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Josiah handed the cell phone back to Nathan, but did not pull away from the curb just yet. Chris says to meet him in front of the restaurant, but told us to keep looking in the meantime. Any ideas of where else we can look?
Let me try calling one more time, the junior said even as he began dialing the number.
The older boy ran his hand through his hair as he looked out the open side window on his car. His eyes traveled skyward, but the stars were so hard to see in the sky above the city. But Josiah looked to the sky not for stargazing but to send a plea for God to help them find the wayward youngsters safe. As his lips moved in silent prayer, the senior became distracted by music. Pulled away from his prayer, Josiah´s eyes now flicked out over the side of the street in annoyance. Listening to the music he realized that it was not from a radio, but was actually the ring tone of a cell phone. The tone it was playing was familiar to the senior but he could not place it right away. When he did recognize Dixie Land Josiah sat up straighter in his seat and peered out into the darkness, searching for the source of the song. Somehow he just knew that Ezra would be the one to program his phone with that ring tone.
Nathan noticed his friend´s sudden intentness and he, too, peered out the driver side window though he had no idea what he was looking for. He disconnected the call he was trying to make only to have Josiah turn and suddenly glare at him. Call it again! I think I can hear it nearby. Quickly Nathan redialed the phone and then followed the senior as Josiah got out of the car, still listening keenly.
Josiah followed the sound and actually almost stepped on the small cell phone. Picking it up, he snapped it open and with his heart in his throat answered it. As he said hello his eyes connected with Nathan´s. Both teenagers almost wanted the phone to not belong to the southerner, but Nathan´s nod signaled that he heard Josiah through his own phone. Disconnecting both phones the boys spun around searching for any lead of where the boys might have gone and why they would have left the cell phone.
Nathan saw the door of a nearby building slightly ajar, so he walked toward it. Josiah´s finding the cell phone abandoned on the ground, frightened and worried the junior immensely. He did not want to think of what would cause Ezra to leave without it, but his mind could not help but run through the dire possibilities. He knew Josiah was probably thinking the same things as he also checked the area around them.
Pushing the door open further Nathan called out, Vin! Ezra! J.D.! But he got no response. Stepping into the room that was lit by a single bulb hanging from the ceiling, Nathan swept his eyes over the small area illuminated by the bulb. The air left his body in shock and fear as he spied the body on the floor. Instincts kicked in and without thought he called out for Josiah even as he rushed to the body. Wincing at the graphic sight of a close range bullet to the head, Nathan still found himself cautiously reaching out and placing his fingers to the victim´s neck and searching for a pulse.
Josiah found Nathan as the junior was getting back to his feet. The senior had not thought it possible for his fear to deepen but it did as he took in the sight before him. Wordlessly Nathan pulled out his cell phone and dialed 911. Their worst fears had just been realized. Both boys did not think it was too great a leap in logic to assume that whoever had killed this man had also been the one to frighten Ezra and the others enough that they left the cell phone as they probably ran for their lives. Now they could only hope that they were in time to save the boys from the danger they found themselves in.
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It was Officer Clint Larabee´s long standing practice to gauge what kind of night he would have by how soon the first call came out and the nature of the call. When it came only thirty minutes into his shift and was the discovery of a murder victim, he knew it was going to be a bad night. When he heard the names of the two boys reporting the discovery of the body, Clint knew that things had just gotten worse. Then when he heard the names of the three boys who were missing, who may have witnessed the murder and be on the run, Clint knew this was going to be one of the worst nights of his career.
He had no idea what it was about those seven boys that just seemed to attract trouble. As he thought about that, a tight spasm of fear seized Clint with the realization that he had only heard about five of the seven and that the two who were supposed to be the only ones off campus were unaccounted for. But he knew that if there was anything involving Chris or Buck that he would have heard about it by now, no one in the department would leave him out of the loop.
Thoughts of his son were interrupted as he heard that Officer Mike Dayton was responding to the murder scene. Dayton was a good man and would probably be best able to gather information from Josiah and Nathan while calming their concerns for the three missing teens. Clint responded that he was near the area and would search for any sign of the three boys or suspects.
As he drove Clint came to a decision and pulled out his cell phone. He just had to make sure that Chris was alright. He did not want to tell Chris what was going on if the senior did not already know. Over the last three years, Chris had rarely had any type of opportunity to enjoy the typical things of teenager. Clint did not want to ruin this date if he could avoid it. He did not know what he would say to Chris but he just needed to hear his son´s voice. He had thought about simply hanging up when Chris answered but that hope was dashed by the caller ID on the younger Larabee´s phone.
Did you find them Dad? was the manner in which Chris answered the phone.
Clint sighed realizing that Chris had been informed of the situation before he had been. No, not yet, Chris, but we will. Officer Dayton is with Josiah and Nathan and a couple of us are searching for Vin, J.D., and Ezra. We´ll find them.
Me and Buck are on our way. We already made sure that the girls get home safe, so we´ll help search. The determination was clear in Chris´ voice.
It was naturally met by equal determination in his father´s firm tone, No, you and Buck are going home and wait there.
That doesn´t make any sense, Dad, Chris objected.
Chris, I can´t take the chance that you run into the murderer instead of those boys.
Murderer? the shock was evident in his son´s voice. What murder?
Clint winced. Obviously Josiah had spoken to Chris when the three boys were only missing and not after he and Nathan had discovered the body. The cop knew that there was now no way that he could get his son and Buck to go home. But he would still have to try. Josiah and Nathan found a body, looks like an execution style gunshot wound to the head. Apparently it was not far from where they were supposed to find the boys. They think that it´s possible that one or more of them saw the murder and that they are now on the run.
Then we can´t go home, Dad, and you know it. We´ve got to help. Buck and I can drive around and report anything we see. The teenager had to grit his teeth against the concession he was about to make. We´ll even promise not to get out of the car. You know that the more eyes out there, the better chance we have of finding them before anything happens to them. And face it, Dad, unless you want to take someone out of the search to escort us home, you don´t really have a choice.
Where the hell did you get that stubborn streak? Clint asked a touch of paternal pride in his voice even as he conceded to his son.
Well, seeing as you just gave in, I guess it wasn´t from you, Chris answered, his teasing tone still somehow conveying his thanks to his father for giving in. And you know Mom was pretty stubborn when she wanted to be.
She was indeed, Clint agreed in a whisper. Then shaking off the nostalgia he gave Chris and Buck an area to search through, keeping it close to his own search area. He wanted to be close in case they did run into any trouble of their own. And remember, don´t get out of the car and call in ANYTHING that you see.
Yes, sir, Chris answered with a touch of sarcasm that belied the air of capitulation that he was trying to convey. The younger Larabee ended the call then so as to not have his father continue to try and get a more binding oath from him. Vin, Ezra, and J.D. were in trouble and there was no way that Chris or Buck could sit on the sidelines and simply wait it all out. They would not rest until they knew that those three were safe. And once they knew that, then they would decide what form of punishment to dole out on the three to make them see the error of their ways.
+ + + + + + +
Vin concentrated fully on listening and looking for any sign of their pursuers from his position high on the second floor office. The minutes seemed to tick by slowly and it gave him too much time to think and rethink their situation and whether or not they should stay and hide or leave and try to find a way to escape this area without being detected. Still hearing and seeing nothing he turned back to J.D. and Ezra. Both boys looked at him trustingly. Both ready to follow him at a second´s notice. It only made Vin even more determined to put aside his own fears and get them all out of this building and to safety.
So he considered carefully their next move. Should they wait further? Had these men given up and gone? And if not, where were they? He tried to anticipate what Nathan and Josiah would do when they could not find them. Knowing the older boys they would not wait too long before alerting authorities. Would they be here soon enough?
Vin felt his chest constrict when he heard the downstairs door creak and protest before the door opened inward and a flashlight was flicked quickly around. Quickly the Texan hunkered down out of sight and waited and listened fearfully. He pivoted carefully and tried to see the other two boys but they were both now hidden from his view and thankfully silent.
J.D. tensed as he heard the door creak and open and he immediately felt Ezra do the same. He couldn´t prevent drawing in a sharp breath and his heart beat erratically at the mere thought that he could have been heard. He strained to hear every possible sound yet dreaded it at the same time. He had fought waves of nausea ever since he had seen the graphic murder and now as he heard footsteps from the lower level he swallowed the bile that had risen to his throat. He prayed over and over in his mind for them to remain hidden and unfound and just when he thought he couldn´t stand the terrifying uncertainty any longer, the footsteps began retreating.
J.D. let out a long relieved sigh and heard Ezra whisper something incoherent. A few seconds later Vin moved in front of them. qqq Wait here, he called to them in a soft whisper.
Where are you going? J.D. replied not caring how panicked he sounded. qqq I´ll be right back, the Texan promised and was gone. qqq Ezra? J.D. whispered.
Sssshhh, the southerner hushed urgently.
Making his way swiftly yet carefully across the top floor, Vin reached a window on the other side of the building and peeked out. He saw a sedan in the side street facing away from them with headlights on. He quickly identified the three men who had chased them earlier as they moved in and out of the light. Vin couldn´t hear their words but he could tell by their movements that they were agitated and arguing.
His gut told him it was time to move again and taking one last look down into the street and still seeing all three men together, he backed away from the window and made his way back to Ezra and J.D.
They´re in the street outside. We have to go, Vin whispered.
Shouldn´t we wait here? Ezra questioned hastily.
They´re too close. We need to get away from them, Vin insisted.
J.D. didn´t wait for Ezra to argue any further. He stood immediately, anxious to move and move quickly.
Please, Ezra, J.D. pleaded.
Ezra never replied but he stood purposefully and Vin gave him a reassuring shoulder squeeze as he led the boys out of hiding. He paused briefly as he considered going back the way they had entered until he remembered how noisy the external metal stairs were. Instead he moved toward, then down, the internal stairs and to the window he could make out at the foot.
Like most of the windows in the building this one also had no glass. It was nearly five foot from the floor and wasn´t large but certainly big enough for them to climb up and out into the street. Urging Ezra first, Vin waited until his roommate had a grip on the window frame before he bent down and cupped his hands around one of the southerner´s shoes and effortlessly boosted him upward. Ezra silently placed his feet on the window frame before he easily pivoted and slid down the outer wall, landing deftly on his feet.
On the other side of the warehouse, Ramiro let out a frustrated groan as Tito remained unmoved by his further arguments of leaving.
Tito, he continued lowering his voice several decibels. We must go now! he implored. We can dump Miguel´s body in the river, go to Manny´s and say we were there all night.
No, Tito replied again.
Ramiro turned desperately to his cousin. Felipe, the kid barely saw us. He´s scared of us now. He´s not telling the cops anything.
He saw us. He saw all of us, Felipe replied vehemently. We can´t risk that they won´t go to the cops. We have to find them. qqq Tito nodded admiringly and with complete agreement with Felipe. We keep looking, he declared.
Ramiro made a big show of capitulating then asked, Where next?
This building, Tito replied, cocking his head at the warehouse Ramiro had recently exited.
I already did that one, Ramiro complained.
Both floors? Tito demanded of him.
Ramiro scowled but bit back any retort and simply walked back to the building he had searched a few minutes earlier. It was with some irritation that he pushed open the door letting out a satisfied grunt as it slammed into the wall.
Ezra was waiting expectantly on the outside of the warehouse ready to help J.D. then Vin through the window. He became immediately afraid when he heard a loud thud echo across the warehouse.
Someone´s coming, Vin, J.D. announced anxiously. qqq Hurry Vin! Ezra urged, reaching through the window and gripping the Texan´s arm.
There´s no time, Vin commanded. Go, Ezra!
I can´t leave you, he replied in horror. In that split second his fear for his friends overrode his overwhelming instinct to run. They had to escape together. He couldn´t leave them behind and he didn´t want to be left alone. As Vin pulled away from him, he tightened his hold.
Ezra, go! Now! Vin implored.
A shot fired from behind them and hit the wall to the left of Vin. Ezra relinquished his grip and crouched to the ground. Hearing J.D. yelling in fear and Vin´s answering order for him to go back up the stairs Ezra forced his legs to move. He ran down the street and didn´t stop until he reached the corner of the opposite building. Daring to look back he gasped a deep breath as he realized no one was pursuing him. His face twisted into anguish as he heard another two shots fired from within the building. A choked cry erupted from deep within him and with a hoarse growl he blocked all thought of any harm befalling his friends. He began running hard. He had to get them help.
Vin half carried and half pushed J.D. up the stairs. They reached the top floor and Vin was forced to shove J.D. to the floor as a gun fired again behind them. Crawling they made their way back to the office room and took cover.
Their attention drawn by the unmistakable bark of Ramiro´s gun, Felipe and Tito stopped their search of the adjoining building and began running. Entering the doorway Ramiro had disappeared through no more than a minute earlier, the two friends instantly became on guard, automatically covering one another. qqq I´ve found them! Ramiro yelled in Spanish. Upstairs!
Quickly Tito and Felipe ran to the stairs. Ramiro stood poised about half way up.
I´ve got them pinned down, Ramiro announced.
Where? Tito demanded.
The first room there, Ramiro replied pointing with his extended handgun. qqq All of them? Felipe asked.
Ramiro looked briefly chagrined. No, he admitted. One got away. Through the window, he continued shining his flashlight toward the window his two friends now stood beside.
Tito turned to Felipe. Get him! he ordered thickly.
Less then twenty feet away Vin listened to the exchange in Spanish with growing fear. Not only for he and J.D. but also for Ezra. Knowing it was giving away his only small advantage, he took a deep breath and yelled out in the same language.
No, don´t please! Let us all go. We won´t go to the cops I swear!
Tito became thoughtful as the boy´s voice carried down to them. Then he nodded to Felipe to leave and then let the silence lengthen as he watched his friend walk then run noiselessly back the way they had come.
How can I be sure any of you won´t change your mind? Tito yelled back reverting to English.
Because two of us can tell the truth. We didn´t see anything and my friend who did is already confused about what he saw, the boy yelled back.
Tito smiled with a touch of admiration as he began quietly moving up the stairs taking Ramiro with him. This boy was not only quick but clever. However, Tito´s admiration did not last long. In his experience the clever ones were more dangerous and he trusted no one.
Then we should talk about that, Tito said smoothly.
That ain´t necessary, the boy replied again and this time Tito heard the thickening of his accent. Clearly the boy was a long way from home and Tito decided that may work to his advantage.
Then you don´t understand how it works around here, mi amigo, Tito replied as he began to move up the stairs, bringing Ramiro with him.
Vin never replied as he heard their footsteps ascending on the stairs and the light getting closer. As they crouched on the floor, Vin pushed J.D. protectively behind him and gripped the chair leg tightly to his chest.
Tito reached the top of the stairs and silently gestured Ramiro into position outside the second floor office. After exchanging a nod, the two men moved quickly into the office, their guns pointed forward. Ramiro´s flashlight quickly lit up the two boys in the corner and Tito heard two sharp inhales of breath.
Drop it! Tito said coldly as his eyes locked with defiant blue ones. qqq The fair-headed boy didn´t comply immediately and Tito instinctively trained his weapon on the younger boy. The broken chair leg was dropped with a loud clatter.
Much better, Tito approved. Now get up!
This time the blue eyes burned with hatred as well as fear before he turned and helped the younger boy to his feet. qqq Downstairs, Tito ordered.
Within a few minutes Tito and Ramiro had successfully moved the two boys downstairs to the ground floor of the warehouse. Taking the flashlight from Ramiro without taking his eyes off the boys, he kept pushing them backwards until they reached the wall. qqq Get some light in this room, Tito ordered to Ramiro. The younger man nodded and left.
Vin took a few seconds to take his watchful stare off Tito to check on J.D. The younger boy´s breathing was heavy and his fear was very much evident. Vin tried to convey as much comfort as he could while he battled with his own fear. He was aware of how things worked on the street and his gut told him Tito wasn´t about to let J.D. live to tell what he had witnessed. And now that he had also got a close look at their faces, it also made him a witness. While the third one searched for Ezra, Vin had to either convince their captors that they were too terrified to tell the cops or take the first possible chance and try to escape. qqq As overhead light flooded the room Vin almost groaned aloud as he realized Tito had almost barricaded them into a windowless corner. The only way out was to get past him.
+ + + + + + +
Nathan held back his numerous questions as he watched Officer Mike Dayton make his own perusal of the body and the surrounding area before he went and radioed in. A short time later he returned to him and Josiah.
Ok, tell me in detail how you came to be here tonight, he asked.
Nathan took a deep breath and after exchanging a look with Josiah, he explained more fully all that they knew. Officer Dayton took notes and after asking several questions seemed satisfied he had all that was required.
Have you found our friends yet? Nathan asked as soon as the interview had concluded.
Officer Dayton looked somber. No, we haven´t but we will, he assured them.
We want to help look, Nathan insisted.
Officer Dayton shook his head firmly. I can´t let you do that. Firstly it´s far too dangerous. If you´re right about what your friends saw then these men are extremely dangerous. And secondly, the detectives should be arriving shortly and they will want to talk to you.
We didn´t see what happened here, Josiah interjected.
I know that but they´re still going to want to talk to you, he replied.
We´ll tell them anything they want to know after we´ve found our friends, Nathan said fiercely.
I´m sorry I can´t let you leave this scene, Dayton replied.
Nathan looked away in frustration and Josiah laid a steadying hand on his shoulder. Officer Dayton empathized with their anxiety and knowing how close these particular boys were through his friendship with Officer Larabee, he decided to share more information than was usually allowed. qqq Officer Larabee is already in this area searching for your friends and we´ve got two more units on their way as backup, he told them.
Nathan glanced at Josiah in a small measure of relief and the senior reciprocated the feeling. Neither had any doubt that Chris´ dad would do whatever it took to find the younger boys and keep them safe.
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