Fred stared at the forest. Pollen hung over it like fog. It wasn’t as bad here at the campsite, but it would be soon, if the wind shifted any more. Several boys were already sniffling.
The thirty minutes Fred had decided to give the missing campers to return had turned into forty-five and then more than an hour before he had begun to panic enough to gather the chaperones. On top of that, he’d wasted almost another ten minutes arguing with Hogan.
“God . . . darn it, Hogan,” Fred growled between his teeth, clipping his own profanity for the sake of the kids, “I’m not here to get into a . . . length . . . measuring contest with you. My boy is missing. Taylor and Gwen are missing. And Seth’s not answering his phone.”
“He’s probably changing out one of Gwen’s bloody tampons.”
Petey chortled at his grandfather and Fred blanched. He didn’t want Hogan Carter anywhere near these kids, but it was so darn hard getting any adults to volunteer.
A delightful daydream played across his still-open eyes. He smashed at Hogan’s leering, nicotine-stained mouth to the tune of the “Flower Duet.” Shards of teeth went flying, floating on strands of lilting falsetto into the air. Hogan’s head flew back in slow motion, blood and spittle flying from his—
“No!” Fred shouted, snapping back to reality.
All the parents’ eyes locked on him. With Seth missing he was left with Hogan, Dan, Tony, and the new guy, Chris Cabral, who had acquitted himself so well against Hogan earlier. Hogan raised an eyebrow. Fred flushed hot from embarrassment and ran his hand up and down his forearm. He took a deep breath and collected his nerves in a little bundle.
“You were in the military, Hogan. What happened to ‘no man left behind’?”
Hogan opened his mouth but paused. He rolled his eyes in grudging acquiescence, and Fred breathed a sigh of relief. At least he had finally gotten through to the big jerk using his own language.
“That’s supposed to apply to men, not Bailey’s weirdo daughter and her pet retard. But fine, I’ll go save them. And I’ll do it alone. That asshole Bailey probably got them lost.”
“Hogan!” Fred jerked his eyes in the direction of the kids.
Hogan waved off his complaint. “Ah, these boys have all heard ‘asshole’ before. And worse than that, I’d bet. Haven’t you, boys?”
“I sure have, Grandpa!” Petey shouted happily. “I know ‘dick’ and ‘shit’ and ‘boobs’ and—”
“All right, that’s enough, Petey. Hogan, you shouldn’t go alone, though. We need to go in groups of at least three.”
“Ah, stuff it up your ass, Pocahontas. I’ll track down Bailey and the moron munchkins and be back before dark.”
Fred turned to look at the other chaperones.
“All right,” he said, “we’ll form a second group. I think what we should do is—”
“We can’t leave these kids alone, Fred,” Tony rumbled. “I mean, what are they even doing over there?”
Nearby, Kendall shouted, “Hi-ya!”
Panicking, Fred whirled around to see three boys in the cordoned-off axe yard. Steve was holding a log on his lap, and Kendall was hacking at it, overhand, with a hatchet.
“Jesus Christ!” Fred shouted, punctuated by guffaws from Hogan and Petey.
He hurried over and snatched the axe out of Kendall’s hands. “What are you boys doing? Hand over your Whittling Chips.”
Looking sheepish, the boys stared at the ground and shuffled their feet.
Fred’s eyes widened. “What? You don’t even have Whittling Chips?”
Fred felt a claustrophobic sense of near-panic seizing him. He could’ve slapped Kendall right in the face. He could’ve broken his damn nose. What? No. He shook his head. That dark thought had just been a momentary loss of control. That wasn’t him. He forced himself to breathe slower and calm down.
“Hell of a job Scout leading you’re doing there, Tallfeather,” Hogan called out. “One more hack and the boy would’ve had less balls than you!”
Fred’s eyes clouded over with red, and he clutched the handle of the little hatchet until he was sure he was going to pop the axe head right off. He opened his mouth, trying to come up with just the right wretched, hateful thing to spout back into Hogan Carter’s nasty mug, but Hogan spoke first.
“You know what? I don’t know if I trust my grandson with you. Hey, Petey, Fat-ass, stupid one, black kid? You all want to come with me and save Mr. Bailey and the retards? I’ll teach you how to march like we did in the Marine Corps, how about that?”
Excited, the four boys crowded...