Friday, November 25, 2016

Ice Cream Man

Elm street. The middle of June. An ideal Sunday afternoon with temperatures at a comfortable 76 degrees, the air permeated with the tantalizing smell of a barbecue around the neighborhood. Boys played pick-up baseball at the nearby ballfield. Girls played hopscotch and giggled at boys they fancied passing by on bicycles. Neighbors waved to each other as they passed on the sidewalks, and the trees were exuding the pleasant song of birds perched in their branches. This was it. The perfect summer day.
A young, fair-haired boy named Jackie rode around the neighborhood aimlessly on his brand new, bright blue bicycle, which he had received as an 11th birthday present just a week earlier.

Mr. Rider, the resident Neighborhood Grouch, was watering his lawn. Jackie, being fascinated by Mr. Rider, stopped pedaling and planted his feet to the ground, watching intently from a safe distance. Mr. Rider sensed the eyes on him and raised his head toward the direction, locking eyes with the boy. Normally he would have scowled away anybody he felt was bothering him, which was anybody, but the pleasant warmth of the afternoon Sun seemed to lift even his sour mood. He politely waved at him, and unless the Sun was playing tricks on his eyes, Jackie thought he saw the faint trace of a smile on the old man’s weathered face. Jackie, surprised by this rare show of friendliness from Mr. Rider, waved back, if a little tentatively.

He continued past the Rider place and pedaled on toward the nearby baseball field. As he did, he saw several neighbors, some walking their dogs along the sidewalk. They each exchanged a friendly smile as they passed by one another. Jackie had never seen such a show of happiness and community in the neighborhood before; the weather sure seemed to be having its effect.

Three blocks down and he was there. The field was occupied with two full teams (Timmy, his best friend, was up at bat), with several others sitting on the bleachers, watching and cheering on their friends. There was also a small group of girls just outside the dugout fence watching their favorite players. As the boy rode past them, he heard a single whistle followed by a brief chorus of giggles. He looked back while riding and couldn’t tell who it was, but gave a shy grin just the same.

Setting his bike up against the fence, he entered the dugout just as the game ended. Jimmy met him near the bleachers tucking his bat behind his head with both hands. “What’s up, you butt head!” Jimmy greeted him with a good natured push to the shoulder.

“Nothing,” Jackie replied, “just going around on the new bike.”
“I see.” Jimmy replied.

Jackie saw him look past his shoulder for a moment before looking back at him. “One of them girls is checking you out, man.”

He looked back to see the group of girls; while most were looking and smiling back, he picked out the girl Jimmy was talking about almost immediately. Long, wavy red hair curtained away from her bright green eyes as she gave Jackie a warm, dimpled smile. He took quick glances in between staring at the ground before his feet.

The boys and the girls went off in groups around them, and Jackie was just about to work up the courage to approach the girl when a sound suddenly entered their collective earshot. High-pitched, but distant. The sound quickly rose as it grew closer; the sound of a truck blaring its familiar, pleasant jingle.

“Ice cream!” one of the kids shouted unnecessarily as everybody rushed to flag down the source of the jingle. It stopped at the end of the street, and so did everybody else as they awaited the services of the Ice Cream Man. Jackie, however, had no money on his person, and so he begrudgingly turned around to collect his bicycle, which he sat on idly while he watched his friends buying their ice cream. While watching, he noticed that it was the same man in the truck he had seen the last few times. An older man probably as old as Mr. Rider, with thin white hair and a pleasant smile to light up his slightly wrinkled face.

Within minutes, the other kids, including Jimmy and the girl, had walked off down the street in a group, while Jackie remained where he was. If was not mistaken, so did the truck, although no one else was in the area to buy ice cream. After a minute or so, the group was just about out of sight and Jackie was just about to pedal away when a voice called out to him. “Hey! You, boy! On the bike,” the Ice Cream Man shouted over to him.

As much as Jackie didn’t want to, he reluctantly dismounted his bike and walked it to the truck; he had always been taught to respect authority figures, and that must have included the Ice Cream Man. He was an adult, after all.

“You need to come with me immediately. Your uh parents are uh hurt,” he was looking out the window and down the street, in the direction the other kids had left, and then down the other side.

“What?” Jackie replied lamely. The man’s words had hit him with a brick, and it seemed to Jackie as if he had heard the man from the opposite end of a long tunnel.

“I said your parents wanted me to find you and take you to them. They’re in the hospital. Jackie’s the name, isn’t it?”

“Yes.” Jackie answered on instinct.

“Right, of course. Anyway, I know your parents, and they were hurt in a car accident. They’ll probably be okay, but they want me to take you to them up at the hospital immediately.” The man was barely looking at Jackie as he said this, merely looking around for anybody passing by.

Jackie’s parents had always warned him about the danger of strangers, but the ice cream man wasn’t a stranger, had even chatted with him a when buying ice cream. Every kid knew him, and perhaps the man had known his parents in some capacity. The important thing to Jackie was that his parents were in trouble and he wanted nothing more than to see them.

“ Okay, sir. But my bike” Jackie said timidly.

“Your bike will fit in the back of the truck son.”the ice cream man said with that familiar smile.

Jackie decided it would be best to obey him, unless they continue to waste time. The back doors of the truck opened as he walked the bike over to the back, and the man helped Jackie lift it into the truck, ushering him in afterward and shutting the doors with a click behind him.

“You can sit up front with me, Jimmy” asked the ice cream man.
“It’s Jackie, sir” said timidly.

“Oh, Jackie! Yes, of course it is.” The ice cream man gave a friendly smile, as Jackie took a seat next to the him.

Jackie stared out the window blankly, thinking of nothing but his parents and getting to them, making sure they were okay. Hoping and praying like only a little child could that his parents were OK.

Jackie body would be found five days later in a old cow pasture just outside of town, with signs of sodomy, force blunt trauma, and strangulation evident on his body.

The day Jackie was being taken by the Ice Cream Man, the air permeated with the tantalizing smell of a barbecue around the neighborhood. Boys played pick-up baseball at the nearby ballfield. Girls played hopscotch and giggled at boys they fancied passing by on bicycles. Neighbors waved to each other as they passed on the sidewalks, and the trees were exuding the pleasant song of birds perched in their branches. This was to the small town the absolute worst summer day.



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