Read The Adventurer Online

Authors: Diana Whitney

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Romance, #Contemporary

The Adventurer

the adventurer by Diana Whitney

Roberto sprinted by and dived into the thicket with Larkin right on his tail. Devon crashed through the brush, spun around and hunched down. Peering through the foliage, he was horrified as Tommy tripped. The boy fell face first into the grass just as Ogden Marlow and one of the vice chancellors rounded the building. Shouting and swearing, the two men rushed over and hauled the poor kid to his feet. Devon saw terror in Tommy’s eyes. From that point on, everything seemed to happen in slow motion. Devon watched helplessly as the two men shook Tommy like he was a rag doll. Then they screamed in his face, yelling questions about who else had been involved. Tommy clamped his lips together and didn’t say a word. Devon was sick with fear. He knew Tommy wouldn’t rat on his buddies even though he was going to be punished bigtime Devon wanted to go out and rescue his friend but if he did, Marlow would see Bobby and Iarkin. Confused and panicked, Devon just sat there like a stupid lump while the men grabbed Tommy’s skinny arms and hauled him through the gathering crowd. As Tommy and his captors disappeared around the building, Larkin snagged Devon’s wrist. “What are we gonna do now? ” Devon silenced him with a look and pointed to a sullen group of young inmates mulling around the courtyard. Larkin slunk farther back into the concealing brush. For the next fifteen minutes, the three boys sulked silently , each absorbed with their own thoughts, their own terrors. Devon knew he had to be strong because his friends were counting on him. Tears pricked his eyes. He felt like a coward, cringing in the bushes like a scared rabbit while one of his Brothers was being interrogated. Maybe even tortured Every Rambo movie he’d ever seen ran through his mind and his imagination soared with graphic horrors. He wondered if Tommy was being beaten. Or maybe they were dripping water on his forehead, trying to drive him nuts. Worse, maybe they’d stripped off all his clothes and locked him in the Box. Devon shuddered at the thought. The Box was a cinder block vault so small you couldn’t lay down and so cold that you couldn’t feel your feet after the first hour. It was dark damp and filled with the stench of fear. Then the air got thinner and thinner, until you felt like you were being smothered by a clammy hand. That’s when your lungs started to ache and your muscles cramped into big old knots. If you were real lucky, you passed out.

Devon hadn’t been that lucky.

The thought of another stint in the Box scared Devon to death, but he could take it a lot better than poor Tommy could. Devon decided that as soon as he got Larkin and Roberto back to the dorm room, he’d march into the office and take full responsibility for the vandalism. He’d tell old Hogman that Tommy had tried to stop him. Devon would be put back into the Box but Tommy would be free. A hushed whisper broke into Devon’s thoughts. “Everyone went away, ” Roberto was saying. “

Devon studied the deserted courtyard. “Maybe. I’ll go out first. Wait for my signal. ” ‘ The two boys nodded somberly and Devon eased out of the brush. He stood there a moment, then slowly crossed the grass toward the disfigured wall of the administration building. A white glint caught his eye. Devon’s heart sank as he scooped up the inhaler. Without the medicine Tommy might get real sick, so Devon knew he had to hurry. After making sure that the coast was clear, he lifted two fingers into the air. The bushes behind him rustled and Devon led his scared roommates back toward the dormitory Forty-five minutes after Tommy had been dragged away, Roberto and Larkin were safely in their room and Devon was careering across the campus, mentally rehearsing his speech and clutching the precious inhaler. He sprinted around the south wing of the administration building and jerked to a stop. For a moment, he stared stupidly at the ambulance that was parked at the entrance with red lights flashing. Then a pair of white-coated medics wheeled out a gurney. A brown ponytail peeked from beneath the concealing shroud.

Prologue.

Twelve-year-old Devon Monroe peeked behind the Blackthorn Hall administration building, looking right, left and right again. He didn’t see anyone but took another nervous glanse before he swallowed hard and gave the signal. His three dorm mates scurried around the corner and took their positions. The smallest boy, ten-year-old Roberto Arroya, hunched at the corner of the redbrick building. He was the sentry. The other two whipped out spray cans pilfered from a guy who’d been painting handicapped spaces in the parking lot. The fellow would probably be pretty ticked off when he got back from lunch but Devon didn’t much care. He and his buddies had important stuff to do. As the other guys waited for final instructions, Devon’s gaze swept the area one last time before he gave the final nod. Plastic lids were popped off and the steady hiss of sprit zing paint filled the air. Devon glanced at his watch, then looked across the weedy lawn to the bushy embankment leading up to the 405 Freeway He could barely bite back a grin. Blackthorn Hall was supposed to be a juvenile detention facility but it wasn’t anything but a lousy POW camp for kids. Pretty soon, everybody driving by was going to read all about it.

“Hey, Dev. How’s that? “

“Hmm? ” Devon turned his attention back to the powder blue message scrawled on bloodred brick. HELP ! OGDEN MARLOW IS A NAZZI. He issued a disgusted snort. “Aw hell, Tommy. That’s not how you spell Nazi. “

“It ain’t? ” The ponytailed eleven-year-old looked over his shoulder.

“What’s wrong with it? ” A husky blond boy dropped his paint can. “You dork. ” ‘ Larkin McKay carefully wiped a blue smudge from between his fingers. ” There’s only s’pose to be one z. ” As Tommy stepped back to consider the problem, Devon noticed that he looked kind of peaked. Of course, Tommy never looked real good on account of his asthma, whatever that was. All Devon knew about asthma was that it made Tommy breathe funny and he had to suck on some kind of weird plastic tube.

Tommy called it an inhaler.

Devon thought the whole thing was pretty disgusting but it wasn’t Tommy’s fault. He hated being sick all the time. If it hadn’t been for this asthma business, Tommy wouldn’t even be at Blackthorn Hall. He and his home boys had been running from the cops when Tommy had had an attack and been caught.

So here he was.

Now he slanted a mischievous glance at his buddies and gave the paint can a vigorous shake. “No sweat, man. I got it covered. ” Tommy took a wheezing breath and sprayed a sloppy line through the extra letter. “There. That oughta make ol’ Hogman think twice bout taking away privileges” Devon frowned. Just thinking about how mad the chancellor was going to be was enough to give him the willies. “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, Lark. ” ‘ Larkin bristled. “You’re just mad cause it was my idea and not yours. ” ‘ Devon set his jaw and stepped forward, clenching his bony fists. “Yeah? Well, it was a dumb idea, butt-head. If we get caught, we’ll spend so much time in the Box that our heads’ll be flat. ” ‘ At the suggestion that they could be relegated to the windowless isolation chamber, Larkin’s blue eyes faded to musty gray. His chin quivered. “We won’t get caught” Devon knew that Larkin was scared but would rather chew worms than admit it. Lark never let anyone know what he was thinking. Devon figured that was because the guy thought it was his fault that his folks got divorced. Devon didn’t really know what the big deal was. Divorce stunk but most grown-ups got one sooner or later. At least Larkin had a mother, which was more than Devon could say.

The problem really got bad when Larkin’s mom went and got married again.

Larkin hated his stepfather and he hated his stepfather’s kids, too. Said they were a bunch of bone headed twits. His mother kept telling him to be nice to them but nobody ever told them to be nice to Larkin. So he kept running away. When his folks got sick of looking for him, they said he was incorrigible-a big word that meant they didn’t want him anymore-then dropped him off at the Hall. Devon thought that was a pretty crappy thing to do. So did Larkin, who now shot a leery glance at the small brown youngster hunched at the corner of the building. “It’s still clear, right, Bobby? ” Roberto turned fiery dark eyes on his comrades. At ten, he was the youngest of the group. and the angriest. He was also the brightest. One of the teachers had called him a genius. Bobby took a lot of razzing for that, but Devon figured it must be true because the kid was two grades above everyone else his age. The only reason Bobby was at the Hall was because his mother beat him up whenever she drank too much, and she drank too much all the time. So Bobby had been put in protective custody, which was just another way of saying that nobody wanted him either. Of all his Blackthorn Brothers, Devon felt closest to Bobby. He smiled as the kid stuck up a defiant thumb, signaling that the administrative campus was still deserted.

Relieved, Larkin managed a strained smile. “See? Cripes, Dev, chill out.

You weren’t worried bout getting caught when you soaped the vicechancellor’s Beemer. ” ‘ Devon couldn’t dispute that, although he’d pulled off last week’s prank alone and put only his own skinny bottom on the line. This was different because his friends could get in trouble, too. Tommy, Larkin and Roberto were the closest thing to family Devon had ever had. He’d never known his mom, and his dad didn’t give a tinker’s damn about anything except making money. Since Crandall Monroe spent most of his time in Europe, he’d turned Devon over to Aunt Fmmaline, an obnoxious, selfissh old crow who had more ex husbands than she could count on her finger. Fmmaline hated Devon almost as much as he hated her. The only reason she’d agreed to take care of him was so she could live in a fancy house and pretend she was someone important. She never missed an opportunity to remind Devon that he was a burden to her and a disappointment to his father. So he’d found a group of kids who liked him just the way he was. The problem was that they stole cars for fun and they were good at it. Devon wasn’t so good. He got caught on his first try. Once at the Hall, however, Devon had made real friends for the first time in his life and at the moment, he was having second thoughts about the risk those friends had taken with this spray-painted-protest thing. Devon wanted people to know about how mean the administrators were, but it would have been better if he’d done it alone so the younger boys wouldn’t be involved.

Unfortunately, he’d been outvoted.

A ragged gasp caught Devon’s attention. He looked up just as Tommy dropped the spray can and frantically started digging into the stenciled breast pocket of his uniform. The boy took another wheezing breath and adjusted the mouthpiece of his asthma inhaler. A pink flush crept across his hollow cheeks.

Devon’s heart sank. “You having another attack? “

“Nah, ” Tommy croaked, then emitted a sound like air being sucked through a flat straw. His hands trembled slightly as he squirted the medicated mist into his throat and struggled to inhale. In less than a heartbeat the air slid smoothly into his lungs. Roberto suddenly leapt up, plastered himself against the cold brick and issued a strained whisper. “They’re coming. ” ‘ With a graphic oath, Tommy dropped the inhaler back into his shirt pocket. Larkin’s frantic gaze darted from the wooded embankment beside the freeway to the naked expanse of lawn that stretched between their present location and the sanctuary of their dormitory room. Devon instantly took charge. “This way, ” he whispered, then ran toward a concealing cluster of bushes at the base of the embankment. He motioned for the boys to follow. Roberto sprinted by and dived into the thicket with Larkin right on his tail. Devon crashed through the brush, spun around and hunched down. Peering through the foliage, he was horrified as Tommy tripped. The boy fell face first into the grass just as Ogden Marlow and one of the vice chancellors rounded the building. Shouting and swearing, the two men rushed over and hauled the poor kid to his feet. Devon saw terror in Tommy’s eyes. From that point on, everything seemed to happen in slow motion. Devon watched helplessly as the two men shook Tommy like he was a rag doll. Then they screamed in his face, yelling questions about who else had been involved. Tommy clamped his lips together and didn’t say a word. Devon was sick with fear. He knew Tommy wouldn’t rat on his buddies even though he was going to be punished bigtime Devon wanted to go out and rescue his friend but if he did, Marlow would see Bobby and Iarkin. Confused and panicked, Devon just sat there like a stupid lump while the men grabbed Tommy’s skinny arms and hauled him through the gathering crowd. As Tommy and his captors disappeared around the building, Larkin snagged Devon’s wrist. “What are we gonna do now? ” Devon silenced him with a look and pointed to a sullen group of young inmates mulling around the courtyard. Larkin slunk farther back into the concealing brush. For the next fifteen minutes, the three boys sulked silently , each absorbed with their own thoughts, their own terrors. Devon knew he had to be strong because his friends were counting on him. Tears pricked his eyes. He felt like a coward, cringing in the bushes like a scared rabbit while one of his Brothers was being interrogated. Maybe even tortured Every Rambo movie he’d ever seen ran through his mind and his imagination soared with graphic horrors. He wondered if Tommy was being beaten. Or maybe they were dripping water on his forehead, trying to drive him nuts. Worse, maybe they’d stripped off all his clothes and locked him in the Box. Devon shuddered at the thought. The Box was a cinder block vault so small you couldn’t lay down and so cold that you couldn’t feel your feet after the first hour. It was dark damp and filled with the stench of fear. Then the air got thinner and thinner, until you felt like you were being smothered by a clammy hand. That’s when your lungs started to ache and your muscles cramped into big old knots. If you were real lucky, you passed out.

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