They planned to call a cab and visit some girls in Forest Hill. As they waited, the two teens bantered about rap songs they were writing.
"Can I get on that?" one asked about a song the other had written.
"You can get on two or three of them," his friend assured.
The idle chatter was intended to change the subject from the dark task they had were about to carry out - to rob the cabdriver. Though one of the teens had a nickel-plated .38 caliber revolver tucked in his waistband, the two talked casually about music and CDs while they waited.
It was about 12:30 a.m. on a Wednesday, and there was little activity around F Court in the Harford Squares neighborhood in Edgewood. Standing under a malfunctioning streetlight, one of the teens used a cell phone to call for a cab. They leaned on a wood fence and waited.
The cab company dispatcher took down the information but not the names. In a logbook, she wrote "BA" for Bel Air in the block reserved for the destination, and "$17" in another, the estimated cost.
Then she found a driver to pick up the passengers - Derald Howard Guess, 37, who had been hired by United Sedan several months earlier to work part time. Wanting to increase his hours, he had begun working the night shift - 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. - five days a week.
Guess had spent eight years in the Army, with most of his service at Aberdeen Proving Ground ministering to troubled youths. These days, he was wearing several hats - from substitute teacher at Magnolia Elementary, to aspiring minister, to the father of nine children ranging from 3 to 20 years old.
The night of Dec. 7, Guess had made five trips in his green Plymouth Voyager taxi-van, traveling about 37 miles. But his last trip would take him just a few blocks from his home.
Darrell Levon Miller said his gang, the Bloods, rules by intimidation.
"They don't want nobody soft," the 21-year-old testified in court last Tuesday. "You only as strong as the weakest link - it's like a pack of wolves. They want you to be gangsta at all times. It's survival of the fittest."
To join, he said, members must withstand 31 seconds of beatings from three to 15 members. Fall down, get back up, start the clock again. There were oaths and pledges to memorize - "I pledge allegiance, to the Bloods," one begins - before a recruit could become a "soldier."
If a recruit could withstand "31," memorize the gang oaths and prove himself to gang leaders, they could start wearing red beads and bandanas - signs of a full-fledged member.
In recent years, urban gangs have been organizing in suburbs and rural areas, according to Ric Curtis, an anthropology professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, where the gang presence has dropped as gangs network to outlying regions. There, gang leaders are bigger fish in a smaller pond. They see higher profit margins for drug dealing and believe local authorities are ill-equipped to keep watch, he said.
Local authorities say the Bloods have sent "generals" to Harford County from New York and New Jersey to take control and organize the local drug game along U.S. Route 40.
After running into trouble, Miller made the trip down Interstate 95 from New Jersey in 2002 to live with his father in Aberdeen. He brought his gang affiliation with the "Sex, Money, Murder" sect of the Bloods. Released from prison in 2004 after serving a six-month sentence for burglary, he joined the local Bloods' "9 Tre Gangsta" sect in 2004.
Under the gang hierarchy, subordinates are required to follow orders. Those who do not can be beat up, cut, and, "if the mission was serious enough, you can get killed," Miller said.
The lifestyle was appealing to 17-year-old Wayne Lavon Bond, Miller said. They had met while playing basketball and became friends, playing video games, going to the mall and hanging out with girls. But despite his association with many members, Bond was not a Blood.
On the stand, Miller testified that on the night of Dec. 7, he was with Bond and a Blood "sergeant" who ordered the teens to call a cab and rob the driver. The Bloods' top leader - dubbed the "O.G." for "Original Gangsta" - had instructed all members to turn in $100 by the end of the week.
Miller said he protested. The escape route was long and dark, and he believed police officers lived in the area. The sergeant insisted, telling him, "If you don't do it, you going to get [messed up] by everybody that's Bloods."
Bond made the call on his cell phone, Miller said, the only phone between the three of them and one that Miller often used to get in touch with his girlfriend. They looked around for the road sign on the street to see where they were - F Court. The sergeant talked so loudly in giving his instructions to Bond on what to say, that Bond hung up and called again.
When the cab arrived, Bond got in behind the driver, Miller said. Within moments, he had pulled out the gun.
"Run it, run it," Bond said, according to Miller, an instruction to hand over money.