Charge, The

Andy & Salas


By Tags

Andy, standing amid the wreckage alongside the reflecting pool in the main concourse of the shopping mall, was still in something of a daze when Salas arrived.

Salas approached Andy who looked up at him. "Where are the cops when you need `em?" Although Detective Salas was in civilian clothes, it was obvious to Andy he was "the law." Salas confirmed Andy's assumption by flashing his badge.

"This is one helluva mess. Did you get a good look at who did this?"

"Not really, Andy replied."

"Where are the surveillance tapes?" asked Salas.

"Come on, I'll show you... I don't really know how much you're gonna see. This whole `thing' happened pretty fast... From what I can tell, most of the security cams seem to have survived so I guess you'll figure it all out from the tapes."

Andy shuffled off to the employee stair well, leading them up to the mall administrative offices, with Salas following behind. To himself, Salas observed, "This kid seems like he's carrying the weight of the whole world on his shoulders. Guess he must be shook up pretty bad but there's no sign of any serious physical injury... A couple of scrapes on his face."

Andy and Salas passed through a maze of deserted offices on their way to mall security. As they entered the room, Andy pointed to a bank of tape decks, still recording. "I'll need to take all those tapes and I want everything from the last 24 hours."

"These are 30 day tapes, detective. They've been going a week and a half already. That should be everything you need, then."

"Not really kid. I want you to sit down and relax for a minute. Let me bring you some water or a cup of java or a coke or something. Then I want you to start at the beginning and tell me everything you saw."

Andy really didn't want to relive the horror that had just unfolded before his eyes, including his nearly having taken his own life, only to be rescued from himself by that little "human tornado" who had just, trashed the mall. "Sir, I think you'll find everything you need on the tapes. Why don't you have a look at them and then I guess I could fill in any gaps, but, really, I didn't see a whole lot."

That's not what some of those people out in the parking lot told me before I came inside. "Several of them told me you're some kinda goddamn hero. They were worried about you... wondered if you're OK."

"Please, detective, just check out the tapes. I need a few minutes to get myself together. I gotta go back to my locker and change... I pissed my pants and I wanna get out of these clothes. I think I'm gonna burn em."

"You sure you're OK, kid? You really look like hell."

Andy flashed Salas an ironic smile and said, "Well, I guess so... I feel like I just got run over by a Mac truck."

"OK, kid, go take care of your business, but make sure you come right back up here. I need to go over all this with you while it's still fresh in your mind."

"Yes sir, I won't be long."

Salas lost track of the time viewing the tapes, rewinding, freezing frames. By the time he'd seen everything, he looked at his wrist watch, it had been over two hours. "Where's that kid?" Salas wondered.

He left the administrative offices on the second level and hunted for the employee locker room. Salas was able to move very fast, so after about five minutes of searching, he found it. There sat Andy, on the floor slumped and in a daze with his back against the front of his locker .

"Kid," Salas called. Andy didn't answer or look up. He seemed oblivious of Salas' presence or of anything else.

Salas, sighed, retrieved his police walkie-talkie from his belt and called for an ambulance. "Post traumatic shock syndrome, most likely," Salas thought to himself. He quickly knelt down alongside the dazed boy and checked his pulse. Physically, he seemed OK.

Salas was still in awe and shock at what he'd seen on the security tapes. Although he was a wreck right then, this was clearly a very remarkable young lad. This seemingly ordinary boy had done something neither he nor Cole, for all their incredible might, had ever done. He'd stood up to Danny and in doing so, had halted his rampage dead in it's tracks, not so much by physically stopping him. No one or anything could have done that for very long... but with a demonstration of rawboned courage and iron will the likes of which young Danny, in his short life, had never encountered before. This young lad's poise and grace "under fire" had given pause even to the unstoppable Danny!

Salas picked up the boy and carried him to the mall entrance, meeting the paramedics there and stood watching as the ambulance retreated across the parking lot. He strode to his car and drove straight to the hospital.

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When Andy awoke in his hospital bed, Salas was there. Andy had slept under sedation for about 12 hours and Salas had never left his bedside.

"You finally awake, now, Andy?" By now, Salas had all the particulars on the young hero, including his name, "Andrew Jackson Partlowe."

"Where am I?" Andy asked.

"At St. Joseph's," kid. The doc says you're gonna be OK, but you zoned out back there at the mall and gave us all just a little bit of a scare. They'll release you in the morning.

"Hospital," Andy exclaimed, "I haven't got the money for this... How'm I gonna pay?"

"Relax, kid, the shopping mall's insurance is picking up your tab. Everything's covered."

Andy breathed a sigh of relief and sank a little deeper into the bed.

"Sorry I konked out on you man... Nothing like this has ever happened to me before."

"S'ok, kid. I'm quite certain nothing like this HAS happened to you before, EVER. Doc says it's a perfectly normal reaction, 'post traumatic stress syndrome.' Soldiers sometimes get that after battle. Was this your first time in 'combat,' son?"

Andy nodded.

"Well, you handled your 'baptism of fire' like a real veteran. But, Andy, you know, that AK you had could've gotten you hauled up on charges. You don't hafta worry, though. That's the least of anybody's concerns right now. But still, that was a lotta`heat' you were packin'..."

"Sir, I swear to God I never would've shot anybody with that thing. My aim is "dead on" and I know what I'm doing. I could shoot a fly off a horse's back and never leave so much as a scratch on the horse. I'd never have pulled that thing out except for some kinda terrorist thing. I'm not sorry I had it and I'd do it all over again if I had to."

"I believe you would, Andy... I DO believe you would. What you did was incredibly brave. You fought like a lion for those people in the mall to get away to safety... Mostly women and a lotta kids, since it was the middle of the day during summer vacation. But you didn't exactly `shoot straight' with ME back there at the mall when I asked if you'd gotten a good look at the `perp.' I saw it on tape. You got a very good look at him and he got an eye full of you. I've never seen anybody stop that boy in his tracks like you did. And, then, in spite of all the mayhem, I'd say he almost redeemed himself when he saved you from offing yourself with that Glock 'cannon' the way you very nearly did."

Andy felt a knot tighten in his stomach. "He said he was gonna `fuck me up.' I thought he was gonna rip my arm out of the socket and beat me to death with the bloody end of it. I figured if I was gonna be a dead man anyway, I might as well take the easy way out. I don't think I could'a shot HIM. He's just a kid even if he's got the power of a frickin' cyclone. Probably wouldn't have done me any good if I tried. He told me he could dodge a bullet and I believed him. But what did you mean you never saw anybody stop that kid in his tracks like that? You mean you've seen him before?"

"I know him very well, Andy. Have for about 9 months now...."

Andy was dumbfounded.

"You mean you KNEW about that little monster running around loose all along and you never TOLD anybody? There were KIDS all OVER the place in the goddamn mall! People nearly DIED out there today. *I* nearly died. Why didn't you WARN us?"

All of the horrors of the day came crashing down on Andy.

"Yah stupid mutherfuckin' BASTARD!"

From a slightly reclining position, in what seemed like a surreal, snakelike strike, Andy exploded over the foot of his hospital bed, propelled by adrenaline pumped outrage, slamming his fists into Salas' face, splitting open his right cheek and lower lip and knocking him into the wall behind him. Every one of Andy's knuckles in both hands was broken and both wrists shattered on impact but Andy, oblivious of the pain, continued to pummel Salas' gut, further mutilating his hands and wrists against the solid brick wall that was Salas' abdomen. The big man was momentarily stunned. No man born of ordinary genetics had been able to so much as budge him from where he stood since he was a toddler. Recovering, Salas grabbed Andy's arms below the wrists, immobilizing him before he could further injure himself. Andy collapsed against Salas, wailing in horror, rage, anguish and despair. Cradling Andy in his powerful arms, Salas reached to press the nurse's call button. He began to carry him back to his bed when Andy's body went momentarily rigid, then hung limp as a rag doll.

Salas quickly lay Andy on the bed and checked his pulse... Nothing. His deep bass voice boomed, "get a doctor in here... NOW!" Salas immediately began to administer CPR.

It was cardiac arrest. But the emergency resuscitation team arrived in less than a minute and restarted the boy's heart with the paddles. Subsequent examination showed there had been no damage to Andy's heart.

The next evening, Andy awoke from sedation and, and for the second time in two days, there was Salas. He hadn't left Andy's bedside the whole time. "We can't keep meeting like this, Andy," Salas smiled.

Andy, fully alert now, averted his eyes in shame. "I'm really sorry I hit you, detective. I had no right. I never `lost it' like that before. My God, you must think I'm such a looser. First I 'flake out' on you back at the mall and now this..."

"It's OK, Andy. You'd had a very, VERY bad day. And, by the way, just call me `Salas.' That's my name. I'll be just fine. But you split open my right cheek and my lower lip and that kinda hurt." Salas smiled at Andy again.

"You don't look like you're hurt to me.... I can't see a thing."

"Lets just say I healed up really fast and leave it at that for now..."

"... But your hands, and wrists, Andy... That's another story. You had a mild coronary last night Nothing to worry about at all. There was no damage to your heart. But once they got you stabilized with that, they rushed you to surgery to repair the damage to your knuckles and wrists. Both wrists will be in a cast for quite awhile and, once the casts come off, there's gonna hafta be some rehab for your hands, but doc says you're gonna be just fine. Even though right now you really do look like hell."

"Can I see a mirror?"

Salas said, "why don't you wait just a bit on that? Get some rest, Andy."

"Now... right now. I wanna see a mirror... now."

Salas held a small face mirror up for Andy who saw the change immediately. Overnight, his heretofore coal black hair had turned `salt and pepper gray!'

Andy was slack-jawed, agog at how really terrible he looked.

He looked back at Salas but couldn't think of anything to say.

Salas said to Andy, "Look, it's clear to all of us that you've had quite a fright. After all, you nearly died yesterday. But I promise you, nothing like this will EVER happen again.

"Oh? You and whose army is gonna stop that kid? I saw what he can do. And what I did was nothing but a minor distraction to him if even that. He was laughing at me and toying with me. That whole hellish nightmare was just fun and games to him. Oh God... all those terrified people..."

Andy sighed, "Look, I can see you are a mighty `stout' dude. I'll bet you could take on the Hell's Angels gang.... all of `em at once... and do it with one hand tied behind your back. Shit, I smashed both my wrists on your face without leaving a mark on you as far as I can tell. But that kid could crush you like a bug between his thumb and forefinger. The whole goddamn Army couldn't stop him. In a word, dude, this kid decides to get an attitude again, we are all `fucked.' And while he is running around loose, I will never, NEVER sleep soundly in my bed again...."

"...When he and I faced off at the end back there at the mall, I choked. I just couldn't bring myself to shoot him. But I'm warning you, if I ever see that little fuck again and get a clean shot at him, I'm gonna take it. Might not do any good... He might very well dodge the bullet, just like he said... or shit, maybe it'll just bounce off him like a marshmallow. But, Salas... I found out something about myself because of that kid that I didn't know before... I don't want to die..."

Salas interjected gently, "That's nothing to be ashamed of, Andy. Nobody wants to die..."

Andy cut him off.... "That's not my point, Salas. I already KNEW I don't wanna die. I sure as hell didn't need a `nightmare' like I just went through to find that out... but what I found out that I DIDN'T know before is that, even though I don't wanna die... I am NOT... AFRAID to die... Not if it's for something important..."

"... So, even if it costs me my life, next time, I WILL take my best shot. I never did relish the thought of killing another human being, but I will do anything... ANYTHING to stop him and make sure nothing like what happened to those defenseless civilians at the mall happens EVER again."

"Andy, we both know it isn't like that. After everything he did, and everything you did, he did stop. And he saved your life. I've talked to him. Something happened between you two out there day before yesterday. Something has changed in Danny. I KNOW it has. He's outside in the hall right now. He wants to meet you and apologize."

Andy shrank back into his bed in horror, he eyes as big as saucers.

"It's gonna be OK, Andy. I think it's best if you meet Danny and let him set your mind at ease." Salas called Danny into the room. The door swung open and he strode up to the foot of the bed and faced Andy....

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*** Andy & Danny***

Andy's gut wrenched as a seething cauldron of bile boiled in his stomach. He gulped. For all his bravado about taking a shot at Danny, Andy had hoped and prayed it would never come to that and that he would never see or hear of this young apparition again. He struggled for control of his fear and, with some difficulty, mastered it. Andy looked Danny in the eye but decided to let him speak first.

Danny lowered his eyes momentarily, then looked back up at Andy. "Dude, I don't have the words to apologize for what I did to you and those other people at the mall. I doubt you'd believe me, but I never set out to hurt anybody. But the cold truth of it is, I guess I acted like I really didn't give a damn one way or the other. If anybody got in my way... tough. I've done that kind of thing before, a few times. Sometimes I was provoked and sometimes not. I `fed' on their fear. It was almost like a narcotic. It's like a rush, watching people cower in front of me even though I'm only 13..."

"...But you didn't back down, Andy. You were scared shitless as any of the rest of those people at the mall. I could SMELL your fear. But you just WOULDN'T flinch. You fuckin' SOMERSAULTED off that stair I was ripping loose out from under you, with that little girl tucked under your arm..."

"...Honest, Andy, I was underneath that stair and you were on top. I couldn't see the little girl until you vaulted off the rail with her. I'm not so heartless that I'd deliberately hurt a little girl, even on my worst day! Maybe there was a time when I guess I couldn't have cared less, but not now, thanks to Scott..."

"Scott?" Andy asked?

"Yah. He's a student at Cal-Tech. He's my "baby-sitter," sorta. Actually, he's my best friend in the whole world and a lot more than that besides. He sorta like the `older brother' I never had and a `guardian angel' all rolled into one. When all this `wildness' comes out in me, Scott has always been there for me. I don't think I could handle `all this' without him. I know I'm a pain in his ass... Sometimes I guess I wonder how he can stand the sight or smell of me... But since we first met, he's always been there for me... That is until day before yesterday when I snuck down to the mall by myself. I'm just glad you were there to stand in for Scott. He'd be really proud of you, Andy..."

"...When I saw you flying through the air with that little girl under your arm, I almost gave it all up right then and there. But, holy shit, Andy, after you jumped off that rail, right in midair, you kept right on shooting, aiming just short of my feet, trying to fend me off. Where did you learn moves like that, `Rambo?' Danny ventured the slightest glimmer of a smile and, in spite of himself, Andy smiled a little too."

Danny moved around the bed, sat on the edge facing Andy and placed his hand very gently on Andy's right shoulder. "Dude, I could tell you weren't really shooting AT me. I'm pretty fast. But you're a damned good shot. Trust me, I can see things other people can't. I KNOW exactly what you were trying to do. You wanted to stop me, not kill me. All you cared about was defending those people. And you know, even with all my strength, even through my rage, I found myself envying what you have and what you are. I saw how scared you were. Shit, dude, you peed in your pants. But you never stopped. There's no tellin' how many people from the mall are alive today who might not have made it if it weren't for you. And then where would *I* be?"

"...So there I was, even more pissed off at you than I was at those pukes who started in on me in the food court... All because I felt so jealous and envious of you... I've never been jealous of ANYBODY in my life. Can you blame me? You saw what I can do. But honest, dude, when I told you I was gonna fuck you up, I didn't mean it. Mebbe rough you up a little bit to scare you, but not really hurt you. I just wanted to hear you say `uncle' to me so fuckin' bad.... Danny's voice trailed off....

Andy looked up at Danny and said very softly, "Danny, if I had only known that's all it would have taken to get you to stop, I would have been the first to crawl up to you on my belly and kiss your foot."

Danny's stomach churned. The mental image of this valiant young man, so noble of soul, being forced into self-abasement before him was sickening. "I oughta be the one kissing HIS foot," Danny thought to himself. He felt a momentary weakness at the knees. He bit his lower lip.

"... But you just wouldn't stop, Andy. You didn't even flinch. How can you say that?"

Andy paused, choosing his words very carefully. Then he said very gently, "Danny, if it comes down to a choice between my `precious ego' and a human life, any human life, that is a `no brainer.' Bruised egos can heal. But all any of us ever gets is one life."

Salas' attention was riveted to the dialogue between this young man and the boy. He resolved to hold onto Andy with both hands. This kid was really something else.

Danny continued... "And then you ditched that AK and went for your Glock. That kinda `threw me.' I was asking myself, `What's he doin'? What's a pistol, even THAT man waster, gonna do for him that a fuckin' assault rifle wouldn't do better?' You see, Andy, I ALWAYS know what somebody's gonna do... I know every mistake they're gonna make before they make it and why. Hell, I'll goad `em into making stupid mistakes. And, Andy, you hadn't made ANY mistakes all up until then... I told myself, `this makes NO sense!' This guy CAN'T be THAT dumb that he'd throw away his AK and go for a pistol."

"Then that LOOK you gave me... You were scared shitless, but, God, there was that look.... NO-body's ever looked at me like that. At least not after they'd found out what I can do... The way you just looked at me. And then you put that pistol in your mouth.... It never entered my mind, even when I had you cornered, that you'd choose to die before letting me get my hands on you."

Danny faltered momentarily and his voice cracked, but he got ahold of himself almost immediately... "Andy, I never want anybody to look at me like that again. In that exact moment, I saw myself through YOUR eyes... and it made my blood run cold... It's an understatement to say I didn't much like what I saw."

"I guess in a way I'm kinda glad you tried to eat that Glock. It gave me a chance to finally do something decent for a change. But don't ever do that again, Andy... OK? Cuz it took nearly everything I had to get that thing away from you."

"Uh, OK," Andy croaked.

"Andy, you were magnificent out there and I was a lowlife slime ball. And I just wanted to tell you how sorry I am. And that it will never EVER happen again."

At first, Andy was at a loss for words. Then he finally stammered, "Well, Danny, you didn't HAVE to come over here and apologize. I don't think there's anybody on this earth who could make you do anything you didn't wanna do. So I'd guess what you just said is really from the heart. Not to mention, after all the hell you raised in the mall, you DID save my life. When you yanked me away from my gun after it fell, I thought, `this is it... game over... checkmate... now I'm gonna know what a zebra feels like when he's torn to pieces by a hungry lion.' But you kinda `threw me,' too, Danny. Instead of ripping me to shreds like I was expecting, you saved my life! So I guess we both kinda surprised each other right at the end there.... Thank you , Danny... Thank you for saving my life."

Danny sat in silence on the edge of Andy's hospital bed for over a minute. Then he replied, "Andy, you don't owe me any thanks. You don't owe me anything at all. I'm the one who owes you. That whole sorry stupid mess at the mall was all my fault. And the hell of it is, I know better. When you gave me `that look,' I knew I'd do ANYTHING to try and make things right. If I'd lost that scramble for your pistol, I don't know what I would've done.... Probably pealed your cold dead hand off and tried to use it on myself. Or maybe I wouldn't even have needed your gun. If I thought I was the one responsible for depriving the world of the likes of you, I might've just keeled over and died on the spot..."

"Well," Andy said with just a glimmer of a smile, "I guess it's a good thing for both of us you beat me to the draw and got to my gun before I did..."

Danny lowered his eyes. There was silence in the room for a good two minutes. Then he looked up at Andy.

"Anyway, Andy, I was just hoping you and I could sorta start over. I'd really like us to be friends. Maybe we could hang out sometime."

"Yeah, Danny. That'd be cool. Maybe you could show me some more of that awesome stuff you can do... Think you could gimme a `power demo' without demolishing another shopping mall?"

Danny grinned. "You got it, bud... As long as you promise to show some me some of those 'Rambo' moves you've got."

Andy and Danny engaged in some idle chit-chat for a few minutes and then Danny rose to go.

"Nice meetin' you, Danny."

"Same here, Andy." And then he was gone.

Andy looked at Salas and said, "All right. I'm OK now. Thanks, Salas." And then he lay back and almost immediately, he was asleep...

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*** Andy & Scott ***

Salas left the room. Danny was waiting for him outside in the passage way. Man and boy left the building together and Salas drove Danny home. Neither said anything during the drive to the Henderson's. There really was nothing left to say...

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Salas let Danny out and drove to over to Scott's house. Scott was in the driveway shooting hoops when Salas drove up. He turned and smiled as Salas' massive frame emerged from his unmarked police cruiser.

"Hi Salas. S'up?"

"I guess you've heard what happened down at the mall the other day."

"Bit's and pieces. But there's a been a total news blackout. So I haven't heard much in the way of details. It's all over the neighborhood what happened. I've heard enough to know who it hadda be. I see you've worked your usual `magic,' Salas... cleaning up another one of Danny's `messes.'"

"Bingo. But did you hear about that young security guard and what he did?"

"Again, what I've heard is kinda sketchy. Seems he stood his ground against Danny and made sure everybody got away safely. Is he OK?"

"He's banged up a little, mostly from stuff that happened afterward. But he'll be OK. He's supposed to be released from St. Joe's tomorrow morning but he's gonna be out of action for awhile. He's an engineering student at Cal Tech and he's taking summer session classes. I was hoping you could help him out a little. You know, arrange to get him copies of the lecture notes, assignments, let his profs know what's up... That kinda thing. Besides, Scott, I really want you to meet this guy."

"Sure, Salas. I'll do whatever I can. What's the deal with this dude? Salas walked back to his police cruiser, opened the trunk, reached in and pulled out a cardboard box filled with Andy's video surveillance tapes.

"Check these out, Scott. You'll know plenty enough once you've seen `em. Then I want to talk to you again. I want you to go inside and watch them now... all of them. They're thirty-day long-play, but I've cued them up for you. They start up right before the 'action' begins. When you're done, call me on my cell. oughta take you two, three hours to get through all of them, depending on how many times you rewind and freeze frames. Call me as soon as you're done. Then I'll come back and get you and we can go get something to eat and talk. Meanwhile, I want to set up a meeting between you and this guy. Name's, get this, 'Andrew Jackson Partlowe.' And let me tell you, Scott, this kid did his namesake proud at the mall the other day."

With that, Salas got back into his car and drove away without another word...

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Scott carried the box inside, sat down and rummaged through the tapes. They had been pre labeled with the month, year and mall location of the video cam feed being recorded.

Scott picked out one of the tapes at random. It was labeled with the month, year and "FOOD COURT." "Good a place to start as any," Scott thought to himself as he loaded the tape and pushed the "play" button on his remote."

Two and a half hours later, Scott was sweating like a racehorse. Even without an audio feed, the tapes were a shock, even though Scott knew very well what Danny was capable of. Danny's remark to Scott some months ago, when he was trashing public infrastructure, including highway overpasses, that he didn't care whether or not his "antics" hurt "weak people," resounded in his ears.

Scott shuddered.

But what really rocked Scott back on his heels was the "ballsy" stand Andy had made against Danny. " Damn!" Scott thought to himself, "That dude's got `nads on him big as a pair of basket balls!" But, clear as day was Danny's dramatic "save" when he leapt into that cinder block wall, swatting Andy's gun away a split second before the young man could shoot himself in the mouth.

Not only had the young security guard stood up to "the little monster," but in spite of all the mayhem and terror Danny had wreaked at the mall, Andy had somehow reached the kid's heart. In an instant, on screen as Scott watched, the boy had been transformed from a rampaging little demon into an angel of mercy, saving Andy from suicide at the last possible instant. Things always seemed to happen really fast whenever Danny was around, but Scott had never seen anything like this. He HAD to meet this "Andy" dude.

Scott dialed Salas' cell and after a brief exchange, rung off. Salas was back in front of Scott's house in less than twenty minutes. Salas took Scott to a nearby chain coffee shop and they both ordered the buffet. Scott was a big eater but he always marveled at how Salas could pack away the groceries and still have his obscenely narrow waistline of 29 inches. He was still pounding down the food twenty minutes after Scott had pushed his plate away.

Finally, Salas was ready to talk. They both ordered coffee and then Salas briefed Scott on what had transpired between him and Andy at the hospital, as well as Danny's visit. Using a miniature "pocket recorder," Salas had discretely tape recorded Danny's visit with Andy intending to share it with Scott as soon as he could.

He played the recording for Scott who sat in his chair slack jawed.

"Damn, Salas, that's a side of Danny I never even knew was there! I really wanna meet this guy Andy."

"Scott, that is EXACTLY how I felt. I wanna set up a meeting between you two, tomorrow if possible. He'll be released from St. Joe's in the morning and I'm going to take him home and help him to get settled in. I want you with me when I go. I'll make the introductions and then I want you to take it from there. Andy's going to need our help. He won't have use of his hands for quite some time..."

"His hands? ... Danny?" Scott asked. "Guess I missed that part on the video tapes."

"No, me."


Well, back at the hospital, when I told Andy I've known all along about Danny and that I have been keeping him under wraps... big mistake! He freaked, jumped out of his bed and pasted me! He busted my cheek, split my lip and threw me into a wall!"

"No sign of it now, Salas."

"Well, Scott, you know how my injuries heal really fast."

"Damn, Salas! He was able to do THAT... to YOU?"

"Fuckin' A!!!"

"... Scott, you know how fast my reflexes are. But I never saw it comin'! He lit into me quicker than a pissed off rattlesnake. That kid's gotta heart of GOLD, but don't EVER get him riled. You do and you'll see a mean streak come out on him broader than a ten lane interstate!"

"...Oh yah... he wacked me pretty good, but he mutilated his hands and wrists in the process," Salas said grimly. Damn! He comes out of his confrontation with Danny with nary a scratch on him and then he goes and does this in his hospital room where he was supposed to be recovering from his nightmare at the mall!"

"Scott, He was livid. I've never seen rage like that in all my life. I'd hate like hell to see what Danny would do if HE ever got that stark raving mad! Everything came down on Andy like a ton of bricks and then he just went `ballistic!' I mean it! He FLEW outta the mutherfuckin' bed at me! And then, as I was helping him back into bed, he had a fuckin' coronary, and I don't mean figuratively, I'm talkin' for goddamn real!... no serious damage to his heart, thank God. But he was in surgery for his hands and wrists for over six hours. He apologized to me as soon as he came to, but then he threatened to shoot Danny if he ever got the chance. By then, I had Danny waiting outside in the hall and he was able to go in and smooth things over with Andy fairly well. I think he's OK with Danny now... In fact, I KNOW he is."

"This brings me to you, Scott. I need you to stay close to him and help him out. And, if you can, Scott, please try and see if you can get him to come `on board' with us."

"On board with us?"

"C'mon, Scott, we're carrying a heavy load, you and me. Danny is more than a handful for you, Cole and me put together and we could all use the help. I don't know how I could've made it this far in `all this' without you, Scott. Up until now, you've been the only man in the world Danny'll listen to. With all our strength, Cole and I just can't match what you bring to the table when it comes to keeping Danny in check. But I think Andy can be a big help to you in that department. And we'll never know if you don't ask."

"Well, if I'd been `all of that,' Salas, Andy and those people in the mall would never have had to go through that cluster fuck at the mall."

"Scott, if you weren't `all of that,' who knows, Andy might very well be dead today. You waaay underestimate the positive influence you've had on Danny."

Scott was just a little taken aback by Salas' words. He didn't know what to say. Salas was tough as nails on the outside, but he had a soft spot deep down inside that, usually, he kept well hidden. Scott had just gotten a rare glimpse of Salas' tender spot.

"I'll do what I can with Andy. You gonna pick me up in the morning or shall I meet you at St. Joe's?"

"Naw, kid, I'll pick you up. I want us all to ride over from the hospital to Andy's place in my car so we can talk some more and get better acquainted with him. I'll take you back to your house after we get Andy settled in and then I want you to check up on him every day if you can. If anything comes up any day that you can't make it, let Cole or me know and one of us'll cover for you. But I want us all to do everything we can for this kid while he's on the mend. After he's been home for awhile, I want you to broach the subject of having him let Danny drop by and help him out from time to time. Don't press it, but if he goes for it, I think that'll be good for both of them and for all of us. Andy is one special kid, Scott, like you. I know you two are gonna hit it off. I can't wait for you to meet him."

Salas drove Scott back home and arranged to pick him up at 7:00 a.m. the next morning. Scott went inside and went straight to bed.

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Next morning, Salas arrived in front of Scott's house at 7:00 a.m. on the dot. Scott was waiting. He got into Salas' car and they drove off.

"You had breakfast yet, kid or yah wanna stop at Mickey D's and get something?"

"Not unless you do, Salas, I'm all set. I had some coffee and juice already."

"Damn, kid, you eat like a freekin' bird. I don't see how you keep all that muscle on you the way you eat. We're stoppin'. If you want anything, I'll get it for you, but I've gotta get somethin' in my stomach."

Drive through traffic at McDonald's was light so they were back on their way in less than five minutes. By the time they arrived at Andy's hospital room, it was only 7:45. Andy was up, trying to get his things together... He hadn't had all that much with him in his room, but, with both hands in a cast, he was very clumsy and it had been slow going. Andy was getting disgusted with himself.

Salas could see Andy's frustration, over nothing, really. He put his hand on the boy's shoulder and turned him around... Andy, let us help you with this... We'll have you packed and ready to go in a jiff."

"I feel like such a sluggo. I can't do anything for myself."

"It's OK, Andy... You don't have to be the strong one all the time. Let us get you packed up and let's get outta here."

"By the way, Andy, I want you to meet Scott."

Scott stepped up to Andy and stuck out his hand. Andy displayed his right hand, sheathed in a cast and Andy muttered, "oh, sorry... Nice to meet you, Andy. I've heard a lot about you from Salas."

"Lies, Scotty... All lies!" Andy smiled. "Nice to meet you, too, Scott. I've heard a lot about you, from Salas and Danny. You know, they both think the world of you! I've really been looking forward to meeting you."

"Same here, Andy... Same here!"

"OK, you two, enough with the `mutual admiration society...' Let's get Andy packed up and get out of here."

They were back in the car in another forty-five minutes. The discharge procedures were kind of a pain, but they finally got it done and they were on their way to Andy's apartment.

Salas asked Andy if he needed them to stop along the way to pick up anything... groceries, toothpaste, anything like that?

Andy said "no," he already had near about everything he needed.

He said to Salas, "If I'd known how rock hard your face and gut are, I might have thought twice about nailin' you like I did... Now I'm kinda wonderin' how I'm gonna wipe my butt when I take a dump!"

Scott and Salas roared! Salas damn near wrecked the car he was laughing so hard. Andy laughed too, although with a bit less gusto.

"Don't worry, kid," Salas finally volunteered. "When we get to your place, we'll come up with something, even if I hafta clean your ass myself." They all laughed again.

They arrived at Andy's and got him settled in. Scott promised to look in on him later that afternoon and bring him his lecture notes and class assignments. "If you need me to do anything else for you, or bring you anything, Andy, just let me know."

"OK, Scott. Thanks."

Scott and Salas moved in the direction of the front door. Salas stopped and turned to face Andy. "If there is anything you need... Anything at all, you call Scotty or me. You can call me on my cell and by this afternoon, I'm gonna make sure Scotty has one too. When he gets back here this afternoon, he'll program your phone memory with quick dials so you don't hafta punch all seven numbers to ring us up. You take care of yourself, boy, and get some rest." Then Salas and Scott left.

As they walked back to Salas' car, Scott said, "He seems like quite a guy. I'll do what I can to make things easier for him. I wonder if I outta bunk over here while his hands and wrists are healing. Seems like he's gonna be pretty helpless for quite awhile."

"Aw Scott, I think that'd be great if Andy agrees. You know kid, you gotta good heart. I know I don't tell you very often how much I've appreciated knowing you. But I hope you know, just because it may SEEM like I take you and all you've been doing for granted, I really don't."

"Well, Salas, I'm just glad none of us is in `all this' alone. Thank God you and Cole came along when you did. I know I could never handle Danny all by myself. I'm just your average run of the mill jock. I don't know anything about being a superman."

"Well, you're learning, kid... You're learning. In your own very special way, Scott, you already ARE a `superman.' Please don't take what I'm saying as patronizing bullshit because I really mean it... You stick with me, boy. `Keep the faith' and we'll make it... We're all gonna make it just fine."

They didn't say much else during the ride back to Scott's. Salas let him out and drove away.

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When Scott returned that afternoon, he found Andy asleep on the sofa. He had snagged a key from Andy before he and Salas had left that morning so he let himself in.

Scott didn't wake Andy. He went straight to the kitchen to fix something to eat for Andy and himself. Andy heard Scott moving around in the kitchen, got up and walked in on him.

"Oh, Scott, sorry I didn't hear you come in. I guess I was out like a light. Thanks for coming back."

"Sure, Andy. I'm just makin' us something to eat. Sandwiches OK?"

"Sure, Scott, whatever. You'll find everything you need. I think I got some cotto salami and sliced ham, cheese and whatever else in the fridge. That's usually pretty good."

"K, Andy, I got it. Why don't you go back in the other room and relax. I'll be out in a minute with this stuff. I got your lecture notes with me and your assignments. You won't be doing any writing for awhile so, I'm gonna hang out with you and help you get some of your studies done. I've brought my stuff along and, if you're OK with it, I'll just stay over here tonight. We'll hafta put our heads together and figure out how you're gonna wipe your ass till those casts come off," Scott grinned at Andy.

Andy smiled back, if a little wanly. He wasn't much good at being a helpless "patient."

They ate in silence. Then Andy asked Scott if he'd be up for making some coffee before they got into their school work. When he came back with their coffee, Scott resolved to take this opportunity to broach the subject of Andy "coming on board" to help him, Salas and Cole with Danny.

Andy clumsily maneuvered his coffee cup to his lips and took a sip. He dribbled some of it down his chin. "God I'm such a klutz. Can't even negotiate a frickin' cup of coffee...."

Scott reached out and helped Andy steady his coffee between his "mitts" and sat in silence while Andy drank. Then he spoke. "Andy, there's something I want to ask you... You know all about Salas and I think he's told you about Cole... Cole's another cop, like Salas and he's in the same "boat" as Salas with that `super strength' thing... Not as strong or as powerful as Danny, but, well, it's like neither of them is quite human either. A few months back, the three of them Danny, Salas and Cole dismantled an old retired Navy destroyer for the government... with their bare fuckin' hands! Well, they latched onto Danny and have been trying to keep him in line as best they could but they both think I'm a kinda good influence on the kid. Now Salas wants you to join the team. I think it would be great if you agreed."

Andy stared blankly at Scott... "I don't understand. What do they think I can do... or you for that matter. I got nothin' to offer this kid. What does Salas think Danny needs me for? Look at me... Right now, I couldn't even wipe his nose... or his ass, for that matter..."

Scott snickered... That line was starting to get a little lame. "Andy, what this little fella needs is a moral rudder. I can only do so much... In fact, you did more on that score for Danny in a few minutes than I've done in nearly a year. What else could you be doing with your life right now that would be more important than this? Andy, I know you don't need me to tell you what's at stake here."

Andy chewed on Scott's words for a few minutes. He sighed. "Scott, I'm flattered that you and Salas have that kinda faith in me. But I am NO `paradigm' for Danny. Look what I did to Salas yesterday. Even though all I did was fuck my own self up... I nailed Salas in the face with my fists... and all he was trying to do was be my friend... and, shit, dude, I ain't his lookout! I `lost it' as bad as Danny did. The only reason I didn't do the kind of damage to Salas like Danny did down at the mall is because I can't..."

"...And, Scott, for awhile back there at the hospital, I completely lost sight of the fact that, for all the horrible things Danny did at the mall, when push came to shove, he saved my life. My God, Scott, I wanted to shoot that kid in the goddamn head. I just completely lost it. I was ready to turn my back on everything I believe in... I couldn't presume for one minute to fancy myself a worthy mentor to Danny. I gotta get my own ducks in a row. I would if I could, Scott. But I can't... I just can't.... I don't come anywhere near having what it takes for a job like that."

Scott snorted, not buying any of Andy's arguments...

"You know, Scott, It's more than just that. I really admire what you, Salas and this guy, Cole, are doing for Danny. It's gotta be hard for all three of you, subordinating every thing else in your lives to be around to cater to that kid. I agree... Somebody's gotta stand up to the line for him. I just don't happen to be that `somebody...'"

"...Like I said, I'm flattered as I can be that guys like you and Salas would wanna bring me along and I'm sorry if I'm a disappointment to you. But this isn't just isn't my calling at all. It's important, Scott. But it's not what I was cut out to do...."

"You know, it takes a special kind of courage and strength for big, strong men like you and Salas to lay aside your own lives, your ambitions and your dreams to live in the shadow of a thirteen year old boy, even if he is a super-prodigy. I don't know how you manage. I deeply respect that in you, Scott, but I sure as hell don't envy you."

Scott's face registered disappointment, but he let Andy continue.

"Scott, I think you and Salas have a special calling, or vocation or whatever you call it. You're exactly the right men to mentor Danny. It's like you two have got some kinda destiny or something to `shepherd' this super kid though his boyhood."

"But after I nearly died in the mall the other day, sitting there in my hospital bed, I had a lot of time to evaluate the life I nearly threw away. It really gave me a chance to think about where my life is headed and what I'm supposed to do with it, now that Danny has gone and saved it for me. I think I owe it to him to do the best I can with my life. I want to do something that matters. But my calling, my passion, is some kind of service to the poor and the weak, not to the strong. Every body matters, Scott, not just `supermen' like Salas and Cole and Danny. Somebody's got to stand up to the line and go to bat for the `little people.' That's were I come in. That's what I feel I'm called to do. That's where I BELONG. I've just about decided that once I get out of engineering school here at Cal-Tech, I'm gonna try to get into med. school. If I can get back full use of my hands, I'll probably try for general surgeon. If I can't, I'll probably shoot for general and family practice. After I get outta med. school, I may try for seminary as well. I know I ain't too strong on all the "God-stuff," but I can learn. I'm thinking I wanna be a medical missionary, maybe in South Africa or Central America. That has become my passion, Scott, and now that I've looked death in the face, I think that's given me the focus I need to decide what I wanna do with the rest of my life..."

Scott smiled ruefully at Andy and just nodded....

"You know, Scott, when I was about to take myself out with Danny back at the mall, my biggest regret was that I was just about to go out of this world without having done anything at all that really mattered...."

"Scott interrupted, "Andy, you can't say that... What you did at the mall mattered one helluva lot to all those people, and especially to Danny."

"That was just a `flash in the pan,' Scott, not a way of life. But you and Salas have stayed with this and devoted your lives to Danny. It can't be easy putting the hopes and ambitions for your own life on hold while you cater to this super kid. But you've done it and done it very well for almost a year now..."

"...One day, Scott, you're gonna be rewarded for the sacrifices you've been making. Over these past several months, you've planted `seeds' in that boy's heart and soul. I just happened to be the lucky sunuvabugger who happened along to reap a 'down payment' on a `harvest' from seeds I had nothing to do with planting. It was you, Scott. I owe my life to you, every BIT as much as I owe it to Danny. Danny as much as told me that himself! What he did at the mall was a horrible lapse that he is, clearly, deeply sorry for. But, thank God, Danny has the heart and soul to recognize that, press on and just try to do better in the future. And he got that from you, Scotty."

Tears were forming at the corner of Andy's eyes. "Day in and day out, Scott, you've been there for that boy. And one day, when you're on your deathbed, you'll have a well earned smile of satisfaction on your face, because you'll know... you'll KNOW... even if no one but you ever realizes or appreciates what you've done, you'll be leaving this world behind better off for your having been a part of it. And, Scott, that's all what I want for myself. But I'll never get it here doing this with you and Salas and Cole... I'd live every day with regret because the work *I* was made for is not being done..."

"..Have you ever read "The Spoon River Anthology, Scott?"

"No, can't say that I have, Andy... What's it about?"

"Well, it's an anthology of poetry about the old south. One poem in the collection really stuck in my mind... `Mary Lou Wingate.' It's about the wife of a an 1860's plantation owner who struggles valiantly to keep things together on the home front through the adversity of the civil war, while her husband is away fighting in the battles. It's the last line of that poem that really sticks in my mind, ... `Act well your part. There all the honor lies.' So, Scott, I commend those words to you... to both of us. You know your role. And it's a tough one, but you've got what it takes. Now, for the first time, I have a sense of what my duty on this earth is supposed to be. I guess in some twisted way, I owe Danny for that."

Scott and Andy sat in silence for a few more minutes, before starting to work on their studies....

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Just as they were about to begin, Andy had a thought. He slapped his forehead with his casted hand...


"What's the matter, Andy?"

"Oh man, where was my head? I just thought of something! I can't BELIEVE I haven't mentioned this before!"

"Oh, what's that?"

"Well, there's this guy I first met back in middle school. Went all the way through high school with him... Name's Billy Hartlander. He's my best friend. He just finished his sophomore year at the Naval Academy and right now, he's about halfway through his third class summer cruise on the USS Nimitz out in the western Pacific. He's gonna pass through here on his way back to Annapolis when he's done with his midshipman cruise. He'll be here almost a month. We've got plans to get together and I REALLY think you and Salas oughta meet this guy..."

"Well, sure, Andy, I'd be glad to and Salas, too, I'm sure. Any friend of yours is a friend of mine and I know Salas feels that way too, but what's the deal with this dude?"

"Well, don't misunderstand me. This guy is no Danny. Not by a long shot. I don't even think he quite measures up to the likes of Salas. But he sure is something. I'll bet he's somewhere near about halfway between us `normal' folks and Salas. You know, just to give you an idea... way back in sixth grade at this annual school `jockathon' competition they used to hold... after the competition was over... you know those big stout plastic barrels like the ones they use on the sidelines at football games to keep the ice and cold water in?"


"Well, he took one of those things and crushed it between his legs like a goddamn eggshell! And he was only twelve! When we were in high school, we used to sneak out to this old junk yard after dark and, Scotty, you would not believe some of the stuff Billy could do... Well, in your case, maybe you would... And last Christmas, he was in town, home on leave from Annapolis. We got together while he was here. Late one night we were driving down a deserted residential street in his neighborhood a block or two away from his mom's house.. nobody else in sight. He saw this full-size Dodge Ram duelie pickup parked alongside the curb and he told me to stop. Well, I did and Billy got out, stepped over to that big muther, bent down in front of it, picked up the front end and strong armed it over his head. Then he leaned into it and military pressed it, for reps! I don't even KNOW how many. I fuckin' lost count at fifty! I was shakin' like a leaf. When we left, I hadda let him drive."

"Sheezz," was all Scott could say at first. After a minute or so, he spoke again.

"Well, Andy, I was kinda wonderin' how you managed to `finesse' Danny back at the mall like you did. I couldn't quite make it `add up' in my head. Now with this `Billy thing,' I think I may have a little bit better understanding how you pulled it off..."

"You know how everybody gets into little `habits,' even if they don't realize it themselves? After awhile, you get to know somebody a little better, they get just a little bit more predictable. Even Danny. It took me awhile to pin down the `pattern,' but now I'm staring to get a little better `handle' on how he plays. I've seen it time after time... When he `goes off' on someone like he does, he likes to play kind of an `intimidation game.' He really gets off on it. He pulled that shit on me first time I baby sat for him... Scared the holy livin' CRAP outta me. But I still didn't get the message. Not long after that, I nearly got myself and a couple of my best friends KILLED when we tried pullin' some stupid shit with Danny. He almost never shows his best `hand' right off. He'll `play his cards out' letting you see a little of what he can do... Then a little more... and still more till, finally, you're so slobberin' stupid scared outta your gourd you don't know whether to shit or go blind. And then you start makin' `mistakes.' I know I sure as hell did. Even when you think you've seen everything he can do, come to find out, there's always more besides. And even then it takes time for you to `get your arms around it'... time you don't have if you're goin' up against Danny. He normally exploits the element of `surprise,' "...surprise,' hell, more like `shock!' ...and he uses your stupid mistakes against you. He'll `bait' you and TRY to get you to provoke him..."

"No doubt you shit a brick when Danny first started bustin' loose at the mall. But, even though it was your first time seein' him... right off the bat, I think you might've had just a little better `grid' for what someone like Danny can do... at least better than anybody else Danny ever met up with for the first time. You handled that kid like a pro right from the `git-go.' I saw it all on your surveillance tapes... Salas lent `em to me... You kinda `pulled your punches' with Danny, the way you shot to `fend him off,' not tryin' to actually kill him. If you'd shot AT him, I doubt it would've accomplished very much except to piss him off. And when Danny gets mad, he goes fuckin' crazy. NOT provoking Danny may've been the smartest thing you ever did in your life. No WONDER he didn't quite know what to do with you. You just wouldn't `play the game' by his goddamn rules. Nobody's ever reacted to Danny with the kind of self-restraint you did. Up until now, with Danny, any `self-restraint' has always come too late. I think, indirectly, you may owe your life to your friend BILLY as much as you do Danny, or THINK you do to me..."

They sat in silence for a minute to two. Then Andy spoke...

"Well, Scott, believe me, back at the mall, I damned well thought about shooting Danny, but I couldn't do it. But you hit the nail right on the head. Right before it all ended up, when it was finally just the two of us, Danny practically DARED me to take a shot at him. But I couldn't. Not just because I halfway believed him when he said he could dodge a bullet. I just couldn't bring myself to even TRY shootin' that kid in cold blood..."

Scott looked at Andy and drew a breath to speak. But he couldn't. He was at a loss for words.

Andy spoke again. "Anyway, like I said, Billy may not even be as strong as Salas... but now you understand he sure as hell ain't `normal.' Billy's dead set on making the Navy his career. Says he wants to get into the Seals after he graduates and does his first sea tour. Now, Scott, I KNOW him. He's not EVER gonna give that up. So don't even THINK about you and Salas tryin' to recruit him into your `little thing' with Danny, cuz there's not a chance in hell. But, you know, I'm thinkin', this guy is one hotshot `cowboy,' and you can make book he'll be goin' places in the Navy once he graduates from Annapolis. I'd be surprised if he doesn't make admiral some day... and he might be a very useful point of contact inside the military. Strong as Billy is, at least you'll know he can relate to you guys better than anyone else in the Defense Department. You never can tell when having a friend like Billy could come in handy. And, frankly, I can think of some ways you guys might be useful to him someday."

"This could work out great for him and us, Andy. If you don't mind, I'd like to call Salas right now and give him a `heads up.' Give him plenty of time to get his calendar all cleared off before Billy gets into town."

"Make the call, Scotty. Make the call." •

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