"She won't come over."
"How do you know unless we ask her?"
"I know my Mom, she won't go behind Dad's back."
"It's the best I can come up with, Tony. Please, at least give it a try."
Tony sat in the armchair in silence. The weather was distinctly chilly and he had dressed in his own clothes and an old sweater I had looked out for him. I had just put to him the idea that had come to me the previous evening and he wasn't sure that it would work. I could see his face, working things out in his mind. I knew he desperately wanted to see his Mom, but was afraid that the attempt to get the two of them alone would backfire.
"Listen, why don't you give it more thought? I need to go out today, get a few groceries and run a few errands, that sort of thing. You can stay here; I'll be a couple of hours and we can talk some more when I get back."
Tony nodded. I left him to it, giving him a spare key to the house, just in case he wanted to go out, too.
As I drove the car across the bridge into San Francisco, my mind raced with the idea of getting Tony and his mother back together, but there was something else I wanted to do first.
I was heading to Ocean Beach. I wanted to see for myself where Tony had spent most of his adventure, try to imagine how it must have been. So far, it was just a story and I needed to see the location.
The rain eased as I drove, which was a blessing. After all the good weather we'd been having recently it would have to rain today, of all days. I'd been to Cliff House once before for a meal and overlooked the ocean and the beach, but I'd never been on it - it had always been too cold for my liking. I guess it was going to be cold again today, but I had made sure I was prepared by placing a warm coat in the trunk of my car.
I reached Cliff House and parked the car. It was chilly, but at least the rain had stopped. I took the coat from the trunk, put it on, instantly felt much warmer and headed off to the beach. The walk was not unpleasant and I soon found myself in the general vicinity of Tony's adventure.
There wasn't many people on the beach, which was hardly a surprise and those that were there may even have been homeless themselves. I wandered down to the beach and strolled along it as casually as I could. It was at times like this I wish I had a dog, at least walking a dog I wouldn't be alone.
I could see the arches that Tony had spoken of, lying under the Great Highway leading to Cliff House. I couldn't see whether or not they were occupied, but took a casual stroll to take a closer look.
Personally, I couldn't see the attraction, but as Tony had said, "not exactly the Hilton, but it was dry." I don't think I could have gotten used to the roar of the traffic thundering overhead, which I heard as I climbed the rocks and into the arches themselves.
There were about three people gathered around a small fire when I got up there and they looked at me with some suspicion. I suddenly felt very nervous, but I was used to dealing with kids at school and none of them looked older than that - around Tony's age - what was society coming too?
I didn't approach, but stayed where I was watching and being watched.
"Looking for a place to stay, Mister?" said a voice from the trio. "Only, you don't look as though you need one."
I guess I didn't.
"No, I'm not," I said and then, for some reason, I added. "Actually, I'm looking for someone, but I don't see him here."
"Who's that then, your son? We're all someone's sons."
"No, not my son, just a friend of a good friend of mine."
"This person you looking for got a name?"
I hesitated in my reply, my eyes adjusting to the gloom of the arches, being able to see, not that well, but well enough, the three boys who stood around the fire.
"Dave," I answered.
"Either of you two called Dave?" asked the boy who, up to this point, had done all the talking.
Both boys shook their heads.
"Looks like you're outta luck, Mister."
"You're welcome. Hey, I don't suppose you could spare a couple of dollars, we ain't eaten in a while."
I thought of Tony - that grubby, dirty boy who had turned up on my doorstep that I hadn't recognized and put my hand into my pocket. I moved forward towards the fire and the boys backed away slightly.
"It's not much, but will this help?" I asked, holding out a five-dollar bill. The boy who had done all the talking moved forward to take it and I noticed he was wearing shorts and a dirty white t-shirt, not exactly dressed for today's weather. I could also see his face - dirty, like Tony's had been, short, cropped hair and his eyes, blue, I think, lit up.
"Gee, Mister, thanks."
"You're welcome. What about you two?" I asked, holding out two more five-dollar bills. Both boys moved forward. Young boys on the streets - it should not be allowed.
The first of the two, long dark hair, dark eyes, wearing a baseball cap, a woolen sweater and jeans, accepted the bill gratefully. The third was a little more hesitant.
"You don't want this?" I asked.
He moved forward to take it - torn jeans, black t-shirt and a black jacket, short hair, possibly brown, and a scar on his cheek, probably been in a fight.
"Thanks," he said and backed away again.
I backed away from them and turned to leave the arches, finding myself once more on the beach. Homeless kids, that's all they were - kids. It should not be allowed.
As I walked back along the beach, I wondered just how many more of them there were, people like Tony - I walked back to the car and realized that I had tears falling down my cheeks. I had to help Tony, to reunite him with his family. If worse came to worse, I would drag his parents to this site to see for themselves what they were subjecting their son to.
As I neared the car a voice called out behind me.
I turned. It was one of the boys from the arches - the one with the scar.
"If it's more money you want, I'm sorry, but I don't have that much on me."
He shook his head as he looked at me.
"No, I don't want your money. I just wondered, though..." he stopped talking.
"I just wondered. I mean. I just wondered - this Dave kid, you want to see him bad?"
The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end as a chill ran down my spine. Whether it was because of his words, or the cold air, I don't know, but I looked at the boy standing some way from me.
"Yes, why? Do you know him?"
"Not sure, but I meet a lot of kids round here - some come back more than others, I just thought, if you wanted me to, I could ask around, see if I could find him for you."
"What do you reckon your chances are?" I asked.
"Hard to tell. May find him, may not - who knows?"
I looked at the boy and he looked back at me, a little uncomfortable, he looked away.
"Forget it - it was just an idea," he said, turning to walk away.
"It's a good one," I said, stopping him in his tracks.
The boy turned back to face me.
"How do I get in touch if I find him?"
I unlocked the car and scrabbled around in the glove compartment for a scrap of paper - I found an old envelope and tore a strip from that and reaching inside my coat I took my pen and wrote my name and telephone number on the paper.
"Here, take this," I said, holding out the paper.
The boy moved closer and reached out, taking the paper he looked at it before placing it in his pocket.
"It might not come to anything," he said.
"It's a risk I've got to take, but tell me, why are you doing this?"
"I'm on the streets because I don't have a choice. If there's any way I can get someone, just one person off them, then I'm willing to give it a go."
The boy turned to go and I called out to him.
He turned back and I reached into my coat and pulled out my wallet. I extracted a twenty-dollar bill and held it out.
"I told you I didn't want your money," he said.
"I know, but take it anyway. Get a hot meal, or something, call it payment for services rendered."
"But I ain't found him, yet."
"I know, but I've got to have faith that you will."
The boy shrugged and came towards me, taking the bill from my hand, he turned and walked away.
As I drove back to Oakland, my mind was filled with the images I had seen. Boys, some younger than Tony, sleeping rough - hungry, dirty boys who ought to be at home with their parents. It was frightening to think that Tony had been one of them.
It was approaching one o'clock when I pulled up into the drive, I had been gone longer than had intended and I wondered whether Tony would still be home. I placed my key in the lock of the front door and, opening it, I shouted out that I was home.
Tony's voice greeted me and then he walked from the living room into the hall.
"Hi, thought you might have gone out," I said.
He shook his head.
"Sorry I'm late back, have you had lunch?"
"No, I thought I'd wait for you."
"Well, how about we go get a burger, or something?"
"Is it still raining?"
"On and off, why?"
"I may need a coat.
"Tell you what, why don't we go into San Francisco and I'll buy you one - maybe get a few shirts and some pants, too, what do you say?"
"I can't accept that."
"I just can't."
"Look, Tony, I haven't got a lot you can wear - it's all too big - all I want to do is get a few things to see you through, call it a Christmas gift."
The boy thought for a few moments and tears began to fill his eyes.
"Hey, come on, no tears."
He wiped the back of his hand across his eyes and came towards me, giving me a hug as he said: "Thank you."
"Hey, you're welcome," I said. "Now come on, let's go, I'm starving."
"Tell you what - I know a great place to go for clothes - half the price of anywhere else, a place Mom uses, it's a factory outlet on Illinois Street at 16th Street."
"Fine with me," I smiled.
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