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A Close Call

A novel based on Rocket Power characters created by Klasky–Csupo

By Miguel Angel Chavez and Scott Sanchez

June 2003

 

Chapter 1

It was very early in the morning, and most Ocean Shores residents were still asleep. The tide was still high at sea, and the stars shone above. A full moon lit the darkened streets, and the only noise was that of the surf and the occasional, distant horn of a ship as it crossed in front of the pier into the open ocean. The fishermen were returning from their nightly run, their holds full with the catch. From the distance, their lights seemed like little fireflies hovering over the black ocean.

Sammy was up, looking sadly through his window to the dark street outside and the sleeping houses of his friends. He had a bad night; first he could not sleep because his asthma had worsened, making it very difficult to him to breathe, and, when he was finally able to snooze, he had the same nightmare that had been haunting him the whole week. It was a very nasty dream; in it, he always saw how his friends were injured while he was standing there, helplessly watching, paralyzed with fear. Sometimes it was Otto, sometimes Twister, and this time the whole gang had been hurt.

When this bad dream reached the worst part, Sammy woke up and could not get to sleep anymore. He was very pale and sweating so profusely that his pajama was all soaked. It was still dark; he could not see clearly his watch because he had not his eyeglasses on, but it could have been between four and five in the morning. He was panting; the scary nightmare made him suffer the effects of the asthma again. Sammy reached for the night table and took his medicine. He held the inhaler against his mouth and pressed it, taking a dose of medicine that helped him breathe again. Lately he had to do it more often than usual since the asthma had not subsided. The constant lack of air had made him weaker than ever, and if before he had trouble keeping pace with Otto and Twister, now he could barely skate or ride his bike a little before having to stop to rest and take his medicine, with the constant laughs and puns from Twist and the despair of Otto.

Sammy knew very well that if he suffered an excessively severe attack, his mother would have to take him to the hospital for treatment. He did not want it; he was afraid of being in the hospital. He had the experience before, back in Kansas, and it was not a pleasant one. He hated particularly those thin plastic tubes the doctor inserted into his throat to inject oxygen directly to his lungs. Fortunately, so far, he had managed to control the seizures with his medicine, and his mother had arranged an appointment with his doctor the following week to see if he needed a new treatment.

Sammy rested his head back on the pillow and closed his eyes, but to no use. He was wide-awake. The nightmare had left him so nervous that he could not think of anything else. Besides, he felt uncomfortable on his wet pajama; and his sheets were soaked in sweat. Sammy sat on his bed and tried again to see his clock, but it was useless; without his eyeglasses, all he could see were colored figures completely out of focus, so he reached for the table again and took his glasses. Once he had them on, he could see clearly again. The clock marked four forty-nine in the morning. Sammy felt hot and uncomfortable, so he finally decided to take his pajama off. It was still too early, anyway, and nobody would see him wearing only his briefs. His friends were not to be up and around until eight, and he hoped to relax and catch a few moments of sleep before they arrived. He wished they were there, with him. He never told his mother when he was nervous because of a nightmare so she would not be worried; but now he would give anything just to be with those kids that had become something very close to the siblings he never had. Sighing deeply, he went to the window and watched the night slowly slip away. He had too many worries for a ten-year-old boy.

Sammy kept a small radio by the window. It was an FM radio walkman that his father gave him the last time he was in the hospital, and had kept with him ever since. Sadness and depression had taken the place of fear and nervousness, so he turned the radio on. Maybe a little music could help him relax. He put the earphones on and shuffled through the stations, but could not find anything interesting. It was very early on a Sunday morning and most stations were still out of the air. Sammy was about to turn off the radio when he found a station playing old records. The DJ announced an Alan Parson’s Project song. The unmistakable hissing sound of a vinyl record came through the earphones. Sammy knew that song; the slow, sad rhythm matched exactly his mood.

“Time keeps flowing like a river.

Time beckoning me,

Who knows when we shall meet again?

If ever

But time

Keeps flowing like a river

To the sea”…

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

Meanwhile, an old van with a trailer chugged laboriously up the California Incline, struggling to get to the top. It had just departed from one of the waterfront warehouses to nearby San José Market. A fishmonger by trade, the driver had just bought the cargo from the incoming boats and was hurrying to deliver the shrimp and sardines to the market; but the engine was too weak for that challenge and stalled in the middle of the hill.

Apart from that van, there were no other cars on the street, and the driver was thankful for that. Laboriously, carefully, he backed up to the nearest driveway and tried to turn the vehicle about. He was trying to descend the steep hill into the parking lot, so he could try to figure out how to start the engine again; but he hit the curb with one tire and stopped. The driver sighed; it seemed it was not to be his day. He applied the hand brake, opened the hood and descended from the van, not very excited by the prospect of fixing up that old engine with the van in such a precarious position. Inside the cabin, the radio was still on; curiously, the man was listening to the same station as Sammy.

“Goodbye, my love, maybe for forever

Goodbye, my love. The tide waits for me.

Who knows when we shall meet again?

If ever

But time

Keeps flowing like a river

To the sea, to the sea

‘Till it’s gone forever

Gone forever

Gone forevermore”…

.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

Sammy had grabbed a chair and was sitting by the window. He was feeling drowsy again, but was still too nervous to sleep. Besides, it was not long before dawn; although the sky was still dark, a lighter shade of blue began to appear over the horizon, announcing the beginning of a new day. When he was sad, Sammy liked to watch to the skies and see the sun rising over the horizon. It always made him feel better; the beginning of a new day always represented the renewed hope of a brighter tomorrow, and Sammy really enjoyed watching the dark sky become clearer and clearer until the sun appeared and illuminated everything back to life. He had discovered the magic of dawn recently; it was a very effective tranquilizer for him on the sleepless nights his asthma had afforded him lately.

The boy was contemplating the dawn when a couple of headlights appeared on the hill. Taking off his earphones, he recognized immediately the noisy engine of Tito’s 1965 VW Microbus. The old van chugged up the hill and stopped by the Rocket’s house.

Sammy smiled when he saw the old thing, remembering the story that Tito himself had told him about it the day before. In the good old days, during the late sixties and early seventies, Ray and Tito used the microbus to travel from beach to beach, carrying their surfboards on the roof and all the camping gear crammed inside. They had painted it in the hipster fashion, with lots of colorful flowers, peace signs and psychedelic motifs. With its oversize rear tires and Peace symbol on the front, the old camper was known all over the place as the “green dream”, and not precisely for its color. Even today, scraps of that paintwork were still visible on the sides. Now it was the Shore Shack’s delivery van, and Tito used it everyday to transport groceries to the Shack. He had just bought the fish on the pier and was picking up Ray before heading to the wholesale market to buy the meat, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, sodas and bread. It was a weekly routine for the two old friends.

Sammy watched as Ray got out of the house, clad as usual with shorts, a t-shirt and sandals. He greeted Tito and, after closing the front door, climbed into the odd vehicle. Tito started the old but reliable engine and turned. The headlights illuminated the street again, and with its characteristic noise, the colorful van resumed its voyage.

When they passed in front of Sammy’s house, Ray saw the boy sitting by his window. He was taking his medicine again; the paleness of his face was evident, even under the dim light of the dawn. Tito and Ray waved their hands to Sammy, and the boy responded their salute, smiling.

“It looks like Sammy had another bad night tonight, eh, Tito?”

“Definitely, bruddah” – replied Tito in his markedly Hawaiian accent.

“I’m worried about him. Paula told me yesterday that his medicine hasn’t been working well anymore. Poor Sammy has had a hard time with his asthma lately. I’ve seen him up like today at least four times this week, and each time he looks paler and thinner. Maybe it’s me, bro, but I think the boy is getting sicker.”

“I’ve noticed that too, bruddah. Sammy is definitely thinner and weaker than ever. I am worried about him.”

“We all are, Tito. We all are.”

Tito nodded affirmatively, and turned on the radio. He was truly concerned about Sam; he had seen how difficult it was for the boy to keep pace with the rest of the kids, and the cruel jokes that Twist and Otto made of him. He reprimanded the two boys and told them to stop bugging Sammy, but they were picking on him again shortly after.

“Goodbye, my friends, maybe for forever

Goodbye, my friends. The stars wait for me.

Who knows where we shall meet again?

If ever

But time

Keeps flowing like a river (on and on)

To the sea, to the sea

‘Till it’s gone forever

Gone forever

Gone forevermore”

“Wow! Why so depressed, Tito? Where’s the funeral?”

“I’m sorry, bruddah. It’s the only station transmitting at this hour.”

“Don’t you have something merrier?”

“Well… I think I have a cassette with Janis…”

“Groovy! The Hipster Queen, Janis Joplin! Let’s hear it, bro!”

“Ok. Suit yourself…”

Tito opened the glove box and pulled a tape. After inserting it on the radio, a female voice began to sing.

“You say that it’s over, baby, Lord,

You say that it’s over now,

But still you hang around me, come on,

Won’t you move over?

You know that I need a man, honey Lord,

You know that I need a man,

But when I ask you to you just tell me

That maybe you can”

“This is more like it, brother!”

“I’m glad you enjoy it, Ray.”

“This song brings back a lot of memories, brother. Remember that day in Malibu, when those girls began singing and belly-dancing around the fire?”

“(Oh, God! Here we go again!) Yes, bruddah…”

Tito drove up North Street and took the exit to Lincoln Boulevard, then northwest until Interstate 10. The wholesale market was just outside Santa Monica, about 20 Kilometers from Ocean Shores, a distance that took about half an hour for the old van to cover. Those box-shaped cars were never intended for high speeds, and with thirty-something years above its wheels, the “green dream” was not precisely a speed demon, so they arrived to the market well past its opening time of 5:30 a.m.

Fortunately for Tito, who had to endure Ray’s flashbacks all the way from Ocean Shores, he had placed his order in advance with their regular supplier, so it was just a matter of loading the groceries into the van. Effectively, about half a ton of assorted products found its way into Tito’s van and by 6:15 a.m., the two friends were leaving the wholesale market, heading for their hometown.

If the empty van took thirty minutes covering the distance between Ocean Shores and the Santa Monica Wholesale Market, loaded with the week supply of groceries required well over forty. It was some minutes after seven when they abandoned Lincoln Boulevard and entered Ocean Shores.

“It’s getting a little late, Tito. I’m supposed to pick the kids up around eight and take them to the parking lot.”

“Ah, yes. Had forgotten; the little cuzzes have their match today with Lars and the other juvenile delinquents, right?”

“Yeah; those brats really are in for a lesson today. The kids have been practicing hard; I’m sure it will be a very interesting match.”

“Me too, bruddah. Will the little cuz Sammy play too?”

“Well, he said yesterday he didn’t want to let Lars get away with his jokes. Besides, the exercise is good for him; his doctor has always encouraged him to take part in every sport he likes because that helps strengthen his lungs. I’m sure that, if he is feeling right, he will team up with the kids today.”

“I’ll be glad to se that, bruddah. Don’t worry; we are near the California Incline; I’ll take it to arrive quicker to the Shack. We can unload the van and, while I sort things up at the freezer, you can go for the kids. I’ll catch up with you guys in time for the match.”

“Yeah! Good thinking, Tito. Let’s do it.”

Tito turned right and headed for the California Incline. The traffic lights were already working; a red light made Tito stop just at the top of the incline. The two friends had in front of them a magnificent view of the bay and the pier; beyond, the blue Pacific Ocean shone brightly under the yellow morning sky. Somewhere around the middle of the incline stood a white van with the hood open; the same van that had stalled there when still dark. Its owner, an old surfer turned fisherman turned fishmonger, was known as the old Harris. He was a slender, tall man of about fifty years of age, not precisely clean, with a long, shaggy grey hair and beard. He was not a very popular figure among the old surfers, including Tito and Ray, because he was a notoriously sarcastic and ungrateful person. In the old days, these qualities had cost him the friendship of most of the surfers, and those who still spoke to him, like Tito and Ray, did so in honoring the aloha spirit of friendship with every creature of the universe.

“Look, Tito! It seems that old Harris has trouble with his engine again.”

“It’s the second time this week, bruddah. Last Wednesday I saw him just like that outside Mike’s shop. That engine is crying for a full tune up; but old Harris is such a cheap guy that he doesn’t want to buy a set of spark plugs.”

“Well, he’s on our way. Maybe we can stop by and see if he needs some help.”

“All right, bruddah.”

The traffic light turned green, and Tito drove carefully down the California Incline. When the “green dream” arrived in front of old Harris’ van, Tito stopped and cranked down his window.

“Need any help, cuz?”

“Oh, Hi, Tito, Ray! No, thanks; I can manage.”

“Are you sure? That engine looks to be in big trouble…”

“Nah. Old engines need old tricks to keep running, bro. You must know that; you keep that old shell running after all these years.”

Tito noticed that old Harris had the distributor cap in one hand and a worn out piece of sandpaper on the other.

“And what kind of tricks are you using now, cuz?” – asked Tito, pointing to the sandpaper.

“Oh, this!” – Said old Harris – “Well, you know that points and spark plugs tend to carbonize over time. I sand them clean with this paper; this way I can keep them working indefinitely.”

“It sounds very risky, Harris. It might cause a short circuit and kill your engine for good. Don’t you think it would be easier to buy a new set of points and spark plugs, and do a tune up to the engine from time to time?”

“Not at all, Ray! Besides, have you any idea of how expensive those parts are?”

“I do. About twenty bucks, tops.” – said Ray with sarcasm.

“Well. Anyway; I have just finished. Just give me one moment to put this thing back on, and you’ll see how this kitten starts purring again.”

The two friends looked at each other while old Harris put the distributor cap on. Then, slamming the hood closed, he went back into the cab and tried to start the engine. After a couple of failed attempts, the engine finally started with a bang (literally!), making an ominous black cloud come out of the exhaust.

“You see, folks? It’s alive!! Well, now I leave you; I’m late. I have to deliver these fish before they stink… more. See ya, fellows!”

Old Harris pressed the clutch and, after a couple of screeching attempts to gear the first speed, started moving again, leaving a black, oil-smelling cloud behind him.

“That guy is a real character!” – said Tito.

“I agree, brother. And he is a menace, too. One of these days he’s gonna cause an accident, with his van in such a poor mechanical condition.”

“And he dares call our “green dream” an old shell!”

“Let’s go, brother. It’s getting late.”

Tito geared first and started moving again. Five minutes later, they arrived in front of the Shore Shack and by 7:20 began unloading the “green dream."

 

Chapter 2

Sammy was feeling somewhat better. The hot sensation was gone, and he had stopped sweating and panting. The boy turned off the radio and saw the clock: seven in the morning. His friends would be calling him up in about an hour. In fact, he had just seen how lights began to shine in his friends’ houses. He even got a glimpse of Reggie as she opened her window, so he had to hurry. Since he was already undressed, he could go directly to the shower. Taking fresh clothes from his closet, he crossed the hall to the bathroom.

He showered calmly. The cool water felt great as it refreshed his body and washed the sweat away. Maybe he had fever during the night; that would explain the abundant sweating and the hot, burning feeling all over his body. It might also explain the vividness of the nightmare and the overall weakness he had felt.

When he finished bathing, he got dressed and headed for his room to prepare his equipment. When he went out of the bathroom, his mother called him from her bedroom.

“Already up, honey?”

“Yep” – replied Sammy, cheerfully - “Good morning, mom.”

Sammy went to kiss his mother. She was still on her bed, but had been awake for a while, reading a book. She kissed her son and watched him; his face was still a bit pale, but he seemed animated, feeling reasonably well. Anyway, as any mother, Mrs. Dullard had a sixth sense to notice when something was not quite well with her son.

“You feel right, Sammy?”

“Yes, mom. Don’t worry.”

“But you look pale. Have you fever?”

Mrs. Dullard tried to touch Sam’s forehead and cheeks with her hand so she could gauge his body temperature; but Sammy gently evaded her. He knew that if she felt he had fever, she would not let him go out with his friends, and he really needed to be with the kids that day.

“No, mom. Don’t worry; I’m fine.”

She looked at Sam. She was not quite convinced; she knew that Sammy had been having asthma attacks all week long. But the boy reassured her that he was fine, and she believed him.

“You rose early this morning, Sammy. Why?”

“Well, I simply woke up and could not sleep again. I am excited because today is the great match that I had told you about, you know…”

“Oh, yes! The street hockey game with your friends, right?”

“Yep. We are to be on the parking lot between eight and eight thirty to warm up.”

“Wow! Then you better hurry. I’ll prepare your breakfast. They are coming to pick you up, right?”

“Yes. Mr. Rocket will take us to the parking lot.”

“Ok. Prepare your things, Sammy. I’ll fix you something to eat.”

“Thank you, mom.”

“And don’t forget your inhaler!”

“Don’t worry, mom. I always carry it with me.”

Mrs. Dullard rose and put a coat on. She went to the kitchen and prepared a light breakfast for herself and her son. She was worried; something told her that Sammy was not completely fine that morning; besides, she had a bad feeling when the boy kissed her. Maybe… No; she was just nervous. She should try to think in something else.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

The morning was setting things in motion at the Rockets’ house too. This was to be a great day. As usual, Lars and his Lasers had challenged the Rockets to a street hockey match, and the kids had accepted it with characteristic enthusiasm; so they agreed to meet at the parking lot early to warm up and play before going to surf.

Otto and Reggie were up since about six thirty. They had breakfast and were cleaning their rooms while Ray was away, so that when he arrived, they could leave to the parking lot where they used to play street hockey. The two kids were very excited, especially Otto, who looked forward to show off some new moves he had been preparing. He was confident; they had been practicing hard for weeks and, save for Sam, all the kids were in prime condition for that game.

"What worries me," he said to Reggie while making his bed, "is the Squid. He's been very slow and distracted lately. I hope he'll remember that a goalie needs to be concentrated on the game and not on his laptop computer, for a change."

"Don’t bother him, Otto," responded his sister. "It's not like he does it on purpose. Besides, remember that Sammy has been ill; his asthma has worsened; that’s why he's had to slow down a bit. But yesterday, he said he felt better, and I think he will perform well in the game. He isn't called Sam 'Stonewall' Dullard for nothing, y'know."

"Yeah. I know, Reg; even I must concede that. Sammy might be a lousy skater and surfer, but he’s one heck of a good goalie. I just don’t wanna lose to those jerks; I've been perfecting some new moves and I wanna try 'em out."

"Why worry, then? If I know you, Otto, you won't let 'em within ten meters of our goal," Reg reassured her brother. "They'll be too busy with their meager brain power trying to figure out just how to stop you! And you know you can count on me. I too wanna teach Lars a lesson, so he stops calling me a lame-o. We’ll keep pushing forward; they won’t even get to the middle of the field, right?"

"Yeah. You’re right, Reg," Otto said with newly buoyed spirit. "If we keep on the attack, the Lasers won’t have a chance to get to the goal, and Sammy won't have to do all that much. Good thinking, sis!"

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

The day was also beginning for Twister, although not in the most comfortable way. Lars had just entered his room and caught Twist on his bed, and, as usual, gave him the good morning salute with a rigorous womping session. Although Twister fought back in earnest, his older brother easily rendered him helpless, and after a very short fight, Twister was pinned face down on his bed, with his wrists and ankles held fast behind his back by Lars, like in those cartoons where a clumsy cowboy is tied down by a calf on a rodeo. Lars took off Twister’s cap and began rubbing his fist on the boy’s head. He really enjoyed bullying his younger brother, but very deep inside he actually cared for him… particularly when he was bored and there was no one else to annoy.

“So you Rocket jerks think you’ll beat us today?” – Said Lars while womping his brother.

“Aw! You better believe it, Lars!” – Responded Twister, desperately trying to free himself from his brother’s grip -; “we’ll kick your butt at the match!!”

“We’ll see that, lame-o” – replied Lars, rubbing Twist’s head harder.

“Aaaw! Stop that!!”

“Oh! The baby boy is about to cry!”

“That’s enough, Lars! Get off me!!!”

“Never!!!”

“MOM!!!!”

“Shut up, chicken liver!”

“What’s going on up there?” – asked Mrs. Rodriguez from the kitchen.

“Nothing, mom! We’re just playing” – replied Lars hypocritically.

“Are we?” - asked Twister, shyly.

“Shush!” - replied Lars, while abruptly letting go of Twister and pushing him.

“Whoa!!!” – cried Twist, falling from the bed on his butt. – “Aaaw!!!!”

“You better behave, boys! And come down for breakfast; you’ll be late for your match.”

“We’re coming, mom!” - Answered Lars. – “Saved by the bell again” – said to Twister, helping him up. – “I can’t believe how lucky little earthworms like you can be!”

“I’m not little!” – replied Twister pitifully while rubbing his sore behind.

“Oh… Ok; BIG earthworms like you! HA, HA, HA!!”

Tarado!!*

“WHAT DID YOU CALL ME???” – Thundered Lars, bending Twist’s left arm behind his back.

“Aaaw! Nothing! I said nothing!!!”

“That’s better. Let’s go down for breakfast, dude. We have a hockey match to get to.”

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

It was five past eight when Sammy got out of his house. Otto and Reggie were already out, practicing some passes. Twister was also coming; his brother had left moments before to join Pi, Sputz and Animal.

The four friends reunited in the Rockets’ backyard, as usual. Twister was still rubbing his left shoulder, which was a bit tender after Lars’ womping; but all in all, the kids were ready for action.

“Woogidi, woogidi, woogidi!!” – said the kids, wiggling their fingers in their trademark salutation.

“Good morning, Twist, Sam! Are you ready to rumble?” – asked Otto.

“Definitely ready to go, Ottoman!” – answered Twister, giving Otto a high five.

“The Squid reports ready to defeat the enemy; team Rocket!” – replied Sammy, giving also a high five to Reggie.

“What happened to your shoulder, man?” – asked Otto, pointing to Twister’s arm.

“Nothing serious, Ottoman. Lars and I had our usual morning battle and he sprained my arm… the usual stuff, you know.”

“How rude! That brother of yours is a real savage, Twist!” – said Reggie.

“Nah. I’m accustomed to it, rocket girl; it would be very bizarre if he treated me differently. Anyway; where is Raymundo? It’s getting late” – asked Twister, seeing Ray’s 1948 Ford “woody” station wagon still on the garage.

“Well… it’s Sunday; I reckon Tito and Dad went to the wholesale market for supplies. They do it every week.” – answered Reggie.

“He’ll be here on time. Let’s warm up while we wait.” – said Otto, skating on circles around his friends.

“Yeah!!”

The children began a warm-up routine that Otto himself had devised. The boy was a natural, gifted sportsman, and had no difficulty at all finding ways to make himself and his friends every day more proficient on the extreme sports they liked. Even Sammy had improved notably his surfing and skating abilities under Otto’s guidance and not-so-patient advice.

Raymundo arrived at the house at 8:15 a.m. He found the children all revved up, finishing their warm-up routine. When they saw him, they all skated to him.

“Greetings, brother Mundo!” – said Twister

“Good morning, Raymundo” – said the rest of the gang

“Good morning, children! Sorry I’m late; I had to help Tito get out of the freezer. Was sorting the supplies when the door slammed closed. You should have seen him! He looked like an icicle when I finally opened it!! It was hilarious!!!”

Otto and Reggie looked at each other in disbelief. A mischievous smile appeared on their faces; knowing their dad, most probably it was him the one who got stuck in the freezer.

“Well, kids, let’s go. It’s time for the match”

The children got in the car and Ray started the engine. Although his station wagon was of a very old model, Ray had completely refurbished it when he bought it, long before the children were born, and had kept it on prime mechanical condition ever since. The car was full of cherished memories for Ray, among them the tender moments he spent camping in it with his late wife, and he wasn’t ever getting rid of it.

Ray headed for the parking lot. It was to be a short trip, about three kilometers long; nevertheless, Ray turned on the radio and inserted a tape.

“I just borrowed this tape from Tito, kids. I’m sure you’ll like it!”

The children were expectant, anxious to listen to Tito’s tape. They knew that Tito liked very much the same kind of music as they did; but their expectation turned into disbelief when they heard the first song on the tape:

“All the leaves are brown

And the sky is gray

I've been for a walk

On a winter's day

I'd be safe and warm

If I was in L.A.

California dreamin' on such a winter's day…”

“Well? What you think? Ain’t that groovy?? The Mamas and the Papas, one of the greatest bands of my youth!”

“Wow! Is that so old?!” – said Twister both innocently and awed.

“Twister!!!” – said Reggie, poking his ribs with the elbow.

“Aw! Whaaat?”

“In fact, that band was formed in 1964 by John Phillips, ‘Mama’ Cass Elliott, Denny Doherty and Michelle Phillips. They released ‘California Dreamin’ in 1966…”

As usual, it seemed as if Sammy’s head had a permanent high-speed, wireless connection to the Internet, and was able to access all kind of information from the major search engines anytime, wherever he was.

“Thank you, Squid” – interrupted Otto, bored – “We’re not in for a history lecture right now. Really, dad, don’t you have something newer… say… from this century?”

“Why? Don’t you like The Mamas and the Papas?? But they’re so groovy!!”

“Sure, dad! They are… interesting; but we’d like to hear something heavier, you know, to get in the mood…” – intervened Reggie. She always knew how to use politics to soften her brother’s incisive comments.

“Oh, well!” – Said Ray – “I guess every generation is bound to have its own tastes. Let’s see what’s on the radio.”

Ray removed the tape from the radio and began shuffling the knob.

“Any station in particular you wanna hear, kids?”

“YEAH! KROQ!! PUT IT ON KROQ!!!” – replied all the children at the same time. That station is very popular in Southern California because it transmits the latest musical novelties.

“OK, OK; I’m coming, don’t yell anymore!”

Ray selected 106.7 megahertz on the FM radio, and a popular song from the Red Hot Chili Peppers came through the loudspeakers.

“Can't stop addicted to the shin dig

Cop top he says I'm gonna win big

Choose not a life of imitation

Distant cousin to the reservation

Defunct the pistol that you pay for

This punk the feeling that you stay for

In time I want to be your best friend

Eastside love is living on the west end

Knock out but boy you better come to

Don't die you know the truth is some do

Go write your message on the pavement

Burning' so bright I wonder what the wave meant

White heat is screaming in the jungle

Complete the motion if you stumble

Go ask the dust for any answers

Come back strong with fifty belly dancers…”

“OH, YEAH!!!” - The children yelled in excitement; that was the kind of music they liked.

Ray heard them singing to the music and smiled. He was both nostalgic and happy. He really enjoyed seeing his children and their friends having so much fun together. He liked Sam and Twist very much; each boy had his own character and personality, but both were loyal friends to his children and had earned a place in his heart. Ray looked through the rearview mirror to see the kids excitedly chattering on the rear seats. It was a joyous scene for Ray, but something caught his eye when he saw Sammy; it was as if a halo of light was forming around the boy’s head. Ray looked again, but the curious effect was gone; the only thing he could see was that Sammy was still pale, although not as much as he was in the morning.

“Maybe it was my imagination” – he thought.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

The team arrived at the Shore Shack some minutes past 8:30. Ray drove down the ramp and parked in front of the sports store he also owned; he was the official sponsor of Team Rocket, and the kids always used Rocket gear on their matches, which gave them a professional touch.

“OK, kids!” – said Ray, opening the door. “Get ready. You have a match in 30 minutes. Oh! Almost forget it! There’s something for you on your lockers”.

Ray saw the children run to the dressing room; a mischievous smile was in his face. He had prepared a surprise for them; the kids had been doing very well lately, not only at sports, but also at school. Even Twister had just surprised everyone with a very nice B+ grade on his latest exam, in good part thanks to Sammy’s constant after-school support to the gang; the children had made a good habit of going to the Shore Shack every afternoon after play and spend a couple of hours there studying and doing their homework. Their parents were really proud of them, and they all agreed with Ray that the children definitely deserved a small reward.

“WOOOW!!! SUPER!!! THANK YOU, RAYMUNDO!!!” – cried excitedly the children from the back of the store; they had just opened their lockers and found their reward: a brand new hockey set and uniform for each one.

“There’s nothing to thank, kids!” – Said Ray, gleefully. “You’ve earned it. You’ve made all of us very happy with your grades and your good performance in every aspect of your life. I’m very proud of every one of you! Keep up with that good job! Now, hurry; it’s almost time for the game. We’ll be cheering you from the grades. Go, Rockets!”

“We? Who’s we??” – asked Twister, scratching his scalp.

“Who else, Twist? Your bigger fans. Me, Tito, your parents, Sammy’s mom, and all the friends from Ocean Shores. We wouldn’t miss this game for nothing!!”

“Well” – said Reggie – “We can’t make ’em wait. I’m taking over the girls’ room; you go to the boy’s room and change. We’ll meet here in ten minutes.”

“¡A la orden, chica Rocket!” - replied Twister, saluting Reggie military-style. He sometimes seemed to have seen too many movies. The children rushed to change while Raymundo left for the grades.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

Inside the dressing room, Otto, Twister and Sammy were getting dressed for the game. Otto and Sammy were seated together on a bench, donning their uniforms and pads. The healthy suntan on Otto’s skin contrasted markedly with Sam’s paleness. He always had a very light-colored skin; in fact, it didn’t matter how much he sunbathed; he would merely get a reddened skin for a while but never a permanent tan. But during the last week, Sammy was paler than usual, and that fueled Twisters’ puns.

Twister had been bothering Sammy ever since they met outside the Rockets’ house. It was the usual pattern; Lars annoyed Twister in their house, then Twister relieved himself annoying Sammy. The big fish eats the little fish. Their friends had already noticed that pattern and pointed it to Twister, but to no use. Anyway, Sammy understood him very well and only seldom spoke back to Twist.

“Look, Ottoman!” – Said to his friend, pointing to Sammy – “There’s a raw squid seating by you!! What, are we making ceviche with him?”

“No way, man! I can’t imagine eating that; seems a bit too gross! Yuk!!” – replied Otto with a grin.

“Really, Squid. We have to do something about you; you’re so milky white that sometimes you resemble a ghost! Booooo!!”

“Yeah; but ghosts don’t eat like he does, brother!” – said Otto, patting Sam’s belly.

“That’s not funny, man!” – replied Sammy, removing Otto’s hand from his tummy.

“Chill, Squid! We’re just joking” – said Twister.

“I know, guys; but you can be so annoying sometimes…” – replied Sammy, putting his shirt on.

“Seriously, Sam. You’re looking paler than ever. Are you sure you are OK?” – said Otto. – “Imagine, even Twister noticed that!!”

“Yeah!” – said twister, innocently. – “Huh?” - He didn’t get the pun; Sam and Otto rolled their eyes and continued the conversation.

“Nothing serious, Ottoman. I just haven’t slept well lately. That’s all.” – answered Sammy, placing his clothes on the locker. He didn’t notice that his inhaler was left on his pants’ pocket. - “Anyway,” – he continued, closing his locker and walking out of the dressing room with the boys to reunite with Reggie – “in this moment I really feel like playing hockey with you, guys. I wouldn’t be anywhere else now; can’t wait to see you kicking Lars’ butt!”

“Yeah! That’s the spirit, brother!!” – replied Otto

¡No hay problema, hermano!” – Answered Twister, grinning – “It’s a promise!”

“Hello!! Stop chattering, boys!” – Interrupted Reggie, who was already waiting for them outside the store – “Those jerks are already at the field, and we must hurry to meet them!

“C’mon, sis! You better say that you’re anxious to beat them!” – said Otto, blinking one eye to his sister

“Well…” – answered Reggie, returning mischievously Otto’s sign.

“Ok, Team Rocket! Let’s go get them!!” – said Sammy, extending his hand inviting the kids to their salute.

“Team Rocket! Woogidi, woogidi, woogidi!!” – replied all the children.

 

Chapter 3

Lars and his friends were already in the parking lot. The teens had brought with them a cassette player, which was blaring with a Deep Purple song:

“We all came out to Montreux on the Lake Geneva shoreline

To make records with a mobile - We didn't have much time

Frank Zappa & the Mothers were at the best place around

But some stupid with a flare gun burned the place to the ground

Smoke on the water - A fire in the sky

Smoke on the water…”

Lars, Pi and Sputz were smoking from a cigarette, but they quickly put it off when they saw Ray and Tito coming. Although they considered themselves big enough to do anything they pleased, they still respected, or should I say, feared the “Hawaiian Duo”, as they had nicknamed them. Nevertheless, the smell of tobacco was evident on their breath and they took good care of not getting near the adults, who were seating on the grades to better watch the game.

Both teams were ready. The match was to start at 9:00 sharp, and the spectators were beginning to arrive. The kids had already warmed up and were devising their strategy; Lars and his Lasers were finishing putting their equipment on.

The referee was already on the field, and at 8:55 he whistled calling the teams to prepare. Both teams took their positions: on the goals, Sam and Animal; defense / attack, Twister and Reggie by the Rockets, Pi and Sputz by the Lasers. Otto and Lars, as team captains, went to the center of the field and faced each other, waiting for the referee to start the clock.

There was a very animated rivalry between Otto and Lars. The teenager considered humiliating that a boy of only eleven years of age could be better at sports than himself, so he was constantly challenging Otto and the kids, hoping to defeat them and make fun of the “little babies”, as he scornfully called them; but so far, Otto and his Rockets had been at least as good as Lars and his Lasers, and the ensuing matches had been both thrilling and rewarding for both teams. Had Lars been a better sportsman, he would have admitted that the kids were extremely good players whom he really liked to confront on the game field; but it was something far beyond what a proud fifteen-year-old could stand.

“We meet again, Rocket jerk!” – said Lars.

“Once again, Laser sucker!!” – replied Otto.

“This time I’m gonna turn you shrimps into sushi!”

“Where have I heard that one before?”

“You’re gonna bite the dust, Otto!”

“No way, man! It’s YOU who’ll eat dirt today!”

Lars looked around, as if trying to find something; then he continued mouth-fighting Otto.

“I hope the telephone on the pier is working again; you’ll need it to call the ambulance, Rocket-mouse!”

Otto had noticed Lars’ tobacco-smelling breath, and used it to embarrass his opponent. Grinning mischievously the boy started sniffing and making faces, as if a very unpleasant smell had caught his nose. This took Lars by surprise.

“What? What are you doing, dork?” – Asked Lars, confused.

“Hey, Lars, do you smell something?”

“No. what?”

“Yuk! It’s you, buddy! Something must have died inside your mouth months ago, and is still unburied!!”

“Why, you little…little…”

Lars was really upset. As any good bully, he didn’t enjoy his intended victims to fight back, and Otto was really annoying him with his replies; besides, the boy’s remark really embarrassed him; there’s nothing more humiliating for a teenager than being mocked, particularly by a younger kid. He decided to use his secret weapon: he would start insulting Otto in Spanish; surely, the boy would be dumbfounded by this.

“Little…Tarado!” – said Lars

Y tú, grandísimo baboso!” – replied Otto in perfect Spanish, grinning.

“Uh… Menso!!” – replied Lars, utterly surprised.

Mocoso idiota!!!” – Answered Otto, with a bigger grin on his face – “Vago, bueno para nada!!!!”

“Uh… Uh…”

Lars was really confused. He didn’t expect Otto to know these derogative Spanish words; they were better and stronger than his! Come to think about it, those were the epithets his mother called HIM when she was mad!!! How could a baby shrimp like Otto know them?? Lars was trying to understand the reason of his verbal defeat, when he saw Twister giggling.

“That little, treacherous worm!” – Thought Lars – “This’ll cost you dearly, Maurice!”

Lars’ assumption was right. As part of the team’s training, Twister had taught Otto and the gang most of the Spanish adjectives his mother called Lars when mad at him. The teen would’ve never expected to hear them outside his home.

He didn’t have time to assimilate his humiliation. The referee was whistling; the game was beginning.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

Old Harris slammed the door of the market administration behind him. He was right; it was not his day. He had arrived way too late to sell his fish, and to make things worse, they had begun to stink. It was the second time in the week that he could not make the sale, and he needed the money to make some repairs on his old boat. The only choice he had was to try selling the rotten fish to the fertilizer factory, so he could at least recover the money he had paid for them at the pier.

The old man grumbled as he climbed into his van. He was tired and sleepy; last night’s Poker game with the guys had lasted well after two, and he had barely slept a couple of hours before going to the pier; and all for nothing! Oh, well; maybe a couple of beers would help him sleep better that night.

He tried to start his engine; but as usual, the starter was not working properly.

“Dang thing!!! One of these days…”

He punched the dashboard with his closed fist; this was Old Harris’ way to fix the loose starter cable. He seemed to believe that, if he ignored his van’s faults long enough, they would eventually disappear by themselves; but so far his theory had not worked. Anyway, after a couple of failed attempts, his engine finally started.

Now, the challenge was to gear first. Old Harris attempted it thrice, and each attempt was accompanied by the hair-raising sound of cracking gears. He had already forgotten when he last checked his transmission’s oil; but it was surely a long time ago. Anyway, when his van finally moved, this large oil stain appeared on the floor, right were the vehicle had stood moments before. It had leaked from one of the transmission’s gaskets.

Old Harris turned on the radio, hoping to find something to hear; but the only thing he could find on the FM was the news, the weather, and modern music.

Who let the dogs out?

Who, who, who!

Who let the dogs out?

Who, who, who…”

“Crap! Who can stand those yells??? Where the heck are the sports now?”

He shifted to AM and turned the dial. He was looking for the beach games broadcast.

“AH! Much better! There they are!”

Old Harris picked the local AM station, OSCR, which was broadcasting live from the parking lot. Lance Taylor, a popular sports commentator, and his partner Sonja Jackson, from the SoCal Radio Network, were narrating the match.

"… And a beautiful Sunday morning this is, ladies and gentlemen! This is Lance Taylor for OSCR, Ocean Shores Community Radio, 1720 on your AM dial covering today's match between two storied local teams, an intense rivalry of long standing in the local roller hockey scene: Today we are treated to the unique spectacle of a four-on-four contest between The Rockets, under team captain Otto Rocket, backed up by his sister Reggie Rocket and Twister Rodriguez, with their goal being tended by Sam 'Stonewall' Dullard; and The Lasers, under team captain Lars Rodriguez with Sputz Ringley and Pi Piston, and a goalie listed here only as 'Animal'. If you're following the action via the public-access beach-cam on cable channel 91, The Rockets, in white and green, will be working from your left, while The Lasers, in blue and red, will be defending the goal on your right."

"Sonja Jackson here, Lance. Did I hear correctly, or is a member of one team related to a member of the other?"

"Yes, Sonja, Lasers captain Lars Rodriguez is the older brother of Rockets player Twister Rodriguez, and that makes the rivalry even more interesting."

"And both Lars and Otto have been standing at center circle for a couple of minutes now. Along comes the referee: he drops the puck, and there's the whistle! The clock has started and already a heated battle has begun for the puck..."

Old Harris grinned. He had always been a fan of street sports, and roller hockey was one of his favorite games. He turned up the volume so it drowned the agonizing noise of his transmission and headed for the fertilizer factory, located just outside Ocean Shores, struggling with his ever harder to drive van.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

Otto and Lars were fighting to retain the puck since the very beginning of the match. The teen was taller and stronger, but Otto had faster moves and had been studying his opponent’s tactics for a long time. Nevertheless, eventually one of them had to win the puck, and this was Lars.

“… The Lasers captain has finally got hold of the puck, and runs with it towards the Rockets’ goal. Otto Rocket follows closely, but is blocked by Pi Piston. Now Lars Rodriguez is facing Reggie Rocket and his brother Twister. The Rockets block Lars and steal the puck from him. We can see Reggie Rocket passing it to her brother, who waits on a forward position. The Rockets are now in possession of the puck; Otto Rocket runs for the Lasers’ goal, but here comes Pi Piston and Sputz Ringley to block him… wait, he just outwitted Pi Piston and runs for the goal, followed closely by Sputz. Otto Rocket prepares, and shoots! What a magnificent toss, ladies and gentlemen! The Lasers’ goalie had a very bad time stopping it; two inches lower and Otto Rocket would have opened the scoreboard only three minutes after the beginning of the match.”

“This game promises to be full of excitement, Lance. According to the stats we have been gathering, both teams have a very even record. The lasers have won 5 out of 7 matches this season, while the Rockets have bagged 6 out of 7. None of the teams have been able to defeat each other; the three matches they’ve had ended in ties.”

“That’s correct, Sonja. Now we see the Lasers’ goalie, Animal, setting the puck in motion again. He passes to Lars Rodriguez, who runs frantically to the opposite side of the field; but here comes Reggie Rocket! She hits Lars’ stick with hers and makes him loose control of the puck. Twister Rodriguez runs for it but is intercepted by Sputz. Sputz takes back the puck, passes to Piston. Piston is blocked by Otto Rocket, passes back to Lars. Lars runs for the goal, he is alone! He’s preparing to shoot, raises his stick and… Wait a second!! Otto Rocket has just come from behind and stole the puck before Lars could shoot! Now the Rocket boy is running back to the Lasers’ goal!!”

“He’s such an audacious boy, Lance! He risked being hit by Lars’ stick, but nevertheless he used all his speed and skills to steal the puck and left the Lasers captain lagging behind. Now he must pass Pi Piston and Sputz Ringley before he can try shooting at the goal again. Pi is blocking his way and menaces to steal the puck; but Otto passes it to his teammate Twister. Twister makes a sharp turn around Sputz and now passes back to Otto, who has just left Pi behind. Otto Rocket is now in front of Animal; the goalie is concentrated on the boy’s moves. It seems Otto will shoot to the upper left corner of the goal. Animal throws himself to protect his goal, but Otto instead passes to his sister, Reggie! Reggie Rocket catches the puck and makes a swift shoot at the lower right corner of the goal, AND SHE SCORES!!! What a move, ladies and gentlemen!! Reggie and Otto Rocket have completely outwitted their opponents, and with a beautiful display of teamwork have just opened the scoreboard: Rockets 1, Lasers 0!!”

Lars was really mad. It had been just 7 minutes and the Rockets had already scored. He presented his teammates with an assorted collection of epithets while the kids were celebrating.

“Take that, Laser dopey! How did you like it, coming from a little girl like me, huh?” – Reggie teased him.

“That was just a lucky strike, dorkette!” – replied Lars, angrily.

“You think so? Well…”

“The party has just begun, Rocket-jerks!! Next time we won’t be so nice!!!”

“Blah, blah. You better start playing again, Lars. We’re wasting time” – said Otto.

Lars made a sign to Animal, and the goalie threw him the puck. Now it was the Lasers’ time to attack.

“… The Lasers captain has resumed the game, Sonja. He makes a quick move and loses Otto and Reggie Rocket. He’s dashing for the Rockets’ goal, but is confronted by his little brother, Twister.”

“What a fight the two brothers are putting up for that puck, Lance! Lars seems determined to get to the goal as soon as possible; but Twister has blocked him twice in a matter of seconds. Now Otto and Reggie have joined him, and Lars is forced to pull back and pass the puck to Sputz. Sputz is having trouble keeping it, though; I can see Reggie Rocket blocking him, repeating the same move she used to take the puck from Lars. Wait a second; Sputz lost the puck to Reggie, but now he recovers it and passes it to Pi Piston; he is dashing to the Rocket’s goal; the Rockets are being blocked by the Lasers. This is a moment of danger, ladies and gentlemen! Pi Piston is preparing… and shoots!”

The kids were unable to stop Pi; Lars and Sputz blocked them effectively. By the time Twister got off the blockade, Pi was just about to shoot.

“Oh, crap!” – Cried Twister – “Look out, Sam!!”

He didn’t have to worry. Sammy was watching Pi’s moves very carefully, and didn’t fall to the teen’s attempts to deceive him. When Pi shot, Sammy quickly jumped and caught the puck on his right hand.

“Don’t worry, Twister! I’m on top of it!!”

“YEAH!!! Well done, Sammy!” - cried Mrs. Dullard excitedly from the grades.

“Go, Rockets!!!” – Replied Ray and Tito.

“… That was amazing! Pi shot from a very short distance, and yet the Rockets’ goalie was able to stop his toss. It was as if Sammy had seen the puck in slow motion and already knew where it was going to strike. Now I can see why that boy is nicknamed ‘Stonewall’ Dullard, Lance!”

“You’re definitely right, Sonja. Now it’s the Rockets turn to resume the game; Sammy passes the puck to Twister; Twister is taking it to the center of the field but is confronted by his brother, Lars. Lars and Twister are fighting again for the puck.”

Lars and Twister were engaged on a heated battle, trying to get the puck. Lars was still angry at Twist for the verbal defeat he had caused him to Otto; but now, the two brothers were alone; it was his chance to get revenge.

“You really earned it this time, Twister!” – said Lars.

“What? Didn’t like being scolded? I thought you were already accustomed to it!”

“Laugh now, chicken liver! We’ll see who laughs harder when the giant monkeys come to get you. I’ve heard they are in town, looking for young, tender boys like you to lunch on. I might give you to them!!! Yum, yum!!!”

“G…giant mo… monkeys, Lars?? Lunching on me??? AAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!!”

Panic-stricken, Twister abandoned the fight and cowered with his stick. Lars seized the opportunity and ran for the goal, determined to score. Otto couldn’t reach him in time; when he arrived, Lars was already shooting.

“Sammy!!” – cried Otto.

“So long, Squid! You’ll become sushi now! HA, HA, HA!!”

Lars shot angrily at the goal, but Sammy was prepared to stop him. Jumping at the same time as the teen hit the puck with the stick, Sammy grabbed it in flight and landed heavily on his left side, holding the puck against his chest like a Soccer goalie protecting the ball.

“The giant Squid is not that easy to fish, Lars!!” – replied Sammy, standing.

“Crap!!!” – was the only thing Lars could say. Sammy had stopped his better legal shot.

“Well done, Sammy!!!” – cried Reggie.

“Time out, ref!” – asked Otto. The referee whistled, giving a one-minute break to the

teams. It had been almost 15 minutes of sheer action.

While Lars and the Lasers used the time out to refresh a bit, Otto went to the center of the field and questioned Twister on his strange behavior.

“What’s going on with you, man? You almost gave Lars the puck wrapped up like a Christmas gift!!”

“So… sorry, Ottoman; but Lars said that the giant monkeys are in town and are looking for kids to lunch on, and menaced to give me to them!!”

Otto put his hand on his face and tried to calm down a bit. That was enough. Otto was really mad at Lars, but was also upset with Twister. His friend was sometimes too innocent for an eleven-year-old boy, and needed to be shaken back to earth from time to time.

“You wanna know what Giant Monkeys are, Twist?” – Said Otto sharply to his friend, holding him by the shoulder – “Flesh and blood, and not a whole lot of brains!” – Otto pointed with his thumb over his shoulder at Lars and the Lasers.

“Really, Ottoman??” – asked Twist, still a bit jittery.

“Yeah, dude. What’s more; some o' them been known to wear Russian jerseys and beat people up with pillows.”

“Russian jerseys, Otto?” – Asked Twister, puzzled. Otto rolled his eyes, despaired.

“Yeah, man! You know; those purple sweaters with the red star on them. The guys who use them are the real giant monkeys, Twist. You ought to know better, man! You actually live with one of them!!!” – said Otto, fingering Lars.

“Huh? That means… Oh! I get IT!! HA, HA, HA, HA!!!!” – laughed Twister, pointing also to Lars. He was really relieved.

“So, are you OK now, buddy?”

“Yeah, Ottoman! Thank you!!!”

“OK. Let’s go get them!!!”

The referee was whistling again, indicating the time out was over. Lars and Otto returned to the center circle to resume the game.

 

Chapter 4

The match had been going on for almost 30 minutes, and the teams had given a beautiful show to the spectators. Both teams had made several attempts to score, but so far no one had been able to defeat the opponent’s goalie. The score was still favoring the Rockets by one point.

“… We are nearing the end of the first half of the game, Sonja. There are still four minutes to go, and unless the Lasers do something soon, the Rockets will finish this half winning the game."

“Both captains are having a very heated fight for the puck, Lance. The Rockets have been making things really difficult for the Lasers, who, in spite of being bigger and stronger, have not been able to score one single point.”

“Now we see Otto Rocket getting away with the puck and dashing for the Laser’s goal. That boy seems to have infinite stamina! Pi and Sputz are trying to block him, but he passes the puck to teammate Twister Rodriguez; Twister is being attacked by Pi, while Lars and Sputz are covering Otto and Reggie Rocket. Twister makes a swift turn, and then with a false run deceives Pi Piston! Twister is running to the goal; he has less than one minute to attempt his shot. Piston is right behind him; he is trying to steal the puck from Twister, but the boy makes another sharp turn and gets behind the Laser; now Twister passes the puck to Reggie and dashes trying to get a better position to shoot; now Reggie is having trouble keeping the puck! Lars Rodriguez is attacking, but Otto Rocket covers his sister effectively and allows her to pass the puck back to Twister. Twister is now ready to shoot; he is raising his stick, but now the referee is whistling the end of the first half of the match! The score at this moment is: Rockets 1, Lasers 0. Your comments, Sonja.”

“Thank you, Lance. Both teams have done a great job on the field, and the goalies had to work hard to guard their nets; until now, we have seen 12 shoots from the Rockets and 10 from the Lasers. This says much of the evenness of their strengths and skills. It is particularly relevant considering that one of the teams is made up by children under the age of 12, who measure themselves successfully against teenagers of 16 years and up!”

“I agree completely, Sonja. I bet we’ll hear a lot those kids as they grow up. Now we see the teams abandoning the field to their dressing rooms. This has been a very thrilling match, ladies and gentlemen, and we are still to see how it ends. We’ll be back with you in ten minutes, so stay tuned. This is Lance Taylor, reporting live from the beachside parking lot for Ocean Shores Community Radio, 1720 on your AM dial.”

The sports commentators closed their mikes and switched to music waiting for the game to resume. A very fitting tune was piped through the loudspeakers.

“I’ve paid my dues,

Time after time;

I’ve done my sentence,

But committed no crime

And bad mistakes

I’ve made a few,

I’ve had my share of sand kicked on my face,

But I’ve come through,

And I need to go on, and on, and on, and on.

We are the champions, my friends,

And we’ll keep on fighting ‘till the end;

We are the champions, we are the champions,

No time for losers ‘cos we are the champions

Of the world…”

Otto, Reggie and Twister reunited with Sammy and joined their hands in a high five. The kids were thrilled; they had a very intense encounter with Lars and his friends and had managed to win the first half of the game.

“Ok, guys! Let’s go to the shop! I could really use a bottle of water right now!!” – said Otto.

“We are behind you, brother!” – answered Reggie.

The four kids went into the shop to refresh a little, while Lars and his Lasers did the same elsewhere. Inside the shop, they took their helmets and protectors off. Reggie then noticed that Sammy’s paleness had turned into a bright reddened face. He was sweating abundantly, and his breath was agitated. No wonder; he had a very difficult task guarding the net. But he seemed animated, and had good reason for that: he had effectively protected his goal ten times in thirty minutes.

“I must say it: you’ve done a very good job there, guys.” – said Otto, opening a bottle of water.

“Thank you, Ottoman! You’ve been great too!” – answered Reggie.

“That shot you made to the Lasers goal was awesome, rocket girl!” – said Twister. - “That point is giving us the lead!!!”

“Yeah, but there are still 30 minutes to go before we finish the game, and must be prepared for any foul play from the Lasers.” – replied Otto.

“Chill, Ottoman! We’ll be watching them. They won’t pass our defense, and if they do, Sammy will guard our goal; right, Squid?”

“Yeah!!... I’ll… do it!!!” – replied Sammy, with a thumbs up sign.

He was trying to catch his breath again. Although he hadn’t run all over the field like the rest of the kids, Sammy had a very agitated first half with all those shots from the Lasers. The teenagers were rough when shooting at the goal, particularly Lars, and Sammy had to make enormous efforts to concentrate and catch the puck whenever they got at his goal. But he was excited; so far he had been able to stop all the menacing shots.

Sammy leaned back and gasped. His doctor always said that once he got into action, his lungs would work better. Nevertheless, his heartbeat was rather high and it was somewhat difficult for him to breath; but he thought it was merely a consequence of the strain. Surely that would pass with a little rest. If only he could be as physically fit as Otto and Twister! They had been running all over the place for over thirty minutes and seemed almost as if they had just begun the game. Sammy really envied their health sometimes.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

Old Harris was driving back to Ocean Shores. At last, he had a little luck that day; of course the fact that one of his poker pals worked on the fertilizer factory had much to do with his sudden change of fortune. Anyway; he was able to get rid of his stinky load of rotten fish, and by 9:35 a.m. he was leaving the factory.

It was not the biggest business in his life, but at least he had managed to get a small profit from his 1250 kilograms of smelly sardines. The factory used to buy the leftovers of the pier and the fishermen to produce nitrogen-rich agricultural fertilizers. The price they paid was not very high, but Harris’s friend made a concession and agreed to pay a few cents more for each kilogram of fish his pal was carrying on his van and trailer. Old Harris left the factory with over $1300 dollars in his pocket, about $150 more than what he originally paid.

Besides, his friend had noticed a little oil under Harris’ van and had given him a pint of recycled transmission oil for free. Combined with the significant reduction of weight the old vehicle had to drag, the oil helped reduce the noise of the transmission and made the van slightly easier to drive. Maybe one of these days he would do a tune-up to his van, as Ray Rocket recommended; but now he was going to buy some beers and sit on his butt watching TV for the rest of the day.

He passed by a 7/11 to buy his beers and something to eat. The cashier, a nice, blond girl of about 18 years of age, had a TV set on and was watching the beach games. Old Harris paid his groceries with a 20 dollar bill, and while she was counting his change, looked at the TV.

“Has the hockey game ended?” – asked to the girl.

“Not yet, sir. They’ve just finished the mid-time break, and are playing the second half of the game.”

“And who’s winning? Have the Lasers scored yet?”

“No, sir. The Rockets are still winning by one point” – answered him, extending some coins over the counter. - “Three dollars fifty change, sir. Have a nice day.”

Old Harris took his change and climbed back into his van. After fighting again a couple of times to start his engine, he left for Lincoln Boulevard, leaving an oil pool in front of the convenience store. It was 9:45 a.m.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

The match was about to resume at the parking lot. The crowd, excited by the great show the two teams had offered them, clapped their hands on the beat of a song that has become an anthem of sports events everywhere:

“Buddy you're a boy

Make a big noise playing in the street

Gonna be a big man some day

You got blood on your face, your big disgrace,

Kicking your can all over the place, singing

We will, we will rock you

We will, we will rock you…”

The teams were preparing to enter the field again. Lance Taylor and Sonja Jackson were waiting for them, hoping to get some words from the captains before the match resumed.

“Good morning again, Ocean Shores! This is Lance Taylor, transmitting back for OSCR, 1720 on your AM dial, from the beachside parking lot for the second half of today’s extraordinary match between the Lasers, commanded by Lars Rodriguez, and the Rockets, under the leadership of Otto Rocket. The game has been very exciting and the crowd is thrilled; we can hear the fans cheering their teams from the grades. The teams have treated us with an intense display of courage, skills and extreme hockey, and now are preparing to jump to the field again.”

“Sonja Jackson here, Lance. I am with Lasers captain Lars Rodriguez, just outside their dressing room at JK’s market. Lars, some words for our audience, please. How are you planning to confront the Rockets on this second half of the game?”

“We are gonna crush those little mollusks in this part, Sonja! They won’t even know what hit them! They’ll bite the dust, you’ll see!!” – said Lars.

“That sounds easier to say than to accomplish, Lars! The Rockets are winning by one point, and so far you and your team have not managed to score. Sam ‘Stonewall’ Dullard has effectively blocked each attempt from your team to score…”

“That little Squid has just been lucky, Sonja! You watch closely this part of the game, and will se how he is turned into sushi! And the rest of those Rocket shrimps will be cooked, too!! HA, HA, HA!!!” – bragged Lars.

“Well, Lance, you’ve heard Lasers captain Lars Rodriguez; he vows to make the Rockets bite the dust during the rest of the game. Now the Lasers have abandoned their dressing rooms and are jumping to the field for the second half of this truly intense roller hockey match we are watching. This is my report.”

“Thank you for your comments, Sonja. I’ve heard them along with Rockets captain Otto Rocket. Otto, you’ve heard the challenge from Lasers captain Lars Rodriguez; what do you have to say about it? How will your team confront the Lasers during this second half of the game?”

“I’ll sum it up in three words, Lance: Take No Prisoners!!!”

“So, aren’t you afraid of confronting the Lasers, Otto?”

“No way, Lance! I am confident of my team; we’ll teach those Lasers how to play roller hockey; just keep watching us. We are prepared for any foul play them Giant Monkeys can ever devise with that shrunken pea they’ve got instead of brains, and will stop them right in front of their goal!!!”

“HEY!!! I HEARD THAT, OTTO!!!!!” – yelled Lars from the field.

The audience burst in laughter upon hearing Otto’s reply to Lars’ bragging.

“GIANT MONKEYS!! HA, HA, HA, HA!!!!!” – laughed the audience, some of them pointing to Lars and the Lasers.

That was really embarrassing for the teenagers. Otto had finally won the nickname battle to Lars, and won it on the air!!

Lance chuckled too, utterly delighted. Otto really knew how to upset Lars and his friends. It was well known all over Ocean Shores the intense rivalry between the notorious bully and the gifted, yet sometimes presumptuous Rocket boy, and everybody had come to expect those funny mouth-fights between the two lads.

“Ok. That was Otto Rocket, captain of Team Rocket. The kids seem confident; they are now entering the field too. We’ll continue narrating this intense match from our post on the grades.”

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

The kids took their positions on the field, ready to play the second half of the game. Lars and Otto went to the center circle; the two lads really wished to show each other how good players they were. On the Rockets goal, Sammy was back on duty, determined to keep it safe from the teens’ attacks. He hadn’t recovered completely his breath; in fact, he was feeling very tired and numb. This, and a general cold sensation, accompanied with abundant sweat, told him he was having fever again; but he was determined to finish that game without letting the Lasers score.

Lance Taylor and Sonja Jackson were already on their post, and were narrating the overall mood of the crowd, while the referee, looking at his wristwatch, waited for the exact moment to resume the match.

“The team captains are back on the center circle, and the referee is now preparing to whistle the beginning of the second part of this match. He watches the clock… and here it is, ladies and gentlemen! No sooner the whistle sounds and the puck falls to the ground, that the two captains engage again on a fight for its control. If possible, it seems to be an even hotter battle for the puck. Otto Rocket finally gets hold of it and dashes for the Lasers’ goal, followed closely by his teammates and Lars Rodriguez. Lars pushes Otto and tries to snatch the puck away, but Otto manages to pass it to teammate Twister Rodriguez. Twister runs directly for the goal; maybe he can get in position for a shot, but there comes Pi Piston like a steam locomotive and knocks Twister down. The referee says the move is OK. Pi Piston is now in possession of the puck and runs unstoppable to the Rockets’ net, while Otto and Reggie Rocket are being blocked by Lars and Sputz respectively. Twister is desperately trying to stop Pi, but he arrives to the net too late: Pi Piston is preparing, raises his stick… and shoots!”

“Wake up, Squid!!!” – yelled Twister.

There was nothing Sammy could do. He was having fever again, and his reflexes were slower. By the time he realized Pi was shooting it was already too late: the puck passed whining over his right shoulder into his net.

“The Lasers have finally managed to score against Sam ‘Stonewall’ Dullard, Lance! It took them 37 minutes of play to defeat this kid, who has made a magnificent job guarding that goal!”

“That’s correct, Sonja. It was necessary for the Lasers to use a rougher, faster game to finally defeat the Rockets defense and score! Now, on the seventh minute of the second half, Rockets 1, Lasers 1!”

Some people were clapping and cheering the Lasers from the grades, but they were considerably outnumbered by the Rockets’ fans. Anyway, Lars and his team were bragging, skating in circles around Otto and Reggie with the sticks held over their heads as if they had just won the Super Bowl. Lars was teasing Otto insistently.

“I told you, Rocket worm! Lasers rule!!! HA, HA, HA!!!!”

Twister joined Otto and Reggie in the middle of the field. He was mad; he knew he had lost the puck Otto had passed him and had been unable to protect it; but he was trying to blame Sammy completely for the goal.

“That Squid is sleeping on his net again, Ottoman!” – Said Twist, pointing with his finger over his shoulder at Sam - “Really, bro, we’re running all over the place risking our hides against these giant monkeys to protect that puck, and the Squid does noting!”

“It’s wasn’t only Sam’s fault, Twist!” – replied Otto, sharply.

“WAS IT MY FAULT????” – replied Twist, mad.

“Well, you lost the puck to that giant monkey, just in front of their net, and then walked behind him as if strolling down the pier!!!”

“But… but the Squid should have stopped the shot, man!!!”

“Look, guys! The little babies are fighting!” – teased Lars, laughing.

“Beat it, jerk!!!” – said Otto, pushing Lars away.

“Whoa!!!” – cried Lars, nearly falling over Pi and Sputz.

Reggie stepped in and separated the two boys. As usual, she was the calm and centered; she had seen the whole move and noticed that Sammy had not fully recovered during the break. She remembered he had been sick during the week, something the two boys, particularly Twister, had forgotten. Anyway, she had to use her older-sibling authority to cool things down between Otto and Twister.

“That’s enough! Now chill, boys!!!” – Reg said authoritatively, separating the kids with her hands.

Otto and Twister were steaming, but nevertheless they obeyed Reggie and separated a couple of steps.

“Look, Otto. You’re letting Lars annoy you with his immature jokes. You have to cool down, bro! And you, Twist, admit that there wasn’t anything none of could have done. They are playing tougher than before, and that’s because they are well aware they won’t ever beat us otherwise. We must change our strategy too, guys. Now it’s the time for those new moves you have been practicing, Otto!”

“Yeah. I reckon you’re right, sis.” – Admitted Otto. - “Twist, please forgive me, man! I didn’t mean it!”

“I’m sorry too, Otto” – replied Twister.

“That’s better, guys! Now, I propose this….”

Reggie whispered to the boys’ ears. She had been watching the Lasers and had identified a flaw on their defense; they were attacking Otto and Twister but were leaving her alone most of the time. Besides, they would be overconfident now that they had scored. She planned to sneak behind them while they blocked the boys and then steal the puck from behind, run for the net, and try to score.

“I like that plan” – said Otto, approving.

“Me too, rocket girl! Let’s do it!!” – added Twister.

“OK, guys! Let’s go get them!” – replied Reggie.

The children took their positions, waiting for the Lasers to resume the game. The referee was whistling. Animal threw the puck to Lars, and the teen began moving forward; but, as Reggie had anticipated, he was now excessively confident. Lars thought that the kids would still be angry at themselves and thus their attack and defense would be compromised; but soon found out how wrong he was.

“… Otto and Twister are now confronting Lars frontally, Sonja! The two boys are really annoying him now. Lars has been forced to pass the puck to Pi and pull back a couple of meters. Pi is now trying to get close to the center of the field, but is now confronted by Reggie, who hits his stick with hers and makes him lose the puck again. Reggie passes to Twister, Twister passes to Otto… Otto is being surrounded by Pi and Sputz, but passes back to Reggie. Reggie now faces Lars. Lars makes a rough attempt to steal the puck but Reggie resists it and makes Lars trip!”

“The kids seem to have changed their game too, Lance! They are now playing more aggressively, and if the Lasers bump them, they bump them back. This seems to have taken Lars and the Lasers by surprise; now we see Otto and Twister engaging on a heated encounter with Lars, Sputz and Piston. They are about one third of the way from the Lasers’ goal. The Lasers seem to have regained control of the puck; we see Piston stealing it from Twister… but wait a second! There is Reggie Rocket! She just sneaked behind the Lasers’ attack line and is now stealing the puck from behind! She is dashing for the net; the Lasers try to stop them, but now the roles shift and Otto and Twister are blocking the bullies!!”

The play had turned out exactly as planned; Reggie stole the puck in Lars’ nose and now was running for the goal. Lars, taken by surprise with this move, could do nothing to stop her because Otto and Twister blocked him with an energy he didn’t think the two boys could have.

“Crap!!! Look out, Animal!!!!! Don’t let her score again!!!!!!!!!!!” – cried Lars.

It was too late. Reggie made a very energetic shot to the net. Animal did grab the puck, but the strength of the shot was such that the puck slipped from his gauntlet and fell inside the net. The referee saw it and declared valid the score.

“YEAH!!!! WAY TO GO, REGGIE!!! WELL DONE ROCKETS!!!!! GO, ROCKETS!!!!!!!” – yelled the audience, excited.

“… The crowd is going nuts, ladies and gentlemen! We’ve just seen a superb example of teamwork and strategy on the side of the Rockets, who are now recovering the lead on this game, thanks to that magnificent shot by Reggie Rocket!!!”

“That’s correct, Lance! We can see the fans hooting and yelling excitedly all over the grades, ladies and gentlemen. The kids have again demonstrated the veracity of that old adage, and with their superior display of strategy and wit have intelligently defeated the brute force the Lasers had been using since the beginning of this second half of the game. The scoreboard now is: Rockets 2, Lasers 1!!”

“There are still 18 minutes to go before the end of this match, Sonja, but I think the two teams have already showed the kind of game they’re gonna play: the strong, brute force of the Lasers versus the ingenious, resourceful strategy displayed by the Rockets. Now we see the Lasers’ goalie, Animal, putting the puck back in motion. There is still a lot of excitement left on this game, ladies and gentlemen, and you can hear it right here, on OSCR, Ocean Shores Community Radio, 1720 on your AM dial, transmitting live this extreme roller hockey match between the ultimate Ocean Shore sports teams: Rockets 2, Lasers 1!”

 

Chapter 5

Old Harris was stuck on an early Sunday traffic jam. He should have known better; he had lived there for over forty years, and yet had completely forgotten that Lincoln Boulevard, as the major street linking the Interstate to the outskirts of Ocean Shores, was the usual way of entry for the periodical wave of shoobies, and that Sunday was not an exception. He was tired of slowly following the endless line of visiting cars; and, to further enhance his frustration, the van was overheating and its transmission was becoming noisier and harder to operate every time he shifted gears. If he didn’t start moving soon, the engine would finally stall and leave him stuck in the middle of that jam, under the already intense sun.

“Darn shoobies!!!” - Cried Harris angrily when this VW Golf from Nevada repeatedly honked and beamed its lights at him. Its occupants, a young couple in their early twenties, waved as if trying to alert him of something; the girl pointed insistently to the road behind the van and cried something about dripping oil, but he rolled up his window and ignored her. He would later wonder what would have happened had him listened to those tourists.

Harris looked at his wristwatch: 10:06 A.M. He was going to miss the weather report on the TV, unless he could manage to get rid of those shoobies. He thought how to bypass the rush-hour traffic, and realized that a hundred meters ahead he could turn right at the traffic light and descend by the California Incline. That was a good escape route; indeed, very few residents or shoobies dared to cruise on that steep street without taking a lot of precautions; but old Harris knew that incline very well. Yeah, that would be his play; the steep street would take him directly by the parking lot. Driving around it he could reach the pier and then the marina, where his old boat was moored. He would only have to wait some minutes until he reached the intersection.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

Sammy was feeling worse now. The Lasers had made many more attempts to score, and he had to work harder than ever to prevent the puck from entering his net. They were too rough; Lars had instructed Pi and Sputz to fry the Squid, and the three teenagers had shot with all their strength every time they got at the goal, making it very difficult and even painful for Sam to stop their shots.

He was panting, utterly exhausted. He had a very high fever now, and it was harder to breath every time. The familiar tickling sensation was already on his throat; soon it would be necessary to take a dose of his medicine. Sammy looked at the field; the kids were fighting for the puck near the Lasers’ net. If the trend he had figured out for that match was right, he had a couple of minutes before the Lasers ran against him once more, so he could relax a bit and take his medicine calmly.

Sammy inserted his hand on his pants’ pocket, searching for his inhaler; but to his surprise, his medicine was not there. He didn’t worry at once; maybe he put it on the other pocket. He checked with the other hand and realized that he had not his inhaler with him.

“What the heck?” – Said to himself, puzzled. – “Where is it???”

Sammy searched his clothes again. No, he didn’t have the inhaler with him. He looked around the goal, lest it was on the ground, but it was useless; his medicine was gone.

“Crap!” – Said again, slapping his forehead. He had just realized that he had left the inhaler inside the locker when he had changed clothes. – “What am I gonna do now??”

He looked at his wristwatch, hoping to find out that the game was almost done. It was 10:11 A.M., and there were still six minutes to go. Oh, well. He might try to resist until he could go to the dressing room and recover his medicine from his locker…

“SAM!!! WAKE UP, SQUID!!!!” – Cried Otto.

He nearly had no time to react. He looked up and saw Lars running towards him like a steam locomotive, ready to shoot. He barely managed to raise the stick and aim it to the flying puck; a fraction of second later and the teenager would have scored, but fortunately Sammy had intercepted the puck with the stick. The impact made the puck bounce back to the field, where Otto took it with a very fast move.

“Well done, Sam! I knew I could count on you!!!” – acknowledged Otto.

Sammy sighed in relief; that was too close. Now he was really panting, on the verge of an asthma attack.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

Old Harris had finally taken the detour and was coming down the California Incline. The old man chuckled; the shoobies from the VW Golf didn’t dare to take that steep road and were still stuck on Lincoln Boulevard. Harris grinned at his wit. He didn’t pay any attention to the red lights that had just lightened on his dashboard.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

Lars, Otto and Twister were again fighting for the puck. The time was almost up; in a few minutes the game would finish. Lars was desperate; he didn’t want to lose to those baby shrimps, and made it a point to score again at any cost. He wouldn’t get the puck easily; the kids were really resisting his attacks. It was time to use the real sheer brute force.

Four minutes before the end of the match, Lars decided that it was time to finish that battle for the puck. With his stick he “accidentally” hooked Otto’s right ankle and pulled it sideways, making the boy trip and fall to his knees. Then, pushing Twister with the shoulder, Lars stole the puck and ran towards the goal.

“Hey!” – Cried Otto, rubbing his knees – “That isn’t fair!!!”

Lars didn’t stop. Besides, his move had been so swift that the referee couldn’t see it, so he decided to declare valid the play. Otto, Twister and Reggie ran frantically, trying to catch up with the teen, but Lars was way beyond their reach. He was right in front of the goal; Sammy was waiting for him, but Lars didn’t gave him time to prepare; he shot angrily at the net, hitting Sammy in the belly and taking out his breath.

“Ough!!” – said Sammy, falling to his knees.

The puck had bounced back to the field, but Lars took hold of it and shot again, before the referee could whistle a time out. He had finally defeated the Squid; the puck was in the bottom of the net. It didn’t matter to him that the audience was booing him. If they didn’t like his game, it was not his problem.

“BOOOOO!!!! BOOOOO!!!! Don’t be abusive, Lars!!! That’s not fair play! GIANT MONKEY!!! That’s the only way you could possibly win!!!!!” – cried the audience. Some people were whistling; others made signs to the abusive teenager; but he didn’t pay any attention to them. The referee had to acknowledge the shot because the puck entered the net before he whistled the time out, so the score was now a tie: Rockets 2, Lasers 2.

Otto and Twister were really mad at Lars, and confronted him in front of Sammy’s goal. Reggie was also angry, but she was more concerned about Sam’s health. The blow had finally unleashed the asthma attack and Sammy was coughing painfully, still lying on his knees.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

Old Harris noticed the red lights on his dashboard and a shadow clouded his face. If those lights were right, he was having trouble with the brakes and the generator. He was gaining speed, in spite of the constant pressure on the brake pedal. He began to get scared; he tried to downshift to use the engine as an aid to the brakes; but when he did it, a loud, metallic crack was heard from under the car. The transmission had run out of oil and the gears had jammed, breaking the synchronizers and the change lever. The resulting jolt also caused the engine to stall.

Harris panicked; he couldn’t gear any speed, and without the engine, he had no power brakes, no power steering, no horn; his van was now an uncontrolled missile, completely at the mercy of the gravity force. It was gaining speed fast; the last time he saw, he had reached 120 KM / H. Harris saw in horror how the parking lot at the end of the incline was becoming larger and larger...

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

The referee had whistled a time out. He would extend the match a couple of minutes, to allow Sammy to recover from the direct hit he had endured. Pi, Sputz and Animal took advantage of the break and left the field to drink some water. Otto and Twister were arguing with Lars in front of the goal; Reggie knelt by Sam and tried to help him.

“Are you OK, Sammy?” – Asked Reggie, concerned.

“I… I need… my inhaler!!!” – Replied Sammy, gasping. “I… forgot it… on the locker…”

He didn’t finish the sentence. A screech, a blaring horn, shouts of fear and surprise, a very loud thud… Everything happened at the same time. Sammy turned his head, and his face became white as a piece of paper: he had just seen how this old van crashed with a Chevrolet Malibu at the base of the California Incline and was projected into the guardrail protecting the parking lot. The van sheared the metallic guards as if they were made from cardboard, and thundered into the parking lot like a foul-mouthed bull. He saw in disbelief how the van headed directly to Lars, Otto and Twister.

Everything happened too fast. It was exactly as in his nightmares; and if it happened in the same way as in his bad dreams, the van would hit the kids and that would be their end.

He didn’t really know when he started running, or how he managed to stand and skate so fast towards his friends in spite of the severe asthma attack he was suffering. The last thing Sammy thought consciously was that he wouldn’t permit that mishap to happen. He ran as fast as ever; the skidding van was just meters away from his friends, who hadn’t yet realized what was going on.

The next second, everything had finished. Holding his stick across his chest like a tractor-blade, and bellowing "WATCH OUT!!" at the top of his lungs, Sammy had thrown himself towards his friends and, in a move that would have made storied 49’ers Quarterback Jeff Garcia nod in approval, the boy tackled Otto, Lars and Twister and pushed them out of the van’s way. The three boys fell on the pavement, meters away from the van’s wheels. They were bruised but safe; unfortunately, Sammy was not fast enough to avoid being injured. Old Harris’ van hit him violently and sent him flying through the air. The boy crashed on the windshield, was thrown over the van’s roof, and fell heavily behind the still moving car. The inertia made him bounce and roll on the rough concrete floor for several meters before hitting the market’s wall to a halt.

The van continued its uncontrolled race until a utility pole finally stopped it. The collision had completely destroyed the old vehicle, but Old Harris walked out of the wreck with only minor injuries; he had been wearing his safety belt.

Sammy was stunned, lying motionless on the ground. At first he did not really have any pain; but slowly he began feeling as if his head was about to explode. Something warm and sticky was dripping from his left eyebrow to the ground, where a small, red pool was steadily forming. Everything seemed to be spinning around him. As the seconds passed, he began to be aware of the pain; an intense pain all over his body. He tried to turn his head, but the effort was useless: he was too dazed and confused.

He saw vague silhouettes of people running towards him, shouting something he couldn’t understand. He tried to rise again but then a very intense pain in his legs and right arm forced him to lie down again. A good sign, actually; he knew it meant that his neck and back might be okay. But it was very difficult for him to breathe; his air passages were blocked by the uncontrolled asthma attack he had suffered; besides, an excruciatingly sharp pain drilled his chest with every inhalation.

“Sammy! Oh my God, Sammy!!”

He recognized Reg’s voice as she leaned over him. He tried to speak to her, but all he could utter was unintelligible, broken words. He wanted to ask for the boys, wanted to know if they were fine; but then he heard Lars, Otto and Twister calling him too. They were alive!! Sammy felt relieved; at least his nightmare had not become true. He opened his eyes and tried to see them, but all he could see were diffuse figures because his glasses had been knocked away. Then a red cloud obscured his eyes, and the boy passed out.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

Officer Shirley took her patrol through the forests and newer residential properties in the north side of town. She parked her department-issue Crown Victoria so she could catch up on the perpetual chain of paperwork that even a quiet day generated. She'd been listening to Lance Taylor and Sonja Jackson's coverage of the hockey game on the AM radio, and had chuckled at Lars Rodriguez's bristling mood and Otto Rocket's hubris.

Shirley had been concentrating on a memo regarding a rash of bicycle thefts when she noticed incoherent shouts and screams coming over OSCR, followed by static and dead silence. Ever curious, she quietly started the car and headed for the seashore.

Then, on the car's two-way system, the dispatch center broke in on the OSPD's command frequency: three quick tones - the sign of a major emergency - followed by an announcement:

"Attention all units: Multiple cell phone calls reporting an eleven-eighty just occurred, lot number one near California Incline, lot number one near California Incline, a van and trailer versus pedestrians with multiple injuries. EMS and fire are en route; all available units handle code three. Time out: one zero one eight."

"Please. Not the lil' ones," - she prayed. She activated her overhead lights and siren, and gunned the five-liter V-8 in earnest, hoping for the best. She grabbed the microphone. - "Three Victor five - I'm on it," - she acknowledged.

It took Shirley about ten minutes, even with lights and siren, to arrive at the parking lot; the traffic was really dense that morning. When she arrived at the scene, she had to honk and use her megaphone to make the dense crowd let her through. Two ambulances were already at the scene, as well as a fire truck. She immediately began piecing the bits of information she could get, in an attempt to recreate what had happened. Clue number one was when she saw that a large section of the California Incline's guard rail had been shorn away, leaving this huge, gaping hole leading directly to the parking lot. Pieces of glass, a broken headlight, and a license plate incrusted on the twisted metal rails were clear evidence of the magnitude of the crash.

Then she saw the kids; Lars and Twister were being hugged by their weeping parents, and Reggie was standing by Raymundo, who had his arms around her neck on a tender, protective embrace. They all seemed stunned but fine. Pi, Sputz and Animal were mixed with the crowd.

She went by one of the ambulances. Inside it Otto was being tended by the paramedics; the boy was fine, but had opened a small gash on his forehead and sprained his left arm when he fell on his hockey stick. It was not the first time that Otto was treated inside an ambulance; his recklessness had afforded him that experience before; but this time he was strangely quiet, and Officer Shirley could have sworn that his eyes were weepy behind his glasses.

“So far, they all seem to be fine, thank Goodness!” – She said to herself – “But where is the little Sammy?”

She continued her round and found out that the firemen had been treating old Harris and now had him under custody. The old man was crying, covering his face with the hands. He was suffering a nervous breakdown.

“Good morning, Mac! What happened here?” – asked Shirley to the fire captain in charge.

“Hi, Shirley. A very regrettable mishap” – said the fireman with a markedly Scottish accent – “This chap lost control of his lorry and crashed smack on the lot where the kids were playin’ hockey. He nearly ran over three boys, but this little fellow jumped and saved them. Unfortunately he was trampled over…”

Her heart overturned inside her chest; a very bad thought had come to her mind. She asked the firemen to keep guarding Harris for a while and rushed for the other ambulance, hoping for the best.

She arrived in time to see how Sammy was being laid on a stretcher. A rigid orthopedic collar had been fitted to his neck. The boy was covered in blood and was unconscious. One paramedic held an oxygen mask to his face, while another kept in high a bottle with plasma that was being injected on his veins through a catheter.

“Oh, my God!” – said Shirley to herself.

On her profession it was not uncommon for her to see such scenes; but it always shocked her when a kid was involved, particularly one she knew.

The stretcher was placed inside the ambulance. The paramedics closed the doors, and the driver made the siren howl. The crowd moved away and the ambulance rushed to the hospital. Shirley saw Tito helping Paula Dullard in his old van. The woman had been nearly hysterical and needed to be treated on site by the paramedics. Now the two adults were also departing for the hospital.

The first thing she did was to take Harris in custody. Several other patrols had arrived at the place and were helping getting things under control again. The gruesome task of questioning the witnesses and enclosing the scene with red tape had to be done quickly.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

Sam felt himself being drawn through a long, dark tunnel... neither walking, swimming, skating, nor flying, he was just... being moved, and that’s all. In the distance a lone figure stood silhouetted against a white light. As he drew closer, he could see that it was a woman, clad in robes. When he got within speaking range, he beheld her benevolent radiance.

"Excuse me ma’am," - Sam spoke, - "but do I have the pleasure of meeting..." - he searched for the right word - "...of meeting Mrs. Joseph?"

As he got close enough to see her in better detail, Sam noticed that she did look somehow familiar. Very familiar, actually; she had a round, broad face, smooth skin, big pretty eyes, and dark curly hair. The round, broad face reminded him of Otto, and the other features, he remembered, were similar to Reggie's. He already knew now, far more accurately, what to call her.

"Thank you for protecting my baby. I worried about him so," - she said, not directly answering, but somehow Sam knew that both understood what was meant. - "I deliver to you this assurance: Today is not your time. Tell Ray and the kids I love them..."

"I wi...," Sam thought, only to be jolted to partial coherence by the i.v. drugs and oxygen being administered to him.

The mild jostling, the siren, and the ministrations of the paramedics helped it all to make sense now. He relaxed and a feeling of peace overcame him. Ocean Shores' cracker-jack rescue squad, he recalled, had an excellent record.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

Dr. Khalif was at the ready when the ambulance carrying Sam arrived at the hospital's ER door. Sam had been strapped to a hard plastic board to protect his spine. As he was brought in on the gurney, the doctor quickly took an initial assessment of Sam's condition. Using a small flashlight, he checked the pupils of his eyes for normal reaction. Good, that meant no serious damage to the brain or nervous system; nevertheless the doctor preferred a careful approach.

"That helmet stays on unless and until I say otherwise," - the doctor cautioned his staff.

As an experienced orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Khalif had treated hundreds of accident cases and knew what should and should not be done, until he obtained further information. They took Sam to radiology, where the bones of his body were scanned from head to toe. It was determined that it was safe to carefully unstrap and remove Sam's helmet; thankfully, the engineers at Pro-Tec had more than done their job on designing the gear, as the boy's skull was undamaged.

The doctor was concerned about one thing in particular though: Sam's labored breathing. The band of the boy's wristwatch carried a small tag saying "Asthma." As a blood test came back, there was the presence of the usual mild steroid inhalants, but he expected the kid's oxygen level to be better, particularly considering that he'd been on a good flow of o2 on the way in. He made a note on Sam's chart to have one of the guys in Respiratory Health have a look at him soon, and had an endotracheal tube placed down his throat to help him breathe.

As they were wheeling Sam into the OR, the doctor spoke to him.

"Can you hear me, Sam? I'm Dr. Khalif. You're at Ocean Shores Medical Center. You've sustained some broken bones. Setting them will be a fairly simple matter, but we're going to give you a shot in your spine called an 'epidural' that will help with the pain. The actual procedures will take only a short while, but you're gonna have to stay here for a few days at least. I'm just a little worried about your lungs, but other people are already at work on that."

Sammy nodded slightly. He was thankful for that; at least that shot would block the pain he was having. He knew he was in good hands; the boy had a fairly good idea of what was about to happen, and was thankful for the modern medicine.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

The clock of Ocean Shores Medical Center’s waiting room marked 12:05 P.M. All the gang was there, waiting anxiously for news on their ill-fated friend. Sammy was undergoing surgery now, and every passing minute seemed eternal to the grieving group.

Holding a cotton ball against the inside of her elbow (from having donated blood), Reggie wandered past an open door and heard Twister's muted voice. This room had been converted into a chapel. As she stopped, she heard more clearly:

"...Danos hoy nuestro pan de cada día; perdona nuestras ofensas, como también nosotros perdonamos a los que nos ofenden; no nos dejes caer en tentación y líbranos del mal. Tuyo es el Reino, el poder y la gloria por siempre... Ave María; llena eres de gracia; el Señor es contigo; bendita eres entre todas las mujeres, y bendito es el fruto de tu vientre, Jesús. Santa María, Madre de Dios, ruega por nosotros pecadores, ahora y en la hora de nuestra muerte... Gloria al Padre, y al Hijo y al Espíritu Santo. Como era en el principio, ahora y siempre, por los siglos de los siglos. Amén..."

The boy sat morose and tear-eyed before a statue of the Madonna. Dozens of cups holding small electronic votive lights were lit. He was working a string of beads as he prayed. Reggie quietly sat down next to him and put an arm around his shoulder. Eventually she began to pray along with him in English:

"Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you, blessed be you among women and blessed be the fruit of your womb, Jesus..."

Along came Otto, also holding a bandage to his arm for the same reason as Reggie. Quietly he took a seat on Twister's other side and sat and thought deeply about the events of the day. Likewise, he quietly joined in with Twister and Reggie:

"Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Let Your Kingdom come; let Your will be done on earth as in heaven..."

Some minutes later Lars happened along, and sat by himself. All four of those people were going somewhere, he thought to himself.

“I've been all along such a vain and selfish fool! Why couldn't it have been me? Why couldn't it have been me?” - He wept with loud and open anger – “Why couldn't it have been me?"

Otto went to talk to Lars.

"He did what he thought he had to do. For me and I'm pretty sure for the others, there ain't a one of us here who wouldn't have done something like that. It was in his nature."

"I know," - Lars responded. - "I've been such a... Can I... pray with you?"

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

The children had been praying in the chapel for a while; none of them was sure for how long, when Tito entered the room. He was touched by the scene; even Lars had joined the kids in prayer for Sam; that was something Tito would have never expected to see, and was glad to be wrong about it. The colorful Hawaiian bowed to the religious icons and called the children in a low, respectful tone.

“Ah, there you are, little cuzzes! I’ve been looking for you. Come; one of the nurses said to us that Sammy has just been taken off the operating room; maybe we can have news on our little cuz soon.”

Expectantly, nervous, the four kids looked at each other and followed Tito quietly. They entered the nearby waiting room; the adults were there, reunited. They too had a mixture of anguish and hope on their faces.

They had to wait for several minutes before the doctor who had operated Sammy finally entered the room. Dr. Khalif was well known all over California as a very good surgeon and orthopedist, and Ray and Tito felt relieved to see that he was attending Sammy. The doctor looked very professional and immediately inspired trust to the gang.

“Are you Sam Dullard’s relatives and acquaintances?” – asked on a soft voice.

“Yes, Doctor. I’m Sammy’s mom, and these are our friends. Please, tell us, how is he? Is he all right?? Will be fine???”

The doctor smiled. He really understood Paula Dullard’s anxiety. He was very ethical, and he proceeded to tranquilize her immediately with the good news.

“Sammy will be fine, Mrs. Dullard. Don’t worry; He has suffered some serious injuries, but fortunately none of them irreversible. His condition is stable and his prognosis is good. There’s a very good chance that he will fully recover from this accident and continue having a completely normal life; but he’ll have to be out of action for a while.”

The kids smiled to each other and their faces lit when they heard this. It seemed that Sammy had been saved! But the doctor hadn’t finished breaking the news to the gang, and all of them listened carefully.

“… He has sustained several fractures, particularly on the left side of the body where he most likely received the impact of the van: his leg had an exposed fracture on the femur and a couple of cracks on the tibia; he has two snapped ribs, and his right wrist was also fractured. He also received many bruises and concussions all over his body, and two larger wounds on his chest and stomach, most probably caused by the windshield wipers; but, like I said, fortunately none of his injuries are irreversible, and we’ve made sure they will heal correctly.”

“What I am a bit more concerned about is his asthma. He was suffering from a very intense attack and high fever when the accident occurred, and this made kind of difficult the job of stabilizing him; but he regained consciousness in the operating room and helped us by describing in detail his attacks and their symptoms. He gave us the name of his doctor; we’ve already contacted him. Sammy is now better; we administered him some drugs that helped clear his air passages, but he will have to remain connected to a respirator to help him breathe while we discover the cause of those attacks. Most likely he is suffering from a severe lung infection that will have to be treated with antibiotics. We made a biopsy to discover what is causing the infection; the samples are now in the lab. I think we’ll be able to start giving Sammy the right medication this evening.”

The gang was breathing with relief. It had been nearly four hours since the accident, but it seemed to be much longer. The doctor waited for the good news to tranquilize them a bit, and then concluded, talking particularly to Mrs. Dullard.

“You can be very proud of your son, Mrs. Dullard. I have been informed on the circumstances on which he was injured, and he can be really called a hero. And he was very brave during his operation, too. Now he will rest a bit on recovery before being taken to his room.”

“Thank you, doctor! Thank you so much!” – said everyone.

“There’s nothing to thank; it was my pleasure. Now, Mrs. Dullard, if you accompany me, there are some administrative procedures we must fulfill. He’ll be in room 246 when you return.”

“Can we see Sammy, doctor?” - Asked Otto.

“Please!!!” – Added Twister, Lars and Reggie.

“Well… It’s now 2:30 P.M. He will remain in recovery until about 3:30; you’ll be able to see him then. But you must be quiet and brief; he has endured a very traumatic experience and needs to rest a lot.”

“Thank you, Doc! We promise to behave well when we see him!!” – said Lars.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

The children could hardly wait until the time indicated by the doctor. All of them, including Lars, were anxious to see Sam again.

Finally, the clock marked 3:34 P.M. and the nurse announced the group that Sammy had been taken to his room and was awake. The children wanted to go first, but had to wait until Mrs. Dullard visited her son. The poor woman was still jittery, and really needed to see her boy and make sure he would be fine.

At last, after a while, Mrs. Dullard went out of the room. She was still weepy but much more relaxed. Finally the kids had their chance to see their friend.

They were taken by the elevator to the second floor of the Pediatrics section. Sammy was in room 246, that is, almost around the far corner of the aisle. The children arrived at his door, and knocked softly. A nurse opened the door and let them in, smiling. She was to wait outside.

Sammy looked far better than they anticipated, but nevertheless it was impressive seeing him. He was lying on his bed, with a white sheet covering him to the chest. He had no shirt; still had fever and this was one way to keep him cool. His right wrist was encased in plaster, as well as his left leg, which had been put on traction. A large bandage fastened his chest, keeping his broken ribs in place. A piece of gauze had been placed over his left eyebrow. There were lots of bruises all over his visible skin.

Sammy looked particularly annoyed by those little plastic tubes that had been inserted on his nose again. The nasal cannula was connected to a device that injected oxygen directly to the boy’s lungs. This device helped him breath normally, but caused a very uncomfortable soreness on his throat. Finally, since he would not be able to eat or drink while the cannula was inside his throat, a catheter was inserted in the veins of his left hand, with a bottle of saline solution dripping steadily into it.

Sammy had no glasses on; in fact, they had been lost in the accident, and Paula had not had time to get a spare to him; so everything he saw was out of focus. Nevertheless, he immediately recognized his friends.

“Hi there, Sam! How’s it going??” – Asked Otto, Reggie and Twister.

“Hello, guys! I’m really pleased to see you all!” – answered Sammy.

Reggie noticed that it was very difficult for Sam to speak due to those plastic tubes. Besides, seeing Sammy in such a bad shape was very sad for all of them, because it reminded them of his accident. Reggie couldn’t resist it; under her hard skin she was a very sensitive girl. Besides, Sammy was not only a very good friend to them; he had just saved her brother’s life, and that meant a lot to all the Rockets. Her face saddened. Sammy noticed it and comforted her.

“What? Why the long face, Reg?” – Asked Sammy.

“Nothing, Sam. It’s only that… it’s hard seeing a good friend like this…”

“Bah. I’m not that bad off. The doctor says I will recover soon, and then I’ll be playing roller hockey and biking with you guys again. Just gimme a little time to heal and we’ll be able to ask Lars the revenge.” – Answered Sammy, nodding towards Lars; then he noticed Otto’s bandage on his forehead.

“I’m sorry about that, Ottoman” – Said Sammy, pointing to the boy’s head.

“Bah. It’s not important, Sam. Just another stitch to my collection, that’s all” – Answered Otto, grinning. – “Besides, didn’t you know they also call me ‘Ottostein’? Grrr!” - added, jokingly.

“Really?” – asked Sammy, doubtful but delighted.

“Do we?” – Said Reggie and Twister, also.

“Well. Anyway; what we all wanted to say… is thank you, Sam. Really. We all three owe you our lives. If you hadn’t done what you did, maybe we would not be here now. It… it was… something…”

Otto couldn’t continue. A tear was rolling on his cheek; he had a knot in his throat. Lars, Twister and Reggie felt the same way; they were very grateful and also very sorrow to see their friend so hurt.

“C’mon, guys! I don’t want to see you cry; you would’ve done the same thing, right?”

The kids nodded affirmatively.

“Well then, let’s not talk about it. I am very grateful to see you’re fine, guys. You are very important to me; in fact, I have come to regard you kind as siblings to me, and I…”

Sammy couldn’t finish the speech; his throat was very sore for the respirator and he started coughing. It was very painful on his cracked ribs.

“Augh!” – He said, rubbing his throat with his left hand – “How I hate this thing!”

“And what are those hoses coming from your nose, anyway?” – Asked Twister, curiously – “You look so funny!!!”

“TWISTER!!!!” – Said Lars, Otto and Reggie.

“What??? I just wanna know!”

“This thing helps me breathe, Twister” – answered Sammy, gently. – “As long as I can’t breathe freely by myself, I’ll have this thing on.”

The nurse opened the door and called the children; they should let Sammy rest, she said. They would have time to talk with him later.

“Well guys, I think we better make like a tree and leave, so Sammy can rest” – Said Reggie.

“Yeah… We’re coming, Reg” – answered Otto.

“Guys, before you leave… there’s something I must confess to you.” – said Sammy.

“What is it, Sam?” – asked Reg.

“Nothing... I just wanted to say that I really love you all, guys. I’m glad you’re fine.”

Reggie went to Sam and hugged him. Otto, Twister and Lars did the same; they all felt grateful for having each other. Then, the kids waved goodbye to Sam and went for the door.

Lars waited until the others had left the room. Once he was alone with Sammy, he closed the door and went by the bed, taking his gray beanie in his hands. He was very nervous; it was the first time in his life that he really meant what he was about to say.

“I… wanted to…” – said Lars.

This was more difficult than he thought; but when he saw Sammy on his bed, Lars suddenly felt that the words he needed came galloping to his head. It was a very strange feeling.

“I… wanted to thank you, Sam.” – Said Lars, nervously; – “Really. And apologize to you; I… I’m sorry for being so nasty… You saved our hides today; I… I wouldn’t know what to do if something had happened to Twister… He is my baby brother, y’know, and ‘though I’ve been very bad with him, I… now realize that… I really care for him… ”

Nobody had ever seen Lars like that. The teenager had finally opened his heart to his true feelings for his brother, and the very thought of Twister being injured was enough to make him cry. Sam noticed Lars’ conflict, and rescued him.

“It’s OK, Lars. Don’t worry; I’m really happy that you guys are fine. All of you are very important to me and I feel grateful that I could do something good. Besides,” – added, extending his right hand to Lars – “we can be friends, right?”

Lars was moved. He didn’t know what to say. He hesitated a little, but then, he realized that, as opposed to Pi, Sputz and Animal, Sammy was a very good, loyal friend who genuinely cared for his pals. He was impressed, overwhelmed; never imagined that the Squid could be so brave and yet so noble. He finally made his mind. Lars took Sam’s cast-encased hand and shook it carefully.

“Yeah. Friends we are, Sam. Thank you; thank you so much!”

Lars wiped a tear from his face and waved Sammy goodbye. He was very relieved; it was the second time in his life that he showed his true feelings towards his brother, and it felt good to him. He walked for the door and prepared to leave; only when he was at the door, he realized that Sam had seen him cry. Lars felt a little embarrassed, but then decided that he didn’t really care. Anyway, he turned to Sam and, holding the door open, smiled mischievously.

“Of course, Dullard” – he said to Sammy, jokingly – “You understand that what I said here is our secret, right?”

“Don’t worry, Rodriguez,” - replied Sammy, smiling and blinking one eye. – “Your reputation is safe with me.” – He made a sign as if zipping his mouth shut.

“I know, dude,” – Chuckled Lars – “I just couldn’t resist it. See ya, buddy. And please get well soon. It’s so boringly easy to beat those Rocket mice when you're not playing with them...”

“Count on that, Lars. Soon I’ll be keeping your pucks away from that net, I promise!!!” – Replied Sammy with a thumbs-up.

Lars nodded affirmatively and waved goodbye to Sammy again. The experience had caused a significant transformation on the teenager; he had been changed positively, and from then on, he became a better brother to Twister.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

A little after Lars left, one nurse entered Sammy’s room to check on him. It was only 4:30 p.m., but the boy was already deeply asleep, in spite of the soreness the respirator caused on his throat and the pain of his broken bones and fresh bruises. It was the very first time in the whole week that Sammy was really able to sleep and rest. He looked so peaceful and serene that the nurse felt moved. She would always remember his happy visage, and the big smile that brightened his face.

 

Epilogue

“Sammy spent some days in the hospital. The infection that had caused him high fevers and recurrent asthma attacks had been finally identified, and with the proper care and antibiotics, was completely eradicated after a while.

“During this time he thought constantly on the events of those 12 hours and concluded that his nightmares were premonitions of what was to happen. At first this freaked him, but then he realized that, thanks to them, his friends were alive and well. He felt very grateful for that.

“He was a somewhat different child when he arrived in his house. Although still the same noble, tender kid he always was, the experience of defeating his fears and overcoming his limitations has turned him into a more confident, self-respected and audacious boy.

“In the time passed since, Sammy has almost completely recovered from his injuries. His asthma has been controlled and his bones are healing quickly. He is still called the Squid, but now the nickname meaning is different: instead of being derogative, it has become a badge of honor. And he hasn’t had nightmares anymore.

"This story shows that chivalry is not dead. The undercover knights who quietly walk amongst us every day are always to be accounted for. Their external appearance can be deceiving; nowadays, their armor may be Italian wool, cotton, Kevlar, or in this case PVC plastic. But they’ll always be near when trouble arises. Their courage will always show why best friends and people of honor are more valuable than all the gold in the world.”

Sammy closed the magazine Reggie had brought him. It was a special issue of her Zine that she had put together based on his story. He looked around; all his friends, including Lars, were there with him, standing by his wheelchair on the pier in front of the Shore Shack, listening the boy’s reading and watching the sunset, while Raymundo, Tito, the Rodriguezes, and Mrs. Dullard celebrated inside. Everybody had earlier just accompanied Sammy to a special meeting of the Ocean Shores City Council, where the Mayor had given him a decoration for courage.

The boy was very happy. His friends were now closer to him than ever. Otto’s arm had healed some time ago and the kid was already practicing extreme sports again. Lars and Twister had stopped fighting and now were not only good brothers, but also two good pals. The rivalry between Otto and Lars still existed, but was now a very cordial, sporty animosity; outside the game field the two former opponents had finally learned to be friends. And if all this were not enough, Sammy’s casts were to be removed the following week. He couldn’t wait to ride his bike, skate in Mad Town, or surf again with his friends on the blue waves of the Pacific, in front of his beloved Ocean Shores, California.

Moments before, he had fulfilled his promise. When the gang arrived in the Shack, he talked to Raymundo, Reggie and Otto and related to them his encounter with Mrs. Rocket. Ray was very surprised when he heard the very detailed description Sammy made of his late wife; the boy had never seen a picture of her, and yet he described her exactly as Ray remembered her.

Otto put a hand on Sam’s shoulder. He wanted to know more about her; how she looked like? Was she pretty?? How sweet was her voice??? Is she OK????

“She is fine, Otto” – answered Sammy, smiling. “She is a very beautiful woman, with a couple of big, pretty eyes like Reg’s, and her visage reminded me immediately of you both. I don’t know how, or why; but the truth is, since she spoke to me with her sweet, soothing voice, I had no fear anymore; I somehow knew that everything would be all right.”

Sammy noticed the confusion in Ray’s face. He had never forgotten his beloved wife, and he had always wished she was there with them; and now, Sammy was confirming him in his hopes and reassuring him of her well being. Yep; this boy was very special for the Rocket family.

“She asked me to tell you that she loves you, Raymundo” – Sam said – “And that she is very proud of you, Reg, and of you, Otto. Your mom is always watching over you; though you can’t see her, she’ll always be near, taking care of you and protecting you. She loves you so much!”

“We know, Sammy” – Said Reggie, embracing him. - “She brought you to us.”

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

The Sun was setting on the horizon, and the stars were beginning to shine on the darkening sky. A crescent moon was already visible above; it was the time of the changing tide. The fishermen were departing, their holds ready to store the freshly caught sardines and shellfish. In the background, Ray’s Rockola was blaring with rock ’n’ roll music. A very fitting song by Queen was playing:

“… Friends will be friends,

When you're in need of love they give you care and attention.

Friends will be friends,

When you're through with life and all hope is lost

Hold out your hand 'cos friends will be friends, right till the end.”

THE END.

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