My contribution to CWE9 started out as the CWE that was about a building in the preserve. Well, the story really never gets to the preserve. It’s my Dan’s back story. I don’t consider myself a Dan fan. Not that I dislike him, I just never really thought about it. I’m finding that he speaks to me more than anyone else. This story is rated yellow star.

He climbed into the back seat of the non-descript car and tried to sit as straight as possible. He didn’t want to wrinkle his shirt and pants. He buckled his seatbelt and the car lurched forward. He tried not to think of the last time he rode in a car that wasn’t a police cruiser. He tried not to think of anything, but memories kept flooding back to him. He thought of one of the last times he had ridden in a car. Things were so much different then.

It had been Father O’Malley’s rust-covered Dodge Dart hours after his mother’s funeral. A funeral that had been attended by a few parish members, a couple of his mom’s co-workers, that social worker Amanda Foxworth and himself.

Miss Foxworth had insisted that Dan be immediately placed in a group home until a foster family could be found. He had not been allowed to go back to the apartment he had known as home for the past three years. At least she had agreed Father O’Malley could drive him instead of the herself. Her main concern seemed to be finding a way to get any child off of her case load with no consideration for what the child really needed.

This wasn’t the first time Dan had encountered Miss Foxworth. She was the social worker who handled the children placed in the Dugan home. The Dugans lived across the hall from him and his mother. There was no way Dan was going stay in a foster home if they were anything like the Dugans.

On the surface they seemed like the perfect family. The apartment was always spotless and when Miss Foxworth stopped by Mr. and Mrs. Dugan were pleasant and loving to their charges. As soon as the social worker left, things changed. The children were up by 5:30 a.m. and had to clean the entire apartment prior to leaving for school. They attended school but Dan suspected if a social worker wouldn’t be at their door within a day or two the Dugans would not send them. When the kids came home there were more chores to do.

Bedtime was strictly enforced at 8:00 p.m. Dan suspected the kids were asleep before their heads hit the pillow. Then again, maybe not. After eight the fighting and drinking began. It went on all hours of the night. No, if that was what foster families were all about, Dan didn’t want to have anything to do with them.

It wasn’t the work that bothered him, it was the lack of caring. Dan wasn’t afraid of hard work and he couldn’t remember a time when money wasn’t tight.

His memories of his father were fading with each passing day. He knew both of his parents loved him. They were always quick to tell him that, but love couldn’t pay the bills. His parents had married young, his mom barely eighteen and his dad not quite twenty. They loved each other but he also knew his mom had just aged out of the orphanage and was afraid to be on her own. Jobs were difficult to get with barely a high school education and no other formal training.

That was why his dad had enlisted in the Army. It was a steady paycheck. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as big as he had hoped it would be and since Dan and his mom stayed in New York when his dad went overseas, they didn’t get a housing expense. It hadn’t mattered. His dad hadn’t been in Asia very long when he had been killed in a freak vehicle accident.

Dan had just started kindergarten and his mother had to get a job shortly after his dad’s funeral. The only thing she had been able to find was a job waitressing at a mom and pop diner.

It was a hard life, money didn’t always stretch to the end of the month, but Dan never felt like he wasn’t loved and his memories of that time were happy times.

Every morning Ma rose at 5:00 a.m. and spent an hour cleaning and straightening up the apartment. After starting to prepare breakfast she would awaken Dan. He couldn’t remember a day that he didn’t have a warm breakfast. Most of the time it was just plain oatmeal -- oatmeal with no sugar or milk. It was always warm and Dan never went to school hungry. Thinking back, he never remembered his mother eating breakfast. When he had once asked her about it, she always replied that she would get something to eat at the diner.

Once breakfast was done, Ma would grab her purse, make sure Dan had his backpack and coat and they would head out the door. Together they would walk to his school and then she would head to the diner.

It was a hard job, waitressing. She was on her feet for hours on end. There were a lot of regulars. Some of them would tip well, most however thought it wasn’t necessary to tip the waitresses. There were the days when she came home with a good amount of tips but most days it amounted to just a few dollars.

When Dan had been in junior high school he had asked his mom why she didn’t quit her job and find a better one that didn’t require her to be on her feet all day. She had patiently explained that better jobs required better education and she didn’t have that. Then she would mention that if he wanted a better life he needed to work hard and get good grades in school so he could get a scholarship to college.

He had tried to do as she wished. In fact, until she had gotten sick he had never missed school, always did his homework on time and even enjoyed doing extra credit in some of his classes.

That all had changed when Ma had gotten sick. It started out with a persistent cough. She chalked it up to a bad cold. No matter what anyone would say she wouldn’t go to the doctor. Of course, they didn’t have any health insurance so now Dan realized it was because she couldn’t afford to go to the doctor.

Finally, one day when she had been working an extra-long shift she collapsed right in the middle of the diner. The owner had insisted she go to the emergency room to make sure she was all right. Despite a lot of protests she did go, insisting it was just a cold. That cold turned out to be lung cancer and it was already at Stage 4.

Dan hadn’t been able to comprehend it. His mother had never smoked cigarettes. His dad hadn’t either. At least from what he remembered. Didn’t people that smoke get lung cancer?

His mom had tried to work through her treatments. That hadn’t lasted too long. Between the cancer itself and the radiation, she was just too exhausted to work. She insisted that she was well enough to be at home while Dan was in school. He tried to do his best but became easily distracted throughout the day. He began skipping classes to look for a job. He tried to get a job as a bag boy at the local grocers but they told him he had to be sixteen. He asked the landlord of their apartment building if he could do odd jobs.

Mrs. Jones tried to find jobs for him to do but she didn’t have a lot of extra money and the jobs that needed to be done were more difficult than he could handle.

One day he was asking again at the grocery store when he noticed a lanky kid staring at him. He had a menacing look in his eyes. His hair was dirty yellow and skimmed the collar of his beat-up leather jacket. Bangs hung across his dull eyes and he looked like he hadn’t shaved in a couple of days. The jeans he wore had holes in the legs and he wore pointy-toed cowboy boots.

Dan tried to walk past him but as he did the kid grabbed him by the arm.

“Hey,” the kid said. “Are you looking for a job?”

Dan looked at him skeptically. The kid didn’t look like he had two pennies to his name. He shook his head and said no, yanking his arm away from him and quickly leaving the store.

He avoided the store for several days. There wasn’t much money anyway to buy anything. Finally, he returned after earning a few dollars from Mrs. Jones. He stopped by to pick up some powdered milk and bread. There wasn’t much food in the cupboards and his mother hadn’t felt well enough to eat, much less prepare a meal.

Dan noticed the skinny kid hanging around the grocery store when he went in. Old Mr. O’Leary was standing behind the counter watching the two. Dan tried to ignore the kid and walked by him. He was relieved when he didn’t say anything to him.

Mr. O’Leary was a plump, pleasant fellow who was always friendly and polite to his mother. He had taken to slipping her candy bars or meat that he claimed would be expired the next day when she came in.

“What can I get you today?” he asked Dan.

“Just need some bread and some powdered milk,” Dan replied.

“Is that all?” Mr. O’Leary asked. “A growing boy like you needs more than that to survive.”

Dan didn’t say anything, just looked away and tried to hide the bright red flush that had overcome him.

“No that’s all,” He replied. He couldn’t help but longingly look at the package of hot dogs in the refrigerator case. Mr. O’Leary placed the items in a paper sack. Dan paid for the items and then turned to leave. When he walked out the door the skinny kid followed him.

Dan didn’t notice until he had gone about a block. The kid grabbed his arm to stop him and with a forced smile said, “That doesn’t look like much to eat.”

Dan just shrugged and tried to pull his arm away.

The kid continued, “I know where you can get the juiciest burger in town along with fries and a chocolate malt.”

Dan tried to ignore the kid but at the thought of a juicy burger his stomach let out a loud rumble. He didn’t like this kid. There was something menacing about him. On a normal day, his conscience would have had a heyday with this dilemma. The haloed angel would tell him he shouldn’t go off with strangers and the horned devil would convince him it was just a burger and nothing more. They would have argued back in forth in his mind for several minutes and in the end Dan would have taken all his parents had taught him and done the right thing and headed home.

Not this time. Just as his good angel was about to make a point, his stomach rumbled again. When you’re hungry, truly hungry, sometimes your stomach trumps both good and evil.

Dan looked down the street toward his apartment, then down at the powdered milk in the bag. His stomach rumbled again. He looked at the kid and said quietly, “That sounds really good. My name’s Dan, what’s yours?”

“I’m Luke,” the kid replied. “Come on, the food’s this way.”

They walked for several blocks, blocks that led to an even seedier part of town. Dan started to doubt the decision he had made but every time he thought about turning back, his traitorous stomach would grumble. Finally they arrived at the diner. Dan grimaced as they went in. The walls were dingy and the lighting dim. There was no color in the room. Even the red-checked table cloths looked colorless. The vinyl seats of the booths were all cut up and the upholstery was sticking out of the holes. The laminate tabletops had cracks in them. At a closer look, several of them had words carved in them. They weren’t the normal things you’d carve, like your initials. Most of it had to do with the Cowhands whatever that was.

Luke guided them to a booth in the back corner. A tired woman came up to him and said crankily, “I thought I told you not to come back here again. You guys cause too much trouble.”

Luke turned on the charm. “Now, Sally, you know you can’t turn us away. If you did, this place would close down. You need us.”

Sally grumbled under her breath and then continued as if they hadn’t even had the conversation. “What would you like to eat?”

“Two of the usuals,” Luke replied. Sally went back to the kitchen with the order. To Dan it appeared no one else was working in the diner but he didn’t say anything.

A few minutes later two juicy hamburgers, a plate of fries that seemed to be six inches high, and two chocolate malts were sitting in front of the two boys. Dan could hardly believe his eyes. He tried to eat slowly, using the manners his mother had instilled in him, but once the first bite of food hit the bottom of his empty, cavernous stomach he all but inhaled the food.

Too late, he remembered he didn’t have any money for the food. Luke had offered the dinner but he really didn’t think he should take him up on it. He sat at the table uncomfortably looking around. He wondered if he could earn the money for the food by washing dishes or sweeping the floor. He didn’t think that would be an option since he and Luke were the only customers in the diner.

“What’s the matter?” Luke asked.

Dan stared at his hands that were twisting a paper napkin into shreds. “Well, I don’t really have any money to pay for the meal.”

Luke smiled insincerely. “I told you I would pay for it.”

Dan shook his head. “Why would you do that for someone you don’t even know?”

Luke smiled again. “I hope that will change.”

Luke reached in his pocket, tossed some bills on the table and the two of them left. Dan didn’t know what to do. He really needed to get home and check on his mom but he didn’t want to appear ungrateful.

Luke looked at his watch and then said, “I gotta run. I’ll see you around.”

Dan started to head for home. He took a few steps and then turned back. Luke was nowhere to be seen. If it weren’t for his full stomach he would have sworn he had imagined the entire incident.

When he got back to the apartment, he quietly walked into the living room. Some days his mother didn’t have the strength to even get out of bed. Today must have been one of those days. He quietly made his way to his mother’s bedroom. He peeked in and she seemed to be resting peacefully, more peacefully than she had been in weeks.

He went back to the kitchen to put away the groceries he had bought. He smiled to himself when he saw that Mr. O’Leary had slipped a few candy bars and some bologna in the bag. He knew his mom should eat something but he hesitated to wake her up. She had such a hard time sleeping these days. The doctor had given her a prescription for some pain medication but there had never been enough money for her to get it filled. Finally, he decided to just let her sleep. He’d do his homework and then he’d see if she needed anything.

For the next half hour Dan tried to concentrate on his homework but he kept getting distracted. He didn’t know what to do. Things were not getting any better with his mom and he had no other family. At least that’s what his mother had always said. Finally, he just gave up and put the books away.

He checked on his mother again. She hadn’t moved from when he’d checked last. He walked over and gently placed his hand on her forehead and he froze. Her skin was cold to the touch. He tried to waken her and she was stiff. He quickly ran to the apartment across the hall and pounded on Mrs. Alanzo’s door.

“Call an ambulance,” he said as soon as she answered it. “It’s Mom. She’s not breathing.”

Dan race back to their apartment and started to do CPR. He had learned it in school the previous semester but never really figured he’d ever have to use it. He continued with compressions and breathing until the paramedics arrived. It took both men to pull him away from his mother. They worked on him for about ten minutes.

A few minutes later a police officer arrived. They started to load his mother up on a gurney.

“Where are you taking my mother?” Dan demanded. “She’s going to be okay, isn’t she?” Even as he said it, he knew it wasn’t true. His mother had died. No one needed to tell him that. He could see it in the paramedic’s eyes.

“They’re going to City Medical Center,” the police officer said.

“I want to ride with her,” Dan said.

The officer put a gentle hand on his shoulder and he said, “I’m sorry. You can’t ride along. Come with me and I’ll make sure you get to the hospital.”

In real time the ride to the hospital took about fifteen minutes. To Dan, it seemed like forever. He had no idea what he would do. He knew the time would come when his mom died but always thought that time would be tomorrow. He wanted to curl up in the back seat of the cruiser and cry. But he didn’t. He had promised his mother he would be strong and he was going to be.

When they arrived at the hospital, they were met by a social worker. Apparently, the police had called ahead. Mrs. Murphy was a motherly lady with greying hair that was pulled back in a severe bun. Her chocolate brown eyes showed compassion.

“Come on, Dan,” she said. “Let’s go see if we can find your mother.”

They walked through the emergency room and to the nurse’s station. She introduced herself and Dan, and then inquired about his mother. The nurse looked at a computer monitor and then picked up the phone and made several calls.

Finally she said, “Dr. Scott will be down in a few minutes to talk to you.” She directed the two to a quiet spot in the waiting area.

It wasn’t more than a few minutes and a young, fresh faced doctor approached them. “Mr. Mangan?” he asked. “I’m Dr. Scott.” He looked uncomfortable, like he didn’t know what to do. He also looked like he hadn’t graduated from high school much less college and medical school.

When Mrs. Murphy stood, so did Dan. He waited for someone to say something.

Finally, Dr. Scott had said, “I’m sorry. Your mother has died.” Dan continued to stare at him. He knew he should say something, anything but he just stared.

The doctor turned to the social worker and in hushed voices discussed the details. After a few minutes the doctor turned and went back to his duties. Mrs. Murphy gently guided Dan over to a chair.

She explained that he would be placed in an emergency foster home until a more permanent placement could be made. She asked him questions about his family but Dan could provide very little details. He did mention St. Benedict’s Parish and Fr. O’Malley. She said she would contact him about the funeral services.

“Can’t I just stay at the apartment?” Dan asked. “I’ve been taking care of Ma and me for the past few months and done okay.”

“You’re fourteen years old,” Mrs. Murphy explained. “The law says you can’t. Besides, how would you pay the rent?”

“We did okay before,” said Dan. “We had my dad’s benefits and I can find a job. I can do it.”

She shook her head. “I’m sorry. Do you want to see your mom before we leave?”

Dan hesitated for a few minutes. Part of him wanted to see her, to make sure she had truly died. The other part wanted to walk away and try to remember her in happier times, not the past six months when she had been in so much pain. The need to see his mother one more time won out.

Mrs. Murphy went to the nurse’s station to find out where his mother was. They were directed to a room down the hall. Dan slowly made his way there. He pushed open the door. There were people in the room. When they saw them, they discreetly stepped out to allow him some time alone.

Dan went over to the bed and brushed the russet hair off his mother’s forehead. He bent down and placed one last kiss on it, just as she had done to him every night for as long as he could remember.

He didn’t wail, or yell, or cry. All he said was, “I love you, Ma.” Then he turned and headed out of the hospital. Mrs. Murphy rushed to keep up with him.

Mrs. Murphy had tried her best that night. He had spent the night with a nice family not too far from the hospital. Before she had left, she had assured him that they would go to the apartment in the morning before going over to St. Benedict’s to make the funeral arrangements.

Dan had gone to sleep that night feeling like maybe there was someone else who did care about him.

The next morning that changed. Instead of Mrs. Murphy picking him up, Miss Amanda Foxworth did.

Standing almost six feet tall in flat shoes, she was a force to be reckoned with. She wore her mousy brown hair pulled back in a severe bun. He wondered if all social workers were required to wear their hair that way. Perched on her nose were black no-nonsense glasses. They sat toward the end of her nose. She’d peer through them and you couldn’t help but feel intimidated.

“Daniel Mangan,” she said sternly. “You’re to come with me.”

Dan had just awoken. Glancing at the clock on the wall, he saw it was only 7:30 a.m. He rubbed his eyes. It had been after midnight when Mrs. Murphy had dropped him off and another two hours before he had finally fallen asleep.

He looked around for his host parents but didn’t see them.

“Can I please change my clothes?” Dan asked politely.

Miss Foxworth looked down her long nose and sighed noisily. “Hurry it up. We need to get to the Cogsworth Group Home by eight o’clock.”

Dan turned and went back to the room that had been his for the night. He had been given a pair of clean pajamas to wear when he had arrived that evening. Since he hadn’t been allowed to return to the apartment, all he had to wear were the clothes he’d worn the day before. Slowly, he pulled on his pants and shirt and trudged his way back to Miss Foxworth.

She was standing by the door right where he’d left her. Impatiently, she tapped her foot as she stared at her watch. When he came back into the room she looked up. “Well, it’s about time. Let’s go.”

Dan followed her out the door. He had to practically run to keep up with her pace. She pointed to a blue sedan and motioned that he get in the back seat.

While she drove she droned on about the group home they were going to. She mentioned that there was a chance he would be placed in a foster home but that she highly doubted it. No one wanted to deal with a rebellious teenage boy.

Even though he’d only known this woman for a few minutes, he couldn’t help but wonder why she did this job. She really didn’t seem to care for kids and without even getting to know him she had judged him as a thug. He figured he’d never get out of that group home.

“When are we going over to St. Benedict’s?” Dan asked.

Miss Foxworth continued to drone on as if he hadn’t said a word.

“When are we going to the church to plan Ma’s funeral?” Dan asked again, this time more insistent.

“Oh, we’re not going over there. I’ve already spoken to Fr. O’Leary. I just told him to do the standard funeral. Make it short and sweet. I don’t have time to worry about funerals.”

Dan bit down on his lower lip. He wanted to cry but refused to do so in front of this unfeeling person. Meekly he asked, “When is it?”

She had begun to resume her droning and Dan thought she hadn’t heard.

“When is what?” she asked as if his question finally registered.

“The funeral,” Dan said with frustration.

“Oh, it’s tomorrow at ten o’clock. We’ll have to see if someone can take you. I’m sure you’ll understand if no one can take you.”

By the time they finally arrived at the group home, Dan could hardly see straight. He wanted to find a quiet place to mourn the loss of his mother. He was also angry at the way Miss Foxworth viewed him as someone to be just cast aside.

She parked in front of a non-descript house, got out of the car, and marched up the front walk. She didn’t look back to see if Dan had followed her. He slowly pushed the door open and followed her. She waited impatiently at the door and then knocked when he had joined her.

After a few minutes, the door opened and a woman who looked much older than her age greeted them with tired eyes. She invited them into the home. In what appeared to be her office she invited the two of them to sit down. “I’m Marge DeForest. My husband and I run this group home.”

Miss Foxworth introduced Dan.

“Welcome, Dan,” she said with not feeling. “I’m sure you’ll fit in well here. Currently, there are six boys between the ages of twelve and seventeen. As long as you obey the rules and do your chores you will do fine here.”

Dan didn’t say anything. He just stared at his hands fidgeting in his lap.

Mrs. DeForest continued. “The alarm goes off at five thirty in the morning. Breakfast is at six fifteen. Before breakfast your bed must be made and your morning chores complete. The schedule of morning chores is posted outside the bathroom. The dishes need to be washed and kitchen cleaned up. Everyone is expected to attend school and maintain good grades. School begins at eight o’clock. You need to leave no later than seven twenty to get to school on time. It’s about six blocks from here.” She paused long enough to take a big breath and then droned on. “After school you will come directly home. Homework needs to be completed before dinner. After dinner you will be expected to help clean up the kitchen as well as your evening chores. Bedtime is at eight o’clock. Lights out is at eight thirty.”

Dan could hardly believe his ears. His mother had been strict but she also allowed for some free time. This sounded more like prison than a home.

When she was finished, she showed Dan where his bed was. They walked up the stairs. The entire second floor resembled a large dormitory. Five sets of bunk beds were lined up on one side of the room. At the end of the beds were foot lockers. There also as a foot locker between each set of beds. The other side of the room was lined with beat-up desks. At the end of the room was a door that led to the bathroom.

“This bunk is yours,” Mrs. DeForest said. “You will have the upper bunk. Joey sleeps on the lower bunk. You can put your clothes in the foot locker at the end of the bed.”

Apparently, Mrs. DeForest was not very observant. She hadn’t noticed that Dan hadn’t brought anything with him.

“I didn’t bring any clothes,” he said. “I was hoping to go back to the apartment today and get some.”

“No need for that,” she replied. “We have extras.”

She guided him down the hall to a door with a padlock on it. Pulling a key out of her pocket, she used it to open the door. Inside was a clothes rod that was half full of clothes. There were also some built-in shelves that had several shirts and sweaters on them.

She rifled through the clothes. “Here,” she said as she handed him two pairs of jeans and two shirts. “This should be enough.”

Dan shrugged his shoulders, took the clothes and headed back to his bunk. What he really wanted to do was lie down and not deal with anyone for a few hours. He still couldn’t believe his mother was gone. Even though he knew it was going to happen it still seemed too soon.

He’d no sooner got his clothes put away and Mrs. DeForest was right there.

“No lazing around here,” she said. “You need to get to school. Can’t have you falling behind now can we?”

Dan changed his clothes and headed downstairs. The school wasn’t that far from the group home so he walked over. He didn’t feel very motivated. Why bother with school?

Then he remembered the promise he made his mother.

When he got to school he reported to the office as he was tardy. He handed the secretary the paperwork Mrs. DeForest had given him and started to head to his class.

“Wait a minute, Mr. Mangan,” the secretary said. “I need you to report to your guidance counselor.”

Dan sighed. Just what he needed. A lecture from his anal guidance counselor. He had been no help through this entire ordeal. All he was interested in was making sure Dan was in class and not failing classes. He didn’t care about what was happening in his life or whether he had food to eat. Some kind of counselor he was.

He took the hall pass the secretary handed him and headed to see Mr. Gunderson. When he entered the guidance office he noticed Mr. Gunderson was not in. Dan decided to wait a few minutes and then if he didn’t show up, go to his class.

After about ten minutes, Mr. Gunderson showed up. He was carrying a cup of coffee and a huge cinnamon roll. Dan’s stomach decided to grumble. Somehow he had missed breakfast.

“What can I do for you today, Mr. Mangan?” he asked setting down the cup and roll and then taking a seat behind his desk.

“I was told to report to you this morning,” Dan replied politely.

Mr. Gunderson looked confused for a few minutes and then glanced at a note on his desk. “Oh, yes, now I remember. Your mother died last night, is that correct?”

Dan nodded his head.

“Oh, that’s too bad,” Mr. Gunderson replied without any feeling. “She had been sick for some time. I bet it’s a relief that you don’t have to deal with that anymore. Have your dad come in and I’ll bring him up to date on your grades.”

Dan stared at the man, dumbfounded. “My father was killed several years ago. He was in the army.”

Unfazed, Mr. Gunderson said, “Oh, yeah. Now I remember.”

“So where are you staying?”

Dan mumbled, “At a group home down the street.”

“Oh, well if you need anything, I’m here,” Mr. Gunderson said eyeing his roll. “You can go back to your class now.”

Dan trudged to his class. The day dragged on. When the final dismissal bell sounded he headed back down the street to the group home. He really wanted to go back to the apartment but knew that he would get in trouble if he didn’t get back to Mrs. DeForest. She would probably send out a search party if he was a minute later than she thought he should be.

As he made his way up the front walk to the home, several boys were walking up it as well. He recognized one of them from his English class. The kid, David Wompole, was a pain in the butt. He always was playing practical jokes on the teacher and other students. He was kind of a bully as well.

When they got into the house, Mrs. DeForest met them at the door. “Put your stuff away and then get back down here. There are lots of chores to do today.”

Dan was assigned scrubbing the bathroom. He didn’t think it was fair that he had to clean the bathroom since he hadn’t even been there to make it a mess. He wisely didn’t say anything and headed upstairs to begin his chores.

The bathroom was gross. It looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in weeks. He located the cleaning supplies and started cleaning. It took him almost two hours to get it cleaned. When he finished he headed downstairs to report back to Mrs. DeForest.

“You’re going to have to be quicker than that,” she scolded. “Everyone else has done two different chores and started their homework. The basement needs to be swept. You’ll need to get that done before dinner. I’ll cut you some slack today because it’s your first day.”

Dan headed to the basement to sweep the floor. He tried to do it as efficiently as possible. He still had quite a bit of homework to do and lights out would come too early.

By the time he had finished in the basement, everyone else had sat down to eat. There was hardly any food left. A small helping of mashed potatoes and a hard roll was all that was left for him.

He didn’t say anything but sat down and ate what was available. When he was finished he helped wash the dishes and then did his homework. At eight o’clock he went to bed like everyone else did.

Once the lights were out, there were conversations all around. Dan didn’t want to appear unfriendly but all he really wanted to do was curl up in a ball and cry. But he couldn’t and he wouldn’t.

The kid who had the bunk below him couldn’t sit still. He and the kid in the bunk across from him had decided it was the perfect time to play bloody knuckles. They were making all kinds of noise. Dan was worried that Mrs. DeForest would come up and give them hell for making noise.

Hey,” Dan heard from the bunk next to him. “I’m Tim Sullivan. Aren’t you in my math class?”

Dan looked at his neighbor and realized he was. Tim was rather quiet. Didn’t say much but also didn’t get into trouble either.

“I think you are. I’m Dan Mangan,” he replied. “Have you been here long?”

“Eighteen months. My dad’s in jail and my mom ran off with some loser guy,” Tim explained.

“Wow,” he said. “How have you managed?”

Tim sighed. “Some days I don’t know. Mrs. DeForest is such a slave driver. I guess it’s better than living with the loser my mom ran off with. He would hit me for no reason at all.”

Dan sighed. That didn’t bode well for him. “Is it always this noisy after lights out?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Tim replied. “Mrs. DeForest doesn’t come up here after hours. Danny over there swears that once we’re in bed, she breaks out the bottle of whiskey and drinks herself to oblivion every night.”

“Wow, has anyone ever caught her drinking?”

“Toby and Joey tried to sneak down one night but she heard them and scared the bejesus out of him.”

They chatted for a few more minutes. Finally, one of the older boys, Dan thought his name was Mark Baker, told the boys to be quiet. Mark appeared to be the ringleader of the bunch. In the short time he had been there, Dan had noticed Mark managed to look busy but actually did little or nothing. He was also the first one at the table and had made sure that he got plenty to eat with no thought to the rest of the kids.

Within twenty minutes all was quiet except for the gentle snoring of the kid next to him. Dan had just about fallen asleep when he heard quiet sobs coming from the bunk below him. It made Dan want to cry as well but he knew he couldn’t. Maybe someday there would be time for those tears but not today.

The next morning the boys were rudely awaken by the ringing of a bell outside of their room. Mrs. DeForest yelled, “Time to get up. You’ve got five minutes to get dressed and downstairs. Morning chores have to be done before breakfast is served.”

A few boys dragged their feet but most of the boys moved quickly to get dressed. There wasn’t a spring in their step, more a regimented march as they made their way downstairs to start their chores. The boys all had assigned chores. Dan could not see much that had to be cleaned as Mrs. DeForest insisted that things were cleaned every day.

Dan had donned the nicest pants he had received from Mrs. DeForest. They were about two inches too short and had a patch in one of the knees. He had been given one button down shirt but it had several buttons missing. It was the best he could do. He hoped his mother would understand.

When the chores were done and breakfast finished, the boys headed out the door to school. Mrs. DeForest had told Dan that Fr. O’Malley would be picking him up at eight-thirty to take him to the funeral. He decided to wait outside so he wouldn’t disturb her.

The funeral was attended by a handful of friends and co-workers of his mother. Fr. O’Malley gave a lovely homily about finding peace. He remembered Dan’s mother as a devoted mother and good friend. The ladies’ auxiliary had provided a simple lunch for the mourners. It was served after the interment of his mother at the church cemetery. All too soon Dan found himself back at the group home. No one offered him any condolences or asked how he was doing. Mrs. Deforest just told him to change his clothes and start his chores.

For several weeks Dan went about his business as if in a trance. It wasn’t the best situation but it wasn’t the worst. That was until Fred Klingman was assigned to the group home. Fred was a year older than Dan and was notorious at school for being a bully. The kids called him Freddy Krueger after the Friday the Thirteenth character.

Fred challenged Mark for the leadership role in the house. The two had gotten into more than one fight in the first few days that Fred lived with them. Then Mark got placed in another home. After that things took a turn for the worse. If you weren’t one of Fred’s lackeys you might as well have been a bug on the floor.

Mrs. DeForest thought Fred was great. He was always polite to her and when she was around he looked like he was doing everyone’s work. As soon as she turned her back, he became a dictator. For several weeks Dan put up with it. He had hoped to talk to the social worker when she stopped by to check on the boys but she never showed up, or if she did it was when everyone was in school.

One night after school Dan had been doing his regular chores when Fred approached him. “Mannyboy,” Fred sneered, “You are going to scrub the kitchen floor with a toothbrush today.”

Dan turned away from him and continued his work.

Fred grabbed him by the shoulder. Dan yanked his hand off of him and again tried to continue his work.

Fred grabbed at him again. “I said you’re going to scrub the kitchen floor today.”

“No, I’m not,” Dan insisted. For a third time he went back to work.

This time when Fred grabbed him, he also struck Dan in the head. Dan reacted and punched Fred in the nose. Immediately, Fred cried out. Mrs. DeForest came running into the room.

“What is going on here?” she demanded.

Immediately, Fred put on his most angelic face and said, “I don’t know why, but Dan just hit me. See the bruise he left on my face.”

Dan didn’t say a thing but just glowered at the two of them. He knew it was no use saying anything because Mrs. DeForest only listened to what Fred said.

“We will not have fighting in this house,” she said. “Go to your room, Dan. There will be no supper for you tonight. You can spend the evening thinking about what you have done wrong. Tomorrow afternoon you will meet with the social worker to discuss your actions.”

Without saying a word, Dan turned and headed to the door. He turned back to look at Fred and glared at him. Fred smirked and rubbed his hands together.

The next morning Dan left the house with the rest of the boys and headed toward school. He never made it. He lagged behind the rest of the boys and when they walked into the school he turned and headed down the street toward his old neighborhood.

He wasn’t sure what he was going to do when he got there. He knew the old apartment had been cleaned out, although he had no idea what had happened to his possessions. As he approached his neighborhood he felt peace for the first time in weeks. It was like putting on a favorite worn pair of shoes. He walked past the diner where his mother had worked. He was tempted to stop by but afraid someone might report him skipping school and he wasn’t prepared for that yet.

As he passed Mr. O’Leary’s store he noticed a tall lanky boy standing in the shadow.

“Hey, Mangan,” the boy whispered. It was Luke. “Where’ve you been? I’ve been looking for you.”

Dan had figured out that Luke was a member of a gang. It wasn’t a very powerful gang but a gang just the same. He didn’t want to have anything to do with him, no matter how bad things got. He turned down another street and walked away.

Unfortunately, Luke started to follow him.

“What’s your deal?” Luke said. “I buy you a nice meal and now you’re ignoring me. That’s what I get for being nice.”

Dan stopped. Luke had hit on a soft spot. His mother had always told him to be grateful when people did things for you. “I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s been a rough month. My mother died.”

Luke pretended to be sympathetic. “That’s rough. I figured something must have happened.”

Dan didn’t say anything but returned to walking aimlessly. He didn’t realize it but he was headed toward the diner Luke had taken him to the night his mother had died.

“Come on,” Luke said. “I’ll buy you breakfast.”

Dan didn’t really want to be any more indebted to Luke than he already was, but just then his stomach growled. Having missed dinner, he had rushed to get his chores done so he wouldn’t miss out on breakfast. Unfortunately, Fred had been ahead of him and made sure all he got was a half of a piece of toast and water. Resignedly, he followed Luke into the diner.

Over breakfast, Luke asked Dan how things were going. Without even realizing it, Dan found himself telling Luke about Fred and the group home.

“Why don’t you just leave?” Luke asked. “No one will miss you and you won’t have to put up with Fred’s games.”

“I don’t know,” Dan said. “Where would I stay?”

Luke’s eyes sparked with interest. “Don’t worry about that. I’ve got a place for you to stay. It’s not the best place but you won’t have people telling you what to do.”

Dan hesitated. He really didn’t know how long he could put up with Fred before he really lost it. Their breakfasts were served and Dan couldn’t help himself. For the next few minutes all that could be heard was Dan inhaling his food.

He wiped his mouth with a napkin and pushed his empty plate away from him. For the first time since his mother died he felt truly full. Maybe Luke was right. It couldn’t be any worse than the group home.

“What’s the catch?” Dan asked.

“Well, you’d have to earn your keep,” Luke said.

“And how is that?”

“Don’t worry about that now,” Luke said. “We can talk about that later. Come on, I’ll show you where I live.”

Dan hesitated. Then he thought about everything that had happened. At least if he went with Luke he wouldn’t have to worry about that group home or Fred.

Luke stood and headed out the door without saying a word. Dan hesitated another second and then decided to follow him.

Luke took him to a deserted warehouse about six blocks from the diner. From the outside it looked like it hadn’t been occupied for years. The windows were boarded up with plywood that had been spray painted with various gang colors.

They entered the building from an alley. The door they went through had the lock broken. Luke pulled out a flashlight as they entered. Even in the light of day it was dark inside. They walked through what seemed like a maze of rooms and hallways until they reached a door that looked rather sturdy. Luke rapped on the door with a series of beats that appeared to be some kind of code. From behind the door another series of beats replied and then the door opened up.

Inside was a large room. Several mattresses and heavy blankets were in one half of the room. Old crates had been used for a table on the other side of the room. Several boys a little older than Dan lounged around the room. There were two fifty-gallon metal drums in the room that appeared to be used to contain fires to keep the room warm in the winter.

Luke introduced Dan to the guys in the room and showed him where he would be bunking. For better or worse this would be Dan’s home for now.

At first Luke and his gang didn’t ask much of Dan. He job had been to stay back in the room and make sure no one came in who shouldn’t. The group called themselves The Cowhands. Dan wasn’t sure why they called themselves that. He doubted any of them had ever seen a real life cow much less served as a real cowhand. Several of them wore leather jackets with the gang name painted on the back of them. Luke had one. It appeared Luke was the leader of the group although everyone seemed to have their own responsibilities.

Over the first few weeks that Dan lived in the warehouse he learned that Luke “earned” his money by dealing small time drugs. Others were expert pickpockets and shoplifters. No one earned their money legitimately.

Dan knew that eventually he would have to earn his keep as well. He didn’t like to think about it. He knew his mother would be very disappointed in him but he felt there was no way out of the situation.

One evening, about three weeks after he had moved into the warehouse, Luke approached Dan.

“I’ve got a job for you,” Luke said.

Dan sighed. The time had come to start really earning his keep. He didn’t like it but he felt like he had no choice.

“What is it?” he asked resignedly.

“I need you to deliver this package. You are to take it to the address listed on the front. Do NOT look inside of it. It needs to be there by six o’clock. Look for a guy with a patch over his right eye and answers to the name Sparky,” Luke explained. “He will give you $100 in exchange for the package. Then bring the money back to me.”

Dan looked at the package. It was a large manila envelope. It had an address that was in one of the more dangerous parts of town. Dan left the warehouse and headed out. It was four thirty. He knew it would take a good hour to get to that part of town. He didn’t want to get there too soon but he also didn’t want to risk being late. Who knew what would happen if he was late.

Dan walked with a purpose as he approached the neighborhood. The address he was looking for was another abandoned warehouse. He hoped this Sparky guy would be outside and he wouldn’t have to actually enter the building. His pace slowed as he noticed all of the weird characters he passed. There were several girls that looked no older than he was. They were dressed in very revealing outfits and were standing on the street corner. Off to the side there was an older man. He looked slimy with his greased back hair and his gold teeth. It looked like the girls were selling themselves and the man was their pimp.

Upon closer look, the girls had a vacant look in their eyes. As cars passed by they would lift their skirts to show off their thighs. Dan tried not to watch them. Not because he was attracted to them but because he felt sorry for them. He wondered if that would be the way he would look after a few months of doing this kind of work.

He finally got to the warehouse. No one was around but he was ten minutes early. He wasn’t really sure what he should do. He didn’t feel safe standing around but he didn’t want to miss Sparky either. He’d just decided that he would walk around the block when he spotted who must be Sparky.

After identifying themselves, Dan exchanged the package for five twenty dollar bills. As soon as he had the money in hand he turned and headed back to his warehouse.

When he arrived back “home”, he handed the money over to Luke. Luke pocketed four of the twenties and handed the fifth one to Dan. For the first time in as long as he could remember, Dan had more than five dollars in his pocket and it was all his.

He didn’t want to think about how he had acquired the money. He somehow convinced himself he had done nothing illegal and that even if he had it was justifiable.

As the weeks went by, Dan was given more and more responsibility. He was routinely bringing in more than one thousand dollars a week. He left the planning up to Luke and just did what Luke asked of him. As time went on, he began to think of all of the gang members as his family.

After about three months, Luke presented Dan with his own leather jacket with “The Cowhands” painted on the back. Things were looking up even though it was now January. No matter what he did, he never really could get warm in the warehouse. Temperatures routinely fell into the lower teens and even though they were protected from the wind in the building, the burning barrels didn’t give off enough heat to really get any of them warm. It just kept them from freezing.

One night in January, Dan had been on what he thought was a routine errand. He knew most of the contact people that he met up with. There were a handful of regulars but every so often there would be a new contact. Those always concerned him because he never knew if he was walking into a trap or not.

That day was one of those jobs with a new contact at a new location. Dan was nervous. He still didn’t know exactly what he had been transporting. He never had any desire to find out what was in the packages he was delivering. He figured the less he knew the better.

He arrived early at the drop point and looked around, trying to case the joint out. Instead of an abandoned warehouse like most of the drop off points were, this time he was to meet on a street corner. That would make the drop a little difficult because he had strict instructions to make sure others didn’t see the drop.

There were several people milling around the area. Most of them looked like hookers and their pimps but a few looked like bums and homeless people.

He saw the guy coming down the street. He was in his late twenties. The guy wore a leather jacket and denim jeans with cowboy boots. He looked like he could fit in with the Cowhands. On his head he wore a black cowboy hat with a silver-toned band around it. Dan knew it was his contact by the red bandana that was hanging casually out of his jacket pocket.

“Gordo?” Dan asked.

“Dan?” the man asked in return. Dan nodded his head and then handed the package over to Gordo.

As soon as Gordo took the package, Dan sensed something was wrong. He wanted to turn and run as fast as he could to get out of there. As he tried to make a break for it, Gordo reached for his arm and grabbed it.

“Hold it right there,” Gordo said. With his free hand he reached into his coat pocket and pulled something out. Dan sagged when he realized what he had in his hand were his badge and credentials.

“New York Police Department,” Gordo said. “You’re under arrest for illegally transporting a controlled substance.” Gordo, Sergeant Gordon Humphrey, then read Dan his Miranda rights.

Dan tried not to panic. Luke had warned him this could happen and if it did he had told him that someone from the gang would get in touch with him. The gang looked out for one another.

Dan clammed up. He didn’t fight the officer but he didn’t offer any answers either. He was taken to the local precinct for booking. He spent the night in a holding cell. Dan didn’t have any identification on him and while he appeared to be younger than eighteen he had no proof either way.

The next morning, Mrs. Murphy showed up at the precinct. Dan was shocked to see her there. Then he was angry. She had promised to see him when she left him the night his mother died and she had never followed up.

“Mrs. Murphy, so nice to see you,” Dan said sarcastically.

Pain washed over Mrs. Murphy’s face. “Oh, Dan,” she said. “How did you end up here?”

“My contact turned out to be a cop,” he replied not really answering the question she had asked.

“I can help you Dan but you’ve got to help yourself. This is a first offense, I think I might be able to get you off with community service,” she explained.

Dan chuckled cynically, “Yeah, right, and then you’ll send me back to Mrs. DeForest. She has you working from dusk until dawn. I’d be retirement age before I got the community service done.”

“What happened, Dan? I assume you ran away from the home?” she asked.

Anger started to mount in Dan. Anger over his mother’s death, anger over Miss Foxworth and her cold hearted attitude, anger over Mrs. DeForest’s rules, anger over having no family. None of it really was directed at Mrs. Murphy but she was the one who was sitting in front of him, so she was the one who got the earful.

“What happened?” Dan shouted. “You mean to tell me you didn’t hear about me running away two months ago? Wasn’t it all over Child Protective Services? I bet if Mrs. Deforest reported me missing no one even tried to find me. They just thought well, that’s one less child to worry about.”

Mrs. Murphy couldn’t look Dan in the eye. “I’m sorry, Dan. I wish I had been there,” she said quietly.

Dan continued his rant as if she hadn’t said anything. “You said I could go back to the apartment and get some of my things. They never let me go near there. I couldn’t even get my own clothes. Mrs. DeForest had a whole closet full of clothes and said I could have some of those. None of them fit. Maybe she had some my size but I think she took pleasure in seeing high school boys in ill-fitting clothes. I went to my mother’s funeral in pants that were two inches too short even though I had a perfectly good pair of dress pants that fit me hanging in the apartment.”

He paused to take a breath and continued on. “I put up with Mrs. DeForest’s slave tactics for as long as I could. Then there were the bullies that seemed to really run the home. There were too many nights where what I ate made the meals my mother had been able to provide me look like a damn seven course meal.”

Dan stopped for a second shocked that he had actually swore in front of an adult. He hung his head in shame. His mother would be rolling in her grave if she knew about his behavior. Suddenly, he started to cry. He cried all the tears he’d been holding in since his father had died. Aching sobs wretched from his body.

Mrs. Murphy sat in stunned silence for several minutes. “I’m so sorry,” she finally said. “I had planned on coming back for you the day after you mother had died but there were two other emergency placements that night, brothers that were barely out of diapers.” Her voice trailed off knowing that nothing she said would be adequate.

He just stared ahead as if he hadn’t heard her.

“Dan,” she said quietly. “I’m going to help you, but you have to help yourself as well.”

“The only people who care about me are The Cowhands,” he replied. “They’re the ones that fed me and found me a place to stay.”

“They’ll disappear as soon as you end up in juvenile hall,” Mrs. Murphy said. “And if you stick with them I can pretty much guarantee you’ll end up there or in jail at some point in time.”

“They’re my friends,” Dan insisted. “Friends don’t desert you in times of need.”

The jailer came and tapped on the window indicating their time was up.

“I’ve got to go now,” Mrs. Murphy said. “I’m arranging for you to be transferred to juvenile hall. I promise you I will remain your social worker. We’ll figure something out because I know deep down you’re a good kid whose just been dealt a bad rap.”

Dan looked away as Mrs. Murphy left. He didn’t want her to see the tears that had started to fill his eyes again.

By mid-day, Dan had been transferred to juvenile hall. He was processed and placed in his cell by three o’clock. There wasn’t much to do but lie around and sleep. There were a few good things about being here. You didn’t have to sleep with one eye open in case your living space was raided, even though it wasn’t the warmest it was still warmer than where he’d come from, and there was plenty of food to eat.

Dan tried not to get his hopes up but he couldn’t help wondering what would happen. Maybe things would work out okay. Maybe he would be able to get out of the mess he was in, but what about Luke and the Cowhands? They had been his only friends for the last few months. He couldn’t desert them now.

Dan did not see any sign of Mrs. Murphy for almost a week. During that time, someone had brought in some text books which he was supposed to use to try and learn what he had missed. There were no tutors or teachers, just the textbooks. Dan tried hard to figure things out. After all with the exception of the forty-five minutes they allowed him outside for fresh air, there wasn’t much else to do.

So he worked on his studies and he stewed. Once again, someone had let him down. He was done with adults and their empty promises. He tried to think of a way to get in touch with Luke and the Cowhands. They’d help him out, he just knew it. He had no way of contacting them though. So he just worked and grew angrier.

One day, after he’d been in juvenile hall a few days, he found a note under his dinner plate when it had been brought to his cell. He opened it and smiled. It was a note from Luke telling him that he still had a place with the Cowhands when he got out. He also gave him instructions on how to contact him.

Dan ripped a piece of paper out of his notebook and quickly jotted a letter off to Luke telling him what was happening. He waited until the right jailer delivered a meal and handed it off to him. And so began the waiting game.

Days ran into one another and Dan lost track of time. After about two weeks, Mrs. Murphy returned. Dan greeted her rather coolly.

“I’m so sorry for not getting back to visit you,” she explained. “I had a family emergency.”

Dan didn’t say anything to her, tired of all of the excuses everyone had given him.

“I do have some good news,” she said.

Still no answer from Dan.

“I located all of the possessions from your apartment. They didn’t have room in storage for all of your possessions but they did keep all of your mother’s personal papers. I thought you said you had no family?” she asked.

Dan scowled at her. “When my ma died, my family died.”

Mrs. Murphy smiled, “No, Dan, it didn’t. You have an uncle. We found the family Bible and there was a name in it. Have you ever heard the name William Regan?”

Dan’s ears perked up a bit. “Regan was my mother’s maiden name, but she never talked about having a brother.”

“Apparently, your grandparents died when your mother was a teenager and your uncle was about six. They were placed in an orphanage but separated when she aged out. Somehow they lost track of each other. Your mother kept a diary for a while after she left the orphanage and she wrote about trying to find your uncle. I’m not sure what happened because the diary entries stopped after about a year,” she explained.

“So I have an uncle somewhere,” Dan said sardonically. “Big deal. If he grew up in an orphanage he probably ended up on the streets as well. Heck of a lot of good that does me.”

“But he didn’t,” she replied. “We’ve found him. That’s one of the reasons why I haven’t been back to see how you were doing. I’ve been busy trying to track him down. It wasn’t easy, but thanks to some newspaper clippings I was finally able to get in touch with him. Your uncle is currently working out in Westchester County as a groom on a large estate. Considering how he started out in life, I would say he’s been quite successful. There was one run-in with the law but no charges were filed. He has a stable job and by all accounts is doing well for himself.”

Dan tried not to get excited. There had been so many disappointments in his life. “So have you contacted him?”

“Judge Armen has been assigned to your case. You couldn’t ask for a more compassionate judge. He contacted your uncle. Tomorrow we will meet with the judge and your uncle to discuss your case.”

For the next hour, Mrs. Murphy explained to Dan what was going to happen. They talked about how Dan should conduct himself. Before she left, she handed him a few items she had brought with him. There was a Bible, his nicest pair of pants and a dress shirt. He also saw there was a pair of new dress shoes.

In between his clothes, he found a picture of two kids. They were standing on the steps of what appeared to be a school. The girl looked about sixteen or seventeen. She had long wavy red hair that hung to her waist. Dan recognized her as his mother. The other, was a boy of about five or six. He too had red hair that grew wildly in all different directions. He turned it over. On the back was some writing. He recognized it as his mother’s handwriting. She had dated it and wrote, “Last picture of Billy and me before I left the orphanage.”

That night Dan spent a long time staring at the photo. How come his mother had never mentioned his uncle? Why didn’t she ever try to find him? He’d never know. He was excited to find out he had an uncle. It was almost as good as having a dad. He thought about all of the things they could do together.

Maybe he could teach him to drive a car. His mother never had a driver’s license but living in the city it wasn’t something that was needed. They couldn’t have afforded a car anyway. He’d always dreamed about driving a car. Westchester County was out of the city. If his uncle worked on an estate that would mean it was out in the country so he imagined it would be a benefit to drive.

He wondered if he would be allowed to ride the horses or if the owners of the estate were strict about those kinds of things. It didn’t matter. He had family. That was what was most important.

He fell asleep that night dreaming of all of the possibilities.

The next morning he awoke before the jailers even came around with their morning wake-up call. He made his bed and placed all his belongings in one spot. Mrs. Murphy hadn’t said anything but he assumed he might not be coming back here. He was escorted down the hall where he took a shower and shaved. For the first time in a long time he cared about how he looked.

Mrs. Murphy had said she would pick him up at nine-thirty. He had eaten breakfast, and was ready by eight o’clock. He sat down on his bed and waited. Time seemed go at half speed. He tried not to get excited about meeting his uncle but he felt like this could be his last chance to get out of the hole he had dug himself into.

He had not even given the Cowhands a thought since Mrs. Murphy had left him. “The Cowhands,” he thought glancing over at the only outer jacket he owned. The leather jacket had been a hand me down from one of the other members of the gang. He’d been so proud when they had presented it to him after he had accomplished his twenty-fifth successful drop. At the time he felt like he’d found his family.

Now he wondered about it. He didn’t want to make a bad impression with his uncle. Hopefully he would understand. When sitting didn’t move the clock any faster he began to pace. He couldn’t believe he was that nervous about meeting his uncle.

Finally, nine-thirty arrived. Mrs. Murphy was prompt. They walked out of the jail side-by-side. Mrs. Murphy went to the driver’s side of the car and Dan climbed into the back seat of the non-descript car and tried to sit as straight as possible. He didn’t want to wrinkle his shirt and pants. Closing his eyes, he hoped that his luck was about to change.


  manure pile home  


Author Notes

A special thank you to Bonnie H and PatK for editing this story. I don’t usually dump that many words on my editors at one time and they finished the task in record time.
- I can’t remember why I wrote Mark Baker into this story. I think it was because when I started this story he challenged people to put them in their story and I obliged. It sounds good anyway.
- Amy had become inactive at Jix by the time I found this wonderful home away from home. I do remember that when I found the author pages her stories were the first I devoured. I’m not sure why I chose her stories but I never regret it.
- Word count, 11,548

Disclaimer: Trixie Belden® is a registered trademark of Random House books. These pages are not affiliated with Random House Books in any way, shape or form. No profit is made here, only entertainment. Images of Trixie Belden and other series characters are copyright © Random House books. All references and characters and are used lovingly and respectfully, albeit without permission.

This website is © 2005-2025 Mal. All rights reserved. All graphics created by Mal and may not be used without permission.