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Out of the Cage book cover

Out of the Cage
Wes Boyd
©2010, ©2016

Chapter 21

June 29 – July 1, 2011

Frenchy was nervous as he drove up to Monica’s house a couple days before the end of June. He wasn’t sure how well this was going to go over with her, and he hoped she wouldn’t be pissed off at him – but he felt like he had little choice. Oh, well, might as well go face the music.

He was later than he wanted to be, but it couldn’t be avoided, not with what had happened. This was Cindy’s birthday – she was seven, now, and while there wasn’t going to be much of a birthday party, he and Monica had agreed to make it at least a little bit special for her. There was going to be a cake with candles, and presents. Frenchy had been a little unsure what to get the little girl, but had finally decided on mostly getting her some books that were a little above her age level, but that he thought she ought to be able to read. If nothing else, he would enjoy reading them with her, and he might improve his own reading skills a little. He’d noticed that happening over the past few weeks, and was enjoying the reading so much that he’d bought a couple random murder mysteries at the same time to see if maybe he could enjoy reading an adult-level book.

That had seemed like enough of a birthday present, and at least something that she could appreciate and that they could enjoy together – and now, this had happened.

He grabbed a couple plastic sacks off of the seat of the truck and the little brown and black bundle that seemed likely to be a cause for trouble. “Well, here goes,” he said. “I sure as hell hope this works out.” Holding the little bundle carefully, he got out of the truck, shut the door, and went up the front steps and into the house.

“Hi, Monica, kids,” he called out, not too loud. “I’m home.”

“We’re out in the kitchen,” he heard Monica reply. “We were starting to wonder about you. Dinner is all but ready.”

“Couldn’t be helped, I had something come up,” Frenchy said, starting out there to join them. “But I think it can be a good something.”

The key, Frenchy figured, was going to be getting Cindy on his side the first thing, so as soon as he was in the kitchen he headed right for her chair. “Hey, Cindy,” he said. “I’ve got a surprise.”

“What?” she said, and then saw the little bundle of fur that he held gently in his arm. “A kitten? For me?”

“He’s a very special little kitten, and a very lucky one,” Frenchy said.

Monica looked over at him and frowned. “Frenchy . . .” she started to say in that tone of voice that he’d already learned was pushing the line with her.

He didn’t give her any chance to say anything more. “Like I said, he’s a very lucky little kitten,” Frenchy told her. “We were just getting picked up for the day out in the woods when I saw this hawk diving on something a few yards away. I stopped to look, because you don’t often see hawks that close. Well, he came down, grabbed something and started to fly away. All of a sudden there was a huge yowl and a lot of scratching. It was this little guy, and he fought so hard that the hawk dropped him. He may be a scrawny little thing, but he’s a fighter.”

“Wow,” Cindy said. “He must really be lucky.”

“He is,” Frenchy said. “Well, I could see by then that what that hawk was trying to get was this little guy. The hawk swung around and tried to make another pass at him, but I gave a yell and started to run toward him, and the hawk flew away. And then, when I got over to this little guy, I took one look at him and I just couldn’t let him go.”

“Can I pet him?” Cindy asked.

“Sure,” Frenchy said, glancing over at Monica, who still didn’t exactly look happy, as Cindy reached out and began to pet the little guy. Frenchy saw the kitten licking at her hand, and beginning to purr. “Just be gentle with him,” he told her. “He was hurt a little by the hawk, but he seems like a nice little kitty.” He glanced over at Monica and said, “I’m sorry, but I just couldn’t say no to him. He was so scraggly and bloody and beat up and scrawny that my heart went out to him. The only thing I can think is that some damn fool dumped him out in the woods to get rid of him, and if I ever find out who it is I’ll kick their . . . uh, I won’t be nice to them. I swung by the vet and had him take a look. He’s not hurt real bad but he’s starved. He’s probably been out in the woods several days. The vet said he’s maybe six or seven weeks old, and he is a he, by the way. He doesn’t have fleas, but he had to take some ticks off of him.”

“So you rescued him,” Monica sighed.

“I couldn’t do anything else,” Frenchy sighed. “I just wasn’t about to leave him there so the hawk could have another shot at him.”

“Can we keep him?” Cindy piped up. “I’ve wanted a kitten or a puppy so much!”

“I know you have, Cindy,” Frenchy said. “I’ve seen it every time you read to your stuffed animals, but it’s not my decision to make. You’ll have to ask your mother.”

“Mommy, can we keep him? Pleeease? I want to name him Peter, like Peter Rabbit.”

“I don’t know,” Monica said. “I’ve wanted you to have a pet, but they cost a lot of money.”

“I’ll cover the cost,” Frenchy said. “It’s not going to be that much. The vet thinks he’s not going to be a big cat. He also said that Peter is going to need some shots, but that he needs to be a little stronger before he gets them. He needs to be nursed back to health and loved, and I think he’s going to be a great little cat.”

Monica rolled her eyes. It was clear to Frenchy that whatever she really thought, she was losing this round. By this time, Chad had gotten out of his chair and came over to join Cindy in petting the purring little tortoise-shell fur ball. “I suppose,” she said in a sigh of resignation that told Frenchy that she didn’t think this was a favor and that some outstanding ones had just been cancelled. “So long as he’s not too much trouble.”

“I’ll keep him out of trouble,” Cindy offered. “He’s going to be a good little cat.”

“He’s probably hungry again,” Frenchy offered. “The vet said to not let him have too much at a time or he’ll get sick. I’ve got some special medicated cat food for him out in the truck. Here, Cindy,” he said, handing her the little thing. “You hold onto him for a few minutes while I go out and get it. Just be gentle, and don’t hold onto him too tight.”

“I’ll be nice,” Cindy said. “Ohhh, Peter, you are so cuuute! Thank you Uncle Frenchy, and thank you, Mommy. This is the best birthday present ever!”

Frenchy headed for the front door and the truck, with Monica following right along behind him. As soon as they got outside, she said just loud enough for him, “Damn it! You snookered me on that one!”

“I’m sorry, Monica,” he said. “I just couldn’t turn my back on the little guy. I mean, he came that close to being bird food, and well, I just couldn’t let that happen. Like I said, I’ll take care of the expense. But really, Cindy really needs a pet, in more ways than one. Haven’t you watched her reading to her stuffed toys? I think she needs the real thing.”

“I suppose,” she sighed. “You’re right, I’ve seen it, and I’ve thought the same thing. I had a kitten when I was young like that, and I really loved it. He was getting to be an older cat when I was thrown out of the house, and I’ve often wondered what happened to him. I’ve missed having a pet since then, but it’s just been too damn much expense and trouble.”

“I suppose it’s a part of growing up, at least for some kids,” Frenchy shook his head. “We never had a pet of any kind. It’s something else I missed growing up with the jerks I had for parents.”

“You know,” she smiled, “I think I’ve started to figure you out a little. You’re trying to make up for parts of your childhood that you missed. You never had a pet, your parents never read to you and never played with you. You do it all the time with my kids.”

“You might be right,” he said, turning to the truck to get the bag of canned cat food the vet had given him. It hadn’t been all that expensive at the vet’s office, after Frenchy told the story of rescuing the kitten from the hawk; they’d given him a lot of stuff for free. There was probably a couple months worth of cat food in the bag, and other stuff besides. “And if you are, I think it’s been worth it.”

“We’re going to need a litter box and cat litter,” she said, obviously speaking from experience. “It isn’t real expensive, but it adds up after a while.”

“Yeah,” Frenchy agreed. “But there’s an old pan of some sort down in the basement that ought to work until he gets bigger. As far as cat litter goes, the vet said that wood chips will work just fine, and I can get all of those I need for free. I’ve got a bucket of them in the back of the truck, and I can get more when I need them.”

“All right,” she sighed. “I know when I’m outfoxed.” She smiled at him and added, “But it’ll be fun to have a kitten around the house. It’s been too long. I’ll go in and get dinner served. Maybe we can have ours while he’s working on his, if Cindy will let him go long enough.”

Several hours later, Frenchy and Monica were sitting downstairs trying to watch TV. It was a little trying, as the reception was poor and the digital picture frequently broke up, so it was hard to follow what was happening. It wasn’t any better any other time, which was why the kids mostly watched DVDs that Monica got from the library or the thrift shop, rather than broadcast shows. Frenchy could remember when the picture had been snowy, but the “improvement” of going to digital TV a couple years before hadn’t been an improvement for them.

“The hell with this,” Monica said finally. “I don’t know why we even bother to watch TV, there’s not much to watch even if we had good reception. Sometimes I think it’s just as well that I can’t afford cable.”

“Yeah,” he said. “We probably ought to be thinking about turning in, anyway. I’m going to have to hit some dealers in the morning, but I’ll be back out in the woods in the afternoon. It’s going to be another long day.”

“It’s not the worst idea I ever heard,” she replied. “Hey, I hate to ask really stupid questions, but what happened to the cat? I haven’t seen him since the kids went to bed.”

“I’ll bet I know,” Frenchy grinned. “Let’s go take a look.”

The two of them went upstairs, and quietly walked up the hall to Cindy and Chad’s room. It was a warm night, and the door and window were wide open. In the light of the street light, they could see Cindy sound asleep, with a small dark pile of fur cuddled up next to her. One of her hands was resting lightly on him, and both of them seemed serenely happy.

“You’re right,” Monica whispered. “She needed a pet. I think they’re going to be good for each other.”

“I think so too,” he whispered back.

“You know,” she smiled, “maybe that really was a favor after all, now that I’ve had time to think about it. It’s not that late. Would you be interested in a little payback?”

*   *   *

Saturday soon rolled around again, and with it the need to get out on the community service work. As had been the case the last several weeks, it was again lawn mowing, mostly going back over places that they’d been in the past. It was a hot day, and, as always, no one was working very hard.

Frenchy had just finished mowing one lawn at a house that had caught his eye before – a nice place, one story, and seemed to be in good shape, although from what little he could tell from the outside, mostly empty and it had been that way for a while. It was a shame that someone had to give it up, he thought, but there wasn’t much that he could do about it. Just at a guess the mower had to be getting a little low on gas, so he pushed it back up the street to where Porter was sitting in the van, with the trailer hooked on behind. He saw Frenchy coming and got out to see what was happening.

Frenchy explained what he was doing, and as he got out the gas can Porter said that maybe it was time to be moving up the street a little closer to where the rest of the people were working. All of a sudden they heard a screech of brakes behind them; Frenchy turned to see his father’s car skidding to a stop, and then him peeling out from behind the wheel. “There you are again, fucking off as usual!” he snarled. “I want my fucking money, and I want it all! Don’t give me any of that horse shit that you haven’t got it!”

“I don’t owe you a fucking cent,” Frenchy replied, instantly not in a good mood. He hadn’t heard a thing from or about his father in a month, and that had been just fine with him. Life had been much better from not having to deal with him. “You threw me out of the house, remember? You’re not getting a fucking cent from me ever again.”

“You’re going to give me every fucking cent you have and any you don’t,” his father raged. “After that fucking shit you pulled of having me thrown in jail, you owe me big time.”

“I wasn’t the one who threw you in jail,” Frenchy said, realizing that this was heading for a fight big time, and that this time it was going to happen. Porter probably wasn’t going to be in any kind of a position to break it up, although he could see that Porter had his cell phone out and was dialing it – hopefully the cops. “You were the one who tried to hit the cop, it wasn’t me. I didn’t have anything to do with it.”

“If you hadn’t been so full of shit when you were stealing all that crap from me I wouldn’t have had to hit him,” his father said. “So I had to spend the last four fucking weeks sitting in that lousy can eating that lousy fucking venison, and then I lost my fucking job at the fucking plant over it. Now you’re going to pay for every fucking cent of it. You either burp up the money or I’m going to kick your ass from here to Camden.”

“Take your best shot,” Frenchy told him, for once not afraid of his father. He was bigger than his father to begin with, and he’d spent the last few months working in the woods and throwing bundles of firewood around. He felt like he was in the best shape of his life, while his father had been sitting on his dead ass, and before that had only pulled levers on whatever machine he ran at the plant and on slot machines. “We’ll just fucking see whose ass gets kicked.”

“You got a fucking smart mouth for a little boy,” his father snarled. “Someone needs to teach you your manners.” He reared back and took a swing from way back.

Frenchy wasn’t much of a technical fighter and he knew it, but he blocked the swing easily. “Is that all the better you can do? Shit, I’ve had little kids hit me harder than that.”

“Fuckin’ smart mouth, I’ll fuckin’ show you!” his father raged, and swung again, the same punch, which Frenchy blocked just as easily.

“God, what a pussy,” Frenchy laughed. “Is that how you think you’re going to kick my ass? A fuckin’ baby could hit harder than that.”

Once again his father reared back and threw a punch, and Frenchy’s timing wasn’t as good this time. He managed to deflect the punch a little and it landed relatively harmlessly on his shoulder. But that was all it took to shove him over the edge; before his father could realize what was going on, Frenchy threw a punch of his own, aimed right at his father’s jaw. It hit like a brick, knocking his father sideways but not down.

“You fucker,” his father yelled, “You don’t hit me with no sucker punch like that and get away with it.” He threw another punch; this time Frenchy deflected it, and hit his father’s jaw again, then followed it with another punch, this time to the side of the head, which put his father on the ground.

“Go ahead, get up,” Frenchy yelled as he heard a siren in the distance. “Swing at me again and I’ll fucking hurt you.”

Still in a rage, his father managed to get to his feet and throw another punch. This time it was even sloppier than before, but it left him wide open for Frenchy to land another one, the hardest one he’d thrown yet, with all of his months of throwing firewood around behind it. That knocked his father well and truly on his ass, and Frenchy could see he was hurting. If this had been the old days, and if Porter hadn’t been around he might have thrown in a kick or two just to make clear who was who, but his father was getting up slowly, and Frenchy could hear that the siren was getting closer.

Finally, his father managed to struggle to his feet. Undaunted, he drew back and threw another punch; Frenchy deflected it and knocked him on his ass again. This time the police car pulled to a stop before he could get up, and Sergeant Piwowar got out. “What the hell’s going on here?” he yelled.

“That bum on the ground screeched to a stop here and decided to pick a fight,” Porter told him. “He picked the wrong guy to start a fight with.”

“You didn’t start it, did you Frenchy?” Piwowar asked.

“No, I was just defending myself,” Frenchy replied. “He threw two or three punches before I decided I’d better hit him back.”

“That right, Terry?” Piwowar asked Porter.

“That’s how I saw it,” Porter replied. “That fucker was just bound and determined he was going to get a piece of Frenchy, but Frenchy got a piece of him, instead.”

“I want that fucker arrested,” Frenchy’s father said, pulling himself to his feet slowly. “He had no right to be hitting on me like that. He fucking sucker punched me and he fucking kicked me after he fucking started it.”

“Terry,” Piwowar asked. “You see any of that?”

“No, this fucker was the one who started it. Frenchy didn’t kick him and was the one who got sucker punched if anyone did.”

“Jesus H. Christ,” Piwowar said to Frenchy’s father. “I know you just got out of the slammer yesterday, and I’ll bet you’ve been driving around all morning looking to kick the shit out of him. Didn’t work worth a damn, did it?”

“I told you, I fucking want him arrested,” Frenchy’s father scowled. “There wasn’t no reason for him to be hitting me like that.”

“Especially when you were the one looking for the fight, right?” Piwowar said. “Frenchy, are you willing to file charges on him?”

“Goddamn right,” Frenchy said. “Apparently he didn’t get enough of that county venison to suit him.”

“You mean you ain’t gonna fuckin’ arrest him? What kind of shit is this?”

“You were the one who started it, and in front of witnesses again,” Piwowar said. “Now turn around and let me cuff you.”

“Fuck you and fuck the horse you rode in on,” Frenchy’s father said. “I ain’t gonna let you haul me back to jail for the shit that he fucking did to me.” He made a lame attempt to swing at Piwowar, and in less than three seconds he was back on the ground, getting his hands cuffed behind him again.

“Jesus, assault on a police officer in front of witnesses again,” Piwowar said. “Judge Dieball ain’t gonna let you off that easy this time. You don’t have a goddamn bit of sense, do you?”

In a few more seconds Piwowar read Frenchy’s father his rights, and had him in the back of the police car. “I hate to say this,” he said as he slammed the door, leaving the swearing man in the cage in the back seat, “but I’m going to have to have both of you come down and file statements. Frenchy, you’re going to have to file the complaint if you want to.”

“Sure, I want to,” Frenchy said. “I don’t have to put up with this shit from him. I thought we settled this the last time, but I guess not.”

“Well, you shouldn’t have to worry about him for a while,” the officer said. “It’s going to take me a while to get him down to the jail and get him processed. Can the two of you drop by the station in an hour or so? That’ll give me a chance to get started on the paperwork.”

“Yeah, sure,” Porter said. “We ain’t doing anything but mowing grass today anyway, and that’ll be about lunch time.”

“Frenchy, I’ll call your mother and have her do something about the car,” Piwowar said in a businesslike manner. “I’ll see you in a bit.”

In another minute or two the police car was heading down the street. “You all right, Frenchy?” Porter asked. “I guess I should have asked before, but I didn’t.”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Frenchy said. “He never really laid a solid one on me. I guess I got him pretty good a couple times.”

“Yeah, he’s not going to be feeling very happy about it,” Porter agreed. “But why don’t you sit in the van for a few minutes while we go catch up with the rest of the crew?”

“Yeah, sure,” Frenchy told him, all of a sudden grateful for the chance to sit down. The adrenaline shock from the fight was catching up with him now, and he knew it. “Jesus, I sure am glad you were here, though.”

“I am too,” Porter said. “He was supposed to start doing community service this morning, and I guess he blew it off. I’m damn glad too. I don’t want to think what would have happened if the two of you had gotten together without me around. I guess he figured that kicking your ass was more important.”

“The asshole,” Frenchy said. “Pulling something like that, did he actually think he wasn’t going back to jail?”

“He probably thought he was going to get away with it,” Porter shrugged as he started the van. “Sometimes it’s a little better to think things through.”

“Yeah,” Frenchy said absently, thinking back almost four months to when he’d gotten out of jail with a list of asses that needed to be kicked. He hadn’t done any of it, partly because both Matt and Larry had turned their backs on him, and then Alan Jahnke and his buddies had made it pretty clear what would happen if he tried something. There were still some asses out there that needed to be kicked, but somehow it didn’t seem as important as it once did. At least one ass that had really needed kicking had gotten kicked, and was headed back to jail besides, but somehow Frenchy didn’t feel as good about it as he thought he would.

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