Clint Larabee sat in his cruiser and admitted to himself that he had no idea of what his next step was in this situation. He sat parked down the road from Regents’ gatehouse. He stopped here when he suddenly realized that he was making a big mistake in thinking that he could just drive up to the school and invite Chris for a weekend of fishing, just the two of them. Chris would never accept the offer. Too much time and silence had passed between them. And yet there was only one possible way to correct that. Sighing heavily, Clint cranked the cruiser up again as he knew that he had to at least make the attempt. Maybe he would not get any positive results, maybe he would be laughed and insulted away, but then maybe it would be a start.

As the cruiser rolled up to the gatehouse, Clint searched for any sign of Jeff Harris. Not seeing him immediately struck the police officer as a curiosity. Jeff was conscientious about his job and Clint had come to know, like, and trust him. Clint especially liked that Jeff had no delusions about his job and was not a "cop-wanna-be". Instead, whenever there was any kind of trouble at the campus, Jeff was quick to report the problem if necessary.

The wrought iron gate was closed and as far up the road as Clint could see everything appeared peaceful on the campus. But the policeman knew that Jeff was supposed to be on duty, like he was every Saturday, and knew that the man would not leave without reason. One of the first things Clint learned as a rookie was to listen to that "sixth" sense that pulled at the pit of his stomach and raised the hair on the back of his neck. Twenty odd years later that sense was honed into an uncanny instinct and right now it was screaming at him that something was definitely not right. Putting the car in reverse, Clint rolled it back enough so that he could get a glimpse behind the gatehouse, but there was no one there. Parking it once more, he stepped out of the cruiser cautiously and made his way to the gatehouse itself. He froze immediately when he saw the mangled mess of the gate control board. His eyes searched for any signs of struggle but found none.

Fear began to gnaw at him even as he instinctively moved to follow procedure, reaching through the open cruiser door and grabbing the radio. "7-Mary-3, Seven Springs."

"Go ahead, 7-M-3."

"Show me checking Regents School, security not on duty, gate controls smashed."

"Negative, 7-M-3. Stand by location. FBI en route, Otis Dempsey SAC."

Clint froze as he attempted to understand what he just heard. The FBI was en route? Just what was going on at his son’s school and what was happening to Chris in there? "Say again."

"FBI en route. Feds have taken jurisdiction. Stand by to assist only."

"10-4," Clint managed as he replaced the radio and slammed the cruiser door shut. He walked around the gatehouse, his green eyes scanning intently for any sign of a struggle, for any clue that could begin to explain to him what happened here and what that meant for the boys inside. It was a futile search but it kept his body active, but more importantly it kept his mind distracted. Up until today, Clint pretty much resigned himself to the fact that Chris was lost to him. Clint had been too lost in his own grief and pain to realize that his son was feeling the same emotions he was, compounded by guilt. Finding no comfort from his father, Chris had withdrawn but Clint never noticed just how far his son had retreated from him until the other day. Clint had begun to believe that if he worked hard at it, if he could prove to his son how much he still cared about him, how much he still needed him, then he could reclaim some measure of what they had before.

Careful to watch where he stepped and what he touched, Clint stepped into the gatehouse. The gate controls were smashed but good, but he saw no sign of the blunt instrument used to do it. So whoever did it must have carried the item away with them. Clint’s eyes drifted out the window to the drive that led to Regents and just for a brief moment allowed the worry and concern he felt for his son to wash over him. The broken gate and the involvement of the FBI, not to mention his own gut instincts working overtime, did not bode well for Chris and his friends.

The sound of sirens nearing drew Clint out of the gatehouse. Even before the car rolled to a halt, Clint stepped toward the lead car, eager to find out what was going on and what he could do to help his son. The person who exited the passenger side of the black sedan was an older man who carried the weight of authority and command on seemingly frail shoulders. His dark eyes fixed immediately on Clint, "You must be Officer Larabee. Deputy Director Otis Dempsey." The men shook hands briefly, both impressed with what they saw in the other.

"I found the gate control panel smashed and no sign of the guard. I know Jeff Harris, and he wouldn’t leave his post. So you want to tell me what’s going on?" Clint asked.

Dempsey sighed as he glanced around at his men, who were already moving to their tasks. Clint followed the fed’s eyes and noticed for the first time the sheer amount of manpower and equipment that had been brought up to the school. "This isn’t going to be quick, it is?" he asked matter-of-factly.

Dempsey turned back to him and nodded. "’Fraid not," he said in a gravelly voice. "Luis Cali is holding 47 boys and 12 faculty members. Have you heard of Luis Cali or his father, Enrique?"

Clint replayed the first half of Dempsey’s statement even as he shook his head at the question. The boys were hostages, plain and simple. He forced himself through the shock that filled him as he listened to the FBI agent. Clint knew he would need every drop of information that he could get if he was going to be able to help his son at all.

"Well, Enrique Cali is…was a Colombian druglord. We finally managed to get him extradited to face charges. His son attempted to stop the extradition, but escaped before he could be captured as well."

"And somehow he managed to waltz through customs and wound up here. So why this school?" Clint spat out in frustration.

"One of the students here is Stephen Travis, son of Orrin Travis, the federal judge who will be trying Enrique Cali. He’s one of the 47 students who was remaining on campus during this holiday weekend," Dempsey answered.

Clint hesitated, wondering if the FBI agent already knew that his son was also being held and was just waiting for him to come clean. Deciding that it would be better to tell the truth now, Clint caught the man’s eyes and held them firm, "My son’s in there with them."

Dempsey nodded, "I know." He squared his shoulders as he faced Clint, "If you don’t make it a problem for us, I’m willing to let you stay on and assist. I’m going to get all of those people out of there alive. I don’t care if they’re the judge’s son, a policeman’s son or Joe Bob’s son." His voice was emphatic and left little doubt in Clint’s mind.

"That’s good to hear." He paused as he looked back up toward the school, his thoughts flicking back to Chris. "And the sooner the better." A ghost of a wry grin traced across his rugged features. "My son is not the kind to sit back and wait."

"You think he could be a problem? Endanger the others?" The agent asked, his voice sharp.

Clint sighed and suddenly aged before Dempsey’s eyes. "No. Chris has lost too much to risk losing anyone else. The only person he’d put at risk is himself."

Dempsey nodded absently as he heard the pain and remorse in the officer’s soft tones. It touched his curiosity but he had no time to follow it up. He had a command center to build up first and he needed to establish communication with Luis Cali. So far he only received one phone call from the man simply to state that he had 59 hostages. That was when they learned who one of those hostages was. Dempsey rubbed at the back of his neck at the memory of having to inform Orrin Travis of the situation. And the federal agent could only count on things growing progressively worse before they could even get better.

"Okay, so what can you tell me about the school grounds? Any other possible entrances we can use?" he asked.

Clint shook his head, "No. There’s a couple of places that a real determined kid could get through, but nothing large enough for you to get any of your men through. And that would be too dangerous. There’s just too much open ground between the school building and the tree line. Do you know how many men this Cali has?"

"Only thing we know is he told us if we tried to fly a helicopter over, he’d shoot it down. So I’m thinking he has some pretty powerful artillery. Other than that we are completely blind on this one," Dempsey answered as he began to walk over to the FBI’s mobile command center. As the fed pulled the side door of the van open, Clint caught a glimpse of a large bank of computer and radio equipment. The officer found some comfort in seeing the vast amount of resources the FBI had at their disposal.

Clint followed Dempsey, throwing one last look over his shoulder at the school grounds. "Trust in me, Chris," he thought to himself. He knew it was a futile thought. For the past three years he had not given Chris any reason to trust in him. Instead he cut the kid off and forced him to learn how to survive on his own. Clint knew, considering the situation, it was wrong to hope that Chris’ friends were there with him, but he also knew that they might be the only things keeping his son from acting too rashly.


True to his word, their hostage taker had the boys counted every hour on the hour and it was always the lone Caucasian who did the counting. The boys came to refer to him simply as the Counter. It was well past noon when the boys were brought back into the cafeteria to be counted and were finally offered a meal. Chris as always led the others to a table toward the back of the cafeteria. Again he hovered over the table as the others sat down. His eyes swept the room as he looked for any sign of Stephen or Headmaster Lowell. The senior was eager to learn more about why the terrorists were here. Chris felt that he and the others had worked out a pretty good plan. Even Ezra eventually assisted with the details. Of course, seeing as it was his hide that was the most at risk, Chris could understand his interest. And while he knew the cops or feds would have the information on what the demands were, Chris wanted that information too He wanted to be taken seriously so that all their efforts would not go to waste.

The boys were brought up table by table to be served their meal. When it was finally their table’s turn, Chris fell in line behind Ezra. The sophomore paused and made a grand flourish of a "after you" motion, but Chris shook his head and mimicked the gesture back at Ezra. The southerner flashed him a grin as he turned back into the line, but Chris noticed that it was a fairly weak grin for Ezra.

The older boy supposed he could understand why Ezra would not feel comfortable with his back turned to Chris. What did surprise the senior was the flash of disappointment that he felt. He realized that while he and the others were slowly beginning to think of Ezra as the seventh of their circle, the southerner had yet to see himself as anything more than the outsider they tolerated because of Vin. The surprise turned to shock as he decided that he would definitely do something about that as soon as he got a chance. He told himself that it was more to ease some of the burden off Vin, but deep down knew that it was because of Ezra’s tendency, despite his high irritation factor, to be downright likable.

And right on cue Ezra proved those thoughts true as he watched in wide eyed astonishment as Miss Jameson plopped a rather greasy slice of pizza on his tray. "Madame, just because we are being held prisoner does not mean that you must feed us the equivalent of prison swill."

Miss Jameson was well used to trading insults with Ezra and was actually a bit relieved to see the boy had not been subdued by the day’s events so far. "At least you’re getting more than bread and water," she replied with a glare.

Ezra poked hesitantly at the pizza slice with his fork. He pulled his arm away hurriedly as he burst a bubble of cheese and a volcanic eruption of grease oozed out. He blinked up at Miss Jameson. "I believe bread and water would be far more humane in this instance. Have you not heard of the Geneva Convention?"

Miss Jameson laughed as she shook her head. Seeing one of the guards frown at the nonmoving line, she warned, "Now go on, before you get in more trouble than just from me."

Ezra winked at her and flashed his dimpled, crooked grin. "Now you know you like my brand of trouble, Miss Jameson."

Chris shoved Ezra from behind as he too saw the guard’s increased attention to the line. The southerner flashed him a frown before moving down the line to gather his drink. Chris looked up apologetically at Miss Jameson but the older woman was still smiling and shaking her head softly. As she placed a larger slice of pizza on Chris’ tray she said, "Now you watch out for him, Christopher Larabee. And the rest of your boys." She eyed him intently for a minute, "And take care of yourself, Chris."

The senior held her gaze as understanding flashed between them. "You take care of yourself, ma’am," he said in a soft tone that did not hide the sincerity of his words.

"I always do," she laughed and tossed him a wink of her own. That left Chris as the one laughing softly and shaking his head.

He was still smiling, though his head was down in an attempt to hide it, as he made his way back to the table. "How do you do it, Ezra?" he asked.

Wide, pale green eyes blinked up at him in surprised innocence, or at least a well-acted semblance of it. "How do I do what?" Ezra asked. Then waiting a beat his eyes dropped back down to the slice of pizza on his tray that he had actually begun to eat. "Ingest this grease covered slice of petrified cardboard?"

Chris shook his head even as J.D. giggled and Buck protested around a full mouth of pizza, "It ain’t petrified!" The freshmen stopped giggling immediately as his face screwed up in disgust and he began wiping furiously at his face.

"Man, Buck! Didn’t your mom teach you not to talk with your mouth full?" That got the other three boys laughing.

The entire time Ezra continued to gaze at Chris, his face a mix of innocence and interest. Chris chuckled then asked, "You insult her food every day and yet Miss Jameson still likes you. Just how do you do it?"

The sophomore nodded sagely, "Ah, that." Again he paused before continuing, "Obviously Miss Jameson appreciates someone who is unafraid of stating the truth."

Ezra’s words and accompanying grin were met with snickers from the other five as Chris cocked his head to the side and nodded as well. Then deliberately taking a bite out of his own slice of pizza, Chris chewed and swallowed it down hard. "You might have a point there," he added with a grimace.

Vin watched the interaction between Chris and Ezra with a deep sense of satisfaction. Chris, despite himself, was beginning to like the southerner and although neither would openly admit to it, Vin could see they both needed the other's acceptance and friendship.

Their moment of unity and levity was interrupted as their captor entered the cafeteria, flanked by Stephen, Dr. Lowell, and two guards. Chris’ gaze immediately turned serious as he watched them walk up to be served as well. "If any of us get a chance to talk to Stephen we have to find out what exactly that guy wants from his dad." Six boys nodded in agreement.

Then Buck started up a bit of playful teasing about J.D.’s hat and why he bothered to grab it. Looking to further distract the younger boy, Vin, Josiah, and even Nathan joined in.

Finally out of sheer curiosity, Ezra had to ask, "Do you not have an opinion on J.D.’s choice of headwear, Christopher?"

The senior eyed J.D.’s cap thoughtfully before turning back to Ezra and stating flatly, "I think a baseball cap should have a baseball team on it." His teasing smirk was hidden by his lowered head.

Buck chortled before gathering himself enough to tease, "You saying that if J.D. wants to promote a football team, he should wear a helmet around everywhere?"

Chris said nothing, but Ezra took up his line of reasoning for him. "I do believe that a helmet is the headgear of choice of football teams, is it not?"

"Well, yeah," J.D. said, disbelief filling his voice, "but I can’t go around wearing a helmet all day."

"Hell, J.D.," Vin threw in, "you can hardly go around wearin’ a helmet durin’ your practices. Half the time, I ‘spect you to just teeter on over."

Buck laughed, "Vin’s got a point, J.D."

Nathan saw the wounded look on the freshman’s face and went to his defense, "I’ve watched y’all’s practice and J.D. does a pretty good for himself out there." The junior could not help but add, an apologetic look in his eyes, "For a little guy anyway."

J.D.’s mouth hung open at the backhanded support given him. He saw Josiah about to speak and snapped, "If you’re gonna "help" me like Nathan, I don’t wanna hear it."

Josiah smiled benignly at J.D. "I was merely about to state that we should not forget the lesson taught us in the wonderful movie, and a true story I might add, Rudy. Sometimes it is not size, but heart that matters."

J.D. beamed over at Josiah in gratitude, then leaned back in his chair, crossed his arms over his chest, gave the others a loud hmph, and a decisive nod.

Buck shook his head in mock dismay. "Hate to break it to you, kid, but this ain’t Notre Dame and you ain’t Rudy."

J.D.’s response was cut off as Chris changed the subject back to their situation. He had spotted Stephen sitting at the unoccupied end of a table. "Here’s our chance," he stated as he placed his hands on the table and started to rise out of his chair.

"No, Chris," Josiah stated, a hint of warning in his tone, "I’ll go. You seem to draw a bit of attention."

Reluctantly Chris nodded as he could not deny the fact that the guards did watch him closely. The others watched as Josiah picked up his tray and returned it to the dirty pile at the front of the cafeteria. In a smooth move, he nodded at Stephen and then eased himself across from the other senior. One of the guards noticed but when a glance toward Luis was met with dismissal left the two boys alone.

The others were a bit subdued as they sat at the table and shot furtive glances over to where Josiah and Stephen spoke. Stephen looked a little haggard, but Josiah’s soothing presence seemed to relax him and even drew the other boy into telling the tale of all that had happened to him.

Soon though, their lunchtime was over and they were all counted again and marched back out into the quad. Stephen and Dr. Lowell were even allowed to join them. So as not to attract too much attention, Josiah slowly made his way back over to the corner of the quad that the seven of them made into their private domain. With a grunt he eased his bulky frame onto the ground between Vin and J.D. Looking across to Chris he reported, "Our captor is Luis Cali and what he wants is his father freed from where he is being held in a federal prison awaiting trial for drug smuggling."

"Good Lord!" escaped from Ezra’s lips as he leaned against a tree, having refused to ‘recline in the dirt’ with the rest of them.

"You know something about Luis Cali?" Chris asked.

Ezra shook his head in dismay. "His father must be Enrique Cali. He was recently extradited out of Columbia." He paused and briefly met each of their eyes, "The extradition was not without bloodshed. Learning that his father had been captured, the son took a courtroom hostage and demanded the release of his father. To prove to the authorities how serious he was, Luis threw a few hostages out of the court’s 10th floor window. Watching his father’s extradition on TV, Luis then used the remaining hostages as shields as he made his escape by helicopter taking only the court judge with him. Once he was clear, he threw the judge overboard."

Shocked silence filled their corner of the quad as each boy attempted to comprehend the seriousness of their situation. Fear filled them in a way that none of them, perhaps except for Chris, had ever known before. For Chris, it was a feeling that was all too familiar, as it filled his nightmares and just about every moment of his life that he was not distracted by the antics of his friends. It had nothing to do with concern for himself but of being helpless as others he cared about were hurt.

He could feel the others turning to look at him, expecting him to have the answer, for him to know exactly what they should do. He did not want the responsibility. But as much as he knew he did not want it, he could not deny that it was his, and he could not just shirk it. Something inside him just needed to be in charge and while he never asked anyone to follow him, somehow people always looked to him to lead.

"Okay," he said finally, "so we know this guy’s as dangerous as he wants us to think he is." He met each of their frightened looks, willing them to understand that it meant they had very little to lose. "We can sit back and wait for him to lose his temper when they don’t give in to his demands or we can try and help ourselves by getting some information to the people who can get us out of this situation. I say we do everything we can to help the police take this bastard down." He received six nods of agreement, though a couple were a little hesitant.

"Well, Stephen says he has talked to his father," Josiah stated. "Said his dad was very reassuring, saying that he would see to it that each and everyone one of us was kept safe." Ezra snorted in disdain but made no comment as they all turned angry eyes on him. Josiah continued, "Apparently the feds are camped right out our door here and have the entire place surrounded. Stephen is afraid that when Cali attempts to get out of here, that he is going to have to go with them as a shield."

Again silence met the end of Josiah’s words as each boy considered what happened to the last person Luis Cali used as a getaway shield. Chris was again the one to break the silence, "So the feds will definitely like any and all information that we can get to them. We know how many men are here, where they are stationed and all the hardware that they have. We have to get that information to them."

"So what’s the plan that y’all have come up with," Nathan asked since he had not been privy to the discussions before.

Chris looked over at Ezra and motioned for him to join them. The southerner stepped over and squatted down next to Vin. "What we have to do is get Ezra back into my and Josiah’s room where Josiah left his laptop. Then he just has to find who to send all our information to and get it all out."

Nathan looked over at Ezra, resizing his opinion of the sophomore. "And how are you thinking of getting all the way up to the senior floor?"

Ezra shrugged. "Well now, that all depends on how our captors put us up for the night." He shifted his feet beneath him but still refused to sit on the ground. It was not so much because he did not want to get dirty, but because he could not allow himself to commit to being part of this group. He did not want to show them that he was comfortable with joining them, when in reality how much he really was frightened him. "The way I see it, they will want to keep us as close together as possible and in easy reach, so if anything they will keep us all on the freshmen floor. If they do that, then all I have to do is climb out onto the window ledge, make my way over to that large oak and climb up it to the sophomore window ledge and get inside one of the windows there. Then I can take the stairwell up to the senior floor and into their room." He said it all easily as if the possibility of an armed guard being anywhere along his path did not even cross his mind.

Chris nodded, "And Vin and I will go along with him to keep watch in the hallway and stairwell. So really the only thing we have left to wait for is to find out how this is going to work tonight."

Ezra stood up and stretched. "Then I suggest we split up a little until then. I’ve noticed that the guards tend to keep an eye on you, Christopher. And on Vincent, since his little excursion this morning. We don’t need to raise their suspicions too soon. So if you will excuse me, I believe that I will go find a quiet spot that might afford me a chance to nap." Without waiting for a response he turned and strolled away.

"Ezra’s right, we should split up for a bit," Chris agreed as he pulled himself to his feet.

The boys split up at that, though Buck stayed close to J.D. He was concerned that the freshman was trying to be brave so as not to lose face with the others. Course Buck knew that he himself was trying to be brave but only to try and be a comfort to J.D. And somewhere in the back of his mind where odd, stray thoughts floated, Buck found himself trying to remember if any plots from his mother’s books were even slightly similar and offered any suggestions to help their situation. He wished that Montana Fontaine had decided to be a crime/thriller novelist instead. Maybe then he could think of scenarios that could be helpful to him now. After all when any of the characters in his mother’s books were in this kind of situation they tended to flirt with the guards. Buck almost hoped that if he got desperate enough to attempt that, that the guard would shoot him.


As soon as daylight started to fade, they were brought into the cafeteria to be counted and were not allowed out into the quad again. Dr. Lowell moved from table to table trying to offer the boys some reassuring words that he had faith that this would all be over soon. It was a different image the headmaster was presenting than the hard nosed one they were all used to seeing. But while he tried to calm the boys down, they could all see his own nervous looks back toward the office where Cali remained.

They were in the midst of eating dinner when Luis suddenly erupted into the cafeteria screaming at his men in rapid-fire Spanish. The guards quickly moved to separate the students from the faculty. Luis shouted for attention once that had been accomplished. "You can all blame your government for continuing your imprisonment here. They stall, demanding that I release some of you to show good faith. Meanwhile they give me nothing!" The hostages all flinched away from the naked hatred in his voice. It was so obvious that Cali was barely holding on to some semblance of sanity. As if realizing that he was about to lose control, Luis gathered himself and continued, "But I will do what they want this time. I will let your teachers and staff go free. But you will tell them that this will be the last thing that I do for them. If they continue to stall and lie to me, the only thing they will be receiving is the dead bodies of the students I will shoot!"

With that he again shouted to his men in Spanish and the faculty was marched out of the cafeteria. When one of the guards grabbed Dr. Lowell’s arm, the headmaster wrenched it free, determined to remain with his students. Luis saw and yelled, "No, Diego, he stays with us."

Once the faculty was cleared out of the cafeteria a heavy silence descended as the boys felt that they lost a great deal of their support. Chris merely seethed that he could not act until later. His entire being cried out to do something as being helpless went completely against his nature. But they did not have much longer to wait as the guards soon began to line them up and herd them up toward the freshmen rooms. Chris made sure that the other six were close by so that they could stick together as much as possible.

It worked better than he expected as all seven of them were shoved into J.D.’s own room. Chris immediately moved to the window to check the view outside. Buck and Josiah each plopped down on one of the beds, stretching out as J.D. and Nathan sat on the edges. Vin looked around the room before joining Chris at the window. Ezra remained standing near the door, his wide eyes roaming around the room.

The southerner fidgeted slightly as he could already feel the involuntary increase in his heartbeat and breathing. The room was smaller even than his and Vin’s and there were just too many bodies pressed inside. He found himself continually running a hand through his hair and forced himself to stop before he drew attention to himself. He crossed his arms over his chest and then found himself bouncing slightly as his agitation increased. Breathing as slowly as possible, Ezra looked around the room for any distraction he could find. He noticed Vin looking at him questioningly but ignored him. His claustrophobia was his own to deal with.

"J.D., you wouldn’t happen to have a deck of cards, would you?" Ezra asked. Vin’s blue eyes narrowed slightly as he heard the wavering tone to his roommate’s voice. He had not failed to notice Ezra's position, which was as close to the door as he could get, nor did he miss the uncommon fidgeting.

Buck caught sight of a box of cards on the nightstand next to his head and tossed it over to Ezra. The southerner caught the box easily and then slid to the floor as he almost hungrily opened the box. He was unaware of the fact that he now had the attention of everyone in the room. The box was large enough to hold two decks of cards, but Ezra’s deft fingers pulled only one out. The brand was one he was unfamiliar with so Ezra flipped the card over to get a look at the design on the card face itself. What he saw dropped his mouth open in surprise. Shocked, pale green eyes shot up accusingly at Buck as he stammered out, "What… what is this?"

Buck grinned as he shrugged, enjoying seeing the usually unflappable Ezra at a loss. "It’s a deck of cards."

Ezra shook his head vehemently. "This is not a deck of cards," he stated as he held up a bright yellow card with the word ‘SKIP’ and the international symbol for ‘no’, a circle with a slash through it, emblazoned on it. "This is an abomination!"

The other boys could not help but laugh at the outright outrage of Ezra’s words and expression. He glared at them even as J.D. finally managed to ask. "You’ve never seen an ‘Uno’ deck, Ezra?"

The southerner continued to fan through the cards, wincing at each bright color and each strange card that spoke of things like ‘REVERSE’ and ‘DRAW TWO’. He finally shuddered and put the deck down when he came across a ‘DRAW FOUR WILD’ card. "No, I have never had the misfortune to gaze upon such… such…" he threw his hands up in disgust as words failed him.

"Oh, then we’ll definitely have to teach you how to play. It’s a lot of fun and can get very cutthroat!" J.D. enthused.

"A game of poker with my mother is cutthroat." Holding the cards up again he said, "This is a kid’s game!"

From his reclining posture on the bed, Josiah spoke up. "Well in case it escapes you, Ezra, you are a kid. You should take the chance to be one."

All eyes averted from the bewildered look on Ezra’s face as silence once again took its hold on the room. It was finally broken only by the sound of rapidly shuffled cards. Josiah propped himself up on an elbow so he could catch a glimpse of where the southerner sat on the floor shuffling the overlarge deck of cards. Sheepishly, Ezra shot him a look from his lowered head and said, "Well, you have to admit that it is a bit ironic that there is no way to play a good hand of solitaire with a deck of ‘Uno’ cards."

Josiah chuckled and nodded. "Be inventive."

Ezra cocked him an eyebrow as he continued to shuffle the cards. J.D. stood up and started toward the sophomore, hoping to get him to play a game with him, but was stopped by a warning glare from Ezra. Vin watched the exchange and knew that his roommate just wanted to be left alone for a while so he quickly called out to the freshman, "Hey, J.D., what’s this thing here?"

J.D. turned and smiled as he saw what attracted Vin’s attention. "That’s my airplane. I built it myself and it really flies." Walking over he picked up the large yellow plane and the control box next to it. "See it’s remote controlled and everything."

Buck sat up on the bed, "Hey, not bad there, kid. I didn’t know you built that thing yourself."

The freshman nodded as he pushed the hair out of his eyes. "Yep, all the way from scratch." He frowned briefly, "Took me a little while but I finally got it. You should see her fly though!"

Buck smiled at him proudly, "Well let’s take her out for a spin tomorrow!"

J.D. nodded eagerly as he put the remote and plane back down and returned to sitting on the edge of the bed Buck sat on. Chris turned back to looking out the window looking for any sign of a guard on the grounds below or on the rooftop next to them. "I don’t see any guards who would be a problem for us," he stated to the room at large. "Ezra, come here and tell me what you think."

The southerner stopped mid-shuffle, "I’m quite satisfied that your assessment is a true one."

Chris glared at him. "Just get over here and tell me the route we’ll take."

Ezra forced a crooked grin to slide up his face, grateful that they were in J.D.’s room. He recently scouted it for a practical joke he intended to play on the freshmen, so he knew exactly the route he would take, had taken. "We’ll climb out on the ledge, carefully slide step across the ledge to the oak tree adjacent to us, grab hold of the branch and shimmy up it to the next ledge. The closest window there is the sophomore floor bathroom, whose windows are always ajar. We slip in there and out the bathroom into the hallway, down the hallway to the stairs, up the stairs to the senior floor, down the hallway to your room. The laptop is hidden under Josiah’s bed. Any questions?" he finished smugly.

Vin caught Chris’ eye and gave him a slight shake of his head. When Chris shot him a look, Vin whispered, "He’s feeling closed in, leave ‘im ‘lone."

The senior narrowed his eyes questioningly so Vin continued, "He don’t like small spaces."

Understanding filled Chris’ green eyes as he glanced over to where Ezra had resumed his shuffling of the cards. The steady rhythm and ease with which the southerner did it belied the nervous motions of his feet. "Perfect," Chris breathed out, receiving a shrug from Vin.

"Well, I say we do this now while there’s still a little confusion from the hostage release. It’s already dark enough to hide us," Chris stated.

"I suggest that Vincent change his shirt. The white will stand out in the dark," Ezra pointed out.

"Not to mention the fact that you stink, pard," Buck teased the Texan.

"There is that as well," Ezra agreed with a grin.

"Well y’all lazy sumbitches wouldn’t know anything about exercise or a good sweat would you?" Vin teased back.

"You must’ve never seen, or smelled, Buck after football practice," J.D. laughed. "Wooee, now that’s a stink you don’t ever want to know."

"It’s an honest sweat," Buck stated proudly, "Shows I’ve worked hard, given it my all. ‘Sides the girls like a man glistening with sweat."

"Which girls?" Nathan asked. "Girls with anosmia?"

"What the hell is that?"

"The loss of the sense of smell," Nate laughed.

Buck tossed a pillow at him, hitting him full in the face. The other junior merely picked it up and placed it under his head. "Thanks."

Chris shot Buck a warning look to stifle anymore of the "argument". "J.D., you got a dark shirt Vin can wear." Buck opened his mouth to comment but snapped it shut when Chris pierced him with yet another glare.

Ezra stood up as he carefully replaced the cards into the box and laid it on the corner of the bed. "Well, why you ‘gentlemen’ prepare for tonight’s activities, I believe I will pay a visit to the lavatory."

Ignoring Chris, Buck laughed, "Why? You scared you’ll piss yourself out there if you don’t go now?"

The junior quickly learned that Ezra had an almost equally lethal look as Chris’. But Ezra made no reply as he opened the door slowly and peeked his head out. He was immediately instructed by a guard to get back inside and shut the door. "I need to go to the restroom," Ezra whined, his voice rising plaintively in an attempt to convince the guard that it was an emergency. Buck suppressed his laughter but had to admit that the kid was good and knew how to get what he wanted as the guard yelled at him to come out.

As the door shut behind Ezra, J.D. tossed a black t-shirt to Vin. He smiled smugly at Buck whose questioning look was answered as Vin pulled on the Baltimore Raven’s shirt. The junior clapped a hand to his forehead as he dropped backward into the bed. Josiah gave J.D. a smile with a nod of approval.

As time passed without Ezra’s return, Chris began to pace impatiently across the floor. After ten minutes passed he cursed, "Don’t tell me he managed to get into trouble just by going to the bathroom!"

With those words both he and Vin shared a look. "He wouldn’t?" Chris questioned though he knew deep down that the crazy southerner had.

Vin beat Chris to the door and held it shut as the senior tried to open it. "Move out of my way, Vin."

"Chris, they told us only one person to the bathroom at a time. We don’t want to call attention to the fact that he ain’t out of there yet," Vin pleaded.

Green eyes met blue before Chris gave a small nod of acquiescence and stepped away from the door. He looked back over at the window and considered for a moment trying to follow the sophomore’s earlier instructions but decided that all he could do now was wait. And Chris hated waiting. The other boys watched him with sympathy as they, too, tried to understand why Ezra would go off by himself.

Time crawled by then and after thirty minutes passed they all began to fear that Ezra had been caught. After all they never heard the guards looking for him in their bathroom or coming to see if he returned to the room. After an hour, worry knotted their stomachs as they were all too scared to voice what they feared happened to him. They all turned as one as the door flew open suddenly and Ezra was shoved inside. The southerner caught himself against the corner of J.D.’s bed but quickly pushed himself away before Buck could lay steadying hands on him. The guard shouted something at him in Spanish before slamming the door shut.

"What the hell happened?" Chris demanded though he did keep his voice low.

Ezra sighed, refusing to meet any of their eyes. "I decided it would be less risky to go out the bathroom window since the tree limb is right outside and would decrease the chance of being caught out on the ledge."

"Well that didn’t pay off too well, did it," Chris stated, his words clipped with the anger that hid his concern.

Ezra tossed him a brief look before continuing, "Actually it did. I had no problems getting into the sophomore hall. In fact the only thing we did not foresee was their stationing a guard inside the stairwell on this floor. There is no way to open the stairwell door on any floor without it echoing down to him there."

"What happened when they caught you?" Vin asked concern touching his Texas drawl.

Ezra sat on the floor before continuing, "They took me to see Luis Cali. He was not at all happy with my wandering and wanted to know what I was doing."

"What did you tell him?" Chris demanded.

"I told him that I thought that this might have been a good opportunity to retrieve some property of mine. When he wanted more information than that, I told him that a junior by the name of Anthony Parks stole my GameBoy and I wanted it back. Luis wanted to verify my story so we went up to Parks’ room where he found the GameBoy exactly where and as I described it."

"What did he do then?" Vin asked.

"He smashed it," was the flat reply. "Then he took me back downstairs where he proceeded to scream at me for about 15 minutes or so."

"You’re lucky that’s all he did," Chris hissed. "Why didn’t you wait for me and Vin?"

Pale green eyes met Chris’ deeper green. "It wouldn’t have mattered. Besides you two would only have gotten," Ezra paused briefly as he reconsidered his words, not wanting the others to know his fear of putting them at risk, "in my way." With that he lay down on the floor and cradled his head with his hands. "Now, please, I’m a little worn out and would appreciate the chance to catch up on some sleep."

"Yeah, Chris," Josiah added, "I think we could all use a little rest. We’ll come up with something else tomorrow."

Knowing that Josiah was right about everyone being tired, Chris nodded and motioned for Vin to take the only chair available as Buck and J.D. shared one bed and Nathan and Josiah the other. Any other situation and it might have been humorous to see tall Nathan curled up on one end of the bed while bulky Josiah tried to give him as much room as possible. Nathan tossed the extra pillow he had gotten from Buck over to Ezra, who nodded his thanks before curling up on his side. Vin sat in the chair and positioned himself as comfortably as possible since he knew that Chris would probably not sleep and did not see why he should not try.

Vin frowned in concern as he watched Ezra's struggle to remain still and control his breathing. He sighed softly and wished there was something more he could do but knew that any attempt would be rejected. A thought struck him and he said, "Ezra, you never had a GameBoy."

It was only because of the absolute quiet and stillness in the room that they all heard the southerner’s soft chuckle. "True. But fortunately I knew that Parks had one."

"Had being the key word there," Buck laughed.

Nathan joined in the laughter. "I’d love to see Parks’ face when he finds it all destroyed in his room." Anthony was not a favorite of the other two juniors.

The laughter filled the small room for a moment, then seeing everyone as settled as they could get, Buck switched off the light. Chris sank to the floor under the window but continued to gaze outside. Oddly he found himself thinking about his dad. The cop had to know by now about what was going on at the school. Chris wondered how he was handling it and even wished that he could talk to his dad and find out what he would do in this situation.


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