“Mrs. Walker, Chris Munson is here to see you.”
“Send him…” she began before looking up from her paperwork and realizing that the person who had just announced Chris Munson, was Chris Munson. Laughing, she invited him in. “Hi, Chris. Change your mind about trading jobs with me?”
“Tempting, but no. I have an idea to present to you.”
Laying her pen down, she gave him her full attention. “Go ahead,” she told him.
“I raised more money in my campaign for student body president than I had need of. So now, I’ve got two choices: give the rest back, or do something for the school. I’d like to do something for the school.”
“What about the thank you party you were talking about yesterday?”
“Money for that has already been set aside. The school has a break room for the teachers. I heard that it leaves a little bit to be desired, so I took a good look at it yesterday before going home. Actually, it leaves almost everything to be desired. Anyway, the student body officers all agree with me. We’d like to redecorate it.”
“That’s very generous of you, Chris. I’ll need to know exactly what you plan on doing, of course.”
“Naturally,” replied Chris. “But we’d really appreciate it if you didn’t tell any of the teachers. We want it to be a surprise.”
“Okay. That’s a reasonable request. Now, tell me what you’ve got in mind.”
Fifteen minutes later, Chris left Mrs. Walker’s office with full approval. He had already pretty much organized in his mind all the steps necessary to redecorate in the shortest amount of time. He would call a meeting of the student body officers as soon as possible. One month, he had told her, and the teachers would have something they would enjoy using. The redecorating involved cosmetic changes like painting, student-drawn patterns on the walls and perhaps new tiling on the floor-all done with donated labor. A new coffee pot, perhaps, paid for with the excess campaign funds.
That’s what he told her.
Smiling to himself, he wondered if withholding information was the same as lying. Maybe, he decided, but if so, his was a good lie. Oh, the changes he had outlined for Mrs. Walker would happen-and then some. It was the and-then-some information he had withheld. In one month, the teachers of Prospect High would have a break room that would be the envy of any other high school in the state-perhaps even the country.
The work took place over two weekends. On the Monday after the first weekend, the teachers were greeted with a freshly decorated and painted break room. A new coffee pot stood in place of the old one that had been there for as long as anyone could remember. Mrs. Walker noted that there was no new tiling on the floor-not enough money for it, she guessed, and the paint scheme was a little odd-but the students had done an admirable job nonetheless. Every teacher was suitably impressed, and made a point of thanking those in their classes who had helped.
The second weekend’s work, which Chris had told Mrs. Walker was to “finish a few things we didn’t get to last week”, received a slightly different response from the teachers.
Upon arriving for school the next Monday, Mrs. Walker didn’t take time to stop by the break room to see what the “few things” were that Chris had said would be completed. However, no sooner had she gotten settled at her desk, ready to tackle the day’s paperwork and other myriad of things that would come up, than her assistant principal charged into the room, slightly out of breath.
“Emma,” she said, speaking in rapid clips of the voice, “you’ve got to see this!”
“What’s going on?” asked Mrs. Walker, slightly concerned.
“The break room,” replied her assistant. “You’ve got to see the break room!”
Relieved that there wasn’t an emergency, Mrs. Walker smiled patiently. “I saw it last week,” she replied.
“Not this break room, you didn’t. Last week was just a preview of coming attractions.”
Intrigued, Mrs. Walker got up and followed her assistant principal to, then into, the break room. She looked around the room, then looked around some more. “Oh, my,” was all she could manage.
“See what I mean?” asked her assistant, smiling widely.
The paint scheme that she had thought a little odd, was not so odd anymore. It matched perfectly the other improvements that had taken place. All the old tables and chairs were gone, replaced with new ones-padded chairs even. On a new counter along one of the walls sat not one coffee pot, but two, plus a tea pot. A new sink occupied space on the counter also. In one corner of the room was a refrigerator, complete with ice maker-a nicety that the old break room had never offered. And as if to encourage the use of the refrigerator, two microwave ovens stood on a small counter that had been constructed beside the refrigerator.
“I…I don’t know what to say. I’m speechless.”
“Take a look at what’s hanging out the window,” said her assistant, laughing in delight.
Mrs. Walker did, and stood for a long while in silence. One of the big complaints among teachers had been the weather conditions of the break room. Not enough heat in the winter, and sweaty, work-house like conditions in the summer. No longer, however. The window fan that had served as a laughable cooling device in the summer, had been replaced by a very adequate combination air conditioning/heating unit.
Emma surveyed the room once more, then turned to her assistant. “In all the years I’ve been in education, nothing has ever surprised me like this has. This is marvelous. Absolutely everything we could want without being over-done. It’s perfect. We’ll be the envy of every high school in the state-or would, if they knew about it.”
The assistant principal’s amusement became more obvious.
“What?” asked Mrs. Walker.
“Channel 5 news called this morning. They’re going to do a short piece about the students showing appreciation for the teachers. I think their van is on the way, already. Seems that the station somehow found out about the student body election, the Munson Girls, and how the leftover money was spent. They thanked us for the ‘before’ photos of the break room, by the way. Said that it would make for a more interesting story.”
“Who sent pictures to them?”
“It had to have been one of the students who was helping with the project. I’ve talked to several, but no one would own up to it. I think someone wanted to make sure that we really were the envy of every high school in the state.”
“Good work, Sir Knight.” Samantha was trying not to fall asleep in her fourth period Advanced English class. They were studying an early 1900’s classic novel. Though she made it a habit not to impath Justin during a class, she occasionally resorted to it in extreme circumstances-such as the possibility of falling asleep while studying an early 1900s classic novel.
“All I did was call and tell them that I had a story they might be interested in doing,” Justin impathed back.
“You mean you didn’t use your super-duper persuasive impath powers to convince them?”
“Sorry, Lady Fair. They didn’t need convincing. Besides which, impathing requires having an imprint of the aura of the person you want to impath. Hard to get one of those when you can’t see the person you are talking to.”
“So an ordinary phone call did the trick.”
“Not very exciting.” A pause, then: “Do you come in a less boring model?”
Justin almost choked in an effort to keep from guffawing out loud, which would have garnered an icy stare from his history teacher, who was at the moment lecturing them about the atrocities which occurred during the Civil War.
“Lady Fair,” he told her, “sometimes you kill me. You ab-so-lutely kill me.”
Clark passed the road sign informing him that he was entering Prospect city limits, population: diddly-squat.
From experience, Clark knew that small towns were more difficult and dangerous to do a job in than bigger cities. Everyone knew everyone, almost. Choose any two people in a town of this size, and there will always be at least one person who knows them both. The upside to the small population was that the police department, while probably extremely efficient at writing speeding tickets, usually had no experience with real crimes like murder or kidnapping. Outside authorities would be called in, of course, but the delay in getting a real investigation going would work in his favor. Where there was a downside, Clark knew, there was always an upside to balance things out.
Pulling up at the Prospect Inn motel, Clark parked and went in. He paid for a two-night stay, then went to his room. Looking around, he decided that he had stayed in seedier places. The accommodations were old, but they were clean and fresh smelling. Carefully inspecting everything, he found no indication of small livestock such as roaches or mice. Mice he didn’t mind. Roaches he could not abide-gross looking things with soft bodies that caused him to shiver whenever he saw one.
Before laying down for 30 minutes to refresh his mental processes, he unfolded his map of Prospect and laid it on the table along with several sheets of notes he had made. A kidnapping took planning-more so perhaps than a killing because with a kidnapping, you were dealing with a live body. A dead body didn’t try something you weren’t expecting. Most dead bodies didn’t, that is. He was still bothered about Cerberus’ claim that the Justin kid was still alive.
Forcing his mind to concentrate on his map and notes, he studied each again, assuring himself that he had left nothing out. This evening he would drive around to each spot he had marked on the map to familiarize himself with the areas. Tomorrow he would learn the routine the Samantha girl and Justin followed. After that and a good night’s sleep, he would disappear for a few days and establish an alibi.
Then, the girl would disappear.
“Greetings to you, Brother Aaron. It would appear that I’m early for the meeting.” Senior Angel Aaron looked up from his desk as Leland walked into the room.
“And to you, Brother Leland-and actually, the meeting’s been cancelled. I was just going to impath you. My apologies for not doing it sooner.”
“That’s okay. I have some serious matters to discuss with you anyway. It’s about Samantha. The smile disappeared from Aaron’s face as he pointed to a chair at the side of his desk. “You’ve got my attention. Have a seat and tell me about it.”
“Clark is in Prospect. He’s going to kidnap her.”
“Samantha? I thought Cerberus’ interest was only with Justin.”
“That was before she managed to irritate Cerberus by not ending up dead.”
“But why Samantha?” asked Aaron, puzzled.
“Cerberus is going to use her as a lure for Justin.”
“We need to get the team together, then,” Aaron said, rising from his chair. ” I know Justin is hands off, but we can at least warn Samantha and find some way of protecting her.”
Confused, Aaron sat back down. “If Cerberus has his way, neither of them will come out of it alive. You know that.”
“I do. And if that happens, they end up here with us.”
“No offense intended, but that’s a pretty cold attitude.”
“No offense taken, Senior Angel. But this was not my decision.”
“I get it,” said Aaron, accepting defeat. “No one argues with the Council and wins-very often, anyway.”
Changing the subject, Aaron voiced a question that had been on his mind for some time. “Tell me something then. Just what is Cerberus’ interest in Justin? I don’t recall you ever enlightening us on that matter.”
“Justin and Cerberus’ paths crossed once, a few years ago,” said Leland. “I’m not sure of the exact circumstances, and Justin probably doesn’t remember many of the details, but he was driving intoxicated one time and slammed into a vehicle occupied by Cerberus. Cerberus had an attaché case full of drugs, which he promptly hid in a nearby dumpster before the police showed up. Justin had a nasty temper back then, as you know, so besides trying to blame Cerberus’ driver for the accident, he promptly and loudly informed the police about the attaché case in the dumpster. He wasn’t being a law-abiding citizen so much as just being his usual obnoxious self by trying to put the heat on someone else. Of course when the police opened up the case and discovered what was in it, Justin thought it was the funniest thing he’d ever seen. Couldn’t stop talking about it-loudly, of course-in the police station. Even when they locked him up-next to Cerberus, as it turned out-he kept at it. Laughingly called Cerberus a moron to his face for stashing a case of drugs in a dumpster. I’m not sure what upset Cerberus the most-the money he lost over the confiscated drugs, which I understand was quite a tidy sum, or the humiliation Justin was heaping on him. Anyway, Cerberus has never forgotten the incident, and now that he has an organization and the money to do something about it, he’s put it on his list.
Aaron sat in silence. “There’s no chance Cerberus will give up of course,” he said finally.
“When cows sprout wings and start laying eggs,” snorted Leland.
Clark parked half a block down the street from the McCallen place. He was not interested in following the Samantha girl to her school. He just wanted to see by what means she got there.
He didn’t have long to wait, having timed his arrival just as he had hoped to. A strange vehicle parked too long in the residential area of a small community soon arouses suspicion-something he wanted to avoid. Ten minutes after his arrival, she came out. As she stepped off the porch and onto the sidewalk, she suddenly stopped. From her posture, Clark could tell that something had alarmed her.
“Justin, where are you?”
“A block and a half away, Lady Fair. What’s wrong?” Besides her question, the impath communication carried with it Samantha’s sudden and obvious concern, the same as if he was feeling it himself.
“Clark. The man who shot you and kidnapped me. I sense his aura. I’m trying to locate him now.”
“When you do, let me know. I’ve got an idea.”
After a twenty second pause, Samantha impathed him again. “Got him,” she said. “Rust-red car half a block up. You’ll pass right by it, in fact.”
“Okay. Get your cell phone ready and start walking towards the car. I’m going to get in the car and have a little talk with him. I’ll need some close-up shots of his face.”
“Be careful, Justin.”
Clark watched as, slowly and methodically, the Samantha girl scanned the neighborhood, looking for something-or someone. Against all logic, an uneasy feeling came over him that the someone she was looking for was him. He slouched down a little in his seat, keeping his eyes on her. When her head was facing squarely in his direction, her posture stiffened, and he didn’t need to see her eyes to know that, somehow, he had been made. Impossible, though, he thought. She would have no idea what his car looked like. Then, impossible turned to possible when she began walking slowly towards him. “What the…” he said out loud. If she really knew it was him, she should have shown fear and gone back into the house. Maybe he should take her now. Early morning, no one else in sight, and she certainly was no match for his strength. His senses began screaming at him, and he knew it was a stupid idea. He had to stay with his plan, with meant that he had to start the car right now and leave. She couldn’t know for sure it was him, but would if he stayed parked long enough for her to get a good look at him.
He was reaching for the ignition key when his passenger-side door was suddenly jerked open. Startled, he looked that direction just as the Justin kid slid onto the seat, slamming the door after him.
“You…!” said Clark, turning slightly pale. Any hopes he may have had about the kid being dead evaporated instantly.
“Interesting situation we have here,” said the kid as he reached over and jerked the key from the ignition.
“How did you…?”
“Long story,” said the kid, answering. “What I need now, though, is a short story. Why Samantha and me? We don’t even know you. Why did you do it?”
Clark looked at Samantha, who had walked up to the car and was examining him with no fear or nervousness. “You’ve got a lot of moxie, boy,” he said, irritated that the kid had been able to startle him to that degree. “No one just ups and gets into a car with a man who tried to kill him.”
“Yeah, well, there’s always a first time for everything,” the kid replied. “Now, why did you do it?”
“Money,” Clark told him. “Someone has a grudge against you, and I was paid to take care of it. There was nothing personal.”
The kid thought that one over. “Samantha has something to show you,” he said.
Clark looked to his left. The screen of a cell phone was pressed against the window. His picture was on the screen.
“She took several,” said the kid. “Here’s the deal: disappear, and no one else sees these pictures. Hang around, and the pictures go not only to the local law enforcement folks but on the internet as well. I’m not asking you to retire from what you do-just to go away and forget about us.”
“Son,” Clark said, sternly, “you have no idea who you’re dealing with or who I work for. But, I’m done here. Quit. Finished. Through. You two have been nothing but trouble for me. Now, if you’ll give my key back, I’ll get out of here. Happy?”
“Satisfied,” admitted the kid, returning the key and getting out of the car.
“Well don’t be,” advised Clark before the kid closed the door. “Running me off won’t stop him from coming after you. My advice? Enjoy life in the short time you have left.” With that, Clark left rubber on the street as he accelerated down the block.
Strangely, Clark felt relief over his quick decision to wash his hands of Samantha and Justin, even though he had failed to do what Cerberus had ordered. Well, ducks to him, anyway. Clark was not planning on talking with him ever again. He had no desire to suffer the same fate his friend had suffered.
“So he’s leaving?” asked Samantha.
“Yep. ‘Quit, finished, through.’ He said that you and I had been nothing but trouble for him.”
“And you believe him?”
“One hundred percent. I caught a strong sense of relief in his aura when he said he was packing it in. I don’t think we’ll see him again. Now, we’ve got to get a move on or we’ll be late for school.”
“Such a shame,” said Samantha.
“That among our angelic gifts, we don’t also have the ability to fly.”
“I’ll impath a request to heaven during lunch period,” said Justin. “I’m sure they’ll get right on it.”
Throughout the rest of the day, Justin struggled to come up with a plan to end the constant danger he and Samantha had been placed in. As Clark had said, running him off would not stop whoever it was from sending others. At home that night in bed, Justin came to the decision that the only sure way to put an end to the troubles that were coming was to stop them at the source.
Now, if he just knew who and where the source was.