Copyright © 2004, 2015
By David Lee
By David Lee
In January Iowa weather can be unpredictable. Some years a record-breaking 60+ degree temperature on a rare day was warm enough to cause a few hardy souls to shed their clothes and sun in the woods. At other times, the minus 30 degree temperature kept vehicles from starting and schools from opening.
This year, January weather had forecasters in a frenzy once more trying to predict what would happen next. The freezing mist of the early morning had ended and school started two hours late. The winter storm that was headed for eastern Iowa was supposed to track far to the south.
The district wrestling tournament was still on the schedule for the late afternoon and evening. It was being held in another city about 50 miles away. Wrestlers were excused from classes at noon to get on the road. Bryan and Zeke had gotten permission to drive this year. They didn't want to deal with the noise of their hyped up teammates on the bus, but preferred a peaceful time together. Their families had been hesitant to have them on the road in winter, but realized that they couldn't protect their kids from life's hazards forever. They did insist that the guys take along a large comforter, a box of granola bars, a couple of bottles of water, and a small folding shovel just in case the boys got stranded.
Zeke and Bryan were looking forward to seeing Trevor and Marc again. They would likely be paired against them. Despite being friends, they would do their best to prevail over their rivals.
A few snowflakes were falling as the boys began their journey. The roads were still clear, but that could change, and it did. By the time they were halfway to their destination, the full fury of the storm had closed in.
Zeke searched radio stations until he found one that was giving news and weather. Most of the news was about the storm. There was also a bombing in the Middle East and an Amber Alert, but those weren't getting the coverage allotted to the weather.
The storm had suddenly veered to a more northerly track. The Cosgrove radio station was now saying that all school activities, including the district wresting match, had been cancelled. There was nothing to do but to turn around and head back for home.
After traveling about 10 miles, the boys came to a spot where all traffic had stopped because of a major accident a mile ahead involving a semi, several cars, and a school bus. Everyone was forced to leave the Interstate and take a series of secondary ones to reach their destination.
Bryan was driving and Zeke navigating. Between them, they decided to take a shortcut which would put them back on the Interstate with only a minor detour. Unfortunately, they didn't know there was a bridge out on that route, so they had to backtrack to find another road. They were in a rural area near the reservoir with few residences skirting the federally held land. The car was doing pretty well, but was nearly hanging up on the deep snow at times. It got stuck once, but they managed to dig it out enough to get going again.
By 3:30 p.m., the early darkness caused by the storm was closing in. Just ahead was a cabin near the road.
"I'm going to pull in and see if we can stay here. There is no getting back to the main road now." Bryan stated.
"Fine, by me." Zeke replied.
The cabin turned out to be unoccupied. It was evidently someone's vacation place. It must be used in cool weather sometimes, because under a mound of snow, there was what appeared to be a large pile of firewood.
By prying open a window with a tire iron, the boys were able to gain entrance. What they found inside was a little primitive, but comfortable. There were three rooms: a kitchen, a bedroom, and a main area with a fireplace that had a cast iron insert. There was some wood and kindling nearby. Bryan opened the front door and both boys went out to get more wood.
While they were outside, Zeke spied the propane tank which supplied the kitchen range and water heater. The latter would be empty, no doubt, but the range might come in handy if there happened to be anything inside to cook. He turned the valve on.
Using the scout skills they'd learned, they laid out materials to start the fire. It was then that they discovered the absence of any matches or lighters. There were candles and a Coleman lantern, but no way of lighting them either. It would be a very cold and dark night unless they could come up with a solution.
Zeke remembered his grandfather telling a story about a family in the same predicament in New York State who had taken refuge in a county school house that had wood and kindling, but who died from the cold because they had no matches. Grandpa had always said he would have used the cigarette lighter in the car.
"Do we have a lighter in the car?" Zeke wanted to know.
"Sure, don't you remember Mom was envious that we had one and her new car didn't? She bought a butane lighter to put in her glove compartment in case of an emergency."
While Bryan was gathering the comforter, snacks, and water from the Sebring, Zeke was trying to light a candle with the cigarette lighter. He finally got it going only to have it blow out when he tried to get it to the door. Bryan suggested that he take a water glass or a jar to shield the candle from the wind. This time, he got it into the house still lighted. He lit the pilot lights on the gas range and then started the fireplace. He also lit the Coleman lantern. It was fairly full of gas and should last as long as they needed it. Within half an hour, the place was beginning to feel homey.
Bryan then got out his cell phone to call the ‘rents to let them know what was going on. Brad Stillwell was quite relieved to hear they were safe. He promised to call Grace immediately. Bryan said he would shut off the cell to save power, but he would check from time to time to see if there were any messages.
Meanwhile, Zeke was rifling through the kitchen looking for something to eat. He found a couple of cans of condensed soup which seemed nearly frozen but hadn't burst. Using one of the bottles of water they had brought, he mixed it with the contents of the cans and began heating the soup in a pan on the gas stove. The boys remembered to say grace before they ate. They were truly thankful for their sparse meal. They both held back on eating all of it because they might need it later.
Just as they were finishing, there was a knock on the door. A large man stumbled in carrying a small child who was clutching a Teddy bear in his little arms.
As the man began to fall, Bryan grabbed the boy to keep him from being crushed. He got the boy out of his coat and placed him in a chair next to the fire. He tucked the big comforter around him. The boy held on to him for dear life. He was surprisingly strong.
Zeke tried to deal with the man. He got the wet, cold coat off of him to warm him up. The coat seemed unusually heavy on one side. Without thinking, Zeke reached into the pocket where the weight was greatest and pulled out a large caliber gun.
"Whoa, what is this?"
Bryan's eyes widened as he saw the weapon.
"You'd better hide that somewhere before he comes to. I don't like the looks of this." Bryan exclaimed.
Zeke found an empty sugar canister in the kitchen cupboard. He stuffed an old plastic bag on top of it and put it back in its place. Then he proceeded to work on the man. He covered him with a couple of blankets from the bedroom.
The little boy was beginning to warm up socially as well as physically.
"I got to pee," he said.
Bryan retrieved an empty soup can from the garbage since the bathroom was inoperable. The kid thought it was great fun to pee in the can. He was proud of his accomplishment. It made Bryan think of Zach and how he might react someday.
Bryan then re-warmed the bit of soup that remained for the little boy who ate it hungrily. For dessert, Bryan offered a granola bar which the kid nearly inhaled. He did stop long enough to "feed" some to his bear.
"What's your name, Squirt?" Bryan asked when the boy had finished.
"How old are you?"
"Did you and your daddy get stuck in the snow?"
"No, Daddy is home."
"That's not your dad?"
"No! He took me!"
"Do you know your phone number?"
The boy rattled it off while Bryan punched it in on his cell phone. As he was about to push the send button, he heard a scuffling behind him in the main room. The man had shoved Zeke on the floor and was reaching for a switchblade in his boot. He whipped the blade open the minute he got it in his hand.
"Don't move, kid, or you're dead."
Bryan froze; not knowing what to do. He knew where the gun was, but he couldn't risk going for it. He was wound tight ready to defend his lover, but he didn't want to do anything to endanger Zeke.
As his mind raced, trying to formulate a plan, Tyler launched his Teddy bear at the man's face.
"Don't hurt him," Tyler cried.
The action was just enough to distract the man for a split second. In that small space of time two things happened. Zeke kicked his right foot up hard and fast into the man's crotch while Bryan put a full Nelson on the stranger. In a flash the large man was on the floor in agony with both arms pulled up behind him and two young men sitting on his back.
Despite the pain in his arms, the man attempted to buck the guys off once the aching in his balls subsided. Zeke held the point of the knife against the man's throat.
"Don't move unless you want to die."
"You won't kill me in cold blood, kid."
"To protect my buddy and that little guy over there, I would drive this thing through your evil heart!" Zeke said through clenched teeth. "Haven't you heard of preemptive strikes?"
The man stopped struggling.
"Hey, Tyler, my man," Bryan called. "Pull that lamp cord over here, please."
Tyler struggled with the cord on the floor lamp. He dragged it along precariously, nearly sending the lamp toppling. Zeke used the knife to cut the cord off.
Realizing the knife was not at his throat, the big man tried once more to dislodge is captors. This time, Bryan shoved the man's face hard against the floor, making him decided to wait for a safer moment.
With the lamp cord, they tied the man's hands together high up on his back. Once those were secure, Bryan went in search of a piece of rope while Zeke kept the weapon strategically placed. Finding no rope, he returned from the bedroom with a long extension cord. He used this to tie up the man's feet while Zeke remained in place with the knife. Finally, Bryan pulled the man's feet up toward his butt and wrapped the rest of the cord around the man's neck. If he struggled, he would choke himself.
It seemed like a lot of their life experiences had prepared them for this moment. Their scout training had made them resourceful. Their physical fitness had made them strong for their size. Their struggle with Tanner in Florida had been like a trial run for what they had just done. Coupled with these was the fact that they had just happened to take that road and happened to seek shelter in this particular cabin. It was almost like something or someone was interfering with the kidnapping. They had to wonder.
Sensing that he was not going to win in a power struggle, man's threat's turned into bargaining.
"Look, guys, if you let me go, we can split a LOT of money. This kid's folks will pay big-time to get him back. They're rich. No one will ever know you were involved."
Zeke repeatedly told the man to shut up, but he kept on talking. Finally, Zeke pulled one of the man's socks off and stuffed it in his mouth.
"Hey Tiger, let's call your daddy," Bryan offered.
"I'm not Tiger; I'm TYLER!"
"Aren't you Tiger Woods?"
"No, I'm TYLER WOOD!"
Well, I'm going to call you Tiger because you really are one. You helped us get this bad man."
"Okay, I'll be a tiger. Grrrrrrr!"
Tyler's antics brought much needed comic relief to the scene. Bryan was laughing as he re-dialed the number.
"Mr. Wood? I have your son here."
The voice on the other end of the line was very distraught.
"Please don't harm him. I will give you anything you want!"
"No, no, we aren't going to hurt him. We got him away from the man who had him. Tyler even helped. Here he is."
"Daddy, these nice big boys tied the bad man up. I ate some soup and I peed in a can."
With that, Tyler handed the phone back to Bryan. What Bryan heard from the other end was a mixture of laughter and sobs.
"Where are you and how can I get my son back," Wes Wood asked when he got his voice back under control.
Bryan gave him the approximate location, but told him it was impossible to get there that night. On his end, Wes handed the phone off to the deputy sheriff who was with him. The deputy took down the information and promised to be there in an hour or so depending on conditions. He had a snowmobile at his disposal.
It was just over an hour later when the roar of a small engine was heard above the storm. The two deputies were a welcome sight.
"I'm Jeff Lord and this is, Jack Turnbull. We'll take charge of the prisoner and stay until we can all get out. It may be tomorrow afternoon before we can do that. Wes wanted to come too, but we didn't know what we'd be facing here."
Deputy Lord inspected the makeshift restraints and pronounced them fine. He added cuffs just to be on the safe side. When he removed the sock from the man's mouth, the man began to yell all sorts of nasty things. Tyler covered his little ears. Jeff Lord replaced the sock.
Bryan used his phone again to call Wes Wood to let him know the deputies had arrived and that all was well. Tyler's mother, Judy, talked to Tyler for a while. It was mostly a one-sided conversation because Tyler was sleepy.
Judy Wood thanked Bryan over and over and asked to talk Zeke. She proceeded to thank him effusively as well.
Bryan thought he'd better plug the phone into the charger in the car since its battery was running low.
"I'll do it, Babe. You see to Tyler." Zeke requested.
The deputies looked at each other and raised their eyebrows.
Eventually, after everyone got a turn to pee in the can and throw it out the door, the boys settled down under the comforter with Tyler and the Teddy bear between them. The officers promised to keep watch all night. They took turns guarding the prisoner and keeping the fire stoked while the others slept. The cabin was still comfortably warm when the first light of dawn made its way through the windows.
Zeke awakened early enough to see the beauty of the new day. What had been a killer storm had turned into a winter wonderland. The rising sun brought the promise of warmth and hope.
His real reason for rising so early had been the terrific need to piss. He grabbed his coat and boots and rushed outside to leave his golden mark on the pristine snow. It was then that he noticed a strange lump in the middle of the road. He went over to investigate. Brushing the snow away, he found the body of a young woman. She was rigid. There was no doubt as to her fate.
He went back inside to report his find to Jeff who was seeing to the prisoner. Jeff had removed the "gag" so that the kidnapper could have a drink of water.
"Oh, that must be Lucy," the bound man stated. "I wondered what happened to the dumb bitch. I guess she couldn't slog her way through the drifts since she went and got herself preggers."
Zeke was astounded.
"You knew she was out there in the storm and you never said anything? What kind of low grade son-of-a-bitch are you?"
"Hell, you never asked. She was a big girl. She could take care of herself. I had the kid to worry about. No kid; no payoff."
Zeke turned his back and went into the kitchen. He momentarily thought of the mother he had never known. Some bastard had been as heartless with her when she had become pregnant. It was a hard world. He wept silent tears for them both.
Bryan, who had been awaked by Zeke's angry words, jumped up to put his arms around his lover. After a few moments of feeling Bryan's loving touch, Zeke pulled himself together.
He went out with a broom to brush the snow away from Lucy. He couldn't save her, but he could show respect to her lifeless body. Whatever she had been, she didn't deserve this.
When he returned, he took a large pan out to fill with clean snow. He put that on the stove to melt for fresh water. The small supply of bottled water had been used up. Bryan had found some instant oatmeal packets in a tin and the two guys proceeded to make them into breakfast. There was no milk, but since the packets contained maple and brown sugar, it wouldn't be too bad.
With the smell of food, Tyler was awake too. He decided he had to go outside with Bryan to pee in the snow. He thought it was great fun and tried to write a big "T" for the first letter of his name. Bryan was bonding with the little guy to the point that he wished the boy were theirs. Zeke noticed and smiled. He knew what his little Zach meant to him; to them both really.
Jeff Lord was a compassionate man. He was going to feed the kidnapper a bit of breakfast. But when the man spat the first spoonful in his face, Jeff had had enough. Let the fucker go hungry. He wouldn't die of starvation before they got him to jail.
It was around noon when the snowplow followed by a sheriff's cruiser came into view. Zeke ran out quickly to prevent the plow from hitting Lucy's body. He and the driver carried her off to the side until someone could come to take her away.
The two deputies in the car came in bearing slightly cold sacks of food from Burger King. No one inside the cabin complained except the kidnapper who was excluded from the meal.
"Oh, I nearly spaced off the gun." Zeke exclaimed.
He came back from the kitchen with the canister and handed it to Jack who placed it into a plastic bag.
"I'm afraid my prints are probably the only ones on it now. I fished it out of his coat because I was afraid he might use us on us."
"Don't worry, son, you did the right thing. I didn't want to scare you guys, but this guy is wanted for armed robbery and murder as well as kidnapping. Unless I miss my guess, this gun was involved."
"Speaking of the right thing, we should leave money for the owners of the cabin to cover the food and fuel we've used," Zeke suggested.
"I know the family, and I'll send them a note with a gift card. They'll be thrilled just knowing their little place played a role in this event," Jack assured him.
Since only one official car could be spared and travel was restricted to emergency vehicles, Tyler's parents hadn't been allowed to make the trip. The officers who came in it would escort the prisoner. Jeff and Jack would return on the snowmobile while Bryan and Zeke would bring Tyler with them. Jeff was not unhappy with this arrangement, because it meant the boys would personally receive thanks from Tyler's anxious parents. After all, they were the real heroes in this scenario.
Tyler was excited about riding with the "big boys." He and his Teddy bear were bouncing in the back as much as the seat belt would allow. In the absence of a child car seat, Bryan had carefully tucked the comforter around him to protect him and so that he would be warm enough. Given the small interior space and the strength of the heater, the car was toasty in no time anyway, but Bryan had to dote on the boy. Zeke smiled again as he carefully followed in the path of the cruiser.
It took about an hour to go the 20 plus miles to Tyler's home. There were times when they had to pull over to allow a snow plow or other emergency vehicle to use the one plowed lane. Bryan used his cell to keep the Wood family updated on their progress. He also called Grace to tell her they were on their way home. Then he called his Mom to tell her the same thing.
When they got to the main road, the cruiser headed for the county jail, while Zeke followed the snowmobile to Tyler's house. Their welcome was so emotional that everyone had tears. Bryan came up the walk carrying Tyler with Zeke close behind. Before they got to the door, it burst open. Wes pulled Bryan and his son into a big hug. Then he hugged Zeke. Judy pulled both young men toward her arms kissing them on the cheeks. (Jeff and Jack would get similar treatment when they joined the group after dropping off the snowmobile.)
When the initial excitement settled a bit, Wes handed each boy a check for $5,000.
"Just fill in your last names. I only know you as Bryan and Zeke."
Bryan shook his head, "Sir, we can't take money from you. We didn't do it for money. We did it for Tiger."
"I'm Tiger. Grrrrr." Tyler chimed in.
"You sure are," Bryan said as he tousled the boy's hair.
Wes persisted, "Look, guys, I know you don't want a reward for doing the right thing. I know it isn't much money. I don't mean for it to cheapen my son's life or what you did to bring him back to us. No amount of money can ever compensate for that. But, we had already collected this from friends and family as well as ourselves to be used as a reward. We want you to have this! It will hurt our feelings if we can't do something to show our gratitude."
After Wes convinced the boys that they must accept the reward, they all sat down for a few minutes to answer more of the family's questions. The boys downplayed their role, but when Jeff arrived, he made sure that Wes and Judy knew the risk the boys had taken in overpowering the kidnapper.
As they left, Wes put an arm around each teen and said, "You haven't heard the last of me. I'm going to figure out if I can do anything else to let you know how much this means to us. We can easily afford to part with money. We couldn't imagine parting with our son."
"After being around the little guy, I think we have a good idea of how much he means to you. I believe Zeke could have killed that man if he had tried to hurt Tyler. I know I could have too."
He shuddered a little at the realization that they would have had no second thoughts about taking another person's life in that situation.
At Zeke's house, the boys got another hero's welcome. Officer Lord had called Craig to tell him what the kids had done. Bryan hadn't mentioned it. Craig had asked the Stillwell's to come over so they could all be together.
After a great dinner, the boys found themselves yawning. They were beat. What they wanted more than anything was a hot shower and a soft bed. They got both in Zeke's apartment about 8:00. Full, clean, warm, and naked, they fell asleep wrapped in each other's arms.
Their families had decided that tomorrow would be soon enough them to learn about the other misfortunes caused by the storm.