“KAT!” Tommy cried out as his eyes shot open, drool hanging from his chin, heart competing to win a race he wasn’t running, but most of all, his mind screaming for an answer to the question he hadn’t yet asked himself.
“Kat what, honey?” Carol Anne asked.
He didn’t answer right away. Too many other questions needed answering.
“How far is the Capitol Mall from here?” he asked no one in particular.
Blake’s eyebrows furrowed together as if they were just meeting for the first time. “’Bout a hundred miles. We passed the exit going North to there a while ago. Why? Everything okay?”
“Not oaky, no,” Tommy answered. He reached over and shook Whitney awake, and then tapped her on the forehead vigorously.
“Ouch, hey!” Whitney said groggily. She began rubbing her eyes, and Tommy tapped her on the forehead a second time. Whitney took the hint and slipped her mind into his.
What’s the … she began to think to him.
“Kat!” he began aloud, “and Kam, and their parents. And I guess a whole lot of others too.”
“What are you …” she began, and he didn’t let her finish. He showed her his dream instead.
The very moment he began to replay it, Whitney began to notice things that Tommy’s mind missed. Tommy flashed the dream in front of her, showing her the events in a whir, speeding through the parts he didn’t think were important, wanting to get to the things that he thought were important, the events at the end. But that didn’t matter because Whitney could still pluck pieces of what she knew was important, like a chick plucking pieces of corn, knowing and feeling the danger as she watched, believing awful things were going to happen even before those bad things begun to occur. When they did start to happen, when the bullets began to fly, and the blood began to pour, Whitney’s anger grew with every drop spilled; believing the worst kind of bloodshed was the shedding of innocent blood, brought about by the most evil kind of bully. A bully with a gun.
When the scene did get to the part Tommy was speeding to, Whitney’s heart sunk into her seat. Seeing blood marks pop up on her friends sent her mind into a frenzy but it was Kam her heart felt the most pain.
“How far is …”
“A hundred miles,” Tommy finished before she could.
“Shit!” Whitney cursed.
“Language,” Carol Anne corrected her immediately. “What is it? What’s going on?”
“No time to explain, mom,” Tommy said as he looked at the clock on the dashboard. It was nine-fifteen in the morning.
Fifteen minutes, Tommy! Whitney thought to him.
It was a piece of information she had plucked from Tommy’s mind. A piece he missed, gathered from the wristwatch of one of the victims before the bodies began to fall, but there were other pieces as well. In this dream, Tommy seemed to be more than just seeing what was happening. He also seemed to be reading the thoughts of the scarfed man. His viewpoint was a spectator’s viewpoint, but Tommy had more than a spectator’s perspective. The scarfed man had friends there, friends with the same intentions and mission as the scarfed man, and Whitney knew how many.
Four of them, she thought to him. There are four of them and we only have fifteen minutes to get there and stop this!
But how …
Turn around, she thought to him instead of answering his question. They didn’t have time to play questions and answers. They only had enough time for the answers.
Tommy obeyed her demand and spun around and Whitney found relief in what she saw. In the dream their was an agent, behind them was a government vehicle, making the math simple.
It is important for you to know which circles are yours and which circles are not. Were they in her circle, or someone else’s?
“Keep going home, Aunt Carol and Uncle Blake. Keep going home and don’t worry. Leave the radio off and just go,” Whitney demanded.
“Huh,” Blake said. “You act as if …” he began, but before he could finish the twins joined hands and something his mind couldn’t really grasp, happened. The back of their vehicle disappeared and, in its place, the image of the front seat of another one appeared. A second later, the twins were no longer in the truck with them.
Carol must have seen the same thing as he did. She had turned around toward the back one second, but fainted the next.
“You rookies are all the same,” Ceiphart commented to his partner. “If you’re not right in the middle of a war you act insulted.”
SA Morrison glanced his way, but quickly returned his attention to the side window and the line of trees passing them on their right, trees heading in the other direction–the direction a part of him wished he were going.
“Can you really blame me for this one, Jim? I mean our assignment is to follow two snot nosed teenyboppers. I mean, seriously?”
“You saw the footage,” Ceiphart replied.
“I saw it alright. You know I saw the footage because we watched it together. I saw a half-baked magical act; the kind of magical act done on the streets of Vegas, and the kind of fraudulent footage you can watch a thousand different versions of on YouTube. I can’t believe the director is wasting our time with this. Wire tricks. Nothing but a bunch of wire tricks.”
“Even the coin?” Ceiphart asked, knowing he was leading his young partner into a box.
“Especially the coin, Jim! I mean you can’t be …”
“You didn’t read the report, did you?” he asked, closing the lid on the box, and enjoying the way Morrison cringed at his latest question.
“You saw me reading it,” Morrison replied defensively.
“I saw you,” Ceiphart corrected, “with your face pointed in the direction of the reports. I saw you flipping through the pages as if you were reading them, and I saw you scratching your chin, the way you often do when you pretend to be doing something you’re not really doing. If you had read them, Morrison, you would have seen the digital forensics reports nullify the possibility of fraud.”
“Those forensics guys never …”
“What? Never completely nullify the possibility of a fake? This report did just that and again, if you had read the report you would know that. They were especially convinced the quarter trick at the end was real. They clocked the speed of it. At the end of his little showcase that quarter was flipping end over end three feet above his hand, and then it zoomed into his hand, and do you know how fast that quarter went as it travelled into his hand?”
Morrison gave his partner a confused look. “How fast?”
“If you’d read the report you’d know how fast!” Ceiphart scolded.
“Okay, okay. You’ve made your point. How fast?”
“Two hundred and one miles-per-hour. That quarter went from zero to that fast in less than three feet. There were absolutely no signs of video manipulation, and no strings could be detected on even the smallest level and even if there were strings there is no conceivable way to use a string to make a quarter go from zero to two-hundred miles per hour within three feet. They even tried to do it before they sent us out here. The invisible string broke every time at anything above forty M.P.H.”
“I still think …” Morrison began, but he stopped. His eyes widening as his words trailed off, stricken dumb by what he was seeing from the vehicle they were following. One second they were looking at the rear end of their tail’s S.U.V. and the next the tail of it was gone, replaced by what looked like…
A rear end view of themselves.
“Pull the truck over,” Whitney demanded.
“What the hell?” Ceiphart cried out in surprise. He began to do just what she instructed, not because she instructed it, but because he didn’t want to risk turning around in his seat, drawing his gun, and running the truck off the road while he did it. He slammed on the breaks, slamming the twins forward and brought the vehicle to the side of the road.
Both of the agents clearly had no idea what was happening, nor did they understand why or how it happened. They were agitated and fear of the unknown showed bright in their eyes as they both turned toward the rear of the vehicle, guns coming out of their shoulder holsters, pointing at the two new occupants of their back seat.
“Relax,” Tommy beckoned to them with his hands held high. “We need your help. We’re not armed. We’re not the enemy!”
It was almost as if they had rehearsed the scenario before. Ceiphart was pointing his gun at Whitney, who was sitting behind the passenger’s seat, in his line of sight, and Morrison had his pointed at Tommy, who was behind the driver’s seat.
Relax Tommy. They won’t shoot us, Whitney thought to Tommy, They’re here to follow us, remember?
Well, they look like they’re about to, Whit! “What branch of the government are you from?” Whitney asked without raising her hands.
Ceiphart and Morrison looked at each other. The sirens in their heads were still going off, but neither of them had panicked enough to pull their triggers, which was a good sign.
“Homeland,” Morrison replied, “Now what the hell just happened?”
“Language,” Whitney answered, “and good. Put your weapons away. At least for now, but you’re probably going to need them.”
Morrison began to lower his weapon a little, but as soon as he noticed his partner wasn’t lowering his, he brought it back up to firing position.
“You don’t give the orders here, young lady,” Ceiphart informed her, “we do, and we aren’t lowering shit until we know what’s going on here.”
Whitney withdrew from Tommy, just for a second, just long enough to let them see her silver eyes, wanting to get their attention, wanting them to listen and understand it was not they who were in charge, but she, calling the shots. She didn’t know if it would work, but something was better than nothing was. When she returned to Tommy, each of the Homeland agents was looking at the other.
“Listen and listen close. There isn’t much time and if we don’t do something, there will be a terrorist attack at the Capital Mall. We need your help to stop it. Do I have your attention? Can you quit being idiots long enough to help us?”
“How do …” Ceiphart began.
“STOP!” Whitney yelled. “In or out!”
They each looked at each other again, paused for a second and then looked again to the back seat. “In,” they each said in unison.
“There are four men—foreigners—with automatic weapons and chests rigged with explosives. Powerful explosives, but I don’t know what kind. They are planning to mow down all of the people that are there.”
“How do you…”
“You said you were in, right? If you meant it then follow us,” Whitney said shortly and she joined hands with Tommy again. A moment later, a portal opened up in the front of the vehicle and a mall appeared on the other side of it. The two officers quit asking questions, taking one single deep breath for bravery, and stepped through, quickly followed by the twins.
Whitney found some admiration for the crowd of people as she watched them through Tommy’s eyes. They had entered the mall, essentially stepping through a wall that, for a moment, wasn’t there previously, and not a single person seemed to notice their sudden appearance. All of them seemed to have very busy minds, oblivious to everything else around them, and the only one that did seem to notice was the very girl existing at the beginning of Tommy’s dreams, but even she only smiled at them momentarily before going back to whatever was on her mind before they arrived.
Tommy pointed out the little girl mentally to Whitney and she nodded back to him, but her mind was already on another task—finding Kat and Kam’s shadow, but doing that, amongst all of the shadows that were present, wasn’t very likely.
“You said there would be four of them here?” Ceiphart questioned and Tommy immediately nodded his head.
“We only have until 9:30 to find them. That’s when it will happen,” Whitney said.
“And they have automatic weapons and are rigged to end things with a bang?” Morrison asked.
Again, Tommy nodded.
“Do you see them?” Ceiphart asked as he looked around the crowded corridor.
“No,” Whitney said, “and they are split up, but I don’t know where or how they’re divided.”
“Shit,” Ceiphart said. He walked up to a locator map a few yards away and began scanning over the layout of the building. “I was afraid you’d say that. Can you two handle things if we split up?”
“We can’t …”
“Yes,” Whitney said, “go!”
“You take J.C. Penney, I’ll go to Sears and one of you two should cover Dillard’s, which is right there. The other of you should cover by the main entrance. Those are the most logical attack points.”
Tommy nodded and started toward the main entrance.
“No, Tommy. You take Dillard’s. I want the main entrance,” she said knowing Kat and Kam were not inside of a department store.
“But you won’t be able to see,” Tommy said.
Whitney pulled back from him and headed down the corridor.
Jim Ceiphart double-timed it down the corridor towards J.C. Penney. He had been inside of this mall before, and took the store the farthest away, but also knew the girl was both blind and deaf. The report (coming from the claims of the director’s brother), mentioned the girl could still talk. The report also said it was impossible for a blind and deaf girl to be able to do that, and yet he just heard it for himself. The claim was true; at least that she could talk, but needed some more looking into.
Jim weaved his way through the team of people who were navigating their way through the mall, occasionally knocking into someone, never taking the time to apologize to the person he knocked into, and often receiving dirty looks and even cuss words as he closed the distance to the gigantic department store. The odds of them foiling any actual terrorist attempt weren’t very high. Even if any of what the reports said were true. With only himself, his partner, a blind and deaf girl, and a teenage boy who could flip quarters through the air at astonishing speeds, it was most likely that the terrorist plot would be successful. There was about to be a lot of bloodshed before the bad guys were taken down, if they were taken down. On top of that, his ass was going to be on the line for risking the potential assets.
Which was what the director had in mind if these two could do what the reports said they could do.
He glanced down at his watch just before he made it to the double doors that led into J.C. Penney. It was nine-twenty-seven–Three minutes before zero hour. Jim, bolting through the doors, eyes scanning back and forth for the target, hands tense, ready to draw his weapon if a target presented itself, nearly bowled over a young couple holding hands and walking slowly. Again he didn’t bother to apologize for his inconsiderate behavior, again caring more about the potential to save lives, than he did about being polite, and again receiving both dirty looks and a few cuss words as he ran toward the center of the store.
There was no time to think when he got there.
Stony Morrison (his mom named him Tony, but everyone added an s to his name) was never a believer in magic. At least not since he was a kid. There was a time before time began, at least in his mind (time seemed to stand still for him when he was little) when he did believe in magic. At six he used to beg his father to take him to magic shows so he could watch the magicians do their mystical tricks as he sat with wonder at how lucky those magicians were to be able to make things disappear, and then make them reappear again, only to often make them disappear into thin air once again. He used to think how wonderful it would be to have those powers, to be able to manipulate the world as they saw fit, to control the outcome so fantastically as to be able make something hover above the ground with no strings attached.
At least that’s what he believed when he was six.
He believed that until he was ten. At ten his Aunt Mildred, seeing just how marveled he was by the world of illusion (little Stony hadn’t even realized the true meaning or concept of that word before then) bought him his very own magician’s kit.
At first, the gift thrilled him. He jumped up and down, thanking her vigorously for the wonderful present, and tore the box open with the enthusiasm only a child can have, only to become very confused as he began to read the instructions to the ‘magic’.
When he first saw the magician’s kit, he believed the kit was going to teach him how to become magical, like a wizard or a mage, or even a male witch. He believed this kit would give him the secrets to a mystical world, but upon reading the instructions, he quickly realized he was only going to learn how to fool people, how to trick them, and how to ‘lie’ to them.
Stony boxed the kit back up and brought it to his aunt’s side. She was talking to his mom, so he waited patiently. When she finished, he kindly thanked her, but informed her he wanted to learn how to do real magic, like the magicians did, and not how to trick people into thinking he could.
She frowned at him when he said that. “Stony,” she asked him kindly, “are you under the impression magicians can do those things for real?”
He nodded to his aunt in the affirmative.
She laughed hard at that. She laughed as if it was the funniest damn thing anyone ever said. For all Stony knew, she was still laughing because he ran from the room, from her laughter, from her mockery of his naïve beliefs, and from the foolish idea of falling for the trickery of magic in the first place.
Magic wasn’t real, and that’s how he learned it wasn’t real. His parents allowed him to believe it was real for so long, never bothering to explain it to him but just the opposite, encouraging him to continue thinking it was real, all the way up until his aunt spoiled the reality of it.
Even as he made his way to Sears, his mind still wasn’t convinced everything was really happening. There was no way the twins could appear in their vehicle, no way they could open a magical portal from their vehicle to the mall, and no way they could even know about a terrorist attack coming within the next few minutes. He didn’t believe it. He didn’t know for sure how he was walking down the corridor, but him being there was impossible so, somehow, it must be a trick. He still had no idea how they were doing it, but it was an illusion and he probably wasn’t even there.
He entered Sears, saw the foreign dark skinned man pulling something his mind immediately registered as a ‘gun’, and as the dark skinned man began to level that ‘gun’ directly at him, his belief didn’t matter.
What mattered, as the dark skinned man’s finger began to squeeze the trigger, was the training Stony had from the good ole U.S. of A’s Marine Corp, backed up by the good ole U.S. of A’s Homeland Security. The training that made it automatic for him to draw when drawn upon and to fire first and ask questions later.
They both fired at the same time and both of their aim was true.
Stony Morrison was no longer angry with the director for assigning him to the twins. He realized two things before his breath was taken from him.
The first thing (and was very thankful for) was magic was real and he no longer had to resent his parents for leading him to think that way. The second thing that he realized was that his life wasn’t wasted. He watched as the only bullet that he ever fired at a real ‘bad guy’, removed the side of said ‘bad guy’s’ face and the lights in that ‘bad guy’s’ eyes went out forever, as he fell. The bad-guy would be delivering no bad news today, and that was all that mattered to Agent Stony Morrison.
Tommy could hear the absolute panic as the first of the shots fired that day rang throughout the mall. His panic mirrored theirs, because he hadn’t found his terrorist yet. He was to the point where he was running up and down the aisles, searching frantically back and forth, looking for anything that could possibly be a threat, but found none.
Tommy heard a click, followed by silent cursing, and then praying. Tommy spun around, seeing a man huddled behind a display case. The man tossed aside the weapon that apparently wouldn’t fire and reached up to his chest.
The man grabbed a button, attached to a small wire, and pushed it.
Tommy was too late.