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Can You Spare a Quarter

by Tigerpaw

Chapter 14

If You Love Something Set it Free

It took several days before Jamie's ankle was sufficiently recovered before the trip back to the city could take place. During that time Graham talked on the telephone several times with Matty at the Department of Child Welfare to keep her updated on Jamie's recovery after his panicked flight into the forest. He also spent a number of hours on the telephone with Timothy Smythe the lawyer that his friend Scott had found to assist them when they went in to make their case. Engaging a lawyer would not speed things up, nor would it open any doors automatically, but from the things that Jamie had told him Graham knew that Jamie's parents would fight hard. The consequences if they gave in and an investigation took place were too grave for them to let go easily. Having a lawyer present and monitoring everything would however ensure that nothing was missed, no shortcuts were taken, that Jamie's interests were protected, and that the authorities would not be able to simply go through the motions. As a result expensive as it was going to be, Graham viewed the cost as money well spent if it could help ensure Jamie's future.

Jamie had related to Graham how in the past he had attempted to convince various caseworkers that things were not quite right at home. However the combination of outwardly concerned parents, Jamie's officially spotty record of runaway attempts, plus the lack of investigation on the part of overloaded ministry staff had meant that Jamie's attempts to obtain help had always been rebuffed with terrible consequences once he had been taken back home. The last time it had been weeks before he had recovered sufficiently to even contemplate another escape.

Graham wanted there to be no chance of repetition this time. Additionally Matty had indicated that because of Graham's age supporting statements as to his character would be very beneficial. While times were changing and age or personal preferences were no longer an official barrier to fostering or adoption it was still all too easy for a malicious person to take advantage of stereotyped thinking and make something decent look bad. A long discussion with Frank and Kathy had ensued and the group decision was that Frank as a parent himself would come along with Jamie and Graham. In addition to being able to make the case for Graham stronger by appearing in person it would help Jamie to feel more comfortable with an extra friend and familiar face present.

Kathy had also been busy with the telephone once again. In Graham's briefcase were a dozen testimonial letters written by people from all over the island, a number of them very well placed with income levels that Graham could only fantasize about and could not recall ever having met. Graham marvelled at how Kathy managed to know people at that level of society but as Frank said to him, once Kathy put her mind to something it was best not to get in her way or ask too many questions.

Finally the big day arrived and Graham drove himself, Jamie, and Cindy back to Salish Bay where Dave's plane was moored. They parked up on the hill and saw that Jason, Frank, and Kathy had arrived before them and were waiting expectantly. While Graham and Jamie climbed out of the jeep Jason ran up to greet them.

"Hi Jamie, Cindy, Mr. M," Jason called out as he came up to the jeep.

"Good morning Jason," said Graham as he reached behind the driver's seat to pull out the suitcase that was sitting behind it.

"Hey Jay!" said Jamie picking up his backpack which had been sitting on the floorboard of the jeep as Cindy jumped out to greet Jason enthusiastically.

After retrieving the suitcase Graham closed the door on the jeep and then walked over to where Frank and Kathy were waiting. The morning sky was a beautiful blue with only a few white puffy clouds dotting the horizon and Graham took a deep breath of the cool winter air.

"It's going to be a beautiful flight over to the city today," said Graham putting the suitcase down on the ground next to them. "I must confess however to feeling rather anxious."

"Today's the big day that's for sure," replied Frank.

"I hope it goes well for you and Jamie," added Kathy.

"So do I," said Graham in reply. "I was a nervous wreck last night and didn't sleep a wink."

"Don't worry nothing will go wrong at the meeting," said Frank. "I'm coming along to help say all the right things about you. Not to mention that Kathy's got you signed letters from everyone on the island who has any influence back in the city."

"I know. It's just that I'm worried something will go wrong," replied Graham. "I don't want anything to happen and Jamie ending up getting hurt again."

"It's going to work out fine you'll see," said Kathy giving a somewhat embarrassed Graham a hug.

Still standing near the jeep Jason said to Jamie, "You watch yourself when you're in town and stay close to Dad, Mr. M., and Cindy."

"Don't worry I'm always careful in the city," replied Jamie hearing Jason's concerned voice. "Is something wrong?"

"I had a bad dream last night about you and I'm worried," Jason said hesitantly not wanting to scare Jamie. "I just want you to be extra careful. You're very important to me and I want you to come back so we can go fishing and do other stuff together."

Jamie found himself in the rather unusual position of trying to reassure Jason despite the fact that he was the one scheduled to meet with the Department of Child Welfare in just a couple of hours. The prospect of the meeting did not exactly fill him with positive feelings but he knew it was the only way. To date such meetings had always been the prelude to being sent home and being beaten over and over again. Despite feeling more confident with Graham, Frank, and Cindy going with him it still sent a shiver down Jamie's back.

Jason looked up and saw Graham and Frank coming towards them and so Jason suddenly put his arms around Jamie and gave him a quick hug.

"You come back to me," said Jason with marked emphasis.

"Everything will be OK. You'll see," replied Jamie with a smile as he returned the hug.

Jason went and stood next to his mother and waved as Jamie, Cindy, Graham, and his father walked down the ramp to the wharf and then went over to the floatplane and climbed into it. In spite of Jamie's reassuring words Jason still felt a lump in the pit of his stomach that ate at him and it would not go away.

Shortly Dave cast off the lines from the plane then stood on the pontoon next to the pilot's door while pushing the plane out and away from the wharf and then climbed into the plane securing the door behind him. A few moments later Dave had the engine started up and the sound filled the bay as the plane began to taxi out into the middle of the water in preparation for take off. Turning to face east the plane began to pick up speed and soon was skipping across the surface of the water. Just as the plane lifted into the air Jason saw Pony coming out of the forest behind him at a half-run. Looking around for a brief moment and then spotting Jason, Pony came up to him quickly. Despite having just come all the way from his village Pony was not out of breath.

"Have they gone?" he asked anxiously.

"Yes, the plane's just leaving," replied Jason pointing at the receding floatplane in the sky. "What's wrong?"

Pony's usually stoic face fell as he heard Jason's words.

"What is it, what is it?" asked Jason anxiously seeing Pony's reaction. "What's happened?"

"I had a vision," said Pony simply.

"You know something. What do you know?" asked a worried Jason.

"It is going to be a very long day for Jamie," said Pony who refused to say anything more but stood silently next to Jason and his mother as they all watched the plane fly out of sight.

Graham turned the steering wheel and the little white car pulled into the parking lot next to the dull cream coloured concrete building that housed the offices of the Department of Child Welfare. Graham, Frank, Jamie, and Cindy climbed out of the car and looked around for a moment. Jamie slung his backpack over his shoulder and knelt down to give Cindy a back rub. Cindy pushed back against Jamie's fingers and arched her back as she enjoyed the massage after the cramped trip in the little car.

"You know one of these days I'm going to end up being stuck inside that little sardine can of yours permanently," said Frank after barely managing to squeeze out.

"I didn't actually plan on it turning into a family car," said Graham with a chuckle. "I got it just so I could get back and forth to the airport. You're just too big is what the problem is."

"I can just imagine trying to drive it. My knees would be in my chest," said Frank while Jamie giggled.

Graham looked around carefully and said, "Can any of you spot Timothy Smythe, he's the lawyer we're supposed to meet here? I've talked to him on the phone but I don't know what he looks like in person."

"That's got to be him over there," said Jamie quickly spotting a man in an expensively tailored three-piece suit on the far side of the parking lot who clearly did not fit in with the surrounding environment.

They all walked over and Graham said, "Are you Timothy Smythe?"

"Yes that's me. You must be Graham Martin," replied Timothy stretching out his hand.

"Yes after all these meetings over the telephone we finally get to meet in person," said Graham stepping forward to shake hands.

"Pleased to meet you at last," said Timothy. Then turning to Jamie he smiled and said, "You must be the brave young man I've heard so many good things about."

"Yes sir," said Jamie very quietly standing back close to Frank while Cindy stood in front of him watching with alert eyes.

"We're going to do our very best to help you today. I've had a lot of experience at this sort of thing and I've not lost a case yet," said Timothy. "It's good that you've brought your friends with you to help out. Graham told me that you also wanted to bring your dog along so I've got something in my briefcase here that will make sure they let her in."

With that Timothy opened his briefcase and quickly pulled out what looked like a folded-up piece of cloth and handed it to Jamie. "Put this on her, follow my lead, and I'll take care of the rest."

"What is it?" asked Jamie.

"Oh I think I know," said Frank with a grin. "Let me give you a hand with that Jamie."

Together they unfolded the cloth and as they did they could see it was a jacket for a dog. On the sides of it was the logo 'Paws For a Cause'. Jamie looked up as he realized what was going on and smiled at Timothy saying, "Oh wow! This'll work great."

"It's important in this business to always be prepared for everything," said Timothy while he watched Frank and Jamie help Cindy into the jacket. "Now that we're all properly dressed shall we go in?"

After Jamie and Frank fastened the jacket onto Cindy using the tie straps the group walked into the office and Graham announced their arrival at reception, "I'm Graham Martin and we have an appointment with Madeline Thompson for one o'clock. Would you please let her know that we're here?"

"Have a seat and I'll let her know that you've arrived," replied the receptionist. Then noticing Cindy added, "You'll have to take that dog outside. We don't allow them in here."

Graham could sense the worry in Jamie but Timothy immediately stepped forward and said, "My name is Timothy Smythe from the law firm of Mason and Smythe. This dog is a certified assistance animal and is required by my client here. If you deny them access to this facility you will be in violation of chapter 29 of the Assistance Animals Act 1990. Any discrimination against my client in that regard by any individual or entity is punishable under section 8 of the act upon summary conviction in a court of law."

Jamie's mouth fell open and face of the receptionist blanched. Catching her breath she quickly replied, "No, that will be OK. Please take a seat. I'll get Madeline right away."

"That was close," said Jamie with a sigh of relief as soon as the receptionist was out of earshot.

"Hit hard and fast and don't give them a chance to think," said Timothy with a grin.

"The Assistance Animals Act?" said Frank dubiously.

"The Blind Person's Act 1979 actually," said Timothy with a laugh. "Of course no one noticed that Jamie isn't blind."

The group chuckled at Timothy's quick thinking and Graham knew that while the bill he was going to see later would be eye-watering, it was going to be worth the pain. Jamie sat down on one of the seats in the waiting room while the others stood next to him and Cindy sat in front of him moving her head to and fro watching everyone in the office carefully.

"Hello, I'm Matty Thompson," announced a voice coming from behind Graham.

Graham turned and shook the hand being offered by a tall heavy-set woman with dark hair and brown eyes.

"I'm Graham Martin. It's good to finally get to see you in person. Allow me to introduce my next door neighbour Frank Tomlinson," began Graham. "This is our lawyer Timothy Smythe, and of course ..."

"You must be Jamie," said Matty completing the sentence as she smiled and knelt down facing Jamie.

"Yes ma'am," replied Jamie very quietly as he held Cindy close in front of him and refused to look up.

"Who's your friend here?" asked Matty.

"Cindy," said Jamie softly.

"Hello Cindy," said Matty cheerfully.

Cindy who was normally somewhat indifferent to meeting new people took her cue from Jamie. Both Graham and Frank were surprised when they saw the hackles on the back of her neck rise while she remained perfectly motionless and looked straight at Matty with cold eyes.

"Why don't we all go into my office and see what we can do," suggested Matty as she stepped back and stood up.

The group walked down the hallway to Matty's office and went inside. Jamie picked a chair in the middle and put his backpack on the floor underneath his chair. Timothy sat on his right, Graham and Frank on his left, and Cindy sat right in front of Jamie and watched Matty carefully.

After everyone was settled and the office door was closed Matty started by saying, "I've reviewed the old case files on Jamie and as you all know I've been talking with Graham and Timothy on the phone for the past week or so. There are only two main items that we actually need to worry about. The first of these is Graham's fitness to be considered as a temporary guardian for Jamie. Thanks to you both I have received all of the financial and personal background information needed, I've had it checked, and as expected it's all in order. I've also had the required background check performed by the police and that of course has also come back completely clean. So there remains the second matter of certification by our department of the home that Graham could provide for Jamie, and his standing in the community. Once we have all of that information then we can make the final determination as to whether Graham can be considered as a temporary guardian for Jamie while things get looked into."

"With regards to Mr. Martin's standing in the community he has brought with him a number of sworn statements," said Timothy taking the letters from Graham and counting them up. "Twelve of them to be precise. Additionally, Mr. Tomlinson here, who is Mr. Martin's neighbour and a parent in his own right, has travelled here at his own expense to attend this meeting in order to appear as an additional character witness."

"Twelve statements?" asked Matty a bit taken aback.

"My wife is rather industrious," said Frank with an embarrassed grin. "Particularly when it comes to the welfare of this young man here."

Matty took the statements that Timothy offered her and her eyebrows rose several times as she briefly looked them over and noted some of the names signed on the statements. Looking up with a smile she said, "You seem to have made a good impression on a lot of people."

"You see ... that is ...," stammered an embarrassed Graham.

"That's OK, I understand. We both want what is best for Jamie and statements like these always help," said Matty reassuringly. "With all of the information that has been provided there shouldn't be any problems but I do have to make sure that we follow all of the required procedures to the letter so if there are any disputes everything will work out the way we want it to. I have the authority to waive the requirement for a pre- determination onsite inspection as long as we schedule it to take place by the end of next week. That takes care of the issues regarding Graham being certified as an acceptable caregiver but of course that only leads to the final but much larger issue. We now need to address the matter of Jamie and the swearing out of a complaint regarding what has been happening to him at home."

"Jamie, Timothy, and I have talked about that and we think we can make fairly short work of it," said Graham while nodding to Jamie. "It's a bit embarrassing but it'll save Jamie having to answer a lot of even more difficult questions at least for a while. If you'll just look at this ..."

At that moment Jamie stood up, dropped his coat, turned away from Matty, and pulled his shirt up exposing his back. Jamie remained motionless for a few moments as Matty's face whitened upon seeing the scars and then lowered his shirt and sat back down again. Jamie looked away as he sat down and Cindy who had stood up while Jamie had been showing the scars turned, put her paws up on Jamie's lap, and began to lick his face. Jamie then put his arms around the big white dog and buried his face against her while hugging Cindy close.

"Bear in mind," continued Graham with difficulty, "that Jamie has been living with me at my place for a few weeks now and his back has had time to heal. Those scars are permanent, the result of being beaten and whipped at the hands of his father and other people as well. Jamie has told me that there are scars in other places in addition to what you've just seen. I have not invaded his privacy to check personally but a doctor would be able to verify the facts if that were to become necessary. Lastly it needs to be remembered that the beatings that produced those scars usually happened when Jamie would refuse to submit voluntarily to his father or to the people that his parents would periodically give him to. Once again I've not invaded Jamie's privacy to ask about the unpleasant details."

Matty's face had turned white and she briefly stuttered before collecting herself, "I ... I'm so sorry Jamie. I want you to know that I believe everything that your ... Mr. Martin ... Graham has told me. You understand though that I am required to ask you a few questions for the official records."

"Yes ma'am," said Jamie in a barely audible whisper.

"Mr. Martin and Mr. Tomlinson," said Matty with her professional demeanour now restored, "I know it's not necessary in this case but regulations require that I ask you both to leave the room for a few moments while I ask Jamie these questions."

"We understand," said Graham as he and Frank rose to leave the office. Seeing the look on Jamie's face he added, "We'll be just outside the door. Cindy and Timothy will stay right here with you to protect you. Timothy will tell you if it's OK or not OK to answer the questions and help you. It'll only be for a couple of minutes. You'll be fine."

Graham and Frank went out into the hallway and closed the door behind them. Graham's hands were shaking and Frank despite his obvious physical strength did not look any better.

"That's one brave boy you have there Graham," said Frank. "In his place I don't know if I could face down something like this."

"I know what you mean," replied Graham. "Having to deal with the questions, what people are thinking, how they look at you, I know I couldn't find the courage that he has."

After approximately ten minutes Frank was called back into the office. Graham paced in the hallway and kept wringing his hands and biting his lip. The clock on the wall seemed to be moving in slow motion and it felt as though time was almost standing still. Finally the door to the office opened once again and Graham was called back in.

After giving Graham a moment to sit down Matty began in official tones, "I now have a sworn complaint in my possession which I will be delivering to the Attorney General's office as soon as we wrap up this meeting. I also have in my possession an order for temporary guardianship for Jamie by Graham Martin. Although it's not strictly required, I will now ask Jamie to give his agreement to this arrangement."

"Jamie," continued Matty, "Do you request and accept that I should appoint Graham Martin as having temporary guardianship over you until such time as the matters contained in the complaint have been investigated and a final determination obtained?"

Jamie looked up at Timothy inquiringly and after receiving a nod said in a clear voice, "Yes ma'am."

Matty then continued, "Having received the additional consent of Jamie, this office having verified that Mr. Graham Martin is of suitable character and sufficient means to provide the necessary care required, I hereby grant temporary guardianship while the now duly registered complaint is under investigation. This order for guardianship will be reassessed when that complaint has been resolved at which time it may be modified, continued, made permanent, or cancelled."

"What that all means Jamie," said Matty in a more casual tone, "is that we are going to start an investigation into what your parents have done to you. That will take some time but once it's completed we will then be talking to the police about what we have learnt. That will eventually mean that your parents will be arrested, charged, and then a court trial will be held to present the evidence before a judge. Until all that is over with you will get to stay with Graham. Once everything is finished then we will meet here again and you can tell me what you'd like to do. Does that sound OK with you?"

"You bet," said Jamie with a big smile and a sigh of relief.

"Thank you very much," said Graham as he rose to shake Matty's hand. "I appreciate very much everything that you've done for us."

"I know it hasn't been a very fun day for you today Jamie," said Matty. "But I'm going to do my best to make sure that this is the last time you ever have to worry about things the way you have in the past."

"I sure hope so," said Jamie picking his backpack up off the floor. "I really want to be able to stay on the island if I can."

After they all filed out of the office and went back outside, Timothy pulled Graham off to one side to speak to him.

"I don't know quite how to say this," began Timothy. "I just want you to know that you won't be seeing a bill for this."

"You don't need to do that," replied a surprised Graham. "I'm able to cover the cost."

"I know you are but I want to help a bit if I can. I thought it would be a dramatic way to help Jamie avoid a lot of the questions as well as to make sure they'd take things seriously. When he lifted his shirt up ... I mean you said he's been abused ... but I never dreamt it was remotely in that kind of league," said Timothy. "His back ... I've never seen anything like that in my life and believe me I've seen a lot."

"It's very kind of you," said Graham. "I wasn't expecting this at all."

"You'll be needing to get Jamie a lot of things to get him set up and to try and make up for the past. If you don't have my bill to deal with as well it'll help you out," said Timothy. "I'm not always a money- grabbing ambulance chaser but don't you dare let anyone else know, it'd ruin my reputation."

"Your secret is safe with me," replied Graham with a chuckle. "If anyone asks I'll tell them your heart is as black as they come."

While Graham and Timothy had been talking Jamie had taken the assistance jacket off of Cindy. Seeing them shake hands Jamie then came up and offered the jacket to Timothy.

"Thanks very much for helping me," said Jamie. "It was great that you were able to make them let me keep Cindy with me."

"I'm glad I could help. I know that today was very difficult for you but it's going to be worth it," said Timothy. "And later when the trial for your parents comes up I'll be back to help you again."

After Timothy left to drive back to his office Jamie looked up at Graham and said, "What happens now?"

"Now we go back home while Matty gets the investigation started," said Graham. "That will keep you safely out of the way and once that's done she'll let us know when we need to come back to town."

"If we're going back to the island then I should go and get something first," said Jamie.

"I can get you anything that you need," replied Graham.

"No it's nothing like that. I've got something hidden away that I need to pick up," said Jamie.

"Sure we can go anywhere you want," said Graham unlocking the doors on the car.

"No, I have to do this alone," said Jamie slowly.

"You don't want me to come?" asked Graham clearly taken aback.

"It's not like that, it's just something that I have to do on my own," said Jamie. "It won't work otherwise and I have to get it. This might be my only chance after today."

Graham started to protest again but Frank motioned him to one side, "I don't know what it is that he's after but you have to let him do this," said Frank quietly. "Jamie probably does have something stashed away but he also needs time to think. He's making a big decision that will change his life and he needs time to feel OK with it. If he comes back then you know for sure that he wants to go through with it. You also need to show you trust him. You have to let go and let him do this."

"I don't like it but you're right I suppose," Graham finally said reluctantly.

"Everything will be OK," replied Frank. "You'll see. This is just one of those hard moments of parental trust where a son needs to spread his wings on his own and you can't help him do it. You'll get used to them in time."

Graham looked at Jamie and asked, "You remember how to find my place?"

"Yes I remember where it is," replied Jamie. "It's not too far from where I need to go. Don't worry it should only be a couple of hours at most and then I'll be back."

"I'll be waiting for you too," said Frank as he smiled and held out his hand to Jamie.

Jamie shook Frank's hand and looked up in surprise as he felt some money being pressed into his own hand.

"Just in case you get hungry or thirsty on the way back," said Frank. "And remember to be careful."

Unsure what to do Graham extended his hand as well but Jamie ignored it and hugged a very surprised Graham tightly. Graham gently wrapped his arms around Jamie and felt his eyes beginning to tear up. Jamie did not look at Graham as they hugged and Graham feared that this might be goodbye.

Jamie reluctantly let go of Graham and knelt down and gave Cindy a big hug and whispered into her ear while she licked at Jamie's cheek. Graham could not hear what Jamie was saying but he could see that Jamie's eyes were cloudy with tears as well.

"I better get going," said Jamie huskily having some trouble getting the words out. He then took a last look at everyone before turning and starting to walk away quickly. Graham stood motionless watching Jamie leaving and wondered if he would ever see him again. When Jamie turned the corner Cindy barked and lunged to follow him but Frank held her fast by her collar and she howled plaintively.

Once Jamie was out of sight he wiped his eyes and then looked in his hand at what Frank had given him. Seeing the thick bundle of money and even a few bus tickets he realized that Frank must have given him everything he had in his pocket. Jamie decided that if he used the bus tickets he could get what he needed to do completed faster but he hoped to be able to give the money back to Frank untouched later in the day.

Jamie found a bus stop and climbed onto the first bus going to the lower east side of town. Ten minutes later he got off and was back where he had started out from less than a month ago. The difference between the streets of the city and the island where Graham lived could not have been starker. It was like night and day and it was very definite in Jamie's mind which of the two was the night. Jamie wanted to see his old friends one last time and began walking towards the intersection of Knight Avenue and Wharf Street where he knew they'd be. It was where Jamie himself had spent many months trying to eke out an existence against formidable odds.

Turning the corner he saw a boy only slightly older than himself leaning back against an old brick building watching the cars going along the street watching for any that might slow down. A cigarette dangled from his mouth and the clothes he was wearing were ragged and dirty. Watching the boy Jamie felt like he was looking into a time machine and seeing himself.

"Hey Mike!" called Jamie.

The boy leaning against the building looked up at Jamie without recognition and said in a challenging voice, "Who're you shouting at?"

"It's me, Jamie. Don't you recognize me?" said Jamie unaware of the magnitude of his change in appearance since he had last been in the city.

"I'll be darned," said Mike suddenly. "Look at you! We all thought you were lost for sure. Where'd you disappear to? What's with the new clothes?"

"I got really lucky," said Jamie. "A man found me that's going to help me get off the streets, his name is Graham. I've been staying at his place with him for the last couple of weeks. We just left the Child Welfare office and they're going to investigate my parents and then call the police on them."

"For real? You're going to be able to get them put away?" asked Mike. "If we could get your dad out of the way that'd sure help everyone down here."

"It sure would," said Jamie. "The woman at the Welfare office is really nice and Graham got a fancy lawyer to come and make sure that they can't ignore it like they did before."

"Taking care of this new guy will be way better for you than having to be stuck with your old man no matter what he's into," said Mike.

"Oh Graham's not like that," said Jamie. "The whole time I've been with him he hasn't touched me once. I dangled the bait, hinted, and teased - everything I could think of to test him to see if he'd bite. Nothing happened at all. Graham just wants me to live at his place as if I was his kid."

"Wow," said Mike astounded. "Hang onto him like glue. That's gold you've found there. If you change your mind let me know and I'll see if he'd like to take me instead."

"No way Mike," laughed Jamie. "Say have you seen John around?"

Mike paused and looked down at his dirty running shoes before answering, "Sorry Jamie, but 'The Blade' got him a couple of days ago. Andy found him in the alley behind the arcade. It wasn't pretty. He was already gone when Andy found him."

"No he can't be!" cried a shocked Jamie. "He helped me when I first got here. Showed me how things work, how to keep safe, who to avoid, safe places to sleep ..."

"Sorry I had to be the one to tell you Jamie," replied Mike sadly. "I know you two were friends. He was careful, but in this business you never know. If we can't figure out who's doing it soon probably it'll be my turn one of these days. I just hope it'll be quick when it happens."

"Did the cops do anything?" asked Jamie.

"Oh they came and took some pictures just like they always do. Then they put John in the wagon and left," said Mike. "You know how it is. We're just throwaways and they don't really care. That's like nine of us now and they still haven't got any better ideas on who's doing it than we do. The only time anyone sees the guy, it's the last thing they ever see."

Jamie suddenly began to sway on his feet and his eyes started to lose focus. The news of John's death had hit him like a body blow and his knees felt like they were about to collapse.

"Jamie, snap out of it!" shouted Mike as he took hold of Jamie's shoulders and shook him hard. "Don't fall apart when you're so close to the finish line. You've got to finish this for yourself, for all of us!"

Jamie shook his head to clear his mind, steadied himself and thought for a moment, and then decided that Frank would approve and reached into his pocket and pulled out the money that Frank had given him. "I'm going to give you this," said Jamie handing over the bundle of cash. "Try and make it last as long as you can."

"Wow," said Mike with surprise. "You're serious about this? Where'd you get all the money from?"

"The man who lives next door to Graham came with us this morning to the Welfare office to help out," said Jamie. "He gave it to me when we left the office just in case something came up. I know he'd want me to do this to help you."

"Thanks a lot Jamie. John always said you were something special," said Mike gratefully. "I won't have to work for a long stretch now. Maybe I'll have a chance now to look for a plum spot like you've got instead of fighting just to eat."

"It's good to see you Mike," said Jamie. "I need to get going. I'm going to get my stash out from my hiding place at the house. I've got names and stuff written down that I'm going to hand over. My dad and my mom aren't the only ones that are going to pay."

"Be careful Jamie," said Mike. "That dad of yours is a crazy guy. If he finds you, especially with a list of names on you, you're going to be one dead kid."

"I know," said Jamie. "But I'm going to make sure they pay for what they did to me and all the other boys. I'm going to take them down and their creepy friends too. I always hoped and dreamed that this day would come eventually and now it's finally here."

"Want me to come with you and help?" asked Mike.

"No," said Jamie. "I've a better chance of pulling it off by myself. If the two of us try to do it the chances of getting caught are higher."

"Keep safe Jamie," said Mike. "Now that you've won the lottery don't lose everything by trying to be a hero."

"You be careful too," said Jamie giving Mike a hug. "Remember to make the money last."

"You can count on that," said Mike. "I'm not blowing this chance out of here."

The two boys looked at each other for a moment knowing that they would not likely see each other again and then hugged one last time. Afterwards they split up and both started walking in opposite directions each heading for a different destiny.

Jamie began walking to the east. After a few hundred yards he stopped and looked back around the old neighbourhood one last time. Bad as the area was and as dangerous as the life here had been, the streets and the other boys living on them had been his home and his family. They had lived, laughed, cried, and sometimes died together. Jamie knew that it would be different living with Graham, he would not have the total freedom that he had had on the streets. He would have bedtimes, schoolwork that needed to be done, chores to complete - but he would live. The streets were bad, very bad, but there had been a few good times mixed in with everything else that Jamie would always remember. Friends made and friends lost. A part of Jamie would always remain here no matter what the future might bring, but it was the future that Jamie was looking forward to now for the first time in his life. It all still seemed like a dream and he feared at times that he would wake up from it only to find himself shivering in a back alley. However there were things to do before the future could become reality. Jamie had one more stop to make before going back to Graham's place. Hearing about the death of his friend John only made him even more determined to see it through.

Jamie pulled another one of the bus tickets that Frank had given him out of his pocket. He stood at the bus stop and did not have to wait long for the one that would take him to the northeast side of the city. Just as the door for the bus was about to open, for a split-second in the reflection of the glass, Jamie thought he saw something. He was certain his eyes were playing tricks on him, but it looked like a young boy dressed in a camouflage-pattern hunting outfit carrying a bow was on the opposite side of the door waiting to come out. The boy had a determined look on his face and it seemed as if he was preparing himself to march into battle. The look of the boy made Jamie feel certain that in some strange unfathomable sense it was a reflection of himself and what he was about to do. Jamie even had the impression that the boy had looked at him and nodded. As the bus door opened Jamie shook his head to clear away the strange vision, deciding that it was the worry of anticipation and the fact that he had been reading too many of Jason's fantasy novels.

Jamie was heading for his old home now, although he did not think of it in those terms. It was simply the house that he had grown up in, and then later escaped from. It had not been a home in the normal sense to Jamie for most of his life unfortunately. Jamie had one goal in mind when he arrived at the house, if he could manage to pull it off. Under the floorboards in his room he had hidden a notebook. In it were names, dates, and events that he had written down. Jamie knew that the names were the big prize and he was determined that he was now going to pay everyone back for the things that they had done to him for so long. His teeth were gritted and his stomach knotted as he rode the bus and looked out the window, the only question was would he be successful?

Jamie's house was in the same part of town as Graham's apartment. Once Jamie had retrieved the notebook his plan was to run as fast as he could to Graham's place and then get Graham to drive for Dave's plane right away. Once safely out of town with his notebook that listed the names of people that his parents had let hurt him Jamie knew that he would be safe finally and at last. Jamie got off the bus and looked around carefully and began to walk the last couple of blocks to where the house was. The hair stood up on the back of his neck but Jamie forced his feet to keep moving.

When Jamie reached the corner of the street that the house was on he pushed himself inside a large hedge that was growing alongside the sidewalk and hid while watching the street closely. His father's car was parked outside the house alongside the curb. That was bad luck but not seeing any activity Jamie slipped out of the hedge and crept closer using the other cars parked along the street as cover. When he got close enough to the house he could see that the curtains were drawn across the window at the front and Jamie sprinted to the walkway that went up along the right side of the house.

Jamie paused for a moment to try and calm his heavy breathing but he knew that every minute he remained in the area increased the danger so he moved quickly. He reached up and tested a window at the side of the house and it was unlocked. Taking a quick peek and seeing the room on the other side of the window was empty he slowly pushed the window up and then jumped up and slid into the room. Jamie did not waste time and immediately went to the loose board in the floor at the back of the closet and pulled out the notebook he had hidden underneath it. He wrapped it in an old shirt that he picked up off the floor and quickly pushed it into his backpack which he then tossed out the window into the bushes at the side of the house. Jamie lifted his leg up to begin sticking it out the window to leave when he suddenly heard the floor creak behind him and he looked up.

"You think you can run off on me and get away with it?" said an ominous voice.

Jamie turned his head to look up into the eyes of his father and his heart sank.

Graham looked at his watch for the tenth time in as many minutes as he continued to pace back and forth in his apartment. Cindy was laying on the floor unmoving with her head between her paws with her eyes locked on the closed door. Frank continued to pretend he was reading an article in a magazine while trying to ignore Graham's constant pacing. Finally realizing he had read the same paragraph five times he gave up and put the magazine down.

"Here why don't you have another one of these," said Frank offering the candy dish to Graham again. "Wearing a hole in the rug and giving yourself an ulcer isn't going to make the time pass any faster."

Graham took a candy from the dish, unwrapped it, and began to suck on it noisily. "He said he wouldn't be long and it's been more than four hours now. What am I going to do? Something has happened to him I just know it."

"Don't jump to conclusions," said Frank carefully. "It hasn't been that long yet. I'm sure he's fine. We have to do the hardest job there is to do; we have to wait. Jamie has to make this decision himself. You've provided him with the opportunity, he's seen what you're like at home, and he knows pretty much what it'd be like to live on the island. Nevertheless, he has to make the decision to come back and walk through that door. None of us can make that decision for him as much as we might like to."

"But what if he doesn't come back?" asked Graham plaintively, finally sitting down in despair.

"If he doesn't come back, then he doesn't come back," said Frank. "You can't force yourself on Jamie or make him want to be with you. If it's meant to be, it will happen. He probably just needed to walk around and think things through. I know I would if I were him. Remember this is probably the biggest decision Jamie's ever had to make except for running away in the first place. Besides you don't know boys as much as you might think. Remember I have one at home, there are times when Jason completely loses all track of time; a few hours is nothing when something big is on his mind."

"Yes, yes. You're right of course," grumbled Graham. "It's just that it's driving me crazy."

"Why don't we look and see if we can't stir something up in the kitchen," suggested Frank. "It'll keep your mind occupied and you could do with something to eat."

"How can you even think of food at a time like this?" exclaimed Graham. "Jamie's out there who knows where and you're thinking about your stomach!"

With great patience Frank replied, "It will give you something to do and you need that right now."

"I can't think about eating or food! Not right now," snapped Graham irritably.

Frank was about to comment when he suddenly motioned for quiet, "Did you hear that?"

"Hear what?" asked Graham skeptically although noticing Cindy's ears had perked up.

"It almost sounded like something scraping on wood," said Frank with a fearful look on his face. "There it is again!"

Frank and Graham looked at each other and just as they were about to say something they both heard it again. This time it could be clearly made out as a knock on the door, very faint and trailing off almost instantly. Cindy began to whine and slowly crawled towards the door. Graham's complexion suddenly changed and he looked white as sheet. Frank's blood ran cold and they both ran for the door.

Reaching the door first Graham threw it open, looked down, and then exclaimed, "Jamie!"

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