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SAVING JUST ONE - A Tide's Way Short Story

    “For your sake, I hope to God you aren’t mixed up in this.”
    The last of the fireworks finale crackled and died as Officer Jerry Brady grabbed a fistful of the unknown boy’s tattered blue Tarheels jersey to keep him from bolting. Three other officers were escorting several handcuffed gang members to the back of a police van as nosey revelers rubbernecked. One of the gawkers had his cell phone out and was taping the arrests. Brady moved to shield the younger boy from view.
     Brady was pretty sure the boy had nothing to do with the gang or the drugs they’d been caught peddling under the cloak of darkness and the confusion of the annual Christmas fireworks display. This was Brady’s beat, and he knew all the dealers and most of the regular buyers. He prayed it was just a matter of wrong place, wrong time.
    “What’s your name?” he asked the kid whose eyes darted wildly from one side to the other, looking for an escape.
    “Gabriel,” the boy muttered so low Brady almost didn’t catch it.
    “Gabriel what?”
    “Gabriel Hunter. I didn’t do nothin’.”
    “Didn’t do anything,” Brady corrected automatically. It was possible the kid was involved, but Brady wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt before hauling him down to the station and throwing him in a cell where things that didn’t bear thinking about could happen to a kid who looked like this one did.
    Gabriel could have been a poster model for the angel he’d been named after. Black curling hair, wide innocent looking eyes and cheeks still chubby with boyhood. Unfortunately he also looked malnourished and cold. He didn’t appear to be more than twelve, if that.
    Brady backed the kid further away from the fray before a reporter who had appeared on the scene could swoop in with a mike and start asking questions.
    “Where’s home?”
    “Simon Street,” Gabriel muttered.
    A Salvation Army volunteer manning a red kettle glanced at Brady and his captive briefly then stepped deliberately into the path of the reporter.
    “Then I suggest you take yourself there before you end up in lockup with them.” Brady nodded at the teenagers being bundled into the police van.
    “I can take care of myself.” Gabriel jerked himself free of Brady’s grasp and bolted down a side street.
    At least he was headed in the direction of his stated home. Brady let him go.
    “I know his grandma,” the bell ringer said as Brady stood hands on hips watching Gabriel disappear into the dark. “She was a member of the congregation before she took ill. The kid lives with her.”
    Brady pulled his wallet out and dropped a few ones into the red kettle. Then he handed the man four folded twenties.
    The man stared at the bills in his hand, then at Brady with a question in his eyes.
    “Gabriel needs a jacket.” Without waiting for a response, Jerry Brady turned away and strode toward the dissipating crowd of holiday revelers.

On a chilly day in January Brady pulled up to the curb and put his cruiser into park. The boy he’d been looking for continued walking as if he hadn’t seen Brady’s approach.
    “Hey, Gabriel,” he called through the open window. “C’mere a minute.”
    The boy halted, but didn’t turn right off. When he did, he stared at Brady as if he was trying to make up his mind about answering the summons or running. Finally he shrugged his skinny shoulders and approached the cruiser.
    Brady was glad to see that Gabriel wore a warm woolen pea coat and new sneakers. The Salvation Army volunteer had gotten the kid the coat as requested and probably tossed in a few bucks of his own to purchase the sneakers.
    “What,” Gabriel asked, suspicion dripping from his cracking youthful voice.
    “Get in.” Brady leaned across the seat, unlatched the door and pushed it open.
    “Why should I?” The kid clutched the top of the door.
    “I thought you might be hungry, and it’s lunchtime for me. I was hoping you’d share it with me.”
    Brady could see the war going on behind the boy’s expressive eyes. Should he take a chance the cop wasn’t trying to trick him somehow? Take the food being offered and fill his empty belly? Or turn it down and move on?
    Brady waited. He’d checked into the situation and discovered the boy’s grandmother had died just days after the run-in following the fireworks display. The kid appeared to have no other living relatives, and he’d spurned the charity offered him by the Salvation Army congregation. Presumably he was on the streets or soon would be.
    Finally Gabriel slid into the passenger seat. Brady unfolded the top of the bag from the Code-Seven and handed him a hamburger. Then he unwrapped one for himself.
    “Want coke or milk?” He pointed to the two drinks sitting in the cup holders. The boy needed the milk a lot more than a sugary soft drink, but Brady wasn’t going to suggest it. He was good with whatever the kid didn’t choose. He and his wife had fostered enough teenage boys to know when to give them room to make their own choices and when to insist.
    “Milk’s good,” Gabriel said lifting the paper cup from the holder and downing at least half of it, his Adam’s apple bobbing as he swallowed. The bulge in Gabriel’s throat confirmed that he was older than Brady had originally thought, although his rounded cheeks were still smooth and hairless.
    “How old are you, Gabriel?”
    Gabriel shoved the milk container back into the holder. “Almost sixteen.”
    Brady frowned at the outright lie.
    “Okay, fourteen. But I’m old enough.”
    “Old enough for what?” To be on his own on the streets where the likeliest result would be his being drawn into a life of crime and eventual incarceration?
    “Why do you care?” Gabriel shoved the last of his burger into his mouth, his eyes flashing.
    “You seem like a good kid a little down on his luck. It would be nice if you could stay that way and not get involved in stuff that can only get you in trouble.”
    “What are you? Like some kind of knight in shining armor?”
    “That’s what my wife says,” Brady admitted with a chuckle. He held a second burger out and Gabriel grabbed it, unwrapped it and bit off nearly half the burger. “She likes to remind me I can’t save the whole world. But if I can save just one boy from making mistakes that can never be undone, then I’ll consider my efforts worth while.”
    Gabriel swallowed, then glared at Brady. “I’m not a boy. I’m almost a man and I can make my own decisions.”
    “I didn’t say you couldn’t. Are you any good with a hammer?”
    Gabriel’s black brows shot up to meet the curls falling across his youthful forehead. “What’s that got to do with anything? You got any more of them?” He pointed at the Code-Seven bag.
    “If you are, I might have a job for you. And a place to sleep besides an apartment you can’t afford to keep or a cardboard box somewhere,” Brady answered handing the boy the last of the burgers and setting two giant brownies on the console.
    “Don’t you even want to know who my parents are?”
    “Do you want to tell me?”
    Gabriel shrugged.
    “I heard you were living with your grandmother, but she passed away. I’m sorry for your loss." Brady tapped his chest with two fingers, then went on. "I figured you might be on your own now and having trouble feeding yourself.” He reached across the cruiser and wrapped his hand around the boy’s upper arm. “Kind of skinny for a kid who’s almost fifteen. Besides, you’ve eaten twice what I have in the last ten minutes. And you still look hungry.”
    Gabriel flushed. “Sorry.” He put the brownie back. “I didn’t mean to be a pig.”
    “Tell you what, Gabriel. Do you like to be called Gabriel or maybe Gabe?”
    “Gabe,” the kid agreed, still gazing longingly at the brownies.
    Brady shoved the brownies back into the bag and rolled the top down. He dug his wallet out of his back pocket and took out a bill.
    “Take them for later. And get yourself a couple decent meals with this.” He handed the bag and the bill to Gabe. Then he tore a page out of his notebook and scribbled an address on it. “And if you’re interested in a job and a place to sleep that’s more permanent than the apartment you used to share with your grandmother, show up at this address tomorrow. At nine am. I’ll supply the tools and the meals. You supply the labor.”
    “I don’t take charity.”.
    “It’s not charity. I expect you to work for your keep. My wife and I have an empty bedroom. It’s yours as long as you work for it. Besides, Mary likes to cook for boys and she’s been a little down since the last of our own kids moved out.” Brady tucked the slip of paper into Gabe’s pocket.
    “You’re nuts,” Gabe said as he slid out of the cruiser. “But thanks for the lunch.” He waved, the bag still clutched in his hand and sauntered off.
    Brady smiled. The kid might sound disinterested and suspicious, but his shoulders were square and his head higher than when Brady had overtaken him just a half hour earlier. As if food in his belly and prospects he hadn’t had that morning had put new life into his soul. Good thing Mary really did like to cook. Brady bet that Gabe had a lot of catching up to do.

On a warm summer day with the sun glistening brightly off every shiny surface Jerry Brady broke from the line of his fellow officers who had attended the graduation ceremony for the newest group of police academy recruits.
    “Do you want me to knight you now or in a special ceremony later?” The tall young man in a brand new officer’s uniform said as he strode towards Brady with his hand outstretched.
    Brady ignored the hand and pulled Gabe into an embrace. “Why am I being knighted?” he asked as the back-slapping stopped and Gabe stepped back.
    “You saved at least one of us, Sir Galahad.”
    Tears sprang to Brady’s eyes. All those years ago, when the orphaned boy had swallowed his pride and accepted refuge at the Brady home to avoid getting sucked into the foster care system, Brady had never imagined he would come to love Gabriel as much as he did his own sons. Against department wisdom, but with his wife’s wholehearted support, once the siding on the house had been completed, Gabe had moved on to painting the fence and after that it was glazing windows. By the time Christmas rolled around again, Gabe had filled out remarkably and become family. He’d made up for lost time and graduated high school near the top of his class, and then gone on to excel at the Police Academy. Of all the good things Brady had done in his career, of all the honors he’d been given, this was the best of them all.
    “You saved yourself, Gabe. You took a chance and trusted me, but you saved yourself. Welcome to the force.”

  Check out the Cameron's of Tide's Way series on Kindle, Nook and in paperback. Falling for Zoe, Loving Meg, Trusting Will, Healing a Hero, Loving Ben (short story free on Kindle and Nook) and Mike's Wager (also a free short story on Kindle and Nook.)       Amazon    and    Barnes & NobleApply

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