Monday, June 20, 2016

THE DARE

Jaxon Taylor drove his dirt bike into the lake on a dare. The bike was falling apart anyway, so it wasn’t that much of a deal, except to his close friends, who had no idea that he was going to accept the dare.  It wasn’t that they didn’t realize that the bike was a piece of junk; it was just that they thought he might hold onto it until he got the funds to buy a new one.

“It is what it is,” he yelled out to his friends who had been watching and waiting on the bank, speechless.

Drew Henderson was the first to speak up, “Man, that was crazy! What the heck were you thinking?”

Jaxon yelled back, “I wasn’t, I just let ‘er rip!”

He had laid on the gas going down the hill and just before he got to the edge of the lake he jumped off the bike and let it fly. He had landed in the cool water and was now lying on the rocks, catching his breath.

“Did you see how it just flew into the air?” He looked up at Drew, Henry Dicks, and Cortlin Brown, and laughed at the shocked expressions on their faces.

“I thought for sure you were gonna land on the rocks instead of in the water,” Cortlin said, wiping his brow.

Henry was quiet. He’d been munching on a bag of Bits and Bites and now it seemed like they might come back up. His face turned pale for a moment. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and began eating again. “False alarm,” he said, and let out a fart.

Cortlin rolled his eyes at Henry and then looked down at Jaxon, who was now climbing up the steep embankment, his shoes sloshing, his clothes dripping.

The older boys, the ones who had dared him, were on higher elevation and yelling incoherently, waving their arms. Their body language told Jaxon that they were pretty impressed by the stunt. Jaxon gave a “Rocky” stance when he reached the bank and laughter echoed through the hills. Then they gave him thumbs up and were gone.

“That was nuts! Your dad’s gonna be pissed!” Henry said.

“Nah, he was tired of fixing it anyways, and the motor’s pretty much shot; it’s been overhauled four times already.” Jaxon took off his jeans and sweatshirt and started to wring them out. “Hey, you guys wanna come back to my place for pizza and a game of Assassin’s Creed?”

They all agreed. Jaxon put his wet clothes back on and hopped on with Drew. Henry didn’t care much for motorbikes; he preferred to pedal a bicycle, but on this day, he rode with Cortlin, and they were back at the house in no time.

As they were entering the driveway, Jaxon’s dad was coming out of the house. “Where’s your bike, Jaxon?”

Jaxon got off Drew's bike and walked up to his dad. Henry and Cortlin were too far away to hear, but Drew heard everything. Jaxon went back to face his friends; Drew already knew what they had to do.

When Jaxon told them that he had to get the bike out of the lake, Henry whined. “I told you he’d be pissed.”

“Yah, yah, you were right Henry. Listen, if you don’t want to help me, Henry, that’s fine, no big deal, I only need one other person.” He turned to the others. “Drew, Cortlin, you want to flip a coin?”

“No need, Jax, I’ll go,” Drew said.

Cortlin nodded. “Okay, then I’ll head to Henry’s for pizza. Give us a call when you get back.”

Jax and Drew waved as they drove away.

“Dad said I could take Big Bear.” Drew followed him to the back yard where the ATV was parked.

“It’ll be easier to use the tow line,” Drew said.

“Yah, all I’ll have to do is dive under—since I’m already wet—and attach the line to the bike.” They got on, Jax started up Big Bear, and they headed back to the lake.

By the time they arrived, the sun was setting on the horizon. “We’d better do this quick before we run out of light,” Drew told Jax.

Jax was already off the ATV and was pulling on the cable, climbing down the bank. Drew stayed on the ATV and watched as Jax slid down toward the water.

“Let me know when I’m close to where it landed,” he yelled at Drew and Drew gave a nod.

He swam out, mosquitoes nipping at his head, trout jumping nearby. When he heard Drew yell, he stopped and dove under. He took the waterproof flashlight out of his jeans pocket and shone it all around. He could not find any sign of the bike. He swam to the surface, lungs out of air, and looked up at Drew.

“It’s not down there,” he said.

“Gotta be, man, you’re in the right spot, I’m sure that’s where it went down and it’s not that deep in that spot.”

“I can see the bottom, but no sign of it.” He went down and tried again. Nothing.

Jax swam to shore and inspected the shoreline. From the hill, Drew saw him flashing his light on the shore then he disappeared into the woods. A few minutes later he came back out and started running back to the bank and crawled up to where Drew was waiting.

He caught his breath and blurted out, “They took it. Those sons o’ bitches took it.”

“What? The bike? They took the bike? Who took the bike, those guys?”

“I’ll bet any money that they waited for us to leave then came back and took it. There’s drag marks all over the trail down there.” He pointed toward one of many trails leading to the water. “Fresh, I could still smell the exhaust fumes. Had to be them, who else knew we were here? There was no one else around. Did you see anyone else?”

Drew was looking at the water. “No, man…they were the only ones around.”

Mosquitoes buzzed around their heads. The first stars flickered in the sky. Day was almost done. They stood in silence looking out at the water, sprockets turning, chains tightening, thoughts being formed.

“That’s why they dared me. They wanted the bike.”

“But why? You said it yourself; it was a piece of junk.”

“Yah, but it was my piece of junk, and the tires were new. That’s probably what they wanted.” He started rolling in the rope.

Drew didn’t like where the conversation was headed. “Hop on, let’s get back to the house; discuss our next step. Jax got on, his shirt soaking wet in his hand, the rope in the other.

A note on the fridge read: Jax, gone to late dinner and movie, don’t wait up, love mom.

“Yes!” Jax said. Drew opened the fridge door looking for something to eat.

“Grab a Pizza Pop from the top, we don’t have much time,” Jax said, and went upstairs to change into dry clothes. When he came back down he looked determined, as if he had a plan all figured out.

Drew was sitting at the kitchen table, wolfing down his meal and gulping Coke. “You got something planned already, huh?” Drew had been his best friend since Kindergarten; they knew each other like brothers. “We gonna involve Cortlin and Henry?”

“Naw, Cortlin’s a scrawny thing and Henry…well, let’s face it, he’s just too damn slow.”

“You know that guy, the one who gave you the thumbs up?” Drew asked.

“No. You?”

“Nope. But maybe they go to the community college and in that case, maybe Sue might know him, and his gang.”

Just then the door opened and in walked Jax’s older sister, Sue.

She shot a knowing look at Jax, then Drew. “Okay, spill it, what’s going on?”

After Jax and Drew told her what happened, she immediately got on the phone. She knew who the guys were and where they hung out. All they needed now was some backup, and it didn’t take long before her friends and their friends congregated in the drive-way. A lone girl sat in a Jeep Wrangler, a couple were waiting in a Chevy Silverado, three others in a Honda Ridgeline, four others in a Ford F-150, and there were a couple more cars parked along the street. Sue’s plan took precedence over Jax’s, which was no plan at all, and in no time they were all on their way to get Jax’s bike back.

Sue sat up front with one of her friends in the Jeep Wrangler, they were heading the convoy. She turned to face the boys in the back. “Boys, this has been a long time comin’. These guys have been raising hell on campus for far too long. And this business, them takin’ your bike like that, well, it’s the last straw.” Sue was livid. She turned to the driver, who nodded, and then gave the jeep more gas.

Jax and Drew were taken aback; neither knew that Sue could be so driven. She was always an easy going gal, and to see her this way was a surprise. For Jax and Drew, who were only fifteen, it was a real treat to be in the company of college seniors. Drew eyed the long, lean legs on Sue and Jax couldn’t help but stare at those beautiful blue eyes of the girl who kept glancing back in the rear view mirror; she sure knew how to handle the Jeep.

They drove on to the outskirts of town for about twenty minutes. It was full dark, no stars, no moon. Finally, Judy slowed down and pulled off a side street. The other cars followed. Abandoned buildings lined each side of the street. Some had dull lights coming from inside, others remained dark. The street lights were also dull and far in between, but Judy knew where she was going and in another few minutes she brought the Jeep to a full stop in front of one of the abandoned buildings and turned off the ignition.

About six other vehicles pulled up alongside the Jeep. Everyone got out of their vehicles and formed a circle around Jax, Drew, Sue, and Judy; they were waiting for instruction.

Sue called the leader of the group Ken. David Delaware was his real name, but all the girls called him Ken because he seemed to think that he was God’s gift to women, so it goes. Sue was just about to speak when a loud bang came from inside the building, then lights came on and there was some shouting. Everyone turned to look, and then scurried behind their respective vehicles.

Jax and Drew grew nervous. Sue assured them that it wasn’t a gunshot, just some idiot blowing fire crackers. Sue told them that the building wasn’t their hangout; it was the building two streets over. They waited for a few minutes. The lights went out. Everyone gathered around for discussion.

Sue told Jax and Drew to stay by the vehicles in case any car jackers came by. She handed Jax a flare gun and told him to fire it should they have any trouble. They were first going to scout out the hangout and then come back for weapons.

“Weapons?” Jax said.

“Oh, don’t worry, just some baseball bats, just in case,” Sue said. Then the mob went on and left Jax and Drew.

A dog barked somewhere in the distance and Drew took a step closer to Jax who had been leaning on the Jeep, looking at the flare gun.

“This is something like out of the movies, Jax.”

“Tell me about it. Sue was always a bit protective of me.”

“Must be nice; all my older brother ever did for me was take my lunch money.”

They both laughed, but it was a nervous laugh.

“What time is it?” said Jax.

Drew looked at his watch. “Ten twenty, you think your parents are home yet?”

“Naw, they usually stay out late on a Saturday night.”

“I’m glad I told my parents I was staying over at your house tonight,” Drew said, chuckling. “Do you think the bike’s there? I mean, Sue seemed pretty sure it was them who took it. She’s looking for blood, man.”

“Well, who else could it be? It had to be them; there were no other people there.”

“What’s that?” Drew said.

A penlight was coming toward them and though it was completely dark, they could make out a familiar shadow coming toward them. It was the big guy in the F-150.

“You guys doing okay?” he said.

“Yah, all is quiet over here,” Drew said.

“The bike’s there, but there’s a big-ass chain that needs cutting, which is why I had to come back.” He popped the top of the tool box and rummaged for a pair of chain cutters. “It doesn’t look like anyone’s there right now; no bikes or vehicles around. We’ll be back in no time. The good news is that the bike is still in one piece. I guess they didn’t have time to scrap it. Okay, so, be right back.” He was off again, quickly as he’d come.

“Jeez, that was fast,” Drew said.

“I know.”

They both were a little more at ease now, less scared. Drew told Jax that he was so nervous that his Pizza Pop felt like it was going to come back up. They laughed and Jax confessed that he was a wreck. They had never been in this part of town before, with the vagrants and drug-addicts. They were talking and laughing and never heard the shopping cart until it was right next to them.

Jax shone his penlight at the hooded figure.

“Get that muthafuckin’ light outta my eyes, man!” The voice was high-pitched and scratchy, a woman’s voice.

“Sorry, Lady, didn’t see you there,” Jax said, his stomach a bundle of nerves.

“What you boys doin’ down here is hell’s gut?”

“Just waiting for our ride, Lady,” said Drew.

She eyed them a little more and then went on her way, wheels squeaking on the shopping cart.

They watched her go, both sighing in relief, but then noticed bright headlights coming upon them. They ran to the side of the building and waited. Behind them voices were heard. Sue and the rest were coming. Jax ran off to warn them.

As they watched, perched at the side of the building, four bikes stopped next to the convoy. There was a big souped-up four wheel drive coming up the rear, with fog lights so bright it was like trying to look into the sun. One of the guys got off his bike to inspect the vehicles.

“If that’s Ken, he’ll notice the Jeep. He’ll think we’re already at the hangout,” Judy whispered to Sue.

Sue made her way up to the front of the line and took a look. “It’s Ken’s crew all right, but I don’t see Ken.” Everyone waited. The guy got back on his bike and they headed across the street, to the hangout. As they went by, Sue caught a glimpse of Ken in the four-wheel drive.

“Let’s go!” Sue waved them on. Jax’s bike was loaded onto the F-150 and then engines started and they were speeding off in the direction they had come. Judy and Sue were once again up front. Laughing and hooting and hollering. But it was short-lived. As they went by, vehicles and bikes were coming toward them. Judy kept her cool and drove by. A line of traffic was going, a line of traffic was coming, and not one car stopped.

When Jax and Drew got home they were as excited as two small children with a bag of candy. They were ecstatic to get the bike back, and in one piece, and they were relieved that they didn’t have to do any fighting. Sue and her friends had been up for the challenge, but Jax and Drew felt differently.

Sue gave Jax a big bear hug.

“Thanks, sis,” Jax said.

“No worries, squirt, just make sure that you keep this business to yourself. Dad and Mom don’t need to know, right?” She gave him another hug and then she and her pals left. There was a party on campus to get to.

Drew got on the phone and ordered a pizza. “I’m starving.”

“Make it a party size.” Jax said, and he went upstairs to wash the lake off himself.

He came back down smelling clean and fresh, got on his shoes, and went out to the garage to check out the bike. Drew followed. They inspected the bike and found no damage other than it being water logged. Just then his mother and father drove into the drive-way. When they got out, they were in a good mood, perhaps one too many drinks. Jax’s father could really hold his liquor; his mother was drunk on two.

“Hey, you got the bike outta the lake,” Jax’s father said. “Good, and tomorrow we’ll go down to Harley’s and check out a new bike.”

Jax smiled. His father gave him a nod, his mother told him goodnight and kissed him on the cheek, and they went inside. Jax was thrilled.

“If he was planning to get you a new bike, why did he make you get the old one back?” Drew said.

“That’s how my dad works, Drew. Probably wanted me to learn some life lesson, I guess.”

They looked at each other and laughed. The pizza guy pulled into the drive-way and Jax grabbed the box, paid the guy, and then they went inside to munch out and play Assassin’s Creed.

Upstairs, laughter came from his mom and dad’s bedroom.

On the outskirts of town, Sue and her friends were rumbling.