Copyright © 2012 - 2014 by Rilbur and the Revolutions Universe Partnership.
All Rights Reserved
"Hey guys, I'm glad you could drop by," Joe thanked his friends as they all took a seat at the McDonald's across the street from the school.
"Anytime," Mark nodded. "Besides," he hefted his tray, "you offered to pay."
"And given that we both know you don't swing our way, that has us curious," Sean commented.
"Don't mention that rumor," Joe groaned.
"Don't worry, we won't," Mark laughed. "Actually, we've been trying to fight it a bit for you."
"You mean I've been trying to fight it," Sean pushed his boyfriend. "You just act hurt and mention that he'd never let you make out with him."
"Yeah, 'cause he's straight," Mark pushed back.
"Can we please stick to the topic at hand?" Joe complained.
"Sounds good to me," Susan commented, sitting down.
The three boys all shaped their eyes over to her, surprised. "Susan, I'm surprised to see you here," Joe commented.
"I know you are," she nodded. "Frankly, you shouldn't be. The day after we ran into Brian at the museum, three of the biggest jocks in town retire for a private conversation during lunch?" she shook her head. "I'm rather surprised you didn't try and get more people involved."
Joe took a deep breath. "I only wanted to involve people I trust absolutely. People I could trust with my life, if things go wrong. I've got a lot of friends, but… Well, take Nick Ross, for example. As much as I love the guy-"
"Really?" Mark commented hopefully.
"As a friend," Joe said repressively.
"Oh, darn," Mark pouted until Sean leaned over and kissed it better.
"Anyway," Joe laughed, "as much as I like him, does anyone doubt that he'd blab all over town about it? He's never met a secret yet he could keep from caroling from the rooftops."
"I think you might be surprised," Susan disagreed, "but he would find it difficult. You're also focusing a little too much on male someones, and jocks, or there'd be a few more people on your list," Susan pointed out. "I'm not too hurt. I understand exactly why you're thinking that way. But I also know you, and there's only one reason you'd have called to cancel our date. You don't do that. Not your style."
"And why exactly would he cancel a date with a beauty like you?" Corey Edison commented, sliding in.
"Is everyone in the school going to show up?" Joe asked, exasperated.
"No, I think we're about it," Corey smiled. "So what's the plan?"
"What makes you think there's a plan?" Joe asked. "Why can't I just have a nice meal out with some friends?"
"Because you hate McDonald's food," Corey commented. "And you just ran into Brian Richardson at the museum yesterday, where he passed you some kind of message. A message that his teacher was desperate to head off. And your mother is in charge of getting him home, but rumor has it that she's a little powerless at the moment. Something about state jurisdiction lines interfering with getting the job done."
"What he's saying," Susan added, "is that anyone with half a brain can put the pieces together. Especially if they have the first clue about your personality. Some people are going to think you're upset about your mother getting embarrassed, but the truth is you're a naturally kind, caring individual."
"Off the field, at least," Mark cracked. "Absolute terror on the field."
"Which just reinforces my point," Susan nodded. "Day to day life? You're a pussycat. You wouldn't hurt a fly. Oh, you'll deflate a windbag or two, and you enjoy a good old fashioned practical joke, but you're the first person to jump in whenever someone gets hurt. But get you into a conflict of some kind, a game where it's expected for example, and you are ruthless. An absolute terror. And last week showed that you react the same way to physical threats."
"What's she saying is that while day-to-day you wouldn't hurt someone, you're exactly the type of person who'd jump into the middle of a fight without hesitating, just to save the underdog," Corey cut in. "Your mother can't help Mark. The law is a little bit powerless. The people who should be doing something about this aren't, won't, or can't. That leaves others to step into the breach."
"The recent offer your family received," Susan added, "isn't publicly known. But the reason it was tendered is because your family has displayed, both in a historical, ongoing sense and in a recent, very public and visible sense, that it holds itself to a high standard of honor and a willingness to act on that honor. Take the twins, for example. Everyone knows they like a prank. But something like half their pranks make a point. Sometimes people miss that point, but some of us have noticed them."
"Or like last year, when you got those kids to back down from sticking some freshmen in a trash can just 'cause he talked funny," Sean pointed out. "Damn near got in a fight, but you didn't back down. Scared them shitless, too."
Joe sighed. "Fine! There's a plan. I admit it."
"I'd like to hear more about this offer," Mark asked. "I mean, what on earth is she talking about?"
Susan shook her head. "You'll be hearing soon enough. I believe there's an announcement planned for tomorrow, though it may get pushed back to Thursday, at the latest."
"Alright, I'll wait," Mark agreed. "So, what are we going to do?"
Joe looked around the table and smiled. "What was that Yeats quote from class? Something about having such friends?"
"Think where man's glory most begins and ends," Susan nodded, "and say my glory was I had such friends."
"Thanks, that's the one," Joe blinked back a few tears. "Alright, then let's get-" Joe's eyes fell on Corey. "Problem is, we aren't all friends."
"I'm a pain in the ass," Corey nodded. "I did my best to knock you out of the running for quarterback, I just wasn't good enough to get myself in the running. You don't like me."
"No, I don't," Joe shook his head.
"But you can trust me," Corey told him. "I'd offer to swear, but that's not much help. I mean, all it would boil down to is saying 'But I'm not the bad guy, honestly!' Not really convincing."
"No, it's not," Joe agreed.
"We're teammates," Corey told him earnestly. "Whatever we might do off the field, whatever we might do in class or social situations, in the end we back each other's plays. We support each other. On and off the field."
Joe nodded slowly. "I'll vouch for him," Susan added. "I know you don't like him, but we're friends."
"Fine," Joe nodded. "In that case, I'll make a long story short. Mrs. B can't do crap. We got into quite the row over it last night, but the end result was where we started. She's convinced it would be a mistake to move too hastily. The bad guys have found a tactic that's worked once, they'll use it again. And she hasn't figured out an effective way to counter it. So rather than move on our information, she's going to hold off until she can move effectively. She feels guilty for moving Brian from a bad situation to a worse one, and doesn't want to give anyone any excuses to move him again."
"And you're not going to wait," Corey nodded. "Good for you."
"No, I'm not," Joe agreed, face hardening. "She can't do anything. If she breaks the rules…" Joe sighed "Fuck this. I'm not going to be 'discrete'. You guys can either keep a secret or you can't, and if I thought the latter you wouldn't be here."
"A number of businesspeople have asked his mother, Mrs Bryant, to run for mayor," Susan cut in. Joe looked at her, an eyebrow raised. "This way you can honestly say you didn't let the cat out of the bag. Daddy'll understand why I did it, and it won't cause the same problems," Susan told him. Joe shrugged, and motioned for her to continue. "She's going to run for mayor, and she's going to win. Mayor 'ey is going to find it difficult to do any fundraising, and harder to find volunteers. What's more, her campaign is going to be brilliantly and expertly run by some real experts in public opinion management, and while they're going to run a clean campaign, that doesn't mean they can't take potshots at the current mayor. Potshots he won't be able to retaliate against."
"In short, this time next year, I'm not going to be Joe Peterson, the school's star quarterback," Joe shrugged. "I'm going to be the mayor's son, star quarterback Joseph Bryant."
"Name change?" Susan asked, eyebrow raised.
"I'm going to apply for one during the campaign," Joe nodded. "Hell, I've been thinking about it for years. The old man's efforts to get his hands on me last week were the last straw, I just needed to find a good time. During the middle of criminal proceedings would have been a very bad time."
Susan nodded. "So, what's the plan?" she asked.
"Mum can't break the rules," Joe told them. "She's running for mayor, and has to keep it squeaky clean. But me? I'm already something of a bad boy. I do whatever it takes to protect family. Frankly, if the twins were older this would be something they could do, but as it is, I'm going to do everything I can to keep them out of this."
"This isn't exactly protecting family, though," Sean pointed out.
"Isn't it?" Joe asked. "These bastards are thumbing their nose up at my mother, making her look as ineffectual as Social Services was last week before she took charge. Worse yet, they're using my friend to do it. I won't have it. I will not idly sit back and watch them do this!" Joe reigned in his temper before it got totally out of control. "And so we come to why I asked you guys to come here today. Call it… A rescue mission."
Joe pulled his gym bag out of his closet and began to fill it. Three ski masks weren't enough for everyone, but he'd told the others to bring their own. Hopefully he wouldn't have to cover for too many of them. Four baseball bats was a tad bit excessive, but better to go overarmed than under. He debated his hunting rifle, but that wasn't the right tool. Baseball bats weren't weapons, exactly. Knives or guns would be a bit too pointed, however much he wanted one.
Downstairs, he heard the garage door open. Joe took a deep breath and shoved a pair of thin gloves into the bag before sitting it on his bed. Showtime.
"What smells so good?" Mum asked him once he hit the ground floor.
"Dinner," Joe told her. "Listen, I need to talk to you and Mom tonight. Right after dinner."
"All right," she nodded. "Let me change, and then we can eat."
"Thanks, Mum," Joe nodded.
"What did you just call me?" Mum smiled, grabbing him by the shoulder.
"Hrm?" Joe asked. "What's wrong?"
"You just called me 'Mum'," she told him.
Joe opened his mouth to protest, then closed it with a click. "I guess I did. Mum."
She pulled him close in a tight hug. "I'm surprised you were willing to do that, after our argument last night," she told him before letting go.
"I think it has to do with last week," Joe told her. "You heard about my father?"
She nodded. "Yeah. He's not getting anywhere."
"I know, but as pissed off as I have been, I haven't really thought about things in a while," Joe told her. "He was still my father. I still bore his name. I was pissed, but I wasn't ready to move on."
"Well, I guess we owe him thanks then," she smiled.
"Actually, I was going to be asking you a favor sometime soon," Joe told her. "Everyone else is Bryant. Tim Bryant. Tom Bryant. Abi Bryant. Ami Bryant. Joseph Bryant has a nice sound, doesn't it?"
"That means more than I can possibly say," Mum told him, voice choked. "I love you like a son, you know. And I'm proud of the man you're becoming, even when I'm busy shouting at you."
"Thanks," Joe told her. "Anyway, you need to change."
"Too true," she nodded, tromping off to her bedroom.
"Shouldn't you be getting ready to go?" Mom asked as Joe entered the kitchen.
"I'll take care of that," Joe told her, grabbing the pot holders away from her. Reaching into the oven, he pulled the meatloaf out and set it on the stove. "And no. I'm going to talk to you and Mum about it after dinner."
"Alright, that's-" Mom was halfway through her sentence when she stopped. "What did you say?"
Joe smiled. "What, can't a guy talk to his moms about things?" he protested. "You and Mum are great."
"Oh Joe!" heedless of his efforts to handle the stove, Mom took him in a hug. "I thought you still resented me marrying her."
"Not for a long time, Mom," Joe told her. "Not for a long time."
Dinner went by quickly, Mom and Mum both letting Joe gather his thoughts. "Alright, it's after dinner," Mom said after they cleared the table. "Tim, Tom, why don't you take the girls out back. Joe would like a word in private."
"Okay," the twins chorused, then lead the girls out.
Joe took a deep breath. This was going to be hard. "Mom, Mum, I've always asked permission to use the car," he told them slowly. "I'm not going on my date tonight. I won't lie about that. But I'm still taking the car."
"What for?" Mum asked.
"You don't want to ask that," Joe told her. "That's why I'm telling, not asking."
"Telling?" she raised an eyebrow, voice dangerous. "Excuse me?"
Joe took a deep breath. "Think it through, Mum. I don't want to say anything you'll have to take notice of, but think it through. Some of my friends and I are taking the car. We're going to go for a ride. And we're going to get back late. Very late."
"On a school night?" she demanded angrily. "What makes you think we're going to allow this?"
Joe took a deep breath. "I don't think. I know. You'll allow this because I'm not giving you any other choice."
"Is that why you started calling me Mum?" she demanded, furious.
"No!" Joe leapt to his feet. "How can you think that! What have I ever done-" Joe cut himself off and took a deep breath. He'd done plenty. Oh yes, he'd done plenty. "Whatever I may have done in the past, think over the last four years. How long has it been since I gave my mother's wife trouble because she was a wife, not a husband? The fact is, I've accepted you. Perhaps, in part, because I've finally started to understand you."
Mom nodded. "Laura," she cut in, "he's not being evasive. He's protecting us."
"Protecting us?" Mum asked, eyes narrowing.
"Do what he said, think things through," Mom suggested. "What did you fight about last night. Where could he be driving tonight, that would be keeping him out so long?"
Mrs. B took a sudden, deep breath, and her eyes locked on Joe's. He nodded once, slowly. "I promise you, I'm going to do something that would make you proud."
Mrs. B fell back into her chair, and motioned for Joe to do the same. "I'd rather lose the election than lose you," she said softly. "Tell me your plans."
"Are you certain?" Joe asked.
"I think I can see the broad outline," she nodded. "It's clever, if it works. The devil is in the details, though. So. Talk."
Joe slowly drove past their target. A red car across the street flashed it's lights once as he passed, then darkness overtook the street again. A deeper darkness than normal, as some horrible vandal had gone to the trouble of opening up the maintenance hatches on the near by street lamps, and cutting the copper wire that powered them. A horrible crime, really.
A few blocks later, Joe pulled the car over to the side of the street. Stepping out, he and his friends made their way to the trunk. Joe pulled out his bag and started distributing gear, while his friends grabbed a few of their own toys from the trunk.
Susan met them before a half block away from the house. "He's in there," she told them. "I saw him looking out the attic window. From the looks of it, that's his room."
Joe frowned. Getting up one set of stairs in a hurry would be fun enough, but getting up two was pushing things. They needed to get in and out fast, before anyone saw them.
Oh well. No plan survived contact with the enemy, Mum had stressed. Plan for things to get fucked up.
Where she'd gotten that experience, Joe decided not to ask. He got the definite impression it wasn't from her day job. After all, the cops generally didn't move in until they knew enough to do so safely. And the idea of them letting their plans get fucked up seemed absurd. They were almost as bad as the military at trying to dot every t and cross every i. Nothing so unimportant as reality could interfere with that priority.
Still, it was good advice, and he'd made sure to incorporate it in the hasty re-planning session he and his friends had held.
"All right. We should still be good with the basic plan," he said, pulling his ski mask out of his pocket. "Game face, guys."
"I'll be in the car," Susan nodded. She hadn't been happy about it, but she'd agreed in the end that they needed at least one fast getaway car manned the whole time. And however gutsy she was, she simply couldn't move as fast as they could, hit as hard as they were going to, or absorb the punishment they might need to take. It wasn't about her being a girl — or at least, not 'simply' about her being a girl — but rather an honest assessment that she just wasn't as physically fit as they were. She wasn't fat, she was actually in fairly good shape being a cheerleader, but when it came to big, fast, and strong you never need look further than the local football team. Despite the common stereotype of each group, however, 'dumb' didn't apply to anyone involved in tonight's escapade. Hence her eventually agreeing to Joe's insistence about her being their getaway driver.
Her own ski mask on, and the collapsing baton Joe had no intention of asking about, let her act as their reserve. If everything else fell apart, the big bad jocks would have to rely on a girl to help them out. Joe really didn't want to let that happen.
One quick inspection later, everyone was ready. They'd discussed trying to do this civilly, and discarded the option. On Joe's orders, they were going to avoid hurting anyone if they could, but if these people decided to fight, they were ready for it.
"Go," Joe ordered, dropping his shoulder. As he charged, he resisted the urge to shout out 'knock knock'.
The door was built fairly heavily, but Joe's two hundred and fifty pounds of lean muscle hit it with all the force of a battering ram. The frame was built heavily enough to avoid giving way, but the door itself wasn't anywhere near that strong. It didn't simply crack, it shattered as Joe burst through it. Rattled by the impact, Joe fell to one knee as his friends burst past him. "Where's Brian?" they shouted, disguising their voices. "Where is he?"
Joe rose to his feet just in time to see the counterattack hit. From the looks of it, the man was the father of the household, and he came flying down the stairs in a picture perfect tackle. Corey crumpled to the ground, stunned, even as Sean moved to get the man off him. Mark, meanwhile, was forced to fend off a pair of young teenage boys, a bit bigger than the twins. Sizing up the situation, Joe rose to his feet and charged forward. "Try not to hurt them if you can avoid it, M!" he ordered as he charged up the stairs. Corey was already moving, and Sean could keep the man busy long enough for their purposes.
"Brian!" he shouted. "Where are you!"
"Up here!" came the muffled reply. "The door is locked! Look for the narrow door with a deadbolt at the end of the hall!"
Joe quickly charged down the hall, only to realize when he reached the end that he'd gone down it the wrong way. "What is going on?" someone complained, stepping out of their door further down the hall. "What the hell?" he swore as Joe charged him.
Joe carefully kept the baseball bat reversed and low, trying to make it clear he wasn't ready to use it yet. Unfortunately, that just tempted the teenager down the hall to try and block him, and the teen clearly belonged on the school football team. Picture perfect block. Joe bounced back, surprised. "Out of my way," he growled. "I'm here to rescue my friend. I don't want to hurt you, but I won't let you hurt him anymore."
"Us hurt him?" the teen growled back. "We aren't the bastards that raped him. We aren't the idiots who tried to convince him not to go to the cops!"
"No, you're just the idiots who bought a lie, hook line and sinker," Joe told him. "Last chance. Move."
"No way," the teen replied, dropping into a crouch.
"On your head be it," Joe growled, charging forward. This time he used the bat, swinging it down at the teen's shoulder.
Unfortunately, it was clear the teen had expected that move, and he shifted to the side, letting the bat whistle harmlessly past. Joe wasn't familiar with the term 'overextended' as it applied to martial arts, but the kid rapidly demonstrated the concept, moving in while Joe tried to recover from the swing.
The bat fell from Joe's suddenly numb hand, even as another blow rocked into his midriff. Curling around it, Joe groaned as he fell backwards. The teen raised his foot, only to look up in surprise as someone else leapt over Joe.
Coughing, Joe managed to get himself upright just in time to see the teen throw Corey off. Snatching up his bat, Joe charged forward. The teen, focusing on Corey, didn't even see the bat until too late.
Joe felt vaguely guilty as he watched the teen crumple to the ground, clutching his shoulder, but he had a job to do. "Narrow door, end of hall, deadbolt," he wheezed out, pointing. Corey nodded sharply, then ran off.
"Sorry about that," Joe told the teen on the ground.
"Fucker!" the teen tried to kick Joe. Unfortunately for him, Joe wasn't particularly interested in being kicked, and he just stepped back out of range.
"Got him!" Corey shouted, making his way down the staircase.
"I wasn't expecting you to come in like this," Brian groaned, looking at the teen on the ground.
"We need to get moving," Joe urged Brian, only to have Brian shoot him an angry glare.
"Not yet," Brian told him, then turned to the teen. "Sorry Adam. They're friends though."
"Some friends," Adam groused. "Telling you not to go to the cops."
"I know you believe that," Brian told him, "but my uncles loved me and my brother. They'd never hurt us, and if God forbid they did, my friends, like Joe here-"
Joe coughed, loudly. "No names," he ordered. Not that it would do much good now. Fuck.
"Like him, there," Brian pointed at Joe, "would have stomped them in the ground in nothing flat. As well as being the ones to tell me I should call the cops.
Adam looked at Joe hard. "Swear," he demanded. "Swear to me that's true. Swear to me by something convincing."
Joe nodded. "I swear to you by the love of Jesus Christ, by my hope for salvation, and by my love for my family, it's all true. I swear, and may God strike me dead and bar me from Heaven if I lie."
Adam nodded. "He's convincing," he growled. "Fine. I'll even forgive him the shoulder. Not like it's the first time it's been dislocated."
Joe let out a sigh of relief. "Oh, damn, I thought I'd broken it."
"No, you didn't," Adam snapped.
"Good," Joe nodded. "Now, can we get moving Brian?"
"Sure," Brian nodded.
Downstairs, Sean and Mark had the two boys and their father tied together with zip ties, each with one hand free. "Let's get going," Joe ordered. "Did they have any knives?"
"Yeah, I left it just out of reach," Sean pointed to the floor, a few feet away from the three. "OK, get out," Joe ordered. Grabbing the wireless phone off it's charger, he waited for his friends to be out the door before tossing it to the man. "We didn't want to hurt anyone," he apologized, then kicked the knife towards him before running for the door.
Unfortunately, no one had checked the kitchen. She wasn't about to run out into the fight when three big, strong men were kicking her men folk's ass, but she'd gotten on the phone right away. And one assailant, who'd just admitted to hurting someone? When her eldest was apparently missing in action?
Hissing, she popped out of the kitchen, butcher's cleaver flashing.
Joe screamed in agony as her wild swing cut along his side, grating along already bruised ribs. He stumbled for a moment before falling out the front door. A wild, unaimed kick proved lucky, catching the woman by her midriff and sending her flying back just in time to fall into her husband. Joe forced himself back to his feet and ran for the car. Thankfully, they'd planned ahead and set plastic covers over the shotgun seat, which was quickly emptied for him.
Sean and Corey set out in a distance-devouring jog as the car peeled rubber. As soon as she turned the corner, Susan turned the car lights back on and set a more reasonable pace. Turning again, she quickly brought them back to where Joe's car had been left. Stumbling out of her car, Joe ripped the plastic off the seat and wadded it up. "How bad is it?" Susan asked, getting out.
"Not good," Joe told her. "So much for our canceled concert tickets."
"It was a good plan," she told him. "Gave us an excuse for being out late and far from home. We just need to doctor you up a bit. Brian, there's a first aid kit in my car, and a couple of spare shirts that should fit."
"Spare shirts?" Joe asked.
"My brother didn't ask why I needed to borrow them," she told him. "I think he had an idea or two. Now, stay still." She quickly ripped his shirt off him, using the material to sop up as much of the blood as she could. "This is going to require better treatment later," she told him as Brian handed her the first aid kit. "Bite down on this," she handed him the cleanest part of his shirt. Joe meekly obeyed, mentally preparing himself for whatever she was about to do to him. "Now, this is going to hurt," she warned, "so bite down instead of screaming if you can." Without further warning, she poured disinfectant over the wound.
Joe clenched his jaw as his entire body flexed and strained in agony. It was as if she'd poured liquid lead into the wound. It burned, oh God it burned! When he was able to focus again, he realized that she'd packed his wound with something, and was wrapping cloth tightly around his chest. "This should hold the bleeding back for a while, but I think you're going to need stitches," she told him.
"I'll deal," he told her.
"Good. You aren't fit to drive, though, so Corey is going to drive you home. Go shotgun and try to sleep."
"Fine," Joe nodded, letting her pull a shirt over him.
Her gentle hands seemed to linger a moment or two longer than necessary, then she was packing up. "Brian, back in my car. Take shotgun. We're leaving."
Joe let Sean and Mark help him to the car, then gratefully collapsed into the seat. Reclining, he closed his eyes and tried to ignore the pain in his side as everyone climbed in.
"We need to drop by a drive through," Mark suggested.
"Why?" Joe complained.
"Most drive throughs have trash cans at their end," Mark pointed out. "And we need to pitch everything in the bag." Joe turned his head and saw that Mark was holding up a plastic bag filled with the blood scraps of his shirt and a few other pieces of evidence. Joe nodded, then turned back around.
"Think you can find a Foster's Freeze?" Joe asked Corey.
"I thought you'd never ask," Corey grinned. "I saw one on the way in."
Joe closed his eyes again and tried to sleep, ignoring his friends excited chatter. It just figures that he'd be the one to get hurt. The Moms were going to kill him.