They got through the gate without much fuss. Alik insisted buying the tickets until he explained to him as a businessman to a lawyer about the aftermath she would face if she couldn’t prove it later and finally he relented, promising them ice creams and candy as much as their little hands could carry, which, of course, didn’t wash down well with the ladies. It took them fifteen minutes to get through the line and Laura spent it vigorously explaining the boys about some old oak which they could see standing on the edge of the back wall being their sole target if any of them got lost.
“It’s probably the most crowded place of the entire show.” Maksim warned, though he had been the one, who had suggested the tree in the first place. It had been the obvious choice.
“I can wait there.” Tess offered, still shying away from them. Maksim sensed the alteration with his brother had not gone away with him simply apologizing. It had hit her hard and with her priorities changing, who could blame her? Probably she had always known he wasn’t the type to want kids and it seemed she’d made peace with it, really considering the alternatives should things go south and Alik’s sudden change of heart was making her uneasy. He gathered she hadn’t considered that option.
“No.” Was Alik’s only response while Maksim took care of the tickets and lead them straight to the first booth with cold drinks. He counted the heads and ordered and after being satisfied that all the boys had a bottle of water in their disposal, he started walking, Tess firmly on his side and explaining loudly about the nearest car they came across. Maksim and Laura took the back of the row and watched, both not sure what just happened, but they decided enjoying the Saturday was probably the best solution to any question they had. After the initial tour was done, everybody were once more explained the premises and the function of the tree, the older boys were allowed to roam on their own for a while while Victor, Kaspar and Joni had their early snacks and some shuteye. Alik and Tessa wondered off by themselves and soon Maksim found himself alone with the youngest, when Laura went with Kaspar to find the latrines.
It was the sound, after all, that traveled faster than the light, he decided, when his ears picked up already familiar rattle from nearby booths that sold the general goods. He saw two of his village boys running off from there.
He saw Laura coming his way, her eyes already darting towards the sound with panic playing on her features. She was torn between returning Kaspar, who was already asleep in her lap, and going towards the shouts. He got up, gesturing her towards him.
“I should -”
“Stay here,” he said firmly, “I’ll go and check.” He knew he sounded alert, but he seriously didn’t want her in the middle of the growing crowd with little boy sleeping on her arms.
He saw Alik and Tessa nearing in on the fight from the other side too, but when they spotted Maksim, Tessa remained behind while Alik hastened up, and started looking around, reaching for Jevgeni and Anton as they also beelined towards the happening. Holding their hands firmly she spotted Petro and caught him mid-run too and to Maksim’s relief, took them back to the tree, instead of following them.
He pushed through the sweating bodies to get through. His heartbeat raced harder when he spotted the Levi’s police cap and another officer towering over the heads of the crowd.
“Oh no!” He whispered, pushing through harder.
When he got past the ring, he saw two policemen holding on to Ergo and Harry, one of the older boys from the village. The booth owner was currently explaining to the policemen that there were more of them, probably the two he saw skipping, he though, but while the others were making ruckus, one of them, the youngest was trying to make away with his money box, which he was now clutching to his chest.
“I didn’t do anything!” Harry immediately piped up. “I was trying to stop him from stealing it!”
The predatory gleam Maksim saw in his eyes didn’t go unnoticed, but when he looked at Levi, he knew he hadn’t seen it. Levi’s attention was strictly on Ergo, who was fighting tooth and nail to get out of his hold. He couldn’t be the only one, who saw it, right? The bastard was lying!
Anik! He sought his brother’s face and breathed easier, when their eyes met and he knew he’d seen it too. They’d known Harry’s father from their childhood and Maksim hoped Levi had had enough encounters with the gang this demon led to know better than –
“Well?” Levi demanded from the fighting boy.
“I was paying for the red candy!” He shouted.
“You said it was sour!” The shopkeeper argued back.
“It’s not for me!” Ergo didn’t give in and his eyes searched his surroundings until he noticed Maksim. “It was for my brother!”
“Yeah right! You’re an orphan!” Harry snarled and the policeman holding him yanked him hard. He immediately stepped back, raising his hands and putting up the good boy image once more. “He’s got no brothers! They showed up here a week ago! Stole cigarettes from the shop and everything!”
“No! I -” Levi yanked him hard, hissing at his direction as if to tell him to shut up and as far as Maksim was concerned, he dearly hoped he would. While his soul raged up using such force on a little kid. He knew he would make things worse if he shout out now, but he couldn’t help the “Hey!” that jumped from his lips as he started forward. He gritted his teeth. He couldn’t say Ergo had bought the pack, it would be his word against the shopkeeper, but still!