Friday, February 10, 2017

Segment Eleven - Escape from the Belfry Copyright 2013 Doris Gaines Rapp

Chapter Twenty-One

“Well, well, well, the pretty boy finally woke up,” a scruffy man with yellow teeth mocked from the large holding cell down the hall.
            Adam Shoemaker woke up in jail, in a cell just yards away from Big Willy, or whatever the guy’s name was. Actually, Adam hadn’t slept too badly. He had a real bed, even if the room was three walls and bars. He had tossed and turned at first, then finally fell asleep. The problem was, he had slept on the floor for months. The jail bunk felt much too soft when compared to what he was used to, the splintery floorboards of the belfry.
            He woke up hungry and exhausted. All around him was silence, with an occasional interruption by the clank of a jail cell door and a verbal jab from Mr. Sunny Teeth. The detective had put him in a single cell, away from the rabble who had looked for a warm place to sleep off their holiday cheer and chose Club Blue.
            “Did the little prince sleep well?” The decayed tooth felon mocked again.
            “Leave him alone,” scolded a man wearing a pin stripped suit that had seen better days and a dirty white shirt that hung out of his belt. “He’s just a kid.”
            “Hey, Kid, did ya drink too much spiked eggnog on Christmas yesterday?”
            Yesterday? Adam tried to pull together all that had happened in the last few days. He had learned there was yet another obstacle to Moms’ coming home—the need for a bathroom in the farmhouse. There was a solution. The money he would need for that extravagance could come from the sale of a major part of the family farm. The problem was, that would have to include the sale of the farm’s water supply.
            For a few days he had allowed himself to feel hopeful. Maybe they should sell the bottom land and creek.
            Then, he began to create another way. Moms had reminded him of a forgotten bank account. But, what was the account number? Besides, Pops would have to sign the papers to release the money, and—Pops hadn’t come home.
            First, he had absolutely no spending money for anything. Then, the part-time job at the church solved that. But, the same church now accused him of stealing a valuable carving. With every blessing comes a curse, he moaned as he rolled over on the bunk.
            “Shoemaker,” a police officer called out Adam’s name as he entered the hall.
            “Yeah,” a horrible looking bloke with stringy hair piped in from the drunk tank.
            “Not you,” the officer dismissed. “Mr. Adam Shoemaker.”
            Adam got off the bunk and stretched a little as he tried to understand his surroundings. “Yes, that’s me.” He leaned on the cell door and to his surprise, it swung open.
            Shaddi? Shocked, he stood there for a moment then stared at the officer.
            “You are absolutely right, Mr. Shoemaker. The door hadn’t been locked all night. You weren’t arrested you know, not at this time. The problem was, we couldn’t determine where you lived or who your folks are.”
            Adam still said nothing. He was trapped inside a prison of his own lies. He preferred the sweet story of the hummingbird’s flight south with the help of the larger, stronger, Northern geese. In that scenario, he played the part of the hummer and those who cared for him and bolstered him up, were the geese. The actual truth of his life, the story that wasn’t nearly as wonderful as that of the hummingbird, was that he lived in a cold, lightless tower on Cranberry Street—all alone.
            “There’s somebody here to vouch for you,” the officer explained.
            “Who?” Adam’s voice was barely a whisper. Who would ever vouch for me after all of this? Even Fritzy knows I was hauled off to jail. What does she think of me?
            “Come on,” the officer ordered with a measure of sympathy in the tone of his voice.
            Adam walked into the outer office. Like one who had been in the dark for a long time and was now exposed to a bright light, he squinted and shook his head, confused yet curious.
            “My boy,” Alfred Gunderman called out from the other side of the Desk Sargent’s area. “Are you okay? What on earth happened?”
            “Yes Sir, I’m fine. What are you doing here?” Adam couldn’t believe his eyes.
            “I saw Fritzy at the Corner Market this morning,” Alfred explained. “She told me she was with you when you were put in the back of a squad car yesterday. She said she hadn’t seen you around this morning. Since the police were the last people you were seen with, I came here.”
            “Thanks, Merry Christmas,” the boy mumbled with disdain. “Merry indeed. I was entertained by the guy down the hall yelling drunken carols until about midnight. I feel blessed,” he complained with sarcasm.
            “Oh horse feathers, now, we will just see about that. I’m taking you home.”
            “Wait a minute, Mr. Gunderman,” Detective Overton interjected. “This boy is not old enough to live on his own and he won’t tell us where he’s living. We can’t just release him to the streets.”
            “He won’t be on the streets, Detective. His ma’s been sick and he has been staying with me,” Mr. G. announced with a firm set to his jaw.
            “He’s staying with you, Alfred?” Overton turned to the boy and studied him slowly. “Then why in blue blazes didn’t you tell me that last evening? That information would have saved you a night’s sleep in the jail.” 
            “It was warm in here,” Adam smiled sheepishly.
            “You keep the heat pretty low at your house, do you Gunderman?” The officer joked.
            “Somethin’ like that,” Alfred grinned, took the boy by the arm and started to leave. “He okay to leave?” he shouted back over his shoulder as he neared the door.
            “Sure, take him home.”
            On the street, Adam stopped before getting into Mr. Gunderman’s black 1937 Ford pickup. “Mr. Gunderman, I do thank you for picking me up from that place, but . . . I don’t live with you. You lied to the police.”
            “No, now Son, that wasn’t a lie,” Gunderman reasoned. “I work at the church and I’m there every day, aren’t I?”
            “Sure, I guess―”
            “Well, you live in the bell tower of the church, my church, so you live with me, right?”
            Adam stumbled back. “How did you know?”
            “I didn’t, not ‘til this morning. I have looked everywhere for that carved Baby Jesus and I even thought about the bell tower. I put things up there ever once in a while. So, there I am, up on the ladder, when I see Mrs. Simington’s tied and knotted quilt all made up into a comfortable pallet on the floor. You know, she made that quilt from some of Sam’s shirt fabric. I’ve seen him wear the blue striped one many times.”
            “I didn’t steal that quilt, Mr. G. She put the blanket in the rummage box. She gave the quilt away to anyone who could use it.”
            “Oh, I know that Adam. I’m not saying you did. I’m just saying how I knowed where you was livin’.”
            “How did you know Moms was sick?”
            “The Shoemakers, or Schumachers, aren’t spooks in this town, Adam. I knowed your grandfather for many years, God rest his soul. I asked my misses if she knowed your mother and she said she knew that Bridget Schumacher has been sick for a long time, months even.”
            “More than four months now, Mr. Gunderman.” Adam stopped and pulled at the back of his neck. He was confused and felt overwhelmed. He had been alone for so long. No one seemed to notice that he was living by himself until yesterday. “Why are you doing all this for me?”
            “Didn’t you listen to Pastor last Sunday, My Boy. This is the Day of Stephen, the day after Christmas. A day to remember. If Christmas was yesterday, what are you going to do about it today? Remember: ‘Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessings.’”
            The hair on Adam’s neck bristled. “I am not poor. I have a home. It’s just that―”
            “I know, I know. But, you’ll have to admit, when a boy lives in a tower with the pigeons, it’s not his best day.”
            Adam laughed. Mr. Gunderman was right, almost. “It wasn’t pigeons. He was a hummingbird.” Then Adam thought about the bird. He wondered where the little hummer had flown off to. The ice and snow were too cold for the little guy to survive very long out in the weather. “You’re right,” he agreed. Then he thought again about the bird and worried. Shaddi, find a shelter for the hummer. I don’t want to have to ask Mr. O’Shaughnessy.

Chapter Twenty-Two

“You had anything to eat?” Gunderman quizzed the boy after they both left the police station and hopped into Mr. G’s truck.
            “Not since yesterday noon.” Adam ran his fingers over the leather on the seat. “This is a great truck, Mr. Gunderman.”
            “Thanks. I’ve had the little workhorse for a long time.” Alfred smiled pridefully and went back to his question. “Christmas dinner? Adam, was your last meal yesterday’s Christmas dinner?”
            “I guess yesterday was Christmas.” Adam said no more. He just watched the buildings pass. He appreciated what Mr. G. had done for him but his mind was numb. He had grown tired of caring, tired of feeling.
            They drove down a few roads Adam wasn’t usually on. They wandered around through tree lined streets with nice, new brick ranch style homes.
            “They have been putting up these houses as fast as they can get the foundations dug. Lots of former military men need homes since they got home from the war,” Mr. Gunderman scanned both sides of the street as they passed.
            “Lots of families that were left behind are trying to put their lives back together too,” Adam whispered.
            Alfred heard him. “I know, Son. Lots of families have been torn apart. But, now, you will have to admit, these are nice homes for those who are starting again.”
            “Yes Sir,” Adam smiled. Mr. G. was right. “They―” Adam stopped and slunk down in the seat.
            “What’s wrong with you?” Alfred questioned.
            “I see some kids from school.”
            “Not your best friends I take it.”                                                       
            “Not hardly,” Adam found that statement funny. Buddy and Freddy were definitely not friends of his. He had never seen the pair with anyone, except each other. Not at school or anywhere else.
            “Then why’d ya duck?”
            “I don’t want to tangle with either of them, Mr. G.”
            “Adam, by now, they’re two blocks behind us. You’re safe.”
            “I’m not worried about my safety. They are bad guys. I don’t want to be near them when everyone else finds out what kind of people they are.”
            Adam turned and watched the pair through the back window. Dark, ugly shadow people followed the pair of thieves and stalked up behind them so close it was hard to tell where they let off and the boys began. Adam turned and sat silently as they rode through the neighborhood and emerged in a more settled part of town, where mature trees graced the lawns and boasted their  snow covered branches.
            “Well, I hope that made more sense to you than it did to me, ‘cause it made no sense to me at all.”
            “Good, I mean, yes, it does make sense to me,” Adam insisted.                                         
            “Well, come on in then,” Alfred pointed to the house as they pulled up in front of a great craftsman style home. The house was not large, but medium in size by the standards of Middletown.
            “Where are we?”
            “My house, Boy. We are going to find you some breakfast.”
            Outside, twin sets of columns accented the entrance and the roof was dramatically pitched in keeping with the popular style. There was a side-entry to the garage. Inside, the house, the ceilings were high and there was a plaster medallion in the center of each, which created a homey elegance.
            “The French doors are nice. I bet the side porch is great in the summertime.” Adam’s eyes darted to the white built-in bookcases that flanked the fireplace. “You read all those books Mr. G.?”
            “Me and the Mrs.,” Alfred admitted.
            The Gunderman house was a modist but comfortable home. “I’m not sure I like all of these flowery pillows. Mrs. Gunderman calls them throw pillows. She has them thrown around on every piece of furniture in here,” Alfred’s chuckle gave away his true feelings. 
            “You might not like the pillows but I think you like Mrs. G.,” Adam smiled and felt comfort in the presence of those who have loved long.
            “You gotta know that My Boy.”
            In the dining room, there was a lace table cloth on the maple wood and the kitchen was big enough to eat in. The whole place was not very big but the house was large enough.
            “You sit right here, Adam,” Arletta Gunderman patted the back of one of the kitchen chairs. She got out her favorite cast iron skillet and rubbed a piece of the bacon across the bottom. The fat made the surface shine.
            “You have to keep these skillets well cured so they don’t rust.” She laid out six pieces of bacon and turned on the gas. The strips quickly began to sizzle. “Can you eat three eggs with this bacon, Adam?”
            Alfred chuckled as he poured himself a cup of coffee. “Six pieces of bacon, Ma, he can probably eat half a dozen eggs.”
            “Oh no Ma’am, three would be great.”
            “Then I’ll help fill out the chinks in your belly by dropping down a few pieces of toast for ya. I’ll butter them, then you can add any jelly you might want.” Alfred took a loaf of bread from the bread box, dropped the toaster sides, and placed the bread inside before raising the sides to toast the slices.
            “This looks wonderful!” Adam was amazed. Mrs. Gunderman had put all the food on a meat platter in order to have a large enough plate.
            Adam hadn’t realize how hungry he was until he started eating. Eggs, bacon, toast—it was a real break-of-day feast and he ate every bite.
            “Thanks Mrs. Gunderman,” he smiled as he put down his fork.
            “You are most welcome.” She smiled and added, “Are you sure you’ve had enough food. Looks like you could hold a bit more.”
            “Thank you Ma’am, no. I’m full.” He patted his stomach and smiled. He hadn’t been full in a long time.
            “Al says you’re a good worker, a good boy,” she began and nodded at Alfred. “I wonder
Adam, if you could use another little job.” Arletta Gunderman smoothed her apron and took her handkerchief from the pocket and dabbed at her nose.
            “Sure . . . I guess. School doesn’t start again until January 7.” He looked at Alfred, “What about it Mr. G.? With church responsibilities, do I have the time?”
            “When the Mrs. needs help, we find the time. What did you have in mind, my Dear?”        
            “We had that addition added to the house when your mother came to live with us, Al.” She poured herself and Alfred another cup of coffee. “The apartment hasn’t been cleaned in ages. No one has been in there since Mother Gunderman died. I was looking for a place to stretch out all my sewing materials and not have to put the things away. Then I thought . . . that little  apartment would be perfect.”
            “Sounds good to me,” Alfred agreed. “Sure would be nice to be able to sit down without
runnin’ straight pins in my hands where you’ve used the arm of the chair as a pin cushion.”
            “Now, Al, you always said the pins toughened you up,” Arletta smiled and winked at Adam.
            “We’ll be done cleanin’ the church by lunch time. You can have lunch here with us.” To Arletta he interjected, “That’s okay isn’t it?”
            “Land sakes, yes. I’m just going to fix homemade vegetable beef soup. Is that all right Adam?” Mrs. G. pointed to the pot of beef cubes she had been cooking for the soup stock.
            The plan was settled. Adam had another chance to earn some money and get a good home cooked meal at the same time. Money was coming his way from every direction. Most of the opportunities just landed in his lap. He felt lighter than he had felt in months, like Grandpa’s
mule had been sitting on his chest and decided to stand up. But he had to wonder, when would
Old Blue sit down again?
            He had started walking toward the church while Alfred helped Arletta move some living room furniture back into place after the family Christmas party they hosted the day before. The winter sun peeked out from behind gray clouds as he neared the church and the sky had turned a brilliant blue. If Adam didn’t know better, he might have thought the day could turn out to be great.
            “Adam, wait up,” Fritzy called after him.
            “Hi Fritzy.” Adam felt a little giddy seeing her again. Then he saw her face and the feeling dropped to his toes, like a dead weight that slipped from his hand.
            “Adam . . . I don’t know what to say to you. I’m so upset.”
            “Why Fritzy? Did I do something wrong?”
            “No, you didn’t do anything. It’s what you did not do, Adam, that hurt me.”
            “I don’t know what you mean.” Adam didn’t know what Fritzy was talking about but he  feared the other shoe was about to drop, the flip side of happiness, the curse.
            “Mr. Gunderman said you have been living in the church’s bell tower—for months.” Tears welled up in her eyes as she whispered the words that had to be said.
            “So what? Now I’m not good enough for you?” Adam was hurt and angry. What he tried to hide for so long was coming out into the open despite his efforts. He wasn’t acceptable. Their farm had no bathroom so Moms couldn’t come home unless they sold off valuable land and water. And, the most painful, Pops was a deserter. Adam turned his back and started to walk off. His name was still ruined. 
            Frederica didn’t follow him. She started to walk back home, but hadn’t said her piece. “I did not say that, Adam,” she called after him. “I thought we were friends, special friends, and you
didn’t trust me enough to tell me.”
            Adam called out without turning around. He didn’t want to see her face. “I couldn’t tell you Fritzy. I couldn’t tell anyone.”
            Adam kept on walking. Snow had started to fall again, so he pulled his collar up around his 
neck. What had been a happy moment just minutes before, was another defeat. With every blessing comes a curse. Shaddi, hide me from everyone.

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