver open the car's trunk lid and try to repair the lights. He became a little suspicious when they discovered both of the tail light bulb assemblies had not only been unplugged from their lenses but the glass globes of the light bulbs smashed inside the trunk.
When the officer ordered everyone to exit the vehicle the other two men complied, but the young girl sat all but motionless, just staring wide-eyed at the policeman. After some backup arrived the officers opened the teen's door to remove her, only to find that the sleeves of her dress had not only been stitched together at the wrists, but sewn onto the front of the dress; her ankle had also been taped together rendering her helpless.
"As soon as they removed the wig, the jig was up. Mike is a sharp kid, we found out later he unplugged the taillights while he was loading their luggage into the trunk." Roy concluded. "Welcome to our Emergency Receiving Shelter," he added as we started up the stairs of a drab, almost foreboding, brick building. "We're not very proud of it, but it's all we can afford." he said as he scanned his ID badge through the entry door's electronic lock.
I found the building's interior even less appealing as I followed Roy down a harsh looking hallway with ceramic tiled walls. After again scanning his ID into an electronic lock we stepped into a small, dimly lite room with a large glass window in its far wall.
"What, you finally woke up? Must be nice to go to work and nap all morning!" Tim boomed before my eyes could adjust to the light.
I was about to respond when I saw Mike and another young teenage boy with a burr haircut through the glass, sitting next to each other with cafeteria trays in front of them. "There is a God," I gasped. "I've got to see him!"
"Let him finish eating," Tim asked. "And talk to Bobby a little longer, Bobby needs it."
When I looked back at the two boys they were clearly giggling and enjoying each other's company as they chatted and ate, and the second boy did look familiar. "Is that one of the boys we found with Mike?" I asked.
"Yeah," Tim almost groaned. "The third boy has been placed with relatives, but I don't know what we are going to do with him, I'm afraid he's headed to a group home or, , , or, , , I don't know." Tim told the glass more than me. Just the back of his head, and his tense neck muscles told me I was again seeing a rare, emotional side of my old biker friend.
"The only relative he has lasted one computer scan as far as a possible placement," Roy added.
"A registered sex offender," Tim mumbled.
I felt a lot of the jubilation of finding Mike safe drain away as I watched the two boys interact. Even through the tinted glass, that turned out to be a two way mirror, Bobby was nothing less than a beautiful boy, from his delicate features and lathe arms and upper body I put him at about thirteen-years old, with a pair of dimples that stole my heart each time he smiled.
"What about Mike?" I asked, trying to snap back to business.
"He's all yours, we can't afford to feed him!" Tim replied. When I looked his face was back to its stoic self. "Let's go let him know you are here." he suggested as he started toward the door. When I glanced back through the window both boys had left the table and were carrying their trays toward the cafeteria's kitchen.
"Mister Miller! Pop! POP!" Mike screamed as we stepped into the cafeteria. He slammed into me so hard I has to take a couple of steps back to maintain my balance as we molded into a tight hug. "You came for me, you really did!" he cried. "Ah, did you?"
"Yes, of course I did, are you ready to go home?" I answered as I rubbed his thin back. "What's this, are you growing some down?" I teased as I brushed the stubble of hair on top of his head. "I know of a whole flock of Turkeys that are going to be very glad to see you!" I enjoyed his cuddle for another minute or so, then asked, "Come on Mike, , , son, are you ready to go home?"
He gave me an even tighter hug for a second, but then pulled away and rushed back to his young friend and threw his arms around the boy. They hugged each other for several seconds, whispering into each other's ears before tears started dripping out of Bobby's, then Mike's eyes.
A minute or so later Roy walked next to them and put his hands on their thin shoulders. "Mike has to leave now, Bobby please go back to your wing," he gently suggested. The boys pulled even more tightly into their hug as their only response. "Sorry guys, but right now," Roy added. They maintained their hug for a few more seconds, then kissed each other's cheeks as Roy separated them.
Mike more crawled than walked back over to me, tears running out of his eyes like twin waterfalls. I was so close to comatose I didn't really notice him tucking his shoulders under my arm until Tim but his big hands on our shoulders and said, "Come on, Mike, let's take Pop home."
I felt a dagger pierce my heart right after Tim scanned his ID and opened the outside door, when Mike pulled away from me and turned back toward the tile lined hall, waving at what seemed like the ghost of his little friend.
I recovered somewhat by the time Mike and I got into my truck, even remembering to call my office and offer a fib that I was going to work from home that afternoon. Mike didn't seem to be faring as well though. I had to help him fasten his seatbelt when we got into the truck, and when I glanced over at his after I pulled out of my parking place he had crawled into an almost fetal position in the seat, his tears still flowing like rivers.
Nothing I tried seemed to cheer him up much less bring him back to reality. Flowing descriptions of Carl and the twins looking forward to him coming back, even telling him flowered previews of our upcoming trip to Disneyworld and all of Orlando had little effect.
By the time we arrived at my house I was starting to wonder if I was in over my head. I at first suggested Mike go wash his face but ended ushering him into the bathroom. He didn't argue when I told him to take a shower to freshen up, but as I started to close the bathroom door he blurted, "I can't go there or stuff!" "They said they're gonna keep Bobby in that place, they said maybe forever! I gotta go help him!" he declared as he started out of the bathroom.
"Bobby is going to be okay, I promise," I responded as I blocked the door and his escape. "Go take a good long shower, and get into a fresh pair of shorts, from the twins' room, and I'll take care of Bobby. I promise I will." I ordered more than asked.
We stared at each other for a couple of seconds, more trying to stare each other down, before he turned and closed the bathroom door. I twisted and leaned against the wall just outside the bathroom door with my eyes closed. Why me Lord? I asked the hall's ceiling as I flipped my cell phone open.
To Be Continued…