CXIV. Don't Dream It's Over

There is freedom within
there is freedom without
Try to catch a deluge in a paper cup
There's a battle ahead
many battles are lost
But you'll never see the end of the road
While you're traveling with me

Hey now, hey now
Don't dream it's over
Hey now, hey now
When the world comes in
They come, they come
To build a wall between us
We know they won't win

Now I'm towing my car
there's a hole in the roof
my possessions are causing me suspicion but there's no proof
in the paper today
tales of war and of waste
but you turn right over to the T.V. page

Hey now, hey now
Don't dream it's over
Hey now, hey now
When the world comes in
They come, they come
To build a wall between us
We know they won't win

Now I'm walking again
to the beat of a drum
And I'm counting the steps to the door of your heart
Only shadows ahead
barely clearing the roof
Get to know the feeling of liberation and relief

Hey now, Hey now
Don't dream it's over
Hey now, Hey now
When the world comes in
They come, they come
To build a wall between us
You know they won't win

Don't let them win
Hey now, Hey now

Hey now, Hey now

Hey now, Hey now
Don't let them win

They come, They come
Don't let them win

Hey now, Hey now (yeah)

Hey now, Hey now

Don't Dream It's Over is the property of Crowded House and appears in the film Adventureland.

The Only Exception is the property of Paramore.

He hears another jangle from the backseat, an excited pattering of feet across the interior. H.P. bounds from left to right, looking out the window, clearly not understanding that he should stay put. Officer Wheaton offered to ride in the rear with him and Toby's questioning his decision to decline it. With all the materials in the trunk, and his dad practicing with the orchestra, Toby figured H.P. would calm down without any distractions. Bad figuring on his part.

But his more conscious decision to call J.T. after Manny was gone would have positive results. He's banking on it. J.T. saw a whole host of unavailable calls on Eli Chernoff's phone. Why? Surely, a businessman of his magnitude would receive calls from specific offices or big name companies. And if Justin was waiting somewhere to see if Toby took his father's bait...he'd be phoning good ol' Dad more than usual. This would be an ideal time for Justin to reappear. School starts immediately after Manny and Emma return. Justin has a senior year to finish. Clara's still single. Toby doubts Justin has given up on that front. Justin's mother would give birth sooner and later, and she'd probably be all for having her two kids under the same roof. Meanwhile, if he wasn't convicted, Toby would have to swallow his pride, always wondering if Justin and company would terrorize him again. Totally not fair. They're counting on Officer Wheaton to agree with their ideas, especially after J.T. comes by today.

"Home sweet home, H.P.," says Toby, parking at the curb.

Officer Wheaton collects the purchased items while Toby lets out the Peke. Toby attaches a new leash to H.P., who wags his tail as Officer Wheaton reaches them.

"He's a lively little sprite," says Officer Wheaton.

"Glad we have a backyard," says Toby. "He can pretend it's a small playground. He loved that."

Another car crawls to Toby's. J.T. honks his horn and Liberty's sitting next to him. What's she doing here, thinks Toby. He doesn't mind Liberty showing up but they had a lot to discuss, and what if those things get back to Manny?

"He's the cutest thing!" cries Liberty, peeking through the window.

"What is this little thing?" exclaims J.T. as soon as he hops out.

H.P. barks, his fur rising. Toby smiles nervously as J.T. scowls.

"This is H.P.," introduces Toby.

"Man's best friend," chimes in Officer Wheaton. "But not J.T.'s."

Softening a little, H.P. becomes agitated when J.T. frowns at him.

"I've been replaced," murmurs J.T. to himself. "Really, Tobes? I thought you were a cat person."

"That's what Manny said," recalls Toby.

H.P. barks once more, possibly due to the mention of cats.

"Was this your mom's idea?" asks J.T. "Remember how your folks used to fight about Xerox digging up the garden? You want to relive that with Jeff and Kate?"

"H.P.'s sweet," defends Toby. "He wouldn't do that. Plus, we don't technically have a garden. Just bushes."

"He's not sweet to me," points out J.T.

"Because he can tell that you don't like him," guesses Toby.

"I'll try if he will," says J.T.

Sighing, J.T. crouches and manages to pet H.P.'s head. H.P. stiffens, barks and then runs over to Liberty. J.T. groans.

"Whatever," says J.T. "I have to drive Liberty to Debate Club, but there's a twenty minute window."

Liberty attempts to make H.P. sit but he blankly smiles at her and then tries to sit...in J.T.'s seat.

Toby groans. "Really, J.T.?"

"You called me last minute, Toby," reminds J.T.

"Fine," says Toby.

"A twenty minute window for?" says Officer Wheaton, raising an eyebrow.

The two boys lead Officer Wheaton to the Isaacs-Kerwin porch, Toby anxious to cover the lead they found. It may not amount to anything but it's the only evidence they possess. Sergeant Blanchett's team has been tracing calls for weeks, standing watch on Justin's street day after day. Perhaps this unfulfilled deal is the best thing to ever happen in this case if it reveals Justin's whereabouts.

"When Mr. Chernoff was at Kytel, J.T. snuck a look at his phone," begins Toby. "There were a lot of calls from an unavailable number."

Officer Wheaton glances between the boys, eyes widening, and he takes off his hat to wipe his brow.

"In the span of two days," adds J.T.

"And we're sharing this now because whenever we've waited, it's kind of bit us in the butt," continues Toby. "He has no idea we checked his phone."

Officer Wheaton looks past the two cars, towards the neighboring lawns.

"It's a clue," insists J.T.

The officer folds his arms.

"Don't you understand, Officer Wheaton?" says Toby. "I saw Justin at the deli. Then, Mr. Chernoff gave us this deal. Then, he's being called constantly by a private number. His son's being hidden away...here!"

No visible response follows Toby's words. He expected Officer Wheaton to be surprised at least. Did they even think to check Mr. Chernoff's cell phone records? Are they going to sit on this mountain of hints while he agonizes over everything? They want him to trust them but they're slow to act.

"Do something!" exclaims Toby.

"J.T., take your girlfriend to Debate Club," says Officer Wheaton calmly. "Toby, go inside."

"Officer Wheaton...," starts Toby.

"I said to go inside," says Officer Wheaton, then whistling. "H.P.!"

H.P. jogs to the front door and Toby lets his cheek fall against the closed door. This whole invesigation is useless. They should've told him from the get go.

"I'm staying with Toby," insists J.T.

"No, you're not," says Officer Wheaton. "Come back in a couple hours."

"Why?" asks J.T.

Toby takes his face off the door, eager to hear this answer.

"Don't ask questions," says Officer Wheaton strongly. "Just do it. Toby, inside."

Murmuring a slew of complaints, J.T. gets back into his car, a concerned look staying on Liberty's face until they're out of sight. It's nice to see someone is concerned. Toby opens the door harshly and lets Officer Wheaton close it as he falls onto the living room couch.

"This is taking too long," speaks up Toby.

"We're not on a schedule," says Officer Wheaton, patting his shoulder. "Some developments have been going on the past couple weeks but they're...delicate."

Developments? What sort of developments? Would he care to elaborate since this affects the guy at the center of everything?

"Delicate?" prompts Toby.

"I'll phone Sergeant Blanchett and he'll be along shortly," says Officer Wheaton. "He'll explain what he can. In the mean time, why don't you let J.T. watch that dog of yours? This may be complicated."

H.P. rests his head on Toby's knee and whimpers. Yes, they're both in for a night of annoyance and uncertainty, aren't they? Officer Wheaton strolls to the kitchen, punching in numbers on his cell.

"That's the perfect word for your new home," sighs Toby, stroking H.P.'s back. "Complicated."

II.

"There are plants everywhere," observes Ashley, standing in the center of their herd.

Her group stalls in front of the moderately large dining hall, lunch in full swing. The hall is an even mixture of a typical facility cafeteria and a hotel lounge, only a whole lot quieter. Someone went "green-crazy" as the plants aren't the only green accessories filling the room. The hard-backed chairs, clean tablecloths, napkin holders, and carrying trays match the dominant color.

"Green is a very calming choice," praises Kate.

Ashley's wondering how "green" her fellow rehab patients are, including Cybil who's being grilled by Robert and Chris. Most of the forty or so patients she views are younger than she thought they'd be, half of them clearly teenages and the other half in their twenties. The majority wear comfortable clothes including robes and sweatpants. Each table has a staff member on hand, a white badge Ashley recognizes from the hospital pinned to their shirts. Minus the badges and boredom, she didn't think it was that different from an upscale version of the Calypso dining room.

"The meals are gourmet," shares Cybil with Robert. "I've never not liked anything."

"Hear that, Ashley?" says Robert. "First-rate cuisine."

"I'm not that hungry," replies Ashley, crossing her arms over her stomach.

Hungry? No. Thirsty? Yes. But it's not like they can serve her what she...wants. Ashley uncovers her arms to scratch them. She stops when she finds Dr. Englecourt staring at her. She's known this lady for forty-five minutes and she's already bugging her.

"How about we sit in the middle so everybody can notice me?" suggests Ashley sarcastically.

"You won't need to do that," mutters Cybil.

True enough, a few cluster of patients are looking at Ashley or politely trying not to as the Kerwins, Cybil, Dr. Englecourt, and Reva walk into the room. One girl pretends to yawn and another giggles.

"It's standard," says Cybil to Ashley. "This is amusement for some people. They don't get out much."

This elicits laughter from Ashley's parents, but Ashley would like to know what's so freaking funny. She rolls her eyes, and takes a seat at a table on the right.

"This beats hospital grub, eh, Ash?" says Robert.

"You mean the injected mineral and vitamin cocktails?" poses Ashley. "No contest."

Everybody bristles at the statement, including Dr. Englecourt, except for Cybil. She smirks.

"The detox diet," recalls Cybil. "Hey, you drop weight."

Now this is humorous to Ashley, the two girls exchanging a grin. Dr. Englecourt looks less than pleased however. Nice. Like she told Criag, if the woman thought Ashley wasn't taking rehab seriously anyway why not crack a couple jokes at first? Ashley rises from her seat between Kate and Riva.

"Speaking of healthy eating," says Ashley.

The adults start to stand but they're halted by Dr. Englecourt.

"Let the girls go," says Dr. Englecourt, firmly in her seat.

Robert and Kate stare wearily at each other but sit. Ashley truly couldn't care less. She could use the breathing space. Something tells her family counselling will be worse than her dining experiences here. Cybil tags along with Ashley to the cafeteria line.

"So how long have you been at Harmony Hill?" asks Ashley, throwing a glance over her shoulder.

Dr. Englecourt is in deep conversation with the Kerwins. That's why she was gung-ho about them going alone.

"This time?" says Cybil. "Three months."

"You're in and out?" says Ashley, raising her eyebrows.

"I'm a regular," replies Cybil. "Quite a trek from Hedgewood Farms to British Columbia. A different drug each time."

"How many drugs can you find out in the country?" blurts out Ashley. "I mean, sorry."

Cybil chuckles. "You'd be surprised."

Roars from a few eager eaters enter the cafeteria while Ashley tries to decide if she's going to take anything. She passes on the egg salad, banana pudding, and brown rolls but chooses a bowl of steamed rice and a plate of grilled chicken. The two of them are joined by three teenage boys who get behind Ashley.

"Well, who am I to judge?" says Ashley, rescuing a fallen apple from falling out of a fruit bin. "I went boozing around London."

"At least you left Canada," sighs Cybil, then taking off with her tray.

With her gone, Ashley considers how totally thoughtless the "country" comment probably was, and makes a vow to correct that mistake later. Cybil seems to be a friendly roommate and she could've had a total nightmare for one.

"London calling to the faraway towns," sings a nearby voice. "Now war is declared and the battle come down..."

Ashley spies an orange going up in the air and falling into a hand. She turns to view the same guy she saw a week ago, the first patient she saw putting M&Ms on musical notes. He puts a second orange on her tray. Like she'd take anything from a weirdo who can't mind his own business.

"No thank you," says Ashley, ready to return the orange to its bin.

"You've touched it so you gotta take it," says the guy, smoothing his light brown curls. "Nobody wants an orange with your fingerprints on it."

"You touched it first!" reminds Ashley. "What makes you think I'll eat it with your fingerprints on it?"

"You're holding up the line, London," remarks the guy.

Gripping her tray hard, Ashley narrows her eyes at his hazel eyes but elects to go forward, if only to steer clear of him for the rest of the day. He can't even iron his pale teal T-shirt. Ashley heads towards her table.

"Forgot your silverware!" calls the guy.

Ashley pointedly grabs her own silverware.

"See you later," says the guy.

"Hopefully not," returns Ashley, walking briskly to catch up with Cybil.

It's not until they reach their table that Ashley figures out that Dr. Englecourt and Reva have switched places. That leaves Ashley right next to her least favorite person pre-orange boy. Ashley is slow to sit down. Dr. Englecourt pivots to her.

"Not everything you have to do in here has to be a chore, Ashley," offers Dr. Englecourt. "Maybe you should take this opportunity to reflect on how you can grow, to have some 'me time'."

"No offense, but I've been with me for weeks and it didn't do any good," says Ashley.

"Out facility has fun, healthy alternatives for you to enjoy while you undergo treatment," begins Dr. Englecourt. "Exercises, art classes..."

"I would have more fun if I was drunk," interrupts Ashley nonchalantly.

Robert and Chris slouch in their respective places. Cybil coughs.

"Ashley!" cries Kate.

"Everyone told me you had no filter," says Dr. Englecourt.

"Nope. Don't," says Ashley. "Sorry."

"Well, the wonderful thing about an open filter is that it won't be as hard to identify the problem," says Dr. Englecourt with a steady gaze. "And get in there and fix it."

Ashley wishes she'd saved a few of her narrowed eye expressions for the good doctor, but her face hurts now. This woman is insufferable. Dr. Englecourt, Riva, and her parents abandon her to pick up food. Cybil silently eats her pudding as Ashley stabs her grilled chicken. The chicken squirms when Ashley mutters:

"What a warm welcome."

III.

"Officer Wheaton. Mr. Isaacs. Toby."

Sergeant Blanchett sets his walkie-talkie above the cruiser's glove compartment, a weird place for a walkie-talkie to be in Toby's opinion. The three males climb into the cop car and are soon on their way. Toby hears muffled orders and wonders if there's a connection. He tries to connect the various street corners as evening comes on quickly, new stars becoming bold while the streetlights blaze bright. He's gone this way a couple times this summer. Where were they headed?

"Everything cleared out?" questions Officer Wheaton.

"The clearest," replies Sergeant Blanchett. "Toby, did you tell your dad how you stood up to Eli Chernoff?"

Jeff nearly drops his music folder.

"Suppose not," figures Sergeant Blanchett.

Toby would've rather told him at home. Jeff had no idea about the details of the deal or its result. But there's no reason to hide it anymore. He sums up the exchange, including Manny and Bubbe's involvement, while Jeff fumes silently.

"What kind of grown man threatens two innocent children?" cries Jeff. "I don't care if Tobes contacted him. That's emotional manipulation of Toby, verbal abuse on Manny. Eli is a snake on the lowest branch! We have to follow through on this restraining order."

"Believe me, Mr. Isaacs," says Sergeant Blanchett. "We're focused on Eli Chernoff's activities."

"He made some private calls," explains Toby to Jeff.

"To start with," says Sergeant Blanchett. "Then it became something else."

Fumbling with the buckle on his seatbelt, Toby thinks about what he could mean. The streets become similar as they enter a familiar neighborhood. Justin's. They're on Justin's street...and that house. That horrible brown house. Toby does a sharp intake of breath. Suddenly, he'd kill to be at his own house with J.T. and H.P. He grips the band of his watch just to grip anything.

"We're not going in there?" asks Jeff, putting a hand on Toby's arm.

"No," says Sergeant Blanchett. "But other people are."

"Who?" says Jeff.

"Remember when this neighborhood implemented a ten o' clock curfew in response to our investigation?" begins Sergeant Blanchett. "Well, it's gotten pretty lax the past couple weeks. We thought hey, that's normal since there's teenagers on the block, the summer's almost over, and it's only natural we'd spot a couple kids here or there, going through windows or streaming in near midnight..."

"So we let the sneaking in go for awhile," interjects Officer Wheaton.

"But then we noticed a man wandering around, doing his best to conceal himself," continues Sergeant Blanchett. "From what we can tell, it wasn't one of our men but a private investigator."

"Hired by Eli Chernoff," says Officer Wheaton. "That explains the calls, Toby. He's made a few calls on his office phone, which we tapped."

"And it explains the deal," realizes Toby, lowering his eyes.

"Why'd you bring us out here then?" asks Jeff, sharing in the frustration.

Toby glances at the house. They could've burned it to the ground and he'd still be able to narrate what it was like, recall how heart-wrenching the images were, and feel his stomach change into a ball of fire. But it's quiet now. Every opening is closed. Each brick appears dark but far away.

"A week ago, another officer saw a meeting," shares Sergeant Blanchett. "Last night, it happened again."

"Well, if it's Eli Chernoff and the investigator...," starts Jeff.

"No, it's the investigator...and a kid," interrupts Sergeant Blanchett. "The meetings are at different times, and they're never for very long. We almost caught them the second time but they slipped into a backyard. We combed each home. No luck."

A kid? Just has to be Justin. Just has to be. Toby unclips his seatbelt to further take in the whole neighborhood.

"They must've slipped into Justin's grandfather's yard," says Jeff.

"Our first instinct as well," says Sergeant Blanchett. "No. It didn't pan out. The grandfather pretty much offered us free reign of his house yesterday and we're going to take it. Two officers are stationed there presently."

"Why doesn't the investigator drag Justin to his dad?" speaks up Toby, his cheeks flushed.

"Good question," says Sergeant Blanchett. "That's what we're trying to figure out."

"Figure out, huh?" sighs Toby. "Well, I'm tired of things not working out."

"Toby!" cries Jeff as Toby leaves the car.

The purple streaks of cloud and cool evening breezes soothe him immediately. The cramped air of the cruiser, the stuffy nature of the situation, was bothering him more than the house at the moment. He's assured Manny on many occasions. Yes, they'll get through it. Yes, he loves her inside and out. Yes, he will fight when hope's fading. But it wouldn't take a private investigator to find the fear that's covering his face.

He stands on the sidewalk, watching a non-reliable streetlamp flicker on and off. A fly lands on the bulb. He hears a door clatter open. Well, it's not eight yet, not even past his curfew. A boy comes out of a white house. He sucks a green apple lollipop and drags a trash can towards the street.

"Don't let those stray cats get in the trash!" calls a voice from the open door. "And don't let it topple when you bring it in tomorrow morning!"

"Yeah, Mama!" replies the boy, who has to be around seven or so.

The boy places the trashcan at the curb, but sends the lid crashing to the pavement. He giggles and lets the lid roll for a few moments. Toby's mouth parts. He's seen this boy on Cezanne Street before. The lollipop, the lid, a little sign of innocence in this neighborhood of bad memories.

"Hi," says Toby.

Letting the lid fall, the boy removes his lollipop.

"Hi," says the boy.

"Do you remember me?" asks Toby. "I...talked to you once."

"You have a car," replies the boy. "And you were nice. That's all I 'member."

Sniffling, the boy rubs his freckled nose and scratches his chesnut-haired scalp with the other hand.

"Are you going to be a cop?" asks the boy.

"No," says Toby, confused.

"Cause you're in a cop car now," explains the boy. "Cops are scary. Are you going to arrest the bald boy?"

"Oh," says Toby. "You mean the bad boys they're looking for?"

"No, bald," counters the boy. "He ain't got hair, but I seen him with hair before. He wears a grey sweatshirt. Grey's my favorite color. I like it, but I don't like him."

"Why don't you like him?" asks Toby.

"Because he talks to strangers next to my house," answers the boy. "They say mean stuff and I hear them when I can't sleep. They say bad words."

Toby can hear his heart drum the speediest rhythm ever strung together in Toronto. Is this too good to be true? Justin was wearing a grey sweatshirt that night at the deli. This boy's backyard could be the meeting place. A last question might put it over the top. He bends to the boy's level, hopefully receiving confirmation, hopefully unearthing the vital answer.

"Was the bald boy Justin?" asks Toby. "We both know him, right?"

"Toby!" exclaims Jeff, raising Toby with a gentle yank. "Don't walk around this neighborhood unattended!"

"Dad!" cries Toby. "Wait a minute..."

Officer Wheaton, Sergeant Blanchett, and Jeff surround Toby as if he were a foreign dignitary. The small boy backs up a bit. He shivers, Toby quickly catching on.

"You're scaring him!" continues Toby.

"No, we're scared for you," insists Officer Wheaton. "Who knows how many of these little racists are around or where they're hiding?"

"That's what I'm trying to find out," says Toby, revolving to Officer Wheaton.

Before he can address his breakthrough witness, Toby hears a door slam. The boy ran inside. If there were no cops, he most likely would've talked.

"That boy saw Justin!" exclaims Toby. "The investigator and somebody fitting Justin's description were in his yard last night."

"Toby, we've interviewed the whole street, both sides," replies Sergeant Blanchett.

"Including the kids?" asks Toby.

"Small kids make stuff up or exaggerate," sighs Jeff, rubbing his son's shoulders. "Toby, please don't get your hopes up again. I hate it when they're dashed."

"So do I, but this isn't the same," insists Toby. "He's afraid of the police. If you left me alone with him, then maybe he'd talk."

Sergeant Blanchett strokes his chin. Toby's uncertain if that's a promising sign or not.

"His mother would have to be present," begins Sergeant Blanchett. "And sometimes kids turn out to be the most honest witnesses. I'm not sure how I feel about interviewing such a young minor, though, particularly when it's another minor asking the questions."

Officer Wheaton clears his throat. Toby's a hundred percent certain that that sign is not good news. He obviously was going to protest this arrangement.

"Sir," says Officer Wheaton. "It's been two months. If this leads to Justin's capture, does it really matter how old the eyes that saw him are?"

Or not. Toby offers Officer Wheaton a shy smile.

"Tomorrow," says Sergeant Blanchett with a nod.

"Why not tonight?" complains Toby.

"Because he ran off terrified," supplies Jeff. "Do you think he's going to talk to you right now, Tobes?"

"No," admits Toby, kicking a pebble with his shoe.

"For the best," agrees Officer Wheaton. "We do have our men at the grandfather's house should any trouble arise."

That's as well as it's gonna go, realizes Toby. At least they're not leaving him in the dark anymore. He just doesn't believe he can hold out until the sun's up. He concentrates, trying to will the door open, but it stays shut and solid...for now.

IV.

Spinner fiddles with the deep fryer, thick gunk spilling onto the top of his apron. A globby trail of French fry residue moves towards his new sneakers. Gross. He was usually more careful when cleaning this out but his mind has been preoccupied lately and not just with side dishes. Pat puts a dishrag around Spinner's neck.

"Stop getting grease on you, or you'll be paying with pimples later," jokes Pat.

Yes, his mood's so bad that Pat is spouting off two-year old jests. At least he can figure a fryer out. Distant girlfriends are tougher. He guesses Emma still wants that label. Why is she being this way? Doesn't she understand that it took guts to be that honest with her? Where are Emma's guts? Spinner scrunches his nose. Wait, that didn't sound right, but he didn't say it out loud. Emma could be more appropriate too, such as giving him the appropriate response for being a bang-up boyfriend.

"Not that hard," mumbles Spinner, nose-deep in the fryer.

"Is this how you're spending your weekend, Gavin the Gunk-wad?" asks a customer, Spinner taking his head away from the machine.

"Jimmy," sighs Spinner. "I've got crud to scrape, alright?"

Situating a basketball into his lap, Jimmy rolls to the counter.

"Isn't Emma leaving town very soon?" says Jimmy.

"That's what I heard," says Spinner, doing his best to act like he doesn't care, which isn't that convincing.

"Yeah, heard as in you still aren't talking to her yourself," moans Jimmy. "What did Emma do, step on your turtle or something?"

"Worse," offers Spinner.

"That bad, huh?" says Jimmy with a low whistle.

Spinner checks whether Pat is paying attention to him or not. His boss rifles through a stack of receipts. He should be occupied for a decent stretch of minutes.

"She didn't return the love word, dude," shares Spinner. "She kept her lips tighter than a Ziploc bag."

He can only hear the flipping of paper when Jimmy almost lets his ball fall, stunned. He catches the ball before it meets the floor.

"Why not?" asks Jimmy.

"I don't know why not," replies Spinner. "I bounced when she left me there like a fool. I gave that girl the best summer of my life."

"You are a fool, fool," chastises Jimmy.

"Wha?" cries Spinner. "Whose best friend are you?"

"I don't see anybody working over there!" reprimands Pat, refusing to let his eyes leave the receipts.

Wiping down the sides of the fryer, Spinner manages to still throw short looks at Jimmy.

"You can't force anybody to express that type of thing," says Jimmy. "Especially when you don't stick around to have a conversation about it. This is a new relationship. Put in the work or you're a jerk, man."

"Jimmy...," starts Spinner.

"Jimmy nothing," interrupts Jimmy. "It shouldn't matter if it takes three hours worth of texts. If you really love her, you'll contact her. Capiche?"

"Yeah, capiche, whatever," says Spinner, waving him off. "I've got other customers."

The Dot was becoming more crowded for the breakfast hour but it was nothing the two new waitresses couldn't handle. They were hired ahead of the school year, and honestly Spinner hasn't bothered to learn their names. They were better than Hazel which seemed to be the single stipulation for Pat's approval.

"I see," says Jimmy pointedly.

Spinner clutches a wet rag, tempted to throw it at Jimmy so he'll back off. When he faces the counter, however, he does indeed have a fresh person to serve.

"Going to wait for Haze," says Jimmy, winking at Spinner. "Cause that's what a good boyfriend does."

Manny parks herself on a stool. "Tough room."

"Leave me alone, Manny," says Spinner as he cleans off his apron.

"What lousy service," reprimands Manny playfully. "No wonder Emma didn't come in with me. It's gonna take forever to get a green tea, isn't it?"

"Emma's outside?" questions Spinner, glancing up.

"Yep, waiting in the car," says Manny. "We're picking up Snake today."

He tosses the crud-caked rag into a bin full of dishwater. Now he feels like crud. Emma couldn't be dealing well with Mr. Simpson being in town. Their relationship still had a lot of kinks therapy hadn't massaged out. The reality of T.O. might add pressure to an already crippled bond. As angry as he is, he can't stand the thought of Emma suffering.

"How is she doing?" asks Spinner.

"She's heartbroken," answers Manny speedily. "She needs you."

"I'm doing bad too, if we're keeping score," defends Spinner.

"Spinner, you're the most solid guy she has in her life at the moment," insists Manny. "And you were a good boyfriend to me before I walked away. Be a good boyfriend and don't walk away from Em."

Rather than respond to Manny, Spinner walks to the small container on his left and squirts green tea into a cup. While the tea swirls, he recalls every warm moment he shared with Emma - the kiss in the principal's office, the day trip to Chinatown, their beach outings, and their run-of-the-mill run-ins right here at the Dot. She struggled to even ask him to be her boyfriend, but she did ask. Perhaps speaking those three words are another battle and she can't deal with another one yet.

"I had to wait for an I love you," says Manny, taking the tea.

"And?" says Spinner.

Manny slides him three dollars. "It paid off."

"You actresses and your planned words," groans Spinner, handing Pat the money when he passes.

"Whatever it takes to get the job done," says Manny, patting herself on the back.

V.

DiFranco, Saunders, Kirkpatrick. The titles, clearly written in black marker, break up the monotony of many waiting airport visitors who hold similar expressions: expectant. Emma wonders if they all have the same expectations. Parted couples longing to embrace. Grandparents awaiting the hugs of relatives from younger generations. Happy anniversaries or birthdays or homecomings...yes, Daddy's coming home.

If Spike were here, she wouldn't greet Snake with a kiss. Jack may run to him but it would be a habit that would break over the years. Emma would stay planted, to the smooth carpet, where she stands today, thinking about the width of Manny's car and why Manny suddenly had a taste for green tea.

"We should've brought a sign for Snake," says Manny.

Put liar or continual cheater on there, moans Emma inwardly. He falls under both categories. She gave him the benefit of the doubt. Of course he wasn't the instigator. Hatzilakos was after him. He cut off the affair for the sake of their family. He was good ol' dependable, moral Archie Simpson. Of course all of this came crashing down when her pills did. Sure, Snake deserves a sign... that she's not buying his guilt anymore.

"He'll spot us," remarks Emma. "Thanks for driving."

"Always," assures Manny. "Except when J.J.'s wheels are out of gas."

Emma frowns, folding a paper with Snake's flight information until it's in the form of a star.

"You can laugh, Em," says Manny. "This will be okay."

"Watch his flight be late," mumbles Emma.

Another collection of travellers crosses their path. Snake isn't among them.

"Right again," says Emma, shrugging.

"He has a couple...seconds," corrects Manny reluctantly.

"We should've made a sign," affirms Emma. "He should answer to the name Snake."

"Please don't start off like this," begs Manny. "He'll hang out with us for a day and a half, and then the three of us are off to sunnier shores."

"Good, because Hannah has more maturity than he does," says Emma.

Manny peers down the row of well-wishers. She's probably sick of the verbal attacks, but ever since therapy, Emma's not about to start bottling up her emotions. So whether they're sour or sweet, they're coming out. Snake walks out without her being prepared for it. He wears a light green shirt and tan slacks, carrying a black rolling suitcase. His thinning red hair is combed, his black shoes polished. Who is he trying to impress? The stewardesses? Emma wouldn't put it past him.

"Are you two pretty girls waiting for me?" greets Snake, opening his arms.

Smooth talker...not. Manny hugs him anyway. He holds his arms out for Emma, then drops them when Emma keeps hers to her sides.

"Spike and Jack are doing well," mentions Snake while they head for the parking lot.

Emma bites her lip. Manny breaks the silence.

"Swell," says Manny awkwardly. "Will you be staying at your apartment or Spike's?"

"Home," replies Snake. "I mean, Spike's. I have her key."

Pausing briefly, Emma makes the conscious effort to walk in front of Snake. He can speak with Manny this entire trip and she'd do anything to remain out of his direct line of sight.

"We decided together, Em," informs Snake, causing her to pause again. "And we'd like it if you'd stay there too. Your mother is concerned."

"Nobody told me I had to stay with you!" cries Emma.

"Well, it was implied," says Snake. "You need supervision and since you won't go to my apartment..."

"I'm not staying in some bed you probably banged some random woman or Hatzilakos in," shoots down Emma, stone-faced.

"Whoa!" says a frozen Manny, unable to click the car doors open.

Snake's gaze quivers in the sunlight reflecting off J.J.'s car. His cheekbones harden.

"I won't take that tone from you!" exclaims Snake. "I am your father and ..."

"Stepfather!" interrupts Emma, glaring at him. "Let's clear that up. You aren't coming on a white horse, Snake! You're here because I fainted once and have to suffer the consequences. But my mistake pales next to my mother's. You're the biggest mistake my mom ever made!"

Emma swears she can detect the points where Snake's chest collapses into itself. He takes a few weighty breaths to find composure, and can't, simply sliding into the backseat when Manny unlocks the car doors. Flustered, Manny moves to place the suitcase into the trunk.

"Manny, I..."

Her speech falters when Manny holds up a hand and climbs inside the car. Emma opens her door and adjusts her seatbelt slowly. From the airport to the community center, from Degrassi Grocery to the skating rink, they're quiet. Manny keeps her eyes restricted to the vehicle's mirrors. Emma steals several looks in Snake's direction. He has his head down the entire ride home.

Home, or something resembling their house. Emma wipes away burgeoning tears when Snake leaves the car. God, she wishes her Mom was home. Snake removes his suitcase from the trunk.

"Get out, Emma," whispers Manny.

Is she serious? After their girls' night, after their talk about Spinner, she thought her best friend would be in her corner. Alright, what she said to Snake was rough but surely they both know where it came from. Manny is crying too though, and she's not sure where it's coming from.

"You can't come with me," chokes out Manny. "You have to be with him."

"Manny," sighs Emma. "I'm sorry I lashed out..."

"This has to be fixed," goes on Manny. "Or it's going to rip you in two and you'll want to take it back so badly."

She cries into her hands, Emma speechless and softly gripping Manny's shoulder.

"I can't imagine a day without my dad anymore," cries Manny. "And none of my friends should have to either."

There. The catalyst for her tears. Emma wipes her shirt sleeve against her cheeks.

"Can I call you?" asks Emma.

"Whenever," promises Manny. "Go."

Emma exits the car but doesn't walk in immediately. She can picture the lecture she's about to receive or a stern reproach over the phone by her mother. She does what she did most of the summer. She sucks it up and plows ahead, meeting what's waiting for her.

He lies on the couch. The TV's off. A pile of mail sits askew on the coffee table. Emma doesn't remember when the porch light clicks on but it does. She anticipates a fiery demand before she descends the basement stairs. There's nothing but a whispered question.

"When are you going to stop punishing me?"

She clicks on her basement's light, her sanctuary for the stretch of his stay. Snake's wet stare finds her mouth.

"When I believe you won't punish us," replies Emma.

Keeping her body on the basement door after closing it, Emma's ready to slide to the bottom. She might as well have bruises to match the pain underneath her skin. Her stepfather? Her mom's biggest mistake? What other blast can she blow his way? She may be the weapon that blows her family to kingdom come. Gingerly taking her pillbox out, she walks to her bathroom sink, cups water, and swallows her dosage. It's a little scary that this is the only action that's made her feel victorious today. Like she's doing something right.

Emma lies on her bed, the very bed where she tossed and turned over Snake's late night arrivals. Him being there at eleven-thirty in the morning isn't comforting in the slightest. She finds herself asleep, body curled on blankets she hasn't slept on for days. When she hears her mother's voice, she believes she's dreaming. It cuts through the walls of the house. Emma arises, staring at the stairs.

She mounts the steps as if going to her execution, weary to come across any trouble. It's seven in the evening according to her watch. The combination of girls' night and today's stress took the wind out of her sails. When she makes it to the living room, the blue twilight is framing Snake on the couch. He is watching a DVD, legs resting on a footrest. Emma watches the screen with him but without him noticing her.

The screen reveals her parents, yes both, en route on a trail of the Grand Canyon. They're riding small horses or donkeys. Emma can't determine what they are from where she's situated. They're posing for a snapshot with the mules, Snake bending for Spike's benefit. That's what they are- mules. A mule starts to gnaw on Snake's hair.

"Quit it, Mario!" cries Snake, discouraging the donkey by waving a tan hat.

"Don't hurt him, Archie!" exclaims Spike.

"I don't have much hair, Christine!" remarks Snake, causing Emma's mother and their guide to laugh.

"He thinks it's straw," supposes their guide, a portly man in his thirties. "He stopped. He feels bad."

Mario grins with a set of yellow teeth, nudging Snake with his nose.

"And now he's digging in my pockets," sighs Snake as Mario sniffs his crotch.

"This will be a honeymoon memory we'll never forget," assures Spike. "Ever."

Snake ends his resistance to Mario's advances to kiss his new wife on the lips. She hugs him tightly, her gold band shining in the bright desert sunlight. Emma leans against the wall. She catches Snake dabbing at his eyes. Heh, Jack was on the honeymoon too, basically. But he would not have loved Mario more than Spike loved Snake at that moment. Snake stirs, searching for the remote. He locates Emma instead.

"Em?" says Snake, blinking at her in the dark.

Beyond Snake, she views his younger doppleganger, bright-eyed, carefree, honeymoon glow surrounding a skinnier body. Emma's pulse jumps and then slows.

"Cute mule," remarks Emma. "I'm going to sit on the porch."

She instinctively grabs her iPod, puts in her earbuds so Snake won't have access to her ears. Emma opens her front door and stoops to her porch. Pressing play, she spreads out her legs towards the street.

When I was younger I saw my daddy cry
and curse at the wind.
He broke his own heart and I watched
as he tried to reassemble it.

Emma scans what's in her front yard. There are flowers kneeling to a solitary tree. A handful of Jack's miniature cars lie toppled next to a fountain the birds rarely visit. The driveway is empty since Spike's car was in the garage ever since Emma left.

And my momma swore
that she would never let herself forget.
And that was the day that I promised
I'd never sing of love if it does not exist.

So much emptiness and so many reminders threaten to stifle any chance their family has to be happy. The wish she made with Hannah at the other fountain wasn't going to help. Emma really thought the hope was confined to her mother, Jack, and herself, but maybe Snake was more hopeful than all of them. Maybe he can't let it go any more than she can.

Maybe I know somewhere
deep in my soul
that love never lasts.
And we've got to find other ways
to make it alone.
Or keep a straight face.
And I've always lived like this
keeping a comfortable distance.
And up until now I've sworn to myself
that I'm content with loneliness.

Because none of it was ever worth the risk.

Emma lets her shoes touch, like her feet are kissing. Her toes create a new shape and surprisingly a new color. A solid dark blue. The blue's on the move. Emma raises her head in alarm.

Well you are the only exception.
You are the only exception.
You are the only exception.
You are the only exception.
You are the only exception.

"Spinner?" breathes Emma.

Spinner's blue jeans grow closer to the stoop and stop. Emma stands, an ear bud falling out of place while the other stays put.

"I'm sorry," they blurt out together.

They shrug, Spinner easing into a conversation.

"I blurt stuff out," says Spinner. "That didn't mean I didn't mean it. I just felt we were moving to you being ready, but it's okay if we walk til we get there."

Emma smiles. She's surprised he's at her stoop considering where they left off.

"I mean what I say too," assures Emma. "Even if I'm not able to say it yet."

"Okay," says Spinner, nodding more to himself than her. "I got that thanks to Jimmy, Manny, and a bunch of little smacks to the face."

"For real?" sighs Emma.

"Fo' real, fo' real," teases Spinner.

She throws her arms around him, his Dot apron tickling her skin. This is loads better than when they interacted before his last shift. Almost, thinks Emma. The word springs up with warning, a clue to what she's certain will come.

"But don't say it tonight, because I don't deserve it," cautions Spinner, pulling away.

"I promise you it will be worth it," says Emma. "Like fireworks-level worth it."

Spinner kisses her gently. "I love me some fireworks."

He whispers in her free ear that he'll text her and jogs away. Emma holds her head with her hands, showing her teeth to the clear sky.

Oh, and I'm on my way to believing.

VI.

"Is this straight?" asks Toby.

H.P. saunters to his sleeping arrangement, tugging the blanket off. He puts his blanket on Toby's bed and goes to sniff around the computer.

"Don't like the doggie bed, huh?" sighs Toby.

He fetches H.P.'s blanket and puts it back where it was, his glasses clattering to where he expects H.P. to sleep. Toby's close to doing just that but every time he's tried to hit the hay, it ended up a wash. Midnight and no hint of shut-eye. J.T. pointed out Toby's frazzled nerves when he wasn't trying to usher H.P. out of the linen closet. This was apparently H.P.'s version of slamming the door when his parent, namely Toby, ticked him off. But Toby soothed J.T. and H.P. enough so that each would have a cool head tonight. Somebody should because he definitely doesn't.

Ten seconds could've determined whether Justin was in the city or not. And they're waiting? They wait to tell him ninety-eight percent of what's going on. He considers himself a patient person but it can also grow thin if you use the majority of the virtue. Toby slides under the covers, slapping his palms on his sheets. How is Wheaton sleeping in the next room? How is his father? The dog is the most reliable worrywart in the house besides himself.

H.P. trots to a photograph of Manny, a picture Toby loved. After they began dating, he blew up her seventh grade portrait in the yearbook, the year they met. It was a tad sentimental but that's who he was. H.P. barks happily and licks his black nose.

"Yep, that's Manny," says Toby.

The dog licks the glass that covers Manny, and jumps to lick Toby's nose. Toby chuckles quietly. He couldn't help it. H.P. hops on Toby's bed and crawls over Toby's chest. He rests his head on the top of the blanket.

"You know, I always thought she'd end up with a bad boy or another actor," shares Toby. "I guess not, huh?"

Moving methodically, H.P. manages to lie under Toby's right arm.

"Goes to show that you shouldn't give up on who you want," adds Toby. "Or what you want..."

Toby deadens his lamp. H.P. wanders to the foot of the bed, but moves when Toby's legs move throughout the night, the dog clearly believing this is an hours-long game. Toby watches as each numeral changes. 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. It's the largest amount of numbers he's seen outside a classroom. Justin's out there, and he's not losing sleep over Toby.

No more games. Toby throws his own blanket to the floor. He dresses in the dark. By the time he reaches Cezanne Street, the boy and his mother will probably be up. He's more worried about sneaking by Wheaton. Toby was happy earning their trust over the last month. Disappointing his dad and the officers he not only likes but respects breaks his heart a bit. But it's breaking his heart, stabbing it actually, to sit in this room any longer. H.P.'s found relief at least, snoozing on the corner furthest from his doggie bed.

He tip-toes in the hall. Nothing creaks until he reaches the door to Jeff and Kate's bedroom. Toby grits his teeth until the creaking ends. He winds his way past Wheaton's room, reaching the steps. Toby clears the steps and goes to the kitchen for notepad paper. Jeff and Officer Wheaton were usually awake by eight-thirty. That provides him with an hour and a half to speak with the little boy alone. Toby writes, halting the pen when he hears footsteps. He freezes. He nearly got away with it.

Panting proceeds the final steps. Toby glances down. H.P. whimpers.

"Go upstairs, H.P.," whispers Toby, pointing to the staircase.

H.P. noiselessly stares at him. Toby hangs his neck. Spotting a second of surrender, H.P. jumps to Toby's waist. Toby glances at the disappearing moon through the kitchen window.

"I did promise Manny I'd spend the whole night with you," sighs Toby. "Come on."

Toby signs the note, adds Don't be too mad, and carries H.P. out of the kitchen. When they're both in the car, H.P. is fairly still. Toby never thought he'd ride to this neck of the woods twice in two days. He may be asking for danger but this could end the danger for him and Manny. He parks across from the little boy's house.

"Stay in the car, H.P.," orders Toby, lowering each window before getting out.

H.P. taps a side window with his paws, fascinated for whatever reason. He starts barking when the house door parts. Oh yeah, the boy's mother asked him to retrieve the can yesterday. Toby leaves the car instantly.

"Hi," greets Toby, hands going into his pockets out of instinct. "Again."

The boy appears shocked and frightened but approaches Toby. His reserve falls when he views what's in the car.

"Is that your puppy?" asks the boy, grinning.

He's missing several teeth yet his smile is very sweet.

"Yes," replies Toby. "He's new. Got him yesterday."

"I like doggies," says the boy. "They do funny things."

A small pop goes off in the distance. H.P. found the door lock. Great.

"Bartholomew!" calls a lilting voice from the house. "Who are you talking to?"

"Who am I talking to?" whispers Bartholomew to Toby.

Yikes. He really hadn't though this through, because a teenager showing up to talk to a boy on the street could look very strange. Bartholomew's mother stands in the doorway, rollers in her dark brown hair, capri pants on her legs. She takes in Toby and joins her son.

"Bartie, who's this?" asks his mother.

"Hi, I'm Toby Isaacs," says Toby. "I..."

"You're the teenager who's being harrassed," interrupts Bartie's mother. "And this is the last place you should be. Do I gotta call the cops?"

"No, please don't," begs Toby.

"Don't, Mama," says Bartie. "I don't like cops."

"That's why I'm here," explains Toby. "Bartie saw two people in your backyard. One of them might be the other teenager they're searching for. I don't want to bother him..."

"You are," says Bartie's mother. "But go ahead."

"Well, I figure he can tell me, since I'm not a cop," continues Toby. "Could you?"

Bart sniffles, gazes at his mother for a moment.

"Alright," sighs his mother. "And you better be speaking the truth, little mister."

The boy rubs his forehead for a bit, as if he's trying to force himself to remember. Toby looks at him hopefully.

"Was the younger guy Justin?" asks Toby.

"Not sure," replies Bart. "He talks like Justin. And they talk about parents a bunch. I seen the old man give him money. He said 'that all you got' last time. He said he could sell his computer and make more cash, that the man should bring double today."

"What time today?" says Toby.

"Ten-thirty," says Bart proudly. "I'm good at keeping times sactly."

"Exactly," corrects his mother. "My name's Moira by the way. Moira Dunlap. We hope that helps."

"More than you know," says Toby.

He bends to Bart's level, shakes his hand. A pleased Bart looks at his hand.

"Thank you!" cries Toby, already charging towards Justin's grandfather's house. "Bye!"

Reaching the porch, Toby pounds on the door. He observes two familiar officers in uniform, Lieutenant Croft and another officer who aided in clearing out the brown house. Toby recalls that he was a special agent from Montreal. His nameplate reads Hsu. Lieutenant Croft practically throws the door off its hinges.

"Where on earth is Officer Wheaton?" demands Lieutenant Croft.

"Land sakes, Toby, come in here!" cries Officer Hsu, dragging Toby to the foyer.

"I'm going to slap Wheaton silly," vows Lieutenant Croft. "I never would've guessed he'd let you compromise your safety like this."

"I snuck out," says Toby. "He was doing his job. It's my fault."

"Sergeant Blanchett is going to flip," says Officer Hsu.

The house hasn't changed since he was there in the early days of summer, still bare as it could be. Toby searches for Abe but he's flown the coop. He supposes Abe would rather not be there should his grandson get arrested.

"Look, we can stand here and argue about my safety, or we can take advantage of these crucial minutes and catch Justin red-handed," says Toby, his voice rising.

Lieutenant Croft and Officer Hsu stare at each other in confusion.

"Speak up, son," says Officer Hsu.

"A neighbor said that Justin would meet the investigator in his backyard at ten-thirty," shares Toby. "He wants cash. Lots of it."

"He might be trying to skip town," realizes Lieutenant Croft. "We have to move."

"I'll radio Blanchett," says Officer Hsu, taking out his walkie-talkie.

"You," says Lieutenant Croft, gesturing to Toby. "Stay there. That's the least you can do."

"I have a dog...in my car," mentions Toby.

"You're working my last nerve," complains Lieutenant Croft, walking to the front door anyway. "Come on. Let's get him."

Toby lets a grin sneak out. Sergeant Blanchett isn't so joyous when he arrives fifteen minutes later. Jeff and Officer Wheaton mirror his exasperation. This was the first time Toby wishes he lived in this house, in order to lock himself into a nearby room.

"You took the dog where you were going and not us," says Jeff, sitting on top of the couch where Toby trapped himself. "You're not going anywhere except school and work from now on."

"But Dad!" cries Toby.

"Don't but dad me," warns Jeff. "I hope this pans out but this is the most you're going to see of another neighborhood for some time."

"And I'll be driving you...everywhere," insists Officer Wheaton, whose hurt countenance causes Toby to say nothing else.

He lets H.P. rest on his lap. In the background, Toby hears the officers strategizing. They were clued in about the investigator, more clued in than Toby since Lieutenant Croft is able to describe him in detail. The request for money aggravated them and confused them. Speculation about skipping town was the most popular theory. Toby's rejection of the deal could've made Eli desperate. Toby listens so intently that his heart nearly leaps from his chest when Sergeant Blanchett says "ten-fifteen."

"Croft, you cover the right, Hsu the left," says Sergeant Blanchett. "Wheaton the front, and I'm in the rear. I've already talked with Ms. Dunlap. She and her son have vacated the house. Nobody shoots unless absolutely necessary. Let's go."

None of them say anything to Jeff and Toby, not even Officer Wheaton. Toby walks to the window, disturbing H.P. and discerning that he won't have full sight of whatever happens. Jeff stands at his side for what seems like hours. Silence covers the scene. What if Bart wasn't as skilled with telling time as he thought? What if Toby alerted the investigation team for nothing?

"Take him down, Wheaton!" yells a voice that cuts through the distance.

Toby's body trembles as he spies Officer Wheaton running out to the sidewalk after a grey-hooded figure. They tumble to the ground, the hood flying up when they roll, Toby only watching the bald crown of a head bobbing against the grass inthe Dunlap's front lawn. Sergeant Blanchett appears, running to handcuff the younger guy. The man who must be the investigator walks in between Lieutenant Croft and Officer Hsu.

"Dad?" broaches Toby.

"I have to see for myself, too," agrees Jeff, following his son outside.

They fly across the street, Toby stopping mid-stride. The boy is breathing hard.

"Nooooo!" moans the boy angrily. "Nooooooooo!"

The voice kills it for him, Toby watching as the face moves to the side, blue eyes blinking in anger.

"It's not Justin," sighs Toby.

"Who are you?" snaps Officer Wheaton.

"Let me go!" yells the boy.

"I'll give them your name if you don't," says the investigator, a curly-haired man in a button-down shirt and khakis. "Trying to press money out of whoever you can caught up with you."

"Shut up, stooge!" shouts the boy, then calmer. "Abel. Abel Stephens."

"Allow us to introduce you to our police station, Mr. Stephens," says Officer Wheaton, forcing Abel to stand.

Lieutenant Croft seizes her cruiser's door open, stuffing Abel inside. Toby feels something move against his leg. H.P. barks at the stoic teenager behind the door. Toby shakes his head, refusing to say "when", refusing to believe this went so wrong. He walks briskly to the cruiser.

"Toby!" calls Jeff. "No!"

"Do you know where Justin is?" exclaims Toby.

Abel slinks in the seat, failing to answer. Toby looks skyward. What is it going to take? He's pretty sure he's out of prayers. Abel smacks his lips and turns to Toby.

"Yes," replies Abel with a sinister smile.

"Tell me!" cries Toby.

"I know where everyone is," says Abel. "Why not go back to the doggie shelter with your ill-bred tramp?"

Toby lunges at Abel, elbow hitting the cruiser door, his knee banging against metal. Officer Hsu prevents Toby from slamming Abel anywhere that counts.

"Your girlfriend's walking porn!" chuckles Abel. "A breathy-voiced, big-boobed Gentile for your spank bank. Ever heard of hit it and quit it, Isaacs? But I guess she's the pick of a dirty litter. Arf arf!"

Reaching for the door handle, Toby tries to wrest it open but Officer Hsu clasps him into submission. Beads of Toby's sweat fly into the air. This guy may not be Justin...this guy may be worse. Toby tries his best to break from Officer Hsu's hold.

"Take the Isaacs home, Wheaton," orders Sergeant Blanchett. "We're going to get this kid to talk about things other than garbage. We owe you that, Toby. Keep your head up."

Lieutenant Croft, Sergeant Blanchett, Officer Hsu, and a cackling Abel sail off in the cruiser. Toby takes off his glasses, weeping without shame. How could a sure bet unravel into this? Jeff leads Toby to cry on his chest.

"It wasn't Justin," moans Toby.

"Thanks to you, we have more information than before," consoles Jeff.

"They're following us, though!" says Toby. "They haven't given up."

"Neither should you," returns Jeff. "And..."

"What?" says Toby searchingly.

Jeff tousles his son's hair. "Now they know you won't."