Orphaned (Commission) – Ch 11 – lostandwhatever
The rest of the day went by quietly as Charlie waited to escape. Charlie gave Eddie a slight nod during class when he was sure that Ms. Peach was not watching, and Eddie nodded back. The plan was still on. They would leave that night. However, Charlie kept glancing at the clock and back to the classroom door, half-expecting Dr. Wolff to come bursting through it at any moment to grab him and drag him away.
When dismissal from classes came at last, he hung around for an extra minute to wait for a guard to escort him to dinner. He watched Ms. Peach grading assignments at her desk, and his heart went out to her. He felt bad for pressuring her to listen to him yesterday. She was overworked and exhausted, and it was unfair to have expected her to believe his wild story.
“Thank you,” he said to her.
“What?” she asked, looking concerned.
“Thank you for teaching us. I don’t know how often you hear it, but you deserve it. Thank you.”
Her face softened, and again Charlie noticed how beautiful she was. He really wished her the best, and he quietly wondered if he should try to get in touch with her after he became an adult again.
She looked as though she was about to say something, but the classroom door opened, interrupting her thought. A guard in the hall called for him, “Charlie, time to go.”
Charlie left the room and did not look back. He was not quite embarrassed, but he was happy to leave the room. Things had gotten awkward, and he was glad to put the situation behind him. He realized that his feelings for her were a distraction, and he needed to remain focused if this escape was going to work.
In his bedroom that night, Charlie waited for endless hours, pretending to sleep while trying hard to stay awake. He had left his window open a crack just in case he did doze off before the other boys arrived. Then, just after midnight, there was a tap on the glass. He looked out to see Eddie waiting on the ledge. Charlie got out of bed. He had worn his jeans and a dark blue T-shirt as he lay in bed. Now, all he had to do was slip his sneakers on his socked feet and go to the window to begin the escape. Eddie opened it, and Charlie climbed out onto the ledge. He made the mistake of looking over the edge, and shut his eyes to fight off the vertigo.
“Don’t worry,” Eddie said. “You can do this.”
“Thanks,” Charlie said, feeling himself shiver in the night air. It was cool but not cold.
“You got the key on you?”
Charlie pulled it out of his pocket and handed it to Eddie.
“Good,” Eddie said, putting the key in his own pocket. “Come on.” He turned around and walked away on the ledge with little visible concern about falling.
Charlie wished he was that confident. He decided to just crawl along behind Eddie, thinking that four limbs on the ledge were safer than two. The ledge was wide, but there was a bit of a chilling breeze and it was very dark under the stars. So, he crawled along like a baby, while having flashbacks of his nightmare with Dr. Wolff.
They turned a corner and found Jack and Davion waiting for them next to a downspout connected to the gutter above them.
“Did he get it?” Davion asked.
“He did,” Eddie replied. “Charlie’s a pro thief now.”
“Are you sure this will hold us?” Jack asked about the downspout.
“If you’re so scared, we can do it one person at a time,” Eddie said. “I’ll go first.” He grabbed the downspout and climbed down it like a ladder as if it were just a piece of playground equipment. Soon, he was on the grass below. Davion followed him down. Then, when it was Jack’s turn, he hesitated.
“What’s the matter?” Charlie asked.
“I am scared,” Jack said.
Even in the dim starlight, Charlie could see the boy was crying.
“I’m scared, too,” Charlie said in a comforting voice. “But, I can be brave, too. Actually, I think that’s the only time you get to be brave, when you’re scared.”
“Do you think you can be brave now, too?”’
Jack sniffled and wiped his nose on his sleeve. “Yeah,” he said. “I can be brave.” He grabbed the downspout and, with deliberate careful movements, inched his way downwards.
Charlie did not wait for Jack to get to the bottom before he started climbing down as well. It was a bit nerve-racking to know how high up he was, but Charlie just focused on climbing and did not look down. By the time he reached the grass, his arms were burning, and he silently swore that when this was all over, he would never even climb a ladder ever again.
Eddie was kind enough to give Charlie a minute to catch his breath before saying, “Okay, let’s head for the gate.”
They all followed Eddie down the driveway away from the building. Charlie only looked over his shoulder once, wondering what the chances were that anyone would be glancing out a window at that moment. Then, they reached the brick wall of the orphanage and the old iron bar gate. Eddie used the key Charlie had stolen to open the padlocked chain that held the gate shut. He swung one side of the groaning gate open just enough for them to slip outside of the wall. Then, he pushed the gate shut behind him and relocked the chain on it. He looked at the key on his palm for a moment and closed his fingers on it. Then, he threw it deep into the woods next to them.
“Well,” he said. “We’re out, and they’re going to have a hard time following us now. Let’s go.” He marched down the driveway to the road with the other three of them following behind him. They had finished the breakout—the easy part. Now they had to deal with the hard part—staying out.
After an hour of walking, their brisk pace had calmed down into a slow march. Davion gave the group directions to a nearby town.
“How do you know the way there?” Jack asked.
“I ran away before,” Davion said. “I just climbed over a wall during recess. Took them most of a day to track me down. I made it as far as Greenwood. That’s the town.”
“What did you do when you got there?” Eddie asked.
“Stole some food from a shop. Ate it. You know, normal stuff. It was kind of boring, honestly.”
Jack yawned loudly. “I’m tired.”
Charlie yawned in response.
“Cut that out!” Eddie said. “You’re going to make me yawn too.” He did his best to hide the yawn that followed.
“Maybe we should take a nap,” Davion suggested. “We can’t walk all night.”
“Where?” Eddie asked.
They followed a bend in the road ahead and noticed some houses down a side street. Cutting through the backyards of the houses, they found a tree with an old wooden tree fort built into it.
“That’ll do,” Charlie said.
“Yeah, I always wanted to try camping,” Eddie said.
They climbed up the wooden plank ladder into the fort and lay down next to each other. Eddie suggested they take turns “keeping watch.” He volunteered Davion first. Davion did not complain.
As Charlie lay on the wood floor of the tree house trying to get comfortable, Eddie whispered, “Hey, Charlie?”
“Do you have a girlfriend?”
“Uh, no,” he said. “Not right now.”
“Did you… before?”
“What’s it like?” Eddie asked, sounding uncharacteristically unsure of himself.
“No,” Eddie said. “You know… doing it?”
Charlie wanted to laugh, but he maintained his composure. It was such an innocent statement from a tough kid like Eddie. “Well…” Charlie started to say, but he struggled to find the right way to explain it to an 11-year-old boy.
Davion said, “I saw two dogs doing it once.”
Eddie said, “Yeah?”
“They were kind of bumping together, like, butt to hips.”
“Does it have something to do with butts?” Eddie asked Charlie.
“Not exactly,” Charlie said. “I think you’re still a bit young for me to explain it all, though.”
“You’re younger than we are,” Eddie protested.
“I suppose that means I’m not supposed to talk about it at all then,” Charlie said with a smirk.
Eddie groaned. “That’s not what I meant.”
Jack moaned, “Can’t we all just be quiet? I’m so tired.”
“Yeah,” Charlie said. “Let’s get a little sleep.”
“Fine,” Eddie said. “Davion, wake me up when it gets light, okay?”
“You got it,” Davion said.
They shared another yawn or two and Charlie could hear Eddie grumbling about being old enough just before they both fell asleep.
When Charlie was nudged awake, he felt as though he had just closed his eyes for a moment, but the sky was already light on the horizon. Dawn was coming.
“Let’s get going,” Eddie said. “They’re going to start looking for us soon.”
They climbed down from the tree house and started walking down the road to Greenwood again. The morning was quiet except for a few birds chirping away in the trees. The boys were mostly silent, none of them feeling particularly rested after their short time napping. They kept on walking, though, knowing that soon a search party would be after them. The further they could get away from the orphanage before then, the better.
When they reached the first houses around Greenwood, the sun was already up. It seemed to be an ordinary sleepy little town. There was an old gas station with a connected repair garage next door to a shop that offered to sell and repair a variety of leather items. Next to that was a diner with a woman inside who looked ready to open the door soon.
“Come on,” Davion said. “I think there might be a bus station this way.”
The boys followed Davion as he led them to a square park in the middle of town. They each took turns drinking from a fountain there. Then, Eddie split two candy bars he had been carrying to share between the four of them. After that light breakfast, they walked down Main Street past old storefronts that seemed to be long abandoned. It appeared that many businesses had moved out or closed down sometime in the past. Charlie suspected that there was a big box store somewhere nearby that had siphoned off the customers.
“This place is kind of a dump,” Eddie said.
“Is that it?” Jack asked as he pointed at a squat old brick building with a sign that read “Greenwood Trans Center.” There appeared to be railway gates next to the building, which indicated that there was a train line that went through the town, but the silhouette of a greyhound painted on a sign seemed to indicate that buses stopped there as well. “That’s it,” Charlie said.
“So,” Eddie said, “Let’s go get some tickets.”
“All of us?” Davion asked.
Charlie said, “It might look a bit suspicious if four boys wandered in buying tickets for themselves.”
“Okay,” Eddie said. “Jack, you do it.”
“What?” Jack said. “No way. I get nervous just talking to Ms. Peach.”
“Yeah,” Davion said. “You’re perfect.”
Eddie said, ticking off the reasons on his fingers, “You’re a polite little suck up. You’re not at all scary looking and… well…”
Davion said, “You’re white.”
“What about Charlie?”
“He’s too young,” Davion said.
Eddie said, “It’s gotta be you.”
Jack looked desperately at Charlie, but all Charlie could do was shrug. He had no counterargument.
Jack sighed. “Fine,” he said. “I’ll do it. Who’s got the money?”
Davion handed Jack a wad of crinkled dollar bills of various denominations. “Just tell them that you’re buying tickets for your mom and brothers. Say that she’s changing the baby’s diaper or something.”
“Right,” Jack said, stuffing the money in his pocket.
“We’ll be waiting out here for you,” Eddie said. “Don’t make us wait too long.”
Jack nodded, then after a short hesitation, he headed for the station.
“You think he’s going to do it?” Davion asked.
“He better,” Eddie said. “He knows we’ll kick his ass if he doesn’t. Plus, I think he really cares about Charlie. I mean, we all do, don’t we?”
“Sure,” Davion said with a noncommittal tone.
They leaned up against the brick wall of the building across the street from the station and waited. As the minutes went by and the sun rose higher into the sky, all three of them began nervously watching the roads for approaching cars that might contain people searching for them.
At last, Jack emerged from the station and ran over to them.
“Did you do it?” Eddie asked.
“I did it,” Jack said, holding up four tickets. “I got us on the first bus heading into the city.”
“When is it?” Davion asked.
“One hour,” Jack said.
“Shit,” Eddie said. “That’s too damn long.”
“It was the first one,” Jack said. “Nothing is leaving before then.”
Eddie sighed. “Okay,” he said. “We’ll just have to hide out until it shows up.” He walked around the back of the building and found the garbage bins back there. “Here,” he said. “We’ll hide back here. That way, we can see the station while we wait. We can make sure it’s still safe when it’s time to get on the bus.”
They all took a seat next to the garbage bins and tried to pretend that it did not smell all that badly. None of them spoke, and Jack even drifted off into a nap, while Eddie and Davion kept watch on the station. Soon, Charlie felt his own eyes droop.
Almost as soon as he noticed his eyes had shut, Charlie felt Eddie roughly shaking his shoulder.
“Wake up,” Eddie said. “We’ve got company.”
Charlie looked over at the station to see a police car parked in front of it.
“Shit,” Charlie said.
“Yeah,” Eddie said. “Shit.”
Jack said, “Maybe he’s just stopping by to say hello or something.”
“Get back,” Eddie said as an ordinary sedan drove by slowly. Besides the man driving the car, there were two passengers, a man Charlie had never seen before and a woman Charlie immediately recognized.
“It Dr. Wolff,” he said.
“What?” Jack said, looking back at the car as it drove out of sight.
“That was her in the car. The woman who’s after me. We’ve got to go.”
“Damn it,” Eddie said. “This way.”
Eddie led them down the alleyway behind the buildings.
“Where are we going?” Jack asked.
“Anywhere but here,” Eddie said. “We need some place to hide.”
“Behind us!” Davion shouted.
Charlie glanced over his shoulder to see the car with Dr. Wolff in it approaching behind them. She had found them.
“Run!” Eddie said.
They ran. Soon the older boys outran Charlie, unintentionally leaving him behind.
For a moment, Charlie thought that the car would run him over. Then, it screeched to a halt, and he heard its doors open.
“Get them!” Dr. Wolff said.
Charlie did not turn around or slow down. He sprinted as fast as his young legs could go, but before he reached the end of the alleyway. He felt a strong hand grab his wrist and drag him to a halt.
“Got him!” the man who had been the other passenger in the car said as he held Charlie.
“Let go!” Charlie cried and struggled in vain to get free.
“Good, Sam,” Dr. Wolff said as she reached the two of them. “Bring him to the car.”
“Hey, assholes!” Eddie said as he ran up on Dr. Wolff and Sam. Davion followed right behind him with Jack trying to remain hidden behind them both. “Let him go!”
The driver, a big beefy man, got out of the car to join Dr. Wolff and Sam next to Charlie. Even Eddie hesitated getting closer to that goon.
Dr. Wolff addressed the big man, saying “Bud, keep those three busy while I secure Charlie.” She grabbed Charlie’s other wrist and began to drag him back to her car. Eddie tried to reach Charlie, but Bud and Sam got in the way. Soon, all three boys were pressed up against the brick walls on the rear of the buildings. With Sam holding Davion in place and Bud effortlessly controlling Eddie and Jack.
Charlie was desperate. He cried, “Help! Help! H-,” but Dr. Wolff quickly covered his mouth with her free hand and dragged him backwards to the car. But, just as she was about to throw him inside, Charlie bit her fingers and she let him go.
“Damn you!” she yelled at him.
Charlie ran from her. Unfortunately, he ran right towards Bud, who momentarily let up on Jack to swing his arm at Charlie, connecting with Charlie’s belly and knocking him off of his feet. The impact knocked the wind out of him, and he lay on the ground gasping for breath as Dr. Wolff approached him.
“You stubborn little bastard,” she said. “Why didn’t you just drink the medicine I gave you? You could have saved us all a lot of trouble.”
“You… You tried to poison me,” Charlie moaned.
“I was only finishing what I started before we sent you here,” she said. “It would have been so simple, but you had to complicate things. Well, it’s all over for you now, Chuck. Why couldn’t you just play ball and give us the information we wanted? Now, we have three more minds that need to be wiped.”
Charlie felt horrified when he realized that his friends were about to share his fate, but he felt powerless to do anything. He started to cry.
“What is going on here?” a stern-voiced woman said.
Charlie rolled over to see Ms. Peach approaching them all down the alleyway.
Ms. Peach said, “Well, who are you people and what are you doing to my students?” Charlie had never heard so much fury in her voice before.
Dr. Wolff pulled a wallet out of her jacket and said, “I’m with Child Protective Services. We were called in when we heard about the escape.”
“What happened to him?” Ms. Peach asked, pointing at Charlie on the ground.
“He… tripped,” Dr. Wolff said.
“Liar,” Charlie moaned.
“Let them go,” Ms. Peach said to Bud and Sam. “I’ll take them back with me.”
There was a momentary standoff. No one was willing to budge.
“Listen to me,” Dr. Wolff said.
But, before she could say anything else, Sam shrieked in pain and held up his hand, which had a red line slashed across the back of it. It quickly began to bleed. Davion swung his bloody pocket knife at Bud, who dodged the blade, but ended up freeing Jack. Just when Bud looked as though he would retaliate against Davion, Eddie punched the big man in the balls, causing him to groan and wheeze as he collapsed on the ground.
Eddie ran over to Charlie as Davion walked towards Dr. Wolff pointing his knife directly at her. She backed away.
“Boys!” Ms. Peach cried. “Stop that right now.”
“Sorry, Ms. Peach,” Jack said. “But, we’ve gotta get out of here.”
Jack and Eddie helped Charlie to his feet and half carried him down the alleyway between them as they ran away from the moaning men and Dr. Wolff.
“Wait!” Ms. Peach cried, but she did not follow.
Eddie led them back towards the woods, and by the time they left the concrete of the town, Charlie was using his legs again to run with them. Minutes went by as they ran blindly through the woods, while branches scraped their arms and faces.
“Where are we going?” Jack asked.
“Away,” Eddie said. He looked behind himself. “Davion?” he called.
“Coming,” Davion replied as he caught up with them.
“We’ve just got to keep going,” Eddie said. “We’ll figure something out.” Even he sounded doubtful for once. All of them were breathing heavy and quickly running out of stamina to run any further.
Then, the trees cleared away as they reached a road.
“Which way?” Jack asked.
“Car!” Davion said.
They turned and watched as the car approached, not feeling as though they had the energy to get away. The window rolled down, and Ms. Peach stuck her head out of it and said, “Get in!”
The boys looked at each other uncertainly. “Charlie?” Eddied said, requesting his approval.
“Let’s go with her,” he said.
They all piled into the backseat of her car, and she drove away as soon as the door was shut, even before any of them had a chance to sit down.
“Are any of you hurt?” she asked them.
“That big fucker punched Charlie in the gut,” Eddie said. “But, I think he’ll be alright.”
“I’m fine,” Charlie said as the four of them took a seat, being careful to keep their heads low.
“Good,” she said.
“Um, Ms. Peach,” Jack said. “Where are we going?”
“That woman was not from Child Protective Services,” Ms. Peach said, shaking her head.
“No,” Charlie said. “She was not.”
“Who are you?” she asked him. “Really, who are you? Who was that woman?
“I told you who I am, who she is. Do you believe me now?”
She was silent for a long minute. “What if I did?” she said at last.
“Then, we need your help. We need you to drive us somewhere.”
“To my apartment,” Charlie said. “I think I have a way to fix all of this if I can just get us back to my place.”
“I…” she paused. “I can’t do that.”
“You’re doing it already.”
“I’m just driving.”
“Then, keep on driving. I’ll tell you the way.”
“This is crazy.”
“I know it is,” Charlie said. “But, that doesn’t make it not true.”
She sighed. “You know I could get in really big trouble for this. I am sort of kidnapping all of you right now.”
“Thank you,” Charlie said.
“Which way?” she asked.
Charlie gave her directions, and after a brief drive, she turned onto the highway. Then, she took out her phone.
“Hey, what are you doing?” Eddie asked her.
“I need to call the orphanage,” she said. “They’re going to start wondering where I am soon. God knows what I’m going to say to them.”
“Oh, I know just what to say,” Eddie said. “Check this out…” He started to tell her a convoluted excuse she could use.
Meanwhile, Charlie risked peeking out the rear window of the car to see if anyone was following them. Thankfully, they were alone on the road.