Grant rushed to Volunteer Park. The minute he heard Marissa mention the names ‘Tony’ and ‘Jax’ he feared that Zeke’s trouble making friends were part of the drug dealing thugs that had beaten up Joe, leaving him for dead.
The vast 48-acre park is a core of Seattle’s park system. Designed by renowned landscape architects, The Olmsted Brothers, the park is beautifully laid out with ample areas for picnicking, hiking trails, a conservatory and cemetery as well as being home to the South Asian Art Museum. The park is a gathering place of a diverse blend of people. It is a popular recreation spot and a generally safe place, however like any public space there are threats lurking in the shadows.
The drug organization running certain operations in the park, usually acted in the secrecy of night or under the conspiring under the guise of the ordinary run of the mill daily park traffic. They operate under the radar, while in plain sight. It is an issue that confounds police since these organizations are able to blend in and constantly act on the move.
Grant suspected that if Zeke was meeting ‘Big Mouth’ Tony and Jax, it would be in the vicinity where he witnessed their assault on Joe.
Hearing loud voices as he approached the obscure location, Grant exercised caution.
“Took you long enough to get your sorry self over here,” a voice heckled. “What Mommy wouldn’t let you go out alone?”
“I got here as soon as I could.” Zeke’s voice, spoke drenched in fear.
“Did you get the key to the facility?” Big Mouth pressed.
“Look, I don’t like the idea of your robbing the money for the fundraiser. I complain about my mom working at the center, just because you know it is kind of uncool on my rep…still Saint Jude’s helps people, and they really need the money. It is money donated by countless people; it isn’t ours to steal.”
“You are a coward. The people who frequent Saint Jude’s are degenerates, half-blood vermin that don’t deserve a place in society. We’re talking thousands of dollars. Think of all the stuff we could buy. It’d help Jax and I start our own syndicate. That could lead to big money.”
“Sorry man, my mom would kill me. I can’t do it. It’s wrong.”
“I’ll blow your face in, killing you and your mommy, unless you help us break-in tonight after the party.”
“Don’t threaten my mom.”
“Hand over the key.”
“I don’t have it.”
“Search him Jax,” Big Mouth ordered. Realizing that the bullies were going to beat up Zeke and strip belongings, Grant decided to intercede.
“Leave him alone.” Grant shouted, coming to Zeke’s defense.
“Get out of our faces, otherwise we’ll beat your brains in too,” Big Mouth got in Grant’s face. Grant pushed him down to the ground in defense. “You are going to pay for that.”
The sound of the fight luckily caught the attention of a security guard. Big Mouth and Jax fled the scene, the officer chasing after them, once he confirmed that Grant was unharmed.
“Zeke, are you okay?” Grant voiced his concern for the teen, who suffered a bloody nose from Tony’s punch.
“You shouldn’t have gotten involved,” Zeke shuttered. “I was fine until you showed up.”
“They were threatening you and demanding you rob a non-profit. You are the opposite of fine.”
“You don’t know anything.”
“I know those kids are bullies, with dangerous intentions. I witnessed as they beat up a homeless man named Joe in the park several nights ago. He is in the hospital. They run drugs and manipulate people.”
“They are kids from my school, my friends.”
“Friends don’t force you to steal, nor do they threaten to kill you. Tony and Jax aren’t your friends. They are using you.”
“Who is to say, I don’t want to rob the center.”
“That is not who you are Zeke. You are a good kid, just confused.”
“You don’t know anything about me.” The teen chided. “Just leave me alone.”
“I know you are angry and afraid. I know that you miss your dad and are afraid that if you let go of your anger, it means giving up that sorrow. Truth is you will always miss your dad. Giving up the anger, is living a life by your father’s example, a life of love and hope. Your dad wouldn’t want you to remember him with this anger, but to act out of love and to life a life of happiness. That is a testament to your father, what you are doing now, is selfish.”
“It is okay to admit your fears. It is okay to let down your guard. I know about the destructive force of anger; I have lived an angry life. Only I used greed as my crutch. In the end it left me broken and only love and mercy could fill the void, healing my wounds. This anger and rebellion only hurts you and those who love you, Zeke, it isn’t accomplishing anything and it certainly doesn’t honor your father’s memory.”
“I cannot be, happy…my dad died, mom acts like life just moves on, she is always smiling, but how can life move on without him?”
“I’ll have you know that your mother misses your father very much. She maintains a strong front for your sake, but she is lonely and misses her husband. They were best friends and had a beautiful life together. She also recognizes that your dad wants you to live with his memory, not die in his memory. Your dad is with you in spirit. You need to live with his love, not let your spirit die in contempt of the loss. Your mom loves you and is worried sick right now. You father is in heaven, looking out for you, your mother is right here, willing to help guide you and be there for you. Don’t take out your anger on your mom when she is trying so desperately to help you. Don’t hang out with thugs like Tony and Jax.”
“I thought they were my friends…I just wanted to be in their circle, because it lived on the edge. It tested my limits. It was an outlet for my fear and anger,” Zeke admitted. “I thought we were just goofing off, having fun, then they told me about their work as drug dealers and started manipulating me. They want to break into Saint Jude’s and steal the money from the fundraiser. I just couldn’t do that. It’s wrong…now they are going to hurt my mom. I’m scared. They work with a rough crowd.”
“Don’t worry.” Grant reassured the teen. “I have a contact in law enforcement, Officer Santos, he is a good guy and will make sure that Tony and Jax are held accountable, but also have a chance at rehabilitation. From what I here they were raised in a very violent home.”
“Their dad was a drug dealer…” Zeke shaking. “You’re right about the anger. I started funneling my grief into anger. I didn’t want to heal from the pain, because that pain was a reminder of missing dad, and I don’t want to lose him. I don’t want to forget…”
“You won’t forget, he is in you. You carry his genes, and you hold close to those memories…and his spirit is watching over you. Letting go of the anger, isn’t letting go of your dad, it is letting go of darkness and hate. By letting go you are reconciling yourself to the love you shared with your father.”
“I’ve been terrible to my mom,” Zeke admitted. “Horrible. On Christmas Eve, I acted up in church and said I hated Christmas and it is stupid. It really hurt her feelings.”
“I did the same thing on Christmas Eve, the thing about the spirit of Christmas is that it has a hope against hope redemption. It holds out, searching for people lost in darkness, to find the light, and in that journey, redemption. I went from being Mr. Scrooge incarnate to a humble man, with nothing and yet I found joy, letting go of that hate and anger, casting aside my selfishness. Do I deserve a second chance? Probably not, luckily God is always there to guide us out of trouble and able to forgive even if we struggle to forgive ourselves.”
“I’m sorry I made fun at you for being homeless. You’re actually a pretty decent dude.” Zeke apologized.
“You are a pretty decent kid.” Grant smiled. “Now let’s get you back to your mom.”
“Ezekiel Bright, I could ground you for life the way you ran off, without as much as a word,” Marissa embraced her son. “I’m just so happy to see you. I’m glad that you are safe. Don’t ever do that to me again.”
“I love you mom, I’m sorry. I learned my lesson.” Zeke sincerity humbled his mom’s heart. She held back tears, grateful that he son was finally letting go of his anger. “You were right about Tony and Jax. They are bad news. They almost killed me and threatened to kill you, if I didn’t agree to steal the cash donations from the fundraiser. I told them no…Tony punched me…”
“Oh my, poor baby,” Marissa’s maternal instincts on high alert. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, thanks to Grant. He protected me.” Zeke bit his lip.
“You are an angel,” Marissa kissed Grant on the cheek.
“I put in a call to Officer Santos. He is on his way to take Zeke’s statement and agreed to keep a security guard on staff tonight.” Grant and Zeke explained Tony and Jax’s underworld dealings and threats against the community center. Marissa, reeling in a state of shock, did her best to maintain her composure.
Officer Santos arrived at the center within fifteen minutes of the report. Zeke gave his statement and told the Officer where he could find Tony and Jax and what he knew about their illicit activities. Within half an hour the boys were in custody.
“Hopefully they can learn from their mistakes during their incarceration and with counseling and rehab be able to turn their lives around for the better,” Officer Santos hoped.
“I’m really sorry,” Zeke kept saying repeatedly.
“You are here now. That is what matters.” Marissa beamed. “The party is about to get started. I ordered a mushroom pizza just for you.”
“You’re the best,” Zeke gave his mom a hug before running to the food buffet.
“Thank you, Grant. Not only did you save his life, but you are also the first person to break down his walls since Trevor died. For that I am extremely thankful.”
“Zeke loves you,” Grant downplayed his role, changing the subject. “It is nearly time for the second telethon.”