|NOTE: Text enclosed in single brackets < > is spoken in French. Text enclosed in double brackets << >> is spoken in Vietnamese.|
Hanson and Ioki came bouncing up the steps, the sound of their laughter preceding them into the Chapel. At the top of the stairs, Hanson found his path blocked by a shapely figure in skin-tight red leather. He took a moment to appreciate the view, then, carried away by his undercover role, snarled menacingly, "Step aside, Red!"
The figure turned, and Judy Hoffs' eyes laughed at him from under the bangs of her shocking red wig. "I beg your pardon? Since when do I take orders from the Ninja Delinquents?"
"That's the Samurai Boys, to you."
Her eyes raked him up and down, a saucy smile curving her lips. "The closest you'd ever get to a Samurai is cleaning up after his horse."
Hanson gave her a dirty look. "C'mon, Iok, we've got a report to make." As the two men stepped around Hoffs and headed into the room, she could hear Hanson muttering, "Ninja Delinquents...very funny...ha-ha..."
"I thought it was funny," Ioki interjected, receiving a sour "humph!" for his pains.
They spotted Fuller and Penhall at the conference table, so they sauntered over to join them. Perching on the edge of the table, with an open can of coke in his hands, Ioki asked, pleasantly, "So what's up, guys?"
"Where have you been?" Fuller demanded.
"We had a meet with Timothy after school."
"That was at three o'clock. You're late, and I've been waiting for your report."
"It didn't happen," Hanson admitted. "We waited for almost an hour, but he never showed."
The captain sighed and rubbed his eyes, tiredly. "Any clue why?"
"Maybe he couldn't make the weight and was afraid to tell us."
"And maybe he made you as cops," Penhall suggested.
"Us? Blow our cover?"
Hanson exchanged a look with Ioki, then both men jumped to their feet and shouted, "Samurai Boys rule!"
The ensuing display of adolescent, testosterone-laden posturing started Fuller growling, Penhall chuckling, and Hoffs rolling her eyes in disgust. The two officers kept up their clowning until a careless gesture by Ioki slopped Coca-Cola all over Penhall's shirt. Penhall gave a bellow of outrage and caught Ioki's wrist in an iron grip.
"You gonna drink that? Or wear it?"
Ioki murmured an apology, but the mischievous gleam in his eyes undermined his sincerity a bit. He obediently downed the rest of his soda in one swallow, then grimaced and tossed the can into the trash.
"Yuck. It's flat."
"You're lucky I don't flatten you, pipsqueak."
"Enough," Fuller cut in. "I want you two caught up on your paperwork before you leave tonight. Understood?"
"You got it, Coach!" Hanson sang out, while Ioki hurried over to his desk and sat down with an exaggerated air of studious attention. Fuller glared from one to the other, nodded in satisfaction, and strode into his office.
"Whew." Hanson stretched luxuriously, then folded himself into his chair and propped his feet on his desk. "Time for a nap."
*** *** ***
Harry stared at the piece of paper on the desk in front of him, wondering idly why it seemed to be crawling across the blotter. Strange. He'd never had a report do that before. It had made it halfway off the edge of the desk before he slapped his hand down on it, halting its suicide plunge. The paper whimpered.
"Sorry," he told it, politely, "but I need you up here." When he set it back in the middle of the blotter, it obediently stayed put, but it looked positively mournful. Harry couldn't stand it. The poor thing was starting to sniffle. "Oh, all right," he sighed, as he shoved the page over the side of the desk and let it flutter into the trash, "I'll type up another one."
Instead, he put his head down on the desk and closed his eyes. All that crawling paper was giving him a headache.
*** *** ***
<"Psst. Psst, Vinh! Wake up!">
Harry lifted his head and looked around in confusion.
<"I need to talk to you!">
He saw only the Chapel, exactly as it should be late in a sleepy afternoon. Hanson snoozing at his desk, Penhall throwing darts, Blowfish tinkering with pipes and wrenches, Hoffs filing her nails...
Harry turned to find the source of the voice, but all he saw was the lucite head perched on the corner of his desk. The red and blue lights in its cranium blinked cheerfully at him. Funny. He didn't remember turning them on. Then the head smiled.
<"How's it going?">
<"Do I know you?"> Harry asked, shifting unconsciously into the same language spoken by the head.
<"Of course you know me. It's Andre!"> the head chided.
At the total lack of understanding in Harry's face, he sighed and said, <"The Christmas lights are throwing you, eh? I know, they take a little getting used to."> The lights in his cranium flashed more brightly to underscore his words.
<"They're very nice,"> Harry said, doubtfully.
At her desk, Judy Hoffs suddenly looked up and over at her partner. He was staring intently at that hideous sculpture he'd inherited from Captain Jenko, and talking to someone named Andre...in French.
"Hey, Harry!" He glanced up at the sound of her voice. "I didn't know you spoke French."
<"I don't,"> he answered, still in French.
Hoffs laughed a little nervously. Something about the way Ioki looked at her made her very uncomfortable. She got up from her desk and started toward him.
What Harry actually saw that brought such a bewildered expression to his face was a large, slug-like object, covered in red warts and scales, oozing over the floor in his direction and leaving a crimson slime trail behind it. As it drew near, it swiveled its eye-stalks to stare at him and whistled through it's blowhole, "Who are you talking to?"
Andre cocked a transparent eyebrow at the slug, his lights blinking sarcastically. <"A little salt will take care of that.">
Harry looked helplessly at the collection of stuff on his desk. <"I don't have any salt.">
<"Who said anything about salt?"> Judy asked, switching to French herself. <"Are you all right, Harry?">
Andre snorted in disgust. <<"Get rid of the escargot, so we can talk.">>
Harry gave a start, as he realized that the head's words had come out in fluent Vietnamese. He glanced at the Hoffs-slug, wondering if she had understood the phrase, but she gave no sign of having heard. Her eyestalks poked forward, peering intently at him.
<<"Don't look at me like that.">>
Hoffs took an involuntary step back. She had no clue what her partner had said to her, since he'd spoken Vietnamese, but the suspicion in his eyes was unmistakable. He looked at her like he didn't know her - and didn't want to. She sidled away from the table, her eyes still lingering on Harry, and made her way over to Hanson's desk.
* * *
Tom was still asleep, but he woke up with a start when Judy knocked his feet to the floor. "Wha...? Who?" His eyes fell on her worried face, and he heaved himself up straight in his chair. "What's up?"
"There's something extremely weird going on with Harry."
"He's talking to that plastic head in French."
Hanson listened for a moment, then shook his head. "Sounds like Vietnamese, to me."
"Well, it used to be French! And that isn't the point, anyway! He's talking to that stupid head, and he's looking at me like...like I'm some kind of bug! Tom, there's something wrong!"
Hanson opened his mouth to make a flip remark that would send Hoffs about her business, then he glanced over at Ioki's desk again and shut his mouth with a snap. No question, Judy was right. He got to his feet and, with Judy in tow, crossed the room to stand in front of Harry's desk. Harry didn't even glance up, but continued speaking in short, incomprehensible phrases to the blinking head.
* * *
As the slug slithered away, leaving a fresh trail of goo on the floor, Harry turned back to the head. <<"Okay, she's gone.">>
<<"Good work. Much as I like the occasional snail with my dinner, I'd hate to have to kill that one...what a mess!">>
<<"She's my partner. I'm not going to kill her.">>
<<"You know the drill, mon enfant. If she overhears classified material, she's dog food. Or, in her case, hors d'oeuvre.">>
<<"What are we talking about that's classified?">>
<<"The job, Vinh, the job! You know we can't share our techniques with civilians!">>
Harry got that doubtful look on his face again. <<"Oh.">>
<<"I've been sneaking up on your record, pal, so you better watch your flank. This last one was a Ten-pointer!">> Andre's voice dropped to a gloating whisper, forcing Harry to bend closer to hear. <<"I killed the president of Paraguay with a fork.">> He grinned at Harry's shocked expression. <<"How are you? Still hurting from that slip with the cattle prod? Or are you back to racking up the points?">>
<<"Points? No, no...ummm...">> Harry looked up and around, hunting for a quick escape route, but his desk was now surrounded by odd creatures - including the Hoffs-slug - who were all staring at him as though they expected him to sprout wings. He liked the expressions on their alien faces even less than he liked Andre's topic of conversation, so he shifted his gaze back to the flickering head and tried to ignore the mob around his desk.
<<"I've just been...keeping busy,">> he offered, lamely.
* * *
Tom caught a strange, panicked glance from Harry and felt the hackles rise on the back of his neck. Leaning close to Penhall, he murmured, "Look how big his pupils are."
"If I didn't know better, I'd say our Harry was stoned outta his gourd," Penhall whispered back.
Tom digested that for a moment, his gaze shifting from his worried teammates to the man conversing so intently with a lucite head. Finally, he said to Penhall, "Better get Fuller."
* * *
Andre chuckled, and if he had owned an elbow with which to give conspiratorial nudges, he would have given one to Harry. <<"Now, don't be so modest! I heard about what you did to that Ugandan terrorist last year. Slick! Very slick! Sometime, you'll have to explain to me how you got the strychnine into the golf tee.">>
<<"It was nothing. Really.">>
<<"I always loved your idea of nothing,">> A reminiscent gleam crept into Andre's eye. <<"Remember Saigon? The Ambassador? Better yet, the Ambassador's daughter? Now, there was a choice bit of 'nothing'!">>
<<"She was a nice girl,">> Harry protested.
<<"They're all nice girls when you find them, mon enfant. It's afterward that things get dicey!">>
* * *
Captain Fuller could translate only bits and pieces of Ioki's speech, and what he understood made no sense at all, but that was the least of Fuller's worries. One good look at the young officer's face had confirmed Penhall's suspicions. Harry Ioki was high as a kite and probably hallucinating, which left his commanding officer with a very sticky problem.
"Officer Ioki!" he snapped, in his most authoritative tone. "Do you want to tell me what's going on, here?"
Harry gazed up at him, his face blank, then let his eyes travel slowly over the other officers collected around his desk. He might have been studying a group of stuffed penguins, for all the emotion in his face. Fuller tried again.
"Look at me, Ioki!"
Obedient, as always, Harry turned back to the captain. After a moment, he said, calmly, <<"Your jacket is blooming, Sir.">>
"In English, Harry."
"I'm sorry, Captain. I don't speak English," he said, in perfect English. Then he asked Andre, <<"Do we have to kill them all, now?">>
Fuller understood enough of that sentence to put his blood pressure up a few notches. With a twitch of his head, he motioned the others away from Ioki's desk and drew them into a huddle by the conference table.
"Hoffs, call the Emergency Dispatcher and get an ambulance over here. Tell them to make it quiet - no siren!"
"And tell 'em to bring a straitjacket," Penhall muttered.
"It isn't funny, Doug!" Hoffs hissed.
"I wasn't joking."
Fuller silenced them with a glare. "Go, Judy." She nodded once and hurried toward his office. "Hanson, what the hell's been going on at that school?"
"Nothing, Coach! It's been a routine job."
"Has Harry been acting funny?"
"No! I'm telling you, it's been perfectly routine. Everything's been running like clockwork, and Ioki's been doing his job just like he always does. No problems."
"Then explain to me why one of my officers is over there plotting with a plastic head to kill the rest of his team."
Hanson did a double-take. "He's what?!"
"Hanson, I know you guys always protect your partners. I know you cover each other's backs, no questions asked. But this is no time to lie to me! I need to know what Harry took, and when, before he has a meltdown and possibly takes some of us with him! Are you beginning to get the picture?!"
Tom could only stare at him, flabbergasted. It was Doug who voiced both their feelings so eloquently, when he said, "You think Iok's doing drugs? No offense, Cap'n, but that's about the dumbest thing I ever heard!"
"Do you have another explanation?"
Tom finally found his voice and insisted, "He couldn't have taken anything. I was with him all day. I saw everything he put into his face, since eight o'clock this morning."
"All day? You're sure?"
"We had all our classes together, we had lunch in the cafeteria, we hung out on the bleachers behind the school waiting for the meet with Timothy, and then we drove back to the Chapel. We even went into the john together."
Hoffs walked up in time to hear this. "Captain, what if someone at school slipped him something?"
Hanson shook his head in frustration. "How? He hasn't eaten anything since lunch, almost six hours ago. No drug takes that long to work!"
"What about the soda?" Penhall suggested.
Fuller, Hoffs and Hanson all stared at him, open-mouthed, while the image of Ioki downing half a can of coke in two swallows replayed in their heads. Then they turned in unison to stare at the wastebasket where he had thrown the empty can. Fuller strode over to the trash and pulled out the bright red Coca-Cola can. He held it gingerly, between two fingers, as though it could turn and bite him at any moment.
"Where did he get it?"
"Uhh..." Hanson closed his eyes to conjure up the memory. "He bought it out of the machine at school, and I think he was drinking it while we waited for Timothy."
"Were you alone on the bleachers?"
"No. There were lots of kids around. That's where the druggies and delinquents hang out."
"Could one of those kids have put something in Ioki's soda?"
Hanson's eyes widened in distress. "I... Yes. Yes, they could have. Ioki and I were talking most of the time. Not watching what was going on around us. If he set the can down..."
"All right." Fuller's eyes moved to where Harry still sat at his desk. "We know how he got it. Now we need to know what it is."
"And what he's sayin' to that head," Penhall murmured.
* * *
<<"So, now you want to kill them?">> Andre demanded.
<<"I thought we had to...">>
<<"Only if they understood the important stuff. Like the part about the Ambassador's daughter. Y'know, Vinh, it would be a lot easier to work with you, if you'd learn to keep your pants on.">>
<<"What are you talking about?!">>
<<"You take this James Bond thing a little too seriously. I realize you've got the best record in our unit. I realize that entitles you to a few perks. In fact, I was just saying to one of my trainees the other day, "We can't all be Vinh Van Tran, you know." I tell them all that, to keep them humble. And it's true, Vinh. I know I'll never have your panache, no matter how many jobs I pull off, because style is a personal thing. And, well, we can't all be Vinh Van Tran. But just because you can knock off Heads of State with more style than the rest of us, doesn't mean you're invulnerable. Every time you put another notch in your bedpost, you put our operations at risk. Sure, the Ambassador's daughter makes for a great story, when we're sitting around comparing troph...">>
<<"I'm your friend, mon enfant. I don't want to see you languishing in an Albanian prison, just because you couldn't keep your mouth - or your zipper - shut!">>
<<"Andre, shut up and look!">> Harry pointed to where Captain Fuller stood, holding up a sinister, cylindrical object in one hand, while the blooms on his floral jacket nodded and swayed in the breeze. <<"What's he doing?">>
<<"Why did you say that in Vietnamese?">>
<<"He's onto us, Champ. Time to beat a strategic retreat...calmly, mind you...casually...drawing no attention to ourselves...">>
Harry got to his feet and skirted around the desk to scoop up the lucite head. As he went, he whistled innocently between his teeth and kept his eyes turned toward the ceiling. With Andre tucked in the curve of his arm, he began drifting - oh, so casually - toward the exit.
<<"Just going for a little stroll,">> he murmured to himself, <<"a bit of fresh air...">>
<<"Watch where you're going, Vinh!">>
At Andre's warning, he lowered his gaze from the ceiling to the path in front of him. It was blocked by two of the weird aliens, and the captain was coming up fast, still holding his sinister can. Harry tried to edge around the nearest creature - a lump of gristle and fungus-like hair, with eyes all around its middle - offering it a weak smile to lull its suspicions. It shot out a pseudo-pod to grab him.
<<"Get us out of here!">> Andre shouted.
<<"Don't know where we're going, but no use being late!">>
<<"That's very helpful!">>
Doug caught Harry, as he made a move for the door, and shoved him back into the room as gently as he could manage. "Oh, no you don't, pal. You gotta wait here for the nice men in white coats."
At that moment, the sound of sirens penetrated the Chapel. Fuller swore under his breath. Ioki looked around in total panic, then clutched the head in both hands and started shouting at it in Vietnamese. When Fuller moved toward him, Ioki backed away and wrapped his arms protectively around the head.
"Just relax, Harry. Nobody's gonna take away your...whatever it is."
Ioki fixed terrified eyes on the coke can and gasped, <<"It's blinking! It's armed!">> Suddenly, he sneezed.
Another sneeze. <<"Why'd you say that in Vietnamese?">> And another.
<<"I didn't. Why are you sneezing?">>
Harry pointed to Fuller's jacket and choked out, between sneezes, <<"I'm allergic to chrysanthemums.">>
The clatter of feet on the wooden stairs announced the arrival of the paramedics. Harry stared at them through watering eyes, taking in their gory talons and wide, toothy grins. The nearest one brandished a nightmare device made up of spikes, springs and blades, and she bared fangs stained green with slime in a winning smile.
"I'm not going to hurt you, Officer. I only want to help."
<<"Yecch! Where's she been eating?">> Andre yelped.
Harry shuddered with revulsion, but he was unable to tear his eyes from the hideously familiar face of the woman. <<"Oh, my God... Florence Henderson!">>
<<"Great! It's the bloodsucking Brady Bunch!">>
<<"I think I'm gonna be sick...">>
Florence the Vampire took a step closer to her quarry, but he edged away from her. "Just let us help," she chirped.
"Does anyone have a fork?" Harry asked the room at large.
As he spoke, he took another step backward, tripped over a trash can, and landed flat on his back. Instantly, the two ghouls closed in on him, muttering and croaking in what was obviously supposed to be a soothing manner. He ignored them, his eyes fixed on the ceiling where a large puddle of goo was starting to sag downward in multiple drops. One oily globule landed with a splat to his left, and he flinched away from the flying spray.
"Everything's going to be fine, Officer Ioki. Just try to relax."
<<"The ceiling is dripping,">> he told her, earnestly. Fuller loomed over him, and Ioki winced when one of the enormous drops struck him in the back of the head. <<"Captain? Can I take a Personal Day?">>
Fuller put a comforting hand on Harry's shoulder, making the young man sneeze. "You're going to the hospital, Harry, but don't worry. This will all be over soon."
Another glob nailed him in the back of the head.
<<Ooh. Direct hit!">> Andre gloated.
The gaggle of aliens stood around in grim silence, while the two paramedics got Harry to his feet and walked him over to the stretcher by the stairs. He didn't mind being strapped down, since they didn't try to take Andre away, but when Florence pulled out her stainless steel torture toy, he started trying to climb off the stretcher. Andre's various suggestions did not meet with his approval, and he was starting to get seriously annoyed.
The paramedics exchanged a worried look, when their patient started arguing with the lucite sculpture he held clutched to his chest. They surreptitiously tightened the restraints. Harry felt the strap cinch down across his ankles and gave the woman doing the cinching a wounded look.
"It's for your own safety," she said, offering him an apologetic smile, as they started down the stairs. "The doctors will make sure you're okay, then you won't need these things. Just be patient."
Harry smiled back. "I'm sorry," he said in soft, perfect English. "I don't speak English."
The rest of the Jump Street team stood in numb silence, watching the stretcher disappear down the stairs. No one moved or spoke, until they heard the door slam. Then, one by one, they stirred and looked around the Chapel, like sleepwalkers awakening from a dream to find themselves in the wrong part of the house. They looked at each other, then away, awkwardly. Hoffs let her breath out in a long, soundless whistle. Hanson slumped down to sit on the edge of the nearest desk. The silence thickened again.
Penhall looked around at his glum teammates, and shook his head in dismay. Clearing his throat, he sang out cheerfully, "So, who wants a coke?"