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Monday, March 30, 2009

The Goth

Storm Chapter 8

Ted parked the car three houses down from Grable’s residence. At eight o’clock at night, leaves blowing from one yard to another provided the only movement on the tree lined street. No fences separated houses in the old neighborhood or blocked off access to back yards. Only a sparse arrangement of shrubs doubled as property dividers amongst half the houses. The trees had been there for many decades. They added a curtain of darkness shielding the yards from the dull glow of street lamps above.

The two agents sat in the darkness of their Honda, checking for motion on the street; but the chill of fall had limited outside movement after dark. They soon were satisfied not much was going on other than an occasional door being slammed. A few cars moved along Main Avenue, which ran perpendicular to Grable’s house on Walnut Street. Grable’s place was the last house on the right of the dead end street. As Ted and Janet approached the house, they could see it was an old two story with front porch jutting out toward the sidewalk. Although the porch was in complete darkness, lights glowed through curtained windows on each side of the front doorway.

“Jan,” Ted whispered, leaning toward his partner, “I’ll go around back and see if I can get a look inside from there. You stay here by the tree. I doubt anyone could see you even if they walked down the sidewalk.”

Janet nodded and stepped up alongside the huge elm tree. Ted continued carefully around the side of the house opposite the driveway. She knew Ted’s height would make it possible for him to look inside the first story windows at the back of the house. As she watched for the next few moments, Ted slipped around the edge of the house and gestured for her to come with him. When she hurriedly reached his side, Ted continued on around the house again. Janet noticed the flickering light at the two ground level windows where the curtains were shredded from age.

Ted crouched near the far one. The curtains covering the window hung in tatters. Inside the basement they could see two black robed figures kneeling outside a hexagram with candles lit at each tip of a six-pointed star. In the center of the star was a doll with nearly white hair. The two figures, who were plainly a man and woman by the outlines of their thin robes, chanted what sounded like gibberish. The candle flames peaked slightly as the chant proceeded. The chanters then stood up. They slowly faced each other, opening and shedding their robes. They were naked underneath.

The woman matched the pictures Ted had turned up for June Grable, known as Grable the Goth. Her black painted fingernails and toenails glistened brightly in the candle light. Grable’s nearly black hair was straight, hanging in a semi-circle at the middle of her back, contrasting starkly with her nearly albino skin color. Grable allowed her hands to lay gently palms out at her hips. Although thin, she was a beautiful woman, with hauntingly serene face.

The man was Kevin McGraff. From their side view of the two people, Ted and Janet could see the young man’s arousal plainly. Grable and McGraff moved toward each other interlocking their fingers above their heads, before easing down to the floor in a lotus position. Without moving, they began to whisper the chant they had spoken before. Ted pulled at Janet’s coat sleeve. She followed him away from the house.

“What the hell do you think that was all about?” Janet whispered.

“I can guess how Grable recruited the young men,” Ted answered. “What bothers me is that damn doll. I’ve seen enough horror movies to know what and who it represented. McGraff must have told Grable about Storm. The kids will be here any minute.”

“Let’s go out front and intercept them,” Janet replied. “Maybe Storm will want to come up with a different plan since we already know Grable’s in there and she’s playing hide the salami with McGraff.”

“You’ve been dying to say that salami line ever since they took off their robes, weren’t you?” Ted accused Janet with a grin she could barely make out in the darkness.

“That obvious, huh?” Janet asked rhetorically. “C’mon, let’s get out front.”

Ted and Janet barely reached the sidewalk when they spotted a car pulling up behind their Honda. Six teenagers piled out of the car. The group walked without talking toward them. As the two FBI agents walked to meet them, they could see the tall one was Logan and he carried a large bucket. Next to him, Storm carried two half gallon water bottles. The teenagers stopped in their tracks when they spotted the FBI agents hurrying toward them. It took Ted only a few moments to explain what they had found.

“We thought this might change your mind about ringing the doorbell,” Janet added.

“I think you’re right about the doll,” Storm said with a slight tremor in her voice. “Still, we’re trying to keep the pot stirred, so Logan and I will consecrate the window sills and doorways. Then with you two backing us up from across the street, Nancy and Chris can play knock-knock while the rest of us spread around out of sight near them with the crosses I passed out. I have a protection spell to overcome what they’re doing - at least I hope I do. Kevin must have gotten a hair from me or something. The doll has to have my DNA on it for what you think they’re doing to work. The six-pointed star has always been the mark of the beast.”

“Crosses? What, we’re taking on vampires too?” Janet asked both questioningly and sarcastically. “Do you know something we don’t?”

“Nope. I’m just covering all the bases,” Storm replied. “Wait here until Logan and I get done. I’ll have a look at their party while I’m around back.”

“Okay, but sing out if they sense something,” Janet cautioned her.

“I will,” Storm said, leading Logan away toward the house.

Storm handed Logan one of the water bottles as they reached the porch steps. They went up them as soundlessly as possible. Taking a handful of blessed salt from the bucket, Storm spread it thinly along the first window to the left of the door, following up with a thin dribble of holy water directly on the salt. Logan made the sign of the cross, saying In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti (In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit), with Storm whispering amen at the end. They worked their way around the house.

At the cellar window Ted and Janet had seen McGraff and Grable, the couple spread salt and holy water as before while glancing in at the naked immobile forms with interlocking fingers. Storm blinked uneasily when she spotted the doll at the center of the hexagram. They finished at the window just before the couple below them in the cellar moved. Grable lay back, opening her legs. McGraff covered her body with his own, entering her slowly with a shudder. Storm hurried around the house to the next window with Logan keeping pace. Minutes later they were done. The two jogged toward where the others waited.

“That doll thing was a little freaky,” Logan said as they reached their friends.

“Chris,” Storm said a little breathlessly, “you and Nancy get going. Ring the doorbell methodically about five seconds between rings three times. Wait a full minute before repeating it. We’ll be right behind you, out of sight around the porch, okay?”

Chris nodded, gripping the cross in her coat pocket with desperation, her heart thumping. Nancy walked beside her up the porch steps. Chris rang the doorbell which sounded a loud chime inside. Their backups spread out near the front of the porch where they could not be seen by anyone standing in the doorway. Ted and Janet walked across the street, halting near the tree across from the house, where both agents held drawn weapons at their sides. McGraff pulled open Grable’s front door, leaving the outside screen door in place as Chris reached the third round of doorbell ringing. McGraff wore the black robe from his conjuring time in the cellar with Grable. Seeing who was standing at the doorway, he lashed out angrily.

“What the hell are you two doing here?” McGraff asked impatiently, gripping the partially open door edge with his right hand, his knuckles showing white from the strain. He gave no hint of the compromising position he was in.

“We…we just wanted to check on Ms. Grable,” Chris answered.

“She’s fine, now…”

“Hey what is this, Kevin, a sleep over?” Nancy asked, pointing at McGraff’s robe.

“None of your business,” Kevin retorted harshly, his eyes showing an anger neither girl had seen before. “I’ll tell her you stopped by.”

“We want to see for ourselves if Ms. Grable is okay,” Chris persisted. “The police found the bodies of who they think are the five missing kids in Perkins Park, buried under a tree with Satanic symbols.”

“Hello girls,” Grable’s husky voice called out as she came alongside Kevin. She had dressed in black slacks, sweater, and shoes, with her hair tied in the back. “I did hear the news. Why don’t you two come in. We’ll compare notes. Kevin was nice enough to help me with a moving project. A vase full of water we didn’t see fell over and soaked him. I’m drying his clothes. We were just having tea. Come in and join us.”

“No thanks, Ms. Grable,” Nancy replied with a smile. “We have to be going. We just wanted to make sure you were all right, because you were absent today when all this stuff happened.”

“Please, I insist,” Grable said, opening the screen door.

She jerked back inside, allowing the screen door to slam closed, gripping her wrist in obvious pain. As Kevin drew closer to see what had happened, Grable jerked her head up. She stared at Nancy and Chris with a malevolent look of hatred, her lips pressed together in a thin, cold smile.

“I see,” Grable muttered absently, never taking her eyes from the two girls. “I think you two have seen too many Harry Potter movies. Well, my dears, see you in school… or somewhere.”

Grable closed the door, leaving Nancy and Chris grabbing for each other’s hand. They turned and fairly ran off the porch, with Logan, Carol, Tracy, and Storm hurrying to catch up. As they reached the FBI agents across the darkened street, a shrieking noise, emanating from the house grew in volume. The huddled group watched as a dark billowing shadow whipped around behind the drawn curtains. Grable opened each of the windows.

“It…it’s trying to get out,” Storm whispered. “She’s sending it after us.”

“I knew I shouldn’t have let you talk me into this.” Tracy was mesmerized by the flitting shadow, as were her silent companions.

“I should’ve ran up and put a bullet between her eyes,” Janet muttered.

“Oh shit!” Storm exclaimed, clutching Logan’s arm. “I forgot about the second story. It…”

“Why doesn’t it just go through the wall?” Carol asked shakily.

“It had to be accepted into the house. It can’t leave unless the one who invited it is able to allow it to leave,” Storm answered.

“Why the hell are we all standing around like a bunch of retards from a slasher movie, waiting for the monster to slice and dice us?” Tracy asked, holding her hands up in exasperation as she faced her friends and the FBI agents.

“We shouldn’t have brought you bunch into this in the first place,” Ted answered, gripping his 9mm automatic unconsciously. “I’m not sure running will get us anywhere.”

“I can hurt it, if it finds a way out,” Storm said, taking the wand out of her inside jacket pocket she had used to divine the Perkins Park spot, where the thing had been hiding and burying its victims. She quickly spread the blessed salt around them in a circle. Logan, seeing what Storm had in mind, followed her lead with the holy water and blessing.

“Everyone grab a handful of salt. Logan and Ted take the holy water jugs and get ready. Janet, I know how much you want to kill this thing with a gun, but…”

“I know… I know, Wendy,” Janet muttered, holstering her weapon and grabbing a fistful of blessed salt. “The basement at the Hoover building’s looking pretty good right now.”

“Okay, Storm,” Ted held up the open jug of holy water, “what’s next?”

“We wait,” Storm shrugged nervously. “I can’t do anything unless it gets loose.”

Grable’s face showed briefly at the bedroom window on the second floor, a moment before she jerked open the window. Black tendrils seeped over the window sill, billowing outward as it cleared the window. It appeared the creature had been hurt trying to leave the house from the protected windows on the first floor. It skulked through the window tentatively. Storm moved in front of the group on the sidewalk, carefully staying within the circle. Storm raised her arms and lowered her head. Her companions shifted uneasily as the end of the wand glowed dully. Storm threw her head back, moving the wand in a fluid pattern confidently.

“Omne flammans flamma purgatus, domine extinctionis et signum regenerationis, in mea manu ens inimicum edeat!” Storm shouted, stabbing the point of the wand at the creature as it emerged from the window completely.

The end of the wand crackled. A bright blue bolt discharged from the glowing end. It struck the creature as if the full force of a lightning strike with hurricane type wind momentarily converged for a split second upon the monster. Its wail of agony echoed out over the street like the clarion call from a thousand lost souls. Illuminated in the brief instant of cobalt brightness within the shimmering darkness, the monster’s unimaginable form writhed into reality. Serpent like in shape, the monster’s horned dragon like head rolled and stretched upwards, jutting this way and that in its pain. Gaping mouths of fangs shot out hideously from the scaled body, snapping at empty air. Spindly clawed appendages, the like of which Logan struck at the night before, tore apart the second floor porch railing, shredding it.

It was then Storm struck it a second time, screaming out the incantation from a moment ago. This time when the bolt hit, it ripped through the visible creature, tearing a portion of its scaled side off with scalpel like precision, evoking a shriek of deafening proportions. The hideous thing fell to its side, the weight of its corporeal body splintering the second floor balcony, sending it crashing to the ground. Logan caught Storm’s collapsing body as the strength in her legs gave way to the stress. Storm looked up weakly, scrambling onto her knees, still grasping her wand as Logan steadied her.

“Holy crap, Willow,” Chris called out happily, thinking the thing was dead.

Inside the house, Grable screamed out unintelligibly at the group across from her.

“I’ll get you, you bitch!” Janet yelled in reply, grabbing for her holstered weapon and firing with practiced ease, a human target finally presenting itself.

The report from Janet’s 9mm Ruger made her companions flinch. One shell tore hairs from the side of Grable’s head. The two shots following hit the empty air where her head had been. Grable was gone.

“Shit!” Janet cursed in fury, trying to step around Storm’s body, where she knelt on hands and knees in the circle. “I’m going over there and…”

“No, Janet… I’m done… put a fork in me,” Storm told her. “That thing will be coming at us any second.”

“You nailed it, Wendy,” Janet retorted, “I’ll…”

“Here it comes, Jan,” Ted interrupted, pointing at the recovering monster, drawing his own weapon while still holding on to the holy water.

Nancy, Carol, Chris, and Tracy stood in terrified silence, their only weapons two handfuls of blessed salt. Logan stood in front of Storm now, his lead pipe in one hand and the holy water jug in the other. Resignation learned on battlefields a world away etched across his scarred face, the young man grinned tensely in anticipation.

The creature’s head lolled from side to side as it yowled in unrequited rage. It slinked forward. Ted fired a fourteen shot clip at the creature, aiming for its eyes. His shots struck with unerring precision, but to no effect. As Ted released one clip to jockey in another while holding onto his jug, Janet nudged him.

“No use, Ted, it’s gone.”

Ted looked up in time to see the last of the corporeal monster dissolve into the dark filmy blackness from before. It hovered toward them, drifting from side to side as if trying to recover from its wounds.

Storm put away the wand. Janet helped her up. She retained her grip on the FBI agent’s hand and reached down to get a handful of salt.

“Easy, it has to be close,” Storm cautioned. “Get ready… now!”

The darkness had churned more steadily toward them across the street. Its dark shades within the cloud whipped around as if the rage propelling the creature needed an outlet. Reaching a spot only ten feet from its targets, the thing pulled back as if getting ready to launch, issuing a sound like a fingernail file scratched across a chalkboard. The salt and holy water hit it and the creature wailed like a banshee. The second barrage proved too much for it to bear. Shredding apart with a final scream, the creature shot off in a thousand directions. They expected sirens wailing in the distance, but there was only silence as the exhausted monster squad looked around. No one had ventured out of their houses on the dead end street.

“Kids,” Ted called out, gesturing the stunned youths toward their cars. “We need to get the hell out of here. Let’s meet over at our house for a few moments. I’m not thrilled with trying to explain this pitched battle with a monster no longer in evidence. Jan… don’t do it!”

Janet had headed across the street while Ted was turned around. She ignored him for a moment before altering her course reluctantly to intersect with the rest of them heading down the street.

“She needs to die, Ted,” Janet muttered when she caught up.

“On what charge? We can’t even arrest her. We don’t have enough evidence to search her house, let alone convict her of something. I know how you feel but we need to get our helpers here home safely. I… hey… what the hell?”

Logan was suddenly sprinting across the street toward Grable’s front yard after Storm whispered something to him urgently. She jogged weakly toward Ted and Janet.

“I need a piece of that thing if Logan can find something,” Storm explained.

“You’ll need a key to the handcuffs you’ll be wearing if we don’t get the hell out of here,” Janet retorted, drawing her weapon and gesturing at Ted. “I got his back. Maybe I’ll get another shot at that bitch.”

“Let’s get the car and swing around for them.” Ted moved toward the Honda with a steadying arm around Storm. Janet hurried to stand guard for Logan. “Nobody’s sticking their heads out yet.”

Ted saw the other girls had already jumped into Logan’s Pontiac. Storm let Ted help her into the backseat. He then quickly slipped behind the wheel on the driver’s side. Ted started the car, speeding toward Grable’s house in seconds. Logan ran away from the balcony wreckage with something wrapped in his jacket. Ted stopped the Honda near where Janet stood guard on the front lawn of Grable’s house. Janet kept her weapon trained on the house until Logan closed the passenger rear door behind him. After Janet jumped into the passenger side front, Ted did a quick u-turn and pulled up alongside Logan’s car.

“What did you get?” Storm asked, gesturing at Logan’s balled up coat.

Logan unraveled his coat. It was one of the clawed appendages.

“Phew!” Janet exclaimed, rolling her window down. “I didn’t think anything could be worse than that monster. I stand corrected.”

“We’ll take it with us, kid.” Ted laughed. He shut up quickly as the first sound of sirens wailed in the distance. “Go ahead. We’ll see you at our place. Don’t get stopped.”

“Yes, Sir,” Logan acknowledged, leaning over and kissing a surprised Storm with passion. “That was tight, Storm.”

The piece of demon was lying on the seat a second later. Logan launched out of the Honda and ran around to get in his Pontiac. Storm watched him the whole way, feeling his kiss all the way to her toes.

“Wrap Smelly Cat’s hoof up before I hurl,” Janet ordered. “I guess you’ve never heard of playing hard to get, huh Wendy?”

“I think I’ll skip the romance lessons from you, Scully.” Storm’s comeback drew appreciative laughter from Ted, who had the Honda headed toward their house with Logan following. “That was some nice shooting. You almost nailed Grable right between the eyes, Scully. I’m not sure it’s a good idea to kill her. That thing might end up free of any restraints. Hey, can’t the CSI guys collect your rounds and match them to your guns.”

“Yea, if Grable wants to let CSI comb through her house,” Janet replied.

“I’m betting Grable tells the police who show up she had a porch collapse and the noise they were called in for was from the mess on her front lawn,” Ted ventured. “Storm’s right, Jan, those were some nice shots from clear across the street in the dark. Grable must have second sight to have been able to avoid getting her head blown off.”

“It’s just as well I missed. Wendy’s theory about Grable’s death freeing the monster sounds legit. We don’t even know if the damn thing would have quit with her dead or not. What the hell did you chant the lightning strike up with?”

“It was Latin for ‘O fire of burning purification, Lord of destruction and the sign of rebirth! Residing in my hand throttle my foe’,” Storm answered, waiting for Janet to say something sarcastic. Instead, the FBI agent merely turned and nodded. “What, no witty Wendy or Willow reference?”

“After tonight?” Janet shrugged. “I got nothin’.”

“I know one thing,” Storm said. “It worked because I believed. My other success at the park has picked my confidence up to the point I think I could cast anything.”

“You were done in after the second strike though,” Janet reminded her.

“Yeah, it sapped me real good. I’m not sure anything can be done about that.”

“I hope you have some new idea for the monster,” Ted added, glancing back at Storm. “Do you think Grable will come after you or the others tonight?”

“I would if I were her. When we get to the house, I’ll show you what I have in mind. What’ll we do about tomorrow and Kevin?”

“If you don’t mind, I’d like you to finish working up a spread sheet comparing the membership names in The Temple of Set with a list of students and faculty,” Ted replied. “We’ll talk about what to do at school tomorrow when we get to the house.”

“Grable better be absent tomorrow or I’ll be sitting in on her classes,” Janet said angrily. “I forgot there are other people from the school who belong to that sect of freaks.”

“More likely they wanted to experiment around with the dark side,” Ted replied. “This whole Goth business is tied into that crap. You’d think reality would set in when their membership starts disappearing. Hey, maybe Grable will be sealed into her house. The balcony’s gone so she’d have to lower herself out the window.”

“As soon as the holy water dries up and the salt blows away, she’ll be unsealed,” Storm explained. “It sure looked as if Kevin was her closest acolyte. He was definitely helping her create a stick the needle into Storm doll. I wonder how close to completing it they were. Maybe I better do the protection spell first before the database.”

“I agree,” Ted assented. “Protection first before anything. We’ll try and make this a short meeting so you kids can get some sleep. It wouldn’t hurt for you all to take the day off yourselves.”

“She’s on the run, Ted,” Storm objected. “You said yourself she probably won’t show tomorrow anyway. We need to keep the pressure up. Too bad you can’t get the Amadors and Kevin picked up.”

“We’ve come too far to screw this up now. If we find out Principal Spelling is in the clear, I think we should come clean with him about what we’re doing at least. We don’t have to expand our explanation to include witches and demons.”

“He could let me keep an eye on everyone that way,” Janet agreed.

They rode in silence the rest of the way. Storm studied the shorn off demon appendage, some excitement growing with an idea she had of getting rid of the monster. She also felt some trepidation as to how Grable was going to attack her through the doll and whether she could counter it in time. After Ted parked the car in the driveway, Logan’s Pontiac pulled up in front a few seconds later. Storm hurriedly exited the car.

“I have to start rounding up what I’ll need for a protection spell before Grable does something to immobilize me,” Storm called back as she ran for the house with the appendage tucked under her arm.

“If she does get immobilized, I will hunt that bitch down, evidence or no evidence,” Janet muttered just loud enough for Ted to hear and nod his agreement as they too left the car.

“Where’s Storm going?” Logan asked, watching Storm unlock the house door and hurry inside, leaving the door open.

“She has to round up the makings of a protection spell,” Ted explained. “Let’s get inside. We’ll start the debrief without her. Storm will join us when she can. You five need to be home at a decent hour. We want to make sure you’ll be safe too.”

“We have munchies and soda, but I don’t serve,” Janet informed them. “Help yourselves in the kitchen. Follow me.”

“Uh… bathroom?” Carol asked.

“Two of them, upstairs to your right, and one straight ahead through the living room on the left,” Janet answered as they walked through the entrance. “Logan, you hang with Ted and me in the kitchen. You’re the short order cook. Maybe you can rustle us up something to eat.”

“I can open potato chip bags and soda cans,” Logan replied with a grin as the four girls split up toward the two bathrooms. “For anything else I get eight fifty an hour.”

“You’ll do,” Janet patted him on the back, gesturing at the kitchen on the right. “Just so all I have to do is sit down. You’re the bartender, Ted. I’ll have a double.”

“I wish,” Ted chuckled. “I don’t think getting drunk with a witch ready to send her demon familiar after us is such a good idea.”

“Fine,” Janet acquiesced reluctantly as she sat down on a kitchen chair and leaned her head on the oblong table in front of her. “I think someone blew my pilot light out.”

Fifteen minutes later Logan and the four girls were sitting at the kitchen table facing Ted and Janet, sipping from soda cans. The bowl of potato chips had been emptied and refilled by Logan twice already.

“This ghost busting revs up the appetite,” Logan commented as he refilled the potato chip bowl again. “I guess we should have ordered pizza.”

Friday, March 27, 2009

Temple of Set

Storm Chapter 7.

Storm slunk into the house after saying goodbye to Tracy who had given her a lift home. She hung up her coat and headed upstairs thinking to be hard at work on her notebook computer doing homework. Hoping Ted and Janet were running down leads, Storm thought to go upstairs and put off her eventual interrogation until later. As she took her first step upstairs Janet’s voice called out in a sing-song lilt.

“Oh Willow… Willow… come down and see us.”

“Shit!” Storm muttered, trudging around to the staircase downwards. “I have homework to do, Scully. Give me a break.”

“We know you’re heading over to see Wolverine later so get your butt down here and debrief,” Janet ordered. “Ted wants to discuss our day demon chasing and terrorizing the school.”

Storm walked down to join her FBI handlers, setting her bag down by the stairwell.

“First, that was some excellent work out there today,” Ted complimented her. “As Janet told you, we’re riding the wave with finding the bodies. The FBI and police have the park in lockdown while they investigate your find.”

“Get on with the good stuff Archibald,” Janet insisted impatiently.

“We have something on June Grable,” Ted did as ordered, holding up a warning finger at Janet. “After digging through all her past history, we came up with a suspicious connection from her college days at…”

“Cal State Berkeley,” Janet broke in heatedly. “A known hotbed of liberal commie witches. I always knew we’d get something on those traitors.”

Storm started laughing halfway through Janet’s diatribe but shut up quickly when she saw Janet was dead serious.

“Okay, you don’t like Berkeley graduates,” Storm commented carefully. “What exactly are we talking about here, sororities, clubs…”

“She’s a friggin’ witch!” Janet relaxed against the back of her chair as Ted made calming motions directed at her. “I just can’t believe we never turned up this cultish angle until now. We’ve been chasing our tails all these months believing it was some run of the mill serial killer.”

“Grable is officially someone of interest,” Ted added. “That means we have some leeway now in how we want to pursue her since you found the kid’s bodies. That won’t come out for days by the way. It’ll be under wraps with the usual cover of DNA testing takes time, next of kin… anyway, we have a few days to hit this lead hot and heavy. Jan and I like your idea of Chris going over to Grable’s house but we feel it’s just too damn dangerous.”

“Can you get a search warrant to tear her house apart?” Storm asked hopefully. “I could probably spot something connected to the murders, including how she may be controlling this thing, or if it’s controlling her. Do you think she’s working alone?”

“Nope,” Ted smiled, handing Storm a spread sheet of phone numbers. “Grable gets calls from two main sources when she’s off work on both her cell-phone and her land line: Amador and McGraff.”

“He’s probably onto me, thanks to my shooting off my mouth at lunch,” Storm sat down dejectedly. “Kevin even came in and blew Amador’s bogey story.”

“We think their whole act was staged in the office after Amador knew it wasn’t going to work,” Janet explained. “You’re right about them knowing something’s up and you’re behind it. It’s possible that cloud thing communicated what it knew to Grable and she tried getting you thrown out of school by proxy. This is exactly what we wanted. We’re smoking out the bad guys. Tonight, we have to find out if we have the right bad guys.”

“What about the supernatural bad guys?” Storm asked seriously.

“Frankly, we don’t know,” Ted replied. “Janet told me what led to finding the victims and what happened when Logan consecrated the site.”

“We found something in Grable the Goth’s college background,” Janet told her. “If you can hack into the group’s Internet site, maybe you can come up with something to fight it.”

“Why don’t we nuke her from orbit,” Storm suggested only half in jest.

“She belonged to that Temple of Psychic Youth I think you mentioned before and later to the Church of Satan,” Janet went on. “It’s morphed into different cults since she was with them. Grable settled for something called the Temple of Set.”

“I’ve run across them before,” Storm said excitedly. “They’re bad news. I can get in, and probably come up with some more information like a member list. I doubt they’ll have anything on there for vanquishing whatever Grable called up from hell.”

“If she called anything up,” Ted reminded Storm gently. “I’m not much on coincidence either, but we have to be able to make a righteous case. Think of the difficulty in tying her into anything unless we first get probable cause. We need to search and find something significant.”

“The whole thing will be circumstantial.” Storm threw up her hands. She stood up angrily. “Even if you find some of the kids’ personal stuff in her place, I’ll bet you won’t find anything tying her directly to the killings. This is insane. You two can’t let her keep killing people. Sometime you’ll have to make a choice.”

“C’mon Wendy,” Janet said, putting an arm around her shoulders. “You’ve turned into our big gun on this. Find out what you can and see if we can get a little further. Don’t look so far down the road.”

“Okay… I’ll quit whining and see what rocks I can turn over,” Storm relented, plopping down in front of the computer, jetting into the cyber stream. “I still say we need to let Chris at least go up and knock on Grable’s door tonight and see what pops up. I’ll get Logan to come along. You two can be parked across the street, ready to rock and roll.”

“We’ll think about it,” Ted replied warily, looking at Janet for support.

“Grable won’t snuff the damn girl right on the sidewalk, especially if Logan goes along,” Janet pointed out. “It would be interesting to see whether she answers the door. Maybe we can sneak around outside and get a peek into her place before you bunch show up.”

Storm stayed silent, her fingers working the keyboard with blinding speed. Her brow was knit suddenly in concentration as Ted and Janet watched the screens cascading faster than their recognition processes. Suddenly, Storm slapped the table with the palms of her hands in triumph. She then pointed at the final screen on the monitor.

“Look what I found.”

Ted and Janet peered at the screen, first with incomprehension and then with realization.

“Holy crap,” Janet muttered. “Is this the membership key?”

“Yep,” Storm answered. “The names on the left are their on-line avatars. This is a small sect of Set. If not for the lead from her time with the Church of Satan, I wouldn’t have been able to trace her avatar through to this sect. Notice the troubling aspect of our little Midwest spin-off?”

“It appears all the victims were members too.” Ted sat down, running his hands through his hair. “Is there anybody around here that’s not a member?”

“Chris, Tracy, Nancy, Logan, and Carol aren’t members. That’s promising,” Storm replied. “If you have a file with the names of all the faculty and students at Harding, I can cross reference them to the membership. I’m copying all their downloadable files and checking for helpful items. It doesn’t look like there’s anything else of value like meeting dates.”

“What about those links in there to spells and incantations?” Ted asked, pointing to a ledger on the screen.

“I flashed through them already,” Storm answered. “They’re mostly old stuff that’s been floating around the Internet forever in the demon and witchcraft sites.”

“It looks like a pretty full repertoire,” Janet commented, reading over the list. “You know all this stuff, Wendy?”

“Well, the list does include the one I used to make that girl’s clothing disappear,” Storm informed them, pointing at the one she meant on the screen. “I’ve worked with the ones not Satanic in nature. I’m not into the demon stuff.”

“Oh, so you’re the good witch.” Janet shook her head. “I can’t believe I’m asking this but do you know a few we can use to stop the monster.”

“It’s not that easy,” Storm said. “We’d have to get something that belonged to the creature. Then I could try casting something relevant. If it’s inhabited Grable, we could collect something of hers.”

“We’ll be in the basement of the Hoover building in no time, Ted,” Janet sighed. “Start practicing your ‘the truth is out there’ shtick.”

“We’ll be up on charges if we let any of these kids get hurt playing Dungeons and Dragons,” Ted replied. “I’m…”

“I have to call Logan,” Storm said suddenly, having hacked in a spoof program which would allow them to enter the site’s hidden files at any time. “He’ll be working by now.”

“Heyyyyyyy…” Janet said, as Storm popped up from the chair. “Did you ever consider Ted and I might want to peruse the site? We don’t read a thousand words a minute, Willow.”

“Just click on the file marked witch on the desktop,” Storm replied, pointing to the symbol she had added. “It will take you right into the hidden files. I have an idea to protect Chris from anything bad over at Grable’s house.”

“What?” Ted asked, turning toward Storm, who was already heading up the stairs.

“Better I explain it later,” Storm called out. “You two will just make bad jokes about it.”

“Not anymore,” Janet muttered tiredly so only Ted heard her.

“A new believer?” Ted asked quietly.

“I’m cynical, not stupid. Storm guided us to a place no one could find. I saw those poor kids’ souls slip out of the earth and that creature streak straight out of a tree screeching like a tortured cat. We’re in trouble. Best case scenario, Wendy figures out some way to end this, and we get stuck explaining it.”

“Ouch,” Ted remarked. “And the worst case?”

“I ain’t going there,” Janet said, looking directly at Ted and reaching under the neckline of her sweater. “Look what I got while I was out today.”

Janet held up a large gold crucifix on a light gold chain. Without a word, Ted pulled out a silver crucifix from under his shirt, smiling. Janet laughed uneasily, sticking her cross back under her sweater. Ted noticed her hand was shaking slightly. In their nearly three years as partners, Ted had never seen Janet shaken, including two life and death situations.

“We are so screwed,” Janet stated resignedly.

“Welcome to the club, I’m the President. Have a little faith, Scully,” Ted urged, taking her hand. “Maybe after we beat back the forces of darkness, Storm can do that little disappearing clothes trick on you.”

“Maybe… she won’t have to,” Janet replied, grasping Ted’s hand. “I was raised Catholic. I admit I’m not much on the whole church thing. I believe in God and this is the first time I’ve feared for my eternal soul.”

“One thing I really believe is true.” Ted clasped her hand in both his. “You can’t lose your soul unless you wish it away. These kids and their teachers conjured up something bad… something wicked they thought would be cool.”

“I thought this whole thing of recruiting the bad girl geek to find a serial killer was a ticket straight to a change in career,” Janet admitted. “Today, we may not have saved anyone’s life, but we freed five souls from hell. If there’s any chance this thing… you know… comes close to snatching me… promise you’ll put a bullet in my head.”

Ted began a snappy reply. Seeing the way Janet was looking at him, he just nodded.

“Okay, I promise,” Ted agreed. “How about we beat it instead of feeding it.”

“On it,” Janet slipped her hand out of Ted’s grasp and turned to the computer. “Let’s find something on that site Miss Know-It-All missed.”

“Now you’re talkin’.” Ted turned to his own screen, networked into Janet’s station. He glanced once more over at his partner, thinking of her in a completely different light.

* * * *

“Hello?” Logan asked questioningly, holding his hand over the ear not pressed to the phone, trying to blot out the noise from the crowded restaurant.

“Sorry to bother you at work,” Storm apologized. “I was wondering if you knew that priest well enough to acquire a couple more things.”

“Sure,” Logan said, straightening at the sound of Storm’s voice. He had thought maybe his folks were calling about some emergency at home. “I’ll call him. What do you need?”

“I need you to round up as much salt as you can and stock up on more holy water.”

“I can handle that. The rush is on over here right now. I can get free to make a trip over to see Father Daniels in about an hour. See you at six?”

“I’ll be there. I’m rounding up everyone else too,” Storm told him. “Thanks Logan.”

“No problem, you can owe me.”

“Owe you what?” Storm asked with a giggle, trying to mask the way Logan’s voice sent shivers through her. “I thought you liked being an Exorcist.”

“Luckily, I’m not a priest, so I can like other things,” Logan answered lightly, trying to dispel the images of exactly what those things entailed. “I have to get back to work, Willow.”

“Not you too!” Storm gasped. “You know Willow liked girls in the Buffy series.”

“That’s because the Werewolf dumped her,” Logan chuckled.

“So, you’re a werewolf, huh?”

“Does hair on my chest count?”

“Hummmm… I’ll let you know when I inspect it,” Storm teased. “See you soon.”

Storm immediately called Chris.

“Hi, Chris, it’s Storm. Can you recruit Nancy and Carol for a meet over at Burger King?”

“Oh, hello Willow, is it zombies, vampires, or…”

“If you don’t want to do this, say so,” Storm cut her off impatiently.

“Take it easy.” Chris changed her tone at the urgency in Storm’s voice, but at the same time her heart leapt up into her throat figuratively. “We’ll be there. Do we have backup?”

“Absolutely. See you at six, okay?”

“Affirmative, commander,” Chris answered sarcastically and hung up.

Storm’s next call was to Tracy. “We’re on for tonight, Tracy. Want to just go to the King and see what’s up, or are you through with this all together?”

“I’ll pick you up at a quarter till, Willow,” Tracy offered. “Are we going to Grable’s?”

“Yes, and we’ll have plenty of backup. Besides, it will be Logan, Chris, and Nancy at the door. I think Grable’s onto me. We’ll have the FBI with us.”

“I’ll bet your FBI friends are real thrilled to have a sixteen year old running their operation,” Tracy commented wryly. “How’s that going over?”

“Better since this morning with what Janet saw at the park. I can leave you out of this, Tracy. It’s not a game.”

“Just have your homework notes with you when I pick you up. I need some magic help in Physics.”

“I’ll get right on it.” Storm laughed. “Bye, Trace.”

“Bye, Willow.”

“You…” Storm began a retort, but Tracy had already hung up.

“I’m going to forget what my name is if I stay around this place much longer,” Storm muttered, hanging up the phone.

By the time Storm and Tracy walked into Burger King at a minute after six, Chris, Nancy, and Carol were already sitting at a table with Logan serving them. Logan had already pulled two tables together and placed three extra chairs around them. The restaurant was still crowded, but thinning out quickly after the dinner hour. Storm was amused to see the three girls had all dressed in blue-jeans and black parkas. She and Tracy wore blue-jeans too, with black sweaters. While Storm wore her dark gray trench-coat, Tracy had chosen to wear a black windbreaker over her sweater. Logan gestured for them to sit down as they walked over, having already put two meals on the table for Storm and Tracy.

“I rustled up your favorite meals from last night,” Logan said sitting down with them at the table. “You five look like evil elves.”

The five girls laughed in surprise at Logan’s uncharacteristic zinger.

“That’s better than being Willow’s groupies,” Chris said finally, grinning at Storm. “Well, what do you have for us, fearless leader?”

“We’re going to Grable’s. My folks will be watching out for us. If Logan managed to get the items I asked him for, we’ll be all set. This is not a burglary. You three will walk up to Grabel’s house and ring the doorbell. Logan will be right behind you. The rest of us will be out front. I’ll have already fixed things at the entrance so there won’t be any problems.”

“How the heck did you talk your folks into all this?” Carol asked suspiciously. “I had to actually tell my Dad I was meeting a study group here. He called over to your parents’ house to check my story.”

Storm leaned forward over the table. She felt confident in sharing her secret having found out none of their group were on the Temple of Set member role. “They aren’t my parents. Ted and Janet are FBI agents.”

As the three girls not privy to Storm’s secret looked at each other in stunned disbelief, Storm quickly went through the details in a hushed manner, including the events the three did not know about in the park that morning. She brought them up to date on her hacking into the Temple of Set website and the number of members she still needed to investigate. When she finished talking everyone was hunched forward in their seats.

“You…you didn’t let us in on this because we could have been part of it?” Carol asked.

“No, I didn’t even suspect all this until Ted and Janet came up with Grable’s college connection to the Church of Satan. They thought it was better if only the ones we had no other explanation for were in on it. It’s important now for all of you to know. Ted and Janet are probably cussing me out right now for outing them to three more people but it can’t be helped.”

“So… they’re listening to all this?” Chris inquired uneasily, clasping her hands in front of her. “This gets freakier by the minute.”

“Better to have the FBI backing us up over at Grable’s than a couple of yuppie parents,” Nancy added logically. “You said you had something planned for protection.”

“Did Father Daniels help you out with the salt and holy water, Logan?” Storm asked.

“Yep. He laughed like hell until I told him how I used the holy water this morning and what I saw. Father Daniels took one look at my face and went to suit up formally. He led me over to the church and performed the ritual blessing at the altar in full robes. I have a couple gallons of holy water along with a twenty-five pound bag of salt he blessed. It’s in the trunk of my car. They have bags of the stuff left over from when the King changed over to packets of salt.”

“That’s great!” Storm said in a relieved tone. “We’ll need it.”

“Do we have to do this after dark…” Carol began to ask when Storm’s cell-phone rang.

“Uh oh,” Storm chuckled answering her phone. “Witches are us, Willow speaking.”

She heard Ted chortling in the background and an aggravated snort from Janet.

“Thanks for consulting us on your revelations,” Janet retorted. “Ted and I are going to check out Grable’s house before you bunch get to the front door. Make sure you don’t arrive there until at least eight-thirty, okay?”

“Aye, matey,” Storm replied.

“We’re going to have that Mother/Daughter talk real soon you smartass little…”

“Bye, Scully, see you soon,” Storm ended the call. “We can’t approach until eight-thirty.”

“I assume you have some protection spell plotted for the salt and holy water,” Logan said.

“I’m going with what worked for us this morning. There’s no use getting fancy with something from hell. We’ll do it together.”

“Do you believe?” Logan asked. “If you don’t you said it won’t…”

“I believe,” Storm stated, picking up her bag. She took out five wooden crosses, six inches in length, made out of oak, and handed them to each of her friends.

“You all better believe too,” Storm added.

The others took the crosses from Storm immediately, without a word.

“This is better than a horror movie,” Tracy joked.

“I hope the ending’s different than those damn ‘Jeepers Creepers’ movies,” Chris shuddered, holding her cross with both hands. “This thing can’t skin us, can it?”

“Best not to go there,” Storm answered carefully. “Anyone wanting out, now’s the time to say so. No one in their right mind would fault you for going home and skipping out on this crap.”

“I’m in, but I wish I hadn’t eaten that Whopper,” Nancy said, evoking laughter.

“You really hacked into the FBI?” Chris asked, looking at Storm as if she had beamed into Burger King from a alien spaceship.

“More importantly, they caught me. I was bored. It made me into an ex-felon. I’m not bored anymore.”

“What should we do if Grable asks us in?” Carol asked.

“Don’t go in under any circumstances,” Storm told her forcefully. “Just keep up a conversation about her being absent. Ask her if she has heard about the police finding the bodies in Perkins Park.”

“And if she doesn’t take no for an answer?” Carol persisted.

“Say, oh look at the time, we have to go, bye,” Storm rattled off a short answer. “Don’t go in past the threshold.”

“We’ve got it,” Nancy replied. “Now, about that chemistry homework.”

Thursday, March 26, 2009

2001 Buick Century

One of my customers’ wives ended up stuck yesterday with their 2001 Buick Century. She had been on the freeway before exiting into the left lane at an intersection stoplight. It would no longer move forward in drive gear. Her husband went to the scene of four wheel tragedy and found the car would move in reverse, first gear, and second gear – but not drive gear or third. He had it towed into my shop where I scanned it for engine and transmission codes after making sure the engine was running well.

It had set a code P1811 which is a transmission code related to the pressure control solenoid. After further research I found out it’s a relatively common code but it means two different courses of action depending on mileage. If the vehicle has over 90,000 miles as this particular Buick, it means major overhaul is the only safe solution. If the code shows up at low mileage the pressure control solenoid can be changed relatively safely. There have been numerous valve body updates so I would recommend major overhaul with all the updates. Many times on the high mileage vehicles the overdrive clutch hub shaft strips.

I’m blogging this today because I’ve run across more than a few of these early 2000’s GM four speed electronic transmission failures in the last year. This customer has had regular transmission filter and oil flush treatments so I don’t believe this failure has to do with maintenance. If it happens to someone coming across this blog you may be able to move the vehicle to the roadside in first or second gear if the vehicle will not move in drive. The P1811 code appeared in each of the past failures so it is one key element. I wish I could have projected some humor in this but it wasn’t possible.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Recruits

Storm Chapter 6.

A tall, portly man almost Logan’s height looked up from the papers he had just received from the secretary near the long office counter. He had thin graying hair and wire rim glasses. His dark gray suit fit him loosely. The matching black and gray stripped tie completed his somber look. He nodded at Logan and Storm.

“Hello, Logan, and it’s Storm, right?” The man asked in deep raspy voice.

“That’s right, Mr. Spelling,” Storm replied. “We met when my Mom signed me in.”

“You wanted to see us, Mr. Spelling,” Logan stated.

“We have an unfortunate situation.” Spelling gestured toward his office. “It seems during an altercation outside the high school yesterday, Dave Amador and Marty Meyers were injured. Mr. Amador has demanded an investigation, claiming his son was assaulted. Let’s take this in my office so you two won’t have to repeat your version of what happened.”

Having served in combat for nearly a year in Iraq, Logan felt nothing but a slight interest in the meeting ahead. Storm, who had been arrested and led away from her home in handcuffs by the FBI felt some anticipation in looking forward to Janet’s participation. As they cleared the doorway into Spelling’s office, they saw everyone seated around a table in an adjoining conference room.

Janet met Storm’s look with something between impatient anger and a knowing bond. Logan’s Father, a clean shaven man with short dark hair and dressed in Navy blue work clothes, gave Logan a small wry salute. The twins, Marty and Chuck sat with their hands clasped on the table in front of them, not looking up, while a harried woman with red hair drummed her fingers nervously on the table, fiddling with the hair by her right ear. Dave Amador, wearing a cast on his right hand and wrist, looked directly at Storm with a challenging grin before turning his attention down at the table again. His Father, a heavier double of his son, sat back from the table, his legs crossed. The senior Amador wore a three piece, dark brown business suit with red tie.

Spelling gestured for Logan and Storm to be seated near the head of the large conference table next to the one he sat in. “Have a seat you two and we’ll begin.”

“This is concerning an incident outside the high school yesterday morning,” Spelling addressed the group as Logan and Storm sat down. “Commissioner Amador claims his son David and his son’s two friends Marty and Chuck Meyers were attacked by Logan Stanfield and Storm Crandall. Is that correct, Commissioner?”

“Those are the facts, yes,” Amador stated belligerently. “These two attacked my son and his friends for no reason. The Stanfield boy broke my son’s wrist.”

“I didn’t break his wrist,” Logan stated plainly, looking directly at the older Amador. “I volunteer to pay for the X-Ray done by a place of your choosing, Principal Spelling.”

“He has a cast on his arm, Logan,” Spelling replied.

“Yeah, I know,” Logan added, still looking directly at the Commissioner. “I’d know if I broke it. I didn’t.”

“Are you insinuating…” Amador began to bluster.

“What about it, Commissioner,” Principal Spelling interrupted. “We should confirm the injury before this goes any further.”

Amador reddened. “Broken, sprained, who cares?! My son was attacked, and his friend’s ankle almost broken. I want these two expelled!”

“I’ve heard your version of this,” Spelling replied in measured tone. “Why don’t you tell us what your version is Ms. Crandall.”

“I was walking to school alone when…”

“You weren’t with Mr. Stanfield?” Spelling broke in.

“No, I hadn’t even met him yet,” Storm said. “Dave Amador and his two friends began harassing me as I walked. When Marty pulled the book bag off my shoulder to look through it, I stomped on his instep and ran for the school. Dave and Chuck chased me. Logan intercepted them and when Dave raised a hand, Logan gripped it for a moment, driving Dave to his knees. Logan released him and everyone went to school. I saw Dave near the end of the day. He was carrying his books with the hand he has a cast on. I’m sure his teachers saw the same thing. We…”

“So you admit to attacking my son and his friends over a harmless prank, you…” Amador broke in angrily.

“Woe there, Pointdexter,” Janet cut him off. “You better rein in that mouth of yours. I saw your son and these other two harassing kids when I drove Storm to school the first week we were here. I should have reported them then.”

“Bullshit!” Amador shouted, standing up in a rage. “You and your daughter come here making wild accusations, and…”

“Are you calling me a liar?!” Janet pushed out of her chair and went around toward Amador in the blink of an eye.

“Wait,” Mrs. Meyers said, standing up, and holding out a hand in placating fashion to halt Janet. She grabbed Marty by the ear. “Did you grab this girl’s bag, Marty? By God, you better tell me the truth. You and Chuck haven’t been the same since you started hanging around with David. Now you tell me the truth, boy!”

“I…I grabbed her bag,” Marty admitted, his head tilted to relieve the pressure on his ear.

“Have you and Chuck been hassling kids on the way to school in the morning?” Mrs. Meyers asked, resignation plain in her voice.

“Yeah, we did. Let Marty go, Ma,” Chuck answered for his brother, still staring down at the table dejectedly.

“This doesn’t prove anything!” Amador shouted, pounding his fist on the table. “Those two will say anything under coercion. My son…”

“Kevin McGraff saw what happened,” Storm cut in. “He’s not afraid to tell you what he saw. No one’s pressuring him one way or another.”

“How do we know you’re not…”

“I’m warning you, you little turd,” Janet moved past Mrs. Meyers, pointing a finger at Amador, who stepped back with his hands up. “You keep running off at the mouth, and…”

“Please, Mrs. Crandall,” Spelling pleaded. “Let’s all sit down. I’ll have my secretary call Kevin McGraff out of class. If he backs your daughter’s story, the school’s part in this investigation will be over.

Amador looked relieved, but Janet’s face had not changed expression, causing Storm to launch half way out of her seat.

“C’mon Mom,” Storm added her plea. “Do what Principal Spelling asked. Please sit down. Kevin will clear this up.”

Janet never looked away from Amador. Her fist clenched and unclenched at her side. She relaxed momentarily and everyone relaxed around the table. Janet shot forward suddenly, gripping Amador’s lip between her forefinger and thumb, twisting Amador’s head as she twisted his upper lip. Janet leaned down, as Amador danced with a kind of mewling sound issuing from his mouth.

“Be real careful what comes out of your mouth from this moment on,” Janet whispered fiercely as even Amador’s son had scooted away from the two. “Understand?”

Amador nodded his head in agreement as he continued to dance in place.

“Good,” Janet said, releasing Amador and walking back toward her seat. “Please call McGraff, Mr. Spelling. I believe we can wait calmly now.”

Spelling looked around the room doubtfully. When Amador sat down patting his lip gently, Spelling went out to give directives to his secretary. He came back a moment later and sat down.

“After the Meyers’ boys’ revelations, if Mr. McGraff backs up their account of yesterday morning,” Spelling reiterated, looking at Amador directly, “we’re done here. Would you like to add anything, Logan?”

“Storm related it just as it happened,” Logan answered.

“And before you say anything, Amador,” Logan’s Father instructed calmly as Amador had become animated once again. “You’re up for re-election this year. Not that anyone in this room would vote for your whiny ass, but if the newspapers get a hold of what you’re trying to pull here… well, you can forget about the free ride you have now.”

Amador started to respond. One glance over at a smiling Janet and he huddled with his son for a moment, speaking to him in an urgent whisper. Five minutes later, Kevin McGraff walked into the room, escorted by Spelling’s secretary. A confused look entered his facial features when he saw the attendees in the room.

“You wanted to see me, Mr. Spelling?”

“Did you witness the altercation yesterday morning before school?” Spelling asked.

“Yes, I did,” Kevin smiled. “Marty there tried to take Storm’s book bag and got his foot stomped. Then, Dave and Chuck chased Storm toward the school. It was going to be a close race until Logan popped up in front of them. That was the end of the chase.”

“Thank you, Kevin,” Spelling said. “You may go back to class.”

“Anytime,” Kevin replied, looking directly at Dave Amador. “Anytime.”

After the door was closed behind Kevin, Spelling stood up.

“I’m sorry. As I see it, I should be thinking of expelling your son, Commissioner and the two Meyers boys. Something valuable has come out of this: I realize I will have to extend the safety perimeter around the school.”

“Not for these two, Mr. Spelling,” Mrs. Meyers stated angrily. “My boys will not be bothering anybody from now on, or messing around with this trouble maker over here. I’ll walk them to school holding their hands if I have to. My husband detests bullies. I’m sure he’d like a chance to reeducate his sons.”

“Very well, Mrs. Meyers,” Spelling nodded. “Marty, you and Chuck may return to classes. Dave, you owe Ms. Crandall an apology, as do your two cohorts.”

“I’m sorry,” Marty told Storm, and his brother echoed the statement with some sincerity.

Dave stayed quiet, looking at his folded hands in front of him on the table. The elder Amador stared at Spelling as if daring him to say something. Spelling obliged him.

“You’re suspended for three days, David,” Spelling stated. “After your return I will be watching you. Any more incidents and you will be expelled. Is that clear?”

“I hear you,” Dave retorted, standing up. “Can we go now?”

“You haven’t heard the last of this, Spelling,” Amador added angrily. “C’mon, Dave, we’re getting out of here.”

Amador and his son brushed by Spelling on the way out, slamming the conference room door behind them.

“I think this meeting is at an end,” Spelling said with a sigh. “Thank you all for coming. I know this whole thing was engineered by the Commissioner, but it did make me realize I’ve been neglecting some safety concerns around here. Please accept my apology for any inconvenience this caused you. There really wasn’t any real alternative.”

As the group left their seats to walk out, Mrs. Meyers held out her hand to Janet. “I meant it, Mrs. Crandall. There’ll be no more trouble from my two boys.”

“Thank you,” Janet replied with a smile, shaking the woman’s hand. “Call me Janet.”

“I’m Anne. Things just haven’t been the same since those kids disappeared and my boys started hanging out with that Amador kid,” Anne said gratefully. “You sure ate that arrogant toad Amador’s lunch today.”

Logan’s Father came over too, shaking hands with Anne and then Janet, while Spelling pulled Logan, Storm and the two Meyers boys aside for a moment. “I’m Mike Stanfield. That was a most gratifying get together.”

“Here’s hoping we’ll only see each other at PTA,” Anne said with a sigh, before walking out of the room with a warning gesture for her sons.

“You have a hell of a kid there, Mike,” Janet commented. “He’s a Marine all right.”

“Oh,” Mike said with some surprise, looking over at his son. “He doesn’t usually tell anyone about being a Marine for some unknown reason. My wife and I almost croaked when he disappeared. Then we get a call he’s been found, he’s been wounded in action, and received the Navy Cross. It’s pretty tough to chew him out after all that.”

“I can only imagine,” Janet laughed.

“We’re proud as hell of him and no dirt-bag like Amador is going to mess with him while I’m breathing,” Mike added with a gritty tone. “I know Logan thinks highly of your daughter. She’s the first friend, outside of Tracy Washington, Logan’s talked about since his stint in the service.”

“I’ll keep an eye on them,” Janet promised him.

“You do that,” Mike laughed. “Nice move on Amador. I’m sure Logan won’t go out of his way to get on your bad side. See you at the PTA.”

“Bye, Mike, nice meeting you,” Janet said, taking out her PDA and making a few notes.

Mike put a hand on Logan’s shoulder, smiling up at his son as Spelling completed the re-entry forms for each of the four students to return to classes.

“Next time, tell your old man about the day’s events, so I can plan my schedule.”

“Sorry, Pop. I didn’t think it was any big deal and I sure didn’t think Dave Amador would claim to have been attacked.”

“I understand.” Mike nodded, shaking hands with Principal Spelling and then Storm while ignoring the Meyers boys. “I’ll see you at home. Nice meeting you, Storm. You two… stay away from that jerk, Amador.”

“You don’t have to worry about that,” Chuck replied dejectedly. “We’ll end up grounded over this until sometime in the next century.”

As Mike left the room, Logan shook hands with first Chuck and then Marty. “I’m glad you two didn’t have anything to do with this. Are we square?”

“Sure Logan,” Marty answered with respect. “Man, Chuck and me weren’t looking for trouble from you. Like Chuck said, no more screwin’ around with anybody.”

“Glad to hear this,” Spelling said approvingly. “You four get along back to class.”

As the four students exited the office, Storm waved at Janet, who had looked up from her notes in time to wave back. She gave her the forefinger and middle finger pointing at her eyes and then at Storm gesture, mouthing ‘I’m watching you’. Storm giggled and walked out with Logan. Spelling approached Janet.

“I must say, Mrs. Crandall, that was a bit more than I’ve seen in a meeting from a housewife,” Spelling complimented her. “Commissioner Amador can and has been very intimidating at PTA meetings and board meetings.”

“You’re kidding, right?” Janet asked in some surprise. “You folks around here let that twerp push you around? If he tries anything, Mr. Spelling, you call me. I have some friends in higher places than him. If nothing else, I’ll go over his house and kick his ass.”

Spelling burst into laughter, shaking Janet’s hand with both his. “I bet you… would… Mrs. Crandall. I bet you would.”

“Wow, exciting morning, huh?” Logan commented to Storm as they walked down the hall toward World History class. “Want to meet up later at the King? We can work on our spells and incantations.”

“I think we’re going to need them,” Storm replied with a short laugh. “I hope Tracy can get away tonight too. I should talk to her more about my handlers.”

“You were right about Janet,” Logan said admiringly. “She’s not much for subtlety.”

“We didn’t get along very well at first. She still knows how to stick the needle in just enough to make me howl. Of course I’ve been holding my own on that count.”

“So I’ve noticed. Are we still getting together for lunch with Tracy and the Gremlins?”

“We’ll hit the lunch room once we hook up with Tracy and find out,” Storm said, as Logan opened the classroom door for her. They entered Kensington’s World History class as quietly as possible.

* * * *

Tracy met Logan and Storm as they walked down the hall from class.

“I heard on the grapevine you two were pulled out of class,” Tracy said. She fell in alongside them near Storm. “Any casualties?”

“Just Dave and his Dad,” Logan replied, explaining what Janet had done to Amador and Dave Amador’s suspension.

“She did not!” Tracy exclaimed, clapping her hands together. “Oh my God, that is so hot. Where are we lunchin’ at?”

“We figured the cafeteria would be the best place to pick up our three cohorts,” Storm answered. “Do you know if Carol, Chris, and Nancy have lunch this hour?”

“They do,” Tracy said, pointing across the crowded cafeteria at a table where Carol was waving at them from, with Chris and Nancy sitting next to her.

More than a few students watched the three walking through the cafeteria. The rumor mill in any high school grinds out news at a pace far in excess of the school’s hierarchy’s wishes. Have the same set of characters cast in two consecutive days’ gossip and in short order, rumor plots begin looking for those particular characters. Add in pop culture names, mystery backgrounds, escalating unanswered questions, and the mix rapidly shoots past the normal attention span of gerbils most high school students foster.

“What’s going on?” Carol asked immediately when Storm, Logan, and Tracy came into earshot. “We heard about…”

“It was nothing, Carol,” Tracy said, sitting down next to her, as Logan pulled two more chairs over. “Old news from yesterday - all cleared up. Anyone see anything?”

“No, we were hoping one of you had picked up on something,” Nancy answered with a shrug. “Only person I noticed missing was Dave. I heard he was suspended in your old news meeting. I take it there’s no news on the park, huh?”

“Not yet,” Storm replied. “My Mom was summoned to the meeting so she would have said something if she had anything to report. Not even an absentee?”

“Our English teacher was absent today,” Chris spoke up for the first time. “Ms. Grable.”

“Grable the Goth?” Tracy chimed in questioningly. “The one who always looks like Morticia from the Adam’s family and practically orgasms when she reads Dante?”

“Are there two?” Chris retorted derisively, provoking chuckles from everyone but Logan and Storm. “Okay, I see that means something to you two. What’s up?”

“We…” Storm’s cell-phone vibrated and she answered it.

“You were right,” Janet greeted her succinctly. “They unearthed the remains of five bodies, all pending DNA confirmation. There were enough personal effects with the bodies to make it pretty clear who they are. I’ll fill you in on the details later. Tell your little friends, but play around with swearing them to secrecy. They won’t be able to keep their mouths shut and then we’ll see what happens when they talk. Ted’s on Grable as we speak, Good work.”

“Are you going to pick her up?”

“We can’t do that yet, Wendy, or all this shit will be wasted and she’ll get off. All we have so far is your friend Chris’s report Grable was absent today. Let’s not blow this. Ted and I are floating in the good graces of our boss after finding the bodies. Don’t shoot us down yet.”

“Understood, Mom,” Storm added, and hung up. She hunched over the table. The others did as well when they saw the look on Storm’s face.

“The police unearthed the bodies of who they think are the missing students over in Perkins Park,” Storm related in a whisper. “Keep it to yourselves. It hasn’t been confirmed yet.”

“Jesus! That means the cloud thing from last night was definitely what murdered them,” Carol concluded in a hushed voice. “What’re we going to do?”

“Same thing as today, Carol. Calm down,” Logan urged. “Keep our eyes open and stay out of the park, although I doubt the thing will be haunting there anymore.”

“Do you think Grable has something to do with this or not?” Chris persisted. “She’s creepy enough to be involved in anything.”

“I’m writing her name down,” Storm told her, taking her notebook out, knowing the action was just for show. “I’ll see what I can find out about her tonight.”

“I’ll spring for dinner at the King, if all of you want to compare notes later,” Logan volunteered. “We can get together at six and still have a couple hours of daylight.”

“Sorry,” Carol said immediately, shaking her head. “I don’t want to be that near to Perkins. Besides, my Dad is reining me in for a while after the supposed accident last night.”

Nancy looked at Chris, and received a barely perceptible head shake in return.

“I think Chris and I will be staying away from there for a while too, Logan, but thanks for the offer. We’re only a few days away from the study group thing on Saturday at Storm’s house. Besides, we can meet in here for the rest of the week at lunchtime. Speaking of which, I need to go get something to munch.”

“I’ll pick up Storm and come over,” Tracy agreed, as Carol, Nancy, and Chris headed over to buy lunch, while the three remaining companions took lunch out of their bags. “As I told you before, count me out of Park assaults.”

Logan stood up, and gestured at the drink machines. “What do you two want to drink?”

“Diet Pepsi,” Storm said. “Thanks.”

“Same for me, Hulk.”

Logan nodded and turned away. He came back a few moments later with the drinks, walking with the other three girls. They sat down and ate in silence, enjoying the relative normalcy. Kevin McGraff approached, carrying his tray, and stopped to speak.

“Is this the study group warm-up?” Kevin asked, winking at Tracy.

“Sort of,” Tracy replied. “Pull up a chair, if you don’t mind not having a table for your food.”

“Table? I don’t need no stinking table,” Kevin joked, pulling another chair around to the table and sitting down while balancing his tray. “Quite a meeting this morning.”

“We survived, thanks to you,” Storm said. “I’m sorry about dragging you into it but I remembered you telling me about seeing the whole thing yesterday with Dave.”

“I didn’t mind a bit,” Kevin replied. “It got me out of English. We had a sub anyhow. Did I miss anything, Chris?”

“Nope, I was telling them Grable the Goth had been absent today,” Chris answered.

“She’s okay,” Kevin piped in, frowning as he took a bite of his sandwich.

“We…we thought maybe her absence… with all that’s been happening…” Storm began hesitantly, perking up at Kevin’s immediate defense of Grable.

“All of what?” Kevin asked, looking around questioningly.

Storm decided to take a gamble. She related in detail what had happened the night before, and ended it with the fact the police had uncovered the remains of five bodies in Perkins Park. Instead of being shocked or even interested, Kevin shook his head dismissively.

“Wow, you’re pretty well informed, Storm. I haven’t heard anything about any bodies being found.” Kevin chuckled a little. “I have no opinion on monsters in the park.”

“You would have if that thing had reached for you last night,” Carol retorted, standing up. “I’ll see you all later. I have to take care of a few things before class.”

“What’d I say?” Kevin asked innocently. “It’s not that I don’t believe you guys but I’m just not into monsters.”

“We know it’s hard to believe,” Storm said. “Do you know Ms. Grable pretty well?”

“She’s a good teacher. I like English though. What’s this about?”

“The five girls who were killed all dressed Goth and they were honor students,” Storm replied. “We were just snooping around for something out of place, especially with what happened to Carol.”

“I don’t remember you being real big into English, Kev,” Chris interjected.

“Can’t get through high school and on to college without it,” Kevin replied. “Anyway, I better get going too. Are we still on for Saturday, Storm?”

“Oh… yeah… here,” Storm jotted her address down on a piece of notebook paper, and handed it to Kevin. “Is noontime okay with you?”

“Perfect, and don’t forget I need help in Chemistry, big time,” Kevin said, standing up with his tray and walking away with a wave. “See ya.”

“That was weird,” Logan commented thoughtfully, watching Kevin walk out of the cafeteria area. “No interest, no shock…just some meandering around. You know Trace, I’m gettin’ a bad feeling here about my old buddy Kevin.”

“I knew it!” Tracy smacked her hand on the table. “As soon as I get happy thoughts about some guy, they end up with some friggin’ Freddy Kruger thing going on.”

“Hey, let’s not go over the cliff here,” Nancy put in, holding up a hand. “Kevin didn’t react the way we may have expected but it doesn’t mean he’s involved.”

“He is pretty tight with Grable,” Chris added. “I guess the key here is what you find out about Grable. This whole thing could be bullshit if she just caught the flu.”

“Would you be willing to go over to her place and see how she’s doing?” Storm asked.

“Let me think,” Chris replied, tilting her head up thoughtfully with one hand on her chin for a moment.

“No, and hell no!” Chris stated comically, giving Storm the wave off. “If you think I’m going over to some witch wannnabe’s house, where she might have ‘The Darkness’ waiting for me, you’re out of your sophomore mind.”

“Just asking,” Storm shrugged, as even Logan laughed at Chris’s unequivocal answer. “Five kids are dead because of this thing.”

“The police won’t believe cloud monsters. Even if they did, what the hell would they be able to do about it?” Tracy speculated, shaking her head. “Something human generated this shit and Chris at least came up with a suspect. I got nothin’.”

Tracy’s comment quieted her remaining companions.

“I guess we’ll get together tomorrow once I find out more as to what the police came up with,” Storm said finally. “Let’s keep up the surveillance of things extraordinary and get together for lunch tomorrow.”

“It’s not a big thing,” Nancy related hesitantly. “But taking orders from a sophomore kind of sucks. I know you got it going on, Storm, but flying in the dark with you… well, I’m less than enthusiastic.”

“Does it make a difference if kids are dying and the best chance of maybe catching the killer rests in her hands?” Logan asked, looking around at his friends solemnly. “She’s not forcing you to do anything. I know Carol will want in on it.”

“Yeah, we noticed,” Chris sighed. “First, Carol couldn’t stand the sight of her and now she’s Storm’s bitch. What’s up with that?”

“She told us you stopped the monster, Storm,” Nancy said finally. “How…how did you do that? Maybe it wouldn’t be so hard to follow your lead if we understood what the hell it is that makes you so special.”

“Storm chanted something,” Tracy stated suddenly. “She said it over and over until a bunch of wind and stuff off the ground blew into the cloud, causing it to dissipate.”

“A chant?” Chris asked, looking around in confusion.

“Maybe we ought to forget this group thing,” Storm suggested, standing up, with Logan and Tracy following her lead. “Just watch your backs for a while until we see where this goes.”

Storm turned to walk out. Chris called her back.

“Wait… we’re in,” Chris said reluctantly, getting a nod from Nancy. “Let me think it over about the visit to Grable the Goth’s house.”

“Thanks, Chris… Nancy,” Storm turned around for a moment. “We’re doing the right thing. The police need a new lead because this thing won’t stop. Do you have a cell-phone?”

“Do dogs piss on bushes?” Chris fired off a quick retort, evoking laughter as she dug around and came up with a piece of paper and pen. She jotted down her number and handed it to Storm. “Don’t call me unless you can guarantee I’m not going to end up as bait.”

“I’ll go with you to the door, Chris,” Nancy volunteered. “I have to hang around until I see Willow here chase the monster.”

“Great… another nickname,” Storm muttered, as the others laughed at Nancy’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer reference. She waved and walked toward the exit with Logan and Tracy.

“I bet Janet will like the updated witch reference nickname,” Logan proffered, stopping Storm in her tracks.

“Oh my God, thank you for reminding me I’m transmitting,” Storm hissed through clenched teeth as Logan patted her shoulder.

“You’re… oh, I see,” Tracy giggled, pulling Storm along again. “I’m glad I didn’t run off too much at the mouth. Hey, Willow, do we get badges?”