Authors: Armando D. Muñoz
by Armando D. Muñoz
Copyright © 2015 Armando D. Muñoz
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means whatsoever without express written permission from the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
A number of individuals have helped to bring this book to life and are deserving of thanks.
Special thanks to Tori Pulkka for that crucial suggestion that my
story would work well in novel form, and for many more useful suggestions along the way.
Special thanks to Kevin Mangold, who had to live with my hoarder mindset as I wrote this, and for his editing.
For all of the reading and support, thank you John Heller, David Reynolds, Gregg Majeski, Marti and Melanie Kanna, Rebekah Nichole, Rhyd Wildermuth, Steven S. Wright, Lesleh Donaldson, Shane Lukas, Sareth Ney, Ron Williams, and Louis Buchhold III.
And thank you mom for teaching me to clean my room and pick up after myself.
For Kevin Mangold.
Something about the dark suburban street gave Ian the creeps. There was a sense of displacement that he was not used to, and it seemed kind of silly, really. He was fifteen, and he shouldn’t have been bothered by the dark, or a sense of isolation, or a strange neighborhood at night. Okay, so it was many things giving him the creeps, but he sure as hell wasn’t about to show it, especially to his brother, Keith. Not that anybody could see his face in the shadows beneath his hoodie. Not that anyone was looking.
He was only three miles from home, and two and a half miles from school. But go past Hacienda Heights and the freeway, and he might as well be in another city, or another country. Add the isolation and darkness and it might as well be the moon. Ian and Keith didn’t live in a ghetto, but it was an urban area with schools bordering the freeway. There were people driving and walking at every hour of the night, along with noise and neon lights on every block. Buses, sirens, and shouting, all night on school nights. The noise was a nuisance, but also a reassurance that the world was busy and the better for it.
This suburban street should have felt like a safer area, but Ian found it more threatening. He wasn’t afraid to be out after dark in his neighborhood, so why here? It was too dark, with far fewer streetlights, no marquees or billboards, and no bus stops. Stranger still, it was only a quarter past ten, prime time hours, and yet the majority of homes had all of their lights off. Could a whole street really go to bed this early?
This neighborhood probably saw a lot less crime than he was used to, which the lack of bars on any windows confirmed. Yet Ian had a chilly suspicion that if he did find himself screaming as he was being stabbed to death on this street, the one porch light that was on would turn off in response.
Except for the three others he was pedaling up the street with, there was nobody out. Not one car had passed them for five blocks. Ian tried to convince himself that this was a good thing. Nobody out meant no witnesses. Plus, they were camouflaged by the night. All four wore dark pants and oversized black hoodies. Their hoods were up, draped over long billed black baseball caps. All safety reflectors had been removed from their bikes. Hunched over as they pedaled, you couldn’t even tell that one of them was a girl. They looked like generic hoods invading a rich neighborhood, a gang of thugs with criminal intent. They were conspicuous for their class, but again, there were no eyes to judge.
The lead bike barely held Keith, Ian’s seventeen-year-old brother. Keith was hunched over as he struggled to handle a bike that he outgrew two years ago. Following side by side behind him were Dani, the girl, and the six-foot plus giant of the bunch, Will, the only one wearing a backpack, which was black like their clothing.
The three bikers in the lead were all seniors, and a close-knit trio who shared many of the same classes. Ian tried hard to keep up with the older kids, tonight on this street and daily in the high school halls.
Will looked more mature than his years, partly due to his hulking size and mustache, which his mother made use of by sending Will on frequent cigarette runs. Ian gave off the opposite impression. With his diminutive frame and hairless face, Ian looked more like he was in middle school. Ian could accept that, you just had to live in the genes you were given. Height was a hand-me-down.
Ian couldn’t understand why size was such a rich subject for teasing by his brother, except that’s just what older brothers do. Ian could be Will’s size and Keith would still have something over him, the perceived maturity that comes from a higher grade level. Never mind that Ian’s high A’s topped Keith’s low B’s. Pointing that out might get him a sock in the arm, and Keith could certainly hit harder.
Dani frequently teased Ian, too, but that he was happy to take. She did it to get his cheeks to flush bright red;
putting on his boy rouge
she called it. Ian was realistic enough to keep his crush on Dani in check. She was a senior. He was a sophomore. His brother had a better shot with Dani, but she didn’t show interest in Keith, Will, or any guys at school. Dani didn’t want to date guys, only hang with them. Most every male at school had a thing for her, and Ian considered himself extremely lucky to be among the few she spent her free time with.
The further up the street they traveled, the more expansive the properties became, divided by foliage instead of fences. The homes were set further back from the street, increasing in size and stories. The trees followed the trend, extending their height and expanding their canopies. Branches engulfed many of the streetlamps, shielding the light. The road ahead became darker still.
Keith’s bike slowed and veered to the right, and he signaled with his right hand for the bikes behind him to do the same. Keith took his bike onto the sidewalk, stopped, and got off. His ass hurt from the seat that was too small for him, but he was thankful he hadn’t trashed his old bike. At least he still had something to ride. As his friends followed onto the sidewalk behind him, Keith walked his bike onto the lawn of a completely dark colonial house, pushing it up to the wall of hedges that bordered the far left side of the property.
The hedges stood over seven feet tall, flat on the top and neatly trimmed on the side. Smaller ornamental bushes were spaced every ten feet along the hedge. There were no lights in the yard along this dividing side, and the growth provided varying shades of darkness. Keith had counted on this, and he stowed his bike into the first pocket of black that the hedge and bushes provided. Dani, Will, and Ian stashed their bikes in a line beside Keith’s. From the street or sidewalk, all of their bikes were virtually invisible in the dark pocket of the yard.
Free of their bikes, Dani and Will turned to Keith, the architect of this covert operation. Ian turned instead to the tall house. The porch light was off, along with every light inside. The house loomed like a silent sentinel far back in the yard. Ian was the first to voice doubt about his brother’s well-laid plan.
“You sure nobody will see us?”
“There’s nobody here. They’re either on vacation or gone for the season,” Keith assured his brother. He stepped away from the house, nodding toward the street. “That’s not it. Come on.”
Keith walked out of the yard, followed by Dani and Will, who adjusted the straps of his backpack. Ian hesitated and looked back at the dark house, making sure they weren’t being watched. There was nobody watching.
The four hoods stepped around the dividing hedge, stopping at the edge of the next yard. The hedge was completely overgrown on this side. The yard around it looked like it had not been landscaped all year, perhaps not for many years. The long driveway held a disturbed carpet of leaves, with a partial bald spot stained with oil near the house where a car was frequently parked.
“That’s it,” Keith announced.
“Missy’s house,” Ian elaborated.
Ian had to laugh quietly to himself as he viewed the house. Of course their destination would have to be the most Gothic and decrepit structure on the block. Missy’s house stood two towering stories, reminding him of an ancient cathedral. All of the houses around it were dwarfed by its size. The paint was peeling, looking neglected for decades.
The porch light was on, as was apparently every light inside the house, visible only in slivers. Every window was covered, a few by heavy drapes, two with foil, others with construction paper, and one appeared to be blocked by wooden boards nailed up on the inside. Light escaped between the boards and through a knothole.
Ian’s silent chuckle was a defense mechanism to quell his unease. All four friends viewed the house ahead with foreboding. With their hoods up and their eyes on Missy’s house, none of them knew it was shared.
Keith worried whether he had every detail down to get in and out, with his prize, without detection. Keith had never orchestrated a breaking and entering before. He was more concerned for his companions when it came to discovery. He wanted to take the lead, and he intended to take the fall in the event of an interruption. The
event, Keith tried to convince himself.
Dani looked at the house with a frightened sense of finality. The past six endless weeks of worry would have an end in what she would find, or not find, inside Missy’s house. Heroic vindication or grim acceptance were the only two possible outcomes. Dani was terrified to find out which it would be, but eager to get inside and put an end to this whole sad ordeal in her life.
Will’s worry had to do with his sour sentiments toward the home’s owner. At least he assumed she was the owner, rather than a renter. She had been living in the same house for decades, so rumor went. He guessed not rumor, since she had been inside that horrible looking abode all eighteen years of his life. After that long, he figured she should be the owner by default.
Will was the only one of the four to have had multiple interactions with the home’s owner, all of them negative. You can’t reason or argue with crazy, and it was his unfortunate lot in life to have to put up with Missy’s epic hassles for far too low of an hourly wage. There would be great satisfaction in getting good dirt on her, and possibly bringing about her downfall. But if she caught them, damn, he knew they were triggering a whole storm of crazy. Make that a category five hurricane.
Ian was the last minute addition to this criminal expedition, and he had initially been excited to go along. Once he became aware of his brother’s plan, he knew there was no way he’d miss out. Keith shouldn’t have to do this alone. Ian was involved, too, because he saw this as a conflict between families. Keith and Ian had always been the Have-Nots. Just look at the compact apartment where they lived. Now here they were in this opulent suburb, to take back what was theirs from this horrible Have.
Ian had grown up with a curious lack of fear, and this mission had not phased him in its planning. Which was why the epic case of the creeps Ian currently felt was so jarring to him. He had fought for his place to be here, and now looking upon Missy’s house, inside its walls was the last place he wanted to be. Not that turning back was a consideration. Where his older brother went, he went.
Beneath their intimidating black hoodies, all the more threatening for being in a pack, these hoods were not thugs; they were just innocent faced kids from any working class neighborhood in America. It was an unfair chain of events that had brought them to their current position, but theirs was a journey for justice. They were young, but they were not dumb. They were just desperate not to be victims anymore.