“Mrs. Baxter?” The young woman knocked softly on the screen door. “May I come in?”
Cora Baxter, who had been snoozing lightly in the warm sunlight filtering in through the living room window, took her time to get up from her chair by the heat register and walked slowly to the front door. The hardwood floors creaked under the weight of her shuffle. As she approached the front door, she had to squint her eyes to try to discern her afternoon visitor.
Joel stood there in the dark building trembling with fear, grateful that the men and boys who circled him had allowed him to pull up his underwear. Only Mamá was supposed to see that part of him. That had been the worst of the initiation, standing there in front of them exposed. Or so he thought.
Paul stood on the front porch of his home in the late afternoon when they drove up. He had been pacing for most of the day, and the spent energy etched darkened circles under his eyes. When Paul saw Kevin sitting in the front seat, a tremendous sense of relief swept over him. He thanked God silently for the answered prayer and slowly released the grip he had on the porch rail.
The diner Robert had chosen was a small one situated on the side of the highway just outside of town. The exterior of the building was covered in stucco and painted bright white. The large square windows trimmed in red were turned so that they appeared to be diamond-shaped. When Kevin stepped out of the car, he noticed the old metal bottle caps from soda bottles. He remembered when he was a boy and treasured the different colored caps he found in the Texaco station’s sand parking lot.
Kevin stared at an old mark on the wall made during a scuffle with his brother many years before. He rocked back and forth on his bed with slow rhythmic anger. He held his arms close and tight to keep from striking out in anger. Mark's accusations reverberated within his mind, twisting with other dark thoughts from his troubled past. His rage increased to the point that he needed to cry out, but he knew that this would be a sign of weakness and would frighten the girls as well.
Jordan Brown sat behind his desk and appeared to be meditating. The office was dark except for the single lamp on his desk. The ballast was weakening and caused the fluorescent light to buzz and crackle as it flickered. His hands folded together as if in prayer while both his pinky fingers tapped nervously on the aged wood surface. He drew in a deep breath and reached out to push the intercom button.