DISCLAIMER:

 

M/M, m/m, M/m

 

This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

This story contains descriptions of explicit sexual acts of boys and men discovering their sexuality. It contains graphic scenes of sex between consenting underage boys, consenting adult males and boys with adult males (eventually). If this type of content offends you or you are under the age of 18, do not read it.

 

If it is illegal to read such material where you live or if you find the topic distasteful, then please stop reading now. You have been warned.

 

This story is the property of the author. It can be downloaded for personal reading pleasure or sending to a friend, but if you wish to re-post them at your own site, please contact the author for permission.

 

Copyright 2018 WSC, all rights reserved.

 

A copy of the story has been assigned to the Nifty Archives under the terms of its submission agreement. Comments on the story are appreciated and may be addressed to enderwiggin61@outlook.com

 

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Author's Note:

 

I started writing this story, never intending it to grow into what it has become. It seems to have taken on a life of its own. I hope you enjoy.

 

Also, if you are enjoying this story, my first story can be found here:

https://www.nifty.org/nifty/gay/adult-youth/moments

 

Chapter 79 Goodbye Logan

 

Sunday, April 13, 2025 will be forever known in our family as the day that began not with a bang, but a thud. Or, to be truly honest, multiple thuds. The thuds of our still-beating hearts being ripped from our chests and thrown to the ground, only to be summarily trampled by a herd of stampeding elephants.

 

When I finally woke up about nine, I was flat on my back and surprised to discover I couldn't move. I felt as if I'd been swallowed by a pit of quicksand due to the extra weight pressing on my body from all directions. I was starting to panic quite a bit and about to start screaming for help when I finally opened my eyes and received the shock of my life. Not two inches above my own eyes, set in a field of freckles, I found a pair of intense green eyes, seemingly boring directly into my soul.

 

"Mornin', Dad," Mike whispered with a cheesy grin. "What's for breakfast?"

 

"Jesus, Mike," I whispered back. "You about scared the crap outta me."

 

"Oh, good thing you didn't do that. Ron just changed all the beds the other day," he giggled madly but quietly.

 

"Well, if you don't move, he's gonna have to change it again. I need a bathroom."

 

"Sorry, no can do, old man. T.J. and Logan kinda got me pinned in."

 

I finally looked to my right and found T.J. curled up next to me and his head was resting on my shoulder. When I peeked to my left, I found Logan was in much the same position on my other side. It was no wonder I felt like the weight of the world was pinning me to the mattress. Looking even further to the left, I discovered the big guy was dealing with the same issue as he had Andy laying on top of him with Joey on his left side and Alex on his right, all four still sleeping soundly.

 

"Well, somethin's got to give, buddy, `cause I really need to pee."

 

"Yeah, I know," the munchkin giggled again.

 

Knowing I couldn't wait any longer, I tossed the covers off the four of us, then gently lifted Mike so I could at least sit up, T.J. and Logan's arms slipping from Mike's back to their sides. Once I'd accomplished that much, I set Mike back down on the bed by my feet, carefully extricated myself from between the two still-sleeping forms beside me and hustled to the bathroom. With my immediate needs taken care of, I washed my face and hands, then returned to roust the others. As I left the bathroom, I glanced at the window over the bed and discovered that the day was overcast, gray and gloomy. It somehow seemed oddly fitting considering it mirrored how all of us felt.

 

"Okay, you lazy bums, time to get movin'," I called out as I reached the overcrowded bed.

 

"We don't wanna, Dad," T.J. mumbled.

 

"Too bad, munchkin. We only have two hours before Troy gets here and I'd like to spend that time together. What do you want for breakfast, Logan?"

 

"DiCarlo's," he muttered.

 

"Sorry, bud, they're not open this early."

 

"Well, hell, that sucks. Don't the condemned get whatever they want for their last meal?"

 

"This won't be your last meal. I'm sure your aunt will make sure you get fed."

 

"Like I'll stand a chance against them two shithead cousins. You seen how big they are?"

 

"Yes, I have, but I'm sure you'll be fine." Tom and his three rugrats has started to move and I added, "Welcome to the real world, guys." I received four grumpy and wholly unintelligible replies to my cheery greeting. "Well, I'm going to start something for breakfast. Y'all better join me soon or you'll go hungry." On that note, I opened the door to leave the bedroom and my nose was immediately assaulted by a host of wonderful odors flooding the hallway. When I reached the kitchen, I found Ron busier than any bee had ever been as he was bustling about with mass quantities of food in various stages of preparation.

 

"Oh hey, mornin', Max. Fresh coffee's in the pot, help yourself," he greeted me happily.

 

"Mornin' to you, too," I replied as I pulled a mug from the cabinet and filled it with warm java. "Looks like you're pullin' out all the stops today. What all you got goin'?"

 

"Eggs, bacon, sausage, ham, hash browns and cinnamon rolls."

 

"I thought we were out of cinnamon rolls," I retorted.

 

"We are, so I made `em myself," Ron replied.

 

"And they smell delicious. Now, if we just had someone here to eat them."

 

"They'll be here, Max, don't worry `bout that. Especially if you left the bedroom door open and they can smell all this." As if Ron had whispered a magical incantation, bodies started filling the kitchen as the crew finally decided it was time to move.

 

"Smells pretty good in here, Ron-Boy," Logan complimented as he joined the group. "It ain't DiCarlo's, but it'll do okay," he added with a chuckle.

 

"I'm glad it meets with your approval, munchkin," Ron retorted. "Now, get your skinny little butt outta my way so I can finish up and get it all on the table."

 

"Careful how you talk to me, buckwheat, or I'll shove your ass in that truck instead o' mine when Uncle Dirtbag gets here."

 

"Gee, thanks, Logan. And here I was, thinkin' you kinda liked me."

 

"Oh, I do, beanpole. ` Least I was gonna put you in it and not under the dang thing."

 

"Gee, thanks, ya little goober. I feel so much better," Ron laughed.

 

With the two done trading barbs, Logan moved on to the dining room and took the chair at one end of the table, the other boys filling the seats next to him, wanting to stay as close together as possible for as long as they could. Tom finally straggled into the kitchen and fixed himself a cup of coffee to get his day started.

 

"What took you so long, big guy?" I asked.

 

"Had to wait for the brats to use the bathroom and it took them forever. And with the extra pressure Andy was puttin' on my bladder, my back teeth were having motorboat races by the time I could get to the toilet." Ron and I were both laughing at his misery. "Yeah, laugh it up, you two. By the time it was my turn, I was `bout to explode."

 

"You feeling any better now?" I asked.

 

"Finally, yes. So, what can we do to help, Ron?"

 

"Not much, Tom, it's almost done. You guys could help get it all to the table though."

 

"You got it," I replied. Tom and I filled our hands and delivered the completed food to the table where it was promptly attacked by the assembled herd. Despite what they may be feeling this morning, there was no denying the eating machines their morning meal.

 

"Hey, you guys wanna leave some for us?" Tom asked.

 

"Not really, Pops," Alex answered with a giggle.

 

Ron soon joined us, carrying a platter filled with the cinnamon rolls smothered with icing, and the boys dug into them with gusto as soon as they hit the table. The three adults finally joined the sensational six-pack at the table and filled our plates with a little bit of everything. Ron was receiving many compliments from all for our hearty breakfast and he was blushing mightily from all the praise.

 

I finally managed to turn the conversation away from food when I asked, "So, Logan, were you able to finish your book yesterday?"

 

"Yeah, it was really good."

 

"Are you ready for the next book in the series?"

 

"Yeah, but not `til I get back here with you guys. I ain't takin' nothin' with me I don't hafta."

 

"That's fine, buddy. It'll be waiting for you. You sorta reminded me of Ender yesterday with your little speech at the cemetery."

 

"Yeah, how'd I do that?"

 

"Well, the second book is titled Speaker for the Dead and it takes place years later when Ender has become one."

 

"And what's a speaker for the dead do?"

 

"He travels from colony to colony among the hundred worlds and tells the true story of someone who's died, regardless of the consequences. That's pretty much what you did yesterday when you talked about your dad."

 

"Mr. McGee and Mr. Bartley did the same thing, though, didn't they?"

 

"Yes, I suppose they did, but you made me think of Ender more than they did."

 

"Hey, we have another birthday comin' up next week, don't we?" Tom asked. T.J. raised his hand and acknowledged the upcoming event. "So, you plannin' on havin' a party like the twins did?"

 

"Nope. Ain't doin' nothin' `til Logan's back and can be here with us."

 

"Ah, dude, don't do that," Logan moaned. "Go ahead and have your party. Who knows when I'll be back?"

 

"Not gonna happen, bro. I won't be in the mood for a party if you ain't here."

 

"None of us will be," Alex added glumly. That statement received nods of agreement from all the boys.

 

"Does Logan really have to leave today?" Mike asked with a whimper of sadness.

 

"Unfortunately, yes," Tom answered. "But he'll be back just as quick as we can work everything out."

 

"He better," Joey vented testily.

 

"When's Dylan gonna get here?" I asked.

 

"He said he'd be here about 10:30," Tom replied. "That way, he'll be here when Troy is and we can be ready to roll as soon as they're on the way."

 

"Good. You do realize I'm paying you two for this, don't you?"

 

"No you're not, babe, this one's a freebie. We all have a vested interest in bringing Logan back home where he's safe and loved. Same with locatin' William when we get back, it's on the house."

 

"Just another reason to love you, hon," I commented as I reached over and squeezed his hand. "Thanks."

 

"Well, it's not like I need the money, is it? Dylan might, but I sure don't."

 

"No, I s'pose not, smart aleck."

 

The rest of our meal was fairly quiet as there didn't seem to be anything left to say. Well, there really was plenty for us to talk about, just nobody could find their steady voice and the few words spoken aloud were accompanied by a multitude of breaks due to the emotions we were all trying to contain. Surprisingly, Logan seemed to be the one person in complete command of his feelings, grinning happily despite his rapidly approaching moment of departure. I was unable to fathom his ability to be so calm and relaxed considering the circumstances, but I was glad to see he was at peace with what would be happening shortly.

 

Once all the food Ron had prepared was finally packed away into our bulging bellies, the cleanup process began in earnest. Though Ron complained about not being allowed to do his job, as usual, the boys took care of loading the plates and silver into the dishwasher. With their part completed, Ron summarily kicked all eight of us out of the kitchen, insisting he would take care of the rest of the cleanup by himself.

 

As we left the kitchen for the living room, I placed a hand on Logan's shoulder and jerked my head towards my study to have him follow me. We plodded down the hallway and after entering the study, I closed the door so we could talk without being interrupted.

 

Sitting in separate chairs at the small table, Logan asked, "What's up, Dad?"

 

"Well, I'm worried about you, buddy. You seem pretty calm in light of the fact you're about to move to Missouri with your uncle," I replied.

 

"Ain't no sense bein' upset `bout it, is there? We knew it was gonna happen."

 

"That may be, but you still seem too, uh, at ease with it, I guess. I want you to know that we're not gonna stop working to get you back here with us, no matter how long it takes."

 

"Yeah, I know that. That's why I ain't that worried right now. If I thought I was gonna hafta stay with them losers forever, it'd be a whole different story, let me tell ya."

 

"I bet it would be."

 

"So, why we in here?" Logan queried.

 

"Right, that. I have something you need to take with you. Hang on a sec." I moved to my desk and retrieved an item from the center desk drawer before rejoining Logan at the table. After taking my seat, I held out the latest iPhone and said, "I picked this up the other day and it's already programmed with Tom's, Dylan's, mine and the house's phone numbers. You need anything, and I mean anything, use it."

 

"Holy shit, Dad, what the hell you thinkin'? Troy's liable to chuck that sucker out the window while we're goin' down the interstate."

 

"Not if he doesn't know you have it," I replied with a conspiratorial grin. "I want you to put this in the middle of your bag so they won't know it's there. When you get there, find somewhere to hide it, but still get to it quickly and easily if something comes up."

 

"Like what somethin'? You mean if it looks like he's gonna beat my ass for no reason?"

 

"That's exactly what I mean, young man. If it ever looks like he might hurt you in any way, you need to call the police and get help."

 

"But they live outside o' town on that orchard I tol' you `bout. By the time the cops could get there, I'll be freakin' dead."

 

"Well, Tom and Dylan will be close by for a few days as they dig into Troy's background, and you should call them first if you need help. But, you may still need it after they've come back home."

 

Logan's eyes filled with tears that stubbornly refused to go away as he crawled in my lap and gave me a bone-jarring hug. "Thanks, Dad. I love you," he whispered in my ear.

 

"We love you, too, buddy. This'll all work out okay, I promise."

 

"I know it will," Logan whimpered.

 

"Okay, we need to get dressed and make sure you're ready to go when they get here. No need to make Troy mad by trying to delay, I guess. And make sure you stash that phone."

 

"You bet I will."

 

As we left the study, I added, "Let the others know it's time to get dressed, will you?"

 

"You got it, Dad."

 

With that, Logan continued down the hall and across the house while I turned into the bedroom to pull on shorts and a shirt. Tom soon joined me, dressing for his road trip with Dylan and quickly packing a bag with the items he'd need for four or five days as the two investigators dug into Troy's background. During that process, he asked, "So what was that little chat with Logan all about?"

 

"I gave him a phone to take with him. It's programmed with all the important numbers he may need."

 

"That's a good idea. I should have thought of that."

 

"Yeah, you should have. But, I'm glad I did, though. He's going to put it in the middle of his bag so it won't be obvious he has it, and then hide it once he gets to Troy's. I'm hoping he won't ever need to use it, but I figure better safe than sorry. You got everything you need?"

 

"Yeah, I think so. As much as I'd like to take my gun, I'm not licensed to carry in Missouri, so I'm leavin' it here."

 

"You think that's wise? You may need it if you have to corral Troy."

 

"We'll be fine without our guns, babe. Troy's nothin' but your average bully and one quick shot with a fist, foot or knee will put his sick ass on the ground."

 

"I'm hoping it doesn't come to that, but if does, make sure the bastard can't get back up."

 

"Oh, I plan on it," Tom agreed with an evil smirk.

 

With both of us dressed and Tom's bag ready to go, we aimed ourselves for the living room. When we arrived, we found the boys had returned and were all packed onto the couch together. It was a good thing the couch was extra-long or somebody would have to have been sitting on the others. The sensational six-pack had been quietly whispering when we first saw them, but they quickly clammed up as Tom and I settled into our chairs. I was about to ask them the reason for their silence when the drive sensor announced a visitor.

 

As we waited for a phone call from the security guard, Logan jerked in reaction to the `ding', then quickly glanced at the clock and muttered, "Figures the jerk would be early. He just can't wait to get his moneygrubbin' little paws on me and my money."

 

Tom calmed Logan down when he responded, "I'm sure that's just Dylan coming in, buddy. He wanted to be here when Troy was, and the two of us are hitting the road right behind you."

 

"Sounds like a good plan to me, Pops. That bastard's probably not gonna wait `til he gets back home to start bein' an asshole."

 

"Probably not," I agreed. "Do you think you might be able to enlist some help from your cousins?"

 

"Don't see that happenin', Dad. Those two twits hate me just as much as Troy does."

 

"What're their names," Alex asked.

 

"Yeah, you never told us," Joey added.

 

"Well, I always just called `em Thing One and Thing Two," Logan answered with a giggle, "but their real names are Daril and Arley. They're both dumber than rocks and meaner than junkyard dogs."

 

"And what's your aunt's name?" Tom asked.

 

"Arlene. Ain't too sure she's the brightest bulb in the box, neither. `Specially since she's stuck with Troy as long as she has. If she had an ounce o' brains, she'd a left that loser a long time ago and taken the two Things with her."

 

"Logan, you understand that if she and your cousins are being abused by Troy, they probably don't think they deserve better or have anywhere to go that's gonna be safe from him. Victims of abuse rarely see a way out of their situation and their self-esteem is completely degraded to the point of not caring anymore. Trust me on that."

 

"That may be, Dad, but they still coulda tried to get out somehow."

 

"Trying to escape often leads to even worse abuse if it doesn't work out, and the victim knows that, so they stay, anyway."

 

"That don't make a damn bit o' sense."

 

"No, it doesn't," Tom agreed, "but that's the way it works most of the time. It takes a really brave and strong person to leave an abusive relationship."

 

The front door flew open at that moment and Dylan stepped inside, closing the door behind him. The munchkins jumped off the couch and ran to greet the big guy, smothering him with hugs. When they'd finally calmed down a bit, Dylan was able to make his way across the house to join us by the fireplace. He opted to take the loveseat while five of the boys returned to the couch. Instead of joining the others, Logan crawled up on the loveseat with Dylan, burrowing deep into his side as the big guy wrapped a protective arm around the youngster's shoulders.

 

"It's gonna be all right, buddy," Dylan whispered to his companion before lifting his head and asking, "You ready to boogie, Boss?"

 

"Ready as I'll ever be, I guess," Tom answered. "You?"

 

"You betcha. We gotta get this young man back where he belongs."

 

"We're with ya on that, Dylan," I agreed.

 

"I still don't get why he has to go in the first place," T.J. muttered.

 

"Because his dad wanted Troy to take care of Logan. We can't change that yet."

 

"It still sucks," Alex moaned. DING!

 

"Oh, shit," Logan mumbled as he attempted to dig even deeper into Dylan's side. The phone rang five seconds later.

 

Tom answered with, "Who is it, Ken?"

 

"Not a clue, Mr. Wright. The bastard flew by me without blinkin'. If I hadn't jumped out of the way, I'd be nothin' but roadkill right now."

 

"Let me guess," Tom started, "a dirty beige pickup with Missouri plates, right?"

 

"How the hell could you know that?" Ken asked with surprise. "You got a camera out here you didn't tell us about?"

 

"No, we've been expecting them. Thanks for the warning, though." After hanging up the phone, Tom said, "I guess this is it. Boys, say your goodbyes now."

 

"Why can't we go outside with Logan?" Joey asked.

 

"Because we don't want you around Troy, simple as that," Tom answered.

 

Tears were running down all their faces as they formed a huddle in front of the fireplace and whispered quietly to each other. While they hugged each other and sobbed together, Dylan took it upon himself to man the front door, watching through the window for Troy's arrival on the porch. When Troy mounted the steps up to the porch, Dylan opened the door to let him in.

 

"Boys, rooms now, please," I commanded. Without hesitation, all six disappeared down the hallway with Ron shepherding the herd. Logan returned moments later with his bag.

 

"Hoo doggy, them uppity faggots got themselves a nice little slave nigger to greet their special guests. Ain't that just fuckin' special?" Troy drawled with disgust. Dylan turned to us and we could see the word `please' desperately wanting to escape his mouth, but he held his tongue as Tom quickly shook his head in the negative. "Time to hit the road, ya disgustin' little faggot lover," Troy yelled across the house.

 

"What the hell is wrong with you, Troy?" Logan asked as we approached the door. "Was you dropped on your head when you was a baby?"

 

"Ain't a damn thing wrong with me, ya turd. Now, get your sorry ass in the truck. Times a wastin' and we gotta go."

 

Logan looked up to us and asked, "I really gotta go with this asshole?"

 

"You know you do, Logan," I answered as we knelt down to his level. "You sure you have everything?" I asked with a wink.

 

"Yep," he answered with a return wink before wrapping both of us in a hug, his head lodged between ours. "I love you guys," he whispered into our ears.

 

"We love you, too, buddy," I whimpered.

 

"You'll be back with us soon, Logan," Tom muttered without commitment.

 

"Sooner than you pro'lly think," Logan giggled.

 

We both jerked back in surprise and I asked, "What's that mean?"

 

"Oh, nothin'," the young man replied as he turned to leave. He stopped at Dylan, wrapped his arms around the big man's waist and said, "Love you, too, Uncle Dylan. See you soon," he added with a smile.

 

"Break up the sick little love fest, boy, and get in the back seat with your cousins," Troy vented.

 

"Can I ride in the very back with all your crap?" Logan asked. "Just so I don't have to breathe the same air as you?"

 

Troy raised a hand as if he was going to smack Logan, but he didn't count on Dylan's quick reflexes stopping the savage blow before he could make contact. As Dylan twisted Troy's arm behind his back, Logan continued out to the truck and climbed in the back seat with his cousins, where he promptly crawled over one of the two hulks to sit between them.

 

"Let go of me, you fuckin' nigger. I'll see your ass in jail," Troy squealed as the pain in his arm increased due to the way Dylan was pulling it up between his shoulder blades. I'll never understand how his arm didn't break into two separate pieces.

 

"You listen to me, asshole, and you listen good," Dylan hissed. "You so much as look at Logan cross-eyed and I'm gonna snap you in two like the useless twig you are."

 

"I ain't `fraid of no damn darkie," Troy retorted as he tried to pull away.

 

"You better be, asshole," Dylan warned as he planted his foot on Troy's ass and shoved him out the door as he released the twisted appendage. Troy stumbled across the porch and when he reached the steps, lost his balance completely before flying off the porch and sprawling face first onto the sidewalk. Logan had turned around to look out the rear window of the truck's cab and we could see he was grinning madly at his uncle's misfortune. Even Arlene, Daril and Arley were watching the events unfold and it appeared as though all three were unsuccessfully trying to suppress their own grins, though it was hard to be sure due to the dirt covering the window.

 

"You fuckin' nigger!" Troy screamed. "I'm gonna kill you for that," he added as he moved back towards the porch.

 

"Give it your best shot, asshole," Dylan replied as he pulled his gun from its holster in the middle of his back and aimed it directly at Troy's head.

 

Apparently deciding common sense was the better part of valor, Troy turned around and headed for the truck. After climbing in, he peeled off down the driveway like an escapee from prison. Dylan slammed the door so hard, we were surprised it didn't end up in the yard.

 

"That rotten mothe... uh, bastard. He better hope I never see him again," Dylan vented.

 

"Let me grab my bag, Dylan, and I'll be ready to go," Tom called over his shoulder as he turned for the bedroom.

 

"Don't forget your gun, Boss. We're goin' into enemy territory."

 

"Why? I don't have a carry license for Missouri."

 

"You do now," Dylan responded as he pulled an ID card from his pocket. Tom returned, pulled the card from Dylan's grasp and gawked at it in surprise.

 

"How the hell'd you pull this off?" Tom asked.

 

"I know some people who know some people. They helped guide our paperwork through Missouri's bureaucracy. The fact we're both former cops helped the applications jump some major hurdles, too," Dylan grinned with satisfaction.

 

"Excellent. I knew workin' with you was gonna be a great experience. I'll be right back." With that, Tom headed towards the bedroom a second time.

 

While he was retrieving his things, I had the boys come back out so they could say their goodbyes to both men when Tom returned. All five were still crying at Logan leaving, but there was nothing we could do at the moment to stop the waterworks. When Tom had rejoined his traveling partner, the goodbyes began in earnest with even more tears flowing freely from everyone. With reassurances from Tom and Dylan to do their best and come back home as quickly as possible, they were soon out the door and on their way. The six of us who were staying home retreated to the living room and curled up on the couch together, too upset with the injustices of life to even think about what came next.

 

 

On the way to the driveway leading into the garage, I asked, "So, Dylan, whose car are we takin' south?"

 

"Thought we'd take my mine, see how it does on the open highway."

 

"Works for me," I replied. When we turned around the corner of the garage and I laid my eyes on the brand-new gleaming machine parked on the drive, I nearly fell over in surprise. "Where the hell did that come from?" I sputtered.

 

"A little going away present from the county," Dylan grinned. "You like?"

 

"What's not to like," I asked as my eyes caressed the black Hellcat from nose to tail. "Hope you let me drive."

 

"Don't hold your breath there, bucko," Dylan laughed. "C'mon, throw your shit in the trunk and let's get this show on the road."

 

Dylan popped the trunk open, and after my bag was stashed and the trunk closed, we climbed in the hot-rod to head south. Dylan put the car through its paces from the moment we entered Interstate 72 at New Berlin and we'd just veered onto Interstate 55 on the south side of Springfield when we rolled up to the truck bearing our young friend who was bound for who knew what hellish experiences. Dylan let the car coast back down to more legal speeds before setting the cruise control that would allow us to follow Troy at a respectable distance. Once settled in about half a mile behind the truck, we had nothing to do now but wait until we reached southeast Missouri.

 

 

When Uncle Shithead got in the truck, I knew he was pissed off somethin' awful. But he'd just been embarrassed within an inch of his life by a hulkin' black man with no way to get back at him, so I wasn't that surprised. I'd always believed Troy was a royal pain in the ass and my short time with him so far today was doing nothing to disprove that point. No words had been spoken by anyone since we'd left home forty-five minutes ago and the silence was deafening. I wasn't too happy for having to go along with this insanity, but I knew Dad and Pops wouldn't let anyone or anything stop them from bringin' me back home with them and my brothers, and I was determined to make lemonade outta this fuckin' lemon.

 

Daril and Arley had done nothin' but stare blankly out their windows at the still empty fields as we rolled on down the interstate. Aunt Arlene was quiet as usual as she seemed to be dozing. I was pretty sure she was just fakin' bein' asleep, just so she wouldn't have to talk to Troy, not that I blamed her a bit for that. I turned to look out the back window again, just to say goodbye to Springfield one last time, when I saw this evil-lookin' black car. I couldn't see inside because of the sun's glare on the windshield, but I had this ominous feelin' it was followin' us. I could only hope that whoever was in that black beast wasn't lookin' for me. I was already in enough trouble with Troy just for breathin' and sure didn't need to add to it.

 

I started to shiver in fear a bit and finally settled back into my place between Thing 1 and Thing 2, more or less resigned to my fate, whatever the hell it may be. It was then that Daril pulled a folded-up piece of paper from his pocket and handed it over without lookin' at me. To say I was surprised at this new development would be the understatement of the century. I looked up at his face and did not see any recognition of his action and I was pretty confused as to what was going on. I'd started unfoldin' the paper when Arley put his hand on my back and gently pushed me forward a little bit so the paper was down by my knees and not visible to Troy or Arlene should they turn around. I looked up to Arley and he gave me a miniscule nod of his head encouraging me to continue.

 

I carefully and very quietly unfolded the paper until I could see it was note. I immediately focused my eyes and all my attention on what the note said.

 

`Logan, don't react to this or Dad'll know somethin's up and you don't want that happenin'. First, we both want you know how sorry we are about Aunt Becky dyin' a couple years ago and Uncle Charlie dyin', too. They was good people and we're gonna miss `em. It's too bad it was Uncle Charlie who bought the big one `stead o' our old man.' Tears started to fill my eyes and they were screwing with my ability to focus, but I pressed on. `Second, we tried to convince Dad to let you stay where you was, but he needs your money really bad. The orchard's `bout to go tits up and he don't know what he's gonna do when it happens. He thinks that once you're with us, he can grab the dough and you can disappear with nobody knowin' what's happened.

 

`We're gonna do what we can to protect you, but it ain't gonna be easy. We gotta go to school every day and won't be home, but Dad spends most his days in the bar, anyways, so he ain't `round that much, `cept for at night. We think if you lay low when he's `round, you'll be okay, but ya just never know. Mom's gonna take good care of you when he's outta the house, but don't `spect nothin' from her when he's around. She don't want to get beat no more than she is already and helpin' you would dump a whole heap o' shit on her if Dad finds out `bout it. Same goes for us, we're tired of bein' beat up for nothin' and we ain't gonna add to it if we don't hafta.

 

`So, you be careful and you'll be alright.'

 

The note was signed by both Daril and Arley. Dammit, I had really misjudged my cousins. Not only do they actually care about what happens to me, they could fuckin' write! Talk about surprises that blow your mind. I looked up to try to say somethin' to `em, but both were still staring blankly out the windows, oblivious to the turmoil running through my mind. I very carefully and quietly refolded the note, then slipped it into my pocket so I wouldn't lose it. I grabbed their hands and squeezed them tightly as a way of sayin' thank you. While they remained silent, sullen and still, they lightly squeezed back to let me know they'd received my message. When we pulled up to their house almost four hours later, the three of us were still silently holdin' hands in solidarity.

 

By god, maybe this won't turn out too bad after all.

 

 

When we saw the truck pull into the driveway of what must be their home, Dylan continued down the road about half a mile before pulling into another drive and turning around. We stopped on the side of the road across from the house to scope out the area and decide how best to keep an eye on things. The house itself didn't seem too bad or rundown, but we've learned from our time on the job to never judge a book by its cover. The ground sloped down behind the house before ending at a small lake. While visibility across the lake would be excellent, reaching the house in a hurry would be a problem.

 

Having seen all we could see at the moment, Dylan put the car back into gear and we slowly drifted past the house in search of the motel we'd reserved. Once checked in, we unloaded our things from the car into the room and got settled into our home away from home for the next few days. I pulled my Surface tablet from its case, connected to the motel's wi-fi and loaded up Google Earth so we could get an aerial view of the house and surrounding area.

 

After a few minutes of perusing the aerial view on the screen, we decided that an empty lot on the other side of the lake would provide the best vantage point to keep an eye on Troy's place. There were trees shrouding the shoreline of the small lake and we decided that would be the ideal spot to set up camp as we'd be able to keep an eye on things and still be close enough to react quickly to any situation that may develop.

 

While I would be watching the house, Dylan would be visiting the county building to dig up any records he could find on Troy, paying special attention to any evidence of a police record. He would also be talking to any people he could entice into a conversation about Troy and family, especially the Dexter police. Local knowledge can be priceless in situations like this.

 

With our plans for tomorrow made, we walked across the parking lot for a quick bite to eat at the family diner next door. Returning to our room, I called Max to let him know we'd arrived safely and were ready to get to work in the morning. We shared our love for each other as best we could over the phone line before I crawled into bed for a good night's sleep. Dylan and I wanted to be well rested before we began working in earnest in the morning.

 

 

The rest of the day at home seemed to drag on and on with no end in sight. Ron had finally rejoined us in the living room after spending almost an hour in his room. I noticed his eyes were as bloodshot from crying as the rest of us and we all shared in his pain. Despite our original plans for a walk through the woods this afternoon to look for Samuel, the boys decided they just weren't up to a ghost hunt today. Instead, we lazed around and kept our noses buried in our books, trying to keep our minds off our friend and what he could be dealing with.

 

When suppertime rolled around, nobody expressed any real interest in food, so we settled for peanut butter sandwiches with honey or jelly as something easy to fix and cleanup afterward. When the quietest meal this house has seen in the past couple of months was finished, I tried to talk the boys into watching a couple more Star Trek episodes, but they vowed to not watch any until Logan was back with us. Their excuse was they didn't want him to miss out on any important developments in their favorite show.

 

With that decision made, we settled back into the living room to continue reading by the fire. Joey and Alex had swapped Spriderwick books since they'd finished them earlier, and T.J. continued in his. Mike and Andy climbed in my chair with me and we continued digging into The Adventures of Tom Sawyer since Tom had finished Huckleberry Finn last night. When Ron completed his cleanup in the kitchen, he joined us and continued reading the first Jake Franklin book. Needless to say, it was a pretty quiet and depressing evening in the Sanders household.

 

 

When we parked in the driveway, I thought the house didn't look too bad. It wasn't anything like Dad's house, of course, but it seemed to be in pretty decent shape. Looks can be deceiving, though, and after grabbing our bags from the back of the truck, we all headed inside. As soon as Troy opened the door, the stench of rotten food and dead critters nearly bowled me over. I somehow stifled the urge to puke on Troy's feet as he held the door open for the rest of us to go inside before him. Daril, Arley and Aunt Arlene quickly disappeared deeper into the house, leaving me alone with Uncle Shithead.

 

I'd started to follow along when Troy asked, "Where the fuck you think you're goin'?"

 

"I thought I'd be sleeping with Daril and Arley," I answered.

 

"You think you deserve that luxury, huh? Not a chance, you little prick. Nope, your room is down there," Troy retorted while pointing to the stairway going down to the basement. "Now, get your sorry ass down them stairs and stay fuck outta my way. We'll talk `bout you gettin' me my money later."

 

Resigned to my fate, but somewhat hopeful that being in the basement would add a bit of separation between me and Troy, I followed his orders and started down the creaky steps. I'd barely cleared the third tread when the door slammed behind me and I heard the snick of the lock being engaged. I was swallowed by darkness and carefully felt my way to the bottom of the steps. When I finally stepped onto the dirt floor of my new home, I felt around the wall for the light switch I'd seen from the top of the steps, hoping I could bring some illumination into the space.

 

When my hand finally found the toggle three feet away from the bottom of the stairs, I flipped it up and was horrified at the sight that greeted me. The entire space was filled with garbage and it smelled even worse down here than it did upstairs. With only one light bulb in the center of the dank and moldy space, the corners were still pretty dark and difficult to see. As I moved closer to the nearest one, I spied the skeleton of some animal that had died and been left rot amid the rest of the refuse. From the size of the bones and teeth in its skull, I guessed it had once been a rat. A pretty damn big one, too. Just fuckin' dandy, I thought, trash up to my knees and rats to boot. Thanks, Troy, you're all asshole.

 

The one thing I did discover that gave me a little bit of hope was a door in the back wall. Wishing for a source of fresh air, I waded through the filth and flung the door open. Oh, thank you jesus! The great outdoors was just a step over the threshold, and it was flooded with sunshine and crisp, cool, breathable air. I finally dropped my bag on the ground outside the door and turned around to look back inside. I quickly decided to make the best of a bad situation and started to clean up the dump that was to be my home.

 

Wadin' back amid the trash while looking around, I spied a shovel in the far corner and inched my way over to retrieve it. With shovel in hand, I set myself to work, loading the shovel and hauling the crap twenty feet outside the door before unceremoniously dumpin' it on the ground. Two hours into my task, the sun had finally set, but I kept at it for a couple more hours, hopin' no racoons or coyotes would be attracted to the giant heap of trash I'd created. Yeah, it was mind-numbingly boring work, but it sure beat the hell outta sittin' in all that muck and twiddlin' my thumbs. With the bulk of the job finally done, I grabbed the rake I'd found in another dark corner and proceeded to use it to smooth out the dirt floor as much as possible.

 

Fortunately, all my walkin' `round had stomped the really loose stuff into the harder pack beneath it, so I wasn't creatin' much dust to breathe in and clog up my lungs. By the time I was satisfied with my work, my arms and back ached like hell, my hands were covered in blisters and I was beat. Despite all that, I reveled in a job well done as I sucked in a lungful of the clean, fresh air that had replaced the miasma of filth I'd been breathin'. I think my daddy would have been proud of me for what I'd accomplished in the short time I'd been here so far, and I allowed myself a tight smile at the thought.

 

My next task was to figure out where I was gonna sleep in this hellhole, but before I could do that, I had to pee. Since my new accommodations didn't include a bathroom, I stepped back outside and peed on the first tree I came to, again hoping no racoons or coyotes would sneak up on me and bite my little pecker off. After tuckin' mini-me back into my pants and zipping up, I located the hose faucet I'd seen earlier, washed my hands and got a much-needed drink of cool, clean water. I swished the first gulp around inside my mouth, then spat it out on the ground, just to get all the dirt cleaned out. My next gulp was swallowed and though I was hungry since they hadn't bothered to tell me when it was suppertime, I felt a bit refreshed.

 

Grabbing my bag that had been on the ground outside the door still, I headed back into the musty basement to see what else I needed to do. I pulled out the phone Dad had given me and used the flashlight to explore the storage space under the stairs. While not really clean, I found some shelves that were off the floor, a dank-smelling sleepin' bag and some dusty cans of corn and beans that had been here who knew how long. A quick look at the dates on the cans told me they were almost five years past their shelf life, but they hadn't exploded, and the tops weren't bulgin', so I figured I just found what would have to pass for my supper.

 

I unrolled the sleepin' bag onto the bottom shelf that was about twelve inches off the floor, then opened it up to let it air out. There wasn't much space between the shelves, but I figured I'd rather be a bit cramped than sleep on the nasty dirt floor. Besides, I should be okay as long as I didn't roll around too much or try to sit up.

 

That arranged, I attacked one the cans of corn with my knife. Soon enough, I had the lid peeled back enough that I could eat directly from the can without slicin' my face. With the can emptied, I stepped back outside and tossed it on top of the pile of shit I'd created then headed back to the tree to pee again. A rustle through the dead leaves covering the ground around me scared me shitless, but thanks to the light of the bright moon and the cloudless sky, I discovered it as only a squirrel headin' home for the night and not a hungry critter scavengin' for a bedtime snack.

 

I headed back into the basement, closed the door behind me and crawled in the sleepin' bag. It still stank, but it wasn't quite as bad as it was when I first found it, so I figured I could live with it. I played with the phone for a while to see what all it could do and discovered I could easily get it to record video just by talkin' to it. Before curlin' up alone in my dank and musty room, I sent a text message to Dad and Pops to let them know I was okay and couldn't wait to be back home with them and my brothers. That done, I set the phone on the shelf above where I'd made my bed, nestlin' it between the cans of food, but in a position that it could record the basement if necessary.

 

As I curled up in the bag again and pulled the top flap over my head, I couldn't help but feel like I was Harry Potter in the cupboard under the stairs, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the letter from Hogwarts that would free me from my newfound prison. Oh, if only I was a real damn wizard, I'd show that fuckin' Troy a thing or two.

 

 

The next several days slipped by practically unnoticed. The boys were as miserable as I'd ever seen them and in pretty foul moods with Logan's absence, but I didn't fault them a bit for that as Ron and I were feeling much the same way. I'd called off the security teams Monday since Troy had gone back home, passing along my thanks for a job well done. During that time, I received several calls a day from Tom and Dylan keeping us updated on their lack of progress in finding a way to bring Logan home with them, but they were still working on it. Every night, I received a text from Logan to let us know he was okay and I always responded immediately to let him know we loved and missed him, too.

 

Though I'd slept alone for the first twelve or so years I'd lived in this house, it felt odd to be doing so again after sharing my bed with Tom the past couple of months. I could only hope Tom was feeling the same sense of absence I was. Four days had passed since Troy had stolen Logan from his home and the two sleuths weren't making any headway in their investigation of Troy. Sure, they'd heard rumors of some dastardly deeds, but there was no evidence to prove any of it.

 

I guess the worst finding was the complete lack of the police record they'd expected. Apparently, Arlene had never filed any charges against the man for spousal or child abuse, even though we suspected there had been countless opportunities for her to do so over the years. It was two-sixteen on Thursday afternoon and I was in the middle of one of my daily calls with Tom when all hell broke loose.

 

"Hey, hon, any progress on anything, yet?" I begged.

 

"Unfortunately, no. Dylan's sittin' in the car down the road from the house a bit and I'm still sittin' on the other side of the lake behind the house. We haven't seen hide nor hair from any of them since we got here."

 

"I'm surprised you haven't seen the boys goin' to and comin' home from school."

 

"Yeah, we are, too, but they seem to be hunkered down for some reason."

 

"Why don't one of you go knock on their door and make sure they're still there?"

 

"We don't want to let them know we've been watchin' them all week, babe. Better chance of catchin' them doin' somethin' stupid if they don't know that."

 

"Yeah, I guess so. How much longer do you and Dylan plan on stayin'?"

 

"If nothin' breaks, we're thinkin' of pullin' up stakes and headin' home tomorrow afternoon."

 

"That seems awfully soon, if you ask me. Why don't you give it few more days?"

 

"What's the poin ...? Wait, what the fuck!?" Tom exclaimed in surprise.

 

"What's happening, Tom?"

 

"Not a clue, but an ambulance just pulled into the drive, I gotta go." With that, the phone went dead.

 

 

Just as the last three days had gone, Troy came down the steps to join me in the basement about one-thirty. Why this particular time every damn day, I didn't have a clue. I guess he just wanted to harass me some more before he left for the stinkin' bar. I was hoping today's interrogation would be shorter than the others had been the past couple days, but the scumbag had other ideas.

 

The stair door slammed open and I barely had time to yell, "Hey Siri, start recording video," before he tromped down the steps. As he stepped onto the dirt floor, Troy yelled "Okay, I'm tired o' screwin' `round with ya, ya little shit. You're gonna tell me how to get my money today or you're just gonna fuckin' disappear!"

 

"You ain't been listenin' to me, asshole!" I screamed back at him. "I can't get it! It takes two people to sign anything and you ain't one of them."

 

"Then who is, ya bastard?"

 

"Max and Tom and me are the only ones."

 

"Then you're just gonna have to figure out how to get one of them fuckin' faggots to sign a check."

 

"Ain't never gonna happen, ya lowlife. That's my money and I got other plans for it."

 

"Screw your plans, brat, I need that fuckin' money and you're gonna get it for me."

 

"Shit in one hand, wish in the other, Troy. Let's see which gets filled first." That was apparently the wrong thing to say at the moment. He stepped closer to me with his arm raised high above his head and before I could blink, I felt the blinding sting of his fist crashing into my jaw. I flew about five feet across the basement before landing flat on my back and slamming my head into the dirt. I was stunned as stars swirled all around me, but I stood back up teetering on the brink of passin' out, and screamed, "That the best you got, ya fuckin' loser!?"

 

That only served to further enrage Troy and he came after me with a fury I'd never seen from anyone before, not even my daddy when he was at his worst. Troy was pantin' like a bitch in heat and his eyes were filled with a lust for blood as he came closer. Just as he reached out to wrap his scummy hands around my neck, I swung my foot with all the power I could muster and planted it right in his fuckin' balls. Uncle Dirtbag howled in pain, crossed his eyes and fell over backwards, clutching his nuts.

 

"I told you what was gonna happen if you ever laid a hand on me, you bastard! You better get ready!" I yelled, pullin' my knife from my pocket and flippin' out the blade. I stepped closer to the figure writhin' in agony on the floor and his eyes grew wide with fear as he remembered what I'd said on the driveway at home.

 

I yanked his hands from his crotch and sat on them as I straddled his gut, then ripped his pants open. The disgustin' moron wasn't even wearin' underwear, so this was gonna be even easier than I thought. I used my knife to cut his pants out of the way and once I had enough room to work, I got busy. Troy had managed to free one of his hands from under my butt and he was poundin' on my back, but as soon I grabbed his diseased-looking pecker to pull it outta the way, the poundin' stopped as he passed out.

 

With him toasted like a burned-out bulb, my task became a piece o' cake. I quickly and easily slit his sack open, pulled out a nut, clipped the cord that attached it to the rest of his body, then turned around and stuffed the useless piece of flotsam into his mouth. I quickly followed suit with the second one and stuffed it in his mouth with the first. It was a good thing he was breathin' through his nose or he probably would have choked on his own balls. After gettin' up and wipin' my blade clean on his shirt, I put the knife back in my pocket, then grabbed the phone off the shelf and stopped the recording. I stuffed it into my bag, covered it up with the dirty clothes I had and beat feet out the door of the basement.

 

Knowing if I went towards the front of the house to the right I'd end up at the driveway, I turned left and headed for the trees to the south, looking for a good place to hide for a while. I caught a glimpse of somebody swimmin' `cross the lake, but I wanted to be well gone and outta sight before Arlene or my cousins found Troy. I'd just snuck behind a big-ass tree and peeked around it to see whoever'd swum across the lake had started climbin' up the hill towards the driveway.

 

As I headed out towards the road to get movin' again, I saw a car that looked an awful lot like the one that had followed us on the interstate Sunday afternoon, and it was pullin' into the driveway to park beside an ambulance. I quickly ducked behind another tree so whoever was drivin' it wouldn't see me. How the hell an ambulance had gotten here so fast wasn't clickin' in my mind and as soon as everybody had run inside, I hightailed it from my hidin' spot and ran like a demon to get as far away as I could.

 

 

The phone rang forty-five minutes after Tom had abruptly ended our last call and I answered it halfway through the first ring.

 

"What the hell, Tom? What the fuck's goin' on down there?"

 

"Oh, you ain't gonna believe this shit. It took a while to get the whole story from Arlene, but here's what we know so far. Troy had locked Logan in the basement and was intending to keep him down there until Troy was able get control of Logan's money. Troy was losing his patience with our boy and said he was gonna force Logan to come up with a way to get the money today or he was gonna kill Logan and be done with it. As soon as he went downstairs to confront Logan, she called for the cops and an ambulance."

 

"Oh, fuck!" I groaned. "That's why the ambulance was there? Troy did it, didn't he?"

 

"I'm not done, yet, patience, remember?" Tom chuckled.

 

"This shit ain't funny!" I screamed.

 

"It's about to be fuckin' hilarious, just hang in there another minute, babe. Okay, nobody knows exactly what happened down there, but when the paramedics broke through the door and finally made it into the basement, they found Troy passed out on the floor with both his nuts stuffed in his mouth. We're only guessing at this point, but we're pretty sure Logan followed through on his threat and gelded the useless piece o' shit."

 

"Oh, jesus," I laughed. "How's Logan?" I asked, desperate for some good news.

 

"Now, that's a damn good question. He seems to have escaped out the back door of the basement and hasn't been seen since. The locals are combing the area around the house but haven't found him yet. We're pretty sure he couldn't have gotten too far and should be located shortly."

 

"Look harder, dammit!" I demanded. "You aren't coming home without him, you hear me?"

 

"I hear ya, boss, don't worry. But he can't be too far gone, he's just a little kid, remember?"

 

"He may be a little kid, but he's also headstrong and resourceful. Don't forget, he grew up on a farm surrounded by woods. He probably knows a thing or two about how to hide out."

 

"We'll find him, babe, I promise you that. Whoops, gotta go, the locals want to talk to me again. I'll call back later and let you know what's goin' on."

 

"You sure as hell better," I vented in frustration as Tom ended the call.

 

 

I kept headin' east towards town and was soon walking through a subdivision on the west edge of Dexter. I hadn't seen anyone since I'd escaped from Troy's, so I felt pretty safe. I figured if the cops found me wanderin' around by myself, they'd take me back there and that was the last place I wanted to be right now. I'd tried to call Dad and Pops to let them know I was free, but the phone's battery had finally died since I hadn't been able to charge it since Sunday. I was just hopin' it'd had enough juice to record Troy smackin' the shit out of me so I could prove his denuttin' was done in self-defense.

 

I continued my trek through town, moving north and east towards the four-lane road that would lead to the interstate back to Springfield. After a couple more hours of walkin', occasionally duckin' behind trees or bushes as a car went by, I finally reached the road I was looking for. Now, if I could just get lucky and find somebody who'd be willin' to give me ride, I'd be fine. I figured if I could just get to the interstate, I could probably find some friendly trucker headin' north who wouldn't mind helpin' a kid out. Lord knows I had plenty of time to come up with a good story.

 

I'd been walkin' along the four-lane highway for about five minutes when a car slowed down and pulled over to the shoulder in front of me. A guy who looked to be about the same age as Papa Jim or Grampa Bill got out and came around the back of the car to talk to me.

 

"You okay, young man?" he asked in a kindly voice as he knelt down in front of me.

 

"Yeah, I guess so," I answered with a bit of a drawl tryin' to sound like a local.

 

"What happened to your face, boy? Were you in a fight?" he asked with serious concern.

 

"Nah, I just tripped and rolled down a hill. Smacked my face `gainst a big-ass rock at the bottom."

 

"Looks like it must hurt pretty bad. You need a doctor?"

 

"Nope, it just stings a little," I replied while rubbing my jaw. "It'll be all right."

 

"Well, what're you doin' walkin' out here by yourself? It's not a very safe road to walk along, `specially for a kid your age," he said with worry.

 

"Well, I live in Sikeston and my class came over to the college here for a spellin' competition. After that was over, we went to the Pizza Hut for lunch. When it was time to leave, I had to pee and missed the bus."

 

"You should have called your parents to come get you."

 

"I woulda, but my phone died and there ain't no payphones anywhere no more, so I decided to walk."

 

"Well, I'd be happy to give you a ride."

 

"Yeah, I just bet you would," I giggled as I backed away from him. "You pro'lly just wanna rape me like my parents always say all you older guys wanna do to little boys like me."

 

"I swear, that's not my intention," the man ruffled in offense. "If you'd prefer, I can always call the Dexter Police to come out and take you home."

 

"No!" I squelched. "I mean, I don't wanna get in trouble with the cops, too. I'm already gonna be in plenty o' trouble with my `rents for missin' the dang bus. I just wanna get home."

 

"Well, then hop in, your chariot awaits."

 

Seein' as my two choices seemed be ridin' with a potential kiddie raper and killer or the cops, stupid me went with the raper. Dumb, I know, but I was desperate to get as far away from Dexter as quick as I could. `Sides, my feet were fuckin' killin' me.

 

We climbed in the car and I asked, "What's your name, mister?"

 

"Henry, what's yours?"

 

"Logan," I answered.

 

"You got a last name there, Logan?"

 

"Uh, yeah, it's Campbell."

 

"Nice to meet you, Logan Campbell," Henry said as he held his hand out. I gave him a quick shake and he asked, "Where we headed, young man?"

 

"Well, my ma works at Lambert's. If you could just drop me there, she can call my pa to come get me. I could get supper, too, while I wait for him." I'd seen the signs for the place on the way down here and seeing as it was the only name I could think of, I ran with it. Lambert's was supposedly famous for being the `home of throwed rolls', whatever the hell that meant. I might even get luckier and find somebody headin' north who would give me another ride.

 

"Sounds like a good plan to me, young man. Just sit back and relax. We'll have you back home in no time."

 

"Thanks, mister Henry, I `ppreciate it." As soon as the man pulled onto the highway, I leaned against the door and promptly fell asleep.

 

 

When the boys got home from school, I let them get comfortable before calling them into the living room and letting them know what had happened today. They were happy to hear that Logan was no longer at Troy's, but scared to death that he was missing. Of course, they demanded to get in the car and head south to join the search for their missing brother, but I managed to talk them out of that drastic course of action. Only the fact that their Pops and Uncle Dylan were already involved in the search allowed them to relent on their demand. After supper, and three hours after his last call, Tom finally called back and I put the phone on speaker so I wouldn't have to deal with a bunch of questions from the boys when it was over.

 

"What's the word big guy?" I asked.

 

"Disappeared into thin air," Tom answered without enthusiasm.

 

"What the hell you talkin' `bout, Pops?" Joey asked pointedly.

 

"Just what I said. The cops have searched every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse in Dexter and the rural area around it and haven't found a single hint of the rugrat. They're still searchin' in town but have given up on the country for the night. It's just too dark to see anything out there right now."

 

"How the hell could a nine-year-old boy evade the police for this long?" I asked testily.

 

"You said the kid was resourceful, didn't you? He's proving that right now."

 

"Can we come down and help, Pops," T.J. asked.

 

"There's no need for that, T.J. We have plenty of people lookin' already. And if he's not found by the morning, the state police have said they'll bring in dogs and helicopters to expand the search."

 

"Not that I really care, but how's Troy?" I asked.

 

"He'll survive, or so the doctors say. Logan obviously knows how to castrate an animal. Though Troy lost some blood, of course, he wasn't bleeding profusely since the kid did the surgery with a minimal amount of damage."

 

"Don't think Troy will quite see it that way," I chuckled before absentmindedly adding, "I wonder what a redneck asshole's nuts taste like."

 

"Ew, that's gross, Dad," Mike squealed in disgust as the boys cracked up in laughter.

 

"Gross, yeah, but still funnier than hell," Andy giggled.

 

"Dylan and I plan to hang around until they find Logan. Once we know where he is and have him with us, we'll be on the road for home."

 

"Won't the little booger be in deep poo for cuttin' up his uncle?" Alex asked.

 

"I can't answer that, buddy," Tom replied. "Depends on what the cops learn in their investigation."

 

"Well, you two keep lookin' and we'll be waiting for you all to come home. We love you, hon, and hope to see you soon."

 

"Same here, guys. Be good," Tom replied.

 

We ended our call and the boys cracked up in laughter again. I looked at them in confusion and asked, "What the heck is so funny?"

 

" `Be good'," Joey sniggered. "Who does he think he's talkin' to?"

 

"The best group of sons any dads could ever hope to have," I answered proudly.

 

"We sure got you fooled," Alex laughed.

 

"Look," I began, "it's getting late. You munchkins hit the showers and crawl in bed. I'll be along in ten minutes to tuck you in, okay?" With agreement from all, they rumbled down hallway yakking happily about Logan coming back home.

 

 

I finally woke up when Henry hit a big pothole in the parking lot of Lambert's. He pulled up to the front door of the large restaurant and said, "Here ya go, Logan Campbell. Think you'll be okay from here on?"

 

I had to shake the cobwebs from my mind before I realized where I was. Once I was fully awake, I answered with, "You bet, mister Henry. Thanks for the ride."

 

"You're very welcome, young man. Just do me a favor, please."

 

"What's that?"

 

"Don't ever try walkin' from Dexter to Sikeston again. You could get hurt really bad."

 

"Ya don't have to worry none `bout that," I grinned.

 

"Good. Do you want me to come in with you to find your mom?"

 

"Nah, she works back in the kitchen, so we can't go back there anyway. I'll just have one of the waiters let her know I'm here." I unbuckled my seatbelt and was about to climb out of the car when I changed my mind. I leaned over the console between the two seats and gave mister Henry a big hug and a little kiss on the cheek. The man blushed deeply, but he patted my back in return for the hug. "Thanks, again, for the ride mister Henry, you saved my bacon. If you need money or anything, just let me know and I'll get it from ma."

 

"No problems, Logan. You get outta here and be good."

 

I climbed out and stood in the parking lot as Henry pulled away, both of us wavin' goodbye to each other. When he finally pulled out on the road and headed on into town, I turned and aimed my starvin' self for the front door. After eatin' only cold corn and beans for the last four days, I was lookin' forward to a hot and fillin' meal. I was glad I'd thought to raid Uncle Dirtbag's wallet before I ran away, or I'd be goin' hungry for a few more days as I worked my way back north towards home. He only had `bout fifty bucks on him for the bar, but I figured that'd have to do.

 

My first stop inside was the bathroom `cause I had to take a wicked piss. As I let it fly, my mind was busy figurin' out what I was gonna do when I was done eatin'. I'd noticed several big rigs in the lot before I came in and figured my best bet was to look around for somebody who looked like they might be driving one of `em, give `em a sob story of some kind and hope for the best. Once I was done peein', I tucked myself away, zipped up and headed for the sinks to wash my face and hands. I was glad I was wearin' a dark shirt so the blood from cuttin' unc's nutsack didn't show too much. I was surprised mister Henry didn't say nothin' `bout the blood on my hands. He musta thought that was from rollin' down the hill.

 

As I was dryin' my hands, a large man who looked kinda like every truck driver I'd ever seen deliver somethin' to the farm came into the john. I'm not the type of person who normally believes in stereotypes, but this guy had a pretty big gut, tattoos on his arms, long hair and a grizzled beard. Toppin' it all off was the wallet stickin' out o' his back pocket that was attached to a belt loop by a chain. If that don't just scream `I drive trucks for living', I don't know what does. I left the bathroom before he did and waited just around the corner for him to come out.

 

I didn't have to wait too long, and I followed him back into the main seating area of the place. He took a seat in a booth where a lady was waitin' for him and I sat in the booth that was right behind him. I looked over the menu to pick out somethin' to eat while I listened to `em chat behind my back. I heard her sayin' somethin' `bout Chicago and then goin' on up to Milwaukee. All that said to me was `north!'. After a waiter took my order for a kid's meal, I got on my knees and turned around to look at the lady. She had some rough features in her face from long years on the road with her husband, but the lilt in her voice gave away her inner kindness.

 

"Excuse me," I called over the back of the booth.

 

"Yes, young man?" she asked politely.

 

"Well, I don't want you to think I was eavesdroppin' or nothin', but I couldn't help but hear you was headed to Chicago."

 

"Why, yes we are. Have you ever been there?" she asked.

 

"Yeah, got to go with my dad and brothers `bout a month ago. It's a great place and I can't wait to go back."

 

"Where are your dad and brothers now?" the man asked. "You look like you're here alone."

 

"Well, yeah, I am," I answered with a pout. It was time to tell the story I'd concocted and see if it worked. "Ya see, my ma and pa are divorced. And my brothers got to go live our dad `cause they're older than me and the judge let `em pick who they wanted to live with. The turds all went with him and left me home alone with my ma. I was supposed to go spend the weekend with `em and my ma dropped me at the bus station so I could. As soon as I was outta the car, she took off with her boyfriend and left me there alone. What she didn't know was the bus had already left since we was runnin' late. Now I'm stuck here all weekend `cause she's off somewhere screwin' him and there ain't another bus to Springfield `til Monday. Is there any way you could give me ride that way? I promise I'll pay you when we get there," I ended with a sad whimper.

 

"Well, I don't know about that, buddy," the man said hesitantly. "That just doesn't seem like the right thing to do. We could get in big trouble taking a kid across state lines."

 

"I swear you won't get in trouble," I pleaded. "But if you won't take me, I'll guess I'll just hafta take my chances and hitchhike. I'm sure I can find someone who'll pick me up." The two looked at each other with fear in their eyes and I knew I had them hooked. Soon enough, the man turned back to face me and before he could say a word, I added, "I promise, I won't cause no problems."

 

"What's your name, young man?" he asked.

 

"Logan, sir, Logan Campbell."

 

"Well, Logan, it looks like you have found some traveling companions. My name's Larry and my wife's name is Wendy. Why don't you join us?"

 

"Gee, thanks, mister Larry," I squealed with joy. I jumped out my booth and crawled into theirs next to Wendy. "You guys are the greatest. I can't thank you enough."

 

As I crawled into the booth, miss Wendy asked, "What the red mark on your cheek, honey?"

 

"My ma's boyfriend wacked me this mornin' `cause I sassed him `bout takin' out the trash."

 

"Does that kind of thing happen very often?" mister Larry asked.

 

"Not a whole lot, I guess, but I ain't big `nough to make him stop, neither," I muttered.

 

"That's not right, Logan," mister Larry intoned seriously. "You should call the police."

 

"What? And give him `nother reason to smack me `round? I don't think so," I retorted.

 

"We should probably call your dad and let him know where you are," miss Wendy offered once I was situated.

 

"You could try, I guess, but he probably ain't home. I bet he's still sittin' at the bus station in Springfield waitin' for me to show up."

 

"You better not be lyin' to me, Logan," Larry said sternly. "I don't take too kindly to folks who lie."

 

"No, sir, I wouldn't dream o' doin that. My dad always tells us we should always tell the truth. If'n we don't, we get in trouble big time with him."

 

"I'm gonna take you at your word. But I'm going to verify everything you told me with your dad when we see him."

 

"That's fine, sir. You'll see." I clammed up as the waiter brought my food to me. It was a good thing he did so I could quit lyin' to these nice folks who'd just said they was gonna help me. Now I need figure out how to get Dad to play along when we get there.

 

 

After I said my good nights to the boys and had them all tucked in, I retreated to the living room where I found Ron in a rather contemplative mood. As I took my chair, I commented, "You look like a man with a lot on his mind."

 

It took a moment for my words to register, but Ron finally looked up and answered, "Yeah, I guess so."

 

"You feel like sharin' whatever's percolatin' through that gray matter?" is asked.

 

"I'm just happy Logan's gotten away from that ass and his family, but I'm really worried about nobody knowin' where he is."

 

"We all are, Ron. He'll be found safe, though, I can feel it."

 

"I'm glad someone can. I wish I could feel as sure about that as you do. I mean, where's a nine-year-old gonna go and how's he gonna get there?"

 

"With Logan, you never know. He's a smart kid and I'm pretty sure he wouldn't do anything that would put himself in danger, so there's that. He's probably just hiding somewhere close to Troy's, afraid he's gonna have to go back there or be in big trouble for castratin' the jerk. Not that Troy deserved to keep his balls."

 

"Ain't that the truth?" Ron lamented. "I've never seen a more useless piece of trash in my life."

 

"No arguments from me on that."

 

"You really think Logan'll be coming back here to stay?" Ron asked warily. "Seems he's gonna hafta deal with some issues in Missouri for what he did."

 

"He probably will, but we'll handle it. Once the dust settles, I'm confident Logan will become the newest member of the family."

 

"I hope you're right about that. After mutilatin' Troy the way he did, I'll be surprised if he doesn't end up in juvie somewhere."

 

"We're not gonna let that happen, so stop worrying about it. What else ya thinkin' about?"

 

"Well, with everything else goin' on, this doesn't seem like the right time to talk about it."

 

"No time like the present, Ron. Go ahead and spit it out."

 

"I've been thinkin' a lot about your idea, you know, helpin' Rich and all."

 

"And ...?"

 

"I guess if he's interested in tryin' some things, I'd be willing to do what I can. I still want to meet the kid before anything would happen, though. I'd wanna make sure we're be in agreement as to what we'd expect from each other."

 

"That sounds reasonable to me. I'd hoped to have him come out for a swim or something so you two could have met each other by now, but with all this crap about Logan and Troy, the timing never worked out. Maybe next week will be calmer and we can make it happen."

 

"Cool, Max. I'm looking forward to it."

 

"Well, I don't know about you, but I've had about all the fun and excitement I can stand for one day, so I'm gonna hit the sack. See you in the morning, Ron."

 

"You can be sure of that. Sleep tight and don't let the bedbugs bite."

 

"Thanks, you, too," I replied as I left my chair and aimed my tired ass for a shower and a warm, but empty, bed. God, I'll be glad when my honey gets back home. This sleeping alone shit is for the birds. I ran through the shower, then climbed in bed and curled up. As I'd done the last couple of nights, I pulled Tom's pillows towards me and held onto them like I usually did with him. They were a damn poor substitute for the man I loved, but they still held his scent and that was comforting to my tired and fractured brain. In minutes, I was fast asleep. Unfortunately, my dreams tonight were very disturbing as they all centered around Logan and the horrible things that could happen to a kid who was alone.

 

 

I was having a really bad dream when I felt something shaking me. When I opened my eyes and got them to focus, I saw Wendy was leaning into the sleeper cab from her seat and her hand was on my shoulder.

 

"You okay there, Logan?" she asked in her kindest voice.

 

"Uh, yeah, I think so. Just havin' a bad dream," I answered as I sat up.

 

"I figured that out from the way you were mumblin' in your sleep, young man. You really miss your dad and brothers, don't you?"

 

"You have no idea how much. I can't wait to see them again. It ain't been that long, but it feels like years have gone by so much has happened."

 

"Well, you'll be together again soon enough," she replied. "We're just south of St. Louis and gonna make a quick pit stop. Sound good to you?"

 

"Yeah, that sounds great," I agreed wholeheartedly. "I musta drank too much Coke at supper `cause I really gotta whiz."

 

"Just a couple more minutes, buddy," Larry said. "Can ya hold it that long or do we need to pull over."

 

"Nah, I should be good. Let's keep rollin', mister Larry." I'd fibbed a bit since I was already crossin' my legs, but I didn't wanna hafta pee off the side of the road, neither. If we didn't get to the to rest stop soon, though, I was gonna hafta find a clothespin to put on my dick.

 

Larry was right on the money as the rest stop came into view two minutes later. As soon as the truck came to halt and Wendy opened her door, I climbed over her lap saying, " 'Scuse me, I really gotta go." She set me on the ground and I took off like a flash of lightning. I could hear her and Larry laughin' hysterically behind my back as I dashed across the parking area towards the concrete block building. As soon as mini-me was freed, I let go and was still going when mister Larry stepped up to the urinal beside me.

 

"Guess we got here just in time, didn't we?"

 

"Yes, sir, we sure did," I agreed with a sigh a relief as I looked up to Larry and gave him a smile.

 

"Whoa there, young fella!" Larry yelled with a loud laugh. "Keep your eyes on where you're aimin' that thing. Ya almost pissed on my shoes."

 

"Whoops, sorry, mister Larry. My bad."

 

"That's all right, Logan, but a boy your age should know better than be lookin' `round when he's takin' a leak," Larry replied seriously.

 

"Why's that, you ain't got nothin' I ain't never seen before."

 

"That so?"

 

"Sure, my dads, brothers and me don't wear nothin' when we're at home, so I seen it all before."

 

" 'Scuse me? What do you mean by `dads'?"

 

"Oops, shouldn't a said that," I muttered as I smacked myself in the forehead.

 

"Young man, I think we need to have a serious talk and straighten a few things out before we go any further."

 

"Yes, sir," I mumbled in resignation.

 

We finished in the bathroom, washed our hands and headed back out to the truck. Mister Larry opened his door and helped me inside before climbin' in behind me and settlin' in the driver's seat while I took my spot on the bed in the back. We waited in silence for Wendy to come back and I just knew I was gonna be in deep shit for lyin' my ass off to these nice folks back at Lambert's.

 

I was sweatin' bullets when she finally joined us in the cab and said, "Let's roll, Big Daddy."

 

"I'd like to, dear, but we need to have a little chat with our passenger `fore we go anywhere. Seems he didn't quite tell us the truth at Lambert's, and I want to hear the real story before we move an inch." Miss Wendy turned to look at me with surprise on her face and all I could do was glare guiltily back at her.

 

"Okay, spill it, boy, or we go right back to Sikeston and turn you over to the cops," mister Larry demanded as he stared at me.

 

I looked at the two of `em with tears slippin' from my eyes and started to tell `em my story. I began with Joey and Alex's birthday party and spent the next forty-five minutes tellin' `em everything I'd been through the past month or so, right up to pissin' at this rest stop. When I told `em the part `bout the dirtbag punchin' me in the face this mornin', they was both hoppin' mad. By the time I was done, I was wiped out and the two of them had gone through what seemed like half a box of Kleenex wipin' their own eyes. Completely wrung out, I slouched on the bed and waited for the fireworks to begin.

 

I was surprised, though, when miss Wendy left her seat and joined me on the bed, pullin' me into a smothering' hug. She was almost as big Larry and I practically disappeared into her as she wrapped her arms around me and whispered in my ear, "You're gonna be okay, sweetheart. We're gonna make sure you get home." She picked her head up and almost yelled, "Get this truck a movin', ya big lummox."

 

"You got it, Big Momma," mister Larry replied as he turned around and started the big diesel. In moments, we were on the move again and I was headin' for home, my real home this time. Miss Wendy didn't let go of me for even a second as we were jostled and bounced around the bed as mister Larry got us back on the road. She was brushin' my hair with her hand, cooin' in my ear and holdin' me tightly to her soft and warm body. I was so out of it by that point, I quickly fell back to sleep thanks to the rockin' motion of the truck as it began to eat up the road to Springfield.

 

 

I was startled from another sick dream when the drive sensor went off. I rolled over to look at the clock and saw it was two in morning. The only person I could think would be coming in this time of the night was Tom, so I rolled back over to go back to sleep. You can only imagine my surprise when I heard the rumblings of large truck on the circle drive, followed shortly by slamming doors and then the ringing of the doorbell. "Who the fuck could be here in the middle of the goddam night?" I grumbled to myself as I sat up and tried to clear my head.

 

Knowing the only way to find out was to answer the door, I fumbled around for a pair of shorts and headed that direction once I'd pulled them on. I flipped on lights as I stumbled through the house and finally reached the door. Not really wanting to deal with whoever was on the other side, I yelled, "Who's there!?" before opening it.

 

"It's me, Dad, Logan!" the rugrat screamed at full volume. "Open the damn door and let me in!"

 

I'd barely unlocked the door when ninety-five pounds of squirming, squealing and sobbing boy launched himself at me, wrapping his arms around my neck and his legs around my waist. I was stunned at his sudden appearance in the middle of the night and I wrapped my arms around his quivering body, never wanting to let go. It was easily two minutes later when I finally opened my own dripping eyes and spotted the older couple on the porch, wide smiles gracing their otherwise stoic faces.

 

Suddenly remembering my manners, I stepped back and said, "Please, come in." The two stepped inside and since my arms were still full of still quivering boy, I kicked the door shut. "Why don't you two have a seat in the living room over there while I put this young man to bed? I'll be right back so we can talk."

 

"Thanks, Max," the man said, "we'd like that."

 

As they settled in on the couch, I turned down the hallway and stepped into the bedroom where Joey and Alex were sleeping soundly and blissfully unaware of unfolding events. Logan had finally calmed down and I had him hit the john before climbing in bed with the twins. Before joining his brothers, I knelt in front of the munchkin, pulled him in close and said, "I don't know how the hell you got here and right now, I don't fuckin' care. I'm just glad you're back where you belong."

 

"Yeah, me, too, Dad," he replied wistfully.

 

"Now get your butt into bed, ya rugrat. We'll talk more in the morning."

 

"I know, I got lots to tell ya."

 

"I'm sure you do." I wrapped my boy in my arms, kissed his forehead, and wished him a good night's sleep. But most importantly, I told him, "I love you, Logan Campbell, and I don't want to ever lose you."

 

"I love all you guys, too, Dad."

 

With that, he carefully climbed into bed and snuggled up behind Alex. How he managed that trick without waking either of the twins was beyond my ability to comprehend, but at this point, I didn't really care. With one last kiss, I left the room and closed the door behind me before joining the two strangers waiting for me in the living room.

 

As I turned the corner and took my regular chair, I started our conversation with, "Hi, I don't believe we've been properly introduced. I'm Max Sanders."

 

"Hi, Max, nice to meet you. I'm Larry Boston and this is my wife Wendy."

 

"Nice to meet you both. Would you mind explaining how you met Logan and what he's doing here?" I asked with as much seriousness as I could muster at the moment.

 

"Well," Wendy began, "we were having supper at Lambert's in Sikeston when the little bugger wormed his way into our hearts. He gave us a sob story about tryin' to get Springfield to see his dad and brothers for the weekend and us two idiots fell for it, hook, line and sinker."

 

"He was very convincing, too," Larry added, "until he made a little mistake just south of St. Louis."

 

"Oh, what was that?" I asked.

 

"We'd stopped at a rest stop and he let slip something about his dads that didn't match with what he'd told us earlier, so we had a very serious chat before we hit the road again," Larry replied.

 

"Yes," Wendy agreed as she picked up the narrative, "he told us all about you, Tom, his brothers, his dad dying and having to go live with his uncle. Once we heard the true story, we felt we were doing the right thing by bringing him here. We hope we were right," she mused.

 

"You absolutely were," I grinned. "And I can't thank you enough for bringing him back to us. Our other boys have been miserable since he was taken from us Sunday morning. They're going to have a very nice surprise later this morning when they find out he's back where he belongs."

 

"We're glad we could help you all out," Larry replied. "But you should make sure he never pulls a stunt like this again. The end result could be much different."

 

"Oh, he knows what he did today was risky, trust me, but he was desperate to get back home, too. And after what he's been through already, he's a really good judge of character. He seems to know really quickly who's a good person and who isn't."

 

Both Larry and Wendy blushed as the sideways compliment. Larry finally regained his voice and said, "Well, we should be goin', Max. We have a long drive ahead of us. We just wanted make sure Logan was safe and sound before we moved on."

 

"Before you go, let me give you something for your troubles."

 

"Not necessary, Max," Wendy began, "we're just happy to see Logan with people who love him."

 

"No, I insist. I'll be right back," I said as I left my chair for the bedroom. After pulling some cash from the safe, I returned and handed it over to Larry. "There's $10,000. Use it however you want."

 

"We can't take that," Larry protested as he jumped up off the couch.

 

"Yes you can, no arguments. It's worth way more than that to have Logan back with us." I wrapped the big but flustered man in a hug and held him for a minute before turning towards Wendy to do the same. "If you're ever in the area again, feel free to stop by and say hi," I said as I let Wendy go.

 

"Well, thanks, Max. We never expected to be rewarded for bringing Logan home, but we'll do good things with this."

 

We headed for the front door and as I opened it to let them out, I said, "I'd expect nothing less from good folks like you. Please have a safe trip and thanks, again, for helping today. Having Logan back home with us means more than you could ever know."

 

I stood at the open door and watched the confused and flustered couple head down the sidewalk to their truck. I waited until they started moving before waving goodbye and closing the door. As I leaned against the wooden slab, my mind was racing with what I needed to do next. I quickly decided my first task should be to call Tom and let him know what's happened. I was so happy to have Logan back home, I practically skipped my way back to the living room where I took my regular seat and picked up the phone.

 

"What?" he groaned. "This better be fuckin' important."

 

"It is, Tom. Wake the hell up."

 

"All right already, I'm awake. What couldn't have waited a couple more hours?"

 

"Pack your shit and get your ass home, NOW!"

 

"I can't," Tom complained. "We still haven't found Logan."

 

"And you're not goin' to. Not down there, anyway," I laughed.

 

"What the hell you talkin' about?"

 

"Logan's here!"

 

"WHAT!? How the hell'd he pull off that trick?"

 

"It's a long story and I'll tell you all about once you're home. Call the cops, tell `em Logan's been located, then you and Dylan hit the road."

 

"You sure I can't go back to sleep?"

 

"Yes, I'm sure, you goofball. We need to start protectin' Logan first thing in the morning."

 

"All right, all right, I get it. We'll be on the way as soon as we can."

 

"Thanks, hon, love you."

 

"Yeah, I love you, too. I think. See ya when we get there."

 

After ending the call, I took a few minutes to try to make sense of everything that had happened since Sunday morning, but finally gave up and crawled back in my empty bed. Tomorrow was going to be another long damn day and I needed some sleep.