What about Crystal?” Randy finally asked. “She couldn’t have been working for Them. We were in the same kindergarten class. She’s been here forever. You only came this year.”
I opened the door and got out of the car. The dry heat that built up in the earth during the long sunny day, was now radiating out, making it hotter at my feet than at my head, where a ghost of a breeze tried to exist. Randy followed me out. “No, they approached Crystal like they did you. She wasn’t the first.” I leaned against the hood of the car.
I looked up at the stars. It’s funny, in the city, you can’t see any stars, and so you can’t see constellations. Growing up, I used to wonder what they were talking about, bears, dogs, dragons, and hunters, all somewhere up there. I could see maybe three stars on any given night. But in the desert there are so many stars, you can’t pick out a pattern from the lot. Orion is just as lost in the desert as he is in the city. “Aren’t the stars great?”
Randy was looking at me not the sky. “What? Stars?”
I pointed up to the Milky Way that swept through the blackness. I was making him nervous. “Randy, what did they say to you before they let you go?” I asked.
“Before they let you go, I know they must have said something else. I know these kinds of people. You have talked to them so you are now more of a liability than an asset. They needed to make sure you understood how serious this is,” I said.
He sighed. “You’re right. He told me if I didn’t do what he said, they’d kill me.”
“It’s not your fault.”
“Actually it is. I didn’t realize how closely they were watching. I approached you, now you are screwed,” I said, still staring into the sky. It’s hard to take your eyes off a desert sky at night. I tried not to look west, where even out here the glow of the city dimmed the stars. “Crystal was the third. Last Friday Darren and Devon approached me, tried to get me drunk with spiked juice.”
“That doesn’t sound suspicious, knowing Darren and Devon,” Randy pointed out.
“Yeah, except they were way more persistent about it than you’d expect. Darren grabbed my arm, but I just shrugged him off. I’m stronger than I look. He was surprised. I didn’t think anything of it at first, but have you seen either of them all week?”
Randy paused, now looking up into the stars as well, I saw him mentally flipping through the week. “No, not that I remember.”
“Me neither. And on Tuesday two of the cheerleaders, the redhead and her friend, I forgot their names–”
“Kaitlyn and Samantha?”
“Yeah, they pulled me into the bathroom, started acting tough. I slipped out and away before anything happened,” I explained. “When was the last time you saw them?”
“Tuesday morning,” Randy said catching on. “Where are they?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “But I can only assume they received the same threat you did. They failed, which means they are probably dead. Crystal, I’m guessing, will never wake up from her coma.”
It was silent again. We looked up at the stars, and I thought about how a boy and a girl should be looking at the stars together, but they shouldn’t be discussing death. They should be necking or something. “Crystal almost succeeded,” I said after a while. I don’t know why I wanted to tell him about it, but I did. “I wasn’t expecting it, especially from her. She was my friend.” My voice sounded rougher than I wanted.
“What happened?” Randy asked.
“I was looking through the documents in the library,” I explained. “I told the librarian it was for a history report.”
“Why don’t you just take these documents and leave?” Randy asked. “That would solve a lot of problems.”
“They have magnetic tape in them,” I said. “You can’t take them out of the library.”
Randy glanced over at me, incredulous. “Your employers never taught you how to sneak a book out of the library?”
“I was trying to stay under the radar. Besides, they are spread out in a bunch of places,” I said. “If I took the first ones I found, I’d have missed a bunch of others. Each step just leads to more. I haven’t found them all.”
“So Crystal came up to you…” he prompted.
“Yeah, I had everything out. I was at that table in the back, behind most of the bookcases,” I said.
“The one the librarians started walking by every ten minutes because it had become a make out spot?”
“Yeah, that’s the one,” I replied. “It’s usually pretty deserted now, because the librarians still check on it every ten minutes. Anyway, I saw Crystal coming, and I started to put stuff away. I didn’t want anyone else to look too closely at what I was doing. I had just managed to put one book away and was grabbing the second when she came up behind me. She took a book from the table and swung it at me.”
Randy looked surprised. “Really? Did she hit you?”
“Yeah, like I said, she caught me off guard. She hit me in the head, and I fell down. Then she proceeded to kick the crap out of me.”
“You haven’t seen my stomach and back. I sort of got back to reality by the time she went for my head. She didn’t say anything, just attacked. She was wearing those really bulky boots she likes, you probably never noticed. I think they’re steel toed. If she had kicked my head, I’d have been gone. But I rolled out of the way, and she got my shoulder instead.” I pulled up the sleeve on my shirt. “You might not be able to see in the dark.”
Randy looked at my shoulder. “No, it’s plenty bruised. I can see it. What did you do?”
“I fought back. I stood up, and threw a few punches. They didn’t land right, because I was still seeing stars from the initial hit. So I decided to run. It had worked the last two times. I hadn’t been followed. But Crystal was more persistent. I left the library, and went towards the cafeteria, but I couldn’t lose her, so I circled around and ended up in the science quad. I tried to talk to her, but she just kept coming. I was dodging her punches and kicks, and believe me, she was a lot better at it than I was expecting. Mr. Morris’s door was open, and I backed into the classroom, thinking he could help. Of course he wasn’t there. She picked up a beaker and started swinging it at me. I picked up a graduated cylinder and defended myself. I was stiffening up, and she wasn’t stopping. I mean, if I really wanted to I could have stopped her sooner, but I didn’t want to hurt her. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore, I saw my chance and hit her hard with the cylinder over the head. She fell to the floor, and I ran.”
“I didn’t know graduated cylinders were so harmful,” Randy said.
“Then I went back to the library, and quickly put everything away. I couldn’t leave it out for everyone to find. After that, I headed toward the parking garage, and found you.”
“So now what?” Randy asked. He wanted to hear my master plan. The one the good guy has that defeats the bad guys and saves the day. Only problem was I didn’t have one.
“Well, that’s a good question,” I said, and began to think out loud. “We could go back and pretend nothing ever happened.”
“‘Maybe that’d buy us some time?” Randy asked hopefully.
“If they aren’t watching, then maybe they’d give you another day, but considering what we know, they are probably watching,” I pointed out.
“Right now?” Randy asked nervously.
“No, I’m willing to bet they couldn’t keep up with your car, and I was watching the rear-view mirror, plus, it’d be hard to see us out here without us seeing them. No car turned off the highway after us,” I explained. “But, they probably were watching when you picked me up, and when we switched drivers. If you show up around town without delivering, I’m guessing you won’t be making it to school on Monday.”
“We could try to ambush them,” Randy said. “Call the number, say I have you, but take them down instead.”
“Bold thinking, but we don’t know how many people are involved.”
“They said you’d have a weapon. Do you?”
I pulled out my knife, pressed the button and it popped open. I smiled, “I could always kill you and send back your head to give them a message.” It was supposed to be a joke.
“Not my favorite choice,” Randy said. He could tell it was supposed to be a joke, but there was an edge to his voice.
“Fortunately I trust you, so we don’t need to worry about that one,” I replied.
“Well speaking of trust, I could just do what they said,” Randy replied. I knew he wasn’t serious.
“Nah,” I responded. “You couldn’t take me.”
“I don’t know, I work out all the time. I’m way bigger than you.”
“The only advantage you ever could have had was the element of surprise, but Crystal used that all up before you got a chance.”
“I don’t know,” he smiled. I hadn’t seen that look on Randy before. He leaned in half over me, suavely. “I could smile my sexy smile, and lean in and kiss you. While you’re so distracted by the best kiss you’ve ever had, I’d pop you over the head. You’d never know what hit you.”
I smiled back. “Or maybe you’d be so surprised by the best kiss you’d ever had, that you’d forget what you were doing. You’d forget your own name.” He was still leaning over me, smiling. Our faces so close I could feel his breath. The air was beginning to cool off. “Look, a shooting star,” I said, pointing to the sky. He turned and looked and I slipped a step away. Still smiling, I said, “What the hell, we could just run away, keep driving to Arizona, and then wherever.” I was flirting. I didn’t even know why.
Randy looked down from searching for shooting stars. “Tempting,” he said, and I’m pretty sure he meant it. “But my trust fund cuts off if Gary says it should, and I’m pretty sure running away with a beautiful girl wouldn’t make him happy. We’d have nothing. Besides, you’d never figure out what the documents were about.”
“You don’t give me enough credit,” I said. “We’d be like then next Bonnie and Clyde. Who needs a trust fund? But you’re right about the documents. I’m not the type to leave things unfinished.” We had drifted twenty or so feet from the car as we talked, but now I walked purposely back toward it. I leaned against the side. “That’s what I was afraid of.”
“What?” Randy asked.
“There’s really only one thing we can do. And we have to succeed, or you are dead.”
“Okay,” Randy said. I think he had begun to wrap his head around that concept. “What do we have to do?”
“We have to do what they told you to do,” I said. “You have to turn me in.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yes, dead serious. Listen, you cannot show yourself anywhere ever again if you don’t follow through with their plan. They will kill you, without thinking two seconds about it. So unless you want to die, you have to do it, however, you’re in deeper than that. If you could simply turn me in, and leave, we’d be in good shape.”
“We would?” Randy asked.
“Sure, you turn me in. I get murdered, blah, blah, everyone lives happily ever after,” I answered. “But here’s the problem, you are going to take the blame. That is why they keep using my peers. They are going to pin Devon, Darren, the cheerleaders, Crystal, and my death on you. Or if I overpower you, they will get someone else and blame your death along with everyone else’s on him. Actually, you are a great candidate, kind of a loner, secretly rich, orphaned traumatically at a crucial age. It’s easy to paint a picture of a disturbed psycho-path going on a killing spree.”
“Thanks,” Randy said drily. “So if I don’t turn you in, I die. If I do turn you in, I get blamed for a bunch of murders. Great.”
“Right,” I agreed. “That’s what makes this so tricky. They have the upper hand. First we have to keep you from getting murdered. So you have to turn me in. Then, I have to not get murdered, so that you can’t be blamed.”
“What about you?”
“Well, not getting murdered sounds good,” I said.
“How are you going to do that?”
“The only way is to take down the entire organization while being held captive, before they kill me, while simultaneously piecing together the rest of the clues to the documents.”
“That’s a tall order. How are you going to do that. I doubt they are going to keep you captive in the library,” Randy said.
“I think I can figure out the rest with just a few clues, I’m hoping these guys know enough to give me those clues. They must know quite a bit, if they are this serious about stopping me from putting the pieces together. So I just have to use them to put the pieces together.”
“Before you take their organization down, save yourself, and me. Single handedly,” Randy said. He didn’t sound very confident.
“I can’t think of any better ideas. Can you?” I asked.
“The whole Bonnie and Clyde thing doesn’t sound too bad,” He replied.
“Bonnie and Clyde ended up getting shot to pieces,” I pointed out. “Now, where’s the stuff they gave you?”