Wendell sat on a log and blew an elongated cloud of cigarette smoke into the air. It disintegrated immediately, like a bomb blowing up. While Bert and Sammy chatted like squirrels, Wendell took inventory of what he accomplished today. Yes, he worked for Mrs. Campbell, yes, he’s here in the jungle with Bert and Sammy, and he got the bag of coffee, and yes, he’s getting the peace he wanted. He nodded and grinned while his squinty eyes lost sight of all that surrounded him.
Meanwhile, from the top of the riverbank, the group of twelve received their orders and began their descent. They formed themselves into a large tipped over C formation which ensured they would capture their prey. No one would escape and Sargent Brennan would make sure of that. He received his squad of twelve and now it was their chance to show that the force was right in investing in a superior group of men. They were well trained, well equipped and capable of taking on a small mission in some far away land. They were trained in hand to hand combat, riot control, street gang violence and small weapons tactics. They had their: explosives expert, computer expert, mechanical expert, Karate master, Ace Native tracker, and sniper. Sargent Brennan was an ex-Canadian Army specialist and only his superiors know what’s in his classified dossier. Needless to say, Sargent Brennan was overjoyed when his Captain Eugene W. Plum told him the Mayor and the council caved and they were going to approve the million dollar request for the additional officers. “It pays to be a bully,” the captain said, and Sargent Brennan would lead the S.W.A.T. team. It was now time to prove themselves.
Wendell put his shoes on and raised himself to walk and find a suitable washroom. They were using a spot a little more than ten feet away, to their left, away from where they entered the clearing. There had been a light dusting of snow and the wind was slowing – the calm before the storm. He could hear clearly, for the river and its banks act as a funnel to sound. Wendell moved up the bank, chose a spot to relieve himself and was doing so when, he thought he heard a branch break. He listened. Another twig snapped. His senses went to red alert. The thing about being a hobo and moving around in some dangerous places is, you get sensitive to what’s around you, especially when you’re hiding out. He hurried himself and slid back down the bank. Bert and Sammy were giggling when he took a seat on the log. They were enjoying their after-eats smoke. Wendell pushed back his pumpkin coloured toque. His expression was serious.
“Hey guys, someone’s coming. I heard twigs snap from the left side of the bank. I don’t think it’s an animal; they’d have our scent by now. The wind’s going up thata way.”
Bert and Sammy’s smiles disappeared. Their jaws tightened. They looked upriver and knew Wendell wasn’t joking. They never joke about this stuff. Hobos have been attacked and been beaten badly by town residents who wanted to scare them outta town. If people were sneaking in on them, they were prepared to run. Bert and Sammy rose quickly.
“OK, it’s time to go back to the shelter anyway,” Wendell said.
Sammy began shoveling mounds of snow on the fire. It hissed and a grey plume of smoke rose from it. “Are we leaving the last bottle here? And what about our sleeping bags?” Sammy asked.
“Yeah, we’ll be back tomorrow, maybe. Cover it and leave the bags stashed under the sticks and leaves and snow.”
Sammy ran over and grabbed it, “Heck no, I’m taking it, just in case we don’t come back.”
He stuffed it under his armpit then danced around for doing so. The cold bottle was too much for him so he jammed it into his coat pocket.
Bert whispered loudly and pointed with his thumb, “Hey guys, someone’s coming from up river too. Man, they’re heavy, twigs are snapping.” He fumbled with his toque while pushing it up.
They looked into each other’s eyes and realized they may be in for some real trouble.
“Who’s gonna look for three hobos down here, eh? Well I suppose it doesn’t have to be the Coppers, it can be the Civvies – get the fuck outta here party. That group brings baseball bats and axe handles and iron crow bars. I don’t wanna see that group. Let’s move,” Wendell said.
“Damn, they’re coming down from the top too. It sounds like they got us surrounded. What we gonna do? We ain’t even done nothin’,” Sammy said. His face wrinkled with worry, his pupils dilated and he looked like he was about to cry.
“I know Sammy, but sometimes people don’t want people livin’ free in this free country of ours,” Wendell said.
Bert and Wendell’s heartbeat pounded out. They were beginning to get dizzy in thought.
“There’s only one thing to do. We got our clubs, we fight,” Bert said.
“Like the famous Musketeers eh? We’re a little too old and tipsy to do that. I have another plan,” Wendell said. “Are our sleeping bags still wrapped up tight in their plastic?”
Bert looked at Wendell questioningly, “Yeah, but this is no time to take a snooze.”
A voice boomed out: Alright you bunch of bums, this is Sargent Brennan of the Police Department. We know you’re down there. We’re coming in so don’t try anything foolish. You are completely surrounded and we come heavily armed.
Sammy, Bert and Wendell froze. They looked at each other.
“Coppers,” Bert whispered.
“We know they’re not stupid,” Sammy added.
Bert and Wendell rolled their eyes while looking at each other.
“Sammy, you listen to too much gossip,” Bert said.
“Bring the bags and follow me,” Wendell said. He bent over as he left.
Bert and Sammy grabbed the wrapped sleeping bags and followed Wendell down to the water’s edge, also bent in a crouch. Bert looked at Wendell and said, “Oh, you’re not thinking…?”
“Yup, it’s exactly what I’m thinking.”
“But we’ll freeze to death. We can’t run to the shelter in wet clothes. We’ll get peemonie.”
“Stay here then,” Wendell said.
He grabbed one of the bagged sleeping bags and jumped into the river. Bert and Sammy looked at each other, eyes wide and mouths dropped open.
“All for one…,” Bert said. He took a tight hold on his bundle and jumped into the cold flowing river, followed shortly by Sammy.
Sargent Brennan stepped into the clearing. A big muscular man dressed in black. He quickly searched the area for anyone who tried to hide. He had his officers move in to scan ground zero. More officers arrived into the clearing from above the bank, batons out and ready, and then the rest of his team emerged upriver and moved into the clearing, batons out and ready. Together they combed the area in search of the “bums” that were supposed to be collecting here and were probably into the alcohol and drugs.
“Damn,” the Sargent said “we didn’t get a chance to use our new clubs, I mean batons.”
He turned to face his men. “But this mission was a success. We circled them and had them locked in. Who knew they would be stupid enough to jump into the river. We’ll pick up their dead bodies somewhere down river. Damn, now I gotta ask the chief to ask the Mayor and council for money to buy a boat.”
A half mile upriver, Wendell, Bert and Sammy emerged from the water to step on a slick and slippery river bank. Wendell worked his way up and held out his hand for Bert to grab and he was pulled up then Bert did the same for Sammy. They moved up the slick bank until they were on firm ground. They knew it wouldn’t be long before the cold would really start to sting.
“All right guys, we have to undress,” Wendell said.
“What! Are you fucking crazy!” Bert shouted.
“No Bert, we have to get outta these wet clothes. We get out our sleeping bags and wrap these around us. They’re still dry, they’re in the plastic. When we stash our stuff that’s what the plastic is for, to keep them dry, right?”
“Sounds good, Wendell, and we run like it’s breakfast time back to the shelter. We sign in and ask to go up to our locker to change,” Sammy said.
“Right, Sammy. If they ask about the sleeping bags, we tell them we’re wet and a homeowner let us have these old things. The owner saw that big truck hit that huge puddle of water at the curb and drenched us. Since its winter, the person gave us these to wrap around us. We shucked our clothes because we were freezing in them. They won’t ask any more than that.”
“Right,” Bert and Sammy said.
The three mouseketeers walked quickly away from the river. They made their way down the streets, wrapped in cool dry sleeping bags to the city’s shelter. They signed in and got their bed and hot meal for the night. Afterwards, they took a hot shower and jumped into bed and fell asleep. Now they’re safe and comfortable. The shelter’s man in charge didn’t seem the least bit surprised when he signed them in. Over the years he’s seen it all.