“I think I almost like this clearing better than our regular meeting room,” said Aaron. “Maybe we’ll have to think about having more of our meetings here. I’m certain that our two newest team members wouldn’t object.”
“I second Samantha’s big wide grin,” said Justin to laughter from the rest of the team. “Who do I bribe?”
“I’ll tell you what,” said Aaron. “Every time we have a meeting that falls on an earth Saturday, we’ll have it here from now on,” then smiling, “is that good enough for you two?”
With squeals of delight, Samantha and her two sister angels stood up and hugged each other excitedly.
Amused, Aaron looked at Leland, who look at Lynn, who looked at Aaron. Shrugging their shoulders, the three of them looked at Justin.
“Don’t look at me,” he told them. “It’s a girl thing.”
Clearing his throat suggestively, Aaron brought the meeting back to order.
“We have a short agenda,” he informed them. “Only one item, actually, but I think you’ll find it interesting. Leland?”
“Thank you,” said Leland. “I believe this will be of particular interest to Justin and Samantha. As you all know, my Battle Team and I were cleared by the council to go after Cerberus. After several weeks earth time of locating, then following him, we’ve put together a workable plan. As a trivia note, we’ll be doing an eviction on him.” Noticing their puzzled stares, he said, “Sorry. Battle Team lingo. It means casting the evil spirits out of him.”
Aaron chuckled. “An eviction,” he said. “I like that term. Sounds like something I would have come up with.”
“Pardon a stupid question,” said Justin, “but what’s to prevent the evil spirits from going right back in after you leave?”
“An eviction also protects the aura from being reentered,” Leland informed him.
“That’s how they get in?” asked Justin, interested.
“Yes,” said Leland. “And I might explain that after an eviction, the person who has been cleansed experiences what I call reverse amnesia-they have little or no memory of what occurred during the time the evil spirits were controlling their body. For Justin and Samantha, this means that Cerberus will no longer remember them or what he was trying to do to them. Anyway, two earth days from now my Battle Team and I will be coming down to see just how good our plan is. If we are successful, you will never have to worry about Cerberus again.”
“That would be wonderful,” replied Justin with feeling. “I know it’s me that Cerberus has been after, but this good woman sitting next to me has caught most of the trouble. And you’ll pardon us if we keep our guard up until we know for sure.”
“Always a wise strategy,” said Leland. “Senior Angel, that’s all I have.”
“Thank you, Leland,” said Aaron. “You have given us all good news.”
Two earth days later and true to his word, Leland and his small Battle Team arrived on site to complete the mission they had spent so much time planning.
For several weeks they had tracked Cerberus, until they were able to establish his daily routine. They found that there were certain times during certain days that he was alone. After much discussion, they had come to a unanimous agreement as to the day and time they would carry out the eviction.
Arriving on site a little early, they went over the plan one more time.
“Well,” said Leland, “I think we’re all together on this one. Now we just have to wait for him to show up.”
“I still think the warehouse would have been a better place,” commented Angel Roland. “I mean, picture this: totally dark inside except for the glare of a single light bulb that’s illuminating him and the chair he’s sitting in. Oh, and the light bulb is screwed into a socket attached to an old, frayed cord that just disappears up into the darkness.”
“Any chance we can just leave him here?” asked one of the other team members.
Leland smiled tolerantly, used to the bantering. “I’m afraid not,” he told them. “Every Battle Team is required to have one bad storyteller on it. And since we have the best Battle Team in heaven, we naturally have the best bad story teller.”
“Yep, I knew it,” said Roland, standing a little taller. “You guys just don’t appreciate how lucky you are.”
One earth hour after Cerberus should have been at the site, several members of the team were sent out to backtrack the schedule and see if he had been delayed somewhere. When they returned with no information, the entire team split up and began searching, visiting every place Cerberus had been during the previous two earth weeks.
Still they didn’t find him.
Finally, Leland admitted defeat. “He can’t have known we were coming, so where is he?” he asked, puzzled.
A few members of the team shrugged their shoulders.
“Maybe he’s on his way to Prospect,” suggested Beatrice, the one female Battle Angel on the team.
“Possibly, Bea,” Leland replied. “but I doubt it. He has a business here that doesn’t exactly run on trust. I can’t see him leaving it alone-or worse, in someone else’s hands-for the time it would take for him to go after Justin and Samantha. Nice out-of-the-box thinking, however. Okay, everybody. Time for plan B. We’ll work in rotation. I need someone at his residence and a second person at his office. We’ll establish a conveyance tube at both locations. We’ll give this one earth week. I know it’s going to be boring, but I’ll be taking my turn along with you. Since I’m the team leader, I guess that will also make me the Chairman of the, ah, Bored.”
“Well, cri-men-it-ly,” said Chris. “Life is going by too fast.”
Most of the others sitting around the table in Smiths agreed with him.
“Maybe so,” said Bart, “but I, for one, have been waiting for this day ever since I started kindergarten.”
“This day?” asked his girlfriend Darla. “You’ve been waiting for today ever since you started kindergarten?”
“Graduation,” he said quickly. “I’ve been waiting for graduation.” Then to Justin: “Are girlfriends always this way?”
“Think of it as keeping life interesting,” commented Justin sagely. “But I guess when you put it that way, I have been waiting for the same thing.”
“By the way,” said Chris, “I have a bit of news for all of you. You remember Stella from the prom? Well, it appears that she and I will be seeing a lot more of each other.”
“Wait a minute,” said Bart. “What about Jacobs twins? I thought you wanted to marry them both.”
Looking around to make sure that no one else was listening in, Chris leaned forward over the table a little. The others did the same.
“Just between you and me,” he told them, “while they were a lot of fun, it’s not the kind of fun I want to hang around with all the time. They don’t how to get serious. I don’t think they even know the meaning of the word. They seem content to just giggle their way through life.”
“So how did you and Stella get together?” Samantha asked.
“I got her phone number after the dance, then called her later,” Chris told her. “I think we talked for like two hours. It seems that we were both impressed with each other. I was impressed because of what she did for you and Justin, and she was impressed because I cared enough about both of you to let her do it.”
“Aw-w-w,” said Samantha and Darla in Unison.
“That is so sweet,” finished Darla. “I hope it works out for you two, even though you do live fifty miles apart.”
“That’s the good part,” Chris told them, enthusiastically. “After graduation, she wants to move out of her parents’ house and find an apartment of her own and a job. I asked her how she felt about working for a construction company.” Looking like the cat who just ate the family parakeet, Chris sat back in his chair.
“Obviously,” said Justin, “she didn’t tell you no.”
“I made sure she knew there were no strings whatsoever attached to my offer. So, right after graduation, and as soon as we can find her some place to stay here in Prospect, she will be Munson Construction’s newest employee.”
“Welp,” said Bart, looking Chris up and down, “the bigger they are…” Pausing, then giving a throat clearing hint, he repeated himself. “The bigger they are…”
“The harder they fall,” finished everyone else, laughing.
“I’ve got a feeling about this one,” Justin told Chris. “I’m very happy for you, pal.”
Looking intensely at his friend Justin, Chris had to swallow a couple times before he could talk. “It’s all your fault, you know,” he said.
“Yeah, well, it takes one to know one,” Justin replied softly. “And maybe, it also takes one to cure one.”
As Samantha watched the exchange between Justin and Chris, her eyes misted a little. She was certain that no one else at the table fully understood what Justin had meant by it takes one to cure one. But she understood, because she knew what Justin had been like before she met him, and what kind of person he had become since then, and saving Chris from himself was just the kind of unselfish thing this man of hers would do.
“Come in, Chris,” said Emma Walker, the school principal.
“How did you know that was me?” asked Chris with a smile as he entered the room. Mrs. Walker, he noticed, was not alone.
“Chris,” said Mrs. Walker, “I would like you to meet the mayor of our city, Charles Dean. He came to see me earlier, and I’ve asked him to stay and hear what I have to say to you.”
As she spoke his name, the mayor arose from the chair he had been sitting in and walked towards Chris, offering him his hand.
“Chris,” he said as they shook, “it’s good to meet you. Mrs. Walker tells me that you are one of the best student body presidents she has ever worked with. Outstanding job you did on the teachers break room, by the way. I took the grand tour. Now, why don’t you and I sit down. I think Emma has something she wants to tell both of us.” Chuckling, he said, “I almost feel like I’m back in high school.”
“I most certainly do have something to tell both of you,” Emma Walker said after they were seated. “Besides the teachers break room,” she informed the mayor, “Chris has been heading up another project that, while maybe not as showy, is going to have more far reaching consequences.” She paused briefly, organizing her thoughts. “One of things most educators struggle with,” she said, “myself included, is students dropping out of school. Last year, the national average was about one in every four.”
“One in every four?” Mayor Dean asked in surprise. “That’s pretty high. I would never have guessed.”
“Prospect High’s dropout ratio has been lower than that. Last year we were just above twenty percent, or one in five-which is still too high, as far as I’m concerned.”
“I agree,” said the mayor, sincerely.
“The troubling thing is that the dropout rate at Prospect High creeps up a little more every year, just as the national average does. Earlier this school year,” she informed the mayor, “and with my permission, my student body president here organized a Student Dropout Committee. This committee is comprised mainly of students who were, at one time, dropouts themselves. One of the many things the committee did earlier, was organize a school assembly. They had two Prospect business owners speak. I think it was a real eye-opener for students. Did you know that on the job market, for every one hundred dollars a graduate makes, a drop out will make only sixty five dollars? I was surprised there was that big of a difference, and so were the students. Anyway, because of the work Chris and the committee have done, I’m thrilled to inform both of you that our dropout rate this year is less than half of last year’s rate. Chris, you have done marvelous work, and on behalf of myself and all the teachers of Prospect High, we thank you.” Addressing the mayor, she said, “Naturally, we’re going to keep the Student Dropout Committee functioning for the foreseeable future.”
Before the mayor left, he took Chris’s is hand and placed his other hand on Chris’s shoulder. “Young man,” he said, “You have heightened my faith in the youth of this good city. I have friends who are mayors in other cities of this state, and I’m going to suggest the idea of a Student Dropout Committee to them. When they hear of the success your idea has brought to our city, I think they will be quite anxious to implement the same program in theirs. Congratulations.”
“Have you two got a minute? There’s something I need to tell you.”
“Of course,” said Connie as she got up out of her chair. “Just let me clear the table off first.”
“By the way,” said Lloyd, “did you remember to give forty-two her shot this morning?”
“Yes,” Justin answered, “and I think that should do it. The mastitis appears to be gone.” Mastitis was a condition that caused the milk from the cow to come out looking like cottage cheese.
“Okay. No more shots then, but keep a close eye on her for the next few days.”
“There,” said Connie, resuming her seat. “What’s up?”
“Remember what I told you about what happened to Samantha and me at the rest stop?” asked Justin. “Then that Clark guy showing up on Samantha’s block, and then the one who shot Samantha?”
“That’s something we’ll never forget,” said Connie.
“Well, Samantha and I have found out that one person is responsible for all three incidents. The guardian team calls him Cerberus.”
“Ah,” interrupted Connie. “Latin for Demon of the Pit.” At Justin’s look of surprise, Connie added with a smile, “I went to college, Justin. You were saying?”
“Yes. Apparently, this guy is not the type who gives up. Leland and his Battle Team have gotten permission to go after him, but until we know for sure that they’re successful, Samantha and I are going to be extra watchful and cautious.”
“Go after him,” repeated Lloyd. “What exactly will they do to him?”
“Leland referred to it has an eviction, which means they are going to cast the evil spirits out of him. According to Leland, if they are successful, this guy won’t remember Samantha and me-which means that we won’t ever have to worry about him again.”
“And if they aren’t successful…?” Connie’s question hung in the air, waiting for an answer to free it.
“Then I don’t know what will happen next,” said Justin. “Regardless of what occurs, I’m going to find a way to end all this-for Samantha and for me. Let’s just hope that Leland and his team are successful.”