The journey home turned out to be interesting. Raphael never rode on a bus before and he kept dashing from side to side to look out the windows. The teachers took time to identify the student’s general locale of where they lived. Chartered buses would then carry the students to the area. Each child wore a large red badge in the shape of a star, displaying their home address to the drivers.
When Raphael walked in his house, Natasha busied herself in the kitchen preparing the evening meal for the family. She lifted her head up from her work, glanced at Raphael, returned her view to the clock on the wall and back at Raphael.
“Vott are you dooink here?” she wondered. “I thought school vas on till 3 o’clock. You are soakink wet.”
“The nschool exploded,” Raphael exclaimed, “and nthey let us out early.”
“EXPLODED?” Natasha gasped, “OH MY GOTT. Did anyone get hurt?”
“I ndon’t know,” Raphael declared. “We nwere sitting in class and all the bells nstarted ringing. They nmade us form lines and nwalk outside in the rain.”
“Vell, my boy,” Natasha remarked, “dott doesn’t seem to be too goot. Ve haf to dry you off. Go to your rhoom and take those vet clothes off.”
Raphael complied and went to his bedroom. Natasha followed him and grabbed a towel in the bathroom to dry him off. He stood in his underpants and she came over and stripped them off him. She began with his head and worked her way down with the towel, trying to remove the excess moisture. Even though Natasha had cared for Raphael since his birth, her rubbing of the towel on his naked body affected him in a strange manner.
“Oh my gootness Raphael,” Natasha chirped. “You are getting a leetle boner.”
Little Raphael probably experienced getting his first erection; ever. At the least, this would be the first he learned of sexual excitement. The swelling didn’t hurt or anything, but the feeling must be something special because of Natasha making mention.
“Is nthat a bad thing Natasha?” he whispered.
“Oh my no Raphael,” she laughed. “Someday, you vill make da ladies veddy happy with dott. Now go get dressed.”
Raphael didn’t understand what she meant by her comment, but apparently a boner couldn’t be much of a big deal. Natasha went back to the kitchen and he stood looking at his erection. He reached down and touched the soft skin of the tip, and the hardness of the shaft.
He pushed down on his penis and the skin sprang back up. Someone came to the kitchen door and was speaking to Natasha. He hurried to slip his pants and shirt on. As he sat on the bed to put his socks on, he noticed his erection disappeared.
What a funny thing, he thought. I wonder how his boner comes on and goes away. Perhaps Daddy might tell him.
He came back out in the kitchen as Natasha signed for a package from UPS. He went over to the cookie jar and reached in and grabbed one of Natasha’s delicious peanut butter cookies. He also got a glass of milk from the ’fridge and went in the living room to view his favorite show, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. At around 4:00 o’clock, Sylvia came home from work and Raphael jumped up from his chair to go greet her.
“Mommy, Mommy,” he burst out with excitement. “We nhad an explosion in nschool today.” Sylvia stopped herself mid-sentence in her conversation with Natasha and said ‘WHAT?’
“Someone put a bomb in the nschool today,” he explained. “A nfire broke out and the fire trucks came and a lot of people nwere running around son they let us go nhome early.”
Sylvia rushed over and hugged Raphael. She examined him up and down and assured herself her son seemed to be OK. He assured that nothing bad happened to him except for getting wet riding the bus home from school. Oh, and he got a boner when Natasha dried him off. Sylvia glanced at Natasha and both women burst out laughing.
“He’s telling za truth, Sylvia,” Natasha nodded. “He vas soakink vet when he came in and I made him change his clothes. When I dried him off, he got a leetle excited.”
“My boner nwent away Mommy,” Raphael disclosed.
“Honey,” Sylvia advised. “Having a boner is a natural thing for little boys. Having a boner tells me you are becoming a real man.”
Raphael smiled at the thought. Apparently, getting a boner might be a good thing.
The Hernandez family went through another weekend; both apart and together. On Saturday, Sylvia took Raphael out to run errands with her. They went to the post office, the bank, and stopped at a few boutiques. Sylvia wanted to pick out a new dress. Finally, they made it to a snack bar where they grabbed something to eat. Raul busied himself at the office and Sylvia didn’t expect him home until 5:00 o’clock .
On Sunday, Daddy cooked a breakfast of Eggo Waffles and bacon. Later, they all took a long cab ride to the Bronx Zoo. The trip itself appeared to be quite a distance from their home on the lower east side. Raul filled the time by telling Raphael about all the wonderful animals they would learn about.
Raphael was filled with wonderment. The three went from display to display, looking at the lions and tigers and bears, oh my. He laughed out loud at the antics of the monkeys, but his favorite attraction turned out to be the aquarium. He previously read about sharks and stingrays and eels, but now he witnessed them face to face. His father said the only thing protecting the visitors was a two-inch thick piece of glass.
Raul, Sylvia, and Raphael all experienced a wonderful day at the zoo. Afterword, they stopped at a pizza shop for dinner and continued the journey home. By the time they got back to the Brownstone, 8:30 P.M. showed on the clock and Raphael already dozed off for a moment.
“Did you enjoy today Son,” Raul beamed.
“Yes Daddy,” he chortled with a smile. “I definitely liked going. The Zoo is a lot better than going to the Carousel.”
“Well, you go get ready for bed,” Raul told him, “and I’ll come and tuck you in shortly.”
Sylvia didn’t mind the trip either. She came over and hugged Raul and said ‘Thank you Daddy’ with a smile on her face.
“How much did you want to thank me?” Raul smirked.
“I would say,” Sylvia commented, “you definitely earned a big IOU. Unfortunately, it’s been a long day and I’m bushed.”
“You can bet I’ll be collecting on that IOU soon,” Raul jested. They both headed off for the bedroom, but tonight, no squeaking bed would sound. Raul collapsed because he felt as tired as Mommy and Son.
The next day, Cal arrived at the house bright and early to pick Raphael up for school. He learned about their trip to the zoo and the wonderful animals, snakes and fishes all on display; because Raphael never stopped chattering. Cal dropped off his passenger and Raphael walked proudly through the entrance to the school. He anticipated telling everyone about his weekend trip.
Once he got inside the building, the Principal approached and informed him she wanted him in her office. He assumed from her stern demeanor something serious happened, but knowledge of what problem took shape escaped him. Soon enough, he would find out.
In the Principal’s office, a Lieutenant Paul Sherman from the NYPD waited patiently. Raphael sat down in a chair and the cop pulled up another, facing him directly.
“Do you like going to school here Raphael?” he began.
“Yes,” Raphael confided. “I learned a lot.”
“Who are your best friends here?” the cop coaxed.
“My cousin Johnny is my best friend,” he admitted. “But now I also hang out with Sammy and Mitch and a couple of other kids.”
“Are Sammy Lovelace and Mitch Stockton in your classes?” Lieutenant Sherman inquired.
“No,” he reported, “I only sit with them in the lunch room.”
“What went on at lunch on this last Friday,” he accused. “Did you catch sight of anyone with a firecracker?”
Now the interrogation became clear. Raphael immediately considered someone probably implicated him and his buddies about the explosion. A million possible responses flooded through his head and he assumed if he said the wrong thing, they would all be in the soup. He didn’t want to get Johnny in trouble and he surely didn’t want Sammy and Mitch thinking he ratted on them. So he lay.
“I don’t get nwhat you mean?” Raphael answered innocently. “We ate lunch and everybody nwent to their classes. Nobody showed me any firecrackers.”
“You wouldn’t lie to me would you,” Sherman responded.” Do you understand what we do to liars? They get in big trouble. I would hate for big trouble to come your way, Raphael.”
“I’m not lying,” Raphael assured solidly. “We only ate lunch.”
“Someone caught Sammy in the girl’s bathroom,” he mentioned. “You wouldn’t hide anything about Sammy being in that location, would you?”
Tears welled up in Raphael’s eyes and even though he tried to control maintain control, he cried. For a moment, the Lieutenant thought Raphael may confess something but instead, he burst out with a loud statement.
“I ate lunch with nmy friends on Friday,” he wailed. “Why are nyou picking on me.?”
Sherman peered at Raphael with his eyes full of tears and he held a pang of compassion for him. He originally thought this kid told him a lie, but now he thought different; perhaps because of Raphael’s disability or the simple crying scene in evidence. But for some strange reason, he accepted the answer given by Raphael and let him go.
“OK, OK Son,” he conceded in a fatherly tone. “Don’t get upset. I only asked. You recognize as a police officer, I need to investigate these things. Where you aware the janitor got hurt in the accident?”
Raphael glared at the officer with his red eyes and shook his head to indicate he hadn’t any knowledge of the injury. In reality, the only thing he wanted to admit was sort of explosion happened on Friday. He and his pals thought the noise came from a lightning strike. He wanted no one to get hurt, but he made his statement and he needed to stick to his story now.
“OK Raphael,” the Lieutenant . “You can go now. However, if you hear anything, please tell your teacher.”
Raphael got up from his chair and quietly went to his class. He sort of felt guilty for lying to the cop because someone getting hurt in the incident never occurred to him. He realized he needed to discuss this with Johnny when he met up with him.
“Send in the Rivero kid,” the Lieutenant commanded.
Now Johnny’s turn for the grilling came. Sherman asked the same questions as he previously asked Raphael. Johnny denied knowing about the incident until the Lieutenant mentioned the injury of the janitor. Something in Johnny’s facial expression tipped Sherman off he lied, because suddenly, the interrogation got more intense.
“You do realize,” Sherman warned, “lying is an offense and you can get arrested for telling me tales?”
“What happened to the janitor?” Johnny interjected.
“He worked in the cellar when something went off in the furnace. He left the furnace door open because he needed to put garbage inside to be burned. Whatever exploded, created a flash of fire, burning the janitor. When I questioned him, he thought several M-80 firecrackers or something bigger, like a Pineapple, had exploded.
“Now what can you tell me about this?”
“I can only tell you of rumors,” Johnny insisted. “We all sat at the lunch table and someone said to be prepared for the fire alarm to go off. I can’t tell you anything else.”
“Who told you to be prepared?” the Lieutenant demanded.
“I can’t remember,” he replied. “I think maybe one of the other students told me.”
“The other student you mentioned wouldn’t be your buddy Mitch or his sidekick Sammy, do you think?” he hinted, “You understand Johnny, these two are bad guys. They are always in trouble; I’ve been watching them for a long time. If you are covering for them, you will be in trouble too.”
Johnny didn’t like the fact the Lieutenant possessed so much knowledge. He knew Mitch and Sammy were troublemakers, but if he squealed to the cops, they may find out and come back to hurt him. Nope, the best course of action seemed to be ‘play safe’ and keep denying any knowledge.
“Like I said,” Johnny acknowledged, “The only thing I’m sure of is rumors. I wasn’t even in class at 1:00 o’clock. I got sick and went to the nurse’s office. While waiting for her treatment, the fire alarms went off. They made everybody leave the school. I haven’t even seen them since last Friday.”
Sherman suspected Johnny kept more inside than he wanted to disclose. In his mind, it became painfully obvious he probably would get nothing more out of him.
“Remember, Johnny,” Sherman reminded, “I’m giving you a chance to play this straight. If you’re lying and I find out, you can bet I will be on you like stink on toilet paper. Now get out of here.”
As with Raphael, Johnny left and found his class. Lieutenant Sherman thought for a moment and realized all these kids intended to alibi each other. His best bet at getting at the truth would be to confront the two prime suspects and accuse them directly.
“Send in both Lovelace and Stockton,” he barked. “Also, bring in the teacher who witnessed Lovelace coming out of the girl’s john.”
In a moment, both Sammy and Mitch came lumbering into the room. Sammy wore his baseball cap on sideways and Mitch let his pants hang so low, you could catch sight of his underwear. They both took seats in front of the Lieutenant and stared coldly at him.
“You boys are in quite a bit of trouble,” the Lieutenant . “The janitor received 3rd degree burns because of your little stunt.”
“What little stunt are you talking about Copper?” Sammy mused.
“Oh I think you are aware of an idea, punk,” the cop sneered. “I reviewed your records and you are headed for some serious trouble boy.”
“You ain’t got nothin’ on me, Copper,” Sammy chuckled. “I attended class all day. Mitch here will say the same too.”
“Ah,” the Lieutenant smiled, “perhaps you told the truth and I might accept your statement, if a witness didn’t exist.”
Miss Gordon came walking in the room, dressed to the nines and proudly displaying her lovely chest. She took one quick glance at Sammy and nodded to the Lieutenant. Sammy appeared to be the boy she recognized coming out of the girls room.
“So what happened in the girl’s room Sammy?” Sherman quizzed.
“I went inside by mistake,” he maintained. “Didn’t you ever make a mistake?”
“Sorry, punk, but I don’t believe you,” he concluded. “Your young ass has been at this school long enough to learn where the girl’s room is and the boy’s room. Don’t try to con me.”
“You’re full of shit Copper,” Sammy argued. “I made a mistake by going in the wrong bathroom. There’s no secret mystery here.”
“What about you Mitch,” the cop queried, “I suppose you’re going to tell me the same load of crap too.”
“Hey man,” he gloated, “check with my teacher. I stayed in class right after lunch until they kicked us all out into the rain.”
Lieutenant Sherman exhibited frustration because he couldn’t get these punks to confess to anything. He couldn’t even fathom how to connect the girl’s room incident with the explosion in the furnace. But his cop’s nose told him these two wallowed deep . He figured both Raphael and Johnny held information about events too.
“What kind of grades did you get Mitch,” he gibed, “on your last report card?”
“I passed,” Mitch boasted.
“No you didn’t,” Sherman shouted. “I’ve got the report right here and you and your buddy Sammy both got a ‘D’ grade. You realize a ‘D’ grade is not passing.”
“So what,” Mitch burst out. “What’s my grade got to do with your conspiracy theory?”
“What I mean is this,” Sherman continued. “I’m going to make a recommendation you and Sammy spend extra time in class. I believe you guys have too much time on your hands.”
“Screw you, Copper,” Sammy shot back. “You don’t work for the school and you can’t make us stay.”
“You are right Sammy,” he confirmed. “The only thing I can do is recommend you stay. And I will. What the school does is their business. Now both of you get out of here and go try to learn something constructive.”
Sammy and Mitch walked out of the room, grumbling all the way. Sherman thought he heard one of them mumble the ‘F’ word, but they stood too far out of earshot for him to be certain. He got no confession and he figured he may never be positive about what happened. This probably little sampling of the boys wouldn’t be the last of them.
But the first of them turned his stomach.