Finally they arrived. As the driver helped Sheridan remove the luggage from the trunk of the taxi, Marguerite came running out, "Sheridan! I'm glad you're back. I couldn't think who it could be. Was your kidnapper mean? Who was it anyway? Where did you go? How far did you come? Did you really hire a taxi? Don't you know they are expensive? How much is the fare? I've never ridden in a taxi before."
Sheridan opened his mouth to answer but he couldn't remember any of the questions. The taxi driver did though, "The fare is $248.92 and someone at the other end already paid $75 which leaves one hundred and seventy, err, three dollars and ninety two cents,"
"Oh," She said, "Wow, that will eat into your life savings, oh yes, you don't have any."
"No," groaned the driver lifting a hand to his forehead, "don't tell me."
"$173" repeated Marguerite.
The driver grew stern, "My taxi ain't moving until the fare is paid, and I don't care what your dad says."
"My dad would say something like 'this inconvenience must be remedied with the utmost expediency,'" Marguerite said with a smile, "but his dad might talk in German."
"You mean my parents are here?" Exclaimed Sheridan.
"They were, but Mom and Dad went with them to talk to the police about your disappearance, after that they are going to buy things for the year," Marguerite explained, "And Michelle hasn't come back home from the conference yet, she usually goes straight to the circus and probably won't be back until off season again."
"Where's Jean?" Sheridan asked.
"You can't expect Jean to bail you out this time, at least not anytime soon," Marguerite said, "He has been spending most of his time at the library this week. He probably won't get back until supper."
"That's not what I meant," Sheridan protested.
"So, you're home alone?" asked the cab driver, "Right after your friend got kidnapped?"
Marguerite studied him for a moment, then she shrugged, "Dad's tigers are within earshot." she glanced at Sheridan, "and I am smart enough to call for help."
"Calling tigers to help? That's the best I've heard in years!" The cabby laughed, "but there's nobody here that can pay the fare at this point?" asked the driver in a more serious tone, then he muttered, "I've waited before, but I was hoping it wouldn't be necessary this time."
"They might come back anytime now though," said Marguerite, "So in the mean time, why don't we bring the stuff inside. I might even have enough in my money jar."
"A money jar that might be capable of holding $170? This I have got to see!" said the driver.
"Alright, come on," said Marguerite leading the way, "It's pretty big, but it's mostly change; although, some of it is ones and fives."
Sheridan was left standing in the yard with his luggage lying around him. 'I guess, all of them I can carry by myself.' he thought, and he did. When all his luggage was piled neatly inside the door he made his way to the kitchen from which the clinking of money could be heard.
"180," said the cab driver sliding a pile of coins into position to finish off a row, and then slid another over "181," he continued, "We can stop now, you know."
"I want to know how much I have," Marguerite said, "I mean how much I had."
Sheridan heard the catch in her voice and moved closer "But," said Sheridan, "I thought you were expecting my dad or someone to pay it back."
"I was," she said, "but now I'm not sure."
"You don't have to Marguerite," he said.
"Like you can pay? come on, Sheridan," she snorted.
They went on counting for a while.
"Sheridan," she moaned, "It was for college, and to buy tigers."
"Buying Tigers, Does that take a lot of money?" Sheridan warily.
"I would say so!" said the cab driver, "A few times more than horses I would expect."
"More than $200 each plus medical overhead and insurance," Marguerite said sullenly, "It depends on what age you get them, but I can't just get a job during the Circus season."
"I--" Sheridan started to protest but subsided when he couldn't find an answer. became convinced the accusation was accurate .
The cab driver fidgeted nervously for a few minutes. When the sobs subsided he said, "I've decided to lower my fare to cover just cost of fuel."
"Really?" Marguerite said looking up, too relieved to be surprised.
"Sure, Why not?" said the cabby, "They say giving to charity is good for a body now and again," with that he counted and scooped up slightly less than half of the ordered stacks into his hat. "Cheer up," he said, "His dad might reimburse you."
A few minutes after the cab pulled out, and Sheridan had barely finished carrying the jar back to it's resting place in Marguerite's room when my dad arrived.
"Permit me to inquire, Marguerite, have you finalized your packing and preparations?" he called from the entryway, "Did not I adequately specify that all items for the journey should be placed by the posterior entrance for enhanced efficiency in transporting them to the vehicle? ... To whom do these parcels belong anyway?" he began stalking the house in his usual manner, In the kitchen he stopped, "Permit me to wonder," he muttered and sniffed, "at the strong aroma of copper based pesticide, akin to that which the neighbors use on their flowers. Extraordinarily odd."
When the lull finally came Marguerite was ready, "Yes, I'm packed," she called, "Those are Sheridan's things in the front room. He just came back."
"Sheridan came back? That occurrence is undeniably relieving while somewhat inconvenient," Dad said, "I must pass by this opportunity to audience the tale. Presently I require all the luggage to be transported to the aft passage to facilitate my immediate employment of stowing everything in the van."
"Alright," Marguerite called then she turned to Sheridan, "All, that is, except yours."
"I figured that," Sheridan said.
"Dad," Marguerite called, "Where's mom and the others?"
"Your mother went to the store after dropping me off at the moving truck place," Dad replied, "the others I last saw at the police station."
"What did he need a moving truck for?" Sheridan asked.
"You know, Dad works for a traveling circus," Marguerite said, "that means we aren't home most of the time, because we travel with the circus."
"Oh, of course, and you can't fit all the tigers' cages in the car."
"Right and we keep all the valuables in a safe deposit box."
"Do you want me to help move your stuff?"
"I can do it myself, you know."
"I know, but if I helped then we wouldn't have to stop talking while everything got moved."
On the way from the police station to the train station with Mr. and Mrs. Gaelan. They asked me to tell them more about him. They wanted to know all about him but that isn't easily told. I broke down and cried because I was worried about him. It was embarrassing for me and must have been somewhat strange to them. I had stopped by the time we arrived at the station. And we went on talking about Sheridan and everything he had experienced since leaving the Jungle. I wanted to get moved into my section of the train, but they were slightly tired from jet lag, so they just sat and talked while I bustled around them making sure that I hadn't forgotten anything. Finally, I felt confidant that everything was in it's place, and I would be able to find it when I needed it. Then I pulled out the chain link partition that separated the tiny kitchen/bathroom area from the rest of the space, there by converting most of the main room of the apartment into half a performance cage. Mr. and Mrs. Gaelan were content to remain seated in the kitchenette area as long as I kept answering questions about Sheridan.
Suddenly I heard footsteps scampering up the ladder, "That light footstep is sure to be Marguerite," I said, "Nobody else bothers me here except the troupe boss."
I hadn't locked it before letting the tigers out because I was half expecting Marguerite to come for a final farewell before the season started up again. The door opened. "Michelle!"
"Sheridan? How --" I gasped staggering back and collapsing onto one of the cages, luckily I had already tied them down. "Are you alright?" I finally managed to get out, but he had already knelt on the floor next to me, his back to where his parents were sitting. He didn't normally kneel but then I wasn't usually sitting up on a cage.
"I'm back," he said, "I'm safe."
"Sheridan, --" I started. This wasn't the first thing a parent wanted to see their child do after almost ten years.
He put his head down on my lap and started to cry, "I was so scared."
"Your parents are here," I said quietly when I had calmed down enough.
"Yeah, but they went to the police station," Sheridan objected looking around then he saw them on the other side of the barrier. "Mom!" he exclaimed and ran towards where the door in the partition was. He was so excited he tripped over Platon who had seen him coming but unlike ___ he wasn't able to jump out of the way. Sheridan scrambled up calling something over his shoulder that calmed Platon's pained roar.
Then Sheridan was at his mothers feet. Ruskin who had been shedding on the barrier now moved to close the small door, that Sheridan had left open on his hurried passage. Samuel was laying complacently against the outside door that he must have closed after Sheridan came in.
"Mom, I remember you. I remember you saying you loved me," Sheridan said, "I love you too."
"You remember that?" she exclaimed, "Kyle he remembers!"
"Yes, but I didn't know what it meant until I learned to talk," Sheridan explained, "But, -- you never came back," Sheridan said, "You said you would come back."
"Oh, Sheridan. I did come back. We always came back, but that day I didn't tell you that we would come back because you were asleep and I didn't want to wake you. When we came back you weren't there, neither was the girl that took care of you. And that cute little house, it was burned down, and everything was gone except our passports and tickets. Huh? What's wrong?"
"Don't rub me it hurts."
"What's wrong with your back?"
"Duck bill hit me." Sheridan said "That's how I knew that he had lied to me about taking me to you, because he didn't really care what you thought."
"I was so scared," Sheridan sobbed, "when I thought that Duck bill had lied to me, and had me totally within his power, I wondered what else he might do. Then Ben happened to show up and ask forgiveness and how he could help."
"Who's duck bi--" she started lifting his shirt, "Kyle! look at this!" I saw rage flare in Mr. Gaelan's face, I felt my own stomach rebel at the sight. Sheridan's back was covered with long narrow welts, at least it seemed covered at first.
"I don't know what his name is, he wouldn't tell me. Neither would Ben. Duck bill is what everyone called him."
I negotiated my way by Ruskin and out of the training cage.
"Good grief. What made those?" asked Mrs. Gaelan pointing at an angry line of welts. They looked like they were made with the comb of a spiral bound notebook, but I recognized it for what it was.
"That's the misuse of an excellent tool," I said and pulled my bait from where I had stowed it behind a cabinet. It's the only traditional tool I use except a cage. "It's designed to look like a whip from the audience, but it differs from the whip in that it works the other way. An enticing item can be attached to the end, and the tigers are trained to grab at it," Mine started growling because to them it meant a new trick. "What you see there is the mark of the support wire that allows it to be held out horizontal," I demonstrated.
"The barbarian," said Mr. Gaelan fingering the stiff portion of the bait near the handle.
"I agree," I said, "and, I can be a strong disciplinarian."
Mr. Gaelan looked me up and down. "I doubt it somehow," he said.
I shrugged, "I don't think Sheridan ever did anything I specifically forbid, except for leave the coliseum. "
Meanwhile Mrs. Gaelan was asking, "Who is Ben?"
"He was the first person I met in the mountains. He chased me off my hunting territory, to where Jean found me."
"I don't think you have ever told me about him," I said.
"No," Sheridan shuddered, "At first I assumed he was an odd tiger, like me. When he hunted me, but not for food. I was scared that he might chase me again, or that there were others like him. The other idea that was even worse was that since he was the same shape tiger I was, maybe he was what I would be like when I grew more. And that wasn't something I wanted any part of."
"That's why you weren't interested in people for a while?" I said.
"No, when they turned on the electric lights I knew from elsewhere that only men did things like that so I realized that we, Bill, Meaningless, myself, and all the others, were all people not tigers. I already knew from the same stories that told me people could make light what else people were like, so I was less afraid of them being like him, and more afraid about them being illogical and deadly as the stories showed them."
"Then when I saw the kittens in cages I couldn't cope with it at first, until the kittens explained to me that some people were nice and some were cruel. The cages could be used by the cruel to confine, starve, and maltreat. Or by others to protect them from the cruel. Then I was able to make sense of other things that the stories said people did. Executions and other things."
Mr. and Mrs. Gaelan listened quietly to this discourse. I would have been nervous about what they would think about it if I hadn't been so absorbed in listening myself.
"Well he certainly doesn't go in the innocent category anymore," Kyle said quietly.
"I wouldn't put it quite that way," I said, "But yes, he has been exposed to the crueler side of adult society, but he knows very little about how his peers operate, except what he has picked up from his cousins."
"His cousins?" Mrs. Gaelan said, "Do you mean my sister's children the Gallaghers?"
"Yes, he ran with them during a portion of the conference," I said.
"Well then he has faced peer pressure," said Mrs. Gaelan, "Whether he has learned to ignore it and think for himself is still a question."
"What are you talking about besides the Gallaghers?" Sheridan asked.
"It's hard to explain," said Mrs. Gaelan, "Has anyone put anything on your back?"
"Yes, Ben did. He put Silver cream on one day, and antibiotic something on just before I left. That was this morning."
"Does it hurt to have your shirt on?"
"No, it rubs it a little. but it doesn't push it enough to hurt."
"Alright, could you put it back on please?" requested Mrs. Gaelan, "We need to tell the police that he's back, and they might could use a description."
"That's right! They think that you are still missing!" said Kyle standing.
"Mr. Aubrey said that, he would call, the police, probably after--" Sheridan said muffled by the shirt he was trying to put on gently. "probably after he was done, unloading the heavy stuff." Sheridan finished.
"Sheridan," I said, "Who brought you here?"
"Your dad brought me from your house. When he brought all the stuff that they packed. I rode from --"
"Hmm, was with dad, maybe we can catch him and save him the trouble," I said.
"Let's hurry," Sheridan said starting for the door, "He's fast."
"Do you want to say good bye to the cat's first?" I asked.
"Of course you do," said Mr. Gaelan, "I'll go and find Mr. Aubrey right now. Come over when you're done, besides maybe he could use some help."
Good-byes weren't short and sweet. They say a cat will make a big deal about saying hello but hardly says good bye at all. When they understand that the goodbye is relatively permanent they make a bigger scene.
First they sang. It was the first time either of us had heard them sing; although, Mr. Gladwin had narrated to me. I think it was the first time that Mrs. Gaelan understood in a practical way that Sheridan was actually capable of communicating with them; even though, she had abstractly accepted it previously when I had told her that his skill surpassed mine. When they were done the tigers told Sheridan that he was always welcome in their territory to which I concurred on the proviso that he had his parents consent.
I repeated the cat's offer to his parents on the way to the police station.
"That's fair enough," said Mr. Gaelan from the back seat, "But mail is cheaper. It might encourage him to learn to write also."
"Good idea," I said, "Remind me to get you my address where you can write me year-round and it will be forwarded from head quarters to where ever my troupe happens to be at the moment."
"How long before we go home?" Sheridan asked from the back seat.
"We will spend the night at a hotel, and go back tomorrow," answered Mr. Gaelan.
"What is it like anyway?"
"Well it's in the mountains in Switzerland, where they speak German. They also ski a lot, except for those of us who ski and mountain climb. Your younger brothers are there. Leon is nine and Mackenzie is four. Oh and we have a cat named Towtdi Tim ."
"There are mountains?" exclaimed Sheridan. "I like mountains, they are pretty."
"Toady Tim?" I said, "a cat named toad?"
"Leon came up with it. It's spelled T-o-w-d-i space T-i-m." said Mr. Gaelan.
"No Kyle," said Mrs. Gaelan "It's got a silent T before the D."
"No there isn't." said Mr. Gaelan "'There is more than one way to--,' Oh, you're right," "Never mind, there is a T before the D in Towtdi"
At the police station Sheridan described Duck bill and Ben and explained when and where he had met each of them. Somehow I had the impression that he was hiding something when he talked about meeting Ben.
After the second interview at the police station, I took everyone back to the house to pick up Sheridan's things which in spite of all good intentions got left behind in the front hall.