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complex - part two
I w a s n ' t sure what day it was, so, to me, it was just another sunny day in Southern California. The street was filled with new people, coming and going to and from one place or another. Cars hustled and bustled from points A and B on the street, the air filled with honking horns, road rage, and car exhaust fumes.
I walked along, hands in my pockets and minding my own business. Occasionally, I would bump into someone, and then instinctively apologize. The usual reply was a muttered oath or an annoyed grunt. I had too much on my mind to respond with a snappy retort.
If I wanted to talk to someone… my address book wasn't exactly full. Mrs. R was a professional (although, in my opinion, the ability to ask 'how does that make you feel?' shouldn't exactly require a Ph. D) and so she was probably somewhat qualified—plus, she knew my secret.
But… I didn't want to talk about it. That was the point… maybe the problem. If something bad happens, the last thing you probably want to do is talk about it, right? If the fire burned you once, you aren't really going to let it burn you again.
Still… it was eating away at me. It ached. I just wanted to sit down and… I don't know about cry, but I know I just wanted it to stop. I didn't want to remember anymore. I didn't want to think about it at random times. I just wanted to be….
Fumbling around in my pocket, a small business card was what I found. Mrs. R's card.
I must've been asking for celestial answers because just when I happened to look up—what do you know?—there was a payphone not two feet away from me. The temptation to call was overwhelming… but to do so in a public place such as a Los Angeles sidewalk was not ideal. Like you can discuss a secret as crazy as mine in front of people who didn't own cell phones?
Nope. I kept on walking.
I f y o u are curious as to how I pass the time… don't bother. All I do—all day—is walk around.
Well, for one thing—an obvious thing—I didn't have a particular place to go (if you've been keeping up, you already knew that).
The other thing is that, sometimes, the best things are the things you don't look for. You couldn't possibly believe some of the things that happened where I was at the right place at the right time. Planning ahead is overrated—and pointless. If you disagree… well, nothing I can do about that. You're just weird.
I believe the problem of being a—don't think I'm conceited—a hero, is that there's only one of you (unless you've got really cool duplicating powers, in which case, don't throw that in my face). I would give anything to be in more than one place at once—or even fly. Superman isn't real, but he got to fly. Not fair.
Still, the perks to being… well, not normal, are that you're advanced in a lot of ways.
I am not a genius. There. I said it.
I'm just saying that it's good to have certain advantages, because then you can take care of yourself (and others, if you want) a whole lot better… see someone come at you from far away… hear someone behind you….
Which is what I heard then—someone behind me.
Don't be all 'Duh. It's L.A. The streets are usually filled with people.'
Well, whoever it was tried to mask their steps under my steps… which, I had to admit, was a good call. Still, they didn't take into account my sensitive hearing.
I was looking for some kind of outlet mall—anywhere they had cheap clothing. I had to ditch my denim blue jacket (my one and only favorite).
Glancing at the tabloids, I deduced that the pictures had gone viral. The LA Times was calling me 'So Cal Superboy.' It was boy, because (to the people) I was not a man; how disheartening. The bus passengers' accounts were being told over and over again.
The newspaper stand guy was watching me, but he didn't concern me.
From the corner of my eye, I couldn't see anyone who looked like they were following me. Then I just rolled my eyes and continued my search for the oh-so-elusive outlet mall.
It must've been all the publicity that was making me paranoid, that's all. It was a lot tougher in New York because the sounds of the city masked everything.
Finally—finally—I found a store that had items ten bucks or less. I rushed in, leaving the imagined (?) footsteps behind me.
Going into a building, away from the deafening roar of L.A., it sort of feels like suddenly going deaf. It's so quiet and cozy inside, and you don't feel rushed, which means you can go at your own pace. There should be mores stores like this.
I headed to the men's department, which was really just the far end of the giant room. There was a really good sale on denim—inspired by yours truly—so I had to get myself away from that section.
Oh… yeah: the leather jackets. I'd always wanted one. The problem was that it would be too precious to even wear, and I would eventually ruin it.
It was also, alas, out of my price range by continents.
With a look of utter disappointment I handed the sales girl my merchandise: a gray/black-striped Bongo sweater—with earbuds for the player I didn't own. I thought about it, and thought, I could blend in with the millions of teens who always have earbuds in their ears, ignoring the world and, therefore, everyone. Which meant… they'd ignore me.
I walked out of the store with the buds in my ears, feeling totally stupid. I had to tuck in the plug so it wouldn't look obvious I wasn't listening to anything. With the buds, it softened the sounds of the city, so I figured I had the same hearing as everyone else—I didn't like it.
I took out the right one, which was smart in my case because I heard the distinct footsteps again. I didn't have to turn my head because the footsteps were so close, just right behind me.
I quickly ducked into an alley and turned around.
She almost bumped her face into mine.
"What are you following me for?" I almost yelled, straightening up from almost punching her. I'd been thinking a cop… a potential criminal… someone looking for me that would try to cause me harm—it astounded me that of all people in Los Angeles, it was her.
"You're the one who scared me half to death," she replied breathlessly. She'd yelped.
"You were following me." I straightened myself up a bit. Why?"
Chloe crossed her arms, seemingly back to normal (whatever her norm was). "I just wanted to say 'hey, Jake, I need your help.'"
"Well, why didn't you just say so? You didn't have to creep up behind me or…. Where's Joey?"
T h e r e w asn't much I could do. Chloe wasn't being what you would call helpful.
"So… you know who took him?"
"But you won't tell me?"
"For the fifth time, yes."
"I'm failing to see how that helps me find him."
She narrowed her eyes at me over the table outside McDonald's, where she'd graciously paid for my lunch. "I'm sure you of all people know about secrets."
"Yeah, except when they handicap me. Your point being…?"
"There are just some things I'm not allowed to say."
"You do realize that you not saying anything gives me nothing to go on. I need something to work with. Like I said earlier… I can get a few officers—"
"I said no police!"
"So, this is an illegal matter?"
"It's a matter where no law enforcement can be involved."
I looked at Chloe. It couldn't have been drugs. Runaway… maybe. A kidnapping was a reluctant possibility. She cared about the kid, though, so I had to believe kidnapping was under least likely. Maybe a rescue?
"So… you can't tell me about anyone who might want to take him?"
She glanced at me, her eyebrows furrowing. "You might freak when I say… maybe his mom?"
I blanched. "Did you kidnap him?!"
"No! No. I rescued him. There's a difference."
"Explain the difference, Chloe, or I'm calling the cops."
"You have to know I can't say certain things… but his mom was wrapped up in really bad stuff back in New York—"
"You're from New York?"
"North or south?"
Oh. "Nothing." I was up North. "Continue…."
Chloe watched me suspiciously. "So… in New York…. I was positive Joey was in danger if he stayed with her for too long."
"Is she sick or something?"
"No. She was involved in… in a certain type of business—"
"No, Jake: science."
I blinked. "Was she a mad scientist or something?" How cliché, right?
She shrugged. "She … it's just that the company she worked with was getting into some pretty heavy stuff—all on the down-low, see? With underground work like that, she and the company were making very powerful enemies."
I nodded. "And how do you know all this?"
"I babysat him."
I frowned. "What about your parents?"
"They died a long time ago. I was emancipated two years ago."
"So… I'm guessing one night, while you were babysitting Joey, you probably just snooped around and found all this out. Then, another night you babysat, you decided to take Joey and just up and leave and come to L.A…. right?"
Chloe thought about it. "Hmm… pretty much. I mean, I'd been suspecting something was up for weeks. Especially when I started to notice…." She seemed reluctant to continue.
She frowned. "If you know about 'mad scientists', then you obviously know that they break rules…."
I straightened up. "Human experimentation?"
She nodded. "Being curious, I snooped around the house—after I noticed that Joey could suddenly read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix when he was just barely potty-trained. In her office, I found all kinds of diagrams and charts and… pictures…." She shuddered. "I just saw a file with Joey's name on it and I knew that whatever it was they were doing, it was going to be done on him—unless it'd happened already. So… I took him to my apartment the moment she left, grabbed all the money I had and got on the first flight out of New York."
I sat back a bit, frowning to myself. "How was he taken earlier today?"
"Just all of a sudden. We were in the park—the one near here—and I looked away for one second and he was just… gone." Chloe slouched closer. "We'd been here a whole year and no one had found us. I couldn't get a job because, if my name appeared anywhere, they'd know where to look… and I wasn't sure where to get fake IDs or whatever…."
I nodded. "Show me."
T h e p a r k was full of kids and grownups… mostly full in general. Chloe told me it was Saturday.
"We were just here," she said as we walked to a water fountain. "He'd just drank, and then it was my turn, and then—"
"—he was gone. How long ago was it?"
She shrugged. "I looked for a couple of hours before I started looking for you."
"So it was this morning?" She nodded. "Did you notice anyone suspicious?"
Chloe glanced around. "Like who?"
I followed her gaze. This place was like a zoo… like a jungle inside a jungle. And we were just looking for one five-year-old.
"Do you have any pictures of him? We could just say he's missing."
"I've thought of that. What if they put out an Amber Alert or something? She'll just come looking quicker if she wasn't the one to take him. And I don't have pictures anyway."
I groaned. "You could've just said no." I rubbed my face and my hair, feeling so tired. "Okay…. What's his mom's name?"
She shook her head. "Can't. She could be monitoring database searches."
"What would it matter if she already has him?"
"We don't know that she does. All I know is that I don't."
"She may not, but the company might." I narrowed my eyes at her. "If it's a company, then it's got to have at least a generic website, something anyone can visit—what is it?"
Chloe sighed. "Pharmaceutical Technology Industries. With an F."
I furrowed my eyebrows. "Farm-aceutical Technology Industries? FTI?"
"Yeah. They work on medicines and hospital equipment… what?"
I was shaking my head. "There's a branch just a few miles north of L.A."
A f t e r a couple of blocks, Chloe gave up on trying to drag me to a halt. She had to jog to keep pace with me.
"I told you no police."
"What, did you think I was going to pull a James Bond or something?"
"In the broadest sense, yes. If police got involved, so would names and—"
"You need a passport to fly, no?"
"So you've already used your name before."
She groaned. "Yes, but they obviously didn't expect me to stay in L.A., given the fact that it took them a year to find me and Joey."
"Then they obviously came to their senses and went with the unexpected: they found you. They're bigger than we are, so we'll need some help."
"Jake, I'll be charged with kidnapping—"
"And they'll be charged with crimes against humanity—"
"How do you know they'll even be caught? This must've been going on for years, and most of their medicines are used all around the world. Who would ever guess what they did behind closed doors?" She grabbed my sleeve, and I let her stop me. "And who would believe a word I say?"
"I did. That's gotta count for something, right?"
Chloe frowned at me.
W a l k i n g into the cop shop must've been a heart-stopper for Chloe, because upon entering, she just froze like a deer caught in the headlights (clichés are unavoidable, which is why there are so many of them).
I grabbed her arm and yanked her forward. "You're with me, so relax."
Trudy wasn't working today, instead, a blue-eyed bombshell was in her place. She was blond… and very appealing to the eye, I must say. She made the rest of the office look like an old black-and-white photo. A crappy black-and-white photo. She looked up with wide eyes as I walked by.
"You must be Jake Riley, no?" Her voice sounded syrupy….
"Uh… yeah. And you?" Lame….
She held out a hand. "The name's Sara. I just started here." Her hand was so soft I thought I was going to break it. She nodded to Chloe. "This your girlfriend?"
I smirked. "She wishes." She was also still in paralyzed shock. "Is Robert Lewis in his office?"
Sara tilted her head. "Not sure. Is there something I can help you and… your lady friend with?" Sara smiled, and I felt my face grow hot.
"I, uh… I…." What's wrong with me? I had to shake my head. "I-I just need to talk to Robert right now." Beautiful women needed to be kept indoors—for the safety of others, at least. I then noticed how every other male in the room occasionally glanced at her.
Sara smiled at my stupidity. "Are you sure? Your friend seems…." She frowned a little.
"Oh, uh…. C-Carrie's dad was an officer—he died." That lie came out quick.
"I'm so sorry." She frowned. "Well, I don't think he's in. You can check in later—or I could call you. Can I have your number?" Can I have yours?
"It's okay. I'll come back later. Thanks." I yanked Catatonic Chloe back to the exit. Once we were blocks away from the station did she start to breathe again. "What the hell's the matter with you?"
She yanked her arm out of my grasp. "We shouldn't have gone in! There were cameras, Jake. Anyone could've seen me."
"They could've also seen me too, genius. That's pretty much what they're for."
Chloe shook her head, frowning. "We shouldn't be going to the police. Who's this Robert, anyway?"
"A friend of mine. He's also in charge of this precinct."
She smirked humorlessly. "Friends in high places, huh?"
"Exactly. If anyone can keep a secret, it's him."
"He keeps yours."
I rolled my eyes. "Duh." Then, the fact hit me that he wasn't the only one who knew my secret and could keep it. "Do you have change?"
She reached into her pocket. "Some. Why?"
"I gotta make a phone call."
I ' l l s p are you the gory details of our argument. Yes, it was a risk discussing something so important out in the open. Yes, the phones could've been tapped or whatever. Yes, it was a risk telling someone period. Still… Chloe didn't own a prepaid phone—and neither did I. She also didn't have anyone—other than me—to ask for help, but I did.
It was Chloe's job to keep some distance between me on the phone and people walking by. She also had to keep an eye out in case we had to bail.
I read the numbers on the card and punched them in.
A nasally voice answered. "Richardson Help Clinic."
"Is Mrs. Richardson in?"
"Do you have an appointment?"
"Tell her it's Jake."
Some silence, before— "Is she supposed to know you?"
"Yes. Can you just put her on?" I glanced at Chloe and rolled my eyes.
"Hello, Jake. Knew you'd call me eventually." She had a knowing smirk in her voice.
"Yeah, yeah, but not for the reason you think. Are you busy right now?"
"I just had my last session today; we close early on Saturdays. I can wait in my office for you if you like."
"Thanks. Is it okay if I bring someone?"
"Of course. See you soon."
T h e b u s ride was a long one, and I guessed—judging by the way we sat—we were hoping it wouldn't be a repeat of the last time we were on a bus together.
Chloe stared out the window, probably having not seen this part of Los Angeles. I, on the other hand, used the somewhat silent time to think about my current situation.
From what I could tell, Joey was a nice little kid… reminded me of Kyle. I couldn't understand what kind of mother would subject her kid to human experimentation (had my mom done that?) and it just about depressed me that good people like Chloe couldn't catch a break. I felt too rude in asking how she managed to take care of him all this time, but that'd be like her asking me how I lived.
Still… our lives were different. She worried about one little boy. I worried about an entire city. It was something I felt good doing… until recently.
I slouched a bit in my seat, suddenly miserable.
I'd failed Frank Romero… I'd failed to catch the shooter… so, in turn, I'd failed Sophia, Claire, and Kyle….
I couldn't fail again. Not this time.
E n t e r i n g the little lobby of the Richardson Help Clinic felt like the waiting room of any other clinic. The office itself was just a small suite. There was a small window at the end, and a door next to it. I could only assume the woman in the window was the nasally-voiced person.
"May we go in and see Mrs. Richardson?" I asked politely.
She chewed her gum loudly, looking me up and down, before saying, "Are you Jake?"
"The one and only."
She pressed a button on the phone. "Jake's here."
"Let them in."
The door led to a slightly smaller room, but I noticed the receptionist/loud-gum-chewer wasn't behind the wall.
Mrs. R was at her desk, and there were two chairs in front of her. I was expecting that little reclining bed to be inside.
She smiled. "Hello, Jake. Who's your friend?"
"Chloe," she introduced herself. "Are you a therapist? Jake, why'd you bring me to a therapist?"
"You have a problem, don't you? Tell her."
Mrs. R leaned forward. "Tell me what?"
Chloe took a deep breath before launching into the story….
When she finished, Mrs. R furrowed her eyebrows. "I'm sorry for your situation… but I don't see how I can help without alerting the police."
"You actually believe me?" Chloe sounded surprised.
"Well, you obviously aren't lying. Have you tried Robert?" she asked me.
"He wasn't in his office, but we were planning to go back."
Mrs. R reached for the phone. "In the time that it took you two to get here, maybe he just entered his office."
T h e l o ok on his face totally said he didn't really believe it.
We were in Robert's office. Mrs. R stood behind me and Chloe where we sat, acting like solid backup. Captain Lewis had entered minutes after Chloe and I had left. I found that bit of unlucky timing very lucky, because if he didn't believe us, Mrs. R would have him convinced otherwise.
"And you don't have any pictures?" he asked skeptically.
Chloe shook her head, already looking dismayed. She was giving up.
"Robert, I know when I hear the truth," said Mrs. R. "This young girl is serious, and so is Jake."
He eyed me suspiciously. "You're sure?"
"I talked to Joey myself." Robert had already doubted his existence.
He sighed. "Well, my hands are tied. There's no way I can get away with sending officers to the FTI building to look around without a warrant containing a valid reason." He was right, of course.
I turned to Chloe. "Give him the name," I said quietly.
She shook her head violently as Robert sat up straighter. "What name?" he asked sharply.
"The name of the mother," said Mrs. R, "whom we believe might've taken the boy." Though she was hard to read sometimes, I assumed she wanted to know too.
Robert raised an eyebrow. "But you don't know for sure?" he asked Chloe.
"No, but it's a likely place to start."
"You do realize that she has the right to her own son, don't you?"
Chloe muttered something, but only I heard what she'd said.
"What did you say, miss?"
"I said she doesn't deserve the right," she spat quietly, looking away. "No one like her should." Chloe glanced at me before sighing, "Katherine Zell."
Robert hastily jotted it down. "I'll have my tech guy run through the database—off the books, of course," he added to Chloe. "Assuming she is actually in California."
I heard Mrs. R straighten up. "Katie Zell?" She sounded strangled.
Chloe turned around, surprise—slightly accusatory—all over her face. "You know her?"
Even I had to turn to see her pale face. "If it's the one I'm thinking of, then… probably yes. Long dark hair, green eyes?" Chloe nodded. Mrs. R blanched.
"Mrs. Richardson, do you know this 'Katherine 'Katie' Zell'?" asked Robert.
She nodded. "We studied at NYU together before I transferred to Kansas State. We were both undecided our freshmen year, but…."
I sat up. "But what?"
Mrs. R shrugged. "She had a knack for science."
C h l o e went to spend the night at Mrs. R's place. I decided to spend the night out and about, maybe scrounging up a few clues as to what might've happened to Joey. Of course, I was kidding myself.
The park didn't have security cameras. I couldn't even begin to figure out how to track down everyone at the park this one Saturday and ask if they'd seen anything weird. All I really planned to do was wander around aimlessly until I got tired.
I never really described L.A. at night. Personally, I find it to be a flattened-out version of New York. The buildings aren't as tall, but the volume is pretty much the same. The sky doesn't look black with pinpricks of stars—it has a greenish tint, like puke, because of the pollution. The city lights block out the stars, so, on clearer nights, the night sky looks almost golden, like the sunrise was frozen.
What I think sucks, however, is the humidity. On hot summer nights, it feels like walking through warm water in your clothes. It makes everything uncomfortable, like you just want to leave. I like it better by the beach. Santa Monica was my favorite. I loved going onto the pier and just look out towards the rest of the ocean. It amazed me every time how everything else seemed so insignificant. All the problems of the city seemed to go away, knowing that we lived so close to something so greater than all of us.
I turned back towards the city, smirking at how everyone just drove or walked by the beach—the ocean—and just ignored its vastness. Mostly everyone couldn't seem to appreciate the temporary; we took it for granted.
I'm not sure what happened, but I was being poked awake by an officer the next morning.
"You can't sleep here son," he said, eyeing me over his giant clichéd mustache.
"Sorry," I said, getting up. "What time is it?"
"Get a watch o'clock."
"Very original," I said, walking around him and towards the beach.
"Hold on," he called. I turned. The officer reached into his pocket and took something out. "Are you Jake Riley?"
My eyes narrow fractionally. "Who wants to know?"
"Lewis is looking for you. Says it's something about a girl and a little boy… and a therapist?"
"Sounds like the beginning of a cruel joke," I said. "Thanks." I walked a bit quicker, trying to get out of Giant Mustache's field of vision before zipping back into the bustling city.
Walking into the cop shop, my eyes were immediately drawn to Sara—probably like every other pair of eyes belonging to a male. The women ignored her since most of them on the force were adults and not going back to their hormonal teenage selves.
She smiled up at me, and I almost tripped. "Hi, Jake. What brings you back?"
You. "I, uh, the Cap'n wants to see me."
"Well, ahoy, cute boy. He's waiting for you." She smiled again, and I prayed my face wouldn't start turning red.
"Okay," I said dumbly, smiling like an idiot. I practically ran for Robert's door so I wouldn't say anything else so stupid. As I entered, I asked, "Where'd that new girl come from?"
He glanced up from paperwork, and then let out one laugh at the look on my face. "I see you've taken a liking to her just like all the other men in this building, huh?"
"No," I lied. "She just doesn't… fit."
"Well, no, but she came in for the job, saying no one else would hire her. She doesn't have much experience."
"So you hired her 'cause she's pretty?"
Robert looked offended. "I didn't hire her because she's pretty. My boss did. It just goes to show what employers look for in people nowadays. Anyway, onto more pressing matters…." He shoved aside one pile of folders for another one. He opened the third one in the stack. "My tech guy did a little digging, found some interesting stuff."
"So, where are Mrs. R and Chloe? Shouldn't they be here?
"Well, I'll call them later… I just wanted to share a few things with you first."
I frowned. "What did you find about Joey's mom?"
"A few things, but that's not what I'm going to talk to you about. This is about Chloe Johnson."
"Also known as…." Robert glanced down. "Leticia Pruitt… Simone Everworth… Alexandra Muller… and Caitlyn Spruce."
I blinked. "What?"
"The girl's been on the run for years, Jake. She's been all over the country. These names are the only ones we found just out here in the west. 'Chloe' is wanted for all sorts of felonies and misdemeanors. Those things seem small at first, but the charges pile up, Jake. The kidnapping pretty much seals the deal. She's looking to face some hard time."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa. Wait. Chloe's a wanted criminal?" I couldn't place it. She looked so… not criminal.
"Apparently so. She suckered us in."
"So… are you going to arrest her? What about Joey?"
"As to Chloe's arrest… since we did this search off the books… it's more of a wait-and-see kind of deal. As to Joseph Alexander Zell, we managed to find out his background and such that, in turn, led us to his mother." He closed Chloe's folder and opened up a new one. "Her record looks clean—apart from an arrest during a protest in her college days. Katherine 'Kate' Zell looks perfectly normal." Robert turned a page. "Well, she's almost perfectly normal. She was reported missing by her coworkers six months after Joey was reported."
"So… she went missing six months ago?"
"That's right, math whiz."
I sat back in my chair, trying to let it sink in. "So, what happens now? You're not going to arrest Chloe, but—"
"Yet," he cut in. "We're not going to arrest Chloe yet."
"Okay, okay. But what about Joey? He's still missing." And why would Chloe have kidnapped him? Had she lied about the whole 'human experimentation' thing?
"Well, we managed to dig up pictures of him. And his mother had a Facebook page, so we're working to put up an alert. The problem is… we would have a better chance of finding Joey if we had his mother."
"But she's been missing for six months."
"Yeah, no kidding," he said, smirking at the obvious. "I doubt Chloe will be very cooperative if we call her on her past… so… I've thought about just playing along with her, seeing how far she can get us."
I frowned. "You want to use her?"
He looked at me hard. "All I care about is finding that little boy, Jake, and making sure he's come to no harm. I'd like to be able to search for his mother too, but we're not very rich in time, and Joey's more of a priority than she is."
"I, uh, I understand, but what have you got to go on? If you plan to use Chloe, you've got to meet her conditions, which would hinder your search efforts."
"Yes, but she was last to see the boy. She's spent a year with him."
"Okay…" I said, not understanding his logic. "So, what else did you find about Joey?"
He went to another folder. "Joey was born March sixth, two-thousand six to Katherine Zell. There's no father on the birth certificate. They lived in Oakland for about two—"
"Wait, what? Oakland, California? But Chloe said they were from New York."
Robert sighed. "Do you really believe 'Chloe' is even her real name, Jake?" I frowned as he continued. "Anyway, Katherine and Joey lived in Oakland, California for about two years before moving to San Francisco. They both lived there the longest because that is when, in the span of six months apart, both are reported missing."
"Is there any connection to Joey's mom and Chloe?"
He goes back to the first folder. "Chloe was working at coffee shop not far from their apartment under the name Caitlyn Spruce. She quits just days before Joey is reported missing." Robert looks up at me, using his face to state that that is all he needs to know.
"What about the mom? What did she do for a living?"
"She worked at FTI," he replied, leafing through a few pages. "I thought we knew that already."
"But was she working on anything specifically? Like a special project or something? What if the project is still—?"
"You still believe the girl, don't you, Jake?"
"She… seemed pretty convincing…." I faltered and looked down.
"Or maybe she just seemed pretty. Just a few minutes ago you were beet-red about the receptionist. Do you really think you can still remain objective about this case, Jake?"
"It's not my case. It's not even a case, since it's 'off the books'."
"That girl is a criminal, Jake. Remember whose side you're on."
"I'm on Joey's side." And maybe Chloe's still…. "I just want to find him, and his mom's career is all we've got for a lead."
"It might not even be a lead! That girl is a world-class liar if I ever saw one. No doubt she's a magnificent storyteller." He looked at me and frowned. "Don't tell me you've developed feelings for her."
I looked up. "What? Not even. She's just some girl I met a couple days ago. That's it. She was just someone I wanted to help. Isn't that what I've been doing for the past two years? Helping people?" Robert didn't respond, so I continued freely. "Anyway, we're missing the point. This is about a missing boy."
He sighed. "Yes, but there are millions of missing boys. You might be a missing boy. Keep in mind that we have a limited amount of resources for this case."
"That's because you want to use Chloe. And you still didn't clarify if there was a solid connection between her and Joey's mom."
"Well, Chloe told you she was babysitting him, right? Maybe that might've been true. She probably worked at the coffee shop, then, when her shift is over, went to the Zell apartment and babysat. Of course, this is if she's telling the truth." He looked at me. "Assuming that her 'human experimentation' story is false—which I believe it to be—we still haven't established a motive for Joey's kidnapping."
"Clearly not for ransom. And she doesn't seem like a thrill seeker."
"Hmm… what we need is someone who can… profile this girl. We need someone who could figure out what kind of person she is. We need someone who, well, knows how to read people…. Do you happen to know anyone like that, Jake?"
I rolled my eyes. "That was so lame." I frowned. "Did you have Mrs. R involved from the start?"
"No. I thought of Mrs. Richardson a while ago, when I said that I plan to use Chloe."
"It's so… weird…."
"What is?" He frowned and glanced at his papers.
"It's just so odd seeing you so clever."
Robert threw his pen at me.
I f e l t so dirty, slimy, just bordering disgusting.
"How're you liking that ice cream?" Chloe asked, semi-monotone.
"Oh. It's great. Thanks."
She and I were walking away from the ice cream vendor, traveling down the kid-laden pathways of the park where Joey had gone missing. It was Sunday afternoon, and the only people in the park were kids, and they swarmed all over the playgrounds while their parents mingled.
Robert had suggested I keep Chloe busy while he and Mrs. R developed some sort of profile to use so they could determine Chloe's type of reasoning, which could include why she could've kidnapped Joey. I had suggested just strapping her to a lie detector and fire questions at her, but Robert said there was a lot of work into getting one of those, so Mrs. R was the only lie detector we could use off the books.
"So, how do you like it at Mrs. R's?" I asked Chloe.
She shrugged. "It's pretty okay. Her… wife? Husband? Spouse… whatever, was really nice. Did you know they've visited seventeen different countries since they've been together?"
"No idea. They sound pretty cool."
"Yeah…. You would think that brainy people like her would be boring and nerdy. But she's totally awesome. They go to concerts and raves and do all kinds of things. They plan to go bungee-jumping soon."
"Talk about scary." Robert hadn't mention how long I had to keep Chloe busy. It wasn't like we were doing anything anyway. All we'd done for the past hour was walk around and talk—the most action I'd ever gotten from a girl. "I didn't know Mrs. R had a wild side."
"I know. I guess everyone has a side they keep hidden… don't you agree, Jake?" She glanced at me.
"Yeah, I do," I replied.
Chloe and I whirled around. A woman had called me, but there were many women with children all over the place. It took a while to find the source.
Sophia Romero smiled as she pushed two-year-old Claire in her stroller. Kyle followed closely, holding a blue balloon.
"Fancy meeting you here, Jake," she said. She then noticed Chloe. "Ooh, I'm sorry. Am I interrupting something?"
"No," Chloe and I answered at the same time. Glancing at me, Chloe moved forward and introduced herself.
"It's a pleasure meeting you," Mrs. Romero replied. "Are you two on a date?"
Chloe laughed. "No. We're just friends."
"Oh. My apologies. By the way, Jake, did you hear about that bus robbery the other day?"
I was about to answer 'no' when Chloe said, "That's actually how we met. We were both on the bus."
Mrs. Romero's eyebrows banished behind her bangs. "Oh my goodness! That must've been terrifying."
"It was," Chloe nodded vigorously. "Luckily Jake was there to play the hero."
What the hell?!
"The papers are saying it was the Denim Blue Blur," Mrs. Romero answered while glancing at my not denim blue Bongo sweater. "Did you get a good look at the person?"
"Uh…." Chloe glanced at me, seeking guidance. I just raised an eyebrow, silently telling her to keep her mouth shut in the foreseeable future.
"The papers captured it all," I said. "The… person really was just a dark blue blur."
"Oh. Well, thank goodness no one was hurt. It's a shame that the Denim Blue Blur won't reveal himself. He deserves some merit."
"Maybe he's scared," Chloe suggested.
"Or maybe he just doesn't want the press hounding him every second," I said. "The media's turned him into some kind of celebrity."
"Well, I still think he should show himself," said Mrs. Romero. "It would be wonderful for people to know how good people can be. The papers are linking all kinds of botched crimes to the Blur. There's going to be a report tonight at six. I guess they're going to show security camera footage from all sorts of locations where the Blur might've been sighted."
I blanched. "Wow, everyone's making a big deal out of it," I said.
"It is a big deal," said Chloe. "I'd like to know how he got so fast." She raised an eyebrow at me.
"Maybe he just works out a lot."
"I doubt it," Mrs. Romero cut in. "I heard one report say that he was clocked going one hundred and two miles per hour on that bus."
"How do they know that?" I asked. I was impressed with myself.
"The cameras on the bus." Never mind.
"So, how come they don't know what he looks like?" asked Chloe.
"There's a sketch," I said. "That's what I heard, anyway." I still hadn't seen it for myself.
"I wish I can see that," said Chloe.
"You're both welcome to come over so we can watch the report tonight," Mrs. Romero suggested. "Unless you have other things to do…."
"I don't," Chloe piped up.
"Neither do I," I said, and then snapping my fingers. "Oh. I gotta do something at the station first." Chloe was about to say something when I turned to Mrs. Romero and said, "Why don't you two head on over and I'll meet you there?"
"Alright," Mrs. Romero smiled. "Do you know the way?"
"Yeah, I remember. I'll see you both in a bit." I smiled as Chloe frowned, following Mrs. Romero through the park.
I h a d m a de it past the receptionist desk at the station—since Sara wasn't even there—and knocked on Robert's door.
Enter I did and found Robert and Mrs. R hovering over the desk with millions of scraps of paper everywhere. Every available page was scribbled on, even a few folders.
"Oh," said Mrs. R. "Perfect timing. Maybe you can help us out."
"I just came to check in, so make it quick."
Robert raised an eyebrow. "You have some place to be?"
"Yes, I do, so what've you got?"
"Does Chloe seem manipulative to you, Jake?" asked Mrs. R before Robert could say anything else.
I shrugged. "I don't think so."
"Oh, come on. How would the boy know?" Robert argued. "She could be manipulating him right now."
"Manipulation isn't a spell," replied Mrs. R. She turned back to me. "What about sociopathic?"
I shrugged. "I don't even know what the word means."
"Does she seem crazy at all?" Robert asked.
"Not as much as you do at the moment."
"There is nothing unusual with Chloe," said Mrs. R as Robert frowned at me. "She's just a troubled youth. And I found no valid indication that she was lying about Zell."
"But you don't know for sure?" Robert asked.
"I know Zell, even if it was years ago. She had her own rationality, her own belief system. She was, in a way, a purely logical and robotic woman… virtually emotionless."
"Like how?" I asked.
"Her ethical values matched up with logic, not with anything emotional or even spiritual; she was, of course, an atheist. Zell believed in Darwinism and treated almost anyone she believed was 'beneath her' like they weren't important. She was, in almost all ways, a scientist."
"But that just means she was a robot," I said.
"That type of thinking also gave her some enemies," Mrs. R. added.
"What type of enemies?" Robert asked, getting a piece of paper and pen ready.
"For one thing, back in college, she got all sorts of religious groups upset. She'd become one of the brightest in school, gradually leaning over to science. While other science majors ignored creationism, Zell openly argued against it. She criticized and demeaned all sorts of beliefs—that led to her getting kicked out of NYU just before I transferred. That was the last I heard of her."
"Then she moves to California," Robert added quietly.
"Don't you know where she went to school here?" I asked.
"Mmm…." Robert flipped through a few folders. "UCLA. She graduates and then gets a job in Oakland, working at a police laboratory. She works her way up, but then quits."
"Why?" asked Mrs. R.
"She was first on maternity leave, then she just up and moves to San Francisco. Then, one year later, she is employed at a small branch of FTI. She works there until six months after Joey is reported missing."
"Who did the reporting?" I asked.
Robert looked up at me. "She did."
"Immediately after Joey's taken?"
"What are you getting at?" asked Mrs. R.
I frowned. "I'm not sure yet. We still need to see if Chloe really did babysit Joey, then we need to know when she took Joey and when his mom reported him missing; what if she didn't report him the moment she found out. It'd be cool if we then knew how Zell acted during the six months Joey's missing." I sighed. "But what I think is more important is to know what connection Chloe and Zell had. We know she said she babysat, but what if she lied about that? It'd be better if we had Chloe's first identity: her real one."
Robert raised his eyebrows. "I'm impressed."
I h a d n ' t realized how long I'd stayed with Robert and Mrs. R. The sun was already starting to set, and in some places, it looked darker because of the buildings. A lot of people were out and about still, so I could only zip past sometimes and slow down for the rest. It felt a lot like stop-and-go.
By the time I got to the Romero residence, I knew I'd missed the news. Mrs. Romero said so as she let me in.
Chloe was sitting on the floor; Kyle snoozed on the couch, and Mrs. Romero was in the kitchen. "Are you hungry, Jake? I made some snacks earlier but Chloe and Kyle went through them. How about a cold-cut sandwich?"
"That would be great." I was starving. "Thank you, Mrs. Romero."
"Please. Call me Sophie."
I joined Chloe on the floor. "So, what'd I miss?"
"Nothing interesting. Just blurry footage… a very familiar sketch…." I tried not to react to that. "I'm just watching bad sitcoms right now." She glanced at me. "What took you so long?"
"I had to train my gag reflex to not act up when I'm around you, but I don't think it's working."
She shoved me. "Is that another ability you have? Being mean?" she said quietly.
I glanced over the sofa, and at Kyle, before saying, "Keep your voice down."
"She doesn't know?" she whispered.
"No. You also should've kept quiet earlier at the park."
Chloe frowned. "Did I say something wrong?"
"Here you go, Jake," Sophia said from behind me. "I hope you like ham and cheese."
"Thank you," I said just before taking a monster bite.
The rest of the evening went just like this. We watched bad TV and chatted lightly, like old friends. Chloe and Sophia asked no prying questions, and we were having a lot of fun before we realized how late it was getting.
"Oh my goodness is it late. I've got to get up early tomorrow," Sophia said. "Is there a place you two need to be? If not, you're welcome to stay here."
"Thanks, Sophia," Chloe said as she got to her feet, "but I'm already staying with a friend."
"Oh. Okay. How about you, Jake?"
"Same here," I lied.
"Well, how about I call you two a taxi?" Before we could protest, she already had the phone in her hand and started dialing.
"You have a place?" Chloe asked quietly.
I shrugged. "Sometimes," I said vaguely. "You should call Mrs. R and let her know you're on your way."
"Yeah, Sherri told me she worries a lot."
"Yeah, Cindy's… life-partner." Cindy? It sounded so dainty compared to how Mrs. R appeared and behaved.
"A cab is on its way," said Sophia.
"Can I borrow your phone?" Chloe asked.
"Of course." She handed it over and Chloe took it into the kitchen. Sophia watched her leave before turning to me. "She's kind of cute, isn't she?"
"I guess." She might also be a criminal….
"So… you think you might ask her out?" She smiled a smile I didn't quite understand.
"Uh, no, Mrs. R—uh, Sophie."
"Thanks," Chloe said as she came back. "I appreciate it.
"No problem," said Sophia as she reached into her pocket. "Here." She held out a small wad of bills. "For the cab fare." Right away, I knew not to protest; if someone offers you something, it's sort of disrespectful to not accept it (well, to me it is, anyway).
"Oh, no, Sophie," Chloe said. "I can't take that. I can walk."
"Don't be ridiculous. It's the middle of the night. Worse: it's Los Angeles."
"I'm sorry; it's too much."
Sophia frowned, her bottom lip started to tremble.
I stepped forward. "She won't say it, but thank you. I'll make sure she gets home safely."
"You're welcome," she replied, eyeing both of us. "You're both welcome here anytime."
"Well," Chloe said, sounding a bit awkward, "since you're working, how about I babysit sometime?"
No one noticed my face grow pale.
"I would truly appreciate that, Chloe. My full-time schedule doesn't start till next week. How about then?"
"That would be fine."
"Okay," I said. "Time to go." I started shoving Chloe towards the door. "Sleep tight, Mrs. Romero. I'll see you soon."
"What's your hurry?" asked Chloe as we got in the elevator.
"You want to babysit Mrs. Romero's kids?"
"Well, yeah, since I'm not doing anything. I'm not gonna ask for money, though, if that's what you're implying. While you were gone, she told me about her husband. I just want to help her out, just like you did when you saved Kyle."
"She told you about that?" I didn't want Chloe to notice that I was gripping the small railing in the elevator. She would just make fun of me.
"With the tears and everything. She's had it rough."
"I know." The elevator doors opened, and I hoped my escape wasn't too obvious. But what I found obvious was that she wasn't jumping up and down with questions about Joey. "Speaking of babysitting," although I realized we'd moved on from that subject, "how did you start babysitting for Joey? How'd you meet his mom?"
"Oh. Back in New York I was working at a coffee shop. I wasn't making much, so I'd put up flyers offering babysitting services. Joey's mom was the only one who called." Sticking with New York….
We went outside to wait for the taxi. "How long did you babysit Joey?"
"About… two months, I guess. Why?"
I shrugged. "Just curious."
"Did the captain find anything about Joey?" she asked… finally.
"He found some stuff about his mom's college days," I said. I wasn't lying since he did find that. "She doesn't appear much on the radar, but he'll keep digging."
"Did he find anything about her work?"
"I actually suggested that," I said. "He's having his tech guy look into that. I asked about any special projects she might've been working on. If they're continuing, chances are she went underground."
Chloe nodded. "Do you think he'll be found? I'm worried about him."
You looked worried alright, I thought. "I think so. We might even find his mom too." I thought for a minute. "What're you gonna do if we do find him? Continue living on the streets?"
She sighed. "I don't know. I'm kind of hoping that she'll get in trouble and put in jail or something, and that they'll let me keep Joey."
"What if he's got family somewhere else?" I asked, just thinking of it then.
She shrugged. "I guess I'll have no choice but to give him to them. I just hope they're not like Katherine Zell. Can you tell the captain to look up his family?"
"No problem." The beams from a pair of headlights hit the building as the cab pulled over. "Your ride is here."
"You're not coming with me?"
"I'm gonna tell Robert to look up Joey's family before I forget." I opened the door for her. "In you go."
"I just opened the door."
"No," she said, leaning in close, "for everything." Chloe kissed me on the cheek, and then got in and left.
O k a y, I will admit… I mulled over that little peck on the cheek for a little while. I guess now that was the most action I'd gotten from a girl.
According to Mrs. R, Chloe seemed like a normal person. Yeah, she did bad things—I had to remember to ask what she had done (other than the obvious kidnapping/rescuing)—but, to me, she seemed pretty normal.
Or maybe she just seemed pretty, Robert's voice crept in. Now, I wasn't so sure how I felt about Chloe. Okay, okay, she was pretty. But she was also secretive, and that's usually not very attractive. Chloe was also a criminal; that might seem like some sort of fetish to some people, but not to me. And I didn't think I was looking for a relationship at the moment, anyway (as if there was a possibility there would be).
I decided to head to my little shack for the night. I could stop by Robert's office tomorrow in the morning and ask what was being done about Zell's work and such. I also needed to suggest a search for Joey's relatives—in the event that we found him.
That thought, in turn, reminded me of something else Robert had said: Yes, but there are millions of missing boys. You might be a missing boy….
Am I a missing boy… or an abandoned boy? Was I another Joey? I had to stop on the sidewalk to catch my breath for a minute. Long-forgotten questions were boiling up to the surface. I realized now that I was more adamant about the search for Joey for personal reasons…. Was someone looking for me too? Had they given up? Or were they just not looking at all?
I walked on, hoping to drop the subject. I decided to cut through L.A., maybe to distract myself… maybe to avoid the nightmares I was sure to have that night. I had to cross through what I called the business district, since there were a lot more parking structures than there were cars parked on the streets. This part of L.A. wasn't busy at the moment since everyone had gone home. It was eerily quiet.
There were some crossings through gang territories, but they couldn't mess with unknowns if they couldn't see them. A lot of twenty-four hour mom-and-pop stores were located in these parts; they were pretty much just asking for it.
I stopped by one and grabbed a soda. The old Vietnamese couple wished me a good night. I felt no rush. I strode out normally, opening and sipping my soda. It'd been a while since I just took a leisurely walk through the streets of L.A.
I know what you're thinking: Dude, you're walking around Los Angeles at night!
Yes, well, in case you haven't noticed, I was Superboy. Not that I actually felt super at the moment, but still….
I guess I'd walked into gang territory because soon I was surrounded by four shadows in hoodies four sizes too big.
"Who you from, punk?" one of them asked.
"From no one," I said dully. "I don't have anything worth mugging, anyway."
"Yeah, foo'," one of them said. "He looks poorer than us."
"Don't mean he gotta be walkin' through our turf," the first one said. "Whatchu got then, huh?"
"Nothing, just this soda."
I handed it over, sighing. "I wasn't that thirsty, anyway."
He didn't like that very much. "You tryin' to be funny?"
Okay, I could've kicked all of these guys' asses… I just didn't feel like it that night. "I just want to get out of the way, that's all."
"Iz a sign of disrespect to walk all o'er our turf without our permission, foo'," he told me. "That don't slide past us." He cracked his knuckles menacingly.
"Is there a problem here, fellas?"
All of us turned to find a thin shadow a few feet away. It looked like a regular tall man in a business suit. Nothing seemed threatening.
"Another one," a third shadow muttered.
"Once we done with dis one, we'll handle you next, foo'," the leader called out.
"No one calls me fool," replied the thin shadow. Quicker than I could've imagined, he whipped out a gun and fired.
The leader-shadow fell to the ground, not one peep coming out of him.
The others cursed and ran. The thin man shot four more times… and then no one was running away anymore. I guess I didn't do anything because I was just so… surprised.
The thin man just stood there, the gun down at his side. The street felt just as silent as it had before the gang members had showed up.
"Are you going to shoot me too?"
The shadow cocked his head to the side. Again, before I could even notice his arm move up; he had already fired at me.
My body turned to the left, and soon my chest started to burn and I fell to the ground, trying not to scream but unable to help it. My God did it burn, like fire! I started clawing at the wound, trying to get the bullet or whatever it was out. I just wanted it out….
The man stood over me. I couldn't see his face, and I wasn't trying to; I still dug at my chest like an animal.
The man didn't say anything, but raised the gun once more, pointing it at my face.
First, if you were unsatisfied with the ending, please leave a comment explaining why you found it so unsatisfying. That's the part I was most worried about. I'd started 'complex – part two' earlier in the summer, but when class was back in session, I couldn't find time for my writing. Now that I'm getting used to the new school, I've managed to get back on track (with my writing).
Second: Don't expect a 'complex – part three' anytime soon. Part two had already been in progress when I'd started submitting this story to teenink.com (also on inkpop.com). Now, with part three, I've got to start from scratch. These past couple of days, I've already created an outline for myself, so now I have a path to follow for this entire story. I guess I can keep you posted on how it's coming along (I've already started, FYI). Now I've got to juggle homework and writing….
Third: While you wait for part three (the very few of you who've actually read it) please feel free to take a look at my other works. If you want me to read anything, please say so in the comment section—as long as you read something from my repertoire in return. I'd prefer if you'd choose to read/critique one of my works that haven't received any critiques and such.
Fourth: For the few that have read this story, I thank you. I appreciate you taking time to read something I wrote, as I'm sure you understand how great it feels to have someone read your work.
Thank you and have a great day.