Nicky Delgado, Chapter 13

October 17. Nicky paused from doing his homework, wishing he could be attending Butch and Eugene's birthday party. He was so sick of being grounded, and he had almost two weeks to go. He didn't know how he was going to stand it.

'Tell your old man where to stick it.' Brian Muttilege's raspy voice sounded inside Nicky's head. Brian had told him that on the last day before he dropped out of school. Good advice, Nicky thought sarcastically. Look where that attitude's gotten you. The price of rebellion was too high.

He had finished reviewing his history notes. The Continental Congress had turned into the constitutional convention, and Nicky would have to argue Delaware's case in favor of equal representation and against slavery.

He looked with disgust at his algebra book on the desk in front of him. Yuck! Polynomials and the quadratic formula. Nicky couldn't motivate himself to do his homework for third hour.

He had a Spanish assignment too. Each problem was a sentence with a blank he had to fill in with a form of one of the verbs for 'to be', ser or estar. He wasn't sure when to use one verb or the other, so he would wait to get help from his mother when she came to visit.

What else could he do? He had already practiced shooting before supper. He still couldn't make behind the back shots, but his kick shots were improving. He could make them equally well with his left or right foot.

His research on the Berlin Wall was completed. His notes waited in his locker for Mrs. Kesselring to give the lectures on how to organize them into a speech.

Usually he could expect a visit from his sister soon, except this particular evening she was going to the Sumners' house. Although happy for her, he couldn't help feeling jealous. She could see a friend while he was cooped up in his room. The friend was a boyfriend no less, and their father even liked him.

Nicky thought having a friend of the opposite sex would be fun. He saw Billy and Holly every day at school, and Butch spent a good amount of time with Marcia Langdon from his history class. On the other hand, Eugene thought girls were too much of a pain to be worth the bother.

Emily burst into the room, surprising him. "Nicky!" she exclaimed. "Come on. Your friends are here."

With a pounding heart, Nicky followed his sister's gallop downstairs. They kept a careful distance with their mother near the bottom of the steps as Benjamin Simpson negotiated with their father at the front door.

"Mr. Delgado, we're not as bad of a family as you think. Let us in and see for yourself. We won't stay long."

Benjamin waited patiently for Mark's response. After a moment's silence, Nicky's father gave in.

"All right. Come in."

Nicky suppressed an urge to run forward and greet Butch and Eugene's father. He couldn't believe Benjamin had actually talked his father into allowing him to have company.

Benjamin waved his family in. Butch and Eugene appeared through the doorway first.

"Hi, Mr. Delgado," Eugene said cheerfully. "Remember me?"

Mark accepted Eugene's handshake. "I remember you," he replied unsmiling.

Butch stopped to apologize. "I'm sorry I took Nicky with me without asking your permission."

"Okay. Don't do it again."

"I won't."

Marshall was next, holding out his hand. "Let's forget Saturday morning. I was just looking out for my nephew."

Mark nodded wordlessly but refused Marshall's hand. Irving came through next, carrying a hat-sized box. Benjamin introduced him as his youngest son. One more person entered, who was so fat that he barely fit through the door.

"This is Sanford Reno," said Benjamin. "He's a friend of the family."

With everyone inside, Mark beckoned to his wife. "Come on, Linda. We're going out."

"But, Mark," she protested. "We have guests."

"Nicky has guests," Mark corrected. "I'm going out. Are you coming with me?"

"I'm coming."

Linda crossed the living room, stopping momentarily to speak to Benjamin. "I'm sorry, Mr. Simpson," she said with a distressed expression on her face. "We have to leave."

"It's all right, Mrs. Delgado," said Benjamin. "I understand."

Butch and Eugene approached Nicky.

"Hi, Nicky!" Butch beamed. "Are you surprised?"

Before Nicky could answer definitely yes, Eugene put in. "We knew you couldn't come to our party, so we brought it here."

"Good idea, huh?" Butch inquired.

"Actually, Dad thought we could do it as long as we were nice," said Eugene.

Butch took a slip of paper from a pocket and waved it in Nicky's face. "I passed my driver's test already. I'm legal."

Nicky's parents left through the front door. Everyone returned Linda's farewell as she left the house with her husband.

Irving set the box on the dining room table. Marshall extracted from it a cake covered with chocolate icing. Sanford lingered nearby, drooling over it.

"Who's Sanford?" asked Nicky, still standing by the staircase with Butch and Eugene.

"He goes back to our uncle's boxing days," said Butch.

"I think he was Marshall's trainer," added Eugene.

Emily hurried to the kitchen for a knife, plates, and forks. Benjamin ordered Sanford to back off and began cutting the cake.

"Where are your presents?" Nicky followed his twin friends into the kitchen.

"At home," said Butch. "We each got a check for fifty bucks."

The doorbell rang.

"That must be the Sumners," Emily told Nicky. "See you later. Have fun."

She dashed to the door. Nicky glanced around himself surrounded by Simpsons, slightly dazed. He had expected to spend the evening alone in his room.

Benjamin cut out six slices of cake and handed them out. Sanford took the remaining half of the cake for himself. As Nicky put the first bite into his mouth, he heard a backfiring vehicle pull into the driveway.

"I'll check it out," Butch volunteered.

He vaulted out the front door and returned almost immediately, slamming the door behind him.

"It's Lee Dawson."

"The Dawsonites!" Marshall bumped the table as he leaped to his feet, unsettling everything on it. "Let's get them."

Everyone stampeded for the door; Sanford with his half of cake still in hand. Nicky followed, grabbing his jacket from the closet before going outside. Who in the heck is Lee Dawson? He questioned himself. One thing was for sure. The Simpson family never ran out of surprises.

A cold drizzle dampened the night. Nicky saw a van, with a Simpson Trucking Company logo on the side, parked enough out of the way to have allowed Mark to drive the Oldsmobile out. A rusty and dented van stood in the center of the driveway behind the first, painted purple with pink and green flowers.

Butch opened the tailgate of the ugly van for a peek inside. "Nobody," he reported, shutting it. "Boy, does it reek in there."

"Spread out," Marshall commanded. "Let's find them."

He took Sanford with him to the left around the house. Butch, Eugene, and Irving went in the other direction around the garage. Benjamin checked a clump of bushes in the front yard. Nicky leaned against the Simpson's van to watch.

Suddenly he felt a hand clamped over his face and one of his arms pinned behind his back. He was terrified but couldn't make any sound. His captor dragged him behind the purple flowered van.

"Good, Max," he heard a drawling voice. "You caught one of the Simpson Things. Bring him into the van."

Nicky felt himself tossed headlong into the van. His landing was softened by a covering of tattered blankets which smelled worse than dirty socks. He squirmed around the musty layers to an upright position, pushing aside some of the candles and squashes that littered the van's interior.

Max climbed inside next, and Nicky saw him for the first time. He wore the strangest hat. A sauce pan. He had a thick mass of black frizzy hair with a good portion of it stuffed inside the pan to keep it in place. A flattened nose centered a pockmarked face. His attire, a tan leather vest and blue jeans cut short at the knees, exposed a good amount of his dark-toned skin and bare feet to the crisp air.

A tall woman with stringy black hair to her waist followed. She had a craggy nose, speckled with a few freckles, above a thin set of lips. Colored streamers waved a foot in length from small rings in her ears. A tie-dyed tank top hung on a skinny bustless body, visible beneath an unbuttoned leather jacket with fringe on the shoulders and sleeves. Her hiphugger jeans featured peace signs written all over in marker and a plaid patch covering the rump. Her tongs revealed psychedelic painted toes in contrast to her unpolished fingernails.

The next stranger tossed a spent cigar to the ground before entering the van. He had silvery hair with a small bald spot and no eyebrows. A crushed cowboy hat hung on his back over an Indian blanket wrapped around his shoulders. Around his neck he wore a red hankerchief. His farmer's trousers looked new except the back pockets had been removed and resewn on as knee patches. The bottoms of the pants were stuffed inside a pair of alligator boots.

Nicky heard the drawling voice outside. "Are you getting in, Al?"

"Sure, Lee," a nasal voice replied. "After you."

Lee Dawson looked as if he had been mining coal. Soot covered his face, bedraggled hair, and denim clothes.

"Hey!" he cocked his head when he spotted Nicky. "You're not one of the Simpson Things."

Al poked his head past Lee's shoulder for a look. "Who are you?"

Nicky didn't want to tell them his name. What were they going to do to him? He was afraid. "A friend of theirs," he answered shakily.

"The Things have a friend," Lee laughed. "What can we do with him?"

He crawled past Max and sat next to Nicky. He smelled like a sweaty armpit. Nicky had to breath into his hand to get relief from the odor.

Al stood in the open tailgate. His straight dark hair was clipped in a monkish haircut. He wore a gold turtleneck and blue corduroy pants.

"I have an idea," he said. "We can hold him for ransom."

"Ransom?" Lee stroked his chin. "What does that mean?"

The man with the cowboy hat answered. "That means we trade him for something."

"Like squash," Lee's eyes opened wide.

"The Simpsons don't have any squash," said Al.

"That's right," Lee frowned. "They don't grow any squash in that stupid garden."

"Can't you close the door, Al?" the woman shivered. "I'm getting cold."

"Sure, Samantha."

The inside of the van plunged into darkness after Al closed the tailgate, although enough light filtered in from the front windshield for Nicky to see him moving about.

"Ow!" Lee howled. "Al, you stepped on me."

"Sorry, Lee."

Al crawled over Nicky and sat on the other side of him from Lee. Al smelled a little better than Lee, but not much.

"Cripes, it's dark in here," Lee complained. "Can't anyone get a light?"

"I got it," said the cowboy. A flame shot from his lighter as he lit one of the candles.

"Thanks, Cowboy," said Lee.

Cowboy set the candle on one of the wheel hubs. Nicky, no longer frightened, still felt uncomfortable as five unfamiliar faces scrutinized him in the candlelight.

"Do you want a squash?" Al inquired, holding one out for him.

"That's mine," Lee grabbed the squash before Nicky could turn down the offer. "Give him your own squash, Al. Now I must interact our prisoner."

Al leaned forward. "Don't you mean interrogate, Lee?"

"Yes," Lee snapped. "Don't correct me, Al."

He glared at Nicky. "What is this place?" he questioned, gestering to the surroundings.

"My house," said Nicky. If I answer their questions, he thought, maybe they'll answer some of mine. "How did you get here?"

"We followed the Simpson Things," Lee boasted, stroking his squash. "They thought they could get away from us. We're so much smarter than them."

A loud pounding on the outside of the van startled Nicky.

"Hey, Lee!" he heard Marshall's voice. "You in there?"

"Watch it, Marshall-Thing," shouted Lee. "We've got your friend captive."

Marshall didn't respond. Then the van started rocking back and forth. The candle tipped off the wheelwell and snuffed out in a blanket.

"Drat those Things," said Lee as the van listed further.

The vehicle tipped past the point of no return and landed sideways on the pavement with a resounding crash of metal. Lee landed on top of Nicky, smashing a squash beneath them. Nicky almost passed out because of Lee's stench.

Max opened the tailgate in its new upward direction and climbed out. The others took turns getting out; Cowboy, Samantha, and then Al. Al dropped the tailgate on Lee's head.

"Ow!" Lee shouted. "Watch it with the door, Al."

"Sorry, Lee."

Nicky climbed out after Lee and gulped breaths of fresh air. The Simpsons were nowhere in sight.

"I'm going to get the Marshall-Thing for this," Lee surveyed the toppled van. "Group, help me lift this thing back up."

Nicky helped too. Everyone crouched where the roof of the van met the driveway and lifted together. They heaved and grunted but the vehicle refused to budge.

"This isn't working," Cowboy gave up.

"You're right," Lee agreed. "It's too heavy."

He led his group around the back of the van to gaze over the Delgados' front yard. The house lights and street lamps dimly illuminated a mist suspended over the wet lawn.

"I don't see anyone," said Lee. "We need to go on a recognize."

"I think you mean reconaissance," said Al.

"Al," Lee hit him across the head. "Stop correcting me."

"Sorry, Lee."

Lee grabbed Nicky by the arm, even though Nicky could've easily run away already, and led his male companions into the yard. Samantha stayed by the van. Nicky's feet sank into the soggy turf and leaves stuck to his shoes.

"Where are those Things?" Lee turned a full circle in the middle of the yard. "Max, take a look around the house."

Max stalked off in the direction Nicky had last seen Marshall and Sanford go.

"Lee, maybe they're inside the house," Cowboy suggested.

"I'll take a look," Al offered.

He approached the front entrance and was reaching for the doorknob when Butch dropped on top of him from the roof. Then Lee screamed and collapsed to the ground, letting go of Nicky. Cowboy fled as Marshall, Benjamin, Eugene, and Irving came running out of the bushes.

Lee writhed in the grass next to a round grapefruit-sized rock. "My back!" he bawled. "It hurts. It hurts."

Marshall's group joined Nicky in looking over him.

"Nice shot, Marshall," said Benjamin.

He left for the house to help Butch take control of Al. Marshall picked the blubbering Lee off the ground and held his head under his arm.

"Eugene," he ordered. "Go check on Sanford."

"Come on, Nicky," Eugene waved as he headed around the house.

Nicky followed his friend to the back yard where they found Sanford sitting on top of Max.

"I caught this guy snooping around," said Sanford. "What does Marshall want me to do with him?"

"I don't know," Eugene replied. "Let's bring him around to the front."

He helped Sanford drag Max to the front yard, and Nicky followed. There, Marshall held Lee by the jacket against the overturned van and Benjamin pinned Al alongside using his solitary arm. Cowboy had apparently surrendered because he sat docilely next to Samantha on the lower rear tire.

"Are you sure you didn't go to our house?" Marshall snarled at Lee.

Lee's face was streaked with tears. "No we didn't. Honest."

Marshall threatened. "If you touched our house, I'm going to come and trash your boxcar."

"We didn't go to your house," Lee whimpered. "I promise."

Cowboy spoke up. "I told you we shouldn't have come here, Lee."

Marshall let go of Lee to stroll over by Cowboy. "How come Lee doesn't listen to you, Peter?" he asked him.

"You know Lee," Cowboy Peter shrugged. "He likes to be in charge."

Marshall finally took notice of the newcomers. "Ah, Sanford. You've got Max. Where's Jerome?"

"I haven't seen him," said Sanford, shoving Max into Marshall.

Marshall squeezed Max's neck. "Tell me, Max. Where's your brother?"

"He's not here," Max gasped.

"Come now," Marshall chided. "You don't expect me to believe that?"

"He's not here." Max repeated. He pointed at Nicky. "Ask him."

I don't know of any Jerome, Nicky thought as Marshall looked at him. "I haven't seen anyone besides these guys," he told Butch and Eugene's uncle.

Marshall released Max and stepped back. "I'm going to be a nice guy tonight and let you go," he told his captives.

Lee's face brightened. "Really?"

"There's just one problem," said Al. "We can't lift our van."

"I'll take care of that," said Marshall. "Come on, Sanford."

Marshall and Sanford walked to the roof side of the van while everyone else got out of the way. They lifted up and tipped the van upright. It bounced once on its suspension before settling into a steady position.

Peter took the driver's seat and Al the other front seat. Lee, Samantha, and Max climbed into the back. The van backfired as Peter started the engine.

"What a bunch of chumps," Marshall snorted as the flowered vehicle backed away.

"That was a nice birthday present having the Dawsonites come for a visit," Butch commented.

Nicky's head remained full of questions as he headed into the house with the others. "Who are those guys?" he asked Eugene.

"I don't really know how Marshall and Benjamin know them," Eugene responded. "We've been feuding with them for years."

Inside, while a forlorn Sanford watched the others eat their cake, Nicky listened intently to conversation about Lee Dawson.

"You have to give Lee credit," said Marshall. "He keeps trying no matter what we do to him."

Sanford slapped his hand on the table. "Remember when we put him on a one way flight to Atlanta?"

"Yes," Marshall laughed. "It took him months to hitchhike home."

"Last weekend we caught him in Dad's garden," Butch piped.

"What did you do to him?" Sanford wondered.

"He had Al, Peter, and Jerome with him. We pelted them with rotten cucumbers and corn cobs."

"I liked when Marshall ran into his own snare," Benjamin cackled.

"He what?" Sanford chuckled.

"When we were looking for Lee. You should've seen it." Benjamin whooped until tears came to his eyes. "He was hanging upside down from a tree."

Marshall's facial muscles tightened during an ensuing round of raucous laughter. Nicky laughed along surrounded by such infectious mirth until he noticed Irving. Butch and Eugene's little brother slouched in his chair, backed away from the table. No joy appeared on his expressionless face as he stared at his unfinished piece of cake. Nicky suddenly realized that he had never seen Irving smile, nor heard him say a word for that matter.

"We did eventually get the Dawsonites," Marshall stated after the laughter abated. "We camouflaged the compost pit, and chased them into it after we found them hiding in the corn."

Nicky listened to numerous more similar stories about Lee Dawson and his group, but learned nothing more about them except that the Simpsons enjoyed tormenting them. Butch and Eugene's family was so different from his own. He never saw his parents play like Marshall and Benjamin did. The idea that adults could play appealed to him. He wouldn't mind growing up so much any longer. He wouldn't have to be like his father.

Read Chapter 14.

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