X-Men fan fiction
Chapter 1: Mayday
Chapter 2: Sunset Home
Chapter 3: Sunset Home, part II: Exam
Chapter4: Sleeping Rough
Chapter 5: The Bogarts
Chapter6: The Bogarts, part II: Glasses
Chapter 7: Xavier
Chapter 8: New Students
Chapter 9: Eve of Grey
Chapter 10: Grey Christmas
Chapter 11: Dilemma
Chapter 12: Confrontation
Chapter 13: Jack O'Diamonds
Chapter 14: Escape
Omaha, Nebraska. 4 Years Later
It was a brutal night out. A cold front was driving in, pushing unrelenting winds and dumping heavy snowfall across the Missouri River’s already icy banks. A couple of blocks off the waterfront, inside one of the dingy establishments which offered its customers the opportunity to forget that their fortunes were as bleak as the weather, the clock on the wall struck one o’clock, prompting the bartender to shout, “last call.” His announcement was met with much grumbling and groaning from patrons who didn’t want to brave the reality of their lives any more than the bitter cold outside. Neither tonight’s weather nor this establishment was the sort of thing the city of Omaha wanted printed up in its tour guides.
The bartender ignored their protests for the most part, pouring last refills and settling up tabs, dreading the lockup that would send him, too, out into the brutal weather. He glanced up when the door opened, and was surprised to see someone walking in instead of out. He saw all types come in and out of this place, but this one got his attention as unusual. The man wore a dark suit under a matching navy overcoat. A red handkerchief was tucked into his breast pocket, and red diamond-shaped cuff links adorned his sleeves. His hair was blue-black, and even in the bar’s dim lighting you could tell that his skin was unnaturally pale. Maybe that was why he wore the wide brim hat (also navy blue, with a red strip that wrapped around at the base) pulled down nearly to his eyes.
He walked up to the bar and stood beside one of the regulars.
“Evening, Mr. Winters.”
Winters hardly batted an eye for the new arrival, but then he had been warming that seat for several hours already.
“Bock. Haven’t seen you in a while.” He threw back his glass and tapped a finger on the bar as invitation for the bartender to refill it. “One for my friend too, he’s buying.”
The man who called himself Arnold Bocklin sat down at the bar next to Winters.
“I have a new project for you, Jack.”
Jack clinked his newly refilled glass against the glass his companion had yet to pick up. “Don’t tell me you want me to bring back another of those freak shows that’s escaped from your Home.”
“Quite the opposite. This one is a little bird I pushed from the nest.”
“And I suppose you expect me to teach it to fly.”
“Show him the ropes, and you’ll be well-compensated.”
“Along with a little something extra for supporting him,” Jack insisted.
“He’ll be expected fend for himself.”
“That kind of education. I see.”
“The ones that can’t fly have to fall.”
“And exactly how hard do you want this little bird to hit the ground?”
“Hard enough to make him want to use those wings of his. He is of no more use to me otherwise.”
“Understood.” Winters threw back his head and drained his glass once more.
Bocklin pulled a thick stack of bills from his jacket pocket, peeled off a couple to place on the bar, and slid the rest in front of Winters. Then he stood.
“You’ll find him at a pub down the street, hustling pool.”
“Consider it done.”
Bock had already walked away before Winters could throw back his abandoned drink.
Down the street at Jimmy Mars’ Pool & Pub it was also closing time. A thirteen-year-old kid, about as tall and skinny as the pool cue that he was leaning against with both hands, was watching his opponent line up a shot. A loud groan exploded around the table when the shot bounced off the side pocket a second later. Scott shook his head in mock sympathy.
“That’s too bad, but that means if I can put the eight ball in the corner pocket, I win.”
There was a light smattering of laughter while the kid played at lining up a shot much harder than his simplistic description made it sound. Across the room, even the bartender stopped what he was doing to watch. And he shook his head in amazed appreciation when another chorus of groans, along with some audible curses, told him that the kid had done it again.
A few minutes later Scott Summers sat down and pushed a stack of newly collected bills across the surface of the bar. The bartender picked them up.
“I’m impressed,” he admitted as he opened the register and added the money to the night’s proceeds. Then he went back to polishing the already clean bar.
“But–” Scott finally prompted.
“Sorry, kid, but you can’t stay here tonight.”
“Wait a minute. That’s the deal, Tony. I give you the house cut of my take, plus an extra forty, and you give me that cramped closet of a loft room over the bar for the night.”
“Consider it an advance payment for tomorrow night, then, but tonight the room’s already rented.”
Scott smiled in pure exasperation. “You gotta be kidding me. It’s quarter past one, we’re in the middle of the worst squall of the winter so far, and I just handed you two-thirds of my take for the night. I can’t just find another place to crash.”
Tony lifted his eyebrows with an unsympathetic shrug. “I don’t know what to tell ya, kid. It’s nothing personal; highest bidder wins. If you can offer me more, I’ll punt him out and you get the room.”
“Highest bidder,” Scott repeated dryly. It was a challenge then. He made his way back across the room to where the group of college guys he had just been playing were finishing their beers. “Hey, listen, I feel bad – that last shot really was a fluke shot. Let me make it right. Double or nothing.”
Scott proceeded to spectactularly hustle the suckers, four rounds in row, each time double or nothing, each time convincing them that they were going to win it all back in the next round. It was like gambling, after all, the house’s luck had to run out eventually.... If he had been operating under normal circumstances he wouldn’t have pushed them so hard, and he wouldn’t have missed the warning signs that this was no longer a friendly game for them. But at the moment Scott’s only concern was draining as much cash as possible out of this situation. He wasn’t going to let Tony back out on his word, no matter how much Scott had to bribe him into keeping it.
After he won the fifth round the guys were all cleaned out and said they had to go to their car to get the rest of the cash they owed him. Scott cursed under his breath. Leaving the pub with them was a bad idea, but if he let them walk out of here alone he knew he was getting stiffed. Sure enough, as soon as they stepped outside two of the guys turned back to face him and smiled maliciously. Scott had a couple of seconds to curse his own stupidity before they proceeded to beat the tar out of him, stripped him down to take the rest of the cash he had on him, then threw him into the alley.
Scott laughed at himself, lying face down in the snow, which actually wasn’t so bad at the moment. He knew that as soon as he moved he was going to hurt all over.
“First lesson of a good con, kid: let your mark win enough to sucker ‘em in and lose close enough to keep ‘em hooked – as opposed to giving you the left and right hook.”
Scott lifted his head to see a middle-aged man sporting an unruly tuft of scraggly gray hair. He was leaning against the wall of the alley, hunched down against the cold, watching Scott.
“Name’s Jack Winters. They call me Jack O' All Trades.”
“You always stand around watch’n people get busted up just so you can offer pithy advice?”
He grinned. “I like ya, kid. You got nerve. Just so happens I’m looking to take on a partner, if he can earn his keep.”
“I get by on my own,” Scott said, pulling himself up and dusting off the snow before he retrieved his jacket from the other side of the alley.
“Do you? Funny, ’cause to me, you look beat up, broke, and hungry.” Winters reached into his jacket pocket and tossed a Snickers bar over to Scott. “I can change that.”
“And what do you expect me to do?” Scott asked, unimpressed by the peace offering.
“Just learn from the master, kid. What I say, you do.”
Scott tossed the candy back. “I don’t think so.”
“Look, I’m not out to take advantage of ya, kid. This is business.” He pointed at himself. “This mug stopped earning me sympathy a long time ago, but you got tons of potential. So here’s the deal. I give you a place to stay tonight, tomorrow we work the circuit and see what you can do... unless, of course, you’d rather freeze to death out here. If that’s the case, fine. I don’t have much patience for someone won’t help himself, so that’ll be my last offer.”
The old man was manipulating him, baiting Scott into agreeing to his offer. Scott knew this. He also knew that what Winters was proposing crossed the thin line Scott had drawn in his own head between skillfully parting people from their money and deliberately stealing it from them. He didn’t like the thought of crossing that line, but he was considering it anyway.
Winters was right. Scott was hungry, he was out in the cold, and now he was broke (in addition to being beaten up). Any of those factors Scott could normally deal with; it came with the territory. But he was tired of it. He was sick to death of barely surviving, of never knowing where his next meal was coming from or when he’d find himself out on the streets again. Winters didn’t care anything about him, but he didn’t have to. If Scott proved valuable to him, chances were he wouldn’t let Scott starve or freeze.
Scott nodded. Winters tossed the candy bar back at him. This time Scott took it.
“This is it,” Jack Winters announced. Scott walked inside. They were standing in a vacant basement level apartment, sparsely littered with dilapidated pieces of old furniture. “One bed, one bath. The couch is all yours. Frozen pipes means no running water, but the boiler room next door offers a free heater. Scott pulled off his snow-wet jacket as he looked around.
Winters laughed, pausing only to shake his head when Scott looked back at him.
“You got the build of a beanpole, Slim.”
“All right,” Jack nodded. “Scott. Got history I should know about?”
“No criminal record, if that’s what you mean.”
Jack grinned. Sharp. He actually did like this kid. “Got family gonna come lookin’ for you?”
Scott stared at him for a couple of seconds. “If I did, they should have found me by now.”
“Good. Hangers on, weigh you down. Far as I’m concerned, family’s nothing but a collection of busybodies try’n to run your life. I don’t want to be your Pop and I don’t want to be your friend. Earn your keep, don’t hold out on old Jack, and you and I’ll get along. A selfish partner’s worse than no partner at all,” he mumbled resentfully.
“Good, we’re agreed. What do you do days?”
“I go to school.
Scott was clearly surprised to meet with approval there.
“I don’t want the state folks breathing down on me; almost as bad as having the law after ya. Plus that’s one square meal that don’t have to come out of my take. You actually learning something there or just taking up space?”
“I get good grades,” Scott admitted warily.
Jack nodded. “I like it; that means you’re not stupid. Stupid people do stupid things and get themselves caught. Get their poor unsuspecting partners thrown in jail.”
Scott watched him for a couple minutes longer, but Jack seemed to have run out of pithy things to say for the time being.
“Well,” he stretched his arms over his head before stifling a yawn, “now we’ve gotten to know each other, I’m turnin’ in for the night. Don’t go waking me when you get up tomorrow,” he called before the door closed behind him.
“What a night,” Scott murmured under his breath, and he scowled as he touched a finger to his eyebrow. The spot was still tender, but he was lucky it was nothing more than some aches and bruises. Scott turned out the lights, lay down on the couch, and pulled his jacket over himself for a blanket. He was lucky he wasn’t spending the night out in the cold.
He had made a lot of stupid mistakes tonight. That should have cost him a beating, and he was lucky those mistakes hadn’t cost him any worse than they did. He could have gotten the money he needed if he had just kept a cool head. Instead he was being flashy, trying to prove a point, and he ended up paying for it.... But it was more than just being cocky. Sure, he had wanted to prove himself, but he had also panicked and started acting out of fear. He knew better than that. Panic made you reckless, and fear was deadly. Neither of those things were compatible with survival.
Scott had spent the past year living on the streets, getting by any way he could, but primarily supporting himself as a pool shark. It was a talent he had first discovered at the Home. The older boys used to bet he couldn’t make shots they’d set up in the pool hall at the Y after school, but Scott always made them, no matter how impossible. More often than not, he had to rein in his talent in order to avoid accusations of cheating. He had actually gotten much better at that, but times like tonight (when he was hungry and desperate) it all seemed to backfire on him... and instead of earning enough money to support himself he was getting beaten up and robbed.
Sometimes he could get himself into a more stable living situation, usually a running board, if he could offer the house a large enough cut of his take (which was exactly the arrangement he’d had going with Tony at the Jimmy Mars). That generally worked to keep a roof over his head in bad weather, but he shouldn’t have been surprised when Tony had backed out on their agreement. Hard experience had taught Scott that people did what was best for them. He had learned that lesson well, at the age of twelve, when Chief Administrator Pearson had told him that the orphanage would no longer support him.
“What?” Scott remembered his shock and confusion. “First you tell me I can’t leave, now you’re kicking me out? I thought there was some kind of an agreement.”
“The terms of which have now changed.”
Scott shivered under his jacket, staring at the ceiling. That experience had been a cruel reminder of just how quickly life could change, how everything could be taken away in an instant, for no reason.
He had never wanted to be in that Home, never felt welcome or cared for in that place, but it was the only place he could ever remember living. He knew it hadn’t always been that way... but that knowledge was owed more to instinct than to fact.
Scott remembered very little before waking up from the coma, except for the crash. Unfortunately, that, he remembered. From time to time he still had nightmares: usually it was the absolute terror of falling from the plane... followed by the utter despair of waking from the coma. But there was no rhyme or reason to the rest of his memories, just random bits and pieces that occasionally floated to the surface of his thoughts.
He remembered stories his father used to tell him, the sound of his mother’s voice as she tucked him in at night, Alex’s laughter when Scott tickled him. Scott treasured those glimpses into his other life, but that was all they were. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t bring to mind the things he most wanted to remember... and Scott had spent hours trying. There had been many long nights, lying awake in the dark. With nothing concrete to hang on to, Scott had poured all of his energy into trying to remember better times.
Lying in the dark in strange surroundings wasn’t so conducive for sleep, but for some reason his mind kept wandering over unpleasant memories.... Scott had never liked the Home, he’d certainly never wanted to be there, but he had at least thought they were somehow obligated to him, to his basic welfare. He remembered the intense fear and loneliness that had gripped him, faced with the reality of leaving the Home.
“Where am I supposed to go?” he had stammered in disbelief. As many times as he had wanted to run away – planned it, daydreamed about it – the same thing in reality was terrifying.
“I don’t know, but you can’t stay here any longer,” had been Pearson’s blunt reply.
Scott had felt wounded and betrayed by the sudden understanding that the orphanage supported him only because they were being paid to do so. What little continuity and security the Home had provided for him was gone in an instant. Not that he missed the Home. Given the choice, he would have left on his own years earlier... but that was a very different thing from being thrown out like a sack of garbage. Nevertheless, Scott was proud that he had walked away with his head held up.
Having everything he’d ever known taken away from him for a second time in his life was an experience that had left Scott cynical, untrusting, and lacking in confidence, to say the least. The streets had added toughness and defensiveness into the mix, intensifying his natural reserve and his hunger for independence. He was determined to make it on his own... and yet here he was, accepting a handout from a stranger, crossing lines he didn’t want to cross, and for what?
He missed having someone other than himself to care about. He knew it was a foolish weakness, but deep down he also wanted someone to take care of him for change, or at least to care something about him.... Scott shook his head and rolled over restlessly, ignoring the protest of bruised muscles in his side and back, to try to sleep. But his thoughts wouldn’t be quiet.
Even if it was purely selfish, and his worth to Jack Winters would only be measured in terms of his usefulness, the take Scott could bring in... well, that was something. And if that was all he could get, Scott would take it. Scott had gotten used to the Home. He could get used to this too.
Life there had been an empty and sterile existence for Scott in the four years after waking from the coma. The combination of Scott’s reclusiveness and Pearson’s protectiveness over his charge kept most of the staff at a distance. Many of them were sympathetic toward him, but Scott resented the pity he overheard often enough in their conversations: how it was unfortunate that other children came and went from the orphanage while Scott remained, unwanted, damaged. He knew it was partly true.
Scott Summers had grown into a strong, steady, and compassionate young man despite the extreme shortcomings in his circumstances. But Scott had never fully recovered his health after the coma. Headaches plagued him frequently, and he had an unhealthy, tired look about him most of the time. The orphanage had provided for Scott and the other children, but it had never cared for them. That lack of human care and understanding had also left a mark on Scott; deep down, he knew that it had.
The deeper truth was that Scott was broken in ways he didn’t understand. From the moment he had woken from the coma he hadn’t believed he deserved to be alive. Through lonely and painful years at the Home, he had stopped believing anyone would care about him simply for the person that he was. The streets offered a bleak future for an otherwise promising young man, but it was his and he would fight to hang on to it.
Life hadn’t handed Scott any easy or pleasant choices. Now he had backed himself into this dark corner where his only option was to do whatever it took for him to survive. He didn’t allow himself to think much beyond that reality.
2 Years Later
Scott Summers was standing in the shadows of a narrow alleyway, staring out into the bright late-May afternoon, patiently studying the flow of pedestrian traffic along the waterfront. He turned back several times and met Jack’s gaze at the opposite end of the alley only to shake his head, allowing several successive passerby to continue on their ways before fixing his attention on the next potential mark. This routine continued for several minutes before the young man finally saw what he was looking for. Then he quickly looked back in Jack’s direction, waving him off. Jack nodded and fell back into the shadows at the other end of the alley while Scott moved himself into position.
A couple of seconds later Scott had squatted down, keeping his back against the wall as he slid on a pair of dark glasses. He held perfectly still until his mark came into position, then he stifled a heavy sigh and slid down the wall to sit leaning with his chest hunched over his knees. The older woman stopped when Scott’s movement drew her attention.
“Are you all right?”
Scott, startled, looked blindly toward the sound of her voice.
“Yeah. It’s just a little hot out there, so I stopped to rest in the shade.”
“You poor thing. Here,” she dug into her handbag, which was roughly the size of a small suitcase, “I’ve got some water. Here you go.”
Scott focused in on her voice and reached his hand toward her until she guided the water into his waiting grip.
“That’s better. Thank you,” he added after he had taken a couple of sips.
Before she had time to ask him any questions, Jack made his appearance playing the worried father. Within a couple of minutes he had dropped enough subtle hints for their unsuspecting mark to gather that Pop was down on his luck, leaving him and his poor blind son with nowhere go and very little in the way of resources. Scott thought he almost overdid it when Jack got teary-eyed over the fact that he’d already given Scott the last of their food, but the poor old lady bought it, lock, stock, and barrel, and felt compelled to hand over all the cash she had on her in hopes it might help them out.
She was the third taker in the past hour and a half, but she’d given the most, Jack concluded as he counted their take.
“Not bad for the afternoon,” he decided.
Not to say that business was booming by any means. It was always a narrow margin between having enough and going hungry, but they’d certainly seen leaner times and resorted to more desperate measures than this. All in all it was a comfortable enough existence, as long as Scott didn’t have to think too hard about it.
“Enough of these nickle and dimers though. The dinner and theater crowd’ll start up soon. We’ll find some good marks there.”
Scott nodded absently.
“And loose those glasses already. They’re ridiculous enough during the day.”
Jack didn’t think much of Scott’s hiding his face, which Jack considered a key asset. He also argued that it hindered Scott’s ability to read people and to gain the trust of their marks, reel in the con. There was some truth to those arguments, but it had become increasingly easy for Scott to hide behind heavy shades given the ever-increasing severity of his headaches. He had become accustomed to a semi-constant dull, aching pain, but lately that annoyance was transformed into a volley of vicious, stabbing assaults by exposure to light.
Scott pushed himself up and got to his feet. The glasses slid down his nose in the process, and he quickly shoved them back into place.
Jack noticed. “What is it with you and light?”
“Maybe I’m becoming a vampire,” Scott replied.
“Don’t get smart with me, Slim,” Winters growled.
Scott knew that tone well enough to stay out of arm’s length or risk a cuff to back of the head. Winters wasn’t above taking out his frustrations, big or small, on Scott, especially when he was drinking, or losing at the track, or their take was running thin. All three held true at the moment, but at least they stood to make a little progress tonight... assuming Jack didn’t lose badly at the track tomorrow then go on a bender make up for it.
Scott kept his glasses in place and maintained a careful distance from his mentor as the two of them walked through a series of back alleys that would bring them near the upscale theater district, now armed with programs they could pretend to sell as an excuse to approach their marks. Scott had become a good judge of character and body language over the past two years, and Jack had quickly seen that Scott’s read on people tended to be accurate, so Scott often did the recon work for them. Scott also knew that if he gave Jack a throwaway look he’d usually back off of a mark. Scott took advantage from time to time to let some poor sucker off the hook when he could tell that person didn’t have money to lose, but he also reeled in enough to keep Jack in business, and he kept a low enough profile for them to stay out of the reach of the cops. Jack, however, was far more accomplished as a pickpocket. So Scott’s primary role for tonight would be running interference, keeping the marks distracted long enough for Jack to pick them clean.
Everything went according to plan for the better part of the night. Scott’s only worry was that Jack was starting to celebrate a bit early. He was already leaning hard on that flask in his jacket pocket, and getting sloppy as a result.
“One more. I got this one,” he insisted when Scott suggested they call it quits for the night.
Scott sighed heavily. Sloppy and greedy. It was a bad combination.
“Hey.” Jack grabbed hold of his shoulder to make sure he had Scott’s undivided attention. “You just do your part, Slim.”
Scott nodded, even though it went against his better instincts, and Jack turned him loose with a shove.
A couple of minutes later he was setting up the next mark, a well-dressed man out with his wife for the evening, and Scott was pressing the guy hard, turning on every bit of charm and persuasion he had to convince this guy that he really needed one of these ridiculous programs for his wife to remember this special evening by.... In the meantime Jack made like he was pressing the next theater patron, but he was really angling around behind Scott’s couple.
The couple seemed more amused than anything else by Scott’s hard sell, which was actually perfect. He just needed to keep their attention for a few minutes longer. The husband wasn’t budging; he was giving Jack all the opportunity he needed, but Jack was taking too long. Then there was the danger of actually getting what you wanted.... Scott saw it coming like a train wreck. The wife reached for her purse just as Jack managed to lift the husband’s wallet.
They were busted.
The wife gasped when she saw Jack, caught in the act. The husband wheeled around. Jack cursed and dropped the wallet.
“Hold it!” the mark yelled. Jack was already retreating.
Then another voice called, “You all right, Rich?”
“This guy tried to steal my wallet.”
The second man immediately came running in their direction. Great, Scott thought bitterly. Obviously a plainclothes cop, and on a first name basis with their mark. Jack drew the same conclusion and took off running in the opposite direction.
“You stay put.”
Scott hadn’t gotten more than a step after Jack before the mark had a hold of Scott’s arm.
The plainclothes cop called for backup and two uniforms took off after him down the alley in pursuit of Jack. Scott reluctantly stayed where he was, staring down at the ground, waiting for the cops to come back and run him in. A couple of minutes later one of the uniformed cops returned and approached Scott, looking like a cat that had caught itself a mouse.
“We just caught your buddy with a jacket full of other people’s wallets. What say you come talk to us about that?”
Scott stared down at the ground under his feet.
“If you don’t tell us about him, he’s sure gonna tell us about you,” the cop warned.
Scott continued to stare at the ground, stubbornly silent.
“Come on, kid. Help us out here, it’ll go easier for you.” Scott kept his silence, and the cop shook his head in exasperation. “Tough guy, huh? Fine. We’ll do it your way, see how long it takes for you to change your mind. Start by letting you sit in detox for the night.” Scott shook his head and laughed under his breath. “Next we can see what kind of record you got: drugs, petty crime, truancy.”
He put a hand on Scott’s shoulder to turn him around, his other hand readying a pair of cuffs. Then he paused in the motion to answer the police radio at his belt.
“It’s okay,” Scott’s former mark offered. “He’s not going anywhere.”
The cop retreated a few steps to speak into his radio while Scott looked up at the man he and Jack had just attempted to rob, scowling impatiently.
“C’mon. What is this, a citizen’s arrest?”
“Why don’t you take off those glasses, kid?”
“Light hurts my head,” Scott replied stubbornly.
A second later the mark had pushed them back over his forehead.
Scott winced and jerked his head back when the dim light from a nearby street lamp pierced through him like a knife, but he met the man’s shocked gaze with red-rimed and watering eyes.
“What exactly are you doing for that headache, son,” he asked warily.
Scott pulled the glasses back down over his smarting eyes with his free hand, then looked down again. “Nothin.”
“Yeah, right,” the mark mumbled in disbelief.
Scott knew it shouldn’t matter, but he was already busted, he was feeling defiant, his head hurt twice as much now as it had before, and he didn’t like being called a liar.”
“Nothin,” he repeated. “I don’t do drugs or touch booze.”
The mark pursed his lips. “Well, you look like you’ve been on a four-day mind bender.”
Scott laughed in spite of himself. “Couldn’t be further from the truth. Stone cold sober,” he murmured, raising his free arm to one side in a gesture of innocence.
And he did so without any hint of a loss of balance. The mark continued to study the boy curiously. He had done some volunteer work for local drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs, and he couldn’t deny that, physically, the boy looked like he was in way over his head, using something. But his attitude and body language told a different story. He was sharp and alert, defensive and wary... stoic and pugnacious one minute, short-tempered and defiant the next.
He wasn’t what he seemed. This kid was inexplicably out of sorts. His clothes were clean but well-worn, nearly to the point of falling apart. He was tall, or at least he would have been tall if not for the way he was purposefully slouching, and he was painfully thin. His brown hair looked a bit scruffy, in need of a hair cut, but was neatly combed flat. And when he had been working his marks earlier, he had been charm and skill personified, even with his eyes hidden behind those heavy shades.
Scott’s mark couldn’t shake the feeling that his would-be thief wasn’t what he seemed at first glance, and he especially couldn’t shake the way the kid had reacted to the momentary loss of those glasses.
Scott watched three more cops return to the scene. Apparently they had chased Jack down and loaded him into a waiting squad car. Now they were conferring with one another, except for the plainclothes cop, who came over to talk to his friend.
“Nice collar, Rich.” We’ve been trying to get something on that one for months. Jack Winters. He’s a real slick con artist, his little accomplice too,” he added, motioning to Scott.
Scott looked up, surprised, when the mark released his arm.
“Thanks, but I can’t take all the credit. The kid here actually tipped me off. He’s the one who broke up Winters’ attempt to rob us.”
“Did he now?”
Scott looked down again. That tone indicated that the cop knew better. But for some reason his mark had decided to protect him; the last thing Scott wanted to do was look surprised.
“Now that’s interesting. Here, I wouldn’t believe a word he says,” the plainclothes cop stated pointedly. He clearly suspected that the mark and his wife were protecting Scott, and being duped into doing so. But the mark stuck to his story throughout the cops’ questioning. Scott held his silence, and the cops left after giving him a warning that the next time they busted him he wouldn’t get off so easy.
“Why’d you lie for me?” Scott asked.
“I don’t think you’re so proud of what you’re doing here. Just trying to survive, the best you can. My opinion, shoving you in a holding cell or locking you up in some juvenile hall doesn’t help that. And neither does your mentor, who – by the way – seems plenty well-fed, while from the look of it you’re half-starved and in a lot of pain. That doesn’t sit well with me.”
Scott stood silently, unwilling to admit the truth or accuse Winters. Honestly, Winters’ treatment, sorry as it was, was pretty much on par with what Scott had become accustomed to at the Home: enough to keep him alive and no concern for him otherwise. He was little more than a meal ticket either way; this way at least he earned his own keep.
“I want to try to help you. I’m a doctor. That’s what I do.” The boy still looked wary of him, more wary, if that was even possible. “Come on,” he motioned down the street. “You can think about it over some dinner.”
The mark held his arm out for his wife, and the two of them took a few steps away from Scott. Scott strongly considered running.
“Come on,” he insisted again. “The cops are gone. There’s no use turning down a free meal.”
Neither Scott nor his empty stomach could argue with that logic.
Scott followed along in the wake of his former marks. It was a warm spring night and they walked leisurely through the old market, leaving the back streets and alleys lined with seedy pubs, cheap hotels, and pawn shops behind for the respectable shops and restaurants within view of the Missouri river. Soon the three of them were seated in a comfortable little all-night diner, one of those places that was littered with various memorabilia from past decades.
The mark introduced himself and his wife as Richard and Trisha Bogart, and for the most part they made idle conversation while the three of them were waiting for their orders. Scott gave them his name but didn’t volunteer anything beyond what he was asked, and he took to looking out at the lights and the paddleboats on the river. It was a pleasant enough night. After he left here he could find a place along the shore to sleep. He liked to lie out near the shore and listen to the sound of the river, daydream about floating away to freedom somewhere downstream, like Huck Finn fleeing the restrictive trappings of “sivilization” and ill-use.
Finally an agreeable silence fell over the table just as the food arrived. Scott ate ravenously until he realized that both of his dinner companions were staring at him. Suddenly self-conscious, he sat back in his seat, wiped his mouth with a napkin, and swallowed before he resumed devouring his hamburger. He supposed his table manners could use some work, but even after he thought he had corrected that problem they were still staring.
“Listen, I can pay you back,” he offered, “for the meal. I don’t like accepting something for nothing.”
“Not necessary,” Richard reassured him cheerfully. “Just eat as much as you want.”
“Our sons are all grown,” Trisha explained, smiling at him. “We’ve forgotten how teenage boys eat.”
“How old are you anyway?”
“Fifteen,” Scott answered before shoveling in another mouthful of french fries.
“How’d you end up in this line of work?”
Scott shrugged and took a gulp of soda pop. “Got no family. Didn’t much like the orphanage. Jack took me under his wing and I owe him for that. Probably would have starved a long time ago, or gotten a knife in the back without him around to watch it.” He didn’t like the look of pity that was registering on their faces. “So what happens next?” Scott questioned. “You said you were some kind of doctor. You have an office you want me to come to?”
“Well, I can look you over, but I’m just a family physician. I think you should start by seeing an optometrist. I assume you haven’t had your eyes checked recently.”
Scott shook his head.
“I can set something up with a colleague of mine. Why don’t you stay with us until then?”
Scott stared at him for a couple of seconds. He looked serious, and Scott wasn’t getting any indication that something was off with his motives, which left only one conclusion.
“Why?” Scott asked, genuinely confused by what appeared to be unfounded generosity.
“We’ve got the room. You seem to need it,” Richard concluded simply.
“It’s never that simple,” Scott protested suspiciously.
“There’s an exception to every rule,” Richard countered. “This time it is that simple. You’ll stay with us for a couple of days, we’ll feed you and give you a place to sleep while we get to the bottom of what’s causing these headaches of yours. After that, things can be complicated again.”
Scott nodded warily. “But only for a couple of days. Headaches or not, I can take care of myself.”
The three of them finished their dinners in relative silence, and as they left the diner Scott cautiously removed his dark glasses and stowed them in his shirt pocket. Richard watched attentively while Scott rubbed his hands over his face; his eyes were obviously still irritated, but he wasn’t wincing at the light like he had before.
“Are your headaches usually better after you eat?”
“Not always,” Scott answered thoughtfully. His eyes felt itchy and dry against the cool night air but were no longer painfully sensitive to light. “The light just doesn’t seem to bother my head so much when it’s late at night.”
“Strange,” Richard conceded. “If the headaches were being triggered by eyestrain, I’d expect it to be worse in dim lighting.”
“Maybe it’s more like a migraine,” Trisha offered. “Are you sensitive to sound?”
Scott shook his head. “I don’t think so, just light.”
“What about environmental triggers? Any allergies that you know of?” Richard asked next.
Scott shook his head again. They continued peppering him with various questions of this sort until they had arrived back at the Bogarts’ house. Oddly enough, Scott found he didn’t mind serving as the evening’s entertainment. Underneath their curiosity for him as a medical mystery was a plain and simple concern for his well-being, something that Scott rarely remembered experiencing. He didn’t quite get why they would care... but it was kind of nice that they did.
So Let it Be Written Publishing © 2004