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Thursday, March 5, 2009

Storm Undercover

Here's Chapter 2. I think some humor starts in this one. :)

Storm waited for Logan. She looked up at him questioningly as he exited the classroom with a smile on his face. Logan shrugged.

“He just said sorry for talking about my injury,” Logan answered the unasked question.

“You like history, I see,” Storm commented. “It wasn’t anywhere near as boring with you and Kensington trading shots.”

“Do you have lunch this period?” Logan asked. “I know Tracy does.”

“Yes.”

“Good, want to sit with us?”

“Sure, but don’t you hang out with the guys?” Storm joked.

“Not if I can hang out with two hotties.”

“Hotties?”

“Sorry, did I say that out loud? Did you brown bag today?”

“Right again,” Storm replied, as she kept pace with Logan through the crowded noisy hallway. “Lunch is in my book bag here. I don’t have anything to drink though.”

“We’ll get it on the way outside. We eat over by the track. It’s nice there, if it’s not raining.”

Tracy waved from under a tree bordering the fenced in track. She had spread out two black plastic garbage bags. She munched on a sandwich as Logan and Storm walked up the grassy hill from the surrounding sidewalk. Tracy was giggling, and pointing at the two of them as they approached.

“What are you laughin’ at?” Logan asked, giving Storm a hand with her bag as she sat down.

“You really haven’t put it together yet? The rest of the school has.”

Logan looked at Storm. “Do you know what amuses food face?”

“Nope,” Storm answered truthfully.

“The X-men, Wolverine and Storm,” Tracy said patiently.

“Dave already hit me up about the X-men this morning,” Storm said. “What does Wolverine have to do with it?”

Logan smacked himself in the forehead with the palm of his hand, as Tracy started nodding and laughing. “Logan. Wolverine’s name is Logan. Storm has white hair in the comics.”

“Too bad you don’t have Wolvy’s healing factor, huh Jarhead?” Tracy chortled.

“Yea, that would’ve come in handy,” Logan admitted, grinning back at his friend. “You aren’t too into the X-Men, huh Storm?”

“I didn’t just land on the planet today,” Storm replied. “But I admit it, I’ve never seen the movies and I don’t read comic books. Are we really a big joke now? Logan and I have only walked down the school hallway together twice.”

“Just a little one,” Tracy answered, holding up her hand with forefinger and thumb held slightly apart. “I may have exaggerated slightly with the whole school comment. Get ready for a few X-Man jokes though.”

“Wolverine, huh?” Storm said, looking at Logan appraisingly, with hand under her chin. “He’s the little hairy guy with claws, right?”

“Heh, heh, heh, very funny,” Logan replied, as Tracy began laughing again. “You two want to swing by the King for free fast food later? It’s on me.”

“I’ll check with my folks.” Tracy nodded. “I’m sure it’ll be okay. They’re a little freaked about the kids disappearing from around Perkins Park. My Dad told me if he sees my car anywhere near there I’ll wish I had been kidnapped.”

“Storm mentioned the park too,” Logan added. “I guess I’m not up on this stuff except I know five kids went missing in a short time.”

“I think my folks will let me go,” Storm replied to Logan’s initial invitation, listening closely to her friends’ talk about the kidnappings.

“I’ll pick you up,” Tracy offered. “Where do you live?”

“On Willard Ave,” Storm answered, taking a notepad out of her book bag. “Here, I’ll write the address for you. Where do you live?”

Linden,” Tracy replied, taking the paper from Storm. “Hulk here lives over on Franklin so we’re all within a mile of each other. I’ll swing by and get you around six.”

“Okay, now what about this study group talk?”

“Saturday during the day is good for me,” Logan said. “I work the three to eleven shift at the King on Saturday.”

“Kevin and Nancy are in,” Tracy told them, looking pointedly at Storm. “Now, where are we going to hold this love fest? Any ideas, Storm?”

“Well… I…”

“You are an only child, Ms. Crandall,” Tracy persisted. “The rest of us have fellow brood members.”

“How do you know I’m… oh yeah, Powanda’s class intro. Okay, I’ll ask tonight. Do either of you know if they came up with anything connecting those kids who were taken?”

“I don’t…” Tracy hesitated. “They were all from Harding, but different grades. I think I read they were all girls too. Why, you writin’ a detective novel, Nancy Drew?”

“I watch a lot of CSI,” Storm answered, thinking of her earlier conversation with the Chemistry teacher, Mrs. Deemer. “I can’t figure out why…”

“You want to know why monsters do monstrous things,” Logan cut in abruptly. “They do them because they’re monsters. To catch a monster you must think like a monster. If this really interests you I’ll ask around at work. In the meantime, don’t play around with this. Interest is one thing. Not respecting danger is another.”

Logan’s intensity ended the talk of kidnappings in Perkins Park. Storm shivered. The wind picked up making it chilly despite the sun being out.

“You should have worn your Secret Squirrel coat, girl,” Tracy teased her. She laughed when Storm looked up at her in surprise. “Dave’s comment from this morning was overheard and repeated a few times at school.”

“Oh no, not the fashion police!” Storm exclaimed with false candor, evoking more laughter from her friends. “I guess everything is fair game around here. You’re a little too up on every rumor and comment made at school, friend.”

“It’s a curse.” Tracy shrugged.

“We better head back,” Logan suggested, looking at an old Timex watch he had on his right wrist. “One bad thing about work after school is if I get detention I’m toast at work.”

“They give detention for being late to study hall?” Tracy kidded him.

“Three guesses who monitors my study hall, and two don’t count,” Logan retorted, getting up quickly and pulling his two friends to their feet. They groaned in unison.

“Mrs. Deemer,” Tracy stated knowingly as the three walked down to the sidewalk off the small hill. “That explains your clock watchin’ toward the end of lunch every day. Trig’s the last class, Storm. Why don’t I take you home and see where you live then.”

“Sure, if you don’t mind,” Storm agreed.

“To get the ride, you need to help me with two Trig problems I didn’t get done.” Tracy winked at Logan.

“That seems like harmless extortion. Deal.”

* * * *

Storm waved at Tracy as she pulled away from the curb after having driven Storm home. Storm walked the few paces up the walkway, leading to her front porch. She paused for a moment, looking up at the two story red brick house and then side to side at her neighbors’ similar structures. Storm missed the city, but this could be a real short stay here in Warren if she were able to actually help.

“Coming in, folks,” Storm said quietly enough to be received inside, but not loud enough for anyone further than five feet away to hear. She opened the front door slowly and stepped inside the small foyer.

By the time she hung up her coat and wiped her feet, a woman in her late thirties with light brown hair and angular features walked through the living room to meet her. She was slightly taller than Storm and nearly twenty pounds heavier. Storm smiled, seeing the black slacks and pale blue blouse the woman wore.

“Hi, Janet, I see Ted has ordered you out of your Men In Black look.”

“Never mind.” Janet grinned, waving a warning finger at Storm. “Remember, Ted and I have a whole lot of ammo to fire back with after today, Miss Popularity.”

“Uh oh.”

“Yea, the shit hit the fan today, didn’t it?” Janet chuckled, gesturing for Storm to follow her. “I should have quit driving you to school the second day.”

Janet whipped around in time to see Storm just about to speak. “No I told you so, brat. I’ve been hearing enough of that today from your pet monkey, Ted.”

“Does he know you call him my pet monkey?” Storm gasped in fake surprise, knowing the two FBI agents traded much more salty terms between the two of them.

“Hey, I want to remind you I almost had to blow our covers this morning and kick those three gang wannabes’ asses. Don’t give me that know it all look either.”

“I did point them out to you all last week when they were torturing other innocent kids going to school,” Storm reminded her. “If you’d found a way to put them in juvy for the next month they wouldn’t have jeopardized my first on foot school approach. These things happen at high school. It led to some decent progress for a change. I told…”

“Jesus H… I mean… stop with the I told you so shit,” Janet cut her off. She continued into the kitchen and then through a door leading down to the cellar. “We know the sophomore in with the big kids gig was tough to pull off, but it ain’t like we’re getting anywhere running around with teams of profilers.”

“Nice work out there today, kid,” a sandy haired man, sitting in front of a computer station with multiple monitors and keyboards called out without looking up. “You made up for a week of nothing in one day.”

“Thanks, Ted,” Storm replied, looking over the man’s shoulder as Janet sat down in a seat near him. “Did you know you’re my…”

“Pet monkey.” Ted sighed audibly. “Yeah, I know. Genius here forgot in two seconds the little fact you were still on speaker.”

“What makes you think so, Archibald?” Janet fired back, but Storm could see from her expression she had forgotten. “Tell this little criminal it was a damn good thing we didn’t pick up her welcoming committee before.”

“Little crim…” Storm began, but then shut up as Janet glanced back at her with an I got you look. “Okay, his old man is County Commissioner, so what? We’re the FBI.”

“We…we?” Janet repeated in sarcastic tone. “Ted and I are FBI. You’re a little computer hacker who could be spending time till her eighteenth birthday in hard case juvy. You’ve got skills, Nancy Drew, but don’t think for a moment…”

“Heyyyyyy… easy there, Scully,” Storm put up her hands in mock surrender. “It was just an innocent editorial we. Besides, because of me, the FBI was able to shore up a hole in their Homeland Security database. They should have pinned a medal on me and…”

“Why you…” Janet started out of her chair. A laughing Ted caught her arm, pulling Janet back down. “If it weren’t for your parents’ upstanding reputation in the community, you’d be in an orange jumpsuit, smart-ass. You aren’t doing her any favors egging her on, Archibald.”

“Storm’s holding up her end of the deal,” Ted reminded Janet. “I’m not egging her on. You just keep feeding her hanging sliders. She keeps popping them over the center field fence. Whoever’s grabbing these girls is going to hit again. We have zero leads: no bodies, no ransom notes, no DNA, no nothing. One of these kids at the school knows something. Storm’s our only chance of getting a back door into this.”

“Her parents calling every few hours is driving me nuts,” Janet retorted. “Give her a damn throwaway cell-phone and let her check in with them.”

“I had a talk with her Dad,” Ted replied, trying to calm his partner down while Storm looked on in amusement. “They’re going to limit the calls to one a day when she’s here. We should give her a cell-phone though, just in case our bug gets zapped. Can we trust her Jan?”

“They don’t allow cell-phone use in school anyway so it’d be emergency only,” Storm reasoned excitedly, warming to the idea of having a cell-phone again.

“I don’t know, Ted, she’s a criminal. Hey, we lose contact with you and I’ll be standing next to you in two minutes,” Janet stated in no uncertain terms. “We aren’t using you as bait. I’m not facing your parents if…”

“The only way anything will happen to me is if I wander around the Perkins Park area,” Storm interrupted. “Every one of those girls…”

“Yeah, yeah… we know,” Janet cut her off. “No one’s letting their kids skip around in that park any more and they have patrols in the area 24/7. This weasel will strike outside his usual haunts - wait and see.”

“If Storm can find some link between the five girls, we might…” Ted began.

“The damn profilers have been over everything those kids did in their entire lives. The only thing they have in common is they all went to Harding High School,” Janet interrupted, beginning to tick off points on her fingers. “They were different races, though not all different. They were in three different age groups, one sophomore, two juniors, and two seniors. We had rich and poor. They lived…”

“They had one thing we know of in common,” Storm broke in, before Janet could tick off her last finger. “They were all scholastic honor roll. It was in the summary you gave me on them.”

“So?”

“You don’t think there were underachievers who frequented Perkins Park? We’re tossing out facts, right?”

“You may have a point,” Ted replied. “I’ll check and see if our profiling team picked up on it. We heard you’re heading out for a fast food dinner. I like those two kids you attracted, if you can call an ex-marine with combat experience and a Navy Cross a kid.”

“He’s not an ex-marine. If he does well in school, the Marines want to make him an officer after he gets out of classes,” Storm explained.

“Definitely not a kid.” Ted nodded approvingly.

“He sure turned off the jerks chasing Storm,” Janet agreed. “Why didn’t we pick up on that kid before? With the shots I took the first week driving her into school, coupled with the hidden video pickup on the back of Storm’s bag, we should have had the Logan boy singled out the first day.”

“Can’t get everything the first go round.” Ted shrugged dismissively. “We have every sneeze since childhood on him now. His story about where he was during the kidnappings checked out. During the first snatches, he was still in Iraq.”

“Your friend Tracy’s as good as gold too,” Janet added. “Her Dad’s first gen from Haiti and worked his way through college with scholarships and grant money. He’s a CPA with Jennings Glass Company. Her Mom’s local, born and raised, with a nursing degree. She has one sibling in junior high school, a thirteen year old brother, and a twenty year old brother you’ve already heard about. He’s a marine stationed in San Diego.”

“I’m sure you heard the details of a study group Tracy volunteered our house for. Would it be a big problem, or can I tell her we’ll do it?”

“We did hear about it. Jan figures we can manage it within an hour’s warning,” Ted answered, glancing over at his partner for confirmation.

“Just as long as I don’t have to provide snacks, I don’t care,” Janet added.

Logan’s parents are on the other rung of the economic ladder.” Ted pointed at his computer screen, returning to the business at hand. “Dad’s a machinist. Mom takes care of the home and Logan’s three younger sisters. Two are in grammar school. One’s in seventh grade. Looks like you have a solid base you can trust. We’re working on the others you talked to but they seem harmless.”

“What about that punk Dave and the twins?” Storm asked, peering at the screen.

“We were kind of waiting for you to polish up your computer skills,” Ted answered, trading venomous stares with Janet. “I’ve assured Jan I’ll be with you every moment.”

Storm’s countenance changed completely. She raised her hands up and did a remarkable job mimicking a typist in full work mode. She had only been allowed to use the base programs loaded on an old Dell laptop for her homework. Storm had been rewarded with a brand new Apple state of the art laptop for her fifteenth birthday after maintaining a 4.0 grade point average throughout junior high school. It had been equipped with six gigabytes of RAM, and dual processors. Storm had promptly taken a dare from friends to begin her hacking career. She learned quickly over the next few months, picking up tips and programming backdoors from websites her parents knew nothing about. Her Dad had monitored her with what little knowledge he had. Watching the computer prodigy endlessly typing lines of computer programming data simply convinced him his daughter was indeed learning to be a computer whiz, rather than a criminal. Three months before her sixteenth birthday, FBI agents showed up at their door. They took Storm into custody. Storm’s hacking days were over.

“I’ll be watching you,” Janet stated, shifting her forefinger and middle-finger from her eyes to Storm’s in a comically warning fashion.

“What more can I do? I made a mistake and hacked in where I didn’t belong. How did I know I would actually get through to the FBI database?”

“That was where you were headed,” Ted reminded her. “Anyway, you’ll have to earn your way back from the dark side. This is a good start, but we take no chances, understood?”

“I understand, but having you two listening into every word is humiliating.”

“Ah, poor baby.” Janet chuckled. “That bit Tracy and apparently the rest of the school picked up on having to do with the X-Men was really funny. Even your pet monkey was cracking up.”

“I couldn’t believe you’re not up on the X-Men,” Ted chimed in, as he stood up away from his seat and motioned Storm into it.

“Oh yeah, don’t be doing any of that voodoo stuff on the internet either,” Janet ordered. “We read your rap sheet from the last high school you terrorized.”

“Terrorized?!” Storm swiveled toward Janet from Ted’s computer seat in surprise. “What the hell did they have… oh… you mean the incident at the dance.”

“One and the same. You made another girl’s clothes disappear. What was that all about and what did it have to do with the internet?”

“I…I don’t know what happened to her clothes,” Storm answered, returning her attention to the computer screen. “It was a gag. I’d been hacking into sites on-line with claims of being part of a world wide witch coven with supernatural origins. My friends thought it was cool I could get into it. I hacked through the site and into one of the so-called Order’s high up member’s files while they were on line.”

“My girlfriends and I sifted through all the weirdo spells and incantations, looking for God knows what. It was all in Latin which bored the crap out of my friends. They left, and I downloaded a cipher program from a college database which translated Latin. From there I found a few things of interest and started experimenting. At…”

“You mean casting spells?” Ted asked, sitting down in a chair on the other side of Storm.

“Just some simple stuff that didn’t involve parts of animals or sacrifices. My friends and I were standing in our official place at the dance, gossiping to cover the fact we weren’t there with boyfriends, when this bitch walked by. Suzan Grenville was one of those cheerleading freakazoids they made the movie ‘Mean Girls’ about. Anyway, she made some remark about my friend Kathy’s dress that made her tear up. I watched her walk away and chanted the spell for making material things disappear, thinking of her clothes. There was this shimmering sensation in the air and the next moment there was mean Suzy standing in the buff on bare feet. My…”

“Oh come on!” Janet cut her off. “You think Ted and I just dropped in from the moon. Are you trying to tell us…”

“Let her finish,” Ted insisted. “You asked her about it. The chaperone’s story who heard Storm chanting matches what she’s told us. It freaked the woman out enough to call the police on you, although they naturally blamed it on a stunt by this girl Suzan involving tear away clothing.”

“You think Mrs. Greevy was freaked, you should have seen my friends.” Storm sighed, leaning on the computer desk and putting her head in her hands. “They inched away from me as if they were in the elevator scene from Ghostbusters, where the geek fires up his nuclear accelerator, and the other Ghostbusters backed away from him like he was about to explode. I was a loner from then on. You should have seen that bitch Suzy though. It was worth it.”

“So you actually think you made the clothes disappear?” Ted asked quietly.

“Well, I don’t know where they went. They were on her before I chanted the spell.”

“Bullshit!” Janet exclaimed, giving Storm the wave-off with her hand. “Make my clothes disappear, Wendy. C’mon, we want to see you do your trick.”

“I…I’ve tried it since then,” Storm admitted, her fingers flying over the keyboard as Ted watched her in amazement. “Nothing happened. I thought maybe it was due to the anger intermixed with doing the spell. For a moment at the dance I believed I could do it while I was chanting. I haven’t been able to duplicate the feelings or concentration or whatever made it work.”

“I don’t know about witchcraft but you have some serious skills on the keyboard,” Ted remarked, gesturing for Janet to look more closely at the rapidly moving screens. “You will tell us if you ever have a repeat of your little magic trick, won’t you?”

“Oh, come on, Ted!” Janet looked at her partner with undisguised exasperation. “If it ever gets out we’re buying into Wendy’s witchcraft fantasy, they’ll tag us as Scully and Spooky Mulder all over the department. What… holy crap… those three little punks have been in trouble since they were born.”

“Storm!” Ted exclaimed. “Those juvy records are sealed. You can’t… how the…”

“Go, Wendy!” Janet pushed Ted aside and put her hands on Storm’s shoulders. “Now this kind of witchcraft I can go along with.”

“If she gets caught, we’re up…”

“I’m out,” Storm said calmly. “I never made a ripple and with this server, I banged the signal all over the Western Hemisphere. No worries, Ted.”

“Jesus,” Ted whispered, looking at Dave’s juvenile record. “This kid has been into everything from torturing animals to burglary and car theft. How the hell does his old man get him off on this kind of trouble?”

“I don’t know,” Janet replied excitedly. “But I think we have our first real suspect.”

“As much as I can’t stand to look at this guy,” Storm sighed, pushing back from the desk, “Dave doesn’t have the brains to spell kidnapping let alone pull off five of them without leaving a clue. If the twins ever had a thought between them, it died of loneliness. I wanted to see what they were capable of in reality, so I don’t get blindsided in school.”

“This isn’t New York City, Storm.” Janet returned to her seat and began typing at her own keyboard. “Ted and I know something about monsters. Small cities like Warren have a finite number of monsters and potential monsters. If Dave and his moron sidekicks don’t know the real monster, odds are they’ve run across him scurrying around in their favorite rat’s nests.”

“Jan’s right,” Ted agreed, sitting down in his chair again. “You have done well, young Jedi. Let the old pros turn these guys lives inside out and see what pops up.”

“Okay, Spooky, I’ll go do my homework until Tracy picks me up. I’m trading in on my dazzling intelligence to make friends. You and Scully play nice.”

“Not funny,” Janet called out, as Storm trekked up the stairs. “Don’t you dare turn off the wire when you go out either.”

Storm retreated a couple of steps. “Hey, can I have a cell-phone. I give you my word I will not…”

“It’s on the kitchen table. We were screwing with you,” Ted broke in. “We decided to give you one the moment you agreed to go out tonight. It’s bugged so keep it with you. Jan will be out and about. I wouldn’t advise getting to know Wolverine in the biblical sense.”

“Only if you promise not to fool around with Scully here behind my back,” Storm fired off a last shot before running toward the steps.

“You little… let me go Ted… I’m gonna’ smack Wendy around until her teeth rattle.” Janet tried to get out of Ted’s iron grip, but he held on to her, still chuckling over a sixteen year old who could keep pushing their buttons without breaking a sweat.

“Ease up, it was my fault for feeding her the Wolvy line,” Ted pointed out. “She’s fast on her feet and with her mouth. All good things on this gig.”

Janet stared in the direction of the stairs a moment longer before slumping back in her seat. “One of these days, you won’t be around to watch over Wendy. Then her and I will have the Mother/Daughter talk her own Mom should have had with her already: the one about be careful who you disrespect, they might just kick your ass.”

“It is disconcerting to be constantly pinged by a teenager,” Ted agreed. “After she’s out with her friends, want to fool around a little, Scully?”

“You wish, Spooky,” Janet retorted, pushing Ted’s shoulder roughly.

“I wish Wendy would have made your clothes disappear.” Ted laughed, blocking the elbow Janet immediately launched toward his ribcage.


12 comments:

raine said...

It's good! :)

I'm not sure these agents are mature enough to be the grownups, lol, but it'll be interesting to see. :)

BernardL said...

I'm glad you liked it, Raine. Thanks for following this second chapter. The FBI agents do get serious when it counts. The woman agent, Janet, is one of my favorite characters. :)

Barbara Martin said...

Bernard, someone told me that the FBI were the equivalent of lawyers with guns. Is that true?

BernardL said...

Ted in this story is based on an FBI agent I knew a couple decades ago, Barbara. He worked out of the San Francisco field office but he and his wife lived in the East Bay. An ex-Marine who served two tours in Vietnam, he was soft spoken with a great sense of humor. I fixed his two cars for six years until he was transferred back East. He was a field agent. Although I don’t have any idea what sort of cases he worked on, I have no doubt he was more than a lawyer with a gun. :)

Virginia Lady said...

This was a good installment. A little humor goes a long way.

I know a couple of lawyers and I know a couple FBI types, definitely not lawyers with guns.

There does seem to be a shortage of authority over Storm, but that could just be the scene. She seems too equal to them.

BernardL said...

Thanks, VL. Yes, my FBI agents have loose reins on Storm and they get even looser in the chapters ahead. :)

Beth Partin said...

Liked this one too, Bernard. Maybe a little to much dialogue, and sometimes the teenagers talked as if they were much older ("harmless extortion"), but it was fun. I liked the repartee between Storm and her "partners."

BernardL said...

Dialogue is a weakness of mine as a writer, Beth. I love writing it or reading it. You're right about the adult tone. I was trying to walk a tightrope to interest a wider reader range. I visited my home state Ohio just over a year ago while I was writing Storm. Listening to the teenagers back there, I noticed they don't have as bad a case of mush mouth as the teens out here in the West. They sound a bit more adult but I admit my sampling was small. :)

Vesper said...

“You want to know why monsters do monstrous things,” Logan cut in abruptly. “They do them because they’re monsters. To catch a monster you must think like a monster. If this really interests you I’ll ask around at work. In the meantime, don’t play around with this. Interest is one thing. Not respecting danger is another.”

I like the above fragment.

Be careful of some verbs that convey the same information as the actual dialogue.

Janet and Ted remind me a lot of the other FBI or police couples you’ve had in your novels.

Quite interesting the episode with the clothes’ disappearance! :-)

BernardL said...

Duly noted, Vesper, thank you. The closest to Ted and Janet I could think of were the US Marshall characters in Cold Blooded. You'll see Janet is a much tougher character and Ted plays a much larger role than the male US Marshall. I had FBI agents in my Connor and Ellie work, but they're more political and conniving. You made me think. :)

Vesper said...

You're right, it's the two U.S. Marshalls in "Cold Blooded". It's obvious that Janet's and Ted's roles will be very different, but the dynamic of the couple seems very similar.

BernardL said...

The dynamic is similar at this stage, Vesper. I believe you'll like Ted and Janet in this, and especially the relationship between Storm and Janet. At least I hope you do. :)