Chances for Changes
by Ruwen Rouhs
…no one hears you screaming or The Ugly Duckling Phenomenon
"Hey Broder, do you remember the story of the ugly duckling? It's from a Danish poet. His name is Anderson or Andersen." Adam was asking Broder, when his adoptive father came home worn out by work. "You really don't remember?"
"Is this again one of the funny ideas of your favorite teacher Miss Myers? Did she ask you this time to interpret a fairy tale of a writer dead for more than a hundred years?"
"It's relevant today Broder! Didn't you pick me up, me a dirty boy in rags, me a kid who was down and out? And now?" Adam rose to his tiptoes, spread his arms like a swan spreads his wings. After a bow he attempted to do a pirouette and then grinned, "And now Broder? I am as beautiful as a swan, thanks to you!"
"Don't overdo it! You would even be a likeable kid in rags, Adam! I just provided some new cloth!"
"But Broder the story has more to it! I'll read a passage to you," but the poor duckling, who had crept out of his shell last of all, and looked so ugly, was bitten and pushed and made fun of, not only by the ducks, but by all the poultry." Pausing for a breath , "So it went on from day to day till it got worse and worse. The poor duckling was driven about by every one; even his brothers and sisters were unkind to him, and would say, "Ah, you ugly creature, I wish the cat would get you," and his mother said she wished he had never been born. The ducks pecked him, the chickens beat him, and the girl who fed the poultry kicked him with her feet. So at last he ran away, frightening the little birds in the hedge as he flew over the palings."
"Now I remember Adam! But in this story nature did her way. The scorned duckling, ugly and disagreeable to look at, turned into a graceful and beautiful swan! Do you think that can happen to humans also?"
"Remember Broder it worked in my case and I'll bet you anything it works if we all try hard enough!"
Events remembered by Adam, have the heading ' ADAM': .
Those remembered by Broder, are headed ' BRODER': .
"Could you close the door!" Broder shouted because a blast of chilly evening air sprayed small droplets of rain through the open window into his room.
"Sorry Broder!" carrying on without stopping, Vic shouted to Adam, "Have you opened your mail, the one with the attachment? Have you viewed the clip? Have you seen it?" While Adam booted his PC, Vic just couldn't stop shouting, his face contorted by outrage and disgust. " They did it! They stole our banner! They plastered up our flag with paint-balls. They incinerated our banner!"
"Who stole our banner, the banner of the Weird Varans? Who, who did this….?
The PC was finally booted and Adam opened the mail. In capital letters the message read in blood-red:
"VENGEANCE IS MINE, WE WILL REPAY!"
Judge Cal & Judge McTighe
"Who in heaven is Judge Cal? Who is Judge McTighe? Adam asked trying to download the attachment
The shocked voices of Adam and Vic prompted Broder to start for his adoptee´s room, when the phone bell nailed him down, "Adam, Adam did you get the mail also, the outrageous email?" Pete's exited voice threatened to break Broder's eardrum.
Muttering, "I will get you Adam! Pete, calm down." Broder crossed the small corridor and arrived at the two friends, just when the film clip began flickering on the screen.
The first take was silent. It showed only a small, shrub covered clearing surrounded by tall beech trees. In the centre, the remnants of a dead oak aimed one single scrawny branch skywards. This naked arm served as flagpole for a bright banner, the banner of the Jugger team "The Weird Varans".
On the second, also silent take, two men in black with black masks set foot onto the clearing, carrying guns with big hoppers and high pressure tanks. Immediately they began to fire round after round of paintballs towards the banner. When the first rounds hit the bright red banner with the speckled Giant Varan it tried to escape by flying into the air. However, with every hit more it became heavier and heavier because of the paint. In the end it dangled lifeless from the skeleton-like branch like a torn up sail of a shipwreck covered all over with red and blue stains.
On the third take the two men in black did a war dance around the ruined banner, then sprayed it with a clear liquid and finally incinerated it. When the flag was a single yellow flash, the two black men showed the victory sign shouting with triumphant voices "Burn Weird Varans, Burn! Burn! Burn! Burn!" Then they spun around, exposed their white asses and mooned into the camera, "Shitty little mother fuckers, Fucking dirty faggots! Burn, burn, burn!" and continued their war dance till only charred shreds were left of the bright banner.
All were in shock, in shock because of the assault on their identity as the Weird Varans, on their identity as innocent lovers, on their identity as humans. Broder was in shock as well as Adam and Vic. While the two teens burned up with anger, Broder got deathly cold with rage. "These bloody idiots! These homophobic cretins!" and he clenched his fist as if to squash them like bugs.
Then all went silent; Pete's voice sounded via the speaker of the phone "Hi, hi there, anybody there? What the matter? Are you there Broder? Adam, are you there?"
"We just saw the clip, the clip of Judge Cal and Judge McTighe! Did you call us up because of this outrageous insult?" Broder was the first to ask. Then Adam took the phone, "Those morons have insulted us! You and Tru and me and Vic, all of us, all our friends, all of the Weird Varans!" and Vic joined in, "Revenge! We have to take revenge. Do you know these fuckers?"
During mid-morning break all members of the Weird Varans gathered under the old elm tree in the corner at the very edge of the schoolyard. Leaning against the big tree, Pete was holding Tru tightly pressed to his body. The other members of the Weird Varans were grouped around. Adam and Vic, Mel and Sue Ellen, and the twins Randy and Thomas attended the same class with Pete and Tru, while Hakan, Jake, Kev and Mike were already sophomores.
The telephone tree Pete had initiated after his consultation with Adam and Vic was now completely expendable. All of them had gotten the e-mail the evening before and all of them had a bad night. Although Pete was the founder and undisputed boss of the Weird Varans, Mel was leading the discussion. She tried hard to calm down the heated exchange, "Stay cool! Please stay cool. All of you! First we have to find out who is behind the masks of Judge Cal and Judge McTighe. Has anyone recognized one of the offenders despite their disguise?"
"No, but they are students, they are not adults! I bet!" Randy interposed and Thomas supported his brother, "They shouldn't be much older than Jake and Kev!"
"Don't you dare to suspect us, Thomas!" with that Jake tried to seize the small freshman by the collar.
A sharp "Hey!" stopped this action. All heads turned to the newcomer. It was Tiger, Thore Igerssen, the PE-teacher, a short wiry fellow. He was a veteran teacher of the school but fit as a fiddle. Not a single student could imagine the school without him. He seemed to be the perpetual part of the school even more than the buildings, the gym or the cafeteria. Tiger had never been married but was constantly flirting with the teenaged girls or younger women teachers. Secretly however Tiger had an unending crush on athletic male students. In every age group he had his favorites, calling them "sons" instead using their names. Pete was one of his favorites.
"I don't want to disturb your discussions!" he interrupted the quarrel, giving a smile to Pete, "I have to have a word with you son, later on." Then he addressed Mel, "You mentioned two strange names young lady. Did you say Judge Cal and Judge McTighe or J. Cal and J. McTighe? Did I hear right?
"Yep!" Hakan answered and Mel asked, "Do you know them?"
"No! I may have heard these names before but in another context." Winking at Mel, "Can you let an old man in to the secret, dear Mel? Remember I am already rickety and Alzheimer's disease is just around the corner!"
"What corner?" Adam joked, checking the buildings, but Tiger pressed on, "You got problems? Right! Go on, tell me! Is it because of Judge Cal and Judge McTighe?"
Mel and Adam let Tiger in on the video clip and the threats. Tiger was alarmed. Frowning he turned to Pete, "Hey son, come to my office and show me the clip. I have to discuss with you the next football match, anyway! You must help me out son, because the quarterback of the junior team has a strained a muscle. It's only you Pete, who could adequately substitute for him."
In the office, Tiger downloaded the clip using Pete's e-mail account. After watching the clip two times, the veteran PE-teacher eyes sparked with anger. "Bloody bastards! Bloody bastards!" He muttered between his teeth. With furrowed brow he began brooding on the clip. Finally he turned to Pete, "Son!" giving him a level look, "Son, now I remembered. Judge Cal and Judge McTighe are characters of the British comic called Judge Joe Dredd. The uniformed judges in this science fiction comic combine the powers of police, judge, jury and executioner. They are empowered to arrest, sentence and even execute criminals on the spot."
"But we are no criminals, Tiger, Mr. Igerssen! We are the Weird Varans! Why are these bastards hating us, why do they threaten us?"
"You belong to the good ones my son, you and all your friends, Mel and Sue Ellen, Adam and Vic, the twins and all others." With that the wiry old PE-teacher put an arm across the large teen's shoulder to comfort the shocked freshman.
At the first moment Pete shied away but when Tiger told him with solemn voice, "You belong to the goods ones Pete, my boy, you and your boyfriend Tru, the little angel!" the worried teen leaned in and regained his strength. "Give me a day or two, my son. I have to check out the background. Tell the other Varans not to worry. See to it son that the Jugger meeting on Saturday takes place as intended. I will attend the games and on Sunday you can help out in the Juniors football team."
At pWpS the secretary called Broder to the phone, "It's urgent Mr. Ryder, it's Oakville High, it's Adam's PE teacher!"
Broder snapped the receiver out of her hand, "Hello! This is Broder Ryder. Is something wrong with my son, Mister..? Did Adam have an accident?"
"No, Adam is fine!" then reluctantly, "But it's urgent. We have to deal with a problem as soon as possible, with the Judges, J. Cal and C. McTighe. I have to talk to you face to face! Could we meet during the lunch hour in the Coffee shop opposite the school?"
Two hours later Broder nervously searched the small coffee shop for an athletic PE-teacher. The only guest in the coffee was a small wiry man with clipped gray hair talking busily in a cell phone.
He waved Broder nearer. "Mr. Ryder? Glad you could make it. I am Thore Igerssen! Remember me?" When Broder looked blank, he continued "Sit down son! You are the first one I want to bring into the secret."
Now it dawned on Broder "Thore Igerssen? We called you Tiger, not …."
"All students call me by this nickname, for more than 30 years." He smiled, then he got serous, "I decided to let you in on the secret, first because you were one of my first students in Oakville High, secondly because you did something great to adopt a street kid and last not least you are single, so that the information I will give to you will not spread through town like a wildfire."
While Broder stared at him wide-eyed, Tiger continued with a deadly serious voice, "You know about the burned banner and the threats to the Weird Varans? There is a background story you have to know to assess the imminent threat." Gathering his thoughts, "Last November, our history teacher's car was set on fire. But that was just the last of a succession of threats to my colleague. At first he got a mail calling him a Cretin , Child Molester , Fudge Packer . Leave the school! they demanded, The Judges will extinguish the evil! The e-mail was signed Judge J. Cal & Judge C. McTighe."
"Did he report it to the police?"
"Naw, not at first! He didn't take serious the first e-mail. Teachers are used to such threats, to such mud-slinging. Two weeks later the second e- mail arrived, calling him Disgrace of the Universe , Cock Sucker , Bugger and Aids Monkey . The Judges threatened to blow up his house, to annihilate him and his brood. He didn't react, but on the next stormy evening fire-crackers exploded all around his house. Then he called the police."
"Did they get the culprits? Did the police check for tracks?"
"They didn't find any evidence of the offender on the site of the crime. Heavy rain had washed away the tracks. However they located the URL that sent the e-mail. But in vain, it was a PC in an internet cafe."
"To me this still looks like a bloody joke of students, annoying but not dangerous!" Broder objected.
"No Broder! No my son! Judge J. Cal & Judge J. McTighe are not fooling around. They are serious, deadly serious, honestly. After a third e-mail they placed several heavy duty firecrackers underneath my colleague's Citroen DX. They blew up his ardently loved and valuable old-timer. When the car exploded, the darting flames nearly set his house on fire. These bloody criminals do not fool around! They are serious. They are hateful, they hate, hate, hate! And they are shrewd!" pausing for breath, "We have to keep the danger away from our kids, from the Weird Varans, their newest target! You and me, and Pete's brothers! The police force is not of much use in this case!"
On Saturday morning the Weird Varans met to prepare the octagonal court for the tournament in the municipal park close to the fenced-in soccer ground. At a plenary meeting three days before they had unanimously decided to bid defiance to the threat of the Judges. Out of spite they decided to create a new emblem. Neither Mel and Sue Ellen nor the boys were skilled enough to sew a banner therefore they decided to paint their coat of arms on a big wooden panel. In a hot discussion they had voted unanimously for red for the shield and for the Komodo dragon as heraldic animal. They choose a dark red because it is the color of the warriors. The Komodo dragon was painted in green and sported a pointed yellow tongue and a golden crown. The golden crown had the shape of two entangled letters, W & V , for Weird Varans. This heraldic animal, the dragon, was the symbol of valour and protection and like this wild beast, the Weird Varans were determined to overcome the Judges.
Illuminated by the morning sun the big wooden shield was hanging resplendent on the trunk of an old oak and announced the gathering point for the four Jugger clubs taking part in this tournament, the Weird Varans and their guests the St. Martin's Knights, the Sea Pirates and the Mountain Guerillas.
The St. Martin's Knights as well as the Sea Pirates were either freshmen or sophomores like the Weird Varans while the Mountain Guerillas were college students of a school about fifty miles away. They were the favorites of the tournament, because of the age and their experience in rugby.
The news about the threat to the Weird Varans had already circulated the whole Jugger league. The members of the other clubs were as outraged as the Weird Varans themselves. The Mountain Guerillas, as the oldest and most experience, decided to display the solidarity between all juggers to the public by a gesture.
At the beginning of the tournament, they asked the others juggers to line up in a mixed string, marched to the center of the field and formed a large circle. Holding hands, they pledged alliance to each other shouting at the top of their voices three times: All for One and One for All. This manifestation surprised the spectators of the tournament not knowing of the threats.
In the first match the host, the Weird Varans, fought against the Mountain Guerillas. Most of the early visitors were students of Oakville High and of St. Martin's High, the home St. Martin's Knights, They all supported the Weird Varans. Despite the ear-deafening support the Varans lost 5 to 11, mainly because of the skill of the Mountain Guerilla's Qwik and the superior tactical level of this team. In the next game, the students of Oakville High supported the Knights against the Pirates. Both teams were about equal in skill and the match came out close.
In the mean time more and more visitors to the municipal park had joined the spectators, attracted by the bang-bang of the gong counting the time. The small boys were awestricken by the weapons of the fighters, the staffs, the long and short swords, the shields with their colorful emblems, the paired short swords and the chains with the fixed padded ball. Even the girls were fascinated, not only by the adventurous looks of the players but also because was no discrimination and girls as well as boys were full members of the teams.
Zach, Lilek and the other members of the middle school soccer team turned up around noon. They were sorely disappointed after having lost a match in the junior league. However, they lost their frustration in no time, when they were allowed to pick up spare weapons and practice fighting.
Already at the opening of the competition, Broder and Tiger had met on the sideline opposite the oak tree with the coat of arms. They decided to walk around the playground watching the different groups of spectators narrowly, hoping to identify the Judges. They didn't know what to expect exactly, but suspected the wanted suspects would wear black and behave obtrusive.
"According to their appearance in the clip, the Judges should be Juniors or Seniors. They look kind of too big for freshmen or sophomores. I think they are at the transition to adulthood." Tiger remarked. Pointing a finger to a clique of four, "These two boys over there come pretty close to the picture of the Judges I have in mind."
"I don't think you are right Tiger." Broder stopped embarrassed, "Sorry, Mr. Igerssen! ….. Their body shape comes close, but I doubt the Judges would be as successful with girls as these two."
Tiger grinned, "You can use my nickname Son, I am used to Tiger and for revenge I call you Son." Waiting a moment, "You are right, Son." emphasizing the word son, "The two we are looking for should be kind of uneasy with girls. I don't expect them to be lady-killers, hot for girls sure, but afraid to be rebuffed."
After the third or fourth round they spotted Pete's brother Johnny at the big oak with the Weird Varans emblem. He was busily talking to a baby-faced guy. Sneaking up behind the two they overheard Johnny briefing the stranger about Jugging and filling him up about the threats of the Judges, "I tell you Dec, these bastards are not joking. They are dangerous. You must help us. They are really dangerous." Looking up, Johnny noticed Broder and Tiger. His facial expression relaxed, while he pointed at the eavesdropper "Ask Pete's PE-teacher, ask Tiger, he will tell you about what happened to the history teacher."
"Hey there! Have you found an ally, Son?" Tiger addressed Johnny and then introduced himself the stranger. "I am PE-teacher at Oakville High and responsible for the kids, not only for the good ones, but for the bad ones also." Pointing at Broder; This is the father of Adam, one of my nicest students!"
"I am Marlowe Dekker! But call me Dec. Johnny and I know each other from college. We were close buddies back then, but lost contact. I am new in town!"
Putting his arm across the shoulder of his old friend Marlowe, Johnny asked, "Can you guess why his nickname is Dec?" not waiting, "He is detective in the police department and a quite good one, I am sure! He is willing to help us solve the secret of the Judges on a personal basis."
The next few hours the four patrolled the sidelines of the field. Nothing conspicuous happened, not one of the spectators looked suspicious. At their powwow during the final match Dec asked Tiger, "You know all the boys of Oakville High I guess. As their PE-teacher you should have seen their bums in the showers more than once. Do you have an idea who hides behind the mask of the Darth Vaders?"
The old PE-teacher only shrugged his shoulders, "No! A waste of effort, the whole afternoon is wasted. Not one of the teens came close to the image I have in mind of the Judges."
Luckily for all, Zach broke up this futile discussion, punching Broder in the back "Hi Broder, you promised to invite us for the first barbeque of this season! I am starved and Lilek is too. Don't you hear my tummy rumbling! Hurry up! Let's go!"
"Stop nagging you greedy-guts, you know I have to wait for Adam and Vic! But we can't leave without them because I have to take their gear back home!"
"Just go ahead Broder, you can't let these poor boys die of hunger. Get back with them and start the barbeque grill. I will wait for Adam and Vic and give them a ride to your place. I want to stay till the closing of the tournament, anyway. Get going!"
"But only if you stay for the barbeque, Dec! You are welcome; I got meat enough to feed you too. But I do not have any beer around, nada, nothing, not even a single bottle!"
Around ten o'clock Zack and Lilek couldn't keep their eyes open anymore. Squatting shoulder to shoulder on a thick cover in front of the fire they tried to suppress their yawning. "Get going boys, beds are waiting!" Zach's mother Mrs. Freer commanded, "Time to go to bed boys!" searching the dark for her eldest son, "Vic, its time for you too!"
"Oh Mom, tomorrow is Sunday, can I stay with Adam? I haven't had a sleep over at his place in nearly a month. Please, can I? If I stay with Adam, Lilek can use my bed and you do not need clean linen!"
"Don't take me for a fool Victor! You didn't sleep over at Adam's, but he did at your place last weekend. But for the sake of peace and quiet, you can stay if Broder agrees!"
Dec chatting with Broder on the porch, took notice of Vic's request. "Do you agree? Adam and Vic are no little boys anymore!"
"The two are very close. They are best friends, since …. I don't mind and Mrs. Freer knows that." hesitating a moment, "Johnny probably told you Dec that Adam is my adopted son. We met last summer and I made him my son. I am proud he accepted me as his father. He is a great son." When Dec didn't answer, "Do you have kids? Everybody has to have a son, Dec!"
"No! No kids! I am single. I got my divorce half a year ago and left my old place. That's the reason I looked for a position here in Dartsborough." A short time later the lights went dim over in the Freer´s house.
Broder and Dec were still sitting on the porch looking up at the starry sky. Both were chatting on in low voices, when Adam came out of the back door in boxers only. He went over to Broder and gave him a quick peck on the cheek, "Night Dad, thanks for attending the match today! …… You too Dec also, it was nice to have you around at the barbeque!"
"Thanks Adam, sleep well, you and Vic." Dec answered and then with a slightly regret in his voice, "You really got a nice son, Broder."
A little later, the two went inside too. As he prepared to leave, Dec suddenly hesitated at the front door as if he had to make up his mind. Unexpectedly for Broder he asked with hoarse voice, "May I stay with you Broder, for tonight, forever? I don't want to leave. Please!"
On Sunday morning Adam sneaked into Border's bedroom. It was already past nine and the room was still dark. Soft-footed he went to the window, pulled up the blinds, turned around and called. "Hey dad, breakfast! You are late! Vic has prepared the coffee and I did the pancakes. Don't you smell…" the next words got stuck in his throat, "Excuse me!" he muttered with a low voice and headed for the door, his eyes cast down.
"Don't Adam! Don't leave. We have to …..!" Broder called after his son.
Adam was in a shock. That was the last he had expected, Broder and Dec in bed together. Broder was spooning Dec! Adam let the door shut, took a deep breath and went to the kitchen. As if nothing special had happened he announced to Vic, "Broder and Dec will be here in a moment."
"You hit Vic again on the head Adam, kneel down! Down!" Zack ordered. In the practice after breakfast Zach acted as the referee and Lilek, as time keeper. He counted "one", "two", "three", "four", "five". Adam rose and hit Vic again with the staff. His friend parried the hard attack with the shield and then complained angrily, "Stop being so aggressive Adam, it's not my fault that Dec stayed overnight!"
"Its not Dec, it's Broder! I hate……"
Adam was not able to finish the sentence, because Broder called from inside, "Adam, Vic, hurry! Tru just called! The Judges have mailed a second clip. Its the second threat!"
Clustered in a half circle in front of the screen they watched the clip. The first frame was:
"VENGEANCE IS MINE, WE WILL REPAY!"
WATCH OUT! THE END IS NIGH!
Judge Cal & Judge McTighe
Then the first take. It showed an idyllic lake side with high alder trees and ashes in the back ground. The open water was bordered by a thicket of willows and sweet gale.
The second shot, taken with telephoto lens, showed a green log with grey patches moving fast towards a sandy beach.
The next take, a close up, revealed that the log was a big alligator with red eyes and white teeth. From the distance the alligator looked like living, but when it got closer it turned out to be a big air bed in the shape of an alligator.
"It's an air mattress, a float, like the one we had last year!" Zach announced giggling, but then he fell silent, because fastened to the grips of the inflatable animal was a plate. It read: " W & V ", exactly like the crown on the Weird Varans´ coat of arms.
In the next take two men in black, with masks like the ones used by paintball players, were shown hiding behind a tree trunk washed ashore. One was carrying a paintball gun, the other one a sawn-off shotgun in addition to the paintball marker.
When the floating alligator was in shooting distance, they raised the paintball markers and delivered round after round of markers towards the animal. At first they aimed at the shield only, then at the animal. The fierce hits made the alligator jump and squirm like a wounded animal. Slowly it was propelled back into the deeper water. It looked like the alligator tried to escape.
In the next take, the man in black with the shotgun rose up, took aim and delivered both shells of the two-barreled gun. The spray of pellets shredded the alligator to pieces and the plate with the initials of the Weird Varans vanished in the depth of lake. The ear deafening explosions of the shotgun was followed by the devilish laughter of the men in black and cheers of triumph and hate, "Wimps! Cock Suckers! Sissies! Vengeance is ours!"
At first Zach and Lilek joined the laughter, but then the meaning of the clip dawned on the young boys and they started crying. Vic took Zach in his arms and tried to sooth him, "Come on little brother, come on, that's just a joke!" Lilek sought refuge in Border's lap, babbling incoherently. On the spur of a moment, Vic and Broder took the distressed boys and left for the Freers.
Adam and Dec stayed behind alone. Adam was sitting petrified in front of the shut down screen. When the detective tried to take Adam's ice-cold hand, he fought him off.
"Please listen Adam! I have to explain to you the new situation. Please listen to me!" he pleaded. Adam didn't react, so Dec continued, "Yesterday Broder and I met for the first time. From the first moment on I felt at ease in his company. It was as if we had been friends forever, as if we were brothers." pausing a moment, "In the evening at the fire I was perfectly happy watching you, Vic, Zach and Lilek fooling around. I was sitting with Broder, when you walked up to us. You hugged Broder "Night Dad!" and then you thanked me also. Your affectionate hug dissipated all my remaining doubts. From that moment on I was absolutely sure, I had to be part of your family."
Adam did not answer. His body language proved he was in a complete turmoil.
Dec continued his pleading, "Please Adam, don't be mad anymore. Don't be mad at Broder and me. Something happened between us and we don't understand why, neither Broder nor I. But you have to know Broder loves you as he did before, from the very first moment you met. I would like to be included in your love. I would like to be called father also."
Adam stayed silent for a long time. Dec was about to leave, when Adam, gave him a small smile of consent, "Do I have two fathers from now on?" looking questioning at Dec, "Do I have two fathers to find these villains and defang them?"
Adam rose, walked to Dec, hugged him and started to grin sheepishly, "These criminals failed, they have been digging their own graves making you and Broder my fathers!"
"It's the Sky-Eye, Paul told me! The Sky-Eye, up on Frozen Head Mountain!"
"Hey Pete, what is the Sky-Eye?"
"It is the name of the lake in the clip of the Judges! Paul was up there last spring. He recognized the lake! …. Do you know where Detective Dekker is? Paul would like to talk to him, but he doesn't answer the phone!"
"Dec? Still here! He stayed overnight! …. Dec, Paul wants to talk to you!"
An hour later Broder, Dec and Adam met with Paul in his off-road vehicle at Burlap Springs. "Do you think we will find any traces of the rubber alligator?" was Pete's first question.
Dec just shrugged his shoulders, "I hope. Every suspect leaves traces, at least some." They all were tense during the ride along the gravel road up into the mountains. Driving down a small road to the lake surrounded by mountain peaks, Adam understood why the small lake was called Sky-Eye. Embedded in a beech wood forest, surrounded by alders, the smooth surface of the lake mirrored the blue afternoon sky. The road to the sandy beach was only access to the lake. It was barred partially by a barkless tree trunk close to the waterline.
"Don't mess up the footprints!" Dec warned Adam and Pete, who wanted to be first at the water. While he and Broder collected evidence at the parking-site and the beach, Paul and the two freshmen walked through the high grass to the waterline, carefully avoiding sandy patches. The waves had washed ashore the remains of the alligator, shreds of green rubber, and some empty paintballs. Now they were partially covered by sand. Searching for more evidence they found two empty shells between the reeds.
"These are from buck shots." Paul told the others, "They are big enough to kill a man at short distance. These guys are really dangerous." Collecting the shells, he called, "Hey Dec, should we recover the rubber shreds and the paintballs also?"
"Collect every thing, these kids are sure are careless, leaving enough evidence to be convicted. Come over here Adam and Pete. Let's find out how your footprints compare the ones of the Judges in the sand. The Judges should be heavier than Adam and at least as big as Pete!"
Dec was right. The footprints of the suspects were about the same size as Pete's and bigger than Adam's. On some places the treads were clearly imprinted in the moist sand. This and the light condition at the time the clip was taken indicated that the alligator massacre had taken place late on Saturday afternoon.
Dec took photos of every part of the place, close-ups of the footprints and of alligator's remains and finally asked Adam and Pete to line up in front of the tree trunk, to be able to approximate the body size of the judges by comparison with clips.
On the ride back, Broder asked Adam to take the seat between him and Dec on the rear bench. At first Adam felt kind of funny sitting between his "two fathers", but then he was happy about it because of two reasons. The first was very simple. Sitting sandwiched between the two proved that they loved him both and accepted him as full member of the new family. The second reason was that Adam had been a little scared that Broder and Dec would start to make out on the backseat. After all this was their first day together as lovers and being in the same circumstance with Vic, he wouldn't have been able to keep his hands from his boy friend. He was happy the two abstained from playing lovebirds in front of Pete and Paul.
Adam still wondered. Had the two made love together? He couldn't imagine Broder making love. No, not at all! Broder had always been so standoffish, so shy to show his emotions to others. Broder had hugged him once in while, but he had never given him a peck. Adam on the other hand liked to show his affection in public. He liked to kiss Broder in front of others and this made Broder blush usually. He liked to kiss Vic and usually Zack, Lilek and naturally all the Weird Varans greeted each other with a peck on the cheek.
And Dec? Adam wondered. He didn't know him at all. Would Dec show his affection to Broder in public? This morning he had caught the two spooning. This proved they enjoyed each other. But after just a day of knowing each other it was just too early for such a display of friendship in front of others. After all they were grown ups.
The living room at 15 Sparrow Lane had been converted into the head-quarters of the task force "THE WEIRD HUNTERS". The dining table was used as a conference desk with a telephone and Dec's notebook computer. A flipchart concealed Brooder's favourite posters. A small coffee table was now a desk, covered with scraps of evidence. The door to Border's office was wide open and his PC running. Dec, Broder and Tiger constitute the investigation team, while Adam's and Vic's task was to give support, to run errands and organize the connection to other Weird Varans.
At the moment Dec's notebook was connected to a video-projector and everyone was concentrating on the second video of the Judges.
"Stop the video for a sec," Adam asked, "Look at their shoes, both are wearing work boots, Dockers I suppose, with shoelaces in white!"
"They are fascists! White shoelaces are worn by Nazis!" Vic exclaimed. "In the first clip they wore sneakers!"
"Yes, they also are wearing army cargos in black and plain black sweat shirts." Tiger added.
"You are getting old Mr. Igerssen! Haven't you seen the torches on the chest, these are on the Torch Sweats, pretty rare-. You can't buy them in every store!"
"The masks are unusual also. Can you read the brand-name?"
"Looks like UT to me Broder!" Dec then turned to Adam and Vic, "This will be your task tomorrow! Go to the paintball shops and check out the brands and if necessary ask in the Paintball clubs also."
"We will find out if the Judges are members of one of the clubs. There are only two in town."
"I doubt that they are members of a club, because they're not using the padded paintball clothing!"
"Let's bring together what we know about the two." Dec took command. "They are about Pete's height, that is about 6' 0" to 6' 3" . The smaller one seems a little stockier!"
"Sure his ass was a little fatter too!"
"You said that, Tiger, but I am sure you are right, you have seen more teen's asses than any one of us!"
"They are wearing black work boots with white laces, black cargos, black Torch Sweats and black masks!"
"What do we know about their weapons, Dec?" Broder asked.
"They are using upgraded semiautomatic paintball guns with additional air tanks and big hoppers. But I am not familiar with the brands! However Paul told me the brand of the double-barrelled shotgun, the slender one was carrying. Paul is using the same for hunting; it's an old Browning gun."
"At the moment our knowledge does not help us to identify the suspicious characters." Everyone agreed with Dec, when the detective went on to the next part of profiling. "We have to learn more about the Judges, we have to know why they may be inclined to commit such violent deeds. I suggest we should act by the rules of the federal police. They identified factors that may indicate that individuals have the potential to commit violence."
"I have heard about these suggestions, but do you really assume these boys are as dangerous as the Columbine killers?" Tiger objected strongly, "I suppose they are students of my school, Junior or Senior students!"
"Lets have a look! We can't exclude a single possibility to keep harm from our kids! Do you agree Dec?"
"These are the first five factors and probably the most important ones:
(A) Low self-esteem,
(B) Previous acts of cruelty to animals,
(C) Fascination with firearms,
(D) Disrespect for mothers or other family members and
(E) Seeing violence as the only alternative left for them."
Dec filed through a handbook, Broder stared out of the window into the dark, while Adam and Vic huddled on the couch. Tiger was circling the desk restlessly, soft-footed like a tiger. After quite a while he planted himself in front of Dec. "Factors B and C are relevant for the Judges without any doubt. They let out their frustration against an animal, even if it was only an inanimate creature, and they are fascinated by firearms. It's much more difficult to assess the other factors."
"Tiger, as their PE-teacher, you should at least have a vague suspicion who of the students is lacking self-esteem. Remember they are two, two welded together by their lack of self-esteem, their feeling of isolation and their social rejection."
Tiger frowned, scratched his head and commenced his wandering around desk. "Tiger, these boys must have record of bullying weaker students, a history of violent and aggressive behaviour as well as a history of discipline problems. Tiger even if you do not remember a pair of friends, who fit to this description, we have to keep these factors in mind."
"Aren't there other signs also?" Broder interfered "I have heard those children often express their frustration in writings and drawings and also in listening to songs promoting violence."
"Tomorrow I will talk to the teachers in creative writing and the art teachers, even if I would prefer not to let other teachers in on the problem at the moment."
"You have to Tiger!"
As the door slammed shut behind Tiger, Vic asked, "How do we fit into Dec's scheme? We are the targets, we are the threatened, the prospective victims, not the Judges, neither Judge Cal nor Judge McTighe."
When he woke up, Adam's temples throbbed. Why do I have these vicious headaches, he asked himself. It was already pretty late. The last thoughts he had had last night revolved around his relationship to Broder and Dec. He still was worried. He didn't want to agonize over the new situation any more and buried his head beneath the pillow.
Just a moment later someone pulled away the pillow, "Morning Adam! Its high time to wake up!" It was Broder's voice. Then somebody gave him a quick peck! "Wake up, Adam my boy!" followed by another peck. Adam turned and looked up into a face happy as a lark. "Oh Adam, love is so great!" A noise at the door attracted Adam's attention. Dec entered grinning sheepishly, "Tell Adam! Please Broder! You have to tell him also, I told it to our boy already yesterday. You have to confirm it." Broder blushed and then took Dec's hand, "We are a….." for a moment he struggled for words, "Adam, we are a family now! You, Dec and I! We will stay together forever! You got two fathers and we have a son!"
It was a short breakfast, not an extended opulent one like after a wedding night. When they left 15 Sparrow Lane, Broder to pWpS and Dec to the police department, Adam jumped on his bike and pedalled happily to school raking his brain: To whom should I tell this great news first? To Vic? Sure, he is my boy friend! To Pete and Tru? Maybe a little later! To Mel and the other Weird Varans? Better not today. To Tiger? I have tell him also today! He is a teacher, he is on the Weird Hunters team. I trust him!
Adam was late when he arrived at Oakville High. Adam was excited and his first lesson was PE and he had the chance to let Vic and Tiger into the secret now. When he weaved his way through the crowd of students at the entrance somebody tripped him up. "You stupid little queer! You cock sucker! You aids monkey!" the attacker hissed viciously. Adam hit the ground head first and his nose started bleeding. Like a bat out of hell the brute attacker vanished. All Adam could distinguish of the attacker while he tumbled over, were work boots with white laces.
Tiger and Adam ran into each other in front of the gym. "Got a bloody nose, my boy? Go to my office little son and try to stop the bleeding. Then wait, we have to talk."
"I have to tell you something much more important! Broder and Dec have teamed up. For ever! I have two fathers now!"
After PE, Tiger and Vic found Adam snoring in the office on the old couch, his face partially covered by a wet towel. "Hey wake up son." When Tiger's call was not successful, Vic tickled Adam back to life.
"Good news or maybe bad news sons, depends on the point of view." Tiger beckoned them to sit down on the couch, continuing, "Miss Myers knows of many students acting out their fantasies of violence in creative writing. She was talking especially of four. In addition to living out their cruel fantasies in writing, these are falling into the category of students with low school interest and poor academic performance. They are also poorly accepted by their mates and range at the end of the pecking order."
With a distraught expression Adam remarked, "But Vic and I, we are also not fully accepted by the jocks, and Tru is only accepted because he is Pete's friend!"
"But you are not isolating yourself. You may be not the best in sports, but all the others know about your talents. Adam, yours is writing and Vic, yours is acting." This compliment made both smile with relief. Tiger continued, "These students however are isolating themselves, they are living in their own world." Shaking his head in disbelief, the old teacher continued, "Miss Myers has been watching these students drifting into a special world for two or three years now. She tried to reintegrate them into the class structure, but without success."
"Did she tell you their names? We need to check on them."
"She told me, but I will not tell you the names, not for the moment at least. Three of them are Juniors, while one belongs to the Seniors. Two of the Juniors are very close. This narrows down the number of the suspects a little."
After an adjournment "Tiger, you didn't ask me, why my nose was bleeding. Somebody tripped me. He called me gay, cock sucker, aids monkey. I couldn't recognize him, but he did wear work boots with white laces."
"These insults and the white laces prove that the Judges are students of Oakville High! Come on Adam, let's go and search for the two!"
"Stop boys, that's my task! But we will need more evidence than homophobic insults and a Nazi outfit, to prove that these students are the Judges."
Mark's Paintball-Shop and Shooting Range was located on a main outward road in the industrial quarter in the north of Dartsborough. Hidden between factories, the shop looked quite small and inconspicuous but the shop floor was spacious. On the shelves a vast assortment of paintball equipment was on display. Adam and Vic recognized only the paintball markers, the pistols and the pods with paintballs.
The door-bell had summoned a middle-aged man. "I am Mark, the Paintball Guru." he greeted "New customers?…. Welcomed boys! I am the owner of this shop, operate the paintball park and I am heading the local league."
"Hi Sir, I am Adam and this is my friend Vic, it's all new for us, everything. We know paintball only from TV."
"Have a look around, make yourself familiar! Do you want a try-out? Training sessions are on Tuesday to Friday evening!"
"Could we? But we haven't even handled a marker before."
"You can try a marker now! Come on!"
At a small indoor shooting range, he handed each a marker. "The first rounds are on the house, for the next you have to pay 2 bucks each."
"Actually we do not want to start now. We have to ask our parents first." Vic injected, "At the moment we are more interested to get information." resorting to a lily white lie, "My cousin is playing paintball and for his birthday he wants a new mask, a black one."
"Yeah, a special one! He wants to look like Darth Vader! He couldn't get one in his hometown and asked us to look for it in Dartsborough."
"I had some, but they are not produced anymore. The last two I sold at the spring sale."
"Do you remember who bought them?"
"Students like you, from Oak High. No they were older!" scowling, "I didn't like them, I had to throw them out after some training sessions. Paintball players are no racists and no alcoholics!"
"Do you remember their names by chance? We are studying in Oakville High too?"
"Vod and …. Bud, they called each other."
"Vod Cal and Bud McTighe?"
"What so ever, Vod Cal and Bud McTighe or Bud Cal and Vod McTighe. But I guess that are just their nicknames, Vod for Vodka and Bud for Budweiser. They liked to drink."
The two high-fived and then started whispering. For a moment Mark the Paintball Guru, looked bewildered but the Adam's next question made him chuckle knowingly, "Mister, would you tell our fathers if we accept your offer and shoot some rounds?"
Grinning like a conspirator and letting the coins the boys handed him disappear into a tin on the counter, "I close my eyes, boys! But first let me show how to handle the guns then I will turn my back to you, for the rest of the afternoon!
The street lights were already on when Adam left the drama club meeting on Wednesday evening. The moon was shining brightly therefore he decided to risk the shortcut through the municipal park, despite the warning of Broder; "Be at home before dark, remember the threats of the Judges. In the dark don't use the way across the park!"
With high speed Adam pedaled along the sandy walks, but it was not the warning that made Adam hurry along the deserted trails, he just wanted to spend the evening with his two dads and his granddad! He enjoyed the new family like a kitten enjoys the warmth of the mother's soft fur. Pedaling along in the dark he let rush by the events of last weekend in his mind's eye. He couldn't keep from laughing out loud remembering Broder's and Dec's purple faces when the Freer family dropped in to present their wedding congratulations.
On Monday just before the evening meal, bells were chiming at the backdoor of 15 Sparrow Lane. When Adam opened the door, he faced Vic and Zach, both grinning like Cheshire cats. Turning his head he called "Broder! Dec! Late visitors! Hurry up, into the garden!"
The subsequent events completely surprised Broder and Dec, and Adam also. Fireworks rocketed into the sky, roman candles sprayed their sparks into the dark night, flares coloured the night sky red and at the end heavy-duty firecrackers exploded.
When the noise subsided Vic and Zack advanced out of the dark singing:
Health and a long life to you.
Land without rent to you.
A child every year to you.
And if you can't go to heaven
May you at least die in Sparrow Lane!
First the two presented a big bouquet of roses to the new-found couple and then Mrs and Mr. Freer stepped forward with a big bottle of champagne.
"Good luck to you Broder! Good luck to you Dec!" Mrs. Freer gave both a hearty kiss on the cheeks, while Mr. Freer shook their hands and hugged both shyly. Then Zach asked his parents, Vic and Adam to a ring-a-ring of roses around their bashfully smiling new couple, singing:
Broder and Dec
Sitting in a tree
First comes love
Then comes marriage
Now they're both pushing
a baby carriage!
The bell at the front-door interrupted the frolicking. Tiger popped up, "Congratulations my sons! Broder and Dec, the best wishes from an old spinster!" He hugged both and added with melancholy voice, "Sons, you took the right decision. You took a step I never dared to do!" When Broder and Dec looked at him wide-eyed, Tiger pulled Adam closer. He beamed, "Your boy told me the secret. Adam was so proud. Even before classes started he had to tell me about his two fathers. He couldn't keep the secret a moment longer. Congratulation, my dear Sons!" Dragging a big hamper filled with delicacies out of his car, "That's my contribution to the party!...... Don't say no. The bride's father has always to cater for the wedding!….Let's start the feasting!"
Munching at the wedding table Zach couldn't keep his tongue and asked Broder and Dec straight forward as a die, "Who of you will be Adam's father and who will be his mother? Or…."
"Don't be silly!" his mother interfered promptly, "Sorry about that Broder, he's just a boy….!"
Now it was Adam turn, "I have two fathers, Zach! We three have agreed to this! I am so happy." This statement was solemnly confirmed by his brand-new fathers. They took Adam in a bear hug. But he couldn't help but add "If your wish gets true Zach, I will have a new brother or sister every year and then you have to baby-sit them!" Cackling laughter filled the room and the small but unbelievable gorgeous wedding party went on.
When all the dishes were emptied, the bottle of champagne drained and the Freers had gone, Broder and Dec started their permanent partnership with the clean-up of the dishes in the kitchen. At the couch Adam was snuggling close to Tiger. He was a little tipsy because of the first glass of champagne he ever had. "Tiger!" he giggled, "Would you mind if I appoint you to be my honorary granddad? I have two dads now but not a single granddad!"
The PE-teacher was stunned. When Adam got no answer for a while, he repeated the question "Do you, Tiger!" The old man bowed down to the boy on his side and began to trace Adam's face with his digit, first the eyebrows, then the small nose, the red lips, the dimpled chin and finally the smooth cheeks. Adam was surprised! He was not sure what this was all about. Just when he wanted to fend off Tiger, the old man leaned back in the couch.
Adam felt deeply ashamed because of his bold question and contemplated to run to his room. However his sudden attempt to take flight was averted by Tiger's voice "Am I already in a sizzled state or am I hallucinating? I just had to feel your face, my boy. I wanted to make sure I am not dreaming!"
Now it was on Adam to giggle. Again he asked, this time with even more emphasis, "Do you, Tiger? Do you want to be my granddad?"
"Oh Adam! I finally got the nephew I was waiting for so long! A nephew and two grown up sons! O God, what a day for an old man! "
Now both broke out into laughter and shouted, "Those Damned Judges! It's their fault! They are doomed! They just can't win that war game!"
Adam was still giggling when he pedalled up the ramp to the wooden swing bridge crossing the stream meandering through the park. The last meters of the ascent were so steep that his bike nearly came to a stop and the bicycle light went off. Speeding up again on the narrow footbridge, he braked terrified. The small passage was blocked by a midnight-black object. Looking closer, Adam recognized a tall and thin man propped with his back against the railing, head hidden between his drawn up knees.
The person's MP3 player was running full blast so that Adam could recognize some lines of the black song:
……the radio on turned up so loud
that no one hears you screaming
No you don't know what it's like
When nothing feels alright
You don't know what it's like to be like me
To be hurt
To feel lost
To be left out in the dark
To be kicked
When you're down
To feel like you've been pushed around
To be on the edge of breaking down
And no one's there to save you
No you don't know what it's like…………………
Adam knew the song. He had listened to "welcome to my life" by the Simple Plan a hundred times before at Star FM, but the song had never sounded so heavy-hearted, so sorrowful, so sad. Slowly, very slowly, he realized, it was not the song and it's lyrics, it was the convulsive sobbing of the black bundle on the bridge.
Adam leaned his bike to the railing, "Hey you! Hey can I he……!"
The person didn't let him finish the question, "Piss off! Piss off! I don't need your help! Piss off, I hate you! Hate you! Hate you!" The man in black rose. He was slender and towered over Adam by a full head. "Piss off…!" He grabbed Adam by the shoulders and shook him like mad. "Piss off you little fucker! Do you want me to throw you over the railing into the water? I will break your neck!"
Adam was in shock. He tried to break loose, take his bike and escape. He tried to break away, but couldn't, "Stay sucker! Now I recognize you!" his voice went shrill, "You are Adam, the honey-bun of Miss Myers, the sweetie of Tiger, the darling of all the horny bitches, the boy and girl bitches! They all love you, because you are the poor little orphan boy, the darling freshmen! You and Tru! These little sweet looking, all-knowing geeks!" Full of disgust Adam's attacker spit out these accusations.
Bit by bit Adam remembered the guy. He knew remembered his face. He was one of the Juniors. Adam looked down and he spotted the white shoe laces and the work boots. The guy was one of the Judges, the bigger one, probably the one called Vod! Wild with fear Adam tried to break free again. He started begging "Please let me go! You are hurting me!" in vain.
The Judge commanded "Stay!" and then his body convulsed with sobbing. "You do not have a mother, but you got a loving father, Adam! But I? My mother is a slut! She stopped taking the pill to get pregnant. I was conceived against the will of my father. She did it for his money and now he hates her! He hates me! She hates me! Everyone hates me! I wish they had decided on an abortion. I hate living!"
During these wallows of self-pity Vod's steely grip turned bit by bit into a hug, a desperate pleading. It was this moment that Adam realized instinctively he could help himself by helping his tormentor. "Tell me your name! Please Vod, tell me your real name: You know mine and I know Vod stands for Vodka and that's not a name for a friend!" Adam raised his eyes and looked straight up into his opponent's face.
Silence spread. "It's Gerry! My granny called my Gerry. She loved me! Only she did! You can leave Adam. Now I know what to do!"
The sudden change in Gerry's voice, the ice in Gerry's voice, the sudden change in his attitude alarmed Adam. "I can't leave you. You can't stay here in the desolate park." When Gerry didn't answer, Adam asked, "Can I walk you home?"
Gerry couldn't contemplate the answer, because from both ends of the park people came running, searching the park with flashlights! Broder was the first to enter the bridge. He took Adam in big hug, "You damned kid! You scared me to death. Why didn't you come back with Vic? We alarmed the whole town. Dec even asked his colleagues for assistance."
Vic advancing from the other end of the bridge together with Tiger, hollered relieved, "Did you go for a date? Do you have a secret lover? I thought boyfriends will share all their secrets." He pushed himself between Adam and Gerry, "What do you want from my boyfriend! He is mine, only mine. I keep a jealous watch over him!"
"Hi boy! Aren't you Gerald from the junior's class, Gerald, Jeff's friend?" Checking the student in the light of the pocket lamp Tiger had a sudden inspiration, "You are Judge McTighe! Don't take me for an idiot! Did you want to take out your anger and frustration on Adam?" The old PE-teacher couldn't help, but punch Gerald hard in the stomach.
Gerry would have loved to bog down out of shame. He felt so weak! The hard bunch nearly put him to the ground. Adam stepped between the two, "Tiger, Gerry didn't waylay me. We ran into each other by chance. I learned he is hurt, he is lost, he is on the edge of a breakdown. You are an experienced teacher, he needs your help. Please see him home, he needs a guardian!"
When the next Jugger tournament came around, Gerry and Jeff, that was the real name of Judge Cal, acted as referees. The former Judges now enjoyed the company of their former "enemies", of the Weird Varans and they never missed any training session or game.
After that special evening in the park, Gerry stopped wearing Nazi outfit, he stopped drinking and tried to get on good terms with his parents. Together with Tiger, he did a great job convincing Jeff to do likewise. In school their standing increased nearly overnight. They listened to the suggestions of the teachers and one noon after a test Jeff told Gerry "These old bricks aren't as stupid as I thought all the time before some of their hints are really useful."
Gerry and Jeff jointed the anti-aggression squad of the school and became mediators. As former bullies they had a special eye for upcoming trouble and if necessary went in-between the bullies and bullied. Their reputation changed in a way the two had never expected before. One Saturday morning Gerry even got a call from some desperate six-graders, "Please Gerry, would you and Jeff come over, my big brother wants to beat me up. Please come and help me?"
However their most ardent wish didn't come true as straight away as desired. When Gerry and Jeff asked for membership in the Club of the Weird Varans, Pete as the president told them, "For the moment the club meeting has decided to offer you a preliminary membership only. We all like you, but you are on probation for this season. You can prove your seriousness in our summer camp, the camp of the Weird Varans. Afterwards we will vote on your case again and we all are sure the vote will be a positive one!"
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