Don Eppes edged his way around the doorframe and crept forward as quietly as he could on the rubber soles of his sneakers. He raised his gun. The suspect had his back turned, unaware of anyone behind him, too busy with what he was doing. Caught red-handed, hah.
"Turn around! Get your hands up! Now!"
The turning around part went all right, but instead of raising his hands the culprit held them out and cried gleefully, "Donnie!"
Donnie sighed, and stopped being a cop in favour of being the best big brother in Pasadena. "Aw, Charlie...what a mess..."
He stuck his gun into the back of his belt and came up to Charlie. There was an opened bag of chocolate chips on the counter, and there was chocolate on Charlie's hands, all round his mouth, down his t-shirt and the bib of his overalls, even in his hair and on the counter and the chair he was standing on.
"Shocalit," Charlie said, holding out a handful of mostly-melted chips.
"Yeah, I can see that," Donnie said, and went to lick them off Charlie's hand, cos if he didn't then Charlie would decide he wanted to hug Donnie or something, and cover him in chocolate. Too late; Charlie reached up his free hand and tugged at the front of Donnie's hair where it curled over his forehead, and put his face up to Donnie's cheek.
"Shalie dood boy," he said hopefully.
"Hah!" Donnie said, wiping chocolate and baby dribble off his face with the back of his hand. "Good? You're kidding, right?"
He grabbed the straps of Charlie's overalls, swung him to the floor and marched him into the dining room. Daddy was at the table with his blueprints out, which meant that you weren't allowed to talk to him unless it was important. This was important. "Daddy!"
"Dadda!" Charlie copycatted.
"You know your mom and I don't like you playing with that gun, especially around your brother," Daddy said without looking up.
Donnie rolled his eyes. "Daddy, Charlie just got into the chocolate chips. Look."
Daddy looked up, and said, "Oh, Charlie. Your mom is not going to be happy with me. Good thing one of us was on the ball, Donnie."
Donnie grinned. Daddy sighed. "Bathroom, I think." He picked up Charlie and carried him upstairs. Donnie followed.
"I guess things could have been worse," Daddy said. "He could have made much more mess if he'd gotten into the milk or something."
He set Charlie down on the end of the bathtub and unhooked his overalls, pulling his blue t-shirt over his head. Donnie came forward to take off Charlie's sneakers so that Daddy could get the overalls past his feet.
"Mine shoes!" Charlie whined.
"All right, all right, have the shoes," Donnie said quickly, handing them to Charlie. Daddy soaped up a washcloth and started wiping Charlie's face and hands and scrubbing at his hair. Charlie yelled.
"This, my son, is entirely your own fault," Daddy said. "You might remember this the next time you decide to steal chocolate. Okay, you're done."
He set Charlie down on the floor, picked up the shirt and overalls, and tried to wash the chocolate off under the tap. Charlie, who'd been sitting on the floor putting his beloved sneakers back on, stood up, trailing laces, and poked at the running tap. "Water!"
Daddy laughed. "You notice how he says that with a New York accent?"
"That's not gonna work," Donnie said. He'd tried it, once. "You needa put them in the machine."
"Yeah," his dad sighed. "And dress your brother in some other clothes before your mommy gets back here." They both looked at Charlie, wearing socks and sneakers and his diaper, frowning as he watched drops of water running down his skinny little arm.
"No, put him in his PJs," Donnie said. "If you put him in clean clothes Mommy'll want to know why. Oh, and you need to clean up the kitchen. And buy some more chocolate chips."
Dad set down Charlie's clothes and looked at Donnie. "You know, I'm starting to get a little worried here, Donnie. You show an unerring instinct for disposing of the evidence."
Donnie frowned a little at all the long words. He knew what evidence meant, but not the other ones. Daddy explained, "You're good at hiding the things that show Charlie was a bad boy."
"Is that bad?"
"Well, it makes me wonder if you're going to grow up to be a career criminal or a cop."
"Acshually I'm gonna grow up an' play baseball," Donnie said. That was a silly question, cos Daddy knew that. "But I'd rather be a cop than a bad guy, cos they're bad. They always get caught, anyway."
"Not always, in real life, son."
Donnie frowned. "Well, they oughta. It's not fair."
"Life very often isn't. Look at tonight, Charlie eats all the chocolate, which means you won't get your cookies tomorrow."
Charlie looked up at the sound of his name, looking upset. "Dadda, tummy sad."
"Whaddya expect?" Donnie said. "You ate about as much chocolate as the size of your wee head."
Daddy went to laugh and coughed instead. "Of course, sometimes the crime brings its own punishment along with it, huh, Charlie?"
"Bad tummy," Charlie said, looking up at them with that sad face he made sometimes, the one that made everyone's mommies go "How cute!"
Daddy sighed. "Okay, son, bed, I think."
"Nah!" Charlie said, putting out his bottom lip.
"Humph," Daddy said. "Donnie, can you go fetch Charlie's PJs while I clean up downstairs?"
Donnie helpfully put them on as well (over Charlie's sneakers because he wouldn't take them off), and held his hand to go downstairs again. Nobody except Mommy could make Charlie stay in his bed unless he was already asleep when you put him in it. Sadly, he had no problem staying in Donnie's bed where he wasn't supposed to be, the pest. Daddy was putting the clothes into the washing machine. Even with a sick stomach, Charlie would have been quite happy to spend all of ten minutes watching his overalls spin around and around. Sometimes Charlie was pretty weird.
"Why don't you kids go in the living room?" Daddy said. "The Dodgers are on the television, you know."
"Yeah!" Donnie said. He didn't get to watch TV in the evenings very often. He sat in Daddy's usual chair with Charlie stuck between him and the arm, biting his lip to stop himself from squeaking when the game got too exciting, rubbing Charlie's stomach when he started whining again about it hurting.
By the time Mommy got in, Charlie had fallen asleep with his face squashed into the cushion, and Donnie's eyelids kept closing themselves. He curled up smaller, hoping that if he kept very quiet he'd get to stay up till the end of the game.
"How are the girlfriends?" Daddy asked. Which was silly, cos Mommy's friends were grown-up ladies, not girls.
"Fine. How are my guys?" Mommy asked, going through to the hall to hang up her jacket. She stopped beside the chair and smoothed Donnie's hair down where it stuck up in back. "Baseball, huh, sweetie?"
"Dodgers an' the Padres," Donnie said, trying not to yawn.
"Past your bedtime, I think," Mommy said.
"Aw, I think he could see the game out," Daddy said. "No school tomorrow, after all."
"Well...just this once, okay?" Mommy leaned over and picked up Charlie, who put his face down in her neck, making sleepy noises.
"How did you do with Charlie, Alan?" she asked, her hand stroking his back.
Daddy, in the doorway, looked at Donnie and gave a little grin. "Fine, with a little help from his big brother. Our kid's on the ball."
Donnie grinned, putting his feet where Charlie had just been, and propping his cheek against the chair back. He guessed he knew just why he was getting to see the whole game.