Updated: Sep 3, 2020
“But I know where you are and when you come and go and how you rage against me… and because your insolence has reached my ears…I will make you return by the way you came.”
- Isaiah 37:28-29
Sharlie was not happy Eric woke up without her.
Nathan said he’d be back after he ran his errand. She knew Eric had to run errands just like mama did, but she still wanted to wake him up like she was supposed to.
She felt her lower lip start to tremble, but then Nathan looked a little scared and said, “Hey, I don’t know how to play. How about after we eat, you show me how to play something? Like you showed Eric when I was asleep?”
That’s right! She could just show Nathan how to play! Oh, but he couldn’t get out of bed much. He couldn’t take her outside. While they ate, she thought real hard about what she could show him.
She hadn’t spent much time with Nathan since he woke up, he still slept a lot and his arm was still all tied up. He still acted a little scared of her. But she would show him, she was nice.
So she had him sit in front of the fire and showed him her favorite thing ever, her books! She had four of them, one was about letters and numbers, and she could read this one all by herself. One was a funny story about a Little Critter and his little brother and sister. She liked that one alots. There was a book about how much Jesus loved her. That one was nice.
She handed him the Little Critter book.
“I can’t read this one by myself yet, Mama has to read it to me.” He looked at the book like he didn’t know what to do with it.
“Is it okay if I read it to you?”
He was gonna read to her? “Yes, please! Yes please!”
She sat in his lap with fox and wolf, and he read her the whole book.
“I wish I had a big family. But I don’t have a brother or a sister…” she said in a tone of pure misery as she snuggled into him.
She was quiet for a little bit while she thought.
The last one was her favorite; she wanted him to read that one too. She held it up to him.
“Can you read me this one too?”
He opened the book and started to read. She followed along with the pictures.
“Once there was a lonely wolf, her Pack was all gone and she was all alone. One day, a great flood came and destroyed the Great Forest.
The Lonely Wolf was barely able to escape to High Ground and was almost to the Safe Place, when she saw a mama fox holding her little baby kit on the other side. The lonely Wolf tried and tried to rescue the mama and the baby.
Then the Mama Fox, who was very smart, told the lonely wolf to stop trying to rescue them both and squeezed the baby through to her.
“You have to take her and run away!” she shouted. The Wolf knew the Fox was right. For just a moment, the Wolf and the Fox looked at each other. Then the Lonely Wolf picked up the baby kit, and ran. She ran and ran and made it to the Cave of Safety just as the flood washed the rest of the world away.
The days passed and the Lonely Wolf took care of the baby kit in the cave. She played with her and snuggled her. It was strange, when she snuggled with the baby fox, the Lonely Wolf didn’t feel so lonely anymore.
But, she wondered, should she keep her?
The other forest creatures said, “’You cannot raise a baby fox, you are a wolf. Foxes raise foxes and wolves raise wolves.’”
To the Lonely wolf, this did not sound quite right, so she asked the Lord of the Mountains what she should do.
“Lord, should I keep this little fox and raise her as my own, or should I find a fox family for her? I will do what you say and wait for your answer.”
The Lonely wolf curled herself around the baby fox and waited for the Lord to answer.
In the night, the Lord of the Mountains showed her a vision: he showed her all the things she would teach the little kit, the stories she would tell her, the things they would do together. The Lord of all the Mountains showed her all these things, but told her only one thing: “If you do not keep her, who will tell her how much her first mama loved her?”
When the Lonely Wolf woke up and curled a little tighter around her baby kit and snuggled her close. And the Lonely Wolf wasn’t so lonely anymore, because now, she was a mama wolf.
She thanked the Lord of the Mountains, and the Mama wolf and her little cub snuggled together forever after.
Nathan didn’t know if he was supposed to say anything when the kid fell asleep against him.
He didn’t know how to feel about this book, this story, or this little girl who was way too comfortable around him for her own good. He wished Eric were here to take her to her own bed.
He tossed more wood on the fire. He could just leave her here on the floor next to the fire…
He groaned and hefted the kid with his good arm the two feet to his mats and laid her down next to him before falling asleep himself.
Eric got back into the apartment, surprised to see Nathan asleep with the kid on his mats. He looked from her to him and back again. Nathan woke up and gave him a deadpan glare.
“You were gone kind of long.” He whispered.
“Sorry.” He whispered back.
He banked the fire before he sat down next to them.
“We shouldn’t move her. She might wake up and I don’t want her to hear us.”
He showed Nathan the camera and equipment, explaining how they’d been set up and where.
“No way was this for security.”
“Have to hand it to whoever did this; it’s a pretty good set up.”
“Yeah, almost something we would do.”
“Except I wouldn’t bother with watching a little kid, I’d want a girl with something to look at.”
They both chuckled before sobering.
“Holsun came in while I was still at the clinic.” Nathans head snapped up. He winced. He had to quit doing that.
“He didn’t see me, but I could see him.” He explained about the reward Holsun had offered for whoever had blown up his shipment and how he didn’t know about them specifically. He could see Nathan piecing the truth together just like he had.
“Doc never told about us, even then?”
“Looks like it.”
“Dunno. I get her covering for us now, but, back then,” Eric shrugged. “I don’t know.”
They both thought for a while before Nathan opened the cameras tiny screen.
“You know, we should be able to look at the footage on this.”
“What are you thinking?”
“I’m sure Doc went straight to work after we met. I’d like to know what she did say.”
He hit the power button. Nathan enjoyed playing with tech, but rarely had the chance to indulge.
“You think we’ll be able to hear it?”
He shrugged and a shock of pain went through his shoulder. Oh, crap. He had to quit doing that. He breathed like Doc had taught him and pulled himself out of the pain.
Hitting several prompts, he watched the screen as the thing powered to life. It had some modifications; one was an optional split screen viewing mode, made sense with the smaller camera attached to it. He hit okay on the split screen.
The second modification was it had a really long battery life. If he was reading correctly, the thing stored about eighty hours’ worth footage at a time but had seven days’ worth of battery power at a shot. That had to be when whoever had installed it had had to replace the video cartridge and battery with a new one. They might even get a look at who the pervert was.
He went back seven days.
He hit pause the moment a man’s face came straight into the camera’s lens. He and Eric got a good long look at the flabby pervert who’d been spying on the kid.
Sharlie chose just that moment to curl herself into him. They both looked at her, then each other. Neither spoke.
He turned back to the camera and hit fast forward. After the pervert left, there was only empty closet footage for, according to the time stamp on the bottom, one hour and two minutes. After that it was Doc bringing Sharlie in and getting her settled. Then an older, balding, gray haired guy coming in and playing with her and then more of Doc coming to eat with her. Then the gray-haired guy again. He fast forwarded through the same routine until the timestamp read to the morning they met.
When he hit play, the sound made him jolt and wince. He hit pause as the high tinny sound caused Sharlie to stir.
Eric had an idea and picked out their noise blocking headphones from his backpack. They’d only just found them, so they hadn’t had the chance to try them out yet. He adjusted the size and carefully placed the oversized headphones on the kid. She stirred but didn’t wake up.
He and Nathan both held back a snort. They looked ridiculous on her but if they worked…
Nathan hit the play button and sure enough, the kid was still.
They could hear, off camera, Siah coming into the clinic, reporting several assault victims and where before settling Sharlie into the closet and going to work.
They couldn’t believe it.
She had actually covered for them, even then.
Nathan hit pause as something more sank into him. That first day he’d met her when he’d woken up- her face…
He fast forwarded several hours as some guy came and left that he recognized as one of Holsun’s lieutenants. Nathan had stabbed his counterpart to death the morning this footage had been taken. The guy should be grateful to him. He’d allowed him to get bumped up a few notches in Holsun’s crew.
Still, why had he come to the clinic? To check on the men they’d left alive? Doubtful. If anything this particular thug would finish him off.
He hit fast forward. The rest of that day was just the kid in the closet with the same routine as before.
They were into the next day when the Pervert who’d set up the camera showed up. He opened the door slowly. The kid had been playing with her dolls. At first she’d looked up hopefully but when she saw a stranger she started to scream. The creep wrapped his arms around her, covering her mouth just like she’d said. Out of the other camera, he saw the bald gray haired guy- Mason, run up and slug the pervert straight in the face.
He grabbed Sharlie away as the pervert reeled back, blood gushing everywhere. Two other men came into the frame and ran after the guy before he ducked out a side door.
“No wonder Siah was so scared for the kid.”
“Yeah.” Eric nodded. “The kid was right. That closet really wasn’t safe.”
They looked at each other. How had the kid known? Had she just sensed the danger?
Suddenly Eric jerked at something on the tiny screen. “Hey, stop it!” he hissed.
He hit pause. “Shhhh!” He looked down at the kid pointedly. The last thing he wanted was to wake her up.
Eric gestured to the camera and he saw what had caught his brothers’ attention. It was Holsun onscreen, standing across the break room table from Siah.
He hit rewind to just before they had all come into the frame. He checked the date. It was the first day Siah had gone back to work, the day Eric had been taking care of Sharlie solo and he’d just woken up.
Holsun entered the frame first, followed by his latest goons, two of which had a hand on each of Siah’s shoulders.
Even when he had first met her and was still flat on his back, he could tell she was short, but he’d never really considered how small she was until now. Next to each of Holsun’s goons - she looked- tiny.
'“Why were you gone so long!”'
“'I was gone for one day. I’m entitled to a day off.’”
He stuck his finger in her face.
“’Your entitled to time off when I give you permission and that is it.’”
He was seething. She was not backing down, a fact which seemed to annoy him.
He visibly reined himself in.
“’ So,’” he drawled, “’ I heard about what happened yesterday. How is your pretty little girl? ’”
Siah narrowed her eyes.
“She’s fine.’” Holsun cocked his head at her arrogantly, as if amused.
“’I know you’re in a hard situation,’” he crooned.
Siah’s glare should have shut him up but the fool kept on.
“’If you’d accept my offer I can make things considerably easier on you. You’d get to have more time with your little girl. I can protect her -’”
He and Eric exchanged a disgusted look. Was Holsun seriously trying to flirt with Siah?
“’I have new childcare.”’ She cut him off. ‘”And I need to get back to work.’”
She stood only for one of Holsun’s goons to grab her shoulders and shove her back into the chair. She glared at Holsun who had dropped all pretense.
He slammed both hands on either side of the small table and got straight in her face. He was trying to intimidate her, and she didn’t flinch.
“’I know you saw who killed my men. Who were they?’”
“’I don’t know.’”
“’What did they look like.’”
“’I never actually saw who did it.”’
He looked surprised.
“What did they look like?”
“’Like I said, I never actually saw who did it.”’
Eric and Nathan both flinched as Holsun suddenly reached out and slapped Siah across the face. Hard. The two goons on either side of her grabbed her arms to keep her from falling off the chair as Holsun grabbed her face.
“’My man Larry said he heard you have words with them. He heard you talking to them. Now what- did- they look like?”’
Siah looked him in the eye as he gripped her face. She seemed to be thinking carefully. As little as they knew her, they knew she was praying.
“’All I ever saw were three figures in hoods and masks.”’
“The only words we exchanged were me begging them not to shoot me when they pulled out their guns. That was it.”
Her? Begging? Hardly.
“I could never identify them.”’
He went at her hard for over twenty more minutes. Her story never changed. Finally, he stopped and made as if to leave. Siah stood up off her chair, shaking.
Nathan felt himself wince as Holsun caught her off guard and slapped her again, this time the force of the blow knocking her to the ground.
‘”I find you’ve been lying to me, and your pretty little girl will be the one who pays.”’ He left with his nose in the air and his goons trailing in his wake.
They both watched as she sat up on the ground and cried.
“Jesus,” they heard her whisper. “Jesus, protect the boys, protect Sharlie.’”
She was praying- for them?
Eventually she wiped her face, took a breath, got up off the floor and went back to work.
Nathan shut down the camera, staring at nothing.
Eric's voice was flat as he broke the silence.
“We have to take Holsun down.”
They didn’t take long to devise a plan to take Brent Holsun down. They already knew how. They would tell Siah nothing. The less she knew, the better.
Holsun would pay for what he’d done.
He would have hell to pay.
When Siah came home that night, she was so relieved to see Eric, she hugged him. Of course he didn’t hug back. She was beginning to wonder if the boy knew he was supposed to reciprocate the gesture.
The smell of the stew he’d kept going made her stomach growl. She was starving.
“Mama!” Siah picked up her little girl as she ran to her. It was so good to know her girl was safe. With her free hand, she got Eric’s attention. First things were first.
“We need to talk.”
She led the way into the living room and knelt beside Nathan.
“You both need to hear this.”
She took a breath as she began.
“Holsun came into the clinic today. He put out a reward for whoever blew up his truck and killed his men. He’s offering a $500 prize for whoever turns you in.”
“Eric, you’re going to need to be more careful when you go out. One of the men you beat in the street lived long enough to hear us talking and told Holsun we exchanged words. Eric, that means he heard your voice. You have to be careful.”
The boys looked at each other sideways. She hoped Eric was taking this seriously. He had the voice of a man already; deep, smooth and distinct. Too distinct.
“When you say ‘Whoever’, does that mean he doesn’t know it was us, us? He doesn’t know who we are? What we look like?”
She could see the wheels turning in both boys’ heads as the ramifications sunk in.
“You never told about us- that first day we- met?”
“Why? Why did you cover for us- back then?” Nathan asked, seemingly perplexed.
She raised an eyebrow at the boy. Was he serious?
“I know who those men were Nathan. You may have drawn first blood in that fight, but if you had not killed them, I have no doubt whatsoever, they would have killed you. It was self –defense, plain and simple.”
Both boys just looked at her. She put Sharlie down in her lap and put a hand on each boys’ shoulders as she looked them in the eye.
“You did what you had to. Stay hidden, stay safe, and DON’T. GET. CAUGHT.”
She gave their shoulders a light squeeze as she enunciated each word. They both nodded. Good. She could not afford to lose them. She gave their shoulders one last squeeze before she took the bowls off the shelf.
They enjoyed a quiet dinner, the only sound, Sharlie’s babble of all the things Eric had shown her in the forest.
After the day she’d had, her daughters joyful babble was music to her ears.
Siah put Sharlie to bed and wanted to crash out herself. She’d been free to fall asleep at will since Eric had been taking care of her, but tonight, she needed to speak to the boys.
They were surprised when she walked back into the living room and sat on the floor facing them, her back to the fire.
“Is there something you two want to talk about?”
They looked at her with what could only be described as guilty expressions.
This time it was Nathan who spoke.
“How come you didn’t tell about us, that first day?”
“I’ve already told you why.”
“No, I mean.” He seemed to be grasping for words. The boy needed serious help with his communication skills. She'd see to it if they stuck around long enough.
“I get why you wouldn’t give out our descriptions now, but that day, after everything you saw, and we were holding guns on you. How were you even thinking clear enough after that, not to tell about us?”
She looked at the boy as she considered her answer.
Siah was sitting with the fire behind and to the left of her. The flames set the angles of her face into greater sharpness and made her look fierce despite her thoughtful expression.
Eric was right; she was so part Indian.
“I’m sure you’ve noticed that I’m a little- odd.”
He nodded. That was a given.
“That oddness is Jesus in me.”
“I decided to follow Jesus when I was Eric’s age and that decision has changed everything. The more I have followed where God leads, the more danger I've been in, and the more I've had to rely on Him to guide me.”
She paused and looked kinda sad.
“Jesus gives his followers what is called, ‘peace that surpasses all understanding’. That peace in times of turmoil allows you to hear his voice, and to really understand what is going on. Sometimes he tells you to do things that are counterintuitive; things that don’t make sense at the time. It’s in that moment, when you choose to trust God or not, that defines your faith.”
She looked them both in the eyes before she went on.
“That day we all met, I was scared. But God gave me peace in that moment, and then I saw why- as soon as you saw Sharlie, you both lifted your guns off. You weren’t holding a woman with a baby at gunpoint.”
She looked at them and did that half smile thing again. He’d noticed she made that expression a lot when they talked.
“That told me what kind of young men you were. So I chose to follow God's leading and only told that I had found several injured men. I never told anyone I'd seen you.”
She reached out and rubbed a hand over his stringy hair. He squirmed away as much as he could. Why did she keep doing that? It was just weird.
“You may be violent boy, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.”
“Well, I’m going to bed. You both should too.”
She stood up off the floor and looked down at them.
“Oh and boys, that gun you’re trying to hide had better have a heavy trigger. I do not want any accidents.”
Both sets of eyes widened comically and she couldn’t help but smirk.
"Yeah, it's, it's pretty hard to pull." Eric muttered.
"Can I see it?"
The boys exchanged a look that reminded her of her brothers when questioned about their dad's broken windshield that had been mysteriously crashed in by a stray baseball.
Eric gave the slightest of shrugs and reached under Nathans pillow.
He pulled out an older model Beretta and handed it to her. She emptied the magazine, inserted it back in, emptied the chamber, and rounded a bullet into it. It had a decent amount of pull on the trigger and felt reasonably maintained.
"It's a decent enough piece. But you only brought one? I'd figured you'd bring all the guns you took off Holsun's goons."
The boys glanced at each other again. Eric squirmed.
"The only other one we had ammo for was the one you burned. The rest only had two or three bullets in them."
"Ah." So even Holsun's men were being pinche with their ammo.
"I want to show this to Sharlie tomorrow night when I get home and explain to her that this is not a toy and she is never to play with it. Understand?"
They nodded mutely as she ejected the magazine, put the stray bullet back in with its33 buddies and handed it back.
"Nathan, hide this under the left side of your mat, barrel pointing at the wall, not under your pillow. Besides being obvious, that lump is bad for your shoulder."
Still looking shocked, the boy did as told. Had they seriously thought she'd miss that lump? She smiled fondly and couldn't resist ruffling their stringy hair a little.
She smirked to herself as she crawled into bed and curled up around Sharlie. They’d only been with her ten days- they’d learn.
The next day after Siah left for work and Eric had taken the kid out, Nathan looked over the footage of Holsun interrogating Doc again. Something about it kept bothering him.
He found himself admiring her guts again. Her calm while that guy roared into her face, even when he hit her was impressive. She never shed tears until it was over.
At the end of the video, when she pulled herself together, he noticed something he'd missed before; after she’d wiped her tears away and stood, she’d looked back down the hall Holsun had left from, and her hands balled into fists, her face like stone.
He wondered- was this only anger he was seeing, or did she have something planned for Holsun herself?
He'd think about it later. He had a phone call to make.
Taking down Holsun-
They waited until Sharlie was down for her nap before talking.
The key to their plan for taking down Holsun was something they’d discovered accidentally one night while stalking his house for a break in.
They’d perched themselves in a tree across from his mansion and out of range of what had to be the only working streetlight left in Tinplate. Around midnight, he’d seen a guy wearing a bulky coat, carrying a small duffel bag come out of the house. The guy had been jumpy, looking around like he was afraid of being seen. They’d been shocked it was Holsun. The guy never went anywhere without his posse.
They'd followed him to an abandoned building and watched as he'd stashed the bag into a crevice in the brick, carefully covering it back up. Checking it out after he’d left, they'd found the bag full of cash, jewelry, gold coins, two guns and a box of ammo.
He wanted to take it, but Eric stopped him. Something more was going on and he wanted to play it out. They’d left the bag exactly as they’d found it- down to the last wrinkle in the fabric.
They’d continued casing the mansion. For a week, Holsun went out several more times, hiding stash bags equal to the first in different locations throughout town. Then it was quiet, no movement for two nights. It was three nights after Holsun had dropped off his last stash that he’d thrown a huge nightclub style party at his house. He had brought some girls in for the occasion. Slaves all of them, the dead eyes always gave it away.
In the middle of the party, some kind of commotion had broken out inside the house. Shots rang out and the music abruptly ended. Holsun was in the middle of the crowd of partiers holding a gun to a guy’s head. The man was kneeling in front of him, already bloody from what looked like a bullet in the arm and a pistol whip to the head.
They could hear Holsun’s shouting from where they were perched in the trees. He was accusing the bleeding man of taking over four million dollars’ worth of money and jewels that were owed to his bosses. As much as Holsun liked to play God in this little town, everyone knew he was just a middle man for the Ochoa Cartel.
He was insisting that only he and this other man, his top lieutenant, had the combination to the safe, and that now it was empty.
“’I didn’t take it I swear, just look through my stuff boss. I swear it wasn’t me.’”
Holsun sent someone to go check the guys bunk. A few minutes later the guy came down with a bag full of loot exactly like the ones they’d seen Holsun stash.
The man looked horrified. “Boss I swear, I didn’t take it. Someone’s setting me up! I wouldn’t-” Holsun had put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger. Then he made a pompous speech about how that’s what happened to people who crossed him.
He and Eric had just looked at each other. That night, they decided breaking into his house wasn’t worth the trouble. They’d just take his stashes and leave town.
They’d just been heading back to the auto shop when it’d become light out- when they’d met Doc. It was only the next night after they’d met they’d been jumped by those thugs. Of all the dangerous things they’d pulled, all the break-ins, fights and bombings; Nathan had been shot in a mugging by random thugs.
Then Eric had carried him to a Doctor they shared a common enemy with.
The plan they came up with now was simple. Like most people these days, Holsun didn’t trust banks, so everything he had of value, all the money from his drug trading that he owed to his cartel bosses on a regular basis, he kept in the safe he’d framed his lieutenant of robbing.
Once Eric took his stashes, he’d put each duffel bag in one central location. Then he’d break into Holsun’s house and steal whatever he currently had in that precious safe without him knowing.
Meanwhile, Nathan would smear his name by telling the US Marshalls where, “Holsun”, had stashed the money he’d skimmed. Once they found it and the Ochoa’s believed he’d stolen from them, he would have to skip town, turn himself into the U.S. Marshals, or just spare everyone the trouble and kill himself.
The third option was the best for him. Once the Cartel believed he’d stolen from them, they’d send a hit man to kill him.
Nathan wondered how a hit man from a Mexican cartel would kill Holsun. He’d heard the Ochoa’s liked to behead people and then play with the heads like soccer balls. Nathan smiled. That sounded kind of funny. Not like the guy didn’t have it coming.
The only real danger in all of this was that Eric would have to do the break-in to the house alone. He was still just too laid up to help. It was tricky but by adjusting their original plan, Eric should be able to get in and out of the safe without being seen.
If not they could just blow up the house, either way.
Money, property, and power, the lynch pins of the arrogant- so predictable.
Either way, no matter what, Holsun’s reign in Tinplate would end.