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Cinder looked down at the boy in his arms, taking a second to push the boy's long obsidian black hair out of the kid's face with his thumb. The boy was filthy. Any other word would be a large understatement. Days of unwashed grime could be seen as the boy's tears left streaks of white skin on the almost tan looking boy. The foulness didn't stop there, not by a long shot.
The boy's clothing held the stench of days, if not weeks, of not being washed properly, if at all. Making the rather putrid smell even worse, there was the slight funk of stale urine lingering over the boy as well. His shirt was a good size or two too small for him. The collar was frayed and was almost black even though the shirt itself was supposed to be a light blue. Still, it didn't stop there. The boy's blue jeans were so tight, there was a red line around his waist. They were so thread-bare areas of skin could actually be seen when looking closely, especially around the knees and upper thighs. The pants were also a good couple of inches too short, as the boy's socks could easily be seen. The socks continued a tale of despair. They were a dark grey now, but had been originally white. Finally, the upper edges of the socks led down to the boy's shoes, if one really wanted to call them that. They were one step away from falling apart. Both had shoe laces with multiple knots holding them together where they had broken and then been tied. The left shoe had a wide gash on the outside where the sole had pulled away from overuse and the right shoe actually had a hole all the way through which in turn had worn a hole through the sock, exposing bare skin.
Cinder let out a soft string of curses as he felt the boy's too thin tummy protest over not having anything in it. He glared at the dead woman as he stood, keeping the boy firmly in his hands as if the boy was a baby. This was among the last things he wanted to have to deal with on a very long list of things on his never to do list. Unfortunately, he was directly responsible for this. He had jumped in. Had he not, the kid would now be with the gang leader, having God only knows what done to him. Still, it wouldn't be his problem. Now it was and, like it or not, the woman's dying breath had been to hand over the boy to him.
Cinder paused as he saw a ragged document protector sticking out of an even more battered hand bag hanging over the woman's left shoulder. He reached down and grabbed the whole bag, then hesitated as he caught a tiny movement. He growled as he flicked a rouge louse off the boy's shoulder. "Damn it, now I'm going to have to stop and get some shit to get rid of lice too, what have I gotten myself into?" The kid stirred, but remained unconscious, his breathing was even, but he made a few jerking motions as if the harsh voice had brought out some kind of nightmare.
Cinder let out a long breath then spoke softly. "Relax buddy, this ain't your fault. Besides, it's only lice." He moved back to his bike stuffed the dead woman's hand bag into his left saddle bag and filled the gas can while keeping the boy securely held to his chest. If anything the gas fumes were a somewhat welcome change since he was all but inhaling the funk of the boy every time he inhaled.
Finally, he lightly shook the boy. "Come on buddy, you got to wake up now."
The boy's eyes opened slowly and he looked around. It was clear he was totally confused. "What happened? Where's mom?"
Not wanting to tell the kid his mom's body was less than fifty yards away lying in the entrance of a shop abandoned years ago when the big twister had ripped through the heart of the town, Cinder ignored the boy's questions. "You're with me tonight."
The boy's eyes went wide, "Mom said the other guy... I mean... did you pay him..." the boy's voice cracked as he eyed the gun, "I'll be good and do what you want. You don't have to hurt me..."
Cinder felt an inner rage building as he realized the boy had dealt with this kind of thing before. He forced himself to calm some, then spoke in a very firm voice, "Little buddy, no one is going to harm you in any way tonight. They'd have to go through me first and to be honest, I'm a bit tougher then I look. If I heard right, your name is Drake?"
"Uh huh..." the boy nervously whispered while turning to look around. Not seeing anyone else on the street he turned back and glanced up at Cinder. "Where'd mom go?"
Cinder made a single shrug, hoping the boy would take it to mean he didn't know. He then quickly changed the subject. "So, have you ever been on a bike like this before?"
Drake shook his head as he continued to try to find where everyone had gone. Seeing nothing, he turned back and eyed the huge Harley. "Me has never got to ride on no motorcycle."
Cinder nodded and ruffled Drakes hair noting as he did so, a few more lice moved around on the boy's scalp. He shook off his hand behind the kid's head to prevent him from seeing and kept his face neutral. "When I get on, I want you to get in front of me hold onto the frame and if, god forbid, we lose control... Well, I want you try to fall on me so you are protected as much as possible. Now I want you to stay here for a few seconds. Stay under the light of the station. I'll be right back."
The boy nodded and stood there shivering lightly as the first gusts of wind from the approaching storm brought with it a moist feeling chill.
Cinder walked back up to the window and tapped on it. "Hey kid, the beat up Malibu station wagon around the side, is it yours?"
"Yeah, until it totally craps out on me it is. Why?"
"Cause I need some stuff and getting it in the rain on a bike is going to be a real bitch." Cinder responded with a great deal of annoyance. "So do you want to earn some real cash tonight?"
The young man's face appeared a great deal more interested. Still, it was clear the teen was a bit more nervous. However, it was equally apparent he had spent more than a few years on the streets and had learned how to deal with trouble. "Man, I called the cops, but they didn't seem too interested until I told them I saw some fire... They're going to be pissed when they show up..."
"Relax, I'll cover for you. I'll get something going when I leave. So you want to take home something more than a tip tonight or what?"
"Sure..." the teen's voice trailed off for a moment, "Um, what, exactly, are you paying me to do?"
"You pick me up a few things." Seeing the look, Cinder snickered. "Nothing even questionable. Matter of fact, I'm sure you can get everything I need at Wal-mart and they are open twenty-four seven. Have them waiting for me at midnight at the corner of Duqunese and 25th." Cinder pulled out three bills. "I'll give you these three hundreds for the stuff and three more just like this if you get it all and are on time."
"Man, I need more time, I don't get off here until ten, and the jackass after me hasn't been on time in like three weeks."
"OK, it's Friday so he'll probably be even later. Let's say two AM."
"That, I can do... So what is it I'm getting you?"
Cinder jerked his head in the direction of Drake. "I'm going to need all sorts of shit for him. Most of it I can take care of in the next day or so, but some it... well it's got to be tonight. I need clothing, Shirts socks, shoes, boxers, a jacket... lice shampoo, um... something for him to eat... you know kiddy cereal and some milk, pop tarts... some OJ... Probably a few toys... hell, whatever you can get with three hundred."
The gas station attendant raised a quizzical eyebrow as he looked over toward the boy next to the Harley. "Are you like... um... taking him? What about his old lady?"
Cinder gave a slight nod toward the old building and spoke so softly there was no chance the boy by his bike could hear. "She's dead. They gutted her... Problem is, I made it my problem and now I can't just leave him here."
"Shit..." The teen rolled his head back and shook his head, "The cops will want to know everything... OK, what about sizes?"
Cinder shrugged. "Hell, do you think I know a fucking thing about kids clothing?" He took in a deep breath and exhaled. "Look, grab a couple of different sizes that look about right for his frame. Get him some of those cheep water shoes... you know the ones for kids to swim in... grab like three pair in increasing size... they're cheap and he can wear them into a store later so I can get shit that fits. You know, you can do the same thing with some sweats. If they end up being a bit baggy or tight, he'll live until I can get him to a store." Cinder muttered as he pulled out another hundred. "Get me like two sets of sizes close to what you think will fit. I'll donate the rest or something."
"Any particular color you want him dressed in?"
Cinder frowned for a moment but quickly put aside his aggravation. "Hey, kid, I'm not taking him because I'm into children. If anything, I just stopped it from happening."
The attendant held up his hands, "Man, no disrespect meant. I just want to make sure you're getting what you want. I could sure use the extra cash, and you really don't seem like the type of person I should be crossing."
"I'm not." Cinder managed a slight grin finding himself actually liking someone for the first time in several years. "Just get him something that doesn't look stupid, something he can wear without anyone really noticing anything odd. Like I said, I'll eventually get him better situated... Oh, and you don't happen to have an empty plastic bottle and a rag in there do you?"
"I'll put it in between the doors along with a couple of sodas and a pair of our stale sandwiches for you. I'll cover the cost with what you gave me. Just make sure the fire is a good one or the cops will likely beat the shit out of me for calling them."
Cinder gave the teen a nod and backed away from the window. Less than a minute later he collected a bag from between the doors and made his way back to the boy and his bike. Not waiting, he flipped on the pump, filled the empty sports drink bottle and shoved the rag in it. He smiled as he noted the youngster running the station had even been thoughtful enough to put a pack of three Bic lighters in the bag.
Still saying nothing to the now shivering boy, Cinder put the full can of gas in the left saddle bag and looked into the Drake's eyes, "I can hear sirens. The cops are coming and will probably do so in force. We should leave. Hop on."
Cider took a second to get Drake comfortable, fired up the engine and took off, stopping just long enough to throw the Molotov cocktail though the upper window of the abandoned shop. He glanced down at the wide eyed boy, "It's rat infested and dangerous. Now hold on, we have less than fifteen minutes before the rain gets here and it's just over twelve miles to my place."
Drake looked skeptically at the building as flames suddenly leapt out of the upper window, but didn't have time to argue as he suddenly found he had to concentrate at holding onto the frame of the bike as the man behind him forced the machine to speed up very quickly.
Drake's eyes grew wide as the man behind him continued to accelerate though the mostly dark streets at a speed easily double the posted speed limit. A half dozen times the motorcycle tilted so far to one side or the other, the guy grabbed his hand to prevent it from scraping the concrete. The fact the turns were being taken at such a break neck speed and the guy was doing it with one hand on the bars while using his other to protect him, was not lost on the eight year old.
Just as the first drops of rain were starting to sting his face, Cinder slammed on the breaks and did a hard ninety degree turn into his driveway. He reached down to his belt for the remote for his door, but before his hands got there, the door was already going up. At the same time the boy in front of him squealed and held up his hands across his face, clearly expecting to slam into heavy door.
Cinder felt the boy grow a bit slack and realized the boy's mental powers had kicked in again. This time instead of pulling at a gun, Drake had activated the door. It was clear this kid had some very strong mentalist abilities, but was not in total control of them. The exertion of such hard telekinetic pushes was hard on the boy as he had once again blacked out. Holding Drake's waist he gunned the engine just enough to get it into the garage and hit the remote closing it behind him.
He pushed the kick stand down, grabbed Drake around his waist, carrying him like a sack of potatoes, moved around to his saddle bag and grabbed the can of gas. Without making a single detour, he made a straight line for his bathroom and gently set the kid down in the tub. Leaving him there, he went back to the garage and grabbed a powerful camping lantern style flashlight.
He returned to the bathroom and looked at the boy. With a shake of his head he pulled off his holster, black leather vest, and shirt, taking a moment to set his pistol on the top of the medicine cabinet well out of reach and sight of the boy. Finally, he pushed Drake down in the tub and carefully poured some of the gasoline into a cup. He tilted the boy's head back and poured the gas over the boy's hair.
Instantly, Drake struggled and started to cough as he felt the liquid hit his head and smelled the fumes.
Cinder held on with enough force to prevent anything from getting into the kid's face or eyes. "Stop! You have lice and I am using gas to get rid of them. This will burn the shit out of your eyes if we are not carful!"
Drake whimpered but did cease fighting.
"Look, kiddo, this sucks, but we can't have you infesting my house. The gas will kill them. The problem is, this ain't exactly safe. I have to do this by flash light because we can't risk any sparks and we absolutely have to keep it out of your eyes."
Drake calmed a bit more. His lower lip, however, continued to quiver, showing just how afraid he was. After a couple more cups were dumped on his head and the man rubbed his hair rather vigorously, pulling his hair a bit painfully a few times, Drake finally found enough courage to speak. "What about my clothes?"
"Everything you have on now is done, and chances are good there are lice or lice eggs in or on most of it anyway. Once we get you out of those rags I'm taking them straight outside, storm or not, and I'm burning them."
Drake tightened up and his eyes grew wide with fear. "You're goin' to burn my clothes?"
"Relax," Cinder stated softly suddenly realizing how that must have sounded to the now quaking child. "I'm not one of those. I've got someone getting you some new ones. He won't be here for a while though, so once we get rid of the lice and get you showered; you'll have to wear one of my t-shirts or something. I've also got a couple of sandwiches for you, so the sooner we get this done, the happier we'll both be."
Cinder waited for the kid to calm down before he started speaking again. "The other thing we'll have to do tonight is decide if you want me to really comb your hair or cut it all off. If we cut it off, getting rid of the lice for good will be way easier, but you'll be bald until your hair grows back. If we take the comb method, it'll hurt some cause I'll have to comb every strand from the roots all the way out and your hair is pretty long and unkempt. Also if you keep your hair we'll have to do this again in a few days and put some egg killer shampoo on a few times to prevent them from coming back.
Drake gulped, "Me don't want to be bald."
"I kind of figured." Cinder responded with a sigh. "Then you have to promise me, no bitching when I start combing your hair, no matter how much it hurts or I pull on it."
"OK." Drake squeaked.
"Buddy, I'll try to take it easy, I really will, but the second you start giving me any grief about it, I break out the razor. Got it?"
Drake nodded slowly, "What about you? Do you have any on you?"
"Probably, but I'm special."
"Yeah." This time Cinder gave a genuine grin. "I'll shave all my hair off and take a gas bath tonight and I'll have new hair by morning.
Even as tired, confused, and scared as he was, Drake gave Cinder the same look a kid who is told he has to go sit on Santa's lap gives a parent after he has figured out the fat guy isn't real. No words were needed.
Cinder outright laughed at the expression while putting one last cup of gasoline over the boy's hair. "I'm being serious, really!"
Drake pouted, clearly thinking he was being made fun of. "I'm not dumb."
"I never said you were. The truth is, I wouldn't believe it either if it wasn't for the fact I have had hair like this since four days after I turned tweleve. I don't get facial hair unless I do something I don't like to do, but if I cut my hair much shorter than this, it will be back by morning. You'll just have to wait and see for yourself."
Drake looked into the strange man's eyes, trying to find any hint of deceit. Finding nothing, he finally shrugged and changed the subject. "How long did mom sell... um... me mean rent... um... can you tell me how long do me have to stay with you?"
Cinder delayed answering as he decided how he wanted to deal with this. He had hoped the youngster would not broach the subject until he had a chance to sleep on it, but it was just not to be. To give himself some extra time he pulled a plastic bag out from under the sink and put the cap firmly back on the gas can. "Let's talk about this once we are done here. I am going to take the gas back to the garage and fill up my generator tank. In the mean time, I want you to get undressed and put everything in the garbage bag. Just be careful when you take off your shirt. It is soaked in gas and you don't want any in your eyes."
Cinder grabbed the gas can and started to move toward the door only to see Drake try to stand then fall. Once again he reacted with astounding speed and grace catching the boy before he hit his head on the edge of the tub. "Whoa, young 'an, you OK?"
Drake blinked and shook his head. "I don't feel good."
"Probably the gas fumes." Cinder stated in the most comforting voice he could manage. "Look, I can tell by some of what you have said and implied, you really don't want me touching you, but this time it may be best if you let me help you out of your clothing. Then I can turn on the shower and let it spray you while I get all the gas and gas soaked stuff out of here. I promise I will not hurt you in any way."
Drake let out a resigned sigh and held up his hands to allow for quick removal of his shirt. He then followed up by holding out one foot then the other and finally used his hands to push up on the floor of the tub so his pants and yellow stained undies could be removed.
It was very clear Drake was used to being undressed by others and it angered Cinder a great deal. The fact the kid cringed with each removal made it even worse. Before the weekend was done, Cinder knew he was going to find out as much as he could about everyone who had hurt this child. He would then spend part of everyday finding them so he could have a 'man to man chat' with each of them. In the mean time, however, he needed to focus on tending to the boy's more immediate needs. "OK, stay there and let the water spray you. It'll be cold at first, but I'll stay until we get it comfortable."
"Then what?" Drake asked.
"Then I let you wash with soap and take care of a few things. I'll come back in and check on you, and if you need help standing so you can really get clean in the shower, I'll help. But only what you really need help with."
"Me don't know how to take a shower. Can me just take a bath?"
Cinder glanced around the bathroom and finally shook his head, "Uh, well, believe it or not, I have no idea if I even have a stopper for the drain. I'll look around, but I'm afraid a shower is all I can offer tonight." He reached out and lightly ruffled the long black hair. "Besides, as dirty as you are, it'll be best if most of this goes down the drain."
Seeing Drake frown, Cinder took a step back. "Tell you what. You get a shower tonight. I'll talk you through it and help if you need it. If you are good, I'll pick up a stopper tomorrow so you can have a bath from here on out."
Cinder once again moved forward and turned on the water. He got it to the point where it felt warm, but not hot to the touch before he pushed the button forcing the water to come out of the showerhead.
Drake squirmed as the first few seconds were pretty cold, but settled as the water heated up the pipe and became warmer.
Cinder gave the boy a slight grin, "If you want it warmer you turn this handle. If you want it colder turn this one, but be careful and do it slowly. I have a huge water heater and it is set for pretty hot, if you aren't careful, it could burn you." Once he was sure the boy understood how to adjust the water he handed the kid a fresh bar of soap and a washcloth. The very fact the water rolling off the boy was muddy colored told him even if the kid wasn't the greatest at washing himself, he would still come out a hundred times cleaner than he was at the moment.
Cinder quickly vacated the bathroom, letting Drake have some time to wash and hopefully unwind enough to put some kind of trust forward. By the time he finished gassing up the generator, tossing the disgusting clothing into his burn barrel and setting up his hunting cot and sleeping bag for his unexpected guest, nearly twenty minutes had past.
He moved up to the bathroom door and knocked lightly. "How you doing Drake?"
Drake poked his head out from around the shower curtain, "Me is really hungry."
"I bet you are, but are you clean?"
"Me think so." Drake paused, "But my forehead hurts again and it goes all fuzzy when I try to stand."
"Forehead?" Cinder asked. "Did you fall and bump it while I was setting thing up?"
"No." Drake's voice took on kind of a sacred tone. "It sometimes just starts hurting after I see something creepy happen and me start seeing spots sometimes too. Mom says I'm sick."
Cinder moved forward and knelt next to the tub. "Creepy? Like what?"
"Um, well tonight. I think I saw the man stab mom and then come at me, but then the knife bent and broke like it just twisted in thin air until it snapped. Then, me was on the ground and a hand with a gun in it was on the street, but it wasn't... well the hand was on the ground by itself and it was moving, like it was trying to point at me..."
Cinder rubbed his chin suddenly realizing there was no sign of a knife or shank even though the woman had clearly been stabbed and stabbed deeply. The fact the boy had almost certainly protected himself and broke a blade was a bit troubling, but would probably be a huge strain on even the most powerful budding mentalist. The headache and the dizziness were probably tied to the developing ability, but it was still nothing more than a guess on his part. However, even as he listened to Drake, he wondered how he had missed such an important detail of entering a fight and not looking for a weapon he knew had to be there. It wasn't like him. He shrugged it off and focused on his little visitor. "Buddy, I'm not sure about all this, but I bet part of it is you are very hungry, tired, scared, and to be honest not very well taken care of. Something tells me getting some food in you and a good safe night's sleep will take care of a lot of this."
Cinder held out his hands doing his best to show Drake he had no desire to hurt him as he moved a bit closer. "Now, can I help you stand and make sure you are totally clean?"
A bit of uneasiness returned to Drake but he nodded.
"Good. Now if I see anything you need to get cleaner I'll do nothing but make sure you don't fall and let you do the washing. It should make this a bit easier on you this way."
Drake paused and looked at Cinder carefully for a few seconds. When he spoke, he was a great deal calmer. "You really aren't going to hurt me."
Cinder was surprised at the tone. The boy was not asking a question, but was stating a fact. He smiled, "Not on purpose, not now, not ever. The hair thing will probably be a bit painful though."
"You told me." Drake nodded in total understanding. "You can wash me if it will get me to the food more fast."
Cinder chuckled, "Alright, but if I do anything at all to make you uncomfortable then tell me and I'll have you take over."
Ten minutes later Cinder pulled the comb though the long and now much softer hair for the final time then wrapped a towel around the now spotless child and led him out into living room. "Have a seat on the couch. Those sandwiches and sodas are for you. I'll go find you a T-shirt to wear until we get you into some real stuff."
Drake nodded, but didn't hesitate to sit and grab the food. By the time Cinder had found a t-shit without an obnoxious saying, symbol or grease stain on it, both sandwiches and one soda were gone and the second soda was open.
Cider looked down totally amazed, "Wow, I think we found us a world record speed eater!" Getting an honest to god giggle out of the boy was a very welcome and heartwarming sound. "So are you still hungry?"
Drake shook his head, "No, just tired." He looked up, "Um... so how long do me get to stay here?"
Cinder handed the boy the t-shirt and sat next to him. "You realize your question changed from the last time you asked me?"
"Yeah. Last time you asked me how long you had to stay. This time you asked how long you get to stay. So which question do you want the answer to?"
"The answers are different?"
"Yes. Which one is more important?"
Drake pulled the shirt over his head and stood so it fell over him, covering him to just below the knees. "It looks like I'm wearing a dress."
Cinder managed a grin, "In some places men and boys sleep in night shirts, almost like what you are wearing now, except most of them have a few buttons on the front. I'm still very interested in what question is the most important to you."
Drake chewed on his upper lip for a few seconds before finally speaking. "me think me want to know how long me can stay."
Cinder put an arm around the boy, somewhat surprised Drake allowed him to do it. "Well, the truth is you can stay as long as you like, but if you want to live here we'll have to set some rules and you need to understand I will sometimes leave for days at a time. I will need to be able to trust you to be here alone when I do need to go."
Drake yawned. "Can't me go with you?"
"Maybe, well eventually, once you learn a little bit more about me, but some of what I do is too dangerous for a kid your age."
"When do you leave next?"
"In just a few days. I have to go to Kansas City to check on someone, um... something."
"So me will be here alone?"
"Let me think it over." Cinder stated softly, "Maybe I'll be able to figure out...." He stopped as he realized the boy had already leaned into him and had fallen asleep. He made a soft snorting sound, as he carefully pulled his arm from around Drake while lowering him onto the couch. Glancing over at the cot, he shrugged, stood and retrieved the sleeping bag. He laid it over the now deeply slumbering child. A moment later a bright flash of light followed by a roar of thunder shook the whole house, but the boy never moved; a few seconds later the lights went out.
Cinder rolled his eyes and spoke softly to himself. "Good timing. Even better, if that didn't wake him nothing will. I'll be able to slide out and grab his stuff without having to worry about him waking up alone."