This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
For Matt, Kilian, and Kennedy
A NEW YEAR
January 1, 2006, 1:31 a.m.
Janie sprints through the snowy yards from two streets away and slips quietly through the front door of her house.
Everything goes black.
She grips her head, cursing her mother under her breath as the whirling kaleidoscope of colors builds and throws her off balance. She bumps against the wall and holds on, and then slowly lowers herself blindly to the floor as her fingers go numb. The last thing she needs is to crack her head open. Again.
She’s too tired to fight it right now. Too tired to pull herself out of it.
Plants her cheek on the cold tile floor. Gathers her strength so she can try later, in case the dream doesn’t end quickly.
It’s the same old dream Janie’s mother always has. The one where a much younger, much happier mother flies through a psychedelic tunnel of flashing, spinning, colored lights, holding hands with the hippie who looks like Jesus Christ. Their sunglasses reflect the dizzying stripes, making it even harder for Janie to stop the vertigo.
This dream always makes Janie sick to her stomach.
What’s her stupid mother doing sleeping in the living room, anyway?
But Janie is curious. She tries to focus. She peers at the man in the dream as she floats alongside the oblivious pair. Janie’s mother could see Janie, if only she looked. But she never does.
The man can’t see her, of course. It’s not his dream. Janie wishes she could get him to take off his sunglasses. She wants to see his face.
Wonders if his eyes are brown like hers. She can never focus her attention in one place for long, though, with all the spinning colors.
Abruptly the dream changes.
The hippie man fades, and Janie’s mother stands in a line of people that stretches on for what seems like miles. Her shoulders curl over, worn, like thin pages in a well-read book.
Her face is grim, set. Angry.
She’s holding—jiggling—a screaming, red-faced baby.
Not this again. Janie doesn’t want to watch anymore—she hates this part. Hates it. She gathers all her strength and concentrates. Hard.
Groans inwardly. And pulls herself out of her mother’s dream.
Janie’s vision slowly returns. She shivers in a cold sweat and flexes her aching fingers, grateful that she never seems to get sucked back into a dream once she’s successfully pulled out of it. So far, anyway.
She pushes herself to her feet as her mother snores on the couch, and walks shakily to the bathroom, stomach churning. She gags and retches, then makes a halfhearted attempt at brushing her teeth. Once in her bedroom, Janie closes the door tightly behind her.
Falls to the bed, like a lump of dough.
After last month’s ordeal with the drug bust, Janie knows she’s got to get her strength back or the dreams will take over her life again.
That night, Janie’s own dreams are blasted with churning oceans and hurricanes and life jackets that sink like stones.
Janie wakes to sunlight streaming in. She’s ravenous and dreaming about food now. Smelling it.
“Cabe?” she mumbles, eyes closed.
“Hey. I let myself in.” He sits on the bed next to her, his fingers drawing her tangled hair away from her face. “Rough night, Hannagan? Or are you still catching up?”
“Mrrff.” She rolls over. Sees the plate of eggs and toast, steam rising.
Grins wide as the ocean and lunges for it. “You—best secret boyfriend ever.”
ASSIGNMENTS AND SECRETS
January 2, 2006, 11:54 a.m.
It’s the last day of winter break.
Janie and Cabel sit in Cabel’s spare bedroom—his computer roomchecking the school website for their exam grades.
It’s a good thing Cabel has two laptops. Or there might be an all-out fight when the grades are posted at noon. But who are they kidding.
They might have to roll around on the floor and wrestle, regardless.
She turned in a blank blue book for the math exam after the drug bust went down a few weeks ago. She had a good excuse; there was still blood on her sweatshirt, after all. And the teacher gave her a second shot at it. Too bad it was on the day after a rough night of dreamhopping at Fieldridge High’s annual all-night fundraiser danceathon.
Also too bad—it was a lock in. No escape.
Janie and Cabe might have skipped the whole dance if they could have, but it wasn’t possible. They were on assignment.
“We’re looking for anybody who dreams about teachers, Janie,”
Captain had said. “Or any teachers who are dreaming about students.”
Janie thought that sounded odd and intriguing. “Anything specific?”
“Not at this time,” Captain said. “I’ll fill you in more after the New
Year, once we’ve got some things sorted out. For now, just take notes of anything teacher/student related.”
For Janie, staying up all night isn’t the problem. It’s the dream-hopping that sucks the life out of her. And after spending six hours stuck in other people’s dreams from her hidden location under the bleachers, she was completely spent.
Of course Cabel was there, at the dance, slipping Janie cartons of milk and PowerBars (she’d reluctantly switched from Snickers). The dreams were on the fertile side, to say the least.
Too bad she didn’t pick up anything substantial. Nothing teacher/ student related. Only student/student related, to Janie’s chagrin.
And when Luke Drake, the Fieldridge High football team’s star receiver, fell asleep on the gymnastics mats, already totally plastered when he arrived at the lock in, Janie cried, “Enough.”
“Cabe,” she gasped between dreams, “wake him the fuck up, and don’t let him sleep again. I can’t take it.”
Luke tends to dream about himself, and it turns out he’s a bit overconfident when naked. Cabel’s seen Luke in the showers after PE
“Luke’s definitely overcompensating in his dreams,” Cabel says when he hears Janie’s description.
Cabe may or may not have had more success in his assignment that night. He’s a relationship builder, so his work takes more time than
Janie’s to see results. He makes connections, builds trust, and has the uncanny ability to get people to admit the most amazing things while bugged. And Janie plays cleanup. At least that’s how beautifully it went the first time.
Needless to say, Janie knows she didn’t ace the second math exam either. And today, the last day before going back for their final semester at Fieldridge High, Janie’s stressed about her grades.
She doesn’t need to be.
She has a terrific scholarship.
But she’s funny like that.
At noon exactly, according to Cabel’s police scanner, they log on from their respective computers and scan their pages.
Janie sighs. Under different circumstances, it would have been an A.
Math’s her best subject. Which makes it all the worse.
Cabel’s sensitive. He doesn’t react to his row of straight As. He feels responsible for Janie’s face-first free-fall at the police station that landed her in the hospital during exam week.
They simultaneously close their screens.
Not that they’re competitive.
Okay, they are.
Cabel glances sidelong at Janie.
She looks away.
He changes the subject. “Time to go see Captain,” he says.
Janie checks her watch and nods. “See you there.”
Janie slips out of Cabe’s house and runs across the yards of two small residential streets to her house. Janie looks around, sees no one, so she peeks into her mother’s bedroom. Her mother is there, passed out but alive, bottles strewn about as usual. She’s not dreaming, thank goodness. Janie closes the bedroom door softly, grabs her car keys, and heads back outside in the cold to start up Ethel.
Ethel is Janie’s 1977 Nova. She bought the car from Stu Gardner, who has been dating Janie’s best friend, Carrie Brandt, for two years. Stu’s a mechanic. He babied Ethel from the time he was thirteen years old, and Janie respects the tradition. The car roars to life. Janie pats the dashboard appreciatively. Ethel hums.
Cabel and Janie arrive separately at the police station. They park in different locations. They enter the building using different doors. And they don’t meet again until Janie gets to Captain’s office. It’s important that nobody sees them together until the drug case with Shay Wilder’s father is closed, or else their duties with this new assignment could be compromised.
It’s because Janie and Cabel work undercover as narcs at Fieldridge
High School. Janie’s discovering there are a lot of weird things that happen at her school. More than she could have ever imagined.
Cabel’s already sitting there with Captain when Janie walks in. He hands out cups of coffee for the three of them. He stirs Janie’s with a stir stick after having prepared it just the way she likes it: three creams, three sugars.
She needs the calories.
Because of all the dreams.
She’s finally getting some padding and muscle back on her bones, after the last big thing.
Janie sits before she’s ordered to sit.
“Nice to see you, Hannagan. You look better than the last time I saw you,” remarks Captain in a gruff voice.
“Glad to see you too, sir,” Janie says to the woman, Captain Fran
Komisky. “You don’t look so bad yourself, if I may say so.” She hides a smile.
Captain raises an eyebrow. “You two are going to piss me off today, I can just feel it,” she says. She runs her fingers through her short bronze hair, and adjusts her skirt. “Anything to report, Strumheller?”
“Not really, sir,” Cabel says to her. “Just the usual schmoozing.
Making the rounds. Trying to get a better picture of what some of the teachers and students are like outside the classroom.”
Captain turns to Janie. “Anything from the dreams, Hannagan?”
“Nothing useful,” Janie says. She feels bad.
Captain nods. “As I expected. This is going to be a tough one.”
“Sir, if I may ask…,” Janie begins.
“You want to know what’s going on.” Captain rises abruptly, closes the door to her office, and returns to her desk, a serious look on her face.
“Last March, our Crimebusters Underground Quick Cash school program received a phone call on the Fieldridge High School line.
You’ve heard of that program, right? All the schools in the area participate. Each school has its own line, so Crimebusters knows which school the complaint is from.”
Cabel nods. “Students can earn a reward—fifty bucks, I think—if they report a crime directly related to schools. That’s how we were tipped off about the drug parties on the Hill, Janers.”
Janie nods. She’s heard of it too. Has the hotline-number magnet on her refrigerator like everybody else in Fieldridge. “Hey, fifty bucks is fifty bucks. It’s a smart program.”
Captain continues. “Anyway. The caller didn’t actually say much of anything. It’s very distant sounding—almost as if she dialed but didn’t put the phone to her mouth. It’s only about a five-second call before the caller hangs up. Here’s the recording of it. Tell me what you hear.”
Captain presses a button on a machine behind her. Cabel and Janie strain to make out the garbled words. The voice sounds very far away and music pounds behind it.
Janie furrows her brow and leans forward. Cabel shakes his head, puzzled. “Could you play it again?”
“I’ll play it a few more times. Concentrate on the background noise, too. There are other people talking in the distance.” Captain plays the short message several times more. She slows the tape and speeds it up, then reduces the background noise. Finally she reduces the voice of the caller until only the background noise remains.
“Anything, either of you?” Captain asks.
“It’s impossible to understand a single word the caller’s saying,” Cabel says. “Nobody’s screaming, nobody sounds upset. I heard laughter in the background. The music sounds like Mos Def. Janie?”
“I hear a guy’s voice in the background saying ‘Mister’ something.”
Captain nods. “I hear that too, Janie. That’s the only word I can make out in the entire call.
“We didn’t think much of this call—didn’t spend time on it. There was no information, no complaint, no report of a crime. But then in
November, there was another call to Crimebusters Underground. And when I heard this one, I remembered the call you just heard. Listen.”
Captain plays the new call. It’s a woman’s slurred voice, giggling uncontrollably and saying, “I want my Quick Cash! Fieldridge…High.
Fucking teachers…fucking students. Omigod—this can’t—oops!”
More giggles and then the call ends abruptly. Captain plays it for them a few times more.
“Wow,” Janie says.
Captain looks from Janie to Cabel. “Anything jump out at you?”
Cabel squints. “Fucking teachers, fucking students? Is that a slam on Fieldridge teachers and students, or is it, you know, literal?”
“The music in the background is similar to the first recording,” Janie says.
“Right, Janie. That’s what made me think of the first call when this one came in. And yes, Cabe, we’re taking it literally until, and unless, we’re proven wrong. This call gave us enough information to do something with it. My hunch, from what little we have here, is that
Fieldridge High may have a sexual predator hiding in their hallways.”
“Can’t you find out who made the calls and ask them what’s going on?” Janie asks.
“Well, that would be breaking the law, Janie. The whole purpose of
Crimebusters Underground is that the calls are anonymous, to protect the person reporting the crime, and they must remain that way. The callers are assigned a code name by which their individual tip is identified. Later, they can use that code name to check on the case and claim their reward if they have managed to give Crimebusters
Underground a usable lead.”
“That makes sense,” Janie says sheepishly.
“What have you done so far, Captain?” Cabel asks. “And,” he says more cautiously, “what are you hoping we can do?” His voice, for the first time, sounds edgy. Janie glances sidelong at him with mild surprise. She didn’t expect to see him so uncomfortable about an assignment.
“We’ve done complete background checks on all the teachers.
Everyone comes up squeaky clean. And now we’re stuck. Cabe, Janie, this is why I had you at the all-nighter. I’m looking for any information you can give me about Fieldridge teachers who might be sexual predators in their spare time. Are you up for the challenge? This one could be a bit dangerous. Hannagan, chances are, the predator is male.
If we can determine who we’re after, we may need to use you as bait so we can nail him. Think about it and get back to me on how you feel about it. If you don’t want to do this assignment, you’re off the hook.