He Ain't Heavy
When the police came, Quatre wouldn't tell them where Duo was. His father was furious, in that cold way of his; Quatre wanted to believe his anger was at the situation and not at him. Duo hiding inside his closet didn't help.
The moment the officers hauled Duo out, carrying him from Quatre's house kicking and yelling, Quatre was out the back door. His father had said to leave it to Duo's guardian, to let the ‘state' handle their problem. But Quatre had met Duo's foster parents and knew nothing good waited for him. His friend was in trouble.
Howard's place wasn't that far, but took forever to get to and Quatre was out of breath when he arrived. He couldn't stop the tears; Howard didn't say a word about them. Instead, he offered Quatre a bottled pop and a napkin.
"It's Duo!" Quatre finally burst out. "They took him!"
"Who?" Howard jumped to his feet, peering intently at Quatre.
"The police," Quatre said a little more calmly. "He ran away, again. And this time, they said they weren't taking him back and Duo's going to juvie, I know!"
"Whoa, slow down there, boy," Howard said, resuming his seat but pulling the chair closer. "Duo's been nabbed by the cops?" Quatre nodded. "Been taking things that don't belong to him, again?" Quatre bit his lip and looked away from Howard's face. "Never mind, I should know the answer myself."
Quatre's relief was apparent and Howard laughed a light chuckle. "Can we get him? I don't want Duo to go to jail!"
"Yeah, let's go."
Howard stood again, pulling on sunglasses and picking up keys. Quatre followed him out to the side lot where Howard's ancient Ford sat and climbed in on the passenger side. His heart was still beating thick and heavy and his nose didn't want to stop running. But Howard was there and Howard liked Duo. Told Duo to come hang out whenever he wanted. And Howard wouldn't say something like that unless he meant it.
Looking at the old man from the corner of his eyes, Quatre hoped that were true. Duo's foster mother threatened him with juvie the last time Duo ran away. She mentioned the state home, said that was where delinquents belonged. Duo had only turned away from her, grabbed Quatre's hand and took them both from the house. He had scowled for the rest of the day and refused to talk.
The police station looked foreboding and Quatre hung back while Howard marched without care up the concrete steps. Howard was leaning against the big desk on his elbow talking to a laughing uniformed officer when Quatre finally made it through the great double doors. Standing uncertain a few feet from the doors, Quatre looked around trying to find Duo. Though his friend wasn't in sight, Quatre was rather surprised; it wasn't what he imagined.
He knew it wouldn't be like the dungeon prisons of his favorite movie, The Three Musketeers, but rather thought jail would look more like Duo's obsession, cowboy westerns. Besides the big desk in the middle of the room, the one Howard was at, there were several smaller - normal - desks off to each side, separated by half walls and glass. On his left, a pretty woman sat against the far wall in front of a bank of radio exchanges and Quatre watched in curious excitement as she connected with a radio car, spoke into a mouthpiece and disconnected again. Telephones were ringing and everyone seemed busy, but not too terribly concerned.
"Come on now," Howard called to him and Quatre turned to see him disappearing through a doorway beyond the big desk. He chased after, staying close behind Howard.
Duo was in a small room with a single table and a couple of chairs. He sat slumped, but glowering and Quatre wondered what the police had done to him.
"Stay here," the officer with Howard told Quatre. "We'll be back in a few minutes." Both the officer and Howard left the room, closing the door.
"Duo!" Quatre was already rushing to his friend.
With a quick glance to the door, Duo stood and tried for a cocky grin. "Hey Quat. What're you doing here? Was that Howard?"
"To get you!" Quatre exclaimed, but gasped catching sight of Duo's split lip. "What happened? Are you alright?" He reached a hand out, but withdrew it when Duo jerked his head away.
"Ah, it's okay." But Duo's tongue licked at the blood welling up.
"Did they do that to you?"
"Nah," Duo said shaking his head. "Hit myself when they was trying to drag me outta your room."
"Oh Duo," Quatre sighed, brows still furrowed in worry. He dug his handkerchief out from his pants pocket and handed it to his friend. "Did the police say why they came to pick you up? Was it Missus Wilson?"
"Keh," Duo sneered, pulling the handkerchief from his lip for the moment. "That woman's a cow, good for nothing but chewing on her own fat and squeezing out her litter."
Quatre glanced back at the door, hoping no one had heard Duo. "Then how-?"
"Wasn't ‘bout the thing," Duo interrupted, shaking his head again. "The cops needed to ask me a couple things." He was touching the white linen to his cut, pulling it away to check for blood and putting it back in place.
‘The thing', Quatre knew, was damage done to the school, to a particular classroom. Quatre didn't have a clue what other trouble Duo might be in. "What they ask you about?"
Duo shrugged. "They wanted to know about Gene, some of the places we'd been to, ‘n stuff like that."
His brow scrunched up and Quatre asked, "Why? He died, didn't he?"
"Yeah, I saw him." Duo dropped back in his seat and dabbed the not-so-white handkerchief to his lip again.
Quatre sat in the other chair, not wanting to say more about Duo's old mentor. The old man used to let Duo hang around his work shop, had shown the young boy the properties of chemical compounds and offered him respite from his foster homes. It had been an explosion in the old man's basement that finally killed him. The house was destroyed and the only identifiable remains were a handful of scorched bones and a pair of melted eye glasses.
It was into this silence the door opened and Howard stepped inside. He stared at Duo for several seconds, then held the door open with his backside to it. "Well, come on James Dean. Not going to wait for you all night."
"He can leave?" Quatre asked standing. Duo didn't wait for the answer and was already halfway down the hall before Quatre exited the room.
"Of course," Howard replied, following at a slower pace. "He wasn't in trouble." Howard paused to peer down at Quatre over the top of his sunglasses. "This time."
They didn't catch up to Duo until they were outside the station. "You taking me home, old man?"
Howard chuckled and went to the driver's side of his old car. "You could say that."
Duo scowled, but climbed in the back seat with Quatre. "He say somethun' to you?" he whispered.
Quatre shook his head. "Just said you weren't in trouble."
"Does he know about McMillian's?" Duo's head was bent close to Quatre's.
Shaking his head again, Quatre whispered the negative.
"You girls can stop whispering back there," Howard teased.
"Who you calling a girl, old WO~man?" Duo slid to the edge of the seat and hung off the back of the front seat. "You cluck enough to be a hen."
Quatre's rebuke died with Howard's loud guffaw. "Careful, kid. Bite the hand that feeds you, and you'll get your toast bloody."
Duo's mouth opened to retort, but snapped shut. He glared at Howard instead. "What're you talking about?" he asked barely above a whisper, his tone serious.
"Oh, didn't I tell you?" Howard feigned surprise. "You'll be staying with me now, kid."
"That's great!" Quatre exclaimed, reaching out to hug his friend in both arms. "You're going to stay here! No state home..."
"Yeah, just great," Duo muttered, pulling himself out of Quatre's embrace. He sat back in his seat, his arms crossed and scowl firmly in place.
Glancing briefly in Duo's direction, Quatre scooted forward. "How'd you do it, Howard? Missus Wilson swore she was going to send Duo away to the Home if he got in trouble again."
"But he wasn't in trouble, was he?" Howard answered, lowering his glasses long enough to wink at Quatre in the rearview mirror. "I'd already been talking to Miss Landsing. Paperwork's already been submitted. Just waiting on the final signature." His hand left the steering wheel to tap his jacket pocket. "Got that taken care of at the courthouse."
"Stupid old fool," Duo mumbled. "I didn't ask ya to do that." Duo was refusing to look at either of them.
"Duo... don't you want to stay here? Live with Howard?" Quatre turned to look into Duo's face.
"His funeral," he all but whispered in reply.
"Don't think you're getting away with the trouble you caused up at the school last night, either," Howard said, making the final turn down the street to Quatre's house. "You're going to have to work an awful lot to repay what you ruined."
Duo swung around to stare at the back of Howard's head. "How did you..." Shooting a look at Quatre he started to ask, but Quatre rushed to answer before his mouth opened.
"I didn't say anything, I swear!"
Howard was chuckling again. "Think I didn't hear about how someone tore up one teacher's room. But only things belonging to the teacher?" Howard was watching them through the rearview. "And since you've done nothing but grouse about that teacher, then act guilty before you've been questioned..."
"Stupid old fool," Duo was back to glaring at the back of Howard's head.
"Yep, I am that, kid," Howard agreed, pulling up into Quatre's driveway.
Quatre sat back smiling. Happy knowing that Duo would be around for a long time. Even his dad standing on the front porch, waiting for him, didn't cause him to lose his smile.