Tiger is home from work. She wrinkles her nose, though, when I get near her.
Tiger: You reek. You should take a shower.
Me: I did, this morning. Coyote said it was barely noticeable.
Tiger: He must have a cold. What happened to the vat? Were you rolling around in the oobleck?
Me: Pretty close. We had to put a pump in the drain pit and the stuff was halfway up my thighs.
Tiger: And I suppose it splashed. If you tried to get it off this morning... Let's both get in the shower and I'll see it's done right.
Me: That could be sexy.
Tiger: That could be strictly business, mate. Come on. And you can tell me about Coyote's Mr. Butthead too.
I give her the report and she's suitably amused at the outcome. I also describe the debacle at work in detail, and she commiserates. She goes after my legs and feet and tail with a scrub brush. Actually she scrubs all of me, but my legs, feet, tail and back get the harshest treatment, since she assumes (correctly) that I couldn't reach my back, and since I was wading in the oobleck and my tail couldn't help falling in.
Tiger: Either I'm getting used to the smell, or I did some good. The stink is less now. Today, I swear, I'm not going to get emotional and spoil my dinner. I was thinking of sushi all the way home. OK with you?
Me: Sure, I like sushi. I'll start the rice cooking, and you steam a piece of fish.
Tiger: I got a message from Dr. Franck: they finished Attila's genotype. She passes all the checks. He says he'll be very interested to see how some chromosome combinations work out. She'll probably be as sharp as we are, but where we just ran our supervisors ragged, he expects she'll think a little before acting. Low cunning, he says. How can he know that? Anyway it's great news.
I hug Tiger, and then rub her belly.
Me: Hey, Attila, you're OK, and I can't wait to see your low cunning!
Tiger and I start steaming our portions of the sushi, then begin washing and finely chopping crunchy cucumbers and carrots. Eventually the conversation turns around to what to do with Coyote and Mariposa.
Tiger: We left off yesterday saying that the kids weren't going to have anyone committed to them once Maria's gone. That reminds me of a joke: Dinner of ham and eggs. The chicken is involved, but the pig is committed. Certainly we're involved with the kids. We're not committed to them. I read Ms. Donegal's message as saying we should keep it that way.
Me: I think you're right. We've done a lot for Maria and the kids. But let me get the language straight: if Ms. Donegal were to inspect us, how would she know we were involved, but not committed?
Tiger: Well, you do more when you're committed. The kid in that message made that point.
Me: I was at the school essentially acting as Coyote's male parent and sticking it to a teacher who fucked over my kid. Sorry, Coyote's teaching me a lot of vocabulary.
Tiger: I find it useful sometimes at work. What Ms. Holbeck did for me, we've been doing for those kids for three months, maybe not checking on them and taking lesson reports twice a day, but we're acting as their supervisors. Our supervisors were committed; therefore...
Me: No, I don't think so. We never promised anything about the kids. I think a promise is required.
Tiger: How about El Oso? He was committed. He may have made a sequence of incredibly bad judgments, the first of which was to get drunk, but his motivation was commitment to protect Mariposa, right? And when people have kids; for example, have we made a formal promise to Attila to feed her and train her and protect her and if necessary die for her? And the same for El Oso and Maria: they're committed, but there's no formal promise.
Me: You're right. Look at animals. When you think about it, a parent who's not totally deranged is automatically committed to his or her own kids. But Coyote and Mariposa aren't ours; they're not even the same species! To be committed we would have to promise. Without that, we're deeply entangled, but not committed.
Tiger: Deeply entangled, now there's an apt metaphor. We've been going in circles for days. We're acting like parents trying to figure out how to get credit for their parenthood.
Me: I don't like to prejudge the issue like that.
Tiger: OK, I'll shut up on that metaphor. But when the time comes for them to be taken away, what will you do?
Me: We'll decide what I'll do, and then I'll do it. The purpose of 53b is to teach you to do what's necessary, no matter how bad you feel about it. Nobody had to tell me why 53b was in the set.
Tiger: When the time comes, how will you feel?
Me: Rotten. I told you that last night.
Tiger: Why will you feel rotten? I will too, in case you didn't know.
Me: We don't trust the foster family system. We think it's likely that the kids will find a place that's not too bad, but we aren't sure enough. And look, they've done so well, and I have this feeling where I'm overly proud of myself, that they couldn't do as well without moi, and I don't like to lose them, that I've put some effort into.
Tiger: I think they're heavily motivated to progress on the lion disc. I'm agreeing with you, that your last judgment is about your own feelings and not for their welfare. I can feel the same kind of thing in myself and I slap it down. But... Why should I? Why shouldn't we make the commitment? Let's try to guess what Ms. Donegal will say.
Me: Oh, no! Not that line, no way! If we haven't a positive reason to commit to the kids, negative reasons are moot. I'm not going to agree to an argument that all the negative reasons can be overcome, so that means we should do it.
Tiger: You're right. Sorry. Look, the rice is cool enough to stick. I swore I wasn't going to miss dinner again over this issue. I'm going to break off and do ten minutes of breathing exercises, and I suggest you do the same. Then let's roll the sushi and eat it, minus kids.
We follow Tiger's advice, minus kids. Actually, while sitting on the floor eating our sushi we discuss what we want for a table and chairs, specifically sturdy ones. Also, what kind of pattern we hope to find in a rug. I go for bold geometric designs, but not bright garish colors, and certainly not white, which would get obviously dirty very fast. Tiger wants colorful flowers. We agree to disagree until we see the actual rugs. We wash up the dishes, and brush our fangs. It's time for more work, and I wish this could be the last segment. Not very likely.
Me: OK, positive reasons why we should commit to take over the kids. Well, what are positive reasons for anything we do?
Tiger: Someone would say, my my, what generous and compassionate lions you are. Ms. Donegal's opal heart will need more than that, I'm sure.
Me: OK, here's a scenario. Suppose El Oso did manage to burn our house down, and suppose we were sitting or lying out on the grass shocked and hurt. All our support just got yanked. What would people do?
Tiger: I see the relation to the kids. Quite a number of them would stroke us or give us Band-Aids, and they'd even let us sleep on their floor until we found another place to live. But not permanently. They're involved, not committed.
Me: Fair enough. Can anyone think of why they're involved? Or in the other direction, why are we helping Maria?
Tiger: Well, it's the right thing to do. OK, OK, why is it right? Well, that's kind of hard to answer.
Tiger: Well, let's see. I do it for Maria because they're our neighbors. I'd do something, but not as much, for a random person I met.
Me: Let me run with the neighbor idea. It's like a pride of Panthera leo. We work together because we can do more as a community than as separate people. The ones who don't participate in the community, look what they miss! We help each other in little things; for example the Ashfords' cat went up a tree and wouldn't come down, and you rescued it because that's something you can do and they can't. Or Mrs. Fisher lends us her bucket. Then when the big disaster comes like a fire or an earthquake, we know that we'll help each other through that too. Like when El Oso died, we straightened out the Solanos' finances and nutrition and kind of stepped into his role with the kids, at an involved but not committed level. Well, the big one has arrived and Maria is headed for the exit. Are we going to do our part, which we can do, as members of the community, or are we going to act like pricks?
Tiger: That last bit of symbolism...
Me: Is Coyote's, not how we were taught, and yes I'm prejudging what we can do, but we're talking about positive reasons so we have to ignore the negative, or the positive side would be moot too. Let's stick to the main line: do we have an obligation to the community to take care of community members who are cut off?
Tiger: We would have to get off their floor eventually because we can take care of ourselves. The kids have to get off our floor when they can take care of themselves, which won't be for however many years. We go along rescuing cats and trading recipes, but by being a member of the community we're already committed, and then bang! someone gets stuck with a job a lot bigger than rescuing a cat.
Me: I like it.
Tiger: Jeez, it's scary!
Me: Sure, it's scary, but a lot less scary than feeling I have to do it and not knowing why.
Tiger: Let's get our laptops and get this into a file. You want to continue, or do the rest tomorrow?
Me: Jeez, let's do it now! I'm sick and tired of going in circles.
Tiger: OK, NetBoard is active. I'm summarizing on page one, and you start the negatives on page two. Speak up; I can listen while I type.
Me: I'm typing too, as I speak. One: why us, why not someone else? Because we have the relation with them and we have the moolah and we have the training, and they're lions, damn it; they keep saying that. And we both like those kids. Two: financial. Let's leave that for tomorrow, but I think it's obvious without even running a spreadsheet that if we had eight kittens and two humans and then croaked, and if the Xylogen stock were just static starting from today, even so they'd have more than we ever did for their education. And similarly on real income; we can handle the real expenses. We do have to redo our financial model with the two kids added, but that can be tomorrow. Three: can lions take care of human kids? I'd like a formal opinion from Dr. Deutsch on that, but we get along with them fine now, and growing up we interacted with all the humans just like, you know, people. We took care of human babies then; of course not at a committed level. Four: what will the religious nuts do? I think, actually, that's going to be the biggest problem. We need to find out the scenario from Ms. Donegal, and decide where in the process we'll be vulnerable, and make ourselves as solid as we can. That's all I can think of so far.
Tiger: Five: our age. We're 21 lion years old; I'm only 20 by human standards, and you're the same, a month younger than me.
Me: We're legally adults, but I see your point. That's the first thing adversaries would object to.
Tiger: I don't know about you, but I'm scared comparing my age to humans doing what we're doing. Married at sixteen, jeez! College at seventeen, and that's lion years, chip designer, successful chip designer at 21, and parent of our own first kitten, plus two human strays. Are we pushing too hard?
Me: Are Coyote and Mariposa going to wait until we're ready?
Tiger: No. OK, here's how I suggest we proceed. Tomorrow, not tonight, we'll do two things: revise the long range financial plan to account for the kids, and turn these scribbles into a proper essay. We'll mail it in to Ms. Donegal, give her a chance to read it, then call her. She screams and moans. Then we'll ask the project staff and the other lions for comments and opinions. When we've got our side of the story as good as it's going to get, then we announce our commitment, with a formal promise to Maria and the kids. As I understand it, she puts something in her will saying that she wants the kids to join our family.
Me: Sounds good. But suppose Maria or the kids don't want to? Shouldn't we sound them out first? And your action plan kind of implicitly assumes that we're going through with it whatever anyone else says.
Tiger: If we're committed in advance, it doesn't really matter what anyone else says. What I hope to get from the project staff and the other lions is suggestions what we could do better, particularly how to get around the religious nuts. Do you seriously think any of Maria, Coyote or Mariposa wouldn't latch onto us like a drowning person if we offered to take the kids? It's going to happen, you can be sure of that.
Thursday's work, like much in our lives, is ambiguous. Frank is able to make an O-ring seal to hold a Pyrex window onto a tee joint, and vat six is starting a production cycle so we install the fitting there. Unfortunately the view is narrow, and is obstructed by foam as often as not. The foam, sloshing around on top of the oobleck, doesn't hurt anything but it prevents us from drawing any solid conclusions about what's happening in the vat. Perhaps the foam will subside as the oobleck becomes more ripe; after all, the bugs have only had a few hours to chew on the wood chips.
Friday evening while we're washing up after dinner, Coyote and Mariposa knock on the door.
Coyote: Hi, Tiger! Hi, Simba! Could I ask you a math question?
Me: Hi, there. Yes, of course, but it can't take too long because we want to call someone and we don't want to bother her late.
Coyote: OK, here's the problem. I'm studying on the lion disc how to check math problems by adding digits. OK, I can understand what they say to do, and I've checked about a hundred problems and when the digits came out different, I always found an error I had made. They warn you that if you make two mistakes in the same problem the method can miss it sometimes, but I'm good enough now not to do that. My question is, it works, but why? It seems like magic, and the way stuff has been going for me recently, I don't really trust something I can't see.
Me: Well, let's see. There's a math course in college that tells you all about that kind of stuff, but I took different courses. Let's see if I can fake it. This may take some backtracking since I've never seen the proof. Let's do addition first. Hmm... I'll write down a problem with no carries. It's obvious that if you add the numbers, then add the digits of the result, or if you add the operand digits then add those sums, you're just adding the same digits in two different orders, so the answer is the same. Got it so far? Now suppose there's a carry...
It takes some time, and some help from Tiger, for me to figure out a proof, but Coyote and Mariposa eat it up.
Mariposa: That problem was hard, wasn't it?
Me: Yes, very. I'm glad you could follow it. I didn't organize it very well.
Mariposa: I thought adults just, you know, knew everything.
Me: No way! Both of us, most of our day is spent struggling with stuff we don't know.
Mariposa: I kind of thought we'd go through all the lessons on the lion disc, and then we'd know everything, like an adult. I guess that isn't right.
Me: Scary, isn't it? I remember when we discovered how much we needed to know that wasn't on the lion disc. It was our wedding night, in fact. Not the wedding gift I really wanted from Charlie. Right, Tiger?
Tiger: Right. Some day we'll tell you the details.
Coyote: Steamy romance, eh? This I want to hear.
Me: Before I forget, I think someone should write up the proof for the lion disc. That's a hint.
Tiger: Do the lessons on mate selection and pair bonding. We rewrote those lessons with our experiences, and when you're done, tell us and we'll go over them with you kids from a participant's point of view. But now, all this serious talk is important, but there's something else we don't know and need advice on: what's going to happen to you two when your Madre's gone. So would you please go home now?
Coyote: If it's about us, we should know what's happening.
Tiger: Yes, sort of. But I need to talk freely with our lawyer, and I don't have all the answers, or even all the issues, straight in my head. If I have to think all the time what you kids will think about what I'm saying, I won't be able to think straight. This is important, and I think you should trust us to do our part in our own way. You really don't have any choice on that; we'll do what we decide to, and whether you go along with it is your choice, but what we do isn't your choice or anyone else's. So go home, please.
Coyote: Go home, please. OK, I get the message. But I don't like it. Come on, Mariposa.
The kids get out, and I watch them leave from the window to make sure they aren't doing anything childish, or typical, like trying to listen through the mail slot.
Tiger: Humph. We usually aren't that rough on them.
Me: We usually don't need to be. Let's get it over with.
I set up NetBoard with a voice channel, and designate Ms. Donegal as a participant. I preload our essay, which we reworked back into an edited NetBoard session. Her machine is there; is she? Yes, after a minute the icon blinks.
Ms. Donegal: Simba and Tiger, it's good to talk to you. How long has it been? Since the firebombing?
Me: Yes, since then. How are the kids doing at that end?
Ms. Donegal: Growing up fast. Marci is taking SATs next month. I guess you're thinking about getting some early experience in that area.
Tiger: Yes. We'd like your negative advice.
Ms. Donegal: When I give it, will you listen?
Me: We wouldn't have called you otherwise.
Ms. Donegal: I get the distinct impression that you've decided you have an obligation to these kids. That would mean the only way to get you not to go through with it is to convince you you don't have an obligation.
Tiger: Right. We're planning to ask you and Dr. Deutsch and all the others to go over the various problems we'll face and help us figure out ways to minimize them. How to twist and slide our way through the legal minefield.
Ms. Donegal: You understand you have no legal obligation.
Ms. Donegal: But we taught you too well to make sure a community happens, and you become a magnet for stray kids. Suppose someone else dies; how many kids will you take in?
Me: We used the phrase ``deeply entangled''. If we get entangled again, and we'll be careful about that, we might take in another one. If we don't, we can say, we did our part for Coyote and Mariposa, so now someone else should have a turn and take in the hypothetical other kid.
Ms. Donegal: I've been thinking a lot about the material you sent me. I'm a lawyer, and I have to do what I think best for my clients, which aren't Coyote and Mariposa. My clients are you kids, and I've said it once and I'll say it again, I don't think it's in your best interest to get, as you put it, committed with two orphan human children. Do I have to tell you why? You went over most of the reasons in your essay; I won't read it back to you. But I also know when a case is lost. I don't have any magic words that are going to convince you to, from your point of view, abandon your community. So let's get on with the damage control.
Tiger: Thank you, Ms. Donegal.
Ms. Donegal: First, you write about adopting the children. I'd very strongly advise against lions adopting humans. The proper procedure is for Mrs. Solano to designate you in her will as the guardians of her children. The ward is the responsibility of the guardian, and the guardian is authoritative, but the ward is not in the guardian's family. Physically present, but not legally or religiously; do you see the distinction?
Me: We who carry the name of concubine -- history will call us wives.
Ms. Donegal: Exactly. Now the next mine you'll step on is the matter of your age.
Me: Not the interspecies thing?
Ms. Donegal: You'll hit that one too, but after the age issue. How do you intend to answer it?
Tiger: First, what we've accomplished.
Ms. Donegal: The judge has an hour to handle the case: not enough time to listen to an autobiography of hype. Next point.
Tiger: Second, people our age beget children all the time, so what's the big deal?
Ms. Donegal: Human custom allows begetting. The judge doesn't have to allow guardianship. However, I've anticipated here, and I have a list of precedents for you of young guardians. More often it's an older sibling taking responsibility for a younger one, and you would do better to emphasize the cases with an unrelated guardian, like yourselves.
Tiger: Third, look, how long will it be from the date of death to the trial?
Ms. Donegal: There are two times that are relevant. If nothing's screwed up, the will would be admitted to probate one to two months after death, and at that time the judge should make a preliminary order designating the guardian. Normally it's just a formality unless the family are fighting over the child, but I expect for you that will be the major hurdle. The next step is the order for final distribution, which in a small estate could be as quick as five months. It can drag on for years if the will is complex. The judge should make the preliminary order permanent, but in your case he might get second thoughts.
Tiger: So we'll have at least a month of de facto guardianship, plus the kids' association with us before that. We have a record that human children can thrive in our care.
Ms. Donegal: Well, first they have to actually thrive, and then you have to convince the court that they'll continue to do so. You should talk to Deutsch, as you say you plan to.
Tiger: OK, we'll have to work on that one. Now finally, we can expect some kind of trouble from the nut cases. What can they do legally?
Ms. Donegal: Not a whole lot. The law doesn't give people the right to stick their noses in anything they want. The concept is called ``standing'', which they don't have.
Me: I'm glad to hear that. We were most worried about that aspect. What else can you tell us?
Ms. Donegal: Get Mrs. Solano to make a will promptly, once you have a final decision on the guardianship. And you do understand, don't you, that your choice is irrevocable. Once you open your mouths you're stuck with the children until they become adults, whatever happens.
Tiger: Understood. Lions don't break promises.
Ms. Donegal: Good. I want to say something as a person, not as a lawyer. Jokesters represent lawyers as monsters with no scruples, but what people don't understand is that our responsibility is to our clients specifically, not to what may be best for someone else, or for society in general. As a person, I think you're doing something really fine, whether the court goes along or not, and you're setting an example that lots of humans can understand and should follow. And I know we trained you to do that, and I'm proud of what we did too. But remember, the lawyer does not agree with the person. Do talk to the other staff and to the other lions, and get their input and advice. Good luck to you. And to Coyote and Mariposa.
Ms. Donegal cuts the connection.
Me: Whew! I'm glad that's over. What should we do when? How about I send a message to the lions, and you compose one to the project staff.
Tiger: Do we really want to go through with this? Any second thoughts, now's the time.
Me: It's scary. I'm scared about freaks shooting at us in the dark. I'm scared that we're going to get the kids all hyped up and some judge won't go along. I'm not going to back down, though. It's our duty and I'll do it joyfully.
Tiger: Me too. Let's post the messages, then run off our nerves, then get some sleep.
Saturday morning is ours. We go out and buy the rug for 150 bucks: the pattern is non-authentic native American with coyotes and roadrunners, in light desert tones which even so won't show the dirt. Our budget doesn't allow a real Navajo rug, nor would we put it where the kittens could reach it. I hope Attila won't savage our expensive floor covering in the first six months.
Everyone has something to say about our guardianship plan, mostly in the form of that's real nice but I see this or that problem. It takes a week to get through the discussions, by electronic mail and by voice. Friday, we put together one of our parties at the Solanos' place. This time we cook a pork loin roast (how symbolic) with sweet potatoes, and a real apple pie. Afterward we formally offer to be the kids' guardians. I'm not averse to praise and thanks, but the amount of gushing and crying and thank-you's we get is kind of embarrassing. The praise should really be for figuring out what our duty is and why it is, rather than for doing it. Coyote spends most of the next day, Saturday, downloading the will form, editing it and formatting it, plus the health care power of attorney. We ship it off to Ms. Donegal for final approval, and Maria signs it the day after, witnessed by Ms. Alarcon and Mrs. Fisher. ``This really gives me a lot of peace'', she says.
At work, we were looking right at the water inlet problem and not seeing it: it was the foam. The water level sensor responds to anything wet and gloppy. Suppose foam piles up over the sensor, then a wave washes some of it away: the computer lets in more water. Most likely the foam would just build up again, but just that once another wave came along and washed the rest away, triggering another valve opening, and due to my error the valve never closed. And not only that: the water level has been erratically low all along, and we didn't know. We put ultrasonic sensors on all the tanks, keeping the thermal ones as backup, and not only does the water makeup rate become much more regular, but production goes up two percent due to having the correct water level. I can't take credit; Frank figured it out, but I was the one who pointed out the mystery and kept bugging people until it was solved.
A few weeks later on a Friday, Coyote intercepts me as I'm walking home from work.
Coyote: Hi, Simba! Guess what? Remember I've been working on division, and Mr. Butthead put me up on the board today, and I did a division problem right! He almost wet his pants.
Me: That's great, Coyote! Did you tell your Madre?
Coyote: Yeah, she was smiling ear to ear. I can't wait for Mariposa to get back from her after school whatever.
A cold northwest wind is blowing off the desert and the Salt Lake doesn't do much to warm it up. Coyote pulls his goosebumped bare arms inside his tee shirt and curls up his bare toes.
Coyote: I did something else too: we ran 1600 meters today and I was first in the class. Everyone was bitching and moaning about how far it was going to be. I was goofing off a little during the instructions, so I didn't hear exactly, and when the teacher hit the stopwatch on me I was, you know, breathing but just getting started, and I figured he was writing down halfway times because some of the fatsos weren't going to finish anyway and he had to have something for a score. So I just kept going. People were yelling at me and I figured it out pretty quick, but it's not coyote to just stop, is it? On my second turn I beat a lot of kids who were just finishing the first. But maybe it wasn't such a good idea to run the second 1600 because I got a blister. See it here? Maybe you could show me what to do about it. Running in bare feet is better for me but the teacher won't let me take my shoes off.
Me: That was very good. The run, I mean, not the blister. How many kids practice running?
Coyote, shivering: Ten or fifteen started out ahead of me or right on my tail. Maybe five were strung out kind of near me at the end of the first 1600 meters. Not all the kids are couch potatoes, but only one runs with lions. Some of them said they'd practice more, to beat me. Maybe they will, maybe they won't.
Me: Good for them. I'll bet you wish you had fur in this wind, and lion feet too. Bare human feet aren't wonderful in the cold, and it's not going to get warmer any time soon.
Coyote: Yeah, it's kind of cold. But I'd rather my toes were cold than hurting in those dumb shoes. Can I get my computer and we'll go to your place for a while, out of the wind, and then I'll go back and keep my Madre company?
Me: Sure, and get your feet off the cold cement. And we'll do something about the blister. I was thinking, you should buy shoes that fit, and a winter coat.
Coyote: I was thinking, you know, the kind of shoes I want cost a hundred bucks. It's not a shoe, it's a system, and it gives you optimum performance in a range of sports, specifically basketball. The season starts soon. All the kids have those shoes. The problem is, I don't have a hundred bucks.
Me: So what will you do?
Coyote: I feel kind of stupid about the whole thing. If I buy new shoes and they're el cheapo, the kids will point that out very creatively. Hey, Coyote, did you steal those off a homeless? Or maybe you are a homeless! Yuk, yuk, funny, funny. You've taught me not to do this, but I did it anyway: I've been ignoring my shoes and hoping they'll grow by magic.
Me: You're doing fine. Blisters and cold toes will show you the right thing to do. Now how about a coat? What do you have?
Coyote: I almost tore it trying to get it on. I'm too big for it.
Me: Superbod strikes again.
Coyote: Oh, come on! I'm a little skinny kid with a dick the size of a cabbage worm. You should see some of...
Me: The ones who mature faster just have to buy new clothes faster. Your muscles aren't impressive, and maybe never will be, but what you have is strong, and if the elephants don't practice, you could actually be stronger than they are, and certainly you can do more with your muscles. Right? Are they up and down trees like you and Mariposa are? Your turn will come for bulging pants, as if that's something to look forward to.
Coyote: I suppose. If I'm not going to get the good shoes, I should try to get a good deal on something. I'll check out the thrift store, and they'll have jackets too. If I remember the numbers right, Madre gets paid today and we'll have about forty bucks in reserves. I'll bet I have to blow it all on clothes. I wonder what she'll think about that?
Me: She'll probably be happy to do it. But certainly you should involve her in choosing. Also, how about Mariposa's clothing?
Coyote: Patched, and she gets teased about it. Her jacket is too small also. and I don't know about her shoes. Hey, maybe she could take over my jacket and I'll get a new used one. It'll look like a tent on her but it will keep her warm.
Me: Good idea. But she's growing, and the jacket may be large for her but maybe not too large. I had another idea: there's an army store a couple blocks on the other side of our factory. Soldiers need warm clothing. See if they have a good price for coats. Come inside out of the wind, and we'll find out how to deal with a human's blister. I don't get them, or maybe I never abused my skin enough to make it blister.
The next day, Saturday, the kids want to go on foot to the thrift and army stores so they can see Xylogen, at least from the outside, but Maria feels the walk would be too painful for her to be enjoyable. So I drive them in Tiger's car, past Xylogen. The kids are very good. Mariposa tells me she and Coyote have agreed that she will only get shoes, and his old coat, and she won't be a brat about it, because he needs more than she does. We hit the thrift store first. Taking off their old shoes, the kids try on less old ones, and mark on a scrap of paper the prices of the ones that fit. Maria wisely recommends buying a generous size rather than an exact fit. This leaves about fifteen dollars for the coat. The thrift shop has a beautiful fleece lined one that fits Coyote, but quite properly is charging more than fifteen dollars. The others are too small or nearly sweep the floor.
So the kids artfully neaten the shoe collection, placing their prizes inconspicuously, and we head off to the army surplus store. Combat boots are too expensive and not in style either, and the jackets are discouraging too, until Mariposa spots a sign: Sale, Peruvian Army. The coats are twenty dollars each. Apparently some areas of Peru are not prosperous, or they take underage recruits, for the smallest coats are not unreasonably large for Coyote. The coats are used but for the most part are well cared for. Hmmm, a small private named Gutierrez apparently saw some nasty action, for there's a bullet hole in one sleeve: entering, but not exiting. I hope he's OK now. Coyote takes that coat up to the salesperson.
Coyote: What'cha selling here, stuff the Peruvians took off the losers? Look here, this guy got shot up. How about you sell this one to me for ten dollars, for the souvenir value.
They haggle, and Coyote actually talks him down to $14.50. With tax, that will put him over budget. He looks at me.
Me, whispering in his ear: Vacuum our floors, same wage as before, and I'll give you an advance.
Maria forks over the money and Coyote walks out proudly wearing Private Gutierrez' coat. He needs it, in the wind. He wraps it around Mariposa. Maria is wearing her sweater.
We drive back to the thrift shop, and the selected shoes are still there. I slip Coyote six bucks, and he's able to buy them. Both kids immediately replace their outgrown shoes.
Coyote: Aaah, that feels luxurious! My toes felt like they were being tied in knots. Hey, Mister, you want these shoes? They're too small for us.
Indeed, the old shoes aren't in too bad condition, and the thrift store volunteer takes them. Some of his clients are even poorer than the Solanos.
When we return home, Coyote gets right to work with the vacuum cleaner. He's a good kid. Mariposa asks Tiger about a problem she's having in a lesson, and I do paperwork. Our own budget, in fact. After about half an hour Coyote takes a break, and Mariposa is right there to continue vacuuming.
Coyote: I like my new coat. It'll keep me warm. It must be cold way up in the mountains, in Peru. We learned about that in social studies, earlier this year. There's just one problem: there's a kid named Gutierrez in my school, and he's bigger than me, and he's going to say ``Hey, what are you doing with my coat?'' I can handle it, but it would be a lot easier with my own name on the coat.
Me: I don't know anything about clothes. Let's ask Mrs. Fisher if she knows how to get that name off, and yours on.
We go next door.
Mrs. Fisher: Well, hello, Coyote! That's a classy coat you have.
Coyote: Thanks, Mrs. Fisher. We were wondering, do you know how I could change the name to Solano?
Mrs. Fisher: Well, let's see. The name patch is just sewn on, so let's cut it off. Bring it over here to the table. I'll just cut a little corner... Yes, we can just snip the thread and it comes right off. Pull the little bits of thread out of the coat. Now the army or whatever used some kind of ink to make the patch, which I don't have, but if you want to put some work into it you could embroider your name on the back side of the patch, and sew it back on.
Coyote: That's neat! How long would it take?
Mrs. Fisher: A couple of hours. Sewing takes patience.
Coyote: I think it's worth it. I wonder: there's plenty of room on the patch; I wonder if I could put like a picture of my coyote on it? Maybe that would be too much work.
Me: The name patch is long and skinny, and I think the coyote would come out too small. In the army they have round shoulder patches. At the Lion Foundation the humans had them on their jackets. I could draw a coyote for you.
Coyote: That would be really cool! Mrs. Fisher, do you have a needle or whatever you use for embroidering, that I could borrow? I wonder if Mariposa might want to do it too, with her butterfly.
Mrs. Fisher does have the equipment for embroidering, and when the vacuuming is done she happily teaches the two children the technique. It takes them into Sunday to finish the patches and get them sewn on their coats. While the kids work hard and effectively on projects that are divided up into steps by the lion disc or by an adult such as myself, this is the first time I've seen them do a sustained project this long.
This year Halloween was on Saturday, and we had a good time passing out cheap candy to the kids, and making fake threat displays to the older ones. We thought two kilos of candy was outrageously much, but Coyote warned us that we were likely to be one of the most popular houses on the route, and he was right. Now it's early Sunday morning, and Coyote and Mariposa are running with us in the park, as they usually do on weekends.
Coyote: Don't look yet, but there's a guy I've seen too many times. He's the only other person in the park, this early. Sneak a peek at about 80 degrees now; do you see him?
Tiger: I've been keeping an eye on him too.
Me: As have I. I have a bad feeling about him, as if he's tracking us. If we have to split up, Coyote stay with me, and Mariposa stick with Tiger, OK? Let's go to the far corner; make him break cover to cross the ball field, if he wants to keep in contact with us.
Tiger: He's good, using terrain and benches, but not good enough. What should we do, run him ragged, or charge his position?
A bee buzzes past my ear, followed milliseconds later by a small pop. This sound is very familiar to me, if not to Coyote and Mariposa.
Me: Under attack! Pincers, keep between him and the perimeter, capture him!
Tiger and I split up, a valid strategy against what's assumed to be a smaller force. Though better armed.
Me: Coyote, stick close and keep low. We're heading for the benches.
Another bullet whines past. It's hard to be accurate at this distance, and he has to lead us, which he hasn't done well on the two shots so far. We get behind a cement and stone drinking fountain. A bullet smashes itself on the stones. I wonder how many shots he has left. There are a few pebbles on the ground and I pop up, hurl one at his position, and pop back. I doubt it hits but we get another bullet in return, which misses the fountain. Coyote passes me a small handful of larger pebbles, and I shy two of them in quick succession, trying for indirect fire since there are two steps down to a sandbox and he's gotten himself behind them. All too quickly the bullet comes back. Popping back up I can see his head and I give him a straight, hard shot. Smart, he fires, then ducks afterward. That bullet was too close for comfort. I'm making inter-rock intervals proportional to the digits of pi, which is the only pseudo-random sequence I can think of right now, and it's time for two rocks, which I throw at the same time. No return fire? ``Yaaah!'' screams Tiger. ``Yaaah!'' I echo, and charge, skittering side to side to confuse aim, but it isn't necessary, for he's frantically trying to reload and, looking back and forth between the pincer threats, he decides retreat is the best policy. Faster than me and sprinting rather than skittering, Coyote blindsides him and he goes face down in the sand. Coyote tries to knee him in the balls upside down, then remembers his training and twists the guy's arm. Mariposa seems to be trying to decide whether to rend him limb from limb, but contents herself with one swift kick in the ribs.
Tiger: So, you want to explain yourself before we have breakfast?
I confiscate the abandoned pistol and bullets, then go through the person's pockets. Randy Millard is the name on his drivers license, and he has quite a pocketful of ammo. Everything goes into my own pocket.
Me: Randy, we're very curious.
Randy: Fire and brimstone!
Tiger: The trademarks of your boss, I presume.
Randy: Yours, demons! Go back to hell where you belong.
Me: Theology. I see. Coyote, hang on to him while Tiger and I decide what to do with him.
We step away and speak very quietly.
Tiger: What's to discuss? We can kill him where he lies, or we can call the cops. I don't think the first plan is the best.
Me: I had a more creative idea, but it's risky. I saw a card in his wallet for a church, with a lot of phone numbers scribbled on it. It's very likely that's his church, and that they've been doing a number on us, and Randy decided to take matters into his own hands. Let's frogmarch him up their aisle and give them a lecture on loving your neighbor.
Tiger: Nice idea, but that's kidnaping. The cops won't like it.
Me: Not if he's induced to go voluntarily. OK?
Tiger: If you can persuade him.
Me: Hey, Randy, you're supposed to be in church today. When's the first service, at the Church of the Good Shepherd?
Randy: Go back to hell.
Me: Wouldn't your congregation like to meet some lion people?
Randy: The Lord would smite you if you set foot in a church.
Me: Somehow, I don't think so. How about a dare? You botched the smiting job this morning, but let's give God a chance at it, OK? If He smites us, of course you go free. If He doesn't smite us, then you do an appropriate penance. What do you say?
Randy: Pfaugh! The power of the Lord is as of a multitude.
Me: So you're going to go with us to your church and see what God does about it, right?
Randy: We'll see Him turn you to little charred husks.
Me: That's good enough for me. Tiger?
Tiger: Good enough. We'll take him home with us. Call the church, find out when the service is. Then we'll drive him over and...
Randy: And be sent to the deepest pit, which isn't deep enough for the likes of you!
It's a little awkward getting Randy home in armtwist mode. As we're exiting the park a police car pulls up on the side where the sandbox is. The cops look around but fail to see us due to our strategic turn behind some bushes. They do, however, find Randy's shell casings: the 911 call wasn't just a kid making up stories.
We have breakfast while the kids eat at their own place. Being polite we offer Randy some pancakes, but he declines, sulfurously. I transfer Randy's stuff that I confiscated to a convenient plastic bag, minus the gun and ammo. The service is at 9:30. We drive over at 9:45, since they have to get started in order that we can interrupt them. Randy is in back between Tiger and Coyote, and Mariposa rides in front, Coyote's usual seat. Sure enough, they're singing some hymn as we stalk in. Tiger is twisting Randy's arm, and I'm holding the pistol (unloaded) by its barrel, very visibly.
Me: Reverend! Is this one of yours?
Minister: What? Randy! What is this...
I hand him the gun.
Me: I'm returning your Sword of St. Michael. Randy here smote us in the name of the Lord this morning, or tried to. We made a deal. Here we are, in your church. If the Lord wants us smitten, he's to turn us into little carbonized husks before your eyes. Or the miracle of His choice; we're not picky. If he doesn't want us smitten, Randy has to apologize to God for his arrogance, and do an appropriate penance, which we'll leave to your creativity, Reverend. OK, Lord, you're on! Send us a sign.
I turn to the congregation, spread my arms and wait. Every one of them is dropjawed. Of course nothing happens. Not according to plan, but at what I judge to be just the right timing, Coyote steps forward.
Coyote: Come on, Simba, stop playing games in church. Look, people, Simba and Tiger think you've been going around badmouthing lion people, saying they aren't God's creatures and they ought to be snuffed, and one of your people decided to rush the schedule a little. You call this the Church of the Good Shepherd. You want to see two good shepherds? You're looking at them. You know what? We two kids are going to be orphans in a few months because our Madre has cancer. Who's going to give us a home then? Oh, no, not the Church of the Good Shepherd; they're too busy hunting devils! We're going to live with the lion people. They didn't have to, but they're decent and kind people, not like some I could name. They don't care that I'm a dumb Mexican; they treat me right and help me to be strong and smart, not like some I could name. If you're going to go around badmouthing and shooting at people, look at yourselves first, would you?
Mariposa: Right, stop badmouthing the lion people. They're nice! When we caught Randy after he tried to kill us, they could have killed him or slashed him, but they didn't even touch him, that's how nice they are. I kicked him, and that was wrong, but I was so mad at him for shooting at us! I'm sorry, Randy, for that. The lion people aren't God's creatures, but I think God would be happy to have them come to church, if the humans would just stop being nasty to them. You're supposed to love your neighbors, and we're your neighbors, and I don't think you're doing right.
I cock my eyebrow at the minister. I don't actually have eyebrows, but I can get a facial expression that's a recognizable substitute.
Minister: I... don't know what to say.
Me: I think you need to instruct the faithful in the kind of behavior God recommends for them.
Minister: But... Your creation...
Me: We lion people were created by humans, not by God. If God wasn't happy about it, He had plenty of time and lots of opportunities to get rid of us. He didn't. What do you think God is saying up there now about Randy's behavior? Huh?
Elderly Parishioner: Father Samuel, could I ask something? Where were the children?
Mariposa: We were right beside the lion people, helping to catch Randy. Coyote is the one who actually knocked him down; he's the fastest runner.
Elderly Parishioner: In the line of fire? A good shepherd, shooting at children? I think the Lord did give us a sign, in these children. We should be ashamed.
There's a lot of muttering as parishioners ask their neighbors what to think. Then suddenly:
Randy: Lord, I have sinned! I beg your forgiveness! I thought I knew your word, but I heard Satan. No, the snake didn't have to do anything; I did it all with my own hate. I am a worm. Smite me now, as I called on you to smite these monsters!
Me: I'm afraid the Lord doesn't smite on command, only when He feels like it. But as a monster I'd like to point something out about that word. It means, something that God shows you, to try to teach you something. Think about it. Reverend, we're going to leave responsibility for Randy with you: you should make sure he gets straightened out both theologically and psychiatrically. And I recommend you turn that gun in to the police to be destroyed. And here's the bag of stuff we took out of Randy's pockets, minus the extra bullets. We'll leave you now to finish your service.
As we're driving home, Coyote makes a comment.
Coyote: Mother of God, I hope that doesn't happen to you often! You acted like you've had lots of experience.
Tiger: Not often, for which I'm thankful. The only nasty event before this, besides lawsuits, was when Simba almost got lynched. But you're right, we've trained extensively in self-defense, in a variety of situations.
Coyote: One thing I didn't get: if it had been me, I would have stomped the shit out of the guy, then turned him over to the cops and seen him in jail. You let him go. That priest will never do anything to him. Why did you do it? Sure, you're nice, but you're not crazy.
Tiger: No, we're not crazy. If we'd dumped Randy on the cops we would have neutralized him for a year or two, and then he'd be out, crazier than ever, and probably gunning for us again. This way, first, we put a hundred people, likely pretty rabid ones, from the hostile column to the love thy neighbor column, and in addition I think the minister really will pressure Randy to see a shrink. Loving our neighbors keeps our skins intact, to a degree, while vengeance has a lot less payoff. We'd like you to make that lesson a part of you.
Coyote: I'll think about it. I'm not jiving you; I really will think about it.