A full moon glowed, casting an iridescent light over the farm-cum-landfill that loomed in the far distant corner of Kori’s bedroom window. The first inkling of the sun’s rays wouldn’t be seen for more than an hour on this chilly late October morning. Gil tiptoed into the room, hovering above the bed where Kori and Jack lay sleeping. He pinched his fingers around Jack’s nose, cutting off Jack’s oxygen supply. After several moments, Jack inhaled a frantic pull of air through his mouth and his eyes flew open to see Gil looming above.
“What?” Jack hissed, shoving Gil’s fingers away to rub the appendage.
“Are you awake?” Gil asked.
“I am now you, little jerk.” Face-to-face with Gil, watching his salamander eyes hold his own, Jack smiled in spite of himself. Gil could stare, unblinking, for well over ten minutes. Jack loved Gil like a brother and even with the little cretin’s exasperating habits, Jack would do anything for him.
“What time is it?” Jack asked, discouraged by the murky darkness still clinging to the curtains.
“Five o’clock.” Gil said. “C’mon. I want to show you something.” Intuiting that there would be no more sleep for him this morning, Jack allowed Gil to pull him to his feet.
“Hhhhmmmph. Briefs. I wear briefs, too,” Gil said approvingly.
Jack scrambled into his jeans, pulled a tee shirt over his head and a sweatshirt over top. He looked over at his boots and opted for bare feet. He took one more longing look at the bed, sighed and headed toward the door.
“I gotta take a whiz,” Jack announced, stopping at the bathroom. Gil tried to follow him, but Jack barred the way. Gil leaned against the closed door, tapping his foot in exaggerated fashion for the minute it took Jack to emerge, disheveled and still half asleep.
“Let’s go.” Gil led. A light clicked on in Robbie’s room as they walked by, but the door didn’t open. Gil put his finger to his lips and tiptoed down the stairs, Jack trailing him.
Once outside, Gil took off running across the lawn to the shed. Determined not to be outdone by a ten-ear old, Jack sprinted the hundred yards to the barn, but bare feet and the fact that Gil was more awake at this regrettable hour put him at a disadvantage, about fifty paces behind, he’d later estimate.
At the barn door, Gil found the lock laying on the ground, the door swung wide. “Huh?” A shadowy figure rooted through the drawers, a roll of drawings under one arm.
“Hey! What are you doing?” Gil demanded.
The figure ran, knocking Gil to the ground and whacking Jack in the face with the drawings in his bolt to the woods. The impact caused stars to jump before Jack’s eyes and he staggered, holding his nose.
“Hey! Come back here,” Gil yelled, and before Jack could clear his head, Gil took off running after the intruder. Jack ran after Gil, grabbing his arm moments before he disappeared behind the copse.
“Whoa, man. That wouldn’t be a good thing,” Jack said. Gil struggled, but Jack’s grip was firm.
“Jack. Let Go! He took something — some drawings.” Gil pried Jack’s hand off his arm and yanking free of his grip, dove to the ground. Jack grabbed his collar and pulled him back, surprised to hear his own heavy breathing. After a few deep breaths, Jack knelt down beside Gil and wrapped an arm around his waist.
“We can’t go, Gil. It’s too dangerous.”
“But he’s getting away,” Gil said.
“We want him to get away. Then he won’t hurt us.” Jack squeezed Gil’s arm gently.
“This isn’t a movie, buddy. It’s real life. And somebody really wanted something bad out here. Bad enough to break in.” Jack searched Gil’s eyes for understanding.
Gil grimaced at his besmirched barn and turned to see Robbie running toward them dressed only his underwear.
“What going on?” Robbie asked.
Jack pulled himself up to his full height. Despite their differences, at this moment they behaved as if nothing had ever come between them.
Gil darted over to Robbie and jumped in his arms, sniffling. “He took some drawings.”
Robbie ran his hands up and down Gil’s body, turning him around, checking for injuries.
Jack shook his head, reviving the dull ache in his own face. He raised his hand to his eye and probed delicately.
“He wasn’t expecting us,” Jack said. He winced as he touched his nose.
Satisfied that Gil was injury free, Robbie set him down and turned to Jack. “Did he hit you?” Robbie asked.
Jack shook his head. “Only by accident. The drawings caught me in the face when he was making his getaway. You know when people say they see stars, you always think like, ‘yeah, right.’ Well….” Jack rubbed his nose again, then his eyes. “Little brother here’s lucky he stepped aside. I think that guy was taking no prisoners.”
“Did he have a gun?”
“I don’t know. It’s so dark out here. It’s the middle of the night, for Chrissakes.”
“Yeah, so what are you doing out here?” Robbie asked.
Jack smiled and tilted his head in Gil’s direction. “The salamander woke me up.”
Gil toed the dirt in response. Jack scanned the treeline, but the light was still too dim to see anything clearly. In the opposite direction, the sun’s first rays whooped and hollered, mad streaks of reds and oranges overtaking the horizon like a five-star general.
“He’s long gone by now,” Jack said. Robbie nodded in agreement, folded his hands across his chest and rubbed his arms.
“Let’s go inside. It’s freakin’ cold out here,” Robbie said. Jack nodded and they hoofed it back to the house, pausing once to glance back over their collective shoulders.
The light clicked on as they entered the kitchen. Kori stood in the doorway wearing a revealing nightgown and suppressing a yawn. Jack shot her an approving glance which dissolved the camaraderie of the last few minutes when Robbie intercepted it.
“What are you doing? Don’t tell me you’re hunting? Why do you have Gil with you if you’re hunting,” she said to the room at large. “And why are you in your underwear?” she said to Robbie in particular.
“I heard a noise.” Robbie brushed past her on his way to the stairs.
“Where are you going?” Kori called after him.
“To put some clothes on, Kori,” he replied. “ I suggest you do the same.” Kori and Jack exchanged glances. Jack tightened his mouth so as not to smile in front of Gil and nodded in the direction of the stairs. Kori spun on her heel, leaving Jack and Gil alone.
“How about some breakfast, Salamander?” Jack asked, grabbing the coffee pot and filling it with water. “Sleuthing always makes me hungry.”
Gil said nothing, but walked out of the kitchen and to the hallway closet. He climbed way in the back in between bulky winter jackets, past umbrellas and over hiking boots. Jack heard an occasional grunt followed by several more minutes of rooting around and Gil emerged victorious, the precious bundle in hand.
He returned to the kitchen, the bundle of drawings hooked under his arm, and took a seat at the table waiting for Jack to serve him. Although already ten, up until now he had led the life of the pampered: there was very little Gilliam William Tirabi did for himself. Jack poured a bowl full of cereal, added some milk and set it before Gil.
“So they didn’t get what they were looking for?” Jack said.
Gil shook his head, set the drawings on the table and scooped up a heaping spoonful of Cheerios. His cheeks bulged and his words were drowning in milk and wheat. “After breakfast will you and Robbie help me find someplace safe to hide them?” Gil asked.
Jack nodded. “Sure.”
He pushed Gil’s hair back and sat down next to him to wait for his coffee. “Better eat up. My guess is the Spanish Inquisition’s comin’ down the stairs any minute now.”
to be continued. . .
to read what came before, click here. . .