Short Story Saturday: Online Dating Really is an Adventure

Short Story Saturday: Online Dating Really is an Adventure - Photo by Pixabay from Pexels
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Hello everyone! As part of Short Story Saturday, I have posted another short story, this one entitled Online Dating Really is an Adventure. Please enjoy. Warning: Unlike some stories, there is some rough language and a description of a pretty rough scene. Honestly, my use of expletives and said scene are probably mild by Internet standards but are much more explicit than I usually have in my stories. Discretion is advised. I truly hope I didn’t overuse cursing in this story but used it enough to feel somewhat realistic. Please let me know.

“Hi, you must be Latoya,” I said after I exited my blue Honda accord which I parked next to the ebony beauty waiting for me at the entrance of the Tacoma Mall. In her hands were a large black duffle bag and a brown paper bag with the initials “REI” in blue printed on both sides.

I was both nervous and excited about the prospect of going out with such a beautiful woman of color and such a progressive one too. Her online profile listed a lot of social justice causes. It was sure to be an experience that I would never forget.

“You Harold?” she replied.

“Yes indeed.”

“About time you got here. I’m going to lead this thing. Hope you don’t mind.”

“Of course not. I am a liberated man who does not conform to gender roles. I don’t need to lead a woman around to feel like a man. I am very secure with my masculinity.”

She looked me over. “Why?”

This response perplexed me but I managed to convince myself she was merely joking. Obviously, we wouldn’t have matched on Tinder if you weren’t attracted to me. In fact, she seemed eager to meet. I forced myself to laugh. “You’re such a kidder. Shall we get going?”

“Sure, mind if I drive?”

“Uh, not at all. I’ll go and find a real parking spot and we’ll find your car.”

“I didn’t bring it. I took a bus to get here. Mind if I borrow your keys?”

After a moment’s hesitation and admittedly perhaps a bit out of desperation as it had been a while since my last date, I succumbed to her wishes. “Of course. No problem at all. Let’s just put your things away first.”

I opened the trunk and let her put in the bags. Afterward, she snatched my keys from my hands without saying a word of gratitude. She then entered the driver’s seat as I reluctantly took shotgun in my own car.

“I have to admit,” I said as she began the drive. “The beginning of this date is hardly what one might call a ‘traditional’.”

“I figured you wouldn’t mind. Your profile said you were anything but a ‘traditional’ male. I think it said something like ‘proud beta male’ or something?”

“Absolutely. I am proud of that label. I do not exhibit the traits of ‘toxic’ masculinity that typically defines my gender at least amongst the less enlightened ones of my kind. I am sensitive. I understand a woman’s needs. There is no need for me to be aggressive. A man doesn’t have to pressure a woman into sex. There is no need for him to act violently in any manner including through verbal altercations. Oh, and I am definitely a feminist ally. Her body, her choice, equal pay for equal work, you know, all of that.”

“Uh huh.”

“I am completely unlike my father. He never shares his emotions, at least not to the degree that I am willing to. For example, I once watched Fences once with my family when I visited them. I am not ashamed to admit that I cried several times during it which made my father more than a little uncomfortable. He told me afterward that he thought the movie was all right but a man shouldn’t cry over something as trivial as that. How ridiculous, wouldn’t you agree?”

“I guess.”

“He probably hated the movie because it starred persons of color.”

“White guys hate movies unless it stars other white dudes.”

“Except for allies like me, right?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“My father hides his racism by using coded language like ‘thugs’ and ‘gangs’ and ‘drug dealers’ but I know what he really means.”

“Pretty damn obvious if you ask me.”

“By the way, I thought I’d let you know that I find women just as funny as men. Have I mentioned how much I love Amy Schumer, Tina Fey, and, oh, let me think, oh yes, that’s right, Leslie Jones.”

“You a fan of Leslie Jones?”

“Of course. I’ve been a fan ever since I watched the all-female Ghostbusters. She was a riot. Again, my father called that movie ‘dumb’ but you know why he did and it had nothing to do with the writing of the movie as he claims.”

“No offense, but you’re dad kinda sounds like a shitlord.”

“I agree. He is obsessed with the idea of being manly. He’s almost a parody at this point of Theodore Roosevelt or perhaps Hank Hill. Do you want to know the worst part about him? He actually claims that guns can protect people. ‘Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.’ That’s his favorite expression. Tell that to the children of Sandy Hook. What a buffoon.”

“Sounds like a total gun nut.”

“That’s quite an understatement. Let me put it this way. His favorite thing in the world is shooting competitions. That’s how much he loves guns”

“He any good?”

After a moment’s hesitation, I answered. “I suppose you could say that. He won every competition he ever participated in since I can remember.”

“Damn, he must be very good, then.”

“He’s okay, but I have to confess-“

She interrupted me before I could elaborate further. “Shitlord or not, I kinda wish I had gone out with him instead. By the way, we need to make a quick stop.”

I was so engrossed in the conversation that I didn’t realize that we had entered a commercial area and were pulling in front of a liquor store.

“What are we doing here?” I asked.

“Don’t worry, we won’t be here for long.”  She stopped the car, opened the trunk, and headed for her bags. Acting as a dutiful and respectful date, I naturally joined her.

“I got you a gift.” She handed me the paper bag.

“A gift? Wow, I certainly wasn’t expecting that. At least not on the first date. I must add that I am pleased that you are eschewing gender roles and giving the man a gift, though that is not to say that I don’t still feel bad that I didn’t get you anything.”

“Don’t worry about it. Just open the bag.”

I did as she instructed.

“Ski masks? And gloves?”

“Yeah, a set for me and a set for you.”

“In this weather? Oh, I see, it’s for the winter. Still, I didn’t know you were into skiing.” Then again, I didn’t really know what any of her hobbies were. Her profile was incredibly vague.

“Nah, I can’t stand skiing. Black people and snow don’t mix. Ever see a black skier? Didn’t think so.”

“Then what’s with the winter clothing?”

“Just try them on.” Naïvely, I did as she instructed as she put on the other pair of gloves and ski mask herself.

“Doesn’t fit perfectly,” she muttered, looking at herself in a side view mirror, “But it’ll do. Yours fit just fine, though.”

“Yes, but you still haven’t answered my question as to what we are doing?”

She said nothing. Instead, she reached into the duffle bag and pushed a shotgun into my hands. A strange wave of emotions began to fill my very essence. It was something I hadn’t experienced for a while.

I was confused for a moment, not quite sure what was happening. As I saw Latoya gran one for herself, slowly and then suddenly the dim bulb in my head turned on.

“Oh my God! We are going to rob a-”

“Shut up! We don’t need to attract attention right now!”

“I’m not going to help you rob a liquor store!”

“Come on! It’ll be fun. You hate traditional dates and what’s less traditional than taking down a fascist, capitalist enterprise.”

“A liquor store is a fascist capitalist enterprise? Besides, I was thinking we’d go rock climbing rather than going to a movie. I didn’t expect we’d be committing a felony.”

“Don’t you want to stick it to the man?”

“Not at the expense of some poor teenager or Indian gentleman who’s just trying to get by.”

“You’re refusing to do this because I’m a woman.”

“Why can’t you understand that I don’t want to commit armed robbery?”

“All you have to do is stand there. Come on. It’ll be fun. Trust me.”

“Hell no, I won’t go.” I placed the gun back into the trunk, crossed my arms and refused to budge.

I suddenly found myself staring into the barrel of a shotgun. How I managed to keep myself from evacuating either my bowels or my bladder is a mystery that continues to baffle me to this day.

“I’m afraid you have no choice.”

“Well, when you put it that way, how can I refuse?” I have to admit, she was very persuasive.

My body shook as I picked up the gun I had just set down and headed for the entrance. The woman was quite insistent that I be the point man so I was the first to enter.

The smell of cheap liquor and body odor immediately assaulted my olfactory nerves. Shortly after, I saw the face of a bespectacled, acne-ridden teenager working behind the counter. His bored greeting turned frightened when he realized that a man wearing a ski mask and gloves wielding a shotgun just entered his establishment. Had he known I was mostly concentrating on not soiling myself, I doubt he’d have been as afraid.

“Holy shit!” he cried as his hands motioned towards underneath the counter, doubtlessly in an attempt to press the silent alarm.

“Don’t even think about it,” Latoya growled as she rushed into the store, gun pointed at the young man’s head. “Do it and you’re dead. This can go very easy for you if you do as I ask. You can even press the damn button after we’re gone but I’ll shoot your ass if you try something now.”

“You don’t have to tell me twice,” the kid said as he put his arms in the air. “This job ain’t worth it.”

“Smart kid.”

The boy squinted and examined the woman’s face thoroughly. “Wait a second, I know who you are! You’re ‘Mad Maxine’!”

“‘Mad Maxine’!” I shouted. “You’re ‘Mad Maxine’!” “Mad Maxine” had been committing small robberies across the Puget Sound, so dubbed because when a clerk, a female clerk, asked for her name she shouted, “Maxine” which most believed was an alias. She had hit convenience stores, outlet clothing boutiques, and other similar small-time locations.

Her crimes had garnered her a bit of infamy. She became something of a folk hero amongst feminists mostly because it is rare for a woman to commit armed robbery especially so brazenly. The fact that nobody had ever been hurt due to her crimes, that she had yet to be caught and that her motives up until this point had been completely unknown only added to her notoriety.

“I see. You’re just saying that because I’m black and a woman. Typical white supremacist talk.”

“You’re right, sorry,” the teenager said, “I shouldn’t have assumed. Are you ‘Mad Maxine’?”

“Absolutely not.”

“I don’t believe you!” I screamed. “You are ‘Mad Maxine’, aren’t you?”

“Look,” she sighed, “Don’t listen to him. Just empty the register and hand me all your cash, okay?”

“No problem,” the teenager answered gleefully, “I can’t believe it. I’m being robbed by ‘Mad Maxine’. This is so cool.”

“Thanks!” She snatched the money with a free hand and stuffed it into her pocket. “We’re leaving. Don’t press that button until we’re gone.”

“Of course not! I wouldn’t try something like that to you, ‘Mad Maxine’!” As she ran out the door with me following closely on her heels, I heard the young man shout, “I can’t wait to tell my friends about this!”

Still in a daze, I followed her to my trunk where she put away her gun in the duffle bag, grabbed mine, and placed it alongside hers. After closing the trunk, she dashed to the driver’s seat while I leaped into the passenger’s seat, partly out of fear she’d leave me stranded there for the police to find but also simply because I was hardly in the right frame of mind at the time.

“Two hundred bucks,” she said counting the money in one hand as we made our escape. By this point, we had both tossed our gloves and masks into the back seat. “Not a particularly large haul but it’s enough I suppose.”

“I can’t believe you made me do that!”

“Look. I needed a man because people just don’t take women robbers seriously. Don’t blame me. Blame the patriarchy.”

“Patriarchy? What the hell does that have to do with anything? You forced me into armed robbery!”

“Forced? Did anyone put a gun to your head?”

“You literally did!”

“Oh yeah, right. Sorry, things happened pretty quickly. I honestly forgot.”

“What are you talking about, anyway? You’re the one with the nickname! You’re the one with the notoriety! ‘Mad Maxine’, remember? You’re the folk hero. The men are only referred to as your accomplices, or, er, well, your boy toys. Regardless, they get no respect at all!”

“‘Mad Maxine’, don’t you get it? Because I’m black and a woman, I’m ‘mad’. I bet you if I were a white male they wouldn’t call me ‘mad’.”

“I thought you said you weren’t ‘Mad Maxine’ and besides, they’d still call you a thief because that’s what you are! And you aren’t exactly doing a great job convincing me you aren’t ‘mad’, pointing a gun at me and robbing liquor stores.”

“Would it make you feel better if I told you it was for a good cause?”

“Actually yes, yes it would. I would feel a whole lot better.”

“It’s for my baby brother. He really needs the money.”

I breathed a heavy sigh. “All right. It doesn’t make what we did okay but it makes me feel better if there are mitigating circumstances. Does your brother have cancer? Is your family unable to afford his medical treatment?”

“Something like that. He’s part of a gang right now but he wants to call it quits. In fact, when they tried to make him sell some crack on the streets he chose not to, got rid of them and tried to go clean. ‘Course he didn’t know that’s what he was doing. He probably should have just done that last job. It was pretty stupid of him not to consider who he’s dealing with. They were like a family to him or something, but you know, that only goes so far with folk who ain’t really your family.

Anyway, he owed them a lot of money and he couldn’t pay so now they’re holding him for ransom and won’t let him go until they get the money. I’m afraid their patience is wearing thin. My brother’s still breathing but I’m afraid that won’t last very long if I don’t get them the money tonight.”

I could almost literally feel my brain explode. “We robbed a liquor store to pay off drug dealers. This night just keeps getting better and better.”

“You don’t think it’s a good cause?”

“What, robbing liquor stores for drug money? Oh sure, that’s a terrific cause. That’s certainly worth endangering the lives of innocent people.”

“It’s to save my brother and besides, they’re lives were never in any danger.”

“The hell are you talking about?”

“Give me a second. Let me find a place to park.” She found a place to park in front of a business that had already closed hours ago as the early evening had turned to night quite a while ago. Latoya led me to my trunk she had just opened.

“They’re lives were never in any danger, see?” She giggled as she opened a pocket of the duffle bag. Inside was a plastic bag full of shotgun shells. “These guns are empty. They belong to my brother. I took them from him. I don’t know how to load these guns. Figured bluffing would be good enough and I was right.”

“That still doesn’t justify the robberies.”

“I know. Jackson isn’t a bad guy he just does bad things or at least did. He’s really trying to come clean. Our father left us when we were young so the leaders of the gang are kind of like his dad. But like I said, he tried to quit. I mean, he was real dumb trying to screw them over. I mean, real dumb, but he’s trying, you know? He’s in trouble right now and I can’t just abandon him. He’s my baby brother.”

“I don’t want any more part of this.”

“I understand. Look, just let me drive a little further and so I can bail my brother out. I finally have enough money. You’re the last guy I’m going to have to do this to. You won’t even have to stick around. I know how you white people are around black people.”

“Jesus, I’ll be uncomfortable because the people you are talking about are thugs. I mean, we are talking about gang members and drug dealers.”

“Whatever. Normally you white guys are a lot easier to convince to do things, you know that? White guilt or something, I don’t know. Part of the reason I’m into liberal white men, so easy to manipulate.”

My jaw dropped but remained silent. There was so much I wanted to say but I wasn’t able to find the words.

“Look, just let me drive over there and do this one last thing, okay?” She slowly walked towards me. Latoya caressed my shoulder while gently rubbing my chest. I felt parts of her weave against my cheek as she kissed me softly on the slips. Ally or not I was still a man and she certainly had her charm.

“Okay,” I said after I regained control of my lips and tongue, “I’ll let you do this one last thing.”

We drove silently for the rest of the way. My mind reverberated with a countless number of thoughts trying to make sense of what had just happened that night.

I expected the date to be a win-win situation for me. No matter what happened, I could brag to my liberal friends about how progressive I was trying to date a black woman, even though admittedly I would have agreed to go out with her irrespective of politics. She was a very alluring woman, at least physically. As loathe as I was to admit this, she was hardly acting in an attractive manner. Regardless, when this date began I certainly wasn’t expecting to be an accessory to armed robbery nor did I expect to be headed toward a drug den.

Her face wore a calm expression as we traveled down that road though it was impossible to tell whether it belied a tormented soul. Latoya’s brother was being held prisoner, after all, by some unsavory men. Deep down I had a begrudging respect for her courage in spite of the torment she forced me to experience that night.

I nearly broke the silence when Latoya turned down a seemingly abandoned unilluminated road. It was unsettling and reminded me of a Flannery O’Connor story. Still, I remained mum. It was hardly surprising that crack dealers weren’t conducting business in an upscale neighborhood

“We’re here,” she said as we parked in front of a dilapidated apartment complex.

“Does anybody actually live here?”

“Not really. The gang just uses it for a place to do business but even then, it’s scheduled to be destroyed soon. A victim of gentrification and urban sprawl, I suppose.” I wanted to ask her to elaborate but decided to remain mum.

“Here,” she said handing me my keys after we had exited my vehicle. “Thanks for everything. Feel free to leave. You’ve done enough.”

I gently grabbed the keys from her hand. “Aren’t you afraid I’m going to tell the police?”

“Not really. I hate to tell you this but you are an accessory to a pretty serious crime and your car was involved. If I go down, you’d also go down, so I’m not worried. Besides, you have a nice face. It’s one I can trust.” She winked.

“Are you really going to go in there alone? Should I go with you?”

“Don’t worry about it. This gang is cool, or at least they will be once I give them the money. Hell, I think they’ll even give me and Jackson a ride home.”

“Are you sure they won’t do something to you?”

“What do you mean?”

“How can I put this delicately? You are an attractive woman and you are going to be alone with some pretty distasteful characters. Are you sure they can be trusted?”

She scowled. “I see. Even with a sister, you can’t trust black dudes to, let’s just call it what it is, not rape a woman. Your racist roots are showing right now, you know that?”

“Why the hell is everything always about race? I’m just worried about you, that’s all!”

“Whatever white boy. I should have known better. Ally my ass. Just get the hell out of here, all right?”

With that, Latoya stormed off and entered the apartment complex alone.

I was dumbfounded. For a moment, I actually thought she was correct. Perhaps what I had believed to be white privilege clouded my judgment and made me assume the worst of my fellow human beings. Moreover, she was a liberated woman after all capable of making her own decisions. Explaining things such as I did may have made her the victim of mansplaining, something I should always avoid. At least, those were the thoughts swimming through my head before I quickly came to my senses.

This had nothing to do with race. It had everything to do with the men’s character. These were awful people capable of doing horrific things. My fears and apprehensions were completely justified.

Yet I considered leaving her there. “She is an independent woman who ‘don’t need no man’,” I muttered sarcastically as I opened the car door and began to enter my vehicle. “I’m sure she’ll be all right.”

I’d like to think that I wouldn’t really have left regardless of what happened. Luckily, and I’m using a pretty loose definition of that word, I didn’t get a chance to make that decision. Not in the literal sense of that phrase but in the moral sense.

“Hey! What the hell? Get your fucking hands off me!” I heard her screams from an open window. My car door hadn’t even closed. “For the love of Christ! Help me! Somebody! Please!”

At first, I wanted to call the cops but I realized that wouldn’t be a good idea. There was no way they would arrive on time. At least, not before something really bad happened to Latoya. I’m not referring to murder. There was no way I was going to allow that to happen.

Fortunately for me, and again using terms loosely here, Latoya had forgotten to pick up her brother’s things when she left in a huff. Realizing this, I popped open the trunk, unzipped the duffle bag, pulled out one of the guns and loaded it with the plastic bag full of ammunition Latoya showed me earlier. Loading shotguns was something my father taught me to do.

Strange emotions coursed through me once again as I held the weapon to my chest. With a calm resolve that I did not know I had, I walked into the complex towards the source of the sounds. Following the noise, I was able to find the room where Latoya was being assaulted.

I kicked open the door. Momentarily, all activity in the room ceased. Latoya was lying on the floor. Her arms were pinned by two large black men, one wearing a red ‘do-rag and the other a long chain and large silver earrings. Another large African-American wearing a Golden State Warriors hat sideways was at her feet. All four sets of eyes were directed at me, with tears were streaming down poor Latoya’s.

They had already removed her coat and long-sleeved purple shirt and her black boots and blue jeans and were about to remove her panties before I intervened.

I pointed the gun right at them. “I know the three of you are carrying heat and I doubt any of you want to be a hero, so I’d suggest getting up right now, removing your guns, and dropping them to the floor.”

Initially, they refused. They glared at me with a look of disdain and rage that I had never experienced at any point in my life save the time I told my father that adopting a vegan diet was the only ethical way to consume food. I was definitely going to treat myself to a steak after this night was over.

Realizing they were reluctant, to say the least, to do as I said, I decided another means of persuasion was necessary. I shot the gun through the ceiling above us before returning my aim towards them while shaking my head to remove the debris of the floorboards above from my hair.

“I’m sorry. Perhaps I stuttered. Remove your guns now.” This time they immediately complied. The three of them stood up, removed the guns from their pants, and placed them on the floor.

“Are you all right, Latoya?” She said nothing but nodded silently to confirm that she was all right, or as all right as she could be considering the circumstances. I instructed the woman to put on her clothes and she did. Afterward, she promptly moved by my side.

“Thanks,” she whispered in my ear.

“Are you okay?” I whispered back repeating the question.

“I will be. You arrived just in time.”

After giving her a quick smile, I turned my attention back towards the dealers. “I am angry with everyone in this room right now. Not because one of you forced me into armed robbery. Not because the three of you are drug dealers, though I do admit the attempted rape is vile enough that I’d probably hate you just because of that, but there’s a reason even beyond that which causes me to feel nothing for contempt for all three of you right now and it certainly isn’t because you’re black.

It’s because you proved my father right. It’s not the guns themselves that are the problem but how they are used and the people that are using them. Guns can destroy lives, there’s no doubt about that, but guns can also protect. How I loathe you all for making me admit that.”

A male moan from an adjacent room interrupted my rant.

“Jackson!” Latoya cried.

I asked the man in the Warriors hat, “Is her brother there?” No answer. I tried again. “I asked IS THAT WHERE HER BROTHER IS LOCATED? Answer me asshole!” He nodded tepidly, the grimace never leaving his face.

“Good. We’ll get him in a minute. I want to continue my tirade. This night has left me very reflective and since I’m the only man with a gun in hand right now you’re going to have to indulge me. So where was I? Oh yes.

My father loves guns and he loved shooting competitions. To tell the truth, I used to love them too. Dad and I participated in a lot of father-son competitions when I was growing up. We only stopped doing them relatively recently. Not due to lack of success, mind you. We always won.

And you want to know something else? My father is a mediocre shot at best. I’d always have to carry him to victory.

I hate to brag, but I’m not merely a good shot. I’m great. He was actually very proud of me for that. He still is actually. He’s proud of me for a lot of things, I think, even if he doesn’t say it anymore. God, we used to get along so well.

Those school shootings. They really changed my viewpoint. I started believing that guns did more harm than good. It actually created a huge rift between the two of us. I’ve been basically rebelling against him ever since though I’m starting to realize I’ve been rebelling for far too long. I’m starting to think I made a grievous mistake.

Do you know what scares me the most right now? I feel really comfortable with this firearm in my hand. Creepily comfortable. As in, it feels like it is part of my body.

Latoya, when you placed this gun in my hands earlier today, I felt it then too. It was a disturbing excitement. It was as if I was reunited with a long lost friend.

Even Dad would say that I shouldn’t feel like this. Protecting someone is a responsibility, a necessity. Something one is forced to do. A man should never enjoy this kind of thing.

Yet, here we are. I suppose I can’t hide these feelings anymore, at least not from myself. To thine self be true, after all.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the man in the ‘do-rag bending down slowly to reach for his gun. In response, I fired the man’s hand. The bullet landed mere centimeters away from his fingers. He reflexively pulled the appendage back.

“I was hoping someone would be stupid enough to try that just so I can show that I’m not just creating a fabrication right now. I really am good with guns. My next shot won’t miss so I think the three of you better push your guns towards me so they’re no longer a temptation.” The three men did as instructed.

“You look like the leader,” I said to the man in the backward Golden State Warriors hat, “But even if you aren’t, I frankly don’t care right now. I’m giving you a very important task. I want you to tie up your two companions so they can’t run after us.”

“With what, you white ass motherfucker?”

I pointed my gun directly at him. “I’d prefer it if you called me sir.”

Shit. Okay, with what, sir?”

“Don’t you have any rope?”

“The hell would I be doing with rope motherfu-, shit, sir?”

“Then improvise, man, there’s always the laces of their shoes. But first, now that I think about it, I want the three of you to strip off all of your clothes and I mean all of them.”

“You want us to take off our clothes, motherfucker? What are you a faggot?”

“Yes, I am a bundle of sticks. In truth, I just get the feeling that you are less likely to go after us if you are tied up and naked.”

After cursing at me a few more times and threatening both my life and, ironically, my posterior several times, the men unenthusiastically did as they were told. They had little choice.

“Keep the shoes there. As I said, you’ll need the laces. Don’t worry, you can keep the hat and do-rag. Anyway, now that you’re done, toss those clothes over to me.” The men complied. “Latoya, please toss those clothes out the window.” With a smile, she did just that.

“You two, get on the ground.” The two men not in the Warriors hat did as I told. “Now, Warriors Hat-”

“Motherfucker, don’t call me that. My name is-”

“I don’t care what you’re name really is! When you try to rape someone you lose a right to have a real name especially when I’m the one with the gun. Warriors Hat, use the laces to tie them up.” Another string of cursing and threats commenced but he did as he was told.

“My father often talks ill of gangs, drug dealers, crooks and thieves, that kind of thing,” I continued. “I’d often think his words were coded messages hiding racist beliefs. I was wrong. You people really are awful.”

“You people!” Warriors Hat stopped tying the second man momentarily as he looked at me angrily to protest. “What the f-!”

“Shut up!” I shouted cutting him off. “You know what I meant.” After yet another scowl, the man continued his work.

“The point is I have a new respect for my father and his point of view. He was right about everything. I’ll give him a call assuming we can get out of here alive.”

With his two companions tied, I instructed the man in the Warriors hat to get on the ground to lie next to his companions. I then told Latoya to tie the man up with his shoelaces.

I cut off the man before he could make any snide remarks and made it clear to him that I had an itchy trigger finger and wouldn’t hesitate if he tried anything funny. He resisted the urge.

After she completed this task, I handed her my gun and told her to keep it pointed at him as I tightened the bonds. Though she was uneasy about doing this at first, I assured her it would only take me a moment. She acquiesced and I was able to complete the undertaking rapidly. All the bonds were mostly tight already. They all did a surprisingly good job.

I unloaded the three guns that were pushed over to me before taking the gun from Latoya’s hands and resumed keeping the gun affixed on the three men.

I told Latoya to fetch her brother. She fervently did so, opening the door with a bang which frightened Jackson half to death.

After a quick and tearful reunion, the two walked out the door and joined me in the main room. Though Jackson looked badly beaten and bruised and definitely needed some medical attention and some rest, he was able to move under his own power, which was good news as there was no way I could carry the man out while keeping my gun aimed at the three gang members on the ground.

“Do they have the money?” I asked Latoya.

“Yes.”

“Good.” I turned my attention to the three gangsters on the ground. “As far as I’m concerned, we’re all even. The three of you have your money so there’s no reason to go after us. If you’re concerned we’re going to call the cops, don’t be. None of us three have clean hands. He’s a dealer, she robbed various places, and I’m accessory so calling the cops wouldn’t be a good idea for us either.”

“You’re just going to leave them?” Latoya protested. “After what they did to me?”

“I understand how you feel or at least I can empathize but I’m afraid that’s a line that I’m just not quite ready to cross, though had they tried anything else or had I arrived just a minute later…” My voice trailed as I contemplated the possibility.

Though reluctant, her eyes still burned with rage, she nodded her head in agreement. She’s a tough woman but also smart and reasonable. Vengeance would have been sweet but the cost may have been a bit too high that night, though I still ponder whether I made the right decision to this day. Regardless, she agreed it was time to make our escape.

Allowing my two new companions to walk out the door behind me first, I backed out the door slowly while keeping my gun pointed at the men. Once I exited the room, I fled down the stairs to join Latoya and Jackson who were waiting by my car.

I quickly unloaded my gun, opened my trunk and placed the gun into the duffle bag. Afterward, I opened the car doors and helped Jackson into the back seat. As he lay down, Latoya and I got into the passenger seat and the driver’s seat respectively. I started the car and sped off, hoping to never see that place again.

“Are you all right?” I said when we were finally able to breathe at a normal rate again.

“That’s like the third time you asked me that,” Latoya said with a fatigued smirk.

“I’m just worried about you.”

“I know and thank you. To tell the truth, I’m not doing great but I’ll survive. I definitely had better nights but I’ll recover. I’m just lucky that you got there in time. Looks like you were right after all. Sorry about putting you through all this tonight.”

“It’s all right. Well, not all right but I forgive you or at least I will in due time.”

“Where do we go from here?”

“Well, I’m definitely going to call my dad sometime tomorrow morning but beyond that, the plan is to get Jackson home and put him to bed and perhaps call a doctor on his behalf. Then, we’ll ditch this car somewhere and I will call the police tomorrow morning to report it stolen. Nobody got a good look at our faces or have any prints so we should be fine assuming I’m not missing anything. From now on, if your brother does something like this again, he’s on his own. The only man you should be concerned with is me.”

Latoya smirked. “Only you?”

“Yes, only me. You should be flattered that I still want to even associate you in any way after tonight nevertheless still date you.”

“True that.”

“In all serious though, assuming everything goes as plan and the three of us aren’t arrested, the next step, after the heat dies down, and after you are ready, and mind you, take as much time as you like and feel free to contact me whenever you need something while you’re recovering. I’ll be there for you.”

“Thank you. I really mean that.”

“Of course. Anyway, afterward, the plan is for the two of us to go out on a real date, and this time I mean dancing, drinks, bowling, perhaps a comedy show where we can hear the routines of Norm MacDonald or Jim Gaffigan, I don’t know, something traditional. I don’t care if it’s quaint. Quaint is fun.”

“After tonight I wouldn’t mind having some fun.”

“And after our date is over, we will go to my place where you will cook me dinner.”

She laughed uproariously. “That ain’t happening. I don’t cook.”

I sighed. “Yeah, I knew I was pushing it a little bit too far. Sorry about that.”

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