The ride was long and bumpy. At times, it seemed like it would never end, scrunched and contorted into weird positions in the bed of a pick up truck as we bounced along the interstate. At one point, we tried to get a little more comfortable, raising our heads up a bit and almost getting into a sitting position, only to have Baby open the window and remind us to stay down. We didn't talk much, it was too uncomfortable. I'm sure you can imagine.. 5 teenagers wearing winter coats and as many back packs smooshed into the back of a pick up that was not entirely empty.
Steve pulled off the interstate in Arbuckle. Arbuckle is a semi-rural town off I-5 in Northern California. There was a gas station just off the freeway and he pulled in there to let us out. Danny was closest to the tail gate, he didn't hesitate to unlatch it and start rolling out as soon as the truck stopped moving. Seriously, we're lucky no one got car sick. The 5 of us peeled ourselves out of the truck bed and walked around the driver's side to thank Steve for his oh-so-selfless act as Patty and Baby were stepping out of the other side of the cab. Patty looked a little uncomfortable and Baby looked somewhat embarrassed. We started walking toward the store while Baby spoke quietly with Steve and then waved goodbye. He drove off, and there we were.. alone, and over 150 miles from home.
"We need money," said Alika.
"Agreed," said Missy. "Any ideas?"
"What do we have that's worth anything?" asked Devon.
"I have a ring," said Patty. "My dad gave it to me, it's gold with a ruby and some small diamonds."
"I've got a cd player," added Danny.
"Let's start with the cd player," suggested Baby. "You two go in the store," she said, pointing to Devon and Danny, "I just saw a kid walk in there, you can talk to him and see if he's interested."
So Danny and Devon walked toward the store and the rest of us headed for a grassy area between the store and some old train tracks.
"I say we follow the train tracks," said Alika.
"Sounds like a plan," agreed Baby. "They look pretty old and unused, we can probably find an old depot or something to squat in for the night."
As we were standing there, looking around and checking out the new town, we heard a pick up truck coming down a gravel road on the other side of the tracks. They stopped right across from us and two guys who looked to be in their early 20's got out.
"Hey," one of them said, smiling at me.
"What're you all up to out here? You're not from around here are you?" said the other.
Baby started walking over to them. What is she doing? Is she seriously going to talk to these guys? Big, beat up old Ford pick up, two beefy guys stepping out in their ripped jeans and plaid shirts and jean vests.. wait. Is that a shotgun I see in the front seat??
"No, we're not from around here," said Baby, smiling flirtatiously. The first one kept his eyes on me, making me want to run for cover.
"Well, where you headed?" he asked, still looking at me.
"That's a good question, see.. we don't really know where we're headed."
"You don't have a place to go?"
"Nope.. you know of somewhere we can go? We were figuring we'd follow these tracks and just see where they lead."
"I see..." he said, looking now from me, to Patty, to Missy, to Alika, and then Baby..
Danny and Devon were about half way from the store to where we were when I noticed them. I was relieved that they were back.
"Holy shit, there's more of you?" he looked like he might fall off his perch on the side of the truck bed.
The second guy was rummaging around in the bed of the truck but now looked up and held up a pair of brass knuckles.
"Hey," he spoke up, "you guys got any interest in these? You can have em, if you want.. you know, in case you come across any thugs or something." They both chuckled.
"Uh.. no thanks," answered Missy.
Danny's face perked up, "I'll take them!" Missy shot him a 'What the hell are you doing?' look as he took them. The first guy was looking off into the distance behind us now..
"Well, we gotta get going," he said. "Best of luck to y'all." And with that, they hopped in their truck and took off, leaving behind only a cloud of dust and a pair of brass knuckles.
That was one of the most bizarre exchanges I'd ever taken part in.
"Any luck?" Baby asked Danny and Devon.
"No," answered Devon. "Who were those guys?"
"No idea," I said. "Just drove up and started talking to us."
"The one was totally undressing Megan with his eyes," snickered Baby.
"Shut up," I said, I could feel my face turning red. I was just glad they were gone.
"Shit.. Cops." said Danny, hastily stuffing the brass knuckles into Devon's jacket pocket. Devon didn't even notice. We tried to look casual as the squad car pulled up alongside us where the truck had just been.
"Hey, where you kids from?" asked the officer.
"We're from out of town," answered Baby. "We're here visiting my cousin."
"Yeah?" he looked at us doubtfully, "you need any help finding where they live?"
"Um.. no.. I think we got it, thanks."
"What's their address? Maybe I can help you find the street.."
"Well, I'm not sure, actually.. I was just about to go use that pay phone to call my mom and get it again. See, I had it written down but lost the paper..."
"I see.." said the officer. I could see he knew we were lying. I knew then, that we'd been caught. "Well, rumor has it that y'all are runaways. See we got a call from the owner of that store over there saying she heard there was a group of seven kids out here who were rumored to be runaways. What do you say we go down to the station and have a chat?" As he said that, another squad car pulled up.
We stood there and looked at each other for a moment.. I think all of us were seriously considering bolting right then and there. Seriously. How can two cops catch seven running teenagers? All we'd have to do is scatter a bit. We were all wishing we could read each other's thoughts at that moment.. You see, you can't really silently negotiate a plan 'Hey you run this way, I'll run that way.. ready, set, GO!' It wasn't going to work.
The other officer stepped out of his car and said, "I'll take the boys in my car, you take the girls." And so, Devon, Danny, and Alika quietly climbed into the back seat of the second squad car. Baby, Patty, and Missy climbed into the back seat of the first car.
"You can ride up front, miss." he said to me, opening the door for me. Oh goody. I climbed into the passenger seat of the car and he shut the door behind me. As he walked around to the driver's side door, I looked around. I peeked through the black metal mesh that separated me from the other girls - they looked at me without saying a word. Then I looked at the center console, the radio, and the big shot gun that separated me and the cop.