“About a week ago, a man and a woman, dressed in coats, stopped outside the Bunker’s house. But it was odd. They waited on the sidewalk across the street for the longest time, then they finally went and knocked on the door. I didn’t see anything after that for a long time.”
“You’d never seen them before?”
“Nope. You couldn’t forget them. The man wore a funny hat like you’d see in a movie and he had a coat on. It was 90 degrees that day.”
“What happened after that?”
Lauren nudged Rachel and raised a white eyebrow. Rachel frowned. More and more of Lauren turned white with each passing minute, and the scales had grown up her arm and were spreading across her neck. She swallowed and forced herself to focus. Lauren nudged her again and wrote one word on her tablet: Woman?
“What did the woman look like?”
“I looked at them through my telescope,” Peter said. His ears turned a little red as he admitted to spying. “They were strangers, after all.”
“What did you see?”
“Like I said, he had a strange hat on, but she also wore a coat, like it was super cold that day instead of blisteringly hot. She had a long dress on, gloves, and a hat, too. Her hat had this like black netting on the front. The strange part was her hair.”
Rachel and Lauren both stiffened. “Her hair?”
“Yeah, they were standing in the shade of Mrs. Dickens’ oak but the woman’s hair glinted like she stood in the sun.”
“What color was it?”
“Silver, but she didn’t look old.”
Lauren’s fingers flew across the tablet. She searched through an old file until she found the picture she wanted.
“Did she look like this?” Rachel said as Lauren held the tablet up.
“Whoa. Yep. That’s her. Who is she?”
Rachel dropped her head into her hands. Lauren opened her mouth and the strange siren filled the small room. She clamped it shut.
What happened next? She wrote on her tablet across the picture of the woman.
“You’re never going to believe this . . .” he paused and glanced from Rachel to Lauren. Lauren brushed a white curl out of her face. “Well, you might believe this. They stayed inside for most of the afternoon. I was just about to go down for dinner when they slipped out. I could barely see them in the shadows. Up in the House it was still pretty light, but down there, behind Rick’s house it was really dark already. As I watched them, they hurried across the yard and up into his tree house.”
Both girls stared at him waiting.
“They went in the tree house and didn’t come out. They waited until cover of darkness and never came back out. I sent a message to Ben, he spent the night in his House, and he said he saw a strange light flickering in Rick’s tree house all night long. It kept him up.”
“This was last Monday?” Rachel asked.
“Did you tell Casey this?”
“No,” Peter said.
“He never asked. He only asked me about my parents and my sister and what happened tonight. Until you started asking me about my House I kinda forgot about it. Ben and I hadn’t seen anything since that first night. We figured the strangers left while we were doing school work or during the night.”
Lauren tapped the glass screen of her tablet over and over and over. Rachel knew she was thinking because that’s what Rachel was doing. She knew Lauren was thinking about the women. She knew Lauren was thinking about lights on in a tree house all night and mutated monsters under the bed of the boy next door. She knew because she was thinking about it too.
“What do you want to do?”
Lauren scratched across her tablet and held it up.
“They’re never going to let you out like this,” Rachel said in response to Lauren’s idea to investigate the tree house.
Lauren scribbled and then glared at Rachel while she read.
“You don’t care? There’s scales growing on your face. Your eyes are white and your hair’s white. You don’t care? I care.”
“Any superpowers yet?” Peter asked.
Rachel and Lauren gave him a united scathing glance.
“Sorry,” he said holding up his hands. “Please continue to argue.”
Lauren held out a fist and set it on the flat palm of her hand.
“You want to use paper, rock, scissors to decide if we should go explore Peter’s tree house? Shouldn’t we be taking this information to Carmichael? You know he’ll be furious if we leave with you like this.”
Lauren gestured impatiently with her fist.
“Fine,” Rachel said with a sigh.
She held her palm out flat and put her fist on top of it. The raised their fists and brought them down onto their palms as if they were passing judgment on a court case. Once. Twice. Three times. Their fingers flew open. Rachel held up two fingers in the universal sign for scissors. Lauren held up a fist. Their fates were decided. Rock always smashed scissors.
“I guess we’re going to the tree house. Care to come along Peter?” Rachel said. Taking a boy from the neighborhood would save them some time. He would know the best and most secret ways to get to Rick’s tree house. It also gave Rachel some help if Lauren suddenly went batty.
“First I want to know who this woman is,” Peter said. He picked up a doughnut and leaned back in his chair.
Lauren tapped the screen five times.
“Gotcha,” Rachel said. “Here’s the five-minute version. The woman is our arch-nemesis.”
“People don’t have real arch-nemesis-es,” Peter said.
A white, wide grin spread across Lauren’s face. Her crazy curls bounced as she nodded.
“We do. Two years ago, we became agents because we foiled her plans. She put monsters not just under our beds, but in our closets and out in the woods behind our house. Carmichael sent agents of course, but they couldn’t catch them. We found them one night and helped hide them until they could be picked up. After that, we started our own investigation and found the woman’s base. She’s supposed to be in jail right now. I guess she escaped. When they were dragging her away, she said she’d come back and get us someday. See, she was raising a special breed of monster to enslave children all over the city. We stopped her. It looks like she’s back to her old tricks again.”
“Wow,” Peter said, impressed. “Since I helped y’all do I get to be an agent, too?”
“You’ll have to ask Carmichael. For now, we’re signing you in to help us, but it’s only temporary.”
“I’m in,” Peter said jumping to his feet. “Besides, I don’t like Rick very much. He kicked my sister’s dog once.”
“Sounds like a great kid,” Rachel said. Lauren nodded in agreement.
“So, how are we going to get back to my house?”
“We need some guns, kits, and a couple jet packs.”
“How are we going to get those?”
“Very carefully,” Rachel said.
Lauren’s long fingers flashed across her tablet. She held up a map with directions written across it. It took Rachel a minute to decipher her handwriting.
“Good idea, Lauren.”
“Everyone should be about to go to breakfast. The only people out and about will be a few errand runners and probably Rob, Dee, and Sam. I can deal with Sam. We’ll need to sneak around Rob and Dee.”
Lauren nodded and scribbled another note.
“You know, Lauren. That might just work.”
LET’S ROLL! Lauren wrote.
The girls hurried out the door with Peter at their heels, one more doughnut in hand.