Ethan did an inspection of my injuries, but then he told me to go to sleep because I was useless until I got some rest. I flopped down on one of the beds and closed my eyes. The next thing I remember is waking up stiff and with a splitting headache. Light was trying to burst through the blackout curtains but had only managed to creep in around the edges. Randy was asleep in the other bed, and Ethan was nowhere to be found.
I decided a hot shower might help the stiffness and the headache. Sometimes life sucks but hot showers can fix a lot of that. I might have drained the entire motel’s hot water supply. At least I knew we’d be getting our money’s worth. When I stepped out of the shower there was a neat, new pile of clothing on the towel shelf. Ethan must have left it. He had much better taste in clothing than the Boss, jeans and a short sleeve button up shirt.
We spent the morning reviewing my experiences over the last few days, what I’d learned, and what I had revealed. Ethan gave a brief outline of his actions as well, which included interrogating Randy and trying to find out anything he could about the Boss, watching the school library, and waiting to hear back from me.
After much discussion (arguments) we decided that the first order of business needed to be finishing our data collection from the library. The Boss would be searching too. I’d led him astray in thinking that Bronte held a piece of the puzzle. She didn’t (at least not yet) and I wasn’t worried about him figuring the whole thing out too quickly. I’d been here months and I was farther along that he was. But his search complicated ours. If we happened to meet each other in the isles, things could get complicated.
Second, we needed to capture the Boss. This wasn’t a mandate of the mission we’d been given, but clearly he was a “bad guy” and needed to be dealt with. He had already hurt innocent people. (Yes we were counting Crystal as innocent, even if she was a jerk.) He’d probably hurt more, and anyway he was on a path to world (energy) domination, so he had to be stopped. Plus, I was pretty sure if he ever had the chance, he’d kill me, and I didn’t need something like that hanging over my head.
Ethan was going to leave to investigate the Boss. He wouldn’t be recognized, and now that we knew what we were dealing with, we should be able to get some intelligence on him. I was able to reconstruct my escape route and point out the location of the warehouse. Ethan would determine the next move toward capturing him and all his cronies.
In the meantime, I would continue my work on the Sheagul files. Knowing the clues started with Shakespeare would speed the process along, and now that I knew we were dealing with energy not weapons, I might be able to decipher it more quickly. It was already late morning by the time we wrapped up the discussion and I looked like I’d been beaten to a pulp (because I had) so it didn’t seem wise to show up to school today. I would go tonight after hours.
Randy would come with me. At first I protested, but both he and Ethan pointed out that it might be helpful to have an assistant, although I’m pretty sure their motivations were different. But it would speed the process along to have someone helping me. It looked less suspicious to have two students sneaking into the library (if we got caught) than a student and her foster father. And we still wanted to keep an eye on Randy, since there was a possibility the Boss would come after him. It’s true, I’d tried to make my distaste for him evident, but after what he’d done to Crystal, I didn’t want the Boss anywhere near Randy.
Randy and I spent the day holed up in the motel. I slept a little and we ordered in some food, which I really needed, but didn’t feel like eating. I spent some time trying to figure out Sheagul’s clues. I had a couple ideas of where to look and by the time darkness settled over the city, I had determined that besides Shakespeare, we should probably be searching in Austin or Cather.
Ethan had left us the car. As a precaution if he didn’t make contact by six the next morning we were to assume something had gone wrong. We headed back toward the school and parked down the street in a grocery store parking lot that was open all night.
Randy and I made our way casually down the street. Anyone could see us and know who we were, and as I’d learned the hard way, anyone could be dangerous. If the Boss was near, he’d know where I was, but there was a good chance we’d run into him anyway, since we were both searching for the same things. I was prepared. Ethan had supplied me with a cell phone, new gun, plenty of ammunition, flashlights, a small portable lantern, notebooks, pencils, graph paper, water, snacks, and a small amount of explosive, because you can never be too prepared. All of it was packed into backpacks and looked just like the school bags everyone wore.
The school was dark and the gates closed, which is just what I wanted. Part of the reason I’d been assigned to this mission is because access to the library after hours was not simple. When Sheagul had left everything to the school, he had stipulated that security be increased. There was a certain fund specifically set aside for the salary of a security guard. The gates were electronically locked, and the library was alarmed. Instead of having an agent try to repeatedly break into the library at night, the agency had decided a student could go during school hours with a lot less risk. However, there are not many high school age students working as government spies. I’m probably the only agent who can even pretend to be in high school, so I got the job.
But Ethan and I had long ago planned a way to break into the library should it be necessary. Like I said, you can never be too prepared. Despite the electronic locks, the fence could be climbed in multiple places. The security guard was diligent. He certainly earned his salary, but he could only be one place at a time. We’d “borrowed” one of the librarians access cards and replicated it before returning it. Someone might look at the logs in a day or two and wonder why that librarian spent all night in the library, but no one should have reason to suspect us.
Randy and I waited in the shadows for the security guard to pass, then easily made it over the gate. Well, I should say it was relatively easy. Moving hurt, but all things considered I was doing pretty good. We snuck through the shadows to the back of the library and quickly gained access, shutting the door, then silently listening to hear if we’d been detected from either inside or out.
The library was clear and pitch black. The front lobby had windows, but the main library received little light. We turned on our flashlights and did a thorough search of the library, making sure we were alone.
“Randy, if you hear anything, you let me know. Don’t try to be a hero,” I instructed him. “If the Boss shows up, things are going to get ugly. Do what I say.”
“Okay,” he said uncertainly. Randy wasn’t the type to be breaking rules and we’d broken quite a few already.
“Go get everything Shakespeare ever wrote,” I told him. I headed to Austin, and pulled them all off the shelf, stacking them on the table, earliest works first.
Randy came back with an armful of books. “There are a lot.”
“Start looking through them. Look for any pages that seem different than the others.”
“Different how?” he asked.
I pondered. “I don’t know exactly. A different thickness to the paper. A slightly different color. Maybe it seems newer—or older—than the sheets around it. Just different. If you think you have something show me.”
We set out the small lantern. The light hardly illuminated a two-foot radius, so we shoved two chairs close together and used flashlights for more light. We were so close, my arm brushed against his, and I sensed him tense. We were, after all, a girl and a boy alone in the dark, deserted library.
I started with the first copy of Sense and Sensibility, flipping through pages looking for the telltale signs that Sheagul had left us a message. I finished the first copy and moved on. Randy was working more slowly, since he didn’t know what he was looking for, but he too finished a book. Slowly the stacks of discarded books started to grow and the silent minutes started to tick by.
I was almost in a trance with the monotony of it when Randy cleared his throat loudly, causing me to jump. “Sorry, I just—this page doesn’t seem like the rest,” Randy said.
“Let me see.” I picked up the book and held it to the light of the flashlight. This was much easier during the day when the library wasn’t dark. But without much effort I picked up the hidden words visible only when the page was held apart from the others around it, and light was shined through it. If you weren’t looking you’d think the paper was poorly made or something. “This is it, you found it, Randy. Help me out,” I said excitedly.
Randy held the lantern and a flashlight behind the page while I used the cell phone to photograph it. First, as a whole, then in more detailed segments. When I’d completed the photographs, I pulled out the notebook and began copying everything down by hand.
“Should I go through the rest of the Shakespeare?” He asked while I wrote furiously.
“No, there is never more than one page per author,” I said without looking up. “Put the rest away and start looking through the Austin books.” Randy began picking up the books and returning them as I wrote furiously to get all the information down. I couldn’t just take the photographs because each page has clues not just to the weapon/unlimited power source/whatever you wanted to call it, but also has clues as to where to find the next piece of the puzzle. If the photograph did not pick up all the hidden details, I would be lost. I needed to know if we were missing more than just Shakespeare at the beginning. My search started with Stegner, and I was hoping he was step 2 not step 22. But Shakespeare had more to reveal than that.
“This is great,” I said to Randy as he came back, my excitement building. “I think this has the pathway to find all of the pieces we are missing.”
Randy came and looked over my shoulder at the notes I had written, and although he tried to look studious, I imagined they made no sense. I was writing quickly and abbreviating and I doubted anyone could make sense of it even if it wasn’t rocket science, which it pretty much was.
“See this number here?” I asked pointing to the number 71. This is a publication date. Stegner’s Angle of Repose was published in 1971. Now, there have been a lot of years ending in 71.” I looked up at Randy and he seemed to be following me. “But look at the way he phrased this note here,” I said pointing to a phrase in the almost invisible writing. “You must view this equation from a new angle. Instead of staring at it head on, you must lean back.” I looked up at Randy with excitement.
He hadn’t put all the pieces together. “That’s kind of a weird thing to write. I don’t get it.”
“It’s definitely cryptic, but it mentions an angle and he says to “lean back”. Another word for “lean back” might be repose. So, if you put the publication year together with the reference, you get Stegner’s novel Angle of Repose,” I finished triumphantly.
That seems like a stretch,” Randy said skeptically.
I smiled. “Trust me, I’ve looked into a lot of these and it follows his pattern. This one is more clear than most of the others, maybe because it’s the first.” Randy didn’t look entirely convinced, but I hadn’t even told him the best part. “So now I know that we have the first thirteen parts. Because I have Stegner and eleven more. But this also tells me how many pages there are.”
“Yes!” I said much too loudly, forgetting in my excitement that we could have company at any minute. “Look at this section here,” I said pointing to the bottom of the page.
Randy grimaced. “That looks like some heavy math.”
“It’s a mathematical series,” I said. “Have you taken calculus?” He shook his head no. It didn’t matter. He didn’t really need to know the details anyway. “Well it describes the pattern of the publication dates. From here I can check to make sure I haven’t missed anything and figure out how many are left as the publication dates seem to be converging.”
“If you say so,” Randy answered. “But how do you know it’s not just part of the science stuff he’s explaining.”
“Because,” I clarified. “Ethan and I have poured over the twelve pages we already have, and we found that anything below this mark—“ I pointed to what looked like a little accidental scribble—“is not part of the equations. These are the clues to help us find the next page.”
“If this first one is basically the key to figuring out the rest, why hasn’t the Boss guy already figured everything out. You said he told you about Shakespeare, so he must have already looked at it.”
“I don’t know. I wonder if he even found this page. I doubt he would have left it for anyone else if he had. All the Boss knew was that something was in Shakespeare, but I don’t know that he knew what to look for, and I don’t know how much he actually looked. After all, it’s not like he could just come hang out at a high school library all day.” I studied the series again. “Without having already familiarized myself with Sheagul’s style I would not have realized what this means.”
Randy slid into the seat next to me and opened a copy of Pride and Prejudice. “I’m glad no one else is going to see me with this book,” he mumbled.
I smiled. “Girls would love it if you read Jane Austin.” I turned back to the notes I had written and began working with the series. It was all relative, A’s, B’s, X’s and Y’s, but when I began to plug in my known publication dates, a pattern emerged. I followed it down as it converged on dates closer and closer together. Austin wasn’t right. It didn’t fit the pattern. “We’re in the wrong century. We don’t need Jane Austin, we need Willa Cather.”
Randy looked up and gratefully closed the book. “So I should put these away?”
“Yeah, put them all away, and bring everything published by Willa Cather. Her book, O Pioneers! was published in 1913. That should be the one, but we’ll check them all,” I said keeping my eyes on the notes. I could figure out how many more pages we needed to find from this series. Technically it was a converging series that went on for infinity, but publication years could not be split into smaller and smaller decimals, and so the practical series had to end with a single year.
“Do you just have all this stuff memorized?” Randy asked amazed. “Like about the Wilma author and Jane Austin and Stegner and stuff.”
“No. I’ve looked it up,” I stated matter-of-factly. “I knew the next step was either Willa Cather or Jane Austen. I just started with the wrong one. Without this series, I’d have to search all of it and hope to find the right thing. That’s why it’s taken so long.”
“But now you can find them all just from that first page?”
“No. I can find the publication year from this, but I will have to look at each page to figure out what author and book comes next,” I explained again. “But we might be able to finish it tonight.”
“Well I’ll go get those books then,” Randy said and disappeared with a stack of Austen novels and his dim flashlight. He was gone for awhile, although I wasn’t really thinking about that, since I was focused on the page in front of me. I was so focused that I didn’t even hear him coming back until his phone suddenly started ringing in his pocket.
Up until this moment we’d been pretty quiet, almost always whispering if we had to talk at all. Randy’s cellphone had one of those standard issue electronic sounding ringtones that seemed like it was doing a poor job of imitating an early nineties video game theme song. He had the volume turned up pretty loud and I practically hit the ceiling as I jumped up, startled. Randy hadn’t been expecting it either and almost dropped the pile of books he was holding. I reached for them to keep them from tumbling to the ground, and he looked almost as startled when he realized how close we were to each other.
“Turn that off,” I hissed quietly, not that it mattered. Anyone in the vicinity would have heard the phone. “Who is calling you this late?” By now it was close to midnight.
Randy fumbled with the phone. “It’s Gary,” he said and answered it. I was going to tell him just to let it go to voicemail, but now it was too late. “Hey Gary.”
Because the room was quiet, and because his volume was turned up, I could faintly hear Randy’s guardian. “Randy. Where are you? What is going on?”
Randy flinched. “Umm…”
“Before you answer, let me just tell you I know you missed school today. They call me about your absences,” Gary continued. “And then when I sent someone over to check on you this afternoon and you weren’t there, and you still aren’t there now. Do you even know what time it is?”
“You’re at my house right now?” Randy asked, looking a bit queasy.
“Yes I am, Randy. And I am very concerned about your behavior. You have been incredibly secretive the last few days, and now missing school without even checking in? This is not like you. You will not be allowed to live alone if you act like this,” Gary ranted. I could also hear him because he was yelling.
“I know, I’m sorry. I should have called you,” Randy said. There was a silence on the other end and I knew Gary was waiting for an explanation.
“Tell him you are studying,” I whispered.
“R-right now I’m studying, with a friend,” Randy said, sounding about as confident as a first-time thief who’d just been caught. “I lost track of time.”
“Where are you?” Gary demanded.
“At the lib—“I shook my head frantically. No he couldn’t say the library. Libraries are not open at midnight. Randy realized the mistake. “At my friend’s house.”
“What are you studying?”
“Umm…” I held up the book with the secret page and pointed to it. “Shakespeare?” Randy responded more as a question than as a definitive statement.
“Othello,” Randy answered quickly this time, since I was pointing directly to the title.
Gary was quiet for a moment, no doubt pondering this to determine whether he believed it or not, but Randy hadn’t made a habit of lying to his guardian, so despite the suspiciousness of the situation, he let it go. “And why weren’t you at school today?”
“My friend was sick, so I was helping her,” Randy said, clearly having prepared for this question in the last few minutes. I flinched. He hadn’t meant to get us into deeper trouble, but this was not what Gary wanted to hear.
“So you spent all day with HER. And you are still with HER. Studying. At midnight. With a girl,” Gary said. “Are HER parents there?”
“Jeez Gary, if we wanted to be alone together we would have gone to my house because I don’t have parents,” Randy said, the annoyance and pain so raw I had to look away.
“Randy, is this girl your girlfriend?” Gary asked, much more quietly now. I almost couldn’t hear, and I leaned in to listen, which startled Randy.
“My girlfriend?” His face turned red. Randy had a crush on me. That wasn’t hard to figure out, but now it was incredibly obvious, which he knew, and looking at me he knew I knew, and that made it worse. “Uhh—I don’t know—maybe—no. No she’s not.” He was mortified.
Although Randy thought his stutters were giving us away, they had the opposite effect. Gary was convinced. “Ahh. I see. Okay. What’s this girl’s name?”
“And she’s right there with you now?”
“Can I talk to her?” Gary asked.
“N—“ Randy started to say, but I reached out for the phone. We needed to get this cleared up and quickly. “Fine.” Randy handed me the phone.
It was time to be a teenage girl. I inhaled deeply. “I am sooo sorry. After the accident last night I was all worked up and when they let me out of the hospital I couldn’t sleep because it was so crazy and I couldn’t stop replaying the whole thing in my mind, and this morning of course I couldn’t go to school and I didn’t want to be alone and I called Randy and asked if he could come over and he did because he’s sooo sweet like that you know? Well I am a terrible person because I didn’t even THINK to have him call you which was sooo stupid of me because of course you’d be worried and then this afternoon I fell asleep because you know I didn’t really sleep at all last night and after I woke up I realized that we’d BOTH missed all our classes today and we’d better do some homework so I called up Kayla who’s in most of my classes and found out what the assignments were and since me and Randy have English together we were studying our English homework, but it’s hard work you know? Like, I don’t know if I’ve understood anything that happens in this whole book.” I gushed all this out in little more than one breath as fast as I possibly could.
Gary seemed appropriately overwhelmed, and I imagine he was suddenly thankful that he wasn’t the legal guardian of a teenage girl. “So you were in an accident?” He finally asked.
“Yeah last night, a car crash,” I responded as if I’d already made this abundantly clear. “And they took me to the hospital, but I was mostly fine. The airbag hurt a lot though and I’m not sure those things are really that helpful—“
“Okay,” Gary said interrupting quickly in case I went on another long and meandering monologue. “Good, I mean that you aren’t seriously hurt. But Randy has to go to school tomorrow, which means, studying or not it’s time for him to come home.”
“Oh he can’t go home now,” I said seriously. “He walked here and it’s way too late to walk home.” Gary tried to interrupt but I kept going. “He can sleep on the couch. My foster dad says it’s pretty comfortable and he should know.”
This awkward bit of information was designed to make Gary uncomfortable enough to agree to let Randy stay, but he couldn’t resist one attempt at dissent. He was a lawyer after all. “I really don’t think that is the best idea.”
“I swear to you, we’re both going to bed right away. In separate rooms,” I assured him. “I know you don’t know me, but I’m not that kind of girl, and Randy is such a gentleman.”
More awkward ideas filled his mind. “Alright, thank you for speaking with me—“
“Jamie.” I reminded him when he couldn’t recall my name.
“Right, Jamie. Tell Randy I plan on having a good long chat with him when I get back from my trip to Chicago.”
“Of course and please don’t be too hard on him, he’s really been a lifesaver for me today,” I said.
“Good night Jamie,” Gary responded in a voice that clearly implied you better be climbing into bed the second you hang up and you better be alone.
I pressed the end button and handed the phone back to Randy. He stared at me as if I he’d just realized I’d come from a different planet. I decided to ignore the look. “We better get to work. We could be interrupted at any time. Start looking through the Oh Pioneer! books and I’ll see if I can figure out the next publication year.”
Randy continued to stare at me, so I just sat back down and returned to my notes. It took Randy a minute to follow, but soon he was sitting next to me, his arm against mine flipping through the pages of Willa Cather’s most famous book.
Randy found the next page at about the same time I figured out the next publication date, so after a series of photographs, I got to work on the new page and he returned the unneeded books, and began searching the internet for classics published in 1892 while I searched for clues as to the author and we arrived at the conclusion that Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes was likely to be our best bet. While I recorded notes Randy began searching.
We repeated the process again, and Randy found the next page before I was able to give finished my notes. According to my estimations we only had to find one more page. But I had not yet deciphered the publication date.
It was fairly early in the morning now, and since I didn’t know what to have him search for, after putting away all the unnecessary books, Randy sat down to wait. I was so focused on the most cryptic of the pages yet, that I didn’t notice when he drifted off to sleep, and I didn’t notice the gradual lightening of the room. I may have still been sitting in that chair staring at hidden text when the librarians came in, if it hadn’t been for Ethan’s call.
My phone, unlike Randy’s was on vibrate, and the buzz against the wooden table made me jump. I looked at the number and time simultaneously. It was six o’clock exactly. “Where are you? We should talk,” Ethan said with his customary bluntness.
“We’re still at the library.”
“James, it’s almost light out here. You need to get out of there now,” he replied annoyed.
“I know. I lost track of time. I just have one more book to find and we’ll have everything,” I explained.
“It will have to wait. Go to Randy’s house. I’ll meet you there soon.” He hung up without another word.
I nudged Randy whose head was smashed against the table in a rather comical, but somewhat cute way. “Randy, wake up,” I whispered. He shifted a little. “We have to go.”
Slowly his eyes opened and clouded with confusion as he tried to remember where he was. When the memory hit him, he bolted up. “Did you find the next book? Is the Boss here?”
“No,” I shook my head. “It’s morning we need to go before it gets too light—“ Something clicked inside my head. The page I had been studying, the second to last kept referring to light and its effects in changing our perspective. I’d managed to finally figure out the publication date of 1900 for the last book, but I hadn’t been able to figure out what book from that year related to light. For the last half hour I’d been trying to make a connection between authors that published in 1900 and anything related to perspective and light, but as I spoke the word light out loud I recalled the movie in which color played a unique and powerful role. It is perhaps one of the most well-known movies in the world, and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought about it before. The movie was based on a book. “I know where the last page is.”
“Where? Maybe we can grab it before—“ Randy said, but stopped suddenly when we heard the click of the back door to the library. The same door we needed to use to get out of here.
I whipped out my gun. “Pack up all our stuff. Quietly,” I whispered. “We have to get out of here.”
I didn’t wait for a response but silently crept toward the back. It was still dark enough to provide cover, but a couple rows of fluorescent lights flickered on above me and I jumped behind a bookshelf just before a librarian trudged by. She didn’t see me, and headed to the front of the library without pause. I remembered now that one of the librarians was an early riser. I saw Randy slinking my way as a second set of lights flickered to life. He looked terrified.
I motioned him over and we silently rushed to the back, and out the door. We’d have to make a run for the fence. I did a quick check to make sure the security guard wasn’t approaching and we sprinted for the gate stumbling over it quickly if not quietly. Randy was jumpy, pumped full of adrenaline, and ready to get away as fast as possible, but I made him slow down.
“We can’t run down the street like we’re fleeing the end of the world,” I said, grabbing his arm and holding him to a brisk walk. “People will think we’re criminals of some kind.”
“They’d be right,” Randy snapped.
“Just walk fast.” I was out of breath when we arrived back at the car. Randy sank into the passenger’s seat as if it was the most comforting thing he’d ever felt.
I drove the car out of the parking lot. No one followed. We headed back to Randy’s house, silently at first, but as we turned onto his street Randy remembered something. “So what’s the last book? You didn’t ever tell me.”
“The last piece of Sheagul’s puzzle lies somewhere in the pages of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”