Published on 2011/01/30

When I Grow Up

Jason Dextradeur

“Dad, do you believe in magic?”

In my mind, I can still see my son’s face when he asked me two weeks ago. With his sandy brown hair that he inherited from his mother, and his light blue eyes that he got from me, he’s such a handsome boy. But he looked so serious when he questioned me. I just brushed it aside, thinking about other things. Someone else is speaking now, and again, I’m not paying attention.

“Mr. Oliveti? Did you hear what I said Mr. Oliveti?”

“No, I’m sorry. I’m having a hard time concentrating. Could you repeat it please?

My wife Amber gives me a sad smile and squeezes my hand. The man nods and runs a hand through his hair. Special Agent Mark Wilson, that’s the man’s name. He’s wearing a blue coat with the letters FBI written in gold on his left breast.

“I said they just want to keep you from testifying. This is likely just a scare tactic Mr. Oliveti.”

“It’s working. I’m terrified.”

Amber squeezes my hand again and lets out a little sob.

“Don’t worry Mr. and Mrs. Oliveti. You’ll have the full force of the Bureau behind you. We won’t let them get away with this. We’ll find him.”

He looks into our eyes and we want to believe him. I manage to nod while Amber buries her head into my shoulder and cries. Then he stands and gives me his business card.

“All of my information is on that. If you hear from them, or if you just want to talk, you can call me anytime.”

“Thank you.” I croak as I feel the floodgates about to burst. Soon I won’t be able to hold back my tears.

“We’ll find him.” Special Agent Wilson says again before he walks out the door. Then I think back to the note my wife found on our kitchen table this morning: “We have your son. You reap what you sow.”

“Dad, do you believe in magic?”

My son’s face swims before me. Then he disappears and other images crash into me: Geppetto, the Blue Fairy, Honest John, his cohort Gideon, Stromboli, Lampwick, and Monstro. They float in front of my face. They chant and they taunt me.

“I want to be a real boy. I want to be a real boy. I Want To Be A Real Boy. I WANT TO…”

“Be a real boy!” I shout as I sit up in bed, gasping for air. Amber reaches over and touches my arm.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, it was just a dream. A bad dream.”

“About Charlie?”

I nod and she rolls over to pull me into a hug. We cry in each other’s arms as we worry about our son. Once we get it all out and are almost asleep, a cricket on the windowsill chirps twice.

The following morning we meet with the FBI again as they tell us about all the progress they’re not making with our case. They advise us to leave our home and move to one of their safe houses. We decide to stay with Amber’s parents instead. I have a meeting with the federal prosecutor later so I tell her I’ll meet her there. She gives me a sad smile as she walks out to the car, suitcase in each hand.

I meet the prosecutor and he goes over all the details of the upcoming trial. He tries to sooth my concerns, my worries. He fails. I leave and start driving. I don’t go anywhere in particular, I just drive. Finally Amber calls and asks where I am. I apologize for worrying her and tell her I’ll be there soon, I just need to get a few things from home.

It’s dark as I walk in. The house feels different now. It’s so quiet without Charlie. My beautiful son! Tears run down my face as I sob. What have I done? This is my entire fault. I’d do anything to get him back.

Chirp Chirp

My head spins as I turn toward the sound. The cricket from last night is sitting on the kitchen counter.

“Go away.”

Chirp Chirp

“You’re not real. You can’t help me.”

Chirp Chirp

I raise my hand to squash the annoying insect. It doesn’t move as I lower my hand. I stop just before delivering the death blow. This little bug didn’t do anything to deserve my wrath. He’s innocent, just like Charlie.

I turn over my hand and uncurl my fingers. The cricket hops onto my palm and my world shifts sideways. Memories come crashing through the doorways of my mind. Things I’d long thought buried batter my consciousness. I stop fighting and let them roll over me.

Geppetto, Figaro, and Cleo. We survived. We survived the belly of the whale, Monstro. Well, they survived, I died. But the Blue Fairy brought me back to life and made me a real boy. We were all so happy back then.

Geppetto sold the house and his toy workshop so that we could move to America. We moved to the land where dreams come true. What better place for us? After all, hadn’t some of our dreams already come true? Now we would make new dreams and they would become real too.

We moved to New York, but we found that life in America was harder than the stories made out. Papa worked two jobs, trying to save money so that he could open his own toy store. I went to school every day, and I did all the assignments they gave me. I wanted to be a good boy. I wanted to be brave, truthful, and unselfish.

It was the truthful part that got us in trouble. When I told people about my adventures back in the old country, they laughed. When I kept insisting they were true, the teachers at school began looking at me funny.

One day the Department of Social Services showed up at our door. Poor Papa, he was so scared. They said they would have to do an evaluation of him as a parent. They said they wanted to be sure he was fit to raise a child. They said someone from their department would come by within the next week to check on us.

We left that night. We packed what few possessions we had and moved to New Jersey. We changed our names. Papa became Gianni Oliveti, and I became Pietro Oliveti. Everyone called us Johnny and Peter. Papa opened his toy shop and we had a good life.

I listened to Papa’s advice and forgot our past. I forgot about the adventures of Geppetto and Pinocchio and I worked hard at school. I won a scholarship to Rutgers University where I studied accounting. The numbers were dull and tedious, but there was a warmth and safety to that tediousness.

I met Amber just after graduating and we got married two years later. Then Papa got sick. He was having a hard time running the store, so I worked part time as a CPA to pay the bills, and spent the rest of my time with him and the toys.

That was when I noticed. The numbers were off. The numbers that I’d built my life around, that I found so safe, didn’t add up. Something wasn’t right. Papa’s expenses far exceeded his income. With the way he was going, the store should have closed years ago. I didn’t know how he’d managed to open it in the first place.

They came by not long after that. Men from the old country; men who had been lending money to my father for years.

“They’re good boys Peter. They helped me.”

These men took me aside and explained how things were going to work. My father owed them a lot of money. It was more money than Papa could pay. The monthly payments alone were more than he could handle. They told me that they didn’t want to hurt an old man, but something had to be done. With my skills as a CPA I had something they could use.

I started working for them three weeks before Charlie was born. I hid money from the IRS. I moved assets into foreign banks. I made paper trails disappear.

I became a nervous wreck. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I was a walking bundle of anxiety. Amber begged me to stop, but with these men threatening Papa, I knew I couldn’t. Six years after I started, Papa succumbed to cancer. I was devastated.

After that, I told the men that I wasn’t going to work for them anymore. They laughed in my face and told me they would decide when I was finished. They told me that if I wanted my family to remain healthy, I would keep working, and keep my mouth shut.

I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t live my life with these men looming over me like my father had. What would happen once I was gone? Would they hook Charlie the same way they had me? I wanted a better life for my son, just like Papa wanted for me.

Amber was the one who gave me the courage to go to the FBI. They were thrilled to see me. For the past two years, I’ve given them information. I’ve worn a wire, supplied them bank records, and showed them where the mob hid its money.

They told me they would protect us. They told me they would keep my family safe. And then my son was taken from his bed in the middle of the night while my wife and I slept two doors down. I can still see the note they left behind for us. Blood red ink on white paper: “You reap what you sow.”

I come to my senses sitting on my kitchen floor. The cricket is still in my hand.

“Help me. I’ll do anything. I don’t care if it costs me my life, help me find my son.”

Chirp Chirp, and the cricket jumps from my hand. It hops to the front door and turns to face me. Chirp Chirp. I get up and walk over. I open the front door and the cricket hops onto the porch, then down the stairs and onto the driveway. It chirps twice more. I follow it out and close the door behind me.

The cricket keeps jumping and I keep following. I’m running as I try to keep pace. We get to an abandoned warehouse on the other side of town and I’m amazed I’m not breathing hard. I look down at the cricket.

“Is this the place?”

Chirp Chirp and he hops off. I follow him around to the other side of the building. We stop behind a large blue steel dumpster and I peek around the corner.

There’s an old metal door leading inside. To the right of the door is a man smoking a cigarette. He looks dirty and disheveled with old, worn clothing. He looks like he hasn’t shaved in a week and is wearing a beat up old ball cap. He matches the scenery perfectly.

The cricket chirps once and something strange happens. I can see the man’s thoughts. I can see how much he enjoys taking a drag off his cigarette and how it disgusts him at the same time. I can see his girlfriend waiting for him at home. I can see the disappointment in her eyes every time he walks through the door.

I can see more. I can see into his memories. I can see his father, gin sweating out of his pores as he tells his son that he’ll never amount to anything. I can see the birth of his two children, and their mother looking at him the same way his current girlfriend does.

I can see into the heart of this man and I’m surprised at what I find. He’s not evil. He’s misguided, confused, insecure, sad, and desperate, but not evil. He needs the money this job will pay. He wants to do right by his girlfriend and his kids.

I can see this man’s thoughts. Can I shape them? Can I mold them into something I can use? The cricket chirps again and I decide to try.

Suddenly the man starts thinking differently. Maybe he doesn’t need this money. How does he know he’ll get paid anyway? It’s not like criminals are trustworthy. What if he got caught? How would that help his girlfriend? What would that do to his kids? He doesn’t need this. He’d be better off finding a job, maybe two jobs to help support the people he cares for.

“Screw this, I’m outta here.” He says as he rubs his cigarette out on the old door. Then he walks away.

The cricket chirps and hops toward the warehouse. I open the door and it leads the way. We go up some old stairs and come into a hallway. There’s a door that probably leads into an office and there’s a man sitting on a chair, leaning against the door. The cricket and I just manage to get behind some old boxes before the man turns towards us. He sees nothing and goes back to reading his magazine.

I can see his thoughts too. I scan through his memories until I find something I can use.

“Juanito! What are you doing here?”

The man drops his magazine as he stares at a vision only he can see. Standing in front of him is his grandmother. The same grandmother who terrorized him for most of his life.

“Abuela? What am I doing here? What are you doing here? You’re dead!”

“Yes, and you’ll be joining me very soon estupido!”

“What do you mean?” He asks as his eyes go wide and his hands start shaking.

“Stupid boy, how do you think this is going to end? Think about what you’ve done. Did you really think this was going to be some easy payday? Do you know whose son is in there?”

“No, whose?”

“It’s the son of an FBI informant estupido. Do you think you can outsmart the FBI? They will catch you, and when they do, you’ll go to jail for a long time. Tell me, what do you think the other inmates will do to you when they find out that you kidnapped a child?”

“It wasn’t me!” The man turns as white as a sheet. “I didn’t take him. I haven’t touched him! I’m just supposed to stand guard. It was supposed to be easy money. It wasn’t my fault, I didn’t take him!”

“Do you think the FBI will care?”

Realization hits him like a sledgehammer and he starts moaning to himself. “No, it’s not fair, I didn’t do it.”

“There are two ways out for you Juanito. One is in handcuffs.”

“What’s the other?” He whines.

“Leave. Leave now. Just go and never come back. Turn your life around. Stop looking for a quick buck and start living the way a responsible man should.”

It takes him two seconds to decide before he sprints down the hall away from us. The cricket and I creep towards the office. I open the door and peek inside.

There’s a desk against the far wall with a big window behind it looking into another office. To the right of the desk is an old bookcase. There are a couple of chairs seated against the wall facing the desk. To the left is a path that leads to the back office. I guess this was the office of a secretary, and behind it was the plant manager’s office.

It’s the back office that catches my attention. I can see Charlie! He’s tied to a chair with a blindfold over his eyes. There’s a man in the office with him. His back is turned to me and he’s talking on a cell phone.

I sneak into the office and crawl under the desk. Then I reach out to the man with my mind. The first thing I feel is him hanging up the phone. I look deeper. There has to be something he’s afraid of. There has to be something I can use to make him leave. I don’t pretend to be a tough guy. I haven’t been in a fist fight since the third grade, and I lost that one. If it comes down to my fighting skills to save Charlie, we’re in trouble. No, I’ll stick with my newfound talent.

I begin to lose hope as I scan through this man’s history. He doesn’t fear anything. Fighting, prison, death, he couldn’t care less about any of them. I keep digging. There has to be something I can use.

Then I find it: anger. Anger is a running theme for him. It cuts into his life like a highway through the countryside. He’s angry about everything: his family, his friends, the people he works with…. That’s it! I’ll get him to focus on the men who have already left.

I turn his thoughts towards them. He’s already upset with them. They lack discipline, they’re lazy, and they’re sloppy. I begin to show him images: they’re laughing at him behind his back, they’re laughing that they’ll get paid while he does all the work, they’re laughing as they tell each other that if the job goes wrong and they get arrested, they’ll say it was all his idea and he coerced them into it, then they’ll laugh when he goes to prison and they get away.

That does it. He’s so angry he can hardly see straight. With a curse he throws his phone against the far wall and it smashes to pieces.

I don’t even breathe as he storms past my hiding place into the hall. He finds no one there and curses again. All I need is one more image to send him over the edge out of the building.

I show him his partners at the local gentlemen’s club. They’re laughing and drinking expensive liquor. They’re ogling the girls and getting lap dances. They’re spending the money they haven’t made yet while he’s here doing all the work.

He stops to look back towards Charlie. I send him more images. The kid will be fine. He’s tied up, where’s he going? Then I show him his partners at the strip club again. With a stream of curses that would make a sailor blush, he rages down the hall toward the exit, kicking everything in his way.

Once I know he’s gone, I run into the office and start untying Charlie. He starts crying when he sees me.

“Dad, how did you find me?” He asks me through the tears.

“I listened to a little voice and it told me where to go. Come on, let’s get out of here.”

We make it out and I call the FBI. They pick us up and I tell them where they can probably find the ring leader. They repeatedly ask me how I knew where to find Charlie. I lie and tell them that I saw it all in a dream. After I repeat it enough times, they stop asking.

The kidnapper is caught outside the gentlemen’s club and sentenced to life in prison. His two accomplices come forward of their own accord and cooperate with the police. They give them the names of every crook they know. They’re both sentenced to probation and community service. They complete their assignments and never get in trouble with the law again.

Two months later I testify at the mob trial. My testimony sends a lot of bad men to prison for a long time. Then I open my own accounting firm. We work mostly with small business owners; many of whom are recent immigrants to our country. I think Papa would be proud.

Charlie is doing great. The first few weeks after the ordeal were a little rough on him. We started going to counseling and he got better. Once the kidnapper went to prison, he got much better. Amber and I bought him a Pekingese which he named Sasquatch. Then we bought a small black cat that I named Figaro.

We’re sitting and watching cartoons one Saturday morning when Charlie turns to me during a commercial break.

“Dad, you never answered me.”

“What didn’t I answer?”

“You never told me if you believed in magic.”

I look at him, then Amber, and then at the two newest additions to our family. Then I think of Papa and the Blue Fairy. I think of the cricket that led me to Charlie and disappeared once the FBI arrived. I smile.

“I do believe. I believe with all my heart.”

Jason Dextraduer lives in Virginia Beach. He currently works as a courier to pay the bills, and writes to keep the stories in his head from driving him crazy. When he has free time, he spends it with friends, outside letting the wind blow through what's left of his hair, or sitting on the couch watching movies with his cat.