Days passed uneventful and pleasant. Foster took the same bus from the same bus stop to the same place a short meander from the same destination bus stop. Work. Boring, uneventful life of working for a living. Lunch was taken at precisely the same time every morning, Julio and Pedro placing the same cloth over their eyes, perhaps dreaming the same dreams every day. Occasionally the two Mexicans would be busy with their tasks and would join Foster late. But Foster was always prompt, sitting in the same rickety chair at the back door, munching on his favorite cookies, watching the fascinating morning world begin its own workday. City buses could be heard blumbering and sneezing along the main street out in front of the cookie factory, and the occasional tractor trailer would blumber by in the same manner, albeit with a deeper voice and a more forceful growl. Of course, there were the impatient idiots wrapped in their comfortable steel and plastic box-like cars quietly shushing to a stop at the stop light nearby and then piercing the morning’s peace with a sharp blare, demanding some other car in front of him get out of his way. Then, perhaps but a moment or two delayed or early, there was the glorious resonance of the first school bus of the morning – a minibus, actually – that turned onto Edmont Trail to make a circuitous tour through the housing subdivision behind the cookie factory to pick up clumps of giggling little people waving quick goodbyes to their parents. Foster knew that another, larger school bus would follow but would make just one stop no more than 100 feet from his chair. With the departing minibus would come the older elementary school gigglers and screamers as they jostled and tussled amongst themselves along the path through the subdivision’s fence to their bus stop. These were no kindergarteners but a fully-fledged elementary school crowd.
Foster glanced at his watch. The month of May was quickly evaporating as the 27th was drawing near. Summer would then begin its visit to the neighborhood as schools then would no longer required their daily fill of little people. Perhaps, with no parades of giggles to watch, Foster would practice siestas with the two Mexicans.
Stephen Hill had made several visits over the slowly passing weeks to Mrs. Demster’s office but never invited Foster to a meeting. Just as well, Foster thought. Besides, parole was about to end soon.
Then, with just weeks remaining of his parole to endure, Foster encountered an enchanting and challenging test certain to have originated from Hill.
A brochure for ReMax Realty fluttered in Foster’s one hand while one of his morning-lunch’s warm oatmeal and raisin cookies crumbled in the other. Houses were certainly much more expensive than what Foster had seen over a decade before. He studied the advertisement for a one bedroom semi-detached house in The North End. So focused on the brochure, Foster did not notice a figure approach him until a melodious little voice startled him.
“Margaux said that you give out cookies to kids who are brave enough to walk over here.”
Foster looked up and stared into two sparkling green eyes flanked on either side by flowing ponytail cascades of dark blonde hair tied into their bunches by thick dark blue fluffs of bungee string. Capping this angelic creature was a dark blue half-hat advertising Nike. Her gray t-shirt clashed miserably with her flower-embroidered blue jeans but exclaimed loudly how this boyish, flat-chested creature was decidedly female. The morning sun highlighted her shoulders and neck, but her eyes tried unsuccessfully to hide in shadows of her half-hat. When she smiled, the heavens gave a gasp, the trees sang praises to their gods and two second-growth front teeth announced that their owner was between 8 and 10 years old. Time froze as Foster instantly memorized her image. He closed his eyes in pain as he drafted his reply.
“Margaux was lying,” he muttered to her. “Sorry. Now, run along: your bus will be here in 5 minutes.”
Hand on hip, the green sparkles grew fierce, “Can I have a cookie anyway?”
Foster ignored her, hoping she would leave.
The angelic voice swirled across the few feet between the girl and Foster, “Okay, I’ll buy some from you. I have a…”
Foster roughened his voice, tossing sharp words her way, “You can buy some cookies around front. They’re two dollars a dozen.” Abruptly, he rose to return inside the factory only to run into Pedro.
“Uy, lo siento, Pedro.” (Oops, sorry, Pedro.) Foster stood aside as Pedro grumbled.
“Te gustan las niñas?”(You like little girls?)
Foster said nothing and waited for the wiry cook to exit the door.
“I said, ‘juu like the leetle girls, si’”?
“She wanted some cookies. I told her to get lost.” Foster cast his eyes past the doorway to indicate he wanted to pass.
“I theenk juur stay in la cárcel was because of una pequeña niña.” Pedro’s eyes glistened and narrowed.
Foster drew a breath and spoke softly, “I have three sentences for you. In proper English, of course.”
Pedro waited, breathing heavily through is nose.
Foster smiled, “Bullshit. Fuck you. Get out of my way.”
Pedro balled his fists and growled, “I will cut las pelotas, gilipollas.” (I will cut your balls off, asshole.)
It was cheating, Foster thought as he slipped past the Mexican. Stephen Hill should not have tried to trap him that way. But, he knew he had passed the test. The rest of that day dragged by while Foster slowly descended into a mix of anger and depression. He could not stop thinking about how rude he had been to the little girl – la pequeña niña – but, in his own defense, he knew it was the only way to pass the test. If it was a test. Perhaps it was not? What pretty little girl would team up with a nasty old parole officer just to trip an ex-con like him? What parole officer could find such an angel just to try to trip him up? No, Foster eventually decided, this was no test. Not a test and he had been so rude to her. His anger was not at Stephen Hill but at himself for ruining such a rare encounter. Anger, too, was directed towards the skinny Mexican who wanted to cut Foster’s balls off.
To make his day even worse, a half hour later, Pedro had broken a knob on an oven and demanded Foster stop what he was doing and fix the knob. Tempers flared and the knob did not get fixed until Julio got all the yelling stopped. The end of Foster’s day could not have arrived quickly enough for him. Rather than taking the bus home, Foster walked.
The gods must have been in a good mood because Little Miss Cookie Grubber continued to grace the morning spectacles throughout the week. She never looked towards the factory when she did pass. But, to Foster’s amazement one Friday morning, she granted his wish with a glance towards the factory. She didn’t approach but, rather, just slowed her walk as she passed through the fence gate and stared at Foster.
Foster glanced at the two sleeping Mexicans, turned and began drifting along the side of the docks while watching Miss Grubber matching his own walk. Foster parked himself on the edge of a dirty cooking oil drum and watched as she left the trail of the other kids and approached smiling. She had a small pink book satchel slung over her back, a different pair of denim jeans on as well as a blue t-shirt but the same Nike half-hat sat atop her two floppy ponytails. Her every step seemed like they were in slow motion so Foster studied each inch of her as her walk drew her nearer to him.
“What kind are they?” her eyes glistened as she followed Foster’s hand holding out a bag.
“Oatmeal and raisin.”
“How many can I have?”
“I’d give you the whole bag but that much would make you sick. Just take one or two.”
“This is your breakfast?”
“My lunch but I can get more.”
She looked puzzled at him, “How come you eat your lunch for breakfast?”
Foster watched as she dug into the bag of cookies and pull out two for herself. She brought out a laugh from him when she quipped, “I have to watch my figure because I am studying acrobats.”
Foster smiled, “Acrobatics,” he corrected her. “Yes, these have lots of sugar in them.”
She looked up at him and confided, “I’ll have one now and one for lunch.”
“I hope you have a good day.” He was suggesting that she continue her path to the school bus which she took for what it was meant.
“Thanks. I hope you have a good day, too. You should watch your figure,” she paused. Then she added, “In case you study acrobatics, too.” She gave a giggle, a brief pirouette, and with a run, skip, and jump as she returned to the file of youngsters on their way their bus stop.
Foster curled the top of the cookie bag closed and headed back to the dock. He still had a few moments left in his lunch so he plopped himself back into his rickety chair, closed his eyes, and reviewed the images and memories he now owned. Julio was still perched atop his scrap pallets but Pedro had already gone back inside. Today, Foster thought, it would not matter what kind of trouble Pedro would come up with for him; he’d enjoy whatever work there was to be had.
For the entire weekend, Foster was on a natural high. Every second of the encounter with the Cookie Grubber was etched in his mind, her small hand diving into the cookie bag, her crinkled nose as she smiled, her incredible eyes that spoke of the wondrous person behind them, even the smell of soap she had washed with getting ready for the school day managed to find its way to Foster’s nostrils. For Foster, heaven had visited earth that day. His daily showers were filled with intense joy as a single man with a new love in his heart is wont to relieve sexual pressures. Foster even got the bicycle assigned to him out for a ride, up and down the city streets, across some industrial complex’s parking lot, and out into the countryside to revel in his current existence. He even gave thought to thanking God for the encounter.
Monday came all too quickly, but Foster was still happily meditating on his previous Friday. Perhaps, he thought, she would come by for more cookies. He would have some chocolate chip bagged up for her, just in case.
One of the ovens chose that Monday to simply refuse to heat up. There was a gas line that lead to the burner but something just beyond the cut-off had failed and no amount of tinkering would allow gas to get to the burner. Foster wanted to pull the entire burner section but Mrs. Demster asked him to wait for the gas company repairman to inspect it. When the repairman pointed out a faulty safety cut-off solenoid, it was time for lunch. Foster and the two Mexicans were an hour late for lunch so once the repairs on the burner system were completed, the three of them headed out to the back dock for the half hour’s break. Foster promised himself that he would make sure, Tuesday, that he took his lunch at the customary time. He just had to see her again. Even if she didn’t want any cookies from him. Just watching her pass would be enough to make his day.
Julio was flat on his back across the same stack of old empty pallets with his customary cloth over his eyes when he heard his brother ease off his pallets and step lightly to the ground. Julio had thought Pedro’s complaining and swearing the past few hours was just his way of blowing off steam. But a 12-inch butcher's knife held loosely at Pedro’s left side told Julio that his brother was not content enough to let simple words satiate him. Julio watched as Pedro took cat-like, relaxed steps behind Foster. Pedro had made sure the morning sun was at his back just in case his quarry managed to turn to see his approach. All that would be seen then would be the blinding glare of the sun. Pedro took a quick breath, raised his knife high in preparation of plunging it deep into the hunched-over back of the evil gringo. Time slowed allowing seconds to ooze forward. The gringo’s back made a steady target while the gringo, himself, had no idea that a swift death was upon him. Julio, just 10 feet away, muttered a whispered “Madre de Dios” as he saw the gray steel blade begin its decent at the same time that its intended recipient began a curious spin to the left, twisting ever so slightly and exposing a pale white two by four piece of wood slowly climbing its way to connect with the downward blur of Pedro’s arm and knife. The wooden crack of the impact was not caused by the two by four but, rather by Pedro’s left arm as it gave way under the shock of the collision. Curiously, the steel ringing of Pedro’s departing blade ended in a loud reverberating and warbling chime when it smashed into the white painted brick of the cookie factory’s back wall. Still careening up and past Pedro’s odd shaped arm, the two by four continued slowly towards the left side of Pedro’s head. Again, a wooden splintering could be heard as Pedro’s head rocked to the right in a rebound and spraying a fine mist of red upward as it did. Soon to follow to the right was Pedro’s shoulders and upper body while his left leg swung out to the left in opposite effect. When the crashing thud of Pedro’s body against some empty bread crates began to vibrate about the dock, Pedro had been unconscious for more than a third of a second. His incredulous brother rose with a screech only to see Foster recoil with the two by four and brace for a strike at Julio. Julio froze, holding his empty hands out to either side. No one moved for what seemed like hours. Then Julio turned wide-eyed to regard the slumped form of his brother crumpled amongst the bread crates.
He cried, “Oh, mi querido hermano! El diablo le dijo!”
Foster commented, “No. The devil told me nothing. Pedro’s shadow told me.”
Five minutes passed as though they were seconds; Julio cried heavily as he tried to help his mumbling brother to sit up; Mrs. Demster had come running to the dock only to shriek at the sight of the blood coating the side of Pedro’s dazed face; Foster dialed 911 on the dock’s wall phone. Following the hushed blur of paramedics dabbling at the blood surrounding Pedro’s blinking eyes, the police arrived and handcuffed both Foster and Julio. Events swirled in Foster’s mind as he tried to recount the haze of the few moments of the encounter to one Boise City Police officer while, so far as Foster knew, Julio was giving his side of the story to a second officer. Fifteen minutes later, a Boise City Police detective arrived followed by Stephen Hill.
When the questions, answers, repeated questions, and repeated answers were all concluded, Stephen Hill pointed to his car and bade Foster get in.
“I’ll drive you back to your place.” Hill crouched to get into his car and then eased into the driver’s seat. “Julio said that his brother knows you are a pedophile. I’m sure you didn’t tell him outright, so…” Hill slammed his own door, waited for Foster to close his, and then Hill keyed the ignition and placed the car into gear.
“…so how did he know that?” They left the factory just as the paramedics pulled away carrying the cursing Pedro.
Foster rubbed his wrists, “Pedro?”
“Yeah. How did Pedro know you are a pedophile?”
“I think he made it up. I don’t know. Pedro has had it in for me ever since I got here. I figured his being an asshole was just his way of being an asshole. Most of the time, I just put up with it.”
“Julio also said that there’s a school bus stop you have been stalking.”
"Bullshit.” Foster looked squarely at Hill, “I go from the halfway house to the factory by bus and then right back to the halfway house after work. I stalk nothing. I keep all my transfer tickets in a box so I can prove where I go and when.”
Hill smiled, “Same bus every day? Same bus driver?”
“No,” Foster pondered for a moment, “There’s one fellow who drives the Number Five at night and a different fellow who drives the Five A on my way back home.”
Hill checked traffic before making a turn and gave Foster a brief glance, “Harold Besping drives the Number Five bus. He’s been out for almost 4 years, now.”
“Oh,” Hill mimicked. They drove on for a couple blocks. “You didn’t take the bus home on the 18th.”
Foster thought back. Was there a day when he walked? Yes, he had forgotten about it. “I walked. Pedro and I had an argument and after work, to let off steam, I walked. You can check with Meyer on that day. I walked straight there. The clock-in time should show that it was a straight walk. Besides, it was when school was in session, not when the school busses were running.”
“Why didn’t you tell me there was a kids’ bus stop near you.”
Foster explained, “Mr. Hill, there are no stipulations in my parole papers that proscribe schools, playgrounds, or places that children frequent. I’m not convicted of anything but raping an adult. You’ve never required me to…”
Hill looked solidly at Foster and interrupted, “I don’t care what stipulations you have or don’t have. I told you, face to face, not to get involved with the neighborhood people. Stalking a school bus stop is getting involved.”
Foster forced his voice to calm quiet, “I told you, I haven’t stalked anything or anybody. I go to work, I go home, and I watch TV. Nothing besides that.”
The two drove on in silence until they reached the half-way house. As Foster popped his door to get out, Hill spoke briskly, “I’m a fair man, Robert. I’ve never sent one of my boys back inside unless they really needed it. Do you need it? I don’t mean the assault of the Mexican. I mean the proximity of that bus stop really has me considering sending you back in simply because was so close to your work. Some of the things….”
Foster’s quote stopped Hill, “Was? Was close to my work?”
Hill looked straight ahead, hands on the steering wheel, “You will have to find a different job, obviously. I want you to make sure there…”
Hill looked puzzled, “No?” He bent his head to look askance at Foster, “You can’t go back with that Mexican just itching for revenge.”
“They both were Illegals, Mr. Hill. Both were illegal immigrants and had been working for almost 10 years for Mrs. Demster. They both will be on their way back South of the Border, probably as we speak. Didn’t you hear the police radio? Someone said that the Feds were on their way. Julio and Pedro are the only people I know who the INS would be interested in here.”
“Well, I want you far away from that bus stop, Robert. Get a new job somewhere else.”
“Again, no, Mr. Hill. As I have repeatedly told you, I have no stipulations against child contact. Sure, you can tag me, send me back to Texas and be rid of me. But I know the system in Texas and they’d throw out your rejection once I got it back into court. Say, a week to a month. Where will they send me back to? Here. But, because you gave me a rejection, they’d require a different PO, not you. I know how good you are, Mr. Hill. And, as you said, you are fair. I don’t want to lose you as a life supervisor. ‘The devil you know isn’t as bad as the devil you don’t know,’ as they say.” Foster got back into the car, turned, and held out his wrists together to Hill, “If you want to reject my case, here I am. I’m ready to go back. But I will be back here, probably the same half-way house, in about a month. Maybe two. But I won’t be on parole then.”
Foster sat silently with his two wrists offered to Hill. A moment passed thickly before Foster added, "It's just a bus stop, Mr. Hill. Just a bus stop. I've seen it but forgot all about it. I’m almost finished my parole. There is no probation and that bus stop won’t mean anything to me even after I’m on my own without you.”
“How did Pedro know you are a pedophile?”
“All pedophiles are evil. He just made it up to justify his wanting to kill me. I told you, he hated me the day I got hired. We had arguments often. He wanted to control me like he was my supervisor but I just went on doing my job. That’s probably why things went so bad. I suppose it was partly my fault because I didn’t kowtow to him. I didn’t dance to his music.”
Hill started the car. “I’ll need you to come to the office and sign your statement. Ms. Jamison will have it typed up by 10. You come sign it.”
Foster nodded, got out of the car and headed slowly into the half-way house.