Title: Home is where the heart is.
Summary: No -- it spoils things
Rating: probably 'G' -- 'PG'
Warnings: There be smarm ahead, mateys! And OTCs
Disclaimers: they're not mine.
Thanks to Taleya who cajoled this out of me over the Christmas period -- when I could write without feeling guilty about not doing my thesis because I was on holiday! Taleya also read it through for those naked, limbo dancing mistakes which I simply *cannot* see. Becky did a superlative job pointing out the booboos and those, like, british-ism/american-ism thingies -- they are sooo pervasive.
Dedication -- this is for Shelly, her computer exploded before Christmas and she fell out of cyberspace and crash landed in Mundania. Eventually <fingers crossed> she'll be able to read these.
Ohh… it might help if you read 'Kith & Kin' -- but if I've done this properly you shouldn't have to.
Home is where the heart is
Jimmy Ellison ran along the road after Stevie as the younger boy dodged in and out the trees lining the drive.
"Sally says that it’s time for your bath."
"NO!" The brat certainly could put on a turn of speed when threatened with a Saturday night bath and bedtime.
Grinning, Jimmy loped after him, scooping up his younger brother clamping him against one hip.
"Bath!" He tickled Stevie’s bare skin as his t-shirt rucked up.
"NO!" Fists drummed against his thigh.
Controlling his squirming brother with ease, Jim sauntered up Shaughnessy Drive towards their home and the dreaded bath.
Jim stopped and turned on his heel. That sounded like a person sneaking up on them.
"Bud?" he ventured. His mentor had probably seen him chasing his younger brother and thought that a little tickling-retaliation was in order.
~cik~ Another twig broke.
Jim concentrated and focused on the tree directed before him. A small shadow in the late evening light stretched a handbreadth behind the tree. The shadow was too small for a fully grown man.
There was a scuffling sound. Slowly, Jim released his brother. Stevie reacted to his unease, staying quiet and close to his big brother.
"Hello?" Jim craned his head to the side, peering around the tree.
A tiny child stood behind the tree, one hand playing against the tree bark, the thumb of his other hand was firmly planted in his mouth. Tousled curls framed his round face. He was barefoot; the cuffs of his dungarees were turned up a couple of times and his big t-shirt sleeves reached past his elbows.
Beseeching blue eyes gazed up at them.
Automatically, Jim dropped to his knees bringing himself to the same level as a toddler. He recognised the child, they had met in the supermarket a week or so ago. The child, named Bear, had been with his mother. They had left in an old, beat-up car.
"Where’s your mommy?" Jimmy asked quietly.
The expressive eyes filled with gleaming tears.
"Do you think he’s run away?" Stevie volunteered.
"He’s just a baby." Jim edged forward carefully, ready to catch him if he ran into the road. "You remember me, don’t you? We met in the store."
The child nodded, his tousled curls bobbing in his eyes.
"Where’s your mommy?" Jim repeated.
"Bad mens." His bottom lip trembled.
Both older boys watched as a single tear trickled down a chubby cheek.
"Bad men?" Stevie tugged at Jim’s sleeve. "What should we do, Jimmy? Jimmy?"
"I don’t know."
"Daddy?" Stevie asked.
Jim resisted the urge to sigh; Dad had been miserable since Mom had gone away – he would probably yell if they took the little boy home. But what could they do? They couldn’t leave a baby all alone outside in the dark.
Another tear joining the first, deciding the matter for the older boy. The little toddler was quiet as he was picked up, leaning trustingly into the older boy’s shoulder. Chubby hands gripped his shirt.
Jimmy hefted him higher. "Dad will understand." He didn’t know to whom he was speaking.
Stevie tagged along at his heels as he carried the child to their home.
Sally was standing on the back step waiting for her charges. Seeing the three boys she ran down the back stairs.
"What happened? Who is he? Is he hurt?" Her questions raced back and forth as she crouched down to peer at the toddler held securely in the oldest boy’s arms.
"We found him!" Stevie bounced up and down on his heels. "Well, Jimmy found him."
The toddler hid his face in Jim’s shirt, refusing to relinquish his grasp when Sally attempted to pry him away.
"He doesn’t want to let go, Sally!"
"It’s late." Sally straightened and stared, necessarily, at the setting sun. "We better call the police. Someone will be looking for him."
"Pigs," a little voice said sagely.
Sally’s jaw dropped open.
"I saw his mommy in the store last week. She had red hair, bleached blond." Jimmy informed the housekeeper, diverting her.
"In. In. In." At sixes and sevens, Sally shepherded them into the kitchen.
The little boy was heavy. Jim sagged onto a kitchen chair and the baby shifted to sit on his lap. He refused to look up, maintaining his tight grip on shirt, face burrowed into his shoulder.
"Daddy will be mad." Stevie glued himself to Jimmy’s shoulder and gazed up at the housekeeper, face filled with trepidation.
"Your father was called away. I will phone the police."
Jimmy breathed a sigh of relief and the little boy looked up at the strange noise. The big blue eyes gathered him in. The misery in them touched him to the quick. Clumsily, Jim rubbed his back.
"Where’s your mommy?"
"Mommy was took," the little lip quivered. New tears threatened to fall.
"I’m going to inform the police." Sally suited actions to word heading into the den to call the authorities.
"Can we keep him?" Stevie asked. "I want to be the big brother."
"He has a mommy. She’ll want him back. We can’t have him." The baby peered out from under his veil of curls squint at the other boy.
"Hiya." Stevie leaned forwards and grinned.
The toddler smiled, tentatively, back at him, but remained firmly ensconced in Jimmy’s lap snuggling in for the duration.
"Where’s your mommy?" Jim tried again.
He watched horrified as the baby’s bottom lip began to quiver again. "Bad mens. Pigs. I WANT MY MOMMY," the last was wailed out and he began to cry.
The baby sobbed heartrendingly; unconsciously Jimmy gathered him in and began rocking. "It’s okay, I’ll find your mommy. I promise. I do, I promise."
That dried up the tears. "I want my mommy," he said quietly.
"I rang the police." Sally re-entered the kitchen, rubbing her hands together fretfully. "They are on their way."
"Pigs." Chubby arms wrapped around Jim’s neck. "Want Mommy. Plese?"
A heavy head rested in the hollow between his neck and shoulder. Jimmy shifted him in his arms, supporting a well-padded bottom so the child was held securely.
Stevie remained glued to his side, trying to cajole a giggle or at least a smile from the baby.
And Jim rocked back and forth soothing his charge.
The sheriff trooped into the kitchen behind Sally. In the meantime the little boy had succumbed to the rocking and was fast asleep drooling on his shoulder.
"Is that him?" The Sheriff reached down to take the baby.
"NO," Jim growled.
Sheriff Kovac stopped dead. "It’s okay," he placated, reaching out again. "Mrs Kovac will look after him tonight and we’ll hand him over to the social worker in the morning."
"No! He’s asleep. He can stay here. He can stay in my room."
"Jimmy," Sally began.
"No. No… Daddy is away, he won’t know. Please, Sally. He’ll wake up and he’ll be scared."
Sally crouched down next to him. "Jimmy, how do you know that? It’s best that the police look after him. They have to find out where his mother is."
"I met his Mom last week."
Sheriff Kovac crouched on his other side. "Do you know her name?"
Jim shook his head. "I saw her in the store. She was hungry; she…uh… bought some beans. She was pretty, with blond hair, but it was bleached – ‘cos it had been red."
"What was she wearing, son?"
"Green flares and a purple tie-dyed top. He," Jim joggled his charge, "was wearing an embroidered vest and jeans."
Sheriff Kovac gently brushed back the boy’s curtain of ringlets to reveal an upturned nose and pursed lips.
"He’s clean and looks well looked after."
"He said bad mens took his mommy," Stevie piped up.
"Really." The Sheriff’s brow furrowed, his bushy eyebrows meeting in the middle. "Where are his shoes?"
"He didn’t have them, sir," Jim said politely.
The Sheriff examined the soles of the boy’s feet; they were a little grubby. "Didn’t walk very far." He stood shifting his considerable bulk. "Sally, it would be easier if you looked after the little boy; Mrs Kovac was up with the baby all last night, she thinks he’s coming down with some sort of baby thing and it looks like I’m going to be making house to house calls looking for a missing lady with my inept deputy."
"Ill?" Sally wrung her hands together uneasily. Jimmy could practically read her mind: she didn’t want to upset Mr Ellison but she didn’t want the toddler to get sick. "I suppose Mr Ellison won’t mind, if it *is* only temporary."
Sheriff Kovac looked the housekeeper directly in the eye and Sally had the grace to look abashed.
"He’s away," she clarified.
"Do you know the little boy’s name, Jimmy?"
"No, sir." He couldn’t say ‘Bear’ as it wasn’t a real name.
"Okay." The Sheriff stood, resetting his paunch over his gun belt. "I’ll pop ‘round first thing tomorrow morning to tell you what’s happening. Hopefully, we’ll find this little boy’s mommy and get them back together."
Sally saw the Sheriff out, leaving the three boys in the kitchen.
"Can he stay in my room, Jimmy? Can he? Can he?"
"No," Jim said seriously. "I’ve got bunk beds. He can have the lower bunk; ‘cos he smaller."
"Aw." Stevie stubbed his toe.
"He’d have to sleep on your floor, Stevie. It’s for the best."
Stephen couldn’t argue in the face of that logic, but he looked pretty disgruntled.
"Jimmy?" Sally stood over them. "I want to give him a bath before I put him to bed." She held out her arms.
Reluctantly the young sentinel passed the toddler over to the housekeeper.
Jimmy awoke to a weird scrunching sound. Perplexed, he rolled onto his side and peered over the side of the bunk bed. The toddler was standing next to the dresser, slowly and surely making his way through the box of Turkish Delight that Jim’s father had brought back from his last business trip abroad. Jim watched half disgusted and half entranced as the boy sucked the icing sugar off the jellied sweeties and then carefully placed them back in the little paper holders.
"Hello," Jim said finally.
He looked up with a sugary smile. "Dim!"
Jim slithered down from the top bunk. Gently, he poked the child with his index finger. "They were my sweeties."
"Nith." He was treated to another bright smile. Generously, the boy gave Jim a handful of slimy confectionery.
Grimacing, Jim stood holding his hand as far away from his body as possible. The toddler tagged along his heels as Jim hurried to the bathroom. Once de-sticked he turned his attention to the rugrat. Stevie’s t-shirt doubling as a night-shirt almost reached his ankles, white icing sugar dusted his nose and there was jelly in his curly hair. Jimmy tried, futilely, to control it with his fingers. The baby laughed at his attempts.
Jim gave up and wrestled him out of the t-shirt. Freed of the enfolding t-shirt, Bear made a toddling-dash for the corridor. Jim caught him under his arms and swung him into the air.
"No baff," he giggled.
"Jimmy?" Stevie wandered into the bathroom knuckling his eyes. "Wow! Naked baby. I thought that Sally gave him a bath last night?"
"He’s all sticky."
"You like being clean too much," Stevie mimicked their Aunt Adele.
"Do you want him touching your Robbie the Robot?" Jim countered.
"No way!" Stevie beetled out the door. "I’m going to get brea’fast. And am gonna tell Sally that you’re drow’ing the baby."
"Are too," the younger boy’s voice echoed up the staircase.
"Will not," Jim addressed the toddler, who smiled up at him trustingly.
The bath filled with bubbles was an instant success. Jim looked like a drowned rat. Another wave of water engulfed him like a tidal wave. It didn’t help matters that Sally was laughing at him from the doorway.
"He was dirty!" Jim protested.
"Baf!" The toddler slapped his palm flat against the water. Jim had soaped his curls into a pixie cap.
"There’s too much water in the bath." Sally said astutely.
Chortling merrily, the toddler slapped the chest high water again, sending another wave over the hapless proto-sentinel. As Jimmy tried to dry himself off, the baby grabbed a bottle of shampoo and dumped it in the bubbles.
"Sally!" Jimmy wailed
Taking pity on him Sally took over. Jim beat a hasty retreat back to his room.
Their guest toddled into the kitchen. He was wearing his freshly laundered blue dungarees with another of Stevie’s old t-shirts. His feet were bare. Sally chased after him with an old pair of Stevie’s shoes.
"I don’t think he likes wearing shoes."
Adding credence to her words the toddler ducked under the table. Leaning over, Jim poked his head under the table. The baby sat in the centre amidst the chair legs sucking his thumb.
"Come here." Jim held out his hand.
Plainly contemplating his options the rugrat stayed under the table, thumb planted firmly in his mouth.
"I’ve got corn flakes," Jim cajoled. That had little effect.
"Coco-pops?" Stevie tried.
"Oooooh. " The baby grinned toothily. The light shone in his eyes. Happy as a pig in the mud, Stevie hauled the baby onto his lap. From his new vantage point the toddler surveyed his domain. Jim glared at them. How could he abandon him for his younger brother? The baby wielded Stevie’s spoon with a certain savoir faire; some of the cereal even went in his mouth. Getting splattered, Stevie started to help the toddler, whom smiled up at him, appreciatively.
"Choc’lat," he lisped.
Sally was just about to help when the phone rang in the conservatory.
"That must be the police. Keep an eye on them," she ordered.
That wasn’t fair! Why was he always left in charge? Stevie smirked at him through his own chocolate moustache as he carefully shovelled Coco-pops and chocolate flavoured milk into an open mouth. Jim growled at them.
Abruptly fed-up, the baby pushed Stevie’s hand away. "Mommy?" He sniffed miserably looking around.
Jim reacted to the change in his new toy. The little face was a picture in misery. He idly banged Stevie’s spoon against the table.
"Mommy?" he sniffled again.
"Where did you see Mommy last?" Jimmy asked gravely.
"Bang," he said judiciously. "Bang, bang." His rosebud lips pursed together as he tried to whistle. "Pigs!"
"Why can’t he tell us properly? How old is he, Jimmy?" Stevie peered around this new friend trying to see his face.
Jimmy shrugged. The baby didn’t talk much apart from the occasional word, which he usually said wrong. He was just a little baby. "Dunno."
"How is he?" Another voice caught his attention.
Jim honed in on Sally’s conversation with the Sheriff.
"I checked him over thoroughly, Sheriff Kovac, he’s been well looked after – nobody has hurt him."
"Has he said anything?" That was the Sheriff’s voice.
"The child doesn’t say much; apart talking about pigs. I do *not* know what that means."
"Hmmm. I called social services – someone should come around and see you today and collect the boy."
"That is a pity. The boys are enjoying playing with him. I suppose that it’s for the best."
"When is Mr Ellison due back?"
Giggling distracted Jimmy for a moment. He glared at the two younger boys and then focused intently.
"…beginning of the week."
"Are you sure you can’t look after him?"
"Local social services are overrun. There was a demonstration down on Claremont protesting the Vietnam War, there were some threats and there was a raid at their commune. A number of children were taken into care, the foster homes in the area are full." The Sheriff played his final card. "He’ll be shunted around back and forth."
"Oh…. Really? We could keep him until Tuesday morning," she said reluctantly.
A soft pat disturbed his concentration. The toddler had crawled across the table and was patting his cheek. Jim squinted at the curly headed tot, who bounced from side to side with a frankly mischievous grin on his face.
"We get to keep you," Jim said gleefully.
"Forever?" Stevie echoed the child’s eager rocking.
The baby struggled to stand, then turned and launched himself into Jim’s arms.
"No, no, no. For the weekend," Jimmy answered as he juggled the squirming toddler.
"So what are we going to do?" Stevie asked.
"What?" Jim settled the rugrat on his lap and gave him a piece of fruit. He was rewarded with a sloppy kiss that missed his cheek and hit his jaw.
"Ewwww!" Stevie made gagging sounds.
"Grow up, brat." Jim glowered at his brother as he wiped at the offending slime.
Stevie took his tongue out. "We gotta find his Mommy. We gotta find the piggy people."
"Yeah." Stevie became animated. "The piggy people who took his mommy. It’s like an adventure. Like Hal and Roger from the Adventure Books."
"Piggy people. Blu piggy people. Mommy yelled at them. Bad mens took Mommy." The baby batted Jim’s hair with chubby hands.
"Where?" Jim tried.
The full bottom lip trembled. A fat tear trickled down his cheek. "I want my mommy. Nomi gone." He sagged against Jim’s shoulder and sniffled.
"Nomi’s your mommy?"
"Nomi gone. Piggy people said wrong and Mommy yelled an’ spat an’… cried. Nomi mad!"
"Shhhush," Jimmy soothed. "We’ll find your mom."
"Nomi? What sort of name is Nomi?" Stevie asked.
Jim gently rubbed the little boy’s rounded tummy. "Maybe ‘Nomi’ means ‘Mommy’ and he’s not saying it properly."
"So we gonna find her? Find her? You said we would. It’s a mystery."
Jimmy looked down at the toddler clinging to his shirt. Big, sad blue eyes gazed back at him.
"Yes," Jim said deliberately, "I promised."
"No, no, no, no, no…" The baby squirmed away. Jim caught him by the shoulder straps of his dungarees and deposited him back on the porch step.
Jim blinked painfully as the high screech reverberated in his ears. Stevie had backed away to the far end of the yard and was watching them with an appalled expression on his face.
"Listen." Jim poked the teddy bear decal on the front pocket of the boy’s dungarees. "You have to wear shoes; there’s glass and stones and doggy do an’ stuff on the sidewalk – we can’t find your Nomi if you don’t wear shoes."
The little face scrunched up sullenly, but he offered a bare foot to the young sentinel.
"Good." Jim smiled. He tweaked a big toe. "This little piggy went to market and this little piggy stayed at home…"
The baby giggled through the nursery rhyme, laughing widely when the littlest piggy went home and Jimmy tickled his sides.
"‘gain!" he demanded.
Jimmy acquiesced and then wrestled an old pair of socks and sneakers onto the toddler.
"Ready?" he held out his hand.
The little hand fit neatly in his.
"Where are we going? Where are we going?" Stevie bounced to their side now that the battle of wills was over.
"The sheriff was right," Jim said thoughtfully. "He couldn’t have walked very far. So I guess we look close to home."
Jim clamped his hands over the legs wrapped around his neck effectively stopping the little heels drumming against his collarbones. It hadn’t taken their charge very long to become tired of walking.
"Dim, good. Find Nomi, good boy." The toddler secured himself by gripping Jimmy’s ears.
"Lucky that you’ve got big ears." Stevie laughed.
His tribe were less than enthusiastic an hour and a half later and his ears were hurting.
"Where now?" Stevie asked, with a distinct whine in his voice.
They had covered Shaughnessy Drive; spoken to Mrs. Gupka in the convenience store; walked all along Russell Street; wandered around the park and retraced their path to home. Nobody they had spoken to had recognised the child.
Jimmy pried the baby off his ears, set him on his feet and held out his hand. The toddler glared at the older boy truculently, before casually gripping the offered hand.
"I don’t know." It was almost time for lunch; Sally would be expecting them.
"What about," Stevie looked around furtively, "the witch?"
They hadn’t tried the old house at the corner of Russell and their street. The witch was well known she had a cauldron and everything. She chopped wood in her back garden and ate children. Lots of children went into the house and were never seen again.
Grimacing, Jimmy glared up at the dilapidated old building with its peeling paintwork. It was easy to imagine spooky music with horrible creaks and groans. One of the neighbourhood dares was to creep into the gardens and knock the door before running away.
"If he escaped from there I don’t think we should take him back."
"Eeeek!" Stevie squealed and ducked behind his big brother. The baby was rooted to the spot, quaking.
Terrified, Jim turned. A rotund ancient, old lady - of at least forty five - complete with a frilly apron and a black dress held a knife as she hovered over a gnarly mass of rosebushes. She raised herself onto her tiptoes and peered over the hedge.
"I think he belongs to me?"
"She’s going to eat the baby!" Stevie screamed and bolted.
Jimmy was one step behind him, the baby squeezed against his chest.
Jimmy caught his brother by the scruff of the neck before he could run and blurt out everything to Sally.
Stevie twisted in his grasp. "She’ll get us!" he howled.
"No! We got away," Jimmy said between gasps. Despite his small size the toddler was a chunky weight.
They ducked behind the south side of the house’s wooden deck as the witch walked down the opposite side of the road, huffing and puffing as she tried to find them.
"Nasty bint." A little voice piped up. Jimmy clamped his hand over the child’s mouth.
"Bint?" Stevie whispered.
"I don’t know. But *don’t* say it to Sally."
Stevie’s eyes gleamed.
"Bin’," the baby wiggled out from under Jim’s hand.
"Sshhh?" Jim held a finger to his lips.
"Smack. Bad. She did. Nomi. Want Nomi. Nomi Mommy." He planted his hands on Jimmy’s chest. "Love Nomi. Want Mommy. Not bint. Wan away."
"He ran away from the witch," Stevie said breathlessly.
They ran around the side of the house ducking into the basement and entering the kitchen through the back staircase. Sally looked up from icing a cake as they burst into her domain.
"Where have you been? I made lunch half an hour ago."
"We’ve been playin’." Stevie dropped into his seat at the kitchen table as Jimmy took his customary seat opposite the smaller boy. The older boy opted to remain silent rather than joining in the lie. The toddler remained on Jim’s lap.
"Cheese on toast," Sally announced. She left the chocolate cake partly iced and lit the grill where the cheese covered bread waited to be seared.
Jimmy blew on a piece of toast and then offered it to the toddler.
"Fank you." He munched on it blissfully.
A knock on the kitchen door disturbed them. The family looked up as Sheriff Kovac let himself into the kitchen.
"Good afternoon." He touched the rim of his stetson.
"Sheriff," Sally greeted, she automatically stood and reached for the coffee pot.
"Thank you," he said, inhaling appreciatively at the rich dark brew. He settled himself at the far end of the table. He smiled at their expressions, as they obviously waited for him to speak.
"I do believe we know where this little mite came from." He leaned over and chucked the toddler under the chin.
"Yes?" Jimmy shifted, unobtrusively, out of reach.
The Sheriff pretended not to notice. "There were some arrests the other day. I’m fairly sure that this little boy was taken into protective custody and placed in a temporary foster home. We were looking at this the wrong way. We were trying to find a place to put him until we found his mommy when he already had a place to stay but had ran away."
"Where’s his mommy, then?" Stevie demanded. "What about the piggy people?"
"Ah, the ‘pigs’? His mommy had to talk to the police for a little while so Mrs Clark was looking after him."
"Mrs Clark?" Jimmy asked darkly.
"She’s a nice lady who looks after little boys. She lives on the corner of Russell…"
"THE WITCH!" Stevie screamed, appalled. "She eats kids!" He jumped off his seat and ran to the housekeeper.
A chair clattered to the floor as Jimmy launched himself to his feet. The toddler’s arms automatically wrapped around his neck. He backed away until he stopped against the dining room door.
"Lots of kids go in there and they’re never seen again," Jimmy said truculently. "Daddy didn’t believe me when I told him. But I saw two little girls one week and then another day I saw her with a baby. And I never saw them again. Daddy said I didn’t see it."
The Sheriff had also risen to his feet. He smiled down at the boys reassuringly. "Mrs Clark is a short term fosterer. That means that she looks after children for a few days, sometimes just over night, while the … social services try and find a better place for the babies. That’s why you only see boys and girls for a little while. She was looking after this little one and he ran away."
Jimmy shifted to the side as the Sheriff reached out. "How long did it take her to realise that?" he growled.
The Sheriff was obviously flummoxed by the question. He shook his head, his jowly cheeks jiggling.
"We’ve had him a *whole* day," Jim pointed out shrewdly.
The Sheriff was not stupid, just exhausted due to the arrival of a new baby and overworked. "She called the office about half an hour ago."
"Bear said she smacked him."
"He ran away ‘cos she smacked him," Stevie added from the safety of Sally’s arms.
Jimmy gently covered the toddler’s mouth before he could offer his assessment of the situation. The older boy plainly heard the –possibly– rude word.
"Maybe he was naughty?" Sheriff Kovac raised his hand imploringly. "Mrs Clark is supposed to be looking after him, at least until we find him a new mommy and daddy."
"He’s got a mommy," Jimmy said angrily. "He wants his real mommy."
"Look, I promise to talk to Mrs Clark and find out what happened. But we have to return the little boy to her."
"NO!" Dodging the Sheriff, Jim ducked smoothly into the dining room. He was out of the front door before the lumbering police officer could catch up with him. Once out on the front street he found himself at a quandary. What could he do? The toddler gripped his shirt with his little fists, obviously terrified. How could he let Mrs Clark have him?
"I won’t let her get you."
The heartfelt call sounded as if it came from a hundred miles away.
Jim’s ears pricked up; he recognised the voice from when he had met the toddler’s mother in the supermarket. Urgently, he cast about trying to hear from where it was coming.
"SWEETIE, WHERE ARE YOU?"
North, Jim decided and set off running down the street. He could hear Sheriff Kovac lumbering at his heels. But the Sheriff had left his patrol car at the back of the house.
Breathing harshly, the young Sentinel ran down Shaughnessy Drive. He could hear the Sheriff at one end of the street bellowing down his radio that little Jimmy Ellison had ran off with the mystery baby and at the other he could hear the toddler’s mother sobbing.
He stumbled to a halt at the crossroads, exhausted. The toddler was deathly silent as he clung to him, struck dumb with fear.
At a much slower pace, he stumbled up the street towards the centre of town. Then ahead of him an old jalopy kangarooed around the corner.
"BABY!" The voice was so much closer.
The toddler’s head whipped around as if shot. Unerringly, he focused on the woman practically falling out of the car before it had stopped.
"Nomi!" he wailed. "Nomi!"
"Oh, baby. I found you."
Jimmy felt himself engulfed baby and all by a sweet smelling vision in purple.
"Oh, oh, by the Goddesses. I found you." Jimmy held the baby firmly as the woman checked the child over. The toddler was babbling and crying, his chubby little hands grasping for his mother.
"Thank you. Thank you. I’ve been so scared." She pried the baby out of his arms. "I thought I’d never see you again. I thought that the pigs had taken you away forever."
"What happened?" Jim said, it was almost an accusation.
"There was a protest and they raided the house when we were out." She cried as she peppered the toddler’s face with kisses.
"Nomi. Nomi." The toddler’s smile was incandescent.
"They said I wasn’t a good mother." She hugged her son. "It was wrong. I am responsible. I am! I found you. I came straight here."
"How did you know where to look?" Jimmy asked curiously.
"I used a pendulum." Sighing happily, she nuzzled her son’s curls; he cooed contentedly. "It told me where to come."
Jimmy heard the words but they didn’t make much sense.
A wailing siren interrupted them. Sheriff Kovac’s vehicle came screaming to a halt beside them. Belying his weight, the man leaped out of his car.
The woman froze, plainly caught between running away and jumping into her old car.
"He’s mine!" she cried.
"Miss…" Kovac began.
"No. We have a right to protest. We weren’t doing anything wrong. You can’t take people’s babies away because you don’t like their parents."
"Social services said that no one was looking after the children," the Sheriff said patiently as he made his way around the car towards them.
"That’s a lie. We left Mamma Tanner looking after them, I would *never* leave my baby alone." She held out one hand preventing the Sheriff coming any closer.
The Sheriff froze, his body language proclaiming that he was trying to be calm and reasonable. "Why don’t we go down the station and talk about this?"
"No. You talk nice. But you lie. You’ll take my baby away. I’ve got him back now and I’m not letting him go." She slowly edged towards her car.
"Miss, be reasonable."
"Or what? Are you going to shoot me? What can you threaten me with? You want to take away the most important thing in my life. No judge is going to let me keep him. I’m an unwed hippie with a bastard. I’m surprised you pigs don’t tar and feather me, or at least paint me with a scarlet letter. He’s the be all and end all of my existence. I love him and you can’t have him." She dashed away hot tears with her free hand. The toddler reached up and stroked his mother’s cheek, upset and mirroring her tears.
She finally made it to her car. Slowly, she reached for the door.
The Sheriff made one hesitant step forward.
"If you want him you’ll have to kill me to get him," she said, overwrought.
"Don’t say that. I just want to help. You’re plainly upset. I see that you love your boy. But…"
"No! You’re patronising me. He’s my son. You’re just judging me on the basis of your small, misogynistic, nazi mind."
"I can’t let you go."
"You can’t stop me." She shifted her son onto her hip and ducked into the car.
The Sheriff reached for his gun, but left it in its holster. An uncomfortable motion.
"Thank you," the lady said through a veil of tears.
She carefully placed her son in the passenger seat.
The mother started the engine and she pulled away from the side of the road with a quick economical motion.
Jim watched his heart in his mouth. What was the Sheriff going to do?
Growling under his breath, the Sheriff took out his notebook and jotted down the licence plate of the old car.
"What am I going to do with you, son?" he asked Jim.
"He said that Mrs Witch smacked him and he kept crying for his mom," Jimmy said by way of explanation.
"You don’t make it easy, do you?"
Jimmy shrugged and allowed the Sheriff to guide him to the patrol car. He settled next to the rotund Sheriff.
"So what you gonna do now, sir?"
"Well, she’s breaking the law. You understand that, don’t you, son? But I couldn’t grab her when she had the little boy. I’ll put out a bulletin on the car and alert social services. She’s a bit highly strung but under the circumstances I can hardly blame her. Don’t worry we’ll sort it out" Sheriff Kovac shook his head from side to side. He absently patted Jim’s knee. "I also think I should have a quiet word with Mrs Clark – there’s something wrong there."
"Yeah." Jim pushed his nose up against the car window watching the old, beat-up jalopy until it was far out of sight.
Tears in his eyes, the toddler raised his hand and brought his fingers down all at once in a curtailed wave. He spoke only to Jim, "Bye bye, Dim, love you."
"Uhn?" The student looked up just long enough to push his glasses up his nose and then returned to his journal and notebooks. He had been studying for several hours, half of his attention on the television the other half caught by his textbook. He looked impossibly young as he nibbled on the end of his pencil. And then there was the candy…
"Were you ever…"
Jim scratched the side of his neck. His guide and partner sat cross-legged leaning over the coffee table as read up on the tribal protectors of the Sioux. As the detective watched, he abandoned his pencil and absently grabbed yet another sugar covered candy from the box at his side. He carefully sucked off the sugar coating before swallowing.
"Was I what, Jim?"
"I thought you weren’t listening?"
"I can do two things at once. It’s called multi-tasking."
"I thought only women could do that."
"No," Blair said, not rising to the mock-insulting tone. "It’s a useful talent. And you’re right; it’s usually a woman thing. You know, men are more likely to be autistic than women."
Jim sagged back and stared up at the ceiling, somewhat thrown by the non sequitur.
"Was I what, Jim?" he repeated patiently.
Realising that they were back on track, Jim asked, "were you ever put in foster care?"
Blair stopped what he was doing and cast a leery glance at the Sentinel. "What? What brought that up?"
Jim shrugged, watching as the student sucked another candy to extinction before swallowing.
"Kind of," Blair answered eventually. "There was some kind of protest when I was a little baby… There was a woman… Shit man, I think I was two or three, I don’t remember. Naomi never wanted to talk about it; we went underground for about four years after it happened. Why? Are you trying to find out about my upbringing and what warped things made me the man I am today?"
"I remember being afraid of this witchy woman," Blair laughed off his words. "And then I found … a…," he looked perplexed at the Sentinel, "someone who looked after me until Nomi found me."
"Nomi?" Jim questioned breathlessly.
"Naomi. I couldn’t say it when I was little, so I called her Nomi."
Jim started to laugh.
"What’s the matter?" Blair twisted uncomfortably, as he tried to figure out what he was missing. "Jim?"
"Do you still lick the icing sugar off Turkish Delight?"
"’course I do. I don’t normally eat the jelly, though, it tastes weird. Hang on, how did you know that I don’t like Turkish Delight? "
"Oh, Chief, have I got a story to tell you…"