Alternate Universe "Street Gang"
Fourth story in the Something... series.
Of course, when Chris learned about the events and the upcoming fight, he almost blew a gasket. They tried to talk Buck out of the fight, but the only thing they got out of him was an even firmer resolve to settle the matter man to man, in a fistfight. They just couldn't believe Buck would go that far for a woman. And they were afraid his pride would be his downfall only this time, he wouldn't be the only one hurt. He was part of the Magnificent Seven. His downfall could very well upset the fragile balance they had managed to reach during the summer and who said that then some other gang wouldn't try and come to defeat them on their territory?
The only thing they all agreed upon was that the adults were not to be told. At least, not right now. They would keep the option open if things were to get out of hand, though
And so, Chris deciding that he didn't want to participate in his friend's downfall, he left him to train with Ezra and Nathan, with JD cheering him on, while Vin was playing bodyguard with Inez, making sure the Mexicans wouldn't try anything underhanded.
And that evening, at 7, the park saw the two factions walking towards each other, till they reached a middle ground.
"Buenas tardes, Senior. I have decided on the terms of engagement. You have until tomorrow evening 8 to prepare for the fight, and you will need this", Don Paulo motioned to one of his followers who came forward and opened the box he was carrying.
"What the hell is this?" Buck muttered astounded as he eyed the strange daggers.
"The best instrument for a man of honor," he answered as if it were evident.
"Now, you hold on there, fancy pants. Nobody said anything about knives. Now around these here parts, a fight is a fistfight!"
"No Senior. You challenged me. The choice of weapons is mine," came the taunting reply.
"Says you. Now what if I say no?" Buck said, starting to be really scared and pissed off.
"If you admit defeat, the woman is mine. I shall take her and we shall leave."
"That ain't gonna happen," Vin threatened taking a step closer.
"I regret, it will," the Don's second in command stepped up to Vin.
"Desgraciado!" Inez spit at the Don, "This man is no knife-fighter."
"The choice is his," the Mexican dared Buck.
"We'll figure another way out of this, Buck. Stand down," Ezra said quietly.
"Well, Senior?" Taunted the Mexican.
"Well, they're just big butter knives. We would wear out our snickers before we do any damage with those," Buck answered with his devil-may-care trademark smile.
"We meet tomorrow night," Don Paulo smiled satisfied. "Inez," he saluted then turned and walked away.
To say the mood was strained at dinner that evening was an understatement. Ryan and Maggie did their best to try and figure out what was going on, but even JD wouldn't say a word. They knew, though, that it was something serious. They could only hope that the kids would have enough common sense to do their best or to appeal to the right people if they needed help.
The night went on, undisturbed. The friends didn't even take turns to watch Inez. Mary had invited her to sleep over and the Mexican would never dare take the girl from her friend's house like that. Too many witnesses.
When the morning came, they were no better. Some even looked like they had had a hard time going to sleep. Inez was attending the Four Corners High School too as a senior. So Mary was to drive her this morning and to stay with her till they could join the guys at football practice. After that, they were to head to the Saloon and stay there till it was time to head for the park in the evening. The guys had already given their parents a phony excuse for staying out late, saying that they were to eat out with friends
Only, things just couldn't go as planned, of course.
The first mishap happened when Vin, deep in thoughts about Inez and her situation and the upcoming knife-fight, instead of avoiding Charlotte like he had done for the last days, suddenly found himself cornered by her just outside the building, on his way to the football field.
"Hi Vin," she said sweetly, looking at him through her lashes with fake innocence.
"Huh Hi," he answered. Then looking around, he suddenly noticed they were all alone.
"How are you doing?" She continued in the same tone while getting closer to him.
For a moment there, he felt like a rabbit frozen in the headlights of her blue gaze. And then, his common sense caught up with him as her perfume overwhelmed him.
"I'm good listen, I'm sorry, but I gotta go. My friends are waiting for me," he hedged.
"Okay, then we'll walk together to the football field. It's been a long time since we had some privacy, you and me."
Right at that moment, he didn't know if he should feel flattered or scared to hell. What the heck, he thought, it won't be the first time we're going to the field together. And he nodded, with a small uneasy smile.
Then, just when he thought he was out of the woods, she suddenly grabbed him and pushed him in the bushes and pushed her face close to his close enough to kiss
Five minutes later as he arrived on the tiers of the football field, he suddenly realized what he had done. He had simply pushed away the very first girl that had wanted to give him a kiss. He had missed his very first kiss. With a beautiful girl that really wanted to kiss him. And he had turned his head, pushed her away, muttered a bullshit excuse and gotten the hell out of the bushes she had pushed him in. Was he nuts or what?
And then he remembered. He had pushed her away. As in really pushed her. Forcefully. Damn, no matter how much he wanted not to see her again so soon, his good manners had been too well engrained to leave his conscience in peace. The least he could do was go and see if she was okay.
Muttering under his breath, he bolted away back onto the path to the buildings, under the bewildered eyes of his friends who didn't quite know what to do with his suddenly bizarre actions.
Vin rushed back onto the trail and looked around where she was supposed to be. Some bushes were trampled, but other than that, there was no trace of Charlotte.
Suddenly, as he was about to get back onto the path, he heard voices coming from nearby.
"He did what?" The shout startled him and as some more trampling noises could be heard, instincts overtook him and he look around for a place to hide. Lifting his eyes, he jumped up and grabbed a low hanging branch, hoisting himself up on the limb, out of harm's reach.
And he was just in time, as an enraged Will Richmond burst out of the bushes onto the path, Charlotte in close pursuit.
"Will, wait," she cried with tears in her voice.
"Charlotte, babe, that damn hippie tried to rape you here, on school grounds, in the middle of the day and you want me to wait?" The irate jock said through clenched teeth.
"Oh Will, please, why don't you shout that louder so the whole school can be privy to it?" Came the trembling reply.
"I'm gonna kill him I'm gonna kill the sick son of a bitch," he scowled menacingly.
"Will, all I need right now is to forget about that sordid experience " She whined.
Up in his tree, Vin could only open wide eyes in front of such lies.
Will took the girl into his arms and clumsily hugged her.
"Will, I need you," she sighed in his ear.
"So, now that he's shown his true face, I'm good enough, is that it?" He asked gruffly.
"Will, you know me. Nobody is good enough for me but you come on, have you seen how scrawny he is? You really think such an ugly kid could hold my interest? I was just trying to make you jealous I just didn't like the way you were looking at that Connolly bitch, that's all
"So, you were coming on to him just to make me mad, huh " He smiled, tightening his hold on her, while she smiled invitingly.
And then, before Vin could close his eyes, they were at each other's mouths, kissing greedily and emitting those wet noises consistent with tonsil-digging. And then, he closed his eyes, not wanting to see anymore as the boy started to unbutton her blouse.
How long did he stay in his tree while they were rutting (for him, there was no other word for what they were doing), he didn't know. In the meantime, night had descended onto the city.
And he had had quite some time to think. Mostly about how his friends had been right about the couple and their games. And about how sometimes he should trust them more when they knew better. And about the fact that the first crush he had ever had on a girl hadn't even been based on reality. And even if he had not really been in love, there was still the matter of the little trust he had had in her. Trust he had believed in and for which he had pushed away his friends, thinking she couldn't be that bad. And also, the fact that his pride had taken quite a shot when he heard her say she had been toying with him. No man can hear that and not feel deeply wounded in his pride.
And no kid growing into a man can forget being played so cruelly.
There wouldn't be a next time, he swore to himself. Not before at least ten years. And he would make sure the next girl he approached was a Lady like his ma or Maggie. And if he were to avoid women altogether rather than have his pride and heart trampled again, then he would just do it.
Looking at his watch, he suddenly swore aloud. It was almost 8 and he was supposed to have been with the guys at the park by now, making sure the grounds were safe.
Damn. He jumped on the ground and took off running, hoping he wouldn't be too late
"Damn it! Where the hell is Vin?" Chris shouted at nobody.
As if Buck was not scared enough about the fight, the kid was starting to really worry about his big brother and Ezra had to take guard duty over Inez to replace Vin.
"Anybody see him lately?" He asked the others.
"Not since he ran down the tiers at the football field this afternoon," Nathan answered looking around, praying to catch a glimpse of the elusive Texan. "Chris, here they come!"
They all turned as one towards the swing set as a little group approach from afar.
'Damn, where the hell is he?' Chris thought. 'Cowboy, I need you and now would be nice!'
And then it was too late to look for Vin. He was needed here and now.
"Okay, everybody clear on what to do?" He asked around, his eyes not leaving one second the approaching group. "JD, got that cell phone handy?"
"Yes, Chris. I got Dad's phone number on speed dial, just in case and dispatch and emergency too " JD answered with a trembling voice.
"Good! Nathan, help him up the tree!" Chris ordered and the kid was lifted out of harm's way. "Buck, you ready?"
Buck nodded, "Not even close."
"Buck, wait " Inez called as she arrived with Ezra in tow. She ran to him and tied a ribbon to his arm. "It is a custom. For luck."
Buck smiled. "Would you do me the honor of holding my jacket?"
And then, the Mexican was strutting among them, his steps as confident as his tone when he stated, "After I have had my satisfaction, my men and I will leave. I will take the woman and no one will interfere."
And Chris blanched as he heard the very distinct sounds of guns being cocked.
"I will never go with you alive," Inez shouted at him.
"After this, Seniorita, you will do whatever I want," he sneered.
And the fight started suddenly, Don Paulo whipping out his thin, long-bladed knife.
For a moment, everybody held in their breath while the opponents were circling each other, lunging and retreating. But Buck was too impatient and not well versed enough in the use of a knife. One of his lunges brought him too close to Don Paolo who took the opportunity of a lunge himself and cut a wide swath across Buck's belly, making his friends shout in alarm.
A few more lunges and retreats and Buck, weakened by the blood loss suddenly lost his blade. And fell to the ground, the Mexican looking down at him with deep satisfaction.
And then, out of nowhere cars starting to arrive, blue lights flashing and sirens screaming.
Buck seized the opportunity, kicked the knife out of the hand of his opponent and threw himself at his head, placing some good blows before Don Paolo managed to dislodge him.
And Buck felt the blood drain from his face as the Mexican came up with a gun in his hand.
Around them, the chaos was total. The police was trying to get the gang members to put down their guns and Chris and his friends were just in the middle. And if that wasn't enough, he suddenly heard his father's voice.
"What the hell's going on here? You guys ready to explain yourself?" He asked angrily as he hedged closer to his sons, not once lifting his eyes off the armed Mexican.
"Put down your gun, cop, or he eats it," Don Paolo threatened, his aim on Buck not once wavering in spite of his precarious situation.
"Okay, okay let's cool down here," Ryan said, his voice steady, putting his gun down, knowing that Josiah still had a bead on the man. For the moment, the most important thing was to get closer to Buck to try and get him out of the line of sight. Out of danger.
And then, Chris swore the moment would always stay imprinted in his mind.
JD, really scared for his big brother, tried to get down the tree by himself. The Don's eyes left Buck for a few tenth of a second and Ryan jumped on Buck, intent on getting him down. The Don's eyes flashed back, saw the move and he fired and Chris shouted to his friend to lay down as gunfire erupted around them.
Josiah's voice suddenly shouted to halt the gunfire. And all went silent. A deafening silence that the kids would never forget.
And time seemed to speed up as Josiah and the boys rushed to the side of the still crouching Ryan and Buck. To stop and gasp.
A dark stain was marking Ryan's chest and it was spreading quickly.
From somewhere, Chris knew he heard Josiah calling officer down and would the paramedics get their asses in gear. But he could only look on, shocked at the sudden frailty he could see in his father.
A choking noise had him turn around and dazed, he faced a stricken-looking Vin.
He was running in the streets as fast as he could, yet something deep inside was telling him he would be too late. And when he heard the sirens, he was still too far away.
And when he heard the gunfire, his steps faltered.
And the sudden silence wrenched out anguished moans from his throat he wasn't even conscious of making.
He dimly heard Josiah call for the paramedics.
And then, he arrived at the scene and saw Buck and Ryan laying in a bloody heap. Unmoving.
He had failed his family. And thus had lost them.
His gut-wrenching sob was heard. And the face that turned to him mirrored his very own incredulity and pain.
And then, Chris suddenly seemed to come back to himself and realize who he was looking at. And the helpless rage and soulful pain that suddenly swept out the daze scared him by their force.
"Chris " Vin faltered in front of the cold glare that suddenly turned on him.
"Save it, none of my business "
"Reckon you think I did something wrong "
"How could I? You were not even here to help in anything." A snort and then, "You were already gone."
"I'm right here, Chris," Vin said, his voice only a faint echo of the despair he was feeling.
"For how long? I need to know I can depend on you, Vin. Let me know when I can."
And Chris turned his back on his friend and followed the gurney into the ambulance.
Vin was suddenly at a loss as to what to do.
Josiah was talking with the other officers; JD was in the ambulance by Buck's side; Chris was at his father's; and Nathan was helping a rather shocked Inez give her deposition to an officer.
It's only when his eyes crossed the pained gaze of Ezra that he started breathing again and his mind seemed to come back to the fore.
"Vin? You all right?" Ez asked in a choking voice. "God, I was so worried. I thought something had happened to you when I saw you were still not here."
But Vin was already looking back to the departing ambulances and missed the tears in the green eyes and the hand that lifted to try and grip his arm.
He nodded, as if he had finally come to a decision. "I'm not too well, but I'll be okay," he rasped. "I'll be okay," he repeated in a murmur. And then he turned his back on the scene and left in the night, not even hearing Ezra calling him back.
When Josiah entered the emergency room a few hours later, he was at the same time saddened but not surprised by the scene. He had seen it so many times. Except this time, it was his family that was waiting there.
He walked straight to Maggie. "How are you doing? You okay?" He asked softly. "Any news yet?"
She shook her head mutely.
He looked around, seeing Chris almost hiding in a corner, and Ezra supporting a sleepy JD tired by his tears. Even Nathan was here, grim-faced. And then he frowned.
Walking to Chris, he asked discreetly, "You seen Vin?"
Like his mother, Chris just shook his head.
And then, all turned as a doctor arrived, asking for Mrs. Larabee. He went to Maggie who was trying to stand up, shaking.
"I am Maggie Larabee," she answered apprehensive.
"Okay as for Buck Wilmington, I am happy to tell you that he's gonna be alright. We stitched him up and he'll just have to lay off football for couple weeks at least. He will spend the night here though. Blood loss and shock were pretty severe, so we're not taking any more risks than necessary. He should be able to go back home in the morning. All he will need are clothes."
"And my husband?"
"All I can tell you right now is that he was taken straight in surgery. He took one bullet to the chest and one to the shoulder. But you shouldn't worry. We have the best surgeon at work here and your husband's in good hands. If you go on to the third floor, there's a waiting room where you can stay. I'll call the nurse in charge and let her know you're coming up. Buck should be around shortly on that same floor," he smiled at her, gently.
She nodded and started for the elevators, the group in tow except for Josiah who told her he was going to their place to get some clothes for Buck.
Less than an hour later, a very agitated Josiah exited the elevator on the third floor of Four Corners General. Ezra, who was lounging close by, suddenly felt his stomach weight heavier and his throat closed up on him. Still, Josiah signaled Chris and waited for him to come closer before he started talking.
"Chris, have you seen Vin?"
Chris frowned. "Yeah, just before Dad was taken to the hospital why?"
Josiah passed a weary hand over his face.
"I went to your place. He wasn't there. But your bedroom door was wide open. So I stepped in." He walked aimlessly, passing a hand through his hair, muttering.
"Josiah?" Chris pressed, starting to truly worry.
"You talked to him, right?" Josiah continued, not even waiting for his answer. "Damn it, Chris, whatever you said, it was pretty effective. So effective in fact that he upped and left the house."
Josiah looked at Chris as alarm suddenly dawned in his eyes.
"You have no idea, have you?"
"Chris, you're like a brother to him his best friend Come on, what did you say to him?"
Chris took a halting breath, trying to recall what exactly he had said.
"I was so worried and so mad he wasn't there to help us and then, Paolo arrived with his gang, they started to fight and you guys arrived and bullets were flying everywhere. And he wasn't there to help me " Chris halted as he remembered with sudden clarity the awful words he had thrown at Vin. "I told him I told him I thought he was already gone, that it was just a question of time "
Chris stopped as he remembered the hurt in the blue eyes, the despair and the fear at the scene. And he closed his eyes, tears finding their way beneath his eyelids. "Oh God Josiah, you sure?"
He nodded. "I checked the cupboards. As far as I can say, he's packed only some clothes and whatever things he had with him when he arrived. He even left his schoolbooks, Chris."
"We have to find him, Josiah!"
"Find who?" Interrupted a concerned voice.
"Mom?" Chris turned around and the guilt Maggie read in the eyes so like her husband's had her sighing from the bottom of her heart.
"Oh Chris It's Vin, isn't it? Go on son, go find him. I'll keep JD here. Get the others and go look for him "
Chris nodded and turned to Josiah. "What can you do?"
"I'll look around the streets with you but I can't put an APB on him Chris. If it goes through official channels, they'll put him in a juvy hall he had already dodged too many times. They won't trust him."
"And how long till you have to declare him?" Maggie asked softly.
"We have at least 48 hours, what with Ryan being in the hospital. They won't start asking questions before then mostly if you call the High School telling them the boys won't be in for that long at least After that, the dean will have to make it official, I'm sorry "
"Then, what are we waiting for?" Ezra suddenly asked in a rough voice. "Let's go find him!"
Out of the city, by the highway, a lonely figure was walking on the side of the road, backpack on the back, hunched over to try to ward off the cold of the early morning.
Slowly, as if in a daze, shadow among the shadows, the walker was inching his way up north, away from the city. Away from home.
A few cars passed by, but none took notice.
And then, a truck slowed down and finally stopped. A door opened. A voice inquired as to the destination. And after a short dialog, the figure finally stepped into the welcoming warmth of the truck.
But even the blast from the heater could not warm his frozen heart. He had deserted his family because of a girl. Because he had been so selfish and thought about himself instead of his responsibilities. And now the man that had treated him as a son was lying in the hospital, his body riddled with bullets and blood oozing from the wounds. And a boy he had called brother was lying by his side with cuts on his chest, his lifeblood also flowing from his body.
He had brought nothing but bad luck to this family that had welcomed him with open arms and open hearts.
They would be far better without him around.
He wouldn't be there to remind them of their failure.
He was alone once again. As he should have stayed all along.
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