My Flock

Chapter 2

Dad was awake and waiting for us in the kitchen when we got home. As tempted as I was to send Tim home and go back to bed for a couple of hours, the coffee pot's wonderful aroma attacking my nose convinced me otherwise. After we said hi to Dad I ushered Mike to my bedroom and tucked him in. Bandit, our King Charles Spaniel and Binki, our Dwarf Rabbit, quickly volunteered their services as cuddle-mates, and I think all three of them were well on their way to dreamland before I closed the bedroom door.

Tim was filling Dad in on our trip when I returned to the kitchen. "What happens now," I asked a minute or so later.

"Well, we have a lot of investigating to complete first, to get some answers," Tim began. "I'm sure my people have obtained a more complete identification of the other two boys by now, and later in the morning, after the boys get some rest, we will interview them. We need to interview Mike too," he added, making my stomach tighten.

"What about Mike, you aren't going to his parents right away are you?" Dad asked.

"I would like him to stay here for a few days until this gets worked out, I don't want him in a shelter or something," I injected. "I'm not prepared to keep him, but for a few days or so."

"Snyder has got one hell of a lot of explaining to do, IF he wants his kid back," Tim answered. "It's too early to tell what is going to happen, but, , ," he stopped in mid-phrase when Dad held his hand up.

Both of us looked around as Dad leaned sideways in his chair and looked, then glared down the hall. His face tightened into a scowl as he again held his hand up and gestured toward himself with his index finger. A second or so later one, then the other of my twins appeared at the entryway to the kitchen, both wearing only their briefs, headgears and embarrassed red faces.

"What are you two doing up, it's just dawn?" I asked, extending my arms toward them. "And we don't even have any food out!" I teased as they padded to me. They let out soft, sleepy chuckles as I pulled them against my sides and kissed the side of their heads, then twisted and propped their backsides on my outer thighs. "What, and these things aren't even completely empty!" I added as I cupped their thin flat stomachs with my hands, earning a pair of identical giggles and wide silver grins.

"Well, Mike's here isn't he?" Jerry mumbled.

"And you left, you went flying to get him," Jeff added. "And he's really scared too."

I started to ask how they knew but didn't, knowing better especially at the ungodly hour it was. "Yes, Mike is here, he is going to, , , visit with us for, a few days. All of us are going to talk later, after Mike gets some rest and everyone gets up. Right now, why don't you guys go get some more sleep, its unnatural for you guys to be up at this hour!" I said, giving their waists a squeeze.

I was impressed with their reaction, Jerry turning slightly and looking away as he pressed his thin back against my chest, and Jeff swinging his long thin leg and perching himself on my lap; until I followed their gaze to the kitchen's drainboard, and my dad sorting breakfast rolls onto a baking pan. Well, I'm glad they handle stress well, I silently snickered as they bolted out of my lap and slammed against their grandfather's side.

"They won't be ready for a few minutes," Dad told the baking pan more than his grandchildren. "I would estimate about the same amount of time it takes to go put on some clothes," he told one of the rolls as he placed it onto the pan. Tim, Dad and I all snickered as both wiped the saliva off their facebows then darted out of the kitchen and down the hall toward their bedroom, the muscles in their long thin legs flexing with each step, their brief clad bubble butts bouncing like basketballs. "It's rewarding to know they are committed to their friend's welfare," Dad tittered.

Tim excused himself while the boys were dressing, saying he would drop the paperwork making me Mike's foster parent in a few minutes, and would call me when he knew more about Mike's interview with his staff. Dad and I only had a couple of minutes to discuss the morning's events before the twins reappeared with a very sleepy Carl tucked between them, all three boys shirtless, but wearing gym shorts. At first I worried what the twins had told him, but from their eyes I was pretty sure they had not let him know about Mike.

"Well sleepy head, what are you doing up so early?" I asked. Carl shifted his gaze between his brothers, who had darted over to the rolls now cooling on the kitchen counter and me, then shuffled over and into my hug. "Did your nose or the twins wake you up?" I asked after kissing his forehead.

I didn't have to wait long for an answer, he leaned into our cuddle for a brief instant then pulled out of my grasp and rushed to the counter, pushing his way between Jeff and Jerry. Be careful Dad, don't get bit, I silently snickered as I watched him reach over and around the three pointy heads, only inches from the baking pan to place the rolls onto saucers.

"Come sit by me Carl, I want to talk to you," I suggested as they turned back toward the kitchen table. I started to pull the chair next to me out when he sat his roll in front of me and hopped into my lap. "Well, that will work!" I chuckled as I put my arms around his flat bare stomach, earning a soft giggle from him.

I started to remind him to take his headgear off, but before I could he seized his roll and chomped into it. "Yum!" he slurred, his mouth still full. He took another huge bit before turning his head to look at me. Oh Well! I chuckled at the white cream topping smeared across his facebow along with the several dots of it dabbled in with the thousand or so freckles on his cheeks and nose.

After a second then third roll, seemingly consumed in about that amount of minues, and a large glass of chocolate milk served by his grandfather, the bottomless pit otherwise known as his stomach seemed to be satisfied, at least for a few minutes.

"Well, it feels a little fuller," I teased gently squeezing his tummy. Oops, don't wake him up early! I thought as he reached down, grasped my wrists with his still topping laden hands and pulled my arms more tightly against his thin frame.

I was about to correct him, or at least reminding him why his grandfather had sat a napkin in front of us when he leaned back onto my chest, tucked his little head under my chin. "I love you Pop," he more purred than said.

"I love you too, Turkey," I whispered. I tried to kiss the top of his head but ended up pecking one of his headgear straps. "Dad's been a little busy this morning, and I wanted to talk to you for a minute, to fill you in on what is going on," I began, still trying to decide the best way to tell him about Mike. "I had asked you about, , ," The doorbell chimed at the same instant as the front door burst open distracted me before I could finish my sentence.

"God Damn it Christian, you managed to fuck up my whole weekend!" Tim boomed from the entryway. "This shit's getting heavy and I've got to get to the office, but here is Mike's paperwork, he's yours for now!" he continued as he stepped into the kitchen. From his face he realized how poor his timing was as he looked around the room. "Hi Carl," the big man groaned, his usually gruff voice as deflated as was his face.

Carl stiffened so abruptly the top of his head pushed my chin up and my neck backward. "Mike?" he blurted, his voice going from alto to soprano in a single word. "Where's Mike, what about Mike?" he demanded, shooting Tim and I harsh glares.

"Mike is okay!" I tried, pulling the youngster back against my chest. "That's what I wanted to talk to you about. I think Mike, well would it be okay with you if Mike, , , stayed here with us for, a few days?" I stammered more than asked.

Carl jerked around in my lap to stare at me, his mouth agape so much his tongue was hanging out almost as far as Bandit's did when the dog panted. "Can he? For real?" Carl asked in a breathless whisper. "Please Dad, PLEASE? When can he, Please Pop!" he added before planting his facebow against my cheek and giving me a really wet kiss.

I took a deep breath, trying to decide how to answer. "Mike is here, but right now he's is getting some rest, in my bedroom," I risk.

A poor risk it was, he bolted out of my lap so fast I only had time to catch the back of his gym shorts before he got out of reach. The thin shorts stretched what had to be a foot behind him, but right when I was sure they were going to tear his little body sprang back to me almost like a rubber band recoiling. "Calm down Son, Mike is resting, remember?" I told him as I grasp his thin waist and pulled him between my legs.

"And I think you should come wash your hands and face," Dad interjected. He grasped Carl's thin neck with one hand, his shoulder with the other in a gentle but secure grip I'm sure he had learned from his many, many years as a police officer, and guided the boy to the kitchen sink. Dad and Carl had a brief dialog, the only part I could understand was a few 'Yes Sirs' from Carl, as Dad scrubbed his grandson.

Just after I glanced at Tim to see his reaction a blond streak flashed behind Tim. As I watched it dart down the hall toward my bedroom I would have sworn the carpet seemed to show streaks from his toenails digging for traction like claws on a cat. Jerry and Jeff glanced at me with identical pleading looks, and after waiting no more than a split second me to say something bolted out of the room behind Carl.

"You might want to wash up too," Dad interrupted my stare. I blushed slightly as he wiped some topping from my cheek, clearly transferred from my youngest son's facebow.

Several minutes later Mike appeared in the hallway, firmly in the grasp of what looked more like a six armed alien creature than my three teenagers. As they entered the kitchen I felt a little bad seeing his sleepy eyes. "Sorry Mike, I was going to let you rest for awhile," I offered getting a shrug as an answer.

"Are you hungry?" Dad asked, pointing toward the two rolls that had somehow survived the carnage a few minutes ago.

"Yeah! What's for breakfast?" Jeff answered for Mike.

"You just ate!" Dad snickered.

"But Gramps, I'm hungry!" Jerry proclaimed, both twins flashing sad eyes at Dad and I.

"Dad, you have to consider, that was, probably ten minutes ago!" I quipped, glancing at my watch.

"Can we have pancakes? And those little sausage things?" Carl added.

"And some eggs on top, please Gramps?" Jerry injected.

"I want strawberries on mine, well and three eggs," his twin countered.

I started to again ask Mike if he was hungry, what I thought was the original question, but his tongue, jetting between his lips on one, then the other side of his mouth, clearly trying to prevent drool from dripping down his chin, answered for him. "You three have baseball practice in a few minutes," I began. "All four of you go get your showers and get dressed Gramps and I will see what we can come up with."

"But, well I don't wanta go to practice, Mike's here!" Carl cried, pushing more tightly against his friend.

"Yeah Dad, maybe we could, , ," Jeff began.

"Guys, today is the first day of practice, you can't miss it!" I interrupted, earning me three identical 'Up Yours' glares. "We will talk about it over breakfast, how's that?' I tried. I ignored their pleading glares and added, "We're not going to eat until AFTER everyone has cleaned up and gotten dressed, and get dressed to go to practice boys."

The twins shot the kitchen stove a longing glance, then darted down the hall toward their bedroom. Carl looked between his friend and I a couple of times then turned and raced behind the twins. Well, you know where you rate! I silently chuckled toward the back of Mike's head as he followed behind.

I called Tim while Dad and I were cooking, and was relieved to learn they wouldn't be ready to talk to Mike until late morning, and that he agreed with my plans for the morning.

I had to chuckle as my boys began drifting back into the kitchen a few minutes later. Although the twins were small for their age they had grown, the baseball pants they were wearing, leftovers from last year's playing uniforms, were at least a size too small for them. It's a good thing they're stretch fabric, I thought - pants that last year stopped at mid-calf now were more like knee length knickers from old movies, and last year's 'relaxed' loose fit around their hips and thighs now fit like skin tight football pants.

When Mike entered the kitchen a couple of minutes later another problem surfaced, that he only had the clothes he came here wearing. He was wearing what I was sure were a pair of warmup pants that belonged to one of twins. They fit fairly well around his waist and upper legs, but the bottom three inches of his long, colt-like legs stuck out from the bottom of the bottom; a classic pair of highwater pants that would have earned 'Spanky and Our Gang's' costumer an Oscar.

I started to suggest Mike borrow a pair of shorts from one of the twins, but the hungry look on everyone's faces told me it would fall on deaf ears. It will wait, after all they hadn't eaten in, hell twenty minutes! I chuckled as I watched three huge stack of pancakes disappear in what seemed like a couple of nanoseconds.

Carl was about to step out of the hall into the kitchen when the doorbell rang. He shot the entryway a really nasty glare, then longingly looked at the table, moisture forming at the corners of his mouth. I would have sworn I saw tears welling in his eyes when he looked over at me, but after giving the almost empty platter of cakes what had to be a farewell glimpse he turned and shuffled stoop-shoulders toward the front door.

An instant later he all but flew back into the kitchen and landed in his chair. His face brightened like a new penny and he broke into a wide silver smile when he discovered Dad had sat a fresh stack of pancakes on the table. Timmy right behind. Whatever, I thought as I looked at my neighbor's son, also wearing what had to be last year's baseball pants, his fitting as tightly as a ballet dancer's tights.

"Are you hungry Timmy, would you like to join us?" Dad asked the boy.

"No, I just ate breakfast sir," the lad answered with a smile. His face seemed to change from happy to uncertain as he looked around the table and his friends, shoveling food into their mouths a what was no less than a frenzied pace. His eyes widened and he developed an impish grin when Dad sat a plate and silverware in front of him. "Well, ah, everything does look good. Maybe just a little if its okay," the lad smiled.

Yeah, just a taste, I snickered as I watched him pile three large cakes, a huge scoop of scrambled eggs and several sausage links on his plate. "Thanks Gramps!" he slurred as he stuffed his mouth like he hadn't eaten in weeks.

A few minutes later the feeding frenzy seemed to calm enough that I thought I might at least stand a chance at getting their attention. "Okay guys, I said we'd talk. Will you listen to me before reacting?" I began. "You guys can respond AFTER I'm finished."

I ignored several dirty looks and continued, "I know you guys want to be with Mike, but you cannot miss the first day of practice, I think you know that. But, I hope you are mature enough to understand Mike has had a long night, he might be tired." I held my finger up toward Mike to silence him. "I'll let Mike decide, he can go with you to practice, or stay here and rest, but it's Mike's choice."

The room fell completely silent as five young faces stared at me, their eyes wide and mouths falling agape in mid bite. "But, I gotta go with Mister Young, he said he's gonna take me with him," Mike finally replied in a whimper.

"Mister Young said he needs to talk to you, he's not going to take you away or anything. If you want to go with your friends, he'll just have to wait until after practice," I answered.

"Yea! Thanks Dad!" Carl hooted as he jumped out of his chair and ran over to me. "You're a neat pop!" he declared, planting a kiss on my cheek.

As he pulled his lips away from my face I immediately could tell he for the second time this morning had left a little of his breakfast on my face. Yeah well, I snickered as I wiped his syrup lipstick off. "But," I said clearly getting everyone's attention quickly their worried faces informed me. "Mike, why don't you borrow a pair of shorts from Jeff or Jerry, I be they would be more comfortable. And Carl is wearing shorts," I tried. The youngster blushed as he looked down at his high-water sweat pants.

"You guys have outgrown those pants too, why don't you go change too," I told the twins.

"But, Dad, well, , ," Jerry began, then looked at his brother for support.

"Well, but we gotta wear them!" Jeff injected.

I took a second to mentally review the league rules I had read a few nights ago. "I think your coach will understand if we tell him your old pants are too small for you now, and we can go buy new practice pants later today."

"But, well, we gotta wear these! We can't wear new ones!" Jerry countered.

"They really do, Mister Miller!" Timmy added. "Well, so everyone knows you're not a rookie!" he declared, giving Carl a somewhat sinister smile.

Who can argue with that logic? I asked myself as I looked over the three of them, the stretch fabric of their pants drawn skin tight over their legs and backsides. "Well, go find Mike some shorts to wear," I told them. "And everyone brush your teeth," I yelled at the covey of bubble-butted kids rushing down the hall.

I called Tim right after dropping the kids off at the practice field, mainly to see what he thought would be the best way to handle Mike's clothing situation, wondering if we might be able to retrieve some of his clothes from his parents house.

"I don't know, we are still trying to find them," he informed me. "They aren't answering their phone and won't answer the door, but both cars are in the driveway. My worker thinks they are dodging us again, she thinks they are inside their house."

We talked for a couple of minutes as I drove back toward my house, Tim offering to try to find some used clothing that would fit from the emergency stock CPS maintained, and I suggesting I buy him enough to hold him a couple of days. He agreed and was reminding me to keep my receipts when my cell phone beeped, indicating I had another call.

I was going to ignore the call until I glanced at my Caller ID; 'Jack Snyder' it read. "Speak of the devil, , ," I told Tim as I pulled off to the side of the road. I pushed 'Flash' on my phone twice, turning on Three Way Calling instead of Call Waiting.

"Good morning Jack, how's Mike, and the wife?" I answered.

There was a brief silence on the line before he responded, "Good morning. We are doing well, but, I'm afraid Mike is, acting up a little." He paused again before adding, "We had sent, I mean we let him go visit his uncle for a few days, and now it seems he has run away."

Go on dumb fuck, hang yourself, I thought. Tell Tim all about it! "That is terrible news, I hope he is all right!" I answered. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

"We were hoping you might have heard from him, or that foster child of yours has. He's another one of them, I mean they are good friends and he probably will try to reach him."

He's my adopted SON and you know it, asshole. Another one of them? God Damn homophobe, I thought. I was trying to calm down enough to answer him in a civil tone when he added, "Christian, I wanted to ask you a favor too. If he shows up, well, please don't tell CPS anything about this. A couple of his uncle's friends are on the way to your area to look for him, if you hear from him please call me not CPS, and they will pick him up for, , , me."

I gripped the steering wheel so hard I was sure I was damaging its vinyl padding as I felt my blood boil. Chill kid, let's hand this SOB his own head, I told myself. "I'd be glad to, I'd hate to see him get into trouble," I answered. I felt gears grind in my head as I tried to digest our conversation. "Where can I find you, are you at home?" I thought for a split second and risked, "Is there a way I can contact your brother's friends if I find Mike? Do you know where they are or how to contact them?"

"No, my, , , my brother-in-law can reach them. I gave them your address though, so I'm sure they are looking for Mike in your neighborhood." I thought Tim was going to blow it when I heard him gasp slightly.

"Are you at home? Can I find you there?" I asked. I cursed myself realizing I had worded the last part of my question poorly. "I'll call you the minute I know anything, will you be home?" I asked.

"Yes we're at our house. Thanks for your help Christian," he answered.

"Damn, you're good! You still ain't lost your edge," Tim tittered as soon as Snyder rang off. "But where is Mike right now, the people looking for him are not his uncle's friends. This shit is getting heavy, I'll tell you more later but if they find him it will be to, , , to take him out of circulation."

I had to hold my breath to keep from vomiting as I digested his statement. Somehow the ten or so cars and trucks I cut in front of as I did a full acceleration U turn managed to dodge my vehicle at the same time I reminded Tim Mike, along with his son and all three of mine were at baseball practice. I didn't realize I was driving Dad's minivan instead of my truck until I felt the high centered van go onto what I was sure was two wheels as I went around the first corner, but somehow made it to the field without rolling over or crashing.

After checking a couple of the several practice fields scattered about, I spotted Mike leaning against a fence, cheering on Timmy and Carl's team. He seemed to be completely enthralled with the goings on as I walked up behind him, so much so that the little guy almost jumped out of his skin when I said hi to him.

"Guilty conscience?" I teased as he blushed and pushed against me. "I decided to come back and watch, I thought you might want some company." I added, wrapping my arm around his thin shoulders and rubbed his upper arm.

We talked about baseball and how Carl's team looked for several minutes as we watched them practice, until tires squealing behind us distracted me. My stomach tightened as I looked over my shoulder, but relaxed when I saw Tim's truck sliding into the park. A minute or so later he parked along our practice field's fence right at third base.

"Let's go say hi to Mister Young," I suggested to Mike.

I felt the youngster's muscles tighten as he followed my gaze and saw Tim step out of his vehicle. "Is he gonna take me away now?" he whimpered.

"No, he's not going to take you anywhere," I reassured him, hoping I wasn't lying. "Maybe he came to watch his son play, remember Timmy?" I added, getting an embarrassed grin as an answer.

We had walked about halfway to Tim's truck when two men appeared behind my big friend. I'm sure from my facial expression he turned then looked back at me with a reassuring look. "Christian, Mike, I'd like you to meet Ernest and Norman," he said as we approached.

I shook their hands and Mike bashfully followed my lead as he mumbled a greeting. We made small talk for a minute or so before the youngster pushed against my side. "Can I go watch Carl and everyone?" he all but whispered.

"Okay, but stay close by please," I answered, earning a somewhat indignant look from the lad. His face turned to a happy grin when I added, "So we can go get a coke in a minute."

Ernest and Norman turned out to be police detectives working with CPS. I had to look away several times to keep my head from spinning over the next couple of minutes as the three of them filled me in on what they knew so far regarding Mike and the boys that were with him. The 'school' the three bearded men claimed to be operating out of the farm house was now emerging as a re-indoctrination center of sorts, operated by a radical religious 'cult' in Tim's words, one of three they think the cult was operating around the country. The group had been, through parents, conscripting teens, offering to 'cure' the boys from 'sinful' behaviors like 'self abuse' and 'impure thoughts'. "It's a good thing we got them out of there when we did, from what we already know they were going to brainwash, or worse, kids who's parents thought they might be gay, turn them into mental eunchs," Tim summarized. "This is going to get heavy, the FBI is already involved," he continued, explaining that one of the boys we recovered the night was from Montana, that they knew of ten more boys from around the country that had been enrolled by their parents but had not arrived. "We know they have recruiters scattered around the nation too, we are sure the 'friends of Mike's uncle' Snyder referred to are some of them."

"What about Snyder, well and Mike, if his parents agreed to this kind of shit he can't go back there," I asked.

"Both of the Snyders are in a world of shit, it might be a long time before they even see their son again" Tim answered. "He dug his own grave a few minutes ago when he called you. We are preparing a warrant, well it probably has been signed by now," he said, glancing at his watch, "for interfering with custody, that's going to be enough to keep them in jail until we can come up with some more charges. I wanted to talk to you about Mike, this whole thing could, , ,"

"Look Pop, Carl's gonna bat!" Mike's alto voice interrupted us from the fence. "Come on Carl, knock a homer!" he yelled toward the field, making my youngest son turn beet red as he stepped up to the plate.

I was sure Carl hadn't noticed the other adults or I, but felt myself tense up as I watched him let a couple of pitches go by, then swing and miss on a couple. Just relax Son, forget Mike is here, I silently prayed as I watched his face tighten into a worried frown. He stared at the ground for a full second before stepping back into the batter's box and cocking his bat. Please God, let him get a hit, I added when his lip started quivering slightly.

My heart sank as I watched him try what seemed to be a hard, almost blind swing at the ball. It seemed to leap with joy as he contacted the ball, so much I just had time to react and jump out of the way as his high speed line drive went foul and streaked toward us at what seemed like the speed of light. Poor Ernest and Norman were not so lucky. Before they could move the ball grazed Norman's wrist then slammed dead center into Ernest's crotch. Ernest let out a loud, almost subhuman guttural moan as he doubled over, then fell to his knees on the ground; Norman grasp his wrist, cursing as he rubbed his arm.

Oh God, not again! I thought. Shit, that's, , , how many when we were in Colorado, and two, or three others here in town, I asked myself, remembering Carl's innocent propensity to injure cops.

"Shit, I don't believe it, again!" Tim groaned. We exchanged disbelieving glances as he rushed to help his colleagues.

Almost immediately we were besieged with 'help'; a couple of the coaches rushed off the practice field as a sizable crowd of parents and kids crowded around us. I looked around briefly, trying to decide how I could best help, until Carl caught my attention, standing seemingly paralyzed just inside the practice field fence, his chin resting on his chest as he stared wide eyed at the bedlam.

His face turned ghost white when he saw me rushing toward him. "I'm sorry Pop, please don't, I'm sorry I didn't mean to," he cried, defensively covering his face with his arms as he backpedaled toward the field.

"It's okay Son, you didn't do anything wrong," I tried to reassure him. I slowed my pace slightly, but thankfully managed to get my arm around his thin waist before he got too far from me. "Calm down Son, it was an accident is all," I said as I pulled his heaving chest against my stomach.

I turned him to hide his tear streaked face from the many onlookers that were gathering. "It's okay Son, you didn't do anything wrong, and I'm not mad," I said as I stroked his back and neck. Please God, a little help here, I asked. Don't let him revert again, I added, remembering the frightened little animal he was not too many months ago when he came to live with us.

"Wow, you hit that hard!" Mike proclaimed as he pushed against his friend's side. "What's wrong? Are you gonna get in trouble?" he asked as he saw Carl's face. "Pop, he didn't mean to, please don't, , ,"

"He's not in any trouble, he's, just worried, he just hopes the men are okay," I cut him off. "Aren't you son?" I asked, brushing Carl's hair. He remained motionless, then lowered his hands from his face and pushed against me. "But they are going to be fine, lots of people get hit by foul balls," I added as I discreetly slipped my handkerchief into his hand.

I resisted the urge to strangle Mike when he countered, "Yeah, but that was wicked! You hit them HARD! I mean it hard, you're getting strong!" he corrected himself, probably from seeing my death glare.

"Strong, these skinny little toothpicks strong?" I quipped as I squeezed his arm. "I think it was just luck, I don't think he could ever get that hard a hit again!" I declared. My taunt worked perfectly. Carl stiffened in my arms and looked up at me, his facial expression all but instantly changing for one of fear to teenage indignation as his lower lip pushed out into his trademark liver-lipped frown.

"Is he alright?" a voice whispered into my ear. When I glanced behind me one of the team's coaches. After I nodded in the affirmative he added, "We are about to resume practice, you're still at bat, Carl."

"You go wash your face, I'll tell the coach you had to use the restroom," I whispered to Carl as the man walked away." He gave me a thankful grin before he darted through the fence gate, his cleats throwing up grass and dirt as he sprinted toward the bathroom, Mike right behind him.

"Are they going to be okay?" I asked Tim when he joined me just outside the fence a few seconds later.

"I'm sure they will, but Ernest's voice seems a couple octaves higher," Tim chuckled. "They were going to body guard Mike, but I forgot about Carl's, , , talent, who's going to protect the cops!?!" he added.

Before I could decide how to answer Mike pushed against my side and flashed a wide smile. I just had time to glance at Tim, wondering if I should send the youngster away so Tim and I could talk, when he hooted, "Look! Carl's gonna bat again!"

Without realizing it I glanced around to see if any policeman were nearby as my youngest son bashfully stepped up to the plate. Tim and I both started snickering as we realized we both had the same thought; he too was looking around for 'Carl Targets'. Thankfully Carl nailed another hard line drive on the first pitch, this time down the first base line and easily made it on base; Mike's cheers and gestures feeding his ego every step down the baseline, he was so busy looking over his shoulder he almost ran out of the baseline and missed the bag. He flashed us an almost blinding silver smile as we all applauded.

"Come here Mike, I want to talk to you for a second," Tim said as the next batter came to the plate.

The youngster stiffened and pushed against me as a response. He grabbed my forearm as I all but slid his dragging feet between Tim and I, ignoring my reassurances. "Do I gotta go now, please, I wanta watch, please? Please, please, can I tell Carl bye?" he whimpered.

"No, you can't tell Carl goodbye, because you're not leaving," Tim answered. "Calm down and listen to me." Tim glanced at me then back at the frightened youngster between us for a second or so. "You are not going anywhere except back to Mister Miller's, Pop's house."

The youngster darted his eyes between us, then out to the field for an instant. "Wow can I? Maybe all weekend?" he exclaimed. "Please Pop, can I?" he all but begged as he looked up at me wide eyed. I opened my mouth to answer, but before I could he turned his gaze to the ground and whimpered, "But my Dad's not gonna let me, he's gonna be totally pissed, I mean mad when he finds out i, , ," he drifted off without finishing his statement.

"I promise your Dad won't object," Tim replied. "But," he started to continue, making Mike stiffen like a board, "It's not for the weekend, I want you to live with Carl and Pop probably for a few days."

Mike and I both remained motionless for a second or so. Thanks for asking first, I thought.

"Can I Pop? Please?" Mike exclaimed. I guess my face answered for me, and he thrust his arm over his head as he let out a high pitched howl. "I gotta go tell Carl!" he proclaimed, bolting out from between us.

Thankfully Tim caught him around his thin waist before he got away. "Let Carl finish practice," the big man snickered as he picked the boy up around the middle, the lad's arms and legs hanging down like ropes.

I had to lower the van's front windows as we left the ballpark, to let at least some of the sound energy out of the cabin as they boys chattered and giggled about Mike staying with us. As I turned into my driveway and the boys flew out of the vehicle like they were propelled by ejection seats I was glad I had thought ahead enough to call ahead and forewarn Dad, but I was please to see he managed to brace himself so that the youngsters didn't knock him over and trample him as they filled him in.

I wondered how to let the boys play and at the same time keep Mike safe, but was relieved that, after they washed up from practice and grabbed a bag of potato chips, they all rushed into the family room to play computer games.

As the sound effects of the powerful lasers and other weapons of mass carnage, clearly indicating mortal battle with evil monsters, or possibly the destruction of entire worlds began softly resonating out of the front room, I started to bring Dad up to date on the morning's adventures, only to be cut off by the doorbell chiming. When I heard the front door open an instant later I knew who it was.

To my surprise both Tim and his wife Judy stepped into the kitchen a second later. "He threw me out Sam, can I stay here for awhile?" Judy asked toward Dad as she gingerly body blocked her husband's arm. She sat a large covered bowl on the table before adding, "He won't take me back until I feed him, can I borrow your pit?"

Dad and I exchanged worried stares until Tim explained that he had a team of CPS workers on the way to his house, that they were going to interview Mike there instead of taking him to their offices. "Hey, if you'll babysit her you can put her to work!" Tim teased as he opened the bowl, revealing several pounds of marinating beef steaks.

"Where's the beer, after this morning I hope YOU have plenty on ice!" I quipped.

"Timmy's loading the ice chest," he answered. "You can keep him as long as you like, forever is fine with me!" he added, earning a soft punch in the ribs from his wife. "Hey dude, I wanted to talk to you about Mike's care, but it just was too crazy."

Mike's care? A few days, until we get this worked out is all, no more kids. I silently gasped. The lyrics from the old rock and roll group The Kinks, '…three's a crowd and four you're dead.' rang into my head.

I was considering how to reply when some movement from the patio distracted me. When I looked out the door Timmy was wrestling his dad's big wheeled ice chest onto the deck. A second later the boy came into the kitchen wearing his headgear and gym shorts, his tee-shirt tucked into the back of his shorts like a tail. "It's here Dad," he panted as he sat two cans of beer on the table.

"Thank you so much Timmy!" I exclaimed as I picked up one of the cans. I savored the boy's wide smile as much as I did his dad's wanting glare as I opened my can. "I'll put this in the 'frig for you, I hope you don't have to work ALL afternoon!" I teased toward Tim as I picked up the other can. "Oh, I'm sorry, I'm sure this was for you!" I said as I turned toward Dad. "Isn't it great to have weekends off!" I tittered, glancing back toward Tim and his long, wanting expression as Dad accepted the can.

I'm not sure if his dad's agitated expression or the lure of the sound effects of another major city being destroyed prompted Timmy, but he vanished from the kitchen.

"What are you doing wearing that shit already?" one of the twins voices drifted from thr front room a minute or so later.

"Keep your voice down, and quit your fuck'n cursing, you're going to bet all of us busted, Asshole!" an identical voice softly barked.

Everyone in the kitchen only risked fleeting glances at each other, I'm sure to keep from cracking up and laughing out loud. I had to take a deep breath, but managed to ask, "Dad, is that the only soap bar we have in the kitchen? Do you have another handy?" Damn, you're good! I congratulated myself as what had been probably the fiercest inter-galactic war mankind has ever suffered instantly entered a silent cease-fire.

After a couple seconds of silence several muffled whispers echoed from the family room. Shortly one, then another skinny youngster disappeared down the hall. A minute or so later Jerry and Jeff peered into the kitchen, from the hall now wearing their headgears and bright red faces. "We put them on early, like the doctor said we should, sir," Jerry blushed.

"We told Carl to too, sir, we knew you would want us to," Jeff meekly announced, giving me a sheepish grin.

I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing as I tried to decide how to respond. "Thank you for being so conscientious, and for reminding your younger brother," I answered, praying I would be able to hide my chuckle. "I wonder though, will a soap bar fit under those things?" I added as I put my finger to my lips.

I hadn't noticed Carl as he stepped into the kitchen until a couple of grunts and whimpers caught my attention. When I glanced over he was frozen in mid-step, with Mike and Timmy still bouncing off his backside much like a chain reaction collision on the highway.

Thankfully, probably for me as much as the twins, Tim's cell phone distracted us. "They're here," he told me after he answered.

"But, you said I can stay here! Please sir!" Mike begged when Tim asked him to walk over to his house with him.

"We are just going across the street, just to talk," Tim replied.

"It's okay, you'll be right back," I reassured the boy. "You go with Mister Young and answer their questions. But please hurry, I have a job for you, something I want you guys to help me with when you come back." My distraction worked well, his frightened face flashed with pride, then quickly changed to a slightly distrusting look. "Nothing terrible, I bet you will like it," I added as I escorted him to the door.

I had to snicker when I turned back toward the kitchen a split second later, it was completely devoid of kids. "They vaporized the instant you turned your back," Dad chuckled. "It was almost like one of those Startrek movies you used to watch!"

"Yeah, but you better check your hallway carpet, as fast as they rounded the corner to their bedroom it might be smoldering," Judy quipped.

A little over a half hour later the front door burst open. "Pop! Carl!" Mike shouted as he rushed into the house. "I don't gotta go back to that school!" he hooted as he slammed against me. "My Dad told them I could stay here now and everything!" he proclaimed, wrapping his long arms around my waist.

Something in Tim's face told me Snyder wasn't given a choice in the matter. "Fantastic, but didn't we tell you that?" I answered. I tried to read more from Tim's face, even though he was avoiding eye contact with me as I hugged the youngster for a second or so.

"They said I get to live here, and I get to go to Carl's school now!" the lad told my chest. He looked up at me with wide eyes before adding, "Well, if you say I can, please Pop, I'll be good and everything?"

"Well, , , of course you can, until we get things worked out," I answered. Thanks Asshole! Thanks for talking to me first! I silently glared at Tim. "Why don't you go tell Carl, I think he's in, one of the bedrooms," I suggested.

"Starting school doesn't sound like a few days," I told Tim after Mike disappeared down the hall. "I hope you're not thinking anything long term, I'm not ready to take on raising still another kid."

"Sorry Dude, I really wanted to talk to you first, but things are just unfolding too fast," Tim answered, still dodging my eyes. "Both of his parents are in jail, and now they have Federal charges against them too, they're going to be there awhile." He took a deep breath as he gave the refrigerator a longing glance. "If I have to, I can put him in shelter, and maybe in a month or two we can find a group home or something for him. But he has some baggage I know you are good at working through. He needs YOUR help, Christian, he is a very frightened kid, you haven't seen even the tip of the iceberg."

Thanks a bunch buddy, make me the asshole, I thought. "You're not suggesting, , ," I began but was almost afraid to finish the thought, much less verbalize it. "God Damn-it! I've got three kids too many already, I want to retire! Why didn't you at least ask me before hand?"

"Because he knew you would say yes," Dad injected.

God, what have I gotten myself into THIS time? I wondered.

To Be Continued…