tagRomanceHero Ch. 01

Hero Ch. 01

byLSanders©

Dan loved 3-on-3 the best. It made his legs ache and his lungs burn, but it made him feel alive.

"Ball! Ball! Ball! Ball! Ball! Ball! Ball!" he screamed ... an old habit ingrained from his nail-tough high school basketball coach to let his teammates know where the ball was located.

Karey, the player Dan was guarding, was forced to take an ill-advised, off-balance shot because the shot clock was about to expire. Jimbo, one of Dan's teammates, grabbed the rebound and was fouled immediately. Dan's team was ahead by one point with less than two seconds to go. His team was in the double bonus. If Jimbo hit both, the worst that could happen was overtime. Jimbo was usually money when it came to pressure, and true to form, he hit both. Dan's team was all over the inbounds pass, and time quickly ran out ... Blue Devils Redux, Dan's team, won the tournament.

After the game, the three teammates went to Spud's for a couple of rounds of Guinness. It was a good night.

Dan still lived in the old neighborhood so he could be close to his grandmother, whose health was failing. The neighborhood wasn't what it used to be. Vacant houses littered the once proud streets. Stray dogs and cats roamed their territory like jungle predators. Dan could have afforded a better house and a better car, but he kept both low-key so he could avoid attracting attention from the local gangs.

He parked in the alley behind his house, across from the weed-strewn vacant lot that used to house the best playground in the area. He noticed some activity in the far corner of the lot but thought nothing of it. Drugs and late night shenanigans were commonplace. As he walked toward his back door, however, something unfamiliar trapped his attention. He heard what appeared to be a muffled cry coming from the area of commotion. He cautiously squeezed through the torn fence and skirted the shadows along the north side of the lot to investigate.

As he got closer, he saw two young bangers from a Latino gang cheering something happening on the ground. He took advantage of their rapt attention to inch closer unnoticed. When he was about 50 feet from them, he saw a big, muscular kid rising from the ground, pulling up his pants. When the kid was off the ground, he saw a terrified young woman crying with her legs spread and her face bruised and matted with blood. A second gang member was getting ready to drop his pants and have his way with the woman. They all appeared to be armed. The smart play would be to quietly back out of the lot and call the police, but Dan was afraid the woman may not survive the time delay.

He racked his brain for an idea. In addition to basketball, Dan had been a gifted high school baseball pitcher, earning a shot with the Braves organization and playing a couple of years in AA and AAA before blowing out his elbow. He looked for a few appropriate sized rocks and crept behind a junked car. He knew the first rock had to do damage. The momentary shock would buy the woman some time and give him a brief opportunity to move to another location to launch a second attack before the goons swarmed on him. The first throw was a perfect fastball that hit the big kid right in the temple, dropping him immediately to the ground. As the gang tried to figure out what was happening, a second rock came sizzling from behind a hedge and smacked the potential second rapist right above the bridge of the nose. He fell back into his partner with such force that the gun was dislodged from third gang member's hand and went skidding into the high weeds.

Dan stormed into the area holding three more rocks, one of them armed and ready to fire. As he approached, the kid who'd been hit in the temple was starting to rise from the ground. Dan spun as he got within range and delivered a vicious roundhouse kick to his chin. The kid hit the ground with a dull thud. The second thug was still unconscious, so Dan could focus all his attention on the third goon, who was scrambling for the gun.

"Please ... I'm begging you ... go for it," Dan said in a low menacing voice. The thug looked up at him with a mixture of hate, defiance, and fear trying to figure out what to do. Dan was tossing a rock up and down in his hand, challenging the kid to make a move. He did but not toward the gun. The punk screamed and ran as hard as possible directly at Dan. As the kid got to Dan, he grabbed the thug's jacket, dropped to the ground, jammed his foot in the kid's gut, and used the kid's momentum to throw him hard into baked dirt and gravel. Dan was up in millisecond ready to for the next move. The kid rose groggily shaking his head. Dan didn't wait. He stepped into the asshole and booted him so hard with a side kick to the nose that the kid went completely limp. Dan figured he probably killed the creep, but he couldn't have cared less.

With all three assailants completely unconscious, he turned to the terrified young woman, crouched in womb position, shaking violently and sobbing.

He knelt down to her and, in as gentle a voice as he could muster, said, "Shhh ... It's okay. They can't hurt you anymore." He took off his jacket. "I'm going to pick you up now. Are you okay with that?"

The frightened woman turned her head and looked at him through the strands of black hair spreading across her face. She studied his face for a moment before nodding that it was okay.

Dan gently draped his jacket over the woman to give her back a token of modesty and gingerly cradled her in the strong arms of his sturdy 6'1" frame. He held her close to allow some of his body heat to penetrate her fierce shaking.

When he got to his car, he started to lay her on the back seat, but she clutched him and shook her head no. He lightly brushed her damp hair away from her eyes and smiled warmly. "I understand." He walked around to the passenger side and set her softly on the seat. He pulled the jacket up around her. When he jumped into the driver's seat, she grabbed his arm and laid her head on his shoulder. He turned on the car heat and drove at a brisk pace to the hospital with his right arm holding her tightly to him.

Once inside the emergency room, he carried her to the front desk and explained to the nurse in a low voice that she had been attacked and raped. The nurse told him to bring her straight to the back and pointed to the clinic door.

Dan followed the nurse to an examination room and laid the woman on the exam table. When he started to leave, the young woman clutched his shirt with all her strength and shook her head no. Dan looked at the nurse for guidance. "Is it okay if I stick around for a few minutes?"

The nurse looked at the woman's terrified face and replied, "Sure ... for now. I need to get the response team together, and that'll take a little time." Then she bent to look into the woman's eyes. "You're safe now, honey. We're going to take care of you." She brushed the woman's black hair with her hand and smiled. The victim's eyes showed no sign of relief. She merely clung to Dan's shirt even stronger.

"Excuse me," Dan said to the nurse. "She doesn't have anything on except my coat. Do you have some scrubs or something?"

"Of course," the nurse answered and pulled together a top, pants, and a robe that seemed to be the woman's size. The nurse left, and Dan turned to leave the room.

"Please! Don't go!" she said with a soft, fearful voice.

"I'm not leaving. I just wanted to give you some privacy," he explained.

"Can you stay in the room with me?"

He smiled at her and answered, "Absolutely." Dan pulled a screen around her to let her put on the clothes. He waited patiently, fumbling with loose change in his warm-up pocket. When she pulled back the screen, Dan saw that she still had on his coat over the hospital clothing, he smiled broadly. She even managed a pinched smile herself.

"Thank you, Mr. ..."

"Dan," he interjected. "Frye's my last name, but Dan will be fine."

"Thank you, Dan," she said as she clutched him and buried her face in his chest. He felt her gently cry in relief.

Dan had to clear his voice a couple of times before finally being able to whisper, "You're welcome."

When the doctor, nurses, and police specialist entered, he was holding her in his arms with her sitting on his lap in a chair. His cheek was resting on the top of her head, and he was slowly rocking her back and forth. He discovered her name was Lisa Chang. She was startled when the team entered and didn't want to leave the safe haven Dan arms provided.

"Tell you what, you hang onto this," Dan said, indicating the jacket, "And, I'll check on you later, okay? I need to talk to the police anyway." Lisa's chin quivered, but she fought to be brave. She nodded yes to Dan. Her eyes followed him until he disappeared beyond the door.

Dan went back to the front desk where he was told to ask for Detective Castillo. The receptionist pointed with her eyes to the large man in the tan shirt filling a Styrofoam cup with coffee. "Excuse me, detective? I'm Dan Frye."

The officer turned and looked at Dan. "Want a cup? It's not good, but it'll grow hair on just about anything that moves."

"No," Dan said smiling. "Thanks, anyway."

"Sheila, you got a room where we can talk?" Castillo asked the receptionist.

"Family consult #4," she said, holding her hand over the receiver before rejoining her call.

"Sit down, son," Castillo said to Dan. Dan could tell Castillo was sizing him up. "So, you had a busy night. You stopped a gang rape with three bangers and managed to walk away with the girl and your balls intact. There aren't a hell of a lot cops who could have done that. Care to tell me about it?"

Dan went through the basics, downplaying any heroics on his part. Castillo took a few notes as Dan talked but mostly just watched and listened.

Once Dan had finished, Castillo said, "You know that was about the dumbest fucking thing you could have done, right?" Dan gave him an uncomfortable half smile and shrugged his acknowledgement. "What if you'd gotten hurt or killed? What do you think would have happened to her?" Dan was growing increasingly uncomfortable under Castillo's glare. "You would have gotten them riled up. They would have turned a 'party,' as they call it into a full on cluster fuck, and I doubt that pretty young woman would have lived."

Dan was shuffling in his seat now. "I'm sorry, officer. Believe me, being a hero was the last thing on my mind. But, one rape was just ending, and by the time I snuck out, called 911 and waited for the police to arrive, I didn't know what they would have done to her. I just ... reacted."

"I'm gonna tell you, son ... on the record, you're not trained to handle those situations. In the future, you need to let the police handle situations like that. One victim is a crime. Two victims don't make it better. Understand?"

"Yes, sir," Dan said.

Then, Castillo relaxed, sat back and folded his arms. "Now, off the record ... I'm damn proud of you, son. That took a hell of a lot of guts. There is no doubt that you saved that woman from a great deal of trauma and probably saved her life. The Norteños don't like to leave witnesses. My guess is they would have used her until they were tired of her and sliced her throat. They're big on knives."

"Were you able to arrest them?" Dan asked.

Castillo snorted and answered, "It wasn't too hard. Two of them were still unconscious, lying right where you left them. The third ... well, he won't be causing anyone any more problems."

Dan swallowed and asked, "Will that be a problem for me?"

"Who? The dead guy? You really think any DA wants to prosecute a lone hero who saved the life of an innocent civilian against three gang bangers? Shit! Show me the asshole who wants that case, and I'll show you the next bag boy at Ralph's! No, son, you don't need to worry about the law coming after you."

"Just the gang, right?"

Castillo sighed heavily and looked at Dan. "I'd suggest you disappear for 48 hours. The boys and me'll have a talk with them. I'll tell you how it goes, and I won't pull any punches. Do you have a place to hide out?"

"Yeah, I can go to a friend's house."

"Good. Here's my card if you need me. I'll call your cell after I have my little talk. Oh, there's a reporter rooting around. I assume you don't want publicity?"

"Hell, no!"

"I'll handle that too."

"Thanks, detective." Castillo put his hand on Dan's shoulder and smiled at him before leaving the room.

When Dan walked outside, he was accosted by a slender Asian man. "Excuse me, are you Dan Frye?"

"Yes."

The man grabbed Dan in a bear hug that caught him completely off-guard. "That was my sister whose life you saved tonight. Thank you so much! I don't know how I can ever repay you. She's all the family I have."

Dan awkwardly returned the hug, uncomfortable at both the emotion from this stranger and the attention being drawn to him.

"I'm Jason, by the way. You're ..." Jason didn't know what to say, and so he hugged Dan again.

"Really, it's okay. I'm just glad I could help."

"I told her she shouldn't go into that area by herself -- especially at night! But, no, she always has to do things her way. They've taken her to a room upstairs overnight. She wanted me to try and find you. She said something about a jacket?"

Dan chuckled. "Yeah ... I loaned her my jacket."

"Well, she wants to see you, if you don't mind."

"What about the hospital? I'm not supposed to be up there after visiting hours."

"Let me handle that."

"Thanks, Jason, but she really needs to rest. This has not been her best day. I'm just gonna get a room across the street for the night and crash."

"A hotel ... Why?"

"The cops suggested laying low for 48 hours, and I'm beat from a long night."

"Screw that! You're coming home with me."

"No, thanks for the offer, but ..."

"If Lisa found out I dropped you off at a hotel after what you did tonight, I'd need police protection."

"I don't want to impose."

Jason smirked. "I think we've got enough room. Just wait here. I'll run up and tell her goodnight and let her know you're staying at our place tonight. She'll feel a whole lot better."

When Jason returned, he told Dan to leave his car in the lot, and that they'd pick it up the next day. They walked to a silver Mercedes McLaren Roadster, and Jason hit the button on his keys to turn off the alarm. Jason saw his hesitation and said, "Get in." They drove into the hills to a large contemporary house nestled over a canyon, with an amazing view of the city.

"Guess you don't punch a time clock, huh?" Dan asked. Jason just smiled. He gave Dan a brief tour and led him to the guest suite.

"Make yourself at home. You can ask me where anything is, but just don't ask permission because whatever we have is yours. I'll be leaving about 9:00 to meet Raul, my trainer, but Lisa won't get discharged until 2:00 pm. So, sleep in, have breakfast on the patio, relax. When I get back and shower, we'll head back to the hospital. There's soap, shampoo, tooth supplies, razors ... the works."

"Cool."

Jason turned to go but turned back. "You are ... a 34 waist?" Dan nodded. "I've got some jeans a friend left here. Just leave your clothes outside the door, and I'll wash them. You can have the jeans ... better than sweats."

Dan smiled. "Thanks."

The next morning, Dan fixed breakfast and went out to the patio, which turned out to be a Japanese garden, spa, pool and amazingly landscaped paradise. "I wonder what this guy does for a living?"

Later, Hurricane Jason swept him up and took him back to Memorial. When they entered Lisa's room, she was sitting in a chair reading. She had on a fresh pair of scrubs ... and Dan's jacket. When she saw him enter the door, she practically knocked him down and gave him one of the best hugs he'd ever had.

"I'm so glad to see you," she said.

He looked down at her with a broad smile and replied, "Me too." She'd showered and pulled her long black hair into a ponytail. He was surprised to discover how pretty she was. In the trauma of the previous evening, he hadn't noticed.

Lisa then gave Jason a hug. "How'd you sleep?" he asked.

"They gave me a pill that zonked me out, so I slept fine."

"Are you free to go?" Jason asked.

"Yep ... the doctor came in about an hour ago." She turned to Dan and asked, "Can you have dinner with us, please?"

Dan looked at Jason, and Jason said to her, "Maybe he has some place to be."

Lisa's face fell. "Oh, I'm sorry. I shouldn't presume. I just wasn't ready to let you go."

When Dan saw the disappointment in her eyes, his heart melted. "Sure ... I'd love to have dinner with you."

"Really?" she asked with a huge smile. "Are you sure I didn't just guilt you into this?"

"No ... I'd like to ... really. I was going to meet a couple of buddies at a bar, but I'd ..." he was a little embarrassed, "Uhm ... like dinner ... with you guys."

Lisa hugged him again. Jason stood to the side and watched the two of them.

Later, Jason was the chef, fixing grilled salmon and sautéed vegetables. Dan learned that Jason and Lisa had moved to the US when they were in middle school with their mother, who wanted a better life for them. It meant leaving her husband and working two jobs at menial labor just to survive, but Jason earned a scholarship to Cal Tech in software engineering. Lisa went to Berkley on scholarship in math.

"That's an amazing story. You hear or read about families like yours, but I've never met someone who lived it. Where's your mom now?" Dan asked.

Lisa dropped her eyes. "She died two years ago. But, she lived long enough to see Jason start his own software company and sell it for more money than any of us ever dreamed in our wildest imagination."

"I'm sorry about your mom, Lisa. I wish I could have met her."

She sighed and looked up at him. "Yeah." She reached for his hand and added, "After what you did for me, I would have had a second brother because she would have adopted you." Dan laughed at her comment, but he was somewhat distracted by the tingle he felt when their hands touched. Lisa also held his hand longer than necessary and looked into his eyes until they were interrupted by Jason.

"Who needs their drink refreshed?"

"Uh, sure, I'll take one. Excuse me... I think I'll hit the head."

Dan looked at himself in the bathroom mirror and splashed water on his face.

Back on the patio, Dan had a fresh cold beer waiting on him. As he took his first sip, Lisa had a giant yawn.

"Oh, sorry. I'm definitely not bored," she said.

"You're just exhausted. I should go and let you get to bed."

"Dan, it's almost midnight. It's stupid to leave now. You know where the guest room is," said Jason.

"You guys are really too good to me." Lisa and Jason looked at each other and rolled their eyes.

That night, Lisa tossed and turned. She dreamed she was flying a small plane. The sky grew very dark and was speckled with thunderous bolts of lightning. She tried to fight the storm, but it was too strong. Dark faceless creatures appeared, ripping her from the controls. Without warning, she was thrown from the plane ... falling into the blackness ... falling and falling and falling, until ...

"Uhhhh," she gasped as she sprung up in bed. Her heart was pounding, and she was drenched with sweat. She reached over to get the glass of water she kept on the nightstand, but her hand was shaking too much to pick it up. When she caught her breath, she crept as quietly as possible out of her bed and entered Dan's room. He was slightly snoring, so she figured it was safe. She tiptoed to the chair beside his bed, covered herself with his jacket and eventually went to sleep. At one point, Jason went to her room to check on her and was alarmed when he found her bed empty. He searched throughout the house but couldn't find her. He was starting to get really scared. On a hunch, he opened Dan's door and saw her cuddled in the chair beside his bed sound asleep. He smiled a sad smile and quietly closed the door.

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