"Why is it I ended up in
Doug Penhall leaned back in his chair and surveyed the cheerful bustle of the Chapel with the air of a man who knows that all is right with his world. The pale sunlight of a lovely Spring morning poured through the stained glass windows. His friends and colleagues milled about him, never so intent on their business that they didn't have a word and smile of greeting for him. The paperwork from his last case lay on Captain Fuller's desk, with the last 't' crossed and the last 'i' dotted. And he was currently three paper wads ahead in the impromptu game of wastebasket ball taking place between himself, Hanson and Ioki. Yes, life was good.
He took careful aim and lofted another ball of paper directly into the wastebasket that stood in the middle of the floor, equidistant from their various desks. That placed it almost dead center in the stairwell, but the combatants didn't worry much about that. Anyone coming up the stairs would be forewarned by the flying paper wads and the cheers and howls that followed each shot.
Now it was Hanson's turn. Tom had never quite managed to unseat The Champion, but he also never quite despaired of victory. An expectant hush fell over the group, as he took a bead on his target. The ball sailed up in the air, arced gracefully downward, and landed in the trash can with a soft plunk.
Hanson bounded to his feet, his hands raised triumphantly, and shouted, "Yes! And the crowd goes wild!"
Penhall made a rude blatting noise, like a penalty buzzer, while Ioki heckled, "Lucky shot! Get that guy some glasses!"
"Save it for your obituary, Iok," Hanson retorted.
"Hah. I can do better than that with my back turned."
"Brave words from the man who's losing!"
Ioki promptly swiveled his chair around to face the wall, then lofted a paper wad back, over his head. He twisted around just in time to see it land squarely in the wastebasket. His look of comical surprise set both Penhall and Hanson off laughing. Ioki did a double take, broke out in a sheepish grin, and said, "Told you I could do it."
Before either of the other men could catch his breath to answer, they were interrupted by a new arrival. A tall, angular figure in a regulation blue suit came to a halt at the top of the stairs and swept the room with cold eyes. He took in the wastebasket and scattering of wadded paper, then turned his chilling gaze on the three men eyeing him with open hostility. In the sudden silence produced by his arrival, Penhall's muttered words carried all too clearly.
"Great. There went my day."
FBI Agent Spencer Phillips nudged the nearest paper ball with one leather-clad toe and remarked, dryly, "Hard at work, as usual, I see."
"What can we do for you, Agent Phillips?" Hanson asked, with deceptive courtesy.
"Tell your captain I'm here."
Curiosity drew the three cops to the captain's office in Phillips' wake, and surprisingly, Phillips did not ask them to leave. They crowded into the room, staying safely back by the door, and waited through the frosty greetings exchanged by the two older men. Fuller obviously shared his colleagues' suspicion and their curiosity.
"What brings you to my door, Phillips?"
"I have a job for your unit, if you think they can handle it." Fuller just glared at him, so Phillips tossed a nearly empty file folder down on the desk and said, "I want you to watch this girl."
Fuller opened the file and studied the picture on top. "Who is she?"
"That is none of your business."
"It is, if we're following her."
"You know our policy, Captain. Information on a Need to Know basis. And right now, all you need to know is that the Bureau wants Lucinda Walsh under constant surveillance. This is top priority. Highly classified. Your team will report directly to me, on a daily basis, and I'll be personally involved in the operation."
Fuller's glare turned even more ferocious. "Can you at least tell us why you need us? Don't you have enough spooks in dark suits to do the job?"
"She attends a private school here in town, where our agents can't follow her. We've got her covered, round the clock, except when she steps into that school."
"I see. So you need my people to enroll in the school as students and keep tabs on the girl."
"That's right. They'll document her every move while she's on campus, then turn her back over to us when she leaves."
"And they report to you."
Phillips grunted assent. "I'll be posing as their...hrrmmph!" He cleared his throat, and ground out, "their father."
A titter from the back of the room drew Fuller's angry eyes, and the three young men quieted instantly.
"All right, Phillips. Sounds like it's right down our alley. Pick your team."
"As I said, this is top priority. I need your very best people."
Fuller nodded toward the group collected by the door. "You're lookin' at 'em."
Phillips looked suddenly uncomfortable, and he cleared his throat again. "Where's the other one? Hoffs?"
"She's already assigned to a case."
"I can't do that." Fuller's eyes narrowed speculatively. "You said you wanted the best. What's the problem, Phillips?"
The FBI Agent was now positively squirming. The scowl he turned on the three officers would have blistered paint. "I'm not arguing with your assessment, but there's a small problem."
"Lucinda Walsh attends the Raeburn Academy." Stunned silence met his announcement, and a slight, vindictive smile twitched his lips. "It's a Girls' School."
"We know what it is!" Fuller snapped. He was staring at the younger men from under lowered brows, a thoughtful look in his eyes.
"The officers that go in," Phillips continued, "will be posing as my daughters."
Hanson and Ioki exchanged an appalled look and, as the same hideous thought occurred to both of them in the same moment, pointed at each other and shouted, "HIM!"
"Actually, both of you," Phillips said. "We don't know anything about her social habits, so we need a...a good sister and a bad sister."
Hanson closed his eyes in abject misery and moaned, "Oh, God! Another blond wig!"
Ioki, however, was not taking this situation lying down. He turned an outraged glare on Fuller and protested, "No one's gonna believe I'm his daughter!"
This time, Phillips did actually smile. It was not a pleasant sight. "The cover was prepared with Officer Hoffs in mind. I think we can adjust it, as needed."
Now, Ioki began to panic. "What about Doug? At least he's from the right side of the planet!"
Penhall opened his mouth to object, but Phillips stepped in smoothly to answer, "Officer Penhall will be your contact outside the school. It's a very strict, closed campus. You'll need an unofficial, unsanctioned method of getting information off the school grounds, in case of emergencies."
"What the hell does that mean?" Penhall demanded.
Phillips nodded toward Ioki and said, mildly, "You're his boyfriend."
The two officers stared at each other, shocked into immobility. Then, as if on cue, everyone in the room with the exception of Phillips burst out laughing.
"I'm glad you find it so amusing," Phillips said. "Here are complete profiles on your cover characters." Three more folders landed on Fuller's desk. "I'll have the paperwork for Raeburn completed and messengered over there within the hour. We have an appointment with the Director at two o'clock."
"Today?" Hanson shot a panicked look from Fuller to Phillips. "We have to be ready today?!"
"We meet with Johannsen, the Academy Director, today and you start classes first thing tomorrow. I have another meeting, but I'll be back in time to drive you over there this afternoon." With that, he snapped his briefcase closed, glanced at his watch, and headed for the door. "Don't be late, gentlemen. And don't forget your names. You are..." he paused, as if thinking heavily, then smiled again. "Theresa and Harriet Blake."
He disappeared through the office door, to the accompaniment of Ioki shrieking, furiously, "Harriet?!!" and the sound of Doug Penhall choking on his own laughter.
*** *** ***
"I don't believe this!" Ioki groused, as he tore open his locker and threw his jacket into it with uncharacteristic violence.
"C'mon, man. What's the big deal?" Penhall asked.
"Wearing a dress is the big deal," Hanson snapped. "You think it's so easy, you try it!"
Penhall threw up his hands. "Sorry, pal! Nobody'd buy me as a girl, no matter how big a pair of b..."
Judy Hoffs' arrival at the top of the stairs choked off the rest of his sentence and almost made him blush. She eyed the three men with an evil smile tugging at her lips and said, sweetly, "I hear you've been assigned to a new case."
Ioki shot her a dirty look, while Hanson muttered, "Bad news travels fast."
"You boys better get busy. It's gonna take a lot of grout to fill in all those cracks."
"Oh, you're a big help," Ioki said. "This is supposed to be your assignment, Jude."
"Me? As Spencer Phillips' daughter? I don't think so!"
"Right. And I'm so much more convincing in the part."
"You will be when I get through with you, honey."
Ioki took a step back and put a warning hand on his gun. "Don't get any funny ideas!"
"Is that any way to treat your fashion coach?"
"I don't need a fashion coach! I can pick out my own clothes."
"Not if you want to fool all those sweet, young things at Raeburn. Trust me, Harry..."
"I don't," he stated, flatly.
"Tsk, tsk. If you can't trust your own partner, who can you trust?" Ioki just glared at her, making her eyes dance with mischief. "Hanson trusts me."
Her smile widened another notch. "Of course you do. Put yourselves in my hands, boys, and I'll work miracles!"
* * *
At the moment, the Chapel more closely resembled a rummage sale than a squad room. A motley collection of wigs, shoes, jewelry and other paraphernalia lay scattered all over the conference table, while clothing of every description littered the floor. A full-length mirror, pilfered from the door of the women's bathroom, stood propped against Hoffs' desk, reflecting and multiplying the colorful chaos. Just where Hoffs and Fuller had scrounged the wardrobe, no one dared asked, but Hanson privately suspected that Judy had used her connection with Vice to good advantage. Some of this stuff was definitely street corner caliber.
Hanson and Ioki stood in front of the mirror, wearing identical outraged scowls on their heavily painted faces, while Hoffs circled them slowly, taking in every detail of their appearance with a critical eye. Finally, she gave a nod of satisfaction.
"Not bad, ladies. Now let's see you walk."
The two men exchanged a rebellious look and crossed their arms defiantly. "We're not pieces of meat for you to ogle," Hanson informed their tormentor, in a firmly masculine voice that sounded incongruous, coming from his frosted, pink lips.
"Trust me, honey. You got nothin' I wanna look at. Now, walk."
Cowed, they turned and walked down the middle of the room in their stocking feet. The effect brought a groan from Hoffs and a gale of laughter from Penhall. Several other officers, who had all stopped work to watch the transformation in progress, broke out in giggles.
"You guys are hopeless!" Judy informed them, as they slunk back over to the table. "You walk like...like boys!"
Tom rolled his eyes. "Gee! I wonder why?"
"Well, it's gotta stop! You," she jabbed a finger at Ioki, "get the quick fix. You," the finger shifted to Hanson, "have to work a little harder."
"What quick fix?" Harry asked, uneasily.
"And how come I have to do all the work?" Tom demanded.
"'Cause you're already too tall." Judy produced a pair of spike-heeled pumps from a cardboard box and handed them to Ioki. "That's the quick fix."
Harry gave a shriek and dropped the shoes as if they'd bitten him. "No way! Not on your life!"
Judy cocked an eyebrow at him and remarked, "You've got the scream down, but you need to work on the throw. Too butch." She snapped her fingers in sudden inspiration and shouted, "That's it! Fingernails!"
"Fingernails, Partner, fingernails. The answer to all your problems."
Ioki's eyes widened in growing horror, and he edged closer to Hanson for protection. "Keep her away from me! She's gone crazy!"
Now that Hoffs' attention had been drawn away from his own performance, Hanson found the situation remarkably funny. He draped a pink-clad arm around Ioki's shoulders and drawled, in a soft falsetto, "Give it up, Sis. You'll never outrun her in those heels."
Harry growled at him and flung off his arm. "Fat lot of help you are!"
"He can't help you. He's gonna get a manicure of his own, as soon as I get through with you." Hoffs brandished a box that rattled ominously and small, silver tube. "Lucky for you I brought my glue."
"Glue? You mean...they don't come off?!"
"Face it, Iokage," Hanson chided, "we're done for. She's got us right where she wants us."
"That's right," Judy purred, "so sit down, shut up, and take it like a man."
* * *
When Fuller stepped out of his office, an hour later, the sight that met his eyes brought him up short in surprise. Even knowing what to expect, it took him a moment to recognize his two officers and a lot more than a minute to absorb the full effect of their costumes. Then, surprise changed to unholy glee, and a wide, appreciative smile spread over his face. Hoffs had really outdone herself, this time.
Hanson and Ioki stood side by side, adjusting their clothing in the mirror and offering each other bits of sisterly advice, while every other officer in the Chapel looked on in patent disbelief. Thanks to the four-inch spike heels Ioki wore, they were now the same height, but all resemblance ended there.
Hanson wore a shoulder-length auburn wig, a pink angora sweater, and white linen skirt. His long sleeves, wide shoulder pads, tightly cinched belt, and stack of gold bracelets helped camouflage the awkwardly muscular lines of his body, while his restrained make-up and frosted pink nails gave him a demure, feminine air. From his pearl earrings, to his low-heeled pumps, he reeked of the well-bred, wealthy, poisonously sweet Prom Queen.
Beside him, Ioki stood scowling at his own reflection from under a fringe of inky black bangs. Where Hanson's make-up was delicate and appealing, Ioki's was positively frightening. He wore purple-black eyeshadow and magenta lipstick, with an enormous and obviously fake beauty mark at the outside corner of one eye. His hair was held back from his face by a silk scarf, twisted into a headband, and hung down his back in an unkempt, purple-streaked mop. Just how Hoffs had cajoled or coerced him into donning a pair of black spandex leggings, Fuller couldn't even imagine, but somehow she had managed it. He wore one of his own loose, silk shirts as a makeshift dress and a tangle of leather and metal bracelets on one wrist. Black leggings, black fishnet stockings, and the preposterous pumps finished the ensemble.
It wasn't until Ioki reached up to adjust Hanson's wig that Fuller saw the inch-long, jet-black fingernails. The captain choked and began to cough. Both men turned at the sound, to stare uncomfortably at their commander. He couldn't see them blushing under the layers of paint, but he could tell from the way they squirmed that their faces were crimson. Composing his expression into something close to its usual severity, he strode deliberately up to them.
"It's almost show time, gentlemen. You ready?"
Ioki looked pleadingly at him and said, in a voice close to tears, "Do we have to do this, Captain?"
"Yes, Harry, you have to do this." Fuller's lips twitched, as he fought to control his laughter. His sense of fun got the better of him, and he said, in a perfect deadpan, "Nice manicure, by the way."
Ioki reached up to snatch the wig from his head but was halted by Hoffs' furious cry. "Don't you dare!!" When he dropped his hands and looked shamefaced, she added, a little more quietly, "That's a work of art, Harry. Don't you dare ruin it."
"Yeah," Penhall interjected, "would you mess with the Mona Lisa's hair? Show a little respect, man."
Hanson rounded on Penhall and snapped, "And you speak nicely to my sister, you big jerk, or next time you come around, I'll have Daddy Spencer set the dogs on you!"
"What! You two hate each other!"
Hanson put an arm around Ioki's shoulders, and both men struck matching poses of aloof superiority. "Family solidarity. I'm allowed to call her a wicked, selfish, hateful little slut, but no one else is."
"That's right," Ioki said. "And I'm allowed to call her a sneaky, snotty, back-stabbing suck-up, but no one else is."
Penhall groaned and buried his face in his hands, while Hanson and Ioki smiled conspiratorially at each other.
Fuller watched them, frowning slightly. "Just which one of you is supposed to be the bad sister?"
"He is!" they chorused, each pointing at the other.
"Can't you tell?" Ioki demanded. "He's got red hair. Everybody knows redheads are evil."
"Oh, come on! Look at this face!" Hanson pasted a look of angelic sweetness on his features and batted his eyes.
"The Bad Seed," Ioki muttered.
Before Hanson could retaliate, the sound of a heavy tread on the stairs announced Phillips' return. The two young officers, by silent agreement, slipped immediately into character. When Phillips arrived at Fuller's side, he was met with Harriet's sullen glower and Theresa's sparkling smile. His eyebrows went up fractionally, but that was the only sign he gave of his amazement.
"We're due at Raeburn in twenty minutes, Officers. Shall we go?"
In answer, Harriet turned a cold shoulder on him, propped a cigarette between her magenta lips, and flicked open her lighter.
"You're not going to smoke that thing in my car," Phillips snapped, obviously nettled.
She struck a light rather handily, considering the fingernails and took a drag on the cigarette. "Then I guess I'll walk."
Phillips ground his teeth. "Now I remember why I never had children."
"There's still time," Theresa offered, sweetly. "You could disown us."
"Shut up, both of you, and get in the car."
The three figures moved to the exit, while Fuller and Hoffs stared after them. As they disappeared down the stairwell, Fuller remarked,
"Good work, Judy."
"I don't know." She sounded dubious. "They still walk like boys."
*** *** ***
Evers Johannsen tried his best to pull his considerable bulk upright in his chair and smoothed the fringe of hair that circled his bald pate with slightly sweaty palms. When he felt that his tie was as straight as it was likely to get, and his belly sucked in as far as he could manage, he pressed the intercom button and told his secretary, "Very well, Miss Apgar. Show him in."
This was the part of his job that Johannsen simultaneously loved and loathed. He had no sympathy for or patience with these wealthy, callous, condescending moguls who palmed off their dreadful children on him, then placed the blame for their anti-social behavior on his shoulders. After doing a pathetic job of parenting for upwards of fourteen years, they expected a complete stranger to repair the damage for them. No, he had no love for these people, or for their spoiled, nasty, ill-bred daughters.
On the other hand, Johannsen was a born brown-noser. He could never find himself in the company of real Money or true Power, without feeling a flush of reflected glory and an overwhelming desire to ingratiate himself with the Greatness before him. He had no doubt that a large proportion of the student body did not even register under their real names, considering where their tuition money came from, but he didn't worry overmuch about that. As long as the tuition was paid on time, and the contributions of grateful parents were in proportion to the services rendered, he remained a happy man. If not a very ethical one.
His latest patron, Mr. Spencer Blake, was a perfect specimen. Blake strode into the office and paused, just inside the door, to fix Johannsen with cold, arrogant eyes. The Director rose ponderously to his feet, extending a pudgy hand.
"Mr. Blake. It's a pleasure to finally meet you."
Blake grunted and gave his hand a quick, impersonal shake. "You got the enrollment forms, I assume?"
His abrupt manner did not discompose Johannsen. He'd dealt with too many men just like Spencer Blake. "Indeed, indeed. And your, uh, very generous check, as well."
"Which should more than compensate you for the difficulty of processing the transfer on such short notice."
"And in mid term," Johannsen reminded him, gently.
"Please, Mr. Blake, won't you sit down?"
Blake folded himself into a chair and turned his rigid, faintly disdainful face toward the Director. "Then everything's taken care of."
"Just a few formalities, sir."
"Such as, the ladies in question. I like to meet all prospective students, before signing the final admission forms."
Blake nodded. "They're waiting in the outer office."
"Excellent. Before we bring them in, I'd like to discuss their, uh, transcripts."
"What about them?"
Johannsen leaned forward, his elbows on his desk and his fingers steepled together. "You must understand, Mr. Blake, that the Raeburn Academy has a reputation to protect. We maintain the very highest standards of academic excellence and, uh, citizenship."
"Why do you think I'm trusting you with my daughters?" Blake asked, sarcastically.
"Indeed. But that brings up the question of your, uh, younger daughter."
Blake's expression turned even more sour. "What about her?" he ground out.
"Her previous record is, shall we say, a problem. Quite frankly, Mr. Blake, she's not up to Raeburn's standards."
"Let's not play games, Johannsen. Raeburn's standards are determined by the size of the checks it receives. I've paid you handsomely to enroll my daughters both my daughters and I'll continue to pay. But they come as a package deal. You have no complaints with Theresa's record, I assume."
"None at all."
"Where Theresa goes, Harriet goes."
"I understand your feelings, believe me, but...
"No, I don't think you do." Blake got a pained look on his face, and some of his arrogance drained away. "Theresa exercises a beneficial influence on her sister. The last time I split them up..." He cleared his throat, awkwardly. "Well, we paid a pretty penny to keep that one out of the papers!"
Johannsen pursed his lips, thoughtfully, but his eyes had taken on an avaricious twinkle. "In light of your candor, I think we can make the appropriate adjustments. There will be a certain expense involved..."
Blake sighed and waved a hand in acceptance. "Contact my Business Manager and let him know what you need."
Johannsen smiled benignly. "Excellent, excellent. And now, Mr. Blake, I'd like to meet your lovely daughters." He reached for the intercom again. "Miss Apgar, will you show the ladies in?"
A moment later, the door opened to admit two young women. The first one through the door was a tall girl too tall and too solidly built to suit her delicate features with large, pansy-brown eyes and an enchanting smile. She turned her 200-watt smile on Johannsen and held out one surprisingly strong hand.
"How do you do, Mr. Johannsen?" Johannsen rose to his feet to take the offered hand.
Blake put a hand on the tall girl's shoulder and said, in a slightly softened voice, "My daughter, Theresa." Then he jerked his thumb toward the second girl and added, in a much frostier tone, "And this is Harriet."
The second girl gave Johannsen a long, measuring stare, then sauntered over to the chair that stood farthest from his desk and collapsed into it. Johannsen nodded pleasantly at her and said in his best avuncular, condescending tone, "Miss Blake."
She blew a large bubble with her wad of gum, popping it insolently at him.
Blake cleared his throat again, uncomfortably, and resumed his seat. Theresa sat down in between her father and her sister, composing herself gracefully in the chair and fastening another smile on the befuddled Director. Poor Mr. Johannsen was having obvious trouble assimilating the Blake sisters.
He remembered, from his earlier study of their files, that they were half-sisters, so he had been prepared for some discrepancies in their appearance. But he had not expected to find that one looked like an old money debutante and the other more closely resembled a Japanese streetwalker. Absolutely the only thing they had in common was that they were both unusually tall and rather too powerfully built which was odd, considering that Mr. Blake was not, himself, a large or muscular man.
Johannsen tried to keep his surprise off his face as he addressed the two girls. "Welcome to the Raeburn Academy, ladies. I trust you'll be pleased with our programs here, both academic and extra-curricular. I see from your applications that you're both athletes..."
He left the sentence dangling, turning it into a question and inviting one of the girls to join the conversation. Theresa did not disappoint him.
"Yes, sir, Mr. Johannsen. I lettered in Track and Field last year." Her voice was deeper than he expected, but it had a soft lilt to it that only added to her manifest charm. "I do hope you have a Track team here at Raeburn."
"One of the best in the city." He turned his determinedly cheerful gaze on the younger girl and asked, "What about you, Miss Blake? I see here that you play Field Hockey."
Harriet popped her gum again, but offered no comment.
"What position do you play?"
"Yes. Ah...according to your records, you also study Martial Arts."
Harriet smiled sweetly at him, an expression that Johannsen found rather unnerving, and said, "Yeah...there're days when you just have to kick the shit out of someone."
Johannsen met this statement with flustered silence. It wasn't so much the girl's rudeness that threw him he'd dealt with girls who looked like angels and swore like sailors many a time in his career it was the strong accent with which she spoke and the rough edge to her voice. Like her sister, her voice was unusually low, but unlike Theresa's there was no softness to it. In fact, she seemed to be assembled entirely of sharp edges, spikes and claws.
"You'll have to excuse Harry," Theresa cooed at him, breaking the awkward silence, "she isn't housebroken."
Harriet shot her a venomous look, which Theresa met with a sugary smile and a wicked glance from under her lowered lashes.
Blake spoke up, his voice dry and sour. "I take no credit for Harriet's upbringing. She was raised by her mother." He grimaced. "It just goes to show you what happens when you leave something important to a woman."
Harriet blew a kiss at him and sneered, "I love you, too, Daddy."
"Girls, girls..." Johannsen chided, ponderously.
Theresa gave a wounded sniff. "I apologize, Mr. Johannsen. My sister is allergic to good manners." Turning to her father, she put on a face of wounded innocence and asked, "Daddy, why did you bring her? She's going to get us kicked out, before we attend our first class!"
Johannsen mustered his avuncular manner again for her benefit. "No need to worry, Miss Blake. I'm sure we at Raeburn know how to deal with a bit of attitude, in a good cause."
"Harry's not a good cause...she's a lost cause." Theresa sniffed again. "Daddy should have sent her back to Tokyo on the first boat that would take her."
"What? And leave my dear sister?" Harriet opened her eyes very wide. "But it's so much fun watching you kiss every fat a..."
At Blake's furious shout, the impossible girl clamped her lips shut, slumped back in her chair, and resumed her attitude of sullen indifference. Johannsen watched her for a moment, as she began polishing the heavy, gold, man's ring she wore on her thumb, wondering what noisome thoughts filled the head of such an obnoxious creature, then he turned his gaze to the much more appealing prospect of Miss Theresa Blake.
With her sister silenced and her own position as the center of attention unassailed, she was all charm again. She smiled devastatingly at Johannsen and purred, in that oddly husky voice, "Thank you for letting us enroll during the term, like this. When Daddy was transferred, I was so afraid we'd have to attend..." her lips curled distastefully "...Public School."
"We're happy to have you, Miss Blake." This time, he did not bother to include her sister in the compliment. "It's always difficult to begin in the middle of the term, but with your academic record, I'm confident that you can handle it. We'll have you up to speed in no time."
Turning back to his files, and resuming his role as administrator, he said, "Now, you girls will start classes at eight o'clock tomorrow morning. Report to Miss Apgar before your first class, and she'll provide you with a complete schedule and list of regulations. You'll have Study Hall once a day, and tomorrow I'd like you to stop by and see me. I'll arrange a tour of the school for you. Any questions? No? Good. Let's see... I can put you both in Mr. Langston's Engl..."
Johannsen broke off and turned questioning eyes on Blake. "Is there a problem?"
"I wouldn't put them in the same class, if I were you."
The Director seemed a bit flustered. "But...I thought you said... I was under the impression that you wanted the girls placed together."
"That's not a good idea."
Now he abandoned all pretence of control. The look he shot Blake was downright harassed. "Didn't you tell me that Theresa exercises a beneficial influence over her sister?"
"Yes. From a distance."
Johannsen wiped his shiny forehead with one hand and cast a helpless glance over the papers in front of him. "Very well, Mr. Blake. I'll, uh, review our schedules and have something prepared by tomorrow." Heaving himself to his feet, he mouthed a series of farewells by rote and hurried his tiresome visitors out of the office. As the door closed behind them, he dropped back into his chair and muttered, "How do I get myself into these things?"
Phillips stalked down the hallway, toward the main entrance, with the two young officers trailing behind him. They could almost see the smoke pouring from his ears. As they passed the last of the classrooms, safely out of earshot of the students inside, he cast a burning glare over his shoulder and hissed,
"I ought to have your badges for that!"
Hanson and Ioki, their characters thankfully abandoned for the moment, exchanged a surprised glance. Hanson's eyes were brimming with laughter when he said, "I don't know...I think we made quite an impression."
"You acted like a pair of adolescent morons!"
Ioki plucked the wad of gum from his mouth and stuck it on the nearest locker, then pulled a pack of cigarettes from his purse. "Isn't that what we're supposed to be?" He was having trouble keeping up with Phillips' longer strides, so he paused to kick off his shoes, then sprinted out the front door on Hanson's heels. "I kinda like being the bad sister. At least I don't have to smile and make cow's eyes at that...that dumpling in there."
Hanson gave a shout of laughter. "I'd say we outdid ourselves." He turned to give Ioki an enthusiastic high five. "Congratulations, Iokage. I think you've found a new career."
"Stow it, both of you!" Phillips strode up to his car, then turned to fix them with his smoldering glare. "If you blow this case, I will have your badges, understand?" Then he saw Ioki light up a cigarette, and his rage boiled over. "Put that damned thing out!!"
"What're you gonna do? Send me to bed without my supper?"
Hanson grinned at him. "I don't get it. You don't even smoke."
"I do now."
"'Cause it pisses off Daddy Spencer."
Phillips ground his teeth and snarled, savagely. "If you were my daughter, you wouldn't be able to sit down for a week!"
"Daddy always did like you better," Ioki pouted.
"Of course," Hanson answered. "Why d'you think he named you Harriet?"
"As a favor to you?"
"You're such a bitch!"
Hanson smiled angelically. "I know."
*** *** ***
Hanson paused outside the door and took a few deep, calming breaths. 'It's just another classroom,' he reminded himself, 'just another bunch of teenagers.' When he peered through the window, he could see a chattering group of girls collected around one of the large desks, and he immediately recognized the air of privilege about them. They were all perfectly coifed and styled, not a hair or stitch of clothing out of place, and their smiles radiated confidence. The mere sight of them made Tom's palms sweat. 'These are my kind of people,' he insisted. 'These are not the girls who made Tom Hanson feel like a dork, every time he spoke to them. I am Theresa Blake, and I belong here.'
Somehow, the litany wasn't helping. With another deep breath this one closer to a despairing sigh Hanson pushed open the door and entered the room. He almost tripped over his own feet in the process, as Judy's hours of coaching snarled up in his head and he momentarily forgot how to walk. Luckily, he recovered his balance and his poise before any of the students had taken notice of his arrival, and when the sea of curious eyes turned on him, he was in complete command of himself.
He halted just inside the door, pretending not to notice the measuring looks given him by the other girls, and turned his melting smile on the teacher.
"Mr. Langston? I'm Theresa Blake."
Langston scrambled to his feet and hurried around his desk to greet her. "Welcome, Miss Blake, welcome. Yes, indeed. Girls? Girls?" His call for attention was entirely unnecessary, with every eye in the room already fixed on the new arrival. "This is Miss Blake. I hope you will all make her feel at home, here at Raeburn."
Tom fluttered his lashes coyly at the fidgety little man. Langston's head barely topped Tom's shoulder, and the way he bobbed when he moved made him look like an over-excited prairie dog. "Thank you, Mr. Langston. Everyone's been so kind."
"Indeed, indeed. Well, have a seat, Miss Blake. We're ready to get started." He motioned toward a desk in the front row, inviting Tom to sit, and stopped just short of putting a not-so-fatherly hand on the officer's back to guide him into his chair. Bobbing and bustling back to his own desk, Langston informed them all, needlessly, "This is AP English, for seniors. We're in the process of discussing the "Utopia" of Sir Thomas More...are you familiar with More, Miss Blake?"
"Oh, indeed," Tom mocked gently. He heard a giggle from somewhere near the back of the room, but both the mockery and the laughter went right past Langston.
With a satisfied nod, the teacher launched into a meandering and largely incomprehensible analysis of the work in question, while the girls settled in for an hour's intense boredom. Once Langston got himself thoroughly immersed in his lecture, he seemed to notice little of what went on in the room. His students knew the signs and knew exactly when they could drop all pretense of listening. Soon, notes fluttered from desk to desk and whispered conversations flourished behind raised books.
Tom found himself under intense scrutiny by the girl seated to his left. She bore all the earmarks of being the leader of her privileged clique, and the girls ranged behind her were waiting on her cue, where the new girl was concerned. She eyed him, without comment, for several minutes, while Tom pretended unconcern.
Finally, she leaned across the aisle that separated them and whispered, "I'm Alison Grey, but you can call me Ali."
Tom smiled at her with a touch of condescension and whispered back. "I'm Theresa. You can call me...Theresa."
Alison's eyes narrowed dangerously, but something about the cool assurance in the newcomer's face warned her not to take the gibe in bad part. With her plastic smile still firmly in place, she asked, "What's your next class?"
"I'm in that class. And Genny, and Sara D. Sara K. has Michaels for history, which means she doesn't get..."
Tom pasted a smile on his face and resigned himself to enduring the stream of whispered inanities that poured from Miss Grey's lips. At least it was more interesting than the lecture.
* * *
In another classroom, on the other side of the sprawling building, Ioki had also suffered through an introduction to the class, but unlike his social-climbing sibling, he did not have to be gracious about it. With the amenities over, he sat alone at his lab table, watching the rest of the class through bored, disdainful eyes and staring down anyone who dared to look at him. Even the teacher gave him a wide berth.
As with every High School class he'd ever seen, this one had a central core of bright, pretty, popular girls and a scattered handful of leftovers. Toward the back of the room, one such leftover sat hunched over her books, her eyes never lifting to the attractive group in front of her. She did not fit the profile for a social outcast she was neither gawky nor geeky, her clothes were every bit as expensive as the other girls' and her manner every bit as assured. By all rights, she should be at the center of that carefree group, not sitting alone at a back desk. But nevertheless, there she sat, ignoring everyone around her.
Harry watched her from the corners of his eyes, wondering what set her apart from her contemporaries and what on earth Spencer Phillips could want with her. Lucinda Walsh was a lovely girl, with long, rich brown hair, pale skin and straight, purposeful brows that were drawn into a perpetual frown. She looked intelligent, studious, and conservative. She also looked like she would bite the nose off of anyone who ventured too close to her.
Ioki was still pondering the mystery of Miss Walsh, when he became aware of someone hovering nearby. Glancing up, he found another of the class outcasts standing across the table from him. She was a scrawny, awkward child who looked to be about ten years old, with pale, almost colorless hair and china blue eyes. Just how she had found her way into this over-priced, over-dressed crowd, Harry couldn't imagine, and he felt instantly sorry for her.
The girl blushed a fiery red under his aloof gaze. "H-hello, Miss Blake," she stammered, in a nervous whisper.
Harry popped a bubble and said nothing.
"May, ummm... May I sit there?" She pointed at the empty chair to Ioki's right.
Ioki looked her up and down, making her blush again, and asked, "What d'you want? Someone to change your diapers?"
"I was wondering if maybe... if you'd be my p-partner for the mid-term project." His eyebrows rose in surprise. "I'm really good at Chemistry!" she hurried to add, "and I'd do all the work, if you wanted me to! We'd get an A for sure!"
"Like I care?" Ioki reached for his purse and fished out his cigarettes. "Look, kid, you don't wanna be my lab partner."
She nodded firmly. "Yes I do. Please, Miss Blake..."
"Don't call me that," he grumbled around the cigarette in his mouth.
"Miss Blake!" Ioki halted his move to light the cigarette and glanced up to find the teacher glaring at him, arms akimbo, a look of righteous indignation on her face. "We do not smoke in this school, Miss Blake!"
"So, who's smoking?" Ioki tossed the lighter back into his purse.
"Miss Halverstock, return to your seat."
"Hey." Ioki shot the teacher a warning look. "That's my lab partner," he pointed to the empty chair beside his, "and that's her seat."
The teacher retired in a huff, while the waif scurried around the table to perch on the extreme edge of the chair. She turned grateful, sparkling eyes on her rescuer. "Thank you, Miss Blake."
"I told you not to call me that." He plucked the unlit cigarette from between his lips and blew another bubble. "What's your name, kid?"
"Ellen. Ellen Halverstock." She swallowed the lump in her throat and ventured, "What's yours?"
"Really? I wish I had a name like Harriet!"
Ioki grinned, in spite of himself. "No you don't."
"Oh, I do! Ellen's such a drab name! That's why I'm such a drab person."
He studied her face for a long moment, noticing that underneath her adolescent awkwardness, she had the makings of a real beauty. Classic Ugly Duckling syndrome. "Aren't you kinda young for this place?" he asked.
"I'm almost thirteen!"
"Oh," Harry's eyes gleamed with amusement, "'Scuse me."
Ellen blushed again and, for the first time, smiled. "I've skipped a few grades. Daddy says that the Public School system has nothing to offer a person of my abilities... Miss Blake, are you laughing at me?"
"It's okay," she confided, a touch of the tragic martyr in her voice, "everybody does."
It took all of Ioki's self control to hold in his laughter. "What're you buggin' me for, kid? Go ask one of your friends over there to be your lab partner." He waved a hand in the direction of the Inner Circle.
"They're not my friends." Her childish face tightened with resentment, as she stared broodingly at the group of older girls. " They're all a bunch of...of..."
"Right. I get it. But don't you get any ideas about me being your new best friend. I'm not a nice person, Ellen."
The girl just lifted eyes full of awed devotion to his face and sighed, "I think you're a very nice person."
"Cut that out!" At her crestfallen look, Ioki's scowl turned fierce, and he muttered to himself, "Great, just what I need."
* * *
Lunch time saw the students of Raeburn Academy enjoying the spring sunshine in the central quad. The building formed three sides of an elongated rectangle, the outer end closed off by an old-fashioned, wrought iron fence that separated the hallowed grounds of the school from the world outside. The cafeteria occupied the ground floor of the central wing, with a scattering of picnic tables and park benches on the lawn just outside, for nice days like this one. The girls broke into noisy groups, as they found their habitual places the Inner Circle of older girls taking the best tables under the trees, while the younger and less privileged students made do with benches, stairs, and the slightly damp grass.
Tom Hanson had found it impossible to get rid of Alison, once she attached herself to him. For whatever mysterious reason, Miss Grey had adopted the newcomer and thrust her, willy-nilly, into the center of Raeburn's elite clique. Tom accepted the state of affairs with an inward sigh, knowing that this position suited his cover to perfection, if not his own inclinations. His primary problem seemed to be shaking Alison long enough to get close to Lucinda Walsh. Even though Lucinda was in two of his four morning classes, he had not managed a single word with her. She kept entirely to herself, and she did not spare so much as a glance for the likes of Theresa Blake.
He allowed Alison to pilot him toward the central table, where all the favored seniors collected, and place him at her right hand. From here, he could see Lucinda perched on the low brick wall that surrounded a flowerbed, her lunch tray balanced on her knees and a book open in her hand. She appeared to be settled in for the rest of the hour, so he allowed his gaze to drift around the quad.
It took him only a moment to spot Ioki, who had appropriated an entire bench for himself and was lounging on the seat, staring indifferently at the various girls wandering by and flicking his lighter on and off in a gesture of total boredom. His lunch apparently consisted of a can of soda and a mouthful of bubble gum. A cigarette dangled from between the fingers of his left hand, but he made no move to light it. Only Tom, with his insider's perspective, noticed that Ioki's seat was only a few yards from Lucinda's, placed so he could watch her without turning his head, and he rarely took his eyes off of the studious girl.
Alison turned to say something to her new bosom friend and noticed the direction of Theresa's gaze. She caught sight of the Vision on the bench and gave a hard, derisive laugh. "My God. Where did that come from?"
A few of the other girls broke off their conversations to stare at the other newcomer.
"She's in my Econ class," Sara Douglas piped up. "Her name's..." she shot a sideways glance at Theresa, "...Blake."
Tom lifted his eyes to Heaven in his best, melodramatic style and sighed, tragically, "That is my sister, Harriet."
A babble of surprised comment met his announcement. "Your sister?" Alison repeated, incredulously.
"Half sister," Tom assured her, as if this fact excused a wealth of evils. He gave a good imitation of Alison's ugly laugh and added, "The wrong half!"
Scattered giggles met this sally.
At that moment, Ioki turned to meet Hanson's eyes and favored him with a wide, wicked smile that made Tom's eyes dance behind his rapidly lowered lashes. He bit his lips, pretending embarrassment though he was actually fighting a smile, and hissed, "She is such a hag! I'll never forgive Daddy for this!"
"Aren't parents just the worst?" Alison commiserated. "They always leave us to deal with their...mistakes."
Silent laughter shook Tom's shoulders, but he forced his voice into a semblance of bitterness when he answered, "That's our Harry. Daddy's big mistake. But let's not talk about her anymore. My stomach can't take it." Shaking off his amusement, Tom resolutely turned the conversation to less dangerous ground. He flicked one manicured hand toward Lucinda and asked, "Isn't that girl in a couple of our classes?"
"What's her story?"
Alison shrugged disdainfully. "Just that she's the biggest snob in the school. She thinks she's so much better than the rest of us, just because her family practically pays for the whole school!"
Hanson stared thoughtfully at the isolated figure and turned Alison's words over in his mind. Lucinda didn't come across as a snob, though she obviously belonged in the ranks of the Inner Circle, not among the social outcasts. But the Alisons of this world could not be expected to see past their own wounded pride and up-turned noses, so he was not surprised at her assessment. Blocking out the bulk of Alison's pointless prattle, Tom bent his mind to the question of how to meet Lucinda.
Ioki looked away from Hanson, still chuckling to himself, and saw a familiar, waif-like figure sidling across the quad toward him. He met Ellen's hesitant smile with a black, repellent scowl that should have frightened off a much hardier soul that little Miss Halverstock, but Ellen showed no signs of alarm. For all her shy, skittish ways, she had the tenacity of a Pit Bull.
Ellen hunched down on the bench, her knobby knees poking out from under her skirt, and turned those enormous, worshipful eyes on her companion. "D'you want some of my lunch, Miss B...I mean, Harriet?"
Ioki blew a bubble at her and drawled, nastily, "I want you to go away."
"I have an extra sandwich..."
"No." He saw her mouth droop, and he added, reluctantly, "Thanks anyway."
She immediately brightened at this gruff courtesy, making Ioki curse himself under his breath. The last thing he needed now was to encourage her.
"Why don't you beat it, kid? I'm busy minding my own business."
But it was too late. His moment of weakness had betrayed him. Ellen was too accustomed to rude rebuffs to mind them much, and now she lived in the blissful certainty that Harriet really, secretly liked her. Or at least, didn't hate her, which was the most that could be hoped for from such an exalted individual.
She, Ellen Halverstock, might be the smartest girl in the school, but Harriet Blake was the coolest. She was insolent, rebellious, coldly indifferent to the mingled contempt and fear of the other girls. She sneered at teachers and swore in front of the Director. She carried cigarettes around in her hand, flaunting them in front of the faculty and daring someone to punish her for this breach of discipline. She had only been on campus for half a day, yet her reputation had spread to every corner of the building. There were even whispers that the dangerous Miss Blake had been arrested for some unnamed, hideous offense forcing her powerful father to buy off the Police and the press. In short, she was everything that Ellen secretly longed to be. And Ellen would risk much to bask in the reflected glory of her new idol.
Ignoring Harriet's attempt to be rid of her, Ellen asked, curiously, "Who's that redhead you were looking at? I haven't seen her before."
"That's my sister."
"Really?" Ellen's eyes widened, as she stared at the elegant figure of Theresa. "She's pretty."
"Yeah." Ioki smiled mischievously. "That's why she gets straight A's."
The blue eyes got even rounder. "What does she do?"
Ioki dropped his voice to a confiding whisper and answered, without compunction, "Seduces her teachers."
"Most of our teachers are women."
"So?" As Ellen's mouth formed a silent 'O' of astonishment, Ioki relented a little. "Nah, I'm kidding. She bribes the women." He nodded toward Hanson and added, maliciously, "If you really wanna hang out with the bad girls, go make friends with Theresa. She's evil."
Ellen smiled at him, her chin lifted defiantly. "I don't want to make friends with her. 'Sides, she's one of Them."
Before Ioki could try another gambit to get rid of his youthful admirer, he was interrupted by a stentorian bellow ringing through the quad.
"Harriet!! Yo, Har-ry!!"
He followed the barrage of noise to see Doug Penhall standing at the front fence, his motorcycle parked on the sidewalk behind him, waving madly to get his attention. Ioki started to say something to Ellen, to excuse himself, but remembered in time that Harriet would not bother with such simple courtesies. Jumping to his feet, he started across the quad without a word to the girl. She watched his retreating form for a moment, then scrambled up to follow him at a respectful distance, of course. When Harry arrived at the fence, Ellen was trailing a few paces behind him.
Penhall met his colleague's arrival with a suggestive grin and a jovial, "Hey there, Hot Stuff. How's it goin'?"
Ioki took the cue from his greeting and answered, without turning around to see who was behind him, "Bor-ring. This place is as much fun as a morgue. Got a light?"
Penhall fished a book of matches from his pocket, struck one, and held it between the wrought iron bars of the fence. Ioki leaned close to light his cigarette.
"Got a shadow," Penhall muttered. Then, in a normal voice, he remarked, "You ain't s'posed to smoke those things on campus, are you?"
"Who's on campus?" Ioki stuck his left arm, and the cigarette, through the fence and leaned casually against the bars. Turning to frown at Ellen, he exhaled a plume of smoke in her direction and crooked one finger at her. "C'mere."
Ellen scurried up to them.
"This is my boyfriend," Ioki managed to get the word out without choking, "Dougie."
Penhall nodded at the girl, a charming smile playing over his face. "Douglas Parducci, ma'am."
"This is Ellen. She's a pain. Now, get lost, kid." Ellen blushed and fidgeted, but did not leave. Ioki's frown deepened. "You gone deaf?"
The girl leaned close to him to whisper, "Your sister's coming."
"Oh, great! Beat it, before the Wicked Witch of the North gets here."
This time, Ellen obeyed. She hurried away, casting furtive glances over her shoulder, just as Hanson sashayed up to the fence.
"Hey, Tommy!" Penhall frowned and jabbed an accusing finger at his partner. "Aren't you gonna blow your cover hangin' with us?"
"I'm just following Daddy Spencer's orders and trying to keep Harry away from you." Hanson flashed his most beguiling smile at the other man. "You're a terrible influence on her."
"All this sisterly devotion is makin' me queasy. Can we please get down to business, before some old battle ax throws me off the property?"
"You had a chance to meet Lucinda?" Ioki asked Hanson.
Tom shook his head. "I've got her in two classes, but she keeps to herself."
"Yeah. Same thing in my Chemistry class."
"Hm. Looks like we need a third sister, with a high-class loner cover. Any takers...Douglas?"
Penhall met Hanson's inquiring gaze and shuddered. "I'm the bad influence, remember? C'mon, man, nobody said you had to be her best friend. Just watch her."
"Easier said than done, in a building this size, when we can't go up and talk to her." He exchanged a frustrated look with Ioki. "You've got her in one class?"
"And I've got her in two. That leaves one hour in the morning unaccounted for."
Ioki cast a nervous glance over his shoulder. Most of the girls in the quad were watching them, surreptitiously or openly, and most were whispering behind their hands about the strange new Blake sisters. "We better wrap this up, guys."
Hanson nodded agreement. "We have to meet with Phillips, right after school," he murmured to Doug, "but we'll be at the Chapel after that."
"Cool. I'll be in range, if you need anything. Just gimme a shout." His smile turned wicked, as he added, "'Cause y'know I gotta stay close to my sweet Harry."
"Bleh. Now I'm getting queasy." Tom grabbed Harry's arm and made a move to drag him away from the fence and his disreputable 'boyfriend', but Doug made a snatch for Harry's other arm.
"How about a kiss to get me through the day, Babe?" he begged, outrageously.
"Hey! Watch the threads, man!" Ioki shrugged off both their hands and took another drag on his cigarette. "You're a pig, Dougie."
"And you love me for it."
He plucked the cigarette out of his mouth and dropped it on the pavement. As he ground it out beneath one toe, he absently blew a large bubble with his gum. Both of his colleagues stared at him in amazement, Hanson wearing a sick expression and Penhall an appreciative grin.
"How can you do that?" Hanson demanded.
Ioki blinked innocently at him. "What?"
"Smoke and chew gum at the same time. It's disgusting!"
Penhall's grin widened into a leer. "I don't know. I think it's pretty sexy."
Hanson looked truly affronted at that. "Doug, you really are a pig."
"Like we didn't know that already?" Ioki retorted. "C'mon, Sis. We gotta get back to work."
Before they could step away, Penhall snaked one arm through the fence and around Ioki's waist. "What, I don't even get one smooch?"
Ioki lifted a hand, his fingers crooked threateningly. "Let go, Dougie, before I test these fingernails on your face."
Penhall eyed the wicked, black claws and promptly whipped his hands behind his back. "You're a hard woman to love, Harriet."
"And you are asking to get hurt. Go away."
"Anything you say, Babe. I'll catch you two fine lookin' ladies after school."
The two officers gave him sour looks and turned to cross the quad again. Penhall watched them saunter away, admiring the view, then let out a wolf whistle. Hanson's shoulders stiffened, but he controlled the urge to react. Ioki did not show the same restraint. Spinning around to walk backwards, he blew the other man a kiss and thumbed his nose at him in the same gesture.
"Don't encourage him," Hanson muttered.
"Awwww...you just don't appreciate my Dougie."
Hanson shook his head in defeat. "I'm worried about you, Iokage. I really am."
"What'd I do?"
A mournful note crept into Hanson's voice. "You get more like Penhall every day."
*** *** ***
Ioki wedged himself into the alcove and adjusted his position to avoid being disemboweled by the water fountain. It was a tight fit, but he had done this enough times to know that it was possible to achieve a measure of comfort, while keeping the classroom door in sight. Finally, he managed to find the perfect spot. With a sigh of mingled relief and resignation, he settled in to wait.
He'd gotten to know this particular door very intimately over the last week, just as he had gotten to know the alcove and the water fountain. Behind the door, Lucinda Walsh sat wrestling with the intricacies of Calculus, as she did every day during third period. Phillips wanted the Walsh girl watched every minute, and since Hanson and Ioki had not yet come up with a way to get one or both of them transferred into the class, they had fallen back on a contingency plan.
Harriet, as the discipline problem of the family, inherited the job of ditching her own third period class to keep watch on Lucinda's classroom. The first day, she so offended her Econ teacher that she was sent to the Director's office for a 'talking to'. The harassed teacher pretended not to notice that she never returned. For the days following that performance, Ioki did not bother to come to class, at all. He simply waited in the hallway till he saw Lucinda enter the classroom, then headed straight for his alcove.
The last week had been an exercise in boredom for both of the undercover officers. Miss Walsh led an exemplary and completely uninteresting life, and watching her consisted of attending tiresome classes, standing watch in uncomfortable alcoves, and trying to discourage their various hangers-on. They enlivened the time by placing bets on how long it would take Mr. Langston to make a grab for Theresa's tenderer parts.
Speaking of tender parts... Ioki shifted from one foot to the other, grimacing as a hard, cold, intrusive piece of plumbing dug into his back. He had bruises in places he hadn't known existed till now. Why couldn't Lucinda Walsh just get on with whatever nefarious scheme she had in mind, and let them all off the hook? Another week in these heels not to mention this alcove and he'd end up in a body cast. And another week pretending to be Spencer Phillips' daughter was going to put him in a padded cell!
The classroom door banged abruptly open, interrupting Ioki's sour thoughts, and a weeping girl ran into the hallway. Even with her face buried in her hands and her hair cloaking her features, Ioki instantly recognized Lucinda. She stumbled out of the classroom and turned down the corridor, toward the Director's office, giving every sign of being too distraught to watch where she was going. Then the classroom door clicked shut, and she underwent a miraculous transformation. She came to an abrupt halt and lifted her head to rake the hallway with perfectly dry eyes. Once satisfied that she had the hallway to herself, she set off again, striding purposefully toward the nearest exit.
Ioki flattened himself into the alcove and held his breath, hoping that the girl was either too near-sighted or too preoccupied to notice him. When he heard her heels tapping against the tile, headed in the opposite direction, he knew he was in the clear. He risked a quick peek around the corner just in time to see Lucinda making her way into the central wing of the building. Stepping out of the alcove and out of his shoes Ioki followed at a safe distance.
Lucinda led him past the deserted cafeteria to a door that opened on the quad. He hung back in the shadows of the doorway, giving her a wide lead, before he followed her across the quad toward the fence. He had to stick close to the wall of the building, dangerously close to the windows of the ground floor classrooms, once they left the limited cover of the grass and trees, but she did not so much as glance over her shoulder. Even when he got tangled in the ornamental shrubbery and had to squirm like a snared rabbit to free himself, she paid him no mind. All her attention was focused on her goal.
As she strode up to the fence, a tall, gangly teenager in blue jeans and a loose flannel shirt climbed out of the old Chevy parked at the curb. He came to meet her, bending his head close to hers and clasping her hands where they gripped the iron posts. Ioki could not hear their conversation, but he easily detected Lucinda's nervousness, bordering on open fear, and the boy's frowning concern. After a few moments of whispered exchanges, Lucinda reached into her purse and pulled out a thin sheaf of papers. She thrust them through the bars of the fence, into the boy's hands, then shoved him frantically toward his car.
Ioki dropped to the ground behind the bushes, once more holding his breath and praying that Lucinda's eyesight wasn't too good, as she headed back toward the building at a half run. Once she had cleared his position, he scrambled out of the shrubbery, retrieved his tiresome shoes, and ran to the fence.
The Chevy was just pulling away from the curb. Ioki afforded it only a quick glance. He didn't have time for caution, at this point, so he'd just have to risk being spotted by the driver. Doug's Harley was parked in its usual spot, in the parking lot of the little convenience store on the corner, but he couldn't see Penhall anywhere.
"Doug!" The Chevy was almost at the end of the block, signaling a left turn. "Doug!" Still no sign of Penhall.
Ioki looked frantically around for a means of escape, but the only way out appeared to be over the fence. The fancy, baroque curlicues that adorned it provided hand and foot holds, but it was at least ten feet high, and the top sported a lovely row of spikes obviously designed to discourage would-be lovers from reaching the objects of their affection. Harry glanced from the spikes, to the disappearing automobile, to his bare feet and mini-skirt, hoping for inspiration. None came.
"Oh, shit," was the only thing he could think of to say, under the circumstances. With a resigned sigh, he tossed his shoes through the bars, and started climbing. Getting up didn't prove to be too difficult, as long as he didn't overly concern himself with modesty, but the spikes at the top stymied him. He was still trying to negotiate them, having snagged his stockings, torn a strip out of one sleeve, and nearly lost Hoffs' masterpiece of a wig, when he heard a shout from across the street.
"Doug!" Abandoning his dulcet, feminine tones, he shouted, at the top of his lungs, "Doug!! Get over here!!"
"Anything you say, Beautiful!"
Harry twisted around to glare at him, overbalanced and made a belated grab for the nearest spike. "Oh, shit!"
Doug came pounding across the street and pulled to a stop just in time to see Harry topple outward from the fence.
Ioki landed on top of Penhall, knocking him to the ground. They both sprawled on the sidewalk for a moment, in an undignified heap, then Penhall gasped, "I know you miss me, Babe, but the Juliet routine wasn't too bright."
Ioki gave an infuriated shriek and jumped to his feet. "Come on! He's getting away!"
"Huh? Who's get..." Before he could finish his sentence, Ioki grabbed the front of his jacket in an iron grip and hauled him to his feet.
With his shoes in one hand and Penhall in the other, Ioki tore across the street. "...gray Chevy...parked at the curb. Did you see it?"
"Lucinda passed him some papers!" They reached the bike, and Ioki shoved Penhall toward it with a terse order to, "Move! You have to follow him!"
Penhall swung a leg over the vehicle. "Mount up, Hon."
"I can't come with..."
"Shake a leg, or we'll lose 'im!"
Ioki cast one desperate glance back at the school, and the fence, and came to the swift conclusion that a ride on Penhall's bike was the less hazardous option. Without further argument, he hopped aboard the enormous Harley. Still clutching a shoe in each hand, he wrapped one arm around Penhall's waist, clapped the other hand to his head to hold on his wig, and closed his eyes tightly against the nauseating sight of the world whirling by at warp speed.
"Which way'd he go?" Penhall shouted, over the roar of the engine.
"Left at the light! Oh, SHIT!!!"
Penhall just laughed at his passenger's reaction to their high-speed turn. This was his idea of fun, and if Ioki didn't enjoy it...well, that was his loss. He began weaving madly around the slower automobiles that blocked his path, his eyes quartering the street for some sign of their quarry.
"You see him?" Doug called. When he got no answer, he shot one quick glance over his shoulder and saw that Ioki had buried his face in the middle of Penhall's broad back. Another laugh shook him. "'S'okay, Babe, you can trust me." He patted Ioki's hand reassuringly. "You wanna help me out, here?"
"Gray Chevy, remember?"
"Oh." Ioki lifted his head and risked a quick look at the passing scenery. It seemed that they were traveling in the proper, perpendicular attitude to the roadway, at least for the time being, so he straightened up and swallowed his unruly stomach. "Where are we?"
"Headed downtown on Market. Hey, is that him?"
Ioki followed Penhall's gesturing arm and saw the Chevy making a sedate right turn. "Yes! Turning onto Commonwealth!"
This time, Ioki barely noticed the alarming angle at which they took the turn, so intent was he on keeping the other vehicle in sight. The heavy traffic on Commonwealth occupied all of Penhall's attention, but he maneuvered neatly through the crowd and gained steadily on the car. By the time the Chevy pulled into the parking lot of the Federal Building, the motorcycle was cruising easily along behind it. Doug also turned into the lot, but he continued on past the Chevy, as it parked, to another slot well off to one side of the front entrance.
He cut the engine and turned to Harry. "You're up, Beautiful."
"Me? Why me?" Harry climbed off the bike, but he made no move either to put on his shoes or to approach the building. The look he turned on Doug could only be described as panicked.
"'Cause I gotta keep the bike running, in case he gets by you and makes a run for it."
"I'm not going in there."
"What's with you, Iok?" He shot a glance at the building and saw a lanky, flannel-clad figure step up to the doors. "We're losin' him!"
Harry opened his mouth to protest again, shut it with a snap, and bent to pull on his shoes with sharp, furious gestures. "I'm gonna kill you for this!" he hissed, as he turned toward the building.
Doug watched him stride away and yelled, "Quit walkin' like a boy!"
Five minutes later, Ioki hurried out of the building and over to where Penhall waited. Doug met him with a frowning demand for information.
"What're you doing out here, man? Where is he?"
"He's in the Social Security office."
"I don't know! I saw him give the papers to some guy behind the counter, but..."
"Ioki! You gotta go back in there and find out what he's up to!"
Ioki's expression turned mulish. "I'm not going in that office. No way."
"What's the matter with you?!" Doug almost squeaked, in his frustration.
"Hurry up! Before he comes back out!"
"Not a chance. The government already thinks I'm dead! I go back in there, dressed like this, and they'll think I'm a dead girl!"
"So, what? Nobody's gonna even know..."
"Hey, I'm the one who won't get paid for the next twenty years!"
Penhall turned a fulminating glare on him and ground out, "You've totally lost your mind, you know that?"
"Thanks for your support, Dougie. Where the hell were you, anyway, when this guy was getting away and I was stuck up on that fence?"
"I was getting a donut."
"Oh, great. You picked a perfect time to start acting like a cop!"
"I've never hit a woman before, but if you talk to me like that, I'll..."
Ioki caught his arm in a painful grip and hissed, "Shut up! Here he comes!"
"What, you still wanna follow him, even though he's ditched the papers? What good is..."
The boy hurried down the walkway to the parking lot, but just as he stepped off the curb, Doug's angry voice carried to him. He looked up, startled, to see the mismatched pair staring at him. An expression of mingled rage and fear swept over his face, as he realized that they had followed him from the school, then he spun around and bolted toward the back of the parking lot.
Both Penhall and Ioki took off after him. He managed to maintain a lead on them until they cleared the parking lot and entered an alley between the Federal building and the office block beside it. Then he turned, lifting his hand, and both men saw that he held a gun.
"Oh, shit!" Doug swore, echoing Harry's earlier sentiments.
The boy brandished his weapon at them, slowing their headlong dash, but did not fire. When he saw them break stride, he put on a fresh burst of speed and headed into a sunken delivery dock attached to the office building.
Penhall assessed the situation with one glance and shouted, "You go under, I'll go over! I'll cut 'im off!"
"I don't have a gun!"
"He won't shoot!"
Ioki hesitated to enter the ill-lit dock, but Penhall was already leaping up on the cantilevered cement curb, making for the alley above and the far opening.
"Trust me! He's not gonna shoot!"
With a muttered curse, Harry plunged into the undercrossing. Doug had just scrambled up the last step, reaching the cracked pavement of the alley, when he heard the crack of a single gunshot. The sound stopped him dead in his tracks and drained the blood from his face. In the next heartbeat, he began leaping recklessly back down the way he had come. His feet connected painfully with the ground, causing him to stumble, but he regained his balance in one stride and pulled his gun from its holster as he ran full tilt into the dark tunnel.
A steady stream of curses answered him. He followed the sound to where Ioki sat in the middle of the driveway, one hand clutched to his arm and a look of outraged surprise on his face.
"Harry! You okay?"
"He shot me!"
"That little son-of-a... I'm sorry, man! I swear I never thought he'd do it!"
"Doug, if I die in a dress, I'm gonna take you with me!"
Penhall eyed the few drops of blood on his sleeve and couldn't quite suppress a grin. "All you need is a Band-Aid."
"I can't believe this."
"Me, either." Bafflement clouded Penhall's face, and he shook his head sadly. "What kinda low-life shoots at a girl?!"
*** *** ***
Hanson pounded up the stairs to the Chapel in very un-ladylike haste. He knew he should be in school, doing his job, but his brief conversation with Fuller had told him only enough to get him thoroughly frightened. The captain, obviously very busy and more than a little harassed, had merely snapped out that Penhall and Ioki were involved in a shooting, and that Ioki would not be back on the job today. Against orders, Hanson had abandoned his post at Raeburn and raced over to Jump Street, sure that he would find one or both of his colleagues bleeding to death on the floor.
As he burst into the room, breathing heavily, wig askew, his skirt hiked up around his hips, every eye in the place turned on him.
"Nice entrance," Doug commented.
Tom's eyes moved to find his partner, where he sat cross-legged on the conference table, and he felt the knot in his gut loosen slightly. Penhall was clearly in perfect health and sunny spirits. Then he spotted Ioki seated at the table, cleaning his disassembled automatic, and the knot came completely undone. Relief flooded in to replace the fear, but Hanson concealed it behind an irritated scowl.
He took a moment to adjust his clothing, then strode over to the table with a fair assumption of dignity. "Nice of you guys to let me know you were still alive," he snapped at Doug.
"We been kinda tied up."
"If Daddy Spencer had his way, we'd be in leg irons," Ioki groused, without lifting his eyes from his work.
Hanson watched him for a moment, noticing his sharp, furious gestures and the way his magenta lips thinned with frustration. It didn't take a degree in psychology to tell that Ioki was in a towering rage. This realization set Hanson back on his heels. He wasn't used to temper tantrums from Harry that was Doug's department, or his own and this was definitely more than just his habitual irritation at being muscled into a dress and high heels.
"What's the matter, Iok?"
"My sweetie is having a bad day," Penhall confided in a stage whisper.
Ioki ignored both of them, all his attention focused on fitting two pieces of his weapon together properly. Though he had shed both his wig and his street corner clothing, he still wore the heavy make-up and inch-long fingernails of his feminine alter ego, and the nails were proving very difficult to manage. He succeeded in attaching the firing mechanism to the barrel, but when he tried to insert the spring, it got snagged on his nails and shot across the table. He made a snatch for it but only succeeded in knocking it to the floor.
"Damn!" Dropping the half-assembled weapon, he shook his hands frantically, as though trying to dislodge the offending nails. "These things are driving me nuts!!"
"That's a real short trip, Babe." Doug retrieved the runaway spring, then plunked down on the table again and began fiddling with the gun. "You better chill, or you're gonna be takin' a ride with the nice men in white coats."
"Will you two stop with the vaudeville routine and tell me what happened?" Hanson cut in.
Harry snatched the pieces of his gun from Doug's hands. "I got shot, that's what happened!"
"You okay?" Hanson asked, sudden concern in his voice.
"Yeah. Just a scratch."
Penhall rolled his eyes. "I've done worse damage with a dull razor!"
"I'm glad you think it's so funny! Should I go back and ask him to blow my arm off, to give you a real laugh?!"
Hanson's eyebrows flew up in surprise at the tone of Harry's voice, and he turned a questioning look on his partner. "What's got his knickers in a twist?"
"You mean, besides falling off a ten-foot fence, getting shot at by Lucinda's boyfriend, and having Daddy Dearest threaten him with a public flogging?" Penhall shrugged. "Search me. I've been trying to figure it out all day." His voice dropped to a confiding murmur, and he leaned closer to Hanson to say, "Y'know what I think? I think he's afraid Uncle Sam is gonna catch 'im."
"Doing what? Smoking on school grounds?"
"Playing dress-up with us, when he oughta be keepin' the streets of Tokyo safe from Godzilla."
"Huh? Are you out of your mind?"
"Go on, ask 'im. Ask 'im what color green his green card is!"
Hanson grinned at Penhall's foolishness. "D'you have a clue what he's talking about, Iokage?"
"No." Ioki slapped the magazine into his weapon and opened the chamber to examine it. He fell silent, intent on his work, and offered no further comment.
"I'm tellin' ya, Harry's an illegal alien. It's the only thing that makes any sense. See," Doug stood up and dropped an arm across Tom's shoulders, drawing him slightly away from the table, "he didn't wanna go into the Federal Building, today, and he wouldn't go in the Social Security office at all. So the way I figure it is..."
"Wait. The what? Where were you guys?"
"The Social Security office."
"Social Security?! Of course I have access to Social Security!" The furious shout came from Fuller's office, as the door opened to spew forth a livid Agent Phillips and a weary Captain Fuller. "I'm FBI! I have access to anything I damned well please! But that's not the point!"
"Look, Phillips, if you can get into the files, what's the big deal? Pull the kid's paperwork and you'll have your information."
"It's not that easy."
Both men made their way toward the conference table and the officers collected there, but they were so deeply immersed in their rancorous conversation that they did not immediately notice Hanson.
"Thanks to the gross incompetence of your 'best people'," Phillips ranted, "we don't have a clue what papers to look for! We don't know what kind of forms they were, what name was on them, or even the name of your crazed gunman! Oh, I'll pull the paperwork, all right! Every scrap of paper filed for the entire day! And this pair of idiots can go through it all, page by page, till we find..."
Phillips broke off, as his gaze fell on the graceful form of his eldest daughter. Apoplectic fury darkened his face.
"What the hell are you doing here?!"
Hanson gave him his most innocent look. "My sisterly duty. You told me to keep an eye on Harry and Dougie."
"After all," Penhall said, mournfully, "I'm a terrible influence on her. We go out for a joyride, and she ends up taking a bullet."
"Not enough of one!" Phillips retorted. "I wish the little punk had blown her head off! Then I'd have one less screw-up to worry about!"
Ioki slammed his gun down on the table and jumped to his feet. His normally placid face was tight with an anger the likes of which his colleagues had never seen in him before. "That's it." He turned a look of pure loathing on Phillips. "I've had all of Daddy Spencer I'm gonna take in one lifetime!"
"Harry." Captain Fuller's voice had the unmistakable bite of authority in it. "Back off."
Surprisingly, Ioki did not obey. "I'm sorry, Captain, but I'm not listening to any more of this bullshit. I've spent a week playing the bimbo from Hell, getting shot at and yelled at and told what a lousy cop I am, and I'm sick of it!" He rounded on Phillips again, jabbing one taloned finger at his chest, and shouted, "You want me to do my job, then tell me what the hell my job's supposed to be!"
Fuller shifted his gaze to Phillips, wondering what effect Ioki's little tantrum would have on him. "He's got a point."
"You're out of line, Officer!" Phillips snarled.
Ioki did not back down from his fierce glare. "And you're about to lose a daughter."
When the agent made no comment, Ioki lifted his left hand and took one wicked nail between the thumb and forefinger of his right hand. "Thirty seconds, and they come off. Harriet goes into permanent retirement."
Phillips let out an explosive curse, but everyone in the room knew that he had no choice. "I should've known better than to entrust a bunch of arrogant kids with an important case. You're not cops; you're throwbacks. Perpetual adolescents. Every last one of you is nothing but a waste of air space! And you!" He glowered menacingly at Ioki. "Don't think I'm going to forget this!"
Ioki grimaced at him and started to pull on the fingernail. "Time's up."
"Okay! Okay. You win."
"Give it to us," Fuller insisted. "All of it."
"All right!" He paused to rub his eyes, as if working up the courage to do something he detested, then he said, in a flat, grim voice, "Lucinda Walsh does not actually exist. Her name and identity are completely manufactured. The Bureau has reason to believe that her real name is Wellington Fantasia Wellington."
Hanson and Ioki glanced at each other, their eyes locking, and mouthed in voiceless unison, "Fantasia?"
"So, what?" Penhall demanded. "Her great, great grandfather invented a recipe for beef?"
"No. Her father tried to blow up an airliner."
Fuller came to sudden attention, a frown of concentration creasing his brow. "Wait a minute...Wellington? Isn't that the guy they arrested for planting a bomb on the Air India jet?"
"That's him. He's implicated in four separate terrorist bombings, has been linked to counterfeiting, arms smuggling, and several mercenary groups. And he's rich enough to buy a Third World country as a tax dodge."
"Yeah, I know. He was on the cover of Time. But that doesn't tell us what you want with his daughter if she is his daughter."
Phillips eyes slid away from Fuller's steady gaze. He cleared his throat uncomfortably. "What the press doesn't know what no one knows is that Wellington escaped from custody, during a prisoner transfer, three weeks ago. He has...completely vanished, and with his resources, he can afford to stay invisible for the rest of his life."
Fuller whistled appreciatively. "Whoever lost him must be sweating right now." The look of cold resentment Phillips threw him told them all just who that sweaty person was. "You?" Fuller started to laugh, then choked on it as he struggled to control himself. "You lost the biggest fish the Federal Justice system ever hooked?"
His face rigid with fury, Phillips ground out, "Wellington was, temporarily, in FBI custody. It is therefore the responsibility of the Bureau to recover him."
"I'm sure you don't have to do it alone," Hanson offered, comfortingly. "You must have every law enforcement organization in the country helping you."
"This is a Bureau matter."
Fuller raised an ironic eyebrow and murmured to Hanson, "Translation: they're keeping it under their hats as long as possible."
"That would explain why the news of his escape hasn't hit the press."
A visible shudder ran through Phillips' body. "I have to find this scumbag, before the press gets hold of it!"
"Or?" Hanson prompted, wearing a deceptively sweet smile.
"Or my career is over, the Bureau is disgraced, and you three wise-asses are bussing tables in the County Lock-up!"
Ioki glared at him with undiminished rancor and demanded, "What'd we do?!"
"Who the hell cares? I'll think of something! I may be on the way out, but my last act as an Agent of the FBI will be to make you suffer for blowing my case! And if you think I can't, think again!"
"Now, wait a minute, Phillips." The captain frowned Ioki to silence and turned his energies to calming the agent's frothing rage. "There's no reason to toss threats around. We're all on the same side, here."
"Speak for yourself," Ioki muttered.
"That's enough, Harry." Ioki subsided, though not without casting another look of intense loathing at Phillips. "No one's blown this case. Penhall and Ioki did not identify themselves as Police officers today, so their covers are still intact. We can maintain the surveillance as long as you think it's necessary."
Phillips grunted, expressing an emotion somewhere between resignation and disgust. "She's not going anywhere near her father, while she thinks Harriet and Dougie," he spat the names out, venomously, "are following her."
Penhall grinned at him, then shifted his high-wattage smile to Ioki. "We'll come up with some kinda story. Won't we, Beautiful?"
Ioki's lips twitched with annoyance, but he answered calmly enough, "She won't know we're cops, anyway."
Fuller put a hand on Phillips' arm and began guiding him, inexorably, away from the group of younger officers. "Trust me, Phillips. This is what we're trained for. We'll have an airtight story ready by tomorrow, and the girl will never suspect a thing."
"I want a full report! I want to know everything you say to the Walsh girl, and everything she says to you! And I expect all three of you here, tomorrow afternoon, to go through those files..."
"No problem. You have our full cooperation, just like always."
As they drifted farther and farther out of range, the three young men at the table visibly relaxed. Fuller's voice carried back to them from the stairwell, smoothing Phillips' bristles a little more with each repeated assurance. All three men listened, poised, till they heard the outside door slam. Then, with a collective sigh, they turned back to the table and slumped into the nearest chairs.
Hanson reached up to scratch his head, absently pulling off his wig in the process. A wry smile tugged at his painted lips. "So we hold Spencer Phillips' career in our hands."
Penhall chuckled, but Ioki only frowned more heavily. "Don't remind me. And don't give me any ideas."
"C'mon, Harriet Babe. Don't let Daddy Spencer get to you like that," Penhall cajoled.
"He called me a bad cop."
The tone of his voice and the fierce scowl on his face told Ioki's colleagues that he found nothing about this situation amusing. They both sobered immediately, and Hanson said, in his most persuasive tone,
"We all know that's not true. And Phillips knows it, or he wouldn't have assigned you to this case. He's just being a bastard, because he's worried about his own neck."
Ioki studied his black talons thoughtfully and murmured, "If he talks to me like that again, he's gonna have a lot more than his neck to worry about."
"I've got a better idea."
"Better than castration?" Penhall asked in some surprise.
"Well, let's say, less risky. I think it's time we shifted gears on this investigation. Take a more active role."
"Do a little digging on our own?"
"Why not? If we're the ones being shot at," Hanson nodded toward the bandage on Ioki's arm, "then we should be the ones to get the goods on Miss Fantasia Wellington."
For the first time all day, Ioki broke out in a wide grin. "Fantasia. He's kidding, right?"
"Y'know," Penhall mused, "if this girl really is Wellington's daughter, we might be safer just going with the castration thing."
"Maybe, but we wouldn't be in on the biggest collar any of us are ever likely to see! Just think!" Hanson's eyes took on a distinct gleam. "We could help bring an international terrorist to justice!"
"Yeah. And we could end up dead."
Ioki raised an eyebrow at Penhall. "What d'you mean 'we', White Man? I'm the one being shot at!"
"Here we go again! He gets a mosquito bite and acts like he's one step away from amputation! How'd a grown man get to be such a baby?"
"I'm not a grown man," Ioki retorted. "I'm a girl, remember? Isn't that why you sent me into that tunnel, without a gun? 'Cause you thought a girl would be safe?"
Hanson turned wide eyes on his partner. "Really? You really did that? I'm appalled, Doug." He shook his head sadly. "Appalled."
Penhall gaped at the two men, opening and closing his mouth helplessly, like a beached fish. After a flustered moment, he blurted out, "Hey! Quit ganging up on me! I was just tryin' to catch the guy!"
"By throwing your girlfriend in front of his gun? That is truly pathetic."
Before Penhall could come up with a suitable retort, Captain Fuller strode up to the table and put an end to their raillery.
"I've managed to postpone the hanging, but you guys had better get your act together, and fast."
"We will, Cap'n," Penhall assured him.
"I'm counting on that. So what's your next move?"
Hanson shot a sideways, conspiratorial glance at Ioki and mused, "I think it's time to take a peek at the school files."
Ioki grinned. "Find out a little more about Lucinda Walsh. Like who pays her tuition."
"Exactly. Meanwhile, Dougie can start looking for the brute who took a shot at his lady love."
"How're you going to get into those files?" Fuller asked.
The two men exchanged another glance, then smiled innocently. "The Blake Sisters have their ways," Hanson assured him.
*** *** ***
Hanson craned his neck to peer around the corner. Nothing moved in the hallway not that he'd expected anything to move, but he'd thought it best to check, anyway. Pulling back out of sight from the Director's office, he checked his watch. Another basically pointless impulse, considering that he knew exactly what time it was, but again, it felt like the thing to do.
Half past ten, well into Third period, and the time of day in which Mr. Johannsen made his habitual trek to the Faculty bathrooms for a long camp-out on the toilet with the morning paper, then a swing by the Teacher's Lounge for a cup of coffee with the Misses Crewe and Tipton. Ioki had observed this piece of behavior often enough, during his stakeouts, to get the timing down perfectly. He knew exactly when to raise a stink in class, to get himself sent to the Director's office and find the Director gone.
Now, with Johannsen parked in the latrine and Ioki waiting in his office on the Harriet Blake Memorial Bench (Hanson suspected that Ioki had already carved his doppelganger's name in the wood, with his fingernails) it was up to Tom to draw the secretary out of the office without raising her suspicions. This had seemed simple enough, when they discussed the plan yesterday, but his blithe assurance that he would "come up with something" had proven unfounded. He stared at the blank door and empty hallway, chewing on one fingernail, waiting for inspiration to strike.
The sound of someone clearing his throat, from somewhere in the neighborhood of Tom's shoulder blades, made Hanson jump half out of his skin. He spun around to find Mr. Langston hovering and bobbing just behind him. Hanson felt a moment of intense irritation and equally intense relief. The last thing he needed at the moment was an interruption, but at least this was one rodent he could handle. He summoned his melting smile and let his lashes droop to hide the calculating look in his eyes.
"Oh, Mr. Langston! You startled me!" One hand lifted to her demurely clad breast, indicating that he had set Theresa's poor heart fluttering most lamentably. "I thought you were Mr. Johannsen, catching me without a hall pass!"
Langston gave his creaking imitation of a laugh and sidled a step closer. This had the unfortunate effect of reminding them both of the disparity in their heights. He now found himself gazing soulfully at Theresa's collarbone.
"Indeed, indeed," he chortled, meaninglessly.
"You won't turn me in, will you?"
Langston waved away that suggestion with the contempt it deserved. "No fear of that, my dear Miss Blake. No fear. I'm sure this breach of discipline can remain our little secret."
"It's only Study Hall, you see," Tom hurried to assure him, "and I heard that my sister... Well, Harriet does get into the worst trouble, and I always feel that it's my duty to do what I can to smooth things over. Not that she deserves my help, when she misbehaves so dreadfully, but she is my sister."
"Indeed. Very admirable of you, my dear. Quite...quite noble, in fact." With these ominous words, Langston moved in even closer to his oversized quarry, backing Hanson up against the lockers that lined the wall. To Tom's consternation, he discovered that he could not evade the little man without using physical force to shift him out of the way. "I've been hoping for just such an opportunity to express my...my..."
"Admiration?" Tom couldn't help supplying.
"Indeed!" He now stood close enough that Hanson could feel his hot breath through the fabric of his blouse. "So admirable, so lovely in every way. You must allow me to tell you how very, very much I admire you, dear Miss Blake!"
"Really, Mr. Langston!" This protest was wrenched out of Hanson by the feel of the other man's hands creeping around his waist to rest on his backside.
"Yes really, my dear."
The hands slid down to clasp him in a distressingly intimate manner, while Langston pressed a good deal of his weight against Tom, effectively pinning him to the lockers. Tom had a brief, hysterical thought that it must have been decades since Langston had his hands on a real woman, since he seemed not to notice that the body in his arms was entirely the wrong shape, but the beleaguered officer did not have time to enjoy this, or any other joke. Mr. Langston's hands moved much more quickly than his brain, and his wet, nibbly little mouth wasn't far behind. Hanson soon found himself fighting a desperate rear-guard action to maintain some semblance of modesty.
The young man restrained his urge to bury a fist in Langston's stomach and then lay him out with an uppercut to the jaw. He had a cover to protect, and it hardly seemed appropriate for ladylike Theresa Blake to send a teacher to grass in that rough-and-ready manner. Then he felt Langston's mouth slurping up his throat, leaving a damp snail trail on his skin, and revulsion overcame caution.
With a heartfelt cry of disgust, he threw off the groping hands. Before the other man could recover from this rude interruption, Hanson grabbed him by the shoulders and quite literally lifted his feet off the floor to set him to one side. Langston goggled at him in shocked surprise, spluttering and gulping like a beached fish. When his feet touched the floor, he staggered drunkenly, forcing Tom to catch his shoulders again to steady him.
Fixing him with a fierce glare that was ninety percent Tom Hanson and only ten percent Theresa Blake, Tom balled his fists threateningly and hissed, "If you touch me again, Mr. Langston, I'll break your arm!"
"Now, Miss Blake...dear, dear Miss Blake..."
"Don't you 'dear Miss Blake' me, you old lecher! And don't think I won't tell Mr. Johannsen what you just did! Or better yet, my father! Mr. Johannsen can only have you fired, but Daddy can have you..."
Not waiting to hear what the shadow demon known as Daddy would do to him, Langston cut her off with a choked gasp of horror, turned, and fled down the hallway. Hanson watched his retreat with a grim smile on his face, but the smile died when he glanced at his watch and realized how much time he had just wasted. He wiped the lingering evidence of Mr. Langston's affection from his throat, stifling a groan, then peered around the corner again.
To his surprise, the hallway was no longer empty. A lone figure hovered near the closed door to the office, gazing at it with real distress in her eyes. Tom recognized her immediately as Harriet's acolyte, Ellen Halverstock, and a flash of inspiration came to him. Without pausing to consider the potential holes in his plan, he stepped around the corner and gestured to catch Ellen's eye.
The waif glanced over at him, her face hardening into a look of deep suspicion that sat oddly on her childish features. To his surprise, she headed directly over to him without any persuasion on his part. She stopped a few feet in front of him, her feet planted wide and a mulish set to her jaw that boded ill for Theresa.
"What're you doing here?" she asked, in a harsh stage whisper.
Tom eyed her with some amusement. "I was gonna ask you the same thing."
"I came to see Harriet." The distress flooded back into her face. "She was acting so weird in class, saying awful things to Mrs. Beemish. Not like Harriet at all!"
Ellen blinked back sudden, angry tears and insisted, "Harriet doesn't do stuff like that without a reason. I just want to know what it is."
Behind the smiling, faintly contemptuous mask of his face, Hanson was rapidly revising his opinion of this girl. She saw entirely too much for the good of their case. "I know you," he said, in a bored tone. "You're the Halverstock kid."
Ellen's chin lifted defiantly. "Yes, I am."
"Isn't that cute? Harry has a friend. That's a whole new experience for her."
"Why don't you like your sister?" Ellen demanded abruptly. Tom blinked at her in surprise. "Why do you always say such nasty things about her? If I had a sister, I'd never say nasty things about her, and I'd hit anybody who did. You must be plain stupid, if you can't see how lucky you are to have a sister at all, much less one as wonderful as Harriet."
"Wonderful?" Tom had now moved from surprised to totally confused. "What's wonderful about Harry?"
"Everything. She's the nicest person I know she's even nice to me, and nobody's nice to me! She's rude and fearless and smart and beautiful and...and...perfect!"
Tom smiled, in spite of himself. "You picked a hell of a role model, kid."
Ellen's eyes flared with the light of unadulterated devotion. "Just because you don't appreciate her, doesn't mean no one else can!"
"I never said I don't appreciate her. In fact," Tom's manner switched instantly from aloof to businesslike, "that's what I want to talk to you about."
"Harry and I need your help with a little...problem. You game?"
Ellen looked sideways at him, her eyes narrowed speculatively. She had not missed the change in Theresa's manner and speech patterns, but she didn't know what to make of it. "How do I know you're not doing something rotten to Harriet?"
"Me?" Tom's eyes opened wide. "Rotten? No, don't say anything. Just listen. I don't have time to explain it all, but Harry needs some time alone in Johannsen's office to...to get something out of her file."
"It doesn't matter," Hanson interrupted. "Either you're willing to help Harriet out, or you're not."
"Of course I am! But..."
"But nothing. Johannsen will be back any minute, and I need to get Apgar out of the office before he shows up. If I go in there, she'll suspect something's up and refuse to leave Harry alone, but if you go in..."
"She won't think twice about it."
"Smart girl. What do you say?"
"All I have to do is get Miss Apgar to leave?"
"And Harriet really won't be mad?"
"Not a chance."
Ellen pondered this for a moment, wearing a heavy frown, then suddenly nodded. "I'll do it."
"Good. Here's the plan..."
* * *
Ioki shifted uncomfortably on the bench and shot a look at the wall clock from beneath his lowered lashes. Tom should have been here by now. They were quickly running out of time not to mention that his left foot was almost asleep, thanks to this instrument of torture called a bench! He kicked off his left shoe and wiggled his toes to wake them up. Miss Apgar looked up from her desk and fixed him with a quelling glare, to which he responded with a sweet, taunting smile. She snorted and turned back to her work.
Suddenly, the door banged open and a familiar, gawky figure scuttled into the room. Ellen ran up to Miss Apgar's desk, completely ignoring the girl on the bench, and leaned over to whisper frantically in her ear.
"Slow down, Halverstock! What is it? What?"
"In the bathroom!" Ellen repeated, in an audible voice.
"I don't know! She won't tell me! But it's..." She cast a panicked look over her shoulder, at Harriet, then dropped her voice a bit. "It's bad, Ma'am. I think she's sick. She told me not to get anyone, but I couldn't just leave her there..."
"No, no, of course not. Very well." Miss Apgar moved around the desk and toward the door, Ellen on her heels. "Show me where she is."
As they reached the door, Miss Apgar fired another glare at Harriet and said, coldly, "You will remain here, Miss Blake, until Mr. Johannsen returns. Don't move from that bench, understand?"
Harriet popped a bubble at her.
Ellen waited until Miss Apgar had stepped through the door, then she turned her head to give Harriet a broad, theatrical wink. Ioki bit his lip to keep from smiling. Finally, the door shut behind them, and he was alone.
Pausing only to check the hallway and close the blinds on the window in the door, Ioki made a beeline for the file cabinet. Luckily, one school's file system was much like another's, and it took him only a moment to locate the file he wanted. He pulled the entire contents out of the folder and fed them rapidly into the copy machine. Before long, he had a neat stack of photocopies, and the originals were tucked safely back in the cabinet.
Another check of the hallway told him that Mr. Johannsen had not yet finished the morning paper. He could only hope that Johannsen was a slow reader, and that Tom would keep the secretary busy for a few more minutes. Stuffing the copies into his large purse, he crossed the room to the bank of windows that opened on the quad. One already stood conveniently open.
Ioki left both his shoes on the floor, under the window, as he swung his legs over the sill. Without the ridiculous skirt, this would be easy, but obviously High School girls did not have the sense God gave a telephone pole, or they wouldn't wear this stuff to begin with. He slid from the windowsill to the flowerbed and felt the latch scrape his leg as he went. Scratch another pair of stockings.
Penhall was waiting at the fence, looking impatient. Ioki clambered out of the shrubbery, sprinted up to the fence, and shoved the papers through the bars at him.
"'Bout time, man!"
"Shut up and go! And Doug?"
"Put a rush on this, will you?"
"You bet. I'll meet you back here at lunch, hopefully with the dope on this Walsh chick."
With that, Ioki turned and ran back to the window. He found it even more difficult to get in, with any shred of dignity, than it had been to get out, but by now he was running on adrenaline and not terribly worried about the image he presented wriggling headfirst through the window. They were behind schedule, and only a miracle would get him safely back to that bench before Mr. Johannsen returned.
It seemed this was his day for miracles. He had just settled onto the bench, his shoes back on his feet and his purse tossed negligently onto the seat beside him, when the doorknob turned. Mr. Johannsen trundled into the room and paused to look around. His eyebrows lifted in surprise.
"Miss Blake? Do we have an appointment?"
Ioki popped another bubble. "We do now."
"Where is Miss Apgar?"
"Dunno. Some kinda trouble in the john."
"She left you alone in here?"
Ioki shrugged and stared insolently at some point over his left shoulder.
"Hm." He waved her toward the inner door and said, in a tone of weary acceptance, "Let's go into my office and have a little chat, shall we?"
* * *
Ellen went through the bathroom door first, hoping to give Theresa a second's warning, but she had underestimated the acting talents of her co-conspirator. They entered the bathroom to find Theresa bent over a sink, the water turned on full blast, retching painfully. At the sound of their feet on the tile, she lifted her head and turned a pathetic, woebegone look on the shocked secretary.
In the few short minutes it had taken Ellen to drag the older woman here, Theresa had done strange and wonderful things with her appearance. Starting with the slight disarray caused by Mr. Langston's ardor, she had transformed herself into the apparent victim of a full-fledged attack. Her usually immaculate hair was sadly tousled, her blouse pulled awry with two buttons torn off, and her lipstick smeared half across her face. Tears painted thick, mascara-hued tracks down her pale cheeks, and when she clutched instinctively at the front of her blouse, it could be seen that her sleeve was badly torn, her bracelet clasp broken, and her wrist showing vivid signs of bruising. She cast one horrified glance at Miss Apgar, then spun away to hide her face in shaking hands.
Miss Apgar uttered a wordless cry of horror and rushed across the room to her. "Miss Blake! My dear Miss Blake!"
"Oh, no!" Tom gasped, his shoulders heaving, "don't call me that! That's what...what he called me!"
Miss Apgar spun on Ellen and snapped, "Fetch the nurse! And Mr. Johannsen!"
"No! Please, no one...no one..." Tom began to sob. "I'm so ashamed!"
"There, there, dear. There's nothing at all for you to feel ashamed of. Come sit down." Miss Apgar led her into an open stall and sat her down on the toilet. "Now, tell me what happened to you."
"I can't! How can I say...how can I face him tomorrow? Oh, Miss Apgar!" He buried his face in the secretary's midriff and sobbed violently.
Ellen watched this masterful performance with ever-deepening respect. It seemed that she had underestimated Theresa, in more ways than one. Perhaps...yes, perhaps she was even worthy of the incredible distinction of being Harriet Blake's sister.
Miss Apgar strove to calm the weeping girl, all the while insisting that she name her foul molester. When she finally learned, from Theresa's choked utterances, that Mr. Langston was responsible for this outrage, her manner underwent a marked change. Shock and horror gave way to a kind of resigned disgust. She shook her head and tsk-tsked sympathetically, as Theresa gave a disjointed and highly imaginative account of the scene in the hallway, but she made no further attempt to draw information from her.
Tom had the sneaking suspicion that this was not the first time Mr. Langston had sent a Raeburn student fleeing into the bathroom, in tears, but he kept his thoughts to himself. His only goal was to keep Miss Apgar out of the office for a reasonable amount of time, not unravel the mystery of Mr. Langston's libido. That could wait for a more opportune time. He kept her by his side, blotting his black tears and soothing his gulping sobs, until he sensed her growing impatient. Then he allowed her to lead him back to the sink for quick repairs to his clothing and make-up. She now accepted his assurances that he was not hurt and did not urge him to see either the nurse or the Director. Instead, she gave him permission to remain in the bathroom as long as he felt necessary, then to call his father for a ride home, if he wished to take the rest of the day off.
Tom tearfully declined this offer, declaring, bravely, that he wouldn't dream of missing a whole day of classes over such a trifle. Nearly half an hour had passed by the time Miss Apgar extricated herself from the clutches of the distraught, but ever-noble Miss Blake, and stepped out the door. Tom watched her go, still sniffling pathetically to punctuate her exit, but with a smile playing about his lips. As the door shut behind her, Ellen peered out of the nearest toilet stall and gave him a shy, conspiratorial grin.
"How'd I do?"
"You were great. Harry'd be proud." Ellen blushed and giggled. "You better get back to class, kid, before you get into trouble."
Ellen drifted toward the door, but she obviously did not want to leave yet. After a few false starts, she blurted out, "Did Mr. Langston really make a pass at you?"
Hanson grinned. "Yeah."
"Do all your teachers make passes at you?"
"Huh? Why would you think that?"
"Because you're so pretty and...and because Harriet says you flirt."
Tom shook his head in feigned disgust. "Don't believe everything Harry tells you!"
Ellen eyed him shyly from under her lashes. "Theresa?"
"How come you act like such a bitch, all the time?"
He grinned. "It's not an act."
"Thanks for letting me help."
"Any time." He held up his hand, and she gave him a slightly awkward high five, blushing even more furiously with pleasure. "Now, get lost, kid," he growled.
She giggled and said, as she slipped out the door, "You sound just like Harriet."