Kashuba was eager to make contact with other scallies packs.
“I think I should start with the Ferals,” he said. “Their leader, Rix, is a bit of a loose cannon, but I believe that if we got him on side it would be easier to get the others.”
“Do you know much about him?” I asked.
“He is a little guy. I think he is about eighteen. He could be part African-American and part Japanese. He wears his hair in dreadlocks, has tattoos on his arms, and has a couple of piercings. He always seems to wear black clothes. He acts tough, and he keeps his pack together—and fights off anyone who threatens them—but I have actually had him cry on my shoulder when no one else was looking. I think he would jump at the chance to have a better life.”
“How can we contact him?”
“His pack moves around a bit and I have not seen them for a while. I might have to go looking.”
Two weeks later Kashuba was frustrated. He could not find the Ferals and no one he asked had seen them. I had dropped in to see how his search was going, and found him sitting at his desk contemplating his next move.
Masoko came into the room. She sat on his knee and gave him a kiss. “Any ideas?”
“Where was the last place anyone saw them?” she asked.
“Over on the other side of the harbour.”
“How long ago?” I added.
“No one is sure, but it seems like it was about a month before we started looking.”
“Would they have left the city?” I asked.
“I do not think so. They are city boys. They grew up here, and they know it like they know the backs of their hands. I doubt they would survive in the country. I do not think it would even occur to them to move there.”
With no more ideas we left it there. A few days later Kashuba called me.
“You might have been right,” he said.
“That’d be a change!”
He chuckled. “I just read a news item about a group of black kids terrorising a little village out on the edge of the city. It sounds like Rix and the Ferals.”
“Why on earth would they be terrorising a village? The way you described them that doesn’t sound right.”
“I know. If it is them something must have changed. Can I go and have a look?”
“Sure, what do you need?”
“I thought Rey and I could go. They know us, so we should not have any problem with them. We just need a way to get there.”
I organised a commuter car and driver and they left the following morning. I made sure they knew where they could find accommodation in case they needed to stay overnight.
Kashuba called that night.
“We have talked to people in the village and Rey and I are sure that the black kids are Ferals. Unfortunately the people we spoke to have no idea where the gang are hiding, just that they come into the village at night. Usually they steal food, but some clothing and medical supplies have disappeared as well.”
Kashuba was pleased to learn that nothing had been damaged or broken into, and the kids seemingly only stole what they needed.
“When we asked about the report that the village had been terrorised, the people laughed. ‘A media beat-up!’ one man called it. An old lady let us know what she thought in no uncertain terms. Her opinion is that these boys are looking for food because they are hungry.” Kashuba chuckled when he added, “She actually snorted. ‘Terrorised indeed!’ she said. ‘All we know is that they are teenagers, because a couple of people have seen some of them. We don’t even know that they’re all black. I don’t know who talked to the media but the whole story is an exaggeration.’ She got quite worked up about it.
“She told us that some of the people have started leaving food out, and they always get a brief thank you note.
“Another person said, ‘No, they’re not bad kids. They just need a little help, that’s all.’”
“Rey and I assured the villagers that helping the boys was exactly our reason for visiting. The old lady had a suggestion. She said, ‘I will be leaving food out tonight. Why don’t you leave a note for them, or stay up and watch out for them?’”
They decided that leaving a note might be a safer first step. They didn’t want to frighten the boys off and risk not making contact at all.
The food and the note were gone the next morning, Kashuba told me when he called again. He and Rey talked to as many people as they could during the day, but no one seemed to have any idea where the kids were living. They came into the village silently, picked up the food left out for them, and disappeared. No one had a clue how many kids there were, but all of the food left out was always taken.
That night the thieves left a note: ‘Prove you are Kashuba!’ It was signed ‘Rix’.
That left Kashuba in a bind. The only thing he could think of that would prove his identity beyond doubt was the fact that Rix had once cried on his shoulder. As far as Kashuba knew, however, only he and Rix knew of that and he didn’t want to lessen Rix’s standing among his pack. When he called me to report the latest news and related this, I said, “Kash, it seems obvious that Rix and his boys are in some sort of trouble, enough that they took off out of the city. I don’t think he will lose any respect over showing that he’s human. If they’re in as much trouble as they seem to be I think his guys will put that aside if it means they will get help.”
It took two more nights of leaving notes back and forth before Rix agreed to meet. “I have to stand under a street light—actually, it is the only one in the village—alone, and wait for someone to come and get me,” Kashuba told me.
When he next called it was to tell me that Rix and his boys needed help quickly.
“They tangled with a criminal gang on the north side of the harbour. They tried to enter a building they thought was vacant, but were met by armed thugs. Two of the boys were stabbed.”
Rix had taken the pack out of the city. They stopped when they had no energy left, and found a cave in the foothills near the small village. The two boys’ wounds were not bad but, although the pack had done everything they could to treat them, had become infected.
“The injured boys are getting weak,” Kashuba told me, “and Rix is worried they will not make it if they do not receive urgent attention. He is too scared to risk returning to the city, and he does not think the two boys will be able to walk to the nearest medical centre.”
Kashuba and Rey took the two boys to a hospital in a nearby town. Their wounds were cleaned and treated and the boys were told they would be fine when they regained their strength. They were still in the hospital because the doctors wanted to monitor them for a couple of days.
Kashuba said he and Rey had talked at length with Rix and the other boys and they were all keen to accept HI’s support. “I thought we could put them up at Breaker One for a while,” he said.
“Have you talked to Masoko?” I asked.
“Yes, she thinks we can manage it. They might be a bit rougher than our guys but they are house trained.”
I laughed. “What about Rix’s fear of returning to the city?”
“I think I have convinced him that the thugs were only defending their own territory and that he and his boys stumbled into it. In any case he is satisfied they will be safe at Breaker One.”
“Good. When will they be ready to come back?”
“Rix and the boys with him are ready now. They have had enough, but the two in hospital cannot leave until the doctors release them, and the others will not go without them.”
“Okay. How about you let me know when they’re all ready and I’ll send a skybus to collect everyone?”
“That sounds good. Rey and I will wait here until they can leave. We have bought food for them, and delivered it, and they will be all right in the cave for now. They have been there for several weeks so they will not mind it for a bit longer. Oh, I went around to all of the villagers who had stuff stolen and offered to pay for their losses. I could not believe it; not a single one would accept any money. They said they were happy to help.”
“Wow! That’s generosity. Maybe we could do something for the village as a whole, or perhaps we could work it off by helping them in some way.”
“That is a good thought. I will see if I can suss out something they would like.”
Within a few days Rix and his boys were settling into life at Breaker One. The injured boys were recovering well. They only needed to have their wounds checked periodically by a doctor until full healing had occurred.
When Kashuba introduced me to the Ferals, one of Rix’s boys looked at me intently. “I seen you somewhere before, man!”
“Hmm, I don’t know where that could have been. I don’t think I’ve met any of you guys before.”
“Nah, I dunno, either, but it musta been somewhere.” He left it at that and I didn’t give it another thought.
Rix asked to speak with me privately. We went out to the courtyard because every room inside seemed to be full of people. “Echo, man, you really payin’ for all this?” he asked, waving a hand around the building.
“Yes, my company is.”
“Uh… didn’t Kashuba explain all that?”
He tilted his head and squinted. “Yeah, he kinda told me all this guffle about you wantin’ to help ’cause your company caused the problem in the first place. Reckoned you wanted to put it right. But I didn’t know whether to believe him.”
I grinned. “Well, that was the truth, so you should believe him.”
His eyes opened wide. “Really? You not kiddin’ me?”
“Really. No kiddin’.”
“Let me get this straight. You fixin’ a problem just because you caused it?”
“And you don’t want anythin’ in return?”
“Man, that’s unreal. I never heard o’ nothin’ like that before.”
I couldn’t help laughing. “Rix, my parents saw the damage the company had done and they wanted to do something about it. They disappeared before they were able to, so I’m trying to finish what they started. That’s all it amounts to. It’s no big deal. Well, the idea, I mean. Getting it done is a bigger deal.”
Rix gave me an intense look, then all of a sudden I was wrapped in his arms. “Kashuba told me you a good guy. I believe him now. I am so sick o’ this life. I wanna settle down, but it’s impossible when you don’t know where your next meal is comin’ from and you haveta be on the move constantly, tryin’ to keep out of trouble.”
I smiled as he released me. “Does trouble have a way of finding you?”
Rix laughed. “You could say that. I don’t go lookin’ for it, but I sure have a habit of landin’ in it.”
“Well, you might have a better chance of staying out of its way now. We’ll give you as much help as you need, but you will have to do your share of the work.”
“I know, Kashuba explained that.” He did the head-tilt thing again. “Echo, me and the guys really ’preciate what you doin’ for us. We’ll try not to let you down but I haveta warn you that it’s almost guaranteed that we will. We’ll do the best we can, but we’ll be sure to stuff up somewhere.” He grinned. “That’s just our way.”
I laughed. I was beginning to really like Rix. I guess he was what people called a rough diamond. I just hoped he wasn’t too rough. “Rix, from what I’ve seen of life nobody’s perfect. We all stuff up, just because we’re human. It’s who we are. Even those at the top. Perhaps, especially those at the top. When it happens we just have to pick ourselves up and try again. It’s no big deal, and nobody here will hold that against you.”
I smiled. “Yeah.”
“And you don’t mind that I’m black—and some of the boys, too?”
Rix frowned. “You know, even ’fore I was on the streets my folks experienced prej’dice. I guess it’s been there all my life, kinda hoverin’ in the background. Every now and then it pops up its ugly head and slaps me down.”
I sighed. Hadn’t we learnt anything at all? A quote I had read somewhere popped into my head. ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.’ If I remembered correctly it was taken from the Bible, and it was talking about God’s acceptance of everybody. The author who used the quote was writing about discrimination. His premise was that we are all equal, and he used the biblical reference to back up his argument. Thinking about that quote I realised it was also applicable to prejudice, another facet of the same problem.
“Rix, as far as I am concerned everyone is created equal. Prejudice is something people have invented to hide their own fears. You and your boys are every bit as good as everyone else, whether you are black, white or some other colour. I hope that one day the rest of the world will learn that.”
Rix grinned, gave me a high-five, and got up and went back inside the building. I sat at the table in the courtyard—the same one Kashuba, Masoko, Rey, Darm and I had sat around at our first meeting—lost in my thoughts.
About a week later I was visiting Breaker One again.
Some of the Breaker boys and some of the Ferals were having a game of soccer on an open area behind the building. I went out to greet them and they insisted that I join them. I was no good at any sport. At the orphanage I had tried but had given up. It just wasn’t my thing. These boys were simply having fun and I didn’t want to be a spoilsport so I jumped in with them. A couple of times I caught one of the Ferals watching me intently. When the game ended he came up to me.
“I worked it out! I remembered where I saw you!”
Then I realised it was the boy who had recognised me when we were first introduced.
“Uh, Josh, isn’t it?” I had not yet got to know the Ferals well enough to remember all their names.
“Yeah, that’s me.”
“Okay, where have we met?”
He looked embarrassed. “Ah, well, we didn’t actually meet. You were running away from me. That’s what made me remember, when I saw you running during the game just now.”
I gave him a puzzled look. “Huh?”
“You were in one of those skyrovers. It crashed into a building…” he pointed off to the south, “and you ran off. Some of us chased you, ’cause we hoped you’d have something we could use. But some dude picked you up in a zimmer and you got away.”
“That was you guys?”
“Yeah, it was. Sorry, Echo. We were pretty desperate then, and we were doin’ some bad stuff.”
I was touched that Josh wanted to own up to chasing me that day. I hadn’t recognised any of the Ferals boys, so he could have simply let it slide and I would have been none the wiser. “Wow, thanks for telling me. You didn’t have to, you know. I would never have known.”
He grinned. “Yeah, but I knew. And you’ve been so good to us I couldn’t leave that hangin’ over my head. I would’ve felt all wrong every time I saw you.”
I pulled him into a hug. “Thanks, Josh. I must admit I was scared that day. I’d heard some bad things about scallies. I was very relieved when Darm turned up and rescued me.”
He gave me a searching look. “You heard bad things about us scallies, but you still wanted to help us? Man, you are unreal!”
I laughed. “Hey, I figured you only did what you had to do to survive.”
“Yeah, we did, but some of it was bad stuff.” He thought for a moment. “Hey, you grew up in an orphanage, didn’t you? Before you found out you were rich?”
He grinned. “I reckon we got somethin’ in common. I never knew my ma and pa. I was in foster homes until I was eight or somethin’, then I ran away. I managed on my own for a while, then I found the Ferals—or I should say they found me. They reckoned I was too young to be on my own so they took me under their wing. I’ve been with ’em for about four years now. They are the best family I ever had.” He gave me a lopsided grin. “’Cept for the scrapes they’ve gotten me into.”
I laughed. “I told Rix he should have a better chance of staying away from trouble now. That goes for all of you Ferals.”
“I know, and we appreciate it. And we are gonna do you proud. All we needed was a way to get off the merry-go-round.”
I held up my hands for a double high-five. Josh slapped them and took off after the other boys. “Hey, wait for me!” he yelled.
I chuckled as I watched him go. It seemed that HI had fostered another new beginning. I could only hope it worked out. I wondered whether the Ferals had the motivation and determination to make it happen, and I wondered whether Rix was up to the task. I shrugged. Only time would tell.
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