Chapter One —— What kind of man will I be?

Dingo squatted down behind the broad dumpster trying hard to ignore the overpowering smell of putrid garbage. He would have preferred another hiding spot, but this was really the only place behind the restaurant that offered some measure of concealment while simultaneously giving him an unobstructed view of the back door. Dingo found himself squinting, which was odd because even with the light at the back door turned off there was more than enough ambient light to clearly see the door and the stacked up empty co2 canisters sitting off to one side. He forced himself to relax his eyes as he surveyed the entire back from the darkened office window, to the door in the middle, over to the grease trap that looked like it was no longer used.

Shifting his weight slightly to loosen the muscles in his thigh which were beginning to cramp in protest from holding this position so long, he glanced at his watch to see it going on 10:30. He had been concealed behind the god awful dumpster for nearly three quarters of an hour, which was more than twice as long as he had planned on having to wait. Not that he minded waiting, she was worth every minute of discomfort and then some. Still, she should have been out back by now with her yellow mop bucket filled with dirty water and the pack of cigarettes from which she would light up. He knew the routine so well, first the light would come on, then the door would open, and after a moment she would appear like an angel. She would dump out the dirty water in the drain by the door, light a smoke and then while she exhaled her first drag she would reach back behind her head and remove the hair clip she was required to wear when the diner was open.

Damn it all, she was never this late, his small voice of doubt interjected, after all hadn’t he been watching this place every night for a week? He was certain he knew her routine as well as she did! Did she know he was out here? Maybe somehow she knew he was waiting for her out here, in the dark. Maybe she was afraid because it might be her first time? Now that thought excited him! He desperately pushed thoughts about her first time away, there would be time enough for first times later. Staying calm would keep him safe, and so he focused in on the little voice of doubt, the one that kept wary and cautious. ‘No it couldn’t be her first time’ it told him sounding smug. His inner voice sounded the same way his mother always had, may she rot in hell, he despised his inner voice, but he had to acknowledge it did keep him from being careless. ‘No way’, the voice continued on despite him, ‘not the way she walks around that diner. Anyone looking her way could see was easy’. No! He shouted at the little voice of doubt, listening to see if maybe had accidentally yelled out loud. If she knew he was out here she would have come early, he argued to himself, after all she loved him, and she wanted it every bit as bad as he did. He could tell she wanted him just as badly, the way she smiled at him when she served him his coffee, the way she gave him his change, she was looking forward to it all, the thrusting, the cries, hell even the cutting.

The light by the door came on, anemic yellow and weak, it was one of those bug lights that are supposed to repel insects but never seem to work. Dingo heard the hinges creak, and he sprang the way a bobcat might, he had no time for hesitation. His plan, as clever as it was, required absolute precise timing. The first step was to sprint the fifty feet to the door and take her back inside before she had a chance to get cold feet. Girls like her always wanted it, you just had to keep them from changing their minds, that’s all. Once inside, step two was to restrain her, for her own good of course. That left dealing with the manager as step three, and then with all the work done, the two of them would have kitchen to themselves and all night to amuse themselves.

Dingo had cleared the dumpster and dropped his weight low like a football player trying to get under his opponent. He felt his hunting smile spread across his face, seeing her silhouetted, back lit as she was from the open door. His need making him run even harder, he was almost there. With one hundred percent focus, he had moved so fast he was almost there when his inner voice, asked ‘Where’s her mop bucket?’ Followed quickly by ‘why does she look so big’. Dingo never even had a chance to react before the person, who was not her, held out a beefy arm to their side and took a relaxed and easy step to their right.

Dingo, who was born Kelly McNamera (but that sounded like a girls name, so he went by Dingo thank you very much) hit the outstretched arm at full speed, his legs going out from under him, and blackness rising like the ground to take him the moment he came to rest.

Once the ambulance had left with the unconscious man and a deputy escort, Sheriff Lester Tulley now had the opportunity to sort out the strange events of the evening, to get all the facts that had led to him standing in the back door of a diner being rushed by a crazy man.

“How did you figure it out?” he asked the brown haired boy who was sitting at the counter eating a slice of pie.

The boy looked thoughtful for a moment while he chewed, his face glowing blue with each pulse of the lights from the police cruiser parked just outside the front door.

“Well I was in here twice this week with Doyle and Hank after practice and each time we were here so was this guy”

Lester briefly looked over to Bentley Cole, Deputy Cole in an official capacity, who was standing on the other side of the counter with the pretty brunette waitress and the balding man who was both night manager and cook. After providing their statements the two diner employees had insisted on serving the boy pie, ostensibly as a reward, but Lester suspected they wanted to hear the boy’s explanation as much as he did. “So you saw the guy here twice, what was so odd about that? You were here twice yourself, that’s not so strange?” Lester asked.

“Well on both occasions we were the only ones here besides him, and since Vince here lives in the apartment building across the back alley” he pointed at the night manager with his fork “and Sylvia drives her red Beetle I knew that the man must drive that black El Dorado.“

The boy stopped pointing with the utensil and started again to saw the back of the pie crust off.

Lester looked at the night manager and quirked an eyebrow as if to ask “Do you live across the alley?” Vince gave a slight nod, but didn’t say anything.

The boy pushed the pie crust pieces to the edge of the plate lining them up neatly in a row. To Lester, he appeared like he was sorting out the crust pieces like details in his explanation, finally satisfied with the arrangement of the bits of pastry the boy continued.

“So last night I noticed that tattoo on his arm was done in indelible ink like from a pen, like a prison tattoo. It was the old astrological sign for Venus, which is often used as the symbol for females and it was drawn to appear like it was constructed of barbed wire meaning that the man had served time for a woman, most likely for rape”

“Prison Tattoos?!? Jesus, how does a fourteen-year-old boy learn about prison tattoos?” The boy looked ready to answer, so he cut him off “You’re not saying you figured it out because of a tattoo?” Lester probed, knowing there had to be more, with this particular boy there was always more, and the boy liked going over every detail.

“No, but part of it. I noticed that his fingernail beds had fading purple striations. Purple striations are one of the more common side effects of someone taking a chemical castration drug. Only these were fading, indicating he was no longer taking the drug, well that and the fact that he kept touching himself every time Sylvia came near his table” The boy blushed at Sylvia before turning, embarrassed, back to his plate.

“OK, so you saw the tattoos, and the inappropriate behavior, the markings under the fingernails. That still doesn’t explain how you knew Sylvia was in danger tonight?” Lester asked although he suspected what the next piece of the puzzle was.

“It was quite simple really, the black El Dorado was here when we pulled up right at closing time, but the man was not inside when we got here. I asked Sylvia if they had been busy tonight and she said we were her first customers for over an hour. And well the rest you know.” The boy said sounding a little like he might be explaining how to set the clock on the VCR so it didn’t blink twelve o’clock all the time. Scratch that thought Lester, the boy had probably never seen a VCR he had grown up with DVD’s.

“Amazing. That boy is simply amazing.” Bentley said as he walked through the opening in the counter by the cash register, he had to turn slightly sideways to fit through the gap.

Bentley was an absolute brick wall of a man, middle age had not softened him in the least, to the contrary the salt and pepper hair and weathered face made him look even more intimidating than when he was younger. The first time Lester saw Bentley they were both freshly enrolled at the police academy. Lester was certainly apprehensive when they were paired together for hand to hand combat training. To Lester the big man seemed like the kind of guy who could take on the whole bar by himself in a brawl, Lester halfway expected him to pick up the smaller recruits and tear them in half like a bear might do on a cartoon. After being Lester’s partner for almost ten years, and serving his chief deputy for another twelve, he had learned Bentley’s ability to keep up in a fight, while impressive, was nothing compared with the size of his heart or the gentleness of his manner. Lester was a cop because he simply didn’t know what else have done, but Bentley never should have had to have been a cop, but was because out of a genuine desire to do the right thing. If there was a better man in the whole county Lester didn’t know who it might be.

“Good work Brandon.” Bentley told the boy before giving him a heartfelt pat on the back as he made for the door. “Well I’m gonna get back to the station now, Sheriff. You enjoy the rest of your night off.”

“Night Uncle Ben” The boy told the man as he moved by.

After he watched the cruiser pull away Lester noticed that the boy had finished his pie and Sylvia had removed the plate. There was an awkward silence in the room now, like the absence of the cruiser’s blue strobe lights had sucked all the sound out as well.

“Well I guess that’s everything then” Lester said “I guess we should pay and be on our way”

“Don’t you dare, put your wallet back right now.” Sylvia scolded “Sheriff, that boy saved us from being robbed or worse tonight, I think I can buy him dinner if I want too”

“Fair enough, but just this once okay?” Lester told her before turning to Brandon “C’mon boy let’s get you home.”

“Before you go, I got a question if that’s okay?” Vince asked from his spot at the counter “So how is it you know I live in those apartments back there” Vince asked point back over his shoulder toward the back of diner.

“Well you never have a car here of your own and there is no bicycle, so that means you likely live within walking distance. I’ve noticed that you often have red clay on your shoes, and the only area of exposed clay in the immediate vicinity is the small berm that separates this commercial area from the apartment complex one block over.” Vince nodded slowly and Brandon smiled at him “Thank you both for the pie”

By the time they were settled into the truck it had begun to sprinkle and Lester couldn’t help but notice the way the cold rain steamed when it hit the still warm pavement that had baked in the sun all day. Given all that happened tonight he felt he should be happy, but instead he couldn’t shake the feeling that trouble was coming and the fact that the road looked like it was ready to catch fire did nothing to ease his tensions. Brandon apparently didn’t feel like speaking either, he just sat there clutching his backpack to his chest and looking out the window, so the two just rode in silence reflecting on the events of the last couple of hours, listening to the rhythm of the windshield wipers their precise tempo only occasionally interrupted by bursts of chatter and static on the police radio.

Lester sat in front of his computer, the house quiet except for rain hitting the living room window. He was reading the booking report and rap sheet of Kelly McNamera. According to records he was from Huntsville, he had missed his last several probation meetings and sure enough chemical castration was a precondition of his release, not that Lester was surprised, but the boy had nailed it. The boy seemed too young to have that much talent Lester thought, pushing the thought away before it made him start worrying again.

He became aware of the rustling noise in the hall, that unmistakable crinkle of the plastic shell of a disposable diaper which stopped at the entrance of the living room. He didn’t need to turn around to know his son was standing there in the door frame wearing nothing but some threadbare t-shirt and a diaper.

“It’s late, what are you doing up?” Lester said taking a moment to close down his remote network session to the Sheriff’s office.

“Thanks for believing me tonight, when I told you there was someone at the back door” Brandon said quietly, when at last he continued it sounded like he was about to cry “I’m sorry, I know you wish I were different”.

Lester turned, pushing back the chair from the desk as he got up “No Brandon, I don’t want you to be different. You done good boy, probably saved two people’s lives tonight, and I am so proud of you and for you.” Lester meant it too. “I just worry about you that’s all, a kid your age shouldn’t be out preventing rapes, or stopping robberies. You should be worried about making the JV baseball team, or getting pimples, or finding a date to a school dance. THOSE are the kinds of problems you should be dealing with. How does a boy your age even know about prison tattoos - I work in law enforcement and I might have missed that.”

Embarrassed at the heat that crept into his voice Lester got up and hugged the boy who was now almost as tall as his father. When he pulled away he could see traces of hurt lingering on Brandon’s face. Lester felt no small amount of frustration that he couldn’t make the boy see that police work was dangerous. He had yelled, pleaded, worried, lost sleep, but Brandon seemed determined to find trouble no matter how many times they had this same argument.

The first time the boy had demonstrated his talents, he was nine and they were in the Walmart parking lot. Brandon had grabbed his father’s hand and pulled him across the parking lot to the back of the lot where an RV was parked, not uncommon since the chain encourages the practice. “They are making drugs in here” he said and pointed.

“No buddy, that’s Breaking Bad, and you shouldn’t be watching that show. That’s daddy’s show”

“I don’t know what that is, but they are making drugs, See” The boy pointed to the roof of the trailer, it’s vent opened and a small box sticking out.

“That’s just a vent”

“What about that ammonia tank” he said point to were the propane tank would normally be mounted.

And so it went Lester kept dismissing his ideas, and the boy kept countering, until Lester reluctantly conceded there was enough circumstantial evidence that he called a deputy to watch the trailer and within a day they had enough to get a warrant.

Lester had been so proud that next day, it seemed like the first good thing to have happened since his wife had passed. But it didn’t take long before the boy was trying his best to ‘help’ all the time, accusing a man in public of cheating on his wife, a teenager of shoplifting, and a teacher at his school of having an alcohol problem.

Lester then began to worry the boy was going to bite off more than he could chew, and his elation became a constant battle to get his son to just be a boy, while his boy somehow got it in his head that he was going to be some kind of TV detective.

“I won’t confront anyone, I’ll just tell you” he pleaded one night after Lester told him he wanted him to stop.

“Boy it’s like football game, even from the sidelines sometimes the coach, the cameraman, or the players on the bench got clobbered when a play goes out of bounds. So no matter how careful you are there is still a risk, and too much risk for a twelve year old”

More than a year later and he was making the same argument.

Feeling guilty Lester tried to take the fear and anger and doubt, (and guilt if he were being honest), out his voice “Your mom would be proud too”. While Lester couldn’t go long without thinking about her, he found he missed her most at times like these, she would have known exactly what to say to convince the boy that he needed to just be a boy and enjoy the last few years of childhood before adult responsibilities began to press down on him. Raising a boy with Brandon’s talents was difficult enough as it was, but raising him alone was a whole different matter entirely and sometimes Lester wondered if he alone could ever be enough for the boy.

“Yeah I think so too” Brandon said sadly before turning to shuffle off back to bed. “Night dad, I love you.”

Re: Branded

Not bad at all! I’m assuming there will be more? If there is I can’t wait to read it!

Re: Branded

Another story that could spring a couple different sequels.

Chapter two: Oh Irony! The many vices of youth?

Brandon sat at the kitchen table working on problems from his geometry textbook while he waited for the buzzer that would indicate it was time to remove the lasagna from the oven. Finishing one problem he audibly sighed before moving on to the next. What type of teacher gives homework during the last week of school? Oh well nose to the grindstone or dinner will beat me he urged himself. Brandon made a game of finishing his homework before dinner, a game usually easily won at the end of the school year when his workload was light, but not this time, thank you very much Mr. Hagger.

He was in the middle of his second to the last proof when he heard his father’s truck pull into the driveway. Brandon knew his father’s routine pretty well, and since he was home by 5:45 that meant his day was probably mostly uneventful. Had anything exciting have happened his dad wouldn’t have felt as easy with leaving promptly at 5:30. From the driveway his father would enter the side door where he would go straight to his room empty his pockets onto his dresser, hang up his hat and ‘utility belt’ as he sometimes called it jokingly, and remove his shoes before making his appearance in the kitchen. Brandon pressed ahead knowing he only had a few minutes before the requisite small talk would derail his race against the clock, with only a little extra effort he was confident he would make it.

When he was finished he closed his textbook with finality, feeling satisfied he had bested both his father and Stouffers Frozen Entrees. There was still nearly five minutes left on the clock for ‘Man vs Frozen Food’ which was more than enough time set the table. The transformation from makeshift desk back into a cheap laminate dinette involved closing his textbook and moving it into one of the unused chairs and putting the vinyl placemat in its normal cardinal position. He was pouring out two glasses of sweet tea when his father made his way to the kitchen.

“Smells good, Lasagna?” Lester asked, his brown short sleeved uniform shirt unbuttoned over his white crew neck undershirt.

“Yes sir. We’re out of bread though so no garlic toast” Brandon said as he walked the plastic tray of steaming pasta to the table.

“Sorry, I’ll get to the store before the week is out. You have a good day at school?”

“All right I guess. Not much going on this week anyways since the teachers don’t want a lot to grade” Brandon didn’t bother to complain about Mr. Haggard. “How was your day?”

“Quiet, just like I like it. Kind of bored really.” Lester said as he cut a square of lasagna out from the pan.

“Couldn’t be too quiet. You arrested Clint and Ellie Hollkin today and you rearranged the records room didn’t you?”

Lester shook his head slowly “Damn it boy, how did you know that? ”

Of all the games Brandon ever played this was by far his favorite, it was way better than ‘beat dinner doing homework’ that was for sure. He even had a name for this particular game, he called it “No Shit Sherlock”, but only to himself, he didn’t think his dad would tolerate the language.

“Well it’s simple” Elementary is what he wanted to say, just once, but that would be way to corn ball, and besides he did want to be taken seriously. “First you have what appears to be a vomit stain on your sleeve, which likely means a drunk and secondly you have scratches on your forearm from what appears to be ladies fingernails. Which means you probably broke up a domestic, and the only domestic that could have happened and it still have been a quiet day would have been if Clint and Ellie were at it again”

“Hate to say it, but you’re right. Go on”

“Your shirt is dirty on the back with dust and cobwebs which means you brushed up against a dirty wall and the only place in your office where you might have clearance issues is if you had pulled those heavy file cabinets away from the wall.”

“I could have moved the copier?” Lester countered

“It’s on wheels”

“Oh. I could have been moving desks in the office”

“You could, but the dirt is on your shoulders like you scooted along the wall, if it was a desk you would have been able to lean forward and then dirt would be on your lower back”

“Okay, you win. As usual. Now you tell me why, someone with your smarts is only getting a ‘C’ in history?”

“Cause history’s dumb? I won’t need to know a bunch of history anyways when I am a famous detective.” Brandon knew it was a mistake to say it, he could see his dad’s mood began to sour.

“Brandon, can you even name one famous detective. Just one, who isn’t on a TV show, or comic book or video game? There is no such thing as a famous detective, it’s fantasy. And one of these days you’re going to play around with fire and get burned because you think your Sherlock Holmes or some crap. Now if you want to be a cop someday, when your older that’s fine, I’ll support you, WHEN YOU ARE OLD ENOUGH. Besides, your observations, however clever, are not a substitute for real police work.”

Brandon knew he needed some damage control, he didn’t need his dad mad at him right now, not if was going to get permission to go camping this weekend with Hank and Doyle. He needed to diffuse the argument before it got any worse, and he had an old standby that almost always worked “Well fine, I’ll just run off and join the circus then. So there.”

The circus argument could be employed by either of them and usually resulted in the other going along with the long running joke, thereby diffusing any real underlying argument they were having. Brandon didn’t think the circus argument would always work, but he was hoping that at least for tonight his dad wouldn’t have it in him to fight. His dad had been real touchy since Brandon had helped stop that rapist a few weeks back.

“You think you can amaze people and get paid? Is that it? You want to join the circus boy? ” Lester said his sternness taking on a sarcastic bend “You want to be a clown? Is that it boy, you want to be a clown? DO YOU WANT TO WEAR FLOPPY SHOES?”

“No sir.” Brandon smiled at having steered the conversation back into more amiable waters.

“Well without a college education you might have to be, and you’ll need better than a ‘C’ in history if you want to go to any school that’s worth a damn, or you can circus clown yourself through night school I suppose”

“You know other parents threaten their kids with digging ditches, but no, my dad threatens me with being a clown.” Brandon half laughed.

“Yea yeah, now eat before your food gets cold”

Later once dishes were put in the dishwasher, leftovers were put in the fridge and the kitchen table was wiped down Brandon went to his room to play some xbox. His room was an absolute mess and he liked it that way, still he felt if for no other reason than principal that he should consider cleaning it soon. Since by definition ‘soon’ meant later, it definitely did not mean tonight. Only three more days of school and then a long summer so anything was possible then right? He might be bored enough in August to clean it then.

Still, once he let his mind start to focus on the condition of his room he couldn’t stop until his mind had taken stock of everything, seen every detail, observed every nuance. The clothes on the floor ankle deep in places, the stained carpet from where he had spilled grape kool aid when he was 11. He saw the burnt out light in the ceiling fan, the place where the glue on his wallpaper was beginning to ease allowing the seam to curl ever so slightly. His bed with one corner of the fitted sheet coming undone exposing the vinyl sheet beneath. Then there were the stacks of books on every flat surface, covering his desk, his dresser, his nightstand. Brandon couldn’t remember the last time he had seen any of his baseball trophies or had been able to use his desk as a desk, which was why he was doing his homework in the kitchen. His game discs were mostly stacked on one another and not in their cases, some set on top of the TV, some on top of the xbox itself, others were god only knows where. His top dresser drawer was open to a tangle of socks that spilled over the side somewhat, the socks themselves may or may not have had matches. His closet door wouldn’t close because it looked like a bunch of stuff had fallen over and was blocking the door. It was absolute entropy, and Brandon loved it.

Oh well maybe I won’t bother cleaning it come august he thought as he kicked the small pile of clothes aside from in front of his TV, his foot making unexpected contact with something solid underneath, a blur of white plastic broke free and shot under the bed. He recognized the white plastic and colored buttons, and unless he fetched it there would be no after dinner xbox tonight. He ended up having to lay on his belly to try reach all the way under the double bed but his controller had gone too far back for him to reach. Brandon briefly considered moving the bed away from the wall, but in the end he used a wiffle ball bat to rake everything he could forward. Satisfied he plucked the controller from the collection of items brought forward and after a brief examination he pushed the rest back under the bed except for a perfectly good diaper and a yo-yo he thought he had lost last year.

Placing the diaper on the bed Brandon did a quick assessment and although he usually waited till closer to bedtime to change his diaper, finding one under the bed seemed like a sign from on high that he should probably change right now. So he pulled open his nightstand drawer and set his wipes out before he dropped his pants and he took a swipe at the bedroom door with his foot. His kick fell somewhat short and the door didn’t quite close all the way. What the hell was wrong that he couldn’t kick anything right tonight? He decided not to bother with closing the door the rest of the way, it’s not like his dad never saw him change anyways. Hell if his dad did see him then so what? It would serve him right considering that Brandon had to go to P.E. every morning for second period and change his clothes with his classmates, because his dad didn’t think Brandon should let his problem keep him from having a normal childhood.

“Is it part of a normal childhood being thirteen and still in diapers?” he had wanted to ask back at the beginning of the school year, but he knew what his dad would have said, so he never even bothered to protest. Still, it’s not like his dads logic was wrong, all his friends and classmates pretty much already knew anyways. Most of the kids grew up with Brandon, so there was nothing odd about his situation. Now that he was in middle school though there were new kids he didn’t know and while no one teased him outright Brandon could tell it made some of the other guys uncomfortable, if he ever met their eyes they always looked away. Hell Brandon had even thought about getting Doyle or Hank to crack a diaper joke to make things less awkward for everyone, he hated the feeling that people had to walk on eggshells around him. He had to chuckle at the irony of wanting to be teased, but all things considered It was rough being the only guy in his school wearing diapers he concluded. Being teased would suck, but in a way it was even worse to be completely ignored, like he was somehow ‘off limits’ or something.

‘Careful what you wish for’ some other part of his mind quipped, ‘you could get teased like Joey’. Joey. There was at least one instance where Brandon didn’t feel he had it worst of everyone though and that was when a new student, Joey Bishop, had transferred in from out of state and on his first day in P.E. he striped naked and put on a jockstrap which no one in his school had ever done for gym class. Joey had tried to explain they were required where he had come from, but he still got called gay for it and even almost six months later he was still paying with the nickname “Joey Jockstrap”.

Oh well, maybe next year will be better for both me and Joey, Brandon thought as he removed his old diaper. He unfolded the new one and it was immediately apparent why it had been discarded under his bed to begin with. The diaper looked perfect except where a manufacturing defect had left the tapes completely off one side. No biggie he thought as he slid over to his closet and peered at the sweater organizer that hung from his clothes bar in which he stored his diapers. Nothing. Old Mr. Hubbard he thought to himself, seeing his cupboard bare. His backpack was in the kitchen and whatever unopened bags of diapers he had were in the laundry room, so he pulled on a pair of shorts that were lying in the floor and ventured out from his room. He felt naked and vulnerable wearing the shorts without any of the padding he was so accustomed to.

Sadly the laundry room turned up only one bag of 16 diapers, which could be bad news depending on when his next auto ship of diapers came. He was going to have to check with his dad to see if they had shipped already. Earlier in the year he had a surplus of two cases so his dad had temporarily held the auto shipments until they had worked off the extras that had accumulated, but since then he had not gotten back ahead of the game. Brandon crossed his fingers that they would get here in the next day or two, otherwise he would be in drugstore diapers and that could just about ruin his planned camping trip.

“Dad! We get a tracker on diapers yet? I’m almost out. I need them for my camping trip this weekend.” Brandon called to the living room after had changed into a fresh diaper. He had just taken a quick inventory, one down and fifteen to go in the new bag, plus his backpack probably had three maybe four diapers, he could use packing tape on that defective diaper if need be, plus maybe a hand-full of extras that he kept split between Hanks and Doyle’s house meant he probably had just enough to make it until Monday if nothing went wrong, no rips or tears, no abnormally heavy use days.

“I’ll check email in a second and let you know, but first what camping trip are you talking about?”

“The one you said yes to a few days ago? With Hank and Doyle, up at Brine Ridge, remember we were leaving Saturday morning and coming back sometime Monday? You said it was a great idea and that you wanted to give me $25 to buy supplies? Oh and you wanted me to take the fishing poles with me too if I remember right:

“Uh-huh. You must think I’m getting senile there boy to try and pull that one on me.”

Brandon’s heart sank a bit before his father continued “The way I remember it I wanted to give you $50 dollars, but you insisted you only wanted $15 and then you made a point of stressing that to show your appreciation you were going to mow the lawn on Friday after school and wash the truck sometime next week.”

“Yeah I think that’s the way it was too” Brandon said grateful for his father’s blessing

Re: Branded

I’m really liking this story! I hope to see more soon!!

Re: Branded

Thanks all for the kind words… Here is another chapter. Please enjoy.

Chapter three: In the Library with a candlestick

Christie lay across her bed with an open copy of Missy Magazine spread out in front of her to an article helpfully providing advice in the form of ‘how to know if he thinks your pretty’. She looked at question one, “Do you think you are pretty?” Christie looked over to her dressing table mirror and smiled at her reflection, examining her long auburn hair which gleamed in the golden light that streamed into her bedroom window. Her complexion seemed healthy even if its overall color was aided by the pastel yellow and pink walls that cast the light with a particularly cheerful glow during the late afternoon. Then again, maybe her face was a bit long? Everyone said her high cheekbones and full lips gave her a classic look, whatever that meant. At least she didn’t have to fight acne like some of her friends, because that would be awful.

She wished Nancy were here, not that she needed Nancy to tell her whether she was pretty or not, for the most part she figured she was at the very least not ugly and that in all honesty she would be considered by most to be on pretty side of the equation even if she wasn’t super model material. Christie might only be thirteen, but she was wise enough to be grateful that she was not as riddled with self doubt as the media seemed to think girls her age were supposed to be.

“Hey u around?” She texted Nancy.

Question two “Do guys look at you?” For real Missy magazine, that is the best you could come up with she demanded of the page. Mom’s Cosmos ain’t half this lame. Still she wondered if he did look at her? She knew he looked at her, he seemed to see everything, but did he LOOK at her she wondered.

Still no text from Nancy, where was she? Oh well, time for an experiment then she thought.

After getting up and making sure her clothes hadn’t gotten wrinkled in a bad way while she was laying down she checked herself in the mirror one last time. She could hear her stupid brother in the living room cutting up with Hank and Brandon, so she would go and see if ‘he looked at her’.

Well at least my crush makes sense she told herself when she thought of the ridiculous text she had gotten from Nancy last week. Nancy actually admitted she thought Doyle was cute! Now if she had said Brandon was cute she could understand, or even maybe Hank, but her brother?!? Gross. He was just a slob that acted like a five year old. Nancy had just never seen him drag himself to the breakfast table in his underwear with a big old drool stain on his shirt from where he was asleep, if she had then she might feel different. Maybe she wouldn’t think he was so cute if she had seen the way he scratches himself like there was nothing wrong with it. Christie told herself that Brandon probably never scratched himself like that.

“Hey Christie” Brandon told her, her pulse jumping a bit. He always told her hello and that’s a good sign right?

“oh Hey Brandon, I didn’t know you were here.” She lied

Doyle held out a finger and said “Someone needs to pull it” before waving it under her face “Come on help your brother out please!”

“Screw you Doyle!” How cute would Nancy think he is now she wondered? Knowing Nancy she might just pull his finger though.

Being as nonchalant as she could muster she sat down across the living room where she could see the three of them sitting in front of the TV, some racing game on the xbox. Christie sat in her high-back chair and pretended to read her book, peeking over the top to watch the boys. They were sitting on the couch, the very spot, where she decided a couple of years ago that one way or another Brandon was going to someday be her boyfriend.

Sitting there she cast her memory back to the first time Brandon had stayed the night at their house two summers ago. She had no idea what to expect after her mom and dad had sat her and Doyle down at the kitchen table to explain to them that the boy who was coming over to stay the night tonight wore diapers and they wouldn’t tolerate anyone teasing him or making a scene. Her mom even made a point to stress that she didn’t want trouble from EITHER of them. Right mom Christie had thought “Jesus Mom, Why are you telling me? Like I care what one of Doyles friends wears anyways. Doyle is a baby anyway so why should his friend be any different?” Christie was about to say just that when her idiot brother interrupted her.

“Mom I already know he wears diapers, I’m the one that asked him to sleep over.”

“Well a reminder to be nice every now and again never hurt anyone, so you be on your best behavior tonight Doyle” their mom had pressed.

God he was so immature about talking back. It was too bad for him that he didn’t have the good grace to just keep his mouth shut. He could learn a thing or two if he just paid attention to her example…

Back in her room, Christie spent the next two hours trying to figure out what it would be like for a eleven year old to be in diapers, she couldn’t get past the image of a fifth grader in a onesie with a bib and a pacifier. She was caught entirely off guard when the boy’s dad dropped him off. He was tall, and tan, had the cutest smile and pretty hazel eyes. He was big too, not fat or overweight, but even at 11 his shoulders were broad and he looked like he should be playing middle school football.

She realized she had seen him most days at school, he was in the same grade, just a different class than her. He wears diapers? No way she thought, how could I not notice, and why have I never noticed how cute he is before tonight? .

That night over dinner she couldn’t help but notice that he used his napkin and said please and thank you. That was a big plus in her book. But the thing that she noticed the most was that he didn’t say a stupid thing the entire time they were eating. Even when he was talking with Doyle and Hank about some stupid show on TV, Brandons points were all valid and while she didn’t think the show was any less stupid she could at least understand how someone might like it.

Later that night when all the noise of boys playing video games in the living room had ceased and she guessed everyone must be fast asleep she had crawled out from her bed. Even though it was way too hot in the house she pulled on her summer robe over her night shirt just in case they were still awake and sharing secrets and gossiping instead of sleeping. She opened her door as stealthily as she could, be a ninja she urged herself as she used the moonlight coming through the windows to navigate silently toward the front of the house. Outside the living room she stopped and listened for the rhythm of the boys breathing, satisfied that it was slow and steady she tiptoed into the room. I’m not snooping, I’m only up to get a drink of water she reminded herself.

Her and her brother each only had twin beds, so sleepovers were almost always held in the living room, unless everyone brought sleeping bags to ‘camp’ in the backyard. She could see them very clearly, the TV having been left turned on, a game paused on screen casting light across the hide-a-bed where the three boys were sleeping. All three boys were laying uncovered, the sheet having been kicked off the end of the bed due to the heat.

Christie wanted to laugh when she saw Doyle and Hank pushed off to one side of the bed since the other boy, ‘the cute one’ as she had begun to think of him was using up so much space. Brandon was sleeping on his stomach his arms and legs seemed cast out as if to claim as much space as possible. She stood there in the glow of the television listening to them sleep and hearing a crinkle from Brandon’s diaper when he moved a bit. That crinkle sound made her feel kind of tingly, she had never felt that way about anything before, was it normal to feel tingly about boys you had a crush on? Was that what love is?

The boys, none of them wearing real pajamas had at some point all shed their clothes and put on basketball shorts to sleep in and her brother and Hank each wore a t-shirt while Brandon was wearing a tank top which she thought was definitely the better choice. As she stood there looking at him she realized she could even make out the waistband of his diaper as it stuck out over his shorts where his white tank top had ridden up. She looked at the elastic waistband at the back and could see the thickening of the plastic to either side where the leak guards met the top of the diaper. She tried to imagine him without his shorts, imagining the way the elastic leg gathers would run up the back of the diaper. She wondered if they would look the same as they do on the toddler down the street she sometimes watched after school? She realised she was fanning herself, the temperature of living room had definitely gone up in the few minutes she was up.

She quickly forgot the heat when she wondered if someday Brandon might take her to the prom? He could bring her a corsage and they could dance and if her hand might wander while they dance just maybe she could brush up against his diaper? She felt kinda guilty for the thought, she was pretty sure that if she told Nancy about wanting to rub Brandon’s diaper that Nancy would think she was weird. Besides Brandon must hate wearing diapers, so why did she get so excited at the thought of seeing him in them?

A loud outburst of laughing in the room brought her attention back to the here and now. She guessed Doyle had finally found someone to pull his finger. She hoped it wasn’t Brandon, well of course it wasn’t him he was far too mature for such things. Back to work she told herself, after all she should be paying closer attention to how Brandon looks at her. Pretending to read her book she focused on their current conversation where they were making big plans to go camping on the ridge this weekend to celebrate the end of school.

The thought of Brandon in the woods, being rugged excited her even more. Why did her brother get to do all the cool things?

Anything you can do I can do better she sang to herself. Even if he is almost a year older, if Doyle could get permission to go sleep in the woods, then so could she! With a grin Christie flipped open her phone and sent another text to Nancy

“lets camp out this weekend! You need to say yes, you might see my brother!”

Re: Branded

I’m really enjoying this story. Its got nice pacing and a nice build-up and the characters are being introduced in a detailed fashion. More please!!!

Re: Branded

Just a small thing: twice I noticed you use the word “defiantly” where you mean “definitely”. Otherwise I’m enjoying what you’ve written so far.

Re: Branded

I most defiantly did not!

Thanks Tommy! I’m an atrocious speller - and so I rely on auto correct and I’ve just selected the wrong demangeling of my typing. Great catch, I’ll correct my source straight away.

Re: Branded

Great story!! I hope to read more soon!!!

Re: Branded

It’s fantastic! I can’t shake the feeling I’ve read the first chapter before. Was this an adisc post previously? Regardless, it is really well written–witty and sharp. Keep it up.

Re: Branded

Yeah this was on ADISC. I had real life issues eat up my writing time and I hadn’t worked on this story in a long while, and I kind of stopped going to AIDSC. I recently found out about this forum and since it was devoted to criticism and writing improvement I thought I would post it here while I work on it anew. So I’ve tightened up a few things here and there and begun reposting in between work on the next chapter.

This story was my first attempt to really go outside of the diaper story ‘box’ and do something different. I wanted to tell a good story that had diapers in it, without the story revolving around diapers and without it falling into all the cliche’s (Many of which I love - but I use too much as a crunch). But it’s a lot harder than I imagined, so it is slower than I would like it be :slight_smile:

Chapter four: Country Roads

Brandon chewed on a piece of beef jerky looking out the window at the sharp cliff like drop of the land that was only a guard rail away. The jerky was supposed to be ‘provisions’ for the weekend, but Hank started rummaging through the soft sided cooler the moment they pulled out of his driveway, now even before they made it to the campground the jerky was almost gone. Oh well Brandon sighed to himself guess we eat plain beans then, at least until we catch something.

Before being offered a ride, the boys had planned to enter the park from the low side nearest town and hike the 8 miles to where they had planned to set up camp, an area most folks called the oasis as it was a plateau of the the first drop of the ridge, the half moon shaped plateau stretched out for several miles before another drop that overlooked the town of Pannington on one end with the Annalera river at the other. The river and its attendant waterfall formed a lake favored by the locals as the best place for bluegill and perch without having to travel further south to where the river was dammed to form lake Wassina.

Brandon had expected Bently to give them a quick ground rules lecture as they got closer to the park’s entrance. The boys had chatted amiably during the drive with only a minor amount of posturing on exactly who’s fault it was that almost all the beef jerky was gone. Almost to the moment Brandon expected it, which was right when they passed the sign directing boat traffic to the right fork and camp traffic to the left Bentley spoke “Now you boys be careful this weekend, I let the rangers know you were setting up a primitive on the oasis, but help isn’t going to be super close even with the radio. I know Lester and I both will keep our walkies on the whole weekend so call if you need us, but if you need immediate help you call the rangers, see?”

“Yes sir” The three boys agreed in unison, knowing that to not do so would likely put a quick end to their weekend away.

“I don’t want to have to drive up here to remove a fish hook from anyone, or find you’ve burnt the state park down, so have fun, just don’t have too much fun.”

Uncle Ben, which was what Brandon had always called Bentley even though he wasn’t his real uncle, had showed up this morning with an offer to take the boys to the top of the ridge, where they would have use of an easy and well traveled service road to get to the oasis rather than the harsher hike up from town.

“Might as well ride with me, as opposed to hike. I’m driving up anyways” Bentley explained.

To Brandon the timing was just too convenient and he had to wonder if the coincidence was anything but. Still he couldn’t figure out what Uncle Ben or his Dad had to gain from the ruse, so he put his suspicion on the back burner for now. Maybe his dad was just being nice and he didn’t want the boys to spend most of the day hiking uphill? More likely though he wanted the boys to have another safety lecture before leaving them to their own devices for three days.

When at last the road leveled out they turned off into the small parking lot shared between the City of Pannington Mining Museum and the Brine RIdge State Park visitors center. The visitor center served also as a rangers station and during business hours it doubled as a bait shop. The museum served to educate visitors to the park about the early mining activities of the area that led to the settling of the town of Pannington which the ridge overlooked. Between the rustic looking buildings a gated road took visitors further into the park to the cabins and camper sites, and anyone traveling past that would find the road became not much more than a trail leading to the area of the oasis reserved from primitive campers.

Brandon frowned, “Honesty one, cynicism zero” he chastised himself, the veracity of Bentley’s claim to be on official business solidified when they pulled in front of the lodge styled visitor center, it’s door askance and hanging from a single hinge. Brandon could see behind the iron bars covering the windows that the actual glass of the windows had been broken out and the cola machine that sat outside on the porch had been overturned…

“Vandals?” Hank asked excitedly turning in his seat to get a better view of the store.

“You kids get your gear unpacked. Looks like maybe some kids tossed the place that’s all” Bentley told them as he undid his seatbelt and headed to meet the ranger at the door.

The three boys exited the vehicle and went to the back of the SUV where they started unloading their gear. When Brandon saw their fishing poles and tackle inspiration struck.

“Be right back. I need to buy some crickets!” Brandon told his friends.

“Crickets? Didn’t you have a can of night crawlers? I thought you came prepared.” Hank asked.

“Yeah, I like crickets too.” Brandon said as he jogged away.

At the door he found Bentley and the park ranger examining the glass on the porch by the damaged door.

“Something must have scared em off the cash box wasn’t stolen, not that they would have got much anyhow. It’s a wonder, seems everything is here as far as I can tell, just like they messed up the place and ran off.” The ranger was explaining

“Losses from the vending machine?” Bentley pointed at the overturned red Coke machine, it’s door ajar but not fully open because of how it was laying.”

“Change is still there too. Sometimes high school kids drive up to this parking lot to drink beer, I think maybe they got drunk and a little wild that’s all” The ranger positied

The two men nodded at each other in silent agreement and then as if just noticing Brandon they turned and looked at him questioningly.

“I need to buy some crickets?” The cost of the crickets were more than a fair trade for what he had just learned.

When at last they had selected their campsite Brandon was happy to drop his pack and the extra duffel he had with his diapers in it. Brandon felt a little guilty that his extra bag was his and his alone, while Hank carried the tent down and Doyle the Rods and tackle both of which everyone used.

They had decided to scout their campsite and even thought it was several hours earlier in the day than they would have had they have hiked up the ridge, Brandon was glad to have it done with. They were tempted to use the extra time to swim or fish, but they knew they were better off establishing camp right away, so they all had agreed to set up camp first Knowing their tasks each went about preparing camp with a discipline that many military units would be proud of. Hank’s dad, who was ex-special forces, and Lester Tulley, who was an avid outdoors-man, both together and separately had passed on considerable know how to their children. Even Doyle who despite being new to the group three years ago was considerably more able than many campers of similar experience.

Brandon and his friends immediately set about to clear the campsite of debris, clearing the ground of rocks, sticks, limbs, trash and pine cones. Rocks that were big enough to be used for a containment ring for the camp fire were set to the side, as were any suitable for kindling twigs and branches. When enough ground had been cleared Doyle used a collapsible spade to dig a fire pit while Hank went to find suitable material for said fire. Brandon unpacked the tent and laid it out before hammering the stakes into the ground.

By 4:30 they had finished the camp proper and each boy took one of the collapsible water bags down to the river so they would have sufficient utility water.

“Damn these things are heavy when you have to carry them very far” Doyle huffed, he was the smallest of the the three friends and the bag of water seemed almost oversize when he tried to carry it across his back.

“Quit it you girl, we’re almost there. I’m starved we should eat soon. Dibs on not cooking” Hank called back over his shoulder.

“If I’m a girl then you’re a hooker” Doyle quipped seemingly unaware that his insult lacked context and made very little sense.

“You want to hire me is that it? You should cook since you’re the girl.” Hank offered

“I’m not cooking. Ya’’ll don’t want me to cook, we’d all die and they’d never find our bones.”

“Okay then as camp leader I say Brandon’s cooking” Hank ordered.

“Who made you leader? Hookers can’t be camp leaders. But I’ll cook. Let’s see what is tonight’s menu?. Plain. Beans. Without. Jerky.” Brandon said punctuating each word into an accusation.

“Sorry I was starved. I didn’t have any breakfast” Hank demonstrated by rubbing his belly “I’m so skinny I don’t ever eat enough”

Doyle stopped a second to catch his breath and set down the heavy bag of water. “Afterwards can we sing camp songs?” Referencing the first time he had camped with his friends and had asked Lester and Gene, Hanks dad, what they were going to sing. Up until that point he had never been camping before and had only television to go on for how one behaves when in the woods.

“noob!” Brandon and Hank teased in unison.

“Seriously though, what are we going to do after dinner?” Doyle asked

“I’m going back up the ridge, I have a feeling something might be up at the ranger station tonight” Brandon said, “Come Watson, the game is afoot!” he thought as he fancied himself with a deerstalker cap.

It was already 9pm and already the weekend was horribly off track from how Christie had hoped it would play out. She did have a little fun this evening, but it wasn’t the kind of fun that involved hanging out Brandon, nope instead her early evening had been spent playing scrabble. Oh the joy.

“Lobster” her Mom had said as she laid out the letters on the scrabble board “Lets see that is a double word score for twenty two points!”

“My turn!” Nancy called excitedly spilling her tiles from the rack when she reached for them

Not what Christie had expected for her weekend. When she had originally approached her parents to get permission for her and Nancy to go camping like Doyle and his friends Christie had envisioned setting up a tent like the boys and maybe sitting around the same fire as them, making s’mores. Once the fire had died down a bit she could ‘find’ the empty Coke bottle she had stashed in her pack. “It’s too bad there isn’t some kind of game we could play with this old bottle?” She would ask innocently

Needless to say that is not how her camping trip worked out.

“Oh Honey that is a wonderful idea! Your father could really use a weekend to finish up painting the basement. We can have a girls weekend out! I’ll get us a cabin and we can make s’mores and play games and then we can do makeovers!” Christie’s mother Gloria had enough enthusiasm to make a cheerleader blush.

So the afternoon had been spent over hot cocoa (IN JUNE FOR GAWDSAKES) and manicures, game playing and ‘roughing it’ in the dumpy, her mom called them ‘quaint’, cabins. Gloria had finally excused herself to an early bedtime so she might get up in the morning and make them pancakes. So it was that Christie and Nancy found themselves on the porch swing, in the dark, the cabins front light having been turned off to avoid drawing bugs.

“I know it wasn’t what you had in mind, but still It was great of your mom to take us.” Nancy told her. The last contact Nancy’s had with her mom was two Christmases ago when she called from a halfway house for substance abuse patients. Nancy kind of looked at Gloria as a surrogate mother in many respects.

“I suppose so, It’s just not fair, to not get to do the same things he does. I wish I had a ‘thing’ too between my legs -then I could do whatever I wanted”

Nancy giggled “Then you wouldn’t like Brandon!”

Christine smiled back “Touche’, FML”

“True dat.”

The two of them sat in silence on the swing a little breeze keeping the heat from being stifling. On a more positive note, thought Christie, at least there was a silver lining in that tomorrow the boys are supposed to take us fishing with them, so the weekend is not a total waste.

A loud thud across the pathway caught both girls attention, Christie had thought the entire bank of cabins was deserted since this was one of the slow weeks before the park got busy for the summer. She could see movement outside the cabin kitty corner to theirs, she couldn’t tell much about than movement as the darkness swallowed the scene, but sound carried pretty clearly.

“This had better work tonight, for your sake there better not be another miscalculation like last night” said a man’s voice, it was deep and reminded Christie of hard boiled detective from those old black and white films her dad loved to watch. If the man had a nickname it was rocko, or anvil or sledge.

“Relax, I’m telling you it’s there and tonight we will get in and I will prove it.” said a second man who despite his confident words sounded greasy and furtive. Christie, without a visual frame of reference pictured the man as cartoon talking weasel.

“Hang on you two. I’m not going up there again, the rangers are going to be keeping an eye on the place, you know they are and you know we will end up right back in the klink.” Guy three sounded just plain nervous.

“You will go up there with us, or you won’t go anywhere ever again” Said Sledge and although she wasn’t one hundred percent certain she thought the metallic clicking noise that carried to the porch swing sounded just like the cocking of a pistol.

“Oh my god you hear that?” Nancy exclaimed in surprise apparently thinking the same.

“Shhhhhh” Christie said putting a hand over her friends mouth,

“What was that?!” Asked guy three

“Nothin, just your nerves. And unless you want your nerves to be in a pile on the ground you’ll pick the bag up and get going right now.” Sledge said again with the threats.

“I don’t know I thought I heard something too” Weasel finished the statement with a nervous laugh. Christie still couldn’t see them, but in her mind’s eye she could see Weasel’s beady red eyes scanning the cabin and fixing on the two girls huddled together. Even though Nancy had quit trying to talk Christie kept her hand firmly pressed against her mouth.

The two girls sat and listened as the three men headed up the street, their progress slow as it sounded like they were dragging something heavy along with them. When finally they couldn’t hear the men or the scraping sound anymore Nancy spoke in a hushed whisper “Should we go tell your mom?”

“No silly, I think they’re up to no good, and it will take too long to convince mom there is any danger, she’ll just think it was our imagination. Let’s see if we can’t figure out what they are up to, follow them, and then when we know more we can call the police!”

Christie knew her logic was flawed, but she was willing to bet that if there was something going down on the campgrounds that Brandon would get wind of it somehow, and she might be the only thing that helps to keep him safe. Everyone had heard stories of how Brandon had already solved several crimes, and had even prevented a guy from robbing a restaurant a few weeks ago. Christie had overheard her parents debating whether they should encourage Doyle to distance himself from the boy and any trouble he might be seeking, she was very grateful that her parents had decided against that course of action, but it had served to make Christie worry that Brandon might get in over his head sometime.

Re: Branded

Wow… so um after let’s see, four years how about four more pages :slight_smile: Hope I’m finally past my block on this story.

Chapter five: Six days on the road.

Brandon held a clenched fist up like soldiers do in the movies when they hear a noise and expect their squad mates to stand still and silent. Apparently Doyle didn’t watch enough war movies because he plowed into Brandon’s upheld hand with an “OW! What gives”

“SHHH” Brandon and Hank corrected their friend as the all lowered themselves into the bushy cover that surrounded the mining museum.

“I thought I heard something” Brandon hissed under his breath.

Doyle started to reply but his mouth closed with an audible click when the door to the museum opened and a man stepped out under the covered entryway and lit a cigarette.

With no lights on in the museum and only a lone dim spotlight aimed at the museum’s placard, Brandon could make out none of the man’s features, instead the little pool of light served only to make the shadows around the door deeper and darker. He took a minute to thank providence that he had been there at the right time, had they come a moment later they might not have heard the man open the door and they might have been spotted and who knows what would have happened to them then?

After a couple of minutes which seemed to Brandon more like hours the door opened again and the man flicked his cigarette to the ground and said something inaudible to someone in the museum.

“What’d he say?” hissed Hank.

“I dunno” Brandon shrugged as he moved himself closer to the little building and pressed his head to the wall “Listen, do ya’ll hear anything?”

Doyle and Hank moved next to the building and like Brandon they each leaned their heads against the wall.

“I hear something humming?” Hank said sounding uncertain

“Sounds like a motor to me, like a drill or something? I bet there is a drill amongst the display equipment. But why would they run it in the museum, did they build the museum on the mine site?” Doyle said, the last question sounded almost rhetorical as if he were asking himself.

“No the actual mines were Stope mines, which means they were started down in the valley and tunneled up into the mountain.” Brandon offered, “So why then are they running equipment in there, drills or otherwise?”

Hank looked around nervously “C’mon Brandon. Let’s go get the ranger, he can call your Dad in and catch them in the act of whatever it is that they are doing.”

“It’d take him forever to get up here and besides were supposed to be down in the valley at our site, not up here snooping around. We don’t even really know what’s going on yet”

Doyle looked at Hank for support before looking at Brandon apologetically “Hanks right, what if these guys are dangerous, they could have guns for all we know?”

Brandon threw up his hands in exasperation even as he kept his voice low “All right, you win, you two are worse than old ladies though. Fine. We’ll go get the ranger and let them have all the fun. I just want to check on one more thing before we go.

With that Brandon slipped out the bush and crossed the walkway disappearing into the shadows where the man had been smoking only a moment before, Hank and Doyle both following.

Under the covered entry way Brandon examined the door, he could still smell the cigarette the man had been smoking. He wondered if there was a way to know what brand it was by scent alone, or if all cigarettes smelled the same. Promising himself to research this further someday he brought his mind back onto the task at hand and reached out a hand and gently tugged on the door. The door was rustic wood inset into a facade of posts that looked like mining braces. The handle was all wood and smooth by intention and years of visitors hands opening it. Brandon pulled just enough to see if the door met with the resistance of a latch. Feeling none he gently released the handle and again pressed his ear to the door.

“Do you hear anything?” Doyle asked in a whisper.

Brandon shook his head no and raised a finger to his lips and met the eyes of both his friends to make sure they knew to be quiet. Hank nodded and Doyle looked spooked but he followed Hank’s lead and with an almost audible gulp he nodded too. Brandon pointed at the ground like he might for a dog. He pointed at the ground several times mouthing “Stay’ as he did so, Doyle looking more upset by the moment. Hank took Doyle by the shoulders and they disappeared back into the cover of the bushes.

Brandon opened the door just a crack listening for a moment before opening the door a bit further. Seeing nothing in the vestibule he let slipped inside as quietly as he could. He stayed there crouched in the small opening listening intently and hearing only his diapers rustle as he he adjusted his weight, he heard no other sounds besides that of some machinery being operated elsewhere in the museum.

It’s kinda hard to sneak with rice krispy sounding crinkling in your pants, someone should make some sneaking diapers he thought suppressing a smile, imagining what writing that particular email to the suggestion box might read like.

The drilling stopped and was soon replaced with a muffled clanging. Brandon knew he shouldn’t but the curiosity was overwhelming him and before he had any real sense of his actions he had slipped into the entrance proper being careful to step over the electronic eye that would ding whenever anyone crossed the threshold.

The hallway was as dark as the lobby, and Brandon crouched down and moved as silently as his protection would allow. To his right just enough light was entering through the windows from the parking lot, that he could make out the shape of the various display cases housing the memorabilia and equipment from the mines. He could see the tip of the large bush they had been using for cover through one window and he briefly thought about checking on Hank and Doyle, but if he startled them, it could be bad news for everyone.

A sharp creek from around the corner at the end of the hall was all the warning Brandon had. A knot in his stomach and the hair on the back of his neck standing up, he knew he couldn’t stay to the right side of the hall, he would almost certainly be spotted in the dim backlighting. Hoping there was enough time, he jigged left into the welcoming darkness of the Native American room, freezing in place as soon as he was a couple of feet in. He prayed that the darkness was sufficient to hide him. Had he have had just a second or two more he could have hid behind something, but as it was he was simply frozen in place out in the open.

From his vantage point in the middle of the exhibit Brandon noticed the small spotlight of illumination moving ahead of the man as he moved down the hall. The oncommer had a flashlight and thankfully he was mostly pointing it in front of him. Brandon reassured himself that the man was probably headed toward the lobby, but he still held his breath as the footsteps came closer to opening of the room.

Brandon could see the silhouette of the man abruptly stop almost directly in front of him. If the man were to turn even slightly to his right with his flashlight the increased illumination would make him visible. Fortunately the flashlight clicked off and the man appeared to tuck the light under his chin as he searched his pockets. Brandon could smell the stale cigarette smoke coming from him and what he assumed was some type of machine oil. To Brandon it looked like man might be wearing coveralls, he could imagine a name patch there that read ‘Oily’…

Brandon watched as Oily pulled from his pockets a cell phone which sprang to life and illuminated his face a bit. Oily started a finger across the phone like he was texting someone when the flashlight slipped from under his chin and hit the floor turning on and rolling away to the man’s left. Brandon’s heart pounded as the room opposite him was suddenly lit by the small flashlight.

“Aw shit” Oily said as he fumbled with his phone to get the flashlight.

Brandon’s panic won out and when Oily turned away from him to get the light, Brandon made to conceal himself behind a large case in the middle of the room. Brandon’s relief at being hidden was short lived when the place where he had just been moments before was lit up by the beam of the flashlight.

Brandon pushed himself against the back of the cabinet fully expecting the man and his light to start toward him. What in the hell was he thinking, sneaking in here anyways. How stupid could he be.

After what seemed like an eternity the light swung away from the room and he heard footsteps moving away from him. Brandon waited there listening to the footsteps as they receded down the hall, and soon was followed by the sound of casters being rolled on the floor and a squeak of someone sitting down. Damn it, Oily had sat down at the receptionist desk in the lobby, meaning Brandon could not return the way he came.

Re: Branded

Holy crap!!!

Thanks for coming back

Re: Branded

Four years later or not, I think this is looking to be the first mystery I can name in this area right now. It is also well written, and so far the diapers have about the right amount of display in the story. Thanks for bringing this one to my attention by adding more.

Re: Branded

Chapter 5 continued (Will probably edit this a bit - just finished writing it so it probably has a few errors)

Christie and Nancy had managed to catch up to the the three men, getting them in sight by the time they reached the parking lot. She pulled Nancy around the back of the visitors center and they both slowly crept around the side to where they could peek at the whole parking lot.

“C, I’m scared. What if they rob the store again, we’ll get caught for sure?” Nancy asked Christie pulling her arm back toward the campsites.

“Nah they headed to the right toward the museum before we even got near this building” Christie soothed her.

A quick peek around the corner and Christie saw the men carrying their burden through the museum door.

“Besides, we’re only gonna be here long enough to figure out what’s going on” Christie said trying to sound brave. Nancy always spooked easily and Christie did her best to keep her anxiety down, even if she was a bit nervous herself.

After they had both settled into their hiding spot and Christie had suppressed her own trepidation, they passed the time talking about boys, which was nice when the subject was Brandon.

“I know you don’t think so, but Doyle is kinda cute”

“He’s gross, he eats breakfast in his underwear, and Mom and Dad let him. You have no idea how immature he is”

“He’s never been in his underwear when I stay the night. Maybe you could send me a pic?”

“I’m not taking a picture of my brother in his underwear for you. Nasty”

Christie pointed a finger down her throat to emphasize what she thought of her brother before turning to peek back around the corner.

Nancy jumped a little when Christie sucked in her breath sharply. “What is it?”

“It’s the boys, they’re here too” Christie said, hoping she sounded surprised and not like she was expecting them.

She couldn’t make out a lot of detail from across the lot, but she watched as all three congregated under the overhang by the entrance. They seemed to all crouch before the door until finally her brother and Hank headed back toward the rear of the museum and out of sight. When she returned her gaze to the front door, Brandon was no longer there. Had he gone inside? One of the men might have a gun, she thought, feeling her anxiety raise again, remembering the cocking sound they had heard earlier.

“Brandon just went inside I think.” Christie said even as she started to move away from the safety of their concealed hiding space and toward where her brother and Doyle had headed.

They had caught the boy’s attention easily enough and no one said a word while the girls moved into the bushes.

“Christie, what are you doing here. It’s dangerous go back to your cabin” Hank whispered harshly

“I’ve been trying to tell her that” Nancy offered to hank.

“Shut it Hank, I’m not going anywhere” Christie shot back, her voice sounding angry even as she kept it to only a whisper.

“Urg…” Hank’s own retort was cut short when the tops of the bushes above their head were lit up. It took Hank a moment to realize it was the beam of a flashlight being shown in the room and out the window that he was seeing.

The four teens all shrank closer together and stood in total silence. Christie thought she felt Nancy tremble slightly, and she reached for her, but just before she put her hand on her shoulder she realized it was Doyle. God they deserve each other, she thought Doyle and Nancy would be a much better pair they were both shaking like scooby and shaggy…

Brandon knew that the longer he was in the museum the more likely he was to be caught. When it became evident that the man at the front desk wasn’t coming back anytime soon, Brandon knew he had to press forward. When he heard the drill start again he took that as his opportunity and he left his hiding spot. He knew his diaper rustle wasn’t that loud, but it seemed impossibly loud to him as he moved, making him wish again that he had worn his compression shorts. He had decided against them this morning when getting dressed thinking that the extra heat would have been miserable on the long walk in.

Back in the hallway he came upon the restrooms and he tested one of the swinging doors. It opened without a squeak. Even inside the darkened restroom he was almost unwilling to stand up, but he forced himself up on his feet and into the large handicap stall. A window with some privacy film was high on the wall and let in enough light that he could see fairly well. He stood on the toilet seat and felt all around the window sill. There were no sensors that he could feel, so maybe there was no alarm. He found a catch on the window and found that it did open, but only from the top down to vent the restroom. It was a narrow opening and not very deep, he wasn’t sure if he could fit out or not, but for now it was his best bet for escape.

He returned to the hallway, he knew there was just one more thing he had to do before he could try and leave. Just past the restrooms the hallway dead ended, with a alcove to the right housing pictures of the first miners who later formed the town, and another hallway on the left running perpendicular to the main hall. A set of double doors closed the second wing off. Brandon could hear the machinery working behind the doors.

He needed to know what was happening in the next room, but if he opened the door the man at the front desk would surely hear the drill noise louder the same way Brandon had been alerted to the man’s approach. Brandon couldn’t stay out in the open with his ear to the door either, if the man at the front desk did decide to return or even look down the hall, then Brandon would be exposed with nowhere to go.

Brandon tried to think of every movie and book he had ever read hoping to come up with an appropriate solution, but real life sadly was not a crime thriller and at least at that moment he couldn’t think of anyway to mitigate his risk. He had just about decided to go back to the restroom and try to squeeze through the window when the drilling stopped beyond the door.

Without a second thought Brandon opened the door and seeing a small pool of light further down the hall he slipped inside.

“It needs to cool” A man’s voice said sounding both authoritative and pleading at the same time.

“Well hurry it up, the longer we are here the more likely we are to get caught, get me that goddamn key” Another man clearly in charge answered back.

“It won’t be long, only one more point and we’re in.” The other man assured him “But if we rush it now we could fuck the whole thing up and seize the drill”

“Fine, fine. I’m going to go check on Cladwell anyways”

Brandon’s heart again pounded, there was no place to hide. He skittered out the door and back into the other hall. In his haste he forgot to hold the door as it closed, and although soft the door still closed with an audible clunk. Shit, Brandon kicked himself, this was fucking stupid. His dad was right all along and that was going to be little comfort to his father when he was dead and Lester was all alone in this world

Stealth was off the table at his point and he ran full bore out the door and into the restroom. He threw the stall door closed and bolted it feeling that might at least give him a minute or two. He had just made it onto the toilet when the bathroom door slammed open.

“The fuck is going on here? I just saw some kid.” Said the man Brandon assumed was the leader of the three

“I haven’t seen anything” another voice said from out in the hall, Brandon didn’t recognize the voice so he assumed it must be Cladwell.

“Well then it must be casper the fucking friendly ghost. I know what I saw. Now get your ass in here now and help!”

The stall door wasn’t going to stop two grown men for long so the only option left to Brandon was to evacuate immediately. Brandon forced himself to move, pulling himself into the open window. When he had one arm out the window he tried frantically to get purchase on the side of building to pull himself out. The opening was not broad enough to allow both shoulders at once and he would have to go through the window cantilevered, but that meant he had very little leverage.


Behind him, he heard the banging on the stall door. It took him a second to realize someone was kicking at the stall door.


He squirmed, but with only only arm out the window he wasn’t doing himself any favors.


Brandon heard the stall door give and metal tab that acted as a lock drop to the floor with a jingle.

Suddenly he felt someone pulling on his legs. He kicked blindly trying to throw their grip. Just as suddenly his arm was being grabbed and he was being pulled in the other direction. Brandon never had time to think about being in a tug of war, he was so blinded by fear he just tried to shake off his assailants at both ends. He had just enough clarity in that moment to realize Hank was the one pulling on him from the front, so he immediately quit resisting Doyle was there too, but the smaller boy was having trouble reaching his friend so he instead started pulling on Hank.

Feeling himself begin to slip free, his other shoulder cleared the window, but his other arm was still trapped at his side, however a couple tugs from Hank and Doyle and Brandon’s whole arm cleared the window. With his arm free Brandon was bending over the window close to the ground allowing both Hank and Doyle to get good purchase on him and pull. The hands on the other side of the window had his ankles and as he was pulled forward those hands pulled back pulling his blue jeans down.

Fortunately Brandon’s hiking boots were big enough that he didn’t lose his pants completely and he slid from the window and out of the ‘bad guys’ and Brandon thought of them’s grasp.

“Run” He told his friends as he tried to pull his pants back up and run at the same time.

It was then that Brandon noticed Christie and Nancy were there too, and under other less panicked circumstances he might have been embarrassed about being pantsed in front of them, but this was fight or flight and all he could think of right now was flight,.

They ran right past the access road for the campsites and hit a small patch of scrub that followed the ridge line down to the oasis. It was dense enough that it would offer them some shelter and if they followed it far enough they would eventually make the long way back to their campsite. Hank stopped them all with a hand signal and they all froze. In the quiet that followed they heard two sets of footsteps back on the road.

“I don’t see em anywhere” a voice Brandon recognized as Cladwell said.

“How many were there?” the other voice, the one of the man in charge asked.

“I don’t know. Three I think. I couldn’t see much out the window with that kid squirming: Jesus, I think he was wearing a diaper. I mean he could be a retard or something. You think they know anything?”

“I doubt it, but I’m not going to risk it. I’m going back to make sure we get the book. You go to the cabins and see if you find any kids. Call me if you do, don’t do anything without talking to me first.”

“Only other cabin that was occupied I think was some girls and a Milf” Caldwell said “And I didn’t see any girls a few minutes ago.”

“Well you go check anyways, you make sure they’re there and if anything strikes you suspicious, you let me know. Now go!”

When the footsteps were gone, Hank and Christie both looked at each other with dread “Mom!”

Christie thought for a moment before grabbing Nancy’s hand “You guys get to your camp, I’ve got an idea. I’ll fill you in tomorrow morning, we’ll meet you after breakfast.”

“But” hank started to protest.

“No but’s, you heard him, he didn’t see us, so as long as he thinks everything is fine with us, we’re free of suspicion. You guys have to get out of here, it’s even less safe for you.”

“What are we doing?” Nancy asked as they broke the tree line and headed back behind the big block of cabins. They stopped about two cabins away from theirs at the start of the RV and camper area which was currently deserted. Christie looked around for a minute before finding what she was looking for, stopping at the sign “complimentary air and water’

“Just follow my lead” Christie said as she started to take off her clothes, and once down to her bra and panties she opened the hose just a little and wet herself down paying special attention to her hair.

Once they got close to the cabin, which Christie could see was all lit up now. She saw a man on the porch talking through the screen door to her mom.

When they got a little closer Christie giggled loudly and elbowed Nancy untill she did the same.

“Shhh, or we’ll get caught, we don’t want to wake up Mom” She told Nancy in what was too loud to be a whisper.

“Your Mom’s up. We are so busted!” Nancy played along as they got in ear shot.

Christie suddenly ‘noticed’ the man on the porch and she defensively put her balled up clothing in front of her modestly.

“Honestly you two, where have you been.” Roared Gloria “I was so worried, I was just woken up and then you weren’t here. I thought this man had come to tell me you were hurt.”

“I’m sorry Momma, we just went swimming” Christie said sounding contrite.

“You both get in this house and get some clothes on right now” she yelled before pulling her robe tight around her and turning back to the man in the doorway. “I’m sorry Mr…?”

“Smith. But you can call me Ed. I didn’t mean to wake you. I was wondering if your phone was working as mine doesn’t get a good signal and it just died on me. I have a very important phone call to make and the payphone was vandalized yesterday. “

“Sure thing, here you go” Gloria offered, fishing in her robe pocket before handing the man her phone.

“Thanks, this will only take a second” He said, dialing a number. He paused for a few moments before thumbing the phone off “Shoot. No answer, guess I’m too late. Sorry to have woken you, and over nothing to boot”

“That’s all right, I needed to know what these two were up to anyways” Gloria offered back with a glance back in the house.

Before handing the phone back the man looked at the wall paper “Handsome family.”

“Well thank you.” Gloria smiled taking back the phone.

“Girls weekend?” The man asked

“Yeah, thought it would be a nice treat for the girls, but now I’m not so sure they deserve it”

“Well I hope the rest of your weekend is better, and sorry again about waking you” The man said with a wave as he walked away.

When he was far enough from the cabin that he wouldn’t be overheard he dialed his phone “So I checked on the cabins. All empty like I said, just the one occupied right now. The girls had snuck out to do some skinny dipping, but they got caught, it was all drama. Asked to use the Milfs cell phone. Mom said it was just the girls, but I could swear it was her son I saw helping the one kid get out the window.”

After a few moments of listening the man who hired him he said “I understand” and ended the call.

Re: Branded

Chapter 5 concluded

Hank wondered if his friends hearts were racing like his own. Each heart beat was a boom in his ears, which was odd because he could still hear the relative quiet of the woods, in fact he could pick out a night birds call and a frog’s croak as they both tried to find some company for the night. Pushing away the sound of his own rushing blood Doyle took a second to notice neither bird nor frog were concerned with the proceeds from earlier that evening, that their crashing into the woods a few minutes before hadn’t disturbed the night life, and that despite the boy’s personal excitement everything was a okay with the proverbial birds and bees.

Calming down, he felt a chill in the air despite the summer heat, and it was only then that he realized his undershirt was drenched in sweat and sticking to his skin in places. That was why he felt clammy, makes sense he told himself, but he bet neither Brandon or Hank had perspired even a little bit, those two always seemed to keep their cool both literally and figuratively.

“Damn it Brandon, it’s my mom and sister.” Doyle was saying with enough anger that Hank stopped ruminating and turned to face his friends. There wasn’t quite enough light to make out expressions but given Doyle’s tone, it didn’t take much imagination to see the scowl his friend was no doubt wearing.

“But, your sister is expecting us to.” Brandon only got that far before Hank cut him off

“No buts, okay, it’s my mom and sister. My little sister, and who cares what she expects? This is too dangerous and we need adults. If you won’t go, I will” Doyle demanded, heading deeper into the woods.

“Where are we going? This isn’t back towards camp.” Hank asked, wondering how he had spaced out so much that he didn’t know what was going on.

“I’m going to the Rangers. That guy sent one of those creeps to go after my Mom, and Brandon doesn’t think we should call his Dad” Doyle explained as he walked, not even slowing down to see if anyone else was coming.

Brandon didn’t say anything, but Hank was sure Brandon was looking sullen like he does when he is confronted with something he doesn’t care for. Brandon didn’t always deal with things not going his way well, to his credit though he did fall in behind his friend as he moved through the woods.

The very calm and quiet Hank had appreciated a few moments before now seemed awkward and tension filled. Hank hated it when people fought, he felt like there was something he should be doing to fix things. He felt pulled here, on the one hand maybe Brandon was right and they should stick to the plan? No that was craziness itself. Doyle was right this was bigger than them, Brandon was just caught up in the moment, That was typical Brandon, he never thought twice about the consequences of his actions, he was always so convinced everything would work out the way he expected, that considering any other outcome was pointless.

It was like when Brandon clocked Billy Ungerson for making fun of Joey Bishop in P.E. Billy had been making fun of Joey, a new kid on his first day of school, for undressing completely in gym class and then putting on an old fashioned athletic supporter. Billy was maybe the one kid in their grade bigger than Brandon, but that thought never seemed to cross Brandon’s mind he just acted, it wouldn’t have mattered if Billy was four times his size.

Hank could remember that day changing clothes like normal, the slightly unpleasant smell of the locker room l the subdued conversation because everyone was still tired and second period gym class sucks. He had just pulled up his gym shorts when he became aware that everyone else had gone quiet. Looking around the room, in the circumspect way one looks around a locker room he noticed that everyone was staring at the new kid, who was fully naked and pulling on what looked to Hank like ripped tighty whities. When Joey figured things out he tried to explain that was what he had to do at his old school, but everyone just sat and stared anyways. Joey was obviously uncomfortable with everyone staring and he tried harder to explain “We had to at my old school”

Dead silence.

It was Billy who broke the silence “Look he’s wearing a jockstrap, he must be gay, don’t let him look at you.” and Billy comically placed his hands over his crotch like he was protecting his modesty. Everyone started laughing, including Hank himself. A memory which now made him feel very ashamed. But in that moment everyone laughed, everyone except Brandon, just seeing the look on Brandon’s face had instantly made Hank feel like he was about two inches tall. Later that night when he was reflecting on the day’s events Hank reasoned that given Brandon’s own underwear why that might be a sore subject with him, but in the locker room Hank had wondered why Brandon looked so upset.

The teasing continued well after that first week until one day Joey wasn’t in class. The second period five minute bell had rung and everyone was changing back into their school clothes. Billy who was in the center of the locker room had just removed his gym shorts and said to the assembled group “It’s nice to be able to undress without having to worry about Joey Jockstrap looking at what you got”

Billy’s group of friends laughed like they thought it was funny, but that didn’t seem to be enough for Billy because he then affected Joey’s new york accent and said even louder “hey youse guys let’s all get naked together like my old school”

Hank felt a gentle push on his shoulder as Brandon said “let me by for a sec” as Brandon sporting nothing but his disposable diaper pushed by. Brandon pushed himself past several other kids and stopped in front of Billy, looked him up and down before delivering a solid jab to the face followed by right hook that knocked Billy to his ass.

Brandon just turned around and headed back to his locker and picked his blue jeans up from where he had dropped them and stepped into the first leg like nothing had happened.

Billy just stood there on the floor his nose was bleeding and the blood collecting on his gym shirt. One of his friends reached a hand out to Billy to help him up, but Billy swatted the hand away and pushed himself up off the floor on his own.

Hank was amazed there were no chants of ‘fight, fight, fight’, and that none of the kids told on them or alerted the staff. That’s not to say that Brandon got off scot free, Coach Redding saw the damage as the boys filed out of the locker room to head to their next class and he stopped the entire group and asked who was fighting. In the end Brandon himself told the Coach that he had hit Billy, and that Billy hadn’t even tried to hit him back.

“We were just horsing around coach” Billy tried to offer. “Brandon didn’t mean too.” Hank could not for the life of himself understand why, given the circumstances Billy would do that.

Hank never did know what happened after that, he never thought to ask Brandon about it, but as far as he could remember Brandon had never got in trouble over it, or mentioned it again. That in and of itself seemed kind of weird.

When they passed through a bright patch of moonlight filtering through breaks in the treeline the sudden change in illumination brought Hank back to his surroundings. He could now see the back of Brandon’s shirt clearly. The woods continued to get thinner until at last they exited the small woods path and were now walking near the reservoir that served the stope mines. Here the grass was soft and the ground felt springy beneath their feet. Hank could see where Brandon’s shirt was torn at his waist, he could see either his friends undershirt or his diaper through the hole, he wasn’t sure which until he noticed a little shine and decided it must be the plastic of a diaper. He wondered if he should say something? He decided against it, because what could brandon do about it now? Hank could only imagine it must have happened when Brandon was trying to get out the window. On the whole of it Brandon should feel very lucky to have gotten out of there at all, especially if what Christie said about the man having a gun was correct.

“Brandon you remember that time you punched Billy Unger in the locker room?” he asked

“Do what? What’s that got to do with anything:” Brandon asked back

“Just curious. I know Coach sent you both to the office, but you were in 5th period math, and I don’t remember you being in any trouble.”

“My dad was called, Billy’s mom came, I told them what I did and why. There were extenuating circumstances and nobody got in trouble, simple as that. They told me that if I got in another fight this year that it would be punished as if it were my second fight, but given what occurred they gave Billy and I both a warning.” Brandon sighed at the end as if he was sad about something, but Hank wasn’t sure what that might be.

Hank almost ran into Brandon when he stopped suddenly. It took Doyle a second to realize his friends and stopped walking, at which point he also stopped and returned toe group.

“Doyle look man, I’m sorry, I’ve thought about it and your right. You know I can get so wrapped up in things, I shouldn’t have argued about coming to the Rangers. I’m sorry.” Brandon continued a moment later still sounding sad.

Hank didn’t know if retelling the Billy Unger story had reminded Brandon of his own impulsiveness, or if he was just coming down from his adrenaline rush. Either way Doyle seemed to appreciate his friends apology or at least his more relaxed stance seemed to indicate…

“It’s alright, I know the way you get. I knew you’d come around eventually” Doyle said as the first few fat drops of rain hit “Good thing we’re almost there, summer storm is here, guess we walk the rest of the way in the rain.”

Epilogue to part one: Landslide

Brandon didn’t want to get up, he knew that much, but the ringing of the clock on his dresser and buzzing from his phone on the nightstand were making it impossible to do otherwise. Rolling over on his side he felt the small puddle in his bed. A leak, it wasn’t even nine A.M. and his day was off to a great start. His phone was in reach so it was silenced first while he was still prone. Throwing back the sheet and sitting up on the bed Brandon became aware of just how bad the leak was, his shorts were stuck to his leg and he could feel the dry side wicking up the small puddle he just rolled through.

Before standing he peeled off his shorts and the undershirt he slept in and set them in the middle of the bed on ground zero. Great, just great, another thing added to the already seemingly endless list of chores that he had been inundated with in the three weeks since their camping fiasco. He stumbled carefully from the bed, trying to navigate the disorganization that was his bedroom with only the benefit of a small patch of light breaking through his window around the blackout shades he had arranged to try and prevent just such bars of light.

As he moved he felt a some wetness make it’s way down his leg, weather that was what had soaked through his shorts or if it was unabsorbed overflow out of his diaper he didn’t know, didn’t much matter anyways as he was going to jump in the shower as soon as his bed was taken care of. Ignoring his leg he tugged at the corner of his sheets which came off and slid easily across the plastic mattress protector. Being careful to roll up the wetness to the center of the bundle he used the outside of balled up sheets to pick up as most moisture as he could, mostly drying the plastic mattress protector with a couple of swipes.

Once the sheets and impromptu pjs were in the wash Brandon rolled up his flooded diaper before tossing it in the lidded bathroom trash can and then stepped into the tub. Sadly the water wasn’t going to be very hot with the washer going, so Brandon mentally added tepid shower to the list of things that had already gone wrong this morning. The last three weeks had been miserable, Brandon was grounded indefinitely for his part in the events of the camping trip, and nothing Brandon had said had been able to convince his father that Brandon hadn’t deliberately abused his trust.

After his shower, Brandon remade his bed with his old dinosaur sheets. He couldn’t remember the last time he had put them on his bed, but at least for the moment it made him think of happier times before his mom got so sick and before he and his dad had gotten along like oil and water.

In the kitchen he saw the list on the fridge of things he was supposed to accomplish by the time Lester got home. “Weed flower beds, clean every vent and baseboard, clean both bathrooms, wash and dry lidded trash can from bathroom, and restack woodpile”

Brandon felt most of the things on the list were not even ‘real’ chores per se, just things to punish him and keep him occupied. It was the same thing every day for the last three weeks, he wasn’t even supposed to be talking with his friends, but he had snuck a message out on telegram a couple of times. Doyle and Hank had not responded, Brandon didn’t know if that was because they were still mad at him, or if the messages had in fact just expired before they were read.

Last week though he finally did get a response from Doyle, sounded like he and Hank were already no longer grounded. It was good to hear from him, and better still that he didn’t seem to still be mad at Brandon, but Brandon wished he could have talked with his friend face to face and get a read of his body language and disposition to get a better idea of exactly how forgiven he was.

Even though he was trying to mentally avoid the subject that whole line of thinking just brought him back to the night he almost got caught by those men. Doyle and Hank were going home with Gloria and the girls, Lester promising to come by and talk with them in the morning. Hank and Doyle both looked at their feet and said nothing as they got in the Glorias SUV, avoiding Brandons gaze or more likely that of his angry father. Christie smiled half heartedly at him and kind of waved as she got in the back seat after her brother, at least she didn’t seem to think this was all his fault. Still Gloria had been pretty made when the truth came out that the girls had faked their swimming expedition and had also been at the museum too… Once she was grounded Christie was probably going resent him not too, and maybe rightfully so.

He and his dad had pulled out right behind them, Lester had barely gotten his police cruisers car door closed when he started yelling. “Look you could have been killed and you put Hank and Doyle in imminent danger too, not to mention Christy, Nancy, and Gloria. Ben had god damned dropped you off and you didn’t bother to tell him anything so you could pretend to be a god damned detective? You are absolutely grounded for ever, hell if I could put you in my jail and not get some fucking bleeding heart call it abuse I’d lock you up till you got at least the same amount of sense that god gave a billy goat. Let’s not even being to factor in the fact that you effectively let them get away. You had radios, why didn’t you call me? ” Lester had bellowed at him on the ride home.

Brandon didn’t answer

“Brandon, I asked why didn’t you at least radio me or the rangers?”

Knowing his dad knew why and just wanted to force him to admit it, Brandon sighed “Because they were back at camp. The guys wanted to bring them, but I talked them out of it”

“And why would you do something so amazingly stupid?” Lesters tone left no doubt in Brandons mind that he was going to make him spell it out.

“I didn’t want some burst of static or chatter to give us away”

“So why not turn them off?”

“Doyle or Hank might have decided to call for help before I got a chance to figure out what was going on”

“And that is exactly the kind of stupid foolish thing I am afraid of. You are not leaving the house this summer, period.”

Lester sat as his desk looking at the message on his phone feeling his temper begin to rise

“Dad - plz don’t be mad - I think I figured out why they stole the Bible”

Had Lester have not been in the process of getting mad again, he might have pondered for a moment how it seems like someone telling you to “not to be mad” will almost always have the opposite effect on you. Also he might have wondered how the boy had deduced it was the Founder’s Bible the men had stole, Lester had kept that information from the paper instead saying various town antiquities were stolen.

He had told the boy that he better not even spend a single second thinking about the break in at the museum, unless those thoughts were about how stupid he had been. Still Lester knew he was so often right that he should probably at least hear him out, but then again that just encourages the boy. Lester supposed he should think about it for a while so he sent back “Get on your chores - NOW!” before turning his phone over,

Lester felt a little vindictive, but the boy deserved to be on the hook anyways, he had no idea how hard this was for his father to process, and maybe this was just the kind of tough love that would save his life. Even though three weeks had passed he could still remember how mad he gotten that night once the scope of Brandon’s carelessness had fully sunk in.

Lester had fummed over the nearly one hour round trip to take the boy home and then drive back to the park. He just kept playing the phone call from the rangers over and over in his head, how close it could have been to ‘Your son, the one you are supposed to keep safe, is dead”

Making himself get out the car he stepped out into the crime scene. The area around the welcome station and the museum was lit with two ranger vehicles and Bens own cop car. One of the Rangers waved to Lester as he got out of his vehicle.

“So everyone is gone. Looks like they cleared out before the Ladies left even, probably before the boys got to our cabin, they may have left in a hurry but they left nothing, not even any trash in the trash can. It’s like their cabin hadn’t even been used.

“Yeah not surprised, there were no other guests?” Lester asked

“No, they were the only ones. I pulled their reservation information for your deputy, maybe there’s something there, but I doubt it. I think they paid in cash, and I bet the name is fake too”

“You have cameras on the museum? Can you pull the tapes?”

“Deputy asked the same thing, the input was pulled from the recorder, we think maybe that was the point of the break in from the night before, and the vandalism was just to throw us off the scent”

“Well they’re smart then and sounds like they knew what they were doing, the fact none of the kids were hurt is an absolute miracle. “

The ranger nodded at Leste, and what Lester really wanted in that moment was to be alone, to face his own insecurities and fears. Instead he had to go talk to Ben, who would understand and not Judge him, maybe even have empathy for him, which somehow just made things worse.

“Could you do me a solid and bring my boys gear back up here from the oasis, if that’s not too much trouble? I’m going to check with my deputy and we might head over the cabins too to check around”

“Sure thing sheriff.” The ranger said agreeably as Lester headed for the entrance. It was going to be a long night he was afraid.