DATES, DARES AND DANGER by Debra M. and Monica M.

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When Josiah had first walked into Nathan´s dorm room, he had found the junior still working on his term paper

When Josiah had first walked into Nathan´s dorm room, he had found the junior still working on his term paper. But after a while the two friends launched into discussions over various topics. Time had passed rather quickly and Josiah was just about to suggest that they go and look for the other three and see what they were up to, when Nathan´s cell phone rang.

The two boys exchanged looks as Nathan stood up to get the phone. Josiah sighed as he suddenly got a very bad feeling about who was on the other end of that call. “It´s 9p.m. Do you know where your children are?” he asked.

Nathan stopped and looked at Josiah. “That´s not even funny.”

Turning back to his cell phone, he checked the display only to see that the number was not one he recognized. With a heavy feeling of foreboding he answered the phone, “Hello?”

“Good evening, Nathan,” came the far too pleasant sounding response in a southern accent that was so very recognizable for the junior.

“Hello, Ezra,” he responded back a bit more cautiously. He threw another glare over at Josiah and shook his fist at the senior as if somehow this was his fault and Nathan was promising retribution. “Where are you?” he growled out accusingly.

“You know, Nathan, I have always admired your ability to see things so clearly and get right to the heart of the matter,” the southerner replied, his tone still quite genial. “Vin, J.D. and I just happened to find ourselves pondering that very question ourselves.”

“Are you saying you´re lost?!?”

“Well I would not say that we are lost exactly. Perhaps disoriented due to darkness would be a better turn of phrase.”

“Ezra, I don´t care how you want to spin it. Are you off campus and don´t know how to get back.”

“Again I must admire your succinctness…”

“Ezra, either tell me what is going on or let me talk to Vin. Otherwise I´m just gonna hang up this phone and leave you wherever you are!” Nathan´s own southern, Cajun flavored accent that was often well hidden beneath the years of living up north, suddenly reasserted itself with his frustration.

There was a long pause where it seemed as if the phone was muffled, but Nathan could still make out the hushed voices of Vin and Ezra as they argued over control of the phone. The junior met Josiah´s eyes again and shook his head. “They´re lost,” he explained unnecessarily.

“I did gather that, Nathan,” Josiah responded. “And as tempting as it is to make them explain why they are off campus and how they got there, I think it would be best for now to find out where they are, so we can go and get them.”

“You´re right,” Nate agreed. “Then when we have them in the car, we can make them tell us how they got out.”

Josiah blinked in surprise at the fervent edge in Nathan´s voice. He sounded like a jailer eager to get his inmates back after a jailbreak. But then he and Buck were most often at the receiving end of the underclassmen´s pranks. So the senior could understand how Nathan might be looking for an opportunity for a little payback. He would just have to make sure that the junior did not get over zealous.

Finally Ezra came back on the phone and while he was still attempting to keep his voice light and unconcerned, Nathan could hear irritation creeping in. Obviously Vin had been attempting to get the phone away from the southerner. “I believe, Nathan, that perhaps I should explain the circumstances that find us out here on our own and disoriented. You see, Vin and J.D. were the ones who came to me and demanded that I show them…”

Ezra´s voice was cut off by a sharp “owww!” of pain. Vin immediately got on the phone then, though Nathan could hear Ezra´s complaint in the background, “That was quite unnecessary, Vincent!”

But the other sophomore ignored him. “Nate? It´s Vin. Look we went to the restaurant where Chris and Buck were meeting their dates.” A slightly penitent tone touched the Texan´s drawl, “We just wanted to see what Chris´ date looked like. But then Chris almost saw us so we hightailed it out of there and ended up on a back street away from our bus stop. We´re at an intersection but there ain´t any street signs. But we can´t be too far from Rosarita´s Cantina.”

“How far do you think you are? How many blocks do you think you went?” Nathan asked. He actually knew that area since his mother had begun volunteering at a free clinic out there. He and his father worried about her in that part of town, but Nicole´s determination to help was too fierce. She often pointed out that she and Obediah had grown up in neighborhoods that were also labeled as crime riddled and unsafe to walk at night. And so the two men in her life had absolutely no chance of talking her out of it. All they could do was worry when she was gone and wait for her to return.

Nathan had been a bit surprised to learn that the restaurant the couples were going to was in that area. He would have thought that Chris and Buck would have wanted to take the girls to a nicer and safer area. Then he had learned that it was a family owned restaurant and the girls probably felt safer there than they would almost anywhere else. It was like his mother said; when you grew up in a ‘bad´ part of town and it was all you knew, you could never really think of it as ‘bad.´ You knew to be aware and that things could happen, but it was still your home and that meant something that outsiders to that kind of life could not quite understand.

But for all that, Nathan knew that it was definitely not somewhere that those three boys needed to be wandering around at this time on a Friday night. They were definitely outsiders and would stick out like sore thumbs.

“Well we left out of the back of the restaurant, so I think we were heading east. And we probably didn´t stop until about two or three blocks. Then when we started looking for a street sign we kept going east until we reached the end of that block. Only there weren´t any signs on the posts. So we can´t tell you exactly where we are.”

“That´s okay, Vin. I think I know where you are. Or at least close enough that Josiah and I can find you. But I want you to stay right where you are. But if anyone tries to approach you that you don´t like the looks of, then you just walk in the opposite direction from them and call us. Or call the police if they look dangerous enough. Do you understand, Vin?”

“I understand, Nate,” came the reply and the older boy could hear that the Texan did indeed. One thing Nathan knew and admired about Vin was that the teenager knew when it was time to be serious and cautious. And the junior could hear that Vin was taking his charge to heart and that he would take care of the two other boys with him to the best of his ability.

“Good, Vin. We´ll be there as soon as we can. You just stay put.”

“We will, Nate. Oh, let me give you the number to Ezra´s cell phone.” There was another pause as Vin received the information before relaying it to the junior. The sophomore also added a description of some of the buildings around them in the hopes that it would help the older boys in finding them.

Nathan simply wrote it down with the directions. He would find out later how and when the southerner got a hold of a cell phone. “We´re leaving now, Vin,” he stated as he grabbed his coat. “We´ll see you in a little while. Bye.” After hearing Vin´s answering farewell, he disconnected the phone and pocketed it as he walked out of his room to join Josiah who had already moved to his room to get his own coat. Fortunately the two boys did not believe that they would have any problem leaving campus so late. Having family in the city and having almost impeccable school records, gave them a bit more freedom than the other boys.

+ + + + + + +

Inez felt a warm thrill fill her as Buck lightly placed his hand at her back, a gentle yet supporting touch, to guide her off the dance floor and shelter her from the press of the crowd. She found it odd at first to find such a small gesture to be as meaningful as it made her rethink her original estimations of the quarterback. But it made her see that beneath his brash and cocky exterior there was a gentleman who knew how to treat a girl like a lady and with the utmost respect. And so despite herself, she found herself interested in the quarterback who had pursued her so relentlessly for the past month.

She had actually trapped herself into the date by making the mistake of complaining about Buck and his persistence to her cousin. Maria had listened to her gripes at first. But as Inez continued to talk about the junior from the all boy´s school, Maria began to tease her that maybe she liked the attention Buck paid to her. Inez had been insulted but her older cousin was adamant. Finally the younger girl had told her that to show her that she had no interest in Buck, she would go out with him but only if Maria went with them on a blind date with one of Buck´s friends. She had thought that Maria would refuse, but here they were on a double date.

As Buck went to get them both a cold drink, Inez´ thoughts turned to her cousin and her date. The two older teens had not joined them on the dance floor and Inez thought she had seen them stepping outside for some fresh air. She was glad to see her cousin having a good time. Maria had moved in with Inez and her family only a few months before. The older girl had been through a great deal in her young life and had begun getting into quite a bit of trouble, suspended from school for skipping classes to hang out with boys in gangs. Inez had led a bit more of a sheltered life, so she was very concerned when she learned Maria was coming to stay with them. And it had been rough going at first as they got to know each other. Maria was more worldly and experienced than Inez and at first had not reacted too well to her cousin´s questions about her life. But after a time, she became a bit protective and treated Inez like a younger sister that she hoped to keep from making the same mistakes she had.

Inez´ thoughts were interrupted as Buck returned and handed her a cold can of Coca Cola. “Thanks, Buck,” she said before taking a drink.

He nodded at her unable to keep the appreciative look out of his eyes and she blushed ever so slightly and turned away from him, looking out at the dance floor. “You having a good time?” he asked.

“Yes, I really am. And I think Maria is too,” she replied as she turned back to look up at him.

“Glad to hear it. I think Chris is too.”

“Yes, I think they went outside,” Inez said nodding over toward the exit.

Buck jumped at the opportunity. “You want to go outside, just for some fresh air or something.” The quarterback found himself decidedly tongue tied with Inez. He knew she liked him. He knew he picked up a lot of heat from the guys because of his boasting about how he knew the girls loved him, but the truth was that he did have a very keen sense of what girls thought of him. And he knew what girls liked and what they wanted. But with Inez, all that knowledge seemed to do him little or no good. He just knew that she liked him, but she seemed determined to not let him know that overtly. When he complimented her, she reacted warily, sometimes shooting him down with a playful insult. But Buck had never met a girl who did not eventually succumb to his charms. But it was not a conquest he was after with Inez and neither was he just reacting to the challenge she obviously posed to him. He genuinely liked her and wanted to get to know her. He had a feeling that she wanted to try the friendship route first and while he found that a bit disappointing, he was also willing to give that a try. It just did not mean that he would not also try all his options first.

“No,” she blurted out quickly. “I´m fine in here. I want to dance some more.”

Buck nodded letting his disappointment touch his eyes briefly. But he smiled at her again before taking a drink out of his own Coke. She was a great dancer and he enjoyed watching her. If the date was not going exactly as he planned, he still could not complain too much.

+ + + + + + +

J.D. shoved his hands into the pockets of his warm coat as he watched Vin and Ezra launch into another heated debate after the Texan had finished his phone call with Nathan. Ezra was insisting they all agree on a story to tell Nathan and Josiah. More importantly the southerner wanted to know how to prevent the upper classmen from recounting what had taken place that evening to Chris and Buck. He also issued a firm reminder that he had both Vin and J.D´s word that they wouldn´t reveal the escape route off campus Ezra had shown them.

As the two roommates argued all the angles, J.D. sighed and wandered a short distance and leant against the outside wall of the warehouse they had stopped outside. His attention was drawn to a light that suddenly illuminated a barred window a further ten feet down the darkened street. Curious he walked to the window and peered in. Four young men were gathered around a well-worn table. One stood further back than the other three and J.D. could tell immediately he was nervous even though he tried hard to conceal it.

The middle young man of the trio stepped forward and with one shift of his stance clearly identified himself as in charge. Once establishing his control, he waved the nervous young man forward with a friendly gesture. There was a brief pause of hesitation before he complied readily. He stepped up and removed a package from his inside coat pocket and placed it on the table before running his tongue along his bottom lip. The one in charge dropped his gaze for a second to the package before once again attempting to meet the nervous man´s eyes as they darted between the three of them.

Signaling to his right, another of the trio stepped forward and J.D. held his breath as he removed a switchblade. When the second man pierced the package, tested the contents and nodded to the one in charge, J.D. knew what was taking place. The young boy was torn between dangerous curiosity and growing fear. Forcing himself to blink he turned his head toward Vin and Ezra. However, the duo was still deep in discussion. He turned back for one more look and his eyes widened in disbelief as the one in charge drew a weapon and fired without hesitating.

J.D. gasped as the nervous young man staggered backwards when the bullet left the other man´s weapon and entered his skull. His arms flailed briefly then he hit the ground with a deathly thud. He heard Vin yelling his name and the shout drew the attention of the remaining trio. J.D´s eyes widened even further in horror as he was trapped in the gaze of three surprised then angry young men. Shock froze him to the spot for a long slow-motion second until another yell from Vin had him running.

Vin had silenced Ezra as soon as he heard the sound of discharging handgun. Immediately he searched for J.D. and yelled to the freshman as he stood some 25 feet away in front of the warehouse window. The younger boy never responded so he called again this time urgently and he waited apprehensively as J.D. began running toward them.

Anxiously Ezra stepped closer to Vin and the Texan returned his worried glance. J.D. stumbled as he drew nearer to them and literally fell into Ezra. The cell flew from his hand and he heard it clatter and then shimmer across the ground. Immediately the southerner tried to find it in the darkness.

“Run!” J.D. cried in terrified panic. “We have to run!”

“What happened,” Vin demanded, but the younger boy never answered. He pushed them both aggressively.

“They´re coming after us,” he answered in a frightened voice.

“I can´t find my cell,” Ezra announced desperately.

“Come on!” J.D. pleaded ominously.

Vin hung onto J.D. as he also searched the ground surrounding them for Ezra´s cell phone. The Texan knew it was their lifeline and so he held back his instinct to run as long as possible. Any more time was removed from them when the door to the warehouse opened and three men poured out. At least two of them held guns. Grabbing Ezra forcefully, Vin pushed both boys in front of him as they all began to run.

Herding the boys forward, Vin took the first turn, then another. By this time he had run to the lead and making sure both Ezra and J.D. kept up with him, he led them through alleys, past derelict buildings and empty warehouses making his route as complicated as possible. Used to long runs the Texan kept up a fast pace, but before long, he could hear Ezra and J.D. struggling to keep up.

Rounding another building he brought them to a halt. As Ezra and J.D. collapsed against the wall panting heavily, Vin kept an eye out for their pursuers.

“Have we lost them?” J.D. asked within half a minute.

“I don´t know,” Vin replied honestly. “I can´t see them coming.”

J.D. drew in a deep breath of relief but still looked around worriedly.

“What did you see J.D?” Ezra asked as he moved closer to both J.D. and Vin.

The younger boy looked from one friend to the other solemnly then took another deep breath he spoke.

“I think it was a drug deal. There were four of them but one of the guys chasing us shot one of the others. I´m pretty sure he´s dead.”

Ezra groaned in disbelief and Vin cursed softly as he once again looked down the street for their pursuers.

“I´m sorry,” J.D. said softly.

“Ain´t your fault,” Vin answered quickly.

“What are we going do?” Ezra asked of Vin.

“We gotta get help,” the Texan replied.

“Josiah and Nathan are coming for us right,” J.D. spoke up eagerly. “So when they don´t find us, they´ll call someone.” qqq

“Unless they find the men chasing us first,” Ezra replied direly.

An ominous silence descended and each boy averted their gaze from each other. None of them wanted to think about the possibility that they had just brought two of their friends into danger.

“We have to warn them!” J.D. said finally.

“How?” Ezra replied sarcastically. “You caused me to lose my cell.”

“I didn´t mean it,” J.D. replied looking and sounding wounded.

“And you never brought your own cell,” Ezra added ignoring the other boy´s distress.

“Shut up both of you,” Vin growled and then listened intently.

All three heard the distant yet distinctly angry voice.

“They´re still looking for us” Vin stated, lowering his voice, as he began looking around. His eyes rested on stairs that led to the second floor of the building they hid behind.

“Follow me,” Vin continued and wordlessly the other two followed him further down the dingy alley and up the stairs. Tentatively Vin reached out and tried the door. He breathed out in relief when it opened. He led them inside and closed the door.

They all breathed heavily as their eyes adjusted to the gloomy darkness. Finally Vin moved along the wall and hanging onto one another they moved together until they found a small window that shed some light into their surroundings. Vin had already surmised by the dank and musty smell that the building was yet another abandoned structure. So he wasn´t surprised when he could make out discarded boxes, newspapers, packaging materials and broken chairs. Reaching down he picked up one of the broken chair legs. It wasn´t much of a defensive weapon but it was all there was.

Guiding them further along the wall they found an office with a glass front that had clearly been vandalized and broken long ago. Vin peered inside and could make out damaged filing cabinets, a desk and more discarded boxes and rubbish. Probably a Manager´s office and as such offered the best view to oversee most of the warehouse. Quickly Vin surveyed their escape routes. One was back to where they had entered the building via the second floor. The other was down the internal stairs located next to the office. On the lower floor Vin could make a side door on the other side of the building. Vin came to a decision quickly.

“In here,” he ordered his two friends.

Once he had Ezra and J.D. seated on the floor and hidden behind the filing cabinets, he spoke again. “No moving. No talking,” Vin told them firmly and he barely made out their affirming nods in the dark office. Then he moved to the other corner of the office and watched both exits and waited.

+ + + + + + +

Further down the alley and into the main street, two men returned from searching opposite alleys to the one coordinating their pursuit of the three boys. All dressed in jeans, sweaters, and jackets, they moved restlessly trying to keep as warm as their clothes allowed while scanning the streets.

“They´ve gone, Tito,” Felipe stated honestly. He was only too aware of the seriousness of their situation yet as always was not afraid to speak openly.

Tito Morales turned and faced his best friend since childhood. “We´ll find them! This is our home! They don't belong here. They don't know it like we do."

“Let´s just get the hell out of here, Tito!” Ramiro interjected urgently.

Tito glared menacingly. “We don´t go until I say! And I´m telling you to find them! They saw us and we can´t have them go running and crying to the police,” he replied in a cold voice.

Ramiro looked over to Felipe for support but his cousin was not to be swayed. In reality Ramiro knew his plea would not be successful. Tito and Felipe were extremely tight and trusted only in each other. As Felipe´s cousin he sought and gained access into Tito´s business. However, whilst he loyally carried out anything Tito asked of him, he had been unable to achieve anywhere near the close friendship and trust that existed between the ruthless drug dealer and his cousin.

Mostly that didn´t bother him but tonight he had a bad feeling. Tonight´s business was starting to go wrong and his instincts told him they should just go back to the warehouse, dispose of the body and lay low. However, Tito was in charge and he didn´t dare oppose him. He had seen too often what happened to those who did.

“Get the car, Ramiro,” Tito ordered. “Meet us back here.”

Ramiro nodded and with that Tito turned to Felipe and gestured for him to follow him up the next side street. Both men gripped their weapons tightly by their side.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah drove slowly by Rosarita´s Cantina as he and Nathan both peered intently all over for any sight of the three boys who were lost. They had driven through the streets all around the restaurant but had not seen the boys anywhere. Nathan had continuously tried calling the phone number that Vin had given him, but no one ever answered. He had left numerous messages, but he had yet to get a return call. They had decided to go back to the restaurant and try to retrace the boys´ path, except it was more difficult because they wanted to remain in their car.

As they made their way back to the street that Nathan felt was where the boys should be, they still found it empty. Josiah finally asked what they had both been wondering, “Do you think we should call Chris and Buck?”

Nathan nodded. “We need help in finding them. And I think Chris would want us to call him before we call the cops or the school. And maybe they are with Chris and Buck, you know, maybe they somehow found them?” The junior paused before proffering the phone out toward Josiah, “But since you´re Chris´ roommate I think you should be the one to call him.”

With a heavy sigh, the senior pulled the car over at the corner and took the phone from Nathan and dialed the number to Chris´ cell phone.

+ + + + + + +

Maria had boldly suggested to Chris that they step outside. It was difficult to talk inside the crowded and loud dance and it had been apparent from the outset Chris was not interested in dancing. However, once they had retrieved their coats and stepped outside in the cold air and found a spot away from other couples also wanting some privacy, Maria found herself in the unusual situation of not knowing what to say. She was relieved when Chris spoke first.

“Buck said you´re living with Inez´s family now?”

“Yes,” she replied stiffening slightly. She didn´t care to talk about her past or why she had come to live with her cousin and her family.

“For how long?” he asked softly. He had noted her immediate wariness yet instinct told him she might open to him even though he sensed that she, like him, rarely did that.

Her eyes flickered with a myriad of emotions and her facial expression softened into sadness before she controlled both.

“I don´t know,” she replied. “My father…” she began then stopped and glanced at the ground. “It´s complicated,” she finished as she raised her eyes again to his.

“I know what you mean,” he replied with a faint smile.

Maria frowned briefly as she searched his face and then her eyes widened a little as she both sensed and saw his eyes darken with shadows of pain and torment even deeper than her own.

“Maybe you do,” she whispered as she moved closer to him until their bodies were almost touching. This double date was nothing like she expected. She had basically dared Inez to go on this date, knowing the younger girl would insist she accompany her. Maria had agreed and had anticipated the evening would pass rather slowly for her but decided it would be worth it to get to know this football star and local legend Inez kept talking about. But then she discovered her own date was quote the local hero as well as being very good looking. And so this evening was anything but slow.

She shivered and her skin tingled with goosebumps, however she knew it wasn´t the cold night air causing that effect. Her stomach fluttered every time he looked at her like he was now. And his enigmatic personality and the sense of danger he exuded excited more than she ever thought possible. Taking in a short breath she lifted her face towards his and softly parted her lips. Her heart began beating wildly as his hand touched her waist and moved slowly to the small of her back, gently pressing her closer toward him.

They both jumped as his cell rang. He cursed and then quickly mumbled an apology before he stepped back and quickly answered it.

“Yeah!” he said his annoyance obvious.

Maria watched closely as Chris´ facial expressions went from anger to a scowl then deep concern. He asked several abrupt questions then ended with, “Where are you?”

He listened again and then grim determination filled his handsome face. “Meet us at restaurant in twenty minutes,” he said firmly. “No, I´ll contact him if we can´t find them ourselves. Just keep looking, Josiah,” he finished before he hung up.

“Is something wrong?” Maria asked.

“Yes,” Chris replied. “I´m sorry Maria, Buck and I have to leave,” he continued as he took her hand and began guiding her back indoors to the dance.

Ten minutes later the two couples were saying goodbye as a taxi pulled up. Told briefly what was happening the two young women were disappointed but understanding. As Buck pleaded with Inez for a second date, or rather a completion of this one, Chris said goodnight to Maria with a pledge that he would phone her.

As the taxi pulled from the curb, Buck turned to Chris.

“I´m gonna kill ‘em,” he announced before he began striding towards his car.

“Let´s just find them first,” Chris replied before following.


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