CHAPTER TWO HUNDRED and FORTY-SEVEN
And time returned.
For a brief moment, everything stood still and Jacob’s mind raced. He hoped he wouldn’t die. He hoped Noelle wouldn’t be injured. He wasn’t sure what happened if you injured a pregnant dragon, but he was fairly certain it was not good. He felt a nudge against his leg. He glanced down and Scooter was now standing next to him.
When he looked up, everything was in motion and his mind was still. He felt the dragon’s power like a heartbeat. All sound disappeared except for the heartbeat.
Beat. He raised his hand and the leader of the group flew back against a tall pine.
Beat. He moved his fingers back. The leader slapped against the branches as he rose up the tree truck.
Beat. Jacob touched his index fingers to his thumbs and flicked the boys away from Noelle.
Across the grove, he saw Wanda reach Noelle. The girls moved back to back to fight with the boys nearest them. The boy with Wanda picked up the baseball bat.
Erik, Wanda’s father, yelled something at the boy and he nodded. He hit boys’ legs with his bat. Erik was attacked by two boys at once.
Wanda and Noelle were overrun with boys.
Jacob had been so focused across the grove that he didn’t see the punch coming at him until he was struck in the face. Jacob weaved a second too late and felt the impact of a solid punch. He rotated, turned in place, and pushed the boy to the side. Unable to judge his power, the boy flew ten feet before hitting the ground. He took a step and another boy confronted him.
His human mind panicked. He was overwhelmed with the rage that pulsed through each of these boys. The dragon beat forward, but Jacob had lost his focus.
The boy in front of him hit him once more in the face and Jacob fell to the ground. Through the chaos of running legs and fighting, he saw Wanda was getting pummeled. Noelle fell next to Wanda. A boy kicked Buster out of the way to get to Noelle.
His mind flooded and his entire life felt futile.
How had his world become like this?
Why were young boys trading away all of their opportunity for rage?
Why was being right more important than getting along?
How did the world give in to violence and power games?
Somewhere deep inside, Jacob heard human heart beat. He heard his mother tell him that someday he would know just exactly what he was. He heard the dragon laugh.
One word came to his mind.
“Yes,” he heard the dragon say.
He knocked the boy in front of him off his feet and stood.
“Enough!” Jacob yelled. “I have had enough!”
He raised his hands and the boys in the grove rose ten feet off the ground. The young men looked horrified.
One young man opened his mouth and pointed to him.
“Imma gonna get you.” Jacob read the boy’s lips.
He dropped the boy to the ground. The boy’s legs broke like toothpicks and terror moved through the rest of Jacob’s hostages.
He felt a hand on the back of his right shoulder. He turned to find his father standing behind him.
Jacob blinked. He had no idea if his actual father was there or if he was looking at a dragon induced illusion.
“I love you, son,” Sam said. He put his hands on Jacob shoulders.
Without releasing the boys, Jacob hugged his father tight. He felt more than saw Sarah rub her head against his leg.
“I can’t do it anymore,” Jacob said.
“I know,” Sam said. “Every man has a moment when he realizes he has to fight for what he believes in.”
“One tiny inch at a time, they’ve taken so much,” Jacob said. “Now we’re fighting with each other over stupid stuff because the bullies refuse to talk about real issues.”
Sam gave him a wry look. He looked around the grove.
“Maybe it’s time for the powerful few to stand up and say, ‘Enough,’” Sam said.
“But you said … You said never, ever …”
“I had no idea the world would become like this,” Sam said. “Girls assaulted by thugs their own age. Drugs, guns … hard work that means very little in the face of bullies disguised as businessmen … I don’t think anyone could have predicted this.”
Erik ran from across the grove. Sam turned toward the street.
“The police are almost here,” Sam said.
Jacob watched his father. The boy Wanda was with helped Wanda and Noelle up.
“How are you here?” Jacob asked. “Why can I hear you?”
“You needed me here. You willed it,” Sam smiled at him. “I’m having my afternoon nap with Delphie at home. After all, we have a long night ahead of us.”
Wanda, her friend, and Noelle jogged over to Jacob.
“Set them down on my count,” Sam turned to Bestat. “You need to change.”
“I can’t hold them without her!” Jacob said.
“You’ve never needed me,” the dragon said. “You only needed to decide you were in the game.”
The dragon faded. The woman appeared. There was not a hair out of place on her head and her linen suit looked freshly pressed. She gave Sam a bright smile. She kneeled down to pet Scooter.
“You’ve been in a fight,” Sam said.
“Good point,” Bestat said. Before their eyes, her hair was ruffled, her shirt torn and her face bloodied.
“Girls, you need to go back to where you were,” Sam said. “Son.”
Noelle and Wanda nodded. They ran back to where they were. The boy with Wanda jogged back to where he’d been standing.
“Erik,” Sam said.
The plumber nodded and followed the girls back to where he’d been.
“Now,” Sam said.
Jacob set the boys on the ground only seconds before the first police cruiser drove up onto the grass. An unmarked car approached from the other side. Sergeant Aziz ran in front of a swarm of police officers. He found his brother and hugged him tight. The boys scattered and the uniformed officers chased them down.
Jacob felt another fist against his face.
“Seriously?” he asked the boy in front of him.
He shot the boy across the grove in front of a uniformed officer. The officer slipped zip ties on his arms and legs and moved on. Jacob whistled for the dogs. They trotted over to him and he connected them to the leashes. He saw that Bestat had walked over to him. He gave her a sly smile. She flagged down a uniformed officer.
“Officer,” Bestat said. “I’m a diplomat from Egypt. I was here with my son’s girlfriend and we were attacked. We were separated and I haven’t been able to find her.”
“There are two girls over here,” the officer said.
Jacob followed Bestat to where Noelle and Wanda were being treated by paramedics. Wanda reached for Sergeant Aziz’s brother’s hand. He grabbed on. Bestat kneeled down to Noelle. Erik shook off a uniformed police officer and ran over.
“How are they?” Jacob asked the paramedics.
“Are you their father?” the paramedic asked.
“I’m Noelle’s uncle,” Jacob glanced at Noelle and she smiled. “Wanda’s father is …”
“Right here,” Erik said.
“They seem to be mostly bruised,” the paramedic said. “They both have defensive wounds. They said they were fighting this bunch. We won’t know if they broke anything until they get to the hospital. You have insurance? ‘Cuz these tests are pricey.”
“Of course,” Jacob said at the same moment as Erik said, “Uh …”
“We’ve got this covered,” Jacob put his hand on Erik’s shoulder.
The paramedic nodded and helped the girls onto stretchers. Bestat stepped into the ambulance with Noelle. The paramedics took off with a scream of sirens toward the hospital. Jacob looked back at the grove. The police were rounding up the boys. Sergeant Aziz walked over to him.
“Did any of you see a young man about his big, low slung jeans …?” Sergeant Aziz asked. “We’ve been told he’s the leader. No one remembers him leaving but we can’t find him.”
“Haven’t seen him,” Erik looked at Jacob. “You?’
Jacob shook his head.
“That’s a shame,” Sergeant Aziz said. “He’s wanted in two states. I guess he goes from school to school, gets the boys hooked on meth and violence, and then disappears to let them take the rap.”
Jacob turned his right hand over. The boy screamed on his way down the tree trunk. He landed on his rear at the bottom of the tree and began to wail. Jacob raised his eyebrows at Sergeant Aziz.
“Is that him?” Jacob asked.
Sergeant Aziz looked across the grove to the boy and then back at Jacob.
“Must have climbed the tree to watch,” Erik said. “Fell out.”
“Imagine that,” Sergeant Aziz said. “Just a second before we got here, I could have sworn I saw these boys floating above the ground.”
Sergeant Aziz looked at Erik and then Jacob.
“Nothing?” Sergeant Aziz asked.
“Where’s Detective Red Bear?” Jacob gave the Sergeant a bright smile.
“On leave,” Sergeant Aziz said. “But I would guess you knew that.”
Jacob nodded. They watched a uniformed officer arrest the boy that was with Wanda.
“My brother,” Sergeant Aziz said.
“Why are they arresting Frankie?” Erik asked.
“He’s been a part of this,” Sergeant Aziz cleared his throat and swallowed hard.
“I need to go to Wanda,” Erik said. “When we’re done, we should talk to the police because Frankie saved my Wanda today.”
“Frankie and Wade,” Sergeant Aziz said. “They were always so close.”
Erik nodded. He held his hand out to Jacob.
“Thanks,” Erik said. Jacob shook his hand and Erik walked to his truck.
“What was that?” Sergeant Aziz asked.
“He works for me,” Jacob said.
“Uh huh,” Sergeant Aziz said.
“I need to call Noelle’s father,” Jacob said. “Get the dogs home and …”
“You’re around?” Sergeant Aziz asked.
“You can reach me here,” Jacob gave him his card.
Sergeant Aziz nodded. Jacob turned back to look at the police officers and the boys. His mind replayed the whole odd event. He grinned and then remembered Sergeant Aziz. He gave the police officer a nod before jogging off with the dogs.
They made it back to the dog park before Jacob kneeled down to check the dogs. Somehow, the puppies had made it through everything without a scratch. Before walking to school to get Charlie, he called Aden, who was already on his way into town. Together, they ran back to the Castle to pick up his car. There was a note on the door from Jill saying they had gone to the hospital. Jack let the dogs into the Castle and took Charlie with him to the hospital. They found Delphie and Jill in the waiting area. Erik joined them a moment later. They settled in to wait.
Monday evening – 6:00 p.m.
Jacob stepped up to the podium in front of the Lipson employees. His face was a mess of bruises and his right hand was wrapped in gauze, but he was there. It took a minute, but the employees stopped talking.
“Thank you for taking your evening to be here,” Jacob said. “I’m sure you’ve heard that Aden’s daughter and her friend Wanda, Erik Le Monte’s daughter, were attacked this afternoon.”
He saw a group of employees whisper to each other near the back.
“Erik’s on our plumbing crew,” Jacob said. “If you’d like to call, feel free to do so. We’ll hold the vote until you get back.”
The men and women talked to each other and one of them got up.
“Wanda, Erik’s daughter, has some broken ribs and a broken leg,” Jacob said. “Noelle, Aden’s daughter, broke her hand on a boy’s thick head. Both girls have some internal damage and facial bruises. They’re staying at the hospital overnight, but the doctor’s expect them both to recover fully.”
“As you can see, I was there,” Jacob grinned.
The employees laughed.
“We have an entire presentation ready,” Jacob said. “But, I’m tired and bruised. I’d like to cut to the chase.”
Jacob looked out across the employees.
“We need to end Lipson Construction’s involvement in the project by the airport,” Jacob said.
There was a stunned silence.
“Blane and Tres will walk you through the reasons,” Jacob said. “They will also share with you the expected cost to the company for abandoning the contract. It’s going to cost us, but it’s the right thing to do.”
“For who?” a voice near the back yelled out. “You?”
A few employees chuckled.
“Please stand up,” Jacob said.
No one moved. The mood of the employees shifted. The people nearest to him whispered to each other.
“Yes, that’s what we’ve turned to,” Jacob said. “We fight with each other over nothing. How do the rest of you feel about the constant back biting, toxic cynicism disguised as intelligent comment, and arguing?”
Jacob shook his head.
“I’ve had enough,” Jacob said. “You want to grumble and gripe, find yourself another job. I’ve had enough of it. Site managers? Do you agree?”
“Fuck yeah!” Jerry said.
“Absolutely,” Rodney said.
“We’re with you, Jake,” Bambi stood up in the middle of the room. She turned around and pointed to a man. “You’re fired. I’ve heard you whine enough to recognize your voice anywhere. Get out of here.”
“You can’t do that to me!” the man said.
“Out,” Bambi said.
The few employees near the front began to clap. The man glared at Jacob and stomped out of the room. Jacob waited for a few minutes for everyone to settle down.
“We need to come together to work together,” Jacob said. “Or we will not survive. Period. If there’s anyone else who’d like to leave, I’d encourage you to do so now. Remember what we said at noon, leave and your employment is ended. And trust me, I’m dead serious about this. I’m sick of the cynics destroying any forward momentum. We’re destroy ourselves from the inside. I’m done tolerating it.”
About five people from around the room got up and left.
“And the rest of you,” Jacob looked out at the employees. “Are you ready to get to work?”
“Let’s get it done, Jake,” Jerry yelled out.
The employees cheered.
“Let’s get to work,” Jacob said.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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