Castle Roland


by Kyle Aarons

In Progress

Chapter 5

Published: 8 Apr 14

Destiny's Shadow

Copyright © 2011 - 2015 by
Kyle Aarons

By the time Cinder pulled onto his street he could see the pair of jeeps parked out front, his garage door up, and the badly smoking Malibu backing out. He punched up the speed and quickly screeched into the drive. He quickly used the palm of his hand to smack the side of the Malibu causing Braeden to slam on the brakes, which in turn caused a metal on metal grinding sound.

Braeden rolled down the window, with a great deal of effort since the driver's side was slightly off track. "Hey, Cinder, two guys pulled up in those," he pointed to the two jeeps, "about an hour ago. Another guy pulled up, they got in and left. It looked really weird."

"Way to keep your eyes open, Bray, but where the hell are you going in this hunk of junk? I told you we needed to work on it."

"I have to be to work in twenty five minutes and this thing stalls once in a while... you said to feed Drake and tell him to stay inside till you got back if you weren't back."

"Yeah," Cinder put on a bit of a smirk, "But I never told you to take your car."

"What? You want me to walk until we get it fixed?"

"No." Cinder reached in though the window, grabbed Braeden's hand, and pressed the second key to the new Jeep Sport into it. Before he let Braeden see the key he closed the boy's hand around it. I want you to take this, at least until we get this," he smacked the side of the station wagon, "safe enough for a kid of mine to drive.

"Now, keep that key right where it is. I am going to open the side gate and I want you to pull this into the back and park it. Once you get out then you can open your hand. I really don't want you taking out my gate." He grabbed Braeden's shoulder. "You car stays back there until I am satisfied it is safe, got it?"

"OK, sure..." Braeden stated with a great deal of unease while keeping the key clenched tightly in his hand. It felt a bit big for a bike key, and he didn't know how to tell the man he had no idea how to drive a motorcycle. Still, he did as instructed. The second he was in the back, and Cinder was pulling the heavy wooden gate with metal reinforcing closed, he opened his hand and saw the Jeep name and emblem. His heart skipped a beat.

Cinder locked the gate and took a single step then stopped. He couldn't help but smile and chuckle as a roar of "No fucking way!" cascaded out of his back yard.

An instant later Braeden burst though the back door of the garage with an almost manic look in his eyes. "This is a sick joke right?"

Cinder shook his head. "No. The silver one is yours. The black one is mine. Both go into the garage at night and yours goes into the gas station's garage when you are at work. If your boss has any problem with it, I'll pay the son of a bitch a visit..."

"No, he's cool, other than the minimum wage thing. The garage is empty and he said we could use it to fix our rides and stuff, but I didn't know how and until now didn't know anyone who could show me!" He eyed the jeep and forced himself to calm his breathing. "It's like brand new though... the sticker is still on the window!"

"2014 Jeep Wrangler Sport." Cinder confirmed while nodding at it. "I got the lightest color I could because you do a lot of night driving and it will stick out. There is a much less chance of being hit with a light colored car at night. I expect you to take good care of it and no crazy shit unless I am with you. I'll teach you how to really drive as part of your training into the unseen. Sometimes knowing how to drive like a total animal, both on and off road, will be the best chance of saving your ass or Drake's should the shit ever hit the fan.

"Feel free to cruise some tonight to get a feel for it, I told them to get you a full tank..." Cinder pulled out a hundred out of his vest. "But take this just in case and put premium grade only in the tank. Also, it's new so you should take it out on the interstate and push it then slow it down, don't let it get used to one speed. Auto transmissions need to get broken in right, and part of that is quickly changing speeds and doing it often.

"I want you to do it nightly after work for at least an hour and a half for the next two to three weeks. I'll cover the gas. Insurance under your name should be in the glove box, and if you get a ticket or two while pushing the speed, I'll cover them since I am telling you to do it and it is very good for the transmission. There better not be any speeding of any kind when you have Drake with you though. You are to protect him every way possible and safe driving is a must. If find out about any kind of ticket when Drake is with you..." Cinder's eyes seemed to bore right though Braeden for a moment. "Just do us both a favor and don't make me show you what will happen."

Cinder then reached into his vest and pulled out a top of the line smart phone along with several attachments. "Here, this is yours as well. My new cell number and Drake's number are both on the back and programmed in as well. I expect you to memorize both numbers as a back-up. It is Bluetooth enabled and you have a car charger and a hands free ear clip so you can drive and talk properly.

"You have an unlimited data plan and I don't care if you have plenty of fun with it, but it is primarily for us to contact each other and I want it charged and with you at all times. I bought a spare battery as well, so once both get charged you have no reason to run out of juice. I already turned off GPS tracking on all of them because, I know for a fact, the government can track you if it is on. It stays off unless you are totally lost and need quick directions. Once you have them, it gets turned back off. Understood?"

Feeling more than a bit overwhelmed, Braeden couldn't really find his voice so he nodded.

Cinder looked over with a bit of concern, "You OK?"

"Yeah..." Braeden forced himself to gasp out, "It just..." He stepped up and gave Cinder a hug not knowing what else to do or say.

Cinder had to will himself not to push the teen off. Getting hugged by a little kid was bad enough, but a near adult hugging him was simply not something Cinder was used to and he flatly didn't feel at ease getting one. After an extremely almost painfully uncomfortable thirty second or more, he couldn't stand it any longer and cleared his throat. "You need to be getting to work Bray."

Braeden finally let go and nodded. "Man, I don't know how to thank you."

"You take care of Drake, and if you see or hear any talk on the streets you think I might find interesting, let me know. You sound like you have some contacts I simply don't have access to. The phone has a camera and a thirty two gig card too, so if something seems weird or off, take a pic so we can look it over together." Cinder then managed to fire a teasing grin, not being able to resist a poke at the boy. "Just don't go filling up the whole card with pics of kids you think are cute. I'll get you a computer you can drop those onto latter."

Braeden blushed, "Oh come on, I'm not like that... at least all the time..."

Cinder snickered then hardened, changing the subject quickly. "Hey, you still have the .38, right?"

"No. I put it up where you have your bullets so Drake couldn't accidently find it. It sounded like it was hot and...."

Cinder cut him off. "Get it and carry it. I already did a re-bore so rifling can't be traced if it had been used for a crime and the serial numbers were filed off before I picked it up. I want you armed. I am real careful with smells, but I do fight the unseen often. There is always a chance, no matter how slight, of you picking up a scent of something on you.

"Like it or not, Hell Hounds and other mindless creatures are sometimes drawn to such smells. Fortunately, all the mindless ones I have ever faced react to bullets about the same as humans do. I'll find you a better pistol and get you a shoulder rigging real soon, but for now the .38 is better than nothing. Until you are eighteen, we won't be able to get you a legal carry permit, so it goes in the glove box when you are doing normal on the town stuff, but once night falls or you get out of a populated area, you carry. If I find you are not, I'll beat your ass."

Cinder watched as the teen let out a bit of a nervous sigh and moved to grab the weapon and the extra rounds for it. He then walked Braeden to the Jeep and made sure he adjusted everything for comfort and safety. Finally he took the key the dealership had put under the seat so he had the spare and then made sure Braeden was comfortable with the remote starter, locks, and alarm on the key, and then spent another minute going over the security system. Once the boy looked comfortable behind the wheel Cinder spoke with a great deal of authority. "I'm serious about getting a good feel for this after your shift. I don't want you taking Drake out until you are totally comfortable and I expect you to take him out shopping for clothing tomorrow."

"You aren't coming?"

"No. What the hell do you think I want you here for?" Even though he was smiling a little, his eyes told Braeden there was more than a bit of truth behind the words. Before more could be said, Cinder stepped back from the window of the new jeep and slapped the side. "Now get the hell out of here before you're late. No kid under my roof is going to be late to anything if they know what's good for them."

Cinder stayed at the curb watching the jeep till it turned the corner and left his line of sight. He scratched his chin as he wondered how much bullet proof glass and Kevlar re-enforcing would cost and how much time it would take a company to install it all. He would have to find out.

He then jumped into his new jeep, fired it up and pulled it in to the garage. As he pushed his bike in to the side, leaving plenty of room for Braeden to park and not hit anything, he glanced over and the generator. "Ah crap."

He pulled out his cell and autodialed Braeden. It took a few rinds before the boy answered, "It works, and man, you got to let me buy a better ring tone, this one sucks!"

Cinder couldn't help but laugh, "What, you don't like Godsmack?"

"I'm good with the rock and roll man, but I'm more of the AC DC type of rocker. Besides, having Crin' Like a Bitch as my ring, don't exactly do much for my ego, Cinder. "

Still chuckling Cinder responded, "We'll hopefully get you to the point where you'll be able to make others do that. Until then, I'll fork out enough for you find five you like. You want more you pay me for them."


"Now, since we have the important things taken care of and all, "Grab a couple more gas cans and fill them before you come back tonight. I ended up stuffing my saddle bags with toys so the generator will be dry by morning if you don't get us some petrol."

"No prob. The tank in this is full, so I'll use the hundred to get some gas. Do you use premium on the generator?"

"No, the cheep shit is fine for home use. The bike and the cars only get the good shit though."

"Understood, we need anything else?"

"Yeah, if you want to continue to eat the shit you bought for you and Drake, you better grab some more. I don't eat canned crap, and you and I need to spend some time to talk about what you call food. You'll never get up to a high fighting caliber if you continue to shove processed shit down your throat."

"I'm willing to learn, but don't' try to take away my pizza..."

This time Cinder really burst out laughing, "I think we can find some good middle ground, Bray. See you later."

"Yeah, and thanks again, man."

Cinder simply hung up not really knowing how to respond. Instead he went into the house and noted Braeden had been thoughtful enough to close and lock the door to his war room. He then looked around the corner and spotted Drake, dressed in dark red sweat pants and an orange sweat shirt. The colors were not a great match, and even Cinder knew it, but he really didn't care. The kid was safe and warm. Nothing else really mattered. Seeing the kid was sitting on the floor happily playing with the toy cars all but proved Braeden had done a good job caring for him too, which was just as important. "Hey little buddy."

The boy turned with a jerk, clearly not having heard Cinder enter. "Hi mister... um... Uncle Cinder."

"Good, you remembered." Cinder stated as he dropped his saddle bags on the small kitchen table. "How do you like Braeden?"

The boy's face lit up, "Bray is really nice! He even showed me how to tie my shoes!"

"Really? You didn't know before?"

The boy shook his head, "No, I just made a knot and put the ends inside so the teachers don't get mad at me for having the laces out. Mrs. Miller is real mean about it."

Part of Cinder wanted to go find this Mrs. Miller and strangle her with the boy's shoe strings for being a bitch and not teaching a boy how to tie a fucking shoe, but he took a couple of deep breaths to subdue the flash of anger while keeping his face totally even. "You know, speaking of school, I don't live close to where you used to go. We are going to have to find you a new one since you want to stay here with us."

The boy finally stopped playing with the cars and chewed on his lip. "Do I have to go back to Eastmorland?"

"No..." Seeing and even smelling some relief he quickly decided to push a bit more. "So you didn't like Eastmorland?"

Drake quickly shook his head.

"Can you tell me why?"

"I'm not sa-pose-ta say."

"Who told you not to say anything?"

A bit of fear crossed the boy's face. "Do I have to tell?"

"No, Drake. But I'd sure like to hear why you don't' want to go back there."

"The bad man goes there."

"The bad man?" Cinder frowned. Seeing and smelling a new burst of fear and not wanting Drake to feel anything but safe he held up his hand. "Hey, there is nothing to be scared of and if you don't want to talk about it, it is OK. But if you can tell me anything at all about the bad man, without making you feel scared, I'd sure like to hear about it."

Drake looked down and played with the shoe laces on his new shoes for a few seconds, taking time to untie them and tie them again; almost like he was making sure he wouldn't forget how. He started to glance down at the toy cars again. However, as he saw Cinder start to turn away, he swallowed hard and picked up the 'Adams Family car' Braeden had happened to pick up as one of the cars. He held it up for Cinder to see before he opened up a bit more. "He drives this kind a car. The older kids talked about him all the time and said they'd give us to the man if we didn't give 'em our lunches and stuff. He'd come after school in a really big car after most of the teachers left or went back inside. Most a the time he'd drive by slow, but sometimes he'd stop and older kids would get in. A couple of times I saw one of the sixth grade teaches bring out a kid... he put them into the car and the boy was always crying and stuff."

"Always the same teacher and always the same boy?"

Drake shook his head really hard causing his hair to actually swish back and forth across his whole face. "Me saw two teachers do it."

"But the same boy, right?"

Again the boy wildly shook his head. "No, uncle Cinder. Some a them didn't even go to Eastmorland. They was there the year before though, cause one a 'em used to hurt me and other boys in the bathroom sometimes and make me drink out a the toilet and stuff. I don't' wanna go back there..."

"You won't." Cinder promised, "And Drake?"

The boy looked up.

"If any boy, girl, teacher or anyone else hurts you in the school we send you to, you better tell me. If you don't, you will be in way more trouble than if you try to keep it secret. Understood?"

"Yes, Uncle Cinder. I understand."

"Good boy." Cinder frowned momentarily, as he realized it sounded more like he was talking to a dog then a kid. He shook it off as he noted Drake did not seemed fazed by it. Changing the subject, he forced a smile and looked down; finding it really odd the boy had showed him a hearse, even a funny looking comic bookish one. "So Bray said he fed you?"

Drake's whole mood shifted from being a bit afraid and nervous to really happy. "Uh huh, I got a whole bowl of spaghetti-o's all for myself! He made me milk with chocolate stuff to! It was real good!"

"Are you still hungry?" Cinder asked while realizing he would have to work on eating habits of both boys, but figured once he turned Braeden around Drake would follow since any food seemed to be a welcome change to being hungry all the time for the little guy.

Drake shook his head, "No, Bray made sure before he got ready for work. I don't think I ate like he wanted though."


"He kept askin' me if I wanted another bowl, like he was mad at me for not eating more."

"I don't think he was mad at you Drake."

"That's what he said too, but he didn't look happy." Drake stated with some concern in a higher pitched voice than he normally spoke.

"He was just worried about you, buddy. Nothing more. He likes you and does not want to see you hungry ever again." Cinder found himself at a loss on what more to say, so he motioned the boy to follow him into the kitchen.

As soon as Drake entered the small area off the living room, Cinder carefully dumped out the contents of his saddle bag, taking time to set the Play Station, games and extra controllers off to the side. "Since you are going to live here now, I wanted to make sure you had enough toys to play with. In this box is a Play Station and games for it, and I'll hook it up to the TV later tonight.

"For now, go ahead and get this all into the living room, find what you want to play with and go out back until dinner. Tonight, I'm going to build you a box out of some scrap wood so all of this has a home when you are not playing with it. Once it's built, I expect your things to be in the box or being played with. I do not want to step on any toys."

Drake bounded up and down like he was on a pogo stick as he looked at the assortment of toys, most of them tanks, airplanes, plastic soldiers, and assortments of legos and other fairly cheap, highly entertaining, things for a boy of eight to play with. There was also a heavy assortment of Transformers, which, unless Cinder missed his guess, would be Drakes favorite in short order. With the new found treasure trove of toys, the conversation about the 'bad man' was forgotten.

Cinder watched as the boy had to make three trips to get everything in the living room, then he quickly decided on the tanks and soldiers to take out back. The boy eagerly went to the far back where the garden would soon be. It only took a few minutes to realize the boy would need another bath and he had forgotten to get a stopper for the tub. With a bit of anger at himself, he went out back to his work room and spent a few minutes making something capable of holding the water in the tub without going down the drain, falling apart, or having any sharp edges, since he was certain the two toy boats would join the boy in the tub.

Satisfied Drake could fend for himself for a while, he moved back to his war room. Before he even sat down, he could see Braeden had indeed done some work on the computers as there were notes in a word pad window left open on the upper left side of the main monitor. He sat down and started to read.

Cinder, I watched this like two dozen times, and if this is for real, it's pretty wild. I hope this isn't some sort of test that I just wasted like and a hour and half on. First I think it has to be one of the boys. Everything that is moving is like way more geared to a boy. The woman on the cart doesn't look like she moves at all except to be moved when the cart does. Then there is the girl dummy in the far back. She does move but only to hide her face which was right on cue with what is being said, then all she does is tremble, which is in the spoken cues as well. (If this is for real and supposed to be secret, you got to tell me how you got all the voice feeds and timed them up. Cause if this is secret you are really good, man)...

So it took me like five times of watching this before I realized the boy in the cart grabs the strap thing and is probably the most active thing going on. It almost... the best thing I can think is like whoever is doing this is taking the place of the boy in the cart... maybe he wishes he were the boy in the cart... Just a hunch, but if you just focus in on what moves and how it moves... So I'll let you decide.

Moving on: the man dummy pulls the gun up. If this is a dummy that came to life, then whoever did this must have some kind of gun training or watches lots of shows with guns, cause it looks like real life like. It came up to the shoulder and the hand pumps it, like it is a pump shotgun, but it isn't. Did they even have pump shot guns back then? Whatever, but since that is not talked about I'd say whoever did this has shot a pump shotgun or has seen one shot more than once. Maybe a hunter?

Because I think it is a boy I only focused in on them. And no I wasn't going there so stop it. But you know the grey eyed blond one in the far back is a real knock out: just kidding... kind of...

I then decided to cross off all the boys who looked away or covered their faces for more than a few seconds. It is just a guess again, but I kind of think a kid would have to be actually looking to make this stuff all move, I mean, right?

This leaves you with only 7 boys, including the cute one...? I wish I knew more about computers so I could just drop the rest off and watch those 7 but I have no idea how. I did the best I could and think I can cross off 4 others including the really good looking one? Like for the last time here this is a guess too, but if a kid is like upset enough to cry, I don't think he'd be able to keep all this moving. The last 3, well like I said, if I could just pull them up and compare maybe I'd see something else.

The three I picked in order are:

(1) The tallest kid, the one in the bright green jacket and silver bracelet. He's a bit goofy looking, and in a wind storm he may be able to fly with those ears sticking out the way they do, but sure looked like totally thrilled by it all. Never looked away and was smiling even as shit started to smoke. (that kind of weirds me out, so he is number 1)

(2) The second cutest kid in the group, the light brown, wavy haired one with the mysterious darker greenish yellow eyes. He's got the red and black coat, standing on the far right. He may actually be my first choice since I think his eyes only blink like three of four times and he is really watching it all. No real excitement though, and does frown as things start to smoke. Not sure if that matters or not. He sure is adorable though?

(3) The tub-o-lard standing in the back left. Dark blue coat and buzz cut. Definitely the ugliest kid in the whole class, boy or girl. He never flinches but doesn't look terribly interested. My guess he is thinking about when he eats next. Probably not a good candidate, but he fits in with the other 2 who never turn away, don't cry, and don't cover their eyes.

The other four, the ones who cover their eyes and/or cried but didn't actually turn away.

(1) The only black kid: you should be able to find him on your own. Starts crying real early but never covers his eyes or turns away.

(2) The dark haired brown eyed kid with the racing like jacket on. He's certainly the best built out of all of them... How does a kid that age start to look buff? He was the last of the four to cover his eyes and his brow wrinkles a few times. Looks like worry to me, but if these powers come from the brain, would the brow wrinkle? Just a thought.

(3) The future gang banger of the group, punked out hair, leather jacket, sticking close to the most trashy dressed girl the whole time... are those boy's lips really that color or did he use bright red lipstick.. just saying... He tried to play up the tough kid act, but started talking to the trashy girl next to him. Don't think he could talk and do all that shit that's going on. Besides, he's trembling like a leaf toward the end, trying not to be scared and keeps wiping tears. I'd sure like to put his rich punk ass on the street for a few days and see what he thinks of his tough boy attitude and expensive fake gangland dress then.

(4) The long straight haired blond, grey eyes, thin as a rail with small feet. He's the one with light blue jacket with yellow trim and torn left knee, looks real recent. A real knock out if you ask me who really needs some sun (does his mom ever let him out of the house? Look at how pale he is...) He stands in the back and is probably the class outcast. He looks interested enough but I am not sure he can even see it all from where he is standing and he covers his eyes twice, once when the horse shows teeth and the second time when the girl covers her eyes and then he cries at the end, but I think the buff boy said something to him and then the tears start, so not sure what went on there. (He would be my 4th choice, since his eyes were covered far less than the other three on this list. And I kind of hope he is the one since I feel sorry for him)

Hope this helps

By the way this spell check thing totally kicks ass. I actually look like I am not a junior high drop out when I type on this thing. But why is punked and weirds not words? I use them like all the time.


Cinder read the whole thing twice, grunting in annoyance at the some of the pokes the teen had taken about liking the way some of the kids looked. A few were clearly meant to agitate him, in which Braeden had been successful, and quite a few others told him way more about what Braeden liked the then boy probably wanted to let him know. However, it was an interesting insight into what the young man found as attractive and what Braeden thought about when he looked at a child he found attractive. In some ways, Cinder took heart in the knowledge Bray noticed more than just looks and even seemed to care about some of the kids.

It was real clear the boy found nothing attractive at all about the black child, which was somewhat interesting since the boy was very much proportioned the same as the two Braeden liked the best. The real difference other than just skin color was the hair. The others had longer much straighter hair. He couldn't help but wonder if it was all race motivated dislike or was it race and hair. It was in interesting question that, if he could get an answer, would allow him to understand the teen a bit better.

One thing was for sure, since Braeden did look at kids in this way, he would need an outlet once in a while so he could stay focused on keeping Drake safe. Cinder didn't have a clue how to deal with this problem quite yet, but he would figure it out. He always did.

On the other hand, the way the young man's perspective on the world and how he viewed things showed a high degree of intelligence and in some ways maturity well beyond his sixteen years. It only took one more time of going though the whole event to see Braeden had all but nailed dozens of things Cinder had been overlooking for the past two and a half weeks. In some ways it seriously aggravated him. Sill, when he spoke his voice was full of enthusiasm over the work Braeden had done. "Way to go Bray!"

With this new perspective, he replayed the events in his head since he had witnessed much of it live and then did what Braeden hadn't been able to do because of his lack of computer knowledge. Cinder filtered out all but the seven boys Braeden had selected and replayed the whole thing. Once again Cinder found himself agreeing with much of what Braeden had already seen. The boy in the leather jacket was simply more interested in the looking tough and looking at the girl with the way too short skirt and heavy makeup. This did cause Cinder to wonder what well off parent would let a third grader dress like a street walker and why an eight or nine year old would be interested in a girl, but he quickly shoved those thoughts to the side and dropped the boy off the screen.

Seeing noting else to allow him to flatly eliminate any of the others, he started pausing at each verbal cue and focusing in on what each child did as it was spoken. Once again, he agreed with Braeden's take on the badly overweight boy. The kid watched the whole time. However, the boys eyes showed an ever increasing annoyance. Then, just before one of the verbal cues was spoken, the hefty kid lifted the head set off his ears and scratched. Since this was the only cue for the boy in the cart to lean back to get control of the horse, and the boy in the cart did so, Cinder dropped him from the monitors.

"OK, down to five." He got up, glanced out to make sure Drake was still content and grabbed an apple and an orange. As he sat back down and munched on his snack, he once again spoke aloud. "I cant' keep track of five kids in Kansas City. I need to narrow this down to at most three, preferably two."

He went back to Braeden's notes. As troubling as it was to see how interested Braeden was in the pale blond boy, the teen's interest in the poor little guy turned out to be key to eliminate one of the others. The mini-body-builder of the group did indeed turn and say something to the blond boy. It was only for a moment but it clearly hurt the blond boy's feelings. Cinder concluded, if the strong looking lad was so interested in tormenting the smaller boy, the chances were very slim he was really listening to everything being said.

To verify this, Cinder pulled up the muscular boy alone and ran though the whole thing yet again. This time he watched with a degree of irritation as he followed the boy's movements. The boy had slowly but steadily moved back to get next to the blond haired one. There was no question, although he was interested in the display and all the happenings in front of him, his real focus was not really on the display at all. With everyone else, including the teaches and even the 'guides', distracted he saw an opening to be mean to the much smaller child and took it. Judging by the reaction of the pale child, the stronger one took it with a vengeance.

Even as he dropped the boy from the list and took his image off the list of kids to watch, he wondered if he might be able to find a way to somehow humiliate the little shit when he saw him again is Kansas City. The brat certainly deserved to be knocked down a peg or two. It would not be easy; however, the satisfaction of doing something to make the kid break down and cry in front of the whole class would be extremely satisfying. It might also prevent or at least cut down on the bullying for a while, protecting the others.

Filing the thought away for the time being, he tried one more time to find anything to eliminate the others. Nothing stuck out. On the other hand, he did find himself agreeing with Braeden again. The two best choices were the two boys on the first list and of the other two he was pretty skeptical of the black youngster. However, fear had certainly been behind both of Drake's activation of his mentalist abilities and the dark skinned boy was certainly afraid, so he couldn't dismiss the child yet.

Before he could do more he heard the back door open. Not wanting Drake to have to worry about what his high tech war room was all about; he exited the room, closed the door and locked it. As he turned he spotted a very happy, yet dirty Drake.

Cinder felt his jaw drop for a split second as he took in the sight of a boy who had been basically clean only a couple of hours prior. "Did you leave any dirt out there?"

Drake cocked his head to the side and grinned catching the man's meaning and thinking it was asked as more of a joke than Cinder had actually intended. "Yes uncle Cinder. I can go get some if you want."

Not at all expecting to have an eight year old fire back with any kind of a witty comment, it caught Cinder a bit flat footed. He shook it off quickly. "I'm not sure the tub or the drain could handle anymore than what you have on you. Bathtub, now!"

"But I had a bath shower thing yesterday!" the boy stated with a mix of annoyance and shock.

"Either bathtub or I break out the hose, take you back outside and spray you down until the water comes off in some other color than muddy brown."

Drake giggled, still not quite getting the fact Cinder was not really joking. "Can I take my toys in the bath?"

"I got you a couple of boats and I'm sure a few of your army men wouldn't mind a bath after what you did to them."

Once again Drake giggled as he ran back out and grabbed some of the toys.

Cinder watched on in half amusement and half horror. Keeping a clean house with the likes of Drake around was going to be beyond challenging. Still he stopped the boy as he got to the door. "I know we haven't talked about any rules so I don't' want you to think I am mad at you. However, I am not real happy to see you left those toys outside. You need to take better care of your things."

"But I want to go back out later." Drake responded.

"Little buddy." Cinder knelt and stared into Drake's eyes. "Until you are used to being here and I am used to you being here. I want you inside an hour before dark. Being out at night is no place for a kid in this area, and we just don't know each other well enough for me to say it is OK for you to stay in the back yard until dark just yet. Also, as long as you live here, you are expected to take care of what I get for you. I promised I would not hurt you, but I will smack your butt good and hard if you don't take care of your things. I will never spank you without you knowing exactly why and I would never spank you unless you have already been told something then go against what I set down as a rule. But once you know a rule and you break it, getting your butt popped good and hard is a very real possibility. Spanking you is not hurting you; it is teaching you. Understand?"

Drake clearly looked a bit concerned with being talked to so forcefully and really didn't like the idea of getting spanked. So he quickly nodded. "I'm sorry!"

"Hey, this time there is nothing to be sorry for. I didn't set down any rules about toys or when to be inside. From now on, though, I expect all toys to be inside at night and once I build you a box for them, to be put away unless you are playing with them. Also, from now on, you are never to be out after dark unless Bray or I am with you. Once you make some friends, I'll point out other adults you can be with outside after dark, but not until I approve them. The most important thing for me is to keep you safe, and if you do what I set down as rules you will be."

Drake nodded, "Um, can I go to the bathroom then go back outside for a while before a have to take a bath then?"

Cinder glanced at the clock and decided, even though he could easily give the boy another forty-five minutes outside, to enforce his will a bit. "No. Go get any toys you left out back and get into the tub. I'll start dinner."

Drake was clearly a bit surprised by the answer but was way too afraid to even think about arguing. Talking back was akin to playing Russian Roulette with his mom, any of her boyfriends, and especially the people who paid mom money to take him for a night or two. More than once he had been locked in a closet, beaten until large sections of his body were black and blue, or worse for talking back or even saying 'no' to a verbal demand. Still, he was not really used to hard and fast rules and he was not sure what to make of someone setting something in stone like Cinder just had.

Mom had never made any rules. Until this instant, he had never been given a hard and fast rule about anything, since most of the time his mom went by mood and how much or how little drugs she had in her. Her boyfriends either didn't want him around or wanted him around a bit too much, and often times they would switch back and forth depending on mood and how well mom was 'putting out'. Finally, those who paid for him were not prone to rules, only demands. Also, just like his mom and her never ending parade of boyfriends, those demands often times switched and changed rapidly depending on what the person wanted or liked. Out of everything Drake had managed to figure out, there was one thing he had learned and learned it well. He could adapt and adapt quickly to fit whatever new circumstance he found himself in.

As he quickly moved to the area he had been playing and picked up everything, part of him wondered if what Cinder had just told him was for few hours, a few days, a week, or longer. Even as part of him hated the idea of not being able to do what he wanted sometimes, another part was really hoping, almost longing for some sort of stability. The whole needing a bath thing in back to back nights was the one thing he didn't like, but at least he had some toys to play with. He was also pretty sure at this point neither Cinder or Braeden would come in and hurt him while he was in the bath, so if a bath was a nightly thing required before eating then so be it. At least it was with warm water and in a safe place, and it would be followed up with food, none of which had ever been on a guaranteed list for the boy.

Still, even as the Drake pushed all the toys under the cot to get them out of the way and moved to the bathroom, part of him expected Cinder to suddenly change into one of the multitude of mean people who had been the norm in Drake's life. The other part of him hoped it would not happen. He had tried in the past to be very nice only to have it backfire on him, but for some reason this felt different. Hoping his thoughts were right, he made an inner commitment to do whatever it took to keep both Cinder and Braeden happy no matter what.

To this end he bit back some fear and entered the kitchen only to find Cinder humming to himself as he busily chopped tomatoes and tossed them into a pot on the stove. He started to back off, seeing how busy the man was, but a hand quickly shot out and grabbed his shoulder. He yelped in both fear and surprise at just how fast Cinder could move.

"Relax Drake. I'm not going to hurt you." Cinder stated without fully turning around while his other hand continued to chop without missing a beat. "However, you came in here like you wanted something and I can smell the dirt on you so you have not yet taken a bath. So talk."

Drake's little nose scrunched up in surprise. "You can smell me?"

"Yes. Now please tell me what you want or need. I cannot smell your thoughts."

Drake gulped and took a deep breath as a shot of fear returned.

This was something Cinder heard as well as felt and smelled so he dropped the knife on the cutting board and turned to focus all his attention on Drake. "Hey, dinner can wait. What's wrong?"

"Um..." Drake paused and swallowed hard, "I didn't tell you all a it."

Cinder's lips pressed tightly together and his left eyebrow shot up as he tried to figure out what the boy was talking about. Not getting anything further out of Drake he cocked his head to the side. "I am sure there are great many things you have not told me yet. We still have a great deal to learn about each other. Can you tell me what you didn't tell me everything about?"

A indication of terror flashed into the Drake's eyes and his voice took on the higher pitched tone of fear as well as he spoke. "The bad man at Eastmorland, uncle Cinder."

At this point, Cinder pushed the pot off the burner and took a knee. Even as he did this, a stray thought of needing to buy pants with reinforced knees crossed his mind. He was quick to file the odd thought away for later, focusing in on Drake instead. "Even as you talk you are getting scared and your heart rate is through the roof. Take a couple of deep breaths and try to calm down. He can't hurt you here. He doesn't even know you are here and the more you tell me the safer I can keep you."

Fighting back some tears, Drake nodded in a degree of understanding paused long enough to be able to speak without his voice cracking, "The boys, older boys... I sometimes saw 'em when them got back too. They always looked real sick, and walked like lots of mom's boyfriends after they drink too much. The Teacher would take 'em and put 'em in their cars after and get money from the bad man."

"Really? Do you know how long they were gone with the bad man before he brought them back?"

"Sometimes." Drake nodded then went on to explain almost as if he knew what Cinder wanted to know. "I always would stay late cause the lunch ladies threw out stuff every night and I could get food if I waited long enough. One of them would just give me some if the others weren't looking." This caused a bit of a smile.

Cinder ruffled Drake's hair. "At least someone there was nice to you."

Drake nodded, but just as quickly as the smile appeared it faded. "Most of the time the boys would be gone for one or two days. The couple a times me see a girl go. They was back the next day. If it was one a them from last year it was longer. He only got yellow hair girls though. They was older too. The one who was really mean to me came back on Wednesday. I saw the teacher push him into the bad man's car on Thursday."

Cinder tried to follow everything but it was too much information with nothing in the way of good coherent order. He held up his hands. "Drake, you lost me. So this bad man...

"The bad man." Drake interrupted then quickly shut up as he saw Cinder's eyes narrow. He quickly looked away and braced as if expecting to get slapped.

Seeing the reaction Cinder slid back a little, "Little buddy, I am not going to hit you nor will Bray. Now look at me for a second."

Drake turned back with a huge amount of fear written across his small face.

Seen the boy was going to look away again. Cinder reached out and put a hand on each side of Drake's face so he could make eye contact. "Look into my eyes Drake. Does these eyes look like the kind of eyes of those who have hurt you?"

Drake gulped and a few tears dripped down on Cinder's hands. We he started speaking again, his voice was nothing more than a terror filled whisper. "When they got all narrow, they did."

Cinder let go and shook his head, "Damn-it."

Instantly Drake turned his whole body and flinched quite badly. Although his whole body started shaking, he didn't try to flee. Instead he braced for what he clearly thought was an imminent impact.

Cinder clenched his fist in frustration and anger, both at himself and Drake. He forced his whole demeanor to go neutral and he spoke softly, "Buddy, little buddy... Drake, come on, relax and look at me. I am not mad at you. I am mad at all the people who have hurt you."

Drake turned slowly clearly expecting this to be some kind of trick, "But you... your hands made fists..."

Hearing the words and seeing the look in the boy's eyes was almost worse than getting bit by a Hell Hound... almost... "Did you really think I was going to punch you?"

Drake chewed on his lower lip as he used his shoulder to wipe away the tears. "Fists hurt Uncle Cinder. I'll be a good boy and do whatever you want. Just... just.... Don't hit me with fists... please?"

"Drake, look at me and listen very carefully." Cinder commanded. Once he was sure he had the boy's full attention, he reached out again and took a hold of the boy's face again. These two hands on your cheeks right now, are never going to form a fist and hit you. They will NEVER form into a fist and hit you. They may form a fist in frustration, anger, or even annoyance. They will certainly form into fists to beat the living shit out of anyone who hurts you, but NEVER you. If nothing else comes out of this conversation, Drake, I want you to leave it knowing I will not punch you. No matter what you do, I will not punch you."

Cinder kept his hands on the boy's face until he felt the boy's body loosen up a bit. "Now are you Ok to continue, because I really do want to hear what you came in here to tell me."

Drake's left hand went up and rubbed the outside of Cinder's right hand as if wanting to believe the man's words but not being able to. The fingers rubbed over each knuckle as if he was gauging how much they would or could hurt. Finally he nodded.

"Drake, I know all of this is very scary for you and you are being very brave for coming to me. I just got confused about what you were telling me. Now, I am going to keep my hands on your face so you have to look into my eyes as you talk, since you have a very bad habit of looking away. If you look away you can't see if I am confused or not and it might allow me to see some of what you are feeling and help you though this as well.

"Now, before I scared you, you were saying like three things all at once. You were saying something about boys being gone for two or three and girls then something about a Wednesday and a Thursday?"

Drake clearly had a hard time looking at Cinder as he spoke. Even though the man's hands keep his head from turning his eyes quickly broke contact. "Me only see girls go for one day Uncle Cinder. Boys were gone longer."

"OK, and what happened to the boy who was mean to you?"

Drake let out a large sigh, clearly frustrated by Cinder's lack of understanding. "The bad man got him on Thursday and he come back on Wednesday."

"Oh, so he was gone a whole week, right?"

"Didn't me just say that?" Drake asked without any sarcasm at all.

"And this was not uncommon for an older boy to be gone long?"

"No Uncle Cinder, I think the bad man like yellow hair and blue eyes. He keeped 'em longer."

"You really notice a great deal for an eight year old." Cinder praised. "What else can you tell me?"

Before Cinder could ask more, Drake rushed onward, speaking fast like he just wanted to get it out and forget it. "But the really bad thing happened jus' before mom moved again after she got lots of money for my sister. The bad man drove up and gave a boy I didn't know to the teacher, he was really sick and couldn't walk, he fell out of the car and started to crawl, so the teacher picked him up by the back of his pants and put him in his trunk and instead of getting money he gave the bad man some. I tried to hide, but he saw me looking at him."

Drake took a deep breath and spit out the rest, quite literally, talking so fast some spray actually ended up on Cinder's face. "He drove real close opened the window and stared. It was so scary, it hurt my head. Then the all the windows on the side of the car blew up and me saw one of the boys from the year before in the back, he was looking at me too and looked real sick. As soon as the dark window blew up, he started to scream like he was bein' hurt. He drove off real fast and parked under a tree and just stared at me like he was afraid of me while the boy from last year got into the far back and hid under something.

"Me don't know what happed cause me don't remember nothing until me woke up in the back seat of the nice lunch lady's car. She took me to the free clinic and told them she found me behind the bushes in the back of the school with a pile of puke on the ground and me holding my head and crying, but me was OK again so they gave me a couple cookies and told her I'd live."

"Whoa, whoa, WHOA!" Cinder stated over and over in ever increasing volume until Drake paused and sucked in a couple more deep breaths. "Which he are we talking about? The he as in the bad man started screaming like he was being hurt or the kid from last year?"

"The kid from last year!" The Bad man got a bunch of glass in his face, though!"

"OK, so you... so the window shattered..."

"No uncle Cinder all the windows on the whole side of the car blew up! The glass went all over; some even hit the building behind me, but not me for some reason."

Cinder let out a long breath realizing the little tyke had probably used some sort of massive telekinetic shove and subconsciously protected himself at the same time. It probably scared the living crap out the 'bad man'. He would have to find ways to start working with Drake to get him to control such outbursts or things could get even more expensive than they already were. But this was not the time and there were questions still to ask. "Well it is lucky you were not hurt. But some of the glass hit the boy..."

"No, just the bad man. I didn't know the boy was there until after the windows blew up." This time Drake slowed way down so he was certain Cinder got it all, not really wanting to repeat himself for again. "The bad man had glass in his face, but drove under the big tree just up from school. He parked and the boy from last year, was screaming about the sun burning him, climbed into the back and got under something. OK?"

Cinder nodded and let go of the boy's cheeks and patted Drake on the shoulder. "Now I got it." At the same time he felt his blood run cold as several pieces started to fit together way too neatly for his liking. "Drake I know this is very scary for you to talk about, but can you tell me anything else at all. Did you ever talk to the kids after they got back or overhear them talking? Anything at all would be very helpful."

Drake shook his head with a high degree of ferocity, causing his hair to whip back and forth wildly. "Hanging around the older kids is a not so smart Uncle Cinder. If they see anything they like they'd take it. There are even a group of four sixth grade girls who will grab us younger ones who get separated and take us out to one of the cars during afternoon recess when the two sixth grade teachers or a couple of the others ,including my teacher, have recess duty. It's usually a girl, but my teacher tricked me and they got me the second day I was there. I didn't let it happen again.

"Your teacher tricked you?"

Drake nodded, clearly not as bothered by the event as Cinder was. "She threw the ball we had over the fence and asked me to go get a ball from the older kids while she went to get the ball she threw. I went around the corner and the three of the girls grabbed me. They told me they would start hitting me if I didn't go with them. They took me out to a car and the other one opened the door and pushed me in. It was almost time for the bell to ring for end of day when he let me go back to class. My teacher pointed to the time out desk and told me to rest but she didn't want to hear me cry like a baby. She didn't let me go after the bell until one of the other teachers came in and told me not to tell if I knew what was good for me and not to warn any other new kids. It was not as bad as what my mom's second to the last boyfriend liked to do or nothin'."

"It won't happen to you again."

This time Drake totally misunderstood. "No Uncle Cinder, I am more smart now. I won't let a teacher or kid trick me again."

Cinder couldn't help but chuckle at the little guy's determination. "Drake, I wasn't saying it was your fault. I'm saying I won't let it happen to you. Adults are supposed to guard children from bad things, not set them up to get into them. If or when something bad does happen, you tell me or Bray. One of the two of us will deal with it. Now I want you to jump into the shower..."

The boy looked a bit crushed, "I thought I could take a bath..."

Cinder held up both hands, "Bath, I'm sorry. Yes you can take a bath. I am just not used to talking about taking baths. Still, as dirty as you are, I'd like you to let the water spray you and go down the drain first, OK?"

This time Drake nodded and smiled, "Sure!"

"Do you need me to adjust the water so it is not too hot? I don't want you to accidentally burn yourself."

"I'm OK." Drake sated with certainty. "The last hotel mom's boy friend got us a month ago had water way worser." He paused and looked up with just a hint of innocence still in his green eyes. "Uncle Cinder?"

"You got a question?"

"Uh huh." The boy nodded while still showing he was confused by something. "I know my teacher tricked me with the ball, but the next day some of the older kids kept teasing me about getting tricked like it meant something different."

Cinder frowned deeply not knowing exactly how to handle it. Suddenly a rather mean thought came to him. "Drake I have to finish Dinner and want to finish the sauce for the spaghetti right now, so we can eat on time. Tomorrow, when you are with Bray, I want you to tell him about it and ask him, OK?"

The boy seemed a bit disappointed but shrugged, "OK Uncle Cinder." And quickly went into the bathroom.

A bit of a smirk played across Cinder's lips. "That'll teach your sixteen year old ass to make remarks on my computer meant to get under my skin."

Once he heard the water running he picked up his cell and dialed Braeden. As soon as the boy answered Cinder spoke. "You busy?"

"No, it's always dead down here on the weekends. It'll pick up about dark as the hookers come out and the johns need gas to go cruising. Then it'll get real quiet again as the Vipers come out to play. Did you get a chance to look over my notes?"

"Yeah, nice work you obnoxious little prick!"

There was a large amount of laughter before Bray could speak again. "Hey, did I lie about how cute the blond is?"

"I don't know, Bray, I don't go there with kids at all. But you are right on the mark. I'll talk to you more about it tomorrow before you go clothes shopping with Drake."

"Sounds good." Braeden's voice suddenly sobered a great deal. "OH, thought you should know they let the building burn to the ground before they put it out and there is police tape around it. One cop came by an hour or so ago wanting to know if I knew why they found a lower arm and hand, but not the rest of the body. Did you cut off the guy's arm?"

"Something kind of like that, yeah."

"Damn, man. It must-a been super fast cause I was watching and I missed it!"

Cinder openly chuckled. "I didn't think he needed it. It was his gun hand, and he was not fast enough to carry one."

"Do me a favor."

"What? The car and phone aren't enough?"

Braeden snickered, "For now, way more than enough, but listen. If I ever get on your bad side, warn me so I can run like hell!"

"The only thing you could do that would get you that far over on my bad side is if you let anything happen to Drake or do anything to hurt him or one of his friends."

"Then it won't happen. Even if I didn't like him, which I do by the way, I'm not suicidal."

"Then we have an understanding. Speaking of which, I went toy shopping today and happened to get some help picking out toys from a soon to be nine year old. I kind of felt sorry for him so I bought the brat a few things and it ended up getting Drake invited to the party. It'd probably do him some good, but you have to take him and you have to protect him, not drool on other boys."

"Not even a little spittle?" Braeden asked with a humor filled voice.

"Boy, I'm gunna show you some new combat moves and holds tonight when you get home and they aren't comfy ones." Cinder fired right back.

"That just sounds just way too painful for my likings. OK, I'll take him and will just keep the camera phone handy for a few good shots, OK?"

Cinder sighed, "OK, fine, but if I bend on your request then you have to find some street info for me."

"All ears boss."

"Don't' call me boss again, Bray, or I swear I will show Drake what a real spanking is. I am still plenty tough enough to give you one, and I just may use the flat of one of my blades if you ever call me anything like it again."

"Damn Cinder!" Braeden next to screeched in horror at the thought. "You need to like get me a list of do's and don'ts man!"

"I'll come up with one." Cinder stated with a rather anger filled snort. "In the mean time, I just got something out of Drake. There is a black car picking up kids. Eastmoreland Elementary is a hot spot, but if it is what it sounds like, then it is much bigger and wide spread. Drake called him the 'bad man' but from the way he talked about it, others at the school call him the same thing. Another strange thing is he picked up the hearse looking car you bought him when he first tried to describe it, so it may be a black station wagon with tinted windows."

"I can give you a bit of a run down on it right now, if you want."

"You know of it?" Cinder asked with some shock.

"Man, I told you I survived the streets by knowing what is going on. That asshole has a few names, depending on what area of town you are from. The kids around my parts, back as far as I can remember, call him the ghost because when you see him he is even more pale then the cute kid from the museum. He's a real specific twisted fuck too. He likes kids from eleven to fourteen. Probably eighty percent boys, but has been known to take girls. The weird thing is he must use drugs on those he takes cause they are always real weak, sick, and totally mind fucked when he drops them back off.

I know the bastard lives down off of Coyote Dr. He picks up kids up by the gas station once in a while, normally from the Vipers who seem to know what he wants and when he wants it. But he's a mean son-of-a-bitch once he gets them home. I've heard a few kids say he won't even let them get out of bed without permission and if they do he grabs them and hold their heads underwater in his pool until they black out then they find themselves back in bed again. At least they are older, not like Drake's age and have an idea what they are getting into since he gives them some sort of weird warning about doing things his opaque master's way.

"The problem is none of the kids remember shit. Most seem to remember the bed thing and the dunkings and most talk about seeing shadows move around them. Some talk about weird writings on the walls of a basement. I have even heard a few say something about a little drummer boy, so I don't know if the guy plays Christmas music or what. But all have the same story about remember seeing the turn off for Coyote Dr and then their memories totally start again at the same point as they turn off Coyote Dr at the same corner. Most say there is a kid their age in the back with them too.

"If they go willingly they have a wad of cash. If they are handed over by someone else, like the Vipers down here, they still end up with a decent amount of pocket cash. But they are worked over hard core either way. I had a kid stay at my place who I found wandering the streets a month or so ago. He kept mumbling about how empty he felt, saying his soul was partially ripped out and how the ghost had made him swallow the cross necklaces he had on his neck when the guy saw it.

I didn't believe him until he actually shit it out the next day and dug it out of my toilet, washed the turd off from around it and put it back on. That's when I made him leave. I couldn't deal, man, it was just too creepy."

Cinder let out a long slow growl. "Bray, if you see the car don't follow no matter how much you may want to. You won't make it. I am not even sure I could handle it. Also, I don't care how you do it, but you have to find me one of his recent drop offs and bring them here. If you have to forcibly grab the kid to get him here then so be it."

"Um, OK, sure... is this something to do with the unseen stuff?"

"Unless I miss my guess, with yours and Drakes help, I just stepped right into a giant Vampire puddle."

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