Authors: Angie Smibert
Tags: #General Fiction
On Monday morning I made a promise to myself: I wouldn’t even glance at Micah or Winter in school.
WALLENBERG, MICAH JONAS, 15
HAMILTON DETENTION CENTER TFC-42
She totally blew me off. All day. I waved to her in the hallway, and she ducked into the bathroom. I waited for her after English class; her friends materialized out of fricking nowhere to whisk her off to lunch. I casually looked in her direction in the caf and that preppie-jock-douche-bag Tom Slayton stared me down like a Rottweiler guarding a bone. I couldn’t even send her a message. Every time I did, a perky synthetic voice said, “We’re sorry. This user is not accepting calls from you at this time.”
I got it. She wanted to keep us on the down-low. She has an image to maintain.
I should have told Nora to go to hell. But I didn’t. I wanted to tell her about my van theory. I wanted to keep doing
. And I just wanted to be with her.
I am such a loser
The only thing that brightened my day was the Senior Prank. They’d papered all the ad screens in the school—on the lockers, in the classrooms, in the hallways—with what looked like blank paper. But if you got really close—like, say, too close for the surveillance cams to focus on—you could see that each piece of paper had a tiny letter on it. An M on this one. An E on the next, and so on. They spelled out
. It was freaking brilliant.
As the last bell rang for the day, I pushed open the library door, nodded to Ms. Curtis behind the counter, and then slumped into our usual spot. I got out my sketch pad and waited. And waited. My mobile said it was four. Maybe she couldn’t duck her friends. Five more minutes.
I heard Ms. Curtis clear her throat, and I dived into one of the books on the top of the pile. Ms. Curtis slid a new art book across the table.
. On the cover was his famous painting of people sitting in a diner late at night. No one is talking. Everyone is alone—the couple, the guy behind the counter, the guy with his back to us. Alone.
“It’s a new edition. Just came in,” Ms. Curtis said.
I could smell its newness as I flipped through the clean pages. Ms. Curtis was still standing there. “Thanks,” I said, and kept flipping through the book, hoping she’d go away. She didn’t.
“You know, Micah, it’s difficult for Nora,” she said.
I took a good look at the librarian, maybe for the first time ever. I bet she was the cute, rich, popular girl once. She might have been Nora twenty years ago. I wondered who she’d lost before joining the MLSG.
“She might think she’s doing the best thing for both of you,” Ms. Curtis said.
Crap. Even the librarian knew it. Nora ditched me for real.
I shut the Hopper book. “You mean best for
.” I grabbed my bag and board and booked it out of there. No pun intended.
Outside, I dropped my board to the sidewalk and kicked. I didn’t know where I was going, but in the back of my head I held on to the hope that Nora hadn’t totally given up on us. Or
NOMURA, WINTER, 14
HAMILTON DETENTION CENTER TFC-42
Gears. That’s what it is all about. Wheels upon wheels making shit turn. A system. All the good sprockets, big and small, going in the same direction, whether they wanted to or not. If one breaks, replace it with a shiny new one. At least that’s what the little whirring hummingbird inside my head was telling me.
I’d pulled gears out of every piece of junk I could lay my hands on, and it still wasn’t enough. Most things now have only ones and zeroes spinning around in a hunk of plastic. No metal teeth gnashing, turning each other, making things work. Like clockwork. In a digital system, all you have to do is erase the bad digit and go on like nothing ever happened.
I couldn’t have an even number of gears. That wouldn’t work. Needed to be odd. A prime number would be really glossy. Ugh. I hate that word. Brilliant. A prime number would be brilliant. Seventeen gears from the eye to the drum, from this one the size of a dime to the big, red, dinner plate–sized one.
I laid out all my scrounged and pilfered gears on the table in my gazebo. It was a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces, ones I’d have to make myself. I could see it all turning in my head. A big pot of coffee steamed on the side table. My solar sails tinkled gently in the moonlight. I was ready to get this done. And Grandfather was scarce. He knew to leave me alone when I was like this.
So, of course, Micah burst into the garden from the back gate. He was talking so fast, even I couldn’t follow him. It totally crushed my manic high. I might as well have taken my meds.
He was all
Is she here? Why is she doing this? What did I do?
“Chill,” I told him. I laughed because, for once, it was me doing the chilling.
He’d floated over Saturday evening all happy and shit to share what Bell had told him and Nora and how he’d come up with this theory that maybe it wasn’t the Coalition after all. It matched what Grandfather had told me on our way home.
“Is she here?” Micah asked again, more calmly this time.
Obviously he meant Nora. Lover boy wasn’t so happy anymore. She’d been icing him out since Friday. He’d called her a hundred times. Nada. Clearly he’d hoped she’d still show today.
“What did you do to her?” I asked.
“Kissed her,” he said. “Well, she kissed me,” he backpedaled.
There you go. I’d wondered how long it would take for her to revert to type. And her type doesn’t date ours. Even if they were cool enough to get involved with Micah in the first place.
“She’s not like that,” he said, although I hadn’t said anything out loud.
Yeah? What’s she like?
I didn’t say that out loud, either. I just thought it real hard as I stared at him, searching for whatever gear inside of him was grinding itself to bits over this girl.
“Cut it out,” he said. “Where are Bell and your granddad?”
Of course, tonight was that stupid ride-along with Sasuke-san’s posse of black-van stalkers. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want Grandfather to go. And I was hoping Micah would blow it off—like he always does when he loses interest in something, which he always does. He’s always on to something new and more interesting, like welding or comic books or graffiti or girls. Always.
I groaned. That pissed him off.
“Don’t you give a shit about anything?” he asked.
That wasn’t fair. I turned my back on him. I’m not the one who didn’t show up, wouldn’t return his calls, wouldn’t even look at him in school.
“I give a shit about this,” I said, tossing a gear on the table. “And I wish people would just leave me alone and let me finish it.”
“Fine. I’ll leave you alone with your crap,” he said. “I’m going with Mr. Yamada and Bell.”
“No, you aren’t.” It was Grandfather. Officer Bell stood behind him, with this sorry-kids look on his face. “You’re not coming with us. Either of you. Micah, go home or stay here tonight.”
“But—” Micah shut up when he looked at Grandfather.
Bell just shrugged. “He’s right, kid,” he told Micah. “It’s too dangerous tonight. I heard on the police frequency that they’re doing a bum sweep of sector six, which is usually a bad sign.”
sweep?” Micah asked. He pronounced the first word as if it hurt him.
Officer Bell didn’t notice. “Yeah, we, the police, pick them up,” Bell explained. “I heard there was a sweep before the Market Street bombing a few weeks ago.”
“Are you saying you cops
when there’s going to be a bombing?” I asked. A fierce little hummingbird reminded me that the cops are owned by one of the biggest com-panies in the U.S.: Homeland Inc.
“Not exactly,” Bell said. “We just get told to clear an area—and stay out of it for a while. Then shit happens.”
“Who exactly is doing this
?” Micah asked. “No, wait. Let
Micah explained his theory: the so-called Coalition doesn’t exist. It’s really some secret corporate-government cabal bent on keeping the people scared.
Grandfather nodded. “We think the black vans are operated by a contractor here in Hamilton.”
“But we don’t have any proof,” Bell quickly added.
“A contractor? You mean someone working for the government, right?” Micah asked.
“Or a bigger corporation,” I said. “Who, in turn, might be working for the government.”
Or vice versa. Gears turning gears
, the hummingbird told me.
“We don’t know,” Bell admitted lamely. He suspected, though. I could see it in the way he chewed the inside of his cheek. He just couldn’t prove it. “A reporter in Philly was investigating the connection last year, but she dis- appeared just before the story was supposed to be ’cast. It’s no coincidence that TFC owns a lot of the newscasts.”
“Stay here,” Grandfather said, looking from me to Micah.
I glared at him, and he knew exactly what I was thinking. “We’ll be okay, Win-chan. We have Bell’s police radio and a few other tricks up our sleeve,” he said as he pulled on his half-fingered gloves.
All of a sudden I had a vision of my grandfather climbing fire escapes and pulling himself along ledges, just like he trained for on his Sasuke course.
Game show, my ass.
Micah stood there, holding his skateboard in his good hand as if he was weighing his options. “Okay,” he finally said.
Grandfather and Bell left. Micah dropped his board to the ground and turned to me without saying anything. He didn’t need to.
“Go,” I said.
Keep an eye on my ojiisan
, I silently commanded him.
Micah pushed off, wheels spinning faster than the gears in my head.
Later Micah texted me to have the printer ready tomorrow night. He just had to see her first.
, I replied.
But that’s when it all came together in my head. That’s when I saw what those gears needed to do.
I didn’t sleep at all that night.
WALLENBERG, MICAH JONAS, 15
HAMILTON DETENTION CENTER TFC-42
I’m glad Nora didn’t come
, I told myself as I rolled down the alley behind the Nomuras’ place. I pulled my black hoodie tight around my face. I knew she never had my back, at least not out here. Nora’d never lived on the streets; she’d never even been out after curfew. Okay, Mom and I were never technically on the streets. But I used to roam around while Mom worked nights. You could only lie under the blankets in the backseat of a ten-year-old Chevy Fresno ignoring your homework and listening to the same tunes for so long. I got mugged once; that was enough for those guys to figure out I had less than they did.
I followed Bell’s gray, unmarked police car as it pulled out of the garage. I could see the silhouette of him and Mr. Yamada. I followed them on my board for a couple blocks, careful to keep to the shadows and out of the security cams. Then they turned right onto Market. By the time I got to the corner, they were out of sight. They could’ve turned down any cross street. No one was on the streets at this hour. Almost no one.
I ducked into a doorway as another car turned onto Market. A black-and-white police car. It flashed by without noticing me.
I had no idea where Bell was going or where sector 6 was. I could go back to Winter’s. Or go home. I needed to know for sure, though, that the vans were doing what we thought they were doing. I mean, it was crazy. And what if we put that idea in the comic strip and it was wrong? What if it was right and we did nothing? Then I remembered something Bell had said. Something I’d already drawn. He’d said he’d followed the van back to a parking structure next to Tiffany’s. I knew where that was.
I pointed my board in the direction of the jewelry store by way of a couple of alleys and pushed off hard. Maybe I could catch a van coming out of the garage. If I got lucky. Really lucky.
But I never made it to Tiffany’s or the parking structure. As I was skating down the alley between Eighteenth and Central, I saw a black van creep past the end of the alley. I hugged the wall until it passed. Then I skated like hell to get to the end of the alley. From there I could see it cruising very slowly down Eighteenth, as if it was looking for something. Or like a patrol car does when it’s checking out the neighborhood, searching for curfew breakers and thugs. The van turned left onto the next street. I dashed across Eighteenth and headed down the alley parallel to the van.
I skated hard. I wanted to beat the van to Nineteenth Street so I’d know which way it went. I slalomed around some dumpsters, and the smell of warm garbage and piss brought back memories of creeping around like this while Mom worked.
Suddenly a dark figure swung down from a fire escape. I swerved and clotheslined the guy with my cast. I could hear the plaster crack and the
of someone hitting the pavement as I kicked off hard. I’d thought it had been a little too quiet out. In the old days I’d always see someone dumpster diving for dinner or curled up in a box sleeping in the alley.
“Micah,” a familiar voice called. It was Mr. Yamada. Not exactly who I’d expected to meet in a dark alley.
I stopped. “Dude.” I fumbled for words. “What are you doing here?” I knew what he was doing there in general, but I hadn’t expected him to come swinging down a fire escape at me. I’d imagined him and Bell cozy in the gray cop car doing the stakeout thing. “Are you okay?” I skated back toward him.
Mr. Yamada stood up.
“Damn, kiddo, I should know better than to ninja up on a skater boy,” he said, rubbing his chin and grinning.
“I’m sorry,” I said. I felt bad for hitting him, an old man and all, but we didn’t have time for this. “There’s a van creeping around the block right now.”
The smile evaporated from his face. He scrambled back up the outside of the fire escape and onto the roof in one fluid motion—like a spider monkey. Then I heard the crackle of a walkie-talkie, like the ones they use in old war movies, coming from the top of the roof. Mr. Yamada must have spotted the van.
I raced down the alley. I could see the van idling a couple of blocks down Nineteenth—by a parked car on the opposite side of the street. Carrying my board, I ran half crouching through the shadows to a doorway about a block from the van.
I saw a guy in a dark uniform of some sort; I couldn’t see any markings, but it didn’t look like cop or military issue. He had on gloves and a watch cap, though it was pretty warm out. The guy—at least I think it was a guy—put something in the wheel well above the front driver side tire. He slapped a sticker on the front windshield and then jumped into the back of the van as it peeled away. The whole operation took just seconds.
As I crept down the block, I saw another car pull slowly up to the opposite corner. It stopped about twenty-five yards away. It was Bell. I heard the walkie-talkie crackle again as he rolled down his window.
I picked up my board and ran commando style over to Bell’s car. I rapped on the window.
“Jesus, kid, you scared me,” Bell said as he rolled his window down farther. “You need to get out of here now.”
“Did they do what I think they did?” I asked.
“Get in,” he said.
Mr. Yamada ran up to the passenger side.
“What are you going to do about this?” I asked them, still not getting in. “What if someone tries to drive the car? Did you check to see if anyone is sleeping in there now?”
“They slapped a shutdown sticker on the vehicle. It can’t be driven,” Bell explained rather casually. “Well, most of the time. Besides, who in their right mind would be sleeping in a car these days?”
, I thought. It would take too long to explain. I skated over to the car, which was an old beater, a yellow Chevy a lot like my mom’s old car. Lights were on in the building behind it. I circled around and peeked in the back. There was a lumpy pile of blankets and clothes across the seat, and I heard the faint sounds of the
theme song coming from underneath. I tapped on the window, and the sound cut out. I tapped again.
“Dude, get up,” I said. “Someone’s been messing with your car. You could be toast in a few minutes.”
A kid’s head popped up and looked at me in a panic. He couldn’t have been more than twelve. And he didn’t know whether I was waiting to jack his gear or was telling the truth. I backed away from the car.
I waved off Mr. Yamada and supercop as they came running at the car. Nothing would scare the kid more than a couple guys in black rushing his crib.
“Dude, no lie. I saw some guy put something under the driver side. Ease out toward me.”
He still didn’t move.
“Is your mom working in this building?” I asked, pointing behind me. “Cleaning or something?”
“Better go warn her. You don’t want her to get hurt,” I said, and backed off even farther.
The kid climbed out of the car slowly in his camo pj’s and bare feet, his mobile clutched in his hand. He looked from me to Bell to Mr. Yamada.
“This dude’s a cop.” I pointed to Bell, who had the sense to flash his badge. “He can get you and your mom to somewhere safe.”
The kid rabbited into the building. Bell followed.
Mr. Yamada looked at me. Then he bowed and offered to bring me home.
“Nah, I’m okay,” I said. “Take care of those people who almost got blown up.” I pushed off toward home before he could say anything else.
I wasn’t really okay, though. Six months ago that could have been me. I shivered as I wound through the alleys and side streets toward Black Dog Village.
I got about a half mile away before the explosion went off.