Adventures in the Fine Art of Explaining Miracles

Disclaimer: They'll be the first thing I buy once I become a billionaire. Until then, all recognizable characters belong to Viacom, CBS or whoever might hold them now. No infringement or reflection on copyrighted works is intended.

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"And he ate the carpet, and he ate the ceiling, and he ate the rosebush, and he ate the curtains, and he ate the toboggan," little Franz Knopf sang happily but nonsensically as he skipped through the tunnels, stopping every so often to spin around until he was dizzy. The tune was vaguely familiar to Kinch, but he couldn't quite place it. The lyrics, however, were pure three-year-old.

"And he ATE THE TOBOGGAN?" Kinch asked him with exaggerated incredulity, doing his best to match the boy's cobbled mix of German and French so that the child would understand him.

The little dark-haired boy cackled hysterically at taking Kinch in; he knew what he was singing was ridiculous. He started to singer louder, " and he ate the mail box, and he ate the…" Grinning wickedly, he stopped in order to think up something extra outrageous. "And he ate the BATHROOM!" he sang triumphantly and then laughed again.

Kinch, at his radio, and Carter, who was waiting with him, could hardly contain themselves at Franz's merry exuberance at being such a comedic success. Then Kinch, still chuckling, waved his palms downward. "Shh, shh, we must calm down, Franz. Your mama is trying to rest."

Franz nodded vigorously in agreement and held his finger in front of his lips. "Shh, shh," he hissed loudly at Carter. Carter nodded sagely back and made a show of pressing his lips tightly together to say that he wouldn't make another sound.

"Mama is resting," Franz stressed again, just in case. "Shh, shh."

"That's right," Kinch said. "Your mama needs to rest. Colonel Hogan and Corporal Newkirk and Corporal Lebeau are bringing your papa here to be with you, and then all of you are going on a long trip." The boy's father, Erick, an Allied plant within the Gestapo, had been a vital source of information to the Resistance since nearly the beginning of the war. He had even convinced his French wife to call their son Franz, and not Francois as she wanted, in order to allay suspicion of their patriotism a little while longer, but now signs were dire and the three were on the run.

Franz giggled. "Do you know why mama has to rest?"

"Yes. It's because your mama has a lot to do on the journey - "

"Nooo," the grinning boy interrupted, "that's not the reason." Kinch couldn't help but smile. How the boy could be so carefree when he'd lived his entire life in a nightmare was almost impossible for Kinch to fathom. He leaned down and played along. "It isn't?" he asked, making his voice go high with shock.

Franz was quaking with suppressed excitement. "Nooo…" he giggled again.

"Well, are you going to tell us the reason?" Kinch asked.

Franz came up close to Kinch and whispered. "Mama's going to have a baby!"

"A baby? That's wonderful!" Kinch said. "When?"

"In five days!"

"In five days?" Carter asked with puzzlement as he considered the still very slim Louise Knopf.

Franz nodded seriously. "Yes, in five days," he said, then held up three fingers. "That's a very long time," he informed them.

"Yes, it certainly is," Kinch agreed, then leaned back and whispered to Carter, "His mother says he says that for any length of time that's longer than the day after tomorrow. I asked him how long they were going to be in England and he said 'five days'."

"Oh," Carter said with an understanding smile.

Franz came up closer and leaned against Kinch's legs. "Herr Kinchloe, do YOU know where babies come from?"

Kinch rubbed his chin and pretended to think. "You know, I don't think I do," he said. There was no way he was going to fall into that trap - with the way the boy was squirming it was easy to see he had an answer he couldn't wait to share, but who knew for sure? He might be fishing for something on a subject his parents wanted him to stay in the dark about. "Do you know?"

Franz nodded.

"Does the stork bring them?" Carter asked the little fellow.

"No!" Franz squealed with glee. "The stork doesn't bring babies! That's silly!"

Kinch winked at Carter. "Then where do they come from?" he asked.

"They grow in a cabbage patch!" Franz shouted.

Kinch shushed him again between helpless chuckles. "Franz, Franz, remember mama is sleeping. We must be quiet."

Franz whipped his finger to his lips again and spit out, "Shh, shh." He rushed around and shushed every corner of the room, as if shushing invisible people so mama could sleep was some new game that he couldn't get enough of.

Kinch shook his head. The little tyke's all wound up, he thought. How are we ever going to get him to lie down?

But he underestimated one Andrew Carter. His fellow sergeant reached out to envelop one tiny hand in his long-fingered one and lead the boy off down the tunnels with promises of as many stories as he wanted. And less than twenty minutes later, Carter was back.

"He's out already?" Kinch asked.

"Yep. Once I got him bundled nice and cosy into his blankets, I only got about half way through 'The Three Bears' and he conked right out."

"You must have some way with kids, Carter," Kinch said, not bothering to keep the admiration out of his voice. "I thought you'd be up all night having to practically peel the kid off the ceiling."

"Nah," Carter said as he sat back down next to Kinch to wait for the others. "I think he was so excited because he was over-tired. It's been a long couple of days for the poor little guy. He just had to stay quiet long enough to remember that he was exhausted."

Kinch chuckled suddenly after a few moments.

"What?" Carter asked.

"You know, that cabbage patch story was the exact same line my parents fed me when I was a little boy."

"Really?"

"Oh yeah, only it had to be a special magic cabbage patch. My mom made a point of clarifying that for me after she asked me why I'd been sitting in our garden in the back yard for entire week. I had two little sisters already and I was getting pretty desperate for another boy in the family."

Carter laughed.

"So how about you?" Kinch asked. "How'd you find out?"

"My dad told me when I was four."

"The truth?"

"Sure."

"He didn't think you were kind of young to hear something like that?"

Carter snickered at something. "What is it?" Kinch asked him. "What's so funny?"

"I don't know, he might have thought I was too young, but after all the trouble he got into when my sister asked him, I guess he figured he pretty much had to be straight with me!"

"Why? What happened with your sister?"

"My sister was about five when I was born. My brother Ben was nearly three, so she didn't really remember much about him being born, but some time after I came along - I think I was about seven months old or so - she went to my dad one day and asked where babies came from."

"The thing with my dad was though, sometimes he liked to make stuff up just for fun. So he looked her in the eye and told her that he and Mom had bought me in the children's department of Freiling's Department Store."

"Ha, that's a good one."

"Yeah, but the story doesn't end there," Carter continued. "See, my sister figured she'd already done the whole baby brother routine with Ben, so what Dad didn't know was that she wasn't asking him about babies out of curiosity, she was asking because she wanted to know if there was some way to send me back to where I came from."

"I think I see where this is going."

"Yeah, but you don't know how far - Freiling's Department Store was in Fargo!"

"Oh, c'mon! You're not gonna tell me she tried to take you to some store out of town?"

"That's not what I'm telling you at all. I'm telling you that she actually did it!"

Kinch stared at Carter, trying to determine if he were serious. "You've got to be kidding me."

"Nope. One day, when Mom was out shopping and Dad was taking a nap, she plopped me into Ben's little red wagon and pulled me the five blocks to the train station - "

"Okay, okay," Kinch interrupted. "I believe she could have pulled you to the train station in a wagon. But how'd the two of you get on the train with no one seeing?"

"We didn't. People saw us. They just didn't pay any attention to us."

"But how'd you get on without tickets? Even if she had the money, what person in their right mind would sell a five-year-old with a baby two tickets out of town?"

"She didn't buy any tickets. I don't know if it was luck or what, but when she got there, there was a woman at the ticket window dragging along seven screaming kids. Sarah got in line right behind her, with me in the wagon. I figure the fella selling tickets thought we belonged with the woman, and the woman was so busy trying to keep control of her kids that she didn't realize he'd charged her for two extra fares. And Sarah didn't even know she had to buy a ticket; she thought standing in a certain place was just some train station rule. I mean, all rules seem strange when you're a little kid, and it's not like we'd ever been on a train before. We'd never been anywhere before!"

"Holy cow," Kinch said with a shake of his head. He was hardly able to believe it. "That's why no one noticed the two of you alone on the train either, I take it?"

"I guess so. The way I heard it, we sat with the woman and her kids and didn't say boo. Sarah said the other kids were making such a ruckus that everyone was probably happy to see at least two of us keeping so quiet."

"So you rode all that way and no one noticed the two of you were on your own?"

"Yep."

"But what about the woman? Didn't she notice two kids hanging around without a chaperone?"

Carter shrugged. "You got me. Maybe she was too busy. Or maybe she figured we belonged to some other adult on the train."

"How long was the trip?"

" 'Bout two hours."

"So you're telling me that your sister got you on a train and took you on a trip two hours away from home because she wanted to take you back to the store?" Kinch roared and slapped his thigh. "Then what happened?"

"Well, the train stopped and Sarah could see the woman and the kids were getting off, so she figured we must be there and she got up too. The porter had seen her taking care of me and pulling me on the wagon back at the station and must've thought what a nice thing for a big sister to do, so he'd loaded the wagon into the little baggage cage and now he took it off for her. It worked out well for her because I don't think she could have carried me all that long."

"So anyway, we got off and she thanked the porter and he went back onto the train, and nobody saw us when we split away from the woman with all the kids and headed off towards the street, while she went over to the clearing behind the station, probably where someone was waiting to pick her up."

"Then what? You're walking down the streets of Fargo -"

"Actually, we weren't. Sarah had just followed the woman onto whatever train she was getting onto. Turns out we were in Bismarck."

Kinch let out a guffaw at that; he couldn't help it. "Okay, okay," he said breathlessly, "So you're in Bismarck, two hours away from home. A five-year-old girl pulling a baby in a little red wagon. Oh Hell, I don't know why I'm laughing - the two of you could have gotten into some real trouble!" He shook his head, but he was unable to keep from smiling. "All right," he asked, " Where did you go after that?"

"Sarah pulled the wagon towards town and went into the first big store she saw."

"You're kidding! Was it a Freiling's Department Store?"

"She didn't know - she couldn't read yet."

"Of course," Kinch said, biting his lip.

"Anyway, she went in and walked around till she found a saleslady who looked nice and asked her where the children's department was. The lady told her that they didn't really have a children's department, but she could show her where in the clothing department they sold things for children. But then she asked, 'How about we find your mommy first, sweetie?' And, well, that's when Sarah told her what she'd come to do."

"I can just imagine what the saleslady thought of that." Kinch was smiling so hard his cheeks were aching.

"Yeah. But she was real nice, and she was dating a policeman, so she told the manager what was going on and he gave her permission to take us to the police station. She told Sarah that you needed special permission from a judge to return a baby and for that she had to tell the police where she lived so that they could fill out the proper form."

"Smart thinking on her part."

"You said it!" Carter agreed. "Anyway, the rest of it's pretty dull. The nice saleslady explained the whole thing to her boyfriend and I guess the whole station was pretty stunned when they found out about the whole train ride and how we weren't from Bismarck. They got in touch with the Sheriff back home, who was darn relieved by that point. My folks must have just missed us by a few minutes - not that they knew we'd got on the train - but the whole town had been out searching for a couple of hours by now. The Sheriff told the police in Bismarck to hold onto us and somebody would drive over and pick us up. Sarah said it was a real good time waiting - the policemen bought us ice cream and took mug shots of us to keep us entertained and the Chief let her wear his cap and everything."

Kinch snorted. "That's not what they should have been doing. They should have given her a spanking and then locked in a cell to teach her a lesson."

"You won't get any argument from me! But I can see their side of it too - who'd want to be stuck in a police station with a bawling, screaming five year old?"

"So what did your folks do once they got a hold of her?"

"Sarah always claimed she couldn't sit down for a whole six months."

"Serves her right."

"Maybe, but that's not where it ended."

"Why, what happened next?"

"Well, my folks couldn't think of what to tell her about where babies came from that wouldn't give her any ideas about how to get rid of me. Dad suggested the cabbage patch story, but Mom said no. She was convinced they'd wake the next day and find me in the backyard between the tomatoes and the peas. Then Dad suggested the stork. 'Oh I can just see it now,' Mom said, 'you'll come home from work and rush into the house in a panic demanding to know why our daughter's on the roof waving a flag at every bird she sees.' "

"So what did they do?"

"Dad wanted to tell her babies came from Neptune - 'There's no way she can get to Neptune, sweetheart' he said - but Mom convinced him that they should tell her the truth. Or that he should, since he was the one who started the whole mess."

"So your Dad told her?"

"He started to, but Sarah had overheard them talking about storks and cabbage patches and Neptune, so she was getting pretty sceptical by this point. Here, this is the look Dad always said she gave him whenever he used to tell the story," and, ducking down so he was more like a child staring upwards at a taller person, Carter furrowed his brow over glaringly serious eyes and frowned. Keeping his face in that position, Carter went on, "Then she asked him, 'Daddy, do you even know where babies come from?' And my mother, who was in the kitchen, let out a huge horse laugh - according to my father, that is - and said, 'No, he doesn't, sweetie. He has no idea.' "

"I tell you, it sure made Mom laugh at the time, but boy did it backfire on her later!"

"How?"

"My folks figured the whole problem might be that maybe Sarah needed some kids her own age to play with. They thought she was too old to get much fun out of playing with Ben and me, but she was a little too young for school yet, so even though we weren't much for going to church, they decided to enrol her in Sunday school. One Sunday a few weeks later, the teacher asked the kids to draw a picture of something they were happy God had given them and then to show it to the class. Some of the other mothers would stick around every week instead of going to the sermon because the teacher was kind of old and couldn't keep the kids under control, so there were some other people in the room when Sarah got up to talk about her picture. She'd drawn our house and our family."

"Sounds innocent enough," Kinch said as he got up and poured himself a cup of coffee out of the thermos at the other end of the table.

"Sure, at least until she described it to everyone! She pointed to everything in turn and said," and here Carter imitated a little girl's voice, " 'This is my house. This is my daddy, and my mommy, and me and my brother Ben. And this is my baby brother Andrew, and my mommy says that my daddy doesn't know where he comes from!"

Kinch, who had just sat down and taken a sip of his coffee, was suddenly choking, wheezing and suffering from a searing pain in his nose. Carter jumped up and pounded him on the back. "Kinch! Kinch! What is it?"

"I just snorted hot coffee through my nose, you idiot!" he laughed helplessly. "Holy cow, she didn't really say that in front of everyone, did she?"

Carter, who was chuckling pretty hard at the memory himself, raised three fingers. "Scout's honour! At least, that's what they told me later."

"So then what happened?"

But Carter only managed to get out, "So after we had to move…" and Kinch went off into gales again.

"Geez," Kinch said a few minutes later, wiping a tear from his eye. "No wonder your Dad didn't fool around when you asked! But what got you so curious at that age? Didn't you once say your younger brother is too young to be in the service? You would have had to have been more than four when he was born, if that's the case."

"Yeah, there's about nine years between me and Tommy," Carter said.

"So what made you ask? Wait, what are you smiling at?"

"Wait till I get there," Carter said. "Anyhow," he went on, "one day, I came running in from the outside and right into the kitchen where he was reading the paper, and that's when I asked him, 'Daddy, where did I come from?' So he started in on the whole story - start to finish. Well, actually, first he sat around moaning for a really long time and asking 'Why me? Why me?', and then he started in on the whole story, but you get the picture."

"That must've been a lot to take in at that age."

"I'll say. Especially since I only asked because Sammy Haines told me he came from New Jersey."

Kinch stared at Carter. "You mean you - "

"Yeah - I only wanted to know where I'd been born! What town I came from!"

Kinch buried his hands in his face. His sides were actually hurting. "Oh, oh, Andrew, tell me that's the end!"

Carter grinned. "Sure, unless you want to know what happened when Tommy asked."

"I don't know if I can stand it. But go ahead."

"Okay. It happened when I was twelve, so Sarah must've been around seventeen or so. Tommy was three and he didn't like being the baby. He started whining about how we got to go to school and we got to go to our friends' houses whenever we wanted to, but mostly he was lonely because he had no one his age to play with. He kept begging our folks for a baby brother or sister, but they said no. Anyway, after that I think he must have got into his head to get a baby for himself because he went to Sarah to ask her where babies came from."

"Why not your folks?"

"Mom and Dad were away for the day, visiting my grandmother on the other side of Crab Apple Junction. Sarah was looking after us."

"I'm afraid to ask, but what did she say?"

"Well, she leaned down and looked him right in the eye, just like Dad had done with her, and said, 'Gee, sweetie, I don't know where most babies come from, but we pulled you out of the pickle barrel at the back of Hurley's store.' "

"Oh no!"

" 'Fraid so."

"And he…"

"Took the lid off the pickle barrel the very next time we were there and dived right in! You should have seen all the pickles and brine overflow over the side! It all went swoosh!" Carter said, complete with gestures and the proper sound effects for swoosh!

The laughter burst out of Kinch like a huge bubble popping. The whole scene was right there, in front of his eyes.

"But you know," Carter continued, "it wasn't that funny at the time. He nearly drowned in the darn thing! Not to mention that, even after three scrubbings in the tub, he still smelled like pickle brine!"

"Oh, c'mon, it couldn't have been that bad," Kinch choked out with a wheeze.

"Easy for you to say - you didn't have to share a bed with him!"

Well that was it. The final straw. Kinch was shattered. A roar exploded out of his belly and then dissolved into a series of weak, teary chortles and hitching guffaws; he was practically sobbing with it. He'd once seen a photo of Tommy Carter, who was essentially a slightly squatter and more rounded-faced version of the man before him. Picturing the cherubic, miniature, three-year-old version…diving into a pickle barrel…swoosh… And the capper - poor Carter, with his typical Carter luck, having to sleep next to a pickled three-year-old. Poor Kinch was just undone.

All memory of the sleeping Frau Knopf forgotten, he was still choking hysterically when Hogan, Newkirk, Lebeau and Herr Knopf came in. Knopf was simply confused, but the other three stared at their friend - tears were streaming down his face and they'd never once heard him make so much noise in all the years they'd known him.

Newkirk looked to Carter. "Blimey, what's got into 'im, then?"

Carter put on the most innocent look they had ever seen. "Gee, I really don't know. All I was doing was telling him about where babies come from. But I don't think he believes me!"

--x--

This story is actually in response to four different challenges:

#55 - Chain Links Challenge - See how many challenges you can fit into one story. You have to tell which ones you used and how you applied them.

#67 - The Tickle Me Kinchloe Challenge - Your task is to take steady, dependable Kinch and tickle his funny bone. Gave him a good laugh.

#94 - Skeletons in the Tickle Trunk - Our Heroes' deepest, darkest, silliest secrets are revealed to the rest of the guys. Carter's dark secret is that his sister was so un impressed with him that she was desperate to return him to the store their father told her he came from.

#196 - Salad Days - A story about each of the Heroes, or one of them, based around their childhood. The best one with the strangest twist, ie. Hogan getting beaten up as a child, will get lots of virtual brownies. It's a story from Carter's childhood, and the twist is that Carter is not naïve about the birds and the bees, but actually learned quite young, if accidentally.

Note: The song "And he ate the…" copyrighted to D.B. at age 3 - weirdo extraordinaire!