“I got to drain the lizard,” Riley said when we reached the park. It was a large one with playground equipment, a large lawn where you could play touch football or soccer or softball, and picnic tables with charcoal grills for families to come for a cookout. Me ’n Riley had swung, used the tall slide and gone on the merry-go-round there when we were little. Like a year ago. We still enjoyed going there. The place brought a lot of good memories. Often kids when they were bored would just turn up there. If a lot of us were there and there was nothing else to do, we could at least have a huge game of tag; we weren’t too old for that yet. The best part was there weren’t any adults around to tell us how to play, to tell us what we were doing wrong, and that always made it better. We could make our own rules.
There was a public restroom there. That’s where Riley was headed.
“Drain the lizard?” I asked.
He laughed. “That means to pee,” he said, still giggling.
“Drain the lizard,” I repeated. I thought that was hilarious and laughed a little, but not too hard. He’d get a big head. I had to watch carefully that didn’t happen with Riley. It wasn’t a matter of keeping him down. I didn’t want to do that. But I didn’t want him getting too big in the britches, either. That’s what Pa said when I got sassy with him, that I was getting too big in my britches. I’d finally had to ask Ma what britches were.
We rode over to the building that held the restrooms. It was a square place, half for women, half for us guys. It didn’t look like much and smelled worse. The city was supposed to keep it clean, but whoever they paid to do it either didn’t know which end of the mop he was supposed to rub against the floor or hadn’t been able to find the place at all. Which was silly because it was the only building there and right on the corner.
I didn’t know about the women’s half of it but ours had two stalls, a knee-high trough with water trickling through it and three lavatories that were supposed to be a shiny white but were in fact a dingy brownish color I don’t think had a name. There never seemed to be any soap, and the paper towels had run out about three Januarys ago and not been replaced. The state of the toilets in the stalls was such that I was glad the doors were always shut. I never had used one of them, holding that need in till I got home, no matter how hard that had been. My philosophy was it would be better to have an accident than venture into one of those nasty places and actually sit down.
We both stood before the trough and pulled out. Riley was watching me, so it only seemed fair if I watched him, too. We were both the same size—small. Well, neither of us had had any kind of growth spurt down there yet. I was really hoping that when we did, I’d get mine before or at the same time Riley did. If Riley could get a big head over calling it a lizard, I could just imagine how he’d lord it over me if his got bigger than mine.
Neither of us had any hair, either. We looked very much the same. I knew that for a fact because I checked him out every time he slept over. We’d always changed into sleeping shorts before, and I’d always taken the opportunity to look. Because Riley had never been shy, I’d never had a problem seeing. Now, lately, since we weren’t bothering with the shorts any longer, all he had to do was take off his underwear, so I knew very well what he looked like.
We both started, uh, draining, and then Riley sort of started doing a little dance and laughing as his stream splashed all around.
“Hey, careful, man! You get any of that on me, you know I’ll have to kill you!”
He raised his eyes from looking at me up to my face and grinned. “You wouldn’t do that. Then you’d never get to play with this.” Then he reached down and took hold of his. At least that meant he wasn’t spraying all over any longer.
“Just don’t get any of your pee on me, that’s all. That’s disgustin’.”
He continued to hold himself. “You want to do it again tonight?” he asked, and his grin got bigger, more eager and excited, maybe because we’d skipped last night. He was looking at mine again and began to giggle. “I see you like that idea. You’re getting’ a stiffy.”
“I think we’re supposed to call them boners,” I replied, trying to sound sophisticated, pushing my hips out just a bit so maybe it’d look longer. “That what the older kids call them.”
“Here, move closer so I can touch it. I want to hold it, see what it feels like when it’s growing hard.” He was sounding very eager now and sidled a bit closer.
“Not here, dufus! Someone might come in. Later. Tonight.”
I was done peeing, or at least my boner had cramped my style. I hadn’t had to go as much as he had in any event. He was done, too. I knew because I’d been watching. I managed to tuck myself in and walked to the filthy sink. Riley was still at the trough, and as I watched, he turned and started toward me. I grinned. He hadn’t bothered to put himself away, and he was hard now, too.
“Maybe while we’re here, we should wash them off,” he said.
I never got to respond to that. One of the stall doors opened, and a man stepped out. I knew him—he was one of the teachers at our elementary school, Mr. Simmons.
Riley immediately turned so his back was to Mr. Simmons, and began fumbling at his crotch, trying to get his boner back into his pants.
“Hey, don’t mind me,” Mr. Simmons said, a big smile on his face. “I’ve known thousands of boys your age. I’ve seen all sorts of boners. Some boys like me to look at them. They’re proud of them. I even know what some boys do together. It’s all okay with me.”
He walked over so he was at the sink next to mine and turned on the water. “You’re Travis and Riley, aren’t you? You weren’t ever in my room, but I know you. How’s your summer going?”
I felt a little nervous. Me ’n Riley were alone with him, and men always made me a little nervous. He was a large man, which didn’t help my nervousness at all, but he was friendly, and we both knew who he was, so that should have helped. But we were in this small room with him, and . . . I couldn’t really say why, but he made me feel edgy. He seemed a little too friendly, too upbeat. And he’d talked about boners. What teacher ever did that?
I turned off the tap in my sink and shook my hands, then rubbed them on my pants. Riley had finally got himself put away and zipped up, but he was still blushing. I started to back away from the sink and turn around, but Mr. Simmons beat me to it, backing away first and somehow managing to stand between me and the door.
“You know,” he said, still smiling, “it’s been a long time since I was your age, but I heard you two talking, and I remember feeling all hot and bothered back then, thinking about boners and other boys and fooling around. I guess from what you said, you guys are doing that now, fooling around with each other. Huh?”
Now I wasn’t just edgy. I was scared. Adults didn’t ask us about things like that, and if they did, I assumed they wouldn’t do it with bright eyes and an eager smile on their lips. Riley had stepped over to me and our shoulders were touching.
“Tell you what,” Mr. Simmons said, still smiling. “I know how you could really have some fun. I’ve got a swimming pool at home. And the best thing is, it’s private! I never wear a swimming suit. Hot as it is, I was just on my way home to take a dip. Why don’t you boys come with me, huh? We can all get naked together. You can show each other your boners, even play with them some like what you were saying before, and it’ll be cool. We’ll all swim together. Wanna?”
“Uh, we have to get home,” I said. “Ma is waitin’ for us.”
“Oh, this’ll be okay. I’ll just call her and let her know you’re going swimming at my house. What’s your number?” He took out a cell phone and stared questioningly at me.
“No,” I said, even though it was hard not doin’ what he’d asked, just give him my number. Boys do what men tell them to do, especially teachers. I’d done that all my life. But I was scared, and I wanted out of there. “Me ’n Riley have to go.”
I started to move forward, but he didn’t move. He was blocking our path.
“Boys, you’ll like this. Your ma won’t mind if you’re a few minutes late.”
He wasn’t budging. The only thing I could think to do was lie to him, say we’d go, and then run when we had the chance.
“Okay,” I said. “We’ll go with you.”
I wished when I said it I’d had a chance to tell Riley what I was thinking. Whenever there was something to be scared about, Riley was rarely as scared as I was. I wasn’t all that brave, so I got scared easily. He just couldn’t see the things that scared me the way I could. His imagination didn’t stretch as far as mine.
I was scared, but even so, I could stand up for myself. I could tell Riley was now scared, too; it didn’t take all that much imagination to see there was something very wrong here. When Riley got scared, he also got a little wild. I was pretty sure he wasn’t going to give in to going with Mr. Simmons easily.
“No!” he said, sounding like he had at the river with those boys; he practically yelled it. “We’re not going with you. Get out of our way.”
Mr. Simmons’s eyes hardened. The smile left his face. “Riley, I made you a nice offer, and now you’re being rude. Travis says it’s okay, and it is. I know how to handle rude boys. I’ve been doing it for years. I’m going to walk out of here to my car and you’re both coming with me. I’ll take each of your hands in each of mine and we’ll walk together. No more fussing. Come on.”
He took a step towards us, and Riley backed up against the sinks, pulling me with him. “You’re the one who took those boys,” Riley said, his voice shaking. “You’re the kidnapper and the molester.”
Mr. Simmons stopped, and his face changed. It seemed to become unnaturally calm, and his eyes had a strange look to them. “You’ve got that all wrong. Don’t believe what you hear. I didn’t hurt those boys. I just helped them learn who they were, what felt good. I did them a favor. I’m going to do that for you, too. I know when boys are feeling sexy. I just help them do what they’re either already doing or are going to be doing anyway. I’ll do the same with you two. You’ll really like it. There’s nothing wrong with what I do.”
“Then why do you hide who you are?” I asked. “And we know who you are. The other boys didn’t, but we do.”
I saw his face change again. And I realized I might have made a mistake, saying that. Sometimes I say too much without thinking it through. But maybe not this time. I was sure he’d have figured that out sooner or later all by himself. Before he let us go. He’d have realized he’d have to kill us.
I too knew he’d have to do that, now. If I was scared before, I was terrified now. We had to get away. We had to. But we were in a small space, and he was between us and the door. Neither Riley nor I were very big. Neither of us were close to 100 pounds. Neither of us was even five feet tall. Mr. Simmons was over 6 feet tall and I didn’t know how much he weighed, but he wasn’t a bit skinny. ‘Heavyset’ was the word Ma would have used for him.
We had to get away, but I couldn’t see a single way for that to happen. And I knew as well as I knew my name was Travis, he was going to kill us.
He was still two steps away from us, but we didn’t have room to get around him. Well, maybe if I tried to run to one side and Riley the other, one of us might get away.
I looked at both sides of him and Mr. Simmons saw how my eyes were moving and he said in a voice that was much gruffer than before, “Don’t try running, Travis. I’d have to hurt you if you ran. Come with me and I won’t hurt you at all. We’ll all have fun at my house.”
He took another step toward us, and Riley screamed, “NO!” at the top of his lungs. Mr. Simmons shot forward, put a hand over Riley’s mouth to stop the scream, and I saw my chance. I dodged away from Mr. Simmons and raced past him and out the door.
I heard a squeal from inside the building, and then Mr. Simmons was just inside the doorway, standing where I could see him but no one else in the park could. He had Riley next to him, his fingers around the back of Riley’s neck, his finger and thumb pressing in to the sides of his neck hard enough to dent the skin. While I watched, he pressed harder and Riley let out another squeal.
“Come back here, Travis,” Mr. Simmons ordered. “Come back right now or I’ll break his neck.”
I didn’t want to go. I was far enough away that I knew Mr. Simmons could never catch me. He was big and heavy, and I was light, small and fast. All I had to do was run toward the other people in the park and I’d be safe.
But he had Riley. And even if it would kill me, I wasn’t going to leave Riley there alone with him. I hadn’t let Riley get in trouble without being there for him since second grade. I hadn’t at the river. I never had, and wasn’t going to break that record now, no matter how scared I was. I couldn’t. I had to go to him. Maybe we could figure out how to escape later. Maybe not, either, but right now, I couldn’t let him hurt or kill Riley when I could stop it.
So I started walking back to him, and then stopped, because someone came around the corner of the building. He saw me and said, “Hi, Travis.”
It was Mr. Condon. Even though I was scared out of my wits, what came into my head was the inappropriate thought that he needed his lizard drained, too. But then, even as I was criticizing myself for that thought, I had another horrible one. A terrible, awful thought. What if Mr. Condon was in on this with Mr. Simmons? What if they were partners? What if Mr. Simmons caught the boys and brought them to Mr. Condon and his wall?
I didn’t answer him. I just stood there, no longer moving toward Riley and Mr. Simmons, not answering Mr. Condon. I was totally frozen.
Mr. Condon looked at me, puzzled, then sort of shrugged and turned to the building, where he saw Mr. Simmons in the doorway, his hand still around Riley’s neck, indecision all over his face. Riley looked terrified. As I watched Mr. Simmons’ eyes narrowed and indecision changed to cunning.
Mr. Condon was a small man, and old, at least quite a bit older than Mr. Simmons, who was large as well as years younger. The two men looked at each other. Mr. Simmons hand didn’t move from Riley’s neck. His other hand was holding Riley’s shoulder.
Mr. Condon was the first to speak. “Let the boy go,” he said. His voice was very normal. Softer even than it had been when me ’n Riley had called on him at his home with Ma to bring him cookies. He didn’t seem aware of any potential violence at all, or the danger he was in.
Mr. Simmons surprised me. He was staring hard at Mr. Condon, but then he said, “Okay,” and let Riley go. But he shoved him hard back into the building behind him. Then he stepped out, moving decisively toward Mr. Condon.
Then a number of things happened all at once. Riley screamed. I didn’t know if it was from fear or rage, or to let everyone at the park know that something was happening, but man, did he ever scream. It was a long one, too. Long, loud and high-pitched.
Mr. Simmons sort of hesitated when the scream cut loose, but then kept going, walking toward Mr. Condon, speeding up as he did.
Mr. Condon was wearing long dark trousers and black sneakers. He had on a black button up shirt, too, one that was untucked, too long for him and came down well past his waist. Now, as Mr. Simmons came toward him, Mr. Condon dropped his right hand down under the bottom hem of his shirt and lifted it up again. His hand came up with something in it, an odd-looking thing that came out of a holster that had been covered by his shirt. It didn’t look like a gun, but then it did, sort of. He didn’t look scared at all as the large man approached him, a man whose eyes now were showing murderous intentions.
When Mr. Simmons was only two steps away from Mr. Condon, Mr. Condon simply raised whatever it was he was holding and pulled the trigger.
The results were amazing. Mr. Simmons suddenly just collapsed, his momentum taking him forward so he was lying at Mr. Condon’s feet, twitching.
Mr. Condon took a step back and reached into his pocket for his cell phone, but I just caught that out of the corner of my eye as I was racing into the restroom building. I found Riley just then standing up, halfway back to the rear of the building. I threw an arm around Riley’s shoulders. He’d stopped screaming, which was a good thing because I’d probably have gone deaf. He was shaking a little, but then he wrapped his arms around me. I did the same to him and we just stood there, hugging, until Mr. Condon came to the door and said, “Let’s move out of here. I think the town cop will be here before that guy comes around, but there’s no point in taking chances.”
We walked outside. Mr. Simmons was still laying in a heap. We could hear Officer Lodge’s siren not far away and getting louder. Riley was staring at Mr. Simmons, and he nudged Mr. Condon and asked, “What did you do to him?”
“I tased him,” he said.
“That was a taser?” I was looking at it, now back in its holster, the black shirt caught on the holster and no longer covering it. “I’ve never seen one before. How come you carry one around?”
“I need it for my job,” he said.
We could see the cop car pull up then and the siren went silent. Officer Lodge was out of the car so fast and coming toward us in such a hurry he didn’t even shut his car door. He saw Mr. Simmons, who was just now starting to move a little.
“What happened here?” the officer asked. “That’s Mr. Simmons from the school.”
Mr. Condon opened his mouth to speak, but Riley beat him to it. “He’s the kidnapper who molested those boys! He was gonna take me ’n Travis too, but Mr. Condon tased him. He saved our lives. Mr. Simmons told us he’d taken the boys, and he was gonna take us, too. Then Travis told him we’d seen who he was, so Mr. Simmons was gonna kill us. Mr. Condon saved us.”
“You already said that,” I told Riley, but he was on a roll and didn’t even hear me. He told them everything, and I mean everything. He even talked about our boners, and how Mr. Simmons had heard that. I couldn’t shut him up.
Mr. Simmons was mostly back to normal, and Officer Lodge made quick work of handcuffing him. Mr. Simmons was large, but not as large as the cop.
“I’ll take him in and process him,” he said to Mr. Condon and me ’n Riley. “All three of you will have to take statements, but I’m sure the boys probably want to get home. You guys can take off; I’ll talk to you later. Uh, Mr. Condon, could I have just a moment with you alone?”
They stepped aside for only a moment or two, and then Officer Lodge and his prisoner went to the police car and Mr. Condon came back to us.
“I can give you a ride home, guys,” Mr. Condon told us. We had our bikes, but he had his truck and we put the bikes in the back.
On the way home, Riley was still talking. “We thought you were the one taking those boys, sir. Well, Travis did, and I wasn’t sure. That’s why we were looking in your garage. It wasn’t for a cat. We were sleuthing, looking for clues. But why do you have a taser? And a wall? We’ve been studying over that and haven’t figured it out yet. I said you probably had a good reason, but Travis thought you built it to keep killer dogs in.”
Well, I’d had enough of that, but knew I’d have time to straighten it all out. I didn’t feel like it right then, and didn’t want to start arguing with Riley in front of Mr. Condon. I still felt a little shaky. So I only said one thing. “Silent killer dogs,” staring at Riley when I said it. He wouldn’t meet my eyes.
Mr. Condon looked over at both of us and began laughing, and didn’t stop till he let us out in front of my house.
When he’d helped us get our bikes out of the back of the truck, before we’d gone into the house, he said, “Boys? Can I just have a second or two?”
We stepped back to where he was. He said, “Riley, I heard what you said to Officer Lodge. He did, too. He asked me to tell you, all that personal stuff you said, he’ll keep that private, and I can, too. But he thought you might not want anyone else to know about it, especially not your parents, until you’ve thought about it and are ready to tell them, if you ever do. You might not want to let it all out when you’re all nervous and excited about what happened. Your choice, of course, and I’m not suggesting you tell any lies, just that you decide how much to say. Okay?”
Riley was looking at the ground, so I answered. “We’ll talk about it,” I said, “but that sure sounds like a good idea to me, and, well, thanks for savin’ us, and thanks for the advice.”
He winked at me. “Boys do what they do, and parents generally know a little and aren’t surprised when they find out more, but they don’t really want to hear any details. Everyone’s better off like that.”
He winked at me when he left. I decided me ’n Riley hadn’t been just a little wrong about him. We’d been completely wrong. He was a good guy.