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Break and Enter
by Etienne

Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
Description: An Avondale Story - Book 3 George Martin and his partner Mike live a comfortable life in Jacksonville with their Irish Setter, but something's missing. Maybe George, a captain in the sheriff's office, has just been working too hard again. There's been a rash of break-ins in the area, and the homes targeted all seem to belong to older gay men. Then when the time finally comes for George and Mike to take their vacation, they pack up and head to their mountain cabin for two weeks--only to find a small boy living in their generator shed. Robbie, who bonds with George right away, had witnessed an unspeakable tragedy, but that is just the beginning of the trouble. Alone in the world apart from a very ill maternal grandmother, Robbie stands the very real risk of becoming a ward of the state if George and Mike can't convince a bigoted judge to change his mind. Meanwhile, George still has a job to do: solve the mystery of the break-ins--and a murder--and track down who's responsible.
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, 2011 2011
eBookwise Release Date: July 2011

eBookeBook

7 Reader Ratings:
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Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [287 KB]
Words: 65505
Reading time: 187-262 min.


Prologue

The night was dark and overcast, and the large trees in front of the house very nearly blocked all the illumination from the streetlight at the end of the block. A dark-clad figure slipped out of the alley and into the backyard of the house, keeping close to the dense shrubbery. He slipped between a thick row of azaleas and the house and peeked into the first-floor window, which he knew opened into the library/den, and saw that the room was dark, as was the rest of the house. He had, in fact, watched its sole occupant drive away some minutes earlier, but he was naturally cautious.

Stupid old fuck, the burglar thought as he carefully eased the window open, using his gloved fingers. He always goes out on Thursday evenings, and he always locks the doors, but never the windows. Serves him right. When the window had been pushed open far enough, he slipped over the sill and closed the window behind him.

Payback time, he thought as he leisurely walked through the house, placing small and easily sold or pawned valuables into one of the two bags he had brought along for the purpose. He'd allowed himself to be picked up by the owner a few weeks earlier in one of the gay bars, and had spent a weekend allowing the pathetic old queen to suck his dick and slobber all over him as often as he liked. During the course of that long and miserable weekend, he had spotted enough goodies to make it all worthwhile.

Thirty minutes later, he carefully eased his two bags of booty onto the ground outside the library/den window. Then he slipped out through the window, quietly closed it from the outside, gathered his bags, and disappeared into the night.

* * * *

Chapter One

It was Friday afternoon, and I was more than ready for the weekend as I settled down at my desk after attending an interminable meeting on the top floor of our building. At times like this, I almost wished that the sheriff hadn't adopted a more personal and "hands-on" management style, but I fully understood the need to make a complete break from the somewhat hidebound and autocratic approach his immediate predecessors had taken to law enforcement. The late and totally unlamented undersheriff had been a prime example of the previous regime. The man had been a "by the book" clown--and not very bright.

I had heard my boss say of the former undersheriff that "an original idea and a cold drink of water would have killed him." Stupid or not, it had taken the sheriff more than a year to ease the guy out of the hierarchy.

A knock on my open door roused me from my self-pity, and I heard a familiar voice say, "Got a minute, Captain?"

"For you, Lieutenant, always. Come in and have a seat."

Janet Sanchez settled down in one of my side chairs. Still on the good side of forty (barely), she was fairly trim and not unattractive. Her somewhat unique Cuban/Irish heritage had contributed to her appearance, which was vaguely Hispanic and slightly exotic.

"What's up, Janet?"

"Same old, same old. We're still trying to wrap up the big case."

"And?"

"I still have more body parts and videos than I have bodies."

A few months earlier, we had shut down a huge pornography operation that had included, in addition to the usual hard core XXX-rated gay porn, snuff and torture films, and Lieutenant Sanchez, formerly Sergeant Sanchez, was still tallying the results. Even Janet, with all her research skills, had not come up with a final body count--simply because in some cases, we had body parts and/or porn films that couldn't be tied to a specific victim due to the fact that all the bodies had yet to be located.

"Still?"

The raid on a house on the extreme northern edge of the city had produced a ton of cash, a cache of porn/snuff/torture films on DVD, and numerous specimen jars containing male genitalia.

"Yes, Sir. As you know, those guys were meticulous about marking their trophies and their videos with names and dates. The problem is they used only nicknames in many cases."

"Lieutenant, I know you like to dot your i's and cross your t's so you can close a case with everything all neat and tidy. That being said, you have to understand that sometimes it just isn't possible."

"I realize that, at some level, but I still don't like it."

"You don't have to like it. The bottom line is that we made a major bust and, in so doing, solved a couple dozen murders. It's time to shut it down and move on. Leave the mop-up to the FBI--they've got more manpower than we do, and a much bigger budget."

"But--"

At that point, I cut her off. "But nothing. Shut it down and close the file by the end of the day Monday--it's time to move on."

"Yes, Sir," she said, somewhat reluctantly.

"If it makes you feel any better, after Monday you're not going to have any spare time to devote to old cases for a while."

"Why? What's happening?"

"I can't tell you anything else right now. You'll have to wait until our Monday afternoon meeting."

"Yes, Sir," she said with visible reluctance as she got up to leave my office.

That little exchange was probably the high point of my day, and I was ready for home, hearth, and some TLC as I got into my city-issued car, but even that didn't come about quite as I had hoped. The minute I opened the back door of our house, I was greeted by Thor, our resident Irish Setter, himself in need of TLC as he rolled over on his back and demanded a belly rub.

In the master bedroom, I stripped and headed for the shower. Stepping under the hot spray, I closed my eyes and allowed the water to wash away the tension. I must have zoned out for a minute, because I was jolted to a state of alertness by a pair of very friendly arms encircling me from behind.

"Finally," I said.

"Finally?" Mike, my partner, parroted.

"Babe, I came home in dire need of TLC--I hope you're going to deliver."

"You bet."

He delivered--in spades--first in the shower, and again in the bedroom. By the time we were both sated, it was too late to go to the wine shop in Five Points and join our impromptu tasting group, so we opted to stay home and order a pizza. We settled down on the enclosed porch of our house to enjoy our pizza and a bottle of Shiraz, and between us, we managed to demolish the bottle of wine and most of a large pizza. Thor, of course, got his share of crusts and bits and pieces.

As I finished my last slice, I said, "I wonder how long we'll be able to keep this up?"

"Keep what up?"

"Eating pizza and other fattening foods. We're not getting any younger."

"Babe, as long as we keep up our exercise schedule, I don't think we're in any danger of getting fat."

"Maybe, but I read somewhere that after you pass thirty, your body doesn't process food as efficiently as it used to."

"Only if you're a couch potato. Besides, all you have to do is look at our vitals."

"Our vitals?"

"We're still holding our own at one ninety, an appropriate weight for guys who are a couple of inches over six feet tall, and we still wear the same size clothes we've worn for years. How many guys our age do we know that can honestly say that? For that matter, how many guys our height, weight, and age still have thirty-four-inch waists?"

"Okay, I give up. We can still eat the occasional pizza without guilt."

"Damn straight."

The next morning we went, as usual, to the Y on Riverside Avenue. As soon as we were dressed in running shorts and shoes, we headed out to perform a local ritual known as "running the bridges." This involved running across the St. Johns River via the Acosta Bridge, a high-rise span whose approaches were separated from the YMCA complex by a couple of office buildings. On the other side of the river, we followed a side street to the Main Street Bridge, which was an old-style elevator bridge, and ran across it to the north bank of the river. Then we turned around and retraced our steps. It was a good workout, especially the somewhat steep up-ramp to the Acosta Bridge on the return journey.

Back in the locker room, we removed our sweat-soaked shorts and retrieved Speedos from our bags. Wearing the Speedos, we took a brief shower before swimming a few laps in the pool to cool down, and from the pool, we went to the steam room for a bit. After yet another shower, we went back into the locker room, ready to get dressed.

Before we could dress, Mike led me to the room adjacent to the main locker room that held a row of vanities and mirrors, complete with hair dryers and other accessories. He pulled his towel from around his waist, hung it on a hook, and stepped onto the scales.

Looking at the huge circular display, he said, "It says here that I can afford to have a high-calorie breakfast."

He stepped off the scales and I took his place. "So can I," I said, reading the display.

"Admit it, babe, that pizza last night didn't do any damage."

"Perhaps, but I'm not going to throw caution to the winds."

We went back to our lockers, retrieved our clothes, and got dressed. Ten minutes later, we were waiting for a table at the Derby House restaurant in Five Points. Situated on a triangular-shaped lot where two of the five streets that gave Five Points its name met, the building had housed a restaurant for decades. In recent years, as the neighborhoods of Riverside and Avondale became heavily gay, the Derby House had become a sort of gay hangout, especially on the weekends.

We had been at our table just long enough to have been handed menus by the waitress when Carl and Jim joined us. Carl was a rather cute redhead in his twenties who had recently been promoted from detective to sergeant, and reported to Janet Sanchez. Jim, his partner, was a CPA who had left one of the big national firms in the not-too-distant past to start his own practice.

"Hi, guys," I said. "Fancy meeting you here."

"Yeah," Jim said. "Imagine that."

In point of fact, we ran into Carl and Jim almost every weekend, either at the Derby House at breakfast, or across the street at the Pizza Italian in the evening.

We spent the rest of the weekend relaxing, so I was somewhat refreshed when I got to my office Monday morning, and was therefore in a fairly good mood when my three lieutenants gathered that afternoon for our weekly meeting. Lieutenants Janet Sanchez, Gregg Parker, and David Boyer came into my office in a group, and I waited until all of my subordinates were comfortably seated before I began the meeting. One by one, they reported on the events of the past week as they related to their particular spheres of influence. Janet began her report by mentioning a series of burglaries.

"Whoa," Gregg said, "go over that again."

"My team has been dealing with a series of burglaries of the homes of older gay men," Janet said. "It seems that there are a few young gay men--drifters, if you will--who go home with these older guys for a night, or a weekend, or in some cases, longer. Later, having thoroughly cased the premises, they return in the dead of night and rob them."

"Gregg," I said, "why do you ask?"

"Because I have had at least one similar case."

"Now that you mention it," David said, "so do I."

"Okay, guys," I said. "As soon as we're through with this meeting, it's time for the three of you to huddle over this--just like you did last year with the drag queen murders."

When they stopped talking, I said, "If nobody has anything else, I have an announcement to make."

That got their attention, and there was silence, so I said, "The powers that be have authorized one more sergeant and four detectives to form a new team."

Everyone began to talk at once until I raised a hand and said, "Whoa. There's more."

I waited for the group to get quiet.

"Lieutenant Sanchez only has one team--the major case team," I said. "It has also been decided that the major case team has done so well that she can take on another team, so she gets the new sergeant. That being said, it won't be a sergeant that's new to the job."

"Meaning what?" David said.

"Meaning that either you or Gregg are going to lose a sergeant and at least one detective."

"Who?" Gregg said.

"We're going to have a little lottery," I said.

"Say what?" David said.

"Janet is going to get one sergeant and one detective, who will be transferred out from under one or both of you. That way, everybody will have to share the responsibility of taking on one or more new guys. The fairest way I can think of to accomplish that is to have a drawing."

I took six small slips of paper, laid them facedown on my desk, and shuffled them around. "Each of these slips has the name of a sergeant who works for either Gregg or David. Please select one of them, Lieutenant Sanchez."

Janet leaned across my desk, took one of the pieces of paper, and I scooped up the rest of them and moved them to one side. Then I removed a small box from my desk drawer and placed it on top of the desk.

"Okay, Lieutenant," I said, "this box contains the names of all the detectives on the other teams. Pick one slip of paper from this box."

She did so.

"Now tell us who your new sergeant and detective are."

She told us the names.

"Okay," I said, "that's it, then. Looks like David lost a sergeant, Gregg lost a detective, and all three of you need to go on a little recruiting mission to complete your rosters. Any questions?"

"One question," David said.

"Shoot."

"Is there a cubicle available for the new sergeant?"

"There are two unoccupied cubicles in the bull pen area. Take your pick."

"Is the exam list for sergeant from last year still valid?"

"That's two questions," I said, "and yes, it is. So, for that matter, is the list of people who passed the exam for detective."

"Sorry, Gregg," David said. "That means you lose another detective. One of your guys is the next person on the sergeant's list."

"Boss," Janet said, "I hope the 'powers that be' understand that the major case team's success is due to the fact that you started it and ran it for all those years. I haven't had it long enough to take that kind of credit."

"Modesty doesn't become you, Lieutenant," I said. "That being said, you wouldn't be getting another team if they thought you couldn't handle it."

"Yes, Sir."

"Have fun," I said as they left my office.

I straightened my desk and headed out the door. Before I left the building, I took the elevator up to Chief Bridges's office, hoping that I would find him still at his desk.

"Come on in and have a seat, George," the chief said when he saw me standing in his doorway.

"I just wanted to stop by and let you know that I've set things in motion regarding the new sergeant and team."

"How did you handle it?"

"I had a little lottery and let Lieutenant Sanchez draw the name of one sergeant and one detective."

"How did they take it?"

"Quite well, actually. They're all busily recruiting as we speak."

He laughed at that and said, "Give me a minute, and I'll take the elevator down to the garage with you."

* * * *

The end of May arrived, as did Zeb and Zeke, identical twins whom we had met in Maggie Valley a few years earlier. They came from a rather poor background, their alcohol-abusing father having died shortly after we met them. The boys were hard workers and had done a great deal of painting and other work for us when we acquired rental property. They were happy to have finished their first year of community college and equally happy to be near the beach for the summer and back at work full time in a McDonald's management training program.

We left the boys in charge of the house and headed to the mountains at the end of the second week in June, arriving at the cabin around two on a Saturday afternoon. As usual, I took Thor up to the deck and let him trot down the side steps to his private fenced-in domain--after a quick glance around to confirm that the fence was still intact.

I went back down to the garage to help Mike unload the groceries we'd purchased in Waynesville, carry the bags up to the kitchen, and put everything away. We went back to the deck, expecting to find Thor waiting at the top of the steps as usual, but he wasn't there, so I looked down in his run and saw that he was sniffing at the portion of the fence nearest to the back wall of the house. I called him, but he ignored my summons.

"Thor's acting sort of weird," I said. "I'm going to get his leash and bring him back up here."

"Go for it," Mike said.

I retrieved the leash and went down into Thor's area. He was still sniffing at the fence, and he was whining. I clipped the leash in place and led him back up to the deck, and said, "Let's walk around the yard, and see if we can figure out what's got him so stirred up."

We led Thor down the entrance steps and around to the back of his run, next to where he had been sniffing. He didn't stop there. Instead, he pulled me over to the metal shed that housed the emergency generator and began scratching at the door. I handed the leash to Mike, opened the door, and spotted a small boy curled up on a pile of clothing in one corner of the shed. I walked quietly over to the corner to investigate and saw that he was sound asleep.

* * * *

Chapter Two

The kid was filthy but appeared to be otherwise unharmed, so I picked him up and carried him out of the shed.

"What's this?" Mike said.

"This is what had Thor so agitated." The boy stirred in my arms and began to whimper, and I said, "He's starting to wake up, so let's get him upstairs."

"Actually, from the smell of him, we'd do better getting him into the bathtub downstairs."

"You're right. We'll do just that."

Mike led the way, and I carried the boy to the downstairs bathroom, which was the only bathroom with a tub because we'd taken the tub out of the master bath and replaced it with a stall shower shortly after we had purchased the cabin. We filled the tub with warm water and by the time we'd gotten his filthy clothes off of him he was wide awake.

To reassure him, I said, "It looks like you haven't had a bath in a while, so we're gonna get you cleaned up, okay?"

He nodded, and Mike said, "Shall I throw these things in the washer?"

"Good idea."

I used a washcloth and Ivory soap to gently wash the grime off the kid. He didn't protest, rather he just sat in the water and let me clean him up. Since we occasionally used the downstairs bathroom to bathe Thor, there was a bottle of baby shampoo handy, and I made good use of it on the boy's hair. Finally, I stood him up and used a showerhead on a flexible hose to rinse him down. Now that his hair was relatively clean, I could see that it was kind of a dirty-blond color.

"He looks pretty clean now," Mike said, "but what's wrong with his dick?"

"I don't know. It looks infected somehow, and I'm reluctant to try to clean it. I think we need to take him to a primary care clinic or an emergency room after a bit. While I dry him off, why don't you get one of our T-shirts? It'll swallow him whole, but he won't have to go around naked."

"Done," he said, and he hurried upstairs.

I finished drying the kid and carried him up to the kitchen. Mike met me at the head of the stairs with a T-shirt in hand, and we got the shirt on the boy and took him to the kitchen table.

"Are you hungry?" I asked the boy.

The kid didn't say anything but nodded his head.

"Mike," I said, "do we have any soup?"

"Yes, but why soup?"

"Because he's very thin, almost as though he hasn't had a square meal in a while," I said, "and if that's the case, too much food at once might come right back up."

"Gotcha." There was a pause while he rummaged around in the kitchen cabinets. "Tomato or chicken noodle?"

"The latter, I think. It'll be easier for him to digest."

"On its way."

"When you get it started, look up Lucinda's number at work and dial it for me."

"Why?"

"Because she knows everyone around here, and she might be able to stop by and possibly identify him."

"Sure. In fact, she ought to be getting off work just about now."

A couple of minutes later, he handed me the telephone, saying, "It's ringing."

The hotel operator answered, and I asked for Lucinda. A couple of seconds later, I heard her familiar voice say, "Housekeeping."

"Hi, Lucinda, George Martin here. Are you about to leave the hotel for the day?"

"I was just about to walk out the door. What can I do for you?"

"You can stop by the cabin on your way home. We need your help with something kind of important."

"Are the boys all right?"

That was a mother speaking, Lucinda being the mother of Zeb and Zeke, so I said, "They were just fine when we left Jacksonville this morning. This is something totally unrelated."

"I'll be there in a few minutes."

"Good. The gate is closed, but you have the code, right?"

"Yes, thanks."

Mike placed a small bowl of soup and a glass of water on the table in front of the boy, and said, "Be careful, the soup is still kind of hot."

The boy took the proffered spoon and retrieved some soup from the bowl. He blew carefully on the spoon and finally tasted it, and I sensed that he wanted desperately to dive into the soup, but its temperature held him back.

"Give it a minute or two to cool," I said. "Mike, how about a slice of bread and butter to go with the soup?"

"Way ahead of you." He placed a piece of buttered bread on the table.

"Why don't you dip the bread in the soup?" I said.

The kid looked at me. Thor chose that moment to put his head in the boy's lap, and I said, "This is Thor. He's our dog, and he wants to be your friend. It's okay to pat him on the head."

A little hand reached out and gave Thor a tentative pat. Thor responded by licking the hand, which caused the kid to smile.

"Use the bread like this," I said, and I took the bread, dipped a corner of it into the bowl and pointed it at his mouth.

He got it instantly and began to work his way through the bread.

"I think he needs more bread," I said.

"Coming up."

Lucinda arrived at the front door just as the kid finished the soup. I remained at the table, while Mike went to let her in, and I could hear him explaining to her what, or rather who, we'd found hiding in the shed. She walked up to the table, took one look at the boy, and said, "Robbie, where have you been? People have been looking for you for days."

The boy started crying, so I picked him up to comfort him, and he buried his face in my chest.

"What's going on, Lucinda?" I said.

"His name is Robbie Ward--his mother was found beaten to death in their house almost a week ago. His father is missing, and the authorities think he did it. Nobody has seen Robbie in more than a week."

"Mike," I said, "why don't you call Bob and Martha Plott? They need to get involved with this, I think." Bob Plott was a captain with the Waynesville Police Department, and his wife Martha was head of Social Services for the county. We'd met them not long after our first visit to Maggie Valley.

"What's that he's wearing?" Lucinda said.

"He was beyond filthy when we found him," I said, "so we gave him a bath. His clothes are in the washer, so we put one of our T-shirts on him for now."

"Oh," she said. "There might be some clothes at his house, if the authorities will allow us to go inside--it's got yellow tape across the front right now."

"There's more. He has some kind of infection or something around his penis. It looked so bad, I was afraid to try to wash him there. We need to get him to a doctor."

"We can do better than that," she said. "There's an old country doctor just up the road. He's semi-retired, but he makes house calls."

"Give him a call, please. We'll pay for his time and trouble."

Mike hung up the telephone and said, "Bob and Martha will be here shortly."

Lucinda went to the telephone and made a brief call. When she had finished, she said, "Doc Jenkins will be right here."

"Let me carry this little guy to the guest bedroom," I said.

Somehow during the time I was talking to Lucinda, Robbie had gotten a death grip around my neck, so I stood up and carried him down the hall. I turned the covers back and laid him gently on the bed.

"It's okay, Robbie," I said, taking his hand. "We're going to take care of you. My name is George. Can you say that?"

"George," he said.

"Good," I said, "and this is Mike."

"Mike," Robbie parroted.

"You already know Mrs. Hawkins," I said. "Do you know Zeb and Zeke?"

He nodded his head.

"Good. Zeb and Zeke are very good friends of ours. In fact, they are staying at our house in Florida right now."

"Robbie," Lucinda said, "do you remember Doc Jenkins?"

He nodded his head.

"Good, because he's on his way here to take a look at you and make you better."

I started to let go of Robbie's hand and stand up, but he clutched my hand tightly and started to whimper. "No," he said.

"You want me to stay?"

"Yes, Sir."

"It's okay, big guy," I said. "I'm not going anywhere."

"I'll go open the gate," Mike said.

"Okay."

He left the room and, after what seemed an eternity, returned, leading an older man. "This way, Doc," Mike said.

"Hello, Lucinda," the man said.

I introduced myself and said, "We found this little guy hiding in the generator shed in back of the cabin when we got here today. He was dirty, so we gave him a bath, but I didn't like the look of things in his groin, so I was afraid to wash him there."

"Gotcha," the doc said. "If you folks will excuse me, I'll take a look at the patient."

I started to get up, but Robbie clung desperately to my hand and whimpered, so I stayed put.

"I don't think he wants you to leave, George," the doctor said. "Hello, Robbie. Remember me?"

Robbie nodded.

"I'm going to take a look and see what's up with you, okay?"

Robbie nodded again.

Lucinda and Mike were standing in the doorway, just out of Robbie's line of sight, when the doc pulled the covers back and the T-shirt up. "Jesus Christ," he said. "Damn stupid hillbillies. Not you, Lucinda--as I recall, you knew better. They don't always want their boy babies circumcised, because they think it's Jewish, but sometimes they're too stupid to teach them how to clean themselves properly."

He was poking around Robbie's penis as he talked, causing an occasional whimper. "Sorry, Robbie," the doc said. "This will hurt for a bit, but you'll feel better soon. Can somebody hand me my bag?"

Mike retrieved the bag, which was on the floor near the door, and handed it to the doc.

"Do you folks happen to have some medical alcohol and cotton balls?" Doc Jenkins said.

"You bet," Mike said. "Give me a minute."

Mike went to retrieve the needed items, brought them back, and said, "Here you go." He handed them to the doc.

"Thanks," Doc Jenkins said. "Robbie, this is going to sting a bit, but it won't last long, okay?"

Robbie whimpered again and nodded.

Doc Jenkins worked swiftly, and when he had finished to his satisfaction, he said, "Now, Robbie, I'm going to give you a little shot. It'll sting at first, but soon you'll take a nice little nap."

With that, he produced a syringe and a bottle and, rolling Robbie to one side, gave him a quick jab in the left buttocks. He took another syringe and bottle and repeated the process on the other side. In seconds, Robbie's eyes closed, and you could see that he was out like a light.

"I gave him an antibiotic too," the doc said.

"Doc Jenkins," I said.

"Yes?"

"Now that he's out cold and you can do it without causing him discomfort," I said, "I think you ought to give him a quick rectal exam, to make certain that he hasn't been molested."

"Why would you think that?"

"Because I'm a policeman, and I'm paid to think about things like that," I said.

"Point taken," he said. He retrieved a small flashlight from his bag and asked me to turn Robbie over, then he spread the boy's cheeks and pointed the flashlight at his anus. After a couple of minutes, he turned the light off and signaled that I could turn Robbie back over. "I don't see any evidence of molestation," he said.

"That's good," I said, "because according to Lucinda, he's been through enough already."

"Meaning what?" Doc Jenkins said.

"Let's go out to the kitchen where we can talk."

"Sure, let's just get this little guy under the sheets first." He pulled the T-shirt down and covered Robbie with a sheet.

We sat down at the table, and Doc Jenkins repeated his question.

"I thought you'd have heard," Lucinda said. "Robbie's mother was found murdered in their house, and the police are looking for her husband. They say she was literally beaten to death."

"When was this?" Doc Jenkins said.

"Almost a week ago," Lucinda said.

"That would explain it," he said. "I was out of town for a few days last week, and I don't keep up with the news very much. It takes a while for the local gossip to catch up with me now that I'm mostly retired."

There was a knock at the door, and Mike went to answer it, eventually returning with Bob and Martha in tow.

"What's going on, George?" Bob said. "And what's Doc Jenkins doing here?"

"Mike and I got in a little after two this afternoon. Thor was acting funny down in his run, so we put him on a leash and took him around back. He led us to the generator shed, and we found a little boy in it. He was curled up in one corner of the shed on a pile of rags. He was filthy but didn't appear to be hurt, so we brought him inside and cleaned him up."

"If he wasn't hurt, why is the doc here?" Bob said.

"Because he has a seriously infected foreskin," Doc Jenkins said. "His idiot father never taught him how to take care of himself. His foreskin also appears to be abnormally tight, and that will cause problems for him when he's older. My best guess is that he's going to have to go to the hospital in a couple of days and be circumcised to take care of it."

"Who is he?" Martha said.

"Robbie Ward," Lucinda said. "His mother was found dead in their home several days ago, and the police are looking for his father. As far as I know, nobody around here has seen Robbie since before his mother's body was found."

"It wouldn't surprise me to learn that he saw it happen," I said, "and ran away. We need to go out and check the shed--I'll bet he's been living in it for a while. How far away was his home?"

"Just up the road past Uncle Cyrus's house," Lucinda said, "but on the same side of the road as your place. He could easily have come down along the creek to your cabin."

"Does he have any relatives?" I said.

"He has a grandmother still living," Lucinda said, "but she's old and sick. She had Robbie's mother very late in life, so she's probably in her late sixties by now. As far as I know, there aren't any other kin. Why do you ask?"

"Because we'd like to keep him," I said. I glanced at Mike, caught his silent assent, and continued. "He needs somebody, and he's certainly taken a liking to me. Are we agreed on this, Mike?" It was a rhetorical question, given that Mike and I had been best friends since age eight and knew each other totally and completely after twenty-some years.

"You beat me to saying the same thing by two seconds," Mike said.

"Keep him, how?" Martha said.

"As foster parents, as adoptive parents, whatever we can do," I said. "I don't know what kind of rules there are in this state about gays adopting, but I'll surely find out."

"Actually, single men and women who are gay have no problem adopting in this state," Martha said. "It's a little more tricky with couples, but not impossible. Let me do some checking."

"Will he have to go into child services in the meantime?" Mike said.

"Normally, yes," Martha said, "but we don't have any beds available right now, so there's no reason why he can't stay right here for the time being."

"Needless to say," I said, "we'll take care of any expenses, if he has to have surgery."

"Bless you," she said. "We have enough budget problems as it is."

"Let me get the camera, Bob," Mike said, "and I'll show you where we found him, and we can take some pictures. I know we're in the county and outside of your jurisdiction, but you can pass things along to your counterparts."

Martha was looking at the remains of Robbie's food. "Did the boy eat?" she said.

"We gave him some soup and some bread and butter," I said. "He looked so undernourished, I was afraid to let him eat too much right away."

"That was the smartest thing you could have done," Doc Jenkins said. "If he had wolfed down a huge meal, it would have come right back up in no time."

"How old is Robbie, Lucinda?" I said.

"He's five, I think," she said. "Maybe closer to six."

"That's about right," Doc Jenkins said. "He was one of the last babies I delivered before I started to slow down, and that was close to six years ago."

"We'll need to make a run to Walmart and get him some clothes," I said. "He can't run around in one of our old T-shirts all the time."

"Let me take care of that, George," Martha said. "I'll take a look at him to make sure I get the right sizes."

"Great," I said. "I don't want to leave right now in case he wakes up. He got really panicky every time I tried to leave the room."

"I noticed that," Doc Jenkins said. "That boy has somehow bonded with you."

"George and Mike have a way with kids," Lucinda said. "Zeb and Zeke look on them as fathers, and deservedly so."

"Where are the twins, anyway?" Doc Jenkins said.

"They drove down to Jacksonville as soon as their classes finished," I said, "and they're either on the beach or working at McDonald's as we speak. I've never seen two boys so crazy about the ocean."

"So you're the guys they told me about working for," he said. "I gave both of them a checkup before they started community college, and they talked my ears off about the beach and you and your friend."

"That would be us," I said. "Those two boys are hard workers. They've painted houses, done yard work, and anything else that can earn them a buck."


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