The Unlikely Association of Meg and Harry

 

 

By

Jennifer Keogh Armstrong

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tied-Up in Texas

 

 

 

 

 

 

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA.

©2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

 

 

 

O

K, up front, this is how it goes.

Harry Phillips and I are partners. Not partners exactly, because he's all religious and there's something in the Bible about believers and unbelievers not being joined together. So, how it works is, we solve cases together and we split the money.

Except that we haven't made any money yet.

We solved our first case, a stolen diamond necklace. That was just to get us going and the lady was so grateful that she told all her rich friends about how amazing we are and now we have cases coming out of our ears.

OK, not exactly out of ears. Three. We have three cases. So things are looking good.

And did I mention that Harry is one of those rich people? You wouldn't know it to look at him. But he's the reason we got the first case and I owe him big time for that. My dream is to be a cop, the investigative kind, but since I live with my mom and she's an administrative assistant to Harry's dad, we aren't rolling in the dough and I don't have a chance of getting any further education until I've made a bit of money first.

I'm Meg, by the way. Meg Carmichael. No hard feelings if you haven't heard of me.

A word about Harry. He is such a goody-goody that he's an embarrassment to have around. He had some kind of religious experience a little while ago and now he's sure it's his mission in life to spread God's love around wherever he goes. You'd have to see him in action to believe it. But he's also really useful to have around. Good at calling for cabs and calling out for pizza, that sort of thing. But it's a wonder he can function in the real world he's so holy-minded.

Still, he managed to work it so that we actually have three cases to choose from. We'll take them all, of course. But today we're deciding which one to concentrate on first.

“I think this one can wait,” says Harry.

We're at his kitchen table.

You've seen pictures of kitchens like the one in Harry's house.

Copper pots and pans hanging everywhere. Solid oak table with matching chairs. Long marble counters. Espresso machine. Cappuccino machine. Three different types of mixers.

In my house, Mom and I bump into each other when we're both in the kitchen. Here, you'd need a megaphone to talk to the cook.

That's another thing about this kitchen. It comes with a cook.

I think the cook still thinks of Harry as a little boy because we're snacking on chocolate chip cookies and milk while we look at the pieces of paper in front of us.

“But it would be great to go to Edinburgh,” I say. “I'm sick of winter. Do you think the weather's nice in Scotland?”

“I doubt it,” says Harry. “Besides, this is an old mystery. Something about a ghost and his ancestors. It's not going anywhere.”

“A ghost story?” I say, incredulously. “Someone wants us to investigate a ghost story?”

“It's got a murder in it,” says Harry. “But it's about three hundred years old.”

“Oh brother,” I say, pushing that piece of paper away.

I look over longingly at the cappuccino machine. “Do you think your cook could make us a cappuccino?”

“Oh sure,” says Harry, standing up. “I can do that.”

Harry's like that. Wouldn't want to bother the hired help.

“How about the one in Antarctica? I can't believe that we have a chance to go to Antarctica!”

“No way,” I say. “Too cold. How 'bout Texas?”

I pick up the paper for the case in Texas. Something about a university student, Karen. Her mother says she's worried that Karen's been recruited by CSIS, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, to spy on Americans.

“Texas would be warm!” I say.

“No,” says Harry, getting two mugs out of the cupboard. “I don't really want to do that one.”

“Harry? Are you crazy?” I look at him. “Did you see how much this woman wants to pay us?”

“Yeah, I know,” says Harry, having to walk a mile just to get to the refrigerator for some milk. “I know the family. I'd rather pass on that one. Besides, it's not cold in Antarctica. It's winter here, but it's summer there. You know, southern hemisphere and all that . . .”

“I really have no desire to be a messenger service,” I say. “Why can't she just send him something by UPS?”

Harry gets some coffee beans out of another cupboard.

“Because UPS doesn't go to Antarctica. Or maybe it does. I really don't know. But it's more than that. Mrs. Shepherd is worried about her son. His last letter was really strange.”

“Why doesn't she go herself?”

“She doesn't want to go and drag him home. He's 35-years-old, has a PhD in zoology and working in Antarctica has been his dream. She wants us to go, posing as research students, so we can check it out and make sure he's OK.”

“I don't understand why anybody's going to just let us go to Antarctica,” I say. “We don't know anything about zoology.”

“She's funding the whole thing,” says Harry, putting a sugar dish on the table. “She can do whatever she wants.”

“What's with rich people funding things?” I say.

On our last case, we interviewed another friend of Harry's who was funding an expedition to dig for dinosaur bones in Alberta.

“Some rich people like to do things like that,” says Harry while the machine makes our cappuccinos.

“Fine,” I say. “We'll go to Antarctica. After Texas.”

“Meg . . .” says Harry.

“Harry,” I say firmly. “I want to go to Texas. I like cowboys. I've never been to Texas and I've never met a cowboy.”

“And you won't meet one,” says Harry, bringing our mugs to the table. “Karen is in east Texas. The cowboys are in west Texas.”

“What do you know about it?” I say, taking my first careful sip.

“Karen is not working for CSIS,” says Harry, adding some sugar to his mug. “I don't know why or how she's given her mother that impression. But she is definitely not working for CSIS.”

“How do you know?” I say.

Harry sighs.

“It's crazy,” he says.

“What's crazy is that her mother wants to pay us $2000 plus expenses to investigate this,” I say. “If it's not true, like you say, then we can investigate it in a day and turn around and come home.”

“It wouldn't be that easy,” says Harry. “Karen wouldn't just say, no, I'm not a spy. She's got some reason for giving her mother the impression that she's been recruited by CSIS. So we really would have to investigate and we'd have to do it with Karen knowing that we're doing it.”

“So?” I say.

“The potential for complication is huge,” says Harry.

“I don't know what you're talking about,” I say. “We're professionals. We handle complications.”

“Trust me on this one, Meg,” says Harry.

I give him my best stare. “What is it? What is it you aren't telling me?”

Harry looks like he's having a good think.

“Karen is my ex-girlfriend,” he says finally.

“Holy cow!” I say. “Is that all?”

Did he think I'd mind? That I'd be jealous, or something?

“I just think life would be easier if I don't see her again.”

“Why? Do Christian girls get really mad when you break up with them? Does she have some kind of a grudge . . . ?

“Karen's not Christian.”

That's a bit strange. Harry's so into being a Christian I'm surprised he dated someone who wasn't. But he answers my unspoken question.

“I dated her in high school. Don't you remember her? Karen Winters-Waterborn?”

“Harry, I didn't know any of your rich friends.”

Apart from a hello in the hallway, Harry and I were in very different groups in high school.

“I don't think we should do it,” says Harry.

His insistence that we don't do it is probably the reason I push for it. If he starts making all the decisions at this point, the partnership is sunk. He'll be running everything from now on and I'll end up being no better than his administrative assistant. (Not that Mom would have a problem with that. Maybe it's the fact that Mom is Harry's father's administrative assistant that makes me want to make this a completely equal arrangement.)

“OK, Meg,” says Harry, shrugging. “Have it your way. It'll be OK anyhow. I read this morning in Romans that God works everything out to the good. I'll be interested to see what he does with this.”

“Harry, we're going to work this out. Us! We'll be the ones doing something with it!”

Harry grins and it's his old grin. He seems to be coming out of his slump.

“I'd rather depend on God, thanks. He has the advantage of being omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.”

“I don't even know what those words mean.” I hold up a hand. “And please don't tell me. When do you want to leave for Texas?”

 


 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Two

 

 

 

 

 

H

arry books us a non-stop flight from Toronto to Dallas.

I may not have a driver's license and I may not have a credit card, but at least I have a passport. Mom and I both needed one when we visited Dad in Reno.

Harry, of course, has had a passport since birth. The rich have to be ready at any time to go skiing in Switzerland or snorkelling in Australia, both of which Harry has done.

He mentions the bit about Australia when I complain that my butt is getting tired. He says he felt the same way when he had to spend 24-hours on a plane going to Australia. Switzerland comes up when he tells me that his mother and brother have gone there for two weeks. He was invited to go but had to turn it down due to our investigation.

“I don't mind though,” he says. “I've never really been into skiing. Switzerland's beautiful though. I like Berne. But for skiing, I'd be happy to just go to Quebec. My brother would ski down the Matterhorn if he could.”

“Don't tell me you're scared,” I say.

“Not of skiing. But the avalanches in Switzerland are terrifying. We were there one year when they had one. A whole bunch of skiers just disappeared under the snow. They had rescue teams out there for a week digging them out.”

I guess I can't look down on him for not wanting to end up underneath an avalanche.

The flight to Dallas is full and the line for the bathroom is long. I decide to save myself a trip to the tiny bathroom and just pull out my hairbrush to run it through my long red hair before we land in Dallas. When that's done, I pull out my compact and reapply my lipstick. Moronic, I know. I never wore lipstick before but there's something about Harry that makes me want to be presentable. At least I haven't turned into an idiot about my clothing. Today I'm wearing a black sweater and some grey combat pants. And I've learned from my last trip to just bring a carry-on bag. No more waiting at luggage carousels.

“So,” I say, once my purse is back under my seat. “What do we know about Karen?”

I'm hoping Harry won't go all sensitive on me.

“She's a freshman at University of Texas at Tyler,” says Harry sounding reassuringly detached. “She went down there in August and seemed to be doing fine. But in her last phone call she said she was being recruited by CSIS and seriously thinking of accepting.”

“OK, so how do we know that's not true?” I say.

“Why would it be?” says Harry. “Why would CSIS recruit some kid in college? Don't they do that sort of thing when you're graduating, not when you've just arrived? And why the University of Texas? Why not a Canadian university?”

“Maybe something's going on at the University of Texas,” I say. “The obvious thing to do would be to recruit a Canadian to investigate.”

Harry shrugs.

“Maybe.”

We land at the Dallas / Fort Worth International Airport and go through Customs. Then we're faced with having to find our way out of the colossal airport and somehow make our way to Tyler. From the map we buy at the airport, it looks about two hours away.

“We'll take a cab to the bus station,” says Harry. “And then we'll catch a Greyhound from there.”

Typical Harry. All expenses to be paid by the client and he goes for the most economical way of traveling. The detectives on television never take the bus.

The first thing that hits me about Dallas is how warm it is. It's the middle of the day, the sun is shining, and I've got to take my coat off.

“Boy, I was an idiot to bring this,” I say, as we put our carry-on bags and coats in the trunk of the cab.

“No, you'll still need it,” says the cab driver to me before shutting the trunk. “It gets cold at night.”

Dallas is a huge, spread-out city. The driver explains that it's such a non-stop metropolis because it's attached to Fort Worth. He asks us where we're heading and Harry tells him Tyler.

“Oh, you'll like that,” he says. “You'll see a lot of the countryside on your way there. And it's quite the little city once you're there.”

The Greyhound station is filled with fellow-travellers. A lot of the men are wearing cowboy boots and there's a bit of a wild west feeling about the place. A lot of denim and a lot of leather. At first I think Harry will stick out like some wimp among these urban cowboys, but then I really look at him.

He's wearing jeans and a leather jacket, and except for the fact that he has hiking boots instead of cowboy boots, he blends in. When some middle-aged guy with a long beard and an entirely denim outfit looks me over, I'm glad I've got Harry to duck behind.

We go up to the ticket booth and find out that a bus for Tyler is boarding in 15 minutes.

“Well, that worked out,” says Harry, as we sit down on some plastic chairs.

“I suppose you think it's God working things out for us.”

“Actually, according to that schedule over there . . .” Harry nods with his head. “There are four buses a day from Dallas to Tyler. So it's not really a miracle. Do you want a sandwich for the trip?”

I say sure, and Harry leaves me to go over to a counter selling food.

“Uh, that seat's taken,” I say, when a girl with long, stringy brown hair sits down right beside me.

“Oh,” she says, sounding apathetic and sliding over a seat. Like us, she's traveling light. Just a dirty army-green knapsack.

Harry is back with the sandwiches and two coffees.

“Here you go,” he says handing me mine.

“Thanks,” I say, carefully tearing a notch out of the lid to sip on the coffee.

Harry glances at the girl beside him. She's staring straight ahead without seeing anything.

“You want a sandwich?” he says to her.

It takes her a moment to realize he's talking to her.

“No,” she says, dully.

“It's turkey,” he says, holding it out to her.

Maybe she just doesn't want to argue about it because she takes it. Silently Harry hands her his coffee. Then a voice in the noisy background is announcing that our bus will be departing in five minutes.

Harry stands up and slings his knapsack on his back as if it's the most normal thing in the world to hand his lunch to a girl in a bus station. Since we're one of the first on the bus we get our pick of seats and Harry heads for the back.

“Why didn't you just empty out your wallet and give it to her?” I ask, once we're sitting down.

I don't know why I find his little gesture irritating. Probably because now I'm going to be eating and drinking while he sits there with nothing.

“Because I only have five dollars American in my wallet,” he says. “And I spent most of it on the sandwiches and coffee. I'll have to go to a bank in Tyler.”

Of course, I can't sit and eat the sandwich all by myself so I end up splitting it with Harry. We share the coffee too.

Once we're outside Dallas, the scenery is grassy with wildflowers by the roadside.

“Where are the ranches?” I ask, looking around.

“I told you,” says Harry. “That's west Texas. This is east Texas.”

“How do you know these things?” I demand.

Harry is quiet for a moment.

“Because Karen and I were both going to go to the University of Texas at Tyler. So I read a lot about it.”

“You were? Why?!

“I dunno,” says Harry. “Just a crazy idea. Except that she actually did it. The problem with me was that I didn't really know what I wanted to do. And then I became a Christian and that put some distance between us. I guess me becoming a Christian was really the reason we broke up. So I didn't bother applying to the university here. I was actually really surprised when her mom told me she was here.”

“Oh,” I say. I'm feeling kind of rotten. “I'm sorry. I shouldn't have dragged you here then . . .”

“Oh, don't worry about it, Meg,” says Harry. “It'll all work out. I would have rather avoided it altogether, but now that we're here I don't mind.”

I want to ask him if he's looking forward to seeing Karen again. Does he still like her? But then something Mom said comes back to me. She said once, don't ask questions if you don't want the answers. So I keep quiet and just look out the window.

Harry pulls out an mp3 player and offers to share the headphones with me.

“It's not Christian music, is it?” I say.

“Yeah, it is. But it's really good.”

“I'm not listening to hymns . . .”

“No, no, it's not like that. It's contemporary stuff.”

I decline. I don't know why. Music is music. I never listen to the words anyway. But now Harry's in his own world and I don't want to bug him.

But when we pass a sign that says “Tyler, 16 miles” I ask him if he has any idea where we should stay. He pulls the earphones off.

“I checked online. The Super 8 Motel looks good. It's close to the university. Not that it really matters. Karen has her own car.”

“OK,” I say. “Super 8 Motel, it is.”

I try to ignore the twinge I feel at the thought of Harry's ex-girlfriend and her car and all the possibilities that might open up.

“Does she know we're coming?”

“I have no idea,” says Harry, putting his mp3 player back into his knapsack. “I didn't tell her. But her mom might've. In any case, I have her cell number.”

Most of the people on the bus get off at Tyler.

“Now what?” I say, looking around, wishing I had my sunglasses. It's such a hot, sunny day I can't believe it's January.

“Let's get settled in at the motel,” says Harry, heading for the street where there are some cabs lined up.

Tyler's a fair-sized city. Our motel is located at a busy loop where two highways meet. It's built up all around us. We'll have no problem grabbing a fast food meal.

We head into the red brick main building to book some rooms. We're given two adjoining room on the second story of the long stretch of rooms behind the main building.

“Should we get started right away or should we do some sightseeing?” says Harry once we've dropped our bags in our rooms and are meeting in Harry's room. He's sitting on one bed and I've flopped down on the other.

That is totally unlike Harry. Maybe he's stalling.

“What kind of things are there to see?” I ask. I'm a little nervous about meeting Karen so maybe I'm stalling too.

“According to the internet there's a lot of stuff in Tyler.”

“What kind of stuff?”

“There's a zoo around here somewhere,” he says. “And a rose garden. Although, I don't know how well a rose garden does in winter. There's the Tyler Museum of Art . . .”

“Do you like art?” I say.

“No,” sighs Harry. “Not really.”

He rolls over and picks up the phone while at the same time pulling a piece of paper out of his pocket.

“I have to use the motel phone,” he explains to me, as he dials the number. “If I call with my cell phone she’ll have my number stored on her phone.”

This is fascinating that he doesn’t want her to be able to contact him.

 “Karen?” he says. “It's Harry. Harry Phillips.”

I can hear a female squeal on the other end, then some talking.

“No, no, I'm not in Toronto. I'm actually right here in Tyler.”

Another squeal.

“Sure, that'd be great. I'd love to see you. But I should warn you . . .”

Lots of talking on the other end.

“Oh, she called. Good. I didn't want it to be a total surprise.”

More talking.

“Yeah . . . yeah, she's right here. Meg.” He glances at me. “Yep. We're business associates. We work together.”

I have no idea what's going on because Karen is doing most of the talking. When Harry finally hangs up, all he's really said is that we're at the Super 8 Motel and what room he's in.

“She's on her way over,” says Harry, putting down the phone and looking concerned.

“What's the matter?”

“Nothing,” says Harry. “It's just that this is going to be awkward. I don't know how we're going to get a straight answer out of her.”

“Maybe if we just hangout, we'll figure it out,” I say.

“That's what I'm worried about,” says Harry. “The hanging-out part.”

I don't know why but I get up and go to the mirror to make sure my hair still looks good and that my lipstick is still on. I'll give Harry credit, he does nothing to improve his outward appearance. Doesn't even run his fingers through his hair.

And why would I give him credit for this?

It's because when Karen arrives and knocks at Harry's door and he answers it, she's gorgeous. I observe this with chagrin.

She has long golden brown hair, perfect skin, not an ounce of fat but filled out in all the right places. I remember her from high school. I hated her.

“Hi Harry!” she says, giving him a full-body hug and kissing him on the lips. He gives her an awkward pat on the back before separating himself from her embrace. “You are looking great!” She looks him up and down.

“Thanks,” he says, shutting the door and leading her to the table with two chairs. But she reclines on the bed and glances over at me on the other one. For a moment, she's making a decision. And then it's done. She's decided to ignore me and turns her attention entirely on Harry.

“Want a coffee?” asks Harry going over to the dresser where there's a coffee-maker.

“Sure, Harry.”

She seems to really enjoy watching him.

“Your mom's worried about you, you know,” says Harry, temporarily disappearing to get some water from the tap in the bathroom before returning to pour it into the top of the coffee-maker.

“Is that why she sent you?” asks Karen, watching him open the packet of coffee grinds.

“Uh-huh,” says Harry.

“And you came?” She's pleased.

“Sure,” says Harry. “Meg and I investigate things.”

“And now you're investigating me.”

She laughs but Harry stays serious.

“Is it true, Karen?”

“Is what true?”

“All the stuff you told your mother?”

The coffee is brewing and he turns around, leaning on the dresser, to look at her.

“A lot of crazy stuff is happening at this place,” says Karen. “I wish you were here, Harry.”

“You're not on anything, are you?” he asks, actually sounding concerned.

“Oh c'mon, Harry. Drugs are for kids. We're past that now.”

We're?

“What kind of crazy stuff?”

“Big stuff,” says Karen, crossing her legs and managing to look like a goddess on a pastel bed-spread. She's wearing frayed jeans, a tight almond-coloured designer t-shirt and cowboy boots. Sleazy, but an expensive sleazy.

“Karen, what have you gotten yourself into?” asks Harry.

“Nothing,” she says. But it's an automatic reflex. Then she glances at me.

The message is clear. She won't open up to Harry unless I'm gone. It's the last thing I want to do, leave him alone with this temptress. But I have to be professional about this and think of the case.

I sit up.

“Well,” I say. “I'm going to get a few things done in my room.”

I'm talking to Harry.

He looks pained but there's an understanding that passes between us. We'll do what we have to do to get to the bottom of this.

“OK,” says Harry.

I stroll over to the door.

“Meet you later for dinner?” I say, glancing back before leaving.

“Yeah, definitely,” he says.

I shut the door behind me and am out in the late afternoon sun.

Whew.

This is not going to be easy. Why didn't I listen to him? We could have been on our way to Antarctica now.


 

 


 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Three

 

 

 

 

 

T

he hours til dinner are long.

I switch on the TV. Then I switch it off and get a drinking glass from my bathroom. Yes, I am going to try to listen in on the conversation next door. But the walls are either too insulated or they're not talking very loud in there.

I switch on the TV again.

Oprah has a doctor on the show and they're chatting about past-life regression. I'm totally not taking it in but I keep it on to steady my nerves. Then I make myself a cup of coffee, which definitely doesn't steady my nerves, but keeps me busy for a while.

After Oprah, I switch around and find that I get free movies. I'm just starting to get into one about a woman whose husband died but she's getting all these messages from him so she doesn't know what's going on. Then there's a knock at my door. I just about trip running to answer it.

It's Harry. He walks straight in and collapses on my bed.

“Are you OK?” I ask, switching off the TV and hurrying over to look at him.

He nods from his horizontal position.

“Harry, what's the matter?”

“It's my faith,” he says. “It's never really been tested.”

“Yeah? So?”

I sit down on the bed and wonder if I should hold his hand, or something.

“Now it's being tested.”

“Oh, for crying out loud . . .”

But I shut up pretty quickly when I start to realize what this all means.

“Where's Karen?” I say.

“She left.”

“Oh. Did you find out anything?”

“No. She's going to drag this out for as long as she can. Mrs. Winters-Waterborn is going to get full value for her money because we might be here awhile.”

“Oh, hell,” I say, biting my lip.

“Exactly,” says Harry. “That's what I've been thinking about. Hell.”

“Let's have dinner,” I say, standing up.

One of us has to be practical.

“Sure,” says Harry, not sounding like he cares.

But he does get up and join me at the door. From there, we can see in a few directions.

“How ‘bout Denny's?” I say.

“Fine.”

We head out into the evening air.

Traffic is heavy and just getting across the road is enough to get anyone's mind off of Karen.

For once, Harry isn't taking charge, so when we've been seated I go ahead and order for both of us. Two turkey dinners. Two ice teas.

“So . . .” I say cautiously. “When do we see Karen again?”

“She's going to call,” says Harry.

“What if she doesn't?”

“She will.”

The food arrives and Harry turns his attention to his turkey dinner. It's such a big plate of food that neither of us feels like dessert.

“Want to watch a movie?” I ask Harry once we're back at the motel and standing outside my door.

He hesitates and then decides, “No.”

“Early night?”

“Yeah,” he says. He looks down at me, serious. “And I need to pray.”

 

I don't know what effect Harry's prayers have on the next day, but it's a gorgeous morning, sunny and warm.

A complimentary SuperStart breakfast comes with our rooms. Harry knocks at my door and we head down the stairs and into the main building.

“Feeling better?” I say, once we've sat down with our coffee and croissants.

He nods.

“The bottom line is, it's all in God's hands. I might scout out the area for a Catholic Church, though. I might need the confessional…”

Usually at this point, I tell him to shut up. But I'm feeling like I should be a little nicer to him since I dragged him to Texas to face a man-eater.

“OK,” I say. “So it's in God's hands. Should I ask God when we're going to meet with Karen again?”

He smiles.

“No, you can ask me about that one. Karen called. She says she's more than willing to cut classes and show us around Tyler today.”

“So, that means, what? The zoo?”

“I doubt it. And I doubt it'll be the rose garden either.”

Karen's car, no surprise, is a red convertible. She's pulling up to one of the parking spaces below our room.

“Hey Harry!” she calls out, completely ignoring me.

“Hey Karen,” says Harry.

“Jump in!” she says.

Her arm is stretched out, indicating that the front seat is for Harry. I could ride in the trunk for all she cares. But Harry is a gentleman. He pulls back the front seat and actually gives me a hand as I climb into the back. Karen looks annoyed.

“Where're we going?” says Harry.

Karen's actually a cautious driver. I'm surprised.

“Shopping,” she says. “I need to look for clothes.”

“What? You mean you only have one closet full?”

“Not for me.” Karen glances at Harry looking him up and down. “For you. You're dressed like a dweeb.”

That's a really stupid comment. Harry does not look like a dweeb. OK, OK, I'll be the first to admit that I've called Harry a nerd on several occasions, but never because of his clothes. Except for that crazy purple scarf. But he looks fine today. He's wearing a navy blue sweater and jeans. Nothing flashy. But he's not a flashy person.

Harry laughs.

“Clothing doesn't matter to me anymore,” he says.

“Clothing should always matter,” says Karen. She's wearing a short black-and-white designer dress with a pair of white boots that go all the way up to her thigh.

We're driving along a road of non-stop stores and car dealerships. The stores are those big box kind, you know, home interior stuff, women's clothing, Home Depot. Fast food places are interspersed among them.

But our destination is a mall. Karen pulls into the parking lot and since it's early in the day, there are plenty of spaces near the stores. We park in front of Dillard’s.

Karen has the nerve to grab Harry's hand as we walk in the parking lot toward the doors.

Once inside, Dillard’s, Karen makes a big deal out of looking at the men's clothing. She holds some shirts up to Harry as if checking for size, but Harry just laughs it off. So we end up out in the mall. Karen leads us into a Bath and Body Works store and picks out some shampoo and conditioner, along with various sponges for exfoliating. Harry looks bored but she really drags it out, looking over all the lotions and even having the nerve to suggest I try a tonic for clearing up acne. I haven't had a zit since I was 16.

Karen's got us right where she wants us. She's being co-operative and getting to spend the whole day with Harry. But he can't really start talking to her about being a CSIS agent while she's looking over hand-lotions.

“Let's have a coffee,” I suggest, as we come out of the store.

“Go ahead,” says Karen.

I look helplessly at Harry. He gives me a tiny shrug.

Next, we are dragged into a little boutique. Karen tries on a skin-tight western-style blouse and makes sure to ask Harry twice if he likes it.

“Yeah, sure,” he says, both times.

“We're having a Barn Dance in a few weeks,” says Karen, as she pays for the blouse. “I hope you'll still be around for it, Harry. You'd look pretty good in cowboy boots.”

Harry's laugh is genuine.

“I am definitely not a cowboy.”

“Why does everyone around here dress like they're in a western?” I ask. “I thought you said there were no cowboys.”

“No ranches,” says Harry. “I dunno why they go around in cowboy boots.”

He and I grin at each other. It's a little moment of understanding and it gives me strength for the irritation to come.

Victoria's Secret.

Yes, Karen leads us into Victoria's Secret.

For a moment, Harry looks embarrassed, but then I can actually see him stiffen his jaw and resolve himself to the situation. I notice he just keeps a neutral look on his face and his eyes on Karen's back.

Karen picks things off the racks and holds them up. When she asks Harry if he likes it, he just shrugs and says, “Sure, it's fine.”

She grabs a few things and says she'll try them on.

I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if she plans to model these things for us. Harry must be thinking the same thing because he announces that he's kind of hungry. We had a light breakfast and he'd like to see if he can grab a hamburger somewhere.

The woman working in the Victoria's Secret actually jumps in at this point to say there's a food court nearby.

“I like food courts,” I say.

“I can tell,” says Karen, glancing at me.

That's about the limit of what I can take. I can feel the rage rising in me.

I'm about to let it rip and call her a bitch to her face. But then I look up at Harry and something in his eyes calms me down.

I do something unbelievable. I laugh it off.

“We'll meet you there, if you like,” says Harry to Karen. He turns and starts heading out of the store. I'm right behind him.

“No, that's OK,” says Karen, throwing her items over the nearest rack. “I could use a coffee.”

 

“So . . .” says Harry conversationally.

Harry has a burger and fries. I'm beside him with a chicken wrap. And Karen is across from him with a coffee.

“What's all this about you and CSIS?”

We don't have anyone sitting near us so he's talking in a regular voice.

“Yeah!” she says, grinning at him. “Unbelievable, eh?”

“Yeah,” agrees Harry, putting three fries into his mouth. “It is unbelievable.”

“But it's true, Harry,” says Karen.

“Really?” Harry raises his eyebrows. “How did that happen?”

“Harry, Harry,” Karen shakes her head. “I can't tell you that.”

Harry rolls his eyes.

“Top secret, eh?”

Karen decides she's told us enough.

Harry comes up with a great strategy after we finish our food.

He takes charge.

We spend a long time in a nature store. Harry checks out telescopes, an ant farm and some kind of fossil-making kit. Then it's onto a store that has the kind of clothing that looks like it would be for a safari. Harry picks out some khaki pants with lots of pockets. Karen telling him that he's the world's biggest loser seems to cheer him up rather than discourage him.

“Want some socks?” he asks me.

We're at the cash register. A whole display of socks is within reach.

“Sure,” I say.

Crazy, I know. But I'm going along with whatever Harry's strategy for handling Karen is.

He walks over to the display, grabs a whole bunch of hiking socks and throws them on top of the pants.

“Can I interest you in some hats, sir?” asks the man behind the counter. He senses that he's got a live customer here.

“Yeah, definitely!” says Harry. We follow the man to the back of the store where there's a whole wall of hats.

“This is an Australian oilskin hat,” says the man holding one up. “And this is more of a pith helmet. Here we have a Scala straw hat . . .”

Harry picks out one that looks like something Indiana Jones would wear and puts it on right away. Karen tells him he looks stupid and tells him to take it off.

“I need a hat,” says Harry, going back to the cash register. “I'll get sunburn.”

Karen exhales her displeasure. I'm grinning inside.

Our next stop is a DVD store where Harry offers to buy The Gospel of John for Karen. She glares at him.

“How 'bout you?” he asks, turning to me.

“Uh, sure,” I say, startled. I don't really want it, but I have to go along with him.

He takes the DVD up to the cash and buys it for me. But I notice he doesn't hand it to me. He just sticks it in the bag with his pants and the socks.

“I've had it,” says Karen. She's annoyed. “I've got to get back.”

“OK,” says Harry. “Mind dropping us off first?”

Boy, he's good. He makes it sound as if it wasn't a certain thing that we'd be all leaving together. Karen's not in control anymore.

“Yeah, sure,” she says, walking with determination. She's ready to get out of here now.

The sun is high when we get outside and it's warmer than before.

“I love this!” says Harry, looking up at the sky and taking a deep breath.

“What, you're into the weather now?” says Karen, unlocking the door to her car. I've barely had a chance to get my seat-belt on before she's backing out of the spot.

The drive back to the Super 8 is notable for its lack of conversation.

But when we're back in the motel parking lot, Karen turns to Harry and says, “I'm going to a party tonight. And there's a guy I want you to meet.”

“Sure,” says Harry, climbing out and pulling back the seat so I can get out too. “What time? We'll come.”

You'll come,” she says pointedly, glancing at him, not me. “Eight o'clock.”

“Meg and I will be ready,” says Harry. “We work together.”

“Fine!” she snaps. “But you're with me.”

The tires of the car screech as she backs up.

“Wow,” I say, watching the convertible turn into traffic and disappear down the road.

“She wears me out,” says Harry, heading up the stairs to our rooms. “I'm going to have a nap.”

Back in my room, I decide I've got a problem. I need something to wear to that party tonight. Harry can go dressed whatever way he wants. But I'm going to have to wear something amazing to compete with that man-trap. I don't kid myself that I have what she's got, but a good outfit can go a long way in making up for deficiencies.

I can't exactly go back to the mall. But there are clothing stores within walking distance. I only have a hundred American in my purse and it'll have to cover shoes too. I can skip jewellery.

Cautiously, I exit my room. I really don't want to explain this to Harry.

But the curtains are shut as I pass by his room.

I'm doing this for the case, I tell myself.

Yeah, right.

 

Redheads are supposed to look good in green, the sales lady told me.

I'm back in my room looking myself over in the mirror. I think she might be right. I've never worn green before. At least, not for a dress. Camouflage pants, yes. But not this kind of green. It's a lighter olive green, a single shoulder strap, pleated top, with a satin waistband. It's full length, but very clingy.

I was just going to go with my usual black when the sales lady came up to me and said she had the perfect dress for someone with my hair.

The selling point for me was that it was on sale for $50. Shoes were a little harder for me to pick out since I hate anything uncomfortable. Finally, we found some gold sandals with a low heel. They took up the rest of my money.

There's a knock at my door.

It must be time for dinner already. No time to change out of the dress.

Harry just stares at me, when I answer the door.

He follows me into the room, still staring.

“OK, OK,” I say. “I know I look stupid. But I had to have something for the party.”

There's a pause.

“You don't look stupid,” says Harry.

“Let me just get changed,” I say. “Then we can grab some dinner.”

I go into the bathroom and get back into my jeans and t-shirt. It's probably cooler now, so when I'm out, I go over to my knapsack and grab my black sweater from it.

“Did you have a good rest?” I ask Harry, who's sitting on my bed.

“Yeah,” he says. “Where do you want to eat?”

“Let's head out and see where we end up,” I say.

I lock my door and we go out into the late afternoon.

“What's a Jack in the Box?” I ask, once we're out on the road and looking around.

“I dunno,” says Harry. “We can check it out.”

Jack in the Box turns out to be fast food, but with some different items. In addition to hamburgers and chicken burgers and fish burgers, there's steak teriyaki and chicken teriyaki and different kinds of grilled sandwiches. I think about that dress I'm going to be wearing and have a salad and a mango-flavoured iced tea. Harry has a steak sandwich and a raspberry-flavoured iced tea.

As soon as we're done, I want to get back to the room to get ready.

Harry says he'll be in his room and to knock on his door when I'm done. I get the feeling he doesn't want to be alone when Karen arrives.

I get back into the dress and sit on the bed to strap on the shoes. I'm wishing I had perfume. Harry always smells nice. I think it's his aftershave.

I've never figured out how to put my hair up in a way where it will actually stay up, so all I do is run my brush through it. A bit of lipstick and I'm done.

My purse totally does not go with the dress, so I leave it behind, figuring Harry will have his wallet so I won't need anything. But remembering what the cab-driver said, I grab my coat, putting the room key into the pocket and buttoning it up.

It's 7:45 when I knock on his door. He opens it and looks relieved to see me.

I sit down on one of the chairs. Harry's been reading his Bible. He puts it away in his knapsack. Not surprisingly, he hasn't changed his clothes. He's not going out of his way to be attractive to Karen.

“Is it cold out there?” he asks.

“Yeah,” I say. “A bit. I guess it'll get even colder later.”

“Probably.”

There's a pause.

“Meg?”

“Yeah?”

“I just want you to know you look really good.”

I don't know what to say. I want to take it personally. But then I think, maybe he's just saying that to be encouraging. He knows what Karen's like.

“Thanks, Harry,” I say.

There's a knock at the door.

Our night's work has begun.


 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Four

 

 

 

 

 

I

t's a university party but it's not on campus. It's at the home of one of the students who lives in Tyler.

And it's wild.

I went to a few parties in high school. There was the usual drinking and dancing and making out. There were drugs too, but always somewhere away from the main party. Maybe in a bedroom or out in the backyard, or something.

With this one, it's all out in the open.

“Just like old times, eh?” yells Karen over the music, holding onto Harry's arm as we go inside the house.

She was irritated at his clothing, but has generously forgiven him. She's got on a little club dress. Silver grey with cut-out sides. The sleeves are long and she seems to be relying on them for warmth. God knows she must be feeling the night air she has so much skin showing. Harry and I left our coats in her trunk, but not before she gave me a good look all over and kind of sniffed.

Harry doesn't reply, but it could just be the music.

Karen wants to steer him right onto the dance floor, but Harry hangs back.

“Where's that guy we're supposed to meet?” he yells.

Karen looks around.

“Not here yet.”

Before she can make another attempt to get him dancing, Harry is moving through the crowd and to the relative quiet of the kitchen. You can actually talk in there. All over the place are bottles. Bottles of rum and vodka and tequila. I'm surprised when Harry mixes us each a rum and Coke.

“C'mon, Harry!” says Karen, as soon as the drink's done.

It doesn't surprise me that she wants him dancing with her. The people out there look more like they're having sex than dancing.

But Harry's only halfway through his drink, and following his example, I am also sipping slowly.

“Hey Karen!”

A tall filled-out man comes into the kitchen.

“Hi Shep,” says Karen, sounding slightly annoyed.

“Who's this?” asks Shep nodding to me and Harry. But mostly he's looking at Harry.

“Friend from Canada.”

“Really.”

Shep doesn't sound interested. He's wearing jeans and a football shirt. Looks very athletic. Acts like one of the cool people.

“Do you play football, Shep?” I say.

“Yeah,” he says. But he's not looking at me. All he wants is Karen.

“Karen's the only girl I go out with who isn't a cheerleader,” he says.

Wow, he's a real winner.

Shep mixes up a tequila and rum and vodka and hands it to Karen. Then he makes one for himself. Harry is still only halfway through his drink.

Shep keeps talking, school stuff. And then he tells Karen she's looking hot tonight.

She's starting to warm up to him. At least, she lets him lead her out of the kitchen, no doubt, for some of that dirty dancing.

As soon as they're out of the kitchen, Harry gulps down his drink and mixes himself another one.

“Do you think anyone will show up tonight?” I ask.

“You mean, like an agent from CSIS?” says Harry sarcastically.

We sit down in a couple of kitchen chairs.

“Yeah, it does sound kind of silly,” I say. “We're just here because she wants you.”

“Did you have a boyfriend in high school?” he asks.

“Uh, yeah,” I say, looking down at my drink. “Peter. Peter Richmond. Did you know him?”

“No,” says Harry. “I didn't.”

There had been nothing wrong with Peter. Dark hair, dark eyes, slim, about my height. For about eight months we were always together. I don't even really know why we broke up. We didn't drift apart. He just stopped calling and I didn't push it. I got over it by telling myself that I didn't want him anyhow. Not tough enough. Too puny.

“Did you sleep with him?” he asks.

It's an abrupt and startling question. It's personal, of course. For a second or two, I'm embarrassed. But then I think, why? Sex is everywhere.

“Yeah,” I say. “A few times.”

“Karen and I did it all the time,” says Harry, finishing off his drink. “That's all we did.”

Her reaches for a bottle of rum on the table. This time he doesn't bother with the Coke.

“We didn't even have much in common then.”

“Harry, you're drinking a bit too much.”

“It's OK, Meg,” he says. “I can handle it. I don't even get hangovers. I had eighteen drinks at a party once. I drove home and woke up still drunk the next day.”

OK, fine, he's a big boy. At least he won't be driving home tonight.

Then I think of Karen out there with the cocktail that Shep made for her.

We're taking a cab back to the motel.

People are coming into the kitchen to mix themselves more drinks. Harry has decided that he'll stop with an uneven five. I've barely finished my first.

“Well, we'd better check on her,” he says, getting to his feet. He's not slurring his words, but there's something slightly different about him. He's a little more careless. At least I've kept my head.

We push through the people back into the living room. The noise is deafening.

I look around for Shep who's tall, expecting that if I can spot him, Karen will be beside him. But she's not. Shep is now dancing with a blonde in a tight-fitting red tank top and designer jeans. Guess she's a cheerleader.

Harry grabs my arm and points. Karen is just going up the stairs. Bad sign. It can only be worse up there.

She's with a man, but he's not a university student. Looks too old. Is it actually possible she was right about a CSIS agent?

Harry is still holding onto my arm as we go upstairs. Must be the rum.

Once we're on the second floor, it's anyone's guess. Bedroom doors are shut. There are noises coming from the room right in front of us. Something about the noises makes me sure that we don't want to interrupt.

Harry drags me down the hall. He's spotted a door that's slightly ajar. We're totally like Nancy Drew and Ned Nickerson now, standing against the wall and peering into the room.

It's Karen.

I'm worried we might see her launching on some kind of sexual escapade. But the man is just talking to her. He looks like he's in his mid 30's. Dark curly hair. Tanned, no surprise with all the sun here in Texas. He's not really dressed for this kind of party. Just a casual white shirt and jeans. Karen is listening carefully. She tries to ask a question but the man just puts a finger on her lips to silence her. Interesting.

Then it's over. Whatever it is.

The rum must have turned Harry into some kind of a superhero detective because he grabs me and hauls us both into a bathroom. He doesn't have time to shut the door that we're behind. Through the crack, we see the man go back down the stairs. About thirty seconds later, Karen follows.

Harry turns to me.

“We follow the guy,” he says.

“How are we going to find him?” I ask.

But Harry is dashing down the stairs and into the main foyer. Karen has already assimilated into the living room, but Harry keeps on going, right out the front door.

His instinct is correct.

In the distance we see the man. The white shirt shows up in the dark.

“We'll freeze!” I say.

Harry shakes his head.

“We have time to grab our coats.”

“They're in the trunk . . .”

“I didn't lock it,” says Harry. “Just in case we didn't want to stay.”

I've had my doubts about Harry in the past, but he's proving himself to be quite an impressive partner.

Karen's red convertible is easy to find. The coats are grabbed practically as we run by it. The man is getting further and further away.

He's hurrying, no doubt, to get in from the cold.

“Where are we, anyhow?” I ask.

“Close to the university campus,” he says. “A lot of the people who came to the party must have walked. There aren't enough cars outside.”

I'm seriously regretting the gold sandals with heels. Harry's practically running. I wish I had my hiking boots.

But somehow we manage and even when the man turns a corner, we keep up with him. Enough to know what house he turns into. We keep walking, both noting that the number on the house is 16. Then it's just a matter of continuing down the road until we come to the street sign.

“Well,” I say, breathlessly. “Guess we'd better go back and check on Karen.”

“Why?” says Harry grinning. “I think we've done enough detective work for one night.”

That's surprising.

I stop. There's something I just have to get out of my system.

“She's gorgeous,” I say. “Maybe you want to go back . . .”

“So?” he interrupts me. “You're gorgeous too. And we have a job to do. Karen is part of my past.”

He looks at me, like he's wanting me to get it.

And I do.

“OK!” I say grinning. “The past is the past. We have a job to do!”


 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Five

 

 

 

 

 

A

t breakfast we discuss the next step.

Harry's right about hangovers. He doesn't have one. In fact, he's cheerful.

Last night, we walked out to a main road and found a coffee shop. From there we called ourselves a cab and had a coffee while we waited for it to come. Harry reports that there was a pounding on his door at about three in the morning, but his lights were off and he didn't get up to answer it.

“We have the advantage now,” says Harry, biting into a croissant. “We can investigate that man. She doesn't know that we know about him. We'll start by going on the internet and finding out who he is.”

“We don't have a computer,” I say.

“No,” he says, reaching for his orange juice. “But we have internet access in our room and I can do it on my cell-phone.”

Honestly, I'm ashamed to admit it, but what would I do without him?

Back in Harry's room, he does a reverse search, typing in the address of the house and discovering that it belongs to an F. Kirschbaum.

“Now,” he says, typing with his thumb. “It's just a hunch, but I'm going to go to the University of Texas at Tyler webpage and see if they have anyone there named F. Kirschbaum.”

It turns out that Frederich Kirschbaum is a professor in the Political Science department.

“Harry, you're amazing! But how do we know that he wasn't just her professor, telling her she failed a test and has to make it up . . .”

“I doubt a professor would show up at a Bacchanalian orgy like that to announce that a student has to retake a test.”

Something about the phrase “Bacchanalian orgy” makes me smile, and then I laugh right out loud. And then Harry is laughing. So it's a good moment. This is just what I need to prepare me for the sight of the red convertible when we come out of the main building.

“Where were you?” Karen demands, as soon as Harry is within shouting distance.

Harry waits until we're a lot closer before he answers.

“Got tired,” he says. “I couldn't wait all night for your friend to show up.”

“Well, he did show up! And I would have introduced you if you'd stuck around!”

We know that's not true.

“Really?” says Harry, managing to convey in that one word that he strongly doubted it.

“He was there!”

“OK, Karen, whatever.”

By now, we're on the second story and walking down the outside corridor. Harry lets us all into his room.

Karen looks tired. No surprise if she was still up at 3 to pound on Harry's door.

“Well,” says Harry, sitting down in a chair and kicking off his boots. “I'm going to go home and tell your mom you're looking great and you're doing great.”

“Harry,” says Karen, sitting down on the bed. “I think I might be in trouble here.”

She sounds earnest. But Harry knows he can push it a little further.

“Yeah,” says Harry. “If you keep cutting classes to hang out at the mall, you probably will end up in trouble.

“This is serious.”

Karen is leaning forward. I have no doubt that she is finally being straight with us, but I can't help noticing that with the particular t-shirt she's wearing, leaning forward allows Harry a tantalizing view of what she's got. He's looking at her face though.

“Yeah, so?”

But it's an invitation to keep talking.

“It's like this,” says Karen, looking down at her long manicured nails. “I met this guy . . .”

“OK.” Harry's tone is slightly impatient, like go on . . .

“He told me that I'm just the type of person they're looking for.”

“That who are looking for?”

“I dunno. You know, important people. People who protect the security of Canada.”

“Why are they protecting the security of Canada in Texas?”

“I have no idea!” snaps Karen. “They're not going to tell me, you know!”

Harry shrugs.

“So . . . what did they want with you?”

“They wanted me to keep an eye on things. You know, they said everyone's worried about terrorists these days. Apparently a lot of terrorists come to Canada and try to sneak into the U.S . . .”

Harry rolls his eyes.

“Harry! I'm serious!”

“But they're not. Karen! Don't you get it! Someone's playing games with you! International terrorism? They're not going to turn to you to help them! Besides, what do terrorists sneaking into Canada have to do with you here in Texas?”

“I dunno!” Karen sounds almost frantic. “That's just what he told me! He said that's the big picture. What he wants me to do here is keep an eye on things. He says there are a lot of terrorists in universities trying to recruit people and that I might be targeted because I'm a Canadian.”

I think she's telling the truth, but Harry's still playing it like he thinks she's a bit crazy.

“What?” he says. “They think that some Arab guy is going to come up to you and ask you to marry him so that he can get into Canada and then once he's in Canada he'll sneak back into the States and blow something up?”

“No!” Karen stands up. “I don't know why I'm trying to talk to you! They just told me to keep an eye on things. And deliver a few messages for them.”

“Deliver a few messages?” says Harry, incredulous. “Why don't they just use email like everyone else?”

“I dunno. I guess it's important stuff. I took an envelope to a faculty member once, that's all.” Karen sits back down on the bed.

“And what about last night? Did you get another message to deliver?” He's being sarcastic but he's getting the answers we need.

“No. He just told me that something big was happening and to stay on my toes. They'd be contacting me soon.”

“The CSIS guy said that?” says Harry.

“Yeah.”

So Frederich Kirschbaum is the CSIS guy. Harry glances at me. I've been standing by the window the whole time.

“I'm not kidding, Harry.”

“Where did you first meet this guy?”

“He came up to me in the library when I was studying.”

“Had you ever seen him before? Around the campus maybe?”

Karen thinks.

“I might've. I'm not really sure.” She leans forward. More cleavage. “Oh, Harry! What am I gonna do?”

Harry shrugs.

“Doesn't sound too dangerous. Why not do it for your country?”

“I dunno,” says Karen looking down at her nails again. “It's kind of a drag. It was cool at first.”

“Karen, I don't think I can help you. I mean, what can I do?”

“Maybe you could hangout with me and when the guy shows up next time, just tell him I want out.”

“Karen, you can tell him yourself!”

“Yeah, but what if he says no? What if I'm part of something too big to get out of? What if they slit my throat . . . ?

“If they tell you that you can't back out, then just tell them you've already told a friend about it and that if anything happens to you, he'll investigate it.”

“Really, Harry? You'd do that?”

“Of course.”

“So what are you going to tell my mom?”

“Whatever you want.”

Karen shrugs.

“Tell her I'm OK. Tell her whatever you want.”

She stands up.

“I gotta get back. I've got a science lab in half an hour.”

“OK, Karen,” says Harry, standing up and walking her to the door.

“You gonna be here for a while?”

“Nah, you seem to be OK. I should probably get back and tell your mom you're fine. She's really worried about you, you know.”

Karen seems more concerned about Harry than her mother.

“Will you keep in touch?” she says.

There's a nanosecond pause. Harry's brain must be working faster than a computer. He's a Christian now so he probably doesn't want to lie. But he doesn't want to keep in touch.

For once, he has absolutely no inspiration. All he does is sigh.

And I think Karen gets it with that sigh. It's over.

Harry shuts the door and we both kind of relax.

“You want to be alone?” I ask him.

“No,” he says, going over to his coffee-maker. “We have a lot to talk about.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well,” says Harry, as he starts to make us coffee. “We're not finished here.”

“But I thought you said we'd be going home and telling Karen's mother . . .”

Harry shakes his head.

“No, that's just a way of ending it with Karen. We'll move to another motel. But we've got to investigate this whole Kirschbaum guy. Why would he go around telling college girls that they're working for CSIS? And making them deliver messages?”

“Maybe it's just a ploy,” I say. “He's older. He wants a way of getting at the girls and making them depend on him, you know, getting close to them . . .”

“Getting them into bed, you mean?”

I nod.

“I thought of that. But there are easier ways of doing it. Giving them higher grades, stuff like that.”

“Is it possible it really is the Canadian Secret Service, or whatever they call it?”

“If it is, God help us. Would you want Karen having anything to do with the security of Canada?”

We both laugh.

“Anyway,” says Harry. “Since it's probably not CSIS, we should try to find out who's behind it.”

“I hear you,” I say. “It could be quite sinister.”

“Or it could be quite harmless. Either way, I think we should know before we head home.”

 


 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Six

 

 

 

 

 

H

arry checks the check-out time on the back of the bathroom door. It's 12:00. So we have plenty of time to throw our things into our bags and go to the main building to check-out. The concierge calls a cab for us.

“Where to?” says the driver when we're both settled into the backseat.

“We need to be as close as possible to the university,” says Harry.

“How long you planning on staying?” says the driver, pulling out of the Super 8's driveway and into traffic.

“I dunno,” says Harry. “A few days, a week.”

“That's too bad,” says the man, signalling and making a lane change.

“Why?”

“Well, my wife and I live right next to the campus. Practically on it. Our daughter is going to school there and we wanted to be close to her. We rent rooms out by the month to the students. We've got one free right now because one of the students flunked out and is going home.”

“That sounds like exactly the right place for us to stay!” I say excitedly.

Harry nods.

“I'd love to rent the room out to you kids but my wife says, by the month only.”

“How much is it for a month?” asks Harry.

“$400. Just breakfast in the morning. Toast and coffee. But you get a small fridge and a microwave and there's a strip mall nearby that has everything you'd need.”

Harry turns to me.

“Each of our rooms was $50 at the Super 8. That's a $100 a night. We could . . .”

“I know, I know,” I nod. “Let's do it!”

“We'll pay for a month,” says Harry turning back to the driver. “We're not sure we'll stay the full month, but we'll pay it up front.”

The cab driver beams.

“Wife can't complain about that. C'mon! I'll take you home!”

We leave the busy main road and turn into a residential area. The neighbourhood looks old. Chipped sidewalks. Huge shade trees. Small aluminium-siding homes interspersed with newer and larger brick ones.

The cabbie and his wife have one of the newer and larger brick ones.

But there's a hitch.

The cab driver's wife. Mrs. Maine.

“There's only one bed in that room, Jerry Maine!” she says, when we're in his entrance-way. She's middle-aged, hair up in a bun, wearing a cotton dress with a dish-rag in her hand.

“Oh, that's right!” says the cabbie, like he had just plain forgotten.

“One student per room!” she says, glaring at us.

I think we're done here but then Harry turns and looks at her.

“You have a daughter here at the university, right?”

She nods.

“Not that it's any of your business.”

“Meg and I are investigating something that's going on at the university. A young woman was targeted by a man claiming to be a government agent.”

Mrs. Maine's eyebrows go up.

And then somehow, thanks to Harry, we're all sitting around the large rectangular table in the Maine's kitchen while he tells Karen's story.

“Well, my daughter would never go to a house party,” says the woman, ready to just dismiss the whole thing.

“This young lady was first approached in the library. The man only met with her at that house because he knew she would be there and the large number of people would make a great cover.”

“You say you followed him after that?” says Mr. Maine.

“Yes,” nods Harry. “Then we looked up the owner of the house and discovered it belongs to a faculty member.”

Mrs. Maine gasps.

From that point forward, we're staying.

I get the room. We still have to pay the $400. But Harry's being allowed to sleep on a couch in the cab driver's television room.

Of course, he can't hangout there, so his knapsack is in my room and we'll be spending our time there during the day.

“Somehow, we'll have to talk to some of the students here,” says Harry. He's sitting on my bed while I'm on a chair that belongs to a small desk in the corner. In the other corner is a bar fridge with a tiny microwave on top. The only other thing in the room is an empty closet.

“You think they might know something?”

Harry nods.

“Actually,” I say. “What I was thinking was maybe I could approach this Finkelstein guy . . .”

Kirschbaum.”

“Right. And I could pretend that someone had told me that he could get me working for CSIS.”

Harry shakes his head.

“I don't think they'd take you on. Too risky. They probably do the choosing. But you said something interesting.”

“I did?”

“Yeah. The name is obviously Jewish. So we're not dealing with an al-Qaeda branch.”

“I've heard about some tricks the Mossad plays where they blow something up and then blame it on the Arabs.”

“Yeah, I guess they could do that here. Nowadays, anything that blows up in the States could probably be blamed on the Arabs.”

“Well . . .” I glance at my watch. “What do we do with the rest of the day?”

“I was thinking that we should start with some of the other Canadian students. Maybe they've had a similar experience.”

“How are we going to find any?”

“I dunno. We could start right here.”

“In this house?”

Harry nods.

“All the rooms on this floor are rented to students. Let's knock on a door and see if anyone's willing to talk to us.”

It's a bold plan but it's better than wandering around the campus asking people if they're Canadian.

Nobody answers the first door.

The second door is answered by a girl with long blond hair and a manner very similar to Karen's. Not surprisingly, she finds Harry interesting.

“Hi!” he says. “We just got here and I was wondering if you could tell me a bit about the campus?”

“Sure,” she says. “Do you wanna come in?”

She would obviously prefer to just have Harry in her room, but sadly, has to tolerate my presence as well. I'm used to it.

I sit at her desk while she and Harry take the bed.

We introduce ourselves. Her name is Kelly.

“Are you from Texas, Kelly?” Harry asks her.

“No, Louisiana. Shreveport.”

“Meg and I are Canadian,” says Harry.

“Canadian? Oh, you mean, like from Canada?”

“Exactly,” says Harry. How he manages to not be sarcastic, I don't know. “Do you know if there are any other Canadians here?”

Kelly thinks.

“I know one girl. Karen. I don't know her last name.”

“Karen Winters-Waterborn?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

That does not surprise me.

“I don't think I know anyone else though.”

“Hey!” says Harry, as if an idea has just occurred to him. “Do you know Professor Kirschbaum?”

“Dr. Kirschbaum?” Karen's face lights up with recognition. “Yeah! He's great! I have a class with him.”

“Has he ever talked to you outside of class?”

“No, he's too busy. If you want to talk to him, you have to see his teaching assistant first.”

“I understand,” says Harry, standing up.

“No problem,” she says, looking disappointed that he's leaving.

“I'll see you tomorrow at breakfast, then.”

There's a pause. I can tell she totally doesn't do breakfast.

“Yeah, definitely,” she says.

She may change her habits while Harry's here.

I follow Harry out and Kelly almost closes the door on my heels.

Harry knocks on the next door.

This time it's answered by a nerdy-looking guy around my height, dark hair that needs a serious haircut, and glasses.

“Yeah?” he says, looking at us.

Harry does the routine of we've just arrived and we want to know more about the campus.

The guy looks at us like we're crazy.

“Why don't you just go to the University Center and pick up a catalogue? Or go to the web-site?” He starts to shut his door.

“Wait!” says Harry. “We need your help.”

The door stops closing but the guy is still looking suspicious.

“I need to talk to a Canadian.”

“Why?”

“There's something going on that I need to figure out.”

The guy is looking up at Harry. Something is passing between them. The guy is wondering if Harry is being straight with him. Then he glances at me. That seems to tip the scales in our favour.

“I'm a Canadian,” he says.

“No way!” says Harry. “This is great!”

“Why? Why is it great?”

“Can we talk in your room?” I say. “It's not really something to discuss in the hallway.”

The guy kind of giggles.

“What? You guys think you're the X-Files, or something? You even kind of look like them. Something creepy going on and you're going to get to the bottom of it?”

“Actually, there might be,” says Harry.

We've got the guy's interest. My guess is that in addition to the X-Files, he's a big fan of Star Trek.

The guy's name is Peter and he says he's from Winnipeg. The fact that we're from Toronto doesn't impress him but the fact that a fellow Canadian has been approached by CSIS does.

“No freakin' way!” he says. “Why didn't they contact me! I am so willing to work for them! I'd be good at it!”

“Well, I have my doubts that it's legitimate.”

Peter sits down at his desk and waves for us to sit down on his unmade bed. On one wall, he has a giant poster of Einstein. On the other, a poster of the Canadian Rockies.

Ohhh!” Peter gets it right away. “And you want to talk to other Canadians. See if it's happened to them?”

“Exactly.”

“Well it hasn't happened to me.”

“What about any of the other Canadians? Any ideas?”

Peter shakes his head.

“Haven't heard anything. My girlfriend, Susan, is from Regina.” He glances at his watch. “I can call her. She's coming out of her Advanced Patho class now.”

Peter pulls a cell phone out of the desk drawer and makes a call. He basically repeats everything we've said and the person on the other end is so interested she says she's coming right over.

This turns Peter into a tornado.

We're knocked off his bed so that he can make it.

A comb comes out of the same drawer as the cell phone and when he's done with his hair, a bottle of aftershave from the other drawer is taken out and applied generously.

Susan arrives all excited.

She reports, very disappointed, that she has not been recruited by CSIS. She's a slim girl, with stringy blonde hair and glasses, and very much the right match for Peter. I have no doubt that CSIS really missed out by not getting these two. They could hunch together in some laboratory, looking at Anthrax particles under a microscope and making all sorts of brilliant observations.

“How 'bout any of the other Canadians?” asks Harry. We're back on the bed, with Susan perched on Peter's lap.

“What other Canadians?” says Peter. “That's how Susan and I got together. I don't even know any other Canadians.”

“Neither do I,” says Susan. “But I can ask around. I'm in the Pines. Someone's got to have heard something.”

“University Pines Apartment,” explains Peter.

“Let's get some lunch,” says Susan to Peter.

“Well,” says Harry, standing up. “We'll let you get back to things. Let us know if you hear anything. We're just three doors down.”

“Will do,” says Peter, giving him a tiny salute.

“I'm hungry too,” I say when we're back in my room.

“Let's check out that little plaza down the road,” says Harry, glancing at the fridge. “We can save money by just eating in the room.”

Typical Harry. All expenses paid and he wants to survive on bologna sandwiches. But I don't argue. Investigative cops don’t live it up when it comes to food. Burgers on a stakeout. Doughnuts and coffee for breakfast. That sort of thing.

“You know,” I say, reaching for my purse. “That was amazing luck. A Canadian, right here in this house!”

“That wasn't luck, Meg.”

“Please don't tell me it was an answer to prayer.”

We're heading out into the hallway.

“Didn't I say that on our next case God's grace would be so obvious you wouldn't be able to miss it?”

“I wish you wouldn't attribute coincidences to God.”

We're going down the stairs and out the front door.

“That's the way God works. A believer knows it's God. An unbeliever can just call it coincidence.”

“Then how on earth am I going to see God's grace?” I say. “Aren't I just going to blow it off?”

The sky is clear and the day is sunny. But there's coolness in the air today.

“When you start realizing how much God is helping us, then you'll know that God is opening up your mind to an awareness of . . .”

“Harry! For crying out loud.”

“It may take time,” says Harry.

There's no arguing with the guy. I seriously hope that he didn't have some kind of delusional vision in the night, an angel appearing and telling him that Meg Carmichael is going to become a Christian, so just hang in there.

The little plaza at the end of the street has a laundromat, a hair-styling salon, a pizza place (takeout and delivery only), a weight loss clinic and a small grocery store.

We go through the sliding doors and into the grocery store. Harry grabs a cart and starts putting things in. A bag of apples. A couple of oranges. A bag of baby carrots. Some crackers. A block of cheese.

“Do Christians have to eat healthy foods?” I ask, looking in the cart.

“No,” he says, reaching for a bag of sugar doughnuts and a tray of pecan tarts. On our way to the cashier he puts a bag of potato chips and some Cheezies on top of everything.

I add a jug of bottled water and a two-litre bottle of Coke. Harry says he loves Dr. Pepper and adds one of them to the cart too.

We stagger home with our groceries.

“I wish we had a TV,” I say when we're back in my room eating crackers and cheese and Dr. Pepper.

Harry takes that as an invitation to pull a pack of cards out of his knapsack. We play three games of Rummy before I fall back on the bed and groan.

“Are we going to just sit here?” I say.

“What else can we do?” says Harry. “I think Peter and Susan will do a better job than us.”

“Meanwhile, we'll die of boredom.”

“I guess we could go out somewhere,” says Harry, putting away the pack of cards. “We just won't charge Mrs. Winters-Waterborn for it.”

“Harry,” I say, getting up and going to the closet where I've hung my coat. If it was cool in the afternoon, it will be cooler in the evening. “How much money does Mrs. Winters-Waterborn have?”

“Hmmm,” says Harry, also reaching for his coat. “I think they own shares in petroleum.”

I open my mouth but Harry continues.

“And something to do with the CPR . . .”

Canadian Pacific Railway.

“And I've heard that he has investments in an airline. There's something about a clothing company. Was it the Gap or was it Old Navy? I can't remember.”

I open my mouth again.

“And a film company,” Harry finishes off. “Because Karen used to meet all sorts of Hollywood stars when they came to Toronto for the film festivals.”

“So, they're rich,” I finally get to say.

“Rich?” We're heading out the door and back down the stairs. “They make my family look like hillbillies. Their Toronto home is just one of their properties. They own half a Caribbean island. An apartment in Manhattan. And another place in, Dubai, was it? I forget.”

“Then do you think that it's just possible that Mrs. Winters-Waterbottom . . .”

Waterborn.”

“Whatever.” I continue. “. . . would notice if we spent $20 on a movie or a couple of beers?”

“She wouldn't notice, but I would know.”

“Why? Is God watching you every minute of the day?”

“I hope so,” says Harry.

I don’t even care about this. I’m happy to spend my own $20. It’s just become a matter of principle to argue with Harry.

We're heading back down the road. It's starting to get dark. We pass the strip mall and keep going to the end where there is a main road.

“OK,” says Harry, looking left and then right. “Which way?”

The road is busy with rush hour traffic. Either direction could have possibilities. A lot of the restaurant parking lots are filling up. The stores are still open but the car dealerships look like they're winding down for the day.

I wish there was something obvious, like a movie theatre, to make the decision which way to go easier. But it's the same either way.

I could stand there paralysed for the next ten minutes but Harry turns left and starts walking.

There are lots of upscale choices, but a few grungy ones too. I'm afraid Harry's going to turn into one of the western bars or pool halls and try to win people to Christ, but he chooses a small bookstore café at the end of a strip mall.

A soft bell rings when we enter. An older lady smiles at us from behind the cash. Harry says hello.

“This isn't a Christian bookstore, is it?” I whisper to him.

He grins.

“It could be. This is the Bible Belt.”

But thank God, it's just a regular bookstore.

“What do you like to read?” he asks me.

“I dunno,” I shrug. “I usually watch TV.”

“OK, then. What do you watch on TV?”

“Cop shows.”

“OK,” says Harry, heading for one of the shelves. “That means Crime or Thriller.”

He's going up and down the aisles until he finds what he wants. He picks a paperback out. A thriller with a cop badge on the front. He holds it up for me to look at.

“Sure,” I shrug.

Harry goes to the cashier and pays for the book. Then he sits down at one of the small tables set up in the corner of the bookstore by the front window. I join him. The same lady who was at the cash register comes over and asks him what we'd like.

“Two extra large coffees and a plate of biscotti,” he says. Then he opens the book and starts reading to me.

At first I feel about five years old. But he keeps reading and I get into it.

It's pulp fiction at its best.

There's a cop killer on the loose and the head of the department wants the guy caught. He puts his two best investigators on the job, interestingly, a man and a woman. Predictably there's tension between the two. You'd have to be an imbecile not to know that they're going to end up falling wildly in love with each other in the end.

By the time we've finished our large coffees and our plate of biscotti, Harry has made it up to chapter five. It's black outside. The clock on the wall says 8:55 and the woman tells us she's closing in five minutes.

Not my usual way to spend an evening. But then Harry is not your usual kind of guy.

 


 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Seven

 

 

 

 

 

P

eter gives us a little grin at breakfast the next morning.

Kelly is there, looking tired and staring at Harry. My theory that this isn't her usual routine is confirmed when Mrs. Maine raises her eyebrows and puts two more pieces of bread in the toaster.

There are two other students around the large table in the kitchen. One of them is a tall, blond guy who has a Calculus II textbook propped on the table while he eats, obviously cramming for a test. The other person is a girl with curly blonde hair and wearing a cheerleader sweater. Shep's probably been out with her.

Harry makes light conversation. Says we've just arrived and does anyone know some good places to hangout? Calculus II just ignores him. Curly Blonde says there's an awesome club on some street. Kelly says that one's for losers only and that everyone's now going to . . . and she names another place. Then the two girls spend the rest of the breakfast glaring at each other.

Peter follows us up the stairs and furtively tells us he's got some info. He hurries us into his room.

“Susan was asking around yesterday,” he says, taking his usual seat at the desk, leaving the (once again) unmade bed for us. “We found a Canadian but when Susan asked her if CSIS had ever approached her she said no. So we'll keep asking. But there was something interesting.”

“Uh-huh?” says Harry, leaning forward.

“There was an African girl in the same apartment. A roommate. She heard Susan ask the question. She kind of gasped. So Susan was asking her if she knew anything about it. At first she didn't want to say. But Susan said it was really important. Then the girl told her that an agent from her government had approached her and asked her to work for them.”

“What sort of things?”

“Same as you said. Nothing big. She's delivered an envelope to a faculty house on campus. But the guy told her to hang on, something big was going to happen.”

“Wow,” says Harry, looking at me. “That's exactly what happened to Karen.”

“So, it's not just CSIS,” I say.

“What African country?” Harry asks Peter.

“I have no idea,” says Peter. “I'll ask Susan.”

“Well that certainly broadens things,” says Harry. “It could be a student from any country.”

“Susan said the same thing,” says Peter, looking proud. “From now on, we approach any of the Internationals.”

Harry nods.

“What about you guys?” says Peter.

“We could do the same thing,” says Harry. “No one knows we're not students. We could just go into the cafeteria or the library . . .”

“You'd need a student card for the library,” says Peter. “You know, they make you swipe it as you go through the turnstile.”

Peter snaps his fingers.

“I have a better idea. Go to the soccer fields. A lot of the internationals play soccer. You're more likely to run into them there than anywhere else.”

“Great idea!” says Harry. “Where are they?”

“The southeast corner of the campus. Just walk down Old Omen Road, past the main entrance and you'll come to them.”

“Old Omen Road? That's . . . ?

“You know the road that goes to the grocery store?”

“Yeah.”

“Go in the opposite direction of the grocery store. You'll pass a couple of side streets, and then you'll get to a main road. The campus is right there. You'll be on Old Omen Road then.”

“Thanks!”

“Any other plans for today?” asks Peter as we stand up.

“Nope, though I'd love to take in one of Dr. Kirschbaum's lectures, if I could. We're following a lead with him.”

“Oh you'd like him,” says Peter. “I've heard he's really good.”

“Catch you later!” says Harry as we go out into the hallway.

We exit the house and follow Peter's directions. Sure enough, we are soon walking along the outer perimeters of the campus. A campus security car passes by but he has no reason not to think we're just students out walking.

Peter's right.

The international students are out in the early morning practising their soccer. I hear their laughter mixed with accented English as we head around the soccer field to a small section of bleachers. There are two fields but we pick the one where they look more relaxed, as if they're just fooling around. The other field has an informal but intense game going on.

When one of the guys comes over to the bleachers to relace his shoes, Harry says hi.

“Hi,” says the guy, glancing at him briefly.

“I'll get to the point,” says Harry. “I'm an investigator.”

At first I think he's making this up. Then I remember. We are investigators.

“Yeah?” The guy looks Mediterranean, or maybe Cuban.

“And we're on a case,” continues Harry.

“Yeah, so?” He's done doing his laces and is now facing Harry who has stood up.

“Some students are being approached by their governments and asked to do work for them.”

“What kind of work?” Now the guy looks concerned.

“Spy work.”

“I'm not going to do any spy work!” says the guy. He's seriously alarmed.

“No!” says Harry. “I'm not asking you to do spy work! I'm asking you if you know anyone who's been approached by their government to do some kind of work for them.”

The guy shakes his head emphatically and hurries away.

“Well that didn't go well.”

“I could have phrased it better,” agrees Harry. “But I think it'll be OK.”

He's right.

The guy has hurried out onto the field and is conferring with one of his soccer mates. This guy also looks Cuban but is bigger and scarier. But Harry's ready for him. When the guy starts heading our way, Harry stands up and starts walking toward him. His hand is out for a handshake. The guy ignores it.

“You got problems with us?” he asks. “We haven't done anything wrong. And we're in America now.”

“I know,” says Harry.

The other soccer players are interested, though they're keeping their distance.

Harry jerks his head in the direction of the other players who have stopped scrimmaging and are just watching what's unfolding.

“Let's all talk,” says Harry heading out to the centre of the field. The large Cuban and I are following.

“Hi guys!” says Harry.

No one answers.

“I'm here investigating something that's going on here at this campus.”

The guys just keep staring. There are about eight of them.

“Some of the international students have been approached by an agent of their government asking them to do some work for them while they're here in America.”

The guys look at one another. Mostly it's looks of disbelief.

The big Cuban tells Harry, “Get off the field, we want to play.”

But one of the guys startles us all and says, “That happened to my girlfriend.”

Everybody looks at him.

“I'm from Puerto Rico,” he says. “So is Maria. Some guy came up to her and asked her if she could do some work for Borinquen while she's here.”

Borinquen?” says Harry.

“That's what we call it,” explains the guy. “Nothing much at first. I think she had to deliver an envelope to some faculty member's house. She was told to keep her eyes open. And the last thing the guy said was that something big is going to happen. She's scared. But she doesn't want to go to the police. They told her not to go to the police.”

“That's exactly the sort of thing I'm talking about,” says Harry, nodding. “Can you tell me a bit about your girlfriend?”

“She's really hot!” calls out one of the soccer players and gets a punch on the shoulder from the boyfriend.

“What can I say?” he says. “She's a nice girl. We're going to get married after school.”

“And live here in the States?” asks Harry.

“No. We'll go back to Borinquen. Her father has a big plantation there. Dinero en abundancia.” All the guys laugh. “Lots of money,” he translates for us.

“If you hear anything else . . .” says Harry, pulling a small notepad from his pocket, along with a pen. “Call me at this number.” He scribbles a number down and tears the paper off the pad.

The guy says, “Sure.” He sticks the number in the back pocket of his shorts.

The soccer scrimmage starts up again and we head off the field.

 “This is getting bigger than we thought,” says Harry. We're heading over to the other soccer field. “I hate to admit it, but Karen could be right.”

There are no bleachers by this field so we sit down on the grass near some bottles of water and sports drink.

This time around, we're not so successful. When the guys come over to sit down and drink their water, none of them have had any contact with government agents and they seem to think that we are escapees from a lunatic asylum.

“Enough detective work for today?” I say as we're hurrying away.

Harry shakes his head.

“Something about this . . .”

“I want a hot coffee,” I say. We had to sit and watch that second game for about 45 minutes and the grass was damp.

 “Exactly what I was thinking!” he says. “Let's get a coffee!”

“Where?” I say, looking around. Buildings everywhere. “Which one's the dining centre?”

“My guess is there,” says Harry pointing to one particular building. “See how the main entrance more or less leads right to it? Generally, that's where the centre of things is.”

We pass a building that's clearly marked as an Athletic Center and then after that, Harry's right. It's the student centre. We enter into a wide, bright foyer and turn into the dining hall.

It's between meals and quiet, but you can still get a coffee or grab a muffin.

A lot of students are seated at tables, books open, sipping a coffee or a tea or bottled water while they study. A few of the faculty are having some kind of a meeting at a corner table.

Harry surveys the room. I'm eyeing the coffee, he's eyeing a tall, slim Asian girl at a table, working on a laptop. Before I can say anything, he's heading for her and sitting down across from her.

She looks up, startled.

“Hi,” says Harry. “Can I talk to you?”

“Uh, sure,” says the girl.

“I'm an investigator,” he says. “And I need to ask you a few questions.”

She looks nervous.

“Are you with campus security?”

“No,” he says. “But it relates to campus security.”

“I don't want to talk to you,” she says, quickly returning to her laptop.

“My guess is that you've been told not to talk to anyone.”

“Please go away.”

“You've been approached by a government agent. . .”

The girl gasps.

I've just been standing behind Harry, but now I sit down across from the girl.

“Please,” I say, quickly, sensing that Harry's charm may not be working. “Something's going on here and we need to figure out what. You're not the only one. And it's not on the level. Whatever anyone's said to you, it's bull.”

“What do you mean?” she says. She's looking at me, not Harry. Finally I'm getting a chance to talk to someone.

“You're not from Texas, are you?” I say.

She shakes her head.

“No, I'm from Hong Kong.”

“And recently someone approached you and asked you to work for your government, just keep an eye on things, and maybe deliver a few envelopes now and then.”

The girl's eyes are wide.

“You've probably been told recently that something big is going to happen, or to be prepared, or something like that.”

The girl nods.

“But how did you know?”

“It's been happening to some other people,” I say. “It's probably a bunch of crap and we're trying to figure out what's really going on.”

“Oh my God,” says the girl. She sounds terrified.

Harry pulls out the notebook and writes down his cell number.

“I'm Harry,” he says. “This is Meg.”

“I'm Mae,” says the girl.

“You can call us anytime, day or night. OK? If the man approaches you again, call, OK?”

“The man who contacted you,” I say. “Was he olive-skinned with dark hair?”

“No,” says Mae. “He was Asian.”

“Well, that makes sense,” says Harry. “If he was posing as a government agent.”

“Yeah,” I say. “I guess it's not just one person doing it.”

Mae, if it is possible, looks even more scared than before.

“Can I call campus security?” she asks.

“Of course,” says Harry. “You can call the police, if you want. We started investigating this when a Canadian girl was approached. But we have no problem with the police taking over.”

“OK,” says Mae, looking uncertain.

Harry seems like he's going to stand up but I want to ask a few more questions.

“Why did you come all the way to Texas?” I say.

“My father says I can get a good understanding of how America works if I study here and that I will be working with Americans so I should understand them.”

“Your dad has a business?” I say.

“Yes,” Mae nods. “We do much business with the Americans. We used to do business with the British. My father went to school in England.”

I nod.

“OK Mae,” I say. “Take it easy, OK? You're not alone. Don't do anything crazy.”

“Yes,” agrees Harry. “If the guy wants to meet with you again, make sure it's in a public place and if you know it's going to happen ahead of time, give us a call, OK?”

Mae nods.

We stand up and leave the dining hall without getting my coffee.

“You know,” says Harry. “Maybe we should talk to campus security. This is getting serious and they need to know.”

“I think we can handle this ourselves,” I say.

“I don't want anyone to get hurt,” insists Harry.

It's useless to argue with Harry when his Christian conscience gets in the way.

“Fine, whatever. But don't be surprised if they think you're crazy.”

Harry stops a couple of girls and asks them where campus security is. They look at us strangely for not knowing but point us in the direction that we came, Old Omen Road.

We go back down the road, checking every building, but none of them seem to have anything to do with security. Then, when we're past the campus, we come to a building on its own. It's labelled University Service Centre and one of its occupants are the campus police.

I almost don't want to go in. Let Harry go in alone and make a fool of himself.

But then I'm glad I do go in because Harry's story is well-received and taken seriously.

“Believe it, or not, we've had interesting things like this happen before,” says the chief of the security staff, a tall slim older man with grey hair and a police uniform. “But never all at once.”

“That's what worries me,” says Harry. “How many other people have been approached? We've just been blessed to find the ones we did.”

“Needle in a haystack,” agrees the officer.

“Is it some kind of scheme to get them into bed?” I ask, trying to be part of this discussion.

The officer glances at me.

“Could be. But there's something about it that doesn't feel right. Could you tell me the whole story again? Don't leave out any details. Anything and everything.”

So Harry goes through it all again. And the officer takes a lot of notes.

This time, he asks Harry for more details about Karen and his relationship with her. Harry is candid. She's an ex-girlfriend. He knows her well.

The officer asks questions about her family. Everything that Karen said to her mother. Anything that Harry can remember.

It takes so long that another officer brings us in some coffee and some sandwiches.

Then we talk about what's happened since we're here.

“Describe the man you saw at the party.”

Once again, Harry goes through the whole thing including how we followed him and found out that he's Dr. Kirschbaum.

“He's not.” The officer shakes his head.

“What?” says Harry.

The officer gets up and goes to a bookshelf behind his desk. He takes down a yearbook and turns to the faculty then shows Harry and I a photo.

“Was this the man you saw?”

We both shake our heads.

The photo above the name F. Kirschbaum is of an extremely thin man, glasses, completely bald.

“I'll have to talk to Dr. Kirschbaum about this man,” says the officer, scribbling down some more notes.

“So, the second girl was an African student. We'll have to find out more about her. And the third girl was from Puerto Rico. Tell me everything her boyfriend said.”

Harry does and then we take turns telling him all about Mae.

“I hope she talks to us,” says the officer. “I don't want her to feel scared. If any of these people call you, I want you to call us right away.”

He hands us each a business card with his name and number on it.

“Will do.”

“No more investigating on your own,” says the officer. “We'll work together on this, OK?”

“Of course,” says Harry, putting the business card in his breast pocket.

“Thanks for coming in,” says the officer, who according to the card still in my hand, is Daniel Stewart. He shakes both our hands before showing us to the door.

“Congratulations, Harry,” I say, once we're outside. “I think he actually believed you.”

Harry gives me one of his grins.

“Why not?”

“What now?” I say.

“Go back and see if Peter's around. Update him. He and Susan are going to have to tell Officer Stewart everything they know.”

“I hope they don't mind.”

“I doubt it. Peter will probably enjoy it.”

Per usual, Harry is correct.

Peter is studying in his room and is thrilled to be told that he should go and tell Officer Stewart everything he knows. Soon he has Susan on the cell phone and they're working it out when they'll go to the University Service Center to make their full report. Their only regret is that they don't have anything new to report.

“Don't worry,” says Harry. “Officer Stewart will make you go through it all twice.”

This cheers up Peter.

“So what do you think he meant by no more investigating on our own?” I say, once we're back in my room and Harry is at the desk while I'm flopped on the bed. “Does that mean we pack our bags and go home?”

“No,” says Harry. “I think it just means we report anything to him right away.”

“Yeah,” I say. “I guess.”

“You don't sound too into it.”

“Well, it's just that we've gotten lucky,” I say. “Going into the dining hall like that and going up to a girl that's been approached by some government guy, well, it is like a needle in a haystack.”

“Actually, it's more like God directing our steps,” say Harry.

“How do you believe that?” I say. “What makes you think God cares about this case? I'm the one who insisted we come here. If it were up to you, we'd be in Antarctica now.”

“And we'll still make it to Antarctica,” says Harry. “It's only, what, January 7th? I'm going to call Mrs. Sheppard and tell her we'll be going there sometime this month. She can tell me how we go about arranging the trip.”

“How can you be so sure we'll be done here?”

“Because each girl was told the same thing. Something's going to happen soon. Whatever this is about, we've come in at the tail-end.”

“But what?” I say. I sit up. “What? Is it some international spy ring? Or is it terrorist stuff? Like, maybe each girl will be asked to deliver a suitcase to some place in the States and they'll have to go by plane and then the plane will blow up.”

“I thought of that,” says Harry. “It could be something like that.”

He gets up and gets the Dr. Pepper out of the fridge. He takes a swig and then passes it to me.

“Well, shouldn't we be out there doing something?”

“At this point we can wait for a phone call,” says Harry. “Either from the Puerto Rican guy or from Mae. I guess we could go out and look for more people but I don't think we'd learn anything more.”

“Yeah, I guess you're right,” I say, handing the Dr. Pepper back to him after taking a sip. “I wish we had a television.”

Harry grins and reaches into his knapsack on the desk.

The cop novel.

He reads two chapters and is halfway through the third when there's a knock at the door.

 


 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Eight

 

 

 

 

 

I

t's Peter and Susan and they're excited.

“We were just going to go to the USC but Susan got a call!”

“From the African girl?” Harry.

“From her Canadian roommate,” says Susan. “Her name is Shelly. The African girl's name is Tameeka. She's all freaked out. The government guy approached her again and says she'll have to go on a special mission. It's vital to the security of Botswana.”

“C'mon!” says Harry. “Let's get over to Officer Stewart! If it's happened with her, it's going to happen to the others soon!”

We all hurry out the door and practically jog down the road. At least until Peter announces that he's going to die if he can’t stop to catch his breath. He's definitely not the athletic type.

By now, it's about four o'clock.

We get to the USC just as Officer Stewart is leaving, but when he hears our news, he turns right back and waves for us to follow him into his office.

“That must be Tameeka Athan Botton,” he says to Susan.

Susan nods.

“I think her dad owns a diamond mine, or something?”

Officer Stewart nods as he reaches for some kind of directory from a pile of books on his desk.

“She's gorgeous,” Susan tells me. “Her roommate told me that her dad's English and her mom's African.”

I nod politely.

Officer Stewart is making a phone call. Evidently it is to Tameeka Athan Botton. He identifies himself with campus security and tells her that he's concerned about her safety. He'll be sending a security car over to pick her up. He warns her not to go with anyone else in the meantime. He hits another button on his phone and is telling dispatch to send a car out to the Pines.

Just as he's hanging up, Harry's phone rings.

It's the Puerto Rican guy. Miguel, as it turns out. Maria has just been contacted by the government agent who has told her she'll be going on a special mission. Officer Stewart grabs the phone from Harry and tells Miguel the same thing. Stay there. Don't go anywhere. Where are you? He's sending a campus security car right away. Another car is dispatched.

As soon as he clicks the button to hang-up, it rings again.

It's Mae, she's frantic. Says she's been calling Harry but it was busy. The government agent is going to meet with her tonight to tell her about her mission. Officer Stewart goes through the drill again and Mae is calmed down by the assurance that campus security will look after her.

“Now we're just waiting for one more call,” says Officer Stewart. “From your friend, Karen.”

Harry shakes his head.

“Karen won't call me. She thinks I'm back in Canada.”

Officer Stewart raises his eyebrows. He reaches for his directory again.

“What did you say her last name was again? Winters . . .”

“Winters-Waterborn.”

Officer Stewart calls her dorm. She's not there but he leaves an urgent message for her to call him back.

Harry reaches into a pocket for her cell phone number and Officer Stewart tries that. But the phone is turned off.

It only takes a few minutes for Tameeka, Maria (and Miguel), and Mae to all arrive in Officer Stewart's office.

They each have a story to tell but it's all, more-or-less, the same one.

It's Karen's story but with their own nationality substituted. And from the description, each man is different though it's possible the CSIS guy also played the role of the Puerto Rican.

“Oh my God,” says Officer Stewart, going pale. “This is big.”

I know what he means. Just one guy and he could turn out to be a psycho pervert who should be locked up in a mental institute. But this is a well-thought out plan involving more than just one man.

So now Officer Stewart is phoning the local police.

And they're sending investigators over.

And we all have to tell our stories over again.

I'm a little embarrassed to be talking to real police investigators. It's my dream to be one of them. But they're really cool and professional and just ask a lot of questions.

They ask so many questions that Officer Stewart has to send out for pizza for all of us. And call his wife and say he's going to be very late.

Campus security is on full alert in case there are more girls who have been contacted and told they are going to be sent on a secret mission. Descriptions of the so-called government agents are being distributed all over Texas. The girls are even helping police artists make pictures of each guy.

“You can go now,” Officer Stewart says to me and Harry. Peter and Susan were already sent home. “Stick together. But I don't think you're in any danger, otherwise I'd make you stay somewhere here on campus. But keep me informed if you hear anything, anything at all.”

“Have you heard from Karen?” asks Harry.

Officer Stewart shakes his head.

“So if you guys run across her, please escort her right back here.”

“We will,” says Harry. He's looking concerned.

“Are you worried?” I say, as we're heading back down the road.

“A little bit. But Karen's a real party girl. It's possible she just went out clubbing.”

“How does she do it? Parties and school and all that.”

“She doesn't do well at school,” says Harry. “She just does OK. She gets C's when she could get A's.”

“I guess when you have money you don't have to worry about stuff like that.”

Then I feel stupid. Harry's family has money.

But he's not offended. He looks preoccupied.

“Are you worried?” I ask again.

“No,” says Harry, honestly. “I don't love Karen. So I'm not out of my mind with fear, or anything. I'd be more worried if you went missing.”

Wow.

“It's her mom I'm thinking of,” he says.

Ahhh,” I say, getting it. “We were sent down here to make sure she was OK and now maybe she isn't.”

“Exactly.”

“That is a problem.”

“It is,” says Harry. “So I think we'd better find her.”

“I agree,” I say. “But where do we start?”

“Her extension is 3214. I noticed when Officer Stewart called her. So we have to get a directory and see where that is.”

“The dining hall?”

He nods. We turn and walk back, passing the USC and entering the campus through the main entrance. It's about 7:00 now and the dining hall is busy but with a winding-down feeling. The food line has just closed but people are still talking and finishing up and drinking coffee. We find a phone booth outside of the entrance and start flipping through the directory, looking at all the extensions.

“Ah, here it is,” says Harry. “It's one of those Pine apartments.” He writes down the number of the building. “We'll just have to see if she's home.”

But when we get there, a police car is already outside of the building and we meet the two investigators who we talked to back at USC. They're getting out and going into the building.

One of them recognizes us.

“Worried about your friend?” he asks Harry.

Harry nods.

“We are too. We’re going to talk to a roommate, try to get some idea where she might be.”

“Can we come?” I ask.

He shakes his head.

“Wait here. And if there's anything we can tell you, we will.”

There's a bench to sit on and it's gotten quite cool. Our coats are back at the house. This wasn't a problem when we were moving, but it is now that we're just sitting.

Harry puts his arm around me.

“To stay warm,” he explains.

“Of course,” I say. Harry the Noble. But I move in a little closer.

I guess the investigators are as thorough with Karen's roommate as they are with us because we wait a long time.

Finally they come out.

“Can you tell us anything?” asks Harry, as we stand up.

“Wish I could,” says the man who talked to us going in. “But the roommate didn't know much. Karen got a phone call, took it in the hallway, and then disappeared.”

“So she's off on a secret mission?” says Harry.

“Unfortunately, that's a possibility,” nods the man. They're getting back in their car.

“There might be other girls,” says Harry, before they close the door. “You know, other girls might be disappearing tonight.”

The man nods.

“That's what we're going to look into now. Goodnight kids.”

And the car door is shut in Harry's face.

“I don't think they want our help,” says Harry, staring at the back of the car as it goes down the road.

“Yep,” I say. “I get that impression too. How about we go back to the room, eat sugar doughnuts and play Rummy?”

Harry sighs.

“It's about all we can do, I guess.”

 

Breakfast is quiet.

Kelly has decided breakfast is not worth it and is not present. Curly blonde cheerleader is text messaging throughout the meal. Tall blond guy has a medical textbook today. Only Peter gives us his little grin.

Afterward, we caucus in his bedroom.

“I'm guessing there'll be some missing students today,” he says, shutting the door behind us. “Susan's on it. She'll let us know.”

“Yeah, I'd really like to know what's going on,” says Harry sitting on the messy bed, me next to him.

“Any word about your friend, there, Karen?”

“As of last night, no. But I don't think anyone's going to be consulting me and Meg anymore. We've done all we can for them. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to try to call her. But I don’t want to use my cell phone . . .”

 “Hey! Why don't I try to call her?” says Peter. He probably thinks Harry’s hesitation has something to do with money. “See if she's in her dorm?”

“Sure,” says Harry telling him the number.

But Karen's phone is still turned off.

I guess it's official. She's missing.

“It's so unreal,” says Peter, leaning back in his chair. “Sending people on a spy mission. Do you think they're going to end up blowing themselves up, or something?”

“Meg and I were wondering the same thing. Get them on a plane, something like that.”

“Only thing is,” says Peter. “It's some kind of an international outfit. And international consortiums don't usually do terrorist things.”

“Yeah,” agrees Harry.

I don’t know where either of them picked up this little tidbit of information.

There's silence.

“I can't just sit here and do nothing,” says Harry. “The only thing left to do is to talk to Dr. Kirschbaum. Try to find out who that guy was who was at his house.”

Peter nods.

“You could head over to the campus. Go to his office.”

“You know where it is?” says Harry.

“Sure, I mean, I have general idea. He's PoliSci.”

Peter has a class in half an hour so we head out together.

“Probably there,” he says pointing to one of the buildings before giving us a little wave and heading off.

There's no receptionist in the foyer of the large building but there is a directory and Dr. Kirschbaum's office is on the second floor. We take the stairs and navigate down a hallway. The door with his name is slightly ajar and there is someone else sitting at Dr. Kirschbaum's desk, probably the student assistant, working on papers.

“What can I do for you?” he asks, looking up, pushing his glasses back up his nose.

“Is Dr. Kirschbaum around?” asks Harry.

“Usually, but not today,” says the young man.

Harry takes a risk.

“Talking to the police, probably.” He sits down on one of the padded chairs along the back wall of the room.

“Uh, that's right,” says the young man, looking hesitant.

“That's OK,” Harry assures him. “I know all about it. Meg and I . . .” I sit down beside him.

“. . . we're the ones that got this whole investigation going. The missing students and all.”

“Oh!” says young man. “So you know all about it!”

Harry nods.

“We're worried about Karen Winters-Waterborn, in particular. She disappeared last night and her disappearance is connected with Dr. Kirschbaum, of course.”

“It is?” This is news to the young man.

Harry nods.

“The guy posing as the CSIS agent was staying at Dr. Kirschbaum's.”

Harry's telling him way more than he already knows, but if the guy knows anything, it's the only way to get him talking.

“Oh,” says the young man, thinking about this.”

“The guy who looked Mediterranean?” says Harry. “Olive-complexion, dark hair, mid-thirties . . .”

“Professor Baruch from Tel Aviv University,” nods the young man. “What's CSIS?”

“Canadian Security Intelligence Service,” says Harry. “Is your computer on?” he asks, nodding toward the monitor.

“Yeah,” says the young man.

“May I?” Harry comes around and starts typing and clicking. He's online and looking up something.

I join him and see that he's at the Tel Aviv University site.

“What did you say that guy's name was?”

“Uh, Baruch. David Baruch. Expert in Middle East relations . . .”

Harry has clicked on the faculty button and is typing in 'David Baruch'. David Baruch is about sixty years old with silver hair.

“It's not the same guy,” says the young man, staring at the screen.

“No, it isn't, is it?” agrees Harry. “How did Dr. Kirschbaum fall for this?”

“It was my fault,” says the young man quietly. “We received a letter from him saying that he would be in Tyler and would Dr. Kirschbaum like him to give a few lectures while he was in town?”

“And Dr. Kirschbaum told you to set it all up . . . ?

The young man nods.

“I never thought of looking him up at the Tel Aviv University. The stationary looked official . . .”

“I can understand how it would happen,” says Harry. “Is the so-called professor still staying with Dr. Kirschbaum?”

The young man shakes his head.

“He did a series of lectures and his last one was the day before yesterday. As far as I know, he left yesterday.”

I suddenly have a hunch.

“Did you book him the plane ticket?”

“Yes, I did. When we first contacted him, he said he was in New York. And that's where he wanted to return. It was a flight to New York, last night, leaving out of Dallas.”

Harry and I look at each other.

“Do you think I should tell anyone about the fake Professor Baruch?” asks the nervous young man.

“Sure,” says Harry. “But I'll be reporting back to campus security and they'll probably contact you.”

The young man nods and stands up as we prepare to leave.

“I really wish I'd looked that guy up online.”

“It could have happened to anyone,” says Harry. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

When we're back in the hallway we agree that our new information definitely merits another visit to the USC building.

I don't know whether Officer Stewart is pleased or annoyed at our detective work. He listens carefully and then tells us that he knows most of that already from talking to Dr. Kirschbaum. Apparently Dr. Kirschbaum became suspicious of the man when he didn't display the intellectual calibre one would expect from a university professor. His lectures were OK, but with those he could have just been copying them from a book. It was his conversations over breakfast and dinner that weren't well-thought out. When Dr. Kirschbaum asked him questions about Tel Aviv to further test him, the man obviously had never been there.

But the information about the man's flight to New York redeems us. That's totally new to Officer Stewart. The flight arrangements were obviously strictly between the student assistant and the bogus Professor Baruch.

“Karen's probably with him, eh?” says Harry.

Officer Stewart is already reaching for the phone but he nods.

“Thanks,” he says, while he starts pressing numbers on the phone. “Keep in touch, OK?”

It's a dismissal. But on the upside, it's not a reprimand.

“Well, what now?” I say, when we're back on the street. “We can't exactly fly to New York.”

“Why not?”

“What do you mean?” I turn to him.

“We can do whatever we need to do to get Karen safely back here. And I have a pretty good idea where she is in New York.

“You do?”

Harry nods.

“Her family has an apartment there. There's a possibility that she might be staying there. The fake CSIS guy might even be there too.”

My eyes widen.

Harry nods.

“I think we should fly out of here as soon as we can.”

When we get back, we tell Mrs. Maine that we still want our room, but we might be gone for a few days. Not making toast for us for the next few days doesn't seem to bother her. But she asks us how our case is going. Harry gives her a brief update and assures her that campus security and the police are handling a lot of it now. Far from being encouraged, she's actually alarmed that it's gotten serious enough to involve the police. I guess she's thinking of her daughter. When she hears that we're going to New York to rescue one of the girls, she just about faints.

“So we'll have to get to Dallas right away,” Harry concludes.

Mrs. Maine vigorously shakes her head.

“Fly out of Tyler. My husband will drive you.”

She hurries to the phone. Harry and I didn't even know there was an airport in Tyler.

It takes us about five minutes to throw our things back in our knapsacks. Mr. Maine takes a little longer, but he makes up for it on the drive to the airport. His wife must have told him this is an emergency.

He doesn't want to take money for the ride, but Harry insists.

Then we go through the sliding glass doors into the small airport. All of the planes are smaller and the flights are to places in Texas and Louisiana and Oklahoma. A flight to Dallas is leaving in an hour and a half so we book ourselves two seats and go into a little snack bar to kill time and have lunch.

“Do you know where the apartment is?” I ask while we eat our tuna fish sandwiches and drink our coffee.

“I was there once,” he says.

A twinge of jealousy. I try to ignore it.

“Nice place?”

“Oh yeah, some of those apartments have more floor space than an average home. And you wouldn’t believe the number of celebrities that live in her apartment. Actors, writers, a fashion designer, you know, New York people.”

I nod.

“Did you like New York?”

“It was OK, but I wouldn't want to live there. It has way more crazy people there, you know, the kind that just come up and start yelling at you for no reason.”

I've always wanted to be a cop so New York is, like, my dream city. The best cop shows are set in New York. I'm really excited that we're going.

The flight from Tyler to Dallas is only about 20 minutes. And then we're in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, staring up at the huge Departures board, looking for a flight to New York. One is leaving in 27 minutes so we have to run and see if we can get on it last minute.

We barely make it.

We're the last two passengers onto the plane before it taxis out to the runway. This time, Harry is in the middle and I'm on the aisle.

The person in the window seat is a dark-haired, sullen-looking young man with an mp3 player and a leave-me-alone attitude. Even Harry takes the hint and doesn't try to win him to Christ.

Harry offers to share his mp3 player with me, but I opt for the in-flight music. I'd rather pay for the headphones than listen to Harry's Christian music.

We get a full meal on this flight. While we eat, Harry scores big for Christianity. He gets the sullen guy talking.

First, he asks him if he lives in New York.

The guy nods, but keeps his eyes on his food. Then Harry asks him if he can recommend a seriously cheap place to stay while we're there.

The guy laughs.

“Good luck.”

“Yeah, I know,” says Harry. “I was hoping you might know something because I have a feeling we're going to get ripped off.”

“You will,” nods the guy, sounding normal now. The sullen attitude is gone. “How long you gonna be in New York?”

“Just a night, maybe two.”

“Yeah, you can't do much then. If you were going to be there longer, you could stay in Jersey and take the train in. They have some places out there you can rent a month at a time. Pretty decent prices. My sister did that once when she was visiting my mom.”

“Your mom's in New York?”

The guy nods.

“Dad's in Dallas. I go back and forth a lot. Why are you going to New York?”

“Looking for a missing friend,” says Harry. “I think I know where she might be, though. It's a long shot, but it's worth a try.”

“That's serious,” says the guy, interested. “She go missing in Dallas?”

Harry shakes his head.

“Nope. University of Texas at Tyler.”

“Oh!” says the guy. “Is she the one I read about in the paper?”

“I don't think so,” says Harry. “Why? What's in the paper?”

“I don't have it anymore. I read it in Dallas. Some hotel heiress has gone missing. At least, her dad thinks she’s gone missing. He called his daughter and she didn't answer her cell phone. Then he called her dorm and she wasn't there. He got worried and called campus security and they said they were working on it. And then he hit the roof and called The Dallas Morning News.”

Harry and I look at each other.

“I wonder if it's related?” says Harry. He turns back to the guy. “Was she an American?”

“No,” the guy says. “She was from India. Her father has hotels all over Asia.”

“Definitely connected,” says Harry.

“You mean your missing girl and this one?”

Harry nods.

“The pattern's starting to become obvious. A female. An international student. All from rich families.”

“It's a kidnapping!” says the guy, excited.

“We think so,” I say, even though we hadn't really said so up to this point. Besides, I have to say something.

“Can I help?” he says.

This takes us by surprise.

“C'mon!” the guy pleads. “I can let you guys stay at my mom's place! She won't care. She's never home. She's got some new boyfriend and they're out all the time.”

“OK,” says Harry. “It's actually a good idea. We don't know what we'll be up against. And I really don't know my way around New York.”

“I do,” the guy assures us.

We introduce ourselves. His name is Andy. He's 18-years-old and plays lead guitar for a heavy-metal band. He asks Harry what kind of music Harry likes.

“Christian,” says Harry.

“I don't,” I say quickly.

“Cool,” says Andy, but he's not talking to me. “My sister's into all that Jesus stuff. She got into it after our parents split up. She gave me some CDs from Christian heavy metal bands. I really like them. It sort of makes you think.”

Harry nods.

Christian heavy metal? Unreal. Do Christians have their tentacles on everything?

When we land at LaGuardia airport, I am so glad we have Andy with us since he knows exactly where to go. The place is huge. It's like an enormous mall of continual shops and services. I wouldn't be surprised if there's a football stadium tucked away somewhere. So many airlines fly out of LaGuardia that there are people from all over the world milling around. But Andy leads us through the crowds, down endless hallways of stores and departure lounges, until finally we're in a large well-lit atrium where we can exit and grab a cab.

New York City!

I've seen so many movies set in New York so the skyline is familiar, but actually being on the ground is a different feeling. My head is swivelling to take it all in.

Andy's mom lives in Manhattan. She was a supermodel until she married Andy's father who has something to do with oil. When they got divorced, she started seeing some doctor. Or maybe it's a lawyer. Andy doesn't know and he doesn't care.

It's one of those apartments that have a doorman and you can't just walk in, the guy has to recognize you. But he knows Andy, so we go inside and take the elevator up to the 17th floor.

A maid answers the door. She welcomes Andy and says that his mother is sleeping.

“Sleeping?” I say.

“Yeah,” says Andy. “She's out all night. I might get to see her while she's getting ready.”

But the apartment seems to run itself fine without Andy's mom.

There's a cook in the kitchen and after Andy tells him that he has two friends with him, we go to Andy's room to figure out what to do next.

“I think the first thing we should do is see if she's at her apartment,” says Harry.

“Where is it?” says Andy.

“Somewhere around here, I think. This is the Upper West Side, right?”

Andy nods.

“We're at 80th. Between Amsterdam and Columbus.”

“She said Ben Stiller lived in the same apartment.”

“Oh yeah!” says Andy. “I know the one.”

“Ben Stiller?” I say. “Really?”

“Uh-huh,” says Harry. “And she says she saw Madonna at a café nearby.”

“Probably the Café Alou,” says Andy. “That's the one in You've Got Mail.”

“You mean with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan?” I ask. “Who else lives around here?”

“Lots of people,” says Andy. “Alec Baldwin. Jerry Seinfeld. Mick Jagger. I've actually seen him. My mom knows Jerry Hall. Oh, and Barbra Streisand. Our maid really likes her. She has all her CDs.”

“Wow,” I say.

“My sister saw Demi Moore around here once. My sister only stays here when she wants to go to the Lava Lounge at night. She and mom don't really get along.”

“Do you know Karen's apartment number?” I ask Harry.

“Yeah, they're on the 18th floor. Turn left when you get off the elevator. There are only two apartments on her floor.”

“But how are we going to get in?” I say. “We can't just buzz her and say we're here.”

“Sure we can,” says Harry.

Yes, it's true. I have a sinking feeling that Karen will be very happy to see Harry again.

“So why did she come here anyhow?” says Andy.

Harry has to explain that all these girls were told that they were on a secret spy mission.

Andy is incredulous.

“And they believed it?”

Harry shrugs, but he's grinning.

“What?” I demand. I suddenly feel the need to defend my gender. “It's not entirely unbelievable. And for all we know, some of the rich guys were recruited too.”

“I doubt it,” says Harry. And he and Andy grin at each other.

I come pretty close to hitting him.

“I mean, c'mon Meg! What guy is going to fall for someone telling him that CSIS wants to recruit him to deliver a few brown paper envelopes?”

Now I really do hit him.

“But what's the point of telling them they're on a spy mission?” I say. “If it's just a kidnapping?”

“I think it's genius,” says Andy. “Then they just go off willingly on some screwy mission. No grabbing them and having to hide them somewhere. They do their mission while their parents get the ransom note. The money's paid and then they come back and don't even know they were kidnapped until afterward.” Andy sounds so impressed that I wonder if he might attempt a similar scheme himself.

Andy looks at his watch.

“Cook makes dinner for seven. That gives us two hours. C'mon! Let's go!”

Unlike Texas, New York City is as cold as Toronto. We put on our winter coats and go back down the elevator and out the door into the slushy, chilly street. The sun's going down.

“Is this neighbourhood safe at night?” asks Harry.

“Oh yeah,” says Andy. “Nothing ever happens here. The 20th precinct is just over on 82nd. And they patrol all the time so the celebrities can all feel safe.”

Karen's apartment is only five minutes away.

We tell the doorman that we're here to visit Karen Winters-Waterborn and that we can just buzz her and let her know we're here.

“I'm sorry,” says the man, politely, but firmly. “No visitors.”

“No visitors for the whole apartment?” I say.

He gives me a look of pity.

“For the Winters-Waterborn apartment.”

“OK,” says Harry. “Thanks.”

“Is that all?” I demand, as we're walking away. “That's a big lead! Something's going on! That means someone's there!”

“It could be her father for all I know,” says Harry. “But even so, we'll have to think of a way to get in there.”

“My mom,” says Andy. “I'll talk to her. She knows so many people, she's got to know somebody in that apartment. We'll get in somehow.”

“And I'm going to call Officer Stewart,” says Harry. “I want to update him and let him know there's a possibility that Karen is here.”

I sigh. As usual, there's nothing for me to do except go along for the ride.

Once we're back at the apartment, Harry makes his call to Texas while Andy goes off to see if his mom is awake.

We meet Andy's mom in the kitchen. She's seated at the long counter, wearing a purple silk bathrobe and yawning while the cook pours her a coffee. Even though she's about 40, she's slim and attractive with long red hair. Right away she looks at me and smiles.

“Hi sweetie,” she says. “Are you Andy's girlfriend?”

Uhhh . . .” Andy is blushing. “Yeah Mom, these are my friends.”

I guess he didn't tell her that we're just people he met on the plane.

“Nice to meet you,” she says, yawning again before taking a sip of coffee. “Are you guys going out tonight?”

“I dunno,” says Andy. “We wanted to visit a friend in the apartment where Ben Stiller lives, you know the one?”

“Sure,” she nods. “My lawyer lives there.”

“But the doorman won't let us in.”

“Why not?”

Now, at this point, instinct would tell me that we should probably make up a good story. But for some reason, Andy is like Harry. He tells the truth. It must be that Christian sister of his.

“He told us they don't want to be disturbed.”

“Then don't disturb them.”

“But we think the girl's been kidnapped.”

Andy's mom raises her perfectly sculpted eyebrows. The cook keeps working but he seems interested too.

“Yeah? Why?”

And then Harry is telling the whole story. More or less.

And Andy's mom is showing more interest in it, especially when she finds out that the girl in question is Karen Winters-Waterborn. Turns out, she knows her dad and also knows for certain that he's in the Caribbean entertaining some big Hollywood producer.

“So he didn't leave the message,” says Andy. “See, Mom? We've got to do something!”

“Yeah, I guess we should,” says Andy's mom, but not with any great urgency. “What should we do, Armande?” This is directed to the cook.

“Call the police, ma'am,” says Armande. He is working on our dinner which looks quite elaborate. He's putting together plates that look as if we're in a fancy restaurant.

“I know what I'll do,” says Andy's mom. “I'll call my lawyer. He can look into it. And then he can call the police.” She reaches for a cell phone on the counter and is soon talking to a man that she calls, “Darling” and is telling him that there's an abducted girl in his apartment building, the Winters-Waterborn apartment, and from the sounds of it, he's so confused, she just hands the phone to Harry. Harry goes through the whole spiel again while Armand lays our plates out on the table.

I think it's veal. And little round potatoes. And carrots served in long slivers with some kind of almond sauce on top. I just stare at my plate before I actually start to eat. Of course, Andy and Harry, rich snots that they are, take it all for granted.

The lawyer decides that he is not going to go investigate the Winters-Waterborn apartment all by himself. He doesn't sound like he wants to face any kidnappers. That's when Andy grabs the phone and says we'll be happy to come over there and do it with him.

I'm thinking there's no way the lawyer is going to go for this. He'll just call the police. But amazingly, there is a long pause while Andy waits. And then the lawyer says, sure, come on over. He'll tell the doorman to expect us.

Armande puts some dainty cookies and coffee down for us and we hurriedly eat. In the meantime, Andy's mom says she has to get dressed and disappears. Will she be coming too?

No, apparently not. She comes out dressed to kill in a long cream cocktail dress with shimmery pink heels. She tells Andy to “Have fun” and kisses him on the cheek, then heads out the door.

My eyes are wide.

“She's going to let you do this? She's not going to stick around and make sure you're OK?”

Andy shrugs.

“Why do you think she and Dad split up? She's kind of focused on herself.”

Armande shows more concern. He tells Andy to be very careful and to call the police the minute he knows it's dangerous. Don't take any risks. Make the lawyer take the risks. That's what he gets paid for.

And then we're off, down the elevator and out into the chilly night air.

This time the doorman lets us in and tells us Mr. Kronenberg is expecting us. Apartment 14B.

We take the elevator up and are greeted at the door by a nervous Mr. Kronenberg.

“I hope this isn't too . . .” he says. He doesn't seem inclined to finish the sentence. He's an older man wearing a light blue dress-shirt and black slacks.

“Oh, I think it's real,” Andy assures him. “I read about it in The Dallas Morning News. There's something going on in Texas. Heiresses are being abducted. They might be here now.”

This does not cheer up Mr. Kronenberg one smidgeon.

“Well,” he says. “We'll check it out and call the police. I don't want to call the police until I know it's not some . . .”

Again, the sentence remains unfinished.

We take the elevator up to Karen's floor.

Mr. Kronenberg cautiously steps off the elevator into the small hallway. With just two apartments, it’s really more of a foyer. He orders me to stay in the elevator pressing the 'Door open' button.

Mr. Kronenberg, Andy and Harry all move silently toward the Winters-Waterborn apartment. It's almost comical. They're tiptoeing and when they get to the door, Mr. Kronenberg puts his ear to it and listens for a minute.

“Nobody there,” he announces, straightening up.

“Let's just make sure,” says Andy, pounding on the door.

Mr. Kronenberg looks horrified.

“If nobody's there, it won't matter,” explains Andy, pounding some more. “Hey! Open up in there!”

Mr. Kronenberg looks like he's going to faint on the spot.

“We know you're in there!”

At this point, Mr. Kronenberg has had enough and is turning back to the elevator. But before he can take a step, the door swings open. In a blur, two pairs of hands yank Andy and Harry into the apartment. Mr. Kronenberg is frozen to the spot. But not for long. Two hands reach out for him and since he's not right in the doorway, the person has to step out slightly.

The man shoves Mr. Kronenberg into the apartment. He looks up and sees me in the elevator. I gasp. I really shouldn’t be surprised. He's the CSIS phoney. And he's coming right toward me.


 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Nine

 

 

 

 

 

T

he door's not going to shut in time.

I'm frantically pressing the 'Door close' button but the man is going to reach me in two steps. And all he'll have to do is stick his foot in the door. That's all it will take to stop this elevator from going anywhere.

I can't do a damn thing.

And that's when I do something completely out of character. I pray. I actually pray out loud.

“Oh God. Shut this door right now!”

I only have time to see the frustration in the man's eyes as the door shuts in his face.

It doesn't do anything to speed up the elevator, but I'm frantically pressing the main floor button. Then a horrible thought hits me. If I were the guy, I'd be dashing down the stairs hoping to stop this elevator at the next floor. I may only be 3 seconds away from facing him again.

If it worked once, it can work twice.

“Oh God! Don't let this elevator stop! Keep it going! Keep it going!”

And we make it to the bottom without stopping. That is, I make it to the bottom without stopping. For a moment there, I really felt like it was me and God in that elevator.

Convincing the doorman that there's a crisis in the Waters-Winterborn apartment (yes, I'm so nervous I get the name mixed-up) is a hurdle that I overcome with hysteria. I manage to convey that Mr. Kronenberger (yes, I mess his name up too) is also a prisoner in the aforementioned apartment. This seems to be enough of an emergency for the doorman to call the police.

Remembering that Andy said that the police precinct is only two blocks away, I'm not surprised that they arrive quickly. Even so, that small break is enough for me to take a lot of deep breaths and become more coherent. I let the two officers know the immediate problem and then for anyone who's interested, I elaborate on the background. The hostage situation is enough to merit calling for back-up and soon the outside of the building is swarming with cop cars. I'm living a cop show. Some investigators, a man and a woman, take me aside in the lobby and ask me to tell the whole story again. Once again, the whole story is told. They're actually not as surprised as I would think. Officer Stewart back in Texas has already called with his concerns and now the two stories are put together.

But just getting the cops here doesn't solve everything.

Now it's a hostage situation. A negotiator arrives and calls up to the apartment building. And the call is answered.

After a few minutes of talk, he gets off with a grim report.

Both Karen and the Indian girl are in the apartment. The ransom messages have been sent out. They haven't been paid yet. When they are, the girls will be released. But the kidnappers weren't expecting to have a complicated departure from the apartment building. So Andy, Harry and Mr. Kronenberg are going to be their hostages until they can get to safety.

This is bigger than just the NYPD. It's an international incident. The apartment has students from Canada and India, which means it involves different agencies. The lobby is filling up with more and more people. I'm slouched in a corner on an elegant couch, told to stay, but with nothing really to do. Except for telling my story over and over to every new agent that shows up.

A reporter somehow gets in and tries to interview me but is escorted out of the lobby by the doorman.

The main foyer is no longer a place for the residents to use. In fact, the doorman has to call everyone and ask them if they can evacuate the apartment due to a situation that is underway. That's all he says, but his understated warning seems to alarm people more than if he'd pulled the fire alarm. They're all hurrying down the stairs and being escorted out the back way. Being rich, I guess they'll find a hotel to stay in.

In the meantime, there are coffee and sandwiches being laid out on a table. It looks like it's going to be a long night.

 

I snooze.

Yes, it's the biggest night of my life, being part of a real live NYPD op, not to mention all the government agents, and I fall asleep. But it's hot in there with all the people moving around and no one needs me after I've told my story 57 times, so I fall asleep.

When I wake-up, my first thought is Harry.

I was too busy to think about him before, but now it hits me hard. Harry is in there and he's going to be a hostage. What if he doesn't get out alive?

The main foyer is as busy as ever.

I look at my watch. It's 2:32 a.m. I get up and make myself a coffee. I'm just finishing it when Andy's mom comes hurrying in. She's managed to evade all of the guards set up to keep ordinary folks out and she is permitted to stay when they find out who she is.

She's breathless and horrified. She didn't go home to find Andy missing. She was just on her way back from dinner with her boyfriend when she saw all the commotion here and had a bad feeling about it. I'm afraid I'm not much comfort to her when I tell her what's going on.

She screams and covers her mouth at the same time. One of the agents hurries over, a woman, and I tell her this is Andy's mom. Andy's mom is gently escorted away and the way she's carrying on I think they'll probably give her a sedative and make her lie down somewhere.

Then something occurs to me that is almost enough to make me hysterical and need to take a sedative.

Harry's up there in that apartment with Karen!

She's probably cuddling up to him for comfort. He's probably telling her to look to Jesus for strength. Maybe he's leading her in some kind of Catholic prayer . . .

No! That would be too much!

Besides, if Harry tells Karen about Jesus, he'll tell everyone about Jesus. Maybe he'll lead them all in Catholic prayer . . .

“Meg? Meg Carmichael?” An attractive woman in her mid-thirties wearing a beige winter coat comes and sits down beside me. Turns out she's some Federal agent. CIA? I'm not really sure. She says she's Amy Merckell and she knows I've told my story a hundred times, but could I do it one more time for her?

“Sure,” I say. And launch on the whole thing. Except this time, I actually start from the beginning. The real beginning. When Harry and I met at the Phillips Christmas party and agreed to investigate the stolen Shanklin diamond necklace.

“I can skip ahead, if you want,” I say. “I mean to the part where we went to Texas.”

“No, no, keep going,” says Amy. “It's good stuff for me to know. You see, I'm handling the hostage end of things. And it would help a lot if I knew what kind of guy Harry Phillips is.”

So she gets the whole story. Of how we went to Drumheller and then Halifax and how we solved a mystery without even knowing it. I tell her all about Harry, even all his Christian faults, and she smiles a lot. I conclude with my elevator story and how I actually prayed and the door seemed to shut faster.

“Harry's so Christian and he goes on and on about it, I guess it affected me a bit.”

“That's a good thing though,” she says, taking some notes. “I'm glad to hear that Harry has a strong faith. A strong faith can make a difference in cases like these.”

“I think I know what you mean,” I say. “Harry won't fall apart. But I am concerned about one thing . . .” I hesitate.

“Uh-huh?” says Amy, encouraging me to go on.

“It's Karen up there.”

“His ex-girlfriend?”

I nod.

“I saw a different side of him when he had to face her. It was like, he thought it was some big test of his faith to face her again.”

“Well, from what you've told me, I can understand that.”

“If she weren't there, I'd say he's rock solid. You can count on him to hold it all together. But she's there. I can't really put my finger on it and tell you exactly what I mean . . .”

“You don't have to,” says Amy, reassuringly. “The main thing is that you've given me all the facts and we can take it from here.”

“What's going to happen?” I ask.

“Well, from what I can tell, both the parents of the hostages are paying the ransom. The ransoms aren't outrageous. It’s really just money from the bank. The kidnappers aren't expecting the parents to mortgage all their assets to pay the ransom. And I think we can be encouraged by that. It shows that they're not ruthless and they're not unreasonable.”

“Yeah, that's a good thing,” I say. “But I wish I could do something.”

“You can,” says Amy, standing up.

“What's that?”

“It sounds like you have God's attention.” She winks. “You can pray.”

Morning comes with very little change to the activity in the foyer. But there is a notable event. One of the parents arrives. It's the Indian girl's father, the one who contacted The Dallas Morning News. After that, he got on a plane and took a direct flight to LaGuardia.

Naturally, he wants to know everything that's going on. He has paid the ransom and now he wants to see his daughter. They seat him near me and soothingly tell him that he should see his daughter soon. The other ransom is still in the process of being paid, just because they had a hard time tracking the father down who out to be in the Caribbean.

That's Karen's father. How ironic considering all the activity is centred on his apartment. I wonder if Karen's mother knows what's going on and what she'll think of our detective services after this.

It doesn't take long for me to find out.

Karen's mother arrives and makes a big stir. After all, she's the owner of the apartment. She is as hysterical as Andy's mom was and has to be calmed down before she can answer a boatload of questions. I guess she can give them a good description of the apartment and how it's all laid-out. The longer they keep her, the more nervous I get. She's probably going to want to talk to me after.

I've never actually met the woman but no doubt she has some awareness of my existence. This is confirmed when one of the investigators points in my direction.

She comes over to me with a real chip on her shoulder. She's a tall, slim woman with grey hair swept back in an elegant bob. Her eyes are red either from crying or from exhaustion.

“Well?” she demands. “What happened? You were supposed to protect my daughter and now she's gotten herself kidnapped!”

There's only one thing to do.

Tell the whole story again, from the beginning.

The Indian father moves in closer when he gets a sense that he's going to get a little more information. I'm not as good as Harry when it comes to telling stories and this is not a sympathetic audience, but I do my best. I keep out the parts about Karen's sleazy life, though, of course, I have to mention the party. But I fill it all in with so many details that when I'm done, Karen's mother has to admit that we haven't exactly been sitting on our hands.

In fact she gives me a little nod and says, “Well, you did your best.” It means a lot coming from a woman whose daughter is upstairs being held captive.

“Did their best!” says the Indian man. “These kids should be given a medal! They were on the job when the campus security had no idea what was going on! And they tracked the girls to this very apartment! I don't know about you,” he says to Karen's mom, “but I would be out of my mind if I didn't know where my daughter was!”

Karen's mom nods.

“My husband just paid the ransom, so we should be seeing our children soon.”

“Now, let me get this straight,” says the Indian man. “Our daughters will be free to go while the men, that Harry and Andy and the lawyer, all have to stay as hostages?”

Karen's mom nods.

“That's what they told me.”

She turns to me.

“I'm sorry, dear,” she says. “I know you must be worried about Harry. He's such a nice boy. I always liked him.”

At this point, the police aren't exactly keeping us peripheral people posted on all new developments, but I have my eye on the negotiator. He's been on the phone a lot and he looks pretty relaxed, in fact he looks downright cheerful.

We soon find out why.

The elevator door opens and the girls come tumbling out of it.

Karen's mom gasps and dashes over to her daughter. The Indian man is crying.

The girls are also crying and they're getting hugs from some of the people in the foyer, even the doorman who's been with us all night.

But, no surprise, Harry, Andy and Mr. Kronenberg are all still back in the apartment. The negotiator now has to get back on the phone and once again, his face is serious.

The girls are interviewed. That takes up most of the morning. Karen's mom sits by her for the interview and then kindly comes over to report everything to me.

They were well-treated in the apartment, plenty of food and pretty much left alone as long as they didn't try to escape. Four men seem to have been in on it, all posing as government agents. They're up in the apartment and they have guns, so it's unlikely that Harry and Andy and Mr. Kronenberg are going to be able to do anything heroic and capture them.

Karen comes over, joining me and her mother.

“Hi,” she says to me. She sounds almost human. “Meg, right?”

I nod.

“Harry says you guys stuck around in Texas to make sure I was OK.”

“Uh, yeah. We wanted to get to the bottom of it.”

Karen's mom puts her arm around me and gives my shoulder a squeeze. Now that Karen's safe, I think we may come out of this OK, as long as Harry survives.

“Well, anyway . . .” says Karen. “Thanks.”

“You're welcome,” I say.

There's a pause. I fill in the silence with the only thing that's really on my mind, at this point.

“How's Harry?”

Karen smiles.

“Oh, he's got Jesus taking care of him. Are you a Christian too?”

I shake my head.

“Well, he's all talking to Andy and they're all talking about how Jesus is going to see them through. And it was making Mr. Kronenberg really mad.”

I smile.

Karen shakes her head at the memory.

“And then when Harry realized he was bugging Mr. Kronenberg, he started asking him about his Jewish faith. And Mr. Kronenberg said he only stayed Jewish to go to the synagogue and stay connected to clients. But he stopped believing in God after the Holocaust.”

“So what did Harry say about that?”

“He asked him how old he was when the Holocaust happened and Mr. Kronenberg said he was born five years after it. And then Harry goes, was your family in Germany at the time? And Mr. Kronenberg said no, they were all in America. So what?”

Karen and I are both grinning.

“So Harry says then, that Mr. Kronenberg is angry at God for things that didn't even affect him. And Mr. Kronenberg is all red and says that Harry's not a Jew, so he wouldn't understand. And Harry says, no, he's not a Jew, but every day around the world, Christians are being put in prison for their faith and that they've been persecuted as much as any other people. But that didn't make him give up on his faith.”

“Wow,” I say.

“And then Mr. Kronenberg got so mad that he stood up and I thought he was going to strangle Harry. So one of the guys, the one who told me he was with CSIS, had to stop him and he told Mr. Kronenberg to go lie down. Sent him into the bedroom as if he were a little kid.”

Karen and I are both laughing.

“Yeah, Harry's a funny guy,” says Karen. There's a pause and then she concludes, “But he's not my type.”

Then a man comes over to tell Karen and her mom that they can put them up in a hotel for the night before flying Karen back to Texas the next day. But since it's actually Karen and her mom's apartment up there, they're giving them the option of staying around if they want.

Karen's mom stands up and says she doesn't care about the apartment. Let her husband worry about that. She and Karen will go to the hotel.

This invitation doesn't seem to include me though. I'm thinking maybe I should go back to Andy's apartment. My stuff is there and I'd really like to change my clothes.

After I get a hug from Karen's mom and even from Karen and they all leave in a taxi, I go over to the front door where a new doorman is on duty. (The old one is just sticking around, but he's not on duty anymore.)

He looks at me.

“Long red hair,” he says, almost to himself.

I just stare at him.

“Come with me,” he says, leading me to a small concierge station. From under it, he pulls out two knapsacks. Mine and Harry's.

“Thanks,” I say, taking them. “Uh, I guess this means I'm not wanted by that lady . . .”

“Mrs. Haverston says that she would prefer you find another place to stay.”

Aaaahhh,” I say. Evidently Andy's mom holds me and Harry responsible for her son becoming a hostage. I return to my corner with the two knapsacks.

I slide my knapsack under the couch and am trying to do the same to Harry's but it's stuck.

I pull it out and try again. Still stuck.

It's a book in the outside pocket that's getting caught. Probably that cop book. I wouldn't mind having some fiction to read to kill the time until someone tells me what I can do.

But it's not the cop book. It's Harry's Bible.

I sigh and am about to put it back.

But then I think about Amy and how she jokingly said God's listening to me right now.

“OK, here goes . . .” I say to myself, or God, if he's listening. “Please take care of Harry. Please keep him safe.”

I'm going to just put the Bible away but then it occurs to me that I've never ever actually opened a Bible. I have no idea what kind of things are in it. I mean, obviously the Ten Commandments and stuff about Jesus. But apart from that, I have no idea why it's so thick.

I open it up somewhere in the middle.

If I'm expecting some kind of lightning bolt from heaven, it doesn't happen. It's just words. My eye falls on something about sing praises to Yahweh, oh you saints. I turn to another page and then I see some words that Harry has underlined. Yahweh is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. And those who know your name put their trust in you. I flip around some more. There are a lot of passages underlined. Some of them are about trust and Yahweh protecting the righteous.

If it's all true, then Harry has nothing to worry about.

I put the Bible away and this time I manage to get the knapsack under the couch. I seriously wish I could take a shower. I wonder if Harry is in the same predicament up in the apartment. Maybe he's had a shower, is dressed in Mr. Winters-Waterborn's clothing, has feasted on a champagne breakfast and is now smoking an after-breakfast Cuban cigar. With that thought, I curl up on the couch and fall asleep.

 

“Meg! Meg!” It's Amy. She's gently shaking me awake.

“Oh, hi!” I say, rubbing my eyes. “Is everything OK? How's Harry?”

“That's why I need to talk to you.”

She's so serious, I'm alarmed.

“Why? What's happened to Harry?” Now I'm panicking.

“He's fine,” says Amy patting my knee. “But you have a big decision to make.”

“What is it?” I ask.

“The men upstairs are ready to move out. But there are four of them and only three hostages. One of the men says that he knows there's a red-headed girl down here.”

I nod, thinking back to that elevator door closing.

“They want us to send you up. Each man wants to have a hostage . . .”

“As a shield,” I say, getting it. “Of course.”

“Now, you don't have to go,” continues Amy. “And we're not asking you to go . . .”

“But I have to,” I say. “Those guys won't accept anyone but me. They don't want you sending up a professional.”

Amy nods.

“But at the same time, we won't make you go,” she says.

I stand up.

“Harry and I got into this together. We'll get out of it together.”

“Atta' girl!” she says, standing up and giving me a big smile. “And don't be afraid, we'll be doing everything to keep you guys safe. We'll let them get away if we have to and we'll catch up with them later.”

The negotiator glances at me as Amy leads me over to the elevator door. He's still talking on the phone. I hear him say, “She's on her way up.”

The elevator door opens up and Amy gives me a big hug.

“Don't forget,” she whispers. “God's listening to you!”

Then the elevator door shuts.

Maybe she was just saying it to be comforting but I do pray the whole way up. I may even be doing it out loud. If I didn't, my legs wouldn't be able to hold me up, I'm so scared.

“Oh God! Help us! Help me! Help Harry! Help us get out of here! Help!”

That's pretty much all I have time for before the elevator has reached the 18th floor and the door opens. The bogus CSIS guy is there to yank me off the elevator. His gun is poised as if ready for any tricks that the guys downstairs might have planned to play on him. But it's just little old me and I'm hauled into the apartment.

Harry's there. In the hallway.

I see his face right away and the relief it gives me is incredible. I practically fall into his arms and he holds onto me and gives me a tight hug.

They're all there in the hallway, ready to go. They were just waiting for me.

Behind Harry is an Indian-looking man. Andy has an Asian man. Mr. Kronenberg, looking pale and angry, has a large black man behind him. I'm obviously the CSIS guy's shield.

But before we go, he wants to know what the situation down there is. I tell him the front foyer is full of people. The two girls are long gone. Just the police and whoever else is running this op are left.

“What about the back?”

“I have no idea. I was never back there. The people in the apartment went out the back. But I didn't see it.”

The men confer.

“They'll be expecting us to go out the back,” says the black man. “I think we should go out the front. Really surprise them.”

“I agree,” says CSIS.

The Asian man argues that then we'll be surrounded.

“That's what we have these guys for,” says CSIS, giving me a shove. “And we'll be moving fast.”

“I think it's better to go out down an alley,” argues the Asian guy.

“Yeah, and then they pop up from the dumpsters. No,” says CSIS. “We go out the front. We take them by surprise and we get out onto the street fast. They can't start shooting once we're out on the street.”

I have to admit, I agree with him. But I wonder where they plan to go from here? Grab a cab? Take the subway? I get the impression they were not expecting this situation. They were just expecting to walk out of here like ordinary people when the job was done.

Each man gets a rough grip on his hostage and we move out together. Once in the foyer, they arrange themselves in a square, covering each other's backs while we're on the outside. There are two elevator doors in this apartment. CSIS gets us all into one elevator and then goes back to hit a button for the other elevator. When it comes, he presses a button and then ducks out. Smart. It will make it to the bottom before us, open up and be a distraction before we come out of the other elevator.

Harry is beside me and he looks down and gives me a grin. I grin back. We're back together. A team.

When the elevator door opens, CSIS leads the square, which means, I'm the first one out. And I have time to see the surprise on everyone's face. I think they really were expecting an escape down the stairs and out the back.

The crowd parts to let us through. We move too fast for much thought, although, I notice that the doorman actually opens the door for us. I guess it's his job no matter what the situation.

Then we're out into a Manhattan morning. It's cold but sunny and busy. Extremely busy. Buses, taxis, cars, bicycles, people on roller-blades, people on foot, strollers, hotdog stands, newsstands. At first, no one pays attention to us. And then people start noticing.

“Is it a movie?” I hear someone saying. “Hey! They're filming a movie!”

“Look!” says another. “It's Robert Pattinson!” This must be for Harry.

“It's Daniel Radcliffe!” screams someone else. That's definitely for Andy.

This is an unexpected turn for the men.

Suddenly, we're surrounded by females wanting Harry and Andy's autograph. And these women are aggressive. We're completely closed in since Harry and Andy were on opposite sides of the square. The guns don't frighten anyone. They just look like movie props.

And the police are quick to take advantage of the situation.

They move in fast and disarm the men while they're still trying to figure out what to do. I just about faint from relief.

Meanwhile, digital cameras are flashing and phones are clicking as everyone takes photos. Harry and Andy are still the centre of attention. Harry laughs. He can see that we're out of danger and the laugh is pure relief. He grabs my hand and pulls me into the centre of the mob, putting his arm around my shoulders.

Tomorrow the papers will report that Robert Pattinson has a new girlfriend.

 


 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Ten

 

 

 

 

 

I

sn't God great?” says Harry.

We're all tidied up and having coffee with Andy at the café where Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan were in You've Got Mail.

“Yeah, man,” says Andy enthusiastically. “You said he'd deliver us and he did! We were praying for a miracle,” he says to me. “And it totally happened!”

“Our prayers made the difference,” agrees Harry.

“Has it ever occurred to you that it might have been my prayers,” I grumble. Then I realize my mistake.

“Your prayers?” For a moment, Harry is surprised. Then he looks thrilled. “That's great, Meg!”

I roll my eyes.

I am sooo going to regret letting that one slip out.

Andy's mom still hasn't forgiven us but Andy is our lifelong friend now. He says any time we're in Dallas or New York, look him up and we'll have another adventure.

Karen is safely back in Texas, as is the other girl. Their parents are actually letting them stay in America despite the kidnapping.

Harry and I have phoned home to let our parents know we're OK. Amazingly, my mom and the Phillips hadn't heard anything about a kidnapping ring, despite that one of the girls lived on Harry's road and used to date him. We tell them not to worry about it, everything's OK, and that we're off to Antarctica.

Yes! We're going to Antarctica!

Harry has it all arranged.

We're flying from New York to San Francisco and from there to Ushuaia, Argentina. Then we'll charter a boat to Antarctica. Apparently tourists do it all the time to see the whales and the penguins.

Harry and Andy have a lot to talk about. They became pretty good friends in the hostage crisis, so I let them talk while I unwind a cinnamon bun and eat it slowly. Emails are exchanged and Harry promises to let Andy know all about Antarctica.

Then Harry and I catch a cab to the Marriot Hotel near LaGuardia, where we'll be leaving from tomorrow.

“Hold on a sec,” says Harry, when we're in the hallway and going to part for our separate rooms. He goes into his room and returns with his knapsack.

“I almost forgot . . .” he says, handing me two pairs of hiking socks. “These are yours, remember? You'll need them in Antarctica.”

“Thanks Harry.” I look down at them. They're actually a useful present.

“Do me a favour?” he says.

“Sure, Harry, anything.”

“Watch this.”

He pulls The Gospel of John DVD out of his knapsack and hands it to me. My first instinct is to protest and tell him no way. Then I think of an excuse.

“I can't watch a DVD,” I say. “We don't have a DVD player.”

“I'll have one sent to your room,” he promises. “They must have them for business meetings.”

I am so going to tell him that just because I prayed one little prayer, OK, maybe two or three little prayers, that I'm not going to start watching Jesus movies.

And then I think of all he's been through. And the fact that it's all because of me. He wanted to go to Antarctica.

“OK, Harry,” I say, sighing.

He grins. He's really happy. In fact, he starts to whistle as he heads back to his room.

“I'm not going to become a Christian,” I call out after him.

“I never said you were,” he says, continuing to whistle, now in front of his door.

“That isn't a hymn, is it?” I say.

“No,” he says. “Well, not really.”

“What do you mean, not really?”

“It's an updated version of a hymn,” he explains, continuing to whistle.

“Harry . . .” I say threateningly, unlocking my door. “No hymns.”

“How would you know if it's a hymn? You don't even know any hymns.”

“That's not the point. No hymns . . .”

I go into my room and shut the door.

 

 

 

 

January 15, 2010

My Meg,

I'm so proud of you kid! I read about it all in the paper. You're going to be a great cop! Wish I had some money to send so you could go to college. Maybe next time . . . I'll win big soon. I promise.

Love,

Dad